Feeling a little down? Why not try an Indian pop song? Studies show music can change your serotonin levels, even your DNA.
MAJOR extra credit if you attempt the dance moves! (I did.)
At four years’ sober a week ago, I thought maybe my brain had healed enough to try to finally wean myself of an antidepressant I have taken for twenty years. I was down to a really low dose; even so, when I’d tried to taper off before, I couldn’t outlast the withdrawal.
The drug served me well at a time when I felt way too much. It was a buffer between me and the world I had created, much of it painful. One side effect was that I almost never cried, even in the most dire of circumstances.
But I missed crying at something beautiful, like while watching a good movie or listening to an amazing voice.
This morning, however, I happened across a video not shown in the U.S. for the song “Someone you loved.” A few minutes in and tears were streaming down my face. It felt so good, so cleansing. And it had been so long. This morning, there was a tiny thawing in my heart, held safe for me until the beginning of spring.
One thing about drinking and then trying to get sober is that you have to get inside your own head to find out why it happened and how to keep it from continuing. Imagine doing this as a psychiatrist! Doctor Getting Sober is doing just that, and has amazing insight into the process:
For some reason this morning, I have long-ago tracks of music running through my head. This one’s by Nazareth, and has such poignant lyrics. The throwback style of the 70s alone is worth watching, where people sometimes just stood there and played, with no dancers or lights or big screens. And yet their voices still carry down through the years to the first time I heard this song and thought, I’m not alone.
Painting by Donna Dowless
I read this paragraph just now in A Course of Love (the sequel to A Course in Miracles). It’s a beautiful description of what happens when you first hear the still small voice breaking through the chaos of addiction:
A door has been reached, a threshold crossed. What your mind still would deny your heart cannot. A tiny glimmering of memory has returned to you and will not leave you to the chaos you seem to prefer. It will keep calling you to acknowledge it and let it grow. It will tug at your heart in the most gentle of ways. Its whisper will be heard within your thoughts. Its melody will play within your mind. “Come back, come back,” it will say to you. “Come home, come home,” it will sing. You will know there is a place within yourself where you are missed and longed for and safe and loved. A little peace has been made room for in the house of your insanity.
Years ago, when I was first exploring sobriety, I started attending AA speaker meetings. They’d always follow the same plot line: A man or woman would stand up and tell their story. They described “what is was like, what happened, and what’s it like now,” to put it in AA parlance.
The first time I attended one, I was mesmerized. A woman who looked like a healthier and more stable version of myself walked up to the lectern, smiled brightly, and with no preamble said, “Hi, my name is Gwen, and I am such an alcoholic.”
Gwen looked as though she had come straight from work. She was stylish and poised — certainly a departure from the crowd at the more urban meetings I’d attended. When sitting in those meetings, held in an unmarked building in a run-down section of town, I’d find myself glancing around the room, noticing how different I was from the people around me. I found it much easier to identify with Gwen.
She described her childhood as idyllic and uneventful. Her parents drank only on holidays, and usually only a single drink each. Eventually, she made her way through school, married her college sweetheart, and launched a successful sales career, all according to plan. For a while, she lived the high life — traveling the country to wine and dine her clients.
But somewhere along the way, Gwen said, she lost herself.
She lost herself to other people’s expectations, as she tried to maintain her career while raising children. As her husband stayed late at the office, she lost herself to lonely hours of drinking, wondering how she could escape a life that was now suffocating her.
Her too? I remember thinking.
Gwen’s story pulled me in, especially when she talked about how the wine muffled the pain of parenting alone, dulling the edges of boredom and stress. She went on to say that her husband called one day from the office and asked for a divorce. He was in love with someone else, he admitted.
“So you won’t be home for dinner?” Gwen asked. More laughter.
But I could feel her heartbreak as she talked about what followed: A divorce that blindsided her and quickly turned hostile. Confused kids, acting out in every direction. Her humbling attempts to hold her family together.
She got the kids a puppy that Christmas, with no plan as to how it would be maintained. I laughed, thinking of my own trail of comfort pets.
But things got worse, as they tend to do in the aftermath of a divorce, and Gwen continued to drink. She shook her head when describing a scene where she’d arrived at a liquor store late one Saturday night, just after closing. She found herself banging on the glass door, just to see if they would let her in. The tired woman behind the counter, apparently used to this kind of behavior, calmly told her through the glass that she would call the police if she didn’t leave right then. And so Gwen left, crying and cursing and enraged.
It was hard to reconcile the sophisticated woman with perfect grammar speaking and the unhinged woman banging on the glass, drunk and belligerent. As I looked around the room, however, I could see people nodding. They’d been there in one way or another, shocked by what they were capable of in the throes of drink.
As if reliving the scene, Gwen bowed her head. After a moment, she lifted her eyes. “Friends …” she began, “Eventually, drinking became more important to me than anything else … And I do mean anything.” With a quick stab to the heart, I realized she meant her children.
But then, in a clear voice full of compassion, Gwen described her descent as if she were talking about a good friend. She called herself a high-bottom drinker, because from the outside, everything seemed OK. In truth, she was living in the mental chaos caused my excessive drinking. She managed to keep her job by claiming a variety of illnesses, but she was beginning to catch a glimpse of the oncoming train at the end of the tunnel.
Still, she couldn’t stop drinking. One by one, she listed what she eventually lost: Her house. Her dignity. Her self-respect. Her self-worth. She felt no joy in living, but instead sought oblivion, aided by the ever-increasing flow of wine.
Gwen said that late one night, she finally gave up. “I knew it was over,” she said. How did she know? I wondered. What made it different than every other time?
“I surrendered. I got down on my knees and I begged for help. I asked God to remove the compulsion to drink,” she said, “And he did.”
There was an audible sigh from the audience. “And since that day, seven years ago, I have never again had the desire to drink.”
I felt tears well up as the tension in the room broke open, enveloping the group in a warm flood of camaraderie and relief. Everyone clapped and some people cheered, overjoyed that a fellow drinker had made it out alive. She had called us friends, after all.
“How’d you do it, Gwen?” a young man shouted out.
“By working the steps,” she said, smiling. “And with the help of my higher power, and all of you.”
Now she told us of her life’s gradual upswing, and the mood lifted in the room. In a quick summary of her life in the hereafter, she said she’d met an amazing guy and was now remarried.
My mind conjured up a picture of Gwen beaming, swathed in white. She didn’t drink at her own wedding?
I vaguely wondered about the amazing guy she’d married. Did she meet him in AA? How did one date without drinking? Yet another reason why long-term sobriety didn’t seem possible. As Gwen left the podium, I worried about events far in the future. What if I found out I had only months to live? No one would blame me for drinking then.
After the meeting closed, Gwen stayed up front, surrounded by people waiting to talk to her or shake her hand. Just like a rock star, I thought.
I wanted to talk to her too. I wanted to tell her what an inspiration she was, and that I wanted desperately to succeed, like she had. I didn’t though. The line was long, and I felt awkward, not knowing anyone to chat with while I waited.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. I replayed the scene of Gwen telling her story over and over again. Why was I so drawn to her?
Sometime before dawn, the answer came to me, as I lay half awake, dreaming of her gentle voice, her radiant smile.
Gwen had told her story completely without shame.
On this day three years ago, I started this blog. In my first post, I was only three days’ sober.
I knew everything about alcohol and the mental and physical devastation it causes, or so I thought. I’d read every sober memoir I could get my hands on. I’d been to AA, then quit, then gone back, then quit again.
I used to sit in the back of those AA meetings and hear people say that they had surrendered and just never looked back. It wasn’t like that for me. I never stopped looking back, wondering when I could drink again.
But now I see my long journey to sobriety as an invitation. I was being invited to decide, over and over again, that I deserved better than a life led by addiction. I was invited to experience the pain and heartbreak it causes until I decided I’d had enough. I was invited to see where I’d given away my power, and decide that it was time to take it back.
Ultimately, it was an invitation to love myself, no matter what the world told me, that finally helped me save my life. It was a decision made through the heart, and not the mind. It was a blind faith in my own worth, no matter what crazy thoughts spiraled through my brain.
That voice told me that I was only funny, attractive, or worthwhile after a few drinks. It told me that I would lose all my friends and be relegated to the dull side of life if I stopped drinking. It told me that I would never survive in stressful times without the anesthesia of drink. It told me life wasn’t worth living without the possibility of a drink at the end of every day.
It never told me, “This shit will kill you.”
So three years ago, I wrote my first blog. I hoped that by putting all that pain and confusion “out there,” it would go away. I didn’t succeed right off. It took me another month of false starts until one day, I drove myself to a mountaintop and began the long, sacred process of healing. With shaky steps, I started stringing together a few sober days.
I still marvel at the miracles that took hold of me and wouldn’t let me go. I invited them to travel with me because I knew I needed all the power of heaven and earth to make it. I knew I couldn’t do it alone.
This time around, I committed to listening only to my better angels. I refused thoughts of guilt and shame, and returned my thoughts to self-love, no matter how many times I stumbled. When thoughts of drinking rose in my mind, my mantra became I love myself too much to drink.
And this thinking brought about more miracles. I forgave myself for the past, and let go of long-held grudges. And all that love I sent out returned to me — sometimes through gorgeous sunsets, sometimes through overpowering feelings of peace and wellbeing. And sometimes through the love and support of strangers who became friends, here in the blogging world.
Thank you from the deepest well of my heart.
I used to think that I was able to stop drinking after years of trying because I decided to put myself first, instead of feeling guilty about how my decision affected other people. But I realize now that there was a decision before that one.
And this decision changed everything.
I first had to decide that I was worth saving.
Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?
You been out ridin’ fences for so long now
Oh, you’re a hard one
I know that you got your reasons
These things that are pleasin’ you
Can hurt you somehow.
Don’t you draw the queen of diamonds, boy
She’ll beat you if she’s able
You know the queen of hearts is always your best bet
Now it seems to me, some fine things
Have been laid upon your table
But you only want the ones that you can’t get
Desperado, oh, you ain’t gettin’ no younger
Your pain and your hunger, they’re drivin’ you home
And freedom, oh freedom well, that’s just some people talkin’
Your prison is walking through this world all alone
Don’t your feet get cold in the winter time?
The sky won’t snow and the sun won’t shine
It’s hard to tell the night time from the day
You’re losin’ all your highs and lows
Ain’t it funny how the feeling goes away?
Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?
Come down from your fences, open the gate
It may be rainin’, but there’s a rainbow above you
You better let somebody love you, before it’s too late.
I’ve always loved Elton John, who’s very open about his struggle with addiction. I’m teary-eyed this morning, watching this Elton John Holiday Commercial.
It occurred to me that you could make a commercial of anyone’s life, and it would be just as beautiful and touching.
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