Someone recently asked me if it’s possible to stay sober without AA. I am here to tell you that it is absolutely possible. I am NOT here to bash AA or to tell you not to go to AA or that it isn’t a wonderful tool, because it is. It really bothers me to see people trash a program that is free and accessible to anyone who wants it. For a lot of people, it’s the ONLY resource available. And if one is willing to do the work, it works. But so do a lot of other paths. I know a LOT of people who are in recovery and have never been to an AA meeting. I know a lot of people who have been going for years and continue to go because they love it. I have been on the fence about whether or not AA is for me for about three years now. It was great for me in the beginning. I think it’s a great place for everyone to start. It’s where I first found sober community. Community is so important. This is true for everyone in recovery of all kinds. Not just addicts and alcoholics. It’s extremely helpful to have someone who has walked the path before you and can help you navigate a new way of being in the world. Recovery is scary. I can’t imagine how hard it has been for the people getting sober since the pandemic hit. The meetings stopped and everything went on Zoom. My hat is off to anyone with a 2020 sobriety date. That never would have worked for me. In early sobriety I needed to have my ass in a room full of people that I didn’t want to be with, hating everyone in front of me. But that’s just me. AA is not the end all, be all that it once was. Technology has changed what sober support looks like for so many people. I think if you are out there living life and loudly sober, anyone who cares about you can be your sober support. Instagram has a ton of sober accounts and ways to connect. There are apps to connect you and guide you, online coaching programs, FB groups, online programs with meetings and tons of other meeting type programs that aren’t AA. I used to be big on telling people to find a path and stick to it. Now I feel like that’s not the best advice and one should find what’s working for them right now and stick with it. But as we grow, our needs change. What was once a lifeline, might not seem that way anymore. And it’s OK. That’s where I am with AA today. There is a lot of fear around leaving AA and it comes up often in a lot of the groups I belong to. We don’t hear about the people who make it out and live a wonderful life. We are taught in AA that when we stop going to meetings, we will relapse. Of course plenty of people stop going to meetings and do relapse. Also, lots of people stop going and live happy, sober lives. There shouldn’t be fear or guilt involved around leaving. Period. In the past year I went to three meetings. I am in no jeopardy of relapsing. My entire existence supports my recovery. The majority of my friends are not in recovery. But they also do things with me that aren’t centered around alcohol. Because they love me. Truth be told, I built the community I needed because it didn’t exist. In the beginning I built a small community of people to meditate with me. A community to sit together in silence every week. Because that’s what I needed. As I grew, I needed more in my life and so I kept finding more. What I couldn’t find, I created for myself. That community has grown and evolved. That community supports and sustains a LOT of women. Not just me. It was never really about me. Isn’t that beautiful? We always know what we need if we are willing to slow down and listen. Now that Covid restrictions are lifting, and I am scheduled to have my second vaccine, I may go to a few more meetings strictly because there are people there who I have missed and would love to see. But I also might just go to lunch with those people. Because at this point, it’s all the same to me. That’s not how it was those first few years and I wouldn’t be here without AA. I know this to be true for me. But many people do just fine without it. Recovery is never one size fits all. We are all different and beautiful and unique and we all get to decide what works for us. As far as AA goes, I will always tell people who ask me about it that it is a great place to start. Also, I know me so even if I think I am leaving, and I might, I’ll also always keep a foot in the door because when I do show up, it still feels a lot like coming home. There’s no rule that says I have to go every day/week/month. I also suspect that as Covid restrictions start to lift, a lot of new people will be rolling into those rooms. The amount of Covid related alcohol consumption I see on social media is ridiculous. But that’s another blog for another day.
What a difference a week makes. The sun came out. Of course it’s cold AF outside, so I am still in the house and never leaving. My sadness is mostly gone. I think. For now. It will return. I’ll be surprised by it again. Like always. And I will be sure that it’s never going to pass. Because this is how I operate. But I will write about it and be reminded that I am not alone. Thank you all for that. I am sure we are all doing our absolute best these days. Some days my best is better than others. On Friday I stayed in bed and read for 5 hours. The book was excellent. Then I watched a 3 hour documentary on Netflix. I feel great about that. Yesterday was watering day for my plants. I fertilized too. With stinky ass fish fertilizer. I think they loved it. I know I did. I repotted a few plants too. Because you need to know that. These little babies bring me much joy.
I received a random message from a random woman this week. A FB friend that I don’t actually know. A sweet message that made my whole day. She said that I seemed like a woman who is comfortable in my skin and asked if I could write a step by step guide on how to do that. I feel like that whole process is right here, strewn throughout this blog. But also, I never really had a plan when I started blogging so my organization is super scattered and she would have to do a lot of reading to piece the process together. I guess we can call that my lack of organization. I never really have a plan when I do anything. I just decide I want to do something and I do it. The “how” comes later, usually while I am doing the thing.
I am not and will never be the best yoga teacher. But I am really good at teaching people how to be in their bodies. Because I am obsessed with it. Not that it’s always comfortable. Because it’s not. Learning to be in our bodies takes time. And effort. And a bit of a fuck it attitude. And by fuck it, I mean exactly that. All of that nonsense that lives in our heads that gets in our way. What will people think? Fuck it. What if I look stupid? Fuck it. What if it doesn’t work? Fuck it. If that word makes you uncomfortable, fuck it. (I hope you realize how hilarious I am.) I once had a therapist that liked to say “Oh well.” She would follow that with a big sigh. It works exactly the same way. You can try that on if it’s less offensive to you. But, I know my readers, and you should all be fine with fuck it. Except for you Nanny. I love you! That same therapist also said a lot of fuck its.
To get comfortable in my skin I had to first spend a LOT of years being very uncomfortable in it. I spent the first 36 years of my life escaping my body in the normal unhealthy ways. Alcohol, drugs and sex. Until those things almost killed me. None of that was comfortable either. I was just numb. Until it stopped working. Those things always stop working and we can either find another way, or let it kill us. I chose to find another way. And it was uncomfortable to say the least.
Learning to be comfortable in my body was a process that began on a meditation cushion. Sitting still. It was awful. The voices in my head and the feelings in my body were too much. For the first few months I could only sit for a few minutes at a time. I literally wanted to rip my skin off. I felt so raw. Every bit of the things I had been using to numb myself were gone and all at once I could feel ALL of it. All the things I had pushed away. It was all right there in my head, in my chest, in my belly, in my back, in my body. Yoga saved my life. Practicing on my mat was a way for me to release a lifetime of stored up energy. Emotions. Trauma. Every single thing that I had pushed down was alive and well, right there in my body. Not that I knew any of this at the time. My yoga mat was a place for me to cry, grieve and rage, and eventually calm myself. I hated it. I loved it. I threw myself hard into the physical practice learning how to do the “fun” things with my body like inversions and arm balances. The poses that look cool. Not because they looked cool, but because when I challenge my body in this way, there was/is no room for my mind to wander. There is no past and no future. When I am doing a physically challenging posture, I am completely in my body. Present. And it’s glorious, if only for a few breaths. Yoga taught me to love my body and eventually, myself.
It’s been a journey and the list of things that have helped me get here seems to be endless. Amazing therapists. Inner child work. Shamans. Energy Healers. Women’s Circles. Solitude. All weaving together at the exact right time. It’s all here on the blog. Somewhere. Writing. So much writing. And sharing. The sharing piece is an important part of my process. When people connect to my words and I know I am not the only one to ever feel this way, it’s powerful. And here’s the thing. I am NEVER the only one to experience whatever it is I am sharing about. We are all so much alike in so many ways. We are all so damn human. We all struggle. Some people just pretend they don’t. Some things I write just for me and some I share with the world. I have shared some of my hardest truths on this blog. Scary, yes, but oh so worth it. The “what will people think of me” question still pops up for me. But I share anyway. Because fuck it. Oh well and all of that. Which would be the perfect end to this blog, but I have to keep going because DANCING. Learning to be in my sober body through dance has been so very healing. It’s one of those things that I assumed was over because I am sober. So glad I was wrong about that. These days dancing is saving my life. When I am feeling overwhelmed by emotions, I go to the studio and blast the music that heals my soul. I move and process and cry and calm myself. Or, I just dance. Fully present in my body, with whatever I am feeling.
I no longer numb anything. Which is why I was hating on being sad last week. Nobody wants to be sad. My go to these days is to pick up my phone and look at all the plants on the internet. I mean ALL the plants. Which is a fine distraction for a bit, but I have learned that eventually, I am going to have to sit with whatever it is that I am avoiding. I am going to have to process it in some way. Some healthy way. Apparently, It takes a lot to be mentally and emotionally healthy. Also, if you need help with your plants, I am your girl. I have learned so much!
The truth is that I AM comfortable in my body today. Most days anyway. Because I love who I am today. I’m comfortable in my head and in my heart.. I have fought hard to be here. And more than that, I am comfortable with people being uncomfortable with me. That’s where the real freedom is.
On January 1st of this year I sat on the beach for sunrise. I have done this every year since I got sober. It’s way more important to me to see the first light of the new year than it is to stay up until midnight. I’m sure there have been some years that I’ve done both. Not many. I like my sleep. This year it was raining when I woke up on New Year’s Day. Pouring actually. I’ve never meditated in the pouring down rain. There have been years where it was drizzling. Freezing. This year it was warm. My best meditation friend who has been there with me from day one had thrown out the idea earlier in the week that perhaps we needed a back up plan. But I am stubborn. And I only meditate on the beach on the first day of the new year. That and the fact that I had shared the info so far and wide on social media that I couldn’t undo it. And then, magically, as I was loading up my car to head to the beach, the rain stopped. I was joined by a handful of people and at 7 am we closed our eyes and began to meditate. It’s just a 20 minute meditation. That way anyone and everyone can join in without feeling overwhelmed. When the time was up, there was no magnificent sunrise. It was still very cloudy. Not that I was expecting a bright sunrise. I was just happy that for the most part, the rain stayed away. When I turned around there was a large group of people sitting with me. With WE. People came after we started and joined in. It was a beautiful crowd and it filled my heart to see so many people on such a questionable weather day. Normally on this day I would follow meditation with 108 Sun Salutations in the yoga studio. But this is no ordinary year. And 108 Sun Salutations is an intense practice that I wasn’t willing to do with a mask on. I suppose I could have practiced by myself, but I wasn’t feeling that. One of my friends asked me to plunge into the ocean with her and another friend after meditation. This seemed like a reasonable alternative to the 108. I told her I would only plunge with her if we could hold hands like lovers and run Baywatch style into the ocean. Her reply? Fine. But her reply sounded like a heavy sigh as she said FINE, so be sure your read it that way. I love my friends and their bad assery as well as their willingness to let my silliness shine. Five of us ended up plunging that morning. It was warm out and it wasn’t nearly as horrible as I had imagined it would be. I learned a thing or two that morning. Don’t wear fleece pants into the ocean. Fleece gets heavy when it’s wet and the pants won’t stay up. Maybe that’s it. Just one thing. I learned one thing from that. Next year I won’t wear fleece.
But here comes the part that I am really here to share with you.
After we dried off, I went to my car and cranked the heat. I was sitting there getting warm as people were coming off the beach and heading home. I rolled down my window to say “see you later” to a dear friend. She mentioned that she was heading home to have mimosas with our friend who was also leaving the beach. And this is what I heard. “We are ALL going to my house to have mimosas and it’s going to be the most fun day ever but you can’t come because you don’t drink.” It was such a weird reaction for me because this doesn’t happen to me anymore. Sure, when I was newly sober, I always felt like I was missing out. But today, it just isn’t that way. But on that morning, I drove home knowing everyone was having all the fun without me. Never mind that I had just done exactly what I wanted to do with so many cool people. Never mind that I just had this amazing spiritual experience. In that moment, I was driving home to be boring while everyone else drank mimosas. And I felt sorry for myself. I was sad. I spent the drive home playing through the actual facts. Everyone didn’t leave to go drink mimosas without me. Two people were drinking mimosas. I only ever drank mimosas as a segue into bloody mary’s which were just a segue into the vodka. Mimosas in the morning meant I would be hammered by noon. Worthless by dinnertime. And God knows where I’d be by 9 pm. Several of my recovery friends were meditating on the beach with me that morning. I know they weren’t going to have mimosas without me. By the time I pulled into my driveway, I was laughing at myself for the way my mind had spun that one comment into “everyone is doing this wonderful thing without me.” Fear of Missing Out. Where did that come from? My friends didn’t specifically plan to not invite me. And even if they did, so what? Mimosas aren’t part of my life and I honestly appreciate that everyone who cares about me knows and understands this. I hear people talk about drinking all the time and it hasn’t hit me like this one did in such a long time. It just took me by complete surprise. Which is why the AA literature calls alcoholism “cunning, baffling and powerful.” I think it’s as simple as that. This is NOT something that I battle daily. I wouldn’t have the strength for all of that. That’s not living. However, it is something that I think about daily. Recovery is such a part of me that it touches my life in some way every day. I love this.
I pick a mantra word at the start of every year. I usually write a blog specifically about this. I guess this year I am not. The word always chooses me. I never choose it. This year my word was a bit slow coming to me. Or, rather, I was a bit slow picking it up. Within. My word for 2021 is Within. As in “I have everything I need within.’ As in “The answers I seek are within.’ As in, “Listen to the still, small voice within.” I have kicked up my meditation practice and I started “The Listening Path” by Julia Cameron. I LOVE her so much. And I am listening. And this is what I’ve noticed. I am distracted. By my phone. Grrrrrrrrrr So now I am doing a 10 day Detox from my phone. Because I have noticed that I have the thing in my hand way too much. It distracts me and steals my precious time. I have known this for years. I have an app for every fucking thing. I even have an app to help me detox from my phone. Which seems counterintuitive, I know. I am on day three and to be honest, I think more than anything, it’s about me finally being ready. I use the excuse that “I have to be on social media for my business” which is somewhat true. But there are ways to effectively manage that time online. I fully expected to feel the Fear of Missing Out, but instead I am already noticing another thing that is completely different. Freedom. I’m not needed in the world of social media. I don’t have to react and respond to everything my friends do. I’m not missing out on the things that are actually important because the things that really matter come to me in a more personal way. With a phone call or a text. It’s not just about social media. But that’s the biggest piece for sure. I’m never leaving. Don’t let your mind go there. LOL Social media is a positive part of my life for the most part. There is a mindful approach to it that I haven’t been practicing. Moderation has never been my strong suit. I want to be able to leave my phone behind when I get up and walk into the next room. That’s where I am. It’s quiet simple. I no longer wish to be attached to my device. I don’t have to respond to every text and email immediately. That’s the beauty of technology. It will be there when I have time to respond. Don’t expect to never see me on social media, because that’s not me. I will never be one of “those people” who announces their departure. And I’ll probably never be one of “those people” who departs at all. Because social media is great when it’s used wisely. I just no longer wish to be attached to it or to my phone. It’s taken me years to get here. Years of knowing. And finally listening.
Last week I spent a couple of days away from home. A friend of mine had surgery on her eye and I stayed with her to drive her and take care of her. She’s fine now and it was lovely spending that time with her. While I was there a young lady posted on my FB wall. A beautiful young lady who is beginning her sober journey. She wanted to share with me because she says I inspire her. I sent her a message right before I went to bed that night. I wanted her to know that the inspiration flows both ways. This is a young woman who has traveled the world solo. That is total bad assery right there. This is a brave woman who is completely capable of amazing things. I have no doubt that if she wants to be sober, she can do that too. She comes from a long line of strong ass women. I sent this message to her and then I went to sleep. Which might have been what got my dreaming mind spinning.
When a person is in recovery, it’s normal to have using dreams. Relapse dreams. I have them every so often and I never enjoy them. In this dream I was with a friend. We were out in the world somewhere, but I’m not exactly sure where. Some sort of party or event. I was trying to take a picture of us, but I wasn’t able to hold the camera and push the button at the same time. Because I was too drunk. She told me to just let her do it. This immediately made me feel some type of way. If you know me then you know I thoroughly enjoy taking pictures and NOT being able to do that hit me in a weird place. And I felt it in my dream. Then my friend, the one I was staying with, appeared in my dream. She told me how much fun she was having, dancing like she hasn’t danced in years. There was dancing and I had missed it. It occurred to me that I had been blacked out. I didn’t want anyone to realize that I was drunk and certainly not that I was THAT drunk, so I pretended to know exactly what she was talking about. I was lying in my dreams just like I did when I was drinking in real life. All of the same feelings were coming up for me too. It felt truly awful. So many people I know and love kept floating through. My yoga teacher was there. The special family of Rebel Soul’s that I’ve collected through the years in the studio. And, as always, my AA friend Dave who is 12 days behind me on the sober anniversary schedule was there. He always appears in my drinking dreams because somehow, in my mind, I have to beat Dave. When I am drunk in a dream, Dave is always “winning.” It’s ridiculous really.
I woke up with that “oh thank God it was just a dream” immediately followed by the “what the fuck was that?” feeling. Anyone in recovery is familiar with these dreams and the emotions they bring up. Relapse dreams are a part of sober life. When I woke up that morning, I shared the dream with my friend. We decided it was the message I sent before bed that set off my dreaming mind. I left her house that morning. It was Christmas Eve.
On the drive home I was feeling immense gratitude for this friend. For her heart. For her wisdom. Just so grateful for our connection. And then my mind drifted to home. To my boys who would be so happy to see me. To my daughter who would be coming over later that day. To my Leon who no doubt missed me the MOST for the two short days I was away. And again my heart filled with gratitude for ALL the love in my life. I was in tears. The good kind. The my life is an endless flow of love and it’s amazing tears. It occurred to me how different this particular Christmas Eve drive home was to the one I wrote about recently. (It’s right here if you missed it.) It really is amazing how much things change when we do the work. Then my mind went back to the dream. I thought about every single person who appeared in that dream. They all had one thing in common. Every person in that dream is ONLY in my life because I am sober. These were all people that I was never going to cross paths with in the drinking world. Ever. Because that world was small. Just wow. That realization hit me right in the feels and the grateful tears came again. I will probably never get used to this. When I was drinking, I didn’t notice how small my world was. Because I wasn’t paying attention.
Sober life is expansive. Even in the year 2020 which has felt mostly constrictive, my world has expanded. I know this because Expansion is my mantra word for the year. Hilarious, right? I have laughed about this so many times because the year has felt extremely constrictive. The exact opposite of expansive. A blog for another day. Soon. I have spent less time writing this year, and yet this little blog has landed in 79 countries. Probably because of Covid, and the fact that emotions, feelings and realities have been so amplified this year, more people have reached out to me asking for guidance, resources and support. This isn’t my job, but if someone reaches out, I do consider it my responsibility to help them. When I get to witness the light come on in someone, it’s like nothing else. I get to see their world expand. It’s the most beautiful thing. I have a string of FB friends that I’ve met this way. It’s an honor to watch their journeys from afar. It’s by far my favorite thing about social media. There are just as many things to recover from as there are ways to recover. I always tell the people who reach out to me to just pick a path and stay on it. Whatever path feels right is the path that will lead you home. Always. Even when it’s scary. Especially when it’s scary.
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” – Anais Nin
In the rooms of recovery it’s often said that “some of us have to die so the rest of us can live.” I have never really paid attention to this. It’s just a standard saying that I never put much thought into. I have lost people that I love from addiction, but never considered that they had to die so I could live. My ex husband died from an overdose. The biological father of my two oldest children. I am very familiar with loss. If I let myself sink into it, I can get really sad about it. Because he missed so much. I can easily get caught up in the what if’s. In the “if I knew then what I know now, I could have saved him” mindset. And maybe that’s true. But I didn’t know then. When I entered recovery I heard people in meetings say “get ready to go to a lot of funerals” or something to that effect. But really, I didn’t believe it because who dies from drinking? I identify as an alcoholic. Because, for some reason, that’s important in meetings. I am and will always be an addict. My drug addiction was so bad that it almost killed me by 23 years old and when I got clean, I was DONE with that life. Never did it occur to me that I could be an alcoholic. Until I could no longer deny that I was. But it also never occurred to me that people I loved would die from alcoholism. Because who does that?
The year I got sober, my cousin did exactly that. She was younger than I am now. I had been asked to speak at a women’s AA speaker meeting on the same day of her funeral. I chose not to attend her funeral and instead carry out my commitment to speak. I couldn’t help my cousin, but maybe I would share something that could help a woman in that meeting. Nobody realized just how much my cousin had been drinking. After she passed, her husband found bottles around the house that she had hidden. She must have been terrified. I know her body was giving her signs that it was shutting down. But she couldn’t not drink. She must have felt so alone. Her death was definitely a message to me to stay sober. I went to meetings and talked about it, and I am sure someone said “some of us have to die so we can live.” But it was lost on me what that meant. The real meaning behind it. It was all just words.
Earlier this year I lost another friend. This was a woman I had sponsored in AA. When I arrived in meetings, still drunk and spewing hate, this woman was there. Always with a smile and information about AA and all the things I needed to know. She was the first to give me her phone number and the first to be there for me when I needed someone to talk to. But I bounced in and out and didn’t stay in close contact with her. When I finally arrived in AA for real, sober and ready to do the thing, she wasn’t around. In my mind she had moved on with her sober life. Because also in my mind, everyone in those rooms had been sober forever. I spent those first few years of recovery changing everything about myself. Discovering who I was without alcohol and building a brand new life. A beautiful life. And one day about 4 years into my sobriety, she showed up. She had not been out living her best life like I had assumed. She had been out drinking. For years. She was blown away by how much I had changed. She started coming around regularly and we spent a lot of time talking. She asked me to be her sponsor. This is a woman who had been in and around AA for a LONG time. She had put together many sober years in a row, but just couldn’t manage to maintain it. She knew the literature way better than I did and if AA was a class, she would have passed with an A+. She knew it in her head way better than I ever will. But for some reason she couldn’t stay sober. I agreed to be her sponsor, which just means that I would take her through the 12 steps and be a sober support person for her. My only requirement was that she was always honest with me. And she was. I attribute meditation and yoga to my recovery just as much as I do AA. I suggested these tools to her and she was eager to jump in and try them. She too was ALL in and bought herself every prop possible for yoga as well as a meditation cushion and alllllll the books about the two. I spent a year with her sharing every tool I had. Every tool that worked for me. I encouraged her to find her own things as well. She joined a gym and got a personal trainer. She learned how to wrap crystals and make beautiful jewelry. She danced with me every chance she got and she even tried Kirtan, as weird as that was for her. We journaled and made vision boards. We went through the steps together. And she was joyFULL. A quiet joy as she was a quiet soul. But joyful just the same. It was so beautiful to witness. She made it to one year and then I’m not sure what happened. She lost it. She began drinking again. Off and on. Mostly on. I wanted her to be sober so bad. I wanted to see the joy on her face that I had seen when she was sober. But I didn’t know what else to do. I continued to work with her for a while. Encouraged her to be just start over. But she wasn’t getting sober. So I let her go. I promised to be her friend and sober support any time she needed me, but as a sponsor, I wasn’t the one. I had given her everything I had, taught her everything I knew and it wasn’t enough. I encouraged her to find another sponsor, because clearly, I wasn’t the one. We remained friends, although I rarely heard from her. She was drinking a lot and not contacting me. Then, in early August she called to check on me. The island had been hit by a hurricane and she just wanted to know that I was alright. It was 10 am and she was drunk. We talked for a while, she said she wasn’t doing well, and that she would see me soon. She was ready to get sober. One week later my phone rang and her name lit up on the screen. I told my husband I didn’t want to answer because I knew she would be drunk. I let out a grumble and I answered the phone. It was her husband. He was calling to tell me that she had suffered a massive heart attack and wasn’t expected to make it through the night. She died that evening. Her body could no longer handle the abuse. This one hit me hard. Not that I was all that surprised. We all expect these things. But I also expected to see her “get it.” Wanted her to ‘get it.” I had already seen it once, and it was beautiful. I went to a meeting the next morning and talked about it. The first person to respond said “some of have to die so we can live.” My initial thought was what an asshole thing to say. It felt like I had been punched in the stomach and for the first time, I understood what it meant. It means that I think of her when I dance, holding her in my heart and dancing with her. It means that while I am incredibly sad that she couldn’t get it, I have it and I am not willing to lose it. It means that I will keep writing these blogs for the person who needs to see them. It means that I don’t take one minute of this life for granted. It means that it could have just as easily been me. It means that I wake up each morning and choose recovery. I choose life. It means feeling all the feels and not numbing myself. It means being fully present in each moment, even the ones that suck. It’s life and it’s beautiful and terrible and everything in between. I choose it everyday.
She gave me this little figure for my birthday because it reminded her of me. She was always giving gifts and had the most beautiful, generous spirit. She is called Happiness. I think of her every time I look at it. I remember her joy. I picture her somewhere on the other side dancing with a little smile on her face and her arms stretched out. Feeling complete freedom. This is how I will always remember her. I am forever grateful that I got to experience those moments with her.
I’ve been baking all the cookies, making all the candy and doing all the shopping. I am really feeling the spirit of Christmas this year. Which is different for me. Usually I feel overwhelmed, and not at all excited about the holidays. Usually the Solstice hits, I have a ceremony, and boom. The magic hits me. This year things are different. I feel different. I’ve been taught to get curious about things when I feel different. To ask WHY? The obvious answer is Covid. We aren’t traveling this year and nobody is traveling to us. That could almost be enough. It certainly removes a lot of anxiety from the equation. But there’s a bigger why for me.
We have lived in this house for 15 years and we have spent Christmas here exactly two times. The first was the Christmas I ruined. The second was my first sober Christmas. I don’t really remember that one very well. Which is odd, since I was sober, but then again, it proves to me how jacked up my brain really was. The “Christmas that I ruined” might sound like another exaggeration, but I promise, it’s not.
I had been drinking around the clock for days, weeks, maybe even months. I really don’t know. I just know that I wasn’t able to make any good decisions. My brain wasn’t working properly anymore. I can put it together through Facebook memories and journal entries and it went like this. It was a few days before Christmas and I was on my way to do some Christmas shopping for the kids. Some of my friends were meeting at the bar at the pier for lunch. “Lunch” was liquid and after a few drinks, I wasn’t going anywhere. I couldn’t go anywhere. A girlfriend gave me a ride home that evening. When I showed up at home, drunk, with no packages because I hadn’t gone shopping, my husband was pissed. Hurt would work here too, but this hurt showed up as anger. He insisted that I get my car home from the bar. I don’t know if I took a cab or if someone came to get me, but I went back to that bar to get my car. Obviously I had no business driving. My husband was always the first one to take my keys and hide them from me, so I can’t really say what he was thinking. Other than he was hurt and angry, at his wits end and over it. The bartender wouldn’t let me order a drink. Believe me when I say it’s hard to get cut off at a bar that makes money selling alcohol. But, I had been there all day and they weren’t thrilled to see me back. So I cried like the raging alcoholic that I was, had a drunken fit and left. I drove to the library and called a friend who came and got me. I think we went to the ABC store, I know we went to a bar, and at some point we went to the home of another friend and really, who the fuck knows. I was blacked out and wide awake from what I’ve heard. It’s not pretty. Eventually I crashed. When I woke up the next morning, still drunk, I had zero desire to go home and face my family. So I went to see another “friend.” I knew I had to get the Christmas shopping done so we set off to the big city of Wilmington. Only I got sidetracked by a bar. And I didn’t go shopping. By this time my family and my real friends from all over were calling and texting, telling me to get my ass home. But I couldn’t. I wanted to. I just couldn’t make myself do it. And then finally, it was night time again. It had been two days since I had gone to retrieve my car. A friend who really loved me called me and talked me into coming to her house. She stayed on the phone with me while I drove to her. She was on the phone with my mom when I arrived. I remember nobody being mad at me. And this surprised me. They were all too scared. She talked me into going home.
When I got home, it was not the same welcoming environment where nobody was mad at me. It was the exact opposite of that. But I also didn’t care. I don’t remember a lot, but I do remember getting in the hot shower, sitting down, crying and throwing up over and over again. A lowest low for sure, but there would be many more even lower lows. I passed out. While I was out my husband went through my phone and saw every awful thing that I was. All of the awful choices I had made. It was Christmas Eve. He called everyone we knew to tell them ALL of it. It felt like he was telling on me. Gossiping about me. And he was. But he was really seeking support in the only way he knew how. I spent the day dry heaving, crying and attempting to be there for my children. I can’t even imagine how this looked. I know how it felt, because I can still feel it now and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I didn’t drink that day.
My husband went out with our friends that evening. It was Christmas Eve and someone was having a party. I stayed home with the children. I played Santa as best I could with the gifts that he had shopped for on his own. We woke up on Christmas day. The children opened their gifts and we tried to be happy. But there was no happiness. Not in the hearts of my husband or myself. And as much as I would like to think the children were happy, how could they have been. My only solace is knowing how this turns out. And then it was Christmas night. While most people were enjoying their holiday meals of Ham and Turkey or whatever they were eating, my family was eating Chinese food and we were grateful that the Chinese restaurants were open on Christmas. Because I just wasn’t able to pull it together and do more than that. This was the real eye opener to everyone who knows and loves me that I had a real problem. And yet, this isn’t when I decided I needed to stop drinking. I stayed sober for a few days I am sure. I found a therapist as well as a couples therapist shortly after Christmas. But it would be another 11 months before I got sober. The longest 11 months of my life. My youngest child has no memory of any of this. My older two remember bits and pieces. I still cringe at the scene of the family in A Christmas Story in the Chinese restaurant. After that awful year, Christmas always felt like a Fixmas to me more than an actual holiday. A time for me to repair the damage I had done in those awful days in 2011. I have written all about that year leading up to my sobriety in this blog, so I am going to skip most of that for today. Except to mention that the year was FULL of ER trips, medical detox, psych wards and treatment centers. As I sit writing this I can’t even recall exactly what led up to the final trip to a treatment center. I don’t think it was a big event and I don’t feel like digging in my memory bank. What I do know is this. My husband dropped me off at the front door and drove off. He didn’t get out of the car. He didn’t come inside and wait with me. He said “I hope you figure it out this time” as I was getting out of the car and then he drove off. I remember that I laid down on the couch in the reception area and when they were ready to admit me they had to wake me up. I spent the Thanksgiving holiday at the treatment center. My family could have came up to spend the day with me, but how awful would that have been? Even I wasn’t selfish enough to ask them to do that. So I spent Thanksgiving with a bunch of alcoholics and addicts eating shitty food. When it was time for me to leave the treatment center, my family wasn’t ready for me to come home. My husband had seen me do the same thing so many times that he was afraid I would immediately start drinking again. We made a plan and I went to a half way house. It was two weeks before Christmas and the women who lived in the house were busy putting up the tree when I arrived. Every day I was planning my escape. The house was less than an hour away from my home, so I was able to visit with my family from time to time. It really sank in with me that this was NOT the life for me. I needed to be with my children. I needed to be present in their lives. These people who lived in this halfway house were not my people. Even if they were exactly what I needed. And they were. My parents came from Kentucky to spend Christmas with my family. They wanted to make it a happy occasion and give some normalcy to a less than normal time. On December 21st my husband picked me up for a quick trip home. He planned to return me that evening, but I wasn’t having it. I knew before he arrived that I wasn’t going back. And I didn’t. I spent that Christmas at home with him, my children and my parents. The only memories I have are the ones I can piece together from journals. I know it was better than the year before because I was sober. My relationship with my husband was severely strained. For obvious reasons. My only thoughts during that time centered on not drinking. What a weird fucking time early sobriety is. Going to meetings, talking to sober people, trying not to drink. Insert a few wholesome activities to fill time and keep oneself from drinking. And repeat. I’ve heard it said that it’s much easier to stay sober than it is to get sober. Damn if that’s not the fucking truth. It blows my mind to look back at my journals and see the me of seven years ago. The me of seven years ago could have never pictured the me that I am today. I honestly only wanted to get well enough to leave my husband. Because I hated him and he was the bad guy, He was the bad guy who told on me when I was doing things I shouldn’t be doing. He was the bad guy who was always mad at me, again, because I was doing things I shouldn’t be doing. He was over my shit. He only real desire was to keep me alive through all of my extreme drinking so my children would have a mother. I never could have imagined that we would be together all these years later. I still aggravate the shit out of him. In different, mostly healthy ways. Recovery changes everything.
And to bring it all back to the here and now…..this year Christmas feels very special to me. For the first time in years. When I am curious about it, I know why. I am excited to be at home with all three of my children. My daughter doesn’t live at home and we haven’t been together on Christmas morning since she moved out, three years ago. Nothing about this year feels like FIXmas to me. I’ve done the work, I have fixed ME. This is the year to sit back and enjoy the blessings in my life. At home. Quietly. With the people I love the most. This is why I am so feeling it this year. In a year where so many can’t spend time with their families, mine is right here. I am grateful and I am blessed. This is my why.
I did my taxes last week. I thought you should all know that. I waited until July 15th on the off chance that they actually would magically get done. They did not. I am never doing my own taxes again. I am good at a lot of things. I enjoy a lot of things. Filing my taxes does not fall into either of those categories. Something else that isn’t magically getting done is that book I am writing. Or, not writing as it turns out. I tried using the share it to social media for accountability approach. That looks like me sitting down at my laptop by 6:30 every morning and posting a selfie to my story so the world knows that I am doing the thing I said I would do. But early morning selfies are tricky. I always forget that I just woke up until I see the pic. Then I have to take 72 more selfies until I get a decent one. Then I write. This is is what I have learned. I write like I do everything in my life. I am either all in or I am all out. There is no in-between. These past two weeks I have been all out. And it feels like I am done. Not just done, but mad about it. As in fuck this fucking book, it’s stupid and I don’t even want to write it. Which is how I know that I’ll keep doing it. I was doing great, sitting down at the same time every day, posting my selfies to my story, getting solid word counts. I felt like I was really doing something. But I don’t actually know what I am doing. I’m just writing. Which is probably fine because I never know what I am doing, and things always work out for me. Usually better than I could imagine. When I look at my life I see that things work out for me. But I also know I have to put the work in. None of it ever happens magically. One might think I would stop hoping for that, and yet, I never do. But I have this friend. I am 100% certain this woman showed up in my world to help me write this book. She’s a writer. And an editor. Among other things. And she believes in me way more than I believe in myself. Some days she talks me into believing in myself and it lasts for weeks. Then I slowly start to get in my own way. Doubt creeps in. I am writing about a past that is painful and dark. As I write from this place it’s hard to remember that I am not that person. It’s hard to be the confident and strong person I know I can be. The old story creeps up and brings those old feelings with it. The doubt struggle is real. It shows up as shame. It shows up as “not enough.” It shows up as “too much.” It shows up as “who am I to think I can write a book?” It shows up as “why would anyone care what I have to say?” The worst part is that I know in my heart that none of it is true. It’s my head that gets in the way. My story is powerful. My voice matters. But that dark past is a hard place to write from. When I write from that place, I am IN that place. It’s painful. It was suggested to me that I write about my right now. Because my right now is pretty damn fabulous. It’s full of love and joy and so many blessings that it sometimes brings tears to my eyes. It’s full of amazing people and beautiful experiences. It’s full of women who lift me and a family who loves me. It’s full of beaches and sunshine and dancing. But it’s still so new to me. I recorded a podcast a few weeks ago, and that’s probably right around the time I started losing steam for this writing project now that I think about it. The podcast was recorded with a woman who thinks I am 100% bad ass. I have only met her in person two times, but she’s followed my journey on social media and knows enough about me to know that she wanted me to share my story. I shared my journey to self love with her for this podcast. Because it really is a journey. We started in my childhood and moved forward. We had an hour for the podcast. When we were finished I was worried that she might not have gotten what she wanted. She got a small piece of the self love she was looking for. She got a LOT of darkness. But that’s the story. That’s where I am in my journey. I lived many, many years in that dark place. I have only been here, in the healthy place, a short time in comparison. It made me sad. I felt like she wouldn’t want to use my story because there’s too much self loathing and not enough self love. There’s no self love in judging myself harshly for my past. I know this. It’s easy to say. But it happens. It happens when I write about my past. And the doubt comes back. It’s a vicious cycle. But I have awareness and awareness is everything. I am going to keep writing. I am going to write with the expectation that it actually will be easy. But it won’t. And then I’ll get mad and I’ll quit. For a while. This is how I do everything worth doing. It’s not really for me unless I say “fuck it, I’m not doing it.” It’s my go to. And I mean it every time. A thing to know about me is that I am persistent. I know this about myself. It might take years, but I’ll do it. I already have the tattoo. I have to do it now. I fully expect the process to suck. But that’s just because I’m still mad about it.
When I started this blog years ago I had a hard time deciding what to call it. Sober Yogi represented who I was at the time. Since that time, I have grown in every possible way. When I started writing here I figured I would write about yoga and being sober, since those were the things I knew. I fully expected more of a how to format. Nothing like what I actually write about. I have used this space to document my entire healing journey which has been so much deeper and bigger than not drinking. Who knew? I’ve shared so much of that process right here with all of you and received so much support. What a beautiful healing space this is for me. I’ve played with the description of the blog, but have never changed the name. I’ve thought about it because I’m not so sure “Sober Yogi” represents what the blog actually is, and I am soooooo much more than a sober yogi. Those things are just pieces of who I am and being sober doesn’t really seem like it’s a big of deal anymore. It’s just my life. But today I was 100% THAT girl. I fully experienced myself as a sober yogi and it was so very special.
This morning I taught a yoga class on the beach. As I was teaching, I noticed a guy hanging back and observing us. No big deal, because yoga on the beach is cool. Who wouldn’t want to check that out? At the end of practice, I led everyone into Savasana. The final pose of practice. Corpse pose. Here’s a little truth about Savasana on the beach. Every time all of my students are lying on their backs, eyes closed, exactly like corpses, I feel a little (lot) like Jim Jones. It makes me laugh and feel weird to be the only one standing or even sitting around all the bodies laid out on the sand. So today, I walked down to the water while my students rested peacefully. And they were beautiful. As I was standing on the water’s edge, I sensed the man that had been observing us approaching me. In my mind I had an entire conversation about how happy I was that he was definitely not coming to talk to me because of social distancing. But he was. And he did. He kept his distance. Don’t freak out. He asked if I was Shannon. Then he introduced himself and asked if I remembered him. I didn’t. He shared with me how he had been to one of my 12 step recovery yoga classes years ago. Those are classes that I taught for a very limited time, because I just never felt like I could connect. The energy was always off. But, at that moment I remembered exactly who he was. And clearly, I had connected. He told me he was two days sober and didn’t know what to do or where to go, but he knew I was teaching on the beach this morning and I would be a good place to start. So he came to the beach. I still had students in Savasana, and went back to them. We finished our practice while he hung back. When everyone left I was able to give my attention to this man. I directed him to the local meetings and shared recovery resources with him. He had a ton of questions and seemed so willing to try a different way. One of the women from my class had stayed behind to enjoy the beach. A licensed mental health counselor. I invited her into our conversation and she was able to speak to him on the ways alcohol affects the brain. All the cool science of the addicted brain. She was incredibly helpful and informative. It was such a Divinely orchestrated plan to have her there in that moment with her understanding of addiction. A God moment. You can call it a coincidence if you feel better about that, but I’ll silently disagree with you. I have no idea if this guy will get sober or not. Sometimes people take that first little step into sobriety and then jump right back out. Sometimes it takes years. It did for me. People reach out to me all the time, and then I never hear from them again. It’s not my job to get people sober, but it is my responsibility to be there when someone reaches out. I saw honesty, openness and willingness from the man on the beach this morning. Those are the three things a person needs to get sober and stay that way. I’m hopeful. I’m rooting for him.
Being sober is such a natural piece of my life today. It’s no longer some foreign experience I am trying to navigate. I don’t write about it as often as I used to. It’s not the most interesting thing about me. But it’s never about me is it? As much as I want it to be. This morning, on the beach, I was a sober yogi. Yes, I am so much more than that, and as uninteresting and routine as the sober piece is, without it every good thing in my world would go away. I was reminded this morning, in a very big way, that being sober is incredibly special. Sharing about sobriety and connecting to so many people through my words is a privilege and an honor. I am extremely grateful that I am able to recover out loud.
This morning the family and I sheltered in the bathroom in preparation for a possible tornado. For 10 minutes. THAT was the most exciting thing that’s happened here in 4 weeks. And now it’s passed and we are fine. Back to trying to figure out how to fill our time. I miss teaching yoga. Not enough to teach online, but I do miss my people. I miss having purpose outside of this house. I am over it, over it, over it. But I’m doing it. We all are. I no longer feel like I “should be” doing anything other than living my life in any way that suits me. I am a bit less scattered these days. I have this cycle that I am incredibly aware of. Every other day is a “good” day. On a good day, I wake up and do all of the things that keep me connected, grounded and centered. Meditation. Writing. Yoga. Dance. And then, the very next day I do none of the things that I know will make me feel better. And I spend my day in my head and feeling like shit. It’s almost as if the good days take all of my energy and I need a day to do nothing and recover. Then I wake up determined to not feel like shit and I do ALL the things that I know work for me. I use my tools. Every. Other. Day. That’s my current cycle. I am one of the most mentally and emotionally healthy people I know. This still surprises me and probably always will, by the way, but it’s true. And I wonder, if I feel like this, how is everyone else REALLY doing? Because this shit is hard. Social media keeps us connected, but I’m over it. Zoom is great, and I could spend all of my time doing ALL of the Zoom things, but I don’t want to live there. In a virtual world. Sometimes I wonder if that’s going to be our new normal and if the world is going to pass me by because I won’t get on board. Two or three online commitments is my limit per week. If I go beyond that, it’s only because the “I should” has crept into my mind. Which is weird, because we all know I’m way cooler on the internet. And the dreams…..nightmares really. Something about this situation has triggered me into the days of my methamphetamine addiction. I am having using dreams. I haven’t used meth since I was 23 years old. And chances are, if you are someone I love, you are there with me. And it sucks. My heart breaks every night in my sleep. My guess is that the feelings and emotions this is bringing up is triggering a place in my body or mind that FEELS the same. Feelings of being stuck. That this will never end. That there’s no way out. When I am awake, my mind knows none of these things are true. I am safe. Not stuck. This really will pass. Right now, it’s just really intense and the dreams suck. And the weather sucks and HERE I am being the exact negative Nelly that I bitch about. Oh the irony. There is nothing to take the edge off. I don’t get to pop a pill, because I would pop 10. I don’t get to have a drink because I wouldn’t stop. No bong hits or whatever the weed smokers do these days. And I don’t want to. “Don’t get to” just means I choose not to. I learned a long time ago that nobody can stop me. I enjoy being fully present and alive. It’s just hard sometimes. That’s why I take so many baths. Baths are my go to for taking the edge off. And naps. I can usually sleep it off and what a blessing that is. It’s my super power. Yesterday was a good day, and if I get off my ass today really doesn’t have to suck. But I probably won’t. I did that yesterday. Today I get to wallow in my shit. The cycle makes me laugh because I KNOW how to remedy it. And really, maybe I am being a bit dramatic because even my bad days aren’t that bad. Maybe that’s what my dreams are here to remind me. My favorite quote ever is by Jon-Kabat Zinn. It’s the quote that has carried me through so much darkness. I share it constantly and today seems like a good time to share it again. “As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than wrong with you, no matter what is wrong.” Today there is nothing “wrong.” This is just life. For all of us. We don’t have to like it. We just have to live it.
What an uncomfortable time to be alive. When I open social media, which is way too often these days, I see two types of people. The excessively grateful and the excessively pissy. The pissy ones are the ones arguing with everyone and posting nothing but doom and gloom. Arguing with everyone. I tend to fall on the excessively grateful side. Don’t get me wrong, I can be all kinds of pissy and I am at some point every day lately, I just don’t spread that out into the world. I keep it to myself, take it out on my yoga mat, put it in my journal and my husband gets more than his fair share of it. Sorry Leon. The world is stuck right now. What I see is that those of us who have a practice are getting through a little easier than those who don’t. When we actually practice. Which is proving to be a challenge for me. That’s why it’s called a practice, right? I’m completely off my schedule like the rest of the world I imagine. Staying up late and sleeping in. I miss my morning quiet time, before the world wakes up. Some days I set my alarm, but most days I don’t. Getting up early is one of those things I “should” be doing. My mind swims in the things I “should” be doing. I “should” be reading all those books on my shelf, and I am trying, but I’m just not into it. I have two books that I am currently working my way through, both by authors I know and love. And I hate both books. I’m sure it’s just me and the weird mood and lack of focus I’m experiencing. Maybe I just need some good fiction in my life. I “should” get my ass off social media because it’s a waste of time and since the studio is closed, I don’t have to promote my business. But, my friends live there and it keeps me connected. I unfollow and unfriend people constantly. The negative Nelly’s. Limiting screen time is on my list of things to do. It’s seriously right at the top of my intentions. I “should” be streaming online classes. I paid for a Zoom account and everything. But here’s the thing. I don’t want to. And I have some guilt about it. I feel bad about leaving my people high and dry, but the reality is that while yoga is absolutely essential, I am not. Anyone can lead people through an asana practice. Every teacher I know is streaming on Zoom. It might be the Rebel in me that is refusing, but my heart just isn’t in it. I could change my mind next week. Or even tomorrow. That’s what I’m noticing more than anything is the way my mind and emotions are all over the place. I know that’s not unique to me and we are all experiencing that. I’m just trying to be gentle with myself and the rest of you. All of this is showing me that I am judgmental AF. That’s my lesson this week, this month, this year and maybe this lifetime. I judge myself more than I am judging everyone else, but I catch myself doing that too and I have to stop and remind myself that we are all doing the best we can with what we have. I just wish some of y’all could do better…….lol. I “should” be writing. I “should” be doing my taxes, but now I have that extension, and if you know me, you know I’m not. I “should” be connecting to my community and leading everyone in group meditation because the world needs that right now. The list of things I should be doing goes on and on and here I am doing none of it. That’s where I am. Stuck. And I know it’s ok. I really do. I know I’m not alone in this. Every day is a new opportunity to practice. Practice moving forward through the stuck-ness. This feels a lot like early sobriety to me. The being unsure of what I’m supposed to be doing. The emotional rollercoaster. The uncertainty. The being uncomfortable. All of it. It’s not my favorite. But unlike early sobriety, I have the tools to navigate this. I can be uncomfortable. I can be uncertain. It’s about going back to basics. It’s about sitting with myself. Just sitting. Writing my way through it, which I will admit I haven’t done. I opened my journal yesterday and saw that I hadn’t written in it since March 10th. Which is craziness, but these are crazy times. And I wrote. No guilt over all the days that had gone by. I just poured my heart out onto the pages. Back to basics means that I might be taking two baths a day. Snuggling my boys. Netflix. I don’t even watch TV, but here I am on the Tiger King train(wreck). I even busted out the adult coloring book today. That took me way back. I’m getting by the best I can. I believe we all are. Whatever that looks like for each of us. I’m letting go of “should” and doing what works. Giving myself permission to just be. My heart hurts for the world. Some moments it overwhelms me. I am one of those excessively grateful people. I have to be. Gratitude carries me through. I can be mad, sad and all the things in between, as long as I bring it back to gratitude for all the things that are right in the world. Gratitude is my anchor. I see beauty on the other side of this. I’ll keep looking for the beauty in every day. I have everything I need plus all the extras for my comfort. I have my family and community for support and love and I have all the free time I could ever ask for. When I feel overwhelmed, I bring it back to this. Again and again.