originally posted on my blog happinest. read at blogher 09 community keynote.
part of staying sober is making a decision to live a more positive life going forward. to do things better this time. or at least try. because you got the chance.
of course, it also means trying to make choices you can live with and determined strides toward being the person you want to be. it means saying sorry when sorry is due, taking responsibility when you’re wrong, and looking at your part in every awful situation. because you always play some part.
in my first years of sobriety, i made the ugly list of people and situations that harbored deep holes on my insides, and i started to chisel away at them. the idea is to set all the ugly things free, or to try by taking responsibility for them — because if you don’t, even the small things will add up, and their weight could lead you back to the drink.
so i made my amends. some hard ones. some easier-than-i-thought ones. but because my personal adventures included lots of alcohol consumption, it seems there are always more “i’m sorry’s” waiting in the wings.
like on our family vacation to santa cruz, for instance. there i was riding in the car with my husband of almost eight years and my two lovely, healthy boys. everything seemed picture perfect. a scene from a good life.
and then, on the road into town, we drove by the diner. the precise diner where, with some friends on a spring break 15 plus years ago, we had dined and dashed for the sheer “let’s see if we can” of it.
oh, that diner.
the one i’d forgotten all about (sort of). the one i suddenly remembered stealing from and, even in that rebellious moment years ago, not feeling an ounce of exhilaration over.
the regret on that old shit quickly rose to the surface — right then and there in my *good* life.
i owed someone an amends.
thankfully, our hotel served breakfast though cause i was hoping to sweep that one under the rug. but i kept running it over in my mind. i’m not that person anymore. that was a lifetime ago. i am living a softer, easier life now. i can just go on about my “good life,” and no one will be the wiser.
to try to ease the radioactive drama playing out in my skull, i told my husband ed the story. he listened, but i could tell he didn’t understand the impact of what i was feeling. how could he? it was deep down in there and part of a much bigger picture for me.
of course, the next morning, we stood in the hotel lobby staring into a silver chafing dish of disgusting gray meaty gravy and soggy biscuits. without a thought, i said, “let’s go. let’s eat out.”
“where should we go?” he asked.
“up the road,” i said. “there’s a diner.”
ed had no idea i was talking about that diner. he was driving the car, but my heavy heart was driving the course.
the decision wasn’t a conscious one. i mean, i knew where we were going, but i had no plan. no plan except to go with what i’ve learned in these years of sobriety. i knew the heaviness wasn’t going anywhere. and when you’re sober, you feel the physical pain of regret and shame, but you can’t turn to the numbing, temporary relief of alcohol. it’s not even an option.
i had to go through this one. no way around it.
inside the diner, i sat with my family and my sunny side ups. i was almost wincing at the painful repercussions of the past. i’m not that person anymore, i justified. i’m making up for my past by living a better life now.
but i knew none of that was enough.
jesus, sheri, stop being such a frickin’ goody goody!
yep, it was definitely time to take action.
i took the coloring menu that leo half colored and i started writing: “hello. please pass this on to the management. i owe it to them from about 15 years ago. thank you.” then i folded it and slipped in some cash. ed smiled, and we started packing up the kids to go.
our waitress started clearing our table, talking to us and teasing the boys. i had the immediate urge to run. to motion to ed and grab the boys’ hands and tear out of there.
but i stopped. breathed. i was ready to take whatever came. i felt ready to own it. i walked slowly and easily to the door. i tried to slow down my breathing. i practically sauntered with my family to the car.
and then…nothing happened.
except the pain was gone. and the sky bluer. and my kids cuter. and my husband more wonderful. and my heart a tiny bit more free, as we drove off in my goody goody day in my goody goody life.
Congratulations on your keynote reading. “amends” is one powerful essay and deserves the honor.
I am visiting the keynotes since i didnt get to hear you personally…your post had me in tears…and has inspired me…