Because I love to turn everything into a lesson, there is an almost endless supply here. I mean, an accountant who’s never taken a writing class ends up with a two-book deal from Random House; this is as good as metaphysical self-help porn gets. If the word “manifest” didn’t make me gag, I’d tell you all about how vision boards actually work (they do!), or about how in the world of form, anything you desire can basically be created out of a substance called thinking stuff (it can!), but alas, the word manifest does make me gag, so alas, this is not an article on manifesting. I thought of other themes, too. Like how I could talk about the patience it takes to start from scratch and build; about how failure and dead-ends and “back-slides” aren’t stumbling blocks or detours, but the path itself; I could go on and on about how believing in ourselves is the key to everything, or how we are limitless creatures that can do anything we put our minds to. I could write at least twenty self-help essays about how this idea for a book became an actual book that you can buy right now (also please buy it right now, please).
I’ve decided to be rather straight-forward about it; to talk about two very important elements that made this impossible pipe-dream an actual thing, that I learned through the process of getting sober: (1) The Work, and (2) The Thoughts.
I started writing in May 2013. I was about thirty days sober, had just read Glennon Doyle’s Carry On Warrior, and I understood immediately that I was supposed to write. I spent a weekend setting up a WordPress account, and then hammered out my first blog. It took me about a year to write five blogs total, and yet it felt like one of the most significant things I had ever done; my biggest treasure. I showed my writing to a handful of close friends over the course of that year, searching for validation—for someone to call me a writer. I didn’t understand then that we don’t wait for other people to vote us in to our heart callings; we vote ourselves in. In February 2014, I wrote a piece that ended up going “viral” in my own circles; overnight every person in my life read about the depths of my sickness, my recovery, my addiction, and overnight I understood that I had no real choice but to start building out Tempest and Tempest Sobriety School.
The validation started to trickle in; when I set up a new blog (THIS BLOG) in late 2014 and debuted a company called Hip Sobriety, a lot of people started reading my work. The point of it wasn’t just to be a good writer; it was to tell a story, to change a narrative about addiction and recovery. I wrote to spark a revolution. My writing improved, and only because I spent almost every second of every day reading and writing and editing and tweaking. Some blog posts, like this one on Alcoholics Anonymous, took over 80 hours to write; this one time I spent five days in Hawaii on what was supposed to be a vacation holed up in a condo and the local Starbucks writing and re-writing a piece I never even published; one Thanksgiving I took a Megabus to Los Angeles from San Francisco writing the entire way, and then worked from my arrival at ten p.m. until dawn, stopping only when I started to get visuals and go partially blind in one eye. I was less obsessed with being perfect at writing; I was obsessed with perfecting how to say the things I needed to say so that people would understand them, want to read them.
I never shopped for an agent or a publisher; I knew I had books in me, and somehow I knew this part would take care of itself (see next section, The Thoughts, on this point). When agents and editors started showing up, and my friend Ann Dowsett Johnston said “YOU HAVE TO WRITE A BOOK HOLLY!,” is when the next phase of this work began, and I started to put together a book outline. I spent 2016 mapping it out; the index cards covered an entire wall of my studio apartment; a Post-It note that hung from my desk lamp read: “Write Your Fucking Book.”
By late 2017, I still didn’t have an agent, and those index cards were sitting in a box somewhere in my new home in San Francisco. It wasn’t until I wrote a piece for Hip Sobriety, How Do I Face Telling My Family About Sobriety, that (my now-agent) Rebecca—who I’d been talking to for over a year—finally sent me a contract.
You’d think this was the good part, or the part where it gets good. But it wasn’t. It was the part where shit got real. I spent nine months working on a book proposal; nine months of many all-nighters and terrible, horrible shitty writing; nine months of having my words edited and re-worked in a way that made my entire body hurt—all for fifty fucking pages that have, for the most part, ended up on the cutting room floor at this point. It was hell, and one only surpassed by the hell I faced after it—when I actually had to start writing the damn thing. From June 2018 until July 2019, I spent every spare minute of my life writing; by the time you get the book in your hands, it will have been through around a dozen hard-scrub edits, and it will account for at minimum 13 new wrinkles, 237 gray hairs, and a partial loss of hearing in my right ear. If it sounds like I’m complaining, it’s only because I am. The labor of writing this fucking book was second only to the labor of getting sober.
Funny how that works, because what I mean to be telling you is that the work of getting sober is how I learned to endure the work of writing a book.
Louise Hay once said “Anyone who thinks they can heal without doing the work is missing the point.” And the point I am trying to make is that today is a wonderful day because there is an actual book where once there was not; I wrote that book. But that isn’t really the point. The point has always been the work itself. The point has always been about what it took to get to this moment; not this moment. The same can be said about sobriety. It isn’t the days you have, honey. The point—the entire point—is the process it takes to get those days. Your work is what matters; not your goals.
So sobriety taught me the point of the work and that anything worth doing will always be tortuous; will always inspire doubt; will always try us and break us so it can make us. Sobriety is how I have bones, how I know I can endure, how I know I am capable of anything. But sobriety also taught me another thing that is so important for this whole book writing thing, which is the power of my mind.
Again, I’m not one to talk about how you can just manifest anything; I don’t believe that and I believe we often confuse our privilege for manifestation. But I do believe that we are entirely in charge of our thoughts, and that our thoughts create our reality. Before I got sober, I was a woman who focused on: how limited I was, how broke I was, how bad I was with money/men/booze/food/drugs/cigarettes. I was a woman who could not quit things; I was a woman without follow-through; I was a woman who had resigned to a life that felt less like a life, and more like an endless juggling act of just barely making it. This all flipped upon discovering Allen Carr, who told me (in his book The Easy Way to Control Alcohol) that it wasn’t about not being able to drink again, but about never having to drink again. Do you see that and how profound that is? Here I’d been terrified that if I had to quit drinking, I’d lose my drinking privilege. And then this Allen Carr fellow tells me that quitting drinking wasn’t a punishment or a sacrifice, it was a blessing, a benefit. In a matter of minutes, my entire perspective shifted because my thoughts shifted. My sobriety was built on this premise, and by that I mean on the premise that my thoughts were either my greatest weapon against myself, or my greatest asset.
That flip made sobriety possible; my thoughts made my sobriety possible. I was determined to move through sobriety excited about it, hopeful, giddy, proud. I envisioned a bigger and better future; a healthy, sober me. And that flip led to other flips. I became a woman who could quit things and who had follow-through and who drank her huge, beautiful life instead of her rosè. This was the picture running in my head all day every day, and it replaced the picture I’d always had, which was a future marked by depression, premature aging, increasing levels of dependence, a fraudulent unhappy human barely making it by.
Thinking this way about myself and my future wasn’t easy, it took intention and awareness and persistence. It took writing pages of affirmations, reading hundreds of cheesy woo-ass self-help books; turning my apartment into a Post-It museum of impossibly optimistic mantras. But eventually, I came to believe not only that I was a life worth saving, but also that my life could be something that matched my dreams. When eventually my life did match my dreams, the evidence was irrefutable: changing my thoughts changed my reality. And if I could do this with sobriety, I could do this with anything. I could call myself a sober person before I really was. I could call myself a writer before I was, too.
In 2013, I took a risk and I wrote an essay. And because I loved doing it and because writing felt like home, I kept on doing it. And before I knew it, I was a writer in my heart. I had a VERY CLEAR VISION that I would write a book, and in 2015, I started writing letters to the Universe about it: “Dear Universe, thank you for letting me write six books in my lifetime.” I wrote it as if it had already happened, and I thanked the cosmos, because I knew it already had.
I had no business becoming a writer. It was not something I planned my way into, it was something I stepped in and dragged with me. Similarly, sobriety was another leap; something I never planned my way into, something I stepped in. Both were things that at the beginning felt like entire impossibilities: to live life without alcohol, to publish a book. And both are realities because not only did I work my ass of to make them such, but because I believed—against all odds, naysayers, obstacles, and reality—that they were not just possible, but had already happened.
Which is to say, honey you can do anything you want to. You just have to be willing to work your ass off, and believe in things you cannot see.