An Invitation

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I’ve recently embarked on a large writing project that had me going through all of my journals started since sobriety. I came upon one that I’d yet to revisit, my attempt at consistent Morning Pages in my second year of sobriety. Such tender and earnest expressions, I was so happy to have captured that as I hardly remember the feelings from that time. At the time, I’d been re-reading Marianne Williamson’s classic, A Return To Love. I only copied down a few quotes, one being “The truth doesn’t stop being the truth just because you aren’t willing to look at it.” Of course I was resonating with that sentence as a reference to my drinking, as I’d just accomplished the big one year milestone. But as I was reminded of that quote now, I began thinking about what current of truths I’m unwilling to look at today. There are many. Instead of addressing the parts of my life that were intolerable, alcohol dumbed me into submission, aiding me to simply tolerate aspects I was unwilling to change. Recovery gave me space and strength to slowly reassemble the parts of my life previously intolerable, the truths I’d been unwilling to look at, but it was like Sondra with a fresh year of sobriety under her belt invited current me, approaching fifty years on the planet and five years of rebirth, to take a look at all the things I’m still only tolerating.

“A miracle is a shift in perception.” —M.W.

How many times had I said that to myself in the early days. I know what that looked like then, but now I’m wondering what that even looks like for me today. I think it looks like continuously challenging your own hardened stories, the ones you are so convinced are true only because of their insistence and longevity. Because IT JUST IS. The questions I’m currently asking myself are: Am I really too old to start this thing? Has my ship really sailed? Can I figure this out? Can I do something I’ve never done before, even if I don’t see many examples of it in the world? I have come so far since those Morning Pages and I celebrate that, but I need to keep examining what else I’m just tolerating.

The truth is, I am turning fifty this year and I’m not denying that, but it’s also true that most days I feel better than I did in my thirties, so why deny that truth either. I was so self-conscious my whole life, fretting, editing myself as an attempt to control how others perceived me. It’s a tough exercise to retrain your brain to a place where you have zero inhibitions, but one of the gifts of aging is that it just happens, like you are retreating to childhood, aging in reverse. Do you ever look at those lists, the ones where people found their personal success much later in life, like Laura Ingalls Wilder, Toni Morrison, Julia Childs, Martha Stewart, Vera Wang, Lucille Ball. Now, do you imagine your name there? If you’ve followed my blog since the beginning, you’ve probably noticed I don’t talk about the work of getting sober anymore, it’s evolved as I have. If you are like me, you’ve been challenged by motherhood, sobriety and now mid-life where society may be telling us we’re done when we feel like we’re just getting started. I’m adding my name to that list.

Change begets more change. That’s just how it works. Being all in on something elevates you, from mood to consciousness and science has proven it, even though I don’t need science to tell me. Artists do a better job, in my opinion. Thank you, Marianne Williamson. Thank you to the female artists who never stopped creating. Thank you, Sharon Olds, I do in fact feel very lucky.


What If This Is As Good As It Gets?

I used this image of a pie because some days, the smell and taste of pie and a hot cup of coffee is as good as it gets.

I used this image of a pie because some days, the smell and taste of pie and a hot cup of coffee is as good as it gets.

Sounds morose even misanthropic, right? Especially coming from someone whose middle name is Pollyanna (it’s really Dean but stay with me). I had an epiphany this week and I honestly could be enlightened now, remains to be seen, but it does feel that significant.

I have come to the striking realization that maybe this is all there is.

I may never win the prize, write the best-selling book, go viral, have an overflowing bank account, have a bathroom full of new towels. This may be it, destiny’s fulfillment.

Acceptance is next. Which, I’ve decided, is not resignation. Resignation is giving up, it reeks of stagnation but acceptance is a receiving of what is being offered and saying, This is enough and I am okay.

What if I’ve already had the most fun I’ll ever have? What if I’ve already seen the most beautiful thing I’ll ever see? What if right now, I’m the most successful I’ll ever be? This is a radical idea for me because I am a perpetual, future-focused, borderline magical-thinking optimist. What if all of these things are true and I still wake up and live my life everyday? This idea knocked the wind out of me this week. I think this is acceptance.

The question for me now is this: Can I still move through life and stay sober? Can I still create knowing that my best work may have already happened, that I may not get anymore validation beyond what I have today?

Maybe this doesn’t sound like an epiphany to you, but this is what this striking realization has done for me; it feels like a big sigh of relief. It sort of takes the pressure off of everything. It makes me lead with curiosity instead of expectations because expectations do NOTHING but let me down. And I don’t mean after you’ve had the gift of hindsight, can reflect and say, In the moment that sucked but now I can see it was the best thing that could have ever happened. No, expectations and reality never meet each other at the same place and even if reality does exceed your expectations, the fulfillment from that lasts about 60 seconds before the brain is off to seek more. But if I come in from the vantage that THIS moment is as good as it will ever get, I can be led by curiosity, curiosity carries with it hope and then I can truly enjoy the ride.

I was hoping I would get to keep hope. I can stay hopeful but accept this moment for what it is. Evolution is inevitable but it may not be “better” and I have to be okay with that. I’ve realized that I have hinged everything on, Things will be so much better when { fill in the blank }, or if { fill in the blank }. But what if it isn’t? I can set goals but I can’t expect that in reaching them I will actually emerge a better person, that it will bring me more validation or success, because it may not. I can no longer let my peace, my joy even, depend on that moment. I can choose my peace now, my joy in this moment and then again tomorrow. So I am now on repeat, out loud even, What if this moment is as good as it gets? And I look around and see that yes, I am okay right here.

This may then be a weird time to pitch a program. If you are like me, then you’re probably thinking, If I see another program pitch, I may vomit. The last time I was talking about the Mid-Life Solution, I wanted it to be the best thing I ever made. But I put in on such a high shelf, I couldn’t reach it. I know what I don’t want my program to be. I don’t want it to be another space where women are just validating the shit out of each other, and even though validation is appropriate WHEN it’s meaningful, I wouldn’t expect anyone to devote precious energy to only receive fluff. I also don’t want it to be another offering that promises you will emerge a better version of yourself because this version we have, it’s the best one we’ve got right now. The questions I do want to explore are these: How can we squeeze the most out of this moment? Then the next? How can we make do with what we have, right now, exactly where we are? I don’t know if this exploration will change anyone’s life but I have this insight to share, so why not share it with a few who may want it. If this sounds interesting to you, I will be sharing details soon.

So look around you right now. What if, at this very moment, what you see is as good as it gets? When I was pumping my gas this morning, I asked myself the question. I had the credit card that I share with my husband, so I got to fill up the tank all the way to full. The sun was coming up and there were a flock of black grackles above my head, their songs were in time with the breath of the trees, as the limbs expanded and contracted, I thought, This may be as good as it gets, and I am okay with that.

I hope there is some beauty, perhaps a speck of joy in your current moment because this is likely the very best it will ever be. Now breathe in, do you feel that? That is the peace of acceptance.


Can You Fill Up This Need-Hole For Me, Please?

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And that is the problem with need-holes.

When my life gets tedious, mediocre, BLAH is exactly the place I struggle the most. When I have to do the dishes, again, when I have to make dinner, again, when one week becomes indistinguishable from the next is when my brain starts seeking stimulation. And yes, a trip to the museum or a movie would most likely satisfy, but that is not where my thoughts go first. That feeling of lack, void, is the hole I filled with booze or sex or new shoes, so now when I feel its insatiable mouth gaping open, my first thought is ACT OUT.

I can't always see these feelings coming, but the longer I'm sober, the more certain patterns become clear. This is that time of year with Halloween on the horizon, I know Christmas and the New Year will come blazing in like a speed train and I'm already regretfully looking back at 2018 wondering if I've done enough, if I've landed where I want to be.

Um, future-trip much?

I've found myself fantasizing that I'm floating in a lake with my ears underwater, where all I can hear is my  own heartbeat. If I stay there, time seems to stop. I just want to float and float, oblivious to time, ignorant of its slippage. 

Let's face it, I still want to change the way I feel. I don't want to sit with it, move through it, lean into it. I want to throw any self-helping book-quoting meme across the floor and watch it smash into a bazillion pieces. But I don't. I don't act out either. I stitch. Stitching, with a threaded needle, is the one thing I've found in sobriety that forces me still except for my hands and that thread, in and out. It's the one thing that makes me okay with the maddening idea that I have to just stew in my feeling of lack, that there is nothing outside of me that is going to fill my hole so I may as well stitch up my fucking jeans because nothing else is going to get done and I have to be okay with that because I am okay. Time will still slip, dishes will once again accumulate in the sink, I'll make burgers for the 20th time this month and soon enough, it won't all feel so dreadful as it does now. I once heard that if you are drinking (or insert whatever you use to fill the need-hole) to make life tolerable, you must look at what is intolerable. Even though I haven't had a sip of alcohol in four years and some change, this feeling is here to remind me that I'm only tolerating some things and my guess is, it's bigger than dishes.

*Addendum: I published the above words in a newsletter that went out to my subscribers earlier this week. It resonated with many, so I wanted to add some thoughts I’ve had since.

I don’t think there is a cure for pain, as Morphine’s Mark Sandman’s words searched in song, but if he ever arrived there, he surely wouldn’t need his drugs. I wish that Mark’s addendum would have been that he found it, but his heart finally broke all the way on a stage in Italy in 1999. I guess my conclusion thus far is no conclusion. When pain comes, we have to see it, acknowledge it like I did in my words above, recognize that it’s in the room, give it a comfortable chair. Let pain prop its feet up, as it may be here for a while. See pain as a teacher because without the contrast, we wouldn’t really know joy. And when pain gets up to leave, know that it is never Goodbye, only Until We Meet Again.

It is no cure, but what I have realized in the last few days is I am much better when I have goals. Maybe that is my future-focused tendencies but I got out my Name-It Journal and jotted down the Big Ideas that I’d like to see to fruition in the coming months. I put so much energy around that yearly calendar flip, but it really is just an arbitrary construct and time is as expansive as I intend it to be. Over four years ago, I left the particular pain I co-created with alcohol behind, so I now have room to see that when I am feeling angsty, it is always something bigger than the dishes. The creativity I am not bringing forth will always be a pain-point for me, the universality of that said best in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas 70,

If you bring forth what is within you, it will save you; if you do not bring forth what is within you, it will destroy you.

It’s no cure, but it is a solution.

The Mid-Life Solution

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It is not a mid-life crisis, it's a mid-life solution.

Those are the words I wrote on Day 7 of my journal. My sobriety journey started as a one year experiment. "You can do anything for a year," is what I told myself in those early, earnest words scribbled in a journal, a journal whose previous pages contained scribbles of a different kind. Those earlier scribbles were mostly illegible late-night drunken epiphanies that were chocked-full of resentments, pity-parties and vitriol by a woman who was completely cemented to any given day, which looked like any other day, and couldn't figure out why. 

"Probably the thing that got me to quit was the feeling of inertia. I didn't think, if I don't quit, I'm going to die (even though that was a real threat) but, if I don't quit, I'm never going to change."---Sarah Hepola

In our latest episode of The Unruffled Podcast (which has been my favorite episode to record so far, just to say), I described the way I felt the last 5-10 years of my drinking. Acute hangovers were not my daily experience (not to say that they didn't happen as well) but it was more like this constant and overwhelming sense of exhaustion and it was all I could do to slog through the day. I could be productive, but it was all busy work and menial tasks. What I didn't have was explosive creative energy to problem-solve, connect the dots, build something that required lots of intense thought and configuration. 

That feeling of stuckness was my baseline. It was a baseline that didn't creep in until my late 30's, early 40's. In my 20's and early 30's, I could rally. I could pop out of bed, squirt some Visine in my eyes, and I was ready to rock and roll. I could still get shit done. It wasn't until I eased into my 40's that the tired feeling from drinking everyday (and as a result, not getting enough good, quality sleep) became my baseline. It was the place I began everyday. There was no dramatic, sudden event. No one warned me, Hey you, you may need to slow down that drinking thing when you hit 40. No switch flipped. Instead, it was more like the dimmer lowered a little everyday until before I knew it, I was operating in the dark. After several days, weeks, years pass and you've been operating in the dark for so long, it's your normal. It's been too long since you've operated with the light on, you've forgotten what it's like. That's what I mean when I say that fuzzy, crappy, tired feeling being a baseline, my baseline.

It wasn't until I put some real time between my last drink and the present that the light started to come back on. It happened pretty quickly for me and maybe that is why I called this my Mid-Life Solution. Maybe I got some momentum from a combination of things, a big one being journaling. Also on Day 7, I started keeping a daily list of things that made me happy, something I would now call a gratitude list but I didn't have those words then. And perhaps that was a way to keep me mindful in the day, noticing things, staying in the present, but I didn't have that terminology then either. Perhaps it was all of these things, like brick stacked upon brick, that set me up for success, but I don't really know. I know that finally, for the first time, I knew it was something I wanted to do, not something I had to. Removing alcohol didn't solve everything right away (not by a long shot) but it did give me the clarity and energy for the rest of it. 

I've alluded to some new things I'm working on, and while I'm not trying to be cheeky, they aren't quite ready to launch. One of them is a program that I will be offering called The Mid-Life Solution. I did it. Through sobriety and pursuing that light, I found my creative voice again and I want to help you too. With the help of my She's Like A Rainbow photography offering (that I am also still fleshing out), we're about to get this party started. Stay tuned, big things to come.

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