Unclosed

“What if nothing’s wrong with you?”
– My father

In a short story I read as a teenager, aliens performed vivisection on an abducted human man and reconstructed his brain, nerves, muscles and bones so that every thought and every movement created pain. Then they dropped him back off at home.

Untitled by Trish Shelor White

That has been my conception of having alcoholism. My first drink was my own doing. But after that, something was done to me against my wishes, against my will, and I ended up unlike anyone I’ve ever known. On the comforting bell curve of the human condition where I treasured my place as one of many because everyone fits somewhere, I felt thrown to the edge of the paper.

After three years of abstinence from alcohol, some cognitive functioning is returning. I am remembering who I used to be a decade ago before I started drinking. But who is this aching, pale entity inhabiting my body? Something’s been altered, distorted, changed. O, how I miss you, my former self! And the merciless pain. How did this come to pass?

. . . . .

I’ve been studying the work of Pauline Boss, particularly this book, and her conception of ambiguous loss – “an unclear loss that defies closure.” A researcher and therapist, she began working with families of soldiers missing in action during the Vietnam War, then continued with those who had a person in their lives physically missing but present in thought, and then with those who had a person physically present but psychologically absent through a cognitive impairment. In people with both losses, she discovered a complex grief and chronic sadness. How is a person to handle both presence and absence, the push-pull of hope for having, plus the doubt of never having again?

“Hold on and let go.”
– Pauline Boss

What if, as my father asked me, nothing is wrong with me? Boss writes, “Ambiguous loss is a relational disorder and not an individual pathology.” I had a colleague tell me about 35 years ago, “You’re the loneliest person I’ve ever met.” What if I’m not an outlier, but experiencing a deep, unclosed, on-going grief? What if I’ve just been very sad for a very long time?

. . . . .

We timed it perfectly. I was a teacher and if my husband and I waited until fall to conceive a child, I would have the summer off with our newborn. In October, 1986, I would stop using birth control. Delight in each other began us in September but I didn’t conceive that month so our plan was safe. We picked out names for a girl and a boy and I began to buy baby clothes – a pastel green onesy, a darling twosy with orange duckies. I began to love that girl and that boy.

I never did conceive. I see by the display on the corner of this computer screen that I have been missing my babies for 40 years.

. . . . .

Part of what I lost when I couldn’t have children was my identity. I thought I was a full-blooded, fertile woman. I became a wisp of hay, neutral, neither female nor male.

The corpus of who I want to be and think I am keeps getting carved away.

I was a married woman; when my marriage ended, I was a spinster.

I was a master teacher, a champion of ideas; when the student shoved me in my classroom, the trauma felled me. I was a cowering victim.

I was a person with a sacred sanctuary within; when I developed alcoholism, I lost what makes me a self. Nora Vokow writes, “People suffering from addictions are not morally weak; they suffer a disease that has compromised something that the rest of us take for granted: the ability to exert will and follow through with it.”

With the help  of others, I became abstinent from alcohol. I am not free or safe but continuously besieged from within.

The pain is unbearable.

And yet I long to live.

If I showed my “me and not-me” list to Pauline Boss, I believe she would say my thoughts are understandable, but they are examples of “either-or” thinking – it’s either all good or it’s all bad – and a source of anguished suffering. She urges people living in the presence of absence to cultivate “both-and” thinking. I have to step farther back, open my arms wide, live deep, and accept what happened then and this happening now. I have to accept that I both was and am. I must grow my heart and mind to be present for the whole of it.

Pauline Boss counsels, “To stay in control, differentiate what you can control from what you cannot. When you’ve tried everything, and there’s nothing else you can do, go with the flow. Embrace the ambiguity. Know that the world isn’t always fair – that things don’t always go your way and that this isn’t your fault. You’re doing the best you can.”

Yes. With the both-and, push-pull of me and not-me, I am doing the best I can.

Image: Untitled by Trish Shelor White, a founder of Choices Recovery Center

Catch That Thought, Hold That Feeling

After three years of abstinence from alcohol, on an existential scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is “I am nothing,” 5 is “I am enough most of the time,” and 10 is “I am everything,” I’m settling into 5ish. I know I’m not more powerful than gravity or death. I know I’m powerful enough, in this moment, to pretty much do what I intend to do, with the understanding that the tidal wave of the human condition may gather in a torrent and wash me and my good intentions away.

With one exception. My intention to not drink is of questionable power.

A thought just on the edge of awareness

A thought just on the edge of awareness

For me, alcoholism doesn’t feel like part of the “human condition.” Yes, I am human and it happened to me, but what I consider my most precious, fundamental power as a human, as a person, as Anne – the ability to do what I will and want – vanished.

I so appreciate the tireless work research, medical and treatment professionals are doing to unravel the snarl of what addiction is and what will cure or mitigate it in sufferers, an estimated 5% of the world’s 7+ billion people, an estimated 10% of the U.S. population. I appreciate that President Obama is proposing spending $1 billion on addictions treatment, specifically for opioid addiction. If or when that’s approved, what to do in the future may be clearer.

But right here, right now, not in the future, I, Anne, one minuscule member of the 7+billion, want a drink.

I have trouble conveying to people who don’t have what I have the sadness that comes with that want. The only comparison that’s close: I imagine my mother, gone now four years, in her nightgown walking in a field of grass and wildflowers. I would give anything, anything to see her again. I don’t even need to talk with her, just to see her. I just want to see if she’s all right, just strolling and gazing, absorbed in her own thoughts. I step right and left, lean my head right and left, but some entity is in the way, blocking my view just as I think I catch a glimpse. The entity conveys wordlessly that if I do a deal with it, that if I say I’ll give anything to see her, then I have to give my very self. But then I will be allowed to see her. My mother taught me never, ever to give myself away. So I stand there, torn, my chest ripping open with longing.

I have spent three years trying to figure out how to make that want go away. I’ve chronicled only a few of my billion attempts in this blog. My father even hired a team of researchers to join me in studying the literature to discover best practices for addictions recovery. Some of those findings are compiled here (.pdf opens in new tab).

All of the counseling and support group attendance and the support of friends and family member and ways I’ve tried have given a wonderfully supportive context to my not having had a drink for three years.

But right here, right now, I want a drink. And it’s as if none of those three years have happened or had any meaning or value whatsoever. I’m not thinking of whom I can call or what I can do.

It’s me and my longing. We’re it. While the addictions treatment world is scrambling this very moment to find a solution to the addictions problem, I’m looking down at my chest and my breastbone is starting to rip like paper.

catch that thought

hold that feeling

I envision myself catching each thought I have – about drinking, about my mother, about her white nightgown dotted with pink roses, about what a loser I am for becoming an alcoholic – and drawing them to me, and I can feel the emotions these thoughts create in me – horror, regret, sorrow – and I hold them to me close, comforting, holding, reassuring, murmuring that it’s all going to be okay, that we can do this, that we’ve made it through this before and we’ll make it through it again.

And as I hug my caught thoughts tightly and hold my poor, sore feelings surely in my arms, the tearing in my chest stops. And then it sort of tapes itself back up again and there’s my chest again with its familiar, inwardly angled sternum and small breasts.

Somehow, once I can catch a thought and hold a feeling, I can regain the power to choose to what I give my attention. And I acknowledge the beauty of my large heart beneath that bent sternum that loves beyond death. And I give myself one last hug for having the misfortune of developing alcoholism. And I use my athletic training to muscularly move my mind. I take a deep breath, more like a sigh. I become aware I am hungry. I envision a bright, orange-yellow yolk in the center of the white in a fried egg. I get up and head to the kitchen.

I don’t take a drink.

. . . . .

Approximately two years ago, my counselor, Dr. H., recognized unrelenting suffering in me and a kind of failure to thrive syndrome in my infant recovery and switched her approach to therapy. She told me later she began to use dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and gave me handouts from a workshop she had attended with the founder of DBT herself, Dr. Marsha Linehan. DBT scholars and practitioners have created layman’s guides to this complex therapy. I read The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook, I’m reading DBT Made Simple, and Dr. H. presented me with a copy of Dr. Linehan’s recently released compendium, DBT  Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, the contents primarily only available in DBT trainings. The simplest way to describe how DBT works for me is: “Catch that thought. Hold that feeling.”

I had balls made to help me remember. They’re bright to see and soft to hold.

Catch that thought, hold that feeling

The Fix reported on the growing validity of DBT as an effective treatment for addiction/substance use disorder in June, 2015. It’s actually useful for any kind of merciless distress or sorrow or upset.

If Dr. H. hadn’t had the creativity, breadth of knowledge, courage to apply knowledge in novel ways, and the determination to help me, I believe I would have done the deal with the entity and never written this at all.

. . . . .

I’ll be attending the Montgomery County, Virginia Chamber of Commerce Women’s Leadership Conference on Tuesday, April 5, 2016. If you’d like your own “catch that thought | hold that feeling” ball, just ask me. Shirley Gillispie of Green-Eyed Designs made them for us.

Letter to Myself at Three Years Sober

When my sister and I were distressed as children, my father would call us Shoogy Shoogy in his quiet, strong voice. I heard such capacious acknowledgement of our woes and reassurance that we could handle them. My little back bowed in frustration, fists tight with anguish, I would hear Shoogy Shoogy and be unbent. I would straighten, unclench, and fall back with relief into the downy mattress of his acceptance.

Unite to Face Addiction dayI never knew what a Shoogy Shoogy was until I realized as an adult that he was shortening and making even sweeter the endearment “Sugar.”

When we were children, my mother’s term of endearment for us was Little Toad. I don’t know much else to say about that. I could hear affection in her voice, yet the picture of the toad for the letter T in our alphabet book was ugly. I remember one time when I was sick, she must have gotten dressed and gone out because she came into my bedroom as beautiful as a Barbie doll, dressed in a grey winter coat with big buttons, her full lips smiling with bright red lipstick. She handed me colorful folders of paper dolls and sticker books from the dime store.

So here’s how I begin my letter to myself after three years of abstinence from alcohol:

Dear Shoogy Shoogy Little Toad,

Oh my poor dear one, if I knew three years ago – when you first realized you had a problem with alcohol – what I know now, I would have grabbed a down comforter, taken you in my arms, sat you in my lap, wrapped you up in warm softness, and rocked and rocked you.

What a horrible thing to have happened! You’re just going along doing your best, trying to do things right, trying to be good – trying to do good – and then this! Oh my dear I am so so sorry.

I know you want to get up and start trying to do something, anything to make this not so. Just rest a minute. Just stay here a minute and let me hold you a little longer.

Let your head keep resting against my heart and, as our friend Karan would say, let’s think a minute.

This year – 2016 – is the best year in the history of humankind to become aware of addiction to a substance and to get help for it. What you are thinking is wrong with you is simply not true.

You are thinking that your inability to stop drinking is the result of the deep flaw you’ve always suspected was there. You worked so hard to try to create evidence that it wasn’t true – such excellent work you do! But you believe that the truth about the core of you has finally shown itself. Your mother told you that you were “characterologically” flawed and incapable of loving correctly – yes, even using that word when you were such a small child. You got a master’s degree in counseling to help others, yes, but also to try to figure out how to dig deep enough to find and excise that flaw like a brown spot in a peach. And such a bitter irony that you specialized in addictions and here you are with one. You are reprimanding yourself mercilessly. You think you should have known better, worked harder, done better. You are thinking you should have been better.

Honey, honey, it’s okay. I know you’re feeling such deep remorse and shame and guilt. But that’s a result of what you’re thinking. And what you’re thinking isn’t correct.

Yes, when you drank Red Ripple wine in eighth grade, that was your choice. You were under age, you knew it was against your parents’ rules, but you did it anyway. I’m hugging you and laughing at how you became such a self-righteous non-drinker after that. You are so cute.

When you started drinking socially and occasionally in your mid-20s and continued that through your late-40s, you had too much a few times but, eh, no big deal.

The problem was when the kid pushed you in your classroom and you started having bad dreams after that, then the Virginia Tech shootings happened in your home town and you were in lock down with the same class that witnessed that push and your humiliation, then a kid in your classroom threatened to shoot you – well, you didn’t stand a chance. Such a lot happened in such a short time.

It’s a whole brain thing that I can explain to you later, but for now just know that trauma hurt your thinking, your occasional drinking interacted in a new way with that thinking, your thinking got additionally hurt, and alcohol got twisted in and before you knew it, drinking wine felt like hearing Shoogy Shoogy Little Toad.

And then alcohol became an unchoosable thing unto itself.

Here’s some good news. You are one of the many people who has learned to handle hardship with compliance or defiance. While each is an extreme coping strategy and has troubling components, your particular pattern of compliance is dumb luck when it comes to recovery from addiction. Addiction is an all-day, every-day condition that requires all-day, every-day care. The compliant have an easier time than the defiant.

Ah, but with what will I help you comply?

Here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to get you help – evidence-based, science-based treatment for addiction. At the same time, I’m going to be protecting you. We’re going to run into a whole lot of well-intentioned people with a whole lot of opinions about addiction. Some of those people will end up being just plain mean. I won’t have it. No shaming, no humiliation, no “tough love,” no “breaking you down to build you up,” no “calling you on your shit.” Ridiculous. You don’t deserve it. Those ways are hurtful, not helpful. This is an illness and I’m going to get you genuine, authentic help for it.

That said, addiction is a complex illness with great uncertainty about what helps most people, most of the time, over the long-term. We’re going to have to take charge of this and be our own treatment coordinator – even our own treatment provider sometimes – and do some experimenting.

Get this, though. In conjunction with work done with physicians, counselors, treatment providers, and conscientious, supportive survivors – adding the acceptance of your father, the paradox of your mother, the knowledge that calming words calm you, plus the awareness that doing engaging things helps you feel better – that’s pretty much the formula for what a person can do on his or her own to support early recovery from addiction.

Unfortunately, we didn’t know this three years ago. Sorry beyond words for that three years of hell. Truly.

I know paper dolls and sticker books aren’t your cup of tea at 57 years old. But all that effort you put into attempting to be perfect and excise imperfection? We can shift your wonderful willingness and work ethic into learning who you really are as a human woman, embracing, yes, your flawed self, but with acknowledgement, acceptance, and reassurance. We can learn what you, as an adult woman, find interesting and engaging. It will be fun. I know you are fun-challenged. But, to quote your mother, we can give this a go.

After three years without even a drop of the neurotoxin alcohol further damaging our brain and central nervous system, we’re beginning to heal nicely. (Remember when we were told in high school health class the now-refuted, “Alcohol kills brain cells”? Of our billions of brain cells, we knew we had plenty to spare. But alcohol is a neurotoxin? Like arsenic and cyanide?! Might have been useful to mention.)

The automation of alcohol as go-to is getting clackety.

One of the greatest gifts we’ve received from fellow survivors is this commandment: “Don’t drink.” That’s your job, babe. No matter what. No matter what you feel, no matter what happens. It’s an absolute, unequivocal no.

My job – as your veteran-of-three-years sobriety companion and coach – is to reassure and calm you and to keep learning constantly about addiction and recovery so we give you the most advanced, state-of-the-science treatment we can find.

I will do the best I can. I am human. I will err. I will break your heart, I will break the hearts of those you love, I will sicken, I will tire, I will sometimes not know what do to do and sometimes I will simply do wrong. I wish I could promise I would always be there for you but we still have those nightmare things and I’ve worked diligently but still haven’t found a way to enter like Superwoman and save the day. Not yet, anyway. And I also have those weird dissociation things, you know those spells when I’m present and absent at the same time?

But Shoogy Shoogy Little Toad, I mean well, I try hard, and I care like crazy. I’m hoping, I’m thinking – I’m counting on – good enough most of the time actually being enough to save our day.

And remember just every once in awhile your mother would say, “You’re so funny”? And it wasn’t affection. It was love.

You are funny. And you’re cute.

Here, let me hold you just a little bit longer. Then we’ll keep giving this thing a go.

Love,
Anne

Photo: Selfie taken in shirt created to wear at home watching live coverage of the Unite to Face Addiction rally in Washington, D.C., October 4, 2015

Phoenix Rising (just over two years sober)
Letter to Myself at Two Years Sober
18 Months Sober and Still Not Happy?
Something I’ve Wanted to Tell You (16 months sober)

Why Couldn’t I Stop Drinking for You, My Darling?

After pre-dinner wine, dinner wine, and dishes clean-up wine, I took another glass of wine upstairs to find summer clothes for our November vacation to Florida. I discovered my divine black and turquoise sleeveless dress and darling black, strappy sandals to match and changed into them to show my husband a preview of vacation delights to come. I stepped onto the top stair and toppled head over heels, over and over, hitting the cornered walls of the landing, heaped like a rag doll, head snapping back for the final crack of my trajectory down the stairs.

“Are you okay?” I heard my husband’s anguished voice from the next room.

“Don’t come, don’t come,” I called. I hadn’t moved. I was all pain, terrified of what I had done to myself. I didn’t want him to see me broken and vulnerable, divine dress pulled to my waist, single-sandaled.

When I drink, I fall. Therefore, I should stop drinking.

That would be a logical, rational, reasonable conclusion for anyone to draw, especially a former teacher, new business owner, and bright, well-educated, well-meaning person. In fact, to continue to drink would be illogical, irrational, unreasonable. It would also be heartless. Injuries hurt others, too.

I had bruises, no breaks. I didn’t stop drinking until over a year later. On our Florida vacation, I drank martinis as well as wine. That was not my first fall while drinking, nor would it be my last.

. . . . .

My little black catI wasn’t able to have a child, but I adopted a little black cat washed up at the Tampa Humane Society after a hurricane. I loved her with all my child’s and childless woman’s heart. I would lean my face to her face and she would so delicately and tenderly touch her nose to my nose. When I was drinking, she broke my heart when she turned away from the alcohol on my breath, sometimes even bolting from me.

But I didn’t stop drinking. She would die before I stopped.

. . . . .

Since I became abstinent from alcohol three years ago and became a member of the recovery community, people I love have returned to active use of alcohol as well as other drugs.

Beyond the terror of them hurting themselves irreparably – as I almost did, fall after fall – I experienced the devastating feeling of not mattering. I reached out to people I cared about with my whole self, my whole heart, my whole mind, trying to bring them back. I cried piteously in front of them, begged them with prayerful hands, calmly reasoned with them, avidly argued.

Nothing. I got nothing. I was nothing. They continued – some continue – to drink and use. I was a pencil mark on endless white paper, erased.

. . . . .

To stop drinking, I would need to recognize the cause-and-effect relationship between my drinking and my falling, to feel motivated, to make a decision, to initiate action, to follow through, and to not melt into a sobbing heap or fire into a furniture-throwing rage by perceiving Mt. Everest in the path rather than a pebble. According to the latest findings from addictions science research, the abilities I need to stop are the very abilities impaired by  prolonged exposure to alcohol and other drugs.

No wonder 8 in 10 people with alcohol use disorder relapse in the first year, and 40-60 % of people with other drug addictions relapse in the first year. I’ve never seen a beheaded chicken still run, but I’ve heard they do it. That’s what addiction to alcohol feels like to me. No head, all instinct.

“Fig. 4. Model of addiction as a disease of the brain characterized by perturbed interactions among the distributed networks that orchestrate balanced goal directed behaviors. From a behavioral economics perspective, addiction can be construed as the drug-induced consequence of a perturbed balance (in favor of system 1) between the proposed system 1 [visceral] and system 2 [cognitive]-centered processes that enable adaptive (efficient + flexible) decision making and goal-directed behaviors by mounting a proper situation-specific combination of automatic and cognitive responses…The balanced (or lack thereof) output of this distributed network is established, maintained, and expressed by the emergent relationships among the morphological, architectural, connectivity and functional levels of the brain. These are, in turn, determined by the combined pressures and influences exerted by genetic (e.g., affecting temperament, drug metabolism), epigenetic (e.g., drug exposure, parental style), developmental (e.g., fetal, brain, adolescent), and environmental (e.g., economic, social, built) variables.”
– Excerpt from a brilliant, succinct synthesis of the current state of knowledge about addiction, a caption under a figure in a 15-page research paper, 5 pages of which are hundreds of references in tiny print, by N. Volkow, R. D. Baler, Addiction science: uncovering neurobiological complexity, Neuropharmacology, 2014

What we believe we all have – that we are people and people can decide what’s right for them and get it done – isn’t true for people struggling with addiction. It’s altered, broken, even absent.

When I drank and breathed into my cat’s face, and her brain’s executive functioning – unlike mine – was still intact and she instinctively recoiled from a known neurotoxin, my heart ached agonizingly. But my head could not fathom that my hurt heart was a problem, that problems have solutions, that I could or should solve the problem, or that I had the ability to solve problems. I just hurt.

I think of all the little girls and little boys looking up into the eyes of their mothers and fathers who just won’t stop drinking or using and I can barely stand it. My parent looks like a person. People can make choices, can’t they? Then why are they choosing to drink and use and to keep hurting and neglecting me? If I were truly lovable, they would stop. I must be very, very bad. I must not matter at all.

. . . . .

It’s hard not to take persons personally. When “the turn” happened in me, when I shifted from someone who chose to drink to someone who couldn’t not drink, I was beyond any person’s – any being’s – reach. Even my own.

. . . . .

My darling, my darling, I would have done anything for you. The “I” in that sentence is no longer what it was. So much has been shifted, altered and damaged. And so many influences like so many sleeping dragons have been awakened by my use. I can barely hear myself think for their roaring.


I’m So Glad My Dad Wasn’t My Drinking Buddy

I called three women in recovery to go to dinner last night and all of them were busy. While I try to give my 82 year-old father space to live his own life, since he and my mother first established our family’s meal schedule 57 years ago, I can count on him being hungry when I’m hungry. I called him at 4:50 PM and he agreed readily to got out to dinner, as he almost always does since he and I both preferred my mother’s cooking to our own.

We usually go to Famous Anthony’s, his favorite. I looked online at the menu for the new Zoe’s Cafe and saw upscale fast food, suggested we try it, and he was up for something new. We walked in and queued at the expected ropes leading to the expected order counter with the expected dining area to the right.  On the counter sat plastic-boxed brownies and plastic-wrapped big cookies. The cashier wore the expected uniform and a cap. Visible behind her smiling face were evenly spaced bottles of wine and beer.

“In this way, environmental stimuli that are repeatedly paired with drug use – including environments in which a drug has been taken, persons with whom it has been taken, and the mental state of a person before it was taken – may all come to elicit conditioned, fast surges of dopamine release that trigger craving for the drug. These conditioned responses become deeply ingrained and can trigger strong cravings for a drug long after use has stopped (e.g., owing to incarceration or treatment) and even in the face of sanctions against its use.”
– Nora D. Volkow, M.D., George F. Koob, Ph.D., and A. Thomas McLellan, Ph.D, Neurobiologic Advances from the Brain Disease Model of Addiction,  The New England Journal of Medicine, 1/28/16

My dad, Bob Giles, at Famous Anthony'sI drank alcohol in only two places – restaurants and at home. Even after three years of abstinence from alcohol, I am baffled by dinner without wine, especially a fine dinner. When I eat dinner at home, I plate it or bowl it, then walk around the sun room or outside while I fork in a veggie corndog or cottage cheese with spinach. I do use a napkin. No way I’m going to sit down by myself at a wine-less dinner table. The longing for accompanying wine is automatic and instantaneous.

Meeting lovely women friends at a lovely restaurant and having that first glass of wine on an empty stomach was ecstasy for me. Then bites of salad with savory dressing, a sip of wine, bites of bacon-wrapped filet mignon, a sip of wine, the sense of warmth from more wine and growing intimacy. Absolutely heavenly.

Meeting lovely women friends at a lovely restaurant and having that first club soda with lime on an empty stomach delivers a sucker punch. I try to listen, but I make eye contact their wine glasses, not with them. I am Oliver Twist out in the cold, face and palms pressed to the window, looking in at the merry revelers.

I felt caught off guard when I saw the beer and wine at Zoe’s Kitchen. I wanted it. Automatically, unconsciously, instantly. I stopped using alcohol long ago – three whole years. At that moment, those years were nothing.

Wow. You don’t have to sit down and wait for the server? They just hand it to you? You can start sipping as you start walking to your pre-fab booth? Yeah, let’s do that…

But I was with my dad. I remember him sipping a small glass of something in the evenings, maybe when I was a teenager or in college, and he would occasionally have a glass of wine at restaurants with family and friends. And there was that time at the restaurant on top of the Eiffel Tower – I was about 13 and my sister was about 11 – when he stood and toasted our entire tour group and only semi-mortified my mother. Otherwise, I rarely saw my father drink. I’ve never had drinks with my dad.

If my father had been my drinking buddy, the evening might have gone quite differently. Instead, I anchored myself by putting my hand on the back of my father’s arm. I accepted the regret of wanting and not having, averted my eyes from the beer and wine and focused on the menu overhead, and hurriedly ordered a Gruben, whatever that is. And he let me pick the booth and I chose the one as far from the beer and wine as I could.

And then the “conditioned” responses of the “environmental stimuli” that are “repeatedly paired” with dinners with my father were “elicited.” I felt happy. Conversations with my father are legendary among his colleagues, students, assistants, friends and family members. Put it this way: weather is not mentioned. At his retirement party, his department head told me, “Giles can think of more ideas in a hour than I’ll have in a lifetime.” I sat down, ate my tasty Gruben. and talked contentedly with my father.

“[T]hose who have recovered have essentially battled their brain’s biology to allow it to recover to its healthy state.”
– Tory Utley, Disease Model Of Addiction Gains Continued Support, Forbes, 2/24/16

I am guessing my father didn’t even notice that Zoe’s Kitchen serves beer and wine. If he did, he didn’t choose to drink in front of me, which eases my battle with my brain’s biology which absolutely defies my will. We don’t want to drink anymore. What is the matter with you that you can’t remember this?

My father hadn’t quite finished his Turkey Stack when he pointed at his wrist watch. My father – my recovery buddy rather than my drinking buddy – didn’t want me to miss my support group meeting.