Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tuesday Evening

I just got in from a lovely dinner with my nephew from Houston, his wife, my son and my daughter.  It is always a marvel to me that I get to have family who I love and who seem to love me and we actually enjoy spending time together.  How cool is that?

I stopped on my way home from work and got a pedicure and manicure which was lovely.  It gave me a good excuse to put my feet on my new jute rug and take a photo.  I think this rug is the cat's meow.  I tried not to buy one for my dining room, but bamboo is so soft, the floor was getting scuffed up from the dining room chairs.  So, now I have a lovely rug to protect my floor - and look beautiful.  It even smells good!  

I have been running since 3:30 this a.m., and I need to get up tomorrow at about that time and go all day tomorrow too.  Getting ready for vacation is really a lot of work!  But fun!

I will meet one of my sponsee's at the meeting tomorrow morning at 6:30.  It is a good thing.   Very good thing.  It is amazing to me how much love can be contained in one little room - an AA meeting.  If you don't understand - keep coming back - you will.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Some photos I didn't blog about....

I am technically challenged tonight - so instead of having the caption of the photo just underneath the photo, I will bunch them up here.  

My daughter and I went out for pizza one Friday night and on the way home (one mile from my house), I looked over as I was driving and saw that elk!  I thought I was seeing things!  It was humungous!  It was gorgeous and looked like a statue.  I pulled over and started taking pictures.  After a while, I noticed that there was a whole line of cars behind us, all with arms with cell phones hanging out of the windows - taking pictures.  It was really something.  

My daughter and I (oh, it is so nice to write that phrase) were at an AA Founder's Day picnic.  It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, but we are in a severe weather pattern and beautiful can turn strange very quickly.  Some guy was standing and said "look, there is a funnel cloud!"  I looked and didn't see it - but I looked a minute longer and saw the most amazing thing up in the sky.  That is a photo of the first one.  There were three funnel clouds in all as we stood there, getting pounded with wind and rain.  And, being a wonderful mother, setting a wonderful example for my daughter, I stood out in this crazy weather taking pictures with my cell phone, along with my daughter and a whole lot of other nutty sober drunks.  It was scary, but oddly exciting.   It was a wonderful day.

    Parenthetical:  what a miraculous thing to attend an AA picnic with my daughter.  She knew more people than I did!  And there were some people who said hello to both of us and then found out I am her mother - the shock!  and then the recognition that "Gee!  This makes sense!"  And to sit with her and her ex and eat lunch - all of us sober.  What a miracle.  I could never have anticipated 10 years ago when they first got together that I would some day relish the sober company of those two.  I truly love that guy I thought was the worst nightmare that ever darkened my door 10 short years ago!

Two roses from my garden.  In a tiny vase that was brought to me by a beau from Prague.  I love roses and I love that tiny vase.

One of my peony bushes.  I LOVE peonies.  My mother had them.  And I have them.  

And finally, the dreaded wetsuit!  I returned it this morning.  I was happy to hand it back!

So, this is just some of the stuff that has been happening while I have been writing about the past.  

Sunday, June 28, 2009

I get to do stuff

My medal for completing the triathlon today.  I earned this one!
For this race, they not only marked your arms and thighs with your bib number, but they marked the back of your calf with your age.  I declined to have this done yesterday, but this morning, I thought - heck yes!  I am 57 years old and participating in a triathlon!  I am happy to claim that.  

This race was HARD.  The water was cold which necessitated the use of a wetsuit.  Swimming in a wetsuit is like swimming in a body sized girdle.  I think if you are stick thin that might feel good, but it is tricky for others.  As I was swimming, there were two separate occasions, with two separate women, where I needed to stop and stay with women who were in trouble and flag down some help.  I had to do what I learned how to do in AA - just be with someone and just let them know someone is there, and someone cares.  They both couldn't breathe because of their wetsuits.  My swim took about 15 minutes longer than it normally does, but I was grateful to be able to be there for those women who needed a hand.  

If I would have gone out there this morning just to show off my athletic prowess, the day would have to be considered a dismal failure.  But before I left the house this morning, I prayed for God to show me how I could be of service to Him and my fellows, and He did!  

It is also very nice to hang out with women my age in the transition area.  There aren't many of us at a triathlon.  It is super fun to hang out before and after the race and also as we may catch each other on the transitions.  

The other thing?  It is so nice to see women's breasts.  Most women who do triathlons wear tri suits, which are like swimming suits,  and then when we get out of the water, we just get on the bike with that and a shirt or not - I always put a skirt and a shirt over my tri suit.  Anyway, so here are all these women without their usual breast hardware, a.k.a. bras.  And do you know that real women's breasts look virtually nothing like those big round hard things that protrude just south of the collarbones of actresses, models, and other people who like to show them off?   Just an observation from a triathlon.... 

I am grateful to be a sober woman who gets to do stuff.  I get to be happy to let someone put a "57" on my leg.  As I passed another woman on the run portion, she shouted out to me "AGE ROCKS!"  and I agree!  

Life is so good.  

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Back to Life

Getting ready for a triathlon tomorrow morning.  At the crack of dawn.  I need to be on the road by 4:00 a.m.  I am excited!  In the above backpack is my wetsuit and other stuff that I didn't feel like hauling out just for a photo... but I think the photo captures the mood... preparation and excitement.  

And I just threw in a rose for good measure.  I have missed 25 days worth of roses and peonies.  In fact, the peonies are already spent - but it was a banner year for them.  They were gorgeous!  
My daughter went missing for 24 or so hours.  By the time I went to church tonight, I cried through the whole thing.  I kept telling myself that she was fine and that I was wasting a lot of energy worrying.  But it is a hard thing to allow yourself to love like that and have the kind of hope that is shining bright in my heart for her.

She called tonight at about 6:30.  She and her fellow decided to spend an extra day fishing in Wyoming.  They were having such fun.  Oh, I cried with relief when I got this call.  

It is almost easier to live in despair.  But I will take the hard path if it means having hope and love in my heart.  

Wish me good luck on my first triathlon wearing a wetsuit.  Thanks!

Friday, June 26, 2009

What it was like: Year Twenty-Five

Praise God!  This is the end of this series of posts.  I have complained, but it has been very good for me.  I don't sit around thinking about my early sobriety or my later years, and I certainly don't sit around thinking - Gosh, I have come a long way!  

I am not done with my twenty-fifth year yet.  I have 5 weeks or so left in it.  I hope to stay sober until July 24.  If I had to bet, I would be willing to place money on the odds that I will still be sober then.  But I am keenly aware that it is one day at a time and I can get drunk just as well as anyone else.  But if I keep doing what I have been doing for the last 24.91 years, I will likely get what I have been getting for that time... that is sobriety.  Not always the prettiest picture of sobriety, but it is sober - for reals.

When I think back on this year, I think of being tired.  I haven't had a vacation for a year now.  It has been my triennial super-busy year at work.  It has been busy at home too.  

Here's the other thing I think of when I think of the past year.  My darling daughter asked me in January if she could go to the 6:30 a.m. meeting with me.  I was a little bit shocked, but acted like it was the most normal thing in the world.  I love to see God work in the life of a person making the most tentative exploration of maybe being sober... I took her to this meeting of mostly well-educated, well-to-do, middle-aged white people.  Yuppies, she would call them.  

My precious girl is covered in tattoos and has chosen a very tough life for herself.  That life is evident when you look at her.   She is very very charming (as we tend to be) and it never fails to surprise me the favorable way people react to her.  Anyway... on this morning in the middle of January, at this yuppie meeting, there was a lot of talk about prison, parole officers, probation officers, etc.  It was a perfect meeting for my daughter.  It was a weird meeting, I just sat back and got to admire the evidence of the hand of God - again.  

I have hope in my heart for her for the first time in over a decade.  She has been sober since that day in January.  Just writing that makes me feel short of breath.  So, I think I will stop.

Maybe I am too tired as I try to write this tonight.  Because, really, when I think of the past year, I think of being really tired.  I have a triathlon on Sunday and I needed to be rested before then....

I am grateful to be a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous. I am grateful for the way my life has changed.  I am grateful for so many people I love.  Life is good.  Incredibly good.   

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What it was like: Year Twenty-Four

Let me just tell you:  I am sick to death of this.  ME! ME!  ME!  Good Lord!  Enough!

However, I have just two years (days) left to complete my commitment to document each year of my sobriety.  

This gets tricky.  As my sobriety has gone on and I have grown, my life has changed.  My beliefs have changed.  I usually write my blog keeping my readership in mind.  I get a lot of readers who don't know much about AA and are wondering if AA is for them.  People search for info about AA and I have been writing this blog for so long (every single day) and I write the words "Alcoholics Anonymous" so often that my blog comes up when someone googles AA or Alcoholics Anonymous, or any number of searches about alcoholism and recovery from alcoholism.   That, I feel is my mission here, to provide some information about what it was like, what happened, and what it is like now - for an alcoholic - me.  

When we get into the later years, if I am honest, I need to write about my spiritual journey, which offends some.  That is why I keep these cards kind of close to my chest most of the time.  

When I got to AA, I was so happy to be able to choose my own concept of a higher power.  As time went on, this concept changed.  I was finally led very gently back to the church of my youth.  If you had told me that I would have to go back to the Catholic Church when I got sober, I would have told you where to go.  But the Hand of God has led me many places I haven't wanted to go - and then I have been eternally grateful that I got to go.  

My journey back to Catholicism has been one of the most wonderful aspects of being sober.   To do it by the book is something that is so important to me.  The "rules" are no longer something for "other" people, they are for me.  I don't have it perfect by any means, but I am trying every day.  

I have been enrolled in Biblical School for the last two years.  I thought I would become somewhat of a biblical scholar after 4 years of study, but I have to say that I have learned that I could study for a lifetime and not "get" a fraction of this incredible book.  The journey is something that has meant the world to me.  

This is who I am.  We do get to express this.  All of us.  

So, my 24th year?  Well, my son came home from Iraq.  Words cannot say what that was like.  I did blog about it at the time. It was wonderful.  I ran 2 half marathons.  I went to Alaska to run one of them.  I was in a car accident in July.  It hurt my back.  More.  My daughter lost custody of her children and there was a restraining order so that she couldn't even see them.  She went into rehab and went quickly back to meth and booze.  It was a nightmare. 

But I had my Church, I had my AA group, I had you bloggers, and I was OK.  No matter what.  
Michael Jackson
1958 - 2009
Rest in Peace

But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits."
Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 61

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What it was like: Year Twenty-three

Its kind of weird to be writing here about the years when I have been writing every single day in this blog.  Nothing much has changed in the last couple of years.  

In year twenty-three, I was plugging through having my son in Iraq.  It was an unbelievable challenge for me. I started going to meetings a lot - sometimes 2 a day.  I was going to so many meetings, I ended up sponsoring 7 women at the same time.  Which just about drove me out of my mind.  The way I sponsor is a bit too time intensive to do this with 7 people, 6 of whom were in their first year and doing the steps for the first time.  

We had the winter of insane snow.  I hurt my back by falling on my driveway the very first day of the blizzard.  

I was running a lot!  I realized I could train to run a half-marathon.  And I did so.  I ran my first half-marathon in May of 2007.   It was a tremendous thing for me.

I was thrilled to be able to sign up for a four year biblical school.  It was something that I was able to commit to and I was pretty happy about that.  

OK, I am going to transcribe what is written in my birthday journal because it sums it up:

"The overriding feeling this year is gratitude for a pretty big chunk of my life lived sober.  I raised my kids sober. I got my education sober.  I started my career in healthcare sober.  My grandchildren have never seen me drink.  My kids don't remember me drunk.  It is a miracle.  This last year?  K. in Iraq - that's been hard.  Thank God I did what I know how to do and jumped into AA with both feet.  Thank God.  I ran a half-marathon in May and will do another in October.  My triathlon is next weekend.  I start Biblical School in August.  I am very excited about that!  Really, a very very good year.  Thank you Lord."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What it was like: Year Twenty-two

In 2005, I celebrated 21 years of sobriety.  It had been a hard but good year.  I was spending a lot of time running, biking, and swimming and it really added a whole new dimension to my life.   I have always suffered from depression, and this physical activity seemed to keep the depression at bay, which was pretty wonderful.

On August 19 2005 (two years from the day my cowboy left for the last time) I went over the handlebars of my bike on my way to work.  I broke one or more ribs and was sidelined from all of my physical activity.  It was rough.  I was in a lot of pain.  Once the pain subsided I thought I could run again, but it only made the pain come back.  So I sat quietly and tried to learn whatever lessons God had in store for me.

I had started a blog the year before to talk about triathlon training.  I found that boring, so I started another one about politics.  I love politics and I used to spend a lot of time keeping track of what was going on.  I had endless opinions about most everything and I thought it would be fun to express them.  It was the time of Katrina and my son had gone with the National Guard to help.   I wrote about the frustration of knowing that the people he went to help were shooting at helicopters - like the one he was in.  And some jackass came along and started arguing with just about everything I said.  I had NO readership whatsoever, except for this guy.  I went to HIS blog with the intent to retaliate and found that he was an AA member.  Well, I wasn't going to put my AA life on my blog with my real name and political junk on it, so I started a whole different account just to be anonymous and talk to this guy.  Once we were AA members talking to each other, all the differences were overlooked... we were just fellow travelers on this road.  

Soon he stopped blogging and I was blogging maybe once a week.  Then in November of 2005, a wonderful blogger who has since stopped blogging discovered my blog and let her blogger buddies know and before long I had readers!  It was the most exciting thing!  I had a broken rib, I was not able to do most of the things that usually took a lot of my time, so I sat and wrote posts and visited others blogs for a great amount of time each day. I was in love with blogging and the bloggers.  It was such a wonderful thing.  

In the spring that year, I took a class in Icon Writing.  I spent a week in silent meditative painting of St. Michael the Archangel.  The instructor was a Russian Iconographer.  It was incredibly wonderful.  It was the same week my son was leaving for his training before he went to Iraq.  That was a difficult time for me, so to be spending a week meditating on this Saint, the Patron Saint of Soldiers - was incredible.  It helped me tremendously.  (I just found out this morning that I am going to be able to take another class in August - I cannot wait!)

I was able to go back to my old morning meeting some time in this year.  I was so glad to be back there.  That was a meaningful piece of healing in my life.  

I will probably later remember other things that happened that year, but I find my entry for my 22nd birthday so nice, I am going to post a lot of it here.  One of the members of my morning group died in July and his funeral happened to be on my 22nd AA birthday.  It might have been one of the better birthdays I have ever had.   

"On my actual birthday, I went to ___'s funeral.  There was some kind of symmetry in that, not that I seem to be able to articulate it.  I sat in the back of the church between J. and A. and felt so at home.  Where I belong.  Not necessarily at a funeral, but with my people.  These are truly my people.  I don't like them all, but I do love them - every single one.  They don't all love me, but we share our lives, our solutions, and our problems.  And because of that, we are not the ones who are being cremated and buried.  To see F. in a suit just about broke my heart.  He looked wonderful, let me hasten to add, not like so many drunks who buy a cheap suit and look like it.  But F. belongs in a tee shirt, shorts, and hiking boots - not a suit.  God Bless him.  

In February, E. suicided.  God Bless E.  May he rest in eternal peace.  I miss him.  

In February, M (my sponsor) and T. moved to the western slope.  God, there is a hole blowing right through me on that one.  

K. (my son) leaves today on a ship for Kuwait, then to Iraq.  Thank God for the program of AA, most of the time I am not overly mental about this.  Trying to stay in the moment, etc.  God Bless my son. I am so proud of him.  He is a good man.  Please hold him in the palm of your hand dear Lord.

Thank you for this 22 years and may I have another day."

I also wrote my blog that day, and if you are just insatiable for all the details of my 22nd birthday, you may check it out here... it is interesting all the wonderful comments and how many of those people are not around anymore.... just like my real meetings.  

Monday, June 22, 2009

What it was like: Year Twenty-one

I was stunned to realize that I forgot to mention that my youngest granddaughter was born in November 2003.  I have forgotten to mention several other huge things, but I figure I was not meant to write about them.  But how can I not be meant to write about my little monkey?  She was born.  I was there.  So was her father and aunt.  And her mom - who didn't have a choice in the matter.  

So, back to 2004 - with the "nice" sober boyfriend.  In September, with the approval of one and all, he purchased me a diamond engagement ring.  And got on his knee and asked me to marry him.  And I said yes.  He put that ring on my finger and the relationship changed from that second.  Our "engagement" lasted 6 days.  Six days of him not showing up where he was supposed to be.  6 days of his sudden rage that I had never seen before.  6 days of a person I had no concept was hidden under the facade that I thought I loved.  The last day involved him sharing with me the fact that the television set talked to him and that the dome light in his truck would flash on and off if he was having "impure" thoughts.  Etc.  Etc.  Etc.  It was like the cruelest joke I had ever heard.  Only it wasn't a joke and it wasn't funny.  It was another disaster in my life.  He asked me if I thought he was "crazy" and I had to tell him that all this sounded delusional and paranoid.  He said that "They" said the Wright Brothers were crazy too.  I gave him back the ring and ended another relationship.  

I did count my blessings that it ended before it had gone any further.  But then I started counting the people who knew he was that psychotic and just smiled and acted happy when I was talking about marrying him.  There were only a few, but I will never forget that.  I can forgive them because I have to, but I will never trust them.  A very dear girlfriend was one of them and I tried for a year to just get over my feelings of betrayal and then finally told her that although I wished her no ill, I simply could not remain her friend.  It was extremely difficult.  I had known her since I got sober and that relationship was very important to me.  

I knew that I needed to go back to living the "dedicated single life."  Not accidental, not waiting for the next relationship, but deliberate, dedicated and very very single.  I am very good at being single.  

My relationship with God?  I don't think it is probably very similar to most of yours.  My God is not some fairy tale worker who wants to sprinkle me with pixie dust every day and make me a rich blonde woman with straight white teeth.  My God is loving and thinks a great deal of me.  He has a lot more faith in my capabilities than I do most of the time.  He gives me very hard things to do.  And then I get to grow through them.  And I get to trust him as I am going through them.  And then I get to thank Him for whatever has been put in my life, because he has seen me through every single minute of it.  And it has made me who I am today.  I get in trouble for my humility because it is not understood in our culture.  I think I am a pretty wonderful woman.  I am grateful for who I am.  But I understand that I am made by God and not by my fabulous works. I am so incredibly grateful that God made me who I am.  Because it is good.   I also know that my God demands a lot.  Really a lot.  And what I get in return is more than I could begin to write about.  God's Grace.  

So, back to my 21st year... sometime that autumn, I took my granddaughters for the weekend and when I tried to return them to their parents I could not find them.  It was then that I knew that they were both using again.  Meth.  I couldn't think of anything worse.  I was so angry.  I was so worried.  I had to go back to all the stuff I had learned in Alanon.  It was so hard because of those little babies.  When I finally found them, I told them that they simply could NOT do this with little kids.  I will never forget my son-in-law looking at me and saying "I don't know what to say."  I said "I bet you don't!"  It was awful.  

I have family pictures from that Thanksgiving - with some plump and healthy looking people (me, my son, and other daughter), a couple of cute little girls, and their parents, a couple of skeletons with dead eyes.  I stopped taking pictures of our family events after that.  

I had my running, I had my AA meetings, I had a couple of sponsees, and I had my sponsor, I had my church, and I had my job.  I just focused on those things.  Although I am making this sound like a miserable year, it really wasn't.  

I did two triathlons in this year and they were just the most fun.  It is really my favorite sport.  The camaraderie of the women is something I never expected.  It is almost a spiritual experience.  

On my 21st birthday, I celebrated at my old home group.  I wrote about all the people who were there, and how I felt it was over the top with praise for me - but I wasn't complaining.  I wrote this:

"I am just so grateful to have this sober life.  21 years of a sober past."  

Sunday, June 21, 2009

What it was like: Year Twenty

In the summer of 2003, I had to take a business trip to Las Vegas.  By the end of the trip, I had a painful swelling under my left ear.  When I got home I went to see my physician and was diagnosed with a parotid gland infection.  It was like mumps.  It hurt like hell, my face was swollen, I had a fever, and I was very sick.  

I had taken a couple of days of vacation to go to the State Fair with my sweetheart the cowboy.  I didn't want to go because I felt like hell, but I felt that I had to honor my commitment to go with him.  He was rather put out about my trip to Seattle without him, and I think even a bit jealous of the trip to Vegas.  

So, he showed up to pick me up, he reeked of cologne, and he was talking very loud - which was all out of character.  It only took me a minute to realize he was drunk - and we weren't going on any trip.  He had promised me that I would never see him drink, and until this day he had honored that.  He was being obnoxious and I couldn't get him out of my house.  I told him he could "sleep it off" in my basement.  I failed to anticipate that he wasn't going to be getting sober because he was still drinking.  I sat in my bedroom and cried.  He sat downstairs getting more and more drunk.  For the first time ever I was afraid of him.  He was 6'5" and buff (and beautiful).  At the end of 36 or so hours, he left.  It was the end of the relationship for me.   I was devastated.   

The next day, I knew I needed to do something drastic to keep me alive and so I started running again.  At that time I could only run for 5 minutes - downhill.  After a while, I could run 10 minutes, then I knew I could run a mile.  I would run a mile and feel so happy!  It took me a long time to get up to a mile and a half, and I stayed there for a while.  

Sometime early in 2004, I met a woman who was training for a triathlon.  I told her I would do it with her!  I started training early in the year for an August triathlon.  I needed all that training because I did not even know how to swim properly.  I learned.  I registered for a triathlon in August 2004.  

The running and the tri training really went a long way to help me to live through losing this relationship with this man I loved so dearly.   

My sponsor was sure that God had someone out there for me, and she thought she might know who it was.  I was dubious, but I did meet him.  In July of 2004, we went out on our first date.  We dated and everyone was so excited.   He was sober 15 years, I was sober almost 20. He had a master's degree, I had a master's degree.  We looked like we belonged together socially.  We had the blessing of our AA peers and our sponsors.  I figured I had found out where my own choice in "love" got me - a drunken cowboy - so I could listen to others.  We kind of considered ourselves set up, like an arranged marriage.  Not to say that we didn't enjoy each other, because we did.  (There haven't been too many things I haven't wanted to write about, but this is one of them....)

Anyway, another year had passed.  I was now running, training for a triathlon, and feeling very buff.  I had a "nice" boyfriend.  I was sponsoring a couple of women and meeting with them regularly to do the steps the way I do them... as the big book says to do them... word by word.  Things seemed to be on the upswing.

My 20th birthday was an incredible experience.  Here is what I wrote about that:
"Twenty years today!  Imagine that!  I have been humbled and slightly freaked out about having 20 years.  I feel unworthy.   I am such a crappy AA member.  I think for the first time I know that it is an honor to be a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.  What a blessing."  

Saturday, June 20, 2009

What it was like: Year Nineteen

Everything was going so splendidly in my life, it really couldn't stay that way, could it?  It didn't.  

The relationship with the cowboy was a revelation to me.  We got along.  We did not fight.  If we had disagreements, we discussed them rationally.  He had endless patience with me.  I had a lot of patience with him as well.  We had tons o' fun together.  And we were a good AA couple - even though he was sober only a few years.

As you might imagine, we started talking about him moving into my house.  And we started talking about getting married.   And I don't think that was unreasonable.  

Then one night in October, 2002, he called me.  He was on his way to his brother's house.  He was angry about something that I didn't understand.  And it took only a few minutes to realize he was also quite drunk.  I thought I was going to die.  Just absolutely die.  He disappeared for 3 or 4 days.  I later learned that he drove to Montana and just got insanely drunk and slept in his truck for days.  This put all our plans on hold - what turned out to be permanent hold.  He was remorseful and resolved .... bla bla bla....  I listened, bla bla bla. The oldest story in the world.  It doesn't even bear repeating.  We didn't break up, but our relationship definitely changed.  My heart was broken.  

By summer 2003, I wanted to take a vacation and realized he was not reliable enough to plan one with, so when my old (gay) buddy from school asked me to come and visit him in Seattle, I did it.  He was also in the process of getting sober - again.  He said he would take a week off work and we would go be tourists by day and go to AA meetings at night.  I asked him if he would indulge me in driving up to the small town in Northern Washington where I had lived with my husband and had last left - without saying goodbye - ten years earlier.  I wanted to go on the night my old home group met.  I looked in the directory and it was still listed, and still on Tuesday night.  So, we ventured up there.

He had a very fancy Lexus convertible, with a navigation system - which was very high tech in 2003.  When we got near the meeting, the voice of the system said we had entered an area where there was no data... it was really remote.   My friend was somewhat horrified about this tiny town... I was so happy to be back there.  Just before we got to the meeting place, I told him a list of people I hoped to see.  Do you know that all but one showed up!  I was afraid they wouldn't be there, or that they wouldn't know who I was, or that they would not welcome me!

Here is what I wrote about that:  " I was afraid.  I became very aware after reflection that "we"- B and I - really disrupted a lot of lives with our insanity.  I knew I wanted to go back there, but I didn't realize I needed to go back there.  Wow.  The first person I knew who arrived at the meeting was Mike.  With grey hair and lots of wrinkles.  He pulled up in his truck and pointed at me and said "Mary!" and I was afraid they wouldn't recognize me, or welcome me!  J. & R. and I had the best time.  Lots of hugs. We exchanged phone numbers.  What a homecoming it was.  I'm glad S. was there with me to see it."  

It was such a wonderful thing to go back to that place I had loved so much, but a place where I had experienced the worst times of my life.  I loved those folks and I really believe they kept me alive through that marriage.  I got to tell them that.  I also got to apologize to a couple of people I felt I had hurt.  It was so good to be able to do that.

When I got back to Denver, I celebrated my 19th birthday at my old home group on the north side of town.  It was so very special to me because of who gave me my 19 year chip.  I had known her since I got sober.  She got sober 9 months before me.  I disliked her pretty intensely and the feeling was quite mutual.  She hated the fact that I cussed in meetings, and so I cussed all the more if she was around.  She disapproved of me, and she let me know it!  By the time I was celebrating 19 years, I wrote "T. gave me my chip and told me she loved me, and I told her I loved her.  You end up truly loving the few people who are left standing.  Thank God I am one of them."  

Thank God indeed.  

Friday, June 19, 2009

What it was like: Year Eighteen

Oh, now this was a grand year!  Well, aside from some pretty tragic national events.  

Just after I celebrated my 17th AA anniversary, my realtor called me and told me she had found the perfect house for me.  I wasn't even looking for a house!  She asked me to just come and look at it.  I walked in, fell in love, and although I thought the house was too expensive for me, I decided to just try to buy it.  

Absolutely everything fell into place.  I was able to get the financing.  I was able to sell my little townhouse and my closing was set for September 27, 2001.  In the meantime, September 11 happened.  

I had gone to the opening Broncos game at the new Invesco Field at Mile High the night before.  The Broncos beat the Giants, but my Eddie McCaffery broke his leg!  On September 11, I got up late for work and walked downstairs to check the news on Eddie's leg.  I turned on the TV just in time to see the second airplane hit the World Trade Center.  I stood at my television set for a long time trying to make sense of what I had seen - just like the rest of the world.  My daughter called me because I have an uncanny ability to make the worst situations seem better.  She was expecting me to do that.  Instead, we were on the phone when the first tower fell - and I cried and said "the whole world just changed."  I knew it would be the end of peace for us, and I was right.  My daughter cried and said I was making her feel worse, not better!  

After that, my packing and preparing to move just came to a halt.  All I was doing was going to AA meetings and cooking and knitting.  I canned peaches and pears, I made mass quantities of peach jam, pear chutney, dill pickles, salsa... standing in the kitchen staring at the television and crying.  While I should have been packing.

I got moved just the same.  It was the worst move I have ever had - because I was not prepared.  But I still got moved.

I had less than 3 months of school left to go.  I sat in my new family room and spread out my papers and books and finished writing my thesis.  It was pretty wonderful.  

My 50th birthday was the day before my graduation.  I threw a huge party.  I am not a party thrower, but I thought the new house, the big birthday and the big graduation were all cause for celebration. It was a wonderful event, even though there was a big snowstorm that night, people still came to the party.

I had invited a number of people from AA, including a man from my old homegroup.  He was unable to attend, but since he had an invitation to my party, he had an excuse to call me - and ask me out on a date!  Our first date was just before Christmas 2001.  We were definitely smitten with each other.  We had such fun!

Here I was, just getting over so many years of my life being serious as a heart attack, and here came this big tall cowboy (handsome as can be), with his big tall cowboy hat, his crooked smile, and his wacky sense of humor.  He was like medicine for my weary soul.  We went to concerts, we went camping, we went on weekends in the mountains with a bunch of other crazy sober people and had paint ball wars!  We went to County Fairs, the National Western Stock Show, movies, and more country concerts.  We would pick up on a Saturday afternoon and just grab our pans and go to the mountains to pan gold!  

My family loved him - which is no small feat.  His family loved me - which was also no small feat.  We loved each other.  It was a wonderful time.  

People would say "What happened to you?"  because I had gone from super serious - almost grim - to this frivolous fun loving woman.  I went from listening to classical music to listening to Merle Haggard (my favorite) and George Strait.  Oh, it probably looked wacky, but it was so much fun.  

I failed to mention that I got another promotion at work.  I got the job I always dreamed of having.  I have it still.  I still really do love it.  It was such a huge leap for me, and I think having all this happiness in my personal life really helped me to handle it.  

One of our friends would draw on styrofoam cups during meetings.  I still have a cup where he drew my fellow and me.  It was a pic of him and me, captioned with "Calm Ken and Crazy Mary attend the Wednesday night meeting."  The caption above Ken says "Simmer down there Mary, simmer down."  It was cute.  It really was a lot like our relationship.  He calmed me down so much and he never got angry with me.  

On my 18th birthday I lived in a house I loved.  I had the job I always wanted.  I loved and was loved by a good man.  AND I had now been sober as long as I drank!  Life was good.  We celebrated by going to a concert at Cheyenne Frontier Days...  I have a photo of my journal for that day along with my little souvenir ticket.  

This was a shining year for me.  

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What it was like: Year Seventeen

After I got my bachelor's degree, I decided I was in the habit of going to school and should just keep right on going to get a master's degree.  It was also my first year in management at work.  It was a blur of work and school.  It wasn't much fun.

In December of 2000, I went to the 6:30 meeting as I was in the habit of doing.  About half way through the meeting, an old man who had once been my friend said something so insulting about me, something sexual, and really disgusting, I started crying.  I noticed that a couple of the younger men he sponsored laughed at this disgusting thing.  When they passed the basket at 7 a.m., I walked out.  Instead of going to work, I went home because I could not stop crying.  One person from the group called me to see if I was OK.  I was not OK.  I was so sad.  

He had been my friend.  He is maybe 25 years older than me - he is about 80 now.  He got sober in 1973 - same as my sponsor - but a month later than her.  He had always flirted with me, in an innocent way, but after his wife died in 1999, his attitude towards me turned really mean.  I don't know why (and I don't really care either).  I ignored him for a while.  But when he said something right in the meeting and those men laughed, I thought to myself,  "I have no use for a group that tolerates this kind of behavior, and I am out of here."  And I was.  

I could accept that he was a bitter old man.  But I could not accept that the rest of the group just sat there and tolerated it.  

So, I found another group.  But I felt so hurt about this.  It was a hard time in my life and feeling homeless in AA did not help.  

Honestly, all I remember of that year is all the hours I worked, and then I went to school all day Saturday and Sunday every other weekend, and spent every other free minute working on homework. 

On my Seventeenth birthday, I wrote in my birthday journal:
"This year, I truly know that God is doing for me what I cannot do for myself.  I let ____ run me out of my home group.  I am having problems with other people.  I want to move back up north where I belong.  It was so good to be there tonight.  It is so good to be connected with the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.  I start my second and last year of graduate school tomorrow morning.  I am so tired of this.  Coupling my first year as director of medical records with going to graduate school has been close to suicidal.  This has been a hard year.  A good year, but hard.  I hate to wish my life away, but I will be 50 on December 15 and I will graduate on December 16.  Now that I am looking forward to."

And with good reason...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What it was like: Year Sixteen

As I said in my last post, I spent seven weeks with a neck brace on, it was difficult.  Especially to be a student.  I had to hold books up to my eye level to read them because I could not bend my neck to look down.  But I continued in school and continued to have good grades.  

Sometime in late summer 1999, my meth addict daughter was at my house and whatever she did caused me to say "Oh my God, you are pregnant!"  She looked at me like I was on meth!  And then she thought about it.  And then she went to the doctor and found that she truly was pregnant.  Since she was on meth for part of her first trimester, some family members (her dad) were insistent that she have an abortion.  I was just as insistent that she didn't.  Her sister and I both made the commitment to take care of her and the baby no matter what happened.  It could have been horrible.  I am so grateful that we made that commitment and that the pregnant one went along with it.  She moved in with me and we had a lovely 6 or 7 months of waiting for a baby.   It was such a special time.  We really didn't know if the baby was going to be "OK" or not, but we knew we would love the baby just the same.

On March 19, 2000, a perfectly perfect and beautiful baby girl was born.  The father (another meth addict) was present for the birth and so were auntie and nana.   She was born on my mother's birthday.  It was the most wonderful thing to happen.  I was a grandmother!  My daughter was a mother!  And she was a good one!  The baby was not only perfectly healthy, but had a gentle and sweet disposition.  They moved back in with me and I was in seventh heaven.  

A few short weeks later, their nuclear family was assembled under the same roof, and it wasn't mine.  In other words, they moved out.  And they moved in with the father of the child.  I expected a nightmare, but I was wrong.  For a few years, they remained off meth and did a pretty good job of being responsible adults.  (for a few years...)

In May 2000 I graduated from college!  I was a Bachelor of Science - my major was Health Information Management with a minor in Healthcare Administration.  I graduated Magna Cum Laude.  I missed Summa Cum Laude by a very small fraction of a point.  Oh well. I was done with school and very happy about it.   My brothers and sister came for my graduation.  It was a grand time.  

As I was graduating, my boss decided to leave.  I was promoted to be the Director of Medical Records  in the department where I had been so grateful to start as the Administrative Assistant just 6 years earlier.  The first day I had the job, I was at a meeting off grounds all day.  I came back after hours and unlocked my office.  I sat behind the desk and just looked at the chair where I had interviewed, desperate for that job.  I thanked God for what had happened in my life and I sat and cried.  I still cry (right now) when I think about this.

I still had to sit for the exam to get the credential that was required for me to have that job.  It was the last year that every candidate for that credential (having a bachelor's degree in Health Information Management) gathered in a huge classroom on one day a year and sat all day and took that test.  (the next year and ever since, it was done online) My advisor from the university shared with me later that I had the highest score on that test in the state.  I don't know why I need to tell you that, but it meant something to me and there is never a tasteful opportunity to tell anyone that!  

So many of my dreams had come true.  Things that were truly impossible had happened in my life.  

I have a little bit of a weird thing with the year after the "big" birthdays.  After I turned 5, I didn't really care if I was 6.  After I turned 10, I didn't really care about 11.  After I turned 15, I didn't really care about 16, etc.  Not that I wasn't grateful, because I was.  But it all just seemed like MORE icing on the cake that was already about to fall over from all the icing on it.  I have been so abundantly blessed by God, it astounds me.  

If I got what I deserved, it would not be a pretty picture.  Instead, I am given God's grace and mercy, and I will never stop thanking Him for it.  

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What it was like: Year Fifteen

I think this is getting really tiresome...  Any opinions anyone would care to express?  I was thinking of maybe doing 5 year blocks from here on out- and therefore getting this done in two more days.  I am happy to write them year by year, but the later years start blending....

Ok, so I celebrated 14 years.  I moved into my very own little townhouse.  I was driving to work one day shortly thereafter in my vintage Subaru, holding the driver's side door shut, and admiring the steam billowing from under the hood.  I thought - that's it!  I am buying a new car!  And I did!  I purchased myself a brand new 1999 white Volkswagen Jetta, and oh, how I loved that car.

Since I had a new car, I decided to take the road trip I had wanted to take for years.  I drove (by myself) from Denver to Youngstown, Ohio to see my old childhood friends, and then on to Pittsburgh to see my parents' graves.  I also decided to stop in Akron to go to 855 Ardmore Ave.  

I didn't really have a huge desire to go there because I think Bill and Dr. Bob are constantly spinning in their graves with the way we have idolized them.  But since I was driving right through Akron, I thought I might as well go there.  I sheepishly asked my non-alcoholic childhood friend if she would mind - since we were traveling together on this leg.  She was happy to go.  As we walked up the stairs to that house, I got goose bumps all over.  When we walked in the door and a couple of old geezers seated in the living room said "Welcome Home," I cried.  I turned to my friend, embarrassed, and was amazed to see that she was crying too!   She found it incredibly moving as well.  To think of all that transpired in that house was pretty inspiring!  I am glad the house is preserved, but I do wish we would stop idolizing those two fully human drunks.... but I digress...

By this time, I had decided to go to school part time instead of full time, so I was watching my original classmates get ready to graduate, while I had another year to go.  I still think it was a good decision.  I still enjoyed school, I wasn't just "getting through" it or "enduring" it, I was actually enjoying it and putting a lot of effort into my work.  

Also by this time my back was just completely toast.  I was in pain all of the time.  I finally started taking vicodin - just so I could get through my days and nights.  I took less than prescribed, and talked with my sponsor constantly about it.  I asked myself these questions every single time I opened the bottle to take out another pill - 1.  Am I in pain?  2. Is the pain why I am taking this pill?  3.  Am I taking the pill as prescribed?  If I could answer those questions, I took the pill and tried to have faith that God would take care of me through this period.

I tried acupuncture which helped a little.  The acupuncturist (who was also an anesthesiologist) advised me not to have surgery unless I lost the use of my arms.  I agreed.  So, one day I was riding my bike home from work and both of my arms went numb, it was a scary experience to get home that way.  All the way from the shoulder to my fingertips.  That was when I decided to have the surgery my physician had recommended.

On June 30, 1999, I checked into the hospital for an anterior discectomy and fusion of C4-6 - with bone grafts and titanium rods.  That was a major ordeal.  But a week later, my prescription for vicodin ran out and miracle of miracles, I did not refill it.  I stopped taking pain meds, and just like the studies said, since I took the medication as indicated for pain,  I was not addicted.  What a relief that was.

I had to wear a huge neck brace for 7 weeks and that was definitely the worst part of the surgery.

On my 15th birthday, I was wearing this neck brace - along with a pretty dress.  I have a picture of myself outside of the meeting that night - with my friend who had moved to San Francisco.  He was in town for the meeting.  It was a wonderful night.  

Among other things, here is what I wrote in my birthday journal:
"It was a very beautiful night but I just want to cry.  15 years is so long.  I am so grateful.  So blessed.  It is such a wonderful gift.  Thank you God."

Monday, June 15, 2009

What it was like: Year Fourteen

In fall of 1997 I started classes at the university I had always dreamed of attending. It was pretty wonderful. It was a revelation to me to find that I was getting "A"s at this school too. And to find that I had a gift for statistics was absolutely incredible to me.

I had gotten a couple of promotions at work and was doing a job I really liked. I had been on the Ethics Committee for a couple of years and had learned a lot. I felt that I really belonged at my workplace - which is a feeling I hadn't had in too many places other than AA.

I was still living in North Denver, but that year, on Cinco De Mayo, I decided I really had to move. I lived 2 blocks off the main cruising drag and the days around the 5th of May were a scary nightmare where I had to either stay indoors and not leave the house, or leave the house and stay away. It was terrifying. There was a shooting in the alley behind my house. For as much as I loved the house and the neighborhood, I knew I needed to get away. So I started looking for a house to buy.

I applied for a mortgage and wonder of wonders, I got pre-qualified! There were a couple of old debts that I needed to clear up, so I did. I spent months looking and finally found a townhouse I wanted to buy. It was tiny - 870 square feet, but it was in a pretty area, very close to my workplace and my morning meeting place, and it was painted green! I made an offer and it was accepted!

The closing was on July 24, 1998 - my 14th AA birthday. I went to the closing and gratefully signed my name a thousand times. I went to the meeting to celebrate that night and had a whole new realization.

Many of my old friends were at the meeting, including my first boyfriend in sobriety - the one who brought wine and beer on our first date, and the young man from East LA who had lived with me. As these people shared in the meeting, they painted a picture of a person that I later realized that the newer people didn't even recognize. A few of the people in their first 5 years or so talked to me after the meeting and told me they had never seen this "crazy" behavior that was being described. Wow! What a thing to realize that I hadn't "acted out" for a very long time and I had really changed.

You may have already gotten the idea by reading these year by year descriptions that my recovery wasn't something that happened overnight. Actually, in my first five years, it SEEMED to have happened. But there was something amiss in those years. It looked good from the outside, but it was very very not good. At 5 years, I lost it all, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me because I could not have stayed sober or probably even lived at the rate I was going. I had to rebuild my life from nothing. And finally, after a while, things started piecing together.

But my priority could never be the material before the spiritual. That never works. Not for anyone. Not ever. (It may sometimes seem to, but it never does.)

I am so grateful for the Loving Hand of God, who was with me through all of the times, good and bad. These blessings could never be earned. It was all grace.
I have gotten some e-mail about this post. It sounds like I am saying everyone needs to lose everything and start over... and that everyone's first five years in sobriety are crap. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am just telling MY story... that is how it worked for me. Everyone has their own story.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What it was like: Year Thirteen

I am not real clear on how I am going to do this for another 12 days.  The longer I have stayed sober, the "less" I have had going on - which is a good thing.  I guess as I look back on 1996 - 1997, there are several things that stand out in my mind.  

I discovered that one of the down sides of a life of stability was that when you are not the one leaving all the time, other people leave and it is YOU left behind.  In January 1997, my best friend moved away to the UK.  She was in love and left.  I couldn't believe a person in her 50s would leave her home, her family, give away almost everything she owned and leave the country - for a man!  Granted, I had done the same things a few years previous, but I thought this gave me special insight into why this was a horrible idea!  I was pretty devastated that she left.  It left a big hole in my life.   I need to say that she is now married to this man and still lives in the UK.  She did however start drinking again and as far as I know she is still drinking today, and it feels sad to me that my first sponsor has been drinking for probably ten years now.  

A few months later, my other dear friend got a job in San Francisco, and decided to leave town.  I was heartbroken.  My Saturday afternoon hikes and movies became a thing of the past.   

A really wonderful thing that happened is that I applied and was accepted into the big time university I had always dreamed of attending.  It just seemed like it was too much to believe that I would be attending this fabulous university.  They actually let me in!  But why wouldn't they?  I had a very good GPA for the couple of years I had been attending community colleges.  

It was amazing what happened when I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and doing the next right thing.  I didn't have to fix my life in one moment.  I just kept chipping away at it. I remember one night driving to class, I had a huge final exam to take - in my worst class, Anatomy and Physiology.  I started praying in the car, sort of begging God to help me take the test, and I realized that I had done my part by putting in the work required.  I had studied for the test, so I could walk into the classroom and just do the best I could do.  This is elementary for most normal folks, but I think this is rocket science to alcoholics.  We just don't get simple concepts like this... it took me years of sober living to start understanding.   

Another thing that I was chipping away at was a couple of big debts.  When I started working again, Social Security took a dim view of the legitimacy of my disability.  It seems that it is pretty uncommon for a person to call and just tell them to please stop sending checks.  They felt I owed them a large sum of money.  I also owed a pretty big chunk of child support.  It felt overwhelming, but I thought long and hard about what I could do to pay it off and decided that I really could live without a car, which meant that I would not have a car payment or the other expenses associated with car ownership.  I tightened my belt and lived pretty austerely for a while and focused on paying off my debt.  

I did eventually pay it all off, but it was not overnight.  If there is an overarching theme in my 13th year, I would say it is the slow inevitability of recovery in all areas of life, if one just keeps plugging away, day after day, year after year.  The most amazing things happen.  

On my 13th birthday, I wrote in what turned out to be my birthday journal - I write in it every year on my AA anniversary.  I wrote mainly about the birthday meeting - who was there, etc.  I was very excited because I was starting school at the university the next day.  And I felt the need to write down what one of my friends said about me..."There are very few unique people in this world.  In this room tonight, there are maybe 5, and Mary is 3 of them."  I loved that.  

I was so aware of God's grace in my life.  It was (and is) a beautiful thing.  

What it was like: Year Twelve

This is where I stopped keeping my journal. I just didn't have much drama going on, or much time to write.  I was busy working, being a student, being an AA member, and generally living life on life's terms.  

Since I had started my job in September of 1994, things really started changing for me.  I had some real stability.  I actually had vacation time!  I actually had a little bit of money to go take vacations.  

I was hanging around with my old best friend - my first sponsor in AA.   I had made a wonderful friend in a man who had gotten sober just a couple of months after I did.  We would meet at the meeting on Saturday mornings and then go take day long hikes in the mountains.  When we were done with that, we would generally go to a movie.   I love movies, but for some reason, I usually go when it is someone else's idea - but it was great fun to know all the movies.

In November 1995, I rented a house in North Denver.  Oh, how I loved that house!  It was over 100 years old.  It was 2 blocks from a lovely old church, which I walked to frequently.   If you have read about my journey for the last eleven or so days, you might have a pretty good concept of why I was so excited to live in a pretty little house and go to the pretty church two blocks away.  I always paid my rent on time.  I never caused a problem for my landlady and landlord - who lived just next door.  (When I told them I was moving 3 years later, my landlady actually cried!)  The police only came to my door once - and that was when my house was burglarized.  

I was working in Southwestern Denver, living in North Denver, and going to meetings in a northern suburb.  I was doing a lot of driving.  

At that time, I also started having a lot of pain in my neck.  I was diagnosed with arthritis in my spine.  My physician looked at the x-ray of my neck and told me my neck had been broken in several places - and he wondered what the heck happened!  I couldn't begin to explain it to him.  He told me with a very sad face that I would be in pain for the rest of my life.  By that time, I already realized that.  And you know the really odd thing about that? It was OK.  On the spectrum of pain, I would rather have physical pain than be in a bad marriage or any other number of situations that I was no longer in.  Later I would have an MRI and find that I had two ruptured discs as well as the arthritis, but that was later.  

One night, I couldn't sleep because of the pain, and decided to try a meeting at 6:30 a.m. since I was already awake.  It was on my way to work, I could get there and get to work on time.  I was so excited when I found that I liked the group.  And they liked me.  I met a bunch of people who would later become my friends.  And I met a woman who was to become my sponsor.  

As I alluded to earlier, my house was burglarized on December 27, 1995.  I had been in a car accident on December 23, 1995.  Someone at work said to me on New Year's Eve, "I hope you have a better year next year, this has been a bad one for you."  I couldn't believe it!  I thought 1995 was stellar.  Are you kidding me?  No one hit me for a year!  I knew where I lived, I knew where I worked, I had relationships with all of my children, I could go to church without shame, I knew who I was, and I was happy about who that was.  A burglary and a car accident?  Constant pain?  These are just things that normal people have.  Just regular life stuff.  I was grateful for every second of my new life. It was the most wonderful thing!  

My twelfth birthday is probably the only one that I have no written journal entry for.  I know that by then, I had a new sponsor - the one who I am so blessed to still call my sponsor today.  I know that she came to my old homegroup for my birthday meeting.  I know that my best friends were there.  

I know that I was grateful beyond comprehension for what God had been able to create from the broken wreckage of my (sober) life.  

Friday, June 12, 2009

What it was like: Year Eleven

Something changed for me when I turned 10 years old in AA.  I don't know what happened, but everything changed.  I used to say in meetings that it was like in the movie "The Wizard of Oz" when Dorothy's house lands in Oz, she opens the door and the world has gone from black and white to color.  My life became 100% in color.  

I had gotten really broke, as I expected I would - after taking several months off of work. I was working as a temp at a quilting magazine.  It was really fun, but it wasn't much money.  I remember one day looking at the way someone had written their numbers like a bunch of lower case letter "i"s and I missed my life in medical records terribly.  I said something about working "in my field," and thought  -  wow, I have a "field."  That day, I checked my messages on a break and found I had a message asking me to come in for an interview in a medical records department at a hospital.

It was a smaller hospital, and a small department.  It was extremely low-tech, and I fell in love with it the minute I hit the door.  I prayed I would get that job, and I did. ( There is a wonderful side story about this interview I blogged about when I was a new blogger, you can find it here if you would like to more time reading about ME! ME! ME!)

I wrote this in September of 1994, "It feels like I've come around a huge corner. I actually feel happy and I am looking forward to the future."  What a wonderful thing, after the abysmal years of that marriage.

My divorce was final in October.  I changed my name back to my maiden name.  I was so grateful to go to bed alone at night.  I was grateful to go places alone.  I was grateful to be alone.  My daughter by this time was incarcerated, so I was living alone.  My son was now in the Army.  I had that pretty apartment and it was clean and wholesome and the rent was paid and I had a job.  I felt like a real bonafide human being.  A real woman who was living a life consistent with my values.  

I loved my job and I loved my boss.  She took a mentor role with me and actually talked me into going to school.  I was 42 years old and hadn't been to school since I graduated from high school when I was 18.  She helped me every step of the way though the application process.  I applied for student loans and got them (I STILL have them as a matter of fact!)  At the age of 43, I attended my first college class, and I found I loved it and I got an "A" for the semester.  I had a 4.0 GPA!  Who cares if it was only for one class!  I kept the 4.0 until I had to take Anatomy and Physiology, and Statistics.  

I abandoned any hope of belonging to the super cool AA group with all of the super cool people.  My ex-husband and ex-sponsor went there and I felt very uncomfortable there.  I decided that I would be a plain old sober woman and be there for the plain old drunk who needed a hand.  I didn't need to be part of some kind of "super" AA, I could be down in the trenches with the drunks.  It was a relief to me to make this decision.  

Even writing this, I feel like I can breathe again.  It has been so amazing to really delve into what it was like for those first years.  I spend so little time thinking about it, it was really painful to look at it.  But I am glad I did.  

Here is what I wrote on my 11th birthday:  "Thank you God is all I can say, but it doesn't sound like enough.  I guess I need to just show - every day of my life - my gratitude."  

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What it was like: Year Ten

At nine years of sobriety, things were just about to start happening.  My dad, who had been in a nursing home for several years, had a stroke.  I went to Iowa to sit at his side as he was dying.  It seems like I was there for months, it was only a week.  He died on August 29, 1993.  I loved my dad so much, it was so difficult to lose him, even though he was old, in poor health, and had lived years longer than anyone thought he would.  

I came back home to Denver - to this man who had invaded and was occupying my home.  My daughter was just starting to "act out," and so despite years of court battles and thousands of dollars in a custody battle that I had lost, my ex was suddenly happy to have her come and live with me.  And I was happy to have her.

Somehow watching the way my husband treated my daughter was finally the thing that made me willing to walk away.  One week from the day my dad died, on September 12, 1993, I walked away from my home.  I had a backpack.  It had a change of underwear, my toothbrush, big book, and my journal.  And I didn't care what I lost anymore.  I just needed peace for me and my daughter.  

We went and stayed with an AA friend.  I had to find a car and an apartment and suddenly this did not seem like an overwhelming task.  My sponsee loaned me her car so that I could go look for a car.  I went to many buy here - pay here lots until I found one where they were willing to finance me... which made no sense at all.  I remained friends with the owner of that lot for a very long time and always made sure he knew that he made it possible, just by financing that old hail-damaged Ford Escort, for me to have a new life.  (I did pay every cent I owed, and on time every month.)  I borrowed against a small inheritance to get the money I needed for a deposit and first month's rent.  

I found a wonderful apartment that will always be one of my favorite places in my memory.  It had an exposed brick wall all across one side of it, and a screen door, a deck for my plants, and it looked out on a courtyard full of trees.  My daughter and I shopped for towels and sheets, and we picked fabric and I made curtains, it was a wonderful new beginning.  It was close to the kids' dad's house, so I had one kid living with me, and two just down the road.  They could just as easily come to my house after school as their dad's.  They spent a lot of time with me.   It felt heavenly to me to be able to spend peaceful time with my children again after all the years of upheaval.

I had found a new sponsor sometime in my 9th year.  She was another AA superstar.  A circuit speaker!  She hung out with all the "right" people.  She talked about the "right" stuff.  I thought she was a blessing in my life - and maybe she was.  She was adamant about me needing to leave my husband.  And I have talked so much about this relationship here, I will try not to go into it too much again, but it is so much a part of my story...

I was still working in the Medical Records Department of the large hospital.  I really loved it.  

I was still going to church.  In November, I was able to go to confession for the first time since I was a teenager.  On that day, for the first time in my life, I was able to say that I was grateful to be an alcoholic.  I knew that my alcoholism had enabled me to have the humility to just suck it up and do things the way they are supposed to be done.  I was able to be a Real Catholic.  I can't tell you what that means to me.  

In June of 1994, after my husband had moved into my sponsor's house, I made the decision to file for divorce.  I wrote this in huge letters in my journal "I don't have to have an amicable divorce.  I just have to have a divorce.  He doesn't have to like it.  He never liked my best efforts to please him so if he is unhappy now, that is not my job.  My job is... to thine own self be true, keep my own side of the street clean and be honest and don't try to hurt or not hurt anyone.  It's all manipulation and the same thing."  So, I filed for divorce and had his papers served at my sponsor's house.

I also quit my job.  I had my rent and bills all payed for the summer.  I decided to take one last summer to myself.  I went to a 7:30 a.m. AA meeting, and then 9:00 a.m. Mass, and then the 10:00 a.m. meeting every day. I was elected to be the GSR of my group - which was my favorite service position ever.   I went out for lunch a lot.  I went on little day trips to the mountains.  I had a great summer. 

In the middle of the summer, I went to a job fair at my church.  I applied for a state job, thinking I would get a job selling license plates or something like that.  How amazed I was when I got an interview for a job in the Medical Records Department of a hospital!  But that story is for next year.

I celebrated 10 blessed years of sobriety on July 24, 1994.  I was given a gift of a blank book for my birthday.  I wrote in it on my 10th birthday and then every year since my 13th.  

"Ten years without a drink.  The hardest, longest, most painful, most joyous, most alive years in my life.  You know, I have almost been sober a quarter of my life  Next year it will be one half of my adult life.  God loves me so much."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What it was like: Year Nine

Do you know that when I talk to people today, I call this last marriage a "brief marriage?"  I have a convenient memory.  I have mostly forgotten the details of how awful it was.  And I thank God for that, because I do not need to carry this stuff around with me.  It is a heavy load.  One which, thanks be to God, I have largely gotten rid of long ago.  I don't walk around with the anger that would maybe be understandable - if you wanted to live in understandable misery.

On August 5, 1992, I left Washington AGAIN.  I took the train.  I had my journal with me, so I wrote in my journal.  There is one memory so crystal clear to me, it is wonderful to read what I wrote in that moment and see that it is exactly the same as my memory.  I was on the train, I had salted away money for a month or more so that I had a little stash of my own money.  And with that I paid my train fare from Seattle to Denver.  I was unable to get a sleeper car on such short notice, so I was just sitting in a seat, all day and all night long.  

Here's what I wrote in my journal:  "I woke up at about 3 a.m. and felt that wonderful feeling of safeness.  There are people all around me and I am safe.  My neighbors on the train are four strange men and one strange woman, but I feel safe because there are people around me.  I actually slept more than I have for months."  By the last days in Washington, I was sleeping with my purse under the mattress, partially for quick escape, and partially because I didn't want him to steal from me.  

I got back home to Denver AGAIN.  My friends welcomed me AGAIN.  My kids were glad to have me back AGAIN.  I was back at my home group and with my sponsor.  My group elected me to be treasurer (that's a whole other story), and I was volunteering at Central Office.  I was heartbroken over the marriage AGAIN.  I had found a letter to his son he had left where I could find it that said that he should have left me years ago, but he needed me for immigration purposes... but I already knew that.  It hurt just the same.  

By October, I was getting back on my feet, and then had a set back when I needed to have a hysterectomy.  I can't believe I agreed to this, but B. said he would come and "help" me while I was recovering.  I told him he could come and stay with me for a week.  No more.  When I got home from the hospital, I saw that he had moved all of his belongings from Washington into my one bedroom apartment.  He just moved in while I was in the hospital.  It was the most sinking feeling to realize that I was so vulnerable, having just had major surgery, and here I was stuck with him AGAIN. 

And I was so stubbornly insisting that he move out.  For months.  And months.  And months.  Of misery.  And those AA people who were our neighbors started calling the police when he would start up with me.    

Some time in the spring, I decided I really needed to do something with my life, so I went to some university to take some test to see what I wanted to be when I grew up.  It came up with Medical Records as a good career choice for me.  I went immediately to scout the community college that offered an associate's degree in health information and then to the university that I had always wanted to attend... they had a bachelor's program in health information.  I wanted the bachelor's, but knew I couldn't afford it.  So I signed up with Kelly to be a temp, as a way to get back to work.  

The first job I got was at a major area hospital, in the Medical Records Department.  I couldn't believe it!  I loved it and they loved me.   It was a real major positive in my life and gave me some hope.  I stayed on that job for just short of a year.

I started going to mass regularly.  I started to see that I could be an actual real Catholic in good standing.  I went even though I wasn't considered in good standing, because I was living with a man I was not married to in the eyes of the church.  I realized that something told to me in early sobriety was true inversely as well...

"If you want to save your soul, go to church.  If you want to save your ass, go to AA."  I was sober almost 9 years, my ass was saved.  My soul needed some serious work.  I felt that the church I belonged to was my real home.  It was an incredible blessing to me.

On my 9th birthday, I wrote about a funeral I attended that day for an AA friend who had killed himself.  "I looked around and saw all these people standing around this church at my friend's funeral.  I felt surrounded by my family.  People who know me and love me.  I know them and love them  Oh, please dear God, let this not be wasted on me.  Not to let people slide right by me.  To do my best to love and care.  To tell people or show people I care about how very much I do care."  

Some other stuff that was going on during all of this... I quit smoking in November, 1991 (and amazingly enough I still have never smoked another cigarette).  I was sponsoring one young woman who was very dear to me.  

Only one more "bad" year...

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

What it was like: Year Eight

It was 1991, and I had just celebrated seven years of sobriety.  I was back to Denver, less than a year after getting married.  I guess I could have been humiliated, but I was just so grateful to be back home with my old friends and my family.  I got back in touch with my old sponsor, who I loved very much, and I was grateful for that relationship.

I got a little apartment just a couple of blocks away from my home group.  It was the dumpiest place I have ever lived.  But I loved it.  It was mine.  I could easily afford it on my disability check. It was one of those apartment complexes full of AAs.  I knew a lot of my neighbors.  I got very close to several of them.  We would walk en masse every morning to the 7:30 meeting.  And hang out afterwards.  It was nice.

Somehow my husband talked his way back into my life.  It might have been because I loved him, who knows why this happened, but it did.  Obviously, nothing changed.  But I was commuting between northern Washington and Denver.  I wouldn't give up my apartment, thank God, so I always had a place to go.  But the emotional upheaval was tremendous.  

Some time during this year, my sponsor called me and asked me if I was sitting down.  I was.  She told me she was drinking.  I could not believe it!  This woman had been a superstar of AA... she knew all the "right" people out in California.  I thought I was hooked up with AA royalty with her... and here she was, drunk.  I was flabbergasted.  I sought a new sponsor and my only qualification was that she not be some old prissy Christian hag who was going to shove her religion down my throat.  There was a woman I disqualified just because she wore a cross around her neck.  

So I picked Eva.  Eva was from Mexico.  She was sober 15 years and went to a meeting every day.  She was truly an AA member.  She cussed like a sailor and I suspected she was a lesbian.  English wasn't her first language, it was barely her second language, but she did punctuate nearly every sentence with the word "fock."  I thought she would be great.  

The first time we got together, she floored me when she asked me "You're Catholic, aren't you?" to which I responded "yeah."  She then asked me how long I had been sober and I told her "seven years," to which she responded, "don't you think it is about time you go back to church?"  I could NOT believe it.  My best effort to avoid this whole topic brought me right here to this pivotal moment.  And I saw the hand of God in it.

I went to Church for the first time since I was in my teens.  I heard lots of good stuff there, which I swore I never had before.  I met with the priest and got lots of help from him.  I wasn't quite ready to hop in totally, heart and soul, but I was testing the waters, and found it was quite inviting.

I kept trying to return to Washington to live with the husband.  I was going to Alanon and trying to figure out how I could take responsibility for myself and butt out of his life and learn to live with this situation.  Alanon says that no situation is ever hopeless.  I wanted to believe that.  I wanted to BE the right person, not find the right person.   I kept telling myself that love was an action, not a feeling.  I tried so hard.  So impossibly wrongly hard.    

I celebrated my 8th birthday at my group in Washington.  I loved so many people there.  I was grateful to be there, but very very conflicted, because I knew I needed to go home.  There will always be a very soft spot in my heart for this beautiful valley and the wonderful people in it.  When I think of it, I think of the soft air, so full of humidity, so low in altitude, so full of the scent of moisture and flowers and trees.  I would walk every day under cedar trees, it was incredible.  But I didn't belong there.  And I certainly didn't belong with that man who was continuing to hurt me.  But I wasn't done until I was done....  And I wasn't done yet.  

I would tell you what I wrote on my eighth birthday, but it is all about an argument that broke out at Burger King after the meeting... between my husband and a man he didn't like.  It was heartbreaking for me... but I was getting used to heartbreaking.

Can you stand to read much more of this?  It is hard.  It is hard to write.  This is SO not who I am today. I am incredibly grateful.  But this is where I have been.  It is good to remember, because it seems like another person entirely.  Thank God.

Monday, June 08, 2009

What it was like: Year Seven

I celebrated 6 years of sobriety on July 24, 1990.  I had a great home group, I had a new sponsor from that group, I had a man I adored who wanted to marry me.  My family liked him, my friends liked him.  It seemed my bad taste in men was history.  

We were married on August 6, 1990.  It was a civil ceremony in a park.  We were surrounded by our AA group.  It was a nice wedding.  I don't know if I was ever happier.  

Within the first month, he slapped me across the face, but I thought it was just a strange fluke, certainly not in character for this man.  We moved back to the United States... and he began the 3 year residency before he became a citizen... but I am getting ahead of myself.  
One month and one day after we were married, his two teenage sons from Australia came to visit.  We lived in a beautiful house on a lake.  One thing I never thought about as we rented it was that the master bedroom was a loft - open to the living area downstairs.  I didn't know his sons would be living with us.  And I certainly could have never imagined two teenage boys would dislike me - hate me even.  I had never met a kid previous to this who didn't just love me.  I left my husband for the first time in October.  But came back because I realized I had no where to go.  

It got worse.  It got a lot worse.  On May 3, I wrote in my journal that as I was preparing dinner for these people, one of the kids said "64% of Americans are overweight, doesn't that make you feel better?"  I don't remember this, thank God.  I just wrote it in my journal.  And just found it now and want to go kick some Aussie ass.  The next day I wrote "I won't write that it can't get any worse than this, that's just tempting fate, isn't it?"  oh dear.  I knew. 

I had been hit in the face with a metal thermos, I had two fingers broken.  I can't even catalog the injuries, it is just ridiculous.  And of all the things I lost, the belief that I could never be a battered woman was probably the most painful.  I came to understand why they stay.  It is impossible to understand until you have experienced it, you can speculate if you would care to, it is easy to, but believe me when I tell you that it is so much more complex than you could ever imagine if you have not had the experience.

Tonight in my journal I found a little piece of paper with a journal entry from May 29, 1991.  I had walked away from the house on May 28.  With nothing but the clothes on my back.  We lived on a lake in a remote area, I had no idea how I would get out of there.  He had disabled my car.  I just walked up the hill and got on the road, and some young kid who had no idea what kind of dangerous situation he was inserting himself into picked me up.  He drove me to the hospital.  I had a broken wrist.  I remember that.  (I remembered that today when I had to come home at 9 a.m. to get my wrist brace which I have to wear from time to time because my wrist will just go all funky and hurt like hell... I thought it was ironic that it happened today when I knew I was going to be writing this. )  I had forgotten some of the details until I read this little slip of paper tonight part of which said "I have a footprint bruise on my  butt.  And a broken wrist.  But as I was rolling across the living room floor it occurred to me that I was through, I'd had enough of B.  That, of course, was mixed with the certainty that I was not going to get out of that house alive.  But I did."  

I stayed at one of those wonderful houses with 3 or 4 alcoholics living in it.  They let me stay on the couch.  I didn't want to go back to Denver with a cast on my arm, so I stayed until it was removed.  I think I also needed the time to just be with nice people and decompress from a year that was largely hell.  I also started smoking again the moment I hit the door of that house.  That first Camel cigarette might have been the single best sensual experience I have ever had, all the cigarettes that followed were not so wonderful...

Yesterday I said I was going to write about this AA group in this small town in northern Washington.  If not for that group, I think I would have died.  My husband's sponsor used to say "if you haven't got a sponsor and you haven't got a home group, you might be in something, but it probably isn't AA."  There was such structure and accountability there.  As you came into a meeting, you signed in with your name, your sobriety date, and your home group.  Which meant you really should have a sobriety date and a home group.  Most everyone did.

I became the treasurer of my group.  I got a service position with the PI committee which I really enjoyed.  I was busy with AA stuff.  It was good.  It was hard to leave that group, but I knew I had to go back home to Denver.

On my 7th birthday I was on the road to Denver.  I couldn't have been happier.  I was going back home.  I felt safe.  The long nightmare was over... or so I thought.  

From my journal July 24, 1991:  "Thank you God, seven years of continuous sobriety.  I'm closer by about 1300 miles to Denver.  I'm at the Motel 6 in Casper, Wyoming.  I went to a meeting in Sheridan tonight. I just couldn't not go to a meeting on my birthday.  God, it appears I need a lot of help.  Please give me the strength to get through this time.  It's scary."  

Sunday, June 07, 2009

What it was like: Year Six

It turns out I am missing my journals for the period of August 20, 1989 to August 30, 1990.  That saves me from looking at all the stuff I wrote.   This missing period is most of my sixth year of sobriety.  

I came back to Denver from New York in August 1989.  I didn't have anything to return to, no home, no car, no kids... I had a storage unit.  And a home group.  I was happy to be back in Colorado.  I stayed here and there for a week or so after I returned until I could rent an apartment.  I got a small apartment 2 miles away from the club.  I bought a bicycle for transportation.  I learned how to ride the bus.  I got a small job at the club (and promptly lost it - imagine getting fired from a $3.65 an hour job at an AA club!)

I was learning how to be a human being instead of a human doing.  I was learning to love myself even when I wasn't doing anything stellar.  I was learning how to let go of things and trust God.  Oh, I would have been able to "tell you" about all this stuff in my first couple of years, but this was a very deep experience of surrender which I had never imagined before.

I missed my kids horribly, but they were being well cared for by my ex-husband and his new wife.  I was actually very grateful that my kids had a good place to go while their mother was not really able to care for them.  I was getting disability checks in the mail, and believe me, if there was ever anyone who was disabled, it was me.  It was enough to live on in my new humble lifestyle. I was actually able to save enough money to pay cash for a 1979 Audi - the first used car I had ever purchased in my life!  I think I might have loved that car more than any other I have ever owned before or since.

On November 1, 1989, a man I had met earlier in the year came back to town.  He was from Australia, he had been in Denver attending a school.  He had decided not to go back home after being in the United States for 6 months or so.  He had been in California, and we had stayed in touch.  But in November, he clearly wanted to come to Denver to see me.  I was a bit scared, but excited too because he was a very appealing man to me.  He was stunningly handsome, charming, intelligent, sober 8 years, and he really liked me!  We "fell in love" and by February 1, 1990, we had the Audi packed up and were moving to Canada. 

It hurt like hell to leave my kids, but I was also anxious to go somewhere "neutral" to start a new life with this man.  When I hit the Canadian border, I got a visa that stated that I was not to work or go to school.  Oh my goodness, I was mandated not to do anything!  It sounded like heaven to me.

He had a job and I didn't.  So I stayed in our beautiful apartment all day reading books.  I think I was still so worn out from my first 5 years of sobriety, it took more than a year to feel really rested.  I would attend AA meetings, but we found that we didn't really feel comfortable in the AA meetings in the town we were in.  We remembered a man who had come through Denver just before we left, he was from a town in Northern Washington.  He had given us a card with his name, phone number and his home group.  On one Tuesday night, we decided to drive an hour and a half to visit his home group.

It was a revelation to both of us!  Neither of us had ever been welcomed so warmly anywhere.  We found some AA fellowship the likes of which I had never experienced before or after.  We started driving down every Tuesday night.  And then we started making the Friday night meeting.  And then the Tuesday group "traveled" one night a week, so we started joining them for that.  We were really so at home there.  I really learned about what an AA group should be in this small town in northern Washington.  We knew each others' last names.  We knew where everyone lived.  You could drop by to see them at any time.  If you were acting like a jackass at the grocery store or the bank, everyone knew it.  There was such a degree of accountability.  They had high expectations of each other, and it is my belief that people tend to live up to others' expectations.  I will write more about this group tomorrow....

In the summer of 1990, his job called him away to work in Alberta and he wanted me to join him.  I thought it was for a couple of weeks.  It turned out to be 6 weeks or 2 months.   It was a long time in a small town where I couldn't find an AA group.  It may have been there, but it was so anonymous, it was impossible to find.  After a month or so, I started having dreams that I hopped a freight train to get to my home group.  

I did finally force the issue, and drove my little Audi back to British Columbia and back to our apartment.  I loved that apartment and I loved my AA group and was so glad to be back.

I got to celebrate my 6th birthday there.  I remember waking up that morning, in this pretty apartment, with my handsome soon-to-be-husband, and thinking "You cannot get here from there."  There was no way that it made any sense that I could have this wonderful sober life, all out of the ashes of a life that was a disaster.  

It was clear that God could make use of the most twisted situations and turn them into something good.  

"There is no waste in God's economy."  -- As Bill Sees It