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Grace and Recovery

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.

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Growing up

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Growing up

Growing up

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FREEDOM

There is a lot to say about freedom. Freedom from… and freedom for. I have found that many of the things that give me the sense of freedom are not good for me. I am also learning that the hard stuff, the “I don’t want to look in my personal mirror” stuff is ultimately what gives me the greatest sense of freedom when I can do it.

 

It is interesting to read about captives. Persons that have had their “freedoms” removed from them. Prison, jail, political repression or abuse. Dietrich Bonheoffer, Nelson Mandela, Holocaust victims and beyond. Children that are being trafficked today totally outside of their control. Paul, who wrote from prison so eloquently and with a sense of freedom. He said “for I am an ambassador in chains, that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak”. (Ephesians 6:20).

 

Freedom from? Or freedom for? (Check out Erik Erickson and see what he has to say. You won’t be disappointed).

 

None of us want to experience hardship or hurt. We don’t want to let go of our special things, desires or lusts. It’s not fun. Plain and simple. I will tie a rope to them and tug on it for dear life sometimes. But there is no freedom in that. I have made myself my own prisoner in doing so. My chains have become my identity and my cell.

 

On a lighter note, I hosted a yard sale last weekend with two very lovely friends. We had the place set up, accessorized and ready to go. I helped them sort, another brought snacks and beautiful Margaret was there at 7 a.m. for the early birds. We laughed, we met new friends, we sold each others “stuff” (which is all it is, right?). We had a ball, and as much as I may have liked something or thought I couldn’t part with it – FREEDOM. I felt lighter. Less bogged down and more aware of what is really important to me. I wasn’t captive to it anymore. The saying “Less is more” really means something.

 

So at the end of the day, isn’t our personal freedom something we should consider? The ability to say “no” when we need to and “yes” to what feeds our soul? Isn’t that what our Maker wants for us? It ain’t easy, but I think well worth spending some time with.

 

In no way am I an expert in this. Ten miles of rough road due to my own choices and chains. It makes me human. But every day – another day not promised – I thank God for His vision of freedom.

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Hope

My daughter’s middle name is Hope.  Her first name is a tried and true traditional German name, but that wasn’t enough for me.  I wanted to give her something that she could hang onto forever.  I wanted to give her something that would change her life and label her in a way that only something as big as hope can.  As we enter into 2014 I am thinking a lot about hope and what it can do.  I feel very strongly that many of us are.

My baby girl is fourteen years old now.  She’s brave, smart and totally full of herself.  I can do nothing right, I am the worst mom in the world, and her phone is far smarter than I am.  Unfortunately, she is right on track in this day and age.  She lives in a tough world that has no interest in protecting her.  The music she listens to makes me want to vomit, but I suppose my love of AC/DC didn’t do anything for my parents either.  It all just happens so fast now, that as parents we sort of sit by the freeway and watch their little cars go by at 80 miles an hour and try to breathe through it.  The saying “Go play on the freeway” isn’t so funny anymore.  But….hope remains.

A few days ago I took my daughter to volleyball try-outs for a pretty highly esteemed team.  She’d played for them in the past, so off we went to do all the necessary deeds for getting her signed up.  I asked her if she was scared or nervous.  Immediate response..”NO”.  My response…”oh-kay”.  She turned up the music and we drove on.  I have learned to dodge her rebuke of me.  My two boys were in tow and have become sensitive to the tension that can form between the two ladies in the family.  Upon learning that the try outs were a few hours later than we had thought (much to my chagrin and crankiness, plus being on the opposite side of town), my youngest son suggested that “In and Out”  might be a good idea.  Smart man.  Keep the peace.

So we hung out and laughed and told stories.  The boys skateboarded and ate their burgers.  We made our way back to the auditorium for try outs.  My daughter and I waited in line and she did not leave my side.  Her friends came and went, but she stayed next to me.  Small victory for the mother of a teenage girl.  I knew she was nervous, but we were in it together.  There was hope.  In the midst of the battle. For both of us. And because of hope – we both won. And hey, she even said Good Morning to me the next day. Hope can really turn things around  if we just believe in it.

Romans 15:13 says: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in by power of the Holy Spirit”.

Pretty cool.  Happy New Year to one and all.  May hope be your guide.

Grace

Tis the season for so many things. I find myself shocked at the Christmas music playing when I’m just sure it must be July. I live in Santa Barbara so it’s easier to embrace a swim suit than a Santa suit..but then again, I’ve been gone for awhile so everything is taking a little getting used to. We did Black Friday with our boys and I found myself wandering off into the Christmas section at Target. I was, in a sense, paralyzed. Thanksgiving over and now a whole new adventure. I hit the button on one of those random CD machines that plays Christmas music, and at 6 a.m., I couldn’t help but just stand and stare. I just took it all in and tried to digest the scene. As I stood there wondering where to begin, and feeling completely overwhelmed and completely grateful, I received my first, and possibly best, Christmas gift. From out of nowhere, I felt arms wrap around me and just embrace me. It was my twelve year old son. I’ve put him through alot, and I didn’t deserve that hug. It was pure grace. A priceless gift. It meant more to me than any shiny bauble or expensive gift. I melted, and through my son’s gift of grace, I actually braved the entire Christmas area and enjoyed it. The season became real to me – not the commercial stuff – but the real reason that I celebrate. We celebrate a God of grace. That gives His gifts to the undeserved. Freely and with more love than we can imagine. His mercies are new every day and His grace is never ending. Leave it to a twelve year old to teach us the important stuff. We grown ups have a lot to learn. Embrace grace and give it away freely.  It’s the gift that just keeps giving.  Merry Christmas to one and all.

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lost

It’s 5:15 a.m..  I woke at 4:37, but have learned the hard way, that anything moving before 5 a.m. is considered weird.  From the highway noise nearby, I might argue the point.  The folks laboring away at Starbucks certainly would.

I love this time of day. It is my “ME” time.  No questions, no needs, no wants, no “have to do’s”. Those will show up later in spades.  But for now, silence.

Like an architect engrossed in a project, this is when I lay my personal blueprints out and take stock of them.  I talk with God and take inventory on how we are doing.  I never worry about waking Him up.  Like the perfect father, he listens.  Sometimes He has things to say and sometimes I’m ready to listen.  Sometimes I am not.  Sometimes I don’t even want to talk to Him and forge off with plans of my own to save the day.  As often as this mindset has failed me in the past, I still seem to embrace the concept of ME vs. Him.  As the saying goes: Oy vey.  What we do to ourselves.

Nonetheless, He is there.  I am humbled by that.  In the midst of all of my excuses and failures and wish-I-would-haves…He never loses a phone number or forgets a birthday.  He meets us where we are and it doesn’t matter what time it is.  What a miracle.

To bring those of you that read my stuff up to date, you know that I haven’t written for a while.  There are lots of reasons, but let’s just say I lost my voice for a bit.  I think that happens to all of us sometimes.  That little muse that leads us into truth and transparency just takes off.  Packs its little bag and goes on vacation.

I may not be enjoying the process of  writing right now, but apparently the muse has returned and thinks I have something to say.  God clears His throat and says nothing.  But the word “TRUST” is like a little bird swarming around my head and I can’t get away from it.  God checks his fingernails and appears uninvolved and unconcerned.  But…I know better.   He is forty five plus years into a personal renovation project that has my name on it, and He doesn’t need a hard hat.  Time is on His side, not mine. Whether I show up or not, He does.  That’s huge.

So on New Years Eve, I made some serious choices.  Let’s just call them “lifestyle” choices.  You can fill in the blanks.  Like a simple game of preschool matching, I identified one choice with a similar choice and the result was yucky.  I turned over the first card, and felt brilliant when I remembered where the matching card was laying.  I was winning the game, but losing at what really matters.  This realization is really ugly when it hits.

So I gave stuff up.  Not to lose weight or appear younger or actually learn how to use my IPhone.  That is for Oprah and Dr. Phil.  I just decided to take my old goggles off.  I decided that it was time to move into those blueprints and start making foundational choices.  The Master Builder is still looking at His fingernails and appears unconcerned.  But I may see a bit of a smile forming.  A “far off, you-have-no-idea” smile that embraces eternity and beyond.  I am a poor loser, but I admire a trustworthy opponent.  I smile back.

The sky is turning light.  Just about time for my walk and re-entry into the ups and downs of life in general.  Today I am grateful for the return of my muse.  I wish I could capture the bird that sings “TRUST” and keep it with me every moment, but I know too much about myself. I will falter today, forget what is important and only God knows what else.  But here I go.

What liberty there is in knowing that the “Under Construction” signs aren’t  going to be removed anytime soon.  And the Master Builder carries out His blueprints, and holds the ultimate permits.