Amends?

It’s been 4637 days since my last drink. That’s 12 and 1/2 years if you add them all up. I didn’t want to get clean and sober. Well I didn’t want the pain, sickness and shame, but was terrified of living without drugs and alcohol. How did people do that? How to cope with all the emotions? The fear. The anger.

The work of recovery was something I feared deeply. Those damn emotions and all that accountability! There were meetings, therapy, physical care and mental health support. I began to realize that if I did what people who knew how to be sober suggested that maybe, just maybe, I would learn to be grateful and possibly happy.

An integral part of this process was about making amends. During active addiction I caused enormous destruction and pain. In recovery I could no longer place blame on others for my actions, had to own my mistakes, and do what I could to right those wrongs.

The idea behind making an amends is to clean up your side of the street. I wronged another person, and now had do my best to make it right, and we all move on. Whether they accepted my apology or not wasn’t something in my control. My role was to respect them and their wishes and carry on with my life. As hard as it was I did the work. Most people, over time, accepted my amends and relationships were repaired. Most. Not all. Friendships ended and I mourned. Mourned what I did. Mourned what I lost. That none of it could be undone.

Family relationships were the most important to me. These were the people I had impacted most, but also loved the deepest. Besides my husband and children it was my Mom and sister that carried the most importance. Those amends were terribly difficult. It’s hard to listen to what you’ve done so it can be made right. The blessing of being a blackout drinker is that you don’t have the burden of memory. The drawback is that not remembering comes off as denial to those looking for answers.

For a long time I thought my sister had accepted my amends. That we were working on our relationship. We had some great times in these past 12 years. Hard ones too – and during one of those tough times she came clean that she couldn’t forgive me. What I come to realize is that sometimes the damage is simply too great. That hurt informs everything going forward . Hurtful actions can’t be undone. No amount of me wanting things to be different is going to change that. Not even with a cute vision board!

So what do you do when your closest living relative can’t forgive you? I’m supposed move on. Respect her wishes and get on with my life. Clearly I can’t “make it right”. Can’t fix hurt and pain. Time can’t be turned back. I’m going to try my best to move on, grieve the loss and stop wishing for a resolution the other person doesn’t want. There is no denying that it sucks. I had held onto this idea that we could get beyond this and hike together when I attempt another AT thru next year. Just have to let it go.

I am committed to not going back to the life I once lived. To show with living amends that I am not that same person who caused all that damage. I am grateful. I am happy. Also sad. The good thing is … I won’t drink over it.

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.

 

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.”