No Man Is An Island

Well, since it’s raining and I am valiantly combating the looming possibility of a sinus and/or ear infection, I figure it’s a good time to settle in with some hot green tea and get my blog on.

There is nothing like being cooped up in the house for a few days to remind one of how important it is to be connected with other people.

In my first year of college, one of my favorite things to do (aside from smoke pot, skip class, and neglect to put forth any serious effort) was pick up a burrito and a large, icy Pepsi. I would return to my dorm alone – I had a double room to myself – and add whiskey to my drink. This was a bad idea for a number of reasons, particularly because I could barely eat and was very thin and sick at the time, but mainly because it established my predisposition for drinking hard liquor in isolation.

I hated beer. Not only did it taste like shit but it also took too long to work and I liked to put as little in my stomach as possible. I rarely finished a bottle. Cocktails, however, were a different story. And Jack Daniels…let’s just say that whiskey commercials still make me ache a little. I’m extremely lucky Jack didn’t become my life partner.

It’s sad that Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, and Captain Morgan do, quite literally, become the sole companions of alcoholics far and wide. Isolation is a key component of the disease. My biological father, who died in the clutches of his various addictions, wasn’t found for at least two weeks. A moldy, barely eaten birthday cake rotted on his counter. He was completely alone.

There is no loneliness greater than that which can be found in the eye of addiction’s storm. Many people would be traumatized by the things I saw in my father’s house, but I choose to let those images drive me to make different choices.

I share this very personal story because I want people to know that you can stop before there is no one left in your life. I did.

I couldn’t stop, however, without a clean, sober, and behavior abstaining support network.

How can you help if you’re not in recovery? Go forth compassionately with the knowledge that alcohol can look like a loaded gun capable of exacting both murder and suicide. It can be a siren’s song. A poisonous temptress. Don’t look at someone abstaining with incredulity or pass judgement. Don’t ask: “Why don’t you drink?” or “Why would anyone want to stop?” or “Were you just going through a phase?”

I’ve experienced all of the above and then some. There’s a lot of talk about isolation and loneliness in active alcoholism and addiction, but what I don’t hear about that often is how lonely recovery can be, too.

Alcohol is the cultural norm and when you don’t participate in the norm you can feel very left out. I know that I do sometimes and it hurts. I don’t think the people in my life who aren’t in recovery always recognize how much it hurts and how much work it takes to fight the disease. I try not to take it personally. It’s difficult to understand something when you haven’t experienced it for yourself. The trade off to all of this is that I have a great life that isn’t worth throwing away to feel like I fit in with the majority of society. I have to constantly remind myself that I am not normal. I have a sickness that needs to be treated.

This past Winter I went to visit my childhood best friend. I am certain of very few things in the world, but one thing I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that he will always be there, waiting vigilantly to pick up where we left off or, on some occasions, to pick up the broken pieces of my heart. On this occasion, we were driving home from dinner with mutual friends and his wife was asleep next to him in the front of the car. “I am wide awake,” I said to him from the dark backseat, not referring to sleep, but describing what it’s like to be in recovery. “I wish I could share this wakefulness with everyone”. I went on to tell him about how lonely I felt having to experience emotions so poignantly – happiness, sadness, anger, fear – while inhabitants of the “real” world (v.s. the recovery world) seemed to numb and relax themselves with various substances. Instead of being a blessing, coping skills and emotions were feeling like a punishment.

When the strain of choosing to live my life differently gets to be too much, it is an absolute necessity to have someone with whom I can share my feelings of envy, anger, and sadness. I am lucky enough to know that there are entire rooms of people out there who understand exactly what I am going through and also how to find said rooms. They are the safe harbors from which I must launch into the activity of living.

Coping skills and emotions are not a punishment, although my nature bucks against them. They are gifts. I have the ability to experience life to the fullest extent without any form of dilution.

I also find meditation to be an essential practice. I recently downloaded a meditation app on my phone by Deepak Chopra (Ananda – Living In Love). On his free demo track, he instructs one to mentally say “soul” on the intake of breath and “hum” on the exhale of breath. Having neglected meditation for months, if not years, tears of relief and release streamed down my face. I had this very same experience the first few times I ever meditated. In the stillness, you come back to yourself. You reconnect to your own being.

Connection. It is the antidote for isolation.

A very special, very beautiful person (aka my girlfriend) just took a minute from work to bring my sick face a surprise Oreo Coolatta. When I went outside to fetch it, the humid air felt good on my cold skin. I was momentarily plugged back into the world. The people on the sidewalk and the holiday weekend traffic reminded me that I am a part of something much bigger and not a singular entity existing in a room with a laptop.

We are all a part of a “bigger something”. Soul hum. It is the sound of my breathing and the sound of yours.

The Downside of Doll Face

I’ve been up since the ass crack of dawn. This means that a lot is getting done – albeit in a partial delirium made less acute by coffee – but the laundry basket is nearly empty, the freezer is cleaned out, and, for once, I don’t need to make an appointment with myself to write. (I’m hoping this will happen more often as I work on boundaries and exercising the word “No”…but more about that another time. “No” is a word and a whole damn sentence all in one and it probably deserves its own post.)

As I’ve been puttering domestically about the house, something has been gnawing at my brain (as things tend to do). Yesterday I was visiting one of my favorite recipe blogs and the blah blah blah preceding the actual baking directions really got my goat. It was a digression on how cringeworthy it is for someone in their late twenties to talk about writing a memoir.

Yup, I was triggered. Let me explain:

I am a twenty eight year old woman with baby cheeks, innocent brown eyes, and a very petite frame. I frequently get asked what high school I attend. I was once carded for an R rated film. My best friend has been mistaken for my mother. All of these things, however, are only mildly offensive and irritating. The worst line I have repeatedly heard in one form or another is that I am TOO YOUNG TO GET SOBER.

This message is one of the reasons I am here. Ageism can kill. Invalidating anyone – robbing them of the legitimacy of their story – can kill. I’m here, waving my arms in this virtual reality, to say “Hey, I’m Autumn, and you are NOT too young to get clean, sober, or behavior abstaining”.

I may have great genes in terms of my cherubic face but I am also an addict through and through.

I think what is so bothersome about “young people” correlates directly with the stereotype that they are know-it-alls. I’m sure someone out there could criticize my blog along these lines. I would respond only by saying that I am not here to dispense advice or pretend to have all the answers. I am here purely to share my thoughts and experiences and maybe reach a few who can relate.

I don’t know about you, but I sure wish the latest teenager to overdose on heroin was around to get clean and write about his or her experience.

And what about Augusten Burroughs? (Probably my favorite author EVER!) He had more life experience by the time he was fourteen than most people get in a lifetime. Given the publishing date of Running with Scissors, we can assume he happened to write about it in his thirties. What if he had decided to tell the story in his twenties? Would we have told him to sit down and shut up?

According to Yahoo News and the World Health Organization, alcohol kills someone every ten seconds… that equals “3.3 million people worldwide each year, more than AIDS, tuberculosis and violence combined”. (Read the whole article here: http://news.yahoo.com/alcohol-kills-one-person-every-10-seconds-worldwide-131403384.html)

If we put an age limit on sobriety or the worthiness of a life story, are we not adding to the death toll? Who do we alienate when we make assumptions or comments about age? It can be lonely enough out there. Let’s be good to each other.

The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks

A couple of Fridays ago I was sitting in my grandmother’s living room. She was nursing a cup of coffee and I was downing a Monster energy drink. We gazed out the window and beheld the brown Spring landscape dropping off into tidal water. One might expect there to be a large gap in perspective in our inter-generational gaze but there was none on that particular afternoon. We had been discussing social problems and current affairs with a mutual sense of horror and helplessness.

“What a nice thing to talk about with your poor grandmother,” one might say. There are, of course, happier topics to be discussed but, then again, how can these issues be avoided when we are bombarded with political corruption, war, poverty, pollution and, perhaps worst of all, The Twerk every time we turn on the TV? For a woman whose heart is full of love for her children and grandchildren, the future can look understandably grim.

This leads to the question of how to navigate recovery in today’s troubled world. Anyone – addict or otherwise – might feel like popping a Prozac or thirty after spending five minutes with the newspaper. Or considering the vile amount of garbage littering the beach. Or talking to someone in social services. Or…

Let’s stop there.

These spirals into doom and gloom can be extremely dangerous for the addict/alcoholic (please note that when I use the term addict, I use it to encompass addictions of all kinds – not just drugs). If we’re happy, we use. If we’re sad, we use. If we’re angry, we use. If we’re bored, we use. Any excuse to dump More into the internal bottomless pit.

So how do we not get pulled into the outward negativity and enjoy positive and content lives despite the chaos?

As I frequently say, I can only share what has worked in my experience:

I ask myself “What can I really change?” and the answer is always unequivocally “Me”.

I cannot overhaul Washington, clean the entire ocean, end poverty, cure disease, and establish world peace. But I can make my own world beautiful. I can be the kind of person I’d like to meet. (Sometimes I’m really not, truth be told. Progress not perfection!)

I can plant a garden, adorn my house with flowers, smile at someone in the grocery store, write, take a hundred photographs, or throw around a ball. I can kiss a baby, pet a dog, bake cookies, read poetry, clean out my closet, or stop and notice the stars. I can spend hours with a good coffee and a good friend. I can drive for no reason other than to look for the sake of looking. I can do my best to be a good world citizen and, having done that, accept the world for what it is. I can fill my own space with love.

What’s the best way to get love?

Give it away.

Maybe it sounds corny. Maybe it sounds cliché. Maybe it sounds over simplified. But I swear it works.

When the world seeps into me and taints my spirit it is because I choose to let it. I am not a victim. What I think becomes how I feel.

Obviously I don’t do these things perfectly. Sometimes my spirit feels weary and broken down. However, if I remind myself to choose love and make my own world beautiful, I feel right as rain.

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I’d love to hear some of the ways you choose love and stay positive. Please leave a comment and share.

*The title of this post is a quote from Tennessee Williams. Original source of the graphic is unknown but the credit does not belong to me.