Carmine Carmichael smoked his last cigarette twenty minutes ago. The sun rose above the row homes on Sutter Street as he sat down on the marble steps at the corner. He hadn’t slept in three days, hadn’t eaten in two days and hallucinations had begun. His four-week-old blue jeans felt crunchy as he ran his hands up his shins, to his knees and then his thighs.
A dead leaf blew down the sidewalk, past his battered sneakers and he thought of how peaceful the dead leaf must have felt. It was, after all, devoid of all feeling. The leaf had lived its life on a tree somewhere as people passed it by without a thought.
Carmine knew exactly how that little leaf felt. Another leaf blew past and Carmine reached his filthy hand down and scooped it up with care. The weak stem felt dry in his fingers as he twirled it around, looking at the rips in the body of the little leaf.
“I’ll bet you were once so beautiful, little leaf, just like me. I was a strong man once, little leaf.”
The little leaf stood lifeless in his fingers and Carmine felt his eyes well up as he clutched the leaf to his chest. Little leaf pieces fell to the ground as Carmine sobbed.
Footsteps echoed in the distance and Carmine put his filthy hands back on his thighs and watched the leaf blow away in a dozen pieces. Carmine watched as shiny, pristine shoes stepped on and over the leaf.
I started drinking at an early age. It became a way for me to stomach myself each time I looked in the mirror or engaged with other humans. I never thought it would come full circle and the thing that gave me ‘people power’ would take that power away along with any perceived power over every other person, place or thing in my life.
Getting clean and sober was not an easy task for me by any stretch of the imagination (is it easy for any of us?). I made a decision to go cold turkey. I locked myself in my basement apartment for roughly a week only going outside to walk down to the Walgreen’s to get cigarettes (I also drank gallons of water). I was dizzy, sweating, cold, hot, felt nauseous, had wicked stomach knots and the shakes just to name a few symptoms of opiate withdrawal. I became a skeletal recluse for those seven or so days and it was the best thing I ever did for myself.
Now, I’m not saying going ‘cold turkey’ is the best way – and I didn’t go cold turkey – but for some, it isthe best way. I weaned myself until there was nothing left but me, my coffee cup and lots of cigarette butts. I pretty much glued my ass to this chair in said basement and just eked it out. It was fucking hell, lemme tell ya. I mean, at the height of my addiction, I was consuming about 1000 mg of Percocet a day along with one or two Fentanyl pops and not to mention all the 80 mg Oxy’s I was crushing and snorting. Yeah, I probably should have been dead a few times.
I read so many horror stories about people who use methadone or Suboxone to wean off opiates. It makes no sense to me as an addict. Seriously. Why would I want to stop using one drug only to become addicted to another? It made zero sense to me. I did go to an outpatient center, they asked me how long I was off pills and I told them. Now, I was off for about a week or so when I called this place. They actually suggested these two drugs to me. I was like, “NO EFFING WAY.” I didn’t go through hell in my basement for that time only to revisit a different level of hell. Thanks, but no thanks.
I belong to a few groups on Facebook centered around recovery and hope. This is where social media is truly awesome. We get to share ideas, thoughts and a lot of memes. I have been reading about methadone and Suboxone use in opiate withdrawal. It seems like a double-edged sword. On one hand, an addict is getting off the hard shit or fist fulls of pills. On the other hand, they are creating a brand new addiction that is equally gruesome.
I read a lot of statements that go something like, “I have been clean for three months, well, really two days because I was on Suboxone all that time. I feel like crap and I want to use.” Seriously?!
Please understand… I judge no one. I am no better than anyone, period. I just don’t understand. So I guess in a sense, I am asking: if anyone using either of these for opiate withdrawal or using something else for opiate withdrawal could explain to me why this is a choice, that would be great.
Yes, the basement was hell. I may even write about it one day in a memoir because I feel like people should know how fucking awful opiate withdrawal really is.
Looking back, I am glad I did it that way. I may not have survived if I became addicted to something else.
When I first got sober it was in late May of 2006. I immediately found some meetings to go to and when a person goes to meetings, they find out about picnics. My first thought was, “How the hell does a person go to a picnic and not drink?”
Turns out, there are a lot of ways to have fun that do not involve drinking or drugs. Here are some of the ways I have had tons of fun all while being sober:
going to a meeting
walking in the woods
walking on a main strip in a small town
going for a long drive (like… really long)
listening to music
shooting pool at a pool hall (not a bar!)
making a craft
going to a book store
going to the library
going down to the river
antique shopping (or browsing)
going to lunch with a friend
going to lunch alone
starting a scrap-book
journaling (I wish I would have documented my first year of sobriety)
and yes…. sober picnics!
These are just a few of the things that I had (and still have) a ton of fun doing while trekking through sobriety. Do you have any to add? Please share!
Okay, so I’m an alcoholic. I was probably born one, but didn’t catch on until my late twenties. Further, I didn’t do anything about it until my early thirties. I tripped, stumbled, blacked out… did all the crazy things that alcoholics do and then some.
The one thing that got me tripped up all my life was… me. I am so damn hard on myself! I can go down my list of “nots” and really spiral into a dark, lifeless hole.
I am not pretty enough; smart enough; talented enough; GOOD enough. It seeps in like a cool November breeze and before I know it I am sitting there shivering with rage. I cry, curse at myself. Hell, when I was a teenager, I even used to hit myself if you can imagine that one. I just hated myself so much. I hated me, I hated my mother for giving birth to me and I hated God for allowing my birth. Surely, it was a mistake. Why on Earth would He put someone as pathetic and ugly as me on the planet?
Yeah, ugly. I suffered with my self-image for a long time and still do… sometimes. I was picked on all through school as a child and then a pre-teen and a teenager. I was even made fun of as an adult. I resorted to violence to fend off the teasing when I was younger. When I was older, I just drank more. Surely the alcohol would numb my self-loathing.
I guess I felt, “hey, if I can’t be pretty, I’ll be a brute.” Even though I weighed maybe seventy pounds soaking wet when I was thirteen. At five feet seven, that right there my friends is a ‘bean pole,’ as I was called.
There were much worse names.
I was picked on in junior high school because I didn’t “fill out” like all the other girls. I was so flat chested, I didn’t even wear a bra. One time, some boys were walking down the hallway behind my friend and me and they grabbed at our backs to snap our bra straps. I found out later they did that to prove I didn’t have a bra on because I didn’t have breasts. They laughed their asses off that day. I ran in the bathroom and cried.
I felt worthless. I felt ashamed. I felt soooo ugly.
So yeah, I became violent. I started getting in fights with other girls and I started beating up boys. Beating up boys! Not so much beating them into a bloody pulp, but I got the best of them for sure.
Now, you would think that after all these years, and all my years sober and all the step work I have done and all the resentments I have talked about with my sponsor and all the shit I have let go, that this would be the big one I wanted to let go, because, after all, who the hell wants to hold onto a big pile of shit?
I just don’t know how to let it the hell go! I am so mad still (sometimes.) I am not mad all the time, but sometimes I just get mad. Sometimes, I look in the mirror and still see that skinny, flat-chested girl who used to get picked on. The girl who boys didn’t like. The girl who boys didn’t ask to go to dances and when she was at dances, they certainly didn’t want to dance with. The girl who never got put on the “list of girls.”
A lot of people say, “Darlene, get the hell over it. That was a long time ago. You’re beautiful!”
Yes, there are times that I feel beautiful. But there are other times, usually when I am watching television or I am on the beach or at a big concert or something, that I just get way lost in the hoopla of what is defined as beauty today.
For the record, I don’t watch much television and I rarely go to the beach. I listen to a lot of music, do a lot of writing and I do my readings everyday because a small part of me knows it is all in my head. A small part of me sometimes sees something beautiful in me.
I never think of drinking over this. Hell, I can’t remember the last time a drink entered my mind. Thankfully, I have a lot of women in my life and a pretty good support system. Thankfully, I have the rooms and the literature I read.
Thankfully, most times I recognize it is all in my head.
I think too much, and while that usually is a bad thing… today, I was thinking about how when I was active in my addiction and even shortly after I had got clean and sober, I always had this immediacy to lie. I lied about everything. I lied even when I did not have to lie!
My disclaimer is this: In 1996, I suffered a stroke that led to me having a permanent brain injury. So sometimes, I do not remember things or sometimes I blur fiction with reality. This usually happens if people ask me leading questions. Instead of asking me:
“Did you give the cassette tape back to Rick?” (involves a yes or no answer) You might ask me, “What did Rick say when you gave him back the cassette tape?” A question like this leaves me in a state of panic; because I do not remember giving Rick back the cassette tape.
So I start to think hard: Did I give it back? I remember talking to him about the cassette tape, I remember having the cassette tape when I was in the store, but I do not concretely remember giving it back to Rick. But, I must have… Why else would someone ask me what he said when I gave it back if I did not give it back?
My defense mechanism kicks in to make me not feel like a total ass and my brain misremembers me giving back the cassette tape. After all, I was in the store with the cassette tape in my hand and I had just talked to Rick. But my defense mechanism is wrong, therefore, I still look like an ass.
I am still working on it after 17 years.
When I was full-blown in my addiction, I was also a full-blown liar. Since I was a liar, I trusted NO ONE. The logic is simple. I was dishonest, self-seeking and seedy. Why would I think others were anything different? I could not be trusted and therefore, did not trust.
I used the two age-old methods: being defensive and flipping the situation. Because, honestly, neither one of these requires remembering anything.
Not a damn thing did I have to talk about to get myself out of hot water. All I had to do was ask things like:
“What do you think?” “Is that what you think of me?”
Or… throw someone else’s garbage up in their face.
It is mean and it is wrong. Bottom freaking line. Here is what dishonest people may not understand… it affects YOU and OTHERS. Being dishonest chips away at the psyche like a beaver gnaws at a tree. This is especially true for this alcoholic.
Today I am honest at all costs. I even have a hard time with myself if I call out of work ‘Sick’ if I am not sick enough by my standards to call out of work. I feel guilty all day long. Not fun!
What are your terms when it comes to honesty? Are you honest at all costs?
How awesome is it to celebrate freedom from the slavery of drugs and alcohol? Once a drudgery of self-loathing and hatred, when I put down the drink and the drug, I found a new way of life and discovered freedom to the core.
There were no more lost moments of clarity. Nights once spent in a drunken stupor were a thing of the past. My nights turned into eating at diners after meetings with other like-minded people in search of a common goal. I discovered that drinking and drugging were not a staple when it came to fun.
Fun and entertainment came in new and enlightening ways without drugs and alcohol. As I started to work my program, the chain-links of self snapped one by one, creating a gate I could swing open into a new world.
When I was little I played games like most kids. Hopscotch, Tag and Freedom were some of my favorites. As I got older, I joined a few organized sports like softball and basketball. I was athletic and while I didn’t particularly enjoy losing, I did it gracefully… sometimes.
Somewhere along the way I learned the awful habit of comparing myself to others. My looks, my education, my material belongings… all of this and more was never good enough, never small enough, never big enough, never pretty enough; it was never enough and there began my dark spiral into the “not’s” as I call them.
Comparisons are like keeping score and I came up short (the loser) every damn time.
Something I’ve learned in sobriety is to compare myself to myself. Everything about me I need to compare only to myself because, being a good alcoholic, it is easy for me to tailspin into a dark hole of self-doubt and woe-is-me.
“She’s prettier.” “Her boobs are bigger.” “Oh my gosh! Look how cute her feet are! I wish I had feet like that!” I mean, it goes on and on and on! Ugh… I can go from 100 to 0 in less that thirty seconds when I start keeping score in my head.
Keeping score wears on my self-esteem, it shows on my face and most important it drains me. Luckily, I love to read self-help books, go to meetings and talk with other women. I have learned when I start to keep score and am learning how to stop.
Say the Serenity Prayer.
Realize that everyone is beautiful in their own way (including me).
I am better than I was a year ago.
I am on my own journey, and it is amazing.
Focus on my attributes.
These are some of the ways I deal with my “not’s.” I’m human, so some days are easier than others.
“The reality – the real reality – is that we are already worthy, there is no test to pass.”
That’s right. Worthiness. Self-worth. Feeling worthy. I battled with this demon for decades. I battle a little less each day and am winning the war. Go me!
Worthiness was all in my mind. I tied my self-worth to people, places and things for years (like a good alcoholic). Even after I got sober, I still did this and could not figure out why I wasn’t feeling any different. Then I started reading my Big Book and a ton of other books.
There is no test to pass! No one is judging me. Okay, maybe some people are (human nature), but you know what? Who cares! In the end I have to stand before me and my Higher Power and that is all I have to live with. If I can get to the end of the day and go through my inventory and know that I did the best I could, recognize where I need improvement and give it to a God of my understanding, I have lived my life as intended.
Do you ever feel unworthy? How do you leap that hurdle?
“One of the best ways to uncover some of those long-hidden wants is to pretend.”
Yes! This is a fancy way of saying, “Fake it until you make it.” And why shouldn’t we? A few years back I read “The Secret” which is all about the Law of Attraction.
Whatever your predominant thoughts are, you best believe that stuff is going to happen. Don’t believe me? Have you ever driven to work (running late of course) and all that is on your mind is awful traffic along with foxhole prayers for no red lights? And what happens? Red lights and crazy traffic. UGH.
Yeah, I’ve been there, too!
Sometimes I envision great things for myself. No, I still haven’t woken up looking like Julia Roberts, but I have noticed that when I pretend things are going to turn out awesome, they almost always do.
Sometimes I pretend that I am a bigtime writer for Rolling Stone magazine. While that hasn’t happened yet, I am now writing about music for three websites. Am I getting paid? Nope! But I have my eye on the prize and I am loving what I am doing.
Have you ever tried positive thinking? How did it work out for you?
I have this great book called, “365 Excuse Me…” which is a daily thought book. There is a quote for each day of the year and a short blurb about the quote. I do not read this book every day, but when I do, turn through the pages until I find something that suits me.
I had a great heart to heart with my daughter Sunday night, and after picking the book up, happened to flip to the page that said this:
“As long as we’re reacting to conditions, something will always be wrong.”
How awesome is that?!
Basically, that quote means we cannot change anything that goes on around us. We can only change how we think, which changes how we feel. We can choose how we react to a particular situation! Way freaking cool, man!
It took me years to figure this out!
Quick example: I am in traffic and someone cuts me off. I can either yell expletives and flip him off, thereby ruining most of my morning, or I can say to myself, “Gee, I guess he is in a hurry.” Shrug it off and just go about my route to wherever.
I have no control over what the guy did! I only have control over my reaction to what happened. Period.
Are you able to control your reaction to outside events?