Awake and sober – the journey continues

It’s getting easier to talk about. We’ve been non-drinkers for two years now and it’s time to look back at who we truly were before we quit.

Today, March 8th is our two-year sober anniversary. Our “sobriversary” as I can call it now that we’ve had more than one.

We didn’t go to rehab. We haven’t attended any meetings. We just quit. Continue reading “Awake and sober – the journey continues”

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)

The Task at Hand

 

Column 31 Published in the July 5,2016 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

Well hello there, July. Welcome, and we’ll take you, biting black flies and all.

June, the moody mistress that she was, blessed us with an abundance of variety. Steady? No, not she. She took us from whipping winds and bone chilling wet to sweltering heat that sat heavy and dense like a used towel left to dry in a heap.

A recent June day, I remarked to no one in particular in my otherwise unoccupied vehicle, “You know it’s a Windy day when there are miniature white caps on the standing water in the farmers’ fields.”

I love the long drive into town passing the many fields in their different states of dress and undress. The neighboring farmers are the buffer as we move from our densely wooded community to the progressively more open and populated, albeit still sparsely, outskirts of these rural towns. The hearts of their downtown areas and the bustle of their local commerce is a welcome change to the remote day-to-day life that is The Angle’s.

Our tourism economy here at The Angle gives the impression of busy-ness everywhere you look, and indeed we are a hard-working community. But there’s also a hint of loneliness that hangs in the air just as it does on the busiest city streets.

Peculiar to our species, no doubt, we are seeking. We are aching. Wondering. We get so consumed with taking care of our own egoic pursuits that we often fail to make the heart connections that are so vital to our growth, our happiness.

The tabloid of my life at The Angle: the off and on relationship, the ragged, yet wholehearted endeavors to find my place in our misfit community, the craving and searching for soulful, authentic connections, it all continually points me back to learning about love, forgiveness and God.

A Course in Miracles continues to be an almost daily guide for me. It has reminded me yet again that ANYTHING, if it’s not Love, is fear. If a thought doesn’t bring joy, then it is riding on fear, however deeply hidden. Stress equals fear equals illusion equals false, no matter how fiercely I believe in it. If a thought brings anything other than an abiding joy, it is not of God, not of reality. What a bonanza that knowledge is! I write it again and again solely so that I may continue to learn it. We’ve created all these illusions ourselves, and I can finally see that breaking down the fear-based illusions is my life’s work.

There is a certain peace that has settled in now that I no longer have to strive to learn unconditional love. It seemed such an impossible task even mere months ago. I would fail and fail again at every test, judging this, fearing that.

In fact, “unconditional love” is redundant. If it’s not unconditional, it’s not Love. Fear can create love-like feelings, but it takes only a careful look and I’ll see the cracks in the foundation.

Love is our true nature, and we’ll return to it regardless of our earthly wanderings, our raging Get and Keep egos, our ramshackle life stories created largely on fear.

Recognizing what fear has built in my life is my task now. Perhaps that is why my journey led me here, back to Minnesota, to The Angle, so that I may lead a simpler life closer to family and closer to the land.

It would seem there are less trappings here and that living more wholesomely would be a boon. Oh, but Egos are tricky beasts. They will latch on to anything, wrap their fear tentacles around it and create stress under the guise of achievement. Mine has built the illusion of “so much to do” that at times, I can barely breathe.

I was a steady drinker for two decades of my life because my ego had run rampant. Escaping felt like part of surviving, but in fact it only slowed my recognition. I see now that addictions are so prevalent in our culture because we are so mind-identified. Alcoholism has a nasty social stigma, for sure, but if I’ve learned anything over the past many years, it’s that addiction is addiction is addiction.

Guilt seems like a noble cloak to wear in the aftermath of addiction, but it’s not. Guilt comes from fear.

There are many who would argue to the death that what they fear is indeed real. Fear seems real to us because we believe in it and we believe in it because we created it.

I don’t want a life lived in defense of what I’m afraid of. I want a life broken open to Love. Raw and real. Graceful in it’s slow reveal, like the pregnant fields on my drive to town. Like the beauty in my three-year-old’s sly smile as she learns new and better hide-and-seek spots. Like the subdued glory of the pink and white lady slippers that pepper the ditches along our rural highways for just these few shorts weeks this time of year.

I want to see it all. Especially my fears. Bring it on, July.

 

 

(Alas, my lady slipper photo was too blurry. The above photo was pulled from Flickr via the MSFT bank of online photos using the Common Creative content licensing. I don’t know the person’s name to give them credit, unfortunately. So beautiful.)

Falling back in love

Column 16 Published in the December 8th issue of the Warroad Pioneer

It’s not hard to get hooked on this place.

Oh, perhaps when you first start coming here you look around, vacantly, like I did, at all the great nothingness, the remote and simple lifestyle, the ever-present hardships and doing-without, the still-waters-run-deep people who are slower to let you ‘in’ than pine gum runs in winter. Perhaps you decide, like the majority, that the annual or bi-annual visit is enough. Or…perhaps you, at a near subconscious pace, start taking note of the few and far between real-estate signs, the jovial attitudes of the locals enjoying their freedoms, the wildlife, the birdsong, the beauty in a rutted gravel road.

Not too long ago, when a good gal pal and I were working through similar hardships with life and men, we’d walk the trails and the roads wondering how it came to be that we had momentarily fallen out of love with The Angle. We’d lost our eye for the mystery and romance of what we called our own Secret Garden.

Often, it would take only that walk and that bit of talking to my friend, the trees, the listening birds, to clear my head and bring me back to the beauty of it all.

Women, it seems, suffer from the chatterbox mind more than the menfolk do. Diffuse awareness, author and relationship expert Alison Armstrong calls it. In the faraway past, men would focus all physical and mental energy to bring down a four-legged beast to feed family and village. Women, on the other hand, didn’t have the luxury of a one-track mind. Out of necessity, we’ve always been multi-taskers. In the time it takes the hunters to sharpen their tools, we tend the fires that stew the old bones, cure the hides, carry the little ones and ensure the bigger ones don’t wander too close to the stream. We dig for root vegetables, gather nuts and seeds for winter stock, take mental note that the stone cherries will be ripe in a week and store away a long-term reminder to come back a couple weeks earlier next year for the blueberries in the meadow two hills over. All the while, we keep eyes and ears acutely tuned for signs of danger.

Of course, our greatest strength can also be our greatest weakness. In my case, and I’m sure that of many women, diffuse awareness in this day of easy survival is the thorn when we’d like to get out of our minds and relax back into the physical, into the now. Compartmentalizing is difficult, if not impossible. We can’t slow down, enjoy, and receive. And presently, we fall out of love with anything that we perceive as pressure.

Women need to be in love.

Marianne Williamson writes in her beautiful book A Woman’s Worth that it’s a need as real as the need to breathe. A man or partner, a job, a child, a project, a home, a friendship:

We need to be in love with anything that we can throw ourselves into and make it more beautiful for having loved it.

That is exactly how I feel about The Angle. It’s why I work so hard on a few small projects that have big potential for such a small community. It’s why I’ve torn open my soul to write truthfully about the ugliness of addiction and the scars it’s leaving on this place and these hearty people. I know something good will come of that, even if the re-lived pain is real during the writing and during the subsequent public critique. I’ve been asked to self-censor for the sake of privacy, but what good would that do anyone? I much prefer to let manure become fertilizer so that beauty may grow for all to experience. A writer writes in order to heal, to work towards self-forgiveness, self-love, and if there’s anything of worth for others along the way, that is the gift we offer.

After losing myself and all of life’s grace and beauty in a short stint of domestic despair, the worst of which will never be written about publicly, I’m falling back in love with The Angle. I’m falling back in love with myself. With the reasons I came here and chose to stay. With motherhood. With friendships and family relationships long neglected. I’m falling back in love with life.

And it won’t be long now, after that long, roaring belly-laugh that is building, building, that I realize life and all of its compartments never fell out of love with me in the first place.

Drowning in Hell

Column 15 Published in the November 24, 2015 Warroad Pioneer

 

There are many ways for a person to drown. Struggling for breath, for life can appear calm and quiet to the unknowing observer. Living on a lake and raising a toddler requires knowledge that no parent hopes they’ll need. Living beside alcoholism necessitates another kind of knowing.

I’m watching someone drown.

They aren’t waving their hands in the air for help. They aren’t sputtering breathlessly for a lifeline. The vocal chords of someone drowning automatically constrict to prevent more water from entering the lungs. The stomach fills up with water and the extra weight then makes them sink. It’s painful and terrifying, according to the literature.

In the case of alcoholism, perhaps the booze numbs that pain and terror enough to allow them to project some semblance of normalcy. Surely they know their predicament, but the water feels warm, the danger feels far away.

I have gotten close enough to see that the danger is real. I have jumped in to try to save them. I have thrown ropes from the shore. I have tried tantalizing them to stand up in the shallows and walk towards what they desire. I have tried love. I have tried anger. I have tried ultimatums.

When none of it worked, when all of it only served to drag me into the water as well – being already a little susceptible to the lies of booze – I had to walk away. It’s been a slow and agonizing walk, and I keep turning back to see if something else might possibly help.

Hard lessons learned, as I wrote about last time, torturous as they may be, still serve a purpose.

It’s gut-wrenching to watch someone you love slowly go down. And I fully admit I’m not strong enough to watch anymore. I have to shield my eyes and those of my child. But I’ve also recently written about letting things lie, and in fact, I have learned that lesson. I can’t do it any longer.

So, getting to my point, I want to talk about enablers and the enabling lifestyle that is The Angle’s. Anyone who was upset by my previous columns, anyone who thought I got too personal, here is your Stop Reading warning.

I’m watching someone drown. And so are you.

I’m not strong enough to pull them to shore on my own. I’ve failed. I’ve been the worst kind of enabler.

An enabler is someone who, by their actions, allows an addict to continue their self-destructive behavior, according to Darlene Albury, LMSW. Enablers avoid conflict by protecting addicts from their problems, not holding them accountable for their wrong-doings, and assisting them with normal life responsibilities that would otherwise fall by the wayside.

The Angle is unique in that we are a strong little community of freedom fighters. We toil and work, celebrate and love, grieve and heal side by side. We get into jams. We break. We borrow. We lend. We are family and neighbors.

We put up with the hardships of living at The Angle because we love what we get in return. Namely, freedom.

But anywhere else, the addicts we all know and love would have had the opportunity to reach bottom by now. They would have lost everything. They would be pulling themselves up by their worn bootstraps because they have no other choice.

They would change or they would die.

But here, we gently push them out of the ditch, back on the rutted gravel and on their way to the next drink with only so much as a shake of our head and maybe a scornful look. We make excuses that this is just how it is at The Angle, and aren’t we lucky that we don’t live somewhere else where flashing lights can appear behind our swerving vehicle or our speeding boat.

If my words serve to bring the law down on us more harshly, so be it. I’ll live with the disdain of my neighbors if it helps someone, anyone get help in grappling with the demon that has them by the throat.

Enabling an addict is dangerous and damaging because unless an addict is fully experiencing the harsh life consequences of their choices, they have no incentive to change. They could and likely will continue to spiral into more deadly territory with every unwise decision.

Rumor has it that there is a makeshift jail cell in an abandoned house along the main drive here at The Angle. In my four short years here, I know of a half-dozen times it should have been legitimately used and wasn’t. And that’s just me. Do terrible things have to happen at The Angle for us to hold anyone accountable?

This rant is not directed at law enforcement. It’s meant for those of us who have turned a blind-eye for too long. Our inaction will lead to the law getting involved eventually, and that’s obviously not what anyone wants.

For the most part, we live a quiet, peaceful life here. But it’s time to make waves.

It’s time to loudly and forcefully help those who can’t help themselves. Do it with gritted teeth. Use curse words if you need to. Call. Show up. Get in their face. Coddling hasn’t worked. Ignoring it hasn’t helped. Love them enough to finally say, “Enough.”

Enabling is a lose-lose situation; I know that first-hand.

Enablers are not the bad guys. Worst case, our lives are in shambles because we’ve directed all energy to a lost-cause for years. Enablers need the love and support of a community just as much as the addicts.

If you think this isn’t about you, you’re wrong. If you think you don’t know someone in this situation, you’re wrong. All addictions are equal. People attach a more shameful stigma to certain addictions, but they are indeed all the same, coming from a place of disconnect with Source, Love, God, whatever you want to call it. Enablers, addicts, bystanders, we are also all the same.

That said, a quote fell into my lap recently, as they often do when I am praying, pleading, weeping for guidance. At the risk of offending a few more people, I’ll close with interpreted words from Dante’s Inferno, used frequently once upon a time by John F. Kennedy,

“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a time of moral crisis, remain neutral”.

Drowning in hell is no way to live. Something must be done.

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A Man’s World

Column 11 Published in the September 29 Warroad Pioneer

 

The Angle is undeniably a man’s world. It is a land of extremes governed by a hearty few who have toiled under back-breaking conditions to make it the civilized mess it is today. I have read the dry and distant history books of this place; I have visited on end with the old-timers; I have thrown myself into the community jumble as much as anyone can, and still I know nothing.

My future at the Angle is as up in the air as the wind-riding pelicans. I am still very much a newcomer, and now I may be a short-timer. There are less than a handful of single ladies at the Angle, and suddenly there’s a new demographic, one single mom, or as my weathered ex likes to say “a single mom at age 40 who still lives with her parents, has no job and no car.”

It’s all truth. I turn 40 in November, live with my parents in their large unfinished B&B, and my hand-me-down Angle vehicle barely runs; I have to air up the tire and reconnect the battery every time I want to use it. I’ve never really had a fulltime “job” here at the Angle, but I do make a sustainable income, and, unlike some, I keep track of every penny and report it on my taxes each spring. Normal jobs for women at The Angle involve slinging drinks, flipping burgers or cleaning cabins. Jobs for men are in fishing, heavy equipment and construction. There are exceptions on each side, of course, for the lucky few (or unlucky, depending on your vantage) who sit behind a desk at home or manage to be a Jill of All Trades.

Regardless, we keep busy in a man’s world. Everything and everyone is commoditized, especially women. In this world, our worth is measured first by our appearance, second by our helpfulness and third by our survivability, because yes, The Angle way of life can certainly be a test of extreme survival in a matter of moments if someone is careless or disregards intuition.

Driven by the desire to learn and honor, I’ve started to dive in to the stories of the amazing women who shaped The Angle. Earlier this summer I interviewed Joan Undahl, a gracious and lovely lady who can, but doesn’t, claim the title of The Angle’s first (and only?) woman fishing guide. She seemed completely oblivious to the power, leadership and compassion that came through in her voice. She is an islander, a more challenging life-style by far than simply living on The Angle mainland.

I assumed we were all one community, and that is how Mrs. Undahl told the story as well. But while the feminine unites, the masculine seems to divide. As I watched my recent relationship crumble, I heard again and again the words that I couldn’t get on board with how “half the Angle does things.” Apparently there are two different worlds up here: it’s not the stodgy landlubbers vs. the hard-living islanders as he might have had me believe. Rather, it’s those who want to keep themselves and The Angle growing forward in a positive direction vs. those who resist change and insist on the old ways.

Drinking and carousing seem to be written into The Angle rule book by the very men who built this place, the same ones who now complain about it following its natural evolutionary path that they helped kick start.

It was Marilyn Monroe, the most commoditized of all beauties, who said, “I don’t mind living in a man’s world as long as I can be a woman in it.” I came to The Angle and danced in my long pink hippie skirts. I let my hair go curly and natural. I brought a bubbly little blonde force of feminine energy into this world in my out-of-wedlock child. And we love it here.

Around the world, people are aware that life is changing. The feminine is rising into partnership with the masculine. And The Angle is no different. Human beings are undergoing a massive change and turning away from old perceptions and ideas. In 2009, at the Vancouver Peace Summit, the Dalai Lama said, “The world will be saved by the Western Woman.” Our natural gifts of intuition, healing and building community will be the foundation of that saving grace.

Some might say that airing dirty laundry in public is unbecoming. But once upon a time, we were all down by the river washing our rags on the flat rocks of love and connection.

Today, I prefer to cleanse mine through all manner of therapeutic remedies and then hang it out in the gale force wind to dry. For the most part, these beautiful, thick-skinned Angle folk would simply chuckle if the winds of change blew something unmentionable across their lawn. It might be a man’s world, but it does indeed need saving. Thankfully, some of us have the energy and inspiration to change our own lives and help make a difference outside of ourselves as well.

Home is where the Heart Breaks and Mends

 

Column 10 Published in the September 15 Warroad Pioneer

Most all of us have been through heartbreak. It’s a pain that is as real as any physical injury pain, and the internal stress it causes our body has been proven.

I moved to The Angle for love. I was full of hope for the potential of the relationship and the simple, back-to-the-earth lifestyle that the Angle could provide. We kept a long distance courtship going for nearly two years before I was ready to leave the bustle of beautiful Seattle and the false feeling of importance a corporate job at Microsoft gave me.

Once here, the “when-in-Rome” attitude became apparent immediately. People come to resort communities on vacation, and the unmeasured majority of those people incorporate drinking into that vacation. And so, for the small number of permanent residents and temporary workers, alcohol is a big part of this way of life. The fishing guides drink with their clients after a day on the water. Resort workers take their meals in the bar. The only gathering place on the mainland is a bar/restaurant, and it’s where we hold our community potlucks, our holiday and birthday parties, and most every other social gathering.

It takes a toll. Drinking, both of ours, destroyed our relationship.

According to Allen Carr’s book, “The Easy Way to Stop Drinking,” 90% of US adults drink alcohol and an alcoholic will spend, on average, $116,000 on booze in their lifetime. Claiming the label of “social drinker,” I have long faced my own battle with this deadly drug, but only recently have I noticed the prevalence of the social messages that glorify drinking. When I heard a group of sweet 15-year old girls singing “I’m getting’ drunk on a plane,” I wanted to weep. 95% of today’s country songs mention alcohol, bars, or being intoxicated – which was my own unofficial tally after tuning in for 1.5 hours to one of the three radio stations we receive here at the Angle.

There is no tally of how many of us have waited, tired and broken, for a relationship to become what we wanted it to be. The collective psyche, or “pain body” as Eckhart Tolle calls it, of those who have tried is a heavy weight upon humanity. Alcoholism is another. Turns out, as it always does, instead of expecting external circumstances to change, I should have started from within.

Now, with scary freedom in front of me, I get that opportunity, and here at The Angle of all places, an epicenter of quiet, healing energy not far above the force of bedrock that keeps this place so unchanging and untouched. There’s a thousand miles of forest on one side and a million miles of lake shore on the other. (Thereabouts. A girl can exaggerate when it’s warranted.)

So the healing and growth plan started right after Labor Day, my very own back-to-school of sorts. I began a physical cleanse. I started a gentle workout routine. I’ve sworn off even the innocent social drink until Halloween and hopefully beyond. I’ve submerged myself in the lake as often as I can, even as the water temperature plummets. I listen to uplifting audio books on my long ride to and from town. I’m sharing readings and self-care tasks with a soul sister. I sit with a tree and soak up whatever wisdom it has to offer, a task assigned by said soul sister. She, in all her earthy intelligence, has become my bedrock, my shoulder. She’s experienced the power of The Angle. She’ll be drawn here too someday.

I understand that the drinking way of life isn’t about to change any time soon, here or elsewhere. It’s one of the more powerful and poisonous drugs out there, and it’s completely legal after a certain age, which happens to be 18 in Sprague, Manitoba, the only waystation on our trek back to Minnesota proper.

I also recognize that it is a large part of our livelihood and the resort life here at the Angle. Criticism isn’t my intention. I’m speaking openly in hopes that it will spur accountability and better choices on my part in the future.

Because heartbreak is hard; it’s the stuff of aching songs and soulful suffering. It’s the howling of the wind on the coldest night of the year. It’s the yearning for peace when the waves crash madly against the rocks of my mind, night after night after night.

It’s time for me to be still and quiet, like the deep waters and the untouched forests of this place. It’s time to feel further into the heartbreak, to know it and be it until the suffering becomes love and forgiveness, until the pain becomes gratitude, until the loss and grieving become grace and growth. Home is where the heart breaks and mends. Home is here, now.

 

(This is the only column so far that the wonderful Editor and Publisher of the Warroad Pioneer helped me edit. We had a lovely conversation about it, sharing tears and our own personal histories. I’m so grateful to be able to write for them. In the paper, there was also an Editor’s Note added at the end listing out local resources to help deal with alcohol or substance abuse and the financial and social repercussions that can accompany them.)