A happy Monday to all! Today we read from Forming True Partnerships, a book that talks about the various relationships and how recovery impacts each. Today’s reading came from the chapter on friendship, and the author wrote both eloquently and compellingly on the friendships formed within the 12-step fellowship, and how that connection keeps her coming back.
This meeting was a celebratory one for me, as I announced my 5-year sober anniversary to the group this morning. The actual anniversary took place a few days before (Friday), and I already received my coin, but I was able to pass that coin around to my main sober network, and get their good wishes instilled into the metal. At least, that’s the tradition in our neck of the 12-step woods.
The reading was a poignant one for me. Nowadays my main network is, as I just mentioned, my Monday meeting group. But since my anniversary was Friday, I had the option of attending a meeting that was vitally important to me in my first year of sobriety. I don’t think I missed more than one or two of those Friday meetings that first year, and I went a heck of a lot in my second year as well. By year three, I was tapering them off, as the commute had become unbearable.
So this year the coincidence of the anniversary falling on the same day the meeting was held had me considering the trek down-county. That particular morning I had a horrible night’s sleep, and strongly reconsidered. I was tired, cranky, I knew I could just as easily celebrate with my Monday peeps, plus there was a fear lingering in the background… it had probably been at least a year since I had seen a single one of those meeting attendees… what if I walk in and I know no one? What if things are intensely awkwards since I had not been around in such a long time?
Finally, the correct thought hit me: I don’t attend meetings so I can be heralded, I go to share my experience, strength and hope. So with a prayer that my anniversary and whatever I was to share might help another, I set out.
Of course, none of my fears came to pass (which leads me to wonder… do they ever?). With the exception of one or two, all the old regulars were there, plus a handful of delightful newcomers (at least, new to me). I happened to arrive on the anniversary of the meeting, which meant good eats were there, and an incredible speaker who shared her story. I left with more energy than I ever would have gotten from sitting around bemoaning my previous night’s sleeplessness. I reconnected with old friends, was asked to speak at a future meeting, and left feeling a renewed sense of the fellowship.
All of which I shared at my meeting this morning, along with my most delicious homemade cake that I make (pound cake with buttercream frosting, my way of thanking this group for all their wonderful support through these 5 years). Here are some other wonderful pearls of wisdom shared:
- The value of the fellowship, and of connecting with other human beings, taps into an essential part of the human condition: the need to be seen for who we are.
- The reading, and the extolling of the fellowship within it, is reminiscent of our program’s 1st tradition. Just like we have 12 steps, we also have 12 traditions. The first one is “Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends on AA unity.”
- Every aspect of our fellowship is a beautiful experience that is vastly different from the relationships we build in almost any other setting. When we gather at a 12-step meeting, most of the time we are a group that would not interact in the “outside world” by a long shot. We come from vastly different social circles, socio-economic classes, even geographically there can be differences. Yet when we sit down for our 12-step meeting, we are virtually a family. We have an inherent understanding of one another before we speak a word. It is truly a priceless gift.
- One part of the story referenced the television show from the 80’s, Cheers. Specifically, the author writes about when the character Norm walks into the bar and, as the theme song sings, “everyone knows his name.” For many of us, our 12-step group is much like that, where everyone not only knows our name, but pays attention to our innermost thoughts, and sincerely wants the best for us.
- The fellowship is an amazing resource for those of us who consider ourselves introverts, shy, or have a hard time developing friendships. It’s simply a matter of coming back and becoming a regular part of a meeting… the friendships take care of themselves organically.
- The quality of friendships within the fellowship is often markedly better than the relationships formed with our drinking buddies. Some noted that when the drink is taken out of the equation, the “buddies” go away, whereas the friendships within the fellowship have staying power.
- A common expression used in meetings is “keep coming back.” And the reason for that expression is that, in many cases, that is all that’s needed for success… just keep at it, and amazing things happen!
When I said that my Monday meeting peeps are my main source of support, I do my blogging circle of friends a disservice. I started this blog at 3 months sober. It is a freaking miracle that I am still writing this same blog 5 years later, and I owe it all the incredible friends I’ve made in the blogosphere along the way!
My head is still spinning a bit from the animation and wide array of shares from this morning’s meeting. I’m not sure if it’s because we’re approaching Halloween or what, but man were things interesting this morning!
And so I don’t forget, apologies for the missing post last week. I missed the meeting as well, since I had another job interview! Fingers crossed that this is the one that gets me back in the workforce!
Back to today: we read from the book Forming True Partnerships, which is a compilation of articles describing how people in recovery navigate their various relationships. Today’s reading focused on a relationship specific to 12-step programs, sponsorship.
I imagine most reading this blog have at least a nodding acquaintance of the concept of sponsorship. At the most basic level, a sponsor takes his or her sponsee through the 12 steps of recovery. From that foundation, the relationship can move in as many directions as there are people in the roles of sponsor and sponsee. The expectations from both sides of the sponsorship coin vary widely. Like most pieces of the 12-step puzzle, how you sponsor and how you are sponsored is entirely up to individual interpretation.
The story we read this morning detailed a woman’s account of being “dumped” by her sponsee. The author sponsored this woman, successfully in her opinion, for about a year, during which time she took the newly sober woman through the 12 steps of recovery, spent many hours on the phone with her, went to meetings together, and introduced her to a new network of sober people. Not long after a year into the relationship, the sponsee slowed down her phone calls, started ignoring texts, and finally sent the author an email that stated she did not feel she needed her anymore.
After concocting several snarky email responses in her head, the author did what she considered the next right thing to do, which was contact her sponsor for advice. Her sponsor had a similar tale of woe, and advised her to respond in honesty. The author replied to the email and let her know she was hurt by the decision to “fire” her over email, and left it at that.
From there the author describes several great things that came out of the situation. First, she was able to identify and sit with the feelings of sadness and hurt… a novelty for her. She recognized that she had placed quite a bit of value in the relationship, and it distressed her to realize that the reverse wasn’t quite the same.
The hurt and sadness caused the author to look at the relationships central in her life, and discover ways to deepen them. She reached out more to her family and friends, and especially to other women in recovery. She found that being a better friend was the best remedy for the hurt she was feeling.
That was the synopsis of the story, and the crowd (which in this case was about 18 meeting attendees) went wild with their interpretations of the story. Several in the crowd were almost offended by this woman’s sensibilities. For them, the relationship of sponsor/sponsee is a sacred one, and there are no room for hurt feelings within it. If the sponsee needed to move on, either to another sponsor, to try the fellowship without a sponsor, or even to go out and drink again, then that is their decision, and a sponsor’s hurt feelings should not come into play. No email back talking about hurt feelings should have happened.
A few thought expressing her feelings was the right thing to do, as it allowed the author to be true to herself, rather than cultivate a resentment which could lead to a relapse.
Others took a middle-of-the-road stance, and agreed that hurt feelings shouldn’t come into play; then again, sponsors and sponsees alike are human beings, and feelings come with the package.
Most who shared loved that she reached out to others in the program, rather than using hurt feelings as an excuse for isolating. One or two who shared related it to the expression “when God closes a door, he opens a window.” The author had to feel the pain of sponsee rejection to realize that her life would be fuller reaching out more to others, both in the program and outside of it.
The title of the post implies that there were a few shares that were difficult to put in the framework of this post. I’ll just chalk it up to the season of spookiness and leave it at that. I’m always grateful that people feel free to share and express themselves authentically!
It’s funny, the part everyone was debating in the story was the part I glossed over as I was reading. I’ve had several people fade out of my 12-step life, as I imagine people would say I’ve faded out of theirs. I believe I have a somewhat open-minded thought process about the relationships within the fellowship.
Two things did strike me as I read this woman’s account of her life in recovery. First, she explained at the start of the story that she considered herself a “fringe” member of AA. Meaning that she worked the 12 steps, attended meetings, and had congenial relationships, but she also had a very full life outside of AA. When she was asked to be a sponsor, she was frankly surprised, as she thought that generally happened for the “in” crowd.
While I’ve never considered there to be “in” or “out” crowds within the fellowship, I was grateful to read of a woman staying sober and having a rich life outside of the program. Sometimes it’s daunting to hear of people who, years into sobriety, continue to go to meetings every day, sponsor dozens of people, plan vacations and retreats with other folks in recovery, and do so with ease. It would appear as if their entire lives revolve around recovery.
So it’s a relief to read there are people out there like me, finding a balance between recovery life and non-recovery life that works.
The second part that stood out is the wisdom she gained, and the actions she took as a result of the hurt and sadness. Like the author, I am relatively new to feeling my feelings, and if I’m being really honest I’m not sure I’ve gotten to the point where I can learn the necessary lessons. I’ve had recent experiences involving similar hurt and sadness, and so far the most I can say is that I’m learning how to sit with the feelings, rather than berate myself for feeling them. Reading how she turned around those feelings into something good was inspirational.
Finally, something that my very wise regular attendee said struck home for me, albeit in a slightly off-topic way. He said what he is reading in the story is the grief process… the author is grieving a relationship that meant a lot to her. He said at the root of all grief is love, for you would not grieve something if you did not love it in some way. And for those of us who used to drink our feelings a way, isn’t feeling grief really a blessing, because we are acknowledging our love for another?
This brought me back immediately to a funeral I attended this weekend. And yes, 2016 remains the Year of Funerals for me. Too many to count at this point. This woman was very important to me in early sobriety, and she died with 40 years of recovery under her belt. I started crying before the funeral started, and I don’t think I stopped the entire Mass. At one point I looked around and, I kid you not, I am the only person crying in the place! This woman was older, and her health had been failing, so I assume her friends and family were relieved she was no longer suffering. So then, true to form, I berated myself: “For goodness sake, you are least important person in the room, quit crying!”
When my friend shared today, I felt better about my tears, for I truly loved this woman, and will remain forever grateful for the lessons she taught me. I will cry all I want from now on!
As I glance up at the length of this post, I wonder if the miracle is that I’m about to stop typing 😉
And a happy Monday to all! We had an astonishingly large attendance at this morning’s meeting, I stopped counting at 18, though I’m relatively certain one or two more came in later.
Today’s reading selection came from Forming True Partnerships: How AA members use the program to improve relationships. The essay came from the chapter “Friendship,” and discussed the writer’s relationship with a woman named Pat who would eventually guide her to sobriety. Although Pat herself was not an alcoholic, she was a member of the 12-step group Al-Anon, so she guided the author of the story using the common tenets of both programs: one day at a time, the Serenity Prayer, honesty.
The long and short of the story is that everyone would be blessed to have a “Pat” in their lives, a friend who listens attentively, who shares wisdom without being bossy, who walks their talk.
I shared about the many “Pats” I’ve met in the rooms of our fellowship, and how many of them were sitting with me this morning! One part of the story reminded me acutely of early sobriety: the author was frantic because of all the chaos in her life, and proceeded to list all the crises… a possible pregnancy, relationships in distress, house a disaster, and depression so deep she felt unable to tackle any of it. Pat listened attentively, and remarked that most of the problems were future ones, but the one that could be handled was the dirty dishes in the sink. She suggested that the author go home and clean them. At the time the author was highly offended, and felt dismissed. But after she went home and washed those dishes, she felt that sense of accomplishment that comes from doing something productive. And to this day she remembers that lesson Pat taught her, to do what you can that day to improve something in your life.
I remember learning those same types of lessons, though I was not nearly so open-minded about it. I remember being outraged at this type of suggestion… how dare you tell me to clean my house! But as I started creating the routine of handling the problems directly in front of me, rather than obsessing about the myriad of perceived disasters in my life, the result was nothing short of amazing.
You might even say miraculous.
I actually spoke less than I typically do in deference to the crowd, but for some reason the crowd was slow to share. A few piggybacked on the importance of routine; creating order in the world around you helps to create order in your mind. One woman shared the expression that helped her was move a muscle, change a thought. She gets easily caught up in worry and future projection, and it was suggested when she catches herself in the cycle to do something different… go make a bed, wash a dish, take a walk. In making a physical change you will necessarily effect a mental one.
Several attendees spoke about the Bible verse referenced in the story, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of discipline, that I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word.”
Side note: I did not understand that verse at all. I thought it had to do with being able to discipline effectively, which of course made no sense at all. Which once again proves how lucky I am to have such wise people attend my meeting.
The people who commented on it said it reminded them of our literature, which references the benefit of having “restraint of pen and tongue.”
Another person put it this way: say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.
Now that I understood!
Just as the shares were starting to fizzle out a newcomer shared. And when I say newcomer, I mean new to me, several people in the room seemed to know him so I assumed he’d been around for some amount of time.
Turns out I was wrong. He has less than 2 weeks of sobriety, a terrible case of “the shakes,” which he knows full well a drink will calm, and he craves alcohol intensely every moment that he is awake. Between the shakes and the terrible depression he feels, he does not know how much longer he is going to last before he picks up (a drink). People are telling him he looks better and is doing great, and he is angry… he does not feel better, and he doesn’t know how much longer he can take it.
The reticence I experienced from the group evaporated in an instant. Virtually every hand in the room shot up in the air after the newcomer finished speaking. And each piece of wisdom shared was better than the last: advice on the ways to minimize the jittery feeling, suggestions on how to distract yourself in the early days, similar past experiences and how long it took to overcome, reminders that all of us have been there to one degree of another, and how miraculous it is once over the hump of early sobriety.
I watched carefully as the gentleman considered each anecdote or piece of advice, and actually saw tension leave his body. We spoke after the meeting, and he seemed ready to face the rest of the day.
And really, is there a greater miracle than that?
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!
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.
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!”
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!