Making it happen

It is harder this time.

I know that everyone white knuckles it sometimes, but it’s been days now. Weeks really. And my better intentions have been getting their asses kicked.

So last week I did what I never, ever thought I would do: I asked someone for help.

I called a friend in recovery. I told her my story: two stretches of sobriety; very little understanding from friends or family; overwhelmed at work; panicked about the state of the world; my love of isolation + couch; etc.

She listened without judgement. Asked a few questions. Clarified one or two things. Then she said: “You need a three-point plan.” And here is the plan she gave me:

  1. Engage your husband. Tell him. Make him see.
  2. Approach work slightly differently.
  3. Reach out to more sober people.

I love a plan. And a three-point plan, well, that is the best kind.

So: 1) Later that day, I sat my husband down. I told him I was hiding liquor bottles (I’ve never gone back to wine, tequila is my jam), sneaking drinks. I told him I needed him to SEE ME. (Just ask me what’s in my fucking glass, you know?!) He’s not used to me needing him. I am a military wife. Historically, I take care of all my/our shit, and he just shows up for the party/event/our life. When I told him I needed him, he seemed surprised (both at my request and at my admission), but not shocked. He is slowly getting on board. (This is a work in progress, for sure.)

2) Work is tricky. I am a consultant. I can’t ask for help – I AM the help. I am deep into a two-year project that is more complicated and nuanced than anything I’ve ever done before. (Lots of IT stuff that does not come intuitively to me.) The approach my friend suggested includes asking for clarifications, rather than explanations. (This is also a work in progress.)

3. Where to find more sober people? The truth is, my fear of people is fairly deep-seated. I am really unsteady around most humans. I fake it, but I hate it and do my best to find a quick exit. As for finding sober people, well, I don’t live in Canada, where all the cool sober people live. I know I need some local, American peeps. (But, I need them to hate Trump. This is a non-neogitable.)

I have been going to AA for a few weeks now, but it’s really only half-hearted, and I know I need to fully commit and engage a sponsor, work the steps, etc. There is a woman at AA who I think could be my sponsor. I really like her. I will contact her this week and ask her to meet for coffee. (Hopefully, she will like me and hate our president.) …. And then, last night, at an AA meeting, I ran into a neighbor. Someone who I have always liked in that neighborly way, and who I HAD NO IDEA drank alcoholically. This morning we went on a long walk together. She is as honest and as troubled as I am. (This did not seem like work at all. This was just nice. And, yes, she is also horrified by DJT.)

So, I am making it happen. As best as I can, trying to do the next right thing.

And there is also this hard truth; the one mistake from previous attempts I see very clearly now: I did not value my sobriety as much as I should have. I did not see it as the precious gift that it is. I did not treat it with the respect and protection that it deserved. No one in my established circle of friends and family seemed to care about it, so I decided their opinion was more important than my own and I drowned my sobriety gift in a bottle of tequila.

That is not happening again. This is fucking hard. Three times up this mountain is enough.

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Visualizations

Yesterday, I arrived home from our eclipse-watching trip and found two packages from Amazon waiting for me. New sobriety books had arrived – a present from my last-week self.

The eclipse was – well, it blew my mind. We watched it from deep inside a national forest in western North Carolina, where we had camped the night before. It was everything I had hoped it would be. And worth the other-worldly traffic we found ourselves in as we drove home.

But back to the books … first up was the 30-Day Sobriety Solution, which asked readers to do this visualization.

I have done only one other visualization, during a SheRecovers yoga retreat this summer. During that experience, Taryn, the yoga instructor, led us through a visualization while we were lying on our mats in a light-filled room, listening to beautiful music. Taryn gently walked us through a series of conversations/meetings with various people in our lives.

The setting for this latest visualization was much different. The instructor was a voice on a YouTube video. Instead of lying serenly on a yoga mat, I was sitting on my couch, still filthy from our camping trip, surrounded by piles of dirty laundry and half-empty backpacks. My kids interrupted me three times to tell me they were (1) going to the pool; (2) ask where their bathing suits were; (3) tell me goodbye. (We like to give a lot of updates to each other around here.)

And yet – the visualization was still powerful.

It leads you five years into the future and asks you to see yourself as if you have continued drinking. Then it asks you to do the same if you have quit. What do you look like? What does your life look like?

I had no trouble picturing my still-drinking self: bloated, fearful, timid and isolated. Still sitting on the couch, surrendered to the TV and its images and voices of distraction.

The non-drinking self: she was clear-eyed and fit from taking care of herself physically. But, I couldn’t see the details of her life. It felt like she had a real intention and purpose, but I do not see what those were. They were not clear to me.

I think continued sobriety is like the books I sent myself from last week: a gift to my future self. I sort of know what is in the packages, but have to wait it out to learn the details.

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.