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M(3), 10/10/16: Out With the Old, In With the New

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A special day indeed… the four year anniversary of my Monday meeting!

Lots of people (22, which I insist is a record high but others insist we’ve had more), a lot of great food, and, as always, tons of great wisdom and camaraderie.  Two “soberversaries” (16 years, 3 years) added to the jubilation.

Today’s reading selection was the chapter “Letting Go of Old Ideas” from the book Living Sober.  Reading it reminded me of how I came to start this meeting…

I was about 6 months sober when a new AA clubhouse opened up about 5 driving minutes from my house.  A daily meeting attendee at the time, I was thrilled.  One meeting in particular was perfect for my schedule, and so I started attending faithfully.

The woman who ran the meeting told me the clubhouse needed a lot of support in order for it to remain open, and suggested I start a meeting of my own.

Are you kidding? I am only 6 months sober; in no way am I qualified to start a meeting.  Who’d even think of coming to any meeting I ran?”

She said I’m more qualified than people with years of sobriety, and that people would come, I just had to show up.

I remember very clearly my thoughts on her ideas:

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For two months, she continued to badger me about this, and had others get on me too.  In the end, they wrangled me into doing it using my inbred Irish Catholic guilt… the club house needs loyal people!

The underlying fear, the absolute disbelief that I was capable, was a theme in my life.  That black and white thinking was pervasive, and allowed for no other possibilities; either I believed I could do something, and therefore I would, or there was no chance in hell I believed I could do something, and nothing anyone said or did would convince me otherwise.

Four years later, I get to tell that story to a roomful of people and laugh ruefully at my closed mindedness.

As it relates to sobriety… well, you can imagine some of the unmitigated thoughts I had.  I remember saying to someone, “Wait, are you saying I can never have a sip of alcohol again?”  And my mind rejected that thought as if the suggestion was I couldn’t drink water again.

Or when I first started attending meetings and people would identify as grateful recovering alcoholics, and I assumed there were either pathological liars, or just pathological.

Or when someone would share they’ve been faithfully attending meetings for decades, and I’d feel sorry for them, thinking they must have nothing and no one in their lives and therefore just spent all day in the rooms of a 12-step meeting.

Yes, I would say there were one or two old ideas of which I was wise to let go.

Nowadays, I am working on letting go of more elusive ideas pertaining to myself, limiting beliefs that I’ve held for so long they feel like they’re almost part of the fabric that is me.  I’m a work in progress, but I’m grateful for every bit of that work, as it means I’m heading in the right direction.

Others shared about their “old ideas.”  Most were slow to recovery because they rejected the label of alcoholic.  As one person shared, “My father was in recovery for 30 years, and all I could think was, ‘I don’t want to be an alcoholic and have to go to meetings all the time.’  Meanwhile, I was chained to my living room sofa polishing off bottles of wine each night.  By the time I went to rehab I finally considered that maybe my thinking was backwards!”

Others stayed in denial because they did not fit the image of an alcoholic.  They still had their job, their home, their spouse.  Surely they were not an alcoholic if were able to hold on to all these things!

As the chapter says:

It is not a question of how much or how you drink, or when, or why, but of how your drinking affects your life—what happens when you drink.  Living Sober, pg. 72

Some resisted sobriety due to old fears of what sober life would look like… humorless, lackluster, tedious.  Life without alcohol = life without fun.  Again, the choice in most of our cases was to continue on a path of known chaos and misery seemed better than the uncertainty of a life without alcohol.

One gentleman said his sponsor put it bluntly,  “Just try it our way for 90 days.  We can always give you back your misery if it doesn’t work out!”

Meetings that remind me of how far I’ve come in my thinking, my actions and my very way of life are the best kind, as they bring to mind how grateful I am for the life I live, and validate why sobriety is a priority!

Today’s Miracle:

Four years, and people are still coming back… I’ll take it 🙂

Guest Post: My Wife Josie is 3 Years Sober Today

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For almost 3 years you’ve gotten to know Josie by reading her blog. The blogging relationships she has developed have been of great assistance to her and her life. But it’s about time that you get to know the Josie I know. It’s about time that you hear stories from another point of view. It’s about time you see my wife Josie through my eyes and my heart…

In the winter of 1994, while in college I tagged along to a Residence Life staff dinner at my college. At that time my then girlfriend was part of this group as were many friends that I came to know. When the event was over a few people stayed behind to clean up. This was spearheaded by the Residence Life Coordinator, Josie. The clean-up took place in her apartment attached to one of the residence halls. A discussion broke out about the perfect scenario for having children. How many? What sex? And when to keep going and when to stop in order to have the perfect mix of girls and boys. In this discussion there were only two people who agreed with each scenario, and it wasn’t me and my then girlfriend. There was something about that discussion and something so powerful about that moment that I left that evening and said to myself, I am going to marry Josie. That was the moment when I knew she was the one.

Two years later, after our friendship grew, my break-up with another and many other variables, we began dating. Yesterday marked 19 years that we’ve been together.

During our 15+ years of marriage Josie and I have moved multiple times, experienced the birth of not one but two premature children, went through promotions and layoffs, the death of loved ones and the coming and going of friends and family. During these years we have become quite accustomed to each other’s positive and not so positive attributes. Yet through it all, one thing had always remained a constant…Josie and me.

Like many married couples I know, some things are said that have more meaning than others. For me, I’ve told Josie that I would not and could not ever cheat on her. No one, even her, understands how adamant I am about that statement. For Josie, she once told a financial planner who was working with us, when asked how you would describe your life, “We’re living the dream.” And then there was the conversation we had one day about the purpose of our lives. Josie defined hers by the roles she played in life. I told her, and I still believe it, that I was here for something greater than me. I told her that it involved her. I believed that my purpose was to help her achieve something greater than both of us. Yet my most personal and momentous conversation came when I revealed to her my greatest fear in life. I told her that I feared being a father to two children without her as their mother. Listen, I am good Dad, but certainly not great. What Josie does for our two children, that’s what makes the world go around. She is a mother that will go to any length for our children. She is their rock. Without her I don’t know how I would be able to do it, or how they’d be able to go day-to-day in their own lives.

Then on January 27th, 2012 I chose my greatest fear. I told Josie she could no longer live in our home. She had become a detriment to herself and a danger to our children. I told her she had to go.

I can picture that day like a movie in my head. I know where I was when I told the most immediate members of my family about what had transpired. I don’t think I cried to anyone, I just think I did what had to be done.

The next evening we sat down with the children and explained that Mommy was sick and had to live with Mom Mom. We told them what we thought was the best for them at that time. They each took the news and questioned it differently. We had two children who knew as much as we did about our future as a family. They cried. Josie cried. And reluctant acceptance was had by all.

Josie would come to see the children almost every day with the supervision of her Mom. We were fortunate. Between Josie’s Mom taking her in and driving with her to and from our house each day, she was a life saver upon which many things would never had been able to happen. My sister would take our son, every morning after I got our daughter off to school, so I could get to work. My parents made themselves available so I could attend Al-Anon meetings. Friends and extended family gradually became aware of what was going on. There was no shortage of miracles throughout that difficult time.

Josie began her quest for sustained sobriety on that January Sunday. Her Mom and others tried to explain this to me during the 7 weeks that followed, but it took some time for me to believe it. For I had gone through many broken promises and lies as well as in-patient rehab and legal issues just a year earlier. However, as one day at a time passed, my personal cries stopped. My anger subsided. My fear had been conquered.

I stopped drinking at this time. I was never a heavy drinker nor did I ever have any personal addiction issues. But as I watched my wife from afar, my belief in her sobriety became a reality. I did not want to do something she was choosing to no longer partake in. I don’t remember the exact moment, like I did in 1994, but at some point I remember the statement I made to Josie years earlier. I was here for something greater than me and something greater than her. This could not be done if we were not together.

And 7 weeks after my choice to face my greatest fear and Josie’s choice to become sober…Josie came home.

Awkward, yes. Bouts of distrust, yes. A learning curve on how to be married and co-parent again, yes.

However, today, January 27th, 2015 I am proud to say my wife is 3 years sober.

In my opinion my wife has an addictive personality. No matter the substance, food, alcohol or drugs, they are just a symptom of something more. But none of this defines Josie.

Today, my marriage to Josie is stronger than ever before. She has accepted herself for who she is, the person I met many years ago and fell in love with. My wife is the smartest person I know (I will never tell her this however). While I see things as black and white, she sees the gray in many situations. She has given me the two greatest gifts ever, our daughter and our son and we parent together. We complement each other’s strengths and we lift each other up in areas that we’re not as strong. We have found a way to communicate honestly and openly about our thoughts and our feelings. Sobriety has created a foundation that makes our relationship stronger each and every day.

The Josie I know took an intelligent mind and made choices that were neither in her best interest nor that of anyone around her. I hate the choices she made, but never hated her.

I love my wife. She is the one and only for me. I love coming home to her. I cannot sleep in a bed she is not in. I love to make her laugh and I will go to all lengths to make that happen. She is the only person with whom I can do something, or sit still and do nothing, and be just as happy either way.

Sobriety is a part of our lives. Lives that have never been better. I do not sit in judgment of others who have chosen differently. I just know that I wouldn’t trade my life or the last 19 years for anything. I am living the dream with Josie and my two children and I am the luckiest human being alive.

Today’s Miracle:
That I can express just a fraction of what my wife Josie means to me because the full amount goes beyond words.

Happy 2nd Birthday: An Open Letter to My Blog

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Artistic Concept and Photography courtesy of my brilliant daughter (hand modelling courtesy of my son)!

Dear Blog,

You are two years old today, and so I wanted to let you know how much you have meant to my life since you have entered it.

I did not think out nor did I prepare much for your birth.  It was suggested to me that you would be a valuable addition to my life, and to the lives of those around me, and so I more or less thought, “Why not give this a shot?”

And that about sums up my preparation for you in my life.

Like any addition to a family, you quickly and firmly took root.  At first, you flailed and cried and didn’t know much of what you were doing, but time and patience helped to calm and soothe you.  I had very little expectations of you; consequently, when even the smallest of things happened, I felt like we achieved a huge milestone.  I remember your first LIKE as if it was yesterday.  I did not even understand what the foreign Gravatar at the bottom of the post was, I had to call my husband over to help me understand.  But when I did, I was overwhelmed with happiness.

Soon after I realized that with this knowledge comes more responsibility.  Wait, other people might actually be reading you!  And that small shift in perspective… write something that helps you, but also may help another, brought about an enormous growth spurt for you.  The realization that the events in life that affect me might actually be affecting someone else out there gave me a feeling of connectedness like I have never experienced before.

Soon after that first LIKE was the first COMMENT.  Oh my, now we are entering a brave new world, indeed… people in the world are not only reading, not only appreciating, but taking their precious time to give back to us!  It is hard to describe the joy that is found in reading comments.  The gratitude of acknowledgement, the wisdom received, and again the feeling that I am not alone in my joy or my struggles.

Some posts, like Betty White is a Trigger or Roar, helped me to work through issues.  Some posts, like A Series of Bottoms, Chapter 1-Epilogue, and Lather, Rinse, Repeat:  The Shame Cycle, helped me to purge my mind and my heart of negative feelings to which I was holding on.  Some posts, like The Dreaded Topic or I’ve Talked the Talk, Now I’ve Walked the Walk, helped me set goals and kept me accountable to them.  Some of the seemingly sillier posts, like The End of the People Magazine Era… Or is It, helped me realize that no matter how crazy my thoughts or actions are, there is someone who will relate.

And then, the most unexpected miracle of all, blog:  the readers become FRIENDS.  We connect with each other, not just within the blogosphere, but outside of it as well.  Emails, phone calls, in-person visits.  In a thousand years, I would have never guessed the blessings of true friendships that have evolved out of the simple, almost thoughtless decision to bring you into this world.

You have given me the opportunity to take chances, to challenge myself, to hold myself accountable to goals, to admit shortcomings, to publicize victories.  You have given me a confidence in myself that I have heretofore not experienced.  You have given me the flashlight to shine on my deepest darkest thoughts, and, in shining that light, have dispelled them.

The happiest of birthdays, blog, and endless gratitude for all the joy you have brought to my life.  I hope we have many years of happiness to come.

Today’s Miracle:

Celebrating the anniversary of joining a world that has brought me countless blessings.  Thanks to all of you!

5, 113 Days

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Fifteen years ago today, I was a young woman right in the middle of a long engagement to be married.  We had an almost two-year engagement in order to save money for the wedding and for our first home.  So on October 2, 1998, I was still 12 months away from my special day, but I received a surprise gift… a dozen red roses.  My fiance gave them to me to celebrate that it was 12 months until our big day.  On the second of every month after that, I received another dozen roses, but the number of red went down by one, and a white rose took its place.  So on November 2, 1998, 11 red, 1 white, on December 2nd, 10 red, 2 white, and so on.

October 2, 1999 was the day all the hard work, planning, scrimping and saving paid off… our wedding day.  It was as beautiful weather-wise as I’d hoped it would be.  I woke up in my childhood room, surrounded by the sisters who once shared that room with me, and the whole morning was spent with my family and seven (yikes!) bridesmaids, all primping and preening and running around like crazy women.  In the midst of all the chaos, a messenger arrived at the door, and a package was delivered… a dozen white roses, with this accompanying poem:

Whenever you reach a destination

You tend to ponder its realization

Not because you don’t believe

Rather you appreciate what you’ve achieved

You and I have gotten here

Through smiles and laughs and the occasional tear

After today we will be husband and wife

Our relationship will take on a whole new life

I can only imagine what’s in store

Because knowing you, it’ll taste like more

These past 1,345 days have been the best

With each day more enjoyable than the rest

My heart beats faster when I think of you

Especially when I think about saying “I do”

So as I told you 12 months ago

This is how the roses would go

When you saw no more red

It would be the day we wed

Can you imagine all the hearts fluttering in that house?

That is the kind of man I married 14 years ago today.  The rest of the wedding was as magical at the moment I received those flowers and that poem.  There was not a single hitch it that day.  Alright, maybe one tiny one, where I had forgotten to tell the man I was marrying that he was supposed to memorize our vows, so we did have to speak on the phone for a bit that morning to make sure we knew what the heck we were saying, but even that went off perfectly.  The reception was, hands down, the most fun reception I have ever attended.  Not one person sat down the whole night, because we were all too busy dancing.  The church, the food, the music, all as perfect as a bride could imagine.

When I think back to that young woman, and what she was looking for in life, all her dreams came true in that one day.  At that point in life, all I wanted was to start a family of my own, and my family started that day.

So what about the woman of today?  Like any married couple, we have been through many highs and lows in these past 14 years, many of which I write about in this blog.  Do I still think all my dreams came true?  And with that question, my mind asks the inevitable follow-up:  are we happily married?  How does one define a successful marriage?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, the defining characteristic of a successful marriage is that you are each other’s “go-to.”  When things are going great, who is the first person you want to tell?  When you have a problem, who is the first person from whom you seek advice?  When you have down time, who is your first choice to spend it with?

Almost 18 years ago, when we first started dating, my answer was Dan.  Almost 16 years ago, when he asked me to marry him, my answer was Dan.  And, through everything we’ve experienced in the past fourteen years of marriage, my answer is the same:  my husband is my go-to person, and my dreams continued to be realized with each passing year.

Today’s Miracle:

14 years of marriage… enough said!

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