18 months ago today I saw Brene Brown speak. The irony was not lost on me that I was hearing the world’s leading shame researcher speak while I was in the final hours of my drinking career.
It was at SXSW Interactive, and I was there in the audience, albeit barely able to hold my head up. I’d relapsed after six months prior dragging myself into 12 step rooms, saying, “help.”
Let me tell you: there’s nothing worse for a shame spiral than hearing a shame researcher talk about being brave, courageous and vulnerable while you are at the lowest moment of your life. Again. And she was talking about getting back up after failure.
The truth was hard to hear.
But I knew she was right. I also knew what I had to do. For me to be truly brave, to be truly real, I’d have to remove something from my life that would be very difficult (I thought perhaps impossible) to remove.
That was 18 months ago now. My sobriety, I joke, has reached toddler age. It can walk and has teeth and occasionally has tantrums. It still wears training diapers. “Toddler sobriety,” I’ll call it. I pat it on its head.
Much has changed for me since that day 18 months ago. I did the thing I thought I might not ever be able to do. First quietly, than more openly. I stopped hiding the real me and started telling the truth, both in person and in my writing.
There’s more than the not-drinking, though I started living according to some simple principles. Like: get humble. Ask for help. Pray. Try not to be so selfish. Tell the truth. Say I’m sorry. Also: I started to learn how to to stand up for myself. To know my value and my worth. To re-prioritize everything.
Much has happened in these 18 months of baby and then toddler sobriety. Lots of meetings and lots of naps. and some Pilates and lots of chocolate and La Croix. Life happened so big: I was laid off; I launched a business. I got on planes; I stayed home. I watched the world burn and felt helpless. I tried/try to make a difference where I can. I never drank at the anger or the confusion. Nor did I drink because of the good things: the new clients and my brother’s Tuscan wedding and the freedom to read in a hammock on a warm summer day.
Not one sip. Miracle of miracles.
In 18 months I prayed and wrote and called myself out on my bullshit, which is revealed on a daily basis. I called my sponsor. I became a sponsor. I drove carpool and wrote stories. I did dishes. I went to therapy and wrestled with my past.
The hardest part about this past is letting it be. I do believe that mistakes can be turned into strength, pain into purpose. But it is a process. I am slowly getting comfortable with who I was, as she is folded into who I am.
Today in my mailbox arrived a copy of Brene Brown’s “Braving The Wilderness.” The tagline reads “The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.” I smiled when I saw the title. If her last book was about getting up after falling down, this one seemed the right volume for me right now. I do not fall down anymore, not in the sense that I used to (e.g. the drunk sense). Instead, I enter into this phase of life with the reckoning of a person who has stood alone in facing her greatest battles.
“Braving The Wilderness” is about belonging. Brown defines “true belonging” as:
“The spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”
I am 18 months sober.
I belong to myself.