Day 1,944*: Likability Comma Mine

The asterisk above is because after I labeled my last one Day 1,917, Belle commented that she had it as 1,931. She’s way more likely to be right than I am, so I’m adjusting. It’s actually the second time in the history of Off-Dry that I’ve realized the day count was off. You wouldn’t think it would be so difficult–well actually, if you met me (or if you’ve read my book), you might see that cold hard facts are… not my strong suit, okay?

Anyway, hi! Happy My Day 1,944! I wanted to share a new essay by an incredible writer named Lacy Johnson. It’s called “On Likability,” and it’s about the ways that we–all of us, but especially women–limit and contort and lie about ourselves in the service of being liked by everyone. It’s such a good read: brilliant and rousing and almost comically timely for me, because the threat and fear of being disliked have been coming up a lot in my life recently as part of what I, and now you, will call BathGate.

BathGate started when I took–wait for it–a bath a couple of weeks ago and got so caught up in scrolling through Instagram on my phone that I lay in the tub while the water ran out and for twenty minutes afterward. I thought it was kind of funny, and I also realized it had been the most purely enjoyable half-hour I’d had in ages, or at least since I heard Brett Kavanaugh yell “I like beer!” a hundred times on national television. So I posted about it on Facebook. Soon after, another writer–someone I’d only ever had the warmest interactions with, a “book twin” in that her own debut came out shortly before mine did, so we often shared advice and anxieties over navigating the process–asked in a public comment if I was “trying to be offensively white feminist.”

I assumed she was joking at first. But she wasn’t. She further commented that the post epitomized white privilege, that I was bragging about having time to lie in the bathtub “while other women are trying to figure out how to survive.” She said I gave off Mean Girl vibes and by the way, other women writers were sending her private messages agreeing that both my bath and my general deal were alienating.

It was so out of the blue, and so hostile, that I didn’t know what to make of it, and requests for more context got me nowhere. So I did what I always try (and sometimes fail) to do with criticism that feels off-base: assume that a kernel of it might be true, hold that kernel lightly, and see what develops.

Because, yeah. I was born into a white, middle-class, two-parent family. Through no merit of my own, I started life on second base. That fact alone brought me a lot of opportunities to either seize or waste. I seized them, and then I worked my ass off to make the most of them–but that’s work that less privileged people might have never even gotten the chance to take on. I’m not struggling to survive (except internally). The world gives me the benefit of the doubt at all turns (as long as it won’t inconvenience a white man). I’m the kind of woman who people probably assume reads Goop. (I’ve actually never read Goop, but I get that I still seem goopy.)

In other words, I’m sure I embody white privilege sometimes. I just didn’t think I was doing it by taking a flipping bath.

So I moved on…for a day. And then the new Tana French book I’ve been excited about came out, and I wanted to ask Facebook who else was reading it, and I seriously froze up. Would it sound like I thought all women could afford to buy new hardcover books, or that women had lots of time to read? My mind kept returning to those private messages my bath objector had described, to what people might be saying about how out of touch I was, thinking real women had two seconds for Tana French.

I told John I was kind of freaking out. “Okay, so that’s loony,” he said. “Reading books is a normal, standard thing that women do.” So I wrote the post–partly because I really wanted to know, but also not to let petty bullying spook me–but all along I was silently chastising myself for being an instant-gratification, hardcover-buying jerk who wants to read mysteries while the world burns.

A few days later I went to a play, and it was such a joyous experience that I wanted to tell the world about it. But it was a big national touring production, not cheap to attend. I wondered if I should mention in the post that it was the first time I’d been to the theater in six or seven years, just to forestall the impression that it was an everyday thing for me. Again I imagined what the unnamed women would be saying about me in PMs and group texts, and I said it in my mind for them:

“It must be nice to have time to go to the the-a-tah.”

“Oh, she’s on the main floor, too. No second-balcony seat for Miss Entitlement.”

“How many meals for a poor family could the price of that ticket cover?”

*****

That night I had a dream about being back in sixth grade, on the losing side of a girl triangle. You know what I mean, right? You remember.

*****

The next day, I recalled how much time I’d spent in early sobriety thinking about likability, mine. As I started venturing into the world with a clear head, I realized I’d spent decades contorting myself into whatever shape would make me most likable to friends, colleagues, and goddamn random acquaintances at any given moment. Being liked was, if not my deepest need, certainly my loudest one. It meant acceptance, which meant community, which meant safety. So I did all the things I thought would secure those things. I agreed with all sides of a discussion; I never asked for help; I made myself so mild and unthreatening and self-deprecating that no one else would ever need to knock me down, because I’d already done it for them.

And then I quit drinking and realized that if I was going to make it, I had to let that definition of likability go and replace it with one that gave me room to have ambitions and needs and edges and a little fucking self-respect. (Which didn’t at all mean abandoning decency and kindness and sensitivity, mind you–just the desperate need to be everybody’s go-to gal, their faithful retriever, their frictionless mascot.) Later, when I started to write again, it became even clearer that if I couldn’t live with the risk of some people disliking me, I could probably still have a nice little writing career but I would never be able to do the kind of work I really wanted to do.

That’s what settled it. Because I didn’t drag myself back from the edge of oblivion to chicken out of doing the kind of work I really want to do.

By the way, that’s one reason I deliberately didn’t shy away from the topic of privilege in Nothing Good Can Come from This. I’ve had a little blowback from readers. An online reviewer said it would have been “cuter” if I’d addressed it just once or twice. Well, maybe. But I’m not trying to be cute, you guys. I’m trying to explain my thorny, lucky, deeply compromised life to you and I don’t know how to do that outside the frames of work and gender and class. At various stages of editing I could hear the voices of future readers in my head, just like I heard those women last week:

“She spent what on that bag?”

“Is it absolutely necessary for her to talk about sex?”

“How hard could her job have really been? It’s not coal mining, for fuck’s sake.”

When I listened carefully, some of the voices were giving me useful notes: telling me I needed to add a line, give readers a little more to go on. But the rest were just telling me to be milder and nicer and smaller…more likable. I can’t live or write by what those voices say anymore, not as a sober person, and if it means I sometimes err on the side of having too much edge, I’m okay with that. I’ll find my balance over time. In the interim, as Johnson says in her essay, “the truth is not a request, is not a question, requires neither permission nor forgiveness.” In my case, it means you are absolved from having to find me cute, or reasonable, or (god this is hard to even type!) wholly likable. I just want you to know I’m truthful.

*****

BathGate made me even surer that the path of risking universal acceptance is the only path forward. Because that craving to be liked, and the deeper fear of being disliked, came back fast. My cells have not forgotten what it was like to be twelve and the subject of a whisper campaign because something about me that was fine yesterday became wrong, wrong, wrong overnight. So it’s good for me to practice being okay with not being everyone’s particular cup of tea, and to remember that when I do fuck up, I can own up to it without putting my own head on a pike, or otherwise doing the work of bullies for them. To bring it back to Lacy Johnson’s words:

We can be wrong sometimes. We can make mistakes. Sometimes really big ones. We can be crude and vulgar. We can change our minds. We can say something wrong — or better yet we can say something that is unpopular but right. We can admit that we have sometimes loved the wrong person or gave away too much of ourselves in exchange for fame, or favor, or fortune. We can tell the stories of our addictions, our falls from glory, our kink, our abuse. We can tell the hard truth we learned at rock bottom, and we can admit that it is precisely by climbing back from that lowest place that we have drawn power and strength. We can let ourselves be vulnerable enough to admit our most unforgivable errors, to find our way back from the brink of oblivion, and even if no one likes the story we have to tell, there is no story — none at all — that makes any of us unworthy of love.

I actually need to hop in the shower now, so I’ll leave you with that quote. But read the whole essay! THERE WILL BE A QUIZ. Like it or not.

Day 1,944 (more or less).

Day 1,917: Not All Rowboats & Accordians

Last week I was seated at a dinner next to a woman who’s writing a recovery memoir. When she found out I’m a published memoirist, she had questions about how I’d structured my book to make publishers like it. “Did you put the message of yours up front?” she asked. “Or tell the story first and deliver the message at the end?” I explained that my book is pure memoir, vs self-help or memoir with an advocacy point of view–that it doesn’t really have a message per se.

She looked at me like I was crazy. “So what was your purpose for writing it?”

“Well, I just find sobriety really interesting,” I said. “And I wanted to see if I could sort of crystallize little bits and pieces of what it’s like.”

“Okay, but where did you put your summary? How did you outline your main points?”

I felt like an art-school dickhead, but I also felt like she was acting sort of mad at me for no reason, so I told her the truth: “I wrote it like I was holding a prism that I just kept tilting this way and that.” She all but scowled at that, so I gave it one last shot: “I think you should just write your story and let the structure emerge from what you actually have to say. Just get it all out in a big pile, and then see where the patterns are, and you’ll start to find some kind of shape. It sucks, but it’s really the only way I know how to write. I make a huge mess and I despair over it and then I fix it.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Okay,” she said, and turned to the woman on her left.

***

Yesterday I was sitting in the sun at Fuel, talking to a woman who is writing a profile of me. Toward the end of our conversation, she asked if I consider Nothing Good Can Come from This a feminist book. Yes, I told her, absolutely. But not just because of its explicitly feminist content. “It’s feminist because it’s my story,” I said. I told her I’d just come back from a sober women’s conference where words like phoenix and goddess and warrior were in the atmosphere. Which is fine, I guess. Conventional recovery wisdom, written by and for men, suggests that the newly sober need to be humbled, but from what I’ve observed, what newly sober women (and surely not only women!) often need is to be built up, not broken down. You could do a whole lot worse than to go from hating yourself to feeling like a phoenix.

That said, triumphant archetypes leave me cold; they feel dehumanizing in the most complimentary way. When I think of a phoenix warrior goddess I picture Robin Wright in Wonder Woman, and it’s a gorgeous image. But even Robin Wright isn’t Robin Wright in Wonder Woman. She probably spent months in a gym, in lycra or sweats, mock-swordfighting with a hired coach. Getting comfortable on horseback somewhere in Los Angeles. And that’s actually the more interesting story to me.

So I told the woman who was interviewing me that I’d written the ordinariness and the small details of my story as a feminist act. My flaws, too, and my considerable privilege. I wanted to get myself down on the page as a human, because I don’t think the world wants me, or any woman, to be just a human being. I have trouble allowing myself  to be just a human being.

So in writing the 220 pages of NGCCFT, I made myself practice just being human. I could feel when I was begging to be loved, or trying to reassure the reader of my harmlessness, and when I felt myself writing that way I tried to stop. Mostly because writing meant to ingratiate tends to be bad, dishonest writing, but also because the biggest fuck-you to the patriarchy I can think of is to refuse to make myself easy for it to digest.

I also did it because the recovery community needs new stories. In literature and pop culture, there are a few master addiction narratives: the near-death experience, the jailhouse conversion, the sudden spiritual awakening, etc. But we’re missing the smaller, more ordinary stories. Here’s a question for readers in recovery: how often in your drinking days did you think “Oh, I must not have a real problem, because I’ve never a) lost a job, b) been arrested, c) woken up in a mysterious rowboat in the port of Marseilles with an accordion I did not remember purchasing.” What if you’d understood sooner that the word “problem” was for you to define, and that it could be as non-dramatic as a sense that your life was contracting instead of expanding?

beach boats coast coastal
Photo by Anthony on Pexels.com

***

So you know what I think you should do? Write your story. YOUR story. Not your story grafted onto a master narrative. Just write exactly what happened, and what you said, and how you felt. Get yourself a copy of Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and do what it says. Keep your hand moving. Keep it raw and close to the five senses. I don’t care where you put the message, because I don’t know that you even need to have one, unless it arises naturally for you. Try to forget all the recovery stories you’ve heard or read, including mine, and just get your ordinary, detailed truth down on paper. Let yourself be surprised by what comes up. Don’t package yourself. 

And then–if you can–find a way to share what you wrote with someone else. When I was eighteen, I used summer-job money to fly to a Zen monastery in Asheville, North Carolina and take a weekend workshop with Natalie Goldberg. (I wish to god the whole thing had been filmed, because I thought of myself as a pretty sophisticated teenager, but the whole hippie-monastery-with-crew-cut-lesbians-and-yoga scene had my eyes popping and I suspect it was pretty funny to everyone around me.) We’d sit in a circle and write for ten minutes, and then people could volunteer to read aloud whatever raw, messy stuff they’d produced. There was no critique, and very little reaction from others at all–I think the rule was that if you found a line or image really striking, you could say so. Otherwise we moved on to the next volunteer.

There were professional writers in the group who probably used some of what they produced that weekend as the start of more formal work, and others who were just there to free-write. But in the circle, it didn’t matter. We were all just people sharing our raw, unpackaged words. You could start a group like that for recovering people in your town. Or you could decide to be a little more polished and blog your experience (anonymously, if you want–this blog was anonymous for the first six months). You could take a writing class and mine your recovery as a topic. Or yeah, you could jump right in and write a book. The format doesn’t really matter. Just find a way to tell your story, yours, and let it be as weird or messy as your addiction was. And as your recovery is, or will be.

Day 1,917.

 

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 1,651: 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.