Green Is the New Black

Jagger saw a red door and he wants it painted black….

I saw some shamrocks and I want them to turn black.
No greenery anymore, I want it to turn black.
I watch people walk by dressed in their St. Patrick’s clothes.
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes………….

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Well, maybe St. Patrick’s Day isn’t that bad, that filled with darkness.

My brother passed away on St. Patrick’s Day, but I don’t begrudge drinkers their green beers and Guinness. I don’t begrudge the ski areas their green snow. I don’t begrudge restaurants their fiddle music and corned beef. I don’t begrudge McDonald’s their Shamrock Shakes (I’m drinking one now). I don’t begrudge the masses wearing green t-shirts, green berets, green hats, green beads, shamrock pins & jewelry ………. ohhhhhh, it’s heartbreakingly everywhere. I entered a grocery store yesterday and saw multitudes of green carnations. I burst. But I don’t begrudge the world flowers, either.

I try to imagine if I relapsed. I imagine I would spend St. Patrick’s Day in a bar. Since today is a Sunday and the holiday has stretched its legs across the whole weekend, I imagine my trip to the bar would’ve started on Friday with a few naps and a couple of fights before Monday morning. I imagine I would have rapid-cycling mood swings in the bar and I’d be wailing about my poor brother and expecting free drinks and to be the center of attention – – sympathy, please! That cup would be impossible to fill. I would be just as greedy for sympathy as I would alcohol. No question about it. I would also probably become hostile and confrontational to anyone who irritated me and I would feel justified because “it’s a tough time for me right now.”

Because I did NOT relapse, because I have an outstanding network who helped me through this tough time, I am still sober. Because of the 12 steps of AA I am still sober – particularly since I worked them before the shit hit the fan. They would not have worked for me in an emergency and only in an emergency.

My new tradition to cope with the loss is to go to an AA meeting. Let me rephrase that. I have ALWAYS gone to a meeting on this day, but now I choose to attend an anniversary meeting. It’s nice to go and see people surviving and life getting better and better. It’s a celebration of a new life. I go and a lump grows in my throat. Tears pool in my eyes. I keep tissues and listen as best I can. With this rollercoaster of emotions, I don’t always hear the full story.

My brother died 4 years ago today to the day. Today the celebrant was, in fact, celebrating 4. It was very moving (and powerful!) to go to a meeting and hear about the day when someone’s new life was just beginning as my brother’s ended. It was beautiful. It seemed everything came full-circle . I tried to explain this to him, the celebrant. He nodded compassionately and mentioned his recollection of my being in meetings during that first week, how he had seen me in a lot of “nooners.” But I don’t think he fully understood. How could he?

I had been in a lot of nooners in the prolonged period of mourning. I had never had a loss such as this and went to meetings every chance I could. Often this was twice per day. I went to them on my lunch break. I went to them at night. I went into them sobbing, unable to control it.

Will had been in the military and a considerable amount of time passed between his passing and the military’s returning the body. Or maybe it just seemed that way. In writing this, I thought it was nearly two weeks. In looking through my photos of visiting family and the digital timestamp from the camera, I learned it was 8 days from being informed of his death to the funeral.

Learning of his death stung me with one level of pain. Going to the airport and seeing the flag-draped coffin unveiled another level of pain – – oh, it was so real now. Then seeing him in the coffin for the first time impaled me with pain I’ve never felt. It was heartbreakingly real now and that lingering thought that whispered muffled in the back of my mind … the thought that there was a mistake and it was another sailor who died …….. was now squashed. There was no mistake. It was my baby brother.

It was my baby brother who wore footed pajamas and fell asleep in my lap when he was a toddler. It was my baby brother who knew all the names of dinosaurs – whether common or more obscure, knew every bug. It was my baby brother, the one who loved to sit in a BIG empty box with me and pretend it was a car. He would ask me to drive this cardboard car because he was too young to drive. His destination? Nicaragua. Yes. And he pronounced it like a 2-year old, skipping some vital letters such as the R. He’s the one who grew into a humorous young man who had some sarcastic whispers, some secret jokes, and attempts to withhold a smile – a smile that couldn’t be bitten or hidden more than halfway. Yeah, that bemused half-smile of his. My baby brother.

That pain stabs me in the heart again at random times throughout the year. Sometimes in the fall on a random warm and slightly overcast day. I’ll wonder what it is about that day and I’ll remember it was the weather pattern the last time I saw him. Certainly the pain comes on his birthday. The pain stabbed me when I saw pineapple upside down cake in a glass cooler in a diner where they displayed their desserts; pineapple upside down cake was his favorite. The pain pierces me on Christmas and Thanksgiving. Sometimes on very random days I cry like a tantruming 2-year old because I want to call him NOW. I want to hear his voice NOW. Sometimes I cry when I’m buying a card for someone – anyone – and I meander through the aisle with birthday cards and pass the section that says “Brother.”

Once in a while I smile. I’ll hear a joke that I know he’d appreciate. I’ll be at a family function and I can imagine some things he’d have to say. I’ll see a picture of him and that smile, that amused half-smile and I’ll giggle, knowing what he was thinking. I can only hope there are more of these smiles. I certainly had zero of those the first and most painful year. There seem to be more and more of these as time passes. I don’t miss him less. In fact with each passing day I have more I want to say to him. With each passing day I feel like he’s even farther away. The distance of time is greater than any mile, than any light-year.

Today. Today I heard a man tell his story, a man whose new life started in March 2009. Thank God he found us. Thank God his life got better and better. Thank God he shared his message of experience, strength and hope with me today. Today I went to a meeting where they hand out chips. Two people got up for their 24-hour chips. Maybe this is the very beginning of more St. Patrick’s Day anniversaries for me to attend.

Feeling Like a Newbie Again ………

Today it has been one month, one week, and four days since my last brush with nicotine.  It has been one month, one week, and six days since my last cigarette.  This latter one might have been my quit date, but I found my electronic cigarette in the house. I sucked that thing like a hungry baby with a pacifier.  I held the smoke like an 10th grade stoner, blowing out a whole lotta nothin’.

It reminded me of my last drink.  It was an urge paired with easy access and anonymity.  Anonymity meaning I did not have to emerge from my dungeon and move through the world and risk being seen in a package store (or in this case a convenience store with a 10-spot and asking for a pack of cigarettes).  Yes.  No one had to know.  It was private. It was between me and my fix.

But when people asked how I was doing? I told them. I ‘fessed up.  A co-worker laughed and asked, “Does that [vaping] even count?”

These are the thoughts that sometimes go through my head, justifying bad behavior.

But yes, I feel like a newbie again.  A recurring newbie.  This is not my first stint quitting smoking.  I can’t help but wonder, “Is this IT?”  and “Is this REALLY IT?”

My family has smiled approvingly.  But there’s no air-horns and confetti like the first time.  Or even the second time.  I can’t blame them.  It’s getting to be old hat.  And this one-month+ milestone doesn’t hold a candle to the time I made 7 months or the time I made 19 months.  That 1 year + was my record.

I don’t mind there being no  tickertape parade.  I get a bit of that from my coworkers, and honestly I feel a little embarrassed by it.  My straight posture slouches and I smile sheepishly.  I guess I’m not so sure myself that this “is it.”

My son asked me if this is it.  He has seen me quit before.  He caught me when I was a closet smoker, trying to keep it from him.

Ouch.  Why had I done that? What motivated this – and it’s probably the same with closet drinkers – is that I planned to just quit again. He’d never be the wiser.  It was also fear:  fear of disappointing him, fear of the uncomfortable conversation “why did you start again?”, fear of disapproval, fear of his losing respect for me,  fear of getting comfortable with it once he knew and not wanting to stop ……….

So why did I start again?  I’m reviewing this because I need to know. I need to remember.  This is the same thing that  happens to drinkers before they relapse.

My Nicotine Relapse

My brother died.  He was 24 and it was unexpected.

Did 20 cigarettes daily for the past 3 1/2 years bring him back?  Of course not.    And my relapse with nicotine didn’t coincide that neatly with his death.  The days following his death were painful.  Shock is a pretty good anesthetic, lulling me into comparably blissful states of numbness.  When I’d feel the most acute levels of grief, I would hold on knowing that an island oasis of shock and disbelief was ahead of me.  That was the best I could do.  But after the funeral, reality set in.  And it became more horribly and painfully real in the days leading up to his birthday.  His birthday is the same day as my sister’s.  They’re not twins, just a coincidence.  Buying one card crushed me.  The pain was agonizingly heavy, sitting on my chest like an immovable entity.  I would spontaneously burst into tears.  Perhaps in the grocery store reaching for a red pepper.  Sometimes driving.  There wasn’t always a trigger.  It wasn’t always Free Bird blaring on a radio or seeing an American Flag folded into a triangle in one of those boxes for the surviving family members – but those have done me in as well.

I bought cigarettes.  I asked someone to watch my son while I went for a drive.  I smoked.  It was nauseating and it made me lightheaded, but it was what I thought was best.  I felt no regrets afterward, not even when I chewed gum and sprayed myself with perfume.  I snuck an occasional cigarette nearly every day.  One pack lasted for two weeks.  This was under control.  This was what I always wanted:  to be able to take it or leave it.  This went on for two months. For the first month I wondered if the other shoe would drop.  Into the second month, it never occurred to me that it would.  But it did.  It did.  Suddenly I was a pack-a-day smoker.  And I finally confessed, not because it was the right thing to do.  I confessed because of the sheer inconvenience of covering up 20 cigarettes per day and the dishonesty involved with accounting for that many minutes of my time.

Reading this back, it seems inevitable that I would smoke. I could tell myself, “Who wouldn’t?”

Relapse Mindset:

The days leading up to that fateful drive, that fateful first cigarette, were a lot of unhealthy attitudes about smoking that I didn’t tell anyone about.  My sponsor quit smoking. I certainly had someone to talk to.  Both of my parents quit smoking. I could have told them.  But I didn’t.  And I didn’t because I wanted to smoke.  I didn’t want to be talked out of it.  At work at that time, there were TONS of smokers.  It didn’t bother me before then, but in the days leading up to my first cigarette I wished I could go outside with them. I loved the smell and missed the socializing.     I started giving feigned pouty faces when my coworkers slid on their jackets and said they were heading outside; they laughed and encouraged me not to start up again.  They encouraged me with a wag of a finger and “Don’t you dare.”  I missed the “reset” button when I was having a bad day.  When I had a lot of paperwork and stuff I did not like to do, I missed having something to look forward to at the end – or something to get me started or to get me over the hump in the middle so I could carry on ……… I missed a lot of things.  And when you’re “missing” something, you often start feeling deprived.

I was hyper-focused on what I was missing out on and not what I actually earned.

 

Positive Mindset ?  What Could Have Been……….. No.  What Could Be Now!

I wasn’t thinking about how I could walk and converse without getting winded.  I wasn’t thinking about how my colds no longer lingered, how a nagging cough would nag me for a good month after other people recovered from their colds.  In fact?  At this point I did not get too many colds.

I wasn’t thinking about the sheer expense.   I wasn’t thinking about the slavery, and how I would have to power suck two of them right before going to the movies and sneaking out halfway through the movie to power suck half of one so I could get through the rest of it.  I wasn’t thinking about how I felt as if I had been taken hostage when a staff meeting went over the hour, how my foot would get tapping and my eyes would steal glimpses of the clock.  And OH that craving.  Yes.  The slavery.  Cigarettes controlled my every move.  A car trip required strategically timed stops.  I mentioned the movies?  9 times out of 10, I would prefer to watch DVD’s so that I had a “pause” button and did not feel so trapped.   You’ll notice there isn’t much in my list about cancer risk, heart disease and other things I had a close brush with and now have a much lessened chance of acquiring.  Oh, that was so beyond my imagination. I just couldn’t fathom those things ever happening to me.  I still can’t. I also conveniently forgot about the pressure in the back of one of my eyes that I had when I smoked.  It had been happening for a long while. I never told anyone. I was pretty sure it WAS correlated and didn’t want anyone telling me I had to stop.  Besides.  Maybe it would go away.

Anatomy of a Post-Relapse

And yes, this is a blog about alcoholism.  But this whole ordeal makes me think about my alcoholism, too.  That was slavery.  Relapse is not an act of spontaneity – there is a path leading to it, a path masoned of negative thoughts and false memories.   And there are rationalities such as “I’ll quit again.”  I did that with smoking.  “I’ll quit again.”  ‘Cause it had been so easy, right?  [wink] .  Here we are 3.5 years later.  I’m just getting the gumption to quit again.  I wholly did not WANT to this whole time.

They say when we pick up addictions again, we pick up where we left off.  Well?  That’s not always exactly true and that is what is so insidious about it.  When I started smoking again, I wasn’t immediately out of breath doing everyday things. I didn’t immediately wake up every morning with that gross hacking cough.  I didn’t immediately feel enslaved; I could wait out a movie.  I could even work an entire workday!   And I think that’s sometimes true of alcohol.  It doesn’t always immediately bite us in the ass.

A friend of mine from the rooms confided in me that he relapsed – and this was a few years ago.  He said he was going out to the bar with friends every weekend and that was it. He wasn’t even having very many!  He informed me that this was going on for a few months and I wasn’t seeing him in meetings because he wasn’t an alcoholic anymore.  I suppose I’m sharing it with you because this moderation did not last.  He let me know it didn’t work out.   Coming back after the first sign of trouble wasn’t how it ended for him. He lost a job, a wife, a place to live.  Now he’s back in the rooms.  He has a little bit of time together again and has worked out a new place to live and a new job.   But it was hard.

Now……….

So here I am feeling like a newbie again.  An occasional craving will rumble in like a stark gray storm front.  I practically start to salivate.  I have to remember “this, too, shall pass.”  A sponsee of mine told me that she quit years ago and someone told her that the craving goes away whether you smoke or not. I tell myself that over and over it seems.

I’m using the steps, yes.  I prayed to my Higher Power to remove the compulsion and it worked.  It did, it did!  However, sometimes a switch is flipped when I’m walking on the sidewalk and find myself downwind from a smoker or when I smell it on someone when they come back inside or when I pass an ashtray near a store entrance and smell one smoldering there.   So I have to repeat Step 2.  I have to come to believe that a power greater than myself will restore me to sanity ……… and I pray again with that belief, with that conviction.  And it passes.  It does.

Weight gain ……….. that’s what diet, exercise and step 3 are for.

Hopefully this is “it.”  Hopefully this time I will not only get farther than I had the other times, but hopefully I will never pick up again.

But all that aside:  I’m not smoking today.