Monday, October 25, 2010

The Blessings of Sobriety

I’ve been writing lately about people (and I’m at the top of the list) who’ve wandered off the right path somewhere along the line, and of what a struggle it can be to get up, brush off the seat of your pants, maybe pick out some brambles, and set off anew. I thought I’d write today about the many people who have now entered or re-entered my life and inspired me, moved me, surprised me.

When I first got out of rehab, I really didn’t know what to expect. Frankly, I was terrified. I’d been sober for only a month and my mind was still pretty fuzzy. I did realize, with the help of the counselor who’d been assigned to me, that I’d been doing a lot of acting out because of perceived frustrations with my wife. After talking it out with her and with Chelle (she did counsel us both on one occasion), it became pretty clear that there were darn good reasons Chelle had distanced herself from me and some darn good reasons Chelle at times would attempt to control my addiction (which I had read as “trying to control me”). We shared our letters from the heart with each other (Chelle’s can be found here) and it was plain we had some major work to do to repair damage done to our relationship.

But none of it was anything my counselor hadn’t heard a thousand times before. Alcoholics, and how our loved ones deal with us, are all fairly predictable. In fact, when we left her office that day, my counselor said, “Honestly, I don’t see much resentment between you two. I see mostly love. I think you’re going to be fine.”

Chelle and I kept talking; I started the adjustment to living a sober life outside the safe walls of Mountain Vista Farm. A few weeks later, I started up at work again, picking up with my classes I had just missed half a semester with. It was a period of rapid adaptations and facing a lot of stress while learning to do so without a drink. I went to a lot of AA meetings, where I found a lot of strength and support.

It took about another month before I was able to find the courage to fill Chelle in fully about all the things I’d done behind her back, all the lies I’d told when I’d been drinking. I was ready to accept the consequences for those things and braced myself for the possibility of being kicked to the curb. But it didn’t happen. The fact was, Chelle admitted I’d been a lousy liar and she pretty much knew what I’d been up to (she’s no dummy anyway). We talked it out, figuring out where, exactly, I’d broken certain agreements we’d made when establishing the rules of our relationship. We re-established those rules, making some of them clearer. And this time when I promised to abide by them, I actually meant it.

(Oh, I’d “meant” it before—it’s just that I allowed life to come along and persuade me to mentally move boundaries… when unexpected things happened that changed the way the game was shaping up, basically what I did was reinterpret the rules to suit me, without consulting her about it first. In other words, my promise was only as good as how convenient it was for me to keep it. That’s hardly a promise! It’s akin to those people who blithely will tell you they’ll love you always, no matter what may happen. Yet, the minute you piss them off about something, they’re actually always the first persons who will show you the door. Life is full of such ironies.)

But Chelle surprised me—though really, you know, I should’ve seen the forgiveness that was already in her heart. For god’s sakes, this woman pulled out her Amex card and paid, up front, the $9000 for my rehab when we had no clue if Blue Cross would reimburse us for any of it (and they haven’t, gah). To this day, Chelle still says it’s the best nine thousand bucks she’s ever spent. This is the woman who drove two hours both ways to visit me in rehab every Sunday. This is the woman who wrote me every single day I was in rehab, without fail, and every Saturday or Monday, depending, I’d actually get two items to make up for the fact that no mail was delivered on Sunday. My bulletin board next to my bed in rehab was covered with cards, postcards, photos, sweet notes that Chelle wrote me. In retrospect, I see now that our relationship was already healing before I even received my 28-day chip.

This time, when we repeated our vows and reestablished the agreements of our marriage, I made it clear: under no circumstances will I ever budge from these rules for any reason, even if I think I have a good reason. If it is indeed a good reason, then what’s to fear? Chelle will hear it out and agree to a rule change or relaxation. But I shouldn’t be making that decision for her. And this goes both ways. Everything between us is out, open, and clear.

I have abided by these rules, quite easily, actually, for over a year now, and it’s working. Chelle and I have not argued even once since I went into rehab. Not once has either of us raised a voice to the other; we’ve never gone to bed with an issue left hanging unresolved; we simply calmly talk things out. She is an amazingly reasonable person, and I no longer live in fear that if I say something she doesn’t like or agree with, that this is going to automatically make her not love me. (THAT impression is one that was a hangover from my childhood and wasn’t actually based on anything Chelle ever did.)

And it’s not just Chelle. It is also a handful of dear friends, my sponsor among them, and another friend I’ve known for years and reconnected with, who have reminded me of just what a true friendship is all about. My sponsor I’ve blogged about several times before—how her wisdom, ability to listen without judging, and her ability to cut right through bullshit to the real shit—have made her my rock. She’s very good at pointing out when I’m rationalizing or making excuses or just being dumb and has a way of doing so that makes me feel simply human and not evil or stupid. My other friend can only be described as a gift, even a soul mate. What makes people friends, after all? We make each other laugh; we recommend books to each other and talk about them (right now we’re reading The Reader); we share music with each other (a good many of the videos lately that appear on my blog are artists she’s actually turned me onto). She’s a paramedic and just today, I was pulling into the garage when my cell phone rang. I answered, and there she was: “I’m at the hospital, but I just had to call you quickly to tell you what just came over the loudspeaker: I swear, they just paged Dr. Ta-Ta.”

It just feels so good to belly laugh.

It just feels so good to hug people.

It just feels so good to have a group of friends, all of whom have been there & done that, in AA.

It just felt so good today to say to a student, when she dropped by the lab to brainstorm with me about her next essay, “Hey, guess what? You got an ‘A’ on your last paper” and to see her eyes light up.

It just feels so good when colleagues now stop at my office door to say hello and ask how I’m doing.

It just feels so good to have repaired my relationship with my ex Lynn so much that last night I texted her to tell her to be sure to watch “Nature” on PBS at 8pm. There was a show on that I knew she’d like. Her curiosity piqued, she said she would. And today I got a text from her thanking me. She has an affinity for crows and ravens.

It just feels so good to have my friends on Facebook responding to certain of my blog posts, asking for clarifications or adding to the story with their own experiences or even offering further suggestions.

God. What a relief. It just feels so good to be here, to be fully connected.

The blessings continue to unfold. I am blessed, and I am one grateful alcoholic.

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