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Consider It Pure Joy

Jason Micheli —  July 19, 2014 — 4 Comments

This is from my friend Martha Carucci.

I encourage you to check out here blog, Sobrietease,

I had never even opened a bible.  Perhaps I looked at one or two sitting in nightstand drawers at  hotel rooms.  That’s about it.   I participated in my first bible study at the same time I started my battle against alcoholism, a little over two years ago.   A friend asked me to join her, thinking it would be a good idea to get me to turn my attention to activities that didn’t involve drinking.  While I didn’t know too much about bible studies, I was pretty sure they didn’t involve sitting around doing tequila shots every time someone said the word “Jesus”.   It was amazing how much the two things were compatible and reinforced each other.   In my twelve-step program I was learning about the need to turn to faith in order to achieve and maintain sobriety.  The bible study taught me the need to turn to faith in order to achieve and maintain sanity and grace.  

The study focused on the book of James, which has been described by Bible Hub as “a book about practical Christian living that reflects a genuine faith that transforms lives”.  A good place for a bible newbie to start, and an excellent place for someone seeking transformative faith to start.  I’ll never forget one of the first lines of the book of James:  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance”.  My personal translation was this:  “Be glad that you are going through living hell because it will make you stronger.”   In other words, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and there is a reason for it.  Whatever your struggle, there is a reason behind it and somehow, someway, even though we may have a hard time seeing it or understanding it, God has a plan and will produce some good from it. 

With the bible study homework, I did a fair amount of soul-searching.  This is going to be great, I thought.  I can’t wait to figure out just how the hell my decades of alcoholic drinking, blackouts, falling down stairs, etc., would bring about something good.  So far, all I could figure out was that it got me to open a bible and to meet some very interesting women.  Not to mention the fact that I went to an activity from which I emerged as sober as I was when I arrived.  

But I noticed that while I started to read “the word”, worked on turning my will and my life over to God (Step Three), and simply became more present in my life by being sober, I began seeing “God-winks” all around me.  Squire Rushnell has an excellent book called “When God Winks at You”, all about certain “chance” circumstances that can only be explained by divine intervention (God-winks).   I started writing a blog about my journey through recovery.  The more I wrote, the more cathartic it was, and the more it helped in my soul-searching and self-awareness.   People started to comment about my blog, pull me aside and tell me that they shared it with their friend/mother/father/cousin/uncle/aunt/brother/sister/butcher….anyone they knew struggling with addiction.   The more I heard, the more I realized how much addiction touches almost everyone in some form or shape, and the more I wanted to help.   

There were several other God-winks, but one of the biggest came on a Sunday morning when I grabbed my coffee and turned on the television.   I flipped it to the well-known evangelist, Joel Osteen, at the exact time he was saying these words:  “God can take your mess and turn it into your message.  God knows how to use what you’ve been through.  He doesn’t waste any experiences.  He can use what you’ve been through to help others in that situation.  Nothing is wasted—the good, the bad, the painful.”  It was as though he was speaking directly to me.   It strongly reaffirmed my feeling that I am supposed to take my mess, my bad, my pain and not waste it, but rather use it to help others in a similar situation.  That situation doesn’t have to be alcoholism.  It can be whatever trial or tribulation you suffer in your life.  It reinforced the fact that it’s never too late to change something bad into something good.   To consider it pure joy. 

Another major God-wink came in the form of an opportunity a few weeks ago to speak to women in a local jail.  It was a small group of women in what they called the “Sober Living Unit”, who had committed to try to live a clean and sober life when they left their incarceration.  I had no idea what to expect, and even less of an idea what I was going to say.  But somehow, the words just came.  God gave me the guidance and the words I needed.  

I began by telling my story, and then went on to share two pieces from my blog, which were very well-received.  At the end, there was no awkward silence as I feared, but rather an extensive, interactive discussion.  Each woman shared some of her story, but not all explained what they had done to land themselves in this dreadful place.  Several were there for selling drugs.  One woman drank so much that she passed out with her small child next to her, only to be awakened by a police officer and arrested for child abandonment/neglect.  That prompted me to share the story of a friend of mine who had relapsed twice after brief periods of sobriety, each time with major repercussions.  The first time, she picked up a drink simply because it was a nice, sunny, spring day.   She finished a bottle of vodka and decided to drive to the ABC store to get more.  She realized she was in no shape to be driving, pulled over and passed out in her car.  She, too, was awakened by police officers, and lost her license for a year for driving under the influence.  The second time, she drank so much after being upset by an argument that she again passed out. This time she woke up to find police and Child Protective Services at her door because someone had called saying that the children were alone with an incapacitated mother.  Two relapses.  Two major screw-ups.  But her mess turned into my message.  God didn’t waste it.  Does she consider it pure joy?  I doubt it.  But perhaps just one of those women will remember   it when they return to their normal lives and think twice about picking up a drink or selling drugs.

The entire time, I was well aware of how incredibly blessed, and lucky, I am.  But for the grace of God, I could be in there with them myself.  Have I driven when I shouldn’t have?  Yes.  Have I been incapacitated around my children?  I’m so incredibly ashamed to admit yes.  All the more reason why I feel strongly about my need to make what they call living amends.  I have been given the chance to live my life in a much better and healthier way, so why wouldn’t I take that and use it in the best ways I can? I’m in no position to preach or give advice, but I told the women as I was leaving that it was not too late for them to change and turn their lives around.  They have to start in there as we do out here, one day at a time. 

 The book of James also includes what I like to call the “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” message.   “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”  Sometimes it’s really hard to look in the mirror.  Often we don’t like what we see.   Look.  Really look.  Listen and act.  Read and do.  James also says “faith, by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead….Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”  I have faith that I can stay sober.  But if that faith is not accompanied by action—by hard work, rewiring and praying—it is dead.  

For a relatively short bible book, James contains so many other powerful messages.  “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”  Quick to listen and slow to speak.  Advice everyone could benefit from.   And “the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.  Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark”.   There is so much good stuff in here.   Why didn’t I pick up this book in the hotel rooms? 

Finally, the last chapter of James leaves us with this:  “….if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this:  Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins”.  I’m not sure I have the power to bring someone back from sin or wandering in the wrong direction.  I have to start with myself.  However, I have a friend, an older woman, who is a very nervous driver and gets completely frazzled when people behind her are driving too close.  She called me over to her car in the parking lot one day after a meeting and said she wanted to show me something.  There, taped on her steering wheel, was a piece of paper with a simple message and reminder to herself:  “Consider it pure joy.” 

Martha Carucci:

-grew up in Western Massachusetts
-studied at Harvard, University of Pennsylvania and Georgetown
-worked for over fifteen years as a lobbyist in the telecommunications industry
-currently working my ass off as a stay-at home, suburban mom 🙂
-avid tennis player, golfer and soccer player
Hobbies include rambling to unsuspecting pastors on school buses, being suckered in to any and all volunteer positions, and trying to maintain my sanity and sobriety.

 

Sobrietease

Jason Micheli —  February 5, 2014 — Leave a comment

imagesEvery now and then I have one of those fortuitous moments that I can chalk up to providence.

Just the other day, I ran into a woman from the community, someone whose face I knew but whose name I knew only vaguely. After the usual chit-chat and polite pastor banter, she took a chance on telling me her story.

The story of her journey from addiction to recovery redemption.

She did so with the kind of unselfconscious yet wonderfully self-aware honesty that makes me wish I saw more of it in people. She wasn’t embarrassed or afraid to share her shame. She didn’t even let on that she noticed the slightly uncomfortable, I-can’t-believe-you’re-talking-about-this glances coming from the people around us.

There’s that cliché about not sweating the small stuff.

I think a better, Jesusy riff on that goes more like this: Someone who has experienced grace doesn’t sweat the sin or the shame.

I was moved by her story.

More importantly, I was encouraged by what I learned of her supporting cast. Apparently through out her long, winding road to recovery, she’s been aided by a couple of Samaritans from my own congregation.

And I had no inkling they were up to such Gospel work.

It’s encouraging whenever I hear of people being the Church without needing the church.

I’ve spoken too much.

Here is one of her reflections from her blog about her experience.

I encourage you to subscribe to her here.

More importantly, I know how addiction is something that touches nearly every family to some degree.

Forward her blog on to someone you know in whose life it just may make a difference.

Now I (Am Starting to) Understand

One year.  365 days. 8670 hours. 525,600 minutes.  Without a single drop of alcohol.  Not one drink.  Not even a dose of NyQuil.  No mouthwash with alcohol in it.  If you had told me on the first day I stopped drinking, Memorial Day of 2012, that I could make it a year, I would have told you that you were insane.  As I looked down at my hands shaking, I didn’t think I could make it an hour.  Yet here I am, one full year later, sober, stronger, healthier, and happier.  Some days were easy.  Some were hard.  Some were downright miserable.  And for some I just had to stay in bed.  But I did it.  I went from shaking to calm.  Hungover to energetic.  Bloated and heavy to fit and 15 pounds lighter.  Lost to finding myself.  Alcoholic to recovering.  But still an alcoholic.  That will never go away.  But I will be a recovering alcoholic with one year of sobriety under my belt, and a shiny coin to carry proudly.  Now I understand the will to change and the meaning of endurance.

 
One year ago today, I woke up in NYC (sounds eerily like a Ricky Martin song….) after a late night with some friends on a girls’ weekend.  I was a strange shade of green, head throbbing, stomach roaring, brain trying desperately to grasp some idea of where I was, what I had done the night before and what was going on.  As I started to stir (and probably moan), things began coming back to me in bits and pieces, and I felt my friend take hold of my hand.  That simple act meant more and said more to me than any words ever could—that I wasn’t alone and that somehow everything would be okay.  (“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention” Oscar Wilde eloquently penned).  One thing I knew for sure was that despite how humiliated, embarrassed, ashamed and badly I felt, there was an enormous weight that had been lifted from my shoulders.   My life was going to completely change that morning.   It had to.  Now I understand why they say “change I must or die I will”.
 
Admitting I had a problem was a huge step for me, and the first move for most people toward any sort of recovery.   I knew it deep down and had denied it for so long, rationalizing everything as much as I possibly could to convince myself that I didn’t have a drinking problem.  It still amazes me how hard it was for me to admit, and amazes me even more that I could ever actually say the words out loud.  Some people have admitted their addictions to therapists, doctors, priests, parents, siblings or close friends.  I, of course, had to admit it that night in New York to my friend who had recently lost her husband to alcoholism.  Great choice, huh?  Because why wouldn’t someone who endured a horrific battle for two decades with her spouse, who eventually lost, not want to deal with it again with a friend?  It would have been completely understandable for her to bail and say  ”I just can’t do this again” and point me in the right direction to get some help.  But she didn’t.  She told me she would help me through this and has been there every step of the way.  She hasn’t missed a single day in an entire year of checking in with the same text every morning–Good morning sunshine, how are u?”    Now I understand the true meaning of the word friendship.
 
As I have said before, everyone has their own trials and tribulations and crosses to bear.  Sometimes we are strong for our friends.  Sometimes we need them to be strong for us.  I honestly couldn’t have made it to this point in my sobriety without the help of my friends, without their strength, devotion and commitment, and without their confidence in my strength.  So to my friends who didn’t give up on me, were my wingmen, called me at 5pm on Fridays and went for a walk with me, stocked their fridges with flavored seltzers, literally pulled me out of my bed, made my exercise group come chase me down when I tried to hide, convinced me that I was still fun to be around without alcohol, told me they were proud of me, offered to help with my kids so I could get to a meeting,  helped get me to focus on other activities that didn’t involve drinking, helped me see that life can be so much better and brighter, and, despite their fights with their own demons, showed me that they cared and held my hand……thank you from the bottom of my heart.   As Shakespeare said, “a friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.”  Now I understand unconditional love.
 
One year down, hopefully many more to go.  But, as they say, one day at a time.  Today it’s time to stop, breathe and take a minute to pat myself on the back.   Now I am starting to understand that it’s a choice.