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Hip Sobriety School, Day 9

"What if today was the best day of my life?"

The great perfection lies in the fact that no matter what happens next, you'll be richer for it.

Yet another little gem from Mike Dooley of TUT.com—part of a Buddhist-type prayer flag that adds a riot of color and a hint of hippie vibe to the front of our home. I live in a community of primarily wealthy white retired Republicans who glean their world view from Fox News. No judgment on that, but these are not my people. At one point my proud Semper Fi husband was talking about installing a flagpole so the Stars and Stripes could wave in the breeze on days like July 4, Veteran's Day, Memorial Day, and the birthday of the U.S. Marines. My take on that: "Sounds great as long as I can fly a rainbow flag the rest of the year." Much to my surprise, he loved that idea—his brother is gay and he's always been an avid LGBTQ supporter. But still, we live where we live and he's way more concerned about what other people think than I am—which is saying something.

So today's story is all about shame and the heavy heavy burden of caring way too much about the opinions and reactions of others. Granted, it has little to do with the day's mantra except for one thing: Holly introduced it as being so unpopular before that she had decided to toss it. She jokingly said the reaction was hate mail, but honestly, any barrage of negative response can feel that way to a sensitive person. And I have to admit, "What if today was the best day of my life?" is an oddly shaped thing to wrap your head around.

I spent the lion's share of this day running errands and trying in vain to catch up on HSS. Then our live phone call happened, and the evening degenerated into a total shit show. (We're saving the sordid details of that disaster for tomorrow's post). But looking back over the entire day and night, I'm finding that Mike Dooley is onto something. Each and every day of our lives is part of that "great perfection." Purna from the Isha Upanishad says it so simply: This is perfect. That is perfect. Take perfect from perfect and only perfect remains.

But enough of embracing that every day is truly our best day and removing the question mark at the end. Let's circle back to all the angst that surrounds the spontaneous expression of our precious little selves. That fear of being judged or rejected or unloved by others, the whole codependent shtick in a nutshell. The last thing we ever want to experience around other people is humiliation or the feeling of being "less than." And few things issue a more open, gold-embossed invitation for Shame to show up than the struggle to be free of an addiction—no matter what it is. That's why the title of this little piece is SHAME ON SHAME and it harks back to August of 2009:

Unlike many people who skulk into their first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting—broken, unraveled, undone, weeping uncontrollably—I fairly waltzed through the door, beaming like the sun. They talk about hitting “rock bottom” but for me, it was a perfect storm: The decision to live out loud, to be there for my children, to enjoy optimum health, and to live in harmony with my mate. All of those things and more were in grave jeopardy. And from the moment I set foot in those AA rooms, grace prevailed. Unvarnished honesty, loving acceptance—a safe place to be unmasked and naked.

Sobriety is a journey, and years of using alcohol to manage fear and anxiety had left me out of touch with the sparkle of my own personality, the rush of my own exuberant energy. I was so used to having a buzz in social interactions that I had to rediscover my precious natural self. If any gnawing doubts remained about losing one of my most endearing traits—being spontaneously outrageous—they were all put to rest on that fateful Monday Morning Miracles AA meeting for women only.

The guest speaker had a history similar to mine, the closet drinker who lived in shame, covered in the slime of her own dark secrets. She touched a nerve in my psyche that set me on fire to add my own two cents. I couldn’t wait to divulge my own dark secrets like topping off my glass or even guzzling gulps straight from the wine bottle when Bill was on a bathroom break. Far too often, the evening closed with only a few drops left in the bottle I carefully put back in the cupboard, which meant sneaking out the next day to buy one or two or even three small bottles of cheap wine and funneling them into the larger bottle. Otherwise, when the clock struck Cocktail Hour and Bill pulled out the wine, I would be drowning in shame. The last thing I wanted to see was the silent judgment in his eyes as he was saying, "Didn't we just open this last night?" He only drank Jack Daniels.

Fortunately, Bill always took an afternoon nap—just enough time to run a fast errand, do the deed and discard the extra small bottles. But one day he had trouble settling in and wandered into the kitchen, catching me red-faced and red-handed. Few analogies could adequately express the depth of my mortification, but this one was close: “I could not have felt a greater rush of shame if he had walked in on me giving a blow job to the FedEx man.”

From the moment the words flew out of my mouth, my mind went blank and imploded, burning hot with regret. I heard a few peals of raucous laughter but I knew some of those women wanted to retch in their monogrammed linen hankies. A few weeks prior, when the topic of sex had come up in our reading, I was dumbfounded at the tight-lipped, conservative pall that fell over the room. The unwillingness to share anything remotely personal sent me back in time to my mother, who just couldn’t bear to talk about such things. And these prim, proper, reeled-in ladies were sprinkled throughout my audience.

The degradation of my inappropriate mouth hovered over me the entire day like a black cloud of sickening self-recrimination, rumbling over and over and over in my mind and gut. I could have said “having sex with another man,” or even “having sex with the FedEx man.” But no, I had to head straight for the vivid, graphically unforgettable image. Having worn out the flogger with self-beatings, I turned to a confessor. And in my world, confessors are chosen for one quality and one quality only: Their sins are worse than mine. So I sought out the one person in my personal universe with a reputation for a free, sometimes even raunchy, mouth.

Nancy laughed. She laughed so long and hard, in fact, that it was some time before she could compose herself enough to say, “Blowing the FedEx man—now that’s a visual straight from God!” Actually, it was a visual straight from Sex and the City, and as I recall, the only moment in the entire series where Samantha actually appeared to feel a twinge of shame.

Nancy’s laughter fell like a gentle rain on my tortured mind, and a profound thought hit like lightning: I had shamed myself talking about shame. Mom and my childhood and the nuns still had me by the short hairs. Time to unpack those old bags and learn to breathe freely. (Okay, yes, sure, and possibly install a thin little filter over that mouth.)

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