Celebrating Four Years Without a Drink

On top of the world

A life free of alcohol and drugs, is a damn good life.  So much has changed for me in a short amount of time.  For several years now, I’ve practiced not picking up a drink, every single day.  Today, even in the most precarious circumstances, the last thing on my mind is having a drink.  Sometimes I get through difficult situations without thinking at all about drinking.  Afterward, I’m astonished that numbing out my problem didn’t even cross my mind.  The practice of not picking up a drink, is working for me.

What I’ve discovered over these last four years, is that experiencing my life on an emotional level, is so much better than numbing things out, or putting off the inevitable.  I don’t know why I was so scared of pain, sorrow, or loss.  All of these emotions is what makes life so interesting.  Without them, I could not be the artist/writer that I am.  I’ve gone through terrible weeks when I felt the world crushing in on me, and I made it through the other side in one piece, knowing that nothing I feel is eternal.  Life is about what I feel, no matter what is happening in the physical realm.  We are all having different experiences (sometimes in the very same room), so it is clear to me now that my life is about my perception of things.  I have the power to change my perception of my life without enhancing it with a substance.

I’ve experienced bliss beyond measure while I was sober, and heartache so deep that I felt my guts spilling on the floor before me, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for a day at the bar.  I would rather someone rip my heart out, slam it against a brick wall while I watch it slide down onto the cement, then to numb my pain with a drink.  I would rather feel everything as it comes, even in furry, agony and melancholy, because none of those emotions are eternal.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, I get to feel elation, joy, and sometimes I see something so beautiful that it makes my heart ache.  When I laugh now, it comes from my soul, and when I talk to people, I’m no longer flashing them a mask of my images because I am becoming comfortable with who I am in my own regular skin.  The authentic me may not be a comedian, a model or anything spectacular or grand, but I like her as she is in her organic beauty.  The more I get to know myself, the more I love myself, and the happier I am.

I’ve gotten to a place where I think about other people more than I do, myself.  I consider other people’s needs, and wants, and I try to be accommodating.  I’ve made genuine friends, and I’ve become one myself.  I’m closer to my family, my children, and I am reuniting with my brother.  Every day is a new adventure where I let go of yesterday and begin as if my slate is clean.  I don’t hold on to anger, jealousy or other people’s wrongs.  I am present more often than not.  Sobriety has been gentle with me. It doesn’t kick me when I’m down or make me feel worse when I’m having a rough day.  Recovery has given me the strength to walk through my fears, ignore all my doubt, and the courage to go after what I want in life without competing to win.  I’m doing things now because I find joy in them – not because I’m trying to be somebody extraordinary.  In my sobriety I’ve learned that everyone is extraordinary – it is simply up to them to discover their own unique place in the world.  I’m certainly discovering mine, and life for me now is never boring.  It is a gift.  I wake up each morning so excited to be alive.  On days that aren’t so good, I’m still excited to be alive.  I know that my perspective is all I need to change, which places the responsibility of my life, on me.  I like being responsible.  Although it is scary, it keeps me awake to this human experience I’m having, and it is constantly reminding me that I have more control than I ever thought I did in my addiction.

Today marks four years without a drink, and I’ve come such a long way.  I never thought I’d be where I am today.  People trust me.  I have a wonderful career.  I’m taking care of my body, mind and soul, and I am no longer confused.  I’m present for my life and for the people who are in my life.  I’m doing what I love and I have more freedom now than I ever did in my addiction.  I love my life.  I love who I am.  I love being alive.  That’s something I could not shout out four years ago, so if anyone asks me if it has been worth it, I would say, without a doubt!  Today I’m on top of the world (and tomorrow I will be too).

For Those of You Who Love an Addict/Alcoholic/Self-Destructive Person

Loving an Addict

No one is ever going to save an addict/alcoholic/self-destructive person from themselves.  I don’t know how many people came along in my life and tried to save me while I was in my addiction, but all they got from the relationship was hurt and confusion.  It wasn’t that I was incapable of feeling love, because I definitely loved people (including my two children), but my self-loathing took precedence over everyone and everything.  I could hide behind motherhood, a career and a meaningful relationship for long stretches of time, but seeping out from behind those images I tried so desperately to uphold, was a deeply terrorized person who lived in a state of absolute fear.  If you don’t know what that’s like, then it must be difficult to grasp the behaviors of an addict/alcoholic/self-destructive person, because they can be so damn lovable at times, and terribly mean when you least expect it.  That unpredictability is because an addict is a person who behaves according to how good or bad they feel.  If they are feeling high, then you’re the best thing that ever happened to them, but if they are too drunk or going through withdrawal, or needing a drink or drug (or whatever it is that keeps them from feeling the terror within them), then watch out.  Anything you say or do can and will be used against you.

Reasoning with someone who lives their life in a state of fear is like reasoning with a toddler about why they aren’t getting a cookie that’s already in their hand.  It’s impossible.  You aren’t going to get anywhere except frustrated.  Everything an addict/alcoholic/self-destructive person does is out of fear.  Nothing takes precedence over their deeply ingrained fear.  There will be times when they seem clear and ready to make a change, but the fear will always override.  The only cure for an addict/alcoholic/self-destructive person, is for us to acknowledge our fear and to step directly into it.  We have to do the work ourselves, and many of us are afraid of the work because the fear of facing our demons is overwhelming to a degree that will push us further into our addiction.  This is why the programs of recovery teach us to do things “one day at a time.”  In our addiction, an addict/alcoholic/self-destructive person is not capable of seeing things the way a “normal” person sees them.  Instead of seeing a mountain as something you climb one step at a time, we only see the whole of the mountain, and feel like it is an impossible journey.

If you are dealing with an addict/alcoholic/self-destructive person, you may say things like, “Well, they don’t drink/use/behave badly all the time, so I don’t know if they are really “an addict” or if they are just having a hard time in life.  That is something my loved ones told themselves, because the thought of me being “an addict” was devastating to them.  People hear that word and they think “hopeless…”  Normal people have a difficult time digesting that label because it sounds like a person is doomed, but it can be alleviating to recognize this trait in someone who has been abusive and unpredictable, because it gives definition to their strange and hurtful behaviors.  Your alcoholic/addict/self-destructive loved one’s fear is like a boulder chained around their neck.  Sometimes they have slack in the chain, but eventually it is going to take them down.  It is only a matter of time.  Although the chain and boulder is not who they truly are, no amount of love, reason or chivalry will unlock that chain.  The addict/alcoholic/self-destructive person is the only one who holds the key.  Helping them out of their addiction is an impossible feat, and it will strip you of your own self-worth.

Loving an addict is like throwing a valuable coin into a well and hoping your wish comes true.  The value in the coin doesn’t guarantee a wish coming true. Your love cannot reach the bottom of the addict/alcoholic/self-destructive person’s fear.  The only way they can move through the fear is to recognize it for themselves, and to be willing to walk through it.  The willingness has to come from a place deep within themselves.  Sometimes it takes several years and many rock bottoms for an addict/alcoholic/self-destructive person to become willing.  For me, it took me realizing that I could never die drinking, so I inadvertently decided that I wanted to live my life on the opposite end of the spectrum.  It was my own personal awakening.  No one who tried to save me ever got very far.  I was drowning in my fear of life, and my dread of feeling anything other than high.  I had no idea at the time, that my emotions were temporary and beautiful (like the seasons).  I thought everything I felt (the misery) was eternal, and this is the delusion that kept me drinking and using for eighteen years.  I had to lose everything in order to realize no matter what I went through, and how difficult life was, that I would not disappear. When I was still alive and well, during the great losses of my life, I finally understood how valuable I truly was. Prior to that, no one could love me to that degree of understanding. You cannot love someone to a place of ultimate recovery.  You simply have to know that your loved one is in a state of fear, and it is impossible for them to accept love when love is the furthest thing from fear.

If you can grasp the way an addict/alcoholic/self-destructive person is, the hurtful things they do and their strange behaviors will make more sense to you.  I know it’s difficult, because when one of us shines, we are brighter than most, and our loved ones recognize that there is more to us than the self-loathing, but that fear will always seep through the cracks of the images we so desperately try to uphold (whether that be a relationship, a job, or our vanity).  The fear blinds us from ourselves, but the one thing you have to know is that we are not hopeless.  We have the key to our own recovery.  Many people can and do recover from this affliction, but no one recovers because someone loved them to the doors of AA, or into treatment.  A person who is living in fear cannot be moved from the outside in.  It has to come from within.

If you love someone who is struggling in their addiction, and you’ve discovered yourself feeling lost, confused and yearning for their love – you are not alone.  Those of us who are afflicted with alcoholism/addiction/self-loathing are some of the brightest people around, who simply do not know how to balance in life.  We are loveable.  We are the kind of people that want to change the world, yet we feel so small in the grand scheme of things.  We cannot see that the only thing we need to change, is ourselves.  We see the mountain, rather than the small steps it take to get to the top.  We have a different perspective than you is all, but in order for us to change our perspective, we have to be willing.  The best thing you can do for yourself is to let go of that person who is struggling with their alcoholism/addiction/self-loathing and love them enough to let them find their way.  Letting go is like having unconditional love for that person and not expecting anything in return.  It sounds awful (kind of like recovery sounds to the addict), but it will set you free.  Letting go doesn’t mean you are giving up on them.  It simply means that you are in acceptance of their affliction, which takes precedence over everything.

Nobody enjoys feeling vulnerable, which is where loving an addict will take you very quickly, but vulnerability is a place of surrender, and surrender is the beginning to your own healing. Acceptance and surrender isn’t only for an addict in recovery like me. It is for anyone and everyone who wants to experience the fullness of their life. It is essential. So when it is all said and done, be grateful to the addict/alcoholic/self-destructive person in your life who brought you to this place of vulnerability. For they have unknowingly offered you a beautiful gift.

T. G. I. F. (Tarantulas Grow Insane Fangs)?

Smile

“Life is so weird,” responded one of my coworkers on Tuesday when I told her I was moving onto a full time job after a year and a half of being self-employed and working part-time.  “Life IS weird,” I repeated, “but it’s so good!”  I’ve spent the last month not worrying about the curve ball apocalypse coming at me.  It was one of those times that seriously tested my faith.  I was given the opportunity to either think outside of the box, or to cave in.  I didn’t cave in because I promised myself a year and a half ago (when I took a huge leap of faith and moved to the opposite side of the San Francisco Bay with my daughter) that I was going to “go for it” while I was here.  After two years of being sober, I trusted myself enough to put everything out on the line, and if I failed, I made the decision that I could live with it, because at least I tried.  I least I felt something and got passionate about my life, and followed the vision I have for it.

I recall several years ago when I decided to get sober, I spoke to a group of peers and said, “I want to be the best me that there is.  I’m going to place all my energy into going after what I want in life.”  It occurred to me that I should totally place the persistence I had in my addiction, into something positive.  I mean, drinking wasn’t working for me at all, so why not scoot on over to the opposite side of the spectrum and actually create a life worth living?  There was no way I was doing sobriety half-assed.  That wouldn’t have worked for me at all.  I’m an “all-or-none” type of girl.  I’m not saying that I don’t waiver, because God knows I do that too, but once I make a decision… the sky’s the limit.  This is the opposite side of the spectrum after all.

So the curve balls were approaching.  The roommate bailed.  My son moved back with his dad after four months of living with us.  My daughter began complaining that she also wanted us to move back to my hometown where our family resides.  Work was slow for several months.  Yet, I’m in a lease until September, she’s got school through May, and I feel connected where we are now, plus she’s getting a really good education and the opportunities are endless here.  She’s safe in our town, which wouldn’t be the case in my hometown where there is a lot of crime.  “I don’t feel like moving back there would be the right thing to do,” I told her after thinking everything through.  She was also feeling like we would be too tight on money now that I was paying the full amount of rent.  She was right.  I didn’t come here to struggle or to be in constant survival mode, so I had to do something.  The urge was hitting me pretty hard.  The only thing I could do was surrender (and pray).

“Listen, Universe filled with love and abundance… You know what’s happening right now.  It’s too much for me to handle, so I’m going to let you handle it.  I’m open to receiving whatever comes my way.  If I’m supposed to pack up and go home, then just give it to me straight.  I can handle it, and I’m willing to do that, but honestly, I don’t feel like that’s what I’m supposed to do.  I love it here.  I feel like this is where I’m supposed to be.  I trust that whatever I need will be provided, and that you will give me clarity so that I will know which way to go.  You know my needs better than I do, so please take care of us.  I do not want to struggle while I’m here.  I’m tired of struggling.  I’m done with that way of life.  I’m ready to rock and roll.  Thank you for today and for my wonderful life, and for giving me this opportunity to surrender, and for a new perspective.  Give me complete clarity.”

Two days later, a new job opportunity presented itself.  I vacillated, because I was just starting some new ventures with my self-employment.  Business was slowly picking up.  I could have remained where I was and hoped for the best, but then the new job offered more money than expected, and I realized that I could also work my way up there, which wasn’t the case being self-employed.  I got advice from a few people, and sat with myself for a day, but it became abundantly clear that I should take the new position.  It is much closer to home.  I can build a community there, just like I have at the job where I’m at now.  In fact, there are tons of more people working in the new office, and there is so much more opportunity for growth.  How could I pass it up?  I couldn’t.  Sure, it’s scary to start a new position in a busier environment, and to walk away from what I have now, but my fear pales in comparison to my faith.

“Life is only getting better.  I have everything I need and more.  Money is flowing toward me and my life is abundant.”  This is the motto I live by.  I don’t waiver with this affirmation.  It’s been my statement for about a year now, and it’s proven effective.  The truth is, I wasn’t getting along with my roommate.  We had completely different standards of clean, among other things. My son is happier when he’s closer to the entire family, and I knew this was a temporary move for him.  My daughter was merely reflecting a decision I needed to make, and she later came and apologized to me for being doubtful. Work was slow because it was time for me to move on to something more challenging.  There are always arrows pointing us in the right direction.  The question is, are we aware enough of our vision to notice the arrows pointing us toward our vision?  If life is left up to us to simply trot along without direction, most of us would feel like we are lost in a maze.  The universe puts things along our path to wake us up to the path.  It’s easy to see once you recall the vision you have for your life, even if that vision is merely to remain sober.  I had to ask myself, which direction would most likely keep me sober?  And the answer was “the path of least resistance.”  Surrender and open yourself up to whatever comes your way.  Recall the direction you wish to go, and get on board with whatever is presented to you, even if it feels like life is coming against you.  Be open to receiving whatever it is you need right now, even if it doesn’t look like it’s what you need right now. When the curve balls come, look around for the bat.  TGIF (That’s God Invoking Faith)!

Limbo is Only Good at a Party, Not So Much in Everyday Life

Limbo

The one game I am terrible at is Limbo.  Sadly, I’m not limber enough to limbo, but I’m talking of the physical game here, not the mental/emotional one.  I was the champion at the mental one, except it never got me anywhere (um… because the mental/emotional game of limbo keeps you stationary), so there was no true championship.  Reality limbo is like a stagnant river.  Everything just gets swirled into that one place of non-action until it eventually stops the flow, and begins stinking to high heaven.

On my morning run this week, I noticed a new sign sitting up on a chair at this shabby/chic store that I love.  It says, “WAKE UP AND BE AWESOME!”

Wake up and be awesome

I saw this after making the decision that I wasn’t going to waiver any longer when it came to making decisions.  I have spent the last several months wavering back and forth about so many things.  It has become incredibly exasperating.  I’m the kind of person who wants concise answers about things.  Just give me the damn bottom line.  Tell me what to, where to go, who to talk to (how not to pick up a drink).  Give me solid lines, man.  But something has changed for me since I’ve been in recovery.  I’m more about feeling my way through life, rather than thinking my through it, or making decisions based on logic.  And this is a huge shift for me because I’m an “all or none” type of individual, and when you’re feeling your way through things, lines can get kind of blurry.  I think this has been my problem lately.  Logic tells me one thing, and my gut tells me another.  So I’m in limbo, but when I made a decision earlier in the week to follow my gut, and then I saw this sign, it was like the bulb in my head ignited.  It’s not about what I do, really.  It’s about how I feel while I’m doing it.  If I make a decision to “feel awesome” per say (and I have made this decision, btw), then I’m focusing my energy inward, which will project (create) an outward physical reality that is pretty f-ing awesome.

It’s true.   We get caught up in physical reality because it’s solid, but we forget that there is a whole universe occurring right inside of us, which actually projects that physical reality.  If you’re not paying attention to yourself, life seems pretty random, but if you are self-aware, everything that unfolds before you is thoughtfully developed by your well-trained thoughts.  I have literally “thought” people out of my path by not thinking about them at all.  By basically telling the universe that I don’t want to have the experience I’m having with them, I’ve rid negative people out of my life.  I do it all the time.  I just don’t give attention to those people, or I give them direct attention to move it on out, and they go away.  I know I can do this with everything.  If I need more money, I focus on money coming in, rather than dreading what I don’t have right now.  If I want more friends, I open myself up to that experience, instead of basking in my loneliness.  We all have the power to create our experiences by focusing on what we do want in life.  The bottom line (ah… here it is), is that we essentially want to feel good.  In order to feel good, you have to have a positive attitude, no matter what’s occurring.  So what does this have to do with limbo?  Everything.

It’s all about waking up and saying, “I am going to feel awesome today.”  I’m going to put my all into whatever it is I’m doing.  If I made a decision to remain at my job, then I’m going to get focused and work hard.  If I made a decision to be in this relationship, then I’m going to give it my all.  If I made a decision to get out of this relationship, then I’m not looking back.  If I decide to lose twenty pounds this year, then I’m NOT going to screw around with sugar and carbs.  If I do binge out on Twinkies, then I’m going to feel guilty.  My goal is to feel awesome, so screw that Twinkie (do people even eat those things anymore?).

I know this is easier said than done, but if you’re focused on how you feel, rather than spending a great amount of time focused on physical reality results, then the results will reflect your awesomeness.  It truly will.  I know for a fact that I feel amazingly awesome after I finish writing a blog, or while I’m plucking away at another chapter in a book, so why would I study for a real estate exam in order to sell houses because that’s a more “logical” course of action?  For years I’ve gone back and forth with this.  The other day I was like, “You know what?  I don’t feel as awesome when I’m spending my energy on my real estate career, like I do when I’m writing a book.”  The only thing I truly care about is writing books.  Do they make a lot of money?  Not yet.  But I haven’t even given it a real shot because I’ve been in limbo this entire time.  I realize now that I haven’t focused my energy on my writing like I could.  Even if it takes me a decade to make a living writing, it is that worth it to me, because I feel so incredible while I’m writing.  Nothing else gives me that feeling of awesomeness.  You know what I’m saying?

So where am I placing my energy from here on out?  On this thing that makes me feel awesome.  I know (because of extensive experimenting and experience) that once I go for it, my physical reality will unfold to match my alignment with who I truly am.  This is a law of nature.  I may not end up a millionaire, or a homeowner, or a Tesla driver (not right away anyway), but I will definitely be a happier person, and I think I made the point that the way we feel, is so much more powerful than our physical reality (which will eventually reflect the way we feel).

If you’re in limbo about something (or several things), then take a moment and think about which direction makes you feel awesome.  If one way is a gamble, yet you feel exhilarated thinking about taking that chance, and the other way is you settling for less because it’s a much more comfortable decision, then go for the awesomeness.  You don’t have to give up everything on the comfortable side to follow the path of awesomeness.  You simply have to make a decision to place more of your energy toward feeling awesome.  At some point, that comfortable place will become uncomfortable and it will naturally fall away.  It all about where you place your focus, and your focus should always be within (or you will surely do without). (Right about now, my son would roll his eyes and shout, “Mom, stop saying AWESOME…”)

Seeking Validation From Others

Seeking Approval

Lately I’ve been following my own advice about giving more of myself than I think I have.  You know, the old getting-out-of-my-own-skin routine.  Life has been coming at me like a curve ball apocalypse and for some reason I don’t have the energy to freak out about it.  I know what I have control over, and what I don’t.  Doing the “next right thing” is the only thing I know how to do.  There is almost too much for me to worry about, so why even go there?  I know everything will work out, because so far, things have fallen into place very well.  If it was going to fall apart at all, I think I would see the cracks by now.  From my experience, the universe doesn’t give half of what you need and then abort mission while you flounder along.  If things aren’t supposed to work out when life comes at you hard, then usually there will be a big sock in the gut that tells you not to proceed.  I haven’t gotten that sock in the gut.  In fact, the green lights are blazing as I step into uncharted territory.  I trust myself and I have an overall vision.  Having that vision is paving the way for me like an unfolding bridge before my feet.

I recall a time when I used to look for validation from others, and now, 3.75 years into my recovery, the closer I get to my genuine self, I’m not concerned about needing approval from other people.  For example, it isn’t easy being vegan around carnivores who have strong opinions about eating meat, but being vegan for me is honoring my feelings about animals.  For years, I blocked out the sadness I felt regarding factory farming, and I got to a point where the feelings were too strong for me to ignore.  It was about a year into my recovery when I decided to go with my gut on shifting my diet.  Like everything else in my recovery, I took things really slowly.  I didn’t overwhelm myself with the changes.  I adapted to the earthy food in a way that didn’t shock my body or make me crave a hamburger to the point of going on a fast food bender.  I did it compassionately, like a ceremony of change.  It’s been a couple of years now and I realize that I’m not so focused on food the way I was before.  Food is no longer the center of my universe, and thank the gods, because we only need food for survival.  I got tired of worshiping food and looking forward to meals.  There is so much more to life.  Also, when I’m at a party where there isn’t a lot of food for me to choose from, I’m more focused on my diet than I am about avoiding alcohol, so becoming vegan has had the unexpected effect of shifting my focus away from alcohol.  I also feel much lighter, and I am closer to who I truly am.

I get off-handed judgments a lot for being vegan, but I’m ultimately the one who has to live with myself.  If I were to give in and eat a piece of meat, as often suggested by others, I wouldn’t feel good about it at all.  It may taste amazing, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling horrible about the abused animals.  Some people may call this being too sensitive, but honoring my innermost feelings takes a great amount of strength.  It would be much easier to simply eat the meat when it is offered. I’m very connected to life, and when people say, “Just don’t think about it,” regarding the slaughterhouses, I think to myself, they’re avoiding their true nature and I don’t want to do that anymore.  Recovery for me has been tapping into the well of myself, rather than living on the surface of my emotions.  I go deep because it keeps me in alignment with who I truly am, and in turn, this keeps me sober.  Perhaps from now on when I get glares about my food choices, I will say, “Being vegan keeps me sober.”

In regards to life throwing curve balls, there is always the suggestion that I go backwards and let go of my vision and just give up.  I have a lot on my plate.  I’m responsible for a lot of things, including two young people.  So I think of what it would look like if I stepped out of my vision and went back to my hometown and took another job that just paid the bills and got a place to live near my family.  It’s not that simple though.  There are so many elements to consider.  None of those elements flow together the way things are flowing now.  If they were, I would take a step back in a heartbeat, but I feel very strongly that I am where I’m supposed to be.  I’ve met amazing people along the way.  I feel connected to where I am.  From an outsider’s point of view, I don’t know what it looks like, but from where I stand, everything feels right.  I’m not forcing anything to happen.  I’m simply following an inner pull that has much more commonsense than it may seem.  I don’t think like most people.  I feel.  I feel my way along (because that’s what keeps me sober).

If you go through life seeking validation from others, you never truly get the full effect of living your life in such a way that it feels the universe is embracing you.  Getting guidance from people is one thing, but drawing answers about what you should do and where you should go, needs to come from within.  Yesterday my daughter was struggling with a decision about a friend.  The friend is always causing trouble, but she ultimately has a good heart.  She’s simply misguided.  We love the friend.  She has not influenced my daughter in a negative way.  In fact, on the contrary, but my daughter has been given advice from several people to not be friends with her because of her negative behavior.  My advice was to embrace the friend, to bring her over more often, and to make her a part of our family.  Give her guidance where it is needed.  When I said this, my daughter was so overwhelmed with relief.  She didn’t feel right at all about what other people were telling her.  I said, “You’ve got to listen to your own gut.  You can’t expect other people to tell you what’s right and what’s wrong.  You’ve bonded with this person, and you know that she is ultimately a good person.  She just needs to be taught certain things.”  My daughter is wise beyond her years and told me that her friend claims that she can’t help it that she is often “rude.”  My daughter told her, “YOU aren’t rude.  You ACT rude.  That’s not WHO you are.”  I was impressed.  I mean, that’s exactly right.  If her friend buys into that label about herself, perhaps one day she will literally be a rude individual, but we’re not allowing her to buy into that label.  We’re trying to show her that her behaviors don’t define her.  If she begins affecting us in a negative way we’ll put up our boundaries, but for now it seems that she simply needs a little bit of extra love and a lot of acceptance.

Labels don’t define us.  Religious preferences don’t define us.  Political views don’t define us.  My veganism doesn’t define me.  Getting validation from other people doesn’t breathe life into my existence.  I’ve found a way to stand on my own two feet and to draw from the deep well within myself.  I’ve had a lot of curve balls thrown at me lately, and some of them hurt, but they don’t define how I ultimately feel.  Nothing will sway my stance because I know who I am and where I am going.  I will be tested and tried and pushed and pulled, and I will continue standing on my own two feet and drawing from the deep well within myself.  I have to live with me for the rest of my life.  I’m the only person who has to live with me for the remainder of my life (twenty-four hours per day, seven days a week).  So if I’m seeking validation from sources outside of myself, or drawing from someone else’s well, I will never ever experience the eternal joy that continues flowing even while I’m facing unexpected adversity.  I will only have moments of happiness, which never kept me sober.

What Path of Treatment is Best for You?

Path toward Mt. Tam

Each time I go to an AA meeting with a speaker who says they got sober in AA, and they have several years sober because of AA, and they are living it up (thanks to AA) – I stir in my seat.  AA works for a lot of people.  That rigorous honesty thing and sponsorship is the answer for many.  It also doesn’t work for many because some of us are too clever for our own good.  I remember often wanting a drink after some of those meetings.  It takes a willingness beyond the desire to drink in order to do the work and to surround yourself with people who can support you along the way.  It takes discipline, and that’s a word I couldn’t relate to back then.

When I first started going to AA, I had no idea how self-centered I was, and I was one of those who worked my own program.  I thought I was being honest with my sponsor, but in retrospect I see that I had my own agenda.  Some people realize early on in their drinking (before several multi-car train wrecks) that they need help, and they are smart enough to get their ass straightened out before it gets rock bottom embarrassing.  Not me.  I wanted to see how far I could wrestle with my affliction of alcoholism before it took me to places that I wouldn’t dare confess to a priest (although I’m not Catholic, but they supposedly hear a lot of terrible things in those little booths).  I had to scrape my ass on the rocky bottom of the hole that I dug myself into (not once, but several times over).  It was a seven year rock bottom for me.  AA was the piece of cake that I ate during those seven years, which kept me briefly sober.  In other words, I needed something more intense than a meeting once or twice a day.  My self-destruction and self-loathing was beyond those thin walls that displayed posters of steps and helpful sayings.  I know I’m not the only one here.

I had no idea that there were several treatment centers in the Bay Area (where I live) that were county funded.  If I had known it during those seven years of my toilet bowl spiral, I would have most likely got the help I needed a lot sooner, but I may have not been so desperate for help then, to choose the most intense treatment center of the bunch (besides Delancey Street in San Francisco, which is two years of militant rehabilitation).  I may have gone for easy-street and chosen a program that let me do whatever I wanted, which was mostly sit around and watch tv, eat garbage and drink coffee.  I know a lot of people who go into treatment for a sabbatical from life.  That doesn’t work.  I went to a sixth month program that ripped my head out of my ass and slammed it into the mirror until I saw my bad behaviors around my drinking so clearly that I pretty much left there licking my wounds.  I was chastised and humbled and awakened.  Reality slammed me in that program like madness into the Hatter.  I woke up to myself and saw what I was, which was a piece of shit.  But six months of that, plus ten months of sober-living and aftercare, brought me to complete wholeness in myself.  I know a lot of people who go to 30-60 day treatment programs and come out of it feeling refreshed and alive, just to discover that they can’t cope in the real world.  You’re safe in those programs, you see, and then suddenly you’re exposed to reality again.  When I graduated from New Bridge Foundation (in Berkeley), I not only coped in the real world, but I knew exactly who I was and what I wanted in the real world, and I knew how to go after it, sober.  That’s the place I wanted to be, so that’s why I chose a behavior modification program as opposed to a cushy institution with TVs and endless pots of coffee.  I was willing.  When I first got into New Bridge, everything was weird and regiment.  The clients wore slacks and button down shirts.  There were a thousand rules to follow, and a hundred plastic red chairs.  The counselors kept saying, “hold onto your red chair.”  It was confusing at first, and everything got under my skin.  I was angry often, and bored, and annoyed, but I kept sitting in those red chairs, and standing in their infamous mirror, and eventually, I “got it.”

Here I am nearly four years later, and I know beyond the shadow of doubt if I were stuck on a deserted island out in the middle of nowhere, by myself, with a shit ton of fermenting fruit surrounding me, and there were no AA meetings to speak of, I would not get drunk.  That’s the place I wanted to be in my sobriety.  More than anything, I just wanted to trust myself, so I guess the question you have to ask yourself when choosing a route of sobriety is, where do you want to see yourself at the end?  What kind of sobriety do you want?  Do you want to live your life to the fullest, or do you want to struggle for the remainder of your life with your affliction?  Do you want to know how to live a fulfilling existence sober, or do you want to just get by?  Because it really is your choice.  I don’t go to many AA meetings.  I go hiking.  I go to the beach often.  I write as much as I breathe.  I meditate and listen to positive speakers on YouTube.  I spend a lot of time with my family.  I surround myself with people who are filled with integrity and who love me dearly.  I laugh often.  I go to meetings sometimes to recall what it was like.  I do a constant inventory of my life, and when I’m wrong, I admit it as soon as possible.  I know a lot of people go to meetings to give back to Newcomers, and I think that’s amazing.  I try to give back to the world everyday I’m in it.  I do my best with what I have.  I put up a lot of boundaries with people, even if it means pissing them off, because it keeps me centered and sober.  I stay spiritually connected and surrender to things I have no control over, everyday.  That’s what treatment did for me, and I wouldn’t have done it any other way, even though it sucked much of the time.  I’m eternally grateful for that place.  I still have friends from New Bridge, and most of my graduating group is still sober and very strong as a whole.  That’s pretty incredible right there.

If you are trying to figure out how to stay sober, you’ve got to be willing to do the work.  It isn’t easy, but you don’t have to do everything at once.  You get to do it one moment at a time, and there will be a lot of support around you during the process.  Whether you choose AA, NA, or a rigorous program like I did, do it willingly and with discipline.  Do it to the point that you get to a place where you completely trust yourself.  Because until you completely trust yourself, you are a slave to your drug of choice.  So ask yourself exactly what it is you want, and then go the distance.  There are so many resources and programs that are county and state funded.  If you are worried about leaving work behind, and leaving your family during treatment, think of how not-present you are for your job and family now.  Ninety days or six months of treatment is a drop in the bucket.  When I got out, I found a job immediately and my family was happier than ever to see me.  They rooted me on throughout the entire process, and they supported me going in there because they were tired of my shit.  I have a friend who’s job was waiting for him a year later.  The universe will fall into place for you when you get the help you need.  It truly will, so do whatever it takes, and do it as intensely as you went after your high.  That’s the way to go, and if you have any questions about my journey, please feel free to write them in the comments below, or email me at ArticulatingMagic@gmail.com.

Getting Past the Physical and Emotional, Into the Eternal

Path of Light

Over the course of a couple of years, I keep running into parallel situations where I am confronted with circumstances beyond my capability for immediate resolve.  The circumstances are stressful beyond measure.  Two times, I could barely get out of bed because of the weight I harbored, but I reached out to my friends or family each time, who helped me find the strength to trust in the outcome.  What am I asking for in my life?  I have to reflect on this, knowing these situations are created by an inner desire for something.  I am of the understanding that I am the creator of my own life experiences.  The answer is that I want to move past some of my old ways of thinking, especially about money.  For years, I have “never had enough,” and in each of these situations, I’ve been stretched and pulled and contorted into a place where I’ve finally had to let go and trust that there would be enough, and there always has been more than enough in each of these situations, although in the moment, I would have never guessed that I would be even better than ever, if I merely looked past what was right in front of me, and how I felt at the time.  The one thing I did not do was go down a dark path of thinking.  I acknowledged my fears, but did not get caught in their trap, and I know now, that this is key in overcoming the most difficult situations.

I find myself almost laughing today because here I sit with another circumstance that has me mentally contorted.  My roommate is basically bailing on her responsibility for the remainder of our lease.  We have seven more months on our lease and rent where I live is not cheap, which is why I got a roommate in the first place.  I can’t exactly get another roommate because of the way our apartment is set up.  It would have to be with a close friend or family member because of the space.  My roommate was like family, so it worked out okay, but I cannot replace her, nor do I really want to at this point.  My children and I need our own space, and none of my family lives near here, so it’s not like I can offer anyone close to me a place to live.  I’m on my own now.  Suddenly.  Just got an income increase two weeks ago, and a week later, my roommate tells me she can’t pay the rent.  Kind of ironic, and yes it’s a blessing about the income increase, but how incredibly scary and frustrating.  I was going to buy a laptop with that extra money so that I could work from home. Now I’m spending that extra money (and some) to pay the rent.  So much for the laptop… (but, wait)…

Yesterday I was riding with the Realtor I work with as his Transaction Coordinator.  We were going to look at a historic house that is going on the market with the two other Realtors I work with, as their Transaction Coordinator.  During the drive, he asked how I was holding up with the “roommate situation.”  I told him that I was bummed because I needed to buy a laptop with the extra money, so that I could work from home.  He knew that I was looking at laptops just a week prior. The device that I was using was a tablet, and it was quirky with some of the online systems we use, so it was taking me several hours to do what would normally take a half hour on a PC.  We were on the way to his house to grab some signs.  He just bought a device like mine, but newer, so he mentioned that he had a laptop just sitting around collecting dust.  He grabbed it when he got to his house, bag and all, and plopped it on my lap.  “Here you go.  All you need to do is erase all my crap.  It’s a good laptop.”  I opened the HP and was surprised to see that it was in great condition.  I’m using it now and it’s faster than my device, plus much more convenient.  It is everything I need to work from home, and it has all the bells and whistles that my device doesn’t have.  Sure, I would love to have a brand new system, but I didn’t have to pay a dime and I got something handed to me faster than I could have done research on what to purchase.  This is how life unfolds for me.  What I need is provided.  When I ask, I receive.  When I let go, things fall right into place.

I don’t exactly know how I’m going to manage the next few months without feeling overwhelmed, but from experience, I know that it will all work out.  My roommate situation wasn’t exactly convenient like I had hoped anyway.  There were several issues, and I wasn’t happy the way things were, so having her move out is a very positive thing, emotionally.  Usually when you remove negativity from your life experience, it makes way for more positive things to come into fruition.  I’ve noticed that when I am emotionally tired, or stressed or frustrated, it is difficult to write, but when I am at peace, the writing flows.  Other things flow better too, like money, and good relationships with like-minded people.

One of my very close friends got really angry in empathy for me when I explained what was going on with my roommate.  I was too drained to take on any anger at the time, nor did I want to sink into my frustration like that.  It just takes too much energy, but it also reminded me that I’m no longer caught up in the physical appearance of things like I used to be.  I am aware that something greater is unfolding for me and my children.  It isn’t apparent yet, and it is scary as hell, but I truly have no control.  This is all beyond my capability for immediate resolve.  After my friend had his fit of anger (which was really entertaining, btw) he told me something he had told me once before a couple of years ago while I was going through something similar.  “The universe won’t let you fall,” he gently said.  This was after I mentioned that if I couldn’t make it, I would be okay.  It isn’t the end of the world if I have to start from square one again, but he assured me that the universe won’t let me fall because I’m doing everything I can to take care of business and keep a roof over our heads.  I knew he was right, so I relaxed into the couch (thank god it’s mine) feeling very grateful for his affirmation.

We all want life to be a certain way and to unfold at a certain time.  From tons and tons of experience with sudden changes, my life rarely goes according to how I want it to go, or in my timing, but I have also grown incredibly strong and wise during my journey.  I don’t have control over most things, but I certainly have control over myself.  I have control over how I think, what my vision is, who I hang around with and how I respond to circumstances.  I have control over what is important to me and identifying those things that are not a priority.  My journey has been more about me than it has been about the outside world.  In the meantime, I’ve grown closer to my children, my friends, and my family, and I have a very good working relationship with the several Realtors I assist.  I am so incredibly fortunate to live in the area I live, collaborating with down-to-earth people, and that I have a positive outlook, rather than a negative one.

There is still a lot of work to be done, and I can improve in many areas of my life, but I know that when I focus on that which is beyond the physical and the emotional, the knots in my life work themselves out.  If I need help, I ask.  If I need a friend to talk to, I reach out.  If I need support, I go to a meeting.  If I’m overwhelmed to the point of feeling paralyzed, I turn it over to the great HP and focus on being of service to another human being.  There is an eternal place with an abundance of grace.  This is where I go when the skin meets the pavement in my life.  This is the space where I am set free from the burdens of everyday uncontrollable circumstances.