Stay Awake

I don’t know much about politics, but I know a lot about hitting bottom.

Like a lot of Americans, I didn’t sleep much last night. I fell into a semi-trance around 12:30 a.m. when the scale had tipped far enough to know it was more or less over, and my nervous system was cached. I woke up to the smells of sweet sleep coming from my girl, and an arm tingling from cut off circulation. I thought Alma went to bed thinking a woman was going to be the next President. I thought about letting her know I was wrong, but it was only 5:15 a.m. and she doesn’t need to get up just yet. I thought about closing my eyes again, but instead rolled over and checked Facebook, Twitter, and scrolled through a bunch of dooming articles from the NY Times. A text from Dad with a thumbs up (things went his way).

I sighed. 

I thought about going back to sleep. 

I remembered my promise to write.

I thought, not today. What does it matter today?

A better voice said It matters today more than most. Today, you do all the small things that signal life moving forward. Today, you do not go back to sleep.

I pulled back the covers and stepped onto the cold wood floor and dropped to my knees.

I said, Okay. I trust you. 


Growing up, I learned my voice was invalid and wrong and small. I grew up in a society that told me so. I also grew up with a father I worshipped (still do) and to whom I hung on every word, even the ones that echoed Rush Limbaugh’s diatribes syllable for syllable. We spent a lot of time in the car listening to talk radio. A conversation between my dad and the station; my brother and I were the audience. I assumed his conviction, his surety, his demeanor towards the country and other people, because that’s what kids do, or at least it’s what I did.

I took his word for Truth, even though it hurt my stomach sometimes. I wrote papers about abstinence being the only right method of birth control. I defended a lot of very hard lines in the sand that put you over there (bad) and me over here (good). I believed these things because my dad believed them. I did not know I could think differently without being annihilated. I was taught to listen, and to think for myself, so long as I was thinking in the right way. I learned I didn’t know better.


I’m not a kid anymore, and I may not know enough about politics, but I know a thing or two about hitting bottom.

A bottom can be the birth of responsibility. Before I hit a bottom with drinking, or my marriage, or motherhood, I hit a bottom that shattered my image of my father as God. A bottom that shattered my worldview.

I would like to say it happened when I was a teenager, or even in my 20’s, but it was later than that. It happened when it could; it happened when it needed to.

It was so, so painful.

It was adrenaline and cold shock and nakedness.

It was the snipping of a tether and a floating into a vast unknown.

It was a bunch of sleepless nights and it was so. much. anger.

It was so much anger.

I was angry at my father until I ran out, dry, and then I was angry at myself. I was angry for the 31 years I had never allowed myself to be angry before, not even for a moment. I was so angry I shook and had tears come out of places so deep within they were not liquid, but light. I got angry for being quiet and using someone else’s voice as my own and I was angry for all the misinformation and confusion about who I was.


I thought I needed to keep a separateness in order to maintain myself, but that was an illusion too. On my way up from this bottom, I learned that as much we need self-possession, we need connection too. So long as I see someone else as other, I will suffer. Even when it is very difficult and scary, I need you.


There have been other bottoms, too, and I believe we’ve collectively hit one as a country. Not because Donald Trump won the election, but because we have forgotten who we are. When I go on Facebook and see all these exasperated cries and more hate coming from the people who are claiming to be against the hate I feel that same ache in my stomach from so many years ago. When I look past what I consider wrong, ugly, scary, and totally confusing, I see fear. I see that we are collectively very, very afraid.

I don't know all the steps going forward, but I know what to do about fear right now. I know that I wake up, I make coffee, I make a lunch, I take my girl to school, and I use the voice I have learned I have. A voice that is smart, and valid and very, very powerful. I know I breathe, look at the fear, and keep going. I know that fear is like darkness and it cannot stay strong in the light. I know that shining light means staying awake. I know that this is a chance to wake up.

It does not matter how we wake up. It only matters that we do.


I don’t know much about politics, but I know a lot about hitting bottom.

Bottom is adrenaline and cold fear.

Bottom is fucking undeniable pain.

Bottom is the crack in denial.

But bottom is also clarifying, and purifying.

Bottom is no more, because all the familiar choices are gone.

Bottom is the burnt up ash of delusion.

Bottom is God, too. 

God is everywhere in a bottom.


Go to the well of your disappointment and sorrow and rage, and even your great triumph. Go to the limits of everything and then let's meet back in the middle space, the one in the center of your chest, the one that's calling us to wake up and stay that way.

We have work to do.


Laura McKowen

Laura McKowen, PO Box 315 , Swampscott, MA, 01907