Sunday, March 1, 2015

"Are you sure you're an alcoholic?"

   "Are you sure you're an alcoholic?"
   I was recently asked this question after mentioning to an acquaintance that I was approaching my 32-year anniversary of sobriety.
   My first response? I laughed. After a moment, I asked, "Was that a serious question?" Turned out, it was.
   When I am surprised by someone's question, or someone's response, I typically swallow my first reaction, my emotional one. It's an almost unconscious response, and is probably a fear-based defense mechanism left over from my past. My first reaction simmers in my unconscious, then bubbles to the surface a few days later, and I assemble the words I wish I'd said.
   So on that day all I said was yes, I am certain that I am an alcoholic. I explained that I had had an immediate, visceral response to alcohol the first time I caught that liberating, loosening feeling of a light buzz. I explained that I always drank to get drunk, and that even when getting drunk stopped equaling a good time and became a series of frightening incidents of self-destruction, I was unable to stop. And if my own experience wasn't evidence enough, I had been evaluated by an addictions counselor.
   I wish I had spoken more strongly. I wish I had asked, "Are you asking me that because you don't believe I would be capable of staying sober if I were truly addicted?" I wish I had asked, "Why do you think you have the right to question my own self-knowledge?" I know who I am. I know what I am. And I know how I got here.
   I drank heavily - alcoholically - for four years. I experienced my first blackout the second time I drank. By the time I attended my first 12 Step meeting, two months before my 22nd birthday, I had humiliated myself in several local bars, experienced countless blackouts, missed I don't know how many hours of college classes because I'd start drinking at lunch and lose the rest of the day, acted out sexually in a manner my sober self would never be capable or desirous of, and was battling suicidal impulses every time I got drunk.
   Those were the drinking years.
   Sobriety has not eliminated the impulse to drink. I have teetered at the edge of relapse several times in the past 32 years. It's a horrible feeling, desperately wanting - needing - to drink, and knowing that doing so will tear your rebuilt life to shreds. What kept me sober in those tormenting moments was my 12 Step practices, music that soothed and buoyed me, my supportive circle of recovering women, and my spiritual life. When those thoughts flit through my mind, which they rarely have in recent years, I am able to brush them aside with an ease achieved only by rigorous practice of my recovery principles.
   Am I sure I'm an alcoholic? Despite all evidence, I have actually asked that question of myself. An insidious voice in my head will whisper, "Come on, you were just a kid out partying! You're an adult now. Maybe you can have a beer or two..."
   I can definitely have a beer or two. The problem is, there will be a third. And a fourth. And so on, until my money is gone and I am a laughing, weeping, vomiting, intoxicated embarrassment. It has always been so and will always be. I cannot separate drinking from drunk. Imagining myself having being satisfied with a social drink or two is like trying to imagine myself leaping from the roof of my house and taking flight. Drinking is not something to do; drinking is the passageway to drunk.
   My sober life today is bigger than anything I could have imagined 32 years ago when I was a timid, desperate newcomer. Alcohol would have killed me; admitting to alcoholism saved my life.
   Am I sure I'm an alcoholic? Dead sure. And grateful beyond measure.
 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The weather outside is frightful....

   As I write this, swathed in sweatshirt, sweatpants, fluffy socks, fuzzy bathrobe, and a knitted afghan over it all, we in the Upper Peninsula are enduring one of the roughest winter days of this season. It's a blizzard out there: 35 mph winds, -35 wind chill. The heavy clouds are sifting a steady falling of dry, floury snow. It's a notable day when the postal service knuckles under and announces there will be no mail delivery in your city today. Events were cancelled; everything from high school sports to church dinners to bingo. Local police are advising people to stay off the roads and the snowmobile trails. Last I heard, the U.P. is currently in a state of civil emergency. Civil emergency! What does that even mean?
   For me, it means stay put, relax, have another cup of coffee and see who's doing what on Facebook. Hardier souls than I are braving the blasting wind and icy temps, venturing out to the events that haven't been cancelled. More power to them. I will stay in my warm, albeit drafty house, with my two-legged best friend/Valentine and the motley four-legged crew. We are all in neutral gear, dozing, eating, reading. Sadie cat has had gotten the most exercise of us all today, chasing a small ball of tinfoil that I rolled down the hall for her. She loves chasing tinfoil balls, but she will not touch them. She galumphed down the hall (she is a rather large cat), cornered the ball, then sat beside it expectantly, waiting for me to come and get it and roll it back again. I call this game Bowling for Sadie.
   A snowstorm produces its own particular kind of silence. There are fewer cars going by, of course, but the sounds of the few that pass are muffled by the snow-covered streets and the high banks. There are no human or animal voices to be heard. Each house is its own island, private, tucked in tight.
   I ventured outdoors twice today, to take the dogs out. They went in the morning and again this early evening. Normally they would have become restless in the mid-afternoon, pacing by the back door, but they seem to understand that today is a day for semi-hibernation. When I took them for their second round, Saira beagle was wild with joy - so much new snow to sniff, to burrow her head in, to dig into for treasure! Indy, my schnauzer, shared my sentiment: Let's just get this over with and get back inside, OK?
   I am not a winter person. I don't skate, ski, snowshoe, or hike along snowy trails. Winter has its beauty and its pleasures, but for the most part, for me it's a season to muscle through on the way to next spring. But I've got to hand it to Mother Nature. Just when you've had about enough of scraping ice off your windshield and putting on a brave face to meet another frosty day, she says, No, you aren't going anywhere today. Settle in. Stay warm. Make popcorn with extra butter. Crack open a good book and relax. For one glorious day, your world is on hold.
   Come to think of it, I may be more of a winter person than I thought.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Good neighbors


    I have good neighbors. No, scratch that. I have outstanding neighbors. I've lived next door to Hank and Perri for almost nine years. We've watched each others' teenagers grow up, move out and, on occasion, ricochet back to the nest. We've weathered blizzards, hailstorms, deep freezes and deep-fry seasons. We've shared sympathies when we've lost beloved dogs. We stop to chat when we're outside at the same time. It's comfortable, and then some. Here's a little tribute to the "then some" of good neighbors.
    When I brought my son and my older daughter to see comedian George Carlin perform at the Island Resort and Casino, a 90-minute drive from home, I asked Perri to keep an eye on the house while my younger daughter was home, alone from early evening until much later that night. Melissa was 15; old enough to be left to her own devices. But my concern wasn't about wild parties or a boyfriend coming over, it was the thought of my daughter alone in the house late at night.
    My daughter told me later that Perri had kept a steady but unintrusive eye out for her that entire night. When my daughter was leaving to run to the store, Perri popped outside to remind her that she was available for any major or minor issue that might arise, from a blown fuse to feeling lonely. My daughter felt the comfort of neighborliness with feeling the smothering of nosy supervision. I felt free to have a good time without worry nibbling at my thoughts.
    When my older daughter needed to get from Marquette back to college in Houghton and her car died, Hank and Perri came out in the bitter winter cold and tried to charge the car's battery with their charger. When that failed, Perri drove me to buy a new battery, and Hank installed it.
    Need I say more? Well, I can. They gave me natural remedies when our beagle, Saira broke out in a fire-red, itcy, painful rash. Just this week, Perri answered my call on Facebook when my Jeep needed a tire removed and my partner was unable to get the lug nuts loosened. He needed a pipe to provide extra torque (or something), and Perri immediately replied that Hank had a pipe he would loan. And by the way, did I want a box of Calvin and Hobbes books? Perri had noticed my posts of the comic strip, was getting rid of the books, and thought I'd appreciate them.
    Did I mention that whenever Hank snowblows his driveway he also does mine? I do what I can to repay their kindness, but every gesture I make feels paltry in the face of this steady, ever-present care.
    Some people love to help because it feeds their ego. They radiate false modesty and lap up "thank you's" like a cat laps warm milk. They make it clear that they are the awesome helpers, and you are the needy "helpee." Getting assistance from these people leaves you feeling less than.
    Good neighbors - good people - help because they can. They don't seek fawning thanks and they aren't in it for anything other than the pleasure of being able to help. I have the inestimable good fortune of living next door to two such people. And I never, ever take my good fortune for granted.
   

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Kim Kardashian is not half-assed. Obviously.



   Stepping outside this morning in the aftermath of the blizzardy past couple of days, I thought that the still, innocuous air and benign gray clouds were like the weather's embarrassed hangover after a wild, roaring drunk:
   "Whoa, did I really do that? I dumped all that snow on you guys? Three feet? In, like, November? Dude, I am so, so sorry. That is the last time I mix my warm fronts with my cold fronts."
   But I'm a Yooper, so I'm over it now. It snowed, we shoveled, life goes on. What's claiming my attention at the moment is similar to snowbanks only in shape. What is on my mind is - butt cheeks.
   Kim Kardashian's butt cheeks, to be specific. I mean, have you seen them? If you own a computer and have an Internet connection, seeing those mind-bogglingly enormous globes this week has been next to impossible. Or maybe I'm just surfing the wrong sites.
   At any rate, my naked eyes have seen Kim K.'s naked ass. And woe to all who've so much as peeked; once it's been seen, it cannot be unseen. Ms. Kim, in her noble, ongoing quest to "break" the Internet, posed cheekily for the publication Paper. She appears butt-naked, her back to the camera, on the magazine's cover. She grins naughtily to the camera, her hair up in an elegant twist, and she clings to what could have been a glamorous black evening gown, but is instead used as a sideways parenthesis, a sort of hammock bolstering her rear end. Her naked skin is slick with oil, giving her the hard plastic sheen of an obscene Barbie doll.
   What immediately captures the eye, however, are those two unnaturally round bulbs of solid pink flesh jutting out from the base of her spine. It can't be real. A backside like that does not exist in nature, at least not among humankind. It is, obviously, designed purely for display. It looks incredibly bulky for toting around, and unimaginably uncomfortable for its intended use - sitting. Is Kim's back able to make contact with the back of a chair when she sits? Is she able to sleep on her back without feeling like she's doing a yoga pose? When she goes swimming, does she sink under the weight or get buoyed up to the surface tush-first?
   If the Kim Kardashian buttocks was not a gift from Mother Nature, this was a purchased item, consciously selected, willingly accepted in exchange for a sackful of legal tender. Which begs the question: WHY? Why would a perfectly attractive, slender young woman with more money than the Almighty decide to invest in a derriere expansion? And, being obscenely wealthy, able to afford the finest cosmetic surgeons available, how did she end up with what looks like two beach balls filled with Fix a Flat?
   It's beyond me. Maybe it comes of having more money than I.Q. points. What it looks like from here, from working class, ordinary butt, non-famous land, is a frantic attempt by Kim Kardashian to feed her insatiable "Look at me!" appetite. It's superficial, it's tacky, and it makes me a little ashamed to be a member of the same species. This is what we've come to: young women so desperate for the gaze of the public eye that not only will they peel off their clothing, they'll surgically alter themselves into fashionable Frankensteins. Forget talent, forget hard work. Shove your bare ass out there and fame will follow.
   I feel a twinge of guilt for mocking her. It's too easy, really. Shooting silicone fish in a barrel. But she put it out there. Nothing I, or anyone else, can say or write will do more than Kim Kardashian already has to make a huge ass of herself.
 
 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

News fast


       Give yourself a gift: Take a day off from reading or listening to the news. No MSN, NBC, or CNN. No Public Radio, no local headlines, not so much as a whisper of who is campaigning for what office or why the economy is destined to tank. Let your brain dedicate itself to gentler pursuits. Read old Calvin and Hobbes comics, watch a '40's screwball comedy. Or tilt your head back, close your eyes, and don't think about anything at all.
        I have no idea whether the world is going to hell in a handbasket or whether it's business as usual on the global scale. I do know that there has always been poverty, bipartisan rancor, disease, and horrifying crimes committed by soulless individuals. Lately it all feels bigger, louder, and even more irreparable than in eras past. But is that truly the case, or does it only feel that way because of our 24-hour, every single second, multimedia access to it all?
         In my recovery program participants are encouraged to accept the things we cannot change. I cannot accept the rich getting richer on the backs of their workers. I cannot accept the unashamedly bigoted bleatings of racists and homophobes. I cannot accept human beings slaughtering other human beings in the name of... anything. I can accept that there is little I can do to change these unacceptable goings on. 
          I can vote. I can speak out for what I believe in. I can pray. I can try to make my own little corner of this life a warm one for all who cross my path.
          And once in awhile, for the sake of my sanity and peace of mind, I can turn the world off. There will be new headlines tomorrow, some solemn (Ebola), some silly (Kim Kardashian's sisters are more popular than she is!). It's not that I don't care about what's happening in my city, state, country, or world. It's that sometimes caring costs me more than I can afford to give.
           Join me, won't you, in a one-day news fast. We'll play video games, or go for a walk along the lakeshore. We'll give a dog a belly rub, or make silly noises for a toddler and giggle along with him. We'll eat cookies, blow bubbles, sing along with an old song on the radio. We'll appreciate the quiet in our neck of the woods. The world's teeming chaos will be there tomorrow. But just for one day, we can pretend it isn't there at all.
 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

So long, sweets



    I almost relapsed tonight - with chocolate.
    I was whipping up a batch of brownies to bring to the office potluck tomorrow. The brownie batter was in the pan, ready for the oven. The mixing spoon wore an enticing coat of sticky, fudgy batter. Unthinkingly, I ran my index finger over the spoon and put my finger in my mouth. Before the batter made contact with my tongue I pulled away my finger and quickly rinsed it under the faucet.
    Close one.
    As of today I have gone three months and one and a half weeks without ingesting any sugar. Well, no gratuitous sugar. No cookies. No cake. No candy. No (heavy sigh) ice cream. Not so much as a sip of my sober-Deb beverage of choice, an ice cold Pepsi.
   Are you impressed? Please be impressed. I need all the positive reinforcement I can get.
   This sugar-free endeavor began by accident. It began at the grocery store, with a decision to not purchase ice cream. My partner's decision, not mine. I've never independently decided to not purchase ice cream in my life.
    I didn't go sugar free that night. Feeling virtuous about resisting the ice cream, I rewarded myself with a Milky Way Midnight. Three days later I realized that I had gone three whole days without a sugary treat. I decided to go for four. When I made a week I began practicing a turn of phrase known in modern parlance as the humblebrag.
    "So yeah, I haven't eaten any sugar for a week now."
    I rarely got the reaction I hoped for - because no one I know carries confetti in their pockets, ready for throwing when a friend does something momentous, such as forgoing Lucky Charms and Trenary Toast for seven long days.
    Mostly, people asked, "Why?", to which I honestly replied, "I dunno. It was an accident."
   Some people asked, "Do you eat fruit? Do you drink juice? There's sugar in ketchup, you know."
    I explained that I wasn't reviewing condiment labels or eschewing blueberries. I was only avoiding extra sugar. The fun kind. The sweet, sweet, delicious, soothing, comforting, satisfying kind.
    What in the hell was I thinking?
    Here's what I was - and am - thinking. I am an addict. And saying I am addicted to sugary treats is no exaggeration. My thinking about ice cream and Oreos is disturbingly similar to the way I used to think about alcohol. And removing these treats from my life has claimed my attention in a manner disturbingly similar to my long ago decision to abstain from drinking alcohol. Giving up sugar has, in fact, been as difficult - and in some ways been more difficult - than giving up drinking.
    I gave up drinking in large part because I was afraid of what happened to me when I drank. I had lost my ability to choose not to drink, and could never have a drink or two and call it enough. Fear spurred me into a recovery program, without which I could never have managed to get sober, or to remain sober for more than half my life.
    Giving up sugar doesn't feel like giving up alcohol. There's no liberating sense of relief at not having to have that all important substance. There's no recovery program for M&M bingers. There are programs for overeaters, sure, but overeating isn't my problem. My problem is, after three months and one and a half weeks, I'd sell my damn soul for a tub of Betty Crocker chocolate fudge frosting. The other night I dreamed I was eating a custard filled chocolate doughnut. It was as vivid and almost as nerve-wracking as any drinking dream I've ever had. I swear I checked under my fingernails for crumbs.
    The cravings are becoming less frequent, and they may be lessening in intensity, but honestly, I can't tell. They no longer come in goading, ceaseless waves after dinner, when my body wants, needs, demands some form of dessert. Now the cravings poke at me when I'm feeling run down at work in the late afternoons, or times when I feel too small and the world feels too big, like the day Robin Williams died.
    Now and then (meaning almost daily), I hear myself whining a woe-is-me about the lusciously frosted cupcake or a gooey slice of warm blueberry pie I can't have, and I have to remind myself: I can have it. I am choosing not to.
    My mind feels clearer. I have more energy. But that isn't what's keeping my away from the white stuff. What's keeping me clean is the fact that I can say/brag I have not eaten any sugar in three months and a week. And a half.
    Anyone have any confetti?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sober? Check. Mom? Check. Single? Well...

The title of my blog has not been completely accurate for over a year now. I am still (gratefully) sober, still (delightedly) a mom. But I am (surprisingly!) no longer single.
Almost a year and a half ago I made a life-changing acquaintance with a remarkably special man. If I had a list of all the qualities I'd want in a man, he would generate a check mark after every single one. Intelligent, kind, patient, good sense of humor, bookworm. Check, check and check. It is my blessed good fortune that I make all the checks on his list, too.
After a series of brief conversations in public we progressed to exchanging emails, then graduated to Facebook chats. After a couple of cautious months we scheduled our first private face to face meeting at a quiet local restaurant.
We didn't follow the first-date rule of presenting carefully edited histories to each other. Instead, we poured our insides out, laying bare relationship histories, drinking and recovery stories, parenting joys and sorrows, what we loved (animals, books), and what we loathed (right-wing politics and all things Kardashian).
Our conversation extended from mid-afternoon coffee into dinner, concluding only when the restaurant closed at 8 p.m. We parted with a warm handshake and a promise to get together again in the near future.
I hurried to my car, shaking from head to foot - in part due to the sharp, frosty January air, but more because something had just happened to me that I hadn't experienced in a long, long time.
When I got home I stumbled through the kitchen door and froze in the middle of the floor, still shaking, ignoring my dogs' eager greeting. Out loud I repeated, "Oh, my God. Oh, my God." Inside me, a voice calmly repeated, "This is a man you could fall in love with."
I envisioned falling in love as a literal fall. I saw myself standing at the edge of a high bridge, looking down into dark, churning water. Was I willing to risk my safe, peaceful life for another plunge into emotional entanglement? The question answered itself almost as quickly as it was asked. Yes, I was willing to risk it. I was willing to dare to fall in love again.
And, in fact, I did - and he he with me.
Falling madly in love with the partner of your dreams doesn't equal happily ever after, as any grown-up knows. Our togetherness has consisted mostly of joy, laughter, understanding, passion, and the deep appreciation that comes with finding "the one" later in life, when you've learned what matters (honesty, respect) and what doesn't (dirty socks on the floor, hogging the bathroom). But there have been some rocky, tearful interludes, when our present lives collide with past hurts and expectations. What matters, though, isn't that we fight; what matters is we always make up, apologize, and work hard at resolving whatever issue is at hand.
I've had to do a lot of changing to keep this relationship alive; so has he. For my part, I've had to confront the ghosts of a past relationship, acknowledge that these ghosts existed, were haunting my new life, and could potentially destroy it. It was scary work that sent me to a therapist's office. After one excruciating argument, when I was beginning to doubt the relationship was salvageable, a close friend of mine gave me a much needed wake-up call.
I'd spilled every detail of my partner's and my most recent ugly fight. I'd been unable to see past his part in it, focusing only on my hurt. Now, I said, I could see with humbling clarity exactly where my old behaviors had exacerbated the fight.
My friend looked me in the eye and said calmly, "You have a choice. Do you want to continue with your old behaviors and lose the relationship, or do you want to change?"
I wanted to change. And change I have. So has he. Because we want to be together badly enough to work at it. We are old enough to understand the value of what we've found together. What we've found together is priceless.
We laugh hard, every single day. We hug. We kiss. We get each other coffee or an extra blanket. We say "please" and "thank you." We have what I like to call cultural exchanges: I have become a Detroit Tigers fan; he has developed a fondness for Cyndi Lauper's songs.
Most wonderfully, we allow for one another. If I come home from work mentally and emotionally fried, he is fine with me taking my dinner plate to the sofa and reading while I eat, my preferred method of unwinding. If he says he is feeling a tad cranky, I leave him to his laptop and keep conversation to a minimum. We can be completely, comfortably, utterly ourselves with one another That is priceless, miraculous, and irreplaceable. And we are, thankfully old enough and wise enough to appreciate that.
Sober? Yes. Mom? Yes, indeed. Single? Happily, blessedly, and surprisingly, the answer is, not any more.