I’d show you a photo from my last day one except that there aren’t any. The photo up above: hang with me on that.
On my last day one, my phone was in the back of an Uber and my pants were crumpled up in a bag at the front desk of the hotel where I was staying for a business trip. I lost things a lot back then — phones, time, my dignity.
Had I had a phone I probably wouldn’t have used it, because for once, there was nothing I wanted to document. I called rehabs from the hotel phone to ask if they took my insurance, and I messaged friends privately via Facebook. “I’ve done it again,” I said with a shaky voice, the contents of my purse strewn on the hotel floor.
It’s easy for me to mythologize the events of that day. It was the day everything changed. But only recently am I realizing the grace of the way that I was rescued.
But then? Then was not pretty.
That morning, with my mouth dry and head pounding, I posted in a secret Facebook group for sober women, group that was born from a podcast. I said “Help” and that I had drank yet again, ignoring the intention of not, the tiny Big Book in my suitcase, a few months of on and off again sobriety, and the promise of a sober SXSW. Many women replied to the message. One, an Austin resident named Sondra Primeaux to whom at that point I'd never spoken, wrote:
“Do you have running shoes? Put them on and I will meet you downstairs in the hotel lobby.”
A stranger, looking at Facebook, heard the cry of another woman and offered to drive across town and tell her she never had to live like that again. That this could be her last day one. Really and truly.
I don’t remember many details of the conversation. The alcohol had wrecked me, drinks from after parties and my sad after party of one. Years of drinking to self-medicate, drinking to try to keep up with what the world told me to be, drinking for energy (I know), drinking to cope with physical pain and anxiety. This was not about "fun" and hadn’t been in a long while. Dehydrated and shaky, Sondra walked me along the edges of the Colorado River. She was a mother too, and a seamstress. I think she said something about vintage lace. I said things like:
“But you don’t know what I’ve done.”
She assured me that this world was filled with people who had done all the things I had done, and then some. And that there was actually a way to move through this life healed from those mistakes. She shared because she had been there. She had stopped drinking and stayed stopped and done the work to look her past in the eye and it did not kill her.
Also would I like a smoothie?
That is what I remember: we walked, talked, and drank smoothies. She told me there was a way to get better, but I’d have to do the work and find community. The sun made my head hurt even more, and I stumbled back into the hotel and slept again, embarrassed to find my coworkers. They tracked down my phone, and a kind Uber driver returned it. He was deaf — I remember this, and I was struck by his act of kindness. He didn’t have to do that. Maybe the world was good. But first, to get through hell.
It seems like a lifetime ago, but it's 24 months. I have done nothing different than a million people who came before me: I’ve gone to meetings, connected with other people in recovery, and most importantly, developed a deeper relationship with God. I’ve also become deeply connected to the online recovery community, creating actual real-life relationships with bloggers, podcasters, and fellow writers in recovery.
I got out of my own way.
The first year of sobriety was like clutching onto dear life. It was trying to stay sober hour by hour, while still performing the motions of a former life: going to an advertising job that didn't feel right, trying to show up anyhow, and breaking out of 40 years of comfortable-now-uncomfortable people pleasing. My infant sobriety needed to be fed, watered, and changed all the time. I needed to put myself and this baby sobriety to bed a lot, while still acting like everything was fine, just fine. It was not.
They say that the first year is about physical sobriety, the second about emotional sobriety and the third is about a spiritual shift. I agree with that for the most part. But nothing is linear, and there is no calendar or clock to this way of life. While I got physically sober in year one, year two has been about the physical for me as well. For instance, wedged between year one and two I came to Pilates for healing after two car accidents, and stayed because I discovered a practice of mind, body and soul integration. In year one I got rid of the booze and in year two I arrived back into my body, one I'd never truly inhabited.
In year two I began to share more of my story. Remember Sondra, who showed up at that hotel? Well of course God sent me a woman who was a fellow creative. He knew, on that day in Austin, that I needed to hear her exact words. That I needed to be scooped up by woman and an artist who had walked the path before me.
In year two I got to share my day one story the podcast Sondra shares with fellow artist Tammi Salas (The Unruffled). Yes, the person who came to my rescue that day one was a person who would go on to do a podcast about the intersection of creativity and recovery. Someone who collects vintage clothes just like me and repurposes them into new creations. God had this whole thing planned out. (I see what you're doing there, Jesus.)
Here I am wearing one of Sondra's original creations. I wear it like a magic robe. On days when I'm having a hard time I remember that I was sent someone to literally pull me off the floor and set me on the right path. AND SHE MAKES KIMONOS.
But it doesn’t stop there. Oh honey, this is just where we get started.
We help other people in sobriety because it helps us stay sober. We learn we can’t give what we give away what we don’t have. This is the club no one wants to join ("Oh hi when I grow up I want to be an addict!"), but once you’re in you realize it’s the real deal. People in my club learn how to be honest, don’t do small talk, and general cut right to the chase about the things that matter.
There’s a line in one of our books that says “We are not saints,” and this is true as well. But we do have a system — a “design for living” — that helps us process the challenges and the joys of life.
In my second year I started working with other women, sometimes as a sponsor and sometimes as a friend. Many of the people I worked with have returned to drinking. This is the reality of addiction. It always makes me sad, but I know everyone must walk her own path.
Every time I see someone go “back out” I reflect on what brought me to my first day one and just how easy it would be to return there, to that hotel room. Negative consequences are not enough to stop those of us who are addicted. This disease is cunning, baffling, and powerful. We drink when things go wrong and we drink when things go right. I'm particularly reminded of this as things have begun to go very right for me.
Sobriety is filled with dichotomies, like how each of us has to walk this road alone but we’re also not alone. Sondra walked with me that day and assured me I didn’t have to do it alone (I’d done enough research in that department). I have stayed sober so far because I surrounded myself with people who were deeply entrenched in sobriety and recovery. Every day I have a choice: drink or not drink, stay sober or don’t stay sober. Left to my own devices I might. So I turn it over to my higher power.
Sometimes I am better, but sometimes I am still a jerk. I know one thing: when I stay out of my way long enough, I am able to show up for another woman.
The story is played forward.
Two weeks ago I got a call from a friend (let’s call her Allison) who said she had a friend in need. Could I meet them at a 12 Step meeting? We sat in my friend’s minivan in the rain and I explained what to expect. And then, 55 minutes later, my jaw hit the floor when Allison said, “Um, I think I am an alcoholic.”
What? Yes, during the meeting Allison realized she too had a problem with alcohol.
“Can you get a silver chip for me?” Allison asked. (The silver chip signifies as desire to stop drinking.)
“Nope, but I can walk with you to the front of the room to pick one up,” I replied.
Just then, I knew what God was doing. We do not walk alone, yet we must first make a decision. We must recognize the problem and we must be willing.
Allison, a mother to several small children, kept going to meetings. One night I picked her up for a 12 Step meeting. On the way there, I grabbed us two smoothies. Walking out of my gym I looked down and saw it:
The tennis shoes.
Only now I’m the one able to answer the call.
I messaged Sondra a snapshot of that photo. I said, “Look what just happened.”
Allison made the decision to go to in-patient rehab. I visit her, bringing nail polish. It’s Essie’s “Master Plan,” which made me laugh because this plan was not one either of us would have imagined. I tell her about Sondra and how she was there for me at my start. I tell Allison that she will one day do the same thing.
This second year was hard. I imagine so will be the third and the fourth and the fifth. And so will the rest of my life, because, life. But it was also good, so good. Some amends were made, a job disappeared, a better use of my gifts appeared. The old me faded away some more, wounds were healed, and I began to truly let go of the life I planned (sometimes with claw marks).
Every morning I start the day with “Thy Will, not mine.” Then I do my professional work, pick my son up from carpool, and hug my husband when he comes home. I've become an accidental advocate, focusing specifically on the alcohol-as-lifestyle narrative in media and marketing (@tellbetterstories2018). All of the paths that God created for me -- as a writer and storyteller, as a woman, as a mom, as a person in recovery, as a lover of vintage clothes and things that are repurposed -- he's included all of them in this story.
On the best days, I get calls and texts and messages from women in recovery or ones who want to get sober.
I show up with smoothies.
I say put on your running shoes.
I say that we can walk together.