Sobriety – Life in the Land of Ahhhhs! – Lisa’s Story

Sobriety – Life in the Land of Ahhhhs! – Lisa’s Story

My name is Lisa and I am a grateful alcoholic.  My love story with alcohol didn’t begin until later in life.  However, my first bender was at the age of three. While enjoying time with family, I was seated in my small rocker next to my dad.  Engaged in conversation, he did not notice that I was guzzling his drink. Upon getting up and stumbling across the room, my father scolded me and demanded that I “walk like a lady.”  My Uncle chuckled and replied, “How can she? Lisa just downed your gin and tonic.”

Junior High School was tough, not because I was socially awkward (as most are at that age), but due to my Mom’s problematic drinking.  My only encounter with alcohol was at a slumber party in the seventh grade when a friend smuggled in a prescription bottle filled with vodka from her parent’s liquor cabinet.

While in college, I had a love affair with food.  Instead of gaining the typical Freshman 5 or 15, I gained a whopping 50 pounds.  That does not mean I did not drink my share of beer!

It wasn’t until graduate school that I was lured into the world of drinking.  It was then I experienced the romanticism of alcohol, especially wine. One evening, a member of my Bible study, one of the “cool” girls, invited me over for dinner. She opened a bottle of wine (no screw top, no box – the real deal).  At that point, I didn’t even keep alcohol in my tiny studio apartment. I was in awe of her. A colleague I admired and respected each evening always enjoyed her glass(es) of wine. Once again, I was in awe! I always welcomed a rain-out while playing on a co-ed softball league, as that meant we got to the bar faster.

In my mid-twenties, I married a fellow whose family has been torn apart by alcoholism.  We bonded over alcohol, as we both had experienced what the Big Book states on page 84 – Alcohol, like a tornado, had roared its way through both of our lives.  Alcohol was in our home for entertainment purposes only.  Family dinners with my in-laws was always the highlight of my week, not for the gathering to share food and fellowship, but rather the wine.  Not only did they host “Cocktail Hour,” but served Chillable Red in a box!

I navigated through life, not with Captain Morgan at the helm, but enjoying evening glasses of that fine Franzia in a box.  You had to admit, for an alcoholic, those boxes are handy, as you can’t see how much has been consumed.

After 17 years, my marriage ended.  It was not alcohol that drove us apart, rather life.  I am grateful to say that today we remain friends and still work as a united team for our two grown daughters.

Growing up, I never #%&*’ed up.  Lovingly, my brother referred to me as Marie Osmond.  Some of you might be too young to know who she is. One of my friends had a layover, and I drove to the airport to see him.  His flight was delayed and I found myself at the airport bar. Forget the fact you have to practically mortgage your car to buy a beer, that did not stop me.  In fact, I drank two. Why have the 12-ounce glass when you can super-size it. Consequently, I was arrested and given a DUI. It was humiliating and terrifying, while also costing me a lot of money, time, worry, and shame.  At that point in time, I was a finalist for my state Teacher of the Year. I prayed not to receive this coveted title, as besides the honor, the recipient receives a car with “Teacher of the Year” plastered on each side of it.  A blow and go device would not be cool in such a car!

In 2004, a whirlwind romance with a long-time cycling buddy ended up in marriage.  He was a Macallan Man (MM) who was older, charismatic, and also a teacher. With his proposal, came one catch – when we were able, we would retire to the coast of Maine.  I had two stipulations, that we would not relocate until:

  1. My youngest daughter graduated from high school.
  2. That I would not leave while my dad was alive, as I cared for him each day.

Unlike my first marriage, we split a bottle of wine every night and then some.  Bottles turned into boxes, as we were two teachers knee-deep in credit card debt. Financial stress made drinking an escape from the almost-daily phone calls I received at work from collection agencies.

In 2010, my drinking became problematic.  I lost my dad suddenly and, in a sense, my youngest daughter.  Due to MM’s demeaning ways and abusive language, my youngest moved in with her father.

Within 5 months, I:

  • Lost my father suddenly.
  • Cleared out, held an estate sale, and sold my family home. 
  • Worked to get my own house on the market.
  • Sifted through 29 years of teaching supplies (teachers are hoarders).
  • Put my home on the market and moved to Maine.
  • Lost custody of my youngest daughter (due to MM’s verbal abuse).

Remember, I am “Marie Osmond” and I could not afford another #%&* up/divorce!  I continued to endure an ever-increasing verbally abusive marriage, was told to leave behind almost all of my possessions, a job I adored, my daughter who was a Senior in high school, 52 years of friendships.  I cried all the way to St. Louis and prayed that our hotel had a bar.

In June of 2004, I arrived in Maine knowing no one and being isolated.  I found comfort and friendship in a bottle of Merlot or Chardonnay. It was then I began hiding bottles in the garage.  These secret stashes sustained me and helped to ease the pain of loss, isolation, and being verbally abused/put down. Wine worked until it did not work.

My saving grace was my brother, Tom.  An avid sailor who circumnavigated the world and a free-lance architect, he also relocated to the coast of Maine.  The Macallan Man had caused a rift between my brother and me. Christmas was spent isolated and alone.

January 15, one year after my dad’s passing, Tom and I called a truce and met at the harbor watering hole to toast our dad.  Macallan Man was away for the weekend. Knowing I was going to drink, I walked into town. I pre-gamed prior to meeting my brother, having a couple of glasses of wine.  Unbeknownst to me, my wine was being laced with valium. Being close to town was a prerequisite when purchasing a house. It was also a red flag that my drinking was escalating.  By having a home within walking distance to town, I did not have to risk drinking and driving. Tom sat and grieved over some powerful margaritas. I walked back home. By the way, yak tracks do not work if they are still in the package.  I’d be lying if I said slipping on my front steps, losing consciousness, rupturing my bladder, and almost losing my life to peritonitis was NOT due to alcohol. After spending 6 days in ICU, with the first 3 being touch and go, my doctor said that if I were to continue to drink,  I was at a high risk of stroke/death due to afib. I had a problem with alcohol. It worked until it didn’t work.

It was easy to not drink, with a 7-inch reminder down your belly.  At his point, I didn’t need AA, I had a scar to keep me from drinking.  After arriving home from my 3-week hospital stay, I discovered my husband was having an affair, not his first rodeo.  I was devastated.  

On April 7th, still dry, not drinking (as opposed to being sober) we went on a hike up Maiden Cliff.  What I thought was to be a marriage-repairing, pleasant picnic turned into a nightmare. After being brutally beaten over the head with a rock, I was dragged off a cliff.  I landed on a ledge, and my only way was down. Through God’s grace, I survived a 45-foot free fall from the ledge and scrambled another 750 feet of steep terrain down with life-threatening injuries.  I managed to get down to the road for help. After being Life Flighted and spending 8 days in a Level I trauma center, I proceeded to live the next 3 ½ years in fear. Thankfully, my ruptured bladder and my 7” reminder kept me dry.  Gratefully, alcohol could not be considered a factor.  

Over the next 20 months, I did not drink.  There is a difference between not drinking and being sober.  My motivation for avoiding alcohol moved from my wanting this for myself and my family to seeing justice prevail.  My mission was to keep clear-headed in order to be the best witness I could be for the state. Thankfully, I still had that scare staring at me every day.

Weekly, I met with a social worker.  The topic of alcohol was often woven into weekly discussions with her.  Just like p. 31 out of the Big Book, I established a set of guidelines. I have learned on this Journey that we must set ourselves up for success (more on that topic later).  Instead, I was planning for failure swearing with “a solemn oath” that IF I ever drank again, I would:

  • Limit the # of drinks-like Bridget Jones, I would count alcohol units.
  • Never drink alone.
  • Never drink in the morning.

During the next 20 months, I did not consume alcohol.  I have now learned that there is a difference between not drinking and being sober.

As mentioned in How it Works, this disease is “cunning, baffling, and powerful.”  All it took was someone suggesting: “It’s okay to have a glass of wine, you have just survived being thrown off a cliff, your year-and-half divorce process is finally complete, AND today is your birthday.”

Three glasses of wine that evening at dinner, I swore once again with “a solemn oath” that I would:

  • Limit the # of drinks – Like Bridget Jones, I would count alcohol units.
  • Never drink alone.
  • Never drink in the morning.
  • Not keep wine in my house.

My drinking could be compared to being on a slow, steady IV drip, not of medicine, but rather of wine.  Alcoholics Anonymous was a game-changer for my mom. However, living in a small town, I felt that I could not compromise the trail.  I wanted to go, needed to go, but was afraid to go to AA. There is a sign at our local clubhouse that reads: Wellness/Illness. WE can/I can’t. I was trying to conquer this disease alone.  Alcoholism is a WE program, not a me program.

May this be a reminder to all, that anonymity is the spiritual foundation of our program. If we are to recover, we must feel free to say what is in our minds and hearts. Therefore, who you see here, what you hear here, when you leave here, let it stay here.

Five weeks prior to the long-awaited trial, my hero, my anchor, my brother came down with MRSA.  After a two-week fight, his advance directive instructed me to remove him from life-support. It was only through God’s grace that I was able to limit my alcohol intake.  Being the main witness for the state, the DA’s office asked if I would be able to testify and I responded, “Game on. Full-court press!”. As the main witness, it was essential for me to be at the top of my game.  Once again I lived by my own Bridget Jones standards of consuming only 2 “alcohol units” (regular size, not an alcoholic’s size) per day. By the Grace of God, I was able to endure the grueling day of testimony and being cross-examined a second day.

The Macallan Man was found guilty for attempted murder, three counts of elevated/aggravated assault, and two counts of aggravated assault.  I arrived home to be greeted by a national TV show producer on my doorstep, and later that afternoon, my dear friend’s hospice nurse informed me she had passed. It was then, I fell apart.  As Frieda Kahlo stated: “I tried to drown my sorrows, but the bastards learned to swim.”

For the next six weeks, I lived mostly on my brother’s boat with a supply of red wine and Kleenex.  It was then I experienced my first blackout. Still afraid of disclosing my anonymity prior to the sentencing, AA was not an option for me until he was in prison.  Alcohol was not a factor on the cliff and I did not want people, the jury, or a judge to assume otherwise. I sought the help of “one of us” and saw an addictions counselor.  

I was successful for 2 weeks until I found a small Bota box of wine that I had stashed in the garage.  Alcohol: cunning, baffling, powerful.

My motivation to drink Big Book, page 31 style,  was meeting a wonderful man. My IV drip drinking slowed down, but my closet drinking sped up.  Alcohol was becoming even more a physical necessity for me, almost as much as oxygen.  

Thanksgiving with my two daughters was a disaster.  I was mourning the loss of my beloved brother and celebrating the first of many holidays without him the only way I knew how – numbing myself with wine.  My daughters confronted me upon arrival, I denied drinking and they immediately packed up and returned to Boston.

I continued to live on the sly, sneaking alcohol.  Cowboy boots, I discovered, were a great place to hide Sutter Home minis.  On December 14, 2016 my life changed forever. My newly married husband confronted me the morning we were to be leaving for Kansas City to see friends prior to the holidays.  Evidently, I was not as crafty as I thought. I had been caught sneaking alcohol a couple of times and ratted out to him by my daughters. He said that I need to seek help, that I could go to Kansas City alone, but he might not be there when I return home.  As Carl Jung says, shame is a soul eating emotion.  I felt ashamed and broken.

I believe my spiritual awakening came in the early hours of December 15 while writing a note to my family and close friends explaining my absence.  For the first time I admitted to myself, my family, and to my friends that I was powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable.  It was the most difficult, freeing note I have ever written.  By finally admitting I was powerless, I gained a power I did not realize I had.  I admitted to myself and others that I was powerless, but that did not mean helpless or hopeless.  I rediscovered the power of prayer, along with the strength of a Higher Power, that I chose to call God.  God brought me into Alcoholics Anonymous.  AA brought me to God.

Beautiful things began to happen.  My friend Sharon, 17 years sober, dropped everything and came over the evening prior to my departure to share her experience, strength, and hope with me.  She said she would be there to take me to my first meeting upon arriving home and she honored that commitment. 

The next morning, while in the car to a treatment center in Connecticut, we passed a church billboard declaring:  Celebrate Recovery. Still in tears over missing the holiday and what would “they” think, I cried most of the way to Connecticut.  The celebration would come after the work began. It is important that we “set ourselves up for success” as my coach-husband would say.  While traveling to Mountainside, I called my addiction counselor and set up an appointment for when I returned home. Thankfully, she did not fire me as a client.  She had been hoping that one day, she would receive my call.

The Alcoholics Anonymous Declaration states:  I am responsible. When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA always to be there. And for that I am responsible.  I am grateful to those who reached out, who taught me to do the same – to welcome newcomers:

  • Lori – who not only gave me her phone number at one of my first meetings, but actually followed up with me the following day and became my sponsor.  
  • Becky – who reached out and asked me to meet up for coffee with a group of gals each week prior to an evening meeting.  This group showed me first-hand what is written on page 131:  We aren’t a glum lot.  If newcomers could see no joy of fun in our existence, they wouldn’t want it.  We absolutely insist on enjoying life.  And so each week, we enjoy coffee, each other’s company and laughter

Before admitting I was an alcoholic, I had ordered a Let Go and Let God jar as a Christmas gift to myself.  Ironically, it arrived when I was at Mountainside. On March 17, I had dropped in my jar a slip of paper that read:  To find a sense of community. That spring, while at my family home in Estes Park, Colorado, my accountant had a “Come to Jesus” with me.  Not only had I been irresponsible with my life, I had been irresponsible with my finances, too.  

We sold our home in Maine.  The beautiful, quintessential town on the coast had brought a lot of joy, but harbored (pardon the pun) a lot of hurt, betrayal, and sadness.  It was time to move forward. Although it is not recommended to make a life-changing decision(s) your first year of sobriety, financially we were forced to decide where we would land.

Once again, you have to set yourself up for success.  Upon moving to Estes Park, I immediately found a sober tribe – a Home Group.  I also found a sponsor, someone who had what I want and together we rigorously reworked the Steps.

After losing my brother Tom, I was told to expect 13 months of grief – an entire calendar year, plus.  Alcohol is the same. I went through a grieving process while managing to get through each holiday and celebration…be it graduation festivities or a celebration of someone’s life.  I learned to go IN to social situations, with an EXIT plan. I recall the proud day my daughter graduated with her PhD; I placed a call to my sponsor while in a bathroom stall in a restaurant in Boston.  I had set myself up for success.

I keep the Mountainside bill handy, to reflect on what it cost monetarily. Most importantly, it is a reminder of what it cost my family and my health.  Along with the bill, I kept a list of all of my benefits that I received from that month-long stay. Those benefits were and continue to be priceless. I have my family back and a Bonus Family – the one I married into that supports/encourages me.  Every day I am sober, I am making living amends to my daughters and to my loved ones who were affected the most by my disease and choices. My health has been restored. I was cardioverted twice before surrendering to alcohol. Thankfully, I am off of blood thinners, blood pressure medications, as well as 2 other medications. My stomach issues have been resolved.  I surrendered to win!  

Some of my closest friends are in the fellowship.  Thanks to the wisdom of my sister in sobriety, Karen, I have adopted her motto:  Travel Light. I have established that as my goal for this year.

My baggage needs to fit under my seat.  At times, at least while drinking, it felt like I had trunks strewn out along the tarmac.  Alcoholics Anonymous has helped me deal with and organize my baggage. It still requires repacking and eliminating what is unnecessary, and while adding other essentials.  The “Exit Row” is my escape plan in social situations. My “Safety Card” is the Big Book.

Along with “Traveling Light,” I am striving to tap into gratitude.  By maintaining a daily gratitude list, I am able to guard my attention and focus on the positive.  Each day, I keep track of the good things that happen and list three specific items. No matter how difficult life can be, there is always something to be grateful for.  Counting my blessings keeps me grateful. Being grateful keeps me sober.  

The alcoholic is like a tornado roaring his way through the lives of others.  Hearts are broken. Sweet relationships are dead. Affections have been uprooted. Selfish and inconsiderate habits have kept the home in turmoil.  Yes, there is a long pattern of reconstruction ahead. We must take the lead. A remorseful mumbling that we are sorry won’t fill the bill. So, we clean house with the family, asking each morning in meditation that our Creator show us the way of patience, tolerance, loneliness and love.  P. 82-3

In this journey, I feel like Dorothy searching, seeking to ease loneliness, overcome fear, and calm insecurities.  Like Dorothy’s characters traveling though Oz, I have learned so much traveling through the Land of Ahhhh’s – Sobriety.

Home – Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home!”  AA has created a place I can call home – a place that I feel accepted for who I am, can openly share, and feel safe.  

Courage – Just as the Cowardly Lion sought courage, this program demands courage.  The courage it took for my husband and my daughters to confront me and my disease, the courage it took to come clean with family members and close friends, and the courage to walk into my first meeting. Through working and reworking the Steps, I have the courage to not camouflage my feelings with alcohol.  I now know that I have to feel feelings. Dousing alcohol on pain is like throwing gasoline on a fire – it creates way more pain for myself and for others. Being able to socialize without drinking takes courage and is now a superpower that I am proud of.

Heart – Just as the Tin Woodman wanted a heart; we have to want this and give our whole hearts to this program.  It was the heart of a friend in the fellowship and the new folks I met that made me feel welcome and kept me coming back.  It’s listening to and following the heart of my Higher Power, who has become my best friend.

Brain – Just as the Scarecrow desired a brain, this program requires us to do the work, complete the Steps, and to always remember the consequences and be mindful of that first drink.

Glenda – That is all of you who encourage me.  It is the voice in my head that says to alcohol…”Be gone, you have no power over me.” Alcohol can’t hurt me, if I don’t pick up!   

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