Reflecting

Even though I have not touched alcohol in more than 18 months, I have only been going to AA for about a year. I have learned so much in that time and wanted to get some of it out here before I forget–or better yet–before my alcoholic thinking takes over.

1) The work doesn’t stop after you put down the drink–it’s just begun. I don’t say this to sound dreadful but I actually didn’t properly acknowledge this for my first six dry months. I even find my username a little ironic and don’t think I thought fully about what it means to be dry versus sober.

2) Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. I hadn’t heard this saying before. AA really doesn’t promote beating yourself down and reminding yourself of what a mess you are–it’s changing your brain’s focus to the bigger picture and to being of service to others (even if that second part may be driven by the selfish motive to stay sober yourself). It’s easier to get through life knowing you are not the center of the world…you get to let go and let your higher power determine what’s next. I certainly believe in free will and in being proactive, but it’s not up to me to control the results. And that is so damn liberating.

3) Forgiveness is letting go of hope for a better past. I’ve discovered that I carry a lot of anger against people in my life and have a hard time letting go of it. I want to, but it’s hard because that resentment has kept me comfortably quilted in the feeling of self pity and deservedness. But I also resent myself and my own past actions. All of these resentments need to be acknowledged and then I can only ask my higher power for help in removing them.

4) Don’t get too bogged down by AA technicalities. “Higher Power” doesn’t have to be a judgmental bearded man. In my case, it is a spiritual feeling. It’s okay to not have faith in any higher power as long as there is willingness to work the steps and keep an open mind.

5) Humans are not capable of reading the minds of others. Fear seems to underly a lot of my character defects, so I go into many situations (work, family functions, even meetings!) on the defense. I am looking for reasons to feel wronged and hurt and justified in drowning my feelings with booze. But people are only human and most of the time mean well.

6) You can go from not believing in any higher power to being willing to believe but still doubtful to feeling a sense of peace and serenity (that, to me, is my higher power). That sense is not something I preach about to others or even disclose to many others, but I will tell you it is the spiritual feeling that makes me feel grateful to be alive. More than anything in the world, I am off that awful roller coaster of drinking heavily, harming others, feeling intense remorse, erasing what just happened, and drinking heavily again. We are human and sometimes we slip, but there is a way to live a happy, joyous, and free life even if it seems like life is forever destined to be controlled by alcoholism.

7)Alcoholism will always be something I have to respect and work on. A year into AA and I still haven’t passed Step 6. In fact, I recently ate pot-laced chocolate and my sponsor (and others in the program) suggested I restart my time. I am no better or worse than anyone for having more or less time–we are all fighting this battle.

AA is a program that works for some, but not all. It works for me. It gives me regular boosts of hope and encouragement to keep working on making a better life for myself and other people I encounter.

Cheating

I’m thinking a lot about what constitutes cheating sobriety. I recently ate pot-laced chocolate without much hesitation thinking, “sweet, I can alter my mind since I’ve never been addicted to marijuana!” and secretly felt thrilled I could take advantage of the buzz. Never did it cross my mind I’d need to reset my clock or–worse–put my sobriety on the line.

As someone who has been going to AA for nearly a year, I am embarrassed by this admission. In retrospect, DUH–deliberately doing ANYTHING to alter your brain chemistry in search of a buzz would be jeopardizing your sobriety. Right?

I don’t know how to answer this question and neither did a woman I’ve gotten to know in one of my neighborhood meetings. She’s been sober since 1997.

When do we truly let go of our addictive thoughts and behaviors? I still eat cookie butter out of the jar mindlessly when I come home from work after a long day if I feel a hankering. I smoked a handful of cigarettes this weekend to get through some of the tougher parts of a bachelorette weekend on the shore (something I absolutely never could have attended during my first year). I’ve already had 2 cups of coffee before 9 AM…

I am asking my higher power to rid me of this feeling of resentment I have towards my sponsor and some of the AAers I’ve spoken to who declare I must restart the clock. I know I have to do that to have a sane state of mind. But from a purely analytical view—where do you draw the line?

Slip

Well, I think it goes without saying I have stopped blogging about my sobriety…

Yesterday I used drugs and reasoned that since the drug wasn’t my drug of choice I wouldn’t be breaking sobriety. I got high, felt euphoric, and then it went away. I had a fun day with friends, rode roller coasters and other thrill rides, and generally just let go of all cares.

I feel ashamed that I felt no remorse but even more than I didn’t think this was a problem. My alcoholic brain thought, “HAH! I was able to FINALLY get that high I haven’t had in 1 year and 5 months again WITHOUT DRINKING! I still get to pat myself on the back for my success in not drinking.” Then I went to a meeting this morning, confessed, and was put in my place. When I say “put in my place,” I don’t mean shamed by other AAers. I mean spoke with other members who had done the same thing and they felt they needed to reset the clock. They were only cheating themselves by using this faulty (and alcoholic) reasoning.

Naturally my first reaction was resentment. “Don’t sit on your high horse and feel like you can make me reset a clock!” But the thing is, no one did. I realized I have to be true to myself and that this was the actual wonderful relapse I needed to make things right and start over. I need to clean house. I got to experience something to push me into appreciating and respecting the program above all else and thank god it wasn’t drinking.

A lot of great things have been happening lately. I am able to enjoy socializing with people and laugh again and be comfortable being a sober woman. My wife and I just got the condo of my dreams–literally this place made me gasp when I saw it; it is our first owned home. We are going to try to get pregnant later this summer. I got a summer position I had my eye on and beat several other candidates.

Have you ever noticed that we think a lot about how alcohol helps us deal with bad fortune, but not good? I think I used yesterday because I thought, “I got this. I’ve finally mastered this problem. Maybe I can’t drink but I can have that high again with something else.” My ego going nuts again.

I feel blessed I had this slip and have a chance to start over.

May 31, 2015–my new sobriety date.

Big ‘ole bag of resentments

In this moment, I am harboring some serious resentments towards my wife. I resent that I feel like a novice when it comes to how to be an adult when she figured shit out a long time ago.  I resent that we default to her way of doing everything, right down to how we make the bed, because it’s the right way to do it. I resent that I actually am really immature in so many emotional ways and resent that I feed into this parent/child dynamic we go into by being passive and not taking charge of things that need to be done in a marriage.  And now I feel like having kids is the stupidest idea considering we can’t fix these issues and I am no longer excited about finding a place to buy because it’s easier to pout and let her figure it out.

I feel ugly on the inside and like I want to throw a temper tantrum. I know my wife doesn’t want our marriage to be this way and seems motivated for things to change. Sometimes I have felt motivated, too. But these patterns are so damn hard to break. I spent all of last year working on becoming a better person and I am grateful I am no longer in that cycle of drinking–>blacking out—>regret–>repeat, but jesus, I am sick of facing the messiness of life and sick of facing all of my fucking “character defects.”

I thought once I stopped drinking, things would be 50/50 in our relationship. Instead, I feel like taking away my favorite number just shows me how inept and immature I am and how unprepared for adulthood I am. I never went through a healthy growing up process, and now I have to face the music.

I am frustrated that I am not yet the healthy adult or wife I would like to be.

My Share

Yesterday I met someone from the program who recognized the woman I was standing with, as I waited for her to finish her cigarette so we could go into our meeting. After making a bit of small talk, he asked if I would speak at an upcoming meeting. Just to tell my story and if I wanted, to tie that into the step we were working on that day. I am flattered that he asked me to do this but I realize I don’t know how to neatly package “my story.” I love listening to speakers at meetings…They seem to have mastered the ability to organize their thoughts into a flowing, connected series of sentences that make for a captivating story. How I am supposed to do this when my thoughts about my history with drinking are all over the place?

The purpose behind sharing a story is to help another alcoholic, not to win some kind of storytelling contest. But I think it will help to write out my story before I dive into this meeting, so here goes:

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t think and behave alcoholically. I remember getting violently ill after my mom baked fresh cinnamon rolls and left to check on my baby brother. The gooey, steamy rolls were too tempting and I stuffed myself with as many rolls as I could before she came back. In a matter of minutes, I was throwing up, as my mom shook her head and rubbed my back.

For as long as I remember, I’ve struggled with loneliness and low self-esteem. Those feel as inborn to me as my green eyes. I have great memories from childhood–waterparks in the summer, playing Barbies and having sleepovers with friends, getting a puppy–laced with a persistent low feeling that has always hung on my shoulders, reminding me it wouldn’t go away. I have never been able to deal with this dark cloud of sadness, so found other ways to cope. I suspect that even at the ripe old age of six, even choking down cinnamon rolls at record speed had to have something to do with this.

I remember walking to Baskin Robbins with my best friend in middle school. I had a habit of not wearing my glasses when I wasn’t near a chalkboard. Anyway, we saw my English teacher (on whom I harbored a massive-but-then-repressed crush) and another teacher buying ice cream cones. She said “My god, you should take your glasses off more often! You look great!” I remember feeling like I had something to offer–I was beautiful.

I started wearing contact lenses and dieting within weeks after my teacher made this comment. I started to earn the praise of my mother, who historically teased me for having a “bubble butt” and saying “you’re cute” when I asked her if I was pretty. Mom was one of those rare women who forgot to eat and could slip into size 0 pants well into her forties. Every time she would encircle my waist with her hands and marvel at my petiteness, my ego grew all the more.

My school counselor called me into her office to comment on the fact that people had been saying I looked too thin. I felt euphoric. I must have been exceptional to be hand picked by my counselor as a reward for my thinness. I might as well have been crowned Miss America.

What wasn’t so glamorous about this was the secrecy and the sickness behind the facade. I was never a full-fledged anorexic or bulimic, but flirted with all kinds of disordered eating: hiding pizza under a rug when my father unexpectedly walked into the sunroom and would have otherwise caught a binge; eating exclusively Cornflakes and apples; running six miles every day; eating an entire box of Whitman’s Samplers; smoking cigarettes to curb my appetite. I even avoided parties and drinking in high school because I didn’t want to consume the extra calories. Until college came along.

From the very first time I drank in college, I drank to get shitfaced. First I got drunk because, if I was going to waste my day’s calories on alcohol, might as well go all out. But as my eating issues started to subside, my drinking problem got worse. I drank to be someone else. I drank to be charming and witty and funny and cool and sexy. I drank because it increased my sex appeal and men were drawn to me. I was a loser without getting drunk. Since I hit all the right benchmarks (i.e. joining a sorority, having a boyfriend, studying abroad, graduating) I never would have thought there was a problem.

My twenties were all about binge drinking and sleeping around. I had a cluster of friends with whom I liked to…binge drink and rehash hook-up stories from the night before…and basically keep things skin deep. I dated a guy who I cared for deeply, who had his own bucket of issues, and then we split up. One of our issues was my drinking. Because what’s wrong with doing cartwheels with no underwear on in public and crying at his cousin’s wedding because I am not the one who gets to be married?

I slid into a depression some years after that relationship ended. I felt utterly empty and did not know why. It dawned on me when I woke up one morning next to a guy I had been dating that I did not want to date men at all. I really wanted to be with women.

Once I let on that I liked girls, my whole world changed. I felt relief to be true to myself and to know people accepted me. Yet I also drank more than ever. I drank to be comfortable on dates with women. I drank to be physically intimate with women. I drank to get over the shame of being gay. My shame–no one else’s.

A few years into my relationship with my now-wife things with alcohol reached an all-time low. I was blacking out almost every time I drank. I would get lost and try to walk home alone in the dark. I frequently peed myself. I sometimes drank an entire bottle of wine by myself during the week. I got drunk at any function that offered alcohol–even if it was a two-hour get together. I picked fights with my now-wife and screamed at her that I was worthless and horrible (to gain sympathy to distract her from being mad that I got so drunk in the first place). I forgot to call. I forgot to text. I went to work hungover. I stole people’s drinks at dinner. I snuck sips of liquor from our stash while my now-wife went to the bathroom after we had already put away a bottle of wine together.

It had to stop. And no amount of drinking water between drinks, or electing someone to be responsible for cutting me off after three, or just avoiding liquor and drinking beer was going to stop the madness. I had to simply stop drinking.

January 1st, 2014 is my sobriety date and I am grateful to still be sober today.

Gratitude

I feel such a resistance against putting my recovery first and knowing I need to go to more meetings, to reach out to other alcoholics, to pray…I am sick of hearing the broken record in my head that keeps telling me “I should….” and “I need to…” For some reason, it means a lot to me to tell myself I am able to keep my sickness at bay by myself. But I’m not, and I am grateful this morning to have heard the messages of so many people who are also struggling. I feel connected to the bigger purpose behind all this, and I love feeling connected NOT out of obligation.

Last week a fellow AA-er called and left a voicemail. I had just come out of a kickboxing class and do you know what I thought when I called back? “Oh good,” when it went to voicemail, “I can just leave a message and I’ve done my job.” I can’t be bothered with having a conversation with anyone about recovery when I need to go home, shower, and make dinner. But it’s not about checking off boxes on a to-do list, and until lately, I haven’t REALLY gotten that…it’s respecting the care that recovery needs by taking the time to honor it.

Yesterday, my wife and I got into a tiff because she was under the impression we had set plans for the day and I was not. A simple miscommunication. But when I told her about some other idea for how I was going to spend Saturday–of course inviting her along–she was hurt and felt like I didn’t care about our original plan. The whole time in my head I told myself to be assertive and mindful of her feelings, since I tend to lash out and get really defensive. I tried to hard to keep myself controlled that by the time we were through arguing I burst into tears. Not teared up–like sobbed. And only when I got to that point did I desperately try to recite the serenity prayer and scrounge up any other shreds of wisdom I have heard in AA about prayer and meditation. I wait ’til I’ve lost it to make it a priority to weave prayer and meditation into my life.

Nothing about being an alcoholic in recovery is convenient. You also don’t get to use the steps when things are hard but abandon them when you’re having a normal or good day. But as someone said in today’s meeting, I can think of being committed as out of devotion instead of discipline. Simply changing that mindset might be what I need to unlock my stubbornness and break down my walls.

I feel grateful for the program because it is allowing me to continually grow in my recovery and hopefully help others along the way.

Dry Drunk

When you still don’t have a higher power after you’ve been sober for 10 months. When you refuse to work the steps in AA because it is still too painful to take an honest inventory of yourself and acknowledge your character defects. When you dislike your sponsor for not calling you and giving you the structure you need in order to successfully work the steps–even though you seldom call her yourself. When you rarely speak in AA meetings anymore because everyone else is smarter, more articulate, more popular, and a better leader than you are. When you think of going to more than one meeting a week as one more thing you have to pack into your schedule, so you basically never do it. Did I mention when you still find yourself fantasizing about how good bourbon feels as the warmth burns down your throat at a buzzing holiday party?

These are some of the things that have made me wonder if I’m a dry drunk, as someone put it in today’s meeting. I’ve come really close to relapsing–one time holding a beer for my wife and thought, “why don’t I just skim off the top so it doesn’t spill?”; and the other when I was out for Halloween and dying to order a Zombie because underneath it warned “two drink maximum per customer.” With that second one, I reasoned I could actually stop at 2 and look normal because apparently after two you’re drunk anyway, so it wouldn’t be my FAULT if I ended up drunk. WOW, I’m an alcoholic.

Luckily I did not relapse but I sure didn’t see these events happening so close to one another. There’s something about this time of year–the nip in the air, darkness descending earlier and earlier in the day, huddling together with family and friends for the holidays. It is a great time of year but much more triggering than I imagined.

I’m glad I went to a meeting this afternoon. I had never been to this particular meeting and I got so much out of it. Someone spoke about how alcoholics are all basically addicts who are all basically people needing to control. I used to not think of myself this way–I thought I was very type B and not a perfectionist in any way. But I see the truth now for what it is. I don’t feel close to a higher power because I’m still holding onto my ego. I haven’t done Step 4 because I am terrified of judgment that comes from ME. I’m mad at my sponsor because she’s not doing my work for me. I have recently stopped talking in meetings because I am so used to comparing myself to others and competing with them due to my very fragile self-esteem. I don’t want to go to more than one AA meeting a week because it’s a pain in the ass and I want everything done on my terms. And I still romanticize alcohol because I am, and will always be, an alcoholic.