From the Ground Up

NOTE: Ok, so I know I’m probably the only one keeping track but you guys, I am THREE WEEKS BEHIND in posting. One week from today I leave for Spain for three weeks (!) and it is my goal to be updated by the time I leave, so that when I get there I can write about the topic of travelling solo not only for the first time in ten years BUT for the first time SOBER, to Europe, no less (and no, I’m not bummed about missing out on wine, or whatever. I’M OVER HERE, HIGH *AF* ON LIFE, PEOPLE! Basically).

Thank you, moving on:

If I could point to one thing, if there was one thread that has woven its way through my history, if there was one thing that played the biggest part in many of my personal challenges, that one thing would be anxiety. My earliest memory of it impacting my life in a major way was being ten years old and complaining to my mom night after night about “the funny feeling.” So many normal kid things were off limits for me: I’d try to sleepover at friend’s houses, but inevitably have to be picked up halfway through the night; I was terrified to try any sport, or join any group. I had a couple of close friends who I clung to super closely, and I spent most of my freetime at the library. In high school, I discovered weed, in college, I traded that for alcohol, all the while thinking I was “normal” and that someday my life would just change, and I’d snap out of it or something, without ever having to actually learn more healthy coping mechanisms.

More than the hangovers, more than the shame, the regret, more than always feeling like I was betraying myself when I’d drink more than I said I would, if I could point to one clear thing that keeps me from even considering ever drinking again, it’s all the anxiety it caused me. I think it was Laura McKowen who wrote “Drinking alcohol is like pouring gasoline on your anxiety.” It’s confusing, because in the beginning, booze was what eased my anxiety. It worked, at first, which is the mindfuck, because just like pot at first freed me up until it spiraled me into crippling paranoia, alcohol allowed me to be relaxed, and social, until it didn’t. And then I kept drinking, expecting similar results, and when I didn’t get them, I thought there was something wrong with *me*, rather than the substance.

All of this to say: last week I was in the shower and about halfway through I almost fell over when it hit me like a mac truck that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d even thought about my anxiety. You guys, I can’t tell you how long that has been my baseline: trucking along, mostly OK, but underneath everything the engine that was running the show was this constant thrum of low grade terror. And now? I can lay my head on the pillow without feeling like I’m going to die, free from the wash of anxiety that would descend upon me that no amount of CBD, guided meditations in my ears, noise machine ratcheted up to the highest setting could calm. After a lifetime of being stitched together by anxiety’s suffocating grip, to now be mostly unhooked from it, to have an inkling that it might actually be possible for me to not live in that fog for the rest of my life? It’s like I took a fifty pound emotional dump while simultaneously growing the biggest wings ever. Like hitting the pressure release button on my mother’s generations hand-me-down pressure cooker, a big exhale of release.

If I die tomorrow, good god! This is one of the biggest wins of my life.

ANYWAY! As my thesis advisor says, “backstory brings narratives to a halt,” so forgive me, because all of this rambling *does* have a point: back to building the house, this metaphor I’ve been holding close as I re-imagine my life.

I have no idea what this house will ultimately look like. What I do know is that sobriety is the foundation. But what comes next? Turns out, a quick google search of “stages of constructing a house” was actually quite helpful:

A frame is the skeleton of a house. If the frame is strong, it provides the necessary support for everything that follows. But if it's weak, no amount of expensive finishes will hide the flaws.

Framing creates structure. Emotional sobriety is doing the work of creating structures for all the areas of my life that um, have been laying around in haphazard piles. But this is all still so abstract, no? What would be my first concrete steps? How would I know when I was on the right track, or when I was missing the mark? After years of talking myself out of what I really wanted and into what I thought was pragmatic, or smart—while totally ignoring any element of desire and passion and risk and the unknown, and then numbing myself juuuuust enough to not ever really go the distance with anything—how would I build this next part of the house, of my life, in a way that was different?

One of the things I said I wanted to “do” this year was to reconnect to my intuition. I’d walked around my whole life thinking I already was operating from that place and it wasn’t until I quit drinking that I realized how far adrift from my center I actually was. The thing is: how does one actually *do* this? How do I practice it? How do I know when it’s working, when I’m tuned in, versus when I’m allowing someone else to call the shots or letting my lizard brain run the show?

Here’s what I’m working with: If framing creates structure, intuition is the frame.

The hair on the back of my neck stands up just thinking about it.

We’re always told “listen to your intuition,” but if that connection has been ruptured, disrupted, gone adrift, how do you actually reconnect?

What I’ve got so far: it’s been a combination of developing a sober community, both online and in real life; pushing myself at the gym—literally becoming stronger in my body than I’ve ever been before, among people I love; and, surprise! Slowing down enough to listen in. I honestly think this is the key: get good people around you. Move the body you’ve been given as rigorously as possible, as often as possible. And, perhaps most importantly, slow the fuck down. When I am connected to these three things, life works better. Better than it ever has ever before.

A snappy list of “three things to help you _________.” I don’t want this to come off like it’s so easy. It’s taken me years, decades, lifetimes, and a buttload of banging my head against proverbial wall after proverbial wall to get here. And I’m nowhere near close to where I ultimately want to be! But I feel more peaceful inside than ever. So maybe, if these things feel far off, the first thing would be to just consider how it would look to be surrounded by good people, to have a daily movement practice, to be able to sit quietly with yourself without wanting to run or numb (or, ah, scroll incessantly). Or you could tell me what works for you (if sobriety has given me anything it’s the humility to know I don’t actually know anything).

Normal adult things that seem to come easy for most of the people around me often still feel insurmountable in my own life. I am still that girl who needs lots of time to herself, who gets overwhelmed in crowds or when I have to be around people for too long, who would prefer to sleep in her own bed always always. Sleep is still challenging. Student debt looms large. I’m dating again, and it’s, well, awkward. I have no idea what I’m going to make of this art degree I just got. And. I’m building the damn house, anyway. I have a trustworthy, sound foundation. I’m excited about creating structure that provides the necessary support for everything that follows.

What’s next? Dry wall? We’ll see...