Chris is away for a couple of weeks, taking a well-deserved break. He’s traveling alone, which we both do now and then. It’s a different experience to travel by yourself, you can do whatever you want, change your mind at a moment’s notice, or you can stay in your hotel for the entire day, eat local junk food, and watch an Austrian show called “Kommissar Rex” dubbed into the language of wherever you are, but not English, yet it remains my favorite show about a German Shepard police dog who catches bad guys by jumping over things and knocking them down.
It works well that we are both the kind of people who have to be alone sometimes. I get overwhelmed by noise and wearing the mask that one must wear that says “Hey, you know, I don’t own a set of dishes I found at an abandoned camp in the redwoods that was overgrown and forsaken, kitchen cupboards creaking in the wind, rotting bunk beds awaiting tired campers, dishes discarded and strewn about…”
So when one of us travels, the other gets to be alone, and that is a nice break.
I made a list of things I’d like to do during this time, because making lists is one of my superpowers, things like organize the drawers, clean all the rooms, put stuff away so it looks less like an abandoned camp for forsaken children and holy crap I just got an idea for a story.
I’ll write a couple of articles, work on the two books I’ve got going. I’m also starting “Parks and Recreation” for the umpteenth time, but that’s just the way it is.
So this morning I woke up, shuffled out of bed, fed Crazy Legs, grabbed my coffee and I realized something – I remember everything that happened yesterday. I remember what I did last night, I remember when I went to bed, I turned off the “Parks and Recreation” where Leslie thinks the tops of carrots are marijuana plants and has a stakeout with Tommy and they find out that Andy is living in the pit and then…sorry. I love that show.
But I remember that I turned it off, went to bed, and this morning I woke up and I felt great.
Many people are probably wondering what the big deal is, you woke up and had coffee, so what? But anyone with an addiction, or alcoholism in my case, knows exactly what I’m talking about.
I’ll explain. In the bad old days, when I woke up in the morning, step one would be to lie still and figure out exactly how hungover I was. Was my head spinning? If I moved, did I have to bolt to the bathroom? How bad was my headache? Am I, in point of fact, actually in my bed?
After a physical assessment, next came the worst part. What did I do last night? What’s the last thing I remember? Did I blackout again? Did I see anyone, talk to anyone on the phone or email? Many times the memories were like little filmstrips, the kind we used to watch in grade school. Just a flip of a picture here, a face, a loud crash. Did I break something? I don’t remember. So I’ll stay in bed as long as I can and then nothing bad happened. It’s the alcoholic equivalent of the monster can’t get me if I keep my limbs under the covers, except the monster this time is of my own making.
A quick peek around to see how everything looks, and either a sigh of relief or a gutting regret, and a quick run-through of ideas on how to explain whatever it is. And then back to bed, a day will be wasted, projects forgotten, goals washed away. Tearful vows to never do it again, and then doing it again, in my case, for decades.
It has been a long time since I’ve had a drink, and for the most part, it is gone from my present thoughts. But now and then, like this morning, it occurs to me. I got up, stretched, took my meds, fed Crazy Legs, got my coffee, and sat down to write an article. I feel great, the day is ahead of me, I have many things lined up, and I have time to work on them. It has been so long that I frequently forget the bad times. And that’s good, kind of.
I used to ride a motorcycle. (I’m going somewhere with this, I promise.) A long time ago, I got a bike, learned to ride, got pictures to look at when I was “old” say, 50 (I’m 51 now so younger me shut it already.) Anyway, I had some fun, got cut off at a four-way stop and dropped it, so I have the all-important crash story, (not so much a crash as an “I didn’t know how to respond so I popped the clutch and the 650 took me down.”)
I’ve heard that the two most dangerous times for a rider are when they are new and scared, and when they are experienced and confident. There should always be, not fear, but the realization that you are a soft, water-filled body wrapped in leather or Kevlar, sitting exposed and going very fast. Be aware of that, and don’t try anything stupid. For me, I rode for a while, but I never got over the fear, so I sold it.
In early recovery, one is very much aware of the danger of relapse. The fear of the shame, the pain, the lost dreams, lost jobs, lost children, etc. is raw and works as an excellent deterrent. The first time I said, “My name is Sue, and I’m an alcoholic.” was profound and earthshaking. It was also not the last time I’d start with a 24-hour chip. Or the second to last time. I got a year chip and later gave it back. Early recovery is a dicey time, especially if you don’t address the reasons you’re drinking or using in the first place.
In the time since my last drink, I’ve started this blog, and I’m proud of it. I’ve published one book, and I’m working on two more. I’ve painted, explored mixed-media, watched “Parks and Recreation” like four times, and lived a life where I wake up and know what I did the night before, and don’t have to run through an inventory of possible horrors before I get out of bed. I’m confident and this, just like riding a motorcycle, can be a dangerous time.
That voice that says, “Aw, it’s alright, you can handle it. You’ve proven you can be sober, just have one drink!” can be quiet for a long time, but it’s always there, waiting to fuck you up.
Two kinds of people don’t get that, those who do not have an issue, and those who do. The second group is threatened by your sobriety, they need you to drink with them, so they don’t have to face their own demons. They want to sabotage you, and they will try very hard.
If you are in early sobriety, be very aware of this, and try to catch it earlier than I did.
Many years ago, two decades anyway, I had a dear friend, my best friend, who took good care of me when I was still drinking. She was nurturing and said exactly what I needed to hear. She was the strong one who took care of me until the very moment I started to find my feet. Once I stood and began to get better, snipes and passive-aggressive comments, subtle digs at my worth, accusations of getting arrogant, would begin until I believed them and fell. And the “mothering” continued, until one night when I was falling into a depression but didn’t want to relapse. So I called her.
By this time, my dear friend, my rock, was using heroin. She sat and listened to me intently. Then she stood, dropped her pants, and showed me the bruises where she had been shooting up because her arms were no longer viable. I stared in utter disbelief and shock. When she covered up and sat back down, she looked me straight in the eyes and said, “It’s ok, we can be addicts together.”
That was it. Even for my fragile mind, that was the end. Chris and I were newly dating, and when I told him what had happened, he was apoplectic. He said it was as if I were drowning and she threw me a cement lifesaver. It was the validation I needed; I had second-guessed myself for so long.
People may do this, to one degree or another. They may try to sabotage your hard work, your important work. They may try to convince you that you are weak.
You are not weak. You are as strong as a person can be, whether you feel that way or not. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
You went one day without a drink or drug? Stand up tall and be proud of yourself. Twenty-four hours without your drug of choice? You are awesome, simply amazing. Let no one tell you otherwise.
However you may feel about A.A. long term, go and say those difficult words, “My name is xxx, and I’m an alcoholic.” They may be hard to say, you may not say them loudly, you may break down, that is all ok. Any of these reactions are appropriate. Those people you’re talking to, they are there because they are also struggling!
And when they offer a chip, a 24-hour chip, raise your hand, walk proudly to the front, and take that chip with you. An entire day without a drink becomes two days, becomes a week, becomes a year…you can do it!
It’s a cliché, I know, but I mean it from the bottom of my heart. If I can do it, after decades of terrible mornings, after losing jobs, living in squalor, after a childhood spent drunk to hide the pain, if I can do it, you can do it.
You can do it. You really can. Please don’t let anyone tell you differently.
You are worth it. You deserve happy mornings.
I believe in you.
If you need help, please call.
SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.