I used to do this thing where I couldn't help myself but write on this blog. Or write. Something would happen—maybe I'd read something that pissed me off or an idea would bubble up to the surface of my consciousness and there I'd be, frantically searching for my computer and writing as fast as I could before I lost the thought, or the urge, or the inspiration. This one time in particular, scrolling through Instagram in 2014 just days after I'd quit my job, I saw a Gabby Bernstein post about Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death, and although it was late and I'd been up since four a.m. and had absolutely nothing left in me, I couldn't stop writing until I'd vomited every word from my gut onto the page. It was severely urgent and the words came from somewhere that wasn't me exactly; they were, for better lack of a word, channeled. That’s how most of this work has gone for me. Lots of blood sweat and tears (so many tears), but also an ease and a grace and a flow.
These days, I write a lot. I write a lot of emails, I write a lot of copy, I write a lot of business and project plans for Hip Sobriety (which is transmuting into something new we’re calling Tempest). I am writing a book. Most frequently, I write on Instagram. Less frequently—and by less frequently I mean almost never—I write here. I worry that that thing, that urgency that I once had now seems entirely lost, has moved onto someone else or something else. Mostly, I worry about whether I've lost something, some grip on my roots, some intimacy with sobriety that once felt so accessible. I find myself going back through old blogs or even old Instagram posts and I wonder if that girl is gone, if some passion or source is tapped. I wonder, and often, if I'm missing some mark that once seemed so clear. I ask people, people I trust, if I've lost something. Because drinking memes don't piss me off as much as they used to, because I can't remember some of the statistics about rates of alcohol addiction, because I forget some days how hard it was to tell people why AA wasn't for me, because I forget some days that just going out dancing sober was an achievement. It seems just a tiny bit further away from my every day, or maybe a world away or a lifetime away. And all of this feels, in a word, terrifying.
Then tonight, the urgency struck like it used to. And not because Johnny Walker unveiled Jane Walker (for women!), or because some nice person on Instagram told me that I was a dry drunk, but because neither of these things happened. And by that, what I'm saying is the urge came from that terrifying vacuous space. From not having done this for so long, from the fear of what that all means, from missing what feels like a part of me. I'm at my moms, I'm in her pajamas; it strikes, I start spinning around in frenetic circles thinking about where my laptop is and whether I should pee first and how I must write. I'm still holding my pee.
I am still not sure what the fuck I am writing about. But I think it has to do with how we evolve, or maybe how we cycle, or maybe both, and what it means to appreciate the stages you’re in while you're actually in them (or, in my case, to not).
When I left my job in March 2014, I already had the Instagram handle and the domain name for Hip Sobriety secured. For those first few months, I was negotiating how to transform something that was so big in me—all the ideas and concepts and revelations that became this program and my work—into something coherent. I was drinking from the fire hose learning how. I had lists of blog posts I wanted to write and was writing, I was searching for clues in addiction and recovery books for how to piece together what now is an actual recovery modality but back then was only scribbles in notebooks. I spent hours upon hours researching how to build and market websites, how to grow Instagram followings. I built a deck for investors and I sketched out talks I could give and I maxed out my credit cards on coaches and copy-writing courses and content marketing tutorials. I had a mailing list with a hundred people, 90% of which were friends and family. I was obsessed and possessed and I spent so much time working from Starbucks that my hair was a constant perfume of coffee.
It went like that for a while, until things started taking shape. A post I wrote in late 2014 called 9 Reasons I'm Not an Alcoholic went semi-viral the day I made a firm decision to quit pursuing building this and go back to my “real life,” or the life that I pegged as real because it had paychecks and health insurance and didn't find me living in my pajamas and skipping the shower for a week at a time. The semi-viral post saved me in a way, told me someone out there was listening. I didn’t quit.
I didn't quit bears repeating, because most everything in me wanted to quit, to go back to the known, even though it wasn’t right. But at the exact same time, everything in me also couldn't stop thinking about how to get a message across that alcohol was murdering us on the sly, or that sobriety was the promised land most of us were searching for; I couldn't stop obsessing over an idea that maybe there was a different way to recover. It all seemed like so much impossible, which is frankly also why I loved it so much.
Also, I need you to know I still haven't peed.
Last week I sat with my friend Sarah in an Uber. I can't remember what picture I was trying to show her on my phone, but deep in the weeds of my photos, there was a selfie, circa 2014. I am sitting in my friend Geoff's car. It's evening and I've just gotten out of an eight-hour yoga training. I look alive and young. I couldn't stop thinking about that, or showing the picture to Sarah. She said something about not even recognizing me in the photo, and I tried and make her admit it's because the last few years have aged me. I wanted her to just confirm my worst suspicion, which is that choosing this path and creating this company has stolen something from me I won't get back.
But she honestly doesn't think that. Later that night, I think about what's different, and I think what's different isn't just the fuckery of time and stress, but something more. In that photo in 2014, there was a woman who had no clue, who had a belief and a pit-bull grip on an idea that wouldn't let her be, that she couldn't imagine not coming true and paradoxically couldn’t imagine coming true ever. Mostly what’s different is: There was a woman who had earned parts of her bones. And here sits a woman who’s earned more.
Four and a half years ago, an investor man who I went to with my sweet little pitch deck and my oversized dream told me my idea was neat, and that to be taken seriously, I'd need to prove something first (like: that I wasn’t a woman). A year ago, other investor people didn't just think this idea was neat because it wasn't just an idea, it was a thing; a thing so obvious they backed it. I got backed by Random House, too; they don't want blogs, they want a book, or rather, two.
Maybe right now I don't think obsessively about how to communicate about alcohol and addiction in a way people can hear or think about how to create something that addresses it in a way that didn't exist yet because maybe I've done that. No, because I've done that. Maybe right now I am not only ever thinking about how to make something that seems impossible work because it's starting to work, or it's been working. Or: Maybe I don’t have those same urgent feelings to write and make people understand and to build this dream of helping people the way I used to because I’m doing it. I got what I asked for.
To circle back to the urgency in this post. I started to write it because I needed to tell you—and myself—that I’m here. I exist. I needed you to know I haven't run out of things to say, which you probably don’t even think, but I do. I’m saying the same things, it’s just I'm saying them in different mediums. The energy isn't being converted directly into prescriptive blog posts and podcasts and work that bakes overnight; the energy is going into the types of things that take a year or years to build, like a book, or a company that isn’t a one woman show but an actual collective of humans. Maybe it sounds like silence, or feels like distance, or seems like nothing’s happening. But that's sometimes what it looks like from the outside of the cocoon. Then one day, there's something more that comes out, and it was worth it. The construction site becomes the home you live in; the caterpillar becomes the butterfly; that kind of shit. It's birth, but sometimes birth is so close to death that we get confused.
I wrote a post for our school last April. I was in Rome for maybe the sixth time in four years and freaking out about this terrible municipal decision the Roman government had made to swap out all the yellow lights for these terrible white LED lights. It was my first trip back since it had happened, and on my first night there I walked the cobble stone streets, barely breathing, clutching my heart at the loss of my yellow-flavored Roman nights. I couldn’t figure out at the time why a silly simple thing, like the lighting in some far flung place I don’t even live, could break me so deeply. It was also around the time I was trying to buy a new backpack for my annual month-ish-long trips to Italy, and found myself unable to change from the blue 85-liter Osprey I’d had since that first time in Sicily and Rome and Naples, in 2013, when I was barely 90 days sober. In a letter, trying to make sense of the heartbreak I felt over fucking street lights, I wrote:
And the thing about the lights is it isn't what it means for me to today, it's what it means for the girl in 2013 who came here by herself, who one night left an iPhone charger across town, who had to walk in the dark by herself in a foreign city she didn't know to fetch said charger, who got lost and ended up walking in yellow-lit circles, who stumbled across the Colloseum in all it's yellow-lit glory by accident, who made it back across the yellow-lit river walk to her apartment; it's about that girl who felt so broken and so alive. I don't want to tell her that it goes away, I want her to have that moment forever. And more importantly, I don't want to tell her she missed the magic because she was focused on being somewhere else. I want her to know that what she had in that moment in time was as good as it gets.
We always think there is some magic place in the future that holds all the answers, or some better version of ourself, or some better version of our work. We think: then, and when. We never think: now. I was trying to find a way to sum up this whole post, to have it make perfect sense. I can’t and it doesn’t. But it does hold the lesson I should know by now, which is the only one that matters, which is that right now, right in this moment: it is as good as it gets. Like Freud said, “One day in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful”—that’s never stopped being true for me.