23 years ago today

Most days I don’t remember exactly what I was doing x number of years ago. But, today, on this evening I remember clearly what I was doing 23 years ago. I was house sitting in St. Paul, MN. I was (sorry to our family friends in whose home I was sitting who might read this post!) very, very stoned (marijuana) and a little drunk. I was in emotional crisis, too. I was suddenly truly terrified that I might be an alcoholic.

Three months before, I had wondered if I was an alcoholic. A few years before, even, I might’ve wondered. Back then, though, I was more interested in diagnosing other people’s problems than I was interested in looking at my own.

So, for three months in the spring of 1996, I didn’t drink any alcohol. (I got high. A lot. But that wasn’t drinking, I reasoned.) After three months, I celebrated being not an alcoholic — it was really easy, I was sure, to not drink! — with vodka lemonades alone in a bar in Minneapolis.

That evening, I befriended another 20 something woman who told me she was a heroin addict in recovery. I didn’t know much about substance use disorders and I don’t think it crossed my mind that it was odd that she was drinking with me. We celebrated our non-alcoholism a lot, without a hint of irony. Somehow I got back to the house where I was staying back over in St. Paul; I’m pretty sure I drove. I contacted (via America Online) the hot guy I’d been messaging with and he came over. He was an alcoholic in recovery. I knew that. And, honestly, it made the idea of not drinking a little bit more interesting to me. He was really cute! We made out for a bit and then he went home. He was conflicted about hooking up with someone who wasn’t sober who was also thinking she might need to be. I’m grateful that he left.

July 3, 1996 was the first 24 hours of my life in recovery from alcoholism. I haven’t had to take a drink (or get high) since that time. My life today is happy, joyous, and free.

Since that time, I’ve learned that I have a disease of the body and mind. To recover, I had to not only stop putting the alcohol in my body—putting any alcohol in my body sets off a phenomenon of craving that makes it impossible for me to control how much alcohol I drink. I also had to get honest with myself and do some internal housecleaning so I could connect with a power greater than myself.

See, the weirdest thing about alcoholism is that if I rely only on my mind, it will tell me it’s safe to drink eventually. No matter how much will power or common sense I have, and no matter how many awful consequences follow getting drunk, without spiritual help I will find myself thinking that taking a drink won’t hurt me. It’s a bizarre disease! But, the spiritual solution (of depending on my higher power to remove the idea that I can drink safely) really, really works.

It works so well that I forget how hard it was for me those days. Living was difficult back then because I didn’t know how to be in the world with all the feelings we humans have. I lived in fear most of the time, but was convinced I was afraid of nothing. These days I’m still human, so I have my ups and downs, but for the most part I find myself in what Thich Nhat Hanh and other Buddhists call “the Middle Way.” My Quaker practice and my other spiritual practices help me stay grounded and present in this day. Life feels like a gift, even on my worst days. (Okay, on my worst days maybe I binge watch something on Netflix and don’t feel much of the giftishness of life, but because I’m living in recovery, I always know things will get better!)

I love living in recovery and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If anyone who is reading this has any questions about it, please don’t hesitate to ask!

dating for friends?

Lately I’ve been thinking about the commonalities between developing new friendships as an adult and the experience of dating. For a lot of reasons, “dating” isn’t on my radar these days. But, as my daughters are getting older and much more independent, I’ve found myself venturing out into the world in new ways; that includes noticing people with whom I might find friendship. I’m finding it’s a lot like dating.

Here’s what I mean: Continue reading

held in the Light

Today I touched mind space with no thoughts. Nirvana, god, the Light. Pure peace. I know I was there because swimming floating breathing through thoughts (awareness) into the freedom and back to awareness (thoughts) was effortless. It was a brief but pure connection in the Ultimate.

It was at Meeting for Worship at my spiritual community, my Sangha, Portland Friends Meeting, that I touched this fresh and clear essence; a spaceless space without thoughts. During the same hour, I also felt sadness and loneliness. I knew those feelings have been trying to be heard, but I have been running away. They have felt like too much. I sat, breathing in and breathing out. Practicing being fully present in that moment.

Sometimes at Meeting, I feel moved to speak out loud. Not frequently, which is notable for me (I’m a talker). Today, I knew I wanted the community to carry me, to comfort me, to help me be present with my sadness and my loneliness. I don’t want to run anymore. My eyes filled with tears a few times. I felt scared the sadness, now that I was mindfully present with it, would consume me. I considered speaking. I thought of mentioning I would like to be held in the Light when it came time during Meeting to make such requests.

Then I thought about why I don’t often tell people I’m hurting; the people I know are loving and caring and generous and they would want me to know they care — what a wonderful “problem!” So much love! But, when I feel this tender I need to be mostly alone. I knew Meeting was the perfect place for me just then. I needed the Meeting to carry me while I felt this sadness and loneliness. I knew I didn’t need to ask for anything. We were all there together sharing that spiritual space.

When people did speak, there were powerful messages. I was able to be fully present in myself while witnessing the Light in others.

At some points my mind did wander, of course. I thought about the feeling that the meeting was carrying me and marveled at how different my life is these days. I thought of a post I shared on here some years ago about being carried by a crowd at a concert. A very different kind of carrying. A very different kind of trust — mostly misplaced trust in the case of the music event. My idea of a good time now compared to then couldn’t be anymore different.

Tonight I’m going to get together with a bunch of alcoholics who are in recovery. Similar to Friends Meeting, tonight we will spend time as a group together in meditation. It is another community where if I wanted to say “I am hurting” I could do it and I would receive comfort from people who truly care. Again, comfort in such a direct way isn’t what I need. Meditation with my spiritual communities, listening to what other people say (“getting out of myself” as we in the 12-step communities like to say), and staying connected to the present moment is how I will walk through this sadness. The sadness, the loneliness, and the despair will all grow smaller as I care for them and tend to other aspects of my life that bring me gratitude and comfort and peace.

the last time I drank alcohol

Seventeen years ago yesterday, I spent my first 24 hours as someone who didn’t drink or get high. I was very lucky. I happened to be in the right place at the right time. In an AOL chat room in 1996, someone suggested I go to a gathering of other alcoholics who had found a way to live life without alcohol. I fell into a community of people who helped me believe that knowing peace was possible.

These days, I find it uncomfortable talking about how long I have been sober. I’m working to get over that, but, I have become one of those people who no longer believes that the length of time I’ve been sober has much to do with the quality of my sobriety or my life. Again, I got lucky. The foundation I landed on as I learned to live life without alcohol was strong. People guided me and shared with me resources that turned into my guidelines for living. I found a spiritual connection to what I call “god,” though it aligns more closely with my atheist friends’ concepts of life than it does with my religious friends. The connection is there, and for me, that’s what matters. These days, I recognize that many years of not drinking does not equal superior wisdom.

I frequently learn more today from people who are just beginning their journey into recovery than I do from “old timers.” The long-term sobriety people have important messages, too. But, at this point, it helps me so much to remember how frightening life was before I recovered. Through all of my life’s challenges in the last five years or so, I haven’t fallen into the world of fear that was my familiar life before I recovered. When “newcomers” remind me how mixed up life felt at the start, I am deeply grateful for my life and I am excited and hopeful for them. If they get to have even a fraction of the goodness I’ve felt learning how to live life as a recovered alcoholic, they will feel–as publications about recovery describe–”happy, joyous, and free.”

For a long time, I have known intuitively that difficult and dark times always get better. There was a brief period a few years ago, when I faced despair and lost my way. That happened not because I forgot the lessons of recovery, but because my brain chemistry changed and I needed medical assistance. Because of my experience living in the solution from alcoholism, I recognized my darkness was not something I should–or could–live inside. So, I got help.

I am allergic to alcohol. My body doesn’t respond normally to it. Rather than acting as a depressant, it acts as a stimulant. A feeling of craving sets in as soon as it hits my bloodstream (or, perhaps, as soon as I taste it). Not only am I allergic to it, but, before I recovered, I was constantly battling a spiritual confusion. My mind returned to the idea that I could drink without that allergic reaction. Imagine if I was allergic to shellfish, but I kept “forgetting” and ate it anyway. That’s the “insanity” of alcoholism. The only solution that worked for me, to relieve this mental obsession, was to reach out to what I call “god.” A spiritual solution.

In any case, today I am deeply grateful for all of the alcoholics who have gone before me and for those who are just finding out what life without alcohol can be for us alcoholics.

Each of these annual milestones bring up surprising reflections. The past changes as the future moves on. Today, I am returning to my roots of living life as a recovered alcoholic and spending more time with other recovered and recovering drunks. It is right and true. I feel all the feelings life brings. But, mostly, I am happy, joyous, and free.