Day 1,276: Dissident

Am I a dissident now? I thought yesterday, reflecting on national events that have not exactly worked out to my liking. It’s not an everyday word, dissident–it makes me think of tanks and gulags, Vaclav Havel and Andrei Sakharov. Not me, walking around on a dignified low boil, making practical contingency plans I hope I won’t need.

And yet, it kinda fits. Present me with any role–corporate worker, woman, wife, sober person, American–and I’ll find something fundamental to take issue with, if not outright reject. And if I couldn’t find that thing to cross my arms against, I’d probably invent it, God help me. Like one of those actors who find themselves reworking lines as they speak them, I’m constitutionally unable to just play the goddamn part as written.

But I’m low-key about it–I’ve got credit in the straight world, to borrow a line. Comparing my adolescence to my sister’s, my father once said: “She would argue us into the ground over every rule and curfew. You’d just nod and then go off and do exactly what you wanted.” You’d have to be paying real attention to see me as a dissident,  and hardly anyone would watch that closely–including me, I guess, or it wouldn’t have surprised me so much to realize Yes, you’re a dissident. You always were. Now it just matters a little bit more. 

Being sober is also a small act of dissidence that feels like a bigger one these days, something writer Megan Koester absolutely nails in a scathing new essay in ViceThe whole thing is worth your time–it’s the entire reason for this post!–but here’s the line that knocked me flat:

“I know people who have been dead drunk for days, a reaction I find logical. To stay loaded is to remain in stasis, pausing the video game that is life while figuring out your next move.”

That’s exactly how I’ve been feeling–that in this first extended period of, you know, spectacular political upheaval and global uncertainty since I cleaned up my act, life has somehow insisted on marching forward even as I struggle to process it all in real time. There’s no cycle of numbing/suffering/shame to distract me from the sense that a whole lot of things seem set to blow. But there’s also no distraction from the fact that in recent weeks I’ve also cooked good meals and written and gone to the movies and bought (and worn!) killer lingerie and laughed at my younger dog’s first experience with snow and had startling moments of connection with other people. All of this is happening. All at once.

September 11, 2001 is the date I became a daily drinker. For no good reason–I lived in a peaceful college town over a thousand miles from New York,  and didn’t lose anyone in the attacks, and didn’t know anyone in the military. But I was anxious and horrified, and a giant glass of wine each day seemed like the rebellious, life-during-wartime thing to do. Why not, right? We were all going to die soon anyway.

Except here we are. And my sense now is that the truly radical life-during-wartime thing to do isn’t drinking. It’s, well, living life during wartime. At least I think that’s what a dissident would do.

Day 1,262, Part 2: Thank you.

I wrote today’s first post before going back and reading the many, many blog comments I received in the wake of “Enjoli.” I hadn’t looked at them before because for some of the reasons I talked about in my last couple of posts, I just needed to be in a quiet space for a bit.

But now I’ve read them all (and hopefully approved them all) and all I can say is THANK YOU to everyone who took the time to write. Your words made me cry, and yes, I am in public right now. (You might have warned me, people.) Especially those of you found inspiration to get sober or stick with new sobriety from my essay. My God, I can’t tell you how much that means to me. Just know it does. I hope you’re all still plugging along in (as Belle would say) your little sober car. And if you’re not but you wish you were, then just start again. You’ll be smarter and have better tools than you did last time. Never stop starting over if you need to (but also know that if you can just gut it out during the hard early days, it’ll get SO much better and you’ll never have to have a Day 1 again).

We’re all connected.

Love, Kristi

Day 1,262: Here, there, and everywhere

You know how when you procrastinate about doing something it can start to make you feel guilty, and then you procrastinate even more, and then you feel even guiltier, and so on into a vortex of black nothingness?

Yeah. But I’m back! Guiltily. As you’ll see, things have been kinda busy, not that that is any excuse. 

First, the big news: my  first book, an essay collection titled Want Not, will be published in winter 2018 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. I signed the contract four months ago but typing the words still makes me feel a bit out-of-body. To have a book published at all, let alone from a publisher of personal idols like Michael Cunningham, Lydia Davis, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Michelle Huneven–even three years ago I couldn’t have imagined this would happen. But it is.

The essays in Want Not are personal ones that look at drinking and sobriety (and the wanting and not-wanting that drives both) through a variety of lenses: some funny, some sad, most a bit of both. If you’ve been reading me for a while, some of the pieces in the book will be familiar to you, but many will be totally new. Which is my way of letting you know that if you don’t purchase at least one copy you will be missing a ton. 

Of course, the downside to publishing a book is that you actually do have to write it. That’s unfortunate, and accounts for me no longer having much of a social life, aka blog. But I’m still out there! “Enjoli” fever brought a lot of opportunities my way and I said ‘yes, please’ to a few of them. One of my favorites is this “How to Not” series for the Awl, where I explain how to avoid drinking in a variety of (as a friend puts it) setting, circumstances, scenes, events, and milieus:

This is an ongoing series, and I love suggestions! I need suggestions. So if there’s a milieu, circumstance, etc. that you think I should write about, hit me up.

I’ve also done some really fun (for me, anyway) podcast appearances, including the cleverly titled “Enjoli Virus” with Laura and Holly from HOME/Hip Sobriety. And writer Claire Rudy Foster and I took over the Since Right Now podcast twice, once the normal way (normal=Skype) and once at my house all hopped up on coffee.

And last but not least, I’m in the January 2017 issue of Glamour! Here’s the first in-the-wild sighting, sent by a friend from her hair salon in North Carolina (which also serves doughnuts:

 

glamour

If I were you I would probably go out and buy at LEAST 2 copies of this Glamour, making sure to move any remaining ones to a prominent place in the newsstand rack.

That’s all for now from me. How are you?

 

Day 1,165: Now, where were we?

Well, hi there! It’s been a month since I published this essay, which was also the subject of my last post here. In case you haven’t been following along–because why would you?–it went viral. Really really viral. A blow-by-blow would  be both dull and likely inaccurate, but suffice to say that after literally thousands of emails from readers, writers, agents, editors, men who live in basements, and people I knew in kindergarten, when Neko Case tweeted praise I thought ‘okay, this has reached maximum awesomeness and maximum weirdness in one tweet.’

Famous last words. The next day brought a takedown from Slate, which I learned about when a friend texted me saying “When Slate hates you, you know you’re doing something right.” (For the record, not the greatest way to let someone totally new to celebrity know that a major media outlet is complaining about her. You’ve gotta ease into it, people!) Time and the New York Post took vaguely off-topic swipes too, and I’m currently showing up in people’s Google news feeds right on top of Donald Trump’s head, which frankly is closer than I really ever wanted to get.

So it’s been a wild ride, and maybe someday I’ll have more to say about the totality of it. But since this is a blog about being sober, what I want to share today are some ways the experience impacted me as a sober person. Because I’ve been paying attention and there are parallels all over the place, and maybe some of them will be useful to you in your own wacky life:

  1. Doing the next right thing works. When I got a Facebook message saying “Have you seen Time magazine?” I was already overwhelmed and in the middle of a stressful workday. Sure, there’s no such thing as bad press, but there are bad moments for hearing about your bad press, particularly when you have been a public figure for all of five seconds. I scanned the Time article (not really all that bad, more clueless than anything else), then sat at my desk frozen, wondering how I was supposed to function in a meeting in 12 minutes with my entire world continuing to turn itself inside-out.

    Then, thank God, a voice inside said you have 12 minutes. Use them. And I lammed it out of my office building and spent those 12 minutes walking around the block. Not thinking, not trying to be any certain way, just walking alone in the sun. And just that simple act of moving my body calmed me down enough that I made it to my 2:30 meeting merely wildly distracted, not wildly distracted, panicked, and goggle-eyed. (Baby steps, okay?) That’s just one instance of how zeroing in on just one small, immediate action has helped to keep me as grounded as I can reasonably expect to be while things swirl around me.

  2. What other people think of me is none of my business. Here’s a partial catalog of words I’ve been called since “Enjoli” published: hero, genius, star, dry drunk, liar, bitter, truth-teller, bitch, rich bitch, whiner, sage, smug, stunning, slut, judgmental, blind, man-hater, woman-hater, jealous, friendless, wonderful, astonishing, mean, brilliant, brave, goddess, victim, warrior, cunt.

    Yep. At every turn, someone is describing me–not just the 10-page artifact I published, but ME–and it’s rarely in middle-of-the-road terms like competent writer or thoughtful person or a little bit bitchy. It’s all drama and superlatives, because my essay inspired strong feelings, and those strong feelings want a person to attach themselves to. But it’s hard to be the host for all those qualities, especially the ones that confirm things I secretly already fear about myself. So you know which ones I’m accepting as truth?

    None of them. I’m rejecting all of them as applied to me, the person. If they apply to anyone, it’s to the consciously wrought version of me who narrates my equally consciously wrought essay (just because it’s true doesn’t mean it’s a diary). And people can call that chick whatever they want, because the writer doesn’t control what happens between reader and text. (Much as she might like to.) Just like when I quit drinking, I have to define myself for myself, or the center’s not going to hold. (Not to mention that for a writer, praise can be as deadly as criticism.) So much as I would love to walk around thinking what a brave, talented, truth-telling goddess I must be…gonna let all those kind words drift gently back to my work where they belong.

  3. People are (mostly) wonderful, and stories save lives. I’ve received thousands of emails and other messages this month. I’ve now mostly weaned myself from reading them, because it’s just too much for an empath like me to carry around. But I’m walking away with more faith in human beings than I’ve had in decades. Because I’ve heard from men and women; the 30-years sober, the 2-days sober, normal drinkers, alcoholic drinkers, non-alcoholics who just don’t drink anymore; Mormons and Muslims and the alcohol-allergic and other lifetime teetotalers; male and female tech workers; women who fled tech in horror; Indians and Scots and Aussies (lots of Aussies) and Italians; fathers of daughters; drunk-driving widows; bartenders, and on and on. (And yes, including a handful of truly loathsome, abusive human beings.) And their stories, in aggregate and alone, are amazing–as is their generosity in sharing them with a total stranger. I feel more a part of the human community having read these stories.

    And it’s cemented my belief that if you can, you should consider recovering out loud. Emphasis on consider. I don’t know your life circumstances, or what you’re up for emotionally, or how people around you will react. What I do know is that there are TONS of us out there, but a lot of us feel alone and/or ashamed. And odds are good that whatever part of your own story you can tell–anonymously, even–will be heard by someone who needed it. Just something to think about. 

  4. Slow things down. I learned pretty early in sobriety that frantic activity and FOMO are routes to misery. Uh, and then apparently at some point I forgot, because I’ve been panicked at times this month with the quantity and quality of professional opportunities that have landed in my lap. I have more interesting, fun options than anyone (certainly anyone with a day job) can take advantage of and stay sane–and that scares me to death, because deep down I’m also convinced that the friendly person behind each of those opportunities is one “no” or “yes, but later” from saying “well, fuck her” and writing me off for life. It took a close friend saying “Look, these aren’t aunts and uncles you have to write your thank-you notes to–they’ll be around when you’re ready” to make me remember it’s okay to think strategically, and choose carefully, and all that other stuff people do when they believe in their own worth and aren’t just, you know, saying yes to the first boy who asked them to prom.
  5. Binary thinking kills. When I was drinking, everything was black/white. Either I had a catastrophic alcohol issue, or no problem at all. Either I could drink to relax, or I’d be tense forever. Either I was the niftiest person alive, or the worst. Sound familiar? I still struggle with binary thought patterns, but at least I often recognize them now. And here’s some stuff I’ve read or heard in response to my essay:
  • She thinks sobriety is the only way to live an authentic life.
  • Anyone who has an issue with this essay is probably an alcoholic in denial.
  • She’s blaming men for all her own problems.
  • She raises some good issues, but fails to provide the solution, so fuck it.
  • She acts like women are the only ones who have a tough time at work.
  • She acts like women are the only ones who struggle with alcohol.
  • She acts like women are the only ones who feel stress.
  • Any man who doesn’t like this essay is probably a misogynist.
  • If she was a real feminist she wouldn’t judge women who drink. Feminists support other women no matter what.
  • Women who say they only drink socially are lying to themselves.
  • She must really hate fun.

    People! All of us! We must stop. Life is in the gray areas. I know this. You know this. Let’s live like we know this. We will all be saner and kinder and happier. Even the assholes.

To be continued. (Maybe. 😉 )

 

Day 1,124: No Faith Required

I started a heart-rate running training plan yesterday and it’s already killing me. The idea of HR training is to expand your aerobic capacity and reduce burnout by doing most of your running at 140 beats per minute or less. As your hearts learns to supply oxygen to your blood more efficiently, you can go further and faster at the same level of effort. Sounds good, right?

It was maddening. Even running as slowly as I know how–and looking, I suspect, like the Pink Panther–I hit 140 fast and often. I spent an hour on the trail and walked at least half of it. (I’m not throwing shade on walk breaks, by the way–I love them. I need them. But the operative word is “break,” and this is not what that was.) By the halfway point, my internal monologue went something like this:

Just because this has worked for a lot other people doesn’t mean it will work for me. What if my heart has some anomaly where it doesn’t get more efficient? I’m going to spend weeks walking 15-minute miles and nothing will change except for my fitness collapsing because my body isn’t designed for this plan. Anyway, I’m under too much stress right now to run slow. How am I supposed to decompress like this? Oh, I know–I could make my own sort of hybrid plan, where sometimes I do the workout as written and sometimes I run as fast as I want! I know the coach says that will sabotage training, but what does she know about me, really? I’m special. My heart is much better and much worse than the ones that normal people have. 

Does this sound at all familiar? It did to me, and I started to laugh (grimly, I will have you know, because officially I was still pissed about walking so much). It sounded like me, thinking:

  • I don’t get how all these sober bloggers sound so happy. They’re probably just trying to talk themselves into it. Or maybe they’re just inherently much happier people than me. They had one little problem and they dealt with it. I have a hundred problems and without alcohol I’d still have 99.
  • The data about alcohol and breast cancer seems a little overstated. I mean, I exercise and eat organic food and have no family history, so even if I drink too much I bet my risk is still below average.
  • Same with the liver stuff. You never hear about people like me having liver failure. It’s always older men who drink during the day at those bars with ATM machines and no windows. Like William H. Macy in Magnolia. My liver is not the kind that fails. 
  • Anyway, even if I wanted to 100% quit I doubt I could. Those sober bloggers aren’t dealing with the kind of job stress I have. Or the way I grew up, walking on eggshells all the time, getting hit, plus getting blamed for getting hit. People like me can’t just stop drinking. We’re not strong like those other people. 
  • But oh, I know! Maybe I can just moderateHave some rules, like only buy half-bottles of wine, or drink a glass of water between every glass of wine, or only drink red since I don’t like it as much. Oh yeah, this is a great idea–a plan that fits my special needs. 

That’s right–as a drinker I didn’t even really believe that medical science applied to me. And, to judge by my heart rate temper tantrum, I guess I still don’t. I still think I’m too special to benefit from proven, codified methods.

And you know what? That’s okay. I’m still going to stick with this plan and see what happens, just for the hell of it.

With sobriety, maybe you’re right where I am with the cardiovascular system–utterly convinced that you can’t have the peace of mind, the freedom that those smug bloggers do, because you’re an anomaly/special snowflake/freak of nature. You want it, but you have zero faith that doing the things we did will make any difference.

And guess what? That’s okay too. Sometimes it’s just asking too much to have faith in advance of your own data. Sometimes you have to take an action, then another, then another–feeling slightly foolish along the way–before the evidence appears.

So maybe we can do it together. What do you say? I’ll go out and plod down the trail, even though I don’t think it’ll work. You’ll do anything to avoid having a drink, even though you don’t think it’ll work. And when we both have some data, we’ll meet back here and talk.

You in?

Day 1,119 (+3): Talking with Belle

Belle from Tired of Thinking About Drinking changed my life, full stop. So when she asked me to be on her podcast, I had one of those Wayne-and-Garth “I’m not worthy!” moments. Like I should be asking her to be on my podcast, you know? Except I don’t have a podcast, of course. So the only real option was to kick my unworthiness to the curb and say “Yes, please!”

It was a blast. We were supposed to talk for 25 minutes and we went on for an hour. About writing, being anonymous vs. public, being jealous of other people’s blog titles (hi Jean!), , Moving Day in Quebec (so weird), and whether I am on a mission (Belle thinks maybe yes, and I don’t know what I think). The +3 in this post title gets explained, too.

You can listen here.

Enjoy!