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.

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

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

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

It was alcohol poisoning.

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

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

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

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

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

I was terrified.

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

And I had no idea how to change things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Forgiveness & Love & Remembering

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

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

Truth: I hate those memories.

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

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

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

An unmitigated disaster. That’s what I was.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Puzzling Through

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

And sure enough…

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Remotely Intellectual!

Welcome to Remotely Intellectual! Grab a cup of coffee & let’s discuss life. Parenting? Oh, yeah. I’ll write about that in all it’s messy glory. Recovery? Yup. It’s the basis of everything good in my life. So it comes up quite a bit. Spirituality? Oof. I’m a hot mess on that one. But you can watch my explorations unfold right here! Atlanta? Love it! And coffee.

 

Hey, y’all!

Welcome to Remotely Intellectual! Grab a cup of coffee & let’s discuss life. Parenting? Oh, yeah. I’ll write about that in all it’s messy glory. Recovery? Yup. It’s the basis of everything good in my life. So it comes up quite a bit. Spirituality? Oof. I’m a hot mess on that one. But you can watch my explorations unfold right here! Atlanta? Love it! And coffee. And social justice type stuff–like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia. We’re going to talk about it all.

Oh! And I’m reading 43 books during my 43rd year & reviewing them all for you–in 250 words or less. It’s currently one of my favorite projects. Check it out:

I’m super excited about this new space. For those of you coming over from Rocket Fuel, you’ll find the same content but under a much more apt name. Because really, what am I if not remotely intellectual?

A Quick Recap

Rocket Fuel got its start as the offshoot of Rocket Designs (a recovery brand that Simon & I launched together). Originally, all my posts looped back to recovery (as everything in my life does). But, I started to feel a little stifled by being tied to a theme…

Rocket Fuel got its start as the offshoot of Rocket Designs (a recovery brand that Simon & I launched together). Originally, all my posts looped back to recovery (as everything in my life does). But, I started to feel a little stifled by being tied to a theme…

At the same time, Simon and I got pulled in different directions (by things like his transition, a move to Atlanta, a near break-up). We decided to continue selling recovery shirts online, but not to further develop the brand. Which left Rocket Fuel hanging around in cyberspace on it’s own.

And soon, I started to wonder if the name really fit what was happening on the blog. And what I want to happen in the future. What do I want to do more of? Well, I’ve dabbled in fiction. (I’ve got a whole middle grades book written… but not published. Remind me to work on that). I love to read (and I’d like to talk about what I’m reading a bit more…) And I want to do a lot more critical thinking and writing about what’s happening in Atlanta (and in the world at large).

What won’t change? Well, me being me. Which means a whole hell of a lot of honesty. And some cussing. And lots of pictures of my kid. And post about running and recovery and coffee and spirituality and parenthood and LIFE.

But the name. Y’all. The name of the blog has got to change.

Good Enough

I am a master at self-sabatoge. I’m a hard worker. But I like to work right up to where I want to be, then decide I just can’t do it. That I don’t deserve it. That I can’t handle it. And then, I just …. stop.

I’ve spent a lot of time convincing myself I’m not good enough. Like most folks who excel at alcoholic-type behavior, I am a master at self-sabatoge. I’m a hard worker. But I like to work right up to where I want to be, then decide I just can’t do it. That I don’t deserve it. That I can’t handle it. And then, I just …. stop. No dramatic flame out. Just a quiet deceleration that takes me back from the precipice of success and puts me on the slow track to just-good-enough.

But…

About a year and a half ago, I realized I’m guilty of holding myself back. On so many levels. Emotionally. Spiritually. Professionally. And I realized that this is my next hurdle: to embrace real, substantive growth on all levels. To allow myself to change and explore new territory, whatever that looks like.

Today, I sat in a meeting with a big, international client. Which I never would’ve allowed myself to do just a few years ago–I would have been so consumed by anxiety that I wouldn’t have been able to hear the conversation around me over the roar of “don’t fuck this up” in my own head. But this morning, I sat there. Cool as a fucking cucumber. I munched on a bagel, offering my opinion when it seemed relevant. Otherwise, I was just  being. Being comfortable in my own skin. Being worthy just because.

If this doesn’t seem revelatory, I’m so glad. I love that not all people struggle with self-worth. I hope my kid never has to. But I had to sit through a few rounds of therapy and lots of AA meetings to get to a point where I got it: that I am okay. That I am MORE than okay. That my brilliance comes just from being–not because of anything I do or don’t do. I am worthy just because I am.

I’ve surrounded myself with people who believe that miracles happen on a daily basis. I’ve jumped whole-heartedly into the belief that we humans habitually limit ourselves–that we are capable of so much more, that the possibilities are so vast and endless that I can’t begin to even imagine them. I’ve begun to trust my own intuition. To listen to my inner guide. To be open to the Universe (God… whatever…) in whatever way it presents itself.

And, more than anything, I’ve embraced my own divine spark. My own self. My own worth. It’s freeing. A little scary sometimes… there’s just so much POTENTIAL here. But the view from here is peaceful and hopeful.

A friend today told me that I sparkle. And it’s possible that she’s been a bit mesmerized by my shimmery eyeshadow & lipgloss… But the current around me feels electric with joy & possibility. I am deeply content. Not because everything in my life is perfect. It isn’t. I still fuck up. I still fall into old habits. I still have ultra-petty moments. But none of these things define me anymore. They never did. But now I know it. And that kind of knowledge ripples out to the folks around us.

That’s the kind of energy I want to put out to the world. The kind that sparkles. (The shimmery eyeshadow doesn’t hurt, though)