During the 36 hours Maia Szalavitz was in town, between meetings with 6 different community groups, Maia made time to come to my little house and talk with me.
I wrote for The Fix and for my personal blog here, then here, what reading Maia Szalavitz’s Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction meant to me. Her personal story of addiction and recovery, her reporting on the science of addiction, and her call to action to change belief-based practices to evidence-based addictions treatment first stunned, then transformed me. To be able to talk personally with this catalytic woman moved me beyond words!
I first made contact with Maia Szalavitz on May 11 and we first met on August 2. For the weeks in between, I noodled on this: If I could ask Maia one – and only one – question, what would it be? I opened an email and started making my list. I kept refining, agonizing, re-prioritizing. Let me check… Yep, the email I finally sent her when I knew we had time to meet was almost 1800 words long, containing multiple questions with multiple parts.
Recovery from addiction to alcohol has been very, very hard for me. My challenges have been complex and I could not simplify my list further. But the first question on the list never changed:
With the brilliant, beautiful-brained Maia Szalavitz, the conversation went extraordinary places. Advice in the form of “you-statements” usually feels like “tough love” to me, i.e. meanness gaslit as love, but I know Maia is a fan of “love love” over “tough love.” So when she answered my question with a you-statement, I was able to hear it with my full brain and my whole heart: “You need to fall in love with your life.”
Given that one of the metaphors Maia uses to explain the science of addiction in an accessible way is “falling in love,” her advice makes perfect sense.
I think Maia’s Unbroken Brain ended in flames my life-constricting belief that I was bad and wrong for having developed alcoholism. I think Maia’s advice to me to fall in love with my life has begun wrapping a warm blanket around my sore little self.
I am a person with intense feelings and high energy. While I treasure practicing self-love, of being present in the moment, of accepting what is, it feels so motionless. I have given my all to not doing the drinking thing. To be assigned something to do is balm to my entire being!
“You need to fall in love with your life.”
– Maia Szalavitz, private conversation, 8/3/16
These are the questions I’m asking myself:
- What do I love in my life right now?
- What did I used to love in my life that I might be able to bring forward to love again?
- What’s in the way of me loving my life?
- What might I love about my future life that I can get started on now?
In the 11 days since Maia gave me the advice to fall in love with my life, here are some of the answers I’ve discovered:
- In my life right now, I love having a thin cat and a thick one; living upstairs with walls painted in pastel colors; walking over to my dad’s house and being greeted at the door by him in his suit and tie.
- What did I used to love? Basketball! We don’t have a women’s league in our town, but I am working on finding women who might like to form one. And I’ll be heading over to the gym to start learning to dribble and shoot with a woman-sized basketball which they didn’t have when I last played in 1977.
- What’s in the way? This post-55 thickening at the waist feels like a barrier between me and my enjoyment of my physical existence. I’ve upped my activity and downed my calories to see if I can reduce it. If it won’t budge then, yay, I’ll get more practice with my acceptance skills.
- What might I love? I need to re-fall in love with my town. I was raised here, left, and came back in 2006 just in time to get tempest-tost with our entire community on April 16, 2007. Remarkably, This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving Where You Live, by Melody Warnick, was just published. She uses Blacksburg as her case study for how to fall in love with a place! She talks about place attachment, which is related to human attachment – the lack of which results in emotional dysregulation, considered the primordial soup of addiction – which is, of course, related to falling in love. Ahh… Melody, like Maia, cites data. I’ve finished chapter 2 and learned that I need to walk and bike to begin to “date” my town. My bike’s been on a hook in the shed for 2 years. I dusted it off, pumped up the tires, and took a get-reacquainted spin last night.
I’ll keep writing about recovery from addiction. I’ll need to as my story evolves and I want to share what it’s like for others who cannot. But what if I can write “falling in love with my life” reports, too?! Writing helps me love my life through thick and thin.
So Melody Warnick says there’s a Civil War cemetery in Blacksburg. How could I have lived here since 1968 and not known that?!
You know what I’d love to do right now? Go get on my bike and see if I can find it. So I think I will.
. . . . .
Jeff Proco expertly and matter-of-factly has painted my walls in three different residences a range of colors from metallic silver, to grass green, to pastel pink, to pearl white. His number is 540-357-4880 and here are more photos of his work. Jeff’s in high demand and, sorry, you’ll have to get in line behind him painting my dad’s porch. 🙂