One! Year!

I started this blog one year ago today—the date that also marks my first day of sobriety. The blog was to serve as an emotional outlet, for I expected to encounter many struggles staying sober and figured the blog would help me sort out my feelings.

That same week, I joined an A.A. group for strength, education and accountability. I still attend faithfully, and I’ll celebrate and accept my one-year coin tomorrow with my ladies.

Who would I be in sobriety? That was the big question. Perhaps there were real skeletons residing deeply beneath the trendy wardrobe in my closet. I had no way to know what (or worse, whom) would await me, myself and I.

I fully expected to discover a yet unidentified gem within. I wondered if my new path would help me discover an untapped talent that had been suppressed deep in the cerebral bottle until uncorked in sobriety. Did I possess the Tolkienesque skills that would unleash sensational tales? I thought that fighting with MyGuy about petty differences would cease. Would we ignite that eternal flame in the absence of altercation? I just knew that those extra pounds would melt like a Popsicle on a hot summer day. I fantasized about a new job that would take me to the height of my career and that MBA that would soon be mine. Muuuuuaaah-ha-ha.

In summary of my first year in sobriety, I discovered that writing is HARD. And it is not my untapped talent. And it takes a long time for me to produce a short blog post—time that I would rather spend riding my bike, playing my flute, sewing or kicking back with MyGuy. Further I have no wild tales to tell, so my inner Tolkien will have to remain in the corked bottle with Genie.

I still fight with my boyfriend, however now our arguments are about real issues, and mature discussions often result in relationship growth. Gone are the pointless “who’s on first” conflicts born out of drunken confusion, where two people argue together about separate issues they have apart but are joined by offensive opinions in the judgments of the other’s truth when whatnot becomes here fore and…well, you get the point.

The weight did not fall off, but I did lose 14 pounds, and I earned every one of them a couple of times over. It turns out that alcohol is not the sole destructor of will power.

Finally, I’m still in the same job, in the same position. Except almost immediately, people started treating me differently. Management began incorporating me into their planning phases, and I received a substantial raise. More notably, something changed within me. I no longer schlep through the halls with the objective to go unnoticed. I began to hold my head up and knew that I was on equal footing with the rest of them. I had always brought talent to the table, but now I bring productivity.

Sans alcohol, what I found to be most challenging to deal with was the good times, not the hard times. Celebrations have always been marked with a drink and a clink. A malted frosty signals the completion of well-earned blood, sweat and tears while martinis welcome new beginnings. But how do you mark a special occasion without a drink? What do you do during the defining moment when you shout, “hurrah!”? And why exactly would I sit in the chilly outdoor air next to a fire pit without a glass of Cabernet? Needless to say I navigated around these festivities with interesting concoctions that I invented myself. I had managed to make non-alcoholic drinking a palatable hobby for the first several months.

What was the greatest gift of all? That which I sought when I began the metamorphosis. A friend in myself. The gem from within is self love. I no longer awake to the hateful verbal abuse I unleashed upon myself every morning, berating myself for a lack of self-discipline, not to mention the name-calling. One might say I weakened my connection with God because I no longer pray every morning—to quickly cure my hangover and remove this addiction from me. Now I pray to give thanks for recovery.

One year of sobriety down! I feel like marking this celebration with a well-deserved shot. But I won’t. I think I’ll go for…

Two! Years!

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Would Break for Beer

HopeI typically ate lunch at my desk, but even if I disappeared for a three-hour break, nobody noticed. And so that’s how I spent many afternoons (at work). For several years, my employers kept me as a deluxe accessory. They had no knowledge of my field and didn’t know how to incorporate me into their strategy. In addition to that, they were unwilling to share the corporate vision with me so that I could make a positive contribution to the company. I had no assignments and I was left to devise my own projects. I often found myself surfing the Internet or taking hobby classes on YouTube. I planned a couple of full-scale vacations while I was at it. Meanwhile I searched and interviewed for alternate employment.

I always thought I was a people pleaser but have recently discovered that it was less about making others happy and more about getting personal validation from outside sources. At a loss for professional validation, I became 8-5 depressed. I welcomed a necessary errand to escape the tedium. This often led a direct path to the convenience store to pick up a 24oz. beer. It was always my intention to guzzle it during my errand run for a little excitement before returning to the office. Of course one was never enough and time after time, I’d find myself four to six beers down, two hours on the clock, and miles of road trailed behind me. They journey always culminated with tears and a survey of how this happened yet again.

On one such day, I spotted this sign. I don’t know the artist who hung this especially for me, but I did take note. I snapped this through the storm of my tears and held it on my phone for nearly two years. I didn’t know when or how I would break this addiction to alcohol, but deep in my heart, I knew something had to give. Occasionally I would scroll through my photos and look at this symbol of hope. Sometimes I’d think there was none.

Today I chaired my A.A. meeting in celebration of six months of sobriety. The six months have passed without severe temptation. I’ll admit that every now and then I have been in a situation where I thought it would be fun to plow through a six pack of beer and laugh my arse off with a couple of friends. But I know it won’t be just one six pack. And it won’t be just one day. And that’s the best message I can get from attending A.A. meetings—the constant reminder that I am an alcoholic. In the most simple of definitions, it means I cannot control my drinking. As long as I am mindful of that, I can continue to crush those temptations.

Six months down. Six more to go. One six-month pack at a time.

Not My Brand of Alcoholic

Pupster and I walk the access road that runs alongside the industrial park where I work. Ahead of us, the long stretch of shoulder sparkles like a disco ball. Upon approach I see that the silver mirrored gems are an assortment of beer cans littered from passing cars and left to fade in the sun, the ink fading to expose the shiny aluminum beneath. I’ve lobbed my share of beer cans from the car window and wonder if they’re mine, but I can see that it’s not my brand. Coors Lights, Steel Reserves and PBRs make up this collection of glitter litter.

When I first started drinking, my brand was Michelob Gold. Since weekends were made for Michelob and I wanted to drink on Wednesdays, I started hanging with royalty, and the King of Beers was my Bud. I went away college and took up with a local named Rolling Rock. (What do you think of the number 33?) As I matured, I developed a taste for the exotic and got my groove on with Corona. I soon found that it was miles away from ordinary but right next door to skunky. That’s when I moved on to champagne—the champagne of beers, Miller Highlife—exclusively in a bottle. At one time, Samuel Adams held my heart, and I’ll always remember fondly my time in the Icehouse. In the end, I followed my folly, and that was Fat Tire.

What this twinkling stretch of refuse tells me is that I was not alone. There are many others out there who are hiding their alcoholic behaviors from their employers, spouses, parents or children, the law or any person who frowns on drinking toxic substances. Since I have made the transition to a sober life, I no longer play the game of hide and sneak, but I know there are people out there who are still trapped in their addictions. One reason people persist with their behaviors is that they don’t recognize the alcoholic within. They can’t identify with the common image of the classic alcoholic. So what is an alcoholic?

An alcoholic might live under a bridge, but he is in the minority of the vast number of alcoholics in the world. Some alcoholics are unemployed or live in cars, but they also are on the peripheral. A marginal amount of alcoholics find themselves awaking in hospitals or rehab centers after a near-death episode. Even fewer resort to drinking aftershave or rubbing alcohol when the still runs dry. Many people assume that the alcoholic behaves the way he does due to a huge moral deficiency.

On the flip side, a great majority of alcoholics are living ordinary lives, working regular jobs, maintaining relationships and remaining actively involved in their communities. Additionally, many of us have never suffered serious consequences as a result of our drinking.  From the outside, all things appear to be rather commonplace. It’s the struggle on the inside that becomes increasingly more difficult to manage. But a homeless alcoholic drinking aftershave? Not our brand.

As I look around the table at my A.A. meeting, I see women who so closely resemble many other ladies in my life—a carbon copy of my former mother-in-law, my best friend’s twin, and my boss’ doppelganger. These are respectable people who suffer from alcoholism—not exhibiting moral depravity and not living under a bridge. Our common thread is that we all had a problem managing our alcohol intake. Another piece we share is that it took us a long time to figure out that we were alcoholics, a longer period to admit it, and even longer to do something about it.

Once we thought we were islands, not in the typical sense of self-sufficiency, but rather self-suffering. Because we held secret our games of hide and sneak, we did not know that others were doing the same. We were filled with shame about our perceived lack of willpower. In retrospect, I’m glad that I felt alone and wasn’t floating in codependency with the Coors Lights, Steel Reserves and PBRs strewn in the gutters on the road to ruin. And I’m tickled pink to be one with many following in the footsteps of other alcoholics who have paved the way to sobriety.

And still there are many who continue to waste away in this disease, scattering theoretical litter upon loved ones and cluttering up their own lives. It is my opinion that many more people are alcoholics than ever will be realized. They could be somebody close to us—a mother-in-law, a best friend, a boss. And we have no idea that they struggle because we alcoholics are brilliant at hiding our shameful deeds. Maybe they just haven’t recognized their brand of alcoholic. Maybe they have and don’t care. Maybe they haven’t suffered enough consequences yet. Maybe they don’t have hope. Maybe they just don’t know how.

We have a tradition at the close of each A.A. meeting. “Let us take a moment of silence to remember those who still suffer from this disease.”

Thank You for Letting Me Mother You

My Dear Kyoko,

Thank you for permitting me to take you to the dog park to frolic amongst the other pups. Thank you for consenting to long walks through the neighborhood to get your snoot full of aromatic scents. Thank you for not gouging my eye out and only leaving minor abrasions on my face and arms when I bath you. Thank you for letting me feed you the healthiest all-natural brand of dog food, absent of allergens that make your skin itch. Thank you for tolerating visits to the vet to get poked with needles so that you don’t contract a terrible life-threatening disease. Thank you for eating your heartworm pills without the same episode of trauma you display when I brush your teeth. Thank you for snuggling on the couch with me when we watch movies at night, and cuddling at my feet when I sleep at night. You are the cutest little Shiba Inu in the world, and I thank you for letting me be your mother.

Love,
Mom

I Drink for No One

“Will you please test out my piccolo and tell me if it has a quality sound?” I asked. She tightened her lips into a well-developed embouchure and made my silver jewel sing like a soprano. The star piccolo player in my community band made my hundred dollar Chinese tchotchke sound as beautiful as the one that cost her a couple grand. That means I could potentially do that with some dedicated practice.

After our last Christmas concert, Pic and I went out for dinner and drinks. The chic neighborhood grill had a great assortment of martini options. I ordered the Black and Blue. “Oh, interesting! What’s that?” Pic exclaimed. That’s a traditional gin martini with blue cheese stuffed olives. “I’ll have one of those, too.” Next we sampled the Earl Grey Martini, the Chai-tini and so on down the menu, each exotic flavor going down more quickly than the last. That’s when I told her why I bought the piccolo in the first place.

I took a burlesque class last year—not that I had the desire to perform a strip tease in front of a raucously cheering audience. I took the class because…well…because it was there. I’m always open for a new experience, and I thought it might be interesting. Moreover, I’m a belly dancer, and I presumed I would learn some stage tactics to improve my performance. I see burlesque in the context of Vaudevillian theatre—not simply a performance where the artist cleverly removes her clothes, but more of an act in a variety show with other campy performers displaying various routines. I wondered how I could fit into this genre, and then my character came to me. Piccolo Honey! I had to get a piccolo.

At the time, I was relearning how to play the flute and had some fun tunes like Henry Mancini’s “Pink Panther” and Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag”. My character was southern and—in keeping with the burlesque genre—slightly slutty. She enters wearing a beehive bonnet and honey colored satin corset dripping with black tulle. Piccolo Honey begins to play a rag-time tune. While the background music continues to jive, she takes a break from playing and erotically strokes her pic, then disappears behind a screen. Emerging from the other side of the screen, she reveals that the pic has developed an erection and turned into a flute!

Pic is every bit the accomplished soloist I aspire to be some day. She’s also a lovely little lady, and I’d like to get to know her better. I will finally have the chance to play a duet with her for an upcoming concert. During a recent rehearsal, the band director suggested we practice together, which I desperately need. Pic’s eyes opened wide and she turned to me with excitement. “Yes, let’s. And then we’ll go out for martinis. I had so much fun the last time we did that.” I must have looked like a deer caught in headlights as I choked on the imaginary apple stuck in my throat. With little expression on my face, I agreed.

I actually considered drinking for the sake of another person’s enjoyment. That’s just the kind of friend I am after all. She had fun the last time we went out and God forbid I let her down. Besides, I had already agreed. I can’t agree to go have martinis and then not drink. That’s like agreeing to play a game of tennis and showing up without your racket. Not to mention, Sober-me might bore her to tears? Worst-case scenario, I tell her I quit drinking because I’m an alcoholic, and she’ll think I’m a freak.

This is an all too familiar scene for me. My resolve was never steeled when it came to abstinence. If I ever planned be productive after work, I would often cave when a friend invited me to happy hour, later regretting the money spent and the time lost. Yet, time after time, I’d agree to go in order not to disappoint my drinking buddies.

Ultimately, I’m aware that it’s not about them. It’s all about me. (And thank goodness for that!) Or rather it’s about the ego and wanting to be liked, the desire to be perceived by others in a positive fashion.

A few years back, I met a friend for dinner. She had a beer in front of her, and when I sat down, she instructed me to do the same. I was such a boozer that I knew it was expected of me. Autopilot told me I must live up to my reputation. Don’t disappoint your drinking buddies. I dutifully order up a brewski even though I didn’t want one.

I find that when I adopt an identity (be it a partier, a teacher or whatever roll I appoint myself), I repeat those behaviors to secure that identity long after I have tired of the roll and the activity no longer serves me. Perhaps I continue these behaviors because I’m a person who is afraid of change. I assume the position and become comfortable knowing who I am supposed to be within that roll. Perhaps I am emotionally lazy because it takes work to figure out how to “be” in a new roll.

Here I am at 47 years of age, worrying about whether or not somebody will like me and lacking the confidence to know I am O.K. just as I am. I was willing to risk my sobriety and potentially my life so that another person would like me.

I told MyGuy about my fears and about considering sharing martinis with Pic just this once. He thought my equation to the tennis game was irrelevant and, frankly, stupid. “If you like a person and want to be with them, who cares if they drink or not. And if they don’t like you just because you don’t drink, then who wants that kind of friend?” Sounds simple enough.

I still have not had that piccolo duet practice or that martini outing. And I still don’t know how I will handle discussing the not-drinking issue and how much I will disclose about my personal struggles. One thing I do know is that I will not drink that martini just this once. Not ever for the benefit of another. And most certainly not for my ego.

It’s Just a Phase

I got drunk one time and made a shooting range out of the pumpkins my guests had just carved during a Halloween party. You see, we shot the pumpkins because the bombs didn’t go off. Alright, let me explain. My Hasbeen and I hosted a Halloween party and we arranged a pumpkin-carving contest for our guests. Hasbeen thought it would be funny to build tiny little bombs for each pumpkin. Several of them exploded successfully, sending pumpkin shards reeling over the house. Friends ran for cover as slimy pulp rained down across the acres. Then…a couple of fuses fizzled. Rather than getting up close and personal with our miniature explosives (which actually packed a punch) to figure out why they failed, we just shot ‘em. The police paid a visit that evening but not because of the audible gunfire. It’s completely legal to shoot a gun out in the country where we lived. It’s not legal to spotlight deer however. “No, Officer. We weren’t spotlighting deer, just a few jack o’ lanterns.”  Apparently there’s nothing on the books about that, so they left us to our pandemonium. The next day we awoke to orange shrapnel spattered in profusion across the roof of the house and a horde of birds that would have made Alfred Hitchcock proud. In the spring, we were graced with a lovely vine, which took us a while to figure out what it was. Zucchini? Summer squash? No. Wait. It’s pumpkins!

I got drunk one day and…  What? That’s how most of my stories begin. So, as I was saying… I was baking cookies with Sambuca one time and I knew I’d have A LOT left over, so I looked up Sambuca drink recipes. I found one for a Flaming Sambuca, which was really easy; it only had two ingredients—Sambuca and fire. I set fire to my shot, but it didn’t light. Again I set the flame to it, but nothing. Oh well. As I lifted the drink to shoot it, I immediately felt the heat and in an instant my eyebrows were singed. I screamed in panic and blew the fire out propelling flaming liquor onto my cookbook. Sure enough, there were the flames on my burning cookbook. I put it all out with little effort or damage, except I had short eyebrows for a while. I hate Sambuca.

I was out at a bar with friends one night and, of course, got drunk. I made the drive home without injury to myself or anybody else and put myself to bed. Buzzz. Crap. The alarm came way to soon for this workday. As I agonizingly made myself presentable for the office, I tried to piece together events of the prior evening. The one thing I never did figure out was how that pile of gravel got onto the hood and bumper of my car.

“I’m just going through a phase,” I would tell myself. I had known people older than I who were notable partiers “in the day.” However alcohol didn’t seem to be a big part of their lives anymore. Either they had to assume more responsibility with the birth of a child, or they simply got bored with the effects of the drink. I always suspected the time would come when alcohol was no longer important to me, and my consumption would naturally decline. So I just waited.

I got drunk one day and…  What? YES, again. After one drinking binge, I shopped at Costco. The sliding doors opened and I bolted through with the same force that a racehorse charges through a starting gate. STUFF! I know you’re not supposed to shop when you’re hungry, but the financial and caloric damage is much more devastating when you’re sloshed. Two-fers! Bulk buys! Door-buster deals! They sucked me in with their colossal crocks of this and their vast vessels of that. What a time I had filling my shopping cart. The downfall was explaining to MyGuy why we were gorging on 10 varieties of dip for dinner that evening, then eating two Caesar salads a day for the next two weeks, faking enthusiasm so MyGuy wouldn’t blow a gasket over my super-sized bargain purchase of romaine.

One day I got really drunk after a long bike ride. As a reward for a full day’s workout, I stopped off at my buddy’s house for a couple of beers or six. Still steady on my feet, I headed home on two skinny wheels. In typical one-for-the-road fashion, I poured a fresh one into my water bottle for the ride home because, well, I hadn’t had enough beer yet. I had just upgraded my bike with some clip-in pedals, and when I arrived at the first stop sign, I forgot to put my feet down. Crash, boom, ouch! Luckily my knee broke my fall.

I got drunk one day and got fired. I wasn’t actually drinking on the job, but I did show up at my place of employment extremely well-oiled. I was a waitress at a crummy American-style bistro chain. I had been carousing all day with coworkers and hit the restaurant for our last bar stop. I’m told there was a crowd of people waiting to be seated, and I arrogantly pushed my way through, ordering them to part the sea because I worked there—as if that elevated my social status. The next day, the manager called to fire me. “Oh, yeah, and can you also pay for the damage you did to my car that evening?” What car?! What happened?! Torrent of tears. Somebody had jumped on his new red Camaro, leaving black rubber shoe tread scraped across the entire hood. With huge dents! I liked the guy and had no grudge to carry. I couldn’t imagine doing anything to hurt this fellow, but who knew what I was thinking in my drunken stupor. In the end, I was saved. The shoes I was wearing that day had white rubber soles. WHITE. And the shoe marks all over his car were black. Case closed.

Surely to God, this is just a phase. I worked with LongHairHippieDude, who was heavily involved in A.A. It wasn’t just a group that he attended, it was a lifestyle, and his fellow members were the core of his social group. He had shared a lot about the program and his past addictions. He was very well aware of my antics because he had to cover for me (and kindly nurse me) when I was hungover. I asked him if he thought I was an alcoholic or if I was just going through a phase. “I think you’re just going through a phase,” he confirmed. “Right answer,” I breathed with relief.

I used to get drunk and tackle guys. You’ve heard about the little boy who has a crush on a girl and pulls her hair? Well I was the girl version of that punk kid. I didn’t know how to deal with my emotions and sexual attractions. Compound that with my intense insecurity, and I was a dating disaster. I’d be out drinking with friends, and suddenly I’d get the urge to tackle one of my male pals. I’d get them well pinned underneath me and shout, “Help! Help! Get him out from under me! Get him out from under me!” I actually head-butted MyCrush in the nose one time. He never spoke to me again.

I drank so much beer one day that my bladder was about to burst. We were on a long road trip, and rather than wait it out until the next rest stop, I opted for the nearest bush. Stumbling off the shoulder to pee in the thick of the shrubs, I lost my shoe somewhere along the way. I never recovered it on that dark night. That’s not the worst of it. I also sustained a case of poison ivy on my ass.

Speaking of poisonous foliage. I got really drunk one day and the sunny blue sky called me to the Blue Ridge Parkway for an afternoon of sunbathing. Naked. It was a gorgeous day, and I found the perfect spot just beyond a tiny hill. I could still view the mountain range while the hill kept me shielded from ongoing traffic. Little did I know, I had parked myself smack in the middle of a well-cultivated crop of poison oak, to which I am highly allergic.

I continued to hang on to the non-professional assessment LongHairHippieDude provided many years prior. “It’s just a phase.”

I got drunk at my own dinner party once and for some unknown reason, I hurled myself into the lap of a male guest with such force that the chair collapsed beneath us propelling me, him and the chair into the grill, which then spilled the still-red-hot coals into the vinyl siding. I never did repair that melted wall.

I continued to wait for the time when alcohol would no longer be important to me, and my consumption would naturally decline. I wondered when that phase would come.

I got drunk one day for a year. It was 2006 and I used a mini bottle of tequila for medicinal purposes. I experienced a couple of personal tragedies that caused me a great deal of sorrow like I had never felt before. On top of my losses, both my home and work lives were going to change forever. I was saddened and terrified. I could find no relief for the pain and no rest from the crying. Mid-day I came home from work and took a shot of tequila. Liquid comfort poured into my soul and my grief was instantly lessened. I became committed to a new, more potent vice. My new vice was no longer a party drug of choice, it was a daily staple that I required to get through each day. I was no longer concerned with exotic micro-brews or finely crafted wines. I wanted hard liquor, unadulterated, straight-up in a shot glass. The shot glass grew into a tumbler, and eventually I was drinking straight from the bottle. The pain and sorrow, from which I had earlier been liberated, returned. I could never duplicate the glowing comfort I received from that first shot of tequila—try as I did. The alcohol wasn’t really helping me, but I couldn’t stop. With every sip, there was the hope that I could eliminate the pain.

I thought if I could just get through this pain, this phase, my drinking would return to a manageable state. What I didn’t realize was that in order to heal, we must experience to the pain—not mask it. And thus my journey took much longer than it could have. After a long, long haul, I finally recovered from those tragedies, but I didn’t stop drinking.

I hated the business I owned. I was bored, stressed and desperately wanted a change. My downtown office was conveniently located smack in the middle of several bars and restaurants. I indulged in many liquid lunches, and I’d take my work with me to happy hour. So that the local bar tenders didn’t know I was a drunk, I’d make the walk of shame down the street taking only one or two drinks per stop. I would think, “If I could just change my career situation, everything would be better. A new career; a new phase. If I could just get a job, I wouldn’t need to drink so much.” I Finally landed a great job. I was contributing to the success of a greater organization and using all the skills I had developed while in business for myself. It was a perfect employee/employer match. My stress was radically cut, but I didn’t stop drinking.

My relationship with my boss was wonderful. He was full of ideas and provided many interesting projects for me. Collaboration was fun, and he was easy to please. Then one day he vanished—not realistically but figuratively. He became inaccessible, and I wondered what was wrong with me that he didn’t want to work with me anymore. I’d leave for lunch, buy a six-pack and drive around for an hour. Eventually new management took over. They had no mind for my job function, so I worked in isolation for a few years. I could work fast and furiously for one week or I could watch YouTube for one week and no one would know the difference. I was depressed and I drank. I thought, “I need to get out of this phase of my career. If I could just get another job, everything would be different and I wouldn’t need to drink.”

Like a Mac truck in the face, it hit me. I had said this before and I would definitely say it again. I was the living definition of “wherever you go, there you are.” If you don’t make an effort to learn and change, you will definitely take your problems with you. That’s when I realized that I had to make the change from within. It wasn’t outside influences that were making me drink. It was the simple fact that I am an alcoholic using outside influences as an excuse to drink.

A few years back, I had the good fortune to hear a woman speak about drug abuse. She was the director at a women’s home specializing in addiction recovery. I learned that alcohol is defined as a “drug” because it changes behavior and perception and is taken for the effect. It’s every bit as dangerous as cocaine or meth; it’s just socially acceptable because it can be legally purchased. She described the effects of alcohol as being equally as devastating as crack. In the end, the amount of damage is the same. The alcoholic loses his job, his family, his home, everything. It just takes a lot longer.

When I did finally recognize that I was an alcoholic, I knew that if I didn’t get control, this would eventually be my fate. A lot longer was coming all too soon. I could recognize the disease progressing in me. Alcohol was no longer a party drug. I depended on it. I craved it. After many failed attempts to moderate, I knew that I could either watch my life decline or quit.

I made the choice to quit. It’s just a phase though. Fortunately for me, phases last a good long time.

Lucky. Charming. It’s Magically Delicious.

The site of alcohol prompts a feeling of exhilaration—the same feeling of eager anticipation others might experience when finding a four-leaf clover. The availability of alcohol was always a sure sign of good fortune. Alcohol charmed its way into my life when I was a teenager. Lucky me. Let the party begin.

St. Patrick is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland in the A.D. 400’s, converting the pagans to Christianity and establishing schools and churches.  Shamrocks, the three-leaf clover, were originally displayed to symbolize the concept of the Holy Trinity in Christianity. The four-leaf clover is rare, and thus considered good luck. I have no idea what any of that has to do with drinking shots of Irish single malt, but anyway, “Erin Go Bragh.”

I never needed an excuse to drink, and St. Patrick’s Day just brought more revelers to the party, any day of the week, rain or shine. Everyone is welcome to celebrate St. Patty’s Day, and on St. Patty’s Day, everyone is “Irish!” We’d make merry with magically delicious rainbow flavors of vodka and pots of Goldschläger. The evening would often culminate with one dancing the Irish jig on a tabletop and another going home with a leprechaun. I’d have gone home with a leprechaun, had I known at the time that they are noted to be cobblers. Perhaps I might have found a pot full of Manolo Blahniks or a golden shoe tree of Fluevogs at the end of his rainbow. It was all fun and games. Until the luck ran out.

That was then. Now, I have been practicing sobriety for nearly three months. I say practice because that’s what you do when you repeat a behavior in order to improve. I realize it takes concentrated practice to rewire our brains and change the thinking to which we have become accustomed for many, many years. At the initial site and thought of alcohol, I still have delusions that it represents a good time. These thoughts wash over me so quickly, and it’s simply an immediate, unthinking, emotional reaction to my earlier romance with it and has no bearing on our prolonged and painful break-up. After I recognize my initial excitement, I remember that I no longer participate, and therefore cannot enjoy the party. Mommy-me dries the tears of Mini-me, and then the Rational-me takes over. At the end of a party, after friends depart and the music quiets, what’s left is a heap of garbage to clean up and haul out to the curb. Rather than bagging it up and dragging it out, I sat in the stench for a few years too many.

It reminds me of Lucky Charms, that kid’s cereal that promises a box full o’ fun. The commercial shows a cute Leprechaun who has something that everybody wants and is trying to steal from him—his luck. He dances and sings about the magically delicious breakfast treat. It certainly provokes a charming thought, but ultimately it’s not what you expect. The reality contained within the box is a mass of tasteless oats with stale, sugary marshmallow bits that stick to your teeth. Given a choice of morning hangover remedies, I’d take Beerios over Lucky Charms any day.

So how did this newly sober gal land amidst free-flowing barrels of green beer and leprechaun-sized glasses of Irish whiskey—party central on Duval Street in Key West on St. Patrick’s Day? Completely by accident. I just spent a week vacationing in the Florida Keys with MyGuy, enjoying the sun and our sailboat. I planned it based on a series of coincidences, absent minded of the Christian celebration of a patron saint. Last year I would have been ecstatic about the lucky fluke, but this was the first vacation I have taken as Sober-me.

In past vacation preparations, I would spend an equal amount of time preparing the mobile bar as I would packing my clothes, carefully pairing them with appropriate shoes and jewelry. Last week, alcohol surrounded me during the entire trip: foursomes toasting to vacation at a restaurant; the ABC store next door to the fresh fish market; party animals raucously chanting on Duval Street; and micro-brew beers made only in Key West. As old habits die hard, I imagined that these people were raising glasses to honor something wonderful, and I was missing out on the fun. I imagined myself relaxing after a day’s sail by sitting on the dock with a fancy glass of something.

Still I managed to abstain. It would have been so easy to envision that I could manage drinking while on vacation but then return to sobriety upon my homecoming. The wisdom and experience of the women in my A.A. group have told me otherwise. Had I started drinking, I likely would have guzzled liquor and become plastered, day after day after day, as I have done on previous retreats. I am grateful for my involvement with A.A. I know that I need another party like that to keep me accountable. Additionally, Myguy is perpetually supportive of my efforts to remain sober, and he brought no alcohol into our vacation home. And I can’t forget to mention my own free will. I have come to realize that drinking is not a party, and it’s not a good time. It’s lonely hours of driving in the car to catch a buzz; tossing the evidence out of the car window into an empty lot; then flying under the radar of co-workers or family. It’s repeatedly pushing beyond the limit of physical comfort in hopes of catching that lucky charm. It’s sessions of self-loathing and negative self-talk in the wee morning hours. It’s diminished faith in myself.

Instead of heading into the ABC store, I swiped the slobber off my chin with a gentle right hook and turned left into the grocery store for a basket load of exotic juices. I did get to sit on the dock to watch the water and the sun with a fancy glass of something. We sailed with the wind in our faces, ate loads of fresh seafood, and watched the sun rise and set in the optimal Florida climate. And you know what, it was an awesome trip.

What’s So Great About Humility Anyway?

Why strive for humility when you have no aspiration to be another Mother Theresa?

In the most simple of definitions, humility means modesty or respectfulness. That doesn’t seem like such a hard thing to practice. Most mothers teach their children not to brag, at least to the extent of blowing one’s horn at the deafening assault of another. However, when referencing a higher level of consciousness, humility may seem to be unattainable by the average human.

Dr. Bob kept the humility plaque on his desk, which displays the following reflection.

Humility

Perpetual quietness of heart. It is to have no trouble. It is never to be fretted or vexed, irritable, or sore; to wonder at nothing that is done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised, it is to have a blessed home in myself where I can go and shut the door and kneel to my Father in secret and be at peace, as in a deep sea of calmness when all around and about is seeming trouble.

With these words in mind, it is clear that I don’t know a thing about practicing humility. I don’t think I boast or behave arrogantly so as to tread on others to get what I want, but as I reflect on this higher-level-of-consciousness humility, I discover that I have completely missed the mark.

It is to be at rest when nobody praises me

I have measured my self-worth using the praise I receive from others as my gage. I fell into a nine-to-five depression a couple of years ago. I was hired by a gentleman who had a great business mind. He was full of interesting ideas and always had a challenging project for me to tackle. We had great fun collaborating, and I received many accolades after returning with project in hand, boasting, “Here you go, Mr. Sir. Look what I did.” Being a people pleaser, it was the perfect job. After a year under his tutelage and almost overnight, he became inaccessible. The projects had run dry; and he stopped responding to my messages, emails, and requests for meetings. Unaware that he was journeying through his own personal hell and that my fellow employees were experiencing the same treatment, I thought, “What have I done wrong?” I had nobody to praise me, to pat my head and say, “Good dog.” Although I still possessed and applied the same professional skills, I was not O.K. because nobody was available to confirm such.

I have compared myself to others resulting in a diminished sense of personal value. A couple of years ago, I realized that I was never going to be “the best” at anything. I apply myself with dedicated focus to anything I decide to do, but it never seems to set me apart from any others with whom I share a passion. I began to accept that I would gain neither world notoriety nor riches for my professional craft, athletics or arts. I am just an average person leading a very ordinary life with no distinguishing honors to show for anything. I was saddened by my realization at that time. Based on family history, I still have half my life to live out. To think I had almost given up trying to improve on myself, my skills, and my passions—well—that’s what makes me sad now.

I have given gifts and expected love in return. I am continually maddened when I give presents to my nieces and nephew, and neither parent nor child calls, writes or emails to thank me or even acknowledge that the package has arrived. I can assume one of two things. The kids think the gift was crappy, or the children are not being taught proper manners. I often make the gifts by hand, so maybe that answers the first concern about the gift being crappy. But really, what seven-year-old kid doesn’t want a slumber-party backpack sewn out of overalls and stuffed with overnight games and snacks?! I hear that people are supposed to give without expecting anything in return. I don’t expect anything of monetary value, but I would like to see some form of gratitude for my efforts. When I give a gift in an attempt to continue or build on a relationship, I expect a response in return to validate the relationship. Wrong or right, that’s the way I feel.

To wonder at nothing that is done against me

The word humiliation comes to mind, meaning to be shamed or embarrassed, loss of dignity, and finally…being lessened in pride. When I reflect on times that I have been humiliated, my feelings of shame or embarrassment are always based on my perception of what others think of me. The key words being my perception, which holds neither truth nor fact. Should we then embrace humiliation when it occurs because it brings us closer to pride? No. We should be proactive with a practice in humility, lessening or eliminating the impact an embarrassing moment could potentially have on our experience. In other words, by practicing humility, we can avoid the feelings of humiliation altogether.

When I am blamed or despised

I learned early on that lack of knowledge was shameful, regardless of how insignificant the matter is. I hate being wrong because that means I’m stupid. As a child, I remember my mother and sister taunting me for being ignorant of pop culture. “Did you take your stupid pill today?” My mother would ask when I didn’t know a famous person who was the center of the day’s news gossip. My older sister would continue the mocking, happy to emerge superior to me in intelligence. To this day, I still experience humiliation on many levels when my error is called out. I become defensive. I’m quick to justify or point a finger in another direction.

How does one practice humility?

Embrace the feeling of inadequacy. The belief that “I am not enough” is a common thread amongst most humans. When you are feeling less talented, less intelligent, less beautiful, less whatever, get warm and fuzzy about that in which you are lacking. When you focus negatively on your challenges, you allow your shortcomings to frame your perception of who you are, when in fact, overcoming challenges helps you develop character. Give that negative power a drop-kick by giving gratitude for your shortcomings.

Practice gratitude for those skills and abilities that you do possess. Do not boast about these assets, but rather recognize them as a blessing that was given to you.

See your self as part of a team, where diversity is celebrated and where all members have unique contributions. You, yourself, have something distinctive to offer to complete the team. It is in these unique offerings that we grow and learn from one another.

Speaking of learning, be willing to learn. When you give pride the old heave-ho, it is easier to admit that you do not know everything. In the absence of pride, we can admit that we don’t know everything, and realize that there is no shame in the lack of omniscience.

Give generously and anonymously. Selfish mind and actions create anxiety. Alcoholism is often referred to “the disease of more.” When you live in a world where you can never get “enough,” you may never find the satisfaction of being fulfilled. But when your practice acts of generosity, without the expectation of recognition, one may be fulfilled by a sense of kinship through community.

Avoid humiliation by removing yourself from your pride. Rather than become embarrassed or offended, you can choose to view an event as a series of facts that occurred, free of judgments, reducing or even eliminating the shame.

What’s so great about humility anyway?

“Humility is the only true wisdom by which we prepare our minds for all the possible changes of life.”
-George Arliss, the first British actor to win an Academy Award

It’s not about being perfect although you might find a clearer path to integrity. Perhaps it’s about relieving yourself of the burdens of pride. Without pride we are able to go forth without fear of what others will think of us. In reality, we are able to go forth without fear of our perception of what others will think of us. Ultimately this opens us up to growth and positive change.

When we practice humility, we reduce feelings of insecurity or self-consciousness, bringing us to a more genuine state of awareness and allowing us to interact more honestly with each other. Not to mention, we might gain a perpetual quietness of heart.

Why Worry?

The Serenity Prayer has come into my weekly awareness, as it is read at the beginning of each A.A. meeting.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

As my grandmother was fond of saying, “Let go and let God.”

I have recently had a morbid and worrisome thought that plagues me nearly daily. It likely stems from my feelings of guilt from drunk driving so often in the past and my remorse over selfishly endangering others. I have driven under the influence, well, nearly every time I have taken a drink. Only by the grace of God did I escape a catastrophic accident and charges of driving under the influence. Now that I am completely sober, I fear nearly every intersection I enter. I dread that I have not paid sufficient attention to the signal color, leading to a tragic collision, or that karma will have its due, and a drunk driver will cream me.

This is a perfect example of a worry that serves no purpose whatsoever. Can it happen? Sure. Is it likely to happen? Probably not. If it does happen, will the worrying have prepared me to deal with the consequences? Not at all.

I know this is a trivial example of an anxiety trigger, but I don’t worry about much. I have no children to fret over, and I don’t have the burden of caring for aging parents. Neither my sister nor I have cancer, and I don’t predict a homeless existence in my future. I have experienced loss and tragedy in the past, and I know I will again in the future. But for now I am at peace with life—as it is in this moment. That brings me to the second part of the prayer, which reads, “Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time.”

I’m a firm believer in the Law of Attraction. The basic premise is—that on which you focus your thoughts, you will attract into your life even without intent or awareness. Now this makes perfect sense when you put it into perspective of those things that you can control. If you picture yourself in a more desirable position (be it greater accomplishments, more healthy relationships, or better health), you are more likely to set into motion the actions that will take you there. It doesn’t make much sense when you apply this theory in light of things you cannot control (severe weather, plummeting stock prices and actions of other people). Nevertheless, that is the theory.

Worry is a good thing if it serves as an alarm to bring about consciousness and action. If you are able to recognize the object of worry as a “thing you cannot change,” then the best thing to do is dismiss those thoughts.

I do have troublesome thoughts cross my mind from time to time, and they are often the same old tape set to replay. I may not have enough money to live out my senior years, so I made a financial plan to deal with it. I still don’t know that it will be enough, but it’s out of my hands and therefore out of my mind. I have a close relative that will likely be in my charge in the future, and that will certainly take a financial and emotional toll on me. I wish this person would change, but it’s out of my power and therefore out of my mind. I worry about not maintaining my sobriety, and that brings me to courage. I pray for the “courage to change the things I can.” Which I did and am still working on it.

A friend of mine worried herself sick that a particular event would happen. When the dreaded doom came to fruition, all of her worries prior to that did not serve her in any way. Since there was nothing she could have done to prepare herself or alter the course of events, all of the preceding anxiety and fear had done nothing to help her cope with the situation in which she ultimately found herself.

If you truly believe you will attract negativity into your life through your thoughts, you will adjust your thinking quickly. As far as having that tragic accident, I dismiss the thought as quickly as it flashes in my mind (after double checking the color of the stop lights, of course).

If you are worried about something you cannot control, let it go. Your time is far to valuable to spend it in a state of anxiety. There is still more joy to have, “Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time.”

The Boozie Man Comes Out at Night

60 days and counting. Today I picked up another A.A. coin, which marks my 60th day of sobriety. This one is glowing gold, and I will cast it into the neck art I’m crafting, along with the silver and red ones I had already earned.

If you have a history with alcohol and have ever given sobriety a shot [pun intended], then you know it’s not the easiest task to undertake. You know that the Boozie Man comes out at night, casting his reign of terror on our fragile status. You might ask how I did it. How did I defy the alluring spirit casting his ghostly shadow on my resolve?

When Merlot called to whisper sweet nothings into my ear, I put a call block on his number. When Vodka opened his khaki overcoat to show me his collection of rooty-tooty flavors, I pointed and laughed at his mini bottles. And when Gin hid in the bushes and enticed this little girl with a candy-tini, I looked him square in the eyes and…well, I screamed “Mommy” and ran as fast as I could.

The truth is that I have built a fortress for myself, which I have fortified with many vises of protection. I have joined the ranks of A.A. and the women are soldiers with whom I rally once a week. There are no rigorous trainings. No demanding drills. Just a dedicated troupe that marches on in service to each other for the fight against alcohol addiction. Each of them is armed with wisdom garnered from hiking up those notorious twelve steps. With open hearts, they share their painful plights and enlightened discoveries. From them I learn how to develop weapons of defense against one of the most dangerous foes of all—myself.

My personal safeguard is a strong resolve to move forward with my life. I do this by keeping the memory of the former me alive. I don’t celebrate the drunken me of yore, but I definitely need to remember just how bad my alcoholism had gotten before I decided to change the way I was living my life—lest I fall prey to the charm of the Boozie Man.

OK. And as long as I stay sober, I keep getting these silly little colored coins. I like that too. I intend to wear my coin necklace proudly for all the world to see. When asked about the piece, I explain my past challenge and my current choice. The people that I have met in A.A. have been enlightened through deep, personal work and are now contributing to make the world a better place. I am neither ashamed of my drive for sobriety nor of my participation with A.A. I realize that many people who have not had involvement with either may have their judgments, but perhaps my experience will educate them.