Stay Awake: 3 Years of Sobriety + Our Collective Waking Up

I wrote this back in September and never posted it. I want to say thank you to the person who wrote to me today to tell me that she is now 4 months sober. Reading stories like mine was part of her journey to sobriety. Then she encouraged me to keep being my best self…I took that as a sign that it was time for me to share this piece. If you are exploring the idea of quitting any addictive behavior because you have an inkling that it’s not doing you any good and you’re afraid, just know that you are not alone. You are in good company, and reading the stories of the people who have pressed through those same thoughts will change your life – it might be part of your path to sobriety.

Happy Holidays to you all.

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This last July, I passed my three year sobriety birthday. For the first time I didn’t write about it, and every time I’ve sat down to start the writing, I’ve moved on to something else. I see now that dissecting this year’s sobriety is deeper than the story of the guilt I’ve told in the past. It’s delving into the collective experience of needing to wake up, and that has felt heavy.

I got sober two days before celebrating my 11th wedding anniversary.

Our wedding was a beautiful and joyful affair out in a shady walnut grove in Moorpark, California. I wore a beautiful Swarovski jeweled sleeveless mermaid wedding dress, my bridesmaids dressed in a flattering light green (and very affordable!) sleeveless dress. Jonathan and his groomsmen sported purple ties. I balked at the price of the flowers our florist had quoted so I made my own bouquet and had her do the centerpieces. We ate the tastiest mini-cupcakes.

During our ceremony, our officiant, my poetry teacher, read a passage from Khalil Gibran’s On Marriage that she had recommended to me. At the part that reads, “Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup,” we intertwined our arms and drank a beautiful red wine. The taste of the wine from that evening lingers in my memories even today. We had a few bottles of that special wine, and I enjoyed every drop that I could.

I cried tears of sadness with my aunt as she cried in remembrance of my mom after Jonathan and I performed a salsa dance piece we had one of my dance teachers choreograph for us. We danced to the music our Burning Man friend spun. The energy and connection on the dance floor was beautiful. I drank too much, but not too too much.

I had tucked away my thought that my drinking was a problem. The idea had crossed my mind a number of times before – at a party with friends when one of the women watched me pour another glass of wine with a questioning look, when I woke up with a hangover and ran 13 miles anyways, when I drank alone.

When we traveled to New Zealand three years after our wedding, I brought along the book Controlling Your Drinking. I read the first chapters and tried out the exercises but could never really feel successful at controlling my drinking. It seemed like bullshit to me. I wondered if it would really be possible to control my drinking without actually just stopping. I gave up worrying about it, especially in New Zealand with the local brewed beers and ample wine tasting opportunities. I never drank too too much.

In 2016, with the election of Trump, something switched for me. I knew that I needed to wake up. All of what I had deceived myself into believing about the United States about the ways we had moved forward in race, gender, sexuality, equality, equity, freedom was exposed. All of the vitriol, the blatant racism, and hatred was uncovered. It sprang out so quickly, I could see that whatever I believed about the people in the US was what I wanted to see rather than the reality.

In early 2016, I had hired a therapist. I had already failed to meet my first goal of getting sober by the time I turned 40, and I knew that I couldn’t do it alone, largely because I wasn’t 100% sure I wanted to! I stumbled on a set of resources on Brene Brown’s site and found two therapists in my area who were certified in her program (this program no longer exists and the site has had many changes since early 2016). The running therapist was the one I chose. I knew that we would have two important things in common, shared language around imperfection, shame and vulnerability, and the experience of running.

By November of 2016, nearly a year later, it was clear that I needed to get my shit together to move into this new phase of the world. The biggest issue, the linchpin, would be to stop numbing myself nightly. While I had been dragging my feet in therapy, I started actively working towards sobriety. I quit drinking for three months here, three months there. That happened 4 or 5 times, and each time I felt worse when I started drinking again. It was a nightmare, and I feared for myself. Would I ever be able to quit?

My goal of not drinking called to me, and I did all of the things I didn’t want to do. I kept showing up to therapy even though it had become a nagging reminder that I was still drinking, and most of my session was spent talking about the negative effects of drinking. I dragged myself to the therapist’s office because I wanted to make this goal a reality. I knew that the quality of my being able to show up for myself, my family, my business, the world was at stake.

In my late 20s I had attended an Anonymous group and learned the pattern and thinking. I walked through the steps. In this moment of my quest for sobriety, I knew that I needed to surround myself with stories. I read. But I needed more than books. I ventured to one Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in a dingy church meeting room, the blinds pulled shut, the coffee brewing in the corner and a very interesting variety of people, mostly older and male. I got the number of one woman but never called her. I wanted to find a place that felt more like home, I told myself. It was months before I could report to my therapist that I attended another meeting.

Going to the AA meetings was my last ditch effort. I had started doing things like hiding bottles of wine in my closet that told me my shame was spiraling downward, and I needed help. I was hiding from myself. When I finally made it to meetings regularly, I got a sponsor who, after our third meeting, asked me why I hadn’t quit yet. It was July 27, 2017. She challenged me to stop drinking that night. Her question to me: Was there any other day that really would be better?

After all of my attempts to quit before, I knew that there wouldn’t be any day that would be easier. There would always be another reason to drink, something to celebrate, something to mourn, a break I felt I deserved, something I needed to escape. I committed to sobriety, and it was day to day.

A week later, I noticed how much lighter I felt. Meditation became more central. My mantra became “Stay awake.”

Over the months that followed that first choice, my eyes were opened to see how many other people were also saying “Stay awake”. There’s a sobriety movement, but it is more than about stopping the numbing of alcohol.

As Rev. angel Kyodo williams said in a 2018 On Being interview with Krista Tippett, “There’s a death happening. There is something dying in our society, in our culture, and there’s something dying in us individually. And what is dying, I think, is the willingness to be in denial. And that is extraordinary.”

My drinking problem began a long time ago. My waking up was happening before I got sober, and the more awake I have become, the more I am willing to see. Each step in waking up allows me to take a deeper step into more discomfort.

Rev. williams has described what is taking place in me so succinctly. She said, “We’re digesting the material of 400, 500 years of historical context that we have decided to leave behind our heads, and we are choosing to turn over our shoulders and say: I must face this, because it is intolerable to live in any other way than a way that allows me to be in contact with my full, loving, human self.”

Sobriety is more powerful than just not drinking. It is a practice of staying awake to the realities of other people’s lives and choosing to keep eyes open even when it’s hard. It is a practice of letting go of denial in order to face the reality of our humanity.

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