Getting out of my own way

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas!

Ours was great – happy, joyful and relatively relaxed. My sister Holly is here visiting from the states and we spent the holidays eating delicious meals with lovely friends.

I couldn’t help thinking the whole time how lucky I am to have such a wonderful community of people here in Playa del Carmen to celebrate my first Mexican Christmas with.

Christmas is always a time of reflection for me, a chance to look back and see what the year was actually about. It has certainly been an introspective one. Living in one place and developing a routine has allowed me the luxury of focusing inward, and I have done some very important belly button gazing for which I will be forever grateful for.

It’s also been a slightly frustrating one.

When we decided to live in Playa del Carmen for a whole year, I envisaged myself being highly productive and creative. I had a dream of writing a book, a memoir, and thought a year would give me a chance to make a good dent in it.

As it turned out, I made a tiny ding before coming up against about a million self-imposed road blocks.

The book is about my journey, both around the world and within myself, so it was an extremely emotional process to delve into memories which are usually far from thought in my daily life.

I began writing about my parallel journey of recovery from addiction for the first time and found it very difficult. Something didn’t feel right and I felt like I was side-stepping and sugar-coating the truth out of shame and fear (even though no-one was reading it).

I wasn’t ready.

So, I let it go.

It felt forced, was making me frustrated, depressed and overly ’emo’. I didn’t want to spend my year in that state, so I put the project to the side and focused on other things.

I went to the beach, to yoga, developed my blog, volunteered, did some freelance writing for local companies, travelled, jumped out of a plane, hung out with friends, focused on my recovery and watched a lot of reality TV.

In fact, I ‘handed over’ my dream of writing a book to my higher power (who I sometimes call God and sometimes call The Universe and sometimes I call Creative Spirit and sometimes anything-that-isn’t-me, depending on what mood I’m in), by throwing my hands up and saying,

“You can have this! I don’t know what I’m doing or if this is right for me and I honestly have no idea if this story needs to be told or if I am completely insane for wanting to write a book about myself, so, please take it and show me the way forward from here.”

And I let it go.


Maybe I wasn’t meant to write a book.

After a few months, however, thoughts of writing it returned. Ideas took root within me and the story began to take on more shape in my mind.

I call it ‘marinating’, because that is what it has felt like. The story has developed in potency and flavour throughout the year and at certain times, usually very inconveniently just before going to sleep at night, something will pop into my mind and I’ll begrudgingly scribble it in my notebook or make a note on my phone so I can let it go and get some sleep.

This blog has been a very important part of the process, helping to shift a lot of fear I had about sharing intimate details of my life (thanks to all of you who have been so encouraging and supportive). When I started it in late 2011, I had no intention of writing about my recovery from alcoholism, but this year I felt compelled to.

Even then, I wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do. I ran it past people, prayed about it and then when I still felt drawn to write about it, I trusted my motives were aligned with helping others and went ahead.

Afterwards, I felt a huge weight lift from my shoulders and an enormous sense of relief.

I felt like I was no longer pretending and that my writing was more in line with the truth of who I am.

Soon after, I admitted to myself that I wanted to write this book. I had asked whatever creative spirit exists within me (and without me) for guidance with complete trust in the path it would lay out for me, and since my desire to write the book grew and grew, I was then left with a responsibility to get the hell out of the way and just do it.

I opened the dreaded folder titled ‘My Book,’ and I began where I left off. I allowed crappy sentences and poor story telling and tenses that were all over the place.

Today as I continue, I am allowing gaps and inconsistencies and cringe-worthy scenes to fill the page. If I expect perfection, I will become paralyzed, stuck and frustrated again. So I embrace mess and amateurism as the tap, tap of my busy keys drowns out the voice of judgement in my head.

I’m slowly getting out of my own way, not just with writing, but other things too. The other day, I thought, I’m looking forward to going to Guatemala for some extra space and quiet time so I can start meditating again.


I caught myself right away, realising that I don’t need quiet time and a ‘special space’ to meditate, I need to meditate to create quiet time and a special space, and I can have it, wherever I am.

I dragged the Indian footstool which has served as a magazine/newspaper/book/dirty clothes dumping ground for the last year into the bathroom (quiet, dark), lit some incense (because I love the smell and it relaxes me) and a candle, and sat down next to the stack of toilet paper to be still for five minutes.

Because that was all I needed to do.

Despite hearing this message over and over, I am learning that I must act myself into the life I want, rather than just dream and think about it.

The ‘marinating’ and stewing process is necessary and vital, but eventually, when the thing is cooked, it’s up to me to set the table and serve up the dish before it goes bad.

Meditating involves sitting still and writing a book involves putting words on a page.

It’s too ridiculously simple for my neurotic mind to grasp, which is the beauty of the whole damn thing.

The time has come to do the work; to humble myself and embrace imperfection in order to do the things I want to do.

I’m slowly getting out of my own way.

And it feels good.

Wishing you all the very best for the new year! Thank you all so much for your support in 2013, it truly means the world to me.

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Getting out of my own way — 38 Comments

  1. Thanks Sarah. This comes at just the right time for me. I’ve been struggling, and ignoring it, and have taken the past week off to just ‘stew’ – not actively thinking about what might be my problem but just not doing anything to push it away. Tomorrow is slated as the day that I actively think about it and how I want to let it shape my 2014. I will read this again in the morning before I begin. :)
    Gillian @GlobalBookshelf recently posted..Merry Christmas!My Profile

    • Hi Gillian! I’m thinking of you and hope you are shown the way through. I’m a big believer that the timing has to be right. If the doors are opening, walk through, if they aren’t, perhaps it’s best to wait x

  2. I’m such a great road block. I sat here reading this just nodding my head. Yep, been there, done that, going to do it again. Maybe now just isn’t the time to write your story. Maybe an essential part of it is developing – you wouldn’t want to miss out on that! Write because you need to write – not because you’re writing a book. I’m sure you have more than enough material and soon enough it’ll all come together. I have faith!
    Carmel recently posted..BACK TO (COOKING) SCHOOLMy Profile

    • Thank you so much Marisol, your support is a big part of the process, and I cannot thank you enough. Happy new year to you and Keith, I think 2014 is going to be awesome!!! xxx

  3. Sarah, I love reading your wisdom and insight as a fellow woman in recovery and lover of world travel. Many times your posts are super refreshing to me and this one continues on that theme. I love that you talk about getting out of your own way when it comes to writing your memoir. I just graduated from college and my focus has been to finally get some writing knocked out on my own memoir. I really needed to hear what you said while going into that process. I have such a tendency towards perfectionism and I need to let it go sometimes. What you wrote about just letting the gaps and inconsistencies be there was awesome. Thank you!! If you do write and finish your book, I will definitely buy it. :) Would love to read it!
    Laurie recently posted..ReconcilingMy Profile

    • Hi Laurie, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. Realising we are not the only ones, both in recovery, writing and life, is what it is all about, I think. I look forward to following your journey and hope you stay in touch.

  4. Don’t give up on the book. I’m confident it will eventually be done but you need to go with what your heart tells you and with conviction which you’ve done beautifully and has struck a chord with everybody here.

    Mmmm..marinade 😀
    Jimmy recently posted..My favourite photos of 2013My Profile

    • Thank you Patti. I honestly didn’t know when I started how much there is to consider though. Narration? Tense? It really can be so overwhelming, so, I’ll just… breathe :-) Happy new year to you, thanks for all your support!

  5. Girl, do I ever understand where you are coming from! I know that I am my own worst enemy most of the time, especially when it comes to creative pursuits when my obsession with perfection often prevents me from starting things in the first place. For the past few days I have been agonizing over my inability to put words to the page in any meaningful way, as I struggle to string more than 2 sentences together. I kept telling myself I just needed to make writing a priority and set aside time where, come hell or high water, I would sit down and put words on the page no matter what. You know, try to be a professional about it and all that.

    And of course it has been a disaster because apart from my dissertation, I don’t want to write when I’m not feeling it. When I force it, the whole process is painful and I don’t think I’ve ever written my best (whatever that means) stuff when I felt obligated to do so rather than just writing because I wanted to. Slamming my head metaphorically against a wall definitely didn’t help, so I just let go and told myself I had tried and if the writing didn’t happen that day, or even the next, that was ok and one day it would happen. Of course, just like you, the piece I had been working on bubbled away in my subconscious and when I did sit down to try it again, I suddenly had a direction and the words came so much easier. Even by not thinking about it, or at least not agonizing about it, I was still working on it, just in a more intuitive and subtle way.

    I hope that you continue to play with your book in 2014 (who wants to work, after all?) and that you continue to update us about your progress here! So many new adventures are heading your way!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Captured Moments: Our 50 Favorite Photos of 2013My Profile

    • I like that, Steph, ‘play’ has a nice ring to it! It’s weird, this process has been so, so different for me than the blog which I haven’t struggled with as much. I always write from inspiration, I let it flow or don’t at all. Sure, hitting ‘publish’ has been scarey at times (as I’m sure you’ve felt) but the writing part has been a fairly natural process.

      With ‘the book’ I do have force myself to open the document, and play tricks with myself, like, “Just write for an hour, that’s all.”

      And you know what? It works! Things come out that I never would have discovered if I hadn’t sat my butt down.

      I think, at the crux of it, I am extremely undisciplined. To work on one story over several years will require honing new skills (like persistence!), but I know the rewards of actually completing something my heart desires will be worth it.

      Here’s to getting out our own way!!! xxx

  6. Keep writing Sarah (if it feels right). You will get there. And I want to be an early reader!!!! XO Happy New Year.

    • Oh my God, the thought of someone actually reading it is the most terrifying thought in the world!!! As you know 😉 Thank you for your encouragement and for being a fine example of discipline and dedication to your craft Kim :-)

  7. I get in my own way ALL THE TIME. It’s ridiculous. I’m so scared of so many dumb things. I want to know exactly how it’s all going to work out, to know if it’s worth putting the effort in. So instead of just giving it a try, seeing what works and what doesn’t, I freeze up, stall, do nothing. At least mentally I can recognize that’s what I’m doing. Next step is to actually DO something about it. Ugh. I’ll get there one of these days, I hope.
    Ali recently posted..Mexican Food in BerlinMy Profile

    • Yep, been there for so long, and some days I still am! But slowly, very slowly, I am chipping away at a goal which means so much to me (the most, actually) and it feels good. here’s to baby steps Ali! Happy new year!

  8. Wow, so glad I took the time to read this. There is a lot I can relate to in what I have read so far. I will definitely be subscribing to your blog and so look forward to learning more of your story!

  9. I must act myself into the life I want, rather than just dream and think about it.

    but Oh Sarah.. it is SO much easier to sit in my cubicle and daydream of the life I want, rather than do the hard work to make it happen! Good for you for letting go of your fears and continuing to move forward in spite of them. I am so inspired by your journey! Happy 2014. I think this year will be special :)
    Rhonda recently posted..Discovering the Subtle Charm of VientianeMy Profile

    • Yes, it is for a while, I mean, it’s only taken me 33 years to begin something I’ve wanted to do my whole life!!!!! That’s a whole LOT of dreaming, believe me!!! Happy new year Rhonda, thank you for your support, I think 2014 is going to be amazing too!!! :-)

  10. I am definitely one to stall and stall, demanding perfection of myself when I have a task at hand – putting up roadblocks and being my own worst enemy against something that I want to achieve. I am like you – to let it flow out, I first may need to just have those gaps, poor writing/wording/grammar, inconsistencies…when it’s time it will come together. And I can’t wait – I so love to read your blog!
    Emily recently posted..Paradise in ParaisoMy Profile

    • I think imperfection is definitely the key! I read something great the other day: “You can edit bad writing, you can’t edit a blank page.” I’m going with that :-)

  11. This is a very wise post, my friend. I feel like I need to sit you on my shoulder and have you talk to me every day and tell ME to get out of my own way :-) Oh and this is a weird question, is that really your handwriting in the notebook in your photo? Because it’s BEAUTIFUL! My handwriting looks like it’s been scribbled by a doctor, which is why I don’t write much on paper anymore. I can never read what I’ve recorded. The computer is my friend. Anyway, I ramble… keep writing. It looks beautiful, it sounds beautiful…and it will make a beautiful book. :-)
    Turf to Surf recently posted..Clipper Race to Australia: The final hoursMy Profile

    • You are in Bali right now hey? Sure! Send me a ticket 😉 Hahaha! Oh don’t worry, I know there are many roadblocks ahead, and I will have to re-read this over and over. Yes, that is my writing. Of course, I did choose a neat page and not the one full of scribble and scratchings! Happy new year, Tash!

  12. I love this, Sarah, and can definitely relate. I am a perfectionist in the extreme and my creativity is often stymied by it. I’d love to write a book, but worry that a) I won’t have anything interesting to say and b) no one will read it. But maybe if I can give myself permission to be imperfect – and even to fail – then great things will come. Here’s to a happy and productive 2014!
    Heather recently posted..Saddle Up: My Revelations for the Year of the HorseMy Profile

  13. Sorry for the huge delay but Happy New Year to you too! I think it’s incredible that you’ve managed to build such a great life in somewhere new, surrounded by amazing people in just 1 year. Keep on writing, one day it will just click :-) Now that you’ve had so much time for self reflection the spontaneity and adventure of this next trip might act as a catalyst. Looking forward to following your adventures in 2014 :)
    Maddie recently posted..An update on life and our 2014 plansMy Profile