The Gift that Should Have Killed Me

flickr, yolanda

“24 Years.

364 Days.

Today. Just for today.”

 

That was one of my first thoughts upon awakening this morning.

You see, I am an alcoholic.

Fortunately, I’m the kind of alcoholic who no longer drinks.

Well, at least I’m not drinking today. That is the promise I make to myself on this, the eve of my 25th YEAR of sobriety.

* * *

I wasn’t supposed to be an alcoholic.

In fact, I worked really, really hard not to be.

I was a good girl. I did what I was told. I got good grades, graduated at the top of my class in college. I carried up to 23 credit hours a semester at college. I was on the Board of Student Government, a member of five national honor societies.

I was first chair in the University Symphony Orchestra. In fact, I played the flute so well and practiced for so long that they actually paid me to practice.

And perform.

* * *

Oh, I’m a performer, all right.

I performed and performed and smiled and plotted.

So I wouldn’t be an alcoholic.

Cause alcoholics die and leave you. Like my father did.

The leaving came when I was a baby, the dying took another decade.

Esophageal varices (that’s when you drink so much you thin the lining of your throat and then you bleed out) followed by double pneumonia.

Age 34.

Sick his entire adult life. In and out of institutions. But he got that one award from the Red Cross for donating blood.

Oh – he was a brilliant musician, too.

Self-taught.

In fact, my very first life memory is toddling down the hallway to watch him play the banjo.

* * *

So, at any rate, I thought if you worked really hard and achieved great things the disease couldn’t “get you.”

I was wrong.

There was another alcoholic in my life in those days — my grandfather, Francis Marcey, or “Pop Pop,” as we called him.

I was in the third grade when Pop Pop nearly died before he decided to get sober. After that, his entire life was dedicated to helping other alcoholics achieve sobriety.

We used to spend summertime at Grandma and Pop Pop’s beach house in Piney Point, MD. In the back room of the cottage there was a black rotary phone.

That was the “sobriety phone.” When it rang it meant that another alcoholic needed my Pop Pop’s help.

It was serious business, that phone and it’s special ring. It was so effing LOUD for one thing. There was no way you could miss it.

When it rang, Pop Pop would grunt and lift himself from his baby-poop green recliner.  The ringing of the phone signaled the silencing of all grandchildren present.

Pop Pop had work to do.

And work he did.

There are entire generations of Southern Marylanders whose lives have changed because of my Pop Pop and Grandma’s tireless commitment to helping others recover from this otherwise terminal disease.

* * *

Pop Pop and Grandma had a back cottage on their property. That’s where all the men who were new to sobriety lived while they were being restored to health.

Grandma made them lunch. We were in charge of taking it back to them.

White bread, thick, ruby red tomato slices from the local farmer’s roadside stand. Mayo. Salt. Pepper.

So many alcoholics getting sober on Grandma’s tomato sandwiches.

* * *

Fast forward 27 years.

I’m an alcoholic in recovery now. I’m 31 years old. My baby – my only daughter – had just died in my arms.

I didn’t drink over the death of Grace.

I didn’t drink because, like my Pop Pop, I had made a decision:

 

We Stay Sober Under Any and All Conditions.

 

That’s my decision.

I’ve been sober through the death of a child. The end of a broken marriage with all the trimmings. I’ve been sober through the death of countless friends – my poor comrades in sobriety who just couldn’t grasp – and KEEP – this one tenet of living –

We stay sober under any and all conditions.

I’ve been sober through good times and bad. I’ve been sober through mundane times – those are actually the trickiest.

Because when life is quiet my mind gets busy making shit up to worry about.

But through it all, I don’t drink. Because we stay sober under any and all conditions.

Here was one of those “conditions”:

* * *

Some months after Grace died, I was mercifully pregnant again.

It was a “high risk” pregnancy.

I spent the last four months of my pregnancy lying on my left side.

So my baby would LIVE.

I didn’t drink.

Because – We stay sober under any and all conditions.  And this particular condition was life threatening to the child growing inside me.

So, there I was.

On my left side.

I was allowed to sit up three times a day.

So that gravity didn’t kill my baby.

I reflect with awe on the Jennifer who lived through that time.

I admire her courage so very much.

Every day I was in a race – a battle with gravity, a race through time.

I couldn’t stand up for long periods of time. The baby might fall out like his big sister before his lungs would allow him to survive on the outside.

Oddly, I don’t remember being afraid at the time, though the memory of that time TERRIFIES me.

But I don’t drink.

Because, we stay sober under any and all conditions.

* * *

In April of that year, my eldest son, Clark FRANCIS was born.

Full term.

Working lungs.

Beautiful.

Safe.

Clark was the first sober baby in more than 100 YEARS on one side of my family.

You see, I am the first sober parent in more that a CENTURY from the Boykin side of the family. And, honestly, there haven’t been that many from the other side, either.

Alcoholism is my family disease. It has RAVAGED my ancestral line.

My sobriety prayer?

“Let it begin with me.”

* * *

A few months after Clark was born, we took him on vacation with us to the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

I don’t know why, but something told me I HAD to take him with me to meet some other sober alcoholics I knew there.

These were my sober alcoholic friends from the beach. The summer before they had loved me through the death of my only child. Now it was time for them to meet her little brother.

* * *

There was a man speaking at the front of the room. He was celebrating twenty-something years of sobriety at the time.

His name was Jim.

Jim was talking about his early sobriety. He had gotten sober in Southern Maryland. In fact, he has newly sober at the same time and in the same county as my Pop Pop.

Jim went on and on and on about his first sober mentor. He talked about all the things that man had shared with him. He credited his sobriety – his entire life – to the love and support of that one sober man.

Afterwards, I went up to Jim. I had to introduce my second sober baby to him and ask him – did he know my Pop Pop?

So, standing there cradling the second sober baby in a century in my arms, I asked Jim –

“Did you happen to know Francis Marcey? He was sober in southern Maryland, too, about the time you were there and he was my grandfather.”

“Francis Marcey?” he boomed.  “Your grandfather was Francis Marcey?”

“Well, yes,” I answered. “And this is his namesake, Clark FRANCIS, and he is the second sober baby to be born in my father’s family in over a century. You see, my daughter, Grace, died last year. But I didn’t drink. Because WE STAY SOBER UNDER ANY AND ALL CONDITIONS.”

And this is the incredible thing that Jim said to me –

“Your grandfather was Francis Marcey?! Well, Francis Marcey was my first sober mentor. And he is the man I was just talking about who saved my life. In fact, I lived in Francis’ back cottage when I first got sober.”

Tears are streaming down my face by this time.

You see, that sober man standing before me – Jim?

Well, he got sober at Grandma and Pop Pop’s back cottage.

And here is the second miracle: when I was just nine years old – long before I picked up my first drink, I carried my Grandma’s tomato sandwiches to that man.

I was part of the family who nursed him back to health.

DECADES before that meeting with Jim and hundreds and hundreds of miles away, my grandfather had shared his experience, strength, and hope with that man.

And 27 YEARS later, he brought it back to me.

And so it is.

Because those are the sorts of miracles that happen in your life when you decide to stay sober under any and all conditions.

* * *

Twenty-five years ago TODAY I took my last drink of alcohol.

I wasn’t supposed to be an alcoholic.

It wasn’t my plan.

But alcoholism, and then sobriety, has been the greatest gift of my life.

I am so very grateful to be an alcoholic.

Love, Jennifer

P.S. Can you guess the most important word in this phrase? —  “We stay sober under any and all conditions?” I’d love to hear your thoughts in our comments for today. 

photo: flickr, Yolanda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Love Yourself Like It’s Nobody’s Business

flickr, Barney Moss

Cause it isn’t.

Anybody else’s business, that is.

Loving yourself is YOUR business. And, while certainly we can and are loved by other people, ultimately only we can be responsible for the love that comes and goes in our one beautiful life.

Love should not hurt. Well, okay, sometimes loving does hurt. But, in the main, love should add to our lives, not cause stress and anxiety.

Loving yourself means being responsible for yourself.  When you love yourself, you

* take care of yourself

* take care of your finances

* take care of your health

* take care of your beautiful heart.

It’s not always FUN to do some of this stuff. Facing your fear of your financial future, facing your sadness over what a lifetime of donuts has done to your hips is not fun. Facing the truth that certain people who are “supposed” to love you don’t seem to be acting that way — well, in truth, that one just kinda completely BITES.

But unless and until we stand in our own truth — our own UNADULTERATED TRUTH — seeking neither to minimize nor dramatize any of it — unless and until we do that —

Well, we can’t receive the kind of love that adds to our lives. If we are looking for love to fill the “hole in the soul” then we are living on empty emotional calories.

There’s no soulful nutrition in that.

If you lack the energy or incentive to move forward, it might be that you are filling up on this kind of near-beer of happiness.

So, love yourself. Do good for and by yourself.

Find your light and stand tall in its center.

Then, reach one hand to your right and one to your left. And grasp the love and support of your sisters who are making that same journey.

We are here. Right beside you.

Even now.

Love, Jen

p.s. We do a lot of cool stuff here at Life After Tampons. If you’d like to join our community, it’s completely painless. Just enter your info below.

photo: Flickr, Barney Moss

 

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The Curse of the Blinking Cursor

Sadie Hernandez, French Horn I’ve got a blinking cursor cursing before me.

It’s patiently waiting for me.

To move it across the page.

I’m pretty sure my cursor works out.

It never takes a break.

Not only that, but it blinks in perfect time with itself.

As for pace, it’s a little slower than you’d want to hear the end of the Overture from Wagner’s Tannhauser.  I don’t know what made me notice that, except that, as I was staring at it just now, I suddenly had a flashback to my high school band’s Spring concert, circa 1978.

And the French horns.

What did you do today?

 

Photo cred: Sadie Hernandez

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Great Expectations Set You Up to Fail

flickr, Marco Bellucci

The other day, one of our Reclaim the Sass challengers shared with the group about a tough time she was going through in the last two weeks. Her father is ill and in the hospital and, obviously, she isn’t really feelin’ the sass right now.

Because all of our Sassafrasians are amazing, someone else immediately sent love to her and said, “Since I started the challenge I have been exceptionally cranky and down and I have no real reason, just coming up against my self appointed limitations that keep me from my full sass expression. Trying to let myself flow through it to the other side with as much grace as possible.”

The first dozen or two times I tried to change myself I remember that, too. I remember starting all gung ho – “

Time 1: “Woo hoo, let’s buy those protein shakes and lose that belly fat.”

Time 2: “Woo Hoo, once I get my house/finances/fat butt back in shape I’m NEVER going to allow myself to get THIS BAD again.”

Time 472: “What’s the use? I never seem to stick with what I said I was gonna do. I give up.”

Well, “giving up” is probably the best thing you can do when you decide to Reclaim Your Sass.

The best possible place to be in when you begin anything of import is utter and complete surrender.

You surrender your expectations of how it’s going to go.

You surrender your expectations of how compliant and consistent you’re going to be able to be.

You surrender all ideas of what you think your mood should be like while you are going through this time of change.

Cause here’s the thing love —  It’s not really all that surprising to feel cranky, moody, and even depressed when you start out on the exciting journey of “this time I absolutely mean it, once and for all, I’m finally gonna do something about that thing that’s been bothering me like FOREVER and I’m gonna be so happy to finally have found someone to help me (that’s ME in this case) and a community of women (that’s Beautiful YOU in this case) that I’m just gushing with excitement and I imagine every day of this transformation to be completely filled with “aha” moments … and blah, and blah, and blah, and blah.

Cause the truth is you might actually feel kinda completely SH*TTY at the beginning.

You might have feelings of sadness and remorse that you waited so long.

You might have feelings of disappointment cause, once you get just the smallest way in to it, you realize that changing your life is a whole lot more complicated than you thought.

You may feel resentment that the people around you aren’t supporting you more. And, after all you’ve given them over the years, and they can’t, not even ONCE, be there for Beautiful You.

. . . . And, another thing . . . .

See what I mean?

When you make a commitment to make a commitment to yourself, all you’ve really done is state your commitment. The “going throughs” is a completely different thing altogether.

But that is no reason to feel glum. Further, you can completely LOWER your expectations of yourself in this way – you can’t expect yourself to be graceful at something the first time you do it.

Really, who does that?

Did Peggy Fleming look so hot the first time she laced up and risked the ice?

Did the principal of the New York Ballet pirouette the very first day at the barre?

Did Jennifer Boykin put together interesting and fun pieces the very first time she grabbed a pencil?

No way, Jose.

What we are doing here is creating a new life for ourselves – one day at a time. And the new life we are creating is, at first, a complete change to our interior world. The correct changes to our outer world will come from the understanding we get from understanding ourselves.

And, at first, we just can’t understand ourselves all the time. It takes practice, and love, and patience, and deep DEEP acceptance – both of self and of others.

So, if you are Challenging with us this month, or if you are just working through change on your own, I completely honor and commend your decision.

Just don’t sweat it if you’re a little bit grumpy and, from time to time you fall down on your beautiful behind.

Besides, it’s never the fall that matters. It’s the RISE.

Have fun. Make good choices.

Love, Jen

P.S. We are announcing new changes to our monthly reinvention program – Chapters – as of this morning. To learn more, visit our info site: Chapters

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