I think that life done right is one long recovery process. We’re all recovering from something. Maybe for you it’s not food or booze addiction like it is for me . . . maybe it’s an addiction to selfishness or pride or anger or isolation (which it also is for me). But The Truth is that we’re all recovering jerks. The only other possibility is that we’re active jerks, and refusing to recover. Anyway, nobody recovers alone. We are in this together.
This letter is for the seven Monkees who wrote to me last night. For the Monkees who decided last night to try to swim.
Dearest Drunken Monkee Friend,
I have been where you are this morning. I’ve lived through this day. This day when you wake up terrified. When you open your eyes and it hits you . . . the jig is up. When you lie paralyzed in bed and shake from the horrifying realization that life as you know it is over. Quickly you consider that perhaps that’s okay, because life as you know it totally blows. Even so, you can’t get out of bed because the thing is that you don’t know how. You don’t know how to live, how to interact, how to cope, how to function without a drink or at least the hope of a future drink. You never learned. You dropped out before all the lessons. So who will teach you how to live? Listen to me, because I am you.
You are shaking from withdrawal and fear and panic this morning, so you cannot see clearly. You are very, very confused right now. You think that this is the worst day of your life, but you are wrong. This is the best day of your life, friend. Things, right now, are very, very good. Better than they have ever been in your entire life. Your angels are dancing. Because you have been offered freedom from the prison of secrets. You have been offered the gift of crisis.
Kathleen Norris reminded me last night that the Greek root of the word crisis is “to sift.” As in to shake out the excesses and leave only what’s important. That’s what crises do. They shake things up until we are forced to decide and hold onto what matters most. And what matters most right now is that you are sober. You owe the world nothing else. And so you will not worry about whether the real you will be brave or smart or funny or beautiful or responsible enough. Because the only thing you have to be is sober. You owe the world absolutely nothing but sobriety. If you are sober, you are enough. Even if you are shaking and cursing and boring and terrified. You are enough.
But becoming sober, becoming real, will be hard and painful. A lot of good things are.
Becoming sober is like recovering from frostbite.
The process of defrosting is excruciatingly painful. You have been so numb for so long. And as feeling comes back to your soul, you start to tingle, and it’s uncomfortable and strange. But then the tingles start feeling like daggers. Sadness, loss, fear, anger, all of these things that you have been numbing with the booze . . . you start to FEEL them for the first time. And it’s horrific at first, to tell you the damn truth. But feeling the pain, refusing to escape from it, is the only way to recovery. You can’t go around it, you can’t go over it, you have to go through it. There is no other option, except for amputation. And if you allow the defrosting process to take place, if you trust that it will work, if you can stand the pain, one day you will get your soul back. If you can feel, it means there has been no amputation. If you can feel, you can hope. If you can feel, you are not too late.
Friend, we need you. The world has suffered while you’ve been hiding. You are already forgiven. You are loved. All there is to do now it to step into your life. What does that mean? What the hell does that mean? This is what it means. These are the steps you take. They are plain as mud.
Get out of bed. Don’t lie there and think – thinking is the kiss of death for us – just move. Take a shower. Sing while you’re in there. MAKE YOURSELF SING. The stupider you feel, the better. Giggle at yourself, alone. Joy for its own sake . . . Joy just for you, created by you – it’s the best. Find yourself amusing.
Put on some make-up. Blow dry your hair. Wear something nice, something that makes you feel grown up. If you have nothing, go buy something. Today’s not the day to worry too much about money. Invest in some good coffee, caffeinated and decaf. Decaf after eleven o’clock. Read your daughter a story. Don’t think about other things while you’re reading, actually pay attention to the words. Then braid your girl’s hair. Clean the sink. Keep good books within reach. Start with Traveling Mercies. David Sedaris is good, too. If you don’t have any good books, go to the library. If you don’t have a library card, apply for one. This will stress you out. You will worry that the librarian will sense that you are a disaster and reject you. But listen, they don’t know and they don’t care. They gave me a card, and I’ve got a rap sheet as long as your arm. When practicing re-entering society and risking rejection, the library is a good place to start. They have low expectations. I love the library. Also church. Both have to take you in.
Alternate two prayers – “Help” and “Thank you.” That’s all the spirituality you’ll need for a while. Go to meetings. Any meeting will do. Don’t worry if the other addicts there are “enough like you.” Face it – we are all the same – be humble.
Get Out Of The House. If you have nowhere to go, take a walk outside. Do not excuse yourself from walks because it’s cold. Bundle up. The sky will remind you of how big God is, and if you’re not down with God, then the oxygen will help. Same thing. Call one friend a day. Do not start the conversation by telling her how you are. Ask how she is. Really listen to her response, and offer your love. You will discover that you can help a friend just by listening, and this discovery will remind you that you are powerful and worthy.
Get a yoga DVD and a pretty mat. Practice yoga after your daughter goes to bed. The evenings are dangerous times, so have a plan. Yoga is good for people like us, it teaches us to breathe and that solitude is a gift. Learn to keep yourself company.
*When you start to feel . . . do. For example – when you start to feel scared because you don’t have enough money….find someone to give a little money to. When you start to feel like you don’t have enough love. . . find someone to offer love. When you feel unappreciated, unacknowledged . . . appreciate and acknowledge someone in your life in a concrete way. When you feel unlucky, order yourself to consider a blessing or two. And then find a tangible way to make today somebody else’s lucky day. This strategy helps me sidestep wallowing every day.
Don’t worry about whether you like doing these things or not. You’re going to hate everything for a long while. And the fact is that you don’t even know what you like or hate yet. Just Do These Things Regardless of How You Feel About Doing These Things. Because these little things, done over and over again, eventually add up to a life. A good one.
Friend, I am sober this morning. Thank God Almighty, I’m sober this morning. I’m here, friend. Last week, my son turned nine. Which means that I haven’t had a drink for nine years and nine months. Lots of beautiful and horrible things have happened to me during the past nine years and nine months. And I have more or less handled my business day in and day out without booze. GOD, I ROCK.
And today, I’m a wife and a mother and a daughter and friend and a writer and a dreamer and a Sister to one and a “sister” to thousands of monkees… and I wasn’t any of those things when I was a drunk.
And I absolutely love being a recovering alcoholic, friend. I am more proud of the “recovering” badge I wear than any other.
What will you be, friend? What will you be when you become yourself? We would love to find out with you.
When Jesus saw her lying there and knew that she had been there for a long time, he said to her, “Do you want to be made well? . . . Then pick up your mat, and walk.” – John 5:6-8
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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