How To Spot An Alcoholic

Of course, we all know the easy way to spot an alcoholic: red face, preoccupation with alcohol, unable to stop drinking once started etc etc. But today I am going to share with you some insight on characteristics of an alcoholic you may not know. Keep in mind, that what applies to spotting an alcoholic also applies to spotting a relapse because drinking alcohol is only a symptom of a greater problem inside the heads and hearts of people inflicted with the disease.

  1. Anger and resentment- This is nothing new to someone who is in AA. The whole book is written around this subject. Alcoholics have a pattern of being angry and resentful. Often, if I am on social media and I see someone with hostile posts I instantly become suspicious. Alcoholics are triggered by what they deem to be unfair acts against them especially when it comes to close relationships. The disease makes it very difficult for the alcoholic to not take someone’s actions personal. However, in recovery we learn that even the most atrocious acts of unkindness are not personal and we are taught to believe what other people say about us is none of our business.
  2. Comorbidity- Almost all alcoholics have secondary afflictions of the spirit, mind and body that manifest prior to the age we begin drinking. I suffer from anxiety and depression. Always have. In recovery, we are bonded by identifying in each other the same twisted personality traits. It seems like everything we feel is to the extreme. Alcoholics are extremely sensitive. In alcohol we look for relief in caring so much about anything and everything.
  3. Big Plans but No Follow Thru- The brain of an alcoholic is very different than a person who is not inflicted. The pleasure centers of our brain are not naturally full and it takes action every day to get into a pleasurable space. Alcohol replaces action in a way that we think of a big ideas, sometimes brilliant ideas, that are never completed due the fact that the intake of alcohol gives us the same reward response as if we had actually followed through on goal or a task. For example, when I want to write a book, if I drink I most likely will never write the book because alcohol makes me feel as if I had already done the work. This is why in recovery action is far more important than thought. Someone in relapse will begin slowly not to accomplish anything that is important for daily functioning and in the grander scheme of life.
  4. A Track Record- This is very hard for alcoholics to see. We feel things are happening to us. That we are just unlucky. It is very difficult for an alcoholic to link their drinking as a consequence of what they choose. An alcoholic does not have to be drunk to make bad decisions. Once again, drinking is only a symptom that masks what drives a person to be reckless, irresponsible and sometimes very foolish. And the next thing we know we have multiple situations transpiring at once but cannot figure out why. For instance, we get in fights with significant others, our bills are not paid or we lack money, our health deteriorates and we stop doing things that we usually love all at the same time.  When someone is in their disease it is almost impossible for them to be accountable because their disease wants more alcohol. I know that is hard for a normal person to understand but it true.
  5. Unhealthy Boundaries- I am not sure if our inability to have healthy boundaries starts in the family of origin who is likely full of other alcoholics or if it is just the nature of the disease. But alcoholics do not have healthy boundaries. They are often promiscuous, codependent and often expect others to do for them what they should be doing for themselves. They are abusive and they let themselves be abused. They do not know where they begin as a person and others start. This is very hard to master even in sobriety because our extreme feelings and thinking tend to create scenarios both in our heads and in our lives that cross lines of respectability and human decency.
  6. Great Senses of Humor- Recovering alcoholics know how to laugh at themselves. They are usually very funny with off color remarks and ideas. The way we view the world is quite different than a normal person and we are not afraid to embrace that side of themselves because they are usually rewarded by other people for it.
  7. Moderation in Moderation- Alcoholics are all or nothing thinkers. Balance is just not in our vocabulary. If we eat, we eat a lot, if we exercise,we exercise a lot, if we love we love far too much and we don’t see much reason to change.  We have a history of doing everything in our life to excess. Once again, we have a blind spot. We are unable to match our thinking with our behavior. We do not see the link unless we are practicing being mindful. I do not think being moderate ever becomes easy for someone even they have years of sobriety. That is why it is helpful to go to meetings, have a sponsor and be able to tell on ourselves. Otherwise, we slowly or quickly unravel into some sort of extreme.
  8. A Need to be Special- Alcoholics almost always feel that they do not fit in. Because of this, they have a desire to be more “special” than their peers. They truly believe they are superior because of it. But at the same time, being special creates distance which in turn breeds loneliness. One of the greatest things I learned was to find the similarities I have with my fellows if I want to feel fulfilled in my relationships.

This list is not extensive. But it can tip a person off to know if someone has a problem with an alcohol problem. I usually can spot someone right a way. However, it is seldom useful to tell a person that they are alcoholic. An alcoholic usually can figure this out on some level and either desperately tries to hide it or is willing to seek help.

Alcoholism: A fact in my life.

Alcoholism is a disease of apathy. I have always known that alcohol is poison to my body. But the truth is my disease does not care. I can write about my track record pertaining to alcohol. I can talk to sober friends. I can look someone in the eye and admit I still struggle with alcohol but it will never stop me from picking up again and again. It does not matter that I get physically sick or that I embarrass myself. Money is no object because I will find a way. And that is something that I have to live with for the rest of my life.

I remember coming up with this great speech that I would give to young people whenever I had a chance. It goes something like this: Do you know what happens to you when you say you don’t know or you don’t care? The students say no. And I ask again…You don’t know? And they get more interested. And I repeat the question for impact. Do you know what happens to you when you say you don’t know or you don’t care? And then I answer. When you say you don’t know or you don’t care decisions get made for you. You have given up your option to choose. And you don’t even know it. 

But the truth with most issues in life is that we do care. Alcoholics care far more than anyone realizes. We are super sensitive individuals battling a disease with our own mind. And that disease needs to be respected because it is bigger than us, more powerful, cunning, baffling, disruptive and painful than we can humanly handle. And we care. We care that we feel like crap and that our dreams fall to the wayside. We care that we have lost ourselves over and over again. But again and again we lose this battle.

And that is why divine intervention is real. The fact is there will be thousands of days I cannot stop drinking and then one day I ask God for help and I stop shortly after. This is commonly reported by many recovering alcoholics. Furthermore, our problems soften in time and turn into miracles if we stay on task. I am not sure if a “normie” is that lucky. Maybe God allowed a normal person to have many joyous days and we needed the extra help. It seems plausible to me at this point.

Divine intervention has always preceded my ability to live a sober life. When I get out of my way and trust there is something bigger present, my life takes on a new form. Many alcoholics do not like the idea of God. They say that they do not believe it. It doesn’t matter to me anymore if it is true or not. I don’t want to die so I will believe in God. And I cannot do it for someone else. God does not play that game. It has to be for me.

Although, there is nothing better than being in a room full of happy recovering alcoholics. Recovering alcoholics are hilarious. They get each other’s warped minds. We understand that we are isolators, easily resentful, maimed by our own actions. We know the depths of hell each of us has traveled and we are very grateful to be back.We become awesome leaders, lovers, parents and people.

And in a split second we do not care. And the minute we begin to not complete tasks, not show up for commitments, not participate in an active way in our lives we unravel. It doesn’t always pretell a pending relapse but it does say something about the state of mind of the person.

Therefore, my actions must direct my life, not my thinking, if I am to lead a life free from this substance. I do not need to know why. I just need to do it. There it takes great humility in surrendering to this fact. And in humility there is  great freedom. I cannot think of a better way to live than to be free. I could ask for nothing more.

Peace out.

 

 

The House of Hope

children's parade.jpg

 

Culture shock placed my body in perpetual disbelief when I entered the House of Hope. I was now living with people I probably would not have spoke to in passing. Thank God for humility because I was no different from these ladies despite my drug of choice and the color of my skin.

“You’re my buddy!” This giant black woman announced and then she grabbed me and hugged me hard. She had done 10 months for fraud in the Twin Towers of Los Angeles. A wild look lit up her eyes. In fact, most people there had wild looks as I silently watched the group interact. The wild look in their eyes simply was early sobriety. And I had it too.

I was so sick. I compare my disease to thinking you have a cold when you actually have pneumonia. The more sober you become the more you realize how sick you are. And I was given the opportunity to get the help I needed with free housing, food and solid recovery.

“What is your story?”A woman asked and handed me a menthol cigarette.

I don’t belong here, I thought.

“I am an alcoholic.” I replied. I was actually the only alcoholic there. Most of the girls shot up heroin, smoked crack and experienced rock bottoms that I could not even imagine. We had prisoners, prostitutes and women who lost their children to the system all living together. I felt like I did not belong but that was far-fetched dream I call magical thinking.

The facts were I lost my car, my house, my friends, my money, my cats (all eight) and most importantly, I lost my ability to see right from wrong while I remained a bankrupt tax evader. How was I different from them? Addiction is color blind. It is socio-economically blind; it can creep into the nicest homes and destitute any family.

And I was there. With one bag and no where to go for three months. That night they had to look for a blanket and a pillow for me. The place was getting by on a shoe string and all the ladies signed onto welfare, general welfare and food stamps to help keep the place going. We shopped at the food bank and we became very blessed for the food we had.

My first night gave me a glimpse of what the next three months would hold. And while I was trying to go to sleep in a shared bedroom for six,  I could hear some girls making out nearby. I felt like I was in a movie.”What if someone approached me? I don’t even know how to defend myself!” However, I later learned these women were beautiful people.  The drug controlled their choices, my choices and our outcomes. I kept wondering how the morning would be in my brand new world where anything was possible as I drifted off to sleep.

In the morning I learned about chores. The chore rules were strict. Every chore was inspected and if you did not do it right, everyone would have to wait while you went back and tried again.

After chores we were shuffled into a van. I had no idea where we were going. I would soon learn that this was would happen often. But the women were laughing and happy. And even though I knew nothing about their backgrounds, I began to feel a sense of ease.

Little did I know we were being driven to a children’s parade down San Pedro’s version of Main Street. This was before Hippa but the staff responsibly painted clown faces on each of us and suited us in clown garb. It was like 90 degrees and we smoked menthol cigarettes as we waited for hours for our turn in the parade. Turned out… we were the finale. Our makeup had melted off our faces but we tried our best to funny and dazzle the crowd. The children seemed happy and so did I.

But, I was so sick as were many others but we did it. Service. Service was the key. In this self-absorbed world service will set you free. And I live by that now. And walking down the San Pedro Main Street smiling and waving at the children and their families was actually fun. I had completely forgotten what it was like to have fun without alcohol or drugs. And the act of service brought me joy! That was quite a surprise!

I still had three more months to live in this strange place. I had nowhere to go. It was the first time I had no other choice. And that is always the key with this disease because if I had just one more person to help me, or even the slightest ability to try something else, I would not have lived very long. Nor would any of these other women.

So the adventure began and I learned, lived and loved in an entirely different world.

 

 

Could it be ME?

mind bodydt_150916_chronic_pain_headache_migraine_800x600

You enter the room again. You know you have to wait. You are just a number in a line. The doctor finally comes in and recommends another doctor and this pattern continues for 10 years. Your pain is insignificant to the giant medical beast. Your theories are trivial in the three minute intervals the doctor is allowed to spend with you. And you are left frustrated, hopeless and depressed.

But imagine…why are you having so many health problems? It is not old age…you are far too young still you are constantly seeing an onslaught of doctors, taking far too medications and  you find yourself having a surgery every year and a half for ten years.  There is a reason. And the reason is you.

You don’t go out to make problems for yourself. These problems are so embedded in your psyche that they are totally unknown to you. Yet they manifest. They must find a way to be freed from your heart and your mind therefore they creep up like some unwanted weed in what was once a beautiful garden. A place where you played and you loved. All the while, you have been depressed since the beginning of your toddler years.

And this is where I stand. Finally, after ten years of major surgeries and a lifetime of self medication I realized  the doctor can fix the symptom. But I am the problem.

Fear of abandonment takes someones heart and leaves it guarded; unable to accept love because your walls are too thick from the pain of yesterday. In fact, if I look closer, I see there is a pattern of people and experiences that I still dwell on as if they were happening now. Even if I was the person who left the friendship or relationship or vice versa, I struggle with people moving on without me. I struggle so much I make myself sick.

I am suggesting that anyone with chronic health issues consider that it may come from inside our brains and not our body. We all have a certain amount of energy we yield. We have the capability to change what form that energy takes through our actions, through how we love and to what degree to we love ourselves.

If you look closely, you might dislike yourself a lot more than you realized.  Although, this is a misinterpretation of the real you, it becomes part of you because you believe it. Plus your actions show it. But denial is very strong within us and we place labels in the wrong places.

My  great epiphany came when my friend wrote to me to discuss my upcoming total hip replacement surgery. Many months before he had a total hip replacement as well and we both agreed we had a propensity for yummy painkillers. He said not worry and he would get back to me. On the same day  I left the hospital after my total hip replacement I learned that he died in a drug related accident.

This was so painful to hear. And I grieved for sometime. I kept trying to wrap my brain around it and I knew it was drug related. I kept thinking , this could be you.  Yet I rationalized over and over again”I know I like pain killers but I am not having surgeries on purpose. The pain is real. There is solid evidence to support my need for the operations.” This was a thought that had twirled around my brain for several years. And then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I receive some message. It is you. You are making yourself sick. But I did not know why.

Instantly, I began to listen instead of think. I let a few walls down and felt an absorbent amount of pain I carried within me. In fact, it was too much and I needed to deal with it in doses. The answer would come…I was sure.

I began discussing this a few doctors who did listen to me. They agreed with me and they wished more patients could see their health difficulties for what they were instead of looking for the fix.

And I share this now because I believe I have found my reason. I was neglected as a child, my mother left our family when I was ten, I had some people cut me off from our relationships in my teens and early twenties and my father’s death was a form of abandonment that still seems beyond repair.In fact from that moment on my health became in decline. I see know coincidences.

Additionally,  I recognized long ago that I try to tap to someone’s tune before they even know they had one. It was highly important to me that a  person would like me and eventually depend on me. I do not share these examples to blame someone because that would be useless. I am saying these are facts; no one bears responsibility.

And just when I thought it was over, I had to have an abdominal hysterectomy.  But this time I suspected ulterior reasons. I spoke with a spiritual advisor and she listened to my theories and all of sudden she asked if I had ever been raped. I thought for a second and two repressed memories emerged.

I did have two situations where I could not be sure if it was rape or not. The first time, I was already making out with this guy for a few days but one night he was going full forward and I kept saying no, no, no. But he did it anyway and he never spoke to me again. On another occasion several years later I was screwing around with an old boyfriend. We always used condoms but one night I passed out and he had sex with me in my sleep with no protection leaving me pregnant and alone. I never looked at it as rape because I knew I had put myself in risky situations but I did not agree to either sexual encounter. And the hardest thing for me to bear was that a person would do that to me and leave. (Back to the initial issue of abandonment.)

She had me scream to the top of my lungs practicing some sort of primal therapy. And I screamed and I cried and I hit a pillow trying to heal. It was amazing to me that i held those two events I held in my reproductive system for more than 20 years. And then I felt free.

Today, I have a long way to go to get my health at normal levels. I have gained a huge amount of weight,  I have trouble walking and I am sleepy most of the time. But with baby-steps I will be back. The baby-steps are what it takes to show myself that I matter. I will have to fight the indifference and pain that I allow to be parasites in my body. But I will fight. I will fight to live and I will fight to live well. It is a blessing that I was able to be totally honest with myself for just one moment of clarity. I foresee other moments in the future.

The END

 

 

 

 

 

God is Orange

orange chair

I threw myself into alcohol oblivion while going to different bars hoping no one would recognize me from other bars in town. I was living with my best friend’s mom and she was nice enough to take me in and help me detox and provide much love that I desperately needed. She was a Eucharistic Minister that attended church everyday who was serving God by helping me. And it felt wonderful to be around someone who was not toxic but only held great concern for me.

It was the next day at her house that the truth about my alcoholism became utterly apparent. And one would think  that after the detox, the shakes, the sounds, the voices,the chills, sleepless nights and countless cigarettes that I would never dare touch the stuff again. But it didn’t take long for me to relapse and I started right where I left off; wanting to die.

I knew of one place I could go to get help but I thought I was better than those women. They were criminals and prostitutes with their kids taken away. I could not get help with this sort of foul-natured types. I was from Thousand Oaks. I was upper middle class and I was not about to go.

Jose, a busboy from work confronted me one day. “I saw you running in your car today.””Running?” I thought to myself. I had no clue what he was talking about. “I spoke to the Holy Spirit today and he said you are not one the right path. That God has other plans for you.” This was not what I wanted to hear.

Yet he was right, entries from my journal begged for death from this torturous life I was living. I could not see any way out. It was just a matter of time before I would end it.

A few nights later, I dreamed that I walked into “The House of Hope.” This was the place where the criminals roamed and the prostitutes taunted. But I walked in and the entire room was decorated with orange furniture with barely any room to actually move.

A woman asked, ” What do you want?” I answered in a soft voice that I was looking for the House of Hope. “You got insurance?” she asked. “No, I will go.” I said. “Now wait a minute I will be right back.”She shuffled through the orange furniture until she found her way out. All I could hear as she walked off was something extremely foreign to my ears.

When she left I noticed a radio. But what played from it seemed unfamiliar. It was like a thousand angels singing at once. Music so beautiful, I became mesmerized and I completely forgot the orange room with the firm lady and why I was even there in the first place. It was the loveliest sound I had ever heard in all of my life. No instruments, only acapella. And voices sung from the end of time out of the speakers of this old rusty radio that radiated the unconditional love that we all search for.

Then I woke up.

I could not shake this orange room dream. It was like no other. And for the next few nights when I woke up I felt like someone was holding me in my bed. But I was alone. Things were not making sense.

My best friend’s mom became aware I had relapsed. The feeling in the house grew cold.When I fist moved in all doors were open throughout the house and now they were closed. I was making the mom sick with stress. No one wants an active alcoholic in their home. Yet I had nowhere to go.

She finally confronted me one morning after I had a night where I blacked out and made a terrible mess in her home. I did not deny anything. But I was not about to go through withdrawals again without  being under the care of a doctor.

I was  accepted in the hospital and I shook and I sweat and I was scared and I was ashamed. The doctor gave me some Valium but when I went to sleep I dreamed of some snake man pushing me into a smelly swamp of serpents. “Is this where you want to be?” The Snake Man screamed. “Is this what you want?”

I actually woke up and I was sure that the doctor had given me LSD. But this was good old fashioned delirium tremens. Like many before me, I was experiencing hell on earth.

When I was finally released from the hospital I was pretty ecstatic. I had no cravings for alcohol and I was willing to do what it takes. I told my best friend’s mom that I was not going to call the House of Hope, I wanted to see it with my own eyes. I just want to see if it is orange.

Down into the barrio I went. The streets of San Pedro shared great violence among its residents. But I had nowhere to go. And as I pulled up in front of this halfway house/rehab I could not help but notice two of the brightest orange chairs sitting outside the gate waiting as if to say hello. ORANGE. No doubt about it. Flawless beautiful orange.

And I was home.