Archive for the ‘beer’ tag
The following is authored by my friend, Corey Rotella, of Wilmington, N.C., (once a resident of my hometown, Greenwood, S.C.) in which she outlines her struggle with alcohol addiction, subsequent AA meetings and her better life outside the bottle:
By Corey Rotella
And so it begins … the unwinnable battle with the alarm clock. I hit the snooze button one more time, debating whether 10 more minutes of sleep was worth it. Finally, I muster up the energy to swing my legs around and hop down from the top bunk. I guess I should clarify, at this point, that I am not a 10-year-old kid, but a 32-year-old woman (although this is, admittedly, debatable).
I try not to wake my roomates as I stumble clumsily into the bathroom. I wonder if Congress will ever consider passing a law forbidding people to work before dawn. Doubtful. Oh well, at least I’ll get to see the sunrise. That’s something for which to be grateful. Gratitude is very big in recovery. It’s the alcoholic, and it’s addicts’ chemotherapy. All these thoughts filter through my mind as I brush my teeth. I throw on my life-affirming Charlie Brown scrubs and make my way to the kitchen for a cup of joe and some much-needed nicotine (two more items to put on my gratitude list). Meditation time. Time to embrace my inner zen. This is a work in progress. My mind and serenity go together as naturally as Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Pressley, but I do my best.
I live in a recovery house. This is not as glamorous as it sounds: five emotionally fragile women living under one roof and sharing two bathrooms. My best friend here has been here the longest and is the house manager. She somehow manages to deal with all our bullshit, work a full-time job and go to school without messing up her hair or chipping a nail. Now that’s talent. It’s not always a pretty life, but it’s very rarely boring.
I work in an assisted-living facility that will remain nameless to protect the innocent as well as my job. Officially, my job title is personal-care assistant, but due to my blatant inability to say, ‘No,’ sometimes I’m a housekeeper, sometimes I sit with residents in the doctor’s office, sometimes I’m in laundry and sometimes I’m the resident toilet plunger. The sanest thing about the facility are the residents, and some of them are diagnosed schizophrenics. I’d thought I’d seen it all in my 10 years of active addiction, but I was mistaken. Life is just as bizarre when I’m sober. The fire alarm randomly goes off, and we have to evacuate 70 people, some with severe cases of dementia – no easy task – and the whole place is run by a 24-year-old, who is probably still doing keg stands at sorority parties. That being said, I love my job. I get to leave work exhausted in a good way. I have the privlidge of being in these people’s lives, and when I leave for the day, I may be messy and frustrated, but I’m also fulfilled.
So how does a girl, who hid for years in the back bedroom of her grandmother’s house drinking cheap vodka and watching bad TV, who was shot at looking for crack in a shady neighborhood at 4 in the morning, who was also arrested for being an accessory to shop lifting (I was a get-away driver, a different story for another time) now have an interesting, frustrating, bizarre, fulfilling, confusing, fun, sometimes, lonely, but always sober life?
Well, there’s no easy answer, or I’d be making the talk show circuit. I come home from work to whatever drama is going on at home: who’s eating who’s food, who hasn’t done their chores, yada yada yada, which, in turn, makes my small, annoying headache become a brain-buster.
Whining in my head is one step away from whining out loud, and I’m not about to take a trip to self-pitysville: population one. I know too well where that road leads, and really, I have nothing to be upset about. I have a job I love that never bores me. I’ve been reintroduced to my sense of humor, and I am learning not to be afraid of hope. Don’t get me wrong. I still have my shitty days, where I freefall through fear, loneliness and anxiety (my nuerotic suit of armor, and man, is it heavy.) That’s OK though because the house I live in, all the women in it, and all the people currently in my life, act as a safety net, a trampoline, and that makes free-falling a little less scary.
Time to call my sponser, Linda. What can I say about Linda? She has a lot of sobriety, and it’s good sobriety. There is a difference. I learned that in my first few meetings. She is smart, funny, down to earth, unpretentious and human. There are a lot of reasons that I like her as a friend, but my reason for loving her as a sponser is a selfish one. She makes me stop apologizing for being who I am and does not try to force me into a box. God, Buddha, Muhammad, Gus … whatever artist created this abstract painting called life put her in mine, and for that, I will be eternally grateful because without her, I would still be in that back bedroom, drinking, God knows what, and hoping it’s not poison. I was a coward. But not today.
I tell Linda that I’m feeling good, and I’m going to my home group and everything’s groovy. It really is. I don’t even have to convince myself. Somedays are easier than others. Reaching out is my home group, and it is my idea of Utopia. Black people, white people, young people and old-timers all getting together to talk about our joy and triumphs and pain and loss, the extraordinary and the mundane and how we deal with all of this without the use of alcohol. As crippling as alcoholism is, I sometimes wonder if it isn’t my greatest blessing. Where else can you find such a cross section of society working toward a common goal?
When I arrive at the meeting, I see the usual crowd. Bonnie, impeccably dressed as usual, Ammie, my big-hearted, enthusiastic Republican friend (Come on, everybody has one), Sydney, a spiritual, funny guy with his wife, Kathleen, and Sandi, whose sardonic wit would make Dick Cheney laugh, with all standing around smoking and chatting and laughing. There’s a good crowd tonight, and I remind myself to listen to what people share and do my best not to let my mind wander. If I share, I try not to pick apart what I say and critique the meeting like the Siskel and Ebert of AA. Some days, I’m better at this than others.
After the meeting, I go home and take a hot shower and wash away the negative and focus on the positive. I change into my pajama bottoms and my ninja monkey T-shirt (ninja monkey T-shirts promote good dreams) and climb back onto my top bunk. I think about my life now and breathe a sigh of relief tinged with a little fear. A few good people, a little faith and a series of seemingly unfortunate events led me out of that back room and into my life. I have work to do, amends to make and people, including myself, to heal. So much change is exciting and terrifying, at times, but life’s a balance. I’ve come to believe that those of us who have such depths of emotional pain have an equal capacity for joy, and I would rather live life on life’s terms than exist on my own. I close my eyes and say, ‘Thank you and goodnight to God, Buddha, Mohammad, Gus,’ … whoever created this crazy mosaic that is my life. I’ll sleep well tonight. Tomorrow a new adventure begins.
For the first 30 days or so of recovery, I thought the work involved was simply not drinking. Every conflict, triumph, mini-crisis and bad hair day I faced, I chose to deal with soberly. Of course, this was not without its drama.
“To drink or not to drink, that is the question.” Whether it is nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune …” The lights were up on the stage in my mind, and anytime I faced any emotion without the help of liquid courage with it’s comforting numbness, I was more than happy to take a bow for an audience of one, namely, myself. Little did I know that putting down the booze was merely the interview process in this job called life. There are no days off.
For me, it is absolutely necessary to know why I want to remain sober. Avoiding jails, institutions and death is a great fringe benefit, but it is not enough to keep me sane. Why? Because, without purpose, living sober is more frightening than death. I’ve tried to quit drinking to avoid the consequences of my actions to no avail, so it is time to change my perception.
In order to understand where all this Yoda-like enlightenment came from, I have to go back a-ways. I found myself in treatment, after calling the police to help me get my car out of a ditch that I drove into … while drunk with an open container of vodka in my car. Needless to say, that offense landed me in jail again. Ironically, I was in a community theater production at the time with two defense attorneys, the town magistrate and a judge. No one said that God doesn’t have a sense of humor. Anyway, that was how I wound up at Hope Valley treatment center. I went there with the vague notion that I didn’t want to wallow in the futility of life anymore. I didn’t want to hide from everything and everyone anymore. I didn’t want to hide from myself. These were vague, abstract thoughts that were shrouded in fear, and they were nothing more than notions that floated through the back of my mind. It wasn’t until I was there a few days that I had, what they call, a moment of clarity (Yes, they do exist, and I was a skeptic, so trust me). I was standing on the porch of the treatment house not thinking of anything in particular, when I was struck by a feeling of such hope and love that I was filled completely. It was the feeling that I would get every spring when I was a kid, only much more intense, and it was in that moment that I decided that if a 100 percent effort could keep me sober, than I was willing to try my best. This was a huge deal for me, since I have never tried my best at anything in my life to that point. That moment is one of the few events in my life that I do not analyze; I just accept it because it gave me my hope back and therefore it gave me a life.
So for the rest of the day I was happy; genuinely happy, which is not something I had felt in a long time. Happiness, though, comes with its own special brand of anxiety. Joy, like all emotions, is fleeting, so, rather than go with the flow and enjoy the moment I was worrying about when it was going to end and how I was going to screw it up. That’s insanity, but I didn’t know how else to be.
What I had when I left treatment was determination, hope, a ton of information about alcoholism, and a bed in a recovery house. It was enough. After years of drinking and hiding and watching Dr. Phil, I probably would have gone into sensory overload if I had anymore on my plate when I was introduced to reality.
I was told to go to meetings, and I went, willingly enough. A lot of people I know in the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymus will tell you that their first reaction to meetings and the people was based in anger. Anger that they had to be there, anger that they couldn’t drink and anger that they were surrounded by welcoming, happy people who would smilingly call them on their bullshit. I wasn’t angry when I first started attending meetings. I was dubious. While I appreciated the smiles and the welcoming vibe I felt in the rooms, it all seemed a little too “Kumbaya” to me. Even as I heard parts of my own life story being told by others, who have had similar experiences, I was skeptical. The idea of following what I considered to be rules barely disguised as suggestions did not particularly appeal to me. I thought admitting powerlessness was a way of avoiding responsibility, and that made no sense to me because I did that for 10 years in my active addictions. All the talk of God made me uncomfortable. It seemed a little cult-like.
The truth of the matter was that I was afraid of the unknown. As pathetic and weak as I felt in the alcoholic haze that had been my life for the past 10 years, at least I knew what to expect. It was familiar. There’s a certain amount of comfort in familiarity, no matter how masochistic it may be.
Fear or no fear, I made myself a promise that I intended to keep … a 100 percent effort. I knew that if I wanted to stay out of that back bedroom, I was going to have to readjust my thinking. So I began to listen, to really listen in the meetings. I realized that AA is a truly successful democracy and everyone has a voice. Admitting powerlessness does not negate accountability. Rather, it makes us focus on the only thing I have control over: my own behavior. Those “suggestions” my sponser gave me are not only designed to help me stop drinking, but also to teach me how to be a decent human being. The program embraces empathy and love, healing and hope, and it does not discriminate. It is because of this that millions of people, myself included, have discovered that we don’t have to face recovery alone.
I say “face recovery” because my real work began after I had around 30 days of sobriety under my belt. The fog cleared enough for me to feel emotions that I had long buried. Years before, I picked up my first drink. I used to visualize putting whatever negative emotion I was feeling in a big, black chest, chaining it and dropping it down a very deep well. I felt everything so intensely: joy, pain, fear, loneliness. As a child, I wanted so badly to be an adult because I thought they didn’t feel pain since I never saw them cry. I had definate fears of abandonment. I wanted to be “good” but never felt that I measuered up. At 19, I got drunk for the first time. I remember looking in the mirror and thinking, “So, this is what it feels like.”
In my early twenties, alcohol was helping me cope. By my late 20s, I was trying to cope with alcohol. By the time I got into treatment, I had lost the only thing of value I have ever had: myself. Alcoholism and addiction had taken me down dark and twisted roads into a barren, apathetic, deadly hell of my own design. I’ve taken the leap of faith necessary for my sobriety. No one tells me what to believe. I am only asked to believe in something greater than myself. I can do that.
Without alcohol, I am forced to face my fears, pain and anger head on. That’s OK because wherever I’m headed is better than where I was. Without alcohol, all those emotions and baggage that comes with my past can become my guide for my present and lessons for my future. Without alcohol, I can walk through all that I’ve buried, sometimes painfully, and embrace the Me that was always there underneath.