Saturday, October 23, 2010

Just Let Go

I enjoy worrying. It's a hobby. I like to plan for disasters. I used to have a worst case scenario in my head. I'd start worrying about things- jobs, money, homes, life, the environment, capitalism, education and the meaning of life. I'd worry about six or seven degrees of separation and in the swirling tornado of my brain, the disaster story so often played in my childhood ended with me living under a bridge with my cat, Eleanor, a shopping cart and a machete. I wouldn't have any teeth because of poor dental care. I wouldn't have good vision for the same reason and maybe I'd have glasses with one lens. But we'd be ok. I could consider it a weight loss plan.

There's something I don't really talk a lot about in my blogs. It's alcoholism. I don't know why; alcoholism has had such a profound effect on my life and on so many of my choices, I'm surprised I haven't written an encyclopedic volume about experience with it.

If you ever wonder if you have a problem with drinking, just read the first 164 pages of the Alcoholics Anonymous book and answer the 20 questions. That should give you a good idea. If you still have doubts or questions, call your local AA hotline. Someone will be very glad to help you and answer your questions. It won't be me though- I don't belong to an AA group and wouldn't want you to think that I'm some sort of authority on the matter. If you're curious, attend an open AA meeting and find out for yourself.

Often, the best people in my life are alcoholics. I like and tend to attract alcoholics as friends or boyfriends. It just works out that way. And they are often the most fun-loving, creative, kind and hilarious people you'll ever meet. They're just sick and need to drink. Alcohol isn't the problem; it's the solution to whatever is going on inside. I'm not sure I relate. I'm just relaying what I've been taught.

It's not a disease that just affects the individual either. It's a family disease and that's how I know of it. I'm not going to out any living person that I love but there this stuff squats like a toad in my family. It killed my father's parents before I was born. They owned a tavern. My dad was an alcoholic, apparently the fun-loving kind who got weepy when he'd had too many. My mom tended to date and marry alcoholics too, though I'm not sure where she got the idea originally. I think my dad just swept her off of her feet. And in my relationships, I seem to find and love people who have a drinking problem. Me, I like wine and dark beer. Probably not as much as I like coffee (which for some inexplicable reason, I'm drinking at 1 a.m.). But not too much because it has too many calories and it makes me feel fuzzy. I don't like to be out of control.

Over the course of my lifetime, I accumulated enough rage to power a small city. On the outside, I was pretty placid and seemed calm and peaceful. On the inside, though, something was just not right. All the time. Whatever I did never seemed enough. And I was (and still tend to be) highly self critical and also critical of others. I try pretty hard to keep that in check by taking good care of myself and practicing kindness to others as well. But I didn't learn to do those things overnight. I used to tell a joke about how the quickest way to a man's heart isn't through his stomach; it was with a small flat blade between the ribs. I guess maybe I was a little, oh, much to handle. There were some rough edges.

I went to years of Alanon meetings and had to take a few very hard looks in the mirror to look at my own fears, anxieties and crazy behaviors. I was used to blaming others and just stuffing my own feelings or not even knowing that it was alright to feel something at all. I needed to learn to stop waiting for my life to start and start participating in the life I had. I had an amazing sponsor who walked me through a program. Even though she is a member of a church, religion was not part of the equation. God, yes. Religious stuff, no. Eventually, it felt better to be responsible for feeling my own feelings and to respond rather than to react. Then I had to learn to draw boundaries and separate what actions and responsibilities belonged to me and what ones were out of my control. Let me be clear: I don't represent a group as I'm writing this. It's purely my thoughts and actions that I'm talking about here. My experiences.

Alcoholics love to drink; I love to control freak-out. I had (and still do have) contingency plans for everything. I bailed people out and cared for them far beyond reasonable limits with time, money and resources. Then I blamed them and punished them and told people how awesome and martyred I was so I could get sympathy. I can say that now with a laugh because while it's true, I know better than to pull that shit anymore. And I divulged more in those meetings than I ever could in a blog. That's how you get rid of the crazy; you gotta stop carrying it around. And I have more money now that I've stopped giving it to people. Bonus! Plus, I know how to not react with anger. I'm much nicer to be around these days.

I made friends with women who were just like me. Only different. Authentic friendships, not like frien-emies. Old, young, rich, poor, and with all sorts of educational and life experiences. We were just like one another. We helped each other and supported one another. We learned to laugh at the crazy stuff we did. Stalking lovers and husbands and ex's, going to great lengths to find and eliminate alcohol and to monitor intake. We laughed at each other. We got better. And when things got bad, we stuck together. A member of our group was killed by her brother (as were two other members of her family) in a drunken blackout. It was my first time to chair a meeting. She'd been a good member and friend. We had our meeting that night. You never know who is going to walk through the door needing help. And as her husband requested, a member was with her around the clock at the funeral home. She was never alone and neither were we.

After almost four years, I drifted away, got busy with other parts of life and stopped attending. I still retain many of those friendships and I know where the door is if I should need it. Or if I feel called. It's a beacon of sanity for people like me. It's my night light in winter.

The biggest lesson I learned is this: If someone is going to drink themselves to death, they are going to do it. My choice is either to get the hell out of the way or grab on and ride that ride until we're both bloody.

And lately, I've been reminded of that choice. Someone I care for drinks. And I know it can kill him. He knows what he is doing is poisonous. There is no question about it. I hate to watch and feel helpless. I think he hates it too. I am reminded of the voices of so many meetings. If he is going to die, he is going to die and the least I can do is respect his choices and the right to make them. I remove someone's dignity by inserting myself in the equation. Yes, I am right. I'm almost always right. It's a condition of my life. That doesn't make me helpful to repeatedly tell someone what to do even if I'm right. It just makes me an asshole. Secondly, the right thing to do for me is to stay out of the way- to not enable or assist and to generally mind my own business and take care of the things on my plate. There is an assumption I have to rely on in this case; that there is something out there greater and more powerful than me and that it alone can do what I cannot. If I truly want what is best, I can stay out of things.

That's why I'm writing this blog entry. For you. If you're still interested, or if you're riveted or think that perhaps I'm telling your story, please know that you're not alone. And you don't have to do this alone. I mean, seriously, how ridiculous is it that people like me don't even get our own disease? We just have a major hobby (obsession, whatever) of co-dependence on people with "real" diseases like alcoholism. I can usually tell if there's alcoholism in one of my student's families not by their writing about someone's drinking, but by their discussions of the control freaks and wet blankets and other people who might benefit from a meeting or twelve. Or even by their own need behaviors and the things they say. Letting go is scary because when you're not focusing on that other person, there's not much left besides a mirror and at first, what a person sees can be more than they can handle alone. So I guess that's the thing: You can let go. You are enough. You don't have to do this alone. It's not shameful. You can learn to laugh again. And yes, he or she may die but you can't control it.

Know when I say this to you, I also say it just as much to myself: It's going to be ok. Just let go.

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