Twenty Years Ago Everything Was Possible

Thanks for holding me up, everyone.

Thanks for holding me up, everyone.

Twenty years ago this week there was a Friday the Thirteenth. A friend invited me to a boating party in Shilshole on a warm blue-sky evening. I think I was wearing white pants. There was wine, there was beer there was god-knows-what-else. Maybe a bit of pot. Whatever was there, I had it all—over twice the legal limit. And then I drove home. On the way, I dipped into the Wallingford QFC because I had my usual case of the munchies. I stumbled back to the car with my goodies bag and the police were waiting for me. A marine had been driving behind me, witnessed my weaving, had called the cops.

I got in the back of that cop car. There may or may not have been handcuffs (I was a blackout/brownout drinker). There may or may not have been a trip to the police station. I do remember crying in the backseat of that cop car. Eventually, I was dropped off by what might have been a somewhat kind (even if appropriately exasperated and disgusted) officer at my apartment at 4 a.m. I made pasta and went to bed. A few hours later I woke up and knew, I just knew:

I was done.

My drinking days were over.

I was 33. I thought I was too old to “start over.” Of course that makes me laugh hysterically today. Now, I think every age is a perfect one to start over. I’ve seen people have amazing do-overs in their 50s, 60s and 70s. 

The first year was heartbreak. I opened, shattered and cracked all over the place—but in good ways! It involved owning myself and my actions and seeing how the wreckage I caused affected others and myself. Ow. Ooooh. Ouch! Achy breaky moments poking and plucking at all corners of my ribs. I went from being a closed non-emoter to someone who cried walking down 3rd avenue. I cried at work, sitting in an open-office environment. I cried while driving. A lot of driving and crying. Not always out of sadness. It was like an internal emotional ice age was melting and it was coming out in tears. Just coming and coming, I couldn’t do anything about it, so I let it. It was a relief and nobody noticed.

Genie-prisoner in a bottle--breaks free! Artwork by  Darwin Yamamoto , created for my chapbook.

Genie-prisoner in a bottle--breaks free! Artwork by Darwin Yamamoto, created for my chapbook.

What made the hard part endurable was how endlessly fascinating it all was—this transformation business. And watching others go through it as well. Being part of a couple of recovery groups kept me from losing my mind; or at least I was more comfortable being OK with the possibility that I might go wack-o. Thankfully, I was spending time with people who were willing to share their shape-shifting stories and laugh at their most embarrassing actions. They nodded with understanding and a smile when I admitted to the most secretive acts or desires I’d harbored while drinking. One day at a time, other people’s stories were letting me off the hook. I began to breathe.

The world opened up in extraordinary ways. It was hard and scary and magical and creative. I broke down and grew up. I met my shame head-on and survived it (and this work continues). I wrote poetry. I did triathlons. I had friends, family and communities I couldn’t have made the transformation without. I learned how lucky we are to have this need for each other. I need you. And you and you. So hard and so badly and so happily! Thank you, thank you thank you.

So many of us have a defining moment in life. You have yours.

Something happens. You stop. You turn. You open, accept, and dig down deep to recover and heal and grow up and out into yourself and the world.

We all have an amazing capacity to transform ourselves.  So much is possible.

I can do it. We can do it. You can do it.

Oh to be free!

Oh to be free!

For years I carried this mysterious, shorn piece of paper with an excerpt that saved my ass day after day. The words connected me to my humanness and in times of panic, I could breathe. I carried it for 10 years before I found its source. Here it is. xo

Every year


I have ever learned

in my lifetime

leads back to this: the fires

and the black river of loss

whose other side

is salvation,

whose meaning

none of us will ever know.

To live in this world

you must be able

to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it


to let it go.

— --Mary Oliver, from In Blackwater Woods