Reflection of a Recovering Guest Blogger, #4, Part 5

I apologize that this post has taken so long to be finished. I have been very tired and think I may be getting sick. I am trying to get plenty of rest, but did not want you to miss the next installment. I believe the length of these posts have deterred many readers from taking the time to indulge, so for this week, I have shortened the post.

I, as always, encourage you to comment. Your thoughts and feelings really add more meaning and depth to Cherie’s lessons and learning, her troubles and triumphs. I realize I have not taken the time to respond to the comments already made regarding this guest blogger and again, I apologize. I give you my word, if I do not get to them this weekend, i will start with them next weekend.

Read and share, find strength and pass on the hope. Take care, my friends, and thank you one and all for your continued support of my blog. It gives me great joy to be a part of your world and for you to be a part of mine.

And now, the saga continues…

My first year of sobriety was far from easy. I was faced with many monumental obstacles and traumas, that without the 12-Step Programs and steadfast support of its members, I’d have certainly faltered and, in all probability, drank and drugged myself to death.

As I said in the first installment, I attended meetings upon meetings, never less than three a day, for the first decade. Often times I’d be half-asleep, sitting propped up in a folding chair in who knows how many church basements and school halls around New Orleans and Mississippi. But, I was willing to be there and some way, somehow the messages shared by my peers made a deep impression on my mind. I didn’t just listen with my ears, I listened with my heart and gut.

I voraciously read any and all material I could get in an earnest effort to learn and develop a better understanding of my disease and how I could better apply the steps and principles of Al-Anon, A.A., and N.A. (its Big Book came out in the early 80s) in keeping its deadly manifestations in check. I did journals, and workbooks, and written assignments as my sponsors directed me to do.

I was not permitted to moderate, let alone chair meetings, until I had over 365 days, a full sober year in the rooms, under my belt. I was allowed to share, but if I dared to lapse into venting, I was immediately silenced. You went to a sponsor with that type of personal verbiage. A meeting was not a dumping ground or place to feed my ego with ill-founded ideas I was profound or wise, since I was no more than a struggling newcomer with a lot to learn.

I was in constant contact with my sponsors, plural. There were times I didn’t think I could take a shit without checking with one of them beforehand. But, the phone calls, the one-on-one visits, the dependence on these caring mentors reinforced that I was worth saving and I did have a chance to make it as they had. I was not alone and never needed to be alone again. If I hesitated or balked at a suggestion made by them, you can be assured my obstinance was dealt with severely. I loathe to remember how many times I was made to clean the kitchen floor with a toothbrush because I made the mistake of saying, “But.”

One especially memorable occasion was when I threw a tantrum in front of the three drag queens, who were my first sponsors. I think I mouthed off perhaps a couple of minutes before they threw their boas off and butched up. From out of thin air they pulled a sleeping bag and zipped me up to the neck in its confines. To make matters worse, they broke off the zipper making it clear I wasn’t going anywhere. Then, if that wasn’t bad enough, I had to lay there and hear their tough love critiques of my behavior for hours and hours and hours. But, it was a lesson well learned. Perhaps, they didn’t have all the answers and maybe they too were capable of mistakes, but there was one thing they knew how to do and could teach me. They knew how not to pick up a drink or drug and for that I was willing to go to any lengths, no matter how bizarre.

“What’s a ‘slip’,” I casually asked the guys one day. I thought for a second my lips would be ripped off my face and whipped with my tongue.

“There is no such word in your vocabulary,” they screamed in unison. “Maybe there is a different definition in Webster’s, but in your dictionary, Cherie, and that’s the only one that counts, it means just one thing. Slip=Death. There is no going back out and strolling back in. You get no second chance. You’ll hear people say, if you can’t remember the last time you used then it wasn’t. Well, you better recall every detail of that nightmare on July 15th, because that was it for you. You may still have the luxury of being crazy, but you can never drink a drop or pop an aspirin again.” The men were livid, but through the ranting I saw the fear in their eyes that I would even broach the subject.

“Slip! How ridiculous,” they continued to yell, “You don’t just trip and fall and end up back out there. It’s a deliberate, self-sabotaging decision a person makes. A person that wants to run from the scary world of living sober and clean because it takes guts to follow the steps and be rigorously honest. It’s nice and Pollyannaish to throw around the slogans ‘One Day At A Time’ and ‘Just For Today’. But, you better wise up, Honey, this isn’t a 24 hour proposition for you. It’s forever. It’s a lifetime. Get that through your thick skull and you will never consider for a moment gambling with a ‘Slip’.”

If there was one thing that made the most of an impression with me throughout my years in recovery it was that lecture. Tragically, these guys couldn’t practice what they preached. Each went back out and never returned. I buried them all.

I was taught, from the beginning, the importance of giving back what was freely given to me. In the early days, I accompanied old-timers on hundreds of 12th-Step calls. I, likewise, joined them on visits to various hospitals and institutions in the greater metropolis. Of course, I was not permitted to personally deal with the patients and inmates because of limited experience in sobriety and chemical freedom, but I was allowed to set up chairs, dump ashtrays, and make coffee. After a year or so, I graduated and was given the honor of being a greeter at the door of Intergroup.

I watch people come and go in large numbers these days because they are rushed and expected to “get it” in a six-week period or god forbid, before their insurance runs out. I was told I was a work in progress and it took me a long time to get sick and it would take an even longer time for me to get better. I was once told by a newcomer that he had a month in treatment and that was equivalent to five years in the program. Needless to say, he didn’t make it.

Living in the solution and not the problem was making my life far different from anything I had ever experienced before. Of course, I still made many, many mistakes and used horrible judgment. However, I never picked up a drug or drink and learned from those transgressions and was constantly trying to be the healthiest and best person I could possibly be.

To be continued…

~by Cherie Leahy Smith

Reflection of a Recovering Guest Blogger, #4, Part 4

Finally, the weekend is here! Whew! I have had a long and exhausting week, but that is for another time and another post.

For those faithful and dedicated readers, here is part four in Cherie’s story. If this installment doesn’t touch you to your core and bring tears to your eyes at least once, nothing will. I encourage you to read this post, but more specifically, please do read it to the last paragraph. It is this paragraph that is most important and will encourage and inspire you, give you strength and hope, motivation and courage.

For those of you who have not yet read any part of Cherie’s story, please read this part and then, if you are interested in how she came to be an alcoholic and addict and what she went through during her active addiction and alcoholism, you can go back and read parts 1-3. All reflections can be found under Recovery Detours along the right side of my home page. If you choose not to read it, I assure you, it will be your loss.

For all others, here it is…Cherie’s first year in recovery. Enjoy and please do comment if time permits.

“WHAT HAPPENED”

It didn’t take me long to realize I could not fight this battle alone. Many of my acquaintances and friends were very encouraging and optimistic. But, the old adage “Misery Enjoys Company” couldn’t be disputed when I was met with sarcasm, scorn, and outright ill-will by other so-called friends. “You’ll never make it. You’re hopeless. Here let’s get loaded,” they repeatedly taunted. I divorced myself from these individuals and closed the door behind me on my former haunts.

I continued to entertain the thought, when the jonesing enveloped me and clouded my thinking, that if my lover only got her act together I could return to drinking and drugging, but only in moderation of course.

I picked up a Reader’s Digest and flipped through its pages. A story caught my eye written by Lois W., the wife of Bill W., co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous with Dr. Bob.

 Lois W. and Dr. Bob’s wife, Ann Smith, had started the group Al-Anon, which was for friends and family members of alcoholics. I hungrily read her message. Too bad I didn’t digest it. “I’ll go to one of those meetings and get some pointers from the pros. Once I trick Diana into stopping her crazy drunken sprees I’m home free. I’ve proven I can control myself. It’s been months since I picked up. I don’t have to go berserk and make an ass of myself anymore. I’ll be bellying up to the bar before Happy Hour starts on Friday. Please, please, please let my dealer be there.”

The Pillsbury housewives and execs in Brooks Brothers suits watched as I sauntered into the room. A chair was pulled out for me at the table and I was told to sit and listen. I was polite and I did appear to give full attention to the people speaking, often times it seemed directly to me. “Holy crap, what the fuck have I gotten myself into,” I mused, “These folks seem happy enough, but they are goddamn loons. And where are the tips? I haven’t heard one person go after their drunk. It’s all how we can get to be better and healthier people using the Steps. And what the shit are the Steps? Where are they? Maybe there is a more advanced group upstairs.”

“Amen”

“Amen,” I repeated. I was instantly surrounded and welcomed with pats on my back, extended hands, warm hugs, and phone numbers. Lots and lots of phone numbers.

“Don’t be afraid to call, Cherie. Reach out if you need to at any hour. Please come back and see us,” they sincerely urged.

I heard myself agree, I actually agreed to return. “What the hell. It appears these poor saps need a little excitement. I’ll grace them with my presence again. I’ve nothing better to do. Maybe next time they’ll get into how to manipulate the drunken bastard.”

Something clicked. I began to listen. Sitting by the coffee pot in the Jesuit Church Tuesday after Tuesday at the High Noon meeting was starting to have a positive influence in my life. I still couldn’t share with the straight-laced people who filled the room. I mean how could I tell them the drunk I was involved with was a seemingly demure “butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth” ex-debutante that beat me nightly and did everything in her power to get me back to using. They would boot me out in a second and I couldn’t bear the rejection. This group was becoming an increasingly vital part in sustaining me in my struggling existence.

Old habits die hard and this incurable flirt was always eyeballing the ladies and looking for her next conquest. I had my sights set on the woman who eloquently spoke each week at the meeting. She was older, stately and absolutely gorgeous. Maybe it wasn’t the message touching me, but my desire to touch the messenger that kept me coming back. I asked her to be my sponsor.

I had to get to the Gulf Coast and I had to without delay. I’ll find them. It can’t be that hard. But, then again that place is a mecca for trailer trash. Who’d have thought the grand dame would end up in Gulfport, Mississippi of all places. My son was living with my mother and step-father and I had not been in contact with any of them for quite some time. My lover forbid it. But, I sensed something was gravely wrong and it was imperative I check out things to ease my mind.

Call it maternal instincts. Call it being psychic. It hardly matters. I sat on the stoop outside the door of their dingy motel room and waited and waited for them to show up. Startling images coursed through my brain in the interim. I shook in terror. I almost puked with dread. My parents pulled up. Steven was not with them. But I knew he wouldn’t be. “Who told you,” my mother cried in astonishment, “How did you find out?” My glare silenced her questions. “Take me to him and take me now,” I screamed.

My 10-year-old son looked so tiny and helpless as he lay in the hospital bed in ICU. Wires connected to buzzing and humming apparatuses were attached to every inch of him and a machine was his only means of breathing. He appeared to be peacefully sleeping. “He died three times and it’s a miracle we got him back,” the neurologist informed me. “We had to induce a coma. His brain is severely swollen and without a doubt there is damage, most probably to a grave extent. I cannot in good faith tell you he will ever wake up, but if he does the prognosis is poor. You might have to make some very hard decisions.”

I shuddered and then felt a feeling of intense warmth and comfort overtake me. All fear vanished. “I can do nothing. I am powerless. I surrender. I trust what will be will be and a Higher Power, my Higher Power will continue to protect and guide both me and my son.”

The High Noon group, especially my sponsor, and an old-timer named Duke and a gay guy named Patrick took me under their wings. People consistently checked on me and made sure I was not alone for a moment in my anguish following Steven’s accident. He was still in a vegetative state and I was being pushed by the doctors to pull the plug. My mother adamantly refused to even consider that option and for once I was in total agreement. “When in doubt do nothing,” I was advised by my Al-Anon friends. I played the waiting game and filled any free moment I had with program people.

My sponsor would have none of my bullshit and nipped in the bud any of my hopes to bed her. I didn’t take kindly to her kicking to the curb my sexual advances, but was even more offended when she had the nerve to tell me if I didn’t go to Alcoholics Anonymous and pronto she was turning me over to someone else for sponsorship. “Granted it’s been a horrendous time for you with your son and the ongoing crisis’s at home with your friend. Not to mention, you aren’t even six months sober,” she said, “But unacceptable behavior is unacceptable behavior and I don’t take it from anyone, especially the likes of a dry drunk like you, Cherie. There’s a meeting in the Quarter and I know you will definitely fit in with these people. My friend is picking you up tonight. Be ready at 7:30 and don’t you utter a word, just nod your head yes.”

“Right on time,” I cheerfully said climbing into the car, “What the fuck! It’s…It’s you.”

“Just shut up and get in. I’m not thrilled about being stuck with you either. But, a 12th Step call is a 12th Step call.” Hoppy and I had run into each other over the years in the bars, but were definitely not friends; in fact, we pretty much loathed each other. “You of all people in the program,” she snickered, “Well I never…”

“That’s obvious and you probably never will either,” I quipped.

“Try not to make a horse’s ass out of yourself like you usually do and maybe tonight you might learn something, Smart Ass,” she grumbled. We rode the rest of the way in silence.

I had been in this apartment hundreds of times. And usually not in a vertical state. My friend Rique threw wonderful mixers with the most eclectic variety of attendees. But, he was more known for his outrageously lavish gourmet dinners. With rare exception for desert a wild orgy was always on the menu that would last days on end. How ironic, how fucking ironic. This is where the meeting is that is going to change my life. “Get some cappuccino and doberge cake and park it, faggots. I don’t have all goddamn night. Ooooh, we have a few butches gracing our midst. Hoppy, have your friend introduce herself,” the effeminate man commanded. She nudged my elbow.

“Hi, I’m Cherie and I’m an alcoholic and…”

“And nothing. Sit down and shut up. You have nothing to say that we want to hear. You are here to learn not vent. You can’t give what you haven’t got. Oh and welcome, Cherie to your new family.”

Each and everyone was telling my story. Perhaps, they hadn’t descended to the depths I had, but I felt their pain and I knew I belonged, especially in the safe confines of this a strictly gay group. Once the Lord’s prayer was finished the real sharing began. In fact, we had a marathon gab session that lasted well into the morning. Exhausted but basking in a new exhilaration, I returned home with unfamiliar but fantastic new feelings. For the first time I truly felt optimistic and hopeful.

My clothes and possessions were strewn about the courtyard. I guess [Diana] made good on her threat. She warned if I went to one of those low-life loser meetings there would be hell to pay. My heart sank. Knowing her, this was just the tip of the iceberg. I was right. I stood in the doorway of my bedroom and watched for only a second before I let my presence be known. Both women immediately stopped their lovemaking and broke out in uncontrollable laughter. Obviously, I was the joke. “I told you, go hang with those drunk fucks and I’d replace you,” my lover sneered, “Now get lost you are cramping our style.” Diana’s guest passed me and snickered as I was carrying my things back into the apartment. My partner was drinking a martini and had a smug grin on her face. “Every time, Cherie. Someone will be in your bed with me every time you go, I promise you.” I must say she was a woman of her word, but by the third or fourth one-nighters I had decided I was done with the beatings and her other bullshit. My new love affair would be with A.A.

Steven opened his eyes after over nine months in a comatose state. He could not speak and only had movement in his right index finger. But, needless to say, we were encouraged. I was now working in the Emergency Room at the hospital where he was a patient. I felt it was the least I could do to show my appreciation to the staff that had saved my child. Every moment I could spare I was at a meeting. I attended never less than three a day and continued this practice without exception for the first 10 years of my recovery.

“Mama, I’m sorry,” my son whispered.

“About what? There’s nothing for you to be sorry about.”

“Me, Mama. Me. I’m sorry and afraid that because of me you will go back drinking and be like you use to be.”

I unballed his tiny fist and place something within it and closed his fingers around the gift. “Hold that tight, Steven. It’s more yours than mine. It’s my 1 year chip and it holds my promise to you. Mama won’t ever be that person again. Mama won’t ever drink or drug again. Mama won’t ever be anything but the best Mama she can possibly be.”

To be continued…

~by Cherie Leahy Smith