I sit sipping fresh cappuccino by my open writing room window. The rain is coming down in tiny sprinkled bursts as the light wind glides through the gigantic green trees. There’s no thunder but small flashes of lightning pulse every once in a while. The gray of the cool sky feels like a merciful hand over a closed tired eye. I just want to be away. Away from here. Away far enough to actually see what I’m looking at. So much change has happened for me in these last five months it feels overwhelming at the moment. And maybe that will pass, I am sure it will – this feeling like there’s nothing left to hold on to because everything has been swept away by the giant wave of sobriety as it crashed over me. I see things now for what they really are, or should I say instead: I feel the real things now. I feel the things that aren’t right and haven’t been for a very long time. My whole life has been upended and trying to minimize the effects of that is scratching at the insides of my bones. Something inside still needs to be let out. When you see what needs to change you have to go about changing it. I guess. Or not. Maybe not. Maybe the thing is to just stop blaming myself for any of it.
Properly exhausted and humbled down to a tiny little nub, I can at least revel in the fact that the writing of my book and the writing of my book proposal are both now complete. What will become of any of this is anyone’s guess but I do promise this (to myself and anyone who may be listening): the book is gonna get published. It will exist in this big wide world somehow. It’s too important to me to let it disintegrate in a drawer somewhere. Which I am sure is what every author feels about her work once it is complete. The funny thing is, as I was walking with my husband around the neighborhood last night he asked me, So… what are you gonna do now? To which I responded the only way one can respond when her whole life is devoted to words: Start writing the next one, I guess.
Just like everything else, one thing leads to the next. You begin a thing and you end it and then you begin something else lest you go mad. You do your little projects and hope with all your mighty might that maybe someone else will like them. Notice them. Give a damn. And maybe they do and that’s really special. And maybe they don’t and that hurts a bunch. But either way, you have to get up and do the day the best you know how. And when you are sober you know right at the top of it that you are about to feel every single thing without hope of escape. And even though the addiction part of you is still fixated on the drink (it really is, it’s fucking insane) the rest of you is hyper aware of all the other various forms of possible escape that people around you are engaging in all the time. Escaping into substances or people or vacations or whatever else. Work. Success. Money. Botox.
All around us hangs the haunt of any other life but the one we’ve got to live in the skin we’re in. We reach for the easy way out and it all goes up in liquid smoke. Every damn time. That’s how you know that what a destructive thing is promising you is an illusion and not a reality. When you get up close to the part that’s supposed to be easy, it isn’t there. It doesn’t actually exist.
I watch this woman sitting at the beach side bar, sipping her yellowy wine. Must be chardonnay because it’s too dark in color to be a Sauv Blanc. Looks buttery, too. The way it slides a tiny bit slower down the sides and back into place when she sets it back down on the counter. A Sauv is crisper, lighter, more refreshing. Perfect for summer. Perfect for now (no, it really isn’t), as I sit on the other side of the gigantic ocean-facing restaurant with my husband who is sipping respectably on his Cape May IPA. I never liked beer. Beer was not my thing. Well, maybe it was back in college when it was really the only alcohol available at parties besides hard liquor mixed with some kind of Hawaiian Punch type deal. Christ, the shit we used to drink was sickening but at least we drank gallons of it.
Wine wasn’t part of my everyday until I became a far more sophisticated female alcoholic than I had previously been. Classier. More grown-up. That’s the bit, you see what I mean. It isn’t just the wine it’s the whole persona of the drinking of the wine and what that instantly makes you. Or should we say, how it makes you appear to the outside world, and since we believe ourselves to be who we make the world believe we are, we are pleased as that trashy college punch with ourselves and the whole fucked up, fun-house mirror of distortions we have managed to fabricate but believe happens naturally just by holding a glass of this shit. It’s impressive in a way. Amusing, even. Our little psycho-delectations.
Watching the waves slam heavy into the shoreline just a few yards away, we point to the seventeen or so surfers who rise and fall and coast along at varying levels of water-slicked prowess. It’s a very rough and strange day. One minute the sun is shining bright and you have to come out of your hoodie because it’s so damn hot, and the next minute the giant dark storm clouds roll in, the wind kicks up in the opposite direction and drops everything twenty degrees. No sooner do you apply your sunscreeen than the cold drizzle pricks against your sunglasses, making you wonder why in the fuck you made the hour drive to begin with.
But multiple outfit changes aside, the ocean is wild, thunderous and beautiful. The smell of salt, sand, and sea is so good for the soul. My soul, our souls. It’s weird how you can be sitting next to other humans and feel a million miles away from them at the same time. I don’t know what is going through the chardonnay lady’s head as she scrolls her phone and adjusts her oversized sun hat. I imagine her blood warming, her mind slowing, and everything around her getting fuzzy. I think about how it’s only 12:30 in the afternoon and when I started drinking that early in the day it was a non-stop frustration for the rest of the day to balance quenching my craving for more and more with wanting to not pass out on the beach and feel hungover by dinner.
My husband, gorgeous sweet man that he is, asks the young bartender if he has any zero proof liquor. The gentleman smirks and stares stupified at both of us. It’s very possible he thinks this question is a joke and a truly hilarious one at that. I know it sounds outrageous and insane. That anyone would actually want a gin martini made with alcohol-free botanicals, juniper, and possibly seaweed extract. I know how pointless that sounds. You don’t drink to get healthier, you nimrod, this guy is probably thinking. What in the actual fuck are you even talking about. Why the fuck are you sitting at my gloriously glossy bar ordering tonic and lime, talking some shit about booze without the booze in it, ordering your pretentious antipasto salad at lunch when it’s only on the dinner menu.
Because I’m sober, asshole. And sometimes I feel like a motherfucking boss about it and other times, in the blink of an eye, I suddenly feel like throwing back every bottle of liquor you have so skillfully displayed in that cleverly stacked pyramid formation without so much as coming up for air to make up for the pathetic one hundred and forty nine days I’ve spent clean. And, just like you, I do not understand what life is supposed to be anymore without my precious drink of choice in my hand. Let alone on the holiday weekend that jump starts everybody’s summer. Let alone how the weather changes from brilliant to menacing every five goddamn minutes.
Hello to new followers, you have all made me so happy. I don’t know why you decided to come along, if it’s the writing or the audio or the sobriety or all of it or whatever other reason, but I’m just grateful to know something here resonated with you. It’s weird these days with authors it’s like we are supposed to have a ‘thing’ like an ‘image’ or an aesthetic or a bunch of fucking clever reels on Instagram or whatever. I am not sure I”m up for all that to be honest. I just want to write ffs. That’s all. Anyway, I thank you for checking out my stuff if you are new here and if you have been hanging out with me for a long while, hello and thank you so much, too.
Heading into the long holiday weekend, I’m thinking about the fact that I will be sailing through it entirely sober. Entirely hangover-free. God, that feels so fucking good to say. To know. To trust.
I have more work to do on the book. I’m told parts of it are ‘stunning’ and ‘brilliant’ and other parts make no sense or need clarification. Some parts need to be shifted around and some other parts need to be nixed altogether. And I am going to do all of that, too. I most totally am. But later. This weekend I’m doing as close to ‘nothing’ as possible. Which really if I think about it, I will be doing a lot of things, just nothing ‘productive.’ I plan to relax. I have a whole line up of beautifully clean, fresh, interesting booze-free drinks to mix up. As my second pot of coffee was brewing this morning, I sliced up a bunch of lemons, limes, and cucumbers to throw into my Pellegrinos throughout the next days How lovely, right?
There will be boating, swimming, eating. Lounging. Beaching. I am desperate to see the ocean glittering underneath the warm sun. Sea gulls. These days, with all of the bullshit that adults call adulting out of my way, I find myself very interested in what the kiddos are interested in. Ice cream. Cotton candy. Goofing off. Running, dancing, laughing. Whispering secrets. Picking flowers. Snapping nature photos. I just want to be enveloped in the sort of misty haze that rolls in along the shoreline in that rose gold hour between afternoon and evening. To be present inside of that… it’s really like a dream.
It has been one hell of a week. And I know our culture is an absolute shit show. I know it’s hell and we are all on fire. And all I did was get sober. And all I am doing is unplugging. But as I slice up a juicy pink grapefruit and place a taste of its sweet-tart pulp onto my tongue, I assure myself that I have come damn far in the name of not trashing myself along with everything else that’s been destroyed and abused in this world. And honestly, that’s not nothing.
The amount of tired that I am today has nothing to do with lack of sleep. I am well rested. It has nothing to do with lack of caffeine either, lord knows. I’m on my third mug of coffee and feeling quite alert. Sitting here in my little writing room gazing out the window as the neighbors get into their cars and head to work. Wherever they work. I should be working, too. But fuck I am so tired. In my bones and my mind and my soul, heart, being. The children are dead. This country is a waste. A whole mother fucking waste. And I used to cry. And I used to march. And I just voted the other day, like a whole ass joke. Like a fucking fool. For whatever the fuck any of this bullshit is worth. I feel helpless, useless, hopeless. Worthless. I do not even feel anger. I can’t feel anything anymore. All the empty words. Words won’t fix this. Voices won’t fix it. All the sickening politics. Bloodthirsty. That’s what we are right here in the richest most fucking bankrupt country in all the world. It’s all murderous nonsense from every side. We have become a wasteland where no life is valued. It’s all traded for money or guns or power. Where kids don’t even want to exist. No one who can actually prevent this slaughter of children will do it. There’s no conscience. There’s just emptiness. I wonder what on earth matters anymore. Perhaps this is what despair feels like. Right here in the palms of my soul on a regular Thursday as the news reels roll on and on and fucking on. Perhaps this is what it’s like at the end of the emotional line. It’s just the same as any other day. Only where there used to be anything else, now there’s just hollow. And I’m too tired to write because there’s nothing to say. People are monsters. I saw a bit of a poem somewhere online yesterday as the poets took their swings and misses at effecting any kind of shock or awe or response to little or no avail. It said We are a monster. Yeah. That’s it.
What a fucking head trip getting sober is, man. It’s hard but you almost want it to stay that way if only because the challenge of it makes you focus. And there is something very soothing in having a focus that is so healthy, so benevolent and kind and strong, aimed right square at yourself and nobody else. I’m not sure there is any other experience like it. You have to claim it for yourself and that makes it entirely personal. You get into yourself like never before. I have written across the top of my journal the words: If I left it up to anyone else I would not be sober. Because no one was going to intervene. Only I had the problem and only I knew it. Only I could fix it.
People say they are ‘alcoholics’ or not but I feel like on some level that’s all just semantics. It’s all getting yourself snagged on the side of the drain when all you want to do is flush right on out into the glorious ocean. All you want is freedom. The labels either help you get there or they don’t, but freedom is the ultimate goal. Freedom to see everything clearly. To make life choices from a place of complete awareness and strength. Now, truth be told, at 144 days I am kind of looking around at some shit in my life and thinking why in the hell have I not changed this or that. What on earth have I let fester all these years.
But one thing you certainly get back in sobriety is time. Time to spend focused on getting what you want instead of dumping booze into your face and then recovering from the nasty side effects of that. What a stupid fucking gamble drinking is. Was. What a goddamn lot of time I wasted being wasted. I don’t even miss it.
All these years I thought I’d die without the drinks and now I realize they were killing me. I feel like being in recovery is wave after wave of sick twisted irony. All the shit I thought was happening wasn’t. All the shit I thought wasn’t happening was happening right in front of my eyes but I couldn’t see it. All the faith I put in glass after bottomless glass of wine was total utter trash. And even though I chose sobriety, even though it is now solidly, decidedly, mercifully mine through and through and it’s at the very center of everything that matters most to me in this life, I still can hardly believe I’ve done it.
Everything I write falls short of what I want to say. Fuck, it’s frustrating. I don’t want to have to but I can tell I’m going to have to renegotiate whatever unspoken agreement I previously had with my writing. Reconstruct a new kind of relationship with the thing inside me which desires to speak. Because wherever my words came from before does not exist anymore. Something dislodges when you first get sober, some big chunk of a thing that you thought was an essential part of you just suddenly breaks free like a giant iceberg and begins to sail right on off into the mist-covered ocean. You can almost hear it crack. That catastrophic sound slicing through the pristine arctic air, all alone where nobody in the whole world can see it or hear it or bear witness. Only you and the echo of whatever part of you that is ancient, timeless, and eternal. As that massive ice formation melts, it ebbs farther and farther away from you, leaving a gash in its place, a colossal empty space. Now that the addiction is quiet, there is a cut-out space in the side of my perception of myself. I used to have something to springboard from but now that home base is gone. If I try to start anything from that old version of me, I fall over the edge into nothingness. I need a new base camp. I need to reorganize some foundational internal shit or I’ll drown.
Any kind of addiction or abuse is an attempt to outrun the darkness inside of you. That may sound counterintuitive but it’s the truth. Nobody’s life is devoid of trauma, separation anxiety, fear of the unknown, maladaptive measures of self-destruction where there ought to be serenity.
Fuck ‘self-love’ and ‘self-care’ and all that fuzzy blanket bullshit. You have to go into the darkness you have been running from. The thing you were told was obscene. The thing that you were never allowed to speak about or express or acknowledge. The part of you you were told could not exist. But you knew it did. You knew it. That part of you that writhed inside, that they kept hacking away at but that always grew back louder with more heads and more teeth. The place inside of you you were told was grotesque, hideous, unclean. You were forbidden to look.
You know why they forbid it?
Because you will find yourself there. They didn’t want you to look because they were afraid you might find yourself there. And because they couldn’t bear the thought that parts of you were dark because if that were true about you, what did it say about them? Their keeping you from the shadow was their keeping you from yourself. But that’s the only way you will ever make peace with it. Not by getting out of it, by getting into it. You’ve got to crawl into your darkness. You have to get into where the sickness first began. Your sick inheritance.
Not so you can kill it off. You will never kill it off. What you want is to be able to peer into the eyes of it, the wound of it, understand it. Once it’s integrated into your own reconstruction of yourself, you own it. Dominate it. Become its master. Until you do, you can never comprehend the profound benevolence of that. The unfathomable power of being in command of yourself.
I submitted the second draft of my book manuscript yesterday. I believe in this book so very much and it’s so hard to wait to hear back about whether or not it is good enough. Maybe it is especially hard when the contents are all about how you tried to destroy yourself for a long, long time before you somehow started to save yourself instead. And you are still new at the saving part.
Something has changed about me in the last almost five months (140 days today). I fit inside myself now. I am not sure I could have ever said that and meant it so entirely as I say it and mean it right this minute. Perhaps that sounds rather crazy considering I am a grown ass forty three year old woman (mother, wife, etc.). I get that. I feel a little bit crazy, to be honest. If anyone had told me a year ago – even six months ago – that I would have written a whole damn book about my early sobriety journey, I would have sworn they were out of their fucking mind.
And yet. Here we are. It’s a kind of wilderness, getting sober and staying that way in a culture literally obsessed with sucking down alcohol all the time. I wish I didn’t mean all the time but I do. There’s every opportunity every which way to get buzzed or trashed or whatever you wish any time you like. Of course, most people are not alcoholics. I guess most people aren’t addicted to the drinking. It can be so hard to understand it all. After a while everything just gets fuzzy. Reaching for help if you think you need it can feel like reaching a hand out into a dark abyss of nothingness. It’s hard to figure out what to hold on to. How to break your own fall.
The editor was frustrated by the first draft of my manuscript. She told me I had two voices, one clear and compelling, the other dark and thickly confusing. She said the second voice went off on tangents that were impossible to follow. When she highlighted this to me it suddenly felt obvious to me where before I sort of knew it but wasn’t sure what to do about it. I cannot help but think that the dark confusion was the voice of what my addiction did to me. Seduced and lured and promised me a richly extravagant adventure but then just as smoothly trailed off into nowhere and left me there with all the nothingness.
I extracted that voice from the manuscript as best I could. I tried to identify each instance where the voice of vague incoherence, that almost desperately searching voice of longing and emptiness, was entangled with the voice of clarity, conviction, and knowing. And little by little I pulled them apart. I did what had to be done to rid my story of what was trying to strangle it. The confusion that was trying to keep the truth from finding its own way out.
It was hard to throw away some of those dark poetic passages. I still worry that I managed to preserve the substance, both the dark and the light, and only trashed the extraneous drivel. We are so often taught that dark is bad and light is good. I think that’s misleading. I think both dark and light are vital and necessary to our stories, as long as that darkness and that light are true.
There is the darkness of my shame, my trauma, my hurt, my fear and my pain, and that darkness is honest. I know because when I curl up to it to shower it with compassion and comfort instead of run away from it, it enlightens and frees me. It opens me up to the light of revelation and renewal. Good shit.
But then there is the darkness of my addiction. The secret vicious voice of a thing that wants to ruin me from the inside out. A voice which, when I got so close I fell into it, trapped me. It pinned me down and deadened me. It promised me everything and led me to nowhere. It left me with only emptiness, fear, panic and confusion.
So I get why only one voice can prevail if I want to tell my story properly. With honesty and decency and integrity and hope. Out in the light where other people will be able to see it. I want to share my story with all my might in the best way I know how. The shadows and the illumination.
Working my way through this process, the lengthy process of recovery and of writing about it, is the best kind of struggle. I much prefer it, in fact, to the other kind. The struggle to keep slamming booze into my veins. The struggle to hide it, manage it, control it, ignore it, deny it. The struggle to express my desires, hopes, beliefs and dreams all while clinging desperately to a voice that wasn’t really mine but belonged to something beyond my control.
There is some debate in the recovery world about whether or not addiction is a life-long struggle for anyone who has had to heal from it. I’m not sure this matters that much in the long run. If you have to put down the booze because it has been treating you like shit I don’t see how that miraculously becomes something you can reverse or move past or ever experience differently in the future. But I will say this: If I am stuck with my addiction then that means that my addiction is stuck with me, too. It means I’m calling the shots for both of us now. And ain’t none of them whiskey.
So much has been going on in my life lately that feels so big for so many reasons that I have actually felt the need to keep tight to myself. There are some things so personal that they feel like once I put them down on the page they leave me, and I am not equipped to bear such a spilling yet. I’m still needing to hold onto these things. There is some kind of alchemy occurring inside that is not yet complete.
I attended my first wedding as a sober person on Friday. But it wasn’t just any wedding it was my brother’s wedding. My only sibling, my brother who is two years younger than me, although once you both hit forty the relative difference in age sort of becomes nothing at all. Two years melts as fast as snow on the sidewalk on a bright sunny winter afternoon. There are some parts of us that were molded together and cannot be separated; molded into each other. I was his Best Woman. To even begin to tell you what that meant for me is simply too monumental to wrap the wings of my soul around. I couldn’t find the words if I tried. And perhaps one day I will try. But just now, I am speechless. I’m muted under the beautiful weight of it.
I cried a lot that day. Tears of supreme happiness and awe and gratitude and awareness and disbelief. So many tears that the next morning when I woke up, I thought for a split second I had a hangover headache before then remembering just as quickly that that was impossible because all I had to drink was sparkling water and lime. I cried because words have failed me. I cried because I can feel every little thing like earthquakes in my veins and so the big things are like bright glaring lights turned on suddenly in a dark room. The eyes of my emerging being need a minute to adjust. I danced a lot, too. It was different than dancing drunk. It was better by far. So much better it seemed insane to imagine having done it any other way.
I also heard back from an incredibly insightful editor who has been supremely generous in helping me to craft my memoir. The challenge to make it the very best it can possibly be is a challenge greater than any I have ever endeavored to undertake in my writing career. The experience is changing me, evolving the way I think and feel about my beloved craft. To have a wickedly talented and accomplished professional editor offer me concrete guidance is an overwhelmingly humbling experience.
The questions this opportunity affords me to ask myself are most profound. How on earth will I tell my story? What is my story? Where does it begin and end and what are the things that happen inbetween that must be told? Why is it worthy of telling? So many voices inside my head and heart. This kind and brilliant editor thinks I have something though. Something that could be the book. And I am going to fall deeply into the comforting, empowering, wise, soft-strong words of Anne Lamott: … just take it bird by bird.
And the rain is sifting down in bursts of light cold mist. The gloom in the weather keeps all the neighbors’ lawn equipment quiet on this Sunday morning, when all of our dear over-night wedding guests have now left our house and the familiar quiet has moved in again behind them. This gray May Mother’s Day. I think about the treasure of my son. My ‘baby’ who is now a twenty-four year old gorgeous, attentive, hard-working, witty, intelligent, kind-hearted man, with his own place to live and sleep and eat and work and be in this wide world. I sip coffee from the mug he gave me years ago, imprinted in gold and navy lettering with his college logo and the word MOM in bold across the middle. My breath catches a little in my throat when I think about all the joy we have shared over the years.
It’s all a lot to take in right now, but maybe for the first time in my life I know so clearly that I want to swallow it all in gulps and not miss a drop. This exquisite life, the only fine spirit I want poured into my precious cup.