The Danger of Justified Anger

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After a difficult marriage and divorce, I thrived on anger. Somehow, the anger felt like power in a situation where I had very little of it. It wasn’t until I read A Return to Love that I knew there was a downside to what I saw as perfectly justified anger. Here’s a great article from The Elephant describing one women’s anger toward her father:

The Danger of Justified Anger.

(You may have to give an email address to read articles from The Elephant.)

Tales of a High-Bottom Alcoholic

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“Every day of my life, my head tells me I can drink and I have to remind it I don’t even want to drink. My mind wants to kill me: it only leaves me alive to have a vehicle to run around in.”

— Jackie Monahan

I think this quote is both hilarious and scary. The woman who wrote it is an actress and comedienne, and she has an article in The Fix called Tales of a High-Bottom Alcoholic.

My First Speaker Meeting

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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.”

Everyone laughed.

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.

Three Year Anniversary!

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Three years’ sober today. Woo hoo!

I just celebrated three years of starting my blog, which is confusing until you realize it took me a few weeks to stop drinking after I started blogging. So today is the actual day.

I asked my husband, “Did you believe I could really quit?” And he said “No, absolutely not.” I have to agree with him. Even I didn’t think it was possible. But I did think I could stop drinking for one day, and then one day more.

Miracles do happen. 💕

A Good Reason to go to Alcoholics Anonymous

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The best reason I have is this:

One night, you will be sitting with your teenage children in a restaurant, and they’ll be sulking and telling you how much more fun dad’s house is and how he lets them eat whatever they want and doesn’t make them do their homework, when out of the blue, you will hear a gravely voice shout out your name.

All heads will turn to watch a burly man cross the room, chains dangling from his belt loops, tattoos snaking up his muscled arms and around his neck, his black leather vest covered with skull and cross-bone patches. He’ll clank across the room loudly, a wide grin spreading across the underside of his heavy mustache, clearly thrilled to see you.

“Billy!” you’ll say. You will stand up hastily and extend your hand, but he’ll grab you in a bear hug, to the audible gasp of your daughter. He’ll toss his dark hair out of his eyes and then reach across the table to shake your son’s hand, using some kind of cool handshake that you would never know about, but apparently your son knows because he’s got an awe-struck look on his face as he ends the handshake with a fist-bump. The man will then grab your daughter’s hand, and she’ll blush from head to toe, speechless for the first time in weeks.

His eyes will casually take in the glass of wine sitting in front of you, but he won’t say a word. Instead he’ll put a warm hand on your shoulder, turn to your kids, and say, “You guys are so fucking lucky to have this lady as your mom.”

Now the kids’ eyes will bug out because they’re not allowed to say the f-word, and it’s your turn to blush from head to toe. Then you get teary-eyed because no one has said that you’re a good mom in a long time.

“Loved what you shared yesterday,” he’ll say to you, holding your gaze.

And just like that, he’ll be off, striding out the door to join some other tough-looking biker types, leaving a cloud of nicotine and sweat in his wake.

“Who was that?” your daughter will ask, and though you will be glowing, you just kind of shrug, all casual-like, as if maybe you have a lot of friends like this, and didn’t she know that? What other things about you might she not know? Maybe you’re not just another struggling mom, doing everything badly, born just to embarrass the hell out of her and her brother.

Plus, they have no idea you sometimes attend AA meetings — not that you’d tell them that’s how you know Billy. Better to let them think that the two of you are friends and hang out together now and then when they’re off at their dad’s.

For the rest of the night, there is a mystery about you, and you glance in the smoky mirror to see a woman you barely know anymore. She’s worldly and well-known and maybe even street smart.

You begin to wonder what else she’s capable of.

At the next meeting you attend, maybe a month later, Billy will walk up to you and say, “Glad you’re back!”

You will smile weakly, and then he’ll say, “My friends were so impressed I knew the beautiful lady in the window of the pizza place. They didn’t know I had such classy friends.”

He’ll wink broadly and clank off across the room, and you’ll wonder about coincidences and the crazy signs sent to you by a higher power with a strange sense of humor.

Then you’ll take your seat and gulp your lukewarm coffee, ready to try again.