Connections

Boy, these past few weeks have really kicked my butt.  I have been working a lot of hours (thank God I’m an hourly employee and the paychecks almost make it worth it), and have been feeling a lot of stress at my job.  I haven’t had the motivation to do anything but eat and sleep when I get home.   I actually started this post several days ago, but I’m just now getting around to finishing it.

Connections

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my relationships.  Not the horrible ones from the past, but the ones that I choose to have now.  I’m talking about my friends.  Being in recovery, it’s important that I always remember the things about which I’m grateful.  You’ll find my friends near the top of every one of my gratitude lists.  But it hasn’t always been that way.

When I was drinking I didn’t have real friends.  I had acquaintances, drinking buddies, people I hung out with.  Often, I tried to surround myself with people who drank more than I did, so that I didn’t have to accept that I was an alcoholic myself.  It allowed me to say to myself, “they drink much more than me, so I can’t be that bad.”  Right.  Then there were my non-drinking buddies.  They didn’t see the drunken mess that I was.  I hid it from them as much as I could, and when I couldn’t anymore, I cut them out of my life.  In both cases, there was no respect, no intimacy, no connection.  I had take-it-or-leave-it friendships.  If someone wanted to hang around, that was ok.  If they didn’t, that was ok too.  I never let anyone see the real me, whether they were drunks or not.  If I showed them the real me, then they had the chance to reject me.  And I had had my fill of rejection.

Thinking that if people knew the real me (the one that has screwed everything up), they would run for the hills, kept me from being open and honest for a long time.  Even after I was sober.  Sobriety gave me the clarity to see that there were friends I cared for, and who cared for me.  But I still held back the things that I thought might drive them away.  I didn’t let them see me when I was sad or depressed, I didn’t ask for help or accept it when it was offered, I didn’t discuss problems that I was having.  How could I?  If they knew all of those things, they would stop caring about me.  So, I would put a smile on my face and tell everyone I was fine, and hold on to my secrets like a security blanket.

As I started to work through the steps, I realized that there is a reason that the Big Book says that those who recover are the ones that are able to be “rigorously honest” with themselves and others.  I knew what I had to do, but I was afraid of the outcome.  Would I suffer more rejection?  Humiliation?  Would the people who I thought were my friends laugh at me?  Or worse, be horrified?  I didn’t know, and not knowing was scary.  But I started to open up anyway.  I shared things with friends that I never thought I would tell anyone (except my husband and my sponsor).  And you know what?  It didn’t cause them to run for the hills.  There were some looks of shock and concern, but they didn’t bolt.  You see, they were able to look past my ugly alcoholic behavior and see the real me.  They were able to love me despite the negative things, because I let them in.  And you know what else?  As a result of my sharing, many of my friends have felt comfortable sharing their ‘stuff’ with me!  I don’t know about you, but I think that is pretty awesome.

It’s a real gift of sobriety to be able to experience these connections with people.  Nothing ever came close to the feeling of connecting when I was drinking and trying to hide everything from everyone.  It’s something that I think I always wanted, but didn’t know it was even something that actually existed.  I know now that it does.  It’s those moments when a friend says they have something exciting to tell me, or they come into my office at work and quietly close the door behind them to talk about something.  It’s when someone asks me for advice (imagine that!!), or gives me advice when I need it.  It’s when they ask me how I’m doing and follow it up with, “really, how are you?”  It’s when a friend shares something with me that they haven’t shared with anyone before, and I can give them the same acceptance and love that they have given me.  It’s in the hugs that are given for no particular reason, the laughter shared over inside jokes, the encouragement given to press on even on the worst of days.  I love those moments.  I look for those moments. I am grateful that I get to feel those moments.

I am so thankful for the people in my life.  I am blessed.

PS-I just read this to my husband and he said the before I didn’t let the people get to know the real me and so I had shallow, acquaintance friendships.  Now people know the real Jami and they don’t just put up with me or say “she’s ok”, they like me.  But more than that when people get to know the real me, they love me. 🙂

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What a Difference a Year Makes

one_year

Today is my birthday – my belly-button birthday, as it’s called in the program.  I am officially 42 years old.  I have always found that birthdays are a time of reflection, and today is not an exception.  I’m not so much looking at the whole of my 42 years, as I am reflecting on just the last year.  What a difference a year can make!!

Last year at this time I was trying to navigate a very slippery slope, not very successfully.  I was caught in the downward spiral of grief and sadness and self-pity.  My husband, sensing that I was feeling down about not being able to spend my birthday with my family, reached out to some of them.  It did not go well.  At that time, I still had hope that there would be, at some point, a reconciliation of some kind.  That door was shut, and my hope was dashed.  At first, I thought that it was actually a good thing to have my hope squashed.  Living a life full of waiting seemed much more painful than just dealing with the closure that their rejection provided. But, as it turns out, I was devastated.  And so I did what any good alcoholic would do:  I hid my feelings, put on a game face, tried not to feel, and when that didn’t work, I drank.  I threw away the sober time I had because I wasn’t willing to deal with my feelings.

I got drunk on four weekends in a row.  I would sober up for the work week, tell myself that I was done drinking and then get drunk again on the weekend.  I couldn’t go on that way, I knew that.  So I made the decision to go back to treatment.  It was the best decision I could’ve made.  Once I got to the treatment center, I made up my mind that this time was going to be different.  I knew that in order to deal with my feelings I had to be honest, I had to learn to forgive, and I had to learn how to accept things the way they were.  I wrote about those things when I had eight months sober, you can read about it here.

So now, a year after the beginning of the end of my drinking, how are things different?  I’m not afraid of my feelings.  When negative emotions come up, I don’t try to hide.  I know that things are the way they are, and if I can’t change them, I let them go.  I am honest with the people in my life.  While I feel sadness and grief sometimes, I don’t wallow.  I use the tools I’ve learned in the program.  I’m grateful for what I have, and who I have in my life, and I let them know it.  I feel comfortable being me.  I even like me, most days.

It occurs to me that the biggest difference on this birthday is….I’m happy.

It’s a happy birthday!

Who would’ve thought?

Maybe 42 is going to be a good year.  🙂

Happy-Birthday-to-me

Living in a ghost town (Part 3)

ghost town

Wow.  I can’t believe how long I have waited to write this post!  It’s been over 3 weeks since I wrote Part 2, which was about my daughter.  Writing that post brought up a lot of sadness and grief.  That, coupled with long hours at work for the past few weeks, forced me to take a little break from my blog and practice some self-care.  But I’m back and ready to write.

In Part 1, I talked about what it’s like to live in the same place where I am constantly reminded of my past, my bad choices and other negative memories.  In Part 2 I talked about living in the same place as my daughter, with whom I have no relationship right now.  In this post, I want to talk about how I deal with all of that and how I no longer let the ghosts lead me to where I was before I got sober: back to depression, self-loathing, and anger – back to drinking.

I’ve been in recovery now for a little over two and a half years.  However, I have only ten and a half months of continuous sobriety.  So you can see, it took me a while to finally get to a place in my recovery where I don’t feel the need to drink.  A lot of what I have learned has to do with dealing with my past.  Not just realizing all of the things I’ve done wrong, but actually dealing with it in a healthy way.  I don’t know what works for others, but these are the things that have worked for me.  These are the things that have made my last ten months different.

The first thing that I have done differently is allow myself to feel my feelings.  As an alcoholic, I was a world-class emotion stuffer.  I could, for a long time, just turn off negative feelings and pretend that they didn’t even exist.  I could hide them so far away, that I really think I actually believed they were gone.  Water under the bridge, just move on.  The problem with that is that no matter how far down I pushed them, they were eventually going to resurface – with a month’s, year’s or decade’s worth of vengeance.  And they did.  And I tried to drink them away.  Now when those feelings come up, and they do, I don’t try to ignore or avoid them.  I feel them.  Really feel them.  And you know what?  No matter how bad they are, they don’t kill me.  It took me a long time to learn that, and to be okay with it.

Another thing that is different is that I talk to people about what I’m feeling.  I have stopped putting on my game face, and started letting people in – my husband, my sponsor, my friends.  Last night, my husband and I were at Target.  For some reason, thoughts and feelings about my daughter came up and I started to get emotional.  I could feel my throat tighten and my eyes getting watery.  I was overcome with missing and wanting her.  My husband was in another part of the store and I could have easily “gotten it together” and composed myself before I went to find him (he was looking at Star Wars Legos, by the way).  But instead, I went to find him even though I was all weepy.  I told him that I was really missing my daughter and that something had triggered my emotions.  He hugged me, told me that he was sorry, and held my hand.  Nothing was solved, there was really no action taken other than me opening my mouth and saying how I felt, but I felt relief.  Had I kept walking around the store until my red nose and wet eyes went away and not said anything, I would’ve wallowed in my sadness.  Alone.  Just speaking the feeling was enough to get me through the moment.

I have written before about the role that acceptance has played in my recovery.  I have found that when it comes to living in a ghost town, acceptance is definitely the answer to my problems.  As I drive around town and places or things remind me of my alcoholic behavior and the trouble it got me into, it’s easy for me to slip into my old ways of thinking:  either minimizing or maximizing the impact of my actions.  The colossal mistakes weren’t really that bad, were they?  Or, the small transgressions…what kind of a nutcase would do something like that?!?  I operated at one extreme or the other, I wasn’t able to see the situation for what it really was, an alcoholic acting like an alcoholic.  When I am able to remember a situation or choice that I made and say to myself, “yes, I did that.  It was a really awful thing to do and I’m sorry for having done it, and I don’t intend to do it again” I’m able to accept things they way they really are, or were, be okay with it, and move on.

A huge part of dealing with my past is telling myself the truth.  When I get down on myself for it, and I still do sometimes, I have to remind myself that the person I was three years ago is not who I am today.  That is the truth.  I have changed, grown, become self-aware, and I am better for it.  I am no longer in active addiction, I am repairing the wreckage of my past, I am facing things that I never thought I could face, and I am living honestly.  Remembering those things helps me when I am faced with the ghosts around me.  The truth is those ghosts have nothing on me anymore…I’m not even the same girl that they haunted for so long.

Finally, the last, and most important piece to living with the ghosts of my past, is my faith.  Knowing that I have God in my corner, unconditionally, saves me every day.  When I am able to turn my will and my life over to His care, and know that things will happen in His time, His way, I can relax.  The things I have done and gone through were for a reason.  His reasons, not mine.  When I choose to have an open heart and I allow God in, I can have peace.  And I do.

Living in a ghost town isn’t easy, sometimes it’s downright hard.  But I am learning to do it.  And if I remember all of the things I have written about, I can do it with grace.