The urgent thing was my life was actually falling apart in real, tangible and dangerous ways. But the more convincing thing was my heart’s withering cry; a knowing that it would actually be more painful to live and not wake up.
Happy Birthday, my sweet Alma. It’s been a long time since I’ve posted a letter to you. In the first couple years of your life I did them more regularly, as they were the easiest and only thing I could write about honestly and naturally. That’s the neatest part about loving you: it’s never been a question.
I'm one of those annoying people who never shuts up about books. And it's not because I've read so much (I haven't, relatively) but because words are my primary map for life. There are hundreds of books that made a mark on me, but the ones on this list are those I return to again and again and recommend to others most often.
The longer I'm around the more I realize we all have a little bit of everything in us. I am both dependent and independent, generous and selfish, discontent and full-up, spiteful and deeply forgiving. We're all made of the same bits. That doesn't mean we all express the same personalities, or that we all have the same strengths and weaknesses, or can deal with things in a similar fashion, or show up for our lives in similar ways.
Here it goes: since I was probably 15 I've struggled with drinking. Over the years I've done many things that could have completely destroyed the parts of my life I value the most. And if I'm being honest I have caused myself and others some significant pain. Being married and have kids now it seems like the stakes are much higher so my relationship with drinking has started to weigh heavily on my mind. After one incident I stopped drinking for a year but slowly I put new rules in place about when and how much I drink and I've managed to keep everything kind of under control for now.
I'm interrupting my brief writing hiatus to put down a few things I know today, my 38th birthday. It has been a year, lovelies. A big, beautiful, transformative, burn-to-the-ground-and-build-it-back-up kind of year. I'm sitting here at the kitchen table in my dad's house in Colorado, 4:13 am. I'm tired from a bad night's sleep, but the coffee is hot and the candle burning smells like orange and cinnamon and the sky is dark and cool. The picture above is just before publishing this. Yes, I have fabulous morning hair and a few of them are grey.
After one of the first recovery meetings I attended a woman said to me, “You never have to drink again.” I thought, is that supposed to be comforting? Because it makes me want to die.
I didn’t want to not drink again. I wanted to drink normally, passably. I wanted to go back in time and un-fuck-up all the things I fucked up. I wanted to erase the series of bad nights that other people knew about and re-claim my position as fun friend, cool co-worker, up for anything pal, silly sister, good time daughter, mom like all the other moms who can have playdates and wine, girl who can go out for happy hour.
Unfortunately or fortunately the circumstances of how things unfolded for me in the end were public enough that people in my life whose opinions mattered (family, my ex) were invested in my sobriety. And to say they were invested is to say they were at the “enough, or else” place. Specifically, “enough, or you’re not going to have your daughter anymore” which was really the only consequence I cared about.
I was pissed. Piiiiiiisssssssed. Angry at myself for the instances that got me caught and pegged into that place. Angry that I was now set aside into the group of “people with a problem” when pretty much everyone else in my life behaved in ways that arguably edged close to that place, but didn’t quite cross over. Angry that the distinction actually did matter, and my opinions about it meant nothing.
I wanted another option. The two I was faced with were both equally undesirable, impossible: to keep going as I had, or to get sober.
I wanted a 3rd door.
There had to be a 3rd door.
I was going to find the 3rd door.
I tried to un-know the fact there wasn’t one in many ways. I kept close tally of who knew I was and wasn’t drinking and made sure I had a few reserves to hang with. I didn’t let anyone in AA or other sober circles get too close to me. I kept quiet about my going-ons, compartmentalized. I told partial truths to everyone and the whole truth to no one. There was nobody watching me at home now that I was separated, so…nobody was watching me at home. I used the excuse that a few good friends had decided to leave the program, that my dad – after ten years of sobriety – decided to start drinking again and seems to be just fine. I searched for that third door with the desperation and denial of someone in the deep grief of having lost a loved one unexpectedly. Surely there must be another way. Surely they can’t be gone. Surely I will wake up and this will all be different. Surely this is not my life.
But it was. It was my life and this was my thing and I could not undo it or fix it or make it not so.
I had a similar experience when I found out I was pregnant. It's hard to admit that even today, but it’s the honest truth: I didn’t want to be pregnant when I got pregnant. God had a much better plan then, too.
Someone close to me said early on, “So what! So you can’t drink! It’s just alcohol, Laura. Do you know how many people don’t drink?”
First of all, no. No, I don’t know how many people don’t drink, and the last time I checked, we don’t hang out with any of them. I believe we’ve even said jokingly, “I don’t trust people who don’t drink.” Ha ha. Wink wink.
More importantly, this person – who I love, and has nothing but the best intentions for me – enjoys their own drinks, hasn’t gone many days without a few in as long as I can remember, and that hasn’t changed just because of my problem. This same person, who doesn’t have a problem per-se, who can say to me, “so what!” also ain’t givin’ up their own “just alcohol.” What a mindfuck. How unfair. And how little it matters. Turns out, that person’s relationship with alcohol (and everyone else’s) is actually none of my business. This is something anyone who is faced with sobriety has to come to terms with: something like 80% of the population drinks. Some people don’t give a shit about drinking, but most people do, even if a little. When you don’t drink, most people wonder why. Are you pregnant? Religious? Medical condition? Oh, you have a problem. And then it gets weird. This matters much less to me now but it mattered a fuck of lot, for a long time.
Navigating all this sucks horribly. More than anyone who hasn’t faced it can imagine. It’s easy enough to say, “no big deal!” but for someone who has fallen into the problem area, it’s a big, big, big deal. The biggest deal. Telling someone who cares about drinking the way I did that it isn’t a big deal is like telling someone with asthma that breathing through a straw is no big deal. Except asthma doesn’t have the added bonus points of stigma and shame. People who have asthma aren't embarrassed about needing more air. They've probably never lied about it, either.
I write this today from a place of not looking for that third door and with a zillion pounds of compassion and empathy for the version of me that searched for it so hard.
I write this today having accepted there was no 3rd door breath by breath, messily, and over time.
I write this today knowing I couldn’t have arrived here one moment sooner, and that I’ve only arrived for today.
I write this today to tell anyone that has heard “You never have to drink again” and felt like taking a machete to that person’s ears, I know and me too.
I write this today for anyone thinking no third door is some kind of cruel punishment--a consequence of being broken.
I write this today to say the prizes behind door two, the one where you step into the mystery of a whole different life – the one you don’t want and wouldn’t have chosen, not in a million years – are far more fabulous and dazzling than anything you could conjure up behind door number one. Fabulous not in the way Beyonce is on the outside, but like The Buddha was on the inside. Dazzling in the way the sunlight dances on water: magically, simply, gently and all over.
Door number one, the door I’d given anything to stick with, that door sucked. That door was total destruction. That door was a half-life and broken dreams and unrealized potential and a lot of selfishness and fear. But it sure looked pretty; it looked like everything. Door number one was the great palace lie: you come in here, it'll all be alright. Door number one lied to me.
I was so angry there was no third door.
I am so grateful there was no third door.
I might be angry again.
I’ll hopefully stay grateful, too.
But at least now I know.
I need to get something off my chest. I have to call myself out. I have to tell everyone that I've been kind of lying to, or even sort of lying by to withholding. I have to rat myself out because today it just has to be said.
Here it is:
I HATE MEDITATING.
Like, I loathe it. I hate even the thought of it. When I'm doing it, I hate it 99% of the time. The other 1% of the time my ass falls asleep and I think the blood to my brain gets cut off, so I forget how much I hate it for that second.
I don't like it at all.
I'm not sure if you've noticed, but today kicked off one of Oprah and Deepak Chopra's 21 Day Meditation Challenges.
I saw it everywhere - in my inbox, on Facebook, in text messages, Instagram, everywhere. People I respect and admire and who are my teachers like Gabrielle Bernstein and Pema Chodron and Mastin Kipp were blasting out reminders yesterday and today to Join! Be a part! Love! Hug! (Groan.)
I even sent texts to people yesterday with the same info, like I was giving the FYI to join, that I'd be doing it (obviously, DUH!).
But then today looked something like this:
- 5:15 am - Alarm goes off. Hit snooze.
- Repeat above unconsciously every 8 minutes until 6:45. Fuck off all intentions to wake up early and meditate and write.
- 6:45 - Roll out of bed, annoyed, and already a little behind.
- 6:46 - Drop to my knees to say, Hi, God. Can I get some help today? Please? Cool. Thanks.
- 6:47 - 7:54 - Do the morning routine with my daughter, which is incredibly organized for me, but far from "organized." Success is: we both leave the house clothed, she eats something that's not the leftover cupcake in the fridge, teeth get brushed, she has a lunch she won't throw away, and I remember the keys and will not be locked out later. We both suffer a little every day.
- 8:03 - We pull up to her drop off lane at school and she cries because her ski pants were still wet from the night before, because she peed in them mid-ski. Cars are honking and I'm trying to tell her it's ok, that she'll be able to play in the snow tomorrow, and please get out of the goddam car.
- 8:04 - I drive away successful. She is not tardy today! She's been tardy 16 times since November, I found out Friday. 15 of those are on my watch.
- 8:05 - 9:12 - Commute to work. Try to find zen on the train, but fall asleep instead.
- Start Monday. Negotiate with the parts of my brain that are at work, and the parts that are elsewhere, which is about 94%. Ask some of that 94% to please join me here, now. But the tug of war has already started and I'm agitated and battling myself at about a level four. Level five has tears. I breathe deeply. I exhale. I close my eyes. I plot my to-do's, I write them down, this helps.
- 10:47 - The school nurse emails and Alma isn't feeling well. I toss out my plans to go to a noon meeting or the gym to fix myself.
- 12:18 - I go to pick her up.
- 1:20 - We are home. She watches a show, I retreat to the bedroom to work.
- All afternoon - I pivot between work and me baby, resenting both.
- 3:50 - She comes to hug me and presses her hands against my face and I'm suffocated by the smell of POOP. I jerk back and scream, What the hell?! And she says, well, we ran out of toilet paper. (She's right. We did.) I say, NO EXCUSE, and I start to run the shower, but she won't get in, she's screaming at the top of her lungs, so I strip down and drag her in with me. Because this is what we do. We do what works.
- 5:14 - I get a meditation reminder from fucking Deepak and Oprah and decide maybe this is a good time, before I try to do anything else, before I make dinner, because maybe I should hit the pause now. Like my snooze button.
- I tell Alma I'm going to meditate for 20 minutes, and what is she going to do? She says, watch a show. Perfect. I put on a show.
Now, the fun really starts.
I put a pillow down and shut the door to my room. I go to find today's meditation in the app and see an Instagram notification and dive into an Instagram rabbit hole for about seven minutes before I regain consciousness and remember the task at hand. Then a call comes in for work that I answer. Then I get a text from a friend who just came out of surgery. Then I remember Alma has homework. Then I remember: MEDITATION.
I open the app, find Day 1, sit down and close my eyes, assuming the position.
Oprah's voice comes on, welcoming me to the journey. Cool.
The recording suddenly stops. I open my eyes and grab my phone. Another work call. Inhale, answer, talk, work it out, go back.
I start over. I listen as Oprah does the intro, then Deepak takes me through today's mantra.
Alma turns the iPad up to full blast in her room, then screams for me.
I ignore her.
She comes in, grabs my hand, drags me into her room and asks me to buy a game.
I say unkind words and walk out.
I hit play, again. Restart.
A minute or so in the thing happens that usually happens when I sit down to meditate and my mind fucking EXPLODES.
My brain releases every to-do and distraction. Every thought I've had for my entire life and a few more.
My body starts twitching.
My brain says, GOD, you suck at this. Seriously? You're a YOGA TEACHER. WHAT THE FUUUUUCK. Stop this right now. Sit up! STOP. Stooooooooooooop.
And I remember everything I've ever learned from every teacher I've known and I say to my brain, I see what you're doing and I call BULLSHIT. Now please, please darling, get out of the way.
I get lost in a spiral of thought, pew! Like a pinball! Pew!
One thousand monkey squirrels on adderral dance around.
One hits my eyelids and forces them to snap open, STOP IT, YOU'RE MESSING IT ALL UP!
My legs twitch and bounce.
My butt loses circulation.
I shift and stretch my neck.
It has been about three minutes.
You get the point.
What Meditation Really Looks Like
Meditation for me does not look like this:
But more like this:
And then this:
And then probably this:
And then, finally, total despair:
But, I will do it again tomorrow.
I wanted to post this to say:
- If I've ever told you I love meditating, I was lying, and I'm sorry if I made you feel dumb because you don't love it.
- If you feel like you're doing it wrong, you're not.
- If you feel like you don't have the time, or the right spot, or the right life, or too much chaos? Me too.
- I'm going to do it again tomorrow, and I need you to do it with me.
Why? Why would I do it again tomorrow? And why do I want you to join?
Because I've learned in the past year that when I'm pushing against something really hard, when I meet up with resistance this strong, I need to face it. Because it's the one thing - literally the one thing - that every spiritual teacher from the beginning of time swears by and agrees on and I'm going to assume maybe they're on to something.
Because that same part of my mind that tells me I can't meditate told me I couldn't live without drinking, and it was so totally wrong.
But I wouldn't have known that if I believed my brain.
Because maybe, if I can cultivate the ability to sit with myself for one minute, I can do it for another, and another, and all that might lead to a lifetime of hanging out with myself as a compassionate friend, versus being with myself as an enemy.
I don't know.
I still hate it.
But I'll try again tomorrow.
Will you please, too? Pretty please?