Several weeks ago, fortune found us hours away from Carnival in Barranquilla – site of the second largest Carnival in the world. Only Rio tops it.
On February 20, 2017, I celebrated thirty-months of sobriety and my commitment to the daily, life-long process of active recovery from addiction.
I don’t fit in with the sober kids. I didn’t find sobriety in the rooms: sobriety found me in Izmir, Turkey when she was the last thing I was looking for.
I didn’t work through the twelve steps: I took my own steps, set my own pace, and walked off-path, frequently, without knowing how to realign.
I’ve never read a page of the Blue Book: I’m currently reading a collection of short stories that are blissful confusion and strangeness and the cover does happen to be blue.
I don’t identify with a God and my notion of a higher power isn’t defined by a Higher Power.
On September 22, 2014, I didn’t introduce myself to a room full of strangers: I sat on the back patio of a Turkish mansion and asked myself to step away from my Self and be in objective observance. Was my Self and the decisions I was making in those surrounding days, in service of truest Self and deepest potential?
My first day of sobriety felt a lot like hosting a dinner party with old friends; unfamiliar characters began arriving in my mind.
The Creator was a guest. He mentioned that he hadn’t seen any of my recent work, I confessed I had none to share. The Daughter showed up unannounced, wondering why she hadn’t heard from me recently.
The Athlete. The Dancer. The Best Friend. The Lover.
All of my identities seemed to speak to me in isolation, neglected, undervalued, and frustrated that I had minimized their importance within my own Venn diagram. I had lost touch with conscious choice. I had surrendered decision making to a substance outside of my Self.
I sat inside the theater of my mind and let scenes of my life scroll behind my eyes like a film wheel. Years and months and days flowed past, and the character least familiar in every scene was my Self. I was embarrassed. I was confused. I was resentful.
Then it clicked. Rather than thinking hypothetically and retrospectively, I became curious: what would life moving forward be like if I removed the substance? The scapegoat? The crutch? The blame?
Could I develop a relationship between the strangers in my mind? Could this lead to an understanding of competing attributes: inferiority and self-confidence; vulnerability and reservation; trust and skepticism; masculinity and femininity; conservatism and sexuality; discipline and spontaneity.
On that back porch in Izmir, under a sunny Aegean sky and soft Mediterranean winds, surrounded by low-hanging pomegranates and bountiful figs, an acute awareness set in: if I ever wanted to truly love, to truly serve, I would first have to commit to loving and serving my Self. For the first time in my life, I decided to put my Self first.
And so began the commitment – surrendering to understanding this new reality by relinquishing control. And so began the understanding – breaking things down, digesting, categorizing, observing. And so began the forgiveness – acceptance, the wisdom of washing away, the power in letting go.
It was discerning. It was unifying. It took accepting both to begin to heal.
It’s September 22, 2016 and things are different now. I still have weekly dinner parties with the characters in my mind. I still struggle with balancing the patch-worked pieces of old decisions and new values. But things are different now: I have choice.
Every day I chose to cultivate an honest relationship with my Self; one that offers more love, confusion, frustration, and peace than I ever knew existed. It’s this honest relationship that allows me to trust. It’s this relationship that is a daily reminder of the powerful combination of choice and discipline. We chose to change, our actions drive the choice.
It doesn’t get easier, I never believed it would. But it’s two years later and the decision to be sober still promises to be worth it. It’s worth working through. It’s worth fighting for. It’s worth all of it’s tests and tribulations and questions without answers. It’s worth everything. It’s worth you.
Two years later, and it’s so damn worth it. You are so damn worth it.
Thank you for being my friend. My lover. My sister. My brother.
Thank you for being everything.
Thank you for being there for me.
Thank you for supporting me, especially when you didn’t realize you were.
I know we don’t hang out as much as we should, or talk as much as we’d like, but just knowing you’re there is more comforting than you’ll ever know.
Thank you for reminding me that community is all around and all I need to do to feel it is to Take A Step Back. Observe. Realize. And Be Grateful.
Thank you for all the times you answered the phone when I needed to talk.
Thank you for all the times you didn’t answer your phone and let me leave a voicemail. Because you knew what I needed was to talk it through.
Thank you for letting me talk it through.
Thank you for telling me to stop talking and to just listen. To hear not only my words, but the words and subtle messages all around us – the hymn of the wind within the branches, how much is said without words.
Thank you for teaching me your mother’s way of making quiche and your father’s way of brewing coffee.
Thank you for showing me how to do a handstand, how to change the flat tire on my bike, how to take a good photograph.
Thank you for your patience. Because of you, I never want to stop learning.
Thank you for approaching that group of guys at the bar with me, and thank you for telling me that they weren’t worth my time. That I was better than that, then them, even if, maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t.
Thank you for holding me to higher standards.
Thank you for questioning my morals. Thank you for questioning my beliefs. Thank you for redefining who I am.
Thank you for challenging my world-view and for shifting my perspectives, even when I was stubborn and stuck and you couldn’t stand me.
Thank you keeping me accountable to becoming a better person.
Thank you for pushing me to my limits and empowering me to exceed my own expectations.
Thank you for never letting me forget my dreams and for helping me to dream bigger and bigger, year after year.
Thank you for reminding me that no dream is too outrageous and that it’s all within reach.
Thank you for experimenting with vegan brownies and taking 1am photo shoots on North Capitol and driving to the beach in the middle of the night to watch the meteor shower.
Thank you for being ridiculous and child-like, for embracing spontaneity and for making me laugh.
Thank you for brightening my world.
Thank you for helping me cultivate Self-Love.
Thank you for making me vulnerable to Love again – for inspiring me to continue opening my heart. To stay open.
Thank you for loving me for me and for making me promise to never change.
Thank you for letting me fly. Thank you for stumbling alongside of me. Thank you for letting me fall.
Thank you for leading me to exactly where I am now: single and sober and bursting with twenty-six years of patch-worked insights and experiences and heartache and scars.
Thank you for encouraging me to keep on the path I’m on. I know I’m not an easy friend to have, but I’m so, so grateful that you’re willing to sacrifice and make space for me, for us.
So Thank You. Thank you for helping me through these last twenty-six years. And Thank You for being a part of this next journey around the sun. Twenty-seven. 365 more.
I couldn’t have made it without You.
Yesterday was International Day at NATO LANDCOM’S HQ. Of NATO’s twenty-eight member countries, our HQ represents 24 of them. From Albania to Czech Republic, France to Hungary, Poland to Turkey, this is certainly the most multicultural environment I’ve ever found myself in; even more so than Erasmus in Istanbul.
In the six weeks since I’ve been with NATO, I’ve attempted to dissect an incredibly dynamic and complex organizational structure, understand how my individual position plays a collective role within LANDCOM and within NATO, and learn how to operate within a context in which 24 extremely different working styles overlap.
It’s common knowledge that if you can’t find an Italian, he’s likely sharing an espresso in the kitchen. If a Turk is nowhere to be found, they’re bound to be on the terrace drinking a cay. If you need something done immediately, pray there’s a German on the other end of it.
Add to that, the stark differences in working with civilians and military personnel, 24 national military structures and the unofficial rules of military-civilian and inter/intra military personal and professional interactions, and you begin to understand how overwhelming and challenging this experience has been.
Amidst the difficulties and uncertainties, it can be easy to forget my mission; to lose sight of how my individual and our collective work contributes to the security of my colleagues, their families, their countries, their neighbor countries, and ultimately, our world at large. My individual work is so much more expansive than I tend to realize.
Yesterday, International Day, was the first time in six weeks that I’ve felt emotionally attached to our collective mission. Inspired. Humbled. Honored.
Intertwined with the stark emotional moments were laughs and lovely times shared with colleagues and friends over food and drinks from around the world. It was the beauty in our table being spread with paella, French wine, Hungarian stew, Canadian moose milk, German beer and Polish sweets, while hearing Turkey’s Aegean military band in the background, that affirmed our individual and collective commitment to what we do.
The International Day culinary spread was immaculate and as a culturalitarian – I’ll try anything from any culture (at least) once – I was wonderfully surprised by my desire to happily honor a decision that I made two weeks ago; one which will guide the duration of this Earth life and hopefully lead me on a journey that will fulfill my ultimate potential.
Two weeks ago I decided to quit drinking, yes, permanently: to become sober – to cleanse, to detox, to embark on this life-long journey, to inhale spirituality and reality and to exhale the unnecessary burdens and negativity that I evoke and provoke when I drink.
I’ve repeatedly received the same response when this decision has come up:
“WHAT?! You’re not an alcoholic!”
“I never knew you had a problem – are you OK?”
“How can you give up cold beer and delicious wine and you mean we won’t dance until dawn anymore?”
I don’t know if I’m an alcoholic and I probably never will.
But what I’m certain of is that alcohol has stunted my ability to fulfill my potential, therefore disabling me from giving all that I can to those that I love, those that I’m surrounded by, and everyone in our world.
The most pervasive response I received yesterday when respectfully declining Portugesse port or American Mai-Tais was “how can you live without alcohol?”
When I made this decision two weeks ago I also repeatedly asked myself this same question. I wondered how I’d sit in a Turkish meyhane and not drink raki. What would I toast at my wedding? Does October Fest have a non-alcoholic beer option?
I kept dwelling on the things I would never try which in turn made me believe I would never have the experiences I’m still yearning for: rooftop serenades with friends, a gondola ride in Italy, romantic sunsets in Greece, exploration through Albania.
But the more I process, the more I make peace with this decision and it’s implications, the more I realize that this decision is not one of limitations but one which affords infinite opportunities. I now have the opportunity to lead every day of my life in a way that honors me; to maintain the holy trinity of mind, body, and soul; to truly reflect on who I am and who I want to become and to actively develop strategies and behaviors that will strive to achieve this. Without hurdles. Without setbacks. Without hesitation.
It’s one day at a time.
It’s the seemingly minor daily decisions resulting in major behavior change which is a prevailing source of strength.
In these two weeks, I’ve felt more reflective and at peace with myself than I ever have. I can’t even begin to imagine where this beautiful and difficult journey of self-discovery will see me in two months, two years.
Thank you to those who have already supported this decision, indirectly and directly, and love in advance to those who will walk beside me along the way.
And for those who were wondering, I will always be able to twerk until dawn. As if there was ever any doubt.