Facebook, Drinking, and Illusion

54ac91cddc0ec_-_elle-14-vintage-women-drinking

It’s funny how life works.

Sometimes I get the exact phrase or story or song lyric that I will need right before being blindsided. It’s as if someone hands me a lifeline just as I’m about to go overboard.

Yesterday’s lifeline came in the form of an email from a friend in early sobriety, and she included a link to Brene Brown’s Ted Talk on The Power of Vulnerability. (I’ve seen it before but was happy to listen to Brene once again discuss how embracing our weaknesses can help us connect with life and other people.) My friend described how she was using the Ted Talk to ‘lean in’ to uncomfortable feelings. I’d been trying to do that as well because I am forever scheming to avoid discomfort and pain, like most people. I am a great stuffer of bad feelings. Of course, I used to have alcohol to dull or sharpen or release ‘bad’ feelings, but that stopped working long ago.

My friend wrote about those overwhelming feelings and urges you get when you first stop drinking. I was beyond all that, I thought. I couldn’t really remember when the last strong desire to drink had hit me. I had graduated. Armed with almost a year of studying sobriety as if I were majoring in it, I felt safe.

On to Facebook ….

I rarely look at Facebook, mostly because I don’t have much interest in what people I knew years ago are having for breakfast. Or where their great-nephew is going to school. I do like to keep up with distant relatives and close friends, but that only takes the occasional glance at Facebook, and I wade past all of the invitations to like this or that. Consequently, I rarely post anything.

I was on Facebook to invite another friend of mine, Kim, on a spiritual retreat I was thinking of attending. I quickly Googled the retreat’s website to judge if it might be something that appealed to her. Unfortunately, the site featured a photo of a tired-looking  group of mostly older women acting kooky to demonstrate that they were having fun. (Never mind that they were probably my age.) Ah, well … hopefully she could see past the images to the more spiritual aspects of the retreat.

Clicking on Kim’s Facebook page, I saw that she was on a boat somewhere in the Caribbean. There she was, frosty glass of mimosa hoisted in the air. “Breakfast of champions!” was the caption. She looked tanned and happy, and I casually scrolled down through her photos. Kim in a cocktail dress, glass of wine in hand. Celebrating a birthday with a gang of friends, all casually strewn about an island bar. More photos of friends, friends, friends. So happy, all of them.

And a feeling I didn’t like began to wrap itself around my heart.

Envy. Hurt.

I used to do that. I used to be on those beaches, feeling the warm sun on my skin, hugging people I barely knew, hoisting my glass in the air. I wanted that back again. It was mine too. I felt a familiar wave of grief wash over me.

Then I thought about the spiritual getaway I would be going to. That awful photo of sober, kooky fun. I didn’t want to do that! That wasn’t me. I am one of those women on the boat. That’s where I belong.

But this time I recognized the feeling I was having, because I had named it before. Heartbreak.

And I sat with the feeling. I let myself feel it. It hung on tight around my chest, and then began to dissipate. I honored myself, acknowledging that it was OK to feel this grief, however misguided.

It hurt to let go of who I was. It hurt to suddenly be the kind of person who talks about mindfulness and yoga and healthy food, sprinkled in with a few anti-drinking anecdotes. A person who goes to bed by ten and has become predictable and has successfully driven most every drinking friend to the sidelines of her life. And has yet to search for new ones among the non-drinking world.

But that’s OK. That’s change, I told myself. Change for the better.

More reasonable thoughts began to enter my mind. As if on cue, a quote from an Eckhart Tolle article that I had written down rose in my mind: “Now you can use thought instead of being used by it.”

The photographs, and my thoughts that went with them, were an illusion. I knew that. When I was drinking with friends, the photos never covered the following morning, hung over and remorseful. Or the drunken arguments that took place late at night. Or the swerving cars leaving the dock. And this idea that drinking somehow led to vacations was also an illusion. It led to overdrawn bank accounts and money wasted on gallons of alcohol.

And broken families.

And I knew Kim was actually having a crisis of her own right now, wondering about her marriage, her career, her kids. And her drinking. She also was trying to save herself from a life that looked glittery and colorful on the outside, but that she found increasingly empty and unfulfilling.

I sent her the invite. And I look forward to the retreat, with her or without.

I went back to the retreat photo, to see it through my own eyes instead of how I perceived Kim might see it. On second glance, the people in the photo seemed genuine, like they didn’t take themselves so seriously. They were unconcerned about their image. Hell, they probably posted the photo on their Facebook pages.

Maybe they were just waiting for me to grow up enough to appreciate them. Maybe this group, I decided, was exactly what I needed.

A Good Deed Goes Good! (cont.)

500px-sunset-tutorial

Yay! All has worked out for the best, in the best way possible. All my angsting and twisting myself into knots was uncalled for, but it was a great learning experience.

So … I woke up this morning with a feeling of dread. I didn’t really want this to play out this morning. I didn’t have a great feeling about going in, but I got ready anyway. After all, we face our fears, right? We are adults! Adults don’t run away from problems.

But then I thought about how sometimes my kids woke up distraught about something, didn’t feel all that great, and just wanted the warmth and security of staying home … of healing a little bit before facing the world.

I called them mental health days (as opposed to sick days). After all, who made the rule about rushing into situations that scared us? What about thinking things over a little before acting? What about honoring the voice within instead of the voices without?

So the voice within won. The little girl I tutor doesn’t know or care what days I come on, so I wasn’t hurting anyone. I am still going in tomorrow instead of today. I emailed her teacher exactly like I usually would. “I am coming in tomorrow instead of today. (I have a job interview).” This isn’t exactly true, but I rationalized that I would basically be interviewing myself to see what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

Marianne Williamson says, “You are entitled to miracles.” She is quoting A Course in Miracles, and I decided to take her up on it. I gave the whole situation over to the benevolent universe and went about my morning. Marianne also says that you don’t have to believe in this for it to work. She says you will believe based on the results. What did I have to lose?

I had coffee and a cupcake to treat myself further. And I felt like a weight had been lifting off my shoulders. I felt great — playing hooky, treating myself like a friend or a child. And the world didn’t stop spinning because I took a morning off to rest and reflect, and let the universe work on my behalf.

And then PING! A text message. Then two more. From the teacher. I held my breath.

She wrote:

“Wonderful”

“Prayers”

“They will be a blessed and lucky employer to have such a kind, generous, and astute worker.”

It worked! A miracle. And a quick one. I couldn’t be happier. Wow, she doesn’t hate me. She thinks I am an astute worker. (That one is just downright funny.) All is well!

And guess what? I got the job! I am going to follow my bliss today. And shut the doors on what the world thinks I should be. Today I feel unstoppable. And grateful. And the birds are singing outside my window, so I’m going out to play.

A Good Deed Goes Bad (cont.)

rwqsupfn7jrfo0l-kbd0v4xxxl4j3hpexhjnof_p3ymrypkwj94qgrtdb3sbc6ky

So … from all the REASONABLE advice I’ve received (thank you!), I have a pseudo-plan in place. I will also draw from my wealth of spiritual and self-improvement reading, which I rarely get to implement these days (meaning things are going pretty well).

First of all, it isn’t about me.

Whatever is going on with this young woman, it isn’t really about me and I shouldn’t make it that way. I should quell any desire to make her conform to my idea of what she should do or to imagine what I think is going on. I don’t know what she’s thinking, and if she chooses not to tell me, I may never know. I am totally OK with this, and it gives me great peace of mind.

Secondly, I live in a rural southern community.

(Scraping all peace of mind, I decide to figure out what she’s thinking.)

Outside of the metro areas, the rural foothills of the South are home to a lot of Fox News Trump supporters. (I know this because our local paper said that the small town we live in was a 70-40 split in favor of Trump.) This matters because, having followed lots of news and Republican relatives, I know there is an attitude that people who are “takers” are lower than low. So I may have inadvertently (in her mind) put her in a class with welfare mothers and government handout leeches. She may despise the idea of receiving “charity.”

I happen to be watching a sappy romantic movie last night where a woman tries to pay rent to a down-on-his-luck cowboy and he frostily says, “We don’t take charity, ma’am. We may be poor, but we have our pride.” This might explain why she hasn’t addressed me at all. It might be as if I called her a bad name or slapped her or worse. (Sooner or later, I have to read Hillbilly Elegy, because it supposedly explains the whole mindset.)

After tomorrow, I’m out of there regardless.

I know, this seems like a convenient escape.

I tutor tomorrow morning, and because I have been thinking of taking other projects anyway, I am going to scrap the tutoring for this year. It was really a matter of when, not if, but the idea of dealing with this every day for another four months seems like needless discomfort for me. After all, it’s not like I’m related to this womanThe little girl I tutor will be given another tutor. (I kind of suck at it anyway. I end up playing with her and coloring and creating art projects when I am supposed to be focusing on teaching her reading.)

So here’s my plan:

I am going to send a text loosely based on the idea that I may have offended her, and apologizing if that’s the case. Two sentences max. Also, I’m going to blame the whole thing on my husband. (He’s OK with this.) Then I’m going to show up tomorrow, do my final tutoring, and see what happens. But as you can see, I am already in a much better frame of mind. I’ve let it go, for the most part. It doesn’t matter what happens anymore. And I can honestly say that YOUR COMMENTS made all the differences. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Wish me luck. I’ll let you know how it goes. It is refreshing not to dive into a drink and then rant to “solve” the whole problem. I feel compassion for the woman instead of the immature, unstable, victim-mentality emotions I would have had a year ago.

Wow, is this how people deal with problems in the real world?

 

A Good Deed Goes Bad

cartoon

Today I had one of those experiences that feels like someone kind of kicked me in the stomach. One of those things that can happen, even if you are just minding your own business, even if you have good intentions, even if you were keeping your side of the street clean. Nothing major. Just a drive-by quick hit. Totally unexpected. And I thought I was so grounded and mature and spiritual at this point, especially compared to where I was, that I was almost immune from things that could be explained away … someone was just having a bad day. Someone comes from a different culture. Someone misunderstood my intentions. No big deal.

But I couldn’t just shake it off.

What happened is this: I have an acquaintance through a volunteer job. She’s a teacher and I am a tutor that helps one of her students who struggles with reading.

Let me say first that I don’t know this woman well at all, and that we recently moved to a small town in the South, where we are somewhat unfamiliar with the way people think. The woman is a fantastic teacher and goes out of her way to encourage her students. She seems free-spirited … dances with the kids, twirls them around just for fun.

She has a daughter who is learning disabled who also attends the school. I’m pretty sure she’s single. Anyway, last time I was there, she showed me her cell phone with a distraught look. She said, “A child just broke my phone. For the first time in my life, I bought a $600 phone, and now it’s broken after just a week.” She wasn’t mad at the child. More at herself for having let him play with it. She added, “No good deed goes unpunished, right?”

She went on to say that she couldn’t afford to replace the phone, and that she needed new tires desperately. She had been saving for the tires, but now she didn’t know what she was going to do. She rolled her eyes and went back to teaching.

I relayed the story to my husband, and he said exactly what I had been thinking. Why not give her the money for the phone? We had recently kicked all of our own children off of their long-term phone plans and were going to “pay it forward” with the money we saved. My husband’s sister is a teacher, so he has a soft spot for them.

Long story short, I gave the teacher a card thanking her for all her hard work and enclosed a Visa card for $600. I explained that we were paying it forward, supported teacher’s causes, and wanted her to have it, for tires or a phone, or whatever. I put a smiley face after my signature. I told her she had to accept it. I was smiling.

She began to open it, and then covered her mouth as if she were going to cry, and I kind of half-hugged her and left so that she wouldn’t have to thank me or be embarrassed by the whole thing.

That was Friday.

I didn’t hear from her over the weekend, which was fine. We usually communicate very briefly by text. I went in this morning, and she was at the back of the classroom, looking through her phone. This is unusual for her. She is always at the door, welcoming students, laughing with parents, etc.  I left with my student, trying not to disturb the class.

When I returned, she was in the same place and did not answer the classroom door when I knocked. Another child finally opened the door. The woman didn’t look up from her phone, even for a second. She knew I was there. She didn’t want to see or talk to me. It was clear. I didn’t try to get her attention as she was clearly not wanting to give it. I left, a little stunned.

Let me say that I have had a whole day to process this and have (mostly) overcome my hurt  and even anger at the situation. But, given that no one has attacked me and no one is dying, and given the very real situations I have been in where terrible things were, in fact, happening, I am surprised at the unreasonable amount of hurt I feel.

It’s been a long time since I felt this hurt without the anesthetic of alcohol.

(Continued tomorrow as this post is getting way too long.)

Love Letter on Ten Months Sober

loveletter

An hour ago, I was reading a wonderful post — Challenged by She Hid Behind the Glass about being on day 98 of Belle’s 100 day challenge. Because I have been following her blog, I felt this uplifting sense of accomplishment and joy, as if I had achieved something great myself. I wrote her this note in her comments section:

You should be proud! Did you think you were going to make it? It’s fun to read your first few posts after all this progress. You are really a different person. Congratulations!!!
xoxo
Shawna

As I was getting ready to sign off, I felt this intuitive nagging to stay focused instead, and to reread what I wrote. (I am used to this kind of “guidance,” and when I get these strong feelings, I stop what I’m doing and try to see what is being pointed out to me.)

I reread the words, and thought about my own earlier blogs, and how different I now was from the desperate person who had written them. And then it occurred to me — it was a milestone for me as well. Ten months! Unbelievable. I never thought it was possible.

I read the note again and realized that in a world where we are too hard on ourselves, and are struggling with life as well as addiction, I had written a love letter to myself.

You should be proud! You are really a different person. Congratulations!!! xoxo

And I even signed my name.

Keeping Up Appearances and Drinking

keeping_up_appearances

Years ago, I came across an article that claimed that most alcoholics have perfectionist tendencies.

Ha! That seemed like such a joke at the time. As I looked around the chaos that had become my home, I thought about how little evidence of perfection there was. In fact, a quick glance showed outright dysfunction and chaos. Mail unopened, dishes from the night before, an answering machine with blinking messages. Always a dog needing to go outside. (Had he been fed lately?) TV blaring inappropriate shows somewhere in the house.

There was no one in charge even, much less keeping up appearances. But the appearances were so important. A taped together life to present to the public. Decent clothes. A job.  Breath mints.

I used to love the show “Keeping Up Appearances” with wacky Hyacinth Bucket clawing her way up the social ladder in her little British town. As an example, she told everyone her last name was pronounced “Bouquet.” She answered the phone with “This is the Bouquet residence. Lady of the house speaking!” The more I watched it, the more I realized this truth:

I was Hyacinth Bucket.

I was a perfectionist when it came to appearances. I cared more about appearances than what was actually going on. And appearances became my reality.

But where, I wondered, did this tendency start?

As a child, I first learned the word popular by watching the Brady Bunch, and knew that it was something important to achieve. I dressed just like Jan Brady and copied her mannerisms.(Marsha was out of reach — a real teenager, while I, at 10 years old, was clearly not.) I even had the hated freckles Jan tried to get rid of. No higher compliment could be paid me in the fourth grade than “You look just like Jan Brady.”

Fast forward a few decades (you will be relieved to read), and the habit of keeping up appearances continued. I appeared to have an ideal family — two kids, husband with a good job — but already, with the college habit of drinking beer still flowing, the image was beginning to spring leaks. As a mismatched couple, betrothed while drinking, we had an unhappy marriage, full of tension and unmet expectations. Beer, which later became wine, covered over the hostile undertow, and united us on at least one front. That worked for a while.

But the ominous rumble of reality was just over the horizon, like a thunderstorm ready to break.

What happened next was tragic, like it always is with heavy drinking. And once the storm picked up steam, it was downright scary — like watching a car crash in slow motion. Divorce. Custody suits. Lawyers. Financial problems. Damaged children. Escalating drinking, to cope with the ruins of a life led by drink. I never knew it could get this bad. The truth burst like dam, flooding everything in sight, nearly drowning us all.

Appearances, once you’re really falling apart, no longer matter. Raw with pain, I found myself blurting out the truth to random people, even strangers. I could no longer hold up the image of a person who even remotely had it together. I quit trying. Still, I kept going to work … doing the minimum to keep afloat. Appearances had to give way to survival. And even survival now seemed questionable, as the will to survive was replaced with apathy.

Somewhere, deep down, I began to make the connection between the chaos of my life and the alcohol. The shit storm life had become, and which I had dragged other people into, was not just the result of choosing an ill-suited mate … of circumstance beyond my control. The drinking caused the destruction. It didn’t add to it, or exacerbate it, or help me survive it. It caused the destruction. And there was only one way to stop it from continuing.

Having humility is not a socially advantageous trait. Neither is admitting your faults and sneaking into church basements to stand up and say, “Hi. My name is ….” In fact, it might seem like the depth of disgrace, if you’re hung up on such things.

Getting un-hung up on such things has been an ongoing and freeing process. I am a work in progress. After dozens of stops and starts, over time I have put together another life, except this one is based on the truth. And now that I have some of the trappings of the life I once craved, the trappings don’t bring me the joy and peace that I thought they would. I am grateful, but called to do so much more than just look good on the surface. I’m surrounded by love, and people I cherish, and I don’t care what that looks like from the outside. I want to reach out to those who were where I was — as far down the wrong side of the tracks as I fell. I have the need to lift somebody else up, with the hope that it’s possible to heal. And to be beautiful in a way that has nothing to do with what you’re wearing and everything to do with becoming who you really are, stunning and awe-inspiring in your brokenness, and divine in your willingness to finally rise.

Should you tell your S.O. about your blog?

woman-hiding-behind-mask

I need an educated opinion here.

How many of you have husbands/boyfriends/girlfriends who know about your “secret” blog? Did you start the blog and then clue them in later? How did they react? Where they upset that you kept this “secret” from them?

I was going to tell my wonderful, supportive husband about my blog at the one year sober mark. I am now at Day 293, and one year is in sight! Plus, I didn’t want to share my successful sobriety blog if I had not successfully stayed sober. It seemed a contradiction, somehow.

I’ve gone out of my way to not include personal or harmful info about any of my family. Still, it’s a bit like having someone read your diary. And I am not, in real life, an over-sharer.

All comments appreciated!