31 December 2006

2006: The year in milestones & miracles...

Katie got her Christmas wish. Jet Blue came through, both coming and going and both ways in one piece. Katie, there may be something to this whole "flying thing", don't you think?

It was great to see her. She looked absolutely wonderful and I was so happy to discover that her dark, sardonic humor had remained untouched by milling about in Manhattan. I think NY agrees with her.

Christmas Eve was fantastic. Katie's "other mother", Vanessa, and our buddy Joe joined us for Christmas Eve dinner and it was so great having everyone I loved in my living room - chatting, smiling, laughing, remembering stupid stuff and more laughing. Lots of laughter.

Special thanks to my Mom, Dad, Justin, Katie, Sue, Vanessa, Stephanie, Joe, Cassie, Sylvester, Felix and Princess for adding color to our holidays.

2006 has been a pivotal year in so many respects. Someone asked me how I would categorize the year's events and, as I thought about it, only good adjectives pop into my mind. Let's see...

I had fantastic writing opportunities - invitations to write for publications that I would never have been bold enough to even hope for or contemplate. NYC has been so good to me, as it has been Katie, this year. Hard to believe I used to swear I hated that place. I can think of only good things when my mind meanders toward Manhattan. I wait eagerly for my next visit.

I took on my first PC Magazine assignment in March for the 6 June 2006 cover story, "Smarter Homes". I was scared out of my wits until I got down to it, and then it was just pure fun. The only thing I needed to be afraid of was the anxiety borne from my fears and when I chased them away, it was pure pleasure. Well, except for the part where I casually asked Katie if she thought I was equal to the task of writing for PC Magazine and she looked at me and said, "I fear for you, Mom.". I admit that rattled me just the tiniest bit.

My daughter and her boyfriend, John, moved to the East Village in May and I was afraid I'd never be able to laugh again, given that Katie is the source of so much of my humor, but that was a pivotal trip for both of us. I had a productive lunch meeting with my features editor that culminated in more invitations to write, and I met John's two amazing aunts, Daria and Melanie and his Uncle Bill, in addition to his mother Nina, and it was absolute confection.

I returned home from that trip, crying on the plane from saying goodbye to Katie and, even more so, from the mess I finally realized that was sitting beside me and I think it was that trip that finally opened my eyes and informed me that I had the power and wherewithal to make the changes essential for me to move forward. I decided to clean house (metaphorically - I try never to "literally" clean house) and took charge of my life at home. I can sometimes be very acquiescent, but after way too many months with an entirely melodramatic, spoiled, lazy leech, I decided that my life and my home needed to be "streamlined", so I arranged for the removal of things that never belonged in the first place, and got down to business. My home became my home again, and I think my family collectively breathed a huge sigh of relief.

The summer proved to be exceptionally busy with work and writing. I did stories for regional publications, two features for "Wilma" Magazine and then, NY called again and offered an impossible-to-ignore opportunity that not only gave me the chance to write again for a great magazine, but serendipitously allowed me to write about something very close to my heart. The story was entitled, "The 12-Click Program" and was part of PC Magazine's "Technology for Life" spread in the 17 October 2006 issue - it gave me the chance to see if I really meant what I said when I remarked that alcoholism and recovery aren't anything to be ashamed of and that they needed removed from the shadows and whispers usually assigned to deep, dark, down and dirty secrets.

I'll admit that deciding to "come out" in a magazine with a paid subscription of 5 million readers did give me a few moments of pause and serious contemplation and then someone pointed out that I'd always professed that it shouldn't be a big deal and, if I really believed what I paid lip service to, there should be no hesitation. When my own words came back to haunt me, I knew it was time to step up to the keyboard and that's exactly what I did. I was pleased with the final product and figured I that I must have meant what I said, that this whole "coming out" business was not a huge deal...

And then Amy Hotz, reporter with "The Wilmington Star", called to request an interview with me on my decision to write openly about my own adventures in recovery - yikes! Apparently someone at "The Wilmington Star News" reads PC Magazine. I also discovered that a LOT of people in Wilmington read "The Wilmington Star News" and don't use it simply to line the bottom of their bird cage as has often been my own experience.

OK, I admit that it slightly took my breath away to realize that I could wind up on the front page of my hometown newspaper, a self-confessed alcoholic by my own admission, and that people might possibly cast a critical eye if they knew my not-so-secret secret! I batted this back and forth for at least 24 hours - I consulted a couple of friends including Bruce, my sponsor, my family, Celia Rivenbark and then out of nowhere I was struck with the memory of what it was like for me in those dark, early days of January 2004, when I felt more lost and hopeless than I'd ever experienced in my previous 44 years. Nothing came close to the fear, disappointment, confusion and disorientation of my first week between my last drink and my first AA meeting. Terror!!!!!! Sheer terror.

When I thought about what it might be like for someone else in the position and situation I found myself in almost three years ago, it was a no-brainer. I certainly would have given anything to read that story back then. Given the wide-spread prevalence of alcoholism and substance abuse, I couldn't help but think there might be other people who would benefit from it. It needed to be told. And so, I did. My "virtual recovery" became public record. One month after publication, I have absolutely no regrets.

Recalling that period of time not so long ago, brought back some pushed-aside memories. I remembered looking for anything I could get my hands on to read, ANYTHING that might offer me hope, that I could carry around when my courage was MIA and my doubts were threatening to overtake me. There were a couple of books by celebrity alcoholics, but my life bore no resemblance to those stories.

I decided early on that someone should write about an alcoholic of non-celebrity status, someone that was far more representative of the kind of people most of us know and many of us are! The problem is that most of us aren't all that comfortable writing about the missteps, embarrassing stumbles, the really bad decisions and wrong turns that deliver us to the unique place we eventually refer to as "bottom"; The painful realization that we have reached the point where we find ourselves in too much pain and destruction that it's finally apparent that it would be more painful NOT to change; that we are powerless to repair any of it on our own. That's such a horrible, excruciating place to land, much worse than labor and childbirth and kidney stones, but it's essential and the best motivation possible. I'd basically be dead if I hadn't landed there and, most of the successful people in recovery that I personally know, seem to agree.

So, long story short, I met with Ms. Amy Hotz and I purged. I really purged. I divulged pertinent details to her that I'd shared with only a small circle of friends and close family. Amy and I spent a little over an hour together in the post-lunch coziness of "The Courthouse Cafe", we traded business cards, shook hands and then parted ways - she to enjoy the beginning of her weekend and me to wonder, "What in the heck did I just do?".

The story ran on the front page of the Today Section of The Wilmington Star and I have to say that Ms. Hotz got it right. I was impressed with her reporting and she accurately represented the facts as I shared them.

Of course, I woke up at 5:00 AM on the morning of Tuesday, 14 December, ran to my computer and pulled up the story and right after I recovered from reading about my recovery, I opened the only negative e-mail, from a very raunchy, wrinkled, arrogant, harley-riding, thirteenth-stepping asshole who wrote one negative sentence which basically made no sense whatsoever, much as every diatribe he delivers in any meeting I've ever been to where he's been present. I laughed and then I decided it had to be a good story if he didn't agree with it. And of course, I wrote him back - took issue with his statement but left him with the suggestion that he consider writing a book on a subject he knows a great deal about; hitting on women in the first few months of recovery. I mean, write about what you know best, right Paul?

I know a few men like Paul, including one who was so proud of his achievement in successfully 13th stepping that he once started a blog on it, regaling his experiences. The blog never really went anywhere and, like most things in his life, he didn't finish it. I kind of doubt he'll be writing about his current situation - he now lives with his doting 71 year old mother in a duplex near Raleigh. I'm sure this is just a temporary situation until he can snag another "early in recovery" female he decides to "help", who owns her own home and can pay the bills. God bless her.

Detritus aside, the newspaper article went well and the feedback was heart-warming, touching and reaffirmed that I made the right decision to allow the story. In fact, it was a necessary experience because, if I'm working on a book proposal about my "virtual recovery", I certainly needed to get over any trepidation in discussing my story with a local newspaper. Like most things in life, the only scary thing about it was the scenarios that played out in my mind in the hours leading up to publication. Much ado about nothing, really.

And then, there was Christmas. I had a great holiday this year - much more fun than in recent memory - in fact, my Daddy remarked last night it was the happiest Christmas he could remember in years. And it was. It absolutely was. On every single level.

The presents were well-received and graciously accepted. The people I shared my time with were purposefully chosen and there was no downtime suffering the company of uninvited guests. It was joyful. Katie was radiant and Justin was beaming and my parents were, well, my parents, and so it was close to perfect. The added gift of friends made it even more memorable for all the right reasons. I can only say thank you.

So I finish this last day of 2006 filled with a lot of gratitude, funny memories, and more blessings than I have any right to count.

I was never all that big on noting blessings, and I've always been reluctant to subscribe to the "everything happens for a reason" theory, but I just have to say that so much of this year, particularly the past six months has generously consisted of one thing leading to another, and another; people criss-crossing my path; opportunities which have lead to other opportunities; one thing building on another; angels dropping in my life. There is no reasonable explanation for ANY of it and so I have say that 2006 leaves me not simply subscribing to the "everything happens for a reason" mode of thinking, but believing it with my heart and my soul. I know it's true. The evidence is too compelling and unquestionable. There's not one doubt in my mind that it's all "A God thing".

I truly believe that whatever happens in 2007, with enough prayer and celestial guidance, and a sincere desire to do what I do best and just let go of the results, will all turn out just the way it's supposed to. Never have I been a person of such conviction. I don't even question the things that are happening now because I know that much of it is being guided by a more powerful, brilliant hand. On my own, my power and influence is limited at best. With the proper direction and divine guidance, I've found myself steaming in directions I didn't even know existed.

Believe me, I'm not bright or powerful enough to have affected the blessings that have visited me this past year. I really suck at creating a shopping list, much less a string of miracles.

It's my nature to be skeptical, and so many of my closely-held beliefs have required logic and concrete facts. Part of why I've never read fiction is because I like facts; I love knowing that life (as I thought I knew it) was built on reality and not whimsy, that events can be traced to truth and knowledge and irrefutable, predictable, solid, unquestionable evidence.

You know...point A leads to point B and if you make it to point B it will undoubtedly lead you to point C and, before you know it, you realize, a lot of it is rote and pointLESS.... At least, that's how it used to look from where I formerly sat. And then, well, I changed seats. I upgraded.

I didn't find faith. In fact, faith found me.

I like puzzles that can be solved with no left over or missing pieces. I love Sudoku because it makes sense and, though at times frustrating, offers a predictable outcome. I never truly thought there was anything more powerful than one's mind, that intelligence is the ultimate answer to everything, that life can be distilled into a handful of universal realities. For me, Sir Isaac Newton's Third Law was my blueprint for living and covered just about everything - that his postulate stating that for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction, was basic to every point of life.

As the curtains close on 2006 and 2007 is poised to make its debut, I can only conclude that such black and white thinking, all of that logic and predictability and all of that fact based stuff is just brimming with...crap.

All of the logic in the world can't explain away many moments of my own 2006. In so many respects, it has undoubtedly been my very best year. Somewhere along the way I slipped and was unwittingly swept away by unexpected miracles. So many miracles. I don't think one of them could have been predicted and I'm sure they fly in the face of Newton's Third Law. Faith has replaced fact in "the world according to me". I couldn't have designed 2006 to turn out as it did and, well, I couldn't have dreamed it either. But I did live it and, I am compelled to report that "things" do happen and these "things" don't always come attached with easy-to-understand explanations and logic, as it turns out, is frequently missing and highly overrated.

I know this to be true. I would stake my life on it.

In fact, I have staked my life on it.

Happy New Year and here's to more "things" that happen for a reason.

18 December 2006

It's beginning to look and feel a lot like...

...sheer insanity, that is if you've been bold enough to brave the mall. Shopping has never been my passion or forte - which has worked out well for my bank account.

I'm happy to say that Wilmington and I both survived the Star-News article that appeared last Tuesday. We both managed quite well I do believe and, my wonderful friend in NYC came up with the best title imaginable for the submission I have to finish in three weeks. Working on that layout only consumes every other waking moment. The rest of my non-existent free time has been spent getting in gear for Christmas. It feels as if the days are flying faster than the speed of sound or light or maybe Jet Blue, huh Katie? :-)

I have to say that my daughter just wrote a blog entry that made me laugh and I can't help it, I am so proud of her talent - she's perfectly sardonic and what a style she has! Her latest blog entry is entitled and, do yourself a favor and read this one, "All I want for Christmas is not to die in a fiery plane crash". If I didn't know better, I would swear she's adopted, but I do know better and she's 110% mine and how happy I am that she is. I feel the same about her brother, who's writing style is also off-center, keeping with the family of writers he is connected to, and with although, in all fairness, he is perhaps a little more sentimental - a trait that Katie and I just don't quite grasp or show much interest in adopting. Of course, I'm proud of them and not simply because I am their mother. If you do visit Katie's blog (vox), please be sure to leave her some good advice and hopeful words and the more acerbic, the better!

Let's see, what all has gone down in the past week. Aside from my coming out in my hometown newspaper as a recovering alcoholic (just another day at the office, right?), I have received some wonderful e-mail - amazing really, the kind words of people I know and people I would like to know. Not to mention the fellow Wilmingtonians who've stopped and commented on the story and said such kind and supportive words to me.

I am most relieved to say that the only surprises I've encountered have been positive and each one has reaffirmed for me that I did the right thing. I'm glad I consented to that interview and I truly do love hearing how people have related their experiences because they read about mine. Hearing similar accounts paved the way for me three years ago. I think if we're about anything at all, it should be directed toward making things easier for those who follow. I don't feel uncomfortably exposed or that some dark and treacherous secret has escaped. I put it out there, I stand behind it and I'd do it again.

If someone reading this has written me in the past week and you haven't heard back from me as of yet, please know I'm working on it! I LOVE the e-mail, but as of 1:11 AM, I have over 80 still left to read and I'm getting there. I think my e-mail must have rabbit-like features because it seems to be multiplying! I'm certainly not complaining and truth to tell, I love receiving messages so much that I like to take my time and read through each one - it's just that in these fleeting days before Christmas, I'm not quite as efficient as I might normally be, but I'll get there!

Stephanie and I braved the mall on Sunday. It was sheer madness. I think we spent about two hours in Brookstone and played with all kinds of cool gadgets. It was, in fact, gadget heaven! I know I was int here perusing items for gifts but my gosh, I wanted everything in that store and if the mall hadn't closed we would probably still be there pushing buttons, wondering how everything works and oh my gosh, I saw the coolest things! One item that had my name written all over it was this sort of self-contained eco-sphere. It came complete with salt water, algae, and yes, a brine shrimp and it was all encapsulated in this elliptical glass vessel with no opening. It didn't need one! I would LOVE to have that whatever it is and if I did, I'd place it on my desk right beside my monitor. It would provide hours of entertainment between pages. I could literally watch that tiny creature grow and do whatever tiny creatures in ecospheres do. See? I really need one because it's a mystery to me what occurs in that thing after days and weeks and months. I kind of doubt I'll find one under my tree because I don't think my family would even notice it, but my gosh, it's beyond cool.

And what Christmas shopping trip would be complete without Wal-mart? We couldn't escape a visit to the South's version of Saks Fifth Avenue. More wall-to-wall people and, of course, the added challenge of navigating a shopping cart. I cajoled Stephanie into pushing it most of the time. I tried to keep diverting her attention so that she wouldn't realize that she was pushing the stupid thing. I hate pushing carts and clogged aisles make me crazy.

While Stephanie and I were banging around "seasonal" in search of cookie-cutters, Katie text-messaged me. Katie's text read as follows, "We're eating sushi and Julia Stiles is two tables over from us.". I read it aloud to Stephanie and we looked around us and I think we both came up with the same reply which read, as follows: "We're in Wal-mart and within ten feet of two Nascar, confederate-flag waving rednecks. One is even dressed in camo."

I hated one-upping her, given that she's in Manhattan and eating ill-prepared food among the glitterati, but she asked for it. It wasn't like I text-messaged her first simply to brag about the colorful comings and goings at Monkey Junction Wal-mart, but I never shy away from touting the advantages of living large below the Mason-Dixon Line. I didn't divulge that I was drinking iced tea - that might have pushed her over the edge and she's nearly there already - and please, don't forget to read her Vox blog and read that one of a kind melodramatic post - such a heart-warming blog entry, no question. It ranks as some of the best literature it has been my pleasure to read this year. David Sedaris couldn't touch the quality of her latest offering. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll get the picture.

We FINALLY made it home from hell (Wal-mart) and had all of 40 minutes to wrap Justin's presents before he pulled in from work. Justin has a gift for snooping and discovering every single gift and stealing the thunder of the gift-giver, eradicating any thrill of watching his face "light up" as he unwraps one "un-surprise" after another because he can't seem to keep himself from prying. He's good at it, I'll give him that, but my gosh, it's so anti-climatic for everyone concerned. There have been years when I've thought, why bother wrapping it? But I've generally gone through the motions mostly for the sake of other family members knowing deep inside that to keep something under wraps from Justin is a feat not often accomplished. It's not like he's clairvoyant - he's a blatant snoop! I don't even think he can help himself and I rather doubt that he makes much of an attempt. After all these years, I've accepted it, but I had to school Stephanie on his antics - this is her first Christmas among us and she has no idea what she's in for. Bless her.

The good news is I chipped away impressively at my list and the bad news is I chipped away depressingly at my bank account. December is always a financial juggling act - but somehow, it all works out. I have to say I have really enjoyed these last few days and though I miss Katie to pieces, she sends me text messages, e-mails, indulges me with phone calls as she pushes her way through the stores and subways like the New Yorker she is - a role she was destined to play.

I also want to say something about my Mom, who turned an impressive 83 on 13 December 2006. Two words: She's amazing. The woman is unbelievable in what she still manages to take on and the thousands of things she does for all of us, who are blessed enough to be related to this dynamo. She is the ultimate Mother and makes June Cleaver look like such a slacker.

Vanessa sat my mother in her magic chair and gave her a lot of attention and pampering this past Thursday and a very lovely haircut. It was great having my parents visit at work and they brighten up any room they walk into. They infuse calm and humor into so many lives simply by being themselves plus, how often is it that anyone runs into a couple who've been married for over 60 years and who openly adore each other? Talk about icons. You bet I'm proud of them both. Thank you to my dear Mom for everything you have done and continue to do in order to make our lives run so smoothly. In every sense, Maxine Cook is a beautiful person. We are better people because of her love and care. As long as we can keep her away from a computer, we will be fine because if she ever fell prey to the same computer/online addiction that everyone else in this house suffers from, we would not be long for this world. Fortunately, she's too antsy to sit still for any length of time which is, no question, our saving grace.

Good stuff is breaking out all over the place - in fact, I'm nearly afraid to discuss it or write about it just yet. While I am grateful, I want to deal with it in just the right way and assign the proper attention and focus the work I'm doing merits. I'm sure I'll overcome my hesitancy to discuss events in the next few weeks, but for now, I think it might be best to keep things under cover.

For now, just color me grateful.

12 December 2006

Wilmington-Star News...

The article came out and, I have to say with no small measure of relief, Ms. Amy Hotz got it right. She most certainly respected the guidelines I requested and, in the process, earned a huge measure of respect (and relief!) from me.

a virtual recovery

By Amy Hotz
By Amy Hotz,

Susie Parker didn't think she showed any of the stereotypical symptoms of an alcoholic.

There was no alcohol in her house. There was no history of alcoholism in her family. She grew up a "good Baptist girl." She didn't take her first drink until she was 23, and when she did finally drink, it was almost always good wine, not cheap beer or hard liquors.

All that didn't matter, though, on the night she woke up to the sound of a policeman tapping on her car window. The officer found her passed out over the steering wheel in a grocery store parking lot. She didn't remember driving there or how she got a white streak running down the side of her car.

Later she would discover the streak came from hitting a mailbox.

"I was scared, but I was relieved," she said. "Every day I thank God it was a mailbox."

You can read the rest of it here: Virtual Recovery

11 December 2006

Baby, It's Cold Outside...

Our Christmas Party was this past Saturday evening at the resplendent Greystone Inn, right in the middle of downtown Wilmington.

It was lovely. It was fun being with my co-workers who long ago segued into friends, outside of where we earn our checks. Everyone was beautiful!

Of course, we had a great time. No question we enjoy each other at work, and there was never any doubt that outside of work we'd smile and laugh and celebrate a very special season.

I was honored to have a very special person as my guest - this "guy" managed to pull it together on very short notice and arrive at my house a few minutes early! I was so impressed and he looked very handsome. A special thank you Guy, for being a gracious, fun and entertaining companion - he cleans up REALLY well! In all seriousness, I had a great time this year. It was such a sea change from last year's party and all around, a much more pleasant experience - I'm enjoying no longer feeling as if my every action is under surveillance. I just don't seem to thrive on a short leash. Not only did I lose the leash, I tossed off the collar. :-) Life is good!

Thanks to Guy, I shocked my friends by appearing stunningly on-time. Not only did I show up on time, but I arrived BEFORE Vanessa and Joe. Vanessa has issues with time-management, not unlike myself. She called my cell phone as she was leaving her house, as instructed, and of course, with everyone standing around listening, I pretended that the time had gotten away with me and I wasn't even ready yet. Vanessa was not pleased and I'm certain she didn't expect me to be there until after 8:30 - she was more than a little shocked to see me greet her when SHE finally got there. Ha! Every now and then, I have to toss her a curve ball just to keep her guessing.

Of course, Vanessa was escorted by the handsome and brilliant Joe who also goes by the name of "Tony", depending on how and where you know him from. Joe is always a welcome addition to any gathering and, my gosh, it's worth putting up with Vanessa just to spend time in Joe's company. Sure, he makes HER look good, and what a good sport he is to deal with it all. :-) Joe and I have a lot in common - we both spend great quantities of time around Vanessa and one of these days we're going to sneak out for coffee and compare notes on her behavior. That will be a whole OTHER blog entry but, given that it's the holidays, I will keep this nice and light. I have to admit they both looked very attractive decked out in their "Sunday Best".

The food was fantastic and I spent so much time visiting with everyone that I never made it to the dessert table, but I hear I missed some good stuff. I have absolutely no willpower over chocolate and I'm not really all that interested in acquiring any. Hey, it's the holidays - it's OK to kick back just a bit.

Speaking of "kicking back", it looked to me as if Vanessa definitely believes in cutting loose herself! Ummm...Vanessa, it's certainly not my place to critique or monitor your alcohol consumption darling, but don't you think it's a bit much to walk around a swanky soiree with two glasses of vino? It was a bit transparent to "pretend" that one of them belonged to Joe. Those who don't know you as well as I do, may have bought it (though I doubt it), but I've seen this sort of behavior before, more than a few times. I know, I know, you can "handle" it and, apparently you handled quite a lot of it! I may have to practice a little "tough love" with you after the holidays. I'm going to have to keep my eye on you...Those young ladies we work with look up to you and wine notwithstanding, they can't look up if you're falling down! Just something to think about. No question about it, I see where Katie inherited her "bad" habits.

Stephanie joined us this year and, I must say, she was radiant in red. Chelsea gave her a lovely evening 'do and she looked like a little princess. I was very happy to have her with us and I think she had a pretty good time. I wish that Justin had been free - she probably would have had more fun with him as her date, but I don't think she minded hanging with Guy and me. I see her so much - both at work and around the house, that sometimes I don't realize just how beautiful she is and, well, she is! My son has impressive taste. They make a very nice looking pair.

And then, there is Chelsea. Chelsea and I have so much in common that it's almost scary. Even though we're divided by 25 years, there are a few facets of our personality that strike me as identical. We are generally thinking the same thing and I see a lot of me in her, but maybe she'll get lucky and outgrow it. If not, there's always Vanessa around to jerk a knot in her...well, to straighten her out as only Vanessa can.

Chelsea has become very special to me since she joined us in August and how lucky we are to have her! She's weathered the changes we've all been through in the past few months with grace and a smile. I admire her confidence and take-charge personality. She's most certainly a wonderful asset and a wonderful friend.

Our most recent addition is another Stephanie who joins us on Saturdays and who we came to know when she was a client in Vanessa's chair, due to a FORTUNATE series of events! She's talented, easy-going and has a beautiful smile and does GREAT WORK! We're thrilled to have her on our team, even if only on a part-time basis (for now).

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't say a special thank you to the man who has kept us all together this year, through some fairly challenging times, I might add. We're lucky that our place of business is owned by someone who has stood by us and demonstrated his confidence in this mercurial business, spending impressive amounts of money on advertising and equipment, and who has made it possible for us to remain together. My mortgage company is quite grateful to him, as am I! It's been a wild year, Martin. Thank you for sticking by us and not losing faith. We really do want to make you proud.

I would also like to say a special thank you to someone who gave me the best present! This past Saturday, I received the perfect iTunes Gift Certificate! Thank you GE - James Taylor's Christmas CD is beyond wonderful. How sweet of you to send me this and my iPod and I are so thrilled and I swear I am wearing it out. I probably would never have bought this CD for myself, but I'm so happy to have it. "Baby, It's Cold Out There" which is a duet James does with Natalie Cole, is well worth it alone, but every track on there, including "In the Bleak Midwinter", "Some Children See Him" and he also covers Joni Mitchell's "River". Way, way cool.

I also have to send a special thanks to Gary from Cary - When he gave me that iPod last July, I thought, "I'll NEVER use that thing...I'll never even learn to use that thing." But he knew and I have and I love it. I'm addicted to it. Thank you for the iPod and your foresight, Mr. A. Thank you for being one of the many friendships that survived my own personal sea change. It's nice to know you on the other side. Many of my friendships have proven to be so much more durable than I ever would have guessed. I think I became a little more durable myself.

Saturday Afternoon, right after I downloaded the JT iTunes Gift, I got a call from my daughter. She had just climbed out of a cab and she said, "Mom, guess what the cabbie was playing on his CD player - you will never guess!". I couldn't guess...with Katie, you just don't know. "James Taylor's Christmas CD!". Synchronicity! My gift came from a NYC friend, and my daughter heard it in a NYC cab and I was playing it on an iPod that was given to me by the first person I ever visited NYC with back in Oct. 2003 and who promised me I would love the city...Manhattan truly is a magical place.

One year ago, I didn't know my NYC friend. I didn't know my daughter would be well on her way to becoming a seasoned NY'er. I didn't know my son would meet someone who would turn his world around in the best possible way. I didn't know what opportunities were just around the bend. I didn't know that I could be this happy. I'm glad I didn't know because, if I had, I might have gotten in my own way. I've been known to do that now and again.

I can't believe how fast the days of December are flying past. There are a few milestone events coming up in the next few days. OK, so I'm a little nervous about The Wilmington Star article that's coming out tomorrow, but it's completely out of my hands so I just have to trust that it will be fine. Mostly, I do. I think my stomach will calm down after I read it. I just hope there are no surprises and, if there are, the world won't come to an end.

Also this week, my mother turns 83 on Wednesday! That's hard to believe. She still has flawless skin and not a wrinkle to be found. She's a very beautiful woman and we're very blessed to have this dynamo in charge. You would never in a million years believe she is 83 - she lives, acts and looks so much younger. We can't always keep up with her! Thank God she never had any interest in the computer because the rest of us would die a horrible, painful death - no question about it. I know I'm very very blessed to have her for a mother and that fact is revealed to me a little more with each day. She truly is a wonderful person and most definitely an example worthy of emulating.

And next Monday...wow. I have an appointment next Monday at 10:00 AM and I've been waiting on this one for almost three years. I can't predict the outcome, but I'm cautiously optimistic. Time will tell. I know...I really do know, that it will turn out just the way it's supposed to, so I'm really not all that concerned. More on that one, later. If things go well, it could turn out to be a most welcome Christmas present. Prayers are welcome!

I think everyone in this house is looking forward to Christmas and spirits are running high. My home is happy and even the animals seem extra perky, well, except for poor Felix and, no question about it, we love him, but I'm pretty sure that cat is possessed.

During this time last year, things weren't all that great, which makes this year even more precious and refreshing. I am grateful for the lessons. I am even more grateful for the blessed peace.

Life is good...and I feel fine. Giddy...and fine.

05 December 2006

Smile like you mean it!

Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look there. ~ Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

Last week I got an e-mail from a reporter with The Wilmington Star. She was interested in doing an interview with me focusing on the circumstances from which I wrote "The 12 Click Program" for PC Magazine.

When I was invited to write the PC Magazine piece, I didn't have any huge reservations - well, I did, but they evaporated quickly because, though PC Magazine has a huge following, most of the people I encounter on an everyday basis, here in sleepy, southern Wilmington, North Carolina, don't tend to read PC Magazine. A few of them haven't even heard of it, so the chances of my running into people who had read the piece I wrote on how the Internet was a great source of support and information in my first days of sobriety, was low to basically non-existent. This town isn't exactly Silicon Valley. I don't mean that in a negative way, it's simply not.

When the Wilmington-Star proposed doing this interview well, I had to think about that one. Though Wilmington isn't a tiny town, it "lives" smaller than it actually is. I love this place and I've made quite a few special friends here and, no question, it's been a pivotal scene for no small number of life-changing events in my recent history. To say that a lot has transpired in my life since I bought my house in August 2000, would be an understatement. These past six years have been filled with transitions, some of them profound, many of them scary, intimidating, gut-wrenching and a few could be labeled just plain silly and bizarre.

My first two and a half years in Wilmington, I drank way too much. My wine-consumption grew and my good judgment diminished accordingly. I spent the last few months of 2003 spiraling down until finally, on January 11th, I hit bottom. It felt wretched at the time, but in retrospect, it was a soft-landing, compared to many.

Basically, that's what the Wilmington-Star wanted to talk about - what was the catalyst that sparked the change from active alcoholic to sane(r) sobriety? I thought about it and realized that the chances were good that quite a few people would read the story, see the photo and be more than a little surprised. What would these people think? Would they look down on me. Think less of me? Make unfair judgments based on preconceived notions and just plain disinformation and ignorance with regard to alcoholism and addiction?

After thinking about the possible impact and fall-out, I realized that it didn't really matter all that much. I kept remembering the first few days after my last drink, and how shaky, scared and confused I felt. I would have given anything to read about someone who had been through what I was feeling, who had to contemplate the looming lifestyle changes I was facing, and not simply managed, but realized a better life on the other side - the side I couldn't quite see because everything felt cloudy and fuzzy and exponentially overwhelming.

When I remembered those feelings, I realized that I cared more about the potential for positives much more than any personal negatives I might encounter from such a story being published. I've always felt as if alcoholism is still wrapped in an ill-fitting, undeserved veil of secrecy. Everyone pays lip-service to their view that alcoholism is a disease. But for some reason, it's often still referred to in hushed tones - secretive - and unlike cancer or diabetes, addictive disease still sports the stigma of immorality and a condition relegated to individuals of lesser character.

I really hate that. The thing I detest most about alcoholism is the reputation to which it has been assigned and, even more pointedly, the reputation it assigns to people who honestly can't help it if they're bio-chemistry is wired in such a manner that it never quite grasped the concept of "No thank you, I've had enough", after a glass or two of wine.

Are there some horrible, not-fit-for society, terminally damaged people who are raging alcoholics - people who abuse their spouses, their kids and their dogs - folks you'd purposefully go out of your way to avoid on the street? Of course there are. There are also people who engage in spousal abuse, child abuse, drop kick their dalmatians, juggle cats for sport and refuse to pay child support who have never had a drink in their life, much less suffer from substance abuse.

Lucky individuals who have gone five years without a relapse or re-occurrence of cancer, are considered "cured". Those who suffer from diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis, MS, hypo- or hyper- thyroidism, many allergies and yes, alcoholism, are never afforded the luxury of being cured. Patients suffering from all of the aforementioned conditions have illnesses which, with proper health supervision and treatment, can still live full lives as long as they stay mindful of their disease and follow treatment guidelines. My own treatment involves attending recovery meetings and sharing time with people who share my condition. If it sounds like a bitter pill, it isn't at all. It's a gift, a pleasure, a joy and the source of some of the happiest moments in my life. Unlike chemo or an insulin pump, there's really no pain or discomfort involved when I take my medicine - every now and then there's the occasional bad cup of coffee, but other than that, there are no ill side-effects - just a lot of wonderful caveats and benefits.

So what did I do? I replied to the reporter's request and we met this past Friday for an hour-long interview at one of my favorite places downtown; Courthouse Cafe. I don't know how this story will read when it appears in print, but I do know I was honest, forthright and shared my experience. Since that was all that was asked of me, it was hardly a challenge. I definitely kept it real.

What WAS a challenge was the photo-shoot today for the picture that will accompany the piece when it appears in the newspaper on 12 December. I sat at one of the tables in front of our shop on Princess Street while a very nice photographer with the longest lens I've ever seen in my life, snapped away - at times from quite a distance (I told him the further away he got the better I looked), and we encountered a few gawks when he climbed on a chair to snap from a different angle. I had to laugh. There was a glass of jasmine tea beside me on the bistro table and before we started I asked him if he thought it would look like beer in the photo? He didn't think that it would, so I got photographed with my beloved jasmine tea. I pretty much giggled through the rest of the session - and couldn't help but smile as I contemplated all of the crazy places alcohol has taken me and, I guess this would have to qualify as one of them since this man wouldn't have been snapping my photo had I not hit that bottom almost three years ago.

Truth to tell, if I hadn't been stopped in my tracks or, rather, the a parking lot, I have a feeling the only mention of me there would have been in The Wilmington Star, would involve an obituary. I'm not even kidding.

But on a lighter note, who says recovery can't be fun? I had a great time today. That whole "one day at a time" business everyone hears in early sobriety isn't simply a coping mechanism for those new in recovery who are trying to wrap their minds around the concept that they can never drink again, it's also worth remembering when the clouds clear and the days are sweet - a reminder to savor the amazing moments that fly by even when you wish those moments would slow down and linger around for awhile.

Like almost every other day since I found my bearings on January 12th, 2004, I laughed, I learned things, I spoke with friends, smiled at e-mails, hugged a few people, did a few stupid things, and drank way too much caffeine. In other words, I lived my life. Today wasn't special because of one specific event - today was exquisite because, gaffes and all, I really did live in a manner that left me without a hangover and void of regrets. Those two things alone, generate an infinite quantity of gratitude and the pleasure of facing tomorrow with a smile.