Did you hear? Jessica Simpson is four years sober!
I would’ve had no clue, but my husband saw something about it on the news and told me I should go check out her revelatory Instagram post. He knows I don’t give a 💩 about celebrities under normal circumstances, but he’s seen me melt into a puddle whenever I learn someone else — anyone else, from Jon Snow to our server at a local restaurant — is in recovery. He figured I’d enjoy adding another name to my “You Are Not Alone” ledger.
Of course, he was right. I have an extra-mushy soft spot for all people who find the courage to be open, authentic and vulnerable, whether it’s in private or on full public blast, and to share their messy, imperfect humanity with the rest of us messy, imperfect humans.
All you folks with self-awareness who don’t take yourselves so seriously, you have a fan in me!
That includes you, Jessica Simps! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
No surprise: I shed a few tears when I read her words. I would’ve cried no matter who wrote them. There’s something so deeply touching in the universal human experience; whether we’re a rich, famous fashion plate or an unemployed grad student/blogger, and whether we identify unabashedly as an alcoholic or recoil at any sort of “label,” we are so much more the same than we are different.
It’s easy to forget that. It’s so easy, especially when we’re having a tough time, to draw inward and isolate ourselves, believing that we’re on our own little island and no one understands and nothing will ever change. It’s incredibly easy to scroll through social media and compare our raw reality to others’ cherry-picked, filtered facades, and sink deeper and deeper into our pile of mental 💩.
It’s also easy to “pick sides” and draw rigid boundary lines around our chosen identity. It’s human nature to want to belong, and some find it comforting to adopt an “us vs. them” mentality in everything they do. I’ve seen this at work in the classroom, the CrossFit gym, the recovery community…all over. Life is a club, in this line of thinking, and membership depends on following a certain set of (written or unwritten) rules.
For some 12-step subscribers, if you don’t stand up and declare yourself an alcoholic, or you don’t fully follow the exact program of recovery that “saved” them, you’re not legit. They will absolutely, 100% judge you if they don’t understand or agree with your choices. It’s a fact of life. Stigmas are at work everywhere in society.
Need evidence? Tell anyone over the age of 60 that you’re getting a tattoo. 😬
For me, it all comes down to choice: What feels right to you? Anonymity at all cost? Fine! “Coming out” publicly? Great! Refusing to define or categorize yourself? Perfect! Reading AA’s “Big Book” as hard-and-fast gospel? Go for it! Doubting the existence of God? Giddy up!
Defining for yourself what “alcoholism” means and not caring how others view your definition? Deciding that your desire to live authentically outweighs any fear of being judged? Right on!
No matter what particular choices you make for yourself, or what specific details you use to shape your identity, there’s no getting around the ultimate truth: You are a one-of-a-kind being that is, fundamentally, just like everybody else.
I once heard someone in a 12-step meeting say, “We’re all just bozos on the bus,” and I couldn’t imagine a more perfect way to put it. 🤡🚌
No, we don’t all identify as addicts, but we all have issues. Underneath the intelligence, education, good looks, money, power, success, or whatever we project on social media, lurks some mixture of doubt, fear, anger, spiritual drift…or in Jessica Simpson’s case, “pain, brokenness and self-sabotage.” We try to cope, to get through the day however we can. We muddle along, looking for some meaning in our meanderings around the Earth.
There’s no one “right” path to fulfillment, but there is only one end result: 🪦. It’s up to each of us to make the time between 👶🏼 and 💀 count — whatever we decide “count” means.
Whew! Yes, folks; all this psychobabble from one pop star’s Insta post! Jessica Simpson’s celebration of sobriety played my heartstrings and triggered my tear ducts, but above all, it reminded me of my purpose — not just as a recovering alcoholic, but as a human being.
I’m in grad school right now studying to be a counselor because I want to help other people — addicts, yes, but most of all, people — find the courage to be the person they truly want to be. I believe the definition of success is to live an authentic life, and doing that requires tapping into the power of universality, the great forces of nature, the “kinship of all living things.” It is by acknowledging our sameness that we can embrace our uniqueness. It is through an honest, genuine connection with the world around us that we can discover the deeper meaning in our individual existence.
My recovery experience over the past 28 months has involved everything from sitting in meetings and following all the “rules” to listening to blatantly anti-AA speakers on my favorite podcasts. I’ve eagerly “taken what works” and skeptically “left the rest” — I’m using quotes to denote program lingo — and it works just fine for me to say, “I’m an alcoholic who royally 🤬-ed up, but as long as I stay true to my values, and stay out of my own way, I don’t ever have to live that way again!” My path to personal fulfillment runs out of my own head and through other people; by embracing my connection to the expansive, unwieldy, beautiful mess of humanity, I can learn to accept, forgive, love — and most importantly, laugh at — myself.
That, I think, is the starting point for building a meaningful life.
What Jon Snow — sorry, Kit Harington — said in Vanity Fair about his own recovery could apply to any bozo on the bus:
We all have the capacity for change, whatever change signifies in our individual lives. I’ve got nothing but love for celebrities, AA sponsors, therapists, professors, parents, unemployed bloggers, social media managers, meme generators…anyone and everyone who’s “carrying the message” of hope to others who struggle, and speaking a deeply meaningful, universal language in their own unique way.