I’m resenting Perfect.

Family Photos
Photo source: Wiki-commons. The Denver Times. Tribute of Florence Henderson.

I realized today that I have been carrying a resentment.

As I was going through today’s mail, I opened a Christmas card featuring a friend’s family and I smiled. Not because it was of my friend’s family. And, not because the message was filled with holiday cheer. I smiled because the photo was imperfect. It was real. The kid’s outfits were not color coordinated, they didn’t looks stiffly posed, and their smiles were a little goofy.  I  looked closely at each goofy smile and tried to imagine what was going on behind that goofy smile. I could see personality in those goofy smiles. I smiled a goofy smile back at their goofy smiles.

I’ve received many other holiday cards, also filled with warm holiday greetings, and I enjoyed receiving each and every one of them. But, still basking in the warmth of the goofy smile card,  I realized that I’d skimmed right over the photos in those holiday cards. The people were posed; the smiles seemed forced and the “holiday photo outfits” covered up the real of the people in the photo. I didn’t really see them as real people.

I resent what “looks” perfect. Maybe I’m still holding on to regrets about my past and wishing it was perfect or looked perfect. Or, maybe I’m still struggling with acceptance of my own imperfections.

I think of myself as embracing my imperfections. Even flaunting them at times, I dare say. But, perhaps that’s my own mask. In my head, I know no one is perfect (that includes me) and that matching outfits can’t make it so. And, I realize that living “emotional sobriety” would mean being grateful that my friend shared warm holiday greetings, and to feel compassion for whatever imperfections might lie behind – or, not – the seemingly perfect images in the photo.

Once again, I’m back at “progress, not perfection”. Or, maybe it’s just that I AM “progress, not perfection”.

ODAAT: I am a work in progress. Every day is an opportunity to become my better self. I am happy I am sober so I can bring my everything to each and every day, one day at a time. 



Gone to the Dogs: Meeting Makers It

Image courtesy of Author. Reba reacting to a horse&carriage passing by.

I’m heading to Dog Training Class. Again. My dog ReboundJoy, aka Reba, is coming up on her 6 year birthday and we still go to training classes on a regular basis.

We’re not learning anything we don’t already know. Sit. Stay. Down. Eye contact. Repetition. Focus. Reward. Rinse and Repeat.  Yet, we keep on going.

I’m applying one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in sobriety to my life as a dog mom of a very high energy wackadoodle labradoodle. When something is important to me, I need to keep working on it. Not just to achieve the next level of mastery, but to keep what I have.

So that, if something goes awry like she’s spooked by a horse and carriage (she was), or decides she wants to chase a giant city rat (she does), Reba and I have regularly reinforced practices we can rely on to keep us from a panicked run into traffic or a face plant onto the sidewalk. We stop. I say “sit”. She does; she gets a treat. I say “look at me”. She does; she gets a treat. We wait. I breathe. We carry on. (Note: none of this works if Reba thinks she smells castoff chicken wings or pizza scraps in the bushes. In those cases, instinct trumps and she dives for her urban buffet.) Progress, not perfection.

ODAAT Reminder: That which I want to keep, I must practice. Practice doesn’t make me perfect. Practice makes me  — well, practiced. And secure in the confidence that I have easy access to the tools that keep me trudging the road to happy destiny.

Potato or Potahto?

Image: Wikipedia Commons. Potato variety Linda from private organic farming, 3 months after harvest. Seed potato supplied by Pötschke, Germany.

I  love potatoes.  I’ve  never met a potato I didn’t like.  Russet, red, white, yellow, blue/purple, fingerling and petite are the 7 different categories the 200 varieties sold in the US fit into, but I’ll admit that I don’t need to know much more than “yes, please” when I read potato on the menu.

I come from a family of potato lovers, although when I was growing up, I never knew potatoes could be prepared any way other than mashed. But now I’ve come to love roasted, baked, fried, scalloped and so many others, as have my siblings. One year I graced my brother with a jump drive loaded with 100 different potato recipes to go along with his potato Christmas Tree ornament. I only stopped at 100 because I had reached the max capacity of the jump drive available at the time; it wasn’t because I ran out of options. 100 different ways to prepare potatoes means that he had a recipe option to match any mood or phase in his life. Creamy mashed potatoes on the days where comfort food is what’s needed and fancy Hasselback Swedish potato fans on the days where he’s going highbrow. Regardless of which recipe he chooses to make, he’ll be working with a plain ole “spud”, which is a solid vegetable made up on potassium, vitamin C, fiber and starch, no matter how you slice it, dice it and cook it. And, for the record, this “spud” is native to the Peruvian Bolivian Andes, not my family’s homeland of Ireland as we were raised to believe.

I am fortunate to live in Chicago where meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous are as plentiful as potato recipes. Or, potahto.  I have easy access to hundreds of meetings every day. I can go to a meeting every day of the week and not walk beyond a 3 block radius from my apartment. I can go to speaker meetings, step meetings, discussion meetings,  Big Book Stories meetings, Big Book 1-164 meetings, meditation meetings or gratitude meetings. I can go to women’s meetings or I can go to mixed meetings. I can go to meetings in church basements, in treatment centers, in hospital conference rooms or in AA clubs. Regardless of the label, each meeting has a shared foundation: the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and the guiding principles of Unity, Service and Recovery.

AA Meetings are like my potato.  I have variety; I have choices and I can choose meetings that match with what I need for where I am in my Recovery. I’m working my program of recovery when I’m at an AA meeting, regardless of the type of meeting. When I need a boost in the basics, I show up at a Big Book meeting. When I need to be reminded that I am not alone, I find solace and support at Speaker’s meetings and Discussion meetings. When I need clarity on taking action, I get my butt to a Step meeting. I choose a Home Group, because that’s where others notice I’m changing when I don’t notice it myself. Meetings are a given in my sober life, but I can choose my recipe

ODAAT : My Recovery is my responsibility. One of the benefits of being sober is that I can make choices about what I need to live a sober life, One Day at a Time. 



Tonight’s Episode: 1 Question & 20 Answers

20_questions_1954 DuMont Television-Rosen Studios, New YorkSource: Wikicommons. Publicity photo released by DuMont Television/Rosen Studios, New York

When I was a drinker, I assumed the rest of the world was, too. Now that I don’t drink, it feels like the rest of the world assumes I still do drink or that I should still drink. I realize each of those blanket statements are faulty just as all blanket statements are. But feelings are rarely that rational.

I didn’t have any practice declining drinks during my “drinking days”, because I can recall only two days in the 20 years preceding my sobriety that I didn’t drink. And frankly, I would have drank on those days if I could have hooked up with some alcohol, but I was somewhere along a 60 mile fundraising walk. Although the pasta was bottomless, there wasn’t a bottle of Chardonnay in sight.

New in sobriety, I mostly surrounded myself with family and friends that had witnessed my struggles and were supporting me in my recovery by not drinking around me or talking about drinking around me. We socialized in non-alcohol venues like coffee shops and they completely abstained if we were in a restaurant serving alcohol. In those situations, me ordering a cuppa tea or a glass of seltzer was just like my table mates  and I felt “normal”.

As time moved forward and the crisis surrounding my drinking receded in others’ memory, my social and work life venues started to diversify to include bars, restuarant meals with alcohol drinking guests and home parties where wine, my poison of choice, was plentiful.

My desperate need to stay sober has not changed with time, but I continually felt ill-equipped to decline an alcoholic beverage in these situations. A simple “No, thank you” seemed inadequate because those irrational fears that the entire universe still  expected me to drink were in my head even though the booze was not.

I imagined that when I declined a drink or ordered a non-alcoholic drink that people were laughing at me and pointing at me, saying out loud “you are a loser” and “if you were cool you would drink like the rest of us” or “come on, one won’t hurt you.”  In my mind, I would hear loud sophomoric chants of “drink drink drink” and I didn’t know how to quiet the voices in my head. And, if the people I was with accepted my answer of  “No, thank you” at first, they inevitably responded to my comment with raised eyebrows and asked “Why?” Somehow, responding with “Hey, I am alcoholic and after years of peeing, puking and pooping blood while still drinking out of a Chardonnay bottle I’m choosing another path for myself “ seemed like more than they really wanted to know or needed ot hear.

But, I still needed an answer to the inevitable “Why don’t you drink?” question.

In early sobriety, I experimented with these responses:

  1. I gave it up for Lent.
  2. I’m pregnant.
  3. I’m on antibiotics.
  4. I’m not in the mood.
  5. They don’t serve what I like here.
  6. I’m on a cleanse.
  7. I pre-gamed and I’ve used up my daily quota.
  8. It’s not 5 o’clock anywhere.
  9. I’m still drunk from yesterday.
  10. I only drink alone.
  11. It’s against my religion.
  12. Im on pain meds.
  13. I’m the designated driver.
  14. I’m on a diet.
  15. John Barleycorn and I broke up.
  16. I’m going to save room for dessert.
  17. I’m in training to be a pro athlete.
  18. I’m going out later and I’ve saving up for then.
  19. I’m starting a new job and I have to take a pee test tomorrow.

With the exception of #9, none of these responses were true.

But, they generally got a laugh and shifted the focus from me back the questioner’s own drinking preferences which, let’s face it, was top of mind for them anyway..

It took time for me to settle in to my truth. With time, I was able to comfortably offer this answer when someone asked me if I wanted a drink:

20. No thanks.

ODAAT Reminder: “No “is a complete sentence. I cannot be judged by others unless I accept their judgement. 



Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Dinner Party

Of course, the parents and grandparents and the siblings will be there. And, then there’s the newest significant other auditioning for a permanent role. And Uncle George, the family drunk. Or, maybe it’s your sister Sally who just got out of Rehab and is 60 days sober. Quite the guest list.

Of all of them, Sober Sally may be the scariest name on the list.  At least you’ve heard she’s sober.

Over the years, your family gatherings have likely fallen into patterns. You bring expectations to this year’s gathering built on how gatherings have turned out in the past, one year after the other. You expect that  one particular person will jump up to cut the turkey, another particular person will argue that they saw a you-tube hack on a better way to do it, and  yet another particular person will roll their eyes watching the other two duke it out. Your recollections of last year’s gathering and the gatherings before that create an endless movie loop in your brain to create expectations of a repeat performance at this year’s gathering. This is actually a thing.  It’s called Family Systems Theory, and therapists spend many sessions helping us grow out of it.

But, back to Sober Sally not behaving as she’s behaved in the past. She’s not pouring the wine into your glass while she pours yet more wine into hers. One for you, two for me sort of thing. Over and over again. Sober Sally is standing off to the side with eyes wide open, looking at the goings-on like she’s never seen these people before.  And she’s getting the same stare of non-recognition back from you.

Everybody knows she’s been “away” (said with a whisper) dealing with her “problem” (said with another whisper), and you’re all walking on eggshells. Wanting to be supportive, but not knowing what to say. “Hey, how’s the not-drinking thing going?” doesn’t feel right. Nor does saying “I feel your pain” when you’ve got your 2nd goblet of cabernet in your hands and the 1st one still on your breath. Or, demonstrating your efforts to be accommodating, you say really really loud: “Hey, if anyone wants non-alcoholic wine (which still has alcohol in it, BTW), we’ve got some over here. I mean, just in case there happens to be someone who wants it.” Admit that you thought about not inviting her in case she would feel awkward (Her?), but don’t say it out loud. You can’t act as though nothing is different, but Sober Sally not drinking (drunk?) is completely different than it has ever been in the past. So, you default to ignoring her.

Frankly, there is no perfect answer. It’s different than it’s been before and that’s always uncomfortable.

If I were Sober Sally*, here’s what I’d want you to say: “Hey, Sally, great to see you.” Or, “”I’m really glad you’re here.” Or, I’d want no one to be drinking. No, wait, I wouldn’t want that because that would make me feel uncomfortable that all of you were feeling uncomfortable and that would make me feel even more self-conscious and anxious and even more uncomfortable than you’re uncomfortable. And, I’d feel guilty that I was depriving you of what I know you wanted to do, which is drink (a lot), which is sort of what I’m feeling like I want to do.  Or, I’d want to stand on my chair and shout “I’m sober. None of you believed I could do it and on some days, I didn’t think so, either.”

It’s confusing for all of us.

So, to Sober Sally’s family, I get it. Hug Sally, welcome her, and give her room to feel how she feels.

If I were Sober Sally, I’d be grateful if you engaged me a way that built relationship and wasn’t related to drinking – or, not drinking – in any way. Because for me, frankly, this day stopped being about family the day I realized I could drink to oblivion and it was considered to be accepted. Help me find a way to be a part of the family in a new way. Include me in setting the table, serving the food, washing the dishes. Help me stay busy and be less alone as the only drinker in the group.

Know that her attendance at a family gathering – or, not attending –  is not the same as loving you. Or, mix it up this year and celebrate the holiday in a completely different way at a completely different place so Sally being sober isn’t the only thing that seems different  and unfamiliar than years past.

And, to Sober Sally, realize that you have choices. You can stop by the traditional booze-filled-family Thanksgiving celebration to give everybody a hug, enjoy some of your favorite artichoke dip, and then slip out to other plans: hit an AA meeting or join a Thanksgiving celebration with other sober people.  The family? They’re going to talk about you anyway.

*I’m not Sober Sally, because I was still in treatment for my first sober Thanksgiving. Started with Halloween, then my first sober birthday, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then New Years.

ODAAT: Some people say “you can’t go back” with a tinge of sadness in their voice. The Promises on p. 83-84 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous tell us that “We will not regret the past nor with to shut the door on it.” Living a sober life, I get to say “I don’t want to go back to the way it was.” I make a different choice.











A rose by any other name…

Folks traveling in Shakespearean circles reference the quote “a rose by any other name”  as evidence that Romeo’s family name dooms their relationship as ill-fated based on what he’s labeled. I don’t travel in Shakespearean circles, but I ask myself the same question when I think about how I feel when I pass out in chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream delirium.

As I swallow that first bite of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream (doesn’t that sound magical as those words roll off your tongue?), I let out an audible “aaaaahhhh” as it goes down. SO DARNED GOOD. And, then I get this predictable rush as it goes to my head. Honestly, I’m not sure if if its really, I mean physiologically, going to my head, but the feeling is going to my head. It’s traveling directly from the carton to my spoon to my tongue and down my throat, and then mysteriously to my head, all of which makes my heart happy. It feels fabulous. So does the 2nd bite and the 3rd and the 4th and I go on from there, stopping only when I reach the bottom of the carton. By then, I’m pretty darn sure that yes, it has physiologically gone to my head. And, then I crash. I am suddenly exhausted and I need to lay down and take a nap. In other words, I pass out.

This passing out is so reminiscent of my passing out from drinking. And, when I’m honest with myself and I read how I write about what the ice cream tastes like from the first taste to the feeling in my head that makes my heart happy, that sounds exactly as I described the beginning of a round of drinking. That’s what scares me. If, as Juliet says, “a rose by another name would smell as sweet”, then my passing out from binging on chocolate chip dough ice cream isn’t different from my passing out from binging on alcohol. Now that I’ve researched it, science proves me right.  Grrrr.

I’m in recovery from addiction to alcohol, and I forget sometimes that my addictive behaviors can find new forms. Dr. Nicole Avena does a great TED-Ed film that reminded me that the side bar to my alcohol addiction was a tendency toward dopamine dependency, and eating chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream the way I do is deepening those neural pathways that reinforce addictive behavior. Now I know. Now, I can take action. My new knowledge is a buzz-kill for my ice-cream binging.

ODAAT Reminder: My alcoholic behavior can show up anywhere. When I respond to something that makes me feel good by doing it over and over and over and over, I need to stop and look at what’s it doing for me. Perhaps its avoidance, resistance, anger or fear. Or just a hole in my soul. I’ve learned healthier ways to work through those feelings than a dopamine overdose.








Escape To Margaritaville

“Let’s get drunk and screw” is not a sentence I say everyday in sobriety. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever said it on any day in sobriety. And to be completely honest with you, I’m not sure I even ever used that phrase in a drunken stupor.The second half of the phrase, perhaps, but the first half was obvious and could remain unspoken.

Nonetheless, “Let’s get drunk and screw” was the resounding chorus as I sat in the Oriental Theater watching Jimmy Buffett’s new Broadway bound musical “Escape to Margaritaville”.

I’m always a little leery when I’m stepping into what might be considered a drinking person’s territory. Is there any law against me attending? No. Would my sponsor recommend against attending? I’ve got a few 24 hours under my belt, so she offered her usual sage advice of “check your motive” and “make sure you have an exit strategy.” I’d done both, so I walked into the theater in awe of my gorgeous surroundings and with eager anticipation of some buffet style serenading. The concession stands had added margaritas to their beverage repertoire and the lines were long because, as we all know, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere. As we were led to our seats, I got the validation I was waiting for when I I looked more closely at my ticket and realized my assigned seat was in row AA. It was a sign. I was where I was meant to be.

Escape to Margaritaville was a great show. True to form, the staging for the show was a boozy beach environment where drinking was the answer for everything. Behind the bottle clanking and rounds of shots, Escape to Margaritaville was a girl-meets-boy-makes-life-changes-and-falls-in-love story. Neither of those are true in the my real world. Once I peeked behind the curtain,  I took away an important sobriety message from one of the great songs in the show: “Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On”. On that note, I’ll take another round.

ODAAT Reminder: I can find recovery anywhere if I look hard enough.