Morning flights are golden.
The sun falls evenly over icy Detroit—over thumbprint lakes and veiny frozen rivers. They get smaller and more manageable the higher up we go.
Covering my arms with the in-flight blanket, I roll my head to look out the oval window. I’m going back home to Japan, I think to myself.
As much as I fly these days, floating above the world for a little while still fascinates me. It is the fullest expression of pause—of taking a moment to reflect above it all.
If the first year of sobriety is a pink cloud, the second must be a vast and endless desert. It must be a test—a practice of restraint and turning one’s cheek the other way while looking directly into the source. No clouds or distractions.
The second year of sobriety is the first big step to becoming real.
It’s not enough to care for ourselves when it’s easy. We have to care for ourselves and others even when it’s hard—when it doesn’t seem so obvious.
I spent Christmas and New Year’s surrounded by more family and friends than I’ve seen in 12 years.
No matter how much we meditate, read and learn about ourselves, nothing can really prepare us for going back to our roots. When we go back to the original pool and beginning of everything we are now, all scars are present—healed or not. Because when we walk with the ones who have known us the longest, we walk with all of our ages. With all of our years and personalities built up into one.
There are serene mornings with sandy feet and seashells in the bucket as the sun comes up. But there are also loud and piercing moments when I feel unseen and overly exposed at the exact same time. With all of these opposing forces roaring into the present moment, how am I supposed to be fully aware?
First things first. Start simple.
Think about when we are the most present with our families.
Sliding the couch and table out of the way, my grandmother and I lay down on the living room carpet. Side by side and shoulder to shoulder we hold a highlighted physical therapy packet above our heads. Both of our arms stand straight in the air.
“This is the first exercise.” I announce, as we straighten and bend our right legs in the air.
I tell her that we have to do 40 reps. She looks at me and laughs, “40…Well this is way more fun when you have someone to do it with!” We both laugh and walk away to start dinner with more joy and way more hip mobility.
When I am one-on-one with friends and family members, I see them in the present moment. And they meet me as I am. This is when it’s easy to stay with myself and be fully aware. But when everyone gets together, things speed up. The room gets overwhelming. It’s harder to focus.
I come from a big family where everyone talks at the same time. My mom is one of six children. And I grew up treating all of my cousins like siblings. We had big family Christmases with over 35 people in the same room opening gifts one at a time.
As a daydreaming ADD child, I often found myself on the other end of spilt orange juice glasses and half-finished coloring book pages. I was older than the younger cousins and younger than the older cousins. So most of the time I would invent my own world in the middle of the room. In the middle of the chaos where everyone was finding a place to say what they wanted, I was busy living somewhere else.
As I got older, that imagination turned into drinking. So now that I am sober at thirty-years-old, standing in the middle of my gorgeous loud family, all I want to do is hide. It’s hard to find one-on-one time. It’s hard to connect.
I was exposed and totally sober. I got embarrassed and awkward. But you know what? It was okay. It was okay to experience difficult emotions. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be okay. And my family still loves me. If anything, we found a deeper bond in that vulnerability. I let them see me completely.
My pain is not only mine. My pain is always shared pain. It’s not unique. Being embarrassed, angry, hurt, or offended doesn’t mean we need to punish ourselves. It means we’re human.
We are allowed to be embarrassed. Even around family—especially around family. Because we all experience vulnerability, it’s okay to show emotion around the people we love and trust the most. It’s one of the most essential steps to becoming real.
The pink cloud is lovely. But it’s in the beginning of sobriety for a reason. It’s a cushion after years of hardcore living. It ends. It must. We can’t live there forever.
The flight attendant refills my sparkling water, and the flight tracker says we’re now over Russia. I’ve crossed the ocean and all the different glowing skies in between. I really do love flying in the morning. I am raw and real. And I kind of like that feeling of growing and getting uncomfortable. I’m ready to feel challenged. But for now I’ll just appreciate this in between moment of pause, up in the clouds. It doesn’t last forever.
Flash Forward: Michael and I left Nagoya on a bullet train across Japan a little over a week ago. We now live in Fukuoka, Japan. And our hotel is only a 5 minute walk from the seashore.
2018 was a transitional year. I wrote for a lot of other publications. I recently started mentoring for Elephant Journal’s Winter 2019 Writing Academy.
Here are a few of my latest articles on Elephant Journal: