Last we spoke I was newly sober and trying not to kill myself a day at a time. Today I celebrate ten months of sobriety. As I reflect back on what I've learned some lessons pop out.
One interesting thing, as we begin 2017, is the way I began 2016: in deep self loathing, and blowing through everything Cheryl Strayed had written. I grew particularly attached to one column, titled Write Like A Motherfucker wherein a reader, just as insufferable as Yours Truly inquires advice on why she isn't hitting her writing goals, has nothing interesting to put out into the world, and can't commit to chasing her dreams.
Oh, how I felt like the response was speaking to me! Particularly when Sugar (Strayed) writes, "If you had a two-sided chalkboard in your living room I’d write humility on one side and surrender on the other for you. That’s what I think you need to find and do to get yourself out of the funk you’re in."
And so, I started 2016 thinking that my New Years Resolutions would be to commit to the words humility and surrender, so that I could become a better writer. I had no idea what those two words meant, nor did I know path I was about to take in order to begin to learn their true meanings.
I also did another weird thing, which was buy a full year calendar for 2016 so I could mark each day off where I wrote a blog entry. Little did I know that calendar would actually be used as a way to mark off each day I didn't deep throat a bottle of booze.
With that in mind, as we begin a new year, and as I celebrate ten months of being humbled and surrendering to a new way of life -- here are ten things I've learned.
1. Life opens up. Before I stopped drinking, I was reaaaally lonely. And I was reaaaally in my small bubble of loneliness and anger and I was afraid of everything. Like, everything. I couldn't talk to people without panicking about what I did or said (yet of course I was pissed I didn't have a NYT Bestseller).
Today, I see glimmers of the richness of life around me. I can look up from my phone for long enough to see the snow on the trees, the sun in the sky, the white hairs on my grandfathers face. These were things that I didn't even know were going on.
2. How to do the right thing. Maaan, I really used to try to do the right thing -- and I just couldn't. Everything I tried to do I really and thoroughly fucked up. Like, again and again I found myself running into the same Plexiglas wall.
Whether in relationships with people, where I never felt quite like I belonged, or in any sort of a project I tried to be the best at -- it just didn't work. I always ended up messing something up and I couldn't get out of my own way. Since stopping the drinking, I'm now more easily able to see the right thing vs. the the wrong thing in certain situations (not all!!!).
And like, I am reminded again and again of the Proverb, "goodness is its own reward". I used to spout that out all the time, talking about the ARISTOTELIAN IDEAL OF IT ALL. The reality was, however, that most of the time I didn't know what the right thing to do was, and frankly, I didn't give a shit. Today I try. And I care. And it helps me sleep better at night.
3. Caring for Others. I wouldn't know this, but my first six months of sobriety were the last six months of my beloved Grandmother's life. She was my best friend, my second mom, I grew up in her house, and I love her more than anyone.
Through the getting sober process, I moved in with Grandma (a story for another time) and I learned how to care for her. I learned how to keep the house running smoothly, and to help her. she taught me how to cook, watched me as I made a mess, laughed with me as I spent all my money on stupid stuff, watched TV, laughed about the days and the people around us, and just loved each other.
By taking care of my Grandma in her final months, I learned more about the gift of life, the love that permeates those selfless and earnest enough to allow it, and how to listen -- truly listen -- to someone else. There are no words. But I know that if I was still guzzling a box of Franzia every night, I wouldn't have given a shit.
4. I don't need so much external validation. I used to need a lot of attention from a lot of people a lot of the time in order to feel like a semi-worthwhile living organism. And like, it was never enough -- I still hated myself and didn't reaaally think that anyone actually liked me. I had all these weird relationships and friendships to fill that void. Today, I don't know what happened -- but it was pointed out to me that I have a new best friend named God, and He's enough to validate me.
5. Sitting still. I could never ever sit still. I could never ever turn off the thoughts of self-directed anger and hatred for long enough to do anything. I was constantly moving, darting from place-to-place, room-to-room, drink-to-drink, app-to-app (good phone addict that I am!).
Today I can sit down and write this article without checking Facebook four-billion times. Or get up for water, a snack, o pet the cats, to organize something that doesn't need to be organized, or whatever. I'm learning how to just be. And to be enough to genuinely listen, learn from the people in my life, and love them more deeply than I ever could before.
My old attitude was perpetually circling the toilet of my shitty (ha) existence -- never in one spot or quiet enough to really hear. Somehow, during ten months of drastic self-appraisal I can sit still.
6. I don't have the answers -- and I shouldn't be giving advice. Like, my previous articles on my blog -- what the fuck was I talking about? There really is no way I will ever know it all, and I certainly should not be in a position to tell anyone how to live.
7. I wasted a lot of time hating myself (and men / the patriarchy). Like, a lot. Like, if I wasn't thinking about getting drunk, I was thinking about how terrible and disgusting and ugly and stupid I was. If I wasn't hating myself, I was blaming the problems of the world (literally all of them, like, every single one) on men and their oppressive nature and how I was being HELD DOWN BY SEXISM IN EVERY ARENA OF MY LIFE.
It was just too much -- I mean, I spent SO MUCH TIME being SO ANGRY and beating the shit out of myself / the idea of men (??). Damn, I wasted a lot of time doing that.
8. Feeling Feelings. Yo. This is not something that was the jam for me, and yet -- I am forced with the fact that I have to feel my feelings. Ugh. But it's a practice, right? I practice feeling emotions each day and it gets a little less scary, less intimidating.
9. Gratitude. Another thing I hated was the word gratitude. I remember reading some stupid HuffPo article about gratitude years ago, and it was like, "Turn on the faucet. Instant water. Magic." And I fuckin' rolled my eyes so hard at that statement. (These were the days I would wake up praying for death).
But, I really did not understand what it meant to be grateful -- I was too busy being angry. Today, I can see gifts all around me -- and I can appreciate them. This is a miracle.
10. I had to leave my old self behind in order to grow. There's a Bob Dylan lyric from the song It's All Over Now, Baby Blue that goes, Forget the dead you left, they will not follow you.
I've had to do that with who I used to be.
I couldn't keep my self-directed anger, my oppressive hatred of men, my need to drink, and continue to change. Some things were easier to let go of than others, but as the layers of ice have melted off, and as I outgrow the coats of dead skin, I see that I can Marie Kondo my personality. Letting go of all that shit that doesn't serve me, in order to make way for a better person.
This list could go on ad infinitum; I've learned so much. How to live like an adult is the biggest change. I went from being an angry woman-child (?), to being in a position of genuine usefulness to my family and those around me.
I'm not sure what 2017 will bring -- I'm thinking that its message is one of standing tall. Let's see how it unfolds this year.