Sorry, Ernest

So I blew past ninety days this week. And sometimes it shocks me that just three months ago my internal landscape was all post-nuclear holocaust in its’ bleakness and despair. I was all rubble, sickness, shame, head noise. I had no words anymore.

I’ve been thinking about language and writing as it relates to this journey. I used to take Hemingway’s advice “write drunk, edit sober” and applied it with an extreme amount of enthusiasm. Most of my writing the past twenty years was done that way. Now, I’m exploring how to write sober, edit sober and finding my raw truth without a buffer, without anesthesia. It’s more pure and much more scary to write without that armor.

But language, vocabulary… I’ve spent my life learning “insider” lingo. First in the Army with all of its’ acronyms and abbreviations “Copy, NLT, Hoo-ah, FUBAR, BOHICA, OPFOR, etc.”  And then, with my career in medicine when phrases like “45 yo M presents with h/o of COPD, sob, dyspnea, CP x3 days, BBS c exp wheezes, prn albuterol q4 hours ineffective, r/o PNA/ COPD exacerbation, recommend CTA chest” make absolute sense. I speak the language.

Sobriety has a language of it’s own. There’s a whole new lingo to learn. We hear a lot of it in recovery. “Cognitive restructuring, surrender, willingness, NA drinks, gratitude, Normies, one day at a time.” Slowly, these terms become part of a new vocabulary.

When I think about the word “SOBER”, its’ definition seems incomplete and lacking oomph for something so life-changing and explosive.

adjective| so-ber

1. not drunk
2. having or showing a very serious attitude or quality
3. plain in color

Well, I’m definitely not drunk. I am dead serious about this journey. But there is nothing plain or dull or staid about this trip. There is belly laughter. Joy that is burbling up like an underground stream.  I am laughing at how ridiculous I can be,  finding my sense of humor again and rejoicing with friends in recovery as we discover how full of miracles and COLOR life is now that we are no longer letting ourselves be abused by alcohol.  I run every night in my reflective orange vest and I’m sure I look like a deranged crossing guard who is lost but I can laugh at how silly some of what I’m doing to stay sober might seem.  But I’m all in…. Doing whatever it takes. Scratching notes to myself in a lovely journal, eating dark chocolate caramels with sea salt. Going for runs more than twice a day some days. Coloring with my kids. Eating a whole bag of cheesy poofs with a vitamin chaser. Getting choked up over a post rainstorm sky. Performing the heck outta the “corpse” pose in yoga because my middle aged muscles are protesting all the exercise I’m putting them through. Having to laugh when my earbuds unplug while I’m in the checkout at Lowes buying plants and suddenly hearing my sober podcast echoing all over the perennials/getting the hairy eyeball from stoic sensible sandaled/sunhatted gardener-types.  Letting random strangers ahead of me in the checkout line because I’m teaching myself not to rush. Leaving the dishes in the sink and going with my kids to jump off the dock into the river. Playing sober anthems and singing along. Practicing self care like it’s my job.  Finding the elusive beach blue glass on the beach and seeing it as a sign.

I know it’s not the pink cloud because that sucker sunk a few weeks ago. This is an uphill hike where I just keep pushing, and am still shocked at just how much energy it takes to get sober. Some days are unspeakably hard and I have no words. Many moments sting like a bucket of ice water dumped on my head, regrets still float around and surface from time to time, old traumas creep into my dreams and remind me they are still there. In those times, my recovery community surrounds me, encourages and reminds me to keep my eye fixed on the things that are invisible. They remind me that healing results when we do the hard work. They shout reminders to me, cheer me on, help me find the words to speak to myself. And I’m learning to do the same for them.

I don’t know if other diseases have a voice. Maybe diverticulitis sounds like a guy talking with a mouthful of nachos, saying “Anybody want a peanut?” and emphysema sounds like a wheezy old broad with 3 pack a day smoker voice saying “Light up, honey.” I’m not sure. But I do know that my alkie voice starts out all smooth and velvety like Tom Hiddleston reciting Shakespeare, all posh precise, rich, round tones. It whispers. “You are doing so well, just look at how much better you feel. Why not celebrate with just one? You don’t have to tell anyone. It would just be between us. Go on, darling.”

I picture my sober self  as a wise earth-mother type with a flowy skirt, serene face and a halo made of daisies (a girl can dream, right?) ; “No, I’m enjoying this lovely glass of La Croix coconut water. Plus, I could never just drink one, remember?” 

The tone of my alcoholic voice changes the more I talk back to it, reminding it that I don’t drink anymore. It gets more whiny, more petulant, more bratty. ” But you deserrrve it. Look how hard you are working. No one knows how HARD this is. You never get a break, wouldn’t a nice crisp glass just taste so nice.”

When I continue to refuse, it gets nasty, in a Loki, “kneel before me, you mewling quim, I must have a drink!” way.

My sober self answers: ” Well, sure, if I want to end up dead on my bedroom floor. That’s not on today’s agenda, thanks.” And then I give myself a mental high five and get on with my day.

So that’s the new normal. No more waking with a splitting headache, dizzy, looking for a place to throw up. Actually, I haven’t thrown up once in the past 90 days. Not once. No more pounding antacids with my shots of whiskey. No more checking my rearview mirror obsessively because I’m driving buzzed for the thousandth time. No more feeling alone, no more secret keeping from even myself. No more energy wasted on denial, procrastination and lies: “I’ll quit tomorrow.”  There were always a thousand tomorrows.

I’m living in today. Writing sober. Living sober.  I am finding my new voice.

I wish Hemingway could have found his.

Snake oil and hardboiled dreams

We are limping down the homestretch.

There are exactly four and a half days of school before we officially enter what I like to call the Season of Yes.
Yes, you can swim in the pool until the last bit of pink sunset fades and we have bats swooping over head and we can only see our way back to the house by firefly-light. 
Yes, you can climb out of the pool, and sit on the deck wrapped in a towel and eat your dinner straight off the grill and yes we will eat corn on the cob with gobs of butter that drips down our chins and eschew napkins and rinse everyone off in the hose afterward.
Yes, you can stay up late and watch old movies with me.
Yes, we can go for a long walk to the river because we have nowhere to be and search for the elusive blue beach glass that we have somehow decided brings good luck to the finder.
And for all of those reasons, I am counting down the hours until I can be summer Mom again. 
Because I have been out of energy and “done” since the last round of viral illness went through the house like wildfire and that was in early April. I have been sober for almost three months now and the energy that is involved in getting up every day, not drinking all day, doing the work, naval gazing, deep breathing, prayers, journaling, running, fighting cravings, going for another run, checking in with my amazing support group…  all of that LIFE stuff plus my sobriety stuff means we have missed parties because the beautiful photo card invitation with an adorably toothless child grinning at us has been buried under the mounting pile of bills and end of school year announcements about class parties and Field Days/ice cream/movie days and the avalanche of year end events and Oh crap there’s another awards ceremony this morning and just wear your pinchy sneakers another day because you are going to be barefoot in a few days anyways and when is it going to EEEENNNDDD-ness.
I am not sitting easy in new sobriety.  It has awakened major perfectionist tendencies in me. I lie awake, thinking of all the ways I can overcompensate for my screw ups this past year, or really, the last two years when my drinking really got to a toxic place. The insomnia, the scratchy burning eyes and the seemingly endless nights where I toss and turn and flip to the cool side of the pillow over and over, all while wishing for a big “OFF” switch for my brain.. I feel pressure to get myself together for summer so we can actually enjoy ourselves . Which is how I sort of stumbled across the lure of Pinterest. (I am not naturally one of those impossibly crafty, super Mom types that I call Pinterest Barbies… who are always posting incredible, inspiring things they have made out of raffia and popscicle sticks or whatever.. That I am even attempting to absorb organization by osmosis shows how dire it really has become).
I created an account and “pinned” some ideas, challenging (kidding) myself to actually try out some sort of enriching craft/ super healthy popsicles and the like this summer. Pins with perky titles like “40 Summer Bucket list activities.”  Nowhere do I see pins about plopping your kids down in front of a half hour of Princess Sofia so you can go cry in the bathroom because you are totally overwhelmed and not sure how you are going to make it through another 9 hours of this “use your words, stop yelling, what is this sticky mess, stop climbing the bookcase, did the cat fall in the fishtank again, say sorry, why do we work so hard and there is never any money and what if I’m just hopelessly screwing these kids up” type day while stone cold sober.
So, yesterday.  Due to distraction/nervous breakdown in progress/exhaustion or whatever, I forgot that when I signed the kids up for a week of summer camp, way back in January when I was still drinking,  I had “conveniently” checked the little magic box that said “Please withdraw the balance due automatically from my account on June 1st” because “Yay, I don’t have to remember to go online and pay it. How wonderfully convenient! Hooray me, for signing the kids up early, lets have a glass or wine to celebrate”
Except you have to remember to actually transfer money into the account before June 1st.
So yesterday our entire checking account was wiped out in one fell swoop and I’m sure the fall out will be fun the next week or so until we get paid again.  
Honestly, signing up for a “high interest savings account” where you can transfer funds by electronic transfer and have money available for withdrawal in 4-5 business days SOUNDS like a good idea when you set it up. But not when you have $1.12 in your checking account and you will be bouncing literally every “automatic bill pay for dummies” transaction like some kind of hyper kangaroo and you get hit with 30 dollar non-sufficient funds fees every time (Gee thanks, bank people, for flogging me for not only being totally forgetful but also poor, that’ll show me) and your cupboards are empty and 4-5 business days is a wicked long time, let me tell you.  And I’ll be that weird lady with the giant jar of spare change at the coinstar making a ridiculous amount of noise with my three kids all clamoring for a turn over the clanking noise of coins….
All of which to say is that in my utterly overwhelmed, unhinged state, I decided that yesterday was the day that I was going to make an effort to feed my kids something other than string cheese, fruit, crackers and yogurt which is what they had in their lunches for about the last, oh…. too many days. I was going to do something Fabulous! 
Peering into the empty fridge, I found five eggs.  Enter that thing I pinned about “You too can make perfect hard boiled eggs in your oven.. imagine the ease, the no mess, the PERFECTION… the beautiful, delicious egg salad sandwiches soon to be yours.”
And that is why Pinterest is exactly like a modern day snake oil salesman.  It promises a short cut, an easy out.
And in my desperate, foolish and sleep deprived state, I went right along for the ride..
The result:
I don’t know about you, but hard boiled eggs that resemble yellowed BPA-laden circa 1978 Tupperware just aren’t real high on the list of Appealing Things to Eat. And the smell?
The smell is like Satan’s own Sulfurous Potpourri wafting directly from the depths of hell.
The glaring lesson to be learned is the same one we have been learning since pre-school.
Be yourself. And most things that are worth doing take time. Shortcuts and “magic fixes” rarely are either short or magical…
In all of the whirlwind and pink cloud days of being sober, I imagine that I have to change everything that I am, or make up for the things I lack or which I overlooked.  I have forgotten that though I am going through a big change, and putting things back together,  I can still enjoy being what I am. Or if not enjoy, at least accept.
I am a disorganized Mom who has a daughter who might have mulch in her hair more often than not from some daring swing set trick, but who also has the best heart, practices compassion as effortlessly as most people breathe.  She draws pictures that make me smile no matter how bad the day. She makes up crazy songs and gets busted reading books late into the night because her mind is voracious. She’s a dancer with the energy level of a humming bird on crack. She is all wild hair and skinny arms and her will is as strong as mine which is a little scary.
I have a son who may wear head to toe mismatched camo outfits ALL THE TIME… but has an incredibly rich imagination, the best giggle, boundless enthusiasm for engineering, minecraft and monster fish. He practices scooter tricks and tells the best knock knock jokes. He has a tender heart and sensitive soul that is sometimes hard to see under all the quirks. He’s the kid who really thinks about the underlying messages in Marvel movies and who discusses them with real sincerity and insight while I’m tucking him into bed with his beloved stuffed animals. He always needs one more hug. 
I have a frequently naked, ornery, adorable preschool girl who explores the world fearlessly and is scary-smart/ beautiful.  She can color a picture for an hour, hold her own at the skate park with teenage boys zooming past while she wears her Captain America helmet and rides her pink scooter. She is obsessed with owls and will spend hours curled up next to me reading a book or just because she is still my little one. She is my garden helper, and actually works hard helping pull weeds and has always sung to the plants to help them grow.  This year she been serenading the broccoli every day.
I need to just accept that God is using me; the hot mess, the hopelessly non-crafty, flawed, recovering, distracted but well-intentioned Mom to grow these little ones into joyful, incredible people. And that’s a role that I can handle.  Because they are amazing.  Maddening and amazing. And I can do it without gallons of wine.  I can do it better without gallons of wine.
And it’s best to just do it in my own imperfect way. If I’m learning anything in sobriety, it’s that nothing can happen overnight. I have to take it easy, not rush ahead or be extreme.  That goes against my natural temperament.  My brain has identified the problem so it wants to fix every broken thing, right every wrong, eradicate every problem RIGHT NOW. But that’s not how this all works.  I have to take my time. There aren’t any short cuts or quick fixes.
So, I’m going to chalk those eggs up to folly.
I will gracefully keep busting out those cheese sticks and keep reminding myself that if I keep getting up every day and doing the right thing, and then the right thing after that, then ultimately…
Every little thing gonna be alright.

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