19 Months

A little over a week ago, I received word that my best friend's breast cancer had metastasized in her brain.  She and her husband received this news on their 16th wedding anniversary.  The rest of the day felt fuzzy and unfolded in slow-motion.  

L-R: Me, Scott + Kacy on their wedding day in 2000

L-R: Me, Scott + Kacy on their wedding day in 2000

Last Saturday morning, as I sat down to write about my 19th month milestone with sobriety, I just couldn't find the right words or, rather, any words at all.  Everything I tried to write sounded empty and trite in light of the gravity of Kacy's new diagnosis.  Writing about my recently acquired life skill of not drinking alcohol seemed trivial and small compared to Kacy's reality.  I felt like writing about my struggles with abstaining from alcohol could be construed as lacking sensitivity and really self-absorbed.  Blathering on about how tough it is not to drink just seemed self-indulgent and made me sick to read my own words on the subject.  In an instant, Kacy's brain tumor automatically shifted my perspective on life.  I felt like my troubles were minute and not even worth writing about.

{WARNING - this is exactly how pity parties start.}

I needed the next week to get over myself before I published this post.  I needed to let her new medical reality fully sink in.  I needed to feel all of these hard feelings and then do the next right thing.

In the past, I know I would have taken this kind of news as an opportunity to get really drunk.  I think I would have used the situation as an excuse to break out the martini shaker and pour myself a stiff drink (or three), so that I wouldn't have to feel the tidal wave of emotions about to hit the shores of my heart and mind.  I would have simmered in the bad news and then broadcast it as my own poor-me story and used the news to justify my overindulgence, my reason for imbibing in adult beverages and then checking out emotionally for as long as I wanted to.

But I didn't do that this time.  

Mainly, because I'm not that person anymore.  I don't drink away uncomfortable feelings or reach for a glass of chardonnay to hide from pain or heartbreak.  Receiving this devastating news from Kacy actually washed over me like a scalding hot shower.  It hurt for a little while, left me feeling raw and exposed.  But guess what?  After that metaphorical shower, I felt restored.  I got dressed, put on my big girl panties and felt solid and strong and available to be supportive to my friend in any way that she needed me to be.  I clicked into action mode and was ready to be of service.  

The sacred space of my morning AA meetings.

The sacred space of my morning AA meetings.

Because of the work I've been doing over the past year and a half, I moved through my sadness and reached for the tools that have helped to keep me sober.  Concepts like powerlessness and acceptance supported me and held me up so that I didn't spiral into a pity party or into thinking negative thoughts.  The reliability of the serenity prayer reminded me to ask my Higher Power (which is Love, for me) to grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

Saying that prayer over and over again brought me sweet relief.

to find more of annie's beautiful work click here

to find more of annie's beautiful work click here

As I've sat with these uncomfortable feelings, I've spent hours pondering the meaning of life and my place in this world.  Questions keep popping up like a frustrating game of whack-a-mole:

  • Does God have a plan for all of us?
  • Are we powerless against this plan?  
  • Does our free will exist simply to pacify us while trudging through the muck of life? 
  • Is life pre-determined for us?  And, if so, why do we fight so hard to prolong it?  
  • Is my drinking problem a blip in the bigger picture of life or is it a valuable compass pointing me in the direction of important lessons about the human condition that I need to learn?  
  • Do I need to move on and quit talking about sobriety and my journey with it?  
  • Is Grace gathered up during our conscious movement through these hard life experiences?
  • If my Higher Power is Love, then what is Heaven?
ed ruscha exhibit at the de Young museum

ed ruscha exhibit at the de Young museum


I feel like I've had plenty of moments of Grace over these last 30 days.  I think Grace doesn't have to look perfect or tidy or holy.  Grace, for me, has been my ability to do the next right thing without any drama.  Without any DRAMA.  All the while telling my truth and being respectful of others feelings and thoughts.  When I do that, I am my higher self.

st. remy de provence, france - summer 2016

st. remy de provence, france - summer 2016

I made amends to my husband a couple of weeks ago as part of my Step 9 work.  It shifted something between us and I'm glad I took my time and owned my part in things as they related to our marriage.  There was no finger-pointing or blame placed on him.  I took full responsibility for my previous actions and bad behaviors.  I felt so much lighter after I made these amends.  It was hard and I shed many tears, but I finally felt a loosening within myself from the past.  For my husband's part, he listened, spoke his truth and accepted the fact that I'm not the same person I used to be.  It was one of the most meaningful exchanges in our relationship to date.  Our 15th wedding anniversary is coming up in less than month.

We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
— The AA Promises

At this stage of my sobriety, I'm progressing in my life in a way that makes me really proud of who I am.  I'm trying hard not to be fueled by my own ego.  I struggle with being an artist/writer and the self-promotion of my work and where to draw the line as it relates to ego.  A friend said to me today Your Ego is not your Amigo and this made me laugh.  Words to think about.  

I'm still learning a lot about how to navigate this life without the security blanket of booze and, quite honestly, right now I feel perfectly fine being a forever student in this regard.  I now know the 12 Steps are circular and not linear.  When I finish Step 12, I'll go right back through them and incorporate their meanings and teachings in my everyday life for the rest of my life.  I'll never be done with them and that's okay with me.  Accepting the 12 Steps as my spiritual teachers would have sounded preposterous to me 12 months ago.  I viewed being labeled an Alcoholic and going to AA meetings like one would view a life sentence in prison.  Last September, when I walked through the doors of my first AA meeting, it felt dark and punishing.  But now?  Now, it's a comfort to walk through those doors and take my seat surrounded by others who share this journey.  I'm immediately humbled and grateful for the things that led me into the rooms.  It's almost funny how much the passing of time can change my way of thinking on ideas and concepts I once thought ridiculous.

Walking into my first AA meeting was the hardest and bravest thing I've ever done in my entire life.

And now?  Well, now I just think I'm lucky to have to deal with this kind of stuff.  I'm living an examined life and not sleepwalking through it or playing the victim.  

I no longer drink bourbon or vodka or grape-flavored gasoline.  Thank God for that.

And, upon waking every morning, I'm grateful that I will never have to experience another hangover.  Seriously, every single day I think this.  It never gets old.  That's what 10+ years of hangovers did to me.

IMG_4203.jpg

I continue to use the tools in my sobriety toolbox, reaching for them more naturally as my alcohol-free months add up.  Certain things, like meetings and writing daily gratitude lists, come more easily to me now.  I'm not struggling as much as I used to when it comes to a Higher Power or God-talk in the rooms.  I'm still listening to podcasts on sobriety, texting with a sober community of women, reading blogs and books that relate to sobriety and spirituality.  I'm back in school for the fall semester at my local community college taking art and philosophy.  I'm also working on a few side projects that have bloomed from sober relationships I've made through social media.  The AA Promises (click on this link to read them) are being fully realized in my life right now and I tear up every time I hear them read aloud in the rooms.

L-R: Me, Scott, Kacy, Sophia, Stephanie + Bert Pacific Palisades, CA - July 2016

L-R: Me, Scott, Kacy, Sophia, Stephanie + Bert
Pacific Palisades, CA - July 2016

My best friend's diagnosis is not about me, although it is affecting me deeply.  Ever since gaining knowledge of the 12 Steps and learning how to live a life on life's terms, I know I can be the kind of friend she needs me to be and show up when things get hard or fear takes up temporary residence within me.  I'm on-call and ready to be of service to her and her family in a way that I know I wouldn't or couldn't be if I were still drinking.  

This is what the gift of sobriety has done for me.  I can show up in my life and the lives of those I love in a way that is honest and reliable.  I'm truly present to experience it, all of it - the good and the bad.

These past 19 months have been about way more than not drinking alcohol for me.  As the days have stacked up, I've noticed how I'm learning how to live a life with integrity and gleaning deep meaning from this process.

Today I'll honor my friend's life, as well as my own, by not picking up a drink and posting these words as an offering of service and hope to those still suffering.

My Ego is not my Amigo, but she sure is.