23 October 2005

Susie & Justin 10/17/05

Susie & Justin 10/17/05
Originally uploaded by susiewrites.
Friday Night I decided to move my "home office" from a small room to a larger room. With two computers, a printer, about a thousand peripheral devices, cords that looked more like angel hair pasta than USB wires, two subwoofers and 8 speakers, two bulletin boards with twice the photos on them than they were ever meant to hold - highlights of my past ten years that just demanded to be captured - files, both virtual and hard copy, and books, books and, did I mention books? Well, this was no small undertaking. Not to mention it involved moving a Queen Size bed and a couple of bureaus and half of my daughter's wardrobe, to the smaller room, before moving "Command Central", to the larger room. I started at about 4:00 PM and called it a day at a little after 4:00 AM Saturday Morning.

All of the equipment, furniture (my desk comes in three pieces and literally looks like an Air Traffic Controller work station - and sometimes it feels like one), were moved and in place, but the floor was littered with things that hadn't quite found their home.

I cleared out my chair and surveyed the damage, and nursed what had to be my 10th cup of coffee. I should say SAVORED my tenth cup of coffee because this new office is impressively appointed with a Bunn Commercial coffeemaker with not one, not two, but THREE burners! Oh yeah baby, it's beyond cool, I mean, it's not the same as an "E Ticket" at Disney World, but it's not shabby either. With a coffeemaker of that magnitude, just add a couple of alcoholics and a resentment or two and we could have a kick-ass AA meeting in here!

Around 1:30 AM, I heard the familiar sound of the slamming of the side door and knew that either Katie or Justin had wandered home. It turns out it was my son.

I knew eventually he would find his way upstairs and it was worth staying up to see the look on his face when he went in the room formerly known as "the office" to surreptiously snag some online time. His eyes grew big as he walked into the room now known as "the office".

Rather than back away from the mess, my son pulled up a stool and we talked. I had found some old school photos of him and I was teasing him about his cute little self from years ago (he's still cute, but not nearly as innocent). We talked of the past, when he was small, places we had lived, visited, dreamed of and different adventures. He studied the photos and said how odd it was that he could remember exactly what he was thinking when a certain picture was snapped. I've never met a photo of my kids I could possibly throw away. These are the frames of our lives.

Justin told me what he had been up to and I loved listening to him - he could have been speaking Slavic, but I would have been as fascinated. He shocked me by telling me he had been to Barnes and Noble earlier in the day, and bought a copy of "Chaos - Making A New Science", by a guy named Gleick. My son was speaking to me of metaphysics! Come to think of it, Slavic may well have made more sense to me.

Obviously, he's searching. He's trying to figure out why we're all here, what our purpose is, how we came to be and possibly get a handle on where we may be going. It's exploration and I certainly realize you have to weed (sic) through a lot of stuff, read, touch, feel and you can do that for years - decades, and still come up confused, but you have to try. Justin is trying. I think I was more stunned to discover he was reading up on metaphysics than he was to find that my office had been relocated.

About 2:30 AM, we heard another slam of the side door and realized it had to be Katie. I told Justin to quickly go close the door to what was my old office and come back, shut the door and wait for her to be surprised.

We heard her trudge up the stairs and open the wrong door, realize her bed had been moved,and then she opened the door to where we were lying in wait to see her face. "What the @#$%?", she asked in wide-eyed wonderment.


She was for sure. Seeing that Justin had settled in, she dropped her things and joined us, plopping on the floor. We brought her up-to-speed on what we had been speaking of and she respected her brother's new topic of interest. She opined, as Katie always does, but patted him on the back for taking on such a complicated read.

After about ten minutes, Katie put her hands up in the universal sign of, "Shut up, I have something to say!", and observed, "Do you realize that this is the first time in months it has just been the three of us in the same room, chatting about nothing in particular, and no one is in trouble or the focus of a lecture?".

We took notice, and we laughed. I offered to become "The Mom", but they advised against it. We continued to talk, and laugh, and talk some more. Some of what was said felt like TMI (too much information), and I could have done without some of the details, but hey, I'll take what I can get when it comes to spending time with my almost all grown up kids, even if it's at 4:00 AM and we should all be in bed asleep. I was met with my own admonishment for getting in bed so late/early, but I'll take the static and snatch up the first chance I get to do it all again. Such moments are sweet and precious and I live for those rare opportunities. If they happen to come at 4:00 AM, what can I say other than my kids come by it genetically and inherited my screwed up bio-rhythms. Sleep wouldn't have been nearly as interesting and there's always time to grab some Z's, but there's not always the chance to see what's going on with Katie and Justin. We even shared a hug goodnight and I finally left Katie to check her online websites, and Justin headed downstairs to bed where he had only 3 hours to snooze because he was due to be at work by 8:00 AM.

Yesterday was spent putting things away and catching glimpses of the floor that was just beneath the rubble. Plants were placed under light-friendly windows, more old photos were perused and memories were tickled, and a lot of coffee was ingested. I'd woken up early Saturday Morning with a screech, so I was a little sleep-deprived myself, but even taking that into consideration, I still got a lot accomplished, though probably not as efficiently as I should have.

I'm back online, things are humming along, and it's been a beautiful day in the neighborhood, even if it is a late October afternoon in Autumn.

Mellow. The mood has been most decidedly mellow and understated. Understated can be a good thing. I don't mind a generous helping of understatement. I've spent most of my today putting more things up and discarding a few things I no longer need.

Today has afforded me the chance to linger over the tangible accroutrements that define and recall the personal spaces in my life, both literally and figuratively; The places I have lived, visited, items that serve to remind me that I've loved and enjoyed most all of this life of mine, chaos included. Even the stuff I could have done without taught me lessons I couldn't do without and maybe could have only learned by living and making the mistakes. As long as the lessons are learned, the mistakes become invaluable tools and suddenly sport a modicum of merit. There has been a lot of merit in my life, and I hope to merit lots more, and stay away from the recycle bin.

12 October 2005

Progress...Not Perfection. Not Even Close...

"...Many of us exclaimed, 'What an order! I can't go through with it.' Do not be discouraged. No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles. We are not saints. The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principles we have set down are guides to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection." Taken from page 60 of "The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous", Fourth Edition.

Thank you AA! Whew - as if I could possibly come remotely close to spiritual perfection. I fall so far from the mark many times. Some days I'm good and some days I am not so good.

In an earlier post, I wrote a few unnecessary remarks. It was one of those times I wasn't being so kind and I wasn't even tickling the "spiritual perfection" spectrum. I allowed the not so spiritual side of myself to take over the keyboard and have it's way.

This was brought to my attention by the person about whom my unkind remarks were directed and for that I must apologize. Regardless of what I may think, feel or believe in my heart to be true, being unnecessarily mean-spirited doesn't fall under the realm of "spirituality", even if it does share the root of the word.

After reading a recent E-mail, I realized that my words were hardly fashioned to serve anthing resembling a positive purpose and diminishing someone else certainly doesn't leave me shining any brighter. In fact, it's a tarnish that I don't need and, after a lot of thought, prayer and some soul-searching, I have gone back and deleted those unnecessary sentences - realizing, after giving things the proper forethought that I should have before ever writing them. While I can't pretend that I never wrote those words, I can certainly go back and use that invaluable key that is the equivalent of an electronic eraser. DELETE. And so I have.

It's a wonderful thing to simply go back and delete words and disarming a post of its venom. How easy it is to simply delete things in cyberspace. If only if we could so easily erase past actions and words spoken in haste that hang in the air and zap those around us with a painful sting. I've said and done many things in the past that I wish so much I could retract, but I can't. And just as The Big Book reminded me that none of us are perfect - even you non-alcoholics who might be reading this - The Big Book also provides me with encouragement - and as stated in "The Promises", it illustrates how even our misdeeds can be used for good - "We will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others."

I guess good ole Bill W. must have guessed we could get so mired down with the business of regretting that we could sink into a kind of ineffective state of torpor, if we spent a great deal of time regretting all of the things we may have done - and in a way, time spent in a state of regret is basically time that's as wasteful as actually doing "the next wrong thing". In the end, it doesn't help anyone at all.

So we are prodded to pull ourselves up, lean on the good stuff (and yes, there is some!), and see what we can do with the experiences that make us wince, and spin them into something useful by sharing what we have done and where we have been, with someone who may be feeling far more hopeless. It's a tool that comes in handy and I must say that there have been many times I have found myself feeling better about me, and life in general, after hearing someone share the stuff they aren't particularly proud of. OK, sometimes it's just a flat out - "Wow, s/he did THAT? I didn't even go THERE. Maybe I'm not a complete waste of space!" [Side note: When someone is sharing a particularly painful and embarrassing past experience, it's best not to reveal that you are enjoying a "You did what???" moment. Try and contain those and save them for when you are alone and out of sight of the person who just bared his/her soul to you in an attempt to make you feel significant...]

If you look at the negatives and are seriously determined to walk a better path, those past experiences evolve into a useful tool that can make someone else feel as if they have half a chance and, for many of us in AA, half a chance is just about all we have going for us when we crawl into the rooms.

Besides, a lot of regret can turn into an unattractive and pointless exercise in self-pity and more of that stale "it's all about me!" business that we really need to rid ourselves of. I am constantly amazed at how very forward thinking and exceptionally timeless this program is and I am thankful for it only on a daily basis.

To the person that I offended, I offer an amends and a generous dose of delete. While I most certainly don't and, let's face it, never will see eye-to-eye with you on everything, there was absolutely no need for me to turn a blog into an assault weapon. There are enough of those around and we've both lobbed a few of them across the lines and throughout the years. Here's hoping for more peace.

I'm so glad I met that Bill W. guy. :-)

02 October 2005

Alcoholics Anonymous - (AA) Walk In The Park...

During the course of my blog postings, there have been references to Alcoholics Anonymous. They started out a bit veiled and maybe a tiny bit ambiguous. Here and there would appear a quote from "As Bill Sees It', "Daily Reflections", "Twenty-four Hours A Day" or "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions".

And then, of course, there were the links. I flirted with self-revelation by listing any number of recovery links including, but not limited to, "AA-Grapevine", "e-AA Lite", "Eastern Area Conference of Young People in AA", and that dead giveaway, the site that only another alcoholic could appreciate, "The Sobriety Calculator".

It's the strangest thing, but I never really knew how to come right out of the closet that I profess to abhor. If I were diabetic, there might be all manner of links that would take you to insulin issues, exercise for diabetics, how to live your life without sugar...and I wouldn't wonder how you might feel about me when it dawned on you that I was a card-carrying, insulin-dependent diabetic. I wouldn't wonder if I now appeared "less than" in the eyes of those who read this and aren't yet aware. And what would a diabetic or even cancer confession say about me personally - as a human being, a daughter, a wife and especially a mother? No, those kinds of questions probably wouldn't cross my mind or yours, if you were to read that I was insulin dependent or currently undergoing chemotherapy.

What is it about alcoholism that makes most of us whisper in low tones, should we be bold enough to even broach the topic in the first place? We're told it's a disease just as sure as those others, but for some reason, I think it wears a layer of character tarnish and outside of AA circles, you rarely hear it discussed, unless it's a joke about a bumbling drunk similar to the character of "Otis" on The Andy Griffith Show. It's almost as if society has decided the collective lot of us can control whether we become alcoholic or not. I think that's probably what gives alcoholism a bad rap - the underlying assumption that we somehow have a choice and how ridiculous is that? Who would ever choose to become a slave to something that, left unchecked, can completely and utterly destroy every good thing in one's life? Maybe a lot of us don't truly buy into that whole "disease" notion after all?

So what if I were to make a formal announcement that I am an alcoholic? And if I did, why would I have to worry about what you might think of me as a person, a daughter, a wife and especially a mother? Why would my character be drawn into question and would you secretly wonder why I would allow such a thing to happen?

Remember back in elementary school when kids were invited to stand before the class and announce what they wanted to be when they grew up? Many of the boys wanted to be in law enforcement and quite a few wanted to be firemen. The girls almost always chose the occupations of nurse, teacher, and a few bold ones, back in the 1960's at least, professed to dream of being an astronaut or brilliant scientist. I remember those times and I never once heard any of my classmates stand before the class, in bright, clean play clothes, and state with no reservation and all the pride and conviction in the world, "When I grow up, I want to be a recovering alcoholic!".

Think about it - who would ever choose it? It would be akin to standing before the class and saying, I'm going to try very hard to smoke as much as I possibly can so I can increase my risk of lung cancer. Did you ever hear any such fantasies in the classroom? After class, my friends and I would often play school, or pretend we were working in an animal hospital (that was easy at my house because we always had a few creatures running around), and yes, there were times we played doctor, but I know for certain we never played alcoholics. Cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, dump truck operator, which must have been a precursor to the current rage of "Bob the Builder", but no one ever wanted to be the stumbling drunk or even bartender. How could anyone honestly believe someone would desire or work toward being a person with a drinking problem? Doesn't make much sense does it?

Sure, I heard people discuss folks who got tipsy, or hung out at the local beer joint, and these were not people to be celebrated or upheld as role models. We knew these were not individuals to be emulated. But I never once heard anyone discuss someone who was a recovering alcoholic. As far as I knew - an alcoholic was someone actively drinking and ruining the lives of everyone he touched, including his own. And never, ever, were women remotely referenced as problem drinkers. It was more or less a male disease.

I have a confession to make - I used to be one of those people who thought the very same thing. I remember believing, not so many years ago, that it shouldn't be any big deal - just STOP DRINKING and, voila! you are no longer alcoholic. I used to look down my nose at people with drinking problems and I was pretty certain that the great majority lived under a bridge, down by some river and that most of them were scruffy looking, probably uneducated, unkempt in appearance, certainly unrefined and most of all, that whatever suffering they may endure, they BROUGHT IT ALL ON THEMSELF. Period.

I'd never trust one and I can't imagine I'd be friends with any self-confessed alkie. I would have probably thought that the word "relapse" was much too gracious a term for someone falling off the sobriety wagon. If it were a male alcoholic, I'd just go ahead and assume he couldn't maintain a job, support a family and was probably given to physically abusing his wife and children. If the alcoholic were female, I'd immediately label her a slut - pure and simple. Certainly no one who should be allowed to have kids and by all means should be kept off the PTA roster and NEVER should she be trusted with a school fund-raiser or hold the honorable position of "Homeroom Mother". You just can't trust those people, I'd say. Let's face it, they didn't get in that condition hanging around the church or preparing Sunday School lesson plans. I wouldn't need to actually meet her to know her ilk. I'd reckon that female alcoholics were far more offensive than male alcoholics and yet I always considered myself more of a feminist.

I was certain I pretty much knew all there was to understand about alcoholism and I'd heard of AA, which is where "those people" get fixed, if they made the decision to get well. I also knew all there was to know about treatment centers - they were places where people spent 28 days and came out completely cured. Period. Whatever it was that went on in those places could transform the really horrible (but insured!) drunks and make them well and possibly a functioning, albeit flawed, member of society, as long as they kept their "former little problem" a deep secret until the day they died.

Prior to January 11th, 2004, I had it all figured out. Wrong, I might add. There's nothing like a little practical experience to really drive home a point and I had about nine years of practical experience, but it took me a little while to get my definitions and perceptions right. I was only wrong on every single previously held belief.

I was born on the night of February 6th, 1960. The gestation period leading up to my first birth was right at 9 months and 2 weeks. I was reborn the night of January 11th, 2004 and it took me nine long years to get ready - I guess you could say it was breech, because it most certainly involved a bottom. Both birth experiences left me pretty helpless, confused, crying and unable to function for a short time, but I had to go through the process before I could get growing. The first time around gave me life. The second one saved it and helped me find a better one. I'm beyond grateful for both.

I've always bristled at the notion that alcoholism is something to be kept under wraps. Like I had a choice in becoming one? No, I had no choice in being alcoholic - and it's most certainly terminal. Whether my disease is the result of heredity, environment or just rotten bad luck, makes absolutely no difference and isn't worth the time it would take to debate. What matters is if I choose to treat it and in that, I do have a choice. For most of us, the prescription is heavy doses of active involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous and for some it is, initially, a hard pill to swallow but for others, myself included, I took to it like a duck takes to water. It agreed with me almost instantly. I knew it was my lifesaver and I grabbed for it. I'm happy to report that I haven't come close to sinking.

For all of my bravado (in person) at feeling absolutely no shame or compulsion to hide my disease, every single time I would sit down to blog about it, I would quickly come up with something else to write about. "I'll write about that later." I would tell myself as I moved to another topic. It's as if sitting down in front of this faceless monitor rendered me about as unable to say, "My name is Susie, and I'm an alcoholic.", as it did those first couple of weeks back in January 2004, when I sat quietly in the corner of my first AA meetings, trying my best to blend in with the woodwork, wearing my trademark sunglasses - which had to look pretty stupid given that it was mid-January and dark by 5:30 and most of the meetings I attended were between 6 and 8 o'clock in the evening. What my sunglasses didn't cover, I made certain that my hair did, so it was normally falling in my face and I had to look more like "Cousin It", rather than a 43 year old adult woman who had just made the painful realization that I might just be an alcoholic. One of my friends in my home group, after he got to know me better, said it was weeks before he was sure I had eyes. I felt pretty beat up when I joined the fellowship and that's a good thing - I was scared enough to realize that this problem was way beyond anything I could fix myself.

I avoided eye contact at all cost because locking eyes with someone in a meeting was like looking in a mirror. Seeing others there meant that I needed to be there as well. I really needed to be there if I was to stand a chance.

When it would come my time to read in a Big Book Study or should the person who was chairing a meeting ask me to read "How It Works", "The Promises" or maybe a selection from "As Bill Sees It", I would feel instant panic and my throat would suddenly become so dry and I'd feel all of those eyes peering at me. I imagined they were trying to figure out what my story was and what specific incident brought me to my knees and into the rooms of AA. I was so sure those "veterans" (and at the time, by the term "veteran" I mean anyone who had a clue as to what was going on in any given AA meeting room) were trying to figure me out. Little did I know they had me figured out the second I walked through the door. It's remarkable how similar our stories are - you can change a few names, places, relationships, economic situations, but the end result is the same - and the fact that we live to make it to a meeting means we are the exception, rather than the rule because left to our own devices, and without divine help and 12 steps, we just plain die. Period. And that's the end of many a story.

It's funny looking back over 20 months ago to those early meeting experiences and how lovely that most of those "veterans" who's eyes were never trying to penetrate me or figure out my story, are now some of my closest friends and feel more like family and one pair of those eyes has joined my family and I wake up with him every morning. They were never running a pool on what or who it was that brought me in. They didn't have to because they intuitively knew that it was only a slightly different version of the event(s) that secured their seat at the table. I had no idea how much I had in common with every single person in the rooms - they were all just slightly different facets of me, but I didn't know that at the time. I was pretty certain I was terminally unique and that I was oh-so-different from the average AA member. I can smile as I recall those memories now, but at the time, I was absolutely scared to death or, even better, scared sober.

I really needed to be scared sober. Being scared sober saved my life. But I couldn't know that January 11th, 2004. I thought that date would forever serve as the anniversary of the day my life changed forever and, gratefully, I am pleased to say I was absolutely correct. I couldn't go on the way I was because I was on my way to complete and total self-destruction, which is exactly where alcohol will take you if you happen to be an untreated alcoholic. It may take a little longer than cocaine or heroin or crack, stuff I've never even seen, much less done, but alcohol can get the job done in its own time. Alcohol nearly did me in and it looked so harmless and downright elegant in the tapered shape of a red wine glass.

I wasn't exactly sure you could qualify for membership in AA if all you imbibed was wine. Wine was, in my screwed up head, a cut above beer, whiskey or moonshine. Wine was for polished people who ran in "different" circles. Wine wasn't simply a drink, but the product of an art, a great topic of after dinner conversation where the varieties and verities could be dissected and refined palate's could compare notes on color, clarity, bouquet and vintage. Wine wasn't for the masses or the messes, it was for people with an appreciation of the finer things in life and it was a great reason to spend some time in France, not that I didn't already have one.

Which begged the question - could you technically be an alcoholic if all you drank was the occasional bottle(s) of really expensive wine? Well, yeah if, as you are knocking back your first glass you are already trying to plot how to get to your fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh and someone please, let's have a couple of bottles of champagne - the good stuff, none of that Korbel Crap. If the bottle costs under fifty-bucks it's probably not really champagne and none of that cheap stuff was touching my lips, thank you very much, unless, of course, I was with a date who had limited funds and I made it my business to stay away from people with limited bank accounts. I wanted the good stuff, but I wasn't about to pay for it, because I didn't need to. There were plenty of men around more than willing to pony up and provide what I wanted to drink and send me on my path heading in the direction of nowhere fast.

Attending my first AA meeting was one of the scariest moments in my life. I had no idea what lay before me, and I was too addled to consider what all had gone on up to that point. I will never forget how heavy my tiny cell phone felt as I picked it up to ring Intergroup to find out where these AA meetings were held. Like a lot of people on the outside of the program looking in, I had no idea what AA was about, other than it was an organization of people who didn't know when to say when. I figured it must be a sad little collection of whiners who bemoaned the fact they couldn't drink and have fun like the people I hung with. I imagined dour faces, sob stories, complaining, maybe some crying, and an ambiance about as inviting as the waiting room of an oral surgeon who really enjoyed his work.

My son dropped me off at my first meeting, held in the activity building of a nearby Presbyterian Church. I drew a deep breath and tried to hide all of the shaking I felt inside. I didn't know how long meetings lasted, what type of people would be there and I was starting to wonder if I should even try one out. Was my drinking really that bad? Or was I so sick that AA might refuse to grant me membership?

It took only a few seconds to learn that I more than qualified and fortunately they welcomed me in with warm hearts and warm hugs.

I didn't know who Bill W. was, other than the fact that I'd heard people profess to be one of his friends. So clueless was I that one time when I was checking out the list of chat rooms on AOL, I saw several that were listed as "Friends of Bill W." and I wondered who this Bill W. was that whole chat rooms were created just to discuss their friendship with the guy. I remember once thinking that Bill W. must be Bill Clinton. I just found the whole thing very odd, but I wasn't curious enough to pop in one of those chat rooms to check it out. There would be time for that later. I wasn't ready. I still had lots of uncontrolled drinking to do.

When I walked into the room, I was immediately greeted by a couple of women and one of them had a deliciously southern accent and a warm, inviting smile and for some reason, she made me feel less of a loser for being in that room, because she, and just about everyone else in attendance, didn't resemble losers at all. She motioned for me to sit beside her and I was so grateful. As I looked around the room, I saw everyone had a thick blue book in front of them and there were three readings, a group recitation of The Serenity Prayer, and I also saw that someone was passing what looked like a brochure around the room, but only women were signing their name and phone numbers. I had no idea what it was, but I noticed no one asked me for my name or phone number.

It was orderly. I found it strange that when anyone would speak, they would first introduce themselves by announcing their name and confessing they were an alcoholic - and then they would get on with whatever they were reading or entering into discussion. If the same person spoke four times in a meeting, every single time s/he would state their name and the fact they were an alcoholic - and I remember thinking - do these people not realize we can all remember their names since they spoke not five minutes ago and of course we suspected they were alcoholics - I mean, wasn't that why we were there? What's with all this announcing stuff? It felt a lot redundant. How funny I would fail to notice the redundancy of drinking glass after glass after glass.

I remember when they asked if there were any newcomers, someone in their first 30 days of sobriety who would like to introduce themselves, not to embarrass them but just so the group could get to know him/her. I felt it - all eyes were on me because it had to totally obvious that I was a newcomer, and it seemed as if I had to say something. Oh, it felt far more foreign than my trying to pronounce something complicated in French. It was just one of many moments of truth to come and it was also the first time I had to admit, in my own shaky voice, that I was an alcoholic. I can still remember hearing my heart beat in my ears as I made that confession.

"My name is Susie and I'm an alcoholic".

It was almost like an out of body experience. I knew it was me talking, but did I really believe what I was saying and if I did believe what I was saying, what exactly did that mean? I wondered if there might be a test I needed to take just to make sure I was in the right room. I like facts and calibrations and if I'm on the alcoholic spectrum, just where do I fall (figuratively - I knew I'd fallen in several parking lots, a few stairs and a couple of times in the shower - oh, and there was that bar stool at Keffies a couple of years ago when I leaned back too far. Probably many more, but you get the idea and I get off topic so easily!). I definitely fell on the alcoholic spectrum just as sure as I'd fallen on my face a few times.

Was there a rating system - were we assigned levels of disease load like a blood titer? I soon learned the only time numbers were really brought up in terms of blood, were when people would discuss what their BAC (blood alcohol content) was when the cop pulled them in for a DWI (driving while intoxicated).

My first meeting and all the ones after, lasted exactly one hour and they are bookended with prayers - The Serenity Prayer at the beginning and The Lord's Prayer at closing. What happens between those two prayers can take the form of a Big Book Study, A Step Study, A Tradition Study, an Open Discussion, a Closed Discussion, a Speaker Meeting or maybe a combination. And for over 70 years since it's inception by a charismatic gentleman who was born in Vermont and became a NY Stockbroker and, along the way, was thought to be a hopeless alcoholic, AA has worked miracles - millions of them. I'm thrilled to be one of them.

There's very little debate that AA was divinely inspired and were I invited to cast a vote, I would have no hesitation in saying that I absolutely believe the Program of Alcoholics Anonymous to be the product of Divine Inspiration of the highest order. I may have been foggy and scared and feeling just about as low as I ever have, but it wasn't lost on me that I was in the right place and among the right people who could help me find a way back up again. As we held hands in a circle and recited The Lord's Prayer, I knew more than I've known anything in my life, that I had found home because, even though I had only laid eyes on those people 50 minutes before, I knew them better than I knew people who had been in my inner circles for years and I knew that these people knew me. I've never felt such a sense of complete belonging.

Some people find home early on and some take years to stumble across it, but for me, I found home on Thursday Night, January 15th, 2004. When I got home that night, I was still a little shaky, but I couldn't wait to get to my next meeting. Before I went out the door, someone handed me that brochure I'd seen passed around the table, the one with the names and phone numbers of the women in attendance and told me to call if I felt myself in trouble - regardless of the hour. The brochure contained a listing of every meeting held in the Wilmington Area along with the times and locations. It turns out there are over 120 meetings held in our area every single week and that, lucky for me, Wilmington is known as a "Strong AA" city. So I guess that means if you suddenly find yourself an alcoholic, Wilmington is a good place to do it. At least I got that right through pure dumb luck.

No, I take that back. There is no such thing as pure dumb luck. It was supposed to be exactly as it happened, including the time and the place. I have embraced nearly all of the tenents of AA with little, if any, resistance, but the one thing that has always niggled me is the whole, "it happened the way it's supposed to", or "it takes what it takes", or "it will turn out exactly as it should". Nothing has been more difficult for me to accept as that whole "que sera, sera" mode of thinking. I fought against it, I failed to see the logic of it, and it was hard for me to truly embrace that there is a time and a place for all that happens in the universe as if under some divine orchestration with a magic, omnipotent baton wielding conductor...but then I had to realize everything that did happen just in my case alone. By all rights, I shouldn't honestly be alive to write this. I drove in several blackouts. I found myself in places having no recollection of how I arrived. I would hear things repeated that I was purported to have said at an earlier, inebriated time, but have no memory of uttering a word of it, and that final night I somehow made it from a tony restarant about seven miles from my home, across several busy intersections and managed to arrive without killing myself and/or anyone else. I did nail my neighbor's mailbox and only that was pieced together six weeks after the fact when my friend and I started comparing notes, but I had absolutely no recollection. I still don't.

If my Higher Power, which I choose to call God, could somehow take control and guide me across town in a mess of a blackout without a human casualty, is it really so hard to believe that just maybe things do happen exactly as they're supposed to? There is no rational explanation for me to be alive. I finally had to admit that maybe everything in this life isn't logical or rational or capable of being explained based on pure, tangible fact. When I find myself worrying about timing and elements so far out of my control, I try and remember just how out of control I was that night, and how God certainly engaged a cruise control well beyond the electronic capability of my Buick LeSabre or even OnStar and it's sophisticated GPS. I no longer question that things happen for a reason. I mostly just try to remember the miracles and give thanks as often as possible, which is never enough.

On Friday, January 16th, 2004, I attended my second AA meeting and for this one, I chose a highly recommended Women's Meeting held at a nearby Episcopal Church. At first, I thought I might be in the wrong section of the building because I heard boisterous noise and lots of laughter and happy chatter. I just figured I'd stumbled upon a baby or wedding shower and maybe one of the attendees could direct me to the Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting being held somewhere in that beautiful stone church. Oddly enough, there was a round blue circle with the initials AA stuck on the door and it was from behind that door that the laughter was emanating. There were so many people in that room. Several women were sitting on the floor, kids careening in and out. This bunch was most decidedly happy, joyous and free and I couldn't help but smile as I tried to take it all in.

That was a pivotal meeting for me. When it came time to introduce myself as a newcomer, I noticed it didn't seem as strange to state my name and that I was, in fact, an alcoholic. That's also the meeting where I picked up my first and I hope ONLY white chip - which is the sign of surrender. I really did own being an alcoholic at that meeting of about 80 women who were dressed in clothes ranging from corporate business suits to stay-at-home Mom. The women in attendance were as young as 17 and the oldest was 82 years old and had personally met Bill W. himself. There were many women who looked to be well over 65, and one in particular wore a mischievious grin on her face and could be anyone's grandmother straight from some upper middle class suburb. I was immediately drawn to her and someone introduced us and as I extended my hand, she just gave me a sweet hug.

After I sat down I couldn't take my eyes off that gentle looking woman and she was just about the last person I could ever envision drunk. But there she was, reading the AA preamble, giggling as she later shared an anecdote from her drinking days - something about the time she had dropped something in a dumpster and fallen over head first in an attempt to try and retrieve it. She wound up having to wait until her husband returned from work because she was too messed up to figure her way out. This delightful, honey-sweet, soft-spoken, white haired grandmother was describing a scene from her past which rivaled anything the rest of us could have probably shared and gosh it felt so good to laugh. I dearly needed the blessed release of that laugh after a week of sheer terror. She will never know what a difference she made in my life that night. I could never adequately express it, but she did.

I would later learn that she came into the program after three attempts and the age of 47. I was 43 at the time which meant that, with a little luck and no smoking, I could be recounting the time I mowed over a mailbox to a room full of people who might need to know just how crazy I used to be and how full of life I still was. That was priceless.

I took that laughter from my second AA meeting and I picked up something else that I needed just as much. Chips are given offered at the end of each meeting to celebrate periods of sobriety. The hardest one for most of us is the first one and though it's just a cheap, white, plastic disc that could pass for a poker chip were it not for the triangle within a circle, it's heavy with symbolism because it means we are surrendering and setting a new course for ourselves. I walked up and received a white chip, along with several hugs and cheers of congratulations. In AA circles, giving up is a very good thing. It's finally admitting defeat against a foe that doesn't play fair and wants you dead. I still carry that white chip with me in my purse, and every now and then I take it out and look at it and I remember the evening I picked it up and then I think of everything it took for me to earn it.

Of course, it only takes a meeting or two to be dazzled by the blue chip - the one EVERYONE wants when they join AA - the blue chip marks one whole damn year without a drink and it's a huge thing! I also keep my blue chip in my purse, right next to my white one. They are symbols of life, and the new one I was granted courtesy of a power greater than myself.

As is the case with diabetics, there is no magic cure, no complete recovery and a full life is the result of continuous maintenance in the form of meetings, working the steps and keeping in touch with a sponsor and yes, reading that Big Book as often as possible. We never get well. We are never recoverED. There is no "cured". But if we take a few suggestions, we can expect an incredible life and that's not AA dogma - that's my own experience thus far. The fact that we have any life left in us at all when we join the program, is the first in a line of miracles, if we continue to do the next right thing - even if the next right thing isn't exactly what we want to do. As they say quite often, it's a simple program, but not always an easy one, but as with most things, if you break it down into simple increments, a day at a time is very doable.

My life didn't get all perfect and trouble didn't make some magical hasty retreat, but my life did get better, almost immediately. It is suggested that a newcomer try and make 90 meetings in the first 90 days and that seemed completely extreme to me, until I realized I had made something like 140 meetings in 90 days - it all went so fast I didn't realize it. I was attending two meetings many days and not because I was thirsting for alcohol - not at all. I can honestly say I have never had one single craving for a drink or a buzz, but as we are reminded, simply taking the drink away doesn't mean we get well - it really is a disease that settles in the mind and my mind was probably as diseased as anyone elses. I was no worse than compadres, and I was certainly no better. For all of my perceived terminal uniqueness, it turns out I was just a garden variety drunk. Fortunately, through attending all of those meetings, it would seem I am in spectacular company.

I may not have been special and I most certainly wasn't terribly unique, but I did have an interesting road ahead of me, along with a path of destruction behind me to try and untangle. Here I was, the Mom of a 16 year old and a 19 year old, and a woman who had been penning a single parenting newspaper column for 3 1/2 years, not to mention the only daughter of two teetotalers in their late 70's who had no clue I was as sick as I was.

It's a very humbling experience to stand before your almost grown up kids and confess to being an alcoholic, complete with citations. It was even more surreal to continue to write a newspaper column on my homespun single parenting experiences and adventures, and pretend all was sunshine and daisies on the homefront. I'd tackled a wide variety of topics over the years I'd written my column on lots of subjects, including step-parenting, re-entering the dating world, online match-making services and trying to help kids adjust to a one-parent household. I just couldn't figure out for the life of me how to write about blackouts, transatlantic wine-tasting and dates memorable only for the number of bottles and vintage of wine served. That just didn't fit the image I wanted to reflect. I wrote funny stories, crazy stuff about my son's massive collection of reptiles, breeding lizards, seeing kids off at the airport as they flew to spend a few weeks with dear old distant dad. I just didn't have enough column width to write about the couple of hours I sat at the airport bar following their departure as I cried and tried to dull the pain of not seeing them for 21 days with one or three glasses of wine. It simply didn't fit. I wrote "Single...With Children", not "Single...With Children and a Case of French Wine".

The story behind the story wasn't nearly as light as the story that appeared in the Wednesday Edition of a Texas Newspaper in the middle of the Bible Belt. I could just imagine being tarred, feathered and ran out of town IF I had actually been living in the same town as my column appeared. Even my location was a secret because the local columnist with the perky smile and crazy hair lived about ten states and 1800 miles East. I was frequently high, but it wasn't because of the altitude of the High Plains it was assumed was my residence. That's a whole other blog entry and my fingers are tired. Enough confession for one night.

If you wondered why all the recovery links or surreptitious references to AA, now you know. Nope, it's not my father, my mother or anyone else in my immediate or even biological extended family who serves as the reason I know a thing or two about recovery. I'm the real deal. I am the alcoholic - fortunately, it no longer feels the least bit foreign or odd to say that. As crazy as it may sound (or read), I feel extremely blessed to be a recovering alcoholic. I'll close this entry with a passage that I try and read every single day to remind me of where I have been and what I have to look forward to, if I do a few small things every single day...

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through.
We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.

We will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.

We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.

No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.

That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.

We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.

Self-seeking will slip away.
Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.
Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.

We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.

We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Are these extravagant promises? We think not.

They are being fulfilled among us - sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.

They will always materialize if we work for them.

Taken from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous - pages 84 and 85.

I am one very grateful, devoted, active friend of Bill W.