Category Archives: That’s What Friends Are For
Guest Post: My Friend John
I am honored to publish an article written by my friend John. I have known John for a great deal of my sobriety, he has been a great source of wisdom and inspiration throughout my recovery. Without further ado, here are John’s thoughts on the importance of introduction within the rooms of a 12-step meeting:
Introductions – What Are We Telling the Newcomer?
There are many different ways to introduce ourselves in AA meetings. My favorite – “My name is John and I’m an alcoholic.” Simple, to-the-point, unembellished. Here are some others that I have heard, with possible ramifications for the newcomer. For simplicity’s sake, I will use my name in each:
- “My name is John and I’m an addict and an alcoholic.” We need not even bring up the 5th tradition implications (although they could certainly be cited). By using this introduction, we have unnecessarily set ourselves apart from the newcomer, who may shy away from us thinking that drugs are not his or her problem. If drugs are in our backgrounds, there is plenty of time to discuss that, but at a later date.
- “John, alcoholic.” This one is too quick and glosses over our deadly disease almost as an afterthought. Saying the entire sentence out loud conveys a sense of ownership of the disease from which the newcomer may benefit.
- “My name is John, and I am a recovering alcoholic.” This can be disconcerting to the uninitiated newcomer, especially if the person introducing himself has been sober a long time. It may lead the newcomer to question the value or efficacy of AA. The concept of continual growth through the practice of the 12 steps can be discussed if and when we develop a relationship with the newcomer, or when we share at a meeting.
- “My name is John, and I am a recovered alcoholic.” While many may hear hope and encouragement in this introduction, a newcomer may hear, “So you’re better than me?” The concept of recovery from a “…hopeless state of mind and body…” can be discussed as noted in 3 above.
- “My name is John, and I am a grateful, recovering (or recovered) alcoholic.” I question whether or not this introduction should be used unless one is grateful every minute of every day, as one is alcoholic every minute of every day.
- “I’m an alcoholic with a John problem.” This introduction, while it may be accurate, screams obsession with self. It also may lead the newcomer to believe that AA is a psychoanalytical exercise, rather than a path toward spiritual awakening.
- “My name is John, and I’m a real” Again this introduction may be accurate, but it may allow the newcomer to think that perhaps he or she is not as bad as the speaker. Also, having to qualify the term alcoholic with a superlative indicates our own desire to be special – either especially good or, in this case, especially bad.
- “My name is John (insert last name here), and I am an alcoholic.” Routinely introducing yourself with our last names may scare the newcomer into thinking that Alcoholics Anonymous is not as anonymous as he or she thought. It also conveys a sense of self-importance that is contrary to many of our principles (see 6 above). A possible exception to this suggestion may be our most famous circuit speakers (Sandy B, Earl H, Tom I, and many others come to mind). To those of us who routinely do this, don’t worry about changing to just your first name. If someone actually does need our information, he or she can always get us after the meeting.
As with so many things in life and in AA, less is often more. What better time to keep it simple than when uttering the first words out of our mouths.
A Birthday Retrospective
Yesterday was my 45th birthday, a semi-milestone, right? Well, either way, it gave me pause to consider the broad spectrum of birthdays past. My husband asked me last night, “What were your childhood birthdays like?” The one that stood out the most was my eighth birthday. It fell on a Saturday, and a typical Saturday morning involved, almost without fail, a shopping trip to somewhere incredibly boring, usually Sears, because my Dad peripherally worked for the company as a truck driver, hence a family discount. I still associate extreme boredom with that store, and I still look at circular clothes racks as potential hiding spots. Anyway, my Mom woke me up and told me to hurry up and get ready, because we were going to Sears. Outrage feels like a small word to describe my feelings on this subject, we are really going to this store AGAIN on MY birthday?!? Yep, so get moving.
I was resentful for the entire ride, and as we entered the parking lot, my Mom drove past the usual place we parked, and kept on going to the back of the store. I’m asking questions, but she’s not answering. There, waiting behind the store, in his 24-wheel tractor-trailer, sat my Dad, he was waiting to give me and my younger brother a ride for my birthday. It was my first (and, come to think of it, last) experience with a “Take Your Daughter To Work Day,” and the cool things I experienced stay with me to this day: I learned that the horn was not on the steering wheel, but a string that hung on the passenger’s side of the cab, so the driver has to reach over to pull it. The height at which you sit in such a vehicle is awe-inspiring (alright, that fact may be glorified by the age I was at the time of the experience, but still). Most of all, I felt incredibly special, that my Dad was thinking of me and made such arrangements on his day off, almost like a celebrity paid me a visit. I wish my Dad was alive so that I could tell him how much that simple act affected my life. Mom, you read this blog, and you put up with my complaining that morning… sorry for that, and thanks for the wonderful memory.
Lots of other birthdays since then, many memorable ones, both with and without alcohol, although as the years passed, the alcohol played a more and more dominant role. I remember one birthday, I’m guessing my 35th but I can’t say that with certainty, was a low-key affair: the kids were small, my husband had given me some time to myself, and I came home to a nice dinner, and a really nice birthday gift. It was a pink iPod mini with an inscription he had engraved:
I wish I could say the only reason that birthday is memorable is the beautiful, thoughtful, romantic gift my husband gave me. It is not, although those facts are true… my husband was and is the most romantic person I know, and I am including myself on that list! Sadly, I also remember it because of addiction. Of course, the details are hazy from both alcohol consumption and from time passing, but the morning of my birthday I had a terrible hangover. And since I’m fairly certain it was a weeknight, I am confident that hangover was due to drinking solo, most likely in secret. What I do remember, clear as crystal, are the promises I made to myself as I spent time alone that afternoon/evening: “You just can’t drink anymore… it’s not worth it! It is not worth waking up with that feeling of sick dread, not remembering what you did!” I remember the resolve I felt as I had these thoughts: I. Am. Done. It felt liberating, that light bulb thought, “I just won’t drink anymore!” I can remember these simple thoughts getting me over the hump of the hangover. I remember coming into the house, and being surprised with dinner, the day keeps getting better! And I remember my husband pulling out the wine glass and bottle, there was no real point in asking the question, as the answer was obvious. And I remember the instant blank spot. Just like that the pain of the hangover was banished from my memory, the resolution and the joy that resolution brought me also gone. Wine was there, it was my birthday, and of course I’m going to drink it.
About 10 birthdays have passed since that one, some were alcohol-fueled (40th surprise birthday party, I’m thinking of you), some were in a period of being alcohol free, but far from being sober, the last three have been in recovery. And here’s what I’ve learned: when you look through the lens of gratitude, your birthday, and life, is a magical thing. Here is how my birthday went yesterday, and I will add pictures when appropriate:
4 am: my daughter wakes me up to tell me she is not feeling well, can she climb into bed? I roll over, and then proceed to lay there and figure how to get her to sleep, not wake up my husband, and not wake up my severe claustrophobia (I finally gave up on the third, and rearranged to put her in the middle, just thinking about being in the middle right now has me breaking out in a cold sweat). As I’m laying there, I’m thinking how lucky I am to have this moment… it’s not very often that either kid will come and snuggle in with me (they are 14 and 12, so it’s pretty understandable), so it felt like a really cool way to start my birthday. Of course, I was sad she wasn’t feeling well, but the silver lining was she got more sleep than she would have on her own, and I got to feel good being a Mom.
6 am: Got up, decided she was feeling well enough to go to school, and went downstairs to find my first birthday treat, a vanilla latte and donuts from the most delicious donut store in our area:
6:30 am: Got my daughter off to school, woke my son up, and he presents me with this card. In case it is not obvious, I have been a fan of Bruce Springsteen for decades:
7: 30 am: Got son and husband off to their respective places to be, enjoy the rest of my coffee and donut(s), and head down to my Mom’s for our annual trip to Sephora and lunch at the Cheesecake Factory. This has become a tradition with on my birthday since recovery, and I look forward to it every year. Buying make-up at that store is just plain fun, I’m saying this as one who is really not much of a shopper. Plus, Cheesecake Factory, enough said. Here are two of the delicious things we ordered:
3 pm: Came home from that delightful afternoon to find my husband has left work early to surprise me (and cut the grass before it gets dark). There are beautiful roses awaiting me, in my favorite color, which, in case you haven’t yet guessed, is pink:
5 pm: The evening plans revolved around sports schedules, so I figured we’d maybe get something to eat in between drop-off’s and pick-up’s, but I did not anticipate my husband hooking us up with reservations at a restaurant I have been really wanting to check out. It was an amazing experience: it was one of those farm-to-table deals, I normally roll my eyes at that particular trend, but there has been so much good press that I wanted to see what it was all about. The food really was noticeably different in the preparation (fresh as in, make sure you have some time to spend fresh), presentation (the choices were the most unusual I have ever experienced), and taste (Oh. My. God!). It was such an intimate, unique, and satisfying experience, I still feel overwhelmed by how special I was made to feel.
And I forgot to mention the gift the kids got me, to aid me in my fitness ventures (which I sorely need, after resting my ankle and celebrating with all that food):
With the gift came this card made by my daughter:
8 pm: Coming home from the restaurant, my son had this surprise waiting for me:
And another from my next-door neighbor, her sons baked this by themselves in their EZ Bake oven!
9 pm: Then I got to sit down, and read all the thoughtful birthday messages on Facebook from friends as young as grade school to neighbors I did not see face-to-face. Say what you want about Facebook, the ability to connect with people, and just send a small uplifting message, is a really special thing, at least it made me feel really special and loved last night!
10: 30 pm: The final gift of the night, and I’m sorry to be cagey here, but I can’t talk details until everything is officially sorted out: a text regarding a complicated matter seems finally, after a very long time, to be coming to a favorable conclusion. The fact that this information arrived on my birthday felt like a thumbs up from God himself, “Go ahead, have a great day, you deserve it!” And of course, I did just that.
So that was my day, filled with special things, but made even more special by the conscious and present-minded appreciation of them, all throughout. And none of that, absolutely none of it, would have been possible without the ultimate gift, on my birthday and every other day, of sobriety.
I am so very blessed.
Of course, all the miracles I just described, plus, and this can’t be overstated, transferring these pictures from my phone to my desk top computer is a miracle!
Blog Tour 2014: Oh The Places We’ll Go!
I am just back from what amounts to a two-week vacation from this blog, and what an amazing welcome back present I’ve received… the opportunity to participate in what is being described as a “blog tour.” So first, a heartfelt thanks to Kristen, the incredibly talented, Freshly Pressed author of the blog ByeByeBeer. Kristen is the closest thing I have to a celebrity friend. She is a celebrity because she is Freshly Pressed, and has been a guest on The Bubble Hour. She is my friend because she is a wise, compassionate, interesting human being, as well as a supreme motivator for me to keep in shape between our 5K’s (and speaking of which, Kristen, time to start scaring up a fall event!). It would be impossible for me to pick a favorite post from her blog, because I get excited every time a notification that she has written appears in my inbox, but I would say this post is one of her many greats, and spoke to me in a personal way.
Onwards and upwards… I am guessing I should be answering the same questions that Kristen did in her post, so here goes nothing:
What am I working on?
Being the literal person that I am, I am currently working on answering these questions! Taking a miniscule step back, I am working on making my way through 10 tons of laundry from last week’s trip down the shore (more to follow on that in future blog posts). I am guessing this question assumes that a blogger has some bigger project happening in the background, which for me is not strictly true. About a year into my blogging, I did latch on to one idea for a book, and I have some work done on it, but to say I am working on it currently would be a gross misrepresentation of the truth. During this season of the year the greatest work in process is creating a summer of fun, lasting memories for my kids. Failing that, surviving the summer with everyone’s sanity intact would also be acceptable.
How does my work differ from others in its genre?
I will say, straight out, that my blog does not seem overly different to me from others in its genre: recovery bloggers write as a means of figuring out this whole business of sober living. One thing that does stand out to me as a bit unusual is my starting point. Most of the bloggers I follow spent time reading blogs before creating their own. On the other hand, and crazy as it may seem, I had not read a single blog post before starting my own. In fact, when it was suggested I undertake the project, I had never before heard of WordPress, and it was several months in before I understood that people outside of my family were even reading what I was writing! So my naiveté would surely count as something different.
Perhaps another unique perspective would be my Monday posts. Almost two years ago, I started and have since been running a weekly 12-step meeting. From that decision a weekly blog post evolved where I take what I consider to be the highlights of each meeting, and share them with all of my blogging friends. Readers get to hear all of the wisdom, and anonymity is maintained. It’s like getting the Cliffs Notes of the 12-step world!
Why do I write/create what I do?
Of the four questions, this is the easiest to answer. I first started this blog to chronicle my journey of recovery, to write about the trials and tribulations of early sobriety. Once I understood and appreciated the blogging world, and the countless benefits that come with being part of it, I wrote (and still write, to this day) to “hold my seat,” as it were, in this incredible community. My posts still chronicle my recovery, as I will be on that journey for the rest of my life. Anything I do is part of that journey. But now, the focus is so much broader: I will write as a springboard from the post of a fellow blogger, or I will write because I know that sharing my experience will benefit my blogging friends, sometimes I will write to share a laugh. The relationships formed here are almost as interactive as my friends in person, and so I write/create to maintain those relationships.
How does my writing/creative process work?
It makes me smile to call what I do a creative process, from my perspective it feels like I am simply emptying out my brain onto the blank sheet of a word processing document. Answering this question has the song “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea playing like a backdrop in my head (a song I detest, by the way, so I need to shut it down, immediately!).
So I suppose, if there is a process at all, it would go something like this: there is an issue in my life that I feel the need to explore. In the earliest days of this blog, the issues would appear every time I turned around, as I’m sure is typical with everyone in early sobriety. That issue then becomes the subject matter for a post. From there I search for a “hook:” something about the issue that is relatable, preferably to those both in and out of recovery. The more time passes, the easier this becomes. Once I have that hook, there is no stopping the process, and truly for me the post writes itself. Not a fancy process at all!
So next I get the fun of tagging some of my inspirations for logging on to WordPress. I am publishing this before I have even gone through my reader, so if I have tagged someone already tagged, my apologies.
First I will pick Lisa Neumann, the brilliant author of the blog Sober Identity. Lisa’s positive feedback on my blog was my first realization that blogging is an interactive business; not only do I get to write about the issues I am facing, but there are actual bloggers who have been there and done that, and they will help me along the way. I have never read a post of hers that has not resounded deeply with me, her commitment to helping others in recovery is truly her life’s work. If you are new to Lisa, I would start with this post.
Second I will pick a blog a bit newer (to me, anyway), called There’s more to me than this. I read this blog, and often have the feeling that thoughts were taken directly out of my head and transferred via someone else’s keyboard. And it is that exact connection that makes the blogging world so amazing… people from all over the planet, and all walks of life, sharing experiences and giving each other wisdom. As a matter of fact, her most recent post describes beautifully all I am trying to convey about why I love the blogging world. Start right here and work your way backwards, I promise you it will be well worth it!
I will make the same disclaimer to my “tagees” as was made to me: feel no pressure to carry this forward; no bad mojo will fall on your life if you wish to end the blog tour right here. But do consider it; thinking about why I do what I do has been enlightening, and filled me with gratitude!
The reminder of how miraculous our blogging community is!
A Valentine’s Story
It is February 14th, 2001. It’s a Hump Day, and, other than the vague recollection that it is loosely considered a holiday, a completely normal day for me.
Let me take a second to describe what a completely normal day looked like in 2001. At this point I have been married for 15 months, a homeowner for 21 months, a mother for less than 9 months. In other words, life moved pretty fast in those two years that preceded Valentine’s Day 2001.
Of all the decisions we made during that time, the biggest game-changer was the birth of our daughter, but not in the way you might think. Well, yes, it certainly did change life in the way you might think, but we had some additional circumstances arise that set different chains of events in motion. It should also go without saying that I am using the term “decision” loosely, as it would imply that we put a lot of time and effort into making whatever change we were making; the impetuosity of youth laughed in the face of any kind of future planning!
Reilly arrived 8 weeks early; we expected her in July, she decided she wanted out in the Spring instead. So now, here we sit, brand new parents who didn’t think too far in advance what parenthood would entail, with a child that was fragile, to say the least. She spent 3 weeks in the NICU before she came home to us, and by the grace of God came home small, but otherwise perfect.
What now? For us, daycare was out of the question… how could we think of putting this little peanut into the hands of strangers? On the other hand, we were young nowhere near what one might consider “financially solvent” (remember, young, recently married, recent homeowners). So we scramble, and come up with a plan: I will work part-time, my husband will switch to a second shift, and a family member will cover the approximately 8 hours that are uncovered. Again, the grace of God was present that this all worked out.
So, teeny tiny daughter: covered. Mortgage payment: covered. Time spent as newlyweds? Not so much. Each day, my husband had the morning shift with Reilly while I rushed out to work, I came home, mid-day, he waited long enough for me to get changed, and off he went. By the time he got home, I was in bed. And so it continued, day in and day out.
I should add here that absolutely none of this is a complaint; in fact, far from it. The down-side of youth: decision-making without a lot of foresight. The upside of life: no real consideration that there is another option. This was life, and life was good!
Back to the present (the present being, of course, 2001, come on, keep up!). Usual Wednesday routine, up early, work a half day, rush in the door to get changed so my husband could get to his job on time. I run up to our bedroom (no small feat, our bedroom was on the third floor of the townhouse). Husband is lounging on the bed, but I am paying zero attention, I breeze by him and call over my shoulder, “Just give me two seconds to get change, and you can go.” I do a quick change in the closet, somewhat wondering why he has not moved off the bed. I come back into the bedroom to announce he is free to go, and I finally look at him… still lounging, and in lounge wear (which for us means sweats and t-shirts). I am dismayed. “What’s going on? You’ve got to go!”
No, he does not. While I have been only briefly considering the holiday, my husband has not. He took the day off from work, and he had meals and entertainment all lined up for us, all I had to do was sit back and hold our unbelievably agreeable infant while he prepared things.
It was the most wonderfully relaxing, chock full of surprises, decadently leisure-filled day that we spend since our honeymoon. We had fried pickles, which I had never even heard of before that day, let alone tried… delicious, and now every time I see them on a restaurant menu I smile. We had a shredded pork recipe that my husband borrowed from my Mom, and, the piece de resistance? Watching my all-time favorite movie at the time, Sixteen Candles (absolutely still in the top 5).
The element of surprise, the change-up from the regular routine, the detailed thoughtfulness, and the luxurious decadence all combined to make February 14, 2001 my favorite Valentine’s Day ever.
A very happy birthday to the first Valentine’s baby I’ve known… my sister! Hope it’s a great day, sis!
Second miracle: attempting a WordPress writing challenge! I have been challenged by: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/writing-challenge-valentine/
My Friend Karen
Karen and I have an ongoing debate on which of these chips taste better, in the end we have agreed to disagree!
To inspire myself as I begin writing this post, I poured a large glass of cold water… one of many life lessons my friend Karen has taught me: water is a beverage I can enjoy with as much abandon as I desire. Had I learned this lesson from her in a more timely fashion, this blog would never have come to be!
I have known my friend Karen since my college days, but we did not become close friends until years after graduation. Karen started at the same college as I, but she finished at a different university, and so some years passed before our paths re-intersected, and I have been blessed by this reunion.
Karen is the type of friend that everyone needs: thoughtful, fiercely loyal, and endlessly supportive. You tell Karen something once, and she will file it away, and remember it at just the right moment. For my fifth wedding anniversary, my husband and I took a trip to Disney World to celebrate. We came back to our hotel room one night to find a special care package delivered to our room: peanut butter M &M’s (a favorite candy of both my husband and me). That is one of many examples I could give to illustrate how Karen thinks about the people she loves.
Karen displays this kind of loyalty not just to her friends, but to her family as well. I have never met a more devoted wife, mother, daughter and sister. Karen’s love of family, and her dedication to every member of her large (and rambunctious) family is a quality to which I aspire to emulate. She is there for the people she loves in a way that we all should be.
Like all friendships that span decades, Karen and I have seen each other through major life events, through minor life events, holidays, vacations, moves, career transitions, family transitions, the list could go on and on. Some years have gone by and I find that we’ve barely connected. Other years, we are thick as thieves. But the real test of friendship, for me, is the ability to pick up after an absence as if no time has passed, and Karen and I have passed this test with flying colors, time and again. And never has that been tested more than with my descent into addiction, and my journey to recovery.
Like all of my close friendships, I let Karen slip away as I spiraled downward into the disease of addiction. As I have written before, the more dishonest I was in daily life, the easier it was to keep close friends away, for it would be one less person with whom I would have to lie and say that life was grand. So months and months had gone by since I last communicated with Karen, and during that time I suffered through all of my various addiction “bottoms,” all the while Karen knew nothing.
I was probably sober about 2 months, I don’t even think I was back at home with my husband and children yet, when I discovered that my husband had disclosed all of my shameful secrets to Karen. I was dismayed, to say the least, for a few reasons: I was still at a point in my recovery when I felt the less people knew about my addiction, the better off everyone was (read: the better off my ego would be). At that point in my life I still felt like I was chasing the story of my addiction, and this was one more mess I needed to clean up. Finally, and most importantly, I had an additional level of shame in admitting my addiction to Karen, because she had a close family member suffering from the disease of active addiction, and he was wreaking havoc in their tight-knit family unit. To admit to Karen that I was doing the same to my family was painful in a way with which I had not previously encountered, and I would have much rather put that off indefinitely (read: never).
So, for the next several months, I procrastinated in dealing with the Karen issue. She knew, I knew she knew, but my motto was out of sight, out of mind, and Karen was, respectfully, giving me space to heal. To be fair, I was in the process of un-burning any number of bridges throughout this time period, but still, I let it go on much longer that I should have. Finally, about 5 months sober, I decided to stop with the procrastination, and mend the fence of our broken friendship once and for all. So I set up a time to meet for lunch, and we re-connected.
I still chuckle at the look of astonishment on Karen’s face when I admitted how difficult it was for me to connect with her. Like most problems in my world, I make them much bigger in my head than they really are, and she was mystified that I was so nervous to speak with her about my addiction. As uncomfortable as it was, I confessed my darkest thoughts: that I am ashamed to bring to her the pain that she experiences with her addicted family member. She hastened to assure me that she does not equate the two stories, and that, because of her experience with addiction, she is even more in awe of my strength and courage to recover. Once past that hurdle, we then were able to have an open and honest communication about her family member, a conversation that we had never had before this time. I left that lunch with my heart full of love, because our friendship had deepened in a way I had not believed possible.
And then, the fateful conversation the next morning: at the very time Karen and I were opening up to each other, Karen’s family member lost his battle with addiction. My body shakes even as I write this, all of these months later, and my mind still has difficulty processing the timing. As I look back, the next few days are a blur, but I remember praying a lot: surely this means something, but what? Why would God have me reach out to Karen on that very day? The most I have come up with, even after all this time, is two things: first, He wanted me to be there for Karen. I’m not sure what help I was, but at least I was there.
The second profound lesson that experience taught me, and I have been able to use the lesson in the months since: it is important to share my experience, strength and hope with others. Even if it seems irrelevant at the time, you never know what is going to happen to the people with whom you share, and what information I give that could ultimately help another. Karen knows she has a friend with experience in recovery, she now has me as a resource whenever she wants it, and the “paying it forward” mentality can reap untold benefits. It may be uncomfortable in the short-term, but the long-term potential gain far outweighs the short-term discomfort.
Since that time, my friendship with Karen continues to deepen. I have a connection with her that will last a lifetime, and my recovery milestones will always include her… what a miracle that is!
Today I am grateful for the one day reprieve I am getting: kids are back at school for the first time in almost 2 weeks, and we have enormous snow storm predicted for tonight!
My Friend Jerry
In the earliest days of our friendship, Jerry and I bonded over a shared love of this show. Now, we pass that love on to our respective children!
I am back to another chapter in the series “Friends Who Stick By Troubled Friends.” As I mentioned in my last post on this subject, I am writing this series in the sequence with which old friends came back into my life as I began my journey of recovery.
So now I shall tell you the story of my friendship with Jerry. Another friendship of about a quarter century, Jerry and I met in Marketing 201 our sophomore year in college. I came to find out that we had mutual friends, but for whatever reason did not connect our freshman year. No matter, what we missed out in terms of friendship that year we more than made up for the following three years. I pretty much followed Jerry around like a puppy, and am grateful to this day that he allowed me to do so. As soon as my friendship with Jerry took root, my college experience blossomed in ways it never would have without him. All of the sudden, the parts of campus life I had never even considered before meeting him… student government, residence life, social life with sports teams… all of these quintessential college activities became written into my life story. When I think back to my college experience, I do so with a huge smile… my college life was a blast. I owe almost all of those experiences to my friend Jerry.
By the time I was a senior in college, I intended to be a lawyer, and had completed the checklist in pursuit of that goal. I had taken the law school preparatory exam, was admitted entrance into a law school, and had made those announcements to my family and friends. But, in the meantime, I had been slowly gaining an interest in the job I currently held as a Resident Advisor at my college. It was my friend Jerry who helped me make the first giant life-changing decision I had ever made: instead of attending law school, I changed direction, and made plans to pursue a Master’s in education. I still get butterflies when I think of the courage it took me to make that change. I remember sitting down with my Dad to explain it to him, hastily taking another set of entrance exams, applying to an entirely different school, and many other smaller changes that added up to a whole new future. If it were not for Jerry, I would be on an entirely different path right now.
Because, in the midst of those changes, some miracles came into being, I was able to stay on the campus and work at my undergraduate university while pursuing my Master’s. In so doing, I was able to meet, befriend, date, and ultimately marry the love of my life, and subsequently live the life I am living today. When I trace the path backwards, it all begins with Jerry, and his tremendous influence.
But I digress! In the meantime, Jerry and I continued our friendship, and our education, as we each pursued our Master’s. It was at this stage in our lives that we were truly inseparable. We worked together, we took classes together, we studied together, and we spent our leisure time together. Usually that meant watching television, as we both held jobs in residence life, taking care of a college campus. Golden Girls, Empty Nest, ER, Knots Landing… when I see anything related to any of those shows, I think of Jerry and smile.
Through all of the stress of getting our degrees, through weddings, funerals, work dramas, through thick and thin, Jerry and I were there for each other. Jerry was standing right next to me when I got the phone call that my Dad had a heart attack. He followed me to the hospital, was there when they pronounced him dead, and practically lived with me through the week we arranged his funeral. And that is just one of many big life experiences that we shared. We developed a short-hand vocabulary to let each other know when we were in crisis. For example, “taking out the insurance policy,” to this day means “I need to tell you something in the utmost of confidence, and I need your complete attention, stat!” Through the course of 25 years, I have taken out quite a few of those polices, and written a few as well!
So you would think, with all this background, it would have been a very simple process… “Hey Jerry, I need to take out the insurance policy, because I’m having some issues with addiction.” No, sadly, it did not go this way at all. Poor Jerry was one of the friends I kept completely in the dark throughout my active addiction. I did my utmost to put on a good show for him, and have him believe all was well and good, and I was fairly successful with that charade for a time.
I still have a lot of shame in admitting this next part: I was not the one to tell Jerry about my problems with addiction. My husband, in his desperation, reached out to Jerry, as they were friends for all this time as well. I think I was about 3 weeks sober when it occurred to me that I had not reached out to Jerry, and something in my gut told me that my husband may have already spilled the beans. Coward that I was, I sent a text, and asked Jerry if he had spoken to Dan. One word reply: Yes. Oh boy, I can still remember the feeling I had when I got that reply. I arranged a time for us to speak on the phone, and I couldn’t sit still for hours before that phone call. And it was as awkward, and painful, as ever a conversation I have had with Jerry, and hope to God I will never have again. He was still, weeks later, in a state of shock… how could this have happened, and he not know about it? How could I have done this to my husband, my children, my friends? How can he ever trust me again?
And, another miracle: through his pain, his confusion, his anger, he continued to talk to me. He said he didn’t know what to do for me, but he wanted to try to figure it out. Most important, he was willing to stick with me through this crisis. And did he ever, we talked more in those next few weeks than we had in years, and he applauded every milestone I hit. When I started this blog, I believe he was my third follower, and still reads every post I publish (won’t he be surprised when he reads today’s?).
If you are very, very fortunate in life, you will meet a person that you know, deep down, will have your back no matter what. Jerry is that person for me… no matter what happens, if I need something, he will be there, no questions asked… especially if I take out the insurance policy.
Being able to replay a 25-year old friendship, and write it down for the world to witness, is a miracle and a blessing!
My Friend Jim
I used to LOVE Sandra Boynton, and received many cards and gifts from Jim with her artwork!
I have been procrastinating with writing this installment of the series (series in my own mind, anyway) about my friends who have been so instrumental in my recovery. Why am I dragging my feet? Because some friendships are so special, so rare, that when I try to describe them with my limited mind and vocabulary, I fear I will never do justice to the importance of the person, and of the friendship that means so much to me. And yet, I started this series, and I have done so in a certain order. You know how at the end of movies they list the cast “in order of appearance?” Well, that is how I have been ordering the posts in this series… the friends that came back into my life from the starting point of recovery.
Which, of course, brings me to my friend Jim. While Jim is third on my list in this particular series, he is first and foremost in my life in terms of friendships. He is my longest and most enduring friendship. We have been close since 1987, back when The Cosby Show ruled the airwaves and Tiffany and Debbie Gibson were battling it out on the radio. We met very early on the first semester of college, and were completely inseparable from that time on. I have almost no college memories that don’t include him, and there are stories that are still in active rotation in my life today, over 25 years later.
Jim is the friend that challenged me to be more… more than I was, more than I thought I could be, and he did it with such grace that I was unaware of the push I was getting. Silly things… “of course you can go mule-riding” when every part of my mind insisted I was not capable (and might I add at this point that it was not me, but the damn mule, that was incapable… that thing knocked both of us into every tree we went past!). Or, “why don’t we just try climbing into that hole, what’s the worst that can happen?” As it turns out, getting stuck in a hole for hours was the worst that could happen, and did happen, in the middle of the night.
Of course, I’m noting the fun stuff, of which there are hundreds more such stories, but I mean it in the serious sense as well. Any major life decision I have made was done with the advice and counsel of Jim. That’s not to say I took every piece of advice, but I certainly respected it.
My friendship with Jim, as it relates to my recovery, is much more difficult to write. Because Jim was and is such an integral part of my life, it should go without saying that he was present for every part of my descent into addiction. Which in turn means that I broke the trust of our friendship over and over again, almost to the breaking point.
If I were to attempt to chronicle the events involving Jim during my active addiction, this post would run the length of a novel. And yet, it feels unjust not to include some events that led to my ultimate bottom, and Jim’s involvement. I have mentioned, on numerous occasions, that there was about an 8 month period of time when I was confronted about my addictive behavior, and strongly encouraged to get help. That period saw me through outpatient rehabs, inpatient rehabs, counselors, 12-step meetings, and a couple of sponsors. Through that entire 8 month period I lied with the intent of convincing everyone (myself included) that I was okay, that the fuss everyone was making did not need to be made. Especially in the first half of that period, very few people in my personal life had any clue what was going on. This was, of course, at my insistence… the less people who knew, the less stories I had to invent, the less accountability I needed to have. It really came down to my husband, my Mom, my siblings… and Jim. Again, I am glossing over the years prior, simply in the interest of blog post length.
So, long story short, I lied to Jim on almost a daily basis. Every time he called to check in, every time I told him that things were going well, I damaged the friendship a little bit further. And each time I was “caught” in a lie, there was that much more damage to repair. When I hit my personal bottom, I believed with absolute certainty that I needed to resign myself to the ending of what I always assumed would be a lifelong friendship.
Imagine the flip my heart did in my chest when I listened to a voice mail, on Valentine’s Day, no less, from my friend Jim. This would have been somewhere around 18 days sober. Listening to his voice telling me that he loves me, and is thinking of me, was one of those very rare bright spots in my otherwise very dark existence during that time.
This is not to say that the rebuilding of our friendship was easy. Those first few phone conversations were so difficult, so painful, it hurts my heart a little right now just remembering them. I could feel the hesitation right through the phone wires, he just didn’t know if he could ever trust me again. And why should he know that? I had given him no reason whatsoever to do so. But somehow, he found the courage to believe in me again, and his friendship became as important as it ever had been, through the next crucial stages of my recovery. And, of course, he continues to be my rock, my cheerleader, my confidant, and the first one that can find something humorous in a situation that needs it.
Friends like Jim, friends who are willing to take that leap of faith and trust again, there should be a special honor bestowed upon them. I don’t know if I could be as strong as he was, and is, but I really hope that I can be half the friend to Jim that he has been to me.
Having friendships that span decades, with all the memories that accompanies them, is a blessing for which I will be forever grateful.
My Friend Vickie
In my every-70-days series (a little humor, I meant to do this once a month, but somehow time has gotten away from me), I want to write about another friend instrumental in my recovery, whose name is Vickie.
Vickie, like Joe, has been a close friend for several decades (I just felt my hair graying as I typed that sentence). Like any long-term friendship, we have seen it all… weddings, births, graduations, holidays, vacations, milestone birthdays, the list goes on and on.
Among her many amazing qualities, Vickie’s power of observation is second to none. Consequently, as I sunk deeper into active addiction, I avoided her (and many other friends, frankly), as much as propriety would allow (and, let’s face it, I’m sure I crossed the propriety line on numerous occasions).
Because I saw her so infrequently during this time, it was very simple to omit telling her about all my latest problems with addiction. I was encouraged to out myself by friends “in the know,” but my thinking at the time was less is most definitely more in terms of support (because, after all, it’s one more person to whom I would be lying).
She actually had a sense of it, and asked me point-blank towards the later end of my 8 month “I’m in recovery but I’m really not” phase, if I had been to rehab. Deny, Deny, Deny, the first defense of any good addict, but I knew the end was near. I finally sat down with her and fessed up, completely unable to even look her in the eye. She was supportive, but cautious. I can say that now, with the perspective of sobriety, back then I was just so happy to be done with the conversation I never looked back. The caution, as she told me later, was because she had zero confidence that I was ready to surrender to my addiction. As usual, she was absolutely right, and another couple of weeks went by before I hit my bottom. During that conversation, she made one simple request: keep in touch. Don’t let so much time go by between phone calls, lunches, visits.
Within 2 weeks I was living at my Mom’s, and trying to figure out what the hell to do with the mess that was my life. Vickie called, asking how it was going. I did not hesitate for half a second this time, and replied, “Let’s meet.” As luck would have it, she works near to where my Mom lives; I think I met her that day.
Out came the entire story, lock stock and barrel. At this point, I genuinely had nothing to lose. Vickie’s first response? She could instantly see the difference in me, by eye contact alone. As always, there was no judgment, only love, but that is not to say she went easy on me. She read me the riot act for deceiving her at the previous lunch, for failing to disclose information in the months prior, and for generally making the mess I’ve made. Vickie pulls absolutely no punches, but the flip side to that is the firm knowledge of knowing exactly where you stand with her. And, believe me, I needed the riot act read to me!
From that point on Vickie made time for me on a weekly basis. We usually met on a Friday after my AA meeting at a Starbucks near her work (and my home at the time). No matter what was going on in her life, she made sure to keep that appointment. On a side note, Starbucks was about as feasible to my budget at the time as travelling to the moon would be now, and I really struggled with the idea of her paying for the coffee every week, but there was no question, and no arguing… She’s paying; let’s move on to more important subjects.
And move on we did. When I think about those coffee dates, I’m not sure I would have survived early sobriety without them. She was as much a part of my recovery as my sponsor was… I ran absolutely everything by her before I did it. In some ways, her opinion meant more to me, because she knew the characters involved. When a very traumatic interpersonal incident occurred with a family member, I would do nothing until I ran it by Vickie. When I was 150% sure I was on my way to divorce court, Vickie talked me off the ledge every time.
And today? Every piece of advice given to me by Vickie has paid off. Every prediction made by Vickie has come true (reunion with my husband, mended relations with family and friends, miraculous life being fulfilled, day by day).
I had been encouraged by a few family members to keep a journal chronicling my process through early recovery. It was Vickie who taught me about this interesting new social media, called blogging (no, I am not kidding, I had heard of blogging, but had zero personal experience with it). I’ve mentioned this before, but my initial response, when she explained it to me, was, “Won’t that seem like self-indulgent nonsense?” To this Vickie replied with her characteristic bluntness, “You need to get with the times.”
As usual, Vickie was right. I proceeded to Google the words “word” and “press,” and the rest is history. Without Vickie, there would be no “miracle around the corner!”
My Friend Joe
I have written quite a bit about my time in active addiction, and this blog is a journey through my recovery, from about 6 weeks in to the present day, but the time frame I have omitted, for no real reason, is that first 6 weeks when I put the brakes on ingesting addictive substances, and began the road to recovery.
I can tell you about my daily schedule during that time pretty concisely: get up, pray, hang out with my Mom, go to a meeting, hang out with my Mom, spend a few hours with my children, hang out with my Mom, go to bed. Lather, rinse, repeat. The to-do list was short, but the mental chaos was long, and difficult. To those reading who are new to recovery: I feel your pain, I remember it like it was yesterday. You go to meetings and try to emulate what you see happening around you, but your mind is racing so much, and there is so much personal damage, that it is incredibly difficult to focus on what is important. Hang in there, I promise it does get easier!
During that time, there is one aspect that, in retrospect, is a blessing: there was really no thought on my part that I would not “get it.” I knew it was possible for me to recover, it just took me time, and trial and error, to get it right. I hear many people say their plan was simply to die a drunk or addict; that was never for one moment a thought in my head.
On the other hand, during the earliest days, I did believe, in the deepest way, that life as I knew it was over. I was certain my marriage was over, and I was almost as equally certain that any remaining friendships would choose my husband over me. The silver lining in this cloud was that my head was so full of craziness, I just didn’t have room to imagine the future… I couldn’t picture it, so I didn’t even try.
My primary group of friends have been around for 20 years. We met in college, and, for me, I realized that I found the best group of people in the world, so why let them go? When I hit my bottom, these friends would fall into two categories: those who knew of my addiction, and so therefore I have actively lied to them, telling them I was recovering when in fact I was not; and those who knew nothing about my addiction. Either way, I figured I would lose them all. Devastating, to be sure, but then again there was so much devastation who had time to process it all?
Two of this long-time group reached out to me in those early days. I will devote a separate post to each, they deserve it. Today I am going to focus on my friend Joe.
Joe falls into that first category about which I spoke: I let him believe I was recovering, and so therefore I actively lied. And I knew, when the bottom dropped, that Joe was possibly the first friend my husband went to and shared all the gory details. So, imagine my surprise when, while sitting with my Mom (see my daily schedule above), I received a voice mail from my friend Joe. He sounded about as far from happy as you can get, but he was reaching out, and he wanted me to know he was still there for me. I am feeling the elation all over again as I am typing. This voice mail came about 2 weeks into my recovery, and I believe it was the first glimmer of hope I received that life may in fact become happy again.
And so began the new leg of our decades-long relationship. Joe has an exceptionally busy career, a wife and two small children, but he took time, almost every night, to talk to me into the wee hours of the morning. He insisted I text him every morning with the day count of my sobriety. He talked me off too many ledges to count. He gave me a reason to smile when I thought I would never smile again. All this from a friendship I was certain was doomed.
So now, it is a little over a year later, and life is amazing. All the relationships I thought I lost forever are back, and better than ever. And while Joe and I see/talk to each other as much as we can, life gets busy, so it is certainly not as much as I would like. Recently Joe had a series of things happen to him, coincidences like the ones we have always joked about, and debated whether or not they were meaningful. Miracle of all miracles, he actually came to me for some perspective, rather than the other way around. It is nothing short of amazing… I can use the tools that I very likely would not even have if not for him, and I can help him find his way. If you had told me that would happen a year ago… that I would have any kind of positive life experience to share… I would have laughed, and laughed and laughed.
Joe is not an alcoholic or an addict. He is just a guy trying to be the best person he can be. And because he believed in me, he now has a friend with a set of tools not found in the “regular” world, tools that just may be able to help him live a more joyful life. Seriously, does it get any better than that?
Friends that stand by you during impossibly tough times is a miracle. Remembering that, and having gratitude for it, is priceless. And I am already mentally writing the future posts for all the great people in my life!