Addiction, Conditioning, Culture, Transformation

Addiction, Society, & Transformation

Getting sober is a long-term transformative process that cannot be boiled down to the sole act of not using. For instance: In the last year I drank, I felt more “sober” than I did as a precious young “totally normal” binge-drinking 23-year-old. Even though I got drunk regularly in 2016, I was becoming aware of the effects alcohol was having on my consciousness and how that translated to the rest of my life.

Before, it was more like “okay this seems like it’s becoming a problem,” but simply eliminating alcohol never felt appealing. What would ever be the point of cutting out this great numbing agent if we’re otherwise going to be living the same life? If we want to stop numbing, we must also begin to rid ourselves of the aspects of our lives that feel numb-worthy. There is much more to this thing than giving up our drugs. And unless we begin to develop long-term vision for our lives—who we are and what we’re about—addiction has the very fertile ground of ambivalence to sprout in.

The most compelling factor for maintaining my sobriety is that I know it is foundational to everything else I will create in this life. If I did not believe this, I would drink, and I would not care, and I suspect this lack of long-term life vision is one of the many factors that keeps addiction steadfast within us. 

Not that it is anyone’s fault. I do not believe in fault or blame, and find that these are only hurtful concepts. They ignore the truth, which is that there are many millions of unconscious factors hatching in every single moment of our lives. I will say though that the hivemind greatly discourages us from developing deep vision for our lives. We are rewarded only for a very restricted type of intelligence in school, and these limitations create wastelands within our minds and souls. No one can say how much potential has been lost due to the way our children are currently brought up.

People do not usually stay sober for those they love. This has never been the case, and addicts should not be faulted for this. One’s journey towards wellness (or not) is not about their families and cannot be about their families. It is about their individual thread of consciousness and what its evolutionary aim is this time around—indeed that is all life is ever really about. We can never know exactly what’s going on behind the scenes of the people who present themselves to us, though if we look closely, we may have some idea. Beneath outward appearances, there is a galaxy of things sorting themselves out, working and gestating and becoming. Sometimes people have to destroy themselves for a very long time, maybe even until they die, and this destruction is really never about you.

When threatened, the addict very often chooses drugs over his/her family, because the drug at least provides them with comfort unconditionally. Some amount of this battle lies in the fact many of us have never truly felt loved unconditionally, even if it was professed. We live in a culture of transactional acceptance, and this often bleeds into our family lives.

The reliability of the drug to provide us with temporary comfort is therefore revolutionary; it makes us, in a way, fall deeply in love with our chosen substances/activities. We know nothing and no one else like it: It never rejects us, is always there, not afraid of us, and accepting forever and ever. That’s the thing: Our loved ones (and we ourselves) are generally sometimes understanding. Alcohol and drugs always are.

Along these lines, society is quick to withdraw love when we do not follow its rules, as if doing so will get us to shape up. This isn’t how it works. It would be a much healthier world if our policies and treatment of addicts reflected this truth. Furthermore, “love” that is doled out and/or taken away is not actually love; it is merely conditioned approval. We know this and are wise enough not to desire this knockoff. Or maybe we do do desire it, but usually find that it never does the trick for very long.

It is entirely possible to get high off of our mental states whether or not there are drugs involved. We get a little high off of fantasies, projections, and delusions alone. We escape reality in our daydreams and imagined lives, rarely taking the risk to bring them to fruition. If we do, the result is almost always less than what the mind has blown it up into. The thing about the mind is that it exaggerates and distorts, making the mind itself seem more appealing than Ultimate Reality, which is an entirely different thing than the “reality” our conditioned minds allow us to see. This is one of its tactics for keeping us in its grips: Living in it feels nicer than seeing the truth.

Similarly, inasmuch as we become addicted to substances themselves, we become addicted to the entire thought process behind using. There is an inner battle we become fixated on: Will I or won’t I? And the energy we expend on these internal discussions is enormous. During these times, we often also relish our seedy secrecy. Our shadows are delicious even though we feel terrible about them, and there becomes a horrendous thrill about self-destruction.

This is romanticized in popular culture, in part because we like seeing people do the things we know better than to do (but kinda want to do.). And there is some truth behind the romanticism of addiction: Until we break free, there is no greater feeling than the mounting tension of desire for that which we are addicted—followed, of course, by the breaking of the tension and the surge of some very yummy brain chemicals. The drama is delectable. The ego adores it.

The part of us which cannot stand living in this machine (the biggest and truest part) often resorts to addiction, and that is why addiction is so much more than an “issue” for “some people.” We know that we are out of touch, and are all at least a little distraught by our current status as a species. In this culture, we are all addicts trying not to feel the pain of being very far from home. We struggle to sit with ourselves and often avoid silence and solitude at all costs. There must always be “background noise.”

When I say “home,” I mean our true home in consciousness, but also an actual physical place which would be much nearer to the rest of creation: In the trees, breathing fresh air, drinking clean water, and freely enjoying the abundance that the Earth churns out generously and joyously. Somewhere in history we thought we could do better, or perhaps we allowed our fears of death to so totally corrupt us that we tried to manipulate this already-perfect system. We have failed miserably.

In this equation, the only question is whether our addictions are “acceptable” or not, and what is “acceptable” is defined by whether or not it keeps the machine running. This entire civilization functions as an addictive process, after all: Destroy, grow, consume; then it’s onto the next. We must only stay in the “normal” parameters of addiction (“binge-watching” comes to mind), and no one bothers us. When we go too far—usually beyond our capacity to contribute to said machine—we get the “addict” label. When we don’t go far enough, we become hermits and weirdos and Luddites.

This is all to say that addiction is an intensely divided space to exist in. Clearly, addiction thrives in those who do not feel whole, and I say this as someone who doesn’t even feel whole all the time. (That’s precisely how I know this is true.) This lack of wholeness weaves its way through generations; it is as if we are born with a sense of craving. Culture exacerbates this not-wholeness—or more likely created it in the first place—and provides us with endless Things to feign wholeness with: drugs, food, shopping, porn, gadgets, dating apps, “being busy.” Our friends, equally confused, often encourage our addictions.

This is all unconscious and so I assign no blame to anyone. Nevertheless, it is what we do. We live in a shared sense of not-enoughness and rarely question this sense of scarcity which is, when examined thoroughly, Totally False.

There is no way to be engaged in an addiction while not being lost about who you are and what you’re doing here. They go hand in hand, and that’s why recovery is so much more about the latter than the plain relinquishing of drugs. If you want to be sober and free, there is no greater tool than to begin developing a vision for who it is you want to be. I assume it will be a large vision, and that is beautiful, whether or not it feels actionable or realistic.

Total transformation is what getting sober is all about. I encourage you to get high off your own imagination and delusions to start, because at least these are happy seeds and they don’t put holes in your brain: What is the most incredible thing you could imagine for your life? Does this vision include periodically lowering your consciousness and poisoning your body?

– Lish

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Addiction, Conditioning, Mental Health, The Ego, The Mind, Uncategorized

How the Ego-Identity Perpetuates Addiction

After my last post, I felt compelled to write more re: the ego, the mind, and addiction. It is my steadfast belief that transcending the unconscious ego (also know as the “assumed identity”) holds the key for solving every mental health issue that plagues humanity, and truly every issue that plagues humanity. That includes addiction.

I’m going to make my standard disclaimer that “understanding” the ego and consciousness occurs on different level than the conceptual mind. You might wonder, “how else can something be understood if not with the mind?” And the answer is that there is another part of you, an infinite dimension within that has always and will always be there. It is your ultimate destiny to experience this limitless nature eternally. This “limitless true nature” is not something fuzzy or conceptual. It is not an idea or a belief. It is as real and enduring as the blue sky or your beating heart—more real, even.

If you’re lost and don’t know what to do with your life—a common ailment in our society, particularly for young people—take heart. There is really only one thing to do: Find that limitless dimension and dwell in it. Put this at the top of your “to do” list, and let life take care of itself.

The Disease that is Conditioning

Addiction is not a disease on its own, but a particularly noticeable symptom of a greater disease. Words like “disease” and “illness” mean very different things to me than how they seem to be used colloquially. All conditioned minds are, in their own ways, diseased, and probably 99% of minds in the world are conditioned. Conditioning is the single, overarching illness of mankind. Its symptoms are myriad: fixation, neuroses, depression, anxiety, fear stories, preoccupation, worry, rumination, confusion, delusion, projections, chronic unprovoked anger, all the way up to psychosis and extreme attachment.

This is what addiction is at its most basic: An extreme attachment to a person, activity, or substance. We can study biochemistry, genetic predispositions, and environmental factors, but when it comes down to it, addiction is nothing more than a strong psychological attachment rooted in the false identity.  Attachments can be broken—we have all done this with ex-lovers, toys we outgrew, and friends we’ve lost touch with. Overcoming the addiction largely depends on how much damage has been done to the body while engaging in the habit and how severely one’s identity is wrapped up in said person, activity, or substance.

This second part brings me back to the ego-identity: For one to transcend their ego, the ego must fully accept its nature, which is not ultimately real. This “great revealing” is often referred to as an ego death or a psychic death or any other number of depressing phrases, usually ending in the word “death.”

Although I have experienced this annihilation and can attest that it does feel that way, I find these phrasings to be unnecessarily frightening. There can be no death for something that never existed in the first place, and the “imagined you” never really did. “You”—as a particular person—have always been a thought or a dream; it’s just that you take the dream Very Seriously up until the moment you wake up. This is why the waking up is glorious and beautiful and hilarious… until it isn’t anymore, because the ego almost always resists its death (which is not actually a death.).

Why Your Ego Uses Your Mind Against You

Just as any animal fights with everything it’s got to avoid dying, such is true with the unconscious ego. So, when our attachments (addictions) become a large part of who we think we are, the ego fights to keep them. This is because you threaten it when you take away the things it imagines it is: A gambler, a drinker, a smoker, a pothead, the partner of someone who isn’t nourishing to you, an over-shopper, a bulimic, an anorexic, a depressive, etc. It doesn’t want you to give these things up, because losing part of the identity is still felt as a loss, even if the “losing” is of something that’s hurting your body and mind.

The ego’s response is to resist. This is the crux and hook of addiction, and why addiction seems so hard to overcome. We identify with the activities we do regularly, so when we stop doing these activities, our identities feel that they are dying. The ego responds by weaponizing the mind, which will sporadically come to throw some seemingly unbearable cravings at you, usually when you’re right at the cusp of leveling up into a more free state. This will go on for some time, and I will write more about how conscious awareness is the only long-term solution for this. In this way we see that eliminating the false identity altogether holds the key to a full recovery, not only from addiction but from everything else we find so troubling about our lives.

I do not know how many treatment modalities specifically address the ego-identity (and/or fully acknowledge that this construct is always illusory), or the way giving up addictions threatens it. I’m sure there are some, and there are probably books that include this kind of language, and that is all very wonderful.

My wish is to see these things well-enough incorporated into mainstream discussions on addiction that people don’t have to suffer through dozens of ineffective treatment programs and do all their own research to find this stuff out. I want to also say that this isn’t even spiritual “woo” stuff we’re talking about: We’re talking about who you think you are, whether that image is rooted in reality, and how your mind maintains this supposed identity for better or worse.

What it Means to be Recovered

Just as I believe almost everyone has the illness of conditioning, I find that very few people are “recovered” and “sane.” To me, this means we have completely overcome the psychological illness that is conditioning, and that we abide in our true selves at all times. It sounds impossible, but this is partially because we treat ultimate liberation like an impossible myth. It is not that.

It is very sad to me that so many people seem to believe “you’re always in recovery,”  or “never really free from addiction.” My genuine advice here is to constantly remind yourself that can be fully liberated from your demons. Whenever a therapist/doctor/friend says something along the lines of “well you’ll always be recovering,” internally tune that shit out and listen to your inner self, which is always seeking to abide in everlasting freedom. You will not seek all your life, nor will you be recovering all your life. It may be a long, dedicated process, but to call it “endless” strikes me as a lowly way to view humanity and we are not meant to be lowly creatures, even if we often act like it (out of ignorance.).

I generally reserve words like “sane” and “well” strictly for the unconditioned mind, i.e., the one that does not falsely imagine itself to be a particular person in this particular world. (I do not claim to have this mind, though I have glimpsed its reality.). This mind is very, very different from the one we normally operate in:

It is still, clear, unattached, unconcerned with time outside of practical matters, free of suffering, and utterly impersonal. In this mind there is no psychological “drag” which brings the past into the present. It is alert but not anxious. It does not identify with anything in the world. Its sense of self is universal, meaning that it sees that it is literally the same as everything and everyone else. This mind—the mind of Christ, the mind of the Buddha—wants nothing for itself. All notions of the “small me” vanish, and we become pure consciousness in human form. This is a person who enters the stream of the universal energy rather than fighting it, like we so often do no matter how this harms us. This mind leads to harmony and peace within the individual, and often moves them through the world encouraging others to that end. This is what your mind has the potential to become, if you just take your chance to look.

And these are the key differences between “recovery” as it is understood through the common lens and the kind of recovery I am talking about: One desires a functional member for society; the other desires total human potential and nothing less. One does not presuppose a true end to all suffering; the other does. One does not help the individual fully understand his/her existence but rather helps them “maintain” in a very base way; the other understands that until we know our true nature unshakably, we are impoverished. One puts limits on how beautiful, expansive, and equanimous life can feel; the other discourages all limitations because it knows all limits are false.

It may sound like a high bar I have in mind when I write about recovery and/or human potential, but to suggest anything less would be deceitful. We should not settle for anything less than what we truly are.

– Lish

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Inner Work, Narratives

How to Start Working on Yourself

Doing conscious self-work is not the same thing as having a full-on spiritual awakening. However, doing this work can lead to a spiritual awakening, or at least make the awakening more bearable when/if it does occur. Conscious self-work is what I’m in favor of for (almost) everyone in the whole world. Unless you’re an enlightened being, you can benefit from becoming more conscious of the stories and defenses that keep you believing you’re something much smaller than you truly are.

Almost every single one of us is holding onto a story to protect our egos (as always: me too). Changing your story—and believing this new narrative—can be deeply empowering. But dropping all your stories and seeing that almost everyone is unconsciously acting out a story? That’s next level stuff. It’s amazing.

Enough practice from this place of awareness and you’ll be able to pick up and set down stories at a whim. You’ll become more dynamic and much more at ease. You’ll know exactly what’s real, but maybe put on masks for various reasons: To make change in the world if you choose, or perhaps just for fun. No one has more fun than someone who is without ego. That’s because there’s no longer any falseness to live up to or placate. There’s no flimsy structure of a “person” to appease, with its ideas of “how things should go” or “what they should be doing.” There’s just fearless being and the present moment.

Anyway, all that stuff happens further down the line. What I’m here to address in this post is self-work, how to get started, and what’s helped me to become sober and cigarette-free and doing the thing I was once most scared of almost every day (writing). Also I’ve managed to come back from a severe breakdown and fill my life with purpose, so that’s pretty neat too. I’m also learning how to be alone with myself, how to listen to myself, and how to say “thanks, but no” to the part of my psyche that’s always trying to get me to go back to sleep.

All inner work is aimed at one thing: Becoming deeply self-aware. The best way to do this is to start noticing the connection between your emotions and their corresponding behaviors. We all know what we’d like to see differently in ourselves, but often balk when it comes to seriously examining the emotional triggers for our “bad” behaviors. That’s because it can get really overwhelming really fast.

The logic goes something like this: If we do “bad” things and have “bad” feelings, we can start to believe we are just bad. Then we act out badness due to sheer self-fulfilling prophecy, and a horrible cycle is born. We have to learn to look at our most feared emotions—despair, rage, loneliness, fear itself—through an objective, loving lens as so not to get trapped like this. And there is a way to do this.

I started writing this post to recommend one book specifically. I ordered it sometime before my 29th birthday when I was steeped in shame, confusion, and self-loathing all day long. Even though it didn’t take me all the way home to spiritual freedom, the more I read the book and did the exercises, the more I understood that it’s all about consciousness.

Here’s a link to the book.

Before I go much further, I want to say one big giant important thing: Stop thinking you are too cool to do inner child work. I know how it makes you feel to think about “your inner child.” It probably feels dumb and touchy-feely. Let’s address that.

First of all, it is extremely tragic that we have been convinced to more or less hate our deepest feelings. As far as The Machine™  goes, feelings are only good when they can be capitalized on, and the best feelings for that are those of constant lack and unworthiness. Feeling joyful and whole deals a radical blow to the ill hivemind that encourages us to constantly crave more in the mistaken hopes of feeling like we actually are more. It’s actually revolutionary to just be naturally joyful, so do it!

I recommend you build up a serious “fuck that noise” attitude to the culture that taught you to ignore all your feelings except the ones that convince you you’re not enough just as you are. That crippling insecurity—”I’m not enough”—has been wired into us so intensively since birth that we can easily go through life as empty vessels aimed at constant consumption, achievement, and other forms of “chasing.” I also recommend you embrace whatever feelings accompany that “not enough” sensation, and pay close attention to how those feelings shape the things you choose to do with your time.

Secondly, the truth about such feelings—that journaling to your inner child is weak, or stupid, or useless, or just for those who have been severely traumatized—is that you don’t want to look at yourself very hard. If it makes you feel particularly eye-rolly to think about addressing your inner child, I contend that you are the person who most needs to address your inner child. Anything that reacts, particularly defensively, is an important place to look.

How do I know this? When I was actively drinking, angry, and totally lost, you couldn’t have gotten me to write to my inner child. Like, at all. I wouldn’t have had anything to do with it, because I was too freaked out. I had steeped myself in enough unconscious behaviors and defenses that I somehow managed to pretend I was an Adult™ for like a year or so, and then that shit collapsed hard. At some point, everything I’d been hiding from was like “oh HEY REMEMBER US?!” And I was like “I THOUGHT I DISAPPEARED YOU WITH CHEAP WINE AND MEANNESS!!!”

I’d like to spare you that terrifying surprise party, if I can.

Yes: Facing your stuff can be difficult. No one said digging through your un- and subconscious junk was going to be a good time. Still, it is the only way to become free of the hurt we’ve incurred, and more importantly, it is the only way we become free from the ways we continue to hurt ourselves by ignoring ourselves.

We all have a voice that tells us what we ought to do with our lives, what we want to do with our lives, and what our highest and most honest life would look like. Most of us are pretty far away from what this voice says. We all know we have potential locked somewhere within us. We all know we can be more virtuous, more genuine, more true.

So how do we do that? It’s this easy, and this hard: Honor that voice over everything else—and I mean everything. This is a lifelong commitment to the soul you’ve been shutting down in favor of “being practical” or “fitting in” or “keeping up your end of the bargain” or otherwise “staying safe.” However, this isn’t about taking great, impulsive risks. It’s about the slow, well-considered movement towards the life that voice pulls you towards.

Rightfully, the book is about self-abandonment. Every single time we choose to numb out, or run away, or maladaptively cope, or deny/suppress that voice, we are telling our souls—our heart’s desire and our greatest potential—I don’t want you and I don’t love you. This hurts even more, but the most ridiculous part about this strategy is that in the end, it is 100% ineffective.

The soul doesn’t go away. By definition, it can’t. It’s going to get louder and louder and louder… until you act. Maybe not this year, maybe not in five years, maybe not even in this lifetime. Still, you will act differently one day, because that’s how undeniable and compelling your freakin’ soul is.

Susan Anderson, the psychologist who wrote the book, takes a brilliant approach to the self-abandonment cycle. Her method prevents us from falling into the black hole of self-hatred by encouraging us to recognize that all the “bad” things we do are not reflections of who we really are. Instead, we attribute them to an entity she calls “Outer Child.” This is the side of you that acts out inappropriately in an attempt to protect/soothe the feelings you’ve been ignoring all your life.

You feel bored or sad? Outer reaches for the beer. You feel rejected and alone? Outer texts your less-than-stellar ex. You feel insecure? Outer brings up someone to talk shit about.

Our uncomfortable feelings are never problems on their own. They provide us with information and are meant to be guideposts for how to live well. It’s the gap between your true self and your hurt feelings—where Outer lives, waiting to maladaptively “help” with ice cream, Netflix, and a bong—that perpetuates these negative tendencies. If we can heal that gap, we can heal our whole selves.

I’m going to cut myself off here, but I really wanted to throw this book into the Interworld and say how personally awesome I found it for myself, and how I wish self-work would become as cool as binge drinking and/or watching sports, and how much I love you for reading this post.

– Lish

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Addiction, Mental Health, Spirituality, Well-being

Why I Won’t Call Myself “an Alcoholic”

For as loaded as this topic is, it feels pretty simple: I don’t drink because drinking seriously harmed my life. If I hadn’t made the choice to stop, alcohol would have easily destroyed my chances for joy and well-being, if not outright killed me. And yet, I don’t use the word “alcoholic” or “addict” to describe myself, and I never will.

Here’s why:

1: The word is seriously stigmatized. Even as the recovery community has sought to be recognized as people with illnesses, addiction just isn’t viewed the same as other diseases. If you’re an “addict,” you aren’t just suffering from the disease of extreme attachment to a substance to the point of self-destruction, you’re also generally deemed a selfish and defective individual. This isn’t my personal assessment, by the way, but a general sentiment I’ve read in various forums and books. Addiction is largely seen as an illness of the soul that encompasses the entirety of one’s being, not simply an illness they “have.”

If you’re diagnosed with an autoimmune disease or cancer, people aren’t likely to think that means you’re a Shitty Person. And yet, this is what we do with addicts/alcoholics. Being labeled in such a way adds yet another layer of shame to the addicted person, who no doubt has become addicted precisely because they feel defective and shameful. Nobody starts numbing out unless they have something they need to numb (again, for some of us, this may “just” be the pain of growing up in a culture that constantly communicates to us that we’re worthless unless…).

While using, addicts can appear selfish because they are deeply isolated and in pain. They know what they’re doing sucks, they don’t want to face the people they love because they feel so self-loathing, and they’re so busy unconsciously trying to tend to their wounds that they cannot psychologically afford to reach out. For an addict, the entire orientation to the world is rooted in shame and pain, so reinforcing the idea that we are, simply by virtue of “being addicts,” defective and egotistical is probably the most harmful idea we can instill in someone seeking to recover.

I don’t accept the label because it comes with a lot of baggage I have no desire to wrestle with anymore. I won’t take on more shame. I won’t take on more pain. These are the exact things that drove me to medicate with alcohol in the first place, so, no thanks.

2: Internally I strive to hold to no label, even (maybe especially) that of “a spiritual person.” As soon as we cling to our identities, we unconsciously act in ways that uphold those identities, therefore becoming limited and less “ourselves.” Rigid identities keep us all, well, rigid. The more identifications we’re attached to (including ideologies, which the mind loves to get fundamentalist about), the more we will defend them, keeping ourselves closed off from others.

On some level, we tend to believe that others can’t understand us unless they share similar identities. This is just false false false. The soul in all of us is so much deeper than the labels we cling to for safety. The more I get caught up in thinking that I can best connect with “sober women writers with an interest in consciousness and collective healing,” the more I remove myself from the very basic connection I have to all human beings. For most of my life, I felt like “healthy,” “well-adjusted” people could never “get me.” This belief limited me and them, and I never want to fall into the trap of thinking “I have nothing in common” with anyone ever again. We are all humans, and therefore we must have a ton in common.

So I try not to think of myself as a writer, or spiritual, or even a woman if I can help it (though the world does a pretty good job of reminding me that I am one every day.) So, even though it feels important for me to acknowledge my body’s inborn tendencies to become attached (i.e. addicted) to All Things Pleasurable, I remember that I am a changeable being not enslaved by these tendencies. Claiming that one simply “is” an addict/alcoholic is a static label, when in reality we are all very fluid, flexible, and capable of becoming new.

Part of that newness is actually losing the desire for things like drugs and alcohol. Rejecting this label does not mean we are in “denial,” or that we are doomed to use again.

3: Our culture’s relationship to alcohol is what’s wrong, not me. This one’s a little paradoxical, because as we grow, we come to see how deeply responsible we (as individuals) are for shaping the surrounding culture. “Culture”—i.e. The Machine™—is not something “out there” to rage against. (As much as I love that band, they were missing this crucial piece.) You are it. You are creating it with every interaction and choice that you make. Every system is made up of parts, and if those parts transform themselves, the system follows.

However, in the beginning, it is extremely empowering to recognize that “your drinking problem” stems from something much bigger than you being diseased and made of faulty wiring. Not that I really give a shit about the economy, but alcohol dependence costs the economy something like $220 billion, not to mention tens of thousands of lives. Most people do not drink the “recommended” amount of alcohol, and to be real, no amount of alcohol is healthy. It’s poison. It lowers consciousness. It feels “fun” because it helps us get out of our minds. If we were capable of transcending our minds at any moment, alcohol would feel like child’s play. (I’m not trying to be a party pooper, but, that’s all true stuff.)

I refuse to give myself a label we collectively pity when all around me I see people suffering and self-medicating in a variety of ways. And that is the “normal” way to live, by the way: To continually distract ourselves from our inner worlds by way of chasing success, going on vacations, taking on projects, binge-watching, and otherwise “being busy.” If we were to drop these things and sit with ourselves, we would certainly feel a shift (I do not mean to imply this shift would feel good at first). We would have to face the insanity being acted out by our untrained minds and realize there’s a torrent of bullshit we need to work through in there. This kind of shift is exactly what we need.

It seems that a lot of people are experiencing such a shift now, which is pretty exciting. But, as evidenced by the state of the world, we can see that we’re still in the beginning phases of this step for our species. There is still time for us to fuck it up, or to get real with ourselves. We always have this choice.

4: Whether or not one is an “alcoholic” or a “normie”* means very little in terms of their overall wellness. When I was drinking heavily, I still exercised, ate relatively well (okay except when I was super hungover; then I became a bottomless pit of Mac n Cheese and ice cream), and by many social parameters, I seemed okay. Spoiler alert: I was totally not okay. I was emotionally fragile and hurt and confused and insecure. Oh, and I was angry at almost everything. I had no idea wtf life was all about or if it even mattered. I almost never felt connected to others. I was not well, but still, drinking was symptomatic of my underlying dis-ease, not the actual Problem. This overall dis-ease is a defining feature of Western culture. People cover up this dis-ease in a variety of ways (see above); becoming addicted to alcohol is just one of the easiest (and most humiliating) outlets for us since it’s legal and socially acceptable.

In this world, “normies” can easily get by being totally underdeveloped, spiritually and emotionally, and can even do pretty well for themselves (Exhibit A: The current presidential administration). “Alcoholics” can do this, too. A person by either label can also find themselves mired in depression, anxiety, and isolation. Out of two people, one of who is a “normie” and the other an “alcoholic,” we have no idea who is doing the inner work. It’s just not enough information to know what’s going on inside of someone, and given the state of humanity, it really doesn’t mean much.

Someone can be actively drinking while still working out their issues. (For at least a year, I drank even as I journaled, came to understand spirituality, and engaged in self-inquiry.) Someone can be sober and Way Fucked Up.

*I’d like to point out that this dichotomy—either you’re normal or you’re an alcoholic—is super crazy and Not Real.

5: There is no evidence that going by this name will help me stay sober. The jury is still out on how effective AA is, but here’s my evidence that it isn’t: My dad’s dead from addiction, and he went to meetings. Maybe that sounds irrational, but but I’m totally okay with being irrational on this issue. I often wonder ifhad addiction been understood and treated compassionately, outside of the “diseased individual” narrativehe might still be alive.

AA’s Big Book puts it’s success rate is at 50 percent. Even more worrisome is that through this lens, it’s the addict who is considered a “failure” if the program doesn’t work. Do we all see how insane this is? There is no other disease we do this with. If someone’s chronic illness flares up, we acknowledge that they may need a different treatment for it; we don’t blame the ill individual for their “failure.”

For something that affects us as hugely as addiction does, the most common treatment modality (AA, NA, CA, SLAA, etc.), should work more than half the time. So that’s a turn off, plus, that whole step where I’m supposed to go even further into how much of a defective character I am for relying on alcohol to ease my pain/social functioning has made it entirely unappealing. I assume that most addicts constantly think about how much of a defective character they are every day; this is why they continue to use! I’ve hated myself long enough, thankyouverymuch.

In spite of everything I just wrote, I’m really not here to tear down AA. My attitude, for myself and for the whole world, is to simply do what works. If AA works for you or someone you know, that’s great. But I’ve read some of the AA rhetoric, and it just isn’t for me, especially since there’s no conclusive body of evidence saying “this is your best bet.” The sad fact of AA is that it’s kind of our only bet, since insurance usually doesn’t pay for other forms of addiction treatment (for reasons of whatthefuckwhy?). Through such a view, my only hope for recovery is to admit to being an alcoholic, work the steps, and maybe recover, my odds being one in two(!). (This is the bipolar thing all over again, btw.)

Or I could just not take on the “alcoholic” label, grow in my own way, and really, actually recover because I know what’s best for me. I’m going with option two, and so far, I’m feeling better than ever.

6: If I ever choose to have a beer, I’m not going to fall into the “now I’m a relapsing failure” mindset. The glory of being sober for me now is this: I really don’t want to drink. It’s not a craving I’m constantly beating back, I’m not white-knuckling it through karaoke nights and parties, and it generally isn’t even something I think about very much anymore. I feel awesome about it.

Even though I’m happily sober, my identity isn’t wrapped up in being “a recovering alcoholic.” It’s more like “hey, drinking didn’t serve me in any way, so I finally decided to cut it out.” But when you have no particular identity or tribe caught up in your sobriety (which I don’t, except a small gang of social media peeps), I can see how one might just up and decide to have a beer one day. (The tribe element of AA is one that I really understand the appeal of.)

At this point, I feel like I’m only slightly more likely to drink a beer than I am to take a shot of gasoline. But for the sake of this reason, let’s suppose I do. Let’s suppose I step outside of the serious, sober mindset I live in now (a mindset I’m hoping to gradually expand out of into one that is less serious, btw), and for whatever reason, have an IPA. What now?

The narrative of alcoholism says I will be under the table and blacked out shortly after this first drink, and that I have to start back at day zero. The word “relapse” is assigned to my choice, which is a pretty loaded word. I’d have to tirelessly review what went wrong, and usually, I’d beat myself up for it. I cannot imagine a more harmful way to treat someone who has started using again.

If you’re conditioned to immediately feel like a diseased failure because you have a slip, you’re much more likely to spiral out of control. I won’t let my mind do that to me. Everything I do that isn’t in full alignment ought to be accepted for what it is (a blip on the radar of my overall growth), and moved forward from. New moment, new me, every single day. Having a slip wouldn’t undercut all the work I’ve done to explore and dispel my reasons for self-abuse, and it definitely wouldn’t mean I’m back to where I was before. Underneath the outward decision to have a drink, I’d still know so much more about myself than when I was drinking all the time. I definitely would want to look into whatever sneaky things my mind was doing that provoked the choice, but dwelling on it and/or feeling like shit for it would guarantee only more pain, and probably more drinking.

If we wish to heal—truly heal, not just accumulate x number of days sober—we must wake up to the reality that the word “alcoholic” (and everything we’re conditioned to think it means) actually serves us very little.

– Lish

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"Levels", Mental Health, The Ego, The Mind, Well-being, Yoga

The Relationship Between Growth and Suffering

This week’s picture-heavy post is partially inspired by the theory of Positive Disintegration. A Polish psychiatrist named Kazimierz Dąbrowski developed this theory over the course of his lifetime. I got pretty into it after my awakening moment, because everything started falling apart around me and nothing in my psychology BA could account for my experiences.

I Googled “existential crisis” and the Wikipedia page for Positive Disintegration came into my life. It deeply resonated with me and it still does, not that I agree with it entirely. Put most simply, the point is that if you are maladjusted to this society, that’s great. (This doesn’t apply to anyone who knowingly does harm.) The world is in a low place; so low, in fact, that we’re living in a mass extinction event being willfully carried out mostly by people who know exactly what they’re doing.

If you can’t figure out how to fit into this paradigm without losing your shit, god bless you. You are actually more sane than those who can do it with few worries.

I love this theory because it turns our ideas about suffering and mental health on its head: Neuroses, anxiety, and depression are prerequisites for growth, it says. The message is to stop pushing these feelings away and treating them as problematic. You need them, and in some way, they’re serving you. Learn to love them.

The fact that more and more people are suffering from these emotions all the time (as evidenced by rising rates of mental illness) is proof of the fact that widespread growth is desperately needed. People are feeling the pressure to grow on a larger scale. They always have been; it’s just that, more or less, “hating your life” has been normalized and covered up with various “totally normal” addictions. It’s still normalized today (and still covered up with various “totally normal” addictions), but there are now many of us willing to step up and say “that’s insane; this is all completely insane.”

True growth—as measured by a distinct departure from ego interests—must occur, or we’ll just keep hurting and killing ourselves. I mean that in the short-term, i.e. suicide, as well as the long-term way that we kill ourselves by killing the Earth as well.

Yogic theory agrees: Within all human beings, there is the basic pull towards growth. The growth of an individual tends not to match the conventions of societies who are rigidly egoistic, as most are. I present a quote from one of my all-time most favorite books, Yoga & Psychotherapy: The Evolution of Consciousness:

“… In other words, there is social pressure to develop an effective ego. In many societies, experimentation with growth beyond this level is not encouraged. In fact, if it involves an investment of energy that detracts even temporarily from one’s material productivity, it may actually be discouraged. Investing time or energy into developing oneself beyond the ego level may be little understood or appreciated by a society where economic success and material possessions are a major criteria by one which is judged. Experimentation with higher states of consciousness may be regarded with suspicion or considered wasteful nonsense.”

Psst: It’s not wasteful nonsense. It is, in fact, the best thing you can do for yourself and everyone else, even when it looks like “doing nothing.”

There is an element ever-present in humans that wants to see through the false self. There is an element that wants the Truth. There is an element that wants to realize it’s potential, knowing that to do this will necessarily come with difficulty (most likely much more difficulty than the current “you” can imagine).

Obstacles to smooth growth are felt as psychological pain: Like a river being dammed or tree roots pushing up through concrete, there is bound to be pressure when we block ourselves. And why do we resist growth? Because change—especially with no guarantee of immediate, tangible rewards—represents a threat to the ego. The ego will always try to preserve itself, and yet the consciousness beyond the ego knows the illusory ego must be shattered in order for evolution to proceed.

So, part of you wants to grow, and another wants to stay safe. This creates cognitive dissonance (guilt, dissatisfaction, stuckness, dis-ease, etc.), because growth and safety are actually opposites.

Seen this way, we can learn to appreciate when we hurt. We can see how necessary it is for us to burn up, get psychotic, cry, destroy ourselves, lash out, and be fearful. Without all this, there is no movement out of the darkness.

And now, a series of pictures re: suffering and growth. Think of yourself as a seed…

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According to Dąbrowski’s theory, the first picture should be a perfectly happy seed who experiences no pain. They’re just fine in the ground, down there with millions of other seeds. Is the world a bizarre shitshow full of hatred and horror? Who cares! To these people, as long as their needs are met and they’re allowed to continue collecting things, people, and experiences, there are no serious problems. Such a person would be at Level 1. (I reject that this type of person is very common. Almost everyone is made uncomfortable by impermanence and the pain of others, no matter how well they can distract themselves from it.)

What this picture illustrates is the beginning of certain unceasing lines of questioning: “Is this all there is?” We look around for more, but it begins to feel all the same. Pressure is felt. “What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with this world? What can I do? Does it even matter?”

This batshit dialogue will continue on as long as you allow it/as long as you need it. It can be an extremely difficult time, and that’s about the nicest way I can put it. This would correspond to Level 2 in Dąbrowski’s theory: Something needs to change but you can’t tell what it is. No choice seems preferable, and you are left in a limbo of bad habits (this includes bad thought habits by the way), constantly wondering what to do with yourself, and often in pain. This can go on for a very long time.

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The pressure to the seed casing (from inside and out) reaches a critical point. This is the first departure from a long-held ego. This is when you crack open. Because pressure is relieved, it feels very, very good, and you see how wrong you were about what you always thought you were. This whole time you imagined that you were a hardened little thing under the soil, but now you have upward movement, and you can actually feel it in your brain (it’s the best feeling ever.)

This was how my moment of awakening was experienced. It really does feel like light or like you’re being shaken from a nightmare. It’s pure relief and joy. Everything is beyond fine.

Warning: Your mind will quickly cobble together a new ego because you need an ego to survive. You blissfully and naively think, “Actually I’m a green chute coming out of a seed; now I’ve got it all figured out.” And you try to stay right there, because you’re so sick of suffering, and your ego needs you to just be static.

This is when I started writing. “Now I’m a writer,” I thought. I started building a whole new self out of this, like, immediately. In retrospect, I wish I would’ve just luxuriated in that new feeling for much much longer; maybe read some spiritual books to understand what had happened. This would’ve saved me a lot of spent energy and embarrassment, but alas, it’s not the way it went. (Also, I did desperately miss writing and needed it to navigate my experiences.)

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Every day, your ego tries to make sense of what it is now, and now, and now… but if you’re always growing, this doesn’t work. Every day you see more of what you are, which is ultimately limitless. Here your consciousness is expanding so fast that your ego can’t catch up. Delusions of grandeur are common. Hello, bipolar mania. (Again, this is just my personal experience. I’m sure others don’t have as many dysfunctions of the ego, depending on their upbringing and particular brain chemistry.)

Here, we’re between Levels 2 and 3. You’re growing, but the speed of it might be scary. You know what’s “higher” and what’s “lower” to you, but you do not always act accordingly. There hasn’t been a full commitment to growth or an understanding of what it all means. The ego is checked again and again and again. There may be one or several larger breaks, but the work of burning up the ego is actually very gradual.

At this point, you either make the choice to stay the course, or drop back into the safety of the seed casing. (I’m a big fan of Plato’s cave, though: Once you see the light, you can’t unsee it.)

The transition from Level 2 to Level 3 is huge, and there are no guidelines as to how long the process lasts. Cognitive dissonance can no longer be ignored. You’re clearly on the path of growth with the understanding that your emotions are the most reliable guide for how to live in this world. If you do or say something and it hurts, you actually stop.

This is how bad habits are relinquished and all forms of self-abuse begin to fall away. Your awareness of life (“the way it all works”) deepens, and “lower” actions become less and less tempting.

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Level 4 is an even more conscious and directed version of Level 3: You take charge of your development and there becomes little memory of the seed casing and the factors that once bound you to such a form. One of my teachers might refer to this as “the coming into your light” phase.

Level 5 (I’m not there, but I hope to be someday) is when things mellow out, and life no longer feels awful, confusing, and dangerous all the time. In fact, fear tends to significantly diminish, and you sleep soundly knowing you’ve done right by yourself.

I am a believer in complete freedom from suffering—but only if you’ve gone all the way. Stopping after you sprout or bud will immediately result in more suffering, because you haven’t reached your natural height. (I forget this almost every day, and halt my own growth with habitual actions. Don’t judge; I’m always working on it.)

Imagine if an oak tree decided to just quit growing once it became a sapling, and fought against the natural forces moving it upward. In this metaphor, the tree is fighting it because all of the other trees have decided to stop at sapling-status. This tree doesn’t want to stand out or risk going too far away from the other trees. So everyone’s holding themselves and one another back, not to mention fighting nature. This is what our culture does.

This is also essentially what we do when we decide we’re “good enough” because we don’t want to do all of the (highly inconvenient and somewhat terrifying) work of dismantling our false beliefs. In this case, boredom, doubt, and self-loathing will always return.

Once fully bloomed, the climate and the geography, no matter how harsh, are felt in a completely different way.

Furthermore, once you start losing your petals and drying out, so to speak, you do not resist it any more than an actual flower would: You’ve become what nature intended for you, and you accept that part of what nature intends is the end of individual forms, including yours.

– Lish

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Conditioning, Mental Health, Spirituality, Well-being

The Deeper Why

There are several key differences between yoga psychology and psychiatry. Understanding these differences was The Thing that helped to integrate my experiences, from psychosis/extreme mania all the way to garden-variety depression. This knowledge is what allowed me to reject the idea that I was permanently ill, that I would most likely be on and off of medication for the rest of my life, and that bipolar was a thing “I’d always be”an immutable descriptor, and not a good one at that. It has led to healing in a way I couldn’t have previously imagined. It has led to true growth and, although I’m not without all attachments and darkness, a far more stable emotional baseline.

Regardless of how revolutionary these concepts are, they remain misunderstood in our discussions of mental health. We have vague intentions of “reaching out to those with depression,” and of “eliminating stigma.” These statements are of little value without a comprehensive view of the deeper why of mental illness, an ever-worsening phenomenon, predominantly in the most materially comfortable of cultures. The deeper why goes beyond neurotransmitters and genetic predispositions. It considers all of human and universal evolution.

Existence Occurs From Inside-Out

Let’s go back to that first part for a second: In countries where the majority of people have comfortable lives (big houses, good cars, non-life-threatening jobs, regular access to nutritious foods), depression, anxiety, and suicide are rampant. Some are quick to point out that it is our lack of connection to one another that creates these feelings, but this doesn’t quite get to the root of it either. What is the deeper why of this isolation? Why do we suck at making connections, even when we know everyone around us is dealing with the same bullshit we are?

There are plenty of us with dozens of friends and family members we see daily—maybe even share a bed with—yet still, we’re mostly just alone together. If we don’t feel comfortable sharing our honest emotions with the people in our lives (I sure don’t, because apparently my emotions are Not Normal and that feels even worse to know), then we are each living in secrecy, behind various masks. It is only in solitude that we feel at all okay, for at least then our inner isolation matches our environment.

(This is a where a picture of a family staring at their phones while out at dinner would go. I don’t blame technology, but the phones do make it painfully clear how totally resigned we are to each existing in our own small digital worlds.)

At the very least, this should teach us that our external circumstances don’t matter a whole lot with regards to what’s happening inside of us. This is an enormous false belief within our culture, and yet it is still lived out and passed on: You can arrange your outside life in such a way that your inner world will become happy.

This is never true. It must always go the other way around. Barring extreme situations, your circumstances are not the reasons for your unhappiness; the situations and people that “make” you unhappy are more of a reflection of the unhappiness within. To me this is obvious, as I sometimes fluctuate in emotion from day to day. Small things make me want to go into a fit of rage on bad days, and on good days (or even later that day!  I can still be capricious AF!), seemingly big things can’t even touch me. It is with this knowledge that I proceed, knowing that it is my state of consciousness which determines everything about how I feel.

Inner changes always come first, then they are reflected on the outside.

Choosing to Choose

This is not meant to be a trite “just choose to be happy” post. Choosing happiness in a culture that has programmed you to be miserable is, as it stands, a lifelong journey. Also, choosing happiness is only made possible when one’s survival needs are met; this ensures that they can actually focus their energy on inner work. Summoning all of our strength to go act like we’re okay (at jobs we don’t always feel impassioned about, and I’m putting that in the nicest way possible) when we are totally not okay prolongs the healing process. Being disingenuous is exhausting. It makes us hide. It prevents us from accessing the higher parts of ourselves, a requirement for true stability and joy as well as the continued survival of our species.

This is why every human being should be guaranteed healthy food, a safe bed, and healthcare—unconditionally. No questions asked and no judgments. This is not a radical notion to me, but it is to a lot of people: Because people are all fucked up about money (as a result of being conditioned to feel that things are scarce and that they should be afraid), not everyone is on board with universal basic income, even though it would benefit, um, everyone.

I don’t talk a lot about “how society should be restructured,” because restructuring alone does not help raise consciousness. Trying to make a “goal” out of evolution is human arrogance at its finest. This explains why communism alone doesn’t lead to liberation or the heights of human potential: Without transformation of the inner self, external restructuring doesn’t accomplish much. Spiritual revolution is the only way now, and unlike other revolutions, this one is quiet, unassuming, and has actually been building since forever. Pay attention and you will see it, even if unconscious spiritual egos are still common.

However, I will say this: Universal basic income is literally the least we could do in order to ensure a better quality of life for all future generations. It just is.

Any argument against universal basic income is rooted in ignorance. There is plenty to go around. Every day, we throw food away even though we’ve got hungry people in our towns. The dairy industry dumps millions of gallons of milk into the ocean every year. There are spacious, fancy-ass apartment complexes and housing developments just sitting around vacant while hurt and scared individuals try to find bridges to sleep under. This is complete insanity. Guaranteed basic security for every human would immediately raise the total level of world consciousness and pave the way for a truly beautiful way of life for all.

Until then, it seems, we’re going to have to strive doubly hard to transform. We have to walk our paths of Truth while living in the shadow of the apocalypse and making money just to eat and sleep soundly. These are strange and dangerous times.

Still, I promise promise promise, this is the only work that is truly worth it.

Love,

Lish

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Conditioning, Narratives, Reality, The Ego, Well-being

Happy 4th!

Nations Are Illusory

There has never been a need to cut the world up into nations. There is land. There are climates. There are variances in topography and coordinates which correspond to unique geographic locations. But there is no such thing as a nation once you have become unconditioned.

What we refer to as “our country’s history” is a collection of stories passed down from one generation to the next.  Stories can be twisted to fit any agenda; they are the most manipulative device known to man. I could tell you stories about myself that would make me look awful, and I could tell you some that would make me look great. I expect the same is true of you. Neither one would be based in reality because reality only exists here and now; also, everything is so much bigger than any single story can touch. 

Stories are the things your mind holds onto in order to keep your ego intact, or in this case, the ego of the nation. And so, from moment to moment, I am a woman without a story unless I choose to make one up. I do this often—and we all do. The only question is whether or not we’re aware that that’s what we’re doing.

According the story that is perpetuated in American culture, today is Independence Day. Here’s that story as I see it: A few hundred years ago, some people freed themselves from the tyranny of one guy and went on to oppress a bunch of other people. In the following years, some people ended up way better off; others ended up way worse off. Today, the remaining people are among the richest, saddest humans in the world. Regardless of their comforts and rights, they remain neurotic. Many are outright miserable.

I know there are more poignant aspects I could focus on, and that with the right intonation and rhetoric of glory, I could say something  patriotic: “The founding fathers emancipated themselves from an oppressive, greedy monarch and went on to build a country based on the ideals of liberty and individual pursuit of happiness.” See?  I can do it; it’s just so obviously one-sided.

Anyway, if the goal was for us to be very materially wealthy and very psychologically ill, I’d say this thing is a great success.  But of course it wasn’t.  The goal was freedom, and we are still so far from it.

Freedom is a State of Being

This isn’t meant to be a rant against the US or against Independence Day; it’s meant to be a post discussing actual freedom.  I’m so totally pro-freedom that I want us to be free of nations.  I want us to be free of limiting beliefs.  I want us to be free of borders and security agents with guns and hostility towards one another.  I want us to be free of fearing our fellow humans and free of fearing death.  I especially want us to be free of fearing life. I want us to be free of suspicion. I want us to be free of fearing that at any moment, freedom can be taken away, so we best militarize and lock up.

True freedom can never be taken way, nor can it be granted by another.  It is an individual’s personal work to get and remain free of his/her limiting mentalities (and, of course, to understand what that “self” actually is). Someone who is retired with millions of dollars can easily be mentally enslaved. Someone who is in jail can live outside of the confines of the body and mind and dwell in a kind of peace that eludes everyone else.

It is the work of the collective to create functional communities wherein we don’t treat each other like equipment, constantly assigning value to one another. In this made-up lala-land I inhabit in my imagination and envision as a real possibility, we would give of ourselves as we could and accept when needed. No one would fear for their survival, thereby becoming free to devote energy to inner development. This is the place I want to live, and it is one I know can exist because I can think of it. It is also clear to me that creating such a culture is a requirement for allowing the Earth to heal itself from years of abuse.

The story I want to be able to say regarding the transformation of consciousness goes like this: “Humans freed themselves from their own oppressive minds, ceased to identify with illusions, and came together to clean up the mess they’d unconsciously made.”

What I am Free From

I get that this has all been very pie-in-the-sky: Nations dissolving, people treating each other with love, blah blah blah.  I know it seems like there are a million steps we have to take before we get there, but the truth is that awakening happens in just one moment. One click of light and it’s all over. The self that thinks of the self falls away. The self that is separate from others is revealed as a facade. It all seems so idealistic until you get a taste for it and begin to feel the changes within yourself.

Suddenly, it’s feasible: We really don’t have to keep waging war on this planet or on one another if only we could drop every single lie that stands between us. The war within us is the war without. The things that leave us feeling like we’re 50 different people all the time are the same things that divide us on the whole. Total system overhaul is dependent on us transforming ourselves and  moving forward consciously.

To round this little post out in a much more normal and personal note: Today is my 100th day alcohol-free! I didn’t plan it, and if I had, it wouldn’t have been as good as it is. I’ll be spending the day playing outside, being with loved ones, watching fireworks, and drinking a bunch of nonalcoholic ginger beer and grapefruit soda. I choose to see today as a celebration of my freedom from alcohol addiction.

I’m working on a big post on alcohol right now: Why I don’t drink (it isn’t because I’m an alcoholic) and how I’ve practically spring-boarded from poor decisions, constant shame, and self-recrimination into positivity and actions that are more in accordance to who I know I really am just by giving it up.

The post will go up when it does, and until then, I hope you are all enjoying this beautiful summer. May you celebrate real freedom, as well—whatever that means to you.

Love,

Lish

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