On the Eve of a Sober Birthday Celebration

It’s Monday, 9:00pm. At this time tomorrow night, I’ll be speaking at my AA group’s birthday celebration meeting. We are marking my 1 year, along with 5-year birthdays for 3 other members. My home group is a large group on its own, with around 50 people attending each meeting. For birthday meetings, that number easily exceeds 75. The butterflies are starting to flutter as I put the finishing touches on my 1 year coin speech. I plan on bringing extra Kleenex, wearing water-proof mascara, and doing my absolute best to live in the moment without giving in to anxiety as I deliver this message:

My name is Mental Rollercoaster and I’m an alcoholic.

I wanted “We, not I” engraved on my coin because it succinctly summarizes what AA has done for my life. I had isolated myself from my family for so long, that I forgot that it’s possible to be part of a We. I had convinced myself that I needed to hide my drinking and hide my pain from my husband and my family. I convinced myself that I was protecting them. They didn’t need to worry about me, on top of all of their own problems.

The truth is, I wasn’t protecting them. I was protecting my addiction. I knew that if I allowed them to get too close, they would not let me continue on the way that I was. I was protecting the addiction from them.

Now I am a part of the AA We and I am a We again in my marriage and with my family. Thank you for being patient with me and giving me a We to come back to.

I came into AA very lost and scared. I’d been drinking alcoholicly for close to 2 decades and I was quickly stumbling towards the finish line. Like so many of you, I’d tried staying sober on my own with zero success. On day 3 of sobriety, I started working with a therapist who is the reason I walked through the door of my first meeting.

My first meeting was the Women’s Meeting. At that first meeting, like everyone else, I was scared, emberassed and generally lost. A woman immediately welcomed me. She gave me a big book and sat with me until the meeting started, asking me how I was doing. I saw this woman at the Alkathon on Christmas Day and she told me that she wasn’t sure about me at that first meeting. She said I looked like I could be a runner. She couldn’t have been more right – I am a runner and had she not shown such compassion to me at that first meeting, I very likely wouldn’t have seen a second meeting. I thank her for being such a big part in saving my life.

I kept coming back and I heard “you have to get a sponsor.” For this painfully shy, isolating alcoholic, that was a terrifying prospect. I knew right away that I wanted Susie as my sponsor, but it took almost 2 months for me to get the courage to ask. I was so afraid to ask for help and even more afraid of rejection.

The anxiety was overwhelming for those 2 months. The night I knew I absolutely had to man-up and ask her, I was grabbing my keys off the counter and I thought “you know, I could just swing by the liquor store on my way. A couple of shots and I’ll totally have the courage to ask her.” That’s the insanity of this disease!

I am so incredibly grateful to have Susie as my sponsor. I know I haven’t been an easy one because I do have trouble reaching out, but she has read me perfectly from day 1. She’s known when I am ready and able to open up and she’s known when I need to clam up. The moment Susie agreed to sponsor me, I literally felt a shift from within. I felt the anxiety fly away and I felt a strong sense of “this is right.” As Susie would say: “Everything is as it should be.” Your support and wisdom has done more for me than I can ever express. I am so grateful to have your guidance in this journey.

To the people who came into AA before me, I thank you for carrying forward this program that saves lives. I thank you for taking in the newcomers under your wings. To the people who have come into AA after me, I applaud you. You are home; you’re where you need to be. Sobriety doesn’t have to be difficult. Life is difficult; AA makes sobriety manageable within life.

Thank you all for my sobriety.

Image courtesy of Ohmega1982 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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I am a Mental Rollercoaster

The mental rollercoaster that is bipolar II doesn’t stop. For the first time, I understand the diagnosis. I’ve spent my adult life drunk, unable and unwilling to bear witness to any real feelings. After a year of sobriety, I am finally connecting the dots.

I’m sinking into depression after several months of consistently feeling good. I was motivated to eat well, be social and physically active. I truly thought that I was witnessing a evolution of myself. Why not? I’ve gone through a lot of changes this past year. Was it so unreasonable to believe I was finally becoming a happy, motivated person?

Today, I realize that it was simply a manic episode. For me, mania manifests itself in the best possible ways. Simply put: I feel good. So here I am, on the downswing of bipolar and I’m longing for the feelings of the past few months, much like a person longing to relive a memorable vacation.

1 Year: Recovery and Reflections

Fireworks Show

It’s been one year since I’ve had a drink. Who knew that was even possible? Day 1 happened because I was hitting a new low every day. This is a progressive disease and after 20 years of alcohol abuse, I was at a point where my life had to significantly change or it was going to turn very badly, very quickly.

During my drinking career, I dodged a lot of bullets. I took a few flesh wounds, the kind you can recover from (job loss, bankruptcy), but I missed the really big ones. I am lucky to have retired from alcoholism without a criminal record. The possibility of a DUI and injuring someone was always right around the corner. Alcoholism lead me to take some very foolish risks on a daily basis.

I’ve had dozens of Day 1’s over the years and I’m still not sure which stars aligned one year ago to make that Day 1 different. I didn’t feel all that different that day. I knew that I had an appointment with a new therapist scheduled for Day 3, and I knew I shouldn’t drink until (at least) after that appointment.

So I made it to Day 3, met with my new therapist and cried the entire drive home. I had to pull over because I got lost driving through the tears. I was very guarded during the appointment, yet still I shared more during that hour than I’d ever shared before. It was hard and it was painful to pay mind to thoughts and feelings I’d previously worked so hard to drown. But I knew that I had to give therapy an honest chance. I was miserable and I knew that alcohol was going to kill me one way or another.

That got me through Day 4 and a few more. Through therapy, I summoned the courage to walk into AA. Again, I’m not sure which stars aligned to have that happen, but it’s become one of the unlikely pieces of my sober foundation. I am still amazed today that I ever walked into a meeting.

My sober foundation is strong today. I’m cautious, however, knowing my own history of self-sabotage: “I can handle a few drinks. Now that I know how bad it can get, I’ll just moderate myself.” That thought has been the starter’s pistol for many relapses over the years.

Today, one year in, I am a new version of myself. I have an idea of the me that I want to be, and there’s still some work to be done. But that doesn’t get me down because I know that I am capable of changing my reality. I’ve done it every day for the past year.

It’s been a rollercoaster of a year, which is laid out in black and white on this blog (usually more black than white). I’m grateful to have record of those days that were rough, to serve as a reality check when life feels great and I think “aw, what could it hurt?”.

Reaching the one year milestone is tremendous, but it’s not the end. I’m not magically fixed today and tomorrow will be no different than today when it comes to the day-to-day struggle that is alcoholism. No, it’s not the end, but it’s a thrilling and proud summit to reach.

Day 360: Recovery and Reflections

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In less than a week, I’ll hit the 1 year sobriety milestone. I don’t know why, but there’s a steady stream of tears this morning. So as I’ve done for the past year, I’ve come here to throw my feelings onto the virtual paper to see if I can piece together any rational thoughts.

Is it loneliness? 

I attended a 1-year birthday meeting lastnight and it was heartwarming to see this woman celebrate with her entire family. Her parents flew from the other side of the country to be beside her. Her teenage son smiled and hugged her frequently, while her toddler son happily chatted away at the makeshift colouring table. Fellow AA members, one after another, stood and spoke highly of this woman, who has clearly touched a lot of people in the program. It was beautiful.

My 1-year will be celebrated by my home group at the end of the month. I won’t have the same experience as she did last night. My parents are out of the country and will not be attending. I have no friends coming. My husband will be there, as will my sister, her husband and my beloved nephew. I should be grateful. I am grateful. But I’m also lonely. I haven’t touched any hearts in program. I don’t know who would have anything heartfelt to say.

The person I’ve asked to speak at this meeting didn’t know who I was when I approached him. He graciously agreed to speak, but I could tell he had reservations. Why is this person I’ve never met asking me to speak at her birthday?? When I told him the names of the other 3 who are also celebrating at the same meeting, he visibly warmed up to the idea of speaking.

I’ve touched no one. Even my sponsor will be hard-pressed to say something non-cliche about me.

I’m still trying to do this on my own, to a certain extent. Other people in program reach out and ask questions and share their struggles with one another. I’m just not comfortable doing that yet.

Is it disappointment?

I’ve always been a shy, introverted person. Except when I drank. A lot has changed this past year, except that. I am still shy and introverted. I’ve made progress, but I’m disappointed that I haven’t become more comfortable around people.

Is it resentment?

The isolated, alcoholic version of myself hid to protect the addiction. Letting someone in would risk exposing the depth of my addiction, ultimately risking its survivability.

One year later, I am starting to feel this powerful urge to go public. I’ve made small advances: being open with my immediate family, telling my boss and a couple of friends. But I’m now feeling the need to be open, widespread. I want to post it on Facebook. I’ve written my “coming out” post and have it saved on my desktop. I am struggling with whether or not to post it on my sober-versary.

Pro’s:

– I will finally be fully transparent

– I will undoubtedly receive more support than I could possibly imagine. In my current depressed state, some unexpected (albeit elicited) support would be uplifting.

– I could potentially open the awareness, and perhaps even a conversation, with my extended family. Addiction runs deep in my family and no one talks about it. The same goes for mental illness. Secrets like these kill, and on the way to death, they create a miserable, lonely, misunderstood existence.

– It will build my confidence about who I am. I don’t know who I am yet. I’m 37 years old and I’m just starting to try to figure it out. I don’t want to define myself by my alcoholism, but I know that it plays a central role in all aspects of my life and my identity.

– I will feel lighter. I’m done editing my conversations, tailoring them based on who I’m talking to and whether or not I’ve let them in on my little secret.

Con’s:

– It’s a selfish, look-at-me, I-need-attention thing to do.

– It could change my relationship with my in-laws who aren’t as open-minded and understanding as my family.

– It could damage my future self professionally. When I set up this blog and the associated social media profiles, I ensured that my real name is not attached to any of it. I own multiple URL’s that point to this blog and all of them are protected with anonymity. Job searches in the future could be compromised if I post a tell-all on Facebook. Privacy settings can’t protect me: once something is online, it’s online forever.

– It’s a selfish, look-at-me, I-need-attention thing to do. Yes, I’ve repeated myself because it’s the biggest concern for me. I loathe Facebook selfies, attention-seeking status posts and humble-brags (example: “Ugh, my life is sooo terrible – the heated seats in my new Lexus aren’t working”). My addiction confession is no different than any of these types of posts, which beg for positive comments and attention. Can the pro’s possibly outweigh this massive con?

Even though I know it’s a risky thing to do (which is why I’m weighing the pro’s and con’s), I’m resentful that there are con’s. I want all of the benefits on the pro list.

Holy shit, is that ever an alcoholic thought process! “I want what I want, consequences be damned!”

I’m spinning, I recognize that. On the upside, the revolutions are slower than they used to be. I’m making progress. No, I’ve made progress. I can’t lose sight of that.

I don’t want to drink. Truly, it’s not even in my bag of tricks anymore. When I’m spinning, or depressed, or whatever, I don’t even think about alcohol as an option. Don’t get me wrong, my bag of tricks has zero healthy options, but booze just isn’t one of them anymore. (Perhaps I should say “right now” instead of “anymore” because I don’t want to ever feel as though I’ve conquered booze. That’s gotten me into trouble in the past).

It’s time to reach into my evolved bag of tricks and turn this mood around. I need to determine if this is just one of my mini depressive dips that works itself out after a few days, or if there’s genuine feelings at play that need to be worked through.

Either way I can’t deny that no matter what I’m feeling on Day 360, it is a hell of a lot better than the alternative.

Life’s Little Hiccups

Every day I wonder how I got anything accomplished before I got sober. Little life surprises used to feel so much more dramatic in my soused mind. Today, for example, I started the day by filing a police report: both of our vehicles were vandalized. Later, when I got home from work I noticed that the house felt a little chilly. As I walked down the basement stairs, the scent of burnt metal grew stronger and stronger: the furnace is dead, so I’ve made arrangements to drain my bank account in exchange for a new one.

Sure, all of these are bummers, but a year ago I would have over-dramatized the day. Granted, I’m dwelling on things enough to write about them here, but my focus isn’t so much on the “woe is me” factor, as it is on my ability to handle each of these hiccups. Today reminds me of what I am most grateful about in sobriety: greater control over my everyday life. Greater control has lead to a greater confidence.

I am confident I understand what the problem with the furnace is. I am confident that I made the right decision to replace, rather than to repair. A year ago, I wouldn’t have been confident that I understood. Between my wandering ADHD mind and the looping “act sober… does he know I’ve been drinking?… act sober” record that would have warbled in my head, I wouldn’t have heard more than 3 words at a time from the mechanic.

It’s been a tremendous journey from my first sober day and I often marvel at how much has changed. It reminds me to go easy on myself when I’m frustrated about the things that haven’t changed. And with that, I’ll put the mittens back on and cuddle up near the space heater that the furnace company is lending me.

Shining Ending

Vacation Dreams (aka Nutty Vacation Sleeps)

When I left for a week’s vacation last Monday, I didn’t think I was overly-anxious about facing alcohol temptations. However, the first night’s sleep in my Floridian bed brought a vivid dream of me relapsing hard while away. Within the dream, my drunken self thought about the implications it had on my sobriety date and whether or not I could face AA again. It took a few beats once I woke up to put myself back into reality.

What brings on these vivid dreams? It seems as though we all experience them; FitFatFood recently blogged about a similar lucid dream. Was I more concerned about potential temptations than I realized?

Whatever the cause, that was the only alcohol-related dream that invaded my vacation. It was a great week of sun, swimming and shopping (way too much shopping).

When we arrived at my parents’ condo, I noticed that there wasn’t the usual display of liquor bottles that usually adorn the counter in Florida. Later, when my father was BBQ’ing burgers and I saw my mother come downstairs with a small red Solo cup for him, I realized they’d hid the booze in their bedroom.

Before they left for their usual 2 months in Florida, I told them that I’d asked my sister to store the contents of their liquor cabinet at her house while they are gone. Historically, while they’re down south, I would use their house as my drinking sanctuary. Although I’m confident in my sobriety, I was concerned about old, strong habits coming back.

I think this is why they made the booze in Florida less accessible, because this is the first time they’ve made any effort to minimize the presence of booze around me. They don’t drink to excess (most of the time, anyways), but it’s always there. I think this is progress. I don’t ever want someone to feel put-out because of my addiction, but their increased mindfulness is appreciated.

All-in-all it was a terrific week for rest and relaxation. However, by the end of the week, I was feeling a little “off.” Not in a way that made me concerned, just aware that my internal compass was put off slightly by a different routine. Back to work today (wish I could avoid that routine for another week!) and back to being grateful and amazed by the past year. Day 356 feels good.