boxes

Memories – Like an Alcoholic’s Storage Space…

 

Sing it to the tune of, “The Way We Were“. I was back in Jacksonville for a long weekend. I was reconnecting with my loved ones, helping my daughter Lauren move, and cleaning out one of my storage spaces. There is something metaphorical about spending the day in a place where the things you kind of want, but don’t need are kept. The poetic stacking of memory and a previous life…

 

Why in the world did I have a shot glass collection? When did I have enough shelving to house them all? And why can’t I just throw them out? It’s not like I will ever use them again. It’s not like I will ever sift through these tiny, clinking breakables and think, “Gee I’d love to go back to that roadside gas station in Mayo, Florida!”

 

We went in what I called an “excessive” caravan of trucks and cars to attack this job. It took us two hours to move the dregs of storage unit 800 to the C Block of storage 154. For a while it was fun. We unearthed and wore gag, Christmas headbands. At some point, Jon Jon said, “Seriously, put those in this box.” It got hot. And loading ten pounds of shit into a five pound bag was his job…

 

Decorations…

And what about Christmas decorations? Halloween knickknacks? Did I actually accumulate 50 or so boxes of gewgaws that twinkle or go bump in the night? Now I understand why my ex-husband used to flip out every time he got a credit card bill, “Are you kidding me? $750 at the Hallmark Store??? Is this a mistake?” But they had those darling tree ornaments that spin miraculously when the Christmas lights heat them up, and wrapping paper

 

My storage space houses box after box of drinking accouterments. A full set of Thanksgiving china. Christmas wine glasses (red and white) and scores of those “adorable” charms you put on the stem of your glass to identify your drink. (Useless, because everyone spends the evening getting snockered and saying, “Wait. Was I the little clown or the high-heeled shoe?”)

 

The storage space of someone who has downsized is particularly forlorn. The extra end tables. Lamps without shades and all those baskets that used to grace the tops of kitchen cupboards. I have one box entirely made up of the bar tools designed to make exotic, alcohol laden drinks. Shakers and blenders and strainers. What an extravagant palaver when drinking straight out of the bottle works best.

 

Downsizing Again…

Anyway, my purpose was to see my children and downsize again. So, don’t tell, but I overstuffed the dumpster with things like old beach towels and bedding that had been stained with candle wax. Nothing kinky, just a “air-conditioned” storage unit that could not accommodate sustained, 100 degree heat. Don’t pack things that melt with the linens, okay?.

 

The rest of the good stuff I gave to my children. Nana’s twelve legged table is still in the family. The bar stools are the lives of Lauren’s parties at her new house. The empty planters are fecund with cuttings in the yards of my children…

 

I gave away some of the artwork and antiques with the caveat, “Just don’t sell this. Give it back if you don’t want it anymore.” But like so much of the life I lived when these items were housed in closets upstairs and displayed in long, dim hallways,  I do not want them back.

 

Please don’t give them back…

 

Today I’m not drinking because all my wine glasses are packed in boxes in my storage space…

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Lauren, John and Fiona (recycled)… Everything old is new again…

How come you’re not drinking?

 

barn

Exploring Sober Life in Fields of Poison Ivy…

 

I yack all the time about getting out and exploring in recovery. “Hike,” I say with conviction. “Fill your hands with a camera and your head with passion for something rigorous.” Climb a mountain, snowshoe across an unmarred wilderness! Take the path less traveled by!

Adventuring Without Pepper Spray…

The photo above was taken when I ventured off the highway near Luther, Michigan and down a dirt track to a deserted farm. The farm was for sale according to a battered sign by the side of the road. It had clearly seen it’s heyday a few decades earlier. The house had settled into the nettles with a sigh. Spent looking wheat and goldenrod waved in barren fields.

 

The homestead had a photogenic, Ansel Adams bleakness. As if the hopes of the previous tenant had drifted out the windowless dormers and floated up to a periwinkle sky…

 

I parked and wandered around. The thought skittered across the back of my mind that I was without protection. If a panel van turned in the drive, my best defense would have been to lob Granny Smith apples. Or as it turns out, rub the perp with whatever poisonous plant I encountered on my walk. It has been driving me mad ever since my madcap diversion…

 

fieldfarm

Beware – man-eating foliage disguised as wildflowers and wheat…

 

Here’s the Caveat…

It is unseemly for this paragon of recovery, to scratch my affected arm till it bleeds. (When exactly does the lotion my pharmacist recommended make a dent in the unbearable, burning, itchy mess that is my elbow?) Kim can attest to the fact, that in the old days we used to head off into the wilds on long hikes with no water, ID or sense. Hung-over and dehydrated, we plowed up Colorado mountains during moose calving season. We plodded across fields, surprising bulls or angry dogs. No pepper spray, first aid kits or cell phones.

 

I thought I had learned my lesson.

 

Anyway, I still say find a passion and get your heart pumping. It is good for your health and wellbeing and good for your recovery. Be curious and exploratory. But I keep forgetting to say, “Be careful out there. Buy a bear canister, an EpiPen and a book on poisonous (but pretty) plants.”

 

The world is your oyster now that you’re sober. Just make sure you’re not allergic to shell fish…

 

Today I’m not drinking because I am using both my hands to scratch the hell out of my arm…

 

How come you’re not drinking?

 

surfer

How a Storm in New Zealand Impacts My Sobriety in Michigan…

 

There is a group in Jacksonville called the Saltwater Cowgirls who partner with my friends at Lakeview Health. They call it surf therapy: providing lessons in surfing and life for the residents in addiction treatment at Lakeview. I lived on the ocean in Jacksonville Beach, but I have never surfed. I am not a strong swimmer, and I am afraid of sharks. Surfing recently influenced my sobriety, however…

 

Work vs. Surfing

Think about it  – surfing is the perfect avocation for someone in recovery. It is physically taxing, involves lots of water and occupies both hands. I am thinking of surf therapy at the moment, because I met up with an old friend the other night. He was visiting his mother in Grand Rapids. Karl lives in California and gears his successful business life around the surfing swells. Every day, he checks the wave patterns and weather on his Surf App, goes down to the pier and determines when he will work and/or surf, based on his survey of the ocean. Something about storms in New Zealand and wind transferring its energy to water…

 

I admire that kind of passion. Talk about a health and wellness prioritized life.

 

Hole in the Wall

Anyway, I haven’t seen this guy in years and my point of reference (ironically) is our drug and alcohol fueled college days at NMU. Also, we worked together at a drug and alcohol fueled dude ranch one summer. My only request for our meeting was that it be in “a hole in the wall with a booth”. It seemed fitting to reconnect in a bar.

 

Four hours later, we had polished off about a gallon of water each and I had downed three club sodas and cranberry. We forgot to eat with all the lobbing, back and forth, of stories with endings we already knew.

 

The time he stepped over a friend passed out in the doorway of Lee Hall with a blithe, “He’s fine. Leave him there.” The time I made fun of a fellow Creative Writing classmate who had used the words, “dark” and “dank” in the same sentence. The time he walked to the Campus Clinic with the flu when the wind chill was 80 below zero. The time the dude ranch staged a faux, nighttime “robbery” and he played the bandit. Cantering through the woods in the dark (drunk) to surprise the guests on a moonlight ride, he took a low hanging limb to the forehead. A temporary setback as he crawled back onto the horse and resumed the playact. The fact we were alive to tell the tales after all the tripping, toking and chugging we did in the crazy, hazy days of our youth.

 

While his yen for the ocean and the seeds of my alcoholism were germinated.

 

When You Don’t Even Think About Drinking…

Sigh…

 

Okay – I am getting back to the surfing thing now. There is something gratifying about reconnecting with someone who has remained essentially the same. I don’t mean stagnated. I mean fundamentally the same as they were at 18. Curious, funny, fit, smart – the same parlance, the same catch in the voice… And now, living a life that is dictated by health and wellness and surfing

 

There was no question of drinking. I didn’t have to explain (although he knows my story) or excuse myself. Karl says none of his friends drink. He might have a beer every once in a while. And it brings me back to the things I have said before about recovery. If you find a passion, find something to occupy your hands and your mind, you have a better chance of success. Karl says when he’s surfing he doesn’t think of anything else. He says it is, “So damn fun, it’s addicting…”

 

It is gratifying to  reconnect with someone who seems happy. To learn recovery lessons from someone who has never had a drinking problem. And when I ventured to speak of regret. About what I should have done, back before my drinking became deadly, Karl said, “Yes. But if you did that, you wouldn’t be here now.”

 

How very surfer dude, California.

 

It’s funny, the choices we make; the paths we cannot alter. The ebb and flow of experiences that define us. And the fact that a storm, thousands of miles away can impact the surface of the ocean as a surfer rides a wave…

 

 

Today I’m not drinking because I’m finding something to do that occupies both hands…

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Jacksonville Beach from my balcony…

 

How come you’re not drinking?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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magic

Hocus Pocus: The Magic of Newfound Friendship in Women’s Recovery

 

My daughter Lauren will tell you that by September 1st, I am usually decorating for Halloween. It is my favorite holiday. I was reminded of one of my All Hallows’ favorites last week. Have you seen the movie Hocus Pocus? The one where three witches suck the life force out of their young captives and live forever? That’s kind of how I felt as I packed up my Sanford House summer intern and prepared for a new mentee for the fall.

 

Like the witch, that is.

 

This summer I got as good as I gave from my intern Monica. She had skills I didn’t possess in photo augmentation and design and I drained her brain (in the best possible way). Her marketing ideas were fresh. It’s nice to be around “new blood” and learn from Monica’s top-of-mind New Media chops. My guess is that Monica has plenty of life force left for the school year. She is smart. And all references to Hocus Pocus aside, I feel like a made a life-long friend.

 

I think I am a better mentor and a better friend to women now that I am sober…

hocus

 

I was always a good friend to Kim and Dee. Even when I was drinking, I suppose. But during my active addiction I didn’t like women much. Other women were competition. I didn’t trust them. I felt more comfortable with men. And even with the few female friends I had, I was distracted. I didn’t have a lot of empathy: I didn’t really know how to be a friend.

 

That is typical in women’s addiction. Gender-specific treatment or friendships within 12-Step programs are often the first opportunity addicted women have to make friends with other women and break the pattern of dislike and distrust. When you are tapped-in to the recovery community at large, it opens opportunities to develop relationships with strong, sober women. I feel like I have been the beneficiary of so much from these newfound friendships.

 

I have learned how to ask for help and I cry (occasionally). And I relish the many remarkable, sober (and responsibly drinking) women I have met along the way. My relationships with old friends and family are better than ever. I have rekindled lapsed friendships. I am more emotionally available.

 

It’s great! It’s magic! And if I feel tired, there is always the life force of the new intern to tap…

I am kidding

 

 

Today I’m not drinking because I’m making friends (with women)…

pocus

How come you’re not drinking?

clubs-

Clubs That Would Have Me as a Member…

I am usually kind of like Groucho Marx. “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.” And let’s not forget I am a Marketing Director, with mad social media skills. I’m a  Hubspot graduate. I know that every time you create a  “Best Of” blog post, it drives traffic to your website.

 

It’s what makes the exponential world of new media go round.

 

Membership has its privileges…

So it is against my grain to be too giddy about being included in the After Party Magazine’s “20 Best Recovery Blogs of 2016”. I am not that green. But the After Party Group is the real deal: providing a resource for information about addiction and treatment.  Their annual list is the list.  And this year’s roundup includes some of my favorite recovery writers.

 

So, just like my “membership” in the recovery community at large, it’s rather nice to be a card carrying member of this club…

 

Take a Look:

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The Twenty Best Recovery Blogs of 2016

 

 

 

And (oh come on, what else did you have to do on a holiday weekend?):

 

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Hemingway, Sober Sex, Mean Girls & The Worst Hangover EVER…

 

 

 

Today I’m not drinking because I am a member of the Sober Club.

 

How come you’re not drinking?

tatoo

There is no Place for Thin Skin in Recovery!

Have you ever had a person say something to you jokingly, and it’s kind of mean, but funny? And you let it slide like a boss, because you know how to laugh at yourself? But years later you still think about it every once in a while?

 

I remember a long time ago, I was wearing a black bathing suit with a ruffled bikini bottom, thinking I looked kind of French and edgy. My friend Val said (in a British accent which always makes it more cutting), “Oh, Mazza, you look like one of the dancing hippos in Fantasia.” I think of it every time I consider wearing something with a ruff…

 

Yesterday, someone told me I was “touchy” and that talking to me was like navigating verbal eggshells.  It’s been quite a week for pealing the onion of my behavior… I did what I always do in response to criticism. I took it in. “This is a first. No one has ever accused me of being thin skinned before,” I said.

 

The exchange above is a blip on the screen, but the fact is I AM NOT TOUCHY.

 

Pealing the Onion…

I do not think you can be thin skinned in recovery. We all face our past, in ways those who are not addicted to Toasted Head,  never have to do. We make fearless moral inventories and atone, for God’s sake.

 

I have been contacted by old lovers, nannies and the mothers of my children’s friends in the process of writing this blog.. Some of these long-lost reminiscers have told me straight-up, they “hated me” in my drinking days. Reminding me of previous slights and “the time I didn’t seem sad when their cat was run over by a town car…”

 

I have had internet trolls call me a “stupid cunt” in reference to my yearning prose. They tell me my writing is banal and my ideas the worse kind of tripe. I have braved Reddit. I swear to you, I carry my mistakes in my pocket like a doctor’s excuse…

 

And most days I just get up and go about my business like a pachyderm.

 

But I never, ever wear anything with ruffles…

 

 

Today I’m not drinking because I am analyzing my behavior (how many bloody layers does this onion have?)…

 

How come you’re not drinking?

head room

Have I Suffered ENOUGH for My Addiction?

A couple of days ago, I was told (by good authority) that I have lost my edge. Apparently, I come off like a beacon of sobriety now. A happy-chappy who might actually be delighted I became a drunk and spent all my money on private plane rides and knickknacks. It seems like I’ve found the error in my overstuffed ego, the cruelty in my slurred slights.

 

What happened to those “fun” stories of hangovers so severe they felt like sharp knives? Memories dredged up like the congealed awful at the bottom of a septic tank? Why all the wildflowers and sunrises of late?

 

I’ve been thinking about this ever since.

 

It is true I got sober and reinvented myself like Madonna in a cowboy hat. Also true that I didn’t kill anyone, go to jail or lose the love of my children while I was in my cups. So, I am grateful. I have a wonderful job now. And I am responsible for my actions and my words… I am no longer a limp-limbed Candide, expecting “the best of all possible worlds”.

 

stacey

Artwork by the incredible Stacey Matchett.

 

I’ve Even Learned to Use Subheadings for Emphasis…

That is not to say I’m delighted. Not to say I’m even “okay” all the time. In fact I am going through a decidedly ungrateful funk at the moment.  I want to shout to the heavens, “So when exactly does life get easy again? When do I get to hang out on big boats, deciding whether to fish or swim? Other people behave like assholes, without suffering the consequences I have endured. Enough is enough!”

 

Does that sound like the prayers of a latter-day soul survivor? Can I kayak myself out of these blues? Hike to the pinnacle and lift my arms in revelation? What would Jesus do?

 

I have stopped telling campfire yarns about the days of wine and vomit, I suppose. And those were pretty hilarious. But aren’t I in a new phase? Looking forward into a bright pink cloud?

 

I read somewhere that it’s egocentric to say, “I’m humble”.  Perhaps then, it is reckless to say, “I’m sober.” The truth is, my sobriety is not a beacon. It’s more like a flashlight with a short in the wiring. Often the light is bright. But occasionally it nods off and I am left squinting in the dark or tapping a table blindly for my reading glasses…

 

I Have Suffered Enough…

But every day I hear from people who are struggling with their addictions. They ask for my advice. So when I want to dampen the page with my tears or the spit of my anger, I think twice.

 

I am glad that you called me on my shit, my friend. I am glad you told me I am losing myself. Because I have been feeling sad lately, and your words forced me to think this through. I believe I am at a crossroads. And despite kind words to the contrary, I am my addiction. It has changed my life forever. And as you pointed out so well, it has changed me for the better.

 

Recovery is a journey. Perhaps I am quelling the residual resentments with lighter tales of goldenrod in dappled fields. Maybe it’s because I want to forget the ugliest parts of my addiction.

 

can we leave

Talk about Art Therapy – The artwork of Stacey Matchett…

 

Luckily I wrote it all down. And yes Kim, I should be working on the book…

All Artwork by Stacey Matchett – Featured art is called  “Head Room”

 

Today I’m not drinking because enough is enough…

 

How come you’re not drinking?