Years ago, I was a broke kid trying to pass myself off as an adult in my first office job. I was very insecure about everything. I had no problem picking up the actual work and I was excellent at my job. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I stood out like a sore thumb. I was the youngest in the office by far, and since I’ve always looked much younger than I really am I felt like a 15 year-old amongst 30-somethings.
One of my most stressful insecurities concerned my wardrobe. Prior to this gig, my wardrobe consisted almost entirely of jeans and t-shirts, plus a load of scrubs from a year stint working at the hospital. I did the best I could to put together a business casual wardrobe with my limited funds, which meant that the majority of the items I purchased were quite cheap & didn’t last very long.
One day, I was wearing a skirt that I had just bought, worn, and washed once. It was cute, but was incredibly frustrating as the trim at the waist had immediately begun unraveling in 3 separate spots. I secured it the best I could with safety pins, threw on a shirt that would cover the whole mess, and went in to work. At some point during the day I was back in the file room with one of my coworkers when she complimented me on my skirt. Embarrassed about how cheap the thing was, I lifted my shirt enough to show her how badly the thing had become unraveled. She said, “Oh, don’t worry about that,” and lifted her shirt enough to show me that her skirt, too, was being held together by safety pins.
Of late, I’ve been much more consciously working on creating positive inner monologues during my morning commute. This morning, I touched on fear and how I tend to create a persona to keep others from getting too close and seeing how vulnerable I really am. My visual representation of this feeling (as my inner monologues are often more visual than auditory) is always that of a little kitten puffing herself up to lash out at a big, curious dog. I recalled the story of my unraveling skirt and reminded myself that I don’t need to fear showing people my vulnerable spots because they, too, are vulnerable despite how put together they look on the outside.
I often recall this memory in an attempt to assuage my fears and allow people to get close. This morning, however, the images of the scared kitten and the unraveled skirt were met with a Biblical one. I pictured Jesus showing Thomas the scars in His hands after His resurrection. I’d never looked at this story from that perspective before, but it was so helpful! Generally, we study this story through the lens of “Doubting Thomas” needing physical proof that this was actually his Lord and Savior risen from the dead. I, too, have a desire for physical proof, so I’ve never liked the way Thomas is often derided for lacking faith. Maybe that’s not the only way we can read that story, though.
When I took another look at the interaction between Jesus and Thomas this morning, I didn’t see a man thinking he was being tricked by someone in a Jesus costume. What I saw was a man afraid of his own human failings. I saw Thomas feeling inadequate next to the Man who was once his good friend. But Jesus said “Oh no, you don’t need to worry about that,” and showed Thomas how He, too, was imperfect in the eyes of the world. I picture Thomas afraid to show his unraveling skirt, but Jesus beats him to the punch by pulling aside His shirt to show where He’s unraveling, too. This morning, I saw the action as Jesus choosing to reveal His scars so that he can connect with love instead of acting all high and mighty, pretending they’re not there so that he can save face.
I’m no theologian or Biblical scholar, so I could be radically wrong by these standards. However, it felt true to me this morning and provided me a lot of comfort, allowing me to normalize and dissipate my fears. I am unraveled in spots, but that is how I connect with love.
As I mentioned previously, I am working on another project which will tie in with GD&T a bit. It is a work in progress, but y’all are welcome to check it out… and you may even get to help me out with my homework a bit. I am taking a course about “Food and Culture” and over the course of the semester we are each working on a project of our own choosing, just so long as it has to do with food and society. I said, “Hey, alcoholics in recovery make up quite a unique society AND they generally eat (or at least drink) differently from the general populace.” So, here I am, introducing Sober Eating which will hopefully be a more interactive blog than this, specifically focused on how folks in recovery eat. If you have any special resources you use – sober cookbooks, food websites, mocktail recipes, etc. – that you would like to share, let me know either here or there. Hopefully, we can work together to make this an actually functional resource for people new to sobriety.
Like many AA gatherings I’ve been to, my home group starts off each meeting with “How It Works” from page 58 in the Big Book. We have one member who, when he does the reading, purposely stumbles over one word for emphasis. Step 10: “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wr-wr-wr-wr-wr-wrong, promptly admitted it.” His is not my story to tell, but I could relate the exact same sort of difficulty admitting times that I might possibly not have been 100% right. They say if you stick around the rooms long enough, you’ll hear someone tell your story. This is one of those guys who was “reading my mail,” so to speak. Like him, I was the “I know, I know, I know” person. You couldn’t tell me anything. I could never admit that there was something I didn’t know, nor that anyone may know something better than I did.
Notice how all that was written past tense? See, even when I’m telling on myself I still want you to believe that this was a problem I used to have and now I’m all better. Like, maybe once upon a time I might have been wrong-ish, but I got past that. I’ll keep coming back.
As you could probably tell from my last post, I’ve been a bit more lax with my spiritual program over the last year than I have been in years past. And, of course, that has worked out for me just as well as everyone in the meetings says when they have also rested on their laurels a bit too long. Recently, I have taken to being more mindful in praying for my thinking to be divorced of self-pity, guilt, and shame as these three have taken up temporary residence in my brain. The vicissitudes of life have been rather overwhelming for me and I have fallen back into a lot of bad habits to avoid my feelings. I’ve not been drinking or drugging, but rather bingeing on Netflix and games on my phone for hours on end. Perhaps not as physically damaging, but certainly stemming from the same spiritual deficiency.
So, of course, I’ve been feeling as if I’ve gotten nowhere over this past year. My addict brain tells me that God will be upset with me or that He’s abandoned me or whatever inane nonsense addicts like to spew. But when I actually open my eyes to who I am today, I realize that God has been working on me Big Time during my spiritual hibernation. And the changes that have been taking place in me are a lot of the reason that I’ve been trying to avoid my feelings. This year has been whittling away at my dogmatic insistence about anything and everything. I have had to question long-held beliefs about who I am and what is important in life. I have had to let go of any security in the physical world and humble myself completely. I have had to admit “I can’t do it” in regards to aspects of my character that I held in high esteem. I had to let go completely. I had to admit I was “wr-wr-wr-wr-wr-wrong.”
Right around the time that things started getting super wonky, I latched onto one little bit of wisdom from pages 25-26: “[W]e had but two alternatives: One was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could; and the other, to accept spiritual help. This we did because we honestly wanted to, and were willing to make the effort.” These words remained near the forefront of my mind all this time, even as I stubbornly fought tooth and nail to hold onto my old ideas of who I was supposed to be. They sat there like so many people who offered me advice in early sobriety and I kept answering them the same way, “I know, I know, I know.”
Today, though, I have to ask myself, “Do I honestly want to accept spiritual help?” and “Am I willing to make the effort?” I can’t fool myself into believing that just because so many things make me think to turn back to that page and reread those words that I am actually doing what those words say. I have a choice today to either continue attempting to hold onto my remaining old ideas or to admit that I may not be 100% correct about everything I think I know. And if I am willing to admit a minor case of wrong-ness, I have to actually make some effort to rectify matters. I can’t continue to sit in the alcoholic’s dilemma with a tiny bit of willingness and action leading to a life that’s happy, joyous, and free on one hand and blotting out my consciousness leading to the hideous four horsemen on the other.
Today I chose to speak up and take some action. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. And I most certainly don’t have all the answers.
A couple months ago I got an email from WordPress saying that GD&T was overdue for renewal and so the domain was going to expire. I had been meaning to renew it, but felt I didn’t have anything to say so there was no immediate need to do so. It’s been a year since I’ve posted with any regularity. I never meant to take such a long hiatus. I never meant to actively take a hiatus at all. Life just got weird.
What do I mean by that? Well, there’s a whole lot of story that took place over the past year, but primarily I mean this: We alcoholics are an undisciplined lot. We (or maybe I should just say “I” as I don’t purport to speak for all of the alcoholic community) need some sort of regular schedule to keep us (me) doing what we (I) need to do. Since leaving work 15 months ago, my life has been anything but routine or disciplined. I’ve felt very disjointed and sometimes like I was floundering even trying to keep the “Beam” in sight, let alone staying on it.
I didn’t take into account how badly the shifting schedule of a college student was going to fuck with my sanity. Every few months I have to change my entire focus of study as well as my daily schedule. Then midterms and finals come and I have to change things up so I can spend more time studying or putting together big projects. Then I get a month or so with no responsibilities if I don’t want them.
Add to that all the wonderful growth opportunities that came up this year: Twice now, we’ve gone for an extended period of time (2-3 months, each) with absolutely no income and no idea how rent was going to get paid or how we were going to feed the family. (We are currently in the second such stretch now, though this one so far hasn’t been as bad as the first.) One of my classes triggered some serious issues from my childhood that I had to work through, and I began a new journey through the program of Adult Children of Alcoholics which has allowed me to look at some things from a new perspective. Meanwhile, we learned that my baby girl had suffered some physical and emotional abuse from her stepmother. So of course I was a complete and utter crazy person, doing my damnedest not to go and kill the woman (not that I would ever literally hurt her, but I certainly had some anger and resentment I had to work through). And then people started dying. Like, a lot of people. Most of them were older and/or quite ill. Some were closer than others. But we lost 6 people in 6 weeks and that was really rough.
So, yeah, God has been working on teaching me to rely on Him more. And I have had wonderful opportunities to learn to discipline myself better and stop procrastinating so much. That is, I have had the opportunities, not necessarily that I have acted on them. Oops. This year has felt a lot more like survival than growth, and unfortunately it’s not quite over yet. There does seem to be a light on the horizon, though.
The nice thing is that I really do trust God here. I have been scared and worried about what’s going to come next, but at the end of the day I know that no matter what happens I’m going to be fine. There are a lot of rough edges I still need to work off in order to help this time go more smoothly, but I have changed a lot this year, too. I am more calm, more quick to admit I may be wrong or to let the little things go. I’ve gained a whole new level of trust that I didn’t even know existed. I’ve been gentler on myself and less proud (do not confuse pride with self-centeredness because I am as egocentric as ever). I’ve been able to take the mothering thing to a whole new level, too. I have a lot more confidence when it comes to my kids than I ever have before. And even though I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, I know a lot more things I don’t want to do with my life now.
So, yeah, I’m still here. Still sober. Still doing the thing. I don’t have a whole lot of wisdom to impart just yet, but I am crawling out from under my rock to see what the world looks like again. I don’t know exactly what is going to be happening here at GD&T, but there is going to be a new feature coming soon, thanks to one of my classes. More on that later. Right now, I just wanted to take a minute to let you know I’m alive and reasonably well, despite a little extra dirt on the tires.
It was a throwaway line last night – one of those where you’ve shared too much and wound up far more emotional than you thought you’d be. You suddenly feel overly exposed and just want to finish this share so everyone will stop staring at you crying, but you can’t just trail off into nothing so you throw out the first thing that comes to mind to sum up your feelings. “Growing up is weird.” Boy howdy! I don’t know precisely what sort of AFGO my friend is going through that has prompted this emotional share, but I can so relate.
I’ve been experiencing my own heavy stuff lately and I’ve found myself in a very weird place, indeed. Right now, my husband and I are living through the precise fears we voiced at the beginning of summer… and there’s no end in sight. Yes, things are finally starting to move a bit, but there’s no telling when or how we will make it to the other side or what our lives are going to look like when we get there. Meanwhile, I’ve got a whole heap of awesome stuff happening in another direction entirely and we’ve introduced a completely different challenge/risk/blessing into our little world. It’s kind of simultaneously the worst and best and riskiest period of my life. Like I said, weird.
One of those AA sayings has stuck in my head since I walked through the doors: “being comfortable in the uncomfortable.” It probably speaks to me because when I am really honest with myself, I am scared to death to step outside my comfort zone. Please don’t tell my teenaged self, she would be appalled. Today, though, I am joyfully doing swan dives off the high board into shark-infested waters. (Figuratively, of course.) On paper, absolutely nothing makes sense. I am back to school full time and therefore not working. My husband (save some crazy-ass, unknowable turn of events) has lost his career, is currently physically unable to work and may wind up needing back surgery to put him back into proper order. One would think we’ve got enough on our plate, but no, somehow when I got the call that one of my sponsees had relapsed & OD’ed my husband & I said, “Hey, why don’t we let her come live with us?!”
Yes, I know that it sounds like we want to be her saviors to compensate for our feelings of powerlessness over our own lives… and that’s why we didn’t do it when it was initially laid on our hearts a few weeks prior. We each examined our motives & talked to our respective sponsors before walking into this situation. They both gave us the yellow light – proceed with caution – which was actually quite surprising to me. I’ve always been told, “If you’re afraid to ask your sponsor, that’s a pretty good indication that it’s not something you should be doing.” And this was one of those things that I just knew was going to elicit a “What the hell are you thinking?” We got the go-ahead from our sponsors, but ultimately decided against it because I was really afraid it throw a weird power shift into our sponsor/sponsee relationship. We had a good thing going & I didn’t want to screw that up. When I got the call that morning, though, my first thought was, “Crap. I really do have to do this, don’t I?” But I’m glad we did.
Sometimes it takes a completely unrelated radical move to get you unstuck. There are great things going on right now. I have finally found an amazing professor that I am really comfortable talking to who has agreed to work with me on the research I want to start – research that should easily carry me all the way through post-grad. I’ve finally found an advisor who actually has her head outside of her ass, which is apparently much more rare than expected. She has given me some fantastic advice about my next steps and pointed me into a much more valuable direction – one that I hadn’t even seen available. I am working with one of the counselors at school to help organize a Students for Recovery group. There are a whole lot of kinks to be worked out (You think your group conscious is bad, try having a business meeting with alcoholics and addicts who are also college students with questionable levels of sobriety and coming from different recovery programs. It’s like herding cats blindfolded.), but we’ve got some folks in active recovery and some more just starting on their journey. My grades are fantastic. My kids are happy. We’re eating healthier because we are being forced to cook instead of eating out all the time. My husband has had time to nurture some friendships that had fallen into disrepair and we, too, have been able to address some communication issues in our own relationship. I’ve been able to recognize all these blessings, but they’ve come with that “if only” attached. Yeah, this is all great, if only had some sort of income right now I could actually enjoy it.
Well, why can’t I enjoy it anyway? Sure, there’s a whole lot of uncertainty, stress and “fear of economic insecurity” going on right now, but there’s not a whole lot I can do about that. I just have to let go and do what I need to do. There is so much more to life than one aspect… even if it’s a pretty important one. I would certainly love it if God would finally decide I have finally learned all there is to know about financial insecurity and maybe begin to work on how too much wealth can be a problem, but for now I’ll appreciate the opportunities for growth I have been given and I will focus on what I can do to grow in new, healthier ways… regardless of how weird it feels.
This is going to be quick and poorly written and unedited and most likely filled with foul language because all I have time for is a little stream of consciousness atm. I need to do a little bit of emotional vomit, though, so you, my poor, poor readers may want to get a raincoat (and galoshes for whatever bullshit comes next).
I’ve been putting off writing about what’s been going on lately. Well, actually, I haven’t really. I’ve written a few partial posts & just not finished them. It’s a lot of crap. A lot of stinky, nasty crap. I’ve been doing alright, but sometimes it all gets a little heavy.
In just over 2 months, I’ve lost 4 sober friends. Two to cancer and two too young to natural, though, unexpected illnesses. This week is bookended by memorial services. I am grateful that they died sober and that I had the chance to have them in my life, inspiring my sobriety. It’s just… a lot.
While all this death and whatnot has been going on, my husband has been dealing with a back injury which has put him out of work and really thrown his “five year plan” off track in a more involved way than simply being laid up for a while. So, we started off May as a two-income family and now shortly after I quit work to go back to school, we are faced with being a no-income family. And those piggy banks are looking pretty empty.
I am doing my best to mind my business because I have a full course load and don’t have time to fight with worker’s comp and disability and TWC and the VA and it doesn’t help my husband to be poking and prodding him to keep on top of everything.
I breathe. I pray. I go to school. I hug my kids. I meet with sponsees. And occasionally I cry.
I also stress & procrastinate & make myself sick.
We are not saints.
I’m really handling this much better than I could be, but I’m also just kind of treading water right now. This too shall pass. But right now it’s just really fucking heavy.
I’ve smoked off and on since I was twelve years old. Okay, so I had my first cigarette at 12 & then only occasionally until I was 17 when I almost convinced Philip Morris that he needed a Marlboro Girl alongside his iconic cowboy. (Actually, I smoked Camels back then, but I don’t know what you call a girl camel… and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want anyone calling me one anyway.) I smoked for 5 years, then quit when my first husband and I first moved in together. I picked up again when I went through my first divorce. (I mean, with all the other crap I started putting in my body then, what was a little nicotine?) Since then, I’ll be quit for a year or two then go back to it for another year or so. I just quit my last year-long smoking stint at the end of my first semester back in school, so I suppose that means I’ve been quit for about a month now. Cool. Whatever. Totally not the point.
Smokers get a lot of grief from the rest of the world – a lot of pressure to quit. And, yeah, we know we need to, but… dude, lay off, already! So, whenever I thought I was ready to quit, I would tell everybody and they would all be giddy. Sure enough, my abstinence would last for about a day or two before I was back at the gas station shelling out my hard earned dough for a little dose of lung cancer. The next day, my relapse would be met with complete disappointment from my fellows and I would feel like a total looooooooser with a capital L. (Seriously, folks, your nagging totally doesn’t stress me out so much that I want to go chain-smoke this carton I just bought.)
Enough of those letdowns & I learned to stop telling folks when I was planning to do something they thought was going to be good for me. When I finally did quit the first time, I didn’t tell anyone… just in case I didn’t make it. I remember being on the phone with my dad ragging me big time about my smoking when I finally told him, “I’ve been quit for 6 months! Get off my ass!” In the 14 years and 7 lifetimes since then, I’ve tried to find a balance between blurting out all my best intentions and running off into the shadows from where I can burst forth fully transformed. (Yes, I’m a drama queen. If you don’t know that by now, you haven’t been paying attention.)
All of this behavior is totally fear-based, of course. The vast majority of my life has been a series of fear-based reactions. Of course it has been; I’m an alcoholic, for Christ’s sake! That Marlboro Man image is just a facade. In reality, I’m a sniveling little girl… but don’t tell anybody.
In recovery, we try to get past all that fear-based behavior and start living life intentionally. The fear is strong in this one, though, and I often have a hard time giving up old ways of thinking. About 6 months ago, I made a fear-based decision that became intentional action somewhere along the way. When the change happened, I was too afraid to tell anybody. Sometimes I dream way too big and then I feel foolish when I hear the words come out of my mouth. A seed was planted, though, and a dream grew from it. I didn’t even tell my husband at first. He saw it on me, though, and he knew this was a dream I had to pursue. Frankly, I believe he told me he’d kick my ass if I didn’t. Oh yeah, it scared the crap out of him, too, but he has the most amazing sort of quiet faith in me and we quickly realized that we had to get serious about making this thing happen.
When I got sober, it certainly wasn’t the first time I had quit drinking and drugging. Not too long before the week that the whole world fell down, I had actually managed to kick on my own & string together two clean weeks. At the rate I was going at the time, this was HUGE! I had absolutely no support, though, because no one new what was going on except for the one person who needed me to be sick, too, so that he wouldn’t look so bad in comparison. (Narcissism is such a lovely disease, isn’t it?) He came home one day & said just the right thing to get me back off to the races: “I met this guy who’s got some bad ass white.” Oh, that foul demon cocaine! I could never resist her.
Once I had made the decision to throw myself into AA and had a few 24-hours under my belt, I told everyone! This was commitment on a mammoth scale and I needed accountability everywhere. I was like a competitor at the Special Olympics – completely surrounded by positive people cheering me on. This was one of the big differences from when I had tried before and failed. I couldn’t hide what I was doing anymore. I had to be open and honest from the beginning. If I faltered or failed, I had to do so publicly so that others could help keep me from going back to the depths of hell.
All that was to save me from going backwards, though. Now, I am going forward into uncharted territory for me. And it’s scary as hell. I have failed at a hell of a lot in my life and it’s hard to keep putting myself out there. I’ve never known what I wanted to do with my life, though… until now.
Just over 6 months ago, I was working at a place where I did very, very, very little work and got paid a buttload to do it. I mean, literally, I spent most of my days simply watching Netflix. I felt guilty, like I was stealing, but there honestly wasn’t anything for me to do. The organization came under new management and I feared that soon they would realize they didn’t need me anymore. I didn’t want to go back into medical billing, where I was before, but I wasn’t really qualified for anything else. I started panicking a bit and finally decided I just needed to go back to school so that I could actually learn something useful.
Around that same time, Philip Seymour Hoffman died and the interwebs blew up with armchair psychiatrists delving into the psyche of the addict. I read all manner of idiocy. The absolute worst, though, came from this “expert” on addiction. I don’t know what made this guy an expert aside from the fact that he had read a lot of books and had some fancy letters after his name. He essentially said that AA killed PSH. (Like, literally, he may have actually said those exact words.) In this man’s expert opinion, the only thing an addict needed to do to get and stay sober is to think about all the good things in his life – his job, his family, his money, etc. He spewed so many lies and misconceptions about 12-step programs that I honestly could not believe this man knew anything at all about addiction or recovery. I refuse to link to this man’s article on PSH or give his name because I don’t want to give him any more traffic. (Plus, at this point, I have gratefully forgotten what his name was so I can’t stalk him and send him threatening letters… not that I would, but I have been known to hold some serious grudges… alcoholic, remember?)
Yeah, I held a resentment toward that “expert” for a while before I figured out what to do with it. Before I actually started school, but long after I had made the decision to do so, I finally put two and two together. After securing my husband’s support, I secured the support of my first professor who is also the department head for my chosen field of study. Slowly, I have opened up to a few family members & friends and have received mixed feedback. Tomorrow (today), I will finish my second semester back in school having earned my Associate’s degree and 15 hours of 4.0 GPA. And everything just feels right. It’s not like before when I just ended up somewhere (I mean, someone with crappy customer service skills in San Antonio is just going to wind up in medical billing, that’s all there is to it) or said, “Eh, I like doing this, so I guess I’ll do this and see how it works out” (English, math, physical therapy… hell, I’ve had about every major imaginable). I actually love what I’m studying now and have an idea for how I want to use it! I always envied those folks who were born knowing what they wanted to be when they grew up. I was nearly 36 years old before I figured it out for myself.
So, yeah, what separated me, who had actual experience in addiction from this addiction “expert” who had absolutely no clue what addiction was? He went to school, read a lot of books, did some studies (at least I hope he did) and wrote a book. I can do that shit. And when I’m done, I won’t sound like a complete jackass. Or at least that’s how the initial thought came to me. Once it all got fleshed out it was more along the lines of, “Seriously, why are there no good statistics on recovery methods? Could someone who has actual experience in this become someone respected in the academic community and finally help to change the narrative? Can I bring a different perspective to the research on addiction?” And ultimately, “I honestly don’t care what I find out, I just want to study addicts because I am fascinated by these tortured and miraculous souls.”
They say if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans. I don’t have long term plans. I have a short term goal to finish my Bachelor’s hopefully by December 2015 and to apply to a few graduate schools. I also have a little dream seed that I’m watering every day. If it matures, I’ll end up with my name on some pertinent studies and maybe a funny hat and a couple of extra letters to carry around with me. Suffice to say, the next couple of years are going to be interesting. One day at a time.