Growth Stories

Why I Decided Not to Shop in 2018 1024 684 Thayer Fox

Why I Decided Not to Shop in 2018

I would NEVER have conceived of not shopping for a year had I not read “The Year of No Shopping” by Ann Patchett that ran in the New York Times on December 15, 2017.

I posted the article on my Facebook page and asked my social network if anyone wanted to join me in taking this challenge for 2018. Two out of my 1000 “Facebook friends” responded. Two other friends, who are not on Facebook, said they were interested, so that brought us to five, which is a solid number for a group. Doing anything in a group is more fun than doing it alone, not to mention that your likelihood of success multiplies. Outside accountability when forming a new habit is helpful. It doesn’t matter how disciplined you are; habits take months to develop.

I emailed my No Shopping group, and everyone agreed to a January 15th start date.

These are our rules:

— No apparel.

— If there are desperate needs that come up (athletic gear), ask your husband for Valentine’s Day, bday, whatever. But don’t cheat and ask for a new handbag. That breaks the spirit of the rule.

— Outsource as much as possible to your husband, babysitter, whatever. Food is included because it’s a downward spiral.

— No browsing, anywhere.

— Gifts: as much as possible, give books. Stuff like other children’s birthday gifts — try to outsource.

— Experiences ok- travel, exercise classes, mani/pedi- if you can’t take it home in a shopping bag, you can have it.

— If you’re invited to something you don’t feel like you have the right clothes for, DON’T GO!

— Check social media twice a week only for 20 min period, unless using it for work-related activity.

— Can replace cosmetics/toiletries you already have once they run out and try to use excess in your medicine cabinet or under sink beforehand.

Shopping has been a blind spot of mine for a long time. I had a cognitive understanding that I shopped a lot, but still gave myself permission to do it, which is often the case in blind spots we learn of but want to retain. I am not referring to big-ticket items either. I cut back on that two years ago after a marital spat, where I came face to face with the disconnect between my entitlement and our bank account. After that, my shopping got sneaky.

I rationalized the time and excess by connecting it to my family. I spent more time and money than I budgeted in Whole Foods, squeezing organic fruit and filling my cart with seemingly healthy products I didn’t need. Amazon boxes arrived in piles every day containing one item each. A box with a new emoji notebook for my daughter, a box of caramel tea to add to a shelf that was already overstocked with ten other boxes of tea, a six-pack of pens that looked like they wrote more smoothly than the ten I already had in a cup on my desk. Three small items in three huge boxes, the waste alone was disturbing.

I shopped for things I already had, things I didn’t need. I bought backup for everything I deemed essential for life to run smoothly. God forbid, I had a tea emergency and had to run half a block to D’Agastino. There is clutter in every closet and drawer in my home. What is the layer below this habit? Below any unproductive habit? Is shopping a distraction? If so, from what? What will happen if I run out of something?

Leading to the January 15th start date, I panicked. The weekend before I intended to stop by all my favorite stores to stock up. I wasn’t able to execute this plan, and now a month later, I can’t recall everything on that list. I am sitting with my questions, uncomfortably so when a craving strikes.

Overall, not shopping is a relief. The fact that it’s off the table as an option creates space in my brain and schedule. Abstinence is the easiest way to jump-start significant change.

Don’t get me wrong; if I go down the rabbit hole of wondering if I have enough jeans to last me a year, I can quickly become concerned. What if I gain or lose 5lbs? Then buying new jeans would become a necessity that my group would understand. My mind is always ready and willing to offer me loopholes.

Thank God, for consciousness.


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Move a Muscle, Change a Thought

Do you think walking is useless? Not a calorie burning exercise and a slow way to get around? I didn’t learn about the benefits of walking until my first year of sobriety.

The first year of my sobriety was like restoring electricity to a house that had regularly been hit by hurricanes for sixteen years. Overwhelmed by the wreckage, I didn’t know where to begin. AA recommends you find a sponsor to guide you through this process. Fortunate to be immediately introduced to a woman I deemed appropriate, she told me to call her every day to check in. That sounded ridiculous initially, but I ended up calling her 3-4x a day because I had the coping mechanisms of a thirteen-year-old.

Most of my problems were fictional, stories I made up and played on a loop in my head. My thinking was obsessively cynical, portraying me as the victim in all scenarios. I complained to my sponsor incessantly. Two months into working together, she interrupted one of my monologues, “Since you have already been to an AA meeting today, why don’t you go for a walk around the block? Or if you have time, go for a walk in the park. Move a muscle, change a thought.” The simplicity of her suggestion annoyed me.

At that time in my life, exercise was a punitive measure after an evening of binge eating cupcakes. After I quit running due to injury, I would spend hours counting calories on an elliptical trainer at my neighborhood gym. Aimlessly walking around was a waste of time and how the hell would that solve any of my problems?

I took her advice because she had been spot-on about everything else so far. I got off the sofa, where I had been sprawled out stewing, put on some sneakers and a jacket, and walked out of my apartment. I had never walked without an end goal in mind. Something shifted as I walked around, listening to Van Morrison and looking at passing people and clouds. The thought bubbles I was stuck in burst and started flowing. I felt lighter, all my problems more manageable in this mindset.

Walking became my primary mode of transportation around New York. I walked home after work most days, sixty blocks from the Meatpacking District to the UES. On weekends, I walked around the park. Aside from AA meetings, it was the only time I could escape my mental tenants, Fear, and Anxiety. Occasionally, when I was focusing on the scenery around me, another voice would speak up. “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” Friedrich Nietzsche This voice was softer and didn’t ramble on. It came from a deeper place, below my regular chatter. All my best thoughts pop up out of nowhere and come from this voice.

I still walk everywhere, in silence or with music or podcast or audible book playing. The combination of walking and replacing my thinking with better thinking works wonders. The problem du jour goes away in minutes. Taking in new information has been the most effective method of influencing my patterning. Move a muscle, change a thought.


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The Focus of a Healthy Ego

Ego is a dirty word these days. “Get out of your ego”; “Your ego is the enemy.” I used to believe that when I had evolved enough, my ego would dissolve. Over the past five years, my thoughts on this have changed. There is no such thing as getting rid of ego. It sounds like a lofty goal and is an impossible feat. As my brilliant, old shrink Chris Ford used to say, “the goal is to create a healthy ego, you need a healthy ego to survive.”

So that begs the question, what is a healthy ego?

At my latest course, Tony Robbin’s “Date with Destiny,” I had a breakthrough on how to gauge whether I was living in the healthy part of my ego. Tony talked about The Six Human Needs: Certainty, Uncertainty/ Variety, Significance, Love/Connection, Growth, and Contribution. You do workbook and partner exercises to discover what two needs you inhabit most of the time. I knew as Tony explained that Certainty was the number one need. I like being in control, a lot. Certainty is also a commitment to being comfortable. Much of my planning involves creating optimal contented circumstances for myself. For example, I struggle for months before signing up for the workshops I attend. I know that they are designed to be uncomfortable, and I spend the week before in a state of dread. I know the cancellation policy and locations of all the exit doors.

My need for certainty conflicts with my need for Growth, Connection, and Contribution. True fulfillment is only available when you spend time in those three needs. Tony makes it clear that you can have all six needs met and there is nothing wrong with any of them when they are in the right order. When I allow certainty to be the deciding factor in my life choices, I limit growth and ultimately my happiness.

Unclear on my second need, I had to dig deeper. I assumed it was Growth or Contribution because spending time in either of these areas lights me up. Attending transformational workshops, doing service work in AA, and mentoring teenage girls in the Bronx are highlights in my life aside from Daniel and our children. So if I am already living a life I love, why am I crammed into a freezing West Palm Beach conference center pondering this question?

To reach a point where I even consider signing up for a workshop like Date With Destiny, my need for Growth has to outweigh my need for Certainty. Pain has always been my greatest motivator. When I stay stagnant for too long, I get depressed which manifests in complaints. I make everyone around me wrong before I go inside. When the low-grade misery morphs into pain, I take action. Even though I loved my life, I was dissatisfied with the level of my contribution. I was capable of doing a lot more in the world, now that my kids were in school full time, I was out of excuses.

Breakthroughs pop up in an instant, no rhyme or reason to them. Suddenly, I understood that my need for Growth and Significance were intertwined. Although I don’t strive to be significant in an overt way, the reason I felt dissatisfied was that my volunteer work didn’t feel like enough. When I sit down at a Manhattan table of significance, I fall short using the metric that most people use here, multiple degrees and titled jobs. Every environment also has a need structure, and on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, significance is king.

When I focus on my need for growth, the path ahead in the work I already do looks different than if I am striving to keep up with the conversation around me. Tony announced at the same time, “Significance is a mountain without a top! If you have this as your top two needs, you must get rid of it! It will make you miserable.” YES.

Every morning before I start writing, I go through a morning ritual which involves meditation and a cold shower. I stay in touch with my WHY as I write, and throughout my day. Spreading and supporting Growth is my happy place. Whenever I leave the world of action (contribution) and step over into results (What do you think of me? Am I doing a good job?), I move into significance.

It’s a great question to ask your self regularly. At work, when you are showing up for a friend, training for a marathon, volunteering at a kid’s school- what need am I in right now? Guarantee if it is Growth, Love, or Contribution you will be satisfied. If you feel that you are not being appropriately acknowledged, then you are probably in significance.

The part of the ego that doesn’t serve us is the part that needs to be in control and acts for the reward of recognition. A healthy ego focuses on putting growth or love or contribution first. Significance naturally moves down to the bottom when one of those three needs is first; the order is imperative. The great news is we can choose to shift our needs any day, any time. Today, I am putting Growth first.


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Find Your WHY

Two weeks ago I read Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” not expecting that it would put me on a path to find my Why.

Shortly after, I listened to The Tony Robbins Podcast “Simon Sinek on the 10 rules for achieving greatness.”

Here it is:

Then I visited Simon’s website that has a section about finding your Why.

Here it is:

Simon’s work is friendly and easy to retain. In the podcast, Simon’s humility shines through his responses. He is patient and present with the talkative interviewer. I kept listening because I liked him, not because I thought that he had anything groundbreaking to say. His theory, at a glance, occurred to me as rudimentary. If you find your Why and create your life, business, relationships from that base, it will soar. Most people and companies tend to focus on their How and What instead of their Why. I assumed that these fundamental distinctions were like learning the alphabet, geared towards beginners. For a seasoned growth vet like myself, this was merely a helpful review.

How wrong I was.

As I digested the information, I held on to the idea that I was already a self-aware person who understood what lit me up. I started to try and explain my Why to myself a quarter of the way into the podcast. I rambled about my life journey, passionate, and a bit scattered. It dawned on me that my Why at that time was like telling someone you are going to vacation in France, and when they ask the whereabouts, you talk in detail about The Eiffel Tower, vineyards and olive groves, without ever naming the exact location.

Finding my Why put the key in my ignition. I turned on.

My Why is that I want to share my process of growth, transformation, and healing with others to support and inspire them. Writing this blog became something that had to happen because it was in direct relationship with my Why. Navigating mundane areas of my life, like social and kid-related invitations, has become a no-brainer. I have always enjoyed working with my AA sponsees and now, connecting it back to my Why gives me clarity and purpose. The more opportunities I create to share and spread growth, the more energy flows through me. Any environment or individual that contains growth is always a yes for me. My Why is the reason that anything I do feels worthwhile.

I encourage you to discover your Why.

Back Pain Secret
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Back Pain Secret

I have been fortunate to avoid serious injury over the past 44 years. I do experience chronic back pain from tightness in the surrounding muscles. Once it activates, it can take weeks to go away. If you have other aches and pains from exercising, traveling long hours or sleeping too often in one position, then this tip is for you.

Aside from my daily multivitamin pack and two omega fish oils, I prefer not to tamper with my body chemistry.  The data on the effects of long-term pain reliever use include liver damage and ulcers, so I avoid them unless my pain level is at a 10. Two years ago, I strained my back doing yoga. Attempting to imitate a seasoned yogi on the mat in front of me, I felt a sharp, sudden pain in my lower back. This ego-inflicted injury taught me more of a lesson than my yoga practice ever did.

I visited a doctor even though I knew it wasn’t anything serious. She told me not to exercise for a few weeks, see a physical therapist to strengthen the surrounding muscles and take some Aleve when needed. Going without activity is only an option if I have been up vomiting all night. Exercise doesn’t have to be a shirt drenching, Soul Cycle class; it’s anything that gets me moving. An hour walk in Central Park or some light weight lifting is sufficient. Bottom line, I didn’t listen and learned quickly that consistent movement agitated my back to the point where I was in constant pain.

I reluctantly set up an appointment with a friend’s PT. My experiences with PTs range from a waste of time to feeling ripped off. Monica Joshi at Back in the Game Therapy located in Midtown Manhattan is the real deal. Aside from being an attractive woman, she is also a straight shooter with the goal of getting you in and out of her practice short term and long term at a rapid pace. She taught me exercises and gave me lifestyle strategies that helped my back enormously and still do two years later. It turns out the way I was standing was hurting my back more than any exercise I was doing.

Pain management became a fixation because I missed park walks and sitting upright in a chair at a restaurant was still sending my back into spasms. While grabbing some toothpaste at Duane Reade, I walked past an aisle and noticed a section with Icy Hot patches and ThermaCare Heat Pads. I had never used either. Grabbing a few boxes, I hurried home to conduct a performance evaluation. The Icy Hot patches worked well and reeked of mint. The ThermaCare pads were more effective without stinking up my clothes.

What started out as a way to manage my back pain turned into an obsession. I actually have one on my lower back now as I type this. Sitting and working on my computer for hours can still bother my back. The heat pads last for eight hours, staying in place even under a cocktail dress. They also function as a heat source on winter days. I also wear them to bed because I find that when vital muscles in my body are soothed, I sleep more soundly.

No, ThermaCare is not paying me to write this although they probably should.



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The We Space: The Energy Between Us All

Have you ever stared into a person’s eyes for a few minutes without speaking? Does the thought make you cringe? Do you long for deeper connection in your life? Is there a gap between how you feel about someone and your communication? What if I told you that when we tune into the space between us, without cluttering it with words, something magical happens. I spent a year exploring the “we space” by participating in a course called the Evolutionary Collective.

After thirty years in the New York City shrink offices, I believed that growth was all about me storming through my inner landscape with a flashlight and a microscope. Sometimes the work called for a toothbrush and other times a pickaxe.

Not a group person, I have always identified as a lone wolf. It’s ironic that AA saved my life because it’s a group setting. Dread is still my dominant default emotion before every developmental workshop I attend. Little did I know that my first workshop was the gold standard of GROUP.

After working with Jeff Carreira for two months, he suggested again that I attend an introduction to the course that he was teaching with Patricia Albere called the Evolutionary Collective. The name was weird, the location of the orientation was inconvenient, and I said yes because something had already started shifting internally after talking to Jeff regularly. I wanted more.

When I walked into the midtown west loft space on a Saturday afternoon, I freaked out. Men with facial hair sat chatting with middle-aged women in flowing clothes on brightly colored furniture. Everybody was enthusiastically greeting each other. I saw Jeff in a doorway that lead to another room and bee-lined over to him. He was talking to a tall, red-haired woman who stood inside the room. Jeff hugged me and introduced me to Patricia Albere. She held my hand as she shook it and stared into me with x-ray eye contact for an extended period. Pulling away first, I awkwardly asked if I could sit down inside what was set up like a classroom. I pretended to read something on my phone until the session began.

I learned later that Patricia was an original member of the EST organization (currently called Landmark Education) and was trained by Werner Erhard as a teacher. She became a teacher trainer in EST and Landmark. You don’t need to know a thing about her to realize that she is a force.

I can’t remember anything that Patricia and Jeff said that day because I spent the entire time in my head reviewing my comfort level and judging the people around me. What I do recall was a partner exercise with a man seated next to me. We were instructed to stare into each other’s eyes in silence for five minutes. Every minute dragged by as I self-consciously stared into this stranger’s eyes, my heart and mind racing.

Patricia rang a bell and then instructed us to share what was happening in the space between us. I had no idea what she was talking about and was relieved when my partner volunteered to start off. I will never forget what he said; “there was no space between us because you sat in your head the entire time.” He didn’t deliver those words sweetly either. Panicking because I was now a spiritual workshop failure, I felt like I was going to cry. I explained that this was my first time doing anything like this and I was uncomfortable. He said my fear and anxiety were my ego ‘s way of keeping me separate and asked me if this probably showed up in other areas of my life. Ouch.

After working with a few more partners that day, I became slightly more comfortable with the eye gazing exercise. Something in my body opened up, creating a softening in my heart space. I even hugged a group of women before I left.

When I arrived home, Daniel asked me how my “weirdo workshop” went as he stared at a Football game on the TV screen. He barely glanced over as he spoke and the communication felt hollow after what I had experienced. Wondering if this was a sample of all my relationships, I instantly responded that I was going back for the full weekend orientation in a few weeks.

I wasn’t sure about any of it, all I knew was that I wanted more in my life than casual glances. A week later, Daniel asked if he could come to the EC weekend with me. Noticing my surprise, he commented that something had been different about me the past few days and he wanted to experience for himself what caused it.

We both ended up joining the EC, as it’s referred to by its’ participants, for the following year. The commitment was three weekend-long retreats and bi-monthly Monday night calls. We also were assigned rotating partners to do a phone version of the eye-gazing practice. We did a lot more than stare into each other’s eyes over that beautiful year. I understood the power of commitment and intention. Getting out of my head and into my heart was gift enough. There were and still are many fascinating people in the EC. I met two mothers there who became soul sister friends. Almost six years later and I still have a monthly call with Jeff and a group of women from the original EC who live in Massachusetts.

The year spent exploring the “we space” changed me. I never realized that there is a dance of energy happening inside us and between us all the time. In every interaction, there is a space that opens up, be it two people, small groups or huge organizations. When we tune into serving that space and step away from self, love, we access the divine nature inside us all.

Patricia now runs the EC on her own; it’s bicoastal; here is the link:

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How Random Encounters Can Change Our Lives

Sometimes random encounters can change our life forever. This was the case when I met Jeff Carreira for lunch at a vegan restaurant in 2012. The next time you meet someone through unusual circumstances, stay open and allow the bigger picture to reveal itself in time.

I was desperate to feel differently, willing to take any measures. The funk I felt was similar to the bottom I reached at the end of my drinking career. I had become sober and grown immeasurably. How the hell did I end up spiritually bankrupt again? Every line item that I thought was needed for a happy life was checked: husband, kids, apartment, friends, personal trainer, and designer clothes, etc. On the outside, my life looked ideal, but according to what blueprint? Whose plan was I following anyway? Had I unconsciously been trying to recreate a better version of my childhood? Had I been hanging out in yesterday’s transformation for too long?

Meeting a middle-aged man who was a teacher at a spiritual community for lunch definitely took me way outside my comfort zone. When a man of medium stature with curly dark hair walked in and looked over, we identified each other immediately.

Our conversation was awkward at first until Jeff asked me why I was there. Three hours later, we were still there, holding hands across the table crying. “What if you had the same exact life but felt entirely different? That is what I can offer you,” Jeff said with certainty. It was a movie that I would have turned off a day before. I had no idea what he meant, or how he could make this happen, but at that moment I trusted him fully. “Give me a week to think through the best way to work together. I have a lot on my plate right now and don’t normally take on private clients” he said, as we were getting up from the table. A week was way too long, but I was in no position to push him.

Jeff also mentioned joining forces with another teacher, Patricia Albere, to run a year-long course called the Evolutionary Collective. Jeff asked if I would be interested in signing up for that group. I informed him that I was NOT a group person. All this talk of spiritual teachers and year-long commitments was more than I could handle. Working one-on-one with Jeff replicated the shrink model I knew well.

To my relief, Jeff called a few days later. “I have thought about it, and I can’t wait to work with you. I think talking at least once a week is important.” Over the moon, I asked if we could begin that day and he agreed.

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Do You Believe in Magic?

Do you believe in magic?

Unbeknownst to us, events in our lives are often set into motion long before they take place. Steve Jobs said it best in a commencement speech that he gave at Stanford in 2005:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

Here is the full speech:

I adopted this concept after hearing Steve Job’s philosophy. It has made a drastic difference in the way I internally frame every event in my life. Nothing is random. Everything is to be used. This story is an example of the dots connecting.

Every summer, I spend time on an island in Maine. In August 2009 I attended a birthday party, where a man named Gerard Senehi was introduced to all the guests as a “mentalist.” He spent the next hour bending spoons and reading people’s minds. Always enamored with the mystical world, this was the closest I had come to witnessing psychic abilities described in the parapsychology books I studied as a child.

Later that evening, I approached Gerard outside on the porch. At my request, he handed me a business card. “Flip it around. That’s your birthday?” he asked. 1/23 was written in black ink, my birthday month and day. Speechless, I thanked him again and walked away. I wanted to call him immediately about an upcoming family party until I found out what he charged per performance. It was too much to shell out at the time, and I kept his card in my wallet, knowing the time would come to reach out. Here is Gerard’s website, because I know you are curious:

In the Fall of 2011, I was changing wallets and came across Gerard’s card. I called Daniel at work, and we decided to throw a party for a group of close friends. I called Gerard, and he agreed to our early February date. We met him for dinner in January to communicate our expectations for the event and get to know each other. We learned that before moving to New York City, Gerard had spent many years in a spiritual community. The group aimed to create awakening through meditation and other practices. Fascinated, I listened intently.

After the party, we made a plan to have dinner with Gerard and his wife. The timing of the dinner coincided with my new sober spiritual bottom. I didn’t even want to go until I remembered Gerard’s background.

Over a vegetarian meal, I expressed my confusion and hopelessness. Gerard emailed a few weeks later to say that he had someone for me to meet. His name was Jeff Carreira, and he was one of the teachers in the spiritual community.  Skeptical and curious, I reached out to Jeff. The rest is magic.

How Random Encounters Can Change Our Lives


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How I Came To Believe in God

Today, I love the word God. It’s direct access to power that I cannot tap into on my own. My strength depends on my relationship with this simple word. When I say it, hear it, or read it, I am reminded to get out of my way and get into faith. You can’t be fearful and faithful simultaneously. The word God creates space. It is a relief that I don’t have to figure everything out on my own. I have no idea what or who GOD is, and I don’t care.

I grew up in a Christian household where God was a man with a beard. We went to church every Sunday, and I thought it was a drag. I didn’t have an issue with God; I just couldn’t figure out my relationship with the old man, so it made me uncomfortable.

At the age of 10, when my puppy died, I knew for sure there was no God. When I was 17 my father died and my belief that “God is dead” was reaffirmed. In my 20s I believed that I was the ultimate authority, or I would transfer that power to any man I was “in love with.” Christmas was the only time I stepped foot inside a church for 15 years.

At the age of 29, I started going to church every day, to attend meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. For the first 11 years of my sobriety, I rarely used the word God. In the rooms of AA, and in the literature, they tell you to use whatever you are comfortable with as your higher power. It just can’t be you. I used to say nature, the universe, and group of drunks (GOD as an acronym—people in the rooms of AA who have transformed their lives), until April 2015.

My son Griff was admitted into the ICU at New York-Presbyterian on a Saturday evening with a fractured skull and a massive hemorrhage. The doctors told us that surgery was too risky. They needed the bleed on the brain to clot by itself. That first night, I prayed regularly. Not to the ocean, or the members of AA, but to God. Eventually, a feeling of peace overcame me as I let go of Griff’s life. I handed him over to God, clear that I was never in charge. I was ok with either outcome.

That moment opened me up to a connection that I had not experienced before. It took me a few more years to get here. If I try to track it, there is no linear path. I read Mysteries of the Kabbalah and Mere Christianity. I learned Transcendental Meditation. I read the Buddha Bedtime series to Griff regularly. I attended two Tony Robbins workshops, in which he uses the word God liberally, and no one walks out in a huff. I visit Redeemer, a Presbyterian church that takes place in the Hunter College auditorium. I have watched three women I work with, transform in front of my eyes over the past six months.

I still don’t identify solely with being a Christian. I love Buddhism, as well as pieces of all religions. Giving up self-identifying labels has been a game changer; I want the option to say I am something else tomorrow. And whatever I choose to be, will always include God. The past year has been the happiest year of my life. If the word God offends you, that’s your filter. Keep reading anyway.


* My favorite Nietzsche passage as a teenager from “The Gay Science.”

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The Gift of Being an Alcoholic

Grateful for my DNA, being a recovered alcoholic is the best part of my life. I cannot fathom another way to experience this life other than through the wide-eyed wonder of sobriety. For the past fourteen years, I have plugged into energy beyond the limited container of self which has allowed me to be a light giver; part of a solution in this big, messy world.

My mindset as a child was drastically different. Born with an existential crisis raging inside me, I felt stranded here. Is this it? There’s got to be more….? People often ask about your first childhood memory, and those two lines repeated regularly are mine. Sobbing as I watched ET is another early memory. I identified with his longing to return home. I didn’t know where my home was, but it didn’t feel like it was on Park Avenue. After reading more on extraterrestrial life, I started taping notes on my window pane at night so my alien family could locate me; beam me the hell out of here.

When this didn’t happen, I shifted my focus to finding C.S Lewis’s Narnia by knocking on every inch of wall in our apartment. After exhausting that possibility, I started studying parapsychology and the occult, asking spirits from my Ouija board to send me signs. Increasingly detached from the movie set world around me, I became acutely aware of the subtext, the conversation occurring beneath the spoken conversations being had all around me. I noticed how people’s words and energy didn’t match. The awkward gestures, the break in eye contact, the divide happening in the most well-intentioned interactions. I longed to connect with people beyond the sterile, soulless way I witnessed.

The opportunity to drink presented itself at age 11. I was at my older friend Edith’s house up in Maine, where my family spent our summers. She taught me what proof meant on a bottle of alcohol and how to replace the alcohol you drank with water so your parents wouldn’t catch you. My first drink was a shot glass of Wild Turkey. It burned my throat going down, and I was concerned that it would damage my esophagus for a few minutes before a warmth overtook my body. Everything softened, my friend looked hazy as we stared at each giggling uncontrollably. We climbed out of her bedroom window onto the roof and lay in the sun for hours listening to The Grateful Dead. A secret portal to another world opened at last.

I drank to quiet the voice in my head. I drank to make the world more bearable. I drank to experience a connection with other people. I drank because of a genetic predisposition that I inherited from my father. I drank because of the undercurrent of anger in my home. I drank to be “cool” and create an identity for myself. I drank to be loved. I drank until I couldn’t remember why I needed to drink in the first place.

Alcohol helped me cope with painful events. When I was seventeen, my father shot himself. His decision tormented me until at the of age twenty-nine, buried alive under years of mistakes and self-loathing, suicide seemed like a logical escape plan. I stockpiled prescription medication asking myself every morning if today was the day that I would end my life. Alcoholism is a progressive disease; it works until the wreckage outweighs the relief. Once the elevator starts descending, it never goes back up. When suicide becomes a re-occurring, rational conversation; you have reached the basement.

Giving up drinking was not a conscious choice that I made one day. The series of random people and experiences that flooded my life at a critical time had nothing to do with me and can’t be written off as coincidence. Something that resided deep inside me chose life. For the first few years, I hated going to “meetings” in church basements. Apparently, AA was the last stop on the train where losers came to complain. I didn’t believe that I had anything in common with them; my story and pain were unique.

The best part of AA is that you don’t have to like it or want to be there for the process to work. If you don’t drink, go to meetings and work the step program with a sponsor, you will transform in spite of yourself. You can share about how much you hate it there, and people will smile and tell you after the meeting how much your rant helped them.

I heard many people share at meetings that sobriety restored them to the way they were before alcohol kidnapped their souls. I didn’t understand this concept because I never had a self, there was no material worth keeping. I dumped my broken Thayer shell and started building from scratch.

Inside any AA room, people are in different phases of recovery and the context is always growth. We unzip our personalities at the door, committed to sharing our truth from a deeper place than personal opinion. It’s an inclusive, no matter what community filled with pure emotion. Strangers saved my life.

Freedom is knowing that I am only rowing the vessel of my life, relinquishing the navigation to a force much more majestic than my limited brain. Today, I can step outside myself, show up and serve another human being without strings attached. The best part is that I can’t claim credit for what I have become.

For myself, I don’t believe in the anonymity part. AA was established over a hundred years ago when alcoholics were locked up and given electroshock therapy. When I want to connect with someone new, it’s the first thing I tell them, what they need to know about my story to know me. It’s the gift that I have to give away. Aside from being able to help someone else who struggles with any addiction or knows someone who does, my life is a stand for transformation.

None one is damaged beyond repair. Being broken is only a story. When I came to understand that the most shameful parts of my past inspire and support others, I stepped into strength. Becoming useful gave my life meaning. The darkest corner inside you? The one that you built cement walls around years ago and don’t dare discuss with even your closest friends?

Your gold is waiting for you there.