Tag Archives: fear

Hurting Out Loud

Nine months ago I published “Prescribed Relapse,” a post on how doctors sabotage our sobriety and threaten our lives as alcoholic addicts by prescribing us vast supplies of opiates.  Telling us to “take them as directed” is about as good as recommending we “stop at the second drink” – as if we had any power to drink or drug “like a gentleman.”  We don’t!  If it cops us a buzz, we default to MORE.

In that post I quoted friend’s Facebook message.  This was Rob, whose doctor turned him on to opioids years ago, hatching a fresh addiction that promptly took over his life:

Yah know, if I’d of known what I would become after a few Vicodin, I’d a shoved them up my doctor’s ass!!  I was never into opiates as a kid. But eight years into sobriety I hurt myself really really bad, and I guess I needed them. But in hindsight, if I had a choice between acute pain and becoming a heroin addict, I would have probably chose the pain. But whatever.  It’s done.  It’s over, right?” 

Last week Rob was coming up on a year clean when he died from accidental overdose.  My friend is gone.  He was 44.  I miss him terribly.  About 20 of us gathered at his sponsor’s house the other day, wrote him a shoe box full of notes, and circled the bonfire where we burned them to share our memories and weep.  I have dialed his voicemail just to hear his voice and bawled my guts out, remembering how I could call any time, how he’d offer me that sweet mix of empathy and “whaddaya gonna do?” acceptance of life’s pains.  He was one I leaned on to help me through my horrific break up, because he’d suffered one, too.

Rob

The more recent break up that triggered this fatal relapse was much less of a big deal.  He missed, not so much his ex-girlfriend as her son – a little boy he’d played dad to for about a year.  Building cushion forts, taking the Big Wheel out for a spin, tickling on the grass – we all saw the happy Facebook photos.

I wish to god he’d told me.  When we talked about missing the boy, he said a lot of “whatever” and “I’m fine.”  Maybe he really thought he was.  Or maybe he was just loath to admit that all his old wounds were re-opened, his heart re-cracked, his loneliness bleeding, a despair darkening his skies, that he’d never have a little family of his own.  Instead, he asked me for help setting up a Tinder dating profile.  That conversation was goofy – lots of “shit -wait a sec, k?” – because we were both on our phones working on phone apps.  It was the last we’d ever have.

Telling others we hurt, and how bad we hurt, is one of the hardest things to do.  We’re afraid of looking weak, looking naive or over-dramatic, or maybe even deserving of the blows dealt us.  For me, with decades of sobriety in AA, the biggest obstacle is pride: I should be more spiritual.  I should see through the dust of my collapsed dreams to recognize my part, take responsibility for my delusions, own my self-centered blindness, and, most of all, have faith that all is as it should be.

But when shit hits the fan, when the bottom falls out of your sky-castle and you’re plummeting, all you feel is WAH!  NO!  I DON’T WANT THIS!  I’m sad!  I’m mad!  I’m hurting!  You want to bawl like a toddler, throw a kicking, floor-pounding fit at god and fucking life and those fuckers who hurt you.  It’s not exactly the most flattering spiritual pose.

But it’s truth.  We have a disease that wants to kill us, and it’s favorite subterfuge is pride.  The most powerful trust we can have is to go to a meeting with our spiritual pants around our ankles for all to see – trusting that we’ll be caught by love.  When I learned my boyfriend had been screwing a girl from work for two and a half years, I went to my homegroup and cried to fifty people: “My boyfriend has been screwing a girl from work for two and a half years!”  How many of them thought, Tch!  How self-deluding that woman must be!   My disease tells me half the room, but god tells me, in the moment of my deepest vulnerability, no one.  Not even that guy in the corner pissed about his DUI.  Every person in that room beamed me human compassion.

My message to you is that, though your fan Shitfanmay whirl so shit-free at the moment that dramatic squalor seems far from hitting you, pain will find you.  And when it does, you’ll need trust in god just to feel it.  Trust in god to forgive yourself for fucking up.  Trust in god to own pain as part of your journey.  But most of all, you’ll need trust in god to reach out and ask for help.  Not just once.  Not just stopping when you think it might be getting old for others.  As alcoholics, what we cover up festers, becomes an emotional abscess fed by our disease, swelling with resentment and self-pity until eventually it bursts as the emotional nihilism of fuck it.  Fuck sobriety.  Fuck trying for a good life.  I tried, and look what it got me: misery.

Sure, it’s self-centered to keep bending people’s ears about your troubles if you’re not also doing the work to heal yourself.  Sure, there are assholes who’ll hear you wrongly, who will twist what you’ve shared against you.  But the deeper truth is this: trust is a form of love, and love is what heals us.

If Rob had loved himself enough, maybe he’d have given himself permission to feel  a degree of pain that, rationally, made no sense to him.  And maybe he’d have tapped into the trust to call somebody, maybe me, maybe another of those loving friends gathered in tears around our pyre of goodbye notes,  and say, “I can’t do this.  I can’t do life.  It hurts too much.”

Maybe he could have given us, instead of heroin, a chance to love him.

 

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Filed under AA, Addiction, Alcoholism, Pain Medication, Recovery, Sobriety, Spirituality

Not-Enoughness

A worthy life is simply one of honesty with oneself and god…

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I go through phases when I wake up almost every morning with a gut-level anxiety, a feeling of guilt that I’m somehow not doing all I’m supposed to, shame for lacking “success,” and alarm that I’m getting old at a mile a minute.  My whole life, the feeling claims, is a failure.  Before I’ve even sat up in bed, this “not-enoughness” jabs at my mind, perfect lifeprompting vague solutions that pop up like slot machine combos:  “Earn more!”  “Lose weight!”  “Socialize more!”

Whether my not-enoughness, a default setting from childhood, will ever go away I don’t know.  What’s changed is how I respond to it.  Today I understand that it’s just a feeling launched by the part of me that’s still broken.  I return its topspin tennis serve with a quick prayer: “God, please take this away and guide my thinking today.”  While I put on my morning clothes and weigh myself, not-enoughness still chides at me.  I dismiss it automatically and try to focus on the moment: gift of what I am doing, the good fortune of where I am, and the blessings of my reality.  I commit to loving what is instead of lacking what isn’t.

The power for this practice comes from my god, a connection nurtured through many years of working all 12 Steps.  Back when I relied on active drinking and codependency, I believed not only the not-enoughness, but the solutions my mind proposed.  My high school refrain, “Excel more!” gradually morphed into “Be more liked!”  If I could just win your admiration, I’d overcome not-enoughness.  Sans alcohol I was terrified to converse with people, not realizing the main obstacle had to do with the coordinates of my head, which was firmly lodged up my ass.  I could scarcely hear what you were saying, so preoccupied was I with self: what was up with me, what I thought you thought of me, and what I might say to impress you (usually figured out after you left).  Sober socializing was, in short, torture.

Drinking, of course, fixed all that.  It made me smart, funny, beautiful, and worthy.  Glamour drinkSure, I was still biding my time while you talked, but who gave a shit?  I’d get my turn to blab soon enough and, whether you were impressed or not, I, at least, was fine with whatever the fuck I’d just said.  The drunker I got, the wider my range of just fine became.  Maybe you didn’t care to hear about ex-partner’s sexual foibles, but fuck it!  Lissen!  It’s hilarious!

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Moi, back in the day

The infatuation addiction detailed in my memoir was really just a souped-up version of that same dynamic, with all my need concentrated on a chosen, magical person whose admiration (or even company) worked like cocaine.  Sadly, these worth-seeking projects frequently morphed into real relationships – meaning that the magic one, by committing, lost all magic.  Subsequently, when attacks of not-enoughness struck, I had no “soon things will be different!” to counter it with.  I could only muffle its penalty buzzer with more booze and great ideas.  All I’d end up with was a wreckage of mishaps, huge amounts of money blown, and a hangover like a brain full of puss.

Sobriety has by no means been a picnic.  I spent over two years dry and tortured – fleeing the conversation clusters after meetings with mutters of “fuck ’em!” – before I finally worked the steps and became teachable.  Slowly teachable, that is: I spent nine years in a codependent cocoon focusing all my anxious attention, from the moment I woke, on fixing my partner’s “problems” and ignoring my own.  Really, that morning gong of not-enoughness did not emerge for me as a distinct phenomenon until I found myself waking up alone.  “What is this feeling?” I finally asked.

Self-knowledge may not save us from drinking, but it sure helps with other problems!  The steps have transformed my economics of worth.  The only worth I can feel, I understand now, is self-worth.  I am the only agent who can generate that rebuttal to not-enoughness, no matter what anyone else may think of me.  God has shown me how to cultivate self-esteem by doing estimable works.  It has guided me to grow a loveable life by loving my life.  It has taught me to connect with others more through my heart than my words.

Despite what the zillion ads we’re bombarded with would have us believe, a worthy life is simply one of honesty with oneself and god – whatever that may look like for the individual.  For me, it means I do the best I can with what’s right in front of me Goodmanand trust god that whenever a suitable door approaches, god will not only alert me, but open it.  Why did I start up the small business I run today?  Doors would not open to the 500+ jobs I tried for following my layoff, whereas with just one little ad, the business practically threw itself at me.  Like incremental promotions at a firm called Happiness, Inc., small choices I’ve made have gradually steered my life away from money and prestige toward more time and freedom.  Thrift at home is part of my work.  True, I drive a beater and shop at Goodwill, but I also get to walk my 13-year-old son to school each morning, laughing about this and that.  I get to write instead of wishing to.  I see friends.  I take loads of ballet classes, raise cute hens, and execute my own half-assed home repairs.  Overall, my life today reflects the truth of who I am – a plenitude of what I value and a shortage of what I don’t.  That’s the true test.

In fact, by the time I go to bed each night, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for my beautiful, rich, love-filled life.  My only prayer is, “Thank you, god, for all of it.  I love you.”

Tomorrow, I know, it all begins again.

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Filed under AA, Alcoholism, Codependence, Drinking, living sober, Recovery, sober, Sobriety, Twelve Steps

A Lil’ Note on Fear

What’s that saying we hear around the rooms – “Be careful what you pray for – you just might get it” – ? In the last few weeks I’ve learned that when you do get what you thought you wanted, it turns out not to be what you thought.

A week ago Wednesday a client of mine canceled, so I thought I’d grab the time to write a post.  I’d skipped the previous week because of a long hike, so I pushed myself to just crank something out.  News of Robin Williams’ suicide had shaken me.  My own years of battling depression were but a drop in the bucket to his, I knew, but after Google brought me his choice words on the inner experience of alcoholism, I’d felt a powerful upwelling of compassion.  Could I remember and describe that feeling?

An hour and a half later, it was online.  That entire day, the post got one (1, uno) view.  I considered deleting it, seeing as it didn’t “fit” with most of my blog.  Except that I liked it.  It said what I’d felt.  So, after adding the opening disclaimer, I posted a link to Facebook and left for work.

When I got home that evening, there were 187 views.  Since my previous all-time high had been 80, I thought something must’ve gone haywire with my WordPress stats.  Two friends had shared the link – that’s it. trending-sign But just for shits and giggles, I posted it on an open AA Facebook page as well.  In the next 24 hours there were 1,600 views, a number doubled or tripled daily.   As of right now, the total number of views has reached almost 75,000 from over 100 nations.

Two weeks ago, I’d have told you my only reaction would be elation.  Every writer wants to be read, right?  But the inflow of comments gave me a feeling more like when you’ve put too much lighter fluid on the briquettes and light them too soon.  The flames leap higher and higher until – aack! – what have you done?!

Exposure was a scary feeling I’d not anticipated.  The blog had traveled to readers critical of AA and recovery, a few of whom accused me of discounting depression, glorifying myself, or forcing AA on others – nonetrend of which I’d intended.  In these voices I felt aggression, like flaming arrows entering my home.  They seemed certain I thought I knew shit, that I was saying, “Here’s the real deal on Robin Williams.”  But there is no high horse to knock me down from.  I never claimed to know anything.  I’d written my feelings – what I’d wondered, and how that felt.

I’ve never seen this in AA literature, but it seems to me that, just as there plain hamburgers and cheeseburgers, so are there two basic types of alcoholics: plain and codependent.  Plain alcoholics fear god won’t care for them, and codependent alcoholics fear they’re not worth caring for, period.  That is, unless others say they are.  Codependents try all kinds of ways to win the approval that, this time, might just fill that painful hole in their soul.  It’s a double disease that divides the adult self, who of course knows better, from the inner child who still pleads, “Like me! Like me!”

In my case, apparently, that means everybody.  My emotional balance often seems as precarious as if I were riding a unicycle, so that any disturbance makes me wobble and flail absurdly all over the place.  Because this fear was absurd!  Even with tens of thousands of folks quietly re-posting, and kind comments outnumbering critical ones by 10 to 1, every damn time I went to checked email, my body anticipated criticism with huge shots of adrenaline – that flush in your stomach that fills you with dread.

During the two days of highest blog traffic, my constant state of fear obliterated mindful presence.  I got a parking ticket (too many thoughts to feed the meter), a speeding ticket (too many to notice speedometer), and went without sleep.  When I described my critic-angst to sober friends, their advice was either “Fuck ’em!” (by far most common) or “It’s self-centered to expect others to see what we see.”  But neither helped.  I’d originally started this blog to publicize my addiction memoir, which I secretly hoped might some day take off the way the blog has, but now I had doubts about even wanting that. Maybe I was just too easily bruised, I thought, to be putting myself out there that way.

The irony is, I don’t fear the world.  This past weekend, I loaded up the car with my son, dog, and two backpacks, drove 138 miles into the North Cascades, hiked a mile in, rented a canoe, and paddled 4 miles on a glacier-melt lake to find a small inlet where our sober friends were camping – no roads, no cars.  Sunday morning, along a trail where for the past two years we’ve encountered bears, I went for a run carrying a collapsed, pointed trekking pole just in case.  Sure enough, major bear poop showed up on the trail about a mile in – dark with lots of berries – but since it didn’t look fresh, I kept on, just keeping my eyes open and blowing out a trumpet-style farty noise every so often as a bear-bell.  That kind of courage I don’t lack.

Codependence makes me over-reactive to others’ responses, because I think I need approval to outweigh my deepest fear – that dark secret that I do suck and am going to be exposed as a fake and a fraud.  It’s the fear that others will discover how flawed and therefore vile I am and react with disgust.  On this camping trip, surrounded by loving, flawed alcoholics and the beauty of mountains, I saw my fear as something I need to make peace with until god takes it.  When fear of judgement comes on, I can only accept it as I would a sneezing fit, involuntary and inevitable.  Whoops!  Adrenaline rush!  I’m a fake and a fraud who’s unworthy and everybody’s gonna find out!  …Gesundheit!

One of the greatest gifts I’ve received in sobriety is the distance allowing me to not believe my own thoughts.  I have faith in something far greater than my own mind, something that shapes my life with wild turns of events that I could never, ever see coming.  For now I can tell fear, “Thanks for sharing.”  I can hold up the “Please wrap it up” card.  But I can also trust that god is teaching me in ways I can’t yet fathom, and that fear, like pain, is a voice for what still needs healing.

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Boy and dog on Ross Lake: what does matter.

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Filed under AA, Alcoholism, Codependence, living sober, Recovery, Sobriety, Twelve Steps