I don’t do resolutions. I have never been able to keep promises I made to myself, so I quit trying. However, I can’t say no to Aunt Becky, so I’ve been trying to figure out what “I will…” do this year.
I was coming up blank until my conversation with my mom this afternoon, and it hit me.
I will be OKAY.
That doesn’t sound like much, and yet it’s huge. There was a time when being okay seemed an impossibility. I recall it vividly.
It was April 2, 2005. I was two days out of treatment for addiction, and I was annihilated. That night, I reached the point of perfect misery. I didn’t want to live and could not die. I finally knew that I could not live that way anymore, and I took the first step. I surrendered, and the next day, I began attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings like my life depended on it.
When I first got clean, I didn’t think I’d still be clean 14 years later. I certainly didn’t think I’d ever be okay. But I kept coming back. I got a sponsor. I started working steps.
The idea that I might someday be okay never really occurred to me. There were other N.A. members who I thought would be okay. Some of them are. Some of them relapsed. Of those who relapsed, some made it back. Some didn’t. I never really thought about which category I’d fall into; I couldn’t think that far ahead. Getting through each day, each moment, was too much of a struggle.
Even when I found that each day wasn’t a struggle, I didn’t really think about whether or not I’d be okay.
Until today, when I was laughing with my mom about something that happened today. The event is irrelevant. The awareness it brought me today is what’s relevant. I realized that I just might be okay.
I don’t mean I am cured. I just finally understand that if I keep doing what I’ve been doing to recover from the
disease of addiction, well, I just might be OK.
For somebody who didn’t think she was worth saving when she reached out for help, that shit is huge.
So for 2019, I think that “I will…” be okay.
Shit. It would take too long to tell you everything that I love.
I could go on and on about my Mr. Sunshine, my puppy, the shoes, the clothes, my smartphone; but I don’t think that’s the point of this “exercise.” Not for me, anyway.
For me, the point of these “exercises” is to look beyond all that. The point is to find the beauty within me. The point is to find the beauty in life. The point is to find the beauty in this moment.
We just came home from the neighbor’s house where we sat around the fire and ate hot dogs and marshmallows. Sunshine is on the phone with one of the men he sponsors. My puppy is asleep in the floor. I am writing my Dose of Happy post for The Band.
This moment is perfect. In spite of the ugly sofa and carpet in the magic bus, in spite of the fact that it is HOT, in spite of the fact that the house needs cleaning.
This moment is perfect because I’ve learned a few things over the last few years.
Thanks to Narcotics Anonymous, I learned that I am worth saving. Thanks to The Band, I have learned that stigmas are bullshit. Through my family, I learned that if I do not want to become discontent with my own life, I need not look at what others have. Thanks to friends from all of these parts of my world, I have learned that life is beautiful, I am beautiful, you are beautiful.
So in the end, for me, the point of this Dose of Happy stuffz is to remember. To remember that I am beautiful, life is beautiful, you are beautiful. Which leads me back to the original question. What do I love?
I love that I don’t look at what others have. I look at what I have. I look at how rich my life is. And it is rich.
I have my recovery. I have my friends. I have The Band. I have my family.
I love my life.
I love myself.
And I love you.
Aunt Becky challenged me to write an “I Will” post… Here’s my crack at it:
This is a year of major changes for me. The title is paraphrased from a book by one of my favorite authors, Maeve Binchy, who died a few years ago. One of the lessons I’ve taken from her books is that kindness matters and change is sometimes incremental, but the opportunities to change abound.
First the Goals:
- Meet Baby (due end of June)
- Complete Probation (October, possibly sooner)
- Complete the 12 steps (currently on Step 4, which sucks, but I am finding valuable)
- Start School (Sign Language Interpreting Program)
- Graduate Treatment (possibly this month?)
- Move into my own apartment (hopefully by March)
- Stay sober (110 days and counting)
- Eat regularly
- Practice healthy boundaries – especially removing unhealthy and negative people from my life and saying “no” to things that jeopardize my values/goals/self
- Re-engage with Church
- Practice gratitude
- Learn to manage anger without becoming self-destructive
- Stay Present and Enjoy the Journey
- Practice Forgiveness – especially of myself
- Give back
- Never Stop Learning
- Make good choices (especially financial ones)
- Daily Maintenance (this is a concept from NA – aka The Four Simple Things: 1. pray honesty, out loud; 2. talk to another addict, preferably one sponsor or someone else with more clean time, honestly; 3. read literature daily; and 4. do something nice for someone else).
But the Over-Riding Theme?
I Will Become a Better Version Of Myself
Not too tall an order right??? LOL
my dad was, and still is, a serious control freak. he wants everything to go his way, all the time, forever. His need to control + my rebellious streak – any display of love or affection = a seriously fucked up child.
i’d love to write this on my regular blog, but it would upset the people who know me (and we both know that i shouldn’t upset others, right?), so i’m writing it on the down-low. anyway, this is more for me than for you, because you would never admit to fucking up. mom has put up with a lot of shit to stay married to you for 44 years, but i don’t feel sorry for her because we both know she loves to play the martyr. you two are a textbook case of how not to raise a daughter, and i’ll get to mom in another blog. this one’s for you-
i know that you and mom “had” to get married. i know that you weren’t thrilled about it. i also know that you really wanted a son, but you got me instead. while i made do with the john deere tractor and matching wagon, you and i both know i really wanted the barbie corvette. so barbie and her friends went on lots of hayrides, no biggie. because i loved you.
lesson #1- be happy with whatever i get and don’t be disappointed; any affection i may receive depends on this.
we had fun when i was little. we played football with pillows in the trailer that i grew up in, you pretended to be a horse so i could ride on your back. except you always bucked me off, every time. you’d hide in the bathroom down the narrow hall and call to me and when i came to you, you’d jump out of the dark and scare me. i hated that game, and tried to refuse, but mom would insist i go every time. when mom called that dinner was ready, you’d always hold me back and say that i didn’t get to eat. even though i knew it was a game, i didn’t like it. now that i think about it, your sense of humor was somewhat sadistic. but i didn’t see it that way at the time. because i loved you.
lesson #2 – play along, even when i don’t want to.
when i was small, and did something wrong, you whipped me. you had that fucking collection of belts and always made me pick one. i took a long time choosing, hoping you would change your mind, but you never did. i always chose the red, white, and blue one, because if i had to get whipped, it should be with a pretty belt. and it wasn’t just one or two times. no, you beat my ass. and bare legs. and back. and arms.
i stole some of your coin collection to use in the gum ball machine at the trailer court. it was only a couple of wheat pennies and a dime, but you found me at the gum ball machine and my heart got stuck in my throat. you had a wire coat hanger in your right hand and it was summer and i was wearing shorts. you beat me with that wire hanger all the way to the trailer and that was a long way and i couldn’t run fast because i was only 4. and still, i loved you.
and that time you got mad ’cause mom made chili in july. i was still in a highchair, even though i was 3. i dumped my chili onto the metal tray and you swore at me for wasting food. you grabbed me by my shirt and pulled me out of the highchair. my legs got all cut up because you didn’t take the tray off first. then you threw me on the floor of the living room, and that’s how my favorite top got ripped. then you grabbed a belt from your collection and started beating me and you wouldn’t stop. mom finally pulled you away and threw you out. she let you come back, though. because she needed you more than she loved me. i asked mom to fix my top, but she threw it away instead.
lesson #3 – i am bad, and being hurt by someone i love is acceptable. in fact, i should expect it. i need to learn the art of survival, nobody else is going to protect me.
you have never told me you loved me. never. not once. you have never told me you are proud of me. not ever. not when i graduated from college, or grad school, or got straight a’s, or stuck with my crappy marriage for so long, or left said crappy marriage when it was time. i craved your approval like an addict craves that next hit off the pipe, knowing it will never be enough. and i chased after your approval the way a child chases their shadow, knowing that they will never catch it but always hoping against hope that this time might be different. and i never hated you for it. instead, i hated myself for not being enough.
lesson #4 – it’s not you. it’s me. and it will always be me, even when it’s you.
you had a girlfriend on the side, beginning when i was 5, and ending around the time i went away to college. i know this because i rode the bus with her son in high school. he told me all about how you’d come over on christmas day when he was little. i always wondered why you left after we’d opened presents. you were going to your other family. the one with two boys.
remember that time when i was a senior in high school and my friend viki and i saw your truck at your girlfriend’s house? i rang the doorbell and asked your girlfriend if you were there and i told her who i was. after viki and i drove away, we hid in a driveway and watched you speed past us in your truck, racing towards home. and we laughed because we knew you couldn’t touch me. not unless you wanted to tell mom what you were so pissed about.
mom still doesn’t know about that time i called your girlfriend at work and called her a whore and a bitch and demanded that army picture of you back. the one that mom kept asking about and you kept telling her that you’d left it in your locker at work. only it wasn’t in your locker, was it? it was on your girlfriend’s tv, because her son told me. you brought the picture home that night. that’s when you stopped looking me in the eye and started hating me. because you’d been caught by your daughter. and i began to hate you right back.
and when you suddenly decided not to pay for grad school, i became a stripper to pay for it myself. because i had learned the art of survival.
lesson #5 – i have nothing to lose and it feels good to be a bitch.
you stopped hugging me when i turned 10, and i’m pretty sure it had something to do with my going through puberty. especially when you went on a trip and brought me back that cleveland browns sweatshirt, threw it in my general direction while averting your eyes and said, “here, this will cover up your bumps.” nice way to encourage a young girl to have pride in her body. so i started covering up my bumps, all the time. when i was in my late 20’s, i got rid of my bumps altogether by developing anorexia. then i had to cover up my bones. i began to loathe myself.
lesson #6 – my body is sexual, and sexuality is bad.
the only birthday of mine that you ever came to was when i turned 5. i still remember it because that’s the birthday i got my first barbie. you took her away and wouldn’t give her back. you thought that was funny and i played along so you would stay. to this day, i occasionally find myself playing along, for fear of being abandoned or pissing someone off. when i was 17, you never came to my high school graduation. i know this because when i got home after the ceremony, the ticket i’d left for you on the kitchen table was still there. you were still pissed about me finding you at your girlfriend’s two months prior, and calling her at her job. because i’d stopped playing along.
lesson #7 – when i stop playing along, you will hate me.
in high school, you started to have me followed, instead of sitting me down and asking me about what was going on in my life, you got kids from the trailer court to tell you shit about me, a full $5 for each bit of information. that’s how you found out i smoked, drank, got high, and had a black best friend. you even sent two guys on my fucking spring break trip to daytona beach. i know this because on the last night, we all got drunk together and they told me. then they proceeded to tell me your name, my full name, where i lived and what you wanted to know. i wasn’t even safe from you 1,000 miles away.
can i just tell you how fucked up that is? that is seriously fucked up. i was the most paranoid teenager i knew, even without the pot.
you made me stop being friends with kim, you beat my ass when you found out i smoked and you grounded me for three months for drinking. fuck you. i started getting high with my dealer’s 16-year-old wife before school, i went through the bottle of vodka you had hidden in your cupboard, filling it with water instead. that’s right dad, the more you tightened the screws, the more i fucked up. i went to school drunk every day, or high, or both. i hid beers in my bedroom and drank them when you were asleep. i smoked in the bathroom after you and mom left for work. i feared getting caught, but the rush was incredible.
lesson #8 – my father is out to get me, and he will always find me.
you wouldn’t let me date the same guy twice, because you didn’t want me to get pregnant, the way mom did. you wanted me to get an education and be someone. or something. not for my sake, but so that you could say you had a college-educated child. and i was so terrified of getting pregnant that i didn’t had sex until i was 19. and then i slept with every guy i wanted to when i went away to college. because i could, and you had never taught me to respect my body. you had only taught me to get away with whatever i could. i never enjoyed the sex, but being sneaky felt awesome.
lesson #9 – sex is about power and revenge.
when i was in my final year of grad school, i met my future husband, only i didn’t know it at the time. i was smart and i knew about birth control. but when you should have taught me confidence, i learned fear. where self-esteem should have been, there was an empty well, waiting to be filled by someone else’s ideas and beliefs. fear of abandonment took the place of knowing my own worth. standing my ground was replaced by an aching need to please, at any cost. so when my future husband said “no rubbers, please” i said “ok”. because i needed to be loved, and i was afraid of losing him.
lesson #10 – do whatever i have to do make other people happy. my thoughts and feelings don’t count and should be kept to myself. they will only make others stop loving me.
and then i got pregnant. your biggest fear. and because you were my biggest fear, and because i didn’t believe in myself, and because my boyfriend didn’t want a baby and because i didn’t want to be abandoned, i had an abortion. then the self-hatred really kicked in.
lesson #11 – all decisions should be based on fear.
it has taken me 20+ years to undo what you did to me. everyday i untangle a bit more of the knot, trying to smooth out the yarn. it’s still good yarn, and everyday i knit myself.
lesson #12 – you made me stronger, smarter, tougher and braver. so fuck you.
Today, Today I am heartbroken. I am also, angry and anxious and sad, embarrassed and emotionless. Every time I think I can’t cry anymore, the tears just start falling.
Today…. I have to send my son to live with his father.
I have to ‘kick him out’ of my house. He has been getting in trouble. Mostly for marijuana at school. Today… is the fourth time in less than a year (calendar year) it is the 2nd time in less than a month. I am angry at the school, because they are blowing things up that shouldn’t be.
He is supposed to be in a trauma-informed school. You know the place where the kids go because they get caught with pot at regular school?
The principal has told me multiple times that she doesn’t care if they smoke pot. They just can’t do it at school.
Today a kid happened to walk in at the same time as my son who HAD been smoking before school so they all got pulled into the office “No one at my school is going to be smelling like weed” Nice double standard lady. She searched the cars. Found pot in the other kids car. My son… He had the mouthpiece of a bong. “drug paraphernalia”
So it is a 2nd strike. He is expelled.
5 away months from graduating high school.
Funny thing is. I told her this would happen when they kicked him out of band. When they took away his positive influences. I told them he would spiral. I begged them to try another way. Every single scenario I laid out has happened.
Today…. I am so angry at the school. For the double standards. For the harsh punishments. When, really, why is pot treated any different than say nicotine or alcohol. He wasn’t shooting up in the bathroom or doing a line of coke in the hallway. He smokes blunts. The ladies head about spun when he told her he uses CBD for his anxiety.
*gasp that’s marijuana*
Today I feel like a failure. Like I caused this with our fucked up life. I feel like I missed something big. A big way to help him. Today I am heartbroken I am losing my baby boy.
Today I am angry at the fucked up school system who can let kids who cause a lockdown for a gun threat, kids who are drunk all the time and kids who smoke cigarettes on school grounds get away with it. They don’t get punished.
Today I am frustrated with my friends who tell me I am doing the right thing. I don’t want this to be right. I just want it all to be better.
Today I want to stop crying. Today I want everything to be okay. And I am terrified that..
Today is the beginning of the end.
She knew I was home by the trail of vomit that started at the front door and lead to the bedroom where I had passed out. My mother, her fiance, and my brother had been out all day. They did some family bonding outing that I had no interest in. Think vampires in sunlight enthusiasm, I did not want to go. I had better plans, with an empty apartment for several hours, I could party.
Now the term “party” was pretty inconsistent. I didn’t have much money, a place to go, or any kind of real plan but that did not deter me. I found some other bored teens to hang out with and we decided to find some trouble. So in our quest to “party” with no plan and no funds, we decided to hitchhike. Sad part is this wasn’t the first time we used this as a means to get high or drunk, it was “party roulette.” We never knew who would pick us up and what adventure awaited us. I cringe at the old memory, the sheer stupidity of it, and the absolute lack of self-preservation. Pure insanity.
The details are a blur. They were a blur 35 years ago and they haven’t sharpened with the passing of time. I know I got drunk with strangers. I was in and out of a black out. I remember asking the driver to pull over so I could vomit. Somehow I stumbled up the steep wooden steps to our shabby apartment above the local hardware store. I don’t know how much time passed before my mother found me and insisted I was drunk.
I was a good liar then. I could think up shit on the spot like my life depended on it. I feigned the flu, a stomach bug, so many classmates had it. I convinced my mother’s fiance and my brother that was the case. Mom wasn’t having it. She took me to the Emergency Room to confirm her suspicions, I was busted.
My mother knew a thing or two about drunks, she was in the infancy stage of getting sober and it wasn’t her first attempt. I like to joke that my gene pool is polluted and it is, mostly with alcoholism and heart disease. At 15, I was pretty safe from heart disease but alcoholism doesn’t have a minimum age, that bastard.
Fast forward a few days and I was greeted with “you’re going to rehab” when I got home from school. I had 12 hours to say my good-byes and then I was off. I had no idea what to expect but I figured I could get some street cred from the experience. To say I was flippant is an understatement. I had no intention of getting sober. I was just doing time, garnering pages for my future memoir.
My mother drove me to the place which was a little more than an hour from where we lived. It was in Long Branch, New Jersey and was billed as an adolescent rehab, it formerly served as school for troubled boys. Part of it looked like an old house and part of it looked like a dorm. Guys and girls were separated by common rooms. There was a cafeteria in the basement with intake, detox, and a nurses station on the second floor.
I remember getting asked a series of personal questions in the intake office. Based on some of the questions, I didn’t think I belonged. I mean I never lost a job or drove drunk (psst…still 15). I was focused on finding the “not me” which I later learned would be “not yet” if I continued on the path I was on. The place was only open about a month when I arrived, the smell of fresh paint still lingered in parts of the sprawling building.
I remember the first time I walked into the Day Room, “White Lines” by Grandmaster Flash was playing. There were maybe a dozen residents there all between the ages 14 and 17. They came from a range of backgrounds and they all had way more experience than me. Most of them had been arrested for a variety of similar reasons and almost all came from broken families. It was misfit island for teens with a fairly structured daily schedule. We had job assignments, group therapy and some type of meeting, AA or NA. On Sundays a couple came in to bring us their version of Christianity.
The place was so new it was still working out the kinks. Kids were pairing up and couples could be seen holding hands in the Day Room. Most of the staff there were sober an average of 2.5 years and were deep into the zealot phase of recovery (that usually winds down sometime after the 5th year). I don’t know what qualifications they had beyond early sobriety. The counselors were more skilled and had some credentials.
I learned a lot in that place and much of it has followed me all these years. I remember reading the Twelve Steps of AA on a poster. Foolish girl, I thought I could get through a chunk of them just by reading them and giving them a moment’s thought. These steps provided a road map for living and I still abide by them.
THE TWELVE STEPS OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
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.
*Copyright 1952, 1953, 1981 by Alcoholics Anonymous Publishing (now known as Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.)
All rights reserved.
I know there’s a lot of God stuff in those steps. Relax, it’s a God of your understanding, a Higher Power (HP). I have heard some interesting spins on HP over the years….some people have used their home AA/NA group as their Higher Power. I once heard someone speak that stated Jack Daniels was their Higher Power because it was stronger than them. Another friend chose Good-Orderly-Direction as their G-O-D. I stopped judging this stuff decades ago and life got a whole bunch simpler.
About three days into my stay something remarkable happened. I was in the bedroom that I shared with a roommate but I was alone. I can still see myself sitting there with my white jeans and favorite scarf, a beam of light shone in through the window closest to my bed, near where I was sitting. People call it a spiritual awakening, for me it was an awareness that changed my life forever. In that moment, I got a clear picture of the destructive path my life was on. I also got an intense soul deep understanding that it did not have to stay that way. In that powerful moment I felt the presence of something greater than me and I made a decision to get sober. I have been faithful to that decision for nearly 35 years now.
This longevity of sobriety is somewhat rare. What’s really exotic is getting and staying sober at such a young age. I can only take partial credit for that. That loving, crazy and ever vigilant HP that watches over me has done most of the heavy lifting. I have also met a thousand sober angels along the way. People that guided me through different phases of my life. The ones that told me the harsh truths but always with a solution or helpful suggestion. I’ve also met people that determined I could not possibly be an alcoholic because I got sober so young. I don’t try to win them over with stories of the stupid shit I did for my brief time using. I do remind myself of something I learned long ago in that rehab….”it isn’t how much or how long you drank that matters, it’s what happens when”. When I drank I always put myself in harm’s way, always.
If I can pinpoint one thing that has kept me sober it’s probably the realization that being sober is actually the easier, softer way. That probably sounds nuts to people who aren’t familiar with alcoholism but it’s the truth. If staying sober was harder than being drunk, I would have gotten drunk long ago. Down to my toes I believe that this is the best path for me and that’s why I’ve stayed on it so long.