Today’s post is personal and inspired by a recent conversation with one of my favorite writers who reminded me that there will always be a place for the personal story. Oral tradition is about stories, stories can be whatever we want them to be and sometimes they are nothing more than the tale of another.
On my 31st birthday, my mother lay in a nursing home fighting to recover from brain surgery as a result of metastatic cancer that was spreading throughout her 49 year old body. At that time, I still held out hope that she would recover because she was a fighter and mothers weren’t supposed to die young.Yet later that day as I talked to her on the phone from 1100 miles away and realized that she could not say my name, something in me cracked. The woman who had given me life and always knew my birthday could barely utter out the word daughter.
Upon hanging up the phone, I felt a pain and horror that I had never felt before and I had no idea how to deal with that pain. So I sent my husband out to the store to get a fifth of Jack Daniel’s because whatever it was that I was feeling, I didn’t want to feel it. Looking back, I now know it was the beginning of the grief process; but in a society that shies away from death talk, all I knew then was that I needed to not feel. I drank half the bottle that night and got very drunk. The next day, I put the remainder of the bottle on a shelf where it sat until a few years ago. I rarely drank after that very horrible birthday a decade ago. It was only a few years ago, that I started to drink socially because coming from working class roots with a history of alcoholism, instinctively I understood that the line to problematic drinking wouldn’t be hard for me to cross at all if I was not intentional in my drinking.
In recent years, I have learned to enjoy a good wine and the occasional cocktail and as always with my family roots, I am constantly checking in with myself to make sure my drinking does not reach the level of problematic.
However a few months back, I heard an NPR interview with Ann Dowsett Johnston author of the book “Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol” and what I heard definitely made me think. Some months ago a casual acquaintance announced that she was struggling with her drinking and planned to stop drinking. Truth be told, I know several women who in recent years have admitted to struggling with alcohol.
As my yoga practice has grown and deepened over the years and I still have my occasional wine throughout the week, I have grown to be struck by the surface similarities of wine and yoga. Both are tools that can aid in relaxation except that one has the potential to wreak havoc if consumed in a manner that is problematic. While injuries are always possible when engaging in physical activities, by and large yoga will not send you down the rabbit hole of despair and jeopardize life, family and livelihood. However in a culture that strays away from depth and prefers superficiality, rarely can we just name what we are seeking or needing and thus as women we have a culture where unwinding at the end of a rough day and pouring a glass of libation to seek solace is an accepted norm and even encouraged.
By the same token as I have discovered over the years, when one goes off to seek comfort, solace or clarity in activities such as yoga and or meditation and you start to get serious about it, you hear the most interesting comments. On the flip side if you need a drink to deal with life, rarely do you hear any comments unless you reach the level of problem drinker.
Life is most satisfying when we can admit to being vulnerable, even better when we can sit in that vulnerability and drop our masks; often the superwoman/man mask that most of us are required to wear. Juggling all the balls that modern day living requires is hard and most of us lack the support systems that were common place just a few generations ago. As I journey through life at the tender young age of 41, I am learning that in order to be whole, I need to give words to all that I feel and allow myself those awkward moments as well as the blissed out ones too. To live with intentionality and purpose requires a clarity of mind that I cannot hope to have if I am using quick fixes to solve deeper issues. If I am quick to reach for the wine instead of allowing myself time to just be, it’s the equivalent of slapping band-aids on bullet wounds. However if I am clear and intentional and know that I want to savor the taste of an exquisite wine with dessert, for me that is okay too.
Women are drinking more and for some of us, it will become problematic. But the world puts more demands on us than ever before as we battle the labels; the leaning in, the leaning out and whatever else. A one size fits all approach rarely works but a mindfulness to the whys and intentionality around the choices we make is about as close to one size as it gets.