Happy Labor Day to all my fellow Americans. Wait, come to think of it, happy Labor Day to all my friends!
Any meeting day that is also a holiday is a crapshoot in terms of attendance. I didn’t count, but surely we were on the low side of average today. I selected a story that we read exactly a year ago. It is called “Physician, Heal Thyself” and it is found in the book Alcoholics Anonymous. It is a story of a person with a high bottom; the author was a very successful surgeon who claims to have made more money is his last year of drinking than he ever had before or since. His marriage was never in jeopardy, he was beloved by all. To use his expression, his was the skid row of success, which is just as miserable as the skid row in any city.
In order to select that story, I needed to research back through this blog to see what I read last September. In doing so, I read over the blog and the subject matter discussed, and I considered that on the way over to this morning’s meeting. The general discussion then was how to choose sobriety when you are unconvinced or unwilling to accept that alcohol is a problem.
In reflecting upon that theme, I remembered a woman sharing about this subject when I was new to the program. She said that even though she was 5 years sober (at the time), even though she was a regular attendee of our 12-step program, even though she had experienced miracles as a result of successfully working the steps… even with all of this information, she still will, once in a blue moon, get that thought, “Maybe it wasn’t all that bad. Maybe I’m not really an alcoholic.”
Everyone in the room chuckled that day. My own reaction, not knowing the woman particularly well, was to smile and nod, but think it an unrelatable story for me. At less than a year sober (at the time), and happily sitting on the pink cloud of early sobriety, I scoffed at the idea I would ever forget what brought me into the rooms.
Now, of course, I know better than to scoff at anything, and, of course, in the years that followed, I have had those snatches of insanity… was it really that bad? Would it be the end of the world if I drank again? Fortunately, staying connected with a sober support network, both in the “blogosphere” and in the live world, helps me to play that tape through, and reach the logical conclusion that it makes more sense to stay sober.
So anyway, that was my thought process, and what I figured I might share once we read the story.
Five minutes after the meeting started, the woman who made the comment that started this thought process entered the meeting. I have seriously not seen this woman in well over a year, maybe closer to two years.
I’m telling you, I can’t make this stuff up!
Aside from having the wonderful experience of reconnecting with an old friend, we had a newcomer at the meeting. It took him some time to share, but when he did, it was powerful: he had just left rehab on Friday, and today he has a family function where drinking will take place. He is conflicted about so much, and the mere thought of attending this function cost him an entire night’s sleep. He does not know what to do.
When I hear stories of this nature, I am immediately transported back in time, back to when I was trying and failing to stay sober. My core belief at that point was that nothing in my life need change just because I’m not drinking. Of course I will attend drinking family functions, why wouldn’t I? As long as I don’t drink, what possible difference could it make? How could I explain to husband/kids/mom/aunts/uncles/cousins why I was not present?
What would they do without me?
When written out like that, and with a small bit of sobriety under my belt, the illogic of that paragraph is obvious. But to the gentleman sitting in that meeting this morning, not so much. In speaking with him afterwards, he said, “But I want to spend time with my wife and son, and they want to spend time with the larger family, what can I do?”
In early days, it all seems so impossible. The reality is, the time frame of chaos, uncertainty and fear, when contrasted against the timeframe of your life, is really quite short. It seems inconceivable to put something like recovery in front of things like spending time with your spouse and child, or a family obligation. But once you make that choice, what you come to realize is that in a very short period of time you will have it all, you will have those blessings and so many more in a way you cannot even imagine.
And all you have to do, just for today, is put your sobriety first. Whatever that means for you: skipping one family picnic, or taking your own car so you can get out if it gets too tense, attending a meeting, sharing what’s on your mind.
That newcomer will be on my mind today, and I’m hoping he is able to do what he needs to do, today, to stay sober.
Heading to a baseball game today. The entire family looking forward to the same event at the same time, especially when two of those family members are teenagers… that is a miracle!
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’ve been wanting to share a story that happened a few weeks ago, during a time when a bunch of things were happening at once, so I needed time to process it along with all the other things, before I could write about it. I have written numerous posts about the trials and tribulations of parenting (here’s one, and another, and another, just as examples), and it seems, of late, that subject material is plentiful. If it’s not one child, it’s the other, and the best I can hope for is to keep my head above water these days. And when life feels like chasing one crisis after the other, it’s easy to let self-pity creep in… Woe is me! Nobody has all the drama I have! Where is my Higher Power when I need Him?
So let me set the stage for this story: it is mid-week, and I’m hustling to get elementary school child out the door for his 8 am chorus rehearsal. Middle school kid is already on the bus. As I’m giving directives (make sure your schoolbag is packed, get your saxophone, etc.) I glance over to the cubby where the schoolbags are packed and see that basketball sneakers have been left behind by the daughter who is already gone. Now, this may not seem like a huge deal, unless you are armed with the knowledge that this child forgets something… lunch, sneakers, once she got onto the bus and left her entire school bag in the garage… at least once a week, sometimes more. I am running late as it is, and her school is 10 minutes further away than the elementary school I am driving to, but I calculate, and tell my son to move even faster, because we are dropping off the sneaks before I take him. I am into the garage, and he says, “I can’t find my saxophone.”
A couple of things should be noted here:
- The saxophone is not a small instrument, and is made even larger by its carrying case. It would be very difficult to misplace.
- The saxophone is a very expensive instrument.
- The saxophone, and lessons, were something that my son had to sell us on; we did not believe he was responsible enough to take this on.
Needless to say, I am not a happy camper at this point. We determine that the best possible scenario is that he left it at school (which is a side story/lecture that could fill another post), but suffice it to say that I am ranting and raving about this issue for the entire ride to the middle school to drop off the forgotten sneakers. We are, no exaggeration, pulling up to the school, so have been in the car for at least 10 minutes, and my son says, “Maybe I took the saxophone upstairs to my bedroom.”
I will just let your imagination run wild with my response to that conjecture.
By the time I unloaded him at his school, and was driving by myself, I was beside myself. My poor husband made the mistake of calling to check in on me (he knew part of the calamity that was the morning), and I unloaded on him. “I used to pride myself on being a stay at home mom, so that I could be there for my children, no matter what. There was a time when being able to run a forgotten item to school made me feel good,” I said. “But now I’m afraid I have engaged too much, and I’m doing them a disservice. I’m so involved that they feel no sense of responsibility!” We talked it through and decided that, going forward, I needed to let them suffer the consequences for their lapses, and that is how they would learn.
About an hour went by, I was running various errands, and my phone rang, it was the middle school calling. I answered, and it was the Vice Principal of the school. My daughter has been in that school for 3 years now, and I have never received a phone call from anyone other than the nurse, so I was more curious than anything else. My daughter is definitely the one I fear school phone calls from the least. Anyway, the Vice Principal, who seems to be very intelligent, and very concerned staff member, starts by telling me a story of his earliest days as an educator, and how he was out to save the world, and some student who seemed to be slightly off-track, so he contacts the parents, and, long story short, the parents try to have him fired. So, for him, lesson learned, he will only do things by the book from now on. I am interested, but am connecting no dots with how this story relates to me. He then says, “Do you remember meeting me at the “coffee klatch” (an informal parent/teacher gathering)?” I confirm that I do, and he goes on to say, “Well, I remember you, because you asked some insightful questions, and were so interested, and so engaged, and I was very impressed by your level of involvement.”
I would like to editorialize at this point in the story: there were only about a dozen parents, and the whole point of the coffee klatch was for parents to get to know the teachers and administrators. By no means did I do anything extraordinary in that meeting.
So again, to make a long story short (and this was long, we were on the phone for an hour), he just wanted to share with me some generalized concerns he had about my daughter. There was nothing concrete, and no disciplinary action, but because I presented as such an “involved parent,” he wanted to speak with me informally and let me know his thoughts.
I am, of course, glossing over the emotion involved in getting such a phone call, and the fact that there was any concern at all about my daughter. I kid you not, she is an angel, so it floored me that she would come to anyone’s attention in a negative way. So, much to process on my end, and the long and short of that part of the story is a good one. My husband and I were able to communicate with her in a very positive way, and, since then, there has been nothing but good that has come out of that issue. I am forever indebted to the Vice Principal.
But the more relevant reason for my sharing this story: if ever there is doubt in my mind that God is listening to me, I will have only to recall this day in my mind to clear away my doubt. The very same morning that I voiced out loud my concern that I was “over-engaged” in the lives of my children, I receive a phone call from a seasoned professional telling me that he is only speaking to me this candidly because he appreciated how engaged I was in the lives of my children.
There are God moments, and then there are God moments!
I started writing this post yesterday afternoon, but was prevented from finishing it due to schedule conflicts. In the interim, I “ran into” (no coincidences) the Vice Principal himself! I was able to shake his hand and tell him how much his reaching out meant to me. Crazy good stuff!
Choice of attention – to pay attention to this and ignore that – is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer. In both cases, a man is responsible for his choice and must accept the consequences, whatever they may be. –W.H. Auden
I woke up this morning, prayed, and through that prayer realized I had a nice round number for consecutive days of sobriety, which could mean a fun title for my post. However, I could not really come up with anything that exciting, and I didn’t want to write yet another post on how different my life is 200 days later. So, I typed in “200 days” in the Google search bar, to see if that would inspire me. It did not, but I did discover, through that research process, that I am 15, 618 days old.
So then I decided to “just do it,” and I logged in to the website to begin writing. Note: I never do this, I always wait until I know exactly what I’m writing about before I log in. I did a quick check of the notifications section, and I got a notice that my blog received 200 likes. This, of course, validates my choice of titles for the post, but it didn’t necessarily give me any real inspiration for the subject matter.
THEN (dum dum dum!), my husband called while commuting to his place of employment. The point of his call? To tell me how much he appreciates his ride into work now that I am sober, how different it feels from “before,” how much more peaceful and productive he is, now that he is able to focus on his job rather than worry about his family’s safety, how much more meaningful our morning hug feels.
Seriously. He called to say that. And he didn’t even know about the 200 days yet.
If I could somehow chronicle the daily events of my life minute-by-minute, this blog would write itself. Every day things like what I described above happen to me, and I look forward to them each and every day. Even when it is not necessarily good stuff, I know, in my heart, there is something God is trying to tell me. And it is amazing.
And to finish, just to prove it can happen to anyone, not just those of us in recovery… last night my husband and I were watching TV, he was also on the laptop. I asked what he was doing, he gave me a noncommittal answer. He put down the lap top, and then said he had to turn off the sprinkler. For some reason, he went out the front door to do this, normally he would go through the garage. He comes in, and tells me this story: he had been researching local volunteer projects for the kids to do, in an effort to teach them how doing good for the sake of doing good has its own rewards. He found one interesting project, a local food bank called Manna on Main. Making a mental note, he closes up the computer, and proceeds to finish his yard work. Goes out the front door, and, on the front porch is a brown paper bag asking for donations for the annual food drive for… you guessed it… Manna on Main.
This, by the way, all happened after 9 pm at night. He had been mowing the lawn earlier in the evening, no such bag had been on the front porch. As the kids say, RIGHT!?!