In late 2008, in a severe economic downturn and as people were losing their jobs left and right, I decided it would be incredibly smart to quit mine. I'd been working for five years at that point in my chosen field, but I'd been working since I was 16. I was 29 and I'd never really understood anything but hustle and work ethic. I spent the last few months at my job looking for something that would allow me to relax and enjoy my life, some sort of steady and easy job that I could leave at the office. When I didn't find anything and went for the first time in my life without structure I found that after a few months of watching the full four hours of the Today show that maybe I wasn't the kind of person that was looking for easy. Maybe easy was boring. I ended up taking a job that required more of me than I'd ever given.
Three weeks into that new job I had to close our books for the first time, and at 5pm on a Friday my boss sent me two pages of notes -- or about 36 hours of work. Due Monday. I walked to the Safeway in Duboce Triangle, picked up a 6-pack of beer and a pound of coffee, came home and smoked a joint, chugged a beer, and went to work. I spent the weekend in the same clothes, in bed with my laptop, and vacillated between pot, coffee, cigarettes, and beer. This was the first weekend I picked up the habit of mixing pot and tobacco in my joints because it put me in a specific zone that made spreadsheeting for that many hours tolerable.
My boss and I got into the habit of calling each other at 3am and 4am without thinking what of it. We would talk about how little we slept and the first time I pulled an all-nighter I reached a level of esteem with myself I'd never had. By 2010 my record was 96 hours of straight work without sleep.
I often think that I was perhaps always trending towards where I ended up - I could say that when I was 15 and had that first drink I knew something was wrong. But that isn't entirely true, and I spent 15 years with a passably "normal" alcohol consumption pattern. 100 hour weeks - and yes, I mean 100 hour weeks without exaggeration - and the pressure of a job that *only* asked for my life in return is what trended me towards addiction. By 2011 I had learned I had an extreme ability to do it all (and by all I mean professionally), the only cost of that was my health and my sanity.
I believed that there was no way out; that somehow I was born a person with an intolerance for the middle ground of anything. I thought my two choices were: drop out of society and live on a beach, or continue on my trajectory until an early death.
I used to walk in such a way that my head leaned forward; charging ahead. I used to think there was no other way to live. My first meditation retreat with James Baraz I asked him, point blank and out of fear, whether I would become a less productive person if I meditated.
When I asked my ex-boyfriend to put me through in-patient recovery in 2012, and he declined, I didn't know what else to do. There seemed to me to be nothing but an extreme resolution for my extreme problem. How does one recover from being so sick while carrying on with the things that make them sick? What do you do when the life you have built is the very thing that makes you sick in the first place? How do you stay in that life and get un-sick?
The gut reflex when we are in the thick of it to just hit the stop button and escape - to abandon ship and do something radical. I thought money and a man and a different life would make me better -- I honestly believed that. I thought joining the peace corp or marrying Levi and moving to Costa Rica were entirely easier things to do than learn to live in a different way. Anything but turning around and facing it and cleaning it up. Anything.
Over five years later, the answer is this: if I would have run, it would have only followed me. If I had found what I considered to be an easy way out, I would have just died more. The only thing that saved me was myself, and by that I mean the only thing that saved me was the decision to live a different way within the life I'd created, or rather, create another life from the inside out -- not the outside in.
There is a reason that self-care is the number one directive in Hip Sobriety School -- because it is the only thing that matters. It is the foundation the house is built upon, the roots of the tree, the way through. We do not get better by simply meditating and drinking water and processing and getting therapists and all the thousands of things we do, though they are how we do it. We get better by making our health a priority, our care a priority. That is it. We nurture this self we have been given and the soul that inhabits it by turning in and tuning in and making a commitment to it that sounds like "I promise I will take care of you."
This month I didn't do a particularly fascinating lecture, there is nothing new in it. It is simply an invitation to ask yourself what self-care looks like for you today, and then to answer it in the way that makes sense for you in this moment.
This is also available in an audio format so you can download and listen to on your MP3 player (iTunes, etc.). There is no slide deck. Please have two pieces of paper or your journal and a pen ready.
This month we are doing a short breathing meditation. Audio is here.
This month the book suggestion is Rise Sister Rise. This is a book directed at women, but it is also a book directed at the feminine - an aspect both men and women have. If you are a dude I don't think it would be the worst thing for you to read and feel you could find some value in it. An alternative suggestion is to read Byron Katie's Loving What Is.