Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Soap-Trimmers Anonymous

My family-in-law came to visit a while back, and for those of us who don't have the most kept-up homes - shit, even for some of us that do - this kind of visit is perfect for sending us into an apocalyptic panic.  As my very good friend explained it:

"Of COURSE you're panicked - you're allowed to be panicked.  You SHOULD be panicked. Your mother-in-law is coming to your house.  Your mother-in-law is coming to your house!"  My mother-in-law with the impeccable everything.  My grandmother-in-law with the even more impeccable everything that taught MIL how to be impeccable.  At everything.

Meanwhile my everything was a mess, and each issue of our modest space was cause for alarm - there's not enough room at the dinner table.  The coffee table is missing a drawer (broken from when husband turned it over in a rage).  Our couch has been known to cause severe lower back pain.  The hallway smells like cat pee no matter how many times I attack it with "urine be gone."  Our dogs bark excitedly and jump on you and embarrassingly behave like their people haven't really ever bothered to train them (this is mostly true).

Also - I don't buy alcohol anymore since they last visited.  Neither does my husband, really, for that matter (not openly).  This gave me a brief anxiety attack.

They will notice this.  They may not say anything, but they'll notice.  And then they'll look at me like "..."  And I'll know that they notice.  Dammit. 

But what I was really upset about was the complete lack of organization of our crap.  Crap that was everywhere, on every counter and table and side table.  Even the dryer.  And in my book (my book on households gone to shit) if there's crap on the dryer that's a bonafide situation.  

All I could do was stare at it.  I tried to move things but some of them didn't really have homes.

What IS this?  Why do I have this?  Where do I put this?  
Hmm....Can't throw it away - that's wasteful.  
Okay.  It stays here.

After anxiously walking around the place the piles were all I could see.  I had to get away to a safe and quiet place.  So I hid in the bathroom.

That's when I noticed the soap.

The soap on the bathroom sink.  A lovely-smelling bar that had melted during the last move and was now, in my frazzled myopia, horribly, unacceptably disfigured.  And suddenly I was mad with my new-found power and control over something completely meaningless and insignificant - This! I will change this!  My frustration had found its focus.

This soap.  This soap.  It is completely and categorically unacceptable.  It's so used-looking.  And melted.  Disfigured soap.  Unclean.  Un-okay.

I rushed out to the kitchen, grabbed a sharp knife*, skipped back and went to work, checking to see the exact spot that I could cut the soap and have it be Just So.  Once that was decided it was quick.  It was done.  The self-satisfaction afterwards could only be described as "certifiable."  I glanced up into the mirror, the knife still in my hand, my unwashed hair in a nest on top of my head.  There's a crazy woman cutting soap in my bathroom.  Fitting that the only other scenes combining knives and bathrooms are horror movies.  Knives should never be in the bathroom - this is what can happen.  Well, this and murder.

Outside in Reality every horizontal surface was still covered.  All the piles continued to surround me, yelling at me for reform.  The laundry laughed at me.  The crumbs on the counters did a jig.  Then the magic happened: slowly the energy from my insane soap-trimming fueled me into action and efficacy and the superficial changes were made.  Everything else was shoved out of sight into the bedroom.

Family-in-law arrived and soon it was time to eat dinner, which was the parade of my faux-pas as a result of being you know, too busy on more important details.  There were no place mats.  And I can only explain it as plainly as this - in this family there is nothing more embarrassing than putting plates of food down on a naked table.  Also, I forgot to hand out napkins - or in my case, paper towels folded to look like napkins.  And, based on grandma-in-law's passive-aggressive commentary, I had a serving spoon out when I should have had a serving fork (she stood there and stared at it, not so much actually helpless as just irritated and confused at my total stupidity and complete domestic ineptitude).  For shame.

But let me tell you people.  20 feet away I had the sharpest, most evenly cut nicest-looking bar of used soap anyone has ever seen.  It was fit for an OCD museum.  Or one of those random highway attractions in the middle of nowhere, like the World's Largest Ball of Yarn.

And you know what?  The whole night went by and no one even noticed.  No one said a damn thing to me about my amazing soap.

It's not just in these emergency situations that my focus dwindles down to a frightening pinpoint of the most senseless and inefficient kind.  Each day I become distracted by the unimportant, the unnecessary.  Then I become overwhelmed, as it all becomes very urgent and must be done NOW.  Then the helpful, meaningful things get overshadowed by the small, the insignificant.

It's a different kind of procrastination, but procrastination nonetheless.  In college it helped me avoid writing papers so I could clean, or go out to buy groceries instead of clean.  Or watch TV to avoid having to buy groceries.

The compulsion to avoid is still there but now I'm aware of it.  And awareness is the first step!  The first step to leaving your soap the hell alone.

*For those of you curious culinary connoisseurs, the knife used was a santoku.  Based on my very light research (i.e. Google image hunting), "santoku" means "three virtues" or "three uses" in Japanese - slicing, dicing, and mincing.  Worth mentioning, I think, because if it weren't for the embarrassment I would freely advocate for a fourth use thanks to its trusted combination of precision, balance and separation improvement.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Geographical Cures Part 3 - Wherever You Go, There You Are.

I'm writing this from my new living room, in my new city, while my husband is at his new job.

I'm so so happy to live here.  Each morning the songs of birds I've never heard before wake me, their melodic messages twittering through my window.   It is a city we've visited before and loved, but never would have thought we'd end up.  It's not a tropical island or anything, just a random beautiful place where the grass seems greener, even to me.  When we visited last, I remember looking around and thinking, wow.  I mean, who lives here?  What do they do?  Like, for work?

It doesn't seem possible people get to live here and also have to live normal lives, like waking up and realizing you're out of milk or the cat threw up on the couch, or having to put up with impossibly loud upstairs neighbors who seem to never leave and instead only slam doors, scrape heavy furniture across the room and cackle with laughter.  But nope, it's true - normal lives exist here.  We're out of milk, my cat threw up, and I hope I never have to see my upstairs neighbor face to face because I am convinced in my frustration that she is making noise on purpose.  On the bright side, there are so many Al Anon meetings that I am able to go everyday, even twice a day (and I have - on some days to check out new meetings and on others because I just needed another meeting).

Last fall when I heard my husband had applied to a position in our new town, my first reaction was a drop in my gut and an almost inaudible sigh, complete with a closed eyeroll (passive-aggressive communication could be on my resume under "skills").  There had already been other positions applied to in other towns and other states, moves threatened to be made with or without me.  I got through it by telling myself three things:

1) Apparently, the last several moves have taught me, I can really be happy almost anywhere.  It's comforting to know that somewhere in me, there is resilience.
2) Wherever we end up, it probably won't be for long anyway.
3) I could always decide not to go.

I didn't like #3.  But I had my choices.

Soon the reasons for the job change were collected and announced to me and I waited, we both waited, until companies responded.  It did take a bit longer this time.

Though not a tough competition by any stretch, this location was paradise compared to the other options.  And I was actually mad.  But mad because I couldn't figure out how to be pissed at my husband for moving us, yet again, to a city that absolutely beckoned me.  For weeks I managed to show mostly displeasure at what I felt was another manifestation of his disease; that again he seemed to become irritable, discontent and restless, confident that he would be happier at yet another job, in another city.

Soon I realized how exhausting it was to remain so resentful, and despite my reservations I let it go.  I let it go and decided that what will be, will be.  Maybe I could just enjoy this decision and see what comes of it, making decisions for my own welfare along the way.  Tiring myself out with anger and resentment is a huge part of my disease - I could have voiced my concerns, stated my opinion and then come what may, stuck to my desires.  This is beyond difficult for me, because any rejection or disagreement feels like abandonment, and so I begrudgingly cope with fear and worry instead of facing what could be The Truth.  And The Truth is there amongst the worry, fear, and avoidance of confrontation, whether I make those decisions or not.

Moving day came and went, and my husband was so happy.  He beamed at me, and in his excitement doled out random hugs and kisses.  He sighed contentedly, crossed his arms and seemed to survey what he had put into motion.  "I haven't been this excited about a job in a long time" he said.  It was bittersweet, but I admit I was glad to see him so enthused.

Though our time there was fraught with struggle, I looked around at our empty apartment and felt the familiar pangs of grief over another home left behind.  I said goodbye to many the things I'd miss and to the things I wouldn't miss, of which there were few.

Goodbye, royally-huge bathtub.
Goodbye, double-door fridge.
Goodbye, scenic pool.
Goodbye property manager, who always called me "sweetie."
Goodbye old, always dirty-looking *no matter how many times I cleaned and vacuumed it* carpet.
Goodbye cozy living room, where I served so many meals.

At each of these farewell scenes the sights, feelings and thoughts upon moving-in come flooding back to shadow against those of our departure, and I grieve for the blank canvas of our space that was once so large with hope.  I turned my key for the last time.

The move was strenuous.  So, so much driving.  Miles that seemed to stretch on for longer than miles, and as I drove I purposely avoided any road markers ticking away our progress.  A little over halfway there, my husband lamented that our new city "didn't feel like home, and probably never will."  I was shocked, but I wasn't - even though I have learned so much about alcoholism, even though I have been to so many Al Anon meetings and grown in the almost two years I've been in recovery, I myself had been fooled into thinking this move would change things, this move would fix it.  He loves it here too, I would tell myself.  Naturally he'll be happier here - how could he not be?  It just "fits" us both so much more.

My friends called it before our last move.  "You know you're not going to stay there long, right?"

"No," I insisted. "We'll live there for a few years, he even said so."  I completely believed this.

Most said the same this time as well.  We haven't been here too long, and after a few short weeks everything was familiar again.  "Wherever you go, there you are."  It is so, so true.  Though I will say not much has changed, there is less good and more not-good.  So I am trying as hard as I can to pull myself out of my own struggle and make the good for myself, wherever I can find it.

And it has been a struggle - I haven't written in so long not only because of my very loud, inner self-critic but because it's been hard, and when times are hard it's hard to find what to say.  I'm fuzzy, foggy, forgetful, fearful.  Lots of F-words.  And that too - sometimes I feel F-d.  But I started this little online project here, and I want to see it through no matter how many bumps and sinkholes in the road.  There is still so much for me to share, and I hope that it will make sense through all of this.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

You Are Not Alone

One of the benefits of having a blog are the nifty gadgets that come along with it, analysis sputtered out to me by Google that shows me what people search for that leads them here.  (Hello whoever is reading this!  You are welcome here.  Don't worry - I don't know who you are.)

Some examples:

"How to stay married to an alcoholic"
"How to live with a functional alcoholic husband"
"Secret drinking"
"Help my husband is an alcoholic"
"How to help keep a family functioning with alcoholism."
"Successful wife alcoholic."
"He hides his drinking"
"Alcoholic husband won't have sex with me"
"What to do I hate my alcoholic husband"
"High functional alcoholic help"
"Signs of a secret alcoholic"
"My wife is a functioning alcoholic"
"Arguing with alcoholic"
"What it's like to be married to an alcoholic"
"How to hide drinking at work"
"How to help high functioning alcoholics"
"Is my husband a functioning alcoholic how to tell"

So, if it makes you feel any better to know this - there are literally hundreds, thousands of people searching for information on being married to a "functional" alcoholic.  And these are just the people that happen to click on my humble little online rag here.  They are all over the world, too:  Norway, United Kingdom, USA, Australia, Japan, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, South Africa, China, Switzerland, Nicaragua, Belgium, Uganda (Uganda!), Russia, Ireland, Spain, India, Philippines...

There are so many of us wondering what's going on, why we are so maddened by our loved one's drinking, even though "it's not a problem."  Why we feel so alone and confused, frustrated and angry.  And it's so easy to feel alone - after all, we can't point to any outside sign as justification.  We have roofs over our head.  We have money or enough of it anyway, no DUI troubles (yet? hard to when we don't go out!), no job losses.  To the outside world things seem calm and settled, and around others perhaps our spouses even seem charming and friendly, and so we end up doubting ourselves thinking that maybe everyone else is right, maybe our alcoholic is right - there's nothing wrong.  Maybe we're just imagining things.

Swimming in my own doubts (and a little bit of denial), I wondered if I would belong when I first came into Al Anon.  Someone had told me before going, "Eventually you will hear your story in those rooms."  Sure enough my stereotypes of alcoholism were quickly shattered - the woman who handled my newcomer meeting was married to a prominent surgeon who couldn't understand why she had still felt like something was wrong.

We who live with active alcoholism know the problem as it manifests in our marriages, relationships with significant others, children or siblings.  There can be "nothing" fights, accusations, blame, isolation, provocations, distractions, drama, secrecy, a lack of intimacy.  We struggle with our want to control or fix, and our reactions to the alcoholic's behavior and our pain.  Some of us blame, lecture, scold, condescend, insult, berate, sarcastically attack.  Some of us have tried to rationalize with, inform, manipulate, scold, nag or beg them.

When I realized that yes, this is a problem, my husband could be an alcoholic and this is a contributing factor in our troubles, at first I was relieved.  But then I was heavy with the somber reality of my situation; because the hardest part for me was finding out that I cannot make my husband stop drinking or get into recovery.  I cannot make him behave or think in a way that I desire, nor is it appropriate or healthy for me to do so, because obsessing about that is a good way for me to lose myself.

Now that I have fully accepted this, it has been a tough time.  In addition to having a more realistic view of our marriage and my husband's behavior, I'm stuck looking at myself now.  I personally have my own ups and downs, my own problems to deal with on top of (and that stem from) our relationship issues.  It would be really easy to abandon all that and focus on my husband's problems - in fact I've done that for a long time.  But instead, the more I focus on how they've affected me, and how I deal with stress, pain, and my environment, I feel like I'm taking my power back a bit at a time.  It's not easy, and some days are harder than others.  But it's real, honest and true.

So, now when I attend a meeting, look at my blog stats here or talk to a program friend, I am comforted by the fact that I truly am not alone.  There are so many others in my shoes - and yours.

Hope you are all hanging in and changing the things you can.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Update: New Year, Another Move.

So apparently the fastest way to break a New Year's Resolution is to make one, and mine was to post more often.  Whoops.

Thank you for your comments and e-mails inquiring about me and expressing your concern.  It reminds me that oh yeah, people read this thing - and strangers I have never met actually care about me!  The world is a crazy and awesome place.  

I promise there's a good reason I've been so silent.  Well, a good enough reason, I think - we have moved again.  And because of the backlog of posts I have collected in my draft folder, the announcement was never made.  But all the while, between schlepping and hotel stays and all the gas stops and all the unpacking I kept telling myself, 

You have to post.
Post already. 
Blog won't post itself.
See?  People are asking about you.
You have a blog.
Just wanted to remind you of that.
You should probably post now. about tonight?
Next week?
Ugh. You win.

Our new "Anytown, USA" is actually great, and I was excited at the prospect of living here, despite being upset that we were moving.  You know, again.  And doing the math causes a longer than ever delay when I stop to count how many moves in how many years, but I think this makes...four times in a little over three years.  Somewhere there's a really crappy award for that with our names on it.  I don't even want to tell you how amazing I am at packing boxes now.  But I'm pretty amazing.

It is late here so I will wrap this up but, dare I say (*wincing*), posts are forthcoming.  Seriously! 

Goodnight, and I hope you are all getting the help you need, one day at a time.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Happy Bloggiversary

Wow. It's been a full year since I started this little recovery/online journal/dark comedy experiment, and 44 posts later I am not surprised by how much more there is to explore, discuss and share. I am as ever humbled by the community of readers and sharers here, and I look forward to fleshing out and publishing the 29 drafts that have been waiting in the wings.

A lot has happened over the last 12 months. You know, I remember exactly where I was that night, literally and figuratively, as I sat in our dining room and signed up with Blogger, then typed and emoted and edited away and clicked "publish" on my introductory post. I remember the fear, the frustration, the feeling of emotionally throwing my hands in the air and wondering "What else can I do?!" My husband's behavior was completely irrational and unacceptable, and my own obsession with his drinking and behavior was unacceptable. When I found bottles I was compelled to look for more. I spent hours analyzing what he said, what he looked like when he came hone, trying to smell his breath and seeing if I could "catch him in the act."

But more than anything else, I spent even more time forming the story in my head that, summarized, is "Husband bad, me good." I replayed every outburst, recalled every insult, and fantasized about smarter, wittier and at times just plain dramatic responses and reactions. Soon my imagined life was worthy of silent-era fainting, villain-hissing and damsel-rescuing. Sure, things could get pretty crazy. And there is a lot of real pain and legitimate damage. But.

It was just a bit much.

And if my mind wasn't wrapped up in a self-righteous, codependent revenge scenario, it was worrying about the future. What would he do next, how will I respond, should I leave him? But then what? Where will I go, what will I do? What would my friends and family think? Would some of them come back and respect me more? Would they judge and abandon me? How would my husband and I divide up our things, decide on the pets? Could I sneak the espresso machine without him noticing?

It is still my first impulse to cast myself as the heroine, the victim; to worry and panic and shake from fear, to mentally pack and unpack several times a day. Thankfully, after a little recovery and a ton of Al Anon meetings, the alarm sounds sooner now and I can rescue myself from myself - often my own worse enemy.

There is so much to catch up on. A resolution of mine this new year is to post more often to prevent these backlogs and to offer up more of everything, especially the honest and fearless analysis of my own shortcomings, to further my own recovery and possibly shed light on a path for any of you who are sitting where I was that night. Thank you so much to everyone who reads here. There really is hope.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Don't: Wallow in Self Pity. Stop it.

Stop it right now.  Oh, and Happy New Year.

In the continuing series of posts on the Do's and Don'ts (also - Do's and Don'ts Part 2) I wanted to start my year off with: Don't wallow in self-pity.

I hate to sound snappish, but really - when I let self-pity consume me, I distract myself to the point of disability, and when I'm at that spot getting myself out is extremely difficult.

The definitions of "wallow" and "self-pity" are (thanks to our friends at

verb (used without object)
1. to roll about or lie in water, snow, mud, dust, or the like, as for refreshment.
2.   to live self-indulgently; luxuriate, revel.
3.   to flounder about; move along or proceed clumsily or with difficulty.
4.   to surge up or billow forth, as smoke or heat.
5.   an act or instance of wallowing.
6.   a place in which animals wallow: hog wallow; an elephant wallow.
7.   the indentation produced by animals wallowing.

Hmm.  Well as for definition 1, I personally don't find self-pity very refreshing.  And "luxuriating" and "reveling" in self-pity seems so...wrong.

pity for oneself, especially a self-indulgent attitude concerning one's own difficulties, hardships, etc.

Hmm.  So...I could potentially be luxuriating (clumsily at that, sounds like me) in a self-indulgent attitude about my own hardships...and in the process I liken myself to a barnyard animal by creating a crappy little woe-as-me burrow?  Or an elephant at that?

No thanks.  It's bad enough to - almost - cause me to start shopping at Dress Barn. (Why name a store something that makes us feel like livestock shopping for the county fair?  Seriously).


It's definitely worth mentioning at this point that there is a difference between self-pity and constructive thought, between negative thinking and say, thoughtful reflection on my circumstances and/or feelings, perhaps with a goal in mind (decision-making or planning).  Yes, things can be bad, maybe even crazy at times - but ruminating over how bad things are, or why these things happen to me, or how horrible my husband can be when he's drinking or in the disease is without purpose and a waste of my present.  Especially when it becomes a consistent, chronic way of thinking and being.

Again, I must stress - we ALL deserve to feel our feelings.  Many of us grew up in families where we weren't allowed to have them or express them, and I'm certainly not encouraging avoidance or denial.  But there is feeling them, and being paralyzed by them; processing them and being utterly consumed and devoured by them.

Because it's so, SO easy to become overwhelmed in the day to day trials and tribulations of living with an alcoholic to the point that we find ourselves thinking things like "Why me?  Why me?"

Why does he have to be like this?
Why do I have to deal with this?
What did I do to deserve this?
Why can't my alcoholic just stop drinking?
Why can't I have a spouse who loves me enough to stop?
Why can't I have a marriage like (*insert seemingly-blissful-even-though-you-know-they-have-problems-too couple here*)?
Why can't I catch a break?
Why is this always my luck?
Why why why why WHY?

Self-pity is also part of the firm belief in my victimhood, that dammit, my husband owes me.  Though at times I have been a victim of my husband's abusive behaviors, to let those experiences define me only damages me, and reliving every attack or episode as some kind of tally to be kept is exhausting and has me running around like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to count the beans of what I deserve against what is being withheld from me.  That is a lot of effort and energy best spent elsewhere.

And though I am much better than I was, I'm human after all, and I am completely not immune to this phenomena.  This is just one example:

One night several months ago I had myself a little pity party in our pool.  As I sat there on the steps in the water looking across to the other end, I noticed a guy, maybe a few years older than I, swimming alone.  Twirling around in the water, somersaulting, going to and fro.  And this is how my thinking went:

"Huh.  Lookit him...
Having fun.  That's nice.
He's alone.
I wonder if he's married to an alcoholic and has to swim alone like me...
Because his girlfriend is inside drinking.
I wonder if he's lonely too.
I wonder if he'd hide money from someone he was married to...
I wonder if he'd take off on his girlfriend or wife, or worse...
I wonder if he'd sulk if there wasn't Gatorade in the fridge...
This is bullshit.
Things are so horrible, people just have NO idea how bad it really is.
If they only knew! Ha!
What did I do to deserve this? "  Blah blah blah blah.

Then I realized the train had left the station and was veering towards some sad little town I never want to return to, and I wanted to smack myself - am I wallowing in self-pity?  How long is a "wallow" anyway?  Longer than five minutes?  Fifteen?

So I put on the brakes, left my pity party and quickly redirected my thoughts elsewhere to something constructive.

Self-pity also likes to creep up in my head around the time I'm supposed to be getting out of bed.

"Good morning!"
"Ugh, it's you."
"Wake up!"
"Time to feel like shit!"
"Stop it, leave me alone!" I roll over.
"Oh come on, don't you want to ruin your day before it even starts?"
"Go away!"
"Look - it's even cloudy outside!  You LOVE clouds!" *runs to the window*

Or at 3am, when I wake up in a panic over my increasing age, or What Am I Going To Do About Everything, or when I look over at the space next to me in the bed and start taking my husband's inventory.  Which is when I have to say "Shut up, Me - you can't do anything about it right now.  Go back to sleep and take care of yourself.  You need more sleep."

Or while I'm making dinner.  Or when I'm supposed to be yanno, working.  Or when I'm in the bathroom.  At the store.  Walking my dog.  Getting in the car.  Having a conversation with someone.  Peeling a banana.  Folding laundry.  Watching Downton Abbey.  In an Al Anon get the point.

It's the beginning of a new year and with that comes the feeling of hope - for the possibility for personal change, professional success, and recovery progress.  I am hoping for bright and happy things for 2014, with NO invitations to self-pity parties.