I was in my early twenties, it was winter and the friends I had grown up with were in town for the holidays. We were younger and had fewer responsibilities, most of us. Some of us by choice and some of us just…because. There were a few of us with families and/or real jobs and all those other “grown-up” things. I was not one of those. I was partying a lot and wanting to stay unattached to real responsibilities, but I didn’t even realize that’s what I wanted. I thought it just was what it was, but I was wrong. The truth was that I had a really unhealthy relationship with alcohol, starting back then, right then. Not only that, I had a really unhealthy relationship with myself.
I would drink so much that my insides would hurt, while my liver fought to process. I blamed it on other things, like maybe an ulcer or digestive issues or perhaps I was dying. No matter! Pass the Bacardi Limon, this drink does not taste strong enough!
A friend that I have had since I was two was in my rented house and she was sober and the rest of us weren’t. She looked at me, fear and concern in her eyes and asked if I was okay. YES! I said, I’m fine, wincing over the pain in my belly. “This happens sometimes, it’s weird….but it passes”, I said, while pushing on my belly for relief.
She sat quietly, tried to engage the rest of us in real conversation, asking questions about our lives and then she left early. We were drinking too much to be our real selves anyway. We weren’t really there.
She wasn’t sober because she was pregnant or for religious reasons or because she was driving everyone else. She was simply sober because she didn’t drink very often and when she did, she had a couple of beers and called it quits. She would go months and months without a drop of alcohol. It just wasn’t central to her life. She loved her work as a teacher and going to school for her master’s in education. She’s a runner and she eats well. She’s simply, healthy, still, to this day.
Back then I thought all of that sounded like a total drag. What about lighting a fire in your brain? What a about the burn of alcohol, the good burn, that leads to that tingling feeling that leads to a BREAK. A break from your mind and your responsibilities and your stresses? What about FUN?
I get it now.
I remembered that particular night all of those years ago because I’ve been witnessing another healthy friend take care of herself and I’m so inspired by it. It led to a revelation of my own, one that I’m so grateful to have acknowledged. It’s an added gift to feeling so happy for someone else in my life. Aidan is writing about her decision to remove alcohol from her life. She doesn’t have answers for exactly why. She isn’t saying, “I Have A Problem”. She is simply accepting that her relationship with alcohol isn’t entirely healthy and why not choose herself? Why not choose health?
When we don’t, why? When we don’t care, why? For me, it had so much to do with my view of me. So much to do with what I thought I deserved, what I knew of my worth. It had to do with my inability to grow forward, afraid of what a truly healthy lifestyle might mean. Boredom? Self righteousness? I don’t know, it just seemed kind of….not for me. I thought those were all the reasons I wasn’t choosing health, but they aren’t…
Some of us have a really hard time with self-care. We wait until we hit a wall or the ground or the very bottom. We do this in a million ways, but it’s not just about how much we drink or eat or shop or browse Pinterest.
For many many years I thought that the ideal healthy Heather was a) unattainable and b) lame. I had so many unhealthy habits (some of which certainly continue today) that I left literally no TIME for healthy habits. I chose self-destruction over self-care every single time.
Now, as a sober woman, who is clearly an alcoholic and must choose to stay sober, I realize through my conversation with Aidan, that I am not just a sick woman who was giving in for many years. I am not just a broken woman who is fighting to remain whole. My drinking was a problem, but my having a drinking problem is no longer defining me.
I am a woman who is choosing health. Like the friends in my life who have been doing that for years or choosing it recently or figuring it out whenever they do, in their time. I have a disease. (YES, I do, Dr. Laura.) But what I have now, because of that disease and the choice I made to get help for it, has given me health.
This sounds very elementary, very obvious and maybe even kind of boring. But that’s just it. It’s NOT. It’s everything. Because for some reason, women especially, are not choosing health. In many many ways. We don’t think of it, we’re busy and all of that. We’re taking care of others first, yes, but there is so much more underneath it all. What is it? For you? What are you afraid of? Because I’m guessing, for almost every one of us, this is about fear.
What if I get better….healthier….and then I still feel like shit? What if I lose weight or have a clear mind or spend less time on the computer or save my money or go gluten free and then….wherever I go, there I still am–broken, ugly, impatient, sad, discontented, frustrated, lonely, less than, resentful, not enough, angry….ME.
Is anyone with me? Because I know this is true for me, it’s so true it hurts. I’m sober, but I am also many many of the things I’ve always struggled with and sometimes I’m so down on myself I can’t see ever getting better. I can’t see that I am better. Every day, I have the gift of starting again all Friday Night Lights like — Clear Eyes. Full Heart. Can’t Lose.
I try and sometimes I don’t try and life kicks my ass and I kick my ass and I take it out on other people and I say I’m sorry. I talk about this all the time– I am always both saint and mess. It’s just that making decisions about health helps you realize you do have a choice. You have a million choices. That is freedom. And you have a million chances to screw up. That is grace. And the more you choose health, the less you rely so fully on that grace. And the more you appreciate the grace, the more you see you are more than worthy of it. Not because of anything you do and don’t do, but simply and fully and entirely because you are so YOU.
I told Aidan that so much of health is about acceptance. She reminded me of that in a big way. She has accepted that life would feel better, she would feel better, if she made this healthy choice. She has accepted that she doesn’t know what it means or why exactly she’s doing it and that she doesn’t have to know today.
This weekend I’m going to my TWENTY year high school reunion. Many of my lifelong friends will be there and we’re all so different and so much the same as we were back then. We’ve made a lot of decisions, all of us, both healthy and not, in the last twenty years. There’s something about The Twenty Year Reunion that makes you take a good hard look at that.
Are we there yet? Do we know our worth?
Yes and No.
I wondered if I would stand at my reunion feeling like the most broken one. The one who can’t drink because she can’t control her drinking. The alcoholic one. The boring one. I wondered what that would feel like. Then last night, after thinking about Aidan and Martha, I realized something. I am going to stand there in acceptance of exactly where I am and maybe I’m even going to feel really good about the healthy choice I make over and over, to not drink. To choose myself over the loss of self I experienced when I did drink. I’m going to stand there as a healthier version of myself and I’m going to have a really good time.
I want to give a gift to everyone there. It’s not the gift of health, though of course I want that for each of them, and me. It’s the gift of acceptance–of our health or the health we’ve lost, of our decisions that were good and those that weren’t. The acceptance of exactly who we are with what we know right now, so we can let it go and try again and let it go and try again.
That’s what we can do. That’s all we can do.