In 2016, in a real dick move, a friend bought me a book for my birthday called Almost Famous Women about women who had almost done great things but totally crashed and burned right before their Moment. She told me the stories in it reminded her of me.
Five years later, in January 2021 a very famous person mentioned my book had helped her with her quest for sobriety, and this event in turn sold tens of thousands of books and made Quit Like a Woman a New York Times Bestseller. It was less than a year into the pandemic, I was finishing negotiations with the person who would eventually replace me as CEO of Tempest, fundraising a few million dollars, running a company that employed many people, and that month alone my work and Tempest’s work appeared in over 600 news stories. Which is to say, a lot happened that month and it was all pretty good. Then a lot of unwanted shit happened, and by April I was unemployed, and for many valid reasons I won’t list here, pretty certain my life had just peaked. There was an unrelenting everything, and then there was a nothing, and I could not stop thinking about that book and how that person had been right about me.
In March of 2021, before the quiet end but close enough to see it coming, an advisor told me when he lost his company he went on vacation for three months and came back with two new business ideas, so I gave myself until July to figure out my comeback or my next move or whatever you do in order to show your ultimate failure was a stepping stone to some greater calling. But then July came and went and things were getting worse. I kept imagining one day I’d wake up and be me again, that all my previous clarity and sense of purpose would return and grind all that loss into some kind of foundation for an even bigger Next Thing, but that simply never happened. It all just kind of went away, and no bigger Next Thing, at least in the way I imagined it, ever rose up to greet me so it could all make sense in the tidy way most of the books I read during that time about great failure promised it would. It still hasn’t. These have been years of waiting.
If you’ve been here a while you’ll know: This doesn’t mean I haven’t been living my life or making plans or even having fun and experiencing profound moments of joy. Like any long transition period, you’re still going to the grocery store, still doing the dishes, still making plans and laughing at cat videos. Life keeps going and there are a thousand or a million silent steps forward you don’t even realize you’re taking, growth you don’t even see happening. But again: if you were to ask me what the predominant vibe of my 2021 and 2022 was and what I remember about it most, I’d say lost, confused, untethered, hateful. I’d say I’m not sure I was even there at all. If you were to press me on it and say, It couldn’t have been that bad?, I’d tell you about all the times it wasn’t, but how even those moments seemed to dissolve right back into a goo I couldn’t will myself to be born anew from into the thing I’ve been thinking I’m supposed to become.
At the meditation retreat I went on a few weeks ago, the first I’ve done in the after times, like the last few years it felt like nothing was happening at all. We meditated for hours a day, chanted, prostrated, walked with intention, ate with intention. And then on the last day, we went through a ceremony where we had to find an item from the surrounding forest and set it down on the altar during an hours-long ceremony; the item from the forest was meant to represent a thing we were looking to let go of. I walked outside and saw a huge rock on the ground, weighing about ten pounds, and that’s what I picked up. Without planning for it I started walking around with that rock, imagining it was me, and telling it all the awful things I’d told myself these past few years. I gave it all the stories I’d made up about my future, and the ones about my past, all the pain and loss and confusion and all the things I can’t seem to move beyond. I gave it everything I never wanted to happen, which was so, so much.
Later that night we all came together for that ceremony, and we sang, and we repeated vows and made invocations, and the time came for me to take the rock I’d given all the things that were never supposed to happen to me to the front of the room and place it upon the alter next to all the other things that were never supposed to happen to the other people. And I found it unbearably hard to do. Somehow, that hateful rock of hateful things had become precious, and perhaps too caught up in the moment, I started kissing the rock and thanking the rock and telling the rock I didn’t want to let it go because of all that it had taught me and all that it had forced me to become. When I finally set it down (and bowed to it and cried for it lol) and walked away, I had to stop myself from going back up to grab it. What I was left with, besides an odd protectiveness and love for a rock that is supposed to represent what has felt like the worst years of my life, was the moment I’ve been waiting for all this time, which is the moment you understand it had to happen this way, or you realize you wouldn’t change a thing, or that you’re grateful for the depth the whole awful affair carved into you, how it made you into a version of yourself you would have otherwise never known. The moment some kind of sense-making thing shows you all the places within you you wouldn’t have access to if it had been for the hateful thing.
“There are huge gestations and fermentations going on in us that we are not even aware of; and then sometimes, when we come to a threshold, crossing over, which we need to become different, that we’ll be able to be different, because secret work has been done in us of which we’ve had no inkling.” - John O’Donohue
If the last few years have taught me anything, it’s to not count on some kind of clear demarcation between before and after or broken and fixed or lost and then found, because there isn’t one; we’re forever in process and life is never that neat. So this isn’t some story about how I existentially suffered for a few years and none of it made sense and then the light came at a meditation retreat because that’s not how it went at all. What happened was my life didn’t work out how I planned, and that was extremely painful, and I stayed with that pain for as long as it chose to be here, and in no single moment did one thing happen. It was a series of things, totally imperceptible, over a long period of time of what felt like absolutely nothing happening at all. The retreat wasn’t the actual event; it just gave me a minute to realize the event that’s been going on this whole time. I had the space to step far enough way to see the one who entered and the one who carried it all, and to thank them as the one who, unbeknownst to me until that moment, had come out the other side of something she thought she was still in.
At some point in my recovery, the years I spent drinking myself to sleep and barely keeping it together—the years I was in so much pain—as well as the years of trying and failing and eventually sticking to not drinking, transmuted into something different. They’d been severely dark while I was in the pit of them, and then in retrospect, over time, became necessary and gorgeous. At some point far enough away, I saw it all with different eyes, from a different version of myself that was only possible because of the experiences I’d had, and I saw the woman I’d been so loathe to be as the one who delivered me instead of the one I wished I never was. I didn’t just forgive her for doing the best she could or whatever thing our Instagram therapists tell us to do, I revered her, washed her feet, prostrated at her strength and endurance and perseverance. I think what I’m trying to say with all this is that I wish while I was in the pit of this endless whatever “this” even was, I could have seen the one who was carrying it and revered her, instead of asking her when she was going to snap out of it already. Which just makes me wonder what it would look like if we could always have that perspective of ourselves, even the one right now fucking the next thing up. What if we revered them anyway for being the one carrying it all right now.
Comments on, and I want to disclaim that this is written of my own experience as filtered through my own world view, and be clear I do not believe we’re always supposed to get to a place of sense-making, or gratitude, for our losses. A book that’s helped me greatly is one I mentioned last week, The Smell of Rain on Dust: Grief and Praise by Martín Prechtel.
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Ten Sixteen Things Right Now
Alcoholic cartoon characters, my first and last tweet, a perfect quote, self-aggression as procrastination, a whiplash tour of where we’re at booze-wise, psychedelics for ED treatment, on not writing things you’ll later regret, on Dry January as diet culture, using voice recordings as breathalyers, using alcohol to control fetuses, fifteen NA drinks, legalized psychedelics finally, the whole gang is here this week.
This quote from Oliver Burkemen’s newsletter The Imperfectionist on using self-aggression as a way to escape actually living life: “Our self-aggression is not just a relic from the past; it’s something we choose to reinvest in, over and over, every moment. We actually maintain a practice, with great effort, of being aggressive toward who we find ourselves to be… Claiming that we are problematic means we don’t have to engage with our lives fully, because we aren’t ‘ready yet’ — there’s something wrong that needs to be fixed first. [So] we have a good excuse to not show up.” (quote, Bruce Tift). Burkeman is the author of 4,000 Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, which I loved and probably should have included in my list of best books. I also started to listen to Burkeman talk to Sam Harris but they were so soft spoken it was like ASMR and I had to shut it down because I was driving
Where we are: What is Cali-sober, sober dating goes mainstream, a totally cruel and insane law, 7 apps to help you quit according to Real Simple, 15 great NA libations, a voice recording used as a Breathalyzer, drinks that give you a buzz without a buzz
I have a twitter account with zero followers (please do not follow me) and I only have it to look at funny things and then the other day my friend sent me this tweet and I responded with this and this is exactly why people like me should not have a twitter.
Psychedelics and eating disorders; Oregon becomes the first state to allow adult use of psilocybin; Q: Is legal weed doomed to be run by big business? A: Yes
I recently had a very tender encounter with someone I’ve previously written about in a way I regret that made me recall a line that stuck with me from Melissa Febos’ Body Work: “One of the things I observed is that when a detail felt cruel, the prose was almost better off without it.” Patti Davis on not every truth needing to be told, and the power of the pause in the creative process. “Years ago, someone asked me what I would say to my younger self if I could. Without hesitating I answered: “That’s easy. I’d have said, ‘Be quiet.’” Not forever. But until I could stand back and look at things through a wider lens. Until I understood that words have consequences, and they last a really long time.” I’ve spent the last few years extremely frustrated that I couldn’t make much progress on writing about things that were far too close to me to have perspective but that I thought I should be writing about, and in retrospect, I’m grateful I didn’t publish much of what I was writing in early 2021 and even 2022.
Ana Marie Cox, a writer whose advice column on sobriety I generally agree with, wrote an article I didn’t. I did find merit in some of what she was saying, for the most part though I’ve grown a little thin skinned (#3, #6) around the idea that Dry January is some mutation of diet culture or some kind of puritanical patriarchal capitalistic endeavor so we should write it off as such and just drink our faces off and only try and quit drinking when it’s for the right reasons as opposed to the ones that are vain. I kind of tried to say that in this article but feel like I also kind of failed. There’s a podcast coming out in the next few weeks where I say it better. I think this topic is severely nuanced, and where we keep running into trouble (self included here) is in the trying to make sweeping generalizations or offer up tidy conclusions on why it’s this way or that way and simple solutions of how to be in response, and just end up moving the boxes around instead of actually engaging with what’s underneath.
Related: This whole article slapped but especially this: “If I were being extra pessimistic—and maybe even a bit conspiratorial—I’d suggest that NA drink manufacturers are hoping that people find themselves in an endless cycle of drinking alcohol, drinking NA drinks, falling off the wagon, and doing it all over again. At the very least, it seems that they want people to stay close to the culture of drinking. This sort of scheme has been done before by the tobacco industry: Altria, the parent company of Marlboro, invested billions into Juul, presumably hoping to cash in on addictions of their own making.”
Still related: This piece on Dry January and capitalism
A quote I use often is from Zan Romanoff, “Hope isn’t valid unless it’s being espoused by someone who is keenly aware of the stupid, shitty, petty pointlessness of life,” because it’s genius and (and relatively true!), and the author reminded me it came from this article on alcoholic cartoon characters which I read years ago and loved and am resurfacing here
The Surprise Me section of the Ann Friedman Weekly because I love an easter egg basically no matter what it is
Another writer quits social media for all the reasons anyone has ever mentioned and still I want more
If a piece like this comes out in the NYT on fentanyl (and this case tranq), I’ve started to wait for what Zachary Siegel has to say; both articles were great and revealing of why we so desperately need harm reduction measures in place. I appreciate Zachery’s reporting, you can listen to him here with Carl Fisher on Carl’s podcast, which I enjoyed especially as a companion to the piece Zachary wrote for Harpers, A Hole in the Head.
My God you are amazing at describing the entire process that we all at some point must follow in our own unique way. I just love your writing about your inner world, it's frank, intense and incredibly tender...and such a lamp for those who follow ...not the distant advice from those who pretend to have it all together...no this is what people in those trenches can read and recognize their own suffering and maybe cease the self lashing a bit earlier ...pioneer mammoth tracks in the snow for the tribe. I salute you.
I’m laying in bed. So tired. A single mom. No end in sight to carrying boulder after boulder up hill. Thank you for giving me a soft place to land. Because with all of the muscles I’m building they don’t show no one sees. There’s nothing grand here. But I will try to take care of the me who is carrying.