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

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Reflections of a Recovering Addict, #7

Recovery is truly a beautiful process. There is a lot involved in recovering from drugs and alcohol. It is not just the abstinence from the mind altering, body destructing, life ruining, family alienating, job losing, home wrecking demon we ingest in the form of pills, powders, liquids, and gasses. It is about change, growth, and being comfortable with who we are, as we are. In recovery, we say that in order to remain abstinent and continue to heal, we must change our playmates, play things, and play grounds. In other words, we find others in recovery and form new friendships, we find new activities to do with our time that are legal, healthy, and acceptable to ourselves and others, and we spend our time in meetings, having coffee with our new friends, attending pot lucks, and repairing our homes and families. Some of us go to church, mass, synagogues, sweat lodges, and the like.

We are told many things when we enter a room of recovery. These are called suggestions, as they are not requirements, but rather the things that have been tried and worked in aiding other addicts to a successful path of recovery. We are told that the lot of us are there to support and guide you, not make demands of you or threaten to through you out if you do not do it our way. As a matter of fact, we learn that each and every individual’s process, or program, is their own and it is not always the same as the next guy. It is not a race. There is no finish line and graduation comes only when we pass from this life to the next, still clean and sober. There is no cure for addiction, only the treatment of recovery and it is a life long journey. All the suggestions are essential and if followed, we will and do recover.

Some of the more common suggestions are to attend 90 meetings in 90 days, obtain phone numbers from other members and to practice calling, so when you struggle to stay clean and sober, you are able to call for help, get a sponsor who acts as a mentor, and start working on the 12 steps that the program has been built on. We are told that it is not an “I” program, but a “WE” program; you cannot do it alone, but together we can! When we come into the rooms, most of us are spiritually broken and emotionally bankrupt. We are bound by shame and guilt and self-loathing, so the suggestion of giving yourself a break is a wise one. We did not become addicted in one day, so we cannot expect to recover overnight. It takes time. It takes a desire. It takes an effort. And it takes learning and practicing the principles that are foreign to us.

Throughout this process, and usually in the second and third steps, we need to determine for ourselves and accept a Higher Power. This is one of my favorite things about the 12 step programs of recovery. We decide, individually, who our Higher Power is. “…a God of our understanding.” Now, God, in this statement, does not necessarily refer to the Christian God, unless, of course, you want it to. The beauty is, it can be religious or it could be non-religious. Your Higher Power could be God, Buddha, Dalai Lama, the Creator, or some undefined spirit. On the other hand, so many of us either flat-out do not believe in a God or the like or we are just so destroyed that we are unable to believe. For some of us, we need to think long and hard about what we do or do not, or could or could not believe before we know who or what our Higher Power is. Some believe that the Universe serves well as their Higher Power. Others look to Angels, or their own personal Guardian Angel, to guide and protect them. And it is not at all uncommon for others to view the group, other recovering addicts who comprise the meetings, to be their Higher Power. No matter who we acknowledge as our Higher Power, we do need to come to believe that someone or something is bigger, stronger, and more in control than we ourselves, by ourselves, are.

I will break it down even more. Let us take a look at the definitions of higher and power individually. Though they each have many meanings, the ones that are mathematical, statistical, political, and such are not what is meant by Higher Power as we are taught is recovery. What the words do mean in that regard are as follows:

Higher—having a great or considerable extent or reach upward or vertically; exceeding the common degree or measure; strong; intense; exalted in rank, station, eminence, etc.; of exalted character or quality

Power—ability to do or act; capability of doing or accomplishing something; the possession of control or command over others; authority; ascendancy; a person or thing that possesses or exercises authority or influence; to inspire; spur; sustain

Now, you can piece these definitions in any way you like that is conducive to your idea of what or who you want your Higher Power to be. One thing that is often suggested is to think of what you think a Higher Power should be, if there was one that you could accept and rely on. For example, my Higher Power is tolerant and forgiving, caring and nurturing, and never gives up on me. My Higher Power listens to me and loves me and accepts me as I am. My Higher Power is always with me and knows much more about me than I will ever know myself. My Higher Power supports me and protects me. What my Higher Power looks like or what I call my Higher Power are irrelevant. My Higher Power has my best interests and well-being as a top priority and I can truly depend on my Higher Power in all situations.

In meetings, you may hear others suggest using a door knob as a temporary Higher Power until you come to accept someone or something different. In one sense, it is an exaggeration to make a point that your choice of Higher Power can never be wrong. It is also metaphorical in that a door knob will open the door to a new life, a new beginning, new opportunities, to a meeting, etc. When you complete the first step, the admitting that you are powerless, you essentially, to some degree, acknowledge that something else has the control, and you are on your way to not allowing the drug or alcohol to have that control, but something else that will lead you to a better way of living.

The beauty of this concept is that, had this program been built up around God, or what is thought to be the Christian God, many would run at the mere mention of the word. If it is not because we do not believe in this particular God, it is because we do not want to be sucked into a religious cult or feel as if we are going to church rather than a support group. In a lot of cases, it is not uncommon for us to come into a room of recovery filled with anger towards God. Until we can take responsibility for our actions, we often blame others and “God” is not immune to being blamed. Some of us just cannot fathom that any God could forgive us or would want to help us and therefore end up feeling doomed right from the beginning. I personally believe that the teaching, tolerance, acceptance, and encouragement of any form of Higher Power is one of the most crucial in new comers’ sticking around and coming back. I love it!

Reflections of a Recovering Addict #4

I was browsing through the news feed on my Facebook page one day and saw that a fellow recovering addict, and very dear friend, I might add, had posted the following: “I need some input… What is your idea or definition of HOPE?” She was going to be speaking at a meeting that evening and wanted to share not only her own perspective, but that of other addicts too. Several people responded, including myself. I really enjoyed reading the different points of view on something as simple, yet life-sustaining, as hope. I wanted to get more views, so I asked this friend if I may repost her question on my page, and with her blessing, I did.

Unfortunately, I did not get many responses, so posted it again and again on a recovery group page and was pleasantly surprised by some of the answers. By definition, hope is “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best; a feeling of desire for something and confidence in the possibility of its fulfillment; a thing, situation, or event that is desired; to feel that something desired may happen; a reasonable ground for this feeling; a person or thing that gives cause for hope; to trust, expect, desire, rely, or believe.” I found these definitions on dictionary.com. I also found an acronym, and though I believe it is some sort of marketing for a company, I feel it hits the nail on the head for those in recovery.  HOPE—Health Opportunity for People Everywhere.

Some of the responses that were given were similar to the academic definition, while others were very different and offered an insight that only experience could provide. Hope is different for everybody, and it can mean different things in different situations. I am writing this to record some of the answers that I received to this question, so if ever I feel I have lost all hope, I can come back to this and find it again. Here are the responses; do any of them resonate with you?

“Hope for me comes with wanting something and having faith and hope that it will happen. Also putting something into action and hoping for the desired outcome. Hope for me comes with faith, action, willingness and prayer.”

“Possible. (living with my heart not my head, not letting my limited knowledge keep me from trying)”

“Hope to me means there is always something to hold onto. If you have no hope you have given up.”

“Hope for me is when I hear other women’s experience and strength in the rooms, it keeps me hopeful that I too can achieve what they have. For example listening to their experiences and what they had to endure to get their kids back and all the other gifts of recovery. Hope is the truth for me.”

“Hope is one of those words that is hard to define without using the word. But for me hope is about faith…trusting the outcome.”

“Faith that something is possible.”

“Narcotics Anonymous”

“Honesty; Open-mindedness; Willingness; Patience; Empathy…”

“Hope to me is… Getting through to the other side; if all else fails I still have hope, the light in the midst of my darkness , a reason to press on, an application of action and faith in God for the results; food for my soul …”

“For me Hope is a fact not yet realized but none the less a fact.”

“It means i have a chance at a real life now.”

“Hope is being kicked while your down, having drama, shit and heartache thrown at you and still believing in yourself that it will get better.”

“Hope means that I believe “it works for you” that it could also be right for me!”

“To me… Hope means light in the darkest times. To have hope has saved my life.”

“Hope is my middle name… It gave me strength courage and the will to keep on fighting everyday in the face adversity!”

“Hope for me was the beginning of a faith that I never knew I was capable of.”

“For me Hope is the dream of a soul awake.”

“To me, hope means there’s a real possibility I won’t have to drink or use today.”

“I try to lead by example. The need to see that there is another way of life and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. [A showing of] all the benefits of recovery, a new and better life free from the horrors of drugs and alcohol.”

“The first message of Hope I had heard in a long time: “We know who you are, and you really don’t have to live that way anymore if you don’t want to.” One day at a time, that’s been true for me for 30 years as of yesterday.”

“Faith in things unseen…”

“A belief that God could do for me what I could not do for myself.”

“Step 2 is what gave me hope.” (Step two: We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.)

“Hope is that I am alive“

“Hope is that deep inside I know it’s not all over yet…”

“Trusting that things will turn out through faith!”

“The Hope is that I can stay sober one day at a time and all I have to do is not pick up the first drink and trust in my Higher Power. The days become weeks – the weeks become months and the months become years. Plus I know it works. Blessed assurance. “

“The first real hope I got was at my first speaker meeting. I saw hope that I could be alright. I heard similarities in the speakers story. If she could do it maybe I could too.”

“Just keep into action with faith, leaving result s to your Higher Power.”

“Hope to me is seeing the experience of others who [have] grown up and changed their lives and shows their bad days turn into good by working and giving to others time to spend.”

“Hope changes from day-to-day.”

“The night before sentencing.”

“I see hope as desire… If I desire to stay clean, I have hope. If I desire to succeed, I have hope. If I desire to live, I have hope. If I lose my desire, I lose all hope.”

This last response is the one I gave; however, as I have read through these individual responses again, I have learned a lot more about what hope is and what it means to have hope than I ever thought possible. One last thought I would like to offer and that is if you reach a point where you do not believe there is any hope left, reach out to someone. They may have enough for both of you.