Goodbye, my friend…

Have you encountered a person who entered your life at the right time, who helped you when you needed it most and made a major impact on you?

I had the honor of meeting a person like that. He’s name was Mike. I met him at my very first AA meeting seven years ago. I will never forget that day… I was terrified to be there, didn’t know a soul and had to admit to a group of strangers that my life was a mess and I had an alcohol problem.

Mike was the first person who greeted me. He set me at ease, explaining briefly how the meeting worked. When it came to my turn to introduce myself, I couldn’t muster a word. He gently said, “Just give your name, you don’t need to say anything more.”

I eventually found my voice uttering my name, announcing I had a desire to stop drinking. Everything thereafter was a blur until the meeting ended and Mike commented how well I’d done and he hoped to see me again. I dashed out of the meeting with no intention of returning. Surprising to me, I did return. Week after week Mike was always there to welcome me, cheering me on.

Mike and I became good friends. I was learning the 12-step program, growing in sobriety, something I never thought possible. I had a Sponsor mentoring me every step of the way and Mike was always in the wings checking if I was alright. If I couldn’t make a meeting, he’d send me message to enquire if I was okay, not because he suspected I was drinking again, but because he wanted me to know that I was special to the group, that people missed me when I wasn’t around.

When my Sponsor traveled overseas from time to time, it was Mike I confided in when something was heavy on my heart. He gave me a different perspective on life’s ups and downs; always reminding me to take things easy, to look after myself and take it one day at a time.

With every sober year I achieved at AA, it was Mike who announced how proud he was of me. How he’d watched me transform from a shy mouse into a confident woman. He loved hearing about my running, how I started swimming at age 36 and was fulfilling my writing dream.

Mike was a gentle giant with a dry sense of humor. He was a doer, making things happen in all the meetings he attended. He never said no to service, to helping others who desperately needed a hand or a friend to chat to.

When Mike fell ill with bone and lung cancer at the beginning of this year, I was devastated to hear the news. He’d lost the use of his legs and was in and out of hospitals before being sent home. I visited him many times in hospital and not once did he complain or ask, “Why me?”

He accepted the outcome. He remained positive, patient and had faith he’d recover and regain the use of his legs. Sadly Mike’s condition deteriorated over time and he passed away on 10 October 2017. Although I knew his death was inevitable, nothing prepares you when it happens.

I am heartbroken to have lost a friend like Mike. He touched my life at exactly the right moment. He was destined to play a role in my journey into sobriety. He left behind a legacy of humility, unconditional love for the AA program, set a great example of what it takes to help others and make a difference in someone’s life.

Farewell my friend ❤ I will always miss you ❤

3da769d0c764d37a6a8dd6ef237d9a98

Advertisements

Seven years of sobriety…

Many people have the perception that alcoholics are bums living on the street, drinking alcohol from a paper bag, begging for money at robots, aimlessly walking around with no purpose. This is so far off the mark…

Alcoholics thrive in families, working environments, social gatherings, homes, isolated or otherwise. They are normal people; there is nothing bad about them except an obsessive nature to have a drink or thinking of consuming more alcohol. They were once social drinkers; could have fun without getting drunk but due to having perfected the art of drinking, they excelled to a level of compulsive and addictive drinking.

Family genes play a substantial role in addiction. Many vow never to drink like their alcoholic mom or dad, yet they are unable to prevent it from happening as they believe they have it under control or can stop at any point. Willpower does not exist in addiction, it may work for other people, but it certainly doesn’t work for those with addictive personalities and obsessive disorders.

I learnt this the hard way through my own drinking. I wished to be one of those ladies who nursed a glass of wine the entire evening, chatting and looking chic. Sadly, I passed that stage a long time ago, having progressed to a master’s degree in drinking. I would consume the entire bottle and calculate how to get the next. Brendan Behan said, “One drink is too many and a thousand not enough,” is how I summed my addiction.

Alcoholics can go for days without drinking. This was me. I was a binge drinker. I waited the entire week for Friday to roll around for the party to start. Once lit, I continued until Sunday morning when my body was soaked in alcohol, too sick to get out of bed. I sustained many blackouts, unable to piece together the events of the weekend, too afraid to ask others to fill in the blanks for fear of the worse. Shame and remorse, my constant companions. I promised God countless times that if He could just get me through the pain and discomfort, that I’d stop drinking. But these were empty promises because when the weekend arrived, I was cracking open a bottle; and the cycle commenced.

Heavy drinkers know they have a problem, people convey it to them, yet they deny they are alcoholics. I knew my drinking was out of control, yet couldn’t contain it through sheer willpower, cutting back or wishing it away. I tried everything possible to get rid of the addiction, but nothing worked. I researched the AA, called them anonymously, wanting to find out how they managed to keep members sober. The lady replied, “Meetings and living life one day at a time,” and still I wasn’t close to the answer.

They say the most courageous act for an alcoholic is to own up to their addiction. As much as I couldn’t fathom that I was an alcoholic, I couldn’t deny I had a severe drinking problem. I built up the courage to go to my first AA meeting, fearful of what to expect, unsure if I would survive one. Yet the group was friendly, warm and put me at ease. They said “keep coming back” at the end of the meeting and though I had no intention of returning, I found myself going back and haven’t stopped attending meetings.

In addiction one needs to surrender before rehabilitation takes place. I couldn’t admit that I was an alcoholic even when I was sitting in meetings. Only once I was able to take off the mask, learnt to let go of the shame, got down on my knees and asked God to take the obsession of alcohol away, was when the miracle happened. I was able to admit I was an alcoholic for the first time and a mountain lifted off me. No longer was I held captive by alcohol, I felt alive for the first time in my life and there was a glimmer of hope I was going to make it.

AA is not a religious program, but members forge a belief in a power greater than themselves. I was never close to my religion and still don’t feel a connection to it. When I joined the AA, I learnt through fellow members and my sponsor that I needed to put my trust in a Higher Power. I battled with this as I didn’t have a relationship with God. He was only called upon when I was in trouble, so how was I going to befriend Him now? But I had no alternative, only He could quiet the fears and cravings I felt during my first year. The more I asked, the more I received, the more I prayed, the more serenity flowed. I found I was becoming spiritual, that I had a belief that anything was possible because I was staying sober, building confidence and positive changes were transpiring.

A recovered alcoholic prospers in a supportive and loving environment. My husband and children accepted that I needed to attend meetings to maintain sobriety. They afforded me the space to find myself, to make the necessary changes to live a balanced life. They loved me unconditionally and continue to support me every step of the way. My sponsor was instrumental in my recovery. She listened to my fears, freely gave advice, taught me how to place trust in God. I have many AA friends who have turned into an extended family due to the close bond we share. A small circle of friends keep me grounded and make me smile.

One day at a time turned into seven years and I am immensely grateful to have been afforded a second chance to get it right. I no longer live in fear or shame. I’ve blossomed in sobriety, fell in love with exercising, developed an assurance about myself and am passionate about the life I lead. God has become the best friend I always longed for,  opened countless doors, believes in me when I forget to and only wants the best for me.

Impossible doesn’t exist in my vocabulary, for I know I am capable of so much more than I thought possible.

2017-01-15_09-41-24

Family and Friends at my Thanksgiving 🙂

Six years of sobriety…

On 11 January 2016 I celebrated six years of sobriety! I was showered with well wishes from fellow AA members; a day only they can fully appreciate and understand how special it is for a recovering alcoholic.

20160116_213103_HDRIt warms my heart to reminisce on my years of recovery. From what began as my greatest fear of admitting I had an alcohol problem, to making that bold move of stepping into an AA meeting, hoping they’d save me, but not knowing whether I was ready to stay sober.

20160116_204814_HDR.jpg

I recall attending those first few meetings with anxiety and dread. I didn’t have an inkling what they were talking about, my mind consumed by the constant craving for alcohol, hoping someone would tap me with a magic wand and proclaim I was cured. I sought a quick fix, needed it badly, patience wasn’t one of my virtues and their chanting of keep coming back to meetings wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for the rest of my days.

20160116_205227_HDR.jpg

White knuckling the weekends with the temptation of alcohol all around, I’d return to the meetings twice a week – still sober! Every day that passed without my vice, my thoughts became clearer, my resolve stronger and my confidence slowly peaked. I couldn’t quite explain why I was staying sober, was it the meetings (no, I was still very fearful of them and I refused to speak up in any way), so what exactly changed and got me to commit to hanging around?

20160116_205132_HDR.jpg

Today I know that my Higher Power walked into that meeting with me, clasping my hand, never letting go. He knew how petrified I was, knew the demons I was battling, knew how much I wanted to overcome my addiction, he believed in me when I ceased to believe in myself. I just didn’t realise it back then, now I know different.

20160116_205250_HDR

I’d never stuck to anything before in my life, not to a diet, an exercise regime or a writing schedule. Whatever I attempted, I failed miserably for I didn’t believe in myself. I had so many hopes and dreams for the future – alcohol robbed me of so many of them, kept me caged in a prison and stole years from me. Sobriety opened the door to the possibilities awaiting, affording me the courage to pursue them, albeit with some trepidation.

Maresa Engelbrecht 20141117_125118

I learnt to live my life according to the AA motto of “one day at a time”. To stay away from that first drink, to pray to my Higher Power for a daily reprieve, not to dwell in the future nor in the past and to live life on life’s terms. My journey wasn’t filled with rainbows and butterflies – it was fraught with tough decisions to take, learning to love myself (flaws and all), yanking myself up after disappointments and promising to try harder. Through it all I never gave up on myself, treasured the new me and made sobriety my priority. Six months turned into one year and before I knew it I was cruising into six years!

FB_IMG_1431779574572

I am incredibly grateful to those who paved the way for me. My Higher Power who came into my life when I needed him most. He truly is my best friend and not a day goes by that I don’t confide in him, shed some tears or express my thankfulness. By his grace I’ve become a miracle and I’ll always be in awe of him. My sponsor – for the hours upon hours in which she listened to my doubts and fears, her utter belief in me and the unconditional love and support through the years. Our bond has blossomed into a beautiful friendship overflowing with love and mutual respect. My fellowship friends who’ve become my second family, who worry when I’m not around, not because they think the worse, but because they miss my presence and love me as one of their own. My husband who has stood by my side for two decades of marriage, years of alcoholism and now in sobriety. He’s my rock, sounding board and biggest cheerleader in every way. I know I couldn’t have succeeded without his positivity and never-ending love. My children, who helped me see the light of wanting a better life for them, for a chance to make things right and become the mother they deserved.

FB_IMG_1446354449269

I don’t regret walking into AA six years ago and taking the first step towards changing my life. I am forever grateful to be blessed with a second chance to find peace, serenity and joy ❤ 🙂

Crazy November…

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged and I cannot come up with any excuses other than to say it’s been a crazy month!

What is it about this time of the year that drives us all into maniacs frantically trying to finish all our work projects, sitting in mundane meetings and taking on more than our plates can handle?

I’ve honestly been feeling like I’ve been burning the candle at both ends and I’m sure I’m not the only one! And through all this scurrying from one deadline to the next, my blogging has suffered most!

Last month I signed up for a creative writing course with Meg van der Merwe, a senior lecturer in the same field at UWC and an author of two South African fiction novels. I met Meg through the West Coast Writers Circle I belong to and was taken aback by her passion for teaching the craft to fellow writers. When I received word that Meg was offering a class from the confines of her home, I knew this was an opportunity I could not pass.

So far I’ve attended two sessions and it’s been scary and intense at the same time. I’ve never been part of a creative writing group before with so many talented writers sitting around the same table. Meg is rather unconventional in her teaching; she steers you in the direction of extracting personal information from your life, such as what your name story is and delves into your family history. By doing so she seeks to expose your authentic voice without the bows and whistles. Our first assignment was to interview the oldest person I knew and ask them the oldest story they knew. I decided to interview my Mom and after much coaxing she opened up about her arranged marriage to my Dad. For the first time I gained insight into my Mom’s life as a seventeen year old being handed the devastating news that she was set to marry a handsome man she’d met only once, leaving her family behind to embark on a new life in a town hundreds of kilometres away! I had to write the story as if I was my Mom and capture all the emotions she experienced and it gave me a greater understanding of her struggles, something I would never have learned if I hadn’t pursued this course. My next assignment is to write the story in my Dad’s voice. I’ve been procrastinating somewhat, for I know it will bring up a lot of emotions as my Dad’s passing is fresh in my mind.

November is also the month in which I do service at my AA meetings. What that entails is that I chair the meetings every Saturday at my group and come up with topics that relate to alcoholism and sobriety and share my experience with the members. The topics I chose were prayer and meditation, acceptance, learning to love yourself and gratitude. Each of these topics resonated with me and where I am in my own sobriety and it was a heart-warming experience giving my take on them and listening to the contributions from members. I’ve been doing service for the past five years and initially it was nerve-wracking considering I have social anxiety (something I will blog about soon) and how I managed to face my fears through trial and error (lol) but still received glowing support from fellow members that has helped to boost my self-confidence. Chairing these meetings continues to challenge me, taking me out of my comfort zone, helping me realise I have so much potential waiting to surface.

I’m happy to say I’m running again:-). My injuries seem to be subsiding and I’ve finally accepted that I needed to slow down and concentrate on smaller goals. I’ve went back to basics, reduced my pace considerably and like a snail I’m making steady progress. I returned to my running club with renewed energy and found joy in the sport once again. After much contemplation, I decided not to enter the upcoming Two Oceans Half Marathon. The old me would have signed up for it in a heartbeat, but this time around I hesitated and took into consideration my history with injuries and that I needed time out from big races and the toll it places on my body. The new me listens to the whispers from my body and pays heed to them. During my recovery time, I opened my mind to yoga and pilates; something I’ve never done before. In the past I always thought of these activities to be a waste of time as one doesn’t break into a sweat, so how beneficial could it be? Since my injuries, I’ve had to rethink my stance and found these classes aided in strengthening my core muscles and were unbelievably challenging in ways I didn’t think possible. I’ve since incorporated pilates into my exercise routine and my body is smiling.

Yip November has been a hectic month and I’m not sad to see the back of it! Summer is upon us and all I wish to do is relax and enjoy the holidays and not work as much – except of course to blog now and then!

1b34bb6bf69d1012443d3867d68d841d[1]

Five years of Sobriety

The 11th of January marks a very significant date in my life. It was the day I walked into my first AA meeting. It wasn’t the happiest day of my life, but it was the start of a journey that has changed my entire belief in myself and afforded me a second chance.

Nobody sets out on their path believing they will end up an Alcoholic – I know I certainly didn’t. I had so many hopes and dreams for myself, I believed I was destined for great things. But somehow I took a different route, becoming a person I didn’t like very much.

Growing up I was painfully shy, drowning in low self-esteem, an introvert by nature. You’d rather find me curled up with a book than out making friends. Things changed in high school when I experimented with smoking and took my first drink at the age of 17, lighting up like a christmas tree. Drinking and smoking gave me the illusion that friends found me interesting, that I was the life of the party and I succumbed to these enticing pleasures.

Upon finishing high school, I dreamed of becoming a journalist or a writer of some sort, but due to financial constraints at home, this hope became pie in the sky. At the age of 18, I was lucky to find a job working in Pretoria and Cape Town for six months at a stretch. As I had never lived on my own before, planting roots in Cape Town was tough without family or friends,  marred with loneliness and utter despair.

A year later, I met and fell instantly in love with Neil in Pretoria. Our courtship was brie, for I fell unexpectedly fell pregnant, resulting in a shotgun wedding. I was lucky to find a wonderful man who loved me unconditionally, took full responsibility in welcoming our daughter into the world, sharing parental duties.

Living in Cape Town was bittersweet. Although I being married, raising a daughter and running our home, it was tough not having a support system to rely on as both our families lived in Pretoria. Good fortune was on our side when friends from our hometown moved into our area, igniting our friendship, becoming our family. We spent all our free time together, socialising, having fun. I drank sometimes too much (like most people), my eating patterns were undesirable and exercising was too much hard work.

Four years later, I gave birth to our second daughter and this was where the cracks started appearing. I noticed my drinking had progressed to a level that scared me. When I drank I had the intention of getting drunk, turning into a binge drinker. With this came an added bonus of blackouts. I would cause scenes, get into sticky situations of which I had no recollection of when I was sober. I’d become a Jekyll and Hyde overnight.

When my family and friends relayed what I’d gotten up to during my drinking sprees – I was mortified. I wanted to crawl into a cave and die as I couldn’t believe I’d turned into a monster. Try as I may to change – curbing drinking, abstaining, willpower, reading books on controlling alcohol, nothing worked.

I had hit rock-bottom and knew my drinking days were numbered. The time had arrived change my lifestyle. I couldn’t deny I had a drinking problem any longer for I couldn’t look my daughters in the eyes – how could they respect me when I couldn’t respect myself! Not only had I failed them, I had let myself down and I had no idea how I was going to change.

After researching the AA relentlessly on the internet, I decided to phone their office and enquired how the program worked. When I received a response of, “attending meetings” and “staying sober one day at a time” I was completely baffled how these two concepts were going to save me? But I was at the end of my tether and if it didn’t work, it would only add to the string of failures my life had spiraled into.

The first meeting I attended was on a Saturday night and it was slap bang during my drinking time. However, I’d taken my last drink and smoked my final cigarette the night before and I was a nervous wreck. I recall people introducing themselves to me, not recognizing  a soul, only seeing a haze of faces. When the meeting commenced and a man by the name of Mike, asked me to introduce myself, I wanted to bolt as my heart was pounding out of my chest. I mustered up the courage and softly introduced myself,  stating I had a desire to stop drinking. The group welcomed me and informed me to listen to the discussion with an open mind and I sat rooted to the spot the entire duration.

Something happened at that meeting, something I couldn’t understand at that early stage of my recovery, but what I fully comprehend now. My Higher Power had walked into that meeting with me, held my hand and has never left my side since. Sitting in that environment I couldn’t admit I was an alcoholic – alcoholics were homeless people who aborted their families, lost their jobs and the ability to live meaningful lives – not young middle class women like me! The stigma that word carried hung over my head like a rain cloud for weeks. But what I was witnessing was members in the group not feeling ashamed to be called alcoholics – they accepted it, they were happy, joyous and free and I wanted that more than anything else in the world. I learned I had a disease, an allergy when it came to alcohol and no amount of willpower in the world could have helped me to abstain from this obsession. When I eventually admitted I was an alcoholic to the group a few weeks later, a mountain of shame lifted off me.

I found an AA sponsor who welcomed me into her heart and home. We met once a week and together went tirelessly through the 12-step program. She was instrumental in my recovery. I cried on her shoulders when life became unbearable, she steered me in the direction of faith when I couldn’t find the answers I yearned for and believed in me when I ceased to believe in myself. I truly felt I’d found a Guardian Angel within the rooms of AA who shared her experience and loved me unconditionally.

Staying sober was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. It was incredibly difficult shutting the door on my drinking lifestyle, an existence I had been leading for years. All of a sudden, I no longer had the crutch of alcohol at my disposal and living a sober life was being an infant again. I had to change my entire way of life – I couldn’t keep alcohol at home, I was terrified of sitting in a restaurant watching others drink, I refused to attend social gatherings for fear of falling into my old drinking ways. I had to alter everything – my thinking, my behavior; I had to LEARN to live a clean life.

As the months rolled by I realised how much healthier I was feeling. I no longer woke with a pounding hangover and fear in my heart. I could recall my whereabouts the previous evening and a newfound energy was bubbling inside of me. Even though I was still painfully shy – I was slowly opening up in the meetings and contributing as best as I could to discussions. I decided to join Weigh-less to transform my eating patterns and took up running and swimming to shed the excess weight. I followed the same principles I learnt in AA – taking everything ONE DAY AT A TIME, instilling the concept of learning and practicing relentlessly, to never give up on myself even if disappointments knocked the wind out of me, I would pick myself up and try again tomorrow.

When I reached my first AA birthday on 11 January 2011, I couldn’t believe how far I’d come. The greatest gift I received was when the craving to drink vanished from my life and felt like I was floating on a pink cloud. My family was unbelievably proud of me, not only had I received a second chance at life, I had succeeded in changing our destiny.

I have protected my sobriety with all my heart and soul. It was and still is a very personal and profound experience and only those in the same boat can truly grasp the incredible journey one travels to get to that place where you’re no longer ashamed of your past and who you’ve become. I would not be leading the life I’m living now, wouldn’t have conquered my demons, succeeded in losing weight, transformed myself into an athlete and finally found my way back to my true calling in life – WRITING, without the guidance of AA, discovering my Higher Power, growing spiritually fit and the unwavering love and support of my family and friends.

Every year around this time I reflect on my past and the pain from my darkest days’ cloud my thoughts. However with every sober year I accumulate – rays of color appear on the horizon – a RAINBOW marking the end of the rain, of my unhappiness, bringing beauty and joy into my life 🙂