A Shift in Thinking

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Written on Day 72 of Sobriety

I started this as a post for a forum.  Several people were coming back to sobriety after a relapse and were expressing shame and guilt, asking how others did it.  I am not an expert.  I do know what is working for me and that this time is unabashedly different (a review of old journals made it clear I had never fully committed). I’m sharing in hopes of helping one other person.

My last day 1.
After six years of attempting to get sobriety with sobriety runs of six to 12 months, I had a night that was the final straw, I behaved completely out of character.  What I did is not relevant, happy to tell anyone that really wants to know, but nobody ended up in jail, the hospital, or a grave, there will not be a made-for-TV movie, but feelings were hurt, credibility was damaged.  The important part is that I found my behavior egregious.  The next day I had a four-hour drive alone, my mind was spinning like a washing machine, how could I hurt and embarrass those who love me?

I also came to a very important realization, the only person I could blame for my drinking was the person who stares back at me from the mirror every morning.  Nobody “made” me drink, I didn’t “have” to drink because of some external stimulus.  All the people I was blaming had been removed from my life, I was in a good place surrounded by people that love me yet I was still drinking until I passed out, and I was so unhappy.  My life had become unmanageable and I was powerless over alcohol. 

I went to an AA meeting after I got home from my drive and my experience was nothing short of divine.  I was welcomed by three men, all of whom could be my dad (I actually thought I had accidentally crashed a men’s meeting).  They weren’t like the stereotype I had in my head, they were older successful men with decades of sobriety.  I cannot tell you how badly I wanted to leave that meeting.  Going to your first AA meeting alone is scary but at least you can blend in at a big meeting.  I was the only new person, the other three guys there were established.  I was not going to be able to hide.  When we shared after reading the book, these men told me their stories without shame or guilt by doing so they inspired me.  Collectively they had endured months of court-ordered in-patient treatment, jail time, psychiatric treatment, disownment from family and more.  Yet here they were happy, healthy and successful.  They were doing something right and I wanted it.

I changed my goal that day, rather than wanting to quit drinking, I wanted to become a person whose life was so great they didn’t want to drink.  And yes, that sounded impossible, but oh so desirable.

I CONNECTED with others.  I didn’t try to boil the ocean.  I realized I can’t do everything so I focused on me.  I ACCEPTED that I have a life-threatening condition and that I am powerless over alcohol, once I start I don’t stop until I pass out.  I ADMITTED to myself and others that I needed help and then did something really really hard and scary, I GAVE UP CONTROL.  I was the director of my own epic sh*t show.  So I found someone that I related to, looked up to, a woman with long-term sobriety and started doing what she told me to.  I asked for help from my higher power.

Not drinking has been easy, life has not.  Two weeks into sobriety I started a new job, four weeks in, my 76-year old father who is a quadruple-bypass survivor was hospitalized for stroke-like conditions, I had to euthanize my almost 15-year-old dog the same day my father fell and had a life-threatening brain-bleed (same day), two weeks later my dad would have brain surgery and I’d have to drop everything and fly across the country.  Drinking did not enter my mind this entire time because I knew that it would only mean waking up with the same problems and a hang-over.

Nine months ago my uncle (Dad’s younger brother by 4 years) was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  The doctors gave hope but somehow I knew…  While I was in Florida, I sat on my father’s bed as he said goodbye to his brother on speakerphone.  This was one of the most surreal and touching moments of my life.  There are only two people that are truly like me in this world (there were three, but my grandmother passed),  and they were on that phone call.  The magic in this call was the total honesty, clarity on what was going on but neither of them expressed regrets or anger.  They both had peace and knowledge they had lived a good life.  I WANT THAT.

I was very blessed on that trip.  I saw my dad go from unrecognizable back to himself in a few days thanks to a gifted brain surgeon.  I went home believing I’d see my dad again and looking forward to our next conversation.  I also went home knowing I’ll never see my uncle again.

Yesterday my aunt shared with the immediate family that he has stopped speaking and responding to pain.  My uncle is gone even though his body is still fighting.  I have been crying off and on without warning since getting that call. I spent the better part of the day and most of last night reflecting on his life.  He was not perfect, but he was an inspiration to me and many others.

The reality is that all of our days are numbered and we don’t know the number.  My uncle’s decreased appetite was a life-threatening condition, my dad nearly killed himself on the way to the bathroom. Mama Cass was killed by a ham sandwich.

Given these recent event’s the fact that my end has been on my mind is no surprise.  I don’t want to be in a hospital bed thinking about all the things I could have done.  I certainly don’t want to be thinking about the time I wasted drinking.  I just had a front-row seat to what someone feels in their last-days and I promise you neither my dad or my uncle said, “Man, I wish we’d gone out for drinks more!  Maybe driven drunk a few more times!”  I know with absolute certainty I won’t say those things when my time is coming, I’ll wish I’d done more, better used my gifts to help and inspire others, but I won’t wish I spent more time in active addiction.

Last night I cried, I could not fall asleep, I was in emotional pain but I was present.  The old me would have got dressed and gotten a six-pack because I needed to sleep so I could get up and work (no seriously I would have gotten drunk so I could get up! Stop laughing at me right now).  Last night I said a prayer of thanks that I had my uncle in my life as a role model and friend.  I vowed to honor him by living a life he’d be proud of, and that life doesn’t include drinking.

I could have told you all of this in one sentence, “I am staying sober, and this time is different because I’ve changed my thinking.”  But that’s too trite.  I’ve been doing deep soul searching to become the best version of myself and I’ve changed my routine.

Today’s routine dictates your future.  Things I do:

  1. I read, I post in my forums, I tweet, I spend an hour on my sobriety every morning.
  2. I make a daily gratitude list
  3. I have a list of things I’m looking forward to
  4. I write down my daily affirmation every single day (write not type) in my planner so I have to look at it all day.
  5. I call someone every day.  I live alone, this is important so I don’t feel isolated but I think even living with a family this is still important, creating a wide circle.
  6. I go to AA.  AA provides me needed hugs, the opportunity to hear others laugh and to laugh with them.  I don’t go every day but my Monday night meeting is non-negotiable.  I am there as if my life depends on it — because it does.
  7. I learned that there are physiological reasons for loss of control over drinking and accepted this as fact.  This helps remind me the first drink is life-threatening.  I’m only in the driver’s seat for the first sip after that biology is going to fight me tooth and nail.  Why enter that fight?  Even a Navy Seal only fights for his life when he has to, he doesn’t create situations to put his life or that of others on the line. Drinking is risking my life and that of others (because I have no idea what I’m going to do when I start drinking).
  8. I spend some time every day accepting and appreciating myself.  Beating myself up because I wasn’t Martha Stewart, Mother Teresa, Lee Iococa, Rachel Ray, the Dahli Lama, a Victoria’s Secret model, and Ceaser all rolled into one didn’t serve me.  It destroyed me.  I’m trying to love myself the same way I love others warts and all.
  9. I make time for fun — laughing is mission
  10. I get (and adhere to) professional treatment for my depression which is a medical condition just like high blood pressure

There are also a lot of things I don’t do anymore (or am working to break the cycle)

  1. Hold onto anger and resentment.  I hate hate hate doing this but if someone upsets me I address it immediately.  It’s extremely uncomfortable in the moment, but then all the sudden, it’s gone and I’m free to move about the earth unencumbered!
  2. Say yes to everyone – also super uncomfortable but saying no means I don’t have to feel guilty or spend energy coming up with a way to get out of a commitment I had no intention of keeping.
  3. Beat myself up, when that monster starts roaming in my head I stop the soundtrack.  I usually go to Twitter and find people that are down and need a little bump – that’s enough to put the monster back in his box.
  4. Isolate

I hope someone gets something from this.

Accepting Reality

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Written on day 62 of Sobriety

We thought “conditions” drove us to drink, and when we tried to correct these conditions and found that we couldn’t do so to our entire satisfaction, our drinking went out of hand and we became alcoholics.  It never occurred to us that we needed to change ourselves to meet conditions, whatever they were.

— As Bill Sees It #1

I’m currently working on my Fourth Step (“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of oursleves”).  I’ve had As Bill Sees It sitting on the window sill of my little “meditation nest” for weeks, but I haven’t picked it up until today.  It’s as if I was meant to read it while in my current mental space.

As I went through my resentments and considered the wrongs I committed that contributed to the situation, it became crystal clear to me that I was drinking at people and problems.  This is not a profound revelation, most addicts who have engaged in solid self-reflection will come to a similar conclusion.  Yet, it’s something we each have to realize for ourselves, in our own way, and in our own time.

I bought into the media message that if you are upset you should drink to feel better.  I accepted that it’s possible to drink away your problems, stress or anxiety.  Of course, that’s a fallacy. I can’t name a single person who resolved a difficult issue by drinking, can you?

In 2012, researchers conducted a study on mice where a control group of mice was given alcohol for one month and then put in stressful situations.  Alcohol diminished their ability to respond to stress and anxiety by rewiring their brains.  This shouldn’t surprise a chronic drinker, but as we are a stubborn lot, an additional and objective data point never hurts.

Stressful situations are a part of life.  Some people won’t like us, we won’t do well on a work project, or maybe we do really well, and someone steals the credit, family members don’t act according to our expectations and so on.  We cannot change those circumstances, we can only change how we react to them.

I drank profusely “at” my (now ex-) husband who wouldn’t hold a steady job which lead to losing our home, ignored me for social media, and had several affairs.  Sure, I got to pass out and escape for a few hours, but clearly, his behavior didn’t change other than becoming (understandably) resentful towards me.

What would have happened if instead of drinking at him I adhered to boundaries and said I don’t accept your behavior?  Franky, I think we’d still be divorced but I’d feel better about myself.  It was a horrible downward spiral, I was angry and depressed so I drank and did things I regretted which made me angry and depressed.  Rinse and Repeat.  I didn’t accept the situation as it was, I kept hoping he’d become the person I wanted him to be.  By doing so, I prolonged (perhaps even enhanced) our misery unnecessarily.  I once heard Rachel Hollis say that 5 minutes of discomfort can alleviate weeks of resentment.

I’m a very giving person.  It brings me joy to be able to help people.  I’m a bit of a “Pollyanna” about people, in general, believing everyone is good and they’ll be good if you give them the opportunity.  Several years ago I decided that I didn’t want to lose this part of myself by becoming cynical because it would rob me of my happiness.  However, I’m learning that I also need to be vigilant and have boundaries because some people are predators and will take advantage of my generous nature.  I’m changing myself in recognition of the facts of the circumstances.  I am working to heed Rachel’s advice and accept that saying “no” or letting someone know I find their behavior unacceptable is much less uncomfortable than holding on to unrealistic expectations that become monumental resentments.

How are you changing yourself to meet conditions as they are?

*  I found these step worksheets from joeandcharlie.net very helpful.  If you are a Big Book reader I highly recommend this site and the recordings to help simplify some of the archaic language in the book.

The Power of Addiction

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Written on Day 36 of Sobriety

Never underestimate the power of addiction, no matter what you are addicted to.  As I write this it’s pouring rain (red zone on the radar) and my 70+-year-old neighbor is sitting outside in the rain to smoke, literally risking pneumonia.  That’s not joy, that’s addiction.  While I am disgusted by smoking I cannot judge her because I understand addiction is physical.

If you’ve read my blog long (or scroll back) You’ll see that I’ve had some domestic violence issues in my past.  Addiction fueled them.  He’s in a live-in treatment facility, and I am working on my program.  I go to family violence court with him.  It’s been enlightening for so many reasons.

Yesterday for the first time in my six months of attending, there was a female defendant.  She carried herself like a competent professional woman, well dressed, well spoken.  She did not look like an addict or an abuser. When her time to speak came up, I learned that after her initial release from jail she missed court and was remanded.  As part of the remand, they tested her and she was positive for Meth, she made bail and was tested two additional times (once there’s a dirty test, “random” testing is super frequent)  both of which were dirty.  She’s been trying to get a bed at a treatment facility and can’t due to overcrowding.  She was crying and begging for treatment.  So sadly, she ended up back in jail, which given the destructiveness of her addiction is the safest place for her to be for herself and her family.

Only after fighting alcohol, telling myself I can use like normal more than once only to be reminded I am not normal, can I empathize with her.  I don’t know her full story, I may not even like her, but I do know that the appeal of that drug is so strong that knowing it could send her to prison, knowing she could lose the ability to see her children, knowing she was going to be tested, she could not keep herself from using.

Alcohol isn’t meth, in my mind, it’s worse because you can’t buy meth at the grocery store and (presumably) it’s not served at dinner parties, but it kills 89,000 people a year and steals 2.5 million hours of life each year.  Meth isn’t candy, it killed 70,000 people in 2017 but still less than AL.

We are so very lucky to be here, to have each other and to work the program.  But for the Grace of God I found this sobriety, a sponsor and support.  I am blessed that I realized the danger I was in before my bottom included having to be incarcerated to protect me from my addiction.  I cried as I watched her testify and I’m not a mushy person.  It was physically and emotionally painful.  She will forever be in my toolbox because one more drink could be the one that puts me on a relapse that ends my ability to live life on my terms as a free woman.

I love chocolate, I keep a bowl of dove milk chocolates at all times for the safety of others.  It soothes me when I’m moody (this is science y’all),  but if I knew that one of those chocolates in this bowl or a future bowl would kill me or someone I love, I’d have no problem throwing them away and learning a new way to cope. That’s exactly what a drink is – the first one will be fine — then what?  Not worth it.

 

The Miracle of One Alcoholic Working with Another

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“Each day, somewhere in the world, recovery begins when one alcoholic talks to another alcoholic, sharing experience, strength and hope” — Alcoholics Anonymous (Forward to Third Edition p. Xxii)

“Sponsorship is a bridge to trusting the human race, the very race we once resigned from. In learning to trust, we are strengthening our sobriety.” A Means to a Beginning, Grand Island, Nebraska, February 1984, One On One: AA Sponsorship in Action

Day 14 of Sobriety

It’s rare to find an alcoholic who one day resolved to stay sober and successfully held this resolve in perpetuity. As many times as I’ve heard that alcoholics are stubborn people, this seems counterintuitive. If we’re stubborn and determined to do something, then it should be a given that we’ll do it right?

Apparently not. Success rates for recovery are hard to come by because study methodologies are inconsistent. But one thing is obvious, the statistics are dismal. A study published in the journal Addiction stated that long-term relapse rates of untreated alcoholics are as high as 80%. The study included “non-problem drinkers” which likely paints an even more dismal picture for alcoholics.

With a doom and gloom outlook like this, some people may think to themselves why try or hope? Well first and foremost because their very life depends on it! No child ever says I want to grow up and die due to alcohol, yet according to the Center for Disease Control, in the United States, almost 89,000 people every year do exactly that. By their estimation, alcohol steals 2.5 million potential hours of life every year.

I’ve been immersed in the fellowship of people trying to stay sober for the past year and there’s a common thread in all of our stories, loneliness wrapped in despair and we drank to numb this pain. Unfortunately, the lethal side effects weren’t obvious to us when we started this practice. Eventually, we became mentally and physically ill, dependent on this substance to function. Recent science indicates that binge drinking alters DNA making it even harder to abstain because your body is genetically programmed to fight you.

In a situation like this, you need a miracle to succeed. Luckily there is one, it’s connecting with other alcoholics. According to American Addiction Centers, people in AA stay sober longer and in greater numbers than untreated alcoholics. A 2014 study of 6,000 members by AA showed that 59% of members were sober (defined as abstinent) over one year (22% of respondents had over 20 years of sobriety).

People who are successful using AA are unwavering in their belief that the program saved their lives and those of countless others. I am becoming one of those people. In these quiet gatherings, people do something remarkable, they share the worst moments of their lives with a group of strangers. And even more remarkable, they are not judged, they are loved! Some people share the struggle they are currenlty facing and others talk about what their life was like when they were abusing alcohol and what it’s like now, becoming beacons of something every alcoholic desperately needs: HOPE!

At the end of each meeting, we join hands in a circle say, “Keep coming back, it works if you work it!” Newcomers introduce themselves so that those with long-term sobriety can (and do) introduce themselves. If a newcomer wants, they can get a sponsor, someone who will guide them through the 12-Steps. In my mind, this is the miracle of working together. Selecting a sponsor is one of the most important things you’ll do in AA. Suddenly you are not alone, you are understood and you understand.

Only someone who has completed the steps can guide another through them, it’s a sometimes painful and scary journey of personal discovery that when embraced, transforms the alcoholic into someone who doesn’t want to drink because they’ve built such a rich life. The benefits are equal to the “Sponsee” and the “Sponsor” and the numbers prove this. Anybody with over a year of sobriety in AA is a sponsor (*generally speaking*, as the requirement to sponsor is to complete the 12-steps and most people do this within a year). I’ve met people with nine “generations” of sponsees. Imagine knowing you helped that many people reclaim their lives and seeing them transform from broken and scared to confident and happy!

People are hard-wired to need connection, we are pack animals. Further, we are hard-wired to resist change. Anybody who’s tried to exercise more, eat healthily or cease a habit will tell you, it’s hard. Pack-animals want to fit in, and we are constantly on the look-out for our tribe. Once you decide to join the ranks of a tribe, you want to belong, so you follow the rules. In the case of AA, this gives members a strong incentive to stay sober. But there’s so much more.

For me, having a sponsor is having a living breathing person who I admire in front of me proving that it can be done. I can’t bullshit her into thinking my situation is “special” because it’s not. Looking at her and other sponsors, I can’t bullshit myself into saying sobriety is impossible, because clearly, it’s not. Sponsors don’t tell a fairytale that life becomes perfect when you stop drinking, rather they tell you that if you surrender, accept you are powerless against alcohol, and rely on a higher power to restore sanity, life becomes enjoyable and MANAGEABLE. My life was definitely unmanageable.

I like to write down tidbits of what people say during shares at meetings, yesterday a man said that he cannot talk to himself about himself because he has no perspective, so he talks to other AAs. DUH – our brains will do whatever it takes to convince us the thing we want is the right choice because of the need for immediate gratification. The reason tell our kids “Do as I say, not as I do” is because we know better – it’s just really fucking hard to do better. Sponsors are DOING better. Through connection, we help each other do the next right thing.

Another thing I heard recently from a sponsor is that every time they take a sponsee through the steps they learn about themselves too. Being a sponsor keeps the AA close to their journey. A lot of sponsors tell me that working with someone reminds them how hard recovery really is so they don’t want to relapse. I buy that, but I really think it’s ancillary to the continued self-discovery and the everyday practice of the steps and the wisdom. Human beings need to practice to continue to be successful. Elite athletes train with coaches to maintain their edge. Writers work with editors. Therapists see therapists. We have to get outside our own head and be reminded of the fundamentals. Almost every successful person says their “secret” is to stay true to the fundamentals. How simple is that — the fundamentals are called that for a reason. The 12-steps are the fundamentals and staying grounded in them is the only way to succeed long-term, the sponsor-sponsee relationship provides that grounding and practice.

Having a sponsor and trusting my higher power takes me out of the driver’s seat. Because if I’m honest, my life was a shit show when I was trying to be the ringmaster. So many things are out of our control but we still try to control them like crazy people. I personally accepted the steps out of order. I reestablished my relationship with God and began to trust his will, then decided to accept that I’m powerless. I haven’t felt this free in 15 years!

Shame, guilt, judgment — I’ve never seen those in an AA room. I’m new, I’ve heard it happens but not in my experience. If you find that, just find a new meeting. It’s this magic mix of people who you’d likely never see in the same room cheering each other on. Last week, I followed a man in a car worth a quarter of a million dollars to a meeting where I sat next to a person just out of jail living in a shelter. At meeting’s end, this motley crew held hands and cheered each other on. We found common ground and treated each other with compassion.

I know I can’t do it alone, and even if I could it’s so much better doing it with support.

*I’m working two programs right now. AA is helping me immensely due to the face-to-face connection. Additionally, I participate in Women For Sobriety’s online forums where I receive wisdom and support from many wise women.

Step 1: I Admit I am Powerless over Alcohol

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Written on days 4-5 of sobriety

About six months ago I picked up a “Big Book” (The blue book that is the foundation for Alcoholics Anonymous) and I read it cover to cover.  The steps made sense, but some of them just pissed me off.  I did not want to accept that they would help me.  I went to a couple of meetings and thought to myself, “I’m not like those people!”  So, I went back to drinking my face off.

My Abbreviated Back Story
For six years I’ve been working on getting sober.  My drinking hasn’t resulted in a criminal conviction, DUI, or permanent injuries to my or anyone else’s body.  Let me be very clear; that is only by the grace of God. Through her grace, I dodged a bullet. No, I dodged an Atom Bomb.  I’ve had extended periods of sobriety during that time, the longest was a year.  But I kept lying to myself that I’d be OK with one drink or two and I was for a bit, but it always always always evolved into blackout drinking.

The only reason I can think that I’m still here and relatively healthy is to help other people.  I can’t support anyone else’s sobriety one-on-one at the moment because I’m fighting for my life. I can share my journey in hopes someone might say “HOLY FUCK that’s me!” and heal with me.  (PS, I curse, it’s just me so if it will offend you, I’m terribly sorry. While I have about a million things I want to improve on or change, stopping swearing is not one of them.  If I’m not for you, I understand and I’m sure there’s someone out there who will be your cup of tea)

The Final Straw
To be honest, I’ve had lots of last straws.  But this seems to be the worst because it’s all on me, I have no lies to tell myself about who’s at fault.

Last week I was busy drinking my face off and hiding it.  I did some stunningly embarrassing and selfish things.  There was no catalyst for my drinking, I just wanted to check out.  I drunk dialed my boyfriend who is getting inpatient alcoholism treatment. I woke up with one of the worst emotional hangovers of my life.  I had a four-hour drive to contemplate what I was doing and how it was serving me.  When I arrived home, I read the 12-Steps.  That night I went to a meeting, I was alone and terrified but I went. I liked it, I made plans to go to another one.

At my second meeting, a woman shared, not how she came to AA, but about her day and struggles, she had long term sobriety.  I liked her, I saw some of myself in her.  After the meeting concluded she asked if I needed phone numbers, she is my sponsor now.  (She is a Saint, I was standing there quietly, feeling like a dolt. As one of the “cool kids” with long-term sobriety, she approached me. If she hadn’t I would not be making progress)

Getting to Step 1, Admitting I am Powerless Over Alcohol
Until yesterday, I thought I was on Step-4: Making a Searching and Fearless Inventory of Myself.  I was comfortable admitting I’m powerless, accepting I need a higher power and giving it to God.  I egotistically read steps one through three and mentally checked each box.  But I was still stuck in shame, guilt and self-loathing.

Yesterday my sponsor and I talked for an hour.  I cried, she let me.  She told me the shame would go away faster than I thought (I was not totally convinced).  Then she gave me homework.  She asked me to write a list of ways my life had become unmanageable due to alcohol.  I’m such a Naïve Nelly I didn’t know she was telling me to work on Step 1.  (Lesson 1, sponsors are tricky, they know you lie to yourself and will have none of it! God Bless them each and every one).

So far, I’ve spent at least eight-hours working on this list and thinking through the questions afterward. Guess what!  I feel like a weight is lifted.  I’m not exonerated of the wrongs I’ve done to myself and others by any means.  I’ll work on that later.  But I’m also not just sitting and hating myself.  I’m recognizing why I was doing what I was doing.  For me, that’s the only way to change.

I’ve shared this with my sponsor.  I’m not sure if I have more Step 1 work to do but this was valuable to me.  I hope it helps someone.

With love and support,
D 

What in my life is unmanageable? (it would have been faster to answer the question of what in my life IS manageable)

  • Finances – lost a car, nearly lost my apartment, emptied my retirement, spent $8k on bail because of our drinking, currently living on unemployment and selling his music equipment to pay rent
  • Eating – I either eat everything or nothing
  • Sleep – Too much or none
  • Housekeeping – getting better but not myself
  • Exercise – I can’t seem to do it even though I know I need to
  • Motivation – I have none
  • Positive Thinking – Feels like a lie to me, like I’m trying to trick myself instead of facing reality
  • Relationships – I go from one bad one to another looking for love when I don’t love me
  • Career – I’ve always been a model employee. Since 2015 I’ve lost or quit 5 jobs.
  • Boundaries – Basically I have none, I’m more worried about everyone else.
  • Being a victim – I’m actually gifted and smart and strong when not drinking, but due to the shame, lack of boundaries and lack of self-worth; I just go along for the ride and completely lack accountability
  • No sense of the future
  • No sense of self — I can’t answer the question “what do I want”
  • I’ve made two very serious attempts at suicide in the last two years. One area of my life I’m glad to be a failure.
  • My emotions are all over the map, I feel like every emotion needs to be acted on, but I know better so I stuff them, but things fester. When I drink the repressed resentment comes up and I can be a real bitch (no really, super bitch)
  • Not maintaining my appearance. I have been leaving the house in sweats, no make-up, hair up and often greasy – which is an absolute deal-breaker for “normal me”
  • I let my drinking convince me I was partially responsible for being abused. WTF?  I mean really, WTF.  My drinking made me act unreasonable, selfish, mean and more but we don’t hit each other unless our lives are in danger.

 

Other questions I posed to myself (with guidance from Jason Wahler’s Blog)

  • What does the disease of addiction mean to me?
    I always thought of an addict as someone that was on the street or belonged on “Intervention”.  It meant that your thoughts were constantly consumed with getting more of the thing you are addicted to.  I classified myself as an abuser but not addict, I can go periods of time and not drink.  But there’s no off button, one sip and the toddlers are running around in my head running the show screaming for more.  It’s hard for me to see someone else have a drink and know I can’t.  I feel broken, afflicted.  But let’s be honest, I drank to the point of peeing myself in a restaurant and being held for my own safety at jail (luckily not arrested), I’ve been banned from my favorite bar, sent home for being “weird”.  There’s more, so much more.  So today, I’d say addiction is when you keep repeating behavior that’s keeping you from having the life you want. When you are using something to fill the emptiness or numb the pain instead of healing yourself.
  • How has my disease affected me physically? Mentally? Spiritually? Emotionally? Financially?
    Physically – I gained weight, looked very old and stopped eating, I had physical fights with my boyfriend that I lost, busted up my face falling, always had unexplained bruises. Heartburn, OMG the heartburn.  Beyond what medication could control. I’m lucky, no liver damage, no ulcer, no hospital time.

    Mentally
    – For a while, I had memory issues that I glossed over chalking it up to old age.  I also suffered depression and worsened my already poor self-esteem.  I became a liar, a hider, I didn’t want anyone to know how bad I really was.  I didn’t want to admit it to myself either.

    Spiritually
    – Oddly in the last year of my drinking I’ve started talking to and believing in God again.  I’m sure that’s the only reason I am not dead or in jail.

    Emotionally
    – I lied to those I loved, I felt ashamed and embarrassed of myself all the time.  Full of regret for whatever dumb thing I had done the night before which I usually pieced together from my phone or people gleefully telling me what an ass I’d made of myself as if it was funny and to be celebrated.  I fucked up friendships, lost a marriage (though it needed losing) I’ve made the people who love me cry. I was consumed with self-righteousness and self-loathing all at once.  Every drop fed my insecurities until they began to rule me.

  • How does the self-centered part of my disease affect my life and the life of those around me?
    For a long time, I refused to see that when my drinking bitch came out, I was hurting others, or even that seeing me drunk hurt others. I wanted to escape, to numb out so I did.  In the times when A would drink and I stayed sober, I was so angry – I knew he was hurting and that’s why he was drinking. But he’d say he wasn’t going to, then go for broke and leave me to take care of him.  I hated that, I was really angry with him.  Yet I’ve done it to others and refused to see it.  I acted in a manner I abhor.

    Sunday night I called A in rehab while drunk.  I’m one of the most considerate people in the world under normal circumstances, but I called the floor phone in a rehab facility drunk because I wanted to talk, because I was sad and lonely.  I had not a single care that I was sending 30 men into a tailspin.  Maybe not fair to say I didn’t care, I was too drunk to process how my actions were going to affect them.

  • Have I blamed other people for my behavior?
    The better question is, have I ever accepted responsibility? It’s been someone else’s fault for years.

    First, it was my ex-husband. If #2 hadn’t started me on craft beer and wine, if #2 hadn’t moved his son in, if #2 had contributed financially, if #2 hadn’t had FOUR FUCKING affairs.
    Then it was my boss.  If “Opie” hadn’t destroyed my career confidence.  If “The Sociopath” hadn’t played my insecurities.I drank to pretend “POF” wasn’t there because he irritated the fuck out of me yet I was scared to be alone.A’s drinking was worse than mine, so I didn’t have the problem, he did.Other times, I was joining in, being social, participating.

    It’s only been this week that I’ve really realized all of this was an excuse to do whatever I wanted without accepting responsibility.  While staying at my life-long friend’s home, I had a liter of vodka hidden in the bedroom so she would not know how much I was drinking.  I was hurrying bottles out to the recycling bin, so nobody knew about the six-pack of beer I had during the day.  Who is this person???

     

  • Have I compared my addiction to other people’s addictions?
    Of course I have! I was a “high-functioning” alcoholic.  I haven’t been arrested, I was never homeless (Though I came frighteningly close), I *only* drank beer (until the end), I didn’t do drugs, I didn’t drink in the morning.  Yeah, I had a long list of justifications that I wasn’t so bad that I needed help.
  • What does unmanageability mean to me?
    I am acting outside of my personal expectations/normal behaviors, but I can’t stop. I know I want to do differently but cannot seem to change my actions even when sober.  I’ve lost my way.
  • What troubles have been caused because of my addiction?
    See above. Financial, destroyed relationships, poor work performance, shame
  • Have I used alcohol or drugs to change or suppress my feelings?
    Yes indeed, that’s the main reason I used alcohol. I could not get my brain to be quiet and stop attacking me, so I shut it off with alcohol.
  • What reservations am I still holding onto?
    I don’t like labeling myself as an alcoholic, but I’m beginning to understand why the program asks us to do it. The more often I say it, the word loses its judgemental hold on me and I become someone who’s not “bad” but a person working for a better life.
  • Do I accept that I’ll never regain “control” over drinking, even after a long period without use?
    Yes, there is no social drinking for me. I won’t lie, it’s been 4 days that I’m sober, thoughts pop in my head but I remind myself that I spent every night last week drunk and embarrassed myself repeatedly.  Nobody is responsible for that but me.  Nobody else was drinking.  And two drinks leads to stepping on the gas until I passed out. One drink is always followed by a second.
  • What could my life be like if I surrendered completely?
    I can’t imagine. I hope for the peace I see in others with long term sobriety.
  • Am I WILLING: to follow a sponsor’s direction, go to meetings regularly and give recovery my best effort?
    Yes, absolutely. I have hope that I can get rid of the crap that’s holding me back. I’ve tried to get sober by myself for six stubborn years.  I need help finding the way, I NEED a sponsor to guide me. Without this chance, I’m not going to be the person I want to be.
  • Have I made peace with the fact that I’m an alcoholic and that I’ll have to do things to stay clean?
    I have a lot of emotional work to do. That’s my only hope. 

If you want to share your journey, I’d love to hear it in the comments below.

Family Violence Court

I didn’t sleep last night. I had no idea what to expect. I was creating all kinds of scenarios in my head where I’d have to reveal personal details of my life, or perhaps I’d be judged for being there in the first place.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I read up on the judge. I forgot I’d seen him in action before. He’s the person you’d want running a family violence court. He actually cares about the guys in the court (There are no women in his court right now though of course, it’s possible.)

First, let me tell you what happens in court. Each case is called, probation reports on the participant’s progress based on what the court ordered. For most this meant some combination of were they attending addiction treatment, did they test clean, employment status, participation in mankind (anti-domestic violence counseling), etc. Almost everyone was doing well, and I could tell the judge was genuinely happy to see it.

Two participants chose not to show up for court. He didn’t hesitate to revoke probation and issue a warrant for their arrest. That seems reasonable to me. Another participant failed a drug test. I absolutely thought he was going to get his probation revoked, but the judge was pretty fair. He listened to what happened, the man accepted responsibility for the mistake and ended up getting 48 hours in custody and likely will need more addiction treatment. The Judge listened.

 

Our turn came. He’s in custody right now and will be for a few more weeks. At sentencing, the court did not let me speak, even though it’s the victim’s right. A full no-contact order was issued. I understand in theory why this happened. However, he’s in custody and I can’t even visit at the jail which makes no sense to me. Perhaps the intent is to protect against mental manipulation, I’m not sure. But I’m certainly not in any physical danger.

I was allowed to address the court today and they are amending the order so that I can visit him. I am appreciative of this. I’m also glad this resource exists. A little accountability helps everyone. Having to show up and see the judge twice a month isn’t convenient, but it’s not unduly arduous either. Considering that every day 3 women die from domestic violence, and over 10 million adults are the victims of domestic violence each year in the United States, any reasonable effort to help offenders stop is worthwhile.

If you are the victim of domestic violence, please seek help. The situation is unlikely to resolve itself peacefully. Help is possible.

Resources – NCADV – United States

National Domestic Violence Helpline: Home – United Kingdom

I’m Going to Family Violence Court

The title of this post is six words I never thought I would say. If you were to ask younger more arrogant me (The “girl” I was a mere 9 months ago) if she’d ever be supportive of someone who hit her, I would have laughed in your face. Most likely I would have proceeded to very arrogantly declare that I’d never tolerate a man who hit me and perhaps even that I would have done something drastic to ensure he never hurt me or anyone else again.

Ah yes, younger more arrogant me who had not lived through my last few months.

If there’s anything I’d hope to save someone else from learning the hard way that I have, it’s this, life is not black and white, don’t judge what you aren’t living no matter how much you think you know the truth. You don’t.

I don’t even know the truth of what I’m experiencing. I know my perception of it which is clouded with a lot of emotion.

Before I go on, to the people who are getting high blood pressure because no woman should ever support a man that hit her, let me say this. No person should ever lay their hands on another. Period. Relationship status, gender, age, sobriety, mental health — none of those factors justifies hurting another human being. Nor do they make it any “wronger” with the obvious exception of abusing a child. Physical violence is a stronger person enforcing their will on a weaker one. And I have no tolerance for that. However, life isn’t black and white, so here I am.

I’m not ready to blog about the details of what happened, I may do so in the future, but I will say that mental illness and addiction led both of us to behave in ways we would not have otherwise. And both of us are cleaning up our side of the street as best we can including sobriety, counseling and legal ramifications. And we believe we love each other and want this to work. Family Violence Court is hopefully going to help.

I’ve been reading up on the judge who will prevail over the court. He’s no joke. He has presided over some of the most heinous crimes our county has seen, including sentencing a serial killer to death. This intimidates and comforts me. There will be no bullshitting him. Either we are doing the right things, or not. And if not, we need to be called out so that we don’t ruin or end one another’s lives. This is one of the few times in my life I’m willing to surrender and say, “I’m not the expert, tell me what to do.”

So, I’m scared, hopeful and excited. I will share more as the experience unfolds.

I Can’t do Everything (and Neither can You)

I’m learning a rough lesson right now. It’s tough to admit this, but as it turns out, I can’t do everything. Even worse, I can’t make someone else want to take control of their health.

And I know something you may not … so I’ll share my secret. None of us can. But that hasn’t stopped me from spending the last 6 months trying to get someone I love to make changes they were not ready to make, to conquer alcoholism and address mental health issues.

For some reason as a society, we can accept that Alzheimer’s, a disease of the brain, is blameless as it robs us of the person we knew. But for reasons I don’t understand, we tend to fault the patient for being an alcoholic or suffering from mental health issues such as depression, bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder. And worse, as loved ones, we often think we are at fault or that we can “fix” them.

Let me go on record: I call bullshit on that theory. I have suffered from depression and alcoholism (often referred to as dual diagnosis). I am now managing both (meaning I don’t drink, I am active in Women for Sobriety, and I have gone through lots of therapy for depression which is in remission and does not currently require medication). Nobody could fix me. Nobody “made” me an alcoholic and nobody “made” me have depression. Wondering why someone you love is an addict or is mentally ill is as fruitless as wondering why anyone has cancer, is the victim of a crime or is in an accident. As someone who has been on both sides of the equation, I speak from a unique perspective and if you love someone who is suffering you have to let go of the question of why; accept that it simply is, and move on. There is no “why.” Looking for that answer will rob you of any peace you can find in a difficult situation.

Science is still working through this, but as nearly as I can tell (and according to Science Daily, The Very Well Mind, and the National Institute of Alcoholism) depression, bipolar and alcoholism are likely a mix of genetic and environmental issues. We need to treat people who are diagnosed with mental illness and/or addiction the same as we would people with any other physical disease. Because they are.

As a loved one, being supportive is hard because the presentation of these diseases looks remarkably like bad behavior. Acknowledging and identifying the difference is challenging. You want to scream “KNOCK IT OFF” you just want your person back. Trust me, they want to be back.

If my loved one had heart disease I would never read a few articles on the web, chat with some people on Twitter and think that qualified me to help them heal.  I’d never try to “reason” cancer out of the body. But somehow, as a well-intentioned support person, I thought I could help someone dear to me get their addiction and mental health disorders under control in exactly this manner. To be fair, I didn’t have illusions that I didn’t need any help. But I did think I could get them through without as much professional assistance as I needed. I tried to reason his illness away.

I felt guilty (sometimes annoyed) when he would not take medication. I didn’t ask for professional help to understand when his disease was speaking and when it was him. I got angry when I should have just let it go. And then I beat myself up for not getting it perfect. Eventually, I was forced to let him sleep outside for three nights because he would not get treatment and I could not have him at home; his disease made it unsafe for me to be around him. I’ve never felt so helpless in my life. I could not force him to make the changes I knew he needed. He’s brilliant, creative, talented, funny, and kind. He’s not human waste to forgotten or lost in the system. He’s #sicknotweak. I need help to help him. He needs a team of professionals right now, and he’s getting it.

Here’s what I did do, I took him to the hospital to get his prescription. He hated this and was adamant that he did not need it (to the point of a Jerry Springer-worthy fight in the parking lot where I eventually took the keys and sat in the waiting room until he came in). I’ll probably never know if I did the right thing by forcing him to go, but I know if he needed stitches for an open wound I wouldn’t have taken no for an answer so I did my best and applied that logic. I navigated his very crummy insurance and the prescriptions to him. I got him in touch with his sponsor but couldn’t get him to go to AA meetings. I cried, a lot. I can’t overemphasize this, I cried a lot. I tried talking to him. Holding him. Loving him. In the end, it was not enough. He was under too much stress and I ended up calling for professional help. Then I cried more. I’m still crying, but I’m also doing something new, I’m hoping.

I’ve been fortunate to find a NAMI Family Support Group in my area that is helping me understand what I can and cannot control. I’ve found an amazing “tribe” on Twitter that includes so many superheroes who struggle every day but keep showing up and supporting each other. They teach me so much! I write and I pray.

If you love someone who struggles or are diagnosed with a mental illness or suffer from addiction please use the comments to talk about what you think are the best ways to provide support. If we talk about it we can eliminate the stigma.

Use a List to Conquer Fear and Drive Change

list-image

Recently, I’ve had a tough time with my love life, to put it mildly.  To be more specific, I’ve been abused physically, emotionally, and financially.  I nearly lost my life because of this experience.  And yet, I am struggling to get away from this man.

I’ve spent the last 24 hours crying.  You see I tried again to “help” him because I’m “Terminally Nice.”  He was released from jail unexpectedly, I had been hoping to get him into a transition program that could help with sobriety, mental health, and anger management.  He literally has no place to go without me.  So when this happened without warning, I let him come to my home.  I was too nice to let him deal with the consequences of his own issues.  Instead, I dealt with them and took on the risk.

Luckily he did not hurt my body, but for the past week I’ve felt like I was auditioning for the Jerry Springer Show (Is that even on?)  Wednesday it got to be too much, I called the police to get him out of my home.  He was either drunk or having a mental health crisis. Either way, he was threatening my livelihood (I work from home and he was disrupting meetings), my pets and I felt certain this would eventually escalate to another physical fight.  I had to call the police to help get him away.

Of course he did not leave easily, and of course, I talked to him on the phone and in person, after they released him (Why the F— would they release a man who’s been arrested twice for DV and while awaiting sentencing breaks his peaceful contact order?????).  I was hoping he’d get into a program.  I was willing to help.  He was crying telling me he’s never loved anyone like me and that he wanted to go to the hospital.

What he really wanted was to come back into the house.  I let him sleep in my car because I am too soft to say go sleep in the woods … (I knew if he got inside the house I’d never get him out).  When I woke up this morning, he was gone.  He called several times to tell me he has no reason to live and he was going to get drunk and jump onto the freeway with instructions on what to do with his body.  This went on for three hours during which I said I’d help him get help but he could not come in the house.  Then,  abrupt silence.  He’s been incommunicado for 5 hours.  I should feel relieved.  Instead, I’m wondering where he is.  I’ve been crying and truly out of my mind with angst.  I can’t keep food down, it’s hard to believe.

I think the silence really started when he realized he was not going to talk his way back into the apartment.  I fully realize he may have made good on his awful suicide promise.  I don’t know where he was so I could not call for help.  I sent him all kinds of crisis intervention information.  I don’t know what else I could have done, I’m sure if he hurt himself I’ll be a wreck.

Now I’m FINALLY getting to the part that I think may help you!  I’m at peace, and I achieved this within about 20 minutes.  You see, I was “romancing” him, remembering all the things I liked about him, most of which had nothing to do with who he really is but were the fantasy I created in my head with his help.  I thought he was sexy, intelligent and talented when I met him.  I still think he is 2 out of 3.  Until this second, all I could see was a fragile person who needed support.  He looked gentle to me.

I couldn’t think straight, I actually drove around looking for him, wondering what I’d do if I found him because I wasn’t going to bring him to my home …  But wanting to know he was alive.

In a frantic attempt to calm my emotions, I sat behind my trusty keyboard and made a list of the significant things he’s done to me that caused emotional, physical or financial pain.  In about 20 minutes I had 50 things (and because my background is marketing, some of my items had sub-bullets so it was more like 55! LOL)  With every strike of the return key I got stronger in my resolve.  I deleted him from my phone.

If you are struggling with trying to let go of anything, a substance, a behavior, a person, and you can’t seem to get past the pain I suggest you try this technique.

fear1

Fear is what typically holds people back from making meaningful change. There are three types of fear.

  1. Fear of failure — So what, try again.  Not even computer programs run perfect the first time.
  2. Fear the change won’t be worth the effort — AND?  If you are constantly struggling with knowing you want to change something but romancing the past, you already know it will be better.  And if it’s not, then go back to the way it was or make more changes. You get to decide what is best for you.
  3. Fear of the unknown, what will the future be like if you change? — If you are seriously contemplating a significant change you don’t like the present.  If you don’t like the future the change manifests you can always “change the change”.

So I asked myself, What am I afraid of?  All of the above. Failure — I’ve already tried to get him out of my life but I keep letting him come back even though I know the likelihood is that this will not end well for either of us.  Will it be worth the effort? What if I make this change and it hurts my heart and my life doesn’t get better? My analytical brain knows it will, my soft heart is confusing me.  Lastly and perhaps most significantly for me, fear of the unknown. What if he hurts himself because I set boundaries?  What if he is my soulmate and I just put him on the street?  What if I can never love again because I had to close my heart off to him?

I’m still going to make the change.  I’m scared.  But my list tells me I’m also scared of staying the same.  Both are hard but at least one option offers the potential for a stronger future where I am an inspiration for others, not a warning.

What do you want to change?