4 Years.

My last sip of alcohol was on Groundhog Day 2015. I wouldn’t know it at the time, but it would be the last time I would shake up an ice cold double Manhattan.

It would be the last time I would use alcohol to escape myself.
It would be the last time I would use alcohol to quell my anxieties.
It would be the last time I would use alcohol to numb out my existence.

For those of you have followed me for awhile, you might remember that I have posted about my sobriety milestones from the get-go. If you’re new to my website and blog, I used to post monthly essays on my sobriety milestone on the third day of every month. As time went by, I decided that I would write a blog post update bi-yearly and on my yearly sobriety birthday, too. You can read more about my one year, two year, three year and the monthly sobriety milestones by clicking on the links or perusing this listing of blog posts.

Reflecting back on the past six months, I land in two different camps with my feelings.

Camp 1. I’ve done so much work in addressing my anxiety and confronting concepts of willingness, acceptance and the art of letting go. Where do I even begin?

…and…

Camp 2. What could I possibly have to say that I haven’t already said?

Over the past six months, I feel like I opened the door to new teachers and tended to my health and well being like it was my job. I also hit a big wall on my actual sobriety date - February 3, 2018. This post will help to explain.

Anxiety
On a flight home from Phoenix last May, I experienced my first-ever panic attack. A swirling of energy that originated in my lower extremities and traveled up to my solar plexus. I wanted to rip all of my clothes off. I couldn’t breathe. The thought crossed my mind that I might be having a heart attack. I wanted to open the door on the aircraft and jump out of the plane. I was out of my mind and filled with panic and fear. I thought I was going to die.

After being removed from the plane and put on a stretcher and rushed by ambulance to the ER in San Francisco, I was discharged and left to figure out how to get home. I ended up taking the most expensive Uber ride of my life. I rode in the backseat of a tricked out Honda Civic while the driver blared misogynistic hip hop music the entire 75 mile ride towards home.

Over the several months that followed…

  • I started taking Chinese herbs and receiving acupuncture (up until I had a panic attack during one of the treatments).

  • I worked with a licensed therapist.

  • I saw my OB/GYN and had my IUD removed.

  • Talked with my general practitioner and had all my lab work updated.

  • I would work with an astrologer and have my natal chart read.

  • I temporarily stopped drinking decaffeinated coffee and black tea.

  • I meditated daily.

  • I listened to Elena Brower’s Ritual of Recovery for 40 days in a row to start my days over the summer months.

  • I started writing morning pages.

  • I upped my attendance at 12-step meetings.

  • I lowered my attendance at 12-step meetings.

  • I clung to the prayers in Pixie Lighthorse’s Prayers of Honoring book series.

  • I started listening to theta binaural beats before falling to sleep at night over the summer and more recently.

  • I tried theta floatation therapy.

  • I used essential oils and found comfort in rubbing a black obsidian stone whenever I felt anxious.

  • I created a rock solid morning routine.

  • I read books on anxiety, which actually helped for a little while and then actually started revving up my anxiety, so I stopped.

  • I did research on the fight or flight response + learned about additional tools I could use.

  • I put my legs up the wall more times than I can count.

  • I would reach out to Jolene Park, functional nutritionist and founder of Healthy Discoveries to discuss a few strategies to deal with my panic.

  • I started taking prescription non-addictive beta-blockers before I jumped on a plane or did any public speaking.

  • I took daily 20 minute naps.

  • I stopped working with a licensed therapist because I was so tired of working on myself or trying to fix myself. I felt burnt out.

I tried EVERYTHING under the sun to counteract my anxiety. I had six more panic attacks after the initial one in May. Each time one occurred, I got better at remembering to ask for help and assembled a physical anxiety toolbox to carry in my purse.

Over a four week period stretching from mid-December to mid-January, I would take seven separate plane flights. Zero panic attacks occurred. I used all of my tools and then some. I feel like this was and is tremendous progress.

Knock on wood.

Ceramics
Last Fall semester, I ended up dropping my entire course load and enrolled in one studio art class: beginning ceramics.

I let go of the rush to graduate and took ceramics as one would take medicine. I let it start to heal me.

It intimidated me.
It frustrated me.
It taught me.
It humbled me.
It was generous with me.

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I very quickly started absorbing lessons about patience, getting centered and how to let go of desired outcomes and lofty expectations. My professor was a very wise man and he dished out sobering comments about the desire to control the clay. Every single one of these quotes could serve as a metaphor for my sobriety.

Clay not listen to you. YOU must listen to clay.

You need confidence, not pride. You must lose the ego. The clay is the boss.

Your personality comes through by how you approach the wheel. No patience? You must have patience, otherwise the wheel will not serve you. It does not care what YOU want.

The wheel does a perfect job. YOU are creating problem, NOT the wheel.

Acceptance is the philosophy and mantra when working with ceramics.

If you seek perfection, then ceramics is probably not for you.

Creating pottery is like a meditation.

The gift of the fire can elevate a piece. The beauty is made in the fire.
— Professor Hiroshi Fuchigami
Raku firing process used for this bowl

Raku firing process used for this bowl

There was something freeing about not knowing what I was doing. I fought it hard at first, but slowly I started to loosen up and quit trying to control the clay, which helped me to see that maybe I needed to work on not controlling the universe and surrender myself simply to what is. I started enjoying the process with no attachment to the outcome. This was a completely new way of being for me. The final phase of any ceramic piece is made in the fire - completely out of my control. The fire is where the beauty happens and I could totally relate to that. I loved using my time in ceramics as a metaphor for learning how to deal with my anxiety and loosen up my grip on controlling the universe.

When I was drinking, I was not centered.

When I finally quit, I was nothing more than a simple lump of clay. I feel like I’v bee molding myself ever since.

My beauty has been made in the fire, too, and on the last day of the semester I realized that my desire to control outcomes had to stop. I have to surrender and cease future-tripping or else it will cost me my sanity, my health.

As always, I am a work in progress in this regard.

Student
I’ve been a student quite a bit over these last six months. I know I mentioned the ceramics above, but I also took the RAW creative journaling workshop from my friend and fellow artist, Amanda Grace. She flew over here all the way from Ireland and hosted a lovely 2-day retreat in Oakland. She’s helping me loosen up and let go of desired outcomes with my journals, as well. She’s also become a really dear friend to me and I’m so grateful for technology to keep us connected, even though we first met through her one-of-a-kind letter PODS a couple of years ago.

I just finished up Pixie Lighthorse’s offering of 7 Journeys. It was a week-long course that guided me through portals back into my past and unlocked deep knowings about trauma that occurred when I was just seven years old. I had no idea what would unfold and was very open to the process. Vivid dreaming occurred. I would wake up and feel called to collage my dreams on paper. It was super transformative and a beautiful way to begin the year knowing that there was still much work to do and I was grateful I had been preparing for it, in a sense, ever since the day I stopped drinking. I cannot recommend her work enough. She has been one of my greatest teachers in my own journey to finding and meeting my highest self.

Sober Sisters
Last September 2018, I attended the She Recovers LA Conference and was a guest teacher, along with Shelley Richenbach, and we taught about creating gratitude for your body to about 100 women. I’d never done anything like this and it took me outside of my comfort zone, but I did it anyway. This lit a small fire under me and I realized I want to dig into teaching and sharing more of what I know for sure.

I hosted a Women’s Circle along with Natalie Fairbrook and Sasha Korellis of Satcha Malas in January 2018. I focused on sharing how to create a morning ritual routine and shared the tools and teachers that have helped me to galvanize a pretty solid practice. I loved teaching and sharing this work and would love to do more of this during 2019.

The Unruffled Podcast
We are approaching our 100th episode and so close to 500,000 downloads. It feels surreal. The support of our listeners through our Patreon account has been super important to us . Our goal is to earn some income to help pay for the cost of the show and pay us for our time. We’d love to be 100% listener-funded. If you feel called to support this work, please click here and donate. The podcasts are free and we have continuously shown up every single week for almost two whole years. We are so proud of that fact.

What my 4 Year Sober Birthday Actually Looked Like Today
I woke up and hit a 12-step meeting.
I met a friend at that meeting and went to breakfast afterwards.
I heard from my sponsor.
My kid told me how proud he was of me during our car ride home from town.
I got the most beautiful necklace and hand-made stones from sweet friends.
I did laundry, meal planned + made a grocery list.
I spent the day creating art and sitting at my desk during Super Bowl Sunday.
I was on Facebook quite a bit, communicating with other women in recovery.
I collaged a gratitude list celebrating my four year journey to sobriety.
I ended the day by asking my husband why he didn’t acknowledge my four year sober birthday?
We got into one of the biggest fights of our 21-year relationship.
I cried my eyes out and was incredibly hurt AND pissed off.
I went to bed deflated and confused.
I plotted a retaliation and then fell into a fitful sleep.

What the week after my 4 Year Sobriety Birthday Looked Like
I met my sponsor for lunch the very next day.
I unloaded what had happened between my husband and myself.
We talked about Al-Anon and alcoholism in general.
My sponsor suggested I write a ‘Fuck You’ letter to my husband, but not give it to him.
She had one caveat.
I couldn’t write the ‘Fuck You’ letter until I wrote a gratitude list listing all the things I loved about my husband.
I came home and told my husband I wanted to sleep in separate rooms - indefinitely.
I spent a lot of time in my head during this week.
I went to a lot of 12-step meetings.
I took a lot of scalding hot showers which served as an emotional reset button.
Eventually, I would write the gratitude list about my husband.
After that, the desire to write the ‘Fuck You’ letter subsided.
After seven days and nights, we called a truce.

There’s a lot more to this story, but I’m only at liberty to share this much at this time.

My sobriety journey has not been all rainbows and unicorns. It’s hard fucking work and I’m so grateful to show up and have the wherewithal to do it.

I’m not sure what is going to happen with my relationship because, like I learned in ceramics, I cannot control outcomes and I’m trying not to future-trip, but I do know one thing: I’m going to be fully present and not leave myself, even when it gets uncomfortable or hard or miserable. Because recovery has taught me how NOT to leave myself. So I’m staying.

And like my sponsor always likes to remind me, more will be revealed.

That’s all I know for sure. More will be revealed.