24 years ago, one day at a time

24 years ago today (tonight) I was wondering how I’d gotten drunk and high again after telling myself I was going to quit. In fact, I had quit drinking! for three months! It’s just that I celebrated how easy it was to quit by drinking a lot of vodka lemonades and getting stoned. (It made sense at the time?)

24 years ago, I didn’t know I was allergic to alcohol. I didn’t know my brain worked in some very specific mixed up ways. First, putting alcohol into my system sets off a phenomenon of craving that I can’t resist. I don’t just want more. It feels like I *need* more. I MUST have more! It’s an allergic reaction (abnormal reaction) beyond my control. (Just like people allergic to peanuts have a reaction they can’t control.) This inability to control how much I drink leads to all the kinds of ugliness that getting too wasted can bring (to put it mildly).

The second way my brain is mixed up is that I’m not able to hold on to the truth that I can’t drink alcohol safely. There’s a gap there that never goes away if I rely entirely on education, intellect, or personal will power. If I TRY with all of my might to remember that drinking alcohol leads to bad, bad consequences, I’ll eventually forget and I’ll drink again.

As a part of a community of people with the same problem, I used what is commonly known as a “twelve step program” to clear away the wreckage of my past and start growing spiritually. Through that work, I found freedom. Life still has its ups and downs, of course, but I’m able to hold on to the truth that I can’t drink alcohol safely. That truth stays in my brain because I’ve developed a spiritual life, a connection to a power greater than myself. I call it god, but that’s really a shortcut for “whatever is just beyond human understanding” so what it actually *is* changes all the time.

Living a life without alcohol and drugs is my normal now. It’s simply not an issue. Because I need to keep enlarging my spiritual life, I stay connected to that fellowship of recovering alcoholics. I share my experience, strength, and hope with other people with substance use disorder. I mentor people who want to know “how I did it,” in the same way I was mentored over the last 24 years. The people who remind me what it was like give me so many gifts! And I get to say, hey, it doesn’t have to be a struggle to live without drugs and alcohol. :-)

The other day I was talking with my daughters about being in long-term recovery, how I was trying to remember what it was like to hear someone say they were sober for as long as I’ve been now. I think early on I would’ve both been awestruck and also terrified and horrified. There’s a reason we talk about taking things one day at a time. If I would’ve tried to commit to never drinking again, I surely would’ve lost it. I was able to take it one day at a time (sometimes 10 minutes at a time) and not drink. As the time free from alcohol began adding up, I was able to work on my spiritual life and find a way to know peace.

24 years ago tomorrow was my first 24 hours on the journey of recovery. It’s a good life.

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.