cripple me.

yesterday i cried.

like a big baby, last night, i wept.

for a while now, i’ve been saying, “i need to find a meeting. i need to find aa in tulsa”.

last night, i did.

and i was weepy there with gratitude that i felt like i could breathe with others who understood why sometimes i can’t.

but it was last night once i got home that i groaned from dark caverns.

i went running yesterday afternoon, like have done every other monday and thursday and saturday since the beginning of the year. i ran and ran, and as i was processing the day as the anniversary of the day i was the “girl in the green dress”, i was also so consumed by the awareness that i was no longer safe. secure, yes. safe, no. it’s been there for a while, this desire to escape, to run (and not the good kind). this need for one more bloody mary sunday with my bff. and for one minute longer than i should have thought about it, i wondered how possible it would be. how feasible it could be. if i could even get away with it.

and then i went down that road in my mind. i played it out.

and the answer is i couldn’t. can’t.

there is nothing – not one thing – that would make picking up that first drink worth it. i heard someone say early in my recovery, “i know i have another drink in me. i don’t know if i have another white chip in me”. i have worked too hard to live as a sober person. i don’t always do a good job of this, even though i’m not drinking. some days, all i have is, “i didn’t act right, but at least i didn’t drink today”. and somehow i’ve accumulated whatever 7 months and some months and some days equals. at this point, i’ve spent more days sober than i did in active alcoholism.

i understand now that i deserve sobriety. i am worth being sober.

deep in the night within the same 24 hours on the other side of the day -that is, before i walked in to a meeting, so the night before- i woke up to this post by christa black. i did not know christa well, but she and i were a part of the same church family in new york about 12 years ago.

before i started therapy. before i went into full-blown addiction.

before she went on tour with michael w. smith. again.

and i do not know this kind of grief. to write so raw and beautifully so early on in what can only be described as the worst form of torture, my heart aches and breaks for her.

but i do know what it’s like to be making eggs or running or vaccuuming or reading or breathing and to be hit from out-of-nowhere with a desire for strong drink at 9:00 in the morning. or to spend money that i don’t have. or to find someone who would offer temporary pleasure. i do know what that’s like. that desperate need for a fix, for an escape, for whatever else you want to call it. to be numb. to not feel anything because you feel so much. all the time, you feel so much. too much. and now i know that feeling life so deeply when i used to not feel it at all, is not not normal. it’s the not knowing what to do with my feelings, or how to handle them, or thinking there’s something wrong with me for having them at all when there’s nothing wrong at all, that can make a person loo-loo.

i don’t want you to worry.

i won’t go back.

i can’t go back.

but i just need to be honest.

because if i am only as sick as my secrets, then i need to tell the truth. my truth.

and don’t try to understand it if you can’t understand it. it’s really okay, maybe it’s better if you don’t. i’d rather you just say that -that you don’t understand, but you will honor this in me- then pretend like you do and make up words or thoughts that aren’t true and real. you don’t have to do anything with any of this. i’m just processing and you don’t have to get it. but if someone might, and i think someone might, then i hope this helps you.

a few weeks ago, i shared my sobriety story with the undergrad substance abuse class. i only got as far as, “and then i got sober” and class ended. it was the first time in 7 years and some months and some days that i had publicly, in person, shared out loud what it was like. but i didn’t get to the part about what it’s like now. i’ve been invited to come back and share the rest of my story. i honestly don’t even know what i would say, so i’m glad for the time to process the last several years through the filter of my sobriety.

i loved hearing and telling my own story and remembering but not reliving that girl i once was. who i used to be but never really was, only to return to who i was made and was always meant to be. and isn’t that the case for us all? most of us, anyway? i loved hearing her story because that girl is precious to me. and i loved telling it because i am not that girl anymore, the one who “took a sabbatical from (her) brain”, as john hobbs says.

back to my run.

as i played out the story in my mind yesterday, i pretty much sprinted all the way back to the store. (and by “sprint”, i mean ran only just a little bit faster.) i was suddenly overwhelmed by how close i was to the edge, and how desperate i had become. i almost ran straight to my car, but i was the only one there in my group yesterday, so i knew i had to be seen just so no one would worry that i hadn’t returned. (i’m not sure if that would have actually happened, but i wanted to be a responsible adult.) and then i sat in my car and begged siri to tell me when and where the next meeting was.

i yelled at siri when we couldn’t get on the same page. i kept saying one thing, she heard something all together other. dammit, siri.

and my cousin texted me right around this time. the last time she texted me, about a month ago, she gave me permission to get mad at god about some things he and i haven’t talked about in a real long time. and i did. i got mad. and then i got tired. and he won. i basically let him. i wasn’t fighting to win, but to gain understanding. i relented without getting many answers, but enough that i knew i was okay not knowing again.

years ago…as in, maybe 15, i told a girl i went to college with -i had been her r.a.- that she couldn’t get mad at god when her dad died suddenly.

she was pissed then at both god and me, understandably.

it hasn’t left me that i ever told her that.

i can’t believe i ever told anyone that.

this time, cousin said, “get to a meeting.”

i told cousin to leave me alone.

but i made it.

i did make it.

i walked into a beginners’ (which there were none even though we all are) eighth step meeting. “made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”

i didn’t mean to stop going to meetings. i got sober in my hometown, and faithfully went to meetings daily if not twice-a-day for over a year before i moved to eastern north carolina. as suggested, i didn’t make any major decisions or move anywhere in my first year. i broke other rules/not rules, but i did not break that one. when i moved, i attended meetings in my new town for a while, but it just wasn’t the same. all meetings are the same, in theory. but not all meetings are the same. i wanted them to be, but they weren’t. at that point, though, i found myself back in church again. and if our sobriety is based on our spiritual program, then my spirit was still actively growing.

the last chip i got was when i put together 3 years.

i’ve been sober now for 7 years, and some months and some days. i could do the math, but i try to make it a point not to do math at all.

that’s a long time to go without working any steps or holding hands with strangers who are family, crying with one another and laughing together and drinking not great coffee and holding space and allowing silence for one another.

the last meeting i attended, i took the youngest of my mom’s six sisters with me. she wanted to go, so together we went.

she died tragically a year later of stage four alcoholism. the same summer i went through the stuff that led me into the deep calling deep which the deep used to lead me into the middle of the country. her death was a part of that whole glorious experience, and i mean that in earnest now. her death, actually, led to more life for me. (i need to tell you the whole story of getting out here, soon. this will make more sense then.)

my dad died a few years before that, dropped dead of cardiac arrest from congestive heart failure, manifest from a lifetime of hard living. i’ve told you the story, but i mention it now because i wasn’t actively tending to my recovery when my dad died. i was still seeing karen, but i wasn’t attending meetings at that time.

i moved to the middle of the country a year ago. i wrestled, i strived, not with my disease but with not having really lived away from home for the first time ever in 35 years and so i was re-learning myself. i didn’t know that was going to happen when i got here, and before that i felt like i knew myself pretty well. i have no doubt i am right where i am supposed to be. i am still growing spiritually, and i am asking a lot of questions. i am thawing out from the trauma of what i experienced a few years ago. i am returning to myself, making my way back to where i got a little bit lost again.

and i need meetings.

i have friends here who love god and love me. i have people with whom i can be honest. i have found some who see me, whom i have shown me, and others who i don’t need to see me. these are those into whom i get to look deeply and say, “you are loved. and you are enough.”

but i have not made this connection yet, the one with people who are like me in this way. broken and bruised and painstakingly honest and terribly vulnerable, so painfully aware of our character flaws, and wanting to be and become better, one day at a time in the fellowship of true grace.

yesterday, a friend posted on facebook, “Melancholy is to depression as eccentric is to crazy. A few extra zeros make all the difference.” (quite honestly, i don’t know what the part about the zeros mean.) but to this, i replied, “You put words to what I was thinking about earlier tonight…sometimes we just get to grieve and feel pain, deeply. It’s necessary, and we can’t afford to miss out on it by just calling it depression when it’s not. (Alternately, we have to be honest with ourselves when it might be/could be/is.) Sometimes we just get to feel all of our feelings, though. I’m so grateful for that. (And just because one is quirky or eccentric, doesn’t mean one is cuckoo. Alternately, one who is certifiable may not appear to have any eccentricities at all. Most cunning, baffling, powerful of all.)”

perhaps my favorite part of being sober is that i get to feel all my feelings now. i’m not depressed, just sometimes i get sad the way normal people get sad. (and i’m not crazy, just quirky. or, as it turns out, just a woman.)

when i stopped going to meetings, i left off on step seven, which is to “humbly ask god to remove our shortcomings.”

i hadn’t yet made it to step eight.

which is exactly what we studied last night, what i walked into.

and i have blamed others and victimized myself, pretending to but not really owning my own part in the wreckage of broken relationships.

as someone pointed out last night, step eight is just to make the list of those we wronged when we were drinking. that’s it. we’re just making a list. kind of like the fourth step. it’s just the list. the next step is the decision about what to do with the list, how to best make amends, and then to do it. there are also those we have wronged while maybe we weren’t drinking, but perhaps not sober, either. i probably have as many people on this list as the other, many of the names are the same.

but last night, what i grieved deeply when i came home was that the one person i abused the most violently when i was drinking was my dad. and how he’s not here any more to ask for forgiveness and to live out our amends together.

this is to say nothing of how, together, we lived next to and worked together while we were both in active alcoholism. or what it was like growing up in an alcoholic home that preceded my own search for an escape route.

but for the first time, i grieved not being able to ask his forgiveness for how i yelled and cussed and punished and hurt my dad in my anger and depression.

he’s dead. he’s dead, and all i could do was cry and ask, anyway.

and to ask god’s forgiveness also for not honoring my dad better.

i honor him now. and before he died, i stopped being mad at him and we had sweet days that neither of us knew but i think we both suspected and i kind of did know that they were our last ones together.

i know he forgave me then, even before i would have asked. i know he understood my anger toward him…toward everyone…even if we never really talked about it. i know he understood it because, along with a deep well that could be filled with all manner of liquor, i inherited an intense capacity for feeling deeply. and if there’s a way for him to offer forgiveness now then i choose to receive it, because i know he would offer it freely. in fact, it probably wouldn’t even be a thing for him.

but it’s a thing for me, now.

i heard him say in my heart, “sweet pea” like he used to call me, or when he didn’t have other words. but that was all. and it was enough.

i’m not going to drink.

but, once again, i realized i’m still learning how to live here on this new playground with my new playmates with the gifts and tools and talents and quirks and dreams and clumsiness that god has given me which i can now offer to others, leaving room in my bucket for what is offered back.

because we all need each other. i need what my friends here at school and work and my people back home and across the universe and what my global aa-family presents to one another, to better live together. simply, to breathe.

i don’t have the 12 & 12 in front of me right now, but the last page of the chapter on the eighth step concludes with a thought about how this step will isolate us from each other if we continue to live under any amount of shame or blame of not making things right what we made wrong. not the wrongs done to us, and of course there were some and we have to forgive because we get to. because we have to. but these are the wrongs for which we were responsible.

in my fear and insecurity, both as a sober person and when i wasn’t, i have pushed people away at different points in my life. people i know who really love(d) me. i was afraid that if they got too close, they wouldn’t like what they saw or they would find me a fraud or i would clobber them with my co-dependency. i was afraid i would be too much or not enough and once they discovered this, they would end up leaving eventually, so why not just make it easier and create the distance myself?

i still do this. that is the raw, honest truth. i am not proud of this. and i will make amends with those, to my knowledge, i have hurt in this way or in others over the years. and i am working on standing still and not walking away from those god’s given me to love and to trust him and not them with the outcome of our relationships, even as i hold on loosely to them but hold on nonetheless.

because my soul can’t afford to live in that kind of isolation, the kind that’s afraid of being abandoned or rejected or just left alone in life. god does have me in a season of stillness, and i do have and enjoy and appreciate my alone-time. i’m in an incubation period right now, and it’s necessary for me to stay hidden in his wing. there is a difference between staying hidden and polarizing oneself because she is plum terrified of the outside world and feeling all of her feelings out there inside of it.

none are islands, and we are not made to live on one.

and that’s all i have.

please, please, please cripple me
so i cannot keep running away
away from you

{elenowen, cripple me}

hey, p.s. i don’t always post here. sometimes i have these random inspiring moments that i share on facebook, just in a status update. less thought and time goes into these posts. it’s less of my processing, and i guess they are bent more toward encouraging and exhorting others. i was going to tell you that you can find me there, but i just remembered my page is set to private. blah. if you can find me there, and you’ll include in your friend request that you know me from here, then i’ll be glad to friend you there. i say more there than i do here, regularly. just an invitation to share life if you want to. unless you seem creepy. xo

empty tupperware.

i got sober on november 5, 2006. last november i celebrated five years and i posted then an email i had sent to a secret society of friends during that first week.

i continued emailing them every time i picked up a chip that first year in order to hold myself accountable, more for myself than for them.

so i’ve been posting those emails for you, in hopes that they might help someone or help you deal with someone you know who might struggle with addiction.

as i went looking for the 90-day chip email i sent to my friends, i found another one i sent privately to my therapist karen two days later (exactly five years ago tomorrow). i debated over which one to post for you, ultimately choosing this one because of how raw and real it is for me.

i’ll post the 90-day email i sent to my friends on another day. for now, i hope this helps someone.

february 8, 2007


today has been a good day.

all week i have been cranky and pissy.  mostly yesterday, but it was building up all week.  {my co-worker} and i didn’t need to talk to each other all day, really; the phone rang -maybe- twice while she was still here and after she left at 2, the phone rang 3 times.  all three times it was ___.  i left work early, pissy and cranky, having realized that i’ve had this list of things to work on all week and i haven’t gotten a single thing done.  same for at home, too.  i’m having company tonight and then a brunch on saturday, and my goal was to work on cleaning my house all week.  granted, it’s not that messy, but i haven’t done a single thing to it all week.  so, i left work cranky, but then extra-pissy because i’ve had these lists of things to do and haven’t done a single thing on either.

i left at 4:00, headed toward my tailor, and i was just pissy.  while i was trying to find a parking space, i saw a woman from the program.  this morning i told everyone else, “we had a mini-meeting right there in the parking lot.”  i went in to the tailor and when i was checking out, she said, “do you want the old hem or the new hem?” and showed me samples.  “i don’t understand.  i just want the same hem.”  we went back and forth on this for about 7 minutes.  i felt crazy in my head when i left, which sure didn’t help my funk.

on the way to the post office, i thought, “well, maybe i should do something nice for someone.”  so i stopped off at one of my artist’s homes to pick up the stuff she said was bringing me this week.  she’s having a rough pregnancy, so i thought i’d do her the service.  i felt better for a few minutes, but i was still kind of cranky when i left.  i called d when i left the post office and bitched to him about my pissiness.  he helped me laugh at myself and it was nice just to tell someone since i hadn’t spoken to almost anyone all day.  when i got home, i needed to make cookies for a meeting i was going to later.  i thought, “maybe i should do something nice for someone.  i’ll make extra cookies for the group tomorrow.”  by the time i got home from my junior league meeting last night, i was feeling a little bit better.  i realize today that it was nice to be around people.

this morning, d called to wake me up at 6:30.  zella had already gotten me out of bed at 5:00 and i hadn’t been able to fall back to sleep.  i guess at some point right before 6:30, though, i managed to fall back to sleep because i wasn’t awake when he called.  i told him i thought i’d try and go back to sleep and not go this morning.  my alarm went off a few minutes later and i hit snooze.  when the snooze went off, i turned it off all together.  then, i woke up right at 7:00 – which is what my clock said, but it’s actually a few minutes fast.  i laid there thinking, “ugh.  i don’t want to get out of bed…”  and then it hit me, “dammit if i didn’t make cookies for the group.  who will i give those damn cookies to if i don’t take them to the meeting?”  so i got up, brushed my teeth, put on a bra, and grabbed my cookies and went.

the parking lot was more crowded than usual and the couches were all taken.  i was cussing the people in the room when i was making my coffee and sat down next to jason* on sort of the outer circle.  i missed the topic, i only heard the leader re-share that “i just know it’s about me, not about anyone else.”

a couple of people said, “i appreciate what you shared, sarah*, i have been feeling that way, too.”  and when i spoke, i said, “i don’t know which sarah* shared what, but i’m going to pretend like these feelings that everyone else has said they’ve been having are the same ones i’ve been having so i don’t feel so alone…” and i went into my story about how pissy and cranky i have been, and told the story about yesterday.  and i said that i had been alone most of the day yesterday, but it’s one thing to choose that and it’s another thing when i don’t have a choice.  and while i was speaking, i tied it up with “i hope this is normal when you get your 90-days” and pointed out that part of my attitude is, now that i’m no longer being clapped for for a few months, now what?  and it was easy to do this when i knew i was getting chips, but now is when i actually have to do the work and it was putting me in a bad mood.  and i told them about my cookies and said, “thank you”.  they all laughed and a couple people said, “keep coming back!”

and then my sweet lady-friend martha* said, “i remember feeling that way when i got 90-days and someone told me it was the best chip and the worst chip for the same reason.”  and my friend kitty* next to her was nodding her head.  and then the man who’d i’d be in love with if he were my age and not gay and whose words i hang onto with all that i have, commented on st. francis and how he was a saint and that’s how he was able to write that prayer.  (that’s when i learned that -i guess- they were talking about the 11th-step prayer.)  and he said, “but i am not a saint.  and i am not perfect.  but i was more moved today by someone who is also not perfect but is trying than the prayer of any saint.”  sweet, sweet man.  i love him.

and then the neatest thing happened, karen.  well, after i spoke, james* -a man i love who was sitting near me- got up and came back and whispered, “i want the first one.”  but then, one by one -not on purpose, and not everyone did this- but, as the morning wore on, different ones got up to use the bathroom or refill their coffee and they all picked up at least one cookie that i had made from scratch.  and it moved me to tears.  and so, during the burning desire-time, i raised my hand, and was of course crying, and i said, “i realize that the reason i’ve been so cranky is because i’m meant for community.  and i went through almost the whole day yesterday before speaking to anyone.  and i don’t even know if my cookies are good because i haven’t tried them, but one by one i’ve watched everyone get up and have one and it means so much to me to be a part of this community.  and i don’t know if you just did it to make me feel better, but that’s the reason why i know i came today, so thanks.”

and so, today has been a good day.  much better than yesterday or any other day this week.  and i went home with an empty tupperware and i have been in community today.

a little sidestory: on the way to my meeting this morning and what i shared later with my friend shannon* after thinking about it briefly one more time during the meeting, is that i realize that much of my life, i have been coasting along on the wings of the men in my family, and other ones who have been in my life.  and they have all had broken wings.  and i don’t know if that’s what you were thinking of when you said, “i know, but i want you to come to it on your own.”  but that’s what i came to on my own today.  it was unfair to think they could carry me when their wings weren’t strong enough; and, also, to realize that i have my own wings and don’t need to “coast along” on anyone else’s…

woh.  and now i’m remembering this and it’s suddenly all coming together…oh man, i don’t know why i didn’t put it all together at the time…

when i came home, i took zella out to the field and stopped when i saw this huge bird gliding through the sky.  it was just so beautiful.  and i turned around and watched it fly to the top of a bare tree where his friends and family were waiting.  and then another bird fell, fell, fell out of the tree, before it swooped back up and carried itself across to the top of another tree.  and i knew i didn’t have time to get my camera to take a picture and it was just going to have to be one of those moments i would have to just capture in my head and remember how wonderful it was.

and as i was walking back, the thought came into my heart,

mary kathryn, you’re like that bird gliding through the sky.  you have wings like that.  and your sky is just as big.

i’m so glad i journaled this.  i didn’t want to forget this day before i could share it with you next week.  and now i am seeing why it was important for me just to write it and process it.  that would have never come together for me if i hadn’t remembered it again.  i’m so glad i did.

love you.


*names are changed to protect anonymity.

tears of a clown.

i have felt like a crazy person for the last couple of months.

i have been irritable, self-centered, and extremely cranky. pissy, i say.

i don’t even use the word pissy normally. that’s an annoying & gross word. this is also a sign to myself.

i have not been available in ways i am when i am my most generous self.

i have been impatient and unkind, not at all characteristic of me on my better days.

(i have also found myself to be self-righteous.)

i have judged people in ways i haven’t heard myself judge in a really, really long time. the kind of judging others that you learn in your first few therapy sessions are actually the characters flaws you see in yourself. and, quite honestly, it disgusts me. i am not that way, not normally. it’s weird and i hate it. 

i have gotten on my own nerves, so i would understand if i have gotten on yours.

the most heartbreaking part of this whole mess that is, well…me…over the last few months is that i have especially lacked grace where i would like to think it has otherwise flowed so freely.

grace is my…well, if i don’t have and show grace? she who knows how much has been and is continuously extended to her? who fights for and seeks it and pursues it with vigilance and hello, it’s in my very own blog-tag? grace is the very heart and soul of my being. 

like i said, that’s been The Most Heartbreaking Part Of It All for me. it really devastates my heart because i know better. i don’t know differently. (not anymore.) but i have acted as if i don’t know better and i do know differently and this sucks.

i have been very up and down and all over the place and sideways these last months. i could blame it on certain crazy-making people or circumstances because there are a few of those, too. but, the truth is, i have lost some of my tools and have forgotten how to use other ones which, even around my crazy-makers, i am normally capable of making better sense of the world and of myself when i am in my right mind.

surprisingly, i haven’t made a fool of myself or lost my shit in public or toward my family or said anything to anyone i would have to later repent for saying.

(that i can think of, anyway.)

i have had the wherewithal, fortunately, to call out The Cranky and apologize or stop or remove myself before severely manifesting. that, and i’ve pretty much only put myself around folks i know that i know that i know wouldn’t bring out The Cranky or would love me through it, and have avoided those that i feared i could hurt with The Cranky. i don’t trust The Cranky. down with The Cranky.

the sad alternative, though, has been that i have isolated and climbed back into my very hollow, uncomfortable shell.

i am not surprised. i know where i am. 

i recognize this place. this lonesome, dark, full-of-fear place.

it is not the place of my holiday funk, though i hoped for a moment that’s all that it was.

there are days and even just moments when i have thought, no, i’m okay. it’s passed.

but the truth is, i tripped a few months back and have slowly fallen backward into the very lonely, dark hole that is my depression.

hell, who am i kidding? it’s not been backward at all. i pretty much dove in, face first. because that’s what happens when i, you know, try to play my own hero.

i cry when no one’s looking and sometimes when they are, if i am especially safe in their company. in this place, i get stuck and i can’t get myself out. and even if i could, i don’t have the energy to try. i have heard myself say a few times that i feel lost and alone. i can’t make sense of very much and i’m motivated to do even less than that. things that usually roll off my back have bothered me in ways that nag.

to be real honest with you? if you were to call me a dry-drunk, i wouldn’t couldn’t get upset with you.

well, and to lay it all bare for you? i’m real surprised i haven’t just forfeited all my chips but for the grace of god. i have enough sense about me to know i can’t go back there again, though i can’t say it hasn’t been a thought in my mind.

(we’re only as sick as our secrets, right? so, there’s mine.)

i leave the shoebox because i have to work (thank god), but most mornings i attempt to beg the day not to come by forcing my eyes not to open. (strangely enough, this doesn’t work. i know. ODD.)

i still fight for myself as best i can.

sweet little zella-girl makes me take her on long walks (scratch that, reverse it) and i make myself listen to either worship or my favorite fun songs as we bumble along down the road. and the breeze feels good on my soul.

some days, i will call friends in order to get outside of myself.

on my very best days, i will have coffee with a friend.

but most days, i cancel plans or say no all together.

i want to get out of myself. i have wanted to say yes. i haven’t wanted to be here.

but most days i haven’t been able to be anywhere else.

and, unfortunately, this hole isn’t big enough for company.

depression isn’t moodiness. and it’s not what normies might liken to a bad day. it’s not feeling sad (not on any normal level, anyway). for one, it’s chemical. so, there’s that. but, for two, the last time i found myself here, i said it is like i am in a black, me-sized hole and god can’t reach down far enough and i can’t reach up high enough for us to get to each other.

it’s just that also with me in the hole, see, is this monkey on my back. only he’s more like a gorilla. a limp, lame, deaf, dumb, blind and mute gorilla. just hanging out. on my back.

down, down, down into the hole the gorilla and i go. went.

and down, down, down the gorilla and i will stay until one of us gets restless enough to try and get out again.

even still, i pray. oh, i pray, i pray, i pray…believe me, i pray.

and i have felt close to god, perhaps closer in these long legs of my journey than in any other…which i guess probably sounds strange? that i would feel so close to god, yet so far away?

i know god is and has been there each time i have found myself in the hole (which, incidentally, has been three very significant times; this being the third.) karen first made me aware of my depression in the first 30 minutes of my very first appointment with her after i had been sitting in it comfortably like a sad, drunk, homeless person living beneath a bridge for the better part of my life. that is to say, i was 26 when i faced and started dealing with what she thought landed on me like a disease around the time i was 13. the spiral began the second time…around this time of year, actually…four years ago, when i first moved from my hometown to the town where i now live.

the thing is, it’s always looming. it’s not like it strikes from nowhere when i’m not looking. in between the three times i was staring at it directly in the face, it was always hanging around, waiting for me to notice or engage it. like the dark, brooding bad-boy (ahem #ryangosling #badboyworldtour #jordancatalano) who hangs around outside the soda shop smoking & playing it cool, waiting for the pretty girl to notice him, only he acts like he doesn’t notice her just so he can get her to notice him.

my depression is kinda like that. 

i know the bad-boy isn’t good for me, but i kinda feel sorry for him and wonder what the mystery is all about. plus, i think i kinda like danger.

but then i get swept up in his sad drama and maybe i even start smoking again and i wear his leather jacket and my friends stop calling and when i realize i can’t figure him out because he can’t be figured out, i remember why i should have just walked on by the first time i saw him. and the second.

there are ways i can make it more difficult for myself, and ways i can live with it more manageably and actually enjoy a happy, fun and successful life. six or so months ago, i made the best decision i could make for myself at the time when i gradually took myself off my anti. but what i couldn’t pay for with insurance, i have paid for in deuces with this fog i’ve been walking through.

i’m not suicidal, but i wouldn’t care very much if i slipped off the attic step. or if that car hadn’t seen me. or what if…i just…disappeared? those are the unsettling kind of thoughts i’ve had.

uplifting, no? encouraging, isn’t it.

the thing is, i know how pitiful i sound in my depression. maybe it’s all the therapy or too much aa, but i have enough self-awareness to know that to those who can’t relate (thankfully), i sound really, really pitiful. so i’m doing well to laugh at myself.

and the limp, lame, deaf, dumb, blind and mute gorilla.

who sometimes gets his feelings hurt.

and has itches he can’t scratch.

i walk around in a haze or a daze, depending on the day, and i paint my face and plaster on my smile and pray, pray, pray that i can make it through the day without falling apart completely because, were that to happen, i wouldn’t have a very good reason for it.

or any reason at all.

i could have seen it coming. i did, actually. and those who were paying attention best of all saw it coming, too.

i was just hoping it wouldn’t. come, i mean.

i tried to talk it out of coming. tried to convince the depression not to come.

but it did. it has. the depression is here. and it’s been here for the last few months.

you shouldn’t be surprised about it, either. in fact, you probably aren’t. because don’t you remember the day i told you how i lost my insurance and weaned myself off my anti?

i was secretly thankful and thought maybe my depression wasn’t as bad as it had been before, or maybe i just didn’t have it anymore. you know…like a virus. 

i fought it. i was pro-active in the beginning. i asked friends to pay attention, and they did.

i tried.

i tried, i tried, i tried. oh, how i tried. believe me, i tried.

i tried not to have it again.

i tried not to be depressed.

but i can’t try not to have depression, i realize now.

there aren’t words enough to pray my way out of it, no matter how loud or hard or quiet i am or close to jesus i feel.

(don’t you know i would if i could? if that were enough? all that it took to get me out of the hole and over the hump?)

but i can glorify god through it.

it’s a slow fade but i see it now. i recognize it. i know it all too well now.

the gift that is my depression, i mean.

but things will be different on tuesday.

everything will be better on tuesday.

see, i am considered high-risk because i’ve been treated for both a melanoma and depression; therefore, i qualify for guv’ment-based insurance, which kicked in for me on january 1. (say what you will about our president, i could kiss him on the mouth for the new healthcare system.)

so i’ve very willingly tucked my tired tail between my paralyzed legs and me and the gorilla are surrendering again to my p.a. tomorrow.

as it were, i only checked in with him for about 15 minutes every few months, so he doesn’t know i broke up with him and my anti. (totally awesome of me, i know.) i was just sort of hoping he wouldn’t, you know…notice…so we wouldn’t have to…you know…have a weird, awkward break-up talk when i would tell him it’s not him, it’s me, when we really shouldn’t have ever been together in the first place and

wait, what?

um, anywho


anyway, i’m not sure what to expect when he finds this out, though i’m sure i’m not his first client who tried to save her own day. like i said, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

but this i know, of this one thing i am certain:

come tuesday, i will have hope again. 

an aside: i told leigh when i finished writing this on saturday night that i realize i haven’t really shared this part of my journey with you all. she said it may not have been time, or perhaps it wasn’t on my heart, before. good point, i told her. (she is always full of good points, that one.) better to write on in when i’m in the thick of it, i said. or…when there’s a soon-and-coming hope.

{thank you, jesus, for being my one-and-only hope.}

another aside: just as it took several weeks to get out of my system, it will likely take a few weeks for my anti to get back in to my system. i am praying against for minimal side effects during this time. but, just so you know, it may get worse before it gets better. and by ‘it’ i mean ‘i’. the good news, the part i know you’ve all been waiting for, is that i lost weight the last time i started taking it. so, here’s hoping. :)

i fear i have not won the battle against my flesh over these last months, so please know how profoundly sorry i am if i have made any off-color remarks to you or said or done anything that has been hurtful, even virtually. admittedly, i lack a filter between my brain and my mouth but i can usually access my delay button so please, please forgive me if i have failed to use that button when i should have but forgot. or just didn’t, but should have.

(as long as it’s something that actually does belong to me.)

(dang. see what i mean? the no filter thing.)

ugh. everything will be better on tuesday.

(for all of us.)

i promise.

thanks for loving me.


to thine own self.

i would understand if you wondered why i speak so freely about my road of recovery. we’re ‘anonymous’ for a reason. what if we slip? what if, after 5 years and 2 months today is the day i decide to give it all up, sanity and all. we are responsible to one another and hold ourselves accountable to each other. isn’t it enough that we know it about each other without having to tell the rest of the world?

we don’t wear our chips like medals or badges of honor. in fact, we call ourselves egomaniacs with a self-esteem problem. we’re members of a club consisting of other people who can’t drink because alcohol has ruined our lives and that of those around us and we’re trying to rebuild and live simply. we are not proud of ourselves, but we are not too proud to admit we need god and each other’s help and have found that, forgiveness and a life of gratitude and grace through our secret club.

i have been sharing these emails i wrote to a group of friends during my first year of sobriety for just that reason. so that i won’t slip. i need for you to pay attention and ask me questions. i also share this part of my journey because i have no reason in myself to hide it. i mean…are you kidding? what exactly don’t you know about me by now? (even so, it’s my business to share it on my own terms, not anyone else’s.)

it’s been a good reminder to me of where i was five years ago and how far i’ve come on the inside of me. 

the newcomer helps folks who have been in it one more day than themselves because we remember what yesterday was like.

i am by no means in any ‘advanced’ stage of recovery process. only over time, i have accumulated 1,885 one days at a time consecutively. but i’m no fool. i have to stay vigilant, daily. it’s not just about the not drinking (though some days it is). it’s about the living better.

my hope is that, if i have one. more. day. than you, then my experience, strength and hope i’ve found through the healing and recovery process would encourage you to continue taking it one day at a time.

january 4, 2007

i considered not sending you this update today because i haven’t made too many reflections or assessments about it yet but knowing that i made myself accountable to this group, i just wanted to send a note in case you were counting the days.  (i didn’t want you to think i had fallen off the wagon if you didn’t hear from me. ;))

i got my 60-day chip today.  “to thine own self be true” is what it says on one side.  the serenity prayer is on the other.  none was harder than or felt as good (or as bad) as the first and then i felt like it was my birthday when i got my yellow 30-day chip.  i remember saying, “i can get 30 days.  it’s my 60-day chip i’m worried about.”  but the distance between 30 and 60 days seemed so short!  it’s hard to believe how fast it’s gone.

in the very beginning, it frustrated me to no end that i would never be able to drink again for the rest of my life.  and people would say to me, “just don’t drink today.”  and that did help put it into perspective.  it gave me more power and it meant i had a choice.  but last week i said in a meeting, “i can say with 99% certainty that i know i will never pick up a drink again.”  i have to leave that 1% available to keep me humble.  i’m not immune.  everyone in the rooms has their own story, their own bottom.  i know if i had kept on down that path, my story would be similar to the ones who came in in their 50′s, having lost everything and not being able to remember much of the first part of their life.  it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone, at any point in their sobriety.  that’s the healthy fear with which i live.  i’m just glad God and my friends rescued me before it was worse than that.

shortly after i got my 30-day chip, i went to see karen, my tried-and-true friend and confidante whom has seen (and continues to see) me through all of my growth and healing over the last 3+ years.  it occurred to me that it was in this time when i started facing my life that my love affair with alcohol began…well, picked up.  i realized that, with the intensity of facing and dealing with life, i sought refuge and release by drinking and, subsequently, doing things that i wouldn’t have done in my right mind.  i wish i could have recorded this meeting with karen because i don’t remember all of our words but it all came down to…shoes.  i taught myself how to tie my shoes when i was 4 (a, did you know that? :)) and began a fierce journey of self-sufficiency and independence.  i lost my shoes at h’s wedding and, therefore, l left her purse in the shuttle.  i’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop “because it usually does” …and she pointed out that there aren’t anymore shoes left to drop.  i don’t have to fight life anymore.  i can live life on life’s terms.  today.  in this moment.  i can face it and i don’t have to escape anything by drinking.  my sponsor says often that there is nothing that is worth losing her sobriety over.  she’s picking up a chip for 9 years on sunday.  and it’s true – there’s nothing worth losing my sobriety over or, to bring it closer to home for you, my life. because that would be the cost.

on friday night i watched one of my oldest and dearest friends, c, get married.  at the reception, i was reunited with friends whom i had not been in touch with since we graduated from high school.  4 of us stood there talking and laughing together about the first time any of us got drunk – it was in my playroom when were in the 9th grade.  they laughed the way that only old friends can do when i told them where that had landed me.  my heart was so full and i enjoyed myself so much and there was nothing in me that was jealous of them being able to drink.  (as a matter-of-fact, to some i thought, “i’m so glad i won’t be you tomorrow…”)  i mean, i’m not sure that i’ll ever be just totally aloof to people drinking around me and i do have to prepare myself before i know i’ll be around it.  it would make life a lot easier if i didn’t have to do that, but i know that it’s possible for me to enjoy myself without a glass…or two…or five…of wine.  and when it’s not possible, i know i have choices and tools.

prior to c’s wedding, the last wedding i had been to was h’s.  everything is new to me now, though i’m certainly more comfortable today than i was 30 days ago and certainly on any given day within the first 30.  i’ve even met someone!  he’s pretty special.  i feel like it’s the first real relationship i’ve ever been in {ahahahahhahahaha}, given that any other one has been over these last two years, and none of them were “real” and “relationship” would be a loose term for any of them but one.  it’s so, so nice to just be walking one day at a time, taking it very, very slow and just enjoying the journey with another pilgrim on a similar path.  (karen, i’ll tell you everything on monday.  girls, i’ll tell you about it tonight.)

{that last part CRACKS ME UP because it is a well-known and respected AND IT’S THERE FOR A REASON suggestion that one not date at all within the first year of sobriety. but there are those who think they are the exception and i was one of these. you have heard me affectionately refer to him as The Crackhead. oh, he was sweet. but i should have listened when others said, ‘don’t.’ 1.4.11}

i remain grateful.  i have hope for the future.  i can dream and i can set goals, even those that seem impossible or unattainable.  my heart is full and i am happy.  i want you to know that i am constantly aware of the support i have in each of you.  my precious, dear friend brennan called a week or two after getting my first email and we just laughed and i cried and was so overwhelmed to hear his voice on the other end of the line.  what a comfort to know that you’re each in my life, championing me and cheering for me.  i feel like i am in a place where i can truly give that back to you, to others.

as i finished up that last thought, i just heard my friend candy*-and-i’m-an-alcoholic’s voice in my head saying to me on monday night, “i just love your spirit!”  and someone else said that to me yesterday.  and i know they’re talking about the same spirit that i eagerly…and then reluctantly…painted as a project early on in my work with you, karen.  the one that you have encouraged and taught me to live from.  and that’s the place where i am.  sitting right in the middle of my spirit.  that’s the gift each of you and the program -and above all, God- has given me.  to not be afraid anymore of just being me.  fully and completely.  if ever i could repay a gift, this would be the one.  i’m thankful for you, for your lives, and for what each of you continue to mean to me.


one interesting note that’s neither here nor there but i was trying to remember why, if my sobriety date is november 5, 2006, why i kept emailing my friends on other dates than the 5th of each month. i remember now i was literally counting 30, 60 and 90 days and continued to do that within my first year. at this point, i just remember the 5th of each month. (1.4.11)

the danger zone.

this post is part of a series the readers here in the beauty for ashes community suggested. every wednesday, my fellow sojourners and i study the book of romans. the first post states our heart and intention, which i encourage you to read if you’re just joining us. you will find the entire series listed in the categories on the right.

Romans 14, nlt {emphasis mine}

The Danger of Criticism

1 Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong2 For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. 3 Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. 4Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him judge whether they are right or wrong. And with the Lord’s help, they will do what is right and will receive his approval.

5 In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. 6 Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. 7 For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. 8 If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 Christ died and rose again for this very purpose—to be Lord both of the living and of the dead.

10 So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For the Scriptures say,

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
every knee will bend to me,
and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.’”

12 Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. 13 So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.

14 I know and am convinced on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong. 15 And if another believer is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died. 16 Then you will not be criticized for doing something you believe is good. 17 For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. 19 So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.

20 Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, all foods are acceptable, but it is wrong to eat something if it makes another person stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble. 22 You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. 23 But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.

i’m just curious: do you think it’s safe to insert any activity for the word ‘eat’? is paul speaking specifically about food we eat physically or could he also be talking about what we might feed our souls, too?

also, i really appreciate that paul points out that it’s not worth doing something if it will make someone else uncomfortable because of their own conviction.

but this also addresses the matter of the differences between each of our convictions. for example, i don’t drink because i can’t. (that is, not unless i want to end up in prison or dead or in a stranger’s bed.) but plenty of people can drink without incident; alcohol or addiction aren’t really issues for them. similarly, i have certain friends and i’m sure you do, too, who are like garbage disposals. whereas they can eat whatever they want without gaining a pound, i can’t even look at a bite of a cookie without gaining five.

god cares about and loves each of us so much that he has even uniquely tailored our convictions and struggles.

now, i’m all about being responsible for ourselves. if i chose to drink again, i could never hold someone else responsible for that.

but wouldn’t i want to help a friend who is struggling even if it means i have to say ‘no’ to something that may not be a struggle for me? it reminds of the aa-adage, ‘would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?’ as paul says, our goal is harmony and helping each other.

because it is, isn’t it?

here and now.

two years ago, after my dad died, i signed up for pottery and dance classes. seeing now what my heart was going through, i can’t believe i had the wherewithal to know that i needed to feel the earth in my hands and under my feet. i needed to feel grounded to…something, anything…since the man i had been tethered to all my life, whose name i still bear, had suddenly…disappeared to heaven.

i needed to feel connected to the earth, to this life.

and, for the first time, it didn’t matter not one bit if i made pretty or even useful things or learned my recital-dances perfectly well. (it’s a good thing, too, else the perfectionist in me would have had a complex regarding both.)

my head hears my great-uncle’s voice saying sometimes, when you think you’ve lost your way, go back to the place you last remember. you’ll find your way again. perhaps my time and life and routine are still recovering from the last few months.

i have to fight to stay connected sometimes. if i’m not careful, i’ll just sort of…drift…and not think too much about what i’m doing or with whom, as if i don’t really care.

but i do. so much, sometimes too much. deeply, i care.

i know it’s a tool of the enemy.

i know isolation is the primary weapon in his arsenal against me, perhaps against us all.

and he will not, has not won.

so i fight extra-hard for a sense of connectedness lately. to stay in touch and see people and do things i don’t feel like doing simply because i don’t feel like doing them. yes, because it’s christmas…also because of…just life

and i know it will pass.

but…in this moment…i also know that this isn’t my battle to fight. that my job is to surrender not to the enemy, but to the one who already fought for and won me so i wouldn’t have to fight for myself. i don’t have to fight at all but sink back into the loving arms of the one who fought for me. and won.

i guess it’s both/and, in a way. like drinking, for example. god’s not going to make me not drink. i have to remain vigilant to maintain my sobriety. i fought too hard for to keep it this long, i can’t get lazy now. even so, the second and third steps are to recognize god and surrender to him. and if my heart is fast after him, then i won’t make decisions that will lead me to drink again.

and isn’t this what it’s about? that this whole big…thing…isn’t about us? that life is all about being connected to god and to others?

thankfully, i have some of the best friends a girl could have who see this without seeing it and know it without me saying anything and they call not because i’ve been disconnected, but just to be connected.

to be present, in this moment.

here, now.

and i am.

got five minutes? join me and other bloggers over at the gypsy mama’s house for five-minute friday. always, like today, i have revelation in those five minutes of where i’ve been or where i’m headed or to whom i belong. 

my one suggestion is that you read before you write, so that the words of you heart aren’t filtered through others’.

as always, feel free to utilize a comment block in this space if you don’t have one of your own. you are welcome here.

30 days & 30 nights.

i really enjoyed finding the emails i wrote to my secret society of friends of who were cheering and praying for me during my first days of sobriety. as a follow-up to the email i posted upon my fifth anniversary, this is the email i sent to them 30 days later. xo

monday, december 4, 2006

hey my friends,

i just want you to know that i got my 30-day chip today.  below is my account of the last 30 days.  you know how long-winded i am over email (l, hire a babysitter and fix a cup of coffee), so you don’t have to read it.  i realize i wrote it more for myself than anyone else.  the main thing for you to know is that i did it!  i’ve been to a meeting every day, too.  you never graduate and i’m still very much in the beginning of recovery, but it was much easier to pick up the chip today than the first one 30 days ago.  one day at a time.

love you very, very much.  (and, h, i still have your wedding present!)

mary kathryn

* * * * * * * * * *

i feel like today is my birthday.  i kept waking up in the night because i was afraid i wouldn’t hear my alarm go off or something.  i was so excited to go to my meeting this morning BECAUSE i would be getting my yellow chip to denote my 30-days of sobriety.  after i got it, an older man asked if it felt like 30 days.  i said, “it felt like it had been 30 days on day 5.  today is reasonable.”

i remember on day 4 i thought, “i don’t belong here!  i’m not like these people!”  on day 6 i was mad because it was the first weekend i didn’t have the option of going out with my friends.  i mean, i guess i did.  but i knew better.  so a car full of people asked me if i wanted to get coffee with them when they were pulling out.  “yes, please.”  i didn’t know these people, had never seen them.  i met them a few minutes later at elmo’s and, after i asked one of the girls where she was from, she said, “none of your business!” and then left saying she was “probably going to get drunk” when we asked her where she was going.

it turns out no one in this group knew each other, which made it all the more funny.  i didn’t learn that until the mean/crazy girl left.  and then the next night i was invited to a “dance at my halfway house” by a lesbian.  a new friend told me that one of the guys who went to get coffee with us, told her that he used to take medicine that made him homocidal.  not SUIcidal.  HOMOcidal.  it took me at least 48 hours to recover from that weekend.  and to feel safe in my house.  i never thought i would survive and i certainly didn’t think i fit in.

and it bothered me that i started to wonder if maybe i actually did.

then, when matt came to visit from florida, i started going to the 7 AM meetings so our time together wouldn’t be interrupted.  and i think it was a combination of finally starting to be comfortable saying, “my name is mary kathryn and i’m an alcoholic” and just sort of falling into this new group of people in the mornings, whom i’ve really grown to love and regard as family.

it’s a bunch of “old timers” (that’s what people who’ve been in the program for a while are called and, apparently, this is universal all the AA-world over) who have been working the program for a long time.  retired and sleepy people who start their day together.  they all knew this day was coming up for me.  well, they knew because for a while there, every time i would speak, i would say, “i’m on day 17 of the program…i’m on day 23…”  i stopped saying it last week and only remembered that today was the day i would be getting my chip.  last week, i was really afraid -terrified, really- that i would do something to sabotage myself.  i’ve actually had the thought of, “maybe i’m going to die soon and God just wanted me to clean this up as part of my testimony before i go…”  who in the world thinks that?  i think it’s part of my whole “waiting for the other shoe to drop” attitude.  something i’m working on.

on day 16 i had a small meltdown.  that was the day you left, matt.  and i realized how alone i was feeling -in my recovery, in life.  i had gotten some unsettling news from my doctor -i was just alone.  and i sat in my car and, for the first time in a really, really long time i just sat in my car and cried like a baby.  it wasn’t one of my drunken-cries (chsc -whoot!) and i didn’t even think about drinking in order to numb myself to the loneliness.  and i remember sitting in my car thinking, “i’m just so glad i can feel this.”

that saturday, matt and i had gone hiking through the uwharrie forest and that night i said in my meeting, “i felt like i was seeing color for the first time, the way it was meant to be seen.”  i guess, i just didn’t realize until then, even though i knew i had had a problem with alcohol, i didn’t realize how much a part of my life it had become.  it had been my tried and true friend.  in part, i suppose i was also grieving the loss.

i had heard different ones laugh about how self-centered they were as alcoholics, or had been while they were drinking.  and i had joked about how i *definitely* was not that way… :)  last week, over thanksgiving, i started to see just how self-centered i really was.  i mean, part of it i come by naturally -i don’t have children (well, zella) and i live alone.  i don’t have to ask permission from anyone and i really have only myself to think about.  but part of it is/was just immature/whiny/fighting tooth-and-nail to have it my way/it’s all about me-ness.  and, let me tell you, that SUCKED to feel that.  or to recognize it.  but, i’m glad for it.  i don’t know if it’s changed, but i’m glad for the awareness.

after my first meeting, a guy {who i learned a year later had only gotten there two days before me} said, “they suggest you try to go to 90 meetings in 90 days.”  i can’t remember if i thought, “hell no” or “okay”.  i’m pretty sure i thought, “okay.”  of course, i was still drunk and hungover and was pretty broken, so i was agreeable to just about anything that night.  i’m glad.  i needed to be.  and i’ve done it, too.  i’ve been to a meeting (at least one) every day so far.  and i never -ever- want to forget the stories l told me about the night before…or my birthday party…or mandy’s wedding…or my christmas party…

different ones have said, “well, good.  maybe, since you caught it early enough, you’ll eventually be able to enjoy a glass of wine again.”  i appreciate that.  but, no.  it was a loss that i grieve even in this moment, but i know that will not be a possibility for me.  at least not today.

i’m trying to stay balanced because i know i’ll never be immune.  i want to fully have this moment and enjoy it but today is only day 30…of the rest of my life.  you never graduate.  last friday, a german woman who says, “i’m an alcocolcic” because of her accent said, “i have to be careful when i’m in a good mood!”  so we laughed about that walking out, “have a very bad day, leisl*!”  and today is one of those days where i feel good inside, so happy to be alive -and so grateful to be sober.  i’m going out to dinner tonight with the chapel hill social club and i know it would be like me in this state to say, “let’s have a toast!”  only this time, i’ll be lifting my sweet tea and no one will have to secretly worry if i’m going to make it home okay.  i’m not sure if i’ll ever not be afraid of going back, but i think it’s a good and healthy kind of fear.

AA is so largely based, if not entirely…yes, definitely entirely based…on our “spiritual condition” as we relate to the “God of our understanding”.  i know that will rub some of you the wrong way -it did me at first- but i love it.  i stopped even mentioning in passing that i’m a christian because, in that group, it doesn’t really matter.  in there, we’re all children of God.  i don’t have to “prove” God because He’s already in charge of the program.  i said it in the beginning and it’s still true 30 days later, i think an AA meeting is what more churches should look like.  {btw, after i published that in my last post, my friend quoted me as saying that but, while i can’t find where i heard him say this, i know i got it from brennan manning.} but, my point is, i’m so, so glad that the God of MY understanding is the one who said to me, “it’s okay, mary kathryn!  i love you!  now, come on and let’s deal with it!”  so many people come in with questions about their own “Higher Power” and i’m glad i don’t have the same kind of questions about mine.

i guess, what i’m not doing a good job of trying to say is, it is only by the help of God -and surrendering this to Him- that i’m able do this “one day at a time”-thing.  i’m just really grateful that i do know God, have known Him and have had a relationship with Him, for so long that it hasn’t been too hard to hand this over to Him.  i know i’m meant for more, for greater, than that path would have offered me.  and i’m just so, so glad that it was in response to His tenderness and love that i was able to say, “i love you.  and i give up.”  so grateful that He loves me like that.

last night i  went to the 8:00 meeting, which is the same meeting i walked into 4 weeks ago.  when it came time to give out chips, and they said “yellow for thirty days”, i piped up and said, “i’m going to wait and get my chip tomorrow, but this is the first meeting i walked into 4 weeks ago, and i just want to thank this group specifically for what that night meant for me.”  “big ed*”, who looks like he could be brutus’ father, was sitting outside when i walked up crying that night.  i see him from time to time and he found out last week today would be my “big day”, so he came to the meeting this morning just to see me.  we hugged for a long time.

i knew how important this day would be to me but i didn’t realize that it’s a big deal to other members of the group.  they say, “it helps keep us sober” to watch the newcomer.  this weekend, when some of my 5:30-friends found out i would be getting my 30-day chip today, they said, “come to the 5:30, too!”  it means a lot to me to have their support.  my sponsor -oh, i got a sponsor, who’s so gentle and kind- said she wants to come this afternoon, too.  they say you can pick up chips all day long!  one will do me fine, thank you.

someone told me recently that they have 18 white chips -18!- “but you don’t have to do that, mary.”  i don’t plan on it, though i know it’s a possibility.  ugh.  i don’t ever want to have to pick up another white chip again.

i’m just grateful today.  for you, for God, for the program of Alcocolcics Anonymous.  for my life.  life is good.  moment by moment, if we keep our head where our feet are, life is really, really good.


*names have been changed to protect anonymity. duh.

cinco de sober.

i’ve now been sober for five years and three days. 

this is an email i sent to a group of friends exactly five years ago today, three days after i attended aa for the first time.

wednesday, november 8, 2006

the last time i lost my power to choose. and my shoes. {11/4/06}

i’m not sure how to start this.  well, first, {bride}, to you, especially – i know i don’t have the power to have ruined your entire wedding, but you must know how deeply sorry -not to mention embarassed- i am about the attention i drew to myself at your reception and afterward at the hotel.  i was mortified to hear how horrible it – i - was.

i really have no idea what i would have done if l & c hadn’t been there to take care of me and i’m sorry to them that they had to do it.  i’m also grateful that it was l & c because i know that it would have been easy for anyone else to say, “it’s okay, mare.  it happens to the best of us.”  i have really appreciated that in the past but, the truth is, we all know i have a drinking problem and it’s time i address it head-on.

l, in tough love and all the grace i’m sure she could muster, said, “i can’t sugar-coat this.  you were horrible.”

after a certain point in the evening – i’m not sure which point, but a certain point – i have no memory AT ALL of anything.  i remember dancing…and then trying to take someone’s grilled cheese sandwich (good idea, by the way, having grilled cheese sandwiches)…and then i…ugh…remember watching this girl at the hotel in the chair throwing up everywhere in front of everyone.  i know i was that girl and so i’m not trying to say that it wasn’t but the only way i know to explain it is that i don’t remember experiencing it but i know what i looked like doing it.  and then i woke up and laura told me all of these stories.

i wept like a baby in the shower, just crying my heart out, utterly MORTIFIED that y’all had seen me like that; rather, that i was like that in front of everyone i grew up with, including my parents’ friends who know my family history of alcohol abuse.  sadly, i know some of you have seen me in a similar condition before.

apparently, i put my head on the table while talking to s and just passed out.  i have a scrape on my chin and a big bruise and scratch on my leg from falling, apparently.  and then i lost my shoes?  i really have no memory of any of this which i’m sort of thankful for but i’m glad to know the truth of the story and that laura didn’t sugar-coat it.  it doesn’t sound like there was anything redeeming or cute or funny at all about any of it.  even though i can’t remember it, i hope i always remember l’s stories -and any that you want to tell me about myself, i can handle it- so that i don’t forget the path that led me to recovery.

on the way home, i called most of you on this list and then some.  i was a sad, sad sight to behold, i’m sure.  i kept thinking if the people in the cars around me were worried about the girl crying in the car next to them or behind them.  to be totally honest, it wasn’t until after i got home and took a nap that i realized i was still drunk on the way home yesterday morning, which is why -i’m sure- my messages were so pitiful to some of you.  i mean, it was the truth, but now on this side i could have told you all the same things without being so upset and sounding so crazy.  maybe not, actually.  i’m not sure.  it doesn’t matter, i guess.

anyway, i called another family member who’s recently been to rehab and she was so, so wonderful and gracious and knew all the right things to say after having gone through it herself.  she suggested, though, that since i’m identifying this so early, that i try going to meetings first before rehab.  she said that rehab was like a prison for her, that she really gets more out of her meetings than she did from rehab.  i know it’s different for everyone.  i do think – and i am so, so thankful – that i’m identifying this early enough that i think i can do this with meetings.  it really is true what they say – the hardest part is admitting it.  i kept practicing in my mirror, in the car, “i’m mary kathryn and i’m an alcoholic.”  from now on, i call “designated driver”.

in the shower when i felt the weight of it all -and had the worst headache ever and still wanted to throw up- i didn’t feel guilty, or ashamed, or condemned.  mortified and humiliated, yes.  but i felt God in my spirit saying, “it’s okay, mary kathryn!  i only love you more!  you can do this!  let’s just take care of it!”  in His tenderness and in l’s tough love-ness, i knew it was time to take care of business.  and then later, after i took my nap and woke up, i understood probably for the first time what it means that “His mercies are new every morning.”  that no matter what had happened the night before, each day is a new one and God’s love for me doesn’t change.  i was reminded of it again this morning.  He’s not embarrassed by me, just championing me to live fully and completely and to be the best me i can be, even in my shortcomings and my failures.  my life is my ministry and i know that God will use this.  in the meantime, i know i was a terrible witness the other night and i’m just sorry about that.

i got my first chip last night at my first aa meeting.  the first chip is the white one and it’s the one you get when you first admit you have a problem and want to set the course of your life in a new direction.  everyone was so tender and loving and they all cheered for me and the one other woman who was there for the first time.  when the guy called the first chip, i couldn’t understand what he said but i asked the guy next to me if it was for first-timers and he said, “go for it!”  and so i did.  several members afterward came and spoke to me.  i knew some people there and thought about where i could go where i wouldn’t know anyone.  but, let’s face it, i mean – a.) there’s nowhere i can go within a 30 mile radius where i don’t run into people i know and b.) who cares?  we’re all there for the same reason and it’s disarming and refreshing to be in a place where everyone has a common problem and a common goal.  it’s such a supportive and encouraging place.  church should be more like an aa-meeting, i think.

i’ve been to enough recovery meetings and family rehab and in my own personal counseling with karen to recognize that i have an issue with alcohol.  at this point, i don’t drink every day and i don’t crave it -that’s not true.  sometimes i do crave it, truth be told and now that the cat’s out of the bag.  mostly, though, i have these binges once in a while -my birthday, heba’s wedding- and i know that’s how it begins for a lot of people.  given the family history of alcoholism on both sides of my family, and due to some concern that’s been expressed to me especially over the last year, i was able to see in myself the pattern of the disease taking effect and the direction in which i was headed.  i don’t want to end up in rehab when i’m 50 and i’ve spent half my life drunk and depressed.  i recognize it now in the early stages and i want to take care of it now while i’m aware and have the power to make different choices.

i know this list seems random.  this is the group i would end up telling, anyway – if i didn’t already talk to you about yesterday – and so i just thought i’d go on and make it all-inclusive.  you don’t have to say anything, i just wanted you to know.  i know the list is long but, if you will, please -PLEASE- respect my anonymity in this.  i will tell people that i want to tell, but that’s my business and my job and not yours.  i really appreciate your support but i don’t want to hear it from others that i haven’t told.  i haven’t even told my parents yet.  i will, but not yet.  my sisters know – anyway, the people who need to know are on this list but please don’t talk about it with each other or anyone else.  if you want to talk about it with me, then obviously i’m totally open to that.

i feel like i have a healthy balance of humiliation and grace for myself in this.  i’m not beating myself up over it but i know how bad it is or how bad it would become if i don’t seek help for it now.  i know that the drunk girl throwing up in the chair really isn’t me, or at least not who i want to be.  i know the journey will be long and not-so-easy sometimes.  i’ve been encouraged to go to 90 meetings in 90 days, so i’m going back today at 5:30.  one day at a time, i know.

so, thanks for your support and your encouragement, your thoughts and your prayers.  you will never know how sorry or embarassed i am for anything i’ve said or done and had no control over because of my drinking.  if i have ever hurt or embarassed any of you in ANY way, please, PLEASE, forgive me.  and feel free to tell me stories that you think would be important for me to know about any of my behavior.  i can handle it.  mostly, thanks for loving me.  you wouldn’t be on this list if i didn’t know that your love was without measure or condition for me.  i love you very much and i thank God for each of you.

mary kathryn

 thank you, god, that with your help i have managed to not drink, even on days i wanted to and could have, one day at a time for 1828 days. there is not one thing i have done in my own power but through yours only. for this, i give thanks. xo

for what it’s worth.

i started this post on friday night and continued to edit it on saturday. on sunday night, sitting on the floor of my closet going through clothes for my sister’s yard sale, i heard in my spirit:

mary kathryn, what’s wrong?

is it because you told your story?

(sigh.) yes, lord. (tears.)

mary kathryn, do you trust me?

yes, lord. you know that i do. (recalling a similar conversation during the same time-period mentioned in the story when i said, ‘i love you, lord. but i just don’t trust you.’)

and how did you learn to trust me?

through this story.

through. this. story.

our story. not your story, mary kathryn. our story.

i was there with you, the whole time,  just as i promised.

this is our story, mary kathryn.

use it, lord.

* * * * * * * * * *

tamara tweeted at me last weekend:

1.) hello, i’ve been thinking about you.

2.) i bet you have something to add to the ‘worth’ collection. :)

now, i’m a big fan of tamara but, as it happens…well, i had no idea what she was talking about because i have yet to catch up on my rss-feed in full, but went over to check out what i was sure would be explained in one of her equal-parts paunchy & poignant and always awesome blog-posts.

it was.

and it also pointed me to the one she wrote first at a deeper story.

what she had no idea of knowing was that, just. that. morning., i wondered if it was time to tell ‘that’ story…the very one she would ask me about a few minutes later.

the one about how i learned my ‘worth’ as a woman.

and i hesitated even so.

especially in light of what god is doing in my very heart & soul these days, which i will tell you about in coming days, my heart responded to the confirmation tamara offered that, indeed, perhaps it really is time to tell my story.

that story.

but because of the what and the who and the how, i have been sitting on it for the last week. it is always my intention to leave out any impertinent details that could hurt anyone else and only share what is necessary to illustrate my own story of the journey to discovering my worth.

(fyi, i just let out a huge sigh.)

it does not make me proud to tell you this part of my story, but i am not too proud to tell it. still, to talk about it now is like talking about a different person all together. it is unfathomable to me that the person i am about to talk about is the person of my own story.

i have done, and continue to do, the work to receive the forgiveness to get the freedom we all need from the parts of our lives we wear like stains.

* * * * * * * * * *

i gave up my virginity when i was 27 to a childhood friend in a drunken one-night stand after a party when we both realized we wouldn’t be going anywhere the rest of the night. it was actually right around this time of year.

i literally remember thinking ‘eff it.’

‘what have i been waiting for all this time?’

i had waited all that time, having been taught that sex was a reward for waiting for marriage but given little other reason to hold on to my purity.

it wasn’t even good. it certainly wasn’t worth it.

he didn’t know it was my first time, and i feel certain it wouldn’t have made a difference to him because it didn’t make a difference to me. we went out on an obligatory dinner date the next week (so i wouldn’t think him a creep, i’m sure) and it was so unbelievably uncomfortable. we didn’t talk after that. as it was my first time, i could only feel shame over the whole experience.

this tryst occurred right around the time i first started seeing karen, which was at the first of two of the lowest points in my life, when my depression was at its worst. as such, i had started drinking pretty heavily that summer but was yet teetering on leaving my crazy church.

it has been my experience that on your way down to the bottom,

and even when you’re on the way back up,

life usually gets worse before it gets better.

over the next few years and more of the same, i chalked it up to, ‘eh, it happens’ and pretended like it didn’t bother me until eventually it really didn’t, but only because my heart had built such an angry wall of bitterness and resentment that i just stopped caring.

that is, i couldn’t feel the caring anymore. my heart was so calloused.

each time it happened, another one-night stand, i would hear in my spirit,

i’m going to turn away from you now, mary kathryn, because light cannot fellowship with darkness. 

but i will be here for you when it’s over.

i couldn’t afford to consider any longer that i was breaking god’s heart. the weight of it was too much for this depressed and angry soul to bear, so i would drink all of that away as best i could.

* * * * * * * * * *

you need to know that when i did the fourth and fifth steps with karen a few years later, that i immediately felt was free from all of this. when i think of these events or talk about this time in my life -if ever i do, which is next-to-never- it’s as if i’m talking about someone else. i don’t remember names or even faces, much less events, anymore.

i burned the list i brought with me to karen’s that day and moved the electronic version to the recycle bin on my computer. and then i permanently deleted the contents of my recycling bin, never to be recovered or recalled.

that person can no longer be found, not one shred.

when i walked out of karen’s office that day, i knew for the first time my slate was literally wiped clean by the blood of jesus. i know that sounds christianese-y and trite, but there’s no other words i can find to describe it. i confessed before god and another person my wrongdoings and knew i was free. immediately. i was no longer, nor would i ever again, carry the weight of the world of those secrets i bore.

i haven’t and i won’t because i know i don’t have to.

they’re gone. forever.

because of the cross of christ.

i will not apologize for my past again, nor will i ever again live in shame from it, because i have already received sufficient forgiveness for it from The One whom it mattered most to receive it,

The One against whom my crime was committed.

* * * * * * * * * *

i started having sex due to the mixed cocktail of confusion, self-hatred and rejection drowning in a broken heart.

i was neither mistreated as a child nor a victim of sexual abuse. i have never been raped or molested. (thank god.)

i was very loved in my home growing up, but there was a lot going on in our house that kept anyone from being completely available to anyone else.

my parents were and remain wonderful people. but like we all have and do, i know now my parents were living with their own brokenness and they did the very best they could by us as young parents. (i was 7 by the time my mom was the age i am now. when i think about how young they were…)

i do not blame my parents for my bad choices.

(and, mom, my bad choices are not a reflection of how well you raised me. in fact, it’s not a reflection of who you and dad are/were at all but a manifestation of my own brokenness, i hope you know that.)

but along the way, i learned that a.) my value would be found in being a proper southern wife and mother, providing a happy home for my family and if that didn’t work out, then b.) the only other thing a woman would be good for would be to give herself away.

to prostitute herself. 

and at 27, when a. hadn’t happened as i had planned that it would, i pursued plan b. in spite of myself.

not for money. (not really, anyway). but i had boyfriends who met needs in me, or so i thought, even if only temporarily. they would say the right things, take me out, buy me things, treat me well. (for the most part.) and then there was the expectation that we would go home and play house, which i of course thought was fair at the time.

p.s. i take full responsibility for myself in all of this. i don’t blame, nor am i angry, at any man from my past. i don’t feel like a victim or ‘poor me’ over any of this.

it is what it is and what it is is over and forgiven.

(and i want to tell you that it’s true for you, too -and it is- but i couldn’t have received the freedom i have from it now without confessing out loud every dirty detail to the person i trust most in this world. we’re only as sick as our secrets, as we say in aa.)

what’s most funny (funny-strange-funny, not funny-haha-funny), is that the  men i set out to punish with my resentment -the ones who occupied time & space & i paid for by the hour in my therapy- i never even entered into a relationship with at all. any sexual encounter i had -most all of them drunken, mind you- were fueled by anger at one of these two men in my life.

in certain beds (including my own), i found myself thinking (as best as i could think when i couldn’t think at all) one of two things:

a.) really, (specific person i’m lashing out at)? this is what you’ve taught me i’m worth? fine, then. i’ll show you. watch this. aren’t you proud of me now?

or, b.) you don’t want me, (different specific person)? well, this guy does. see how desirable i am? i’ll show you.

(clearly, my plan worked. i really showed them.)

i was very much trying to fill a need in me that was not otherwise being met, and was only temporarily met at the time at best.

i didn’t know my value as a woman because i wasn’t, nor had i seen, the women in my life be valued properly and i projected what i could see with my sad eyes onto the god of my wasted heart.

i sought my worth everywhere but the only place -rather, in The Only Person- in whom i could find it. even though a christian, i was very broken inside and hadn’t wrapped my heart around the message of who he says i am.

and, you know…perhaps this is the real reason my heart wants to minister to women. because it can. because it understands.

because it knows.

but, woman-to-woman, i think this healing can only take place in the deepest parts of our hearts with our god alone. that is, i think it must only be addressed with god alone. even with the help of the most well-meaning friends, my best help came from the combination of god and good therapy. (i will ever say, even though i was raised in a family full of ministers, karen is the singlemost person god has used to change my life.)

but then (and only then) can we be made right for any healthy covenant-relationship we were meant to have on the earth. anything less is counterfeit, which is also why i’m not resentful to not be married now.

because god’s continuing to lead me from feeling worthless to knowing heart and soul that i’m worthy in a way that only he can.

because i don’t want to look in another’s eyes to discover my worth but The One who gives me worth because He created me.

i cannot tell you that i’ve arrived anywhere too special in this regard yet (we’re working on it), though i have learned a few things about my worth since those days. like knowing in my knower (and almost in my heart) that I am:

more precious than rubies. (proverbs 31:10)

a lily among thistles. (songs 2:2)

altogether beautiful in every way. (songs 4:7)

created in his image. (genesis 1:27)

fearfully and wonderfully made. (psalm 139:14)

and i wish i could tell you that i became a “born-again virgin” as soon as i walked out of karen’s office after i did my fifth step that day. but the sad truth was, even though i was free from that faded list of blank names of faceless men, i was not yet free from the belief system that my worth could only be found as either a wife or a prostitute. there was still a hole left there that needed to be filled with god’s truth.

when my dad died 2 years ago, i broke up with someone shortly thereafter. i didn’t date again until last summer, but it was short-lived because i just wasn’t ready (not to mention, we just weren’t a fit). i haven’t dated anyone seriously since then, much less compromised myself or pursued pleasure at the expense of my integrity. as a matter-of-fact, i have taken a vow of celibacy ’til death or marriage, ‘whichever comes first’, as leigh says.

and i wasn’t going to bring this up, but just in case you’re thinking it, i’d rather tell you…that, yes. i was (and am no longer) in a position of church leadership during the time i was still trying to figure all of this out and unsuccessfully trying to make best choices.

* * * * * * * * * *

i recently started reading redeeming love by francine rivers (which, incidentally, i haven’t been able to put down). ever since it was written 20 years ago, i have been encouraged to read it. but i’ve never been much for fad-books, especially christian ones, so i only picked it up for the first time last week.

if you’ve been around these parts for a while, you know it’s not the first time i’ve seen myself as a prostitute redeemed by a sacrificial love. (every parent’s dream, i know).

i am still on the journey to understanding on a deeper the deepest level my value and worth as a woman as god defines.

it is not lost on me that my whole marriage-rant is related to this which, again, you’ll learn more about soon. because perhaps, like angel in rivers’ story, i have used and abused and i have felt used and abused and why waste my energy? and what do you really want from me? and, quite frankly, i’ve dated more duds than studs and just don’t have the time or energy for it anymore if that’s what it’s going to look like and maybe this is why…

maybe this is the reason i built a fortress around my heart.

maybe this is why i’m gunshy.

(there, i said it. i know you’ve been thinking it. but, so you know? i won this.)

because i want to be seen into and not through.

because i want to be beautiful, not just sexy.

because i want to be adored for who i am, not only for what i can do.

because i don’t want to be needed or wanted in the wrong ways again, nor do i want to become codependent again myself.

one last thing? not. one. time. did i give my heart away. not once. i thought i was in love a few times, but no one ever had my heart. even despite my recklessness, it was The One Thing i knew i could not, would not give. it was The One Thing reserved for my Bridegroom and my bridegroom.

for this, i give thanks.

* * * * * * * * * *

to the men with whom i had angry sex, forgive me. for projecting onto you needs only god could meet, i am so sorry.

to the women who would become their wives, i’m so profoundly sorry i slept with your husbands.

to the god i love and am falling more truly, madly, deeply in love with, thank you.

for redeeming me.

for redeeming in me a heart that is meant to be romanced, pursued, adored, loved, chased, betrothed…

to be committed to and enjoyed…

to be safe in the arms of unconditional and relentless love…

thank you, thank you. you give more life to me than any life i’ve known.

for not holding against me my own bad choices and wrongdoings caused by years of both circumstantial and self-inflicted pain and abuse.

you have done this for me.

i am my beloved’s and he is mine.

and to the man who has yet to find me, i am waiting for you and you alone.

because we’re both worth it.

drinking laws.

this post is part of a series the readers here at beauty for ashes suggested. every wednesday, my fellow sojourners and i are studying the book of romans. the first post states our heart and intention, which i encourage you to read if you’re just joining us. you will find the entire series listed in the categories on the right.
romans 7: 7-13, nlt (emphasis mine)
God’s Law Reveals Our Sin

7 Well then, am I suggesting that the law of God is sinful? Of course not! In fact, it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” 8 But sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me! If there were no law, sin would not have that power. 9 At one time I lived without understanding the law. But when I learned the command not to covet, for instance, the power of sin came to life, 10 and I died. So I discovered that the law’s commands, which were supposed to bring life, brought spiritual death instead. 11 Sin took advantage of those commands and deceived me; it used the commands to kill me. 12 But still, the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good.

13 But how can that be? Did the law, which is good, cause my death? Of course not! Sin used what was good to bring about my condemnation to death. So we can see how terrible sin really is. It uses God’s good commands for its own evil purposes.

* * * * * * * * * *

the law showing us our sin reminds me of the differences between the united states and europe when it comes to drinking limitations.

go with me on this for a second?

statistically, there are fewer alcoholics in europe than there are in the united states.

there are also no drinking laws.

i would venture to guess that, because there is no law to break, fewer break the law, just as it is with our sin.

if we didn’t have parameters within which to live our free life, we wouldn’t even be so tempted to sin.

like the drinking laws in the united states, what god intends for our good, the devil perverts and turns into something we want to hate. it is easier not to sin when we were ignorant to the law of freedom. i know if we don’t know the law, then it can’t really be called ‘sin’, anyway. (can it?) but i’m talking about, once we do know god’s commands that would move us in the direction of a free life, satan is on the prowl to hurt us with god’s commands, turning them into a system of religious ‘rules’.

i don’t want to miss anything paul is teaching us. 

what have you pulled out of this passage?

we’ve spent the last few weeks studying the differences and meanings of law v. sin.

what point {do you think} paul is trying to make?

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