Recovery Notes #5

The thousand pound phone

After finishing a fridge-full of booze the night before, I awoke on the first day of my sobriety shaky but still resolved to quit drinking, a resolve bolstered by the fact that there was no alcohol left in the house. I knew I couldn’t quit alone but the thought of asking for help sent sharp spears of terror through my soul. I’d gotten by for years (with the help of alcohol, of course) by hiding my vulnerability behind a tough persona. Now I faced exposing myself for the uniquely worthless worm that I was secretly convinced I was. (I didn’t understand until years later that thinking myself uniquely worthless was as grandiose as thinking myself uniquely worthy).

I found the number for the self-help recovery group* in the phone book but I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the phone. Later I would learn that nearly all alcoholics wrestle the fear of phoning for help and I would laugh at my fight with the “thousand-pound phone.” But that day all I could do was pace the floor, smoking and imagining ridiculous scenarios in which I would get rejected: ‘Yes, we help alcoholics but not you (laughs),’ ‘Stop wasting my time! (slams down the phone),’ ‘What’s the matter with you? Don’t you have any friends?’ Finally sometime in mid-afternoon, I exhausted myself and made the call.

The number rang through to the Detox Centre which acted as an answering service for the self-help group. (The centre was part of Northern Addictions Services programming during 1980s and 90s. Today there is no Detox in Yellowknife.) I launched into my tale of woe only to be given a list of three names and numbers. It took nearly everything I had to make that first call and now I had to do it again. I worked up the courage with several more rounds of pacing. I got one busy signal, one answering machine (I was too frightened to leave a message) until, finally, I spoke to a woman who agreed to take me to a meeting the following night. Whew!

I have heard many alcoholics say they felt a sense of belonging and security from the moment they attended their first meeting. That didn’t happen to me. My first meeting was packed with what I thought of as crazy people who engaged in uproarious laughter in between bouts of serious discussion about how they were going to “clean up the wreckage of their past” by “making amends” for the way they had behaved while they drunk. The laughter seemed fake (probably because mine was) and while I could understand that they might need to make amends to people, I did not feel that I would ever have to. I had a long list of people who needed to make amends to me.

I went home that night feeling more isolated than ever. I still wanted to quit drinking but now felt that I had nowhere to go. In tears of desperation the next afternoon, I sought refuge in the office of my friend Mike, the man who had inspired me to quit drinking by telling me his story. “I know somebody you can talk to. She’s been around and is kind of tough like you,” he said.

Mike got Jen** on the phone for me and she to agreed to meet me for coffee in the Miner’s Mess (Yellowknife’s iconic coffee shop). “Look for a tall ugly blonde,” she said. I must have looked like a typical lost alcoholic because she stood up and waved me over as soon as I walked in. After getting us coffee, she sat down and scrutinized me. Then she told me exactly how I felt. Over the years, I have tried to remember what she said but I have never been able to. All I can remember is that for the first time in my life, I felt that somebody saw who I was and understood.

So it began.

 

*I have chosen not to publicly name the self-help group I joined out of respect for the traditions of that organization.

**Not the real name.

 

This blog has been inspired by reactions from readers of “Free Love,” my novel about recovery from alcoholism.  I have often been asked why I chose to write about that particular subject. While there are several answers to that question, the most honest one is that I’m a recovering person myself. That opened the door to more questions. So I have started this blog to share some of my thoughts about alcoholism and addiction, based on my experience and observation. 

If you’d like to read or gift Free Love, check out my SALE PRICES!

Recovery Notes #4

Delusions and denial

When I was drinking I thought I had special powers.

I didn’t have any tolerance for the crazy people (aka social drinkers) who only ever had one or two and who (God forbid!) would sometimes abandon their drinks entirely. Instead, I spent my time with the kind of drinkers who would open a fresh bottle of whiskey and throw the cap in the garbage, the kind of drinkers who habitually got so drunk, they stumbled over their own feet, slurred their words and repeated themselves ad nauseam, all the while thinking themselves brilliant. They’d hang their heads and pass out at the kitchen table, or on the floor, or in the bathroom with their heads in a pool of puke, have beer for breakfast and slobber over their clothes. Afterwards, they’d deny what happened and pretend they’d only ever had a few social drinks. Those were my kind of drinkers.

I would match them drink for drink, but I was different (or so I thought). I drank because I was a writer and heavy drinking had a long and illustrious history among the creative class. As a writer, I was called to experience life deeply, to throw myself into the thick of things, to live fully and creatively and this involved lots of alcohol. Creative people like me had special powers so that alcohol didn’t affect us in the same way as it did ordinary people. I never stumbled or slurred my words (although sometimes people couldn’t hear me for reasons I didn’t understand). I did not pass out, (although I sometimes got tired and went to sleep in unusual places). If I drank in the mornings, it was so that somebody who really needed it would not have to feel bad about their morning drinks.

I thought that my biggest problem was that I was unfortunate enough to be attracted to rock-bottom drunks. Out of concern for my alcoholic friends, and also the alcoholics I saw staggering around Hay River, I became interested in the larger problem of alcoholism in the North and set out to sober everybody up.

I began to research alcoholism in my capacity as a reporter, and attended an Alcoholics Anonymous roundup, interviewing members and sitting in on AA meetings. (I also attended their banquet and dance, after a few surreptitious drinks in the bar.) One of the AA members I interviewed explained the role of denial in alcoholism: how alcoholics lie to themselves, and everybody else, about their drinking and how this denial serves to keep them drinking. “Hey, that describes everybody I know,” I thought. I published a detailed story about AA in Tapwe, hoping that some of my poor benighted friends might see themselves in it and get the help that they so badly needed. I may even have urged one or two of them, over drinks in the bar, to join AA.

Sometime later, I left Tapwe for a better-paying job at Hay River’s other newspaper The Hub and launched a weekly column about my personal life. I wrote a piece entitled, My Sweet Seducer, in which I described waking up on a hungover Sunday morning to find a half bottle of Scotch and an overflowing ashtray on my kitchen table, lighting a smoke and then having a conversation (in lurid prose that embarrasses me to this day) with the bottle as though I was trying to resist a lover who had betrayed me and now tempted me again. At the end of the piece I capitulated and reached for a drink.

There is a part of ourselves, often so deeply buried we don’t know it’s there, that nudges us toward healing and we start calling for help, sometimes long before we are ready to receive it. Looking back now, I understand that writing that column was one of my calls for help. But at the time I fooled myself. I explained to anybody who would listen that the column was not about me, that I had turned myself into a character in order to render an artistic commentary on alcoholism. (As far as I know, a lot of people believed me. At least they pretended to.)

It wasn’t until three years later when I had moved to Yellowknife and decided to quit drinking that I saw how deeply I was steeped in denial. It shocked me to realize that while I could see how others denied their alcoholism, I was unable to see it in myself even though I was drinking just as much and behaving in exactly the same way. This, more than anything, made me realize the power that alcohol had over me. And it convinced me that I would not be able to quit alone.

 

This blog has been inspired by reactions from readers of “Free Love,” my novel about recovery from alcoholism.  I have often been asked why I chose to write about that particular subject. While there are several answers to that question, the most honest one is that I’m a recovering person myself. That opened the door to more questions. So I have started this blog to share some of my thoughts about alcoholism and addiction, based on my experience and observation. 

If you’d like to read or gift Free Love, check out my SALE PRICES!

 

Recovery Notes #3

I write, therefore I am

Even though I didn’t quit drinking until 1983, I’ve always believed that I took the first step toward recovery in early April, 1978, while I was a student at the University of Guelph. Guelph was in the grip of first days of spring and the air was soft while the sun sparkled on the melting snow, but I had no eyes to appreciate any of it.  Two years earlier, the loneliness brought on by the end of a long-term relationship had hurtled me deeper into the drinking life. I had become a crazy barroom lady, mouthy and laughing on the outside, while dying on the inside. I embarked on a series of unrequited love affairs and the continual rejection battered any remaining self-esteem to a pulp. Finally, there was one rejection too many and I became paralyzed. I stopped attending classes, skipped my final exams and spent my days sitting on the floor in front of the couch drinking, listening to sad music and crying.

Somewhere in midst of my misery, I decided to write a letter to my absconded lover. For three days, I struggled to put my feelings into words, and as I did, something deep inside of me changed. A quiet voice in my head said “writing will get you out of the hell your life has become.” It stopped me cold and, at first, I didn’t know what to do. But I, who had elevated self-doubt and cynicism to the level of an art form, believed the voice without question. I put away the booze (temporarily), showered, changed my clothes, left the house and was able, for the first time in weeks, to look people in the eye.

My lover thought the letter was “too weird” but by the time he read it I no longer cared. I turned my back on Ontario and embarked on the hitchhiking journey that would eventually take me to northern Canada. The trip quickly degenerated into a tour of bars and parties across the country but, throughout it all, I remained convinced that somehow, somewhere, I was going to be a writer.

Eight months later I found myself on a bus heading south from the Northwest Territories. I had been to visit Bart*, an old friend with whom I had hooked up on the road, and who had then gotten work in Hay River. Now I was on my way home for Christmas, but I planned to return in January to set up housekeeping with Bart. When the bus stopped in Peace River, Alberta, a young woman, Violet*, hurried on and plopped herself down in the seat beside me. She had overslept in Hay River so a friend had driven her 600 km south to catch the bus in time to make it to Saskatchewan for Christmas. She told me that she worked at a Tapwe, a small weekly newspaper run by a publisher who would hire anybody who could type.

As soon as I returned to Hay River in the New Year, I made an appointment with Don Taylor, the publisher at Tapwe, and haltingly told him that I wanted to write. It was the first time I had ever admitted my aspirations to anybody and I was terrified he would laugh me out of the office. Instead, he asked me if I could type. When I responded in the affirmative, he hired me on the spot as a reporter/photographer trainee.

Don was an eccentric newshound who had earned his reporting chops at the Regina Leader Post and Canadian Press before venturing north in the mid-1960s to start his own newspaper. I soon became his protégé and I was so smitten with everything that I was learning at my new job — reporting, writing, northern stories — that for a time I was able to restrict my drinking.

But the darkest days of my alcoholism were still ahead of me. The difference was that now I had something to hang on to. Writing gave me a way to fit into the mosaic of the world. It gave me an identity and a purpose. I finally felt that my life could have value. When drinking eventually overtook me and I faced the choice between life and death, I believe it was this sense of identity and value that helped me to choose life.

*not the real names

This blog has been inspired by reactions from readers of “Free Love,” my novel about recovery from alcoholism.  I have often been asked why I chose to write about that particular subject. While there are several answers to that question, the most honest one is that I’m a recovering person myself. That opened the door to more questions. So I have started this blog to share some of my thoughts about alcoholism and addiction, based on my experience and observation. 

If you’d like to read or gift Free Love, check out my SALE PRICES!

Recovery Notes #2

To drink is to die

I’ve heard it said that there are three eventual outcomes for a person who continues to drink alcoholically: institutionalization, jail or death. Even though I’d had a number of drunken brushes with death (a car accident, a house fire), the fact that I was courting death didn’t register on me until my last day of drinking.

When I awoke on August 22, 1983,  I was on the seventh day of a binge which I spent at my typewriter drinking and eating hash brownies while attempting to write the great Canadian novel that would stun the world and propel me to sanity and fame (I wrote one short paragraph).

A year earlier, I had picked a fight with my boss, suddenly quit my job as a newspaper reporter in Hay River (a small community south of Great Slave Lake) and stormed off to Yellowknife with a carload of worthless stuff, little money and no place stay (in recovery lingo this is called a “geographical cure). Alcoholics thrive on being victims so if you had asked me why I quit my job, I would have said I was disrespected, overworked and underpaid but said nothing about my unreliability and irresponsibility. The truth was that my job was interfering with my drinking.

I survived that first year in Yellowknife by leaning on others for money, drinks and places to stay, eventually managing to dig myself out of the financial hole through a series of freelance assignments which I was able to complete while in a semi-sober state. But emotionally I was a wreck. I was overcome by haunting loneliness and unnamed terrors that would not let me go, no matter how much I drank. The days when drinking was a magical cure for my feelings of inadequacy were far in the past and now alcohol only magnified my misery. Yet I still I persisted in my belief that it was the solution, not the problem. The more I drank, the worse I felt. The worse I felt, the more I drank. Suicide became a viable option.

That August morning, a friend came over to visit. Mike (not his real name) and I had gone on many binges together and I knew him well. But I hadn’t seen much of him since he quit drinking four months earlier. Now I was astonished at how much he had changed. Instead of whining about how badly the world had treated him, as he would have in the past, he admitted to his drunken wrongdoings. Listening to his honesty, I had an epiphany (I am rather given to epiphanies as you will see in future posts). I saw how drinking controlled my life. For the first time, I realized that it could only end in death, whether by drunken incident, suicide or bodily breakdown.

I burst into tears.

“Mike, tell me the truth,” I said, when I had regained control over myself. “Do you think that I’m an alcoholic?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

It was the perfect answer. If he’d said ‘yes,’ I would have gotten angry and consoled myself by getting drunk. If he’d said ‘no,’ I would have celebrated by getting drunk.

After Mike left, I drank all the booze that was left in the house. The next morning I decided I wanted to live more than I wanted to die. 

Unless I have an unexpected burst of time and energy (highly unlikely), I plan to take a break from this blog over the holiday season. I will post again early in 2018. Meanwhile, happy holidays, everybody! May you all find peace and happiness.

This blog has been inspired by reactions from readers of “Free Love,” my novel about recovery from alcoholism.  I have often been asked why I chose to write about that particular subject. While there are several answers to that question, the most honest one is that I’m a recovering person myself. That opened the door to more questions. So I have started this blog to share some of my thoughts about alcoholism and addiction, based on my experience and observation. 

If you’d like to read or gift Free Love, check out my HOLIDAY SALE! 

Recovery Notes #1

So how did I become an alcoholic, anyway?

The truth is that I don’t know. I have spent many years in recovery examining my life and have at various times come up with different explanations. I have blamed it on the fact that I was (and continue to be) over-sensitive, a child full of feelings that were not easily understood by the people around her. I have blamed it on unacknowledged childhood pain, stemming from difficulties in my relationships with my parents. I have blamed it on growing up in a socially isolated immigrant family, on being remorselessly bullied at school, on coming of age during the sixties when young people across North America rebelled against the establishment and getting high became a rite of passage. On genes passed down from an alcoholic grandfather whom I didn’t know. It could have been any of those things. Or all of them. Or none of them. After 35 years of self-examination in sobriety, I still don’t have the definitive answer.

All I know is that as a teenager I felt like a misfit, that I was ugly, stupid and lacking in a way that would preclude me from leading any kind of meaningful life. I was not exposed to drinking as a child, but when I had my first drink at the age of the 16 I took to it like a fish to water. My uncomfortable feelings vanished and I felt the way other people looked: attractive, intelligent and articulate. I could dance. I could flirt. I could carry on a conversation without awkward pauses. I spent the next 14 years trying to recapture that feeling and, as time went by, it took more and more alcohol to do so.

Whatever the reason that I started drinking in the first place, in time alcohol became its own thing, an illness in itself. I never drank socially. From the beginning, I always drank to get drunk. At first it was only an occasional event.  In time, I started to drink every weekend. Then all weekend. Then on week days as well. Then in the mornings. Drinking took over my life so slowly that I didn’t notice it. Instead of drinking to feel good or to have fun, I began to drink in order to drink. Along with drinking, I abused every street drug I could find, particularly pot. The life I led as an alcoholic and addict piled pain onto pain. It reopened wounds I already had and cut deeper. I behaved in ways that were against my own moral code and put myself into situations where I was both abusive and abused. Mornings, I woke up sick and cringing with shame, sometimes unable to remember what I had done the night before. I descended into a black pit of loneliness and despair and didn’t know how to get out. The only solution I could see was to drink myself to death.

So why did I sober up? That’s another question that I can’t answer. The best answer I have is that I wanted to live more than I wanted to die. More about that in my next post.

This blog has been inspired by reactions from readers of “Free Love,” my novel about recovery from alcoholism.  I have often been asked why I chose to write about that particular subject. While there are several answers to that question, the most honest one is that I’m a recovering person myself. That opened the door to more questions. So I have started this blog to share some of my thoughts about alcoholism and addiction, based on my experience and observation. 

If you’d like to read or gift Free Love, check out my HOLIDAY SALE! 

 

 

Free Love is on sale for the holidays!

Marino readingFree Love, my award-winning novel about alcoholism in Canada’s North is on sale for the holiday season. The reduced price is $20.00 per book and I’ll pay the GST and shipping (Canada only). This is a significant discount from the regular price of $32.20 ($24.95 for the book, $1.25 GST and $6.00 shipping),  a saving of $12.00!

A recipient of an Honourable Mention in the 2016 Whistler Independent Books AwardsFree Love has been widely acclaimed in the Northwest Territories as a realistic and warm portrayal of a young woman’s struggle to quit drinking. It’s a great read for anybody in recovery, for those who love alcoholics or anybody who appreciates a great story. Once you start reading Free Love, you won’t be able to put it down.

For more information and to download a free excerpt please go to: FREE LOVE.

This offer is only available until Christmas or until I run out of books, whichever comes first. All purchases must be made directly from me in one of the following ways:

  • You can pay by Paypal or credit card through the “Add to Cart” link below.

I will sign all books before I send them and will dedicate them upon request.

Happy Holidays, everybody!


Dedicated to:


 

 

Free Love gets Honourable Mention

 

WIBA-honourablemention-hrI am thrilled that “Free Love” has received an Honourable Mention in the Whistler Independent Book Awards.

But I have to admit it took me a while to be happy about this. At first, rather than being grateful for what I got, I saw only what I didn’t get. Oh, I dutifully made a promotional fuss by announcing the award on Facebook and basking in the congratulatory comments. But I wasn’t really that impressed. I only focused on the fact that “Free Love” hadn’t made the long list. It wasn’t until the gold stickers came in mail and I started to put them on the books that I realized that for a first novel to get an Honourable Mention in a Canada-wide contest is … well … quite an honour. Now I’m delighted.

The Whistler Independent Book Awards were established this year by the Whistler Writing Society and Vivalogue Publishing. These are the first juried Canadian awards to recognize exceptional quality in independent publishing. The establishment of these awards recognizes the explosion in independent publishing over the last decade as more and more professional writers publish their own books.

NorthWords 2016

2016-Northwords-Postcard-1-e1463278526749 copyThe 11th Annual NorthWords Writers Festival: Breaking the Mold – Identity in Stories will take place in Yellowknife in only three weeks: June 2-5, 2016. I am absolutely thrilled, this year, to be one of the title authors this year, along with Lawrence Hill, Craig Davidson, Shane Turgeon, Teva Harrison, Carol Daniels, Miranda Hill and Shelagh Rogers.

I will be participating in the following events:

Thursday June 2, 2016

Festival Opening and Family BBQ (Baker Centre: 5-6:30 pm)

FLASH: Your 3 Minutes of Fame Open Mike (Top Knight: 8 – 11 pm)

Friday, June 3, 2016

One on One Mentoring: You can book 30 minutes of my time if you want to talk about your writing and/or publishing. There are four time slots available: 10 am; 10:45 am; 3 am; 3:45 am. (Please register at the Yellowknife Book Cellar. Fee: $30)

11th NorthWords Gala Readings (Explorer Hotel, Katimavik Rooms: 8 pm)

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Signings with a Sizzle (Yellowknife Book Cellar: 12 noon-1 pm)

BLUSH: An Evening of Erotica and Sensuality Open Mike (Explorer Hotel, Katimavik Rooms: 8 – 11 pm) 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Panel Discussion: What unites us –The heroine Explorer Hotel, Katimavik Rooms: 10 – 11:30 am)

For full program, visit: NorthWords

The things to do before writing

A short time ago, I made a resolution to write a weekly blog post every Friday. Even though I have broken this resolution several times already, this morning I decided to try again. But in between writing sentences, I suddenly felt compelled to do the following:

  • Check Facebook at least five times: once to read yet another tribute to Prince; once to read an article about why a lifelong atheist started to believe in God; three times to just scroll through the Facebook flotsam for anything of interest. (I swear Facebook was invented by the antichrist of Getting Things Done.)
  • Check Amazon and Goodreads to see if there are any new reviews of my novel “Free Love.”
  • Let in the dog. (Not my fault. She was scratching at the door and I couldn’t leave her to freeze in the cold.)
  • Clean behind the stove. (Also not my fault. For some incomprehensible reason, my retired husband, Bill, got the idea, for the first time since we moved into this house four years ago, to pull the stove out from the wall. He found spilled coffee grounds, greasy clumps of dog hair, miscellaneous stains, abandoned almonds, grapes that had petrified into raisons, and more. I couldn’t let him clean it by himself, could I?)

And now it’s lunchtime and I’m only partway through the blog. Then there’s grocery shopping, and walking the dog and … oh well, this all seems to be part of some strange ritual I have to go through every time I break the virginity of the empty page.*

*Wow! Isn’t that last phrase amazing? I’ve completely fallen in love it. When that happens it usually means it’s really bad and my editor would make me get rid of it immediately. However, I do not have a blog editor: hee, hee, hee.

The landscape of “Free Love”: Hamilton

Even though the protagonist in my book Free Love, Marissa, is a fictional character, I have given her some elements of my own biography (it was easier that way). In particular, when she was a young girl, she and her family immigrated to Canada from Holland, as I did. And  Marissa grew up in Hamilton, Ontario in the same era as I did: the 1960s.

Unlike Marissa’s, my family moved around a lot in Hamilton when I was growing up. There was one neighbourhood where I lived for a few years, starting from when I about 7 or 8. It was an inner-city neighbourhood full of working class families. Hamilton was known for steel production and just about everybody’s dad (except mine) worked for the steel company. It is this neighbourhood that comes to mind when I remember my childhood, and this is neighbourhood where I have placed the young Marissa.

I haven’t walked the streets, where young Marissa and I ran around, for more about thirty years. So when I was writing the scenes set in that neighbourhood, I relied on memory and imagination. But Mike Clark, an old friend in Hamilton and a photographer, was inspired to photograph it after reading Free Love. Much has changed from when I remember. It is more rundown and many of the big maple trees are gone. But the streets have that same gritty feel. Here are some of Mike’s photographs of Marissa’s and my old neighbourhood as it looks today.

IMG_0149Ford Street: “I turned the corner onto Ford Street, raced past the field and Mr. Smithers’house (making sure to keep my fingers crossed to ward off evil spirits) until I came to a stop in front of Nina’s grey stucco house across from the railroad tracks.”

IMG_0157The tunnel: “…when I got to the tunnel and peered into its gloom, it looked empty. Holding my breath against the stench of piss, I dragged my cart through the debris of broken glass and flattened cigarette packs.

 

IMG_0154The field: “Both the field and Nina and George’s stucco house that had stood on the corner were gone. In their place was a sterile apartment building.”

 

IMG_0151Yonge Street: “He jumped on a flatbed when it was still going fast, before it slowed down to take the turn into the Yonge Street underpass.”