Reflection of a Recovering Guest Blogger, #4, Part 7

Although Cherie’s story is phenomenal from beginning to end, this part is, by far, my favorite part! This occurred many, many years ago, but I have also become very good friends with Angie, whom you will soon read about. Long before we met, this part of Cherie’s story created within me a very deep respect for this woman named Angie. As I continue to publish this story, you will see that this one selfless, reaching-out act of kindness and trust became the first step in many life-changing and life saving occurrences in both of these women’s lives. Let the following be the foundation of some truly inspiring experiences that have given me a whole new perspective on life.

The still anonymous young woman looked at me with compassion as I entered the room and sat down. Although she said nothing, I was bolstered by the caring concern in her glance. I told Bob after the meeting to set another place at the table. “That is if it’s still an open invitation for me to join you and the gang today. I could sure use some good company.” He smiled and winked.

Then, in turning to the woman of mystery, who was watching me from a distance, Bob said, “Angie you are expected at my place. No excuses.”

Neither of us spoke for what seemed like an eternity. We sat near each other and toyed with the food on our plates. But, despite the tension you could cut with a knife, something else was passing silently between us. She stood and readied to leave. I felt my heart sink. “I’m going for a ride. You want to come,” I barely heard her mumble.

“Oh yes, please, that would be wonderful,” I quickly replied trying to pull my broken body out of the chair.

“Wait here, I’ll get the truck and then, help you.” She had no idea how this simple extension of her hand in friendship had already helped.

A word here, a phrase there and finally, the deafening quiet was broken. Soon, we were ending each other’s sentences. We listened to music and drove around New Orleans for four, five, six hours. I was attracted to the long-haired hippie chick, but it went beyond that. She had an understated intellect and superficiality was totally alien in her persona. I felt in communion with her and sensed the feeling was mutual. Another couple of hours and many miles passed. Neither one of us wanted this interlude to end, but we knew with the approach of dawn it had to. She drove me back to my car and insisted on following me home to be sure I got there safely. I watched her leave and was overwhelmed with loneliness. I turned and slowly started to walk to my apartment with heavy heart not knowing when or if I’d ever see her again.

Angie and Cherie
(Sorry this picture isn’t bigger, but is the only size I have.)

I heard the sound of the Ford 150’s chugging engine getting louder and louder. A truck door slammed and before I could utter any exclamation of surprise Angie was back at my side, taking my elbow and giving me support. I was enveloped with gratitude and a true sense of hope for the future. If someone this honest and good and wise could take a risk on me, maybe she saw a glimmer of light I had never seen. Maybe I, indeed, wasn’t worthless and deserved saving, as I never quite believed. Angie never left my side or withdrew her loving support and so, began our ten years of life as a couple. And so began the true growth and recovery promised in the Programs.

In this the last installment of my story I will address how my life has dramatically changed in the past 30 years. Angie and I, first and foremost, made a promise to each other to be honest and open in our relationship. We continued to attend meetings jointly and individually at least three times a day, as was my practice for the prior years in the 12 Step groups. Our social life was mainly centered around sober and drug free events and get-togethers, although we also visited both of our families on occasions.

A legal battle manifested in regards to Beverly’s assault on me and I learned firsthand in dealing with this fiasco how vital it is to always place “Principles Before Personalities” and why “Anonymity” is so crucial in most individual’s recovery. I guess it came down to human nature and curiosity that made fellow members start snooping into the case and our private business. Needless to say, sides were taken.

I had decided to stay mum on the subject with my peers and did just that. I also made it a point to go to different meetings than Beverly since I was acquainted with all sorts of groups around town and she only felt comfortable in a select few (gay). Choosing this, rather than possibly invoking a confrontation where it had no place whatsoever, would cost me dearly. In my absence at those regularly attended meetings it was assumed I was running away out of pure cowardice or worse-guilty as accused. Stories began to circulate around the rooms and the French Quarter community. Half truths bloomed quickly into full-blown lies. I was shunned if I happened to see someone I knew or attacked verbally. On more than one occasion I was even threatened with physical violence by those in Beverly’s camp.

I’d go to a new group only to come out to find my tires slashed and vile notes taped to the windshield of my car. Phone calls were endless warning me not to attend this or that group or there would be retaliation. I’d arrive to speak at a meeting and with the snap of fingers the entire room would clear. It was mean, ugly, and almost cost me my sobriety. But, I knew that A.A. and N.A. was not a select group of people but the fellowship as a whole and I would not stop until I found a place I could safely go, share not vent, and be welcome.

Before it was all over lawyers stepped in and those harassing me the most were told that it cost no more to add their names to a law suit. I ended up winning the counter-suit against Beverly, but lost many so-called friends in the process and never ever felt comfortable within the rooms where I initially got sober. I was totally vindicated and Beverly’s ludicrous and blatantly false accusations against me were retracted. But it is very doubtful that to this day any of the individuals who saw fit to go after me have read the truth because I’ve yet to receive apologies.

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

Reflections of a Recovering Addict, #10

A great place to find online support groups, believe it or not, is Facebook. Usually these groups are closed or secret, which means that only group members can view anything posted there. The group’s postings will show up in your news feed, but it is only visible to you and the members of the group, not by anyone on your friend’s list (unless, of course, they are also in the group).

How do you become a member? Another member already in the group must add you, so your best bet is to post a message that asks your friends to please add you to any recovery groups they are involved in. If that does not work, you may send me a friend request (Cindy Clark Riemersma), I will accept and will add you to any group I am in, once you let me know you would like to be added. I belong to about 10 or 12 of these recovery groups. By the way, I also belong to a group called Breaking the Cycle that is for survivors of abuse, if anyone is interested.

One of the groups I am a member of, and in my personal opinion, one of the best of the bunch, is called Relapse Prevention. There is a lot of good recovery there and a little joking around for fun. There are also many documents regarding recovery that the founder, Mike Vedovat, has posted. One such document contained the 12 steps in a simplified form. I originally thought that Mike had written this version and wanted to get his okay to post it on my blog before I did so. I have recently learned that he did not write these simplified steps and that he does not know who did, but Mike strongly encouraged me to post them for all to see.

If you are in recovery and follow a 12 step program, then you may get a kick out of this. If you are not, but always wondered what the 12 steps are and how they could possibly help someone in the razor-sharp grip of the talons of addiction, this just may clear it up for you. Believe me, these steps are crucial to the healing and growing process that we gain within our recovery. They take time and they take hard work. And every step is important.

Step One—There’s a power that will kill me. 

Step Two—There’s a power that wants me to live. 

Step Three—Which do I want? (If you want to die, stop here. If you want to live, go on.) 

Step Four—Using examples from your own life, understand that selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear control your actions. 

Step Five—Tell all your private, embarrassing secrets to another person. 

Step Six—Decide whether or not you want to live that way anymore. 

Step Seven—If you want your life to change, ask a power greater than yourself to change it for you. (If you could have changed it yourself, you would have long ago.) 

Step Eight—Figure out how to make right all the things you did wrong. 

Step Nine—Fix what you can without causing more trouble in the process.

Step Ten—Understand that making mistakes is part of being human (When you make a mistake, fix it, immediately if you can.) 

Step Eleven—Ask for help to treat yourself and others the way you want your higher power to treat you. 

Step Twelve—Don’t stop doing 1 through 11, and Pass It On!!

As you can see in step 12, once you have made it through each one, you are not done, you are not cured, and you do not graduate. You continue working the steps, pass them on to others who are recovering, and understand that where drugs/alcohol/gambling/eating/etc. were your way of life, now recovery is your way of life. You must follow this program for the rest of your life. It is, what addicts like to call, a solution. The solution. And for those who stick with it, recovery is ongoing and so much can and will be restored to you.

It is not just our minds and bodies that have been wrecked. It is our relationships with family and friends; it is our financial history, credit history, criminal history, and over all reputation that is part of the damage. During active addiction, we have proven to be untrustworthy, unreliable, and unwanted for things such as jobs, apartments, and bank accounts. It is through the work of the steps that we begin to cut out our self-inflicted cancer and begin to build all things healthy. The steps for us, are literally the ladder out of our hole.

My hope in posting this is that those who are in recovery can see how simple the steps really are, and those who know people in recovery may gain a new level of respect for the work that goes into our solution.

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 #5

I have a copy of the following poem in my journal and I read it almost daily. It was written anonymously by an Native American Indian woman while she was in jail. Unfortunately, she died of a heroin overdose two years later, but her perfect description of the power of drug addiction still resonates with intensity. This was first given to me by my treatment counselor and the first time I read it, it shook me to my core. I still get chills from its raw truth. This described my life at the time to a T. Whenever I think I can’t remember the last time I used drugs, a memory that is one of many “musts” in the process of preventing relapse, this will bring it back to me with crystal clarity.

If you are an addict of almost any kind, nothing else has to be said. If you are a non-addict, especially one who has a family member or friend who is suffering from their addiction, please know that as chilling as these words are, they are not at all an exaggeration. Read this twice if you have to. The addicted one is not having as much fun as they may have you believe; they are not enjoying any aspect of their life at all, and in most cases, wish that life would cease rather than continue the way it is. Though the addicts imprisonment at the hands of their vice, that is nothing less than destructive, does cause the family and friends great distress, pain, anger, and resentment, no one suffers as much as the addict themselves.

I destroy homes, tear families apart, take your children, and that’s just the start. I’m more costly than diamonds, more costly than gold, the sorrow I bring is a sight to behold, and if you need me, remember I’m easily found. I live all around you, in schools and in town. I live with the rich, I live with the poor, I live down the street and maybe next door. My power is awesome; try me..you’ll see, but if you do, you may never break free. Just try me once and I might let you go, but try me twice, and I’ll own your soul. When I possess you, you’ll steal and you’ll lie. You do what you have to just to get high. The crimes you’ll commit for my narcotic charms will be worth the pleasure you’ll feel in your arms. You’ll lie to your mom; you’ll steal from your dad. When you see their tears, you should feel sad. But you’ll forget your morals and how you were raised, I’ll be your conscience, I’ll teach you my ways. I take kids from parents, and parents from kids, I turn people from God, and separate from friends. I’ll take everything from you, your looks and your pride, I’ll be with you always, right by your side. You’ll give up everything; your family, your friends, your money, your home, and then you’ll be alone. I’ll take and take, till you have nothing more to give. When I’m finished with you you’ll be lucky to live. If you try me be warned this is no game. If given the chance, I’ll drive you insane. I’ll ravish your body; I’ll control your mind. I’ll own you completely; your soul will be mine. The nightmares I’ll give you while lying in bed, the voices you’ll hear from inside your head, the sweats, the shakes, the visions you’ll see; I want you to know, these are all gifts from me. But then it’s too late, and you’ll know in your heart, that you are mine, and we shall never part. You’ll regret that you tried me, they always do, but you came to me, not I to you. You knew this would happen. Many times you were told, but you challenged my power, and chose to be bold. You could have said no, and just walked away. If you could re-live that day, now what would you say? I’ll be your master; you will be my slave, I’ll even go with you, when you go to your grave. Now that you have met me, what will you do? Will you try me or not? It’s all up to you. I can bring you more misery than words can tell. Come take my hand, let me lead you to hell…  ~Anonymous

The good news is, recovery is possible. The reality is, it is only possible if and when the addict wants and seeks it. We cannot be talked into, convinced, threatened, bribed, or begged to get the help we need. We have to discover for ourselves that the life of drugs and alcohol (or over-eating, or gambling, etc) is no life at all. We have to make the decision ourselves that a new life is necessary and believe it is attainable. The most successful of recovery program is the 12-step program, that if worked diligently, can and will break the cycle of active addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous was the foundation of all 12-step programs that came after, essentially the same, but tailored to the specific addiction in which it provides support and guidance. First and foremost, with a desire to quit using/drinking, followed by honesty with self and with others, a willingness to do whatever it takes, and an open mind, we do recover!