Stuck in Chicago

You would think that in our current pandemic reality I would have plenty of time to write. In truth, I do have more time; however, I am still “working” in my ghost town daycare that just won’t seem to shut down. I teach art at my son’s new daycare. I am used to 90 or more kiddos coming in and out of my studio all day long. Since Monday, I average 20 kids total. So, I do have more free time, although, it is not the same as many other people sheltering in place.

Where do I start with everything that has happened? I started school shortly after the holidays and applied for a job at a fancy daycare to supplement my income. For a while I was working full time, attending graduate school part time, and retained my old job part time. It was incredibly stressful. I eventually broke down. I stopped attending regular meetings and stopped calling my sponsor. I relapsed in a new and terrifying intensity. Everything got very bad very quickly, and I was ready to watch it all burn. I was done with life and didn’t see any coming back to it. I can still remember how I felt, and how much it hurt. I was exhausted and alone in my mind. As my new sponsor explained it, it was like having my soul sucked out of me. It was a profoundly painful experience. I was pushed further towards the edge in my insanity. The paradoxical nature of this was that it wasn’t such a scary place to be in the moment. Living is hard. Dying is easy, and I was tired of fighting.

What was I fighting? I suppose it was a false sense of control over my life and my disease. I was running myself ragged trying to do it all and ignoring the most important parts of my life. It makes me wonder if any of it is worth the trouble. Money comes and goes, and by the time I’m done with grad school I’ll be about $60,000 in student loan debt. I thought that finding a career path that would allow me to be of service to people would complement my spiritual program. Now I’m having doubts.

I don’t know if I would have made it out of this relapse alone. Thankfully, my partner called me on my bullshit and quickly got me to a meeting. I got a new sponsor right away, and my partner and I were able to go on our trip to Florida. Six days in Florida bliss felt like it lasted six seconds. We haven’t even been back for a full week yet, and it feels like it has been months. I hate living in Chicago. I am not built for the lack of sunshine, the oppressive overcast skies, air that hurts your face, and weather that confines me to my home. I can’t hack it anymore, and I’m just plain tired of living this way. In Florida I was filled with hope and inspired by the possibilities of the future. As I sit here in my empty studio, watching the rain on the sidewalk outside, I just want to cry. That feeling of wanting to get away from here creeps back in to my heart, and I wonder how long I will last this time.

 

Nic Fit

I have found a way to live life without alcohol, and at certain times I have been able to quite smoking/e-cigs/vaping for extended periods of time. However, nicotine has been my adversary long before alcohol became a problem in my life. I remember coming into AA for the first time ready to change, and found I leaned on my old crutch nicotine a little harder those days. E-cigs led to full fledged vaping for a few years. When I brought it up to my sponsors, I got an “easy does it,” or “one thing at a time,” response. Most recently  I went back to e-cigs, and once again I am trying to get off this shit. I ask myself why the hell this is so hard?

I guess I am just prone to addictive behavior. See, I know nicotine addiction is one of the hardest dependencies to break. Just because I have quit before, though painfully each time, gives me a false sense of control over it. How do I know? I always, always wind up going back to it. If I am drinking, well I have no rational thought against it. If I am not drinking, I justify it by telling myself “at least it’s not alcohol.” Why the hell is there no 12 step program (that I have heard of) for nicotine?

Society has “dealt” with the issue by keeping smoking out of public spaces and raising the legal age to buy nicotine products; no small feat or gesture, but still it is EVERYWHERE. The difference between alcohol and nicotine glaring. Unless you are an alcoholic, normal people can enjoy alcohol in moderation. No body grabs a pack of smokes just for Christmas or buys an expensive vape and vape juice just to enjoy once it on the weekends. Nicotine doesn’t work that way.

I am so disgusted with my own inability to stay quit. When I was in my first or second year of community college, I wrote a paper on banning tobacco all together. This was before the days of vaping and e-cigarettes. My paper was published in volume 4 of COD’s scholarly journal ESSAI. I wrote it and gathered research on tobacco and nicotine as a means of motivating myself to stay quit. It was a very well research and supported persuasive piece. Nevertheless, I was back smoking before it was published; which all but sucked all the joy out of attending the publication ceremony. ESSAI is on its 16th volume now, and there have been no other tobacco related articles written.

I have to do something different this time, obviously. And since the only difference now is my support and reliance on a higher power, that is where I will have to find strength and motivation. Here’s hoping this is the last time I have to go through this.

 

 

 

 

 

Making Peace with the Past

I have made many bad decisions in my life and hurt a lot of people I wish I hadn’t. I have had traumatic experiences that I have used as excuses for inexcusable behavior. I have spent money I didn’t have, lied, cheated, stole, wasted time, and jumped from one bad relationship to another. Asking the question, “if you could go back, would you change anything…” is pointless from the get. The past is unchangeable; no matter how much we may wish it to be different or not.

We can try and hide from our past. I certainly don’t like who I used to be; no matter how much I thought I was a “good” person at the time. My past actions make my current self feel sick at times. I used to wake up fearing whatever had happened the previous night, and spent my days running around with anxiety of bumping into someone who knew something I didn’t want someone else to know. The dread of being exposed as a fraud, a fake “good” person only out for my own self interest, was too much to bare, and I self medicated with alcohol to “fix” that feeling. Of course, it only made it worse.

So I don’t hide from my past anymore. I am a flawed, sick, fragile human being making an honest effort to be a better person little by little; day by day. The most, perhaps, obvious use for past mistakes is to learn from them. That seems like a no brainer. However; it is a little more complicated for one plagued with the disease of alcoholism to learn from the past. I am unable to will into my mind with sufficient force the miseries of my past; self knowledge is not enough to enable me to learn from my failures. A complete psychic change is necessary for me to do this and also to continually use my past to help others like me. Though this sounds like a tall order, it really is not. The AA program has it down unarguably, when it comes to helping even the slowest, most defiant learner. The only catch is, I have to want it bad enough.

I can sit and ruminate about all the mistakes I have made, focus on the negative aspects of my life, and wallow in self pity all I want. Nobody cares if I do, and I’m only hurting myself in doing so. But, inevitably, if I do that for too long; I will fall away from my spiritual program. I will stop doing the simple things required of me to maintain my sobriety, and I will wind up drunk. That would hurt people. So I have a duty, not only to myself, but to all the people I care about not to let that happen. I face my past with acceptance and gratitude. I am candid about my horrible decisions with people who may need to hear it or can relate. It was what it was. It is what it is. It is what I do with it now that matters.

Friday, I get to go to my favorite place (in Illinois), and take part in a Japanese lantern ceremony with my two favorite people in the world. I am not focused on the fact my car might get repossessed on Monday. I am not worried how I will pay the mortgage. I have enough money to buy food, gas, pay for insurance, and have lights, water, and AC. I have wonderful people in my life, and with a past like mine, there are very few mistakes I cannot currently avoid. Been there, done that. Let’s do this the right way now. How exciting is that?

Nine to Six Feet Under

I was never cut out for the corporate world. The thought of 9am-5pm jobs made me shudder. I could hardly handle 8am-3pm in high school. When I was little I would tell anyone to their face I would “NEVER” work for someone else. I was going to be my own boss. Reality really likes to kick me in the teeth.

Before I knew it, I was working for my high school as a tech intern, then Dominos for one “glorious” summer, then I started my brief job at Best Buy around 4:30am on Black Friday that year. Finally, I found myself with a 9-5pm job at the company my mom worked for, Adventist Midwest Management Services. This company was bought out several years ago, but I spent ten years there; on and off during school breaks and finally as a full time employee after graduating from college. My Bachelor of Arts degree is in English Literature. I graduated, however; at the end of 2009, and the job market was not doing well. I fell back into the world of medical billing/collections and haven’t been able to get myself out since.

I jumped to a different big medical billing company after I got married hoping for a challenge and upward mobility, but I just found more of the same monotonous boredom that tortured me all day long. So I made the decision to quit and become a personal trainer. I got certified the same night I passed another test; a pregnancy test. Back I went to the world of medical billing to save up for the bundle of responsibility now on its way.

It was hard to tell  I was pregnant until month 7 or 8. I was running right up until I got put on bed rest. One long night in the hospital with steroid injections and magnesium sulfate fun, and then I was home. But my son was impatient to get out into the world. I was back at the hospital in for a ten day stay with talks with NICU doctors as well as a surgeon in the even I started hemorrhaging after giving birth. Due to a low lying placenta, I was at risk and a hysterectomy would have been the only salvation. Three weeks prior I’m running in the fall breeze, now I was hoping my son and I made it through alive.

Blood pressure medication, of all things, kept contractions under control. As long as I took it and was on bed rest, the little bugger would keep cooking and I got the first chance I had in years not to be working full time. I knew that as soon as I went off the medication it was “go time.” So my pregnancy was kind of unique in that I could time when I was going to go into labor. It was a Saturday morning when I stopped taking the medication.  I went out with my mom to go buy a baby blanket and get some food and fresh air before the big event. My son was born at 5:43 am the next morning. Everything went fine aside from major game plan change of getting an epidural at 6cm. I wanted an all natural birth, but for all intents and purposes, I had been having contractions for a month and a half. Enough was enough and god bless that anesthesiologist!

Anyway, back to the topic of work. I found being a stay-at-home-mom to be far more work than a 9-5pm job, but it was much more rewarding and far less boring. I was fortunate enough to have almost two years at home with my son before I had to reenter the workforce full time. It was necessary as I had filed for an order of protection against my ex and (obviously) planned to file for divorce. In the span of a week and a half, I got a brand new car without a penny down or a job, found a daycare I wasn’t completely terrified to leave my son at, and found a job that started the Monday after I interviewed. Talk a bout a whirlwind; It was a crazy, stressful, and challenging time.

After the initial anxiety of leaving my son in the care of strangers for 9-10 hours a day, I found some appreciation for being back in the world of adults; working to support myself and my son. Alas, it was again in the field of medical billing, and after no more than six months I was, once again, bored to tears. A mixture of infatuation with my new love, hatred for my cubicle jail, stress from the divorce, and lack or relying on AA for support lead to a period of relapses. I missed too much work and lost my job because of that. Despite a solid month of looking for something in a different field, there was nothing that would compensate me at a rate I needed to survive. So, I wound up at my previous company’s biggest competitor; once again, in a cubicle.

Part of me thinks that I stayed with my ex as long as I did for the opportunity to be a stay-at-home-mom. I hated him, but I also hated working a 9-5. Eventually, I saw that if I was going to survive and do what was best for myself and my son, I had to get away from my ex. So now we are divorced, I am working a job I don’t love but need and can’t complain about, and I’m moving back in with my mother. I suppose I am hoping in the interim, I might find a way to carve out a new career path. If I stay on the course I am currently stuck in, I am certain it will eventually kill me spiritually. That may sound over dramatic, but you don’t know how much I loath the ice box rat maze in which I spend 40 hours a week.

Going Home

I know I am not the only person my age finding themselves moving back home with their parent(s). With the state of our country and overwhelming student loan debt, it is not uncommon. I, at the age of thirty two years old, am moving back home with my mother. Not only that, I am moving in with my three and a half year old son and my partner. At first, the thought seems ridiculous.

Psychologically challenging initially, having to return home after over a decade of independent living, seems terrible. I have to return to the home I use to loath; the place I called a cage that I did everything in my power to break free from. The cage, however, was mostly mental. I was a teenager with an authority problem when I first left. I returned home from college to unwelcome “house” rules, and once again did whatever I could to fly the coop. In truth, I was being inconsiderate and living in a dream world in active alcoholism. My poor mother had to deal with it all; me being there and completely intolerable, or me leaving her trying to light that bridge on fire as I went. Thankfully, motherly love is flame-retardant.

Fresh back in the doors of AA, I see this coming home as an opportunity to be of service to my mother; to make a living amends to her and help take care of the home and her now that she is older. My sponsor put the words “being of service” to it, but I already felt as though I plenty of reasons for atonement. I welcome this homecoming as an opportunity to do just that, and I am beyond grateful to have such a supportive and helpful partner with whom to do this.

I get to make amends to my mother by fixing up the place, cooking, cleaning, etc., my son gets to be closer to his favorite Grandma, and as a family unit, we will all benefit. We get to save up money and take time to align ourselves properly for the next phase; whatever that may look like. I never thought the day would come where I am actually looking forward to moving back home.

While I have no desire for it to be a permanent situation, living back home will be a reprieve from the financial tornado I find myself in these days. I will take care of my debts, start saving money, and plan for a more stable financial future with all my hard learned lessons. It is a fresh start in familiar place. I can’t wait to go home.

Changing Changes Everything

It is still very hard to say that my sobriety comes first; even before the people I love most in my life. It took the lessons only relapse could teach me to realize it is absolutely necessary. A lesson if forgotten, I place those people in a position of potential harm. Being in a healthy relationship with a loving, amazing partner is this alien experience in comparison to my past. It is a wonderful change, and I want to continue to make myself a better person and a better partner.

This is not the only relationship that is changing. I am completely redefining, in my mind, what it means to unconditionally love my son. It’s true that as soon as he was born, I knew I’d do anything for him. I’d give my life for his. It was simply a new fact of life; cemented the second I held him in my arms for the first time. How could anything possibly corrupt that?

Alcoholism is an insidious disease. Cunning, baffling, and overwhelmingly powerful, I found out that this disease could even overcome my maternal instincts. That was my bottom; when I realized that. I hated myself so deeply for not knowing better. I have had to learn to forgive myself for that, because I sincerely didn’t know. I had absolutely no control over my drinking and had no clue how to fix that. Thank goodness for my first sponsor. She brought me into AA and showed me the solution.

For a year and a half I grew as a person and worked the steps, but I coddled my little boy, due to the turmoil at home. After I had kicked his father out, my sponsor wound up going back out there (drinking.) I thought I was fine, but I completely lost my way. I found myself back out there and hurting myself and the people I loved once again. I knew I needed to get back in to AA and get a sponsor. I tried, two different sponsors, in and out, but my heart wasn’t in it. I wasn’t honest from the start. I had a trust issue from my first sponsor.

I don’t know how I wound up back in the program whole-heartedly again. It was not of my own doing. I started talking to an old friend, fell in love, was open about my drinking problem. We went through some rough patches together, and somehow wound up diving in to the program together at the same time. It’s nothing short of amazing.

I am changing my behaviors toward my partner, my mother, myself, and my son. Although I still want to coddle him and make any discomfort go away, as I feel responsible for the hurt and confusion as a result of divorcing his father. But, I know it had to be done and in the end it is for the best. My son has so many people in his life that care able him. Grandparent’s, parents, teachers, friends, cousins, and even AA friends! His world is so much bigger than mine was at his age. My goal for my relationship with him right now is to maintain healthy boundaries and respect, to make sure that he feels safe and loved, and I want to make sure to take the time to be present with him in some kind of activity each week. All the drama and worry that surrounds his father is out of my control, and I will have to trust my higher power to watch over my son as it does for me.

I also want to be an example to my son of how to be happy even when things aren’t 100% how you want them to be. I want to show him how to pursue healthy goals and dreams and to teach him kindness and understanding toward all beings. The best way I know how to do any of this is to do it myself. He’s a smart little one, and pick up on everything. Although I cannot manage or control his life or who he becomes, I can show him how life can be when lived in kindness and love.

Waking Nightmares

I don’t know if dreams have any spiritual significance, or if it is simply the mind processing subconscious information. All that I do know is that when I do dream and remember it, it’s usually nightmares. And, significant or not, when I wake from these aliens worlds and impossible situations, it has a real, literal effect on my mood and even my body. In this sense, there is something real and significant about dreams, but I’m no expert and make no claims.

A common feature of my nightmares is a lack of control. I am sure most can relate to the trying to scream but can’t, or trying to run and feeling like you are stuck in sludge while dreaming. If I choose to fight an enemy in my nightmares, I am never strong enough to swing whatever “weapon” I find in my hands with sufficient force. In the midst of ever changing fluid chaos, often I have an overwhelming sense of impending doom. Anxiety by an unknown force is terrible. I prefer zombie dreams to that. Then, at least, I know what I’m running from.

I have had dreams of different worlds, alternate realities, apocalyptic scenarios, and some almost plausible ones. Last night was a cross between an alternate reality in a town I’ve never been to and relapse dream. Unlike my usual drinking dreams, instead of unwittingly taking a drink or trying to get away with just a few, I was catapulted directly into the misery of the final stages of my alcoholism. The pain and fear of trying to find the next drink and terror of having to start facing withdrawal. It was palpable. I woke up sweating and had the “jitters” all morning long. It was awful.

I have zero intentions on going out and grabbing a drink. So, if this was some sort of cosmic warning or reminder of the pain I’ve experience as the result of my drinking, message received and completely unnecessary!

I need to start working on positive visualization before falling asleep. I think it could help my subconscious not be so fearful and gloomy. Perhaps that will help or perhaps not, but I have to do something as falling asleep exhausted and waking up even more so is getting very, very old.

Life Goes On

It’s a ride, this life of mine. I am only thirty-two, but I feel as if I have lived through a lifetime of events. College, jobs, marriage, alcoholism, recovery, relapse, home ownership, car ownership, parenthood, divorce, selling real estate, bankruptcy, and now I’m moving back home with my mother. I’m finally in a healthy relationship with a real partner that I truly love, and although finances have hit the fan, the future looks bright; building from a clean slate with many lessons learned.

Last Sunday my realtor and her family came over for dinner. We all know each other and by the end of dinner, the kiddos had ripped every pillow off the bed and engaged in one epic pillow fight. This week was stressful and physically demanding due to necessary last minute home repairs and cleaning, but somehow we managed to pull it off. The condo is officially listed today, and we already have four viewings scheduled. I’m so grateful for such a wonderful realtor and new friend, as well as a super supportive partner without whom I could not have done this.

My ex is still who he was, but I’m learning to handle his behavior in a healthier way. It is nice to not constantly be at war. I would have never thought we could sort everything out like this. To be real, I am doing everything, with much help from wonderful people, and he is just not resisting and going along with it for the most part. That is the best I could have hoped for, and I’ll be satisfied with it. With the help of my sponsor, another amazing person in my life who deals with an alcoholic ex-husband, I am learning to set healthy boundaries. I’m learning how to not be surprised by his behavior, because he has always been like that. What should I expect? I am grateful for the ability to get less rattled and be far less sensitive to his provocations. Sometimes, still, I fail myself by reacting poorly, but I am doing a hell of a lot better than I used to.

Getting back into AA was awkward at first. It didn’t come with the pink cloud it did for me like the first time. I felt like I was returning the disappointment of a potential success story. I hate feeling that way. Perhaps it is a completely self inflicted perception. I wouldn’t put it past myself to dream it up, but that’s how I feel among my old friends. So, I’ll make new friends, and keep in touch with old ones. I don’t regret coming back into the program for a second. I’m just trying to find my groove in this place again. I supposed all expectations must be left at the door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Work in Progress

So, on Monday I started writing a post about how overwhelmed I was with everything going on in my life. I was focusing on all the negative stuff. I got about three paragraphs in, wiping away tears, and decided writing about things wasn’t helping. Who wants to listen to me complain about my problems anyways? A novel idea hit me. Why don’t I just tell my partner I’m overwhelmed, directly, instead of indirectly pour out my feelings in a blog post?

From an analytical standpoint, reaching out and saying I need help seems like a common sense thing to do when I’m overwhelmed. That is not; however, how my mind works. For many years, be it from my mother or ex-husband, when I have reached out for help it was under the assumption of me “owing” or being indebted to that person. The scales of power shifted against my favor, and I thus tried to avoid it at all costs.

Prior to these past few years, I tried to make everything happen on my own. When things went wrong, I blamed someone else. When things went right, I thought, “see! I can do this all.” I prided myself on saying I put myself through college, and I did for two years at community college. But when scholarships and a student job didn’t cover rent and tuition at WIU, I relied on my father and my boyfriend at the time to help me pay for things.

I have always been a bit of an impatient opportunist. Once I graduated, I grabbed what I could from my apartment in Macomb, IL and never went back. I jumped from one unhealthy relationship into another; seeking greener grass and a brighter future. I pushed to get married, to buy a condo, to get a new car, and all of these things manifested. But I was not happy. I sought escape, comfort, and oblivion every day in a bottle, can or glass. Nothing made me happy, and I never asked for help.

So what is the point in saying all of this? Today, I am divorced, filing for bankruptcy, and moving back in with my mother, but I am happier than I have ever been. How is this possible? Well, I have an amazing partner working the program with me. I have learned to ask for help and not try to force everything to be how I want it. I don’t blame other people for EVERYTHING (most of the time,) and try to accept things as they are. Despite all the pain and misery of the last ten years of my life, I have the three most important things I care about; my sobriety, my partner, and my son. I have everything if I have these things. I don’t care about my car. Having to sell my condo is stressful, but doesn’t destroy my inner peace (for long.) Filing for bankruptcy I see as a new start.

The future is limitless, and I get to share it with the people I care about most. I may be broke as a joke right now, but I don’t feel poor. I am truly happy. It’s something I was never able to find on my own but am so very grateful to have today.

 

 

 

 

 

Trudging the Road

I am tired. The divorce is finalized, but my work is far from over. I have to file two years of back income taxes, file for bankruptcy, put my condo up for sale with in 30 days, and find some place to live once it sells. I am working 9.5 hour days to make up for missing work for court on Tuesday, and I’m just completely drained.

I am still making five meetings a week, talking to my sponsor daily, reading daily, praying daily, listening to speakers in my car on the way to work, and soon I will need to get to work on my second 4th step. I am not looking forward to it. The first time around, I was happy to do it. I wanted to unload all the demons of my past. This time around, I feel like I should have known better. I knew I was an alcoholic. I knew there was a solution, and I knew how to stay sober. Still, I said “I’ve got this,” and proceeded to royally screw up my life. I used and hurt people, stole, lied, and drank my way to oblivion.

After my first fuck up, I tried to go back to AA as usual. I got a new sponsor and pretended nothing happened. Every second in every meeting I felt like a fraud. I stayed sober for some time, but it was easier to fall away from AA the second time. I never felt like I really came back anyways. I wasn’t honest and was pretending to be something I was not.

I got wrapped up in a new and exciting love at the same time my entire world changed. I filed for an order of protection, bought a car, got a fulltime job, put my son in daycare, and then filed for divorce all in the span of a month or two. I got busy, and my sparse free time was completely ear marked (by me) for time with new love. I stopped going to meetings, and eventually was left, yet again, defenseless against that first drink.

A deadly dance ensued of sober periods followed by deceptive drunken excursions. If it wasn’t such a serious, life threatening disease, I would describe some of the shit I pulled as comical shenanigans. Alas, they were not.

I would quit, start again, quit, start again, and then I got back to that hellish place where I couldn’t stop. I always end up there. All self talk in my head grew very hostile. What the hell are you doing? You know this could ruin everything. You could lose everything. You idiot! What the hell is the matter with you?! All thoughts were quickly dismissed by the obsession of how I was going to get my next drink.

I had been sober since a short stint in the hospital. Then the e-mail came that the judge had set my divorce case to go to trial. I threw my hands up and set my intentions on getting obliterated that night, and I did, bringing my partner along for the ride. I drank a bit the next day too, but something had happened and my partner decided he needed to get to a meeting and it couldn’t wait. So I took him to where I knew there were good people. My birthday was very lack luster this year as it was detox day 1, but that didn’t matter to me at all. We’ve been going to meetings together ever since.

My dilemma now is clearing away the wreckage of the past. My mistake in “coming back” the first time, was not being honest and getting everything out of me. So, I have got to do this 4th/5th step with my new sponsor. But as I said, I am TIRED. Perhaps a bit of self care and a good nights sleep will help renew my zeal to really dig in to my dirt. I suppose we shall see. All I really know is that it is something I absolutely have to do if I want to stay sober and keep growing in the program. And I do want that; more than anything in the world.