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Hip Sobriety School, Day 1

(Yes, I do know it started a week ago)

And I was so jazzed for school to start!

Okay, so for me, this first week of "the thing that will save me from myself" falls under the category of The Worst Start to Anything Ever. Ironically, Holly named it Week 0 so the fact that it has been a hair's distance from a big Zero is almost laughable. Missed all but the first two mantras. Missed the live Thursday intro, missed the Monday polished lesson, did absolutely none of the work. Oh wait! I did manage to introduce myself and my brand of crazy on our secret Facebook page and spend some time commenting on what others are sharing. But then life got in the way, and it's obvious at this point that the only way I know how to do life is obsessive immersion. Something big comes along, and all sense of balance goes right into the crapper. This trait has been a teensy little problem for a very long time and a real pain in the ass for everyone close to me. Once I start, it's 100 mph to the finish line, I'm not expecting any help, just get the hell out of my way and stop asking me when I might stop for the night.

The conclusion of four days of guys laying new tile in our home left the entire place covered in a layer of white-gray dust. Everything. The furniture stacked in a few places, the walls, our clothes in the closet. It wasn't just grout and construction dust, the guys left the doors and windows open while they worked and we had four afternoons of high-ish wind and blowing dust. We're in the middle of the Sonoran desert. We specialized in gathering dust under all circumstances in any season. But this, this was a fucking nightmare for someone who has been unkindly labeled as an "anal-retentive freak" by at least one of her daughters as they were growing up, possibly two.

So this being Day One of digging back into Hip Sobriety School and hopefully also Day One of a never-ending streak of joyful sobriety, I'm kicking off this blog series that's serving as my school journal with the introduction I wrote on our HSS Facebook page:

Wasn't going to do a long intro but loved reading the others and who cares, really? So many of you are so young. At 68, I'm in a huge majority in my tribe. God I love those peeps and brought at least one along for this amazing ride. My first drug of choice was weed in my 20's (another thing I can't fuck with) but alcohol became a real issue in my years as a divorced single mom, just to drown the endless real and irrational financial anxieties.

Finally walked into the doors of AA in 2009 and threw myself at the program. I was so relieved to be air-ballooned out of my self-destructive rut and on the pink cloud that I wanted to take out billboards and hire a pilot to sky-write I'M IN THE PROGRAM AND IT'S AWESOME! all over the city. My sober journey continued and I came back to mySelf in spades. I still burn incense on the altar of Bill W and Dr. Bob for starting the recovery movement and the miracles that happen in those rooms, but my growing rebellion against certain aspects of the AA culture had me scratched and bleeding in a maze of thorny brambles with no way back. Walking away with my 3-year chip and moving into a self-directed Recovery 2.0 could have been a great thing had I not questioned whether I ever really had a problem. Maybe it was just a rough patch. Not so much.


Holly and the scientists are so right about our brain: Those addictive behavior patterns never go away, they just get layered over with stronger, healthier patterns. Those self-destructive grooves are still lurking beneath the surface, growing weaker, yes, but always ready to rise and rally if given a running chance. That's why taking anything to the level of an addiction is checking in to the Hotel California. The Eagles had it right, you can stab it with your steely knives but you'll never really kill the beast and you can check out but you can never leave. It might take a little time, but moderating will become a struggle.

But there was another discovery: Once I had a deep taste of the freedom and clarity and energy and absolute joy of sobriety, I could never enjoy drinking "normally." Those rose-colored memories of guilt-free drinking in the days before alcohol ever became a problem were just gone. In the beginning was the fear that my second drink would order a third or fourth and I'd start sliding back down the slippery slope of daily drinking. (And that totally happened over time.) But with my body's heightened awareness and sensitivity to ethanol poisoning, even one or two glasses of wine would trigger a soul-sick malaise or tiny cellular-level screams of "NO! Not this shit again! We work so hard to keep you healthy and in balance and you're killin' us here!"

For me, alcohol is always going to be a charming, bubbly, good-looking, way sexy guy who starts out being light and fun company but somewhere along the way, he turns into Charles Manson.

I was in the muck again and on a mission to find fresh alternatives to regaining and holding on to uncompromising sobriety. I wanted something more attuned to my precious wildness, my need for freedom and positive psychology. Something with a clean breeze flowing through it that encourages trusting my instincts, learning the difference between self-direction and self-sabotage. Something that emphasizes a gentle, caring self love and evidence-based approaches and real tools and new rituals instead of ferreting out character defects and taking inventories. I wanted no more of absolutes or constant self-identification with a pathology or negative labels -- least of all a maligned, misunderstood, shame-filled, baggage-laden term like "alcoholic."

I found that offers all those things and more, but the weekly meeting was a revolving door and my attempt to draw together a closer email group fell flat. It was clear that the missing piece was a soulful collective walking beside me on the path, the intimacy and warmth and sharing and raw honesty I first in love with in AA. I needed a tribe like I need oxygen. And that's just what I found in the warm, loving, encouraging, funny, creative, beautiful, courageous, masks-off, inspiring, honest tribe at We call it HSM and yes, it sounds like a sexually transmitted disease.

And yet I was still lacking....something. After years and years and years of giving in to the voices that say, "It's not that bad, really, let's have some wine this evening and transform tomorrow," my brain wiring seemed set in cement. Let's just say I've had so many Day One's and Zero's that my track record for quitting looks like a computer program. But the Universe really does have our back, because somewhere on HSM I connected with and started Holly's 40-Day Sobriety Mantra Project. I stayed sober all 40 days, people. It was nothing less than magical. I had my HSM tribe and I had Holly's voice, God I love her voice, and it was smooth sailing.

On Day 41 hubby and I went out for our "romantic holiday dinner" and once again I buckled to those voices: "You can take the night off planet earth tonight and be somewhere else and enjoy a drink of celebration bubbly and get back on the path tomorrow." New Year's Eve the same thing happened. As January progressed the crack widened and down I tumbled, back into self-loathing and pretty much daily ethanol-poisoning misery. I'm throwing the book at this one and I love the sounds of all the work we'll be doing.

Our fitness center has a photo of a 94-year-old yoga teacher with her entire body raised off the floor on the power of her arms, and the caption reads: "I don't believe in age, I believe in energy." This woman is nearly 25 years older than I am. Life has just begun and I don't want to waste another day of it. Hallelujah, my peeps! WE'RE GONNA ROCK THIS!

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