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.
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.
When it is your time to get sober you will know. The trick is you have to trust it. That knowing. And that will feel very hard because the outside noise, the voices of the culture and even the voices of those close to you whom you love, will be very loud in your head, in your mind.
The noise of distracted distortion will reverberate against the walls of your veins and the corridors of your ribs and your brain. It will feel like you should have done this long ago and yet it will feel like maybe you could keep on with the lies a little longer. That maybe if you do it will just somehow get different, get better. That maybe you will discover that you were not correct. That the voices of the others did indeed know better than you and they said it would be fine and it was all normal and isn’t it just so silly how you worried your little head about nothing.
But you will know that you are not fine. And you will keep knowing it over and over when you keep getting sick and you keep hating yourself and you keep trying and trying to moderate and control and figure it out to no avail. Trying to be like the ones who don’t have a problem. Trying to not have the problem that you do not want to believe you have.
When you need to stop drinking you will know it. The trick is you need to trust that knowing. It isn’t some elusive ‘rock bottom’ that will change everything. It’s you. It can only be and will only ever be you. Your choice to trust what you know and act accordingly with self-compassion and not waste a single minute on justifying it to anyone else. That’s what changes everything. You choosing you over everything and everyone else.
And it could be today (today is the best day and I hope you choose it because today is as good a day as any other I promise because let’s be honest with drinking it’s all the same thing over and over and over anyway).
It could be in a week or a month or a year or two, if you want to be arrogant and assume you get all those hypothetical times ahead. And if you want to endure the pain of remaining separated from yourself for that long.
But it will never be some particularly catastrophic outside circumstance that fixes you. Circumstances do not change people. They are just events. Just facts. It is the person who chooses their next move. A future circumstance may trigger what is already inside of you now. It may be a very terrible thing. A monumental thing. Or it may be a very quiet private thing. It may be an accident or injury or it may be the way a single strand of light falls across your skin. But big or small, whatever the moment may be, what you will know then you already know now.
That this hurts. That you hurt. That you are scaring yourself. That you don’t want to be doing this. That you want to get better. That no matter what the others say or advise, or how they judge or dismiss or look at you, only you know what is true for you. And only you get to choose what your life will be. Any time. Every time. Now or later (if you are lucky enough to get a later).
What is it like at rock bottom? How will I know I am there? These are odd questions because you have already been to rock bottom many times. You think ‘rock bottom’ will be what changes everything for you but that’s not it. That’s not the whole story.
The whole story is that the only way anything changes is that you will need to choose. That is what you have been running from all along. Not the fact of your addiction but the fact of your having to choose what to do with it.
Every hangover was rock bottom. Every time you thought you were such a fucking fool. Every time your shame shredded your spirit into hellish desperation and jittery terror. Those were the rocks. You already know that jagged, cutting, crushing pain.
You already know what it is like to crawl along the bottom. No light. No air. The weight of it. The heavy, drenching, aching, throbbing weight of it. You have been there and it has not healed you. What will, though, is when you are in that wretched painful place and finally choose to acknowledge it instead of run from and deny it.
The bottom will always come down to you. You decide now or you decide later. You decide ‘never again’ or you decide ‘let’s keep this up.’
But one day, and I am rooting for you to get to it, when you are very solidly sober, just as you always dreamed and hoped and wanted with all the fibers of all of your precious worthy busted-up being, you will understand that when people ask you what your ‘rock bottom’ was, it is just another way of asking how far you had to fall to realize you would only ever keep reaching yourself.
The sheer unadulterated clarity I possess now that I am four months sober is nothing shy of astounding. The crystal clearness of my feelings, speech, thoughts, ambitions, perceptions, insights, presence, mindfulness, and awareness astonishes me even as I am living it each and every day.
For so long I had no idea drinking was taking this brilliance from me sip by sip. A slow dripping away of my clarity of mind over many, many years.
And that right there is the sinister nature of the alcohol drug. It is fucking you up thoroughly, cruelly, menacingly. But not all at once.
You suck it down to soothe you. To “help” you.
And all the while you are being made duller, duller, duller, in mind, body, and spirit. Weaker, more dependent, more confused, more brainwashed.
But as you heal the clarity returns. Like sunlight sharpening, defining, revealing, electrifying. And it is this dazzle that only sobriety can bring. Something in you is sure of that.
Even more crucial than identifying your “problem” is identifying yourself. Getting sober is not about deciding “how bad things are” or “if they could be worse.”
Hi: they could always be worse.
Instead, sobriety is about defining who you are in this life. What are the values you will honor in yourself. For what truths will you stand up and be unwavering.
At my side as I journal and write this morning, along with my beloved black coffee and against all discernible odds, is the Big Book. I bought it because even just the title “Alcoholics Anonymous” embossed on the cover in all caps frightened me.
Not that. Please. Anything but that.
But alas here we are. It is that. My addiction is mine. My thing. My beast. My blessing. My angel my demon and everything in between.
I bought the AA Book because I spent a decade terrified to admit that I struggled to control my drinking. I thought my addiction would kill me either way – if I kept going or if I tried to stop. Either way, shame kept me paralyzed and numb.
I know AA is controversial and for good reason. I know it has helped millions to heal their own lives also for good reason. I believe everyone will find their own way, including me. The important thing is I’m open to finding my own way.
Maybe I will read the Big Book word for word. Maybe I will not. Maybe I will take what resonates with my soul, mind, and heart, and leave the rest. Maybe it will help, maybe it will hurt. I know that I will know.
For me right now it’s a triumph I never thought possible just to have this book in my hands.
To trust I will know my path forward whatever it may be. To know it does not include alcohol ever again. To know I’m already 115 days on the other side of a murderous kind of denial.
Because the thing is, it doesn’t matter how much you drink or how often or if you fit a label or a profile or pop positive based on some random online quiz. If you are hiding from yourself you have to explore that in order to find yourself and get free. Without judgement. Without blame or shame or self-cruelty.
Author’s note: If you believe this post can help others and/or yourself please share it. By “help” I mean simply to start a respectful conversation that otherwise may remain in the shadows of frightened minds. We need to be talking about this in new ways. It’s time.