The big book of AA says that God can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. It is also full of shockingly simple one-liners, stories of courage and immeasurable wisdom. If I were fleeing a burning building, I would grab my Bible and my big book with little thought for other material possessions. Outside of the cherished memories that my children have given to me, I need little else.
I am four months sober today, and while the journey has been long, my gratitude for God and His grace has grown exponentially. I am humbled by His mercy.
I started drinking 30 plus years ago. I don’t know why, except that I liked it and somehow it filled a void inside of me. The first 20 or so years were pretty “normail”, I guess. Lots of nice wine, fancy restaurants, cool jobs and a fairly successful life in general. I had my daughter at 32, and two sons shortly thereafter. Married to my childhood friend, the picture felt complete. I never saw the looming disaster ahead.
About 8 years ago, though, the pretty picture started to fall apart. The laissez faire life that I had so diligently constructed wasn’t feeling special anymore. My business acumen failed me, I began to isolate from dear friends, and I found myself just “getting by” every single day. My evening wine, always a staple in my life, was a necessity. I soon learned that happy hour could start at any time of the day. Lunch Chardonnay became a lifestyle.
As things grew worse – economically and personally – my frequent stops to the liquor store were increasing. I began to drink during work, during play, during everything. I am terribly ashamed to admit that I would hide bottles that, shortly after doing so, I could not find.
Soon the wreckage of my life was becoming evident. Missed appointments, lazy words and lazy days. My personal follow through with everyone – including my family – was at an all time low. I began to drink in the morning to calm my ever increasing levels of anxiety and the shakes that wouldn’t go away without a drink. I lied to myself, I lied to everyone around me. I did just enough to keep the wolves at bay. Somewhere, deep down, I knew something was terribly wrong. But I blamed my life circumstances, my troubles, other people, really anything I could get my hands on. I was sick, and I was a mess. And I had no idea that I was.
Then, in a moment of inspiration to “turn a new page”, I accepted the invitation to attend a women’s conference in Lake Arrowhead with a dear friend. Perfect, I thought. In the fellowship of my church, with a new promise to change my ways, I would not drink and I would get sober. Full of another dose of my own self-will, we made the drive to the conference. Amazingly, I did not smuggle any alcohol with me. This was it, I was really taking this seriously.
(For a funny spin on this sad story, read my “Angel on a Harley” blog. It proves a) How stupid I can really be and b) How God never quits working in the big picture.)
Anyway, two days into the conference, I did not feel well. I couldn’t sleep, and I was convinced that I was coming down with the flu. I sat out on the workshops and tried to think of a way to sneak out and get a drink. I never made it to the liquor store that time.
The last thing I remember was brushing my teeth after crawling out of bed to attend the speaker dinner. My friend had come by to check on me. I wandered out of the bathroom, said I didn’t feel well, and the next thing I knew there were a lot of paramedics in the room and I was being loaded onto a gurney. On the long ride to San Bernadino Hospital, I could not remember my name, where I lived, or if I had any children. I had suffered a massive seizure due to alcohol withdrawal, and my brain was fighting to keep me alive.
Sadly, the moment I began to regain my memory, I used the small bit of strength I had to concoct a story. My grandmother was an epiliptic. I had been under unusual emotional stress for a long time. I think I threw high elevation in there for good measure. Anyway, my subsequent blood tests told the true story. After two days without a drink, my blood alcohol pointed to the grim reality: I was still loaded. My body had finally had enough.
That was about three years ago. This is the part of the story when you should start scratching your head and asking “So what did you DO?”. Well, I did what any committed alcoholic would do. I straightened my act out for a bit, told a few people I was going to get help for my “problems”, and against all medical advice, went right back to drinking. Heavily.
For the next two years, I pretended to get help. My lies and deceitful nature were in total control of my life, but I didn’t care. I could stop when I wanted to, if everyone would just leave me alone. Yes, I fell down often. Couldn’t find my car keys and my wallet at the same time (this was another act of grace) and basically the only time I wasn’t drinking was when I was asleep. Picture a smart, successful, loved and strong young woman sneaking into the kitchen at 3 a.m. to finish off the last of the bottle from a few hours before. That’s if I could remember where it was.
This was me. Broken, sick, isolated and a sack of cheap lies. This is not someone else’s story. It is mine and I remember it. Very well. I still had no idea that I was cheating death around every corner.
Ultimately, the story played out the way that it is usually does. Alcoholism is a direct line to one of three consequences: hospitals, institutions, or death. Or all of the above. Every alcoholic has different details about how their personal story played out. My details don’t include DUI’s, arrests or murder charges. But they should have. Towards the end, I drove drunk more than I ever drove sober. I lied more than I told the truth. My emotional, physical and financial destruction were complete. My family was afraid of me. My dear friends were heartbroken. And still, I would not quit drinking. I was an alcoholic, but I still believed that I could stop anytime. In all truth, I didn’t want to. And I didn’t care.
In August of 2013, with the wolves all over me, I checked into a 60 day, brutal program that promised a radical life change through God that could get me sober. I got good and sauced, said goodbye to my family and friends, and went. I stayed sober for 60 days and came out of the program as somewhat of a hero. My hopes were high, my loved ones were relieved, and I graduated the program and left the ugly, odd and creepy compound at 6 p.m. on a Friday night. I drank two hours later.
It went quickly after that. Convinced that not even God could save me, and now with the shameful label of Alcoholic written all over me, I hit an all time low. “Oh, that’s Simon’s mom…she’s back… From rehab”…”Cyndie, why do you need money? Why do you need a car?”…”Why didn’t you show up like you said you would?”..”Are you drinking?”.
In an attempt to get everyone to shut up, I attended a few AA meetings and even got up and got things done some days. But there was no “pulling it all together” anymore. I smelled like a drunk, I looked like a drunk, and I acted like a drunk. The menteal obsession to drink, and the physcial manifestation of the disease, was complete. I was insane. And still, I didn’t care.
In September of 2014, the unbelievable came to a head. My brave daughter had been speaking to professionals about her fear of my anger, my drinking, my inconsistency for some time. She was exhibiting depression and withdrawal from her usual happy life. Child Welfare Services got involved. Our family was investigated. On September 2, 2014, Santa Barbara County placed the custodial rights of my children into my husbands hands and I was told that I could not parent them, or live at home, until I got help. I moved into the home of a gracious (and unbelievably faithful) friend. I slept on her couch. I kept drinking. I kept lying. And I still didn’t care. I was a member of the walking dead with no hope in sight.
On November 13, I waved a white flag checked myself into a women’s rehab facility here in Santa Barbara that had been recommended and pushed at me for years. Casa Serena. The name says it all. I walked through the doors accepting that I was dying. I felt nothing. The only small bit of hope I had in me was this thing called God that was still whispering my name. Outside of a few belongings in a box, He was all I had.
Looking back, I really never grasped what was going on. I was carried by a strength greater than Me. And alcohol had finally beat me senseless enough that I just wanted to die quietly and peacefully with as little trouble as possible for those around me. I did not believe that I was one of the curable. I spent the first day in total acceptance of death. In my mind, this was my final move. I just wanted to go peacefully.
On the second day, I woke up with something that felt a little different. I couldn’t explain it. We said our morning prayers, and I quietly walked around the beautiful old house reading the prayers and the promises on the walls. “Don’t leave before the miracle”. That was one of my favorites. I stared at it often in the days that were to come.
When I needed a glass of water, or a word of encouragement, it was always there. No one made a big deal of my arrival. I was just another one of “them”. A forgotten, lost soul that didn’t know how to dream or hope anymore. My bed was comfortable. I slept soundly for the first time in years. I declined anti-seizure medicine under stern warnings. Dying was the least of my worries. I was finally safe from myself, and I felt God close by for the first time in ages. A tiny little seed was planted.
I walked outside, into the beautiful yard, and I noticed a Camellia bud, all by itself, tightly wrapped and bracing for winter. I never thought I would live to see it bloom, but a little flicker of light struck my heart. I tried a little bit harder that day.
Soon I was busy with all the daily to-do’s of life in rehab. Chores, morning check-ins, group sessions, art therapy, relapse prevention, war stories and lots of talk of God. I found comfort in the kitchen cooking for others. In my downtime I read romance novels and wondered what it would be like to feel again. Somewhere along the way, I started laughing again. And crying. I started telling my truth, my whole truth, one step at a time. I found solace in cleaning bathrooms and holding my new friend when she cried the tears of shame and regret that I felt myself. I learned how to share my heart. And because I had made it that far, I chose to be teachable and to stay open.
I accepted my powerless over not just alcohol, but everything in my life. My own best thinking had always failed me, but God was showering with new ways of living and thinking and feeling. I had courage to face the ugly and sit with the truth. I jumped out of bed early every morning to spend time with God and really hear what He had to say to me, instead of telling Him how I was going to play the game of my life that day. And He answered me. Every morning. I quit thinking about drinking. I was too busy loving my life.
I can’t go on here without mentioning that the tough days were still tough. I didn’t sail through every moment of those days on a bed of roses. I experienced much loneliness, discouragement and despair at times. My progress was continually questioned, my newfound sobriety and joy were suspicious to many. I had made skeptics out of those I loved the most. But I never gave up. And I didn’t drink. And every day it got better. It got so much better.
By the time I was getting ready to leave Casa, I didn’t even resemble the person that I was when I walked through those doors – inside or out. Those old walls had worked their magic on yet another life – mine – through love, dignity and a blueprint for life that states very clearly: “Give your life to God and follow a few easy steps every day. Then get out there and share the good news with others that are still struggling. He will continue to do for you what you cannot do for yourself.” My response by that time: Okay.
Really, by the time my graduation dinner came about, I didn’t want to leave. I wasn’t a rehab lock-in, I was in a home, with a family, safe and loved. My day was always set out in front of me, and it was always strangely wonderful. I was somewhat shocked that the day had finally come for me to walk back out that door.
But I did. On Wednesday, February 11th, 2015 I left Casa. Three months sober, full of faith, hope and a new plan for living, I drove away. Feeling loved and supported and alive, with questions of worldly details still unanswered, I felt a courage of heart that I still have a hard time explaining but continue to experience each and every day. I am so grateful.
So that, in a crazy nutshell, is my story if anyone is wondering what I’ve been up to. Thanks for listening. On a side note, by the time spring had rolled around at Casa, that Camellia bud I spoke of managed to burst into bloom. And I saw it. It took everything in me not to pick it and save it. And as God would have it, the next time I looked there were many more buds and blooms right alongside it.
We made it through the winter, the sun was shining, and we were were not alone. Praise God. Grace abounding.