My seventh year of sobriety falls on the upcoming Tuesday, the 14th of April. It is almost entirely unfathomable to me that my sobriety has traveled around the sun seven total times and survived so many changes and heartbreaks and now, a global pandemic.
The first full day of my sobriety was April, 15th, 2013. As a bomb was detonated during the 117th Boston Marathon, I made my way to my first AA meeting. Though I had been trying for six months to get sober, this was the real deal—it was the first time I grasped the reality of the situation, as I sat in a circle of folks alternately clad in business attire, mumus, workout gear, and tattered, dirty clothes. It was the first time in my entire experience that it wasn’t me alone going through what I was going through. There were others, and we had a common language of survival; no one had to explain why they were there, or what hells they’d been through. We all knew, and for once in my life, I understood that my suffering was not unique; it was just hidden from plain sight.
The first year of sobriety I marked with an Instagram post. There’s a picture of me, wild curly hair, sunlight streaming in the background giving it an ethereal, angelic feel. It was a crop of a naked selfie I’d taken that morning for a man I was seeing, and he was, by and large, the only person that wished me congratulations. I remember reading, “I am proud of you for what you’ve done,” and feeling astonished that it even added up for him; he’d only known me for some weeks. I thought, How can someone be proud of me who doesn’t even understand the delta of where I had been and where I was? I had to remind my family to celebrate me; to them, I suppose it was something I should have gotten right the first time; to them I imagined, you don’t celebrate not doing things you shouldn’t have been doing anyway.
That first anniversary of sobriety, I discovered, was not a peak. It was honestly just another day because that is what recovery is. It’s a string of other days –– days you wouldn’t have otherwise had, or had in such full, living color, had you not dared to leave everything you’ve ever known behind. On that day of April 14th, 2014, I remember thinking how much I couldn’t even remember my other life. If sobriety is anything (and it is anything), it is a forgetting, a letting go, an acclimation to a world you never imagined you could acclimate to. It is sacrifice and possibility. It is heartbreak on a level you can only understand once you’ve let your heart break that totally, for everything that was and everything that now can be.
Mostly, I have learned that the most unwelcome things, the things we would never want, are the things that end up making our bones, making us.
There are things I have learned in the last seven years. How we were not meant to keep it all together all the time. How our deepest wounds are where the light gets in. How easy it is to shed the things we thought we could never live without. How important it is to hurt, to feel, to struggle. How much we can absolutely change while simultaneously remaining what feels like absolutely the same. How quietly our soul prompts us to change, to yield, to soften, to let go, to move on, and how loud it can scream when we ignore it. How gorgeous it is to be human, to be messy, to be alive. How joy and love and happiness can exist so brightly in the worst places. How adaptable we are, how full of potential we are, how unlimited we are. How much we need each other.
Mostly, I have learned that the most unwelcome things, the things we would never want, are the things that end up making our bones, making us. I did not want addiction. I was given addiction. I do not want to be quarantined, away from people, stuck with my cat in a house, watching the world move apart from each other, watching people face economic and social ruin, watching people die, watching people die trying to keep people from dying. I was given that, too. We all were.
I have been largely silent on social media, my usual channel for communicating with folks, and that is because I know this ground, it’s familiar territory and calling. I know isolation, I know the in-between places, I know what is required of me to not just make it through, but to be. I know that this place doesn’t ask for us to be something we are not, to pretend we are okay when we are falling apart. I know it doesn’t beg to show our wounds as they are being cut, I know it doesn’t ask us to expose ourselves to things that make us sick. I know that times like these ask us to be brave, to find what matters, to be still in the swirl, to allow ourselves to be changed, to be patient as it unfolds, to return to ourselves so we can return to others.
In honor of seven years, here are seven things I am doing right now to help me through.
Every day, for however many years, I write in my journal. I don’t “journal” per se, I write the things I need to remember, words that pull me through. A quote that I find to be deeply important and resonant, “The place where you are right now God circled on a map for you” (Hafiz). I return to that sentence in good times and bad, to remember to trust something smarter than me, to remember that my mind is too small to be able to understand the nature of all things and the intelligence that guides it. I don’t believe in mistakes; I don’t believe that some things that happened to me are what should have happened and some things are not. I believe all experiences, all the places I find myself in, are the points where I start. There is a map, this place has been circled for me, here I am, what will I make of it.
I have clung to my early sobriety rituals like they are the last rope I have to grab. This means in the morning I wake up, blast “Whoop There It Is” and Marvin Gaye and dance as I make my hot lemon water, meditate, and write positive affirmations. I start my day with intention, and sometimes that intention carries me through to lunch, even dinner. It is a thing I can center on, can count on.
Hear me out on this: we are responsible for the thoughts we have. What we focus on and give attention to will gain momentum; energy flows where attention goes. I cannot stick my head in the news cycle all day or scroll endlessly through social media and expect to be a super happy, optimistic, chill, non-anxious person. What I feed my mind becomes my reality. This doesn’t mean I tune out, it means I tune in selectively, and typically I finish off whatever news I consume with a positive ritual, like reading Louise Hay or Eckhart Tolle or Pema Chodron.
I have doubled down on my gratitude lists to be thankful for every last little thing I have to be thankful for, including the pen I use to write. I have started to stick positive affirmations around my home. We can believe in the terrible story and give that life. Or we can feed the story that nourishes us. This does not mean spiritually bypassing what is happening in the world or real suffering; that doesn’t work either. It means being very aware of where we spend our time and believing in the power we have to shape our own realities.
I am not a runner. In fact, running is a punishment. But then I watched Brittany Runs a Marathon. I’ve always, in my mind, dreamed I would be one of those people that just pushes through it and runs a damn marathon, but I’m lazy, and like I said I hate running, but I also had time on my hands and more anxiety than I’ve ever known. And so I became a runner. I downloaded Map My Run, set up a schedule to train for a marathon (that I have no intention of running, ever), and I’m up to eight-mile runs once a week and about twenty miles a week. My goal is to run the final 22-mile training run, but my goal is also to have a goal to work toward and do something I didn’t think I could ever do. Perhaps there is something you’ve dreamed about doing, like watercoloring, planting an herb garden and tending to it, baking, learning a foreign language. Whatever it is, maybe pick one thing (that requires daily effort) and go for it.
5. Being okay with not being okay.
We are a society that believes that there are special people, and not special people; we are also a society that for the last decade has been steeped in influencer culture — an outgrowth of consumer culture. Consumer culture sells us products on an assumption that we are not okay, that we need to buy this or that to be okay. Influencer culture sells us people that we are supposed to aspire to be; we have special people. And now, there is a sobriety influencer culture; we have special sober people. I started Hip Sobriety, now Tempest, in 2014, because I believed in an aspirational road to recovery, and individual power. Not because I believed that I had something figured out; that intersected with the rise of the social media influencer, and that was how my business got built, or at least one of the reasons it did at all. I followed the same rule book that a Kardashian might; I branded myself. Maybe it worked for a while, and the 46 people that work at Tempest, the thousands we serve, our good work, is because of part of that playbook.
I am okay because I allow myself to not be okay; I make nothing of it; I don’t struggle against it.
If I talk to any of my “sober influencer” friends, or friends who are sober who have a platform, they are not thriving because they use social media, or because they stand out. They are sickened by it, because we are a sensitive people, a people who are perhaps disproportionately affected by toxic things. The most toxic thing of social media, or influencer culture, is an image that is to be upheld, compared, maintained. A curation and a story that doesn’t match what actual sobriety, or recovery is, which is a fucking mess, a truth, a raw beauty. My strength, my power, doesn’t come from being something I’m not, or being okay all the time, or living some perfect version of my life. My strength comes from alignment, from riding waves, from allowing unfathomable things to perform secret work within me. Which is to say, the platform I have created would have me believe my job is to show you how to crush sobriety in a quarantine; but the reason I have any voice at all is because I live in the truth that it is okay to not be okay. That being a mess is what makes us so divinely human. I am okay because I allow myself to not be okay; I make nothing of it; I don’t struggle against it. The point of our existence is not to magically navigate and circumvent suffering; it is to learn to be okay no matter what. I am okay no matter what, and yes that means I am okay when I’m not okay.
6. Giving myself a break.
Before I got sober, the only time I ever gave myself a break or allowed myself to turn off was when I used drugs and alcohol or was recovering from a hangover. I never let myself off the hook, never let myself just sit and be and do nothing. Because I no longer have those numbing agents, or days spent too sick to do anything but watch TV and eat take-out, I now have to purposely allow for that time without the guilt. This means I have indeed watched all of Tiger King, Outlander, Schitt’s Creek, Love is Blind, and every other show every single one of us is binging the fuck out of right now. I have also given up on worrying about my roots, my nails, my missed botox appointment, or the Quarantine 15. Life is too short to not stop and enjoy it, to worry about things that will never matter on our deathbed, to put unrealistic expectations on ourselves of who we are supposed to be in a global pandemic.
7. Remaining curious.
At the start of my recovery journey, I believed that what would happen to me was a linear rising. I thought I was on my way to becoming Jesus. That all broke in late 2014, during a yoga teacher training that mirrored back to me how petty, judgmental, insecure, and catty I still was. All the things I thought I’d transcended came back to me full force and I thought, naively, I had not changed at all, that all my work was for not. Recovery is just another way to describe the path we all will inevitably walk, the path back to self. It is not a curve that rises up and to the right; it’s circular and cyclical. We will find again and again and again we are still the same people we were.
The trick isn’t to become someone else or get rid of the bad bits; the trick is to see the cycles, see the humanness, see the circumstances, and to respond to them differently. What I saw before as a growth path I now see as an awareness; how much space can I put in between me and my drama; how quickly can I step back and observe; how much can I see the ego workings and be amused by them instead of fully identifying with it all. COVID-19 has given me this gift again: to be curious about it all, to see how I can show up, how much distance I can put in between the part of me that wants to fall down on the ground and give up, and the part of me that knows she can walk through fire.
Bonus. Because there is always a bonus. Letting go of things. Eight years ago, I held so tightly to the life I thought I was supposed to have that nothing else could even begin to get in. I was terrified of letting go of things, like who I was, who my friends were, my drinking rituals and my social life. Sobriety forced me to leave behind things I couldn’t imagine myself without. COVID-19 begs the same; I didn’t want to let go of the life I had not even a month ago. But here we are. The last few weeks as I’ve begun to ask what this all means, I know the answer is, there is no answer. But I also know what I make of it will be better than I can imagine from this vantage point. I let go.