Life after drinking

Celebrating our one-year sober anniversary.

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)

For Goodness’ Sake

 

(Column 46 Published in the December 27th Warroad Pioneer’s Special Holiday Issue)

As I wrap Christmas presents for my child, I’m taken back to memories of opening them. My first thoughts are what it must have been like for my mom, scrimping and saving and hand-making leg warmers and hats and mittens to ensure all eight of us kids had a present to open, many presents some years.

The Christmas that stands out gift-wise is when I was somewhere around eight. I unwrapped a telescope and a microscope. Maybe they were even given on different years; it all blends together so tastily in memory soup now.

The telescope and microscope were toys, but not to me back then. The moon was closer. The fruit fly was larger.

I was suddenly wiser.

I set up a Question and Answer booth in my bedroom doorway. My younger siblings would come ask me questions and, looking in my microscope, I would discern the answer.

The telescope was better at examining tall-tree leaves than it was at looking at the galaxies, so my wisdom spread to the whole out of doors as well.

I was in charge. In control.

Science was now mine.

And I charged my brothers and sisters a pretty Monopoly penny for my wisdom.

We did the whole Santa thing this year, for goodness’ sake. She’s three, and she sorta gets it. We wrote a letter. She asked for a trumpet.

Growing up, we didn’t have the luxury of believing in Santa. The church said Halloween and Santa were Wrong Bad Evil, so I have no memories of Trick or Treating or Santa Claus as a young child.

The debate whether or not to allow the magic for Iris was a real one. I had never believed, so now I felt as though I would be lying. I wonder if parents who did believe in Santa find this step easier, find it’s not actually a lie but a gift, perhaps, that they’re nurturing in and for their children.

I love the spirit of giving and I love the sweet stories of Santa’s magic. But I don’t want to lie to my one and only child. Yes, she’ll have a trumpet from Santa under the tree, and we’ll also search out an opportunity to give something away in Santa’s name so she can be part of the magic that way as well.

For the sake of goodness, I need another telescope and a microscope into all of this parenting business. I need a Question and Answer booth to come to, to lay down my colored money and gain wisdom in return. I need a whole lot more than an Amazon Prime membership.

But maybe Santa already knows what I need.

Maybe I just need to believe.

 

 

 

The Knowable and the Unknowable

Column 39 published in the November 1, 2016 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

Angle Schmangle.

Grace Schmace.

I weary of my own proselytizing.

I’m on Week 10 of reading the Bible. The plan skips around a bit, thank goodness; if I had to start at Genesis and plow through to Revelation, I don’t know that I’d make it. I constantly pray for an open heart and an open mind, but the defensive skeptic in me still seems to be the loudest voice.

I ask myself constantly while reading, “What are you afraid of, Kellie?”

I must be afraid of something, because I am certainly judging the Bible and slamming my eyes closed to what it may have to offer. Ever the defender of women, I can easily point at the Old Testament as partial cause and definite perpetuator of the centuries of subjugation, violence towards and utter objectification of womankind.

No wonder we’ve only had the right to vote for 96 years. No wonder the Equal Rights Amendment never passed. No wonder we are only just now seeing a female-led ticket for one of the two major political parties. Women have learned to behave as objects, train our daughters to assimilate gracefully, and viciously punish any sister who dares to embrace their truth, their wildness, their inner she-wolves.

Remembering that all things work together for good is hard in this new beginning, especially as my questions grow on all sides of the Biblical equation.

For instance, I don’t understand how one comes to accept that the God of the Bible condemned to death the unborn children of suspected unfaithful wives (Numbers 5:27) at only the jealous feelings of the husband. And yet today, Christians are fighting an all-out war to declare that life begins at inception and “thou shalt not murder” zygotes, and Big Government needs to enforce as much over all its citizens regardless of faith. How does religion reconcile this? How is it explained away, as so many other things seem to be?

About that and many other topics, I’ve read a hundred articles, listened to dozens of speakers, poured through numerous other books, gone to church every week that I could, and confessed to and asked questions of my Bible study cohorts. Yet I still don’t buy into the explanations of how the one true God can love and yet punish so absolutely, so cruelly. How He can be omnipotent and yet jealous, ego-less and yet require unending sacrifices, merciful and yet so intolerant of a human nature he surely predicted.

I guess I simply can’t yet take it on faith. Or maybe it just takes the stubborn, evolution-believing intellectual types more than 10 weeks to submit, to surrender.

Or maybe, just maybe, I’m not quite grasping that it’s impossible for me to fully grasp God. A tiny sliver of life’s pie represents the things I know that I know. A slightly bigger sliver are the things I know that I don’t know. And all the rest, surely in 95-99% range, is the multitude, infinitude actually, of things I don’t know that I don’t know. God is there. In the holy space of the unknowable. Or at least that’s where our small minds put Him.

Or maybe God isn’t so distant at all. Maybe God is the very make-up of our cells, as science suggests, so infinitely within us that what we’re not grasping, can never grasp is the utter simplicity of His glory.

My naivety is surely cringe-worthy to the long-practiced Christians in the bunch. And I’m ok with that.

I won’t judge you for judging me.

I won’t even judge you for abandoning this column. It hasn’t been easy to be on the inside of all this muckity muck, so I can’t imagine it’s been any kind of fun looking on from the outside.

Back to life at The Angle…

As a new non-drinker, I’ve stayed away from The Angle’s normal social scene. It was out of necessity at first and then became a lack of desire to witness in others the way I was. Now, the staying away has changed into a need for relating to my fellow humans that is deeper, more fulfilling than the false affection bought by a handful of cocktails. A glass of wine has turned into a cup of tea. Putting on the kettle, choosing the flavor, letting it steep in a sentimental little tea pot with matching cups has taken on more meaning and delight for me than uncorking a bottle ever could.

In years past, my little family put hours of creative effort into our Halloween costumes, and this year, we found ourselves with zero desire to dress-up and attend the drinking party. “Let’s put our focus on Iris,” Tony suggested. And that felt right and good.

And so, we’ll be bats. Her idea. Her desire. A family of bats, creatures of the night, embraced by the children of God, made beautiful by the inherent creative power of love.

Just kidding. I won’t theologize our dollar store bat masks. It’s a costume. Nothing more than a tiny sliver of life’s little knowable pie.

At First Dandelion

Column 25 Published in the April 26 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

 

These past many weeks have been a delicious yet over-long Saturday morning sleep-in here at The Angle, and now with the rains and winds of spring upon us, she awakens.

Angle Bay – the inlet – is free of her icy cloak and it’s only a matter of minutes before Young’s Bay and beyond will welcome its first boaters.

The sleepers are emerging as well.

Residents are spotting black bear and the frogs are once again serenading us at pitch-perfect volumes each dusk. My three-year old saw a snake warming itself on the gravel road, a creepy crawly, as she has somewhere learned to call them. The migrating birds rightfully steal much of the spring glory as they fill the skies with their trips’ end chatter.

We hermitting locals are sloughing off the thick skin of winter. After a shortened tourist season, fast and furious in its activity, it’s been a long and quiet thaw.

Even the lake is heeding the yawn and stretch of spring.

On Tuesday, April 19, the body of lost boater Keith Ayers was discovered in the water off Powder Island. Missing since October 3, his sad homecoming brings closure to a most determined mother The Angle had become too familiar with. I will remember her small hands clasped around the mug of hot tea she drank each evening after completing another cold and lonely day of searching for her son. The many agencies involved in the search for Justin, Cody, and Keith did what they could, and she did more, staying until the ice forced her off the lake.

How do you ever look at the lake again, knowing what it took from you?  How do you ever associate anything but grief with The Angle, remembering the time spent here? Miss Carol, should you feel the draw to come this way north again, I hope all of we Angle folk welcome you as you deserve. Your quiet reserve of fortitude makes you one of us now. Nay, more than us. The Angle wishes you well, and we won’t forget.

Life, in cruel fashion, goes on. We can tell apart the does carrying fawns now. The nest builders are hard at work. Wood ducks waddle to and fro, feeding from the flowing ditches and gathering soft material for their swampy abodes.

Nature certainly got the jump on we hibernating humans up here. I feel as though I’ve been indoors for a century. The gravel roads are drying out, though in places the frost heaves and boils its last reserve of moisture up from the depths, as if Hades itself were belching from its final heavy winter’s feast.

I’ve moved house and spent a straight month working and organizing whilst living in something of a construction zone. Outdoor excursions are back to a daily routine now that I have a compost pile to turn. We don our mud boots and find the puddles, my little love and I. The deepest tire ruts still trip her up, and the cold and wet beget screams that are placated only by a return to the warmth of indoors.

All that and she is still begging to go barefoot already. “At first dandelion,” I always reply. Bring me a bowl of dandelions just as I did for my mother, and then you may leave your shoes to their lonely summer selves.

Mine was a childhood of stained feet and toughened soles, and I wish that same joy, freedom and character for her.

Joy comes now for me in the simplest ways.

She still, at times, wraps her tiny fingers around one of mine as she sleeps.

My fingers get to make music with my father, a blessing I never knew could be so precious. Our loud band, The Knight Lighters, plays this coming Saturday, April 30th, at the Williams’ Liquor Store starting at about 8:30.

My hands gathered its first spring bouquet on one of our recent walks: bright red willow stalks, pussy willow buds and the dormant browns of an unknown shrub. We found a rusted watering can in the woods to serve as a vase, and voila, the perfect Angle arrangement.

Not everything is perfect, far from it, but the forgiveness of spring opens a hardened heart like the plentiful tree buds popping here and everywhere. Life feels big and grand and new.

And that first dandelion will mark a beginning, a perfection of its own, once again.