The Easiest Hard Thing I’ve Ever Done

It’s been a cold and rainy Thanksgiving weekend. I slept a lot. I ate a lot. I worked HARD. All in all, it was a great balance of downtime and productive time. To wrap up the weekend, we’re snuggling in front of a cracking fire and getting ready to binge on some Netflix.

Within maybe two feet of my nose, my husband’s beer glass is wafting its yeasty malty funk into the living room air. It’s exactly the kind of beer I used to trip all over myself for. And I don’t just mean that figuratively.

beer in front of fire
It’s a dark winter stout, thick and almost chocolaty, not too cold, not very fizzy. I’m looking at that graceful glass and breathing in those scents, and I have one thought.


At this moment, I’ve been sober for 7 months, 28 days, 22 hours, and 35 minutes. My sobriety app tells me that at the rate I was glugging away, I’ve saved $2,477 and passed up 1,486 units of booze.

I’ll tell you something. If you’ve been here, there’s no surprise in this for you. But here it is:

Seven months and 28 days ago I didn’t think I could do this. I remember telling my husband, who had seen me make a good 60-day run at sobriety the year before only to pick up the bottle even more enthusiastically than before, “I think this will be really hard work and I just don’t know if I’m up to it.”

And that’s the irony of this addiction thing. When you reach your truth time – or what some people call “hitting bottom,” even though I’ll thank dog I didn’t have to do that – when you get there, you’re tired. You’ve been tired for so long you don’t even know you’re tired. You’ve been working so hard to keep things together you don’t even remember what a non-hungover, non-cloudy-brained, non-get-through-this-by-the-seat-of-your-pants day even feels like. That scary feeling of barely getting by, of putting on a front so others can’t see how much you’re not up to it? It’s not a bad day. You just call it Tuesday. It’s normal.

I’d heard that from long-time sobriety champions. Not so much in these words, but I’d heard people with dressers full of AA chips and directories of sponsees tell me that people who are practicing their addiction are living in a haze of delusion. The haze is so normal they don’t even notice it anymore.

I remember back in the day when my brothers were in constant legal trouble because of their addictions. DUIIs, probation, probation violations, jail, probation, more violations, more jail. I called an uncle who is one of those with a collection of AA chips and sponsees. He talked me out of trying an intervention with my brothers. Interventions usually don’t work, he said. And he said it would have to be up to my brothers. But when they did finally decide – IF they ever decided – they’d learn that this whole sobriety thing isn’t as complicated as the intoxicated mind makes it out to be.

“So, say you have a routine every night: you come home from work at 5:30 and have dinner at 6:00 and from 7:00 – 9:00 you watch your two favorite shows on TV,” I remember him saying, while I wondered why the hell he was talking about mundane weeknight routines when I was afraid my brothers were going to die. “It’s such a habit that you can’t remember what you did before that habit. And if someone suddenly took away your ability to continue this habit, you wouldn’t know what to do with yourself. But that would just last for a while. Pretty soon you’d find new habits – hopefully better and healthier than the old ones – and you wouldn’t miss the old habits anymore.”

Now, remember, my brothers were in trouble. Impounded cars and divorces and bad parenting and hiding-from-the-cops kind of trouble. And my uncle was suggesting that their solution could be as easy as deciding not to watch sitcoms for two hours every night.

I didn’t buy it.

And back then, I had never thought I’d face that habit shift myself. I’m what we call a functional alcoholic. I never got arrested or missed work. I was one of the countless among us who can do the college degrees and the business ownership and the volunteer jobs and the community involvement and manage a mortgage and a household and do it all through the haze of booze. Of course, I hauled home bottles of expensive Irish whiskey and cases of snooty wine, so I wasn’t just chugging down cheap beer and getting wasted like my brothers and so many other people we knew. To my mind, I was an entirely different story. I had outrun my DNA.

Honestly, holding my brothers up as a mirror let me stay in denial about two decades longer than I had a right to. I inherited that delusional mirror in the same way I got blue eyes and arthritic shoulders and a sneaky sense of humor. It came in the gene bundle. Generations of my clan have had barely functional and incarcerated kin who let the more functional drunks feel like they had it all together.

So when I reached my truth point almost eight months ago, I tried to steel my blurry and tired and traumatized brain for a hard fight. I started treatment for addiction and for PTSD. I tethered myself to my phone, streaming mindfulness and yoga apps into my ear buds day and night. I stocked up on fizzy flavored water and fancy loose-leaf teas and pretty teapots. I made new habits.

And today, sitting next to that stinky, sparkly glass of something that would have been an irresistible siren call a few months ago, I’m just a little queasy from the smell. I’m getting more space between the fumes and me, reaching for my diet ginger ale, and when I finish that I’ll brew some loose-leaf herbal tea and head to bed with my meditation app and my ear buds.

My uncle wasn’t the crazy one. I was. I have new habits now and I don’t miss the old ones.

It really is that easy.

And it’s more complicated than I can say here and now.

It’s one of the easiest hard things a person can do.

Honestly? Honestly?!? Okay.

I can’t remember the last time I read a horoscope, silly superstition that they are. I think of them as the stuff that captivated me and my friends at fourth-grade slumber parties, along with Magic 8-balls and Ouija boards carefully smuggled past watchful parents.

As an adult, I just don’t go for woo-woo. There is, however, this pernicious popular belief that all massage therapists just love some good woo-woo. I get on email lists that promise to prevent cancer through chakra tuning, cure acne with a juice cleanse, or clear bad family karma through prayer and ritual. Honestly, that last one was worth a curious click-through, but my critical thinking kicked in 1/3 of the way through the sales pitch.

This morning, one of the unsolicited intruder emails included my daily horoscope, which promised that anyone born under the Cancer sign will feel especially attractive and vibrant today.

Which pretty much proves my theory about the woo-woo bullshit.

Here’s how this Cancer actually started her day: with a wet, cold head. And a dirty toilet. And stinky armpits. And a grumbling husband. Construction workers busted a water pipe under our house yesterday. It took 24 hours to get a plumber here. So I used my emergency water jugs from the garage to flush the toilet (just TWICE, because did you know it takes about four gallons to flush a toilet?!?) and to wash my hair in the sink and take a few quick swipes at my pits with the corner of a wet towel. Grumpy Husband stayed home to wait for the plumber while I rushed out the door for a follow-up with my hand surgeon and a full day of massages on the medical staff at the local psych hospital.

Vibrant? Attractive? What did you say? Come over here and say that, buttheat. I dare you.

So one client bellowed before she’d even walked completely in the door, “Ohmygod you look tired! Wow!” I’m just returning to work after carpal tunnel surgery on both hands, so maybe that’s what passes for concern in her world. Another client, as she was leaving: “I notice you’ve put on weight. You know, I attend Overeaters Anonymous, based on The Big Book. I think you’d benefit.”

Of course I didn’t mention the reasons why I am not a fan of The Big Book and the 12-step meetings based on it. In fact, almost anything I could have said in response would be unprofessional. Or illegal, since I work only as long as I’m in the good graces of the Board of Massage Therapists (hallowed be Thy name). Board rules explicitly state that therapists shalt not ram elbows into clients’ eyeballs, genitals, carotid arteries. . .

Given the suffocating weight of ethical and legal restrictions, my best option was to turn it back to a therapeutic conversation. “So, you’re happy with that program? How nice that it’s helping you! Keep up the amazing work. I’m impressed. And thank you for the recommendation.”

Next client through the door: “Are you sure you’re ready for this? You had surgery, and now I’m coming in with this giant knot in my shoulder and I want you to dig it – HARD!” Absolutely, yes, I told her, let’s get to work on that shoulder. “Oh, good,” she laughed. “I thought I was enabling another person’s self-harm.”

And, bingo!

Leave it to mental health workers to use words like enabling self-harm, and to try to be tactfully direct about fatigue, weight gain, or other indicators of general well-being – or lack thereof.

I’ve worked on these people for twenty years. Their job is to treat and contain the criminally insane. Their job will eat them alive if they aren’t diligent about their own self care and their work-life boundaries. They’ve told me that our ongoing therapeutic relationship helps them maintain their sanity. They rely on me for grounding. Or, to use a less woo-woo word, it’s a source of solace.

I feel I should pause here to let that sink in. I provide solace for the doctors and nurses and technicians who take care of really super crazy people. I hold at least a part of the container that keeps them from buying a one-way ticket to Borneo or requesting their own bed and medication schedule so they can check themselves into the ward at the end of their shift.

Please enjoy the irony. You’re safe. My elbows are only licensed to heal.

But the point is, if I totally lose it (as opposed to just sort of losing it and then getting it together, and losing it a little bit, but then collecting my shit, as is pretty much the zig-zag path of anyone who’s truly paying attention) they need to find somebody else who will release their trigger points and restore motion to stuck shoulders and can pass the security clearance to get inside the hospital and back out at least twice a month. The part where I get back out always feels like I’ve just pulled one over on The Man. Every time, 21 years now, twice a month, they had me and they let me go. Wheeeee! Run like somebody left the gate open!

So I’m zig-zagging my way through this crazy-making life, and some of the curves in the road are a little harder than others. Call it car sickness. Right now I’m sticking my head out the window and letting the fresh air blow right in my face. That always helps. But if I still look carsick in two weeks when I’m back there? Damned right they’ll tell me. And I’ll wonder why the hell they’re being so blunt, but truly I’ll know exactly why they’re being so blunt. It’s like telling somebody they have a fever or that cough is starting to sound serious.

We’re not a straightforward people, are we? Even in this age of compulsive oversharing, we know what our friends ate for lunch and which celebrities are screwing around and how many people shave their pubes. But we don’t know how people are coping with the real stuff.

How are you doing after blocking your brother and unfriending your cousin because of their ugly, racist social media remarks?

How are assault survivors managing the daily barrage of triggering language from a proud groper who thinks he should be the leader of the free world?

How do sober people deal with the world’s jagged stabbing shards that most people soften with substances?

Good questions, right?

But to ask, you have to be a special kind of honest. Masterfully honest. And that shit’s real. So real, in fact, that some people’s ears aren’t even tuned to hear it.

Honestly. Honestly. It’s okay.




How’s Your Precious Little Spark of Madness Today?

Robin Williams Madness

My feeds are sprinkled with Robin Williams tributes. He would have turned 65 this week, and judging by the chosen quotations in his many tributes, this is his most enduring message: “You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”

It’s fitting that we remember his little spark of madness, since he’s the reason we all owned rainbow suspenders and thought “Nano-Nano” was a stupidly hilarious punchline for nearly anything. But maybe this quotation endures for other reasons too. After all, it might have been his own little spark of madness that metastasized into the thoughts that murdered him by his own hand. But perhaps it endures for the simple fact that we all sometimes feel singed by our own sparks of madness, and framing them as precious incendiary gifts is immensely comforting.

So, how are your cherished sparkles of crazy today?

I’ll tell you how mine are. They’re dancing like fireflies in the summer sky, nimble and uncontainable.  I had them captured in Mason jars for a bit. They were glowy and almost cute, as if I could post selfies on Facebook with my crazies’ cherubic brightness buzzing behind me, the way I post pictures of my dogs sleeping in comical poses. “Life is good, all. My dogs are snoring on a pile of my bed pillows and my batshit is all closed up in a jar with a ribbon on top. So, so pretty.”

Not to make light of crazy, because its spectrum ranges from quirky to criminal, but let’s talk about the relatively benign portion of that bell curve. We all know, or at least suspect, that our efforts to chase happiness and cling to normalcy make us feel crazy. If your gray matter contains even the average number of colorful sparks, they will forever conspire to steer you off the bucolic road into the wild woods, and then back to center, and then off again. But somehow we convince ourselves that all of those turns in the road represent some pathology, or some failure of character. That’s where we get into trouble.

I recently read a dour interpretation of Buddhist thought asserting that you’re meant to suffer.  That’s true enough, of course. After all, no being navigates life without suffering. But the author’s enthusiastic embrace of suffering is somewhere I’m not yet ready to go. According to my novice interpretation of Buddhist teaching, a clinging affinity for any state – pleasant or unpleasant – is the source of all suffering. Our challenge is to simply accept and observe all of our states, like the passing scenery out a train window, without judgment. If we try to exert control, if we think we’re called to create a constant state of happiness – or even believe we should be capable of it – we’re fools.

I’ve been that fool lately, not just because I’m as prone as anyone to pathologize my own sparks, but because other people’s sparks insist on ramming into the side of my cozy little Mason jar. And how dare they? Don’t I have enough to do just keeping my own little fireflies in check? I found my equilibrium here, and zap, zap, zap.

My mom texted that she just had a heart attack, although she reports that a series of medical tests confirm there’s zero damage to her heart. Which – and I’m no doctor – I think by definition rules out an actual heart attack.* A normal person would feel concern about her mother’s potential heart attack, but this particular heart attack sounds like her others, plus her several strokes, two rounds of nondescript cancer, MS, fibromyalgia, childhood polio, and a recurring case of “blood clots in the rectum,” all of which didn’t actually happen in any medical sense. They only happened inside her little firefly farm. Zap, zap, zap. So where’s my sympathy, whether her illnesses is in the heart muscle or etched indelibly into the scrambled eggs of her brain? My husband says we’ll send a get-well card. Okay, fine. We can do that. What kind of terrible person am I? Zap, zap, zap.

Getting ready for construction to begin on our master bedroom addition, I rushed through a last-minute door installation, mis-aimed the nail gun, and embedded a nail, curved through the bone like a fishing hook, into my index finger. My husband’s cognitive process turns to TV static in an emergency. He can’t remember the way to the hospital, traffic is bad, my finger hurts like a mutha. I used every muscle in my body to muzzle the snark. It was hard enough work that I walked the last block and a half to the ER to spare me watching him find parking while his brain frizzed. I silently chided myself, finger held high, trying to speed-walk but not run: So now I’m someone who responds to pain by poking everyone else with angry, impatient barbs? Shove those fireflies back into the jar and be lighthearted during the three-hour ER visit, you jerk. Zap, zap, zap.

Just a few days into construction everything stopped because the guy who will install our heat ducting is out at sea for a second week of catching and selling tuna. I’m stressed over the unscheduled stoppage so he can kill members of a drastically declining species instead of doing his job.  Move the electrician and plumber around, force the carpenters to take a two-day break, but swallow down the fireflies and say nothing, you militant vegan freak. Zap, zap, zap.

During my flurry of rescheduling with all the subs, a friend sends an ominous email with no subject line. “Please call me asap.” I take the bait, only to hear she has extra garden produce to share. Oh, yeah, she knows the email sounded alarming, hee-hee. On a troubled and hungry planet, I’m the monster who’s inconvenienced by free arugula and green beans. Swallow those fireflies, you ungrateful First World brat. Zap, zap, zap.

I’m still rearranging the construction schedule when my sister sends two text messages, one Facebook message and a voicemail within five minutes. She has an emergency. I need to call her NOW. Her deeply troubled Chihuahua snapped at the dog walker, who popped the lid off a food-service-size jar of fireflies and said my sister shouldn’t even have a dog. The walker then calmed down and is willing to walk Rocky, but my sister thinks maybe she should just let the cleaning lady walk him because he likes her and because that dog walker treated my sister so unprofessionally. Your dog walker doesn’t have a Harvard MBA, for crying out loud. The dog can’t stay in your apartment for 12 hours, so work it out with the unprofessional one or hire someone else. I don’t care. Zap, zap, zap. It’s one of the few times I let the fireflies out of the jar instead of swallowing them down. I hang up the phone knowing I was too hard on her. I’m a terrible sister. Zap, zap, zap.

That evening I’m planning the next day’s logistics with my husband: I’ll work a full schedule and oversee the builders and meet a City worker for a plumbing inspection. I’ll leave home around 9:15 and be home by 3:00, I say. Glazed and inattentive, my husband asks me what time I’ll leave the house in the morning. Zap, zap, zap. By now the fireflies are harder and harder to contain, and I don’t want to spill them all just because my husband too often asks a question I just answered. It’s not worth the upset, but those little sparks are just zapping and zapping and zapping away.

I was already wound like a tight spring, along with everyone of conscience in the world right now. Bombs are falling, snipers are shooting, cops are killing civilians, civilians are killing cops, refugees are fleeing, and thousands of Americans wearing red and blue sequins and yearning for the good pre-civil-rights era spent the week cheering an orange-hued misogynist racist in his bid to be the leader of the free world. Zap the fucking Zap and Zap Zap.

So I doused the zaps. In whiskey. Sobriety, schnobriety. The warm calm oozed through me. The fireflies floated happily into their jar and lulled off to sleep. Nighty-night.

The fireflies awake in the morning, of course. They can’t spend forever in a calming whiskey wash. Or maybe they could, but the whiskey would make a far bigger mess of me than my sparks would ever dream. So the trick is to not pathologize the sparks to the point that I want to silence them. And to remember that without our madness twinkling through the darkness, we’d be damned boring. I’d have nothing to write. I’d have less arugula.


*Merriam Webster. “Full Definition of heart attack: an acute episode of heart disease marked by the death or damage of heart muscle due to insufficient blood supply to the heart usually as a result of a coronary thrombosis or a coronary occlusion and that is characterized especially by chest pain —called also myocardial infarction.”






Writers Describe How Depression Feels

depression stock photo

I was first diagnosed with depression in my early 20s. In truth, I’d probably experienced the symptoms years before, but the diagnosis came about when I was working a highly visible, pressure-cooker job as a TV news anchor and reporter. I found it increasingly harder to be “on” when I needed to be, to get out of bed every day and keep a professional smile while doing stressful work under intense public scrutiny. So I sought help and got it.

KPIC 1990

Me, putting on my brave face, but depressed as hell.

Hearing the diagnosis – and hearing there were medications and other treatments proven to help – lifted me immediately. I called the doctor the next morning and said I thought the medications were already helping. He assured me they don’t work that quickly, but if there was some combined placebo effect with the relief of knowing I would soon feel better, that was great news too.

As writers tend to do with profound life moments, I brought my experience to the page. I did a week-long series of reports on depression and revealed my own experience. Some people thought I was oversharing and warned I might be sorry for going public. I never was. When appreciative feedback came in from viewers, I knew I’d made the right decision.

My only fear was that it would become my identity – that people would think of my depression when they thought of me or my work. That didn’t happen, either. My last day on air, when the news team did a tribute, the depression thing didn’t even make the cut. So there’s that. Speak up. It’ll be okay.

Back then, it was highly unusual to talk about depression. Today is different, though possibly no less scary. There’s still a stigma to overcome. You have a problem with your thyroid or bowels or plantar fascia or carpal bones? Talk it up! A problem with your brain? Eek. Talk about that and people might think you’re broken.

It’s probably no coincidence that writers are often the people to push through the stigma and describe depression in a public way. Why writers? I don’t know. Our ability to put experience to words? A function of the kind of interior life that leads one to write in the first place? A proclivity for navel-gazing?

Some still write anonymously when they can, like the woman who’s been tweeting as “So Sad Today” since 2012. She’s since been more public about her identity, but started initially with a keen interest in avoiding possible judgment while sharing thoughts like, “trying to act normal feels lonely,” and “is gravity getting heavier.”

Writer Tim Lott shared in The Guardian that depression for him feels like, “There is a heavy, leaden feeling in your chest, rather as when someone you love dearly has died; but no one has – except, perhaps, you.”

David Foster Wallace famously shared that his depression felt like severe nausea in every cell of his body. It’s being trapped in that moment before throwing up, the unbearable full-body sickness, but the vomiting never comes. Like other depressives, he knew the non-depressed had no capacity to fully understand it. A severely depressed person who chooses suicide, he wrote, is like the desperate person who jumps from a burning high rise. The fall is still terrifying, but it becomes slightly less terrifying than the flames. So “nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

Wallace eventually jumped from the flames too, joining the legions of famous writers whose brains ultimately murdered them.

Other writers from Stephen King to Mark Twain and Sylvia Plath are known to have struggled with depression. This perplexing and mysterious illness has been around us forever, and still we understand so little. Experts still debate whether depression is a physical illness, brought by faulty brain chemistry, or a strictly emotional illness, arising out of faulty thought habits. Famous thinkers and writers offer a clue to this question as well: most, like Twain, came from families that contributed both the social and biological ingredients: both nature and nurture.

Whatever the cause, no matter how mysterious, we know that this disease resided in some of the most brilliant and influential minds ever to put pen to paper. People who write – people both famous and unknown – can describe depression in all of its nuanced shades of black and gray.

For me: depression is a heavy, cold clay encasing my body. My eyelids and facial muscles are harder to move, my limbs are heavy, and all is futile. Effort, hope, plans become folly, as I’m convinced they’re powerless to add meaning to the utter absurdity of life.

To my brilliant writerly friend: depression is a continuous tape loop of negative messages going around and around and around in her brain. You’re not meant to be here. You’ll never be good enough. You’re a fraud.

For Margaret Atwood: “I have done something wrong, something so huge I can’t even see it, something that’s drowning me. I am inadequate and stupid, without worth. I might as well be dead.”

To JK Rowling: “It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope.”

To Jonathan Franzen: (the description most similar to my own experience) “Depression presents itself as a realism regarding the rottenness of the world in general and the rottenness of your life in particular. But the realism is merely a mask for depression’s actual essence, which is an overwhelming estrangement from humanity.”

As detailed as these descriptions may be, depression likely always will be a deep mystery to the non-sufferers. To my one blood relative who likely has never experienced depression: “Maybe you should just eat a nice piece of fruit and you’ll feel better.” To those who would throw peaches as life-preservers into our stormy tides: go back to your happy place, please. Leave the dark stuff to the experts.

But to those who have tread water in those stormy seas, take heart. The essence, in Franzen’s words, of the “overwhelming estrangement from humanity” is a brain glitch. It’s a lie. There is good company in those dark waters. Reach out. They’re there.




The Many Modern Paths to Sobriety

no drinking

Bob the Bartender got sober four years ago, while working full-time behind a bar, and without ever attending an AA meeting. He just reached a point where he knew he had to get sober, and he knew he had to do it on his own. He says sobriety still gets better by the day. It makes you superhuman, he says, and then he whispers that we should keep that a secret, lest everyone learn the path to omniscience.

Behind his bar, you’ll find whatever weighty tome he’s currently devouring. You can ask him the name of any capitol city ON THE PLANET and he knows it. He can discuss Herman Melville’s personal quest for sense in the world. And, yes, I still belly-up to his bar, for a ginger ale or a Virgin Mary, and we have conversations that give my brain more nourishing mental superfood than any of my graduate-level philosophy or ethics classes ever did.

A friend in my meditation group won’t tempt herself with a bar or pub setting, and hasn’t in nearly five years of sobriety. She attends AA meetings and nurtures her sobriety with meditation and journaling.

Another dear friend completed a month of residential treatment that included AA meetings, medical care, counseling, meditation, and therapy with horses. She attends AA meetings almost daily and a meditation group twice a week.

A relative of mine dove straight into the deep end of AA and still swims through it, mermaid-like, every day. Her conversations are sprinkled with AA lingo, with praises for God, and expressions of gratitude. She staffs the desk at a drop-in help center and studies addiction therapy at the community college.

Very un-mermaid-like, I dipped my toe into AA and put my shoes right back on. I attend a Buddhist-oriented meditation group. I write daily and read everything I can find on the subject of sobriety. I use phone apps that provide daily inspirational readings, remind me to meditate, and track my days sober as well as dollars saved from not buying alcohol. I have a Pinterest page where I stash any little gem that feels inspirational, soothing, or motivating so I can dive in when needed.

Back in the old days, when I was a kid whose adult relatives were divided between the diligently sober and the lavishly inebriated, I overheard countless homilies on the commandments of sobriety. There was one right way to do it. Even relatives who hadn’t had a drink in ages weren’t considered truly sober unless they were doing it right.

To be fair, my family’s conservative Mormon and Irish Protestant DNA didn’t predispose them to Transcendental meditation retreats or communing with therapy horses, even if those options had been available to them. In those days and in our circles, AA was it. You were in or you were a drunkard. And if you were in, there were rules:

Taking a nighttime cold medicine was cheating.

Non-alcoholic beers or mock cocktails were as dangerous as Russian roulette.

Bars and pubs would lead right back to the bottle.

God was an essential travel companion and no one could journey all the way to sobriety without Him.

Rarely did the sober relatives veer from these commandments. One even tried valiantly to live without doctor-prescribed anti-depressants. It didn’t work, and she still feels hints of judgment for treating her unbalanced brain chemistry.

In this new generation of sobriety, the rules are generously broad, and the judgment is mercifully muted. The old ways still surface, but with less authority. In my circles, one of the Old Guard convinced a woman that true sobriety required her to stop the medications that manage her bipolar disorder. Fellow group members said she was quickly “off the deep end” and they had to pull her to safety.

There is a clear shift in the world of sobriety. There are many paths. All are good.

AA’s Big Book was written in the 1930s by Christian white guys, and little has changed since. The program is still the standard, saving lives every day, and even comforting in its weathered and old-timey feel. Fortunately, today there’s also a welcoming spot somewhere for the Godless, the counter-culture, the non-conformist and the non-joiners.

I know people who find sober sanity in a good pair of running shoes, on a yoga mat or a meditation cushion, in a church pew or a secluded forest path, and even on a bar stool across from a philosopher mixologist.



The Day Prince Saved Clapton

prince and clapton

Watching Purple Rain Drew Clapton out of a Depressive Spiral of “Drink and Drugs”


While the world awaits Prince’s autopsy results, there are the usual speculations (Was it a pain meds addiction? Accidental overdose?) Meanwhile, the usual tributes continue to pour out. There’s something a bit unusual, though: the uniquely personal and emotional tributes from celebrities to The Purple One.

You’ll find none more personally felt than than Eric Clapton’s social media post, picked up by Huffington Post.  Clapton retells a grim period in the mid-80s when he was touring, despairing about the dismal state of music culture at the time, and spiraling into a mire of “drink and drugs” and depression. Watching Prince (then totally unknown to Clapton) in Purple Rain filled him with hope. He sat among the empty bottles in his hotel room and penned “Holy Mother.”

Much is written and opined about the apparent tie between creative personalities and addiction. In one of my current favorites among inspirational books, author Meredith Bell writes that our mythology of the brilliant, drunken writer or musician is a ruse. What more would Hemingway and the like have produced if they had lived longer, lived clearer, nursed the muse instead of the bottle? What more would Jack Kerouac have given the world had he not died at 47 from cirrhosis of the liver?

The hard truth is, alcohol likely has cut short more brilliant lives than it unleashed. On the flip side of this tragedy: the fact that some of our best treasures are the creative souls who journeyed to the bottom of the bottle, swam back out, and went on to write and sing about it.

Breathing Back a Trigger


My husband and I met a friend last night. We look forward to our visits with her. She and my husband were drinking beers and I was loving my spinach/ginger smoothie when she launched into an animated rant about how much homeless people disturb her life. They rifle through the Dumpster behind her high-end condo and they sleep in the alleys and doorways of her posh downtown neighborhood. Trash is dirty, and they just don’t have any self-respect, she said.

My husband and I tried to inject compassion into the conversation. How hard would it be if your only option for the night was to sleep on cardboard in an alley? How desperate would you feel if you had to search other people’s trash hoping to find some food or a half-full bottle of shampoo? “I get that,” she shot back. “But I’m not backing down on the fact that they aren’t hungry. I don’t think anybody is hungry in my city; there are so many soup kitchens and programs.”

Now, when I quit drinking, there wasn’t any drama or monumental dysfunction driving my choice. I had never had a brush with the law or embarrassed myself or become someone other than myself. I simply realized that I relied too much on alcohol as a coping mechanism. If I’d had a stressful day, or I was angry, or anxious, or bored, I’d soothe the feelings with alcohol – which, let’s be honest, is how most people use alcohol. I simply realized I was doing this on a regular basis and I was playing Russian roulette with my genetics.

So I quit.

Mostly it’s been a happy change. Until last night. We were at a restaurant that’s hippy enough to serve smoothies and bowls of veggies and quinoa, but it also has a full bar. There was whiskey over there. Probably good Irish whiskey. It was so close, and it would help me swallow down this lump of bitterness and disappointment that was caught in my throat as I listened to my friend sound so mean-spirited.

But I can’t let people drive me to drink. What I really want is to live in a kinder world. A shot of Jameson in my belly won’t make the world any nicer; it will only result in me breaking a promise to myself. So I breathed.

In for the count of four; out for the count of eight. Repeat.

Breathing won’t make the world any nicer, either. I couldn’t do anything at that table in that moment that would heal the world. So I could only say to my friend, “I’ll be curious to hear how you feel about this issue after you’ve thought about it. What I’m hearing from you is uncharacteristic of you. You’ve lost your compassion.” She agreed. And then she changed the subject.

And then I breathed. In for the count of four; out for the count of eight. In for the count of four; out for the count of eight. It’s a calming Yogic breath that has never failed me. Maybe I’ll nickname it Jameson.

My husband and I left and laughed at how stressful that conversation was. And then we noticed the beautiful bright moon.


Five AMAZING Virgin Cocktails

Part of the fun of a cocktail is that BOOM factor: that hot or smoky or astringent taste that just gets you right there. Nursing a glass of club soda all evening will keep your head clear, but it might make your taste buds fall fast asleep. Invite them to the party too with some mocktails that deliver a jolt of smoky, salty, tart or sweet. Opt for the wow factor of ginger and lemon and fresh herbs. Skip the sugar and simple syrup and corn-syrup-laden sodas. Here are some favorites that are healthy and natural and hassle-free. One is from my own kitchen and the others are happy finds from the interwebs.


bloody mary

These days I’m all about the Virgin Mary.

In my boozy days I practically worshiped at the feet of any bartender who could make a showy, delicious Bloody Mary. Done correctly, I’d say, it was like a really good, spicy salad with vodka dressing.

Well, vodka schmodka. This virginal version is missing nothing. I order these when I’m out, and they’re always good, but nothing compares to the ones I create at home. The way I make them requires no fuss or measuring. All I need is a few minutes to worship at my refrigerator’s condiment shelf. Don’t skimp on the pickled goodies, because they really make this special.


Low-sodium tomato juice or vegetable juice cocktail (think V8)

Tabasco sauce

Vegan Worcestershire sauce

Spanish smoked paprika



Celery stalk (leafy part intact)

Cocktail onions

Pickled asparagus

Pickled green beans

Green olives with pimento

Salt and pepper for garnish

Coarse salt (optional)

Cucumber spears (optional)

Start Creating:

(Optional: dampen rim of glass with lime juice and dip in coarse salt to create a salt rim.)

Fill a large, clear glass 1/3 full with ice cubes. Add 2-3 shakes of Tabasco and 4-5 shakes of Worcestershire. Sprinkle in about 1/4 tsp smoked paprika and fill glass with tomato juice. Squeeze one wedge each of lemon and lime into the juice, add the celery stalk, and use it to stir the drink. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

Garnish with a toothpick or skewer well loaded with olives, onions, pickled asparagus, and green beans. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper over the veggies.

Add cucumber spear alongside celery if that floats your olive boat. Garnish with lemon and/or lime wedges if you like.

You’re only limited by the size of the glass. Use longer skewers if you want. Load that baby up.


summer twang

The Summer Twang at bon appetit


Fresh cantaloupe and fizzy club soda with some sweetness (use agave nectar in place of honey to make it vegan.) The unexpected twang comes from a hint of apple cider vinegar.






Herb Garden Spritzer at GoodToKnow

Simple, fizzy, and full of summer flavors. This spritzer is easy to make and the sugar is optional.







tornado twist

Tornado Twist at AllRecipes

It doesn’t get much simpler than this: a bottle of juice and a bottle of sparkling water. Use a sugar-free and zero-calorie sparkler like La Croix to keep it light.






pink grapefruit

Pink Grapefruit “Margaritas” from Martha Stewart

Colorful, festive, and cool. These are as simple as a sugared rim, pink grapefruit juice with Grenadine, and a bit of lime. But they look like you went to much more trouble.