Back and forth goes my mind:
Do not write today, nobody wants to hear this crap.
But isn’t that the point of this blog?
Maybe so, but whining for the sake of whining is helpful to no one.
But might it help… me?
Very, very abbreviated (and censored, I have a bit of a potty mouth in my “verbal” life) account of what’s going on in my head. Well, here goes nothing…
I am sad today, I was sad yesterday, and the day before that.
My best friend’s father passed away, too soon, and with some tragic circumstances attached. I am sad for my friend, I am even sadder for his Mom.
Although my father has been dead for 22 years, anytime the death of a parent comes into play, I relive that experience as if it just happened. I dream about it, it is my first waking thought, and I feel like I can’t escape it.
So I’m sad that my father is dead.
I feel strongly that I should be able to get a better handle on my emotions, but can’t seem to do it. I’m angry and impatient with myself for how much I’ve been crying, and then I’m sad that I’m mad.
And then I’m confused over which exact emotion I’m even feeling.
I’m sad that my friend will read this and think he has to comfort me, when it is I who should be comforting him. I wish I could prevent this post from going into his inbox.
Today is my son’s field day trip, and for reasons that would take to long to explain, I can’t go with him. I am really, really sad about this.
I have abused the only crutch I feel like I have left… food… for the past three days and have probably reversed any good I have done in the weight loss department (slight silver lining: this has kept me off the scale, so at least I’m not compulsively weighing myself). I am sad that I gave in to this instinctual need to comfort myself with things I know will not comfort me, sad that I just sidelined my diet, sad that I have to admit this mistake.
The out of control eating has left me sluggish and unable to exercise as I feel I should, which panics me at the thought of a rapidly approaching 5K to which I committed. I am frustrated that I can’t get the proper perspective on this subject, and I am sad that I am not exercising as effectively as I was.
I am tired of myself, and I feel guilty that I am subjecting myself to all of you.
I am sad that I am not using the tools I have been so generously given.
As I type, I feel a pinprick of an emotion that has been foreign for the past few days… hope. I am hopeful that shining the light on these troubled thoughts and feelings might banish them, or at least lessen their severity so I can get back to a better place mentally. We’ll see what happens, but I guess a glimmer is better than none at all.
Gratitude for my friends in the blogosphere for “listening!”
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!
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!
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.
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!
Making friends for the world to see
Let the people know you got what you need
With a friend at hand you can see the light
If you friends are there, then everything’s alright
I have had the great fortune of maintaining the same group of friends for over 20 years. Careers, geography and family responsibilities prevent us from getting together as often as we did in our 20’s, but, like all good friends, as soon as we gather it is as if no time has passed.
Today, with 160 days of sobriety, I can appreciate these amazing people more so than I ever have. Almost every person in the group knows my tale of woe, and yet, it is as if I am the same college pal they hung with on campus. There was no awkwardness, no strained conversation, no judgment at all. And I had the absolute time of my life.
Another observation I made, with unbelievable gratitude: this celebration was the first where I was sober among friends who were drinking. In the past, this type of event would fill me with resentment and self-pity… why can they drink and I can’t? Instead, with the help of the tools I gained in recovery, I was able to appreciate the fact that I was lucid throughout the evening, and I noted that while everyone drank regularly through the entire night, not one of these people were as drunk as I would have been if I were drinking. I slept well, woke with no hangover, and was able to remember every moment of the night… another feat I most likely did not accomplish the last time we were all together.
The blessings in my life are too numerous to count!