Along with the rest of the country, we’ve had a serious cold snap here in central Texas, with record lows and – surprise! – snowfall that actually accumulated and stuck around for more than 30 minutes.

Now, I was born in Michigan and lived there till I was ten, when we moved to Colorado to live for four years before we ended up in Virginia for my junior high and high school years. Thus, I’m no stranger to cold weather, but living in the Lone Star State for almost 20 years has made me a bit wimpy when it comes to the cold.

When our city called a snow day yesterday (we had a whopping 3/4 inch, folks!), I enjoyed watching my friends’ Facebook updates with pics of their kids rolling about in the snow, many of them for the first time ever. My daughters were at their dad’s house this week, so I had to be content watching Daisy frolic in my powdery backyard.

It made me think about my childhood in Michigan, when my sister and I would get all bundled up to play in the snow, and stay out until we were nearing the early stages of frostbite.  When we came in, my mom would make hot toddies for my sister and me, to warm us up.

For those not familiar with the drink, it’s made of hot tea with lemon and honey and whiskey.

Yes, my mom served me alcohol at the ripe old age of eight.

It wasn’t a one-time thing, either. We got hot toddies on a regular basis during the Michigan winters, and the tradition continued when we moved to Colorado and would go night sledding at a hilly golf course near our house.

When I look back and think about this, I’m appalled. I know that in some cultures, kids enjoy sips of wine and other alcohol at dinner. But we live in America, which has at best a troubled relationship with booze. What’s more, my family has a long and full history of alcoholism: both of my parents and at least one grandparent on each side suffer(ed) from it, along with myriad aunts and uncles and cousins, from what I’ve heard. So it seems to me it wouldn’t be the wisest thing to serve up this sweet concoction to your little ones. No matter how well it worked to warm us up. What was she thinking? Why not hot chocolate?

I don’t blame my mother or my father for my alcoholism, any more than I could blame them for my scrawny legs or poor eyesight. Yet in pondering this and subsequently writing this post, I came to realize that I harbor some resentments around this issue. Obviously I have work to do. And hot chocolate to buy — for my girls and me.

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Back in my drinking days, I used to dread the end of a dining-out evening, when it came time to tally the bill and I’d have to pay the piper because of my (un)healthy appetite for alcohol.

All those martinis and glasses of vino really added up.

So what’s a gal in recovery to do when she’s out with a group and the bill comes, and someone suggests they divvy it up evenly? Even if I’d sipped a single bottle of Perrier ($4.00), while they’d downed a round of pricey cocktails ($12 a pop) and two bottles of even pricier Pinot Noir?

I’ve felt awkward, to say the least, pointing out my teetotaling when totaling the tab.

Luckily, I wasn’t subjected to this sticky situation when I recently visited my two best friends for a girls’ weekend back East.

During a trip to NYC, the three of us took our friend (and hostess with the mostest, since she let us stay in her comfy Upper East Side apartment overnight) out to a neighborhood Italian restaurant. When the check arrived, my friends – who’ve been undyingly supportive about my sobriety – quickly noted that I hadn’t ordered drinks or wine, and tallied their increased share accordingly.

I can’t tell you how thankful I was. It spared me the discomfort of having to pipe up and make note of the fact that I didn’t drink. Even among friends, I’ll admit, that still can feel weird. And like many alcoholics, I suffer from financial insecurity, so I’ve been known to pinch a penny or two. The times that I’ve gone ahead and paid for much more than my fair share haven’t numbered too many, I’m happy to say. But when I do that, I end up with a lot of resentment. And as AAs know, resentment can be the death of us.

I’m wondering if this is a common experience with my fellow alcoholics out there – and if so, how have you handled it? Or is it just not that big a deal?

Just sign me:

Penny Pinching and Teetotaling in Texas


I started this post a few months ago, but never finished. Because it’s Veterans Day, it seemed appropriate to complete it and post it.

My ex-father-in-law passed away a few months ago.  “Poppy,” as his grandkids called him, was a good man, a Purple Heart veteran who served in the Navy during WWII.  He was stubborn, often controlling, yet he had a big heart, especially when it came to his two granddaughters. After three sons and three grandsons, my girls were a welcome addition to the family, and he loved them dearly.

A. was also a very hard-working man who had a tomato business that got overtaken by the big greenhouses, and who then started a seed business that enabled him to travel to many tropical areas. While working, he’d scout out vacation spots, and he and my ex-mother-in-law (“Meemaw”) would treat the whole family to a yearly all-inclusive resort vacation.

Though we only got to see them once or twice a year, I have many happy memories of our visits with Poppy and Meemaw, and plenty of photos that captured our time together.

When my ex and I were splitting up, it caused A. a great deal of pain. During one visit, he sat down with his son and me for a “family meeting,” and laid out his plan for keeping us together. By then, however, the damage had been done. It broke my heart to see him trying to save what was already lost.

I never had a chance to make my amends with him, and I’m not sure how I would have gone about it. By the time I was well into the AA program a year or so ago, A.’s health and memory had already started to decline. Over the years, however, I’d been making what I now see were “living amends.” Things like helping my ex facilitate Poppy’s visits with his granddaughters and compiling a photo book of the girls’ activities each year to send to him and Meemaw at Christmas.

I remember one Christmas visit, post-divorce, when A. had just completed treatment for prostate cancer and was having difficulty with his frequent bathroom visits. He and Meemaw were set to attend our city ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker,” in which my older daughter performed as an angel.

This very proud man didn’t want to be seated in an auditorium, stuck in the middle of a row, when the chances were very good that he’d have to excuse himself several times throughout the performance to use the restroom. He didn’t want to inconvenience anyone, and was frustrated and upset. So he had decided not to go to the show.

I knew several people at the ballet, so I was able to get him in a side door and into an aisle seat right up front. He had easy access to the hallway, so his restroom breaks wouldn’t prove to be a problem.

It was a small thing that I was able to do, but I could tell it meant the world to A. to be able to attend.

When my ex and my daughters flew out to the funeral, I didn’t go, as my ex had made clear that he’d rather I didn’t attend. After being part of the family for ten years, I really wanted to go. But I respected my ex’s wishes and didn’t. I was very sad as a result. I would have loved to see the whole family in person, to reconnect, to express my sorrow for their loss. It just wasn’t possible. Instead, I sent notecards with some of my favorite photos for my daughters to deliver to their aunts, uncles and cousins.

A week after the funeral, Meemaw came to stay with my ex for two weeks. The girls were delighted to spend so much time with her, and vice versa. I asked my ex if I might take his mom to breakfast one day, and he consented.

I had talked with my sponsor about possibly doing a 9th step with my ex-mother-in-law if the opportunity presented itself, so I was prepared just in case. As it turns out, we just had a lovely breakfast with warm, gentle conversation. At times Meemaw seemed to have forgotten that her husband had died. Other times, her eyes started to tear up as she talked about waking up in bed and experiencing the painful reality of his absence. I did what I could to comfort her, and by the end of our meal, I felt that we had both benefited from our time together, even if no explicit mention of past difficulties had been made. I felt a shared, genuine affection — and a sense of peace.

Did I take the coward’s way out by not directly addressing the wreckage I’d caused? I don’t think so.  I feel I would have upset or confused Meemaw if I had tried to explain my sobriety or my program and brought up my hurtful actions and words of the past. I believe our visit was just right for the situation.

Although I missed attending Poppy’s funeral, I’m grateful I had the chance to spend time with Meemaw. About six weeks after her visit, I got a very nice thank-you letter from her. She wrote in response to the card I’d sent along with my daughters to the funeral, and she said that it meant a lot to her, and that she knew I had cared deeply for A.

I did. I still do. And he’s in my thoughts today.


Time was, a birthday was the perfect excuse for me to get drunk. Not that I needed much to coax me to indulge, but birthdays were a given. Added bonus: the booze was free and people tended to overlook any lack of moderation. After all, IT’S YOUR BIRTHDAY! PARTY ON!

At forty-something, I’m long past the age when getting drunk on your birthday isn’t that bad. Not to say that it’s perfectly okay to get sloshed while celebrating, but a stumbling, slurring middle-aged woman is particularly embarrassing and unattractive.

This year, I’m looking forward to celebrating and waking up on June 12 feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I’ll be spending the evening at a friend’s house by the water with some of my best girlfriends and our daughters.

This is only the second birthday in nearly three decades that I’ve celebrated without alcohol. It feels weird to think that, and then type that, but it’s true.

And I’m really looking forward to it.


When I related that life hadn’t been particularly easy for me these past couple weeks (and especially the week before last), an AA friend of mine said, “Well, God must think you’re awfully strong.”

If that’s the case, I kinda wish God would let up for a bit.

Two weeks ago my younger daughter, who has Neurofibromatosis, had to undergo another battery of tests. For the better part of a day, she laid in a hospital bed, IVs in her arms, as nurses drew blood every half hour. She was drained and exhausted at the end of the evening.

On Mother’s Day, my Daisy dog got hit by a car. After spending the evening in an emergency hospital, she emerged bruised but not too broken, I’m thankful to report.

Last Tuesday, I took my car to the dealership for a litany of problems, plus a 60,000-mile checkup. With everything that needed to be repaired, I ended up with a $1700 tab. (And Daisy’s vet tab came to $500. Ouch.)

Last Thursday and Friday evenings were spent in the throes of relationship angst and Big Talks, which included what appeared to be a game-changing bombshell – and one I never saw coming.

Then, last Saturday morning at 6:41, the house shook with what I first thought was a tornado, then an earthquake, but turned out to be a large hackberry from next door crashing onto the back of my house.

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. OUCH!

For days, I’ve been wallowing in sadness, frustration, anger and self-pity. I’m experiencing a great deal of financial insecurity. Harder than that, though, is the emotional insecurity that’s haunting me.

I’ve been trying to do “the next right thing.” I’ve prayed. A lot. I’ve gone to AA meetings. I’ve read a small library of self-help books. I’ve talked with my sponsor and others in the AA program. I’ve seen my therapist. I’ve tried to keep active and healthy and to take care of myself by exercising and eating as well as I can. And I’ve leaned on some good friends and my sister.

I know I’ll be okay. It’s just been an emotional rollercoaster. So I’ve cried a whole lot, and felt some pretty deep pangs of despair.

However, though I experience those moments more frequently than I’d like, I haven’t sunk so deep that I haven’t been able to see the silver lining of the storm clouds that seem to have camped over my home.

First, my sister was able to come from 1,000 miles away for an impromptu weekend visit on the day my daughter had her tests. It was wonderful. She provided much-needed emotional support, entertained my daughters, played Scrabble with her word freak little sis and prompted some really good bonding and Conversations About Life.

Second, while the test results weren’t great, my ex and I are meeting in the coming weeks with my daughter’s specialists to discuss next steps – and I have health insurance to cover whatever needs to be done. That’s huge.

Third, Daisy is going to be fine. She’s recovering nicely and when I think of what could have happened when a 50-pound canine collides with a 2-ton truck, I realize how lucky we were.

Fourth, while my high insurance deductible means I have to pony up the cash for my house repairs (yes, it was the neighbor’s tree, but my insurance would be the one to cover it), it looks like it’s only going to amount to a couple hundred dollars for roof repairs – and it could have been much, much worse. Amazingly, the tree missed my car and the main part of my house. In fact, it knocked off some siding that had rotted and needed to be replaced anyway. Perhaps the universe was just giving me a little nudge there to get some stuff done around the house…

Finally, I’ve been praying for some clarity and resolution regarding my love relationship. I feel like some things are getting better; there have been some important breakthroughs. Still, I’m feeling very powerless and confused about it. My sponsor has suggested working the 12 Steps around it, and so I’m attempting to do that. I am extremely grateful to be sober while experiencing this. I can’t imagine how much worse I’d feel if I weren’t. Well, actually, I can. I’d be engaging in all sorts of less-than-dignified shenanigans while tipsy or even drunk. It’d no doubt be very ugly. And the hangovers? Ugh. Pure hell, I’m sure.

The thing is, my desire to drink was removed so quickly – or it least it seems that way, in retrospect. So of course I expected that I would have clarity and serenity just as immediately with this. That isn’t proving to be the case. I’m muddled and confused and spend countless hours delving and analyzing and planning possible solutions. I’m having a hard time figuring out the balance between action and acceptance.

At this very moment, I’m feeling strong and clear-headed and optimistic. But give me an hour, and I’ll be sobbing into my coffee. It doesn’t help that my hormonal state these days is a bit off-kilter as well. I’m a few weeks from my 45th birthday, and I know that my body and its chemistry are changing, and that’s working its dark magic on my psyche as well. (As is the fact that I’m now that much closer to the big 5-0, which looms ominously on the horizon.)

From here, I’ll just go on to…well, go on. “Hangin’ in and hangin’ on,” as my sponsor likes to say.

I’ll be okay.

I’m just hoping the clouds and rain will move on soon, and stay away for a while. I could use a rainbow right about now.


Relapse

06Apr10
Despite enduring some “personal turbulence” in recent weeks, I’ve never felt the urge to drink. Well, not really.
I’ve had momentary failings in my thinking – nanoseconds where I imagine what it would be like to indulge in a glass of wine or a cool cocktail to calm my wild mind. Thankfully, I am always able to imagine beyond that first sip, and remember what it always, always led to. That’s enough to stop my imaginings cold.
I’ve also made sure to call my sponsor or another AA friend if I find myself thinking along those lines. Or, I’ll pencil an AA meeting into my schedule and try my best to make it. This seems to work.
This morning, while surfing a poetry site (It’s National Poetry Month, y’all!), I came across this poem. Quite fitting, I thought. And quite the cautionary tale, for someone like me.

.

He tells me that
Sobriety makes him feel tawdry.
I laugh. But he’s not joking.
He doesn’t feel tawdry anymore.
You can see his relapse
In the way he won’t make eye contact.
In how he holds his coffee
Tenderly, like alcoholics hold their whiskey:
Like he holds whiskey.
Like he holds cocaine.
Like he holds his wife.
His eyes seem a little less green lately,
Less fertile, more empty.
Like ashes and dust.
He sits across from me
Looking like the patron saint of lost causes,
And I forget how to pray.
I know how he wants to be some kind of beautiful catastrophe,
And all I can think is that addiction isn’t a language I speak
At least, not the way he does.
He tells me how he almost died last night,
His heart almost stopped beating;
He’s too calm about all this.
I see him and think mythology,
Think Icarus,
Think Eden
I see the white powder Caesar saying
Veni Vidi Vici.
It’s just something in his hush that makes me think of falling,
He says he’s just trying to be human again.
But looking in those eyes,
I wonder if he remembers what that means.

Sobraiku #8

01Apr10