Twenty one days into January and I’m only now getting around to writing this piece…which is sort of a really fantastic metaphor for how 2018 is unfolding thus far. I’m cold. To the bone, I am cold and I cannot seem to get warm. No matter how many baths I languish in or pairs of wool socks I tug over my mostly-numb feet, this winter is brutal and testing my patience. I’ve been moving slowly through the days, one day at a time, convinced I’ll lose my shit if I have to scrape ice and snow from the windows of my car one more time at 7:00 A.M. in a below-freezing tundra. Also, I’m afraid of death in the face of an unyielding flu season, so there’s that, too. Striving to maintain mental wellness is a full-time job during winter months.
I suppose that’ll do for the cantankerous, whiny portion of today’s writing session. After all, we’re reflecting on 2017 here and 2017 was perhaps my most favorite year of all my years on Earth to date. Not because it was easy or without pain – there was plenty. But as so many of us have discovered in the pursuit of something more, the real good stuff comes wrapped in layers of what is hard and true and brave and seemingly ordinary.
# 1 Showing up…
My youngest sister graduated high school in June 2015 and I didn’t attend her graduation ceremony because I wanted to stay in my apartment alone and drink-away my pain and stress instead. It wasn’t the first time I failed to show up for my people…it wasn’t the last. But I remember an awareness around that particular event – acute awareness surrounding the shame and disgust I felt at my inability to show up and support someone I love for a few measly hours. So I drank the shame and disgust away as best I could, too.
Similarly, when my ex-boyfriend finished graduate school in 2014, I was too hungover to attend the ceremony with his parents. His resentment and repulsion echoed through the air of our apartment when he slammed the front door and headed out to celebrate one of the biggest accomplishments of his life, without me.
God only knows the number of special moments I missed because I couldn’t muster the ability to show the fuck up. I flaked. I lied. I crafted excuses to leave early or avoid attending at all. If, per chance, I managed to make it to an occasion (like the BIRTH of my FIRST FREAKING NEPHEW for example), my mind was somewhere else – usually, trying to figure out how to sneak away for a cigarette and counting down the minutes until I could be alone and drowning myself in beer or wine again. It’s a distracted, panicky, awful existence.
Two thousand seventeen was a year of showing up for my people – purposefully and often.
I began taking my grandmother to buy her groceries, visiting for cups of tea, and gathering her stories like precious stones for a collection. A man named Ted drove my grandmother from Liverpool to the United States when she was 31. Ted had fucked with my grandma’s heart for something like 10 years and she was done waiting. She needed space…wanted to get over him…thought she’d come for an extended stay with an Aunt who’d relocated to America years earlier. When she talked about her unrequited love for Ted, I remember thinking it all sounded very dramatic and very-much like something I’d do myself – travel across an ocean to try to get over a man. I am more like her than I would have ever guessed. She is my kin, and we are also kindred spirits.
One morning in September 2017, my grandmother tripped over her vacuum cleaner and broke her nose. I was there for that, too. I was alerted about the fall and within twenty minutes, I arrived at the hospital to accompany my parents. I held tissue to her face to quell the flow of blood and I held her hand in mine to soothe her anxiety…mine, too. We were all afraid of what the fall might mean – a beginning to the end? Early evidence of a mental decline? At 88 years old, we were all suddenly confronted with my dear British grandmother’s mortality. That night, I took my grandmother home and laid on her couch listening to her stories with even greater intensity…secretly recording her voice and committing her features to memory. I slept in her spare bedroom in case she needed anything during the night. Burying my face in the pillows and bedding, I breathed deeply the scent of my grandmother.
As was the case with the rest of my showing up in 2017, I kept thinking, ‘my God, I’ve missed so much time…I should have been doing this all along.’
In March 2017, I drove my sister to the suburbs of Chicago for a long weekend. Her boyfriend of five years was in training at the Naval Academy and they were adjusting to the struggle associated with a long-distance relationship. I was five months sober and fearful of staying alone in a hotel room. I was terrified to drive five hours on unfamiliar highways, which is typically the perfect storm for a debilitating panic attack. The whole situation scared the shit out of me. And yet, I showed up.
I showed up for my sister with a gift only I was able to give at that moment. I showed up shaking and at times uncomfortable. I showed up long enough to get her to her beloved…and then to back away, giving them space and time alone and a car to borrow while I spent time alone figuring out what it means to be sober away from home in a hotel room.
The trip was a miracle, really. So much of the showing up in 2017 was a miracle. Where once I’d been incapable of giving my baby sister a few hours of my time and devotion, I was now giving her days, vibrating with the knowing I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
In 2017, I came home to my body the way a ship arrives at the shore of an uninhabited island after a long, exhaustive journey.
I’m unable to remember the exact date I decided to up and leave my body, but I know I didn’t reside there for many years…maybe never.
I remember hating my body vehemently at the ages of 11, 12, 13 (scary young) and hating it again and again and again at different points in my life. I, like most other American women, have been on-and-off diets for the majority of the last 15 years. For the last eight years, I’ve been considered overweight. From 2012 – 2015, I became the heaviest I’ve ever been and looking in a mirror became physically painful.
So when I say I came home to my body in 2017, I cannot overstate the importance of that sentence.
The coming home started when I got sober in 2016 with red velvet cupcakes and vanilla bean ice cream. So often in the past, I attempted to tackle all the things. At once. Which was, of course, a disaster. I just couldn’t seem to do it: quit drinking, quit smoking, lose weight, workout, get out of debt, etc etc etc all at the same time. Go figure.
When I surrendered alcohol, I promised my body it could still have anything else it wanted. There were no rules about food or soda or carbs or calories. There were no rules around sleep schedules or working out. The only thing I had to do was not drink alcohol. That was it. The day was a smashing success if I loved myself enough to just do that one thing – even if it meant I consumed 5000 calories and my only movement was to raise and lower the remote control.
In this space of love and tender care, magic happened.
Removing alcohol resulted in a spike in sugar cravings, which was odd for me having never particularly harbored much of a sweet tooth. To fill empty hours one evening, I decided to bake red velvet cupcakes and paired it with expensive vanilla bean ice cream and that became my dinner for I-don’t-know how many nights in a row. I sat eating on my couch, loving the living shit out of myself. I was saving my life. There were absolutely zero guilty strings attached to those red velvet cupcakes…just an overwhelming sense of gratitude for another day spent loving myself enough to not drink poison.
From there, the magic morphed and continues to do so.
My body and I are beginning to learn about one another more intimately than I ever imagined was possible.
I am able to feel my cycles, both monthly and over larger sections of time. The fluctuations in my hormones have an affect on my anxiety and depression, the food I eat has an affect on my hormones, movement is an effective medicine always. My system thrives without gluten and sugar, but bounces back quickly when I indulge in one or the other or both.
There is mindfulness where once there was only hatred and stress. Everything grew out of that place where I decided to love myself enough to stop poisoning my body…my one and only precious vessel.
The results are, yes, physical (65 pounds gone physical), but also bigger than that. In 2017, I felt sexy for the first time in years and dressed accordingly and acted accordingly and made love accordingly.
I run my hands over the faded but visible scars on my hips and abdomen…scars left behind from days when my skin was stretched beyond it’s limits. My body literally bursting at the seams with pain.
There is still much to be discovered on the island of my body. There is still work to be done and balance to find. But damn it feels good to be home.
….to be continued in 2017: the hits [Part II]