Monthly Archives: January 2013
Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens. –Epictetus
I had a great plan for the day, specifically the morning. And then… woke up to no electricity. There goes my big plans…
I was driving in the car, complaining about this situation to a friend, and he pooh pooh-ed my complaints, dismissively saying, “Everything will be alright.” To which I (sarcastically) replied, “Oh, thank you, now I feel so much better!” He said, “I am only using the advice you have given in all of your posts.” My response, “Well, if I had electricity to access my blog, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation!”
The good news: the power came back on right before I had to leave to get my car serviced. The even better news: The dealership has wi-fi, so now I can write while I wait. The best news: my friend is absolutely correct, and all is well, with or without electricity.
Having a friend call just when I needed it, and having a conversation to turn my frown upside down!
Also, having the time to enjoy fellow bloggers (which I will be doing as soon as I hit publish).
If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got. -W.L. Bateman
Years ago, my Mom was driving up to the college I attended to visit me. I’m not sure if it was her first time driving on her own, or she just took a wrong turn somewhere, but she got lost, and it took her a while to find her way to the campus (this was before the age of GPS and cell phones). When she finally arrived, she was in a state, and exclaimed, “I could see the college, but I just couldn’t get to the college!” This quote has stood the test of time amongst my group of friends, and we will still occasionally throw it out there.
Fast forward a couple of decades. My husband and I are sitting on a beach and I was trying to open up about my struggles with recovery (this was during the 8 months where I was trying and failing). I said to him, “I can see where I want my life to be, but it’s like it’s sitting across a crowded freeway. I can see the destination, but I have no idea how to get there.”
So what’s the answer when we know what we want, or as the case may sometimes be, what we don’t want, but we’re completely unsure how to enact the right change? In using my own journey of recovery as a reference point, I believe the answer is simply do something. If you don’t like your current circumstances, whatever they may be, then the plain truth is that you have to change something. I can hear the defenses going up…. but what do I change? what if I make things worse? what if I create a new set of problems? I know all of these defenses because I’ve used them all myself, about a thousand times. They are the rationalizations of someone who wants to remain stagnant.
When you make a change, then the outcome is uncertain. But if you know you don’t like the current circumstances, and you refuse to make a change, then the outcome is certain… you will continue to live and feel the exact way you do now. When you look at it that way, the answer is pretty simple!
As someone who really, really, really hates feeling cold, I have so appreciated this balmy 40 degree day (for the past week, we have been living in the teens, temperature-wise, in the Northeast), and it is supposed to get even warmer tomorrow!
First, let me say that I am so happy to be back writing about the present day, instead of mucking around in the past! Yesterday was my one year anniversary of sobriety, and it was a fantastic day from beginning to end. Got to write in my blog, received beautiful commendations in return, spent time with my family, and my Mom asked to go with me to my meeting to receive my 1 year coin. It doesn’t get any better than that!
I have written quite a bit in the past year about my connection with “coincidences,” “synchronicity,” or, if you prefer, God Moments. Since this journey began, I have opened my eyes to all the different ways He speaks to me on any given day, and that awareness has brought amazing gifts into my life. Just this past weekend, several have happened that I would like to share:
1. About a year and a half ago, when I was still trying to get recovery (and failing miserably), I ran into a family member at one of the meetings I attend. I was at a very low point (I believe I was entering rehab the very next day), and the shame I felt was immense. She was a wonderful support through that time, and in early recovery. As my life improved, and I started branching out at different meetings, we drifted apart. As my anniversary date grew close, I kept meaning to reach out to her, but never managed to do so. Thursday of last week she called, out of the blue… she is chairing a meeting, and needed a speaker, would I be willing to do it? The date she needed was the one year anniversary of my last “drink.” I told her (of course) that I would be honored, and let her know of my timeline, and she was floored… that was Friday.
2. I had a sponsor from about 6 months before I hit my bottom, until about 6 months into sobriety (another amazing God Moment story for another time). She was an absolute anchor for me through the stormiest part of my life to date, and she will always be special to me. At around 6 months, our relationship drifted a bit, her job became more complex, and she had less time to give to her Program, and consequently our relationship changed from sponsor/sponsee to a more casual friendship in the Fellowship. On Sunday, out of the blue, I received a phone message from her. She was attending a meeting we used to attend together, and she wanted to know if I could meet her there and then we could grab a bite to eat. She said I had just popped into her head, and she wanted to see how I was. When I called back and told her what the date was, she couldn’t speak for a few minutes, she was so overcome. She honestly had not remembered it was just a year ago that we were dealing with my mess of a life, and she couldn’t believe she decided to call me on that day. She showed up for my meeting this morning, we had breakfast together, and we marvelled at the amazing God Moments all around us.
3. Last night I was preparing for my meeting this morning, and I was using a book I don’t read very often (an AA book, Came to Believe). I opened up to a random page, which turned out to be chapter 7, entitled “Is it Coincidence?” I knew at that moment what I needed to share the next day.
4. At the meeting this morning a woman showed up that I have not seen in weeks. She was a regular attendee when my meeting first started, then she disappeared for a while. She is back and dealing with upcoming legal problems (3rd DUI, which typically brings mandatory jail time), and she is filled with anxiety. She has about a month sober, and hopes to have more, but is terrified that if she has to go to jail she will lose momentum and relapse. I was able to share the story of my legal issues, the certainty I had of one outcome in the beginning, the miracles that took place along the way, and the unbelievable outcome that I got to experience, against all odds. She told me that my story inspired her to let go of her anxiety, at least for today, to simply enjoy the present, and to let the future take care of itself. My meeting typically has anywhere from 6-12 attendees, but due to inclement weather, there were only 4 of us, which gave me the opportunity to share more of my personal story than I normally would, which gave this woman the comfort she needed to let go of her worries.
The point of that last story is that coincidences, or God Moments, work both ways, and I never know how my words or actions might serve as a God Moment for another.
It snowed today and my children’s school district did not give them a 2-hour delay, or even call them out of school early. It’s as much a miracle as my recovery…
So here we are, finally, back to the present. Since this blog has been more or less a journal of the past year, I encourage someone just reading for the first time to look back over the past months to get an idea of what it was like. For this post, however, I am going to focus on the miracle that was waiting for me, just around the corner. It is 365 full days later, and daily I did the four things I have talked about the past year… I prayed, I went to a meeting, I talked to another alcoholic, and I did not pick up a drink or a drug. As a result I get something today I honestly did not think I could ever do, which is stand in the front of a meeting and receive a coin that commemorates my one year of sobriety.
I have been trying to compose this post in my head for the past week, the topic being, what have I gained in recovery? The list is almost endless… healed relationships, gratitude, membership in an indescribably wonderful Fellowship, pride, clarity, connection with God, I could honestly go on and on.
So then the big question… what is at the top of the list? I think the biggest gift I have received in sobriety is a true sense of self. And I don’t mean I got myself back, I mean I got this sense of self for the first time in 43 years. Prior to this past year, I defined my life by the things that needed to change… once I lose weight, once I get my degrees, once I have an awesome profession, once I am married, once I have a child, once I have a boy and a girl, once I am able to run a mile without stopping, once I stop drinking, once I stop taking painkillers… then my life will be great. For as long as I can possibly remember, my happiness was based on a set of future conditions, and, if I was lucky enough to meet those conditions, a new future set was already in place. Which meant happiness was always just out of my reach.
Today, as a result of a year spent reflecting, and praying, and sharing, and writing, I feel different. I am at peace, right now, at 9:06 am on Sunday, January 27th. I have faith that I will be at peace for the rest of the day. If something happens to disrupt that peace, I know that something is temporary, it will pass, and I will be okay. And if the day goes completely to hell, I have the ultimate tool that I can take out and use at will: “Am I sober today? Then nothing else matters.”
365 days of continuous sobriety? Priceless.
I can already hear my husband challenging the title of this post, he would argue that my next post should be labeled the final chapter, but for me, this is the finale, God willing, in terms of bottoming out.
Okay, quick summary of the past three days… for 8-9 months, I had been attempting recovery, with absolutely zero success (if you are just joining this story, read back a few posts to Chapter 1). And each turning point during that time took me lower and lower, and feeling more and more hopeless. Where we last left off, I had been struggling with marital problems, frustration and/or outright anger from family and friends, multiple failed rehab treatments, failed attempts with AA, stepwork, sponsors, and on top of it all, the question mark of legal consequences.
And still I continued my addiction.
My final day was actually this day (Friday), but the date was January 26, 2012. The day started like any other. I attempted to pray, but deep down knew that I would get up, and go right back to what I knew… addictive behavior. I could retrace every step of that day, but I’m not sure it would serve much purpose. I will, however, recount what has become for me the critical moment. I had a thought so clear that I actually said it out loud, to myself, in the car: “There was not one part of this day that was fun.”
Anyone reading who is an addict knows that after a time, your drug of choice becomes totally ineffective, and what you are in fact doing is chasing the high that hasn’t really happened for a long time. By this point in my addiction, I really had no pleasant physical reaction at all, so of course the question becomes, then why do it? That question is already answered in the minds of every addict reading this, and will never be answered to the satisfaction of every non-addict. The ultimate answer: I do it because I am an addict.
Back to the story: so at the time I did not know I was uttering profound words, but in fact I was, because that was my last day of using a mind-altering substance. The day continued, and I actually had plans that evening to go out with some friends. During the car ride to the restaurant I spoke with my husband, and got a sense that something was amiss, but had no idea what it could be. I got home later that evening, and waiting for me was a card and a dozen roses… it was the anniversary of our first date. He remembered, I did not. And while there were these beautiful things waiting for me, my husband’s mood was not one of them. I tried to pry it out of him, but he would not budge…. nothing was wrong, he said.
Went to bed, next day, the icy silence continued. I tried multiple times to figure out the problem, but to no avail. This is technically day 1 of sobriety, but the ramifications of my behavior are still to come.
My final bottom was more or less like an airplane hitting a runway as it is attempting to come to a stop… a series of bumps, and then… silence.
Bump: Sunday morning, I wake up, my husband is already out of bed. He comes into the room, I ask, for perhaps the 1,000th time that weekend, can you please tell me what’s wrong. He sits down on the bed, and lays it out very simply: he cannot do this anymore, I need to leave the house, immediately. He will drive me to my Mom‘s, but that is it. If I don’t go, he will make a scene in front of the kids, and cause irreparable damage to my relationship with them. He takes my phone, my keys, almost everything out of my wallet, and drives me away from my home.
Bump: I am dropped off, like a bag of garbage, at my Mom’s house. Both siblings that live there and my Mother cannot even look at me, they are so angry, hurt, and disappointed.
Bump: The next day, I have an already scheduled lawyer’s visit, at which point I am told that there seems to be no other alternative but jail time for my legal consequences.
Bump: The next day, I must report to a police station to make all the charges official. My picture is taken, I am finger printed, just like you see on TV.
And then… silence. And there I sat, my life in ruins, with very little idea of how I ever got to this place.
I’d like to add, at this point, that writing these posts for the past three days has been so much more difficult than I ever could have imagined. Which is good, because I never would have done it if I had known how difficult it would be. Mainly, I have discovered in the past few days that I am, at heart, an optimistic, hopeful person, and writing about such dire things really goes against my grain. But if my story has touched even one person, and helped them in some way, then it is more than worth it.
I will conclude with what has become the beginning of my road to recovery. The first night that I stayed at my Mom’s, I could not sleep to save my life. As light was not even breaking on that next day, I got out of bed, dropped to my knees, and I prayed like I have never prayed before. I believe, and often share, that acceptance of my disease came at that moment, and I got the answer that carried me through the next year of my life. I need to do 4 things that day, and every day thereafter: pray, go to a meeting, talk to another addict, and those three will keep me from the fourth, which is not pick up a drink or drug. And I allowed myself the luxury of having only those 4 things on my “to-do” list for each and every day: as long as I do those things, I have had a wildly successful day.
And that is where the next story begins…
If you are a Catholic, you will appreciate this one. I thought that the past 3 days were much like Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday… full of sadness, but also of hope for Easter Sunday. And then I laughed out loud at the audacity of comparing myself to Jesus Christ!
Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. –Carl Jung
Okay, I just accidentally hit publish as I started typing this post. If you received something incomplete, disregard, I am starting over…
I had written that I wanted to give up on this process the past three days, because it is tough revisiting the past, tough trying to concisely sum it up, tough putting myself out there. But since I’ve started, I need to just get it done.
So now I’m trying to paint the picture of my experience in rehab. How to sum up 21 days of being in an alternate universe? The days leading up to admission were a time of complete detachment for me, it was the only way I could get through it. And while the ride down to the facility, the admission process, and the tour of the place is crystal clear in my mind, it was like some kind of out-of-body experience, that’s how surreal it felt.
The pro’s of my time there: since I am the type of person to thrive in any kind of educational setting, I was able to get a lot of good information from all the sessions I attended. I shared a lot in my group settings, I made some meaningful connections with my fellow “inmates,” and I was inspired by many of the professionals who worked there. As I became more comfortable and settled in, there was also a pleasant feeling of insulation… I felt protected, from my disease, from the absolute disaster of a life waiting for me when I got out, and from simple daily routine. As my time grew shorter there, the anxiety built, but still, I want to list the good stuff as well as the bad.
The con’s of my time there: probably the biggest detraction of rehab for me personally was a total lack of relatability. I can only say this now, after reflection. In the moment I bonded the best way I knew how, and I really did make connections. But in looking back, absolutely no one was like me, and that hurt my ability to process the information I received. Most of the people were much younger, it was far from their first experience (one friend I made was not yet 21, and this had been her 8th stay), and their stories with addiction were not anything that made sense to me in my frame of mind. Again, this is a 20/20 hindsight observation, at the time I was just trying to do the best I could with the hand I was dealt. Another major con: I made absolutely no plans to change anything in my life once I got out. I did not think about it, and therefore did not anticipate any issues I may encounter. All I knew was that I had an incredibly angry husband to deal with, kids who I had to put up a falsely positive front, and a group of friends and relatives who only found out about any of this mess once I went away (that’s right, most of the major people in my life knew nothing about these problems, at my insistence). So I chose not to make any post-rehab plans in my mind, because thinking about it was simply too painful.
I remember having a fleeting thought of being able to resume my addiction while I was in rehab. When I say fleeting, I mean it probably lasted all of 10 seconds… it popped into my head, and my response to that thought was, “don’t worry about it, you are safe.” I did not share the thought, and I did not revisit it for the remainder of the time I was there. That 10-second thought came back the very first day I was home, and now that I am “back to normal life,” it came back with a vengeance. I could not shake it, and very quickly it became an obsession that I could not ignore. Again, in retrospect, it is all so easy to see where I went wrong, but at that point in time, I simply could not connect the dots. And while I learned in a rhetorical way all of the tools I needed to stay sober, I had not practiced a single one, so when that obsession came over me, I did not have a choice… I had to act on it. And, well, addicts at this point know the rest… once you act once, once you take that first drink, first anything, you are right back where you started. And so the cycle continued, almost immediately after rehab.
Okay, deep breath, here’s the next bottom (as if resuming addiction post-rehab isn’t bad enough). As I have been told many times, the progression of addiction is undeniable, the lengths an addict will go to become more and more extreme, and I was no exception. In order to feed my particular addiction, I wrote yesterday that I had gotten creative, specifically with the medical profession. Eventually these lies caught up with me in a legal way, and in early December 2011 I received a phone call from the police… bottom line, they had me dead to rights, and now, in addition to the myriad of other consequences, I have legal ones. At this time (December) I don’t know what they are, only that they are a certainty.
Today’s story should stop there, right? No, it does not. In order to do this timeline justice, I need to write this next part, it should speak to the sensibilities of every addict reading this, while horrifying those who do not struggle with this disease. Early on in the process, I met with a lawyer to discuss the next steps. At this meeting the lawyer said something to the effect that once I am officially charged with an act, then I could never in my lifetime do it again without incredibly serious repercussions. Due to a weird set of circumstances that would take too long to explain, I had not yet been charged with anything, and so, with the addicted mind I had (have), I really, truly, consciously drew the following conclusion: if I could never do it again in my lifetime, then why not take advantage of the lag time between now (December) and the time I am charged? God help me, that is how my mind worked, and that I exactly how I proceeded, for the following month.
Tomorrow, praise God, will be the final chapter in this saga.
In this moment, the miracle is that tomorrow, praise God, is the final chapter, and I can then get back to happier posts.
I am not judged by the number of times I fail, but by the number of times I succeed, and the number of times I succeed is in direct proportion to the number of times I fail and keep trying. –Tom Hopkins
When I last left off in this story, it was the summer of 2011 (if you are just joining the story now, read yesterday’s post). I have successfully removed a few addictive substances from my life with the belief that simply one vice would satisfy the people around me, while still maintaining the control I so desperately wanted. Two hitches with this train of thought. First, I still had to live a lie in order to hold on to my addiction. Second, addiction doesn’t sit, lay down and roll over as I truly believed it would.
As I have learned, there are a number of paths my “philosophy” in the summer of 2011 could have taken me, such as: I could have picked up another, totally separate addiction, or I could have simply reverted to all the previous ones, since, what the heck, I’m already lying, why not just go back to everything? But the way it actually panned out was this: I held onto that one vice, and that addiction simply took off. What at first was a “when you have it, just enjoy it, and when it runs out, wait until you can get some more” thought process evolved into “let’s see what we can do to make this happen as frequently as possible.” And so the addiction progressed, and, if I am being honest, I truly believed I was pretty clever. It’s like anything else: when you put your mind to work, it is amazing what you can accomplish, and accomplish I did. Through trial and error, I came up with some pretty ingenious ways for obtaining my drug of choice.
Never once giving thought to the damage I was doing to my physical self, or the addictive properties of the drug itself, it became like a game to me. At the time, my husband was the referee of the game, and our marriage suffered greatly for it. My thinking at this point was something along the lines of: “If he would just stop prying into every little detail of my life, everything would be fine!” I can’t stress this strongly enough, I wasn’t justifying my actions, I simply chose not to look at myself at all. All my thought processes at this point were external… where and how can I obtain my drug of choice? Why is my husband spying on my every move? How can I be even more clever so I can avoid his interrogations?
So the next few months were a series of deceit, lies, cover-ups, and explosions when I was finally “caught in the act.” The culmination of this particular bottom happened on October 14, 2011. My husband, for what felt like the millionth time, uncovered a deception, and gave me an ultimatum: go away and get help, or simply go away. It took a few days to find an appropriate facility, and I was able to negotiate staying home long enough to celebrate my son’s 9th birthday, but I went to an inpatient rehab on October 19, 2011.
Wouldn’t it be nice if this was where the story turns around? Stay tuned for tomorrow’s shocking twist…
That I can retell this story, and my friends and family still love me.
It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light. –Aristotle Onassis
I have been back and forth about the following series of posts I am about to write (so obviously you know which way I decided). On the one hand, I believe describing the events that led me into recovery is helpful for me personally, so I will always remember from whence I came. Plus, as any recovery program will attest, sharing my experience, strength and hope will benefit the people around me as well (at least I hope it will).
On the other hand, and I cannot stress this part strongly enough, I have two different kinds of readers of this blog: the community I have come to know and love, and the readers who have known and have loved me my whole life. It is to this second group I am making the following statement: the next several posts will be rough reading for you. I am going to write candidly here about what is was like before I came into recovery. If you want to read on, please do so at your own risk.
I am going to start my series of bottoms when I first attempted recovery. By the end of this week, if you have read all of my posts, it will be as if you have come to an AA meeting where I was the guest speaker. I took the first step of my journey to recovery in the winter of 2011. I believe it was sometime in February when my husband sat me down and said he knew there was something wrong with me, but he couldn’t quite figure out what it was. I believe at the time I blamed it on winter blues, mixed in with some sadness because it was around the anniversary of my Father’s death (of course, he had been dead for 19 years, but hey, I can still be sad, right?). The reality was that I was abusing prescription pills, basically, anything I could get my hands on. It had started with back problems, and a referral to a pain management specialist a few years before, but by this point had escalated… basically, if you told me it was addictive, I wanted to take it. At this point I had a vague sense that what I was doing was none too smart, but my rationalization was if it was legitimately prescribed for me, then how bad could it really be?
This particular bottom (and there will be more) culminated in April of 2011, when my husband got a more definitive grasp (though still not complete) of the nature of my problem; namely, prescription drugs. He insisted I get help, and so I sought out treatment in an outpatient rehab near my house. I actually completed that treatment, at least according to their paperwork, although I’m not sure how they could have, in good faith, let me “graduate.” Because I was nowhere near accepting my disease in any way, shape or form.
Here’s what I was able to accomplish during that 6-week period. Going into that treatment program, I was regularly abusing 3 different types of prescription drugs, in addition to drinking on a regular basis. So my thought process at that point was: okay, there is clearly a problem, and the problem is doing way too many different things. Why not control it by eliminating what is not necessary or fun? Alcohol, oddly enough, was the first to go, particularly because it caused me the most problems (if I had one glass of wine, the entire world knew it). Next in line were what I would consider “extraneous” prescription drugs… the drugs I took because I was told they were “relaxing,” when in fact they did absolutely nothing for me. That left what I have come to realize was my drug of choice, prescription pain pills. At this time I had a regular, legitimate prescription waiting for me each and every month, and the idea of giving that up was as foreign to me as the idea of giving up water… simply not an option. So I gave up everything else, but the one drug, and thought, alright, then, I am cured. I will just narrow it down to one vice, how bad could it get?
We can all see where this is going, too bad I didn’t… Stay tuned for the next bottom…
There are two: having the courage to write this down, and that someone has read far enough to get to this section!
This weekend I suffered my first real physical pain since being in recovery: I pulled something in my back (how I did it, I really couldn’t tell you), and I have had difficulty walking for the past 2 days. Multiple “old lady” jokes from my younger husband later…
The story of hurting my back would not be worth writing down, if it were not for being in recovery. It is temporary, and it is not seriously debilitating. It becomes significant, however, because in the past I would have gone running to the doctor’s for a lot less than this kind of pain. So the fact that I made it through without wanting to numb myself… well, it counts for something, anyway.
Having said that, I wouldn’t go out to buy me any trophies. Because now that I’ve had a chance to explore some real pain, and a real response to it, I have to honestly say that pain is not a trigger for me. In fact, it brought to mind a memory from a surgery I had quite a few years ago (and before I was in active addiction). I remember having a prescription for pain medication, and I remember consciously having the thought, “Well, if I take this now, while in real pain, that’s pretty much a waste. Why not suffer through the pain and then have the medication for a time I can really enjoy it?” Remember, that thought was years before active addiction!
That was not a pleasant memory to have, or even to share, but it’s the truth. The difference between then and now is the knowledge I have gained, the ability to identify the irrational thoughts, and the skills I have developed to combat those thoughts when they come my way… namely, to share about them with people who understand.
It is interesting to me that this is all happening as I am winding down the clock on the first year of recovery. Also interesting: as I opened WordPress to write this post, a fellow blogger’s writing caught my eye because she just celebrated her one-year anniversary (congrats Renee!). Towards the end of her post, she wrote, in big letters, “pain must be felt.” So I hope that she does not mind my using her quote for my title, because it sure fits my life right about now!
The support and help from my family, my friends, and the people in my Monday meeting today is nothing less than miraculous. I am truly blessed.