Normies…they don’t get it.

I’ve been  a part of the recovery community for over two years now (sober for eight months), and I have become so accustomed to interacting with others in the program that I often forget about the normies out there.  Most of the people who I have any kind of relationship with are people who are at least a little bit familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous.  Whether they are in the program or not, they can understand the language of recovery.  Every once in a while, I am reminded that there are people who have never had a problem with drugs or alcohol, so they don’t (can’t) understand what it is to be an addict.

It’s like when someone tells you to “just stop” drinking so much, or they ask “why can’t you just stop?”   How many times, as addicts, have we heard that one?  I can’t even begin to count the number of times my mother said that to me.  That statement, “just stop,”  has become a running joke in my house.  Whenever one of us complains about how we are feeling (physically or emotionally) we ask the other one, “Well, why don’t you just stop?”   It doesn’t matter what it is…could be a headache or stomach ache, a feeling of guilt or despair. Whatever the situation we ask the question and then we both laugh.  Ah, alcoholic humor.  Normies wouldn’t get it.

I am very open about my alcoholism at work.  My coworkers all know that I go to an AA meeting nearly every day, and that I take my recovery very seriously, even though I make  jokes about it sometimes.  I have a lot of love and support at my job, and I know I am very lucky to have it.  That said, this morning I was very surprised, and kind of amused, to be reminded that normies think differently than addicts do.  I talked to a coworker about exercise when I saw her leaving work in gym clothes yesterday.  She lauded the benefits of working out, and I told her that I knew that I needed to get my big, fat butt in gear and do some kind of exercise myself.  Then, this morning she came into my office to tell me about her Zumba class last night.  She talked about making a commitment to exercise, and I agreed that it takes commitment and likened it to me going to meetings. That’s when she so graciously explained to me that if I would get a fitness regimen and stick to it, I would no longer need AA meetings. She went on to say that I would feel so good about myself that I wouldn’t even have to think about drinking or not drinking. She was very adamant about it.  I thanked her for her advice, but told her that I will always need meetings because I don’t want to ever drink again.  She told me to just try working out everyday and cutting down on my meetings.  I smiled and nodded and she went on her way.  The whole thing was rather funny to me, and I thought to myself that normies just don’t get it.

As I’m writing this, I’m reminded of some things my mom said when I got out of rehab the first time.  For the first few weeks she was like the meeting police, asking me repeatedly if I had gone to meetings and when I was planning on going to another.  I struggled with going as a lot of newcomers do.  A few weeks later I had made some friends, shared at meetings a couple of times, and was beginning to really get something out of meetings.  One evening my mom wanted me to come over and I told her that I couldn’t because I was headed to a meeting.  I thought she would be happy about it, but she said “how much longer are you going to have to do those meetings?”  Like I would suddenly be cured within a few weeks!  My mom, although she has a lot of addictive behaviors, is a normie when it comes to booze.  She doesn’t get it.

One of the most blatant examples of normies not getting it happened to me not that long ago.  A friend of mine who knows I’m in recovery, knows about my visit to rehab last year, and has supported me through my struggles, and applauded my successes, did something that really opened my eyes to the differences between the way recovering alcoholics and normies view alcohol.  My friend often shops at specialty food stores and she likes to share fancy chocolate candy with everyone.  One day she offered me a piece of chocolate, and of course I accepted (please refer to the fat butt comment above).  I took a bite of the candy and it tasted like it had alcohol in it.  I asked my friend and she said yes, it was a rum filling.  She said it and then a look of realization spread across her face.  But in an instant it was gone and she said, “well it’s alright, isn’t it?  It’s only candy.”  In my mind, at that instant, I felt like I may as well have taken a shot of tequila.  I had all of these panicky thoughts about whether this meant I would have to reset my sobriety date (I didn’t), what if it triggered me to want to drink (it didn’t), what was my friend thinking giving an alcoholic a rum filled candy, why didn’t she think it was as big of a deal as it seemed to me?  I called my husband, and I called my sponsor and they calmed me down.  They both said that my friend just didn’t think about it before giving me that candy.  What the whole thing taught me is that booze is just not a big deal to normies.  They can take it or leave it, the thought of drinking it or of not drinking it doesn’t consume them, they haven’t had a love/hate relationship with booze.  It’s just a thing to them.  They don’t get what it is to be an alcoholic.

I hope I haven’t said anything out of line or offensive to any non-alcoholics out there, that is not my intention.  I have a number of normie friends that are super supportive, loving and they do understand where I’m coming from.  I am truly blessed to have them in my life.  But there are a lot too, that just don’t get it.

Don’t Throw The Baby Out With The Bath Water

baby

On Sunday mornings I chair my home group’s AA meeting.  I just started doing so at the beginning of this month, and it’s a three month commitment.  Other than showing up for meetings, occasionally sharing, and talking program with other alcoholics, this is my way of doing service.  It is outside my comfort zone though, because I don’t usually like to call attention to myself, and I am generally pretty quiet in big groups.  Just sitting up at the front and reading the AA preamble is a fairly big deal for me, so each Sunday morning I am a little bit anxious that there will be some issue that I have to handle  as the ‘host’ for the hour.  Up until today my worries had been unwarranted.  Aside from having to cut-off one particular old-timer a couple of times, my job had been easy.  This morning was another story, and I left the meeting with some resentments.

We have a fairly large home group, there are usually about 50 or 60 people there.  The back corner seems to be reserved for the old-school members who have 30+ years of sobriety.  They tend to be kind of a harsh, tell-it-like-it-is, sit-down-and-shut up sort of bunch.  They quote the Big Book in every share, tell newcomers exactly what they need to do, and pass judgement on those that don’t do sobriety their way.  They are Big Book bullies.  I am not saying that they don’t have good things to say.  As I mentioned, they have decades of sobriety, so they are obviously doing something right.  But I do think that their approach, especially when it comes to newcomers, is sometimes way too far into the tough love category.

This morning when I asked if anyone had a topic for the discussion, a young man with around a month of sobriety spoke up.  He has been really struggling with getting sober and he was full of emotion and confusion.  Yesterday he went to an old girlfriend’s house and ended up drinking an O’Doul’s beer.  He didn’t know if that meant he had a slip or not (in my book, it does, near beer is still beer).  He told his story, and began to talk about his regret and confusion, obviously upset, when one the old-timers in the corner yelled out “shut the fuck up.”  Several seconds of cross-talk, cross-yelling really, ensued as people in the group told the old-timer that everyone has a right to share, and that he needed to be quiet, and he told everyone that the newcomer needs to shut up at meetings and talk to his sponsor.  I invited the newcomer to continue sharing and, thankfully, he did.  The rest of the meeting revolved around the slippery slope of drinking the low-alcohol beer substitutes and the like.  Most of the people that shared were in agreement that the newcomer had a slip and should change his sobriety date.  The other old-timers echoed their loud, confrontational buddy’s sentiment and spoke with raised voices, rather angrily, as they thumped their Big Books and barked out orders.

As I sat there and listened, I became more and more resentful.  I thought about my first months in the program, and what I needed at the time.  Having someone yell at me to shut the fuck up was not what I needed.  I needed to know that I wasn’t alone, that there were people that were just like me that had made it to a sober way of living.  I needed to know that I had a place where I could fit in and not be judged.  I needed to know that there was a solution, and there were people that could help me learn what it was.  That old-timer gave none of that to the newcomer, and that really made me mad.  Had I not been chairing the meeting, I probably would have walked out.

I know that each newly sober person has different needs, and that some do need a stronger push to get going in the right direction.  I know that when you go to treatment the main focus is on loading you up with information and changing your behaviors through routine and structure.  Lord knows I needed that when I went to rehab.  There had to be rules, and I needed the keep-’em-busy-every-second structure.  But even that was administered with a gentle hand.  What I don’t agree with is trying to bully someone into sobriety.  I don’t think that someone can get you sober anymore than they can get you drunk, but I do think that it’s the old-timers’ responsibility to help the newcomers, to offer encouragement, to show them the way, to lead by example.  To share their experience, strength and hope.  Isn’t that the mission of AA?

By the end of the meeting, things had settled down.  Both the old-timer and the newcomer apologized to the group and to each other as we gathered for the closing prayer.  Even though I’ve only been around the rooms for a couple of years, I know that once in a while, things happen at meetings that leave a bad taste in my mouth.  I think that what happened this morning sucked, and I hope that the newcomer won’t go out and drink, and that he’ll be back tomorrow morning.  I will definitely talk to my sponsor about the whole thing, to get her perspective on what happened.  But you know what?  By the time 6:15 a.m. rolls around tomorrow morning, I will happily head to my home group for a meeting, because I know, without a doubt, that AA has saved my life.  The steps and the traditions have taught me a new way to live my life, and the fellowship has given me people who understand me to live it with.   I won’t (can’t) let what a select few do or say keep me away from something that I know works.  There’s no throwing the baby out with the bath water here.  I’ll keep coming back.

240 Days

Today I made 8 months sober. I posted this morning on my Facebook page that these past 8 months have been the best I’ve had in a long, long time, and that they have, by far, been my best months of sobriety. This isn’t the first time that I have had this many days, but it’s the first time it’s felt like real physical, emotional, and spiritual sobriety. The longest stretch of sobriety that I had since I started trying was was nine months, I drank on the day after getting my 9 month chip.  So I have been asking myself why this time feels so different.

The difference certainly isn’t because these last eight months have been uneventful.  I have gone through more stress, anxiety, grief, and the like, since last November than I went through in the year prior.  I have had to deal with some really difficult feelings and situations.   Things that, not too long ago, would’ve sent me right back out boozing.  But I haven’t had a drink.  In fact, there was only one exceedingly crappy day in the whole eight months that I even wanted to.  I wrote about that day in an earlier post.  But even on that horrible day, I didn’t pick up.  Why is that?

As I’ve thought about it, there seem to be three major changes I have made that are helping me stay sober.  Number one, I finally got honest.  I practiced varying degrees of selective honesty for 40 of my 41 years.  When I was drinking I lied to everyone about everything, it didn’t matter who it was.   As I got into recovery, I think I really tried to be more honest, but I omitted a great many things.  If it was something that was going to cause me feelings of guilt or shame, or if it was uncomfortable or unpleasant in any way, I would almost always leave it out.  It wasn’t until my second trip to treatment that I was able to be honest about the ugly stuff, all of the ugly stuff.  It was the first time that I told the whole truth to a therapist, to my fellow addicts, to myself.  I had the gift of desperation, and I was finally willing to go to any lengths to get sober, and to not die.  For me that meant being honest.

Number two, I learned to forgive.  I struggled with resentments for so long.  I’ve realized that while I could (and did) act like I forgave people that I thought had wronged me in some way, deep down I held on to those resentments like a security blanket.  I wrapped myself up in them and they actually gave me comfort.  They gave me a reason for my drinking, I had someone other than myself to blame for it.  If I hadn’t been so heinously wronged by others, I wouldn’t have to self-medicate all the time.  Once I came to the realization that not only was I holding these grudges, but I was reveling in them, I knew that something had to be done.  I talked a lot about how to forgive with my husband (he’s a pastor after all), and I talked about it with a therapist, with my sponsor and with other alcoholics.  I read books about forgiveness, I read the Bible, I prayed, I journaled about it.  I can’t tell you when the switch was flipped, it was a gradual thing.  I started off by praying just for the willingness to forgive, the actual forgiving seemed a long way off.  Somewhere along the line, I started to let go of my security blanket, and I thought that maybe, just maybe, I did have the capacity to forgive.  I kept praying, and writing, and talking, and something happened.  My anger lessened.  I learned that to forgive doesn’t mean to forget, and it doesn’t require reconciliation. I started to let go, to truly forgive.  Some transgressions were easier to let go of than others, and some I am still working on, but I have much more peace now.

The last biggie was acceptance.  Oh, have I fought with acceptance.  I have always loved the story in the Big Book called Acceptance is the Answer.  And I knew that accepting that things were what they were, would make life easier.  I just didn’t know how to do it.  So I got the words ‘It is what it is” tattooed on my wrist as a reminder.  I tried to just intellectually accept things, just tell myself that I had no choice but to accept it, and that would work for a while, but it never lasted.  I said the Serenity Prayer over and over.  But true acceptance only came to me when I was able to turn over whatever seemed unacceptable to me, to God.  I have written about laying down my rock, surrendering my problems to God, and how, for me, it often involved the literal laying down of a stone.  I don’t usually carry rocks in my pockets these days, but when something that I can’t change is bothering me, I write it down on a piece of paper, and I put it in my God box.  I give it up, and become willing to accept it as it is.

There are a number of other things that I do differently to stay sober now.  I journal like crazy, I chair meetings, I reach out to others in and out of the program when I need help, I take care of myself whether it means a nap or a good cry or a hot bath, I know my strengths and I know my liabilities and I plan accordingly, I call my sponsor almost every day.  My recipe for sobriety has changed, there are a lot more ingredients.  But the main ones are honesty, forgiveness, and acceptance.  And they make life pretty delicious.

Happiness is…..what?

It’s been a great day so far.  We went to our home group meeting this morning, came home and did our chores, and then took a nice long nap.  And now, mid-afternoon, we are enjoying a nice monsoon thunderstorm.  I love being able to open all the blinds and watch the rain pour down.  Not to mention it really cools things off.  It feels like the temperature dropped about 20-25 degrees outside, which is great because the heat is pretty oppressive in Tucson in July.  I’m sitting here typing away while my step-son is building something with K’nex (like a cross between legos and tinker toys) on the floor, and Austin is getting something yummy started for dinner.  Anyway, I am feeling pretty happy today.

Recently I read an interesting article about happiness.  It talks about what things happy people do differently than others.   It was interesting to me because the things that it said about the characteristics of happy people weren’t what I thought they would be.  I was expecting things like having an optimistic view of things, having some sort of spirituality, being non-judgmental, having meaningful connections with other people, being self-accepting.  Those types of things.  It turns out I was wrong.  According to the studies talked about in the article, happy people have a few seemingly paradoxical things in common.

comfort zone

The first thing that the article talked about was that happy people embrace their anxiety.  What??  It says that they often do anxiety-provoking things that are outside of their comfort zone.  They seem to know that just doing the things that they know and are comfortable with won’t provide sustained happiness.  This seems a little bit crazy to me, but I do buy it.  When I have been able to step outside of my comfort zone and do things that I normally wouldn’t because of fear and anxiety, I have felt pretty darn happy.  For example, a few months ago I was asked to give a presentation at work about alcoholism and addiction.  I work at a local vocational college, and my audience was the entire student body.  Now, I am not a public speaker.  At the time I hadn’t done anything more than run a staff meeting, or share at an AA meeting (which I don’t even do that often).  But, I accepted without thinking because I am passionate about spreading the message.  When the day of the presentation came, I was filled with anxiety.  I was going to talk about myself and alcoholism in front of 400 people!  What the hell had I been thinking when I said yes?  But I did it, it went well, and I felt happy.  I wasn’t happy just because I didn’t embarrass myself, I was happy because I did something that I was afraid to do.  It felt good.

black-and-white-forest

The next commonality of happy people is that they don’t get caught up in details.  They see the forest, but not the trees.  The article states, “the happiest people have a natural emotional protection against getting sucked in by the intense gravitational pull of little details.”  I agree that paying too much attention to small inconsequential things does seem fairly joy-sucking.  I often catch myself studying friends’ and coworkers’ facial expressions when we’re interacting, searching for acceptance and approval.  If I see some little glimpse of something (it could just be a muscle twitch for all I know!) that I think might be negative, I quietly obsess about it, and what I did or said that was wrong.  I think what the article is saying is that happy people don’t do that.  They don’t notice those minute things that really have no meaning.

jealousy

Happy people find joy in others’ good fortunes.  That one is sometimes difficult for me.  Not because I begrudge others’ happiness, but because often times, I wish I had what they have.  It’s pretty easy for me to sympathize and empathize when friends are feeling down, or having some sort of crisis.  I’ve been told that I am a compassionate, loving, understanding person.  And I think that’s true for the most part.  But when things are going great for someone else, there are times when jealousy rears its ugly head.  While I may not act like it outwardly, when someone has something that I wish I did, internally I am covetous.  Especially when it comes to mothers relationships with their daughters.  That one really tears me up because I don’t have one, good or bad, with mine.  I guess this aspect is something that I need to work on.

Sadness

The next characteristic is that happy people don’t hide from negative emotions.  Wait a minute, happy people feel bad sometimes?  Of course they do.  They just handle it differently than others.  They are able to feel those yucky feelings and face them head on.  I’ve talked about how I deal with negative emotions, or try not to deal with them, as the case may be, in this post.  I’m not always exactly healthy, but I’m getting better at it.  Happy people are able to constructively use their anger or guilt to modify their behavior, which in turn improves the situation, and they can return their former happy selves.  It seems so easy, doesn’t it?

rocks-balancing

The last bit of the article says that happy people are able to balance pleasure with purpose.  They are able to look beyond instant gratification to the bigger picture, and sacrifice short-term pleasures in order to make progress toward long-term aspirations.  Wow.  I think that for most alcoholics this presents some challenges.  I mean we drank for instant gratification, even when the consequence was screwing up whatever our long-term aspirations were.  I know that for me, my drinking (brief, fleeting pleasure), actually completely annihilated any long-term goals I had.  My old aspirations, and some new ones, are coming back to me, but it’s taken a long time.  And, truthfully, there are many moments when I still want relief from anxiety, stress, and shame instantly.  I don’t want to drink, but I want something that will make things better.  Nowadays I use prayer and napping for that!

I guess I’ve rambled on long enough, but this article really struck something in me.  I’m not sure that I know how to change the things that need changing in me, so that I can experience more happiness, but this gives me some ideas.

If you want to read the whole article you can find it here.

Sobriety Isn’t For Sissies

no-sissies

Life is full of ups and downs, isn’t it?  I’m a firm believer that you have to suffer the downs in order to fully appreciate and enjoy the ups.  But sometimes, the downs really do get to me.  The last couple of weeks have been like that.  It’s one of those periods of time where it seems like it’s just one bad thing happening after another.  Without end.  There have been major things like dealing with the wreckage of my past (read: legal stuff), having a car in the shop and having to ask others for help getting here and there, being overwhelmed at work, and financial issues. And then there have been small things like the washing machine overflowing, our wi-fi not working right, not making it to as many meetings as I like to, and stepping in dog poop.  Twice.  In the same day.  It’s been a crazy couple of weeks.

Yesterday though, things started to look up.  I dealt with my wreckage, and things turned out okay, the part for our car came in and our mechanic got it finished up today, I found out that I get to hire a part-time employee to help me, and a wonderful family member helped us out financially.  Even the small stuff has gotten better – we got a new washing machine, I figured out the best spot in the house for wi-fi reception, and I have asked for rides to meetings instead of sitting at home pouting.  And the dog poop?  Well, it’s so far so good today, but it’s hard to be sure…chihuahuas are troublesome (but loveable).

When I was drinking, there is no way that I would’ve been able to stay sober for any of what has happened recently.  Any one of the things I mentioned earlier (even the poop!) would’ve sent me straight to a bottle. Here’s the thing, I was able to trudge through the icky stuff, with only one crying meltdown, which my sponsor mercifully said was just me using my release valve to relieve the pressure, because of a couple of key things.

My first lifesaver was the knowledge that all of these situations and the negative feelings that I was having about them would pass.  Although at the time, actually having to feel my emotions was pretty damn hard.  I’m only at almost eight months sober, so feeling negative emotions does not come easily.  It’s nearly excruciating to just have to sit in them, without stuffing them, or numbing myself.  Knowing, intellectually, that my situation (and mood) would change eventually, really wasn’t an emotional comfort at the time.  I was feeling hopeless, like I would be stuck in chaos forever.  But somewhere, down deep, I knew that things would get better, as long as I put one foot in front of the other and tried to do the next right thing, no matter how hard.

That leads me to the second thing that saved me.  Sobriety.  I would never have come out on the other side of this, the good, positive, joyous side, if I had gotten drunk.  Not only would I not have been able to deal with those things, I would’ve created even more wreckage!  It would’ve been like the snowball rolling down the hill you see in cartoons.  It would keep getting bigger and bigger, gaining speed as it got closer and closer to running me over.  I know that bad things are going to happen, even in sobriety, but as long as I don’t drink, I can avoid the snowball.

So today, I am really grateful that things are on the upswing and that I was able to weather the last couple of weeks.  One of the things that I try to remember when uncomfortable feelings come up is something that I heard in treatment, “our emotions won’t kill us, but our addiction will.”  Those words have given me comfort during times of emotional stress and upheaval.  When I think about how I felt on Sunday, during my crying jag, I’m so glad that I was able to remember that my emotions were not something that would cause my world to end.  Another thing I remembered was that, when I am in that state, I can’t always believe what I think.  My hopeless and defeatist thoughts aren’t reality.  My alcoholic brain tells me that those feelings are true, when in fact, a lot of times, they aren’t.  But while I may not always be able to change the way I feel about a situation,  I can accept that sometimes my feelings might not be quite accurate, and that perhaps I should try to change my perspective.  Sometimes it works.

think

I guess what I am getting at with all this, is that sobriety isn’t for sissies.  See, in the beginning, I thought that when I got sober, life would get better.  It didn’t.  Bad things continue to happen, and life continues to be challenging.  What did get better, though, is me.  I bounce back quicker from disappointments, I allow myself to feel, I talk about things with others, I live pretty darn transparently.  It’s not always easy, in fact, it’s hard a lot of the time, but it’s always better than it was when I was drunk.  I experience so much more joy and happiness now, even in the midst of life’s messes.  Being sober doesn’t take away the trials and tribulations, but it equips me to be able to handle them.

It’s all about me, even still

humility

My AA home group reads from the Daily Reflections devotional every morning.  The topics in the book follow along with the 12 steps of AA.  January is step 1, February step 2, etc.  July, being step 7 (which is – Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings), is about humility.  Here is what we read this morning:

A NOURISHING INGREDIENT
Where humility had formerly stood for a forced feeding on humble pie, it now begins to mean the nourishing ingredient which can give us serenity.
TWELVE STEPS AND TWELVE TRADITIONS, p. 74
How often do I focus on my problems and frustrations? When I am having a “good day” these same problems shrink in importance and my preoccupation with them dwindles. Wouldn’t it be better if I could find a key to unlock the “magic” of my “good days” for use on the woes of my “bad days?”I already have the solution! Instead of trying to run away from my pain and wish my problems away, I can pray for humility! Humility will heal the pain. Humility will  take me out of myself. Humility, that strength granted to me by that “power greater than myself,” is mine for the asking! Humility will bring balance back into my life. Humility will allow me to accept my humanness joyously.

How often do I focus on my problems and frustrations?  All the time!  And yes, when I am having a good day, those same problems do seem to be less daunting.  And yes again, I would love it if I could use the magic of the good days to combat the hopelessness of the bad ones.  Does this mean I lack humility?  I think it does.  And I do want the positive things that the reading offers when we are able to achieve humility:  balance, acceptance, and joy.  I’m just not sure how to do it.

I have struggled for the two plus years I have been a member of AA to really understand what humility is.  I have heard a lot of different ideas and definitions.  Some say that having humility is being able to remain teachable.  Others say that it means thinking about others instead of ourselves.  I have also heard that it means staying right-sized.  There are jokes that go around the rooms that contend that as soon as you can announce you’ve found humility, you’ve lost it.  None of this coincides with what I thought about humility before I got into AA.  I thought that I must be one of the most humble human beings on the planet, because I disliked myself so much.  How could I be considered proud when my self-worth was so low?  But it turns out, as I found out from some old-timers, that that is not humility.  It’s just self-loathing. There’s no humility in that because I was still self-absorbed.  Even if it was with negative thoughts of myself.

Now, even though my self-worth has improved somewhat, I still suffer from a lot of negative self talk and it’s very easy for me to get down on myself.  I can quickly turn almost any situation (good or bad) into the Jami-show.  Not doing that, is something that I work on daily.  It’s still hard, though, to look at my self and see what is real, what God made, and not see all of my shortcomings.  I have noticed that I am able to recognize my self-bashing much faster now, but that doesn’t always mean that I am willing, or able, to do something about it.  I think what it boils down to is that when it comes to humility, I have to have a heart-change.  I have to change to way I see myself into a more accurate image.  I can’t continue to hate on myself, but I can’t think that I’m all that either.  I have to be careful to tell myself the truth about who I am, not the things that I think others believe about me.  I have to see myself as God created me, not as a sum of my past behavior.  Maybe then, I will understand what humility is.

 

As I was getting ready to write this post, I did find one definition of humility that I really like.  It was on a discussion board on one of the recovery sites I belong to.  It says:

Humility is the ability to look in a mirror and see what’s there: nothing more, nothing less.

That is something I think I can work with.  🙂

Please don’t tell…

secrets

I had planned to blog about humility tonight, and how it seems to escape me so much of the time.  But then this afternoon at work I got into a conversation with a friend about family secrets.  The conversation only lasted a few minutes, because work is unbelievably overwhelming right now, but it really left me thinking about my own family.  So, humility will have to wait (how many times have I thought that??) for another post.

I grew up in an intact family, my parents didn’t divorce until we kids were all over 30.  I’m sure that from the outside we looked normal enough.  My dad was always a very hard worker and a good provider for the family, so my mom was able to stay at home with us.  I have a  brother – half-brother, really – that is 12 years older than me and a sister that is 2 years younger.  We were mostly middle-class, but there were times that I remember financial difficulties.  My dad was a mechanic and always worked at copper mines, and at least a few times when the union he belonged to went on strike, the family’s financial belt definitely had to be tightened.  But, that said, we never went without the things we needed.  To outsiders we looked like a normal, loving family.  We did things together, my parents were active at our schools where my sister and I excelled, my mom was my Girl Scout leader, we had a lot of friends, there was never any alcohol in our home, and my parents didn’t believe in corporal punishment. But as I grew up, I learned that even though it looked good on the outside, we were a family with a lot of skeletons in the closet.

When I was about 6 or 7 years old, an older cousin cornered me when we were visiting my grandparents and told me that she and my brother had the same dad.  I was so confused…how could that be possible, our moms are sisters?  And her father, my uncle, had been married to my aunt for something like 15 years at that time.  My childish mind tried to figure out this equation, but it just didn’t add up.  So I did what any kid would do, I asked my mom.  Surprisingly, she told me the truth.  She had been married to my uncle, had my brother, divorced, and then her ex-husband married her sister.  Even at my young age, that didn’t seem like something that happened in normal families.  After she explained what had happened, she followed it up by telling me that it wasn’t something that we should ever talk about again or tell anyone outside of the family.  That was the first time that I felt ashamed.  It wasn’t something that I was directly involved in, I wasn’t even alive when it happened, but I still felt the shame and embarrassment.

That’s just one example of the kind of secrets that were kept in my family.  There are many more that are far worse.  My grandmother, my mother’s mom, was perhaps the biggest secret keeper in the family.  When I was a teenager, my mother found out that she had an older brother that she never knew about.  When my mom found him living in another state and he came to visit us, my grandmother still wouldn’t divulge any details about why she abandoned him.  She took it to her grave.  But that whole thing is a story for another post.  As I got older, and became privy to more of the secrets of family members, I learned that it was important to keep anything that was wrong, unpleasant, sad, or embarrassing, to myself.  “We don’t talk about that,” or “that’s not something anyone needs to know about,” or “please don’t tell,” were very common statements in our household.

What I didn’t know then, that I do now, is that hearing those words over and over set me up for a lifetime of shame.  There were so many things that were off-limits.  Sometimes just to people outside of the family, but often times we kept secrets from one another.   There were so many conversations that started out with “don’t tell your mom,” or “don’t tell your dad.”  But I also kept secrets without being told too, I was conditioned to keep my mouth shut.  I learned how to stuff my emotions regarding negative things, so that no one would find out what my secrets were.

When, at fifteen, I was raped by a family member, it took me a while to tell anyone.  I did finally tell my parents, and their response was to do nothing, tell no one.  The whole thing was swept under the rug and I was expected to act like nothing had happened at family functions.  My ex-husband was physically abusive for ten out of the twelve years we were married.  No one knew, I kept it hidden and painted a pretty picture of our marriage to everyone that knew us.  When I finally couldn’t take it anymore, friends and family were shocked when they found out why I was divorcing.  My family’s  secret keeping legacy was alive in me, for sure.

Of course, one of the biggest secrets I kept (until I couldn’t) was my drinking.  I drank far more, for more often, than anyone knew.  I lived a double life.  I kept my normie friends and all of my family completely separate from my drinking life.  I kept the horrible things that I did while drunk from everyone.  I kept my feelings of depression and shame from everyone.  I put on a game face and white-knuckled it through my days, weeks, months.   That is until it all caught up with me.  I had so many secrets, so much guilt and shame, that I there came a time that I just couldn’t keep them all contained any longer.  So I started going to therapy…where I still kept secrets, this time from my therapist.  I’m not sure why I thought I would get better doing that.

When I hit bottom and ended up in treatment, I shocked a lot of friends and family.  They didn’t know that I was such a mess.  While in treatment, I shared some, but not nearly all, of my shameful secrets.  I shared just enough that I thought I might get some help, but certainly not enough that I would thoroughly embarrass myself.  Any of you that have been reading my blog know that it took another trip to rehab for me to finally spill my guts, tell the truth – all of it, and begin healing.

I still struggle sometimes with not putting on that game face and just acting right, when I’m not feeling alright at all.  But I do know that I am making progress.  I keep far fewer things to myself these days.  I don’t have nearly as many secrets anymore, and guess what?  I have more friends and supporters than I ever did when I was secretive and dishonest.  The AA saying that we are as sick as our secrets is so true for me.  I know that when I begin keeping things from those that are close to me, I need to do something about it.  It just isn’t safe for me to be secretive.  When I fess up, tell the truth and am transparent, I feel more serene.  Life is less chaotic, and I am able to enjoy myself.  Sharing my secrets sets me free.  Funny how that works.

Finding the silver lining

blessed

Today I am filled with gratitude.  In fact, it’s my theme for today.  In the rooms it’s said that you cannot be in fear and gratitude at the same time, so today I choose gratitude.  I really have to be mindful though, because there is a lot going on in my life right now that scares me.  Staying in gratitude isn’t something that comes easily to me, I’m naturally a worrier.  But I have found that if I focus on the good things in my life, then my fears subside somewhat, and having them lurking around the corner is better than having them stare me in the face.

One of the first times that I used gratitude to combat fear was at the suggestion of my sponsor.  I was dealing  with some of the wreckage of my past, in a situation that I found scary because I didn’t know what was going to happen.  As I sat in a waiting room, I was filled with anxiety and worry and remorse.  In the middle of the shit storm of panic and fear, I called my sponsor.  As I poured out all of my worries and woes, I expected a little bit of sympathy and reassurance.  Instead, she told me to stop what I was doing and write down three things about the situation that I was grateful for.  What!?!  I wasn’t grateful for any of it!  It was a crappy situation, caused by a crappy alcoholic (me), and I couldn’t see anything good in it. But being the direction-following sponsee that I am, I said okay.  I sat there, while waiting to meet my fate, and thought about what I could possibly be thankful for.  It took a while but then it hit me –  things could’ve been a whole lot worse.  That’s something to be grateful for, right?  More thinking.  I was facing something that, in my drinking past, I would’ve avoided and hid from for as long as I could.  Two!!  The last thing on my gratitude list was easy:  I was grateful that I was sober that day.  As I sat there thinking about those three simple things, I felt better.  And the meeting that I was so dreading turned out alright.  Imagine that.

Today, when I make a gratitude list, the things I’m thankful for are much more evident to me.  I try to find something good even in the worst moments.  I’m not always successful at the time that I want to be, like last Friday, but in the end I’m sure to find something worth thanking God for.  Right now, amidst all of the upheaval I’m dealing with I am so very grateful for my friends.  I don’t have a lot of them, but the ones I have are exceptional.  I’m grateful that I have a job, even if I’m super stressed out with work.  I’m grateful that the days in which I experience joy outnumber the ones that I don’t.  And I’m grateful that on the bad days, I’m able to muddle through…sober.

Choices

good-choice-bad-choice-sign

Yesterday was quite a day.  The early morning went well, it seemed like a good start.  Then, on the way to work, everything hit the fan.  The details aren’t really relevant, so I won’t write about them.  Suffice it to say, there were a couple of hours that were pure chaos, drama, flashbacks to the past.  I was so quickly sucked into my old, alcoholic way of thinking and feeling, that I’m surprised my head didn’t spin.  I was in sheer panic, heart racing, cold sweats, shallow breathing.  I was sure that the end of the world, at least my world, was eminent.  It had been a while since I felt so much anxiety so fast, and then I heard it.  It was that little voice that I hadn’t heard from for over seven months.

You know how to make these feelings stop….

And just like that, I wanted to drink.  I didn’t romanticize or justify it the way I used to.  It wasn’t that I suddenly thought that I would be able to control it like a normal person this time, or that I was just going through so much stress that I would just have one drink to “take the edge off.”  No, I knew exactly what my wanting to drink was – I wanted to shut off every thought that was going through my mind.  I felt a deep need to change every feeling I was having at that moment.  There was nothing that could be misconstrued in what I was thinking.  Did I think that drinking would improve the situation?  No.  Did I think that I would create more wreckage by drinking?  Yes.  Did I realize what giving up my sobriety would mean?  Yes.  Did I still want to drink?  Yes, so very much.

That solution to my problems hung out in my head for a while.  I was aching for the relief of that first drink.  Then something crazy happened.  Those thoughts quieted down and were replaced by new ones.  What I heard was:  You don’t have to drink.  You can make it through this, and anything else that happens.  You are under God’s care, and He doesn’t screw up.  You are not alone. 

Now I am not going to lie, those two contradictory reactions fought back and forth for a while.  I was really waffling on which one to believe.  I knew which was the right way to go, but I also knew which would give me relief faster.  In the past, I wouldn’t have even entertained anything besides the drink.  I would’ve been hammered before those other thoughts even had a chance to make themselves known.  But yesterday, fortunately, I was able to make the right choice.  I didn’t drink.

I am certainly not going for sainthood here, had there been a bottle of vodka right in front of me this whole thing could’ve turned out a lot differently.  But with yesterday’s realization that even if I have the craving, I don’t have to give in, I feel like I reached a milestone.  I had been pretty damn lucky that for the past seven months I hadn’t had one inclination to drink.  But I honestly didn’t know what would happen when that luck ran out.  Now I know.  I can choose.