Monthly Archives: February 2016

Sobriety Collective Article

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  First of a Two-Part Series

I was not an alcoholic, nor an addict, nor a substance abuser. I was not even a “problem” drinker. After all, I was a college graduate, had stable employment, lived in a decent home, had a husband and two kids, and I was a Jew. Everyone knew that alcoholics lived under bridges or in shelters. Addicts stole and were incarcerated in the finest penal institutions. And, of course, both varieties came from dysfunctional families. Well, okay, my family was pretty dysfunctional.

Not only wasn’t I an alkie or a druggie, but also, in my career as a probation officer, I supervised them. They were on the other side of the desk. They were my caseload, and I was paid to “fix” them or to lock them up. I didn’t get arrested when I drove drunk because I had a badge.

Alcohol and drugs were my solution, not my problem. I used them to “take the edge off,” to cope with stress and unhappiness. I used them to help me feel at ease in uncomfortable settings—and anywhere was an uncomfortable setting. Mostly, I used them to feel attractive to the opposite sex.

Getting drunk and using drugs was cool—for a very, very long time. Most people would never have guessed I had a problem. I kept that secret behind closed doors. To the outside world, I was the life of the party:  I was funny and entertaining when I was loaded. My hijinks were the stuff of water cooler jokes at the office on Monday morning. My “outsides” looked just fine.

Towards the end, drugs and alcohol turned on me. My life got very dark. I drank daily and had blackouts in which I couldn’t recall what I’d done or with whom I’d done it.  I lived a double life: during the day, I was a professional in a job with incredible authority, but at night, I drank in the scummiest of dive bars with “lower companions.” From the time I got home from work and popped that first beer until the time I crashed at night with a wine glass by my bedside, I drank. After all, I had a stressful job and a difficult home life. I deserved to drink and to smoke pot!

I got sober on January 4, 1988. It was, and still is, a journey.

I’ve had a chance to take a good, hard look at my life as an alcoholic and addict in a memoir I recently had published:  Starting at Goodbye. I worked on it, off and on, for over ten years. In the first of this two part series, I will refer to a few excerpts to illustrate what my life looked like drunk and sober. The book is also an outrageous love story and testament to my late husband, Wayne. We shared thirty years of our lives together until his death from cancer. I picked up a hunky cowboy in a country western bar and took him home that night. Wayne was supposed to have been my last one night stand.

One of the main reasons I drank was to help me feel better about myself when it came to men. I had a horrible self-image based on my looks. I’d had horrible cystic acne as an adolescent. I was ridiculed by boys in both junior and senior high school because of my skin. I just wanted to be invisible if it meant they’d leave me alone.

When I drank, I felt pretty. I believed that if I went home with the cutest guy in the bar, I wasn’t so bad looking after all.

Here’s an excerpt from the book set early in my relationship with Wayne:

He flashed me his adorable smile and sexy wink, and I was toast. My anger melted like snow on a sunny day. I knew he was attracted to me for the security I offered, not to mention my cabinet filled with booze and a steady supply of pot. He needed my strength and stability. I needed him needing me. No matter what I did or said, he wouldn’t leave me. My weakness filled me with disgust, but I couldn’t really understand why I stayed. What was missing in me? Where was that empty space he filled? Why didn’t I believe I deserved someone who was my equal educationally, socially, and financially?

 We shared a desire to avoid reality. Although I managed to go into work most days, I found myself calling in sick more often after suffering worse and worse hangovers. With Wayne, I was drinking more than ever, matching him shot for shot. On weekends especially, we’d spend hours sitting around the dinner table sharing intimate feelings while candles flickered.

 “No one asked me to the prom,” I said. Tears plopped down my cheeks as I sipped sloppily on a glass of Gallo.

 “I’da asked ya if I’d known ya then.” Wayne leaned over and patted me on the hand.

 “No one wanted me. I was so ugly with my pock-marked skin. And all the boys in high school were so damn short. Some of the meaner ones teased me in front of everyone, called me a giraffe. I sucked it up and cried later, all alone, in my bed.” I took another sip, knocking over the glass accidentally.

 “Ahh, baby. I think you’re beautiful.” He jumped up to get a sponge to wipe up the mess and got out the crystal decanter to pour me some more wine.

 On nights like these, after I poured out my sob stories, we’d stagger upstairs and pass out on the bed. Often, with the room spinning, I’d puke my guts out first….

 I hated feeling so desperate. I questioned my attractiveness. What’s wrong with me? Wasn’t I pretty enough? Passionate enough? Feminine enough?

 The answers lay in the bottom of a liquor bottle. Once I was drunk enough, I could push down the pain, postpone the issues, and ignore what was happening in my life. 

Because I was a functional drunk and Wayne wasn’t, it was easier to focus on him as the alcoholic. His father suggested that I attend Alanon with him.

Here is an excerpt of my first Alanon meeting:

At 6:30 on the dot, Nathan arrived to drive me to the community center in Costa Mesa. A sign posted on a door declared “Alanon meeting here.” We entered a brightly lit large room with dozens of metal folding chairs arranged in straight lines. Slogans with trite sayings like “Let go and let God” had been posted on the walls. A woman dressed in a conservative, navy suit stood at a podium on stage. I surveyed the audience, composed mostly of middle-aged women in dowdy lounge wear with worn, beaten looks on their faces. This is going to be a laugh a minute.

 The leader read aloud some material from Alanon literature, which was followed by enthusiastic clapping. A parade of others stepped up to the podium, announcing their names, which were echoed by the audience—“Hi Loser!” Each told a tale of woe about husbands, boyfriends, or adult children who were out of control from alcohol. There was continuous mention of “the alcoholic,” as if he or she was an inanimate object.

 They had no sense of humor regarding “the alcoholic,” that’s for sure. I had to stifle a desire to laugh out loud on occasion hearing them describe some pretty riotous drunken antics. If they could’ve read my mind, they’d have booted me out of the joint. I didn’t want to humiliate Nathan, so I kept my feelings to myself.

 They ended the meeting by joining hands and reciting some stupid prayer with which I was unfamiliar. I think they said it was the Lord’s Prayer, which lent the whole shenanigans a clearly Christian slant, adding more icing to this unappetizing cake. I’ll give them a piece of my mind if they try to convert me, Nathan be damned.

 After the meeting, we were steered to a table which held Styrofoam cups, a big coffee urn, hot water and tea bags, and an assortment of pastries and cookies. Nathan nudged me in the direction of a group of women who had congregated in the area, and he suggested I talk to them about Wayne. One woman who appeared to be the head sob sister was surrounded by a group of fawning women. I approached the bunch timidly as they formed a spontaneous opening to allow me into the circle. I found myself tattling on Wayne, focusing on his sporadic work history, and recounting tales of outrageous bourbon-related incidents. The head sob sister swept me into her arms and hugged me tightly. Her cohorts made sympathetic tsk-tsk sounds while patting me on the back and muttering jargon.

 A tear slipped down my cheek as I grew more comfortable with this new role of victim. I began to embellish the stories, culminating with a synopsis of the SWAT blow-out.

 “How awful, you poor thing,” one grey-haired matron said, locking eyes with me. “Keep coming back!”

 I was beginning to relish being the center of attention. Hey, this isn’t so bad!…

Is this what the future holds in store for me? Sitting around with a bunch of pathetic losers talking about “the alcoholic”? Might as well shoot myself now and get it over with. Is being with Wayne worth it? I need a stiff drink. 

 

The second part of this two-part series deals with my realization that I too might have a substance abuse problem.

 

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Recovery Rocks Interview

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Name:  Marilyn Boehm

Age:  66

Sobriety date:  1-4-88
Website:  beachmama777.wordpress.com
Facebook:  Marilyn Boehm

Bio:  I am a retired probation officer who has now been fortunate enough to focus on my other life’s passions. I am a dog lover, and I’ve started a meetup with others who love their fur kids. We meet at a local park, have lunch, and then go for a pack walk.

I love quieter pursuits, like gardening. I tend to be on the obsessive side, so my backyard looks like a tropical jungle. I also volunteer weekly at the Long Beach Veterans Administration nursing home. I simply spend time listening and joking with these disabled men and women. I help the blind vets with bingo games, and generally offer any kind of support needed. This is my way of giving back, and I find it helps me more than it helps them. Isn’t that always how service works?

My most recent, and significant accomplishment has been to write and publish my memoir, “Starting at Goodbye.” It is my story of alcoholism, recovery, and the crazy love affair I had with my now deceased husband. I worked on it for ten years, and it helped me deal with the grief of losing my life partner. He was also a Vietnam vet, so working at the VA helped me focus on the living, instead of dwelling on his death.

  • Describe your “rock bottom.”

There were a series of events that conspired to beat me into submission as I struck “rock bottom.” One of the most damaging memories I recall happened when I was in a drunken stupor, angry at my family for not helping to clean the house.  I threw my four-year-old daughter’s toys and possessions off the second story level of our townhouse. Watching her scream in terror as her things went crashing onto the floor of our living room should have assured me a rapid end to my drinking. It helped, but it didn’t end there.

When my husband, a nonfunctional drunk, went into treatment, I was forced to look at the extent of my own drinking. Because I appeared more functional, maintaining a career while drinking myself to death on a daily basis, it took moving the focus off him and onto me. I noticed that those wine bottles in the trash can were mine, and I couldn’t blame it on him anymore.

Lastly, I participated in a personal growth seminar in which I realized how numb I’d gotten from my drinking. The feedback I got from the other participants was that they saw “a dead woman.” I made an appointment for outpatient treatment the following week. I realized I needed help.

  • What were your first 30 days of recovery like?

I absolutely hated being sober! I had to learn to live my life without any drugs or alcohol, and it was extremely uncomfortable. I liked the fellowship—the laughter and the crazy stories—but I thought those who were enjoying sober lives were lying! Ironically, I’ve stayed sober since my first meeting 28 years ago, and now it’s me who shares about enjoying life.

  • What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?

My husband relapsed during my first two weeks of recovery, asking me why he should stay sober when it was obvious I wouldn’t last one more day. Because I knew I couldn’t stay sober around my drinking “buddy,” I divorced him. Alcohol had destroyed us both. I still loved him, but I knew I couldn’t live in that madness anymore.

When he came into the program six months later and joined me at some of my meetings, we remarried! Our family life grew healthy for the first time, and we became responsible and stable parents for the first time. My husband eventually took his contractors exam and became a licensed contractor. We experienced financial security for the first time in our marriage.

Those were the most joyous days of my life. I still needed a little “edge” of excitement in sobriety, so we started adventure travel. We enjoyed seeing four kinds of monkeys and sloths in the rainforests of Costa Rica. We saw a tiger in the jungles of Nepal while riding on the back of an elephant. We saw a pack of lions hunt and kill a buffalo in Botswana.

When my husband got diagnosed with brain cancer, I was able to be his caregiver for five years, while working full time. While that experience was far from being the “best thing,” I learned the true meaning of love. It’s not a feeling, it’s an action.

I also got to see my daughter graduate from college after which she found and married a great guy. My son, who got the worst of my drinking, found a solid career in the railroad industry in Spokane, Washington. He and his ex-wife also blessed me with my grandson, who is now 11 years old. Seeing both of my kids grow up to become productive, responsible, and loving adults is HUGE.

  • If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using, what would you tell yourself?

I would tell myself that I didn’t need to anesthetize myself and numb out my feelings in order to live a good life and to be okay with myself. I would tell myself that I could have MORE fun in sobriety than I ever could find in the lowlife bars and with the lower companionship I considered as friends.

I would tell myself I am a funny person! In sobriety, I learned that I made people laugh when I shared. So I took a Stand-Up Comedy class and, for my final exam, I performed in a comedy club. I continued to perform a couple more times, but I realized it was too much pressure and that I shouldn’t give up my day job!

  • What have been the most useful things you have learned about yourself since getting sober/clean?

I have learned that it’s an inside job. When I was drinking and using, I focused on looking and sounding good. I believed I was ugly and needed attention and validation from men to have any worth. I wore a mask, hiding my true self from the world.

I have learned that one of the most important things is to walk in integrity, to clean up my act if I make a mistake and hurt someone, to live an authentic life that I choose.  I have found that the innermost me is a good person who is living her dreams and is grateful for what I have. I no longer want someone else’s life.

  • Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that would never have happened if you had been drinking.

In June of last year, I challenged myself to do something for a cause dear to my heart: helping to save the life of elephants. I flew to Sacramento to learn to lobby for a bill that would prohibit the sales of ivory in our state. The bill passed in the legislature! In my drinking days, I would have complained that there was nothing I could do to help fix anything I found wrong in the world. In sobriety, I know that my voice matters and that I am not powerless.

Also, I had always wanted to be a writer but never believed I was good enough. When I was in college, I had signed up to be a journalism major. Because of one conversation with someone who walked me between classes and whom I didn’t even know, I changed my major and the direction of my life.

It was only in sobriety that I finally had the courage to tell my truth and to face my demons by publishing my memoir in November, 2015. The reactions from people who have read my memoir have given me the confidence to call myself an author and to believe I really am a good writer!

  • What are your favorite recovery slogans?

“Live and let live.”

“To thine own self be true.”

“A day at a time.”

  • And lastly, why does “recovery rock?”

By the time I got to the rooms of AA, I wanted to die. I have realized that, in sobriety, I am learning to live life on life’s terms. Now, I want more than ever to live a sober life as long as I can last. I want to feel all of my feelings, good and bad. My life rocks…and it’s all because I’m in recovery!

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