Sobering Moments


It can be challenging in sobriety to experience rituals you used to drink around.  These can be office parties, weddings, 5 o’clock, or the super bowl.  Luckily it wasn’t difficult for me not to drink on Sunday.  It did provide some insight to explore memories of the past few super bowls and my behavior around drinking in general.

The last few years the Super Bowl has been my big drunk of the year.  I would start drinking an hour before the game started and do so nonstop.  I realized that every football game could be like this and started wanting to watch more games with people to have more excuses to drink until I couldn’t feel anything – not in my heart, not in my mind, and not in my body.  I would just get numb.  Somehow I thought this was great.

This year I spent the Super Bowl at an AA meeting.  I got there early and stayed there late.  I couldn’t help but think throughout the meeting that here I was circling up with people around a shared experience much like I would gather around a television somewhere with pitchers of beer covering the table.  This was better.  When I drove home I wasn’t at risk to kill someone.

addictionThe last year of my drinking I had learned to lie to people, even to myself, about drinking and driving.  I was convinced if I had coffee the last 10-20 minutes of the night that I was sober and I could drive.  I would start pulling it together just enough to convince people that I wasn’t completely out of it.  Then I’d get in the car and head home.  Somehow in my mind I really thought drinking for 3+ hours was all wiped out by a couple of cups of coffee.  I’m lucky.  I never killed anyone, crashed my car, or even got a DUI. I also think my ability to avoid these consequences made it difficult for me to own my alcoholism.

I was not a daily drinker.  I could go out and have just a beer or a margarita over dinner.  I often met people for drinks and had iced tea.  I didn’t seem like an alcoholic.  It was just that occasionally I would drink and be UNABLE to stop.  I would rationalize that I so rarely drank it didn’t matter and hey, everyone deserves to cut loose right?  So my one drink would turn into 10, sometimes more.  In the end, my final drunk, I had 16 vodka Collins in less than two hours.  It’s a wonder I didn’t get alcohol poisoning.

My sponsor has cautioned me that never really hitting a bottom could put me at risk for relapse.  At the same time he acknowledges that my firm grasp on spiritual development helped me come to the program earlier than some and gives me some advantage in being able to work the program.  I don’t dismiss his caution.  There are still times I tell myself I am not alcoholic.  Then I realize people who aren’t addicts do not have to argue with themselves about whether they are.

I never had a big bottom, but I never really built a life worth losing either.  I skated by.  I stayed in a miserable marriage, I never finished a degree or started a career, and I never managed any kind of financial stability or real independence. The only thing I had to lose was my daughter and while I didn’t lose her, I also didn’t have the kind of relationship with her that I do now.  I never started a life.

I’ve had friends ask if I really won’t drink again.  I don’t know, but I sure hope not.  I’m an addict.  I spent years trading one addiction for another.  I wasted my twenties just skating by rather than pursuing my dreams.  I don’t ever want to go back to that.  So today, I choose not to drink.  Sunday I chose to go to a meeting rather than a sports bar.  For me, it was a lifesaving choice.  It was only a matter of time before one of those binge drinking nights led me to kill myself or someone else.  I am so grateful I was able to wake up and get help before something like that happened.  I thank God every day that I’m sober.  To paraphrase Anne Lamott, I believe everything I have to offer anyone depends on my sobriety.  For those who do not know, Anne Lamott’s book Traveling Mercies directly led to my decision to get help and get sober.  Thanks Anne.


Out of Darkness

In a meeting today I suddenly pictured myself caught in a fall (more like a climb) between two cliffs.  At the bottom was familiarity.  This is where I’ve lived most of my life; caught in some cycle of addiction, negative thinking, self-hatred, and distrust.  At the top of the cliff I see my friends who have had many years in sobriety and friends who do deep spiritual work standing happily in the sunshine.  I am somewhere in between.

There is a part of me that longs for the dark dwelling of familiarity at the bottom of the cliffs. In this place, I could do just enough to skate through life and not have to really apply myself.  If I knew the lingo of a spiritual life and what I SHOULD be doing, then I would get the praise and recognition from others I was so hungry for – hungry because my entire sense of self-worth was defined by others.  In this place if life became too difficult, I simply checked out through drinking, binge eating, sleeping all day, or watching television nonstop.  This kept life simple.  Enough effort to get by, but not enough to get up and out to the light.

With my choice to dive into 12 step and make a commitment to sobriety and living a spiritual life, I started climbing up the cliff toward the sunshine.  This place, caught in the middle, is severely uncomfortable.  Part of me longs for the ease of the dark lonely place at the bottom while I continue to make slow strides toward the surface.

As all of this played out in images in my mind I thought about the pattern I have to apply only enough effort to get the recognition and not enough to make any actual changes in my core self.  I realized this is playing out again in my resistance to getting a sponsor, to actively working the steps, and even to attend meetings regularly.  I know the lingo.  I own the books.  I’m not drinking.  Isn’t that enough?  Well, no.

I moved here with the intention of creating a spiritual, healthy, whole life.  This requires some work on my part.  It is not enough to own the books, I have to read them and work them.  It’s not enough to own a meditation cushion, I have to sit on it each morning and meet myself.  When you have built a life around avoiding yourself, these things can be downright scary.

I take a breath.  I confess all of this in front of my peers in the program.  I write.  I sit.  I take another breath and get a stronger foothold for my climb out of darkness.  One day at a time.

Lean Out into Nothing

There seems to be a lot of struggle going on right now.  Almost everyone I know is having a hard time on many levels.  My astrologer friend Kevin says there is something up with the planets.  He knows his stuff so I tend to believe him anyway, but especially now because there seems to be so much evidence.  I am trying to relax and see what the struggle has to teach me.  I am trying to lean in, but maybe what I should do instead is lean out.

Parker Palmer tells a story about enrolling in an Outward Bound course and learning to scale down the side of a mountain.  Here is an excerpt:

“Just go! the instructor explained, in typical Outward Bound fashion.

So I went—and immediately slammed into a ledge, some four feet down from the edge of the cliff, with bone-jarring, brain-jarring force.

The instructor looked down at me: “I don’t think you’ve quite got it.”

“Right,” said I, being in no position to disagree. “So what am I supposed to do?

“The only way to do this,” he said, “is to lean back as far as you can. You have to get your body at right angles to the cliff so that your weight will be on your feet. It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s the only way that works.”

I knew that he was wrong, of course. I knew that the trick was to hug the mountain, to stay as close to the rock face as I could. So I tried it again, my way—and slammed into the next ledge, another four feet down.

“You still don’t have it,” the instructor said helpfully.

“OK,” I said, “tell me again what I am supposed to do.”

“Lean way back,” said he, “and take the next step.”

The next step was a very big one, but I took it—and, wonder of wonders, it worked. I leaned back into empty space; eyes fixed on the heavens in prayer, made tiny, tiny moves with my feet, and started descending down the rock face, gaining confidence with every step.

This story has so much richness in it for me right now.  It feels like I am leaning out into nothing, only I am at the stage Palmer was when he was quite convinced the instructor had it all wrong.  It feels scary and uncomfortable and I don’t want to do it.  I find myself resisting and resentful of the very life I have created.  I don’t like these unknown factors and here, a thousand miles from everything I’ve ever known, it’s all unknown.

When Palmer leaned out into nothing, fixed his eyes to the heavens in prayer, and took tiny steps, and started moving confidently toward his desire – the ground.

I feel I’ve lost the ground.  I am still working to find my footing, my stability.  The hitch is, the stability I once had before my move was a mirage.  None of it was real.  I was walking through my life without any pursuit of my desires.  I was neglecting the care of my body.  I spent my time in active addiction and largely ignoring my calling to do more with my life.  Now I’ve answered the call, but I keep wondering if it was a wrong number?

Everything just feels so… strange.  At moments I am filled with ecstatic joy, then in another moment, I am filled with pain and panic.  I wonder just what the hell I am doing here and whether I’ve made a terrible mistake to uproot my child and move her far away for…. what?

I keep losing sight of what I moved here to do because I am too busy trying to hang on to the damn mountain.  I’m not quite certain what the mountain really is; Identity? Security? Comfort?   I just can’t quite put my finger on it.  I am stuck between the unknown path before me and unknown nagging of something from my past.

I know what I came here to do; heal.  There’s no clear path for it and the healing needs to occur at every level.  I need to lean out and look toward the heavens with my prayer if I am ever going to find my footing and be able to climb down off the mountain face and let go of whatever it is I keep reaching back to cling to so desperately.

Prayer of Desperation

The truth is, I am not dead, not literally or spiritually and this is a miracle.  It is one part luck, one part skill, and one part grace.  My saving graces were many.  The helpers were ready, moving like ninjas in my life.  I didn’t recognize them for years.  So many times they were protecting me from myself.  Even tonight part of me wants to stop, just stop.  Every breath feels like an attack and the weight of it is pressing on me in a way few people can ever understand.  Logic doesn’t matter when this happens.  When the cracks in your heart are ripping open, it doesn’t matter whether you can see God in the openings, it still hurts.  A passing thought – can you survive this pain?

I always knew somehow that I could survive the pain.  I just didn’t want to.  All I could see was pain, heartache, and loneliness.  My heart is cracking open; I feel the void next to my skin where another should be resting against me as we drift to sleep, a vacancy in my heart where someone’s name should be carved on the door, a desperation I want to cut short by reaching for a hand that is not there.  This isn’t about missing anyone.  It’s just fear.  I don’t want to be alone for the rest of my life.  I don’t want to make my peace with single living.  I don’t want to rely only on transcendental love, beautiful and holy though it is.  I want the mud and muck of daily living.  I want to argue with someone about the best route to the movies.  I want the steady rhythm of the way the pages turn when she reads next to me in bed.  I want forever, promises, wedding rings, late mornings, early nights.  I want the best sex and love and friend of my life.  I want crazy, head over heels, strong, sticking with it, challenged and supported, love, love, love.  I want…. Something I don’t believe exists, at least not for me.

This is where the voice starts.  The one I try not to write with here because I want this blog to inspire people so they will risk and break open and have a life filled with Light –as mine is.  But the voice is nagging in the background.  She is unsure anyone will want us.  After all, the love of my life discarded me for something better.  This is the voice of pain, and she is a filthy liar-except when she’s right.

That’s the rub of fear and the nagging voice.  Discernment can be so difficult to achieve when we are breaking wide apart, when the world’s pain feels deeply personal, when we are connected to it all.  And that voice, which lies so often, is sometimes dead on.

I tell myself again: I am not dead.

I should be.   The life I have survived could well have ended me –fistfuls of strange pills, alcoholism, bad decisions, and two direct attempts.  Why am I here?  How is it my soul is still intact?  I dive deep.  I lean in.  I write and write and write.

I’ve learned a lot about letting it all break open and usually I write about the beauty and power in leaning in to pain and breaking wide open to let more love flow.  Tonight, I just can’t seem to find my footing and I just have to keep saying “I’m not dead,” like it’s all I have to hang on to.

I am leaning in, learning to bend and break –reshape.  I am bumbling, imperfect and frightened, but brave enough to venture out on my own, to risk failure, to learn something more about myself.  I am not dead, but for the grace of God, English teachers, poets, mystics, and musicians.  I am just up too late, imperfect, writing and risking showing you a darker side of my process of breaking.  Tomorrow I will start restorying my life.  Tomorrow I will wake up and re-member who I am.

The First Break

My earliest memory is of a window slamming down on my right index finger and blood all over the floor of the house.  I was around 3 and had been singing while looking out the window.  Most of this memory is really the memory of being told about this again and again with one exception, my underwear.

I remember waking up in the hospital wearing nothing but the light green terry cloth underwear I had been wearing at the time of the accident.  I was horrified to be there in nothing but my underwear.  When I mention this to my mom, she doesn’t remember it at all and I know that it’s my actual memory surfacing.

The window slammed shut and cut off the tip of my finger.  They reattached it and I’ve had arthritis in it ever since.  It doesn’t cause me much pain, but looks terrible; a knot over the first knuckle, a scar where they reattached the finger, and a finger nail that doesn’t grow much.  I hid this disfigurement most of my life, even learning to write with my thumb wrapped over the knot so no one would see it, including me.

When the story is retold over the years it becomes about my mom.  She went into shock.  At the hospital they put her in a wheel chair.  The only time the story side tracks from her is to include the part about my dad’s parents coming by, apparently walking in through the open door to find blood on the floor and then just going back home without trying to find out what happened.  The story has nothing to do with me.

I don’t know if the knot is from the injury itself or the infection that followed.  My next memory is sitting on the table in the doctor’s office while a nurse removes my stitches.  I don’t remember whether they hurt or not.  I can get the visual, but for the life of me I can’t pull up the sound from my memory file.

This memory is one of a precious few before I began school.  Once in school I am able to chart my memories more easily.  I attach them to school districts and teachers and am able to create a time line.  One I don’t really want to remember.

It was first grade when I realized I absolutely wanted to die.

I couldn’t tell you why, even now.  I remember the backyard of where we lived and playing with the neighbor.  I remember my dad was gone a lot and I think I mostly stayed outside and ignored whatever was happening indoors.  I can’t remember what my bedroom looked like or the layout of the house.  I just know that I wanted to escape… life.



And sometimes… it just feels broken

I’m usually pretty good at the breaking.  Whether it’s breaking open or breaking down or breaking through, I usually do okay.  Sometimes it just feels broken though.  It doesn’t feel like light is shining in.  It doesn’t feel like an opening.  Instead, it feels like a collapse.  I can’t always put my finger on why it feels this way when other times I am so good with going with the flow, appreciating the breaking, and having compassion for myself.

This moment feels kind of broken to me.  I know it will pass.  Today was a good day and this is but one moment in thousands of moments from today.  Still, it feels important to write about these moments of broken-ness.

I didn’t skate this week, or at all as of yet.  I haven’t been exercising and I’ve been eating crap.  I think, in this moment, I’m having a pity party.  I’m also feeling the sting of wanting to curl up next to the one I love and have Her be several hundred miles away.  The sting of trying to travel without a budget to do any traveling.  The sting of simply trying to get the income to come in before the bills do.  Normally, I take all this with a grain of salt.  I have wicked good luck with money and timing.  While I’ve been financially poor for some time, I always seem to squeak by with enough to my bills and have fun too.  Normally I simply know it will work out.  Part of me knows that, believes that, even in this moment.

So what is it exactly?  And does it serve in some way to experience these broken moments?  Of course it does.  I am reminded of the link I have listed on this blog in the page above titled “Never Not Broken.”  If you haven’t read it, do.  It’s powerful.  It talks about how it is in the moment of brokenness that we get to choose who we become.

I definitely need to choose.  Becoming the new me; the person I want to be, the person I am deep in my core, is new.  It’s so new to me that I don’t think I’ve learned any healthy habits for continuing to work toward that end.  I also have put off the manifestation working I’ve been planning to do.  It’s already begun in some way just from my thoughts and intention, but I know I need to sit with this and do the actual working as well.  It’s time.  I need to make space for this and get it on my calendar so I will commit and follow through.

Broken.  What feels broken?  My resolve.  My faith in myself to actually change my life.  My ability to stick with the things that will lead me to the new me.

Choice.  What choice can I make right now?  To sit in meditation.  To write this post.  To write a poem.  To make kala (purification exercise).  To write gratitude notes.  To pray.  To love.

What will you choose?