Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Conversing Sisters: Thoughts on Addiction

Me & Lisa, circa 2013

In April, my sister, Lisa, passed away. I was 18 months when she was born - I've only known life with Lisa. Learning to live in the world without her has been difficult and painful. She was one of my master-teachers in unconditional love and kindness.

Lisa experienced many trials and heartache in her life - some from her own doing and some from the actions of others. She didn't allow this to make her bitter and hateful. Instead, she sought to bring light and love to this world. She did this imperfectly. And her effort was a thing of beauty and inspiration.

She had great wisdom and insight. Lisa's big dream was to share these insights with humanity as a way to bring more light and healing to a world that she new intimately to be filled with darkness and destruction.

Her Facebook page is full of quotes and thoughts about how we can be better humans and more loving towards each other. She would tag countless people in these posts, clogging our Facebook feeds with light and love. This would often drive me crazy and now...


...and now I miss her.

Lisa was a writer and speaker. Her voice was silenced way to soon.

Today is her 38th birthday. My gift to her, is in the spirit of her big dream, is to share some of her wisdom and insights with you.

In 2012, Lisa and I did a writing project focused on the Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) 12 Step program. We decided to do this project for a number of reasons: (1) She had been sober for a few years and was heavily involved in AA. She wanted me to understand the AA program better and I wanted the same; (2) We want to work on our writing skills; and (3) We found it fascinating that we could grow up in the same house and have different ways of being in the world, different perspectives, and different memories. AND be similar in so many ways.

The project lasted for 14 weeks. Every week we wrote independently about the same topic/step. At the end of the week, we read each other's essay and gave feedback. After finishing the project we talked about what we wanted to do with it but never took action.

I've decided to share it here to honor and celebrate her.

I'll release one a week over the next 14 weeks.

I hope that this series will bring understanding, compassion, empathy and healing to those who are struggling with addiction and to those who love addicts.

I hope that it gives comfort to those of us grieving the loss of Lisa and wanting more of Lisa in the world.

Happy Birthday, Lisa. I love you and miss you.

This post is part of a series of writings I did with my sister, Lisa, in 2012. Our thoughts and perspectives reflect a moment in time. They may or may not have changed in the passing years.


Lisa's Thoughts  

The definition of addiction according to dictionary.com is, “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming.”

Dr. Dyer would also add not getting enough of what you don't want. I agree with both definitions however I would like to add that addiction is the unconscious search for a pseudo-state of well-being.

For me, when I put substances in my body I felt a sense of relief, a level of okayness and comfortability within my own skin. What I was not aware of when I began drinking regularly is that it was giving me a false sense of self and a pseudo-state of spirituality. Alcohol and drugs seemed to fill that hole that ached inside of me. The only problem was the euphoric effects offered were simply temporary. So, it made perfect sense to me to continue to consume as much as I could as often as possible to achieve that false sense of well being.

In addition, what seems to be the solution and your saving grace, in the end, ends up becoming your Master. Because you "don't fit in" without it, the lengths you will go to to obtain it lead to incomprehensible demoralization as the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous talks about. I have learned that addicts do not continue to drink and use because they necessarily want to. They have just come to a place that trying to live without it seems impossible.

I know that throughout the duration of my drinking career there would be sober moments where I would have some clarity and then the guilt and shame from my behavior would overwhelm me to the point that I would be convinced that suicide was the only option. Sobriety was not. I remember those sober moments as feeling excruciating pain. In my mind, I was a victim and if you had my Father or my ex-husbands or my etc. you would drink too.

As I continued to drink, my life quickly became chaotic and eventually there was no amount of alcohol or drugs that could get me drunk or high enough to be numb. My solution had stopped working. So now what?

Although drinking had several consequences, up to and including drinking my children away, it honestly never occurred to me to quit drinking. I didn't correlate the wreckage with the alcohol. I believed everyone else was to blame and that I wasn't hurting anyone else but myself.

This is the disease of perception that I have found most addicts suffer from. Their soul is dis-eased (diseased) and the only hope for recovery is a spiritual solution. The problem I found early on in my recovery journey is that a spiritual solution must include God.

I had become so afraid of God. I truly believed that there was no hope for me.

I didn’t know there were other people like me.

I knew that most people didn’t live the way I did. Before I found AA, I was convinced, yet again, that I was hopeless. I can tell you from the time I was a very young child I always had the perception that I was different and didn’t fit in.  My sisters seemed to have this bond and although I would try desperately to fit in, in my mind, I just never did. I didn’t seem to connect with my Mother. I always felt like she tolerated me but didn’t necessarily enjoy being my Mother. I did connect to an extent with my Father. We seemed to think alike, however, he was so mean at times that my thoughts had once again convinced me that he hated me too.

So, here I was 28 years old with really nothing left to speak of except for losing 2 children, failing at 2 marriages and a family that I believed truly didn’t want me.  I remember looking back on my life the first day I was sober - December 10, 2007: I had given a child up for adoption. I was molested by a family member when I was a small child. I had been hospitalized several times throughout my life for depression, alcoholism, etc.

What is to become of me?  How do I stay sober without all of this pain?  Will I ever be loved and forgiven?  Will I ever be the Mother I agreed to be?  How can I be a part of a family who doesn’t want me?

I had so many questions and no answers but I knew to drink again would be a slow and painful death so it was either immediate suicide or sobriety. Trust me, suicide was really the option I chose but I had to try for my two small children at the time.

What I am trying to emphasize here is...

I also have learned that I am addicted to everything from food to men and any substance in between because of the way I think and believe.

Although addiction has been a heavy cross to bear, it turns out it has been the greatest asset in my life today.

Liz’s Response 

Lisa, thank you for sharing this with me.

Liz's Thoughts  

Loving an addict is painful.


I’ve developed pains in my chest that feel as though someone reaches inside, squeezes my heart, and let’s go. I’ve been acutely aware of the emotional and psychological turmoil of losing my sisters to addiction, but it wasn’t until I went to a doctor that I realize that my sisters’ addictions are affecting me physically.

I went through the stages of grief, which was odd because my sisters were still alive - that is their bodies were still alive but I no longer knew the person. So, actually, my sisters – the sisters that I knew – were dead or maybe they were just missing.

Sadness, disappointment, longing would come in waves, sometimes separately, sometimes all at once. I missed the conversations we used to have. I missed their laughter and points of view.

I became angry - angry that they would choose alcohol and drugs over their children, over the family. I understood that addiction was a disease, and not exactly a choice, but at first it was impossible to hold space for that understanding with compassion. I wanted to scratch their eyes out. I was angry about the trauma they were causing in their children’s lives and how these children would not know the parts of my sisters that were imprisoned by the addiction.  

All of this was too much for me and so I dissociated. I stopped calling them and wouldn’t answer their 3AM phone calls.

And yet, every time my phone rang the first thought that went through my head was - which one is dead?

I’d look at the caller ID.

If it wasn’t a family member, I’d exhale.

If it was a family member, I’d hold my breath in anticipation.

This went on for years and eroded my sense of well being. I missed my sisters. I loved my sisters. I felt abandoned and alone.

Lisa's Response

Liz, I so appreciated your honesty.

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  1. Oh this is so touching and honest. Thank you for putting it out there. It brings up such a strong reaction within myself that I am overwhelmed with the desire to cry and to tell everyone to read this so they can truly see how trauma brings about addiction and how we can love and understand each other. Love this, love Lisa.

    1. Thank you, Angela. Lisa speaks so candidly about the correlation between addiction and trauma. There's so much shame around both these topics. Brene Brown says that shame needs secrecy, silence and judgement. Shame cannot survive empathy. I hope that in sharing this conversation that we can diminish the shame and increase empathy.

  2. It hurts to read because so much of this rings true. I am amazed that you and Lisa were able to do this together with such honesty. Thank you, thank you for sharing.

    1. Anon, You are so welcome. Honesty was one of my favorite things about my relationship with Lisa. She always said - love in one hand and truth in the other. I hope that this series will continue to speak truth to you. Big hug!

  3. Yes, thank you Liz...and thank you Lisa - for sharing this incredibly powerful conversation - honest, validating, painful, loving. It truly is overwhelming to take in. I am looking forward to the coming entries. With gratitude and love...

    1. You are welcome, Kellie. Thank you for reading our words and commenting. I look forward to sharing more of our conversations with you.

  4. So beautiful Liz and Lisa. My God what an open and honest exchange. I'm eager to read them all.

    1. Thank you, Ubiquitous Blue. The openness and honesty is at the core of these exchanges. I look forward to sharing all of them with you.

  5. Liz, my sincerest thanks for your (and Lisa's) astounding bravery and honesty. I too am eager to read the rest.

    1. You are welcome, Anon. I find that when I get honest with myself and others, bravery is almost a byproduct. Thank you stopping by and reading our words.

  6. So Beautiful, Please post your other entries to out Boss band of sober sisters facebook page so all our members can read them. Very inspiring.. thank you

  7. You are welcome, MiStY. Thank you for offering your FB page as a place to share this series. I'll definitely post there as well. It works, if you work it. :-)

  8. Liz you are always the pioneer of creative thought and action. Thank you for taking the time to do this project with Lisa what a treasure to now have!
    I am writing this as tears are streaming down my face, the vulnerability and honesty are so touching. It makes me remember some of my own conversations with Lisa and how bright and articulate she could be. It's funny this last week, the week of Lisa's birthday, I was thinking of all of you so much, I was in Alaska were you all spent so much time and I remembered it was her birthday.
    I hope as people read this it gives some understanding of how trauma and addiction go hand in hand and I hope that there can be more "light and love" as Lisa would have put it, to each other.

    1. Thank you, Kristy. I love that you were in AK for her birthday. I miss those conversations. This writing project was gift when we did it 4 years ago and it has been a gift over the passed few months. I hope it is a gift to others and that it does as you say.