Surrender to Win

There is a paradox in Alcoholics Anonymous that tells us that we must “surrender to win.” When I first entered AA, I thought that it seemed kind of crazy that I would have to surrender, or give up, in order to get better. Wasn’t that was I was already doingSurrender? I sure felt like I had given up. Everything. That was where drinking had gotten me to. Like lots of things in AA though, surrendering to win started to make sense once I started to practice it.

It was when I was working my first step, looking back on all of the things that I had said and done while drinking, the things that showed (rather obviously) that I was powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable, that I caught my first glimpses of what surrender might look like for me. I finally was able to see that what I was doing wasn’t working and that I had to find another way to do things, or I was likely going to die. I had to throw in the towel, or it was going to be thrown in for me. I had to surrender. I had to stop fighting, hiding, and resisting because I knew that I could not win or succeed doing it my way.

I had to surrender to the fact that I was an alcoholic. I could no longer hang onto the idea that maybe there was something I could do to manage my drinking, or that maybe, if I just quit for a while, that I could go back to being a normal drinker one day. I had to surrender to the fact that I was different from normies, and that I would never be able to be one.

I had to surrender to the fact that I couldn’t stay sober alone. I had tried so many times, yet I always failed. Sure, I could make it a day or two without drinking…maybe even three. But anything could and did send me right back to the bottle and I picked up right where I left off. Even when I didn’t want to! That’s the craziness of alcoholism, I didn’t want to drink anymore, but I couldn’t stop. I had to surrender to the idea that I needed help to get sober, and that I would find that help in God and in other alcoholics.

I had to surrender to the program. I know that there are people who get sober without a 12 step program, but AA is what saved my life. So I had to stop resisting working the steps, and stop resisting taking suggestions, and stop resisting living the principles of AA to change my life. This was big for me because I wanted to think that I was different from others in the program – clearly, none of those people had the problems and traumas that I had. Ha! It’s actually funny to think about now…because every alcoholic that I meet thought that way at one time.

I had to surrender to the idea that there was hope for me. Before I got into the rooms, I had thoughts that the way my life was (a great big effing mess), was just the way it was going to be until I died. I was stuck. My life was hopeless and I was irredeemable. In order for me to surrender to all of those other things, I had to believe that there was hope. For me. For my future. Thank God I saw hope in the faces of my fellow alcoholics at every meeting I went to. That hope is what encouraged me to grasp hold of my recovery and hang on.

So, “surrender to win?” Yeah, I get it now. And I am thankful for it every day.

 

 

 

 

19 months, a car wreck, and a box full of puppies

The past week was an eventful one.  Well, actually it was just Thursday, but there was enough action to make it feel like a week.  First of all, and most importantly, I celebrated 19 months of sobriety.  Who whudda thunk it?  If anyone had told me 19 months ago, that I could and would be free of alcohol for this long, I would have thought they were crazy.  But here I am, over a year and a half later, still sober.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, it’s a fucking miracle!  I am so grateful that I haven’t had a desire to drink for so long.

Back to Thursday. Austin and I had been functioning (if you could call it that) on very little sleep for the previous week and a half. Our dog, Lucy, was pregnant and due any time. She is a chihuahua and needs a lot of help whelping puppies, so she couldn’t be left alone at all. We were afraid that she would go into labor when we were asleep, so we came up with the idea of sleeping in shifts. Austin would stay awake until 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., wake me up, and then I would stay up and let him sleep until I had to leave for work. It wasn’t bad for the first few days, but as Lucy’s due date came and went, we became more and more sleep deprived.  And more and more grumpy.  Of course, we weren’t the only ones…Lucy was pretty uncomfortable herself.

Poor thing, she's as big as a house...ok, a very small house.

Poor thing, she’s as big as a house…ok, a very small house.

Here's what she normally looks like.

Here’s what she normally looks like.

Anyway, shortly past midnight Thursday morning, Austin woke me up to tell me that Lucy was in labor.  Finally!  I don’t know if we calculated her due date wrong, or if she just wanted to cook those little pups longer, but it seemed like she was gestating much longer than the normal 9 weeks.  Of course, the last almost two weeks of broken-up sleep felt like a year all by itself.  The first little girl was born around 1:30 a.m., followed pretty quickly by the runt of the litter.  Lucy happily assumed the mama role and let the two nurse for a bit while she prepared for the remaining babies to make their appearance.  After a couple of hours puppy #3, a little boy, came and then, finally, the last little girl.  Mama and babies are doing well and the human work is done.  It’s all up to Lucy and her full mammaries now.

 

 

Living in a box

Living in a box, for a few weeks at least

I was overjoyed that I would be able to return to my normal sleep schedule.  Oh, how I was looking forward to going to sleep at a normal time on Thursday night, and sleeping for longer than 4 or 5 hours.  I was so happy anticipating my good night’s sleep that I didn’t even mind that I had to go to work for eight hours after being up since midnight.  I knew that a reprieve was coming.

Perhaps I should’ve paid a little more attention to my sleep deficit.  It had briefly occurred to me that maybe I should take the day off and get some rest.  But I had already asked for next week off (my first vacation, or more accurately, stay-cation) since I went to rehab 19 months ago, so I didn’t feel like I could take the time off.  So off I drove, but I didn’t get far.

Here’s what happened on my way to work:

Friends don't let friends drive tired...

Friends don’t let friends drive tired…

I guess my exhaustion slowed my reflexes, because when the three cars in front of me slammed on their brakes, it took me too long to do the same.  I rear-ended the Jeep in front of me and wrecked our minivan.  The Jeep had very little damage, thank God.

I drove the broken van home and proceeded to have a meltdown.  One thing I know is that I don’t handle crises very well.  Intellectually, I know that everything will be ok, even if it takes a while.  I can tell myself things like, “it could’ve been much worse” or “it’s just a car, I’m lucky no one was hurt.”  But in the moment, I see those as platitudes, because surely, the end of the world is coming.  As soon as my husband put his arms around me I dissolved into a mess of hopelessness.  I don’t know if it’s my inner 5-year-old or my alcoholic thinker that tells me that things like this fender-bender are completely earth-shattering, but that’s where my mind goes when chaos hits.  Knowing all of that, though, doesn’t help in the least during those times.  When I am in meltdown mode, the only thing that helps is time.  In this case, it took until mid-day Friday for me to believe the ‘platitudes’ of my own mind and those from my friends.  It turns out that the damage to the car is almost all cosmetic, not as bad as it seemed at first.  It’s ugly, but until we get it fixed, it’s nice to know that I won’t have to buy a bus pass.

The important thing that I can take from this is that while I would like to be able to move out of my basket-case, everything-is-shit mentality as quickly as I move into it, I can rest assured that I do always move out of it; that it will not last forever.  And I don’t have to drink over it.  Ever. In fact, I know from past experience, that drinking over it would only prolong my craziness, possibly to the point of no return.  I could, in reality, end up where I just think I am in the midst of turmoil.  And that would be a truly sad ending.

So today, I am thankful that things have turned out the way they have.  I am thankful to be sober with a smashed-up car, and that it wasn’t something worse. I am thankful for all of my friends who have comforted me, expressed their gratitude that I’m ok, and offered help if we need it.  I am grateful to have a week off work to read, and write, and be lazy.  I am grateful for 19 months without booze.  🙂

And I am grateful for a box full of puppies.

And I am grateful for a box full of puppies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope, where did you come from?

Hope

This past weekend, I went to a meeting where the topic was hope.  There were a lot of thoughtful shares (directed, I suspect, toward the newcomers) that caused me to think about my life before and in early sobriety as it compares to my life now.  The differences are many.  In sobriety I am honest, I am forgiving, I am mindful.  I have real, genuine friendships that are reciprocal; I have support; I have real, unconditional love.  When I was drinking, I had none of those things.  I lived, if you can even call it living, a life of survival.  I was just barely hanging on, by my fingertips, waiting for the inevitable.  I don’t think I knew what ‘the inevitable’ was at the time, but I realize now that I was waiting for one of two things – either something catastrophic (like a jail sentence or commitment to the looney bin – something that would force me to stop drinking), or death.  I didn’t know or care which it was.  I was completely without hope in my life.

The time that I spent drinking was a horrible, depressing time.  I was dealing with undiagnosed PTSD from abuse I suffered over the years, I was recently divorced and lonely.  I struggled financially and felt like a failure.  I tried over and over again to drink my sadness away…to escape those feelings that were uncomfortable to feel.  Living life was painful.  Too painful.  I thought that maybe I was just destined to feel that way forever, that things would never change; that I would always be miserable and hopeless.

The series of events that finally got me to treatment didn’t raise my level of hope.  I knew that treatment was my only option, but I didn’t really have hope that it would make things that much better.  I thought that maybe, just maybe, I might be able to keep from drinking, but that alone didn’t give me hope that I would I would ever have a happy and fulfilled life.

So as I sat there at the meeting, listening to my fellow alcoholics share about the hope that they have found in sobriety, it struck me that now, I too, have hope.  Somewhere along the way, these past few years, I started to believe that things could and would get better.  I don’t really know when it happened, it was such a gradual thing.  Perhaps it was when I chose to really work the steps of the program with a sponsor, or when I learned the importance of forgiveness and acceptance, maybe it was when I found Jesus and learned that I didn’t ever have to be alone again.  It may have been when I met my husband and learned what unconditional love was, or when I figured out that me being honest wasn’t something that was going to drive my friends away.  Most likely, it happened because of all of those things.

The fact is, though, that I never could’ve done any of those things if I hadn’t been sober first.  I have heard so many people new in sobriety say that they thought that all they had to do was quit drinking and that everything would be ok.  That just isn’t the case.  It takes time and work and soul-searching.  It takes a heart change.  And it takes hope.

So to the newcomers I say – don’t drink even when you feel hopeless.  Keep doing the next right thing, find a support system and use it, forgive yourself and others, accept what you can’t change.  I promise you those things lead to hope:  the feeling that what is wanted can be had.

Bring it on, 2014!

Happy New Year

I wasn’t going to write another post this week, but it seems that 2013 warrants some reflection.  It’s been quite a year, and even though I’m not sad to tell it goodbye, I feel like I have had some victories that are worth celebrating.  I may not have felt victorious then, but hindsight sometimes reveals the silver lining that I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see at the time.

The beginning of 2013 was a flurry of emotion.  I looked at my journal from the time to remind myself what I was feeling then.  There was a lot of grief and fear, but what stood out the most in my early 2013 writing was hope.  I was freshly out of rehab, my second trip in as many years, and I was working hard to do things differently so there wouldn’t be a third trip.  My focus was on forgiveness, acceptance and honesty.  I knew that if I had those three things, I might just make it.  So I really worked on them: doing a lot of step work with my sponsor, going to meetings every day, praying, and telling the truth to myself and others.  I had to do those things while I was cleaning up the wreckage that I had caused when I was drinking (legal, financial) and while returning to work after taking a 6-week leave of absence (I was overwhelmed).  But somehow through all of that, I still had a lot of hope.  I was able to see that if I kept doing the next right thing, no matter how difficult, and as long as I stayed sober, no matter what, things were going to get better.  I was going to get better.  I don’t think that I had ever really felt that kind of hope before.  It was new, and it kept me moving in the right direction.  It still does.

This past year I also had to deal with the horrible grief that comes from being separated from one’s child.  The feelings of loss and wanting greeted me every single day, and I don’t see that going away…ever.  What I learned though, is that those feelings can, and now do, peacefully coexist with happiness and joy.  That was a gradual realization for me.  At the beginning of the year I thought that any happiness I felt was in vain.  How could that happiness be real?  How could any feeling other than grief be real?  Surely a daughter-less mother couldn’t have any real joy at the same time her heart is aching and broken.  But somewhere along the way, I came to realize that the happiness and joy I was feeling was real.  And that it didn’t mean that I was missing my daughter any less, or that my heart was less broken.  But rather, it meant that even in its brokenness my heart could be joyous.   I had completely underestimated my capacity to feel more than one emotion at a time.

As the holidays loomed toward the end of the year, I knew that my new realization would be challenged.  And it was.  I’ve written many times about how hard October through December are for me, and 2013 was no exception.  There were down days and tears, days when all I wanted to do was hide from everyone and everything.  But amazingly, as each holiday, birthday, or anniversary showed up, I was able to face the day and make it through.  Not only that, but in most cases, I was able to have really good days, even when bad memories or regret were present.  I also noticed that when I dissolved into self-pity and depression, I bounced back much quicker than I used to, and I was able to remember that the feelings, however real and however strong, would pass.  That is a win in my opinion, no two ways about it!

All of those things make me feel triumphant, but my biggest victory of 2013, by far, was maintaining my sobriety.  It is the first whole calendar year that I haven’t had a drink in a long, long time – maybe even since I took my first drink at 14.  I celebrated a year sober on November 26, and I couldn’t be more proud.  I was successful at making my recovery a priority, and I thank God for giving me that blessing.  Out of the whole year, there was only one day that I really wanted to drink, and I knew that even though I wanted to I wouldn’t.  If that isn’t a hope fulfilled and a prayer answered, I don’t know what is.

I don’t know what 2014 will bring.  Just like any other year though, I am sure there will be challenges, sorrow, and fear.  However, I like to think that there will also be an abundance of peace, joy, and security.  I’m not going to make resolutions, because I never keep them, but I am going to go out on a limb and say that I’m going to make 2014 a year of growing, a year of nurturing better habits and another year of hope.

Happy New Year!

Grace…even for me.

grace

I recently read somewhere that recovery is one of the greatest examples of grace.  I have found that to be so true.  As a matter of fact, I don’t think that I even knew, much less understood or felt, what grace was before I made my first attempts at recovery.

When I started trying to get sober by going to meetings, I thought that I would find out the trick to sobriety.  Maybe I would have to be initiated, learn a secret handshake, be sworn to secrecy, but then, I would be let in on the closely guarded secret that would save me from the bottle.  And then, just by having that knowledge, I wouldn’t have to drink anymore.  Well, it didn’t quite work that way.  I was told that I needed to act.  I had to go to meetings, find a sponsor, work (work!?!) the steps, be of service….oh and,  just change everything in my life as it was.  I was overwhelmed.  So, in my typical rebellious form, besides going to meetings, I didn’t do any of it.  It’s no wonder that I continued to drink and ended up in treatment.  That’s where I first started to feel little bits of grace.

I went to a Christian rehab, even though I didn’t identify as a Christian (they were the first one to return my call and they accepted my insurance).  I considered myself agnostic, because I never really heard any argument, for or against God, that resonated with me.  I think though, down deep, I knew that I was missing some integral “thing” and that I was trying to fill up that empty space with booze.  I certainly didn’t think that I would find whatever that “thing” was in rehab, but I was desperate.   My first days there were really difficult, because I was so fearful of everything and everyone.  I questioned whether or not I belonged there, maybe I had overreacted.  Maybe I just didn’t try hard enough on my own.  Was I really like these other people that here?  I couldn’t be, I didn’t shoot drugs into my veins, or crush them up and snort them.  I wasn’t unemployed and homeless.  Yes, I had a DUI, but who didn’t?  That was simply bad luck.  As all of these thoughts were churning around in my head, something amazing happened.  These people that I was having trouble identifying with, that I was feeling apart from, embraced me and included me.  They met me where I was, and didn’t run away screaming.  They listened to what I had to say, even when it didn’t make sense.  They encouraged me to open up, and didn’t blink when I told some of my shameful secrets.  They shared their stories with me, openly and honestly.  I didn’t know it then, but what they were doing was showing me grace.

Looking back, I’m able to see that it wasn’t just my fellow addicts that were demonstrating grace, I was receiving God’s grace as well.  How else could I explain that I was there, safe, sober and trying to get better?  How was it that I wasn’t in jail or dead?  How was it that I finally felt a little bit of hope?  These were all things that I couldn’t have done for myself.  I couldn’t have done them if there was some form of expectation for me to repay those favors.  Those things were free gifts given to me by God.  I knew then, and I know now, that I didn’t deserve them.  It was grace.

It has been over two years since then, and I wish I could say that my first trip to treatment did the trick, but it didn’t.  I returned at the end of last year for another 30 days after relapsing.  Once again, when I showed up, I was shown grace.  The staff was all the same, and they met me with love and compassion.  They told me that they don’t shoot their wounded, that I am not a bad person trying to be good, but instead a sick person trying to get well.  They accepted me.  This time I knew it was grace, I knew what it felt like.  When I returned to my home group after rehab, I was met in the same manner.  No one thought ill of me, no one expressed disappointment or anger.  I was encouraged to keep coming back.  And that’s what I’ve done.

While the examples of grace I’ve written about above are nothing short of miraculous, the most profound and meaningful experience I have had with grace has come to me in my marriage (which, incidentally, is another gift of the program, as I met my husband in the rooms).  Never did I imagine that there could be such love and grace as I have found with Austin.  It’s why we work.  He gives me the grace to be myself, with all of my defects and neuroses.  He loves unconditionally, even when I don’t feel lovable.  When he had to drive me to treatment, he never once complained or acted disappointed.  Even in my misery, I never doubted that I had love and acceptance from him.  I also feel like I give him the same, at least he says so.  Each of us, by understanding God’s grace, can learn to give one another what He first gave us. .  That’s grace.