One grrl’s story (Part 1)

 I am an adult child of an alcoholic/addict, a codependent, a survivor of domestic violence, and I qualify for most 12-step programs. Additionally, I have endured many years of depression, ADD, OCD, and PTSD. Today I am an OVERCOMER. This is my story. 

What it was like… 

Angel? Maybe.

I was born in a small Midwestern town. When I was a very small child, we moved out to the country near a Pennsylvania Dutch (think: Amish) community where we stayed until I was about 8. My Mom and Dad were the typical 20-somethings of their day, kind of a mix of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show” meets “Green Acres”.  Dad was a charismatic salesman – winning awards left and right – selling, among other things, encyclopedias (kids, ask your parents what those are), while Mom was the Stay-at-home Mom that every little girl of that era was expected to become.  She was outstanding at it: cooking delicious meals, sewing our clothes, and taking care of the home, and of us.  My earliest memories are of our farm, where we had a large yard and a big, old house. I used to go down the street to the neighbor’s place and play with his pigs, and I even had a pet pig for a time. I thought I was living the good life.  

When I was 5, I started attending kindergarten.  I enjoyed going to school and meeting other kids. It was a relief to not be expected to be perfect, like at home. Dad was “strict” and quick with a belt. He had all of the “ism’s” before he ever began drinking alcoholically, and I would do ANYTHING to please him. For the record, I know that dad never maliciously hurt me. He genuinely thought he was doing what he was supposed to do. He was raising me the way his Dad had done him. 
  
When one of my classmates asked me if it was true that we had a (gasp!!) tv at our house, it went around the classroom quickly. After that, I was aware of being “different”. When I was an adult a Dr. told me that I had A.D.D., which explained a LOT of things about my childhood. In Kindergarten, I began to be teased about things over which I had no control (A.D.D., at this time). One day I went home crying, after being teased and called names, AGAIN, Mom took me in to tell my Dad, expecting him to make me feel better, I’m sure. He was in the living room with some friends, and instead of giving me a hug and comforting me, when we told him why I was so upset, Dad laughed at me. A lot. 
I was devastated.  Unlike the bruises left by his belt, that was a wound that never healed. 

My brother came along when I was about 7, and by the time I was 8, Dad was telling us goodbye, and to me, “take care of your Mom and brother”.  Mom stood by the front window for months in her housecoat, waiting for him to come back. He never did. Dad wasn’t interested in the responsibilities of having a wife and kids, and so he divorced Mom and freed himself. However, no matter where he went, there he was. 

By then, I was about to enter 4th grade. Without Dad’s income, we had to leave the nice big farmhouse. We moved a total of 4 times that school year. Until that time, schoolwork had been pretty easy for me, but after Dad left and we moved away, my grades suffered, predictably. It’s challenging, being the “New Kid”, and I was an easy target for bullies. I desperately wanted to be liked and accepted, so I made up stories about myself in an attempt to impress my peers. At one school, I said I was an Indian Princess, another, I was on the popular PBS show “Zoom”, and at yet another I claimed to be a Martial Artist. That one turned out badly, when the class bully asked me to show her some moves. Thankfully, we moved again soon after that. 
We eventually landed in Indianapolis, and Mom bought a house in a small town just outside of the city. I went to a nearby religious school for a couple of years, until Mom was no longer able to afford it. (Child support was sporadic at best.) During my stint at the religious school, I continued to get into trouble for lack of impulse control, forgetting homework assignments, and talking in class. Let’s just say that I became well acquainted with the paddle. 
So, with the finances getting tighter, still, I began attending the local public school. The teachers at the new school were understandably frustrated with me (distractibility, impulsiveness, and forgetfulness, etc…). I was bullied more often than not, and my grades had continued a downward spiral due to the emotional and mental…differences I had developed.  I know, now, that Mom was too exhausted from her 2-3 jobs to have much energy left for PTA meetings, but at the time, I just felt alone. She worked her ass off to provide for us, and Dad was almost nonexistant in our lives. 

Around age 13, I started to wonder why I felt so different, inside. I felt abandoned from any family and I didn’t have any friends. Anxiety was my constant companion and self-worth was practically non-existent. I discovered a paperback book that gave me some insight. The book was about a teenage girl who had two different sides to her personality, and how she went from bubbly and gregarious, one day, to sullen and wearing only black clothes and showing all the signs of depression, the next. The book was called “Lisa, Bright and Dark”, and it gave me a little bit of understanding of what I had been feeling. While not diagnosed for years after that, unbeknownst to me, I had stumbled onto what part of my problem was: I was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and depression. 
Several years later, I was diagnosed with depression and began taking an antidepressant. Up until that time I’d thought that it was normal to feel the way I did. I thought everyone was dreary and felt like Eeyore every day. After I had taken the medication for a while, I was stunned one day when I went outside and saw that THE SKY WAS BLUE! The birds were singing like something in a Walt Disney movie! It was amazing! I don’t recall why, but I stopped taking the medication after not too long. Looking back, it may be because we couldn’t afford the medication or possibly we thought that I was “cured”. 
But that’s not how it works. 

So, I was left to fend for myself, as far as finding some kind of relief. When I was about 15, I found the answer to all of my problems. 
I had babysat for a neighbor and he paid me with a bag of weed. EUREKA! I was about to find what life was all about. It’s always been interesting to me, how that panned out. I somehow fashioned a kind of a joint from the bag and smoked it with my best friend. She didn’t get anything out of the pot, and so she decided that it wasn’t interesting to her, and she never tried it again. I, on the other hand, also got nothing out of it, but my reaction was entirely different. I was pretty sure that there HAD to be more to it than that, and I went about finding out what all the hubbub had been about. Soon after that, I was hanging out with an older crowd and through that association I was introduced to (much more marijuana and) alcohol. I don’t know if I was born an alcoholic, but when I tasted that drink, an alcoholic was born. I never drank for anything but the feeling. It tasted like fire, at best, and I was violently ill 9 times out of 10, but it took me out of me, and away from the pain that I was so familiar with, so it was worth it to me. Not long after that, I began taking diet pills, in excess (of course) and then graduated to acid before I was out of the 10th grade. In high school, I remember (kind of) smoking pot or doing acid before class as often as I possibly could. Lunch money wasn’t used for lunch after 10th grade, like, ever. 

I should mention that around my 15th year, Dad started taking some interest in us again. Maybe Mom got ahold of him because I was being such an absolute b*tch to her, but I don’t know. I know that the teen years were really bleak for me, and I did my best to share the misery with her.  Between ages 16 and 22, I moved in with my Dad and step Mom when I couldn’t stand living with Mom any more, and then back to Mom’s again when I realised how Dad ran things. I went back & forth between the two for several years. Problem was, wherever I went, I was there.  While living with Dad, I wasn’t able to come and go with the freedom that I’d enjoyed while I was under a one-parent household. I was actually clean for a year or so a couple of times while living with them. While in school I was allowed no outside interests, save church Youth Group, and I had no friends. I was allowed to do nothing but work on homework (usually 3-4 hours a night after school) or housecleaning (averaging 6 hours a day on the weekends) while living with my Dad and step mom, so my grades were actually pretty good.  Needless to say, with that kind of restrictions discipline and responsibility, I ran back to Mom’s house as soon as I could. 

The period from 10th grade until I was 27 is largely a blur. I can fill in some of the blanks from the few pictures taken then, but otherwise, like so much of my childhood, those memories are nonexistent. After discovering the magical transforming powers of drugs and alcohol, I spent as much time as possible pursuing these necessary forms of escape. 

As my addiction progressed, as many of us do, I was more and more inclined to do things that were against my moral beliefs, (what morals much as I had) because these things seemed to lessen the “soul sickness” that was so much a part of who I was. Stealing from Mom when I didn’t have enough to buy drugs, acting out sexually in order to feel “accepted” (and because that was the only value I felt I had), and of course, lying just about any time my lips were moving. These were all part of the requirements of my addiction. Using, drinking, and boys were the only things I’d found that could stop the fear, self-loathing, humiliation, and sadness, however temporarily. 
When I was high, feelings of rejection from Dad weren’t as painful, and my feelings of worthlessness and never being “a part of” weren’t as pronounced. I was able to ignore the depression and pretend to be “having a good time”  when I was under the influence. Many times I found myself in dangerous predicaments, and I was assaulted more than once. So I used more. 

What happened… 

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Thanks a lot, Buzzkill!

So, I was driving home from yet another mind-numbing trip to Malwart, listening to the most recent (long awaited, even!) edition of the Buzzkill Podcast, and at the end of it, our fearless host asked this question:
“Describe your first 30 days of recovery?”
So, as I’d been tossing around thoughts of what I might write about today, I latched onto this. I happened to have printed out a couple pages worth of feeling words not long ago, to help me better express myself to you, my lovely readers. Yes, even after all this time, I’m still not completely fluent in Emotions.

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Here are the words that initially came to me:
frustrated                                                                   over-whelmed
isolated
desperate                                                                          confused
fear-filled
Yeah. I think that with a few less intense emotions floating around, and maybe a couple of thoughts that weren’t feelings, those words pretty well cover it.
I thought about how the adjectives that came immediately to my mind were all really strong feeling words, and you know, it makes sense.
After so many years of doing EVERYTHING in my power to avoid feeling anything, in the first 30 days, OF COURSE the feelings that arrived came in like a flood of Noah-like proportions. I was almost instantly more self-conscious than I’d ever remembered being, and I felt like I’d just been dropped down onto a really scary planet. Actually, I used to tell people that reality was BY FAR the biggest trip I’d ever experienced. It stayed that way for quite a long time.
Today, if you asked me what how I would describe the last 30 days, I’d use very different words. Words like

intentional                                       prayerful
free                                                 awkward
spiritual                                            emotional
hope-filled
It’s taken every event and every moment between the first month and today to get to this place: I feel things but my feelings don’t dictate my actions. I credit the desperation that made me willing to CHOOSE to trust again. Willing to follow directions, in hopes that these people were telling me the truth.
So, there you have it. If you’d like to know more about my first 180 days or so, you can go check it out here, where I was honored to tell some of my story recently on Recovery Rockstars.
So, how about you? Do any of those adjectives sound familiar? How would you describe your first 30 days?

Do you REALLY want to?

…drink? Smoke? Snort? Shoot?

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Really?

I didn’t. I had exhausted my options.
I had run down every highway, every street, every back alley that I came to, in my desperate attempt to Get. Away. From. Me.
But when I looked at that angelic face, that beautiful, tiny boy, I knew in the depths of my heart that I could not have both him and drugs. My running days had come to an end.
Sure, I talked about running. I kept a pair of running shoes just inside the front (and, let’s be honest, also the BACK) door of my mind for an incredibly long time. However, there was one thing that had become abundantly clear to me on that day, when I realised that I was completely drained…I did not want to drink, or use, again.

“we gotta get out of this place”

That’s not to say that I didn’t want to escape from reality. Oh, no, I didn’t say that.
I’d awakened from so many years (while using) of being at a dead run…and each time I got a direct hit, be it a sexual assault, or an unhealthy relationship, or some other kind of intense emotional trauma, I had vaulted over the place where anyone else might have thrown a white flag…and ran faster.
My days of hiding, by way of chemical means, had finally come to a screeching halt.

So, what, then?

Facing my past fears and traumas was really too much to consider while I was being inundated with a whole different kind of drama (new Mom, baby in ICU, etc., etc.), so I had to find other options.
I discovered (archaic, to be sure: it was the early 90’s, after all) video games, and the   benefits of Mel Brooks movies, and chocolaet ice cream, and tattoos, among other things.
I didn’t want to use. I just wanted to check out for a minute. So I found other ways to distract myself.

Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly

At some point, I came to realise that the Promises, were, in fact, materializing for me. Some days, it felt like I was engaged in a war just to breathe, and other days, things would slow down and I got to taste of serenity, briefly.

It takes a village

I will forever be grateful to the women in the Program who walked with me those first months and years. They showed me how to live life, in all of its blood and chaos, on life’s terms, and then they encouraged me as I learned to walk again. No more running. I might jog now and then, but running is not in God’s plan for me, today. And I’ve discovered that His plan for me is always good. Always.

Posted from my shack by the creek.

Wolves in Sheeps’ Clothing

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Beware, little lambs

I just wrote a long post about a Newbie in sobriety and an older person who’s attempting to take advantage of her, and then erased it. Thinking of the emotional train wreck most of us are when we first get clean and sober, it’s altogether too easy to fall into a trap.

Nothing New Uunder the Sun
When I first got clean, I was sexually harassed by the Dr. who was supposed to be helping the women at the treatment center where I was being treated. I never told anyone at the time, because, honestly, who would believe a drug addict over a “respected” citizen? No doubt he was counting on that, and my only regret is that I didn’t speak up so as to possibly spare the next women coming behind me. At the time, it was the sort of thing that I’d gotten used to (sexual abuse/harassment) so much that it was “just another day” when he said those disgusting things to me. The same kind of scenario is going on with my friend: he’s a “model citizen”, and taking advantage of her vulnerability.

Books and their Covers
Prior to treatment, while in my addiction, I used my “womanly wiles” to get by at times. Heck, that was the only value I had, and the only way I knew to get something that resembled love, if only for a little while. However, I wasn’t usually as slick as the ones I was trying to manipulate, and ultimately I was always the one who got hurt.

Hurt people, hurt people
My friend is being sexually harassed in front of her child. He has already been damaged (seen) enough; he doesn’t need to learn more ways to behave inappropriately toward women. But I can’t do it for her. I can validate her feelings that “something’s not right”, and I can encourage her to set boundaries. And most importantly, I can pray for her.
That’s all I can bring myself to say, now. I’m going to go do some cleaning and blow off some energy. I know it’s difficult learning to stand up for yourself. I completely get it, boundaries are REALLY a foreign concept. It just brings back so many painful memories, and I want to help my friend to avoid them…

You don’t have to say “yes”, just stop saying “no.”

An incredibly large percentage of the people I’ve spoken with in recovery about God have a similar story to tell. In one way or another, they feel that God has let them down, or betrayed them, or they blame God for the actions of people claiming to represent Him.
In my case, I had been taught that God was angry and short-tempered; He watched my every move just waiting for the next time I screwed up. I came into The Rooms with the belief that my purpose was to be a “Whipping boy” whenever He felt like punishing someone. I certainly was never anywhere near perfect, so I knew that I deserved every bit of pain and sorrow that I received.
Not coincidentally, my vision of who God was looked remarkably like my Dad: overbearing, rageful, impatient, and entirely frightening.

As I was thinking about this, I was reminded of something a friend said to me many years ago, in regards to establishing a relationship with my Creator.
I was in perpetual “bowing and scraping” mode. I was way too ashamed and fearful and guilt-ridden to even consider approaching God. Rather than beginning, I would stay stuck in the endless reasons I had for why He would not welcome any interaction with me. I was positive that I was better off doing everything I could to stay invisible to Him.

My friend told me that as far as this “introduction” to (hopefully) a loving God went, I didn’t have to put my foot on the gas pedal: I simply had to take it off of the brakes.
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Instead of fighting to keep God at a distance, perhaps I just needed to stop running away, and stand still.

There have been periods in my recovery where I’ve done a better job at coasting than others.

I was talking about the “g” word with a friend recently, and she said that she was ready to start moving closer to God. It sounded like she was seriously standing on the brakes…but there is a lot to be said for “acting as if”!

I get it. Apprehension and trepidation were my closest associates in my early days of sobriety. All I can do, after all, is share my experience, strength and hope. One of the most amazing parts of early sobriety, for me, was the (gradual) realization that I was not God. I’m gonna try not to interfere as He works His loving ways with my friend. I just hope I’ll get to watch, and that I might somehow be helpful as she inches toward the loving Father of Whom she’s in desperate need.

He knows what skittish little kittens we can be. I imagine Him sitting still with His back to us as we creep ever so silently toward Him…letting us take all the time we need, while gently coaxing us to come nearer so He can rub our fur and scratch us in the best spots. 🙂

In considering “the god part” or your Recovery, I would suggest that, rather than the thought of throwing the door wide open to “whatever” may be on the other side of it, maybe just open it a crack, and then pause.

Instead of focusing on all of my “problems with God”, things that I don’t understand/agree with, my life has progressed in a positive direction when I concentrate on learning about the simplicities of His character. He wrote a book as an introduction, but I believed the hype instead of seeing for myself. I’ve gotta tell you, it’s been worth it, to investigate for myself. Standing on the brakes get tiring. He hasn’t steered me wrong even once.

Posted from my cabin in the mountains.

3 tremendously helpful tips from my early sobriety

How did you do it?

I was thinking about the first few months in sobriety.  It’s amazing how different our experiences can be, yet so very similar at the most base levels.

I was blessed in many ways during my first several months. I spent the first 3 months in a women’s residential treatment facility, and after that I moved back into my Mom’s house. Being in my Mother’s place, for the record, was undoubtedly the best possible situation for THIS new Mom and my special little son.

Center of the Universe

Once I became a Mother, at 3 months clean and sober, it became terribly apparent to me that I was no longer going to be in charge of my life in ANY way, shape, or form. Hazeldon has a great booklet called “King Baby”, which described the immaturity and self-centeredness of alcoholics and addicts, and likening them to a Baby in a highchair, pounding fat little fists on the tray and demanding WHAT they want, WHEN they want it…sound familiar? It was a rude awakening for me, when that little person showed me exactly HOW in charge he was. If Mom hadn’t been there to intervene, I shudder to think about how it might have played out when my Little One kept me up ALL NIGHT every night for over a month. That particular sleep pattern was exactly how I lived before getting clean, and it was really weighing heavily on my mind: increased depression, frustration, anxiety, the whole gamut.  I learned pretty quickly that I was not even a LITTLE bit in charge. OF course, that didn’t keep me from trying to get my way. But it rarely worked.

Selfish, but not selfish

I was having a crash-course in self-control, as evidenced by the fact that (by the grace of God) my child was not injured while in my care. I told people more than once that I knew I learned some patience when my children were young because I didn’t beat them. (My Dad taught me how to effectively “control” a problem when I was very young. He was quick with his belt. I know he didn’t know any better, and I am very grateful to not have been under the influence while raising my boys.)
But they told me in the Rooms that it was “a selfish program”. Dafug??

Turns out, it’s the kind of selfish that says you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, and the child second, when the airplane starts to go down. If you don’t take care of you, FIRST, you’re not going to be worth anything to those who need you.

My kingdom for a…nap

I know that many of you are doing this deal, too, while trying to keep your child(ren) alive and well. So, I’m going to share with you some of the things that were critical for me to getting through those first months, while also being responsible for caring for a very special Little One. I hope this will be helpful.

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Beyond exhausted

  1. Don’t let anyone “SHOULD” on you. I’ll tell you a story to illustrate what I mean by that: My Mom, bless her heart, had my best interests at heart, I know she did. When I came home with 3 months (clean) under my belt and an incredibly stressful new career as a single parent of a Special Needs baby, I know she meant well, but our priorities were just different. “While your baby is ______, you should take that time to get some housework done.” “You need to run the vacuum while you have the time.” “You should get into the shower while he’s laying down.”

See, as a newly sober person, living in HIGH CRISIS mode 24/7, what was important to me was not the same as what was important to my Mom (A Normie, for the record).  I explained it to her as gently as I could at the time: “I SHOULD feed my baby and keep him as healthy as possible; I NEED to get as much sleep as I can since it’s rarely over 2 hours in a row (literally, he had meds that had to be given every 2-3 hours for many months); and I should find a way to get to a meeting as often as possible.”  I know she couldn’t understand where I was coming from, but thank God she took my word for it, and was as helpful as she could possibly have been.

2.  Take multivitamins. You don’t have to like it, just DO IT. Your body is trying to    function after having been self-destructing for however many years you were using/drinking, and your life will be MUCH easier if you begin doing simple things like that.

3. Grab ahold of someone with longterm recovery, and get their phone number and USE IT. MEN WITH MEN, and WOMEN WITH WOMEN. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself later. If you’re willing to go to AA or NA, I implore you to get a Sponsor,   NOW! If they aren’t working for you down the line, you can get another one. Just FIND a person to whom you can relate, and call them. It will get easier with practise, just like everything else in this new life.

In the interest of keeping it simple, I’ll leave you with these. There are tons of other tidbits that I could share with you, but they’ll have to wait for another time. These are a good start.

So, tell me, what are some things you did or kept in mind during your first few months, that helped keep you and your family alive?

Thanks for coming by, and have a great evening. 🙂

 

 

 

 

2 Major Life Changes I wouldn’t have missed for the world

Anyone who’s been around 12-step programs for any amount of time has probably heard the warnings not to make any major life changes in the first year. In my early days of recovery, I thought a year sounded like an impossibly long period of time. They were teaching me about “one day at a time”, and “just for today”, after all.
The “no relationships for the first year (or two)” was super easy for me; I was single-parenting a newborn who was on round-the-clock medications, breathing treatments/oxygen, and diuretics (diaper changes become a priority FAST when your baby is peeing their weight every few hours). Not to mention the heart surgeries (2 before he was 6 months old)…yeah, even the completely insane guys weren’t willing to get too involved with that mess.
I don’t even want to imagine how I looked during that first year. I honestly can’t tell you what “early sobriety” was like
because my focus from before sun-up until after sun-down was about doing whatever I had to, to keep my Little One alive. As if all that wasn’t stressful enough, after his second surgery, there were several months where my Dr.s instructed me “don’t let him cry.” Seriously? Because of the kind of congenital heart defect he was born with, and the way his heart kind of sat on his diaphragm, whenever he cried, he threw up. He was a “failure to thrive” baby to begin with, so that was one more thing I had to stay on top of…
I really don’t have the words to aptly describe the frantic, hyper-vigilent state in which I spent every waking moment. Because of his fragile condition, my son was not allowed to go to a daycare or otherwise be around other children, or anyone sick, really. By God’s grace I got to have a respite nurse (absolutely an angel) come in for 2-3 hours once or twice a week. Wanna guess what I did when she was there?

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Making open heart surgery look easy

Yeah. I slept or went to a meeting.

So, that’s one major change: This adorable little person invaded my life and became my Higher Power…but it feels like it should count for more than one!!

I suppose getting a divorce would count as major, for most, right? Ok, so somewhere in the first year, my then-husband demanded a paternity test, and…yeah, he just wasn’t down with supporting someone else’s child, not to mention the (expletive expletive EXPLETIVE expletive) that cheated on him. Seriously, is it such a surprise that a falling-down drunk, über addict would sleep around? I didn’t think so. C’est la vie. That one is the marital experiment for sure where I was the *hostage-taker. I did really regret the way I treated him. I made amends but don’t think he really cared. I can’t say as I blame him.
Sigh.

That’s probably major life change #2, huh?
I was gonna give you 3 major life changes that I experienced in my first year clean, but frankly those two are just about the only noteworthy events of my first year sober. Considering the unrelenting chaos of the previous several years, those two were kind of a relief.
The most incredible life change that I made in my first year clean/sober was that I was afraid and I didn’t run. Women in treatment with me had left their children, left and right, to continue their drinking & drugging careers. Only by the grace of God did I not join their ranks.
Another part of that fear was that I was handed unfathomable responsibilities, and I didn’t run.
Pre-recovery, I liked to call myself “Abbie Pan”, because I was the girl who wouldn’t grow up. Ironic, isn’t it? I had some loud and tearful conversations with God about that. “You picked the WRONG MO**** ****ING GIRL for this!!!!” Was part of my side of the conversation. I can see Him shaking His head slowly, and, as when soothing an upset child, brushing my hair from my tear-stained face. I guess He picked the right girl. I surely wouldn’t have made the same choice.

So, that’s 2 un-freakin-believable things that I got through without changing my sobriety date.
How about you? Did you have any big changes thrust upon you in early recovery? Did you make it through, clean?
Please share below. I love hearing your stories.

*Alcoholics don’t have relationships, they take hostages.

Posted from my chair in front of the fan.