12 January 2008

Four Years of Living Life One Day at a Time...

"Wake up Susie,
Put your shoes on,
Walk with me into this life...

Finally this morning,
I'm feeling whole again.
It was a helluva night...

Just to be with you, by my side.

Just to have you near, in my sight.
Just to walk a while, in this light.
Just to know that life goes on."

James Taylor wrote and performed that song, but I imagine it was exactly what God was inviting me to do on 11 January 2004. Thank God I finally heard this life-saving invitation and at the lowest point in my life, feeling completely beat to a pulp and completely out of options, something inside of me whispered that perhaps there was another way and maybe even "another day".

February 6, 1960 remains the date of my birth, the day I was given life. January 12th, 2004 is the day I was graciously afforded the amazing and precious chance to reclaim it. Not everyone gets a second chance. I never want to take that for granted. In many ways, January 12th is much more dear to me than February 6th.

It was a helluva night.

By all accounts, I should not even be alive to write this entry. I drove in a black out and somehow landed in the parking lot of a grocery store about a mile from my home. I have no recollection of the drive, but in the process, I somehow managed not to kill myself or anyone else who might have innocently been in my path. That fact alone is proof positive that God had taken over the steering of my car because I can't imagine how I made the drive from Wrightsville Beach to that parking lot and every single day of my life, I am so grateful that the only casualty was my neighbor's mailbox (it didn't survive). I have no memory of that either, but my friend Kathleen and I connected the dots and somehow it came to light that before landing in the parking lot of a nearby store, I must have made it home, turned around, and by some miracle made it to the parking lot of the closed store.

A few of the events of that night remain murky but one impossible to ignore fact is that I was in a very bad place and seriously sick. I have no idea how long I had been in that parking space, I was passed out over the steering wheel and though the car was in "park", it was still running. It was then that one of Wilmington's finest must have spotted the lone car parked with an idling engine and found me, knocking on the glass of my window, rousing me from my horrendously inebriated state.

My memories of what transpired after that are sketchy at best, but I wound up downtown at the police department and I was charged with a DUI and even though the policeman didn't catch me driving, the fact that the car was engaged was enough to earn a ticket I so richly deserved. As that long night progressed, I took advantage of my "one phone call" and for some reason, I called my neighbor across the street from my home, asking if he could come and pick me up. I have no idea how I came to choose him as my one designated call, but in my toxic reasoning, I felt it would be better than calling my parents because I didn't want to worry them. That's how twisted and irrational my reasoning was that night. As if they weren't going out of their minds wondering where in the world I was and how desperately frantic they must have been imagining only the worst possible scenarios. They had lost one daughter in May 1973 and I imagine that they were steeling themselves for the possibility that they may have just lost the other one. When I think of the anguish that my family went through that long night four years ago, I shudder and, as a parent, I can't imagine a worse way to spend a night.

My dad is a logical man and while I was busy downtown being booked with a DUI, he was calling the local hospitals, friends and finally, the police department to see if they knew anything about his missing and unaccounted for daughter. Fortunately, his call was answered by my arresting officer who told my Dad that he had strongly suggested I call my family, but he couldn't talk me into it. He relayed the information to my father that I was confused, disoriented, but still very much alive and that I would be free to leave in a couple of hours.

As dawn began to break on the cold Monday Morning of 12 January 2004, my father and the neighbor I had called earlier, arrived downtown at the police department at about the same time. I went home with my Dad who, upon seeing me, embraced me with a warm hug and was so completely thrilled and relieved that I was alive...maybe not in great shape, but alive. He told me that he loved me and I told him that I thought maybe I just might have a drinking problem. (You think???). My Dad told me that I would be OK and that he and my Mom and my son and daughter would help me any way that they could. There were no lectures on the trip back home. There were only expressions of relief and a well-spring of love, kindness and support. I didn't know much that foggy morning, but I knew that I wasn't alone and that no matter what the coming days might bring, the legal repercussions of my misguided behavior or the status of my impounded Buick, I did have the good sense to know that I was loved, unconditionally.

Three days later with as much fear as I've ever felt, my son drove me to my first AA meeting. I was beyond terrified. I knew nothing about the organization or what any of it was about. I come from a long line of teetotalers so this was foreign territory for all of us. I didn't know if AA could truly help me turn things around, but I was desperate enough to entertain the slightest possibility that there may be hope for me there. And thank God I was desperate and so frightened. I would never have sought assistance if I hadn't been. I needed to be knocked to my knees, it's the perfect position to begin a prayer. For me, it was also the best position from which to begin a life, as well.

Nearly on the brink of tears and feeling as shaky as I ever have, I walked into that meeting and I found a room full of smiling faces and hearty welcomes. I walked out one hour later with phone numbers and warm embraces from people who would play a pivotal role in my recovery. After just one hour, I emerged feeling as if I had finally found something that made sense. I walked in hopeless and I walked out with the priceless commodity of hope. At that point, I dearly needed hope.

In the past four years, I have made all manner of silly mistakes, stupid errors in judgment, some dreadfully bad decisions and I have faced some difficult situations. I've sailed through twelve hours in a roiling tropical storm and I've experienced a car wreck that completely totaled my car. It's been a busy four years! But the one thing I haven't done is felt the need or had the desire to take a drink. That's amazing and that's all God. That's a miracle.

This matter of "living life on life's terms" is challenging stuff! Recovery is a serious business because the disease of alcoholism is progressive and terminal, if left untreated. It's a deadly disease and we never arrive at a plateau where we who suffer from it are considered "well", but if we do a few simple things and follow the suggestions of the what I consider to be a divinely-inspired program, we can and do get better. Much, much better.

In my mind, "recovery" is a verb, a term of action, ongoing and, if I do the "next right thing", it's never-ending and that's one of the great things about it. At every meeting I attend, I see and hear from people who have relapsed, who have went "back out" and tried living in their old ways, and those are sobering moments for me because the point is driven home that I am only one drink away from the end of my life.

When I first joined AA, I couldn't imagine what kind of life lay before me that didn't include a glass of wine to get through a date, an evening alone, or a social gathering of any sort. What fun could there be in dining out? How would I make painful chit chat or appear "cool" without a glass of merlot in my hand? What joy was there left in this world? I imagined a life akin to that of being a nun and my transforming into the female equivalent of a monk. Surely people who didn't imbibe had to lead completely boring and colorless lives because there was nothing to break the ice, ease the tension and I wondered would I ever be able to laugh again? I knew I could never drink again, but I had it in my mind that my future looked bleak, colorless and without any joy and happiness and that I was evolving into a sad and boring existence, maybe something a librarian could deal with, but I didn't know how in the world I would find much excitement in the rest of the days of my life.

Fortunately for me, I was fabulously wrong. The idea of never drinking again for the next 30 or 40 years, if I happened to live that long, struck me as the most dismal prospect imaginable and I would become sad to consider the string of sober days ahead of me, with no buzz or mind-numbing elixir. As the haze of wine slowly lifted and I took in my new reality, it wasn't too long before I began to sense that rather than enhancing what I mistook for "a life", I had been making my way with a dulled sensibility. I couldn't see the forest. My vision was so obscured that I couldn't even make out the trees.

As I attended more and more meetings, found a wonderful sponsor and finally began getting serious about "working the steps", things began to happen. Life hadn't changed, because life didn't need to change. The change that took place came from the only place that it could and that was within me. As they often say, "it's an inside job" and my interior needed some serious revamping and major reconstruction. My life didn't transform overnight, and I learned to adopt a different method of measuring the mystical nature that is "time". "One Day at a Time" became my metronome, reliably ticking off the measure of my days and it's stood me well. This is a good thing - I needed recalibrating.

In my early days of attending meetings, I would often hear folks with many years in AA joyfully share how happy they were to be alcoholics and how their bottom became the springboard to a life worth living. I would look at these fine people and listen to them and wonder, "how could anyone possibly feel they were blessed to be an alcoholic?". Was it brain damage that sparked such nonsensical declarations? Mental disintegration? They looked sane and happy and completely normal but I couldn't help but wonder if they were out of their minds. I was sure I would never ever live long enough to feel happy about my status of being an alcoholic. Don't get me wrong, I was grateful to be alive and afforded a second chance, but I wasn't happy that I had landed myself in a 12-step group and while I was grateful for many things, alcoholism would never be one of them.

After four years of sobriety, I can unequivocally state without the slightest bit of hesitation or reservation that I am, completely and profoundly, happy to be a recovering alcoholic. My gosh, the blessings of these past four years, the connection with my Higher Power who, for me, is God, the ability to live my life with a measure of sanity I didn't know previously, and to know that, on good days and especially bad days, I am still a child of God and I am loved and cared for, watched over and protected, was worth every stumble I made to earn my seat at the table. I can't imagine how I ever lived "pre-AA" because that doesn't remotely resemble what is now my conception of living. Admitting my powerlessness, that my life had become unmanageable and willing it over to a power much greater than myself, is the kindest act I have ever taken for myself and I renew that admission of powerlessness on a daily basis.

Of the 47 years and eleven months I have been allowed the gift of this life, the past four years have been a period of intense growth, learning, understanding and offered more hope and inspiration on a very personal basis than I could have ever guessed was possible. In the days and weeks following 11 January 2004, I was sure that would forever be a date I would consider to mark the darkest and most painful day in my life and certainly nothing to celebrate but now I know it was the day that I was truly saved from myself and lead away from the wreckage that made up my life. This is a day of gratitude, thanksgiving and an occasion to reiterate my thanks to my family, my friends and most of all God for taking another chance on me. It is a day to celebrate the most precious gift I was ever allowed. It is a day of hope and joy and a study in unmerited grace; a reason to look forward to a future with the hope of lots of days to be spent at the doable rate of, one day at a time.

I am so very glad I woke up, walked into the LIGHT, and eternally grateful that I finally found my way. To my precious family (Barbe, Maxine, Katie and Justin), my cadre of crazy friends, Officer Locklear (for being the catalyst of change), Hearing Officer J. Stewart (for having faith in me and allowing me to get back behind the wheel), Peter at Monitech (for making me laugh every time I visit), Amy Hotz, (for the nice profile in the Wilmington Star), Erik Rhey (for feeding me so many interesting assignments for "PC Magazine" - this latest one takes the cake!), Glen Edelstein of Random House (for reminding me of the work that needs to be completed and delivered), and all of the angels who light my way on a daily basis and most of all, to God, I offer my deepest and most heartfelt appreciation for another year of magnificent miracles.

In case you missed my message, there IS life after putting down the bottle. That's the best part.

"Wake up Susie,
Put your shoes on,

Walk with me into this light.

Another night has gone.
Life goes on.
Another dawn is breaking.

Turn and face the sun.

One by one,
The world outside is waking.

Morning light is driven away

All the shadows that hide your way.
And night has given away,
to the promise of another day...
Another day,
Another chance that we may finally find our way,
Another day,
The sun has begun to melt all my fears away...

Another day, another day.

Oh, wake up Susie,

Put your shoes on,

Walk with me into this light." ~ James Taylor, "Another Day"