Our Lives Aren't Over Until They Are
One time I thought my life was over.
I'd had the notion for the first real time that maybe I had a drinking problem, and I huddled under my warm down comforter, willing this knowing away, begging my life to continue as it was. Even though 'as it was' wasn't working; something stilted and only-happy-in-spells was better than the word 'alcoholic'.
"This isn't happening. My life will be over. Everything will be over." I wept for what seemed like days, but couldn't have been more than twenty minutes or so - I needed to go pretend everything was okay. I needed to go cook dinner.
That was some time ago. I've been sober for 351 days. And my life was not, in fact, over.
Actually? Maybe it was. The life I was leading then is over. I left it, sad and wet, under the covers.
I have a new life now.
It's a life I've fought for, sobbed for, begged for.
I have a new life now.
And it shines.
For a few months now I've felt something actively shifting, plates beneath my surface scraping against each other and settling, ever-gently, into new grooves. There's been a new presence. There's been a sense of calm that's been, until now, elusive.
This inner-tectonic-shifting has been nudged along, primarily, by a few things:
1). No more booze. This is obviously huge, and not necessarily for the reasons you might think. See, my drinking wasn't the kind of drinking you see alcoholics doing in the movies - though I've no doubt I would have gotten there, to the messy, life-destructive messiness - had I continued. Rather, my drinking was, at its most basic, simply a total mind fuck. I couldn't take a sip without maniacally worrying about if it was okay, if what I was saying was okay, would I have said that if I wasn't drinking? How much are they drinking? Am I downing this too quickly? Alternately, when I was really in the mood for fun I'd peer pressure others into keeping pace with me, would get drunk (while claiming I totally wasn't, natch), and would then wake the next morning with the Shame Loop running through my tired brain. It was so very unbearable, the mind fuck. Alcohol was an anesthetic, something to take the edge off of the emotional stresses I constantly felt. It would get to be too much, the Feeling, and I'd keep the discomfort at bay with a drink. Once I stopped, I lived in a state of almost constant emotional discomfort - not depressed, but simply ick-feeling - for months.
2). Weekly therapy. I don't think I will ever willingly get off the therapy train; my therapist announcing her retirement is something that makes me genuinely anxious (maybe I need to talk to her about that). I used to see her, years ago, for occasional one-off appointments, but once I stopped drinking, I quickly realized that I didn't want my life to feel half-assed and generally ick forever, and that getting myself to therapy once a week was a non-negotiable. My gal is not your stuffy, leather-chaired psychotherapist - she's much more real-deal hippie/sage/mental-medicine-woman. I go into her office, sit, and bullet-point what I want to touch on. Then I talk. She listens. She asks provocative questions. I think hard and feel harder for honest answers. She sometimes pulls out a white board, and when she does, I know we're digging down for some deeply-buried shit that I can't see without the help of a visual aid. I don't like it when she pulls out the white board. But damn if I haven't walked out of that place relieved, turned over, brand new, week after week after week. I can not overstate how profoundly important this relationship - and the fruit of this relationship, my movement through a good deal of my shit - has been.
3). Listening to the little voice that continues to say, "Keep going." My little voice wants me to succeed wildly. She wants me to be a stellar mother, a loving wife, a rockstar mentor, and a successful writer. I've had to learn to quiet the loud voice of self-doubt (which is, of course, really just the voice of fear). I've done this with the help of my aforementioned therapist, yes. But I've also taken the reigns on this one by making a simple decision: I want to step away from fear. It really did start, this true internal shift, after I made that choice. And please know that choosing to begin to walk away from fear was, itself terrifying. And so I had to sit with the terror, I had to honor it, and then it started to see that I wasn't really scared of it anymore ('cause look at how cool I am, just sittin' here chillin' with my fear!) and so it began to retreat. Stepping away from fear-based living is the single most important thing I've done this year, and it's the thing that required the biggest leap; I'd been fear-driven my whole life, and learning to live without it (or, at least for now, with less of it) felt incredibly foreign. Fear was making me drink. It was making me impatient with my kids and husband. It was causing me to be insecure in my friendships and was also making me write glossy versions of my rusted reality here, and people - myself included - can smell bullshit from very far away indeed. My fear was encouraging me to stay involved with toxic relationships. It wanted me to gossip and judge. And fear sure as shit didn't think I had any business thinking I could support women on their path. Because who was I, anyway? Choosing to listen to my encouraging little voice, which has become a bigger little voice, has forced fear to take up far less real estate in my psyche.
The fear-filled life I led caused me to doubt and question the validity of my very existence - the space I inhabit in the world. My most necessary action was to believe in and act on the goodness and rightness that lies in my middle - my gut/intuition/inner knowing/soul - that guides me straight toward the things I want when I meet it there. Choosing to release as much fear as possible, in the moments when I'm feeling brave enough to do it, has allowed me to stew in that space of goodness more and more often.
4). I surrendered. I'm just a little ol' human. I am not the axis upon which Earth spins. (Earth spins on an axis, right? I mean, I fancy myself a writer, not a third-grade science student.) Getting stuck up in my head, toiling continuously about my worth, spending every ounce of energy I have thinking about whether or not I deserve the space I take up is decidedly ridiculous. Instead, I decided daily to surrender to the will of the Universe. I don't have a concrete belief system (though I do desire and seek one), but I can't conceive of a reality in which there's not some behind the scenes action going on - energetic, Universal, God, whatever. Something's up. Lately, the Law of Attraction has me juiced, as does the simple idea that when we're looking for goodness, that's what we see. Every day, when I'm present enough to remember, I surrender. I say, internally, something like, "Okay, Today. I'll follow your lead. I'll do my best to be graceful and kind and loving. I'll even try to be a little bit funny. But mostly, I just want to keep seeing the goodness, no matter what you toss my way. Thanks, Today. Let's make it a good one." And the more I surrender, the easier it is to surrender.
I've known for more than two years that the work of my life involves supporting women. For the better part of those two years, I've had no real idea what that means. And so I've sometimes proselytized. I've suggested. I've listened, yes, but I've often been nodding, waiting my turn to speak; my desire to listen has often been directly attached to my desire to respond. (Isn't there a meme going around about this right now? Oh yeah - there it is.) My intentions have always been completely and totally well-meaning. But my ability to be useful has, for years, been diminished by the multitude of layers I've worn on top of my sweet little soul.
This recent shift is causing a quiet which is causing a stillness. And that stillness is bringing me home. I'm gaining quick, tag-you're-it clarity about my work. New ideas are sprouting up almost daily. My usual really high highs and really low lows are even-ing out in a finally-noticeable way. I'm practicing simple acknowledgement when people talk - I hear you, I see you, I'm right here with you. I need not reply just because I've been given the silence in which to do so.
In therapy yesterday, my therapist asked me to try and get clear about what my skills are - the actual skills that I want to utilize in my work, both in supporting women and in my writing. Everything I came up with was emotional knowledge - embodying presence, continuing to work toward further self-awareness. I explained how I often feel fear around saying these things, because I don't want to seem arrogant or narcissistic.
And then she began. "Emily, if you were going to hike the Appalachian Trail, you'd seek out others who'd hiked it. You'd ask them where to camp, which restaurants to eat at once you found a town. You'd want to talk to other people while you were hiking," she said.
I felt myself losing my breath, my pulse speeding up, my spine standing itself upright, tall and long.
"Yeah," I breathed, my life changing before her, before my own self, right there in my chair.
Because I'm not coming from a place of thinking I have answers anymore. And what a fucking relief that is. Instead, I just want to start talking about what my trail looks like. I want to talk about which restaurants I love to eat at, which camping platforms have the mice and which ones keep me safe and dry. And I need for you to tell me who has the best fries and an espresso bar.
I left behind a life that no longer served me. I traded it in for one that's put my feet on a different kind of trail. This trail has roots and thorns, yes, but mostly? It has brilliant, helpful, eager folks who are hiking in the same direction.
Our lives aren't over until they are.
And what comes next? Well, it can shine.
PS: To read more about the work I keep referring to up there, check out The Dig Sessions page here.