Motherhood

What Meditation Really Looks Like (I Hate Oprah and Deepak)

I need to get something off my chest. I have to call myself out. I have to tell everyone that I've been kind of lying to, or even sort of lying by to withholding. I have to rat myself out because today it just has to be said.

Here it is:

I HATE MEDITATING.

Like,  I loathe it. I hate even the thought of it. When I'm doing it, I hate it 99% of the time. The other 1% of the time my ass falls asleep and I think the blood to my brain gets cut off, so I forget how much I hate it for that second.

I don't like it at all.

I'm not sure if you've noticed, but today kicked off one of Oprah and Deepak Chopra's 21 Day Meditation Challenges.

Oprah and Deepak 21 day meditation experience
Oprah and Deepak 21 day meditation experience

I saw it everywhere - in my inbox, on Facebook, in text messages, Instagram, everywhere. People I  respect and admire and who are my teachers like Gabrielle Bernstein and Pema Chodron and Mastin Kipp were blasting out reminders yesterday and today to Join! Be a part! Love! Hug! (Groan.)

I even sent texts to people yesterday with the same info, like I was giving the FYI to join, that I'd be doing it (obviously, DUH!).

But then today looked something like this:

  • 5:15 am - Alarm goes off. Hit snooze.
  • Repeat above unconsciously every 8 minutes until 6:45. Fuck off all intentions to wake up early and meditate and write.
  • 6:45 - Roll out of bed, annoyed, and already a little behind.
  • 6:46 - Drop to my knees to say, Hi, God. Can I get some help today? Please? Cool. Thanks.
  • 6:47 - 7:54 - Do the morning routine with my daughter, which is incredibly organized for me,  but far from "organized." Success is: we both leave the house clothed, she eats something that's not the leftover cupcake in the fridge, teeth get brushed, she has a lunch she won't throw away, and I remember the keys and will not be locked out later. We both suffer a little every day.
  • 8:03 - We pull up to her drop off lane at school and she cries because her ski pants were still wet from the night before, because she peed in them mid-ski. Cars are honking and I'm trying to tell her it's ok, that she'll be able to play in the snow tomorrow, and please get out of the goddam car.
  • 8:04 - I drive away successful. She is not tardy today! She's been tardy 16 times since November, I found out Friday. 15 of those are on my watch.
  • 8:05 - 9:12 - Commute to work. Try to find zen on the train, but fall asleep instead.
  • Start Monday. Negotiate with the parts of my brain that are at work, and the parts that are elsewhere, which is about 94%. Ask some of that 94% to please join me here, now. But the tug of war has already started and I'm agitated and battling myself at about a level four. Level five has tears. I breathe deeply. I exhale. I close my eyes. I plot my to-do's, I write them down, this helps.
  • 10:47 - The school nurse emails and Alma isn't feeling well. I toss out my plans to go to a noon meeting or the gym to fix myself.
  • 12:18 - I go to pick her up.
  • 1:20 - We are home. She watches a show, I retreat to the bedroom to work.
  • All afternoon - I pivot between work and me baby, resenting both.
  • 3:50 - She comes to hug me and presses her hands against my face and I'm suffocated by the smell of POOP. I jerk back and scream, What the hell?! And she says, well, we ran out of toilet paper. (She's right. We did.) I say, NO EXCUSE, and I start to run the shower, but she won't get in, she's screaming at the top of her lungs, so I strip down and drag her in with me. Because this is what we do. We do what works.
  • 5:14 - I get a meditation reminder from fucking Deepak and Oprah and decide maybe this is a good time, before I try to do anything else, before I make dinner, because maybe I should hit the pause now. Like my snooze button.
  • I tell Alma I'm going to meditate for 20 minutes, and what is she going to do? She says, watch a show. Perfect. I put on a show.

Now, the fun really starts.

I put a pillow down and shut the door to my room. I go to find today's meditation in the app and see an Instagram notification and dive into an Instagram rabbit hole for about seven minutes before I regain consciousness and remember the task at hand. Then a call comes in for work that I answer. Then I get a text from a friend who just came out of surgery. Then I remember Alma has homework. Then I remember: MEDITATION. 

I open the app, find Day 1, sit down and close my eyes, assuming the position.

Oprah's voice comes on, welcoming me to the journey. Cool.

The recording suddenly stops. I open my eyes and grab my phone. Another work call. Inhale, answer, talk, work it out, go back.

I start over. I listen as Oprah does the intro, then Deepak takes me through today's mantra.

Alma turns the iPad up to full blast in her room, then screams for me.

I ignore her.

She comes in, grabs my hand, drags me into her room and asks me to buy a game.

I say unkind words and walk out.

I hit play, again. Restart.

A minute or so in the thing happens that usually happens when I sit down to meditate and my mind fucking EXPLODES.

My brain releases every to-do and distraction. Every thought I've had for my entire life and a few more.

My body starts twitching.

My brain says, GOD, you suck at this. Seriously? You're a YOGA TEACHER. WHAT THE FUUUUUCK. Stop this right now. Sit up! STOP. Stooooooooooooop.

And I remember everything I've ever learned from every teacher I've known and I say to my brain, I see what you're doing and I call BULLSHIT. Now please, please darling, get out of the way.

More twitching.

I get lost in a spiral of thought, pew! Like a pinball! Pew!

One thousand monkey squirrels on adderral dance around.

One hits my eyelids and forces them to snap open, STOP IT, YOU'RE MESSING IT ALL UP!

My legs twitch and bounce.

My butt loses circulation.

I shift and stretch my neck.

It has been about three minutes.

You get the point.

What Meditation Really Looks Like

Meditation for me does not look like this:

Or this:

Gabrielle Bernstein. Love her. Hate her so much right here.
Gabrielle Bernstein. Love her. Hate her so much right here.

But more like this:

Photo credit:  Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

Photo credit: Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

And this:

Photo credit:  Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

Photo credit: Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

And then this:

Photo credit:  Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

Photo credit: Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

And then:

Photo credit:  Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

Photo credit: Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

And then probably this:

Photo credit:  Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

Photo credit: Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

And then, finally, total despair:

Photo credit:  Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

Photo credit: Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

But, I will do it again tomorrow.

I wanted to post this to say:

  1. If I've ever told you I love meditating, I was lying, and I'm sorry if I made you feel dumb because you don't love it.
  2. If you feel like you're doing it wrong, you're not.
  3. If you feel like you don't have the time, or the right spot, or the right life, or too much chaos? Me too.
  4. I'm going to do it again tomorrow, and I need you to do it with me.

Why? Why would I do it again tomorrow? And why do I want you to join?

Because I've learned in the past year that when I'm pushing against something really hard, when I meet up with resistance this strong, I need to face it. Because it's the one thing - literally the one thing - that every spiritual teacher from the beginning of time swears by and agrees on and I'm going to assume maybe they're on to something.

Because that same part of my mind that tells me I can't meditate told me I couldn't live without drinking, and it was so totally wrong.

But I wouldn't have known that if I believed my brain.

Because maybe, if I can cultivate the ability to sit with myself for one minute, I can do it for another, and another, and all that might lead to a lifetime of hanging out with myself as a compassionate friend, versus being with myself as an enemy.

Maybe.

I don't know.

I still hate it.

But I'll try again tomorrow.

Will you please, too? Pretty please?

Truths and Clues

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.

1st_instagram.jpg

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.

Elizabeth Gilbert's book signing for "The Signature of All Things", July 2014

Elizabeth Gilbert's book signing for "The Signature of All Things", July 2014

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.

You, too?

Today

I've been trying to think of something more artistic to capture in the current scene, but it's not really that kind of day. I'm visiting my 95 year-old kindred-spirit-saw-her-every-day-of-my-life growing up grandma in Colorado. For the first time in my life she seems old. She's sick, stomach cancer, and while she's all with it mentally she doesn't feel good physically. There's not a lot to do but putz around, chit-chat, watch TV, eat, drink ice water and make sure she's comfy. She's been sleeping a lot. Alma is bored to tears but hanging in.

I keep telling her we're not hungry, but she keeps asking. She got tears in her eyes a while ago and said she's upset because she can't do anything and it's frustrating. I know what she means. She's never stopped moving: cooking, cleaning, painting, knitting, fussing around with us and for us, worrying, doting, daydreaming and now she's just sort of stuck with The Food Network and all of us hovering around. Getting old sucks. I don't tell her it doesn't. I rub her back and her bones are light, which is new.

I'm not particularly sad or foreboding. There's a nice peace about being here and the nothingness of the clock ticking by. I walked Alma past the street where I grew up and pointed it out, but she was more interested in the rock collection she was building in her shirt pocket. The sun is out in the big Colorado sky and we both turn our faces up to it, our white Northeast skin soaking in the unfamiliar warmth like dry sponges in a puddle.

In this picture Alma sniffles from a lingering cold while watching the iPad and my grandma checks out her eyebrows in the magnifying mirror (just in case, you know). Her hair - which has never quite been any singular or natural-looking color - shoots out in seven different directions, holding the shape of the pillow from her last nap. About a Boy is on the TV and my almost-finished knitting project is tangled up at my feet. My uncle stepped out to have some cocktails with the neighbors (this is his house) and I'm contemplating heating up the bolognese sauce my mom left here. My grandma will no doubt ask if we're hungry again in 5 minutes, I'll assure her we're not and check Facebook again.

She's been sneaking stares at Alma all day and will look at me like, Did you see that? Did you see her?

And I'll say, What? What's she doing? 

Nothing, she'll say. Che charina. Che bella. She's just so beautiful.

And I'll nod, and say, I know, I know and I'll think, so are you.

On Doing Enough

I often get to the end of a day and feel like I didn't do enough. Not enough as in, I only took care of myself, Alma, my dog, and work. Maybe ran. Maybe read a little. Said a prayer. Since when is that not enough? In what insane world is that a below par day?

I took a few hours off last week to take Alma to her 5-year appointment. She was anxious about whether or not she'd have to get a shot, but excited about all the fun things the doctor would do: check her ears, ask her questions, peek in her mouth, ask her to count to ten. Since I didn't know whether she'd have to get a shot, I explained she may not have to, but that we'd find out when we got there. She said she'd be ok if she had to -- she wouldn't cry. I said I'd be there either way.

Well, she had to get a shot. And from the moment she learned it was coming to the time it took three of us (me, two nurses) to hold her so they could administer the shot was mercury rising. Her fear escalated and she started to anticipate the shot, tried to bargain her way out, and I explained to her that thinking about it was the thing that made it scary, that it actually would only last a moment if she could just be brave for a second, just one second. When the nurses came in, Alma looked dead into my eyes and begged PLEASE MAMA I DON'T WANT IT. I lowered my gaze to meet hers, gently turned her shoulders so her heart could face mine, and clasped her little hands. I asked her what we do when we're afraid.

She swallowed and replied, "We do it anyway. We are brave."

She still cried and struggled and I winced at having to hold my baby while they did the small thing they had to do. But she made it, of course. I was there. We had a giggle later on and she got to tell her dad how terrible it was.

And you know? That was the *only* thing I needed to do that day. Or week. Or month. That would've been enough.

Our busy-ness is so often just clutter and noise and the "enough" part is the one or two moments we get to show up for the ones we love and assure them they'll be alright.

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.

************

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.

November

I took this picture five years ago today in Salem, MA with my fancy Nikon DSLR. I was walking my dog, Addie, around our yellow, half low-income housing apartment complex in my black yoga pants and long down puffer coat, my boots crunching the frozen grass. When I stopped to take this shot Addie leached forward to smell something and the camera nearly hurled out of my hands. My body surged with agitation; why couldn't I just take a picture of this beautiful light without also nearly breaking my $600 camera? Why was everything so hard? When would everything stop being so goddamn hard all the time? I had no business owning a $600 camera. Less than two months prior, the four of us (me, my husband, Alma at 6 months old, and our dog) were living with his brother and wife in their cozy but tiny home, with their two small kids and dog. They’d invited us in as a way to get back to the east coast after an ill-advised six-month stint in Colorado. We arrived the last week in August, two days before my 32nd birthday.

They’d given up their bedroom to us on the second floor where their kids also slept. Alma’s crib was set up in their closet. They slept on the pull-out couch in the living room of the first floor. When the bed was pulled out it took up the entire room, so anyone who wanted to get to the kitchen had to climb over the corner of it and the legs underneath. The humility and kindness of it all was crushing.

It was a clown car scene – four adults, three children, two dogs, and one billion ounces of life force packed into that 1,000 foot home. We tripped over each other a lot. The kids had a ball.

One cold fall night we’d all walked to a neighborhood party with the kids my husband and d I stayed behind after the party ended. We drank Absolut and Sprite and Absolut and Ginger with the guys who hosted until we were both smashed and stumbled back late into the house. We were loud stumbled around the kitchen - I think I tried to make tea. When we woke to the morning routine, I was filled with crippling dread and my husband didn't remember much. We said we were sorry but I never got over it myself – the lack of respect. I felt like a teenager again: embarrassed, selfish and self-righteous. Weren't we allowed to have fun? Shouldn't we be able to blow off steam after the past six months of insanity? I was not a teenager, though. I was 32 with an MBA and a husband with two big degrees and a six-month old baby and we were both unemployed and lost as fuck.

One morning toward the end of the two-month stretch there, I checked our bank account and we had exactly $110 in it. Total. Our phones were ringing constantly with 800-numbers; we’d stopped answering. Bankruptcy was a foregone conclusion, we just had to make the phone call to a lawyer and get the process moving. My husband started working at Whole Foods a few weeks prior just to get the energy moving in the right direction, to send some kind of signal to the universe.

$110 and I had no idea what to spend it on. Food? Diapers? I remember thinking I wanted a pedicure. Wine. Should I take it out of the bank in case a bill got processed and we were over-withdrawn? I closed my eyes and squeezed my fists together tight. Alma was sitting beside me on the bed, rolling around making baby noises and I thought, FUCK. NO.

This was not happening.

I spent four hours that day on the phone with some woman at the Massachusetts unemployment office. I’d filed a few weeks before but between two states and a bunch of extra paperwork, we’d got lost in the process somewhere and I’d about given up. I paced outside behind the house on the phone, watching my flip-flopped feet take step after step on the hot black driveway, willing this woman to please, please, please make a miracle happen and help get this processed. Before we hung up, she told me I’d receive a check in the next few days for six-thousand and some dollars. I cried.

Shortly thereafter, we moved into the yellow, half low-income housing apartment complex in Salem. It was October, Halloween month. I got a couple good consulting gigs and my my first regular yoga class on Monday nights at the YMCA down the street. He kept looking for jobs and worked at a place for free for a year, until he got a paying gig. He hated both. Things blur together after that, but the photo was taken about a month after we’d moved in, in November of 2009.

I remember looking through the lens of my camera and feeling the stark juxtaposition of the gorgeous, glowing dusk light on those tree berries against the heaviness of what we’d gone through and were still in. How much I hated him. How much I loved him. How grateful I was to be back by the ocean, and how desperate the winter already felt. How madly I loved my daughter, and what a burden she was, too. How life-giving the cold air felt in my lungs, and how trapped I would feel when I walked back inside.

30 Days Sober: You Don't Do It for Anyone Else

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.

Anyway.

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.

laura30days
laura30days

Little Pieces of Art

When I was growing up I had short hair because my mom wasn’t skilled at doing anything with long hair. I longed for hair down to my butt. Like Crystal Gayle. Hair forever that could be braided and ponytailed and bunned like all the girls in the movies. I had hair so short a man once said to me at Dairy Queen, “What can I get you, son?” The horror. But when I got old enough, I grew it longer, and taught myself how to French braid and fish braid and everything else I could possibly do. Which isn’t easy because you can't see the back of your head, but we can do hard things.

I became the designated French braider in junior high; my friends would line up on the stairs during hall breaks and lunch and I’d twist their hair between my fingers and make little pieces of art.

It’s one of the simple but totally heartwarming things I love about having a little girl, and to this day one of the few things I can do that takes me outside of myself, if only for a few minutes.

So, you know, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

The First Girl Will Always Be Alma

I got the name Alma from my favorite book, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. It’s a magical, gorgeous, achy book that stole my heart. I love so many bits from that book, but one of the favorites is this: The first woman may have been Eve, but the first girl will always be Alma… Maybe the first time you saw her you were ten. She was standing in the sun scratching her legs. Or tracing letters in the dirt with a stick. her hair was being pulled. Or she was pulling someone’s hair. And a part of you was drawn to her, and a part of you resisted – wanting to ride off on your bicycle, kick a stone, remain uncomplicated. In the same breath you felt the strength of a man, and a self-pity that made you feel small and hurt. Part of you thought: Please don’t look at me. If you don’t, I can still turn away. And part of you thought: Look at me.