Getting Unstuck

I’ve working on getting myself unstuck from a pretty significant rut. But good news… I found 5 relatively simple things I could do to reconnect with myself & the world around me.

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I’ve spent the past few weeks re-examining my life a bit. I guess that’s to be expected since I’m (ahem) . . . middle aged. (WTactualF?!?)

I first realized there was a problem when I caused a online scuffle on Facebook with some other folks, and I was completely unable to let it go. Like hella unable. As in not-gonna-let-that-shit-ride. As in personal interior devastation and destruction.

Holy shit. Hello, outsized response to criticism. (Let’s be clear: I’m talking about my own outsized response here. I’m not trying to take other people’s inventories.) So, yeah, something was WAY wrong with my internal balance. And upon further examination, I realized my personal growth had kind of stagnated. And I just didn’t feel the same muppet-like enthusiasm for life as usual.

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(Actual footage of me on an average day)

How’d I get out of my rut? So glad you asked. Segues are SO hard.

5 (Relatively) Quick & Easy Ways I Got Emotionally Unstuck

  1. I got me a therapist. I am 100% on board for therapy. We’d all be much happier (and more well adjusted) if we ALL had a therapist. Sure, they require an investment of time, money, and emotional energy. But (and I think as women we sometimes forget this) I am worthy of that investment. So are you. Yes, it’s hard work sifting through some of the past events and current hangups that landed me in emotional quicksand in the first place. But you know what happens if you stay in quicksand too long… (I mean, as an adult I haven’t really encountered quicksand as much as I thought I would. But as a kid, I knew all about the hazards of quicksand. So, I’m always prepared for a quick escape)

2. I delved into my spiritual practice. Over the years, my spirituality has looked wildly different–depending on where I was in my journey. Right now, it looks a whole lot like reading a lesson from A Course in Miracles each morning, practicing the exercises throughout the day, and finding a crystal that resonates with me (I them to set intentions and to return to as a touchstone so I don’t wander during the day). I’ve had to learn about 100 billion times that a spiritual practice is crucial for me. Like, I absolutely cannot exists happily without it. And, you know it’s kind of the whole foundation of my recovery:

It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe. We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.

So, yeah, NBD… spirituality is just the key to EVERYTHING.

3. I started striving toward being fully present. During those two days when I was so in my head about a conflict going on in the ether, I couldn’t even participate in conversations happening right in front of me. This undercurrent of ugly self-talk, picking arguments with ghosts, and just general bullshit that my brain pulls sometimes had me miles away from where my feet were. It sucked. So, I made a conscious choice to be more curious about my immediate surroundings. What did I hear, see, smell, feel? What made this moment unique? Where could I find joy, or love, or hope, or connection? The pictures at the top of the post, they’re where I’ve been the past 2 days: physically, mentally, and emotionally. They are real. They are here. The present matters. It’s all I’ve really got. So, I sure as hell am going to make an effort to embrace it.

4. I put down my damn phone. Well, I put it down MORE than I had in any recent memory. Suddenly, it seemed foolish that some flat rectangular object could have that much pull over me. Instead of enhancing my life, it was really bringing me down. So, I cut it loose(ish). And I created some hard and fast rules for myself about engaging on social media. It turns out that it’s MUCH easier to be present if my nose isn’t always pressed up against my phone. Who knew?!?

5. I made it a point to connect. I love people. Which is why I love social media. But nothing beats looking someone in the eye and really connecting with them. Small connections, seemingly inconsequential interactions… they make up so much of our lives. The way we move together in the world and develop empathy and understanding can be truly beautiful. So, I committed to letting more of that beauty into my life–to really see people, to interact with them in ways that are kind and compassionate, and to laugh. In real life.

And these 5 things, well they’ve got me feeling a lot more like this these days:

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So, when you find yourself in an emotional rut, what do you do to get unstuck?

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)?

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. 

3 Things That Were

A gritty, honest exploration of change, loss, and joy as it’s unfolded in my life.

I was a drunk. Before I took the first swig of cheap whiskey, this was my truth. But its burning release convinced me that salvation resided at the bottom of a bottle. I was a drunk and so I tracked my ovulation obsessively, discussing pregnancy probabilities over happy hour drinks. I was a drunk and a lesbian, and so I borrowed some sperm off a friend’s husband, inserted it into my vagina—with a syringe. No turkey basters here—and then downed bourbons to celebrate my first step toward motherhood. My partner and I agreed to refer to the embryo-in-waiting as Tank. If it survived that level of inebriation, it’d surely be a rough and tumble little guy. I was a drunk and so I popped Clomid with cocktail chasers. I’d spend plenty of time—9 months of it—sober after I got knocked-up. No need to over-achieve. I was a drunk and so I planned on boozy playdates, if the damn kid would ever get here already. I was a drunk and so I went to inseminations hungover, the previous night’s indiscretions emanating from my freshly scrubbed skin. I was a drunk and so I believed I could wash off shame, hide it, hide me. I was a drunk and so one day I walked into a mish-mash of strangers, sat down, surrendered, and 12-stepped my way back into sanity. I was a drunk. And then I wasn’t.

I was pregnant. Blood draws, inseminations, peeing on sticks. Jockeying to order frozen specimens for perfectly timed delivery. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Ticking off days. Willing my way to two weeks. Then, trepidatiously peeing on a stick. Bargaining with God that if this time it would be different… I never finished that promise. What could I offer God, after all? I’d wait the requisite two minutes, add an extra 30 seconds on for good measure, and then look down. NOT PREGNANT. Such a bold proclamation. So impervious to my begging and pleading. Sometimes, instead of a NOT PREGNANT insult from a pee-soaked stick, I’d wake up a day or two before our interminable two week wait to a torrent of blood. Bright red. My own body mocking me. But one time, this one time the gods of the pee-stick gave in. PREGNANT. I waited. I pulled out another stick. Peed again. PREGNANT. I was pregnant and so the torrent of blood work started. HGC levels. Were they rising? Yes. Yes. I was pregnant and so check again. Check again. Poke. Prod. I was beatific. I was pregnant, and so we scheduled our first ultrasound. 5 weeks. Woosh. Woosh. Woosh. That heartbeat made me believe. Finally. I was pregnant and so, we scheduled the next ultrasound. 7 weeks. Woosh. Woosh. Woosh. But fainter. The sonogram tech called for the doctor. They measured the images. A little small, it seemed. The embryo seemed a little small. But there’s still a heartbeat, they cheered. The air left the room. I nodded when they asked me to come back in two weeks. They’d check again, they said. Maybe it would be okay. I was (still) pregnant, so I made an appointment. 9 weeks. Silence. I was pregnant. And then I wasn’t.

I was married to a woman. We fell in love over loss—I’d lost my way. She’d lost her brother. We sat in a bar, proding our wounds. “Will you always light my cigarette for me?” I asked. “If you’ll always look at me like that,” she responded, coy. We lost ourselves in each other—lustily, drunkenly. Then, like children reprimanded for impropriety, we agreed to set about playing house. The play was a farce. I was married to a (drunk) woman, and so 5 years later, we packed up our (emotional) baggage and shipped it off accompanied by all the whiskey in the house. We showed bits of ourselves timidly to each other. Sober felt stark, devoid of blurry edges. We, at long last, knit together enough hopes, dreams, Clomid, and donor sperm to make a baby. She came into this world, pulled out of my belly, fist high in the air. An indomitable spirit. Four years later, the woman I married said, “I am not who you think I am. I am not who I thought I was.” I was married to a woman, and so began a season of becoming—of transition—for us. I was married to a woman. And then I wasn’t.

Photo Credit: Georgia de Lotz on Unsplash

The Coziest New Year’s Eve

I wish I could say I didn’t remember most of the New Years I rung in in my 20s. But being able to forget them would probably be more mercy than I deserve; at the very least, I remember the drunken highlights… always drama-fueled, sometimes dangerous, and entirely cringeworthy. A personal favorite: squealing out of a parking lot in my CR-V into a steady snow in Atlanta as my best friend stood in the parking lot begging me not to drive. My friends finally found me at the next bar, flat on my ass because I slipped on ice coming down the steps. I decided to forgo telling them the car had spun out twice in the snow on my way to the bar; they all seemed so mad already. I had a hard time deciphering why. It was, in fact, often puzzling when people valued me… I had so obviously lost the ability to value myself.

Even on tamer New Years Eves, I carried with me a constant sense of longing. I could always quickly identify something missing in my life on New Years Eve, and I would fixate on it intently. I held an almost subconscious belief that this melancholy made me mysterious, sexy, alluring. Turns out, it made me a sentimental drunk rather likely to cry in her Jim Beam and Coke. I wasn’t sexy-tragic…I was annoying as hell.

But, as it often does in stories such as these, something changed. For me, there was no tragic rock bottom moment. Through all my drinking, I kept my job (barely), my house, my dog and my best friend. But I did lose my self-respect. Maybe that was what I was longing for all those New Years Eves: my ability to look back on the year and know I lived with integrity, that I gave myself wholly to the task at hand regardless of the outcome. When I drank I tended to lose track of what the task at hand even entailed. And resolutions were kind of a wash for me. I found it pretty hard to set my intentions for the year ahead when I was nursing a hangover, trying to choke down a greasy hangover-easing breakfast, and waiting until the time seemed appropriate to have a cocktail. After all, I deserved a cocktail; New Years Day was a holiday, too.

My history of less than stellar New Years Eves made this past New Years Eve stand out for its perfect simplicity. I’ve been sober for 6 years. My first sober New Years Eve was disorienting; I felt a bit hazy, like I wasn’t sure exactly how to hold a conversation, or what I should be doing with my body at any given moment. How did sober people stand? What did people talk about when they knew they were going to remember every word they said? But, despite my awkwardness, I was with my best friend, my partner and some casual acquaintances in a cabin in the mountains. And I felt no longing to be anywhere other that where I was. That seemed pretty groundbreaking.

This New Years Eve found me back in the mountains of North Georgia with my best friend & her family, the lovely folks she calls friends, and my partner and our little girl. After we settled in, we ate homemade lasagna; we chased kids around the cabin. When all the kids piled in the bathtub at bathtime, I laughed–not the self- conscious, measured laugh of my drinking days, but a full-on, deep laugh. Because come on… 5 kids in a bathtub? That is comedy right there.