Letting go of my sister’s story

So much about my previous sobriety attempts have been about my sister.

In February of last year, we staged an intervention for her. A consultant was engaged and three months of planning ensued. A plot was developed, letters were written, savings/retirement accounts were prepped for withdrawals.

The morning of the intervention, my sister walked into my parents house, looked around at the circle of family waiting for her, and said: “No thank you.”

She walked out. And that was that. We have rarely spoken since that day.

Did we wait too long? Should we have tried other, more subtle attempts before staging an intervention? Does it even matter?

Today, I am pursuing sobriety for myself. When I listen at meetings, I am listening for myself. When I read the sober blogs, I am reading for myself.

When I pray though, I pray for both of us.

It’s probably what I should have done before. Instead I was “like an actor who wants to run the whole show … If only my arrangements would stay put, if only people would do as I wish the show would be great.”

Below is the letter I wrote to my sister. It was meant to be read aloud to her at the intervention. Maybe someday it will reach the intended audience.

My sister, I love you so much. You are the person I have known longest on this Earth. You were my first friend, my first babysitter, my first reliable teenaged driver and my college confidant. As adults we were always close, but after I had my first baby, you truly became more than my sister and became my best friend.

… I learned from you how to be a good mother – both how to care for my son physically, but also how to love him.

One day I watched as you changed his diaper, put his onsie back on him and then, with complete ease and naturalness, caressed his face and kissed him. He looked up at you and gave you a huge smile. Watching you with him blew my mind. Until then, I thought of motherhood as caretaking. I knew to change diapers and feed him. But until I watched you love on him – and watched you as you loved and nurtured your own young children – I didn’t know how to put mothering love into action.

Over the next six years or so we were very close. We talked two, three times a day. Slowly, however, as your drinking increased and the pill use became more prominent, the phone calls became more and more alarming. We had dozens of late-night phone calls where you were drunk and stoned. Many times you said very disturbing things, often about your husband and things he said to you during his own drinking.

Three years ago, while we were all together at the beach house, I walked up to the kitchen to find you drunk and stoned, your eyes were huge and black. You were stuffing food in your face, making a terrible mess and not caring. You were mumbling and talking gibberish. You broke a glass bowl and I had to clean it up. I knew that this terrible, scary scene was what your kids witnessed at your home.

We come from a long line of alcoholics. We are born with a certain genetic makeup and no matter what our intentions or how strong we are or how aware we are of the disease, it does not seem that we can avoid it.

We either become an alcoholic or we marry one. Watching you that night, I realized you had done both. 

The last time we had any sort of honest conversation was about a year ago when I asked you to stop drinking because you were so unavailable to me. You responded, “I’m available to you before 5 p.m.”

I want more of you than that. Your kids need more of you than that. And, most importantly, you deserve a better life than the one you are living.

I miss you so much. I will do everything in my power to help you overcome this disease and reclaim yourself, and become the sister who showed me how to love my own baby.

We worked with (the counselor) Bill for months to bring us to this moment. We have taken the time to find the program that is best for you. We have worked out all the details and tried very hard to create the support you need to recover.

Last fall I was sitting at an orthodontist’s office reading Real Simple magazine. There was an article written by a 40-something-year-old woman in which she complained about getting old.  She wrote that she called her older sister and asked her “can we still get away with v-necks, or are our old necks too chicken-like?” The sister replied, “The time has come to scarf it up.”

I read that article and immediately thought of you and how I want to grow old with you and talk about our necks. I want to talk with you about our children. I want to go on vacations with you. I want to go back to Hawaii and laugh knowingly about how we are too smart in our old age to ever again follow my husband across a volcano field. I want to go with you and Mom back to that town in Italy and stay in the old convent we found and go to mass in beautiful Italian churches.

I want my sister back. I miss her so much and this disease has taken her from me. Please help bring her back to me.

Wholly Stuck – But in Good Company

Just more than a year ago, while sitting at our neighborhood pool with my husband, with no drama or fanfare or readily-apparent reason, I drank a beer.

And with that non-event beer, eighteen months of sobriety was over and a year (+) of navel gazing began.

Why? Why do it?

I wanted to be the same. The same as everyone around me. The same as my friends, my husband, my neighbors – who don’t seem to overthink or overdrink.

I wanted to be different. Different from everyone around me. Different from my sister and my father and my uncles and different from the inescapable truth of my DNA=AA/Family of Origin bullshit.

The result of this latest drinking experiment surprises me not at all. Eventually, despite my clever efforts and exacting plans, I have come back to the same place/moment I’ve been before. And, just like before, it seems I could stay here, in this “high-bottom/low-top,” indefinitely.

NOTHING DIFFERENT EVER HAPPENS: I always keep it together on the outside. I always lose it on the inside. And I stay stuck.

I have a friend, a devout Christian, who refers to the world as “broken.” All the time. Whenever we discuss life’s loss or despair or unfairness she always says the same thing: “Well, we live in a broken world…” (reaches for yet another Belgian Beer…)

I hate that. We aren’t broken. The world isn’t broken. Right this minute, as I sit here uncertain and scared and vulnerable, I am not BROKEN.

Powerless, yes. In need of a Higher Power, yes. Desperately wishing for a Spiritual Awakening, yes. Fully human, yes.

But BROKEN, no.

So, I am not the same as my friend.

And, I am not different from my sister.

I am, as Carl Sagan wrote, “tiny and insignificant and rare and precious.”  And I believe that I belong to something that is greater than myself and that I am the same and I am different – but I am not alone.

 

Paradise Found

I’m on vacation with my dearest friends and our husbands. Four couples, tropical island, waterfront cottage and the most beautiful, soft air and skies and colors imaginable.

It is impossible to count the shades of blue here.

While it is a far cry from the bleak,  mid-winter weather we left back on the East Coast, our tropical weather has been quite chilly and windy. Unable to snorkel and swim, my friends and husband are spending lazy afternoons with rum drinks and wandering, light-hearted conversations.

It is fun to watch. Until the third or fourth round. Then it is just silly and slightly irritating. So I go for walks and try to count the shades of blue.

Alcohol is ever present in my life and I continue to learn to live around it.

Back at home, my family and I have been preparing an intervention for my sister, the “real alcoholic.” (You will remember that I just dabbled in alcoholism with my one bottle of unoaked Chardonnay a night and daily hangovers. My sister is the real deal.) We are working with a fantastic counselor who recommend Debra Jay‘s books on alcoholism and interventions. Debra is not interested in waiting around for an alcoholic to hit her bottom. She believes we can truly intervene and stop the destruction before it takes its natural course.

What I love about Debra’s approach is that it is so honest. Yes, it is true that you cannot change someone. But you can hold them accountable for their behavior and you can hold yourself to meaningful standards. You can surround yourself with like-minded people who want to see life as it truly is, not filtered through the fuzzy lens of enabling behavior and fear. But instead relishing in the clarity of vision and purpose that truly loving another human being demands of you.

One of the biggest surprises of the process has been just how many people -smart, talented, successful people – do not want to take off the fuzzy lenses. It took two years of persistent pushing before my parents would even look at my sister’s careening life for the shitshow that it is, let alone plan an intervention to address it.

As we put together the intervention team, it was challenging to come up with the right people. We needed a handful of friends and relatives who truly love my sister, even though she is a piece of shit addict.

This means you 1) have to admit that she is an addict (very difficult for lots of people, as my sister is “functioning” outside of her home); and 2) see past the abandoned or false relationships we all currently have with her to who is really is/was, before the alcohol and drugs took over (this is also very challenging, as there are so many legitimate hurts and grievances to nurture).

Another surprise of the counseling process has been the awareness of hurts and grievances that don’t have anything to do directly with my sister, but instead are family-of-origin issues that are long gone, but apparently not forgotten. My father spent 30+  years in Al-Anon, which resulted in his raising his children with a “Let It Go/Live and Let Live” parenting style. At times this seemed the perfect “learn by failing” approach and at other times bordered on neglect.

I will save my “Growing up Al-Anon” thoughts for another day/post, as my friends are all awake now, nursing their hangovers and planning another day in windy and beautiful paradise.

There truly is nothing better than waking up without a hangover. It is paradise every day. No matter my geographic location.

 

One Year

I reached the One Year mark last week. December 23rd.

I quit drinking because I wanted to see what I am capable of. I wanted an answer to this question: If I quit drinking, would I finally be able to do it ALL (mom, wife, friend, sister, engaged citizen, professional)?

After 12 months of sobriety, my answer to this question is to decline to engage this question. You see, it turns out that I have no desire to do it ALL. In fact, on any give day, I only have a small desire to do one or two things. And I most certainly do not want to do more than one thing at a time.

“Courage requires that we learn to accept our limitations and to live within our boundaries. We are not everything we would like to be. We are not who we would like to be.” –Joan Chittister

I am not who I would like to be. Instead, I like who I am.

In my sobriety, I am still a mother/sister/wife/friend/engaged citizen/professional. But I do not strive for 100 percent perfection in each of these roles. Instead, these roles add up to 100 percent of me.

It is hard to be a woman in today’s culture. There are so many individual struggles and not nearly enough community support. But no matter how often I looked, I never found answers to my loneliness at the bottom of a glass of wine. Just more misery.

 

 

It’s about Sobriety, but really it’s about Adulting

You may have seen this on social media. It about sums up where i am these days:

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I’m coming up on one year of no drinking. Remember this post? (Sorry about the sickeningly cheery tone.) Well, 2015 has had its way with me as often as I have had my way with 2015. Turns out I’m not exactly Rhonda Rousey or Holly Holm. And I’m not a fantastically prolific, ultra-encouraging blogger who has turned her sobriety into a lifestyle.

About the only thing I am knocking out of the park these days is the “active lifestyle/leggings” look.

I do love spandex so much. Almost as much as I love my non-drinking life.

A few months ago, after about 10 months of weekly attendance, I gave up AA completely. By its very nature, of course, AA insists on focusing on alcohol. And, for me, that conversation started to become redundant. When I gave up alcohol, I knew I wanted to “stay” sober, but what I really wanted was to “move on” from alcohol and find better tools/truths that can provide me with a strong foundation to weather the storms in this Crazy Ass World. The conversation at AA meetings was too much on the “staying” part of sobriety and not enough on the “moving on” part.

Having said that, AA gave me two invaluable tools for which I am very grateful: traction in my early days of sobriety and a glimpse of how to attain peace of mind.

I think one reason so many of us in post-alcohol lives find ourselves studying yoga, mediation and Buddhism is their emphasis on unflinching clarity and love to achieve that ever-elusive peace. A few weeks after giving up AA, I visited the local Modern Buddhist center and attended a workshop on living a stress, worry and anxiety-free life. After the session I bought one of their displayed books, “Transform You LIfe: A Blissful Journey.”

Since I am seeking to live life with unflinching clarity and truth, let me just say that “Transform Your Life: A Blissful Journey” is anything but blissful. There is a lot of disturbing talk of unfortunate rebirths, hungry ghosts and unending suffering. Selling Buddhism as “blissful” requires a leap into suspended disbelief. As someone who used to love over serving herself, I know exactly how to have a blissful time, and this little tome ain’t it.

But, I am no longer interested in good times as much as I want some fucking truths to live by that won’t leave me anxious, nauseous and strung out.

So, while I have no intention of donning gold robes and shaving my head, I am hungry for helpful perspectives and “Transform Your Life” has them in droves. The concepts of self cherishing, self grasping and attachment, all of which are touched on in AA , are given proper billing by the Buddhists. I attended a second workshop last week. The lessons and guided mediations during the sessions left me feeling fuller and calmer. I’m intrigued. It’s as though I have been wandering the grocery store looking for something good to eat and have stumbled upon an entirely new aisle of healthy, affordable foods.  I’m not sure if I will like all of the items, but there are bound to be a few that will work.

Meanwhile the beer/wine aisle remains off limits. Most of the time I think of it as a silly aisle full of silly people. And I am adulting. As we all know, when you’re trying to build a house of brick rather than straw, it requires some serious adult focus.

But there remains a part of me that thinks someday I can walk down that other aisle again and rejoin the silly people. And it would be ok because I am just visiting, rather than taking up permanent residence.

But, for now at least, I don’t want to. I have traded silly for blissful. And happiness.

And spandex.

 

 

One Malfunction Away

Last week we dropped off my boys at summer camp. It is a three week camp. They had never been to a sleep away camp – so this was a huge leap of faith and hope and money(!).

They love it. We’ve received two letters and it sounds as though they are having a blast.

From the moment we dropped them off – and I mean the very first moment, we weren’t even off the camp property yet – my Drunk Nancy voice started clamoring for some wine. She started screaming: “We are on VACATION! Let’s celebrate!”

Drunk Nancy has been screaming for seven days now, and she sort of has a valid point.

You know the feeling you get when you have just begun a much-anticipated vacation and you’ve made it to the airport: Work is behind you and the automatic email response is now in charge; the house is clean and ready for your return; you’ve checked your travel bags and made it through airport security. Responsibility and work are behind you. Fun and freedom await. You take a deep breath, giddy with excitement.

And we all know the perfect way to mark this occasion and kick off the vacation: A DRINK.

That’s how it’s been for a week now. Drunk Nancy screams for her drink and the other voices shut her up by telling her she’s stupid and sloppy and no one wants to be with her, so just go away already.

Each day has not gotten easier, but it hasn’t gotten harder either. Drunk Nancy screams and the other voices scream louder.

I talked to my therapist about it and he said: “Everybody white knuckles it sometimes.”

This was exactly what I needed to hear. Sometimes it is just like this. Life is good, and I want to drink. Life is shitty, and I want to drink.

So I stay sober and stick with the good life and try to make it better. Because if I drink, life will definitely be shitty. And there is no need to start from zero again.

Yesterday, my husband and I were reminiscing about the time we took a sailing class. I never finished the class because once I got out on the water in a teeny tiny sailboat and felt the vastness of the ocean beneath me, I was overwhelmed with my own insignificance and decided dry/firm land was more my style.

He felt the vastness too, but he liked it. To him, the vastness was a peaceful challenge – a reminder of his rightful place.

“You’re just one malfunction away from going SPLAT,” he said. “And nature doesn’t care.”

His comment helped me quiet Drunk Nancy for the first time in a week. Using compassion, rather than berating her. She’s just afraid. Of course she is.

No matter who we are, drunk/sober/perfect/fuck up, we are all just white knuckling it, trying not to go SPLAT.

My Lifeboat Has Limited Space

I recently watched Titanic with my 11-year-old son. It really is a magnificent movie.

Famously, the Titanic did not have enough lifeboats. And once the evacuation started, many of the lifeboats launched only half full. As they drifted away from the doomed vessel, those in the lifeboats could hear the cries of drowning passengers. But they did not turn back because they were afraid the drowning victims would swamp their small lifeboat and kill everyone.

It’s a moral dilemma: Do you save yourself and leave others behind? Or do you take on as many other victims as you can and possibly capsize yourself?

If there is a middle-of-the-road solution, it is easily lost in the chaos of the event.

In sobriety, my lifeboat is sturdier than its ever been. And smaller than its ever been. I’m learning not to take on a lot of other “victims” because most people are not “victims” – they are adults making their own choices to drown in alcohol or self-pity or whatever their chosen self-destructive woobie is. As my priest-friend Cynthia once told me, if someone is in the gutter, it’s usually their choice to be there and they need to work that shit out with Jesus.

Still, I feel I need to find a doable middle-of-the-road solution. The problem is that I am really only familiar with 2 options. I know better than to put self-destructing adults in my lifeboat (Option #1) because it will capsize. But offering them an empathy sandwich (Option #2) seems heartless. These folks don’t want empathy, anyway. They want someone to feel sorry for them, or do their job for them, or just not hold them accountable for their decisions.

So, I am working on expanding my options to help those in need. I am hoping that I can come up some middle-of-the-road solutions that I could not see before because I was drowning, too.

Any suggestions?