powerlessness defined

“The more I do this deal called life, the more I realize that it isn’t about the things that happen to you, the good things or the bad things, but rather how you show up and react in the world that counts.”

– Insight of an old-timer shared at a 12-step meeting

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Great teachers and spiritual guides come in all shapes, sizes and packages. My greatest teacher is my 10-month-old daughter. She has yet to utter her first word but possesses an uncanny ability to speak directly to my soul – that untouchable place where true understanding resides. How is it that this child, through her mere existence, can teach me more about myself and the nature of being than I ever hoped to know?

Worry has been a constant companion in my life and an inherited trait as far as I’m concerned. My mother and her father can worry with the best of them – falsely predicting life’s unpredictables with remarkable steadfastness. At its core, anxiety is the paralyzing combination of an intolerance for uncertainty and a fear that one lacks the capacity to face uncertain events. Worry is the sick way we fool ourselves into thinking we are somehow doing something about uncertainty or manipulating the uncontrollable nature of our destinies. Worry typically begins with a thought, “what if….” What if I am dying of an incurable disease? What if I lose my job? What if my husband dies? What if I lose my baby? The snowballing of these thoughts can lead to some pretty twisted thinking and emotional anguish. I consider myself to be an expert worrier.

There was the brain tumor scare of 2001. I would stare at my pupils in my college dorm room mirror for hours on end, convinced that one was larger than the other, which obviously indicated my death was imminent. In 2003, I was convinced I had a heart disorder and wore a halter monitor for 48 hours, only to be told by my general physician that I was anxious. After I gave birth to my daughter, I actually had an MRI of my brain because I was convinced, beyond a doubt, that I had multiple sclerosis. Turns out I was extremely sleep deprived and therefore twitching, fatigued and forgetful. The kind and patient neurologist did a side-by-side comparison of the 2001 and the 2011 brain scans to put my fears at ease.

When my husband meets his friends for a drink on a Friday night, I inevitably begin to worry that he won’t make his way home safely. Keep in mind that he is a very responsible father and husband and has not given me reason to doubt his ability to manage his own life. The “what if” thinking begins and pretty soon I envision myself at his funeral with our small daughter, I begin writing his eulogy in my head and imagine I am too heartbroken to deliver it when the time comes, I see Lulu reaching out for him and myself running to the bathroom to hide my despair from her, I tell her stories of her father and wrap myself in the smells of his clothes at night. I will never remarry. I will never move on. I wonder if I can extract sperm from his body at the scene of the accident so that Lulu can have a sibling and won’t have to be alone in her grief.

My worries are too numerous and many of them too insignificant to list. I am driven by a thousand forms of fear. At the top of this list are fears about my daughter’s health and well-being. Perhaps my gaga-goo-goo guru knew that to teach me about the futility of worry, the lesson plan would have to incorporate a kinesthetic teaching approach. I have always been a hands-on learner.

This past Sunday night, Lulu started behaving strangely. Around 7:00 pm, she became fussy and was drooling A LOT. I thought she must be cutting a new tooth.  By 8:00 pm, she was becomingly increasingly stressed and was having a hard time lying face-up on her changing table. She kept trying to sit up and was making a weird gulping noise. By 9:00 pm, she was inconsolably crying and trying to cough which was obviously painful. Her cry was alarming because it was as though someone pushed a mute button. She was hoarse and no sound escaped when she screamed. I called my husband to come home from work and we stood with her in a steamy bathroom. She eventually calmed down and fell asleep on my chest in her rocker, but her breathing sounded labored and kind of wheezy. We called the pediatrician and ended up in the ER by 10:30 pm. By 1:30 am, my daughter had a breathing tube inserted and by 3:30 am, she was being transported via ambulance to the University of Iowa Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Lulu was diagnosed with Epiglottitis, a very rare condition in which a virus attacks the Epiglottis and can cause such severe swelling in the neck that the airway closes.

We spent four days in the ICU and are now home with a happy and healthy baby. How, you may ask, could this experience make me less anxious? Watching our daughter struggle to breathe and having to let her go with strangers into an operating room to be intubated was the most terrifying moment of my life and shattered any illusions I have about being in control in this world. Powerlessness defined.

To think of the time and energy I have spent worrying about what might go wrong. Never in a million years could I have predicted Epiglottitis. I had never heard of it before Sunday! Similarly, I could not predict that my Aunt would die of ALS or that my sweet niece would be diagnosed with Type I diabetes at 7-years-old. I have no control over what is going to happen to me or to the people I love most in this world. I do have control over how I show up in this world.

I have spent a large part of my adult life ruminating over the wreckage of the past or projecting tragedy into a future that has yet to unfold. When everything happened with Lulu, I saw myself walking a road. In a moment of clarity, I realized that I have walked my path always straining to see the ever-changing horizon, mentally absorbed in the danger that might await me there. Regret, anxiety, worry, fear – these emotions remove me from the present and prohibit me from both enjoying the path at my feet and dealing with immediate certainties with true awareness and serenity.

I am powerless. I have no power to predict the future. Worrying about the future only serves to distract me from the present. When I am not present, I am actually more vulnerable to life’s uncertainties because I am so wrapped up in my melodramatic thinking that I can’t see what’s right in front of my face. Be present. Be still. Enjoy life. Play. Have faith that in the moment of uncertainty, you will have the necessary tools to face life on life’s terms. These are the lessons that my daughter taught me this week.

My first sponsor used to say, “wait until the miracle happens.” Sunday was my miracle. The gifts of a 12-step program, both sobriety from alcohol and the slow alteration of years of fear-based thinking, are the reason I was able to be present with my daughter on Sunday. I was keenly aware of her distress and able to respond to her calmly and quickly. In the emergency room and at the hospital, I was strangely peaceful and collected and focused on her needs. I shudder to think of how this could have turned out had I been actively drinking. I fear I would have put her in bed and not responded to her muted cries. I have an overwhelming sense that my sobriety saved her life.

God, I fucking love her. Thank you, my tiny little teacher. I promise Mommy heard you loud and clear. I will stay in the day with you. I will not let fear drive my life and remove me from the beauty and splendor of the present moment.

I look forward to a lifetime of learning from you. I would appreciate it very much if ventilators and feeding tubes are not part of future lesson plans.

trying again

This past weekend we celebrated my brother’s 38th birthday.  Getting ready for his party, I browsed my jewelry box looking to accessorize and came across a silver cuff bracelet with my initials engraved on the outside and a date engraved on the inside.

10-15-2005

An instant flash of heat and prickles of irritation radiated throughout my body. A lump in my throat accompanied a brief moment of shame and regret. These raw emotions quickly subsided and were replaced with some unexpected feelings – gratitude and acceptance. The silver cuff bracelet I never wore found its way onto my wrist Saturday.

The bracelet was a gift from my Mom. Although it was meant to be encouraging during one of my earlier attempts at sobriety, which was preceded by lots of desperate and pitiful phone calls to my parents, I hated the bracelet when she gave it to me. The year 2005 was when I came to the great jumping off place – a place where I could not envision a life for myself with alcohol but a life without alcohol seemed equally unlivable. What a horrible, lonely and excruciatingly painful place to be. I knew I needed to stop drinking but I could no more admit that I was powerless than I could accept a “God of my understanding” as somehow being a solution. This was a time in my life where I would string together 10 days, 15 days, one month of sobriety and then be driven back into the insanity of drinking because life sober wasn’t looking too much better than life drunk.

I received the bracelet from my Mom after an impassioned declaration of my intent to stay sober. Little did she know that between the time she purchased and mailed the bracelet and I received it, I had already picked up a drink. I could not stay sober for the life of me and I hated that stupid fucking bracelet because it was a physical reminder of my complete inability to manage my own life.

Despite myself, I did stop drinking for almost two years from April of 2006 to March of 2008. These were two of the best years of my life, but I lost my sobriety for all the usual reasons one does: I took back my will, I stopped working with a sponsor, I stopped going to meetings, I put myself at the center of my life, I let my resentments fester…. and so on. Things got so good when I was sober that I came to believe in the power of myself and came to believe that I could drink again like a normal person. I was out of the program from March of 2008 until August of 2011.

I am so grateful that I had a daughter in March of 2011. Being a mother taught me the definition of powerlessness and showed me humility in a way I have never experienced. In the first months of Lulu’s life, I was so exhausted from trying to drink, parent and work (in that order) that I surrendered. I was desperate enough to slink back into the rooms of AA. I knew there was a solution there the entire time I was drinking but my ego was so big that I couldn’t get myself through the door! Before Lulu’s arrival, I had resigned myself to live a life of silent misery as long as I could have alcohol by my side. I had too much pride to humble myself before the program that gave me so much and that I turned away from years before.

My first months back in AA, I had all this mental stuff going on about why I lost my sobriety, what the last three years could have been like if I were sober, where I would be now, I would have five years, Lulu would have had a sober Mom from day one, etc. As a result of working the steps these past months and really grasping the program in a whole new way, I do not “regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” I am grateful I am sober today and I accept the path that I have traveled to get here. Part of my recovery is appreciating the journey as much as the destination and working on acceptance of life on life’s terms.

Back to the bracelet. I have a new affection for this piece of jewelry. Where I used to view it as a reminder of my failure, I now see it as a reminder of the beautiful life I get to live when my life is built on a foundation of humility.

gobble gobble

Some people say the glass is half-empty.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Some people say the glass is half-full.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               I always wanted a a bigger glass.

If the directions say to take 2 every 4 hours,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        the alcohlic takes 4 every 2 hours,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         just to make  sure we get enough!

I can do anything alcoholically!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           I can drink water alcoholically!

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When I am actively drinking or living as a dry drunk, I am all about the about the gobble gobble.

I want more, I need more, I feel I am entitled to more. At holidays past, I couldn’t get the drinks down fast enough in order to warm myself up to get more closeness or distance between myself and others in the room. I would shovel in the food. I would focus on my comfort, my needs. I was a life gobbler… all about what’s in it for me and completely focused on the fear that there wouldn’t be enough of whatever “it” happened to be.

When I am working a program of recovery, I am able to authentically be thankful.

This year, I have the intention to be about the thankful part of the holiday. I am leaving soon for the in-laws, where I will inevitably be surrounded by alcohol. I am choosing to go with an attitude of gratitude. I am grateful for my loving husband and our beautiful daughter. I am grateful for my health, my job, my home, my extended family and great friends. Today, I will try to ask myself how I can be of service to others rather than how I can best serve myself. I will say a little prayer to keep myself out of my own way. I will slow down and be mindful of the fact that in any given moment I always have enough. I will not be a life gobbler.

 

sick puppies cannot care for sick babies

Lulu is sick. She is almost 8 months old and this is her first time with a fever or anything more significant than congestion. She is fussy and uncomfortable and crying these huge tears we seldom see coming from her sweet, little, almond-brown eyes. She is full of drool and snot. She is farting and gagging. She doesn’t want to eat a whole lot. She alternates between exhaustion and screaming. She seems to be in a fair bit of some type of pain she cannot speak.

I want to acknowledge some of the wonderful stuff that has occurred in the past 48 hours. My daughter was sick and I was here to take care of her… sober. I responded to her pain and upset. I took her temperature and changed her diapers and put dry clothes on her and made her bottles and gave her baths and rocked her and shushed in her ear and sang to her. I stayed awake in the middle of the night and let her sleep on my chest as I sat in a chair because upright was the only position where she seemed comfortable. I put her in bed with me and rubbed her back and woke up at every sound. To most parents, these probably sound like pretty obvious things to do for a sick child. For me, this is a big deal because more than just doing these things, I was present and aware and tuned in to Lulu.I had the capacity to provide care, security and love to my child. In the midst of the fever and the poopy diapers and the no sleep, I was able to look at her and feel this enormous gratitude for this amazing little being that I get the privilege to take care of for as long as the Universe lets me. I have a generally healthy and thriving infant and I must be one of the luckiest people on the planet.

I can’t help but think about what taking care of Lulu with a fever would look like if I were still drinking. My drinking wasn’t always out of control, but I couldn’t control my drinking and therefore could never predict with much accuracy how a night of drinking would end. What state would I have been in when Lulu awoke in pain in the middle of the night? What would my embrace have looked like and smelled like and felt like at 2:00 am? How much comfort does a drunk parent really provide to a sick child? Would I have been able to take a rectal temp? Would she have been safe sleeping in bed with me? My sane husband most likely would have taken charge and let me sleep off my drunk.

The ensuing guilt, remorse and shame the next day would have been unbearable. My own self-loathing would eat away at my relationship with Lulu as I watched her depend on her father for the security I was too unstable to provide. I’m sure I would vow to be a better parent. Around 5:00 pm, I would get the itch to drink and start excusing my behavior of the night before. No defense against the first drink I swore I wouldn’t have, I would pour myself a glass of red wine while taking care of her. I would feel the war in my chest between the instinct run wild to drink more and the pressing matter of the sick infant at hand. Things would start to feel unmanageable. Her cries would elicit irritation rather than sympathy. I would get a rising up of anxiety in my chest because this baby was really cutting into some much needed drinking at the end of a long day of taking care of said baby. I would probably let Jim take care of her and promise myself that next time I would do better.

My skin crawls just thinking of how alcohol warps my thoughts, feelings and attachments. Alcohol would rob me of the experience of completely loving my baby through her first fever… which I have a feeling is bringing her first tooth right along with it.

 

 

 

all bee okay

According to Dr. Jung, the psychiatrist whose reference to alcoholics being “frustrated mystics” inspired this blog, alcoholics recover when they have spiritual experiences. Page 27 of the Big Book reads, “To me these occurrences are phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them.”

Spiritual experience. Spiritual awakening. Emotional displacement. Are these required for sobriety?

For as long as I can remember, the undercurrent of my life has been this feeling that I AM NOT OKAY. At times, my dis-ease is a whisper in my ear to be on guard, a slight buzzing in my body to stay vigilant against the terrible things that might happen if I don’t pay attention. At other times, my dis-ease is an earth trembling roar that cannot be ignored. Fear inhabits my chest and as the blood courses through my body, it seems to take on a voice that pulsates, “I AM NOT OKAY.” Living with a constant perceived threat is exhausting. No amount of self-knowledge or meditation or yoga or rest ever relieved me of my fear. There was one thing that worked  –  alcohol. If I drank enough, I got to this place of oblivion where I didn’t feel much of anything. The problem with alcohol is that the effect wears off and life awaits you in the morning where you find yourself sober and petrified.  Alcohol was like a giant pause button on fear. Unfortunately, it was also a giant pause button on life, growth, relationships, development. I am so grateful to no longer be in that place.

I believe that I had a difficult time with fear because I didn’t know what the opposite of fear, something I call Peace, felt like. I was so accustomed to being uncomfortable in my own life that I had no concept of what I was striving for. What did change feel like? What was I trying to get to? This is where my spiritual experience comes into play. I feel self-conscious sharing for fear (there it is again) that my story will sound hokey or lame. This 100% happened just the way I describe it and I believe it has been a touchstone for me to keep returning to Peace – a Peace I did not know before this occurred.

Before I got sober in 2006, my lovely Mom took me on a wellness retreat of sorts to help me get straightened out. On this retreat, I had the opportunity to get a Reiki massage.

I walk into a warm room, dimly lit, and introduce myself to the masseuse. She is a strong woman, rather homely, and she instructs me to lie down on the table. I was immediately confused because I was used to taking off my clothes for massages. I remember thinking, “Oh God, this is going to suck. I should have opted for the sports massage – I have so many knots in my neck.” Next, the woman asks my permission to invite spirits that would like to be present to enter the space. Huh? What the f#@k did I sign up for? Not wanting to offend, I give my permission and mentally prepare myself for an hour of bullshit.

What happened in the next hour is something I cannot explain intellectually. The masseuse went around my body, gently placing her hands on me. I felt myself relax. I felt myself let go. I felt feelings bubble up in my chest and move through my throat and out with my breath. Tears pooled in my eyes. I had a brief moment of panic. “What the hell is happening,” I thought. “This is so embarrassing… what if she sees that I’m going to start crying.” Something in the time and space of that moment allowed those thoughts to leave and made room for me to just go with it. I dropped the judgment and let myself be.

I felt myself open up. A light radiated from the place that always feels empty in my chest. From the void, it was like a swirling up of little stars, twinkling and floating within the gentle cyclone shape of a tornado. Peace radiated from a place I had never known peace – my body was usually just a battleground for instincts.

A memory entered my conscious mind. I am a young girl, probably seven years old, and I am swirling around in the front yard in a dress I loved. It was a hand-me-down from my cousins and it had pretty flowers all over it. Lost in the experience of twirling, I hear a buzzing and realize that there is a large bee in my vicinity. I panic. The dress has flowers on it and the bee is going to sting me. Fear vibrates through my body and I run for the safety of my front door. The bee pursues me. I feel it all around me, trying to sting me. I get to the door and in my panicked state I fumble with the screen door and then the front door. I am sure I will be stung. I am sure I will die. I finally get through the door and crumble on the floor in tears.

The me watching this memory understands the child’s fear but doesn’t take it on emotionally. This is where it gets a bit more out there so please bare with me! I have a sense that there are a host of benevolent beings in the space with me and they are communicating with me. Not communicating with me like I am hearing them talk – it’s more of a psychic understanding. They are laughing kindly. They tell me that I am still the child afraid of the bee. They tell me that I do not have to be afraid. They both sent the bee to get me worked up and they are always there to protect me from the bee. Almost like it’s a game or they are teaching me but again, in a very kind manner. I get the overwhelming sense that there is never anything to fear – no matter how scary life appears – because it is all okay. It has always been okay and always will be okay. I am okay. I am always exactly as I am supposed to be at all times in all places and in all conditions. I am love and light and peace. I am complete. I do not feel empty.

And then it is gone. The entire experience was a mere five minutes in the -982895320 minutes I have been alive as I type this. My calculator wouldn’t even calculate what percent of my life that is because it is so close to zero. Yet in that brief occurrence, I had a huge emotional displacement. I experienced a glimmer of something different, a new way to be in the world, a new way to relate to myself. I experienced God. I experienced a Peace that transcends all understanding.

I know that my path toward experiencing this Peace is a path I must walk sober. I still experience fear on a daily basis but I have a counterpoint in Peace. I can turn toward peace. I can bring myself back to peace. I can find relief from obsessing about myself and my fears by bringing myself to the present moment countless times a day and understanding in a profound way that I am okay. All of life’s troubles are merely bees and I am always that perfect creature twirling in life’s light.

powerpay

Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, life is getting better as I develop in my sobriety. Part of my development includes knowing freedom and losing the fear of economic insecurity that has plagued me since I started footing the bill for my life. These Promises from the Big Book are beginning to take shape.

I have racked up quite a bit of debt over the past 10 years. Student loans and credit cards floated me through the majority of my twenties. It’s not that I didn’t understand that loans have to be repaid or that credit cards can charge crazy interest, it’s more that I chose to ignore the long-term consequences in order to satisfy myself in the moment. There is a great line on page 49 of the 12X12 that says, “We eat, drink and grab for more of everything than we need, fearing we shall never have enough.”

I have lived as a greedy little consumer for a long time and that grabbing/desiring/wanting is all fear-based and ego-driven. If you can pay for it with a credit card, I probably have: furniture, books, haircuts, eye exams, groceries, painting our home, getting new windows, cigarettes, alcohol, cell phone bills, clothes, vet bills, plane tickets, hotels, dinners, gas… you get the point. When I got married, neither myself or my husband had a steady job and I was about to start my Masters program. I bought about $5000 worth of furniture on credit so I could play house and we could appear to be a successful young couple in a cool loft apartment. I spent some pretty desperately drunk times on one of those stupid couches. This was the beginning of making financial decisions based on impulse, self-satisfaction, ego and a sense of entitlement.

No more! I want to be free from owing other people for my existence. The home I live in doesn’t quite belong to me. The student loans won’t be paid off until my own children go to college. The disposable income we have every month that could be saved, invested or used to enrich our lives is eaten up by credit card payments. It’s hard to feel free when you are wearing a $250k pound backpack of I.O.U.s. I would rather be free from debt than wear fancy clothes. I would rather be free from debt than drink Starbuck’s coffee everyday. I would rather be free from debt than buy that really cool piece of art I found on etsy.com.  Freedom doesn’t mean being able to buy whatever I desire – freedom means 100% ownership and acceptance of what I have.

The point of all this rambling is to share a website called powerpay.org. It’s a free resource that helps individuals create a debt elimination plan. We are utilizing the Dave Ramsey system of paying off debt smallest balance to largest balance.

Anyone else found financial freedom in sobriety? Any tips or suggestions for getting out of debt?

rain, rain and more rain

I expected sunny weather in Florida. That expectation has led to a bit of disappointment that it has been raining for two days. The weatherchannel.com warns of coastal flooding and high surf. Acceptance is the answer. Time to accept the weather and make the best of our trip. We drove a golf cart encased in clear plastic around the course today for fun. I am going to exercise (gasp) in the clubhouse and I am writing this blog and I will have lots of time to catch up on my book, Women, Food and God. I lived in Vancouver for a couple of years – a little rain is nothing new.

Date night was wonderful and fun. It helped me remember why I married the guy sitting across from me at dinner. He is more than just a co-parent or a roommate or a financial security blanket. He is smart and kind and funny and very sexy. At first it was difficult to ignore the voices in my head harping on the past and warning of the future, but they quieted down and gave up as I stay focused on being present.

We decided to have all appetizers. We had oysters and clams and Grouper bites and mushrooms stuffed with crab and stone crab legs and warm bread and butter. I had two bottles of sparkling Pellegrino and two cups of delicious coffee. We finished the night by splitting a piece of Belgium chocolate cake. We talked about our lives and made funny observations of things we witnessed in the night. Jim talked a lot about his experience being a father. He never does that… or perhaps I’m usually talking so much that I don’t do much listening!! I was sober and present and it was the best date night we have had in a really, really, really long time.

What I crave or desire in the moment is often what brings eventual suffering. It is becoming clearer to me that cravings or strong urges for things are, for me, an indication that I want to be elsewhere. They are a signal that I am about to jump ship on the present moment. I need to pay attention to this.