One Month

I’ve started drinking Gingeraid kombucha on the rocks in a wine glass.  It’s actually a really nice substitute, even though it’s a total sham.  It reminds me of when I was 20-something and dating this gorgeous guy from Denmark. He used to make fun of me for setting my clock 45 minutes ahead in an effort to be perpetually early. “You Americans, you’re so easy to fool.”  I say, whatever works.

Today is the first full day of summer.  A gorgeous Friday morning.  Quiet, bright, and pulsing with energy.  I am sober.  One month today.  In some ways I feel like an infant in this brave new world of recovery.  The last time I did this (8 years ago), I did not explore the full spectrum of recovery like I am now.  It was 2009, there were fewer resources available.  I could have tried meetings but I was vehemently opposed to AA at the time.  Too cult-like.  Today, I feel like my mind is spread open, my judgements and opinions mean less.

I listen to The Bubble Hour daily–on my way to and from work and any other time I get in my car.  I explore the web like it’s my job.  In fact, I do it at my job in between patients.  Yesterday I downloaded 500 questions from The California Fourth Step program and plan to start digging deep this weekend.  That’s some pretty intense shit!  My biggest concern now is where the hell am I going to hide my answers.  Apparently, you write everything down on paper and then come clean with someone.   I honestly don’t think I could.  I don’t know anyone in my life that I could actually TELL my story to.  It is way to sordid.  Too Lifetime.  I can tell strangers, yeah, no prob.  But to someone who knows me?  No freaking way. Maybe that is an issue in and of itself?

So, here I am.  A month in.  I’ve been tempted to drink on several occasions but didn’t.  I made it through a wedding, a gala, asbestos removal, a play in which I didn’t know my lines, several afternoons of lawn care, and the news that my father’s disease is progressing rapidly.  All situations that screamed, “CHARDONNAY”.  Yes, I should be proud of myself but I know better.  I know that I can make it through the worst of times, because I’ve done it before.  I also know that I can make the decision to drink again for the most inane reason.  Just because I want to.  So, my guard must be perpetually up.  I know how easy it is for me to fuck this up.  I know I am fully capable of both: being a drunk and living in sobriety.  My choice today is sobriety.

 

 

My Dad

I’m not sure how far I’ll get with this post.  I’ll start and see what happens.  It’s not going to be fun.

Today is Father’s Day and my dad is dying of mesothelioma.  He was diagnosed with colon cancer 4 years ago and a year after surgery it metastasized to his lung.  He had lung surgery, chemo, the works and was cancer free for a short 4-5 months.  After a ct scan almost 2 years ago, his oncologist (who I am desperately in love with because he is PERFECT) gave us the news that a totally new cancer showed up on the film.  MESOTHELIOMA.  There’s no getting out of that one, for sure.

My dad is now 86.  But he’s a young 86…at least he used to be.  He was a young 84.  Very independent, very hard working, very much an engineer.  Everything he built was perfect: from engines, to furniture, models, machines, toys, and cabinets. Every line was straight, every hair in place, every shoe was shined.  He’s a norwegian…a very typical norwegian.  Healthy, quiet, stoic, and good.  Truly, truly good.  Still goes to church every sunday with my mom, sung in the choir for centuries.  He’s on the building committee and the neighborhood water committee.  He is the consummate voice of reason.  He would do ANYTHING for anyone.  Especially his children.

We had our dark moments, like every father/daughter.  Keep in mind that adoption thing…I did not inherit any of the engineer genes.  But he taught me well.  What I lack in math skills, I make up for in noticing quality details in furniture and houses. He gave me that.  However, as a teenager, I didn’t like my dad.  He was strict, impossible to talk to and really not much fun.  Except on vacations.  Then, he was fun.  He never drank to excess and rarely yelled, but looking back I now see that he was stressed much of the time.

We struggled with things.  He could not for the life of him figure out why I would go out with such a jerk in high school.  He hated my boyfriend.  Which he should have, because the asshole totally abused me physically and mentally.  He also couldn’t understand why I would divorce my first husband because he was smart, owned a house, and had a great job.  The day I told him we were divorcing he asked, “What did you do now?” Then, there was the time I told him I was getting married (number 2) to a guy who was 10 years younger than me.  I was 32. Dad looked  kind of puzzled about that one.  For 10 years.  At year 12, when the entire world found out I was having an affair with a 57 year old man, he got PISSED.  There’s another whole post to be written about THAT.

Yeah, we had some rough times.

The biggest of all, however, was after marriage #2 ended.  I fell in love with a woman.  Yeah, nothing could have prepared me for the year of silence from both of my parents.  But they came around.  She and I ended up getting married and have been together for 14 years.  Both my parents love her.  But it took some doing.  Sometimes I think they were just so tired of my antics and bad relationships they were just done.  Who knows.  But they have accepted her into our family with love and open hearts.  Not an easy thing for the old folks of a certain generation.  I give them more credit for this than almost anything they’ve had to endure with me.

Today, as I mentioned, is Father’s Day.  My dad is frail and weak.  I want so badly to comfort him and tell him I love him and make sure he’s peaceful.  But I can’t.  I don’t know why.  I’m struggling with the fact that this man’s life is going to end and I can’t say the “L” word.  I gave him a card today and I wrote, “I love you, Dad”.  His eyes are getting bad so he may not have read it but there it was.  I love you, Dad.  But I still can’t tell him.

In buddhism, we practice presence.  Not turning away from anything but instead, turning in. Meditation is a tool in which to learn to do this.  I’ve spent hours in meditation.  Several week-long retreats, doing nothing but sitting in silence for hours on end.  I’ve learned mantras and studied ancient sanskrit prayers. I have the bells, the cloths, the incense, the buddhas, the malas, the bowls, the sacred texts, the works.  I should know by now that everything dies and that nothing lasts forever.  But I don’t.  Intellectually, I know it.  But I don’t accept it.  I turn away from it.  STILL.

I stopped meditating about a year ago when I really started drinking again.  The two decisions were not correlated they just seemed to overlap for some reason.  I made the decision to drink again because I felt like I was turning too far away from it.  How funny is THAT? A buddhist alcoholic can justify anything. Then I stopped meditating because I felt too addicted to it. Again, the justification thing.  Seriously, what the fuck.

The interesting thing is that 26 days ago I made the decision to get sober again after 1 year of drinking, off of 8 years of sobriety.  I am beginning to feel again and it’s scaring the shit out of me.  I know I’m losing my father.  I have no idea how long he has but based on his looks I have to say not very.  I’m face to face with his death.  And my own.  It is colossally terrifying.  I’m writing this post, not knowing what word will come next.  I’m just hoping that somehow by pouring my fear into these words, that somehow a release valve will help me turn in and feel the fear of telling my father that I love him enough so that I actually can.

A Walking Contradiction

I should have known I’d be an alcoholic.  As a child I was filled with shame, fear, and self-loathing.  I was bullied and made fun of because I was tall, pimply and shy.  Not to mention adopted.  Kids can be so cruel.  I remember a neighborhood shit-head kid telling me that my parents weren’t my “real” parents and that they must have bought me because my “real” mother didn’t want me.  Pretty horrific to hear when you’re 8.  I hid everything from everyone.  The first thing I remember hiding was my gut-wrenching sadness over my grandmother dying.  I was 8, my entire family was at her house the day after she died.  I guess the grown-ups were cleaning things out.  Someone laughed.  I got pissed.  How could anyone laugh at a time like this?  I wanted to scream and yell at them.  The rage I felt cut thru me like a knife.  Instead, I started to cry but would not admit anything.  I just said I had a belly ache and wanted to go home.  It’s odd that I remember that one, little thing so vividly.  It was so huge at the time.  I knew, deep down, that I was acting completely differently from how I was feeling.

That behavior continued throughout most of my life.  I was a very sensitive kid.  But NO ONE could ever know that.  Eventually, it morphed into a double-life kind of thing.  By high school I was pretending to be one thing but doing another.  I was an A student, cheerleader with an eating disorder one minute, the next I was cheating on math tests and smoking cigarettes in the girls bathroom.  I was a total contradiction.

My first marriage was a total sham.  I guess I loved him, he was a really nice guy.  But more than that, he represented a picture in my mind of how I thought married life should be.  I wanted to fit that good girl mold.  I wanted the white house with the picket fence.  Instead, I sabotaged everything.  I developed an infidelity issue.  Within a month of tying the knot I cheated on my husband with a guy who did coke.  I loved cocaine.  I had done a little in high school and LOVED how it made me feel.  Hyper, energetic, thin, fun…all things I struggled with when I wasn’t high.  This guy got tons of it and we’d sneak off to bars and snort lines in the bathroom.  I never actually had sex with him, but we did everything else.  The marriage lasted less than two years.

I must have done a really good job at hiding my drug use and alcoholism because no one ever questioned me.  My parents had no clue, or at least they didn’t say anything.  My friends were doing the same thing as me so no problem there.  I was working, living on my own, managing somewhat.  It was all good. Hangovers were a normal part of every day, I was young–I could take it.  Just drink again that night and all was cured.  I think I was drunk for ten years.  But I had a very high bottom, as they say.  Never got a DUI, never missed work, never ended up in the hospital.

It all came to head when I met this guy who owned a bar and did massive amounts of coke.  We went out one night, drinking and snorting.  It got to be about 2am and he suggested going to a friend’s house for one last hit.  All I remember is this enormous, red, bong thing in front of me, and these two guys saying, “go ahead, but don’t inhale too quickly.”  And there you have it.  I smoked coke.  Or crack.  I have no idea which.  All I know is that I was higher than I’ve ever been in my life.  I got home when the sun was coming up, wondering how I was supposed to teach a Jazzercise class in a few hours.  I swear to god at that moment I saw two roads in front of me.  I decided to change directions right then and there.  I never saw that guy again–avoided his calls and eventually he faded into nowhere.  I never, ever, did another drug.  But I kept drinking.  Nothing wrong with that.  At least I wasn’t a drug addict.  THAT would have been terrible.

 

 

The Obituary

By 1987, I was divorced from my first husband.  For the first time in my life I was totally on my own.  I lived in a cute, little studio apartment in an old mill building in the city, I was working at a chic furniture store and I was training to become a Jazzercise instructor.  That’s right, JAZZERCISE.  Laugh if you will, but it was (and still is) a really awesome dance-fitness program.  It’s also a franchise.  Eventually, I had my own Jazzercise franchise and was teaching multiple times a week at several locations.  I loved it.  Mostly because I could do what I wanted for all of the hours I wasn’t teaching.  I had a small group of close friends so we mostly went out after my class and drank ourselves silly.  I could sleep in till 9am usually because I only taught at night.  Ah, the good ol’ days.

Eventually, my best friend, my sister and I rented a house on a lake together and lived the life of single girls–drinking every night, parties on the weekends, no responsibilities to speak of.  I was obsessed with a guy then, who had little to no interest in me after we had slept together.  I could not for the life of me understand HOW he could not be as in love with me as I was with him.  I couldn’t deal.  Every waking hour was spent thinking about this douche-bag.  I cringe when I think about it now.  One time, at an Octoberfest in the city I got totally wasted–like black out-fall down-die from it drunk.  He was there, with another girl.  I made such an ass out of myself that my friend Jay picked me up, threw me over his shoulder and put me in the car and took me home.  I was horrified for weeks.  Hungover for days. A slug for a month.  Toyed with slitting my wrists with a piece of glass window that had shattered in my car.  Yup, I actually thought about suicide.  Drinking problem? Huh? No.

Eventually, an injury led me to have to resign from teaching Jazzercise and go back into the furniture world.  I moved two states away, which I hated at the time.  I came back after a year because I simply couldn’t stand being away from my friends and family.  It was right around then that my biological roots started to appear from the ground.

My mother got a call from a social worker at the state department of Human Services asking questions about me.  Turned out, I had a biological sibling that was searching for me.  I was adopted in 1961.  Back then, the records were sealed.  Tightly.  If I even thought about searching for my biological mother, it would involve probate court, petitions and tons of time and money.  Of which I had none.  I spent my youth wondering where I came from, feeling like an alien, and hiding this horrible, dark secret from everyone I knew.  It was like a little ugly monster I kept in the closet under the stairs.  And now someone was peaking in.

My parents asked me to come over one night because they had something they wanted to tell me.  I thought maybe they bought me a new TV or something.  But no, they broke the news that I had six biological siblings that were looking for me.  FOR ME.  What?!  I can’t even explain the feeling that I had at that moment.  It was surreal.  Out of body kind of thing.  I was light headed and weak.  I could not believe it.

The next day, I called this social worker who could not tell me anything beyond the fact that they were from northern NH, there were six of them, one in Maryland, and my bio mother had died in August of 1989.  Yay.  If I wanted more info I had to go to court.  I did not want to go to court.  When someone tells you you have these people who are BIOLOGICALLY RELATED TO YOU and you’ve lived your entire life feeling completely isolated from the rest of the world, you do not waste time following rules.

I went to the library and got a pile of all of the state newspapers from August of 1989, when my birth mother had passed away.  After about an hour of searching these old, dusty papers in the basement of the library, I found her obituary.  DOROTHY GERTRUDE KNAPP.  Born Jan, 1917-Died Aug 1989.  Six kids, one in Maryland.  Colebrook, NH.  I remember sitting there, with the whole page in my hand, not knowing what to do or feel.  So I ripped it out and took it with me.  The following day I called information and got the phone number and called.  My bio sister answered.  Once I explained who I was, the phone went silent for what felt like minutes.  She was sobbing.  Said she had been searching for me for years.  I was blown away.

The conversation lasted over 2 hours.  Eventually, I drove up to meet them all.  I listened to the story of my birth mothers tortured life, her struggles with abuse from a husband (not my father), her alcoholism (although they didn’t say that, they just glossed over her daily whiskey and milk habit…ewwww), and her internal sadness that she carried with her to her grave–about me.  It broke my heart to hear it.  But these people were cool.  Funny beyond words, which I was very relieved about.  I finally could see where my sense of odd humor came from.  It was an out of body experience.  I felt exposed, vulnerable, raw…kind of like a little baby with no clothes on, just laying out in the open for everyone to see.  It was the strangest experience of my life.

From that point on, I felt different.  I wanted to tell my story but I didn’t know where to begin.  I felt like this was a huge thing that set me apart from everyone else, so I still felt very weird and strange.  I went back to college for Human Services, thinking I might want to work in the field of adoption.  I was confused, spinning in an uncomfortable direction, I didn’t recognize anything anymore.  It was scary and exciting at the same time.  I just didn’t feel ready for any of it.

I’m now exhausted, just writing all of this down, reliving it in my mind.  I still feel all the things I did then.  Here I am, 56 years old.  So much of my life gone already.  I’ll continue tomorrow.  It gets better, so stay with me.  I promise to be honest.

Here’s to uncovering sobriety! Cheers!

Nothingness

I think it’s kind of ironic that I have every one of my drunken stupors seared into my memory.  Maybe not every detail of the actual stupor but certainly the details of the following day(s).  Every one.  From puking at frat parties to disappearing into oblivion for hours.  There are too many incidents to count and they’d just be the same-thing-different-day so I won’t bore you.  How was that fun?

After flunking out of college I spent my twenties working for a furniture store, learning how to use my “sparkling” personality to sell things.  And I got married.  He was a very nice guy.  Met him at the bar I worked at.  He was responsible, owned a house when he was 18, had a good education, and the perfect person to take care of me.  And he drank.  The marriage only lasted two years.  I should have known something was up when I cried like a baby on my honeymoon–for hours.  One time, we went on a trip to montreal and got so wasted we physically attacked each other–not in a good, fun, sexy way but in a I want to make you bleed way.  It was ugly.  After that night, I swore I’d never drink again.  That lasted about a week.  Looking back, the relationship was filled with events like that.  Total drunken messes.  Mostly me.  The marriage ended and I thought my parents were going to disown me.  They LOVED him.  He was their Knight in Shining Armor.  He would be the one to save their daughter from herself.

I always had this feeling that although my parents loved me, they were a little skeptical of my real genes.  Like, anything great I’d do they were proud I was their daughter but my fuck ups meant I didn’t come from them.  I lied and told them the marriage ended because he was addicted to gambling.  Which I suspect he was.  But more so, I was addicted to alcohol and was spiraling down a very dark hole but that thought NEVER occurred to me.  It was him.  Not me.

I continued to drink through my twenties, dabbled in cocaine, and lied to myself and everyone around me.  I was deathly afraid of something.  I did not know what.  I had no sense of who I was.  I had spent my entire life trying to be someone else for my parents, my friends, my co-workers.  I remember waking up one day not being able to get out of bed.  The doorbell rang and I couldn’t even open it.  I spent the entire day in bed crying.  I had no identity at all.  I was a shell of a human being and the shell was filled with black, empty space.  I was nothing.

Two things. Ok, one.

Why am I still waking up with a hangover when I haven’t had a drink in almost a month?  Sooooo frustrating!  I take more advil these days than I did when I was drinking.  Well, maybe that’s a lie.  But seriously, when does it stop?

I have two things to say.  One, I went to a wedding last night with really good friends from work, all of whom drink like it’s their job and I DID NOT! Not a sip.  I even leaned on the bar.  I acknowledged to myself that that martini and it’s beautiful, huge, round, green olives looked lovely, and the chardonnay was the perfect color…not too light, not too yellow…and then remembered how shitty I would feel tomorrow if I imbibed.  And here I am feeling shitty anyway.  HOWEVER, I am thrilled that I did not drink and am also proud of myself that I didn’t white-knuckle it–I made a conscious choice not to.

Have I mentioned that this is at least my second foray into sobriety?  I was sober for eight years until a year and a half ago.  I never really white-knuckled it then either, which does sort of concern me now.  The difference this time is that I’m totally admitting that I am an alcoholic.  I know I have a problem with drinking.  Eight years ago I would have told you that I’m quitting because my ulcerative colitis was flaring because of wine and for health reasons I was backing away from alcohol.

Quick sidebar story:  I was in a masters program for social work a couple years ago.  I was taking a class on counselling and we had to visit a support group of our choice and write a paper on it.  There’s a church down the street that holds tons of AA meetings so for convenience sake I went to one on a Saturday night, figuring I’ll go for 20 minutes and then pump this paper out in 30 and be done with it.  There were two entrances to the room which was filled to the brim with people.  There had to be 150 people in there.  I choose the second entrance to walk in–which was the entrance that dumped you smack dab in front of all 150 of them.  HELLO.  Ooops.  There were NO seats left, except for this one little chair RIGHT IN FRONT.  Gawd…why me?  I slunk over to the chair and tried to look as inconspicuous as I could, cuz obviously the only reason I was there was for research.  NOT because I was an alcoholic or anything.  The meeting started and the leader points to my side of the room and says, “Let’s start over here” so people started introducing themselves.  I had to hold back my internal laughter when the proverbial AA intros started:  “Hi my name is Joe, and I’m an alcoholic.  (crowd responds) HI JOE!” They really DO that!!!  I actually giggled.  And then it was my turn.  Gulp.  “Hi, my name is Gail.  And I’m only here to write a paper.  Seriously, you guys.  I don’t drink now.  I’m totally NOT an alcoholic.  I’m ONLY here for school.  REALLY…I’m not shitting you.  This is just research.”  That’s what I wanted to say.  But instead I said, “Hi.  My name is Gail.  And I’m an alcoholic.”  BOOM.  Ugh…I wanted to crawl under a table.  Here I am in this meeting, in MY neighborhood.  What if someone recognizes me?  SHIT!!! What the fuck was I thinking!!! I ended up staying til the end.  Listening to all the stories people told and thinking wow…I’m not THAT bad.  And then wouldn’t you know, I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked up to see a guy in one of my yoga classes.  He says to me, “You’re in the right place”.  I was horrified.  I quickly tried to explain myself, stumbling over my words, excuses excuses. REALLY, Dan.  I’m SO not supposed to be here.

That was my one experience with AA.

The second thing I want to say is that I am very, very happy to be sober.  And also that I totally forgot what the second thing was that I was going to say.  Honesty is what I’m going for these days.  But I’m seriously so happy to be sober.  I’ll think of it and tell you later.  My brain is tired.  So that’s my story today and I’m sticking with it.

Cheers!

I Got the Music In Me

I should have known I’d have a problem with alcohol.  I tend to be a tad obsessive about certain things.  As an adolescent, I was never overweight but my body developed early and I HATED it.  My boobs were huge, I was awkwardly tall and had wicked acne.  I SO wanted to disappear but couldn’t. I was too tall. I would never stand up straight because I was taller than all of my friends. And all I wanted to do was to FIT IN, FAGAWDSAKE!! Boys?  Ha! They were PUNY!!  I towered over them like Lurch from the Adams family (or was he from the other show that I can’t remember the name of at the moment?) Anyhoo, I was awkward in the truest sense of the word.  Plus, I was adopted.  Oy.

Fast forward to the summer I turned 15:  went on vacay with my one friend and her fam and decided on the way to the lake that I was FAT and I was going to NOT BE ANYMORE.  So I vowed to quit eating.  Two weeks later I lost almost 15 pounds (don’t ask me how–I just starved myself and did plenty of exercise) and by the end of the summer I was a whopping 98 pounds.  At 5’6.  Not a good look.  Although, if you asked me at the time I looked amazing.  Stopped eating and stopped menstruating all at once.  My mom was so concerned she took me to the doc.  He gave me a lollipop and said, “Start eating or you’re going to the hospital”.  I fearfully took his advice and slowly came out of my Summer of Anorexia.  I never did rid myself of that mindset, however.  In my 30’s-40’s I developed a nice case of exercise addiction.  Working out compulsively for hours at a time 7 days a week.  Running, stepping, aerobic-ing…I had no body fat but I did permanent damage to my feet.  Bunions the size of Montana. I now need surgery.

Drinking relaxed me.  Made me feel welcomed and warm and not so tall.  It also unleashed my incredible talent (cough, cough).  I remember my first drunken stupor like it was yesterday.  I was 16ish and a family friend, much older than me, was marrying a classical musician.  I had taken piano lessons from an early age but had a serious problem with stage fright so I could never play in front of people.  I remember one recital where I was to play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, I knew it forward and back.  I LOVED that piece.  It was part of me, I played it so much.  But that day, with all of those people staring at me?  My hands started shaking so terribly I couldn’t even get through three measures.  I had to stop.  I was devastatingly embarrassed.   But at this lovely wedding reception, with all of these beautiful pianos and classical musicians…and the wine pouring into my glass…I was on FIRE.  That liquid courage sat me down at a gorgeous baby grand and out came Beethoven without one page of sheet music.  Played the whole thing by memory.  In front of MUSICIANS.  REALLY GOOD MUSICIANS.  One guy came up to me and said, “That was beautiful.  Who do you study with?” Who do I study with?  HAHAHAHA…some lady down the street who gets paid like $10 an hour to teach me stuff.  I could not believe that this gorgeous music poured out of me.  It must be because of what I was pouring IN to me.  Oh, was I shitfaced.  My parents knew I was, but they too, thought is was cool that I impressed the crowd.

I tried to replicate that moment at my cousins wedding six months later.  Didn’t go so well.  I was half in the bag so naturally I thought I was an excellent pianist.  Sat down and fucked it up so badly I heard some lady behind me say, “Is there anyone here who KNOWS how to play?” Ugh…I ran upstairs to my cousin’s bedroom and cried in the corner for an hour.  And then made out with some kid who smelled bad.  So that happened.

I was 16.  I wonder what my liver looks like now?  How many brain cells have I killed?  How much permanent damage did I do?

I think I need to stop here and let these memories metabolize a bit.  I’m seeing so much all at once and it’s overwhelming.  This blogging thing is cathartic but I also want to keep it honest.  My mind needs to settle.

So, yeah.  Here’s to blogging and being sober.  Happy Friday.