I love Christmas in March

Today I am utterly exhausted – spiritually, mentally, physically. But being tied has never felt so damn good. I went to a women’s only recovery weekend. Only being  a few days shy of five months sober, I have not experienced this type of retreat. A few weeks back I was approached by a reserved, well-spoken woman who asked if I had heard of the retreat. I hadn’t, so she filled me in, I signed up, and I showed up. Luggage in hand, I walked into the reception area shaking because I took a quick scan of the room and knew absolutely no one. Shit. I made a mistake. I ought to make up some lame excuse and say I am looking for the casino (Never mind the closest one is probably two hours away and I don’t gamble). Something. Anything. Too late. Smiles, laughter, hugs were greeting me from all directions. It was like sorority bid night minus the makeup, alcohol and hot coeds.

I met my roommate, unpacked my bag and headed back to the action. LIttle did I know I was in for the weekend of my life. From the opening speaker to the closing remarks, my heart was lifted higher than ever. Sober. I laughed from my depths I didn’t know were there. I cried deep, heaving sobs and no one blinked an eye. In fact, I was given permission to get it all out and heal my inner self. I listened, nodding my head like a bobble head as every story had an impact, a message, a connection. We sang, danced with scarves, learned to meditate, and listened to some gut wrenching stories of love, forgiveness and success. Never in my life have I had so little yet so much in common with a room full of women. 

I learned so much about me, alcoholism, recovery, living, and friendship. The wisdom the women shared was nothing short of miraculous. Their gift of gab touched me. I was welcomed into their clutches immediately and they let me know I am always welcome to call, visit, share meetings, time and dinner ANYTIME. The unconditional love, support, and generosity goes beyond my wildest dreams. To think, a woman with 31 years told me I taught her something this weekend! 

Christmas is always a beautiful time of year. But when it comes in March, nothing is sweeter.


“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.” Maya Angelou

The past 24 hours has been a strenuous test of my sobriety. My husband’s uncle passed away after a long fight with cancer. He was an exemplary husband, father, grandpa, uncle, friend- a true example of a sober man living his life to the fullest. 

My husband and I have an agreement that when each of us is with our respective birth family, the other assumes the parental responsibilities so we can visit with the adults who we rarely see. It’s a compromise that works for us and is understood. This occasion was no different.

What was different, however, is that I am sober and I did not have a plan. The visitation was lovely, seamless and inspiring. That’s when my world began to unravel.

I put our young boys to bed while my husband stayed at his aunt’s house visiting with his relatives. No problem until I didn’t hear from him until 2:00 a.m. The old, raging alcoholic started to peek out, but I stifled her not sure what or how to put my feelings into words. I didn’t know why I was so damn mad. He fell asleep; I went to the couch where I fumed for another two and a half hours. 

Needless to say, when my youngsters awoke at 6:00, no amount of coffee was going to quell my fatigue. When my husband awoke, I greeted him with a paused (deliberately), half-hearted (intentional) good morning. He asked what was wrong. Poor guy. This was a battle the old alcoholic in me was determined to win. The old behaviors kicked into overdrive and I lost focus. “What could possibly be wrong? I just HAD to leave early, take care of the kids, get up early with them, fix breakfast while you live the life of Riley.”

What.The.Fuck. Where did all the tools I learned in AA go? What happened to the wise words of my sponsor? Where was my peace? My serenity? Gone- in an instant …

But not really. Not gone and not in an instant. I walked out of the room, took a huge breath and then another, and went back into the kitchen. 

“I am sorry.” Music to my husband’s ears. I am not one to apologize. Ever. Alcoholism has taught me I am never wrong. I am a victim damn it; and it’s everyone else’s fault. This time, though, I did the right thing and I apologized. I thought (naively) that I was over the hump.

However, I still did not have a real handle on why I was so out of sorts. So, I faked the morning, went to the funeral, was supportive and encouraged my husband as he was doing one of the readings. I fooled myself into believing I was out of the woods.

See, the funny thing about not dealing with feelings and not stuffing them with alcohol is that they will come out in some shape or form. We went to the luncheon, and I froze. Did I mention we’re Irish Catholic?

The Bloody Mary’s were flowing, the beers were foaming, and I was falling apart minute by minute. Literally shaking and unable to breathe, I muttered some bullshit excuse to my husband that I had to excuse myself to call my college daughter. 

I ran outside and called my sponsor, barely able to speak through my tears and heaving breaths. “Help me. This is hard. I can’t do this. I am falling apart. I didn’t think it would be so bad. Why can’t I be normal and handle this?”

God bless, love and keep my sponsor. She asked me a few preliminary questions:

1. Have I had a drink? No.

2. Does my husband know I am struggling? Not really?

3. Can I leave early? Probably

She peeled me off of the ceiling and talked me through my panic attack. These feelings, I said, came out of nowhere. She had me back up to last night to when I truly was comfortable and walked me through the events up to the present.  Then, we talked about the truth.

I was pissed because I couldn’t drink and I felt left out. I felt like every one else was having a good time and visiting, and I couldn’t hang out because I am an alcoholic so I left early. I fantasized that everyone was laughing, reminiscing, and enjoying their company while I was at home, sober, laying in bed, looking at the ceiling. The last time I visited with his aunt and uncle (who are in from California for the funeral) was in Napa Valley- a time when the wine flowed through my body like water rushing over Niagra Falls. Seeing them and knowing I was not going to drink didn’t sit well with me. But I didn’t think about that at the time. I didn’t talk to my husband about those feelings in the morning, either. No wonder when I went to the luncheon and the alcohol was flowing I had to check out. I hadn’t dealt with the shit from the night before. I fooled myself by saying since I had apologized to my dear husband, I was doing fine. But I wan’t fine. I was grieving my own loss of my old self- a woman I claim today to hate. I was going to a family event that I haven’t had to do since being sober. Most importantly, as my God-sent sponsor pointed out, I didn’t have a plan. 

Every other time I have gone through a “first time event”, I have had a plan. I made it through the holidays, a week long all-inclusive vacation, birthday parties, a concert. But not a funeral.

Once I acknowledged that I didn’t have a plan, everything seemed clear again. My heart slowed down, my breathing became normal, and my thinking started to make sense. 

I went back inside and pulled my husband aside. Finally, the whole truth flowed from my lips:

“I’m really struggling and I need to leave. I know I didn’t plan this ahead of time and I am really sorry. I know you need to stay and I respect that, but in order to stay sober, I HAVE to leave. Having the alcohol passing all around me is too much.”

God love my husband, too. He put his arms around me, thanked me for being able to figure out and to pinpoint how I was really feeling so he could be supportive. My father-in-law was on his way out and offered to drive me home. He quietly explained that I was nauseous and wanted to leave without causing a scene. 

When I got home, I changed into some comfy clothes, enjoyed a bag of peanut m and m’s I’ve been saving for a special occasion and hopped into my car to get to an AA meeting.

Despite the struggle, I learned so much today. I know my limits. I know if I am gentle with myself, I can figure out my feelings. I know I have been incredibly blessed with some terrific people who really, truly love me. I know, from now on, I will make a plan with my husband before we leave for a new event. 

So, I sit here tonight with my camomile tea, my calm thoughts, and my peace. I am exhausted, but the work was well worth it for I am still sober. And for this, and for all of the blessings my Higher Power has revealed to me in the last 24 hours, I am grateful.

You can bet this girl will be thanking her Higher Power tonight for one more day of doing the right thing. I don’t have to be perfect to stay sober; today was a bunch of errors- but lessons learned.

And as long as I don’t take that first drink, I can keep learning lessons.

How does your garden grow?

Friday I quietly celebrated four months of sobriety. I usually keep my husband abreast of such milestones, but -like most days now- I questioned my motivation. Why was it so important for my husband to know? Should I just download my sober tracker app to his iphone so I don’t have to remind him? Nonsense. I’m finding while I am proud of myself- this takes work- I don’t NEED bells and whistles, high fives, flowers. 

I already have them inside of me. This journey began as a way to salvage my marriage, to earn back the trust of my best friend.Even though I have only been sober for 4 months, my dear husband has long forgiven me for my alcoholic ways. (The man is a saint and clearly NOT an alcoholic; we harbor resentments for decades.)So, I take time now to think about what’s important and I can name a few standouts. This is not inclusive; for each day, I am more and more grateful for the second chance my Higher Power has afforded me. But when I take a clean look at the “garden”,  here is what I see.

It’s multi-faceted. I don’t have one standout in the bunch, rather a collection of some hardy, some fragile, some poignant, some thorny. Much like my flowers in my garden, my feelings come in all shapes and sizes. Some days, I have more emotions than I know what to do with; others are like a quiet passing of a soft breeze. I like to think of my new found sober habits as my season showstoppers which I certainly hope are perennials. Remembering, clear-headed thinking, self-care all fall into this category of favorites. Some of the more dainty areas include my Fourth Step work: times which expose the shame, guilt, resentment, fears but necessary all the while. Those, as far as I’m concerned, can be annuals; I don’t care to replant them anytime soon.

But my garden is not limited to a corner in my yard; it truly surrounds my property. Similarly, my sober sowing takes place all around me. I can see the positive effects like daffodils dancing in the sun in my children’s faces. They know I am present now and we are enjoying this time. But, as with any true garden, I cannot plant this and walk away. I tried that once and the weeds took over before the Mantis came in the mail. The crazy who-cares-this-is-all-a-loss-anyway-waste-of-my-time-kind of a garden sounds like how I viewed my life before I got sober. I liken my drinking days to me acting like a bee buzzing around waiting to sting the next victim, searching furiously in the flowers for some life I can suck out of something or someone and move on without looking back, without caring if I left it in ruins or if I took away the part  that was the sweetest from someone I said I loved.

I also have to be careful to add the right amount of water (balance) and fertilizer (AA meetings, therapy, sponsor help) to recognize my efforts alone are not going to keep the growth of beauty in tact. I must rely on the other master gardeners in my life and follow their expertise, the path they have already paved for me in order to maintain what I have.

So, today- one day at a time- I sow my garden. I look to be gracious; I seek out those types of flowers I want to surround myself with. I recognize that the beauty I get to soak in every day- my husband, my children, my home, my job, my security, my health, my happiness- are all available IF I do the work. Slipping into a complacent-who-cares-about-weeding attitude will not keep my garden in tact and will leave me vulnerable to “root worm.”