BY: TAMI HARPER WINN
Staring out the window of the 737 Boeing across the morning horizon, I watch as we drift along the billowy clouds and the sun peeks over the top of Mt. Hood. I sit back and put my headphones in. I am truly amazed at the gifts that I get to enjoy today. This view is just one of them. In only one short hour I will be home and I will walk off this plane a completely changed person.
With pen and notebook in hand, a red bag draped over my shoulder and flip flops on my feet I started an incredible journey that would spill my dreams into my reality just a little over a week ago. On February 19th, 2017 I landed in Cabo San Lucas completely alone, with the bare necessities in a country I had never been to before. I strolled off that plane and walked through my fears one step at a time. It was the beginning of the physical representation of my journey to find myself in my recovery.
This journey actually started the day I put the drink down. I could have never foreseen on that first day, that just six short years later I would be with friends sharing evenings of recovery instead of margaritas in Baja, California. But yet, there I was, Crazy.
By the time 2016 had come to a close I had shut the door on a very painful and tragic year by anyone’s account. With the loss of both my parents within four months of each other, I was on autopilot just trying to breathe and manage each day as it hit me. I held up, but my sails were tattered and in need of serious repair. I had been given news prior to the new year that my health was at risk. Through several serious scares of varying degrees I was faced with not only my mortality but a hard fast slap in the face as to how I was living my life today in recovery.
The outcome looked bleak and scary by the end of 2016 and if I didn’t figure something out soon, my end would not be desirable. But, according to my doctor, most of it would be my own doing – and it wasn’t even because I was drinking. Damn.
When we first get sober its about staying sober. Then it is about continuing to stay sober. Then its about helping others stay sober. Then its about maintaining sobriety and learning to live as a sober person in the world.
It wasn’t until the doctor dropped the clipboard on the counter and said very sharply that, “if I didn’t change what was going on outside her office, and fast, I was going to slowly kill myself” that I heard the message loud and clear. It was a horse pill to choke down. I was committing suicide on my own terms and the very slowest painful way a person can, exactly like my father did – of a broken heart. I completely had no idea how to live sober.
Now, its not my heart in jeopardy per se but my body was beginning to scream at me that, “ENOUGH WAS ENOUGH”. I hadn’t given a crap about me to the point my body was manifesting all the negative inside myself and I was sick. I was so lost. I turned to God and pleaded my heart to him and then turned to my sponsors’ and sought direction there.
Through what I call divine intervention, I was directed to set up a challenge for myself. I knew I couldn’t make a year long commitment, hell I’m an alcoholic, commitment and I aren’t good friends if you know what I mean. So, I took it chunk by chunk and I said I’d start with a month long resolution instead of the annual New Year’s Resolution. I jumped off the cliff into 2017 with a young man from Spain and started what I knew at that very moment would be a year to be reckoned with. I was thrilled.
So as January 1st began the new year so did my month of #YesFast, where I would learn to say “No” to things that were unhealthy for me. My first “No” was to my daughter 10 seconds before the new year and I haven’t looked back since. Each day it got easier as I made a point to keep myself accountable on social media. By the end of January, what had been the hardest thing for me to do (say “No”) was no longer something I struggled with. I was becoming a pro at it and felt pretty dang strong. I felt confident and was no longer fighting with that fear.
So, if I could manage to do one month, whose to say I couldn’t try for another month? I knew February was going to be a difficult one as my mother’s one-year celestial birthday approached. I had to keep my momentum going or surely lose the wind in my new sail. I knew I was going to need to take extra good care of myself this month – grief is such an unforgiving emotion sometimes. So I started the challenge of #Love for February where I would learn the art of showing love to myself and others in a healthy way. I was going to learn how to nurture myself, care for myself, be gentle with myself, and show love to myself. I had never ever done that before. I hadn’t felt worthy. But with my mom not around anymore to do it for me, it was up to me now.
So, I booked a plane ticket to Baja to visit a friend in recovery who I admired. He is a free spirit with a strong testimony of recovery. I needed that. I planned the trip for a few days after mom’s anniversary as a celebration of her love for me. I packed up her memories and grabbed my passport, fear in tow. Spontaneity isn’t one of my stronger suits. I am a control freak and this one was completely by the seat of my shorts – literally. But if I wasn’t willing to live today then I was going to be willing to accept death. I chose life.
Its funny how sometimes it is only in death do we truly want to live. This trip would help me to see just how much I truly take for granted on a daily basis – one of them was simply being able to wake up every morning. On my first morning in Mexico I woke myself up giggling in my sleep. That happened three times during that night. My smile was instantaneous. Never had that happened to me in all my years. I stared out the front door from my bed and watched as the palm trees swayed in the cool morning breeze and I sighed. I really did it. I was in Mexico.
That first full day in Mexico was filled with dust and tears and complete joy coupled with bliss. We found strange remote towns filled with rich history and deserted Missions. I was overcome several times with sobs of gratitude at the beauty I was taking in. This was really happening. We Baja boogied around the southern peninsula all morning, stopping to dip our toes in the Sea of Cortez and take in the teal waters and kite surfers. Then we sank into the desert into a secret hideaway where a magical waterfall enchanted me as I wrote by the waterside. I finished my night sitting with friends under the clear sky in a remote hot springs thanking my higher power for that very moment.
I was only gone a week, but what I experienced could fill a book. I will write that book. I promise. As I strolled the small town of Todos Santos up one hill and down another I was captivated by the rich colors, friendly people eager to greet me, and delicious food that filled my belly. I couldn’t get enough. Evenings were spent in a recovery hall making new friends and experiencing recovery in another country. I was beyond blessed.
I spent my days in sheer heaven on earth. I had no alarm clock yet I woke at dawn. I slept peacefully and got great rest. I spent time on slow walks letting my senses explode in glorious fireworks all around me. I found refuge among the palm trees in a hammock listening to the birds sing to me. Everywhere there were birds and all around me were butterflies by the dozens. I sipped coffee at curbside cafes and got lost in translation as I wrote feverishly. Evening lulled me to sleep with the mist of the ocean that came in every night. The skies were dazzlingly orchestrated symphonies manifest with each twinkle from every star. I held on to each moment like it was my last.
On my final night in Todos Santos I took a motorcycle ride with my friend to the coast to watch the sunset. As we approached the top of the hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean I was struck breathless. Before me was a tequila sunset, just like the tequila sunrises over the Sea of Cortez I had seen in pictures. But it was more surreal than any picture could have captured. Before me were colors I never knew existed. There were shades of teal, ice blue, tiffany blue, purple hues as far as the eye could see. They just melted into each other. On the horizon the purple met with reds and oranges and a small circular ball of yellow that flowed from the heart of heaven itself. The waves crashed with the intensity of the soul shattering truth I was about to admit finally – I was done with the way I had been living my life prior to that very moment – prior to that tequila sunset.
As I close my eyes now I can still hear the laughter shared among friends’ late night. I can still see the endless smiles that greeted me everyday. I can still hear the ocean whispering its truths to me and I pause, put my pen down and just breathe.
Sure, I am happy to be home with my family and clean drinking water, but my time in Mexico was a baptism for my very soul. I had been still long enough. I had walked slow enough. I had smiled big enough. I had lived just enough, to know I wanted more of it.
What I took from my time in the cactus filled deserts of the Baja was more than just sand and trinkets. I took my life back. I learned that I had been running so fast I outran my own life. I created a space big enough down there that I could just be for the moment. In the silence of my own mind I found myself. I was truly happy.
When I got back home I could feel the weight of the world waiting patiently for me right outside the door of the plane. I felt the impending shift in my thinking and doom set in. I could feel the negativity lurking in the air when I exited the plane. I held my breath praying I wouldn’t be suffocated by it. It didn’t work. I began to sink and experience what is known as the “Baja Hangover” without the tequila. I wanted to escape. But this was my life. Where was I going to escape to?
After a few days down time I reflected on that tequila sunset I witnessed. How could I bring it and Mexico back with me? One more tequila sunrise, please. I wanted one more tequila sunset. I wanted who Tami was there. Then it occurred to me. They have always told me in recovery, that if I want what they have I have to do what they do. There it was, plain and simple.
If I wanted the person who was free and happy-go-lucky, untouched by fear to exist here at home I had to do what I did there. So, I took the love I gave to myself during those moments when I was accountable to no one but God and myself and brought it home with me. It was with me all the time, inside my mind. I had had the experience. It was still there.
So, with that I completed my final day of my February resolution #Love with a quiet walk in Boise, Idaho taking in all of the beauty around me. In those thoughts I found myself embraced in during that walk I admitted to myself some absolute truths about who I was, what I needed in order to have the recovery and life that I deserved, and what true love really felt like.
I had found my next month’s resolution in the quiet sway of that hammock one afternoon in Mexico as I listed my #AbsoluteYes’s on paper. These were the things I had to have today in order to live a life worth living, sober. Now I embark on my next journey as I put into action the things I took back from Mexico, more valuable than any souvenir I brought back.
Today my life will be filled with all the tequila sunsets I want and I want them all. It will be filled with majestic tapestries of peace and serenity in every moment, no matter how difficult times may get. I can have the life I’ve experienced and it starts with me doing what I need to do in order to get the results I want. It’s about self care in recovery and learning how to give back in a healthy responsible way. Its about meeting my own needs so I can meet others needs too. Its about understanding my worth and value and what I have to offer. Its about being really truly happy from the inside out.
Since my time in Mexico I am happy to say I have had no physical ailments bother me as they were prior. I speak calmer, laugh longer, and smile bigger than I have ever done before. I know who I am and what I want for once in my life and it feels great.
Each month I now know is a building block. Each one has led me to the next. I don’t figure its coincidence by now as each one sets itself up for the next. I do not know what next month looks like yet, but I know that before this month is up it will reveal itself as each one has before it. I do not know what the rest of this year holds, as we all know a lot changes in such a short time. I do know that by the end of this year though the Tami that began this journey will not be the same one that started it. The most important part of the whole journey will be that I had a hand in deciding the colors of all of my tequila sunsets from here on out. Amo mi vida!
~ Tami Harper Winn ~
The story written here is solely the work of the author’s. Any use or reproduction of this article is prohibited without written consent of the author or credit to the author through works cited.