alcohol · Holidays

This Amazing Gift

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On Monday I returned from my first sober vacation…still sober.

There were a few instances in which I felt a little anxious about not drinking but with a few deep breaths and thinking about what awful things would probably happened if I picked up a drink, I was able to calm myself and even have fun.

Friday was spent traveling to the beach and then having lunch once we got there. I was probably the only one there who noticed that no one ordered alcohol with their meal. We grabbed a few groceries, dropped our belongings off at the beach house and then headed to the sand. We had a late dinner Friday evening followed by a short trip to a bar where the bartender kindly gave me my non-alcoholic beverage for free. He had a look in his eye that he understood and for that I was grateful.  My friends and I spent most of the evening laughing harder than we have in a long time. And I was sober.

Saturday morning three of us woke early and walked to a nearby Dunkin Donuts for coffee and conversation. What a blessing to wake up refreshed and with a clear head to be able to do that. Then I made breakfast for everyone and the majority of the day was spent at the beach. We went to a well known restaurant for dinner and then a night club.  I WAS SOBER IN A NIGHT CLUB.  This is unheard of for me. The unbelievable (for me) thing was, I was stone cold sober and yet I laughed and danced and sang along with the music and enjoyed every second.

Sunday morning I made breakfast again for the group and then we spent part of the day at the beach. I was burnt by this point and decided to go back to the house alone.  On my walk back, I stopped at the Dunkin Donuts and treated myself to an iced coffee. I read a book this day and we went to dinner again and then took a short trip to the boardwalk.  By evening, I was ready to head home the next day as I really missed my babies.

My amazing sober buddy checked in with me daily while I was away. I took deep breaths. I stayed in the present. I intentionally looked for the blessings that my sobriety brought:  early mornings with NO hangovers, feeling present, being able to make breakfast for my friends, knowing that I and the people I love were safe because I was the DD, fully enjoying the sunshine without the haze of alcohol, no shame or guilt, and I remember everything. EVERYTHING.

There were so many moments on this trip that I wanted to fall to my knees and thank God and the Universe for this chance to change my life. I’m choking up now just thinking of this. Nearly 6 months ago when things fell apart for the final time while I was drinking, I didn’t think life could be like this. I was so miserable and lost. When I decided on December 18 that I just could not have another drink and survive, I thought I was walking from one miserable life right into another miserable life but in that moment, in my mind, anything would have been better than continuing to drink.  At that time, sobriety meant no fun, no friends, isolation, anger and sadness. I was so focused on what I was having to give up that I couldn’t see what I might gain.

It is by the grace of God that I pushed through all of that and kept going. And there are no words to describe how grateful I am that I’ve made it to this point. Now I can see that what I gave up was not fun and friends. I gave up being controlled by alcohol, I gave up shame and guilt, I gave up self-destructive choices, I gave up completely ruining my children’s childhoods, I gave up running from all of my problems. I gave up faking who I was and what I wanted from my life.

I gained the ability to feel everything, good and bad, an appreciation for the here and now, and the chance to strengthen and deepen relationships that truly matter. I gained an appreciation for how strong I truly am.  I gained a sense of self that I had no idea was available to me. I gained the knowledge of beginning to figure out who the authentic me is and what she wants from this life. Sobriety has brought me to a place of self-love that I never knew existed.

I read stories from others who are on their own recovery journey and before when I would read things like, “sobriety is such a gift,” I had no real understanding of what that meant. But now, today, I do. I get it, I really get it. Even on the bad days, sobriety is so much better than where I used to be.

So if you’re reading this and you’re not quite there yet, have faith that it can happen for you too. You are not alone. So many of us have been there but you are strong and you are worth it. You will not regret giving yourself this beautiful gift.

Life is so much sweeter, sober.

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alcohol

Good news at last

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In the midst of the uncertainty of my life, there has been some good news this week.  Let me start at the beginning.

It was Labor Day weekend of 2015.  I joined two of my friends for a Girl’s Night Out in a nearby city.  Dinner and drinks and lots of laughs. Everything was fine for awhile, but towards the end of the night, as usual, I started to let things go too far.  I didn’t black out and maybe that was one of my saving graces of being an addict – it took a whole hell of a lot more than the 5-7 drinks I had that night to make me black out.  It also meant though, that I remember everything about that night.

At the end of the evening, I met a man who was visiting from out of town. I was feeling good and lost my inhibitions as typically happened when I drank and made out with him in the bar in front of everyone. While my husband and kids were at home.

At some point I realized this was not a great idea and abruptly left.  Everyone followed me out of the bar and my friends were worried about me driving but I assured them I was fine. Because technically, for me, I was fine. I hadn’t blacked out.

I made it to my car and found that the guy had followed me. He asked me if I was okay to drink which I assured him I was and I offered to drive him back to his hotel. Looking back, I can see what mixed signals this gave and I cringe.  But it happened and I own it.

So as I’m driving out of town, I run right into a sobriety checkpoint because it’s Labor Day weekend and why the fuck not. I knew I was in trouble but at this point there was nothing I could do but walk (or drive I guess) into the fire. So I did.

As I was being given the sobriety test by a very kind officer, the stranger who had been in the passenger seat of my car slipped out and walked away down the street.  While being given the test I was telling the officer how I would probably lose my job and my husband after this.  Another not-so-kind officer who overheard asked in front of everyone if the guy I was with was my husband and I honestly answered, no.  He shamed me then in front of everyone noting that, “You’re husband sure wouldn’t be happy to know you were with him.”  No shit, Sherlock.

It was determined that while I wasn’t super drunk, I was definitely too drunk to be driving so I was arrested and put in a paddy wagon with several other women who were in the same boat.  The arresting officer was kind though and apologized, saying he understood I wasn’t very drunk.  I told him he was just doing his job and it was my fault for thinking I could drive.  I knew I had to own what was happening in the moment. Shit had just gotten so real for me.

The officers I came into contact from this point on were all very nice, probably because I was very respectful and nice as well.  I also held very normal conversations with them through the rest of the night.  When they handcuffed me to put me in the paddy wagon, one of the cuffs was too loose and I could slip my hand out.  So I did right then and there and showed the officer, asking him to tighten it.  Needless to say, he was quite surprised and then re-did the handcuffs appropriately.  I even joked with the one who took my mugshot and said, I bet you’ve never had to do this for someone who is as sober as me right now and he replied, “No, actually I haven’t.”

At the time it felt like such a kick in the ass from the universe because of all the times I had been so beyond drunk what I was that night and still drove, this was the night I was caught.  Now I realized how ridiculous it was to think that way and I thank God I was clear-headed enough to be as respectful as I was and not make things worse by being blacked out or belligerent.

As the night wore on, the ladies and I were booked one by one and put in a big cell together until we could get in contact with someone to come get us.  One by one they left and there I was alone.  For whatever reason, my mother had her cell phone and home phone turned off that evening.  The only night that has ever happened.  My husband refused to come get me when the officers called him. By 2 am or so everyone had left but me. I slept only an hour or so on a cold jail cell floor that night with my ankles shackled under a scratchy blanket.

At around 6 am, I called one of the friends who I had been out with the night before.  She immediately came to get me, helped me find where my car had been towed so I would know where to go later and then took me home to where I would have one of the longest mornings of my life. In front of my kids, I had to pretend I was fine.  We had somewhere to be that morning so I showered and got ready and we went.  By this time, I was able to contact my mom who came to watch my kids while we went to get my car.  By afternoon I was beyond broken and exhausted.  I told my husband everything, declared that I could and would never drink again and took a nap.

My husband showed me more grace than I deserved. Even if he hadn’t though, he couldn’t have been harder on me than I was on myself.  I had never felt humiliation like I did because of this experience.  Thankfully, my employer showed me grace as well.  You see, I am a teacher.  The general public typically expects teachers to be perfect, but we are flawed individuals as well.  I am beyond grateful to work for people who understand that no one is perfect.

I was charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and was able to complete a program for first-time offenders where I attended a presentation by families who had loved ones killed in drunk driving accidents, lost my license for 30 days, paid a large fine, completed community service and took a safe driving class.  The worst punishment however was the overwhelming guilt and humiliation which lasted for more than a year.  Every now and then I feel shame about it still but at this point I’ve come to accept that it’s a part of my story whether I like it or not and I must own it.

So what does this all have to do with the good news?  Well, when this happened, I figured my goal of one day becoming a principal was just never going to happen. (Even though I know school leaders who have gotten DUI’s.) I gave up on that dream.  Recently though, I thought it might be worth a try.  So I applied for a program to get my certificate to become a principal.  I went through the lengthy application process to an in-state university which included a question on the application about my criminal background.

I almost didn’t apply because of that question.  I thought, no way am I admitting this to a university.  I will never get in.  I mulled over it for a few days.  Then I decided to go for it and own it.  So I clicked, “Yes.” Yes, I have a criminal background.  No, I’m not proud of that. So far from it.

I also needed recommendation letters.  “Who the hell is going to recommend me knowing that I got a DUI?” I thought.  I felt more of the shame and humiliation but I walked through it and asked for these letters.  No one brought up my DUI from 1.5 years ago.  They simply wrote wonderful letters for me.  I wanted to cry.  I do not deserve this grace I thought.

Things were going smoothly with the application process.  My contact at the university told me they had everything they needed and were reviewing everything.  The next day an e-mail was waiting for me.  My contact informed me that the admissions department noticed I had checked “Yes” about having a criminal history and they would like me to explain further. My stomach dropped. My heart filled with shame.  This was it. I was not going to get in. For a split second I thought I should just ignore the e-mail and forget about it all. Move on.

No. I had to own this and I had to own it all the way through as painful as it was.  Whatever happened, I had to know I at least tried.  So I wrote a brief explanation in response and waited. And waited. And waited.

3 days later and another e-mail. I burst into tears. I WAS ACCEPTED.

It’s hard for me to remember sometimes but I am more than the DUI.  I am more than my mistakes.  I am more than my addiction.  I am more.

alcohol

Freedom

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I am aching for freedom.  Or maybe I should say, I am aching for more freedom.

AuntieLex  recently wrote a post that I read about having the label of alcoholic.  How do we end up with that label? Who decides?

I’ve struggled with the stigma of the word “alcoholic” for years.  When I finally surrendered to the label in December of 2016, more shame, guilt and dishonor piled on top of the mountain of negative feelings I already had about myself.  I only used it when absolutely necessary with my closest family and friends, no more than a handful, and mostly it was to remind myself and those same people, my loving enablers, that I just cannot drink anymore. With tears streaming down my face and my breath catching between sobs, I blurted out to my therapist in one particular session that, “I AM an alcoholic” and it felt more like I was punishing myself by making myself say that loaded word to a stranger (in a sense) rather than owning a self-truth.

Reflecting on this made me think of Laura McKowen’s recent blog post.  McKowen provokes her readers by suggesting that the real question we should be asking ourselves isn’t, “Am I an alcoholic?” but rather, “Am I free?”

Mind blowing.

Ever since I read her post, this question has been stirring in my heart. It’s a question that allows me to own my truth – that I have a problem with alcohol. That I lose control and become a person I am not proud of and make choices that I don’t remember but make me feel as though I’ve violated myself, others around me, and the world. That I am anything but free when I drink.  As a result, I’ve stepped back from using “alcoholic” as part of my identity. It doesn’t change the fact that I simply cannot drink ever again because when I do drink, I lose the freedom that I have learned I so desperately need.

While sobriety has given me a freedom that I forgot existed, there are other ramifications I also forgot about.  A clear mind means every feeling must be felt, thoroughly, and often many times over. This leads to fully understanding that there are areas of my life that can no longer be silenced with a blackout.  I am trapped by my own inability and unwillingness to make changes in these areas and as so many of us painfully know, feeling trapped will eventually lead to my downfall if I do not attempt to address them head on.

As difficult as I know this will be, I am acutely aware that I must do so. I want more freedom. I want to be free from the feelings of guilt, inadequacy, resentment, anger and unresolved issues surrounding my broken marriage. I want to be free from feeling under-appreciated and undervalued yet overwhelmed at my job. I want to be free from the feelings that I’m just not cut out to be a mother and I’m screwing up my kids left and right.

I want more freedom. I need more freedom. My soul, my sober soul, is demanding it, screaming from the deepest depths of me that while I’m no longer held prisoner by my addiction, I am still trapped in so many ways.

Recovery is about so much more than just staying sober. As I recently told my therapist, it would appear I’m actually in recovery from life.

alcohol · Mental Illness

What is normal?

normal

I just finished reading Drunk Mom by Jowita Bydlowska and the quote above is from her book.

Wow. I’ll just give you a minute to let that sink in.

I’m sure I’ll wake up tomorrow with another emotional hangover (like I did when I watched 13 Reasons Whyafter reading this book and this quote in particular. I’m still early in my recovery at just 121 days and when I read these things or hear stories that I connect with, my breath always catches. I’m not alone. These feelings aren’t unique to me. Then there’s relief because…well, I’m not alone.

My entire life I’ve felt abnormal…not right…like an outsider. I started putting on weight in third grade which never really stopped until I topped out at 285 pounds at 24 years old. Years of angry tears and cursing God and asking WHY CAN’T I JUST BE NORMAL?!

My senior year of high school (and let’s be honest, probably even earlier) was spent sliding down the slippery slope of depression. My first heartbreak in college and realizing I had to figure out my life, and fast, during 4 years of college sent me spinning. In and out of therapy, lots of prescriptions that I filled but never took because WHY CAN’T I JUST BE NORMAL?!?!

As I left college and continued to binge drink and began my career and continued trying to figure out who I was and why my destiny included me being morbidly obese, depression and anxiety kept creeping in. So I had gastric bypass and lost 135 pounds but it turns out, being thin doesn’t necessarily make you feel normal either.

I got married and bought a house with my husband and planned on starting a family.  Because this is what normal people do. And I wanted so badly to just be normal.

I had two babies and earned my master’s degree while tending to infants and toddlers and working full-time. The only thing that felt normal at this point was my anxiety. So I started taking the pills that they said would help me and finally, finally, finally after several different tries, found something that gave me some relief. But now…now I was one of those people who has to take a pill to feel normal. Whatever normal is.

I started drinking more as the kids got a bit older and totally bought into the mommy-drinking culture. I DESERVED those 3 glasses of wine. I’m a mom. I’m a normal mom.

My marriage, like many marriages, began to bend under the weight of time and children and a mortgage and jobs and bills and in-laws and life. It wasn’t fun anymore. It wasn’t romantic. It wasn’t normal in my mind.  And all I wanted was normal.

Then my dad died somewhat unexpectedly. I was 31. So I pretty much pretended it didn’t happen. Avoided grieving in a healthy way. Avoided dealing with what I witnessed and experienced in his final months. I drank. And drank and drank and drank. Then drank some more. Suddenly I felt normal.

I felt nothing. This must be normal, I thought. Then I gave up on my marriage. Normal, marriage is hard and marriage with kids is harder and so I’m legally married but I’d given up inside, that’s normal. No one’s actually happily married, I thought.

Then I got a DUI. Normal, almost everyone gets one at some point, right? Blacking out is totally normal too.  It’s not like I do it all the time. Ok, it’s not like I do it every day. Only on the weekends or special occasions like bridal showers and weddings and summer cook outs and holidays. Maybe once or twice during the week. I told myself this was all normal. I told myself I felt normal. Finally. I BELONGED. I was one of the normal ones.

Now and then this deviant thought would try to make it’s way into my brain. “You’re still not normal.  This is not normal.” So I would drink to quiet it. “You’re still sad.  You’re still lost. You’re still not normal and this is not normal drinking.” Drink more and more and more to make it stop. I didn’t want to own it.

I kept drinking and fucking up left and right but eventually I couldn’t lie to myself anymore, even if I could keep lying to my family and friends. (Not that they believed me, but they pretended at least.) I couldn’t deny that my drinking was anything but normal.  So I continued to embarrass myself, disgrace myself and destroy my relationships because it might not be normal but it sure as hell beat having to feel things and face the fact that I’m just not normal. Until it didn’t.

Then I stopped. And of course there’s so much more to it then simply, “I stopped,” but for now, just know, I stopped. I woke up and I heard again, “You’re not normal” and this time I had to choose to listen instead of try to silence the voice in my head with alcohol. And so I know now that I’m not normal.  I can’t say I’ve accepted it yet, but I know it.

I put weight back on after 10 years and two kids. I’m not 285 pounds but I’m not 175 either. I still take a pill daily to lighten the anxiety that courses through my veins and invades my thoughts. I can’t drink anymore. I’m anything but normal. Or am I?

drunkmom