Gratitude – July 20

 

help each other

Last night our friends who recently relapsed came over for dinner.  They have a few days of new sobriety under their belts and we thought that it might be nice for them to get out of the house and away from the guilt and shame they were feeling.  We spent several hours talking about alcoholism, recovery, our personal stories, relapse, AA…the list goes on.  It was a wonderful evening, I am so glad that they accepted our offer to come visit with us.  They shared with us what feelings and events lead them back to drinking, and the consequences that resulted.  We shared with them our own tales of relapse and of cleaning up the wreckage.  We talked and laughed, as only we alcoholics do, about things that I know would completely horrify the ‘normies’ out there.  Even after being in recovery for a few years, it still blows me away how quickly people trying to accomplish the same thing – sobriety – can become completely comfortable talking about very intimate things.  We alcoholics bond quickly, I think, because we all share the experience of having lived in the hell that is active alcoholism.  It is not a nice place, even just to visit, and I think that talking about it with others like ourselves helps keep us from going back there.

After our friends left last night, I was thinking a lot about how lucky I was to have spent the evening with them.  I am filled with gratitude that they both opened up to us, shared their feelings and their fears.  I am thankful that I was able to offer my own stories and that helped  put them at ease.  I am also grateful that all of us were able to be completely comfortable being vulnerable with one another.  These days I think that is a beautiful, but rare, thing.

I got a voicemail today from the wife thanking us and saying that it really helped them.  That’s so awesome.  What I don’t know is if they left here knowing how much they helped us.  I’ve written before about keeping it green and remembering my last drunk, but I don’t think that anything helps more than talking to other alcoholics.  That’s why I blog, that’s why I go to meetings, that’s why I have a sponsor and that’s why I sponsor others.  Together with other alcoholics, we can accomplish the very thing that we could never do alone.  For that, I am grateful.

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thankful-what

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.

Keeping It Fresh

fresh

My husband secretly recorded my last drunk.  He told me that he had done so while I was in rehab, but it took me almost three months to be brave enough to watch it.  It was painful to watch what I become when I put alcohol in my body.  It was hard for me to believe that the person I was seeing and hearing was me.  I have little recollection of that afternoon and evening.  What I saw and heard in that video was so pathetic.  It was, as the Big Book says, pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.   I was a mess of emotions, crying and begging Austin to take care of me, and asking him over and over if he still loved me.  At one point (actually several times according to Austin), I was laying on my stomach in a bathtub full of water and he had to pull me out to keep me from drowning.

I wasn’t always that kind of sad, overly emotional, needy drunk.  There were many times that I was combative, mean, and just plain abusive.  We can joke now about me having been a brawler, because sober I couldn’t be farther from it.  But when it was going on, it was pretty damn ugly.  Booze made me someone that I am not.  It turned me into a liar, a cheat, a slut, and a thief.  My drunkalog is full of just awful, disgusting, scary situations that I put myself in.

Why am I writing all of this?  Because it’s important for me to keep it fresh.  I have to remember what it was like, so that I don’t ever have to go back to that way of living.  Or dying, as the case may be.  It’s really easy for my alcoholic mind to forget all of the negative things that happened when I drank, and to just remember that feeling of relief the first drink brought.  Euphoric recall has caused many an alcoholic to go back out, myself included.  Just last week, one of my husband’s sponsees relapsed.  He thought he could handle it.  It’s heartbreaking to see those AA members that bounce in and out like a ping pong ball, like I did for a while.  It’s scary too, because we never know if there is another recovery in us.  It’s a crap shoot.

For that reason, I try to keep it fresh.  Going to meetings help me with that.  When newcomers introduce themselves, I am reminded of how I felt when I was in their seat.  When I can see the shame and regret in the eyes of someone returning to the program after a slip or relapse, it helps me remember what it’s like to start over.   I recently heard something at a speaker meeting that really struck a chord with me.  The speaker said that it’s important for him to look in the mirror every day to see who he is.  Then he said that his mirror is the rooms of AA.  That is true for me too.  In the reflection that I see when I go to meetings I see those that are struggling to stay sober, those that are fighting for their lives, those that are not drinking even when things are bad, and those that are happy, joyous, and free in sobriety.  I see myself in all of them.

My worst day sober is better than my best day drunk.  I have gotten a second chance at happiness and I don’t want to let it go.  Ever.  That’s why I keep it fresh.