As revealed in Part 1 of this post, I fully ignored the romantic statute of the one year rule. I jumped into the dating ring a few months after I quit drinking, punching down and dirty. Fortunately, I muddled my way through dismissal and defeat by burying my head in exasperated poems, managing to distract myself enough to avoid drinking on my first lap sober around the sun.
Year two passed with somewhat calmer waters and one big unrequited crush that was vigorously tamed into a meaningful, platonic friendship (and poems, of course). That left me with empty arms but a lesson in restraint, sense, and sensibility that I sorely needed. I steadied myself with writing, reading, learning, and continuing to grow.
But after two years of sobriety and being stuck at home for the first eight months of the pandemic, I got bored and lonely. So I brushed off my dating apps and went on a couple of outdoor dates to see what the fresh air had to offer.
This time, unlike my first-year fortune, I met the person who would become my long-term partner on just my second date. Maybe I had a clearer picture of who I was looking for. Maybe I was unbelievably lucky. Maybe I was desperate. Having been single for quite a long time, I was chomping at the bit for things to work out.
But I also had a lot more self-assurance, calm, and clarity in my sobriety this time. That must have come across in my demeanor. Because – and only because – of those hard-earned qualities, eagerness worked out in my favor this time.
The big move
After a few dates, I learned that this guy worked in the Chilean foreign service and would be moving back to Chile in about a year. At first, I had no interest in coming along. I’d spent the past two-plus years settling quite nicely into my D.C. apartment, my job and routines. I had tight bonds with friends, family, and writing groups in the area. For some reason, the notion of leaving my apartment was the toughest hurdle at the time. I guess we’d gotten too close during the pandemic.
The idea of uprooting “home” was unnerving, to say the least. But I really liked this guy. And like I’ve mentioned, I was desperate. So the at-that-point-seemingly-distant possibility of moving didn’t seem like grounds to end things. I had time to think about it.
With time, I didn’t have to think about it at all – love made the decision for me. Six months after our first date, we were starting to plan. But I spent the greater part of 2021 worrying about the logistics of moving, along with how much I would miss my family, my friends, and my apartment… and whether I’d be able to keep my job.
All was headed in a certain direction – as love often is – with no escape that sparked my interest. Like a black hole, but with an invisible future that I could only trust would be bright.
I won’t say things have been easy. I knew this would be one of the biggest challenges I’ll face in my life. I have been acclimating to the climate, to our living space, to a culture and its customs. Navigating new roads and a new language. Getting to know my partner’s family – their personalities, their stories, their quirks, and their needs. All with a language barrier that I’m fumbling to knock down, and while 5,000 miles from my own family and my usual comforts. I’m trying to make inroads. Balancing social obligations with introversion, the exertion of learning and self-development with mental health and rest.
But a lot of things have made this move easier – my partner’s support, his family’s warm welcome, and, I must admit, the privilege I wield being embraced as a white, blonde gringa – an American.
Trial has been tempered by excitement. Santiago is full of interesting neighborhoods, excellent food, and fun activities. Nested tight between the Andes and the Pacific, it’s rife with adventure. It’s a poet’s paradise – just listen to Pablo Neruda, and pay a visit to his favorite home on the coast, in Isla Negra. And that’s just at the latitude of Santiago, where nearly half of Chile’s population crowds itself. Last week, my partner and I finally paid a visit to see the more remote natural beauty for which Chile is renowned – a road trip eight hours south to the Araucania region of lakes and volcanoes.
Transitioning hasn’t been as tough as I expected. I like it here.
But I could not have settled in like this during my first year of sobriety. Probably not the second or third, either. I needed that time to heal, get to know myself, and learn that I had the strength and resilience to push through discomfort, tiredness, and the stress of uncertainty. To communicate, and confirm, that I don’t drink – that’s right, not at all – in a country of wine and pisco lovers where that’s pretty unheard of. To fall in love and develop a healthy relationship with someone who knows and accepts me… and finally, to learn to communicate effectively with that person even when I’m overwhelmed by tough emotions or circumstances.
Getting down to business
Not exactly planning it, but surely making things easier, I’ve taken the Big Three of the Rule one baby step at a time. First was my new relationship, which started a few months into year two of sobriety; then, the big move, which we didn’t make until I was approaching year four. Now, just passing 4.5 years, I’m in this uncomfortable space without work, watching my savings take a hit. Feeling like I’m hemorrhaging Chilean pesos even as I rub nickels together.
Being free from a job for a while may sound liberating. At times, it is. But along with anxiety about not bringing in any cash, I’ve spent the last month and a half setting up a business to conduct contract work, struggling to figure out what I need in terms of taxes and licenses… researching – or more accurately, stressing – on the internet. Discovering that U.S. tax law is impossible to comprehend. Waiting for responses from the powers that be. Getting pretty far along in my LLC setup only to learn that operating under one may not even be necessary or wise for my intended work. Hoping to find clarity by speaking with people who know more than me. More often than not, feeling completely out of my depth.
I’ve also worried about the availability of work and having to continually promote myself to secure it, while impostor syndrome deflates my confidence in my knowledge and skills. I’ve been anxious about whether I’m going in the right direction or will need to change course. In my worst moments, I’ve questioned whether continuing life abroad is a viable option.
It’s not that I’m dealing with these insecurities 24/7, but they sometimes keep me up at night. On an average day, I can put them into perspective, stop and breathe. Remember that these are growing pains, that I am competent and capable. That in a few months I will look back at this time and wonder why I worried so much. Recently, I’ve made it to the interview phase for a couple of contract opportunities, so my hopes are up.
Regardless, I’m here now – in the space between jobs, which is highly unpleasant.
But I can sit with it. And I have these past few years of sobriety to thank for cultivating in me that degree of endurance.
I’m trying to shift my mindset, to find patience and joy during this time of change. In a recent blog post, Ingrid Fetell Lee describes several metaphors to help with this. One is to envision yourself between trapezes, which happens to fit well with my professional reality. Lee cites Gail Blanke, who wrote the book Between Trapezes and explains the metaphor in this way:
“The reason I use the trapeze metaphor is because we all are ‘between’ in some area of our life, and because the wonderful thing about trapezes is that you can’t hold onto two of them at the same time. You’ve got to let go of the old one – the old view, the old way, the old idea, the old title – before you can reach out and grasp that new one. And in between, you‘re not holding onto anything.”
What else keeps me up at night?
One other big project is stealing my sleep. I’ll end the post on this note, as it’s a more positive one. Going back to the poems that brought me through year one of sobriety (and, truly, all the years since), I’ve been working on a poetry collection about my life before, during, and after quitting. It explores the shame and regret that emerged from drunken mistakes, the deliverance and unexpected challenges of sobriety, and the discovery of new identities and euphorias without alcohol. It’s a lot of the content I write about for this blog, but a lot more personal, lyrical, and raw.
More than any other project or activity, this book has grounded me in a consistency of identity as I hurtle through major life changes. It’s been a rock, something in which I feel proud and secure. As I carry out the final touches, I’ve been able to have even more fun with it – tying each chapter to a post on this blog, and – inspired by a friend who did something similar for her book – developing a Spotify playlist to accompany one’s reading.
I aim to release The Dark Dance in the next month or so. And when I do, I’ll be sure to let my blog readers know.
Pouring my time and energy into this project has kept me away from darker forces. Perhaps, at times, I’ve been a little obsessive with editing and sequencing… re-editing and re-sequencing. I know that comes from a similar place of obsession and compulsion that drove my drinking behavior. But the result is making me feel better and better – not temporarily better and then enormously worse. Using these personality tendencies for something permanent and positive, both cerebral and tactile, brings me a level of joy and fulfillment that alcohol never did.
I’ve discovered a deep passion and power in words – both in poetry and in blog – that has reciprocally empowered me in recent years. And I’m tougher than ever. Bring on the romance, the big move, and the job change. The lions, the tigers, and the bears. I have my pen.