Thoughts On Clarity
By the time you’ve arrived at this week, if you’ve done the work from weeks one and two, my guess is you’re feeling some combination of curious, scared, energized, or lost in the weeds. All things are perfect, all valid. What we’re going through here is a process that could span many weeks, months, or even years, so let yourself off the hook if you’re feeling like whatever you’re going through is somehow the “wrong” thing, and commit to continuing.
This is the week where we start to look forward instead of back. Which sounds lovely, but you should expect that your resistance will start to kick in big time. Resistance can show up as: getting sick, feeling too busy, procrastination, avoidance, and even broken down cars, technology issues, and boredom. It’s one thing to look back on our lives and drag ourselves through the dirt (we’re pretty good at beating ourselves up, if you haven’t noticed), but quite another to turn forward and start playing with the light. For most, if not all of us, it will feel scarier/more silly/ridiculous/embarrassing. Know that and go forth :).
That said, here are my thoughts on clarity. I love you all.
This year I will be five years sober. I’ve thought a lot about what made the difference for me on my last Day One, versus the hundreds of prior Day Ones, and part of the answer is a piece of clarity that was delivered to me by my brother.
For a long time—maybe since I was sixteen—I knew that my drinking wasn’t “normal.” It wasn’t necessarily about the way I drank, which often appeared to be fine, and didn’t necessarily interfere with my life until much later, but the way it made me feel. I had this sense that I liked it a little too much, that my intent when I drank was a little too…something.
Fast forward twenty years, to the night of my mom’s 60th birthday party. My brother had flown into town from Colorado and we all had thrown my mom a surprise party. I had drunk the day and night before, again. And the following is an excerpt from my book recounting a conversation with my brother outside the party.
The party was a big success, and although she’d suspected something was up, she hadn’t guessed the magnitude of what we pulled off. She was thrilled to see so many friends and have her babies and Alma near. Derek, Joe, Jenny and I were relieved to have (mostly) pulled it off. The food was excellent and the drinks were flowing, as usual. My family did know how to throw a classy party, that’s for sure. I, on the other hand, was miserable—though I put my best face on, for as long as I could. Aside from being physically hungover with a trembling lump of anxiety lodged in my throat and a rock of shame in my gut, I was embarrassed, demoralized and just…so…fucking…tired.
Around 9 pm, I hit the wall and my edges started to fray. I stepped outside for a minute and walked to my car to breathe. I turned on My Morning Jacket’s “The Bear” and sat there and let the tears roll down my cheeks as the sound filled up the space.
It's a bad idea,
To go down to the pier
By your self after dark
The time is near,
To come forward with
Whatever killed your spark
I looked up and toward the restaurant to see my brother had walked out and was looking around. I got out and started toward him, and could see he was visibly annoyed after he spotted me.
“We were looking for you, Laura,” he said. His tone was more terse than I expected—I realized he was worried I was off drinking. Ugh.
“I’m here, I said. “I had to breathe for a minute.”
“Yeah, well, your daughter is inside looking for you. There’s a party going on.” I noticed then that he was pretty buzzed, close to drunk, and I read in his posture, his expression, his eyes, all the things he wasn’t saying that only a sibling could know: Tough shit; Get over yourself and get back into mom’s party; This isn’t about you; I’m worried; I hate that I worry about you; Please be okay; I am scared; I am angry; I love you.
“I’m sorry, Joe. I’m right here,” I said, and looked into the window at the party. The lights from the street lamp bounced off the pools of tears in my eyes, blurring my vision. I wiped them and looked at back at him.
“I’m sorry this is so hard, sister.” He meant it, I knew.
I shook my head. I could not handle this tenderness.
“I know. It is hard,” I started. “I’m sorry I ruined everything again.” I paused, toeing some rocks into a crack in the sidewalk. A few tears fell straight to the ground. “But it’s mine,” I said, feeling the weight of the grief and the anger and the sadness and the responsibility of those words at once. I looked back up at him. “I know it’s mine.”
He nodded. “That’s right, Laura. It’s yours. This is your thing.”
I waited, wondering if he would say more. He didn't. We locked eyes for a moment; he nodded again.
“Yeah.” Inside the window people were milling around, lost in the party. I heard Joanne’s big roar of a laugh. My mom spotted us and waved for us to come back in. “This is my thing.”
In that conversation, my brother pointed out what I had known for so long, but did everything I could to avoid. I had become, like my friend Elena Brower says, addicted to ignoring what I knew.
Acknowledging that drinking was my thing was a necessary piece of clarity, but what became so much more interesting after that, were all the other things I had tried so hard not to know. What would be revealed over the coming months and years was the true essence of who I was—who I had been all along—and had just been blotting out with alcohol, among many other things.
Like, I love creating.
Like, I am actually good at it!
Like, I was in the wrong job.
Like, I don’t actually like so many things I pretended to like.
Like, I have an unlimited capacity to love.
Like, I require a tremendous amount of quiet time.
Like, I need to write.
Like, I love to teach.
Like, I am here to serve.
So this exercise in clarity is not about mining for something new about yourself, it is really about remembering what you already know and having the courage to claim it. It is about seeing the ordinary in your as extraordinary, about claiming your second nature as your superpower.
I love you. Please, please, please, keep going.
Notes & Homework
Watch or listen to the lecture.
Continue your morning prayer and Morning Pages practice, daily.
Read the "Robert Frost" story in The Great Work of Your Life.
Create one simple piece of art that communicates your "name" (as described in the lecture, and also the last question in the worksheet) and share with the group.