How I knew my Dad was an Alcoholic…and Bullying

Hello followers! I hope you’re reading and following along. Feel free to input whenever you feel like it!

As promised in some of my parentheses, I want to talk a little bit about my story and how I decided following the 12 steps was right for me. I thought to myself just the other night, “you have to start where it REALLY starts”.

The moment I knew my dad was an alcoholic. It is not the story most people would think, and it actually focuses far more on another terrible, powerless subject than him, but it is here to prove a point.

Back in 2000, when I was in 7th grade, I would say I was a “smart” kid, but by no means a popular one. I had a core group of good friends, I was babysat by a wonderful woman I considered a second mother, and I was heavily involved in dance. I did incredibly well in school, and at the time did not know how to NOT express that. So when my friends would complain about getting 70’s on a spelling test, I’d pipe up about my 95. I hadn’t quite learned how to be tactful and keep it to myself.

One day, in the age where internet was JUST starting to become popular, I saw 4 of my friends huddled around a locker, purposely ignoring me and giggling with a few boys while pointing at me. On the white board? a URL to a website I had never heard of. I brushed it off and went about my day…until my babysitters son pulled me aside to show me the website during library time. It was dedicated to making fun of me: calling me fat, ugly, a nerd. Exposing the childhood crush I had trusted them all with to the world, and reminding me that he would NEVER like me. They posted it in their AIM profiles, brought it up during classes, yelled the URL at me when I walked by. I was mortified…and utterly alone.

When I got to my babysitters house, she hugged me. When I got home, my mother made me my favorite dinner before calling every single one of those girl’s parents and screaming at them. There were people in my corner, sure, but I still felt miserable. That night, I sat under the stream of the shower and wondered if I could actually go into school the next morning. I played with my razor for my legs and wondered if the blades were sharp enough that I could get out of school until something equally embarrassing happened to someone else. I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore.

When I came downstairs that night, my father had just gotten home. It was pretty typical of him back then, although I didn’t know what it meant. He was poorly shaven, his work clothes were frumpled, and he smelled like what I would one day know to be vodka and very little soda. I knew he drank: we got new 30’s of budweiser almost every weekend, and I knew that he constantly argued with my mother about being “sober” on drives home from family parties. But I didn’t know how deep it went. My mother yelled at him immediately; she had been calling him all afternoon. I was a daddy’s girl after all.

He slumped into a chair and asked me what was up. I told him what had happened, what the girls had done, how my life was over. He looked at me then, with glazed over eyes, stood up, and said “Life sucks, glad you learned it now. Tomorrow may be different, or it may suck too.” before walking up the stairs.

I understand now that I experienced probably the very start of cyber bullying, and I understand more than anyone else how kids end up committing suicide to make the hate stop. I also understand that to most kids, those words would have been the worst thing possible to hear. A parent not really helping them. But to me? They were magic. They were a window into the man I kept on a pedestal: he didn’t think the world was full of rainbows, he acknowledge that it COULD be terrible. All I had done all day was CRY. And MOPE. And be coddled into thinking that I was a poor victim who couldn’t do anything but sink back into my shell. I was told tomorrow would be little-orphan-annie sunshiney; instead he had leveled at me and told me it might not immediately get better.

My father was an alcoholic. I knew he had a problem, even if “alcohol” wasn’t what I connected it with. He fell into alcohol because he had problems dealing with how much life sucked, and how much tomorrow wasn’t always different from the day before. He dealt with life’s pains with alcohol, but he also knew that those pains wouldn’t just disappear. He KNEW that yes, life sucked. And YES you need to just buck up. And YES, it was better to learn young then learn late.

The next day? I went to school. I held my head up high. I didn’t cry once, and I didn’t let them get to me. Was it easy? No. Day 2 sucked just as much as day  1: my teacher’s saw the website, and most didn’t know how to handle it. Or handled it at all. And yes, the next couple of days sucked. Bullying is a terrible thing. But I went on to be stronger for it, better for it. I grew up quickly that day.

And I learned my dad was an alcoholic. He saw the world through an alcoholic’s not-so-rosy-colored glasses. He saw the real PAIN that exists in life. He LIVED the real pain that exists in life.  I learned that night that my father saw the world a way I didn’t, and the fog of booze made it a little more bearable.

 

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FOMO: The Fear of Missing Out

I’ll preface this by saying: I HATE the way 2016 teens speak. Acronyms and shortened catch phrases drive be bonkers.

But FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is real.

Anyone who tells you they don’t suffer from FOMO is lying to you, or lying to themselves. It is practically an inherit human condition to want to be involved. Blame it on our obsession to stay “connected” (more on that later) or the evolvement of social media into a frenzy of instant gratification, but the fear of missing out on the next best thing or funny picture or trending topic can overwhelm us.

We submit ourselves to FOMO when we go out and buy the hottest/newest item “just to have it”. When I was 14, I just HAD to have a razor scooter. I barely could ride a bike without training wheels and I was much more of a beach bum/poolside girl than one to ride around the streets, but when every other kid on my block had one I just MADE my parents go get me one. That summer, you weren’t cool without a razor.

We allow FOMO to overtake us when we go out on a Saturday night for 5 drinks instead of 1 because everyone else was at the bar and you didn’t want to be that person who “lamely” went home early. I have an OCD tick about full glasses (I swear, my stories will come in time, I promise) and did two double shots of Crown Apple in about 5 minutes at a party because I could NOT be the only person who didn’t take one (the second one…that isn’t FOMO related). I could NOT miss out on the action…so I put myself, stupidly, in the middle of it.

We forget about our principles and allow FOMO to win when we go out with people whose values, whether they be racist, sexist, or downright disgusting, disagree with ours because you don’t want to be the only person in the lunch room sitting alone. In this case of FOMO the fear of missing out on a chance to maybe be included instead leads to the fear of being labeled a bigot…a fear we put aside to fit in.

All these stories have a common thread. Well, two really. One? FOMO, and the fact that we are powerless to it, arises from a desperate need to fit in. We lose ourselves in the hopes of becoming “one” with society, of meshing, of belonging.

Two? FOMO-driven life goals usually end poorly.

That razor scooter? I flipped it the second day I had it, skinned my entire elbow, and never rode it again.

That Crown Apple night? I puked for nearly 24 hours straight…alone.

That lunch table? I started to hate myself for listening to garbage I didn’t believe in…and other people started to hate me too.

For addicts, FOMO is all too real. When my dad would fail at being sober it was never because he didn’t want to, but because he didn’t know how to walk away from the world. How to not be upset with missing out. For children of addicts, FOMO is equally as strong, and maybe just as debilitating. How do you balance the desire to want to be included, to want to NOT miss out, with the pull of 1) being completely submerged already in an atmosphere you hate and 2) having to be a parent to a parent? You don’t. Children of addicts typically either dive head first into the world of alcohol, because it’s the only thing they know and they don’t want to be left out of that first exploratory trek of their friends, or shy away from it so hard that they feel the FOMO constantly as they choose to be mature and sit at home. Either way…FOMO wins.

I admit that I am powerless against FOMO. It plays an intricate part in my life: it drives me to want to be accepted. It steers some of my decisions. I accept that FOMO will always be there. This isn’t a post about defeating FOMO: but just trying to fear it JUST a little less.

-Joanie

Loyalty

I wanted to start early with one of my heaviest of weaknesses, of a feeling (not a tangible item) that I am powerless against. Sometimes the greatest character traits, the things we most aspire to, can hold us back from our own achievements or self-love.

This story starts more than 10 years ago. I had met a boy in high-school who, aside from being totally in love with (young foolish child love, not the real kind as I would learn years later), was also my best friend. The kind of best friend that usually only exists in the movies or in a good book: I could look at him and just KNOW what he was thinking. He would should up to my house late at night without the need for an invitation just to talk. We dreamed together, laughed together, and shared our insecurities together. We even went to prom together, although merely as friends, and promised to stay in touch no matter what in college.

Of course, that is much harder to do than say. Things changed on both sides, as they inevitably do as you get into your 20’s. My father was fading into alcoholism and I didn’t know how to reach out to anyone, so I plunged myself into my studies and boyfriends (more on this another time). He joined the track team and became heavily involved in eco-travel and peace studies, something I couldn’t relate to. Days turned to weeks which turned to months without talking…and neither of us really seemed to mind.

When his girlfriend broke up with him in 2010 and his mom reached out I called immediately, because it was the only thing I knew how to do. I had always been terrible at letting go, or protecting myself from heartbreak, so I dove back in head first. When they got back together, we inevitably stopped talking. When my grandmother died suddenly in 2012 he drove 3 hours to the funeral, and left promptly afterward. Friendship (and loyalty) are funny like that: time may move forward, but the emotions stay grounded in the past. Despite the time between conversations I occasionally felt obligated to pick up the phone, as if my heart (and my head) were permanently stuck in the halls of our high-school. I moved back home soon after…and it was as if we had never let go. We were best friends again and practically inseparable. We spent a whole summer as if the years apart were just a dream.

Our story does not have a happy ending. As they typically warn you about in the movies, we considered acting on that school-age foolish love, and when it never moved forward I never got past it. I spiraled out of control; admittedly my own fault. He made choices I couldn’t agree with and couldn’t not vocalize; he refused to talk with me through our problems as we had as teenagers. We grew apart. We both met significant others that lasted…and the few-and-far-between phone calls grew even farther apart. I tried to rekindle our friendship, to save it when I finally got past the feeling of having my childhood heart crushed…but there was nothing left to save. He had moved on too, and asked me to stop calling.

That was 2 years ago.

I still think about him. Nearly every day.

I am powerless to loyalty and friendship. Our story is not one full with an abundance of happy memories: instead it is full with a smattering of smiles covered in pain, heartbreak, and confusion. Yet, I can’t fully let go. Everything tells me I should. I am only hurting myself by still thinking about him. My other friends tell me I am better off, but am I?

I know in my heart of hearts that if he were to call, or we were to run into each other in the small world that is South Jersey, I know I would not be able to walk away. I know I would find myself in the locker-filled hallways of high-school again. I know I’d jump to his beck-and-call because I don’t know how to turn that part of me off. He is engraved in my life…and I am powerless to my loyalty to him.

He could discard his friendship. He could move forward. Me? I’m stuck.

Don’t get me wrong. Powerless-ness does not mean I am not bitter. I’m angry that he let go. I’m hurt that I still feel a connection for someone who feels so little for me. I’m confounded by the fact that my emotions can run such a gambit. I am powerless to my inability to move forward, but I am bathed in negativity towards the situation.

By admitting that I am powerless to my loyalty, that I am haunted by my inability to close a door, maybe the failed friendship will slowly start to take a back seat to my story. Maybe I won’t remember a missed birthday. Maybe I’ll stop counting the days. Maybe I’ll fold up our story into a little box that can be locked away as happy memories, and let it live where it is supposed to.

Maybe I’ll learn to be loyal only when it makes ME happy.

And maybe I’ll stop always trying to be loved by someone else, and start just loving myself.

-Joanie

Step 1: We Are Powerless

January is nearly here, and it is time to start thinking about Step 1.

“We must admit to ourselves that we are powerless against alcohol”.

I have specifically put “alcohol” in italics, as my hope is to highlight how these steps can be used for any person, addict or not, and how with the removal of one word and the insertion (or further removal) of others can alter the meaning of such a powerful phrase.

Powerless.

What is being powerless? How do we admit we are powerless? How can we even identify what we are powerless over…is it limited to things, like alcohol? Is it limited to things we crave, or can we include things that are required by nature, such as oxygen to breathe and food to sustain us? Can we be powerless over situations, people, the world we live in? Can we be powerless over things we have no real control over, such as God and fate? How far does one human’s “powerless” expand, and what does admitting our weaknesses really allow us to accomplish?

For an addict, admitting that one is powerless is the first step in recovery, because you are acknowledging the problem at hand. You are, to yourself (and yourself alone), facing the situation in front of you head first. The second line of the step, which I haven’t included here, is the understanding and acknowledgement that the situation has gotten unmanageable. I left it off since, in this context, powerless can go on to mean a great many of things, not all of them unmanageable. If your powerless notion has become unmanageable, of course add it back. The lesson is the same.

There is a quote I adore from Akeela and the Bee:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure.”

While the topic of this post is an introduction to being powerless, not powerful, this statement really solidifies the mind’s grapple with admitting weakness. Our deepest fear is not in actuality that we are inadequate, or powerless. It seems like a fearful act to admit that we are powerless, to admit shortcomings, to look them in the eye and succumb to the things that minimize perfection. But in ways, the lack of perfection is exactly what grounds us. It is status quo. It gives us a place to sink in to. An excuse. So we drown ourselves in thought to try to escape our inadequacies…which really are nothing to be afraid of. Fear is instead being powerful. Of being able to accomplish anything. Say anything. BE anything. Because then, when we are not those things, when we miss the opportunity to measure up, your ability to be powerful beyond measure but missing the mark becomes a flaw we cannot accept. And the cycle starts again.

So for the next month, I’m going to focus on the things I am powerless against. The things, people, concepts, moments that I am powerless against. That I cannot live without. That I succumb to. That control me. By acknowledging my weaknesses, it is the hope to make them just slightly less strong, to accept them (and myself) for having those weaknesses, and to learn to overcome them in order to be powerful beyond all measure, even if not perfect.

So for those of you who have decided to take this journey with me (are you out there? I’m hoping so), start thinking: what are you powerless against? What holds you back? What weakens you? Feel free to discuss.

-Joanie

Taking the First Step… 12 Stepping Through 2017

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I just never quite got there.

Sounds cliché right? Writing: this “dream” of a career that you just cannot quite grasp, whether because you just are not good enough at it or the timing is just never right. For me, writing was always a passion more than a career choice. Something I was good at and truly loved, but something that was lacking the financial backing to make it seem real. So instead, I became a PhD analytical chemist. I know…stay with me.

So for the last few days of 2016, in a time surrounded by resolutions and heartfelt promises to do those things you always put off until you inevitably check in in December, I’ve decided to pursue writing. Or, in this case, pursue blogging. Put my thoughts out there into the viral world of the internet. I’ve written blogs very religiously throughout my 28 years, particularly in high school and college. But instead of ramblings in a diary, I wanted to make this more constructive. Purposeful. Meaningful, if maybe only to me.

I sat down and made a list of the things I’m passionate about that could translate into a blog, and realized beyond writing (check) and science (dork-check), I really didn’t have much. I’m trying to be a better cook for my boyfriend and me, but I wouldn’t say I’m any Julie-and-Julia, and I’m not sure how to talk about food beyond YUM. I love makeup Youtube channels (NEVER thought I’d say that), but I’m still a tomboy at heart and frankly I’m terrible at taking anything from the screen to my face. The Philadelphia Eagles are a huge part of my life…but does anyone really need another sports commentary on Carson during the off-season? I don’t think so.

Then it clicked. Last week I went to my dad’s 7th anniversary meeting for AA. I’ve gone to meetings relatively frequently since he started getting sober and know the group (and the principles) pretty well. I sat through the roundtable reading, the discussion, the stories, and nodded along with every single person talking through the steps. I could relate to every single sentence spewing from the mouths of the recovering and the recovered: the hope, the anguish, the willingness to give themselves up to something larger than anyone in that room. The need for so many things that could be replaced and fulfilled by a drink: acceptance, compassion, escape from thoughts, independence, even love. It hit me then: maybe everyone could benefit from the steps. Maybe they fit beyond the tiny church walls that typically protect the anonymous. Not because I’m an addict but because I am the child of an addict, because I am a human being, and because I am passionate about the power of Bill W and the principles. The 12 steps gave my father back to me…maybe this could be my way of giving back. Share my stories, and share the paths of the steps that could be used by anyone.

12SteppingThrough2017 was born.

There just so happens to be 12 steps. 12 months of the year. 12 “focuses” to discuss, evaluate, and really devote myself to living every moment of every day. Yes, there will be cooking, and make-up, and I’m sure at least one powerful rant about the birds. But I’m hoping that by guiding myself through the steps, even as a non-addict, I can make a really positive change for 2017. I’m hoping to take you along with me too, so sit back and carry on!

-Joanie