2014

Sobriety, Santa Clause, Depression & Quantum Physics

NORAD Santa Tracker
NORAD Santa Tracker

On Christmas Eve, Alma's dad and I were tracking Santa to see where he was, how many presents he's delivered, how many miles he's covered, etc. (The story behind NORAD is interesting if you're nerdy like that.)

The first time we checked he was in Chile and had delivered some 4 million bazillion presents and you can see the number ticking up faster and faster.

Alma is five so she doesn't question the viability of Santa making it to billions of houses across the world, or how he knows what all the kids want, or how he carries all that stuff, or anything. This is one of the best things about little kids -- they fully believe in magic. They don't even consider it magic -- they just don't see limitations yet. Life is wide open and vast and it's all possible. Anna and Elsa and Olaf live in Arendelle, which is an actual place you can visit, just like Maine. Santa knows all the kids' personal wish lists and can make it from Chile to Swampscott, MA in a matter of hours.

This makes kids really fun to hang out with (sometimes). It also makes them wonderful students of God.

After A went to bed I was looking out the window and thinking about the way magic like that seeps out of our lives as we grow up, and how sad that is.

A friend of mine said that when he was little, maybe 7 or 8, he had this period where he would be riding in the car with his parents and every time they stopped at a traffic light, he'd look at the people in the cars next to him. He'd see that there were other parents, maybe with kids in the back, maybe a dog. Some cars had just one person, some a whole family. But each time they'd stop at a light he'd look into the neighboring cars and think, when the light turns green, that car and those people are going to drive off to their home, in a different neighborhood, and a different street, where they live with their family, or whoever, and that every car had this intricate, complicated web of people in a story he knew nothing about and the largeness of all those possibilities broke his brain. He said it seemed impossible and too complicated and he couldn't wrap his head around all the infinite pieces of these lives he couldn't see but knew existed because there were those people, in the cars, everywhere.

Little Boy Looking Out the Window
Little Boy Looking Out the Window

Eventually, over time and as we get older, we stop questioning the magic of our own existence and our relationships to others. Not entirely, hopefully, but we never really see the world exactly as we did when we were children again. We can't.

But.

One of the biggest gifts of being sober is that I am starting to see the world with brand new eyes again. I am able to take notice of the smallest details - the textures of the sidewalk or someone's voice, light catching different angles, the miraculous shape of my daughter's nose - as if I'm seeing things for the first time. It's not like this all the time. Hardly. But it is in the morning, in the "thin places" as Elizabeth Gilbert calls them, when we first wake up and our ego is down and we're not quite awake but not asleep and our senses haven't been arrested by the noises of life yet. It is like this then and at other times too, and I am continually surprised at how much I was missing  by being dulled out, dimmed down, either anesthetized by booze or smothered by the anxiety and exhaustion of a hangover. Even in the times I'd gone for brief stretches without drinking, the fog didn't lift - it takes a lot longer than a few days to clear up.

The last stretch of the year before Christmas I was struggling hard. Big, heavy depression type stuff that came out of seemingly nowhere and swallowed me whole for a couple of weeks. I've had plenty of experience with these dips, but the depth of this one surprised and scared me. I hated everyone who could move through the holiday season without thinking about avoiding alcohol. I hated my entire office for their bar crawls and yankee swaps with boozie apple cider. I hated my family and the fact that although all of them drink (some, a lot) I was the one with the big red A on my forehead, forever x-ed out of that type of time spent together. I hated AA and all their stupid fucking sayings. I even felt like Alma would be better off if she had a mom who wasn't so sad, so lonely, so loser-ish. I burst into tears at inopportune times, like when someone came into my office to ask me a question, or while sitting on a crowded train. My chest was clenched shut and all my usual methods for pulling in light were failing me: yoga, sun, baths, reading, meetings, food, sleep, meditation. Nothing worked. I was just stuck.

Depression
Depression

One evening I was lying in my bed again, in the dark, emptied of tears and energy and I thought: I can't do this. I didn't want to die, but I didn't want to really live, either. I didn't want to move to get a cup of water, or go pee, or take out the trash, or call my mom back, or whatever the next thing was. I didn't want to do anything except sleep forever.

A tiny whisper of a thought bubbled up to the surface of my conscious and it went something like this: You must believe in things you cannot see, think, feel or even imagine.

I remembered a talk I used to listen to by Wayne Dyer, where he recounts the time when he started to learn about quantum physics and Deepak Chopra said to him about the subject, it's not only strange to think about, it's stranger than you can think.

It's stranger than you can think.

Quantum Physics Blackboard
Quantum Physics Blackboard

Like Alma with Santa Claus or my friend considering the cars next to him. It occurred to me that the reality that existed in my mind might be...limited. Narrow. A faulty perception. I thought about a conversation I had as a kid when I first read about God's creation of the world and I asked someone - I can't even recall who - how it was possible, how one person could create all this? They told me God doesn't operate under the same rules as people do; that He's infinitely more powerful than we can ever imagine. This made my head hurt, but it unlocked an entire realm of possibility that didn't exist just seconds prior.

This darkness carried on for more days still, but that little thread of a thought cracked a tiny hole in it and a hole was all I needed, I suppose. On Christmas day I felt more warmth and wholehearted hope than I had in some time. It was such a change from the drowning feeling I'd had for weeks prior - kind-of like the first day you're feeling well after a bad flu and simply not being sick is an incredible relief.

So, I don't know. So much of this journey has been about suspending disbelief. Magical thinking. Hanging on for a lot longer than I think I can, putting one foot in front of the other and trusting the universe to roll its tough-loving hands over me. Imagining the world as I did when I was a child: limitless, enchanting and full of Santa Claus magic.

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P.S. If you've never seen Hyperbole and a Half's comics about depression, take a spin. They're brilliant and beautifully true.

2014: A Beautiful Struggle

At the end of 2012, I created a Spotify playlist titled “2012, You Suck, But Your Music Did Not.” It is still one of my favorite playlists and it perfectly encapsulates that year.

2012 did suck in many ways, my God. It was the year my husband and I separated – right in the middle of it, July he moved out – and before that and after for a while it was wall to wall pain. That winter I shoveled my porch and car out of impossible heights of snow from Hurricane Nemo, alone, with a blinding hangover. It took me eight hours. I threw up twice. I navigated single parenting for the first time with a three year-old and we both cried a lot.

No year is all bad, of course, but some we are so eager and so relieved to usher out the door – like a long visit from an unwanted guest who has left one too plates of crusty food in our kitchen, taken one too many shits in our bathroom. Good riddance, we think, as we wave them off and relish the click of our front door shutting with a swoosh of cold air from the outside.

I started to make a playlist for 2014 music this morning but realized most of this year’s songs were recycled from the years prior. So while I don't have the music for it, the title of the playlist would definitely be 2014: A Beautiful Struggle.

5 Beautiful Things I Struggled for in  2014

1. Impossible things became possible.

I went to my first AA meeting in July of 2013 but struggled hard against the idea of being a sober person, of giving up drinking, of all the ways I and my life would have to change, for the better part of a year. I could go to meetings and put together days and make new connections and as much as not drinking felt like finally stopping the bleeding on a massive head wound, I just couldn’t fathom keeping a hold on it, and I couldn’t. It felt… impossible.

But then, things that were impossible – small and large – became possible, simply by doing them once, as practice, as a trial, even if it was uncomfortable or against my will. For example, I drank at home a lot. I could not imagine my home as a place where I did not drink wine at night. But one night, I didn’t. And then another. And another. And another.

It was impossible to imagine traveling without drinking. Especially to the places my work brings me and the people I travel with: Vegas, New York, San Francisco. Early in the year, I couldn’t do it. I just didn’t know how, didn’t want to, couldn’t. But then, in June I went to San Francisco and I didn’t drink. Then, I went to New York in September and did drink, but went again in October, and then again in November and December and didn’t. Then, Vegas. I stayed sober in fucking Vegas for three days in October.

Vegas, November 2014

Vegas, November 2014

There were one million other impossible moments, too. I wrote about one of them here, at the end of this post, where I talk about the time I rode the train to Boston with a wine bottle between my legs and didn’t drink it.

Any time we do an impossible thing, we break open our brain, and then we can be put together in a new way. I broke my brain a lot this year.

2. I built a space where I could tell the truth.

It sounds silly, but one of the greatest things I did this year was create a new Instagram account where I could speak the truth about sobriety, myself, how I was really feeling and doing. I have had this blog for a long time, and had several ones before it. I’ve journaled since I was eight. I’m on Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and SnapChat and although I’m pretty open in general, I needed a space where I could write down the exact truth without leaving out even 1%. I needed to create a new circle, my own space, without co-workers and friends and family and people who might have some kind of opinion or concern about what I was saying. I needed to be able to scream into the internet to complete strangers.

So, I created @iflyatnight_ on July 21 while I was on a work trip in San Jose and posted this:

San Francisco, June, 2014

San Francisco, June, 2014

At the time I did not know that there was this amazing, strong, loving group of cool people out there who would scoop me up as one of their fellow weirdos and carry me along. It’s been so fun and so important. When I posted about getting my 90-day chip yesterday over one hundred of those other little weirdos gave me a high-five.

We all need a place where we can find our voice and tell the whole mess of our truth. It is not enough to say it alone or on paper or even to God. We need each other – at least one other person – to say to, “Here I am, all 100% of me, just like this,” and to be seen and recognized and reflected back as beautiful.

I met Aidan, who prompted me to write about a moment that changed my life – a moment I’d needed to write about for too long.

And my sobriety brother John who wrote this beautiful poem for me one day:

3. I met fucking Elizabeth Gilbert!

I love this woman. I have loved her since I read Eat, Pray Love in 2007 on a plane to DC when I was suffocating with the truth I could not swallow: I was married (recently, in fact) and I did not want to be married. I loved someone and also wished I had a take-back. I recognized her story and her words so completely as my own and took immense solace in them, despite being crushed by their truth. As a woman and a writer and a seeker, I carry her words around in my heart daily. To meet her and introduce her to Alma and watch as she and Alma exchanged words in front of a room full of people was totally magical and fun and surreal. Also, her Facebook page is such a great source of love and community and wisdom. If you don’t follow, I recommend.

4. On that note, I read a few really important books.

I read a lot of wonderful books this year. Two that stand out:

Gift from The Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

“Perhaps this is the most important thing for me to take back from beach-living: simply the memory that each cycle of the tide is valid; each cycle of the wave is valid; each cycle of a relationship is valid.”

The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield

“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

5. I learned that we don’t do it for anyone else. 

There was no light bulb moment that got me to see I had to do it just for me. I don’t even know if those words are the right words. I just know that at some point, through falling down six hundred and seventy thousand times and getting up just one fraction of an inch more times than that, a little flicker-light inside of me started to fight for my own life because there’s something in me I don’t want to let die. Because I want to dare to live for real.

I wrote this as it relates to getting sober, but think it applies to really anything that breaks you open and requires reinvention at the gut level: losing weight, grieving loss, being a parent, fighting disease. 

I love this year for what it brought. Onward.