Monday, February 27, 2012

My Grateful Sober Thoughts for the Day

February 27, 2012

Hi, my name is Kerry and I’m an Alcoholic.  Today, I have twelve months of sobriety, hard won, hard fought, hard lived, and gracefully and gratefully bestowed upon me. 

Such a simple collection of words, and yet, it took me so many years to put them together into that sentence and say it out loud.  Today, I can say this without shame and fear.  Of course, over this past year of living sober, I’ve come to realize I am not just an alcoholic, but a loving wife and mother and daughter and daughter-in-law and sister and sister-in-law and friend and fellow-friend in recovery.  I am also compassionate and open and honest.  I am able to be trusted, once again, since I have regained some measure of integrity.  I am beginning to believe, against ITs nagging judgments, that I deserve hope and forgiveness.  I am beginning to learn through the “suggestions” of AA, through the 12 Steps, and through Dr. B.’s wise and loving counsel, that yielding my rigid and often misconceived control, that nothing, in fact is being taken away from me; rather, in being open and willing to follow the path to recovery and sanity shown to me by those who want me to live a more joyous, serene, and blessed (did I just use that word?!) life, everything—my life, my future—is being given to me.

Exactly one year ago today, I was inpatient in the psychiatric hospital, admitted because I was considered suicidal, had once again veered beyond the safety of the guardrails.  The prior afternoon, I had attended a baby shower.  If you recall from earlier posts, I was not supposed to be drinking.  Not supposed to be drinking for the previous two years.  Of course, despite the lock my husband installed on the liquor cabinet, I’d been drinking whenever a chance presented itself.  Emptying wine glasses left on dinner tables, sneaking drinks when my husband forgot to lock the cabinet—a swig of vodka, followed by a swig of scotch, followed by a long gulp of ouzo-- trying to keep all the bottles level, even, at a desperate moment, polishing off a bottle of vanilla extract when baking a batch of chocolate chip cookies for the kids.  As the say in Limbo, “How low can you go?”  I win the prize: Vacation for One Puking in the Toilet Bowl! 

I don’t remember the baby shower, or coming home from the baby shower.  Apparently, at the baby shower, I disappeared into the kitchen and furiously downed several glasses of wine.  My husband was called because I was THAT drunk; he came with the kids to pick me up.  I woke up a year ago today in my bed, my arms once again hacked with scissors or a knife, wanting to die.  He drove me that morning up to the hospital as I was supposed to be having an ECT treatment.  My psychiatrist saw my arms, heard me manically spewing forth all the reasons why I should die, took my weight (dangerously low, once again), listened to my husband’s account of the previous day and my manic purging over the past few weeks.  That was that.  I was admitted and plans were made to send me ASAP  to the Arizona inpatient program for Eating Disorders where I had been two years previously.  No mention of Alcoholism, though my husband did say I couldn’t come home again, couldn’t live with him and the kids if I couldn’t put an end to the drinking and the lying.

As you well know, that inpatient Eating Disorders program worked for a time, but not for long.  But what did change?  The desert landscape has a profound effect on clarity, especially when you are sobering up.  At least it did on me.  All those canyons and mesas, the expanse of sky, the blood red sunsets, the brilliant sunrises and the cacti.  The tall saguaro cacti with their sharp spines.  That was me, all my sharp spines exposed.  Nothing around me for miles and miles, just this land and sky coming together, scraping together against me, and I was parched, literally starving from anorexia, exhausted from crawling on my bare hands and knees all those miles and miles for the past few years, hell, the past decades of my life, trying to lead that double life.  In the desert, there is no place to hide—all my prickly spines glaring in the blazing light for everyone to see, for God, or my Higher Power to see.  Even though I am post-Catholic, I remember that story of Jesus out there in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights, fasting, tempted by Satan, and upon his return, Jesus’s faith was transformed, and he became a leader, a miracle worker, someone who could offer hope to the hopeless.

Now, as I was in an Eating Disorders program, I couldn’t literally fast, but on a similar note, all possible access to alcohol, my great agent for suicide, was removed.  And since in my admission questionnaire I admitted to a “problem with alcohol,” I was compelled to go to the 6am off-campus AA meetings, yes, the sunrise meetings, filled with genuine, hard-ass, cowboys and cowgirls who didn’t accept my mealy-mouthed, tentative “I have a desire not to drink” pseudo-confessions. 

This teeny-tiny, wiry cow-gal, named Dana, with beautiful curly black hair that fell to her hips all the way from beneath her Stetson, took me aside after a meeting one morning and placed her hand on my shoulder and said, “Look, I’ve been where you’ve been.  And I can see the shame and fear is just about ready to kill you.  But I promise you, it’s going to be okay, you’ll see.  Admitting to alcoholism will free you and you’ll find that you can stop running.  Because right now, you look like something is hunting you down.”

Of course, she was right.  I was hollowed out, gaunt and crazed from running away, running myself into the ground, running myself into dust.  Time to stop, to breathe, to take succor in truth and light and grace and hope and honesty. 

Step 1: Admit I was powerless over alcohol and my life had become unmanageable.  I was absolutely an alcoholic.  Working in triumvirate, my Bipolar Disorder, my Eating Disorder and my Alcoholism were intent upon taking my life.  Their only intent.  It was up to me to decide once and for all, to dismantle ITs power and to regain balance and stability with the guidance of AA, my wiser doctors, and the support of loving family and friends. 

When I left the Arizona program, Dana gave me a gift, a silver bracelet filled with turquoise beads—“So you don’t forget where your journey back to life started,” she said.  As I write this, I look down at my arm, still banded with the flash of turquoise and silver, and I think of that beginning gift of those sunrise meetings, of how starved and parched I was when I arrived in the desert and how truly blessed and loved and forgiven I am right now, in this day, the twelfth month of my sobriety.  My son, Alexander, is sitting next to me on the couch, reading aloud from his library book: “Hooray for Fly Guy!” (A year ago, he couldn’t even read!)  He is asking me for help with the hard words (touchdown, quarterback, laughed).  I kiss him over and over along his neck which makes him giggle and shriek.  In five minutes, I’m about to pick up my daughter from her talent show dress rehearsal.  She’s dancing to a Selena Gomez song, “Summer’s Not Hot”—a dance she and her friend invented on their own, definitely high on the gung-ho, all-out enthusiasm, maybe a little-lower on the coordination, but hey, I’m her mom, so I get to say it is Absolutely Perfect!  And in an hour or so, I go to yoga class, bliss out with my friend Roberta, who has been steadfast and has the most beautiful heart and can also laugh and get snipey along with me.  And tonight, I get to curl up on the couch with Christopher, watch trashy TV, eat his delicious food (and not purge, and yes, eat a normal sized-portion), and be surrounded by our dogs, their doggy love and doggy farts.  And tonight, go to bed knowing that I have managed not only to survive this long year back from hell, but have thrived.  I am like the tall saguaro cactus, covered in sharp spines, but improbably blooming clusters of pure white flowers with hearts of sunshine.

AA offers “The Promises,” to those of us who follow The Steps, saying, “If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness…”  I am only a mere Twelve Months on this journey of recovery, nowhere near “halfway through,” and already the miracle is at work, and I am that miracle because I am here and mostly happy and free of the desire to drink and filled with gratitude that I have been given this day surrounded with love and friendship and able to offer my love and friendship in whole-hearted return.