Dingle, party of 7

My partner, my love, and my home died Friday, July 19, after a freak accident. Lee was playing in the waves at the beach with three of our kids Thursday, July 18, and an intense wave hit him just right to slam his head into the sand, break his neck, and make his throat swell so much his brain was deprived of oxygen for too long to recover. Some heroes - including our kids - tried to save him, but it wouldn’t have mattered what they did. His body couldn’t recover from the initial injury.

We met when I was 18 and he was 19, and we’ve been together ever since. I wasn’t supposed to be saying goodbye at 37. I don’t know how to be a grown up without him, but I’ll learn. I just wish I didn’t have to.

(To help with all that is to come, friends set up a GoFundMe for us here.)

If you didn’t know him, I’m sorry. You missed out. As you hear people share stories, you’ll think, “no person can be that wonderful,” but? He really and truly was.

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In all this, I’m discovering I have the world’s best people. We all feel so held right now, but the person we’d like to hold us won’t do so this side of heaven. I didn’t know it was possible to feel both so loved and so empty all at the same time. This will be a long haul, our lives forever changed, so please keep loving us well months from now

Details to come about all the things. Please pray for us.

Please pray too for Lee’s parents and Lee’s sister and her family. They lost a beloved child and brother.

And, you know, feel free cuss and smash stuff because God knows I’ll be doing some of that. (And breathing and hydrating and eating and taking medicine and all those self care things because I am worth it and because I have 6 little people to parent.)

The strangers on the beach and emergency responders from Oak Island and later medical professionals who worked on Lee are some of the finest and best people in the world. Additional response from Oak Island leaders, including the mayor, has been compassionate and kind. Please know that, if anything, everything involving Oak Island has made me certain it is the finest beach community there is. No one can give us back the one thing we want, but they did and have continued to do literally everything else possible.

I wish my symptoms could be measured

I like symptoms that can be independently measured, outside of my own testimony. I like blood pressure and pulse and even weight in our fatphobic culture. I like obvious damage in x-rays and MRIs. I like mammograms because they are looking for something others will verify as they review the scans. My thyroid levels, my blood sugar, and range of motion measurements are numbers that make sense.

Pain levels aren’t clear. Cognitive functioning is hard to quantify. You have to take my word for it when I talk about fatigue, about my body feeling heavy, about heat intolerance.

For a survivor of sexual assault, I’ve learned my word isn’t enough for some.

Why would my testimony be proof of health but not sufficient evidence of crimes? If I wait a while with symptoms, will I be asked why I didn’t report my concerns sooner?

Women aren’t believed, and I’m not talking about rape here. No, women are less likely to receive pain medication, more likely to wait longer for treatment, and more likely to be misdiagnosed with a mental health condition when they have physical symptoms than men under the same circumstances. (Side note: the research generally assumes a gender binary, so I’ll be using the men/women dichotomy here.) Even after major heart surgery, men were twice more likely to be offered opioid pain medications than women… even though women feel pain more acutely than men. This powerful essay describes the incredulity of a husband through his wife’s - in her own words - “trauma of not being seen” when she was ignored for hours in an emergency situation. When they have brain or renal tumors, women are more likely to have to go through more appointments before their diagnosis than men with the same tumors.

Among women, though, I am privileged because of whiteness; black women are more likely to have strokes and less likely to survive them than white women, and they’re more likely to be misdiagnosed for or die from breast cancer. Black women are more likely to die from cervical cancer or die following childbirth, the latter truth illustrated well in the story of Serena Williams who is only alive because she advocated for herself (and probably would have been ignored if she weren’t a well-known champion athlete).

Knowing what I know about women being (dis)believed, I want to measure my complaints with precision. That’s not always possible. I’m going into an appointment tomorrow (Monday) morning during which a CT scan will likely be ordered. But that unbelieved little girl within me worries that my word for my symptoms isn’t enough for the next test to be deemed necessary.

I know I’m a powerful self advocate. I know I can push for what I need. I know how to fight for myself and my health.

But I’m tired. I don’t want to have to fight. I don’t want to be mindful of every word so that my doctor understands the point, so that my symptoms will be taken seriously, so that I can get the care I need.

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I want my pain, my malaise, my intolerance to heat to be graphed like my cortisol levels can be. I want to be able to give an undeniable number for my fatigue. I want to be able to show my symptoms in a way that no one can minimize.

But it doesn’t work that way. I’m learning to trust my body, my word, my resilience. I can’t ask doctors to do that, after all, until I can.

I'm not better yet.

I’m not better yet, and I really wanted to be. 

(Well, as better as I get, for a woman with a handful of chronic health conditions.)

I want to be at the end of the story. I want happily ever after. I want to feel good.

But I want to be real more than anything, though, so I’m not going to bullshit you. I’m sick. I fought like hell to live as a kid, and now I’m doing the same.

My arms are too weak to push myself up from bed. Ten minutes in any heat makes me feel as hot and wiped out as a day at the beach. I’ve gained 65 pounds in the past couple years in ways that are symptomatic of a problem. My mind gets all tangled from time to time. I am exhausted all. the. time. My body feels like it weighs two tons whenever I try to stand up. My stamina is nonexistent.  

(Side note: here is what we are not going to do, though: we are not going to assume we know each other better than we do. Unless you’re my doctor, my bestie, or my husband, you don’t get to prescribe “have you tried…” or “maybe it’s…” That is not helpful. I have a top-notch team of medical professionals, and they are not you, and we are making progress, so no thanks.

Also, someday I’ll write a post about how exploitative it is to friendships for you to show up in DMs - especially when you’ve never DMed before - to sell me some miracle cure/shake/oil/program when you’ll financially benefit from my purchase.

Again, not helpful and so many assumptions.

Also, implies that your friend is not doing enough to be healthy.

And? I miss the friends some of you used to be before you wanted to cash in on my struggles. So, please, no.)

I can’t tell you how my last speaking engagement went, because I got hot and anxious and jumbled almost immediately. People who were in the room had never heard me before, so they had no clue that i was so disoriented the whole time, but that was the last straw for me. I took a four hour nap immediately after I spoke. I knew I needed help. Something wasn’t right.

That’s what health self-advocacy is all about, after all. It’s knowing your body and making it known to medical professionals. It’s not returning to doctors who don’t respect your self awareness or don’t treat you like an equal partner in your own wellbeing.

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For me, it’s extra scary. I have PTSD. Touching me is something earned, and doctors aren’t friends who’ve proven themselves to be safe. Yet to be healthy, I have to let these lab-coat-wearing folks touch me.

(Reminder: I am not seeking advice with this post. This is a good opportunity to show empathy to a person without trying to fix them.)

Sometimes self care - real genuine care for oneself - is no fun at all. I’m the mom of six, and I can absolutely tell you that caring for others isn’t always fun either. I remember caring for Zoe in Taiwan by force-feeding her with a syringe until we got to where we could access the medication she needed to eat without pain. That care was needed, but it was not fun.

Yet we too often talk about self care in terms of massages and bubble baths. Sure, it can be those things, but that’s the polished and privileged form of self care. Real care isn’t always pretty.

I don’t know what is coming next. I don’t know if I’ll be better like I hope. I’m not sure I remember what better even feels like.

I do know one thing, though: we often wait to share stories until they’re resolved, and this means we' don’t know how to live through the messy middles and we don’t know what to do when we’re invited into someone else’s. But we can learn. I’ve shared this before, but my husband - when words fail and nothing else seems right - will say, “empathy,” to me. Just the one word. Empathy.

It’s his way of saying, “I know this is a big deal, and there’s nothing I can do to fix it, but I’m here and I’m with you in it.” It’s his way of making sure I know I’m not alone. It’s his way of reflecting Christ to me.

I think we all can use more empathy, because more of us are in the “not yet” part of our stories than we’d like to admit.

So here's what we are going to do:

If you aren't sure what to say but you want to leave a comment, simply reply with the word empathy. I don't need fixing or pity or advice.

I need people.
I need empathy.
I need you.

None of us are meant to struggle alone, after all.

drowning doesn't look like drowning until it does

It’s been a weird few years.

Usually when white people say that nowadays, they’re talking about politics. They’re talking about their discovery of the inequities always known by those outside of majority culture. They’re talking about the process of now knowing after not knowing.

Sure, there’s been some of that for me too. That’s not what has made the past few years weird for me though having so many friends weather the weird because of public shifts has made me feel less alone as I did so with personal shifts.

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My personal shifts haven’t been completely private, so some of what I am about to share will be old news while some might surprise. I’m going to tell it through the story of my knees, but you’ll find that this is much more than that story. It’s much more than my story, I’m realizing too. It’s a story of how drowning doesn’t look like drowning until it does.

My knees looked fine, as far as knees go. I’m not sure they’re anyone’s favorite body part. The function is helpful, but otherwise, they’re just there, waiting to be skinned or to fail.

When my knees first failed, I was at an age at which they still wore childhood scabs. It wasn’t supposed to be like that, but it was, all at the same time. By my father and my older brother, my body had not been my own for a long time, maybe ever, so nothing felt incongruous to me about my kneecaps being forcibly dislocated as my legs were spread against my will.

I was 11.

I didn’t tell anyone until I was 15, because I didn’t know how to say what happened without feeling like I was telling on myself. I knew what happened was wrong, but I didn’t know I wasn’t wrong along with it. I didn’t know how to tell the story of my knees without confessing something primally disorienting. Daddies are meant to protect their young, but mine should have been a protector by trade too. He wore a badge, a uniform, and an officer’s rank. Both our large metropolitan county’s sheriff’s office and our country’s Green Berets in Vietnam knew him well.

So did my body.

At 15, my kneecaps finally dislocated in a public place, in the ordinary act of climbing in a van. Other people saw. They asked if it had ever happened before, and I said no. I still didn’t know how to say yes. I still didn’t know saying yes wouldn’t be the same as saying I was a whore. I still didn’t know if I could tell the truth that incestual abuse had evolved into other men being invited into our home and my body without my consent, because I still didn’t know that I wasn’t complicit in my trafficking. I still didn’t know the truth that none of it was my fault. My knees knew, though, and they told some of the story before my words could.

A condescending doctor dismissed me as my mother spoke over me, telling him this was a one-time incident when she and I both knew it wasn’t. I went to physical therapy. I learned how to strengthen muscles to compensate for my injuries, which seemed about right. I had been compensating for injuries in secret my whole life, with my earliest memory being one of terror as I ran from physical danger in the form of a family member. I don’t remember what happened after I got caught, and I think that’s probably merciful.

I started to tell parts of the story, bit by bit. I earned a scholarship with an essay I had to recant once my mom found out I had written about the abuse. While the committee couldn’t prove my original story was the truth without my cooperation, they still awarded me the honor. I imagine they thought they were helping, hoping to be guardian angels for a young woman in need of a legion; and they were.

In high school, I told my story by extreme perfectionism, not just trying to be perfect but needing to be to earn love and belonging. (I didn’t know those were my birthright.) In college, I told my story with binge drinking and bulimia. Going back to age 11, I told my story with thin lines carved into my forearms and upper thighs.

It was socially acceptable to be a perfectionist, a problem drinker, a sickly thin girl, and even a cutter. Being a teenager who had a decade of sexual and physical and emotional trauma behind her, while walking on knees that told a story that my lips couldn’t? That wasn’t anything anyone wanted to hear. It was socially acceptable to talk about the horrors of sex trafficking but I noticed it was not socially acceptable to be a survivor of it. I knew no one who told that story.

If they did tell it, it never included happy endings. It never included love. I never expected mine to include that either.

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I didn’t mean to fall in love. Lee was an accident. If I had seen him coming, I would have tried to protect myself by pushing him away.

Because he loved me, I started to believe that maybe I had never been wrong after all. I started telling more pieces of my story. I started to see doctors who could hear parts of my story and treat injuries that should have been treated years before, injuries that shouldn’t have ever happened to need to be treated.

I knew how to do, so I kept doing. I didn’t know how to be. I didn’t know how to breathe. I didn’t know how to rest. I didn’t know how to care for a body that had only known neglect before him.

I don’t talk about my love story with Lee often, because I like to play a cynic but can’t keep that up as I acknowledge how much of a fairy tale I entered when I met him. He isn’t perfect. I’m not perfect. Life isn’t perfect.

But somehow that doesn’t matter with him. It never has. But I have always mattered to him, in a way I never knew I could matter before he happened to me.

He happened to me eighteen years and four months ago. Our fairy tale has looked picturesque on the outside, as our stories weaved together into the lives of our children through birth and adoption in ways we hadn’t expected. People fell in love with the idea of our family, and they couldn’t see my gasps for air because they had placed me on a pedestal too far away to check my vitals. Oddly enough, I was better than ever before, but being better meant I could finally see the cracks, not that they were gone.

Even as I saw therapists and specialists and had a few corrective surgeries early in our marriage, I was still drowning on dry land. My knees had looked mostly fine. I knew how to compensate, still, and I used that to downplay the increasing erosion of joint and spine function, as the years of violence stopped hiding below the surface, as my history met my present, as my body revealed it had been keeping score all along.

That’s the story of unbecoming and becoming, not linearly but cyclically, that ushered me into the weirdness of these past few years. That’s how I ended up having seven major surgeries in less than two years, the last one in September. That’s how I ended up here, in such a different space than I used to be. My personal weirdness happened to coincide with America’s political farce of fact and fiction, and it was nice to collide with my internal reckoning while the rest of the world watched - and continues to watch – our country’s collective external one. That’s how I felt less alone.

Yes, politics plays a role in my unraveling from chaos into something still taking form today but not quite there yet. For me, it hasn’t been the catalyst it has for so many others. Sure, I’ve written about the impact of this administration, but for me, that’s been the side story not the central one.

Sometimes the sideshow distracts from the larger story. It has for many who have been following along with mine. And it reminds me of something I learned in my lifeguard training, not long after Lee and I met.

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Drowning doesn’t look like drowning until it does. The splashing and struggling isn’t the danger. No, I blew my whistle for that to prevent injury, not because it was already there. Drowning - real drowning - looks like almost nothing at all. It isn’t splashy. It is a slow slipping under, a gradual burial that isn’t obvious until it’s too late unless you know what to look for.

I’ve been un-drowning for a few years now, and breathing deeply without gulping down waves of misplaced blame, shame, and guilt still feels foreign. My knees are as fixed as they can be, but they had to be literally taken apart and reassembled through four surgeries. That part of the story, the surgeries and recoveries, has been visible. The part of the story in which my soul has done the same has been harder to see, mainly because it was never meant to be seen until now. It was reserved apart from those who aren’t intricately woven into my private world, at least not while the story’s words were still being intimately crafted from wounds into scars.

Some of you met me when I was drowning but looking dry. All the transition that’s been happening in public and private has been cohesive in my larger narrative but probably confusing from the outside. Even questions like, “wait, another surgery? what in the world?” are ones that have been completely logical while also being heavier questions than they seem on the surface.

The heaviness of them, the years of unpacked griefcases underwater, were my iceberg, while the world only saw the exposed tip. As I’ve thawed and began un-drowning, the unpacking has made me seem different from before.

And I am.

I used to think that was wrong. I valued consistency in viewpoints as if that were a sign of integrity. I’ve learned now that real integrity includes room for growth and change and learning and unpacking, of being somehow the same and yet completely different all at once.

I know, though our stories aren’t identical, my words resonate with you. I’m not the only one experiencing this state of sameness to and difference from the person I once was. I know, too, that many others are drowning, just like I was, but it isn’t looking like drowning, not yet. Because drowning never looks like it’s drowning until it does.

I am not alone. You are not alone. Those who are drowning imperceptibly aren’t alone either. We were each made not only to be human but also to be bound to one another in our shared humanity.

The world seems like it’s at least half ruined, but it felt that way when I was 11 too. Some of the ruin is still ruin, yes, but some of it has been redeemed into something like hope. If you’re disoriented by all the differences or drowning in them, I’m here to let you know that the beautiful and horrible reality of life is that it always changes.

That change is inescapable, but the drowning doesn’t have to be. We can figure out how to swim, not on our own but by learning from each other. It’s been a weird few years, yes, but our griefcases don’t have to anchor us in sameness.

Drowning doesn’t look like drowning until it does, after all, but drowning doesn’t have to be inevitable.

Yesterday would have marked 15 years of being sober.

Yesterday would have been 15 years sober for me. It is, and it isn’t, all at once.

I’m drinking again. And? I’m entirely comfortable with that. The only discomfort I have is about telling you.

After all, I’ve been open about my alcohol abuse in the past, having drank heavily from age 11 to 21. I wrote about it for Teen Vogue. Saying I was an alcoholic hasn’t been anonymous for me for years.

I’m concerned some of you will worry. I am okay, truly. I promise.

I’m concerned some of you will feel like I’m extending a license to break your hard-earned sobriety.

I.

AM.

NOT.

Not even a little bit. My choice, made with the full support of my husband, my therapist, and most friends, and the begrudging support of my protective best friend, is my choice. It’s about me and not you.

It’s about me and not you.

I’m concerned some of you will be disappointed in me. If you are, that’s okay. That’s a valid response, as are all other feelings you might have about this. Feel what you feel.

I’m concerned that many of you will be confused. Why risk it? Is this wise? Is it safe? What changed? Am I deceiving myself?

Those questions deserve a hearing, because I choose to write in the public sphere. Not everything needs to be public. But when I’ve shared openly about not drinking, it makes logical sense to share openly about drinking again.

That’s why I’m writing this post. Our first night in Ireland, Lee and I ended up at a pub. A delightful 80s and 90s cover band was playing. We had a couple drinks. After getting the first ones, I snapped the picture below. I could have Instagrammed it., but I knew this was too delicate to just throw at you on social media. I want to take care with what and how I communicate the shift.

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So, when did this happen?

In December,Lee and I decided to start an experiment we’d been considering for a while. To see how alcohol impacted me now, at 36 instead of 21, we began to share a glass of wine together after bedtime, no more than once a week.

We didn’t know how it would play out. Possibilities ranged from triggering trauma responses and stirring up emotions from when I abused alcohol to numb the pain of abuse, to risking a return to addictive behaviors and risking also that my explanation would be perceived as a free pass to drink again for those who need to be sober.

Please, don’t. That’s not a permission slip I’m signing for anyone but myself.

Before I took my first sip since March 28, 2004, I had been discussing the idea with my medical and mental health professionals, Lee, and several dear friends who have proven in the past that they are willing to risk out relationship if needed to speak the hard and necessary truth to me. The first of these conversations was in early 2017. I knew it wasn’t the right time then, but I was beginning to realize that it might be, eventually.

I did not do this lightly.

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So, why do it?

Because I wanted to. I’ve only learned in recent years that my wants and desires matter. I like alcohol, and I wanted to have the occasional freedom to have a drink in the context of community with others. This wouldn’t be a good enough reason alone, though. While it’s always important to be in touch with what we want, it’s not healthy to pursue every desire.

Because I could do so safely. For me, PTSD is my primary diagnosis. Substance abuse was a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. Of course, many people with PTSD are addicted to alcohol or drugs (or busy-ness or Twitter or…) or in recovery from those addictions. But as I’ve been intensely processing my childhood trauma, peeling back layer after layer, some of my secondary expressions of PTSD have gotten quieter or gone silent. I couldn’t have safely taken another drink without doing the years of therapy that preceded that first sip in more than a decade.

Because I’m not sure it was really accurate to have said I was an alcoholic. I drank to numb. I drank to forget. I binge drank. I had a host of habits consistent with addiction. I will, without reservation, acknowledge that substance abuse certainly fit for me during the decade I drank regularly from age 11 to 21. But I stopped drinking pretty easily, I never once relapsed, and - most crucial to the story - I decided sobriety was my only option while a member of a fundamentalist church context where any alcohol consumption was vilified. I am confident I struggled with substance abuse then. I’m not confident it was accurate to call it addiction.

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Are you sure?

I’m sure enough. I’m as sure as I can be. I’m as sure as I was when I decided not to drink 15 years ago.

My skepticism started with my first AA meeting. I never went to a meeting until I was 12 years sober. I know AA has been a pivotal part of some friends’ recovery, so my expectations were high.

I wrote a post titled more than an alcoholic the day before that first meeting. And then I went.

I loved the truth telling of the people there.

I questioned the truth telling of the Big Book.

The claims in the Book - which serves as the bible for AA - were bold. The theology veered toward Calvinistic total depravity at times, and it stressed how we are wrong so much more than how we are good. The history was mostly accurate. The science, though? It struck me as suspect.

It was then - in 2016 - that I began to research the roots of alcohol abuse treatment in the US. I found, not surprisingly, that AA has strongly influenced how we discuss and treat alcoholism. When I told a doctor that I was newly sober in 2004, she quickly said, “you know, right, that you can never drink again because you’ve struggled with alcohol like this and have a family history of alcoholism?” I nodded, having never considered any other approach.

I’m glad I didn’t consider any other approach at the time. I needed to make a clean break. I needed to learn in action that life doesn’t have to be saturated in liquor. I believe strongly that this is the ideal long-term approach for many, and I believe strongly that it was the ideal path for me at the time.

I don’t doubt the benefit of the Big Book or AA program in reaching a needed sobriety for many. I don’t want to lay out an argument against that. Some people will go to the extreme to dismiss the program altogether, but I’m not an enemy of Bill’s. I also think it’s important to acknowledge that every AA group is different.

That said, I look at how we treat almost everything else, with treatments tailored to the individual (as this Harvard paper suggests for alcohol abuse), and I consider this excerpt from the Big Book to be utter bullshit:

Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.

Honestly, WTF?

I might give the shaming language a pass if that passage rang true, but it doesn’t. The books Sober Truth in whole and Critical Thinking, Science, and Pseudoscience in parts discuss this in detail. (A review of Sober Truth in The Atlantic can be found here.)

Sure, AA can work, but so can other approaches. For me, intensive therapy - which I recognize as a privilege afforded by insurance and income - has been the best approach, both early in my sobriety and now. (One reason AA is so popular is because it’s free, it’s available, and it’s a community, which I acknowledge is not true for therapy.)

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so what now?

Am I giving myself a forever permission slip to drink? No.

When I started drinking, I was little. I got sober when I was 21. I stand by that decision. It was right for me then. When I quit, I needed to do so, because - as I wrote a few years ago on this blog - I had reached a point at which I was drinking excessively every single time I drank. I also did so because of family history with alcohol abuse and because my fundamentalist church was anti-alcohol for anyone.

It wasn’t a bad choice to stop.

This new-ish decision isn’t a bad choice either. I’m a different and healthier person now at 36 than I was at 21. (Hopefully, that’s true for everyone.)

As for me, I’m drinking again. As for you, I have no advice beyond encouraging you to make informed choices within safe community. (That means it’s not wise to drink if you lack safe community or the accountability provided within it if you are willing to be deeply honest, as is necessary with any real accountability.)

I had a problem with alcohol 15 years ago, but as my faith has shifted in recent years, I’ve reevaluated everything. I’ve deconstructed and reconstructed my beliefs about God, using the Bible holistically rather than leaning on someone else’s interpretation and prescription for what I ought to believe. (Far too often, the false Jesus peddled by those who have self-appointed themselves as guards of all things “biblical” is one who is misogynistic, ableist, and somehow blond and blue-eyed, which makes sense only because he is entrenched in rich white supremacist ethics. Thank God that’s not the Jesus of the Bible and of history.) I expect to honestly wrestle with faith for the rest of my life because I consider that fundamental to any worthwhile faith journey.

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so is your Insta gonna be boozy now?

I won’t post much about alcohol beyond this essay, unless there’s a noteworthy update to offer. I know how challenging and disorienting the overabundance of alcohol-saturated posts could be when I wasn’t drinking. I felt left out, like I didn’t belong, far too often. I don’t want to create that feeling for anyone else.

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Yesterday would have marked 15 years sober for me. In a sense, it doesn’t - no 15 year AA chip this year! - but in a sense, it does. In the fullest sense of what it means to live soberly - to be steady, to not habitually or heavily drink alcohol, to have a clear head, to give pause to myself and thought to anything related to numbing emotions, including but not limited to alcohol - I still consider yesterday a soberversary of sorts.

When my best friend - for whom this is not breaking news - texted me yesterday to ask, “so, are you still celebrating your sobriety anniversary?”, the answer was an easy yes. My relationship with alcohol changed significantly 15 years ago. It remains forever changed, even as a healthy choice for me (for now) might include a glass of Riesling or a whiskey sour from time to time.

Maybe it will stay this way.

Maybe it won’t.

But this is where I am today.

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(All pictures in this post are from our first 24 hours in Ireland)