Normal-Shmormal

Meeting with a new therapist is a bit like going on a first date–exciting, full of potential but hella unnerving. I’ve always been hell-bent on impressing my therapists with my great insight and wisdom. Which can make for an awkward therapist first-date.

Typically, I wait until I’m dangling on the precipice of a dramatic, jagged emotional abyss before I make a therapy appointment. I always think–against all odds–I can get all bootstrappy and handle it (whatever it is) on my own.

This particular time, just over a decade ago, it was infertility, crippling anxiety, and the sheer terror of navigating the full human range of emotions totally sober. So, you know, at least I was bringing a lot of material to work with.

I like to be prepared.

But even then, with all pressure and pain making it difficult to even breathe, I spent the first therapy session trying to convince the new therapist that I was completely normal.

How do I know about my unconscious master-plan to convince her of my expert level normalcy? Because she told me. Gently. She was a soft-talker. A careful question asker. I thought her overly-conciliatory tone and her constant encouraging affirmations were going to drive me bananas. Instead, they gave me a soft place to land.

She saved me from myself.

And she started by unravelling this whole “normal” bit.

From the time I was 8 years old, I’d been convinced that I was a complete weirdo freak. And that no one would love me if they really knew me. And, also, that I was completely irredeemable.

This made for a super-fun inner voice. The life of the party, really.

But this woman patiently listened and pulled at threads that seemed like they were attached to a different psychic sweater entirely, and yet… by the end… that restricting, suffocating sweater of “normalcy” lay destroyed at my feet.

It was like magic. But it wasn’t. It was hard work that her unwavering kindness and belief that I deserved better–even when I didn’t agree with her–made possible.

She pops into my mind sometimes when I’m doing yoga.

It’s okay if that seems weird. I’m not really caught up on the normal thing anymore.

And it always happens when I’m doing a heart-opening pose.

Yoga has been part of my path on and off since the darkest days of my active alcoholism. It was my toe-hold for the long, winding journey of pulling myself out of that hell. Those first yoga poses I learned allowed me to reconnect spirit to body, after a 6 month blackout (those 6 months really are totally lost to me, except for fragments here and there. And those fragments, honestly, I’d rather forget).

What finally pushed me into making that first, awkward therapy appointment with Dr. Soft-Talker was a heart-opening pose. I was doing yoga alone in a room, eyes glued to a video (I hadn’t quite tamped down my perfectionistic tendencies at that point. Progress not perfection, y’all). The soothing, rhythmic voice moved me into a pose that pushed my chest forward. Show the world your heart, he suggested from the screen of my laptop.

HELL no.

I physically couldn’t do it. I could not push my chest forward. I could not show anyone anything. Because there was so much ugliness, so much I hated inside. The fear was absolutely breath-snatching.

I sat down and cried at the sheer hopelessness of it all.

I found myself in the therapist’s office just a little while later. Being awkward. Totally avoid showing her my heart at all costs. She found it anyway. She was pretty damn good at her job.

And now, when I do heart-opening poses, which are some of my favorites, I can feel the love (for myself, humanity, the universe) open me to all the magic and beauty and tenderness in the world. And I feel such deep gratitude to this woman who believed that normal was bullshit and that I deserved more.

It’s been a process. Just like getting sober, healing and living a big, beautiful authentic life is a journey. Sometimes I’m good at it. Sometimes not so much. But I hang on to the lessons I’ve learned along the way. I build on them. And I keep trying.

New day. New try.

Namaste, y’all.

Seriously. Just Let Go.

I’m a well-documented recovering control freak. I love nothing more than a well-worn pattern, a comfortable sense of expectation. Spontaneity? Sure, as long as it’s carefully planned.

Just BEING is something I’ve been trying to perfect for a while now. (See what I did there? Because being is about the moment… and you can’t perfect… You get it. Right?) It is the simplest concept. And I find it unbelievably difficult.

As always, Jane has been instructive in this endeavor. The kid gets so damn far ahead of herself. We’ll be watching a movie together (one of her most favorite things) and she’ll be all: “You know what think we should do next Thursday?”

What the actual hell?!

So we’re constantly reminding her to stay where her feet are. I tease her all the time that she’s terrible at being. But I’m super clear where she gets it from. And I know I need the reminder as much as she does.

My need to plan and to control is fed by a deep fear of letting go.

I thought about having Let Go tattooed on the inside of my forearm. That’s the extent of my suckage at this particular endeavor. I need a constant reminder that I literally cannot avoid.

I do not come from a people who readily embrace the life/death/life cycle in relationships, ideas, identity. One of the boogeymen in my childhood was the idea that some event (shadowy, scary, full of doom) would happen and things would never be the same. They’d be ruined.

It’s taken 44 years, but I’m finally bringing to truly embrace the idea that nothing is ever the same.

Everything is temporary.

This whole concept used to horrify me. It somehow undermines my sense of justice that even things that are “good” and “right” can shift, change, and die deaths that–even thought they might be painful–are the beginning of something new.

Not being able to let go–clutching ideas and identity so tightly they become wrung out, lifeless–seriously impedes my ability to see clearly. It sticks people (myself included) in itty bitty boxes where they either begin to shrivel or begin building a wall so that I can’t see that they’re quietly dismantling the box all together.

Holding on tightly to something that’s ready to die (perceptions, beliefs, relationships) doesn’t stop the death. A tiny death that’s meant to be is going to happen with or without my blessing. But holding on means being cut myself off from the living, thrumming life force that allows great change and growth. That promises possibility instead of decay.

But if I let go, what will be left?

What if letting go allows the Universe to unfurl great magic on my behalf? What it gives people room to wake up to the beauty inside themselves and show me the things they’ve secreted away until they were safe enough to create?

What if letting go allows life to BE?

(You know you were thinking it anyway.)

It’s Funny. And It’s Not.

When quarantine feels a little too weighty for me–when the stark gravity of living in a horror-filmesque world puts me right on the razor’s edge of true terror–I pause and think how much worse it would be if I was still drinking.

And it always makes me laugh.

Because holy mother of pearl, I was an absolute disaster. And my choices were–at best–highly questionable. The idea of trying to navigate a pandemic that calls for near social isolation, or at the very least not getting all up on people and actually wearing a mask on your face (not like dangling from an ear or around your neck), would’ve just been impossible.

Take my exuberance, strip it of all common sense, and there you have it: me, drunk.

You get a hug! And you get a hug! I don’t know you? Nevermind. Let’s hug!

All that’s assuming I ever made it out of the house. But more likely, it’d be circling in a wicked shame funnel over here: Drink too much. Text people ill-advised things I don’t remember. Be hungover. Despair. Rinse. Repeat.

If this sounds like a shitty coping mechanism, it was. And it’s only funny to me because it’s over. As a friend pointed out sometime during my first year of sobriety (which is hard y’all. So hard), I never have to be that person again.

When I see the memes and quips about drinking to deal with your kids (or your pets or your existential angst) during quarantine. I cringe. Because I know people are for real doing that. And when you’re in that place–of despair and addiction and shame–it seems like there’s nothing else to do. Coping, when you’ve been trying to avoid coping this whole time by doing the backstroke in a fish-bowl-sized margarita (one with Swedish Fish, of course), seems truly impossible.

So, no, quarantine doesn’t make me want to drink. When I quit, I scratched drinking off my menu of coping mechanisms (it was the only thing on the menu at the time, so that made things a little tricky). But I do often think about the things that made me want to drink. Because, while the pull toward oblivion via cocktail might not be there, the desire to skirt uncomfortable, troublesome emotion is very real.

But so is my resolution to work through that shit.

The driving emotion in my drinking was shame. On a deep, cellular level, I believed there was something so wrong with me, so broken & ugly, that if anyone ever saw it, they would reject me outright. I carried this feeling with me all. the. time. I could never be comfortable, because as soon as I allowed myself a deep breath, my inner critic (who is loud and fucking obnoxious) would start in on all the ways in which I was truly hideous.

I had a boyfriend and a best friend at the time. I couldn’t let either get close to me. I shook violently when he touched me and threw up when I even thought about being alone with her.

I was 16 years old. I felt totally alone. And crazy. And irredeemable.

Until I drank.

And then all that bullshit faded away. I drank to feel comforted. To feel whole. And to finally be able to connect with other people.

I drank for relief.

Sometimes, now, when I don’t want to get up in the fives to give myself time to do the psychic & spiritual work that keeps me sober, I think about that raw and broken 16 year old.

When I run up against a resentment I don’t want to let go, that I’d prefer to let fester so I can shore up my righteous indignation, I remember her.

It’s hard, remembering her. Just calling her to mind brings that burning shame to the center of my chest. And an intense desire to flee.

She still makes me cry.

But she also reminds me that there’s still work to be done. Hell, there’s always work to be done. And I honor her and her pain–and help her finally heal–by doing the work.

Even when it’s messy.

Especially when it’s messy.

Whatever I Want. Gosh.

I’ve run into an odd phenomenon. Maybe it’s best illustrated by a quick little graphic:

Huh.

Well then.

To carve out space to read, write, and meditate, I wake up at 5:30 am. So I can get these these things done before the “real” day starts at 8. And, no, I don’t feel guilting doing these things in the hours before the family chaos ensues at 8am. But anything that doesn’t get done before 8 gets bumped from the schedule. Which means I’m constantly picking and choosing from the very things that de-zombify my soul to make room for the more mundane stuff: walking the dog, fielding 101 questions about Caboodles for make-up storage (it’s the 9 year old’s latest obsession), or answering emails/setting up appointments/et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Lately it’s meditation that’s the loser in the time war. Which is stupid as hell. And I know it. Meditation is the long game for me, where I process what I read, feel, experience. And yet. If it doesn’t happen before 8, well I couldn’t possibly take 15 minutes (!!!) after the day starts.

And then there’s yoga. I do yoga with my kid. It’s time she looks forward to every day. But I still feel that tug when I get on the mat to think about all the other things I should be doing that fall into the “accomplish shit & take over the world” category. But, if I took time to meditate, I’d feel guilty I wasn’t spending time with the kid. So, even when I’m accomplishing a (very important!) thing on my list, like spending time with my sweet kid, I still feel like it’s frivolous time if I enjoy it too much? That is BANANAS. And yet.

Running most consistently gets a chunk of my time (even after 8 am), but mainly because–after over a decade together–Simon gently nudges (aka insists) I go for a run so that he doesn’t have to deal with the emotional chaos that I bring to the table if my mind doesn’t have the opportunity to calm the hell down on a run. But, if the schedule gets tight… you guessed it: I’ll skip the run in favor of being able to check a task off at the end of the day.

Reading brings me the most pure, unmitigated joy. And, fortunately for me, reading is required for my chosen work. Hard to sell books if I’m not (relatively) well versed in them. But still, if I spend an hour or so reading the first thing I think when I pop back out of the story is all the things that didn’t get done during that hour.

Simon, on the other hand, has not a single hesitancy to engross himself in projects and activities he gets excited (or fixated. Whatever) on. And, if I’m being real honest, I resent the hell out of him for it.

But he certainly isn’t the one making me feel guilty when I do things I enjoy.

The fact is that I’m the one devaluing them. But where does that voice come from that tells me that the things I want to do–need to do–to feel healthy and whole, aren’t valuable? Why does my day so quickly become a checklist, especially right now? We’re still quarantining. But that pull is still there to do, accomplish. But it’s like it’s someone else’s agenda that I’m focused on.

At the end of the day, I measure my worth by items checked off my to-do list. Like I can bring what I’ve accomplished before the Universe and it will deem me worthy. But what I’m constantly de-valuing are the activities that bring balance, wisdom, compassion, and connectedness to my world. And those are the things I really value.

Maybe it’s time for me to fire my cosmic judge and just do and be in a way that brings me joy, wholeness, and peace.

My guess is that cosmic judges don’t take kindly go being summarily dismissed. We’ll see how it goes…

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of Hey, Kiddo.

True confession time: I’d never read a graphic novel before Hey, Kiddo.  

I know.  

But, of course, the first graphic novel I grab is a memoir that tackles super-heavy stuff like addiction, loss, and belonging. Because tights and capes are overrated. 

I picked Hey, Kiddo specifically because it addresses addiction. I often wonder about how to talk to my own kid about recovery (I’ve been sober for 10 years). And I was eager to see if a graphic novel could stand up to the challenge of representing the ugly, heartbreaking side of having an active addict as a parent.  

It did. And it was brutal. 

But it was often hopeful. And funny.  

I loved Jarrett’s emotional journey toward finding his peace with his family as-is. Because, addiction or not, we all have to reckon with the family we’ve been dealt. We can embrace their idiosyncrasies, forgive their faults, own our part in the whole giant mess, and love them anyway…or not. We can create our own families with friends we collect along the way. And, no matter who we are or how we grew up, we can break the cycle of abuse, addiction, neglect.  

My ultimate takeaway (a pretty powerful one for teenagers reading this book): Your family contributes to who you are. They do not define you. They are part of your story. The beginning. Only you can decide what happens from there.  

Hey, Kiddo is not always a happy story. But it’s a real story. I respect that.  

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.