Monthly Archives: August 2011
Like many good folks in recovery, I have a small plaque printed with the Serenity Prayer: “God, Grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change; Courage to change those we can; and Wisdom to know the difference.”
Unlike most, though, I’ve had it since my childhood. Unless you’re Drew Barrymore, you probably didn’t know the Serenity Prayer in elementary school. Why did I? It’s a funny thing, and thinking about it made me realize how many other coincides have happened in my life.
Recently I was lost in the mountains driving, of all things, my little sporty white car on a logging road. I was late, upset, scared, and confused but since my teenaged son was also in the car I did my best to only display minor bewilderment. We were trying to find the drop off spot for his 10-day out trip camp.
“Hmm, this is so strange – where can this place be?” I chirped as the voice inside my head swore like a trucker. I knew my son was already anxious about signing up for this demanding trip with an unfamiliar group. I felt badly for getting us lost and wanted to set a good example for how to behave under pressure.
I was pretty sure I was on the wrong road, but it was so narrow I couldn’t turnaround and besides, it seemed to make sense from the vague directions on my smart phone – directions I could no longer access because we were out of cell range. Had I known I’d be on such demanding terrain I would have brought my husband’s truck, not this city car of mine.
“Okay, God. We are lost here. Help us figure this out,” I said aloud, hoping to model a kind of calm desperation for my son as I inched my car up the narrow trail. The answer came swiftly, as around the next bend a fallen tree blocked the road.
“Well I guess that means turn around but how?” I was able to squeak past the tree and turn around, squeak past it again and head back down the trail – praying all the while no one else has been fool enough to make the same mistake. The trail was not built for two.
Moments later, we were back in cell range and called for directions. We soon arrived at the proper place.
Now, obviously I don’t believe God (or in AA-speak “my Higher Power”) dropped that tree the moment I asked for help. You might say it was divine inspiration that caused me to ask a question just ahead of the answer. You might say God (HP) knew I’d be praying that prayer in that spot days before and fell the tree in advance. You might say all kinds of things, including “Meh. Coincidence.”
Call it what you will, but sometimes we are able to look and see how the dots connected and say, “That was pretty darn sweet”.
Take, for example, the family up the street from our home many years ago. For whatever reason, I would run into these people no matter where I went with my (then small, now grown) children. These people would pull up next to me at a traffic light, we’d be shopping the grocery store in reverse orders so our paths would cross in every single aisle – I’d see them everywhere! And this family was hard to miss because the mom was terrifically stunning and her three children were adorable. Sometimes I’d see the husband, sometimes not. But what was both fascinating and irritating was the overwhelming sense that I KNEW them. I didn’t. I’d never seen them before, but it was that same tip-of-your-tongue experience as when you see a celebrity in person and you can’t quite remember the name. Then someone tells you and you’re still not sure – you have to look it up to be convinced, and your mind won’t settle off it until you do. Like that.
In fact, one day I was picking my kids up from school and the daughter from this family was walking past. She was about 9 years old.
“Sweetie, what’s your name?” I asked. She told me. It was a surname so foreign to be I asked her to repeat it twice and the spell it for me. Clearly these were not people I’d ever met.
The coincidences continued and one day I said to a friend, “It’s the strangest thing. I see these people everywhere and I feel so strongly that I know them but I don’t. It’s driving me crazy.”
“Oh,” she said knowingly. “God maybe wants you to pray for them. Whenever you run into them, just say a little prayer.”
At least that gave purpose to it, and it lessened that annoying-ness of the increasing coincidences. So there I’d be, in the grocery store, gassing up my car, picking up my kids, paying a parking ticket and there they’d be. “Oh seriously?! Now?? Oh alright, God bless this family and tend to whatever is going on here that You have to be bothering me with it right now. Amen.”
Irreverent, yes. But it did ease the curious irritation of the situation. Eventually I got to know the woman a bit, when we’d joined the same morning coffee group. I came to understand that she was in a very difficult marriage and under tremendous pressure. Later they divorced and they family moved away.
Can you guess what happen years later?
Wouldn’t you guess that my oldest boy would eventually meet that girl at a summer camp? Wouldn’t you know that after high school they began dating? Wouldn’t you guess they fell in love, got engaged, and are now happily married?
Wouldn’t you call it something of a miracle or a blessing or a coincident that I was praying for my future daughter-in-law since she was 9 years old?
In fact, their marriage was one of the many reasons I wanted to quit drinking – knowing that eventually there will be grandchildren in the picture and I don’t ever want them to be afraid to have be babysit for fear I’ll be snockered.
Back to the Serenity Prayer…
One of my uncles is a priest who would often send small gifts to my sisters, all of my cousins, and I. He must have bought church-y things in bulk and sent them out because we’d all get similar gifts for Christmas or Easter. There were 20-some of us on the list so this was a generous undertaking.
When I was 8 or so, he sent each of us a small wooden plaque with peg to make it stand. About the size of a business envelope, each plaque featured a different prayer or verse. Perhaps he sent them at random. Perhaps he considered which was most fitting for each child. I put mine on my nightstand and memorized the prayer – it was a good one, although I preferred saying the Lord’s Prayer before bed.
It was years before I learned that the simple prayer on that plaque was one famously associated with Alcoholics Anonymous:
“God, Grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, Courage to change those we can, and Wisdom to know the difference.”
It is a prayer I have been familiar with almost all of my life now, yet here I am all these years later leaving alcohol behind me and understanding the importance of that prayer as never before.
Perhaps the divine goes before us and lays out all kinds of loving booby traps for us to stumble upon. Perhaps it’s all coincidence. No matter what you call it, you must admit it warms the heart to see how life unfolds and yet connects back.
As the desire to quit drinking quietly grew and gain strength within me, I found myself half-heartedly searching for books and material that would give me the final “big push” to change. I can’t say that any one thing made the difference, but little by little things clicked into place like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. The final piece was no more or less significant than the others, but as it “clicked” everything shifted.
At first it was little snips that caught my attention. In “Memoirs of a Geisha” there was a description of an opium-addicted madam that struck fear into my heart. The whites of her eyes had turned yellow from drug use, yet she was unaware that she’d destroyed her own beauty. It was the first time I wondered if my own vices would ruin my looks.
Oh well. (Glug. Glug. Glug.)
Another image from literature that bothered me came from the ridiculously enjoyable “Colors Insulting to Nature” by Cintra Wilson. The character of Barbette Champlain is an “aging former ballerina – a regal, imperious, chain-smoking spider of a woman with long, emaciated limbs”. That part didn’t bother me so much. In fact, I can see myself as a sinewy old lady one day, minus the smoking. It was two pages on that I hit upon further description of Barbette that I re-read repeatedly and never forgot: a reference to her bony body being interrupted by “an abdomen loosening into a gelatinous, vodka bulb.”
Ewwww. I immediately ran to the mirror and lifted my shirt to inspect my belly. I know it sounds vain but the fear of morphing into Barbette bothered me immensely and kept me mindful of my drinking. I’d shoot a quick sideways glance into the mirror daily as I stepped into the shower and pray nothing gelatinous nor bulb-like would have appeared overnight.
Nope! All good. (GLUG. GLUG.)
“Lucky Man” by Michael J. Fox was primarily about Parkinson’s disease and I’d picked up the book mostly because I had always admired the fellow and maybe had nursed a lingering crush since the 80s. However, a brief portion of the book deals with alcohol addiction and hints at a quiet celebrity network of recovered addicts that I found fascinating. Fox admits to sneaking back to the kitchen during dinners to finish bottles of wine, and I thought of him so very often over the years as I performed a similar routine. I wanted to quit like he did, but I didn’t have a secret network of celebrities to encourage me, so the habit persisted.
Kathy Griffin’s “Official Book Club Selection” (which I enjoyed in audio format – hilariously delivered by the author herself and I suspect yonks better than reading as a book) had a big impact on me because Griffin reveals that she does not drink or use drugs at all. Can you believe that anyone could be that ballsy and funny and STONE COLD SOBER? Whether you are a “Kath-eter” (as she calls her fans) or not, you must admit the woman is gutsy. Whenever I worried that I would be boring as hell if I quit drinking, I reminded myself that Griffin is anything but.
I read a review of Mary Carr’s “Lit” and drove straight over town to purchase it. I thought for sure it would be the book to show me the way. It wasn’t, in all honesty. Poor Mary was just such as damn mess. I wasn’t there; I wasn’t so far gone. If anything it left me thinking I was doing just fine and maybe didn’t need to quit at all. Perhaps I should read it again, as I am now more open to absorbing the lessons others have to offer. It may not have been the miracle book I was looking for, but it was another piece of the puzzle at the very least.
“Unbearable Lightness” by Portia Di Rossi reflects on the star’s battle with anorexia and I listened to the audiobook during my daily elliptical workouts. Those of you with eating disorders will recognize the irony of this, but it was the only quiet time I could find for Portia. I identified with her misguided drive towards perfectionism and her self-disillusionment. This book left me raw and emotional, and looking at myself honestly. It helped me to excavate some childhood wounds and recognize their impact on my current behaviour.
There was a 20/20 episode last year about moms and alcohol – I only recall seeing the commercial for it and that alone was enough to “click” into place yet another realization that I was battling a common problem. You can read a synopsis of the story here: http://abcnews.go.com/2020/moms-secret-habit-coffee-mug-full-wine/story?id=10511256
A simple paragraph in a magazine referenced Rethinking Drinking http://rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/ and suggested for the first time that one didn’t need to be a full-fledged alcoholic in order to have a drinking problem. I bookmarked that website and visited it many many times to take the same quiz, always getting the same results.
Glug glug gluggity glug. Everything pointed to the same answer and yet I kept drinking. Why on God’s green earth did I keep drinking if I wanted so badly to quit? What was wrong with me? What did I need to find to make the difference?
It was a simple question by a motivational speaker that finally brought it all home: “What is your dream for your life?”
A question so generic it’s almost cheesy, and I was surprised when the answer pressed itself on my heart like a lead balloon: I NEED TO QUIT DRINKING.
It was in realizing how badly I wanted to redefine my life that I was able to sweep together all of the lessons and examples I’d gathered and put them to use. It was then that I began to search others like me on the Internet and found them in great abundance. I took off the blinders and got down to work.
There is no shortage of literature, links, blogs, groups, meetings, and even people already in your life to help. You know it’s all there, right? Thousands, millions have walked this walk before – of course you are smarter, more special and completely different from all of them, but perhaps you could learn from them just a little bit.
Once I swallowed my own pride and accepted that my situation was not special, different, or unique, everything began to change because that is the very shift that offered strength in numbers.
Still, I am walking this path alone in many ways. I did not join AA and yet I respect the program very much (I’d be remiss if I didn’t suggest AA’s “Big Book” as recommended reading. I own a copy but have not read it myself, though everyday I read the Twitter feed of others in recovery who share lessons from it and find daily encouragement there). I often listen to AA podcasts as I run or walk my dogs, and I have applied many of the 12 steps to my own recovery. Going it alone is not for everyone, but so far it is working for me. I know if I stumble, there are other ways.
There are many other podcasts and audiobooks that are enjoyable, entertaining, and inspiring for recovering addicts. I was pleasantly surprised by Rob Lowe’s memoire “Stories I Only Tell My Friends” – I enjoyed it as an audiobook read by Lowe and listened to the chapter on rehab repeatedly. “Bossypants” by Tina Fey has nothing to do with addiction or recovery and yet it reminded me yet again that one can be funny and brilliant without being snockered.
Of all the things one needs to listen to in order to get over the hump, it’s that small voice in your own heart. It might be hard to hear because of the committee of voices hollering “never mind” or “you’re fine – leave it alone” or “you loser, you’re a drunk and you’ll always be one” or “you don’t deserve to be happy so let’s have another one”. Ignore them and hear the voice that they are all shouting to cover up. The little voice in your heart that’s whispering over and over again:
“I need to quit.”
On March 18, 2011 the need to quit drinking hit me with such force and certainty it could only have come from some power greater than I. Two days later, I began changing my life.
Many times in previous years I had tried, unsuccessfully, to remove wine from my daily routine. I had tried “only on weekends” and never made it past Tuesday. “Never drink alone” never lasted. “No more wine in bed” would be overwritten by programming schedules and tv availability in my household. “No wine while cooking” (unless there’s wine in the recipe). “Just one before bed” was an easy foil – I would repeatedly top up the glass before it was empty and count it as one.
I couldn’t find the balance yet I knew I had at least some control – I never drove drunk, would never drink before a performance, presentation, or at work. If there were small children to be tended to then I would not even consider drinking.
I had some control but not enough to stop.
When minor surgery required me to avoid alcohol for 24 hours before and after, I failed to comply. I knew better than to drink my usual 5 or so glasses of white but compromised with a single, oversized glass of red the night before and after.
My drinking was escalating to include an extra drink or two “pre-wine” each day. I had discovered the most amazing pre-mixed margarita – a huge, heavy, house-brand bottle from a big box wholesaler. It was strong and golden – just how I liked it and the closest thing to the first (and best) one I’d ever had on the River Walk in San Antonio just a few years earlier.
My routine was to arrive home from work, empty the dishwasher, set the table and start supper. It was often too early to have a wineglass out but somehow it seemed okay to tuck a little glass of this heavenly stuff discreetly by a cupboard and sip away while I worked. Once my husband arrived home I’d make a production of opening wine for a pre-dinner drink but never mention I’d started an hour earlier.
This bothered me but I enjoyed it and heck, I deserved it. I worked so hard, cared so much, and clearly everything was in order. No problem.
Well, except for the guilt. And shame. The secret failure.
I was ping-ponging emotionally and mentally between wanting to quit and loving to drink. Back and forth, morning and afternoon. When I was finally moved to change my life, it was the result of a powerful urge to save myself that seemed to erupt suddenly from within.
In fact, it was anything BUT sudden. The compulsion toward change came as the result of many years of reaching for change, searching for answers, for incentive, for guidance. Little by little I found these things and though individually each small answer or example did not create change, collectively they empowered me when the time came for change.
I began writing “UnPickled” as a lifeline to help myself through the dark days of change. I continue writing as the process helps me grow and survive in my new life. As well, it is now my most sincere hope and prayer that what I share here may be received to help others. Perhaps on it’s own, “UnPickled” may never be enough to change a life, but I do hope that laying out my heart here will add one more bit of information and hope to those who are searching, as I was.