“real life” vs. online life (thank you for the great birthday)

I don’t call it “real life,” I call it my “offline life.” The friendships I have with people I’ve known “only” online are Real.

The first thing I do when I wake up is look at my phone. Yes, yes, it’s not terribly mindful or spiritual, but it’s part of my routine. When I woke up yesterday morning, I had three emails. One from a college friend who I’ve only seen offline twice in the last 25 years. One from a friend and colleague here in Maine. And, one (a Starbucks gift card, no less) from a friend I’ve known “only” online for nearly 20 years.

Throughout the day, as Facebook told more people it was my birthday, there were notifications that Facebook friends had posted happy birthday wishes. In other online communities, I received birthday messages both light and heartfelt. My virtual mailboxes were overflowing with notes. It felt like I was receiving birthday cards like we might’ve received in the snail mail so many years ago. But back then, how many cards did we ever really receive? Certainly not more than 100, as I got in Facebook posts.

It’s easy to dismiss the “click and post” birthday wishes as shallow. They aren’t, though. For some they may be automatic, for some they may be deep, but in every case, as my 12 year old pointed out, “They don’t *have to* do it.” It felt like lovely attention sparkling across my electronic devices throughout the day.

Yesterday was perfect. My daughters started out the day right by letting me sleep in a bit (until my alarm). I got a pedicure (thanks, Mom and Dad!). I did a lot of modern day capitalist celebrating by spending money at “discounts.” I got a free drink at Starbucks, 20% off at Goodwill, and a free small cheese pizza (with a $5 purchase) at Portland House of Pizza. An offline friend took me out to lunch. My parents sang me happy birthday. I watched a movie with my daughters in the air conditioned room of our apartment. The three of us crammed into my (king sized) bed (we “crammed” because they don’t seem to know how to sleep with space between us) for an early bedtime.

The deeper friendships I have with online “only” people are just as real as those I have with people who I only know offline. There are still people, I know, who don’t understand the “virtual” relationships. I have to keep using “quotes” because the relationships are not virtual. They are Real, and I’m so grateful for them. Because of the online relationships I have, in all their forms, my offline day yesterday was richer.

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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.

if you focus on the good…

“If you focus on the good, the good increases.” This is a line from the recovery circles I frequented in the late 90s. Since then it’s also been my life experience. In my day-to-day living, if I focus on the good in life (what I’m grateful for, what’s going well, etc.) the rest of my world feels and seems better, brighter, lighter. The flow of the dream of life (as in row, row, row your boat) is gentle and lovely. Continue reading