All The Lonely People …..

On “Thanksgiving Eve” I felt pretty sick.  I needed my meds from the pharmacy and opted for drive-thru service since wading through the crowds at CVS was something I wasn’t up to.

A white car idled at the window in front of me and I pushed around the debris in my purse to get my wallet.  I could hear the muffled lady’s voice yakking with the Pharmacy Tech at the window.  I thumbed through my wallet and pulled out some cash and my CVS Care Card.  Thunder bellowed through my bowels.  I wanted to get home to the bathroom, to the safety and certainty of being NEAR a bathroom.  The white car continued to idle at the window.  The lady accepted the clipboard from the Pharmacy Tech, left her signature on the appropriate line, and handed it back.  My stomach grumbled menacingly.   The staff handed her the blue & white bags.  Happy this transaction was over, I waited for the car to pull forward.  It didn’t.

I could see the driver’s profile smiling at the man in the window.  Through the low music of my radio and over the hum of my car’s idling engine, I could hear the lady’s words.  I picked up on bits such as “big plans tomorrow?” and “I hope you’re not working.”  She tilted her head to the side and smiled, telling the man about a pie she plans to bake.  My stomach, as if alarmed by this, belched inside and sputtered.  Glaring at the white car ahead of me, I was dreaming of ramming her back bumper.  I was telepathically screaming “GO!  LEAVE!  BE GONE!!!”

A male voice murmured from the window and the lady smiled and nodded.  Her arm slipped through her open window and hugged the car door as she leaned toward him, listening and smiling.  My stomach lurched inside and I clutched it, promising if it behaved it could unload in just a few minutes.  Just a few minutes.

The banter continued.  A car pulled up behind me.  I glanced at the clock.   I had been sitting here for nearly ten minutes.

“…. yeah, pecan,” she smiled.

She talked about her meds.  It wasn’t a question about how to take them or anything having to do with the transaction. It was about the medication she had been taking before and how it made her tired.  I was getting tired.  I thought about pulling to the front and waddling through the mob I imagined inside, judging by the cars parked out front.  It just wasn’t worth it to sit here and be aggravated.  But then I was afraid of the potential for diarrhea.  I was afraid I would be trapped in a longer line.  This lady HAD to be done.  Surely deliverance was on the horizon.   Surely she had glanced in her side-view mirror at some point and saw people were waiting.

Mentally I was screaming, “Can’t you see you’re not the only f**kin’ person who needs their medications before Thanksgiving?”

Nodding and smiling, her head bobbing like a fishing lure that caught something big, she continued babbling about pies and expired medications and now her bunion .

I closed my eyes for a second and prayed for her.  I could almost hear my sponsor’s voice advising it.  I had my cell phone.  Maybe I ought to call someone from the program.   My mind racing, I mumbled the Serenity Prayer and mentally took inventory of ……. the meds I had at home.  Maybe this could wait til Friday.  But I couldn’t be sure and some of them were for my son.  He was going out of town.

I opened my eyes.  White car still sitting there.  Driver still yapping.  My fingers tightened around my steering wheel.  I started silently judging her:  selfish, self-absorbed, oblivious, stupid, chatterbox…….. all these angry, ugly words spewed in rapidfire grunts.

I was dimly aware of the radio announcer announcing what had been and what was to come:  Eleanor Rigby by the Beatles.  The music blended in and the announcer faded out.

“Ahhh, look at all the lonely people.  Ahhh, look at all the lonely people……..”

Just then?  I realized I was possibly looking at all the lonely people.  Certainly there was one in the white car.  Possibly one in the CVS window.   Perhaps, on this Thanksgiving Eve, this would be this lady’s last interaction until the holiday was over.  Maybe there would be a hasty visit from a grown child who was eating a small turkey breast with her out of obligation and little more.  Perhaps she has a spouse with Alzheimer’s and being with him and his dim recollections is worse than being alone.   Maybe she was just lonely.

And I sat there.  My grasp on the wheel loosened and I listened to the song.  My stomach rumbled periodically and I admonished it to shut up.

On Thanksgiving Eve and Thanksgiving Day, I stayed home with my thundering stomach while my family went out and enjoyed a big feast. I knew they would be back. I knew they were sorry I wasn’t there — that I was wanted somewhere.  I was thankful for this, for my house being a home, that I have Chicken & Rice Soup for the tum’, and …….. that I could hear my Higher Power speaking to me through the radio.  My hastily mumbled prayer had been answered.   I was also thankful for that patient and kind Pharmacy Tech whose name tag read “Josh” for doing more than dispensing meds to this lady and making her evening a little happier and meaningful while the cars piled up behind her.  He had all the time in the world.

 

The Heart Attack That Wasn’t and What I Did Wrong ……

The #1 health concern with alcoholics is heart disease.  While I haven’t had a drink in over 9 years, I feel compelled to discuss a recent event.

Sunday night I was relaxing on the couch before bed with my feet elevated, enjoying my favorite TV show on DVR.  I had a great weekend, spent lots of time with my two favorite guys – lots of sunshine, convertible rides out of town …. lots of R&R.  Stress-free.

Quite suddenly I had a crushing pain in my chest.  It radiated into my upper back – left side.  Suddenly I felt powerfully nauseated.  I tried to take slow deep breaths to not puke because I thought that would make the pain worse, but breathing made it hurt worse.  I had a strange prickly-tickly sensation inside, like I was sweating from the outside in.  My face felt hot and flushed.

My instinct was to call an ambulance and I DID think “heart attack.”  My mind was frantically racing with heart attack symptoms.  One nagging thought was “pain in left arm or jaw.”  But a calm swept over me.  I didn’t have either of those symptoms.  I thought I remembered a good friend – a lifelong EMT – saying that if you change positions and the symptoms don’t go away then it may be a heart attack.  If you change positions and the symptoms DO ease, then it’s probably digestive/indigestion/heart burn.  I tried laying on my side.  I tried being on my hands and knees.  I tried laying on my other side.  Laying on my stomach.  Laying on my back.  Sitting up straight.  Standing.  Nothing worked.  Then it slowly ebbed.  I was okay.

I felt silly, reflecting on my instinct to call an ambulance. It went away, right?

After this I was exhausted and went to bed.  The following day, my heart felt strange ….  the heartbeat was not irregular, per se.  It simply felt like it was “overreacting.”  Walking slowly, as one does indoors, my heart would beat like I had been lightly jogging.  While it felt like  a “normal” heartbeat, I found this disconcerting.  I was also a little short of breath just walking around and sometimes when sitting idly.

A lady I sponsor in AA called and asked if I was going to the Monday night meeting. I told her no, adding that I wanted to “stay still.”  I told her why.  Oh – and she’s a career nurse.  She told me “What you described is a heart attack.”  I smiled nervously and shook my head.  Realizing she can’t hear me, I told her I thought I was okay.  “I made a doctor’s appointment?” I added feebly.

She talked up the ER, and she explained that the heart is a muscle and we have to take care of it, that delaying treatment after a heart attack can be BAD.  She said she would come over and check me.  Sitting on my couch, she lightly squeezed my wrist with her index finger and watched her watch.   She let me know that when I see my doctor they will want an EKG and that there probably is NOT one in the office and that they will probably send me to the ER via ambulance.  That was enough to persuade me.

They swiftly hooked me up to an EKG.  I hadn’t had time to sit in the waiting room.  Their prompt attention was impressive, but it also reinforced the fact that there was something to be feared.  They took blood.  They hooked me up to  a heart monitor.  They did chest x-rays.

Laying on that stretcher with the wires stuck to me and the beginnings of an IV drip impaling my arm gave me a lot to think about.  I felt lucky to be alive and thought about my boys – my son and my boyfriend. I reflected on how I should be taking better care of myself.  I have a lot to live for and would want them to get treatment immediately if something like this happened to them.  Not 24 hours later.   I thought about my smoking habit.  The irony that perhaps years of drinking was haunting me years later.

Everything was okay, thank GOD.  EKG said “normal” at the top.  Enzymes were within normal limits.  Chest X-ray looked good.  “I think I should tell you that you have emphysema,” the doctor chided.  “You really SHOULD quit smoking.” (He had warned me before the chest x-ray came back that he would tell me I had emphysema either way to get me to quit smoking …… it was just a continuation of his “joke.”)

At the end, the doctor asked if I had any questions. I referred him to my reluctance to call an ambulance and let him know that in the future I may be even more reluctant [remembering the outcome of this ER visit and feeling foolish at the end]. He let me know that if I ever have chest pains that cannot be explained I SHOULD come in – no matter what.

My problem with decision-making [about ANYTHING] has been the gray area.  I think we all know the symptoms of heart attack, but it’s important to bear in mind that some people do not have every symptom and there are plenty of times that the symptoms are not “classic.”

Rosie O’Donnell recently had a heart attack – and seemed to know it.  She took an aspirin and made a doctor’s appointment the following day.  (She really DID have a heart attack, by the way.)  They say taking an aspirin can help a person having a heart attack, that it can help thwart permanent damage ……. but it is NOT a substitute for IMMEDIATE medical care.  They say to call 911 FIRST and then ….. if you have aspirin, take one.

If a person really does have a heart attack then any delay in treatment can mean damage to that vital muscle that we so depend on to keep us alive.  One heart attack makes a person more vulnerable to subsequent heart attacks and perhaps even death.  That delay in treatment can mean increasing that vulnerability.

Now for the coincidence:   I happened upon Rosie O’Donnell’s heart attack story  the morning following my ER visit Monday night.  There seemed to be a lot of parallels.  It was quite sobering.

We alcoholics tend to not take care of ourselves -particularly when we’re drinking.  We shrug things off and say, “It’ll work itself out.”  We do this with everything from relationships to financial problems to our health.  When we get sober, this improves but sometimes we still want to stay on that island and not deal with anything.  Denial can be comforting.  Ignorance is bliss, right?

Sober living is about doing the next right thing, and sometimes that is as simple as taking care of ourselves.

In following up with my doctor, she said that they would like to rule out a blood clot. I have Factor Five Leiden, making me more vulnerable to blood clots.  She did a blood test called D-dimer.  It came back within normal limits, but at .5 (if I recall?), I am at the very top of normal limits.  Now they will set up a CAT scan to see if I have a blood clot.

I’m very grateful to my sponsee for motivating me to go to the ER.  Even though it was NOT a heart attack – it might have been.  And she might have saved my life – or at least prolonged it.  I guess we’ll wait and see how this turns out.  In the meantime, I’m staying calm and accepting what ever HP has in store for me.

I also want to point out that this is typical of the AA network.  People care.  People don’t only care, they prove it with actions.  In my barroom days, friends comforted me by saying “this round’s on me” or “let’s do a shot.”  Talking to them about my feelings or issues would have been a buzz kill, motivating them to abandon me in lieu of someone more fun.  In AA there is always someone there to be with you and to comfort you.  There’s always someone who knows more about something than you do.  Thank God I can be teachable today.

I Want to Be a Sober Woman of Grace and Dignity …….

I see this posted on Facebook ALL the time …… by women. I see women giving it thumb’s up/Likes and commenting with “LOL” or “spot on.” Why is this acceptable?

Why do women accept this stereotype?

None of this is “spot on” for me. Thank GOD. And to me? It’s NOT acceptable.

Do I ever say these things? Yes. Here’s a happenstance when I might:

1. “Fine.” This is a word I choose to use when I’m being genuine – which, I hope, is all of the time. I am “fine” when there’s nothing wrong. I say “fine” after someone says, “Meet me at 2:00.” “Fine” is shorthand for “works for me” or “will do.” It’s a word I use to describe my boyfriend, too. Usually it’s said with a drawl and a smile. “He’s fiiiiine.” [wink] It’s is also the duty I must pay a parking ticket or speeding ticket, which is a noun version of the word “fine.”

2. “Nothing.” This is a word I sometimes use mistakenly. Someone may call me and ask what I’m up to. “Nothing.” Maybe the truth is that the TV is on and I’m not watching very closely. Maybe it means I’m napping and don’t want to ‘fess up that the person called me and roused me from my couch coma. It’s a word I use when someone asks me “what’s wrong” and I am unaware that something is wrong or maybe I’m just tired and tired of talking about it. I have chronic pain and chronic fatigue issues. Sometimes “nothing” means, “I don’t want to be the sum of my illness and don’t want to keep harping on it.” I never use it tersely with arms folded, steaming away at some slight. Not anymore. Thank God. And I find it embarrassing that women think this is OK and socially acceptable enough to chuckle about on Facebook. Actually? I find this whole entire list above to be embarrassing.

3. “Go Ahead.” I’m envisioning a bitter woman begrudging her significant other of going out with his friends. The “go ahead” is the “I want you to ALWAYS be here with me but I’m ashamed of this and really want to tell you to ‘go ahead’ out of courtesy.” I cringed at this one. Why wouldn’t a woman want her boyfriend/husband to enjoy himself? Likewise, if he’s NEVER home then that should be addressed — with REAL communication and not this passive-aggressive shit. Or can you envision something else with this?

4. “Whatever.” This sucks, too. Do sober people of grace and dignity stonewall people? Is this an effective means of communication? This word is loaded and conjures up lots of scenarios for me. One is the lazy person who just wants the conversation to be over and not worked out. Another is the person who doesn’t have the balls to say “you’re wrong” or “you’re way off base,” but just folds her arms and taps her foot and with an eye-roll says, “whatever.”

5. “That’s OK.” WHY is it okay to say something’s okay when it’s NOT okay? I’m not a chest-thumping feminist, but this one sentence seems to send us ladies back a couple of centuries when we had no voice and all we had to fall back on was manners.

ALL of this is NOT at all okay. I’m appalled every time I see it posted. I’m appalled by the likes. I’m appalled by the thumbs-up. Would we think this list was so cute if men were accused of doing these things (and some do!)? We want to be treated equally —- right? And I think equally cute is a good way to begin!

So how this ties into sobriety …… in A.A. they have an acronym (yet again) of the word FINE: F**kin’ Insecure, Neurotic & Emotional. And this pertains to the picture above. I don’t want to be “fine.” Do you?

All of the above has to do with passivity/stuffing emotions. None of it has anything to do with having the emotional fortitude to work things out, to hear what you don’t want to hear, to say what you’re afraid to say. It’s shameful that this is acceptable. I don’t judge people for engaging in these behaviors. We were all taught the things we do. Some of us have more solid role models growing up and some of us have weaker ones. I had to learn my life skills in A.A. I only knew two ways of dealing with conflict: put my head down and keep my mouth shut or go for the jugular. Either way lead to the end of my relationship. I would end up hating them through my silent scorn or they would hate me after hearing what dark and ugly things were in my heart. My angle here has more to do with society than with individuals. I don’t think it’s okay that masses of people see all women this way and embrace this. Perhaps I’m just remembering how I was and bristling with the embarrassment of it. Perhaps I’m really appalled by how accepting I used to be of this in ME.

I don’t generally feel these much excitability over silly things I see on facebook. Am I overreacting? Perhaps. Feel free to comment. I’d love to hear from you.