200 days ago, on January 1, 2020 (that’s a decade, in Pandemic Years!), I embarked on a 30-day online experiment with a program developed by Annie Grace, called the Live Alcohol Experiment, along with 2000+ amazing, inspirational, badass souls from around the globe. Weird, maybe, but I’m also known to hop down strangers’ window wells to rescue baby rabbits, so…nothing dramatic happened in my life forced me to this decision—I have no titillating stories of self-destruction or rock bottoms—nothing that would make a good story (unless you consider the slow death of one’s soul dramatic and titillating, which I do, which speaks volumes to the fucked-up, dysfunctional mythology our culture has created around alcohol, which will have to be another post for another time, because this is long enough as it is). I didn’t make any promises to myself except to fully commit to the 30-day experiment—no more, no less. But I was also more than ready to challenge my own personal version of insanity as it relates to alcohol and try something new. I was tired all the time, a constant, low-grade sort of depression hung over my life that wouldn’t go away, I was fast losing interesting in everyone and everything. I suspected (maybe, hoped) the Live Alcohol Experiment would lead to this elusive “something new.” I had read Annie’s book, This Naked Mind, and had one non-live AE under my belt already, so I at least had a vague, filmy idea what I was seeking.
Today is my 200th day AFAF (Alcohol Free As F*ck became our group’s battle cry, we even joked about getting matching knuckle tats—AFAF4LYF—on January 31). Fittingly, as though to remind myself exactly what I’ve been missing out on, I bolted wide awake at 3:30 a.m. this morning, my heart racing, mind set to puree, anxiety tearing through my veins, something I haven’t felt in, well, about 200 days, give or take a few. I lay in bed, breathing deeply for several minutes as my pulse came back to earth, retracing the night before’s events, until I finally convinced myself that, no, I did NOT say “f*ck it, this pandemic life sucks ass!” followed by a string of IPAs at party last night. It was, literally, just a dream that woke me. Funny it should happen on this milestone of a day, but holy wow, it was nerve-rattlingly realistic.
I’m definitely feeling the strain of the pandemic like never before—I’ve essentially been alone for months (I don’t have children, and my partner (and all my immediate family) live an hour and a half from me. He’s been solo caregiver for his 88 yr. old terminally ill father who came to live with him in hospice care at the beginning of the pandemic. Just last weekend, his father passed away, a beautiful, grace-filled story of its own), I’m barely working (though I am working on setting up an online restorative movement biz), I live in Minneapolis, the epicenter of the world-wide revolution sparked by the horrific lynching of George Floyd by a despicable excuse for a police officer back in May, the daily news headlines are enough to send anyone over the edge…and now, summer brings a host of new AF challenges, even in a global crisis—socially-distanced gatherings, Zoom “happy hours,” (talk about an oddly intense way to observe others getting drunk), outdoor music and other events. Hell, just sitting on my big ol’ front porch with a bottle of sauv. blanc was an any-given-day ritual many summers in a row. Back in January, when my life was relatively drama-free, when we were all so innocent and naive, I wondered how I would handle a crisis without alcohol, should one arise. Oh, the gods and goddesses of the universe have a wicked sense of humor, don’t they?
My partner (for the record, I don’t use that term, partner, regularly or naturally; I don’t really know what to call us any more, being so severed from each others’ lives as we’ve been these long months) announced the other day, now that his caregiver role has ended, his keto and mostly-abstinent efforts have also come to an end (granted, what he did for his father was nothing short of breathtaking and heroic—I’m of the mindset that all caregivers should be given a year off of life, with pay, and a live-in chef, massage therapist, whatever the caregiver wishes; I was my husband’s caregiver when he had cancer—the most intense and sacred job one will ever have and it’s also, incidentally, when my drinking escalated); friends are posting endless photos on social media of beautiful summer gatherings centered around drinking, a friend shared the drunk Twitter feed of author Susan Orlean from last night, who’s now celebrated as the world’s “endearing pandemic inspiration,” which admittedly, was quite entertaining…to say that there isn’t some serious FOMO floating around my brain lately would be an outright lie. No wonder the dream…
I’m sitting here this morning with my coffee, windows open to a cool breeze after a wonderful thunderstorm rolled through earlier, quietly reveling in my 200th day AF. As fuck? Not so sure anymore. Physically, I feel like I could kick Chuck Norris’ ass. Mentally, bring it on, Neil Degrasse. Emotionally, I could out-zen Eckhart Tolle. (just kidding. don’t send any of them my way, I’ll run away crying). I haven’t experienced this level of clarity in I don’t know how long—ever, maybe? Still, in the grand scheme of things, it is only 200 days and that piece of shit is still in the White House… Suffice to say, a lot of thinking and writing is going on over here, and it’s only 10 am. Once we become aware of our cognitive dissonance (how our thoughts and action cleverly belie one another) in one area of our life (in this case, alcohol), it starts to become more apparent in other aspects—about to our choices in the pandemic, about our views on systemic racism, the environment, relationships, our overall health and wellbeing…suddenly what started out as blissfully easy experiment becomes an overwhelmingly complex way of being, leaving us wondering how the hell does anyone even DO this?! Forever?!
As countless who’ve gone before us have said: quitting drinking is easy. Maintining sobriety/an AF life is the hard part, and no wonder. Our culture is literally soaked in booze (and other addictive behaviors); from birth to death, it’s at every life event—good and bad and all the ho-hums in between—there are so many difficult obstacles littering the path to sobriety, it’s a wonder anyone is able to achieve it. The one thing I will focus on, on this 200th day going forward, is grace, forgiveness and compassion (okay, that’s three things, but they’re all intertwined). Glennon Doyle nailed it when she said, “You are not a mess—you are a feeling person in a messy world.” We’re living in some really intense, really messy times, like we’ve never before experienced. I think back to when my husband was sick—nothing in the world could have prepared me for that experience, but thanks to this program and others that it’s led me to, I can look at that time with a softer heart—I did the very best I could with the tools I had at the time; frankly, I don’t know that I would have survived or had stayed with Bob had I not numbed myself to the shit-show we were dumped into…up until 200 days ago, I never thought of that experience in such a compassionate way; this level of truth and grace has not been a part of my life, ever…nothing in the world could have prepared us for a worldwide pandemic, but here we are, and I will allow myself, today, the same grace, compassion and forgiveness, as I give my past life…I know a lot more today than I did then, but there’s still so much more learning to do. I’d venture to guess that no matter if someone is just starting this program or starting over again for the nth time, or 200+ days into it going strong, or 200+ days into it and ready to say “fuck it, this pandemic life really does suck,” we are already better equipped to move through these challenging times than we were before we knew of TAE, and we can be kinder to ourselves along the way, obstacles, triumphs, flaws and all.
I’m grateful that Annie’s program has given me a solid foundation to my AF journey, a new lens to look at the world and my life, and has brought me to a point where I can think about and talk about alcohol with more wisdom, insight and compassion than I ever knew possible. Today, I feel Annie’s message of ridding myself of residual shame, guilt and judgment is going to play a more prominent role in my life than it has been. We really are simply that—feeling beings in a very messy world. I can’t even guess what the next 200 days will have in store for me (I can say, that if that POS in the WH is elected to a second term, all bets—alcohol and otherwise—are solidly off), but I can say (in addition to the 100,000 words I just said), that the 2000+ strangers who joined me on the Live Alcohol Experiment in January have impacted me deeply. I’ve learned so much through their brave stories. Please keep taking and sharing and learning and living. Even at 200 days, especially at 200 days, I need all the stories—I learn from them and love all 2000+ of them. xo