Figuring It Out

Simon would probably tell you that I’m rarely quiet.

We’ve been together for not-quite-but-almost 17 years… so he’s a pretty good authority on all things me.

It is true… I’ll happily chatter on about country music, or any injustice I spot from a million miles away, or about whatever I happen to be pondering that day.

It also may be true that I debrief him on my latest thoughts, feelings, and internal dilemmas first thing in the morning (before he’s even had his coffee. He’s a better listener that way).

And I regale him with stories about my day, my friends, and other randomness when we sit down to watch TV. Which sometimes annoys him. But mostly he’s used to it.

For all that talking, though, I talk at least 50% less than I used to. I’ve learned to think before I speak. To make sure I really think/believe things before they come flying out of my mouth. Trust me, this is a VAST improvement over the stream-of-consciousness he was living with 17 years ago.

It’s also true that some of my friends tease me about being a completely open book. Probably because I wrote about getting sober, my struggles with anxiety, Simon’s transition, my difficulty squaring a lesbian identity with my (super cute, newly minted) husband, miscarriage, and the almost-dissolution of my marriage… all without hesitation.

That’s a lot of sharing. And a lot of vulnerability. But that’s what I value. I tell my story so someone else will realize they aren’t alone. And maybe they’ll want to share their story, too. I believe we all need more connection, not less. We need to be vulnerable with each other and kind as we watch people navigate their own journeys.

But… and this is a real weird one for me… lately I don’t know what to write, because the things I’m sorting out feel both deeply interior and… quiet.

There are good things that happen every day over here. But quarantine has a cadence that is so familiar that it doesn’t lend itself to new revelations like being out in the world. There are lovely things about this quiet, s-l-o-w time. But not much that’s lending itself to good storytelling.

I feel like the Universe is nudging me gently to look at some old patterns that have resurfaced recently. There’s nothing mysterious about them… sometimes my thoughts get stuck in a loop. And, like listening to as song on repeat with your toddler, the first few times aren’t bad. Time number twenty-five can make you a little bit bananas.

It hasn’t happened to me in a long time, this endless loop. I think, deep down, I thought I had evolved past it. Obviously, the Universe thought I need some humility. So, I’m looking deeper than I usually have to to figure out why Loopfest 2020 happened (instead of trying to just abruptly shove it aside, as is usually my way). This is a level of introspection I haven’t had to hone in on in a while.

This mining process, turning my thoughts, patterns, and feelings over and over… it must use the very same creative/introspective energy I tap into to write.

Because, lately, I feel like I’ve got nothing in the way of stories to tell.

Not because things are bad. But because I’ve been presented an opportunity–the kind that doesn’t show itself every day–to really understand myself. And that’s where my energy is going.

And since I learned to shut-it (at least 50% of the time), and to only put things out into the world that I’ve thought through and believe, well it’s been like a game of Quiet Mouths over here.

Well, for everyone except Simon. Who still gets front row as I process in real-time.

The moral of the story?

Marry well, friends. (Also, probably keep Simon in your thoughts & prayers)

Feeling ALL The Feelings

Whew, y’all. I think maybe there’s this COVID-19 pandemic wall… and I’ve hit it.

Not just hit it… run smack-dab-full-force-into it.

The past 2 days, I just cannot seem to pull my shit together. I feel an absolutely staggering amount of fear & sadness.

Not about anything specific.

It’s a general mailise.

Today, Publix made me sad. Which is odd, because Publix = where shopping is a pleasure. (Truly, I have an unnatural love for Publix. An undying devotion even. And don’t get me started on the delightfulness of their subs. My Florida will start showing…) I told my lovely checkout team to stay safe, and when the cashier said, “You, too,” I almost burst into tears.

Obviously, I need a break. But it’s hella hard to take a break from a pandemic. It’s a little… ever-present.

I’m tired. I miss hugging people’s necks. And being able to clear my throat without wondering if it’s a harbinger of this damn virus.

We’ve been in relatively strict lockdown for over four months. And it’s wearing on me.

But here’s what’s helping me through: the knowledge that it is okay.

It’s okay that I’m overwhelmed. It’s okay to feel fear, without trying to shove it away. It’s okay to admit that the world feels wildly out of control, and it’s scary as fuck.

It’s okay to cry.

The world will not end if I admit that I’m not feeling like a ray of sunshine right now.

The amusing part? I’ve spent years learning how to sit with my feelings. And now I don’t want to sit with them… because they aren’t the feelings I want to have.

Isn’t that just always the way it goes?

But literally, the only thing that has slowed down the rush of anxiety, put me back in touch with my own body, brought me back to this present moment, is acknowledging my emotions as they arise. Looking at how I really feel–not how I want to feel.

I often have a list of shoulds in my head. Things I should be doing. Things I think I should be feeling. Right now, I’m trying to release the shoulds & just focus on what is.

Yoga makes me feel really good. So I’m leaning into that. I’m reading a novel about a nuclear apocalypse, which is surprisingly good escapism from this pandemic clusterfuck. And it’s a small act of rebellion, since I’m reading Alas, Babylon instead of the book I should be reading for book club–because I want to. I’m hugging my kid a lot. She’s cute. And funny. And almost as tall as me. And I like her. A lot. So she gets extra love. And I go outside as frequently as I can without melting, because I always have better perspective when I’m outside in the sunshine.

Turns out that maybe this is my moment to lean in to being kind to myself. And to take things a little slower. And just to be–whatever that looks like right now.

So, enough about me… how’s your pandemic going?

Inner Voices are Bananas

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

Obvi, right?

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

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

Maybe you can drink like a normal person this time.

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

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

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

And once you know, you can’t unknow.

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

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

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

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

What the hell, right?!?

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

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

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

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

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

Because once you know, you can’t unknow.

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

Secrets Are Small Soul-Deaths

A woman who carries a secret is an exhausted woman.

Women Who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés

I gave up being exhausted in late 2008. For 33 years, I’d been collecting secrets (big and utterly minuscule) and stacking them precariously in various corners of my soul. Which meant I couldn’t round a corner without being smacked with a wall of shame.

And shame is soul-death, pure and simple.

Shame is also a liar.

Shame told me to keep these secrets because I was so vile that I’d be alone and reviled if they ever spilled out into the light. That I was unlovable, so I had to cling to anyone who told me otherwise. Because if they only knew about the secrets…well. They’d surely retract their love, affection, esteem. They’d go. Then it would just be me and the shame. And that felt–feels even now when I think about it–utterly unbearable.

Good news: this was all 100% bullshit.

Sometimes people remark on my willingness to be vulnerable and to share things that feel brave to them. Which is so kind. But, truly, this is my medicine. I don’t have secrets anymore. I can’t. They almost killed me.

But to be clear: I didn’t heal by trotting every secret out into the world, to be poked and prodded by everyone and their housecat.

But I did tell every secret–every single one–to one person.

I got sober through a 12-step program. And Step 5 goes like this: “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

So, just to clarify for those of you who aren’t familiar, in Step 4 you take a “searching and fearless” personal inventory of yourself. That means owning all the things you’ve done that you wish you hadn’t. Facing all your resentments and fears. Squaring up with your part in the shitshow that you’ve spent your entire life trying to pin on someone or something else.

Then you lay all that out for one other human being. You lay all your secrets bare.

It sounds horrifying, right?

Or maybe it sounds freeing, depending on exactly where currently travail in your emotional landscape.

But horrifying or freeing–it is necessary.

Because those secrets lose their power the moment that they’re brought into the light. When you bring your most wounded self, the parts that flinch when anyone draws near them, to a person who has also been deeply wounded but who has begun to heal–they know how to create space for your secrets, to bear them with you for those sacred moments. And then to help you release them.

When we start thinking about embracing vulnerability over shame, we’re already moving in the right direction. But we have to choose wisely. Because sharing secrets indiscriminately with the world at large–or even with another person who proves untrustworthy in their response–can re-injure delicate scar tissue, can send us even deeper into shame.

Your secrets are killing you. They are depleting your soul’s energy. They are exhausting you.

Find your person. Someone sacredly trustworthy. A spiritual adviser. A therapist. Tell them the secrets that make you wake up in a cold sweat at night. Tell them the things that you are certain make you unloveable.

Give up being exhausted.

And then, just keep telling the truth. To yourself. To the people who hold your sacred trust. To the world.

No more secrets.

No more shame.

(*All my understanding of shame comes from Brené Brown, most specifically her book Daring Greatly. There’s also a great chapter on secrets & shame in Women Who Run with the Wolves, which is one of the most soul-freeing books I’ve ever read.)

I’m Not Anxious. You’re Anxious.

I woke up on Monday so anxious that my arms were numb.

When I relayed this information to Simon later, he thought I was pretty nonchalant about what he was convinced may have been a fatal malady.

But this is not my first rodeo.

I know precisely how my anxiety manifests. And the cold, lack of feeling in my hands… yep. That’s just anxiety, showing up for the party.

In the hell-in-a-handbasket environs of late, it’s not super surprising my anxiety reared its head. COVID-19 has made me reckon with the hard truth that I’m a bit of a hypochondriac (read: I’m always 85% sure I’m dying of something). I’ve managed my pandemic anxiety relatively well by simply being cautious. We’ve been social distancing since March 15th. Which is a fucking long time. I have a whole variety of masks to choose from, because I wear one any time I’m close to other humans. Hell, I go grocery shopping at 7am just to avoid other people.

But when we went to the LGBTQ+ March for Black Lives on Sunday, suddenly I was around a shit ton of people. And, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but some people really struggle with this mask thing. Like, for instance, wearing it over their mouths but below their nose.

Uh… NO.

Or–and this is my favorite–the folks who take off their masks to sneeze.

What the fuck, y’all? The mask says on. If we don’t all do it right, nobody is safe.

So, yeah, a large march both fed my soul & made me feel like I was actively participating in the Black Lives Matter movement—and scared the shit out of me. Cue the internal certainty I’m about to meet my ultimate demise because folks can’t wear a mask right.

And then, just for fun, my anxiety will grab on to every single thing I think I haven’t done right in, oh my entire life, and have a field day with it. And soon, I am petrified that I am in the midst of financial ruin (we’re not), that I’m going to lose the bookstore because I’m an idiot (I’m not), that my mistakes make me unredeemable and unworthy and just horrible (no, nope, nah).

The culmination? Waking up sweating, pinned to the bed in a panic, unable to feel my fingers.

Anxiety has been woven throughout my story since I was 8 years old. What does anxiety look like in an 8 year old? Begging to be able to order my own food at a restaurant (I wanted steak tips). Being met with sighs, insistence that I’d never be able to eat it all myself, that my mom and I should share food just like we had my entire life, that we’d be wasting money… and then getting my food and being seized with terror.

And not being able to eat a damn bite.

Fast forward to my second year of sobriety.

I’m 35 years old. Teaching First Year Writing at the University of South Florida–a job I adore. We’re trying to get pregnant. And every single day I’m seized with such anxiety I can barely breathe.

Not feeling my fingers was the least of my problems.

I often had to step out, mid-class (I was the teacher), just to breathe and talk myself into finishing the class. And I taught 4 or 5 classes–so this was a daily struggle. One class in particular stoked my anxiety to the point that I completely disassociated from my body. I’d feel myself receding, and suddenly it felt like someone else was talking, going through the motions, laughing with students.

I was gone.

I thought about quitting. Of course I did. It was emotionally wrenching just to make it through a day. But I also knew anxiety was a monster that wanted to take what was mine. And teaching was mine. I would not relenquish it. Period.

And so I fought through. With help from a good therapist. And Simon, who always nodded kindly when I explained my abject terror at… life. No matter how my anxiety manifested, he never got impatient. For several years, he knew where every single public restroom was in greater Tampa Bay. Because that was the only way I could manage to leave the house–if I knew I could find a public restroom in a flash.

Anxiety is weird.

But Simon never made me feel weird. To him, I was just a regular person dealing with this intense thing. I always felt like he saw my anxiety as separate from me. And, so, with his help, the therapist’s unwavering, gentle pushing at me to let go of all the bullshit I was holding on to, and little victories every day that I didn’t give in to my anxiety…

Well, it went away.

I know. That’s anticlimactic. As a storyteller, I want to give you this one big moment where I slayed the fire-breathing anxiety dragon.

But that’s not how it worked for me.

It was more like I wouldn’t play anxiety’s stupid, made-up games anymore, so it took it’s toys and went home in a huff.

Occasionally, it still rings the doorbell to see if I can come out and play. This time, though, it snuck in really quietly, so it could yell BOO! and try to frighten me out of going to the march.

But anxiety is just a bully. And the only way over is through.

So, I used my words to tell Simon I felt anxious. We went to the march anyway. I used my words to tell Simon I woke up so afraid I couldn’t feel my fingers. I got out of bed anyway. I did the things I always do: I had coffee, read, wrote. I left the house and delivered books… just life stuff.

And at some point, I took a deep breath and realized my anxiety was gone.

I know that, in part, its stay was short this time because I didn’t hold on to it, probe it, feed it, or give in to it. I just acknowledged it and let that shit go.

The only way over is through.

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.

Anxiety & Parenting (What a Fun Mix!)

I get real quippy about my anxiety sometimes. Because it’s easier to be glib and light-hearted about anxiety than to admit that sometimes it threatens to suck all the air (and joy) out of my world.

And, also…

I’m fortunate that, over the years, people (qualified, professional people) have given me tools to cope with my anxiety, to reign it in, to flourish in spite of it. Sometimes, it’s relegated to the dark recesses of my mind. And, sometimes, my anxiety lives much closer to the surface. Close enough to remind me what it felt like to exist under it’s really shitty, tyrannical rule.

Because, let’s face it: anxiety is an asshole.

And anxiety really likes to harp on one particular topic: Jane. Which is some unmitigated bullshit.

Parenting is hard enough as it is, without anxiety getting all irrational. But that’s what it does–plays on your darkest fears, destroys your peace of mind, robs you of your joy.

Unless you say, unequivocally, unwaveringly, NO.

When I was pregnant with Jane, I coexisted–decidedly unpeacefully–with the fear of stillbirth. I’d miscarried once. And it had taken us TWO years to conceive Jane (doctors visits, shots, blood draws, inseminations). And now I was absolutely terrified of losing her. My therapist knew these things. But she also believed something I didn’t–that I deserved joy. And that Jane deserved a mother who was ruled by love, not fear. She gave me this brilliant piece of advice that I’ve carried with me since:

“You are afraid of stillbirth. Then she’ll be born, and you’ll be afraid of SIDS, cancer, accidents… When will it stop? How are you ever going to feel the joy of being a parent, if you live in constant fear?”

And in that moment, it became clear as day to me: fear is the death of joy.

But she wasn’t finished yet: “Our children aren’t really ours. They are on their own journey, entrusted into our care. Our job is simply to help them grow toward who they were meant to be. The job of a parent is to start letting go the minute they are born. Because they are only loaned to us for a short time.”

Every time my anxiety tries to keep Jane locked down, without enough freedom, too close to me for her own independent nature, I remember that she isn’t mine. It would be tragic for my fears to impede her journey. Wildly unfair. And I won’t let it happen.

I’m letting Jane go on an adventure with one of her friends this coming weekend. And I’m hella anxious about it. Like my brain keeps screaming, “HOLY SHIT! I CAN’T LET HER DO THAT.” But I can. And I will. Because she deserves great adventures and joy. And so do I.

“The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.” 

― Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Bad things happen every day in this world. I am not naive. But I also know that fearing pain and loss don’t keep them at bay. Instead, they take the joy out of the NOW. Which is all we really have, isn’t it?

So, I’m gonna suck-it-up-buttercup & let Jane have a big adventure with her buddy. I’ll feel the way I feel. And I’ll let that shit go. I’ll keep my anxiety in its own lane, and let Jane navigate the world free from its fetters.

She’s so very worth it.

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.

 

Stop It. That Cupcake is Not BAD.

What I eat does not define me. It does not make me “good” or “bad.” We’re selling ourselves short to think otherwise.

I dislike it when people talk about food.

No… that’s not quite right.

I dislike it when people imbue foods with odd mystical powers: like the idea that they can make you good or bad, if you eat them.

I hate it when I tell people I ran recently, and they say something like “Oh, then you deserve that cupcake.” Wait. What?

I get miffed if someone tells me how many calories are in something. Or, even worse, turns their nose up at something I’m eating because it’s not healthy enough or isn’t “worth it.” What the fuck?

I like food. Done right, food has the potential to be a communal gathering spot where we can come together to nourish our bodies and souls. Everybody’s gotta eat, right? And I think we should–by and large–eat foods that we love. And we can love a vast array of foods, if we expose ourselves to them.

But hell if I am going to eat something just to be thin. No. Not a chance. ‘

I spent half of high school walking around in an undernourished daze. I ate so little that my stomach hurt constantly. I couldn’t think clearly. I was anxious and depressed. It was horrible. Anxiety controlled what I was able to consume (which was very, very little). Then, later on, I grasped on to restricting my food intake as a way to control something in my life. Much of my pride and self-worth was tied to my thinness.

That’s a shit way to live.

What I eat doesn’t make me worthy. Or unworthy. Sure, I have a weight at which my body feels most right. Because that’s what’s most important to me: feeling good in my own body.

That’s why I run. Mentally & physically, it makes me feel better. I think more clearly. I feel more capable.

And when I eat, I choose my food based on flavors, preferences, and overall common sense about nutrition. I don’t think foods can be “good” or “bad.” That salad doesn’t make me a better person. Not even a little. And that cupcake doesn’t make me “bad.” Gross. I wish people would stop pushing that rhetoric on to the next generation of girls. Because, yes, they are listening.

I want to be healthy and strong. I want to have enough energy every day to really embrace my life. I want my daughter to see me eat food and appreciate it for exactly what it is: fuel to live the rest of my life. Nourishment. An opportunity to gather together.

And if my daughter asks me if I want to have ice cream with her, the answer is going to be yes. Yes, I want to embrace this moment of your childhood. Yes, I want to celebrate the here and now. And, yes, my life is defined by so much more than the amount of calories in this ice cream cone.