Friday, February 28, 2014

The Difference

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
(Robert Frost "The Road Not Taken")
Alcoholics don't have the monopoly on avoiding pain.  Who likes pain?  Before I was an alcoholic, I avoided pain in other ways.  I ignored it, stuffed it down, distracted myself with books, TV, whatever worked.  Now that I'm sober, I'm learning how to deal with emotional pain.  It is my most dreaded emotion.  Recently, I went through a very painful experience and came out on the other side, sober.  Here are the things I noticed that make the difference - the difference between truly living life and burying your head in the sand.  I think these things apply to anyone who is in a painful situation and thinks they can't keep going, alcoholic or not.
1. " will know what it means to give of yourself that others may survive and rediscover life." (Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, pg 152)
Previously, when I felt pain, I isolated.  Being an alcoholic isolates you in and of itself, but being in pain makes a lot of us want to shut the world out.  Now I've learned to reach out when I'm in pain.  I go to a meeting, I call people, I talk to anyone who will listen.  The beautiful thing about being in recovery is that I have a treasure trove of friends who will drop everything and be there for me when I yell, "Help!".  And if I can't find anyone to talk to, I can walk into any AA meeting anywhere in the world, and I don't even have to say a word.  The other people like me can take one look at my face and they will come running to help...whether they know me or not.  In a couple of places, the Big Book of AA compares alcoholics as survivors of a shipwreck.  We are bound together and rejoice over being rescued from certain death.  The difference is, we don't go our separate ways after rescue.  Here is the full quote from above:
"Among them (people in AA) you will make lifelong friends. You will be bound to them with new and wonderful ties, for you will escape disaster together and you will commence shoulder to shoulder your common journey. Then you will know what it means to give of yourself that others may survive and rediscover life. You will learn the full meaning of 'Love thy neighbor as thyself.'" (pg 152)
The flip side to this is that I am happiest when I am giving to others.  I get out of myself when I focus on helping those that are hurting.  There is always someone who has it worse.  You rediscover life by helping others survive and rediscover life.
Now, of course, people in AA are human just like everyone else.  They don't erase the pain.  They just help you walk through it.  Having that resource of someone willing to do whatever it takes to get you through the pain is invaluable.  Sometimes they don't even say the right things or the things we want or need to hear, but it still helps.  Which leads me to my second point...
2. "Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion." (Truvy in Steel Magnolias)

So, friends are human and they don't always say what you want or need to hear.  But I'm a firm believer that God works through all people that we come in contact with, and you never know where you're going to find relief.  When I was going through the throes of my recent painful experience, I heard a lot of people use the infamous AA quote, "Let it go."  This was probably what I needed to hear, but it frustrated me.  How do you just let go?  And then I found relief in the most unexpected places.  I went to a meeting, and afterwards I talked with an acquaintance, someone that I don't talk that much with outside of AA.  As tears were about to spill out of my eyes, I said with a despairing tone, "Everyone keeps telling me to let it go.  I guess that's just what I have to do."  To which he replied, "Let it go?  Did they tell you how?  I'm so tired of people throwing that phrase around.  It's not like a light switch.  Dude, if you find out how to let it go, tell me please!"  I instantly felt a release of the weight, as we looked at each other and laughed.  (Probably one of those you had to be there moments, but you understand what I'm saying.)

I've always loved this quote and this emotion, but I never really experienced it that much before now.  When you walk through pain, you don't just feel the grief.  You feel real joy at the glimpses of healing you get.  Yes, you are crying as you laugh, but it makes the laughter so much more precious. You see, and are more grateful for, the blessings God has put in your life.  Laughter through tears is a beautiful picture of hope.  You get a clearer picture of God working in your life.  If you're not feeling the pain, you also are not feeling the joy.  And then you're not really living at all, are you?

3. "No problem is so great that a drink won't make it worse."

This quote is at the front of the room at my AA group.  Numbing or ignoring the pain doesn't make it go away.  It is always there waiting for you to wake up.  Not only will you have to face the pain eventually, but you will also add to pain ten-fold if you drink over it.  If I don't drink, when I make it through this, I will be a stronger, braver, more beautiful person.  I'm already seeing the fruit of this just a week into this journey.  Friends have noticed a change in my appearance.  I am "glowing" even in the midst of suffering.  I don't know what is going to happen in life.  I wouldn't have chosen this path.  But God is doing for me what I could not do for myself, and for that I am so, so grateful.  It has made all the difference.

P.S. I just saw that the theme at Middle Places this month is "Let It Go".  Coincidence?  I think not.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Next Right Thing

I've been hearing and seeing a lot about bravery and courage lately.  My friend Stephanie wrote a post on bravery at Middle Places.  She exemplifies courage to me.  When God called, she and her husband left their comfort zone and moved their family across the country.  They had no potential jobs, and they were leaving all their family and friends behind.  People suggested they were crazy or foolish.  I remember scratching my head, wondering why they were choosing to move so far away.  But I knew Stephanie, and I never once doubted that she was making the right choice.  Now that they have been there for a while, it's obvious it was a wise decision blessed by God. 

There's a saying in AA that has become my mantra in the last few years, "the next right thing".  To me, being brave is putting one foot in front of the other and doing the next right thing.  Sometimes that means waking up and going through the motions of my day when I just want to drink and numb myself.  Other times it means enjoying my new found freedom and happiness to the fullest.  Courage is needed in the daily tasks we face and the major decisions we make.  I can relate to Stephanie's bravery when she left her hometown. However, the bravest thing I've done wasn't leaving my hometown, but leaving my marriage. 

When I decided to get my divorce, it also meant losing primary custody of my children.  My counselors told me from the beginning that it wasn't possible to stay sober and remain married.  I kept trying anyway, because I couldn't fathom a life without seeing my children every day.  Eventually I realized that my counselors were right.  If I stayed, my children weren't going to have a mother at all. I would either be in jail or dead because of my drinking.  There were (and probably still are) people who don't get that.  There are people who think I didn't try hard enough or took the easy way out.  In reality, it was (and still is) the hardest thing I've ever done.  Being brave and doing the next right thing meant doing the unthinkable and having "visitation" with my children instead of taking care of them on a daily basis.  It also meant not listening to what everyone else said or thought of my decision. 

Today, I already see the blessings of this decision. I have a long period of sobriety and I am able to see my children a lot.  Also, I am a better mother than I was even before I started drinking. I'm not better just because I'm sober.  I'm better because I treasure each second I spend with them.  It's still hard, and I hope and pray that circumstances change. But overall I'm at peace, and I'm happy. I did the next right thing even though it meant losing the ability to see my kids every day.  And as a mother, that was the hardest, bravest thing I have ever done.

The good news is, in the end, it wasn't that hard to be brave.  God did it for me.  After all of those attempts of staying sober my own way, God gave me no choice but to rely on Him.  There's another saying in AA that's important to me and so many others.  "God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves."  In reality, I can't be brave or stay sober of my own accord.  I can't make huge decisions and be courageous without God's help.  That's the great thing about being brave and doing the next right thing.  Even when you can't do it on your own, God will do it for you.  Sometimes it takes trying on your own and failing many times to learn that lesson.  Learning that lesson, though, is what helps me to be brave for whatever comes next, big or small.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Motivated to Forgive

I've had the opportunity to think a lot about forgiveness in the last couple of days. A very close friend betrayed me in a big way. I stumbled upon this betrayal and went with an open heart to talk with her, hoping there was an explanation. I didn't want to lose my relationship with this person. My friend responded by admitting the betrayal and saying she guessed this was the end of our friendship. She assumed I couldn't forgive, and she was ready to walk away in defeat.
The thing is, I wasn't ready to give up. This person meant too much to me. And suddenly I realized how easy it is to forgive when you really want to, when you're motivated. This thought pathway led me to another realization -  this must be the way God looks at forgiving me. There have been many times in my life where I've glanced heavenward, thrown my hands in the air, and said, "Well, I've done it now God. You might as well give up on me." And now I see the other side of that conversation. I see God saying, "But I love you. What makes you think I'm ready to give up?"
One thing I'm learning in recovery is who my God is. I'm grateful that I got to see a glimpse of a God who loves me so much and LONGS to be reconciled. He is highly motivated to forgive me.
There's another aspect of this situation that reminds me how grateful I am to be in recovery. This friend of mine, she's a great person. She's in recovery too and I've learned a lot from her. But she's also human. Just like me. Being in recovery has made me realize that I'm no better and no worse than anyone else. When you've had all the skeletons in your closet laid bare for all the world to see, it's hard to judge someone else's mistakes. It's hard to sit around and play the victim. "Poor me, I got hurt by someone" just doesn't cut it when you're forced to take a hard look at how you've hurt the people you love. This is one of the many reasons I'm GRATEFUL to be a recovering alcoholic. Despite all I've lost, the perspective I've gained is invaluable, and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.
Now, if I can just remember that during my next painful trial or tribulation :).

Friday, January 24, 2014

For Such A Time As This

"For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" - Esther 4:14

I love this story in the Bible where a woman seems to have been put in an unusual situation for a specific purpose by God.  I am no Bible scholar, so please forgive me if I take liberties.  But it seems to me, she's probably wondering, "What the heck? How did I, a simple Jewish woman, end up with a king?"  And then times get crazier.  Her family and all her people are in mortal danger.  And it's up to her to speak up to the king.  Her uncle tells her, "Hey, I think you're in this crazy situation cause God wants you to do something.  He's at work here, and He's using you.  I know you're scared, but you don't really have a choice, do you?  He's gonna do what He wants anyway, so you're better off doing what's right.  It will work out better for you in the end."

I can kind of relate to her situation.  Those verses have echoed in my head most of my life.  A few years ago, I ignored them.  I turned to something else to numb me, instead of facing the pain in my life.  Now, that I'm trying to live in God's will again, they are bouncing around in my head like crazy.  Especially in the last few weeks.

Last week, one of my students had a new babysitter picking him up.  The other teachers and I immediately noticed some unusual behavior when she dropped him off.  Warning bells went off like crazy for me.  At the end of the day, she was late picking him up in the carpool line and was still acting strange.  I looked down as I was buckling him in and saw a single beer bottle in the center console of the car.  Those warning bells became an emergency siren.  I felt in my gut that I was probably putting my student in the car of another alcoholic who was not in recovery.  It was too late to get him out without putting him in danger.  I acted as casual as possible and got her liscence plate number and ran inside.  Of course, even I knew that there was no actual proof that anything was wrong.  Maybe she just went to the store?  Maybe it fell out of a grocery bag and she just stuck it in there? The only person who can decide if you're an alcoholic is you.

But I knew.  I remembered those times of picking up my kids when I had been drinking.  I had covered up the smell.  I could walk in a straight line, maybe, and even have a somewhat normal conversation.  In my head, I said, "Every mom needs a drink now and then.  It's a stressful job." It's a miracle that my kids are still alive today.

I can't describe to you the panic and anguish I felt when I came face to face with the old me that day.  There was some discussion among the school staff on the best way to handle the situation.  Not having proof that she had been drinking, it seemed unwise to most of the staff to take drastic measures. I'm sure the emotion I had over the situation puzzled some.  In the end, I called the student's mom and just gave her the facts.  When the mom arrived home, the babysitter was on the phone and her son was running around in only his underwear.  When she asked the babysitter about the beer bottle, she was told that it was a toy.  The mom told the babysitter she wasn't needed anymore, even without solid proof. Later on, she discovered that the babysitter had stolen all of their liquor.  The administrators at the school told me later that they felt it was a lucky break that the situation happened to me.  Most of them wouldn't have reacted in the same manner, and it was possible that I saved the student's life.

My friends in recovery and I see it differently.  GOD put me in that place and that time for a reason.   I was probably the best person to recognize the signs of a suspicious situation, but God also put me in that place and time to show me something.  He showed me how far I've come, and He gave me an emotional reminder of why I don't want to go back.  He showed me that it is only by His grace that I am not that mom or babysitter or friend, putting lives in danger.   

This week, I had the opportunity to share my story at Middle Places.  A friend had asked me to do this, and I thought long and hard about the right words.  Soon after it was posted, I received some angry, negative feedback from someone I know.  For the first time in a long time, I felt the old panic and fear I used to deal with in the past. I called my friend on the blog to ask if she could change the post. She reminded me that I was letting someone have control over me again, and that I would just be back in the same old situation if I gave in.  I decided to leave it and dealt with the angry person for the rest of the afternoon.  That night, when I sat down to look at the blog, I was overwhelmed by the positive response. God had used my meager words to give some people hope.  And out of fear of being harmed and humiliated, I had almost taken it away.

As with Esther, if I had kept silent God would have still given these readers the hope they needed.  He doesn't need me to share my story in order to give others hope.  He doesn't need me to protect my student.  But I am so grateful He chose to use me.  He showed me that even though I tuned out His purpose for my life at one time, He doesn't give up and go away.  And He showed me that He can and will use my pain and struggles for His glory every single time.  All I have to do is keep following Him, and He will show me that He has saved me from myself for, "such a time as this".

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Recovering My Blog

Once upon a time, long long ago I had a blog. It seems like it was an entirely different life, an alternate universe. Six years ago, I was married with two kids, and my 2 year old son was in the process of being diagnosed with autism. I was swimming in research and doctors and therapy. The stress of a sick child began to wear away at the thin thread that held my marriage together. At some point I stopped blogging.

What happened next was my demise and rebirth. My son started attending a special school for children with autism, and he began to slowly get better. I started teaching at his school and fell in love with my job. It was like cresting a big hill on a rollercoaster.  Things were looking up and then came the big plunge.The negative comments from my husband began to look more and more like abuse. I began to believe those comments, so I decided that I was worthless, if anybody really knew me they would hate me, I'm ugly, etc. Then I found out I was pregnant with my third child. I became very afraid in my own home. I began sleeping with my children in my bed, clothes on, and my keys and cell phone in my pockets. I felt like I was in hell with no escape. After my third child was born, I turned to alcohol to numb the pain. It wasn't long until I found myself in rehab, seperated from my kids. The next three years were a battle to recover from my addiction. I got divorced, but had to give up primary custody of my kids. My whole life was turned upside down. Because I couldn't let go of losing my kids, I relapsed several times. On my second trip to rehab, God led me to a place where I was forced to look at why I became an alcoholic. I finally let go of what I thought life should be like, and I managed to stay sober.

Now, I see my kids every weekend and at least one night a week. I worked my way back into my teaching job.  My son with autism is doing well and has a bright future ahead of him. My family in Alabama still loves and supports me, and I have a whole new family here in Houston. This family is made up of people in recovery, who have fallen down and been lifted up by God, just like me. They don't regret the past or fear the future.  They don't look down on anyone, because they are grateful for what God has done in their lives.

As the new year began, I was reflecting on how far God has brought me when a friend asked me to write my story for a guest blog post. I remembered my old blog and went back to read it. Though the stories were vaguely familiar, I didn't recognize the voice of the writer.  I have changed and matured, but I also miss the part of me that wrote my thoughts and feelings for anyone to see.

Hence, the new blog. I am recovering from alcoholism, from divorce. I am recovering my happiness, freedom, self-esteem, peace. And I am recovering my words that were drowned out by alcohol, pain and abuse. As one of the 9th step promises in Alcoholics Anonymous says, "No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can help others."