anne lamott

11 Books That Changed My Life

11 Books That Changed My Life

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 Cure for The Pain is in The Pain

The Cure for The Pain is in The Pain

I just received this framed quote and the most incredible letter from a beautiful, dear woman named Annie, who I met earlier this year. A stranger who is now a friend. She found me through a post on Facebook, from a comment on one of Anne Lamott's posts, which is just further proof (if you need it) that Anne Lamott is totally IN with God. 

How Do I Accept and Forgive Myself?

How Do I Accept and Forgive Myself?

I struggle with other "non-substance" addictions. I'm constantly worrying about who likes or doesn't like me, if I am attractive or thin enough, if I am a good mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend. It's consuming and I liken it very much to an addiction to alcohol, pills whatever. You're blogs have made me cry because they resonate. I'm trying to realize it's "ok" to fail or be imperfect, but it's been almost 37 years of thinking it's not ok to be these things.

18 Things it Took Me 38 Years to Learn

18 Things it Took Me 38 Years to Learn

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.

Did Quitting Drinking Stick The First Time?

Did Quitting Drinking Stick The First Time?

I was wondering did you stop drinking, then start again, then stop again? I drank over the weekend. After 4 nights of not drinking. The weekends are the absolute worst for me since my divorce. I hate being alone. I feel awful today that I drank. Anyway, I was just wondering if you stopped once and that was all it took.  

Tribe, Ritual and God Energy: Why AA Works for Me

NOTE: This post is a guest post on Hip Sobriety's blog for Outside The Rooms: Hip Sobriety and Alcoholics Anonymous: An 11 Part Series

A couple months ago, I listened on the phone as Holly read to me a draft of a long, thoughtful, honest piece about her experience with AA and its part in her recovery journey.

When she finished I took a long, deep breath. Holly’s story is gorgeously brave – just like her. She’s an example of the deep well of power we can find in the softness of our human hearts. She is also fiercely fierce.

She's been sober for two years, and has had a mostly negative experience with AA. Whenever she describes her story I find myself getting defensive, which is interesting.I think it’s natural to want to defend things that mean something to us, especially when those things feel so connected to our own safety. But I also get it. While my experience has been very different, I get it. I’ve had mixed feelings about it at many points. I’ve wrestled with the language, the people, the groupthink mentality, all of it. I’ve wished I could be one of those people who walked into the rooms and never questioned a thing, but I’m not.

But today I’m grateful that I don’t fuss too much with how I feel about AA. How I feel about it – like many things – changes all the time. Maybe a little bit like a long-term relationship, when you’ve reached that place where your love and commitment to the thing, the respect, the reverence that you’re in the hands of the Universe anyway, trumps the inevitable and lesser ups and downs. The benefits far outweigh the perceived costs. Are there things that bug me? Sure. But my relatively short experience has taught me that when I put myself in the middle of AA, I don’t drink. When I go to meetings regularly I feel infinitely better, emotionally and spiritually. When I don’t, I start to feel jiggy. I don’t totally get the connection, but that’s fine. I also don’t get how electricity works.

I spent a lot of time intellectualizing my thoughts and dissecting my feelings about AA and you know what? None of that helped me stay sober. Because what I was actually intellectualizing was my drinking – and that’s not an intellectual exercise.

So what if the same annoying person drones on for twenty fucking minutes about the story you’ve heard 100 times before, again. There’s someone who might need to hear it. Patience. Tolerance.

So most of the language in the big book is male-centric and simplistic – maybe even offensive to me as a writer. It was written in the 1930’s (and yes, it could use an update), but the underlying message is still brilliantly beautiful and profound. Take what works – leave the rest.

So there are some weirdos, crazies, and people I find incredibly annoying in the program. Welcome to life. Everywhere. By and large, the majority of people I’ve come across in the rooms of AA are wonderfully compassionate, surprisingly funny, and exceedingly honest. They possess the rare qualities I most love in human beings who’ve gone through and survived some kind of hell: humility,  tolerance and a deep respect for life. It took time to find my crew and appreciate this vibe. It took a lot of shopping around meetings, sitting through bad ones, tolerating annoyances, time. But I can honestly say that when I’m in those rooms I feel a sense of calm and hope I don’t feel anywhere else.

It’s also important to note I do a lot of other things to keep moving forward, and by no means do I think AA is the only way to get and stay sober, nor do I think it’s the best way for everyone. It’s just what has worked for me so far. The other things I do – some of which are technically part of the program (meditation, prayer, honesty with others, service work) and some of which are technically not (yoga, running, lots of sleep, baths, writing, engaging in any creative outlet possible) have only been encouraged and enhanced by what I’ve learned in the rooms and through the people.

When Holly finished reading me her post I said I was bummed she’d had such a bad experience, because mine has just been so different. She asked if I’d write about my experience and I said, of course.

So I distilled why I believe AA has worked for me so far into three primary points: the people,  ritual, and God energy.

The people. I found a tribe.

AA Alcoholics Anonymous Sobriety Tribe Addiction Recovery

AA Alcoholics Anonymous Sobriety Tribe Addiction Recovery

We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. – Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness

Being a human can be lonely. Being a human with an acute alcohol addiction is desperately, painfully lonely. By the end of my drinking I was surrounded by people, but nobody knew my insides. Nobody knew how much I was drinking, the crushing shame and anxiety I felt because of the things I did when I drank, how important booze was to me, how much I relied on it to feel normal, social, human. Even I didn’t know. We go to such great lengths to protect the addiction – such great lengths – that over time, incrementally, despite ourselves, we create a separate world with a population of two – us and the alcohol. While we exist in, manage, and are part of entire lives that include families and co-workers and big, vibrant circles of friends and houses and plans we are constantly, dreadfully alone.

In the rooms of AA I heard people describe my insides exactly. I heard people speak in a way I thought impossible. I’ve had more than a few friends say that while sitting in their first meeting, they were sure the person who took them there had tipped off the room, told them about their story, because the things people were saying were just too familiar, too close to their own experience, how could they possibly know? It’s funny but true. Of course nobody tipped them off. As wonderfully unique and special we all are, our human experiences are collectively, boringly similar. Love is love. Pain is pain. Fear is fear. Addiction is addiction. The thing Dr. Bob and Bill Wilson captured in the Big Book is the essence of what it’s like to experience alcoholism – the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of the disease – and every time we sit in a meeting we get the chance to recognize and be recognized, to hear how others have walked through it, to nod our heads and say, Yes, me, too. There is magic in Me, too. Me, too is the antidote to loneliness.

Many people need desperately to receive this message: 'I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.' – Kurt Vonnegut

So by sitting there, listening and talking, I found a tribe. I now have a large circle of people I know from AA – some are very close friends, some are acquaintances, some are just familiar faces – all sharing this common, bizarre experience. I know so many people I wouldn’t have otherwise come across in my everyday life. People who used to be homeless, CEOs, Broadway dancers, insurance executives, total misfits and weirdos, wonderful humans. I hang out with these people inside and outside the rooms. When I first came in, they invited me to parties – sober parties – and I saw people having actual, real fun without drinking (gasp!). I was invited to dinners, to coffee, to run 10Ks and go on ski trips. They said, come along with us. They let me be weird and self-conscious and shaky like the most awkward days of junior high. When I said I was angry about everything, uncomfortable as fuck and sad, they nodded their heads, I know and I have been there and Me, too. They told me to call whenever and picked up their phone when I did and didn’t ask why I was calling. They smiled when I showed up at a meeting after going missing for a few weeks and didn’t say, Where have you been?  But instead, I’m so happy to see you.

Anne Lamott talks about how at some point in her recovery process, she had developed relationships with so many people who were invested in her sobriety that she couldn’t just disappear anymore. If she went off the radar for more than a day or so, she’d get calls or people would show up at her house. She called them “The Interrupters.” I have a crew of them myself now, and 90% are folks I met in AA. They keep tabs. They send texts and call. They show up. They don’t let me disappear, even if I want to. This is a tribe and it’s important in sobriety (and life) because we humans get lost easily, we imagine ourselves alone, we float off to the edge. And the edge is where you can fall off.

Lest you think this sounds like a total love fest, let me be clear: it’s not all a love fest. Sometimes when I’m sitting in meetings I press the palms of my hands into my eye sockets willing someone to shut up. I’ve walked out of meetings because I can’t listen for one more second longer. I’ve wanted to punch certain people right in the face, make-out with others, and sometimes I just shake my head. But underneath all that I get access to some bigger, deeper realm where none of that shit matters – the “good” or the “bad” – because I know we’re all doing something so much more important just by sitting there, being totally imperfect.

The ritual: patient action

The ritual of meetings and the emphasis on action is another reason AA works for me. For a couple reasons:

I am lazy and dislike routines. I want to do things on my time, when I want to do them, the way I want. Which is fine and all, except when it comes to changing behaviors, paying bills and getting my kid to school on time. Particularly now, in early recovery, the simple practices of AA has been crucial. I remember when my first sponsor told me to call her every day. I thought, Every. Day?! I don’t talk to anyone EVERY DAY. But after a while (and enough falling on my face) I figured out why: recovery is a daily thing. Like one of the old timers said, “You wouldn’t skip a shower today because you took one yesterday would you?” (Well, yes. Yes I would skip a shower today, but point taken.)

It’s the same as any behavior we want to change. We must rewire our brains with new behaviors and that means action. Not talking about it, thinking about it, writing about it, but actually doing it. Sitting your ass in a chair and doing it. Over and over.

I also think it’s important to say, nothing “bad” happens if I don’t go to a meeting or call my sponsor every day, the program doesn’t require anything except a desire to stop drinking – these are just suggestions. Yet things seem to go a hell of a lot better when I follow those suggestions. At minimum, I stay sober. And at best, I help someone else do that.

Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness (thinking) that created them. - Albert Einstein

ALSO: I have amnesia. We all do. We romanticize horrible relationships when they're over, we revere the dead even when they were assholes, and we forget the negative consequences of our behavior, over and over again. But when you have amnesia about a thing that can cause as much damage as drinking, it’s actually dangerous. When our neural pathways have been formed for years upon years (for me, 20!) to do a thing -- and that thing is so closely associated to daily living (laundry, dinner, restaurants, sex, 5:00 pm Monday - Friday (happy hour!), sporting events, sunny weather, fall weather, snowstorms, holidays, birthdays, thirsty Thursdays, celebrations, tough days, whatever) a hell of a lot of rewiring needs to happen.

When I first knew I had to quit drinking every day felt so fragile. Like I could step on a crack in the sidewalk and end up drunk again. Having a place to go and physically put by body was helpful and necessary. The rituals of going to a meeting, reading the preamble, hearing the same words, seeing familiar faces, the format of meetings, the daily-ness of it, I needed it. I like it. They say, move the feet and the heart will follow and I have found that to be the case.

God energy

AA Recovery Addiction Sobriety Alcoholics Anonymous Alcoholism Alcohol

AA Recovery Addiction Sobriety Alcoholics Anonymous Alcoholism Alcohol

Every act or decision we make that supports life supports all life, including our own. The ripples we create return to us. – David R. Hawkins, Power vs. Force

The third reason AA works for me is that in those rooms I find what I call “God energy.”

This has nothing to do with religion.

It’s the energy I feel when I am near the ocean, lost in a beautiful book, watching my daughter sleep, teaching yoga, in the writing flow. It’s an elevated energy - the vibration of hope and change. I want as much of it as I can get, on a daily basis, because it makes me feel better. And not in a bottle-of-wine-or-six donuts-way, but in a long, restful sleep and a hug-from-your-favorite-aunt way. It reminds me I am connected to you. It reminds me how strong and also how powerless I am.

I wrote the following four months ago, which sums it up better than I can now.

I know AA isn't for everyone. There are many parts of it that kept me away and still turn me off sometimes. I know it isn't the only way, but if I look at my path over the past year, I feel deep gratitude that it exists.I thought about it as I was sitting at a meeting tonight, feeling at ease, comfortable in my skin and at peace for the first time all day. Just listening and nodding and smiling at faces I know and strangers' too.Why I go now is the same reason I kept going back to the yoga mat so many years ago and still do today as often as possible. It is the same reason I bury my nose in my daughter's head and smell her 100 times a day. It is the same reason I never tire of looking at the ocean. I go because I feel God in those rooms. I feel God in all the broken bits of us sitting in those chairs. Because I can see the fear in someone's eyes when they are very new, and the way the room holds them. I can feel my own brokenness being seen and understood and thus, some kind of alchemy taking place. I can speak my own voice, even when it shakes. I see people hold space for one another, even when they are irritated, annoyed, angry, or disagree. I see people belly laugh and weep. I see people change…actually change. And it feels like witnessing miracles.So yeah, that's why I go. Because I need to be with God to remember who I am.

[NOTE: This post is a guest post on Hip Sobriety's blog for her "Outside The Rooms: Hip Sobriety and Alcoholics Anonymous: An 11 Part Series. To read the rest of the series, go here."]

Primary photo credit: Larissa Coutihno on Flickr

Push Off From Here

One Monday morning in September, 2013, I posted the picture below to Instagram. The feet at the bottom of the picture are mine; I was riding the train into work. I had worn those shoes (a pair I forgot I owned) that morning because they were more pretty and grown-up than I felt.

I had just come off a weekend of drinking. A bad one. A bunch of hiding and embarrassment and ugh. I didn't want to be drinking anymore, but I just couldn't stay sober for long. Days. A week. Two weeks. But not longer. I was stuck in a crushing in-between place, a purgatory. I had a lot of secrets, had just ruined a relationship, I had all kinds of knowledge about AA and sobriety, having gone in and out of the rooms for over a year, and a stockpile of evidence to prove there was nothing left for me in drinking.

And yet, I was stuck.

I cried that whole train ride into work. The tears felt good in my dry eyes, the rims of them ached from hangover and fear and shame and defeat. It had been over a year since I first started trying to get sober. I'd drawn so many lines: after my birthday, after the holidays, after Alma's birthday, after the one year mark of my brother's wedding, when I had the worst of my bottoms. Line after line and I kept hopping right over them. I'd make it a while. I'd feel good and strong and hopeful, and then I'd find myself pulling the ripcord, going to the liquor store, or going out to eat and ordering wine, and...I just couldn't seem to hold on. The chasm between where I was and where I wanted to be was just too wide. 

Push off from here.

On the train, I held my backpack on my lap and closed my eyes. I was a girl dressed up as a grown up. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I whispered to myself, “Push off from here, Laura. Just push off from here.”

This is something a woman said to me in one of my first recovery meetings. In the meeting I had shared some of the horrific things only a mother who drinks can understand – the special kind of vitriol saved for mothers who are addicts, as my friend puts it – and she came up to me afterward and said, “I know, I know. It’s the absolute worst. But you can push off from here. You can leave all that behind.”

So again, for what felt like the the millionth time, I said to myself: push off from here.

The truth is I was so pissed off. I was so angry this was my card. Why did I get tagged? The Saturday of that weekend was my mom’s 60th birthday party and the night before I'd decided to have my own. I drank through most of the afternoon and then stashed away beers and nips of vodka around my house while my brother, his wife and my daughter pretended like they didn't know what was going on. Which meant on the night of my mom's party, I was hungover, sober, and surrounded by a big group of family and drinks who were all drinking and having a blast.

I remember looking around the room and thinking, this is so fucking unfair.

Toward the end of the night, when everyone was getting pretty loose, I escaped to my car so I could cry . My brother, fresh from previous night's scene, came looking for me. The fact that he was worried his big sister had snuck off to drink because that's what I did was beyond embarrassing. The fact that I was a 37 year old woman who had to hide away at a party to cry; this pity party I was having; the fact that I once again had put the focus on me: I hated it all. I hated everything goddamn thing about it. I hated everyone in that room who didn’t have the big red "ADDICT" stamp on their forehead and I hated myself for not being able to accept it yet.

Before going back in, my brother and I stopped to talk outside the restaurant.

He said, looking at my with his sweet blue eyes, “There’s a party going on inside there, Laura. And we’re all wondering where you are."

“I know," I replied. "I’m sorry. I needed air.”

He nodded. I could tell he was angry, but trying to be patient. After a long pause, he asked, “Do you feel like you’re doing this alone?”

I inhaled, looked up at the street lamp. “I don’t feel like I’m doing it alone. But it is mine. Only I can do it.”

“That’s right,” he said. “It’s yours. And I’m really, really sorry this is your thing, sister. I know—I mean I don’t know—how hard it is for you. But I know it’s hard.”

“It is," I said, looking down. "But it is mine."

“It’s yours.”

His frustration deflated and he hugged me. People inside were looking for us, waving to us from the windows. We walked back inside and shortly after I drove my daughter home while the party continued.

Acceptance is a small, quiet room.

You hear a lot about acceptance in recovery. The big book states, The result was nil until we let go absolutely, meaning until you’re able to accept this thing fully, you ain’t gonna stay sober. And even if you do stay sober, you’re probably not going to be very happy about it.

But the thing about acceptance is this: it isn’t a single moment in time. At least not for me. Some people—a lot of people—talk about having a moment, a “rock bottom,” where they sink as low as they possibly can and realize they simply can't go on. Call it a spiritual awakening. Call it a psychic change. In AA circles, it's called “the gift of desperation." 

I had plenty of horrific, demoralizing moments that shocked me into a degree of acceptance: DUIs, blackouts, compromising situations, friends calling me out, family calling me out, putting my daughter in danger, putting me in danger. But I also still had a lot of outside things I could point to and say, Here. That. See? I can’t be that bad. I’ve always been relatively successful at work. I have a lot of friends. Family that loves me. I’m wanted in places. I have a car, a home, a beautiful daughter. I run, I teach yoga, my business card says I’m a Vice President. I present well. 

So while there were many, many points when I accepted something had to change, I couldn’t seem to hold onto that acceptance. Why? Because it's sneaky. Because it's complicated. Because it requires changing your whole life. Because it's scary and lonely.  Because it's really fucking hard to live in a world where drinking is everywhere. Because the very definition of the disease is a denial that you have a problem. Because it lied to me in my own voice.

How do we accept this when we still have things to lose? How do we hold on to that acceptance? How do we get from here to there?

When I got home that night after the party, I wrote this down on a piece of paper:

Acceptance is a small, quiet room.

It’s a line from Cheryl Strayed’s incredible book, “Tiny Beautiful Things.”

“Acceptance is a small, quiet room and what I meant by that has everything to do with simplicity, with sitting in the ordinary place, with bearing witness to the plain facts of our life, with not just starting at the essential, but ending up there. Acceptance asks only that you embrace what’s true. Allow your acceptance of that to be a transformative experience. You do that by simply looking it square in the face and then moving on. You don’t have to move fast or far. You can go just an inch. You can mark your progress breath by breath.”

You can just go an inch. You can mark your progress breath by breath.

This notion has the same profound meaning as “one day at a time," which is the same as “start where you are,” which is the same as “push off from here,” which is the same as one of my most favorite lines from Annie Lamott:

“E.L. Doctorow said once said that 'Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.' You don't have to see where you're going, you don't have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

So on that train ride into work in September when I took a picture of my feet, I did something I'd never done before: I stopped promising myself I wouldn’t drink again.

I stopped thinking about what tomorrow, or next week, or a lifetime would look like. I stopped worrying about whether or not I'd be able to have a relationship, whether I'd be boring, whether I'd be happy, whether I'd find my way. I literally just focused on the next step, the next breath. I went to a meeting that day. I talked. I went home that night. I said a prayer, a simple prayer, thank you, and I went to bed. I woke up, got on my knees, and asked for willingness again, just for the day.

I didn’t try to move fast or far. I went an inch. I marked my progress breath by breath.

I also stopped pretending I didn't feel things I did. Like really fucking pissed off. Frustrated. Ambivalent. Angry. Jealous. I started, for the first time, being honest about what was going on with me. This is a very hard thing to do when you've spent so much time—maybe your whole life, in fact—pretending to be alright. I was always ashamed of my big, human-sized feelings and desires. I was driven to other's truth through music, writing, art. But when it came to myself, I choked on the truth. My friends have often joked about my proclivity towards the dark and depressing when it comes to music and books, Oh groan, don't let her pick the book for this month, I don't want to slit my wrists. Or, please put on something other than depression rock, gawd." It's funny, and fair. It also makes sense. I don't think it's the darkness that draws me in, but the honesty.

Any mother who didn't "magically bond with their angel" when they gave birth or couldn't quite grasp "the miracle of breastfeeding" knows the importance of honest stories about motherhood.

Anyone who's been blindsided by a lonely, disappointing drought in a marriage knows the need for a forthright take on love.

And any person who suffers from the insanity of alcohol addiction knows the absolute necessity of hearing the words, me, too.

As I was writing this I remembered a passage quote from Augusten Burrough's book, "This is How" that pretty accurately sums it up.

All improvements, transformations, achievements, liberations; everything you want to change about yourself and your life; everything you want to make happen, any obstacle you want to overcome, any crisis you must survive – the prerequisite is being able to allow yourself to feel whatever it is you feel and not pretend you feel something you don’t.

This may seem obvious to some, but to me (and I think most of us, if we really think about it) this level of honesty is frightening, and almost feels impossible. Certainly around addiction it does; honesty means dragging this unmentionable thing out into the light so not only we can see it, but others can too. But the same goes for anything: our relationships, our jobs, our friends, our bodies, our spirituality, our children, our spouses, our sexuality, our past. Often times, how we actually feel about these things isn't even accessible to us. Because we've buried it for so long, we've been conditioned for a lifetime to know how we should feel, we look at Facebook and think there's something wrong with us if our lives don't look like that, we compare other people's outsides to our insides. But oh, that honesty is freedom. IT IS THE WAY IN AND THE WAY OUT. It is learned and it takes practice -- daily practice. I started by telling one person the whole truth, and when they didn't run away, when I didn't vaporize, when I felt an actual physical release, a lightening of my spirit, I kept doing it.

This combination of acceptance and honesty has helped me turn a corner, to start to peel back the layers. Piece by piece, skin by skin, day by day.

What Today Feels Like

Today feels lighter. Earlier this week I was struggling. The struggle is much less around drinking - that hasn't seemed like a good idea or been appealing for a while - and more around navigating life without a buffer.  Things that I thought once impossible are now possible, like traveling to Vegas for work and not losing my mind, or just simply going out to a restaurant for dinner without feeling agitated. I find it a lot easier just to be in my own skin. Small, daily practices have turned into habits that I don't notice I'm doing, and that is its own miracle.

I know I have only just begun and I am okay with that. Excited, even?

I am excited about the possibilities - and it does feel like anything is possible as long as I stay sober.

I have shit awful days. I wish some things were different. My moods are all over, but through practice - through the simple, but very difficult act of sitting with discomfort and not doinganything to numb out or fix it - I can see my moods as weather.

Mostly, today I just think about today. When that (inevitable) voice pops in to say, You can't do this. No way. Not forever, I remember what my first yoga teacher said when one of his students came to him with the same thought: I cannot stop drinking.

He said, "Sure you can. Are you drinking right now?

... And now?

... And how about right now?"

And then I keep going.

Day 3: Gratitude is The Attitude (Groan), Pumpernickel Swirl & Interrupters

I'm doing the Gabby Bernstein's "May Cause Miracles" 40 Day fear cleanse based on A Course in Miracles. If you want to join along, email me at admin@lauramckowen.com or find me or on Instagram where I'm posting about it daily. 

My attitude clearly sucks these past few days. I literally groaned when I listened to Gabby's voice saying, "Day 4: Gratitude is the Attitude."

But I took notice, and just started writing. Pen to paper. I started to make a list of things I am grateful for. No editing, just the first (17) things that came to mind:

1. Alma 2. Coffee in the morning 3. The 'interrupters'* 4. My job - that I have one, that I can support myself 5. Candles 6. My new home 7. Living by the sea 8. That I stayed sober one more day 9. Breathing - the yoga kind 10. That I have ways to heal myself 11. My sponsor 12. My grandmas - both of them - who are both sick 13. AA - that I have a place to go 14. Today - that I was able to wake up early 15. Our capacity to change and choose 16. Quiet 17. Fucking music - duh!

By the time I reached 17, I felt an energy shift - a bit of lightness.  It's not that I'm against gratitude, of course, but sometimes - and especially lately, maybe because of Thanksgiving and too many 'internet wisdoms' - it feels saccharine and fake to proclaim "GRATITUDE IS THE ATTITUDE!" Maybe my ego is just resistant as all hell right now as I'm working through these daily practices.

Point is, sometimes we're feeling it, sometimes we're not. But there's great purpose in practicing it with intention regularly, because just like prayer, yoga, or showering, it needs to be a regular practice. "You can't stay clean on yesterday's shower." Thank you AA, for yet another overly simplistic but profoundly true aphorism. <3

While I was writing this morning about today's lesson, I thought of two things.

First, when I was in my early 20's and working for a .com start-up, I had two co-workers and friends: Jeff and Mark. Jeff and I dated for a while on and off - my first lesson in the 'don't poo where you eat' mantra of dating in the workplace. Mark was an ultra-smart Princeton grad, sensitive, funny, tall and warm. Jeff was a goofy but very cute mid-western boy, a bit out of his element in Boston, but wide-eyed about it, too. The three of us palled around a lot, and when Jeff and I stopped dating and I was bumming about it, Mark said to me one day,

"Jeff is striving to just be ok. Not great. Not better than average. Just ok. I don't see you with someone who is striving to just be ok. He's like white bread and you're pumpernickel swirl."

It's probably important to say Mark wasn't trying to be with me. He had a girlfriend he was crazy about and there wasn't any magic between the two of us. He was just pointing out what he saw as an obvious observation. You're this; he's that; you can do better than that. He wasn't even being mean about Jeff - they were good buddies. Dudes can talk like that. But I never forgot it. Just striving to be ok. Huh.

The second thing that passed through my mind this morning were these lyrics by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco in the song "Please be Patient with Me."

"I'm this apple, this happening stone when I'm alone my blessings get so blurred at the sound of your words"

We need to intentionally think about gratitude because our blessings get so blurred.

The interrupters: Anne Lamott talked about how at some point in her recover process, she had developed relationships with so many people who were invested in her sobriety, that she couldn't just disappear anymore. If she went off the radar for more than a day or so, she'd get calls or people would show up at her house. She called them the interrupters.

I've experienced this twice in the past two nights - both nights that I wanted to drink and was *this* close to actually doing it. The first night, I was out with my daughter for dinner and contemplating whether or not to order wine - reasoning back and forth, back and forth. I knew the waitress was going to come to the table soon and I wasn't sure what would come out of my mouth. Then, the first text rolled in from a girl I recently met in AA. "Hey, how're you feeling today?" Then, my phone rings - a newcomer who'd recently relapsed and when she asked me for tips in early sobriety I said to pick up the phone a lot, call people, even if it's a practice call and you have nothing to say. Then, another text, from Holly. Then, another text from a guy, also in the program. All at once. Then! And this is the best part. As I'm ping-ponging in my head and responding to these texts I hear Alma's voice come into focus,

"Mama. Maaaama. MAMA!"

"WHAT!"

"Look at this." She puts the pat of butter in my face. "It says AA."

I laughed. Seriously? Seriously?! Fiiiiiiiiiiine. FINE. Not today.

butter_question
butter_question

Then, last night, we had some time to kill because I had left my keys with someone at the office and needed to wait for my landlord to get home. I was agitated all day and my mind starts ping-ponging again. I take Alma to Super Cuts to get her hair trimmed because she's looking orphan-like and when I walk in, there's newcomer girl.

A wants to go to dinner so we go to a pizza place and my mind is still all haywire and getting louder by the moment. We sit, I contemplate, take a deep breath and look around. Right across from me, in a busy restaurant with a zillion faces I don't know, is a guy I know from the program. He smiles, I smile, and I just shake my head.

Today I woke up sober.