To See a Fellowship Grow Up Around You

I just want to post a short note of gratitude. I just got home from my fourth (FOURTH!) Thanksgiving celebration, and I’m overwhelmed by how full my life is now. I have a gigantic blended family but more than that, I have a huge and supportive group of friends who love each other with a fierceness.

The celebration today was our Friendsgiving, and it was the second annual. It’s so special to start to see traditions take place, and to actually be involved in the process. Many of the people there were also experiencing their first Thanksgiving after suffering a loss, so it took on extra meaning for that reason as well.

I’m afraid I’m not being too eloquent right now–I’m exhausted from this weekend and from working earlier in the day, but I really wanted this recorded.

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Not really about sobriety

I’ve never been a prolific writer. I always find it hard to write when I’m not motivated by that sudden inexplicable jolt of inspiration, but that feeling is unpredictable and fickle. I was never a speed girl, but some of the best writing I’ve ever done has been on adderall, because it imitated that same drive, and enabled me to get past the laziness and fear of imperfection that stays my hand otherwise.

But inspiration doesn’t come if you don’t encourage it, and by not writing I’m making it harder for myself to write. So I’ve come to the conclusion that I just need to start doing it. Write garbage. Write awful, repetitive, embarrassing things because no one is looking anyway and it really is okay. Just keep writing and eventually inspiration might become a more regular visitor. Keep writing, and maybe eventually I’ll know what to say and how to say it.

More About This Judaism Thing

So I find myself in the extremely odd position of not being sure that I believe in god, or the idea of god, while simultaneously being strongly attracted to a traditional (perhaps the most traditional) organized religion.

I think a large part of it is finding comfort and meaning in both the ritual and the law. My time with the twelves steps has convinced me that action is the only way to change behavior and belief, and Judaism is a religion that emphasizes action over faith.  And it feels active right now. There’s so much to learn and experience that I feel like I am really putting work toward seeking, although I don’t know that I’m necessarily expecting to find anything in the sense of a traditional god.

I’ve also found it to be, at its best, an introspective and reflective religion that has spent centuries examining its own practices, literature, and community to create a constantly evolving conversation about what god is. Judaism encompasses a hugely varied spectrum of beliefs about god, from the patriarchal creator-god of the orthodox, to the broader, less supernatural concept of reconstructionism.

Obviously there are A LOT of caveats to that. Like all organized religions, Judaism has been a stumbling block to human growth and exploration to thousands. It has been restrictive and fostered environments where a privileged few could exercise outsized control over those in their power, which extended to all realms of their private and public lives.

However, I can see all of that as evidence of humanity’s flaws, which tend to surface regardless of the venue. In business, religion, and twelve step fellowships, human beings can twist and pervert even the best of our collective intentions.

I don’t know. I’m still figuring out what this is about.

 

Not dead, not drunk!

Hello!
It has been embarrassingly long since I’ve typed anything in this space. The reasons for that are complicated and boring, but basically life got in the way. One of the very exciting surprises of sobriety is how complicated and full life gets when you start focusing on something other than where the next drink or drug is coming from.

I’ve been in a stable and successfully monogamous relationship for almost three years. My partner has two children (one biological and one through circumstances), which means that my life has abruptly gone from being almost entirely about me and what I want to do, to being the kind of life where I have strong opinions on episodes of Teen Titans.

In February of 2016, my partner’s father died, which rocketed us both into a completely new realm of adulthood. I had to navigate how to be supportive of someone going through intense and sudden grief, while my partner obviously had to face the much more daunting task of adjusting to life without the only constant parental presence he had ever known.

I’ve been in the same job for my entire sobriety. They trust me with their advertising, press releases, and client and customer relations. I constantly feel like an imposter–like someone is going to figure out that I don’t belong there. At the same time, I realize that I’m doing a good job, a fact that is almost as surprising as that I haven’t called off for a made-up reason in years.

I had three years sober in August, and at the moment I have five sponsees, although only two are actually making any use of me.

I still don’t know what people talk about when they talk about having a relationship with god, but I haven’t stopped looking. Lately, I’ve been going to temple on Fridays and learning Hebrew. It’s been hard to explain exactly why, but something about Judaism being such an action-based religion has resonated with me. It kind of seems like how we approach the twelve steps in the beginning; we don’t really need to believe that they’ll work, or understand why. We just need to be willing to do them.

I guess those are the highlights. Maybe I’ll write again before 2017.

In case of doubt, break glass

I used to do this thing all the time where I would doubt whether I was an alcoholic. In the beginning, I thought that my drinking was actually a sign that I was an adult; after all, alcohol had helped me solve my drug problem. I would take countless variations of the test below, in hopes that one would tell me I didn’t have a problem. They never did. I’ve been going through another bout with doubt so I figured I’d post this here as a reminder–no matter how well I get, this is how it was. The answers don’t change because I’ve accumulated some time, and if I want to live that way again all I have to do is pick up the first drink.

1.  Do you drink heavily when you are disappointed, under pressure or have had a quarrel
with someone?
Yes. Always.
2.  Can you handle more alcohol now than when you first started to drink? Actually I could handle less. I got sick way quicker and constantly seemed to skip right over the “Fun drunk” part
3.  Have you ever been unable to remember part of the previous evening, even though
your friends say you didn’t pass out?
I never blacked out. I did brown out with regularity–small pieces would be missing or the evening would be a blur.
4.  When drinking with other people, do you try to have a few extra drinks when others
won’t know about it?
Pregaming. Secret shots.
5.  Do you sometimes feel uncomfortable if alcohol is not available? Always.
6.  Are you more in a hurry to get your first drink of the day than you used to be? Leaving work early to get to the liquor store, trying to start as early as possible to minimize my hangover the next day.
7.  Do you sometimes feel a little guilty about your drinking? Not until I stopped.
8.  Has a family member or close friend express concern or complained about your drinking? Only because of how sick I got the next day.
9.  Have you been having more memory “blackouts” recently? No
10.  Do you often want to continue drinking after your friends say they’ve had enough? I just made it my business to be passed out before it got to that point.
11.  Do you usually have a reason for the occasions when you drink heavily? I mean, kind of? Maybe something was going on but usually it was just “let’s get shitfaced”
12.  When you’re sober, do you sometimes regret things you did or said while drinking? AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA Do I sometimes NOT regret the things I said or did?
13.  Have you tried switching brands or drinks, or following different plans to control your
drinking?
  • Just Vodka
  • Just Wine
  • Liquor before Beer
  • Just beer
  • No pot with booze
  • Always eat first
  • Never eat fruit during
  • Go to bed before 1 AM
  • Take a sleeping pill with so you fall asleep before getting too drunk

There’s probably more that I’m not remembering

14.  Have you sometimes failed to keep promises you made to yourself about controlling or
cutting down on your drinking?
You mean besides “I don’t feel like drinking today?”
15.  Have you ever had a DWI (driving while intoxicated) or DUI (driving under the influence
of alcohol) violation, or any other legal problem related to your drinking?
No
16.  Do you try to avoid family or close friends while you are drinking? Of course. People get you into trouble. Can’t get into trouble if you don’t go anywhere or talk to anyone!
17.  Are you having more financial, work, school, and/or family problems as a result of
your drinking?
Didn’t think so at the time but it turns out I failed a class I don’t remember taking, and my job (which I barely worked a full day at) was working on firing me
18.  Has your physician ever advised you to cut down on your drinking? They’d have to know about my drinking to do that.
19.  Do you eat very little or irregularly during the periods when you are drinking? YES.
20.  Do you sometimes have the “shakes” in the morning and find that it helps to have a
“little” drink, tranquilizer or medication of some kind?
No
21.  Have you recently noticed that you can’t drink as much as you used to? YES.
22.  Do you sometimes stay drunk for several days at a time? No
23.  After periods of drinking do you sometimes see or hear things that aren’t there? No
24.  Have you ever gone to anyone for help about your drinking? Yes
25.  Do you ever feel depressed or anxious before, during or after periods of heavy drinking? Yes yes yes yes yes yes

Prescribed Relapse

What they don’t get is that we’re different. Our brains are forever like a duplex we share with an insatiable lunatic who is temporarily napping.  Rap on its door with an opiate and – no matter how intently we self-manage the dosage – once that beast wakes up, all bets are off.  It’ll rage, it’ll bust shit up, it’ll burn the whole damn house down, motherfucker.  Because that beast has a hold on us more powerful than anything that well-meaning doctor can possibly imagine.

It’s more powerful than reason, than resolve, than all things human.  It’s run our lives before, and it’s psyched to do it again.

Source: Prescribed Relapse

This post is such a good example of the difficulty non-addicted people–even well-educated, well-meaning ones–have understanding the addict and alcoholic’s brain. It can be so hard to tell someone, sometimes over and over again “No, do not offer me that because I really want it and it will destroy me.” Especially when they are trying to convince you that you’re being unreasonable, that you could do it safely this time, that most people have no problem at all with it. Like SHUT UP YOU SOUND EXACTLY LIKE MY DISEASE.

Go read the whole thing

Still Rigged

Back when I was first coming around, a woman I saw a lot in meetings used to like to say that the program was rigged. What she meant was that whenever she went to a meeting, she heard something that directly related to what was going on with her at that moment. I had that experience a lot in the beginning, but it seemed to taper off the more time I put into this.

Over the past few days, I had that experience again, but I just now realized that that was what happened. I’ve been struggling with the idea of shame and recovery–even though our disease makes us into liars, cheats, and thieves, it’s hard to look at someone who is behaving like an addict or alcoholic and see them as sick instead of just morally bankrupt. It’s hard for me to look at my past and see it as disease and not what my old patterns of thinking tell me: that I was a bad, worthless person.

So on Monday, I’m sitting in a meeting of 7 people including myself, in a dim little couch-filled room that also serves as the church’s youth group room.  I think that because of the lighting, the comfort, the fact that five of us have known each other for some time, the meeting was refreshingly honest and frank. All of us in that room had at least a year or close to it, and most of the sharing was about the new struggles that come once the drink problem is not as urgent.

One of the guys talked about how, for him, when he stops working on his program–specifically, when he’s not helping someone else or being of service–he slides into this “Why Me?” frame of mind, which was a big part of his drinking and drug use back in the day. He talked about how exhausting it can be to constantly be putting in effort, knowing that to lapse means the return of that internal misery.

This resonated so much for me. And it is so obvious, and so frustrating that I have to keep re-learning this lesson. I don’t get “Why Me” as much as I get “How Could I,” but it’s the same thing. Those feelings of shame and disgust and embarrassment can only be quelled by putting positive effort into shaping my life into something new; they can only surface if I give them the space to do so. I’ve been feeling restless and uncomfortable in my recovery because I’ve just been treading water. I have a sponsee but she’s incarcerated right now so our one on one time is limited. I’m not taking girls to meetings, I’m only going to the same handful of meetings a week, I’m begging off of commitments. I’m saying no to the things that I know keep me well, and then wondering why I’m crazy.

So the next day, a girl I know in the program texts me out of the blue and asks me to sponsor her. This girl has about a year–which is way more than the girls I usually sponsor. She’s also older than I am, approaches recovery much differently, and is going through some major life events. She is, in short, a challenge. And she is exactly what I need. I said yes.

Stigma

Enter into a conversation with any recovering person about the nature of alcoholism or addiction, and chances are pretty good that eventually you’ll get around to talking about the stigma of the disease. The fact that alcoholism and addiction are still seen by too many as moral failings is a deep rooted problem and a huge stumbling block for many struggling to put their lives back together.
My problem is that I agree with it.

Now, let me explain: I know, objectively, that alcoholism and addiction is a disease that manifests in lots of different ways other than the inability to control drinking or using, and that for many people (myself included) disease traits are obvious well before the introduction of any kind of mind-altering substance. I know from observation that my addiction was likely inherited, and that there is a strong genetic component with the disease overall. I know that having a single drink is not a moral failing, and that it is not the fault of the burgeoning alcoholic that he or she cannot stop drinking after the first one.

Logically, I know all of that stuff. But, like when I was first in recovery, knowing something won’t make me believe it. I still have this gut feeling that, for myself and for everyone else struggling with this, it’s somehow our own fault. Writing this is hard because I know how damaging this kind of thinking is, but I need to put this out there precisely for that reason. Like with all the dark stuff on my fourth step–it seemed a lot worse before I wrote it down and told somebody. Right now, every time these thoughts come up I get this wave of shame–like how am I going to help other people find recovery if I think this way? But I know my problem isn’t actually about them. It’s about me.

Even though I’ve made a lot of progress with this, part of me is still unable to accept that I was sick. Part of me still remembers what I did and gets so overwhelmed with regret and embarrassment and anger that I was ever that person. I’ve made amends, but I still haven’t forgiven myself and I don’t totally know how to even start.

So I carry those feelings around, and when I hear news about addiction and recovery, my thinking colors how I feel about that news. For example, reading about the Unite to Face Addiction rally in DC, I should have felt pride or maybe awe that so many people were finally getting together to shed light on a epidemic that is killing so many of my friends and peers. Instead, my knee-jerk reaction was one of embarrassment, almost annoyance. Like that this is something we should be hiding and why in the world would you go out and have a concert to announce what a shit head you are? My own internalized anger at the person I was when I was active makes it hard for me to have sympathy for people who are still sick, and it makes it hard to want to be open about what I had to do to get to where I am now.

I hope I’m making myself clear. I don’t want to feel this way, and I know that the reason I do is because I’m still working through those old thoughts. But I wanted to tell on myself because I can’t stand carrying these feelings around anymore. I can’t stand having even the slightest bit of doubt about what this disease is, because that is the kind of thinking that poisons me. Thinking it is a moral failing is just one step away from thinking that I’ve improved enough morally that I can handle this. Thinking sick people are anything but keeps me from being able to help them, which will let me forget how bad it was.

Thoughts on Car Repair

So I’ve never liked thinking about my car. It’s a necessity, but it’s also a huge metallic monument to my ignorance of all things mechanical. I hate relying so heavily on something that I cannot bring myself to understand, because it means that when something goes wrong with it, I have to rely on other people to tell me what it needs and how much it’s going to cost.

This is not a small character trait for me. I ran previous cars into the ground because I just couldn’t make myself care enough to get the oil changed. As in ever. I had a car that couldn’t shift out of third gear and I just dealt with it. I had a car where one of the windows didn’t go up–I duct taped blocks of wood to the window to hold it in place.

I. Hate. Thinking about my car.

So I noticed a few weeks ago (okay, like two months) that my car’s…I don’t know, the thing that makes air…wasn’t working. At all. No air conditioning, no heat, no defrost. No air comes out of the vents, no fan noises happen, nothing. Because I am working on being someone who takes care of problems when they arise, I brought it up with my boyfriend to see what he thought I should do. He told me that since the weather has been nice, it wasn’t urgent.

He meant it didn’t need to be taken care of that week. I heard “You can safely ignore that shit for ages!” Which is how I’m used to handling problems, and what I proceeded to do. Which brings us to tonight.

Tonight was the first actually cold night we’ve had here, and it was raining and just all around miserable. And I’m driving this airless car with the windows down to try to make my windshield even a little bit visible. Shivering behind the wheel, stooped down to peer through the one oblong part that’s a little clearer than the rest, wiping the inside off with papertowels at red lights and squinting to see the lines on the road through the rain and the fog.

And I start getting this bizarre feeling. I’m hunched over the steering wheel and the thought occurs to me that this is what old people must feel like. All of a sudden I’m wondering if I’m old–as in, if I’m actually an elderly woman suffering some kind of dementia who is just remembering being a young woman driving a piece of shit car. And then I think about dying, in that chest-freezing sudden kind of way where all of a sudden you realize that the lump of meat thinking these thoughts won’t be around forever. I try to remind myself that I’m driving but it’s hard to focus and I feel weird–like I took something even though I know I didn’t, and I start to think maybe I’m having a hallucinogenic flashback and

All of a sudden, I realize. This is panic. I’m panicking right now, and I didn’t even realize it. I had fallen backwards into such a storm of anxiety that I couldn’t even recognize it for what it was. Normally for me, panic is physical before it gets to this level; this time it was like a crazy reverse thing. I never had the chest pains, my breathing didn’t get rapid or labored–I just momentarily went crazy. What was amazing was that it was maybe 3-5 minutes at most before I realized it and called it what it is. For me, being able to name it takes 98% of the power away from it.

Basically, this was about 600 words to tell you that I need to bring my car into the shop.