Stolen Identity

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When I first stopped drinking for good, I had no idea what to do with myself. I remember thinking, like right out of a movie script, I don’t know who I am anymore. I didn’t know how to act in a group of friends. I didn’t even know what I liked to do. (Well, I did know, but drinking was no longer an option.)

My identify had been stolen.

I’d had it stolen before. Just a few years out of college, someone took my MasterCard, or more likely, I left it at a bar, and they just picked it up. I reported it missing a few days later, and then got a call from a man who said he was investigating my claim. He began asking me about certain charges I’d made, and since I didn’t have a new statement, I couldn’t be sure if I’d made them or not.

He asked about a charge of $300 at a liquor store. I told him, “No, definitely not my charge.” I didn’t drink liquor at the time, nor could I have afforded to stock it in such quantity.

Then he asked about a charge at the wine store I frequented. “Yes, that was probably my charge,” I said.

“The wine store charge was made after you said your card was stolen,” he said triumphantly.

“Well then it couldn’t have been me,” I answered.

There was a long silence on the phone. I realized he didn’t believe me. He started questioning earlier charges, but without giving me the dates. I was easily confused because it appears the perpetrator frequented the same stores I did. The man’s voice became more and more accusing, and then he explained he would be sending this case to the fraud department for investigation. He clarified that they would be investigating me, not the person who took the card. He reminded me that falsely reporting a stolen credit card was a crime, punishable by jail time.

I got off the phone feeling horrible. I’d been treated like a criminal. I was being accused of falsely reporting a stolen card, then charging thousand of  dollars on it. I probably fit some kind of profile: young woman, frequently late on her credit card payments, and with frequent charges to wine stores.

Liar. Thief.

Drinking is like that too. It steals your identify, and then you have to answer for its crimes. And you feel awful because you would never say such things, argue so loudly, or forget where you parked your car. But you would, under the influence. We all do, under the influence. We become less than honest, even if it’s just about how much we drink.

Once I stopped drinking, it took some time before I no longer felt accused, even subtly, by  the people around me. It took even longer to stop accusing myself.

Back to the fraud investigation: I was questioned about a month later, and it appears the person using the card had taken off across the country on a spending spree. I was then accused of giving the card to one of my thieving, lying friends. It wasn’t until there were charges made in Wyoming while I was getting married in North Carolina that somebody believed me, a little. Later, the perpetrator was linked to several stolen cards, and I was off the hook. The bank sent me a letter of apology. I cancelled the card the same day.

And I stopped enabling that other stealer of my identity, alcohol, a couple of years back.

After the first few wobbly months, it was fun getting to know myself again … to be present with the people around me. I get to find out who I am, no longer under the influence of anything.

Love Yourself First

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A woman I was talking with this evening asked me what I would say to someone who is going through the same struggles I have. After I thought about it for few seconds, I said that I would want them to know that I recovered through self-love. But that seemed so trite, and wasn’t the whole answer. I wasn’t recommending that people go get manicures and take hot baths and plan little getaways. That’s self-care, which is important, but that’s really a sign that you already value yourself.

And because this woman has never struggled with addiction, I tried to clarify by talking about how addiction beats you down over time, making you feel worthless and out of control. You might appear OK on the surface, but your self-esteem takes a plunge every time you try and fail to control your drinking. And when you turn to the one substance that makes you feel better, you reinforce both the addiction and the negative feelings about yourself.

A few hours later, I was reading the blog of a woman who is struggling to quit drinking. She used the words I hear so often: “I hate myself.”

My first reaction was to think emphatically, “Don’t ever allow yourself to think that.”

Why did I react so strongly? My own mind used to be a dumping ground for thoughts like these. What’s different for me now is that I know thoughts have power. And ultimately, I am responsible for what I think.

What’s also changed is that through years of reading both spiritual and scientific books, I know that we live in a vibrational universe, and that like attracts like. What we see in the world is really a reflection of our inner state. Physicists are completely upending the way we thought the world worked. This is good news for us because we are no longer victims of the world, watching helplessly as stuff happens to us, but instead can take our rightful place in the driver’s seat. (I’m going to post a resource link for people who want to believe this but can’t quite get there. Experts can explain this far better than I could, especially in a few paragraphs. Of course, even if you don’t understand it, it still works. I don’t understand gravity, but that’s never stopped me from living by its laws.)

Back to sobriety …

If you think “I hate myself,” and don’t question or change that thought, you will draw toward you more reasons to hate yourself. You are the cause, and the world you see is the effect. So to allow this thought to rule your life will not lead you anywhere good.

So this is what I would say to someone struggling with addiction: LOVE YOURSELF NOW, wherever you are, even if that’s no place any sane person would want to be. Your self-love cannot be conditional. Change first your mind about yourself, then the world will reflect that new self-worth back to you.

Think about it … when friends and family gather around someone who’s addicted, trying to love them into sobriety, it only works if the person ACCEPTS that they have value. That they are worth saving. That’s why recovery is so baffling. You can tell someone all day long that they’re beloved, that they mean the world to you, that you see the perfect light of purity in them. You can beg them to see what you see, but they have to be willing to see it themselves.

So how do you go about loving yourself? A lot of spiritual teachers have you repeat the words, like an affirmation: I love myself. Or I am worth loving. You say the words, whether you mean them or not. Eventually, they will become more and more acceptable to you. The word themselves hold power because they’re true.

And you don’t have to believe in this to try it. It’s the only way to prove to yourself that it works.

Years ago, I read the book, The True Power of Water, by Dr. Masuru Emoto. In it, he shows through his research that crystals of water are changed to beautiful shapes just by having people pray over it. A single word can change the nature of water itself. After reading the book, I decided that if the body is mostly water, maybe my thinking the word Love would have the same effect. I didn’t really believe I would see a difference, but I was willing to try it anyway. Such is the power of desperation.

At first, I would just mentally say the word Love whenever a negative thought about myself arose in my mind. There was no reasoning involved. I just used Love as my mantra to blot out negative self-talk. I also used it when I had angry thoughts about other people or difficult situations. After a while, thinking or saying the word would have an immediate calming effect. It gradually stopped the chaotic, destructive thinking that had dominated my thoughts.

That was a first step in an ongoing process that has led to miraculous results. What I found out, over and over again, was that if I was willing to try to love myself, the universe stepped in to help. Suddenly, I attracted experiences that honored that self-love. Difficult relationships fell away, opening the path for healing and forgiveness. I found my lifetime partner. I treated myself gently when it took years to give up drinking completely.

I still get impatient and angry sometimes, but I can re-center myself with just one word. And I live in an almost constant state of appreciation for myself and the people around me.

You can live this way too.

Start now.

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Alcohol-Free May!

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May is a great month for change and renewal. It’s named after the ancient goddess Maia, who is associated with flourishing spring, fertility, and playfulness. In that creative spirit, throw off the habits of winter and wake up to spring!

If you’ve been struggling to go alcohol-free for some period of time, why not choose May? I’ve been AF for a couple of years, but I have some major habits I need to vacate in May, and I will use this time for my own mental spring-cleaning.

So … for every day in the month of May, I’m going to post one motivating blog that deals with self-love, self-empowerment, and the creative mind. The posts will also deal with how we perceive ourselves and our place in the world.

This will be a spiritual blog, but not in the religious sense. I follow A Course in Miracles, which is exactly what it says … it’s a course and not a religion, although it deals with spiritual themes and the nature of perception. And though I use the words God or Spirit, you can just as easily substitute Higher Power, Buddha, Yahweh, Allah, All That Is, The Universe, or any other term you’d like.

What I’ve found in my long search for sobriety is that the power to choose begins in the mind, and that it’s possible to use your thoughts to change not only your behavior, but your entire outlook on life. This power is available to every one of us, and in it lies the power to change the world.

Stay tuned!

Next Blog: Where I get my inspiration.

 

Tomorrow I’m Going to Get My Sh*t Together

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I was just sitting around this morning, procrastinating, when an article on procrastination showed up in my inbox. Wow! First off, I got to meet Mo Issa, who describes himself as spiritually human. I want to be this guy when I grow up. He’s amazing!

Second, his article really hit home. And I’m talking about procrastinating with your life’s work, not about doing the laundry. Here’s a quote:

“In the English dictionary, procrastination is defined as the act of delaying or postponing a task. Put another way, it’s self-sabotage. We place obstacles in our path to avoid the work at hand.”

I did this for years and years through drinking. Your entire life can be put on hold if you’re living buzzed. I could make great plans while drinking. I could even start big projects. I just couldn’t see them through.

This article is well worth the read:

Procrastination is Real, But We Have 3 Ways to Fight It.

I’m Out There

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For those of you who think I might be a little “out there,” I’m about to prove it:

Tomorrow, I’m flying to Chicago to attend a Sonia Choquette workshop. I can’t wait!

I’ll have three days to delve into intuition, chakras, spiritual healing, and dancing sober. And not even my mother’s deep deep disapproval of anything “psychic” can stop me. (She always points to a 60 Minutes show that she watched 30 years ago in which an elderly woman gave all her money to a gypsy.)

Sorry, Mom.

Then again, my mom has no idea I have a sober blog, or that I’m writing a book about my journey to sobriety.

There is much much disapproval and chagrin in my mother’s future. I can hear her now, embarrassed to go to the grocery store in case someone who knows her also knows me and also knows about that whole drinking thing, which was much better swept under the rug, like women did in her generation.

Best epitaph ever: She Never bothered her neighbors. 

(Someone out there remind to take down this post around publication time.)

No matter. I’m on a roll.

A Drinking Story

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What’s Your Story?

Mine runs something like this: I had a great childhood, though I grew into an anxious adolescent. By high school, I was pretty much OK. Going to college, however — that place of higher learning — changed that.

I hadn’t experienced much of the drinking culture in my small hometown. Instead, I jogged and played tennis and painted and went to movies. I was shocked at first, and then gradually drawn in to the almost nightly ritual of going out. The habit of drinking instead of doing other things was formed here, as was the feeling of being truly lost. The two went together, although I couldn’t see it at the time.

If life can be described as navigating a river, then I started to hit the occasional rapid. Sometimes it was exhilarating — flailing about in the raft, trying to get myself back into the flow of the river, and sometimes it was scary, not knowing what might happen next. Sometimes, without warning, I was thrown from the raft completely. Then life became more like survival.

Still, for most of the journey, I traveled with everyone else on the river, especially with other fun people with floating coolers. You can go a lot of places with these people. You can tie your raft to theirs. You can ride the rapids together. You can befriend them, marry them, and have children together. Then you won’t feel so alone — so afraid when the next rapid hits.

So the end of the story goes like this: I went in way over my head eventually, and began to experience some near-drownings. But as is the nature of addiction, I was less afraid of the dark swirling water when I had alcohol flowing through my veins. Soon, I had to drink during the calm parts of the river, just to anesthetize myself from the stress of being out of control. I was no longer sure where I was headed. Part of me didn’t care.

But as luck would have it, I began to link the rough waters and terror and loss of control with the alcohol itself, and not the river. I began to see what a mind-game the whole thing was — drinking to prevent or survive the effects of drinking. I recognized this, and could talk a good game about why I needed to quit. But I didn’t quit for long.

After decades of living like this, slowly making my way downstream, I could see the foreshadowing of how one might die while drinking on the river. It would happen sooner or later, either by declining health or by being flung one last time into the cold, rushing water. And on some deep level — one that barely registered in my wine-addled brain — I knew the choice of how the story ended was mine.