Day 1,495: Stonewall

Someone was rude to me in a work meeting last week and I called him on it. It wasn’t a big drama. He cast a condescending aspersion, I calmly corrected it and requested he not do that again, he muttered an apology, and the meeting moved on.

Except the me part of the meeting. As the tide of the moment receded, I sat there a little stunned. Who just said that? I wondered. Did I?  

*****

I learned young that defending myself out loud led to pain. My young parents didn’t know what to make of me, their hyper-attuned, hyper-verbal starter kid. Even my first word was two words: pretty flowers. On car trips they’d pay me not to talk, and I don’t blame them a bit. What I do take issue with: the sweeping judgments on my character that flew so freely in our house. They didn’t attack over things I’d done. They attacked for how I was. Too anxious, too sad, too scared, too ungrateful.

Look, I’m under no illusions that raising a scapegoat was fun. But in my defense, I only ever asked to be raised as a child. I did not request special assignment as the Locus of Discontent. It pissed me off. I knew I was better than the words they used to describe me, and because I was both hyper-verbal and too young to see around corners, I argued back. It never worked out well for me–at all–at all–but I kept pressing my own bullheaded little case because I knew. I was eight years old and I knew I deserved to be seen more clearly.

And then I stopped. I just got too fucking tired to fight with angry, scary adults all the goddamn time.  Or if I occasionally couldn’t resist, it was in the spirit of a soldier who knows she’s about to die in battle and says, you know what, fineHeedless and pre-numbed.

*****

I lived. No one’s hurt me in those ways in decades. I rarely even jump at sudden movements anymore. And as part of my adult toolkit I even learned how to pretend to have a productive conflict with another human being. I read all the books about the I statements and not globalizing and empathy and whatnot. In marriage and especially in sobriety, I’ve even learned how to sort of back my way into an actual grownup argument, with real feelings and everything.

But there’s an overload switch in my brain and sometimes it flips. It is especially flip-prone when someone is mad at me, and “mad” can mean anything from momentarily annoyed to seriously disappointed to fuck-her-and-the-horse-she-rode-in-on. And because I now have people in my life who actually see me, sometimes “mad” just means “I know there is so much light and humor and wisdom inside you, Kristi, and I guess I was just wondering why the flying fuck you aren’t showing any of it to me right now. Thoughts?”

That’s a good kind of mad. But my switch flips and I go mute. Or close enough to mute for the girl whose first word was two. I can’t talk because I can’t think. And I can’t think because I am measurably stupider in this state. The part of my brain with the words and nuances and opinions about politics and novelists and jeans and chicken has been shoved aside by the part that’s just looking to get me off the battlefield before I get humiliated or hit or locked in my room.

*****

It’s not fun, right? It’s not rewarding to try to hash something out with a normally chatty and open woman who is suddenly staring glassy-eyed just to the left of you. It’s not fair when you express your own difficult emotions as clearly and kindly as you can, only to watch this chick who is famously good with words go full-on aphasic and treat you like you might be packing and trigger-happy.

But what can I say, except that sometimes I’m not there? I leave without wanting to. The kid I was is trying to save me. I don’t need her to but she doesn’t care. Maybe she’s still trying to prove herself. Maybe this is how she gives shape and meaning to all her pain (because otherwise, what the fuck was it for?). She’s bullheaded, after all. And surprisingly forceful.

Until a few years ago I didn’t know what was happening. Or I knew–I’m not disassociating, not truly gone, just mute and embarrassed. But I hadn’t connected the dots. I was 44, sober for just over a year, when I realized I wasn’t just a stonewaller or a bad fighter; I was scared of real harm. Finally I learned to, as they say, use my words. I’m overwhelmed right now and having trouble processing. Or Can we just sit for a minute while I catch up? Or to anyone close enough to know the shorthand: just I’m not here right now. I’m sorry. I’m just not here. 

*****

I messed up a man’s life this year, and he messed mine up too. But we are decent and earnest and thoughtful people, the kind of people who generally take care not to wreck stuff. We set out with our separate checklists of repairs, and at the same time tried to look after our originating friendship, which had been the kind that you just don’t find outside of college, or maybe your 20s. Some of my repairs turned out to be more like renovations, but not the catastrophic kind, more like adding some windows than gutting the kitchen. (Others were–are–slow, expensive, and grueling. But I should have seen them coming from a hundred miles away and instead I marched right into them. I don’t get to complain.)

I didn’t know the specifics of his repairs, because we’d agreed not to share details with each other. But based on not much more than hope and naiveté, I decided that the trouble I’d catalyzed in his life had probably been short-lived and shallow–my disruptive presence a blip–and that the tentative new back-to-friends reality between us would solidify. Did I want to be that easily forgotten? God, no. Especially not by him. It hurt to even contemplate. But if it would help to set his world back on its axis, well, who was I to resist the sacrifice.

So we bumbled along, trying to reset our friendship in a start-and-stop way. And then one day I said in passing Looking forward to our coffee tomorrow! and he said Oh yeah! Actually, do you have a second to talk? Right now? Somewhere private? And five minutes later we were leaning against the granite facade of an apartment building while he explained that actually, well, no. No coffees, no conversations, no quick walks around the block to catch some sun. Not for now, anyway. Not when he still had so much left to resolve.

Even as I listened my switch was starting to flip. The ambush-like timing had primed it and the actual words did the rest.

What he said: I need more time to process everything and I can’t do it while I’m still spending time with you. And It’s nothing you’ve done. And I need to take responsibility for my own life. 

What I heard: My life was great until you came along. I don’t want you anywhere near me and I wish we’d never met. 

He finished explaining himself and waited for me to respond, because he didn’t know Elvis had left the building. I turned my face toward the granite wall and just kind of…watched it while I tried to think of how to defend myself against the things he had not actually said. He patiently watched me watch the wall, which was really very nice of him. And then finally I came up with some words:

I’m just sort of looking at this granite. 

Yeah. That’s how I rose to the occasion. What I meant: I’m not here. I’m sorry. I’m working so hard to stay but sometimes the kid won’t let me. I’m sorry. I’m just not here. 

What he heard: Granite. 

*****

It wasn’t long after that someone was rude to me in a meeting and I called him on it. It wasn’t a huge drama. I just did it and then sat there stunned. Who just said that? You did, I thought. Cleanly and clearly. That was you. 

It’s not that the kid’s gone, but she slacks off more these days. Maybe her threat meter is more finely tuned. Maybe she’s just tired of defending me, the same way she got tired of defending herself. Or she shows up only when she knows I’m truly vulnerable (GraniteGate) and lets me handle lower-risk situations (meeting dude).

And even during GraniteGate, I broke through eventually. I rallied, sort of. By which I mean I was ineloquent and defensive and likely a general pain in the ass, but I was there, doing what I could, and she let me stay. And when our talk ended and he said Do you want to walk around the block once before we go back?, she just watched quietly while I said–cleanly and clearly–Yes. But I think I want to do it alone. 

Day 1,107: YJ + TY KU = WTFF

There are two things in life I love: yoga, and being judgmental. So when Laura and Holly alerted me to Yoga Journal’s big new heavily promoted advertorial partnership with TY KU Sake, aka “The Official Drink of Apres Yoga,” I simply could not wait to learn more. Let’s take a look, shall we?

First, here’s the image on the TY KU Sake landing page:

Tyku

Friends, let’s get straight to the heart of things:

What the fuck is going on here? Why are these two women hanging out on a fake stoop that is clearly indoors? Are they on Sesame Street? If so, where’s Gordon? Where’s Maria?

Why is the one on the left smiling blankly into space, and why is her leg Photoshopped? I know what pose this is supposed to be. I’ve done it. I did a lame facsimile of it today as blog research. And I still can’t work out how her knee is facing forward unless it has been removed from her body.

And can we talk about the smug-looking chick on the right? Specifically: what the hell is she wearing? Is it by chance an acid-washed, elastic-cuffed denim jumpsuit? It is, isn’t it? And those are high-top moccasins on her feet, aren’t they? It’s okay, you can tell me.

Everything about the denim-jumpsuit girl and her smirk is freaking me out. I feel sure she is a malevolent spirit that rose from the ashes of those ads about Yoplait being shoe-shopping good.

Finally–and you’ll have to take my word for this because I cropped the photo badly–there is a loaf of French bread in the tote bag behind the disembodied pink leg. Just in case you needed one more signifier that these are the classiest, most urbane yoga ladies of 1994: they have stick bread with them, okay? They are practically named Audrey and Tautou.

Whew. So now that I’ve got all that off my chest, let’s talk about the six reasons YJ and TY KU say that sake is the perfect post-yoga beverage…oh shoot. There was one other subtle thing about the photo that bugged me and now it’s slipped my mind what it…oh wait, I remember now. It was the RANDOM BASSET HOUND on the top step. He doesn’t even seem like he’s with the yoga women–maybe he’s the landlord? And is this really the best shot of him they could get? “Oh man, Mr. Furley licked his own nose again.” “Fuck it, we’re losing the fake daylight. It’s a wrap.”

Anyway. Here are the six reasons YJ and and TY KU think you should drink this 20% ABV stuff after practice:

  1. It may help reduce stress and allow you to ‘live in the moment.’ And god knows you’ll need that, after a yoga class aimed at building tension and encouraging you to obsess over past mistakes and make wild projections about the future.
  2. It’s heart-healthy.  “We know a small amount of alcohol can be beneficial when drank (sic) in moderation.” Oh Jesus, it’s resveratrol again, right? The compound that will make us all live forever when consumed in quantities of wine way, way smaller than anyone who gets self-righteous about resveratrol actually drinks. Okay, yes, you’d better make sure you get your life-saving resveratrol, yogis. And if you can get it in a mind-altering substance (instead of grape juice) right after a sweaty and possibly dehydrating workout, all the better.
  3. Trade wine for sake and you may sleep better because sake contains less sugar and fewer byproducts of fermentation vs. wine. So, basically, it sucks for your body less than wine. Might as well aim high, right? Enjoy that marginally better sleep.
  4. Sake is sans sulfites and tannins. “We suck less than wine! Om shanti!” part 2. Though really, all I can think of is how I used to blame red-wine hangovers on the tannins vs. the, you know, FIVE GLASSES FULL OF ALCOHOL I drank the night before.
  5. Sake may make your skin healthier. “If sipping sake makes you less stressed, it may also have an impact on your skin. A happier person tends to have a healthier glow.” Well, gosh, who could argue with the straight-up hard science they just laid down right there? And again, after that yoga class you are going to need something to lift you up, sister-friend.
  6. Sake is culturally portion-controlled because the serving size is 3 ounces, vs. 5 ounces for wine. Maybe I’m not qualified to comment on this one, given that my understanding of the alcohol ‘serving size’ concept was, let’s say, philosophical at best. But I have visited Japan a few times, and at least from my limited Western point of view, “cultural portion control” did not seem to be a super big thing when it came to booze.

Anyway, Yoga Journal says drink up, yogis!  I mean, sure, excessive alcohol use causes 10% of deaths among working-age US adults. And sure, moderate use can slide into excessive use because alcohol is, you know, a goddamn addictive substance that changes how your brain works. But that’s about other people, not you. You’re so healthy. You’re so mindful. Those awful things aren’t going to happen to you.

I was healthy. I was mindful. Those awful things weren’t going to happen to me either.

So kanpai and namaste! After all, TY KU Sake is ‘happy hour for the chakras.’ And if you’re saying “Wait, I thought yoga was happy hour for the chakras,” well, I guess you’re not quite as big a sucker as they’d like you to be. Work on that, huh?

Day 1,073: Going Long

“Physical pain?” my shrink says.

“None,” I answer.

“Fatigue?”

“A little.”

It’s a standard inventory that she goes through every week, with all her patients, not just me. (Well, I don’t think it’s just me. Oh my god. Do you think it’s just me?) A list of life elements to which I answer lots, some, a little, or none. Depression, anxiety, physical pain, fatigue.

Anger, grief, competence, pleasure? A little, a little, some, some. Would I know I was grieving if someone didn’t ask me? I’m not sure. Try it: set an alarm once a week and ask yourself what you’re mourning.

“Suicidal thoughts?”

“None.” Never. I grew up in a suicide threat-rich environment. It inoculated me against any personal interest.

“Hopelessness?”

“None.”

“That’s good,” she says, writing something down.

“I mean, futility, yes,” I say. She looks up from her legal pad. “But in like, a Sisyphus sense. I wouldn’t call it hopeless per se.” My shrink tilts her head to one side. “Hopelessness is a very specific word,” I explain.

“Well,” she says. “Maybe we should come back to this.”

***

A few days later I drive to a park outside Seattle to watch people run a 200-mile trail race. Well, to be fair, only the crazy people are doing 200; the normal folks are only running 100 or 150. On a 10-mile loop course. The first time I ran a half-marathon, at the end of Mile 1 I thought See? That was easy! And you only have to do it 12 more times–a thought I immediately wished I had suppressed. I wonder now if any of the runners finished that first loop, said Only 19 more! to themselves, and then, I don’t know, tore all their clothes off and started spinning in circles crying and screaming.

I’m here to steal details for an ultra-marathon that takes place in my novel. Also, my husband is pacing a friend for one loop, though I may not even see them while I’m here. And then of course there’s my middle-distance runner’s curiosity for just how far this so-called hobby can be pushed, not to mention…

Oh, fuck it. All of the above is true, but really? I’m here to see what futility looks like. I’m a futility tourist.

Big races can feel like county fairs, with massage tents and shoe showcases and kids’ 1K runs and all the free sports drink and glucose gel you can stand. This is not that. This is a few rented tents, a whiteboard for tracking time (no shoe-tag sensors here), and a half-dozen people grilling hot dogs and tofu pups. The only way  I know the organizers even have a permit is because I hear one guy ask “Should we get out the beer?” and another guy say “Well, I told King County we wouldn’t have any beer.”They agree to wait for cover of darkness.

It’s gray, chilly, and drizzling–ideal running weather, actually, but not so great for spectating. My Raynaud’s finger turned shock-white in minutes. It’s been doing that for 20 years with no pain or progression, but I still take a moment to worry every time it happens. With that task checked off, I plant myself midway between trail and tents and settle in to wait for some human suffering.

The first sufferer to emerge from the forest trail is a 40-something, robustly healthy-looking black woman. Huh, I think, having expected a tall, wiry, bearded white man like the ones in the tent. “Hey girl!” the woman calls out to the tent guys as she approaches. “Hey girl!” the tent guys call back. She eats a couple of hot dogs, chats for a bit about the Subaru one of the tent guys just bought, then heads back out–smiling–while we all clap. I think she must just be getting started. But no: “Just three to go!” the keeper of the whiteboard says. That means that even if she’s only (‘only’) doing the 100-mile distance, she’s already run 70. I don’t know about you, but I would have stopped grinning and “Hey girling!” by mile 65, 66 at most.

A few minutes later another woman comes trotting out of the woods. Here is my second chance to see a human being struggling not to come apart in the face of nothingness. This woman is less chatty than the first. She grabs some potato chips, visits the Port-a-John, and goes right back out. “Hey, you forgot to ask my number!” she calls over her shoulder.

“Oh yeah, what’s your number?” the timekeeper asks, though he’s already marked down her time.

“867-5309,” she says, and disappears around the bend.

What is wrong with these people? I think. Do they not understand that this is a desperate situation?

***

“Tell me more about the futility,” my shrink says.

I pick up a throw pillow and clutch it on my lap. “Okay, let’s say I actually manage to find a publisher for my book,” I tell her. “And let’s say it earns out the advance, or close enough.”

“You publish a successful book,” she says.

I cringe. “‘Successful’ is a complicated word. Let’s say it does well enough that the publisher wants another one.” She nods in assent, or acceptance. “Then I’ll have to write another one.”

“I thought you wanted to write another one,” she says.

“I do. That’s not the point,” I say. “And then there’s work. Things are going well there. I feel valued, like genuinely valued.”

She smiles. “Certainly has been sounding that way for a while now.”

“But what happens when you do well at work?” I ask her. “They ask you to do more work. That’s the best case scenario. Doing more work. Like the best case scenario for writing a book is writing another book. Even with running, the best case scenario is you don’t get hurt and you can keep doing it.”

She leans forward a little. “But unless something has drastically changed and I don’t know, you love all these things.”

“I do,” I tell her. “But still, isn’t it kind of horrific that they just go on and on and on? And then, you know, after that I’m going to die.”

***

Finally! A man who fits my vision of an ultra runner ambles out of the woods. Well over six feet tall, with brown dreadlocks almost to his knees. Minimalist shoes. Tattoos on painful-looking parts of his legs–calves, the backs of his thighs. At the aid tent, they ask what he’d like to eat and I wait for him to say something like I am nourished by the spirits in the trees and pull a chewed-up root out of his shorts.

“How about something to make me run faster, not feel pain, and be in a better mood,” the man says. “A steroid smoothie, maybe?”

“We have pizza,” someone says.

“Even better!”

I notice then that he’s carrying retractable hiking poles and limping a bit. While he’s loading up on pizza, a woman comes in, also limping, and ducks into a tent to sleep for an hour. Shortly after she zips herself in, another man appears. Unlike every other racer I’ve seen so far, he’s full-on running, not shuffling or walking. Also unlike the others, he doesn’t stop to eat or pee.

“RUNNING SUCKS BALLS!!!” he yells as he flies past us. The dreadlocked man watches him go and says, “Hard to argue with that.”

Over the next hour I start to see things I didn’t before. That almost every runner is walking kind of funny, for instance. That their approaches and departures are slow even by my standards. That though their aid tent breaks are downright leisurely compared to the water stops at a normal-person race, no one sits down. (I ask about this and am told it’s for fear of never getting back up.) That the trekking poles many runners are carrying are for walking the steep uphills, because if you’re going to travel 200 miles you’d better have some plan for pulling your heart out of the red zone.

They are adapting to conditions, in other words, instead of just barreling through. And maybe it’s because anyone who would run this far is preternaturally in tune with his body and mind. But I suspect it’s more that they each learned the hard way at some point that barreling through an 80-hour race just doesn’t work. So if you want to win–never mind that, if you just want to finish–you do what works.

I think about my first year sober, how clear it became about six months in that the new conditions of my life required that its major components not, as the man said, suck balls. I realized I would need a better job, more practice saying no, more sleep. More time outside. More time in general, for walking the uphills.

And did it feel futile, the prospect of stacking up sober day after sober day until the occasion of my glamorous funeral? Uh, yeah. It absolutely felt futile. For a little while. Until I felt steady enough to start noticing all of my surroundings, not just the path in front of me, and realized that time has astonishing density.

***

My shrink can’t really argue with the fact that I’m going to die, though she looks like she might like to. “Well, we all are,” she says.

I shrug. I have decided to prioritize worrying about my own death over the deaths of Everyone Else (the exceptions being close family members, my dogs, and, for reasons I cannot explain, Michael Stipe).

“Do you think you’re going to die young?”

“Not really, but I guess it depends on what ‘young’ means,” I say. It’s just not my day for coping with commonly understood English words.

She stares ahead at her bookshelf for a moment. I think she might be looking for a dictionary to hurl at me, but when she speaks again, she speaks softly.

“You’re perilously close to finally having the life you’ve always wanted,” she says. “It’s not surprising to me that you would panic.”

I loosen my death grip on the throw pillow. “I know,” I tell her. “I know.”

***

It’s really raining now, and I’m hungry, and at home the dogs are getting hungry too. I decide I’ll leave, though a big part of me wants to stay and watch the whole calm, plodding spectacle play out in real time, like that Warhol film where a man sleeps for eight hours. As I’m heading to the car I spot my husband John sucking down some Gu at the aid tent–he must have finished his pacer loop while I wasn’t looking. He seems pretty chipper for someone who just ran ten miles. “It was great,” he says. “I could have done another one. I mean literally another one.” His friend is already back on the trail alone, with 30 miles to go.

John walks me to my car and sees the bag I keep there with a set of running clothes and my second-best pair of shoes, for times I want to go out for a few miles and haven’t planned ahead. “Never too late to join,” he jokes. And for a moment, my body wants to do exactly that. I can already feel the tightness of my ponytail, the damp air on my mostly bare legs, the subtle pooling of blood in my fingertips–even the ache in my upper back that sets in when I go long and my rhomboids decide to do some of the work. How good it would feel, I think, to be out there, with those people, in the weather and the tedium and the pain, trying and doing on the hamster wheel where I belong.

 

 

Day 1,060: Gordon Gano & Me

My heart: I’ve been working hard to keep it on lockdown. To use it tactically, like Aleppo pepper or some other wonderful spice that will take over a dish if you let it. And only on the page. Because I’m on the march, with no time for surprise feelings. I have goals. I have things to prove to people who were mean to me in 1978 and 1990 and also this April. I have losses we can’t talk about. I have chips on my shoulder like you wouldn’t believe. I’m sculptural with them. 

Last week I told a friend: “I think the key is to learn how to never want anything.” I was proud of myself for figuring this out! Because there are things I want very badly right now that are largely out of my control. What am I supposed to do,  tolerate that? No. I’m supposed to not want them in the first place. I explained this to my friend and waited to be told how wise I was. Instead he said “Sure, but is that realistic?” Realism: the crutch of the unimaginative and of binary male thinking. I may have said something to this effect.

But anyway, my point is that other than being chronically misunderstood by people who are supposed to know me, everything about being on lockdown was fine until the Violent Femmes fucked it up last Saturday night.

(If you are a Very Young Reader of this blog, first: don’t drink or take drugs. Second: in yesteryear, when I was in high school and video games were mostly played at Pizza Hut, the Violent Femmes were the most shocking band imaginable. Not because of how they looked or acted on stage–they were just three young guys from Wisconsin playing acoustic instruments. The actual songs were shocking–baleful and clammy and tense and driven by the kind of teenage sexual need that’s 90% desperation, 5% payoff, and 5% instant regret. Something was wrong in those songs that you couldn’t quite put your finger on. To hear them for the first time was a bit like witnessing a crime. Young Readers, you could go check them out for yourselves on iTunes, but for the full experience I recommend you find a babysitter or lab partner to hand down a well-worn Memorex cassette.)

Anyway, the Femmes were in town and a girlfriend suggested we go and I thought Well sure, why not? And that is how we two nice women found ourselves in a sold-out room of drunk, roiling, sweaty pandemonium.

Maybe you are wondering what it’s like to be sober in a situation like that. (I used to wonder and I didn’t have anyone to  ask.) I will tell you: it’s like being a minor Greek god. You don’t lose your credit card. You don’t have to stand in line eight times to pee. You don’t have to stand in line at the bar for a gross well drink in a plastic cup. You know exactly how you’re getting home. If the moshers in front of you start getting overly amped, you have the core strength to stand your ground–and if they start doing blow off each other’s backs and getting super double overly amped, you can decide calmly whether to hang out where you are or move back. (I hung out.)

So, being a minor Greek god is pretty sweet. But yeah: you feel a little apart, too, perched in the foothills of Olympus. I stood there steady and clear-eyed in my moto boots and bifocals, surveying my territory, making decisions. I decided the songs were still creepy as fuck. I decided the genial, middle-aged Gordon Gano seemed like a cool high school science teacher, the kind who would trade Spotify playlists with you but still expect you to work hard. I decided to dry-shampoo my sweaty hair before I went to bed that night. I decided I would never have voted for my state to legalize marijuana if I’d known people would start lighting up in non-smoking clubs.

It was all very pleasant. And then, a drag of saxophone and the band plowed into my very favorite Femmes song, an album track from their underwhelming tried-to-be-pop third record, e.g. something I’d had no expectation of hearing that night.

“I’m gnawing on the knowledge that I have been burned,” Gano sang. “I’m learning things that I should have already learned.”

Me too and Me too, I thought.

It’s a buzzy, bouncing, forward-rushing song. A barn-dance song. (I’ve never actually been to a barn dance. Shocked, aren’t you?) The moshers had locked arms and were do-si-doing wildly. I felt a little carbonation in my chest.

“I don’t even remember if we were lovers, or if I just wanted to,”  he sang.

Heh. I have those don’t-remembers too, I thought. (Not about you–you I’m sure I would remember.) I had a sudden vision of my heart–the actual only, only prettier and more Valentine pink than it probably really is. It was wiggling. Shimmying, if you must know. With memory and the flat circle-ness of time, or with giddiness. Or maybe just with relief at the room to move.

A craggy mosher in a knit cap and flannel grinned broadly at me. I figured he was smiling at someone else until I realized I was grinning too. I’d smiled first, in fact, though not at anyone in the room.

I have not been in the habit of smiling first on this forward march of mine. I didn’t think I could spare the energy, with so much else to do. I thought I needed to lock it down.

“Beautiful!” he shouted over the noise.

“Beautiful,” I shouted back, with tears in my eyes.

Day 1,040: A Higher Class of Slog

Something I wrote on day 187 was quoted on another website this week as advice to someone who just hit 9 months and is having that sloggish feeling. You know the one. Some of the difficulty of getting sober has worn off, but so has some of the novelty. You haven’t gotten that pony you wanted yet–and worse, you suspect you may never get your pony, and even worse than that, you suspect there is no pony. So there you are: sober, bored, awkward, and horseless.

I’d feel lousy under those circumstances, too. I did, in fact, which is why I clung to the idea in that post: that sobriety accumulates, even if it doesn’t always feel that way in the moment. That if I could just make it through the grayness of those days, they’d add up to something.

That was 853 days ago. In those 853 days I’ve upgraded my job twice. I’ve written two-thirds of a novel and a bunch of essays that I’m working with an agent to package as a book proposal. I’ve run something like 1,500 miles and raced three half-marathons. (All in one summer–never, ever do that. So dumb.) We’ve added a second dog to our family. I’ve found myself connecting with people, in direct and sometimes surprising ways. I regularly say true things. And yes, I did finally lose that 15 pounds I was harping on about (using one simple trick you’ll never believe!:  dieting).

And you know what? Those 853 days were 25% pure pony. Thrilling and fun and wondrous and everything else I was holding out for. Everything you’re holding out for, maybe.

Which means they were still 75% slog. Not in a grim way–I’m not talking about depression, or emptiness, or fear, though all those guys have had their parts to play too. Just, you know, dailiness.  Because I no longer get to artificially contort my life into one big highlight reel. I have to actually show up for it moment by moment, and it turns out not every single moment can be like the last scene in a movie. A lot of them are more like the part of the movie where the characters are parking the car or buying a falafel or putting on their shoes. Moments that are moving toward something more art-directed and swooning, plod by plod.

It’s largely a slog right this second! Job upgrades are about prepping for interviews and being the new girl again. Running is about weather and the tyranny of the IT band. Writing books is about time management and staring into space and staggering uncertainty. Dogs are about ear infections and stolen socks. And we haven’t even touched on my cuticles. They are shameful and I totally don’t want to deal with them. Not to mention I really want a falafel now.

But it’s a far, far better slog than I have ever slogged before.  And 853 more days from now, there’s reason to believe it’ll be a better slog still.

There’s your pony. It’s maybe a little more wonky and wall-eyed than you had in mind, and hard to see up close. But it’s real.

By the way, I said on day 187 that the thrill of waking up without a hangover is bound to fade. And maybe it is. But as of day 1,040 it’s still my first waking thought most mornings. I still get giddy, knowing that even if I feel tired or groggy or, say, wild-eyed with resentment that I have to wear clothes and earn a living, it’s not because I deliberately ingested lots of a known toxin. Never underestimate the joy of not poisoning yourself.

Day 860: Want Not

I’ve published a new essay over on Medium. It’s about the many things that did not get me sober (hypnosis, meditation, sex, making an otter out of felt, etc.–you know, the standard stuff) and the one thing that did (spoiler alert: quitting drinking). It also contains a blow-by-blow description of my Night #1, which might be helpful or reassuring for those of you still approaching your own first sober nights. It’s the kind of thing I would like to have read back then, so I wrote it. Here it is:

The Otter of Sobriety

I come off sounding more or less like a lunatic in this essay, so if nothing else you will probably find it entertaining. If you do find it funny/helpful/illuminating/trenchant/stubborn/fibrous or any other adjective, and you click the little green heart beneath it, that will count as a recommendation and help surface it to other readers. So if you wanted to just click the heart, that would be much appreciated. CLICK IT, DAMMIT.

I hope everyone (even the non-clickers!) is happy and well and enjoying being robbed of a hour of daylight. XO, Kristi

Day 831: Let Me Direct Your Attention Over Here…

Hey sober party people, non-party people, and people who just want to put in a quick appearance at the party so they get credit for showing up and then make a beeline for the car–

I’ve published an essay on Medium about the loneliness of early sobriety, the importance of people who get it, and how going to my first AA meeting nearly gave me a heart attack. Some of it was inspired by blog entries I wrote here, but with significant expansion and reshaping–in other words, having read the blog entries does not excuse you from checking out the essay. Nope.

Here it is. I hope you’ll let me know what you think! XO, Kristi