Category Archives: Recovery

gratitude

There are many times that I wake up, stumble to the bathroom for my contact case, and start the day with a low buzz of swirly, got-to-do thoughts. Sometimes I remember to stop myself. I take a breath, slow the head race, and remember these things for which I’m grateful:

for a healthy child

for a healthy child

must love dogs

for matt, who loves dogs (almost) as much as me.

big ellie

for the guardian of all small creatures.

for friends like this.

for friends like this.

 

and this.

and this.

 

dogs

for a house full of fur.

sleep.

for good sleep and a warm bed.

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two questions

There are a few reflection exercises I like. This is a daily one, and I’ve mentioned it before on my company’s blog. It helps me stay mindful.

Every night I ask myself:

1. Are you proud of the choices you are making at home?
2. Are you proud of the choices you making at work?

The exercise struck me as inherently Buddhist in its focus on action (not results). It’s a self-check, innit?

It’s also closely related to NA/AA speak. Meetings, and those who attend them, are full of platitudes. Some are great, in that I find them amusing and accurate (Those who relapse are attending powerlessness graduate school) and some are real shit, in that I find them nauseating in their triteness (Directions to AA: Just go straight to hell and make a U-turn). Clearly, I have mixed feelings about the program. Forgive me that (or don’t).

One, though, has stayed with me for years: Do the next right thing.

Like the daily reflections I’m really digging, I can get behind this for the same reason: It’s action oriented and it pulls me into the present. Most days, I wish I had done better. I lose my temper at home or my focus at work. I regret wasted time. The exercise is, most days, uncomfortable for me. I think there’s something to be said, though, on living through that uncomfortableness. 

just that.

just that.

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relapse.

I’ve planned and executed a relapse for over a year. It started in Barcelona in November 2011 when I slipped up after a mere five months of sober time. I admitted that to the people I love most, and I started all over again counting the days. I didn’t drink again until Copenhagen the following year, and while I felt an awful guilt after both occasions, I chalked up the incidents to being out of the country. They didn’t really count.

Right.

Right.

I picked up again last summer, the second theoretical anniversary of my sobriety. It was, once more, an out-of-town experience. But I drank enough to be wicked to my sisters, with whom I was vacationing, and to feel like utter shit. Still, I never brought it home. That made it ok.

Fast forward. Accelerating signs: the slow withdrawal from NA and AA; the loss (or purposeful relinquishing, I don’t know) of writing as an outlet; the poisonous thinking that alcohol wasn’t really the problem; the good stressors of a new house and a new position at the company I’ve been with for five years.

SXSW is probably the worst possible place for me to go, ever. I went. On the plane, I said to myself that I wouldn’t drink: This is domestic. If you excuse drinking here, you’re done. Don’t fuck up. I did.

I remember a glass of gin with a cucumber prettily placed on the rim, and I remember hating it. I know that I was confused, that I became lost. I know, only from an early-morning phone call from the woman who somehow acquired my credit cards, that she put me in a pedi-cab around 10pm. I am certain that I wandered for hours, but it may have been 5 minutes. It is a mad blur that only an alcoholic recognizes.

I have barely made it through the past three days. The hangover was killer. The shame and guilt have been far worse. I am embarrassed, but not just about slipping. I am embarrassed that I have not been completely honest all along. That everyone believed, with no objection from me, that I was a blazing light of sobriety. I have rationalized and justified my behavior. I have told half-truths.

Writing this down is not something I thought I would do. What I would have preferred is to hole up my house with Sex and The City reruns and a blanket – for a few weeks.

Repeat.

Repeat.

But it feels better to tell. Whether it’ll feel better or worse after I’ve shouted it out here, who knows? I’m chancing it.

It’s a funny (haha?) thing because I have no conscious craving for alcohol. I don’t want it. I just got lax and lazy and believed that it was time to test the waters again. How stupid, you fucking alcoholic. The waters are never safe. I knew that, but I sold myself the same lie over and over again until I halfway believed it, long enough to pick up a drink.

This is my rigorous honesty. This is me admitting that I have a terminal illness. This is me saying that I am shitfaced powerless over alcohol, that I fell down, and that I’m working on getting back up.

“I once heard a sober alcoholic say that drinking never made him happy, but it made him feel like he was going to be happy in about fifteen minutes. That was exactly it, and I couldn’t understand why the happiness never came, couldn’t see the flaw in my thinking, couldn’t see that alcohol kept me trapped in a world of illusion, procrastination, paralysis. I lived always in the future, never in the present. Next time, next time! Next time I drank it would be different, next time it would make me feel good again. And all my efforts were doomed, because already drinking hadn’t made me feel good in years.”

― Heather King, Parched

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Up the street

Last week we lost Big Ellie.

Ellie

Oh, sweet hound.

She and our Australian shepherd, Lady, stay outside most days until I get home with Cole in the afternoons. So when we arrived home last Monday to only Lady waiting at the gate, I knew something was amiss. My first instinct was that, given Big El’s recent cancer diagnosis and her bout with bronchitis, the hound might be somewhere toward the back of the yard, sick. Or that she had run away to die. I guess dogs do that.

Hours later, we received the phone call that brought her back home. Until yesterday, we hadn’t figured out how she was making the grand escape. Walking around the fence yet another time, searching for her route out into the great beyond, I wandered and Big ‘El ambled with me. And against the side fence, the once that divides our property from the house with two other fool dogs, El made her move. She crouched. She shimmied. She scurried as fast as a 90-pound, 9-year old fatty can scurry, under the fence. Halfway under, I pulled her back. And I saw the hole she’d dug.

El is grounded, banished to the life of an indoor dog or an on-leash dog until we can make the fencing secure. She’s unhappy about this, and so are we. But she managed to escape again today, straight through the front door and across the street. This time, I caught her before she slipped out of our lives again.

I don’t know why she wants, so badly, to get out into the world. But she wants to. She simply must. She’s willing to brave busy roads and unkind strangers and the uncertainty of her next meal to get a taste of freedom.

I wish I were a little more like that. Motherhood has made me cautious. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I am no less happy today than I was seven years ago. I’m more content right this millisecond than I’ve ever been. I am comfortable with myself. It’s cozy in my own skin. I’ve grown up. But in that growing up (and growing wiser, let us hope), I’ve lost some of the spontaneity that drives growth. Is that possible?

Does getting older mean getting complacent?

There seems to be a difference, however subtle, between complacency and learning to find contentment with what you have right now. Right now, I don’t much want for grand travel or some childhood remembrance of freedom. My want is more internal, more about finding what I’m here to do (other than to parent, which has proven to be my greatest calling in the most delightfully unexpected way). The wild streets and endless possibility and exhilarating uncertain aren’t really just outside the front door. They’re here. All around me. And the simple matter of throwing off the quiet, slinging open the door, and getting up the street—it’s as easy as deciding.

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Face the Promised Land

A friend of mine from boarding school wrote this great blog post (you can read it here). She talks of the Easter service she went to, during which folks from the congregation walked to the front of the church with posters they’d made. On one side of the poster they had written a word describing who they once were or how they once lived, and on the other side was a word that conveyed who they are now or how they live now. One struck me as what I’d probably write. On the front of the poster, “Self-centered.” On the other side, “Compassionate.”

It doesn’t take a miraculous event to switch gears. I know. When I began my recovery, I remained self-centered. My sobriety was all I cared about, because I was afraid. I was scared that I would lose my child. I was scared that I would lose my job. I was scared that I would lose control. I was scared that I was going to die. Mostly I was terrified that this show I’d managed to put on over the past three years was going to shatter and everyone would know – they would know that I was an alcoholic and an addict and a selfish, shitty person. A bad mom. A liar. 

Well now they know, because I’ve told them. 

Somewhere along the way, maybe when I decided to get really honest with myself, my concern morphed into being less worried with the me, and more cognizant of the “other-than me.”

Clark Strand, a one-time Buddhist monk and a Christian, explains that the great war waged is not and has never been one between Good and Evil. Rather, the battle is one between self and Other Self. Is that Other Self what you call God? Sure, maybe. What you call it doesn’t much matter.

For a long time, for most of my life, what I called “God” was.. myself. I’d cry out to the universe and hear nothing. Do you do this? We make God in our image, not the reverse. I still can’t image God. I can’t begin to conceive of it. I wrestle with it still, but I’m a lot more comfortable in that uncertainty and with the back and forth. Belief and doubt, sometimes in the course of an hour. 

I don’t know. There are no answers here, never have been. But when I can get beyond my self, That Thing I Call God gets into the cracks. Only when my heart and my mind were broken, when every idea I had about God was shattered–that’s when God appeared. 

Here, have a goat. 

Image

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Smoothie Speedbump

Matthew’s mom and dad bought me an amazing food processor for Christmas. I only unpacked it from the box tonight, which though somewhat embarrassing is because every time I opened the damned lid I saw the big red warning regarding its unpacking: Blades are sharp.

I was scared of the food processor. I was intimidated by the food processor.

But tonight at Earth Fare, Cole dumped a ton of organic, frozen fruit into my cart and I realized that while I’ve been talking and thinking about it for a really long time, I haven’t made a smoothie in nearly two years.

It’s been nearly two years. Since I became separated. Since I moved out of my house and into an apartment. Since I turned my world (and the Kaiser’s) upside down because I was unhappy, unsober and undone.

And that’s some heavy shit.

I made the Kaiser a smoothie tonight. We mixed the strawberries, bananas, blueberries and yogurt. I showed the kid how to turn on the mammoth machine. We watched it spin. I poured the purple concoction into a glass and he smiled and drank it. Purple lipped at the kitchen table, he asked me if I had ever made him a smoothie before.

How such a little thing can break my heart. From the time he was able to eat solid food, I made the boy a smoothie nearly every day. They were his favorite. It was our thing. But two years is a long time. It’s nearly an eternity in a child’s mind. I understand that.

I guess that smoothies were one thing I got right. That sounds stupid, doesn’t it? It’s a little stupid. I think back on making them for the Kaiser and those are clear moments. Unclouded and pure. It didn’t much matter if I was hungover when I made one, although I don’t ever remember that being the case.

Eh. It made me sad. And at the same time, I know that A) I, too, remember nothing prior to the age of about five and B) I’d damn well better make each moment count.

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Climb.

A couple weeks ago I met the mother of two boys whom the Kaiser has befriended. We’re different people, certainly, but mothers often have enough in common that the dissimilar stuff doesn’t much matter. Camaraderie.

Last week at the pool she told me that she was an addict. Her drug of choice is pain pills, and I don’t know much about that, but that’s really irrelevant. An addict is an addict is an addict. She talked to me about her short (45 days) sober time in a Christ-centered recovery program.

She scared me. I remember where I was at 45 days. I remember the crushing reality of… reality. I remember the fragility and the sadness, like I’d lost my best friend (granted, t’was a best friend that was killing me, but my closest companion nonetheless). I remember how alone I felt, except when I was in the presence of other addicts. I remember how painful it was to come out of the haze and take a good, hard, ugly look at myself and who I was.

It’s fucking horrible.

And she talked to me and she cried and apologized for crying, and for the first time I found myself on the more-sober end of the conversation. Someone is looking to me for experience, strength, and hope? Agh.

I hurt for her and I fear for her because it’s so hard. Early sobriety is awful and the chances of making it are slim. She wasn’t solid. I knew that, but I also knew that there wasn’t one damn thing I could do to keep her sober. I told her to call me, told her to make sure she made her meetings, told her to look at her children when she thought of using, told her to remember how shitty she feels when she uses, told her to “play the tape,” told her not to romanticize the drug, told her it would get better.

And it does get better. There’s just no amount of “telling” that can convince someone of that unless they’ve held it in their hands, felt the good, known the utter relief that comes when it finally does… get better.

On July 4, a group of us gathered at the pool to cook out and play with the kids. She drank. I watched her pour the vodka and I said nothing. Maybe I should have. At that point, though, the decision is made. You wanna relapse? You plan your relapse.

There’s no moral to the story. I’m sad — a deep-down-in-the-pit-of-my-stomach sad — for her and for her children. I hope that it was just a slip, but I’m also aware that no one can get or keep someone sober. It doesn’t work that way. This is what I think. We are all looking for something. Something bigger. Something transcendent. Something that gives us meaning and fills some hole and makes us better. We’re all looking. Addicts are like anyone else, just on a fucked-up spiritual path. And we can reach out, we can connect, we can love. At the end of the day, though, we all have our mountains. Whether you climb or you languish at the bottom… wholly up to you.

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