How did you manage the first week and first month? I am trying to take things day by day, but I feel overwhelmed by the obstacles in my path including a fear of losing livelihood. Things set me off in a big way. How long do mood swings, insomnia, and this constant dull headache last? What were the tools you used to get through everyday without drinking and still be productive in your work life even when you felt like you couldn't?
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.
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:
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.
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.