A year of joy and adversity

adversity

This was a big week for me.  It was Thanksgiving, and of course I have a lot to be thankful for.  However, the holidays have been really hard for me the last few years.  As many of you know, I have no contact with my family and that is really emotional for me when it comes to celebrating holidays, birthdays and the like.  I have worked really hard to accept that things are the way they are, and to no longer let my feelings about my family send me back out drinking.

The other big news for this week is that on Tuesday I celebrated one year of sobriety!  I was really excited to be able to go up and receive my one year chip at my home group meeting on Tuesday morning.  It felt great.  It felt exhilarating.  It felt miraculous.  And it was…all of those things.  Mostly though, I felt so grateful, so very grateful.  It is really apropos that my sobriety birthday is so near Thanksgiving, the timing is perfect.

one year

This post could easily turn into one about gratitude, but I am saving that for another time.  What I really want to write about is what the last year was like.  As I reflect on the past year, I can tell you that it was like a roller-coaster.  There were a lot of really high highs, but an equal amount of really low lows.  I was dealing with the wreckage of my past (I still am), learning how to live with the grief that comes from being estranged from my family, trying to forgive others and myself, and trying to do it all as honestly as I could.  It wasn’t easy, not by any stretch of the imagination.  It was a lot of self-examination, which for us alcoholics is often pretty ugly.  It certainly was for me.  It was emotional and very stressful at times.

As hard as it was though, I realized a while back that this past year was actually, amazingly, filled with joy.  Each difficult situation and negative emotion gave me the opportunity to work through it – not around it, not over it, but really, genuinely through it – without taking a drink.  This wasn’t just a change in perspective for me, it was a life change.  Before this past year I lived in extremes, even when I wasn’t drinking.  A bad situation was never going to end, good things would last forever.  I would always feel whatever emotion I was feeling.  My vocabulary was filled with “always” and “never”.  It was black and white thinking and it did not serve me well.

On Thanksgiving I wrote this in my journal:

“I’m so grateful to be alive and happy.  A year ago, two years ago, five, ten…whenever I was asked what I wanted most in life, my answer was to be happy.  I finally have that now.  I thought that I would never know what that really felt like, but now I do.  I also never thought that there could be joy in the midst of adversity.  But the two can peacefully coexist.  I’ve realized that it isn’t black and white.  I can have joy and happiness even at the worst of times.  I don’t have to get mired down in the shit.  I can do the next right thing, no matter how hard, and I can still have joy in my heart.”

Getting through the bad times, without hurting myself or anyone else, is really a cause for celebration.  The simple act of making it through to the other side is joy-producing.  Realizing that bad times and feelings aren’t going to last forever is joy-producing.  Knowing that I can hand things over to God and have faith that His will is what’s best for me is joy-producing.  Not drinking over all of life’s crap is majorly joy-producing.  How awesome is that?

I DO!!!!!

I sure do!!

No more ping-pong for me

Ping Pong Ball

In Alcoholics Anonymous, I have heard those people who go in and out of the program over and over again, called ping-pong balls.  They bounce back and forth between sobriety and drinking.  I was one of those people for a while, not able to stay sober, but not wanting to continue drinking either.  I would build up some sober time, and then pick up again.  I always made it back into the rooms, but wondered for how long.

I’ve done a lot of reflecting about why this time around sobriety seems to be sticking.  I’ve written posts about what I think some of the differences are this time (you can read them here and here), but it’s hard to put my finger on exactly what it is.  I think that there are many contributing factors, some of which I have written about, and still others that I have failed to recognize.

At a meeting over the weekend a lady with a few years of sobriety was talking about her “ping-pong” years.  I thought that the way she described it was perfect, and I had never heard it described this way.  She said that she would drink until the pain of drinking was too much, and then she would stay sober until the pain of sobriety was too much.  And she operated that way for years.

The pain of sobriety.

I had never really thought of it like that, but it’s true.  Every time I tried to get sober in the past, the pain of sobriety sent me back out.  You see, in the beginning, I wrongly thought that drinking was my only problem, and that as soon as I stopped my life would be a great big bowl of cherries.  I believed that merely staying sober would mean eternal happiness and everyone would love me again, and there would no longer be trials and tribulations.  OK, I may be exaggerating a little bit here.  I knew that life’s little problems would still come up, but I honestly thought that just being sober would make me more able to handle them, that I could use my new-found sobriety like Wonder Woman used her bracelets, to just let the bad things bounce off of me.  Clearly, that isn’t what happened.  Everything that I drank over in the first place was still there, with some extra added resentments.  Imagine my dismay!  And, not only that, but if I wanted to stay sober, then I could no longer use my tried and true coping mechanism.  Drinking was out, but I hadn’t yet learned how to cope any other way.

I learned how to white-knuckle it through cravings, but struggled when I started feeling my emotions.  Guilt, shame, anger, grief, and sadness plagued me, and I was in emotional pain.  I hadn’t yet learned how to just sit with negative emotions, and I sure couldn’t stand the pain they were causing.  So I drank, just like the woman at the meeting said.

My solution would work for a little while.  The booze would take away my feelings, and life was good again.  Until it wasn’t.  Drinking only caused more guilt, shame, anger, grief and sadness.  Guilt and shame that I had broken promises, anger that I had failed again, grief and sadness that I had once again thrown away my sobriety.  So I would sober up, start working my program again, and the cycle would begin again, and it was vicious.

It was only when I came to the realization that the pain that I felt when I was drinking was far worse than the pain of sobriety that I was able to stop the ping-pong game that had become my life.  I realized that there was no way to work through the pain if I was drunk, but I could if I was sober, it was possible.  Being in emotional pain would not kill me, but continuing to drink would.  It was inevitable.

It has been extremely hard to deal with all my past hurts, current troubles, and fears about the future.  I have gone through a lot of really difficult things in recovery.  But now I know that if I stay sober, it can be done.  That simple possibility is what keeps me going.

No more ping-pong for me.

Reacting with grace

Reaction

Yesterday two of my coworkers were let go due to the fact that enrollments are down and the school where I work is trying to save money.  They are both women that I like personally and enjoyed working with.  I am closer to one than the other, we do things together outside of work like walking on Saturday mornings, dinners together and Bible study.  I know that we will stay in touch and continue our friendship.  But it was still really hard to see her go, and the afternoon was filled with whispers about “what happened?” and shocked looks from those that were just finding out.  It was sad.  Both women showed an amazing amount of acceptance and peace about the situation, even though I know that they both need an income.  There were no tears, they didn’t run off as quickly as they could.  They finished up what they were working on, packed up their stuff, and hugged everyone good-bye.  I was amazed at their composure.

As I watched my friend pack up her stuff, I was reminded of my behavior when I have been laid off from jobs.  The first time, I had worked for a bank for about 8 years, and I didn’t see the lay-off coming.  It was early in the day and the district manager came in and asked me to meet with him in the conference room.  He and I had a good rapport, so even then, I didn’t think anything was wrong.  As soon as we sat down, he began reading from the papers in front of him.  He didn’t make eye contact.  I was astonished at what he was saying and the tears started to flow.  I had recently gotten divorced and I didn’t know what I was going to do to put food on the table.  I had to leave the room a couple of times to collect myself so that my manager could continue reading his script.  When he was done, I was told I had to go pack up my personal belongings and leave immediately.  There was already a box waiting at my desk.  I threw my things in it and left.  I called friends and I called my mom, but what I really wanted to do was get drunk.  I went over to my mom’s for a little while, hoping for comfort, instead getting a “I guess you better look for a job.”  I stayed there long enough for my mom to think I was alright (I suspect that she already knew at that time that I was drinking too much), and headed home.  There, I accomplished my plan of getting drunk.

At that time, I was clearly drinking more than I should have, but I wasn’t yet getting into any trouble with it.  I drank, I cried, I went to bed.  There were no calls made to the police, I wasn’t waking up next to strange men, I was still a pass-out drinker and not a blackout one, and I was still taking care of my daughter.

The next time I was laid off from a job was a few years later.  I had been to treatment and was doing pretty well at staying sober.  In other words, I wasn’t drinking, but I wasn’t practicing real emotional and spiritual sobriety.  I was remarried and happy with the relationship.  Up until that point, everything had been going pretty well.  I was called into a meeting with the director and my immediate supervisor.  They were very compassionate and sincere when they said that they were sorry that the decision to eliminate my position had come down from corporate, and that they hated to lose me.  I stayed calm.  I thanked them for all that they had done for me and asked them to please keep me in mind if another position opened up.  I packed my things, hugged everyone and left.  I didn’t cry in the office, but the tears started falling as I walked out into the parking lot.

As soon as I got in the car, I called my husband to tell him the news.  I lied and told him I was okay and that he shouldn’t leave work.  I found myself in the middle of a panic attack.  Hell, we weren’t doing all that great financially, and now I was out of work with no severance.  It had taken me a long time to even find this job I had just lost.  On the way home I pulled into the parking lot at CVS before I even realized what I had planned.  As I walked into the store, I could hear the voice of reason somewhere in the back of my mind telling me not to buy booze.  I ignored it.  I bought a fifth of vodka and headed home.  I took the first swig before I started the car.

I did something that alcoholics do…I drank in the midst of a crisis.  I didn’t think about consequences, my husband’s feelings, or what would happen afterwards.  I catastrophized a situation that obviously wasn’t the end of the world, lots of people get laid off.  I just needed to stop feeling the anxiety, uncertainty and fear.  My emotions felt too overwhelming to handle, so I guzzled the vodka while I cried.  I don’t remember my husband getting home from work that day, I was already in a blackout.  I remember bits and pieces of the evening, and it wasn’t pretty.  It was probably one of my worst drunks ever, but that’s a post for another time.

What I am able to see now, is that getting drunk didn’t make anything better.  In fact, it made things worse.  I’m not talking about the massive hangover, which seemed to go on for days, I’m talking about the guilt and shame that I felt after.  I had let my husband down, scared him I’m sure, and I had let myself down.  Then, I wasn’t just unemployed, I was severely depressed and remorseful too.  It was pretty awful.

The reason I am writing all of this is because yesterday as I watched my friend pack up her things, I wondered if she would be alright.  She’s a normie so I didn’t really think that she would go out and tie one on.  The last thing that we talked about before she left work is that God will always provide for us.  That is something that I never would have even considered, let alone believed, when the same thing happened to me.  For her to have faith, in that difficult moment, was so beautiful.

I texted my friend last night and she really was okay.  I know that she will be fine, and more importantly, she knows that she will be fine.

I wish that I had known that about myself in the past.  And when my next crisis comes at me, I hope I remember it.

Dance, anyone?

Dancing

Recently, I have had to deal with a family member that has always brought out the worst in me, pushed all my buttons, and has been able to make me feel completely inadequate and unloved since my teenage years. This family member contacted me about a week and a half ago via text, and because of the situation, I was obligated to respond.  That led me to over a week of non-face to face interaction that I didn’t want or need.  Last night the interaction came to a head, and she baited and baited me, trying to get me to engage in an argument.  It all felt so familiar, it was a dance that we have done a million times before – she baits, I react, she gets defensive, I attack, she uses passive aggression to put me in my place, I feel guilty and cry and wallow in self-pity and self-loathing.  It would’ve been so easy for me to jump right in and start dancing the way we used to.  This time, though, I refused to get on the dance floor.

But it wasn’t easy.  In fact, it was pretty damn hard.  Changing the way that I think about and react to things like this has been a slow process.  I have always been quick to anger and hurt, with guilt and shame following closely behind.  Those first, almost instinctual, feelings come up now, but I am quicker to realize what’s happening and I can sometimes work through things before the guilt and shame set in.

As I sat and read the hostile, accusatory and just plain mean texts, I felt angry.  Very angry.  It took every ounce of restraint that I had to not react the way I always have – by reciprocating with sarcastic insults and laying guilt trips of my own.  Sentences that I could text and that would cause the most amount of harm went through my head.  I even said some of them out loud to my husband.  I went so far as to type one into my phone, but in the end, I deleted it without hitting send.

Along with all of the possible confrontational scenarios that were going through my mind, one rational thought kept stopping me in my tracks – “what is the right thing to do?”  That was new.  Where did that come from?  As I sat there thinking, I realized that was doing something that I hear about all the time in meetings, I was pausing when agitated.  Not only that, but I was trying to figure out what the right thing to do was.  I was trying to figure out how to handle the situation without setting myself up to have to make a new amends.  How should I respond?  I didn’t want to end up volleying mean comments back and forth, but I didn’t want to just roll over either.  Holy cow!  That sounds like I might have actually been thinking about setting some boundaries.  Another new thing!

I was still in fear though.  Not engaging was uncomfortable.  After all, I knew those dance steps.  I didn’t know how to do these new ones.  Have you ever seen someone learning a new dance?  When they’re a couple of steps behind the instructor, confusion and concentration easily visible on their face?  That’s how I felt.  Out of my element.  Fumbling and clumsy.

The tools that the program has taught me were clearly helping me to think and not just react.  But where was I to find the courage to behave a different way than what was comfortable?  I know the outcome of my old way of doing things, and that seemed easier even though I also knew how it would turn out, and that wasn’t a pretty picture.  And then it hit me.  I don’t have to be in charge of this.  I don’t run the show, because when I do, I screw things up.  God runs the show for me now.  I know it, I believe it, I have faith in it.  So, if I have faith in God’s will for me – and that keeps me sober, gives me hope and feeds my soul – couldn’t it also give me the courage to step outside my comfort zone and behave differently?

Yes!  It could.  And it did.

It was my faith in God and the gospel that allowed me to answer questions and express myself without malice, and without feeling guilt or shame.  It gave me the strength to set a boundary and cut off the conversation when it was no longer accomplishing anything, even though I was still being baited.  I reacted with grace, and because of that, I don’t owe anyone an amends.  If you ask me, this bad situation couldn’t have ended better.  There was no resolution really, but I have no reason to feel badly about it, and that is a step in the right direction.  For that, I thank God.

I know that I will hear from my family member again, there is more to be done.  But I know that when she steps out on the floor, she better watch out….I’ve got some new moves.