Failure May Very Well Be An Option

Since my post the other day about the “A” word, I’ve been thinking a lot about why that word bothers me so much when I apply it to myself.  I have nothing but compassion (and maybe a little pity) for other alcoholics.  What’s the problem with just saying it out loud…to the world?  Why can’t I have the same compassion for myself that I feel for other addicts?

So I sat with the feeling a little while and tried to dissect it.  (Get me!  Using all my recovery tools like I know what I’m doing!)  I let the feeling settle.  I got very quiet until the reason popped into my head like one of those old MTV pop-ups.

Failure.

Whoa…back this train up a sec.  What did I just hear in my head?

F. A. I. L. U. R. E.

Shit.  That’s what I thought I heard.

The longer I sat with that one word, the more I realized that it was exactly why I was having trouble (and may always have trouble) with calling myself an alcoholic…even though SURVEY SAYS!!!!…I am most certainly an alcoholic and always have been an alcoholic.  (Let’s play a fitness game shall we?  Every time Sherry says the word “alcoholic” in this post, do 20 squats. That ought to help with that April challenge.)

Then I got all analytical on myself because…well because it’s what I do.

Why do I feel this way?

That, friends and neighbors, is the question.  Let’s examine the facts as we know them.

  1. We all know I grew up the child of an alcoholic.  I loved my father fiercely but I did not like what his alcoholism did to our family and to me.
  2. My mother was a train wreck that not only could not feel unconditional love, she couldn’t express it either.
  3. My extended family on my mother’s side – aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc. were also a fucked up mess and could have benefited greatly from some deep, soul-searching therapy.
  4. My extended family on my father’s side was either narcissistic, alcoholic or had divorced themselves from the family long ago (guess I should have taken that as a sign – I always liked those people).
  5. In short, I come from a long line of losers.  Some of them loveable but all of them a hot mess.

I grew up knowing that I was different.  That I wanted to be somebody separate and apart from these people.  I set about to make myself different.  I took control.  I took care of everyone and everything.  I dressed differently.  I spoke differently.  I carried myself differently.  Most importantly, I believed that I was different…better even.

And it worked!  It was a crock of shit but it worked!  I crafted a successful, well-educated, articulate and loving human being.  I have a lovely home, amazing husband and relationship, fulfilling career (for the most part) and six of the most wonderful offspring on the planet.  More importantly, they are growing up to be healthy and happy as well and have begun raising their own kids.  Look at me!  I’m not a loser!  I didn’t FAIL. 

But I forgot one, very important thing.  Genetics don’t give a flying rat’s ass what you think of yourself or how much you’ve worked to separate yourself from the fray.  If you’re born predisposed to alcoholism (it counts…start squatting) then guess what – if you drink then one day you’re going to wake up and say to yourself, “I think I have a problem.”  And you’ll be right.

For me…that spelled a failure of epic proportions.  How could I, the “good” one, the “successful” one, the “stuck up” one (that’s my sister talking) have let myself get this way?  How could I have lost control like that?  After all the promises I made to myself about how I wasn’t going to torture my family the way my father tortured us could I have let this happen?   OH MY GOD!  I’m one of THEM! 

I failed.

The problem is that children of dysfunctional homes that have taken on the control freak-care-giver-grow-up-way-too-fast persona (there’s usually one) don’t fail well.  We do not tolerate mistakes in ourselves.  We MUST be number one at all costs.  Things MUST be perfect in our lives.  Our houses must be clean.  Our children must be well-behaved and well-dressed and get perfect grades.  We must excel at school, work and every single activity we put on our plate. 

WE MUST SUCCEED.

And if we don’t?

Well then we fail don’t we?

I failed.  I succumbed.  I lost control.  I suck.

I became an alcoholic. (Squat)

But wait sports fans!  Sherry would never end a post with negativity like that!

Hate to disappoint you but this time she will.  After all, I just figured this out.  Believe it or not this concept of alcoholic=failure just popped into my pea-brain.  Why, you ask?  Well because I never thought of alcoholics as failures.  I never looked at my father and thought, “Dude…you failed!”  On the contrary, at some base level I knew he couldn’t help it – that he was an addict and that it had him in its grips.  He may not have been a great man but he was no failure.  He was simply an alcoholic.

So why can’t think of myself in the same way?  Why can’t I have that same level of compassion for myself?

I’ll have to get back to you on that one.  Besides, my butt cheeks are cramping up from all these squats I’ve been doing.

Namaste

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Why I Love My Ink

I didn’t get my first tattoo until I was 45.  As I’ve said before…it was a mid-life thing (assuming I live to be 90).  It was cheaper than a sports car or plastic surgery and way less damaging than an affair.  I got a simple Om symbol in the small of my back (yes…tramp stamp).  I chose that spot because it was the place least likely to change regardless of what my body did as I aged…when I die at 90 it would be mostly recognizable.  In addition, the symbol had, and continues to have a deep, spiritual meaning for me.  My life was in the shitter at the time and I needed something.  I expected it to help…it did…a little.

What I didn’t expect was to fall in love with all things ink.  When I grew up the only people who had or got tattoos were bikers, sailors, gang bangers or trashy women.  To have a tattoo meant that you were part of the dregs of society and any friends I had that got tattoos at 18 or so, were in the process of having theirs removed while I was going under the needles.  But the art was evolving and I was fascinated.  I wanted something that was private and just mine (at my age there wasn’t any danger of my thong and tat peeking out of my jeans at a party) and my new art filled the bill.  I was in love.

So much so that I planned and thought about my next piece almost immediately.  I had my daughter (the artist) design something around my Om symbol that would not only add color but make it more meaningful.  Around my symbol she drew six cherry blossoms (for each of my kids), five little buds (for each of the grandkids) all of which paid homage to my hometown, Washington, DC.  In my 50th year I had that one inked on my back during a business trip to Orlando.  I got lucky and the artist did a wonderful job but thinking back, I should have waited and done some research…it could have gone very, very wrong.

By then I was watching Miami Ink, LA Ink, InkMaster, Best Ink, and any other tattoo show that came on TV.  I love hearing the stories of why people want to change their bodies permanently and I love watching these amazing artists do their work.  Some are silly and irresponsible while others are joyful and celebrate life.  Then there are those that are sad and pay homage to loved ones lost.  Some are ill placed (neck and hand tattoos????? risky) while others are hidden so well only that “special” person and the owner will ever see them.  All are fairly expensive and the really good ones by the really great ones are sometimes actually cost prohibitive. 

The one I saw that truly changed my opinion of tattoos forever was a picture in a magazine of a woman who had a radical mastectomy on both breasts and was left with horrible disfiguring scars.  Instead of attempting reconstruction (always a deeply personal decision) she had the most beautiful tattoo done over her chest and under her arms to her back.  It was breathtaking and for a moment, you didn’t see the scars…only the art.  That’s when I realized the impact tattoos could have.

The most important tattoo I have is the one I got about a year into my sobriety.  I got my sober date (1/7/10) tattooed on the inside of my right wrist…my “drinking” hand.  That tattoo served many purposes.  First it served as a constant reminder of what I was fighting for.  Second it was like a talisman…guiding me through the tough times.  And finally, it was a reminder that if I picked up, having it removed was going to be expensive and hurt like a sonofabitch!  Let’s just say that simple, quick and inexpensive tattoo served its purpose.

I have a swirly hard to read tat on my right ankle that says “Let Go”.  My friend and I got them together and they match.  Whenever I’m having trouble remembering that I’m not in charge…I think of that little piece of ink.  It works.

Finally, I recently decided that my sober date had served it’s purpose and it was time to move forward and stop looking back.  I now have four cherry blossoms covering that date and the words “Be Still” in my favorite font below it.

It also reminds me that I’m not in charge..

“Be still and know that I am God…” ~ Psalm 46:10

What’s next?  Only time, money and my impulsiveness will tell.

Namaste 

Still Hibernating

I’ve been thinking that I’m in a rut.  I don’t want to do anything.  My weekends are spent reading, or watching crap TV or cooking for my family, or playing the new Bejeweled Poker (OMG!!!).  I’ve been feeling bad about not doing yoga (like I said I would at the beginning of the year), or meditating (see prior parenthetical statement), or exercising, or deep cleaning my house, or redecorating or…well…you get the picture.

But this morning as I looked longingly at my meditation bench a thought (a whisper from the Big Guy perhaps) entered my brain.  What if this is all okay?  What if I’m doing (or not doing) this because it’s what I want and need to do (or not do).

This is the kind of growth that fucks with my head big time.

In my former life, this would never be okay.  I never stopped moving (except to drink of course).  Every free minute was spent cooking or cleaning or doing laundry or driving kids here and there or exercising or whatever.  I actually had an Excel spreadsheet that planned my days, weeks and months.  I was always running running running.  I think I was running away from being still because I was afraid I’d catch up to myself and implode.

Well…that kind of happened didn’t it.  All this work I’ve done in sobriety has taught me that it’s okay not to be all things to all people all of the time.  Now…it certainly helps that my husband is retired and takes care of the house and that the kids are all mostly grown and doing their own thing.  I mean, no way I could have even sat down to write this post even five years ago.  But if I were still the old me, I’d be filling every weekend of the year with projects just to keep from facing myself.

I’ve noticed this winter that I’ve slowed down and have allowed myself to hibernate and I was thinking this morning that it will all end soon.  My hibernation will die a natural rather than forced death and it will all be okay.  The sun will come out and the weather will warm and before you know it I’ll be purging closets, washing windows, planting flower gardens, building decks and repainting.  I love doing yoga with the windows open and a cool breeze blowing…same with meditating.  I’ll be walking the dogs every day (even in the rain) and searching out opportunities to be physical outside.  And it will be okay.

As I pondered this I realized that this was a much more organic approach to my life and that I could get used to it.  I mean…do what you feel like doing and don’t beat yourself up over what other people think you should be doing.  Well there’s a novel concept.

It’s gray and rainy and cold here today.  So guess what?  I’m not going to worry about the bushes in the front of the house that need to be torn out because the snow destroyed them…they’ll still be there when the sun comes out.  I’m not going to walk the dogs and get chilled to the bone.  I’m not going to empty any closets or storage spaces until I can fill a trunk and deliver its content to the Salvation Army or the dump.  And I’m certainly not going to paint anything until I can open the windows.

This mama bear is going to hibernate just a little longer.  I’m going to paint my nails and my toes, watch HGTV, have dinner and paint pottery with my BFF and then get a good night’s sleep.  Tomorrow I may go shopping for backspash tile…or I may not.  I’m still eating right and getting 8000-10,000 steps a day so I’m staying healthy.  Hibernating is healthy…just ask a bear.

Namaste

The “O” Word

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Annual physicals are part of my DNA.  I’m really, really good about getting my annual check up complete with blood work.  I will admit that during the last part of my drinking career I might have postponed the visits, but eventually I would make the appointment, go, and then lie through my teeth about how much I was drinking. (If you’ve never lied to your doctor about your bad habits then I applaud you.) 

I’ve spent the last four years repairing the damage my drinking did.  Things like high tryglycerides, high “bad” cholesterol and low “good” cholesterol as well as high blood pressure and low liver function all had to be fixed.  I’ve been plugging away at it year after year, improving my numbers little by little with each visit.  This year I was actually excited to find out what my numbers were.  I’m new to this doctor so I was surprised when her office called yesterday to deliver my results (I usually get them in the mail).

The nurse starts off with “everything looks good” which is a good thing because the phone call itself had me worried.  Then she ran down my numbers which were all good considering where they were four years ago.  LDL (bad) was 100 and should be below 160; HDL (good) was 52 and should be above 40; Tryglycerides were 123 and should be below 150 (just after I quit drinking my tryglycerides were over 800 – I shit you not.)  Liver function, white blood cells, glucose, pap smear, thyroid, etc. all normal.  Yay!!!

Then she says, “The doctor recommends daily exercise to help with a weight loss of 1 pound per week.  She’d like to see you in six months to see how you’re doing with your obesity.”

Wait…what?  No…really…what?

Did you just say the “O” word?

Ummmm…

Okay, I guess technically I’m in the “O” range for my height and weight if you use those charts in the doctor’s office.  But let me be honest, I have NEVER been in the “healthy weight range” in my LIFE.  And that includes when I was wearing a size 8/10 and working out seven days a week!  So don’t be throwing around that “O” word lady or I may have to cut a bitch!

Here’s the thing.  All my life I’ve struggled with my weight because I didn’t fit some kind of predetermined view that advertisers and clothing designers had for what I should look like.  Even though I was healthy and not at all “fat”, I thought I was because of what I saw in magazines and on TV (and don’t even get me started on what this is doing to our kids…that’s an entire post all by itself).  No matter how thin I got, when I looked in the mirror it was never good enough.  Thankfully I like pizza too much to have ever become anorexic (and I watched it very closely) but it occupied my every thought all the fucking time!  It’s a wonder all that weight talk left any room to obsess about the booze.  Drinking, smoking and my weight concerns ran on a constant loop in my head like bad muzak in an elevator stuck between floors.

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I’ve worked hard to get mentally healthy and stop the crazy voices that kept hammering on and on about that shit.  I quit smoking.  I quit drinking.  And in this last year, I quit the obsessing about my weight and started focusing on being healthy.  The Whole 30 I completed last year really helped me to focus more on eating whole and clean and just let my body do what it’s going to do.  I even declared that I would not step on the scale this year as a protest to letting a number on a little box dictate my thoughts, mood and life!  And guess what?  I kept that promise.  I didn’t even look when they weighed me in the doctor’s office AND I wouldn’t let them tell me what the number was.

Until last night.

After that woman dropped the “O” bomb on me, I went home and thought, “Well fuck me naked…I guess I’d better at least see how bad it is.”  So I got on the scale…and I looked down…and guess what?  My weight was down.  The hell of it is that I knew that!  I knew that I was on the right track because my clothes were looser and I was feeling so good!  I was also happy because the voices in my head hadn’t quite shut the fuck up yet, but they were learning to be still.  AND – and this is a big AND – for the first time in my life I was starting to look in the mirror and see what was good instead of the flaws.  I was beginning to look in the mirror and smile…to recognize this body as the body of a warrior!  A warrior who has birthed three children and fought off disease and molestation and smoking and alcoholism and found herself a healthy and happy place both mentally and physically!

So I am not about to let a “word” send me scuttling off into the corner to eat myself happy or to weigh myself obsessively or to just give up.  I am not about to let all my hard work go flying out the window because of a poor choice of words.  In fact, I’m not going back to see her in six months.  There’s too much at stake.  

What I will do is realize that, like with cigarettes and booze, I am not a normie.  I will continue to watch my portion sizes and calorie count.  I will continue to walk…and walk…and walk.  I will not jump on and off that stupid box and let a number determine my day.

I will recognize myself for who I am, right now, in this moment.

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A Mother-Fucking-Sober-Warrior-Ninja-Lady!

Namaste

An Open Letter to Margaret Wente of The Globe and Mail

Dear Ms. Wente – 

I read with interest your article published on February 13th with regard to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death.  I haven’t commented on Mr. Hoffman’s death in this blog because so many of my fellow bloggers have done so rather eloquently and I didn’t feel I had anything to add to this tragic event.  In addition, I didn’t want to make it seem as if his death, because he was a celebrity, was any more tragic than the death of any other addict that passes due to their use of something to excess.

Until now.

See, after I read your article I became…let’s see…what’s the word?  Oh yeah.  Royally pissed off.  Not only am I pissed off, but I feel very sorry for you and your seemingly well spoken husband because Ms. Wente, one day you will likely be touched by addiction (more so than your friend who fell down the stairs and died) and you will know what it is like to suffer from the affects of addiction. You will understand the deep ache that comes with a helplessness matched only by the sorrow in your heart…whether it is because you are the addicted…or because you love the addicted.  When that happens, I hope that you are treated with more compassion and understanding than that which you have given Mr. Hoffman and, by association, his family.

Here’s the deal, I don’t give a rat’s ass what you want to call it.  Perhaps it is a habit.  Maybe it is a disease.  A condition?  A mental illness?  Really…who cares?  Call it whatever you like but I can assure you without a shadow of a doubt in my highly intelligent mind that it is most assuredly NOT a choice.

No one chooses to live this way.  We don’t start out casting aside family and friends, destroying our bodies and minds and slowly killing ourselves.  We don’t start out drinking ourselves into oblivion, night after night.  We don’t start out with a needle in our arm.  Most of us start out just like you.  Most of us have jobs, families that we love and that love us, dreams, goals, hopes and a very clear opinion of what addiction means.

Many are like you, clear in their opinions and firmly seated on the side of ignorance.  Others are like I was, fully aware of the danger due to my family history, but sure that I was not going to let it happen to me.  Most sit somewhere in between…somewhere between ignorance and bliss.  Until they don’t.  Until they wake up one morning and realize that the pain they’ve been trying to escape is still present and no amount of alcohol or drugs or food or sex or gambling is going to fix it.  That they are in the grips of a disease that sat dormant until the day it didn’t.  Until the day they lost control.  Until the day the “thing” took control.

I’m not really sure if I truly believe that my addiction to alcohol is a disease, but I would like to address some of the claims made in your article because, by my calculations, your correlations simply do not add up.

First, I don’t think that anyone really cares whether or not you felt sorry for Mr. Hoffman.  I don’t think anyone really cares what you think at all except that you are blessed to have a public forum to voice your opinions.  But does it really matter whether or not someone dies in a “particularly degrading” way?  Which is more degrading?  Being found in your underwear, surrounded by heroin with a needle in your arm or laying in your own filth in a medicare nursing home at 80 years old with no family to care for you?  Both are degrading to say the least – but I’m guessing you’d feel sorry for the 80 year old.  Why?  Perhaps his choices have resulted in his condition too.  But there is less stigma attached to just being old than there is to addiction.  We’re supposed to feel compassion for the elderly.  Would you have us stigmatize those that are old and poor too?  Perhaps then someone will do something for them?  Sorry…doesn’t add up for me.

You state that no one gets Alzheimer’s because of something they’ve done.  How do you know that?  How do you know that something they’ve chosen to eat, or the fact that they stopped exercising their body and brain, or any number of reason is why they were unfortunate enough to contract Alzheimer’s.  If you found out that was the case, would you feel the same about them?  Would you then suggest we stigmatize them too?

And I vehemently disagree with you about support groups that pledge to avoid heart disease, or diabetes, or asthma.  They are called education and we try harder and harder every day to convince people to eat better, to exercise, to avoid second had smoke.  But people still die every day as a result of these DISEASES.  Why?  Partly genetics and partly because of the CHOICES they make in their lives.  I’m guessing you think all diabetics should just walk away from carbohydrates and sugar and that all overweight individuals should just push away from the table.  I’m sorry, but that also just does not add up. 

While we’re discussing genetics, let’s also talk about the big “C”.  Cancer.  No, changing your behavior won’t get rid of pancreatic cancer but more and more we’re finding that there are genetic markers at work in cancer patients.  That some are predisposed to cancer based on their family history, their geographic propensity, and, dare I say it…their CHOICES.

Guess what?  Research is also finding that addicts are predisposed to their addictive nature as well.  It’s no coincidence that my father and his father and my mother and her father and my sister are all addicts in one form or another.  Yes…I guess I should have known better and perhaps made better CHOICES but before I was old enough to make those good decisions about my life it was too late.  Because as soon as I took my first sip of beer at 16, I was addicted.  

Were all your 16 year old decisions good ones?

Think about it…please.

And finally, Mr. Hoffman did not DECIDE he needed the drugs more than he needed to save himself – of that I am sure.  His addiction took over and before he could gain control again it took him.  I hope to God that his children do not stumble upon your article one day (because everything lives forever on the Internet) and live the rest of their lives believing their father loved heroin more than he loved them.  THAT would surely be the worst tragedy of all.

And THAT would be your choice.

And THAT would be your fault.