Contradictions

It’s absolutely stunning in Atlanta today. The sun is glorious. Everything is blooming in an explosion of color. It is as perfect a spring day as I can conjure.

Days like make it seem like anything is possible, probable even. Like the cosmos have aligned to heap blessings upon me.

Then, I watched a hearse back its way into the driveway next to mine.

And all day long, I’ve been sitting with the contradiction of the beauty of the day & the man who is suddenly absent from this beauty.

We weren’t friends, he and I. I don’t think he liked me much, to be honest. But I still found myself tearing up as I stood at the window and looked at the hearse.

Something about this death, one that I was aware of but existed wholly outside of, that happened on this perfect Spring day in Atlanta, made me hyper-aware of the contradictions, the both/and of the every day.

I am the cosmos. And yet, I am dust.

I am light. And darkness.

I am filled with wild potential. Yet, I gain the most through surrender.

I am my own. But I am bound to those I love.

I feel expansive, full of hope, energy and love. I also want to turn inward and shrink from a world that can be ugly, too.

I found out, shortly after watching that hearse back its way down the driveway next to mine, that a friend needs a miracle to beat the cancer that has dogged her for a year or more.

So, I did what I do when shit gets too real, scary and overwhelming: I laced up my shoes and I ran. I needed forward motion, to remind myself that the earth is still there.

And I prayed. Because she asked her friends to. And that’s the kind of request you do not ignore.

And, as I ran, this became increasingly clear: She deserves a miracle. Everyone deserves a miracle. Hell, we all ARE miracles.

I ran in the brilliant sunshine and I explained to the Great Mother exactly what kind of miracle my friend deserves.

It is the best kind. The most brilliant kind. The long life full of health and vitality kind.

I know it is possible.

Because we are all the cosmos, full of stars and dust, infinite and finite… and we are all unfolding miracles.

Dream Big (or even at all will do)

One of the greatest joys of being sober is doing shit you never even dreamed of…

I didn’t have such a great imagination when I was drinking. Sure, I could sit on a barstool & tell you I was going to run a marathon the year I turned 30 (even though I’d never run more than 3 consecutive miles in my life). Or that I wanted to be a professor one day (even though I barely finished my Masters’ degree because that shit takes work). Or that I wanted to be a writer (even if I’d stopped writing anything at all because drinking doesn’t leave a lot of time for creative pursuits).

I was good at talking. Not as good at dreaming.

Dreaming gets a bad rap, I think. There’s idle dreaming… the kind you do on a lazy afternoon. More like wishful thinking. And then there’s big dreaming, real dreaming… the kind that catches you unaware and propels you into action before you even realize that you’re planning to take a big risk. Even if you’re not a risk taker. Not even a little bit.

When people ask if owning the bookstore was a lifelong dream… I mean, I hate to burst their bubble and all (they always look so hopeful when they ask…), but no.

Honestly, it was something even better.

It was this random idea on a day when I was leaving the coffeeshop in my neighborhood. I wanted a book. There was nowhere to walk to buy one.

And I thought, “There really should be a bookstore in this neighborhood…”

By the time I got home, it’d turned into “Maybe I should open a bookstore right here, in my neighborhood …”

From conception to reality was just under a year.

Because it was the kind dream that catches you–and you just know it’s right.

Even if you’re not a risk taker. Even if you’ve never dreamed of owning a business. Even if you’re scared to death of signing a commercial lease. Even if…

Things fell into place, one right after another to make this bookstore a reality. Never once did I believe I couldn’t or shouldn’t do it. The Universe pushed me one affirmation after another that YES this was right. That YES this would work. And that, in fact, this was more than a dream. It was a calling.

And none of it would have been possible at all, if I’d kept my head buried at the bottom of a pint glass. Instead, now I’ve got my nose in a book, living just beyond where my wildest dreams used to end.

Belonging

Late Sunday afternoon, one of my favorite customers popped into the bookstore to grab a book she’d put on hold. She’s one of those people who radiates down-to-earth, good energy. She’s a joy to be around. In fact, when I’m around her, I feel like I belong.

That’s a pretty radical, earth-shifting gift: to make people feel a sense of belonging when you hardly know them. To do that requires being deeply centered in who you are, so you can allow people the space to be who they are.

It’s what Glennon Doyle calls being both free and held… at the same time.

It’s love.

I have no problem loving the people close to me. It gets trickier the farther I move out in concentric circles… to the people who the people I love love and the people those people love… and so on and so on and so on…

It gets harder because we like to belong. But to belong, sometimes we have to make sure other people know they don’t belong. And that not-belonging has dire consequences for people. Sometimes fatal consequences.

Even in spaces that should be inclusive, we’re hellbent on excluding some people. Onjali Rauf, for instance, wrote a lovely middle grades book about a refugee boy in England and the lengths his new friends go to to understand him and help reunite him with his family. It’s a book all about inclusion and acceptance, one that points out that bigotry is born out of fear of what is different.

Amazing, right?

The very same author penned an address at a women’s conference who’s sole focus was to question the identity of trans women and to argue that they should not be included in women-only spaces.

What the fuck?

But let’s go back to that brilliant, light-bringing customer of mine. As we chatted about a variety of different things–both mundane & spiritual–we touched on how fraught every single action is during this pandemic. And how, even when you’re trying to make good choices, people are incredibly apt to judge. In that context I quipped, “People can be so horrible sometimes.”

To which she replied, “I can be, too.”

And that’s really the crux of it. I can be, too.

So when I think about Onjali Rauf and her exclusionary speech, I have to remember that I said precisely the same things about trans women before I knew better.

It behooves me to remember where I came from. Just because other folks aren’t on the same place in their journey doesn’t mean they aren’t redeemable. In fact, as I was reading Rauf’s speech, I just kept thinking: does she even know any trans people? Because her entire speech reeks of the ignorance of not knowing. Of fear. Of the very thing she writes about overcoming in a book to teach kids about belonging and acceptance.

But fear can be overcome. It happens every single day. In fact, it’s one of the greatest miracles of being alive.

As a person in recovery, the truth is that I’ve done awful things in my addiction. Things borne of deep fear and deep pain. But I never have to be that person again. That’s redemption.

We’re all redeemable. But no one gets there by us insisting they don’t belong. In fact, we chip away at our own souls, our own sense of peace, balance, and well-being, every time we exclude someone. Or trick ourselves into forgetting the times we’ve fucked up, the hurt we’ve caused, the deep knowledge that we’re all profoundly flawed. And profoundly beautiful.

I can be, too.

Her Timing is Always a Mystery

Parenting is largely intuitive.

Right?

Or am I doing it wrong?

Because this really feels, for the most part, like a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants endeavor.

It’s not so much the “where do babies come from?” conversations… those big ones are expected. You kind of get to plan for those. And, honestly, for us that one was easy… Jane came to be in a very skilled fertility doctor’s office. In fact, she knows her origin story so well, we had to go ahead & speed up the talk about the way that many cis/het folks procreate before she started telling her friends with authority that babies were made in the doctor’s office (with a mobile of white Christmas lights above the examination table, for ambiance).

But then there are the conversations that happen as you’re driving to, say, the chiropractor on a random Monday afternoon.

“Mommy, can drinking kill you?” There she was, sat in the back seat looking super-interested in the answer to this question.

But it’s nuanced, you see. Because I’m in recovery. So, yeah, drinking could totally kill me. But I also know that the way I respond to things either provides her something to push back against (and that girl is the queen of push back) or something to think about. Depending on how I handle it.

So, I followed the instructions I keep getting (over and over again) from the Universe… I trusted my intuition.

And I was straight-up honest.

I told her how I got in trouble drinking (read: I hated myself & wanted to escape that feeling). I told her that many folks drink safely. And that she could choose to drink (or not!) when she got old enough. But you can believe that I put a plug in for sobriety being a valid life choice, whether you “have to” be sober or not. We also talked about what happens when you drink too much (acting a fool, blackouts, headaches, puke-fests).

None of this conversation was entirely foreign to her. When you’ve got a parent in long-term recovery, you occasionally bump into a drunkalog story along the way. Because it’s easier to point to what NOT to do with humor than with haranguing lectures.

I remember sitting in an AA meeting and hearing a woman in recovery declare (forcefully) that her child would never drink (as in not ever take a sip of alcohol). I thought that was a foolish premise then. Now that I have a child, I know how truly absurd that idea is.

Jane will drink. She’ll try it at least. And that’s what I acknowledged in our little car chat yesterday afternoon: she’ll make mistakes when it comes to alcohol. And she’ll regroup and make (better) decisions from there.

Not everything has to be black and white. I don’t need the kid declaring herself a teetotaler at (not quite) 10 years old. But I do want her to know that sometimes drinking is kicking back and having a beer on the beach with friends. Sometimes it is … so very NOT.

And that’s the truth for me. She’ll find her truth.

But, as is true with so many other things, she’ll only make good choices about alcohol if she’s at peace with who she is, if knows how to love herself.

And it’s that lesson that I hope really sticks.

Beginnings (Happy 2021!)

Beginnings. They’re so full of possibility.

None of those bothersome details to work out. No negative feelings or pesky loose ends that tend to crop up when things get real.

Beginnings are all magic.

When I hung around AA, they were fond of saying “wherever you go, there you are.” It’s been true for me. I’ve brought myself into every new beginning I’ve ever had. With mixed results.

This year, I’ve given myself to actively looking for magic in the everyday. But then, there I am, my very Virgo self telling me that surely I can’t write anything if I haven’t been writing every day since January 1st.

See what I’m up against?

But I’m learning to accept contradictions. And to embrace both what is and what could be. It’s an interesting place. There’s no solid ground here. Which is both terrifying and liberating.

For me, happiness is bound up in my spiritual journey. It’s a central part of who I am and how I move though the world. It’s taken an unexpected turn recently, but one that feels like home. We’ll see. It’s always a work-in-progress. But right now it feels open and spacious, like a place for discovery. And that’s particularly energizing for me.

I’ve also been thinking about my sobriety a lot lately. I’ve been sober for over a decade. But recently, I’ve taken more moments to realize where I’d be–and what I’d be missing–if I hadn’t gotten sober. Maybe that sounds grim. But, really, it just fills me with gratitude–to the Universe for providing me the opportunity to get sober and to myself for taking a chance on what could be (and for sticking to it).

At the bookstore, I spent the last week of 2020 and the first days fo 2021 crafting a reading challenge worthy of all the diverse talent that exists in the literary world. I examined copious book lists to pull together options that will push folks out of their comfortable reading niches and be wildly appealing. It was a extensive, time consuming project. But it’s one that I’m proud of. We’ll be rolling that out this week (currently, it’s in production with my amazing designer, who I happen to be married to). And this year, my reading choices will be largely dictated by the list I created. Trust me: keeping at TBR list in my head wasn’t going to cut it anymore. So, I just invited all my customers to join in.

Sometimes I am clever.

2021 has opened with a lot of joy and possibility for me. I’m grateful for that. I know not everyone is in the same place. I’m working hard to live into that possibility. And to be sensitive and compassionate to those who are struggling to find hope this year.

No matter where you are in your journey, or what you are bringing into 2021 with you, you are loved and valued by the Universe. You are worthy just as you are. Always.

Chaos

In case y’all are keeping tabs on my progression through the pandemic phases, we’ve now reached the “I-Want-to-Create-Full-Blown-Chaos” stage.

Perhaps y’all are unfamiliar with that stage. It’s the one where you up and quit your job or buy a new house/boat/car or get a puppy or cut bangs. You know, something that adds flair and drama and conflict. Because what you’re really looking for is a way to feel ALIVE.

And now that I’ve been in quarantine lock-down for some ungodly amount of days, I find myself feeling that itch.

But I own a bookstore I love. And Simon gives me side-eye if I even look at Zillow (We’ve moved 4 times in the last 8 years. He’s right. I need to give it a rest). He’s also (wisely) categorically said no to a puppy, a goat, and a micro pig. We’re done having kids. Bangs look like shit on me.

And yet, I still crave it. That rush of chaos. The tingle. The thrill of it all.

This is the season, it turns out, where I have to learn to sit with the desire to create chaos. To feel those feelings. And just let them be.

In all times before this, when chaos has come knocking, I have run right toward it. In big ways and small ways. Damaging ways & innocuous ways. This is the first time I’ve been healthy enough to see this desire to shake things up for what it is. And to choose my response to it.

It’s the choice that matters.

To me, anyway.

From the time I was about 16 years old, I’ve beaten myself up with the idea that if I was just spiritual enough (in whatever form I happened to be practicing at the moment), I wouldn’t feel intense temptation, or wrestle with the desire to do completely selfish things, or struggle with feelings I’d prefer not to have.

But I’ve begun to understand that what matters is not that I’m somehow transcendent enough to avoid these feelings, itches, chaos-loving desires altogether. What matters is that I choose to not cause harm. To not leave a wake of unnecessary destruction. To not be the Goddess of Chaos just because.

Sometimes the right choice just comes easily. But there isn’t much triumph in that. The triumph is in the struggle. It’s in the choice.

Alcoholics tend to like chaos–sometimes even in recovery. But I’m learning I can say no, the same way I can say no to a drink.

I get to choose.

And y’all can all rest assured that there are absolutely no quarantine bangs happening over here.

Pity Party for One

Yesterday, a woman with two wiener dogs made me cry.

This is notable primarily because I rarely cry out in the wild because someone did something to upset me. Not anymore, at least.

Here’s what happened: I was trying to deliver a book to a customer that lives in an apartment on the second floor of a huge, gorgeous house. There’s no interior access to this apartment–just a steep, narrow flight of metal stairs on the outside of the building. It had been raining, so everything outside was wet. No real overhang to speak of. And y’all know I wasn’t going to let that book get wet.

So, I’m looking around for an common interior space. Or at least a space that’s covered. But I’m not really finding anything that looks viable. I see an open garage space that is dry, but I don’t know the protocol for leaving packages or even if these tenants are on friendly terms with each other. I don’t want to leave a package in the wrong space and start some turf war.

Wiener dog lady is looking at me from inside her house. I don’t know she has wiener dogs yet, but I do know she looks vexed. At me, I suppose. But I’m really focused on this book, so I’m not paying much attention.

As soon as I exit screen right to examine the porch on the front of the house for viability, she walks out with her two yapping dogs. One immediately escapes the leash. She’s yelling for the dog, and I’m scurrying stealthily away. I have no desire for my ankle to be chomped on.

Not today, Satan.

I’m also growing increasingly frustrated–at myself primarily. Why can’t I decide where to drop this book?!

Fed up with my own indecisiveness, and realizing that this lady has re-leashed both dogs and they’re happily sniffing things in the yard, I decide I’m going to ask her about a shared common space.

I approach her with a “Hey, can I ask you a question?”

She looks at me like I’m something stuck to the bottom of her shoe. “I guess,” she says.

I promise you, I don’t remember when I met this kind of distain from another human.

“Is there a…” I start. Her dogs, seemingly noticing me for the very first time, immediately start yapping again.

“I can’t HEAR you,” she says.

And I know I’ve been summarily dismissed.

I head back to my car without another word. Before I even get to the car, I’m crying.

I’m just going to break my own narrative here and tell you that I know people suffer much greater indignities than this daily. That, really, this wasn’t a big deal. That the fact that I was so stung by her dismissal is a sign of my own privilege.

Yes.

I also know that I cried for the next 15 minutes. That I was so swamped by shame, and hurt, and self pity (oh my good lord, so much self pity) that I could hardly breathe.

I just kept thinking, “You never know what people are going through. You should be nicer.” But I wasn’t thinking I should be nicer, or more compassionate, or have broader perspective. I was thinking that woman should be nicer. She should think about what I was going through. She should think about how hard I’m trying right now.

It has been years since I felt that particular way: so overcome with feelings of being misunderstood, so in the throes of self-pity because people are mean to me, so self-centered that I could barely function.

That, right there, that feeling is why I used to drink. This oppressive cycle of self that I couldn’t seem to escape was how I lived my entire life. I was always upset because people didn’t understand me. I always was the victim. And I felt perpetually sorry for myself.

The reasons I ended up in that shame-cycle of self-centeredness yesterday are myriad. And crying it out was the only way I was going to escape. The release was cathartic.

But what stuck with me the most was realizing, even as I was swamped down in that moment, that if I felt this all the time, I would certainly drink. I could hardly stand feeling that way for a few minutes. I needed to escape. I need emphatically to not feel that way.

And I used to live in that space of pain, shame, and self-pity all the damn time.

15 minutes of that yesterday launched a full-scale internal gratitude campaign about my sobriety. I’m grateful that I’ve spent the past decade or so cultivating a world-view that (tries to) decenter my self. That my spiritual practice is about compassion. And that I realize that self-pity and self-compassion are most certainly not the same.

Today, I’m left with these 2 things:

  1. the thought that perhaps I should cry a little more freely when I’m frustrated or overwhelmed, so as not to give all the power over to random ladies with wiener dogs, and
  2. a tremendous tenderness toward what other people are reckoning with: those who are still sick and suffering, folks navigating their own shame-storms, people with emotional & logistical challenges big and small… and yes, even ladies with wiener dogs having a bad day.

Grace & Ease

When I signed up for AA*, it was with the understanding that they were going to fix me. Although I’d mostly pulled my shit together from the outside, on the inside I was a mess. I felt suffocated by shame, terrified of actually experiencing real emotion, and mostly just broken. Oh, and I was completely devoid of effective coping mechanisms.

Drinking was my coping mechanism, and it landed me in meetings with an oddball bunch of folks who drank bad coffee.

I liked those oddballs though, because they didn’t find my obsession with alcohol or my inability to stop drinking once I’d started strange in the slightest. And they told me I never again had to be the person I’d been when I was drinking.

That felt like being born again.

Part of what they laid out for me was that I never had to pick up a drink again, as long as I followed the 12-steps. And continued going to meetings. Like, forever.

A couple competing things were going on for me during the first 2 years of sobriety: I never felt really at-home in AA (which made me feel like a complete loser, because folks are always saying how they never felt at home anywhere until they walked in the rooms of AA. Huh. I didn’t feel at home there, either. So what was wrong with me?), and I had a couple sponsor relationships that were pretty damaging (which is tough because your sponsor is supposed to walk you through the 12-steps, and you have to trust them in order for that to be a possibility). Oh, and I was hella stubborn… as I’ve always been.

So, after 2 years I quit AA. Cold-turkey. No sponsor. No meetings.

But here’s the thing: I’ve always been a spiritually-oriented person, so I stayed committed to spiritual practice. I’ve also been in and out of therapy since I got sober. And I talk about recovery a lot.

I never neglected my recovery. I wasn’t “white knuckling it.” I was working to stay sober by constantly examining the patterns in my life, exploring my lack of coping mechanisms and trying to implement ones that wouldn’t blow up my life, and taking a hard look at the need for escape that made me want to drink in the first place.

But even after 11 years, I don’t consider myself “recovered.” Because, although I’ve never picked up a drink or drug again, I’ve got these addict behaviors that can creep out from time to time. I think of them as relapse light. They can be incredibly destructive. And they’re insidious.

When I was about 5 years sober, I had been a stay-at-home mom for 3 years. For me, staying at home was one of the most beautiful, mind-numbing, joyful, isolating experiences of my life. It was so beautiful and so horrible at the same time that my mind almost melts when I think about it even now.

I am grateful for the time I got with our daughter. And I wouldn’t trade it. But it was excruciatingly hard.

I think we’ve already covered the idea that my coping mechanisms can be iffy. During the hard and seemingly interminable toddler years, I did not pick up a drink. But what I did do was lose myself in an incredibly emotionally entangling toxic friendship. This friendship was obsessive escapism–and it fed this minor messiah complex I’ve nursed since I was a kid.

Relapse light.

Instead of dealing with my shit, I was escaping. And getting unentangled from that relationship was emotionally messy, logistically awkward, and shame-inducing.

It also showed me I had more work to do in my recovery.

I don’t think it’s inevitable that relapse is part of recovery. If I’d ever believed it was, I don’t think I would’ve put in the work to get sober. But building a recovery that is joyful and full of growth and exploration means looking at the other ways that relapse light can happen–and addressing those openly and without shame when they arise.

And just acknowledging the way that old behaviors have caused chaos in my life makes me more compassionate towards folks for whom relapse with drugs or alcohol is part of the journey.

AA did fix me. Or, maybe more accurately, AA helped me face the idea that I was powerless over alcohol. And that’s a fact for me.

But I do find power in taking control of my own recovery, in finding what works, and in creating real coping mechanisms that allow me to move through the world with more grace and ease.

And god knows I surely needed more grace and ease. Don’t we all?

*You don’t really have to sign up. But you do have to show up.

**I’m reading The 12-Step Buddhist, which spawned all these recovery musings.

Inner Voices are Bananas

Folks used to say AA would completely ruin drinking for you.

Obvi, right?

But here’s a truth you have to understand before that statement can make one iota of sense to you: addiction is based on lies.

In active addiction, you lie to yourself. To other people. To the Universe. And the lie that keeps coming up, the one that can be most destructive, is that maybe you aren’t an alcoholic at all.

Maybe you can drink like a normal person this time.

And so, if the lie sneaks up on you masquerading as truth, you could find yourself at a bar, ready to relive the glory days (pro tip: puking does not a glory day make)–which likely translates into getting blackout drunk.

Except, the whole time you’re inching toward oblivion (or hurtling, depending on if you are Bud Light or Everclear), the AA slogans that drive you nuts, the quips that old-timers offer up in meetings, seemingly random passages from the Big Book will pop into your head.

And AA will have ruined drinking for you. Because you know. You know there’s hope, that people really do recover, that you can have life. And that you don’t have to slowly die like this.

And once you know, you can’t unknow.

In early sobriety, I counted on this idea that AA would ruin drinking for me. In fact, if I started to “romance the drink” (it’s really supposed to be romanticize. but there was a woman who always said “romance” in the meetings–I swear she managed to work the phrase into every meeting she went to–and I always giggled at the idea of sitting across from a Bud Light bottle at a fancy restaurant, leaning in over candlelight. You know, romancing) I’d always come around to the idea that the whole damn thing would be ruined for me anyway, so why even bother?

Lately, I’m finding a parallel between drinking and toxic thinking. Well, in the ruination of both destructive habits at least.

Drinking was ruined by AA. Toxic thinking has suffered a similar fate from a one-two punch of Buddhist lovingkindness and a more critical examination of my own self-talk.

Yesterday, I was walking through the neighborhood cooling off after my run. I came up on a house that had a lot going on in the backyard. I immediately started passing judgment on who those people were that lived in the house. Not on the state of their yard. On their character.

What the hell, right?!?

My inner voice had some feels about that: Oh my God. Why are you so horrible? Who even thinks those kind of things?!? What is WRONG with you?

But then, like some sort of weird voiceover, the lovingkindness/invisible therapist voice was all: What an interesting response to a cluttered yard. Let’s examine that a bit… what do you think bothers you so much about what’s going on here?

Even though I still don’t have a deep grasp of what bothered me so much about a few old cars in a backyard (although I can guess & it’s not pretty), that toxic self-talk, the one full of recrimination and blame meant to cause shame, got gone immediately. Like I could actually feel it receding.

So, as bananas as the whole experience of having two competing voices battling for my attention in my own damn head was, I can tell you that shutting down that super-critical asshole voice in my head that is always trying to convince me I’m a shitty person felt like a pretty big triumph.

I have a feeling that banishing toxic thought is a lot like recovery–it’s a daily maintenance kind of situation. But I’m kind of digging this forward momentum.

Because once you know, you can’t unknow.

Wonder what I’m going to ruin for myself next?

Rural Florida & a Sign

Once, years ago, I found myself driving though a rural part of Florida. I was headed to work in the late afternoon, teaching writing to folks who thought writing had nothing to do with what they wanted to do with their lives.

It’s real bleak to share the thing that brings you joy with folks who couldn’t give a single shit about it.

But, there I was, driving along, watching the flat land stretch out to the horizon. I think there were cows. In my mind now, at least, there were cows. Rural Florida is, indeed, the South. It bears no resemblance to its coastal, sometimes more urbane, cousin. And driving though it requires some good, twangy country music.

At least, for me it does.

I’ve loved country music since high school. It’s storytelling at its finest. And it fills me with big, big joy. Or brings me to tears. But it never fails to make me emote, to feel. Country music feels like being alive to me. It’s that good.

It was also the background to a helluva lot of my drinking.

Of course. The perfect country & western song involves: Mama, trains, trucks, prison and gettin’ drunk.

So, I’m driving through rural Florida, feeling real countrified and a drinking song comes on. Since music is soul-memory, immediately that song triggered the most definitive craving for a drink I remember having in sobriety.

And, because sometimes when things are going to hell in a handbasket, life throws in one more thing & shit gets even more real, I was at that moment, driving by a bar with a neon Bud Light sign shining like a beacon. (Yes, I drank a lot of cheap beer. Let’s not dwell on that life choice right now.)

It took my breath away, this longing for a drink. Or was it longing for the part of me I had to let go in order to keep living?

Maybe both.

But what drove me to tears was feeling completely stripped bare. Defenseless. Vulnerable. Because, I realized right there in rural Florida with country music floating through the air & that damn neon sign beckoning, when I quit drinking, I relinquished my ability to hide.

Alcohol had been my shield from feeling anything too deeply. It’s a terrific numbing agent. And now it was gone.

I was going to have to feel things I’d been sheltering myself from for years. There was no place to hide anymore.

The terror I felt in that moment, faced with actually living my own life, was staggering. I wanted to bolt. Physically, I ached to run & hide.

But there was nothing to do except keep moving forward.

I turned off the country music. Mid-song, which is like sacrilege. And I kept driving.

It’s such a small event, really: the music, the bar, the willingness to keep driving. But it marked the beginning of my choice to get sober–to cut the bullshit, do the work, get real, and live my life.

Sobriety is an ongoing process. And it’s rarely dull. I’m constantly presented with opportunity for growth. Which really just means that I have to handle shit as it arises–the squirrelly, the scary, the just plain old too much. Because, without the alcohol, there really is no place for me to hide when things get … intense.

But that’s okay. It becomes okay. Because there’s healing and there’s big, big life out there.

And when I feel too out of synch with myself, with my emotions, I find that a little country music gets me right back where I need to be.