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.

I Wrote my First Blog Three Years Ago Today

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Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

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.

💕

Drinking Friends

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I’m posting this excerpt from the memoir I’m writing because it sums up what happened to me again and again when hanging out with drinking friends. (I was 23 days’ sober at the time.)

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That evening, I sat on a friend’s back porch, watching her smoke and drink the wine she’d poured from a bottle chilling in a bucket of ice. She’d bought my favorite kind, though I’d told her I wasn’t drinking.

She was completely at ease, stretched out in her chair, swirling her wine in the glass. In contrast, I was restless and jittery, as if I’d had way too much coffee. Even the cicadas’ insane trilling jarred my nerves.

Our conversation, so effortless while drinking, was now stilted, full of fits and starts, as if we’d just met, though we’d been friends for years. Drinking buddies, actually. Hours could pass and we’d barely notice, laughing and drinking under the huge oaks trees in her backyard. But now, I didn’t find her stories nearly as funny, and she could feel my impatience to leave.

Sober, it turns out, I couldn’t sit for hours, doing nothing but talking and watching her smoke. Wine was the glue that held us together, and we became strangers without it.

She went to top off her wine, and then reached across to fill the empty glass in front of me, as if by habit.

“No thanks,” I said.

She swatting at a cloud of gnats. “Why not just one glass?”

Eve, in the Garden of Eden.

I didn’t answer her. I just stared off into the trees, wondering why this was so hard.

I shouldn’t be here.

In the silence, I could sense her frustration with me for not being what she wanted … for not playing my role. I felt a flash of anger.

But you’re free to leave,I reminded myself.

Years later, I could recognize when a friendship faltered without the wine, and I’d have no trouble walking away the minute I felt like it. But on Day 23, I could only watch her drink — gesturing with the glass, refilling it again. I saw only that a drink could solve everything that was wrong in this moment — the discomfort and loneliness and anger.

As I sat across from her, my resolve melting like the ice cubes in the bucket, I felt just a whisper of pain —familiar and heart breaking. Betrayal.

Not hers, but mine.

As I reached across the table for the wine bottle, sweaty and slick with condensation, she took a long drag on her cigarette, eyeing me appraisingly. She blew out the smoke, snuffed out her cigarette, and smiled.

“Welcome back,” she said.

Wanted: One Good Bartender

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My husband and I were driving through town the other day, and we passed a hole-in-the-wall restaurant called “Ham’s.” He said, “Remember you got mad at the bartender there? What’d she do wrong again?”

I had just an inkling of a memory, as so often is the case.

I vaguely remembered having to tell her how to make an Irish coffee. Their drink list said it contained Irish whiskey and spiced rum. I wanted to make sure that I was getting a full shot of each liquor, and that she wasn’t just pouring a little of each, for flavor. I wanted the Bailey’s on the side. (So often they skimp on the Bailey’s!) Also, I wanted a very small amount of coffee, because some bartenders give you a huge cup of coffee, which dilutes the liquor and is not good for you. (Too much caffeine.)

My little bit of bartending knowledge was a dangerous thing.

The bartender then said loudly to the other bartender, and to the whole restaurant: “She wants two full shots in her coffee and another shot on the side! She would up-charge her?”

No discretion. Whatever happened to bartenders who took orders and delivered them without comment?

When she finally got my drink together, she said loudly, “That drink is burning the hairs of my nose! It would knock me flat. Better not light a match! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!”

Needless to say, we never went back there, unless every other bar in town was closed. (Somehow this place stayed open late, even when we were under travel advisories, like tornados or snow storms.)

My husband and I laughed about that absurd scene, and then went on to other bartenders and wait staff that had failed to meet my very high expectations.

Actually, my expectations weren’t all that high. All I just wanted strong drinks delivered fast. Is that too much to ask?

You who are still lingering in the wine and beer category of drinking can’t relate to this, but I’m telling you, once you throw a leg over that wobbly fence to liquor, you’ll want to get your money’s worth.

Here’s another scene we thought was funny: At a nice restaurant in the city, I asked the bartender for a diet coke and rum in a short glass. He delivered a diet coke and rum in a large glass. That meant that I would have to drink that whole diet coke for just one shot of rum. All that caffeine, right before bedtime, and no liquor to balance it out. How was I  supposed to sleep?

“I wanted a short glass,” I told him, handing back the drink. (I often found my ability to speak up strengthened with a drink, and I’m sure I’d had one before I got to the bar.)

He stared at me, so I pointed helpfully to the short glass that my husband had. He raised an eyebrow, but then POURED HALF OF THE DRINK I’D GIVEN HIM INTO A SHORT GLASS! That meant I was getting half a shot! Did he not understand that he had just halved the liquor in the drink? DID HE NOT GET IT ?!!

My husband, sensing a scene of some type, came to my rescue by saying, “She wants a full shot of rum in a small amount of coke. In fact, why don’t you just make it a double.”

Something clicked for the bartender, and he gave me a quick once over. He hadn’t pegged me as a serious drinker, what with my delicate features and pink cardigan. (Joking here: I actually had a puffy face and watery eyes. Signs that a good bartender would have recognized.)

And that’s just two fun drinking stories! There are so many more, even though I’ve only lived in this state for a short time.

Odd, but I have no new stories. Not since I stopped drinking. The service around here has improved dramatically. They are so much better at serving decaf coffee and creme brûlée.

Cheers!

 

 

I Will Never Forgive That B*tch

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“Yes, a friend might have said something cruel to you—but in her heart, she’s simply lost and lonely like everyone else.”  — Marianne Williamson

So often, when I am commenting on someone’s blog or writing on my own, I start talking about forgiveness. And people may think, Yeah, whatever. Everyone talks about forgiveness these days, but I can’t let go of what happened to me, nor do I want to. Other people know that they do want to because forgiveness is the key to their own happiness.

Flashback to me, twelve years ago: “I will never forgive that bitch.”

I used those exact words in describing a former friend. And I was therefore tied to that friend through drama after drama, fueled by drinking, even when I moved out of the area. And I was totally justified, I thought, and I could explain why ad nauseam. Reliving the ‘betrayal” would get my blood pumping in seconds. It made it hard to sleep.

In time, only true forgiveness freed me. I called her out the blue one day, a decade later. It wasn’t easy to pick up the phone, but it was easy to reconnect and talk like old times. And I love her now, thought she isn’t in my life. I do ask for her forgiveness through prayer on a regular basis, and I know she feels it in her heart.

Marianne Williamson is so good at explaining why forgiveness is key to everything else:

The Miracle of Forgiveness

Don’t Die Wearing a Cardigan

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Do you remember when you were a kid, and people would ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And you just knew, without giving it a second thought, that you could be anything you wanted. It was your choice. Nothing was off the table. There was this huge array of things to choose from, and you had the fun of deciding what you wanted to be.

My dad asked me this when I was about eight years old, and I said, “A hippie. Just like Laurie on the Partridge Family.” My dad, who has never gotten a traffic ticket, was dismayed. “You’ll change your mind,” he said. I was indignant. “No I won’t!” I shot back, angry that he would suggest such a thing.

He was right. I did change my mind, but now I’m changing it back. I still want to be a hippie. After decades of “mom wear,” including matching sweater sets, I’m going to reinvent myself.

And why not? Sobriety gives you that chance. But there’s a trick to it: You have to withdraw who you were while drinking to allow the real you to emerge.

But change can feel dangerous and heartbreaking. I recognize this in some of my earlier blogs, as I wrestled with giving up that woman at the party — the “fun” girl who was reliably late, forgot you name, and rambled on enthusiastically with the other drinkers. That woman seemed like who I was, and I played her part for twenty-five years. That’s a lot of time to establish myself as that person. I really thought that she was me.

Guess what? I’m someone better now, though I feel endless compassion for the women at the party. She seems like someone I used to know, who stumbled along like the rest of us, trying to prove something she never had to. She only exists in photographs now, like someone who has gone on to a better place.

So after mourning the party girl, I get to choose again who I want to be. I no longer have to blend in to the woodwork as someone labeled “woman with a drinking problem” anymore.  I have no drinking problem. I very wisely chose not to drink. No problem there. It’s more like a rock star asset, if you ask me.

So now, at a little over two years’ sober, I’m going to buy some loud clothes. I’m going to practice being noticed, after years of only feeling worthy of notice after I’d had a drink or two. It will be so much fun! I’m going to get some weird earrings, the kind that scream “I’m into some crazy shit!” (I am, by the way.)

So there is opportunity in every seeming calamity. My decades of drinking were an invitation to rise above it. I was given this invitation every single day that I drank. Sometimes I listened; more often, I did not. But every day is a rebirth, and I’m continually being reborn now, without offering myself another lesson in pain.

What seemed like pain at the time, I recognize now, was just me at a crossroads, choosing the road of pain over and over again. Now I see the gift wrapped inside the pain of the crossroads … I get to choose again.

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I am Billy Mack

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If you’ve ever seen “Love Actually,” I am Billy Mack and you all are Joe, the manager.

I am a few hours out of surgery, and I’m supposed to be knocked out for the weekend with lots of pain. Instead, I am happily wandering around the house, grateful beyond belief, eating cookies.

Only my husband knows about the surgery (he had to drive me there, etc.). My parents are in their 80s, and they would worry. My sisters are busy with their own lives. They don’t know about my secret struggle to quit drinking. Not really, anyway. They don’t know about my awe-inspiring quest to save my own life.

But you do.

It turns out that you are who I want to tell because you know me. You know more about me than any of my closest friends, and I know you in an intimate way, where we can drop our masks and connect on a soul level. You all are my soul mates.

I had such lovely support, reading at six AM, getting ready to walk out the door, having had no coffee. Even a simple LIKE was so comforting. People said a quick prayer for me, and I was completely calm and uplifting going in to the surgery. (Note: I am an anxious patient.) Just look at this message from Dwight:

“Surrounding you with loving healing vibes❤️”

I could actually feel the healing energy as I read it. And I’m here to tell you, it worked. Something beautiful and magical and powerful happens here in our blog world, and I don’t have to understand it to know it works.

As a present to you, I’ve given you the link where Billy Mack figures out that he loves Joe.

It’s just like me, a sober rock star, realizing who got me where I am.

In total awe-inspiring love for you, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am honored to call myself your friend.

Love,

Shawna

Bill Mack loves Joe in Love Actually.

 

Where Sobriety Begins

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Sobriety begins in the mind.

And by mind, I mean the conscious part of you that thinks and loves and dreams, as opposed to the physical brain. One can survive the other.

Over a decade ago, I started the first of a dozen journals with the idea that by writing down my pledges to give up drinking for x amount of time, I could hold myself accountable. Or at least recognize where I was failing over and over again.

I bought a beautiful, gilded journal from a bookstore with an odd illustration on the front. I learned from a description on the back cover that the image was from the Book of Kells, which I’d never heard of. I did an internet search and discovered it was a medieval manuscript written in Ireland — a decorated version of the four gospels relating to the life of Jesus Christ. The image on the cover of my journal was called the Chi Ro monogram: the first two letters of the word Christ in Greek.

Interesting, I thought, and somehow fitting. It made me feel like my journaling would be a sacred process. So for the first time in ages, I began to write, using motivational quotes and doodling in the margins. Here’s my first entry:

March 1, 2005

“All appears to change when we change.”   — Henri Amiel, 19th century Swiss writer 

When we change — all else changes. I’ll try to do my part, and it’s up to the universe to prove this to be true.

Reading this now is kind of funny, because the universe shocked the hell out of me. It did its part in spades. And I did my part, now and then. I would journal for two weeks straight and then drop out of sight for a week or a month. But something about the process seemed almost magical. I was drawn back to the journal, with its promise of sacred text, again and again.

What I found out is that writing is sacred. It gets you in touch with a much deeper wisdom within your own mind. The voice I heard was wiser and kinder than the voice I was used to hearing, day in and day out. And what flowed across the page became a conversation with a part of myself that I didn’t recognize.

But this higher self, or better angel, or Christ-Consciousness, or Buddha-nature, or Spirit had the answers I was looking for. When I listened to this voice, and not to the voice of the ego, a door was opened, just a crack.

This voice spoke of power and self-love and forgiveness. The more I listened, and the more I acted on this awareness — this divinity within me — the more my world began to change. Dramatically.

Here is a miracle I could only see in hindsight: In the first sentence on the first page of my first journal, I was given the keys to the kingdom:

 All appears to change when we change.

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