Sam the Plumber

Day 3 of no hot water.  Last night I carried a stockpot full of boiling water upstairs so I could bathe in 3 inches of water.  Our shower is broken and the repair ended up being a bit extensive.  I don’t understand what happened because I don’t understand plumbing but also because there is a bit of a language barrier.  Sam the plumber is from Egypt.

The first time I met Sam was some time in my final weeks of drinking.   I don’t remember what the plumbing issue was, but I do remember that it was abnormally cold here in Southern California.  Sam was having to cut into the side of the house for a repair.  At one point he had to wait for something to dry and asked if he could wait inside since it was so cold.  Of course, of course.  I remember having this plumber sitting in my family room and feeling like I wanted to jump out of my skin.

I decided to make some tea to warm up.  It occurred to me that the nice thing would be to offer some to Sam.  I did and was pissed off when he accepted.  I sat there drinking tea with Sam the plumber from Egypt and hating every second of it.  I became painfully aware of how uncomfortable I was to have to sit with this lovely man who was there to help me.

He seemed really happy for a plumber.  He sends money back to his extended family in Egypt.  He takes classes at the nearby state university.  He speaks really highly of his wife.  He is very involved in his church.  I totally fucking hate him.  I don’t understand what is wrong with me.  What is wrong with me?  Why do I hate Sam the friendly plumber?  Why am I so uncomfortable?  Why does he seem perfectly happy to sit here drinking tea with a total stranger?  That’s weird.  Yeah, Sam seems totally weird.  What if he murders me?

Weeks later when I got to the rooms of AA and first heard the phrase “fear of people,” I felt fireworks go off in my brain.  YES!  Fear of people!  That’s it!!!  I had never heard it put so literally.  I just thought people annoyed me.  It never occurred to me that I was flat-out afraid.  And afraid of what?  I couldn’t even make eye contact with the checker at Trader Joe’s.  I think part of it is that I was so self-absorbed that I didn’t want anyone to notice that I didn’t give a shit about them.  Dear God what if they WANTED something from me?  I was so relieved to find out that this was alcoholism.  I thought I was simply broken.

Sam had everything up and running by the time he left today.  Just before he went he asked if I could please pass along his info to anyone who might need a plumber, so it turns out that he did want something.  I hope I get the chance to refer him.

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This Is Not My Beautiful House

Last night my almost 4 year old wanted me to rock him to sleep.  He’s not much of a cuddler these days, so I jumped at the opportunity.  I was sitting there holding him in the dark, trying to stay present and grateful, but my mind was fixating on a headline I saw come up in my Facebook feed days ago.  I didn’t click it at the time, but the beast was thirsty and I found myself there in the dark reading this article on my iPhone.  I first thought that sounded like a fun time, but they describe it as a “nightclub on wheels.”  I remembered that I hate clubs and the douchebags inside them.  Pretty sure this will be a train full of alcoholics and douchebags.  Anyway, my brain instead went off on a fantasy where I abandon my family to get drunk by myself in some seedy off-strip Vegas motel.  It’s especially strange because I’ve never even stayed off the strip.  I’d usually end a night in Vegas by vomiting in a bathroom with a plasma TV.

Just before I went off on this imaginary nightmare of a relapse, I was thinking, “How the fuck did I get here?”  How did I end up in this house with this husband and these two amazing kids?  I suddenly felt like I didn’t choose any of it.  I don’t remember how I got here.  I got kind of pissed off.  I’m an alcoholic and there is a part of me that wants to slowly kill myself in Vegas, but here I am in charge of raising these two little ones instead.  It’s often said that alcoholism is an elevator heading down and you decide what floor to get off on.  In early sobriety, I honestly felt like I wanted to ride that fucker all the way to the basement just to see what’s down there.  I was actually angry with my kids for interfering with the self-indulgent trip to hell I had planned.

I want to understand what makes me want to drink myself to death in Vegas when I have an enviable life.  I think the easy answer is self-loathing, but when I think on it, that doesn’t sit right.  So I’m sitting here thinking about the fact that right before I fantasized about running away and numbing out, I was feeling like I had been delivered a life that I didn’t choose.  I don’t understand how I got to be holding this sweet little soul in a dark room on a Sunday night in the suburbs.  It’s not what I thought my life would look like; not what I planned.  That means I’m not in control.  Oh crap that means I’m REALLY not in control!  The ego rebels.

My plan was to end the post and put up this Talking Heads song, but I looked up the lyrics and they’re even more apropos than I thought.  Today I actively turn my will and my life over to God.  I wasn’t doing that before, my life is what it is regardless of what I had planned.  In self-will, I fight the currents of the ocean making myself exhausted and miserable in the process.  No matter what I do, I’ll eventually find myself on the shore asking, “How did I get here?”  When I surrender to the currents, let the water hold me down if it needs to, I might not have to arrive tired and bewildered.

Giving Thanks

In October of 2011 I ended up in the ER with debilitating stomach pain.  It had been bothering me for weeks off and on, but one night it became excruciating.  My (at the time) 2 year old and 3 month old were sleeping, so I had to drive myself to the hospital.  They did an MRI and the Dr. let me know it was possible I had an ulcer.  They asked me to follow up with my PCP, so later that week I sat in my Dr.’s office while she told me that in addition to the gastritis/ulcer, I had a hiatal hernia and my liver was enlarged.  She needed to order more tests to find out what was going on with my liver.

I’m typically a nod-and-smile-type patient, but I found myself saying, “I’ve been drinking.”  I was honest about how much.  She recommended I go to AA.  I was a blubbering mess.  I couldn’t believe this was happening; that I was that bad.  I mean, sure, I loved to drink, but I didn’t drink every day.  Ok fine, my preference was to have at least a bottle of wine to myself, and maybe I’ve been wanting more than that lately.  The fact that I was having physical consequences due to drinking freaked me out to a degree that I knew I had to do something.  So like any alcoholic in denial, I imposed a 30 day ban on booze.  Perfect timing for me to be able to drink again during the holidays.

I could not conceive of a holiday without alcohol.  My fondest memories from my childhood are being at my grandma & grandpa’s house for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We’d arrive to an oven-heated house, filled with the smells of my grandma’s cooking.  We’d congregate in the living room, my grandpa pouring drinks for the adults.  Everyone seemed so flushed and happy.  Men drinking an expensive scotch, women champagne.  My grandpa would let me come with him to pick out a French wine from his makeshift cellar under the stairs.  He would make up silly songs and dance.  I remember feeling loved.  I don’t have a ton of memories from my childhood.  It wasn’t horrible, but there was a high level of disfunction underneath the surface.  I guess on the holidays everyone was on their best behavior.  More likely they were drunk and just cared less about all the fucked up stuff going on behind the scenes.

I’ve spent every single holiday since trying to recreate those feelings.  I’ve been trying to go back.  God, this realization makes me so sad.  At least behind the sadness comes a deep compassion for myself.  I didn’t know any better.

So I started drinking again on Thanksgiving 2011.  I remember quite vividly the plotting and planning that went into that.  I think I probably spent that whole 30 days deciding what I would drink.  I was basically ecstatic.  What I also remember is a general feeling of chaos.  I always was trying to achieve the most Martha holiday I could muster, and I made myself totally insane in the process.  Forgotten items, mismanaged time, too many dishes, unwashed table cloths, eating late, overcooked dishes, the huge mess… and the drinking.  I drank a lot and remember trying not to slur at dinner.  I continued to drink throughout the holidays.  The wheels didn’t really start coming off until January.

At the beginning of my sobriety I was really concerned about this time of year.  It seemed so depressing to think of a holiday season without all the fun drinks that come along with it.  Now what seems depressing and exhausting is last year.

A Gift From My Dad

A box arrived today containing gifts and a card from my father.  I haven’t spoken to him in a year and a half after he showed up slurring and stumbling at my house on Easter.  I’ve been holding off on contacting him until I get to my 9th step, but felt like I wanted acknowledge that I got the gift.  I don’t know why I couldn’t leave it at a simple thank you note.  I had to make it bigger, right?  I regret this letter.  Maybe one day I will learn.

Hi Dad,

I wanted to write and let you know that we received the package you sent today.  Thank you so much for thinking of us, and I love the picture as a reminder of how beautiful Park City is in the fall.  I will try and send a picture of the kids with the stuffed animals if you’d like that.  My first instinct was to just pick up the phone and call, but I reflected and decided to write instead.
The most major thing that I want to tell you is that I just celebrated 9 months of sobriety.  I stopped drinking on February 10th and have been attending AA since then.  From the very beginning, I threw myself into AA, getting a sponsor, working the steps because I believed from my experience with you and [my brother] that if I wanted to be sober, AA was the answer.  Since doing this, my life has really changed.  I guess maybe it doesn’t look much different on the outside, but I FEEL like a very different person.  You mentioned you saw my Crossfit pictures on Facebook, so I guess maybe it does look different!!!

I do think about you quite often.  I’ve been wondering how I would begin communicating with you and what I should or shouldn’t say.  I want to tell you that I’m not angry with you and that I love you.  Up until this point, I have been unsure how to proceed because I do not know how to have a relationship with you without expecting and needing things.  I see where these expectations about how I think things “should” be or what I deserve have lead me to be hurt.  I want to be mindful moving forward that I do not get to call the shots when it comes to you or anything else in my life.  I really have made the choice to turn my will and my life over to God.  No one is more shocked by this revelation than myself, but I see how this approach to life brings the greatest amount of joy and serenity.

So today for me, this is a very delicate balance.  Right now I try to prioritize my life as spirituality first, sobriety second, my health 3rd, my children and then my marriage.  These are the things I will protect and defend before I try and do anything else.  I don’t know what your hopes are, but my goal for our relationship going forward is to let go of the past and any expectations about how it “should be” in the future.  I know previously I’ve taken your alcoholism personally, so the knowledge I’ve gotten in recovery should help me with that.  I want to get to the place where I can be kind and tolerant no matter what you choose to do!  That is difficult because my deepest hope is that you are sober and at peace because that would make things easier for me.  And hey, it’s all about me, right?

I have been a terrible communicator up until this point, but the principles of AA are showing me how to stand in my truth.  Whether or not you are drinking today, I know you have had a lot of AA in your lifetime.  Maybe sharing the common language of recovery will help us communicate better moving forward.  There are so many things that you and I have in common that I miss being able to talk to you about.  It kind of sucks to add alcoholism to that list, but it is what it is and what matters is what I’m doing today.  Today I’m doing chores, writing you, picking up Max from school, going to Crossfit, meditating, cooking dinner and not drinking.  One foot in front of the other.  I hope all is well in Park City.

The response:

I totally understand, I really appreciate the letter.  If you can I would love some pictures.  I think we both need some time.  I’m just happy you guys are healthy and doing well.

I already failed at no expectations.  In retrospect, my thinking was that things were going to be different because I’m different.  Sigh.  He doesn’t want to work on this now.  Maybe not ever.  I felt like I was being honest without being hurtful, but I think I have to stop trying to be anything.  It’s so hard.  I decided to post this here because I’m simply unable to let go of not being validated in some way on this.  I want someone to tell me that it’s not because I did or said the wrong thing.  Or maybe I did.  Maybe you can tell me where I went awry.  I let this get away from me.

I Work Out

On Halloween of 2011 I went to my first ever Crossfit class.  I was 3 months post-partum and a week into a 30 day break from drinking due to the fact that I had shredded my stomach lining with wine and Motrin.  A picture of health!  I arrived at the “Beginner Level” class and was dismayed to find about 30 extremely fit “beginners” milling about waiting for class to start. By the time I overheard some bro with his shirt off tell his friend that this was his 8th day working out in a row, my stomach was in my feet. I didn’t belong here.  The coaches sent us on a run, there was a combat crawl and some other impossible movements.  I thought I might be dying.  Then they said it was time to start the workout.  Fuck.

I tried to pep-talk myself through (“Start where you are!”) and swallowed down the rising lump as I realized I was going to be the only person who didn’t finish the WOD (workout of the day).  The coaches started calling out for everyone to announce their finish times.  I realized my failure, my fatness was going to be called out in front of everyone.  I ran before they could see.

My goal for my life was not to be an overweight, suburban mother with a drinking problem who leaves an exercise class crying, but there I was.  I don’t want to be dramatic because it is just Crossfit, but this was a defining moment for me.  I disappointed myself by allowing my fear and shame to send me running, but at the same time a fire was lit.  I was a little bit angry… at myself, at the world in general.  Anger isn’t an emotion I’m comfortable with.  And maybe this is the cosmos aligning for me because if I hadn’t been on a medically necessary dry spell, you can bet your ass I would have drank over this.  I’d stuff it down, shut it away and say a big, “Fuck you!” to Crossfit.  But I couldn’t drink over it, so I stewed about it for a month and somewhere inside me I decided that someday I would come back and kick Crossfit’s ass.

If I hadn’t gotten sober, this would have just been tacked onto the end of my “Shit I’ll Never Do” list.   I conceded my alcoholism about three months later and around 90 days sober the opportunity to have another go with Crossfit manifested in a God-shot sort of way.  I’ll spare you the story cause it’s not that interesting and this post is getting long, but I decided to try again in a different environment.  It was still physically very uncomfortable.  I felt all of my insecurities were on display, but I applied the tools I learned in AA to Crossfit.  I could feel that fire that had been lit 6 months prior, so I surrendered to it.  I made the commitment to just show up, no matter what I was thinking or feeling.  Exactly like I did when I started attending meetings.  Just show up and do the work.  I pushed past the voice that said I’m too fat, too slow, too weak, too tired, too sore and put one foot in front of the other.

I got into action, and I didn’t stop.  I didn’t stop until I didn’t want to stop anymore.  Just like dieting, I was never able to stick with exercise.  Exercising was always the thing I should do because I’m fat and unhealthy, and that is the absolute least inspiring reason to do something.  From that perspective, exercise is a punishment.  I’ve done bootcamps, stroller workouts, spinning, yoga, Zumba.  I’ve tried it all.  I have an idea about why Crossfit works for me, but I think that deserves a post of it’s own.  What is important is that my WOD’s are a reward not a punishment.  Even when it feels like I’m pushing myself to the physical brink, it’s one of the only times in my day where I’m not thinking about my kids, what’s for dinner, what I should do with my life, etc.  All I’m thinking about is how the fuck I’m going to lift this 110 lb barbell over my head.  Then I do it and am in awe of myself.  And all I had to do was keep coming back.

Aham Brahmasmi

I had a bad dream last night.  It’s recurring.  In this dream I’m pursuing my high school ex, trying to seduce him.  This person was #2 on my resentment list.  He was someone who manipulated, violated and humiliated me.  These dreams always have me waking in tears because in them I know the truth about him, yet I still want him.  I always wake up tearful and feeling so low, ashamed and desperate.

I’m doing The Chopra Center’s 21-Day Meditation Challenge, so I got up early before my meeting to get a meditation in.  In my meditation, I had a lot of trouble shaking this dream and the bad feelings that came along with it.  When it finally did go, what came in it’s place was thoughts of shopping.  I started making lists of all the things I need to buy for myself.  Just as I became aware of this thought, the meditation ended.  I opened my eyes and realized that the thoughts of shopping were me running away from my feelings, trying to find an acceptable way to fill “the hole.”

The Sanskrit mantra for today’s meditation was Aham Brahmasmi — The core of my being is the ultimate reality, the root and ground of the universe, the source of all that exists.  And now I’m not sure at what point this happened, but I think somewhere on my drive to the meeting I became aware that what had happened with my ex was a result of me losing touch with the core of my being.  That what happened in my dream is actually what happened in the relationship.  In small ways at first and then larger, I allowed him to behave in ways that I truly wasn’t comfortable with.  I showed him that it was okay to treat me disrespectfully because I was trying to get something.  I was trying to win.  He was very popular, charismatic, sexual.  All the girls wanted him, and he was a trophy for me.  A way for me to prove not only my worth, but that I was better.  And I was so desperate to be better, that I told that little voice inside me to shut up every time she peeped up to say, “This doesn’t feel right.”

I got a glimpse of this during my 5th step, but today it hit me like a ton of bricks and I saw the truth.  I saw that I got used because I was using.  There were a million warning signs that he was not a good person, but I denied them, denied the core of my being until it all blew up in my face.  Then I retreated.  I ran.  I ate.  I drank.

This is why the only solution is a spiritual solution.  Aham Brahmasmi.  To deny my true self is to deny the source, to deny God.  That is what carves out the hole that can never be filled.  He didn’t do that.  I did it.

Aham Brahmasmi.  This is why the answer is to get quiet.  To listen.  To meditate.  Because the longer I listen, the louder it gets.

I Don’t Just Say No

I’ve spent the majority of my adult life failing at diets.  I can’t say for sure, but I don’t think I ever lasted more than 2 weeks on a diet.  The counting and measuring was too laborious and the restriction was suffocating.  Plus, I couldn’t stop drinking.  When I entered therapy for my eating last year I already knew that diets didn’t work, so I was relieved to swear them off forever.

Today I confuse myself because I follow a paleo diet probably 95% of the time.  When I first decided to go paleo, I was really conflicted because of my pledge.  Later I did a Whole30 and further baffled and questioned myself.  Was I dieting?  Was I restricting?  Was it going to lead to a backlash binge?  So far (it’s been about 6 months) I haven’t had any retaliation eating.  Sometimes an urge might come up, but I’m usually able to identify an emotional cause and work through it.  I want to roll my own eyes at myself when I justify my nutrition plan with, “It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle,” but I think that is the truth.

Although I choose to not eat grains, legumes, soy, refined sugars and I limit dairy, the reality is that I give myself permission to have whatever I want at any given time.  The caveat is that I have to be aware of the consequences of what I put in my body.   “This will make you fat,” is not a consequence.   It’s shaming, mean and puts me into an immediate state of longing.  Today I was driving home from the gym, knew I needed some protein but didn’t want to cook.  I passed by Zankou Chicken, thought about stopping in and thought, “That will give you garlic breath.”  Now there is a concrete consequence.  I have shit to do tomorrow, I can’t be blowing dragon breath on people.  Because of Whole30 I know that gluten gives me tiny, itchy bumps on my cheeks, peanuts give me heartburn, soy cause huge zits, vegetable oil upsets my stomach, etc.  Suddenly these foods have very real consequences.  So when I crave something, I have to weigh whether the taste pleasure is worth the suffering that will come later.  When I pause, I’m usually able to make the kind choice for myself.

Then there is sugar.  I think that beast deserves its own post.

If you’re not from LA and, therefore, haven’t ever gotten down with some Zankou Chicken, it even gets a mention in one of my favorite songs of all time.

I’m All Out of Love

I’ve watched my husband let his program and self-care slide over the last week, and I can see that he is suffering from that. This morning he was wallowing a bit and said something to me about giving up.  My response was, “I’m really sorry to hear that.”  He went on a rant of sorts about me not believing in encouragement, that I’m not a caring, loving person.  I think I previously would have just taken it and stuffed the feeling, but I stood my ground and told him that I don’t accept him turning his bad feelings into a personal attack. I said I loved him and am willing to help him if he tells me exactly what he needs.  He wouldn’t drop it. I eventually ended up yelling at him in front of the kids that he was hurting my feelings. He made a big display about me lashing out in front of the kids, suggested that my behavior would damage them, and then retreated upstairs.

Last night during a meeting someone shared that he finds himself acting out when someone says something that makes him fearful.  I thought about this today and realized that I freaked out because what my husband accused me of might just be my greatest fear about myself.  The thing that I worry might actually be true.  The thing that probably is true because I’m an alcoholic.

Last night I was called out in an online forum for defriending a fellow alcoholic on Facebook.  I fessed immediately, letting her know that I took her off my feed because I didn’t want to see her jokes about drinking.  I didn’t think twice about that decision, I felt it was best for my sobriety.  But then I read the other members responses to her, and a thought began to creep in.  “Everyone else is trying to support and understand.  You’re the mean girl.”

When I accidentally got pregnant with my son, the terrifying tape that played in my head was, “What if you don’t love this baby?”  I wondered if I was one of those women who might harm her baby or abandon her children.  In the final weeks of my drinking, my husband told me he was becoming afraid to leave me alone with the kids each morning.  I was afraid, too.

The Big Book tells me I’m selfish, and I most certainly believe that.  I have a hard time understanding other people’s struggles and have a low tolerance for their pain.  I’m judgmental.  I’m not affectionate.  Is this the real truth about me?  That’s what I’m afraid of, but I don’t think it is the truth.  These are my character defects, right?  This is the armor I put on a long time ago.

I can feel my brain fighting this.  It feels really tense, weepy, angry, so I’m guessing a surrender is coming.  I don’t understand how I’m going to digest it all, but I’m going to try and ride it out.

Here’s a fucking song.