A Tale of Two Weddings

Anxiety. Fear. Agony.

Those are the words that come to mind when I recall the first wedding I attended sober. It was a scant sixteen days after I’d given up the drink. I was still in withdrawal, and probably had no business going to a wedding of a fraternity brother. Still, I was committed to attending and even more committed to not drinking.

I gave myself the out and canceled the Friday night room at the hotel, opting to drive up to the Philly area on Saturday, the day of the wedding, in order to minimize the exposure. As my wife and I drove up I95 my neck and shoulders tightened. I’m sure my pulse quickened. My stomach turned to knots.

When we got to the hotel, many of my fraternity brothers were already well oiled. I felt left out. I ran an errand, and while I was out got a call from a large client about a TAC case that was going sideways with a critical piece of gear in their network. I desperately wanted to drink.

I gritted my teeth. My knuckles turned white. I managed.

Well before the wedding, well before I passed the table of Manhattans that was awaiting the guests after the ceremony, I was in agony with a migraine.

I wish I could say that I had fun, but if I’m honest, while it was nice to see my life long friends, that night was pure hell for me. There are photos of me with smiles, but that was all a front. I always have been good at hiding what’s wrong.

We split early, shortly after cake was served. I’d done my duty, and I was done.

Last night, I attended the wedding of one of my pledge brothers, Dave. I was surrounded by the same group of friends who drank heavily two years ago and many of them were drinking heavily again. But this event was different.

Gone were the feelings of apprehension, anxiety, and fear. I did not feel left out. I did not miss the drinking. I socialized with my life long friends and enjoyed myself.

No migraine, just fun.

I was in the moment, and at peace. We laughed, we sang, and we danced. I smiled genuine smiles and loved every minute of the wedding and reception.

So much has changed in my world in the last 22 months. I’ve learned how to have fun without alcohol. I’ve learned how to have fun in the presence of alcohol while abstaining. I’ve learned how to embrace my sober life.

Many times you’ll hear folks say that being sober isn’t just about putting down the drink or the drug, and there are usually a lofty words that follow about connecting with a higher power or your spiritual condition. And for many people I’m sure these words are genuine.

What I’ve come to realize is that recovery is not about simply abstaining it’s about living a full and rewarding life. If that means that I’ve connected with a higher power, then so be it, but the resistant self in me doesn’t fully accept that. And that’s okay.

I’ve learned that there will be cycles in my recovery. Times when I feel that the spiritual side of things is of the greatest importance and times when I will see it as a less important. There will be times when I resist the program and times when I embrace it. And that’s why people talk about this being a life long journey. That’s why people talk about staying connected to their recovery and their higher power, because we’re never cured — we only get a daily reprieve.

And still, we do heal. That’s the only word I can use to explain the difference between the two experiences. Aside from geography and time, the only significant difference in my experience of these two weddings is the healing of my mind, body, and spirit.

We do recover.

The Miracle of Runway

When I got sober in September of 2015, I found myself in a unique time when my schedule was incredibly light. For about 6 weeks, I didn’t really have any customer appointments. My business partner was on vacation for a week or two at the time. The quarterly team meeting was in my town so I didn’t have to travel. In sort, I was blessed with a very light load. It was a time unlike nearly any other in the six years I’ve been in the position that I hold. And I was absolutely blessed.

I was reminded of this twice this week. The other night at a meeting someone spoke of his fatigue and shared that he was new in sobriety. I was instantly transported back to those first few months when I could not get enough sleep. I would sleep for 10 hours at night and an hour and a half or two during the middle of the day. I now know that my body was actively repairing the damage caused by years of mistreatment and neglect, but at the time I was horrified. I distinctly remember thinking, “how the hell would I be functioning if I had an office job?” And I truly don’t know how I’d have survived it.

Then yesterday, I was listening to an episode of the Good Life Project with Gabby Bernstein and she was discussing how she uncovered trauma that was buried deep in her subconscious at a time in her life when she had a great deal of runway. She told the story that she had a trip to Australia planned which she canceled and during the week when she should have been abroad was when she uncovered this repressed trauma. Bernstein said, “I had a presence greater than me guiding me through that process.” In the following weeks her schedule was cleared, she didn’t have to be anywhere and she was able to focus on herself — able to focus on self-care. She had runway And I thought, yes, that’s what happened to me.

I am confident I would not have made it through the first few weeks if I’d been consumed by my work. If I’d been traveling like I was earlier this fall, I would not have made it.

And the thing is, it was a fluke. There is no explanation for it. I was busy and traveling like a mad man in the weeks leading up to my sobriety date. And seemingly only after I’d gotten to a certain point, a certain steadiness, did things start to get busy again. As I got stronger the pace steadily increased over the year.

It can be hard to see when the universe has you in the palm of its hand, especially when you are in the middle of your shit. I certainly didn’t see it. I just thought it was luck. But I’m coming to believe now that everything was exactly as it should have been because that’s exactly what I needed at the time.

I’m not a man of great faith by most measures, but I’m working on it. Recognizing a miracle isn’t always easy. But that’s what I had last fall, a miracle. I had runway. I had the time and the space to take care of myself, and get through some of the most challenging days of my life. I am grateful for that, because without it, I might not have made it to where I am today.

Bookshare: Detroit Muscle, by Jeff Vande Zande

51j0maeapglRecently, Jeff Vande Zane, contacted me to see if I might be interested in reading his novel Detroit Muscle and offered to send me a PDF version. Since, I’d heard good things about this novel from several friends on Twitter, I was immediately game. In fact, the book was already on my “to read” shelf on goodreads.com. Since I can’t stand to read PDFs even on an e-reader, I bought a copy from Amazon for my kindle.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was a bit concerned that I might not identify with the protagonist in the story, Robby Cooper, because his story was so different from my own. However, I quickly knew that I would identify with Robby because after all addiction is addiction regardless of the user’s drug of choice. Yes, my drug of choice was Alcohol, and Robby’s was Oxy, but that became immaterial once I got into the story.

The book catalogues Robby’s first few weeks after he gets back to Detroit from a rehab facility. Vande Zande clearly knows Detroit well and includes details about the city and it’s landmarks that pull the reader into the scenes. A story about Detroit would not be complete if it didn’t feature a car and this one does, a 1968 Pontiac Firebird that Robby’s father had restored with his grandfather. Continue reading

Remembering the first 30 days…

When I think about the first 30 days of my sobriety today I have an overwhelming sense of relief.  I don’t ever want to go through that again.  I mean, it was incredibly difficult to simply turn it off and stop drinking daily.  But that’s what I did.  I stopped.

I remember overwhelming fatigue.  Fatigue that hit hard in the middle of the day.  Most days of that first 30, I was down for the count for a solid 1 to 2 hours in the middle of the day.  Thankfully I work form home and so I got away with it.  I don’t know how I’d have dealt with it if I were in an office or on a job site.

I remember not wanting to cook dinner. Continue reading