The Courage to Speak

Courage means a whole lot of things to a whole lot of people. To me, courage means doing what you know is right despite the fear or repercussions. Most of the time that applies to me sharing my truth about recovery – what my life used to look like and what it looks like today – despite worrying about what people are going to think or do with that information.

For the most part, I’m pretty open about my recovery, but there are times when I’d rather side-step the truth and just omit that part of my life. You know, take an eraser and make it nice and clean.

Recently, my husband and I were asked to speak to our church on tithing – time, talent and treasure. Basically, they wanted us to each share how the church has impacted us individually, as a family and in what ways we give back. When Tyler first mentioned it to me, I think I said something like “Ugh, why us?” I mean, we’re involved, but we’re not THAT involved. Surely, there is someone more qualified than me. Heck, I just became Catholic less than two years ago and there’s people who have been in the church their entire lives!

So, we ho hummed about it and finally decided that it was something we needed (not necessarily wanted) to do. I guess you could say, us not wanting to do it was a sign that we probably should do it. Definitely a “God-thing.”

Tyler wrote his part and I wrote mine. As I read over mine, looking for corrections, I kept feeling this nagging inside of me. I had been pretty honest, but not really. I had referred to a “difficult” time in my life three and a half years ago that had greatly impacted my relationship with the Church and God, but that’s as far as I went. Something kept telling me if I was going to stand up there in front of hundreds of my fellow parishioners and give my testimony, that I might as well let it all hang out – the good, the bad and the ugly. But, holy cow! What would they think? What would they say? Very few people at church knew my story. To most of them, I was just that mom who sat on the right-hand side of the church a few rows back from the front.

One evening, I told Tyler “I need to share my whole truth. I need to share about the alcoholism.” At first, he had the same fears I initially had. Did I really need to share ALL of it? Yes, I did. I knew without a doubt that I had to share MY truth. And, with that I re-wrote my portion of our talk, which goes as follows:

As Tyler mentioned, I come from a very different background. I wasn’t raised in any particular church, in fact, I was never baptized. It wasn’t until I met Tyler that I attended my first Catholic Mass. In all honestly, I was expecting an old, stodgy Priest with a totally irrelevant message. You can imagine my surprise when Fr. George, who many of you will remember from Queen of Peace, stood up and started talking. He was young (well, younger), dynamic and engaging. Not only was I surprised by his relevancy; I was surprised by how comfortable I felt in those pews. But, most of all, I was surprised by the peace I felt. It was the first time I had felt completely at home in a church setting.

Years went by and I continued to attend weekly Mass with Tyler, eventually baptizing both of our children in the Church. However, it wasn’t until three and a half years ago when I experienced the lowest point in my life, the reality that I was an alcoholic and my marriage was in shambles, that I was faced with a choice: open my heart to God and answer His knock, or continue down the same path that had led me to that point in my life.

Fortunately, I chose God’s path, and at my lowest moments, when I could barely drag myself out of bed or get through a single day, it was the strength of God and the peace of this Church that held me up – the same peace I experienced during that first Mass I attended years ago.

How can I repay a God and a Church that has provided me with so much? The reality is, I can’t, but I can live my life trying to the best of my ability. Two years ago I had the privilege of going through Brad’s first RCIA class, where I was baptized and confirmed into the Church. Over the years, I have given my time and talents in many ways, including participating in Catholic Bible studies and book groups, pro-life organizations and just this past year taught Vacation Bible School here at St. Ed’s.

As Tyler mentioned, there is no wrong on right way when it comes to tithing. While money and time are always appreciated, often the most important thing we can do as members of the Church is to be active participants in daily or weekly Mass; praying, singing, praising God and staying after Communion to hear uplifting talks like this!

Thank you for your time and God bless.

I didn’t share my truth about being an alcoholic for shock value or for attention. Like I mentioned before, I never wanted to be up there in the first place – with sweaty hands and a quivering voice – all while hundreds of eyes stared up at me. Yikes! No thanks.

No, I stood up there, feeling totally vulnerable, because I made a promise to God a long time ago when I first got sober. I promised that if I ever had the opportunity to share my story and maybe, just maybe, help someone else in the process, I would do it. I knew the nagging feeling I had felt was God saying, “Do it. Share it all.”

And, that my friends, took every ounce of courage I had.

I know God doesn’t want me to feel ashamed of my past and who I am, because the truth is, my story is His story. It is He who made me; and He who saved me. And, it is Him who continues to guide and direct me – but, only if I will listen.

The Gift of Plan B


So…it’s been a long time. And, I’ve completely neglected this blog, but I’d like to think it was for good reason. In the beginning of sobriety, we often wonder how life will go on. How will we function without the daily drinks or glass (or um, bottle) of wine? How will we handle social situations? How will we ever make up for all the harm and destruction we have caused? We slowly see the need for a new normal, but the reality of it being long-term is terrifying. And, then we start to question if it’s all really worth it. Wouldn’t it be easier to go back to our old normal, the normal we were so used to and comfortable with? But, we know we can’t if we want to keep our families, our marriage, our children – our life.

If we’re one of the lucky ones, we begin to reluctantly accept the new normal. Like a child taking their first steps, we slowly, carefully venture into the unknown. We fall, we skin our knees, but we continue until we gain our balance and walk slowly, but steady. And, then the day comes along when we realize we’re running.

It’s not the path we intended to take, but it somehow got us where we needed to be – where we were meant to be all along.

On August 28th, I celebrated three years of sobriety. The day came and went without a lot of excitement or acknowledgment. Most of all, I felt peace and contentment.

Over the last month, we have moved to what we consider our “dream house.” It’s an older home on two acres in the Oregon valley with room for the kids to run and for us to have a big garden and raise a few animals. During the first week we were here, my husband and I were standing in the kitchen and he turned to me, and hugging me said, “This is the happiest I’ve ever been since we’ve been married.”

I will never forget his words or how they made me feel – totally and completely loved. All of the pain, anger and hurt I once caused and felt has been replaced with a love I never knew possible.

Every day I thank God for my plan B and this new normal I was blessed to have.

When We Feel Too Much

Sometimes I wish I didn’t feel so much. I was reminded by my sponsor (again) today that I’m sensitive, emotional and all-too feeling at times. I’m sure there’s a million jokes that could be made about women and emotions, but in all seriousness, it can be devastating for someone like me; an alcoholic who used to drink to escape feeling.

I envy people like my husband who can be sad and empathize with what others are going through without taking on their feelings. Instead, I dive head first and take on their sadness, grief and heartache as if it were my own until it’s no longer about them, but about me (did I mention I can be really self-centered too?). Then, I slowly get sucked into this all-consuming depressive state of mind where everything is wrong and nothing is right in the world. My relationships and my spiritual life suffer. I find myself feeling angry, alone and isolated – the perfect storm for a relapse.

Even though I’ve been sober for a while now, it’s times like these when I know I can’t do this alone. I have to grab onto that life-preserver we call recovery if I’m going to pull myself out of it. Whether it’s going to meetings or meeting individually with my sponsor, I must be reminded on a regular basis that I AM AN ALCOHOLIC and what might seem laughable to some, is no joke for me. Because, that feeling, sensitive and emotional side of me that gets out of control at times could lead me to my death. Is that extreme? Maybe. Real? Absolutely.

Sometimes, it’s as simple as my sponsor looking at me and saying, “Chenoa, you need to put up some boundaries between other people’s feelings and your own.” Just because someone else is experiencing grief, sadness or pain doesn’t mean I have to take on their feelings as my own. I can feel bad for them and reach out to them, but I can’t, under any circumstances, let their experiences define my mood or behavior.

On this Ash Wednesday, I’m feeling renewed; stronger than I was yesterday or even this morning. As I go forward in this Lenten season, I want to focus less on myself and more on my spiritual condition and my relationship with God. I want to step out of myself and what I want for my life, and focus more on what God wants for me. How can I be the best version of myself? And, how can I better serve those around me?

I am reminded, yet again, that this is all part of the journey, and I find peace in trusting that God knows what He is doing and where He is leading me.



23 Years

This gallery contains 13 photos.

Originally posted on Wanderlust:
On Thursday, I celebrated 23 years of sobriety. My son Paul, presented me with my medallion. It was a very special and magical night filled with fellowship, friendship, and love. This is the gift of sobriety. And while it’s important to celebrate these milestones for our own recovery, it is equally…

Maintenance Required

Today can be a hard day for those of us in recovery. In the past, Christmas Eve was a day (and I do mean most of the day) of drinking and partying. Today, it’s not about that, but I’m always aware of the extra diligence I have to take around this time of year.

I recently started working the 12 steps again with a new sponsor. Not because I was worried about my sobriety (although I’m always a little worried), but because I had become complacent in my sobriety. Things have been good, but I wasn’t “working” my program. I was busy living my life, starting a new business, taking care of my kids – being present. All of that is good – it’s really good. It means I’m reaping the benefits of my sobriety, but at some point I stopped and realized that I wasn’t maintaining my sobriety. Because, at the end of the day it’s my sobriety that made my life as I know it possible, and what happens if I don’t take care of the one thing that got me to this point?

So, I started from the beginning. I’m at step one, which is where I admit I’m powerless over alcohol. Yep, I am – totally and completely powerless over alcohol. No matter how successful I am, how much education I have under my belt, how good I look on the outside, how much I workout to stay healthy – when it comes to that bottle of wine or open bar, I am unable to stop at one. I will do everything (and have done everything) to try and convince myself that I can stop. But, when it’s all said and done, I simply can’t.

As I began reading in my recovery book again, I was just as shocked as I was the first time, three years ago, when I first read through the pages. Once again, I saw myself in those pages. It was me they were writing about it. How could that be? How could they know so much about the insanity that I went through each and every day. Again, I felt the comfort in knowing that it wasn’t just me. I wasn’t alone. There were and had been other people who had felt just like me – who had gone before me and lived to tell about it.

And, I was reminded yet again that no matter how much time goes by; how good we feel; how successful we are in our life and sobriety; we will never be safe from the grips of our alcoholism.

Most of us have believed that if we remained sober for a long stretch, we could thereafter drink normally…We have seen the truth demonstrated again and again: ‘Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.’ Commencing to drink after a period of sobriety, we are in a short time as bad as ever.

I know this is true because I have seen it more times than I’d like to admit. Yet, I can have all the knowledge in the world, but if I’m not maintaining my sobriety I can give into that first drink as quickly as the other person. No matter how much sobriety I may have, I am no stronger than the other alcoholic who has one day sober.

When I first got sober, I found strength and solace in reading the sobriety website Crying Out Now and the blog One Crafty Mother both started by Ellie, who also founded the podcast The Bubble Hour. I related to Ellie’s story and connected to her as a person and fellow sober woman. After many years of sobriety and much success, she relapsed nine months ago. It was bad and she suffered immensely, yet she is one of the lucky ones. She lived through it and is now talking about it openly and honestly. If you do one thing today, please read Ellie’s post here from yesterday. It might just save your life. Thanks, Ellie, for being so brave.


Happy, Joyous and Free

Christmas 14

Happy, joyous and free. To be honest, I never thought I would use those words to describe myself, but that’s how I described myself in a meeting today. Sometimes, it’s even hard for me to believe because it’s such a far cry from where I was three years ago at this time. It was my last holiday season drinking and I was miserable. I was so angry – lashing out at everyone around me; picking fights with those who loved me. The more I tried to control things, the worse they got. Despite the love that surrounded me, I had never felt so lonely before.

I don’t like remembering those times, in fact, it’s painful to think back to what I was like then. That’s not the person I want to remember, but I know she’s part of my story. Because, without her, I wouldn’t be where I am today. How did I get here? How could “that” person turn into the person I am today? The only answer I have is by God’s grace. When I was at my lowest point, God’s love and mercy was the only thing that could break through the hard shell I had created around me. Slowly, He put people, programs and a church in my life that would eventually build me up and bring me back from the depths of loneliness and fear I had been living in for so long.

Today, I’m at peace. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow or the next day, but it doesn’t matter because I have faith in a God who turned that lonely, frightened girl into the happy, joyous and free woman I am today. I’m done fighting and lashing out at those around me. I’m done trying to control my life. It’s not mine to control anyway. I wake up each morning and ask for God’s guidance and direction. I give it all over to Him. And, by doing so I’m completely and totally free.

Merry Christmas, friends! Peace be with you!


When Someone You Love is an Alcoholic

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I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately – how things used to be and how things are today. It’s like black and white TV versus color. My life before I got sober is almost unrecognizable to me. On August 28th, I celebrated two years of sobriety and my husband would agree that the last two years have been the best of our almost 10 year marriage. I often wonder why me? Why was I one of the lucky ones who got to this point? The only thing I can come up with is by the grace of God. And, a husband who said, enough is enough.

In just the past couple of weeks, I’ve been approached by a number of people who are worried about a family members drinking. “What do I do?” they ask. “How can I get them to stop?” It’s really the million dollar question. And, I don’t pretend to have the answer. I can only share with them what I know from my experience and what worked for me. And, a few things I’ve learned along the way from Al-Anon.

First and foremost, you cannot make someone stop drinking.

But, you can take control of your environment and how you react to someone’s drinking. Believe me, you can yell at a person, bribe them and threaten them until you’re blue in the face and it’s not going to make them quit. The problem I see most often, is that the family has allowed the person who is drinking to have total control over their environment. I know because I did the same thing when I was drinking. Everyone tip-toes around the issue because God forbid you create a stir. No one wants to make an “issue” out of it despite the fact that the “issue” is ruining everyone’s life! People become so wrapped up in the drinker’s life, that they forget they have their own life to live. And, so the cycle begins: denial – enabling – denial – enabling. And, so on.

It’s a vicious cycle and the ones who get hurt the most are the family members. Heck, the drinker doesn’t care because they’re going along their happy way doing what they’ve always done. They have you right where they want you. Fearful and feeling helpless.

So, what do you do? You say enough is enough. You create boundaries. You tell the drinker you love them, but you do not love their drinking. You take control of your life and do what you need to do to reclaim a healthy environment for you and your family. Despite the fear of the unknown or the fear of others finding out your family’s “secret,” you reach out for help. If you’re living with the drinker, you pack up your things and leave. “But, I don’t have anywhere to go.” Yes, you do. There is ALWAYS a place to go or someone to call.

Alcoholism is a family disease. Living with the effects of someone else’s drinking is too devastating for most people to bear without help. – Al-Anon

When my husband sat me down and asked me if I was ready to stop drinking for good, I finally knew I had come to a fork in the road. I could either continue drinking and lose my marriage, my kids and everything I loved, or I could get help and stop drinking. For me, that’s what it took. For others, they might have to lose everything before they get to the point where they want to stop drinking. It’s not our decision to make as family members. First and foremost, we take care of ourselves and strive to live happy and joyous lives.

In Al-Anon we learn:

  • Not to suffer because of the actions or reactions of other people
  • Not to allow ourselves to be used or abused by others in the interest of another’s recovery
  • Not to do for others what they can do for themselves
  • Not to manipulate situations so others will eat, go to bed, get up, pay bills, not drink or behave as we see fit
  • Not to cover up for another’s mistakes or misdeeds
  • Not to create a crisis
  • Not to prevent a crisis if it is in the natural course of event

“By learning to focus on ourselves, our attitudes and well-being improve. We allow the alcoholics in our lives to experience the consequences of their own actions.”

And, to those of you who drink or use, let me say this: you are not a bad person. More than likely, you have the disease of alcoholism or addiction. But, you want to know the really good news? Unlike cancer or other diseases, it’s curable. Yes, a curable disease! How did we get so lucky?! All you have to do is reach out and ask, and you will find the keys to the cure.

Before I end, let me ask those of you who drink or use two important questions that my husband once asked me. 1) What are you willing to lose in order to continue drinking or using and 2) Is the drink or drug more important to you than those you love? You would think those would be simple questions, but I had to think long and hard before answering them. Remember this, even those who love us can only take so much before they break.



I Take My Sobriety Seriously

Is anyone else a little pissed off? Less than a week after “we” all blogged about Robin William’s death and reemphasized how deadly addiction and depression can be, one of our fellow sober bloggers comes out and says that after almost three years of identifying as an alcoholic she’s decided she’s in fact not an alcoholic and therefore can drink again. WTF?!

I’ve been mulling over this ever since I read her post last night. First, I thought that maybe I should just send her a private message and express my feelings, but then I thought, “No. Nope. I need everyone to hear what I have to say.” I need to say this for all the other sober folks out there who are and will forever be alcoholics – like me.

I take my sobriety very seriously. It saved my family life, my marriage, my relationships – and ultimately I believe it saved my life. It gave me a second chance to live the life I always wanted and it is the sole reason I came to have a personal relationship with God.

We all have our own stories. And, no story is alike. I respect that. However, when someone who has identified as an alcoholic; shared their story and given advice to others in recovery suddenly changes their tune and publicly states that they’re in fact not an alcoholic, it is an insult to me and everyone else who has worked their asses off to achieve our sobriety.

I have all the respect in the world for those of us who relapse and come back to share our stories (I’ve been there). But, for someone to blatantly state that they are no longer an alcoholic and can now control or moderate their drinking, is a very dangerous message to those in recovery, especially early recovery.

I blog for many reasons, but one of the main reasons is to give hope to those who are in early recovery. Often times, this is the first place people will look when they’re trying to get sober. Whether it’s to remain anonymous or not, people come here to find support and encouragement. When I was first getting sober, I can’t tell you how many times I questioned whether or not I was REALLY an alcoholic. Everything pointed in the direction of me being an alcoholic, but I was looking for any excuse to not be one. I mean come on; who wants that label for the rest of their life? If I would’ve come across a post like the one I previously mentioned in early recovery, it would have given me one more reason to question my alcoholism.

Not only are messages like these dangerous for those in early recovery, but also for those of us with some long-term recovery. That cunning and baffling part of my disease still likes to rear its ugly head and challenge my sobriety. It’s like having a little devil on your shoulder that says, “Come on! Look at you! You’re so put together and everything is going great. Surly, you could have just one drink. Surly, you wouldn’t go back to where you were before.” And, that’s when I have to mentally squash that little devil because I know without a doubt that if I ever took even one drink again it would lead me exactly back to where I used to be. And, I truly believe it would kill me. Maybe not immediately; maybe not in a violent way, but, in the end, I believe I would die from alcohol-related reasons. I don’t know about you, but that scares the hell out of me and that’s something I’m not willing to risk – even for one drink.

I have had friends who have identified as alcoholics and addicts who ultimately decided that they could drink again. I don’t dislike them for making that decision, but I know for the safety of my own sobriety I can’t hang out with them anymore. Similarly, I don’t dislike my fellow blogger for the decision she ultimately made, however, I think sharing that decision with an audience of mostly sober people is irresponsible and dangerous.

It’s not my intent to create a big controversy, however, I think it’s important for those of us in recovery to defend our sobriety and remind others why we’re here.

The Struggle to Survive

Be Kind

I was in my last year of college when I got diagnosed with depression and put on my first prescription of antidepressants. I now know leading up to that I had experienced my first mental break. I collapsed in my bedroom and my good friend at the time had to call my mom. She helped me pack my suitcase and I managed to get in my car the next day and drive home. I spent an entire week on my parents’ couch, mostly sleeping and only getting up to shower and eat. It was awful and scary. And, little did I know that I would continue to be plagued by those feelings for the rest of my life.

In graduate school, I was “officially” diagnosed with textbook Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which would manifest itself in severe compulsive activity and anxiety, which would then transfer to depression and feelings of despair. It was a horrible cycle and the only way I can describe it is like being stuck in quicksand. The more I tried to pull myself out of it, the deeper I sank. At the time, I had taken a break from my studies to regroup and was working at a nearby gym. I had an early morning shift and I vividly remember times driving back from work and thinking how easy it would be to just run my car off the road; and it would all be over. I felt guilty for the anguish and worry I was causing those around me and, in my desperation, I honestly thought it would be best for everyone if I was gone. Fortunately, the part of my brain that was rational was able to talk the manic and irrational side out of it. I was one of the lucky ones; or as I now believe, it was not God’s will for my life.

As the years went by, I would have good days and bad days. But, when my son was born, and I suffered from what I now believe was undiagnosed postpartum depression, I found refuge in drinking. Like many people who suffer from depression, drinking became my other “medicine.” It’s how I escaped the anguish, despair and loneliness I felt. I was ashamed that I couldn’t just “snap” out of it, which made me sink deeper and deeper into my despair. To those looking in from the outside, my life seemed happy and wonderful. However, at the time, I found little joy and happiness.

I share this because when people talk about the selfishness of those who commit suicide or state that suicide is a choice; I highly doubt that they have ever experienced the despair of depression and addiction. By no means do I agree that taking your life is the answer; I don’t. I believe that all life is a God-given gift to be treated with the utmost respect. But, I also believe, that like any disease left untreated, depression and addiction can and will kill you.

Those of us who do suffer from these diseases must take care of ourselves, which is why I couldn’t get to a meeting fast enough last night. I was starting to become complacent in my recovery. I wasn’t attending meetings, and just as I had heard from others’ experiences, I hit a wall. A day that was already filled with sadness from the anniversary of a close friend’s death, was exasperated with the news of Robin Williams’ death. And, with everything else going on in the world – it became too much. I felt myself begin to sink in that quicksand. The anger, anxiety and depressive thoughts were welling up inside of me and it scared me. Because, I know those feelings lead to a need for escape. The alcoholic in me doesn’t want to feel them; I want to drown them out until I get to a place of total and complete numbness.

So, when my husband got home, I high tailed it out of our house and drove to a new women’s meeting I had been wanting to go to. And, the minute I walked in and was greeted with smiles and hugs, I was able to breathe again. I was with my people. People who knew and understood the despair I was feeling. As we went around the room, we laughed over our crazy alcoholic stories and cried over this disease that has taken so many of us.

But, in the end, we all expressed how grateful we were to be there, in that meeting, not as addicts or alcoholics, but as survivors.

Today I am a survivor, but I know how quickly I could become a victim to this disease. We must be vigilant in our recovery and treatment – and we must ask for help.


Life In 6 Songs

I’m excited and honored to be featured over on Christy of Running on Sober’s blog today in her final series of “Life In 6 Songs.” Please click here to read more.

I’d like to dedicate this post to my dear friend Sadie, who went to be with the angels one year ago today. She was my best friend’s little sister and continues to be missed each and every day. When we look back on our lives, we see people in the background who influenced us and helped to shape us into the people we are today. Sadie was one of those people.