A few things I'm thinking about this trip around the sun.
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.
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.
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.
It’s been almost three years since my ex-husband and I separated. I don’t write much about our marriage, or what we are like now, because he asked me not to and because I respect the delicate privacy of our history. But I also strive to put down what’s real, to unearth the truest narrative I can because I think that’s how we come to understand each other, and life. Sometimes not writing about it feels like a barrier. Sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a tough, but necessary balance to strike, and I’m learning. I think I can write about this, though. I think this is less about me or him or us and more about the way love shows up in our lives.
Yesterday was shit. I was stuck. Heavy, heavy stuck. I had no muscle memory of anything good or light. I was sure I never felt much joy to begin with. Any past sweetness felt very far away.
When I get like that I am wholly un-loveable and too needy. Nobody will ever want me again. I was feeling rejected by one person and so I felt all the rejections of a lifetime. I heard all the men who've ever said, “No,” and “No, thanks,” and “You’re the most wonderful, but I cannot.” They were the only voices I could hear.
All day the pain wouldn't budge. Not even an inch. No amount of yoga, prayer, running, TV, hot water, wise words from friends, ice cream, writing, or logic was making a dent. I thought about drinking and wished it still worked. I dragged myself to a meeting and rubbed my eyes the whole way through. I tried to read the best bits of my go-to books but couldn't focus. I waved a white flag on Instagram.
I railed on myself for spending the day I took off from work in this headspace.
But nothing was moving, except the clock. I was reminded by Momastery that pain is not a mistake.
“Pain is not a sign that you’ve taken a wrong turn or that you’re doing life wrong. It’s not a signal that you need a different life or partner or body or home or personality. Pain is not a hot potato to pass on to the next person or generation. Pain is not a mistake to fix. Pain is just a sign that a lesson is coming.”
Pain is just a sign that a lesson is coming.
So when I woke up this morning, I hit my knees first and said, show me in a way I can understand. I sat down and wrote. Pen to paper, freeform, three pages, without editing myself.
Afterward, I was drawn to pull out a stack of post-its. I started to write something about myself on each one. Something I’ve accomplished. A way I’ve changed (one of the recurring thoughts yesterday was that I cannot change, that I haven’t, that I don’t know how or have the capacity to). A shift in perception. A marker of growth. On each square I wrote something real and true about me in the most simple words possible.
They said things like:
YOU CAN DO SMART THINGS WITH YOUR BRAIN.
YOU KEEP YOUR HEART OPEN.
YOU HAVE RUN MARATHONS.
A lot of the notes are specific and new to my life in sobriety:
YOU ARE NO LONGER CAUGHT IN AN INFINITE LOOP.
YOU CAN HANDLE CRITICISM.
YOU CAN SEPARATE OTHER PEOPLE'S OPINIONS OF YOU FROM YOUR OWN.
YOU CAN READ BEDTIME STORIES.
YOU CAN OPEN ALL YOUR MAIL.
YOU CAN TELL THE TRUTH.
And some were just regular, but profound, reminders of where I am:
YOU LIVE IN A BEAUTIFUL PLACE.
YOU ARE COMFORTABLE IN YOUR BODY (This was not always true.)
YOU CAN SPEAK IN FRONT OF PEOPLE.
YOU ARE TEACHABLE.
In the end, it looked like this:
The post-it that’s crumpled up didn’t seem to fit with all the others. I folded it up just after writing it, unclear where it came from, or how it belonged.
It has one word on it: my ex-husband’s name.
I let it sit there all day with the others – my weird little grid of affirmations, or whatever we want to call them – on my kitchen countertop. I went through my day. Ran six miles. Did laundry. Sat in front of the coffee shop and watched people walk their dogs. Opened every piece of mail I have. Called the IRS.
I thought about the black, dark, stuck place I was in yesterday. How I'd bound such deep, existential pain to one particular person, one rejection I was feeling, and that it just didn’t add up. I wondered what I was getting at with all those squares of paper?
I thought about one of my favorite quotes from Cheryl Strayed, “Don't surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn't true anymore.”
I think I had to write out all the other pieces of paper - all 31 of them - to get to the one I crumpled up.
I think Glennon was right in that I just had to let pain do its job. If I could still, it would show me the way home.
The crumpled up note has my ex-husband’s name on it: four letters that still spell out a large part of my heart, even though we have moved on. They spell out mercy and grace and finding a way through our individual shortcomings to build a peaceful space for our daughter. They signify so many apologies I've yet to make, so many regrets about the way I handled things before I knew a better way to handle things.
The note has his name on it, but when I hold it in my hand and close my eyes, I see these words: YOU ARE ALREADY FORGIVEN.
God speaks to each of us as he makes us, then walks with us silently out of the night. - Rainer Maria Rilke
Sometimes we have a big truth sitting inside us. A knowing. Maybe that our job is wrong, our relationship is dead, our child is suffering, our health is in danger – but we don’t know how to live into it, to navigate through. Clues will get us there.
And sometimes, it’s the clues that lead us to the truth. They can point us to our treasure, when all we have to guide us a vague feeling of discontent or misalignment. A general sense that we’re off course.
Clues are a breadcrumb trail fed by our curiosities and appetites, curated through the people and events that show up in our lives, and they are available to us always.
When I wrote the the hypothetical story about my friend’s elephant tattoo and how it might lead her through a winding but definite path to explore her heart, if she kept open and kept following the clues, I was brought back to my own path – the interplay of truths and clues that have led me to where I am today.
There are millions, of course, but a few I want to tell you about.
The First Truth
I knew somewhat early in my marriage – to a man I loved and love very much – that it wasn’t quite right. This was a massively inconvenient and complicated truth, a brutally painful one, one I didn't even understand. I didn’t know what life would look like on the other side of it, but trusting that tiny, clear voice that wouldn’t stop no matter what I did, or how I wished it to, was the hardest and most important thing I’d done in my life up to that point. Not because my life improved on the outside (in many ways, it did not and has not) as a result of listening to it, but because it was my truth, my gut – even though I didn’t have the right words to explain it, even though I didn't want it, even though it crushed me and a lot of others – and honoring it meant not denying myself, my core.
As Cheryl Strayed says in one of her Dear Sugar columns addressing three women who are questioning their own inner voices in their relationships,
“If there’s one thing I believe more than I believe anything else, it’s that you can’t fake the core. The truth that lives there will eventually win out. It’s a god we must obey, a force that brings us all inevitably to our knees.” – Cheryl Strayed
And this was it. Alongside the truth this tiny voice kept whispering existed so many other contradictory truths: I loved him. He loved me. We have a child we adore. He's kind, and good-hearted, and so many other things. And yet, at some point I knew this voice would eventually win out. I knew silencing it was futile.
The Second Truth
“What is not brought to consciousness, comes to us as fate.” –Carl Jung
Long before I was willing to acknowledge, and even longer before I was willing to accept, I recognized I had a problem with alcohol. Some deep part of me knew that all my future happiness, and likely my life, depended on stopping this thing. The starkness of this thought seemed so dramatic when it came. I told myself it was for a long time. But in the end it turned out to be exactly that stark, exactly that serious.
There were so many clues along the way, an uncountable number. But we don’t listen until we listen, and sometimes we must be forced.
Once I couldn’t deny this truth any longer, in the same way I couldn’t deny the tiny, clear voice in my marriage, the question was how to proceed. And in this case again, I was completely lost. A girl without a map, a faulty compass, and a three ton backpack of fear.
One morning last summer, after a year of trying and falling down in sobriety, I woke up in a hotel room in California, having made it through the night before without drinking at dinner. This was a huge feat for me as traveling for work and drinking were well-worn pals. The chant from Friday Night Lights that I’d written on napkins and paper scraps and hummed in my head countless times, “Clear Eyes Full Heart” popped into my mind and I had the idea to start a new Instagram with that name.
So I created it. I didn’t follow any of my friends or co-workers; I followed nobody I knew in real life. I started it because I needed a place to write and post about this thing where people who didn’t know me could see it. My truths with the people in my real life were all mixed up and I didn’t want to keep track anymore. I wanted one small place to be brutally honest. Plus, I love words and pictures, they come easy to me, creating them makes me lose time (these are clues). It was a seemingly small little thing (clues usually are), but it set forth a whole trajectory.
Following The Clues
Through the Instagram account, I started to connect with people on the same path. Each time I created a post it felt like a tiny piece of art made of my insides. Each time I hit publish, a bit of me was released, and known. I started to let strangers know me. I started to find my words, and my need to pull those words together grew, until my posts became too long for Instagram and I started to write here again. I put more things out and got feedback from these strangers, who were starting to become people I knew.
Last summer I found out Elizabeth Gilbert was doing a book signing at Brookline Booksmith for her latest book, The Signature of All Things, and despite it being inconvenient and sweltering hot, I went with my daughter and my friend, Alex. We sat in the front row because I wanted Alma to see her and hear her talk about the main character in the book – whose name is also Alma – and so that I could ask her a question if the chance arose. We sat and listened: me, mesmerized and Alma, delighted if not a little confused about the character reference (Is that me? Who is she talking about?). When Liz asked the audience for questions, I raised my shaking hand. My heart pounded as I explained to her that this was Alma, my Alma, and that I wanted to bring her here to hear about the story of her Alma, but also that I’ve loved her work since before Eat, Pray, Love, that her words helped me navigate through my own marriage and separation and life. She smiled graciously and then proceeded to have a one-on-one exchange with Alma amidst hundreds of people in this theater.
She asked her, "How is it can I see your blue eyes in such a dark theater?"
Alma answered, "I don't know."
My heart exploded.
The bit of this day I'll never forget, the part that cut right through to my bones, is her response when someone asked her how she got over "writer's block." I loathed this question, but her response was something like:
“Whatever it is that keeps you afraid, that lets fear run the show, that holds you back from letting creativity work through you, you have to work through it and let it go. It might be an illness, your body image, the place where you live, resentments you have toward your father, I don’t really know. It might be alcoholism or an unhealthy relationship…”
--- she went on, but my heart stopped there.
“It might be alcoholism.”
She mentioned it in a list of a bunch of other things and she moved on, not placing any more emphasis on its significance or difficulty. And in that moment I knew, again, that it was the thing I had to move through first. That everything else – including any potential future I might possibly have as a writer – was on the other side of that.
It was that stark, that serious.
Through having been connected to Lindsey from my old Instagram account for years (someone I’ve also never met, although we are neighbors in Boston), I found Aidan, a mama and writer living in New York, who hosts “Happier Hour” literary salons, where she brings together women in her stunning home to talk about writing and support the chosen author’s book. One of the Happier Hours finally coincided with my bi-weekly work trips to the city, and in January I was able to attend a Happier Hour with Jane Green and Mira Jacob.
It was a freezing night in Manhattan and absolutely magical. I talked to women who were very well-established writers, and several who'd left their careers in legal/healthcare/real estate to pursue writing. On that night I realized, these women are just like me. This mystical, far-away place where “writers” lived and my own place in the world were not so far apart.
I started to write more, and to be more honest in my writing, particularly about my struggle with addiction and sobriety and the dissolution of my marriage. I started to write from my heart. I started to write even when I didn’t want to. I took Ira Glass' advice and let myself write horribly. I focused on producing a bunch of work, to show up every day for this thing because it’s really all I’ve ever wanted to do.
I started to stay sober.
And because I was sober, I could write.
Because I could write, because it helped me tell the truth in words, I started to learn how to tell the truth in-person.
In meetings, in day-to-day conversations, in my friendships, I told the truth.
Because I could tell the truth, I could stay sober for another day, and then another.
I grew lighter. The thing I thought impossible to do was the thing making me lighter.
One Saturday last fall I got an email from a girl I knew from high school and college. Someone whose life ran parallel tracks to mine, but we never really knew each other well.
She told me that she wasn’t quite sure if she should reach out, but felt compelled to, that she identified with parts of my story, that she really looks forward to reading my posts, that she hoped I kept writing because it helped her.
This note came at a time of doubt and it nudged me to keep going.
This same girl then tagged me in a note on Facebook about a writing retreat Cheryl Strayed was hosting in Greece the following summer, urging me to apply. I thought, No way. Too big. Too fabulous. How would I afford it? I'd never be chosen.
But a little voice in me wouldn't shut up: Why not?
Then I couldn't stop thinking about it.
So I applied, and a month or so later, on a Friday night, I got an email that I was in. I screamed and danced around my apartment like an insane person.
So this summer I'm going to Greece to hang out with Cheryl Strayed. Pinch me one hundred times, and then again.
There are so many other details - people, twists of fate, frustrations disguised as blessings - that have played into these stories I'm telling. To map it all would be a book itself (it's happening).
This Ain't No Whimsy Thing
There are so many more details - people, twists of fate, frustrations disguised as blessings, detours and guideposts - that have played into these stories I'm telling. To map it all would require a book itself (it's happening).
The point of it all is this: we must tell our truths and follow our clues.
Hearing your truth and following your clues requires being brave. It requires staying open, being patient for so much longer than we think we can, and then moving quickly. It requires trust that we are guided, and learning to identify the difference between our ego’s will and the divine (which is tricky, because our egos are sneaky bitches). Following clues requires that we slow down and take notice, regularly. It means we sometimes have to do things that are inconvenient and against our plan, or someone else’s, entirely. It means we often proceed without clarity or a promised outcome, which is to say it requires faith, and faith is often hard-earned only by surviving our cuts and bruises.
Following your path, trusting your heart, living out your dream – all this stuff might sound so whimsical and airy-fairy. Like extravagance, a luxury, a selfish pursuit. But I think it is the exact opposite.
I believe there’s great danger in so many of us walking around separated from our hearts, unknowable to ourselves and therefore each other.
There’s great sadness, but also real risk, in not showing up in our lives as we were meant to (and I do believe we are all meant to do something) because it robs others of our gifts, and our gifts are what bring us joy, and love, and healing, and often life-saving grace. Our gifts are the least selfish thing we can bring forth, even though it may require selfishness to own them, and grow them.
I have no idea where my own path will all lead, but I do know that as of today I've been sober almost six months and I'm writing every day and I feel like I'm finally coming home. Following this path feels right in the deepest center of my being - my core - and I'm committed to staying open to what comes next.
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."
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.
Today I wrote this on my palm:
You don’t do it for anyone else.
I wrote it down mostly because I didn’t want to forget the thought. I’m trying to be teachable and one thing I’ve heard from every successful writer is keep paper and pen around at all times, so when you have a thought, you can write it down. I’m a slow learner so I only had a pen on me.
When I first came to terms with the fact that I had to do something about this drinking thing over a year ago, I reached out to two people I knew who had been sober for a long time. One was a partner at the agency I’d just left. He’s been sober twenty-something years and while we’d never discussed it, we had a close connection (and I’m guessing he knew and was saving a seat for me).
I wrote him an email one morning very early with shaky hands. Subject line: chat. I said I was scared, that I know he’d been around the block, and could he meet me for coffee? A couple days later we did – on the new greenway in Boston – and it was a hot, sticky July morning. I remember what I had on: a black t-shirt, jeans, flip-flops. I also remember that I was shaking and sweating. From fear. From booze. From not knowing what the fuck was going to happen. I put on my best I’m-fine-I’ve-totally-got-this-covered face and luckily, he didn’t push too hard on me. He asked me if I’d come to a decision or not about it. I said yes (I had not).
I said, “It feels really, really precious. Like I could step on the wrong crack in the sidewalk and find myself drunk again.”
“It is fucking precious, Laura. It feels like that for a while,” he said. This comforted me, oddly.
He told me his story, just the basic stuff. The stuff that’s important to hear when you’re shell-shocked. Enough to know that you’re not as alone as you imagine yourself to be. Enough to swallow and exhale once more.
I talked a lot. Anxiously. Fidgeting. I said, “I know I need to do it for Alma.” And I explained what had happened that forced me to face this. He didn’t flinch. (This is something you find shocking for a while with people in recovery. You expect someone – anyone – to go “WOW. That’s really FUCKED UP.” And nobody does. Usually your own worst personal traumas don’t even register. Nobody blinks.) As my dad said to me once when I was complaining that I was afraid to tell the truth in a meeting, “You can’t scare these people, Laura. You can’t embarrass them and you can’t shock them. They’ve heard everything.”
Two things he told me that day have stuck with me.
The first is, “At first it gets better, because the horrors stop. Then it gets worse. Then…it just gets different.”
It just gets different.
In my year going in and out and staying sober or not, I’ve never really stuck around long enough for it to get different. I think I know what he means, but if I’ve learned anything so far, it’s that I really probably don’t have a fucking clue.
Second, he told me, “You don’t do it for Alma. You don’t do it for anyone else. It won’t work if you’re doing it for anyone else. Even if it’s your kid, or your family, or your boss, or your husband. That sounds selfish, but it’s not. If you can’t find reason to do it for you and you don’t actually come to believe that you deserve to stop killing yourself, it won’t work.”
I am really only now grasping this. What brought me to my first meeting was Alma. My family. My back was against the wall and I had nowhere – Literally. Nowhere. Else. To hide. If someone would’ve shown me a loophole in the universe that I could access, even if I had to swim in shit and eat black olives for a month to get to it, I’d probably have done that. I did not want to quit drinking. I wanted my life to stop exploding, but I did not want to quit drinking.
So I took the first steps to my first meeting because of other people, but I could not stay for them. I wanted to cut the shit out for a relationship – someone I truly loved – and that didn’t work, either, in the long-run. Maybe here and there I’d stay away for work, because once my brain wasn’t addled by booze all the time, I really started kicking ass at work and that felt good. But nope, not a sustainable reason. Not love, or money, or even my own flesh and blood daughter – the human I love more than all other humans – could ultimately make it stick.
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 lifebecause there's something in me I don't want to let die. Because I want to dare to live for real.
It’s like this. One of my favorite lines from Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things:
“Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can't cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It's just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.”
It’s like that.