Of all the things I have ever been called over the years, the one title I never expected was “Alcoholic”—especially since I didn’t even start drinking until I was around 37 years old.
I was not a drinker throughout my young adult life. Having children at a young age may have saved me this moniker if only for the fact I was too busy working and raising my children (mostly alone) and being drunk was not an option.
My drinking started innocently enough; a glass of wine after work to help me get to sleep, two or three on my days off while cooking and enjoying the evening. The kids were grown, one in college the other 19 and still at home—I deserved to cut loose once in a while, right?
I work in health care and was always shocked by how many people in the medical community not only drank but relied on drinking to help them relax after a rough shift or gear up for the upcoming shift the following day. I took my first “relief” drink after a particularly difficult shift involving the death of a 19-year-old Coast Guard recruit. Fresh off the Montana Farm, he was celebrating his first trip to the ocean and dove off a rock jetty and for whatever reason—a broken neck or he knocked himself out—he never came back up.
By the time he got to us, (about an hour or so later) it was too late.
After much confusion on religion and last rites or the absence thereof and getting the base commander and the base chaplain to the hospital, it had past the time limit of family notification— 10 pm. The time difference between us and his family was three hours. This young man was the same age as my kids, could have easily been one of them and for some reason, my mom
gene kicked in and all I could think of was this kid laying on the slab in the morgue while his mom was putting away her dishes and settling down to watch the evening news having not one damn clue what awaited her the next morning.
After 18 years (at that time) in my field, it was in that moment that I finally got it. I bought a bottle of wine on the way home and drank the whole thing. My tears dried up, the music played, my heart wasn’t as raw and achy and I slept like a baby.
I didn’t come out of that bottle for another five years.
For some, a five year drinking career seems like child’s play. For me, it was the result of years and years of pain and frustration (both personal and professional) that seemed to have an instant cure with a drink.
That is, until the cure became the disease.
I have heard it said that for alcoholics, while sober alcohol sits in the corner and does push-ups and waits for you. As a teenager when I drank, I drank for effect (was there any other reason to drink?) but after having kids I didn’t drink at all. I never viewed any of it as a problem; it was just what teenagers do where I grew up. So for 20 years, alcohol had patiently waited for me to have a need for its return.
What a shock it was to have to admit to myself about two years in, that I was most likely an alcoholic. It took me three more years to screw up the courage (or rather, desperation) to quit and to seek help.
I am not writing this as an alcoholic tale of woe or even to talk of the recovery part. I am writing because somewhere in the time since, I became willing to be open.
In the emerging moments of clarity since entering recovery, I learned a few things that have kept me on an enlightening journey that has forever changed my life.
1. Do it. Whatever it is, do it now.
Follow what you love, do what you love, even if it is one tiny step at a time. You only have today to start. Success as the advertising agencies have defined for us is a lie (and a trap). All those cliché’s about following your passion and your dreams? They are true.
I entered my profession because it was a quick fix for a young mother making minimum wage ,with two mouths to feed. I could have a start with a two year degree. While I love helping people and being of service, my job rather rudely relieved me of my soul and left me bone dry and empty inside. Watching people die horribly for many years will do that I guess.
Growing up, I wanted to be an artist and a writer.
In sobriety I started a small soap and lotion business from the desire to not to slather myself in cancer-causing chemicals and I am slowly easing my way out of my regular job. I did this one bar of soap at a time as my alcoholic run and other mitigating circumstances drained every resource and forced me into bankruptcy.
I am writing. I am writing everything; stories, letters, poems, lists, whatever…but I am writing.
2. I am responsible for my life and my attitude.
No one else put me here. I did this.
My ex-husband (who suffered from mental illness) didn’t, though for years he was a great scapegoat for my self-imposed oppression and unhappiness. My parents didn’t, they gave me everything they could and I chose not to listen to their well intentioned and loving advice. My job was one I settled for because I wasn’t willing to wait or go through all I needed to, to achieve success in what I really wanted or face the possibility of failure at what I really wanted.
When I don’t have what I want it isn’t because of people, places or things. It is because I alone was not willing to take risks, endure ridicule or even let go of negative self talk and fear long enough to try.
3. Worrying is a waste of time, energy and imagination.
I have learned that the universe has a design that I am a part of, but not in control of. I can love someone to the moon and back and they can still walk out the door. I can do my job better than anyone I know and I can still be fired because my boss does not agree. I can give away years of my life to a company and they can close the doors tomorrow.
I cannot walk my children’s path for them and save them from that inevitable pain and from the lessons they will gain from it. I cannot avoid the deaths of loved ones or myself. I can only enjoy each minute as it comes.
Practicing non-attachment has perhaps been one of the most important aspects of serenity and restoration of sanity and it requires constant practice.
4. I am not responsible for the opinions of other people.
I have to follow my own path and I do not need the approval of others. It may be nice to have but it is not necessary. People will always stand in judgment, that is only a reflection of their own self imposed limits and fears. It is none of my business what they think of me.
5. Forgiveness is another word for freedom.
Learning the true meaning of forgiveness was one of the most enlightening experiences of my life. I learned that the phrase “Forgive and Forget” was not advice. It is actually causative action. When you truly, freely give forgiveness, you forget the pain and lose the resentment. It is liberation in its purest form because you are in truth, releasing yourself.
I learned this when my ex-husband was dying. For almost two decades I thought I had forgiven him, or at least left all of the emotional wreckage behind me. It wasn’t until he was alone in his illness and dying (which I had predicted very early on in our divorce and for years I absolutely thought I would take great pleasure in being right when it happened) that I grasped the enormity of my anger towards him and saw for the first time how emotionally frail he was.
In understanding that vulnerability I was instantly relieved of that weight.
My anger and sometimes even hatred hadn’t been hurting him, it had been hurting me. For some crazy reason that I can only attribute to the strange ways of the universe, I saw the person I had once loved deeply, the father of my children, and even more so, just a human being who was dying and scared and I was gifted with being someone he could gain comfort from, however small. I spoke to him nearly every day throughout his illness, I went back home to visit him and we were able to laugh and be kind to each other. It was healing for me, I hope for him as well.
It was a tremendous gift. I recommend giving yourself this gift before life takes the opportunity away. Sometimes you have to create that chance yourself.
Forgive yourself as well. You are human. You are flawed and you are learning.
6. Gratitude is the key to happiness.
Sounds simple right? That’s because it is simple.
I wear mala beads on my wrist. Three sets. Not because I am a guru, or a yogi, or shaman. They are my prayer beads. I believe in the power of prayer, not to ask for anything but to say “Hey man, thanks!” I do not say 47 Hail Mary’s or that sort of thing; prayer to me is an offering up to Source/the universe/ God if you will.
When I start getting a case of the poor-poor-pitiful-mes or anxiety about something I can’t control (see point number three), I take a strand off and start bead by bead listing the simple things I am grateful for; I have a roof over my head, a privilege denied many people. I have running water in my house, a gift that one third of the world doesn’t have.
I have three dogs who love me, even when I smell bad or don’t brush my hair. I have people who love me and people I love. I am grateful for the pain I have felt in my life, the hardships that I have faced because it made me strong and taught me so very much. I am grateful for the hardships I face today,
they will bring me lessons I will use later.
I have more than enough to eat, I have shoes—more than one pair. Some people don’t have shoes at all.
I have breath in my lungs and life in my body.
I have today, and that is enough.
Author: Kat Kenner
Editor: Renée Picard