Already we are heading into the month of July… incredible!
Because it is the end of the month, we read from the book Forming True Partnerships: How AA members use the program to improve relationships. The story was from the chapter “The Family,” and talked about the author’s relationship with her alcoholic father in three stages:
I. When her father was actively drinking and she was a child
II. When her father got sober and her drinking took off
III. The relationship they were able to build in sobriety.
A fascinating read for most everyone; even the attendees who did not have alcoholic parents could relate, as everyone in the room had someone in their family who suffers/suffered from the disease of addiction.
Part I mirrored my own childhood: the shame that goes along with a parent’s alcoholic behavior, the sure knowledge of a personality change the moment a drink is consumed, the uncertainty of knowing which personality would be walking in the door each evening.
I loved reading about the beautiful relationship the author was able to build with her father once she started getting sober. My father passed away years before even my active addiction, but I have daydreamed often about how he and I might relate now that I am sober. I’d like to think we would have forged a deeper and more meaningful relationship that we ever had.
And I also believe that he is proud of me, wherever he is.
Some of the other members of the meeting touched on childhood shame surrounding parents and alcoholism, and learning how to discern between the person and the disease. Several with alcoholic parents remarked that they were always able to do this; they could love their mother or father but hate the effects alcohol had on him or her.
This point stood out to me, as I recently had a discussion with a close friend about this very idea: loving the person, but hating the disease. It made me wonder if I had been able to make this distinction with my own father.
The truth is, I’m not sure I ever thought consciously about it while he was alive; I just hadn’t developed enough self-awareness at that young an age.
Then I thought to myself: do I make that distinction for myself, and my addiction? I will have to ponder this some more, but I’m sorry to say I’m not sure I do. At this point, a few years into sobriety, I can say I no longer experience the raw shame of my actions in active addiction, but I think that is because I feel like I’ve rectified to the best of my ability by living each of these past 1600 or so days sober. And as I thought about it further, and considered some of the “lesser” demons I’m trying to conquer, I’m not sure I am separating myself from my actions. When I intend to eat well, exercise and drink lots of water, then fail to do so, I feel bad about myself, I don’t separate out the action from the person.
And as I write that I see it for the old thinking that it is, and I realize there is work yet for me to do. Good thing I wasn’t looking to graduate anytime soon.
There were two women new to sobriety present at the meeting, and both are experiencing struggles as they try to navigate life sober. One woman’s story in particular spoke to me. She has less than a month sober, and is battling a few things at once. First, she has adult children living in her home who still drink. So there is the challenge of going into the fridge for a bottle of water, and finding it standing next to a six-pack of beer.
Due to a medical condition, she is responsible for driving her husband everywhere he needs to go, and thus finds social situations that involve drinking to be a challenge.
Finally, her adult children want to know why, even though she has been to rehab, been to outpatient therapy, been to a counselor, and is attending meetings, why would she still be sad and struggling?
I am indignant on this woman’s behalf, which of course does her no good. What I could do, and what a couple of us did after the meeting, is share what worked for us in early sobriety. Probably the greatest piece of advice I can give (completely and utterly from the rear view mirror, mind you) is this: ask for help. Tell people what you need. Set some boundaries. People who aren’t afflicted with the disease have zero concept of its trials and tribulations, and it is wrong for us to think otherwise.
Do whatever you need to stay sober, even if it feels selfish to the extreme. Early sobriety is not a life sentence; you will get more comfortable with time. But to acquire that time you need to put yourself first. Failing to do so puts your sobriety in peril.
I’m hoping to see my friend next week with a report that she was able to negotiate some breathing room for herself.
That’s all I’ve got this beautiful summer day!
I will count mindful organization as the miracle of the moment. There’s a lot going on in my household this week, and what’s keeping me sane is a list, and reminding myself to stay in the moment. It truly is a miracle when you take the time to appreciate the here and now!
It feels like forever since I’ve been on this blog, I’ve missed you all terribly! I considered writing a mini-post last week explaining why I wouldn’t be recapping my regular Monday morning meeting, then I mocked myself for thinking that anyone would notice that it was missing, then I argued against the mocking voice, then I got angry at all the voices and told them all to shut the hell up.
So here I am, back. I did not blog last week because I was not able to attend my meeting, the reason for which I will explain as I talk about today’s meeting.
At the beginning of this month I wrote about deciding on the theme of fear for April’s reading selections, the end goal in mind being this fourth week of the month, and the book from which we read, As Bill Sees It. This book is a compilation of several hundred excerpts from AA literature, and it is typically read in a topical fashion. In other words, I select the topic of fear, and then we read all the selections that feature fear as their subject matter.
In the post to which I linked above, I explained I had picked fear as a topic because I’m uncertain how fear plays out in my life. I don’t feel overly fearful, and I don’t often connect the various emotions I do experience to fear the way others in my fellowship seem to do. So April 2015 became the dedicated month of fear for this meeting leader.
Fast forward to Friday, April 17th. I have a wonderful friend in the fellowship who for a time texted a group of us daily morning inspirations. She has not done so for a long time, so when, early that morning I saw the text come in, I read it out loud to my husband. Here’s what the text read:
Don’t let unexpected events throw you off course; rather, respond calmly and confidently. Remember that God is with you. As soon as something grabs your attention, talk to Him about it. This is the way of peace.
Ninety minutes later, I got a call from my daughter at high school: she had been assaulted by a fellow student while getting her books out of her locker. Then I received another phone call from the principal: my daughter has been involved in a fight, and I am to pick her up because she has been suspended for fighting.
And so began the odyssey of 10 days (and counting, because this is far from over in my mind) of crying, worrying, pacing, arguing, conference calling, comforting, numbing (with television and food, thankfully, not mind-altering substances), internet searching, on-the-spot decision-making, threatening, and just general stressing over the safety and future academic setting of my 14-year old daughter.
For the record, my daughter is okay. Her head hurt from where the female student slammed her it into the locker, but otherwise no permanent physical damage. In doing what she could to protect herself, my daughter attempted to hit and kick the girl away from her, and those defensive motions were what caused the school to cite her for fighting and suspend her for three days.
Hence the myriad conference calls. We were even fortunate enough to see the inevitable YouTube video that someone so thoughtfully uploaded for all the world to see, and it was very clear who was the assailant and who was the victim (and also the cause of a very sleepless night replaying the image of my daughter’s attack over and over), but my husband and I are definitely David fighting the Goliath of the school district, albeit with a more unfortunate ending.
So I wanted to know what fear felt like: check.
I wanted to know the various ways fear hides behind other emotions: check, check, check.
Be careful what you wish for, I guess.
Here’s the good news: my apparent telepathic powers allowed me some tools that I would not have had otherwise. Week one of this month taught me that faith combats fear; countless times in the past 10 days I found myself turning to prayer for all sorts of things: peace of mind, guidance for the next right action, patience with both people and the process. I also learned that crisis is a great time to romance the drink. Truthfully (and thankfully) I did not have an urge to chemically alter myself, but I will say the thought of a cigarette crossed my mind on more than one occasion. Playing the tape through helped immensely, as I was taught it would.
Week two of this month gave some incredibly practical tips for dealing with all the things with which I had to deal over the last 10 days. I wish I could say I took advantage of all of them, in the moment they were needed; sadly I did not. However, remembering the serenity prayer from time to time, and especially remembering the phrase “this too shall pass” were powerfully effective weapons against the increasing stress and tension each day brought to me.
Week 3 I guess I didn’t need to learn anything, since my meeting was usurped by various combative calls from all levels of school district administration.
So here we are at week four, and the readings that I wanted to read in the first place. And they have been placed after the event for a reason, since believe me the fear is far from over, today is more or less Day One of my daughter’s return to school, and my cell phone is never more than an inch away from my body while she is not home.
Today’s readings, for me, reinforced the idea that faith is the opposite of fear. In the absence of complete faith, acting as if works in the interim. I prayed, I researched options, I discussed the issue with a variety of people, and sending her back to school for the remaining two months seems to be the right thing to do. At this point, having faith means to send her off and believe she will be okay until I see her after school today.
Wow, so many words, and I haven’t even gotten to all the other amazing discussions we had at this morning’s meeting! The sharing took a small turn from generalized fears to the more specific fears concerning anonymity, and to whom we feel comfortable disclosing our disease of alcoholism. A variety of people shared on this topic, with a variety of answers, but the general consensus seems to be three-fold:
- It is a personal decision
- The longer your sober time is, the less anxiety this topic seems to bring
- When the motive for disclosing your anonymity is to help another struggling with the disease, the answer is always to share our story. To give what was so freely given to us is the foundation of our 12-step program!
Enough blathering from me, go out and enjoy this spring day!
The joy in my daughter’s face as she headed off to school today reaffirms my decision to have faith!
Like I’ve said so many times before, sometimes I write just to sort things out in my own head, and hopefully in that sorting I will feel better and also possibly help someone else. This is one of those times.
In the broadest of explanations, I am out of sorts, and it’s a state from which I can’t seem to extricate myself. As I pause to reflect upon the why’s and how’s of this out-of-sortness, a few of the usual suspects rear their ugly heads (kid aggravations being one such example), but when I really burrow deep, I think the root of this issue lies in the conflict between standing my ground and my people-pleasing tendencies.
For a really, really long time, maybe even for as long as I can remember, there would be no conflict… I would inevitably revert to people-pleasing. I may bitch and moan about it, I may seek passive aggressive means of standing my ground in future situations as a form of revenge, but ultimately, in the moment of conflict, I deferred in favor of making the other person happy.
As I work on becoming a more honest and authentic version of myself, I have become aware of the conflict, and wonder whether the path of least resistance is doing anyone any good. At the bare minimum it makes me feel not quite honest, and not quite authentic! This certainly does not mean that I choose the right action every time, but I am getting better and better and saying what I mean, and meaning what I say. If I don’t actually assert myself or voice my own feelings, at the very least I can choose to do or say nothing, so at least I’m not practicing dishonesty.
Old Me: “Of COURSE it’s not a problem! No worries! That will be fine/I am fine/You are fine!”
Current Me: (silence)
Hopefully Future Me: “The truth is that I’m feeling…”
Sometimes though, when you are seeking honesty, there is simply no way around a conflict between two people. As humans we each have our unique thought processes, opinions, and strategies for handling life, and my way of doing things does not always mesh with the way others do things.
And then there’s the moment of truth: stand my ground, or defer in order to smooth out the rough edges of the situation.
Of course, anyone reading knows the obvious answer is if you believe in yourself, your stance, you stand your ground. I knew that even when I wasn’t doing it.
The trick isn’t even in the standing of ground (although that’s certainly not fun). The real trick is living inside of my own head in the days that follow.
I am in perpetual awe of people who can take a stand, face their adversaries gracefully, and then let the situation go. I simply do not know how to do that. Even when I believe in myself, even when I have no regrets in any decision I have made, my people pleasing tendencies make me twitchy in wanting to correct, to soothe, to make everyone in the world happy again.
So what to do in this situation? Well, historically the simple investigation and acknowledgement of such feelings goes a long way, as does writing about it and seeking empathy. It’s always a great thing to know I’m not alone.
But the further work for me is in the practice of letting go… letting go of my expectations of how things should have been, or how things should be currently. Letting go of the worry of the future. Letting go of my projections as to how the rest of the world is thinking and feeling. Full disclosure: that last one’s the toughest!
I just exhaled deeply in re-reading that last bit. Yep, the cathartic writing exercise works again! Now, the next post will be when and how I figure out the “letting go” part! Advice, as always, is welcome!
Not including an image from the movie Frozen, since I’m sure you’re all humming that song right about now!
This Saturday marks the 23rd anniversary of the day my Dad passed away. To honor his memory, I will provide anecdotal evidence of the great teacher he was. I wish I could provide it to him in person, but I have faith that he will hear it anyway.
When I was a teenager, I became aware of a macabre habit: on Saturday mornings, Dad would get his coffee, sit at the end of the counter, and read the paper. And while I’m sure he read all the traditional parts (sports, front page, etc.), it was his custom to also read the obituaries. If he found someone he knew, even (especially) if it was someone he knew from a long time ago, he would get up from his counter stool, get dressed, and head to that funeral. As a teenager, I was horrified by this prospect. Just showing up at a funeral to express condolences to a group of strangers, for someone you haven’t seen in years, it’s insanity!
My Dad died relatively young (he was 52), he died suddenly, and our family is large, so we prepared for the crowds by having his wake in the church, rather than in the more traditional funeral home. I believe the doors opened at 7 pm, and I did not see the end of that line until after 11 pm. The crowds of people who came to pay their respects to that man still blow my mind. As a daughter, the people who made the most lasting impression on me were not the relatives or close family friends. Of course, I appreciated their presence, but I expected to see them. What stands out to me, even 23 years later, are the men who walked up to me, shook my hand, and told me what a great childhood friend my father was, or what a great co-worker he was, many years ago.
To this day, when I find out that someone has died, and I knew them even in a peripheral way, I attend their funeral.
If I may be so bold to characterize the parenting style in which I was raised, I would label it Fear-Based Parenting. “Wait until your father gets home” are words that still strike terror in my heart, and the man’s been dead for almost a quarter of a century. Lest you think I’m criticizing, I often long for my children to have that same fear of me, but, sadly, that ship has sailed.
One of the arenas in which the fear mongering played out was academics. I dreaded that quarterly report card as if it were a death sentence for 12 straight years, and the most ridiculous part of it was I was consistently on the honor roll. The one and only time I remember that fear being necessary was either second or third grade, and I received an “S-” in conduct. I could not contain the anxiety as I waited until evening, when my father got home. He sat at the counter (same spot where he read the paper), and I stood, trembling next to him as he studied the green cardstock. He looked down at me, and he said, “You did a good job on your report card. The teacher’s pen must have slipped near the “S” on the conduct line, she needs to be more careful.”
I almost fainted with relief.
Last weekend my daughter and I were driving in the car, and she bursts into tears. When she calmed enough to speak, she said, “I really screwed up, there’s nothing I can do to fix it, and I’m too scared to tell you what I did.”
Note to teenage children reading: This is a great strategy, because by the time you tell them what actually happened, your parents, having immediately conjured up things like homicide, pregnancy, and drug-related crimes, will want to hug you instead of kill you. Unless you did in fact murder someone, are pregnant, or have been arrested for a drug-related crime. In that case, I can’t help you to strategize your confession.
It turns out my that the inaugural experience with mid-terms did not have the best results. We talk through the how’s and why’s, and attempt to create some learning points for the future. But by the time we are heading for home, she is a wreck again, because now she has to tell Daddy, and oh my god he is going to kill me. I say I will talk to him first. I do, and armed with the facts, and me recounting the Tale of the “S-,” he calls her down and has a similar conversation. And her relief was as palpable as I’m sure mine was, all those years ago. And I’m sure the chuckle my husband and I shared was similar to the one my Mom and Dad had all those years ago.
When I was roughly the age my son is now (12), I had an ongoing Bickering War with my younger brother. Every day we would come home from school and proceed to taunt, bully, and scream at each other until my Mom got home from work. And then continued to taunt bully and scream at each other in a slightly more subdued way. My grandmother lived with us, but I don’t remember much her opinion on the situation, although as a parent now I can make an educated guess. I’m also sure my Mom threatened us numerous times, to no avail.
One day my Dad is home from work a little earlier than usual. I am called from whatever I was doing to set next to him at the counter (at the same spot where he read the paper and report cards). He tells me he is home from work early because his boss called him into the office to have a talk with him. Turns out, a neighbor has been complaining about the ruckus my brother and I have been causing on a regular basis, and the neighbor has complained to my Dad’s place of employment. The boss tells my Dad, “Jack, if you can’t control your kids at home, how can I expect you to control your truck at work?” He looks at me earnestly, and tells me how important my job is to him, to our family. Do I want him to lose his job?
I am in tears, and I solemnly vow to keep things under control while he is at work. I am permitted to leave the kitchen, and I hole myself away to plot my revenge against the neighbor who squealed. As I consider the possibilities, a few thoughts occur to me:
a. My Dad is a truck driver, and
b. I myself have no idea how to get a hold of him at work, let alone his boss.
My tears of shame turn into tears of outrage. But since I was raised under the Fear-Based Parenting model, I allow the rage to subside. And I did tone down the bickering, so I guess it was a successful strategy.
The lesson? A well-crafted tale can work wonders with children, but the details are critical to its success.
Despite his dying young, I have a multitude of stories from which to choose when writing this post. Hopefully I will get a chance to share them all!
I typically like to have an ultimate point before I write about an event or an issue. At the very least a destination, even when I’m not sure which route I’m going to take to get there. I have neither the destination nor the GPS directions for this one, I only know there is something here that can be shared.
A few backdrop facts before I tell this story:
- I am, generally speaking, a glass-half-full type of person by nature. As it pertains to this story, I generally don’t anticipate negative possible outcomes in any given situation. The upside to this, presumably, is less anxiety than one who might be anticipating disastrous outcomes. The downside… well, we’ll get to the downside in a moment.
- My oldest child is a 14-year-old (woman? girl? gal? child?). Her nature is similar to mine, but more extreme, which I presume is due to a lack of life experience. Not only does she fail to anticipate negative outcomes, she proactively assumes positive ones. She is also at the teenage sweet spot: she possesses the firm conviction that she is old enough and wise enough that her life experience is the equivalent to an adult’s.
- At her age and life circumstances, dating is defined as holding hands between classes, electronic communication, an occasional kiss after school, and incessant rallying to arrange weekend get together’s that have yet to come to fruition.
Back to the regularly scheduled program:
My daughter’s romantic relationships are not dissimilar to a roller coaster ride: they are fast, chock full of high’s and low’s, and short-lived, although the next ride starts up with astonishing regularity. My husband is convinced this is abnormal behavior; I am inclined to think it is part of the teenage experience.
Up to about middle school, my daughter had been rigorously honest. As she ages she is getting skilled at remaining honest while withholding what she wishes to withhold. Of course, I am patient, wily, and unafraid to ask the same question 10 different ways, so it usually works out fine. Until the Most Recent Boyfriend.
Here’s how it works: she will mention the name of someone new in the context of a story. Then she will mention him again. That is the cue for me to start asking the obligatory questions: what grade? sports or no sports? family situation? discipline situation at school?
And so it goes with Most Recent Boy. There were two mildly alarming facts right out of the gate about MRB:
1. He smokes (my daughter is vehemently opposed to smoking, to the point where I’ve had to correct her disrespect to adults who make this choice)
2. He is a junior (my daughter is a freshman)
On the other hand, my nature being as it is, and given the transient nature of these relationships, I didn’t think too much about it. Even when she said he asked her out, even when she started rallying for dates outside of school. We were, in fact, in the midst of planning such an event (he would come to our house so we could meet him), and I thought to ask, “What kind of grades does he get?” The response: not very good. Here is the follow-up information I received from my subsequent interrogation:
- He is a skateboarder who hangs out at a notoriously drug-riddled skate park
- He not only smokes cigarettes, but he has “tried” marijuana and has drunk alcohol, but does neither currently
- He has “been kind of a troublemaker”
Okay, we’ve gone from one-alarm to three-alarm, but I’m still not panicked yet. I calmly explain that while I’m sure he’s a nice boy, I think we need to hold off on scheduling any out-of-school dates until the relationship progresses a bit. We’re in the car while having this conversation, so hopefully she’s not noticing the smug expression I’m wearing, because surely this relationship will fizzle out on its own before I have to do a thing.
That very night my daughter, apparently having experienced amnesia, starts in on a full-court press to travel to Philadelphia with MRB’s family (about 45 minutes away). Probably not as calmly as in the car, I remind her of the facts she has provided, and our agreement that we wait a bit before arranging dates. She is quite unhappy about this, which I can only tell you in a Monday-morning-quarterbacking kind of way. At the time I’m not thinking a thing is amiss.
The next day, a Saturday, she is styling her hair and other such things. I go into the bathroom to ask her something, she says she has something to tell me, and immediately starts crying. I wisely shepherd her into the sitting room of my bedroom, and away from the flatiron.
Turns out, “being kind of a troublemaker” actually means “he was expelled from school for dealing drugs.” From I’m dating MRB to this, all in the space of about 18 hours.
Now I have several competing issues: the acceleration of alarms in my head (remember, this is not my usual m.o.), the emotional state of my daughter, who is hysterical in a way I’ve never seen her before, and, most critical, what in the hell to do and say next.
Here’s the rub: she is convinced, in the way the rest of humanity is convinced that the Earth will rotate around the sun, that he was “just holding the drugs for a friend.” That “he is definitely done with the whole drug thing.” And, the most heartbreaking fact of all, that “he is the boy who has been the nicest to me in my whole life!”
That was a rough afternoon, I’ll tell you that much.
In the moment, I dealt with what I thought was most imminent: my daughter’s hysteria. I told her that I believed he was a nice boy, and that I’m not judging him as a person. I reminded her that I am uniquely qualified to make such a statement. I explained that “holding drugs for a friend” is the equivalent to “the dog ate my homework.”
Continuing the relationship is the only item on her to-do list, and she is single-minded in this endeavor. And in my confusion, and my attempt to console, I make my first fatal error, and say yes. The fact that she pulled herself together so quickly should have alerted me right then and there, but the downside to my Pollyanna ways is that I don’t always think about the possible pitfalls.
Thank the good sweet Lord the parenting team of this child has a savvier, less trusting side than her mother. I fill my husband in, and he asks the questions that did not even occur to me, such as:
- If you knew about the expulsion, why did you withhold that information while begging to go into the city with him?
- How was he caught? Was it a situation that indicated that they had been tracking him? If so, what communication did you have with him that could possibly cast aspersions on your character?
- How has this relationship changed the perception of you with regards to your teacher and peers?
- And, the most important question: Did you find out about the drugs before or after you decided to have a relationship with him?
When I found out the answer to that last question was a defiant “Before! So what, if I’m not doing drugs?” my rose-colored glasses slipped down my nose quite a bit.
The follow-up conversations were many, and tension existed in our house in a way this family has not yet seen. We’re dealing with some serious stuff here, made more serious by the way my daughter was digging in her heels. She does not regret this relationship, she is not naive, and if we would just take the time to get to know this young man we would see what she is seeing.
This high-stakes drama lasted for about 72 hours. I state that with gratitude, I know for some parents it goes on a hell of a lot longer. On our end, we tread lightly, but were firm: things needed to change. If these are the decisions she is making when left to her own devices, well, then she needs a bit more supervision. We did our best to make these changes not resemble a punishment, but I imagine it would feel like exactly that to a teenager.
Then one night, for reasons yet obscure to me, she walked in from basketball practice, came up to me, gave me hug, and started crying. “It’s going to be okay now, Mom,” she whispered. I looked at my husband in alarm and mouthed over her head, “What happened?” He appeared as confused as I felt. She decided, after approaching the principal (her idea, not ours, we did not know she was going to do this) and letting him that while she was friends with the expelled student, she does not do drugs and does not condone the use of them, that she needed to break up with MRB, temporarily, until he gets his life together.
Another 24 hours of drama surrounded that decision, many tears, much staring into the distance, as the reality of the separation (that was already a reality, mind you, he was expelled from school) sunk in.
To give her the credit she deserves, when she says something, she sticks to it: the phone call was made, and the communication stopped completely. She apparently believes in a clean break.
I held my breath for a few more days while I waited for the next shoe to drop, all the while experiencing a profound longing for all my past glory days of Pollyanna-ism. “You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone” is how the song goes, and how true it is. The days marched on, life started to feel normal, and I cautiously started to breathe.
Over the weekend the name Dakota was dropped into the conversation. A day later, the name was mentioned again. And a day after that, “I think Dakota likes me.”
Funny side story, my response was, “You have a lesbian friend who said she likes you?” Turns out, Dakota is a unisex name.
Only then did I get what was happening: the roller coaster ride was slowly starting to roll again. Never have I been so thankful for the short-lived cycle of the teenage romance.
If this post serves as nothing else, I’ve at least documented the story for when my daughter is a mother. The miracles of blogging!
Can you guess what kind of weather we are experiencing in my part of the world?
Today’s reading, selected as a nod to New Year’s resolutions, is entitled “Letting Go of Old Ideas.” For most of us choosing the journey of sobriety, putting down the drink or drug (or both) is really just the first step in the process of recovery. A monumentally arduous and often painful one, but a first step nonetheless. The truly meaningful work begins when we examine the lifelong thoughts and beliefs that led us to the bottle in the first place, and then decide, with the clarity only sobriety can bring, if these thoughts and beliefs are serving us well. If the answer is no, as it often will be, then we must figure out a way to release them.
Here are some bona fide ideas I held before I chose recovery. This list is completely, 100% true, and not exaggerated for effect:
- Alcohol is a requirement at a social event. If an event has no alcohol, I can assume the people making these choices are either restricted by something not of their own volition, or they are people with whom I do not want to relate.
- It is inconceivable that I will abstain from alcohol for the rest of my life.
- If I must abstain from alcohol for the rest of my life, I will eventually lose the companionship of everyone currently in my life.
- If I must abstain from alcohol for the rest of my life, I must not, under any circumstances, let this be known to anyone; keeping this secret is paramount to my happiness.
- A social life without alcohol will necessarily be less interesting and fun than a social life with alcohol.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture. Happily, through the process of testing the old ideas, discovering they no longer serve me, and discarding them, I find myself at peace in a way I did not believe possible.
Of course, I hold many more old ideas that need to be re-assessed as my journey continues. In times of distress, my instinct to project and interpret the emotions of others, and then believe these projections as if they were handed to me by God Himself, is an old belief that does me an incredible disservice. Fortunately, recovery is a journey rather than a destination, and I have a lifetime to figure things out.
Rather than go point by point over the various pieces of wisdom gleaned from today’s meeting, I want to share a miraculous story that happened this morning. I have had an issue with my daughter, one with which I’ve been dealing all weekend, and it’s affecting me enough that I felt like I needed to share about it at the meeting this morning (more to follow at some point). In so doing, I received some amazing support and wisdom, all of which I hold in my heart even as I type. But one fellow in particular stood out, he shared almost immediately after me; he related to what I was going through, and he shared some of the experiences he is having with his daughter.
Since this gentleman has been an attendee of my meeting for some time, I was well-acquainted with stories about his daughter, as he has shared his concerns about her for months now. He is currently in a place of relative peace with her, but re-telling the tales of some of his troubled times did remind me that I am not alone, and also that things could always be worse. Of course his daughter is 21 and had moved across the country for a time, my daughter is 14 and lives with me, so the situations are not identical by any means. On the other hand, the simple act of sharing our troubles with one another gives us both an opportunity to feel less isolated, and, as a result, feel better about our situations.
Possibly ten minutes after he shared he got up abruptly from his chair and left the meeting. He did not return for several minutes, and when he did he raised his hand to request a “double dip.” In other words, could he share again even though he had already shared once? And since of course the answer is always yes at my meeting, he let us know he left the meeting because he received an urgent text from his daughter that she needed to speak with him as soon as possible.
Turns out, she’s been thinking a lot about all the issues she’s been facing, and she’s been reading some of the literature her father has suggested, and she thinks it’s possible that she has a problem with alcohol. She would like him to take her to a 12-step meeting.
I’m not exaggerating when I say the entire room sat in silence for a full minute. I finally broke it by saying that I don’t know what to say. It’s one thing to feel a miracle taking place within yourself, it’s another to experience it with a room full of people!
And if, after all that gentleman has gone through with his daughter, this can be the end result, then surely my “privilege problems” with my daughter are going to work out just fine. At least, that’s the message I received!
I’m pretty sure I’m not getting a better miracle than the one I just described.
So you decide to have a kid or two, and you have a kid or two, and you raise a kid or two.
And along the way, the normal things happen: developmental milestones, bumps and bruises, temper tantrums, good grades, friendships found, friendships lost, surprising sneaky behavior, surprising wonderful behavior. And you realize, over and over, that you are merely along for the ride of parenthood, rather than the operator of the vehicle.
With each new phase, you experience challenges new to you, but tales as old as time for those who went so boldly before you. You say, “I’m nothing more than a limo driver,” thinking you are the originator of this thought, and you receive instant nodding, knowing looks from your predecessors. And you are humbled, once again.
But still, when your child experiences disappointment, it is a most unusual feeling, almost an out-of-body experience. And it appears as though the residual feelings last longer with the parent than with the child.
First, physical sensations: prickly tears, churning stomach, jangled nerves, all of which must be controlled so that you can comfort the one who is actually experiencing the disappointment, your child. Not you, your child. Buck up, ninny, and do your job.
Then, the mental obsession: How dare this disappointing thing happen to my child. Doesn’t everyone know how special my child is/how hard my child tries/how much better my child would be if this disappointment hadn’t happened? Why doesn’t anyone (everyone) care?
Quickly enough, the pointing finger does a u-turn: Surely there are things you could have done, should have done, to prevent this disappointment in the first place? Surely you could have instructed your child better, played a better social game with the people in your child’s world, insisted that your child prepare herself better to prevent the disappointment?
Next, residual issues: the physical and mental affect you enough to deal inappropriately with the people around you. You pick fights with your husband, you snap at the other child, you are disappointed with the behavior of your dog.
Still, you reason, disappointment happens, and therefore your next most important task in life is to do and say the next right thing with respect to your disappointed child. You carefully consider your conversational options, you write uplifting texts for her to read, and you anxiously await the next time you see her to gauge her feelings and give the most correct, most sage, most transformative speech that will be the turning point in your child’s despair.
And she comes home, and she is fine. In fact, did something disappointing even happen? No, she has no updates or news, she hadn’t thought much about it, to tell the truth. And she grabs a snack and breezes up to her room, to find the next drama upon which to focus.
This should be a happy ending, right? Then why doesn’t it feel like a happy ending? And how in the hell did this suddenly become about me?
Is there an appropriate filing cabinet for feelings of vicarious disappointment? Is there a manual written on how to recover from the disappointment you didn’t actually experience?
After an overdue heart-to-heart discussion with a long-term friend, I am sharing my blog with her for the first time today.
Yesterday was my 45th birthday, a semi-milestone, right? Well, either way, it gave me pause to consider the broad spectrum of birthdays past. My husband asked me last night, “What were your childhood birthdays like?” The one that stood out the most was my eighth birthday. It fell on a Saturday, and a typical Saturday morning involved, almost without fail, a shopping trip to somewhere incredibly boring, usually Sears, because my Dad peripherally worked for the company as a truck driver, hence a family discount. I still associate extreme boredom with that store, and I still look at circular clothes racks as potential hiding spots. Anyway, my Mom woke me up and told me to hurry up and get ready, because we were going to Sears. Outrage feels like a small word to describe my feelings on this subject, we are really going to this store AGAIN on MY birthday?!? Yep, so get moving.
I was resentful for the entire ride, and as we entered the parking lot, my Mom drove past the usual place we parked, and kept on going to the back of the store. I’m asking questions, but she’s not answering. There, waiting behind the store, in his 24-wheel tractor-trailer, sat my Dad, he was waiting to give me and my younger brother a ride for my birthday. It was my first (and, come to think of it, last) experience with a “Take Your Daughter To Work Day,” and the cool things I experienced stay with me to this day: I learned that the horn was not on the steering wheel, but a string that hung on the passenger’s side of the cab, so the driver has to reach over to pull it. The height at which you sit in such a vehicle is awe-inspiring (alright, that fact may be glorified by the age I was at the time of the experience, but still). Most of all, I felt incredibly special, that my Dad was thinking of me and made such arrangements on his day off, almost like a celebrity paid me a visit. I wish my Dad was alive so that I could tell him how much that simple act affected my life. Mom, you read this blog, and you put up with my complaining that morning… sorry for that, and thanks for the wonderful memory.
Lots of other birthdays since then, many memorable ones, both with and without alcohol, although as the years passed, the alcohol played a more and more dominant role. I remember one birthday, I’m guessing my 35th but I can’t say that with certainty, was a low-key affair: the kids were small, my husband had given me some time to myself, and I came home to a nice dinner, and a really nice birthday gift. It was a pink iPod mini with an inscription he had engraved:
I wish I could say the only reason that birthday is memorable is the beautiful, thoughtful, romantic gift my husband gave me. It is not, although those facts are true… my husband was and is the most romantic person I know, and I am including myself on that list! Sadly, I also remember it because of addiction. Of course, the details are hazy from both alcohol consumption and from time passing, but the morning of my birthday I had a terrible hangover. And since I’m fairly certain it was a weeknight, I am confident that hangover was due to drinking solo, most likely in secret. What I do remember, clear as crystal, are the promises I made to myself as I spent time alone that afternoon/evening: “You just can’t drink anymore… it’s not worth it! It is not worth waking up with that feeling of sick dread, not remembering what you did!” I remember the resolve I felt as I had these thoughts: I. Am. Done. It felt liberating, that light bulb thought, “I just won’t drink anymore!” I can remember these simple thoughts getting me over the hump of the hangover. I remember coming into the house, and being surprised with dinner, the day keeps getting better! And I remember my husband pulling out the wine glass and bottle, there was no real point in asking the question, as the answer was obvious. And I remember the instant blank spot. Just like that the pain of the hangover was banished from my memory, the resolution and the joy that resolution brought me also gone. Wine was there, it was my birthday, and of course I’m going to drink it.
About 10 birthdays have passed since that one, some were alcohol-fueled (40th surprise birthday party, I’m thinking of you), some were in a period of being alcohol free, but far from being sober, the last three have been in recovery. And here’s what I’ve learned: when you look through the lens of gratitude, your birthday, and life, is a magical thing. Here is how my birthday went yesterday, and I will add pictures when appropriate:
4 am: my daughter wakes me up to tell me she is not feeling well, can she climb into bed? I roll over, and then proceed to lay there and figure how to get her to sleep, not wake up my husband, and not wake up my severe claustrophobia (I finally gave up on the third, and rearranged to put her in the middle, just thinking about being in the middle right now has me breaking out in a cold sweat). As I’m laying there, I’m thinking how lucky I am to have this moment… it’s not very often that either kid will come and snuggle in with me (they are 14 and 12, so it’s pretty understandable), so it felt like a really cool way to start my birthday. Of course, I was sad she wasn’t feeling well, but the silver lining was she got more sleep than she would have on her own, and I got to feel good being a Mom.
6 am: Got up, decided she was feeling well enough to go to school, and went downstairs to find my first birthday treat, a vanilla latte and donuts from the most delicious donut store in our area:
6:30 am: Got my daughter off to school, woke my son up, and he presents me with this card. In case it is not obvious, I have been a fan of Bruce Springsteen for decades:
7: 30 am: Got son and husband off to their respective places to be, enjoy the rest of my coffee and donut(s), and head down to my Mom’s for our annual trip to Sephora and lunch at the Cheesecake Factory. This has become a tradition with on my birthday since recovery, and I look forward to it every year. Buying make-up at that store is just plain fun, I’m saying this as one who is really not much of a shopper. Plus, Cheesecake Factory, enough said. Here are two of the delicious things we ordered:
3 pm: Came home from that delightful afternoon to find my husband has left work early to surprise me (and cut the grass before it gets dark). There are beautiful roses awaiting me, in my favorite color, which, in case you haven’t yet guessed, is pink:
5 pm: The evening plans revolved around sports schedules, so I figured we’d maybe get something to eat in between drop-off’s and pick-up’s, but I did not anticipate my husband hooking us up with reservations at a restaurant I have been really wanting to check out. It was an amazing experience: it was one of those farm-to-table deals, I normally roll my eyes at that particular trend, but there has been so much good press that I wanted to see what it was all about. The food really was noticeably different in the preparation (fresh as in, make sure you have some time to spend fresh), presentation (the choices were the most unusual I have ever experienced), and taste (Oh. My. God!). It was such an intimate, unique, and satisfying experience, I still feel overwhelmed by how special I was made to feel.
And I forgot to mention the gift the kids got me, to aid me in my fitness ventures (which I sorely need, after resting my ankle and celebrating with all that food):
With the gift came this card made by my daughter:
8 pm: Coming home from the restaurant, my son had this surprise waiting for me:
And another from my next-door neighbor, her sons baked this by themselves in their EZ Bake oven!
9 pm: Then I got to sit down, and read all the thoughtful birthday messages on Facebook from friends as young as grade school to neighbors I did not see face-to-face. Say what you want about Facebook, the ability to connect with people, and just send a small uplifting message, is a really special thing, at least it made me feel really special and loved last night!
10: 30 pm: The final gift of the night, and I’m sorry to be cagey here, but I can’t talk details until everything is officially sorted out: a text regarding a complicated matter seems finally, after a very long time, to be coming to a favorable conclusion. The fact that this information arrived on my birthday felt like a thumbs up from God himself, “Go ahead, have a great day, you deserve it!” And of course, I did just that.
So that was my day, filled with special things, but made even more special by the conscious and present-minded appreciation of them, all throughout. And none of that, absolutely none of it, would have been possible without the ultimate gift, on my birthday and every other day, of sobriety.
I am so very blessed.
Of course, all the miracles I just described, plus, and this can’t be overstated, transferring these pictures from my phone to my desk top computer is a miracle!
I have said this before, but I’m going to say it again: at least from a goal-setting standpoint, sobriety is actually easier than a lot of other life-enhancing goals. There is almost a wistfulness to looking back to the first few months sober (alright, not the first month, that was just plain awful): I had one goal for my day: stay sober. I had a simple 4-point “to do” list that I believed would allow me to achieve this goal, and each night I went to bed satisfied that I achieved my goal. And as it got easier, and things started getting done on top of staying sober, it felt like a heavenly chorus was playing, I felt so accomplished.
Other goals are not so simple. We’ll take the obvious one: diet and exercise. Each day I wake up determined to make progress in the goal, but the bottom line is that the goal seems to be a fluid one. Some days I think I just want to get to a certain weight, other days I want to stay within a caloric range, still others I want to eat healthfully. With exercise, do I want to increase the overall number of steps each day, do I want to increase the amount of miles logged on the treadmill, or do I want to complete the regimen best for my overall health? And God help us all if it is that last one, because the how’s and why’s to accomplish that makes my head spin.
Then there’s this little blog I’ve got going on. Sometimes, when the monkey mind is working in overdrive, I will whine (to myself or to anyone who will listen) that I feel like I’ve said all there is to say. Worse still, I will compare myself to other blogs and find mine wanting. To which complaints my husband calmly replies, “What specifically are you looking to achieve?” So is my goal to reach a certain pinnacle in terms of metrics? Is it to win some kind of accolade? Is it to provide a service to others? If so, exactly who are the others: the newly sober, my blogging friends who “grew up” with me, lurkers who are considering getting sober, or my family and friends who are actually my longest and most loyal readers?
So I read back and I think, “Welcome to the human race!” And of course I realize this is mundane “life gets life-y” stuff that is, in fact, a blessing of sobriety. In active addiction most of these things would take a back seat, if not a dark corner of the trunk, as I pursued my real goal: altering myself chemically so I did not have to deal with anything at all. But now that that party is over, I would like to come to a peaceful conclusion with some of these issues, and I am realizing that the solution lies in creating clarity in terms of my end game.
A recent example: the first marking period just closed, and the biggest academic issue in our household was forgetfulness, the consequences of which were “0” scores that caused the overall grades to plummet from an “A” to an “F” within 24 hours several different times (there is a definite downside to having instant access to your children’s grades). This would drive me wild, and no resulting conversation (yelling) seemed to correct the problem. For the most part, the situations worked themselves out, but the internal angst I experienced as a parent was wildly disproportionate to the urgency I attempted to convey.
My husband and I are at cross-purposes on the solution. He believes the answer is to micromanage: she has proven she does not have the proper skills to manage her time, and therefore she needs someone to do it for her. I say poppycock! She is in high school, I have given copious tutorials on how best to get homework done, she is at a point in her life where if she needs me standing over her as she does homework, then I have failed as a parent (you should be reading that last bit in a Beverly Goldberg tone of voice. If you have not yet watched the sitcom The Goldberg’s, stop reading this, head to your television, and hit the On Demand button. It will be worth it).
So today is Day One of the new marking period, and I had one more “discussion” on this subject with my daughter. I explained the problem as I saw it (for what feels like the millionth time), but this time I defined the goals in a more specific way: grades are to be no lower than a certain number, there are to be no more “missing” or “late icons” found on the website that gives grades. The first time any of these objectives are missed, life outside of academic and athletic will come to a grinding halt (and, believe me, this threat is a big one for a high school freshman).
I’m not sure how effective this goal-setting clarification will play out for my daughter, but I’m telling you, it has played out wonderfully for me so far. I feel lighter when it comes to this issue, because I have defined the goal, I have set the expectations, and I can manage the consequences. I am genuinely hopeful that the first time one of these things appear (because I am, if nothing else, a realist with regard to my daughter’s academics), I will calmly employ the consequence without going ballistic.
I guess I just need to get some clarity in the other areas of my life where I’m feeling unsettled, and peace will once again reign all over my personal kingdom.
In my FedEx-imposed house arrest that lasted more than 6 hours (but only half of their preposterous 12-hour window), I managed to make a challenging to-do list, and get every bit of it done. Thank you, FedEx (but not really).