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By Holly WHITAKER
A few years ago and two months into the whole sobriety thing, I went to lunch with a friend of mine, a doctor and – more importantly for the purpose of this story – a vegan. We’d worked together and somehow he had become one of the one’s who had held my hand on my way out of hell, our meetings about progressing the delivery of alternative healthcare offerings “somehow” always hijacked by my more pressing need to discuss becoming a human again. How do we get insurance to cover nutrition visits? generally turned into okay, Eckhart Tolle. Why isn’t he president?
We went to the crepe place around the corner from our work, and as he sat down to his vegan special, he remarked what a delight it was to be eating something animal-free that was so hearty and well crafted. I recounted to him that one time I read Skinny Bitch and was a vegan for three months, and how it ended one night when I was on my fifth cocktail and my friend Courtney dropped a pat of butter on her hand and I ate it off of her (and almost ate her arm.)
I asked him if it was hard, if he found it difficult to manage feeling satiated, if he ended up wanting to eat butter off of people at times. He said it wasn’t always easy, that yes, sometimes he was hungry, and yes, sometimes he ate lettuce at restaurants and it sucked. And so it was then that I asked him how the fuck he did it. Because, I just couldn’t imagine a life without dairy and leather.
Me: How do you do it? I can’t even.
Doctor Vegan: You know how you’ve decided not to drink?
Doctor Vegan: Do you ever have bad nights? Nights that just suck because the activity is drink centric, and it’s just not for you, and there you are anyway?
Doctor Vegan: Veganism is like that. Sometimes I have a bad meal. But I do it because it is my choice, I have decided to not eat meat, and my life is so much better off for it. Just like how sometimes you have a bad night. But these are small sacrifices for living how we want to live.
I sat there, mouth gaping open. Not because I finally understood veganism. But because I finally understood my choice to not drink in a whole new light. Sometimes, the vegan people have bad meals. And sometimes, the sober people have bad nights. And we do these things not because we are depriving ourselves, not because we just can’t (okay, I can’t), but because ultimately, we want more from this life.
Mastin Kipp, blogger/writer/founder of the Daily Love, released a book (Growing Into Grace) this past year that discussed (among many things) his path to becoming friends with Oprah. In it, he describes his battles with addiction to cocaine, his subsequent bankruptcy, and the years he spent sleeping on couches, penniless, as he was launching the Daily Love. I read it in a sitting, and not just because I desperately wanted to figure out how to become friends with Oprah (which I do), but because what I got out of it was the devastatingly simple/tragically important message – that success has NOTHING to do with luck, and EVERYTHING to do with how hard we are willing to work towards it and sacrifice for it.
Yes, miracles unfolded on Mastin’s path (do I need to mention Oprah one more time?), but that’s besides the point. The point is that this man did everything in his power – lived in his car, slept on couches, received the kindness of strangers, did things that scared him, pushed through his resistance, and burned through ridiculous amounts of The Self-Doubt and The Who-the-fuck-am-I(s)? – to realize his dream. Nothing was beneath him. There was no room for shame in his game. Nothing was too much or too little. And now, nothing is seemingly out of his reach (Oprah). In other words, he lived the way most other people WILL NOT LIVE, so that he can have a life that most other people CANNOT HAVE.
This week one of my clients – a bright, brilliant, badass little thing – called me to explain that she had seen on social media her friends out at a bar, together, having fun. And there she was, at home meditating and repeating a fucking mantra and trying not to drink, and it all seemed to be happening around her and without her. Another friend called me to explain that she had lost her social circle entirely and all at once, she couldn’t seem to make sober friends, and everyone in her extended family seemed to be drinking in her face with their middle fingers up. Still another called to explain that she had made a milestone at work, and these are the things that are usually celebrated with bubbles, and that it sucked to holy hell her bubbles were La Croix and not Veuve Clicquot, while another emailed she can’t imagine what life is going to be like without mimosas on Sunday.
And to each of them – because this is the lesson I’ve been telling myself all week as I slept in FIVE DIFFERENT BEDS (and twice in my clothes to save time) – I repeated my doctor friend’s wisdom, Mastin’s wisdom: Be willing to do what other people won’t, so you can live how other people can’t.
We may have to skip the Friday night bar scene for a while and watch as other people’s lives go on without us as we are sitting at home with our cats chugging herbal tea. Some people may stop calling. Our families may prove to be unsupportive dismissive assholes. We might have to raise a glass of fizzy water and clink it with everyone else’s glass of Vueuve. Our trips to Mexico will never include margaritas again, the only bottomless thing at our Sunday brunches will be coffee (which as far as I’m concerned is what we’ll do in heaven, anyway), we will have to make it through Thanksgiving and ALL family events fully sober, and baseball games will really be four hours long (which was a shock to me). We will lose friends, we will lose social circles, we will lose things, period. Shit will change. And shit will suck. For a while.
We also never have to wake up hungover, regretful, forgetful, or shamed again. There are no mystery receipts, hangover-cheeseburgers, or scans through the phone for evidence of things we said that we do not remember. NEVER again will we have to utter the words Did I do something stupid? or worse, pretend we remember something we WHOLLY do not. No more do we have to think the thoughts Can I drink tonight even though I said I wouldn’t? or Maybe just one or How the fuck did I drink the whole bottle, again? We will not be compelled to look around the table to see who is drinking faster or slower, or limit ourselves to friendships based on alcohol tolerance. We will stop wondering what other people think about our drinking, wondering if we have a problem with our drinking, wondering if they are worse than we are, wondering if we are worse than they are. We will not have to consider How many calories are in glass of Rose? and never again will we have to skip the steak or the ice cream because we are drinking our allowance. We don’t repeat ourselves when speaking unless we mean to, we don’t kiss men we don’t mean to, we don’t drive when we don’t mean to, or really, for that matter, do much else we don’t mean to. Our skin looks better without even trying, and the thought of whether our face might become one giant broken capillary just disappears. We have more time, more energy, more love, more money – MORE EVERYTHING – than we ever did before. Wesomehow become role models and people who can look ourselves in the mirror and we never have to lie to our doctor again about how much we drink, or lie to ANYONE again about how much we drink, and we get to say things like Oh, no thanks, I don’t drink. We begin to know ourselves, we begin to know what we are made of, we begin to realize that we can do hard things. Shit will change. And shit will be good. Forever.
We don’t just stop there. Because now that we know we can do what everyone else can’t seem to do, we begin to realize that we can do other things that everyone else can’t seem to do. One day we realize things like I don’t give a fuck what they think or I don’t have to work this soul-sucking job or I can dance sober! or I am creative! or I can run that marathon or I can start that business or even I can buy that fucking apartment in Rome! One day, we realize not only can we break addiction, not only can we stop drinking or drugging or partying or smoking, but we can, in fact, do anything we put our minds to. One day we realize not only are we free, but we arelimitless.
Of course, we can look at it like we can’t, or we don’t get to. But that’s just not what is really going on here.
What is going on here is that we make a choice to do the subversive, life-saving, life-making thing. We make a choice to do the thing that most people won’t do, and to live the way most people won’t. So we can live the way that most people can’t.