Some possible missions

I was talking to a friend the other day, about sobriety and breakups and other things that feel like getting punched in the guts. We were comparing “what have YOU done sober” stories. I have gone to more weddings sober than him, but he has gone on road trips with friends sober, while they were drinking, which I thought was impressive. He was amazed that I had traveled to Europe sober, and I was in awe of how he was going through a break-up without booze. It felt like we were comparing badges of honor. We were stocking up on sober experience, to make it to the next level. We were going on these impossible missions, and coming back alive. So now I’m thinking about sobriety as a series of missions. The question we ask ourselves is “Am I going to be able to make it through this xx without drinking?” and even if we’re feeling confident that we can do that it’s like “What will it be like doing xx sober?”

I will admit that viewing sobriety like a video game may feel like I’m trivializing the emotional energy this whole thing takes. I’ve been sober for two years, and last night I had to get up and walk around my dark house, breathing, remembering that I was here now, because I was running “here’s how life would be different if I had quit sooner” scenarios through my head. Then I went to sleep and had a drinking dream. That’s just a note to say that I still feel it, and it rarely feels light. But. This mindset around specific activities being missions on this crazy sobriety journey, I like.

I don’t know if you’re sober, or you’re a little curious about the sober thing, or if you’re my mom and you read all of my blog posts just to make sure I’m OK. Regardless, you’re doing hard things all of the time, and I bet you feel like it’s all normal and you don’t deserve to celebrate it. You’re an adult, and of course you should be able to xx. You should be able to go to a Christmas party where you’re ex will be, and you may additionally think you should be able to do that sober. Sure. You totally can. But that doesn’t mean that the loosely tied sober community out here doesn’t think you are goddamn amazing for doing so, and I bet there is a member of your current support system who would like to have the chance to congratulate you on doing that hard thing. It’s easy to forget, especially in sobriety, that you’re facing hard things head on, and it’s making you stronger. Every sober wedding, every sober trip, date, fight, lonely night, hard day at work, every SINGLE day you get out there and did what is hard to you, is a mission completed. And in theory, at least in my experience, knowing I can do that thing one time makes it easier the next time.

I got married about a month ago. I asked that there not be alcohol at the wedding, for one because it was at 10am, but also because large groups (40 people is large, OK?) plus booze make me feel anxious. I didn’t think of drinking once- we had so much coffee…it was dreamy. I felt like asking for that and feeling confident that my guests wouldn’t be terribly annoyed with their weirdo sober friend was a mission in itself. However, if I hadn’t done all of the mini-missions before that, like a sober bachelorette party, drinking sparkling juice the night we got engaged, celebrating with friends over tea, and on and on, this sober wedding mission may have felt impossible. It didn’t. There were moments, but I got through it. It’s pretty much the best surprise ever then, when the hard thing becomes enjoyable. That is undoubtedly some next level shit.

What kinds of missions are you going on? Does it feel easier every time or not? Tell me! I’m always interested in what you’re figuring out along the way. Keep up the good work, friends.

xo

Not a chill girl.

chill

“At first I felt these drawings were accidents, then I realized they were a part of me”. Beverly Pepper. Pepper was a sculptor and a decidedly not chill girl. Here’s me trying to dive into her sketches with my eyeballs.

I am retiring “laid back” from my list of “ways I want to be”. “At peace” is a way I want to be. But “laid back” is way too close to “chill” which is just another bullshit way of saying “lower your standards”. I’m too sober and alive for that shit.

This desirable state of chill got stuck in my brain at a young age. I like to blame Teen magazine, for reminding me that boys like girls who are laid back and wear “natural” makeup, aka look conventionally beautiful and don’t ask for much. I solidified that by watching Reality Bites a million times, and brainwashing myself into believing that the best kind of guy was a loser like Ethan Hawke’s character, and the best kind of girl to be was a chill waif who was cool with whatever.

I cannot even begin to explain the trouble this mindset got me into. I can blame culture, but my own teenage insecurity is the thing I can’t put on Winona Ryder and her stringy bangs. I wanted to be liked, and the path I took towards that was being as easily consumable as possible. Which I’m not; none of us our, if we’re being our true self, right? I fought myself for years, trying to push myself into this state of chill. This place where I was not difficult. If you ever wonder why people start drinking so much, one reason may be that they don’t want to care so much. Living with intense feelings is hard.

Today, I am not chill. I get emotional about things I care about. I have deep pangs of insecurity, which I tell my partner about unapologetically. I’m trying to stop forcing my body into a certain shape. I’ve done this before, since I quit drinking, and I always chicken out, and go back to diets. That Winona waif thing got stuck really deep in my mind. Today I ordered new jeans, to fit my growing hips. They are not chill. They are trying to grow into the space they want to inhabit. I’m going to do my best to let them.

The scariest thing about getting sober was being alone with myself. The first few months were numb, and boring. The next few months were euphoric, but I didn’t want to be around people. Things went up and down like this for the first year and a half. In the last few months, I feel like I’ve cautiously stepped out of my cave, and have started connecting with friends again. I still have nightmares about drinking, and spinning thoughts of guilt while falling asleep; I still hear the past. But I feel clean. And I feel safe. But not laid back. I care too much, love too hard, and shine too bright to chill.

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.

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.