It’s Labor Day weekend here in the States – the unofficial end of summer.

This summer has been busy. Lots of trips: Utah, Wyoming, Canada, West Virginia and North Carolina – for eclipse and beach.

Every year we stay at the same beach town in North Carolina. It is a very small town. Well, I guess you could call it a town … there is no stoplight or grocery store or nightlife. Just a perfect beach and a lighthouse and small stores accessible by bike.

And every year I want to stay longer and every year I dream of buying a home there. Why not make it permanent? I find peace there. We’ve certainly invested enough in the town’s economy over the past 20 years. We visit in all seasons, so the winters don’t scare me. In some ways, it seems like a no brainer.

Ah – but the seas are rising. Climate change is real. Maybe this barrier island won’t fare well. Is it a good investment?

I looked it up. It turns out that these barrier islands could survive rising seas and angry hurricanes – but man won’t let them. We have shored up the shore – built jetties and structures on the ocean-facing side of the barrier island to protect homes and businesses, while blocking natural inlets from occurring, which would rebuild the island on the sound side.

We are insisting on control. On status quo. We are in charge, damn it. Fuck that ocean and those inlets and Nature’s plan – we’ve got roads and tourism and plans!

It won’t work, of course. No matter how much sand we bring in to fight the erosion and no matter how deep we dig our heads into that sand. The future is mapped out (quite literally) and the science is real.

Poor scientists. It must suck to always have the answer and have no one care. I wonder how many of them drink too much? Why do they keep doing it – shouting the facts, and facing down the unhappy officials?

I guess it is like parenting or slaying drinking demons – what choice do we have? The fight might be all there is – so we better fight hard.

This morning I went on my summer’s last beach walk on this disappearing spot of perfection. I walked south and watched my dog chase the sanderlings and seagulls. No, I won’t be buying anything permanent here. I will just visit as often as possible, until one or both of us has disappeared into the sea.

As I turned to walk back, I thought of this poem, that Richard Rohr uses so beautifully in his book Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps. It is one of my favorites.


I built my house by the sea.
Not on the sands, mind you;
not on the shifting sand.
And I built it of rock.

A strong house
by a strong sea.
And we got well acquainted, the sea and I.
Good neighbors.
Not that we spoke much.
We met in silences.
Respectful, keeping our distance,
but looking our thoughts across the fence of sand.
Always, the fence of sand our barrier,
always, the sand between.

And then one day,
-and I still don’t know how it happened –
the sea came.
Without warning.

Without welcome, even
Not sudden and swift, but a shifting across the sand like wine,
less like the flow of water than the flow of blood.
Slow, but coming.
Slow, but flowing like an open wound.
And I thought of flight and I thought of drowning and I thought of death.
And while I thought the sea crept higher, till it reached my door.
And I knew, then, there was neither flight, nor death, nor drowning.
That when the sea comes calling, you stop being neighbors,
Well acquainted, friendly-at-a-distance neighbors,
And you give your house for a coral castle,
And you learn to breathe underwater.



Making it happen

It is harder this time.

I know that everyone white knuckles it sometimes, but it’s been days now. Weeks really. And my better intentions have been getting their asses kicked.

So last week I did what I never, ever thought I would do: I asked someone for help.

I called a friend in recovery. I told her my story: two stretches of sobriety; very little understanding from friends or family; overwhelmed at work; panicked about the state of the world; my love of isolation + couch; etc.

She listened without judgement. Asked a few questions. Clarified one or two things. Then she said: “You need a three-point plan.” And here is the plan she gave me:

  1. Engage your husband. Tell him. Make him see.
  2. Approach work slightly differently.
  3. Reach out to more sober people.

I love a plan. And a three-point plan, well, that is the best kind.

So: 1) Later that day, I sat my husband down. I told him I was hiding liquor bottles (I’ve never gone back to wine, tequila is my jam), sneaking drinks. I told him I needed him to SEE ME. (Just ask me what’s in my fucking glass, you know?!) He’s not used to me needing him. I am a military wife. Historically, I take care of all my/our shit, and he just shows up for the party/event/our life. When I told him I needed him, he seemed surprised (both at my request and at my admission), but not shocked. He is slowly getting on board. (This is a work in progress, for sure.)

2) Work is tricky. I am a consultant. I can’t ask for help – I AM the help. I am deep into a two-year project that is more complicated and nuanced than anything I’ve ever done before. (Lots of IT stuff that does not come intuitively to me.) The approach my friend suggested includes asking for clarifications, rather than explanations. (This is also a work in progress.)

3. Where to find more sober people? The truth is, my fear of people is fairly deep-seated. I am really unsteady around most humans. I fake it, but I hate it and do my best to find a quick exit. As for finding sober people, well, I don’t live in Canada, where all the cool sober people live. I know I need some local, American peeps. (But, I need them to hate Trump. This is a non-neogitable.)

I have been going to AA for a few weeks now, but it’s really only half-hearted, and I know I need to fully commit and engage a sponsor, work the steps, etc. There is a woman at AA who I think could be my sponsor. I really like her. I will contact her this week and ask her to meet for coffee. (Hopefully, she will like me and hate our president.) …. And then, last night, at an AA meeting, I ran into a neighbor. Someone who I have always liked in that neighborly way, and who I HAD NO IDEA drank alcoholically. This morning we went on a long walk together. She is as honest and as troubled as I am. (This did not seem like work at all. This was just nice. And, yes, she is also horrified by DJT.)

So, I am making it happen. As best as I can, trying to do the next right thing.

And there is also this hard truth; the one mistake from previous attempts I see very clearly now: I did not value my sobriety as much as I should have. I did not see it as the precious gift that it is. I did not treat it with the respect and protection that it deserved. No one in my established circle of friends and family seemed to care about it, so I decided their opinion was more important than my own and I drowned my sobriety gift in a bottle of tequila.

That is not happening again. This is fucking hard. Three times up this mountain is enough.


Yesterday, I arrived home from our eclipse-watching trip and found two packages from Amazon waiting for me. New sobriety books had arrived – a present from my last-week self.

The eclipse was – well, it blew my mind. We watched it from deep inside a national forest in western North Carolina, where we had camped the night before. It was everything I had hoped it would be. And worth the other-worldly traffic we found ourselves in as we drove home.

But back to the books … first up was the 30-Day Sobriety Solution, which asked readers to do this visualization.

I have done only one other visualization, during a SheRecovers yoga retreat this summer. During that experience, Taryn, the yoga instructor, led us through a visualization while we were lying on our mats in a light-filled room, listening to beautiful music. Taryn gently walked us through a series of conversations/meetings with various people in our lives.

The setting for this latest visualization was much different. The instructor was a voice on a YouTube video. Instead of lying serenly on a yoga mat, I was sitting on my couch, still filthy from our camping trip, surrounded by piles of dirty laundry and half-empty backpacks. My kids interrupted me three times to tell me they were (1) going to the pool; (2) ask where their bathing suits were; (3) tell me goodbye. (We like to give a lot of updates to each other around here.)

And yet – the visualization was still powerful.

It leads you five years into the future and asks you to see yourself as if you have continued drinking. Then it asks you to do the same if you have quit. What do you look like? What does your life look like?

I had no trouble picturing my still-drinking self: bloated, fearful, timid and isolated. Still sitting on the couch, surrendered to the TV and its images and voices of distraction.

The non-drinking self: she was clear-eyed and fit from taking care of herself physically. But, I couldn’t see the details of her life. It felt like she had a real intention and purpose, but I do not see what those were. They were not clear to me.

I think continued sobriety is like the books I sent myself from last week: a gift to my future self. I sort of know what is in the packages, but have to wait it out to learn the details.

Letting go of my sister’s story

So much about my previous sobriety attempts have been about my sister.

In February of last year, we staged an intervention for her. A consultant was engaged and three months of planning ensued. A plot was developed, letters were written, savings/retirement accounts were prepped for withdrawals.

The morning of the intervention, my sister walked into my parents house, looked around at the circle of family waiting for her, and said: “No thank you.”

She walked out. And that was that. We have rarely spoken since that day.

Did we wait too long? Should we have tried other, more subtle attempts before staging an intervention? Does it even matter?

Today, I am pursuing sobriety for myself. When I listen at meetings, I am listening for myself. When I read the sober blogs, I am reading for myself.

When I pray though, I pray for both of us.

It’s probably what I should have done before. Instead I was “like an actor who wants to run the whole show … If only my arrangements would stay put, if only people would do as I wish the show would be great.”

Below is the letter I wrote to my sister. It was meant to be read aloud to her at the intervention. Maybe someday it will reach the intended audience.

My sister, I love you so much. You are the person I have known longest on this Earth. You were my first friend, my first babysitter, my first reliable teenaged driver and my college confidant. As adults we were always close, but after I had my first baby, you truly became more than my sister and became my best friend.

… I learned from you how to be a good mother – both how to care for my son physically, but also how to love him.

One day I watched as you changed his diaper, put his onsie back on him and then, with complete ease and naturalness, caressed his face and kissed him. He looked up at you and gave you a huge smile. Watching you with him blew my mind. Until then, I thought of motherhood as caretaking. I knew to change diapers and feed him. But until I watched you love on him – and watched you as you loved and nurtured your own young children – I didn’t know how to put mothering love into action.

Over the next six years or so we were very close. We talked two, three times a day. Slowly, however, as your drinking increased and the pill use became more prominent, the phone calls became more and more alarming. We had dozens of late-night phone calls where you were drunk and stoned. Many times you said very disturbing things, often about your husband and things he said to you during his own drinking.

Three years ago, while we were all together at the beach house, I walked up to the kitchen to find you drunk and stoned, your eyes were huge and black. You were stuffing food in your face, making a terrible mess and not caring. You were mumbling and talking gibberish. You broke a glass bowl and I had to clean it up. I knew that this terrible, scary scene was what your kids witnessed at your home.

We come from a long line of alcoholics. We are born with a certain genetic makeup and no matter what our intentions or how strong we are or how aware we are of the disease, it does not seem that we can avoid it.

We either become an alcoholic or we marry one. Watching you that night, I realized you had done both. 

The last time we had any sort of honest conversation was about a year ago when I asked you to stop drinking because you were so unavailable to me. You responded, “I’m available to you before 5 p.m.”

I want more of you than that. Your kids need more of you than that. And, most importantly, you deserve a better life than the one you are living.

I miss you so much. I will do everything in my power to help you overcome this disease and reclaim yourself, and become the sister who showed me how to love my own baby.

We worked with (the counselor) Bill for months to bring us to this moment. We have taken the time to find the program that is best for you. We have worked out all the details and tried very hard to create the support you need to recover.

Last fall I was sitting at an orthodontist’s office reading Real Simple magazine. There was an article written by a 40-something-year-old woman in which she complained about getting old.  She wrote that she called her older sister and asked her “can we still get away with v-necks, or are our old necks too chicken-like?” The sister replied, “The time has come to scarf it up.”

I read that article and immediately thought of you and how I want to grow old with you and talk about our necks. I want to talk with you about our children. I want to go on vacations with you. I want to go back to Hawaii and laugh knowingly about how we are too smart in our old age to ever again follow my husband across a volcano field. I want to go with you and Mom back to that town in Italy and stay in the old convent we found and go to mass in beautiful Italian churches.

I want my sister back. I miss her so much and this disease has taken her from me. Please help bring her back to me.

Wholly Stuck – But in Good Company

Just more than a year ago, while sitting at our neighborhood pool with my husband, with no drama or fanfare or readily-apparent reason, I drank a beer.

And with that non-event beer, eighteen months of sobriety was over and a year (+) of navel gazing began.

Why? Why do it?

I wanted to be the same. The same as everyone around me. The same as my friends, my husband, my neighbors – who don’t seem to overthink or overdrink.

I wanted to be different. Different from everyone around me. Different from my sister and my father and my uncles and different from the inescapable truth of my DNA=AA/Family of Origin bullshit.

The result of this latest drinking experiment surprises me not at all. Eventually, despite my clever efforts and exacting plans, I have come back to the same place/moment I’ve been before. And, just like before, it seems I could stay here, in this “high-bottom/low-top,” indefinitely.

NOTHING DIFFERENT EVER HAPPENS: I always keep it together on the outside. I always lose it on the inside. And I stay stuck.

I have a friend, a devout Christian, who refers to the world as “broken.” All the time. Whenever we discuss life’s loss or despair or unfairness she always says the same thing: “Well, we live in a broken world…” (reaches for yet another Belgian Beer…)

I hate that. We aren’t broken. The world isn’t broken. Right this minute, as I sit here uncertain and scared and vulnerable, I am not BROKEN.

Powerless, yes. In need of a Higher Power, yes. Desperately wishing for a Spiritual Awakening, yes. Fully human, yes.

But BROKEN, no.

So, I am not the same as my friend.

And, I am not different from my sister.

I am, as Carl Sagan wrote, “tiny and insignificant and rare and precious.”  And I believe that I belong to something that is greater than myself and that I am the same and I am different – but I am not alone.


Paradise Found

I’m on vacation with my dearest friends and our husbands. Four couples, tropical island, waterfront cottage and the most beautiful, soft air and skies and colors imaginable.

It is impossible to count the shades of blue here.

While it is a far cry from the bleak,  mid-winter weather we left back on the East Coast, our tropical weather has been quite chilly and windy. Unable to snorkel and swim, my friends and husband are spending lazy afternoons with rum drinks and wandering, light-hearted conversations.

It is fun to watch. Until the third or fourth round. Then it is just silly and slightly irritating. So I go for walks and try to count the shades of blue.

Alcohol is ever present in my life and I continue to learn to live around it.

Back at home, my family and I have been preparing an intervention for my sister, the “real alcoholic.” (You will remember that I just dabbled in alcoholism with my one bottle of unoaked Chardonnay a night and daily hangovers. My sister is the real deal.) We are working with a fantastic counselor who recommend Debra Jay‘s books on alcoholism and interventions. Debra is not interested in waiting around for an alcoholic to hit her bottom. She believes we can truly intervene and stop the destruction before it takes its natural course.

What I love about Debra’s approach is that it is so honest. Yes, it is true that you cannot change someone. But you can hold them accountable for their behavior and you can hold yourself to meaningful standards. You can surround yourself with like-minded people who want to see life as it truly is, not filtered through the fuzzy lens of enabling behavior and fear. But instead relishing in the clarity of vision and purpose that truly loving another human being demands of you.

One of the biggest surprises of the process has been just how many people -smart, talented, successful people – do not want to take off the fuzzy lenses. It took two years of persistent pushing before my parents would even look at my sister’s careening life for the shitshow that it is, let alone plan an intervention to address it.

As we put together the intervention team, it was challenging to come up with the right people. We needed a handful of friends and relatives who truly love my sister, even though she is a piece of shit addict.

This means you 1) have to admit that she is an addict (very difficult for lots of people, as my sister is “functioning” outside of her home); and 2) see past the abandoned or false relationships we all currently have with her to who is really is/was, before the alcohol and drugs took over (this is also very challenging, as there are so many legitimate hurts and grievances to nurture).

Another surprise of the counseling process has been the awareness of hurts and grievances that don’t have anything to do directly with my sister, but instead are family-of-origin issues that are long gone, but apparently not forgotten. My father spent 30+  years in Al-Anon, which resulted in his raising his children with a “Let It Go/Live and Let Live” parenting style. At times this seemed the perfect “learn by failing” approach and at other times bordered on neglect.

I will save my “Growing up Al-Anon” thoughts for another day/post, as my friends are all awake now, nursing their hangovers and planning another day in windy and beautiful paradise.

There truly is nothing better than waking up without a hangover. It is paradise every day. No matter my geographic location.


One Year

I reached the One Year mark last week. December 23rd.

I quit drinking because I wanted to see what I am capable of. I wanted an answer to this question: If I quit drinking, would I finally be able to do it ALL (mom, wife, friend, sister, engaged citizen, professional)?

After 12 months of sobriety, my answer to this question is to decline to engage this question. You see, it turns out that I have no desire to do it ALL. In fact, on any give day, I only have a small desire to do one or two things. And I most certainly do not want to do more than one thing at a time.

“Courage requires that we learn to accept our limitations and to live within our boundaries. We are not everything we would like to be. We are not who we would like to be.” –Joan Chittister

I am not who I would like to be. Instead, I like who I am.

In my sobriety, I am still a mother/sister/wife/friend/engaged citizen/professional. But I do not strive for 100 percent perfection in each of these roles. Instead, these roles add up to 100 percent of me.

It is hard to be a woman in today’s culture. There are so many individual struggles and not nearly enough community support. But no matter how often I looked, I never found answers to my loneliness at the bottom of a glass of wine. Just more misery.