Valedictorian of Taking Myself Less Seriously

I like to be valedictorian of everything. I want my conversation to be the wittiest, the wisest. I want my contributions to be insightful and to command respect. And I never, ever want to admit that I am wrong. I’m a gem, aren’t I?

I like to be valedictorian of everything.

I want my conversation to be the wittiest, the wisest. I want my contributions to be insightful and to command respect. And I never, ever want to admit that I am wrong.

I’m a gem, aren’t I?

The good news is, after years and years of being a perfectionist with a zillion excuses and justifications for never actually TRYING at much of anything, I got sober. And that taught me two important lessons: 1) Perfectionism is just a bullshit excuse to prevent me from ever really putting myself out there, and 2) I don’t know shit about shit.

Really. I am wrong a lot.

The first few years of sobriety taught me that I’d been a master at making myself a victim, at playing helpless to avoid work, and pain, and adulting. So I womaned up and started taking responsibility for my own chaos. And it sucked. I thought my tragic victim role was all kinds of romantic (it wasn’t). But this actual attempt at vulnerability and openness–the kind that allows you to learn, grow, and accumulate real wisdom–was gritty, and real, and hard AF.

Then I had a baby. And motherhood disabused me any idea that I was always right. And it sure as hell has taught me to admit when I’m wrong. Jane has taught me about ditching perfectionism in favor of joy and about letting go of expectations and just being in the moment. I’ve relinquished the constant need to be right in favor of building up and supporting the people I love the most. (But I still love an “I told you so” more than I probably should. Progress not perfection, y’all)

But the latest BIG lesson for me is a doozy: I take myself too fucking seriously.

 

After we all stop singing Closer to Fine, I’ll give you the most mundane (profound) example. Ready? Alright:

This morning, I was plodding along on the track. And my leg was all janky. It was tight, and the tightness was throwing off my gait. And I was going to run through the accumulating pain. But then I thought: WTF? What am I trying to prove? Hasn’t this summer been all about really diving into the adventure of running? Why the hell wouldn’t I just stop and stretch? What was I trying to prove? That I could run a 5K? I’ve done that over and over and over again. This run just wasn’t that serious. I had nothing to prove.

So, I plopped down on the side of the track, laid back, and stretched. For a good long time. I ran a few more laps. Then I stretched AGAIN. And it felt luxurious. And indulgent. But it also felt like adulting. Because I was taking care of my body. Turns out that, over this long, hot Summer of Running, I’ve learned to trust my body and to listen to what it’s really asking for.

I’ve also learned to listen to my heart. Because living a satisfied, joyous life isn’t about being right all the time. Or holding firm to a position (or an identity) when you’ve outgrown it, or evolved past it, or when it just no longer works for you. There’s power in evolving, in being open, in embracing change.

And there’s so much room for joy when I don’t take myself so fucking seriously. It’s only life after all.*

 

*C’mon. You knew I’d work in that last Indigo Girls reference, didn’t you?

There Is Power In the Seeking

Yesterday, during approximately the last 15 seconds of an AA meeting, a dude chimes in with this nugget:

“The power isn’t in ‘knowing’ God. The power is in the seeking of God.”

And I was all, “Don’t mind me. I’ll just sit over here quietly. Mind BLOWN.” Because YES. It’s this that I have been trying to put my finger on for weeks. This is what called  me back to AA. This seeking.

In theory, I’ve always been a seeker. I revel in pondering big questions about God, humanity, and purpose. In fact, I gravitate to these conversations–but try to engage me in small talk & I’m a hot mess. (SO BAD AT IT. Tragic, really). But I’ve struggled with how to do more than just ponder the big questions abstractly. Distantly. I don’t always know how to engage with them, get hands-on about them, and turn them into practice.

That was what AA gave me the first go-round: a set of steps (a guideline) for connecting with my Higher Power. There was work to be done, it turns out. I mean, relationships are beautiful–but GOOD GOD, they are work. My relationship with my HP requires work. And that work is the seeking. And that’s where the power lies.

For a long time, I stayed connected with the Universe (God…whatever…) through really traditional Christian practices. I had a community that pushed me to examine and expand my spiritual practices–that offered me accountability. That sense of community was central to my seeking. But that’s not where I am at the moment. Right now, church is–for me–about celebrating God, lamenting and rejoicing in community, and striving for more justice & mercy in the world. But I’ve been missing that one-on-one connection that pushes me to do the work, to seek.

I wish I could excel as a solo seeker. It sounds so cool. And mystical.

But it’s really not who I am. I process life by talking about it. A lot. And I strive for stronger connection with my own spirituality when I watch other folks live out theirs in ways that wow me.

There’s a line in “How It Works” in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous that says, “If you’ve decided you want what we have, and are willing to go to any length to get it…” I always thought of that line as a “do you want to see the world through something other than the bottom of your pint glass?” situation. And OBVI, the answer was yes.

But, at this point in my own evolution, the question seems much weightier. Like a spiritual question. Am I ready to seek “conscious contact” with God (the Universe… whatever…)?

And that’s how I ended up sitting in AA meetings (after an 8 year hiatus). Because so many of the folks there ARE seekers. They’re examining their actions, their motivations, their spirituality–taking stock of it all and seeking to be better, to be more connected with their own Higher Power (whatever they understand that to be).

There’s power in the seeking. That’s my current mantra. So now I’m curious: what drives you to connect to something bigger than yourself (whatever that something may be)?

A.A. (The Return)

When I walked into AA almost 10 years ago (in my cowboy boots and jeans, hair pulled back neatly into a ponytail, with a Big Book in hand, because I like to be valedictorian of everything), I was willing to show up. And that was about it.

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When I walked into AA almost 10 years ago (in my cowboy boots and jeans, hair pulled back neatly into a ponytail, with a Big Book in hand, because I like to be valedictorian of everything), I was willing to show up. And that was about it.

I didn’t want a sponsor. Because, I mean, how do you even go about picking someone that’s going to shape your spiritual formation? In all the meetings, they were always on and on about “spiritual fitness” and how one day my relationship with my higher power would be all that stood between me & a drink. That’s BIG. How did I know if any of these jokers were even qualified to help me dig through all this emotional baggage to get (and stay) sober?

And I sure as hell didn’t want to call people. The AAs seemed to want me to call people just to say hey. To talk about…whatever. Uh, no thanks. I had friends for that.

And sharing in a meeting? No. Definitely not. I mean, first of all, most people just rambled on and on and said nothing of any significance. Then, if I did decide I wanted to share, I couldn’t hear anything anyone said over the roar of “DON’T FUCK IT UP” in my own head. So, no. Sharing wasn’t going to happen. Not for this alcoholic.

I showed up for two years. I did work the steps–mainly because I found a sponsor who didn’t want a relationship with me at all. She wanted to get me through the steps quickly and thoroughly so I could stay sober. She did. And I did. (She was precisely what I needed in that moment in my life. And I’m so grateful for her.)

But then I was done with AA. I stuck around because I believed the line that if you stop going to meetings, you’re going to get drunk. Then I gave myself some credit, continued to practice the principles and work on my relationship with my Higher Power–and quit AA.

When unmistakably, and completely out of the blue, I knew I needed to go back to AA meetings, it wasn’t because I wanted a drink. Or because I was afraid I’d drink. I mean, I if I say God told me to, are we gonna be able to take me seriously after that. Because that’s what happened. I stayed sober because I have been maintaining that relationship with my Higher Power all along—and so I knew I, undeniably, that I was being called to go back.

I still have no idea why.

But I do know this. I am so different than I was 8 years ago.

Look, AA meetings are all about sharing experience, strength, and hope with a whole group of (mostly) likeminded folks. These are people who have gotten a daily reprieve from their own self-inflicted hell. And the only way they get to keep that reprieve is to work on their spiritual life–striving toward selflessness, connection, service. HOW COULD I NOT LOVE THAT?!? It’s literally almost everything I love & strive for in my own life. And folks are just sitting around, talking freely about their struggles & triumphs, supporting each other & pushing each other to grow. It’s kind of miraculous, really.

But it comes down to willingness. 8 years ago, I wasn’t willing to do shit. I wasn’t willing to share my vulnerability, to admit that sometimes I might not exactly know everything. I wasn’t willing to let people see me. And you can’t exist in AA without being seen.

The program hasn’t changed at all. But my perspective has. I have.

It’s like my buddy said after a meeting, “It took me a long time to understand, but it’s all just love in here, man. It’s just love.”

Avoiding Anvils

What happens when an AWOL AA goes back to a meeting? She remembers how damn good it is to be sober.

Euphoric. That’s how drinking always made me feel.* (Until it didn’t.)

The trouble with euphoria, though, is that I didn’t really feel anything. I just kind of existed in this heightened buzz of emotion. So, something as still & quiet as intuition… yeah, I couldn’t use something as subtle as intuition at all. Everything seemed like a good idea when I was drunk. And drinking made me bulletproof–so I could do anything. Which really meant I could sit on a barstool and talk about how easy it would be for me to do anything.

The actual doing? Yeah, it never got done.

I’m a bit more capable of honing in on things like intuition now. Like when I got the nudge about AA. I felt it. I tried to ignore it. But I felt it alright.

And I kept feeling that same nudge over & over again. Until I finally pulled my shit together and showed up at a meeting today.**

Post AA Meeting (in a Rocket Designs Shirt)
Check the recovery shirt. Simon designed it.***

The topic? Helping others (skillfully). Which boils down to this: it doesn’t matter how much I want someone else to get sober. They ain’t gonna until they’re good and ready. Sure, I can beat someone over the head with my sobriety. I can shame them about their behavior. I can point out the fact that they are RUINING THEIR LIVES.

But that’s a bunch of sanctimonious bullshit. And I know it.

I remember every cutting, cruel comment people made about my drinking during the worst of it. And I was an awful drunk. I cried. I puked. I slept with other people’s significant others. I hurt everyone around me. People were fed the fuck up with me. I get it.

But I also know now that the level of shame a drunk feels about their own behavior far surpasses what anyone else can pile on.

So, if shame didn’t work, what did?

Nothing really.

But I do also clearly remember my boss (yes, I held a job. Yes, they should have fired me. No, I don’t think they did me any favors by shielding me from the consequences of my drinking. But I also get that it was hard to know what the right thing was in that time and space. Nobody likes to see someone else self-destruct in front of them) telling me stories about the insanity that transpired when she was drinking. Funny stories. Stories I could whole-heartedly relate to. And then she’d invite me to an AA meeting. Real chill like. I always said no. In fact, I didn’t get sober until 5 years after I’d left that job. But she kept inviting me. And she kept living her sober, happy life out loud in my presence.

And when I finally got sick and tired of being sick and tired (the AAs LOVE to say this), I knew where to go.

That boss that stuck it out, that never shamed me, that just kept inviting to meetings… she’s a huge part of my sobriety. Not because she’s in my life now. But because, without shame or judgement, she offered me a lifeline.

She couldn’t get me sober. She couldn’t save me. No one could. But her kindness–her gentle, super-chill invitations to AA meetings–showed me that she believed I was worth saving. When my time came, I believed her, and took the first steps toward saving myself.

 

*At least for the first hour or so. After that, all bets were off. One of Simon’s infamous one-liners was “It’s HAPPY hour, not crying hour.”

**Totally glad I went. Will probably go again even. WHO AM I?!?

***Need one of these shirts? Of course you do. Head over here to get one. Want a different design? No worries. There’s other rad stuff there, too.

Facing The Things I Suck At

Moving pushes all my buttons. For real–uncertainty and WAITING? I suck at those. But I’m doing it. And that’s growth.

Moving. For real, this whole process is fraught with uncertainty: will the house sell quickly? Will we find another house we think is dreamy*? What if we close on our current house and then have no where to live? What if? What if? WHAT IF?!?

I suck at uncertainty. 

That’s kind of just always been my truth. So, I’ve been pleasantly surprised that I haven’t been freaking-the-hell-out. Not even a little bit. I’m just kind of along for the ride. The Universe (… God… whatever) hasn’t let me down yet. So, I’m trying to be all zen. (Living life on life’s terms, as the AAs say).

But shit, I am DONE with this moving business.

I know. I know. I don’t get to be done. And no one cares if I’m done. The process is the process is the process. Listing a house–cleaning, prepping, threatening family members that if they leave their dirty clothes on the floor one more time…–is the opposite of fun. It’s anti-fun. It’s soul-sucking. And that’s just when I’m feeling positive about it.

Through my efforts to be zen, a feeling keeps pushing through: discomfort. I am uncomfortable with this moment in my life. I want to be settled. I want to focus on writing. I want to think about something else other than keeping the house clean so that random strangers can wander through to decide what they think our home–the place where the most sacred things in our life happen, where love and tears and laugher and intimacy collide, where our LIFE happens–what they think it’s worth. I want to live my life. And right now, I’m just waiting.

And, if there’s anything I suck more at than uncertainty, it’s waiting. 

But, that’s okay. I can manage these things I’m ultra-sucky at. Because managing them is building resilience. How the hell are you supposed to develop something that seems so inate (like you’ve just got it or you don’t) as resilience? Brené Brown has some thoughts:

It’s all about a “tolerance for discomfort,” she says.

People who healthfully navigate firings, divorces, and other super difficult situations are able to do so because they’re aware of their emotional worlds — which are often uncomfortable places.

“What I’m talking about is an acceptance that our drive, this insatiable appetite for comfort and happiness, does not reconcile with who we are as people ,” she told Tech Insider in a recent interview. “Sometimes we have to do tough things and feel our way through tough situations, and we have to feel tough emotions.”

“Hold up!” I can hear you thinking. “This move is, like, no where near as emotionally intense (and potentially devastating) as a divorce or being fired. What is your major malfunction?” 

And you’re right (although you can ship “major malfunction” back to the 80s where it belongs). This move (that we chose freely to make) is not in the category of a major life event. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hit on some of my biggest pain points, some of the places I can most use growth.

Truthfully, an earlier iteration of myself wouldn’t have chosen this move, even though it is best for our family. Because earlier iterations valued comfort and certainty above all else. I wouldn’t have been able to take a chance on leaving a good house in a good neighborhood to move to another community that we think we might love EVEN MORE, just because we thought it was right.

But this iteration of me can. And I’m proud of that. And I’m god-awful uncomfortable. But I’m sitting with it and managing it. And I’m choosing to stay in this moment and do the next task at hand, instead of letting the what-ifs make me frantic.

And that is the best I can do. That is my next right thing.

 

*I watched a ton of Brady Bunch as a kid. I was always a little smitten with how Marsha used “dreamy” to describe a variety of things (although, most often a boy). So, because I’m into living my best life and seizing the moment and all, I worked it in. I think we’re all better for it.

 

Pug Image by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

The Shameless Quest to Get Sober

The first rule of getting sober: do not pick up that first drink. Not for any reason. Then get to work on you. Because you’ve got this moment of grace–and you damn well better use it.

We’re watching Shameless over here. Not quite binging it. But close. That show is damn fearless. Nothing escapes it’s irreverent probing. Everything feels gut-punchingly profound, without ever being preachy. And nothing is ever simple.

We’re on Season 8. Admittedly, there are lots of great storylines swirling around, but Lip’s sobriety is what’s getting me this season. Check out Jeremy Allen White talking about what sober Lip is like:

https://www.tvguide.com/videos/embed/shameless-jeremy-allen-white-sober-lip/

Oooff. The pains of early sobriety. No shit, it’s completely starting over. From scratch. Why? Because obviously, if you’re sitting in an AA meeting or you wake up in the bathroom where you passed out or you have zero idea who you slept with (talked to, argued with, or punched) last night, you have no idea how to manage your own life. And that is the honest to God truth. So, you start over.

How? You take that moment of grace you’ve been offered (make no mistake, it is a gift. And it won’t stick around forever), and you start working your ass off. On what? Yourself. It’s a serious, arduous process, this getting sober. It’s likely all you’ll think about for the first year or so. Does that make it a selfish process? Yes and no. Yes because your sobriety always exists top of mind—and it has to drive all your decisions. No, because part of getting sober & staying sober, is getting out of your own damn head and into the world to be of service to others.

And it takes commitment. Stubborn, dogged commitment. To not drinking. That’s the key: not drinking no matter what. Not if your dog runs away. Not if your girlfriend breaks up with you. Not if someone dies (a random celebrity or someone you love). Not ever. Not for any reason. It can’t even exist as an option somewhere in the back of your mind. It’s got to be annihilated. Obliterated. The idea that you can take that first drink for any reason has to die.

Early sobriety is about staying present in the moment. Wondering what your entire life will look like if you never drink again? Oh, you’ll wonder. But it’s useless. Until you start to heal–to move from simply not drinking to really getting sober, to participating in your own recovery–you’re gonna have NO IDEA what life will look like if you don’t drink. And if you try to imagine it, you’ll believe you will die of boredom if you try to live sober. That’s because, right now, your brain is entirely fucked. It’s telling you stupid shit, and you believe it, because that’s how alcoholism works.

It’s all a lie. You don’t need a drink. Not to cope. Not to sleep. Not to take the edge off your anxiety. Not to deal with your kids. If you’re an alcoholic (and, by the way, I’ve never known anyone to wonder if they had a drinking problem that didn’t actually drink problematically), thinking you need a drink is like thinking you need to take a shot of cyanide. It’s poison. It will kill you. But first it will take everything you love.

“GOOD GOD, that’s bleak,” you’re probably thinking. Hell yeah, it’s bleak. That’s why the first order of business is to not take that first drink. Do what you’ve got to do. Go for a run (Lip runs all over town in Season 8). Pray. Do yoga. Drop and do pushups until your arms give out. Put your white chip (that’s the surrender chip in AA*. The one that says you give up & need help. Very important, that chip) in your mouth–when it melts, you can take a drink. Call someone. Drive to a homeless shelter to volunteer. Eat an ice cream sundae (sugar is life-giving the first year). Do what it takes.

Why would you want to bother with all this? Because in this moment of grace you’ve been granted, you understand that you want to live. Not survive. Live.

You are worth it. Whether you believe it right now or not. I believe it for you. Put down the drink.

 

*My sobriety is part of the AA tradition. I am not a Big Book Thumper. I diverge from AA in some of my thinking. A lot, maybe. But I still believe that it is one of the very best ways to get sober. Why? Because it worked for me. Find what works for you. But going it on your own rarely works. The shift from active alcoholism to sobriety requires support, huge life changes, and usually therapy. Told you it was work. Don’t worry; you’re still worth it. 

Deep Clean … Keeping it Real (Clean)

LOTS of cleaning happening around these parts lately. And not like the tidying up kind. It’s the get on your hands and knees and scrub the baseboards and the floors kind of cleaning.

LOTS of cleaning happening around these parts lately. And not like the tidying up kind. It’s the get on your hands and knees and scrub the baseboards and the floors kind of cleaning. The kind where you have to take a shower afterward because GOOD GOD who knew a house could require this kind of scrubbing?!?

What are my people doing that they track in so much dirt? It’s like they recruited tiny Tonka dump trucks to haul dirt in and scatter it randomly throughout the house. But, bit by bit, I’m seeing progress. Sparkling white baseboards (before the dog slings slobber all over them). No dirt lurking in corners. Turns out, I really like clean. And, somehow over the past few days, I’ve begun to appreciate the process of cleaning.

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It just feels like plain, old-fashioned hard work.

And at this moment in my life, that feels good. Rewarding. Stabilizing.

It’s a bit like the psychic work I have to do to stay sober. My brain can get a little cobwebby, too. Resentments, doubts, fears start accumulating. For a while, I might try to overlook them. Because who really has the time to excavate them when I’m trying to manage the dog, the kid, the Simon. But dark corners eventually begin to crowd out my happiness. All the psychic dirt makes my perspective . . . gray.

Eventually, when I get uncomfortable enough, I do a psychic sweep. Yes, it’s much easier if I do it every day & don’t let the dust bunnies colonize. But sometimes, you don’t see the dust bunnies multiplying until they’re ready to revolt and take over the whole damn place.

It’s just as hard to get my brain/heart/soul clean as it is to clean this house. But it’s worth it to live in a place where I can let ALL the light in without fear of what it might uncover.

 

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All this scrubbing has unearthed a desire to live in a clean space ALL THE TIME. Not just once a year or so. Which means a lot of work. Emotional work and physical work. I’m still in the middle of the physical work–I swear, two or three tiny dump trucks of dirt made it in overnight. But I’m examining what the emotional work will look like… it shifts, you know. I’ve felt called at different points of my journey toward different spiritual practices.

And against everything I want to do–and I mean everything–I think I might be called to haul my ass back into A.A. Let’s just be super clear: I am so grateful for everything A.A. gave me. I know, without question, that the 12 Steps & the 2 years I spent going to meetings are why I am sober now (almost 10 years later). But I’ve never been in love with A.A. I didn’t like going to meetings. I’m not good at towing the party line. I’m just not an A.A.er.

Yet…

I feel called. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt called, but you can’t just ignore it. It’s nagging, the calling. It resurfaces. Constantly.

People brand new in sobriety–or folks that need sobriety–keep popping up in my world. And then, the other day at church, there I was minding my own business, dropping off some clothes for the Clothing Closet, and I almost literally ran into a sign for an A.A. Women’s Meeting. I’m afraid if I don’t heed the call soon, the Universe is actually gonna drop something on my head. Like an anvil. Or something.

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Let’s be clear: I’m as stubborn as the day is long. So, I’ll probably hold off a little while on the A.A. thing (see: stubborn). But, if you see me walking around like Flat Stanley, you can assume that anvil found it’s way to me.