Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Practice



I was running in the woods the other day and I fell. Hard. The kids are away for the week visiting their grandparents, all summer I've been waiting for this part of August to get here: visiting time, next week back to school time, back to regular running time.

I have been running for about ten years now. I started after my oldest was born- he was born in December and we would bundle up and go on these epic walks that just naturally evolved into runs. I would push him in his stroller and feel so tough and so proud of myself: look what I could do! I ran desperately hungover, exhausted, rested, feeling fine, in the rain- it was my one thing I hung on to. If I could run I was OK. If I could run I wasn't an alcoholic, or a bad wife, or a bad mother.

When I got sober at the end of 2012 one thing I was really looking forward to was being able to run not hungover. Then the reality of being newly sober set in and it was all I could do some days to just get through the day much less get out for a run. Four months in I did a trail run that I shouldn't have done but did anyway and ended up with a nasty case plantar fasciitis that took me over a year to recuperate from.

I had other things I needed to concentrate on anyway- like learning to breathe and not drink and be in the world. Then when I tried to run I wasn't very good at it anymore. I used to be able to run ten miles and now I couldn't run one. So I gave up trying. I saw people out running and just wished I could be like them. "Oh, I wish I could be a runner again," I would think wistfully in my head, "That used to be me."

Now, this year, 2015, I am finally running again. I think it took me a long time to sort myself out enough to be able to give in to something again. To trust myself to not make it disappearing but a therapy: a part of my practice. To give it what it really is: a run. To not make it into something that saves me but something that soothes me. I don't need it to be crutch, I need it to be a thing that fills my soul but also a purely physical thing that reminds me of how beautifully my body works- and it does.

It does because I finally got patient enough to practice. I finally pushed my damn ego out of the way and started going out for walks. I would dress in my running gear and stick in my headphones and go out for a walk and it wasn't long before I was running a little bit. I remember running and feeling like I was flying and looking down at my GPS watch thing thinking I was just as fast as before and seeing that I was running four minutes a mile slower than I used to. Four minutes!

So I laughed and kept going. Because, really, fuck it. It wasn't important how fast I was going- the important part was that I was out there running- even when I was walking. Practicing.

I'm up to three miles now. I can run without stopping for three miles. I go run to the woods and I jam out to music and run fast and run slow and hug my tree and find bits for my altar. I cry and pray and laugh and dance and feel real-er than I've felt in a long damn time.

If you'd told me at the end of summer last year that I'd be running again this year I would have never ever believed you. I was waiting to see the neurologist. I was weak, tired all the time. Stressed. I was sober but I wasn't paying attention to the next things. Finally after I saw the neurologist in December and a clear CAT scan showed I wasn't suffering from a big honking brain tumor or dying I could let it go- I could not be afraid and go run. I could have more tests. I could face what was coming, or what wasn't. I could stop being paused and start again.

It's funny, the stories we tell ourselves. How things happen at just the right time: I shake my head at how things have lined up and played out over these last couple of years. I look back at last year at this time and then this year and I'm amazed at how much I've grown and changed. I think about how last year I wanted and planted a garden but didn't tend it and this year I only planted tomatoes and they're big and all over the place and they take some time but not all the time. How last year I wanted to say things like "I'm training for a half marathon" but wouldn't even go out for a walk. How next fall I want to do my favorite ten mile trail run again but how this fall three miles feels like a miracle.

When I told my mom that I fell running in the woods the other day she said I should think about not running in the woods anymore. That maybe it was time to just stick to safer paths. What if I fell again? But I can't listen to her story about me, I have to tell my own. It's taken me a long time to be brave enough to say that.

I used to feel so frustrated that I couldn't ever reach the end- that I never seemed to be "cured" or "well" or "recovered". That I wasn't happy all the time, and zen. That I wasn't doing it right since I have sad days, or mad days, or days when I just can't be the woman I want to be despite all my best intentions. But that's the it of it: the story just goes on and on. I am the woman I want to be in spite of my intentions. Every day is just practice: and every day is the big show- the show is the practice.

So the other day I was running- welled up, full of delight- running as fast as I used to. I forgot to pay attention to the rocks, to the roots, to that voice in my head that tells me I look stupid, or that I'm tired. I flat out forgot to be and just ran. I don't know what I tripped over, and it doesn't really matter. All I know is that one minute I was flying and then next I was on the ground. In ten years of running I have never ever fallen even though I spent most of my life falling down.

I breathed and laughed a little and thought I might should cry but the dog looked too confused for me to make her feel worse. I wanted to be so mad: here, out on my first day of my new running schedule, I'd fallen and fucked it up. Instead I did what life is really meant to be: practice getting up, practice dealing with what happens- whether it's a root or a rock, a day or a year, a recovery, or a skinned knee.


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The String of Things


I had a big important to me meeting today. On the way home I started thinking about the threads that make up my life: how I sort of launch them like I imagine a spider flings a string of web and how some catch and some fall.

Four years ago I was supposed to do yoga teacher training. I was in fantastic physical shape, awful in my head shape. Six weeks before the training was supposed to start I developed an umbilical hernia and had to drop out. I was so sad about this: I'd been waiting for us to have the money and the time for me to do it and then finally been brave enough and waited enough that I was all signed up and then blammo. No dice.

Of course, now I am so grateful that it happened just the way it happened- life has this way of dropping and tying those strings so they actually make sense. That string has been out there waving around, waiting to get caught- and now it has! My class starts in January.

That made me think about all my other strings too: about how strings aren't really in a big fat hurry most of the time. How they just wave about in the breeze, waiting. I thought about my please let me be sober string that I cast out there time and time again only to discover I'd forgotten to put on the bait. Or I was flinging that string in the wrong direction and could only catch more drinks. Or that I had too many afraid strings out there and not a one was secure enough to grab me a handhold and a help up.

I think about the tightrope of it all: how to make it life there has to be balance and care. How I can't rampage out into the world and expect any of my strings to make it across, and how if I wear out the same old string that wears it out, and how keeping all my strings to myself keeps me stuck at the ledge.

All of the patience it has taken, all the waiting to see this through: all these four years I waited. I got sober in that time! I found myself again. I learned to wait and see. It makes me know that the time things take could be the most valuable thing of all.

We live in such an instant world. We are taught to zip and hurtle ourselves through life and to be impatient and frustrated when things take time. Sobriety has taught me that strings take time. That I am OK just as I am. That me being the best me I am isn't something that should happen soon- it is already who I am today, this minute, right now. That the dreams I put out there into the world will come true.

One reason I could never stay sober is because I thought if I wasn't over it by day three it probably wasn't working. I always thought I wasn't doing it right and always said fuck it and tossed my string down in disgust. Two and a half years in I want to always have the mind of a beginner: fresh and open. Awkward, full of questions. Full of hope.

If you aren't drinking you are doing it right. Period. There are great and awful and in-between days and they are all you being awesome at sobriety if you aren't drinking alcohol. Some days that's just what it takes. Tie a string around your finger to remind yourself that you're sober. Let that string remind you of all the dreams you have out there looking for a place to land. String together days and then years of this then when you step back and look you see a woven well lived life. Rejoice in the time it takes to get here: be grateful for the string of things.




Friday, July 24, 2015

Plenty of Room



I have a few people that write to me at any given time. Sometimes none. Sometimes more than a few, maybe like four. It all follows pretty much the same pattern: a lot of email, then none. It means one of two things: either that person is sober and cruising along fine, or that they are drinking again and don't want to write.

Ugh, drinking again.

I feel so honored when people write to me and say how strong I am. I feel proud of myself way deep down in when people say nice things like "you are so sober" and "you inspire me". I also feel the way it feels when I see or read about someone who is really good at something I want to be really good at. But I'm not really good at it. Maybe I really suck at it, and I think I can't stand to try anymore at it. And so I feel a little weird about it too because I remember what I was like when I wasn't so sober.

I wanted to remind y'all of that too. I wanted to remind you so you can see that I haven't always been this me: for twenty years I was the me you don't know. The drinking me. I imagine that people can relate to my hope, to my strength. To the beauty that is my sobriety. I imagine that makes it easy to forget in all my drinking years how I had sex with strangers, made a fool out of myself time and time again, drank through my boys' babyhoods, almost totally wrecked my marriage, damaged friendships beyond repair, went through a stage where I wet the bed regularly because I was too drunk to know I had to pee. That I lied, disappeared, and hurt the people I loved the most regularly. Including me. You wouldn't have liked me. Or you would have, but then been confused by who I was and wasn't. And then probably given up.

If I'd seen this today me when I was all slung up out on the back porch with my cigs and bottles of wine I would have loved to have been that today me. And thought it was totally never possible. I would have longed and looked and poured myself another glass of prosecco because, well, I had already started so fuck it. And only other people can do  amazing stuff like that. I just knew that I didn't have what it took to stop scraping by.

Turns out that was bullshit.

I have not always been so good at being something. I was really really bad at being sober for almost my whole life. I could fill a room full of the empty promises I made to myself, a building, an acre. For thousands of days I didn't get it right. It looks pretty now, but damn. I was a mess.

The thing I always want to come across is this: you can too. I can see the magic in you even when you can't. I don't know you but I recognize your magic. I know you feel it sometimes when you think about quitting drinking and imagine for real what your life might be like if you really did it. That shiver and grin that scoots up when you don't know it's coming to stop it.

We are all just regular ol' people. None more deserving than the other. My light shines because I finally let it. I didn't ever think I deserved to be shiny, and I definitely didn't believe that there was space in the magical places for a fucked up woman like me. Someone wrote to me recently and I got a sense that they thought because they drank I would be disappointed. That they were comparing themselves to me and coming up short and then not able to believe that there was room for them here too. God y'all. There is so much room here. SO MUCH.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Finding it Bigger


Sobriety is such a big word. It can be so annoying, so all encompassing. So joyous, wonderful, so freeing and like a little prison all at once. It has not only become my life, but given me a life.

I get pissed at sobriety sometimes: all here, in my face, all the time. So needy! So greedy! Sometimes I wish I could grab sobriety into a bear hug- so wonderful! So amazing- here! In my face! All the time!

Like any operation sobriety is a complicated beautiful tangle of me and other people- other lives and ideas and how I piece them all together and then put myself out into the world.

I am not used to or very comfortable putting myself out into the world. I tend to mumble when I speak because I am fearful of criticism. I'm unconsciously and so consciously afraid of being laughed at. I'm not afraid of dying, but I'm terrified of ridicule. It was so wonderful to be drunk sometimes because I didn't even know I was talking. I was never a slurring drunk, people told me time and again that they could never tell I'd had too much to drink from the way I spoke, it was the way I sort of disappeared in my eyes. I was never a loud drunk- not one of those sort who starts yelling after beer four. If anything I would stop talking altogether- but that's mostly because I drank steady alone.

There's something that happened to me when I got sober. Especially from writing this blog, and some from knowing what I'm saying: I've found my voice. I'm finding my voice.

As a writer it makes sense that I have a voice: I believe we all do, regardless of whether you call yourself a writer or not. I believe we all deserve to be heard, even if it's only you doing the listening. (This can be the most important use of your voice: talking to yourself.) The things we tell ourselves can change our lives.

I talk to myself about sobriety a lot. I think about it a lot, I write about it a lot. I think about what to call myself: how to define the person that I am. It used to be so easy: I was me, me who drank too much. Sobriety gives me so much more potential- I can be anything. I am brave enough now to call myself a writer instead of wishing I could be one. Because I write. I call myself a runner because I run. I don't wish to do these things, I do them. So I can say that they are what I am. Even though I run really slow I am still a runner. Even though I am not on the shelves at the bookstore I am a writer.  I call myself many wonderful things because I can- because I don't just wish I act. I make the action. You can call yourself anything at all: and then you be one- even if it's what you feel like is the worst one in the world.

All things are that simple. Really.

I struggle sometimes with the concept of sobriety: not the being sober part, but what it means. I sometimes feel like an imposter because I don't go to AA, I don't have a program, or a set of guidelines to follow. I have always built sobriety my way: in the ways that have worked with my life. This is the most important part. I am sober: this is the only requirement. Sobriety is an elastic stretchy suit that has plenty of room for every and any body. It isn't a one size one way idea.

I stop myself, sometimes, from doing things I want to do because I won't be the best at it, or even very remarkable at all. I didn't run for a long time because I was embarrassed to walk.

It's true that we can all be in the world in our own way. That we can all take the pieces of the parts that make us work and don't worry so much about the rest. The spare parts will stick around in case you learn to use them another time. One of the hardest parts of longer sobriety is that you never really finish: it just keeps growing and changing and moving every every single day. Accepting this has been one of my bigger struggles: I am very good at completion.

Perhaps there aren't needs for definition: we can only find the meaning in the act. And because it changes so much we can't be graspy and grabby, or make labels. I can use my name to tell you what to call me, but calling me sober narrows my potential somehow. And also makes me bigger than the world.




Saturday, June 20, 2015

How You Say It

I don't know when I started to notice that people are kind of mean to each other a lot. Probably when I was a little girl and the modus operandi in my family was a sharp tongue full of insult and jab. Something like this:

"Oh! I love horses! They're so beautiful! I wish I could get one."

"Like that would ever happen. Horses are too expensive, and you wouldn't take care of it anyway. Horse. Yeah, right." Laughter.

Yep. How funny.

When I remember things like this I always feel guilty for thinking of the people I love most in the world with such unkind thinking. Were they really mean to me? Did they really act like I was stupid? Stupid to have big dreams? Ridiculous to think that big things could happen for me? Like getting a horse? Was it a form of protection? Don't dream too big, you might get hurt. As hurt as both my parents were by their parents who didn't indulge their dreams either. If you act like something is stupid then no one gets too hurt when it doesn't come true.

The other day in the woods I had this moment of forgiveness for my father. I realized what a broken heart he must have had from his own childhood. How hard it must have been for him to be open hearted and love someone like me: someone he loved fiercely and with fear because I could hurt him too. How he knew exactly what it felt like to imagine the magic and then see the reality.

I am sensitive to the smart ass way people talk to me. I have a lot of people around me who aren't able to have polite conversation, they just string together tiny insults and act like that's communicating. Maybe that's been me and I'm finally growing out of it.

Once when I was at my naturopath she did guided imagery with me. Afterwards she told me she could tell when I stopped holding up my protected version of me and became myself. The funny thing about that was I could tell, too. I knew exactly what she meant. I can tell all the time when I'm my safe version of myself and when I can feel just like me.

Drinking made it easy to forget that a me existed. It made it easier to put myself out into a world that I felt unsafe and crazy in. It made it easier to hate myself so when people talked to me like I was an idiot I could easily believe it was true. Years of this built a shell that isn't so easy to slough off even though I really really want to.

It isn't really so much what you say as how you say it. It's letting down the I'm so stupid of it all and just being who you really are. It's knowing that even if the whole world lined up and pointed at you and said "Yeah, right" you can still say to yourself "Yeah. RIGHT."


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Settling

Our house is settling. We watched a show about sinkholes and then days later up the street appeared a spray painted note on the road: sinkhole. My youngest sons' door jamb is separating at what to me seems like an alarming rate, or maybe it's just more than any other door jamb separation I've ever witnessed, which to date is only this one. I still am not 100% convinced that we aren't going to wake up in the middle of the night suffocating under the collapsing floorboards even though no one else seems as worried as me.

My life is settling too. I was thinking about the house and it sort of mooshing itself down in the dry earth just by the pressure of its' own weight. Getting steady. Me too, I thought. This is me too. I spent a long time resisting pushing myself into the ground not quite sure of where to stand. It's one of those things like every damn sober thing: you just know when you're there. I picture a bird on a wire- flying in, feet out, catching on, and then shaking out its' wings. Then settled. Settling.

Then I thought of all the settling I did with my life before I got sober. How I settled for being a shadow of the woman I am. How I settled for being a drunk. How I settled for next day hangovers, one night stands, blackouts, forgotten fights. This is my life, I thought. I can't undo it all. I settled for it. Finished, I thought. Done deal.





This picture was taken at the start of my very worst year (2008-2009). I know now that I had a whopping case of post partum depression and being an alcoholic made it so much worse. I was trying so hard to settle in to being the woman it looks like I am in the picture, but in reality I was flailing all over the place. No safe place to land- wings and feet everywhere. Staying out all night. Dabbling in a little cocaine. Training for a marathon and picking up smoking again. Digging into the quicksand of my life over and over and over and over again. Somehow I found my feet around the end of the year and stopped behaving like a maniac. Still drinking, but no more all nighters, no more drugs. I settled for the shame of it and hid from the repercussions by acting like it never really happened. Even now thinking of that time gives me a vacant pit in my middle.

Recovering from that one year took a lot of forgiveness. If you want to know how magic your husband is, be a drunken fucked up asshole for a whole year with a new baby and a four year old and he forgives and loves you anyway.

Going back there is hard. It helps to remind myself how far I've come from that woman to this one: two and a half years sober. It helps to feel that hurt because I am made up of all the good and bad that's been done. It helps because I know that bad won't be done again: I don't drink anymore so I don't forget who I am anymore.

There is a fierce comfort in the settling my life is doing. A rightness. I am establishing myself as this woman I am today, and leaving behind the shaky ground I inhabited for so many years. Resolving the argument between who I was then and who I am now. I am settling down, settling in. Settled.



Monday, June 8, 2015

Two and a Half Years

I had an idea to make a Soberbia Instagram page. So I did it.

You can find it there with this: s.o.b.e.r.b.i.a

I was two and a half years sober yesterday. This Brian Andreas picture hangs on the wall at 6 1/2 year old height outside my sons' room. It says:

"There has never been a day when I have not been proud of you, I said, though some days I'm louder about other stuff so it's easy to miss that."

With two and a half years has come more quiet, and more proud. I'm more apt to notice how proud I am rather than henpeck tiny mistakes imagined or real. I got down on my knees in the woods yesterday by my tree and gave prayer and thanks- thanks to the woods, thanks to my spirit, thanks to myself, thanks to all of my sobriety, to my family, to my heart. I find that with all this gratitude comes humility- a sense of being huge and small all at once. A sense of belonging in the world and to the world that is still so new to me. The last six months have been especially transformative- I suspect it's because I decided to be in charge of my life again. Not in control, in charge. There have been so many days in my life when I have not been proud of me. But now I'm much louder about the other stuff, so it's easier to miss that.