Update on my Effexor Withdrawal and Sobriety

It’s been pure hell! Yesterday was horrible, with thoughts of suicide. I was able to get an appointment with a psychiatric nurse this afternoon. I explained why I went off my medication and she was angry that anyone in AA would suggest that a member of the fellowship was not sober if on medication for mental illness. After I gave her the lowdown on my family history of many forms of mental illness, in-between my convulsions, hyperventilating and crying, she looked at me as if “Are you fucking kidding with this? You even have to ask me if you should be back on your meds?!” Instead, she took the professional route and suggested that I get back on a dose that will be lower than the one I quit so I don’t have adverse reactions like the ones I was exhibiting to her in her office. So, she gave me a prescription of Effexor 75mg and I’m to see her in three weeks. I filled the script and took a pill immediately.

I then called my sponsor to give him the update. I could tell that he was relieved. He’s been sober for over 28 years and has been very active in AA in New York, Los Angeles and now where we live, and though he does not take any meds himself, he’s known hundreds of AAers who were/are on meds to save their lives. He told me that I’m most definitely sober. He wants to take me through a 6th and 7th step to work out why I’m so hard on myself.

So, that’s the latest. I know that I MUST take my prescribed medication, just like a diabetic must take insulin, to stay alive. I AM sober, and truly believe that in my heart right now. This is a wake-up call for me to remember that I have to listen to all of the doctors that I’ve had since 1990 that have told me that I must be on an SSRI. I do not want to ever go through the hell and danger I’ve caused myself these past four days.

My higher power is smiling at me now that I’m turning it over and not running this show anymore.

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Effexor Withdrawal and Sobriety

On August 2, 2013 I had my last Effexor XR (150mg). I made a conscience decision to go cold turkey with this medication, which I’ve been on in one form or another since the early 1990s. I do not know if I’m doing this because I’m coming up on my 17th AA birthday (on Sept. 2nd), or because I feel like I’m in the right place spiritually, but it’s something I feel I’ve got to do right now. On August 2nd I read many blogs about withdrawal symptoms. They included, wild dreams, insomnia, brain shakes, vertigo, flu-like symptoms (worse than the Hong Kong flu), among other side-effects.

So, I did not take it yesterday morning. I went to yoga and then to a noon AA meeting. I started to obsessively yawn after that for a couple of hours, and felt dizziness. While driving home from the meeting, I talked to my dear friend Michael and told him what I was doing about the Effexor (because we are as sick as our secrets). He suggested that I tell my sponsor, and that I let my doctor know. I called my sponsor and told him that I meditated on this decision the day before. He said that he’s known many sponsees that either gradually weened themselves off of an SSRI, or went cold turkey like me, and that some have been successful staying off of them, and others had to get back on them. He told me to check in with him, and that we would see each other the next morning at the 11am meeting. Also, I let him know that I would be contacting the psychiatrist on Monday to discuss this with her.

Last night I had the craziest dreams all night long. I didn’t have insomnia, but the dreams kept waking me up. This morning while still in bed, I felt like I had the flu, and I also needed to take in deep breaths because I felt like I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. Once I got out of bed I felt better.

This morning was the second morning that I did not take the pill. I went to the 11am meeting, which I chair, and was feeling okay. I talked to my sponsor before the meeting began and checked in with him.

After the meeting, I met with Michael and we got iced tea and coffee drinks and sat outside of the restaurant. I started to talk to him about how the withdrawal is going. I told him that I feel like I could break down and cry hard right then if I allow myself to, but that I’m working on controlling my emotions. Then it happened…the waterworks began and there was no turning back.

I shared that I was still beating myself up about having to take Effexor, and that even though the General Service Office of AA in New York has the incredibly insightful and helpful pamphlet called “The AA Member – Medications and Other Drugs,” I still take some of the old-timers criticisms to heart that you’re not sober if you’re on any mental health medications. These old-timers are dangerous! I know of one old-timer that fired a new sponsee of hers one month after starting with her because the sponsee told her that she was on an SSRI. I pray for that woman. I’m outraged by her actions towards a sponsee! Even though she is in the minority, I feel judged and less-than. I told Michael that I could be in a room with 1,000 AA members, and even if 999 of them agree with me that you’re sober if you’re on an SSRI, I will let that one person who disagrees with me destroy my self-worth. Michael knows the horrible woman I’m talking about, and he thinks that she’s crazy. I’ve stopped going to a meditation meeting that she attends sometimes because I do not feel safe around her.

I continued to tell Michael that my fear is that I won’t be able to stay off the medication, and that I will not be deserving to be called “sober.” (Note: I went to a specialist at UCLA around 1991 who ran a ton of tests on me and said that I would have to be on an SSRI for the rest of my life. My family has a history of mental illness including clinical depression, borderline personality disorder, paranoid personality disorder, addictions and hospitalization for nervous breakdowns).

Michael assured me that I’m most definitely sober (as did my current sponsor, and my other four sponsors before him), and that I’ve got a character defect: self-character assassination. He told me to talk to my sponsor about working on this character defect. Michael said that I have this ongoing thing with tearing myself down, and that I need to tell my sponsor that it’s so serious that it could destroy my sobriety.

I finally stopped crying and it felt so freeing, as if I purged a bunch of emotional junk. We talked about other stuff and had some laughs, and then we said our goodbyes.

It’s now around 5:30pm and I’m feeling a bit wiped out. Can’t wait to eat dinner and chill out.

I’ll journal more tomorrow about my progress. Until then, I’m going to stay sober and remember that my higher power loves me and will take care of me.

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Pity Pot Morning

Yesterday I met with my sponsor after attending a noon meeting. The discussion went to how I feel so grounded, finally, here in the Southwest. I said that time heals everything, and I’m finally over the grieving of leaving New Orleans 6-1/2 yrs ago.

This morning I woke up and started doing stuff around the house. A wave of sadness came over me and I was in grief again. Started tearing up, and thinking about what it was like before Katrina hit, and how my life was ideal in the French Quarter. Then I began to imagine a geographic back there. Then I thought of re-locating to San Francisco. I was in magical thinking and romanticizing what it would be like to move.

I was feeling so sorry for myself, and then I remembered that It’s not up to me. I’m on a journey that continues to unfold itself as I trudge along. I hear people share in meetings that it’s “on God’s time.” I feel like the battery in God’s watch needs to be changed because that second hand isn’t moving. But, it is what it is and I’ve got to have faith. I think of Pema Chodron and her discussion of turning fear into curiosity. So that’s what I’ll do. I’m curious about what’s going to happen.

I then went to a 6s & 7s meeting, and the speaker was talking about her character defect of entitlement, and how she deserves more out of her art career. It was a powerful lead, and I shared about how I felt lost and having no sense of identity since moving here. My sponsor was at the meeting and that gave me comfort to see him.

After the meeting, a bunch of us were talking. We are all artists, and we all felt similar feelings. This is one of the numerous gifts of the fellowship: the feeling of uniqueness goes away.

I told my sponsor that I’d call him this afternoon, but I wanted to journal this first. I feel  better now. It reminds me of the two phrases that helped me get through my first year of sobriety: “I’m where I’m suppose to be,” and “This too shall pass.”


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First Post of 2013

So I went to the noon meeting that I always go to. Today there was a couple of newcomers, and a guy who has been coming around who picked up a 60-day chip. The shares were powerful, focusing on what it was like being new in sobriety. Lots of emphasis on working the steps and reaching out to people in AA. It makes me think of how it was when I was newly sober. I remember going to a meeting every day and being so much in surrender mode. I was so obsessed with what everyone was drinking when I went to restaurants and/or parties. That obsession lasted through my first year and some time thereafter. I still pay attention to what people are drinking, but not to the extent that I did back in early sobriety. How did I become a part of all this AA thing? How did the obsession/need to drink lift? In the meeting today there was much talk about the Higher Power, some mentioned the grace of God. One who mentioned grace of God said that he didn’t believe in dogma and was saying it figuratively. He’s been sober over 35 years. I don’t get how I was given the gift of sobriety, but I’m not going to analyze it. Analysis Paralysis, as I heard early on. Last Sunday, Albert (40+ years) said “utilize not analyze.” I get it. I think that part of my being here 16+ years later is a multitude of things: constantly going to meetings (Meeting Makers Make It), working the steps, talking to others in recovery, some kind of connection to my Higher Power (whatever that is for any given day: the sky, my pets, nature, the meetings – GOD: Group of drunks, Buddha, Joseph: my first real sponsor who past away a  few years ago, sitting in meditation), and the fear of thinking that my disease (cunning, baffling, powerful. Or as Albert likes to add: patient, insidious, deadly) will trick me one day. So I’ve got to keep it green and be humble knowing that even though I have some time under my belt, I can’t forget how it was and how deadly the disease is. In the meeting today someone said she understands now after being sober for four yours, why the newcomer is so important in the rooms. I’m realizing that more now after 16 years. It really takes a lot to go to your first meeting or continue to go once you start in early sobriety, and I want to reach out more to them in hopes that just saying hello, giving them a handshake, and/or my phone number will make a difference in whether they come back. It’s life or death, after all.

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Finally Got A Sponsor

I met with my new sponsor last Monday and I feel so much better! We had lunch after our noon meeting and he is just what I’m looking for: Gay man in a long-term relationship (34 years) with a partner that is not an alcoholic. My partner is not an alcoholic either and we’ll be celebrating 31 years together next month.

Also, this sponsor is all about starting me over with the steps, which I want to do. We will begin next Friday.

I’m keeping sobriety my priority today!

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Step Three Today

As I was driving to the noon 12&12 meeting today, I was getting really impatient with drivers. By the time I walked into the meeting, I felt bat-shit crazy. Today’s step out of the 12&12 was step 3.

We took turns reading out of the 12&12 until we finished the essay. As I was listening to the shares, I reflected on my first sponsor, Joseph. He told me that, with regards to step 3, the ‘will’ was my thinking and the ‘life’ was my actions.

I then shared with the group. I said that as I was driving to the meeting, I was getting really upset with the drivers on the road. I then thought back on why I was so agitated. It dawned on me that as I was getting on the freeway, I was thinking about a family member and getting angry. That started the anger and judgment against the drivers on the road. It was like a boulder rolling down a hill that was going faster and faster, and picking up more and more shit on the way down.

I then said what Joseph told me about thinking and actions. I said that I’m doing okay with turning over the actions part of the step, but the thinking is what I’ve got trouble with.

I went on to say that, sitting there and thinking about it, I realized that my anger and judgment is just a mask for the pain that I don’t want to feel. This is huge for me to realize and it happened right there in the meeting.

I shared about Jim W., who always said, “An alcoholic is at his best when in a state of surrender.” It takes me to be “sick and tired of me” to get to that complete surrender, and to sit quietly and look at what’s really happening, and to turn it over 100%. When I’m at complete surrender, I become teachable because I’ve been overcome with humility. Then I’m ready to feel and pain and work with it.

I guess that’s where ‘relieve me from the bondage of self’ comes into play in the third step prayer. And if I can get relief from ME, then it’s a great day.

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I Need a Sponsor!

I’ve been having the more-than-usual number of drinking dreams lately. My AA friend Michael says that it’s because I’m floundering without a sponsor. I go to six meetings every week, pray and meditate, and try to work the steps consistently, but I’ve almost always have had a sponsor throughout my sobriety until now.

I had  the most incredible sponsor when I got sober in New Orleans, in Sept. 1996. Joseph was the most selfless, giving and wise man. I then relocated in 2006, and I found long-distance sponsorship difficult. I didn’t pick up the phone as often as I could have. Then Joseph passed away.

I got a local sponsor who had 20+ years of sobriety and he seemed to be working the program well. Turns out he was a gossip and kind of an asshole, so I broke ties with him.

Then I got a sponsor who seemed to be working his program well. Also, he followed the spiritual teachings of Pema Chodron, the Buddhist nun that I follow. For the first year all seemed well, but one Saturday, while I was in L.A. visiting my mom, I got a call from AA Michael saying that my sponsor was arrested for child porn possession. It was on the tv news and in the newspapers.

When he was released and sent back home with an ankle monitor while awaiting trial, he had everyone believe that he was innocent. He said the police found one picture on his computer, and that it was of three young ‘guys’ in the shower with semi-erections, and nothing else. The picture, he said, was not porn or of underage guys. Many of us in the community stood by him. Then, one day his parole officer came by his house and found a porn image on his cellphone. This was a breach of his parole and he was sent to another city, to a halfway house. I was so naive, I asked him, “How did the picture get on your phone?” He told me that he downloaded it. I was pissed. I was experiencing abandonment issues and felt let down. I told him so, and I stopped communicating with him.

He is now in a federal prison still awaiting sentencing. The trial lasted only two days and the jury took only a couple of hours to find him guilty of all charges, which included possession of hundreds of images and movies of real children. The DA’s report stated that some of the victims had been rescued. Many of us, especially his sponsees, felt betrayed by him. Before this all happened, he once told me, “All my sponsees have been molested as children.” Reflecting back on that statement, I wonder if he was a predator. I wonder if he ‘got off’ on my tales of being molested when I was five years old.

The next sponsor I got was a straight man who considered himself a fiscal Republican, but a registered Republican all the same, and I was concerned with that. I had known him for many years and I admired his program and his service work, and we really got along, so why not? Also, he shared with me that he dabbled with gay sex before he got married to his wife, and also after they married while they were both still using, so I felt that he wasn’t conservative with social matters. He was concerned because he never sponsored anyone with more sobriety time than him. I assured him that it would be okay. So, we went through the steps and it was fine, though he talked a lot about himself and made our meetings about him, so it didn’t feel like I was getting the sponsoring and step work that I had hoped. After we completed the steps, we drifted apart, and I stopped going to the one meeting that I always saw him at.

So now I’m looking for yet another sponsor. I want a guy who’s gay like me, and who’s been in a long-term relationship. I met with a possible choice last Friday for coffee. He’s been sober since 1987 and has been with the same partner since the late 1980s (I think). The thing that concerned me with our meeting is that he said I would be a  low-maintenance sponsee, and that he would start me at step 8. Huh?! Then he said we could meet in two weeks.


So, I may call him and say that I don’t think it will work out.

Today I met with my friend Will. He’s has much less sober time than me, but he’s gay and in a long-term relationship, and we’ve got similar childhood trauma logs. He’s AA Michael’s sponsor, and Michael has been sober longer than me, and it seems to be working for him. He suggested Will to me as a possibility. Talking with Will at lunch today, I think we could co-sponsor each other, which is what he’s looking for since his sponsor isn’t calling him back much. By the way, his sponsor is that asshole who was the gossip that was my sponsor (three sponsors ago).

So I’ve got hope, but with my track record I’m going to keep my expectations low. I’ll trudge the road of happy destiny today knowing that I’m not alone no matter what happens.

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Another Drinking Dream…Kinda

So here’s last night’s dream:

I’m at an AA meeting. Someone across the table says she has five years today. I looked at her and was certain she had at least 15 years. I was surprised it was only five. Then, I realize that it’s my sober anniversary today as well, and that I have five years. Then I think it’s actually seven years. I am thinking back about my sobriety and realize that maybe I wasn’t sober at all, because I drank martinis during sobriety. Finally, I think back and realize that if it weren’t for the martinis, I would have almost 16 years.

Then I woke up.

My sobriety date is September 2nd, and if all goes well I’ll celebrate 16 years. No, I have not had any martinis or any other booze during my sobriety.

I think part of the dream came from Googling “mixing Benadryl and Valium” before going to bed last night. It was for one of my dogs.

This was the first drinking dream I’ve had – and I’ve had many in the last 15+ years – where I’m not actually drinking in the dream, but just having a memory of drinking during sobriety.

I’m always so relieved and grateful when I wake up from these crazy dreams because sobriety is a life and death matter.

Now I can continue to trudge the road of happy destiny today!

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Forgiving Dad

I was practicing the 11th step and meditating this morning when it came to me that it’s time to forgive dad. I haven’t referred to him as “dad” since I dealt with the sexual abuse. I had switched from “dad” to “father.”

He’s died almost four years ago. I burst out crying when, at the airport waiting for my plane to see him at the hospital, my sister told me he died. Since then I haven’t shed a tear, nor have I missed him or felt sadness that he died. I still don’t feel anything like that, but I’m ready to move on from harboring anger and getting caught up in self-pity. He did the best he could, I suppose, considering how he was raised. Also, being married to my mom must have been quite challenging.

He was more caring than my mom. My mom was classic borderline personality disorder. She’s still alive, but now that her mind is starting to go, she’s more manageable to be around. Most of our growing up was horrible.

So this morning’s meditation gave me the message to forgive him. So I do. And maybe I will be able to refer to him as “dad” again when the subject arises. We’ll see.

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I Want To Run Away!

I’m feeling really off balanced. I feel like a ship that’s adrift with no one at the wheel. I feel like I’m floundering. I’m bored with life. I’m depressed.

I live in a small city of approximately 75,000. The population doubles during the summer months because it’s a tourist town. I live about 20 minutes from the center of town. I feel so isolated during the day. My salvation are AA meetings. I go to meetings in town around noon on most weekdays. I get my sanity there. I find balance there. It gets me out of my isolation. My friend Michael says that my disease wants to isolate me and kill me. I believe that.
I work part-time, and I am bored with it. I want to run away to another city that has a visible gay community. The city I’m presently living in boasts having the second most gay and lesbian couples per capita (San Francisco is first), but you sure don’t see them much here.

My Partner and I have talked about getting a winter home in Palm Springs, CA. It would be close enough to drive to with our pets – between 11 and 12 hours. We could cut that drive time down to about seven hours if we settled on Phoenix, but we don’t want to give our dollars to conservative Arizona.

We can’t financially buy a place right now. I’m so anxious to get out of here! We also plan to move closer into town, but can’t do that now either. The waiting is difficult for me. I feel like I’m in a rut until we could do these things.

I know that I’m a whiny little brat. Poor me, poor me…pour me a drink. I’ve got to get back on track with my program. Michael told me that I’m making excuses to not reach out to others in the program. He’s right. I’ve always had a difficult time calling people. He is expecting me to call two people we know before we get together next Monday. I could do this. I’ve got to do something!

I also need a sponsor. My last sponsor was a straight married man who talks a lot about himself and then says, “sorry” and brings it back to me. But then he does this over and over again. We’ve gone through the steps once, and I’m ready to move on. There’s a gay guy who has something like 27+ years of sobriety, and he’s been with his partner for 32 years. I think I’ll ask him.

I’ve got trust issues with sponsors. My sponsor in New Orleans, Joseph, was the most wonderful, caring and selfless person I think I’ve ever met. I moved away after Hurricane Katrina blew through, and we didn’t stay in touch much after that. He passed away a couple of years after that. I miss him so much!
Since Joseph, I got a sponsor who turned out to be a gossip, so I fired his ass. Then, I got a sponsor who turned out to be a child pornography addict. He told people that it was only one picture on his computer, and that it wasn’t anything because the boys in it were of questionable age and just had semi-erections, and not doing anything with each other. Turns out that he had hundreds of pics and videos, and was found guilty in a federal court, and is now awaiting sentencing! He knew about the molestation I encountered as a child. I wonder if he was getting off on what happened to me. He once told me that all of his sponsees were molested as children. I wonder why?!

Hence my trust issues. I hope this new man will work out. We are going to meet in the next week or two once he returns from a trip.

So that’s where I’m at today. I feel better typing this, and maybe once I reach out to others I’ll feel even better. I’ve been told that’s how it works.

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