Whose Script Is This?

When I walked up into Alcoholics Anonymous in my cowboy boots, feeling mighty superior, I had my script firmly in hand. I was a smart, sensitive, tragic victim. The world simply couldn’t understand someone as deeply empathic and intuitive as I was. So, I drank to shield myself from the tragedy of the every day as it unfolded around me.

We become the story that we tell ourselves. 

From the time we’re born, people that we love–and even complete strangers–feed us a script about who we are. We see foremost what they call forward. We become what they nurture–and we learn to hide (or feel shame) about what they dismiss. We keep this script close, reverting back to it when we feel off-base.

But, sometimes, the script is a lie.

When I walked up into Alcoholics Anonymous in my cowboy boots, feeling mighty superior, I had my script firmly in hand. I was a smart, sensitive, tragic victim. The world simply couldn’t understand someone as deeply empathic and intuitive as I was. So, I drank to shield myself from the tragedy of the every day as it unfolded around me.

You can imagine how quickly the A.A.ers called bullshit on that.

They immediately started asking me to find my part in my own pain. I resisted mightily. For real. I thought I was exempt from the basic truths that, in every situation, we have choices. Often we don’t choose what happens to us. But we do get to choose how we deal with it. We get to write our own story.

But writing your own story is hard.

It means excavating psychic pain, long buried, to figure out what really happened… and to examine how your beliefs, attitudes, and/or resentments (mix & match any of these!) play into how you experience that pain now. Shiiiiiiiit. And then there’s the whole “making a list of people you’ve harmed”…. which really could be its own level of hell.

BUT.

In doing all that–in laying out my own pain & the pain I’d caused others–I could see patterns in my behaviors and beliefs. I found triggers that I could then defuse. And I could speak it all… and begin to let it go.

None of us get to re-write our past. In fact, I’ve long stopped wishing that I could. What’s way more important to me is writing my future. In order to do that, I have to create my own script about who I am. And that is the work of every day.

For a long time, my script read that I was a tragic fuck-up with lots of potential.

I mean, if you’ve got dramatic flair, you can be good at playing that part. But, ultimately, it’s not very fulfilling.

As I re-frame my story, I don’t see wasted years. I see an illness that drove my life to a standstill. I see the ravages of unchecked mental health issues. I see darkness—that, ultimately, I emerged from. I don’t see a fuck-up. I see a warrior.

I have to check my script every day, to make sure I have the right one. There are moments when I remember vividly–too vividly–the pain I caused people I loved and the agony I put myself through. And the old script plays. I have to check it. Stop it in it’s tracks. I do not have to be that person any more. Full stop.

I get to write my story. And it’s compassion, and love, and rising up from the wreckage… It’s being worthy and loved simply because. It’s being real and loving hard and not letting fear shut me down. It’s being fully alive and watching my real story unfold. 

Adventures in Florida

Tubing. Boating. Waterskiiing. Archery. Woodcrafting. Golf cart driving. And real, real tasty food. Life at Camp Kellogg is pretty dang good.

Simon, Jane, and I flew down to Florida this weekend to visit these folks:

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They’re my bonus family (aka in-laws). Jane’s aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents… all present and accounted for! I love that Jane is a product of this large, boisterous group of charming, quirky people. They’re not all often in the same place–but, man, when they are, they do it up. Jane got to go tubing (behind the boat) twice. Squirt guns? Of course there were squirt guns, too! She drove the golf cart (well, kinda sorta–but still!). She built things in the woodshop. She also shot her first arrow. Because nothing says “I’m living my best childhood” like bows & arrows.

While she was living it up at Camp Kellogg, I snuck out for a run. Florida is a special kind of hot–like melt-your-skin-off-your-body hot. The thermometer said it was 83 degrees. But I think it’s a lying bastard. It was SO HOT and humid, that I could barely breathe. At 9 a.m. But I did get this shot on my run:

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Florida’s no one-trick pony, y’all.

Florida summer running is humbling, for sure. But all the years I put in running in Florida (with it’s year-round scorching weather) sure do make summer running in Atlanta seem like a breeze.

A weather-related flight-fiasco kept us in Florida last night, unexpectedly–which I’m sure was a good, teachable moment for Jane about rolling with changes-in-plan, especially when traveling. Problem was, no one felt like teaching her a damn thing. We felt like going home. But that was a no-go. So we rallied and were back at the airport by 5:15 this morning. With our 7 year old. Our lovely, chatty, question-asking 7 year old.

I’m not sure if it was lack of sleep, a driving desire to be home in Atlanta, or just plain old gratitude—but the flight this morning felt nothing short of mesmerizing. The take-off especially felt magical. How could it be that one moment we were on the ground– then rising through the sky, just as the sun came up?

And when I saw Atlanta finally come into view, I felt that same thrill that I always have when I see the skyline:

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Florida is home to so many people I love. But Atlanta has my heart… and always has. I am so thankful to be back home–where I belong.

#SummerRunning

I’ve been exploring Kirkwood, Edgewood, Cabbagetown, Reynoldstown, and a little bit of Decatur. It’s Georgia hot out there, which means that by the time I start running at 9 a.m., it’s already 80 some-odd degrees. That frees me up to not worry about my time and just enjoy the run. And I have! Like, for real. 

I’m really FEELING running right now. This isn’t always the case. Sometimes I trudge through a run because I know I’ll feel better later (running is a central part of my mental health maintenance routine). But, for the past few weeks, I’ve woken up excited about each new running adventure.

I blame this guy:

I mean, come on! Adventure! Fun! And he always seems so genuinely thrilled to be running. So, I got kinda thrilled, too.

I’ve been exploring Kirkwood, Edgewood, Cabbagetown, Reynoldstown, and a little bit of Decatur. It’s Georgia hot out there, which means that by the time I start running at 9 a.m., it’s already 80 some-odd degrees. That frees me up to not worry about my time and just enjoy the run. And I have! Like, for real.

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My 4 big takeaways over the last few weeks:

  1. Things are rarely what they seem. The hill that looms so large… once I start climbing it, doesn’t seem so bad. The air that feels cooler because of the cloud cover is going to produce inescapable sticky-hot humidity that will ultimately slow me down. I’ve stopped trying to anticipate the future–even the next few minutes–and just go with what is.
  2. There’s an adventure waiting–but you have to look for it. I found a forest in Kirkwood! And a completely shaded, lovely trail… that’d I’d been by a million times but simply never turned the corner to explore it.
  3. It’s easier to enjoy the moment with no agenda. There’s a time & a place for plans (and training). But just being… taking things as they are, walking when I need to, stopping to take pictures makes running so much more exciting and enjoyable. No expectations. It’s really lovely.
  4. Make time for what matters. I rarely feel so enamored with running. So I don’t often devote this much time to it. But, lately, it helps me feel grounded, connected to myself. Making the time to do this for myself makes me a better mother, partner, writer.

Running… it’s how I’ve spent my summer so far. What’s your summer been about?

I KNOW It’s Okay Not to be Okay… but

When I stared freaking out earlier this week, I got scared. Scared because something that looked perfect wound up not being perfect at all. Scared because I started getting all in my head about what I lacked–instead of celebrating what I have. Scared because I felt down. 

In my 20s, I suffered from a serious bout of situational depression. I write frequently about the drinking I did to muddle through my depression, but not a lot about depression itself.

That’s because it scares me.

Although I’d struggled with depression before (from about 8 onward into college), I’d never been completely knocked on my ass by it. But, at 26, I found myself in such a dark, hopeless place that I couldn’t find a reason to put one foot in front of the other. So, often I didn’t. I drank until I blacked out. I missed work incessantly. I would come to in a complete panic–which immediately shifted into despair over the shitshow that was my life. I had people that loved me. I knew I did. But I couldn’t feel that love. I couldn’t feel anything.

Somehow, I managed to take baby steps toward getting better. I started doing yoga, alone in my bedroom. Sometimes, I managed to take my Boxer, Jezebel, for a walk. I took antidepressants prescribed by my doctor–but they didn’t work so well coupled with 12 Bud Lites a night. I could see a glimmer of hope that things wouldn’t always be so dark. But many, many days were still consumed by a sorrow I can only liken to grief. It was all-consuming. And so very, very painful. 94596518_97728a25d5_o

It took one of the worst, most painful events of my life to make me realize that I wanted to live. I’m not sure how or why, but that trauma jolted me. It brought me from darkness back toward the light. It gave me the will to fight. Day by day, I rediscovered joy. And purpose. It was like I’d been rebooted or something. Miraculous, really.

BUT…

Every time I wake up feeling blue, every time I feel listless and uninterested, every time I feel deeply sad–I’m afraid it’s back. Intellectually, I know it’s okay not to be okay. But I struggle–not with letting people know how I feel. I mean, I’m kind of an open book here. But with actually sitting with my feelings. I fight against feeling the entire spectrum of human emotion–which sometimes includes intense sadness or–gasp!–ennui.

When I stared freaking out earlier this week, I got scared. Scared because something that looked perfect wound up not being perfect at all. Scared because I started getting all in my head about what I lacked–instead of celebrating what I have. Scared because I felt down.

But, for real, it’s okay to be down because a big client fell through. It’s okay to be bummed that I haven’t published that book (that’s sitting in my computer, just waiting for an agent). It’s okay to be frustrated at the messy house, the sassy kid, the barking dog.

It’s okay.

I am okay.

 

 

Oh…FREAK OUT!

Once I simmered down a smidge, I began to think about what the Universe might be trying to show me. It’s hard for me to be still & listen lately. My mind whirs incessantly. So, looking for insight was a challenge–to say the least.

Yesterday, I had a pretty big mind-explosion moment that got me stuck in the super-helpful & ego-building WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING?? cycle.

I’d been working up to this freak-out for a good week or so. I could feel it. For days, I didn’t sleep well. I’d wake up to find myself sweaty and panicked. And, let me just tell you, there ain’t shit going on over here. I mean, no one is trying to take my kid away from me. I know where I am going to sleep tonight. I have enough food to eat. Everything I’m dealing with is completely middle class, privileged mid-life crisis type stuff. Unfortunately, recognizing where my plight lies in the spectrum of human suffering doesn’t make this particular point in time any less frustrating or agonizing.

So what put me in a tailspin?

Losing something I never actually had in the first place. 

Two weeks ago, a former client called with a project that would’ve spanned over the course of a year–and would’ve significantly added to our income. Significantly. The client & I discussed pricing and timeframe. They suggested some light reading (think more like reading the operating manual to a Boeing 747) to catch me up on the industry. I was just waiting for confirmation on due dates and the topic for the first written piece.

Then. The client backed out. At the last minute.

And I was crushed. 

I spent most of yesterday wondering why I ever thought I could be in business for myself–and what I was doing wrong, exactly–and simultaneously reminding myself that I never actually had the gig in the first place.

I had the promise of something. Not the thing itself.

It wasn’t like the client looked at a draft & was like “GOOD GOD, WOMAN, THIS IS THE EPITOME OF SUCKITUDE.” They just went in another direction on a staffing level.

Once I simmered down a smidge, I began to think about what the Universe might be trying to show me. It’s hard for me to be still & listen lately. My mind whirs incessantly. So, looking for insight was a challenge–to say the least. But what I finally got around to admitting was that this particular job (or I guess the promise of this job) didn’t light me up like some of my other work does. It was absolutely the right thing to take it when it was offered. But now that the offer was no longer on the table, I began to think about what this might free me up to do.

And there’s this project… oh, how I am ON FIRE with excitement about this project. I’d be supporting a friend in her own passion project–one that I believe in so wholeheartedly that it’s hard for me to contain my enthusiasm when I talk about it. But supporting her in a real and meaningful way involves researching and writing grants–which is a helluva lot of work. But it’s work that can literally change the world–and it’s work that is part of who I am as a person.

So maybe, I realized, this was why I got a no when I wanted a yes. Maybe it was so I could say yes to the work the Universe is calling me to.

Maybe. Either way, today feels less like a crisis and more like an opportunity. Which, I’m gonna just go ahead & call a win.

Why I Never Want to Grab a Drink

I don’t have a really good “rock bottom” story. I’d finished all my real theatrical drinking a few years before. By the time I reckoned with my alcoholism, I didn’t even want to drink any more. I’d exhausted myself with the constant hiding, the blame shifting, the lies I told myself–and whoever else needed telling. I was functioning fine, I suppose, but certainly not living my best life (unless my best life consisted of being able to pound back 12 Miller Lites in one sitting, but somehow I doubted it).

I remember the moment the truth clicked for me: I can’t drink anymore. 

I don’t have a really good “rock bottom” story. I’d finished all my real theatrical drinking a few years before. By the time I reckoned with my alcoholism, I didn’t even want to drink any more. I’d exhausted myself with the constant hiding, the blame shifting, the lies I told myself–and whoever else needed telling. I was functioning fine, I suppose, but certainly not living my best life (unless my best life consisted of being able to pound back 12 Miller Lites in one sitting, but somehow I doubted it).

I’d long ceased fearing what I’d find when I finally sobered up. I just figured it had to be better than the shame I carried every day.

So I quit. October 13, 2008.

I’d rigged up this story in my head where I was this tragic character that needed saving. And so, I believed (deeply) that when I told people that I’d quit drinking they’d react with wonder at my stoic fortitude.

Yeah. No.

I’d gotten so good at hiding the ugly side of my drinking that no one really thought I needed to stop. Cut back, maybe. Stop? Well, that seemed a little dramatic. Now, if I’d had this bright idea about 5 years before, everyone that knew me would’ve been on board. Hell, they would’ve offered to drive me to a meeting, or rehab, or whatever it took to get me to pull my shit together. But now? Folks were kinda lukewarm about the whole idea.

My first act of resistance: Believing that I knew myself better than anyone else knew me.

I stuck with what I knew: I can’t drink anymore. 

So, I sat my ass in a Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Hated it pretty much from the start. But sometimes we do things we hate (just for a while) to get to a life we love.

I met a handful of people in those meetings that I still hold dear almost a decade later. People who knew how to live their lives with authenticity and unflinching honesty, and who were willing to teach me to do the same.

Was it easy? Fuck, no.

Every day, I’d wake up and calculate how many days it’d been since my last drink. At 30 days, I got a chip that marked “30 days of continuous sobriety–including nights and weekends” (those AA folks have a sense of humor–mostly). And I wondered, as I walked to the front to pick up my chip, if I’d spend the rest of my life counting days.

Good news: I have no idea how many days I’ve been sober. I stopped counting somewhere around 90 days. The days kept adding up, whether I counted them or not. Besides, I had work to do. They like to say in AA that “alcohol is just a symptom.” Which meant I was the problem. So, I had to figure myself out, if I wanted to stay sober.

And I did. From the very first day, I wanted to stay sober.

I put in two years of hard work to figure my shit out. (Getting sober isn’t for the faint-of-heart.) For me, staying sober is about accepting life without fear & resentment, about living into my truth, and about celebrating who I am. I surround myself with people who aren’t afraid to get real about themselves & this beautiful/awful/joyous/painful world we live in.

And I never stop being grateful for this second chance.

 

 

Photo by Kelli Tungay on Unsplash

My Kid’s a Nerd

I suspected she was a nerd from the first time she asked to do math problems at the breakfast table, using Playmobil people to add and subtract sums. But when I found her in her bedroom–where she’d been silent for almost an hour–doing math problems by herself for fun, well that cemented it for me. 

My kid is a nerd. And she completely embraces her nerdiness.

How did she discover she was a nerd?

Well, I suspected she was a nerd from the first time she asked to do math problems at the breakfast table, using Playmobil people to add and subtract sums. But when I found her in her bedroom–where she’d been silent for almost an hour–doing math problems by herself for fun, well that cemented it for me.

She, however, didn’t know she was a nerd until one recent drive home from school. She was in the backseat, saying the same word over & over & over again–to annoy me, of course. And it was working. I finally got exasperated. “You’re such a…” I said. Then I paused for one frantic moment. Because “asshole” would’ve been my typical go-to for an adult. Not so much for a 7 year old. So “nerd.” Popped out.

She stopped being annoying and earnestly inquired: “Mommy, what’s a nerd?”

Oh boy.

I had to start by admitting I’d committed the terrible sin of using the word out of context (seriously, I was horrified. I am a writer. We do not use words out of context), but that a nerd was someone who loves books, math, science, and learning new things.

She lit up. “Oh, I AM a nerd!” she yelled gleefully (because 7 year olds do not speak. They yell. So much yelling)

She’s really embraced the whole nerd thing since then. Belle is her favorite princess because…. book nerd. She’s got a panda nerd necklace (he’s wearing taped glasses), which quickly became one of her favs. And, right now, she’s at Nerd Camp for a month (shout out to Atlanta Public Schools!), where she’s currently studying The Art & Science of Slime. Why does she love Nerd Camp so much? Because it’s just like school, she says exuberantly.

See? Nerd.

She comes from a long line of nerds. I’m one, for sure. But, as a kid, my shyness & self-doubt often got in the way of curiosity and scientific exploration. I liked to read. A lot. But I didn’t push myself to discover and learn the way Jane does.

She’s like a NEXT GENERATION NERD.

As she embraces her nerdiness, though, I’ve begun to point out that there’s more than one way to be smart. Together, she and I look for classmates and friends that display intelligence other than book smarts–emotional intelligence, curiosity, inventiveness, creativity, kindness…

She gets so excited when her friends excel–and not just in academics. She often comes home with reports about kids who are learning to manage their behaviors better and make good choices. She celebrates when classmates get rewarded for kindness or hard work. And she loves–maybe more than anything else–to tell me when one of her classmates went above & beyond to make someone feel special, included, or loved. And she almost always tears up when she’s telling me about it.

I love that she’s a nerd. And I’m proud of her for valuing her own intelligence. But I’m even more proud of her for recognizing that everyone is smart in their own way–and that we all have something of great value to contribute to this world.