Gosh Darn It, I’m Capable

I feel all kinds of capable right now. And DAMN, it feels good.

I know, I know. I’m a grown ass woman. I should feel capable, right?? But for so long, I didn’t. Not because of imposter syndrome. Nope. That requires actual achievements first.

I didn’t feel capable because I wasn’t. Full stop.

We could have a little chat about how I got to the point of believing I wasn’t capable and, therefore, becoming a stellar self-fulfilling prophesy. But it’s really not that interesting–besides, my therapist might get jealous if I started chatting you up about that.

What I do know, 100%, is that booze kept me in that place, that I am only capable of mediocrity place, for a long time. And I wanted it to. Not achieving much of anything felt pretty blasted safe. Trying… now that is scary. It involves risk. And failure. And, oh my GOD, so much vulnerability.

Getting sober didn’t make me feel capable. It made me a lot of other things: clear-headed, introspective, thoughtful, less scared of hard work. I was functional, sure. But capable is a whole new level.

Bringing my daughter, Jane, into the world gave me a giant shove toward living that Capable and In Charge Life. I mean, keeping another human alive is not nothin’.

Sweet Baby Jane.

Once she was in the world, and with me 24/7, I started thinking about how I wanted my daughter to see me (that was easier then than thinking of how I wanted to see myself. I wasn’t quite there yet). What did I want to teach her about being a woman? How did I want her to see me navigate the world?

With that in mind, I embarked on several trial and error adventures. My first job back from 3 years as a stay-at-home mom was as the Children’s Director at a small church. Let’s just say that job didn’t play to my particular strengths. And I had such a need to be validated that I suffered through some things I’d never countenance now.

And then… Simon & I took a trip to Paris. Something about that trip changed me. Maybe it was being away from Jane for 10 days–and having to reckon with my perception of myself as something other than her mother. Maybe it was having a real, honest to God, Parisian croissant for the first time in my life. Or maybe it was that O Magazine I got a hold of on the flight home (Lord have mercy, do I love Oprah). But I came back from that trip with a full, guttural understanding that if I didn’t pursue my calling (what I was meant to do, my big dream) that it would tug at the back of my mind, linger in all my what ifs until I gave it a shot. Dreams can’t be ignored forever. And we pay a very real price for trying to stifle them. So I quit my job as a Children’s Ministry Director (it was time, y’all)…

And I started writing. For literally cents per page. About things like luxury hangers (like, clothing hangers). I shit you not. Then one of my freelance pieces got published. And then I started contracting with businesses as a writer/consultant (quick shout out to women helping other women: all 3 of my initial gigs were because other women (friends of mine) took a chance on my inexperienced writer self). Something funny–yet probably totally predictable–happened. The more I wrote, the more capable I felt. I didn’t shy away from the big clients (even an international corporation!). I dove in. I tried. Full on hard-core tried. And s-l-o-w-l-y I came to believe that I could do it. Really do it. And do it well.

It took a few years before I was wiling to self-identify as a writer. It just felt so impossible that this thing I’d wanted to be since I was 8 years old… that I’d become that very thing. Because capable. And because I finally got out of my own damn way.

I’m not world famous. I don’t have a blog following of tens of thousands. In fact, I don’t even have a byline for most of what I’ve written. But, still, writing changed everything for me. It changed the way I see myself. The way I interact with the world around me. And as I get ready to open a used bookstore this Fall, I realize that I am in this place–this big, scary, exciting, risk-taking place–because I chose to admit I might be capable after all.


Sometimes Life Happens in Odd Places

“God is either everything, or else He is nothing. God either is, or He isn’t.”

I sat on an overstuffed couch that was a little too deep for my feet to comfortably reach the floor in a church basement illuminated by lamplight. I sipped my bubbly water and looked around at the small group assembled, feeling lucky to be there. Where else would I be talking about a God (of my own understanding) with a group of strangers on a Monday night?

I used to resent sitting in A.A. meetings. I wanted to be out in the world doing things. But I’ve come to realize that I am a better doer, dreamer, partner, parent when I get quiet enough to connect with my Higher Power. At the same time, it’s crucial for me to get out of my own head & into the world. Sitting in an A.A. meeting gives me a place to introspect… but also to share. It’s unique. And weird. And bizarrely perfect.

Other people’s stories hold tremendous sway for me. And A.A. is all about stories. They help us make sense of ourselves. They give us hope. They offer a blueprint for a way out of addiction and back into life.

A.A.ers form this quirky community united by one single purpose: to stay sober & help other alcoholics achieve sobriety. But that help looks different for every person. Sure, there are things about the program that are universal: the 12 steps & 12 traditions, being of service, sponsorship, anonymity. But what I find truly fascinating is that each member’s reflections on their own journey, the habits and perspectives they rely on to stay sober, and their interactions/beliefs/understanding of their Higher Power are what give people enough hope to get them to come back a second time. Because, let’s be real: the 12 Steps don’t work if you can’t get folks to stick around long enough to hear about them.

A.A. is a group of drunks who come together time after time after time to share their stories. A single meeting can span the entire spectrum of human emotion. And it’s okay. Nobody shies away from the hard, messy emotions in an A.A. meeting. Because honesty keeps folks sober. So folks listen unflinchingly to both the most horrific and the most tender parts of the human experience. Macabre humor abounds (Addiction is no fucking joke. But after you live at edge of death, in one form or another, laugher reminds you that you made it out). And they rally around the folks who are struggling.

In the world, you’re supposed to hide your pain, deal with it quietly, keep it to your damn self. But in an AA meeting, you bring your pain to the group. You expose it to the light, lay it out for everyone to see. And, in the sharing, you realize that you aren’t alone after all. That you never have to be alone again. That you never really were.

I spent my Monday night talking about God (the way I understand God–without anyone trying to dictate or co-opt that understanding) and sharing hope with folks gathered in a warm, cozy church basement lit by lamplight.

Not bad for a Monday.

The Shark Stands Alone (with coffee)

One of my girlfriends, who I adored with what I’m now sure must’ve felt like stifling intensity, really enjoyed spending time alone.

No, not like time alone with me. Time alone. Like by herself.

This baffled me.

What did she think when she was by herself? Didn’t she get bored? What was going on in her head that required time without me?

If my response to her wanting a damn minute to herself seems a bit off-the-wall to you… GOOD. That’s likely because you’re a well adjusted human.

Good work.

I, on the other hand, was a college-aged kid who was terrified to spend a minute alone with my own thoughts. I was so afraid of my own interior life that I didn’t even believe I HAD thoughts to mull over. It never occurred to me that thoughts were supposed to be a precursor to conversation. Nope. I didn’t really analyze much of anything until it was flying out of my mouth.

I discovered a lot about what I thought and believed by hashing it out with other people. Which was great, mostly. But I still couldn’t stand to be alone. And I resented the hell out of my girlfriend for wanting a private thought life.  Or maybe it was less resentment & more jealousy. I wanted to be interesting enough to spend time alone.

I tried that once… spending time alone. I went out to a cabin in the woods by myself. Not that I’d planned it that way. I’d been dating a girl for a couple years. We’d booked the cabin for our anniversary. Then we broke up a few weeks before the trip. I decided to go anyway. I was filled with all kinds of I-Am-Woman-Hear-Me-Roar independence. I’d go and relish the time alone. I was sure of it.

In the woods, by myself, I was struck with the most breathtaking loneliness. Even well over a decade later, if I’m outside when the light hits the trees just right, I can still feel the aching emptiness in my chest. Even thinking about the forest brings on this intense melancholy.

I wish I was kidding. I am not.

So, yeah, solo camping isn’t for me.

But being able to think IS for me. Digging through my internal landscape and using my brain to uncover what I thing about something before I open my mouth… yeah, that’s for me, too. It’s such a gift, this ability to be alone. To not be terrified what my mind will turn over and over if don’t fill every second with constant chatter. To like my own company. Hell, to like myself.

I’m so grateful that I reckoned with enough of my emotional wreckage to not ever have to wonder again why someone might need a minute alone. The peace that comes with solitude, and the connection to myself and the world around me, is a grounding force in my life. Running, yoga, meditation (which I’m awful at. So bad) connect me to myself. Which feels a little miraculous and a lot triumphant.

Because that’s what I’d been running from the whole time: ME.

 

 

No Idea Why I’m in a Picture with a Donkey (but I can guarantee I was drunk)

Getting sober is HARD. But life on this side of being a drunk is pretty damn miraculous.

I went to work one time–in my mid 20s–with huge red blotches on my legs. They were raised and hot to the touch. I acted like I had no idea how they’d gotten there.

It was alcohol poisoning.

My girlfriend and I got invited to dinner at my boss’ house. A super-casual affair. Just a home-cooked meal and the opportunity to meet her family. My girlfriend and I showed up drunk. I had to pour myself out of the car.

My boss and her husband had been sober for over a decade. 

I sat outside one warm, Florida night with my friends, several years later, drinking and talking at a party I’d thrown. I continued to sit outside and drink by myself, long after everyone else had gone.

In the morning, I had over 80 mosquito bites. I never felt them bite me. Not once.

This is such minor shit compared to some of the stunts I pulled. But these little things ate away at me, too. I carried the shame of these moments–and hundreds of others, big & small–with me all the time until I got sober. Oh, I didn’t act ashamed. I acted brash, like none of this mattered. I was defensive and angry. I acted simultaneously self-righteous and selfish.

I was terrified.

Because, let’s be honest, that’s not how anyone plans for their life to go.

And I had no idea how to change things.

Strike that. That’s a lie. I did know how to change things. But I found that even more terrifying. Because the real bitch of being a drunk is that giving up alcohol seems like the worst punishment in the world. That’s right. Giving up the substance that’s causing your life to be an absolute shitshow seems intolerable.

I had no idea how to move through life sober. None.

Layers and layers of unresolved pain–from my fractured relationship with my family, from breakup after breakup, from depression, anxiety, and intense feelings of worthlessness–loomed large in my world. If I didn’t have alcohol to obliterate those feelings, I’d have to face them. And that seemed way more terrifying than any predicament I found myself in while I was drunk (and that’s saying a lot).

Alcohol had so little to do with my alcoholism. And that’s the God’s honest truth.

My drinking, even at the start when I was just 16, was about escape. I never felt good enough. I never thought I fit in. I felt like if anyone really knew me, they’d be horrified at what they saw. I had panic attacks at school. My anxiety was making it harder and harder to leave the house. But drinking made all that go away.

When I drank, I felt sexy and smart. I could talk freely and laugh without reservation. Alcohol worked. Until it didn’t.

But the whole time, I was broken. And nothing could fix that but me.

Getting sober was terrifying because it meant taking ownership–of my life, my perspective, the whacked out shit I’d done, the pain I’d caused others, the very real pain people had caused me. I had to own my part in all of it. And then I had to choose to heal.

It was the hardest work I’ve ever had to do. And I talk about it and write about it so that I never have to get sober again.

 

Forgiveness & Love & Remembering

Moving forward involves forgiving myself. Sometimes, it’s easier said than done. But it’s a spiritual practice…

Occasionally, usually as I’m trying to fall asleep, a memory will drift across my consciousness. I’ll pick up the string and follow it along. And then, unwittingly I stumble on a semi-related memory that makes my stomach clench and cold dread slide through my body straight down to my toes. Always, it’s a memory of something I did when I was drinking. Something I would never dream of doing now. Something that makes me think “what the actual FUCK?”

Truth: I hate those memories.

Coverse truth: Those memories keep me humble. They remind me who I am.

I never again have to be the person I was when I was drinking. That much is a welcome truth. And I believe I’m forgiven by the Universe for brokenness, my transgressions. I don’t carry guilt anymore. I found it too destructive a burden, one that kept me stuck in the past instead of moving forward. But hot damn, does it floor me the things I did.

And the most fucked up part: I believed I wouldn’t be me anymore without alcohol. Seriously. I thought I wouldn’t be witty or charming, sensitive or fun. But I’d long stopped being any of those things. I could mimic the actions (sometimes). I could carry on what I thought were deep and meaningful conversations. But I didn’t really know how I felt about anything. I wasn’t letting people see me. I was letting them see what I thought they wanted to see. And any time the potential for a real emotion arose, I just numbed it with alcohol.

An unmitigated disaster. That’s what I was.

And, no, I don’t like to remember it. I especially don’t like to run across memories buried in my subconscious. Remembering them takes me right back to the wreckage I caused–for me and everyone around me. But maybe it’s a good exercise, the remembering. Because then I have to practice forgiving myself. Again.

I do believe the Universe has forgiven me. Forgiving myself is something I’m still learning. Bit by bit. One resurfaced memory at a time. But, as much as I may not like it, my ability to forgive myself is directly tied to my ability to forgive and love others.

I used to find something noble and strong in holding a grudge, in remembering the ways in which I’d been wronged to prevent future transgressions. It took me years of sobriety to finally understand that grudges (resentments) keep me stuck, stop me from growing. They take up too much mental space. The emotional scabs stay raw, so I can’t heal. I can’t move.

Forgiveness is a return to Love. And that’s where I’d rather be.

So, I forgive myself for being like napalm in people’s lives (most of all my own). I forgive other people (it’s a process, for sure. I swear, I forgiven some people like 3 different times for the exact same transgression. Not similar transgressions. That exact one. Like I said, it’s a process). And, when old memories come creeping in, unbidden, in the middle of the night, I allow myself to remember. I take a deep breath and forgive myself again.

 

 

Puzzling Through

Know what grace looks like for me? It looks like reckoning with a 1000 piece puzzle. It looks like family. It looks like gratitude.

It’s been a few weeks since Jane and I embarked on our Epic Puzzling Adventure. One day at Target, more or less on a whim, I picked up a 1000 piece puzzle because I am a glutton for punishment adventurous. A puzzle seemed like a nifty, wholesome way for Jane and I to do some quality time. I mean, usually I opt for giggling with her as people face-plant on AFV or expressing my deeply held belief about Pilgrims in our spare time. But, I mean, a puzzle could be fun, too.

 

We dumped the entire puzzle on the dining room table and set about sorting through ONE THOUSAND PIECES to find all the edge pieces. The sheer volume of little funny shaped cardboard pieces meant they got shuffled all about, some teetering precariously on the edge of the table. Our boxer pup slimed at least one of them as she sniffed to figure out if they seemed edible (that dog and I have VERY different ideas about what might be edible). Occasionally, Jane and I would hear a piece quietly thunk to the floor. And then we’d yell, “DON’T LET THE DOG GET IT!”, as we both scrambled to find it before Delilah used it as her daily dose of fiber.

Pro Tip: If it’s going to take you weeks to finish a puzzle, you probably shouldn’t leave it on the dining room table. If you do, pieces will get shuffled under papers. Someone might use your puzzle as a coaster. The dog might occasionally try to snag a piece off the table, not really because she’s interested but because it’ll get a rise out of the whole family.

Jane and I took to doing the puzzle in spurts. We’d start on it and get really engrossed in finding a specific kind of piece. I liked the aqua camper. She got entranced by the fire. Then, invariably, one of us would get bored and wander off (usually her) while the other puzzled on valiantly (usually me). But even if Jane wandered off, she’d pop back in frequently, always finding a piece to snap into place or cheering me on when I was on a hot puzzling streak (you wish you were me, don’t you? I know. I’m hella cool.)

These moments, when we were working together toward something that seemed almost unreachable, they gave me hope. The whole trope about mothers and daughters not getting along really bugs me. I love my kid a lot. But I also really LIKE her. I value her input. I think she has stellar ideas. She’s introspective and kind. I want her to choose me when she’s an adult. I am hyper aware that children do not have to choose to allow parents to be part of their lives. I hope I am the kind of mother that she will want to rely on, that she will trust, that she’ll look to for encouragement and support. And the fact that we could work together on this damn puzzle, even when one of us got frustrated, meant something to me. It meant a lot, really.

As we got close to the end, Jane kept wanting to count the pieces. And I tried my hardest to stop her. I just knew, after all the shuffling, falling, coaster-using… I knew we’d be missing some pieces. Well, I didn’t know. But I assumed. And I didn’t want to know for sure. Because why would it be worth it to do this crazy big puzzle, if we couldn’t even get all the pieces together?  I mean, what would be the point even?

And sure enough…

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But, in the most bizarre twist, I realized that I wasn’t bothered. Not really. Because if you leaned back a little, that missing piece wasn’t as noticeable. My eyes kept landing, instead, on the parts of the puzzle Jane & I had adopted as our own, the ones we’d worked so hard on.

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And if I stood back even further, all I could really see was all the bright colors, and the woodland creatures wreaking havoc on a hapless campground, and the hours of fun and camaraderie. Unless I looked for it, I really couldn’t see that missing piece at all.

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Jane keeps asking if it bugs me, that we’re missing ONE piece. I get why she asks: I kind of acted like it would be the dawn of the apocalypse if we lost a piece. But I keep assuring her that it doesn’t matter.

For my first 33 years, I spent so much time fixated on what was lacking. Looking back, it feels like sometimes lack was ALL I could see. I missed lots of beautiful people, experiences, moments … they were all muted, drowned out by what I thought I didn’t have.

Know what grace is for me? Realizing that lack no longer defines my worldview. That each day, I’m astounded by what I do have. Because my whole life could’ve gone down so very differently. Getting sober taught me to see all the beauty that weaves itself together, so that lack isn’t apparent. It taught me to look at the bigger picture–and to be grateful for the 999 pieces that we do still have.

Getting Unstuck

I’ve working on getting myself unstuck from a pretty significant rut. But good news… I found 5 relatively simple things I could do to reconnect with myself & the world around me.

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I’ve spent the past few weeks re-examining my life a bit. I guess that’s to be expected since I’m (ahem) . . . middle aged. (WTactualF?!?)

I first realized there was a problem when I caused a online scuffle on Facebook with some other folks, and I was completely unable to let it go. Like hella unable. As in not-gonna-let-that-shit-ride. As in personal interior devastation and destruction.

Holy shit. Hello, outsized response to criticism. (Let’s be clear: I’m talking about my own outsized response here. I’m not trying to take other people’s inventories.) So, yeah, something was WAY wrong with my internal balance. And upon further examination, I realized my personal growth had kind of stagnated. And I just didn’t feel the same muppet-like enthusiasm for life as usual.

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(Actual footage of me on an average day)

How’d I get out of my rut? So glad you asked. Segues are SO hard.

5 (Relatively) Quick & Easy Ways I Got Emotionally Unstuck

  1. I got me a therapist. I am 100% on board for therapy. We’d all be much happier (and more well adjusted) if we ALL had a therapist. Sure, they require an investment of time, money, and emotional energy. But (and I think as women we sometimes forget this) I am worthy of that investment. So are you. Yes, it’s hard work sifting through some of the past events and current hangups that landed me in emotional quicksand in the first place. But you know what happens if you stay in quicksand too long… (I mean, as an adult I haven’t really encountered quicksand as much as I thought I would. But as a kid, I knew all about the hazards of quicksand. So, I’m always prepared for a quick escape)

2. I delved into my spiritual practice. Over the years, my spirituality has looked wildly different–depending on where I was in my journey. Right now, it looks a whole lot like reading a lesson from A Course in Miracles each morning, practicing the exercises throughout the day, and finding a crystal that resonates with me (I them to set intentions and to return to as a touchstone so I don’t wander during the day). I’ve had to learn about 100 billion times that a spiritual practice is crucial for me. Like, I absolutely cannot exists happily without it. And, you know it’s kind of the whole foundation of my recovery:

It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe. We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.

So, yeah, NBD… spirituality is just the key to EVERYTHING.

3. I started striving toward being fully present. During those two days when I was so in my head about a conflict going on in the ether, I couldn’t even participate in conversations happening right in front of me. This undercurrent of ugly self-talk, picking arguments with ghosts, and just general bullshit that my brain pulls sometimes had me miles away from where my feet were. It sucked. So, I made a conscious choice to be more curious about my immediate surroundings. What did I hear, see, smell, feel? What made this moment unique? Where could I find joy, or love, or hope, or connection? The pictures at the top of the post, they’re where I’ve been the past 2 days: physically, mentally, and emotionally. They are real. They are here. The present matters. It’s all I’ve really got. So, I sure as hell am going to make an effort to embrace it.

4. I put down my damn phone. Well, I put it down MORE than I had in any recent memory. Suddenly, it seemed foolish that some flat rectangular object could have that much pull over me. Instead of enhancing my life, it was really bringing me down. So, I cut it loose(ish). And I created some hard and fast rules for myself about engaging on social media. It turns out that it’s MUCH easier to be present if my nose isn’t always pressed up against my phone. Who knew?!?

5. I made it a point to connect. I love people. Which is why I love social media. But nothing beats looking someone in the eye and really connecting with them. Small connections, seemingly inconsequential interactions… they make up so much of our lives. The way we move together in the world and develop empathy and understanding can be truly beautiful. So, I committed to letting more of that beauty into my life–to really see people, to interact with them in ways that are kind and compassionate, and to laugh. In real life.

And these 5 things, well they’ve got me feeling a lot more like this these days:

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So, when you find yourself in an emotional rut, what do you do to get unstuck?