6 years ago this week I walked into a noon Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at Unity Temple on the Country Club Plaza, burst into tears and said, “I think I am an alcoholic.” Immediately, that community supported me and over the next 12 months I began to understand that “there is another way to live.”
As anyone who has struggled with alcohol addiction will tell you, the worst part is the period of time leading up to admitting you are powerless over alcohol. In the 2 years leading up to that day in 2015 when I finally walked into an AA meeting, I spent more and more time bargaining with this insatiable beast that was taking my life and everything I cared about from me. In the search for temporary relief from anxiety, insecurity, worry and fear, what I found was just an enormous emptiness. I was ashamed of my inability to simply stop hurting myself and others. Alcohol was on a mission to destroy my life yet I continued to open that bottle of vino fino tinto every afternoon at 5 o’ clock, the witching hour.
Living a sober life has given me many tools for navigating the scary world of FEELINGS. I used to hide from my feelings behind a big glass of red wine, but now I address my problems, if not with confidence, at least with purpose – to find a reasonable solution that does not compromise my values or boundaries.
To celebrate my 6th Sober Birthday, I want to share 6 “I Can” statements I work on constantly:
Create a life I love built on new beliefs about the person I am and who I choose to be going forward;
Live with discomfort, knowing that in the end what is meant for me will happen at the right time;
Tolerate the disapproval of someone I love, knowing that compromising my authentic self in exchange for another person’s affection or approval is self-destructive;
Accept contradictions of all kinds without the need to debate or argue;
Seek support rather than comfort when the need arises;
Support others without expecting anything in return.
Every sober breath is a gift. I have had 2,190 beautiful days in recovery. Thank you for celebrating with me!
This morning as I was going through my Facebook memories (sadly the best compilation I have of all my recent goings-on socially and in general), I saw a post from 2017 of myself drinking coffee as an act of rebellion against “National Drink Wine Day.” “Bravo, You,” I said to myself, for I have achieved nothing in my life that didn’t include a little sense of rebellion against authority, status quo, ridiculousness. What surprised me after a quick Google search was that 3 years later “National Drink Wine Day” is still a thing in America. This, in spite of the fact that American women age 40 and older are the fastest growing group of alcoholics (or persons with alcohol use disorder, if you prefer) in our country today. Right along with alcohol use disorder rates of liver disease, cancer and heart disease are rising because of the poisonous levels of toxins we barrage our bodies with when we drink alcohol. But sure, let’s celebrate that “win” and Rose all day. Or not.
I’m not bashing the right of people to enjoy their wine whenever they want. Lord knows, struggling to stay sober for the past years, I have learned to accept that people will continue to drink in spite of evidence it is bad for them, just like smoking. It’s the cultural acceptance of self-sabotage that I don’t accept, hence these brief thoughts from a Woman in Recovery on a national day designated to celebrate what for many of us is simply a sad existence.
Like any revolution, great thinkers and role models are emerging from the non-drinking community. I am reading Holly Whitaker’s “Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice To Not Drink In a Culture Obsessed With Alcohol” currently. She compares today’s rising rates of alcohol abusers (binge drinking among women is at an all time high) to the era when Big Tobacco spent massive amounts of advertising dollars to convince consumers cigarette smoking was a safe, adventurous and romantic complement to anyone living a full life. Our collective thinking has come very far since the “Don Draper”Mad Men days where drinking and smoking throughout the business day were considered well-deserved rewards for hard work. Yet alcohol continues to hold a powerful grip on so many of us it is considered a “radical choice” not to drink these days.
I will tell you this, if I had not stopped drinking a bottle of red wine every single day in 2015, I would not have the great life I have today, and I am 100 percent confident my family would not be anywhere near the great shape they are in. People who quit drinking, even for a couple of weeks, rave about the better sleep and greater clarity they have after just a short time changing their habits. All I am saying is, I hope you will consider that there are big companies that do not have your best interests at heart that are benefiting from this campaign to celebrate drinking alcohol. And you don’t have to accept that. My life is proof of that. Today I have stronger friendships and a far greater day to day existence that a few years ago when I was “life of the party.”
No substance can substitute a real life, from the highs to the lows. And it may surprise you to know that, without alcohol doing a number on my blood sugar and energy levels everyday, I am able to think more clearly, stepping back before reacting to everything I experience, and I certainly bounce back from bad days much faster than I did in my drinking days. I’m not celebrating “National Drink Wine Day” because I have found a much better way to live without wine and I love my life now.
If you care to join me, I’ll be having a quiet cappuccino this afternoon in a warm and sunny spot to celebrate the Resistance to National Drink Wine Day. All the cool kids are sober.
I used to believe that trusting the Universe was foolish, After all, what’s a good mind worth if you’re just going to throw logic away and believe everything will work out okay? It’s taken 52 years and a heap of effort to discover that happy people are trusting people – doesn’t make them stupid or less worthy of a good life – it is simply a fact. Marshall Crenshaw has a song, “Cynical Girl,” about a girl who “harbors no illusions and she’s worldly-wise.” I pretended I was that girl for a very long time. It was boring and I missed out on so many adventures – including failures – because I chose the safety of a cynical attitude.
When I chose sobriety in 2015 I had no idea I was responding to an invitation from the Universe to trust and live. Everything that happened in my life before I chose sobriety felt like either a punishment or reward instead of simply life. Giving up a chemical dependence meant surrendering to the illusion that I had any power whatsoever over what happened to me and those I loved. That’s frightening! But I also discovered that my husband and I had been risk-takers all along. We were living and thriving in spite of minor scrapes and bruises along the way. It’s weird when you stop numbing yourself from pain because it’s almost like you start expecting painful experiences without fear or dread. Once you accept what is, the energy that went into numbing and denial and supporting beliefs that no longer serve you is free and available to use. And life gets fun again, even the messy parts.
So, here is a short list of 6 messy risks I have taken (all of them affecting my family, so I give them lots of credit) that have been worth the short-term pain:
Change careers even after you have an established one – mostly my husband has done this (a couple of times!) and I have been the “best supporting” character, but I have done a smaller version of this myself. After raising kids, I have had a series of very low paying and stressful jobs that have all provided experience and skills leading to the satisfying “big” job I am in today, at exactly the moment I am ready for it. But also, THIS BLOG. Cheeky Street started out as what I thought was the pursuit of a new career but has become something so much more important to me. It’s a creative outlet for me, plain and simple. I am proud of it and happy to let it just be without pushing it to grow into the next wildly successful online endeavor in the history of the world. It meets a need in my life and that’s good enough for me.
Connect with new and different people you haven’t been in contact with – it’s all part of learning about the open-heartedness “thing” I have been given the chance to build a relationship with a first cousin I never knew growing up – and her family – and it’s been the sweetest journey. My cousin reached out to me for a connection and taking the time to discover a part of my family I might have never known is nothing short of a miracle. It’s just beautiful and my gratitude for this opportunity overflows.
Get off anti-depressants – This will not be the case for everyone, but I am one of the fortunate people who once held the belief I would always need pharmaceutical “support.” I have had the good fortune to work with a psychologist who supports the belief that we can learn to manage our emotions and life without taking anti-depressants. After 25 years of believing a pill was managing my emotions, I am completely off all forms of chemical “therapy” and feeling happy, healthy and capable of handling life sans pharmaceuticals.
Trust your child’s journey – Without betraying his privacy, I will just say my son has had an unconventional experience with traditional education and I have learned to respect and trust his instincts as well as advocate for him within an educational system that still barely tolerates kids who are different.
Ignore criticism from people who haven’t been where you’re going. As a former miserable practitioner of people-pleasing, permission-asking, approval-seeking behavior, this is huge. If they AIN’T doing what you’re doing then why do you care what they think? Keep moving forward.
Sell the Baby Grand Piano – we literally did do this in order to catch up on some bills and pay for a nice vacation to Lake Michigan, but I am also speaking metaphorically. Don’t be afraid to let go of things that are weighing you down from the past, especially if getting rid of them will provide something valuable for your future.
Cleo Wade is a newly discovered (by me, anyway), poet and Millenial Muse. I love reading her work, just as I love interacting with and learning from today’s young people. They aren’t blindly pursuing the things my generation valued without first examining the true costs to their mental health, the community and environment. I find them all very refreshing and look forward to learning more from this younger generation. They give me hope for a kinder world committed to social and economic justice. Turning the world over to the next generation is just a natural next step in my list of “risks worth taking.” How grateful I am to have had the luxury of choosing each risk. Every single one.
“She will call less and less,” my husband casually remarked last night about our College Freshman whose nightly calls warm my heart. I bit his head off. “DON’T SAY THAT!,” I yelled back. Silence. What was that about, I began thinking. Everything is off kilter these days because it’s all new: our first child recently left the nest for college and at 51, I am in a new job, earning more than I have in eight difficult years. I call them “difficult” because I have never fully embraced my value as a stay-at-home-mother, even though this is what I always wanted to do.
The sacrifices you make when you decide to earn less in exchange for being more present feel mostly unnoticed and under appreciated most of the time.
But that’s the kind of Momma I wanted to be! ALWAYS available, no matter what. So when my biggest paycheck of eight years hit the bank account last night, I found myself weighing the value of the money versus the value of being physically present for the household. Here’s how it feels to me: in the short term, putting a hefty-ish paycheck in the household account feels better than making sure there is a roast in the oven but in the long term, knowing we raised a young woman who wants to touch base with us often is the greatest payoff possible.
We are all conditioned to thinking of our investments – financial, emotional, intellectual – in terms of returns. That’s why I count the number of days I maintain long-term sobriety, because as the days add up, I figure the greater the “return.” But not if I’m not emotionally sober. To maintain emotional sobriety, you better be invested in pouring every type of energy and asset you have into living a life worth living. After all, what’s the point of removing something as pleasurable as drinking red wine if I’m not going to enjoy the benefit of sobriety and that enjoyment isn’t going to spill over into other people’s lives and well-being? Huh? In other words, it’s just as important to replenish and nourish your emotional, spiritual and physical coffers as it is to earn money and spend it wisely. Now I get to do both: earn money to help support our family and reap the benefits of staying emotionally invested and close to my children as they were growing up.
These days, I think alot about special times with my children when they were young, especially bedtime story reading. My daughter and I had many favorite books, among them, a 1950’s Caldecott Award winner, “Blueberries for Sal.”
Little Sal was so much like my Isa: precocious, daring, full of life and love for new experiences. Together we would read the story about the Momma Bear and her Cub on the same mountain – but the other side and out of view – as the Momma Human and little Sal – picking blueberries to sustain their bodies through the winter.
My paycheck from the new job felt like a pail of blueberries from the book. Very gratifying and fun but also a worthwhile investment for lean, cold days in the future. It felt good and associating it with something so precious from my daughter’s childhood gives me peace of mind that our sacrifices have been worth it. Especially when she texted back, “Yes I do” this morning when I asked her if she remembered reading “Blueberries for Sal” with me.
“Why can’t a paycheck just be a paycheck and not turned into a dumb pail of blueberries, you weirdo?,” you may be asking yourself. Because I am committed to living a life worth living. This is what it means to understand a woman in midlife experiencing an emptying nest and working to maintain sobriety: a cherished moment of understanding in a three-word text from your beautiful daughter away at college puts everything in perspective. And all is well with my world.
13 months ago, I told everybody I was an alcoholic and I stopped drinking – cold turkey. 5 months later, I had decided that I could manage drinking moderately on my own. 3 months after that, I allowed myself to expand my definition of “moderate” to 1 bottle of Malbec nightly. About a month after that, “moderate” often meant 1 1/2 bottles of any wine – I wasn’t picky any longer. In the last 6 months, I have had more hangovers than the previous 25 years combined.
But I kept craving my wine every evening by 5:30, in spite of the hangovers. Meanwhile, things got pretty challenging for my son in Middle School. He lost 50 pounds in 3 months and stopped going to school altogether.
It was time for me to stop riding in the backseat of my life and commit to sobriety, for myself, for my family.
Today, I have been sober for 6 days, and I have found a brand new group of empathetic souls. I live for my sobriety and my daily Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Here are 4 poignant truths I have learned from listening to many brave people about addiction to alcohol:
1. FEED YOUR SOBRIETY LIKE YOU FED YOUR ADDICTION
I hear people talking about being grateful for waking up sober each morning, in spite of their fears of facing a new day. They cherish their newfound way of living and find creative ways to nourish it. Meeting and talking with other alcoholics is just one way. Other people have found comfort and courage in meditation, prayer, public service, laughter, and just relishing in the simple gift of livingone day at a time. I learned there is a term for the first way I tried to stay sober – “white knuckle sobriety” – just like the metaphor suggests, it is all work and no play, very tense and lonely. Now I am learning new ways to enjoy my life free of fixating on that next drink – because I am surrounding myself with the wonderful people of AA.
2. “ROCK BOTTOM” IS YOUR FRIEND
Whatever it is that leads you to commit to Recovery is a blessing. Don’t ruminate over it, be grateful that it opened up a new way of living and move toward the future. Yes, eventually I will “work” the 12 Steps and do a thorough and honest inventory of my past and make amends to those I have harmed. But for now, in my first week of Recovery, I am just grateful for my “rock bottom” and whatever Force that led me to a program with new friends to help me stay sober. At my first meeting, I received a plastic coin with the Serenity Prayer on one side and the phrase, “To thine own self be true” on the other. I touch it several times a day – it is a real symbol of a miraculous change that is happening within me.
3. THE VIEW FROM THE DRIVER’S SEAT IS MUCH BETTER THAN THE BACK SEAT
Some alcoholics are control freaks, others are fearful “yes” people who prefer to let others control them. I am the second type. Sitting in the back seat, I have observed a lot of faults in others but given myself permission to avoid honestly assessing myself. Each additional day I nurture my sobriety, I am stronger and have more desire to sit in that driver’s seat and enjoy the journey that is my life.
4. HUMILITY SHINES MORE BEAUTIFULLY THAN GOLD
When actively living in my addiction, I tried to fool myself with a “pretty veneer” – shallow expressions of success, happiness, and a good life. Everybody knows, the only thing more frightening than a room full of crusty bikers is a room full of addicts. I avoided walking into that room for longer than I care to admit. But I have and it is glorious. Maybe only an addict can laugh at this, but one of the the group leaders self-deprecatingly shared with us how unlike other addicts he was sure he was – until one day he found himself sitting in a County jail reading a copy of “I’m Ok, You’re Ok”!!!! Fortunately, he got out of the jail and generously shares his story with “newbies” like me because getting sober is a really scary thing at first.
I am excited about starting this journey with others instead of “white knuckling” it by myself. I am grateful to have the opportunity to share parts of the journey with those who wish to read about it here. Stay tuned!
September 13 will mark my 4-Month Sobriety Anniversary. I am pretty excited. I have done it all on my own – not even a single AA meeting, no sponsor, nothing but GRIT and DETERMINATION. I have managed to turn around in my head all the old assumptions about why/how drinking made me a better person. For instance:
1. “I cannot get through another “Back to School Night” without a nip of the old sauce” has changed to “I can go and enjoy noticing the OTHER parents who have had a nip or 2.”
2. “I am just not fun anymore now that I cannot drink” has changed to “I am giving myself and my family a wonderful sense of stability and security knowing that I am fully present, alert and sober 24/7.” That is KIND OF fun, right?
I have also learned a thing or two about how other people react when you tell them you are no longer drinking. Many of them appear supportive – how can they NOT be, right – but there is always a little question at the end of their interactions that says, “Maybe in a few months you’ll be able to be like me again.”
The most amazing support I have received since admitting to myself and my friends and family that I am an alcoholic has come from the most astonishingly surprising places. People in my midst that I really did not think I had much of a connection with have continuously expressed positive, affirming, loving praise and kindness. It helps a lot. Especially when I feel my head exploding and would love to have a drink and a smoke!
After 4 months without drinking, I definitely feel more like my “old self” and am so happy to be embracing a life of acknowledging and avoiding addiction. It is much more pure – it liberates me. And it gives me the security that other people feel when they have “FUCK YOU MONEY” in the bank! I have MYSELF in the bank. I have MY ESSENCE.
Guess what else? I am thinking about the future for the first time in many years. I don’t feel trapped in a life I did not choose anymore. No more self-pity. It went away with the Malbec someplace far, far away! I am back in college and pursuing a career in the allied health professions – and this goal I will ACTUALLY achieve and celebrate with CAKE and my FAMILY – not a bottle of Malbec in the darkness. I am stronger, better, happier, and have that “Fuck You” attitude back that is healthy.
If you find yourself battling addiction – don’t hesitate to think about what I am saying and reach out for the support you need to move forward in your future. It feels good to have SOBRIETY at my side….at all times…..covering me like Linus’ security blanket.
Who ARE these people that become so selfish and self-absorbed in their late 40’s and 50’s? Pathetic. Cliche. So. Not. Me.
I have decided that I need a lobotomy or a conversion experience or both to expel the demons of MID-LIFE CRISIS lurking within!
We have all witnessed the predictable path of men’s mid-life: the younger woman, the sports car, the sudden interest in physical appearance. Cliche, right? I lived through a mid-life crisis, of sorts, with my husband who is 11 years older than me. His was definitely fraught with personal and financial torment, but it brought us closer instead of farther apart. It made our family stronger. Now it’s my turn. And thank goodness I woke up and recognized it for what it was (is) before it was (is) too late. True to my character, I’ll refer to my mid-life crisis in one simple phrase: OVER-INDULGENT.
My life is becoming the metaphor of drinking from a fire hydrant to satisfy one’s thirst. It’s too big, too much, too fast. I suspected that navigating my children’s adolescence while walking through my own mid-life might be tricky. They need guidance, wisdom and support from a SANE adult who is willing and able to step outside of the self and enter the world of the young adult’s psyche without the need for affirmation or adulation. Let me repeat: without affirmation or adulation. That’s the part that stings! Four years ago, when my daughter began her journey into adolescence and our family was undergoing a massive uprooting from our rural dream life back to the city, I used to joke innocently, I thought, about “Momma’s not getting a lot of love back these days.”
The unsolicited hugs and flattering emulation had come to a screeching halt. I was becoming “invisible” and it hurt.
Fast forward four years later with a husband who is turning 59 and a son in the throes of adolescence, too. I realize my entire identity has been wrapped up in 3 separate individuals for more than a decade – my children and my husband. And I am angry with myself. I feel robbed of my youth. I am going to REBEL!!!!!
Enter “Party Girl” Joanie, living large in the city. Meeting peeps for drinks. Sipping on amazing wine while making dinner. Just being glamorous, right? WRONG. Oh, so wrong. One drink every other day became two drinks every night. And recently, it became A BOTTLE. There was never ENOUGH of ANYTHING to affirm that I was ALIVE and SEPARATE FROM MY FAMILY. My own cool mid-life self – living as though I had 9 lives. But I only have 1. Time to re-evaluate.
I thank GOD for the wisdom of my 15-year-old daughter and the unwavering love of my gentle husband who have enlightened me of late about my reckless behavior. But in a way a rebel can accept and digest – non-threatening. My daughter simply asked me recently whether I would be willing to remain sober long enough to pick her up at 10:00 PM from a party. Simple and direct question, right? It felt like a thunderbolt jarring my brain into a million pieces! What is WRONG with this picture when your daughter has to ask such a question?
My “aha” moment was brief and we all escaped relatively unscathed. I am 36 days sober today and plan to stay that way – after all, I am just as “interesting” over-indulging in sugar-free popsicles as I was champagne! Now to the paradigm shift in my parenting and relating to young adults versus small children. As tough as it is, I am beginning to accept that I can shift from a total domination decision-making model to a shared one with my kids.
When my daughter was about 3 and struggling with sharing her toys at play group, her adorably honest retort to the nonstop encouragement from adults to “share with others” was: “I want to share with ME!”. This is the battle I find waging within my middle-aged heart and soul as it confronts the challenges and responsibilities I have taken on in my life. But I am not going to express my frustration in ways that drive my family apart and tear at the fabric of my most important relationships any longer. I am putting my “BIG GIRL” panties on and moving forward towards 50, muffin top and all.
Yes, you heard me right: I am at that delightful age where I weigh more than my IQ!
So, together with my bruised ego and expanding waistline, I choose to embrace Mid-Life and all the AWKWARDNESS it brings. Ironically, I am going through a more awkward phase than my adolescents. But it is THEIR time of discovery, not mine. I can choose, every day, to “rebel” a little in ways that are harmless and not self-destructive. I think I will get a Mini-Cooper!