Sunday, March 22, 2015

You know what I like about sobriety?

One of my family members struggled for years with his drinking. Finally, he went to a few meetings and has remained sober now for a few years. The other day he was visiting and he said, "You know what I like about sobriety?" I said, "No, what?" "Everything," was his response. It was an awesome moment. Today I'm grateful I recognize I'm powerless over alcohol, no matter who it's in.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

There are no atheists in a foxhole

Nearly 20 percent of Americans (and one-third of Americans under 30) are unaffiliated with any religion. About 30 percent of this group identified themselves as atheists or agnostics, according to a 2012 Pew Research Center study. 

The Pew Center refers to non-believers as “nones.” The Center points out that while nones may be non-religious, this does not mean they do not embrace spirituality. 

Yet in our 12-Step rooms, we frequently refer to God as if there is no doubt in God’s existence. Few of us stop and consider the non-believers in the rooms. At least I didn’t until I heard an atheist share in a meeting how this dialogue about God impacted him. I also thought about how I would have reacted when I arrived in the rooms if members had pushed their idea of God down my throat. 

My experience with a God was simple when I got here – I knew that since I was still alive, there was a God. That’s how dangerous the world was where my addiction took me. I had no problem with the concept of a loving God or a Higher Power, although the “restoration to sanity” outlined in Step Two eluded me for a number of years.

The question to me is this: When I am so intensely pro-God, how can I share my experience, strength and hope in a way that does not offend or even drive away non-believers? I turned to several of my agnostic friends for answers. 

Here are the tips I got from agnostics and atheists for sharing my experience with a God of my understanding without alienating the nones. 
  • Don’t push a particular God. Simply describe your personal experience and how you came into the rooms.
  • Describe your personal experience with Step Two. Never say things like, “You must believe this way” or “This is the only way.”
  • Don’t criticize those who do not believe.
  • Don’t label others as “atheist” or “agnostic” unless they choose that label.
  • Don’t warn people they won’t stay clean if they fail to find God. A Higher Power is a highly personal experience for each person seeking recovery; it is not “one size fits all.”
My understanding of God has changed since I came to the rooms. In my addiction, I was angry with God, often asking, “Why me, God, why am I an addict?” I often prayed for help in getting out of various messes my behavior caused while under the influence or in attempting to get drugs. Only when I was at my bottom and humbly asked God to help me, however, did He arrest my addiction. 

This I do know from my own personal tribulations: There are no atheists in a foxhole. 

Feel free to post your input in the comments. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Have I lost the right to remain anonymous?

An amazing week in Zion, where Oz, my husband and I met up with my brother (who's in AA with two years sober). It isn't hard to know there is some Higher Power guiding us when one looks at the magnificence of Zion. The dusting of snow, which turned more intense late in the day, forcing us to abandon touring more parks, made everything amazingly pristine.

Back to the reality of Arizona, I was lunching the other day, reading Facebook and eating a Smashburger (sorry, Vegans), when two men sat down next to me. One was older and he was questioning the younger, painfully thin man across from him. The story the young man told in response to his questions caught my ear.

The young man admitted he was "hitting the pipe" and was trying to quit using. The older man suggested he help the young man get a job to get him back on track. I know from first-hand experience that it will take more than a job to help this young man.

I didn't want to intrude, but felt impelled to do something. I didn't have any literature in the car, but I did write a note and give them the number of NA, telling them I had over 30 years clean in the rooms. I also gave them the number for a local detox center. They took the note, read it and thanked me as I left. I didn't feel like I could say more.

I celebrated my 30 years clean and sober last week. I've been reflecting a lot on the past three decades. And what I've come up with is that for years, I've kept a veil of anonymity between my recovery and my career. I don't tell people I'm in recovery unless they need to know. 

Somewhere I read that the original founders of AA didn't believe we should be "too" anonymous. People should be able to find us if they need help. The early AAs gave their first and last names at the podium, so that if someone wanted to look them up in the phone book, they could, I think I heard early in my recovery.

When I had my 30 years, I did post on my non-personal Facebook page about my anniversary. No one said too much, and I don't think most people knew or suspected. But truly, when I was blessed with this gift of recovery, I wonder if I have lost the right to too much anonymity.

What do you think?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

I'm back!

I've been incredibly busy, as my recovery has taken me on loads of new adventures. I married the most wonderful person in the world a few months ago. He's a fellow 12-stepper and was my best friend for a number of years until I did the work necessary for me to trust again.

It's amazing that we can be clean and sober so long yet still hang on to so many old hurts and haunts, isn't it? I did about 18 months of group therapy in an amazing group here in the Phoenix area. Many of my friends were alumna of the group, and I finally went. It allowed me to do some work on my childhood and on the abuse I went through in my addiction. Needless to say, none of us gets here in a vacuum and for me, I had to work through a boatload of pain before I felt ready to be in a truly intimate relationship.

He is truly my better half -- more tolerant, more patient and more mature. So it's been an amazing ride so far.

On December 13, I will have 30 years in recovery. I can scarcely believe it. Where has the time gone? It's interesting too, because lately while I've been feeling like I'm about 35 years old, a few others are starting to treat me as if my life, my career, is at an end. That's been very painful for me and I've been reflecting on whether I'm in denial or others are just inconsiderate.

Our culture is one of youth, but I know the best part of yet to be. Each year gets better. 

I'm trying to raise the money to go to Thailand on a tour with workers who commit their lives to ending sex trafficking. If that happens, I'll go in late January. I'm turning it over and if God wants me there, the money will be there for the trip.

I had a great thanksgiving with my husband's family -- my new family. We have SO much to be grateful for. Oz is now an elder, as well. He's snoozing at my feet. God bless his gray muzzle, which has brought me so much joy.

Sabra (pictured), the young crazy one, is now almost four. She's still very much a pup, racing around the house and emptying waste cans with glee. My husband's dog, a lab/Rhodesian mix, has blended in well.

That's all the news for now, my friends. Keep doing the deal. It works if you walk through the pain. There is joy on the other side.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Big news!

I'm getting married in two weeks. The program has given me the ability today to make good decisions and brought me a man who loves me unconditionally. I feel so lucky. More on my trip as I head to Michigan for the wedding.

Think before you post

I see a lot of crazy behavior on Facebook and I say, “Hey, it’s Facebook; you take the good with the bad.” But today I was simply so appalled by what I read that I felt impelled to comment.

One of our young members died, leaving behind a small child. I don’t know the details; I don’t really care. I’m not close with her, but she is one of us. As soon as word began to spread in this small community of about 11,000 people, the posts lit up her Facebook wall with a lot of dramatic comments and speculation.

About the fifth post in, her brother’s comment appeared. He said simply, “Hey, if someone knows what happened, can you please call me," followed with his phone number.

Can you imagine learning of your sister’s death via a Facebook post? Come on people; let’s try to be a little more sensitive. The world does not revolve are you and your pain and reaction to someone’s death. Especially when a death involves a child, don’t you think the family should be the first to know?

I’m just heartsick for her family and how they learned of her death. It just isn’t right.

Today I am glad I have the tools to pause before I react. Thank God for God.  

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day

When I was ripping and running, the last thing I knew I could do was take care of a child, so I made sure I never had children. Today, I am middle-aged and watching my friends delight in and sometimes agonize over their children and their grandchildren. Many of the women I sponsor have kids, and most of my friends have grandchildren. The decisions I made in my using still impact me today, because I'll never experience the joys, and the heartaches, of children or grand kids.

I am grateful, though, that I have been able to work with many young gals in recovery. While it isn't the same as being a mother 24/7, the joy I receive when they experience successes in recovery or when they walk through difficult situations is priceless.

Friday night I attended the community college graduation ceremony of one of my sponsees. She is now headed off to earn her Bachelor's degree at ASU. I am so proud of her and so pleased that I could help her on her path. God put us together because we were a good match, her and I.

Today, I am grateful that I have the opportunity to experience the love of motherhood (for both my pets and my sponsees) because I'm clean. Happy Mother's Day to you braver souls than me.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Out of Straws? That's Outrageous!

I rarely go into Circle Ks or QTs or places of that ilk because I'd prefer not to get shot (risk reduction). However, on the way to my Hospitals & Institutions commitment the other day and against my better judgment, I stopped in a Circle K near the 1-17 (another error in judgment) to buy a pop. I noticed there was a mop bucket full of black water near the register and that my shoes stuck to the floor as I went to get my pop (soda). When I filled up my pop I noticed a sign that said, "Out of straws."

So naturally, at the register I asked the young man if he was holding out and if perhaps he did have a straw. He nearly started crying. He said they ran out awhile earlier and he couldn't get any straws from neighboring Circle Ks (franchise issues, I guessed). He said that people were so irate that they were dumping their sodas on the floor, which he had to clean up.

I said, "Really, like 'I hereby dump my soda on the floor in protest because you are out of straws!'"? Yes, he responded sadly. He said he had given his two-week notice because he just couldn't take it anymore.

It made me grateful that I don't act that way. Not having a straw for a Big Gulp? Not a rage-o-meter offense, in my humble opinion. But what do I know? I know today I am so glad that that my useless, non-specific rage I carried all those years over my victim status is gone. Apparently, though, it's not gone for many. And that, my friends, is exactly why I stay out of convenience stores. That and Milk Duds. But that's another story.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Addiction Comes in Many Forms

I woke up yesterday, as many of you did yesterday, to the news of the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. As I dug into the story, I learned he had abstained from heroin for over two decades only to succumb to a fatal overdose after a relapse. In the “you’re eligible too” category, this was a reminder to me that I, too, have managed to stay clean for many years but that each day is a do-over. There is no guarantee for me, or for others in recovery, that we stay clean beyond the moment. There is only today.

My brother was an amazing film buff and movie reviewer, so my first instinct upon hearing about Hoffman’s desk was, “I wonder what my brother would think.” I lost him one year ago from esophageal cancer. Both he and I, and several of his doctors, believed his cancer was from a lifetime of acid reflux from his eating disorder.

As I eat my breakfast burrito with Oz silently waiting his share at my side, I know that addictions come in many shapes and forms. I have friends in the rooms going blind from their addiction to tobacco. I have friends, like me, who struggle with their weight.  For some of us, eating was our first comfort from the pain and isolation of our childhoods. As they say in the rooms, we often, “Put down the spoon and pick up the fork.” I have friends in the rooms who are sex addicts and seek help for those addictions. Addictions come in many forms.

I cried intermittently yesterday. Grief, or as I call sometimes call it, “the five-car pileup,” struck me hard. The loss of my brother, a major change on the job front, my struggle with the character defect of intolerance— these challenges made yesterday my own Super Bowl of emotions.
I know the answer. I hit a meeting last night and today I’ll work on eating better. It’s a daily challenge for us, isn’t it?

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Happy New Year

As we begin a New Year, I want to take a moment to thank you who follow my blog and wish you a blessed 2014. Big changes again in my life, which means I'll be blogging regularly again. I left my job to renew my efforts to run my own business and open the door to God's will and possibilities.
I hope you'll journey with me as 2014 brings big changes and another year of recovery. God bless you and your families.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

The Rooms of Recovery are our Chalkboard

When I arrived here over thirty years ago now, I had a lot of crazy writing on my chalkboard. A timeline of drinking and drugs beginning in my early teens, years of drinking and using before it stopped working, arrests, then years where “My bottom had a hole in it” and I kept using despite the consequences. When I finally skidded into the rooms of NA, I had made a serious mess of my life’s chalkboard.
I arrived here beaten but still unwilling. I stayed clean eventually, but was not convinced the third step would work in all areas of my life. I kept putting more negatives on my chalkboard based not on using, but on crazy behavior. It took me a few years before, thoroughly beaten and still crazy, I decided to take the third step in all areas of my life.
The program provided me with a big eraser that allowed me to expunge many of the problems I had on my chalkboard when I got here. Eventually, with guidance from my sponsor and others in the Fellowship, I began to make new entries on my life’s chalkboard. I began to have friends who taught me how to be a friend, I graduated from college, I regained the love and respect of my family and I developed a career.
Today, my life’s chalkboard is relatively free of mistakes. There were a few  tragic mistakes I made when I was out there I can never fully erase, but these reminders humble me and ensure I fully appreciate the gift I was given when my Higher Power removed my active addiction. I still make some missteps today from time to time. However, they are fewer and farther between every year. I am grateful God gave me another chance and erased that chalkboard so I could write new memories.

I hope you had a love-filled Thanksgiving. Today with God's gift of recovery, I did. Every year, my holidays get better. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Did You Get More Than You Bargained For?

When I came into the rooms they recommended I write down on a piece of paper what I wanted in my life in one year. It was pretty simple. I wanted a roof over my head; to not use for even a few hours; to not have to hustle every day to figure out how to get more of the same substances that had stopped working a decade earlier; to maybe have a job; to use my writing talents; and to have my family's respect.

I got much SO more than I ever bargained for. Did you?

Monday, November 04, 2013

When I Get Overwhelmed

Yesterday I went up to my old house in Skull Valley, which has been rented now for about three years. The current tenant is pretty stable, meaning he pays the rent and keeps it clean. But boy, does he irritate me with his cavalier attitude about things. I've had to practice letting go a lot with this situation and in most cases dealing with tenants, who treat your things differently than you would. While he's not deliberately malicious, the decisions he makes are in his best interest, not in mine in the least. I guess that's the nature of being a landlord.

I had to have my decking roof replaced and it cost quite a bit more than I anticipated. Next comes a complete exterior paint job and that estimate blew me away. In short, I got very depressed and overwhelmed so the ride home (about 100 miles) was uncomfortable for both me and my fiancee. I couldn't articulate how I was feeling until later last night. Today I had to adjust my attitude by emailing my sponsor and counting my blessings: I have a tenant who pays the rent on time; I have enough money coming in to pay for the next repair; I own a rental home (and how many people can say that in today's economy?); and I have options.

Feeling overwhelmed is not a safe feeling for those of us in recovery. We are people who, by nature, get the "buckets of fuck-its" and feeling overwhelmed, for me at least, feels dangerous. So today I am grateful I know what to do when I feel like this:
  • Go to a meeting
  • Have lunch with a friend who has more problems than I imagine I do
  • Call or email my sponsor
  • Take a nap
This morning I got into action and called another painting company to get a competitive bid. That is the best option at this point.

Today, I have quality problems. How about you?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Sometimes You Can't Help, You Can Just Be

Last night I went to a local poetry reading with another poet friend of mine. I ran into a friend of mine who was instrumental in my early recovery. She encouraged me to write and edited quite a few of my poems. She's a very talented poet and a very loving woman. I was still wild, barely in the rooms with one foot still in the streets, and she loved me unconditionally. 

She had a daughter who was a stripper, she confided in me back then when she learned my history via my poetry. We never talked much about it, but when I saw her last night, she looked very different than she did almost 30 years ago. She seemed surrounded by a bubble of pain.

Her husband took me aside and told me her daughter had died, drowning in the bathtub with a lot of drugs in her system. Whether she'll ever talk to me about her pain or not is irrelevant; she knows I understand at least some of it. My friend told me before she left the reading that she would call me, but I'm not so sure she will. It may be too painful for her.

Here is the poem I was going to read at the reading, but didn't out of respect for her. I read a few others, instead. This is the story of one of my road dogs. Sadly, it's true.

To Cash, Dead in Atlanta, 21

"You're gonna wake up dead one day" I tell Cash.

She heads out the door with a laugh.

"I just love them light-skinned men, Nadine,” she calls over her shoulder.

That was the last time I saw her.

Green-eyed pimp threw her out a window. 

So why didn't my life end like that? Today I have a different life, one I never could have imagined. A man who loves me, and who I trust enough to marry soon; a career; a house; a summer home; dogs;  a car. All I wanted back in the day was to have a somewhat normal life and I could never achieve it, despite psychiatrists and pills and psychodrama. Only the rooms and the 12 Steps saved me from a life that was beyond terrible. 

I can't figure that I did anything different than many others who didn't stay clean did; I just chose not to use and got more gifts than I ever thought possible.

Yes, at some level I understand my friend's pain, but never having been a mother, no I cannot fathom it. I do today feel the Grace I was given; I feel it keenly. Thank you, God, and thank you my 12-Step friends who have walked me through.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Big Changes, All Good

Big changes in my life. I've been in group therapy for about a year and a half dealing with emotional issues from my childhood, as well as issues with codependency. It's amazing what doing concentrated work on your family of origin issues will do for your spirit.

Since I started in this group, I've been able to process so much pain and grief that I've really unblocked my heart in profound ways. I've learned to trust, but more importantly, today I trust the right people, people who are emotionally available, dependable and open themselves.

I am processing another important piece of work on one of my siblings before I exit the group. I feel as though that is one resentment I still harbor and I'd like to be rid of it. Keep tuned; more exciting changes ahead, I'm sure.

Keep trudging!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

I highly recommend this blogger

If you've never heard of Cheryl Strayer or read her Dear Sugar column, I highly recommend her. She's simply amazing.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Six weird things about Romy

Everyone's into this "Six Weird Things" deal and I'm noticing animals are getting tagged a lot. So here's my former dog Romy's list. I swear they're all true.
  1. Before I got her as a semi-rescue, Romy spent virtually all of her first six months in a crate.
  2. Romy could open the refrigerator, even when it was bungeed shut. One time after studying for several days how I got in the refrigerator (by removing the bungee from a high cupboard, she pushed the refrigerator with her shoulder to loosen the bungee cord, then raided the refrigerator anyway.)
  3. Romy could open about anything, including the stove storage drawer if she saw me put something in the oven. I finally figured out she was pulling the towel hung over the handle to open it. Remove the towel? No problem, I'll just use my teeth on the handle. 
  4. Romy was only affectionate in the morning, unlike me. I hate the mornings.
  5. Romy often slept in the fireplace. She started that one summer (it was her den).
  6. Romy spoke German, not Czech, although she was more Czech than German.
I have Romy's ashes in a shrine I made after she died. I never really have gotten over her loss. Sometimes I think about her waiting for me in heaven. Maybe I'm crazy. Who knows?

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Focus on the Donut, Not the Hole

I ran into my first sponsor at a meeting the other day and she is always full of great clichés and wisdom. She said when she first came to the rooms, she became upset because "so many people were relapsing." Her sponsor told her, "Focus on the donut; not the hole."

In a few days I'll be in the rooms 28.5 years. Believe me, I've seen a lot of people come and a lot of people go. This is not a program for the faint of heart, because it isn't easy to stay clean for years and years, through life on life's terms. But I joined the No Matter What Club a long while ago. The grace of God, at least three meetings a week, a continuous relationship with a sponsor, service, a support group, a belief that if I choose to use I'll never make it back completely -- these are the things that have kept me being part of the donut.

Last night's meeting topic was "miracles in recovery." Each one of us, if you used and drank the way I did, are miracles. I was never able to figure out why I got it when so many I loved could not. But I don't look a gift horse in the mouth. I stay active and don't take my recovery for granted.

These are the things that have worked for me for almost 30 years. You, too, are probably doing the deal if you're reading this. If not, why not? It truly is the softer, easier way, at least from where I sit.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Life Isn't Drama; It's How You Handle What Happens to You That's Drama

Bad things happen to people all the time. I have worked in an industry for almost three decades now that mops up after stupid. And "freak." And just plain, "I never expected that to happen." Maybe that's why I don't have a lot of tolerance for people who, every time something happens to them, hire attorneys to handle things for them.

Although negotiation is in our DNA (we probably survived long cold winters by trading and bartering meat, tools, water, etc.,), Americans by and large hate to negotiate. They have abdicated their responsibility to figure out how to rationally discuss difficult issues over to experts. They are willing to pay those "experts" much more than they are worth to do so, in my opinion.

But I get irritated by a couple things:
  1. The belief that if something hits your car in traffic, and you're not really injured other than maybe an emergency room visit and a sore neck for a few weeks, you need to get an attorney because you just can't deal with the "hassle." In my experience, life is one hassle after another.
  2. People who call and ask others for their opinion (and that person happens to be a female), she takes her time away from her job and life two times talking on the phone for a protracted length of time explaining how to handle things, then she is told, "I'm going to ask ________ what to do. HE said I need a lawyer." Then WTF are you asking me?
  3. The belief that you are special because someone rear ends your car in traffic. That is just life on life's terms.
  4. Throwing around the phrase, "My attorney" doesn't make you look important. In most cases, it means you are claiming to be helpless in matters you could certainly handle on your own if you weren't, let's face it, intimidated. 
My very direct advice to this person was, "It's time to put on your big-girl panties and deal with this. Unless, at almost 40, you want to call your Daddy to do it for you." 

I don't have the patience today for a lot of drama. Drama isn't what happens to you; it's how you deal with what happens to you. 

I hope you all have a great day. I feel a lot better now because I've gotten this off my chest.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Parade Still Passes

When I had six years clean, I moved to Los Angeles. Fresh from a marriage to a man I loved but who kept relapsing, I was raw and angry. I had turned down a teaching fellowship to Fordham University in the Bronx to put my husband through treatment yet again, and I had hit my own bottom with this final relapse. I divorced him and left Oakland to work as a staff writer at a non-profit in Van Nuys.

A low-bottom addict, I felt most comfortable in Narcotics Anonymous meetings with minorities and other ex-heroin addicts. Those were the people I used with and the ones I related to best in recovery.

One night I went to a meeting in Pacoima, in the gut of the San Fernando Valley, about ten miles from the cedar-lined guesthouse I rented in Van Nuys. It was a warm spring night and the meeting was packed when I got there.

The only open seats were on “Death Row,” the back line of chairs where most of the homeboys sat who were fresh out of the penitentiary or bussed from the halfway houses and treatment centers that littered the Valley. I took a seat next to a man I had never met and waited for the meeting to begin. I wore jeans, sandals and a grey sleeveless t-shirt with a scoop neck. Away from work, I never wore a bra. Still in my early 30s, my breasts were small but firm.

NA meetings are noisy affairs. Addicts circulate, hug and talk to each other like a scene from Final Exit. This night was no exception. I nodded to a few people and sat waiting for the speaker to begin, content to watch the "passing parade,” as my old friend used to call the constant flow of people in and out of the rooms.

The first Persian Gulf War had just begun and I had listened to the news in my Nissan on the way to Pacoima. I made a comment about it to the man sitting next to me while we waited for the meeting to start. “Truth is the first thing that goes out the window in war,” he remarked.

“Vietnam veteran,” I thought, since he was a little older than I was. It isn’t often I ran across people with much of an intellect in the low-bottom meetings I liked, so I turned to look at him.

"Romy," I said, holding out my hand.

“Robert,” he replied as he grasped my hand.

I leaned over to pick up something I had dropped on the floor, a hair barrette I think. As I sat back up, Robert reached over and adjusted my shirt, pulling the neckline up. “They are nice,” he said smiling, “but I don’t know you that well.”

I smiled slightly to hide my embarrassment. Despite hooking for a decade to support my heroin habit, I was not a woman comfortable flashing her tits. The meeting started. After, I watched him get on the Cri-Help van to return to his treatment center. “Crap,” I thought, “a newcomer.”

I noticed Robert at other meetings in North Hollywood and Reseda. He always took a seat next to me if one was open, or found me after the meeting to chat. He was Puerto Rican, dark-haired and very intense. He looked me in the eyes when he talked to me with his clipped New York accent and his soft voice stroked my heart.

White men did nothing for me; they still looked like tricks to me. At that point in my recovery, I could only be with men who were tough guys. Perhaps it’s the abuse I took at the hands of men during my addiction—it was brutal and still sits today in my gut almost 30 years later. Who knows why, I can only say I had a bottomless need to feel safe. Nice guys, small guys, guys who haven’t had a tough life themselves—they bored me. But there is a steep price for loving tough, yet despite knowing that, I was moving toward Robert like a freight train.  I thought he felt the same toward me.

In NA, the women talk. We call it “NA PR,” short for “public relations.” Maybe it’s a survival mechanism because we’ve often been through so much abuse in our addiction, or maybe normie women do it, too; I don’t know. I asked a few women about Robert.

I didn’t like what I learned. He was a Vietnam vet, just as I suspected. “They call him “Fast Robert,” one said. He had been in and out of the program for years, another woman told me. “Do yourself a favor and steer clear of him,” they both advised me, each in slightly different words. We try not to gossip, but we hear from speakers and our sponsors to “stick with the winners.” How do we know who the winners are if we don’t ask?

I was dating another man, a Hispanic man I worked with, but it was a blind alley. His anger and inability to communicate meant we were off more than we were on. I began to spend time with Robert. More for Robert’s sake than mine, I thought, I told him that since he was a newcomer, I would not sleep with him. Robert said he understood, but that we could still be friends.

We did become friends. We took trips to downtown LA where he showed me the jewelry markets and the garment district and the delis where he hung out and had used. We sat in the balcony of a deli and watched the downtown dope fiends score from an old addict at a table on the first floor. He bought me single flowers from street vendors. He told me about shooting dope in the Bronx tenements and I told him about my years working the streets of Oakland in my teens and early twenties. We met at the NA fundraisers—the dances, the picnics. We hit meetings and spent a few afternoons lying on pillows on the living room floor at my house, listening to classic R&B, necking like high-school dropouts. We molded together, his hands on my breasts, my cooch scorched hard against his leg, kisses clean, deep and thrusting. I didn’t sleep with him, but it didn’t stop me from attaching and secretly hoping he would stay clean. I began to imagine a life we might construct.

He got out of Cri-Help and began to get some clean time. I was counting the days until he had a year. Although I held back physically, in my mind, Robert was my man. Just because we hadn’t slept together didn’t make it any less.

One night about 2 a.m., my phone rang. “Hello,” I answered sleepily. It was Robert and he was in a phone booth in downtown LA. “Come get me,” he insisted. His usually smooth voice was harsh and different.

“What are you doing down there?” I asked him, trying to wake up yet hoping I was dreaming. 

He gave me some odd, rambling explanation. Some men were looking for him and couldn’t I just stop asking questions and come give him a ride because he couldn’t leave the phone booth until I arrived.

In the daylight at its best LA’s Skid Row scared me. I’d been down to speak at a midnight meeting once at Christmastime and it looked like a scene from Road Warrior, men standing around burning barrels and homeless dope fiends and bums shouting and running and fighting. There was no way I was driving there alone at that hour. Robert got himself into it and he could damn well get himself out.

“Call your sponsor,” I said, and hung up. I lay awake until dawn thinking about him.

Robert was on a run and from what I heard from his sponsor, it never got any better than that night. I didn’t hear from him for months, only about him from his sponsor or one of my girlfriends telling me the 411. My life continued without a hiccup with work and meetings. My heart, though badly bruised, was not broken. I felt relieved that I hadn’t slept with him.

Months later, Robert called me. He was in the Veteran’s Hospital in Sepulveda. He asked me to visit him. I found his room with an oversized “Universal Precautions” sign on the door. He was lying in a hospital gown in bed looking torn up, but kicking heroin addicts always look like shit. We chatted a few minutes, I gave him some magazines and smokes I had brought, and I left. He was in and out for another year or so after that.

He got clean for a while and hooked up with a nice girl, a high-bottom addict, a beautiful young woman in her mid-twenties. He introduced me to her, asking me to give her some career advice since she worked in the same industry I did. I chatted with her and suggested some classes she might take. I never talked to her again. I did see her with him a few times at various Valley meetings. Robert and I would hug and I would smile at her and nod.

A few months later, Robert went back out. She went with him. One of my girlfriends told me that he turned her out, convincing her to turn tricks for him to support their heroin habits at the fleabag motels on Sepulveda Boulevard.

A few months later, I moved back to Oakland. I visited LA once on business, visiting a few girlfriends while I was there.

“Romy,” my friend Anne said, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but Robert is dead. He overdosed last year.”

I wasn’t surprised, but I remember I drew a sharp breath and blocked my tears. It is forever a punch in the gut when one of us dies from the disease. A 12-Step Fellowship is a tribe—we band together for our survival. When one of us dies from addiction, it’s like we’ve taken incoming for a direct hit on one of our own.

A few years later, Anne overdosed and died, and the man I was dating when I met Robert died from a heroin overdose. Robert’s sponsor relapsed after more than 25 years clean and had a terrible time coming back, perhaps his pride getting in the way. I don’t know what became of him. Usually relapsing after all those years predicts a short future; it is just too hard to come back. “The first time is a gift. The other ones you’ll have to work for,” they say in the rooms. The longer you stay clean, the more you understand—clichés are clichés because they are true.

Many of us find NA, but few keep trudging the road to long-term recovery. Feeling our feelings is just too real for some of us.

My close friends—my support system—and I joined the “No Matter What Club” years ago. We keep trudging despite what life throws at us. I’ve lost both my parents, my brother I was closer to than anyone, lost several more relationships, gotten fired in a very humiliating and public scene and traded my diseased liver for a new one. Yet I’ve managed to stay clean despite it all. It’s more Grace than it is anything I did. I never have figured out why some of us stay and some of us die.

I have a picture from a Fourth of July NA picnic in the San Fernando Valley. It was a hot day and Robert and I are lying on a blanket on the grass. I have on that grey shirt I was wearing the night I met him. The strap is falling off my shoulder. Robert has a sly smile on his lips and I have a look of unlocked sexual hunger. It reminds me that I was young once; full of sexual longing and still holding the flawed belief that someday a man like Robert would make me feel safe.

It wasn’t Robert and it hasn’t been any man since then. Now my safety lies in a faith in a God who leads me and keeps me sane and clean. Today I know not to expect more.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Reflections on 28 years clean

As I struggle with the death of my beloved brother and business partner Stillman, I''m recycling a post I run in some form every year on my clean date since my 25th. I've added a few points this year because I've learned a few tough lessons.

Last week was my 28th anniversary in Narcotics Anonymous. It amazes me that I have managed to stay clean for more than a quarter of a century. I remember turning 25 years old at a drunken party where I felt good the next day because I had managed to control my drinking enough not to black out. But to stay clean for 28 years, that is a miracle and one which I thank God for on a daily basis. I want to share a few of the key things I have learned in my decades clean.
The people you love may not always love you. Or, the way they can love you may not be the way you need to be loved. As painful as that is, turning it over and moving on has been what I have done, right or wrong. It takes time and courage, but admitting that you need more and moving on is the only solution that has worked for me.
Everyone is struggling with something. You may see people who you think “have it together.” Trust me, everyone, no matter how long they have been clean or how spiritual they are, struggles with something. It could be food, how they spend money, gambling, sex, whatever, we are all struggling. Our addiction manifests itself in new ways when we can’t have our drug of choice.
My family often lets me down, but people in the Fellowship almost never do. I continue to be disappointed with family members. I continue to invite them into my life. They continue to refuse. People in the Fellowship are happy to accept almost any invitation I give. My friends in the Fellowship have become my family.
We never truly “get over” our childhoods. No matter how much we think the steps have resolved what we went through as children, no one runs away at 15, hitchhikes 800 miles and stares total perverts in the face because she had such a great childhood.
My God is always bigger. I have walked through very difficult things in recovery. The death of both parents, a painful divorce (which is almost an oxymoron), very public humiliations, an almost fatal illness and subsequent organ transplant, the death of animals I have loved more than most people, to name a few. In all these instances, and when I thought I could not go on either emotionally or physically, my God has always been bigger than the problem at hand.
When it hits the fan, and it will hit the fan, put on the blues and lean into the pain. There is no way around the pain, no shortcut, no detour, no avoidance, no diversion. Just walk toward the pain to get past it. It will not kill you. It will feel like it will kill you, but it will not, I have learned. Beyond the pain there is a new freedom.
You can't take it with you when you die. When a doctor told me I had no more than four months to live, I spent a lot of time thinking. I looked around my house at all the “stuff” I owned. I realized that at best, they were just things that someone would have to dispose of or donate when I died. None of the physical things I owned mattered one iota in the end. What did matter toward the end? You did. You and my dogs and my family.
The gift of dysfunctional parents is a close-knit bond with your siblings, who understand the reality of your childhood. My childhood looked like a castle on a hill to my friends who really had dysfunction. The reality is that profound emotional abuse—the “slimy” abuse—is just as scarring as physical abuse.
What really matters is friendship. To have friends, you have to be a friend. Whenever I have problems in my recovery, my NA friends are there for me unconditionally. That is because I am a friend to them. NA taught me how to be a friend.
These are just a few of my thoughts of my years in the Fellowship. A friend sent me a card and I think his words summed it up much better than I can.

“That you arrived was an act of Providence. That you stayed is a daily miracle. That you endure displays your courage. What you have accomplished makes you an inspiration.”
Those words can be said about almost anyone who stays clean in the rooms. We didn’t get here by accident and we don’t stay clean by accident, either. It's a lot of hard work and putting one foot in front of the other and learning to reach out for help.

I thank God daily for the Grace that brought me to these rooms.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

When Those We Love Leave Us

I am dealing with grief and as I write this, I rebel against feeling that feeling. It feels like it may swallow me whole. I know the reality of grief is that it's often like a three-car pile-up. This bout is no exception. As I wait for my brother to pass from cancer, the loss of both my parents in the past years is also weighing on me.

One of the gifts a dysfunctional family often provides is that we become extremely close to our siblings. My brother has always been there for me and in fact, my parents abdicated much of the responsibility of child raising onto him, so in many ways he raised me. He was a constant in my life I could always turn to and because he dealt with serious mental illness, I was the constant in his life, as well. 

Sunday I'll head back up to Eugene, Oregon, for the fourth and final trip to be with him as he transitions. It is one of the toughest things I will ever do but it is also the gift I can give him. The program taught me how to walk through this.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

"I Got to Choose My Own Bottom"

At a meeting today, a young woman who was at her first meeting with her mother by her side admitted she wasn't sure she had "hit bottom," but was hoping that NA would work for her. As often happens when we speak honestly in meetings, we get our most perplexing questions or concerns answered.

Toward the end of the meeting, another young woman with six months clean spoke up. "I heard what you said about not being sure you hit bottom," the young woman said. "I know this: If I had used just one more day, I would have lost custody of my children. I got to choose my own bottom."

How powerful is that message, that we choose our own bottom? When I came to Narcotics Anonymous almost 30 years ago at the age of 27, most of our members were hardcore junkies who had hit a pretty horrific bottom. Some were old bikers who had done time in prison; some had detoxed in Lexington; others had lost everything. I knew when I got here and finally took that first step completely that there was nothing left for me out on the streets. Many of today's addicts are much different.

Many NA members today come to us through treatment programs or through the court system. Many are still in their teens, even their early teens. The old saying I heard when I got here, "I spilled more dope than you used," just doesn't ring true anymore. We all know it's the emotional bottom that finally gets us to seek help.

It's amazing to me to look around the rooms of NA today and see all the young faces, the teens, those in their early twenties, and those who used only a few years before they realized they needed help.

In a sense, I suppose I chose my own bottom, as well. There are times when things are tough, like they are right now as I work through post-traumatic stress issues, that using may be a remote possibility. I know, though, if I choose to use, what awaits me. There is no way I have the ability to survive long using the way I used when I arrived in NA. But using is always still an option, so I continue to attend meetings regularly and rely on my support system for help.

Thank God I had the bottom that I continue to choose.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


I haven't been writing for quite awhile. Busy with life and working and my program. All is well and hope to start writing again soon.

I did get the support group up and running.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Moving forward

Lots happening in my recovery. I am finally venturing into my community more assuredly to give back to those I can. Next month here in Phoenix I am starting a support group for the families and friends of sex workers. I have worked in a small way for decades helping women exit the sex industry; that is no secret. What I noticed is that there are so many family members impacted by sex workers' choices and there is no support from them.

So April 5 we start a meeting called "Because She Matters" for the families and friends of sex workers. This may be women or men who work the streets, strip, work in the porn industry, whatever path they choose deeply impacts those they love.

I'll post more details soon.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who irritate me.

Fred Allen

There has been plenty to irritate me lately. A new job and adjusting to a boss who I am sure has several planets in Virgo, at least Uranus. A sister-in-law of 32 years dying of cancer, yet we are not allowed to say our goodbyes. A brother who moved into my house after four months in the hospital who sits on the couch all day watching reruns of Law & Order, predicting the end of Western civilization, his comments punctuated by vomiting in a kidney-shaped emesis bowl. Yes, there is plenty to be irritated about.

But then, there is the wonder. Cool walks up North Mountain where I smile at Labradors and their panting owners. A steady pay check, health benefits and bonus checks when many of my friends are unemployed; the soft snore of my two German shepherds as they guard my bed each night as I wait for sleep. Wonder for my friends who post funny pictures on Facebook and poke me when I change my status to “pissed off.”

Yes, there are many reasons to be irritated. But there are many more reasons to breathe in, breathe out and say quietly, “Thank you.”

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Of Course You Hurt, Honey. Why Do You Think They Call it "Heart Broken"?

Funny that on Thanksgiving as I fill the lull between cleaning, organizing and putting the turkey in the oven, I am reflecting on red flags in relationships.

Relationships have not been my strong suit in recovery. I was married at two years clean to a man I truly loved, but he was and still is not able to stay clean. At five years clean, despite the pain and uncertainty, I divorced him to move on in my life and to try to fulfill my needs for intimacy. I talked to him last week, and sadly, he is homeless in Austin, a good place to be if you're homeless, and his life is pretty unmanageable, at least by my standards.

At about ten years clean, I fell in love again with a non-program man. That relationship lasted four years, but ultimately failed when he fell for another (and much younger I might add) woman. I was devastated, particularly because we lived in a small town and felt everyone (except me) knew that she was pregnant and what was happening. (Our own minds manufacture much of the drama, of course.) However, the signs were there for a few years and I ignored them or left and returned, thinking "It will get better." It never did. Now I am grateful for him in my life, for I found my wonderful dog Romy, who entertained me and many of you readers with her refrigerator-raiding antics over the years. I also found that I loved the area where he lived and ultimately bought a house there, where I hope to retire some day soon.

Anyhow, about relationships. Here are some red flags I've seen and often ignored over the years.

Verbal abuse. What is verbal abuse? It is hard to define, but we often know it when we hear it. Statements like, "You didn't get a good education," or "You are too fat," or "You are not as smart as you think," can all be defined as verbally abusive. Unfortunately, I was clean a long, long before while I finally understood that he verbally abused me. I only know I felt small, not smart enough, fat and confused a lot of the time

Relationships with extreme "highs" and "lows." Relationships characterized by extreme "feeling greats" then followed by feeling "totally down in the dumps" are often abusive or harmful to us. What we strive for in recovery if we allow ourselves to take direction is a lack of drama and emotional stability. My favorite episode of The Simpsons had Lisa sitting in Santa's lap. When he asked her what she wanted for Christmas, she answered, "Some stability in my life and an absence of mood swings!" I so related it made me wonder what was wrong in my life. A relationship that swings from "I'm on top of the world" to "I can't believe how miserable I am" is often toxic.

A lack of common financial goals and differing money-handling abilities. The last person I dated was retired and received a pension. When I think "retired," I think "financially stable." Only after we had dated for awhile did I realize that he wasn't retired, he was underemployed. He had quit his last job and taken early retirement because he hated his boss, and was still fuming about that. He took odd jobs when he could find them, but basically this meant if we were going to be in a relationship, I would have to bear the burden of partially supporting him. I couldn't afford to and found that I was too far in to exit gracefully. I saw him last week at a clean-time party and he left the party rather than speak to me. While few of us discussed how to handle money in our family of origins, hopefully in recovery we learn the skills of discussing money and budgeting.

Someone who lacks friends and family support. When I first started dating my mid-recovery relationship, I noticed he had no friends. He was a dog trainer and knew tons of people in the town where I lived; however, he had only one friend who lived in another state. I later learned why. It was because no one could live up to his expectations and he ultimately either destroyed or judged away each potential friendship. Of course, since this was his pattern, I couldn't live up to his high expectations, either. That was a huge red flag I chose to ignore. I thought my friends would become his friends, but that never worked. He found them defective, as well. In fact, the woman who worked for me one day said when he sashayed into my office to drop off a dog to babysit for the day, "I don't know about him." I chose not to listen and it took another year or so to really understand the depths of his narcissism. It's important that we look for people with a support system around them so that we don't become overly burdened by their emotional needs.

People we "can change." I know I'm not the only one who has been attracted to someone who has "PR" as we say in the program, either for sexual promiscuity, gambling compulsions or other issues that scream, "Unmanageability." When I sponsor women who are at the peak of their sexuality, craving love and affection, and watch them gravitate toward the NA "Casanovas," I often have to hold my voice--restraint of tongue. I can only gently caution them to watch the men's behavior in the rooms and outside the rooms. If they are breaking hearts as they march through recovery, I ask my gals: "Do you want to be in that lineup? What makes you any different?" I have seen far too many people use over broken hearts to ignore the fact that the old timers told us, "Under every skirt's a slip" (or under every pair of boxers) for a reason.

I think what I'm trying to say if you are thinking about romance in the rooms, go slowly. Who we fall in love with is often smoke and mirrors. We are always, me included, on our best behavior as we get to know a potential romantic partner. There is no magic number that outlines how long we should get to know someone before we decide to become intimate. The longer the better, though. One thing I am so grateful for in early recovery is that I knew that I didn't want to walk into a meeting and think, "I've slept with him and him and him." Believe me, I saw many women fall into that trap and many of them disappeared. They slept themselves out of recovery.

I hope your Thanksgiving (if you're in America) is wonderful. To my friends across the globe, Namaste. Feel free to add your own red flags.

Friday, November 11, 2011

What I've Learned in 26 Years

Next month will be my 27th anniversary in Narcotics Anonymous. It amazes me that I have managed to stay clean all these years. For someone who drank and used the way I did, to stay clean for almost three decades is a miracle and one I thank God for on a daily basis.

On my anniversary I will speak my home group, Hip, Slick & Kool. I will give a brief drug-a-log, because newcomers need to hear you used the way they did—the heroin, methadone maintenance, cocaine, liberal doses of PCP—and I will share about some of the key things I have learned in my 27 years clean. Here they are.

The people you love may not always love you. Or, the way they can love you may not be the way you need to be loved. As painful as that was, once I faced the truth, turning it over and moving on has been my only answer. It takes time and courage, but admitting that I needed more and detaching with love has been the only solution that has worked for me.

Everyone is struggling with something. You may see people who you think “have it together.” Trust me, everyone, no matter how long they have been clean or how spiritual they appear, struggles with something. It may be food, it may be gambling, it may be an inability to be intimate, it may be how they handle money—but it is something. We each are gifted with our own personal struggles we wrestle throughout our lives.

My family often lets me down, but people in the Fellowship rarely do. I continue to be disappointed in my family members. I continue to invite them into my life; they continue to refuse. People in the Fellowship are happy to accept almost any invitation I extend. My friends in the Fellowship have become my family. I can call on them at any time and they will drop everything if I need help. They are always at the top of my gratitude list.

My God is always bigger. I have walked through very difficult circumstances in recovery. The death of both parents; a painful divorce (which is almost an oxymoron); very public humiliations; an almost fatal illness and subsequent organ transplant; the death of animals I have loved more than most people, to name a few. In all these instances, and when I thought I could not go on either emotionally or physically, my God has always been bigger than the problem at hand.

There were many times when I wasn’t sure I could stay clean. Whenever I ask myself: “Why am I bothering to stay clean, to suit up and show up?”—when I am at my wit’s end, considering that first drink which will lead me back to my drug of choice—that is when God inevitably sends me an Eskimo. It may be that newcomer I reluctantly agreed to sponsor, calling with some drama of her own. It may be my sponsor showing up at the door. It may be my phone ringing unexpectedly, the caller ID announcing a close friend. It may be a simple post from a Facebook friend that suddenly slips into that hole in my gut and clicks into place. These Eskimos tell me that, one day at a time, nothing is so bad that I can’t face it and that I never have to face it alone. There have been many, many Eskimos in my recovery. You may be my next one.

You really can’t take it with you when you die. When my doctor told me I had only a few months to live, I had a lot of time to think. I looked around my house at all the “stuff” I owned. I realized that at best, these possessions were just things that someone would have to dispose of or donate when I died. None of the physical things I owned mattered one iota in the end. What matters is how I live my life and how I treat others.

When shit hits the fan, and it will hit the fan, put on the blues and lean into the pain. There is no way around the pain—no shortcut, no detour, no avoidance. Just walk toward the pain to get past it. It will not kill you. It will feel like it will kill you, but I and others who have chosen to stay clean for years and years have learned that pain is not fatal. Beyond the pain there is new freedom. You will come out stronger on the other side.

What really matters is friendship. To have friends, you have to be a friend. Whenever I have problems in my recovery, my NA friends are there for me unconditionally. That is because I am a friend to them. NA taught me how to be a friend.

These are just a few of my thoughts about my years in the Fellowship. My dearest friend in NA, the love of my life I will never marry, sent me a card last year for my clean date. I think his words sum it up much better than I can.

“That you arrived was an act of Providence. That you stayed is a daily miracle. That you endure displays your courage. What you have accomplished makes you an inspiration.”

Those words can be said about almost anyone who stays clean in NA. We didn’t get here by accident and we don’t stay clean by accident, either. I thank God daily for the Grace that brought me to these rooms.