Clean and Sober

I’m an alcoholic in recovery.  I drank excessively because of the effect alcohol had on my mind and on my mood.  I do not take mind- or mood-changing drugs unless I need them.  I take anesthesia during surgery.  I take pain killers after surgery.  I do not have depression, bi-polar disorder, an anxiety disorder, or any other reason to take mind or mood altering drugs.

I have a fear of flying and I’ve had it for around 25 years.  During that time I’ve flown lots, but not much lately.  Over the last 16 years I flew in 1994, 2002, and yesterday.

I believe, for myself, that taking a drug to face my fear would put me in danger.  Before I got sober, I relapsed chronically, meaning that after making a decision to give up alcohol, I drank.  I love the feeling drugs and alcohol give me.  I chased that feeling closer and closer to absolute ruin and death.  I experimented with drinking just a little, drinking just a while, drinking not at all.  I am not able to manage my drinking.

Once, in the past, I bought a book about phobias and worked on my fear with some success.  Then I moved, and basically lost my reason to fly frequently.

A few months ago, I agreed to fly to Hawaii, a distance of about 5000 miles.  I began to work on my fear of flying again, but I also made a conscious effort to talk to lots of people about it, and to consider drugs.

If I took a drug in this situation, I would not consider it a ‘slip’ and I would not say that I had given up my sobriety.  I have to say that most of the people I talked to, in and out of AA, some who knew about my alcoholism and some who didn’t know – most people suggested drugs, or at least said that in my situation, they would take drugs.

I gave birth to two children, one using (or failing to use) the Lamaze method of child birth and one using Bradley.  The Bradley method was much better for me, and I used my interpretation of that philosophy to work on lessening my fear.

I took time just about every day to watch videos that had been taken from planes to get used to the sights and the sounds.  I collected meditations about and prayers and quotes about fear and studied them and meditated on them.  I spent time consciously relaxing my body as a response to mental stress and anxiety.  Up until about a month ago, I considered the pros and cons of taking a drug.

I was surprised by how many people in the program thought a drug was a good idea.  I thought that maybe my anti-drug stance had to do with the time and place I got sober.  But I even talked to people who had gotten sober in my time and in my place, and they didn’t have the same attitude that I do.

Two things helped me turn the corner and decide.  One, someone suggested to me that I give myself a deadline to decide, so that each day before it and each day after it I didn’t have to wrestle with the decision.  Finally, someone let me pretty much talk about it almost exclusively, asking good questions but not changing the subject or shutting me down, for somewhere over an hour.  During that conversation, when I articulated pretty much all my thoughts about the matter, and it became obvious to me that I should not take a drug for this flight.  I decided then (though it wasn’t actually decision day) that I would do without this time, and if it was a disaster, I would reconsider for next time.

It occurred to me during this process that times have changed.  When I was an adolescent, and when I went crazy with drinking and lying and cutting myself among other things, the school and my mother tried to get me to cooperate with therapy, but no one suggested drugging me.  I’ve since known other adolescents who have acted out the same ways I did, and they often had three classes of heavy drugs thrown at them to see what would stick.  I’ve known teenagers who have harmed themselves and they have been hospitalized and given an anti-seizure mood-stabilizing drug, an anti-depressant, and an anti-psychotic.  Then, if they cooperated with treatment, these drugs would be changed and lowered over time to see what was really doing what.

I’m not saying that is the wrong approach, and I have no doubt that it has saved the lives of kids who would otherwise have suffered further and engaged in more dangerous behavior.  In my case, before the drug-em days, I found alcohol and then along with that a program of recovery that worked for me and that didn’t include drugs.  I understand that many people my age were not as fortunate as I was, and that their outcomes weren’t as good as mine, and that drugs that are now available and more often given could have saved them.

That’s not my story, though.  For now I’m sticking to my understanding of myself that drugs endanger me, no matter how necessary they are.  I believe for myself that I have to be very vigilant, only take what is vitally necessary, and get off of them as soon as it’s safely possible.

Honestly, flying to Hawaii and back was very difficult for me.  My doing it represents many hours spent in unpleasant preparation.  There were times during the flights that I felt I couldn’t take the fear or the reality.  It was not comfortable or pleasant and if they ever invent a way that I could just not experience it, and still get where I want to go, I’ll be right there – unconscious flying and safe cigarettes would be two wishes the genie could grant me.

Also honestly, it breaks my heart a little that I bypassed the chance for a legal high.

Now if I had taken a drug, and not endangered my sobriety (NO guarantees there), I would not have grown in my ability to tolerate and overcome things.  That is one of the seminal (influencing the development of future events: a seminal artist; seminal ideas) ideas of my sobriety – that by the fact of being sober, over time, I come to do life better and better.  Although I don’t know what will happen if I’m fortunate enough to experience a next time, I know that I’m stronger and even more likely to succeed than this time.

Sobriety (for me) brings all reasonable things into the realm of possibility.


I took this picture yesterday at my son’s college graduation.  Beautiful day, wonderful school, abundant abundant blessings.

I leave Thursday for Hawaii and I’m swearing off the internet for the duration, which will last until May 30.  I’m sure I’ll regret that many times over the trip but it will be good for me.

I’m going drug free, and I’m very optimistic about my chances of not having a complete and total breakdown due to my fear of flying.  If the flying is awful, I’ll consider doing something different next time, but I think I will make it.  I need to write about my process and my thoughts about how “we” seem to drug every uncomfortable thought and feeling.

Ah well, another time.  For now I have happiness my kids are doing well, and sadness that my smudged cat did not make it.  I have a little guilt about the resources I’m about to spend on my pleasure, and lots of happiness and excitement about traveling so very far away.

See you on the ground . . .

Self Seeking

So it is actually a promise of the program that “self seeking will slip away.”  Because self seeking is something we do not want to stay.

Seeking, looking for, looking for myself.  Who am I?  What do I want?  What do I like?  How would you describe me?

I will say that I have never liked thinking about myself, talking about myself, having your attention on me.  But now I wonder how much of this is because of AA, and how much was there before.  Although, even in this wondering, aren’t I seeking myself?

I guess my own time spent thinking about myself is seldom spent in happiness.  Often, often, if I’m thinking about myself, I’m being critical.  This adds nothing to the universe.  AA has given a framework to think about myself constructively, and I should use it more often.

I’m about to see the results of all the time I’ve spent trying to get over my fear of flying.  Even as I engage in this quest, I feel it is kind of a selfish waste of time.  I don’t know what I’d personally be doing with this time instead.

As I sit writing this, I hear my mother and Carole talking about vacations and travel.  My mother is relating some of her experiences, along with the experiences of my grandparents, her parents.  It all feels self-seeking from here.  From here, on the ground.

I’m thinking I’ll learn something about myself from this.  I hope I learn that I can.  I may learn that I can’t.  Or maybe I’ll end up just as mystified.

May 11, 2010 (this day)

Today I walked the dog before work, worked, and came home.  It was all nicely standard, except for the weather, which is freezing.  I expect to see snow any minute now.  Thursday is the day we originally planned to go to Hawaii, but we had to change that plan because our son is graduating on Sunday, so we’ll go a week from Thursday.

Tomorrow I’ll go to Carole’s therapist to talk about my fear of flying, and all I’ve done, and all I will do.  I have decided that I won’t seek a drug to take to face the flights.  In all my years of flying, drugs have not been an option up until now, because I’ve always had babies and children to tend to on the planes.  Since that isn’t a problem now, I’ve struggled with the decision to try a drug or not.  In my life, I have never had a tranquilizer or a benzodiazepine.

I don’t know if it’s because of the time or place where I got sober, but it’s also come to my attention that I feel that to take someone else’s drugs would be wrong, would be a “slip,” actually.  To me it’s dicey enough to go get a doctor to prescribe something.  Just because I know I could get a doctor to do it, to skip that part of the process and just take something . . .

I haven’t gotten much support for my drug-free ideas inside the program or out.  I want to fly for the rest of my life, happily, not drugged.  I really think that taking a drug to change my mind or my mood is a risky, risky thing.  I really hope I can pull this off.

We Discover That We Do Receive Guidance (Step Eleven continued)

We discover that we do receive guidance for our lives to just about the extent that we stop making demands upon God to give it to us on order and on our terms.  Almost any experienced A.A. will tell how his affairs have taken remarkable and unexpected turns for the better as he tried to improve his conscious contact with God.  He will also report that out of every season of grief or suffering, when the hand of God seemed heavy or even unjust, new lessons for living were learned, new resources of courage were uncovered, and that finally, inescapably, the conviction came that God does “move in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.”

The hand of God does seems unjust right around now, and I have a daily reminder each time I come into my room to see this kitty cat and his tumor.

And even so I realize that the hand of God is unjust in my favor, and in favor of my cat, who has lead a good life and in his illness has what money can buy him.  The wonders of God include birth, and death.

Today is Mother’s Day and I was blessed with the physical presence of my children one more time.  Their very being is maybe the biggest blessing of my life.  I visited Christy in the hospital and her mother is an inspiration to me.  She has stayed by Christy’s side for 43 days now, literally, and for around 40 years total with no end in sight for her.  The parents of my clients are such powers of example to me.

It is eleven days until my vacation and mother nature has called and I’ve never been so happy to receive her.  I’d just as soon not take her on my cruise.

May 6, 2010 (this day)

This is the place where it happens!  And this is a link to an earlier post showing the personality of the cat.  He has always been so mischievous, curious, smart and fun.  He figured out that by  reaching down into the empty dog food can, he can scrape up another morsel.  Another one of my cats, even more driven to eat than this one, hasn’t caught on to the trick, even after years of watching it happen.  This cat is the one who made it out the window, onto the roof, on to an adjoining roof, and who had to be tricked inside with tuna and cat nip.  This is the cat who would sense the attic door being opened, and who would sneak in there somehow, despite our best efforts to prevent that.  This one investigated the inner working of the drop ceiling when we first moved in.  Twice.  This one slept with the kids and played with the dog and has made it impossible for us to have a Christmas tree for the past ten years.  This one leapt from the back of a chair  to snatch a roll my from hand in midair.  He snatched a pork chop and a steak off of a plate on different occasions.  He, thwarted by a rubber band around the handles of the cabinet that holds the garbage, used a towel to open the adjoining cabinet and climbed over the partition in between.  He, weighing six or seven pounds, boxed the ears of first the 10 pound pug and then the 60 pound lab mix mutt.  He is the only one of my cats who is brave enough to use the top entry litter box.  I chose him on Mother’s Day, ten years ago, one week after my very first cat had left the realm at 19 years old.

He has cancer, and not much longer to live.  He’s pretty much living in the room pictured, my room, for some reason.  I don’t know why, he didn’t use to spend much time here.  But his red blood cell counts continue to go down and his tumor continues to swell.  He’s eating and purring and so, we think, having an OK time of it so far.  But he is no longer doing any of the things listed and I guess he won’t ever do them again.


Self-Pity:  –noun – pity for oneself, esp. a self-indulgent attitude concerning one’s own difficulties, hardships, etc.: We must resist yielding to self-pity and carry on as best we can.

Interesting that the example sentence implies that by yielding to self-pity, we will be hindered and handicapped in our ability to carry on.

Again, the books and the examples of the program are extreme.  Having a child killed in a war has to be one of the worst things human experience.  The literature, to my reading, doesn’t leave room for exceptions.  Self-pity is a character defect, and I am to try to eliminate it.  I’ve been trained to understand that most things involving self are dangerous, twisted and wrong.  We must resist yielding.

This little guy is going to the vet tomorrow.  He’s sick, and we’re not sure how sick, but possibly very sick.  He’s ten years old, which in the lives of my pets is young.  He’s a character and a half.  He’s named for an important figure in AA history.  He’s the first pet Carole and I obtained together as “ours,” as opposed to those we brought to the union.

In the corner of the picture, right by his paw, is a brush with teeth marks in it.  Those were made by the puppy I lost when she and I were attacked when we were walking, when she was just two.  I lost another cat to feline leukemia many years ago, and aside from those, I’ve lost only one other cat, my first, and she lived to be nearly 20.

Last night, I visited Christy in the hospital, and her outcome is uncertain.  The night before they had actually assembled her family to say goodbye and let her go, and she rallied, as she has before.

The thing about the cat and about Christy is, to my eye, they really don’t spend much time thinking about their state and worrying about their health and coveting the superior health of other beings.

It’s not self-pity I feel when I think of those I’ve lost and am losing, but I do feel a bit of a “why me?  why them?”  Maybe that is self-pity, I don’t know.  Maybe it’s also self-pity to think, when I receive Christy’s radiant smile or the cat’s quick purr, that I don’t deserve their approval, not at all.

April 28, 2010 (this day)

I’m coming up to a few very tense situations.  At work, it will be short-staffed for some time to come.  That’s the hardest thing for me there.  In addition to that at work, I’ll have a lot of actual work, plus I’ll have to spend more time helping out others who aren’t staffed.  I’m also going on maybe the longest vacation I’ve been on away from work, and I do have a hard time with time off.  We’ll also have to hire new people, and that process is stressful and time consuming.

At home I have the stress of Carole’s injury and all the things she needs help with or can’t do.  We also have a sick cat, and that’s expensive and frightening.   The cat is only ten years old, and he’ll probably have surgery next week, though it’s not clear what is actually wrong with him.  It could be bad though.  It’s hard to watch him be sick meanwhile.  Two of our other animals are just very old and slowly going down hill.  Old age is the best way for them to go, but again, it’s hard to watch.  Vacation, vacation, vacation exacerbates all this for me.  In the midst of it all I will leave them all.  Carole doesn’t want to know if one of them goes while we’re gone.  I do want to know.

My menopause continues unpredictably.  Now that I’m three weeks and one day from leaving, I’m getting symptoms that might or might not mean I have a period coming.  My periods last from one day to more than two weeks.  They vary from very light to massive hemorrhage.  Looking back over more than three years of records, there’s just no way to predict what will happen.
I’ve been working hard on my fear of flying, and I’ve decided not to take any kind of mood-changing drug to deal with it.  I told Carole that if it’s awful, I’ll think about a drug for next time.  She asked if it’s awful, if I would think about a drug for the way home!!  This deserves a whole post, though.  For now I’ll leave it at the fact that I have a long long flight ahead of me, clean and sober and scared half to death.

My mother will be staying with the animals and my mother’s eye sight is very very bad, and getting worse.  My son will hopefully stay with her.  He is graduating before we go, and not sure if he’s continuing on in school in the fall.  Stress.  My daughter is leaving her job and starting grad school in August, six hours away from me by car, the first time I will be without her living within an hour of me.  Stress.

And of course I need to lose lots of weight, yesterday.
I need to shake all these situations out into some kind of serenity.  I forget to mention of course two important dates that occur within these time frames.  Within this week, I expect to have 26 years of sobriety, and within the month and before I return from vacation, I expect to turn 48 years old.