Monday, January 3, 2011

The holidays

Happy New Year!

As I posted elsewhere:
Last year was tough, it made us stronger. Last year was good, it made us better. Wishing you and yours a Happy New Year to only make us greater!


I made a noon meeting before I flew out to the Midwest to visit family for Christmas. It was a well-attended meeting and we spoke about anonymity - principles before personalities. I like this tradition of AA because it boils every meeting down to why we're there, not who we are or how we walk through the doors.

My flight was delayed but there was a bookstore in the Milwaukee airport so I bought The Glass Castle - an incredibly easy memoir read by a woman with a very eclectic family. My sister picked me up in Minneapolis and didn't mind my request to sleep in her upstairs bed with her instead of on the couch in the basement. I wasn't sure how I'd handle booze over this holiday and wasn't eager to sleep in the room adjacent to the liquor storage - plus, she and her fiance have called it quits so he has moved into the guest bedroom.

The next day we drove down to Wisconsin, dropped her dogs off at doggie daycare - which was amusing in its own story, checked into the hotel, visited grandma and hauled her off to my aunt's for dinner, downed some soup with my aunt and my boy cousin, picked up the dogs, cruised to the hotel, and then I took the car to a meeting. This was quite the packed afternoon and I was eager to get into a meeting. My sister always runs late, which can cause me a bit of anxiety, but I was trying to let it all roll. I really love spending time with my extended family and was looking forward to sharing some moments with my Alzheimer grandma - time is precious at her age - as well as with my aunts and cousins. Because we left Minneapolis later than anticipated, all of that special time was squeezed into intense brevity. In a way, I was rather upset with my sister for robbing me of more leisurely interaction, especially since it's not as easy for me to fly out there and get this quality time.

I was also grateful that it was a quick visit. My extended family live in a town where I spent the last two years of high school, 9 months during my drop-out of college, and many booze-soaked holidays. I was nervous about being back there sober and didn't really want a lot of free time to cruise the memory haunts. But the newness of sobriety was weighing heavy regardless. I didn't like seeing my grandmother relying on a walker or wheelchair - this long-time farmer lady with the strength of a bull and independence like 4th of July. It was hard for me to understand her slurs and I felt badly seeing a spark of recognition in her eyes when she saw me - our time too short to hug and touch. My aunt had wine with dinner and I claimed recovery from a cold/antibiotics for not drinking. My boy cousin, her son, and one of my most favorite cousins when growing up also weighed on me. When I reach the 9th Step, I'll have a long letter of amends for him. I have altered our relationship and if I were to regret anything in life, it would be that.

I pulled up outside the small building that looked like a bar, distinguished from that only by the AA symbol of a triangle inside a circle. I was aiming for a 6pm meeting listed on the website, finished my cigarette outside, and introduced myself to a hick-ish looking woman who was also smoking, missing some teeth, and rather chatty. The 6pm women's meeting hadn't been held in years, she said, but there would be one at 7pm and there was plenty of coffee inside. She was so friendly - as most AA members are, especially to newcomers like myself - and introduced me to all the folks in the "break room." I had a hot chocolate and told everyone how I was visiting from DC. At 7pm a handful of us moved to the meeting room. A very young woman lamented about facing New Years Eve without drinking. The young woman next to her talked about how this was her last chance before being sent off to rehab for 6 months. She had tried to kill herself by swallowing pills, drank too much, and was addicted to pot and other drugs. An older woman was celebrating almost 3 months after a fall off the wagon. A man shared some frustration with his boss. Another man was excited to be a sober father to his 2-year-old son this year. And me, I broke down in tears - a typical reaction in early sobriety as active alcoholics (those drinking) use booze to suppress most every emotion and now, without that valve to drown them, they come surging upward at the drop of a hat.

I knew I had nothing to cry about in comparison to the teenager who was suicidal, but I couldn't control it. I was scared about sobriety with my family, scared about telling them, unsure how to face this holiday, the afternoon of rushing around had taken a toll on me, and I just didn't want to keep my composure - which I've been doing frequently at meetings in DC. Someone brought me the box of tissues, the dad guy asked if I thought I could not drink over the holiday, the leader of the meeting gave me her phone number. And, at the end of the meeting, the suicidal teenager gave me a handful of chocolate kisses, "I hear chocolate helps a lot during recovery." I hugged her and thanked her and told her I expect to see her here next year. And that's how it works. Strangers care for you, despite their own troubles or their own situations. And we're all friends by the end and at the beginning because we have a strong common bond.

I went back to the hotel, hung out with my sister and her ex-step-kids, and then slept like a log.

In the morning we drove by the co-op to pick up some ingredients for baking at my parents' house and I had a mini break-down. It was chaotic, I was unfamiliar with where things were, and I was overwhelmed. So, instead of planning to bake brownies from scratch, I said fuck it and bought a pre-made box. We drove the 3 hours north to my parents and settled into their house for Christmas Eve.

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