Sunday, September 29, 2013

Depression, Booze, and Second Chances

 I apologize for the length of this blog, I had just made a vow to myself to write shorter blogs but I've sung that tune before, haven't I? I am reading a fascinating book right now written by Howard Storm titled, My Descent Into Death: A Second Chance At Life. In the book, Mr. Storm describes how he, an atheist, fell very ill and then "died," and it details his experiences on the other side, but also the changes in his life since he "came back." I'm finding the material of the book exciting on many different levels and I think it is important reading even for those of you who don't believe in life after death, maybe even more important. I thought some of you guys might find what he had to say about his drinking and how it changed after his "after death" experience interesting.

I was very weak for seven months following the surgery. When I eventually returned to work in January 1986, teaching my art classes exhausted me. During this time of recovery, I thought, studied, and prayed. My life had been lost and given back. Physically and spiritually I was born again. This rocked the foundations of all that I had previously believed, demanding that my entire life be rebuilt. I had a myriad of critical questions that I needed to answer, such as: What had really happened to me? Why me? What was I going to do? How did I know it was not a dream or hallucination? Was it real? All my life I had had dreams, but this experience was not a dream. When I had a nightmare, I would wake up. The experience in hell was far worse than any nightmare, but there I never woke up. My dreams had always had a sense of the surreal, but what I’d experienced after my “death” seemed more real than being awake.
Rather than surreal, it was super-real. During that experience, my senses increased from above-normal to levels of sensation that are beyond explanation. I was more alive in every meaning of the word than I had been before or have been since the experience. There is no comparison between any dream state I know and my Near-Death Experience. Could this have been a psychotic episode brought about by the extreme physical trauma of dying? I became obsessed with this question until it was resolved by several facts that collectively refute the explanation of trauma-induced hallucination. Before the experience, anxiety and depression had spoiled my life. I justified my melancholia by convincing myself that this was the only state of mind a realist could have. I had believed there was no God, no heaven, no hell, no Christ, no angels, no miracles, no life after death, and no ultimate meaning to life. One is born into an utterly random universe; one struggles for survival and pleasure, then one dies. What was the point of living? There is none. Why not die? Too afraid to die, I kept on living. Many times I had considered ending my life, but I always chickened out before I did it. Driving down the highway at ninety miles per hour late at night, thinking: just head into the bridge piers and it will all be over in a second, oblivion! I could never quite do it. Maybe one day I would have the courage. There was very little joy in my life. In order to be happy I drank alcohol. At every social occasion, drinking was the means to a good time. The more you drink, the better you feel. The more you drink, the more you need to drink to get that high. Booze was happiness and lack of booze was melancholy. Alcohol use is encouraged in our society. In the circles that I ran in, one was expected to drink at social occasions. A party, going out for the evening, getting together at someone’s home, going on vacation, visiting relatives, having dinner, sporting events, and other occasions were all accompanied by drinking. The only time one was supposed to not drink was at work. After my experience, I quit drinking. The primary reason was I was happy and knew that alcohol would rob me of my happiness. Alcohol is a depressant that depressed people take to anesthetize themselves from their depression. I don’t need it because I have a joy in my life that I want to keep. Alcohol degrades that sense of well-being with a counterfeit sense of well-being leading to depression in a vicious cycle. My experience didn’t frighten me out of drinking. It removed the need to drink. What kind of hallucination heals the soul?

Storm, Howard (2005-02-15). My Descent Into Death: A Second Chance at Life (Kindle Locations 1411-1420). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I have always considered myself very fortunate to have never suffered from clinical depression, and I know some of my sober friends still struggle with the horrible disease, even after years of sobriety, so I know quitting drinking doesn't end all depression.  But I am active on several message boards where people who are still drinking frequently post about their struggle with depression and I remember very well a night in a bar a couple of years ago where I sat listening to a couple of friends of mine as they talked about their antidepressants meds at the same time that they downed bottles of beer.  Alcohol is a depressant, we all know that, we all continued to drink when we knew what it was doing to us.  I guess I am just here to give a testimonial.  I have never been diagnosed with clinical depression but I regularly ingested a depressant for 30 years.  How could I not have been depressed?  I was, but didn't know it.  It didn't take long after I quit drinking, I'm talking days, before I started to feel better, happier, calmer, more joyful.  Those feelings have only increased as the two years have gone by.  I can't believe I walked around in that fugue state for years.  I didn't know I was.  Not until I quit drinking.

So if you're drinking and you're depressed, stop drinking.  At least for a little while.  Give yourself a chance to get back to normal and then see how you feel.  If you're still depressed, at least your medications will have a better chance of working.

Drinking is not worth it.

It really isn't.

I didn't have to have a near death experience to find joy,  neither do you.

Monday, September 23, 2013


“When you’re young you prefer the vulgar months, the fullness of the seasons. As you grow older you learn to like the in-between times, the months that can’t make up their minds. Perhaps it’s a way of admitting that things can’t ever bear the same certainty again.”
Julian Barnes, Flaubert's Parrot

I have never been able to anticipate any event, no matter how small, without some trepidation.  "How should I act?"  "What should I say?"  "What does everyone expect of me?"  "Who do they expect me to be?"  It happened every time I met someone new, walked into a bar, or even just passed someone on the street.

Alcohol smoothed that awkwardness, it ironed out all of my wrinkles. When I quit drinking, I found myself, once again, feeling like I was walking around wearing last season's outfit, pulled in haste from the dirty clothes bin.

Words no longer trip off my tongue, I no longer dazzle people with my snappy comebacks or my witty repertoire.  

The old fears still haunt me, but now all I have to offer the crowds, the strangers, and the old friends is me. Wrinkled, rumpled, and worn.

I told Riversurfer yesterday in a comment on her blog Me, My Voice and I , I can't believe how much energy it took to try and be who I thought everyone else thought I was.

Now I'm just me. Going with the flow.  It is effortless.

It feels....wonderful.


Monday, September 16, 2013


The first time I met her, she had just wrested the spatula out of the hands of one of my fellow elves who was turning out sub-standard pancakes at our Christmas Toy Drive's First (and last) Annual Pancake Breakfast fundraiser. I saw her giving the pale runny discs on my griddle the evil eye.

I soon found myself out of the kitchen and waiting tables.

Message received.

This was on one of my rare good days when I was neither hung-over or drunk.

The next time I met her was during one of our toy drive's bingo nights and I was drunk and in charge of making change for the players.  A drunk gringo trying to make change in pesos is not a good combination.  Once again, I felt her hawk eyes on me and I was soon relieved of my responsibilities.

Again, message received.

The next fall, when I was  back in the states, I received a message about her from a fellow elf.  She'd had a terrible fall and was in the hospital.  And, "Oh by the way, you know she is an alcoholic, don't you?"

No, I didn't.

This was about two months into my "recovery" so I sent her a message.  I said:

"I am like you.  I am an alcoholic."

I didn't know how my message would be received.

She replied:

"I am a binge drinker.  I was once sober for 6 years and then one day I had a bad day at work and I decided to have a drink.  I've never been able to get back for long."

We met up when I returned to Mexico.  I was a newborn in my recovery, all enthusiastic and shooting rainbows out my ass.  She was fresh out of the hospital, barely able to walk, sparse gray hairs sprouting from the wounds on her scalp.  Her eyes were ringed with dark shadows, their depths dark and bottomless.  We both swore we'd learned our lessons, we'd never drink again.  I looked for the spark I felt in those blackhole eyes and couldn't find even a glimmer.

The message was drowning in those fathomless depths.

But we kept meeting, she gave me her 90 Day AA chip and I promised to give it back to her when she reached 90 again.  Slowly she got stronger, slowly I saw the fire return to her eyes.  Once again she brooked no argument.

Message retrieved.

But then the messages fell off, my phone calls went unanswered.  When I did manage to catch up with her, she was wearing an outfit I recognized.  She had wrapped that cloak back over her shoulders, the one that we alcoholics think others can't see through.  A cape made of the shoddy material of flimsy excuses and threadbare lies.

Last year we sent a few emails back and forth, a few telephone calls promising to get together, but we never did.  But I heard from a few people that ran into her that she looked great, better than ever, smiling more than they'd ever seen her.  There were rumors of a man in her life.

This summer I saw a message on fb from her daughter that her mother had returned to the states and that all of her things, including her beloved sewing machine were for sale.

I wondered if I should send a message, but I didn't.

Last night I received a personal message from her daughter, her mother has stage 4 colon cancer and had a stroke last night.  Would I pray for her?

I sent a message back.  Would she please tell her mother that I remember what she said?  That I still carry her message with me.  That she is still helping me.  The message?

"I was sober once for 6 years, then I took a drink and I have never been able to get back."

Message passed.

I've often asked my Co-Writer why he put her in my life if we couldn't save each other.  I now know why, she is a messenger.

Please pray for my messenger.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Hoppy Hoppy Day

Today marks two years of sobriety for me and as I sat down with my rosary this morning I said thank you for the gifts I've been given in the last two years, a different gift for every bead. 54 in all and I could have kept going.  I won't bore you with the whole list, instead I'll just name one gift for each year of sobriety.

Remember that was my word for this year?  Today on my fb page I announced to the world, my world that is, that I have been sober for two years.  Funny how something that was so shameful has become such a source of pride for me. (The return of self-Pride was another gift I thanked the heavens for this morning, but I promised I wouldn't go on and on about all the gifts sobriety has handed me.  Again.)  I've received over 30 responses to my fb post this morning and 60-some likes.  I'm not bragging, but the fact that so many people took the time to say congratulations blew me away...and made me cry.  A few of them posted about how strong I am, one guy that I've known since grade school said, "That a girl! Congratulations, but it's not really surprising, you've always been able to achieve anything you set your mind to."

See, that's what I just couldn't understand all those years, it's what so many people don't understand..  I'd always been able to do what I needed to do, I'd always been the strong one that other people relied on.  Why the hell couldn't I control my drinking? I just wasn't trying hard enough.  I was weak.  And then I prayed for strength and it came when I had nothing left.  My own strength was never enough.  So thank you, God, and everyone else up there who pooled enough strength together to get me sober.  I owe you. I promise I won't waste it.

On to the next gift:

 I remember a day  four years ago when I had just moved to Chelem.  I thought Chelem was going to be the answer, my new life.  I was off the damn boat and nobody knew me, I could start all over.  But on this day, I found myself, yet again, wretched and hungover and so thoroughly disgusted with myself that I couldn't show my face.  My new housekeeper, Gabi and her father Felix, were at our house that day working, tip-toeing and speaking in hushed voices, I'm sure about their new employer who was laying out on the porch and couldn't even come in and talk to them.  "Who is this woman?", I imagined them asking each other. "Just another drunk gringo who thinks she is too good to talk to us?"   I wanted to tell them, "No, I'm not like that, this isn't the real me."  But it was.

Since then Gabi and I have grown to be very close friends and confidants, she knows all about my drinking and, now, my not drinking.  Felix, however, has remained reserved.  He meets us at our casa every time we return from up north and he always gives me a stiff and awkward hug, but he never gives me the kiss on the cheek that is customary down here.

Until last weekend.

Last weekend, the cap'n and I wandered across the highway to the little tienda that our neighbor Nancy runs.  Felix and his wife, Christina, were sitting on the verandah having a beer with Nancy and they asked the cap'n and I to join them.  The three of them had obviously had one or two already and were wearing the happy countenances of people that were finished with their work week and were enjoying a couple of beers with good friends.  We were honored that they asked us to sit down.  I sat sipping my coke-lite, as we all communicated via broken shards of language and hand gestures and laughter.  At one point, Christina, Felix's wife and Gabi's mother, turned to Nancy and said something about me.  I could catch that she was telling Nancy something that Gabi had said about me.  I look at Nancy, who was doing a comical job of playing translator for our little group, I haven't understood a word of her English in five years, and she said, "Christina say, that Gabi say, that Mary esta always..".at this point she took the index fingers of each of her hands and drew the corners of her lips up in a smile, "Hoppy! Hoppy!"

So Hoppiness and Strength are the two greatest gifts that sobriety has given me.

What more can a girl ask for?

P.S. Felix kissed me on both cheeks when I left that night. Just the icing on the cake.