October 1, 2006, I woke up in the
Guest bedroom of my best friend’s house.
My infant son was in a crib next to me
Crying like he had been crying for a long time.
A white rug on the floor was stained with red-wine vomit.
I popped a pacifier in my son’s mouth and
Dragged the rug into the bathroom
Where I hoisted it into the sink and
Vainly tried to scrub the vomit out of it.
There was a mirror above the sink
And if I looked in it,
I surely looked down again quickly.
I wasn’t in the habit those days of
Looking myself in the eye much.
The vomit wasn’t coming out of the rug,
So I filled a pail with cold water and
Left the rug to soak in the shower,
My feeble attempt at cleaning up after myself.
I brought my son downstairs.
My friend and her infant daughter were in the kitchen making lunch.
My son and I were spending the weekend, and I,
Had shown up with a box of red wine
Which had been finished off to the point of
Opening the box and
Taking the foil bladder out and
Squeezing every last drop of wine out of it.
I was probably still somewhat drunk;
I don’t remember being particularly
Hung over that morning,
Which usually meant the
Alcohol hadn’t worked its way through my system yet.
I sat down at the table across from my friend,
One of my best friends ever,
She didn’t grin back.
“I’m not going to
Drink with you anymore,” she said.
“You can do whatever you want,
But I’m done.
You’re out of control.
It’s too sad to watch.”
The look in her eyes.
It wasn’t anger exactly,
And it wasn’t sadness either.
It was resolve,
And it was protection.
She needed to protect herself from me.
She was putting up a wall.
I think I sat in silence for a while.
Our two babies were playing on the floor.
Thirteen months old.
I was getting divorced from his dad,
And I knew my drinking could put me in danger of a
“I’m going to start losing people.”
It’s become a pop-culture trope:
That moment when the alcoholic or addict
Lifts her quaking eyes up from the tabletop and says,
“I need help.”
What I didn’t know until my moment for doing it
Was that that act of surrender
Took more courage and strength than
Anything I had done in my life up until that point.
It wasn’t weakness to ask for help;
It was a last gasp of strength.
A few days later,
I found myself sitting in an
Empty church sanctuary.
I had attended my first 12-step recovery meeting,
And I been unable to muster the words,
I’m an alcoholic.”
I knew if I was going back,
I had to decide.
So I prayed to a god I didn’t believe in,
A god I had spent my whole life being
Skeptical about at best,
Vulgarly mocking at worst.
Screwing up all my energy into a tight little ball, I said,
Am I alcoholic or not?
Yes or no?”
Fuck this, I thought.
And at that moment,
These words came into my mind
As if spoken out loud:
“You are precious and delicate.
And it’s okay.”
I wept, friends.
It wasn’t the answer I had been looking for—
God or whatever you want to call it
Doesn’t tend to answer questions so directly,
I’ve since learned.
But it was permission to be powerless,
And it was a gentle, loving exhortation to
Start treating myself well.
It’s been more than eight years since my last drink,
And that’s important.
But as most alcoholics and addicts know,
Our drinking is but a symptom.
If I had never taken a drink in my entire life,
I would have filled that gaping hole with something,
Possibly an eating disorder
Or even more destructive sexual behavior
Than I had already engaged in.
Why do alcoholics drink and addicts use?
It’s truly insane.
We poison ourselves sometimes to death,
We destroy our lives,
The lives of people we love and
Sometimes the lives of strangers
Who have the misfortune of
Crossing our paths at the wrong moment.
If you had asked me on October 1, 2006
Why I did what I did,
Why I drank every day
At the most inappropriate times,
Why my eyes for years were
Unfocused and glazed over,
I would have been as baffled as anyone.
3,227 days later,
I’m starting to have a glint of understanding.
Alcohol is called “spirits” for a reason.
Alcoholics often describe themselves as having a
God-sized hole in their soul,
Into which they pour booze.
And for me, I know now I had a
Spiritual problem that needed a
With recovery from addiction,
There’s often a feeling of being reborn.
As a religion skeptic,
It took me many years to feel comfortable
Identifying my experience as that,
But there’s really no other way to describe the
Fundamental perspective change that happened.
I began to understand that
The way I perceived the world was in many ways
Opposite from how the world actually worked.
This showed up for me in several of the
Paradoxes that are inherent in recovery from addiction
And in living a spiritually based life.
The first paradox is that
Suffering is often the door through which
We enter a spiritual life and
Gain some peace.
Before my recovery from alcoholism,
I had thought that spiritual people were
Just born that way–
If I thought about them at all.
There were spiritual people,
And there were unspiritual people,
And spiritual people were
Weird and weak,
Ergo, I was definitely not
One of them.
Now I understand that
It took me an immense amount of suffering
To surrender to a spiritual experience.
A spiritual life is not for the faint of heart.
The path to some measure of
Serenity and peace
Was a very painful one.
In that sense,
October 1, 2006 was one of the
Most difficult days of my life,
But it was also one of the
Best days of my life.
That’s another lesson I’ve learned from
Living a spiritual life:
That once I stop turning away from
Life on life’s terms–
Which is essentially what I was doing
Every time I put a drink to my lips–
There’s a depth to the experience
I had never known could happen.
It’s completely possible to
Hold several profound emotions
All at the same time,
To be wracked by them all,
And not be overcome.
I experienced this when,
After a long journey with Alzheimer’s,
My mother died when I had about
Five years of sobriety.
I felt so many things:
To plumb the depths of this
Experience of life at that level is
Such a gift,
And one I can only truly experience
When I’m consciously living as a spiritual being.
Another paradox I’ve been thinking a lot about is
The axiom that,
In order to keep something,
You have to give it away.
This is one of the three pillars of the
Recovery fellowship I’m a part of,
And we regularly see people who are
Not focused on being of selfless service to other alcoholics
I had no idea what it meant to
Be of service
Before I embarked on this
Spiritual journey of recovery.
It wasn’t anything that was
Remotely on my radar.
I was completely focused on myself,
Or at best on a select group of loved ones.
I suppose I was faintly aware that
There were people in the world who were
Generous or gave of themselves,
But any thought I gave them was
Couched in cynicism:
They were just doing it to
Look good or
Make themselves feel better.
I had no idea of the profound joy,
The symbiosis of how
Me helping someone else
Just as much as it
It’s one of the most beautiful parts about life,
And I’m privileged to have the chance to
Experience it every day
If I want to,
By being of service to
Other alcoholics in recovery.
There is no more satisfying feeling
Than to spend an hour
Sitting across a coffee shop table
With another woman in recovery
Sharing my experience, strength and hope,
And receiving hers.
A final paradox that I,
As a writer,
Particularly appreciate is that
The stories of my worst moments in life
Are actually my greatest gifts.
When I think about the moment of
Desolation and fear on October 1, 2006,
When I realized that
I could not live with alcohol
But I could not live without it,
I had no idea that that story
Could be a gift I could give to
Suffering from untreated alcoholism.
My most difficult moments in life
Are also that ones that most deeply connect me with others,
And in that way I see them as
Gifts that I’m obligated to share.
One gift I get to share with others now
Is the gift of the words that I heard
In the church that day.
I get to say to you
The words that were said to me:
“You are precious and delicate.
And it’s okay.”