My friend was telling me about a woman she had recently met. This woman was newly sober, just a couple weeks in. She was concerned that summer was around the block. Her husband and her were renowned for their pool parties, and she was worried that if they did not serve alcohol, no one would come. Two weeks sober and she’s are worried about pool parties? I would have laughed if I hadn’t known she was dead serious.
When I first got sober, I had my own obsession: my wedding day. As I remember, early on I met a girl who had met a boy on AA campus and had gotten married. She was telling me about their relationship and life, but I didn’t get further than… “Wedding? Hold up, you had a sober wedding? No one drank? No endless champagne toasts? No open bar? A dead sober wedding?” I could not imagine such a thing. So, I obsessed about it, what my sober wedding would look like. Would we serve alcohol, and I would just not drink, or would the whole wedding be dry? Would we have water in club soda in champagne glasses or would that just look tacky? Would anyone dance? All this time, I didn’t even have a boyfriend, let alone a fiancé.
And that, my friends, is how I know I am an alcoholic.
I read a startling statistic the other day: 60% percent of women drink at least one drink a year. That is not the part that startled me. What shocked me was that if 60% drink at least one drink a year, 40% of women do not drink at all! Nothing!
I think it is hard for heavy drinkers to fathom that many people do not drink. We think that if we order a Coke at a party, the record player will come to a screeching halt as the attention of the whole room focuses on our lack of a proper cocktail. The reality is no one cares. Wait… what I should say is no one cares, but the other alcoholics in the room, the other people who cannot imagine that one might forego a drink.
In our disease we only hung out with people like us, who did what we did. They acted like us and drank and used like us. It’s how we justified our own actions. Then when we get sober, I think our minds just grasp on to whatever we can. There’s so much going on and changing, the idea of changing everything, even our pool parties and wedding aspirations gets a little overwhelming.
I wish I could have talked to that lady. I would have told her not to worry. Some people won’t go to her party, the active alcoholics won’t go. But 40% of the population goes to pool parties to swim and 40% go to weddings to see the actual wedding. 40% don’t drink. Period. So find them. Be friends with them. Make the 40% your 100% and you’ll have rocking parties once again.
Heck, I’ll go. Let summer begin!
Lydia did not know how it had happened. Well, she knew how it had happened, and yet she did not know how it happened. She knew the steps, knew the exact actions that led to her lying in a crumpled mass on the kitchen floor. What she did not know was how a seemingly innocent day could turn so quickly into a nightmare…
As part of her general dissatisfaction with her life, Lydia had started to methodically clean out the large house in Memorial. It had begun innocently enough on a lazy, Sunday afternoon. She had spent the morning reading and sipping tea, but then she turned a little restless, walking from room to room.
She eventually found herself standing in the doorway of her master closet. Once a room of pride, a space that spoke of indulgence and luxury, Lydia now looked upon the space as a choke around her neck. The designer clothes, the pristinely laid Choos and Louboutins, the large purses displayed as works of art, seemed not a reflection of affluence and ease, but a mausoleum dedicated to a former life of indulgence and superficiality. The sight disturbed her. Many of the clothes no longer even fit on her recently acquired fuller body frame, and yet there they hung.
Slowly, and with a feeling of grateful remorse to a past life, she carefully folded and packed away shirts after pants after skirts after cocktail dresses after ball gowns of clothes, once lovingly purchased and adored.
When Lydia finished her room, she moved on to her son’s and then her daughter’s. With each macramé school project and participation trophy, with each seashelled vacation souvenir and mother’s day card, a fond memory was ignited, appreciated, and then quietly closed. The items she did not feel were worthy of keeping, she threw away with no regret. With each passing garbage bag, she felt lighter, freer. The nicer items, the things she thought the kids might honestly want, Lydia set aside in one of two piles. If they wanted them, they would have to come get them. But her and Henry’s house, her house, would no longer be the exoskeleton of a time past. Lydia was living day by day, step by step, and all she wanted was for her surroundings to reflect her new founded simplicity.
So, it was with some confusion that it was a simple sweatshirt that had paralyzed Lydia that Sunday evening. A sweatshirt. Any other day, she might have simply folded it and placed it in his dresser drawer. Old, frayed around the edges, but perfectly worn in. When she and Henry first started dating, Lydia had confiscated the sweatshirt as a form of territorial display. She would wear it up to the hospital and kiss him in full view of the nurse’s station. Not usually a woman prone to jealousy, she knew from her own stay in the hospital that Henry was often sought out and flirted with. Lydia was not going to let him fall through her fingers. She was determined to fight for him, fight for him in the best way she knew how, in his Colombia sweatshirt and a tight pair of jeans.
But it was in that moment, in the moment when she raised the sweatshirt up to her nose to inhale his scent that she realized she had not fought for him. She had given him away, pushed him aside as she reached for another bottle. She blamed him. She accused him of desertion, but really, she the one that deserted him. She may have physically been there, but her mind was always fighting and struggling somewhere else. In her heart, in that moment, she could not blame him for leaving.
She looked up and straight into the sideboard mirror. The reflection startled her, for the woman who stared back was not the woman she had expected to see. She had looked in mirrors; she had to have. Always a woman properly put together, Lydia had spent hours applying make-up and coifing her perfectly styled hair. So, she must have look. But had she really looked? Lydia moved closer to the mirror, placed her hand against the cool glass. There, staring back at her was not the dignified and beautiful woman she envisioned, but an aged woman, worn and creased. Her hair, thought by her to be golden and lustrous, was a dried and brittled bleach. Her face was puffy and yet somehow simultaneously drawn. There were circles under her eyes. Her skin had a yellowed hue, the color of prolonged sickness and self-tanner. Instead of cathartic recovery gravitating through her arterial system, a wave of bile, anger, self-loathing, disgust, and hated swelled up from her stomach.
Without warning alcoholic desire screamed at her. It knocked her body backwards with a physicality that forced her to break eye contact with the mirror. Suddenly clinging at the neck of her t-shirt, she couldn’t breathe. She doubled over, trying to catch her breath. After a few seconds, Lydia looked up and ran from the room, the sweatshirt lying on the ground.
She sprinted down the sweeping spiral staircase to the living room. When she got there, she looked wildly around. Think, think. The bar wouldn’t have anything. She had cleaned it out. Think, think. The cabinet above the refrigerator! Lydia pulled over a counter stool and stood on it to reach one of her most favorite hiding places. None. The pool house! Lydia ran to the guest quarters and pulled open the refrigerator, once stocked for parties, only to find it barren. The outdoor kitchen. No.
Panic overcame her as she ran back to the house and furiously started pulling out drawers and looking in behind furniture. She couldn’t have gotten it all. She must have forgotten something, overlooked something, anything. Lydia ran to the kitchen. Sherry, cooking wine, something. Lydia spotted the bottle of vanilla extract. She grabbed it off the shelf. She held it tight in her palm and looked down at it. 35% alcohol. It would work. It would quiet the thoughts until she could get to the store. And then it clicked. In a moment of realization, Lydia realized she was of the variety of alcoholic that would drink vanilla extract. She closed her fingers around the bottle and sank to the kitchen floor.
A couple of years ago, through a series of unusual events, I found myself swimming along with my aunt in the sea off the coast of Cancun. My aunt, the wife of a Lutheran minister, is an incredible woman of natural spirituality and grace. So, we were bobbing along in the ocean, talking about life when she said, “It must be interesting to have a relationship where from the beginning, you each knew the worst thing about the other person. So many times, people in relationships try to cover up and hide the worst parts of themselves, hoping the other person will not see it.”
I’ve thought about that sentiment many times over the last couple of years. It is true. When I had two years sober, I got my very first apartment all by myself. Up until then, I had lived in sober living. I was struggling. I had those thoughts of “If I drank, no one would know.” And it scared me. One night I found myself at a ten o’clock meeting. In short time, I found myself comfortably sharing in the quiet dim of the candle light. Free from imagined judgment, I was able to share my deepest insecurities and fears.
It was in this setting that my love and I spent many months sitting across the room from each other, before we ever went for our first cup of coffee. In fact, if you asked him, he would readily admit that he originally felt sorry for the poor, lost girl who didn’t believe in God. What I remember about those times was his honesty in admitting his social anxiety and how we both bonded over our shared hatred of driving. (I do most of the driving now. I figured living in Houston, one had to work through this fear. He’s fine with letting me process my recovery as he sits in the passenger seat.)
I’ve had a lot of conversations with lot of different women over the years regarding whether or not one should date within the program. I know many people who are attracted to the idea of dating a “normie.” I get that. I get the idea of swaying away from the fear of potential relapse and the emotional baggage that follows in the wake of any given alcoholic. “But it is from our twisted relations with family, friends, and society at large that many of us have suffered the most. We have been especially stupid and stubborn about them. The primary fact that we fail to recognize is our total inability to form a true partnership with another human being,” (Twelve and Twelve page 53) Trying to align oneself with a narcissistically immature misanthrope can be a bad idea.
Yes, there is something to my aunt’s words; we do know the worst about each other. But we also know the best. I know my sweetie wakes up each morning and prays. I know at some point in the day, he will read and meditate and go to a meeting. I know he will talk to another alcoholic and ask that man for a slice of wisdom. I know he will help someone.
And I know with my sweetheart, I never have to apologize for working my own program. I never have to procure a reason for going to a meeting. A sentence like, “I’m going to call my sponsor,” doesn’t send him into a spiral of insecurity. Saying, “I’m crazy and I don’t know why” or bursting into tears for no reason doesn’t require really any more explanation than that. Cause he knows why. I’m an alcoholic and some days are just like that.
Our love is predicated not on fear of relapse but on the combined spirituality and growth that active recovery ensures. I can tell you in all honesty, we are better people today than we were five years ago when we met. Over time, some of the anger, jealousy, and fears have subsided. We have worked through abandonment issues, monetary insecurity. When we argue, phone calls are made and inventories are taken (our own, not each other’s). We look at our character defects, apologize, and make honest attempts to do better next time. But y’know, it is not even how far we have come that calms me; it is the thought of how much more we have to grow. I look forward to seeing what will become of us, for I am sure, “The most satisfactory years of [our] existence lie ahead” (BB 152).
On January 8th, Bob got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I said, “Yes.”
New Years is one of my favorite holidays of the year. I think it is about the closest normies ever get to working the program. I mean, let’s admit it; there’s the reflection on past, the admission of shortcomings, and an somewhat earnest attempt to change the negative aspects of their personality or physique. From a young age, I was drawn to this idea (or maybe I was just drawn to New Years because it’s the only holiday based on the self-centeredness.) Anywho, when I got sober, I thought the days of the New Year celebration was over. Little did I know….
So, without any further ado: five ideas for New Year’s celebrating, old school style.
Go Dancing!: I heard a great story once when a friend of mine was getting married. The wedding planner, a woman baffled by sobriety, made the comment that no one was going to dance if there wasn’t any alcohol served. My friend answered something to the effect of, “Well, you haven’t met my friends.”
I honestly think dancing sober is high on AAs list of fears. It only took me one boy-girl dance in middle school, awkwardly dancing in a circle with my friends, to know that sober dancing, for me, was never, ever going to happen. I was a club hopper in my day, but it always took an insane amount of liquid courage to get me out on the floor. So, when I got sober, I naturally thought I had to hang up my dancing shoes.
But then I went to a sober dance. My friends dragged me over to North Wayside on a Saturday night. I was amazed by the sheer number of people out there in the dance floor, cutting a rug, and having a great time. It immediately took all the fear out of the situation for me.
Many AA clubs sponsor sober dances for New Years, and many of those are free. So, grab your nearest sober buddy and have a blast!
Movie Marathon: This one stemmed from a recent conversation I had with my brother. I have never seen Star Wars 4, 5, 6 (Or is it 1,2, and 3? Whatever, the new ones). I feel this is a major gap in my cultural education. I can’t tell Mozart from Bach and I haven’t ever seen the new Star Wars. So, this New Years, I am going to sit down and see arguably the greatest movie I’ve never seen. So, I pass this on to you. What movies are on your bucket list? The Caine Mutiny, The Godfather, Gone with the Wind? Put your feet up, pop the popcorn, and watch away.
Clean House: In my super early days of sobriety, I kept hearing people talk about the importance of “Cleaning house.” I didn’t really understand it. I went home and thought, “They want me to clean my house?” I spent the rest of the night scrubbing down my apartment. Since then, I’ve clearly learned that “cleaning house” is a metaphor for the spiritual inventory that comes from getting down to causes and conditions. But still, in my head, the two cleanings are linked.
My mom always says, “If you haven’t worn it in a year, you’re not gonna wear it.” Throw it out. Donate your clean, slightly used clothes to a women’s halfway house. These women often need clothes befitting their newly sober lifestyles. Additionally, I’ve seen first-hand what perfume and nice bath products like Bath and Body can mean to a newly sober women. These items take on a whole, new level of luxury because many of these women have been struggling so long just to survive, that they have forgotten entirely about small gifts of beauty. Clean out your bathroom closet. Make a nice care package and deliver to a woman’s shelter. This may not be the funnest thing on my list, but I promise you, you’ll feel great afterwards.
Get a Makeover: It’s 2015! Halfway to 2020. Time for a contemporary haircut and some fresh makeup to get you ready to tackle new adventures. Don’t go for the same old same old. Don’t stick with the usual. Go to a new hairdresser and let them choose the style they think would be the most flattering on you. Let go of the control. Then walk over to the Mac make-up counter and ask for a makeover. It’s free. This is not time to play it safe. Let the girls to do it up, and while a Mac makeover can be a bit much for everyday wear, I guarantee you by the time it is over, you will feel awesome. Then buy the florescent blue eye shadow, even if you only wear it in the house on Sundays. Afterall, just because you are sober does not mean there isn’t still a little rocker left in you.
Game Night: Game nights are an opportunity to get together with one’s closest friends and make complete fools of ourselves. Over time, I’ve come to the decision that game nights not only work best with an even number of people, but one needs a variety of fun games and ridiculously junky food. So, call your friends up and invite them over. Tell each one of them to bring their favorite game and their junkiest appetizer (Remember! Resolutions start the next day!) Proper game nights are not for the faint at heart. Get the mini frozen eggrolls and fried cheese. Put the RedBull on ice. Have the stogies at the ready). My favorite games for groups are Taboo, Pictionary, and the old standby, Trivia Pursuit.
There is a total misconception that once we stop drinking, fun has to end. The truth is, AAs are by and large a ridiculous fun and stupidly adventurous group of individuals. Whether its New Year’s skydiving or Polar Bear swimming off Galveston, someone’s bound to be doing it. All you have to do is make a few phone calls. And the greatest thing about whatever it is you do this year? You’ll remember it Jan 2nd.
Happy New Years!
I’ve been up in my head a lot this week. I can’t help it really. There’s been a lot going on. Every time I try to combat one errant thought or emotion, another one crops up. It’s like the Whack-A-Mole of the dysfunction. Fear. Bam! Insecurity. Bam! Economic worries. Bam!
But as I sit here, I know all these things I am feeling and thinking are not real. They are manifestations of powerlessness and fear. I have a friend who always says, “My mind is out to kill me.” The melodramatic nature of that comment makes it hard for me to take it seriously, but I understand the sentiment.
If this past month had occurred when I was still drinking, I would not have been able to quiet the self-loathing and anger that dominates my particle brand of crazy. I would have fallen into a depression, the kind that results in lost jobs and torched relationships. I would have spent the coming month locked in my apartment sure that only antiseptic isolation and lots of vodka would decontaminate my life of chaos.
That’s what’s so incredible about AA; recovery is completely counter intuitive. You think there’s no way sober is better than drunk, but it is. You think there’s no way confronting problems head on is easier than ignoring them, but it is. You think there’s no way this stuff could work, and but it does. And then, it works again. And then you stay sober long enough, you realize it not a fluke. It always works. Working steps works and gratitude lists work, service works, talking works. And that is how faith in the program and in ourselves slowly begins to grow.
I do not need to dull my thoughts today because I have enough recovery in me to differentiate the false from the true. I know which ideas are based in fiction rather than reality, fear rather than strength. Once I pause, once I allow second thought to enter the picture, I can then act accordingly. I can quiet the crazy and move forward. One thought at a time. One day at a time.
A man I have come to respect, George G., always says, “Alcoholism is a threefold disease: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.” It makes me smile just thinking about it. Next week is Thanksgiving and it officially marks the beginning of yet another holiday season. The holidays are a stress-filled time with obstacles and pitfalls. In light of that, I decided to take a moment to write down some of the suggestions I have received over the years on how to remain sane over the holidays!
1. Read the Big Book: I had a sponsor who told me that every time, before walking into my parent’s house, I was to read page 66-67. It works. “We realized that the people who had wronged us were perhaps spiritually sick. Though we did not like the symptoms and the way these disturbed us, they, like ourselves were sick too. We asked God to help is show them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend. When a person offended we said to ourselves, ‘This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.’”
The Sick Man’s Prayer reminds me that I never know exactly what I going on in the mind of anyone else. I have had times when I became angry or said hurtful and intolerant things because I was the one in distress. Oftentimes, it had nothing to do with the other person. They just happened to be in the direct line of fire. I try to keep this very thought in mind during stressful times. If something is directed at me, I think, “Is that a valid complaint?” If not, I do my best to let it go, and turn my thoughts and my hands to service. Which brings us to Number 2…
2. Be of Service: Being of service sounds like drudgery. I tend to think of it more like helping out, being a good sister and aunt. I always try to do something that is helpful. There are a lot of members of my family. Sometimes we are like a tornado. I try to lessen the blow of family gatherings by helping cook or washing dishes. Sometimes my service work is simply playing with my nieces or nephews so that my siblings can have a moment of quiet (that’s the best kind of service because it’s also the funnest!)
Being of service allows for two things. First, it makes me feel good about myself, like I generally made a positive contribution to the gathering. (Something that was not always true in the past.) Second, I feel like if I have to make a quick escape or if I inadvertently say something inappropriate, it gets tempered. “Did you hear what she said?” “No, but did you taste those mash potatoes she made? Yum…”
3. The Car: When I first got sober, I was prone to anxiety attacks. It felt like the room was suddenly closing in and I could not breathe. I learned the only way to end these attacks was to leave, sometimes unceremoniously. First, always drive yourself. Do not be beholden to someone else and their time frames. If you gotta go, then go.
Additionally, my parents have a long driveway only one car width thick. On more than one occasion, I got blocked in. Nothing is worse than needing to leave and having to ask three other people to move their cars to get out. Not only does this make one’s leaving largely conspicuous, there is the additional stress of interrupting conversations and waiting for people to find keys and then while one is finding their keys, another decides to use the restroom… Just park in the street. This same system is also true for valet parking. Nothing is more irritating than having to make mindless conversation with a stranger as you are waiting for a valet to finish his smoke break. Park your car yourself.
4. Just leave: You know, I make this mistake all the time. I want to leave, but I feel guilty, so I stay. As my impatience and anxiety rise (as it always does) the party becomes increasingly more uncomfortable.
Leave the party. If you think you may be too uncomfortable with the whole, “I’m an alcoholic in the midst of an anxiety attack (or craving) and must leave immediately” excuse, come up with a few other’s in advance. Sometimes, beforehand, I say I already have another engagement. “I have to be somewhere at seven.” Then, if I end up staying later, I say, “Well, I was having such a good time, I called and told them I would be late.” This has the additional pleasure of making the host feel happy that their party is such a huge success.
5. Go to a Holiday Meetings: One of the things about Christmas is that everywhere I look, people have more presents, more fun, more everything than me. Even the glow from the Christmas lights makes everyone better looking than me. Envy is a killer, man. It’s useless and pointless.
Because of this, I always try to make it to a meeting on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Day, and New Year’s. Once again, there are a couple of different benefits to the holiday meeting. First, I think it is important for someone to be there to unlock the door and help the newly sober man or woman make it through his/her first holiday season. Second, this service works in the same vein as sponsorship. By being around the new man during the holidays, I gain gratitude for all that I have rather than wallowing in envy and self-pity.
My list is my no means exhaustive. These are just the ones I have personally come to live by. I know there are a ton more suggestions out there and I would like to hear them. If you want to contribute to the discussion, please post your comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am more than happy to keep your suggestion anonymous.
I hope everyone has a sober and safe Thanksgiving!