Don't Let The House Burn Down

I'm not sure how I found you on Instagram a month ago, but I've been following your posts since and have probably "screenshot" half of them. I listened to the HOME podcast for the first time today. "The Craving Brain.” I'm in tears. I've been considering taking myself to AA for the past three days, but don't quite think I'm an “alcoholic." I just take the edge off... every night... with a bottle of wine. I don't know how to share these words with my fiancé as we plan our upcoming wedding. I don't know how to share this with my mom. And I know that my kids know. What's my next step? I'm a yoga instructor who wakes up with a hangover everyday. I feel like a fraud.

-Anonymous


Dear Anonymous,

When I read your letter I pictured a house burning down. I pictured you, standing barefoot on your street, clutching your fiancé and kids, watching your house smolder to the ground. Maybe your mom is there, too, and her heart is hopelessly breaking for her girl. I pictured you all wailing while your treasures get swallowed by fire, thinking to yourself, Well, fuck. I should’ve said something about that broken stove.

Maybe you hadn’t said something to your fiancé because it would be inconvenient. Maybe the stove was a gift from your mom when you moved into the house—because you both love cooking so much—and you didn’t want her to feel bad. But every time you walked by that stove you smelled the unmistakeable stench of gas leaking into the air. Sometimes you could smell it all the way upstairs while you were tucking your kids into bed and you would lean in closer to inhale the scent of their skin. A few times you swore you could even smell it as you were turning the corner onto your street, but you thought, No way. That’s crazy. And then you lit a bunch of Yankee candles all around the house so it smelled like Pumpkin Spice or Ocean Mist. Sometimes this worked, but only until the candles burned out. The candles always burned out, eventually.

Your kids would complain that their eyes stung and their throats hurt. They were getting mysterious headaches and you handed them water and aspirin over and over again—you even took some yourself—knowing water and aspirin will never fix a broken stove.


None of this would actually happen, right? You don’t feel crushing shame and distress when something in your house breaks. You don’t keep it from your kids and the man you’re going to marry and your mother or anyone else because that would be ridiculous and unsafe. You simply say, as soon as you know it’s true, There is a thing that’s broken and I know what it is and it needs to be fixed. You don’t wait. You don’t question whether or not the gas smells strong enough. You definitely don’t wonder if your kids can live with it. You don’t wait until you have the right label for a broken stove, and you don’t give a fuck about your neighbors' opinions on the matter. You just deal, and you do whatever needs to be done to remove the ticking time bomb from your home.

I realize this metaphor is a bit of a stretch, but that’s kind of why it works. I wanted to use a preposterous example to illustrate not your shortcomings, but the ridiculous culture we’ve created around drinking and People Who Have Drinking Problems. When you look at it this way you can’t help but see, as my friend Holly says, we have all been totally freaking duped.

I get how much of your identity is yoked to drinking, and how utterly heartbreaking and terrifying it can be to imagine parting with it. I loved my wine, every night, just like you. I more than loved it; I needed it. It was my connector and my superpower and my yes machine and it was how I dealt with a world that is insane and out of my control. I also get how the relationship morphs: drinking was fun for a long time before it wasn’t.

But the truth is alcohol is messing with your life just like it messed up mine. Maybe it’s not wreaking havoc in a way that feels comparable to, say, someone who belongs in an AA meeting. Maybe it’s not enough to qualify you as an “alcoholic.” But that's kind of like arguing about the furniture while the house is burning down. Does it matter what kind of fire it is, or how it started? No. Alcohol is breaking your spirit. That's the only truth that matters.

Something I know to be true only 100% of the time is this: once you know a truth, you will never not know it. You’re going to end up at that truth no matter how long or complicated a detour you take. You’re going to end up there if you have one drink a week, or two bottles a night; whether you drink wine or beer or vodka sodas; whether or not you maintain periods of dryness.

Alcohol isn’t working in your life not because you’re broken somehow, or different, or weak. It’s not working in your life because it’s doing what it’s supposed to do and your soul doesn’t want that for you. Your soul doesn’t want to be dulled down and dimmed out. It doesn’t want to hide and it doesn’t want to pretend. It actually can’t do those things because souls don’t play that way—and it’s going to try and reach you softly or with a really big hammer over your head (you know, like your house burning down). Your soul wants to grow really, really big and bright and wine is cutting it off at the knees every night.

I don’t know how you tell your fiancé or your mother, I just know you do, because that’s what brave people do. And you are brave. You’re also not a fraud. You’re just learning some things you didn’t know before. If you want to stop feeling like a fraud tell your new truth. Say, I once thought this, but now I know something else

Your fiancé may not like it, but if he’s someone worth sharing your life with, he wants to know the truth about you, even if it’s very inconvenient. Same with your mom. Trust that, even if you don’t believe it yet. As John O’Donahue says, “the normal way never leads home.” 

The normal question is, "Is this bad enough for me to have to change?"

The question we should be asking is, "Is this good enough for me to stay the same?"

And the real question underneath it all is, "AM I FREE?"

Welcome to the big adventure, sister. Accept this as your invitation to live in a house where you can breathe free.