Life after drinking

Last week I was filling out a new patient health questionnaire, giving details on my exercise level, water intake, caffeine, alcohol and tobacco use, when, for the first time ever, I marked the None box beside alcohol.

None!

I used to lie on those questionnaires, downplaying.

It’s been one year. One dramatically different, altogether quiet and peaceful year. A month into sobriety, I had a glass of wine at a fancy dinner. It seemed like the thing to do, but it didn’t taste good and I felt like a fraud, drinking only to fit in. I ended up leaving it. In hindsight, I can see that dinner was a turning point, just as checking the None box was another. They are clicks, switches, personal proofs I relish encountering from time to time to remind me that I am done.

In my 20’s, I used to say that I was suspicious of anyone who didn’t drink, as if they were lacking and abnormal.

I spent my 30’s in a whirling social life, part glamorous, part bohemian, all indulgent, with alcohol as the frosting on a crumbling cake. A friend’s words ring in my ears to this day: “We love Kellie; we just don’t love drunk Kellie.” I was the girl who was too drunk to drive home at most parties. I would reliably show up with champagne at any Saturday morning event. I could have a blast doing anything so long as cocktails were involved. And of course, they always were.

Column 53 - Champagne
Eight years ago, I was very good at opening and pouring champagne. 

Booze is so ingrained in our way of life that I’m inclined to become something of a conspiracy theorist: i.e., this great numbing of the masses is one of the many tools meant to keep us as distant as possible from our birthright – the Peace that Passeth Understanding. It should be a universal wisdom allowing our release from suffering, our enlightenment from the dark grasp of the ego, our salvation from a hell we wrought and wrangled ourselves.

Many years ago, author and spiritual teacher Wayne Dyer said something that rocked me to the core…his own teacher had helped him to understand that so long as he was drinking (he had a one-beer-a-day habit) he would not be able to reach his spiritual goals. Heaven on earth wasn’t possible. Enlightenment was out of reach. Even from just one beer a day.

Such was the power of the almighty drink. Such is our propensity to create false gods.

Drug and alcohol addiction have a nasty stigma in our culture, as well they should, being life-destroyers and all. But in terms of spirituality, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, addiction is addiction is addiction. Sugar, shopping, success, sex, social media, etc., …it’s all a paltry replacement in our sadly human attempt to fill the void left gaping and raw from denying our connection to God.

Drinking just happened to be the one I needed to address first.

I was lucky. I had a drinking partner who loved me, loved Us. We quit together, even while we were apart and drowning. Once we had rebirthed our commitment and moved back in together, it was easy to put Us first. Socially here at The Angle, there was almost nothing we did without a drink in hand or imbibing heavily beforehand. So we quit all that too.

I’ve struggled here in this isolated place having zero friends that I see consistently. But, I was a selfish friend anyway. I was a lousy employee, a mess-making daughter, a neglectful sister, a whining writer, and even a bad mom.

But as the sober weeks wore on, each one easier than the last, life started to change. It became slower, sweeter and infinitely more satisfying. I don’t fear missing out as I used to and I don’t feel left-out, though we often were in the beginning.

My intuition is back. My patience – once I got through the physical and emotional detox – has increased. My desire to create is more purposeful and much more determined.

My skin and hair are healthier. My vision is sharper. My reflexes are keen and dependable. My struggle with extra weight is ever-present, but it’s now about making Tony’s favorite pasta and Iris’ favorite granola bars, rather than about consuming a thousand calories from a bottle on a barstool.

I hadn’t known how to love, how to give, how to listen, how to be still as I do now. The emotional ups and downs still come, but they are manageable because I’m aware instead of numb. Guilt, self-hatred and death used to plague my thoughts. No longer.

The first time I reached to join hands with my little family around the dinner table, it felt terribly awkward. I didn’t know how to pray so I looked them in the eyes and said quietly, “I love my family.”

That’s what not-drinking has become for me. I love my family, I love my man, and I’m starting to love myself enough to want what God wants for me.

I know it’s important to bless my past. I even bless the booze. I’m grateful for the journey. After all, it brought me here.

Here to this place where not drinking is normal, where the love of my nuclear family is just the beginning, where Check boxes help define how far I’ve come.

Life after drinking is worth the challenge of change. Life after drinking is finally living.

 

(Column 53 – Published in the March 14 Warroad Pioneer)

Fishing for Humanity

 

This past weekend I went trout fishing. I caught a bass.

One olive green, bug-eyed small mouth who tacitly reminded me that I’ve been taking this ridiculous and beautiful game far too seriously. She said exactly that as I looked into the placid depths of her dark eyes. I drug her up from 60 feet on a barbless hook as fast as I could reel, and she forgave me instantly. The experience left her shocked, and she lolled about in the ice hole for a time before coming back to her fish senses. Silently, so as not to appear too off my rocker to those fishing with me, I said Thank You and wished her well on her journey home.

I’ve been lolling about in the ice hole too, stunned that all is not as I believed it was. That the game isn’t being played by the limited rules I had once understood. That the false-bottom my Vexilar displayed is a million times more complex than I once thought, though still false.

Life isn’t what it seems.

My bass saw it and accepted it without understanding. But bass don’t have an ego masquerading as a spiritual quest.

Sure, I can continue to write about our quaint gravel roads and the close proximity of wildlife. I can rhapsodize about the birds at the feeder or make melodies of the scampering squirrels and pine martens. I can translate as the wind pushes winter off the trees yet again, or romanticize the solitude and the seekers who find themselves here to unwind.

But what’s happening within me dictates what I see without.

And I see a tiny community in existential crisis, because I am. I see a country totally divided, because I am. I see the vocal majority picking on the quiet minority, because that’s what’s happening with me. The big ugly ego within is demonizing the still quiet voice, because one spells love, truth and the awareness of the other. And we all know it’s not the loud-mouth who’s gonna win in the end.

My fundamental notions of what life is all about have been breaking down for some time, but witnessing what’s going on in the world makes the internal escalation now feel frantic, chaotic.

Is anyone else feeling this? As if something’s gotta give and soon or it’s all just going to collapse?

This morning I awoke from a dream about a waiting room of sorts at a makeshift birth center. I sat in the middle with the organizers, and around the edges of the huge rectangular room were women of every color, creed, shape, size and social status, their pregnant bellies full and prominent. Some were alone. Some had partners. Some reclined on matts on the ground. Others curled in sleep. Some danced the slow sensual dance of creation. Some stood rigid and tight. Some women laughed and sang. Others wept silently.

My four-year old had found her way to my bed again, and as I lay awake unmoving, thinking about my dream, she said loudly in her sleep, “Yep! We are tree frogs.”

I long to be able to see the hearts of the people behind all the social constructs, beyond the religious labels, despite the political leanings. I want to see two people of different belief systems stare each other in the eyes until they can both recognize the humanity in the other. I want to see a big-bellied Muslim women next to a big-bellied Christian woman and all the fear and hatred be put aside in honor of the life they bring into the world.

It feels like that’s what everyone everywhere is fighting for. “Acknowledge my humanity. See my suffering. See me. Love me.”

We are the same, and yet we spend every ounce of our egoic energy working to define and differentiate our Selves and then even more to defend the righteousness of our differences. But, we are an idea, nothing more. The way we’ve got it all constructed, these crazy lives surrounded by meaningless crap in this crazy constructed world. It’s all just ideas, reinforced rather messily with more made-up ideas that seem as real as every dream does while we’re in it, unawake and unaware that we are dreaming. Every single one of us is screaming through our night terrors that “My ideas matter. My stuff matters. I matter.”

But we – as we see ourselves and as we want others to see us – are just ideas. And we WILL wake up, because that is the law of dreams. We can’t choose to stay in the dream because it doesn’t exist.

What we really are is those babies about to be born in that big room of creation. We are undefined and perfect. We are loved without knowing it or knowing we need it. We are the same as the baby born next to us whose skin tone is totally different. We are the same whether our grandmother prayed in a mosque or a temple or a wide-open meadow. We are the same whether it was a woman or a man who held our mother’s hand as we came into the world. We ARE the same.

Beware of those who tell you you are different. Beware of those who tell you you are better. Beware of those who tell you to defend you. They are afraid. They are lost in their night terrors and they want you to join them in hopes that they will feel less alone and less afraid.

Don’t.

Unless you are awake and can gently guide them back to here and now and help them awaken to see it was all a dream, don’t go down to meet them.

Rise up and dream of love, if you must dream at all. If they insist on falling back asleep, coax them into dreams of tree frogs and trout, I mean bass. Or better, rise up holding their hand and show them the dreams of humanity standing together. Seeing each other. Loving each other. Show them that every good thing is possible, even finding meaning in the eyes of an olive green small mouth bass that was supposed to be a lake trout.

(Published in the Feb 28 Warroad Pioneer)

Tastes of The Angle

Bone Broth for the Soul

Bone broth has become as trendy as quinoa, kale and chia seeds. Suburbanites can drive-through a broth stand for their daily dose, and New Yorkers can pick up a mug right alongside their wheat grass shots.

Here in the wild woods, we make it the good old-fashioned way: with Lake of the Woods fish carcasses or Minnesota whitetail antler and bones or from young roosters and old hens past their egg-laying prime. Continue reading “Tastes of The Angle”

On Corporal Punishment

(Column 50 – published in the Feb 14th Warroad Pioneer)

Life is heavy at times. Like the weight of the rain on top of our snow base, thickening a crust that can hold the fox and a four-year old but not the sharp-hooved deer and a Muck-booted mama.

I have emerged from my self-imposed social hibernation with short trips here and there. Sledding, skating, fishing. A weekend Kenora visit along the winding ice road.

We even scheduled a date, as many couples do, leaving the little human with the grandparents for an evening. It was pleasant to sit quietly over dinner, talking only with the man I choose to love about topics that make us smile. There was no struggle to find non-phone distractions keeping a new four year-old occupied and in her seat.

At The Angle and near-abouts, we allow her the freedom to roam and visit with strangers. Social interaction is a commodity in this lonely road’s-end home, but she is unafraid and inquisitive, and people are beautiful and interesting. Her forming sense of identity is still innocent enough to readily share what she knows of herself with them. It is a gift she can give truly, sincerely.

I hope she will always give.

So many of us go so far away from that as we age. What we call life seems mostly about “getting” and “keeping.”  Me. Mine. My family’s. My country’s. The more successful we are in “getting,” the more revered we think we are. The more “getting” we achieve, through whatever means, the more justified we feel in labeling those who have more barriers to “getting” as lazy and freeloaders. Some who are born “having” are granted the elevation the rest of us earn through hard work. They, in their unearned “wisdom,” are boosted by the people whose heads they stand on, and they climb more quickly because they started further up where the rungs are closer together.  It is comforting to put our salvation in their hands, yet it is hard to see from way down here that their hands are, in fact, NOT held open to those below them. No, their hands are white-knuckled around each rung as onward, upward they climb to see what else they can “get.”

It is understandable how we came to be this way – this selfish putting-first of everything pertaining to me and mine, this closed-eye faith in those who did a better job of “getting” and “keeping” than we. In a word: fear. I wrote in my last column that fear, in and of itself, is very simple. Just as darkness is the absence of light, fear is the absence of love.

Simple in definition, perhaps, but complex in its manifestations. As a parent, I hold many fears about my child’s future. So much seems beyond my control. In reality, what matters most is completely within my power to transform.

Most fear is taught. Studies have shown that 90% of all parents inflict physical pain as a way to teach right behavior from wrong. Fear certainly serves a useful purpose in keeping us safe from lions and tigers and bears for example, but in the case of corporal punishment, our moral decisions are then built on the fear of physical pain. As we grow, it is natural for us to go into self-protection mode when anything uncomfortable confronts us.

Me. Mine. Protect.

From the minutest example of a parent spanking a child to the grandest scale of a dictator’s deadly regime, fear of physical pain is a biological weapon used to enforce obedience.

Unquestioning subservience over time becomes blind glorification of the ties that bind.

As a result, there are billions of child-adults who logically choose Me/Mine over what is morally right. We run away from perceived fear instead of walking towards it shining our lights to examine its nothingness.  We hold close what we believe won’t hurt us. We make enemies out of the slightest possibility of pain.

Me. Mine. Get. Keep. Push. Punish. Protect. Disconnect. Demonize.

Jesus, the Buddha, Mohammad would never have struck a child, no matter what the crime. Why do we think it’s okay that we parent in a manner different from how God loves us? God doesn’t isolate us in time-outs either.

My Bible study group argued once that God in fact does punish us BECAUSE he loves us, and that is supposedly what parents spanking their children is all about. I disagree with every ounce of my being. We may perceive the consequences of our wrong actions as punishment, but the two are very different things. Consequences are natural, organic. They are our mistakes correcting themselves, our free will teaching us to be still and listen to the voice of God.

Punishment is the hell humans put each other through when we’ve stopped listening to God.

Yes, I have spanked and slapped hands in my ill-formed, ever-evolving parenting approach, but it was certainly not out of love. No punishment is born of love. Punishment is the result of plain and simple fear that the child will become the manifestation of the behavior we have judged as wrong. Spanking a child for failing to pick up toys is about our fear of them becoming irresponsible and slovenly, but more importantly, it’s about our fear of losing totalitarian control in our home, in our lives. “She didn’t listen to me, so I punished her” actually means “I am afraid of not being fully in control of what I consider ‘mine’ and of perceived disrespect towards that which I consider “me.”

So, yes, it is understandable, but it’s not OK. Spanking gets results in the short term, but I’m not raising my child short term. “I was spanked, and I turned out okay,” I might say, defensively. But did I really? Look at all the fears I hold, desperately, tightly, as if they were my Beloved.

In the game of Love – and make no mistake, that is the only game there is – none of it makes any sense. We have grown to physical adulthood and yet our spiritual maturity has been left in the smiling eyes of the four year-olds we once were.

Give, said Jesus.

Give mercy, said Mohammad.

First, practice generosity, said the Buddha.

That is the way to freedom.

Freedom is what I want, and it’s what I want for my child. Spankings and punishment become stillness and connection. Me and Mine becomes Us and Ours. Man-made borders become ribbons connecting the beauty of humanity.

We walk awkwardly through the snow. Her chatter balances my silence. I give.

Life is the crashing through the crust time and time again and yet crawling on. Because that is how I grow. That is how I gather strength and endurance for the tests ahead. For the toppling of the ladder. For forgiveness of the head-steppers. For unclenching their fear-filled fists so that we may join hands. As children would.

Bringing the Light

(Column 49 – published in the Jan 31st Warroad Pioneer)

My time for despair is over.

Several times in previous columns I have said that this writing-it-down, this metabolizing it onto paper through my soul’s fingers is my therapy. Like walking or talking or exercise, it is the way I work through the suffering, coming out leaner, stronger, more open to the grace that is my everyday compass.

My previous column entitled “Not Ready to Make Nice” was written through the lens of despair, and surprisingly, to no one more than me, it was well-read. It was called both “hate-filled” and “inspiring.” I was called both “courageous” and “a petulant child.”

January 24th edition of the Warroad Pioneer

My intention now isn’t to rebut the rebuttal, but I do think it’s vitally important to continue the conversation. It must start in towns like ours, between disagreeing neighbors like us, about issues that seem so irreconcilable now. If not here in our home, than where? If we cannot heal the great divide even in our small communities, how will we fix the very big and very real problems facing humanity and our planet?

The divide is real and scary ugly, as we can all feel. Both sides believe they are standing in Truth. Both sides feel attacked and denigrated. Both sides, in the end, want the same things: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But I don’t want that for just some of us…I want it for All.

All beating hearts deserve a comfortable life, freedom to be who they are, and a chance at happiness. White males are not more deserving than brown. Men are not more deserving than women. Soldiers are not more deserving than struggling welfare moms.

Once upon a time, I stood in line with my WIC coupons clutched tightly to my chest, and my daughter visits the local dentist and optometrist thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Am I any less deserving of happiness than anyone else?

Simplified to the utmost: God loves his children as one.

We are more than just Angleites or Warroadians or Minnesotans. We are more than Americans. Those of us on the “left,” the ones being called snowflakes and elitests and libtards, seem to feel the call to a global citizenship more keenly than others. But that is how some of us are meant to serve the greater good. We are the tender-minded and the kind-hearted, and it is our place to bring empathy and teach compassion to those who do not come by those qualities as easily.

There are some very tough-minded and hard-hearted people in charge now. It is a different brand of leadership than the US has known in many decades. We all have a responsibility to ensure the marginalized members of our society and our planet do not get pushed aside (or worse) in the name of profit or false patriotism.

A child starves to death every four seconds, and we are wrong if we think it doesn’t impact every single one of us. The suffering is collective. The pain and misery and the need to blame has become epidemic. But even acid rain can transform into snowflakes.

I know my language is that of an idealist. And I’m not ashamed. I will always write what I am called to. I will always ask God to guide my words. I will always be grateful to a community that doesn’t throw literal rocks.

To the brave few, specifically Paul King, Brenda McFarlane and Ron Storey, who publicly voiced their opposition to my viewpoints, I am grateful and I forgive you. I hope you will forgive me when you are ready.

January 24th edition of the Warroad Pioneer

Forgiveness is where it begins.

We needn’t try to change each other; that would only be messing with God’s creations.

My hope is that through our disagreements and our despair, through our words that land so differently depending on the ears, that we can come to truly “see” and appreciate each other. I have not seen you and you do not see me. That, in large part, is the root of my despair. We are utterly disconnected.

This is far more than a political battle. This is spiritual warfare, and it’s going to get much worse before it gets better.

We as individuals will never be “whole” while we cannot see each other.

I once expressed my belief that we don’t need the right to own the kind of guns that were designed solely for the mass slaughter of human beings. My brother, whom I love dearly but completely disagree with, then labeled me as one of those people who “lay down and die.”

I still don’t know exactly what he meant, but I assume it’s something akin to “snowflake.” If you are inclined to read the thoughts of an 18-year ministry veteran on that term, search for John Pavlovitz and “A Snowflake Manifesto.”

My brother’s words “lay down and die” have stayed with me, teaching me. When my ego is not smarting from his intentions to injure me, my thoughts often turn to the old story about a marauding overlord and his followers who swept through the land raping, killing and plundering. They came to a monastery high in the mountains and demanded that all the monks leave or be killed at once. Grateful to be spared, every monk did so except for one. When the men reported to their leader that there was one monk who refused to leave, the overlord became enraged. Never having been disobeyed before, the furious overlord made his way to the seated monk, held his sword at the man’s throat and screamed, “Don’t you know that I can kill you at this moment?”

The monk calmly replied, “Don’t you know that I can let you?”

In that instant, the overlord dropped his sword and fell to his knees, transformed.

That is what I pray for. That is what I will fight towards. Yes, the time for despair has passed. Now it’s time to get back to bringing the light.

January 31 edition of the Warroad Pioneer

Not Ready to Make Nice

 

My feelings are hurt.

Again.

I mean, still.

I try not to have feelings, but unfortunately, I just can’t help it.

Yeah, this is about politics again. Our supposedly broken country, you know…the one that was just starting to work for so many of us, is about to inaugurate a man I wouldn’t let near my child. Continue reading “Not Ready to Make Nice”

Through the Eyes of a 12-Year Old

 

(Column 47 – Published in the January 3rd Warroad Pioneer)

We had all joined hands in a huge family circle before our Christmas dinner, waiting for the last few to straggle in from the various parts of the house. When almost everyone had found a place in the circle, my younger brother Ward stopped the show holding up a piece of paper.

“Ellie wrote this story for school,” he said. “And this would be the perfect time to share it.”

Ellie is his wife’s 12-year old daughter and we welcomed them both as part of our family well before the wedding took place. Ward walked across the big circle. “She’s too embarrassed to read it, but here…,” he handed it to Kristal, our oldest sibling. Kristal is always good at on-the-spottedness.

She found her new reading glasses and within the first paragraph, Ellie, through Kristal, had most of us in tears.

We laughed and we cried, and at the end of this young girls’ story, we all held hands a little bit tighter before letting go for applause and whooping hollers of appreciation. My dad’s voice cracked as he said the blessing and looked around the circle at all of us. “You have no idea how much this means,” he said quietly, referring to the family as he held up both of his linked hands. “Just wait until you get older.” A single tear slipped down.

“You mean like Tony?” Ward guffawed. Everyone laughed.  Several more wise cracks floated through the sentimental wrinkles of our tough facades. But for everyone standing in that circle, and for the few on opposite sides of the country who couldn’t make it, nothing means more to us than this great big and growing-bigger family.

Here is Ellie’s story. It touched my heart to hear about our family’s celebration through her young eyes and tender position. It is one small but hugely important perspective of the amazing big-family experience I’ve been blessed with my whole life. And my dad is right; it only gets more precious as the years go by.

I’ve left her story as it was originally written, without correcting one word or punctuation mark. It comes from where she’s at in the world and it’s exactly perfect as is. Enjoy. And Happy New Year!

The Knight’s Christmas

(By Ellie Sabourin, Age 12)

Every other year the whole Knight family gathers at Grandma Linda’s and Grandpa Bill’s HUGE log cabin, named “The Big House.”  The house looks like those beautiful log houses you see in the magazines. It doesn’t sound like much, but when your grandparents had 8 children, all of them are married, and they all have about 3 children, and not to mention the half dozen dogs that try to eat every scrap that hits the floor. We should have our own movie, like the Griswold’s. Just imagine the chaos and excitement in that house, and the amount of cookies baked.

Since Grandpa has a band, we have a party and the whole Northwest Angle (population 150) comes. It’s so much fun! The Knight Lighters play until 3 in the morning while us kids get thrown into the snowbank by Casy, or for entertainment we put Iris’s Barbie on a remote control snowmobile. Other memorable activities include the 12 days of Christmas puppet theater. We each got to design our homemade sock puppet character with a cartoon singing voice. We also enjoy racing up and down the driveway barefoot in the snow. I’m pretty sure we could be youtube stars.

Grandpa Bill added a swing inside the house hanging from a log beam and we push each other just high enough to touch the delicate and massive moose antler chandelier. One year we put out all the mattresses from the 23 beds into the great room and it was like a trampoline park. When we are all worn out from countless games and running non stop Auntie Kellie spoils us with a big screen projected movie and Grampa’s amazing popcorn with just the right amount of butter (about 2 sticks) and salt.

All the women and girls enjoy baking in the kitchen around the island handbuilt by Grampa. Our family is so big we have a calendar that tells us whose turn it is to cook. We all get a turn to make a mess and taste test our creations. My favorite is the ice cream that Layla and I made from snow. I also enjoy decorating sugar cookies with Oma and Auntie Kristal except the little boys eat them faster than we bake them.

Last year in particular was one of my favorites. We had a expedition to get Grandma a real Christmas tree to add to the 6 artificial ones. Here’s the challenge….we had to get 22 children round up, dressed up and loaded up into sleds and snowmobiles. Talk about being squished like sardines into sleds! Plus the tree had to come back with us, after much disagreement on choosing the perfect tree. As children were dozing off in the snow we finally agreed to disagree on the perfect tree, did a headcount and headed off back home. Every little kid on the way back were saying “my hands are cold, i have to pee, don’t touch me, are we there yet?” A 45 minute deal turns into an 2 hour deal.

Then Nolan, Layla and I went snowmobiling with a sled. It was freedom from the little kids and a opportunity to start a new game. We called it Whiplash were one crazy driving cousin pulls someone on the sled behind them whipping them off the sled into the field. The person with the least amount of falls win. After all that pain we are rewarded with delicious hot chocolate.

Another favorite activity is we got to make gingerbread houses with Auntie Kristal who bought every kind of candy in the world. Most candies were eaten before houses were assembled. The most talked about and debated tradition would have to be the girls against boys ice fishing competition. We spend the whole day on the ice. One year the boys cheated when someone in a nearby fish house offered the boys there extra fish. Of course they added that to their total, winning by 1 fish or something like that. But details don’t matter and we all had a great time.

I can’t wait for this upcoming Christmas. No matter what we do, we always have fun because we are together. With all the chaos and excitement you are never bored! I love being a grandchild in the Knight family even if I have to wait in line to use a bathroom (there’s 3).