Our own worst enemies

Yes, I live. And I’ve had a dozen posts drafted in my head, and have yet to put “pen to paper” on any of them, until now. I’m writing now because of our own absurdity. I’m at home with my daughter and husband. We’re cleaning up different rooms of the house. I’m wandering around, putting things away, and a thought occurs to me, something that immediately casts a shadow over my day, and eats away at me. What is this thought? I have no freakin’ clue. I had it, it made me feel bad, then it left my brain. The feeling is still there, however, compounded by that “why can’t I remember” feeling. Then the little voice in my head, the reasonable, well-balanced, easy-going self I aspire to be more often voice says to me, “how are you going to justify letting a dark cloud of thought hang over your head when whatever it is that brought that cloud over you isn’t important enough for you to remember 5 minutes later”?

Seriously, I consciously have nothing to feel bad about. My husband and daughter are healthy and happy, my brother is doing well, everyone else I love seems to be fine, the bills are getting paid, we’re making progress on the house, I am doing very well at work and I appear to have finally licked my sugar addiction after a 5 day sugar purge. Oh, and August 28th was my seven year “birthday”, i.e., sobriety anniversary.

Of course, life isn’t perfect.  For whom is it?  But, all in all, things are okay.  So why is it we, and I say we because I couldn’t POSSIBLY be the only person who does this, seem to LOOK for things to feel bad about?  It’s like there’s a bird that flies around, pooping on our heads, and when it doesn’t, we go looking for it?

That reminds me of something my friend Christine said to me years ago.  Something along the lines of, “a negative/bad thought is like a bird flying over us…we may not be able to stop the bird from flying overhead, but we sure can keep it from building a nest on our head”.

Go away, birdie…I don’t need another pet.

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8,000+ characters about addiction

The day before Hurricane Katrina hit, I turned to my husband and confessed that I had been slowing killing myself with alcohol, and that I finally knew I’d never have anything I wanted in life as long as I kept drinking.  He asked me if I was ready to quit, and I was.  Three weeks later, he confessed that he wasn’t all that convinced I actually was an alcoholic.  That’s when I realized…he hadn’t noticed all the nights I got up in the middle of the night to vomit, and he hadn’t realized the number of times I’d started blacking out each week.  I was up to three.  I’d wake up on the couch, knowing I had gotten mad at him for something, but not for the life of me remembering what.

My paternal grandfather was an alcoholic.  He died alone in a squalid apartment set over a liquor store in Oklahoma a short while before my older brother was born.  My step-father, who’s been married to my mother since I was four, is an alcoholic.  Still very much practicing.  Oddly enough, I hadn’t noticed his drinking until I was about 14.  That’s the year my brother ran away from home, one of his complaints being that my step-father drank too much.  In the counseling session I was forced to go to with my parents, the counselor asked me what I thought of my brother’s accusation.  I stated I thought it was bogus….that I hadn’t hardly noticed his drinking.  In a rare moment of honesty, my step-father stated quietly, “you haven’t been paying attention”.

After that day, I started paying attention, and noticed the pattern.  Come home from work, drink.  Have a party, drink.  Go out with friends, drink. Wake up, drink. That’s just how my family wound down.

I, myself, started as a teenager.  I vaguely recall coming home at 13 and taking swigs of Glenlivet in an effort to get buzzed.  It didn’t work.  I hated the taste.  When I was 17, my step-father would pick up wine coolers for me, hand me one in the car and “race me” to see if I’d finish the first one before he had driven us home.  It was a game.  When I went away to college, he suggested I develop a taste for Everclear, since with it’s potency, I could consume less, save money, and still get buzzed.

For the record, I received absolutely no advice about sex (I was still a virgin), money, my studies….but how to get a cheap drunk…I was covered.

I didn’t start drinking heavily until I moved in with my college sweetheart/would-be ex-husband, Jeff.  It was mostly beer, a 12 pack of which I could knock out in a day in a half, if not less.  I didn’t really hit the hard stuff until I graduated from college and moved to Oklahoma, alone, Jeff having moved back in with his parents, signalling the beginning of the end of our relationship.  Jim Beam, the preferred bourbon of my mother and step-father, would become my roommate, along with an amazing amount of diet Coke.  My drinking wasn’t yet affecting my job or relationships, but I was well on my way.

After Jeff and I parted, I met Josh.  We fell very much in love, and it was unlike anything I’d had before.  Very sweet but passionate.  And we had that thing where we just “got” each other.  But it wasn’t too long into the relationship, when HIS demons reared their ugly heads.  His family’s drug of choice was, well, just about anything other than booze.  Ecstasy, LSD, marijuana…all were commonplace amongst he and his friends, even his mother.  I met him through his mother when I went to work for her making videos for the local schools.  I was extremely naïve about just about everything at the time, though I did think it was odd that when her kids would come over after having a bad day, their mother’s solution was, “have a bong hit, honey”.  The alarm bells should have gone off then, but I was smitten.  By the time Josh tried to enter rehab, the drugs had fried his brain to the point of schizophrenia.  After a month in a mental hospital in Norman,Oklahoma, he *should* have gone into rehab, but our co-dependency took over, and he moved back in with me. Al-anon meetings helped a little.  His moving out helped more.

He struggled with his anti-psychotic medication.  The first time he met my parents, he spoke of seeing a live chicken running around under my coffee table.  Great first impression.  Of the people in his life, only his brother, sister-in-law and paternal grandmother were sober people.  His mother got him high, so he’d jump on the furniture.  His step-father gave him drugs, then he’d be screeching about aliens trying to program him through the television.  The bravest I’d been in my life up to that point was the day I stared down the family drug dealer, Josh’s step-father’s best friend, and chastised him for selling Josh a bag of weed.  I knew that Josh was ultimately responsible for whether or not he got high, but to have so many people close to him NOT supporting him in his sobriety was just killing me.

Josh, in his saner moments, would sometimes comment on my drinking.  I didn’t see the connection.  I still don’t, actually, not because I’m not an addict, but because at that time it hadn’t become a preoccupation.

After Josh put a cigarette out on his forehead, I convinced him to give the anti-psychotic meds another chance.  He went to see the doctor, who wanted him hospitalized immediately.  “Check yourself in or I’ll do it”.  I wish the doctor had committed him.

Later that night, he called me and asked me to pick him up.  I told him he needed to stay there to get the help he needed.  He called his mother.  She picked him up and got him high on the way to his brother’s house.  That night, in front of his brother and family, Josh’s mother made him promise to stop being a burden to everyone.  The next morning he awoke, had a bowl of cereal, smoked a cigarette, then found his brother’s car keys, opened his brother’s car trunk, pulled out a shotgun his brother had attempted to hide there, sat under a tree, wrapped his lips around the barrel, and made good on his promise.

I had begun studying the bible a few months prior to Josh’s suicide.  A few months after, while recovering from Josh’s death at my mother’s house in Texas, I came to a fork in the road.  I walked away from my bible studies, and chose the path lined with empty Jim Beam bottles.

I stayed on that path for the next 10 years.  I gained 75 pounds.  I lost it.  I moved back to Oklahoma, then back to Texas, then to California. Then I hurt my back.  I gained all the weight back.  I started drinking tequila and waking up on the floor of my living room, bottle in hand.  I didn’t go on a single date.

Finally I met the man that would become my husband.  Shortly after we got married, the San Antonio Spurs won the 2005 NBA championship.  I had gotten so drunk that night, I barely remembered it.  The next day I was so hung over I went into work late.  All my co-workers, who had teased me for years about being the lone Spurs fan in a sea of Laker “fans” (read: when they win), had expected me to be so hyped and happy.  My head hurt too much.

Parenthetically, I had not been able to bask in the 2003 championship either, not because of a hangover, but because my beloved cat had died in my arms a few hours after the win.  By the time they won in 2007, I was pregnant with my daughter, and a basketball contest seemed far less important to me.

We got married in May 2004.  We had not realized that my husband had ADHD.  Like you wouldn’t believe ADHD.  His mother had been told as much when he was a child, but had not done anything about it.  He just thought he was incredibly forgetful and stupid, but I knew something was wrong with him.  He was much too smart to be that dumb.  He went in for testing, and started getting treatment for it.  I joke that if marriage is a path you walk together, that first year he kept forgetting where the path was and I was too drunk to find it.

Katrina hit in late August of 2005.  I called up my family and announced I was an alcoholic that weekend.

After deciding to quit, I sought out help.  I knew I didn’t want to do AA.  I know they’ve helped many, many people, but it didn’t seem like it was for me.  But I worked with someone who I knew was in AA and had been sober for a long time, so I’d go down to his office and we’d chat.  He was incredibly sweet and helpful.  I also reached out to my step-mother, who’d been sober for over 20 years.    I’ve been sober 6 ½ years now, and am really coming to appreciate something both my co-worker and step-mother told me.  It doesn’t necessarily get easier the longer you’ve been sober.  Yes, the physical cravings have subsided, but not the psychological ones.

I hate parties, but used to get through them by drinking.  I realized this a month after quitting when I had a full-blown panic attack in the middle of an office party of 300 people.  If you believe the folks on Madison Avenue, it is not physically possible to have a good time with friends unless you have a libation in your hand.  Hot day?  Have a cold beer.  Not me.  Tense at work?  The office manager is hosting a happy hour at the bar across the street, wanna come?  I wish.

I miss the high soooo much.  But that’s the rub.  It’s been long enough since I’ve had a drink that I miss the high, but don’t vividly remember the vomit, the blacking out, the crying, drunken fits I’d have when I’d destroy something in my home because, inevitably, in my intoxicated state I’d be unable to operate it (at least two cd players gone, thank you). I have to remind myself of the time I got so drunk I drove my car off the road onto a railroad track and had to have my front passenger tire replaced the next day.  Or when I was so drunk and lonely, I decided I’d knock on my neighbor’s door, someone I didn’t even know, to see if he’d have sex with me.  Thankfully, he wasn’t home.

I’ve noticed some people I follow on Twitter commenting about their sobriety lately.  This got me thinking about reaching out.  While I haven’t been truly, truly tempted, I did mention to my husband, semi-jokingly, that I’d like to start drinking again, only he can monitor me.  Yeah, because addicts aren’t liars and I wouldn’t EVER be deceptive about how much I had to drink.

By the time I quit drinking, I had gotten up to almost a fifth of bourbon A NIGHT.  I know I don’t want to go back there.  When I first quit, I’d often have dreams about having fallen off the wagon and wake up feeling terrible.  I’m starting to have them again.

Though I never did AA, I do appreciate the notion of taking things one day at a time.  To think of not having a drink for the next 30 years is murder.

I just need to not drink tonight.

Another point of view

Growing up isn’t like in a movie…where you have a realization and life changes.  In life, you have a realization and your life changes a month or so later.

So I just have to wait a month?

It depends on the realization.  Some of them you only wait a couple weeks.

Gene Hackman giving advice to Meryl Streep in “Postcards from the Edge”.

So anyone who’s ever struggled with depression knows that it’s far too easy to go deep inside oneself and therefore be unable to view yourself clearly.  This is what therapists are for.  Therapists, the good ones, anyway, are the people who are not afraid to tell you you’re full of crap when you are, and to point out your gifts when you are convinced you have none.  I’m of the opinion I have a good therapist.  What’s so funny is the times she tells me the obvious, only I have my head so far up my butt, the revelation wasn’t obvious to me.  Today was one of those days.

I’ve spoken to her at length about my depression and mid-life-crisiness.  Today she referred me to a book she says is poorly written but has some insight into the different stages we women go through.  To simplify, we go through the maiden stage, the matron stage, then the crone stage.  My therapist then stated emphatically her dislike for the term “crone”, so she replaced it with “queen”.  At 41, I’m in the matron stage.  I am a wife, a mother, a breadwinner, a mortgage-payer, etc.  The time in my life for taking grand risks is seemingly passed.  I’m long past being able to quit my job and gamble that I’ll succeed as a writer, actress, director, whatever, since it’s incumbent upon me to pay the bills and support my family – hubs is 11 years my junior and, thanks to the economy tanking, is unable at this time to make a living in his chosen field. So he’s in retail hell and I’m an insurance broker.  And the crowd rejoiced.

My therapist spoke of the risks we take, and separated them into two classes….for simplicity’s sake, risk 1 and risk 2.  With risk 1, the young man climbs mountains, performs daredevil feats, etc.  The young woman, the maiden, risks her connection with her femininity by, in my case, attempting to become a model, actress, singer, etc.  The risks taken in risk 1 offer more immediate gratification, but is often shallow and fleeting.  Risk 2 is more long term, and deeper in meaning.  Gambling on a marriage, raising a child, taking on a $300k debt via a mortgage.  I won’t go so far as to say I’ve succeeded in risk 2, because it’s never-ending, but I can say I’ve at least taken those risks and, so far, am doing well.

Where my regret comes in, and what I need to come to terms with, is the risks I didn’t take when I was a maiden.  I know, duh.  I realized today I’ve been guilty of overlooking the risks I did take that have paid off.  If I’m to come through this, I need to build on these things.  Towards that end, a list.

  • My first trip to Europe was alone.  Though I stayed with my mother’s best friend in London, I spent four days alone in Paris, speaking just three phrases in french…”I have a headache”, “my name is…”, and “do you speak english”?)  It was terrifying at times, but I did it, and those are some of the fondest memories I have in life. Watching Quincy dubbed in German (wha?) in my tiny hotel room in Montmartre, visiting the Louvre, eating a sausage served in a fresh baguette on top of La Tour Eiffel (and calling my folks back in the states just so I could tell them, “I’m calling from the freakin’ Eiffel Tower!”), standing in the room where it was decided Joan of Arc should be canonized, then going to the top of Notre Dame de Paris and making friends with the gargoyles, walking down the Champs Elysees, climbing to the top of the Arc de Triomphe and walking through the arch, and, my favorite, walking the grounds of Père Lachaise cemetery, and visiting the graves of Oscar Wilde, George Seurat, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Gertrude Stein, and so many others.  The place was so beautiful, and I delighted in the sounds of the children playing in a nearby schoolyard.  I thought it a beautiful juxtaposition.  I spent the most time with Jim Morrison.  I sat next to his grave and wrote in my journal.  Even now, I’m still moved by my visit there.  Lastly, I recall my trip back to London.  I stood in the bar car and sipped a glass of white wine while eating the best damn chocolate croissant ever made and watching the french countryside whisk by.  While I’m so glad I went alone, I also came to appreciate why they say it’s a town for lovers.  I hope to go there with my husband some day.
  • Though I didn’t do have yet to do what I set out to do here, I did save up my money and move halfway across the country, to a place where I knew exactly one person, my brother, and build a life for myself.  Granted, it’s not entirely the life I want, but to start from almost nothing, in a strange city, is something to be proud of, I guess. Had I not done that, I wouldn’t have met my husband and I wouldn’t have my smart, beautiful and funny daughter.
  • I have a successful career.  Okay, this one is hard for me to stomach, but the fact of the matter is, as boring as my job is and as much as I despise cubicle living, I’m good at my job and well-respected by my peers and my supervisors.  I’ve gotten some very sweet notes from clients, past and present, thanking me for my expertise and guidance.
  • I’m a homeowner.  I honestly never thought I would be, especially in California.  I live in a house more than a century old, with all the charm of a craftsmen from the early 1900’s, but with updated plumbing and electrical, and three bathrooms.  THREE BATHROOMS!!!
  • I’m sober and  I quit smoking.  Though there are times I still really wish I could have a drink, I haven’t succumbed to temptation for 6 1/2 years now.  I haven’t had a cigarette in 8 years.
  • I’ve survived.  I’ve survived being sexually and or physically abused by five different people (to varying degrees) from the age of 6 to the age of 15.  I survived my boyfriend blowing his brains out.  I survived my own suicide attempt one month later.
  • Did I mention I quit drinking?  Yeah.  That’s a big one.

Maybe this list isn’t complete.  Maybe upon further reflection, I’ll find more to be proud of.  But the fact that I can even acknowledge these things when two weeks ago I was so despondent I could barely move, well, that’s something to feel good about, too, I guess.

Maybe it’s time to find a way to create new items for this list, despite the fact that I’m in “the matron phase”.