Fifteen years ago today, I was a young woman right in the middle of a long engagement to be married. We had an almost two-year engagement in order to save money for the wedding and for our first home. So on October 2, 1998, I was still 12 months away from my special day, but I received a surprise gift… a dozen red roses. My fiance gave them to me to celebrate that it was 12 months until our big day. On the second of every month after that, I received another dozen roses, but the number of red went down by one, and a white rose took its place. So on November 2, 1998, 11 red, 1 white, on December 2nd, 10 red, 2 white, and so on.
October 2, 1999 was the day all the hard work, planning, scrimping and saving paid off… our wedding day. It was as beautiful weather-wise as I’d hoped it would be. I woke up in my childhood room, surrounded by the sisters who once shared that room with me, and the whole morning was spent with my family and seven (yikes!) bridesmaids, all primping and preening and running around like crazy women. In the midst of all the chaos, a messenger arrived at the door, and a package was delivered… a dozen white roses, with this accompanying poem:
Whenever you reach a destination
You tend to ponder its realization
Not because you don’t believe
Rather you appreciate what you’ve achieved
You and I have gotten here
Through smiles and laughs and the occasional tear
After today we will be husband and wife
Our relationship will take on a whole new life
I can only imagine what’s in store
Because knowing you, it’ll taste like more
These past 1,345 days have been the best
With each day more enjoyable than the rest
My heart beats faster when I think of you
Especially when I think about saying “I do”
So as I told you 12 months ago
This is how the roses would go
When you saw no more red
It would be the day we wed
Can you imagine all the hearts fluttering in that house?
That is the kind of man I married 14 years ago today. The rest of the wedding was as magical at the moment I received those flowers and that poem. There was not a single hitch it that day. Alright, maybe one tiny one, where I had forgotten to tell the man I was marrying that he was supposed to memorize our vows, so we did have to speak on the phone for a bit that morning to make sure we knew what the heck we were saying, but even that went off perfectly. The reception was, hands down, the most fun reception I have ever attended. Not one person sat down the whole night, because we were all too busy dancing. The church, the food, the music, all as perfect as a bride could imagine.
When I think back to that young woman, and what she was looking for in life, all her dreams came true in that one day. At that point in life, all I wanted was to start a family of my own, and my family started that day.
So what about the woman of today? Like any married couple, we have been through many highs and lows in these past 14 years, many of which I write about in this blog. Do I still think all my dreams came true? And with that question, my mind asks the inevitable follow-up: are we happily married? How does one define a successful marriage?
I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, the defining characteristic of a successful marriage is that you are each other’s “go-to.” When things are going great, who is the first person you want to tell? When you have a problem, who is the first person from whom you seek advice? When you have down time, who is your first choice to spend it with?
Almost 18 years ago, when we first started dating, my answer was Dan. Almost 16 years ago, when he asked me to marry him, my answer was Dan. And, through everything we’ve experienced in the past fourteen years of marriage, my answer is the same: my husband is my go-to person, and my dreams continued to be realized with each passing year.
14 years of marriage… enough said!
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.
Sincere forgiveness isn’t colored with expectations that the other person apologize or change. Don’t worry whether or not they finally understand you. Love them and release them. Life feeds back truth to people in its own way and time. -Sara Paddison
I mentioned in yesterday’s post that August 27th was the 7 month anniversary of recovery, not any more significant a milestone than 211 days (which is today), but for some reason, I received all kinds of rewards. Here they are, in order from least to most:
1. Cookie (the hamster) enjoyed the heck out of her clean cage (see yesterday’s post).
2. I received news that things are moving in a positive direction with regard to consequences from my past addictive behavior… I do not want to go into details on this, because I don’t want to jinx it. But I will say this… if it continues to head in this direction, I will have a whole new source of inspiration for this blog!
3. I went to a new meeting, a women’s group, met some really interesting women, and one asked me on the spot if I would speak for her the next time she chaired a meeting (which will be this Sunday). This type of request is common in AA, but not for me personally, and I was honored to be asked.
4. The last of my personal hold-outs… people who have been dragging their feet in my personal life because they have been so affected by my addiction… asked to have a conversation last night, and we finally cleared the air.
Number four is, of course, the big reveal for me today, since I have been whining about this fractured relationship for months. I can honestly say I woke up this morning, and I felt lighter, as if something had actually been lifted from me. I am so grateful. The difference between last night’s conversation and the one I had with my sister last week, is that I was unsure with this one that things would ever work out. With my sister I had confidence, with this relationship I did not. Some really mean thoughts and feeling had been expressed, and I was not sure either one of us could overcome them. But we made a wonderful start last night, and I have been really anxious to share this news with all of you… two down, one to go!
The inspiration for today’s post came from a video I watched, and I recommend it highly. Here is the link if you are interested:
If you are not interested, the gist of the message is this: in order to have true connection to others, you must first feel worthy of connection, and you must also accept vulnerability in your life. You don’t have to look forward to it, but you need not dread it, either, you simply must accept is as a fact of your life. Which, let’s face it, vulnerability is a fact of life, so it would probably be a lot simpler to accept it than to fight it every step of the way.
The speaker in the video does a much better job explaining these concepts, so I urge you to view the video. I watched it, and tried to figure out what it means to me. In terms of believing myself worthy, I am a work in progress. The unwavering support of family and friends in my darkest hour is something concrete I can point to and draw the conclusion that I must be worthy, because otherwise I would be very much alone right now. That feeling is carrying me through the early days of recovery, but I know that is only one very small step, because feeling truly worthy must come from within, and it must be independent of anyone else’s opinion. As I said, I am a work in progress.
In terms of vulnerability, well, I am not sure how much I consciously thought about it before watching the video, but I would say I am making some serious strides in that department. At this stage of the game, vulnerability to me means letting people know I am an addict, and continuing to have a relationship with them. It means honestly answering the question “how are you?” and believing that they want to hear my answer. It means being uncertain about the state of my marriage, but attempting to regain that trust and love. It means leaving a family party to go to a 12-step meeting, and then returning to the party with my head held high. It means losing a close relationship with a family member, but then be willing to spend time with them and be able to look them in the eye. It means opening up and sharing personal details of my life with a group of strangers at a meeting, and believing that they want to help me.
There is probably a lot more I can do to be vulnerable, and, now knowing how important it is in my life, I will actively seek ways to do so. A good friend told me early on in this journey that it is essential to put myself out naked for the world to see, and, at the time, I thought it was melodramatic and over the top, but he obviously knows what he’s talking about. So don’t be too surprised to see me on the street corner wearing a sandwich board telling the world that I am 75 days clean and sober…