Perhaps my most potent proof-of-a-higher-power moment came Saturday morning when I was asked, five minutes before the start of a recovery meeting, to pick a reading from the literature and start off the discussion. Stricken by a wave of performance anxiety, I fumbled with the book, anxiously flipping through pages until finally landing on one near the middle. The first few sentences sliced straight through my mental fog, instantly dissolving panic into peace.
I’d found a story about an alcoholic who liked to make up stories when she was young!
This is my life story. In fact, just this week, as I cleared the 4 1/2-month mark in my sobriety journey, a dramatic realization hit me: As a kid, I wanted to be an author.
Actually, I kind of was an author, back then. Someone in the family bought me a bunch of little blank booklets, a paper playground for my hyperactive imagination and collection of art supplies, and I would fill pages and pages with fictional tales of talking animals — complete with colored-pencil illustrations. Such riveting titles as “Lucky The Ladybug Goes To School” and “Skiing With The Best Friend Bunnies” (that one was part of a series, in the vein of “The Babysitters Club”) might have — who knows? — gone on to become beloved children’s classics had I ever, once, finished those stories instead of abandoning them mid-plot and moving on to a new booklet because I couldn’t think of a good ending.
Those damn endings got me, every time. My parents found a bunch of my booklets in the basement, years later after I’d moved away, and they texted me, like, “What ever happened to Lucky The Ladybug? This book just stops on Page 12.” 😂
You wouldn’t think a person would forget a thing like the only real goal she ever had in life, but if you pile enough “buts” on top of a dream over a long enough period of time, and then you stifle all hopeful thought with addiction, it’s actually really easy to lose track of the true passions of your authentic self.
If you let fear of the world stifle a heart full of art, for 41 whole years, it can take nothing short of a total spiritual awakening to rediscover your purpose.
Whew! 😰 That’s some heavy shit I just wrote — a pretty far cry from the (incomplete) adventures of imaginary insects. But fear is absolutely, 100 percent the reason I deferred, then abandoned, my childhood dream of becoming an author. Fear and an absence of faith. (I think those might actually be the same thing…)
I was afraid I would not be able to support myself financially if I chose English — my true love — as my college major. You could major in anything to write books, but I reasoned that you had to be independently wealthy (I wasn’t) or have a bunch of money saved up from a “real job” to pay your bills (I didn’t). English majors who needed to make a steady paycheck after graduation had exactly one option: teaching. And I didn’t want to be a teacher. Every other woman in my family was a teacher. Plus, I had no patience. My dad tried to get me to give pitching lessons to younger kids when I was a teen, and my instructional method basically consisted of throwing a fastball against the wall and saying, “OK, now…do that.”
I was selectively creative, I guess.
So, I checked journalism on my Northwestern application — even though I had not even worked for my high school paper, and I didn’t particularly enjoy talking to people. I decided I could be a sports writer, like the guys whose names appeared above the Cubs reports I rabidly devoured every day in the Chicago Tribune. I could combine my gift of writing and my sports fandom and earn the financial security I needed to live independently as an adult.
That was 1996. It’s hilarious, now, to think that journalism once could be considered a secure source of income for a young person with writing skills. And by hilarious, I mean severely depressing.
The world was a lot different then, and so my plan came to fruition. I was a decent sports journalist, even winning a few small awards, but I never got comfortable interviewing strangers. I never felt brave enough to ask questions or write stories that might make people mad. A deep-seated feeling that I wasn’t and would never be “a real reporter” led me to stick with lateral (or even downward) job moves rather than try to shoot for bigger publications or higher salaries, and as time passed, I felt more and more stuck and less and less confident. Self-medicating with alcohol only added a growing hopelessness to my inertia, and it had just about reached critical mass by the time my journalism job blew up in the fall of 2018.
At times over the past few years, while sitting in my couch groove with my tumbler full of tequila and La Croix, it occurred to me that maybe I should strive for more. Maybe I should start thinking out of the box, taking a few risks and looking to see what other, potentially more fulfilling career opportunities might be out there.
Except I was TERRIFIED of what “might” be out there! What if it was unemployment, poverty, failure, misery? What if it was… people telling me I was no good?
Shit. It just hit me. I was George McFly! Whoever wrote that character must’ve understood the struggle of a creative person who’s able to conjure up elaborate dream worlds in their mind but finds it impossible to conceive of a reality where they actually live their dreams.
Creativity runs thick in my blood, from my maternal grandpa, a carpenter who built houses with his bare hands and later in life took to wood carving, to my paternal grandma, a virtuoso with knitting needles who made us the most gorgeous fisherman’s sweaters and Dr. Who scarves back in the day, to my mom, a brilliant seamstress whose homemade, painstakingly-detailed Halloween costumes have been blowing minds since the early 80s (she outdid herself this year; see my nephew below), to my aunts and sisters, whose jobs in education and fashion demand daily innovation to inspire and motivate others.
Then, there’s my dad. My dad is an actual, honest-to-goodness artist. As in, he draws for fun AND for a living. He has supported our family with his gift from a higher power for as long as I’ve been alive. I remember feeling SO cool (this did not happen often) when he would come to speak at Career Day at school, armed with Kellogg’s cereal boxes to show that he, for a time, drew Tony the Tiger, and Vitner’s snack bags emblazoned with various incarnations of Vinny, the company mascot he designed and infused with personality. My dad was able to use his one-of-a-kind talent to make money and make people smile, and I couldn’t think of anything better to do with one’s life.
For all the artistic passion my dad passed on to me, he never modeled the chemical dependency that’s so infamously common among creative types. This was a guy who, as legend has it, made it through art school in the 60s completely drug-free, dismissing all offers by declaring himself “high on life.”
I think I might finally understand what he was talking about.
After giving up the chemical crutch I leaned on for two growth-stunted decades, 140 days ago, my life is a book opened to a random page in the middle. It’s a story left unfinished by a kid who couldn’t yet summon her full creative powers, couldn’t dig deep enough — or sit still long enough — to write a good ending. She was too scared of potential plot holes to explore the uncharted territory between solid ground and realized dreams. She was too scared of where her character arc “might” lead to keep climbing when the path got steep.
Choosing recovery has made me the author of my own destiny, once again. It’s time to figure out just how high this life can go, and as I just recently recalled, I love making up stories.