Old Friends, Beauty and Second Chances

Several months ago I briefly sponsored a sweet kid in her early 20s. She wanted sobriety badly, but wasn’t quite ready to work the program. She had a lot of issues, as many of us do, and wrestled with problems that included gender identity, and how to fit that into her very real love of God. Yes, she loved God, but never really believed God loved her in return, thinking her sexuality a deal breaker in the eyes of her higher power.

I remember how badly I wanted her to love herself, accept herself, and truly believed if she could learn to live an authentic life, one that was true to the identity that felt most real to her, it would go a long way towards dealing with that some of that which made her drink and use.

I also knew she struggled with depression and bi-polar disorder, and thankfully understood I was out of my wheelhouse when it came to addressing those issues. I would wisely advise her to follow her doctors’ advice.

No matter how hard I pushed (I know better than to push so hard these days), I couldn’t get her past step 2. I offered to take her to LGBTQ meetings, we met in coffee shops to read and discuss the 12 steps together.

I got the distinct impression that like many of us, she simply didn’t feel she deserved sobriety, and the freedom, serenity and the 2nd chance at life that comes with recovery. I couldn’t force her to see her worth, and as a result, I watched her slowly drift away, becoming less and less engaged.

Eventually, the phone calls stopped, and she vanished. Her phone stopped going to voicemail, and I could no longer send her text messages or call her. Her social media pages were deactivated. She stopped coming to meetings, and no one had any idea where she was, or what happened to her.

Given her depression, and history of relapse, I was afraid she was dead. I worried to the point of panic, but there was nothing I could do. I had no one I could call to inquire after her- the nature of our program is that of anonymity, so once she cut ties, all that could be done was say a prayer and hope for the best.

Months passed, and I still thought of her, but life moved on, and the panic slowly subsided. I’d wonder whatever happened to that sweet young girl I’d cared so much about, but over time it became a passing thought, and not much beyond that.

Today, as I was walking across the parking lot towards the building to attend my weekly Saturday meeting, I saw her.

I stopped dead in my tracks, almost afraid to believe my eyes.

Yes, it was definitely her. She’d changed, for sure. Gone was the innocence, the sweet “girly” essence she’d tried so hard to portray to the world, that only a few of us knew was a lie. The pink nail polish and childish stud earrings had been replaced. She now sports short, gender-neutral hair, a tattoo on her wrist, and gender-neutral clothes. She was smoking a cigarette, and her eyes were…

… hard.

I almost dropped the things I held in my hand, so happy to see her.

I grabbed her and hugged her tightly. “You’re back,” I whispered in her ear, tearfully.

We spoke at length, and I was completely stricken by what she shared.

Her story is heartbreaking. I won’t tell it, because it isn’t mine to tell. Suffice it to say she’s been to hell and back these last months. A few times, really. She’s knocked on death’s door, and more than once, she was pissed it didn’t take her.

She looks so different because she IS different.

I’m glad she looks the way she does. She finally looks real. Authentic. She certainly no longer looks like a kid who’s trying be something she isn’t. She isn’t trying to make anyone else happy by projecting an image that she’s anything other than what she actually is.

That’s my definition of beauty. She’s beautiful.

She made my day, and she reminded me, through her story and perseverance why we dance this dance, each and every day:

For people like us, if we don’t, there are only two possible outcomes- death or jail.

Today, I am so grateful for my friend. I am grateful she found her way back, and I’m grateful I got to witness it. I’m thankful for my program, and I’m thankful that program was here for her, and that it was here for me too, when we both needed it the most.

We all have another relapse in us, but not all of us have another recovery in us. Mostly, I’m thankful she has got another chance.

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Step 1, Powerlessness and Manageability

Last week we talked about step 12, so this week it only makes sense to start over, and begin with step 1.

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives had become unmanageable.

I cannot begin to count the number of times I relapsed because I simply could not get step 1 right initially.

First, I couldn’t admit I was powerless over alcohol. I tried to control my drinking on my own in every possible way. I tried total abstinence, I tried only drinking on weekends, I tried eliminating liquor and switching to wine, I tried drinking measured amounts (literally breaking out measuring cups), everything. I went to outpatient rehab in 2007, and was drunk within 24 hours of graduating from the program. I went to countless meetings over the years, I got sponsors, I got fired by sponsors (which isn’t even supposed to be a thing, but I was so hellbent on doing everything my own way, I was impossible to work with). I joined 12 step programs, I joined non-12 step programs, I went to therapy, I switched therapists, I quit therapy. I even went to church for a while, which, if you know me, you know how radical this was. For me, anyway.

I’d get up every morning, swearing I would not drink that day… only to be drunk by 6 PM, wondering what the hell happened.

Nothing worked.

Second, I couldn’t admit my life had become unmanageable, and when I finally could admit it was unmanageable, I refused to acknowledge alcohol had anything to do with it. I had been divorced twice, was almost in financial ruin (even as I had a great job, with excellent benefits, and a way higher-than-average salary), had just been put on probation at work, barely knew my kids anymore, and I had terrible health issues. My liver enzymes were elevated to dangerous levels, and in my late 30s I was getting weird ailments like shingles, unexplained high fevers that left me hospitalized for days on end, and mysterious infections that almost left me septic.

Worse, my soul was in ruins. I was dishonest. I was a hermit. I avoided life, love, companionship or anything else fun. I had no joy.

No one in my life was using the word “alcohol” to describe the reasons these things were happening (mostly because I was lying to them about its existence), so I was fine to stay in denial too, and pretend my drinking had nothing to do with any of it.

I just figured, you know, God or the Universe or whatever hated me. None of it had anything to do with me, my bad decisions, my bad behavior, and definitely nothing to do with the 5th of vodka I was drinking every single day.

Finally, I hit my rock bottom. A series of events occurred, and I knew I was finished. I was going to get honest, get help, or die. It was as simple as that. I stopped drinking, and I crawled to a meeting.

By that point, surveying the absolute colossal mess my life was in the moment, I had no problem admitting it was unmanageable. What I still had trouble admitting was that I was powerless over alcohol. I reasoned that only I could stop the drinking- who else was going to do it for me, after all?

What I learned is that in order to stop drinking, I have to admit complete and total defeat. If I’m a boxer and alcohol is my opponent in the ring, I’m going to get my ass kicked – TOTAL KNOCK-OUT – Every. Single. Time.

I am powerless over alcohol, and I will always be powerless over alcohol.

My life has become unmanageable.

It is because of my need to control everything – my drinking, my life, other people, other places, other things, that I was in this mess.

Finally, it was time to let go.

I am powerless, and knowing that has become the most freeing thing in the world.

Step 1 is what got me stopped drinking. Later, working step 4, doing an inventory of all the messes I’d made of my life over the years while I insisted on being in control of everything, is what helps to keep me stopped. It helps me understand that my life was always unmanageable, at least for as long as I insisted on trying to be in control, as long as I insisted on being in the driver’s seat.

It will always be that way. I now know that I need to stay out of my own way, and stay out of the driver’s seat. I let my Higher Power drive, while I’m happy controlling the dials on my side of the car, in the passenger seat. I can control my own actions, and nothing else, ever – and even then, I am only in control of myself as long as alcohol is not part of the equation.

Step 1 is the beginning of a new life- but we have to do the work every single day. It’s the only step we have to get 100% right, 100% of the time.

Our lives depend on it.

12 Steps, Broadway and Opera Singers

My home group is a step group, which means we focus exclusively on the 12 steps. Every week we read a step, and then we share what that particular step means to us. I love it, because I believe working the steps is what keeps me sober, so reading through them each week, and then hearing others’ interpretations is invaluable for me.

As most will tell you, 12-step work is not a one-and-done kind of thing. A lot of us find that we have to work the steps to some degree over and over again, every single day. Some steps are harder than others, some we do better than others, but we’re always plugging away at them, and it’s that work that keeps us from going back out there. Speaking personally, that’s the work that keeps me from relapsing.

My group has spent the last two Saturdays discussing Step 12:

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

This step is so huge. When I think of Step 12, I think about how, after all my hard work from steps 1-11: the soul-searching, the digging, the honesty; after humbling myself before my higher power and the rest of the people in my life; after learning how to listen, how to take responsibility for myself (and myself alone), and how to let go; after learning how to live life on life’s terms, I now get to experience joy, peace and fearlessness, something I have sought my entire life, but could never find, so I chased numbness instead, with a bottle.

After all the work, I’ve had a spiritual awakening- which I simply define as “change”. I’ve done a lot of work. A LOT of work, and as a result, I’ve changed. My lens that I view the world through is no longer even remotely similar to what it once was. That, is a spiritual awakening.

My life, and the lives of those who depend on me, are a thousand times better than it used to be. In order to keep I that way, there are only two conditions: I have to remain sober, and I have to give back what I was given.

We’re not salespeople, so the good news is, I don’t have to cold-call anyone, or go door-to-door telling the world about my program of recovery. I don’t actually have to seek anyone out. There are a thousand ways for me to be of service to other alcoholics without ever putting another human being on the spot or making someone else uncomfortable. My program is one of attraction, not of promotion, as the old-timers like to say. We don’t advertise- we live our lives authentically, and as fellow alcoholics decide they want what we have, they may choose to come to us and inquire about what we’re doing differently.

Probably one of the first things people think of when they think of 12th step work is sponsorship. Yes, I can sponsor alcoholics that want what I have, and are looking to get sober. By sponsoring them, I can walk them through the 12 steps, just as my sponsor has done for me, and as her sponsor has done for her.

As an introvert, sponsoring other alcoholics doesn’t come naturally to me just yet, and I haven’t had the best of luck so far. What I have done, that also counts, that I did enjoy, was to chair some meetings, volunteer for service work (like cleanup after meetings, set up before meetings, etc), and most recently, I had the opportunity to share my story at a rehab facility.

But that isn’t all. Step 12 isn’t solely about taking the message to other alcoholics… there is so much more in this step, if only we look deeply enough to find it!

Speaking personally, one of the coolest things about step 12 is all the other hidden gems found in there. We’re taught in step 12, for example, to take all the lessons we’ve learned in this program and practice them in all our affairs.

We need to apply this stuff in real life, not just during our meetings, or while we’re actively working on recovery. Do it while we’re on the clock at work, do it while we’re interacting with our spouses, our kids, our friends. Even while we’re standing behind that prick in line in front of us at the grocery store. Do it all the time. This advice is absolutely invaluable for an otherwise judgmental, resentful person like myself. It’s a gentle reminder to treat all people- even the most difficult and hateful- as I would a newcomer to recovery. To keep my mind open, and remember that I don’t know everyone else’s struggles, nor is anyone else’s behavior in my control.

There are many, many other lessons to take away from Step 12, but the last one I’ll touch on has to do with maturity. The step talks about how, even as adults, we alcoholics tend to be “childish, emotionally sensitive and grandiose”. After reading that passage, I was too busy laughing- from self-recognition- to be offended. It goes on to talk about how we have such a hard time acknowledging that our adult dreams are often truly childish.

Reading this passage, I was reminded of a time when I was in my late 30s, and was trying to verbalize to someone why I felt like a total failure in my professional life. I was working for a fortune 100 company, closing in on a solid 6 figure income. As a high-functioning alcoholic, I’d managed to do well in the company. I had full benefits, lots of perks, had the luxury of working from home, and was the chief bread-winner of my family by many, many thousands of dollars per month.

The reason I felt like a failure? Because as a child, I had wanted to be either a Broadway star or an Opera Singer, and here I was, in my late 30s, having accomplished neither of those things.

I couldn’t be grateful for what I had accomplished- true success by any reasonable person’s standards, because I could not let go of that silly, childhood dream. Childhood dreams are great, of course. However, when we can’t even acknowledge our current state of success because we can’t see past the make-believe games we used to play as grade-school children, that is the mark of immaturity. In my case, I was truly devastated. Something was wrong in my brain, and I needed serious help.

Eventually, I got the help.

Today, I’m one day shy of 16 months sober.

All I know is, it works if you work it.

The Magic Beans

Let’s talk about medication, or as I like to call mine, The Magic Beans.

I had to come to terms with a lot of different things when I initially decided to get sober. I had to recognize and own the damage I’d done to myself and to those I love, and I had to get out of denial and realize that while I’d never been fired from a job or been in legal trouble because of my drinking, it was still causing problems in my life.

Big problems.

It’s not an unrelated fact, for example, that I’ve been divorced twice. Relationship failures can be attributed, at least in part (large part, likely), to my drinking.

Another fact, common amongst we alcoholics, is that of mental illness. The folks over at dualdiagnosis.org say that those suffering mental health issues account for approximately 69% of total alcohol consumption.

In my experience, most of us suffering from addiction did not start over-indulging in our drugs/drinks of choice because we are bad people looking for a party. Many of us, myself included, started using as a means to self-medicate this thing, this something deep inside of us that we knew didn’t feel quite right, but we couldn’t put our fingers on.

I suffer from anxiety, for example. Rooms full of people scare me to death- I will literally lose sleep for days leading up to events that I know will force me into contact with lots of people. Especially if it’s people I don’t know.

I also historically suffer from bizarre mood swings. I’ll be utterly depressed, unable to get out of bed and perform even the most simple of tasks for weeks, only to wake up one day, without warning, full of energy and ideas, ready to take the world by storm.

I’ll obsess over a single idea ad nauseam, and am prone to fits of rage over the smallest, simplest of things.

The mood swings, anxiety and inexplicable rage made me miserable. I’d been miserable for as long as I can remember. I stopped trusting myself- my mood swings made me prone to making irrational decisions- and started loathing who I was.

I used alcohol to dull all of that stuff. It helped eliminate the anxiety and tempered my rage, because it made me care less about everything. It’s really hard to get worked up into a rage over something you honestly can’t be bothered to give two shits about.

When I got sober, after that “pink cloud” of gratitude that I was no longer drinking wore off, all those symptoms- the rage, the anxiety, the mood swings- came back with a vengeance. Before long, I knew I had two choices: get help, or relapse.

Nervous, but determined, I schlepped to my doctor’s office. I explained my symptoms – in tears – and begged for some relief.

As a result of that visit, and some accompanying psychological/psychiatric tests, I walked out of the room with a diagnosis:

Bi-Polar II.

I was terrified. I always suspected I was crazy, and now I have the proof. It took me a long time – months and months – to be able to say the name of my illness out loud. I couldn’t acknowledge that I suffer from this disease, even as I bravely scolded others whenever I felt they were being inconsiderate to those with mental illness.

The one and only thing that scared me more than a diagnosis of Bi-Polar disorder was my fear of relapsing.

Thankfully, that fear made me take the medications my doctor prescribed me. I was put on an anti-depressant to keep my moods from sinking too low, and an anti-psychotic to keep my moods from getting too high – thus, avoiding both depression and mania.

In a matter of weeks, I was a different person. The mood swings have dissipated, my anxiety is all-but gone, and I can function at a level I now know most people consider “normal”, but for me is nothing short of beautifully, miraculously high.

We had to do a little tweaking to get the right combinations at the right doses, and I’d be lying if I claimed to have no side effects. Indeed, the first two weeks on these new meds I had to go to bed a full 12 hours before I needed to wake up in the morning, due to the coma-like state the meds put me in.

Over time, however, the side-effects straightened themselves out, and what remained is the Real Me; the person I was always meant to be. The one who isn’t handicapped by crippling anxiety and mood swings. The one who can be funny and sarcastic and cute in a room full of strangers without having a drink to dull my fears.

Soon, others began to notice.

“You just seem different,” they’d say. “Something in your tone of voice… I’m just not sure what it is….”

They may not know what it is, but I definitely do.

It’s The Magic Beans.

My Return

I stepped away from writing for a while… I actually stepped away from everything for a while.

Now, however, I’m back.

Sober, happy and (dare I say it) healthy.

Life is good, like really, really good. I don’t think I honestly believed all the positive stories I’d been told about what the world looks like when viewed through the lens of sobriety. I just knew I couldn’t keep going at the rate I was going… knew I had to stop drinking… and then, before I knew what was happening, my world fell apart.

I’ve picked up the pieces, and what I’ve managed to build looks so much better than anything I thought I was capable of creating. Better than anything I’ve ever had in my entire life, in fact.

I understood myself only after I destroyed myself. And only in the process of fixing myself did I know who I really was.

-Sade Andria Zavala

That quote tells the story of me; most especially in the last year and a half. The process hasn’t ended. I’m still knee deep in “fixing” myself, but I’ve made so much progress, and I really like – maybe even love – who I’ve become.

The work has been hard as hell on some days. Between recovery and counseling, I’ve had to face truths I never wanted to face. Truths that I actively sought to never have to acknowledge, and truths I avoided for many years by drinking and running as a means to escape.

I had to surrender, and then I had to listen. I had to follow the instructions of those who are doing what I want to do. Living the way I want to live.

Most significantly, other than getting sober, I had to acknowledge the truth of my illness. Not just the illness of alcoholism, of addiction, but my mental illness.

It took me years to be able to say the words, “I have bi-polar disorder.”

I had to acknowledge it, own it, and get treatment.

I’ve had to survey the damage years of living the life of a virtual fugitive has done. The damage I’ve done to myself, and to those that love me. Then I had to own it. All of it.

Those that were supposed to, stayed with me. Others didn’t last through the process. And that’s ok.

Today, I’m grateful. I’m loved by others, and I’m loved by myself. I have more than I’ve ever had, and I am sober.

I get it now. I see the life I’ve always wanted on the horizon, and I’m ready to grab it and embrace it. Ready to do it.

Business

The name of the game today is “business”. I have a lot of business to take care of, like setting up online bill pay on my new bank account, following up with the holders of my student loans, etc.

I am no good at this type of business. It’s one of the things that’s made me afraid of being alone. I hate the admin work that is so necessary to a smoothly running household, so I tend to put it off until it’s in catastrophe-mode, and then try to accomplish everything all at once. This was the responsibility of my husband, before we separated.

Today, I decided, would be different. I’m taking the bull by the horns and all that crap, and I’m handling my business!

I diligently picked up the phone and called the bank. After holding for 20 minutes, a chipper young lady answered, asking what she could assist me with. “I need my user name and password for online banking”, I tell her. “I can help with that! You’ll want to call this number: (800) XXX-XXXX.”

Ok, I’m getting annoyed. Giving me another number to call is NOT helping me!

Whatever.

So I call the other number. I sat on hold for another 20 minutes before someone answered and was able to help me. All told, it “only” took an hour of my time this morning to obtain a user name and password for online banking.

Ehh, at least it’s done.

NEXT!

I call my student loan company. I was concerned because I’d received a letter in the mail from them stating if I didn’t call them immediately, my loans would go into “default” status. That sounds like a bad thing, so I figured I should reach out.

I learned that the $50/mo that has been coming out of my bank account for a student loan is apparently for a different loan, not this one. THIS one hasn’t actually been paid since January, thus the scary “default” letter.

Whoopsie.

I say, “OK, better late than never. Let’s go ahead and set up $50/mo payments, like you were doing before.”

“We’re so sorry, Mrs. C-Haze, but that amount is no longer valid. According to our records, we cannot accept less than $453/mo from you. Can we set that up?”

“WHAT?! HELL NO YOU CANNOT SET THAT UP!”

So we haggle. Then we haggle some more, and finally, we haggle a bit more.

After two hours on the phone with these people, I will be paying significantly more than $50/mo, but significantly less than $453/mo.

I have experienced every range of emotion known to man while sitting on the phone with customer service people today, just trying to handle “business”.

That God-awful, dreaded, shitty, hated b-word:

BUSINESS.

I have laughed, cried, been enraged and finally found acceptance, all in the span of a single phone call.

Regardless, I did it.

I handled my business.

 

Alone

My biggest fear… ever… was to be alone.

Recently separated from my husband, I felt the need to analyze that fear. What, exactly, am I afraid of? I wanted to come up with something more specific than “everything”, which is what I would have said previously.

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  1. Finances and Savings – in short, I suck at money
  2. Single-parenting
  3. Boredom

What I’ve learned is that all the things I’m so afraid of, I’m already doing them. Actively. I’ve been on my own for three months now. Certainly not a long time, but long enough to have survived a few cycles of bill payments, emotional ups and downs, and parental challenges (is there any other kind of parental experience when you’re the mother of 18 and a 12 year old girls? No. There is not.).

I’ve survived. Not only that, in spite of whatever mistakes I’ve made (and yes, even only three months in, I’ve made many), I’m finding this emotion I haven’t felt in a long time emerging from the dust:

PRIDE.

I’m actually proud of myself for a change. I’m supporting myself, my children, and more. By myself. People rely on me every single day, and I come through for them

every. single. day.

It’s still scary, but not in the way it used to be. Now I know I can do it.

I can be alone.

At least I’ll remember the ‘weird’ in the morning

Some days really are harder than others. Generally speaking, don’t we know what the answer is, even though we’d rather pretend we didn’t? 

I know I’m vague-blogging, and I know it sucks when people do that. I’m sharing what I feel comfortable sharing, working the rest out as I go. 

An answer to a question I’m struggling with is starting to take hold. I need more time, because in recovery I’m taught to pause, pray, react. I’m not religious,  so rather than pray I meditate. There seems to be 2 answers emerging at the same time to the same question. Both wouldn’t work simultaneously,  but either would separately. Before I can figure out which is the right answer for me,  I gotta figure out what kind of tools and resources I’m working with. 

Time tells all, I suppose. 
I’m in a bizarre mental space,  but I am sober. I’m present, and as weird as this shit feels tonight,  at least I know I’ll remember it in the morning.

 “Surrender” to Win

Surrender to win. Surrender to win. Surrender.

abbie in wondrland

I was contacted a while back, and asked to view a short (14:04 minutes) film and consider sharing it with my readers. I watched it at the time and I knew it would be very helpful to many of my Tribe, and probably eye-opening to many others.

I just watched it again, and added it to my “watch later” list on YouTube. It’s that kind of piece, in my opinion.

I don’t believe in coincidences, and I’m not organized enough to have had this pre-planned; so, on this, the last weekend of 2016, I offer you this short film. Please, tell me what you think of it, and share it on any social media you use.

Next, a Q & A with Mark & Chris, the Executive Producer and Director of this award-winning video.

What do you think? Is it true to your experience? Do you relate to the feelings…

View original post 9 more words

I’m still the queen

Sometimes I just wish life would slow the hell down to give me enough time to catch up. Things happen so fast, and I have the coping skills of a toddler (I may be giving myself a bit too much credit there). In a perfect world I would be able to handle something before anything else was thrown my way.

Obviously, that’s not how life works.

So here I sit, with a multitude of problems- some are major, some quite minor, most are kind of in between- feeling a bit lost.

Emotionally, I’m really vulnerable, but I still win the trophy, and I’m still the Queen.

Wanna know why?

Because I’m sober. I don’t know what the fuck I’m going to do with myself, or how to manage my life, my job and my family, but for the first time in my adult life, it won’t be with alcohol.