Before and happily ever after

Oh hi, here’s me!

There’s this non-profit I like, Big Vision NYC, and they’re doing great stuff in the substance abuse space. They asked me to share a bit of my own story, and a “before and after picture”, for their social media pages. My first thought was “Aw, shucks, y’all!” and my next thought was “I don’t want people to see drunk pictures of me” and then my chest started to feel a little smooshed under the weight of feels, so I took a minute to think. When my chest feels crushed, there’s usually some truth hiding beneath the surface, asking for a way out. So I started digging.

I started looking through old photos. I lost my phone a million times in my 20s, so the photos I still have are the ones I chose to share on Instagram. I took a trip back in time, seeing a photo and remembering the story. There’s me, drinking white wine at a wedding, but there is no photo of the cut on my nose that I got when I tripped, blackout drunk, onto my face later in the night. There’s the photo of me looking skinny and blonde in NYC, sipping a cocktail on my birthday. There aren’t photos of me fighting and crying with my ex, again in a state of drunken confusion to the point where I was scared of how confused I was. There were also a lot of happy photos, because I was happy. As my drinking got worse, I still felt happy sometimes. I just felt anxious and scared more of the time. I realized a few things looking at these old photos:

You can’t tell from someone’s social media posts whether or not they have a substance abuse problem. Not that it’s your business, but it does create a false reality in your mind. If you’re struggling, and don’t see anyone around you struggling, that loneliness can make the idea of quitting even harder. But believe me: they’re out there. We’re out there. Our pictures might not tell the whole story though.

2. I didn’t realize how happy I could be. Back then, I would have told you that I was fine. I wished that I didn’t get so drunk, but otherwise, fine. Then the drinking was not fine, and it had to go. And then things were hard, and I doubted that this quitting was even a good idea. Until it was more than fine. Until I was able to do so much more, and feel so much healthier, and wake up feeling like I was 100 percent high on some clean drug that turned out to just be how you can feel when you stop drinking. Who knew? Not me.

3. Sobriety looks different for everyone. Honestly. You get to take your true self, and find out what it needs to be happy and at peace and then you just get to do it. It’s nuts. So if my pictures look different than yours, that’s good! That means you’re doing things in a way that feels genuine for you. I’m always working towards that, and away from that desire to compare myself to others. It’s such constant work for me.

I found a picture from my 30th birthday. I’m sitting on the floor, with my dog, drinking champagne from the bottle. It wasn’t a tragic night, and nothing awful happened. But looking back on it, I see a girl who is letting life happen to her. She doesn’t even know how good it could be. She doesn’t know that she can say no to the bullshit that she’s letting in. Then I saw an “after” picture is me, 4 years later, and I can see the peace in my eyes. Other people may not be able to, which is why this feels important to write about, chest-crushing feeling or not.

One final thought: If sobriety is a new idea that you’re throwing around, I suggest jumping in and finding out what speaks to you. It might be before and after pictures, it might be stories, or memoirs. Or scientific studies, or AA, or something cool like emailing me and asking me a zillion questions. No shame, just you letting yourself get what you need to start a new chapter. For me, it’s the best part of my story yet.

NA craft beer: Is it the devil or nah?

When I quit drinking about a year and half ago, I tried drinking NA beers a couple of times and they just made me sad. I did not understand why anyone would drink these, unless they wanted to advertise their drinking problem in social situations. It got me through a few uncomfortable parties, where I felt like I needed a beer in my hand.  And then I was kind of over it. I left the NA beer in my past, and continued on a path that went from drinking GIANT caffeine-free Diet Cokes while doing my midnight grocery store shopping on Friday nights, to WAY TOO MUCH COFFEE to more herbal tea then I ever, ever thought I would consume. Perhaps one day, a beverage in hand will not be a comfort to me, but for now, it is. I’ve cut back on my coffee drinking, but will still stop for one if I’m on my way to something that makes me nervous. Old habits die hard, I’m not perfect, but I’m not drinking booze, and that is the key here.

Now let’s talk about the NA beer I had last weekend. I had been following some people online, in the UK, who were promoting a Mindful Drinking Festival. It looked like a dream. Bunches of beautiful, smiling people, drinking and eating and talking and buying things, without alcohol. It felt like a celebration of not drinking alcohol. This was shocking to me. To be so fully on board with not drinking, but not treating it like a consolation life.  This. This is what I wanted. There were breweries that made NA beers and spirits and things that looked pretty in bottles. I was giddy.  Did we have these here? Like, not O’Doul’s? I went to the fanciest beer store I could find, and low and behold, there it was: a 6-pack of NA beer, made by a local brewery. It was so expensive. I bought it. I brought them to a party. I showed everyone. I didn’t care that everyone I met that night might have thought I was a crazy alcoholic. It tasted like a freaking craft beer. I took the rest home and put them happily next to my boyfriend’s real beers.  I got to have a thing that I liked, that I hadn’t been allowed to have for so long! Then my mind went in a different direction: Is this cheating?

That’s the question I spun around in my mind. I read other people’s opinions on the subject. Yep, it’s controversial. For sure taboo for some. Many see it as a gateway. Many see it as a safe alternative.  Then I read something that stopped my spinning and gave me a new question to ask: Is this going to keep you from staying sober? Simple. That’s the question, isn’t it? This whole sobriety journey, at it’s root, is about getting sober and staying sober. At least, that’s what it’s about for me. I don’t question the choice, because I know in my heart that it’s the right one for me, and it keeps proving itself. So will drinking an NA beer keep me from staying sober? Will it make it harder for me to stay sober? That’s important too, because I got through some really hard times where I had to fight daily to not slip back into my old routine with alcohol. I don’t feel like I’m fighting as hard these days. Will this taste of the past make me think about drinking more, think about how it could be, maybe I could just have one real beer every now and then? That line of thinking honestly just made me recoil from my computer a little. Which is pretty much how I got my answer: The idea of drinking again makes me feel sick. As someone brilliant wrote (who wrote this? help!) I don’t want to have to miss all of this. Drinking means I lose what I have, and I love what I have, where I am, who I’m with, and what I give. No freaking way. And if I drank something or was with someone or went somewhere that made me reconsider sobriety, I hope I would run away screaming.

So right now, for me, I’m pro-NA beer. As long as it’s delicious. Meaning that there is currently only one, expensive NA beer in town that I want to drink one 12 ounce bottle of every now and then.  Maybe that’s the way some people feel about booze? I’ll never know. And that’s fine. I have caffeine free Diet Coke big gulps and coffee and herbal tea, and a life that I want, desperately.

I will continue using that question to guide me: Is this thing keeping me from staying sober? Because this choice is bigger than the tastiness of a NA beer. I’ll kick it to the curb if it gets in my way. And, of course, I’ll tell you all about it.

You’re not alone in the dark. It’s just dark. Keep going.

It’s been a little over a year since I quit drinking. 3 years since I took a huge leap and left the life I planning with someone else, and went in a completely different direction. Sometimes I look around and realized how far I’ve gone, and how much good stuff I have here, on the other side of that time. I also see how much I still need to let go of, how much I need to soften in some spots and grow stronger in others. This is not a “it was bad and now it’s good” story as much as it’s a “I was there, and it was dark, and I couldn’t see the light, but now I can see both”.  For me, seeing that there was another way to live, without all of the abuse I was inviting into my home, my body and my heart, was what helped me go forward. Yes, things happen to us, and they’re not our fault. Also yes, we decide when to move, to let go, and to hold on to what holds us. You don’t need to own it all, to claim that it’s all your fault, to feel empowered. Some stuff wasn’t, some is, but it’s all behind you now.

This isn’t just about drinking either.

If your partner was an asshole to you, it’s much easier for some of us to believe that we really were too needy, just like they said, and that if we had thought more of ourselves, they would have too. Our insecurity was to blame, not their condescension.  Acknowledging that you were being mistreated is hard to accept, but that acceptance is the key. Then you can move forward, decide what to leave behind and carry with you, and then just keep doing that. Moving, letting go, holding on, moving, letting go, holding on. That goes for mistreatment of yourself too. Decide what to leave, move on, move forward, repeat.

I’m writing this today to tell you that if you’re looking for a story that sounds like yours, and haven’t found it, keep looking. I felt so alone when I went through a big break-up a few years ago, and when I moved to another state, alone, and especially when I quit drinking. It wasn’t until the last one that I started looking, or I should say urgently searching, for people who shared my story. Simply seeing that someone else had done the hard thing that I was trying to do, was comforting. We have such an opportunity to share and listen to each other; to find out where we’ve been and to see where we might go. So if you have a hard thing that you did, I hope you don’t feel like you need to hide it, to prove that you’re fine now. We need your story. And if you’re searching for answers, please, don’t stop. Ask. Search. Read. You’re absolutely not alone in the dark.

 

Traveling sober: Nashville

I went to Nashville and all I got was a gaudy, blingy half marathon metal and alone time with my boyfriend! OH WAIT. I like that stuff.

The things I didn’t get: in a fight on the street with my boyfriend, a hangover, or PADS, an abbreviation my friends and I had for a made-up hangover disease, post alcohol depression syndrome, before I knew that was a real thing alcohol did to your body. I didn’t lose anything. I didn’t break anything. I only cried once, and that was when I crossed the finish line, after running for 13 miles. I ate ice cream in bed, but not because it was the only thing my hungover body could keep down. I was just pleasantly tired from the yoga class we went to, and my body told me that the next obvious step in this magical day was to eat treats in bed.

I promise that I don’t think I’m better than anyone else, especially people who still drink. Most of the people I love drink. The truth is, I’m writing in the car, on this 8 hour trip home, full of anxiety, because life is still waiting for you when you get home from vacation. I spend mental energy, trying to figure out how to be calm when I just want to scream. I wrestle with the future, and the things I think I missed out, and the things I’m scared I won’t experience. So don’t worry. I’m still a human. I just don’t drink. But that has been everything. It’s been more than I thought it would be. It was the quickest way to cut the bullshit in my life in half. There’s still bullshit, and I still get in my own way, and I still learn through trial and error every single day. So totally human. Just not a human with a drinking problem. Still a human who wants to go on vacation though. So. How did I go to Nashville and have the best time you can have in 48 hours? I tried stuff, and found some things that worked. Here’s what I liked:

  • I went to bed early and got up early. Party animal, right? When I say get up early, I mean, got up early to make tea and coffee and got back in bed. When you are drunk, you pass out and do not appreciate delicious beds. When you are sober, you can wake up and smash your face all over the dreamy cloud that is the bed you are paying to sleep in and it does not make your head ring. Find a good hotel/airbnb and make sure that bed is rad. Then make a nest and get up in that shit. So good. You can also walk around town before everyone else, get your explore on, and eat meals at odd times to avoid a rush.
  • Exercise in a new place is more fun than at home. Try a yoga/trampoline/sport thing that you wouldn’t try at home. 20 bucks for a class is like 2 cocktails worth of dollars. If you were able to do that, you can go to the fancy ass barre studio.
  • Energy for travel. Less booze means more energy. When I got sober, I realized that travel makes me nervous. I didn’t know that, because I would just drink when I traveled, because drunkeness and hangovers were comforting in their familiarity. A weird sense of unease is harder to define, but once I accepted that the first night of a trip has me feeling bizarre, I was able to be ok with it. The first night in Nashville, we holed up in our room and played a board game, and I didn’t worry that I was missing out on something. Did you ever drink because you were supposed to be having fun, but then you don’t really get drunk or you just sort of feel gross and wake up feeling shitty and tired either way? Yeah, me neither….haha just kidding, I’ve felt that way like a million times. No more though, and I’ve never missed it.
  • More time, money, and calories for spending on ice cream. Or whatever. Vegan queso. A steak. If you do not worry about your caloric intake, good for you. Please tell me how you do that. I do, and therefore appreciate the feeling I have found in sobriety of more ease in my body when I’m out eating ice cream if I didn’t drink a days worth of calories in wine the night before. My body is all about those ice cream on vacation calories.
  • I remember every damn thing we did. I remember every sweet look from my boyfriend. I have the patience to walk around the art museum and listen to a guided audio tour, because I am not thinking about when we’re going to the next bar. I make nicer memories now.

 

If there’s one thing I’ve found out about sobriety and travel is that you might just have to flip everything on it’s head. You might just not do things that center around drinking. Bars are just places to drink to me now, I don’t go to them, and it’s not sad. I don’t feel sad when I pass a dive bar, and see a cute girl giggling with her boyfriend, bar stools scooched up close to each other. I used to, but I don’t now, and so I’m telling you, in case you’re on the other side of that kind of longing. It’s hard to see things you think you might miss in sobriety. I promise there’s more over here though. Nashville, Paris, Chicago, Dublin…these places I’ve been since I quit, I realize that I wasn’t giving them enough credit. They’re more than enough without alchohol. Just like you. Just like me. Let’s keep exploring. I feel like there’s a whole new world out there.

4 things I learned in 2 months with 5 new roommates.

What is being grounded, what is home, what is being here, what is enough, what am I letting in, what am I shutting out.

The last 2 months have been full of things that require my whole self. The big one was moving in with my boyfriend and his 4 kids. Going from being in a quiet little apartment with my dog and cat, to living outside of town in a house with so many people who are constantly moving and feeling and talking and BEING out loud at the same time—this was a shift.

While there are other things that require my focus – yoga teacher training, training for a race, working full-time with a team of energetic people –this thing, this adjusting to a new life, has been the hard thing. Waking up to run 8 miles requires energy, and it’s not easy, but I can control it completely. Less so with yoga training and work, but still, there is an expectation and a goal and you can be graded or rated. There are tests to pass. Moving in with kids and my boyfriend and into everyone’s life, I have found less expectations that can be met and less to control. There is no manual or training plan that I can download online. I would pay serious money if there was.  Being in these relationships with these people is such a rewarding thing, but there’s no clear way to do it. In this state of ambiguous best intentions and questionable limits of patience, I’ve learned some things. These are reminders to me, but hopefully you can find some truth here as well:

  • Do things because you want to do them. Besides the requirements, the must-dos, like taking care of needs, make sure you want to do the thing for the sake of doing it. Whether it’s volunteering or buying your girlfriend flowers or making kids a giant pancake breakfast, don’t do it for the thanks. That’s where resentment finds you. I love using my time and energy to do “nice things” and favors and extra stuff for the people in my life. In romantic relationships, or working relationships, or friendships, we almost expect those things to be noticed or reciprocated. Kids do not operate in this way, from my observations. You better want to sit and watch Beauty and the Beast, without the expectation that your fellow moviegoer will now want to go to bed on time because you were so kind to watch a movie with her. Not so much. Kids aside, I think this is a good reminder for me in general. Bartering with good deeds is a path to resentment with your partner, with your coworkers and with your family. Do it because you want to. Say I love you and mean it. Take care of needs. Bake cookies for everyone because you like cooking and giving people sugar brings you joy, not because you need validation. I am so guilty of this. I am trial and error personified.
  • Take care of yourself. I hear people with kids say that your kids come first and that they’re the most important thing in the world.  I firmly believe that different things work better for different families, and because I don’t have kids of my own, I will never make sweeping statements on child rearing. Promise. What I do know about living with children is that if you give endlessly of yourself, there is nothing left to hold you together. When I first moved in, I adopted this idea that kids come first, partially because I assumed this is how my boyfriend operated. What I learned is that he had found this selflessness to be unsustainable. Their needs, yes of course, come first. You gotta take care of kids. They’re kids. But everything they want and may need in 5 minutes, he can’t take care of that if he hasn’t taken care of himself. My yoga teacher always talks about making sure your well is full, so that you can teach. Your well needs to be full of the things that nourish and keep you charged. For me, with teaching, it’s rest and food and quiet and sometimes very long showers. Similarly, I need those things to be fully present and able to care for kids without burning out. It’s true for teaching, it’s true at work, and I know it’s true for my ability to be social. I can’t be awesome at your dinner party if I haven’t had a minute to myself all week, if I haven’t found my way to the yoga mat or the running path, or if I’m attempted to live on M&Ms. I learn over and over again that listening to what I need does not make me selfish. My capacity to give of my energy, without an expectation of a return on my investment, is highest when my well is full.
  • Life is full of seasons. This season, of change and newness, is also one of nesting and wanting to be home. I struggle with the idea that I should be doing more. More art, more socializing, more travel. I love those things. Right now though, they’re not my highest priority, but I know how important it is to me to make sure I don’t lose them entirely. Because that’s a good way to break your own heart. Emailing friends more has helped, instead of making physical plans when I’m too busy. Planning small trips away keeps that itch scratched for now. Waking up early every once in a while to make some small piece of artwork. Last week it was clay beads. It was calming and simple and I didn’t worry that it was too simple or not enough whatever. I’ve had to give myself tons of grace with this stuff. Quieting the “you should be” mind is always a challenge though. Like, every day. “This is a season” has become my mantra/way to shut that up.
  • And finally, I would not be here if I was not sober. This season of change is hard, but amazing. I feel stress but also so much fulfillment. At a base level, I don’t wake up feeling anxious as often since getting sober. I would not be able to handle these new stresses with that kind of anxiety. I would never be able to be as present as I need to be with a hangover. This place where I am, this life of challenges and reward and love that I’ve found, would not be possible for me if I was drinking. For you, drinking might not be the thing. I know that finding that thing, that thing that has to go so that you can be free, is the place to start.

So yes, in 2 months, I have learned 4 things that I think are true. Do you think these things hold water outside of sobriety or kids or yoga or whatever else is in my life right now? Do they hold true in yours? What’s your thing that you’ve learned this month? What did you unlearn? I’d love to read about it in the comments. I would also love for you to email me if you questions or things you’d like me to write about or if you have a good story that you want me to read. Give it all to me. It fills my well.

 

 

Heavy

Those things we can’t let go of; those physical things that carry emotional weight are the most annoying things to lug around, in my opinion. Maybe it’s a photo, maybe it’s drinking, maybe it’s an obsession, and maybe it’s a failure. Mine is a pile of bent wood. Nine years ago or so, I won a contest in art school, to design seating using bent plywood. I won, and a local furniture manufacturer produced a full scale prototype. The prototype is a set of four connected chairs, like for a waiting room or an airport. It’s a whole lot of wood. In my mind, at 24, this was the beginning of amazing things. I would get an amazing job with this design. Maybe I would sell the design and someone who produce thousands of these chairs. Either way, I was just getting started, and the future was going to be full of design and success and chairs and woodworking.  But then it wasn’t successful. I didn’t get a job in design in that 6 month window after school where you’re supposed to land a job before loan payments kick in.  I didn’t try to sell the chairs. I found a job that didn’t care that I had designed award winning bent wood seating. So I disassembled the chairs, and stacked up the wooden panels. And then 9 years went by, and that pile of deconstructed seating traveled with me. To Chicago, to the failed attempt at living out West, back to Chicago. Into the studio that I thought would be my last, before moving in with my boyfriend, and into the next studio in a new state when it wasn’t. Up and down flights of stairs, in an out of apartment doorways like cumbersome ghosts. It’s so heavy, this giant pile of beautifully bent fiber. It was forever a reminder that I had had a plan, and I had worked hard, and that plan failed. I felt sorry for myself. I felt guilty and angry about all of the student loans. I stopped wanting to tell people that I had gone to art school at all, because of that chair that went nowhere. There was this part of my life that I didn’t finish, and it felt like a waste. Memories were wrapped up in the layers of veneer, and they were trapped in epoxy. Each piece got heavier with each move.

Last month, I moved in with my boyfriend. We were taking the last carload over to his place when I remembered the wood. I had hidden it out of sight for the last year, safely in the attic. It’s hard to explain why handing 3×3 panels of smooth veneered plywood down the attic stairs made me cry.  I knew I had to explain it though, and I kind of needed to say it out loud, for me. As I spoke, I realized what literal baggage this wooden structure was. I had gone through so much purging and processing in the last couple of years, and this was one thing of which I could not let go. Mistakes, drinking, a failed engagement, and the attachment to the memories and sadness and guilt around it, had been released. This was too heavy, somehow. This chair project started as my first big success, and became my first real failure. What would happen if I just let it go? How would I let this go?

After listening to my mid-move emotional unfurling, my patient and practical partner simply said “you should get rid of them”. He was not suggesting that I throw them away. He suggested that I sell them. I could refinish them in our garage, order legs for them, and sell them. Or we could put them in the living room. Give one to a friend. There are four of these damn things, after all. It seemed too easy, but it made sense. They are chairs. They are supposed to be used for support, not self-abuse. I want them to be beautiful again. And then I want to send them on their way.

I don’t know where these chairs will go. I don’t know how I will feel about them once they’re put back together and refreshed. What I do know, even now, as I get excited at the idea of sanding them down and making them new, is that they won’t be as heavy when I’m done. They will be something I made in school, something that I poured myself into, something that I loved. The design didn’t become what I thought it would, but then again, neither did I. I made mistakes, and I made choices that came from my heart, and I’m here. Now I just need to get these chairs up to speed.

If they could read, I would write them this letter:

Dear Chairs,

I know that I promised you that we would go to amazing places. I know that the places we went weren’t part of the plan, but I never left you behind. You were my dreams, and I couldn’t let you go. I have new dreams now, and a respect for the unknown and unplanned. So, if you want to stay, you’re going to have to live in the present. You’re a 2008 design, but like any good piece of furniture, you feel timeless to me.

 

xox

Sharing is (self)caring

Online or in person, I can feel a gauge working, measuring my comfort, before I open my mouth or share words and pictures. Like the things we share, the amount we share is also very personal. In the spirit of writing when I’m in the middle of something messy as opposed to writing about it when it’s all wrapped up and neat, I will tell you that I hate not being able to control what others think about me. Hate it. I know that’s not awesome, but I’m trying to show you my messy kitchen sink and dog hair covered floor in addition to my perfect homemade bread and jam.

A very small and sweet group of people read my blog. For a while it was just my mom. She sends me texts like “I just read your latest blog, honey. Are you ok?” and I appreciate it. I also appreciate her sending me typos. I found out recently that people from my past were reading. And people from my present who I don’t communicate with otherwise were reading. And then I started thinking: “Who else is reading this?” And of course the next thought was “What are they thinking of me?”

I started writing for me, and then I kept writing for other people who might need to read it. I quit drinking with the support of total strangers who were writing on the internet, so doing the same for someone else out there seemed like a good thing to do, while processing my own shit. I continue to use it to process my life, as a newly sober person who is trying on a lot of new stuff, like teaching yoga and being madly in love with a guy with kids, and working and having relationships and trying to like myself more. This new concept that people were reading and maybe not liking what they were reading made me feel super naked. Cue the wild thoughts, and the making my Instagram private and double checking my FB settings and wondering if I should just start a new secret blog.

I tried to hide. But that didn’t feel genuine. I want to share. It’s how I connect and process. So I had to rethink some things, and it’s still unsolved, like most stuff, but here’s what I keep reminding myself:

  1. My story is important. It is important to me, it is important to someone who needs to hear it. Other than that, I don’t owe anyone an explanation. This is a very strange concept to me, but I’m pretty sure it’s true. My yoga teacher and my very smart coworker both said this to me recently, and I feel it in my bones and the pit of my stomach a little more every day. So that means it’s true, friends.
  2. What I share is my choice. I do not need to share everything. It still happened. The whole story still happened, and if I want to share pieces of it, that’s fine. That’s not to say that only sharing the good, wholesome, cute parts feels genuine or acceptable for me. That’s why I tell you that I was a drunken lady who was sad and anxious and had horrible body image issues. That is why I tell you that I’m currently a person who is happy lots of days and anxious other days, and is trying to understand how to live with/around kids, and still has a frustrating relationship with my body.
    I don’t write all the details of every moment for a few reasons. One is that this is public and I have a very corporate job. That’s not cool or interesting, but it is the truth. Dog food and matcha lattes and housing don’t grow on trees, people. I gotta work. And I don’t want to share everything with coworkers who I don’t already have a connection or friendship. Another reason I don’t share everything all the time is that my boyfriend has kids who can read and use the internet. I am crazy about them and they challenge me and teach me things. I could talk about them for hours, and I would, but over coffee. Not here.  And as far as writing about drinking goes, I’m happy to tell them the truth, and I do. That doesn’t mean that they need every detail. I also don’t have the authority to ground them for judging me. Can you do that when they’re your own kids? Asking for a friend.
  3. Final reason: Self-care. Sharing is vulnerable. I have to keep that balance between give and take, share and hold back. I’m always pushing myself when I share, but I don’t need to push so hard that I feel unsafe.

There is a filter that is built in when I write, but it doesn’t mean it’s not the truth, and it doesn’t make it any less valid. But just know, and this is the important part, that even if there are details about my drinking days, or the world of dating someone with kids that I don’t expand on, I’m never lying. It’s always true and I want to connect. Believe me, it’s still hard to tell, and I always appreciate you for listening and telling me yours.

Final thought, sort of a question for us all: Can we share without feeling overexposed, while still remaining genuine? How do you do it? Asking for a friend.

10 things from a week named OPEN

This week, I felt like an exposed nerve and an empty bowl under a faucet and the theme could have been OPEN if I was going to name my week. Maybe next week will be named CLOSED, but either way is OK. We have seasons.

My friend Danielle makes the best lists and sells things I like over here. I am having that kind of week/season where I find it hard to organize my thoughts. So, here we are with a list. About the week. Written on a Sunday night, under a pile of pets and anxieties and joyful memories from the last 7 days. Here are some:

  1. I was social. And I tiptoed into it. And then I opened up. And I realized that it’s OK to hide when you need to hide. People will wait. They might even wait a little longer than you think they will. We all have seasons.
  2. I got up early. I did hard workouts that made me feel good and clean some days and exhausted and gross other days.
  3. I slept in. I felt manic and woke up wired and some days woke up zombie-tired.
  4. I learned that someone important from my past was sober and had been for almost as long as I had been. We exchanged a small handful of words about this, they were all peaceful, and I felt, for the first time really genuinely, that our past selves, the ones that loved each other and were intertwined so fiercely, and unkind to each other at times, were dead. I felt free. I was happy for our new selves.
  5. I spent a lot of time with kids and felt like maybe I didn’t want to have kids because holy shit they require so much energy.
  6. I spent a lot of time with kids and felt the weight of sadness over not having kids and feeling like I had majorly fucked up by not having them yet. I have these two conflicting feelings on a daily basis and this week was just more of each.
  7. I had hard conversations and felt really good about them one day and then felt awful about them the next . I doubt myself when I least expect it.
  8. I ate so much ice cream this week. I feel really good about that choice. It’s the end of July. This is like the holiday season of ice cream eating.
  9. I went out to my car tonight, to get my laundry, because I do my laundry at my boyfriend’s house. I was standing next to the car, getting ready to hike the basket up on my hip when I heard a scratching sound. I thought it was a cricket and I thought that maybe there was a cricket on this branch right by my head, resting on top of the car. And I stared at the branch. And I listened. And I realized that the noise was the light scratching of the leaf against the roof. A breeze would come, and lift it up for a moment, and then bring it back down to resume the uneven scratching noise. I felt the message “breathe, and just keep breathing when you feel too heavy” and that was perhaps god and perhaps not. And I don’t mind if that sounds nuts.
  10.  Sometimes editing is good and other times, it feels like starting to clean for your friends who are coming over and then saying “you know what my house looks like, fuck it” and putting the lint roller down. I’m glad that you’re reading about this season, and that you don’t mind the mess.

The shadow side to all this light

Starting out with an aside: In the most chill and non-obsessed way I would like to commit to writing every day and posting a thing I’ve written once a week. So there you have that. Let’s carry on.

I’ve always been a fan of telling stories. Today I’m wondering about the timing. As in, when do we feel like we “can” tell our story? The only story I’ve got is my own, so I’ll use that as an example here.

A story about quitting drinking. When did I feel like it was safe to talk about it? After I had quit, for sure. I’m just starting to feel OK about telling this story because it’s been a year since I made the move. My reasons to not tell the story are the same reasons I hate telling people that I don’t drink and are the same reasons I didn’t quit until I did:

  • I didn’t drink as much as other people drank
  • I never drank in the shower like Nicholas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas
  • Nobody ever sat me down and told me, in a gravely serious tone, that I had a drinking problem
  • My therapist didn’t tell me to quit drinking
  • When I first quit drinking I would take sips of other people’s beer so it doesn’t count as sobriety
  • People will think I’m a gross weirdo
  • I never got a DUI or got arrested or had someone break up with me because of my drinking
  • This will make dating impossible
  • Nobody wants to hear this story
  • I don’t want this to be my story

Those reasons are basically all “this is not how it’s supposed to be” and that is a phrase I don’t use anymore. What is supposed to be what? I got engaged and felt lonely. I was the skinniest I’ve ever been and I felt empty. I fell in love and we didn’t go out to bars or spend days on end laying in bed because he has four kids and I don’t drink and guess what? It was still falling in love, but it didn’t look like it was supposed to, based on the stories I had going in my head.

I think that if we wait until it’s time to write a memoir, we’ve missed some of the good stuff, unless you’re sure to tell everything, even the not so glamorous stuff.

I needed people’s raw, in the thick of it stories. In the months leading up to finally quitting, I would sit at work, hungover and numb, and devour essays people had written about quitting drinking. I would read about their binges, I would read about their anxiety, and their tight chest alarm clocks at 4am. I would read it and rewrite a story in my head that was telling me that until I was a certain kind of alcoholic, I didn’t need to quit. I find this mindset that I had, this narrative that I should be able to drink, and that something was wrong with me because I couldn’t, to be so destructive. Slowly, I read one story after another, of women who were simply sick of feeling shitty. They were sick of being scared of what they had done and what they might do. And I heard this tiny voice inside myself saying “yes, me too”.

In some ways, writing this story feels like one I have to tell. It feels like I’m writing it to myself, but myself when I wasn’t ready to quit. The me that needed a story, about how it could be better. A story where you can fall in love even when you’re not drinking. A story where the girl goes to Paris, and walks through the streets, and feels the breeze, and doesn’t feel like she’s missing out because this story doesn’t include little bistro tables covered in glasses of rosé.

I’m learning new things about right now, but while I write about that, I need to write about the before, and the beginning of all of this. Before I forget. Before it feels like someone else’s story. Now is so bright, and so much better than I thought it would be, and I would talk about it all day if you asked. But, if you need the darker story, like I did, if you need the shadow side to all this light, then that’s the one I will gladly tell.

This being human is a guest house and mine is a mess (and it’s fine).

Things have fallen into place, compared to the way they have been for the last couple of years. Not the perfect place, but a place that is at least on the ground and not on fire. It’s a place I like. Some major wounds have closed up, and I don’t think too many germs were trapped inside, at least not enough to cause an infection. I’ve found this place that I didn’t know about. It’s a place I’ve landed that is on the other side of quitting drinking. It’s on the other side of thinking my body sucks. It’s on the other side of giving my time to the wrong people. So here I am, having removed some trash, to make space for good things. And there are so many good things. Letting go of crap really does make room for non-crap and it’s amazing and magical. In this new uncharted territory, where things feel new and fresh, imagine my disdain at running into a very unwelcome guest: My Own Shit. As it turns out My Own Shit is the stuff that quitting drinking and quitting calorie counting and trusting myself did not get rid of. In fact, in a terribly unfair manner, getting rid of that shit only uncovered My Own Shit. What kind of shit am I talking about? Super cute stuff, like insecurities and fear and jealousy. The stuff we hide, especially when everything else seems so damn nice.

When this stuff pops up, I feel very Fuck this shit! How dare you? How dare you come at me when I’m almost perfect? I’m finally good. I’m finally “good enough”. It’s crazy to me that I can forget, so easily that perfection isn’t a thing and that I’m enough. Even with the cute plaques on my desk, and the writing on the front of my journal and the mantras that I repeat on my yoga mat, that stuff is so damn hard to know, like really know, when you need it.

The interesting and dumb thing about clearing away crap is that the new things that take that space can be mirrors you don’t want to look into.  For example, I’m in yoga teacher training. I thought it was so cool that I was finally healthy and responsible enough to do something like that. Now that I’m in class, I’m learning that yoga is not about being skinny and wearing expensive pants, but instead about looking at all of your light and all of your dark. So, I get to look at the dark. That is not what I signed up for, and I hate it sometimes, but it’s mine and it’s real.

Other example: I have a really wonderful partner who loves me and treats me like I want to be treated. Guess what? That does not erase My Own Shit. I still feel blind rage behind my eyes when they mention a past relationship and do you know why? Because that is what I feel sometimes. That is a reaction I have. That is a trigger if you want to call it that, when I think about a life that didn’t include me, about attention I’ll never get to have, and all sorts of other things that make me feel dumb. These triggers feel like a box of those snapper things you throw on the sidewalk have been dropped at my feet. AGH! Where the hell? What just happened? Why do I feel threatened? Because this person might realize I’m nuts? And leave? Because I’m not good enough? Or something? Everything? Insecurity. Fear. IT’S. STILL. THERE. Which begs the question: What is the point of all of this self-inquiry and care if I’m just going to come back to this familiar pile of crap that I carry around? Can’t I let that go yet?

I think this is true: How you react to yourself and your shit is where you find your power and your peace. I reacted in frantic ways to clear space for myself and that’s ok. I made changes, and moves and decisions. I’m used to reacting in a kind of panicky way. I’m trying something different now, as I try to stay on this safe ground, where there is no fire and no reason to run.

The other night I felt insecure and lonely and the feelings just swooped in like a hawk out of nowhere. I don’t hide from it anymore, by drinking or doing other destructive things so all that was left was being present. Sitting there with this crap and being like “Oh hey, it’s you. You’re so annoying, but what do you really want? Why are you here right now?”– I’m trying that. It’s not fun, just to forewarn you. Drinking is way more fun. But last night, I had to have that conversation with My Own Shit, and look at it and roll my eyes, and find some truth behind it, and then go to bed. Today, when I woke up, I was not hungover. I didn’t feel guilty, or lost. The nice thing about My Own Shit is that I’m getting to know it, and so, when it pops up, I don’t feel like I need to hide from it. I would prefer that it disappear, but it’s possible to think of it without all the judgement. Maybe it’s just a teacher. Like, a really annoying teacher. Here’s what makes you jealous, Alexis. Here’s what makes you feel insecure. OH MY GOD GO AWAY was not a response that worked, so now I’m trying “Ugh, fine, come in. I’ll make coffee” because that is how you treat a guest. Welcoming someone in doesn’t always mean you love it, right? Or that you want them to stay for hours. I’m an inexperienced host here for sure, and don’t always react the way I want to when this shit creeps in. But I try to let it in, because I have space now, and it’s not as scary as it was, and it’s coming in anyway. Like Rumi writes, “this being human is a guest house, every day a new beginning…”. It’s exciting and hard all at once. All of this space, all of these rooms, safely planted on the ground, to fill with my own imperfection.