I Wish I Didn’t Feel This Way

In recovery we discover a phenomenon called “a moment of clarity.” Suddenly we see the truth about something, or at least discover our own true feelings about a situation, or an answer comes to us, and we have a new and profound feeling of understanding.

Moments of clarity are one of sobriety’s greatest gifts. We usually start to experience them when the alcoholic fog lifts, denial recedes, and our minds regain their ability to perceive and sort out what our senses are telling us.

Clarity can be frightening, too.  And painful.

I had a pretty scary moment of clarity today. And it went something like this:

Our health care system is failing us. Every night on the news, doctors complain about their protective gear and how hard their jobs are while the camera pans over scenes of patients slumped in waiting room chairs and languishing in beds, stripped of their humanity, deprived of their loved ones, suffering and waiting to miraculously get better or else die and be rolled into refrigerated trucks. Maybe there is love and healing in those overcrowded rooms. Maybe a few of the doctors are holding onto their humanity in spite of their fear. But right now I would rather take my chances caring for myself than dial 911.

In my drinking days, I would have suppressed any scary or negative thoughts and smothered them with copious amounts of alcohol. My generally bad and sometimes dangerous choices in those days reflected the muddled thinking of someone who was incapable of coping with clarity. Now I trust myself, and I trust that my perceptions, along with the guidance of my Higher Power, and the advice of a few loved ones, will lead me exactly where I need to go.

My recent moment of clarity will help guide my actions in the direction of self-protection and distancing until the medical picture improves. And it may improve sooner than I could possibly imagine.

I am speaking for myself. Your moments of clarity in this crisis might be entirely different. You might have a good feeling about your local hospital. I hope and pray that you do. You might be lucky enough to have a longtime and beloved doctor who gives you wise counsel.

Trust your mind and heart and your perceptions. Trust your Higher Power and the people who love you and the people you respect, including your family doctor if you are lucky enough to have one. Make the choices that seem right to you. Stay safe and well, beloved friends.

 

 

 

Scary

Business is booming at the liquor store across the street from my building.  In these strange and scary times, alcohol vendors have been deemed essential enterprises, along with grocery and drug stores, in cities and towns that are otherwise shuttered.

Medical experts disagree. They are worried that anxiety over coronavirus will lead to an epidemic of alcohol abuse, and also predict that cigarette smoking will escalate as well. Both of these trends will create health problems that might make legions of people more vulnerable to coming down with severe cases of the virus as well as suffering in other ways.

Drinking alcohol is known to weaken the immune system and smoking cigarettes severely impairs the functioning of the lungs and can lead to cancer and COPD. And yet every alcoholic knows that in the minds of serious drinkers, especially when stressed or terrified, nothing supersedes the need to imbibe.

I first discovered the connection between alcohol and fear in the summer of 1977. I was a college student living in New York City. It was a scary time in my hometown and as a tremulous and insecure young alcoholic-in-the-making I took it to heart. The serial killer Son of Sam was stalking and murdering young women. A midsummer blackout touched off citywide  looting and arson. And in the larger world beyond the Big Apple, tensions were mounting between the Soviet Union and United States, who were building up their nuclear arsenals at an alarming rate.

I walked around with a panicky knot in my stomach that summer, scanning the streets for a man with a gun, and listening for the whistle of the ICBM that would obliterate my world. When my boyfriend introduced me to the idea of drinking a six pack of Budweiser or three gin and tonics every night, I seized upon the chance to medicate my terrors.

It was a brief bout of boozing. A health scare in my twenties led to the end of my early drinking, eventually terminated my relationship, and propelled me into a couple of decades of healthy behavior before I struggled again with alcoholism in middle age and found my way to sobriety.

But I never will forget the powerful end-of-the-world feeling I had during the infamous Summer of Sam and the impressive if temporary sensation of relief I got from fixing myself a gin and tonic and sinking into my sofa to watch  “Charlie’s Angels” on the TV in my tiny New York apartment.

Now, four decades later, I have to admit there is a terrified part of me that is fantasizing about running across the street to the liquor store to try to take the edge off the nightmarish new normal of the virus.

But I have not done it. And with the help of my Higher Power, telephone meetings and network of sober friends I will not.  I am trying to live by the wisdom of recovery, and there is a sober saying that is shoring me up in these harrowing times:

There is nothing that is made better by a drink.

Not only do I know the words of this proverb but I believe them. If doubt arises, I meditate on another sober maxim:

Think through the drink.

And I remember that “liquid courage” is always followed by a debilitating hangover and an obsession with alcohol that kidnaps my soul and destroys my body.

I need to remember that staying sober means staying alive. I must make sane and clear decisions in a time when any choice could mean the difference between sickness and health, life and death.

Courage has been famously defined as being afraid and carrying on in spite of fear. Alcoholics are advised to “do the next right thing.” So I guess for alcoholics (and addicts of all kinds), courage is being afraid and doing the next right thing anyway.

The next right thing is to stay brave and strong–and stick to my side of the street.

 

 

 

Nowhere To Run

One of the most dangerous aspects of the current health crisis is that it is highly triggering for alcoholics and addicts. Enforced isolation, widespread fear bordering on panic, rampant me-first selfishness as infectious as the disease itself–all of these leave those suffering from the severe mental illness of addiction vulnerable to relapse.

The good news is that unlike many aspects of global society, which have ceased completely, the strong and sturdy AA program of recovery has carried on by telephone and laptop, bringing help and hope to thousands, perhaps millions, of addicts worldwide.

I am incredibly grateful for the meetings and for my network of sober friends who are helping me stay sane during this crisis–but I have to admit that while my ongoing recovery community, my sober program and my Higher Power have kept me from relapse, I am still much more irritable, restless and discontent than usual. And my character defects are enjoying their time at home alone with me–they are having a ball.

Everyone is on edge in this crisis because we are all vulnerable to getting this virus–it does not discriminate–and awaiting our turn to catch the bug and see what it does to us. Even if we try, as many people do, to suppress our fear it sneaks out anyway, and often takes the form of anger or irritability.

I find that many times each day I am feeling hurt, resentful or angry. I am hypersensitive and moody, afflicted with a weird new kind of PMS that has me laughing one minute and griping the next. Everything and anything is getting to me.  I am incredibly petty. Yes, indeed, I am small. And getting smaller. Alice in Wonderland has nothing on me.

One of the toughest parts of recovery is relinquishing the feeling of escape that we alcoholics and addicts love so dearly. When we let go of alcohol and drugs we give ourselves over to the prospect of an endless present for which we must be fully awake and from which we cannot exit. Over time, if we stay sober, that present becomes more and more beautiful and more and more something for which we want to be alert and alive.  Slowly, our urge to run begins to evaporate.

But sometimes, like right now, life becomes so stressful and scary that our old “stop the world I want to get off” feeling returns.

Only right now, more than ever before, there is no place to run and hide because the entire world is in the same predicament. Thinking about this can be terrifying, and even triggering for master escape artists like alcoholics and addicts. It’s also a perfect time to practice being OK and finding serenity right where we are, using the tools of recovery.

One of the best sober strategies for coping with a stressful present moment, and reigning in our character defects, is to practice humility.  Humbling myself means letting go of trying to be special and get special attention, which is a good thing when all the world’s energy and resources are focused on defeating a pandemic that is killing thousands of people. I find that humbling myself brings a tremendous feeling of relief and even relaxation. It is quite wonderful to let go of the anxiety-provoking pressure to do better or be better than others. It feels good to let the other guy grab the last 20 rolls of toilet paper at the Target and remind myself that there will be another shipment tomorrow morning.

Humbling myself also means relinquishing my desire to control things over which I have no control. I have no control over the virus, over state and federal leaders and their rules, over the doctors in the hospitals and how they will treat me if I contract the virus or want to be tested.

What all of us do have a little control over is the measures we take to protect ourselves, such as social isolation, hand washing, keeping our distance from others and all the other recommendations of the CDC, WHO and our local health departments.

There is a piece of sober wisdom that I have finally come to accept after years of struggling with it, which is:

Don’t ask too much of your loved ones.

I think this is a great time to not ask much of anyone or anything, which means letting go of that big alcoholic ego, surrendering to the way things are and using our sober alertness to discern that many of our fellow humans are stressed and unable to do much in the way of taking care of us. It’s a good time to practice self-care, which is advocated in sobriety, and self-reliance without  disconnecting from others. This is not a good time to look for arms into which we can swoon helplessly or people we can run to. And besides, that would not work at all with social distancing rules.

Instead we should review the lessons we learned in early recovery about centering ourselves in the present, making sure we treat ourselves well, staying connected to a Higher Power, and then seeking to help and console others. Right here and now, where we are. One prayerful day at a time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drama Queen

There are some recovery sayings that are hard to believe at first. Like this one:

We are not a glum lot.

Yeah, right, was my response when I first read this in the sober literature. Fun was the last adjective I would use to describe teetotalers when I was new to sobriety. The way I saw it, life and other people could not possibly be fun without two nightly bottles of wine (and that was just for me). Was recovery healthy? Definitely. Spiritually enlightened? Absolutely. But fun? I didn’t think so.

Now I look at it differently.  I see that I am more joyful overall as a sober person and able to appreciate all of life much more deeply than I did as a drinker, including pleasure and humor and friendship. And love? Even before sobriety, I knew that amour without liquor was infinitely more amazing than stumbling drunkenly into bed.

Humor is especially important now that I am sober. I have to keep laughing, especially at myself, if I want to avoid the pitfalls of drama and self-pity. And laughter, as everyone knows, is essential at times of sorrow and catastrophe. Not because we aren’t grieving about the horrific and tragic events that are now occurring on a daily basis, and not because we don’t take every aspect of the coronavirus crisis seriously and to heart. But because smiling and laughing, if only for a moment, takes an edge off our edginess and makes us better able to cope and help others. And all of us need to be brave and helpful now.

(Underscoring this last point, I notice that a dear friend has just posted a humorous sendup of Jazz Age literary genius and famous lush F. Scott Fitzgerald on Facebook: an imaginary letter written by F. Scott during an influenza epidemic in the 1920s, detailing all the alcohol he is stockpiling in order to survive the outbreak.)

In a similar vein, I would like to take this opportunity to laugh at myself, and allow you to join in.

All forms of drama, including too much daydreaming and magical thinking, are frowned upon in sobriety. Working ourselves up by imagining things, whether scary or exciting, tends to trigger the desire to calm ourselves with a drink or drug. And I am highly vulnerable to being a drama queen.

My theatrics, along with my daydreams, tend to increase when I am under stress, and a global pandemic can do that to all of us. So…to out myself.

Since the start of the coronavirus crisis, my son, who lives in Vermont near the New York border and close to the city of Albany, has been talking to me about moving up there for a few months or longer. Several other members of my family live in New York State, and my desire to be closer to loved ones was obviously enhanced by the coronavirus emergency.

So I began thinking about the move. The main problem was that I didn’t know anyone in Southern Vermont other than my son, and although family members and a few friends would be closer, they were all at least an hour and a half by car from the tiny town where my son lives. As a single woman under a national order to shelter-in-place, I would be pretty lonely up there among the pine trees. It would definitely be sweeter, I reasoned, if I could somehow find a romantic partner in the Green Mountains.

Now this is where it gets just a tiny bit nutty. I looked on Match but nobody struck the right Goldilocks note. They were too old, too young, too drunk, too dull. So I gave up, and focused my attention on my current non-romantic passion, which is MSNBC’s coverage of the pandemic.

I turned on the TV and there was Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York holding a press conference: confident, relaxed, statesmanlike, not exactly handsome but appealing in a tough and manly way, with those big Italian eyes and a charming vein of something like humility or self-deprecation, or maybe it was just good manners, in his demeanor.

And (cue the laugh track) I realized that I was starting to, well, fancy him. Yes, Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, leader of the state at the epicenter of the crisis in this country. I had a big old crush on the Governor.

I would venture to wager that some of my readers have also developed a soft spot for the leader of the Empire State, whose star has been rising as the charismatic and courageous Man In Charge in this crisis.

You already know that I need to get a life. I have told you this before. And perhaps you hoped that somehow during the pandemic I could expand my horizons–maybe by standing in line for toilet paper and handing it out on a  street corner or performing some other service.

I am sorry but no, at least not yet, although I do not rule out a free toilet paper stand. I am still the same silly woman who has been writing this blog and waiting for a prince to show for the past decade. Seriously, apologies.

But back to my latest bit of foolishness. And your opportunity to laugh.

I guess there is nothing that strange about having a crush on a public figure, even a politician. I know at least one lady, formerly a left-wing activist, who has an inexplicable crush on Donald Trump. She tells me it is because he reminds her of her Daddy.

My dear departed Daddy looked nothing like Andrew Cuomo, although Andrew has a few physical and character traits in common with one of my exes for whom I still carry a torch. Whatever the reason for my fixation, I started daydreaming about moving up near Albany and somehow meeting the charming statesman. In my fantasy, I reasoned that Andrew and I have much in common.  We are around the same age, we both grew up in New York, we both have famous male ancestors, although mine was in show business and his in politics. We both are divorced parents and we both like dogs. And he lives at the Governor’s mansion in Albany, a convenient one-hour hop from my son’s place. It was meant to be!

There was only one questioned that lingered. A guy that powerful and attractive could not possibly be single. But then, at his next press conference, Cuomo alluded to living alone. Hope rose in my heart.

I decided to double check online. No I am not kidding. I looked up the marital status of a guy who is arguably the second most powerful man in America right now. Delusional? You betcha.

My online search was confusing. Many of the bios listed food network star Sandra Lee as Cuomo’s partner and First Lady of New York. But further research showed that the couple had broken up recently. My daydream was back on!

But then I caught a glimpse of her picture and discovered that Sandra Lee is a tall, long legged slender blonde with the bright blue eyes and the stunning symmetrical features of a super model. And my fantasy fizzled. I was definitely not the Governor’s type.

I might be cute in a sweet zaftig sort of way, and maybe I was skinny and beautiful for a minute in my youth, but I have never had long legs or blue-eyed blonde looks. Nope, even at my prettiest I never had that arm candy, trophy wife, Barbie Doll swag.

For a nanosecond, I was crestfallen. And then I had to laugh at my daydreams and my drama.

Maybe it’s time to drop by the nearby Target and see if the new shipment of toilet paper has arrived. I might even add a few loaves of bread and counter wipes to my shopping cart. I gotta do something to get out of this crazy head of mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring

Yesterday dawned warm and beautiful in my city. The flowering trees were peaking in shades of pink and white: lush magnolia and delicate dogwood bursting like pastel fireworks. I usually feel elated at the first signs of spring but I was despondent. My feeling of isolation in these strange times and my longing for human contact had hardened into resentment. The warm air and lovely trees were painful reminders of the joy and hope that I was not feeling. I missed my family. I missed my exes–the sweet secure feeling of partnership. I missed having a loving face to greet me, a pair of arms to console me. I felt so brittle I could imagine myself breaking.

I was having a helluva spring break pity party and hitting bottom as a dry drunk.

Usually the first days of spring are a time for shedding defenses along with layers of clothing. Everyone becomes more sociable in my city as we approach the holy days of Easter and Passover. But in these strange times, as I was dropping off a birthday present yesterday for a beloved friend, I felt compelled to lean away from her as she reached into my car for the package. I am very susceptible to brainwashing, and in these strange times of the coronavirus my brain has been saturated with the message that every other human, no matter how cherished, is a potential source of germs that could kill me.

And so it was in a grouchy, resentful state of mind that I dialed in to a recovery meeting last night. More than 100 people were on the conference call. There were sick folks expressing their gratitude, including one woman afflicted with the dreaded virus; old timers testifying to the strength that recovery has given them; newcomers marveling at the gift of sobriety.

As I listened, and shared about my own loneliness and disappointment, my heart began to soften just a little. I was reminded to practice humility and courage and avoid the pitfall of self-centered fear. And reminded of two wonderful sober sayings:

I must accept life on life’s terms.

I must not quit before the miracle.

Accepting life on life’s terms means making peace with what is instead of wishing for what used to be or what might be tomorrow. This is not a spring for jolly garden parties or getting physical. The world is on lockdown. I am cloistered inside my apartment, with the cell phone voices of my loved ones for company. And my sweet little dog, who at present is curled up beside me.

The thing about miracles is that you don’t get to choose them. They choose you. Or God chooses them for you. And you don’t get to select the where or when of your miracles. But you can count on them to show up.

If I don’t give up or give in to resentment or fear, if I practice my recovery program, miracles will always turn up in my life no matter what is going on in the world. Tonight I was able to pick up the phone and call into a meeting of more than 100 sober people: People who were reaching out and opening their hearts. I reached back.  I felt connected. There were no hugs or sparks but there was love and hope and it pulled me out of my funk. And that was miraculous enough.

Stay well and keep reaching out, friends. We are in this together, not alone.

Here’s a link where you can find telephone meetings.

http://aa-intergroup.org/directory_telephone.php?fbclid=IwAR21tH0yMmsNR05dBIGBJMZvIgOGTT0b225ruyjq_tnItSc_4G4Rnsuy-ZA

 

 

Chilling Out

Is it OK to write about absurdity during tragic times? Is it OK to write about hope? Forgive me if it is not. I guess I feel entitled to a little gallows humor, and a flicker of sunshine, as an officially elderly person who has a good chance of not surviving a bad case of coronavirus. And as someone who recently spent time with someone who spent time with someone who is now exhibiting every sign of the current plague, I am feeling a tiny bit vulnerable or maybe it’s just paranoia. So I guess I am going to forgive myself for trying to stay amused and allow myself moments of faith as I, along with billions of others around the globe, await my fate.

And it is the first day of spring.

So, back to the absurdity. And back to inspiring recovery sayings.

Yesterday afternoon, for the second time in 24 hours, I had an opportunity to show forbearance. I am grateful to report that I was able to suppress my snarky impulses the second time around.

You may recall that in my previous post I noted that I was awakened yesterday morning by a fire alarm in my apartment building, which set in motion some bad behavior on my part and underscored for me the importance of following at least two pieces of sober wisdom:

I must be kind.

I must practice restraint of pen and tongue.

These axioms are especially important now in the new age of coronavirus when the several hundred people who live in my building have all been instructed to go home and stay home. The usually subdued and studious atmosphere of this residence for workaholics and graduate students has changed to the highly irritating ambience of a ginormous dysfunctional family reunion.

Shortly after returning from the fire exodus, I received a group email from the building manager explaining the source of the alarm. Apparently a tenant on the floor above me had left some pieces of paper on an electric stove and turned the stove on without knowing it. The result was a small apartment fire that forced the evacuation of several hundred residents who were trying to avoid all social contact. Fortunately, the first responders were able to put out the blaze with a hand-held extinguisher.  The manager noted that this was the second time in one week that the tenant in question had caused a fire in this fashion and said he was going to pay a call on the culprit and explain the importance of fire safety and proper operation of an electric stove.

The boss of my residence added that he has been having a helluva time securing hand sanitizer for the building’s two dispensers, and counseled residents to use it sparingly, adding that he could not say when he would be able to replenish it. This bulletin came on the heels of another recent email in which he complained about not being able to find cleaning supplies through his usual internet sources (despite the fact that the building has a Target on its lower level and I can testify that there are ample supplies of Windex, Mr. Clean and Fabuloso on the shelves of that store, which could be procured in an emergency). I mean, we’re not talking about toilet paper here. Actually, my ground floor Target has that, too, as long as you get in line at 8am. (I promise I am not inserting the words “toilet paper” into this post as a cheap ploy to increase my readership.)

I need to take a moment here to explain that from the start of the health crisis, and in general, my building manager has had a tendency to scold the residents and blame us for anything that is going amiss in the residence, along with haranguing us about asking too much of the building staff, some of whom, I am sorry to report, spend most of their days chatting on cell phones and shopping on Poshmark.

In my building the resident is always wrong.

After reading the manager’s latest missive, I must admit that my first response was not entirely sober. Overcome with righteous rage, I dumped my ire into a hastily drafted retort, in which I contradicted the building manager’s statements about cleaning products and angrily insisted that he not offer cooking and safety instruction to the tenant who was setting fires but “kick that idiot out on his, her or their ass.”

But then, my friends, I received a missive of my own. It was from my Higher Power (yup that beloved ole buzz killer) reminding me of the importance of practicing kindness and restraining my pen, tongue and typing fingers.

Reluctantly, I cancelled the email and did “the next right thing” by praying for the health and happiness of both the manager and the renter. And dialed in to a recovery meeting via conference call.

So far today there have been no fires and no scolding missives from the management. My fur baby, Kirby, and I took a walk in the lovely little dog run on the roof of the garage. It’s a sweet simple setup consisting of mulch, gravel and a few modest plantings. Cleanup bags are provided there and neither the fussy Container Store manager, who scolded me yesterday for allowing Kirby to relieve himself in the flower bed, nor the building manager can find us (or fault us).

This afternoon, the dog run was deserted. The mulch was richly fragrant in the 70 degree air, the green shoots were a balm for eyes worn out by watching too much TV news and tiny yellow and purple flowers were blooming. We were 600 feet from the nearest human. It was the first day of spring and hope was calling out to us inexplicably against all odds and grim predictions.

Kirby and I were following the sober advice to live life one day, or even one moment, at a time. And for that moment all was well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alarming

If there is one thing we really work on in sobriety, it is changing our attitude and behavior toward others–and by this I mean learning to care about, listen to, help and love our fellow humans. As alcoholics and addicts, we may behave in a convivial fashion when drunk or high but nothing really matters to us outside of finding our way to the next drink or the next fix. Our substances are our friends and we regard actual humans as either nuisances that come between us and our drugs or opportunities to scam money, sex or something else we need. Drunks and drug addicts are experts at stepping on others, using them or throwing them under the bus.

I am happy to report that almost nine years of recovery have improved my social behavior. I am now able, at least some of the time, to reach out and help another person without resentment or the expectation of payback, and I find myself generally more appreciative and empathetic toward the folks in my life. I strive to follow the sober advice to practice kindness and tolerance toward everyone.

I have to say, though, that recent societal changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic are straining my relations with everyone, and making it challenging indeed to practice sober behavior with the other humans inhabiting my building, my neighborhood and my city.

You, too? I feel for both of us.

The idea that any and every other person I encounter in the course of my day might be the carrier of a potentially deadly virus tends to put a crimp in my generally upbeat and gregarious social style. Add to that the advice to stay six feet apart from all other peeps and I feel as if I am being catapulted back to the hostile and self-centered perspective of my drinking days. Back then I rarely spoke to anyone as I made my daily pilgrimage to Papa’s Liquors or snuck out late at night to unload clanking bags of bottles into my trash bin while telling myself I was hiding my habit from the neighborhood.

Making matters worse, I am, of course, not alone in my discomfort. Most of the other residents of my large apartment building and block seem similarly afflicted, as I discovered this morning when a fire alarm send us all out into the street. How different it was today from the last time we gathered, chatting and joking, outside the entrance while the fire folk investigated. As I exited the building with my tiny dog, Kirby, and he made a beeline for the nearest flower bed to do his business, the manager of the nearby Container Store snapped at me that I shouldn’t let him poop on the plants. To my surprise and horror, I retorted that the manager should sell me a container to put it in. As previously noted in this space, my expensively landscaped neighborhood offers very few options for pets to relieve themselves, but I am always scrupulous about cleaning up after Kirby.

Still, my nasty retort was not a sober way to behave and I felt remorseful about my failure to  follow the recovery maxim to practice “restraint of pen and tongue.”

Turning back to the building, I searched the crowd for a friendly neighbor with whom I could chat and forget about the unpleasantness. But the few people I knew nodded nervously and kept their distance. A lot of folks stood off by themselves, tapping into their phones. And when it came time to return to our apartments, people were hesitant to get in the elevators together. The building staff did not return my smiles.

It is going to be a challenge to maintain a sober attitude and practice sober behavior in a world where we are being commanded to look upon our fellow humans in the way one might regard a rabid raccoon foraging in the garbage. I am going to have to be more understanding and empathetic than ever with my frightened and irritable neighbors, as well as my frightened and irritable self, and remember the sober advice to not ask too much of others.

There will be many grating and scary alarms sounding in the coming weeks and months. I am going to have to get better at obeying them, and certainly accepting them, without becoming harsh and frightening myself.

 

 

 

 

 

Turn Off the TV

In times like these, when global pandemic and global panic have mated and given birth to a heartbreaking and horrifying new dystopia in place of what remained of  civilization, every fearful impulse leads to a line:

outside the grocery store

inside the hospital

at the pharmacy

at the airport

And then there are the triage lines in the minds of those who rule: the politicians and public health officials who are seizing the power to tell us who leaves home and who doesn’t, who gets money and who doesn’t, who receives treatment and who dies.

In times like these, I don’t want to be in line clamoring for attention or trying to get an edge over the muddling masses because I am a member of a special minority of some kind.  As a woman over 60, an elderly person, I know that I have a better chance than, say, a young mom, of being put on the leave-for-dead list. Underserved does not do justice to the vision of oneself being moved, gasping and in pain, to the do-not-treat corner of the stadium hospital while any loved ones who might want to help me transition to the next world with comfort and prayers are held back by folks in hazmat suits and camouflage because my loved ones might get my cooties and spread them to someone else.

What’s left of my sense of humor reminds me of the plague scene in the movie “Monty Python and The Holy Grail”, where an elderly man protests being tossed onto a cart of dead bodies by his family.

“I’m not dead yet. I want to go for a walk.”

I’m not dead yet. And I am still sober. And still writing about the sober sayings that grow more precious by the minute in contrast to the insanity surrounding us.  And I do want to continue to reach out in any way I can to my fellow addicts and alcoholics.

And again, today, I want to remind myself and anyone else who wishes to be reminded, to say our Serenity Prayer, not just say it, but live by every syllable in these days when so many of our leaders and our media are calling on us to behave in ways that run counter to everything we have learned in sobriety.

“What should we worry about? What should we be afraid of?” ask our news people again and again. And I am reminded that in recovery we are taught to be courageous, to run from the impulse to be fearful.

“Stay home. Stay away from your loved ones,” command our leaders, calling upon us to isolate, which is the antithesis of reaching out beyond ourselves and our selfishness, as we are taught to do in sobriety, because in self-centered isolation we are likely to relapse and thence to die.

“Avoid situations where you are not in control. Plan plan plan,” says one infectious disease expert from California. In recovery we learn to let go of the impulse to try to control everyone and everything, and certainly to not attempt to control things over which we have no power.

“Get as much food and stuff as you can hoard, battle your way through the grocery aisles,  empty every last shelf just in case you are stuck at home and all of the grocery stores are empty from people hoarding on the advice of officials,” imply the solemn-faced pundits on the talk shows. And this advice leads us right into handwringing about “the wreckage of the future,” and counters the sober wisdom to “live one day at a time.”

I am, in fact, reasonable enough to know that social distancing is my best protection from getting the virus, or spreading it, although when I have to go back for more hoarding at the grocery store I might get it or spread it. But it’s a pretty good strategy, the best we have at the moment to halt disease and save lives. So of course I support it and will do it. It is my duty. But that doesn’t make it a healthy strategy emotionally, and certainly not for addicts and alcoholics like this writer who do terrible self-destructive things in isolation. So it’s problematic. And we sober folk have to counter the effects somehow.

And yes yes yes I learned learned learned from all the advice after 9/11 to be prepared for the worst case scenario by buying buying buying and hoarding hoarding hoarding. In those days it was duct tape and plastic sheeting in case of biowarfare, and bottled water and two weeks of supplies in case I needed to hunker down after a terrorist attack. And oh yes a crank up radio and cipro in case of an anthrax bomb. I gotta say that I never had to use that chest crammed with nonperishable food. The mice in my basement ate it. And the big plastic jugs of water gathered dust and evaporated in a corner nearby. And the anthrax meds got old and out of date in my bathroom drawer.

The fact that some of what is being recommended is essential behavior in a coronavirus pandemic, and some is helpful, within reason, still doesn’t change the fact that being driven by all kinds of self-centered, self-serving, self-pitying fear runs against everything I have learned in sobriety, and everything sober people need to stay strong, and stay positive and stay alive.

I would venture to say that this new dystopian way of life is not good for anyone. So we have to fight it, especially those of us who can’t afford to pour drinks and pop pills to take the edge off of it. Not fight it by disobeying the good sense to quarantine ourselves if we suspect illness, or if we have actually been diagnosed with the virus, or try to keep reasonable social distance without becoming nutty about it, or do a reasonable amount of shopping and supplying ourselves if needed.

But at least those of us who want to stay sober and serene, who want kindness to be our code, who don’t want to be a glum lot, who know we can’t do it alone, and know we must reach beyond our selfishness to help others…we need to find ways, however creative we have to be, to hold onto our sober wisdom. Because if we don’t we will lose ourselves , we will relapse and we will lose our lives whether we catch the dreaded virus or not.

Here is what I am telling myself. Maybe some of this will help you. I hope so.

Start by turning off the television. You have probably heard enough for now. Give yourself a break. You can always turn it back on later.

Keep looking for ways to be kind and be of service. And maybe new opportunities will emerge during this time of crisis.

Stay humble.

Act from a place of courage.

Stay positive.

See the beauty in things.

Get out as much as rules and common sense will let you. Keep six feet away from others if you must. But give yourself a chance to breathe and look around and drink in the beauty of the natural world as it unfolds with the coming of spring.

Love.

Love more.

Live by the Serenity Prayer. Say it again and again and again.

And again.

And just in case you don’t know it or have not read it previously in this space:

God

Grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change

The courage to change the things I can

And the wisdom to know the difference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

F-it? Never

For almost nine years I have been endeavoring to practice the sober way of life. I’ve been learning the sayings and proverbs that are the focus of this blog and reading the literature of recovery.

In sobriety you hear a lot of advice–and if you follow it, it saves your life. Today, for instance, I am thinking of a catchy little saying that I learned early in recovery:

Meeting makers make it.

These words, as you may have figured out, are a cute way of saying that if you go to sobriety meetings, you stay sober, and if you don’t, you risk relapse.

I am praying that I will follow this advice and make it to my usual meeting this week. I know going to meetings keeps me sober and saves my life. I know that to drink alcoholically is to die.

But I might not make it to my sober gathering this week. Suddenly, in the midst of a global pandemic, the thing that should heal me is suddenly looking like a threat to my survival.

It is challenging to stay sober in these anxious days of the coronavirus.

We are living in unprecedented times–not because global pandemics are unprecedented, but because we have the unprecedented combination of a socially and informationally viral world and a real pandemic virus. For the first time in human history we are in the position to not only spread a disease globally to more humans than ever before, but also to spread fear and induce behavioral change, in the name of safety and survival, with unprecedented efficacy and speed.

The coronavirus pandemic is serious, scary and tragic. Over 100,0000 infected, several thousand killed, and the numbers are going to multiply dramatically. I have the utmost respect for the wise advice of health experts in this crisis. Social distancing, quarantining and an atmosphere of crisis and fear save lives. I have nothing but empathy for those who naturally want to protect their vulnerable aging parents or immune-compromised children–or themselves for reasons of age or frailty. All of us want to protect ourselves, no matter our age or physical condition, for the reason that we might spread the illness (even if we never show symptoms) to those who are vulnerable.

I am in my 60s. I have allergies and a tendency every spring to get a cold, flu or pneumonia, accompanied by asthma. I don’t consider myself fragile enough to jump any line or demand special attention but I think it might be wise for me to observe social distancing. And that brings me to my weekly recovery meeting.

AA meetings come in all shapes and sizes. Mine happens to be held in a small room and that room is usually more than half full. The recommended six feet of social distancing is rarely if ever  possible at my recovery club–and until this week it has never been an issue. In five years of attending meetings there, I have sat happily in my folding chair squeezed between two other attendees and happily clasped hands in the circle of prayer with which we end every gathering. I have been generous about reaching out my hand in fellowship before and after meetings, or offering hugs, when appropriate.

Now I am trying to imagine doing any of this under the weight of unanimous recommendations to socially distance myself. For the first time in almost nine years of sobriety, I am considering whether it is wise to go to my meeting at all. What is the socially responsible thing to do? What is the sober thing to do? What is the best way to take care of myself in this situation?

And I have to admit, I don’t know. Maybe I will get lucky and be able to sit a few seats apart from others if I go. Maybe even if the meeting is crowded I will get lucky and no one in the group will be carrying the virus. Maybe I will be extra lucky and no one will cough or sneeze, because I know if someone does I will probably walk out.

I am pretty sure I am not alone in torturing over whether or not to attend my sobriety meeting.

In fact, I think many folks would agree that the coronavirus pandemic presents special challenges to people trying to stay sober. The actions and attitudes that are being encouraged, with good reason, by our health experts, are ones that anyone suffering from addiction, whether presently clean and sober or not, will recognize as behavior that leaves us vulnerable to relapse.

We are being called upon, however justifiably, to behave like dry drunks.

Social isolation. Self-centered fear. Planning for the worst case scenario by stockpiling food and paper products. Global anxiety. Global drama. All of these are triggering to alcoholics and addicts.

But here’s the thing. We know as addicts and alcoholics that we will be challenged frequently by triggering situations. Not all of them will be as dramatic or global as the coronavirus, but we have to continue to practice our sober behavior one day at a time no matter what.

And that means taking the steps to stay away from drinking or drugging. If we are in quarantine or need to distance ourselves socially to the point where we cannot attend meetings for a period of time, then we need to read our sober literature, stay in touch with the members of our fellowship by phone on a daily basis, improvise meetings with another person in recovery over phone or Skype, attend meetings online. We need to pause when agitated or doubtful and pray for guidance.

And above all, we need to steer clear of uttering two dangerous words:

F-it

No action or attitude brings us closer to relapse than the F-it perspective. And times of fear and crisis sorely tempt us to throw up our hands, and run back to our addictions, screaming F-it as we go.

Speaking for myself, I have to admit that the more I hear about the coronavirus, the more frightened and panicked I get, and the more frightened and panicked I get, the more convinced I am that I am going to get the disease, and probably die from it. And the more convinced I become that I am going to die, the more tempted I am to say F-it and run across the street to the liquor store.

But I don’t. And with the help of my Higher Power I won’t.

Instead, when the F-it sirens beckon to me, I ignore them. I break the emergency glass surrounding my emergency recovery tool kit and I take every action I can think of to stay sober. I call a friend in my recovery network. I help someone who is more panicked than I am. I clean my space. I write in this space. And above all, I remember that drinking alcoholically makes everything bad even worse. Drinking will ensure that I will be completely helpless and hopeless and more frightened than I can possibly imagine in this pandemic. I will be useless to others, indeed a burden to others instead of a help, and I will be much more likely to make the careless moves that will lead me to being exposed and  getting really really sick.

Is there a saying or sayings to help me–or help you, if you feel in need–get through this crisis? Yes, every saying and every word of my recovery literature is a help. But here are some that come to mind. I offer them to you with love and prayers that you will stay sober and sane, calm and well during these scary and difficult times:

Easy does it (yes, take it easy even when the world is going nutty all around you).

One day at a time (more important now than ever).

Don’t (Over)Think and Don’t Drink (no matter what).

And if you find yourself freaking out and close to saying F-it, say these words instead. They are the words to the Serenity Prayer. I quote it often in this space because it is a beautiful blueprint for sober behavior.

Say it over and over and over if you need to.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank You Notes

I needed to feel grateful today.  I needed to find a serene and hopeful refuge from the anxious news.

So I decided to walk out of my apartment on this stunning late-winter day and soak myself in yellow light and blue sky and warm temperatures and budding flowers. And allow myself to be thankful for all of it: the cloudless heavens, the happy daffodils, the people shedding sweaters and coats and treating themselves to a brief interlude of bliss before ducking into the CVS to look for sanitizing wipes or descending anxiously into the crowded metro, hoping to not catch the deadly coronavirus that has an entire planet running scared.

I stopped at a traffic light and saw that a bright blue balloon was bouncing in the roadway, tossed again and again in the air by the onrushing cars but not bursting. I felt oddly grateful for the survival of this cheery orb, and elated when the balloon landed safely on the sidewalk in front of a Target where shoppers were rushing in to stock up on quarantine supplies and inquire about hand sanitizer and face masks.

At the Starbucks, the soundtrack was playing Ella Fitzgerald singing her fabulous scatting rendition of Blue Skies. I felt thankful for every note, every brilliant syllable of her gorgeous, soaring vocals. And headed home with a bounce in my step in spite of the heaviness that would greet me the minute I turned on the evening news.

When life gets really scary, not just for you and me but for everyone on the planet, when we are in the midst of a global pandemic that is causing global panic, we sober people have a place to turn, a refuge that is in fact available to anyone, in recovery or not, with an open heart and mind.

And it’s not relapse. I’m not talking about the creaky old adage to “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.”

It’s called “an attitude of gratitude.” And it works.

It really really does.

I promise I don’t mean to diminish the severity and the tragedy of what is occurring globally as a result of the coronavirus epidemic.

Gratitude, like prayer, is serious enough for times of sorrow and crisis. It is up to the task of responding to our spiritual SOS no matter what is going on. Like prayer, gratitude calms and centers us. It helps us help ourselves and others. And right now all of us need all of the calming and help we can get.

The simple act of finding things for which we can be grateful no matter what is happening on our planet is a soul-saver.  God’s gift, free of charge.

It is a place we can go when we feel lost. It never shuts down. It is always open and available to us.

Like right now.

Don’t be afraid to go there.