The Worst Four-Letter “Word”

Ahhh, the great paradoxes in life. Smart women meet Sexism, Smart Black Men and Women meet Racism, Everyone on the Planet meets Trumpism. All the various permutations of the “isms” creep up in everyone’s life, much to our dismay. It seems like any word ending in ism almost always has a negative connotation. And for the past two years, I’ve heard people cite their own alcoholic brand of isms hundreds of thousands of times. I hear well-meaning AAers discuss isms in their thinking as though emotions and thoughts and fears are all independent diagnoses. My internal dry-heave mechanism activates itself every time I hear that shitty, four-letter combination. “I took away the drink, I’m still an alcoholic. Because MAN those isms.”


I don’t like cliches. This is not to say I’m innocent of using them, I just think it’s a poor-man’s conversational trap door. “I have nothing original to say, so I’ll take a normal, human neurosis and slap ‘ism’ on the end of it.” All disgust aside, I think I understand the sentiment. As is our way, alcoholics tend to be self-absorbed. Our fear of say, public speaking, amounts to an enormous flurry of speculation about what others think of us.We might as well be leading a press conference at the Rose Garden. Forget about the thing we actually need to speak about; the immediate need is to analyze how and why the audience thinks we are blubbering, bullshitting fools. Like right now.

I don’t believe alcoholics are special people. I know special people who happen to be alcoholics. I think we are humans with a magnificent affinity for overwrought thinking…and alcohol. I agree that a program for continuous sobriety–any program that works–is necessary. But I don’t agree that we are superhuman or subhuman. We just need to be reminded that “the wolf is always at the door,” so to speak. I hate to feel apart from humankind, just like anyone else would. There is nothing special–or more accurately, unique–about that fear.

Because I want. To fit. In.

-Patrick Bateman, American Psycho

I guess what I’m alleging here is that addicts and alcoholics are way more normal than we think. There are times when I feel like such a weirdo for having the thoughts that I do. But I’ve noticed that the longer I am sober, the more willing I become to share those outlandish thoughts with my non-alcoholic friends. On any given day, one of my closest “normie” friends texts me comments about her bowel movements. I mean, this is the nature of of friendship, true. But it also shows me that my thinking isn’t so crazy, especially when we talk about serious things. She has insecurities and irrational resentments, just like I do. The only difference is, if I don’t work through the hidden complexities, I am wired to take it out on a drink. And there will most certainly be consequences if I do. Dire ones.

I’ve learned to block the isms. Audibly, mentally, figuratively. I keep in mind what I taught my kids to do. When they get rowdy, I tell them to “take a chill pill” (not to be confused with Xanax). Silently, they put out one hand, grab an invisible glass of water and slosh down their invisible chill pill. Miming this never fails to amuse them (or me). They can’t very well walk around thinking their problems are The Most Important Problems of Ever.

Leave that to the alcoholics.





Snowlidary Confinement

Day six of snowed-in-ness and the plows JUST arrived. Side streets all over Petersburg¬†were¬†caked with snow and ice, long after the storm had passed. Snowzilla–or Storm Jonus–swept¬†Virginia¬†last Thursday night, right on the heels of news that I’d be my school’s new¬†permanent science class substitute.

I haven’t been to school yet.

But I now know a hell of a lot more about plate tectonic shifts, velocity, photosynthesis and convection. I saved about 100 articles on Facebook from I Fucking Love Science, too. I’ll¬†do myself the favor now and¬†tweak that URL for the kids, out of common decency.

Kids love snow days. I have never much cared for them; I don’t do cold weather, nor do I revel in snow play. I’m sure that¬†teachers appreciate them a whole lot, though. These snow days were different for me, however, because they were my first ones spent sober. I was grateful for them, but¬†with a caveat: I fear¬†loneliness. And, irony/pun intended,¬†I am not alone.¬†Isolation of any kind¬†is a big cause for concern in the recovery community. The same can be argued for those experiencing depression. Often, individuals dealing with addiction qualify as¬†dual-diagnosis¬†cases (myself included)¬†facing the double-whammy¬†that is¬†mental health issues AND addiction. Generally speaking, isolation makes me feel kinda bleh. This means that I have to get out to meetings where other humans are; coffee, dinner and movie AA dates are nearly non-negotiable (trust me, I’ve tried). I’m not a fan of contrived socializing, any more than I am a proponent of Netflix for a week straight with no outside interaction.

But now that I love being in my own company, otherwise-isolating snow days¬†are a blast. I did online AA meetings, I spoke on the phone to my recovery and non-recovery friends and I blossomed within my at-home¬†30-day yoga practice. Thanks to a few¬†hours of intense yoga sessions–with candles burning as I wore my skivvies–I can now do headstands. I have been practicing yoga for NINE years without ever achieving such a thing. The best part of all of this is what I discovered: isolation is not the same as spending time alone. Being snowed in was not my choice, but spending quality time with myself very much was.

Not every¬†person in my very (very) small circle of AA friends out here agrees with my opinions on alone time. I don’t blame them; alcoholics in a snow storm is like a set-up for a bad punchline. Setting aside the pleasant shock of seeing snow for the first time since 2008, I had a few reservations myself. At the slightest glimpse of a storm, I would be the first one in the liquor store line to stock my shelves with “provisions.” But the closest I came to that kind of self-sabotage were the relapse nightmares I had for the past two nights.¬†As scary as it is to imagine a life back in active addiction, a dream is just a dream. (I had one exception: I dreamt three nights ago I went to space with Rob Lowe.)¬†My reality is much sweeter, albeit quite cold. Altogether, free of any Rob Lowe not on a screen.

I’m not saying it’s good to hole up inside your home and tell the world to go fuck itself. I’m merely pointing out that it can be nice to take a break from constant socializing. I think we could use a little more of that.¬†What is most¬†important for me to remember is to jump back into face-to-face interactions as soon as possible. I’ll do so, with snow boots on. Maybe some flannel.

Enjoy the sun, Cali.

Photo courtesy of ToppixGallery




What to Expect When You’re Expecting Too Much

I chaired my first meeting in Richmond tonight. My heart was pounding so hard that I was sure it made the top of my red sundress move involuntarily. I scrambled to find the right words. Then I remembered there is no such thing. I turned my recovery inside out for a group of randoms whom I loved before I met. I cursed, I apologized for cursing, then I dropped a few more fuck bombs for continuity. I made my point, is the point.

I scoured my brain to find a topic which fell out of my mouth before I could approve: expectations. I accidentally chose this topic because I’ve had it up to –>here with my own set of them. I felt a heat wave of irrational anger just minutes before the meeting started because I hate when I don’t understand my own heart. I cried to my mother in the car on the drive to Richmond about all the ways I couldn’t make sense of the arc of my life. Why have I not had a long-term relationship? Why don’t I own a home? When will I ever afford a car again? FEELINGS.

I played verbal hopscotch all over that group of unsuspecting AAers. And out of the blue I referenced a page number from the literature like the fucking Rain Man. I don’t really remember what I said, but I know that I shared the page number accurately because I double-checked when I got home. I felt a bit better after the meeting, but the miasma of my thoughts lingered. (Note: I have now Rain Manned twice–I read the word “miasma” in a book like two months ago and it stuck. For fuck’s sake.)

It feels like [all of the feelings of ever] to go through life sober. I told my sponsor tonight that I feel like Katherine Heigel in Knocked Up when her blowhard of a doctor won’t give her anesthesia before she gives birth. She Satan-screams “I FEEL EVERYTHING!” and I’m all, “I FEEL YOU GIRL, ME TOO.” Except she fake-births a child and I real-birthed a new life. I don’t know what I expected would happen. One removes the numbing agent, one feels all of the things. If, then. Cause, effect. Me plus you equals us. Math. And, oh, physics.

My sponsor walked me through step work a few nights ago, pointing to a page out of the book on FaceTime. She says, “You are here.” What a profound bird, she is. I am a speck in the Milky Way, even when it feels like milk was a bad choice. The significance of my ego’s insignificance shocks and awes me to no end. Who am I to say that I should have things or that anything could be different? Here, now, present.

I expect joy. I know that I won’t have PTSD brain forever. I feel like I got a do-over in life. I witnessed in myself a profound sense of gratitude tonight. There was this endearing moment when I looked down during another person’s share to see that a row of men were all wearing top-siders or some alternative form of boat shoe. What an adorable local quirk. And oh! A friend from my Hopewell group traveled to come support me while I led. This guy is an amazing preacher-man who says shit that hits me like an A-bomb all the time. Then he laughs at my stunned face. What’s more, I might have said something remotely compelling to make someone feel less like drinking tonight. Or more like laughing.

Expectations, they say, are future resentments. The future doesn’t exist, though. Ipso facto, neither do my resentments. It’s a choice. Our human minds construct time and ideas to make sense of the present in all of its forms. Human alcoholic minds fixate on resentments to make us drink over the past and/or the future. At present, I don’t have to drink tonight. Neither do those preppy dudes at the meeting. I can’t filter the present through the past or the future when I am here. Sober.

R.I.P. Expectations. You did me dirty, you tetchy bastards. But tonight I say, au revoir.


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July Five, Look Alive

I placed and/or received phone calls from 15 different people yesterday. I did the uncool thing of not going to a meeting on the 4th of July. Instead, I glued my phone to my right ear and talked for a total of 4.5 hours. One of my friends had a birthday yesterday; two of my friends had anxiety; a few of my friends just went through the motions of another 24-hour period of sobriety. I woke up feeling like a million bucks on the 4th. Not a care in the world, even with massive clouds in the sky.

The electricity in the air yesterday most definitely could be attributed to the storm that loomed, threatening to shit all over the annual fireworks show in Colonial Heights. Alas, the storm came and went, just like the fireworks did. I felt an electrical current in the air as early as July 3rd, the day I actually did go to a meeting. July 3rd was the day that set off sparklers in me, not the 4th.

My most dear friend, whom I met at college, saw my last blog post and took that as a sign to come visit me all the way from DC. She high-tailed it in her ’92 Dodge after three plus hours of traffic and didn’t even wait to shut the door of her car before she ran up my front lawn to give me a barrel of a hug. It felt so good to see her, I could have cried. But I’m not really a cryer. That, my friends, will never change. Unless I win the lottery. Or I’m PMSing.

She is one of the most extraordinary humans I have ever met. She is a transgender female. I am pretty sure she is prettier than me. This was my first time seeing my incredible friend after she started transitioning. She and I have talked for hours about how our changes in life are so similar in that we have to constantly discard our fears. She makes me feel brave and beautiful. She is both of those things, and then some. We discovered over dinner at a Mexican restaurant that she is chemically more female than I am. She also flashed me her newish boobs and it was awesome. How did I get so lucky to have such an amazing person in my life? She is gorgeous. I want to be like her when (and if) I grow up.

I thought the coolest thing about her being here would be her being here. I was wrong. She asked if she could join me at an open AA meeting. I was thrilled because I often feel alone out here at meetings. What a gift to go with one of my best friends–a stunning transgender woman next to me, a tattooed Los Angeles beotch–to an AA meeting together. She came with me to Colonial Whites, an affectionate term for a city that doesn’t care too much for black people or for justice. Here I thought that people might somehow judge her and me. I was wrong. To make a long story short, I acted as a lightning rod for controversy, not her. No one misgendered her; she was only met with kindness and respect. Good on ya, Colonial Whites — I did not see that one coming. I also didn’t expect that the dude sitting directly across from me who refused to identify with his first name would have such racist things to say with black people SITTING IN THE ROOM. I thought AA was supposed to be above all of that. He launched into a boring monologue about the racial tension and what a victim he was for being subjected to all of this. He lamented having to take down his Confederate flag. He described the WHITE flag being the only thing he wanted to see. White, for surrender. What a prick.

I know I shouldn’t have, but I jumped in to share directly after him. I thanked my Higher Power out loud for the tradition of Principles Before Personalities. I described my gratitude for being a liberal in the South these days. I also mentioned that I am sober and I have the ovaries to be myself now. It just didn’t feel right to sit idly by while someone spewed racist shit. I’ve bitten my tongue my whole life living out here and that just doesn’t work for me anymore. “Nobody” got up and left during my share. Byyyyyyyyyye.

I know my ego played a role. I know we are there at those meetings to get better. I prayed for that man last night and this morning. I thanked my Higher Power during the fireworks show for such simple beauty. My takeaway from this weekend was that my friend came to me when I needed her. I am fortunate to be so close to a person I love so much. She did not bat an eyelash the entire time she was with me, even as I became more and more agitated. She has learned to let go of the shit that doesn’t serve her. I am just now learning to do that.

I have taken today to reflect on another holiday spent sober. I feel for the people in the July 3rd meeting because we were all on edge right before the holiday. It isn’t easy to sit around a barbeque while people drink their 40 ounces to freedom. It is much easier to say “fuck it” and down a beer you don’t even like, much less a glass (or 10) of Chardonnay. I have compassion for myself and for others who still feel a pull toward alcohol, even when the obsession has been removed. That is why we have a program. That is why there are other people in our lives to help us see clearly when we cannot see for ourselves. I woke up this morning without a hangover or the sting of regret. I know I am not alone in that.

Happy July Five.


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