Tag Archives: women

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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Diary of a Divorce–Oct 16th

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MAKING A SPLASH!

       I have depended on the various men in my life to help with repairs around the house when something breaks, as it inevitably does. Husband 2/3 was a contractor who was basically skilled in just about everything related to construction. He was a genius at building and had an artist’s eye to create beauty out of everyday material. He turned our fixer-upper home  into a cozy, adorable, beautiful masterpiece where I just had to ask for something to be done and he’d do it (in his time, of course!) The house is a testament to his talents.

        When he was struck by brain lymphoma, I could no longer depend on him for anything that went wrong. Actually, I couldn’t count on him for anything anymore. It was beyond sad. This once virile, strong man ended up in a wheelchair. I became the one who had to make all the hard decisions, and I was suddenly cast into the role of fixer-upper around the house. I’m embarassed to say I’d never changed a lightbulb or unplugged a stopped up toilet when it’d been so much easier to tell him to do it.

        It took me HOURS to plunge my first stopped up toilet. I cried through the whole experience as s**t splattered on my walls and into my hair. I felt so inept and useless. BUT I did it! When it flushed normally, I cheered like a high schooler whose team scored a touchdown.

        Even before #2/3 died, I found a replacement in husband #4.  He was an engineer, but he still knew how to do things around the house. I thought I’d found my new prince! The problem, however, was that he never wanted to do any of these things and would procrastinate endlessly. I wanted to keep from being the screaming fishwife, so I sat quietly and stewed in my resentments. I even hired a handyman a few times to do things #4 was unwilling/unable to do.

        When I “asked” #4 to leave for the final time, I found myself dreading anything possibly going wrong around the house. The truth was that I didn’t want to learn about these mundane chores. I didn’t want to have to read an owner’s manual about what, for the “average” man comes naturally.

         Of course, things did start to fall apart with time. It’s part of the experience of being a home owner. As I struggled for hours, mostly in resistance, I finally undertook to fix little things around the house. Lightbulbs? No sweat. Picking lint out of a dryer so my clothes wouldn’t be wet after circling for an hour? Even a moron could do it (including me!)  One of the worst of the worst was when I had to use a trap to kill a tree rat and then lifted the bloody bag to dispose of the body. Yuccccck. But I did it. Last week, I came home to find one of my dogs had brought a barely alive brown mouse from the garden and dropped it onto my bedroom carpet. I wept as I had to scoop this half-dead mouse into a bucket, shoved it outside, and dropped a heavy rock on it to put it out of its misery. I knew that, if I didn’t, the dogs would use the poor thing as a toy until they killed it slowly and miserably.

         I didn’t (and often don’t) want to do all these things on my own. I want someone ELSE to be responsible…but there is NO someone else. It’s up to me now.

      I watched my gardener spend 10 minutes mowing my tiny front and back lawns and then blowing leaves with those infernally loud gas blowers. As I resentfully wrote my $65 monthly check to him, I decided it would be my last one.  I bought my own battery-operated, lightweight mower and I’ve been mowing my lawns ever since. It’s a snap! And good exercise! I love the blower. It’s actually fun, and it’s electric so no ear-splitting whines and no more inhaling those noxious gas fumes. I haven’t mastered the edger yet. You could say I’ve got “trenches” down each side of my lawn where a straight edge seems beyond my grasp. With time, I should master even that.

       Then the pump gasped its last breath in my outdoor fountain. Oh no! #4 had made such a big deal out of replacing the previous pump. For some reason, the one he purchased (after little hints from me for months and months) wasn’t the right one. He went back and forth to Home Depot before settling on one that became the bane of my existence. It filled daily with tiny leaves I’d have to pick out one by one.

         I was in terror! It was now up to me to find a replacement. I spent many hours on the internet last weekend gathering info on GPH (gallons per hour), size, specs, etc. In despair, I called several companies hoping they’d guide me in finding a replacement for my now discontinued pump. It seems that October is a bad month for outdoor gardening supplies. Few had them in supply anymore, and no one had a clue how to help.

        Finally, I took the broken pump to Home Depot and searched for a female “associate.” She was very blunt, very cut and dried–but extremely helpful. I told her I’m divorcing and don’t have a clue what I’m doing. I’ve done that before in HD when I needed a drill and a weed killer. The women ‘get” it and are so encouraging.

        I brought home the pump we both agreed seemed to be closest to what I needed. I held my breath as I twisted the tube into the existing hole. Impossible. It didn’t fit. I almost started to cry again. But then I lifted the plastic container and two size adjusters fell from the package. I figured why not see what they could do? As I wiped off the accumulating spider webs that landed on my hands and face from the fountain parts, I shoved in one of the adjusters. It fit!!!!

        I switched on the electricity and…..out pumped the water, making a delightful splash in the bottom of my fountain!

       As I sit here luxuriating in the serene sound of that lovely concrete fountain in the shape of a long-haired woman, I am beyond pleased with myself.

       Folks, I think I’m gonna make it alone. I’m feeling again like that Helen Reddy song title: I am woman, hear me roar.

        And I decided to cancel that date with the potential f**k buddy who requires several women to satisfy his appetites. I deserve better, so much better.