Choose your kink

There’s nothing quite like being told you’re “bodily and mentally different from [your] fellows” (BB, pg 30). The physiological aspect I can understand. “Countless vain attempts” have proven that my body just can’t get enough of a good thing (or a bad thing) once it’s introduced into my system. I have accepted this as an empirical truth in regards to alcohol, drugs, tobacco, caffeine, sugar… you name it.

Early in sobriety, it’s also easy to comprehend the mental difference between an addict and a “normie” as addicts have a tendency to spend a large majority of their first year sober still obsessing over their drug of choice. For me, at right around two years sober, a new clarity swept in and revealed just how asinine my thinking process had become. From what I read (about 8 years ago, so I’m sorry that I don’t remember the source) this is common of heroin addicts, specifically, as it takes this long for the body to completely adapt to life without the drug. It felt like a light switch when it happened – or perhaps a series of them. I would just catch myself at times and ask “Why am I doing this like this? It doesn’t make any logical sense.”

pennywiseIt is hard now to explain what it was like to have that fog of addiction lifted off my thinking mind because it is hard for me to remember what it was like when it was there. Of course I can remember events, interactions, emotions, even the obsession of when I was active in my addiction. But when one is in that state, it is impossible to remember what “normal” life is like on the outside of it; and those on the outside can’t possibly fathom what it is to be trapped in that life. The frames of reference in the two worlds are just so completely removed from each other. It is as if someone overlaid the real world with a sick, twisted funhouse world where the floors are all weirdly tilted and the walls move and Pennywise is lurking around every corner. Such is the level of anxiety and fear and paranoia that dominates the thinking process of an addict. Or at least that’s what it was like for this addict. And I lived in that world for another two years after I got sober, before the fog lifted.

So, when we talk about being “bodily and mentally different from [our] fellows,” I get that we are talking about the physical craving which comes on and takes over whenever I take a drink or a drug into my system. I get that we are talking about the mental obsession which says that any time I feel restless, irritable or discontented I need to drown that feeling with booze or drugs or sex or a tub of ice cream and a Netflix marathon. I get that we are talking about the difference between seeing life as some sick, twisted funhouse world and seeing it for what it truly is. What always surprises me is that today, in recovery, in fit spiritual condition, I am still mentally different from my fellows.

In class yesterday, we posited what the world would look like if everyone was able to be exactly who they really are, if we would still need to construct extreme scenarios in order to express the parts of our selves which we keep repressed because of societal pressures. In this instance we were specifically speaking in terms of BDSM dungeons, but…

[at this point in the writing of this post, I realize (like I so often do when writing here) that this thing has taken on a will of its own & is veering off into a different direction from what I had intended. However, I don’t want to lose my original thought either, so I thought I’d make this a choose your own adventure kind of post. If you would like to venture off down the new, as yet unexplored path, continue reading at the 1. below. If you would rather stick to the original script, skip down to the 2.]

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1.) … we could very well have been talking about the world of addiction. What’s a leather-clad woman in stilettos wielding a whip and a strap-on in comparison to a  24/7 experience in some hellish combination of Alice in Wonderland and Trainspotting. With Pennywise. The simple truth is, if you are unable to accept yourself fully then there are always going to be these parts that you cannot reveal to the world. Sometimes you are able to briefly expose those parts in some conventional or unconventional way (nowadays, more traditional therapies are generally less Freudian than those in the dungeon). In this way you can release pent-up tensions from time to time.

If you are unable to do that or if this is not sufficient, then this is when we start to take more drastic measures to hide those parts of our selves which we find unfit for public viewing. What results is any number of unhealthy and/or compulsive behaviors with varying degrees of social acceptability. My personal favorite include turning on the TV and my laptop and spending whole days agonizing over what I need to be doing while I am watching some idiotic show that I hate and playing a stupid game with no objective. It was morning when I started and now it’s 10 pm and I haven’t eaten all day! Spend a whole weekend doing that and I get to have a full blown panic attack Sunday night! It’s been a few months since I’ve gone that far with it.

Obviously, people drink or use to escape (I mean, come on, this is an addiction blog). Eating is a big one because so many positive memories from our childhood are associated with big meals. Of course, that can go the opposite way as well with more anorexic food control issues. I’ve heard tell that there are those who become workaholics, but that has never been a problem for me since so many of my psychological issues are wrapped up in my non-existent work ethic.

Whatever our vice, it will get persistently worse the more we find those aspects of our selves unacceptable. The best thing we can do is find a constructive outlet where we can be free to express our true selves safely. Fifth step is wonderful for this, as you walk in with so much guilt and shame, ready to be condemned, only to have your sponsor say, “So what? Now pick up & move on.”

freakflaglbg14-conw-03But then we have to follow that up with consistently living out that true self, at least in one relationship in our lives. We have to be authentic somewhere. We have to have a home base where we can feel free from judgment. For healthy, well-adjusted children it could be their own loving parents, but I don’t believe such mythical creatures truly exist (well-adjusted children, that is, not the parents). For the rest of us we have to recreate those relationships elsewhere. For those of us in recovery, it’s our home group or our sponsor. Apparently, other people end up with a close friend or something? I don’t know. I have never been very good at the whole social aspect of life. Whoever it is, just find your tribe and be free to let your freak flag fly.

2.) … that is largely irrelevant. The point is that I could not wrap my mind around this idea of a world where everyone could fully be their authentic self at all times. And more importantly, why everyone was so fascinated by the concept. A world like that would be complete and utter chaos. There would be absolutely no social order whatsoever. And there we were, a room full of burgeoning sociologists and not one person pointed this out. I would have, but I was simply dumbfounded over the conversation at large.

You see, I know very well what it is to not be able to be my authentic self. It’s a common refrain in the rooms – that feeling that you don’t belong, that your skin doesn’t fit. There’s a Hozier song I love that has a line, “But you don’t know what hell you put me through/ To have someone kiss the skin that crawls from you.” I can feel the sinking feeling in my gut remembering back to times when I knew I was living a complete lie, yet I allowed someone to love this fictitious image of me anyway. It literally made me sick to my stomach to think of myself acting out in this emotional manipulation, but so starved for affection was I that I allowed it to happen anyway.

5a0f5fdb0f83dbf172a32bcb95405ab1I always felt I had to be something else or do something more; prove myself or completely change everything about me in order to simply be accepted in society, let alone to be loved. And so that’s what I did. For about thirty years, I set about changing everything about myself  time and again. I remade myself over and over and over, each time hoping that this would be the one that would work. I had no true identity. I had no idea whatsoever who I was. I had no sense of self, period, let alone an authentic one. It’s no wonder I’ve chosen to focus on social identity theories in my research career.

It was only after I came into recovery that I began to learn what it meant to be real – to be authentically me. The first time I was able to feel remotely comfortable in my skin and accept myself just as I am was after my first full fifth step. I sat with my sponsor, a woman who loved the holy hell out of me, and shamefully presented her with my list of sins and disclosed “the exact nature of my wrongs.” As I shared with her all the gory details which accompanied the repeated lowering of my moral standards, she just sat there happy and laughing as always saying, “Oh, that’s no big deal!” and “Oh my God! I did the exact same thing and had completely forgotten about it until you said that!” I kept frowning at her, thinking, No, you don’t understand! These are horrible things and I am a horrible person!

I went through my list with her and when we finally left, I felt like I had been cheated out of a real fifth step experience. My sponsor clearly didn’t take this as seriously as I did. I sat with my list and went back over the exchange in my mind. I mentally checked everything off again. Yes, I had gone through everything with her (and being a perfectionist, I was very thorough in compiling my fourth step) and she didn’t bat an eye at a single thing I’d said. There were a couple of things she told me that we may have to get creative with the amends process because of what I had done, but she still loved the holy hell out of me. It didn’t happen all at once. I didn’t get that big weight lifted off my shoulders like some people talk about. For me, the relief of the fifth step came on a little bit at a time as I was slowly able to accept for myself the same things that my sponsor had accepted unconditionally.

It took probably another four years before I was able to find an acceptable balance between withholding and disclosing my authentic self in public. I still have a bad habit of oversharing quite often. At the beginning, I was insanely honest with absolutely everyone. And with my history, that’s not terribly socially acceptable. At the same time, die hard sports fans and cosplayers and even proud grandmas have to keep it under wraps in order to keep from alienating themselves in most social situations. We simply can not live balls-out in polite society. We have social roles to perform and so we must don our masks and do our work.

riddlerThis does not mean that we deny our authentic selves or try to hide who we really are, but that we just put things on mute for a while. Yesterday, my grad school bff, who is huge into DC comics, wore what she called her “hidden cosplay.” She had a green dress and hat coupled with question mark jewelry. Everyone complimented her on how nice she looked, while she was secretly living out an alternate identity as the Riddler. When she’s with her tribe, she flaunts her inner villain proudly. And when I am with my tribe, I can break it all down to the nuts & bolts of what makes me me. I am able to exhale all of the social pressures of life and really settle into my skin.

And this is really what we need. I never want to see a world where everyone feels free to live their most authentic self all the time. There are just some things I would rather not see! I mean, nudity is great, but keep it in your house could ya? There’s kids outside! (Not to pick on the nudists – it just lends a very specific visual). But we all need to be able to have a place where we truly can go balls-out, whole-heartedly authentic. We need our tribe, those people who understand us and lovingly accept us without judgment. And we need to be members of our own tribe, as well, accepting and loving ourselves for who we are right where we are.

Do they still call them speaker tapes?

I have done a lot of different sorts of service in recovery. I started out by coming early and making the coffee. I talked to newcomers and called members of my cohort when I hadn’t seen them in a bit. I wrote a letter that kept my home group from getting kicked out of the church where we’d been housed for 25 years. I took ownership of my recovery and preserved those meetings which meant the most to me. I held positions in the AA service structure for five years. I did 12-step calls and sponsored (still sponsor) a few girls. For two years, I committed to chairing at least one meeting a month and I brought it. No gratitude meetings for me. No, whenever I chaired, we were talking FEAR & busting down egos.

My favorite kind of service, though, has always been sharing my story. I say this not because I enjoy doing it, but quite to the contrary, because I am scared shitless by it. Over the past eight and a half years, I’ve been called to tell my story at least a half dozen times. Sometimes these calls come from friends in the program, but sometimes they come from some overwhelming insistence inside of me. Every time I’ve told my story, it’s been from a completely different perspective, depending on where I am and what I’m working on. Only once have I ever scripted my talk & that was for ACTS, when I had to work in some scripture and a specific focus. Aside from that, my preparation is largely just breathing & getting out of my own way. Everything good that has come out of my recovery is a direct result of me admitting that I fuck shit up when I try to do things on my own. And so whenever I am called to tell my story, I try to get out of myself as much as possible and just let whatever needs to be said come through.

I got one of these calls recently – this time from a friend in the program who wanted me to speak for one of our recovery centers. Unfortunately, these meetings take place on the one day a week that I have school all day and so I had to put her off until the semester is over. This didn’t sit well with me. So, for the past few weeks, I’ve had this niggling at the back of my head saying I need to tell my story.

At the same time, I’ve also been digging through some old computer files, trying to find some old work I did, and I came across my “speaker tape” from when I spoke at Serendipity two years ago (It’s a wma file ripped from a CD, but “speaker wma file” just doesn’t have the same ring to it). I had never listened to it. I never wanted to, for fear that I sounded like an idiot. I had friends there that night who said I did great, but sometimes you never know if people are just trying to be nice. Others asked to hear the recording and I said I would share it with them. I ripped the file, intending to put it into Dropbox and share it that way. But then I got self-conscious. I decided that if I put it off long enough, everyone would forget and I could just pretend like it didn’t happen. And that’s what happened until I decided to finally listen to it last night – almost exactly two years later.

Wouldn’t you know, it’s not humilitatingly horrible. At the time this talk was given, I had recently begun attending ACoA meetings (and was still crying through every one of them). I was working on a project for my health disparities class which gave me a whole new insight into my childhood. I had utterly failed myself as well as a professor who had great faith in me (with whom I have finally reconnected – and he still has great faith in me). I had learned that my children had been experiencing some negative, borderline abusive behavior at their dad’s house and was working to adjust custody arrangements to keep them safe. It was a very trying, emotional time for me. I was not exactly feeling full of strength and hope when I stepped up to the podium to speak. What came out was something very raw and very true. And I am very glad I was able to be a part of it.

As far as the story goes, I’m happy to share it here. As for the fact that I say “and” way too often and that I apparently turn into a hick when I get emotional… well, I suppose there’s not a whole lot I can do about that now. It is interesting to me to hear my insecurity and uncertainty about my hopes for my future coming out in my language and my tone, betraying my words. This is something I hope I have worked to correct over this past two years. I think by now I speak more insecurity with more certainty.

Anyway, without further ado, here is my “speaker tape” from 28 Feb 2015:

 

And Now I Just Sit in Silence

You all should know by now that I’m slightly REALLY into music. I don’t often discriminate as to genre, so long as the music does what music should do… what all art should do – elicit emotion. I especially appreciate those songs which speak to the addict inside of me. I love to hear my pain, my struggles, my fears, my hope, my determination, my faith, my passion. I love to hear my own experiences echoed back to me to let me know I am not alone.

Today was my daughter’s twelfth birthday, so we spent most of the day getting things set up and getting pumped for her party. I put on a mix of the band which currently holds the spot as her favorite: Twenty One Pilots. Truth be told, I’m not so sure they actually are still her favorite. However, I used her appreciation for the band to disguise my obsession with their song, “Car Radio” so that I could listen to it at least a dozen times today.

This song is rather uncharacteristic of the duo’s current sound. Wee is much more into “Stressed Out” and “Ride.” This one came before Blurryface, though, and all those big hits from after Tyler Joseph began writing through his insecurities. And it is obviously the story of what he had to walk through in order to get to that place. “Car Radio” speaks to the fear of confronting what lies beneath the ego. It is about no longer being able to hide from yourself. I wanted to include only the most salient lyrics here, but every time I listen something else jumps out at me. So, here they are in their entirety, courtesy of Google Play Music:

“Car Radio” – Twenty One Pilots

I ponder of something great
My lungs will fill and then deflate
They fill with fire, exhale desire
I know it’s dire my time today

I have these thoughts, so often I ought
To replace that slot with what I once bought
‘Cause somebody stole my car radio
And now I just sit in silence

Sometimes quiet is violent
I find it hard to hide it
My pride is no longer inside
It’s on my sleeve
My skin will scream reminding me of
Who I killed inside my dream
I hate this car that I’m driving
There’s no hiding for me
I’m forced to deal with what I feel
There is no distraction to mask what is real
I could pull the steering wheel

I have these thoughts, so often I ought
To replace that slot with what I once bought
‘Cause somebody stole my car radio
And now I just sit in silence

I ponder of something terrifying
‘Cause this time there’s no sound to hide behind
I find over the course of our human existence
One thing consists of consistence
And it’s that we’re all battling fear
Oh dear, I don’t know if we know why we’re here
Oh my, too deep, please stop thinking
I liked it better when my car had sound

There are things we can do
But from the things that work there are only two
And from the two that we choose to do
Peace will win and fear will lose
It is faith and there’s sleep
We need to pick one please because
Faith is to be awake
And to be awake is for us to think
And for us to think is to be alive
And I will try with every rhyme
To come across like I am dying
To let you know you need to try to think

I have these thoughts, so often I ought
To replace that slot with what I once bought
‘Cause somebody stole my car radio
And now I just sit in silence

And now I just sit in silence
And now I just sit
And now I just sit in silence
And now I just sit in silence
And now I just sit in silence
And now I just sit

I ponder of something great
My lungs will fill and then deflate
They fill with fire, exhale desire
I know it’s dire my time today

I have these thoughts, so often I ought
To replace that slot with what I once bought
‘Cause somebody stole my car radio
And now I just sit in silence

So, here I sit at 0-dark-thirty, listening to a gaggle of giggling twelve-year-old girls who will continually refuse to sleep no matter how many times I go remind them how late it is. And I pick up my pad to write personally, and I pop over here to write publicly, and I check my Facebook 18 more times, and I listen to the song “one more time” six more times. And “I have these thoughts, so often I ought / To replace that slot with what I once bought,” but I keep coming back to what I need to face.

Isn’t it always the way that the moment we know we can’t hide anymore is the same moment where we are grasping at anything and everything to avoid revealing ourselves? We have been found naked and there is nothing large enough nearby with which to cover ourselves. But what are we so afraid to reveal? And to whom?

Regardless of how many steps I’ve taken with how many different sponsors and sponsees; regardless of how many times I have been in this exact same spot, afraid to open that door for fear that it will all come crashing down on me, I am immediately taken back to a back room at IHOP where I sat alone, chain smoked, and wrote out my first sixth step. I took little slips of paper and wrote out all those fears and character defects that I had discovered in my fourth step and disclosed to my sponsor in my fifth. One by one, I put the slips of paper in the ashtray and set my cigarette to them so that they each turned to dust.

fb_img_1484963866592One last thing came to mind, which in the bigger scheme of things was so stupid and so minor, but it brought me so much shame to see it written out. This final paper I gladly burned and considered myself finished. I took a drag off my cigarette to calm my nerves, then looked down to see those shameful words still clearly visible in the ash. The waitress began walking toward me and I hurriedly stirred the ashes so that she couldn’t see what I’d burned. And suddenly it clicked. She could. Everyone could. It was written all over me. The only one who didn’t see my shame and my fear glaring like a neon sign across my forehead was me. 

That moment is indelibly printed in my memory. So now that the girls are finally asleep and the only sound is the clicking of my keyboard as I type and the slow whir of the ceiling fan overhead, I can close my eyes and see the me that I once was. I sit holding my cigarette and nakedly cowering in that back room of IHOP, dreadfully realizing that I have been the last to see how blatantly these fears have been written all over me.

And I allow my false pride to shatter.

It was nothing more than the Emperor’s new clothes, after all.

The Alcoholic Self, Part II: Self as Transcendent

Continuing from last night’s post regarding Norman K. Denzin’s The Alcoholic Self

“Smith (1957: 279) has described the alcoholic in the following paradoxical words:

The [A.A.] member was never enslaved by alcohol. Alcohol simply served as an escape from personal enslavement to the false ideals of a materialistic society.

“[A]ccounts by alcoholics… reference three problematics of self that are displayed in the alcoholic experience. These problematics may be termed (1) self as loss, (2) self as false or illusive subjectivity, and (3) self as transcendent experience.

Self as loss” references the experiences of [a man] who is sober, but his life has no meaning for him. He can feel his inner subjectivity, but he feels an emptiness of self as he speaks. His selfhood is illusive. He is haunted by a sense of self that escapes his grasp.

Self as false subjectivity” is given in the account of [a man] who has everything: wife, job, new car, friends, house. Yer he drinks more than he wants to and suspects that he may be an alcoholic. The meaning of self he seeks in material things has failed him.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASelf as transcendent” is given in the accounts of [one] who seeks self-transcendence in drugs and alcohol, [and one who seeks it] in the A.A. experience. The transendent-self seeks to be part of something larger than itself that is not materialistic. It seeks an immanence in a structure of experience that is both enveloping and… collective…. The self that is transcendent is processural, outside itself objectively, but subjectively aware of its own relationships with the world. It seeks to transcend direct empirical experience in the search for a broader and larger meaning of self and existence (James, 1961: 399-400).

The transcendence that is found in drugs and alcohol is a chemical transcendence. This is a personal, unshareable selfhood that is isolating, alienating, and individualistic. This inner state of experience is not immanent in a structure larger than itself, although such an immanence is sought. Interactional self-transcendence is given in the A.A. experience as described by the fourth speaker. He has found a non-competitive, complementary relationship with a world that is larger than he is (Bateson, 1972a: 335).


These three problematics of self are woven through every alcoholic’s experiences
. They reference modes of self-experiencing that move from the individual to the group. As the alcoholic becomes embedded in A.A., a shared, group conception of self is acquired. A.A.’s move, which is truly sociological, locates transcendence of self in the group, not the person. The active alcoholic, had, of course, the opposite position. He or she located individuality, subjectivity, and transcendence in alcohol, drugs, and in the self. A.A.’s self is in the group, not the person.

Reference:
Denzin, Norman K. 1987. The Alcoholic Self. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications

Denzin’s in text references:
– Bateson, Gregory. 1972. “The cybernetics of self: a theory of alcoholism,” pp. 309-337 in G. Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York: Ballantine.
– James, William. 1961. The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study of Human Nature New York: Collier. (originally published in 1904)
– Smith, Bernard B. 1957. “A friend looks at Alcoholics Anonymous,” pp. 273-283 in Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age: A Brief History of A.A. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services (as quoted in Denzin, 1987).

The Alcoholic Self

41v0zkqqfdl-_sl500_sx311_bo1204203200_I wanted to share a bit from the research I am doing (slowly and haphazardly) for my thesis (which has yet to be completely decided upon). I have known that this book would serve as my jumping-off point for about two years now. Last night, I finally dug into it a bit and pulled out some gems which I thought would amuse you.

The Alcoholic Self

“The self is divided against itself… Narcissistic and self-centered, the alcoholic self uses alcohol as a mirror, seeking in the self-reflections that alcohol offers a truer picture of itself. Yet alcohol, for the divided self, fuels a resentment toward others and an inner hatred of self. The unstable, inner self of the alcoholic runs to violent emotionality, madness, insanity, and imaginary fears. The emotional and sexual relations the alcoholic has with others are similarly distorted by alcohol’s effects. The alcoholic is unable to present a ‘true’ picture of self to the other, for he or she always sees the other through alcoholically clouded streams of consciousness. Hampered by alcoholic amnesia and alcoholic aphasia, the alcoholic lives within a distorted world of self-other relations. Symbolically and interactionally attached to dominating emotional associates from the past, the alcoholic lives out a maddening inner self-drama that is scripted by resentment and hatred” (p 195).

Alcoholics and “Normals”

“[A]ctive alcoholics take to the extreme the assumptions and principles that structure the lives of ordinary people. Ordinary individuals live bad faith, lie and deceive themselves and others, and engage in distorted human relationships. Ordinary individuals also experience negative emotions, hold onto resentments, experience time inauthentically, and believe in willpower and self-control. Such persons also develop divided selves and live out imaginary self-ideals that have little to do with the worlds of the ‘real.’

“What sets the alcoholic off from the ‘normal’ are the lived experiences that accompany his or her self-definitions. The individual’s divided self leads him or her into the world of alcoholic dreams and fantasies; that world soon takes over the alcoholic’s life. As the alcoholic moves farther and farther into it, his or her distance from normals and normal everyday life increases. The alcoholic becomes an outsider to society, almost by choice” (p 196).

 

Alcoholic Time and “Normal” Time
[this part made me giggle]

“‘[N]ormal’ time (1) is grounded in the present, (2) is not experienced fearfully, (3) is reflectively grasped as being part of ongoing purposive action, (4) is not lodged in the past or the future, and (5) does not give rise to the feelings of self that are located in the past. Normal time informs the present in a purposively useful fashion. Alcoholic time demolishes the present” (p 197).

All references from:
Denzin, Norman K. 1987. The Alcoholic Self. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

 

Today Was a Good Day

There are no bad days in recovery. There are only good days and great days. The good days are when everything is going just fine and you stay sober. The great days are when everything is for shit and you still stay sober.

I’ve had a lot of good days lately. At least a month’s worth. I’m getting settled into the new semester pretty well. It’s difficult and it’s a whole lot more work than I’m used to doing, but it’s work that I love. The other night, I was engrossed in reading a textbook about research methods and felt this warmth radiate from inside me. At that moment, Johnny Depp could’ve walked in buck ass naked & I would’ve said, “Hon, I’m sorry, but I just can’t right now. I am busy doing exactly what I want to be doing.” I can’t ever remember a feeling quite like that before – where everything just felt completely perfect.

I have been overwhelmed and loving it. I am thinking more clearly. I have been reaching out to people who intimidate me and have been connecting with them on a personal level. I am starting to discover where I fit… and I almost feel sort of comfortable there. A lot of the fears I have had about school have really subsided and I am feeling more confident. I have made a regular habit of a meeting that I love and have dug into some serious Big Book and Bible studies. I’ve been working on this wonderful post for GD&T that has all these amazing references in it, but it’s gotten way out of hand. I need to work on focusing it better to make sure I am actually saying what I am trying to say. The point is, I am digging into life in a way I haven’t in a very long time. I am feeling LOVE. My sponsor talks about shooting love out her fingers to the rest of the world (I know it sounds weird. Just go with it). I actually feel like I can do that right now; like it’s just building up inside of me so much that it has to come bursting out all over the place.Good days. Very, very good days.

fb_img_1484964640898So today was the closest I’ve had to a great day in a very long time and it really hurt. I was tending to some business that I’ve kind of put off a bit and I got a little shock at the reality of how much trouble this situation is going to cause me. The full extent and the nature of this trouble is quite frustrating. I had to endure abuse that was completely uncalled for. I understand why I was treated the way I was today… as in, I can comprehend the psychological rationale behind the behavior. And I understand that whatever happens to me or what someone says about me is no reflection of who I really am. Therefore, I could preserve my pride and logically assert that I was not troubled by the way I was treated today. Head and heart are two completely different creatures, though. And I was reminded of why I had put off this bit of business for this long. I have not wanted to go there because I have shut the door to that sort of abuse and it feels so good to be free of it. It feels good to actually realize who I am when I allow someone who loves me to define who I really am. Me. I don’t have to listen to anyone else anymore telling me who I am or what I have to do. And so I have only listened to those voices which have loved and supported me. And I have felt loved. And I have felt supported.

And so when I so badly wanted to put this troubling situation on blast, I didn’t. Because that’s not who I am. That is not my character. I told my sponsor. I told another alcoholic. And I told a close friend who is a “normie” (so far as those people exist). I went to a meeting. I wrote. I cried. And I let those who love me, love me. And I smile… because if this is the extent to what my “great” days look like right now, then damn, my life is blessed!

I will continue to occasionally encounter those who will not let their demons die. And I will have those days when one or two of mine pop back up and try to control me. But today, I don’t have to listen to any of that crap. I can make better choices. I can choose to listen to the voice of Truth, to the voice of Love and Light, to that still, small voice inside of me who knows my true worth. I was reminded today that I have choices, and that where my life has been heading lately is a direct result of making positive choices for myself.

Today was a good day.

Love first. Work hard.

I’m not one for resolutions. Both of my birthdays are in July. The new school years start in August(ish). Fiscal years generally begin October 1st. Spring is the season of rebirth. All sorts of religions and cultures celebrate the new year some day other than January 1st. Every day is a day to change and begin anew. Yes, there are days when we specifically take time to look back on our lives and examine how far we’ve come, as well as where we are going. Pretty much the whole time between June 18th and July 3rd is that way for me, as I recall the progression of shaking off addiction’s hold over me. So while New Year’s Day marks a new year on the calendar, it seems more a day for ham & cabbage and other superstitions than for serious life changes.

“Because my love for you is higher than words. I have decided to fall silent.”
– Khalil Gibran

That being said, each calendar year does seem to have an essence all its own. For instance, 2015 was for me “the worst year ever.” And then 2016 happened, which America seems to have collectively dubbed “the worst year ever.” For me, it was a year of coming into independence. The husband and I had split twice already the year before. The second time coming right before Christmas. So, as 2016 began, I was already turning more to group and God, family and friends than to him. Throughout the spring, graduation bolstered me, personally, as did two visits back home which I handled very well. When we split for a third time in July, I was ready to be done, but the kids weren’t. On November 29th, it no longer mattered if they cared or not because it was obvious he didn’t. I shut the door & breathed a sigh of relief. dorothy-opens-door-to-oz-o

And then I heard it.

Love.

I’ve been following this group that is sharing their process of finding the word that they will focus on throughout 2017. I am not entirely unfamiliar with the concept. My former sponsor once spent a whole year practicing kindness as her religion. It was interesting to see the change in her approach to life over the course of that year. Now, I don’t know that I was ever actually going to pick some random word for 2017, but I do know that it will be a year of hard work for me. With all the emotional upheaval of the last two years, I have not been able to focus on school as well as I should. While that worked alright for my undergraduate work, I have found that I simply can’t continue in that vein through grad school. I am way behind the 8-ball here and I have a long way to go to get to where I want to be. So, my preliminary thinking was that my word will be something to the effect of “persevere” or “achieve.” But I keep hearing:

Love.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. If we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.
– 1 John 4:7-8,12b (NKJV)

And it seems an odd word. Especially in light of all of the extra work I am going to have to put in. But I say it and a calm comes over me. I smile. Everything slows down and I feel empowered. It is the thing which has been missing these past two years. I could not feel it during my depression and isolation. And it was the impetus for the final split. I had had a difficult Thanksgiving and when it was over I voiced my dejection, “I feel unloved.” It was not an accusation, simply the truest thing I had said in a very long time.

fb_img_1482850504478And so, perhaps “Love” is not so odd a word to carry through this next year. Because everything which has happened since the final split has been me loving myself. I have had to admit failures and reach out for help. I have had to be alone and cry and scream until there was nothing left. I have been patient and gentle with myself. Far more so than ever before. I have been eating better & getting out more. I’ve already lost 11 lbs. and I am loving the way I look just because that’s where I am. I have been digging through my closet wondering where all my pretty clothes are. I have been all about girl time like never before. I have let down my hair and shamelessly flirted and DANCED! I have gone out all by myself and overcome the uncomfortableness each time. And I have similarly found myself surrounded by those individuals who believe in me and will go out of their way to help me succeed. I feel like Dorothy opening the door to Oz – like I am suddenly seeing colors again for the first time. And everywhere I look, I find joy.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
– 1 Corinthians 13:1 (NIV)

This morning, my Facebook feed was populated everywhere by it: Love. Each of the bits about love included in this post popped up there this morning. And I think maybe it is especially this final message from Corinthians that I need to carry forward into the new year as I dig into some research projects. In all my idealism and grandiosity, of course I still want to change the world despite my best efforts to shrink myself. But I should not even attempt to examine social issues unless I do so out of love for the community I am attempting to serve. And that means understanding, rather than dictating. Listening, rather than speaking. Approaching these issues with gentleness and kindness toward myself and others.

Love first. Work hard. Leave the results up to God.

Maybe “love” truly is the spirit of 2017.

Rhime & Reason

I do not even know how many half-written posts I have saved on here over the past year. Some of you have sent messages checking up on me and I appreciate it. The last two… really three years have been… shitty. I mean, I have done amazing things over that time and I’ll catch you all up on that in time. But emotionally… well, there’s only so much vicissitude one person can take.

I am doing absolutely spectacular now. My brain is still compulsively obsessing over a few things, which makes reading and writing anything right now very difficult. But even that is getting better.

Short version: I am getting divorced. Life happens.

Long version: I want to do the best I can to stay on my side of the street. And I am really kind of over telling the story at this point. I still have a lot of anger which stems from my codependent expectations. I am working to resolve it, but that’s one of those lifetime tasks because it was imprinted in me so very, very long ago. The anger only comes out as I recount the tale of the past few years and how it came to this. And right now, I am very happy and very excited to go see my friend who I haven’t seen in far too long, so I REALLY don’t want to get into it.

BUT, I am here. I am sober. I am happy. I am good. I am much better than I have been in a long time. And I will be back here to share my experience, strength and hope soon enough.

In the meantime, I thought I’d let Shonda tell the story for me:

cristina-dont-want-to-fight

cristina-took-a-piece-of-me

derek-deserve-somebody

cristina-crappy-things

cristina-too-much-to-fight

cristina-painful-to-be-around-you

bailey-words-are-hurting-me

bailey-dont-get-to-talk

meredith-go-suck-it

cristina-have-some-fire

cristina-cant-make-someone-stay

cristina-approves

And Then There Were None

All week I’ve been going back and forth between breaking down in tears and figuratively putting my fingers in my ears and saying “lalalalala I can’t hear you!” And then there’s these times when I’m all, “Hey! Look at me, adulting like a real person and handling things!” Of course, these moments are brief and quickly followed by riotous laughter from the cynical me and the adolescent me saying, “You shouldn’t have gone there,” as the eyes of toddler me well up  and spill over into big ugly sobs of hurt and betrayal.

Just a quick little disclaimer: This post is going to deal with dissociation and will likely feel like a great deal of blame and self-pity. However, it really is more about naming and accepting things for what they are. I lived a life and things happened and I dealt with them in the ways I was able to and these coping mechanisms have affected my life in the ways that they have. This is my truth and I have to see it for what it is so that I can identify when I fall back into unhealthy coping mechanisms today. I mean no one any malice. I simply need to speak and be recognized where I stand.

Early Monday morning my grandpa died. I feel like God has been foreshadowing this event in my life for about a year now. At the same time, I have been opened up and exposed to feel the weight of not only this, but the passing of all my grandparents as he was the last.

I was born with five grandmas and one grandpa. My dad’s father died about a year and a half before I was born, but his mother lived until I was 18. I had a great-grandma on my dad’s side that I don’t remember because she died around when I was two. Both of my maternal great-grandmothers died when I was 16 or 17. I was off at school a few hours from home when the second of them left us. It was surreal. Heavy, but far away because rather than being around family I was dealing with it among a bunch of teenagers, none of whom had ever met my grandmothers.

My dad’s mom was an interesting character. I had good, but mostly odd memories of her. She was loving, but also stern, distant, and entirely unpredictable. She died around the time I went off to, and then almost immediately dropped out of college. This was a tumultuous time in my life. I had felt too much grief and pain over the previous year that I did whatever I could to numb and escape it. I am aware that my grandma came to live with my parents around this time and then there was some sort of falling out with my aunt (which has never been rectified), but I was completely disconnected from any of that, mainly because I wasn’t physically there, but also because I had largely checked out of life emotionally. Somewhere in all that, my grandma died, but I wasn’t there. I didn’t go to her funeral.

So, for the entirety of my adult life, I’ve only had two grandparents, and they were the ones that were always “Grandma and Grandpa.” Whenever I talk about my family, I am not talking about my parents and siblings but rather my mom’s parents and siblings and all my cousins. We were a very close extended family. I lived two doors down from my grandparents’ house and my closest cousins lived next door on the other side. When I was in grade school, I thought my aunt’s family was exceptionally removed from the bunch because she lived all the way over in the next town, 4 miles away. And then they moved up into the city, a whole 15 minutes away and I was like, “OMG, does she HATE us or what?!” Still today, aside from me and my siblings, even the grown cousins live within an hour or so from my grandparents’.

We were tight. When I was young, we all got together once a month for Sunday dinner at Grandma and Grandpa’s. I used to stop in to say hi whenever I was running around outside. I’d walk up the road just watch Fraggle Rock at their house because we didn’t have cable at home. I remember so well just being there with them. Grandpa would be watching one ball game while listening to another one on the radio and Grandma would be standing at the ironing board, singing along to country music or working on a jigsaw puzzle while watching soaps on the little TV right next to the big TV. There’s not a lot of my childhood I remember, but the good things mostly all happened at my grandparents’ house.

As I got older and more aware, my life at home became very stressful and dad-centric. I was much younger than I’d like to admit when absolutely everything in my life came with the thought, “How is Dad going to react to this?” I was a very sensitive and perceptive child, so I saw and felt all his anger, manipulation, and violence. We’d go through periods when he wasn’t physically violent (toward my mom when I was younger, but by the time I was in middle school he thought nothing of backhanding me across the face or lashing me all up my back with his belt whenever he felt like it), but he was always emotionally and spiritually abusive. He was exceptionally controlling and I often felt like I was his dysfunctional marionette. Anything good I did was either held up as his achievement because he had created me or criticized because it could’ve been better. And, oh my, anything bad I did – he told everybody! He told my family of all my sins. He told my friends completely inappropriate things like how my room was a mess or God knows what all. I learned to dissociate. I blocked life out.

I grew up in books. I had a novel with me everywhere I went. I didn’t trust being around people. I lived in a very small town where everybody knew everybody’s business. And growing up with a dad who tried to garner sympathy with people by telling them how awful his daughter was (I wasn’t.) meant that I quite often encountered people who teased me about something he had told them. [And this is something I catch myself doing with my kids sometimes, especially as they’re coming into adolescence and I am feeling increasingly inept at dealing with their emotions. I understand that this is a thing we do unconsciously from time to time. In me, as a child, coupled with everything else that was going on, it really affected me negatively.] I dissociated further, never telling anyone how I felt. I lived in a world of Stephen King books, movies and music, all becoming increasingly darker and darker as I grew. The only times I could let my feelings out were when I was alone. I would go down to the bridge and scream and cry at God. Today, that is still the most emotionally triggering, comforting, and melancholy place on earth. I isolated myself as best I could.

And in the midst of all this, surrounding my discomfiture, was this wonderful family. My grandma was like Jesus and Santa all rolled into one and my grandpa was stoic and wise and really kind of the embodiment of the Greatest Generation, plus he looked like Johnny Carson and laughed easily. And every month we’d get together with the whole family and eat and laugh, but my smile became more and more plastic as I grew. Yes, this was my family, but being with them felt more like a day at the zoo visiting a happy family exhibit behind glass than anything I could interact with or call my own. I desperately wanted to be a part of that world, but I had no idea how to break the glass that separated us.

Christmas Eve 1996 I was 18 years old. I had dropped out of college and had plans to leave my parents’ house. I hadn’t told my dad yet because I knew he would react badly (and yes, that night was the last time he laid hands on me, though he’s threatened it a number of times since). I wanted to leave earlier, but I had no idea when I’d get to see my family again and wanted just one last good memory with them. That year, Grandma had won at bingo so she shared her winnings with all of the grandkids. I ended up with $70 worth of ones and we joked about her wanting us to go to the strip club with all those ones. When we got back home and I grabbed my bags, things went south. My dad was hurt and surprised by my leaving and he said a lot of horrible things in his anger. One thing he said was he accused me of waiting until that night just so I could get my Christmas money before I left. And that lie broke the division I felt between me and my family wide open. I moved halfway across the country a month later and I’ve only been back there with my family a few times since.

My grandma died in 2007, about 4 months after my first husband and I split. I didn’t trust either of my parents at that time because my dad went straight left, demanding that we fix things (having absolutely no knowledge or care about what caused the split) and my mom lied to us, bringing my dad down to see us even after we specifically told them we did not want him there. I had recently started dating the guy who would become my second husband when I got the news about Grandma and it was all too much. I had so much guilt from missing out on ten years with her and the whole family, guilt about leaving my husband and kids, and all the childhood memories which had resurfaced and lead to me leaving. I couldn’t handle dealing with my dad lecturing me on how I needed to capitulate to the man who made it very clear that we needed to not be married anymore. I simply couldn’t. And so rather than go home for her funeral I smoked a lot of pot, drank a lot of booze, drove to New Orleans with the dude and did some quite possibly regrettable things. Two years later I wrote a letter of amends to my Grandpa & the rest of the family for not being there. I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life, but this is one that I’m probably always going to feel bad for.

July 2014, Garland died a few days after he got 40 years sober. I’d known him since I first came into recovery and he was like a grandfather to me and most all the sober people my age in San Antonio. And that kicked off a whole string of deaths that lasted a year. We lost Jimmy soon after, and he always reminded me of my grandpa with his easy smile, quick wit, and stoic wisdom. He had been a navy man like Grandpa, too. The deaths piled up throughout the spring of 2015 when, at one point, we lost 6 people in as many weeks. My husband’s grandma passed away right before the end of the school year, so as soon as school got out, we packed up the kids and drove out to Arizona to settle her affairs. On the way out there, my mom called to let me know that Grandpa wasn’t doing well. That’s about when I broke. I had a little conversation with God in which I used a few four letter words to describe what I thought about His little plan of late. Grandpa got better a lot quicker than I did. I spent the rest of the summer and most of the rest of the year dissociated, pretending like I was completely unaffected by anything in life.

This sounds much worse than it actually is. Well, okay, so it’s really not good at all, but it led to something good. Eventually I became overwhelmed with life and hit an emotional bottom. I dedicated myself to work in Adult Children of Alcoholics and I have quickly become aware of a lot of behavior patterns that I want to work on getting rid of. As emotionally cut off as I became over 2015, I have now become emotionally aware. I became a bundle of raw nerve endings as I explored who I had created myself to be. So far, 34 days into 2016, I have cried at least twice as many days as not – not in a bad way, but in a way that lets me know I am feeling and I am taking care of myself. So, it is in this emotionally vulnerable place that I woke up Monday morning to a text from my dad (because of course it would have to come from my dad) saying that my grandpa was gone.

Since then, I have certainly had a few moments in the future, experiencing fear about what sort of crap my dad is going to try to pull. How is he going to try to make this all about him? How is he going to try to separate me from the rest of the family? Too, I’ve experienced my moments in the past, regretting time spent apart from the family, time missed with both of my grandparents, feeling jealous of the closeness the rest of my cousins feel with Grandpa and with everyone else. But mainly I’m here in the hurt of it. And maybe it hurts worse than it would have if I wasn’t also experiencing the pain I ignored with the passing of my grandmothers. Or maybe it hurts in a very appropriate way, just that this is the first time I’m actually feeling it.

It has been neat to be consciously aware of ACA/ACoA behaviors popping up and recognizing why they’re there and what they’re trying to protect me from. No matter the amount of denial or procrastination or dissociation, though, it isn’t going to change the hurt I feel – hurt I need to feel. So I am gentle with myself, allowing the tears to come, letting the little girl inside throw her tantrums, but also allowing the coping mechanisms to protect me during times that I feel overwhelmed or need to get things accomplished.

And I feel, finally, at least moreso than I have for a long time, like I am a part of the family. One of the things that always bothered me was that I was the only one who called him Grandpa and I didn’t understand why for the longest time. To everyone else he was Granddad and I always wondered how I missed the memo. But I understand today. And even though we never ever talked about it, I think he came to understand, too. This one seemingly minor, but glaring difference which made me feel so separate ultimately became validation and acceptance with every card signed, “Grandpa.” I wish I could’ve been there to go through all those old pictures with family, but I will be there tomorrow and I am not afraid of what anyone might say. He was my grandpa and no one can take him away from me.

Tika Tonu

IMG_20160122_111119070 (2)I don’t like the term “Inner Child.” To me, it conjures images of Wall Street executives ripping off their ties to go snowboarding or jumping through mud puddles. The concept of the “True Self,” though? That’s something I can really get behind. Somewhere under all these onion layers is that kernel of Truth which is the Real Me. From what I’ve read in Adult Children literature so far, the terms seem to be used interchangeably. It feels uncomfortable to me, but I think that is because I recognize my adult child and she is pretty much everything I hate about myself. I’ve spent my whole life trying to make everyone treat me like an adult, but I have absolutely no idea how to actually BE an adult because I keep reacting to life like I did as a child. I am stubborn and petulant and obnoxious and needy because I am ridiculously riddled with fear and self-loathing and I do NOT want you to see that part of me.

So, yesterday was a great day. I had lunch with a woman who I just adore, but hadn’t seen since before Christmas. She is like all the good and all the damaged parts of me lived unapologetically. I feel completely comfortable sitting naked with all my hurt and shame and idiocy on display in her presence. I have never been this at ease with any female ever in my life. I just want to put her in my pocket and carry her with me everywhere so that I can be naked and unapologetic all the time.

THEN, last night, another friend and I drove up to Austin to hear Glennon from Momastery speak. We got there all late so we missed a bit and had to sit near the rafters, but I think that’s how it was supposed to be. I got a lot more enjoyment out of getting to know my friend better over the course of a 3 hour car ride than I did in fangirling over a blogger. (And I so did. You know I walked up to meet her being all, “Be cool, Laurie. She’s just a person just like everyone else,” but I left that place thinking, “Why did I have to be like that? Now she thinks I’m such an idiot.”)

But that’s not the point. I ended up having the same awkward experience with both of these women in the same day. We were standing in a relatively long line, so we had a fun conversation while we waited. About halfway through each conversation, my friend turned to the person behind us who was obviously there alone and drew them into our conversation. Both times I think, “Dammit, you’re my friend, you’re here with me, you’re going to talk to me!” And both times I realize with this thought that I am an inconsiderate, insecure asshole, trying to collect friends like charms on a charm bracelet rather than to actually be a friend to someone.

But THAT isn’t even the point! The point is that I recognized this, made a mental note, and then set it aside so that I could enjoy my time with my friend instead of sitting there, beating myself up about “why can’t I be nice like her?” And bonus, I actually got to be kind to two strangers. Even though I didn’t initiate the kindness, I allowed myself to follow my friends’ lead. Both times, three people walked away smiling instead of me being pissy and introverted or the stranger getting annoyed with being stuck behind these two girls who were talking and laughing all loud in line. Yes, I still have a long way to go, but this is major progress for me.

So what does all that have to do with Tika Tonu and all the various things I have swimming around in my head right now? I don’t know. This post went in a very different direction than I was heading when I sat down. Maybe I just felt I needed to distract you with something that resembles truth before I revealed what was really bugging me. Maybe by this time you will have all gone away bored so you won’t get to the parts that are actually hard for me to say.

Last year sucked for me. It was a time of introversion and feeling overly exposed. I am not a shy person and I have never had a problem sharing my thoughts and opinions with people, but something happened that freaked me out and I went quiet. I felt horribly over-exposed. Even though I had done nothing wrong, bad things were happening in my life. I felt like all eyes were on me, judging me. I began doubting myself – even in regards to things I had been so sure about for so long. I felt like an empty shell, like the Operative at the end of Serenity: “There is nothing left to see.” And just like the Operative, I was ashamed because I had backed the wrong horse. Everything I knew was a lie and I had spouted that bullshit everywhere. I had made it my life’s work.

where-the-magic-happensBut that was not from God. And that was not True Self speaking. I had ventured outside my little comfort zone and I got burned. Things did not turn out like I had envisioned; that does not mean that I was wrong to step outside my comfort zone. Nor does it mean that I have to immortalize myself in things I’ve said. I have to speak the Truth where I stand. Tomorrow, I may stand somewhere else and that is okay. That doesn’t make today’s truth any less valid for me today. I have lived a lot of lies because it was the only way I knew how to survive. It has only been in retrospect that I have been able to identify the lie in the truth.

Just as life seemed to be conspiring to destroy me last year, it seems that life is conspiring to give me courage this year. My seemingly empty shell was rather a cocoon and I am slowly emerging – transformed, but as yet unable to fly. I feel like my Inner Child somehow woke up and has found herself disgusted by all these onion layers I’ve used to “protect” her with. I’m saying things again. I am writing and reading and thinking again. I am poking around in my psyche again. I am actually seeing my bullshit and refusing to accept it. I don’t see everything, of course, but I feel like I’m hacking away at a huge chunk of the crap that I’ve built up on myself.

And I don’t know where this is coming from. Obviously, it is somehow from God because what I am doing takes a tremendous amount of faith, but it doesn’t feel like any God I’ve ever known before. Maybe it’s just the end of my rope. Maybe I just finally saw that absolutely nothing can protect me from the hurts that life inflicts so I might as well just LIVE. Maybe I remembered walking down the street with a Reluctant Messiah and discussing the Parabola, that I chose this life specifically, with all its hills and valleys. Maybe it was Tika Tonu. Maybe I just realized that in four years it will be four years later, my kids will be four years older and I will be either in the same damned place for four years or I could be in an entirely different place altogether. Or most likely it was all of that together with God and the universe conspiring in my favor.

Whatever it was, I definitely needed last year’s mud so that I could grow lotuses this year. What that’s going to look like I have no idea, and honestly I really don’t want to know right now. I’m just going to step out naked, putting one foot in front of the other, letting the onion layers fall away and ultimately testing my wings.

And I am going to push “publish,” walk away and let this truth stand as it is in this moment in time.

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