Here I am again, beginning a blog post that earlier today took a completely different form in my mind. I was going to write about balance. About self-care. About guilt and shame. About going to the beach as an act of love and self-preservation. As I type these things I’m sure they’ll come up later. But for now…for now… Alcoholics Anonymous.
Damn. I went to the best meeting tonight (and now I’ve been to a few in Boston, Knoxville, and in D.C. so have some solid comparisons). Tonight, I sat in a room with about 50 lesbian, bisexual, and queer women each of whom identified as alcoholic. I welcomed newcomers to AA. I was welcomed myself as a visitor. And, after sharing my sobriety date reset and 28 days sobriety timeline, was lifted up with a round of applause lasting over a minute. From a room of 50 queer female alcoholics.
I felt welcomed.
I met P, a meeting regular, on the way in (come on, you don’t see a group of 8-10 queer women, 15 minutes pre-meeting time, congregating at a coffee shop that’s 2 blocks away from the meeting and not follow them). So, technically we met as I was stalking the flock of queer women. When we stopped at a red light I not-so-stealthily sidled up and asked if she was going to the 7:15pm meeting because I was visiting… It’s true, I have no game, but, I am effective in figuring out where the heck meeting locations are. Anyhow, P immediately shared her number with me and invited me to coffee. Coincidentally, she attends the Sunday meeting I went to last week and so we’re going to check in this weekend – on my (soon to be) 30 day chip day!
I felt connected.
During tonight’s meeting I heard the most beautiful stories. Of survival, joy, new families and friendships, and sobriety. I also heard the most difficult stories. Of trauma and abuse, of addiction, recovery, and relapse. I witnessed women receiving chips for 32 years, 29 years, 20 years, and 1 year of sobriety. I signed the congratulations/sobriety anniversary cards that were being passed around for these women – who had attended this meeting for 32, 29, 20, and 1 year. I signed these cards from one sister to another. One alcoholic to another. One queer family member to another – congratulations, hopes for continued sobriety, and love. When their sobriety chips were passed around the entire room for prayers/good intentions, I turned the chips over in my hands, gently stroking each face, and wished for future sobriety and wellness. My hands were cold from holding my iced decaf coffee, but the sobriety chips were warmed by the hands of my sisters before me. Holding those chips in my cold fingers, I felt their collective energy.
I felt grateful.
Grateful. It’s ironic. That was the topic of the meeting’s open discussion tonight. Women were grateful for each other. For their sponsors. For the lessons gleaned from meetings: boundaries, self-care, parenting, and coping. For their sobriety. For learning how to be grateful, and recognizing when they were forgetting to be so. I was grateful for warmth I felt with that sobriety chip in my hand. Grateful for knowing each chip was infused with focused prayers, hopes, and love. Grateful to add my own prayer. Grateful for celebrating these milestones. Grateful for hearing stories. Grateful for sitting in a room of my people: of alcoholics. Of queer folks. Of women. Women like me. I, one of these women.
I was grateful for having the guts to drive into the city. Grateful that my friend Amanda encouraged me. Grateful for going early and getting dinner from the Whole Foods hot bar. I was grateful Whole Foods was there (as I did not have a dinner plan) and that I had D.C. spending money from my parents for dinner (yes, I’ve told you that money is tight, and I’m not exaggerating). I was grateful I’d brought my book and could spend the 90 minutes I had to pass before the meeting procuring food, eating, and reading in an air-conditioned space. I was grateful I went to Starbucks and for the gift card from my mum (see a pattern here?) so I could actually afford coffee. I was grateful my AA sisters were getting coffee too. I was grateful for meeting P and for her generosity in welcoming me. I was grateful for being honest about having been sober once prior and again newly sober. I was grateful for owning my truth. For getting myself to a meeting. For staying present. I was grateful that I put myself first.
I was going to write about balance. About self-care. About guilt and shame. About going to the beach as an act of love and self-preservation.
Today, Amanda and I went to the beach at Sandy Point State Park. We’ve been working our collective brains pretty intensely over these past two weeks. Today was our opportunity to establish balance. To prioritize fun and relaxation over work. We each have plenty of work to do. We’re both writing papers for submission to journals early fall. We’re both being held accountable for working on these projects. I fear that I’m letting my mentor down if I prioritize “me-time” over work. Letting myself and my training down. I feel guilt and shame about not “performing” 6 days a week for 10 hours a day minimum. And yet…
And. Yet. During this trip to D.C. I’m trying to set. Trying to find balance. During the first week here I worked on regular sleep and eating healthier foods. More veggies. This week I added regular and intense exercise back into my life. Next week, I’ll begin food tracking and eliminating the rest of the processed sugars from my diet (eek!). These practices are cumulative. I’ve not let one practice slip once beginning it. The trick, however, is that I have to keep work in check because when work is the priority, these other pieces fall. So, right now, work is not even my second priority. Outside the NCI program, work falls eighth behind sleep, healthy food, exercise, AA/sobriety, fun/relaxation (blogging counts as part of this), detox (sugar), and keeping in touch with family/friends. Eighth. For one month while I set new habits, work is my eighth priority. Eighth. I want to repeat it over and over and over again until it’s clear to us both.
Eighth. Eighth. Eighth. Eighth. Eighth. Eighth. Eighth. Eighth.
I am my priority.
Going to the beach today was my attempt to make sure that in the midst of NCI, healthy behaviors, and sobriety that I’m keeping a bit of fun in life. Going to the beach today was my opportunity to give myself a gift. My way to reinvest in myself. To show myself some gratefulness.
I am grateful for the work I do. I am grateful that I can do the work I do. I am grateful that I think and write and research as a public health scientist. I am grateful for my capacities. I am grateful for the opportunities. And, I am grateful that I am learning to put work down. To pick me up. To explore, take risks, and invest in myself. I am grateful.
Going to the beach today was an act of love. An act of self-preservation.
Going to AA tonight was an act of love. An act of self-preservation.
Despite the G-dforsaken heat, I am going walking tomorrow and swimming on Sunday. That too is an act of love. An act of self-preservation.
Love. Me. Love. Me. Love. Me. Love. Me. Love. Me.
There’s a saying in AA that’s repeated at the end of meetings: “Keep coming back. It works if you work it.” The idea is that you’re more likely to stay sober if you attend meetings and work your sobriety. Keep coming back. Stay present for your sobriety.
This saying extends to my Self:
- Keep coming back: No matter what, keep focusing on yourself.
- It works: You work (i.e., You are physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy)
- If you work it: If you actively practice balance and prioritize yourself.
I believe that it will work if I work it and, for that, I am grateful.