Burning Down the House

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Alcohol is lighter fluid.

It soaks into whatever you pour it on, and then it waits to be lit. You light a match, and it bursts into flame, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly.

Lighter fluid is tricky and dangerous, so there are rules around its usage — how much is safe to use, how to keep things you had no intention of burning from catching fire, and how not to burn yourself in the process.

It’s not safe around children.

But it seems to have its uses — it keeps you warm in winter, and the glow of a fireplace with friends around it is like liquid solace. It’s cocooning and comforting, and to want that is to be human.

But alcohol is trickier still, because it knows no boundaries. The flames will escape, and you will only see the flickering trail out of the corner of your eye. But it’s there, and it’s stealthily moving along paths in the brain, burning its way into desire, lapping closer to your body, but you are mesmerized by the flame and that feeling of well-being and comfort, and you can’t see what’s happening.

So your life moves along, and you carry the can of lighter fluid with you, lighting this, lighting that, until soon you begin to see flames in the distance. How did that happen? Now you smell smoke, and it’s acrid and makes your eyes burn. You begin to suspect that the whole house could be burning, and you are powerless to stop it.  And it’s getting hot. Too hot to be comforting.

You want to control the flames but you can’t put down the can because you’re afraid of the cold. Because the fire has told you that you need it to survive, and now, in your mind, you do. A mind soaked in ethanol cannot think clearly, no matter what that mind tells itself.

What happens next is up to you.

Once you see the danger, once you see what’s happening, do you struggle to put out the flames here, but light a little something there, clinging to your can of lighter fluid? Or do you see that it’s better to fight the fire without carrying a combustible can with you, playing the odds that you won’t explode along with it? Your brain is fractured, but if you want to, in a moment of lucidity, your better angels will show you what is happening, and they will show you a way out, and whether you listen or not is up to you.

It’s up to you.

I’m only hurting myself

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“I’m only hurting myself.”

These are the words I used to justify drinking. In the sober light of day, and with a clear mind, I can see how twisted and deluded and tragic these words are. And completely untrue. They are the words of a sick mind, overtaken by alcohol. And alcohol will lie. It will train the mind to attack itself, like a cancer of the soul.

If “I’m only hurting myself” is true, then it has to follow that “I don’t matter.” Who cares if I hurt myself? It’s not like I’m the president or in charge of great things. I am just someone who drinks too much, and my life reflects that. Even if I can put up a good front, and my life looks OK from the outside, inside it’s chaos and depression and humiliation and regret. And who wants to save that?

The thought “I don’t matter” means the alcohol’s job is complete. Well almost. Because ultimately it wants you dead.

The thought of death didn’t really rattle me either when I was drinking heavily because it seemed to be a fitting end to what I came to believe was a wasted life. Maybe people would be better off if I died. And it would end the pain of life led by drink once and for all. Just like passing out and never waking up. Tragic, but fitting.

Alcohol causes suicidal thoughts. One-third of people who commit suicide have been drinking.

Alcohol says, “You are worthless.” But ultimately we don’t blame the alcohol. We blame ourselves.

How does that happen?

A young person, say you, goes out with a group of friends. You are a bit shy, unsure of yourself, like everyone is at this difficult age. You want these people to accept you, and think you’re cool. They drink, so you do too. And it works! You become someone else. You are so less inhibited. You tell jokes! You are funny, attractive, and free.

But then one time, you do something really stupid while drinking. Something completely out of character. If you are a young woman, maybe you sleep with someone — someone you had no intention of dating, much less sleeping with. If you’re a man, maybe you start a fight with one of your friends, and it gets really embarrassing, and you yell and cry in front of a group of people.

Or use the scenario of your choice. There are an infinite number of ways to suffer humiliation while drinking.

When you wake up the next day, you still have to go to school. But now, your self-esteem has suffered a horrible blow. You don’t want to see anyone. You’re not sure exactly what happened because you can’t remember, but you know it was bad.

You have just suffered the first of a series of blows that will keep occurring as long as you keep drinking. And your place in the world, what you think about yourself, what you try to believe is true will be devastated in ways both big and small, and they will take a huge toll on how you perceive your worth.

To face this new reality that has been created by alcohol, you have to drink. Then things don’t seem so bad. You can face people again — start anew, you think.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. You now have the perfect cycle for accelerating drinking. It is your best friend and your worst enemy.

But right from the start, you blame yourself for feelings and events that alcohol caused. You don’t think, “I drank a substance designed to lower inhibitions, incapacitate, and addict, and that substance took over my brain and caused x, y, and z to happen. I have learned from this. I blame the substance itself and I will never drink again.”

You blame yourself, like most victims of abuse. That is where the real devastation of alcohol lies. It tells you you’re worthless, and you believe it.

But it lies. Because the truth would stop you from drinking. The perfect trap can continue as long as your miserable life can last unless you start to examine your relationship with alcohol and decide you are worth saving.

Because that is the truth. You are worth saving. To feel this for yourself, you have strip away the years of drinking and everything that came with it. You have to forgive yourself and let it go, no matter what the voice of alcohol tells you, and remember you before you took that first drink. There you are … just a kid really. Shy, insecure, and hopeful for a wonderful future, ready for adventure. You have to take this child by the hand and remember that this is the real you. Worth loving. Worth saving. Worth anything you can do to ensure that you will honor that child by saving his life.

I love to read books about people who have gone beyond the thin veil that hides reality from us — people who have had near death experiences that come back completely changed. They assure us that we are magnificent spiritual beings despite any illusion of ourselves as being weak or guilty. Anita Moorjani, who was healed from a devastating cancer diagnosis, says this:

“One of the biggest lessons I learned from nearly dying of cancer is the importance of loving myself unconditionally. In fact, learning to love and accept myself unconditionally is what healed me and brought me back from the brink of death.”

Self love has also been the answer for me. Loving myself enough to save myself — no matter the cost, no matter how many times I have to try — has made all the difference in my quest to stop drinking. I no longer listen to the lies that alcohol still tells me. I listen to the truth — that voice of love and strength that I was born with and can never lose. I let that voice tells me who I am.

Day 266: Your Blogging Changes the World (A short quirky post)

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Do you ever wonder, while you’re holed up in your little room, trying to put into words what is going on in your head, and then hitting the “publish” button, if your words make any difference in the grand scheme of things?

WELL WONDER NO MORE!

This morning, with just a few minutes to spare, I read a post by Endless River about the crows and other birds that keep appearing in her yard. Nothing deep … not even sobriety-related. But the post reminded me about the bird feeder I bought that I hadn’t filled in months. And we have tons of migratory birds perched in our trees this time of year, probably hungry. So I went out to fill it.

And I just had this epiphany … standing stock still, out in the cold yard in my ratty robe, ignoring the neighbors … thinking “She made this happen!”

So I ran back inside, all aglow (a throw-away Christmas reference), and sent this response to her blog:

Once again the miracle of the internet has caused me, an unrelated reader miles away, to fill up my bird feeder this morning, thereby feeding the wild birds flying through. Isn’t that kind of amazing? Endless River posts an article, wild birds are fed. Wow.

WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING THAT WE DON’T KNOW ABOUT?

Thanks for the epiphany! Sometimes you feel like your words are just sent out there into the world and that they don’t mean anything. This certainly puts in into perspective.

xoxo!

 

Day 259: When Bloggers Disappear

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When someone disappears from the blogosphere, we don’t get any closure. Where’d they go? Why won’t they answer their email? Why did they delete their site?

It’s like when a relationship ends because one person just refuses to return calls.

It’s enough to make one a stalker. But so often, we don’t even know their real names, although we walked with them through hell and heartache for a short time.

We still care about them though. And worry. And pray. And I wonder if I would have the courage to report back in if I spent the holidays drinking to make up for lost time. I hope I would, but this does not fit with my behavior in the past.

But on the flip side, it’s so nice when someone new comes along. Redemption! Here is a new friend — Girl Undrunk,  who has just joined the online healing community.

Healing Hurts

 

Day 249: Save Your Life

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I have come to believe that self-love is the answer to not drinking.

If you loved yourself like you would a child, would you force poison down your own throat?

Dramatic, I know. But true.

I once decided, in a desperate attempt to somehow penetrate the thick fog surrounding my hung-over brain, to perform an experiment on two basil plants on my windowsill. I would water one basil plant, and give the other one only wine.

There was a few inches of warm wine in a glass from the night before. I started to pour the leftover wine into the plant, but then I noticed how beautiful its little green leaves were … how the intricate veins of green wound through the leaf’s surface … how perfect this plant  was that had been placed in my care.

And I couldn’t do it. I rinsed the wine out quickly and watered it to wash out what had absorbed in the soil, mentally apologizing to the plant for my complete lapse in judgment.

It wasn’t until years later, when describing this experiment in a meeting, that this occurred to me: I wouldn’t do this to a plant, but I would do it to myself.

I was dumbstruck, but it was true. I wouldn’t get help for myself, as if I didn’t matter. A plant mattered more.

Why was this? I knew it wasn’t always this way. I had changed, and not for the better.

I know now that alcohol’s slow beat of destruction gets you to this point. The step-by-step stripping away of your self worth. It’s sneaky, and if you don’t pay attention, you won’t notice it until it’s done a lot of damage.

I suddenly had an overwhelming compassion for the child that I once was. I felt tremendous love and sadness for myself, for a little girl that once had dreams of doing great things, but first and foremost, wanted to be loved.

How I had betrayed her.

I realized everything had to change. Not just by stopping the flow of poison … I had to change everything about the way I saw myself in the world.

I had to start treating myself like a beloved child. What would I want my daughter to do in a similar situation? I would want her to see her value … what I could see so clearly. I would want her to see the incredible wonderful spirit that she is and do whatever she had to to love herself enough to heal.

And that’s where I am today. Reminding myself what a beloved child of spirit I am, and so worth anything I have to do on my own behalf. To bring myself back from the brink is no less worthy than saving someone else’s life. It’s the bravest and most loving thing I could ever do.

Day 245: My Drinking Friends

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In any relationship, there is an unspoken promise. I will play my part, and you will play yours.

Negotiating friendships is a huge part of the struggle to quit drinking. In the beginning, those drinking friends are by far our closest, because we have built a life around those who drink like we do. I actually had no close friends who were non-drinkers by the time I quit. What could they offer me? Their very existence was a reminder that there were people out there who somehow survived without drinking, and maybe even disapproved of my own propensity to gravitate toward the bar.

But those drinking friendships are magic, aren’t they? You’re always sneaking out for a quick drink together, and you come to associate the warming ease of alcohol with their golden camaraderie. They are so much fun! And so are you. You are both funny and witty, and totaling willing to speak intimately the minute you sit down. It’s wonderful … almost like love itself.

Almost.

But what happens after you’ve stopped drinking?

In the beginning, you have to avoid these people like the plague because the lure of that camaraderie is too much to withstand. It’s too hard to sit there, soda water in hand, and see the disappointment in their eyes. It wouldn’t matter if you told them that one more drink would send you into liver failure. They still feel betrayed, because they are losing something too. It’s like your breaking up with them, and they know it. They need the magic as much as you do.

I drank a thousand times over to make someone else happy. To ease their discomfort. It didn’t matter how many days I’d put together or what kind of strategy I’d come up with. I bailed on myself at the outset, drinking to keep the status quo … playing my part in the relationship. Becoming who they knew me to be, and who I wanted to be in their presence.

Because who are you without your friends? It’s not as if you drank around them all the time, but you are not the same person while continuously drinking. You are someone else. You are hiding the biggest part of yourself behind a huge mask of attractiveness, social ease, and false bravado.

I just spent this weekend renegotiating a friendship when a couple visited my husband and me while on vacation. I had only seen the wife, one of my best friends, once while not drinking because we no longer live close. The time before had been so difficult. I was newly sober and still waffling … should I or shouldn’t I?

It was different this time, however. I made no apologies and no speeches. I made no excuses about health kicks or antibiotics. I just didn’t drink.

“You aren’t going to make me drink alone again, are you?” asked my friend, with a clear look of disappointment.

“No, I’m not. She’ll drink with you,” I quipped, pointing to my 27-year-old daughter.

My daughter laughed a little uncomfortably. She’s too smart to be pressured into drinking.

So, as the only nondrinker, I stood in bars, strolled beautiful sidewalks, and sat on sunlit balconies with my friends, all completely sober, except for the occasional sugar high.

And I could meet everyone’s eye completely. I played no part but my own.

Here I am, I thought. Not really who you knew at all. And I am willing to be uncomfortable and awkward and unsure of what to say next. Because this is who I am, and I don’t need to be “on” for anyone anymore. But I love you, just the same. 

Be happy for me.

Or don’t be. It makes no difference now.