How NOT to Stay Sober


From a wealth of experience, some even remembered, I would like to start an un-checklist of things to avoid.

It just so happens I am an expert on how NOT to stay sober. Here are some pitfalls that played out over and over again in my own life. Feel free to add your own.

Don’t do these things! (An un-check list)

Play the victim. Even though you are the victim of a devastatingly addictive substance, playing the victim keeps you stuck. Don’t allow your mind to continually revisit the past, especially knowing that your brain is cleverly weeding out the shitty and emphasizing the sublime, so that it can once again turn you into its shady dealer.

You are not helpless. You are not defeated. You are still alive, and you can still win this battle.

Bathe in guilt. There is an allure to guilt. Sometimes it feels like you are punishing yourself (righteously!) the way you think you should be punished. But guilt has no place in early recovery, if anywhere at all. Guilt makes you feel like drinking. It makes you drink when other people aren’t watching. It makes you feel unworthy, and that eventually translates into feeling unworthy of healing. I used to force myself to review moments of bad behavior, and believe me, it didn’t bolster my will to succeed. It made me feel hopeless and ashamed.

Betray your own cause. I used to switch sides in the battle against alcohol like the worst traitor. Instead of siding with my self, my life, my children’s lives, my God, my better angels, my best intentions, my desperate handwritten pledges to stop drinking, I would gaze across the battlefield and see what the enemy had to offer. I would then sneak across battle lines in the middle of the night, like the turncoat I was, and begin plotting to allow myself to drink. I joined the enemy in shooting down help from the outside world and from my wiser self. You can’t help but lose when you abandon your own cause.

Let your thoughts rule you. One of the most freeing things I’ve learned since nixing the Cosmos is that I am respnsible for my thoughts. It’s not life that will cause you to drink again. It’s your thoughts about life and yourself that will cause you to drink.

If I’m not watching my thoughts, I will be controlled by them. The minute I start thinking, “Why can’t I have a drink? Everybody else is,” and then wallow in that self-pity, I have set the stage for eventual drinking.

Instead, I can hear the thought, recognize it as damaging and untrue, tell myself I am way beyond this kind of thinking, and then let it go. I then immediately substitute a thought like “I am healthy and happy.” I let that thought wash over me, and repeat it until I feel healthy and happy. Believe me when I say this becomes so second nature that the thought to drink becomes more like an annoying gnat than an alluring siren’s call.

Be accommodating. This was a huge factor in keeping me trapped for so long. I didn’t want to disappoint my drinking buddies. I wanted romantic relationships to stay the same. I wanted to continue the life I had, while somehow finding the fortitude not to drink. And I didn’t want to inconvenience other people.


You must put yourself first, no matter what. This is counter-intuitive to everyone who has been beaten down by alcohol. We must accommodate other people so that we don’t get fired, dumped, or exposed.

I remember a friend called me in one of my earlier attempts at sobriety, and she was upset. She begged me to meet her at a bar to ‘talk.’ It was 9:30 on a school night. I said no at first, but she pleaded, saying that I was the only one who would understand. I went. Three hours later, I was drinking, she was off dancing with someone, and I eventually had to call a cab because my friend wanted to stay.

She didn’t need me. I needed me. She could have easily called someone else. And I didn’t really help her, except by listening, which could have been done over the phone. On the other hand, I had betrayed my own cause and wrecked my sobriety. Was it worth it? It never ever is. Never.

So … what’s on your “un-check” list?

Stunning Video

Maybe you saw this at Christmas — I did not. It brought me to tears. No matter what your spiritual beliefs (and I learn from all of them), this will touch your heart. The music is amazing.

(Disclaimer: Prepare for blaring commercial in the beginning.)

Facebook, Drinking, and Illusion


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.)


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:



“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.)


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


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.)