You Can Go Home

IMG_3344Once upon a time I was thrown into sobriety. It was either that or die and so far, after a bunch of 24 hours, I am still alive. I turned up – after a stint in residential treatment – in a room full full of people claiming to be clean and sober who all looked impossibly pleased with life. To me, who was feeling very disgruntled and annoyed with existence itself, this had to be a lie.

There must have been people just as pissed off as me but I don’t remember noticing them, just the smilers. The huggers. The ones who wanted me to call them and to stay after for coffee. Oh hell no! I sat away from “them” on a bench under the windows. I did listen. I heard my story and it came from unlikely places. There were commonalities in the experiences of white men born in the ’50’s. Young people who got sober quickly – reading the signs far sooner than some of us. I heard my story shared by single mothers and women in Prison – all walks of life.

Gradually listening each day there was no longer a “them”, it became “us”. The structure each day of reading literature began to give me a strong foundation to build skills I needed to learn to live a sober life – with the help of these confident, happy people who already had these skills. I stopped being disgruntled – and became balanced and pleased with my life.

Unfortunately change happens, and I don’t like it at all!  When I moved there was no replicating the group where I got sober. That strong foundation is something I got take with me and people I met in early recovery there in that room have remained an integral part of my network today.

Last week I traveled back to that group to visit and it was like coming home. Slotting into a familiar routine, seeing much loved faces, being welcomed back, getting embraced by my first sponsor and being able to sing her praises to someone new and just feeling comfortable is priceless. People say you can’t go home again but I disagree. I did and it was wonderful!

 

Life Shows Up

IMG_5745Life shows up. Sometimes it shows up with no warning, while you’re cruising along under the belief that everything is peachy. That happened this week with a vengeance.

Let me be clear – as I have in the past – that AA saved my life. Combined with other forms of evidenced based treatment, everyday contact with a  network of people who had traveled a road similar to mine was invaluable. I went to  7 meetings a week for 5 years. I worked the steps. I read the big book. I had several excellcent sponsors. (Long story). My sponsor had a sponsor. Her sponsor had a sponsor. Then I moved to Houston, struggled to find a home group and lost face to face connect with AA. My personal program of recovery has remained strong and with this move to Greenville I’ve had a desire to reach out to a community once again.

During those five years one of our kids came into sobriety. As someone who found AA so important in early recovery I wanted that for this kid too. Those steps felt like the key to learning how to live for me and who wouldn’t want that for thier child? So much of my present life wouldn’t be possible without the program and I wanted that for them.

In a college environment with a heavy schedule the infrequent meetings just weren’t on the cards, but when summer came and there was a move to the new town they decided to attend meetings. For the first time the reports back were really positive.

Even with about 21 months sober 4 weeks in AA is pretty new. Having grown up around the program there is lot of indirect knowledge but getting a sponsor and working the steps is a whole different enchilada. In just that short month a 49yr old man with 11 years of sobriety befriended our kid, who is essentially new to the rooms,  and 13th stepped them.

Being away for so long I had forgotten about the people who aren’t highly effective and supportive of recovery. Those people who are deeply imperfect and remain very ill – no matter the group’s good intentions.

It’s not surprising when people with shared goals, and experience, are together regularly there can be a certain amount of flirting. It’s human nature. However when that becomes a more experienced member – male or female – pursuing a romantic relationship with a new member it’s called 13th stepping.  In early sobriety, recovery and/or step work one should always be working to create the strongest foundation for lifelong recovery. Needless to say, the 13th Step rarely offers that foundation. Or erodes what has already been built. The behavior, in my opinion is also damaging to the reputation, goals and purpose of individual groups along with the fellowship of 12-Step groups as a whole.

When life showed up our kid was behaving out of character, making changes to life that seemed extreme and worrying the crap out of us. Using empty buzz words and lashing out when questioned. Ultimately  packing a bag and moving in with a stranger who is old enough to be her father.

For the first time Martin and I realized we need  to head to Alanon because our child is the qualifier. Not to support recovery but to detach with love.

Life showed up and slapped me in the face. I don’t want a drink. I want to cry. I will. I have. Because in recovery I learned how. I got taught in the rooms because noone interfered. My hand was held. I was given guidance. I will also be present in my life – laugh, run errands, eat and get on with the business of living.

Today I will let go and let God because what the hell else can I do.

 

Progress not Perfection

IMG_5683Although I know for sure I had to come off the trail to fix my spinal strength and balance issue, it’s still a bit heart wrenching. Watching Boone grab his back and head back out there made me proud but also a bit jealous. Until he texted later that his stomach was upset and he had run out of TP! Then I was OK back in civilization!

Martin didn’t love the idea of me trying to get home from PA injured so he came and got me. My Mom and Grandmother always said I married well – because he is so kind and supportive! Never fails! A ride much appreciated because even in very comfortable seats there was no good way to sit – I might have broken my ass.

Now for some healing, working on that balance, hiking the Foothills and prepping for spring. As much as I want to be perfect at everything I have to remember that today in my life it has to be progress not perfection. It’s so hard for me to remember I have it tattooed on the top of my foot.

Its exciting hearing from Boone/Trivia. He’s planning on 17.3 miles tomorrow! He’s a machine! I’m excited to be his cheerleader!

Pause

IMG_5664.JPGRushing through anything is never good for me. I miss details, stop having fun, lose my focus and make mistakes. When I first got sober people with a lot more experience than me kept telling me to pause. Pause before making decisions. Pause before speaking – in meetings,  to friends or just people in general! I was grumpy. Just pause in life and get it together.

This is one of those life skills I wanted to recapture out on the trail and boy did I get forced to learn it! Part of that lesson was trying to capture what I was seeing for later. Butterfly’s wouldn’t stop flitting away. Deer just pop out of the woods and I’m not camera ready. I am not able to pause time and have to simply soak in the moment,  and then be frustrated when words don’t really capture the scene either.

Another part of the pausing lesson hasn’t been as pleasant. The section of the AT from Harpers Ferry to Southern PA isn’t hugely taxing but it does test a good range of skills. There good elevation changes both up and down and a variety of trail surfaces to ease you into the notorious rocks of PA. This includes a few small rock hopping sections that require balance. On a couple of occasions I didn’t stop to do simple things like put my phone in my pocket, enjoy the view or check how far behind I had gotten from a faster group – and fell. Dumb mistakes. Pause. Take time. It’s not a race. It’s a walk in a beautiful place.

On the final occasion I was crossing rocks and missed my balance. It was a very bad fall. I did manage to protect myself somewhat but I hit my head – hard – and my lower back below my pack.

Boone and I had spent the night in seperate places. He was with friends at a Hiker Feed 3 miles ahead and I had camped in a shelter on my own (well a nice young hiker joined me later) and my need to dust myself off and hike to meet him was greater than my desire to sit and cry. While I made my way to the meet up point and thought through my options – continue hiking, risk greater injury, work on improved balance as we go, force Boone to slow his pace for me or the dreaded head home  – I came to a change in the forest. All around me were tall slender pines making a sort of open space and the floor was carpeted with ferns. On my head phones I could hear the beginning of The Crossing Chior’s Ivy and Holly. My late cousin Jeffery Dinsmore was a cofounder of this amazing group and I certainly did pause to take in this moment in this catheral like setting.

Jeff was very pragmatic. A no nonsense person he wouldn’t have had a whole lot of patience for messing about with stupid details. Have a problem with a solution? Fix it. Is your problem going to unconvience another person and spoil thier experience? No brainer. Do you have the luxury to regroup and attempt this again? Then what’s your problem? The song ended and I hiked on.

Taking a moment to stop a re-evaluate I what needed  correct to reach my goal is essential. When I broke my L3 my rehab was great but without continued supervision my body got off line and I’m using other muscles to compensate. Better to learn that before the Whites and serious injury. I will be pausing to correct that and restarting from Springer in late March or early April – with the trail name I earned out on the trail this year. (Haven’t decided if I will tell yet)

Boone is hiking on – as Trivia!

 

 

 

One Oppurtunity?

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It’s 2 o’clock in the morning and I’ve got Eminem lyrics on repeat in my head.

Look
If you had
One shot
Or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted
In one moment
Would you capture
Or just let it slip?

We leave in 4 short hours to drive to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia for the beginning of our Appalachian Trail Flip Flop hike. I’m struggling to sleep because this has been a dream of mine since my middle teens and to finally be about to step out on that trail is a bit overwhelming. It kind of feels like that one shot or one opportunity. Certainly a self made condition. Plus my pack is heavier than I would like!

One of the common videos and/blogs most thru hikers do Is a pre trip gear rundown but I just didn’t have the time or inclination. Did I mention finished our move and had our last kid graduate in the last 7 days? Ok..yes…only obsessively!!

What I’m carrying is really same things as most. The lightest tent I could afford, a Big Agnes Cooper Spur UL2 – but a two man because ….. claustrophobic slightly and my husband plans to visit. Across the board from my self inflating sleeping pad to my darn tough socks I took advice and managed some good sales. At the half way mark I plan on doing a video on what was really useful and what was not! I do have a feeling some stuff will go home. Simply because I just don’t want to carry the weight.

As Boone and I take our first steps on the AT on the 11th we also begin the first official day of our fundraiser for Shatterproof. Shatterproof is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to ending the devastation that addiction causes families. It began as a fathers promise after he lost his son to the disease. This could have been our family, with myself and one of our children in recovery. Boone and I would like to raise $1 for each mile walked for a total of $2190 in the course of our adventure. We are walking to promote Prevention, that Treatment is effective and should be available and Long Term Recovery is possible.

If you wish to donate a link appears here on my blog. It can also be found on my Instagram page and on my Facebook page. Don’t forget to check and see if your employer matches donations!

Ok! Enough begging. It’s now time to rest my mind. I’m thrilled to take you all along for the ride. Just can’t wait to get going!

Living with Intention

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A year go I began this blog with every intention of sharing my thoughts on my real life experiences in longterm recovery. However my intentions and my follow through can be very different things. It’s very easy for me generate reasons to procrastinate: daily life is busy, I’m not sure there is really the audience that others for my blather and it’s just plain scary to share personal thoughts. However the reality is that it this point in my life I have lost touch with being mindful and living a truly intention life and change is a must.

Many people have asked why hike the Appalachian Trail? I’m 52, have had a shoulder replacement and a couple of spinal injuries. Am I being sensible? Maybe not but I have a drive. A very strong drive to work on making a journey back to living an intentional life. To integrating mindfulness back into who I am as a person, as I was in the very beginning of my recovery. For a long time now I have been living my life without being actively present. Seeking meaning in trivial aspects of life and being left wanting more….but more of what exactly? That is the million dollar question  and what I have determined is that what I’m seeking is meaning. This beccame glaring obvious when at my mothers bedside having the honor of helping her ease out of this life. The least trival thing I have done in my lifetime. While there is much meaning from my family I need more from the rest of my life and it is my responsibly to find it.

Mindfullness is the practice of focussing on the present moment and accepting it without any judgement. Harder than it sounds! Do I accept assignments and quit at the halfway point? Go to the gym and decide enough is enough? Am I going head home because I have blisters, its raining and I’m cold or hike on to achieve my  2190 mile goal? Will I give it my all? Focusing my attention on my intentional decisions will make an eye opening experience and hopefully bring me back to where I need to be.

Hiking is obviously great physically but also mentally. Being in nature is where I began my mindfulness practice, watering horses at Wonderland farm. Using that opportunity to tune into both my own experience and the world around me. Being on the AT will give me a chance to do that in a much larger way. Drawing much closer to the natural world. So much closer….and probably longing for a shower like never before!

The Woman in the Mirror

In the summer of 2006 my husband, three kids and I were going east to attend a family reunion. I was seeing people i hadn’t seen in decades with my arm casted to the shoulder and trying to hide my out of control alcoholism. I no longer even looked in the mirror because what i was seeing wasn’t even me.

I had always had the family reputation for being just that little bit wild and volatile. It was not a secret that in my younger years I had experimented with drugs but it was assumed that my career as a substance misuse counselor/educator indicated that those days were long behind me. Unfortunately what close family members knew was that over the years since I had been a stay at home mother my alcohol consumption had increased to epic proportions and even my husband was unaware that I was approaching a quart of vodka and a box of wine per day. My arm had been broken falling out of bed drunk. The previous February i had suffered a gastric bleed and almost died in the middle of our kitchen. That I thought I was going to hide anything about my drinking, or the state of my health, is laughable today. Also very sad. I didn’t want to drink in front of family members, I drank alone, so i hid bourbon in the garage. As i was gulping from the bottle my husband walked in. Such a look of disgust, sadness, horror, fear and disappointment all at once. He made it clear that when we got home I must got to a residential treatment program. No discussion.

I had been to many detox programs when I wanted to feel better physically, Reset my body so I could use again but at a more reasonable level. Maybe like a normal person. There were many tries to control my drinking and so many rules. The hard drugs had long since ceased to be a factor. It is true that working in the field using heroin or cocaine lost its appeal. Prescription drugs were an occasional thing but it always came back to alcohol because it was easy. It was also easy to get my husband to bend to my demands. By the summer of 2006 he had reached his limit. I was so close to death and his response was clear. “Go to rehab now and I will leave you in 90 days. Don’t go and I leave you today”. Either way this was lose/lose for me. I was going to have to either sober up enough to get a job or convince him yet again to get off my back.

Off to Rehab I went and convinced them to let me come home each night because of that broken arm. You see I could shower. Such a manipulator. I would go to a 7am AA meeting then to the treatment center and back home. For 25 days this worked and I convinced all I was swell and to let me go. That led to a 4 day run of booze and pills, being left passed out on the driveway, a neighbor calling the cops – who I then assaulted – and me begging to go back to treatment.

While in treatment I still didn’t want to get clean until my husband staged an intervention. He made it very clear, at high volume, that I “no longer brought anything to the table”. That was news to me! I thought I was the table. As far as I was concerned the world revolved around me, me needs, thoughts, feelings and timetable. For 18 years this man had adored me, and in many ways enabled my behavior, and he just wasn’t buying it anymore. I had nowhere to go, and frankly this had been going on since my first drink when I was 8, and I was just tired. Done. I have to admit I wasn’t done quietly though. I was told to go to process group, but I did that with a lot of slammed doors and swearing!!

My journey in recovery began with a lot to learn. I started using before learning long division. Or skills like telling the truth, taking responsibility for my actions, following through with commitments and living within rules. Learning to shut up and listen wasn’t easy but it was key to getting rid of my anger and sitting in rooms with people just like myself. Following a bunch of steps felt really punitive at first. Then those same steps began to feel like a special set of guidelines that I should have been given at the beginning of my life. That secret code other people had that enabled them to slide through things with ease. Once that anger lifted I was able to expand from my initial program of recovery and add in individual therapy, family therapy, exercise, nutritional counseling and a simple “recovery” job to fill my time. I did discover an underlying mental health condition which came as no big surprise. So many of us are dual diagnosed and have used drug and/or alcohol to self medicate. I also gave back to other people who were struggling like me, especially woman, and trained to work as a Peer Support Specialist. My fear that my husband and children would not forgive me, or trust me again, began to subside as the years began to add up.

Today as a woman in longterm substance and mental health recovery I haven’t felt the need to use drugs or alcohol since Sept 12 2006. I no longer work as a Peer Support Specialist but I haven’t closed that door. I do speaking engagements, continue to give back to people just like me, and do advocacy work to push for better healthcare coverage for substance use disorders and mental health. Everyone should have the benefit of the treatment options I was given. I am so very lucky to be alive after 33 years of use and I am aware of that.

If I could talk to the woman I was that summer 9 1/2 years ago i would tell her that “It will be OK. trust the process and you will like what you see in that mirror.”