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The faces of addiction. Mine.

As I was about to turn in for the night, my body and mind left with not one more calorie of energy to burn after a day that started at 3:45am and never stopped, I find myself somehow extracting that last hidden unit of energy to do what it is now programmed to do – reaching for the iPhone. Just one more time. “No! Go to bed you fool!!” says my mind. “But it’s just a little spin around the internet…and really what harm is it?” says iPhone junkie. This time, because it is just social media (unicorns and rainbows my friends compared to where I’ve been), I let junkie win, and that all too familiar mindless/mindful/compulsory behavior propels my arm to the nightstand. I MUST check Instagram just one last time. Surely something is going down on Facebook right now, too. Did I set my alarm? Better also check my calendar while I’m at it and see what’s in store for tomorrow. And maybe just one last spin through OK Cupid…ugh.

Honestly, I shouldn’t be complaining. At least it’s only social media. At least it’s only 10 cups of coffee a day. At least it’s only houseplants I can’t stop buying. No, I don’t really mind that I can’t stop signing up for spiritual workshops and yoga classes, or that last week I learned that to LittleMissSurrendered, even essential oils can become addicting. THANK YOU GOD that it’s not alcohol, or that marijuana/nicotine combo I sucked into my lungs night after night to fall asleep/stay awake/feel something else. At least it’s not a phone call to Waiters on Wheels for that recurring hundred dollar order of CPK that would end up in a greasy brown lumpy mess in my toilet bowl not more than 30 minutes after I tipped the delivery guy. At least it’s not a black-out-drunk online shopping session that ends in 12 new magazine subscriptions, a new JCrew wardrobe, and a monogrammed sheet set from West Elm. Thank you God that it’s just the good stuff, or at least, the not as bad stuff.

First stop, Instagram. And that is where my bedtime smartphone tryst ends. Because the first thing I see is that Philip Seymour Hoffman has died from a drug overdose.

Another beautiful life needlessly stolen, another one of us dies the lonely undignified untimely death that hits all too close to home (it could have been me, say those suffering addiction around the world), another foot soldier down in the field of one of the most losing and bloodied battles our country has ever fought. And of course, hyperbole and commentary that normally accompanies these sad events flows. We say “oh my God HOW” or “oh my God WHY”. “He was so smart” or “he had so much to give” and my favorite, “it’s just so sad, he had those demons he couldn’t shake”. We are surprised and mad and sad and angry and outraged that a brilliant 46 year old man who “had everything going for him” dies alone in an office space with a needle of heroin still stuck in his arm.

And of course, we will look into this very carefully. What led him to this terrible fate? What was inherently wrong with him? What was it he was so tortured over? How many poor choices were made, how many friends tried to help, what did he do the night and days before, how great he seemed to be doing in recent [weeks/months/years?]. We will years later recount the tale of his demise, and those final hours and seconds. It will continue to be splashed across headlines and continue to sell newsprint. We will most likely write this off to the weakness or self-destructive nature of Philip Seymour Hoffman. We will pour over and devour every single detail about this incident and replay it over and over again until it is legend. Like Marilyn Monroe, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, and the countless others who met the same fate. He was just fucked, maybe.

What we won’t investigate, what we will all fail to do, is question what we did as a society. We will – undoubtedly – completely fail to acknowledge that we still treat addiction as a private matter, a choice of the abuser (see Matthew Perry’s recent interview with Peter Hitchens (“people don’t want to stop”, said Hitchens)), a shame, and an anonymous affair. We will not question that our best “treatment” option is offered in basements and was developed before the break-out of World War II. We will scream “how could he have not been helped!” and cry a thousand tears for this tragedy, and yet we will not examine or question our own personal relationship to substances, or the addictive habits of those who are closest to us.

We will say “he needlessly suffered alone”, and we will totally fail to draw the correlation that addiction and recovery are inherently meant to be suffered and worked alone. From my perspective, Philip Seymour Hoffman had a disease that is encouraged to be treated alone and anonymously. So Philip Seymour Hoffman died alone and had it not been for his star, it most certainly would have been anonymously.

In 2013, I set down my last drink. When I hit my rock bottom, it looked like this: 2-3 bottles of wine a day or 2-3 pints of Jameson, a close and personal relationship with every liquor store in a 1 mile radius of the San Francisco Financial District (my home) so that my drinking went undetected, and a comradery with the homeless men and women that slept on my stoop at night (because I knew it wasn’t long before I joined them). To be clear, it started with a glass of wine after work. One became two, two became three, and appropriate drinking hours became less and less clear, or for that matter, important, as the complexity of life unfolded and the pressures and inescapable loneliness of an 80 hour workweek took their toll. No one knew – to the outside world, I was a successful professional who liked to party. When I set out on my recovery in 2013, I made the announcement to myself and a few others, but I worked my recovery alone. Don’t get me wrong, I was incredibly proud and loud as I always am. But the mere mention to anyone that I was an addict or had stopped drinking was a show-stopper, a truth that I could handle because I had come to terms with it, but a truth that society at large has no clue how to handle, and a truth that made for a lot of awkward party conversations and some really bad jokes.

In 2013, my mother also happened to get breast cancer. From the moment the words cancer rolled off her doctor’s tongue, troops were rallied, pink shirts were purchased, and hands were held. She received casseroles, accolades for her bravery, and for three months I don’t think I ended a single conversation with anyone that didn’t include the words “how is” and “your mother’s cancer”. Six of us walked the Susan G Komen together in Fresno to celebrate her recovery, among thousands and thousands of other women and their support networks. She got a pink rose and a pink survivor kit, and we blasted it on Facebook, “she beat cancer!!!”. At Thanksgiving, my cousin toasted all that we had overcome that year – my mother’s cancer second only to my uncle’s liver transplant. And I sat there, my sobriety either undetected or just too uncomfortable a subject to toast, silently swilling my fizzy water as glasses of chardonnay clinked around me at the miracle that is surviving cancer.

I obviously don’t begrudge my mother any of this, so please don’t misunderstand what I am trying to say. It just raises what seems to be an obvious contradiction, and an even more obvious question — what would addiction look like if we treated it like we do a cancer diagnosis? What if we had our own color for sobriety? What if the second we were diagnosed as addicts we called our friends to tell them the terrible news, and they lined up at our doors with casseroles? What if that diagnosis entitled us to Make-A-Wish and all of the sudden addicts were running around with Ed Lee in batman costumes and flying into zero-gravity with Hallie Berry, media crews in tail, the entire world rooting for and cheering our recovery? What if we didn’t have to resort to basement church meetings or private recovery centers but instead had access to state-of-the art facilities where the latest addiction treatments were available to us? What if saying you were an addict meant immediate empathy, immediate sympathy, and a recovery you’re able to enjoy in the public eye with your friends and family in toe? I dream.

I am 296 days sober from alcohol, about 90 days out of food addiction, and 14 days clean of marijuana and cigarettes. When I began my journey, I knew that if anything, I had to get clean to fix this entirely backwards broken system. I also knew that I had to speak of the darkest and most disgusting parts of this awful, horrible disease that can and does rob countless addicts and their families of almost everything – house, job, marriage, savings, dignity, health, and as in Philip Seymore Hoffman’s case, life. Somewhere along this path, I knew it was my purpose in life to come back from the other side with pictures, stories, and a much deeper appreciation of how ill-equipped our society is to deal with any form of addiction on a macro and micro level. I knew I had to somehow tell you from a sober perspective what the stigmatization leads to – a completely subterranean culture of shame that invites a slow, humiliating, lonely death. We are surrounded by a culture that glamorizes drinking culture, we are surrounded by a culture that categorizes us and them when it comes to addiction, and therefore, we are an entire population wholly unequipped to deal with the addiction trap.

My heart goes out to you Philip Seymour Hoffman, to all of those who have died needless lonely deaths before you or who will after you, to those of you suffering any form of addiction, and to those who love someone who suffers from addiction. In other words, my heart goes out to the world.

Below is a timeline of me along my recovery…the first picture was April 1, 2013. The last was yesterday.

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What are you fighting for?

On this eve of my 35th birthday and eve of the anniversary of the birth of my niece (+we share a birthday), I sit alone in my apartment feeling far far from alone, snuggled up on my couch with my blind meowing cat, post strenuous yoga class, looking over the lilac purple twilight as it hugs down around the San Francisco skyline tighter, repeating over and over in my mind the question my yoga instructor asked in class this morning.

“What are you fighting for?”

The first thing that came to mind in class was “ME OH MY GOD ME, I’M FIGHTING FOR ME” which was followed by lots of self-empowering and self-loving thoughts, which were immediately followed by that familiar pang of shame and feeling of separation for choosing myself. So I quickly threw out that answer, and spent the rest of the day miserably searching for a more noble one.

In the past year, while so much in my life has changed, so much has remained the same. One dramatic shift: I’m training to be a Kundalini instructor. One obvious sameness: I’m still angry at and have a fucked up relationship with my family. No matter how much I meditate, practice yoga, chant, or practice living the Sikh Dharma way, I can’t escape the anger, pain and resentment I have towards some things. The more I try and accept, love, forgive, and move on, the more I find myself not allowing myself to have sympathy for that anger that still burns from past, new, and perceived future hurt, and more importantly, not having sympathy for me. The more I resist it, the more it persists and translates into external anger. Not so Sikh Dharma way.

I am walking a spiritual path to discover my true self, to become my higher self (tough), asking myself to live up to some ridiculous standards like being a servant and putting others first at all costs (tougher/impossible), and believing some made-up belief that I must engage in all relationships and find a way to be the higher person and choose love over fear and if I don’t do that, I’ve failed (impossible/bullshit). The thing I overlooked is that being your higher self takes time, you don’t get there right away. If you don’t take care and nourish and nurture that part of you until it grows and has its own root system, no matter what you believe or how much you try, there’s no fucking way you’ll be able to put outward anything that is of use to those around you. You have to shine on the inside before you can hope to beam it outside.  You have to love yourself before you love another thing. That’s so cliché, I know, but it’s also so true.

Okay, so what am I fighting for? Eventually, peace and equal rights for all of humanity. But for now, the truth is, I really am fighting for me – my future, my vision, my dreams, my health, my sanity, my soul – me me me.  And that is something to be proud of. Fighting for my self-reverence and for something to revere in the first place is nothing to feel shame or guilt over. It is the noble answer, because fighting for me means that one day I will be strong enough to fight for every other living thing.

My higher self definitely approves of this plan, and I’m sure God does, too.

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Start before you’re ready.

I have this thronging desire to DO something with my story. Throughout the day, I battle this familiar voice inside that says “you’re not doing enough”. It’s the same story that has helped me be incredibly successful in my career and conversely, desperately unhappy in my life. So when it calls out to me about what I’m supposed to do with my recovery for all of human kind, I get hit in the gut with a sense of irony. Only I could possibly turn my new found self-love into a task that eats away at my self-love.

A few weeks ago before a planned business trip to New York, I told my mom that I was going to focus on my recovery and get over the sense of “I have to do something with this”. I rattled off a few reasons, firstly that I’m still recovering and need to focus on me, and secondly, that who am I to stand up and help others when seemingly at times I cannot even help myself. So I set down the pressure, and told myself “I am my higher self”, and that no matter what I did with my story, that I was already here, I had already arrived, and that I was okay no matter what. But of course, I’m me, and I continued to have these seemingly out-of-body-experiences where I find myself committing to networking events to seed my desire: To help women such as myself by sharing my story, my path, and my resources, and to remove the stigma that is so profoundly attached to those of us who have addictions, namely drinking.

And then I really did it. I opened my mouth at a high-profile lunch on that trip to New York about my alcoholism, and my intent to use my experience to help others like myself. And I found my idea, my deepest desire, being wholly accepted by a group of some seriously connected women. And then my biggest dream met my biggest fear: The idea took, and the right people are interested in working with me.

My ego screamed. I’m not ready. I’m still a mess. I still am recovering. I feel overwhelmed still by things as simple as balancing my checkbook…how the hell am I to start speaking about my recovery?

Then my soul screamed. You are your higher self. You are not wrong. You are working from a place of love and you asked the universe for this. Don’t be scared.

Then my mind found this article: http://www.entheos.com/ideas/marie-forleo/1938/start_before_youre_ready. And I quote “That secret is this: you’ll never ‘feel ready’ to do the work you were born to do.”

And so, I will fearfully/fearlessly charge ahead, completely unprepared and yet more ready than I will ever be, to do my life’s work.

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Mother’s Day.

In the last three years, I’ve had some fairly significant shit happen on Mother’s Day. 2 years ago, my aunt – the one who hated me and never learned to spell my name right – passed away very close to mother’s day. I can’t remember exactly when because I was really too busy with work, eating a lot, throwing up, and being high and numb. Anyway, I remember it was around Mother’s Day because that’s when I realized that I might have been blaming the wrong parent for fucking me up (to be clear, I absolutely don’t blame either). That Mother’s Day – Mother’s Day 2011 – I came home to my apartment from a yoga class. My mother was visiting, we had special plans to go to brunch and museums, and I walked in to find her packed, tight lipped, ready to flee my apartment, ready to flee from me and my awful poisonous energy and sad pathetic life. I remember pretty much dying inside (my mother LEFT ME on mother’s day), but then being excited because I had found a bonus day to get high and watch 30 Rock.

Last Mother’s Day – Mother’s Day 2012 – my sister announced she was pregnant. Only, that announcement came 2 hours after I popped a Plan B pill to dissolve any chance of a pregnancy with the man I thought was the love of my life, and 2 minutes after a text message came in from him that said “cool, thank you ;)” (yes, smiley-winky face) to the news I had handled the misstep from our black-out-drunk-fuck session two nights before.

Last Mother’s Day was the day that I realized not only was I the farthest thing from a lady who is ready, capable, and responsible to be a mother, but I might not even be fit to be an aunt. No, I was definitely not fit to be an aunt. People who can’t look themselves in the mirror shouldn’t be allowed to be around children, or so that is what I thought. There were other thoughts, too. Like the very clear thought of just how low had I sunk, and the very clear thought that I would never be good enough or okay enough to be a mother. I would just have to accept being a fucking hot mess because that was my destiny.

And here we are, Mother’s Day 2013. Here are the facts. I’m alone, I’m not with child, not with man, not with anything but cat. I had planned to fly to see my sister, the new mother, and my mother. I stopped drinking and I’m not throwing up as much and the pot isn’t as important and my house is clean and I pray to God everyday and meditate and do yoga and I read Eckhart Tolle and Gabby Bernstein and Marianne Williamson and James Baraz and Sharon Salzberg and I run and do yoga and have therapists and coaches and doctors – I mean, I’m a different person, I’m a person who MIGHT be able to have children one day, and someone who I think is now an appropriate adult to allow around children seeing as how I am all of those aforementioned things and I have done all of those aforementioned things. But here is the thing. Right before I got in that taxi to take me to the airport to fly on that plane, I got a text message from my sister. And it was the exact kind of text message my ego loves. It told me I was a burden for switching my flights, and that my sister would call on the universe, Ira Glass, and Starbucks to get her through that 45 minute drive to LAX to pick me up, and that she had found the positive side of having to pick me up. So my ego told me “I got this”, and texted her back the super good news that she didn’t even need to worry about finding that strength, I would not be coming at all.

I’ve grown leaps and bounds, I’m in recovery, I got out of bed this morning not hungover, clear minded, to a clean house, 1/2 and 1/2 in my fridge and coffee beans to match! And I love it, I love my sweet little life, I love my recovery and my path and all of the little things that make life what it is. Just a year ago, I peeled myself out of bed, wondered if the guys at the Avis counter could smell the Jameson sweating out of my pores, and somehow managed to float through the day enough to get by. I mean, I’m really on my way. But my sister can still be such a fucking bitch. God has not given me enough strength. Yet 😉 (<– smiling winky face).

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“We already know everything. We have only to remember”. — Anonymous

Hi.  This is my first entry, my first public writing, my first “hello out there, I’m here”.  Who am I?  Outwardly, a lot of things.  I’m a successful professional, a mad networker, a best girlfriend to many, an imperfect sister and daughter, a fitness guru and a “maintained” (read: forced) size 0, a struggling vegetarian and humanitarian who works too much and frets too much and is a perfectionist to the core.  Still outwardly but more subterranean, I’m  a recovering alcoholic, a soon-to-be-recovering nicotine, caffeine, and marijuana addict, a bulimic and chronic overeater, and a shopaholic who is in severe debt.  I say subterranean because there are some who know…mainly my doctors, coaches, therapists, spiritual teachers, and some family and friends.  Inwardly, I’m a broken human being who now talks to God and my Inner Guide and my Spirit Guides and my Spirit Animal (it’s an Eagle), who has accepted she is a broken human being who cannot do it alone, who knew that her life was not working, and who finally surrendered.  I was Little Miss “I Can Handle It”, Little Miss “I Am Fine”, Little Miss “If Everyone Else Was Just Like Me [Then]”, Little Miss “I Will Never Be Okay”, and mostly, Little Miss “I Am So Broken, I Cannot Even Imagine A Future Anymore”.  Mostly though, I was Little Miss “I Am Smarter Than The Universe”, and so for my entire life I resisted and refused to surrender.  I was not THEM, I was not WEAK, I was not going to give it up to God because I was not THERE nor did I need to be!  I would figure it out myself.  And then one day, I woke up.  I woke up to a few empty pints of whiskey on the floor.  I woke up to a burning throat, a pounding head, a bathroom and kitchen full of bulimia, and a 10am meeting to lead.  And I Woke Up.  I literally pawed my filthy self from my bed onto my floor, sat among the food trash and cigarette butts, and screamed to my cat, to my weakness, to my hate and my anger, to my neighbors and to God.  I screamed for God to help me.  I screamed for Him to take this away.  I screamed I would do anything if He would just make me good.  I screamed just to scream and I screamed to God because I had no one left to ask for help.  I surrendered.  Little Miss “I Got This” became Little Miss Surrendered.  The biggest surprise was not in fact that I felt weak by admitting that I was weak.  I surprisingly felt strong by this admission.  But still deeply troubled.  As I am today.  I’m not in any perfect form, I’m not even able to sort through some relationship problems that should be so simple to manage if I only applied what I’ve learned.  But I’m learning.  I’m growing.  I’m managing.  And blessed be, I stopped drinking.  This Thursday is my 30 day mark.  Just because I told God I had a problem doesn’t mean I fixed that problem right away.  I still had to tumble into the valley a little more before I realized I had woken up, before I realized that God was answering the call for help, before I realized that love had been there the entire time but my mind was too loud for my soul to step in.  I’m getting ahead of myself though…

Anyway, I’m writing because I need to write.  I’m writing because I want to remember what I did to get here today, and remember what I did from today forward to keep going.  Specifically, my intention to write is to shine a light on the truth of what it means to be a professional woman in her 30s in a big city in today’s world, to shine a light on how dark that place can be or become, and to offer my own escape route as a map of sorts to my sisters out there who find themselves in similar situations.  The good news is, there was and is still so much wrong with me, that I can most likely associate with many of you.  Career, food, family, gay/lesbian (my parent), drugs. alcohol, sex, money, self image, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, relationships…I’ve either died a small death or waged small wars for all of these things.  And who are you?  Maybe just me reading my own thoughts as a journal.  Or maybe you’re someone who finds some bit of spark in identifying with what it means to have an outward life and a subterranean one.

When I read this quote this past weekend, I was in a tattoo shop with a best friend and I was looking at a painting in that shop.  It was captivating, and beautiful, of a woman who was rooted into the earth through her feet (though they were more stumps with wild vines near the earth), and in her hands she held people, cities, as her arm span seemed to encircle the world – the ugly and the beautiful.  It captivated me, because it’s how I feel – interconnected, knowing, like I have a secret to share but I can’t exactly do that because no one will believe me.  I read the caption under the photo and it said “we already know everything, we have only to remember”.  Right now, what is happening in my life, on my path, is that I’m waking up, I’m remembering.  One surrender at a time.

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