1. A few days before setting off to lead a retreat for women in recovery in the Outer Banks last week I called my sponsor to tell her how scared I was. In her early 70's, resembling a slender, silver-haired Buddha, my sponsor yelled into the phone. "Valley! You can't fuck it up! It's going to be FUN!" Fun? I hadn't even considered that something that was Such A Big Deal could be fun. Well, we would see about that.
2. When I arrived in the lobby of the Ramada Plaza Nags Head Oceanfront the retreat committee asked for someone to sell my book. When my own mother volunteered, the narrative gap of my entire life snapped into place. Growing up, I'd traveled to AA, NA & ACOA around the country selling recovery buttons, bookmarks and quotes for her. The tables had turned. How had I not seen this coming? I felt as if my entire life had been guided by an invisible hand, holding a map I was just for a moment of blinding recognition able to see.
3. On Friday night, when I told my alcoholic/addict/love junkie addiction story it was during the lowest points that the audience cheered the loudest. Of course they did! It's sharing our bottoms, our shame, our desperation that connects us as human beings. Only it's easy to forget that when you want to look shiny and good and in control of the whole world.
4. What a freaking relief it was to discover on Saturday morning that the intimacy, transformation and emotional integrity of a small group writing experience translates to a stage in a ballroom of 75+. Honesty, grief, tears, joy, laughter, awe and hoots and hollers of recognition spread around the room as abundantly as the sea of styrofoam coffee cups.
5. We were at a ball without any of the masquerade. Everybody was so perfectly, completely, unapologetically themselves. You want to wear short-shorts and carry around your oxygen tank? Great! Bring on the bejeweled tiger sweatshirts, the mumus, the big hats. You be YOU. Everyone being themselves: big hearted, emotional, gritty and honest helped strip me of some of the remaining undercurrents of cool I've been desperately seeking since high school.
6. After the burning bowl ceremony, everyone randomly drew a card with a special message. Goose bumps and tears as I read mine: "Life Is Supposed to Be Fun." Had my sponsor rigged the whole game? Had God? One thing I knew: I was where I was supposed to be.
7. I brought the tiara a friend gave me for my 40th birthday, but I didn't need it. By Sunday morning I was a mix of Jerry Falwell and Madonna, a televangelist rockstar who could transfix a crowd AND walk on water. "Oh God, I feel so bad for my husband," I said to my mom after one woman said she was going to name her cat after me. "I know," she laughed. "This is going to be hard for him to live up to.
8. But it wasn't hard for him to live up to, it was hard for me. On the way to teach my class my second day back, I thought, "My favorite thing in the world to give people is unconditional love and acceptance. Unless you live with me. Then watch the hell out." After receiving some news that didn't fit it into my plan for How Things Should Be I'd totally lost it. In under 24 hours I'd gone from Queen of the World to Screaming Banshee. But maybe those two aren't so far apart after all. Maybe one is the flip of the other.
9. I hold onto the prayer beads, the conch shell, the angel bracelet, the stories of pain, grief, transformation and growth that were given to me this weekend.
10. And I hold onto my own. Because being willing to admit them, to own them, to write them, keeps me right where I need to be.