100 Days: You Oughta Kno-ow

Fair warning: I slept about 4.5 hours last night, and I’m still buzzing this morning. (As a person who can easily sleep 9+ hours at a clip, this is highly unusual.)

It could be the six cups of coffee I drank yesterday (the latter 2 of which were at about 8:00 pm). That definitely had something to do with it.

But it could also be the pure adrenaline that is still coursing through my veins after the most interesting part of my night out last night.

Let me begin at the beginning.

As a matter of course, Bobby and I decided that yesterday needed to be a designated fun day. After a hilarious and delicious brunch out, followed by some inspired house cleaning for me and some dutiful work for him, we dedicated the rest of our Saturday to pure kid-like enjoyment. He broke out a set of Legos that he bought weeks ago and hadn’t had time to use. I turned on our Wii and played the only game I ever actually play — Super Mario Brothers, old-school 2-D style. We were soon joined by our friend and neighbor, Liz, who helped Bobby build his Lego city, and then later by her boyfriend, Nick, who laughed with me as Bobby and Liz played with said Lego city with reckless abandon.

Everyone was drinking. I was (obviously) not.

After an initial moment of discomfort when I realized that I had only really ever indulged in this kind of child-like fun with beer in hand, I adjusted, and life went on. We all had an incredible time.

Oh, and coffee. I had more coffee.

The coffee was to prepare me for the next part of our night’s plans — meeting up with some of our friends at a bar for celebratory birthday drinks.

That part was actually really easy. I drank a lot of club soda. The bartender didn’t even charge me.

We brought Liz and Nick and met up with some other friends I hadn’t seen in too long. It was fabulous. At no point was I upset that I wasn’t drinking. In fact, it was pretty nice to hit 12 o’clock and A) not be tired, B) not be sick, and/or C) not be cranky. (Cranky might be putting it nicely, depending on the beer to liquor ratio.)

And what is the only way to top off a night of drinking and fun for a birthday girl who loves to sing?

You guessed it.

Karaoke.

The bar was a dive. It was a 5-am bar, if that gives you any indication. It was crowded, kind of smelly, and loud.

Really, really loud.

When we walked in, a woman was screeching Whitney Houston while giving the visual performance of her life. I tried to slip by, and she sang in my face.

This was not looking good.

If there is anything I personally hate more than singing in front of people, it’s listening to other people sing badly. And loudly.

Don’t get me wrong — I love to sing. I sing all the time. At home, at school, on my commute… but I sing quietly, little snippets, to myself.

Bobby and Bear and my parents, mostly, are privy to the slightly more extensive version of my personal singing. But that’s about it.

I used to sing with reckless abandon. When I was a young- and mid-teen, I took voice lessons. I sang in musicals. I recorded myself in the bathroom (for the acoustics, obviously) and made holiday mix tapes.

Then, when I was about 16, I was required to perform at a voice recital. I had been feeling nervous all day. (Really, all week.) Once I entered the venue, I started to feel some serious anxiety. I was having trouble breathing. My mouth was insanely dry. My heart was pounding. My hands were shaking.

When I got up to the stage, I had a full blown panic attack. I tried to sing, but at one point I started getting sharp pains in my chest and I completely forgot the lyrics. I managed to finish out the song and slinked off the stage, completely humiliated.

That day, I stopped singing.

No way was I going through that again. Not worth it, I told myself. Let this one go.

So flash forward about 15 years to last night. I’m standing in this bar full of drunk people singing really loud, really bad karaoke, and I’m not sure I can stand it.

And then suddenly, I look at Bobby.

“I’m singing,” I said.

“Are you serious?” he asked.

“Hell yes,” I replied with determination. “If I have to listen to them, then they’re going to have to listen to me.”

Really, I couldn’t possibly do much worse than what was happening anyway. It gave me a strange sense of confidence.

I found my song in the thick, worn book. It was a classic. I had spent hours and hours as a kid listening to this cassette tape. I had spent hours and hours as a teen singing my angst out to these lyrics that I really couldn’t relate to, but could understand the emotion behind.

Bobby looked at me. “Oh, no. Not that one. Seriously?”

“Yup,” I said, grinning.

“Ok.” He sighed. “But be careful with the mic. This sound system is awful.”

“Yeah.” I chuckled. “I got that.”

Another hour passed, and I was starting to think I wouldn’t make it to my song. The noises were ear splitting. I was seriously getting a headache.

This was my first stone-cold-sober karaoke night, and I hated it. I was definitely only hanging in there for the birthday girl.

And then I heard it.

“Roxy? Is there a Roxy here?”

Hit it, girl.

The music began to play. I took a deep breath.

“I. Want. You to know. 

That I’m. Hap-py. For you.

I. Want. Nothing but.

The best. For. You both.”

And then I opened the flood gates.

I sang that song like I was 12 years old in my bathroom mirror. I did the throaty parts, I did the belting parts, I did the vocalizations at the instrumental break. I even did some performance moves to go along with it.

And my god, I fucking nailed it.

And do you know how I know I nailed it?

Because I was straight-up sober. And I could hear it.

Also, because Bobby was standing there looking completely shocked and the birthday girl was going crazy on the side lines.

And because for the first time all night, no one sang along. Not after the first chorus. People were actually listening, instead of trying to drown me out.

I left the mic stand demurely and sat back down, but my hands were shaking. I couldn’t believe it. I really couldn’t believe it.

This was a first. And not a small one.

I swear I’m not trying to exaggerate this sober-challenge experience. I’m not leaving out the crappy parts to highlight the awesome parts.

It’s just full of really freaking awesome parts.

I’m becoming myself again. I’m rediscovering me.

And you know what?

I really like her.

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100 Days: Shit Gets Real

Hey y’all! (That was in my best southern drawl — reread it with a twang if you’ve got a moment.)

I realized today that I am 25 days in, one-quarter of the way through my 100 day sobriety self-challenge. It seemed like a good time to check in, as I’m sure you’ve all been just dying to know how my life is going sans-substance. (That time I was using my best sarcastic voice, reread at your will.)

So, how is it going?

To be honest — damn well. It’s been a lot easier than I expected. But, don’t worry, that does’t mean it’s all been pretty. (I wouldn’t skimp you on the good stuff!) It just hasn’t been the life-halting soul-crushing struggle I was expecting.

I’ll admit, the first week was… interesting.

I didn’t get the cravings I had anticipated. At no time was I like, “If I don’t get a glass of wine RIGHT NOW, so help me god!” or “I need to smoke something or I’m gonna cut a bitch.” (Apparently a side-effect of my sobriety is the resurgence of my dramatic side. Bear with me.)

Instead, it was more like having a newfound hyperawareness of my associations with substances and my knee-jerk reactions to life.

For example, the first day I was sitting on the porch at school, waving goodbye to my students, and I noticed a picture pop into my head — me, on my couch, glass of wine in hand (bottle at the ready, let’s be honest), flipping through some mindless television. It looked like heaven. (Have I mentioned I teach middle school?)

No sooner had it popped in than a little mocking voice popped it back out: “Nope! You’re sober Roxy now. Get used to it!” (Jeeze, what a bitch. Who invited her?)

But it was interesting to note that simply being in a certain place at a certain time doing a certain thing which was routine to my day had created an immediate association. I realized that I had had that picture pop into my head for years, but I’d never really been aware of it. Instead, I had just fulfilled it.

The next day I had a similar moment, except it didn’t wait until the end of the day. We were walking back from gym after a particularly difficult day (Have I mentioned I teach middle school?) and I caught myself thinking, “God, I cannot wait to get home and have a glass of wine.” Cue the little menacing voice reminding me that wine was no longer an option.

This time I talked back.

“But I NEED it!” I thought-shouted. “I’m emotionally exhausted. This day was too much!”

“Tough shit,” the voice replied, unsympathetically.

And I knew it was right. It was only day 2, way too early for a flop like that. So I started looking for alternative solutions. What could I do instead? What was I really looking for?

After some thinking, I realized that what I was really craving was a change in my perceptual experience. I wanted to get out of the stressed mode I was in and do something to feel different. So I asked myself what else could do that, and after the list of banned items ran out, the word “running” came into my mind.

Now I was afraid I was straight-up losing it.

You may not know this about me, but I am Not. A. Runner. I admire runners, I envy runners, I have even in the past tried to be a runner, but it just ain’t for me. No way, no how.

So when my less-menacing-now-more-angelic voice suggested running, I was a little taken aback. But thinking about it more, I realized it wasn’t that far off. It would give me an outlet for my stress, make my body feel different (perhaps death-like, but still different), and give me a nice endorphin boost at the end. Ok, so maybe I would run.

I didn’t run.

By the time I got home, the sparkle of that idea had faded and I had gone from emotionally exhausted to just plain exhausted.

But the mental process of going from “I need a glass of wine” to “I need to go for a run” was an interesting exercise in noticing patterns and attempting to shift them. It was a marked step in my path along sobriety.

The intruding associations between my daily life and drinking actually stopped after just a few days. I was surprised at how fast that happened. And, to be honest, it wasn’t very hard. I was expecting to have to fight myself tooth-and-nail each night, but the fight just wasn’t there. I had found a source of resolve, and I was determined to make that little voice proud.

Flash forward about two weeks. I had had an incredibly long, tiring, frustrating, emotionally draining day at work. (Have I mentioned I teach middle school?) I came home and made myself a frozen pizza. (At least it’s not wine.) Then I got an email from a parent out of left-field asking very pointed, somewhat accusatory questions about the very thing that had made my day so long and exhausting.

You know that white-girl thing where they “just can’t even?”

I so just couldn’t even.

Bobby was totally enthralled in some sports game and in no place to listen to me rant. So, remembering the advice of a friend, I walked into my room and screamed bloody murder into a pillow. It was not a pleasant moment. My dog was a little terrified. But I was pretty sure that should have done the trick.

I walked back to the living room to rejoin Bobby on the couch. Within ten minutes, more drama had unfolded (the details of which I will spare you), and I ended up sobbing uncontrollably in the fetal position on our bed, crying things like, “I’m doing my b-e-e-e-e-e-est.”

When I finally regained control of myself, I decided to just take a shower and go to sleep.

I cried in the shower.

I cried when I got out of the shower.

I cried when I looked at my phone and saw a really nice comment on my Facebook post.

My god, was I pregnant?! What the hell was wrong with me?

No, friend, I was not pregnant. I was simply working through my feelings as they came like a balanced human being for the first time in years. (Ok, I might have had some backlogged feelings in there, too.)

And you know what?

It passed.

And after it passed, I felt brand new. I felt like my emotional slate had been wiped clean and I had been reset. It was a refreshing, peaceful, freeing feeling. And I realized the crazy screaming and crying had worked. It had been worth it. I made it through to the other side still standing (well, laying), and I actually felt better as a result.

Imagine that.

Over the past week or so, I’ve had several more moments like that. They’ve made me realize that while I genuinely thought I had been processing my feelings before, I had really only been numbing them or stuffing them. Somehow they had taken on these bigger-than-life qualities that I felt were unsafe to truly express. But in reality, they were just feelings. Uncomfortable, messy, painful even, but short-lived.

A very smart lady who has been helping me look at my food associations (because while I’m unzipping my brain, why not do the whole shebang?) reminded me that sometimes we think we are feeling our emotions, but we’re really only allowing ourselves to go part of the way. We think, “I’m going to feel this, but only 10% or 50% or even 90%, because if I go full in I may never get out.” But by doing that we keep that portion of the uncomfortable feeling in reserve, inside of us, and it builds up. And eventually we’re mad or unhappy or anxious or stressed, and we don’t even have a reason that we can pinpoint. It has just become part of our everyday, part of our “normal.” (Shout out to Courtney Pool, the bomb-dot-com of food coaches.)

I’m still working on that. Heck, it’s only day 25. But I’m excited to think that by the end of this, I could be in a much healthier place, and in even more ways than I had expected.

Habits are habits are habits. Even things we do that we don’t think of as habits, are. This particular habit is one I legitimately wasn’t sure I could live without, and it turns out to be one I don’t even miss.

Who knew?

PS: I also dropped 15 lbs. Can you say bonus?

PPS: If you want to know more about Courtney’s work, check her out at www.courtneypool.com. She rocks.

Reading, Writing, ‘Rithmetic, and Rapid-Fire Rounds

When I heard the news about the Oregon shooting, my heart sank. Here we go again, I thought, followed by yet another heart drop when I realized how easily the word “again” had slid into that sentence.

I grew up less than 30 minutes from Newtown, CT, where an elementary school shooting rocked the nation. I can still remember the day I read that news, appearing on my local friends’ Facebook posts before it had even made the major headlines. It was devastating. I cried on the spot, and then again and again spontaneously for days after.

When the most recent shooting was reported I felt a familiar dark cloud creep over my heart. Each time our country suffers an attack like this I lose a little more hope in our people. But it did not rock me like that first one. Over the past few years these horrific events have become almost routine, and I could feel myself becoming numb to the reality of the tragedy.

Then posts began showing up on my social media feeds — people arguing against gun control, demanding their unfettered rights, and insulting the intelligence of those who held the opposing view.

And suddenly I found myself enraged. Not simply angry or upset or frustrated, but filled to the brim with pure, unbridled fury.

The strength of the feeling took me completely off-guard. I am a spiritual person, a meditative person, a peaceful person. I practice loving kindness in my everyday life, and I aim above all else to do no harm. I catch insects and release them outside. I eat plants, not animals. I defend the rights of even the most obtusely dogmatic to their beliefs and practices which represent, to them, the highest good — even when I vehemently disagree.

But to the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” defenders I found myself faced with an uncontrollable impulse to scream obscenities so close to their ignorant faces that they would have to wipe my spit from their eyes.

Surprised by the level of my anger and the grief that quickly followed, I questioned why this event, this issue, was suddenly more than I could handle. Why this, when there are so many other tragedies and injustices happening in our world?

I must be a master at compartmentalizing, so good I even fooled myself.

Why was I so angry at those people who insist that, despite an increasing trend of school shootings, we change nothing?

Because — I am a teacher.

I teach seventh and eighth grade at a small Montessori school in the west suburbs of Chicago. I have ten students and a co-teacher with whom I spend every moment of every day in a little off-campus house that has been adapted as our school building. We have a front and a side door, the former with a series of deadlocks and the latter with a private access code. The front door stays locked at all times — no exceptions — unless I or my co-teacher open it. On the glass pane of that door is a sticker with a gun behind a bright red slash line. “This is a gun-free zone,” it tells all who enter, just in case there was any confusion about the place of weaponry at an institute of learning.

On our first day of school, after welcoming the kids, we settle into couches in the living room to draft our community agreement. This is when we decide how we will treat each other and ourselves for the remainder of the year. We discuss respect, we discuss compassion, we discuss trust.

Following this we talk about the basics: where to put your backpacks, how to organize your cubbies, when lunch happens and how long you have to eat. We run through what to do if there is a fire, where to go for shelter if there is a tornado, and how to save yourself (always yourself first) if a madman breaks into our building and attempts to kill you.

That last one is my least favorite. I dread it every year. I wish we could put it off, not sour the joy of the first day and the beauty of the preceding group work with such warnings of terror. But it would do them a disservice to wait. They need to know, from day one, what our procedures are.

Before I taught middle school, I taught primary — students aged 2.5-6 years old. I have had the experience of rushing my kids into the bathroom or the closet, telling them with my face and my body language that this is serious, that they must be still and silent, and yet trying with all of my might not to scare them. I have felt the rush of panic that, even though I am sure this is a drill, still runs through my body when the door handle rumbles from the outside. I have held their shaking bodies and explained that we practice just in case, reassuring them that they are safe. And I have looked into their tiny faces and known, without a moment’s hesitation, that I would do anything and everything in my power to keep them that way.

This is not how it works at the middle school.

Being in a building alone, my co-teacher and I run all of our drills. We are the fire alarm. We are the tornado siren. We are the lockdown command.

Without warning, I must go to the front door, open it, and yell “LOCKDOWN!” as loud as I can. My students scramble to find a place to hide and a door to lock. In one room, right off the entryway, there is no door to barricade, and our kids climb into the fireplace, crouch behind bookshelves, and flatten themselves against walls.

Then, without waiting more than a moment, it is my job to stomp across hallways, to pound on closed doors, to violently rattle handles and roughly demand to be let in.

It is my kids’ job to stay silent, to stay hidden, and to Never. Let. Me. In.

When we talk about the drill after, my students always have the same question:

“But what about YOU?”

They know that if something like this were to god-forbid ever happen, it would be me answering the door. It would be me shouting the alarm. It would be me facing the danger first, head on.

And despite the sound of my heart breaking, a wave of mama-bear-like-courage washes over me. I tell them that if it were to happen (knock on wood, always knocking on wood), I would do everything I could possibly do to buy them time to get to safety.

I am telling my students I would die for them.

I am telling children who are not even my own that I would lay down my life in the effort to save theirs.

And what’s more, I am telling them that it is my job. That I signed up for this. As though I were a gardener pulling weeds.

The job I signed up for, in reality, was to touch the hearts of children and to shape their minds. To teach them how to navigate the difficult process of growing up. To coach them into being good people with good morals making good decisions. To encourage them to be kind, to be compassionate, to live their lives with mutual respect for those around them.

And my kids? They signed up to be students. To learn, to grow, to challenge themselves, to surpass their own expectations.

And yet here they are potential victims, and I their potential guard.

I do not have the words to say how much anger I feel over that truth. How, though I would never abandon this position for the world, I cannot believe that I am here. That we are here.

I do not, cannot understand those who are unwilling to give an inch to gain a mile. I will not listen to those who say that guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

No, my dears — people kill people with guns.

I am not asking you to hand over your hunting rifle. I’m not asking you to give up your pocket pistol. I am asking you to agree that no one in our society needs access to multi-round, rapid-fire, military-grade weapons. I am asking you to minimize the damage.

I understand that there will always be violence and insanity in our world. But that does not mean we have to offer grenades to those who wish to perpetuate it.

I am willing to die for my students. That is a reality I had to face the morning of the Newtown massacre, and it is a reality I have even come to accept with a resigned sort of peace. These children are not my blood, but I would shed mine to save theirs.

So to those of you whose families I would bleed for but who still insist things are just fine how they are — I invite you to come take a walk in my shoes.

Silence a closet full of crying three-year-olds who do not understand why they are huddled on each others’ laps inside a locked, darkened room.

Pound on doors and rattle handles as you train your twelve-year-olds to react calmly in the face of terror.

Look a child’s parent in the eye with the silent agreement that you will put yourself in front of that bullet, no matter the cost.

Then come to talk to me about gun control. Then tell me how important it is that you have the option to do whatever you damn well please, because America.

But not before. Not a moment before.

100 Days: Losing My Teeth

Let me just begin by saying that this morning I woke up feeling fully rested for the first time I can remember in years. I went to bed late after hosting some of my best friends and having a blast, and I finally awoke at noon. NOON. I cannot remember the last time I slept so much without having drank or smoked the night before! Amazed by how rested I felt, I went into the bathroom to look in the mirror. The very dark circles that have persistently shadowed my eyes for as long as I can recently remembered had even faded. I can’t say how grateful I am for such a restorative night of sleep.

Restful, however, did not equal easy. I had such a vivid, emotional, troubling dream that when I awoke it was prominently impressed onto my conscious mind. It was so affective that I immediately Googled the meaning of it, resulting in multiple interpretations, none of which felt applicable to me.

I called my mom from bed, having missed her call during the morning portion of my epic night of rest, and I told her about my dream. It had felt so bizarre that I couldn’t let go of it.

Being my ever-wise mother, she told me about a dream interpretation class she had once taken and the tips she had learned about self-interpretation. She told me that in truth, we are every person and every thing in our dream, and that if I got particularly stuck on identifying the meaning of one part or thing, I could ask that part what it meant and I might be surprised at how quickly and easily the answer came. Before she had even finished talking, without a single moment of meditative thinking, the dream made complete sense. And my god, was it spot on.


In my dream, I am going to see a healer, someone who can assess my health and tell me how to fix it, but someone not officially authorized by the medical field.

She tells me I have an imbalance, and that it can be easily remedied with a single dose of chemotherapy. (I know, bear with me, this is dream logic here.) I hesitate and question the decision, wondering if I should get a second opinion and go to a “real doctor” for such an extreme treatment. But she makes me feel embarrassed to be questioning her advice, and I buckle under the pressure and assume she knows what she is doing and that it’s not that big of a deal. I allow her to give me the injection, and I leave.

Hours later, one of my teeth falls out. I attribute this to past dental work, and I keep the tooth and make an appointment with my dentist right away. It will be a day or so until he can see me, but it is a back  molar so I am not too concerned. I carry the tooth with me and continue on my day. Soon, another tooth and another have come loose, and without much prodding they also fall out. I add these teeth to my collection, and wonder what is going on with my mouth. Now I have lost one of my more forward-facing teeth, and I am afraid that people will see. I start holding a hand in front of my mouth when I talk or laugh, hiding what are clear imperfections from the people around me.

As the dream progresses, I begin to feel sick, and the sickness takes hold quickly. As my health declines, more teeth fall out, now in groups, all together, without warning. They fall out as I am talking, as I am walking, and I tip my head forward and open my mouth to catch them in my hands.

Alarmed, I go immediately to a health center and see a specialist. The doctor tells me that the healer has accidentally given me too much chemotherapy, and instead of curing me she has poisoned me. I am dying, and it is not reversible.

By now I am very sick and very upset. I am weak, I cry all the time, and my teeth are nearly gone. I have taken to carrying around a small cup and am collecting my teeth as they come loose. I have given up the feeling of embarrassment, so desperate to find help that I am begging through my tears, with my lone-gummed mouth, to anyone who will listen. And yet, I won’t get rid of the teeth. I am holding out hope that there is someone, somewhere, who can put me back together.


It’s hard to imagine now that the meaning of this dream was ever unclear to me. As soon as my mom told me that I was each person and part of the dream, I knew instinctively what it represented.


I was myself, of course, unbalanced and looking for healing.

I was the healer, who without proper training had decided to medicate with strong drugs. I had given myself too much, and instead of healing, had ended up poisoning my body.

I was ashamed to let people see that I was literally falling apart. I continued to talk, to smile, to laugh, but I hid the parts that weren’t right.

Unable to reverse what I had started, I deteriorated until I was in a state of desperation. Until I had gone so far past embarrassment that I would do anything, show anyone, just to find a solution.

And yet, even while I was told there was no going back, I wouldn’t give up on the parts of me that had fallen out. I was carrying them with me, separate but still close, in hopes that someday someone would be able to help rejoin them to myself.

The hardest part of this to figure out was the teeth. So I asked myself, I asked my dream teeth, what they were. And, as my mom had suggested, the answer was immediate and clear: “We are the parts of you that you so neglected that there was nothing left to keep us around.”

Well, if that’s not a come-to-Jesus moment, I don’t know what is.

And yet, despite the overwhelming hopelessness of the dream, I find it inspiring. Because unlike the me of a week ago, I no longer have my head stuck in the sand. Despite the frightening possibility of what would I would find once I really opened my eyes, I have taken the first step to greeting the world — and myself — untainted by the things I had long used to avoid that very greeting.

I have spent the last ten years thinking I was helping myself in a fumbling, blinded way. And I have finally accepted that instead I have been allowing myself to slowly fall more and more apart.

I kept the teeth in my dream with the hope that one day they would be a part of me again.

Now I know that I will also be the person who puts them back.

100 Days: The Journey Begins

Have you ever had that moment when a myriad of thoughts that have been floating around in your mind suddenly congeal into one, cohesive, utterly convincing realization and you can’t believe you haven’t seen it all along?

Nah, me either. At least, not often.

Last night, however, I was fortuitous enough to experience such a moment, and the simple truth of the thought I was left with was powerful enough to spur me to immediate action.

The action?

Giving up alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, and any other tempting substance that might come my way for 100 days.

The motivation?

Well, I won’t bore you with the details, but it boils down to this: I have long used the above-mentioned remedies as a convenient way to a) mark important moments, b) avoid dealing with truly painful emotions, and c) occupy my brain and body when I am too lazy to make a concerted effort to use free time.

In fact, I realized my entire relationship with substances has largely been one driven by relaxation, celebration, and consolation. And, let’s be honest, pretty much every day can fit into one of these three categories, and sometimes several simultaneously.

“So what?” you may ask. “Everyone drinks after a long day, or to celebrate a grand occasion, or to drown their sorrows when the stress gets to be too much. That’s why we have a multi-billion dollar business of bars and resorts and mix-your-own cocktails.”

And you would be right. Our society by and large not only accepts, but really celebrates, this mentality, particularly with alcohol. And to be fair, many of us really are able to just have a few drinks from time to time and leave it at that. But many more of us have fallen into a trap of avoidance, abusing the privilege of indulgence and getting away with it (hell, even bragging about it) because it is such a commonly accepted mode of distraction.

 

But combining the recent death of an old friend, the witness of his widow’s grief, a come-to-jesus moment with my long-time weight struggle, the realization that there are past emotional traumas I have yet to fully tackle, and the difficult admission that I have not put forth the effort to engage in activities that I truly love because it simply takes more energy than pouring a drink — all of these have synthesized into one crystal clear memo: it’s time to put down the glass and pick up my life.

 

For the sake of this blog, I’m choosing to focus on the sobriety portion of my challenge. I don’t consider myself an alcoholic, not by a long shot. Admittedly, I’ve spent many years being bad at drinking (read: binge drinking, blacking/passing out, and waking up to a hellish hangover), but it has never been a siren that calls me back day after day. I do not wake up after a bender and want another drink. I do not rely on alcohol to regularly numb my feelings. I do not require alcohol to have social interactions.

But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been abusing it. That doesn’t mean I haven’t used it as a convenient excuse to put less effort into my life. In fact, drinking is often one of the laziest things I do. After a long day of teaching, I will come home and consider my options: go for a bike ride? practice my ukulele? take a dance class? work on my writing? read a book? or pour a glass of wine and turn on the TV? My already tired brain barely has to think about it. I’ll take Option F for a $1,000, Alex.

Well, enough is enough.

Last month I turned 30, and it’s about time I put on my Big Girl Pants and push myself a little. If I want to be my best self, if I want to be authentically happy, if I want to truly live with no regrets, then I need to go through some growing pains.

Let’s just hope it’s more growing and less pain-ing.

Serendipitously, 100 days just happens to bring me to January 1, 2016. (The kismet! I feel it!) I really like the symbolism of that date, and I look forward to having the opportunity to make a fresh start with a clear head and a better understanding of myself.

And for now? For now I’ll pour myself some herbal tea, curl up with my pup, and read a good book.

I’m taking it one day at a time, so here’s to 1 day down and 99 to go.

The Reaper in the Shadows

So, I’ve been thinking. Not the casual, fun, thoughts-in-bubbles kind of thinking, but the dark, dense, all-encompassing kind of thinking. And I had this one moment of epiphany, but now I’m not sure what to do with it.

My moment of epiphany was this:

We all live as though we are not going to die. And then we do.

Ok, so this isn’t a groundbreaking thought, but stay with me.

Most of us absolutely refuse death on a daily basis. We ignore it, we dismiss it, some of us even mock it, but we all go about our every day making plans and decisions for that evening. That evening we make plans for tomorrow, and tomorrow for next week, and a month from then, and two years from now. We live as though we did not have a small ticking clock somewhere inside us, stamped with an expiration date.

And yet, we do. We all have a clock.

Ask an end-stage cancer patient about her life perspective. Ask a 99-year-old man how he views his time on earth. What do you think their answers would have in common? Probably some nugget of mind-blowing truth, which you want to understand and wish to make a part of your own life, but then you have to check on dinner.

What do they know about life that is yet irrelevant to you?

Death. They know death.

They know that their time is limited. In fact, with every passing moment their time is only drawing nearer. They can feel that in a very present, very real way, because their death is no longer a vague uncertainty.

But the truth is, death is not a vague uncertainty for any of us. We can all, and should all, feel like the near-centenarian. We should all feel that our moment could be any moment.

And if we did truly embrace our limited time, knowing that in the present moment death is just around the corner, how would we live our lives differently? Even more, what would happen if we all, each and every one of us, made that transition together? How could our world be transformed?

Remembering Ourselves

We’re currently studying the transatlantic slave trade in my middle school social studies class. Since I want us to examine the issues in depth (as opposed to survey-style), we only have time to go from the origins of slavery to the abolition movement. As a supplement, we’ve been watching The Butler during our free time. And we’ve been talking. A lot.

We’ve been discussing the difference between having freedom and having rights. We’ve been talking about the incredible struggle people undertook to fight for what they felt was a moral imperative — equal rights, equal access, and equal opportunity for all human beings, regardless of their skin color.

It’s not an easy conversation to have. In fact, it’s damn hard.

It’s hard to watch images of Ku Klux Klan members torching a freedom bus. It’s hard to watch people (both black and white) getting beaten and killed during peaceful protests. It’s hard to explain why and how leaders like JFK and MLK Jr. were assassinated.

These are difficult conversations, especially with kids who are just beginning to enter the adult sphere. Kids who have grown up in a different place and time with a different understanding of what it means to struggle. Kids who started this unit thinking that we really might live in a “post-racial” society (don’t get me started on that phrase), that slavery was a long time ago and has no bearing on our lives now.

It’s a difficult awakening to guide them through.

As adults, how do we frame that conversation? How do we help our children understand where we have come from — as a nation, as a community, as a collection of human beings — without jading their vision of our basic human character or our potential future?

I tell my students that we study the more difficult parts of our history — things like slavery and the Holocaust and wars — because we need to remember. We need to remember what we value and why we value it. We need to remember the work people put in to get us here. We need to remember what mistakes have been made and why we never want to make them again.

Most importantly, we need to remember that we do not live in an isolated moment in time. The civil rights movement took place nearly 50 years ago, but it is still relevant today.

It is still so painfully relevant today.

It is important for these kids — even at 12, 13, and 14 years old, kids who were not even alive for 9/11 — to understand that their lives are not separate from our past. Just because it did not happen yesterday, or last year, or even ten years ago, just because it did not happen in their lifetimes, that does not mean that it is gone. People remember. And people pass down those memories, those emotions, those hopes and those fears.

We inherit our past.

We inherit our past, and we have no choice in the matter. Each one of us is born within a context of place and time. We are born to people who were shaped within their own contexts, and who pass remnants of those experiences on to us.

We inherit our past, and pretending it did not happen does not make it go away.

So instead of avoiding it, we lean into it. My students and I talk about why good people make bad decisions. We talk about the source of prejudice, the motivation behind violence. We talk about fear. We talk about it because the talking is important; because along with our past, we also inherit an obligation to move forward. We must both thank and grieve our predecessors for their choices and actions, but we must also vow to use our understanding of the past to make better decisions for the future.

When we discuss these issues, I ask my students how this history informs our society today. How does it weave a backdrop for events such as Ferguson? How does it help us to better empathize with the present-day civil rights needs of people around the world?

And, even more importantly, I ask my students who they see taking a stand in these histories. Who do they see showing courage in the face of fear? Where do they see people blurring the “lines” of society in order to fight for what they believe is right?

And how can we, even in our small, individual way, contribute to a positive change like that?

I want my students to not just respect the struggles of our ancestors, but to be inspired to honor those struggles in their own lives through their own actions.

We must be mindful of our past without losing our hope for the future, and what a crucial and delicate balance that is.