Livin’ the Dream

summer sunshine -

It hasn’t been on purpose, but I realize I have been conspicuously absent from this blog for most of the summer.  Rather than finding myself hunched over my computer, I’ve been out and about savoring every bit of this glorious season’s sunshine and warmth and, well, just participating in life.  It has been a total gift to have had the opportunity to preach occasionally and, beginning this October, I will have a somewhat steady gig with a congregation currently in a pastoral vacancy.  I have been finding myself re-discovering who I am and what gives me joy.  That may sound elementary, but to this recovering alcoholic, reclaiming life has been no easy task.  I wasted a great deal of time feeling sorry for myself.  I was sure I had ruined everything and there was absolutely nothing to look forward to our hope for.  Yes, there was a time I believed I could never have fun or enjoy myself, let alone be ‘happy’ without alcohol.  Not true!  I haven’t had a drink in nearly a year (I will mark one year of sobriety this Friday), and, while I have no idea what my future holds, I am finding myself pretty jacked up about it!

I don’t think about a drink anymore.  Really.  The AA folk used to tell me this day would come and I didn’t believe them.  But it really has.  I’ve gone places and done all sorts of things I never thought I would go to or do again—at least not without booze—and have enjoyed myself!  Seltzer with lemon has become my drink of choice (I prefer the sodium free when I’m stocking my fridge at home, but any seltzer will do, even club soda if need be, just please squeeze a wedge in it!).  I’ve been to concerts and clubs and birthdays and funerals and celebrations of all sorts—and have come through unscathed.  I think it is because I am so damn happy; I don’t want to risk this sense of well-being and deep-seated joy ever again.  NEVER.  I never want to slip back into the abyss that was my life prior to getting sober.  I shudder at the thought of all the years I wasted.  Never again.  Life is too good, its gifts too precious, to risk missing even another moment of it.

At the risk of sounding like one of those AA folk (and yes, I still go to meetings), I want to reassure anyone who’s a few hours or weeks or days into sobriety that it absolutely will get easier and so, so much better!  I thought my experience was as bad as it could get—rehab, job loss, compromised health, but I could have died.  I know that now.  If I could have gotten away with drinking for another month or year, I could have very easily killed myself; if not by alcohol consumption directly, then by a car accident (thank God I never killed anyone!) or some other reckless behavior.  Looking at things from this perspective, I am one incredibly lucky woman: lucky to be alive and sober and able to sit by the pool and look up at the night sky and experience joy and thank God over and over and over again!  No matter that I considered them lies, the promises are coming true in my life.  Slowly, but surely, I am reemerging as someone more true to herself than I had ever imagined possible.

Hang in there, peeps.  From the one year mark, and for as far as I can see, life is looking oh, so good!

Photo Credit: Bing Images/

Consequence of Choice

One of my biggest problems when I was still drinking—aside from still drinking—was I somehow had myself convinced that I would be totally unable to write without lubrication.  I can remember, a full two years before I gave up alcohol for good, I had managed to stay sober for about 30 days.  I was on medical leave at the time and feeling pretty awful, so my sobriety was more a consequence of circumstance than a choice.  After a few weeks, I was feeling better and planning to return to work.  I will never forget sitting in front of the computer, trying to write a sermon, and staring at the cursor mocking me from the blank page.  The pressure was on.  I had to write something.  And there was only one way I could imagine making that happen.  I went out.  Procured a bottle of Merlot.  And returned to the computer with glass in hand.  Voilá!  The words started flowing.

Unfortunately, the wine kept flowing long after that first sermon was written and preached.  It would be a full two years before I would find myself sober for any considerable length of time.  Again, more as a consequence of circumstance than anything else.  I ended up in rehab for 30 days—at the conclusion of which, I was, eh, shall we say, encouraged to resign my position.  I was sober alright.  I was also broken, depressed, and convinced I had been sentenced to a lifetime of repentance and misery.  I would never preach—let alone write—again.  The cursor would forever mock me from the blank page.  There would be no words:  no sermons; no poetry; no musings.  The flow of wine and words had dried up.  I think I started this blog to prove just that.  What I discovered, however, was it was still possible for me to coax words onto a page.  It felt clumsy at first, but the words eventually did come.

Before long, I was writing again!  Mostly about my struggle with sobriety at first, but then I started stringing nouns to verbs and crafting bits of poetry and fiction and actually found I was enjoying myself!  Discovering I could indeed still write without lubrication was, for me, the single most precious gift of my sobriety.  At around nine months sober, my bishop asked if I felt ready to supply—to fill in for pastors who , for one reason or another, would be away from their congregation on a given Sunday.  The previously unimaginable happened:  I said yes.   And last month I sat down and wrote my first sober sermon—ever.  My joy was nearly uncontainable.  It was actually pretty good.  And leading worship was, as they say, like getting back on a bicycle.  I took up the mystery and rhythm again without missing a beat.  I preached like a woman who truly did have something to say.  And I ended up having an absolute blast!  I was called upon again to supply last Sunday and I’ll be filling in somewhere else this Sunday, and have another half-dozen or so dates scheduled throughout the summer.

I am ecstatic.  Not so much about the preaching gigs—although those are a pretty big deal—as about feeling alive and forgiven and whole.  Maybe it does take a full nine months to a year for a career drunk to get comfortable enough in her sobriety to step out into the world with confidence.  At least that is proving to be my experience.  When I was drinking, I was as all but agoraphobic; ridden with anxiety and certain everyone “out there” was judging me.  In early sobriety, I felt humiliated and embarrassed and just wanted to be left alone to wallow and cry.  Slowly; ever so slowly, all that began to change.  The idea of living and laughing and writing and being happy began to feel like a real possibility.  Even for me.  And, what’s proven even more amazing is it’s turning out even better than that!  When I look in the mirror, I still see a middle aged woman, but on the inside, I’m feeling like a bright and capable somewhere-still-in-her-thirties kind of gal.

My sobriety is no longer a consequence of circumstance.  It is a life choice.  A gift.  One I want never to take for granted or risk losing.  People promised me it would get better.  I did not believe them.  And, aside from the merciful presence and encouragement of God, I cannot tell you how or why I was able to stick with sobriety through so many months that felt like deprivation and misery.  Somehow, I did it, though.  I stayed sober long enough to begin to live sober.  And life is good!  Oh, I still have plenty of problems.  Decades of drinking wreaked havoc with my health and my finances are in a shambles, but those concerns have receded into the background.  What is front and center now is—safeguarding my sobriety, yes, but—mostly wanting to smile like crazy because it’s summertime and the marsh grass is green and the sky is blue and I can write and life is so incredibly wonder-filled.  Thank you, God!

There Is A God

She was crazy attractive in a disheveled sort of way.  Work boots.  Torn jeans.  An over-sized shirt and a mane of thick tangled up curls.  I met her at an AA meeting I attended while living in a different city.  She was, and continues to be an inspiration to me.  Not because of anything she ever said, but simply because she was sober; and, so far as I was concerned, her sobriety was nothing less than a miracle.  I didn’t know a whole lot about her.  Only what she shared.  She had been cross addicted and homeless, I suspect both being the parting gifts of a relationship gone sour.  The old timers welcomed her at the club house.  Let her detox there on the old worn couch and later made sure she had something to eat.  The club opened early and closed late, and she was there every day all day for weeks.  Alternating between sleep and sobs.  Those old timers got her sober and, so far as I know, she still is.  The woman I met was living a life of joy and gratitude and freedom.  And though I have long since moved away, I will never forget her.

Sobriety takes a tremendous amount of courage.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.  The easiest, indeed, what seems the only choice is to “do whatever it takes” to perpetuate the madness.   Self-perpetuated insanity feels like a much preferable option to dealing with the dismal reality of life and circumstances sobriety would inevitably reveal.  There are those who have experienced what is referred to in AA circles as a high bottom: they recognize their lives spiraling out of control, assess their options, and choose sobriety.  It takes guts to admit you have a problem and set off in a new direction, but I’m not talking about that sort of courage.  I’m talking about hitting concrete at 70 miles an hour and having the courage not to die.  That’s what it felt like for me anyway.  Sitting there amidst the wreckage.  Never wanting the fog to lift.  I didn’t care if I lived or died.  No.  I take that back.  Death would have come as a welcome end to the tragedy my life had become.  Surely it would soon be over.

Except it wasn’t.  Someone appeared in that fog, alright, but it wasn’t The Grim Reaper.  Rather, it was a young upstart in a suit sitting behind a desk and two women from church who put me in their car and drove me to rehab.  I kept insisting I didn’t belong there, that I could do it on my own, that the whole rehab thing is just a scam to bilk money out of insurance companies.  But none of that was true and I knew it.  I didn’t have that sort of courage.  Not like the woman I had met some two years prior.  No matter the mess I had made of my life.  No matter that I was sick and getting sicker.  Sobriety was too scary.  I was terrified for the fog to lift.  When I insisted I could do it on my own, what I was really asking for is another chance:  let me try again.  I screwed up.  Okay.  But I can do better.  I can live in this fog and keep all my balls in the air.  Just let me show you.  Please don’t do this to me.  I don’t want sobriety.  I’m afraid.

I still am.  Nearly a year has passed since last August, and I am still scared.  But old timers have taken care of me, and a family of sorts has embraced me and, for the first time ever, I have found the courage—not to get and stay sober, but—to admit I can’t do it on my own.  I need the eclectic mishmash of folk who make up my AA home group.  I need the discipline of meetings and the support of those who have travelled this path ahead of me.  And I desperately need the companionship of the friends who have and continue to love me.  It has taken me a lifetime to do it, but I have finally found myself taken up by the Body of Christ: loved by others who , rather than holding me in high esteem because of my valiant striving toward perfection, cradle me in my brokenness with the healing grace of understanding and compassion.  I was lost.  I am found.  Much to my grateful surprise, I am now sober and alive and free.  Go figure.  Me.  Yes, beloveds, there is a God.


Nine Months!

I could have had a baby!  At least that’s what I’ve been thinking as I’ve inched closer to the nine months mark.  Granted, my actual sober date is still 48 hours away, but if we stick with the pregnancy analogy, I could, theoretically, go into labor any time now!  Nine months has seemed like an incredibly long time and I can’t help but think of the women who had three-four-five-even (omg) six children.  That’s a lot of pregnant time; a lot of waiting and growing and a great deal of time spent praying, I am sure.  At least those things pretty much sum up these past nine months of my life.  A new life has been growing inside of me alright and I’m still not sure what I’m going to name her!

When I was hovering around day one, still being sober at nine months seemed an absolute impossibility.  I think I spent most of my alone time at rehab silently scheming what constellation of circumstances would warrant an exception to this new sober rule.  I didn’t imagine for a minute I was going to be sober forever.  I was just taking a much needed break.  I’d get myself healthy again, put some weight back on, straighten out my life, get my career back on track, and everything would be fine.  Certainly by then, I would be able to enjoy a glass of wine here and there and a frozen margarita on a night out with friends and the occasional cold bottle of beer after an afternoon spent in the sun.

Memorial Day weekend isn’t officially here yet, but for all practical purposes, it’s already summer.  Everyone’s in shorts and restaurants and bars are spilling onto their outside decks.  I’ve been down to the docks.  I’ve heard the music and chatter and laughter of already tanned and presumably happy people enjoying what I had always thought was the good ol’ summer time.  I don’t think that anymore.  Summer time is about the ocean and the beach and sunshine.  About the wonderful feeling of coming home to a just warm shower to rinse away the residual sand and sweat of what should have been an exhausting afternoon but wasn’t because I’m so happy I could burst.  About living easy and lingering in the wonder of it all.

I can no longer imagine why anyone would want to waste a summer afternoon in a bar.  I have no intention of missing even a moment of these precious days, of watching this new life that has been growing inside of me take in the miracle of being alive.  Ever since last fall, when the whole of creation seemed to turn bleak, I’ve been waiting on this life; waiting for the sure signs of warm days and the marsh grass turning green again.  I had a doctor’s appointment last Thursday.  Early.  I had to drive through a few towns and then across a long bridge.  The sun was shining like crazy and I had the car windows open and the radio playing and, when I got to that bridge, I nearly squealed with delight:  “The grass is green!” I cried.  “The marsh grass is finally green!”  I swear, the back bays in summer make for the most beautiful sight in the world.  All green and blue and wide.

Such is the new life these past nine months have brought me.  I feel as though I have emerged from a seemingly endless winter.  Indeed, I have! Whole decades of mornings lost and days endured in a relentless fog of regret and irritability.  I find I no longer mind so much if I can’t find a parking space or someone is being obnoxiously rude or plans get rained out.  There will always be some place to park.  Always an escape from toxicity.  Always alternative activities.  Everything is new; and I find myself almost giddy with delight.  I love being sober!  I love this new life that has been born out of my past!  No exceptions please.  I want the real thing.  These nine months have been so worth it!  It’s a girl!  And I think I’ll call her Me!


Happy (Mother’s) Day

Bing images - I love mummyFor every mother, there’s another.  Another woman who, for one reason or another, is not or has not.  Mother’s Day is not flowers and pretty cards and adorable handmade gifts for everyone.  Some of us are still grieving the loss of our mother or the loss of a pregnancy or having lost custody of our children.  Some of us are still coming to terms with our life choices, whether they be career, lifestyle, or perhaps even addiction having brought us through circumstances where motherhood was never a viable option.  And some of us have been abused or have never had children and harbor a certain amount of resentment that society and Hallmark persist in holding up motherhood as the ideal and norm for all women.

Every Mother’s Day, my father (who was every bit a scoundrel the other 364 days of the year) would plant geraniums for my mom.  Red ones.  Buckets of them.  I don’t have any recollection of there ever being any tenderness between them.  This annual gift of flowers and planting was a ritual carried out as obligation and received with near indifference.  But still, all these years later, after both my parents have long since passed, geraniums continue to represent Mother’s Day to me.  So, when I was at Home Depot last week picking out flowers for the pots on and around my deck, I had to purchase one red geranium to include among the impatiens, petunias, marigolds, and other pretty plants I do not know the names of.  That single geranium is a hardy little bugger and even has a few new red buds.  A sign of some sorts, perhaps.  Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

I never had children.  Never married, either.  I once thought about having a kid anyway, but it was only a fleeting notion.  My biological clock was winding down and I remember thinking it was going to have to be then or never.  I opted for never.  I wouldn’t have made a good mother.  Just wasn’t cut out for it.  I wouldn’t have made a particularly good wife, either.  Years of alcoholism aside, I’ve always been too self-willed, perhaps too selfish, to bend and accommodate the needs and expectations of another.  Not that I was the sort of woman who was turning down proposals left and right.  No one ever asked.  But then, I never settled into a relationship long enough for the question to come up.  Those choices don’t make me any less of a woman, though.  I’m still whole and complete and (now in sobriety) pretty darn happy.  But they are still choices that, for better or worse, are underscored by all the Mother’s Day hoopla.

It seems I am in good company.  A woman by the name of Anne Jarvis is acknowledged as the official founder of Mother’s Day.  Although mother’s had been getting together to mourn fallen soldiers and support various efforts since Civil War times, Ms. Jarvis organized  what has since been recognized as the first Mother’s Day at her church.  It was her way of honoring the memory of her own mother who had passed some years earlier.  She went on to campaign to have Mother’s Day recognized nationally, only to later become vehemently opposed to the resulting commercialization and actively fight to have the day stricken from the U.S. calendar.  Jarvis, herself, never married nor had children.  For her, Mother’s Day was the setting aside of a day of remembrance, a day to honor the memory of mothers lost.  Had Anne Jarvis’ intent been preserved, I would be on board with Mother’s Day 100%.  As it is, though, I am left with mixed emotions.

I know, before this day is over, some well-intentioned stranger or two or three will wish me a Happy Mother’s Day.  They will look at me, certain I am most probably a mother and a grandmother, and be sincere in their well wishes.  Such greetings neither annoy nor disturb me, but they do make my heart ache for the women whose hearts will break in two if they even hear those words a single time.  For the mothers out there, I wish you a happy Mother’s Day crammed full of love and hugs and blessings.  But if you are another, one of the other nearly 45% of the female population in the U.S., I reach out my arms and my prayers in solidarity and affection.   Our lives matter, too.  As for me, I’m going to spend some time out on my deck watching a red geranium grow and remembering my mom.  I’m hoping for a day of blessings, too; a day of blessings for all women everywhere.  It is Spring, the sun is going to shine, and life is oh, so good!  Happy Day!  Happy Day!Bing images - geranium


073 (3)Time stands still.
Only for a moment, mind you,
but still nonetheless.
A fleeting
endless pause
pregnant with possibility.
Nothing moves
save eyes beholding beauty.
Surrounded by sky.
Smooth wonder sliding into my soul.
Quieting chaos.
Coaxing me into its calm.



gray skyThe cursor keeps time on the blank screen.  How many blinks before my next thought?  My next phrase?  This incessant blink blink blink taunts me.  Over these past few days, I have tried to respond to the prompts for Writing 101.  Words simply haven’t come.  I have sat poised and ready.  For long hours. Nothing happened.  Oh, I wrote a sentence fragment here and there.  Ended up deleting each one.  Some writer I am.  No.  I take that back.  I am a writer.  I breathe and think and laugh and cry and wonder and despair and write.  These experiences make up the whole of who I have come to recognize as me.  But I’ve always had difficulty writing on purpose and had hoped the daily challenges might coax me into greater consistency.  I was doing pretty good for the first two weeks.  I guess my enthusiasm waned.  That and I had a lot going on.

I was up and out early two mornings this week.  Off to doctors’ appointments.  One was a simple follow-up with my rheumatologist.  The other was a first time visit with a psychiatrist.  Don’t panic.  I am not crazy.  I did not end up in restraints that morning.  Nor was I carted off by the proverbial men in white coats.  Psychiatry carries a crippling stigma.  I’m not sure which makes my throat seize up more:  having to admit I am an alcoholic, or sharing that I am now seeing a psychiatrist.  My reasons for making the appointment are far from dramatic.  I simply felt an increase in my antidepressant medication would prove helpful and my primary doctor recommended I see a psychiatrist.  So, you see, I was simply acting under my doctor’s advice.  That and I figured one more attending doctor’s statement in support of my disability appeal surely couldn’t hurt.

It was really just a formality.  I’m actually doing quite well.  I celebrated eight months sober on the 21st, was asked to preside at a wedding of friends of a friend, and picked up a handful of preacher supply gigs over the next few months.  The opportunity to again step into the role of ordained minister has probably done more for my sagging spirit than any amount of medication or talk-therapy could ever accomplish.  It now feels like I’ve been having a bizarre out of body experience these past eight months and have finally landed back in my shoes.  Oh yeah, I remember now.  This is who I am.  The wedding was yesterday; a small gathering of family and friends on a lake shore.  It was cold, but sunny and the short ceremony went off without a hitch.  I could barely contain my happiness on my way home.  I was happy for the couple, sure, but I was absolutely ecstatic about my having officiated at a wedding.

And I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am to sit down with Scripture and prayerfully discern a relevant message and then put on my alb and stole and step into a pulpit, let alone having the privilege to preside at communion again.  It has been a long time.  My joy is well off the charts and into the stratosphere.  It’s hard for me to explain, and, I suspect harder still for someone to understand.  But being called upon for these small favors has reignited the pilot light that fires up my passion for living.  All sorts of things seem possible again.  I am well aware caution is called for here.  It is dangerous to define one’s personhood by his or her professional standing.  I know I should be able to feel complete and whole independent of whether or not I’m “working,” but I’m indulging myself the luxury of lingering in this feeling of uncontainable glee for just a while longer.

So, anyway, back that infernal taunting of the cursor on the blank page.  Now that I’m typing full throttle, I may as well catch up my responses to the daily prompts.  I believe I can do that in a single sentence.  Here goes.   “Oh, my beloveds, I have searched the horizon beyond the darkening clouds of storm and night and found there a word for you, a word too enormous to behold and yet so easily captured with five swift strikes of the keys: faith.”  Granted, it is a rather long sentence, but I’m pretty sure it meets the criteria of Days 12, 13, 14, and 15 and, more importantly, is true.  Just beyond a seeming sea of despair, I stumbled again into the presence and love of God.  This pickled pastor might always be a pickle, but she’s always going to be a pastor too, and that realization is making a huge and holy difference.  All of time and space is sacred again.  Blank or otherwise.

Happy Birthday To Me!

I was an odd kid.  My favorite birthday cake was walnut.  With my mom’s incredible vanilla icing slathered all over it and coconut dusted on top.  I loved coconut.  Still do.  I maybe baked one cake in my entire adult life.  And that was from a box.  I am amazed how my mom used to bake.  Really bake.  Stirring up clouds of flour in the kitchen and making cut-out circles of wax paper that fit perfectly into cake pans that were anything but new.  My mom baked often.  And always for my birthday.

I can’t remember the last time I had a birthday cake.  Oh, I’ve had cupcakes and brownies, with a candle stuck in or maybe even a sparkler, most often in restaurants with friends.  But never a whole cake baked from scratch just for me.  Birthdays became decidedly fluid occasions.  Always with the alcohol flowing.  Fancy cocktails with shots mixed in.  Or, in later years, glass after glass of wine, poured from bottles brought as gifts but always emptied by evening’s end.

For about as long as I can remember, birthdays were just another excuse to celebrate.  Any excuse would do: because it was my birthday, your birthday, a holiday, the weekend, vacation, sunny, or pouring rain.  There was always something to celebrate, always a reason to drink.  Until reasons were no longer necessary, of course.  I drank at every meal and after and then alone.  Drank myself to sleep.  Drank myself awake.  Finally realized I was drinking away my life.

Today will be my first sober birthday.  Ever.  At least since I was a kid blowing out the candles and making a wish.  I have no idea what I might have wished for back then.  But I’m sure I didn’t wish to become an alcoholic.  Anyway, I lit a candle this morning.  Just to make a wish and blow it out.  Sorry, I can’t tell you what I wished for.  Then my wish wouldn’t come true.  But I can assure you I didn’t wish for a drink.  Not to celebrate my birthday.  Not ever.

Life is too good.  Today I am a one-year-older sober woman.  With a clear head and coconut dusted dreams.  Thanks be to God!  And happy, happy birthday … to me!

You Have To Fight For Everything

A while back, I wrote a rather depressing post about my life getting worse instead of better in sobriety.  Among my complaints, were two developments that had significant financial impact:  One arm of my insurance company had terminated my disability benefits; another had denied coverage for treatment I had been receiving for my lupus.

As of yesterday, I have received notification that both of my appeals have been received and are now under review.

I would not have considered these appeals anything but necessary, had a friend not pointed out the obvious.  She reminded me, while I may lack the skills to stand up for myself in person or on the phone, I can am capable of writing a wicked letter.  It’s true.  My telephone conversations had gotten me nowhere.  I could hardly get past hello without becoming a sniffling weepy mess.  The good news is I didn’t give up.

I sat down at the computer and started writing.  I wrote a letter of appeal regarding the termination of my disability benefits and compiled a stack of documentation that, together with that letter, cost me over $8 to send certified mail.  Then I composed a moving diatribe about the severity of my physical ailments and how surprised and disappointed I was that my insurance company deemed medically unnecessary the only treatment from which I had experienced any relief.

I suppose, in both instances, someone else may have resigned themselves to his or her misfortune.  I know if my only option was to make my case over the telephone, I would have surely given up.  But, thanks be to God, I have been blessed with the ability to write.   And even in those cases where my letters were intercepted and most probably discarded by office staff, I was able to muster the courage to make appointments and deliver copies directly into the hands of my doctors.

It has been a full time job making these two appeals and I have to admit I am rather proud of myself in having done so.  I still have work to do.  I have one more doctor’s appointment from which I hope to have an additional attending physician’s statement submitted.  And, first thing tomorrow morning, I want to call the pharmaceutical company’s copay assistance program and request their testimony in support of my treatment.  For the most part, however, my appeals are complete.

Both matters are now in the hands of strangers in office buildings far and away from my home town.  I may lose.   But I will do so knowing I gave the good fight.  Then again, I might just win.  In which case, I will experience tremendous relief.  It’s a crap shoot.  I am, however, certain that my odds in both cases are far better than those of winning Publishers Clearing House’s $7,000 a week for life sweepstakes.

It can probably go without saying that my inability to open my mouth and speak up for myself troubles me deeply.  My nature has always been to back down and give up.  But I have now proven to myself that I can find the words.  Whether or not I will ever be able to translate them orally is a project for another day.  For now, however, I am just relieved that both appeals have been received.  I guess you do have to fight for everything.  I gave it my best shot.  No one can take that away from me.  Ever.