When you’re not sure
who you really are
When all you feel is
the shape of your scars
And you have more wounds
than you can count
Open your eyes, look all around
You aren’t alone, this is your home
All Belong Here- Communion Song by Lenora Rand / Hannah Rand
You may remember that around this time last year (and by that, I mean a year ago TODAY EXACTLY) I published a post entitled Hinges. It’s actually one of my favorite essays. It was about an experience I had at Wild Goose Festival last year and it involved a band called The Many.
I’ve been listening to their latest album, All Belong Here, and trying to write a review of it. I mean, sort of. I don’t actually know how to DO that, but then I don’t know how to write book reviews either and that seldom stops me.
So, let me come at this another way. I’ll tell you a story. I know how to do that.
For most of my life, I was one of those un-churched people you hear about. I believed in God, but I’d broken up with him when I was nine. I never really stopped believing in him, but I lost my faith. I was angry and disappointed. I didn’t trust him, and I certainly didn’t trust church. Between the way the church handled my parents’ divorce, to coming of age as a survivor in a Boston suburb during the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal, I saw the church as mean, hypocritical and, quite frankly, sinister.
I flirted with church in college. I sang in the choir (such as it was) and attended services for a bit. Then the pastor who led it let me down. It didn’t take much. I ran away again.
When I was going through the worst of my divorce, when I was starving and drinking myself to death, my best friend kidnapped me and dragged me back to church. That’s not even an exaggeration. She threw my skinny butt in her mini-van and hauled me to the office of the pastor at a church we’d been attending sporadically. That church became my church for a time. It healed me in many ways. They had an incredible worship leader- he had a beautiful voice and he sang primarily contemporary Christian music.
There was one song he sang on Father’s Day, a day when my heart wasn’t just tender, it was a gaping, wide open wound, that sent me fleeing to the bathroom in tears. I grew to love that song. I listened to it all the time.
I heard it on the radio the other day and I cringed, which took me aback. I began to reflect on the fact that I don’t listen to much of that music anymore and why that might be. I think it’s the certainty. I think it’s the gloss. I think it’s the hustle.
The funny thing is, in that season of my life I think it was the certainty that appealed to me. My whole life had blown up, the very ground under my feet seemed to be shifting (granted, that could have been the wine…) and I needed a clear cut faith. I needed it to have hospital corners and dead bolts. I was afraid of EVERYTHING, and so the music and faith life I gravitated toward needed to have all of the answers.
Today I am healthy and sober. God and I got back together. Turns out it was a huge misunderstanding. We’re crazy about each other. And because the ground under my feet is solid, there is room in my faith for more questions than answers. There’s room for mystery and brokenness. A longer table. No doors.
When my Favorite and I stumbled upon The Many last year- and I do mean stumbled, we were half asleep and in pj bottoms- it wasn’t because we were being sold some perfectly packaged thing, it was because as we lay there in our tent in the woods almost asleep, we felt invited. The Many’s songs all sound like an invitation in the same way a dear friend being vulnerable with you creates a safe and sacred space and invites you to do the same. The music drifted through the dark woods and called us to the table.
More and more, especially as I grow older, I come to believe that church is where you find it. I’ve struggled to find a church that feels like home to me. I seem to find more certainty, more gloss, more hustle. I don’t need a latte bar in the lobby. I need my heart to be broken. I want my heart to be broken for the things that break God’s heart. I need my church to be a place where it is safe to tell the truth. More often than not, I feel my connection to God more fully in church basements in a circle of creaky folding chairs than I do in the rows of polished pews upstairs. Perhaps I need a jacked up church, a church with more than a few dents in it, for me to settle in.
The Many’s music feels like church to me.
My friend Glennon is fond of reminding us that the two most frequent phrases in the Bible are “Fear not,” and “Remember.” She also points out that the word remember means RE- member. The opposite of dismember. As in, put back together. My favorite church experiences are the ones that have called me to remember who I am, who we are, who we are called to be, together. That it’s okay to admit you’re broken because we are ALL broken in some way at some time- and broken is not irreparable. Maybe we are all broken pieces that fit together, somehow. Together, we are whole. When we are remembered.
Come and remember who you are here
Do this to remember who I am
Come and remember you belong here
All belong here
It’s an album that speaks to a faith I recognize. A faith that is challenged by the pain and suffering I witness. It’s music that allows for frustration with God, that doesn’t have all the answers and doesn’t pretend to. One of my favorite analogies for the kind art that speaks to me is to compare it to kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with precious metals. They RE-member the broken pieces with something lovely. The philosophy behind it is that we honor the history, the REALITY of the object not by hiding its broken places, but by acknowledging them and making them beautiful.
I think that is The Many’s special gift.
Here we are. We are broken. We need You. We need each other.
At this table come as you are
Broken and bleeding’s ok
At this table eat and be filled
Come and drink in this grace.
The Rand family can WRITE. My goodness. I would be happy just to read their lyrics, but I don’t have to- because OH MY WORD are Hannah Rand, Darren Calhoun, Leslie Michelle and Kerry Anne Pritchard a group of gorgeous singers. They’re incredible individually but to get to partake of what the four of them create together? Well, it’s a bit of a feast- which makes me all the more grateful to have been invited to their beautiful, busted up table.
I am headed to Goose again. Like, right now. I’m so excited to listen and learn, to tell my story, to dance, to laugh and to hear The Many, come back to the table and have my heart broken in the church under the canopy of trees and stars.
Follow The Many on Facebook!
Please, please, PLEASE buy their album, All Belong Here. Like, BUY IT. Artists need to eat, y’all.
If you live in the area and are considering attending Wild Goose– DO. IT. You won’t be sorry.
Can you imagine the hopelessness of trying to live a spiritual life when you’re secretly looking up at the skies not for illumination or direction, but to gauge, miserably, the odds of rain?
I lived in Seattle for more than a decade. When you live in the Pacific Northwest you develop a nuanced relationship with the weather. Most people seem to have the impression that it pours there all the time. Not so, PNW rookies. Not so. It rains a little bit almost every single day for nine months out of the year. Lots of gloom. Meteorologists in the Northwest are prone to saying things like, “It’ll be a brighter grey today.”
I always loved that.
As usual, this morning I woke up long before the alarm at what Favorite is prone to calling, “stupid o’clock.” I stretched. I waited for my eyes to focus and adjust to the light. The room didn’t spin, my head didn’t hurt, my stomach felt just fine. I wasn’t filled with dread or fear or remorse or shame. My hands weren’t shaking. I wasn’t afraid to check my phone. I remembered the details of last night. I breathed in the sea air coming in our bedroom window. I looked at the early morning sky with clear eyes.
Then I had the same first thought I have had most mornings for the past twenty-four months:
Today is two years. Two years ago today, I stopped drinking. I didn’t make the decision that day. It wasn’t that cut and dry- and honestly, it didn’t feel possible. I absolutely did not believe I could stop. I didn’t yet have the clarity or the bravery to commit to sobriety that day, but I didn’t drink and I dragged my shaky, exhausted ass to my first meeting.
So today is day 730.
There’s an old story in my family about one of my sisters getting glasses- you know how families have those dog-eared tales? Well, this is one of ours. I guess she was about four? She’d gone and had her eyes checked, she’d gotten her fabulous seventies spectacles and was in the car riding home with my mom. It began pouring out and she exclaimed aloud to my mother,
“Oh, Mommy! I can see the rain!”
And just like that, it was a whole new world- a brighter, clearer grey.
There was nothing bright or clear about this time two years ago. I mean, it looked fine on the outside. I’ve always been great at outside stuff. I can smile and jazz-hands my way through the unspeakable like. a. boss. But regardless of my shiny veneer, the road to rock bottom was one of despair. I recently heard Rob Bell define despair as the belief that tomorrow will be exactly like today. Brilliant. That is precisely what it felt like for me near the end of my drinking. This will never change. I held that thought simultaneously with this one: I cannot do this anymore.
When I first got sober, I started to come out of that fog of despair- I stepped into the brighter grey. Things began to level out and I began to feel hope again. That was a scary time for me. New-found hope is the only thing scarier than hopelessness. All of a sudden there was just so much to lose. I began to get some measure of clarity, both literally and figuratively- as in, things and people STOPPED BEING SO BLURRY ALL THE DAMNED TIME. Also, I had more awareness, perspective, insight.
That might sound positive, but that initial period? It seriously sucked.
I started to look around at all the wreckage I’d caused, all of the collateral damage. The people I hurt, the situations I made worse by avoiding them. It was awful. I imagine it’s why so many people relapse early in sobriety. I became keenly aware of all this pain, my own and, even worse, that of the people I love. This happened at the same time I’d voluntarily given up my anesthesia and my blinders. I made the conscious decision to feel and examine all of the things.
I would say I don’t recommend it, except I do- but only, like, every freaking day.
After that initial stage, which is wretched but finite, things started to get better and everything seemed fantastic- better than ever. That stage had an expiration date, too- because even sober, life will kick your ass.
Still, I am grateful every day. Not just the good days, when gratitude is a feeling that washes over me, unbidden- but the hard days, the awful days, the tragic days when gratitude- much like sobriety, and literally every other important thing in my life- is a practice. A decision. I set the intention of gratitude and then I live it.
My first sober year was very much about NOT DRINKING. That was overwhelming and excruciating at times, and so I gave myself a pass on other life stuff. That year was about finding a new normal. It entailed developing a new pattern to my days and nights. Like with all practices, sobriety has a fair amount of rhythm and ritual. It took some time to find what works for me.
My second year of sobriety has been so much harder in some ways. The focus shifted. The not drinking has mostly gotten easier. I don’t white knuckle my way through a day wrestling with the urge to drink. Here’s the thing, though: Sobriety is challenging. It is as simple and hard as active addiction is easy and complicated.
The past few months have been among the most difficult since I got sober for a variety of reasons. At one point I found myself out for breakfast with another friend in recovery and I told him about something incredibly painful I’m going through, and that I’d recently had my worst day yet in sobriety. His answer? “Fuck no. You had your BEST day yet in sobriety. You didn’t drink over it.”
Thank GOD for my tribe. When I am lost, when things are unclear and I need some perspective, they hand me my glasses and I can see the rain again.
I am learning how to do life, and I am surrounded by amazing, brave, generous teachers every day.
I had another glorious friend say recently that she thought sobriety would get her to the mountaintop, but instead, it just got her out of the hole. Just to sea-level. So freaking true. We think it’ll get us to Mount Olympus, but it only gets us out of Mordor.
Bless our hearts.
I stopped drinking only to realize that sobriety isn’t the finish line, it’s the starting gate.
Now the work- the REAL work, begins.
Year two was about the digging in, the come to Jesus-ing. The reckoning, with myself and with others, and about learning to sit still for and lean into pain and uncertainty.
And now I have 730 sober references. 730 days I survived without numbing myself with alcohol. Some days shitty, some days spectacular. All of them, sober- so now I know that’s possible. Sure, I sometimes substituted other things (Hello, carbs, cleaning products, and terrible television. Love you. Mean it.) but I am, as ever, a work in progress.
I’ve been reflecting on that story about my sister a lot, lately. About how none of the adults knew how bad her vision had been because she didn’t know. She likely didn’t know clearer vision was an option. Before my sister could see the rain it was just something that came out of nowhere and happened to her. That’s what life used to feel like to me, something that just happened to me. In sobriety, I know that’s not true. It’s just happening. Before I got sober, I didn’t know I could weather pain and loss and love and failure and uncertainty and success and life without resorting to escape. How could I have known? I hadn’t tried and this world of our is so damned quick to teach us how to escape.
I couldn’t have known that any more than my sister could have known rain drops were something you could see – know why?
Because we don’t know what we don’t know.
Sometimes you can’t know how bad something is until you know how good it can be. It’s like when I lived in the Northwest. You have those long months of darkness, but then the summer is so spectacularly beautiful it defies description. And you don’t get that without the gloom and the rain. So it’s not that you forget the nine months ever happened, you just know they served a purpose and you turn your face toward the sun and say, Thank you. Thank you for every dark day. ThankyouThankyouThankyou.
There is not a single part of my life that isn’t better today- and that includes the parts that are hard and parts that are painful. It’s all better because I am. I am better, today. I am better sober. Far from perfect, but so much better. And when life is hard or scary or painful, I can look at it through the clear lens of sobriety and use the tools I now have to navigate it without drinking.
It occurred to me recently that if there were some cure that enabled me to drink like a normal person but the cost of it was to give up this way of life, this truth-telling community I’ve found?
This beautiful, clear, bright grey morning, I would not take that deal.
I have a tribe of people who SEE me, who show up for me, and for whom I show up. They’ve taught me to move through the world more gently and with some small measure of grace, and for that my gratitude is endless.
Today I live differently, and as long as I don’t pick up a drink the world opens up to me. Is there a magic formula? Hell if I know. For me, it seems to be God’s grace + my willingness. The former has always been there, the latter is two years old today.
As a brilliant young woman I know always says, I can choose love or fear. Rain or shine, that’s my choice every day: love or fear. I can only live in one, though- and today, on day 730, I choose love.
Tell the truth.
Ask for help.
Help when asked.
Lather, rinse, repeat – forever and ever, amen.
Love you so,
Rain is good for me.
I feel like I achieve clarity, actually, when it rains.
The longer I have to sit and wait,
the clearer my game becomes to me.
“We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!”
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
“And it was good not to get used to many things when life was unsettled. Again and again one had to abandon them or they were taken away. One should be ready to leave every day.”
Erich Maria Remarche
Today is Holy Saturday. A day of waiting. It’s not Friday, the pain of the crucifixion, the fear, and the disbelief. The shocking sorrow. It’s not Sunday, the Resurrection, the promise fulfilled, the joy and the validation.
No one talks about Saturday much. I was listening to James Prescott’s podcast with Glennon Doyle Melton and it was the first time I heard anyone delve into Saturday. If you read or listen to Glennon much (and if you don’t- what do I actually have to do? Get with the program.) you’ve heard her say time and time again, “First the pain, then the Rising.”
In the podcast, they touched on the fact that really, it’s first the pain, then the horrible waiting, and THEN the Rising.
Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
I imagine there was chaos and fear among the disciples that Saturday. Jesus Christ is dead. Murdered. Their brother Judas, the instrument of his betrayal. Could Jesus really return? I imagine there was grief and anger, and below everything else, uneasiness, confusion. Saturday is a liminal space- a time of transition. No one knew for sure what was happening, the memory of the trauma was still fresh but there was no real hope of redemption yet.
Pontius Pilate dispatches a guard to the tomb. In 1 Peter 3:19 there is a mention of Jesus preaching to the “imprisoned spirits” and the Apostles’ Creed references his descent into hell- but truthfully the bible is a little light on details.
I get that. Uncertainty is hard to write about. It’s also hard to live in.
I hate uncertainty. I think when something terrible happens to you early in life, something that causes your world to tilt off its axis, not knowing what to expect takes on an added layer of fear.
This is one of the ways in which trauma shapes the brain. Once you know what harm people are capable of, that becomes an option. Possibility is generally spoken of in terms of exciting, positive potential outcomes- yes- but our concept of it still skews toward the way our personal experiences have framed the world for us. Possibility is hopeful, sure- ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN- but it can also be frightening because ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN.
People you love can hurt you or leave or stray. Loved ones can get sick and die. Dreams can go unfulfilled.
All of those are possibilities.
When I first got sober I thought that I drank to stave off pain. It’s certainly why I began drinking. Why I LOVED my first drink at the ripe old age of eleven. Having done some work, having made a searching and fearless moral inventory, what I’ve come to understand is this: I am much more inclined to drink in times of ambiguity and doubt, times when I am plagued by indecision or when there is, quite simply, no decision to be made.
That is also the time when I am most vulnerable to building stories that have the potential to harm me. Historically I’ve much preferred to rush headlong into a wrong and even bad decision, than to sit with indecision. I want to know what happened and, even more importantly, what is going to happen and WHY. If I don’t know the WHY I am happy to make one up. I’m creative, you know. I have lots of ideas.
In those instances, they are seldom good ones.
I’m actually GREAT on Friday. When things are actively blowing up or something horrific has happened? That’s my jam. I am a great woman in a storm. Come the zombie apocalypse, I’m your girl. My cell phone will be charged, I’ll have water and ibuprofen, and I can do the hard things in hard times. Make the awful calls, compartmentalize like a boss.
It’s a gift born of trauma, I suppose.
Sunday is, frankly, a little new for me. Relaxing into joy without waiting for the other shoe to drop is something I am working on. I’m starting to believe that some things can be simply good and that I can be reasonably happy in that. I have examples of redemption under my nose every single day. More often than not they’re revealed in a circle of jacked up folding chairs in the church basement rather than in one of the polished pews upstairs- but as I get older, I realize more and more that church is where you find it, and that love truly is a cold and broken Hallelujah. I have learned, at long last, to believe in Sunday.
But Saturday? Saturday is so freaking uncomfortable. Like all times of uncertainty and transition, it is deeply unsettling A huge part of my sobriety has been learning to sit with Saturday. To make peace with the not-knowing of it. To understand that sometimes the why is not necessary to understand- it’s enough to know THAT. To accept the fact that I will not always be given the whys, and that I almost always do damage when I try to force an understanding.
In a recent article, Father James Martin makes the distinction between the kind of waiting infused with hope or despair and the wait of passivity. He refers to it as the “wait of Whatever.” It’s hard for me in times of uncertainty, in that restless tension, not to either throw my hands up or white-knuckle-grip the wheel and wrest it in the direction *I* decide. It’s why the serenity prayer is so damned helpful. Acceptance, courage, and wisdom. I’m getting better at identifying situations where I have no agency. I am learning to sit still with that.
It’s Saturday for me. I mean, it’s ACTUALLY Saturday- but it’s also a time of unrest and tension and not-knowing.
And I’m sitting with it. I’m sitting here with my coffee and my writing… and with possibility.
Love you so.
When the axe came into the forest, the trees said,‘The handle is one of us.’
The above quote is usually associated with a fable. There’s a Turkish version and a Macedonian version. Aesop penned one. Sometimes it’s called the Woodsman and the Trees, sometimes it’s called The Trees and the Axe.
The basic premise is that when we sacrifice any of our human community at the altar of comfort or false security or pride or fear, when we deem ANY of our sisters or brothers to be less than or different, when we decide someone is other, we are complicit in our own destruction. We hand our enemies the very tools they will use to harm us.
These are frightening times to be different. These are frightening times to live at the margins. Frankly, these are frightening times to be anything other than a straight, white, cis-gendered, Christian, well-to-do, American male.
It calls to mind that famous poem by Martin Niemöller:
First they came for the Socialists,
and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists,
and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak for me.
You can’t find a way to make yourself okay with the water crisis in Flint and not be harmed. You cannot turn a blind eye to racism and not be harmed. You can’t justify immigrant families being turned away and torn apart and not be harmed. You can’t degrade women and not be harmed. You can’t justify laws that villainize trans people and not be harmed.
When you are an agent of harm, you are harmed. There is a cost. When you willingly other someone else, offer them up to be the handle, you enable the axe. Once you’ve made your peace with the axe, you make it more likely that the axe will come for you. Because you’ve already said that’s okay. That some people don’t count. That some kids matter less. That some lives inherently count more. None of that happens in a vacuum.
I heard a line once- maybe tv, maybe a movie. Maybe Oprah. It was said to a mistress about the man who left his wife for her. It was a cautionary tale sort of a thing. “If he did it with you, he’ll do it TO you.”
I believe that.
And even if you never get cast as other, even if you ride the wave of privilege to the bitter end, it. will. cost. you.
This uneasiness, this fear? This lack of peace we feel? Well, Mama T was right. It is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. You need only turn on the evening news to know that’s true.
We did this. ALL OF US, to some degree. ALL OF US. Whether by prejudice or by privilege, by apathy or by animus, by fear or by frustration- we all own a piece of it. We are all connected. We forget that, though.
With every bully unchallenged, we offered up a sapling. With every voice of misogyny not shouted down, we sharpened the knife. With every racist joke we ignored, we made the first cut. With every dismissive comment about the poor, with every “Prayers for Paris” but not “Prayers for Pakistan,” with every bathroom law, every wedding cake denied, every rape survivor blamed, every gay child cast out, every “build that wall,” every time we made someone’s faith a litmus test of their worthiness, of their very humanity – with every act of othering, every single one, we whittled the handle of the axe now being used to hack away at what actually makes America great. We polished the grip of that which would destroy what is the very best in us.
And when you deny people fleeing for their lives safe harbor, when you decide that some lives, some families, some children are simply not worth saving, you become the blade. And the blade does not get to go on tv and cry fake tears about the violence it has wrought. The blade doesn’t get to say, “No, you cannot bring your babies here to safety,” and then bemoan and retaliate because those babies suffocated in the street.
We can pretend we’re solitary trees, but the truth is we are not. I wrote this a while back for another piece:
“I am just a tree in the great, wide, breathtaking forest.
Just one tree.
The story of the forest is more interesting, more beautiful, more amazing than the story of any one tree contained within it. The stories of every oak, every maple, every willow, make up the forest’s tale. Our branches brush up against one another, our roots become intertwined- and so do our stories.
The story of the forest is our story.
There is no OUR story without yours and without mine.”
See, that’s where we get confused. We buy into this lie that we are a bunch of trees. We’re not. We’re a forest. And forests, like all ecosystems, are complex and interdependent. You can’t pollute the stream without making the wildlife sick. You can’t eliminate a species without harming the food chain. You can’t disrupt the natural order of things and think there won’t be pervasive negative consequences.
“Because in the end, we aren’t punished for our sins
as much as we are punished by our sins.”
Amen, amen, and amen.
“A man came into a forest and asked the Trees to provide him a handle for his axe. The Trees consented to his request and gave him a young ash-tree. No sooner had the man fitted a new handle to his axe from it, than he began to use it and quickly felled with his strokes the noblest giants of the forest. An old oak, lamenting when too late the destruction of his companions, said to a neighboring cedar, “The first step has lost us all. If we had not given up the rights of the ash, we might yet have retained our own privileges and have stood for ages.”
Fables of Aesop
I was incredibly fortunate to be asked to participate in a video podcast series hosted by writer Caroline Garnet McGraw of A Wish Come Clear. We both first became aware of each other through Glennon Doyle Melton’s blog, Momastery. A few years back, Caroline guest-posted an essay about losing her best friend to addiction that absolutely gutted me. I just re-read it and wept again. Do yourself a favor and check it out.
Caroline first heard of me through He Wrote It Down, a post of mine that Glennon shared in 2015.
Also, Caroline did an amazing TEDx talk about not owing anyone an interaction. It’s really good stuff- especially if you are a writer on the interwebs.
Anyway, here is our conversation – one episode in her fabulous series, “You Need to Read.” We talked about writing, telling your story publicly, shame, abuse, and publishing from a scar versus a wound. It was like sitting down with a great girlfriend for a long, cozy chat. I could have talked for twelve more hours with her, but apparently, she has a life…
If you click on the link to the podcast on Caroline’s blog, you can enter for a chance to win a copy of Glennon’s book, Love Warrior– which makes all kinds of serendipitous sense given that G is how Caroline and I found each other!!
Thanks again for having me, Caroline!!
I am writing a book and in order to get said book published it is awfully helpful to make the most of your platform. At least, that is what The People Who Know The Things tell me.
Please consider doing the following:
Come hang out with me on Facebook!
Follow me on Twitter!
Come see what my dog is doing on Instagram!
If you’re following me on Pinterest… don’t. And I’m sorry. I don’t even know how I ended up there…
“The cost of a thing is the amount of
what I will call life
which is required to be exchanged for it,
immediately or in the long run.”
Henry David Thoreau
I saw something on tv recently about the most expensive drink in the world. It cost something like $14,000 for one cocktail. I immediately went to a place of judgment. How could ANYONE justify spending that much on one drink?
When I first got sober all I could think about was the fact that I would never get to drink again. I mean, how was that even possible? How do you do Christmas without champagne? How do you get through summer without beer? How do you celebrate? How do you commiserate? How do you get that instant stress de-escalation that comes when the alcohol hits your bloodstream?
I remember the first time I felt that. I was eleven. I remember thinking, “This is it. This is the feeling I have been waiting for my whole life.” Now, that might seem silly given that I was only eleven, but I was not a young eleven. Anyway, it was the just the thing. It softened all the edges, and if it didn’t make my life any better (and it didn’t) it sure did make me care a little less about it. It was in that moment that I determined alcohol’s value in my life. I placed a premium on it, and it was high.
I blacked out that night, woke up the next morning sick as a dog and thought, “When can I do that again?”
I can’t say that I never drank just for pleasure- I did. I had years when my drinking was mostly normal. Not ever completely- but mostly. But it was mostly in search of that feeling. It was such an exhale feeling for me- and once I felt it, I would become consumed with maintaining it. I was thirteen years old the first time I drank with peers. I remember being very aware that we were not having the same experience. They were having fun. We were in a car passing around some unholy concoction that involved peppermint schnapps. Everyone was giggling with that particular mania that accompanies doing something illicit. I probably did laugh along, but mostly I was keeping track.
How much is left?
Will it come around again?
How can I stay where I’m at? How do I keep feeling this way?
I think it takes getting sober to realize how much our adult society revolves around drinking. It’s typically the center of every adult social occasion, and more than a few kids’ ones as well. I got sober in June of 2015 and I have to say, that first summer was awful. I thought I was either going to need to stay home alone for the rest of my life or white knuckle my way through social gatherings that were just not fun anymore. Something happens at most of those events. There comes a point in the evening when the energy changes. Everything gets louder, people start talking over one another. It’s not noticeable when you’re partaking, but when you’re sober? It’s generally the tipping point when it stops being fun.
I spent much of that summer wondering how I was going to be able to say no to 852,000 more drinks. I worried about every party, every barbecue, every wedding. No, no, no. It felt relentless and impossible.
Part of why I have been open about my recovery is that if you aren’t, people generally do not accept that you don’t want a drink. No might be a complete sentence, but it’s not an answer that the general public accepts when it comes to drinking. And I didn’t want to lie. I didn’t want any more secrets. Secrets are about shame, and shame is why I drank in the first place. I was deeply ashamed of my drinking and I am incredibly proud of my recovery. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, getting sober.
My entire life is different today. The truth is, I go to very few social gatherings of the kind I used to. They’re just not fun for me. And while I socialize less in that way, I have more connection and community than I ever have before. I do more things, I spend more time with friends. I laugh more. Most of my circle of friends is sober. I’m less lonely than I’ve ever been in my life.
There are still moments that are hard. I went on a trip to Austin recently. I was so excited to go listen to live music- one of my very favorite things- and it just wasn’t really an option. The relentless drinking was too much for me, and I had some moments of real sorrow about it. Grief, really. And I felt left out, which is a dangerous place for me to be. When I am in that space I go back to an attitude of, “I don’t GET to drink anymore,” when the reality is, I don’t HAVE to drink anymore. I go to a place where I’m framing sobriety as a punishment rather than the gift it is. I cannot afford that. I can’t afford to put myself in that position.
The truth is, I can drink again. Anytime I want, I can take a drink- I just have to hand back every single gift sobriety has given me. My health, my happiness, my self-respect. My career, my calling, my relationships, my connection to God. It’s an exchange, you see. It’s a trade off. But it is a sure thing that I will lose every gift. Done deal. So the day I decide a glass of wine is worth more than all of those things, I can drink again. That’s a pretty high price to pay, though. That is a hell of a costly drink.
In the mean time, I just think of it this way: I only need to say no to ONE drink. Just the first one. If I can say no to the first one, that’s the end of it. If I say yes, then I need to worry about all the other drinks. If I say yes, I need to worry about the harm and the wreckage. The loneliness and the sorrow.
Can I say no to one drink? Can I say no to that drink in order to say yes to my WHOLE life? I can. I can do that, at least for today. And for that, I am grateful.
I am writing a book and in order to get said book published it is awfully helpful to make the most of your platform. At least, that is what The People Who Know The Things tell me.
Please consider doing the following:
Come hang out with me on Facebook!
Follow me on Twitter
Come see what my dog is doing on Instagram!
If you’re following me on Pinterest… don’t. And I’m sorry. I don’t even know how I ended up there…
“Today I will release a heavy burden. I will voice what feels unspeakable to a trusted soul. I might start with: “I need help,” “I am afraid.” “I am overwhelmed,” or “I haven’t felt like myself in a while.” There is something about voicing the burden that makes it feel lighter, and this is why: when we meet each other in the light of realness (a place where we can love each other even more because of our shared struggles and human imperfections), hope grows for both of us.”
There are a group of writers that I refer to as my north star writers. They are, to a person, prodigiously talented- but that’s not why they’re important to me. I used to call them fearless truth-tellers, but I don’t know about that. They might be afraid- who am I to say?- but then they tell the truth anyway.
These writers, the ones who always seem to help me find my way home to myself, lead with vulnerability. All of them. That is the one common denominator. When you do that, when you show up (whether in writing or in life) and say, “Here I am, scars and all,” you make a space for other people to do the same. Somehow, even when a writer’s struggles are completely different than my own, their willingness to be truly seen helps me feel seen- and then we all feel less alone.
Rachel Macy Stafford is one of my north star writers.
Some books make us hold our breath- that can be good, right? They’re suspenseful or powerful in some way that makes us stop breathing for a minute and we’re suspended in the author’s world of words for a time. As readers, we are on the edge of our seats.
Only Love Today: Reminders to Breathe More, Stress Less, and Choose Love by Rachel Macy Stafford is not that book, though it certainly stopped me in my tracks often enough. I probably did catch my breath once or twice as I recognized some part of my own story and struggles in the author’s honest and vulnerable words, but mostly I relaxed deeper into my chair and I exhaled.
Only Love Today is an exhale book.
You see, many mornings I wake up with the dull ache of untreated regret.
This is both unpleasant and a vast improvement.
When I was still drinking, I woke up every morning drenched in shame and dread. The fact that it is at the level of discomfort and not searing pain is progress, indeed.
Back then, I knew I was failing every single person in my life. I was failing as a mother, a friend, a partner, a sister. I was keenly aware of everyone’s frustration. The weight of everyone’s disappointment was crushing, but I felt powerless to do anything about it. I’d try and overcompensate in other ways, but that never works. People know when they’re being offered cheap replacements for real love and connection. It was what I could do, though, given how sick I was. It was, in fact, my best. Not nearly good enough, but still my best.
For someone like me who has spent most of her life as an ardent perfectionist, that sense of failure was so acute it was paralyzing. It is a testament to how sick I was that despite my despair over my failure, despite my life-long pattern of trying to be all things to all people all of the time, I could not do what was being asked of me. I knew what people wanted, I knew what was expected- and for the first time in my life, I just. couldn’t. I could not get better, right up until the moment I could. I don’t know why getting sober works that way, I only know that it does.
One of the things they say in recovery is, “The good news is, you get your feelings back. The bad news is, you get your feelings back.”
When I began to comprehend the enormity of the pain I’d caused, I can honestly say it was the worst feeling of my life. To know that I’d been an agent of harm to the people I love dearly, and to know I’d let my children down so spectacularly, was devastating. It didn’t feel fixable.
I bet that’s one reason why so many people in early recovery relapse right away. The fog begins to lift and you see the wreckage brought about by your addiction and the pain is overwhelming- and you FEEL it. You’ve put down the anesthesia and are left with so much grief and guilt, and even worse, their evil twins regret and shame.
The author reminds us that the antidote for that aching regret is love. Love for the people we let down, and love for our imperfect selves.
Sometimes the mountain of damage feels overwhelming, and I begin to believe I’ll never repair what I broke.
That’s what is so beautiful about Rachel’s message, Only Love Today. It reminds me that love, like everything else of value in my life- sobriety, parenting, faith, creativity- is a practice. A verb. And every day, every moment of every day, is an opportunity to love better. In recovery there’s another saying, “you can start your day over at any time.” That’s what it feels like reading this book- even if you messed up, it’s not too late. Even if you made a mistake, it’s not too late. The author reminds us, reminds ME, that I can just keep showing up with a wide open heart, be present for the people in front of me, and forgive myself.
Show up. Tell the truth. Ask for help. Help when asked.
Lead with love.
THAT seems manageable. THAT I can do.
“Today, I release myself from judgment. I will not view the mistakes of yesterday as failures but instead as stepping stones to the lovingly imperfect, grace-filled life I’ve always wanted to live. Who I am becoming matters more than who I once was. Today matters more than yesterday.”
Rachel is someone who manages to give voice to hard truths in a gentle way. We seem to place such a premium on being “brutally honest” in our society, but that brutality often strikes me as largely recreational, and it frequently undercuts our ability to hear the intended message. Rachel’s writing is more like that best girlfriend who lovingly reminds you of what’s important when you’ve lost your way, who reminds you who you are meant to be and what you are capable of.
A north star friend.
It should come as no surprise that the author’s mantra and book title are “Only Love Today,” because every word she writes is rooted in love- that’s why we can HEAR it.
I read this book straight through, but I almost think it’s best used as a devotional- that’s how I’ll use it going forward. Open it up to any point, read an essay and make a commitment to live out of that story that day. What situation in your life has ever been made worse by leading with love? Can’t think of any? Me either.
This book is a treasure, plain and simple.
ONLY LOVE TODAY is Rachel Macy Stafford’s latest book filled with soul-building words and life-changing intentions. With a unique flip-open, read-anytime/anywhere format, this beautiful book is designed to help busy individuals stay anchored in love despite everyday distractions, pressures, and discord. ONLY LOVE TODAY began as a mantra to overcome her inner bully, but it is now the practice of Rachel’s life. It can be yours too. Click here to order. Click here for a signed copy. Mail your pre-order receipt to email@example.com to receive your collection of gorgeous hand-lettered bonus gifts! Offer good until release day 3/7/17. Join Rachel in her daily quest to choose love for herself and those around her at
A procession of women makes its way down to the river. It is early in the morning and there is still a distinct chill in the air. The sun bounces off the low-lying fog and catches the dew on the long grass, causing the fields around them to seem to glow in the morning light. It looks warmer than it is.
They walk through the center of the village, the group growing larger as more women and girls join them. Some carry buckets, some washboards. Elder women alternately scold and smile at the children who in turns lollygag and run ahead. New mothers with babies strapped to their backs keep a watchful eye on their children and the children of others. They bark orders at the younger women, enjoying their newly minted positions of power over the ones who only a year or two before were considered peers.
They arrive at the river and commence the ritual of the wash. Linens are removed from buckets of lye and wrung out before being scrubbed on the washboards. At first, the icy water stings, reddening their hands. They grow accustomed to it and begin laundering their linens as if by rote, the repetitive chore leaving their minds free to wander.
And they talk. They gossip, they ask for and give advice. They console and commiserate. They laugh and lament.
In this, as in all their shared tasks, they connect.
They are in the room when each other’s babies are born. They witness each other’s joy. They are in the room when they prepare a loved one’s body for burial. They witness each other’s grief. The forced intimacy of hardship doesn’t allow for pretense. They know one another.
They are at the river for wash and they are at the river for baptisms. The mundane and the sacred, up close.
They are a community in every sense of the word.
It’s funny when you think about it. All of our modern conveniences, which free up our time by making tasks solitary and efficient, have seemingly left us even more stressed out and with less time to connect on an interpersonal level.
Daily chores we can accomplish in minutes by ourselves in modern times, took hours and more than one set of hands to complete in the past. By the time the wash was done the village women’s shoulders would ache and their faces would be sunburnt, but they would likely leave the river feeling less alone than when they arrived.
We live in miraculous times. Our lives are much less demanding physically. Modern conveniences have made it so that we can operate with very little interdependence on one another. If your child is up sick all night it doesn’t mean four hours at the river’s edge cleaning linens against the rocks, commiserating with the other mothers about fevers and sleeplessness- it’s a quick toss into your front loading washing machine and maybe a tired emoji-laden post on Facebook.
We hire people to create and manage our lives, we outsource our rituals. It’s amazingly efficient and sanitary, but mark my words- we have lost something in doing so.
What we have gained in ease we have lost in connection. I’m not saying we should glorify the old days of grueling manual labor and forego modern conveniences. No one is idealizing a hard-scrabble existence and if you had offered those women bent over for hours scrubbing clothes in cold water an easier more efficient way to do that same work, they’d have taken it in a heartbeat. They’d likely think this was a ridiculous conversation.
We don’t need to return to a back-breaking daily battle for continued existence. No one wants that- and this is not an attempt to romanticize days gone by. There is a reason smart and inventive people spent time and energy coming up with ways for us to not have to do those daily tasks the hard way. So many good things have come out of those advances- indoor plumbing, for example, and the Shamwow.
Somehow, though, with that decline in our physical need for one another came an idealization of independence all around. Particularly in this country, we’ve created this whole mythology around “self-made” men and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. We’ve romanticized the notion of women who can handle everything by themselves, which has, in turn, created generations of martyrs and burned out women who see it as a sign of weakness or an admission of defeat to say, “This is hard,” or, “I need help.”
The problem lies here- we have not found effective replacements for the forced intimacy of needing one another to survive. In the absence of the physical need for one another, we’ve offered up our human connection at the altar of convenience. Without that intimacy- without being all up in each other’s grills on a daily basis, we’ve learned to fake it. We’ve come to settle for smoke and mirrors over substance, and the illusion of success and happiness over real community.
Real community is not formed in happy times and celebrations when everyone is dressed up and smiling for the cameras. Real community is formed in the trenches. Real community is born of the connection that comes from vulnerability. Vulnerability isn’t a surface thing. Vulnerability requires real intimacy or real desperation.
We go home to our self-contained little lives. We put up privacy fences and pull down shades. We post our pretty pictures on Instagram so edited and tweaked by filters they bear little resemblance to what actually happened when we snapped the photo. Then we hashtag our gratitude for a life we are not actually living and tag our friends who do not actually know us.
And we are modeling this for our kids. Look at any lunch table, any gathering of teens. You will find them all looking down, choosing to have the glow of their devices light up their faces over having real connection light up their eyes. Parallel play is no longer just for toddlers, friends. And we wonder how it is that a teenage boy can become so detached he can walk into a school lunchroom and treat it like a first-person-shooter video game. It’s not mysterious at all. It’s the real world application of disconnection.
Go to any kids’ sporting events and observe the number of parents who are busy on social media posting about how amazing their kids are while they are MISSING HOW AMAZING THEIR KIDS ARE.
Somewhere along the line it became more important to us to seem to have a great life than to live one. At some point we became more worried about the number of Facebook friends we had and how much they ‘like’ our posts than loving the actual people in our lives and having them like us.
We watch reality tv to get our fix of life up close- but those shows are to real relationships what pornography is to love. A fun house mirror version of life, with all the vicarious thrill of people living close up to one another with none of the real responsibility. We engage in pretend forms of connection where we can log off or change the channel before something true or deep is required of us.
That can be okay, for a while. When things are good. But life, whether we are doing the wash in the river or dropping it at the dry-cleaners, is difficult and often heartbreaking. And it is so much harder if you feel alone.
We are hardwired for connection. We are meant to live in community physically, emotionally and spiritually- and we are STARVING for it. I mean it, we are literally dying. The lack of connection, the lack of honest-to-God real community, is at the root of nearly every single thing that ails society today.
Addiction. Despair. Violence. Poverty. Mass shootings. Infidelity. Suicide. Hatred. Judgment. Even terrorism is rooted in the lie of “other.” If you scratch just below the surface of any of those tragedies, you find isolation and heartbreaking loneliness.
It took my life imploding before I was able to be vulnerable enough to build real communities for myself and my family. It took me losing nearly everything. It took the complete decimation of the pretty fences and the shiny life. It took the humiliation of my divorce, it took me telling the truth about my abuse in childhood, and me finally getting honest about my alcohol addiction before I was able to set aside the pretty veneer and let myself be seen, scars and all. It took me nearly dying in order to really begin to live, it took me being shattered for me to finally become whole.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We shouldn’t have to fall apart to come together. We don’t need more fences, we need more rivers.
How many more stories do we need to read where someone says, “I had no idea she was struggling,” or, “They seemed like such a happy family,” before we take a long hard look at the paper-thin lives we are leading? Before we recognize that Mother Teresa was right:
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that
we belong to each other.”
My friend Glennon says this:
“The most revolutionary thing a woman can do is
not explain herself.”
I absolutely agree.
I’m making an exception in this one case, because I think there’s an important distinction to be made, and I take my responsibilities to my communities very seriously.
I’ve been getting some pushback for the post I published last night. People are upset this blog has become what they deem to be too political. It’s interesting. I’ve published upwards of 170 essays, and of those, there are probably less than 10 that are overtly political. I had one reader comment that she was disappointed because Say It, Survivor means so much to her and she feels less comfortable here now that I am delving into politics from time to time.
I get that. I really, honestly do. I have writers whose work I read and every now and then I have to set aside their view on something because I love most of what they write about- and if I can’t do that, then I don’t read their work. We all need to make the right choices for ourselves in that regard.
In Others’ Words and Say It, Survivor are two wholly different things, though, and the distinction is important. That may be hard for some to understand because they way they found SIS is through this blog, or specifically through He Wrote It Down. In Others’ Words is my personal blog, it existed before SIS, and reflects my beliefs, experiences, and opinions. I occasionally contribute pieces I’ve written for this blog to the SIS page when they are relevant, but this blog does not exist in service to Say It, Survivor.
Any post I write that is relevant to the Say It, Survivor community will be posted on the SIS FB page, so if the rest of this blog isn’t your cup of tea and you’d prefer to only come visit when it relates to the topic of sexual abuse- I get that, and your presence is always welcome.
Do you know why I used the conceit of writing about a quote? It was so I could write about anything that is on my mind or in my heart. I didn’t want to get pigeon-holed into one genre, one topic. I didn’t want to be a mommy-blogger or a divorce blogger- I just wanted to write, and to be wholly, completely me.
When I first began IOW, I wrote a fair amount about my divorce. I’ve written about my eating disorders, my alcoholism. I’ve written about art, music, dancing, faith, sex, love, parenting, and friendship. I’ve written about refugees, rape culture, racism, and gun violence, too.
Those are all things that are important me- and none of them defines me.
For quite a long stretch I wrote almost exclusively about my abuse and my recovery from it- that’s true- but that was never the intention for this blog. That’s what was on my mind. That’s what was- and still is- in my heart, and so I will continue to write about it.
Interestingly enough, I got this same pushback the times I’ve written about my faith. “Why has the blog gotten religious? I don’t feel comfortable here now.”
I am a writer. That’s how I process what happens in my life, and in the world, and how I express myself. I am a survivor of sexual abuse, as well. Not solely that, though. Not just that one thing. I am more than what happened to me, and so are you. I did not fight this long and this hard to get healthy and find my voice to not feel free to use it.
You will never see anything political on Say It, Survivor unless it specifically deals with news, policy, or legislation around sexual abuse. SIS is non-political and will remain so.- that I can guarantee.
I would, however, gently remind my readers that if I was unwilling to talk about controversial things that were on my mind, Say It, Survivor would not exist. Lest we forget, SIS came about because I wrote about a topic that so many of you were hungry to read about, but made many of my existing readers wildly uncomfortable- some of whom felt compelled to leave. That’s okay. I didn’t lose a moment’s sleep over it then, and I’ll sleep just fine tonight.
Say It, Survivor is a non-profit dedicated to helping survivors of child sexual abuse, and I work on its missions every single day. Hard. This blog, however, is about me and my life- and the state of the nation and the world is also something I am passionate about, something I work on every day. Also. And.
I am politically active and will remain so. That is part of who I am. To not speak out on things I believe are important simply to retain readers or grow the platform? THAT would be political. The only way to ensure you never offend anyone is to never take a stand on anything, and that is simply not who I am.
I will try and be mindful of not indulging in snark- I can fall prey to that, sometimes- but I will continue to be who I have always been: a person who notices what is going on in the world around her and writes about it. I may not agree with everything you believe, but I would fight like hell for your right to believe and express it. You don’t need to agree with me to be welcome here. You don’t need to agree with me in order to comment here, as long as you remain respectful.
And you don’t need to stay, if leaving is what’s right for you. That’s totally fair.
I hope this lends some clarity to those who are seeking it. I am going to keep being me and writing what I need and want to write- and if that means the numbers dwindle I am completely and utterly okay with that. I’ll show up and tell my stories to whoever is here.
Love you so.
“You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world,
and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.”
Dita Von Teese