Day 1,879: Win my Book!

So Nothing Good Can Come from This is out there in the world now, in paperback, e-book, and audio formats. It’s been out for a week, and I feel like kind of a dick for not posting here sooner, but it turns out there is a LOT to do when you publish a book and I had to triage. But I have more to say, and I’ll say it soon, I promise. (In the meantime, you can always follow me on Facebook or Instagram for real-time hits of lunacy, panic, and occasional wisdom.)

But for now, here’s a chance to win a copy of the book, plus a limited-edition zine of mocktail recipes (must prevent Mocktail Rage!), plus the cutest enamel Otter of Sobriety pin. And one lucky person will win all of that, PLUS my five picks for Electric Literature’s Read More Women series! Instructions for entering the giveaway are in the intro at the link.

Otter

(Also, check out rave reviews for Nothing Good Can Come from This at the LA Review of Books, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Paris Review, and MindBodyGreen.)

It probably goes without saying that all of this is brought to you by Day 1,879. But I’ll say it anyway.

Day 1,826: In This World, There is a Kind of Painful Progress

A friend of 20+ years called last night. You could say it’s been a complicated relationship, the same way you could say Mt. Rainier is a pretty big hill. We’ve hurt each other at times like only two people who know each other very well can do. We’ll talk every day for a year and then either drift or storm apart for the next one. He made me so mad last year that I all but slammed the door for good on my way out.
But I HAD to send him my book. Not because he’s in it–though he is–and not because he’s thanked in the acknowledgments, though he’s there too. Just because there were a few people who needed to have it in their hands for it to feel fully real to me, and he was one of them, which frankly sort of annoyed me. I didn’t sign it or include a note, just shoved the galley in an envelope and sent it off and didn’t wait around to hear back.
“You wrote a fucking beautiful book,” he said by way of hello last night.
“Well, thanks,” I said, a little shy.
“It’s EXACTLY your voice,” he went on. “Like everything you are as a person is reflected in those pages. I mean I LITERALLY heard your voice in my head saying every single word.”
Now I was starting to perk up a little. (Compliments will do that.)
“I mean, don’t get me wrong, I wanted to shut you up a few times,” he said, laughing. “But it was you. For better or worse. You translated the
thing that makes you YOU into book form. I don’t know how the fuck you did it.”
“This is seriously the greatest blurb I’ll ever get in my life,” I told him, and I meant it.

We talked for another couple of hours, and I guess he heard something in my physical voice too, something I was holding back, because every so often he’d circle back and ask “Are you okay? Really, are you okay?” In recent years–since I got sober–I’m usually the one asking if he’s okay. At times it’s seemed like he’s forgotten that I still have problems, too.

 

The third time he asked I said, “I’m FUNDAMENTALLY okay, yes, but…” and gave him the full download on something that happened this month, a head-spinning turn of events involving someone I was close to that blindsided and hurt me. It’s also the kind of situation where anyone looking to judge me would have a glorious CORNUCOPIA of options to choose from. Based on our history, I sort of expected an astonished eye roll from my friend *at best,* so I went ahead and tacked on everything I assumed he was thinking: that I’m a dumbass, that I know I have no real right to feel grief, that I should just be happy things didn’t turn out even worse, and did I mention I’m a dumbass? and so on.
He cut my litany off. “Kid,” he said–he’s been calling me ‘kid’ since around the time he turned 40 while I was a mere 37–“shut up. OF COURSE you feel grief. That’s  heartbreaking. I’m just sorry you have to go through it.”
“Well, the problem is I’m essentially a much stupider person than I thought I was and…”
“STOP,” he said. “You are not stupid. At WORST you’re maddening and confounding. God, you know I hate it when you get hurt.” I was about to say that, uh, maddening and confounding actually are pretty bad ‘worsts,’ but for once common sense prevailed and we moved on to other quotidian sorrows, his and mine.
Just before we hung up, he said “The thing you need to remember is I’m ALWAYS going to be in your army. I’m always going to have your back. Even if we have another blowup–“
“Which we will,” I said.
“–Which we will, it doesn’t matter. We’re permanent. And whenever you forget that, just listen to the song.”
“I will,” I said. Of course I knew which song. In that way if no other, we have twin language.
I thought then of the speech Harper makes at the end of Angels in America, about the net of souls surrounding the earth. I wanted to tell him how fast I realized after we first met that he’d be in my own personal net of souls, and how for a while after I quit drinking I thought maybe I’d been wrong, but finally I’d landed on that same word: permanent. A neutral word that leaves room for drift and flow, private jokes and alienation, deep disappointment and deep love.

I wanted to tell him all of this (though I suspected I’d told him before, drunk) plus just how much that net has come to MEAN to me in this dizzying last year or two–how carefully I’ve tended and even more carefully added to it, with a jeweler’s eye and maybe the eye of a coach, too, putting together a team for the long haul. I wanted to explain that’s why I’m grieving now, because part of my net fell away. But also to explain that my friend’s ongoing presence in my life–his warm, maddening, loving, confounding, worrying, permanent presence–tells me the net is there even when I can’t see it, or feel it.

But it was late–3 a.m. his time, which made it midnight here. Which made me gasp a bit and said “Oh! Oh, wow. As of this very minute I’ve been sober for exactly five years.”

 

Day 1,822: Book News (and Excerpt!)

I have no particular wisdom to offer you nice people today. Life has been throwing some extra weirdness at me lately, and Seattle is having a heat wave (a Pacific NW “heat wave”=over eighty degrees) that I cannot really cope with. And I got sucked back into the fruitless search for a nude lipstick that doesn’t make me look like I chalked myself. And there’s a bee flying around me right now, in my living room, and I can’t tell if it’s the stinging kind or not, and I know in my brain that bees are our friends, but I can’t quite feel it. I don’t feel a sense of warmth and fellowship between me and whoever this is bumping around inside the lampshade.

So yeah. I’ve been worse, but I’ve been better, too.

But I’m sober, because I have at least learned not to do the one thing guaranteed to make any of my problems worse. And, of course, I have a book coming out in August! Isn’t that so weird? I think it’s weird. But, I mean, I’ll take it. We recorded the audiobook earlier this week, which was surreal and intense–as in, I had to read the entire book out loud–but also a huge amount of fun. Not every author gets to narrate her own audiobook, so I feel extra lucky that I did. I just don’t think it would have the same feeling coming from a professional narrator, no matter how skilled.

Here’s a picture of me looking pretty pleased with myself on the way in, and then vaguely like a hostage about thirty minutes later. And also a picture of the little table I sat at for two days, and also a picture of Elvis, one of the studio dogs, who was–well, look, I love all dogs, but he was not the most exciting one I’ve ever met. Maybe the heat was getting to him too.

 

Some incredibly gratifying new blurbs have also come in this month, most recently this one from Leslie Jamison, or Leslie Fucking Jamison as I have taken to calling her. Her own new addiction memoir/history The Recovering is everywhere right now, and I highly recommend it, along with her debut essay collection, The Empathy Exams, which became a surprise bestseller and sort of reset the bar for what an essay collection could achieve in the commercial marketplace. (Speaking of which–did you know there is no legal limit on how many copies of my book you’re permitted to own? You could legally buy a new copy every day for the rest of your life if you felt like it. Just thought you might like to know that bit of trivia, no particular reason.)

Anyway, here’s what Leslie Jamison had to say about Nothing Good Can Come From This: 

“Kristi Coulter charts the raw, unvarnished, and quietly riveting terrain of new sobriety with wit and warmth. Nothing Good Can Come from This is a book about generative discomfort, surprising sources of beauty, and the odd, often hilarious, business of being human.” — Leslie Jamison

If she said it, it must be true! I was also thrilled by this praise from memoirist and novelist Susan Jane Gilman, whose travel memoir Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven is particularly stunning:

Brave, whip-smart, and laugh-out-loud funny. Kristi Coulter does not pull any punches tackling the taboos in so many women’s lives: addiction, sex, money, privilege, ambition, adultery, and power. In these essays, she bares her own soul to a greater end, writing with unflinching honesty and unexpected poetry. Although this is framed as a book about drinking, it’s ultimately about so much more: the insidious reasons why so many of us might polish off an entire bottle of Chardonnay in the first place—and how we might better serve ourselves in the end. Coulter herself is addictive to read. She’s a fresh, uncensored voice, offering up more than a drop of insight and hope.”–Susan Jane Gilman

(Susan’s quote is the one you can show your friends who are like “Wah, I don’t want to read a book about drinking.” “Well, how about a book about SEX? you can say. How about MONEY? How about POWER? Do any of these topics appeal to your highly refined tastes?” Just keep going relentlessly down the list until they are forced to admit they actually DO want to read my book. Thanks in advance.)

And finally, I’m super excited to present the very first excerpt, which Longreads ran yesterday! It’s about my very first night sober, and an otter that I’m pretty sure I blogged about here several years ago. There will likely be other excerpts (and some new work, too) to share before August 7th, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy this one. (Also, I love the artwork they chose. As a friend pointed out, addiction essays all too often end up  with a glamorous-looking header image–but this one looks disturbingly like my own recycling bins not so long ago.)

Like I said, friends, life is weird these days, but I guess it’s full of wonders too. Either way, we carry on.

Day 1,822.

Day 1,779: You’ll See

For several years I’ve been in this life phase called “friends keep adding me to secret menopause Facebook groups where women gather to share information, vent, and validate the living shit out of each other.” I hate it. Sure, at first I was game. I’d jump in and introduce myself and start reading posts and then within, say, ten minutes I’d be gripped with a sense of impending doom like you would not believe. Sometimes it verged on panic–racing mind, shaking hands, tight throat. And honestly, panic seemed like a reasonable reaction to the fact that I’d just learned my goddamn life was about to end. 

Not right away, of course! No, first there would be perimenopause: five to ten years of sweat attacks, chronic insomnia, depression, rage, massive weight gain, equally massive beauty loss, brain fog, lethargy, purposelessness, and an end to all interest in sex. All at onceThen my life would end, and when it ended I would emerge into a peaceful earthly afterlife where I would be sexless, powerless, and completely invisible…but wise. A level of wisdom that would make up for the complete destruction of everything else. And I would be able to share this wisdom with, I guess, my fellow invisibles, and we would all wear invisible red hats and feel smug that we didn’t actually die.

I mean, Jesus, I feel my chest tightening up just typing this.

I was 46 when I was ushered into the secret Facebook society of doom-followed-by-sexless-wisdom. Things had already started to change. I couldn’t rely on my body as a 30-day kitchen timer anymore. I’d had a hot flash here and there. I had grown a single wiry chin hair that came back every time I plucked it. It was easier to gain weight and harder to lose it. In other words, I was almost certainly already in that long tunnel of horrors known as perimenopause, and I knew it. It just didn’t seem like that big a deal, I guess. After all, I was also writing, and working at an interesting job, and running, and lifting weights, and starting to have the best sex of my life. I certainly didn’t feel unattractive–yeah, I guess my 30-year-old body was skinnier (and by “I guess” I mean it was definitely skinnier), but I hated my 30-year-old body, hated taking up any space at all, and I didn’t use it for much back then. It could barely get through half a Tae Bo class, let alone a half-marathon. Maybe I didn’t have the ‘glow of youth’ anymore, but I finally had a real sense of style, and anyway, I’d spent most of my glowing years red-eyed from crying over some boy.

Basically I felt just, you know, fine. But then I’d get sucked into these menopause pages, each woman’s story more awful than the last, like some sick form of Jenga, and come away convinced that maybe I just hadn’t been hit by the freight train yet. After all, how could feel okay when so many other women were in full-on crisis? How could feel vital and sexy when literally hundreds of other women were sure they were losing their minds? Once or twice I hesitantly ventured that maybe for some of us, the process was fairly mild. “Just wait!” I was told.

Once I admitted that I didn’t feel at all invisible–that I felt vocal, powerful, beautiful. “Just wait,” someone said. “It’s coming for you, too. You’ll see.” (This is verbatim, and can I just say, what the fuck, lady.)

That’s about when I decided that the secret menopause groups weren’t right for me. Emphasis on for me. They were clearly a source of valuable information and community for many women who were suffering awful symptoms and weren’t getting straight talk from their doctors. But for me, they risked drowning out my actual lived experience. My inner voice wasn’t strong enough to withstand a chorus telling me this was really hard, that I would be suffering. Sometimes the chorus–which was often focused on how to gut out the symptoms with no medical relief, the same way some people approach childbirth or depression– seemed to say that I should be suffering, or else I was doing menopause wrong, being a woman wrong (yet again). I closed my browser windows and resumed living my pretty good life as a person who maybe just didn’t fit the mold.

After maybe eighteen months on shore leave, I dipped a toe back into the waters recently when I interviewed a woman my age who has written extensively on perimenopause. On the page, she’s so frank and blunt and funny in describing her issues and how she’s addressed them (for instance, did you guys know that in addition to attracting moisture to the skin on your face, hyaluronic acid will also un-dry your vagina? I know!!! It sounded crazy to me too, but apparently it works!) that I wasn’t sure what to expect in person. But when I found her in the cafe based on her description–corner table, blue dress–my first thought was “Why didn’t she just say to look for the hottest fucking babe in the room?” She was gorgeous. She was sexy. She was wide awake on the planet. And as we chatted for an hour about feminism and power and sex and hormones, I kept having trouble squaring the brilliant, funny, devastating babe across the table with her writing about feeling crazy and ugly and unfuckable. It was only later, walking back to my car in Pioneer Square, that I thought well, that’s her lived experience, and maybe it doesn’t show on the outside, but that doesn’t make it any less real. (I also chalk some of the gap up to the fact that she took action on the things that were bothering her–there is real help out there, people.)

So what does this have to do with sobriety? Well, because for the two or three years before I quit drinking, I read a lot about sobriety, and though the  details varied some, the prevailing collective narrative was something like this:

  1. It’s going to be an absolute nightmare for a while. It will take everything you have just to hang on. Life will become unrecognizable.
  2. But then eventually everything will be fine!
  3. But seriously, it’s gonna be so fucking hard for a while.
  4. Oh, and your addiction will be lying in wait for you every moment of the rest of your life. Just sharpening its claws and waiting for you to drop your guard.
  5. But you should totally get sober anyway because it’s great!
  6. Just don’t feel like it’s too great or Pennywise the Addiction will suck you back into the sewer.

This prevailing narrative made me…a little anxious. A little in need of just one more drink. Thank god I finally found a gentler, more optimistic voice, one that didn’t sugarcoat early sobriety, but also didn’t make it sound so militaristic, so unrelentingly brutal (so…male). That gentle voice gave me the courage to try being sober for a hundred days. And when I did, I found that it was hard. I did have some skin-of-my-teeth moments. Life did change in uncomfortable ways.

But all that hard stuff? It still happened within the context of my personality and temperament and life circumstances. I wasn’t ripped out of my core self. And when I remembered to pay attention to my own lived experience, and not just what I was “supposed” to be feeling, I realized that even the hard parts weren’t half the nightmare I’d expected. Don’t get me wrong–talking to other sober people was and is a huge part of my recovery, and early on I often spent two hours a day just reading sober blogs. But I was somehow able to take comfort in the commonalities I found with my new sober buddies, and still leave room for our differences.

Also–and this is important–I didn’t try to talk myself into thinking it was harder than it really was. I didn’t assume that feeling good meant I was doing it wrong or right. I just thought it meant that for whatever reason, I was having an easier time of it than some of my new friends. (And maybe a harder time of it than others.) I felt lucky, but not smug.

I’m 48 now. Next time a nurse says “And when was the date of your last period?” I’ll say “Sometime in the last four to six-ish months, maybe? I mean, do you really expect me to know?” I’m thinking about just having that chin hair zapped. A few times a year my entire body continues to heat up from the inside–I can actually feel it moving outward toward my skin–and then I sweat like a motherfucker for a few minutes. Because it doesn’t really disrupt my life, I find it fascinating. (If you’re around me when it happens, I’ll probably narrate it for you because it’s just so weird.) I run and lift and eat like a fairly intelligent person and still my belly is, you know, even less awesome than it was at 40, when I was already nothing to brag about. I have a book coming out. People ask me to talk because they want to know what I have to say. I feel a little sad that I probably can’t have a baby anymore, and then I remember that I don’t actually want to have a baby, at all, that all I really want to do is name other people’s babies for them. No, that what I really want is for all options to stay open forever, and I guess that’s just too bad for me.

I feel sexy and beautiful most of the time–in my living, feeling, full-of-curiosity totality, not as a snapshot or an isolated body part. I move through the world like someone who feels beautiful and mostly the world is a good sport and plays along. And then a little bit of the time I feel like the plainest, most invisible woman on earth, and I’d chalk it up to menopause except that I have been paying attention so I remember I’ve been cycling through those two states all my life. In both states I continue to have jaw-dropping sex that my younger self–even my 46-year-old self, let alone the 36-year-old one–couldn’t have anticipated. My drinking self certainly had no idea.

And then there’s that: I’m sober, and I think about my sobriety every day and I look after it, but I don’t live like a fanged monster is waiting to grab me back when I left my guard down, because living like that I exactly how I won’t stay sober.

How won’t stay sober. It might be different for you. If you want to find out, don’t let anyone scare you and don’t let anyone make you think it’s trivial, either. Because beyond the core stuff that seems to apply to most of us–community helps, having if-then plans help, putting recovery first helps– they don’t know! No one really knows what your sobriety will be like but you. It’s like that menopause lady said: “You’ll see.” Except in this case, the rest of us don’t know what you’ll see. You’ll have to come back and tell us.

Day 1,731: Longcuts

“Why does this never get any easier?” I groaned to my trainer last week in the middle of deadlifting.

He looked confused. “Well, because we keep adding weight to the bar. You could only lift half this much a year ago.”

I had to concede his logic, even if it didn’t really answer my question.

 *****

The main thing about me is I never think I’m making any progress. Yesterday, for example, I happened to read about the six 2018 books chosen for a special “Buzz Book” panel at a major book industry conference. That’s six books total, across all genres, out of thousands published in a given year. It had never once occurred to me that mine could be one of the six… until I saw that it wasn’t. And then I sort of deflated. Your book is just not the kind of book that creates buzz, I told myself. It’s a weird book, by a weird person. Just get used to that. 

I moped around for a while and then I saw the online table of contents for the spring issue of a literary magazine that recently accepted one of my essays. In fact, I thought they’d accepted it for the spring issue, except uh oh, why wasn’t it listed? Maybe they changed their minds after accepting it and just forgot to tell me, I thought. Because the essay is actually so forgettable that they didn’t even remember someone wrote it. 

“Hey babe,” said my unsuspecting husband, coming in from a run in the park. “Oh hey,” I said, then explained the ways in which my career had fallen apart in the past hour. “It seems very likely that I will dwell in mediocrity,” I said gravely. “I have walked away from a successful career with money to an unsuccessful one with no money.” (Did I mention that I left my day job a few weeks ago?)

“Or maybe you’re putting a ton of weight on two very small data points,” he said. “One of which would have been like being struck by lightning, and the other of which may very well be an error.”

“Oh please,” I said. “I have had years of cognitive behavioral therapy. I know all about binary thinking and catastrophizing and projecting and the rest of it. That doesn’t mean my career can’t still be falling apart. Hypochondriacs do get cancer, you know.”

Seeking someone who would understand just how bad things had gotten, I texted a writer friend about being dropped by the literary quarterly. “Why don’t you drop a friendly email asking what’s up?” she said. I had to admit it sounded reasonable. So I did, taking pains to sound breezy and oh-hey-just-curious. I got a response less than an hour later, saying my piece is scheduled for the summer issue. Because hypochondriacs do get cancer, but they also flail around in a panic a lot over nothing.

*****

Panic, self-doubt, fear: all just standard stuff in a writer’s life, right? Except consider these facts:

  • In the late 90s, the last time I was trying to place work in literary journals, the one that’s publishing me this summer rejected me nine or ten times. This time around, they asked me to write something for them.
  • The only reason I could freak out over not being one of six Buzz Books is because I have a book coming out this summer, from one of the finest literary publishers in America, the publisher of my dreams, who have made my manuscript into a gorgeous book that has been circulating and getting industry blurbs and other enthusiastic comments that make me dizzy. 
  • And the only reason said manuscript exists is that I wrote it. For eighteen months I spent every weekend and most nights writing, and the book was on my mind in some way 24-7, like an earworm or a tinnitus buzz. My brain became a two-story house and I learned to live on both floors at once.
  • And the only reason I could write a book is that six months into sobriety,  I sat down on impulse one day and wrote a page of a short story, just to see if I had any muscle memory left after a decade away from writing. And then I did it again, and again. I kept sitting down to write because it felt good. I told my husband I didn’t care if I ever got published, or if anyone ever even saw what I wrote; I just wanted to be doing it. And I meant it.
  • And if you’d told me on that day that I’d ever leave my day job, I wouldn’t have believed it. And not just because I couldn’t have foreseen a writing career for myself. Because I thought someone as mediocre as me was lucky to have a job at all, that I’d somehow been tricking my employer into keeping me around. I was two years sober before I started to clearly see how good I was at my job, and over three when it dawned on me that my employer was probably never going to value me the way I needed to feel valued, and over four by the time it hit me that instead of just resigning myself to feeling overlooked, I could leave, make a new life for myself where I could shine and be seen.

That was four years ago. Four years from “Do I still know how to write a good sentence?” to “Why was my book not one of six chosen from thousands to showcase at BookExpo?” Four years from “Who else would ever hire me?” to “Who wouldn’t want to hire me?” The person I was four years ago would say “My God, 2018 Kristi sounds like an ego monster.” But 2018 Kristi (which should totally be the title of a Prince song) isn’t an ego monster. She just knows what she’s worth, and she knows it because she did every fucking bit of the work to get here. There were no shortcuts; if anything, there were longcuts, because the hard way is the way I always go.

I guess I must like the hard way.

*****

But the hard way is slow and progress only piles up in retrospect. Years ago, ending an obsessive long-distance love affair, I couldn’t see that two days without talking or writing was twice as long as we’d ever made it before. I could only white-knuckle each hour and dwell on how that would never change. Finishing a difficult essay last month, I complained to anyone who would listen about the agony of only knowing what I think through the act of writing it, so that what I know and my ability to express it are never quite in balance; it’s a race with a photo finish.

Not to mention, I raise the stakes all the time. In yoga, I was first taught to do a headstand with my feet on the wall for balance. Over time, I moved a few inches away. Then I started kicking up in the middle of the room. Then I could kick up in the middle of the room and add on variations: leg splits, a twist from the torso, a half-lotus.

“Why does this never get any easier?” I said one day to my teacher, who laughed.

“Why would it?” she said. “You keep moving forward.”

I’ve started writing what I hope will be my next book and the mess of it is making me crazy. I don’t want to have to flounder around in the dark, searching for the voice and the structure. I want to have it all figured out right now and just, you know, type it up. Maybe I don’t actually know how to write a book, I thought the other day. Then I remembered something my friend Claire said, because she’s been where I am now:

“The second book is much harder,” she said. “Because you proved the first time around that you can write a book, and now you want to write a great one. It’s a quantum leap in ambition, and therefore in difficulty. Be prepared.”

I listened when she said this and I nodded gravely and I thought I was prepared. But of course I’m not prepared, because I’ve never been prepared. To quit drinking, to write a game-changing book, to leave a job, to leave a lover, to serpent-twist my legs in midair. I trust that I’ll catch up with myself, somehow, in the ways that matter most. And I keep moving forward.

Day 1,651: Start Stopping

It’s New Years Eve afternoon. I’m at a coffee shop working on a commissioned essay about small matters like marriage and sex and desire and monogamy and how I’m a natural at three out of four. The writing is going…not great, okay? Plus I just ate a pretty disappointing croissant and the little boy behind me is singing the alphabet song over and over, with a dramatic, jazz-hands finish at “W, X, Y, and Z.” It was cute for a while. Sunset is at 4:27 today, which is an improvement over yesterday–but still, I mean, come on. We’re humans, not moles. We deserve better.

My social media feeds today are full of posts about how 2017 was the worst year in memory because of Donald Trump and I confess I don’t quite know what to make of that. Don’t get me wrong–I find the prospect of Donald Trump dying in prison almost pornographically thrilling. His stupidity, his reflexive cruelty, his little white fish-mouth all appall me. Forget mere politics–his presidency offends me on an aesthetic level in how it elevates a way of being in the world that negates wonder and mystery and transcendence. (And once you’re on my aesthetic bad side, you’re pretty much fucked.) Still, seeing him blamed for so much emotional damage awakens my unattractive urge to lecture: don’t give him that much power! Take the long view! Make a monument of your pain! (Because for one thing, he’ll still be president tomorrow. The year may be ending, but he carries over.)

But then I think, what do I know? I’m white, straight, and financially stable. I live in a big blue city.  As a woman, I’m, well, at least less vulnerable than a lot of other women. Sure, if I were otherwise in the demographic crosshairs, it’s entirely possible I too would be saying Donald Trump ruined my year. But he didn’t. It was a good year. It nearly fucking crushed me. I got mostly smarter, a little dumber. I trusted the wrong person and saw that betrayal, like most awful things, is survivable. My field of vision got wide and I shrank from it and then crawled back out and stood up. The bedrock under me turned out to be more solid than I knew, and thank god, because everything that wasn’t bedrock turned to confetti I’ll be picking out of my hair for years. But confetti has its own grace and sparkle.

And I’ll tell you one thing. All of it–the bad croissant; the missing sun; the gorgeous, hammering year–it’s all better than my best New Year’s Eve near the end of my drinking. By this time on those days my mind would be on two things:

  1. Wondering how drunk I’d get, and how bad I’d feel on New Year’s Day. Because once I had that first drink, how many more would follow depended on a mysterious alignment of circumstances, timing, and the secret harmonies of the universe or something, and very little to do with me.
  2. Intending to be a “healthy drinker” the next year, which to me meant having no more than two glasses of wine a day, every day. Intending because I didn’t have any real plan. And to be because I didn’t want to have to do anything. I just wanted to magically be different. 

I mean, who wouldn’t, right? But it was never going to work. Partly because I was never going to be a moderate drinker; moderation took a ridiculous level of effort and focus that killed all the fun. But mostly because I was coming at my so-called intention from a place of massive and (retrospectively) hilarious inertia. In the rest of my life I was a panicked striver, climber, analyzer. But in addiction I wanted nothing less than a revival-tent experience that would make dealing with my problem not just doable, but effortless. I wanted my soul to change before anything else did.

I said my mind was on two things most New Year’s Eves. Eventually there was a third: that nothing was ever going to change, that I would be setting empty intentions for the rest of my life because I was powerless to do anything but hope.

If you’re having the same New Year’s Eve thoughts I used to, my Happy New Year message to you is: it isn’t going to work. You’re not going to intend yourself into moderation or sobriety. And you’re probably not going to trick yourself there via other avenues like dieting or race training, either. If you do manage to back your way in like that, great! But if you’re in really deep, like I was, I suspect your brain is already coming up with workarounds and in six months you’ll be thinking Wow, I trained for a marathon and still didn’t quit drinking! That’s so weird. What should I try next? Yoga? Going back to school? Having another baby? 

The way to stop is to stop. There will be a bottle or glass filled with liquid you want to swallow more than you want to do anything else in the world and you won’t swallow it or even touch it. And it will feel so wrong to not touch it. But that’s how you start stopping. You do something that feels wrong, and you have faith that it’s actually right, that you can’t trust your own brain just yet. Or you don’t have faith and you keep it up anyway, because it doesn’t take faith to change.

That’s not all that’s required to heal from whatever got you here, of course. There are a lot of paths to what they call recovery, most of them involving a lot of uncovering of who you are under that shellac of booze and fear. But most of those paths also start the same way: with you stopping.  You rip the fucking band-aid off and you leave it off.

Recently I was talking to a friend who beat a long-ago cocaine habit. “I thought about it 24-7 for days after I quit,” he said. “And then not 24-7, but still lots of times per day. And then, three weeks in, I went a whole day without cocaine crossing my mind. Realizing that was an unbelievable feeling.” His face lit up when he talked about it, decades after the fact. I could feel mine light up too. “I loved that feeling!” I said, and we both laughed at the memory of it, the head rush of that first taste of freedom from the thing we’d thought we couldn’t live without.

You can get that head rush too. I promise. You can be laughing about it years from now. But first you have to start. You have to pull the band-aid off.

 

Day 1,605: Book Cover Reveal!

Psst…wanna see what my book looks like? It looks like this: Coulter_NothingGood

I used to work in publishing, so I can tell you that landing the right cover can be tough and involve lots of revisions and arguments. (You’d be surprised how many writers aren’t crazy about the final cover they end up with, simply because the cover that sells a book most effectively may not match the personal vision a writer has been living with for years.) I was already a huge fan of Alex Merto and thrilled he’d be designing my cover. Still, I half-expected to hate the first round of explorations, and opened the file nervously.

Six concepts were included, and I loved FOUR of them and liked the fifth. There was only one that didn’t work at all for me, and even that one was conceptually cool and thoughtful–I just didn’t think it was right for the book. My husband and I sat at the kitchen counter, stunned. “How can they all be this good?” I said. “It’s not normal.

This one, though was the clear winner among winners for both of us–and for my editor, my agent, and the handful of friends I consulted.  And so it was that we landed my dream cover in one round. It’s not lost on me that I went into the process insisting I didn’t want to use any obvious wine imagery, for fear of it looking cliched or too cutesy. I guess a great artist can take the thing you’re sure you won’t like and turn it on its head, because I get more excited about this cover every time I look at it, and I’ve looked at it a lot.

(Same thing happened when I bought my wedding dress, by the way: I marched into the shop grimly determined to buy the plainest, least fairy-princess dress they had, only to eventually walk down the aisle in a gigantic tulle skirt.)

Oh! You can pre-order my book now too, if you’d like. I think you probably should do that. It doesn’t come out till August 8th, so just think of it as buying yourself a late-summer present way in advance. (Another insider tip: healthy pre-orders on Amazon and other online booksellers can help physical stores gauge how much interest there is in a book and make them more likely to stock it.) There will also be an e-book version, of course. But the paperback is so beautiful, and compact enough to tote around in your bag or backpack, so you can take it everywhere you go. (But seriously, I had a vision of a book portable enough for someone to carry around and dip into at lunch or stoplights or whenever, and that’s exactly how it turned out.)

And yes, an audiobook is planned, and it looks like I’ll be reading it myself! (Sorry if you were hoping for Michael Caine as narrator.) I’ll post a pre-order link for that once it’s available.

Isn’t this just amazing? I’m amazed. I’m also still sober. And these two states are connected.