Recovery Evolves

Before I get started, let me dust off this blog that’s been sitting patiently. I would not have been upset with it, had it refused my login attempt. I’ve been a fair weathered friend. I relied so heavily on this blank screen during my first year of sobriety, hammering out paragraph upon paragraph of fear, sadness, self pity, and every other raw emotion that lived on the surface those first several hundred days.

But, in true shitty girlfriend fashion, I found myself pulling away from blogging as I began stringing more and more happy days between the dark ones. I didn’t think I needed it; emotions have slowly, but surely settled into place, slowing the mental rollercoaster just enough to make myself think that I’m “ok.”

For the most part, I am ok. I have 22 sober months under my belt (I’m still not sure what cosmic anomalies had to line up for that to happen) and I’m feeling more in control of my life and myself than ever before.

That’s why I need to return to this space. Pouring my insides out in this space, even when I’m on top of the world, is immensely therapeutic. I miss it. I want to continue to have a record of this journey, no matter where it takes me.

Recovery has evolved for me in a big way this week and it couldn’t have happened at a better time. For too many months, I was complacent in recovery, treating AA like a casual acquaintance. Yes, much like with this blog, I was a shitty girlfriend to AA, too. I started working with a new sponsor 5 months ago. She has a very busy life and I took advantage of the fact that she doesn’t micro manage. I was attending 1 meeting a week and not connecting with fellow drunks.

She called me out on it just before Christmas (in a very kind way) and suggested I attend more meetings and make a point of connecting with people before and after the meetings. Like the good little soldier I am, I agreed and immediately began going to more meetings.

But I still wasn’t connecting. I was trying, but I’ve always been very uncomfortable in social settings. I knew I needed more. And just like that, at a meeting on Saturday, a complete stranger asked me to sponsor her. She was on day 3 in detox, was scared and couldn’t look me in the eye. I gave her my number, but I wasn’t sure I’d hear from her.

Fast forward to Tuesday night, when my sponsor introduced me to someone who is also in need of a sponsor. She and I went for coffee tonight (2 days later) to get to know each other and talk recovery.

As I was driving home, my phone rang. Yes, it was the stranger from the weekend asking if we could get together tomorrow. I may be stretching the interpretation of The Promises, but this is what it means to me today: the longer I stay in recovery and in the rooms of AA, I am given the opportunity to evolve and strengthen my chance at long-term sobriety. And the fact that I have an opportunity to help a fellow alcoholic is all the more rewarding.

I’m spending my evenings and weekends in ways I never would have imagined just 2 years ago. My gratitude is immense.

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That Scent

There’s that scent, the one that’s in my hair after every AA meeting. It’s a musky balance of drug store perfume, coffee, and lightly curried cauliflower. No matter what meeting I go to, or how many people are there, I come home with this unmistakable blend over my entire body. Tonight I attended an AA conference committee meeting; there were 12 people in the boardroom. Surely, I thought, I won’t come home with the scent. I think you know how this story ends.

In my university days, “the tiptoe into alcoholism” as I like to call it, a night spent drinking and dancing at the bars resulted in smoky hair. For 2 days, or 4 shampoos (whichever came first), my hair would reek of tobacco. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t a smoker – spending 4 hours in an airtight, ventless building surrounded by thick, thick smoke was enough to leave you smelling like an ashtray for days.

I’m on a mission to find the source of this AA scent. Is it a regional scent? Do meetings in other provinces smell differently? Perfume smells differently on different people, as it reacts uniquely with each person’s own chemistry. Is this scent that I’m identifying my body’s chemical reaction to AA? If it is, I think my body’s saying “pee-yew” to AA.

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

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.

Day 333: Recovery and Reflections

It’s easy to miss when you’re living the cumulative transformation, but when I really look at it, my life is monumentally different today compared to 1 year ago. Yes, there are physical changes that are noticeable to the outside world, but the most significant changes are on the inside. 

One year ago I was desperate to quit drinking, but I was as equally desperate to do it without anyone knowing what I was going through. I was scared, embarrassed and sick.

Fast forward to 3 o’clock this morning. I was driving myself and a friend home from an out-of-town bar. Wait, it’s not that kind of story; our hubbies are in a band that played lastnight. The 2 of us left early while the band packed up their gear.

During our 30 minute drive, my friend (whom I’ve known for only 8 months) told me a little about her previous 10-year relationship with an alcoholic that broke her heart. She also shared that she recently started thinking that she was drinking too much and quickly changed her habits to curtail the drinking. This friend (like most people in my life) had no previous knowledge of my alcoholism. She didn’t know me as a drinker.

“I don’t know if you know this about me, but I’m an alcoholic,” I told her. I confirmed for her that no one can “fix” an alcoholic like her ex, no matter how much you love them. We then had an amazing, albeit brief, conversation about addiction and how devastating it can be.

After I dropped her off at home, I took note of how calm I felt. I had no anxiety prior to, during or after telling her I’m an alcoholic. This was the first time I’ve used that big scary word with a friend and I am completely at peace. This is not a conversation I would have  considered having one year ago.

Secrets make us sick. Having more and more people know my secret makes it harder to relapse. I’m slowly building an army of people who would instantly know I’m in trouble if I started drinking. In growing my army, I’m reducing the space that I can hide in.

And that’s how I’ll confidently get through day 333.

Day 312: Recovery and Reflections

by Philippe Sainte-Laudy http://500px.com/photo/1248944

It’s day 312 and I’ve just recently started feeling as though a new normal has begun. About 6 weeks ago, I felt a fog lift and a new routine emerged. I can’t pinpoint what caused the shift, but I’m grateful for it. Perhaps it’s a cumulative effect that is my reward for the work I’ve put in over the past 10 months.

CursiveI’m feeling calm, which is completely new to me. Anxiety, worry and panic have been a part of my brain since childhood. The day before Kindergarten started, I panicked: I grabbed a pad of paper and a pencil and went running to my big sister. “I don’t know how to write and Kindergarten starts tomorrow.” I could print, but I didn’t know cursive. I thought I’d be a laughing stock.

Adding to my calmness is that I’m going to cut back to part-time hours at work for a couple of months. The first time I talked about the possibility, it was with my therapist. She noted that my body language instantly relaxed when talking the idea through.

It’s good timing: my parents leave for Florida this week. They go every year for a couple of months and it’s always been my time to ramp up the drinking. I spend a lot of time at their house alone while they’re gone (my dog stays there during workdays so that I can let her out at lunch). My routine for years, while they’re gone, has been to drink whenever I’m inside their home. It’s a strong routine and I’m very mindful of the need to set myself up for success.

Liquor BoxThe day they leave, I will pack up their well-stocked liquor cabinet and store it at my sister’s house. I’m not struggling with sobriety at this time, but I’m wary of the potential triggers that will come when I’m in their empty house with even less accountability than I usually have.

Working fewer hours means that I won’t need to be at their house every day. Plus it will give me some extra time to work on myself – more time at the gym, more meetings, more self-care.

I’m looking ahead at a potentially difficult week: parents are leaving and my sponsor left today for a 2 week second stage treatment program (that’s a whole other concern I have…). My plan is to be open about the concern I have about the next couple of months. I’m asking for help and going forward with my eyes open. That’s new, too: being proactive instead of blindly letting time march on and having to later deal with consequences.

This new normal is feeling good.