Before my friend Steve overdosed (thanks fentanyl) he had been in and out of the program for a decade. The last stretch was 18 months and he was immersing himself in the safety and support of the community; going straight from his 5th rehab to a halfway house and on to room with other sober people in Frederick’s trendy downtown. He knew I was not a huge proponent of AA/NA for my own sobriety (these days I might be more inclined were it not for the layers of cigarette smoke and, of course, low value men trying to prey on newcomers. This is so prevalent it’s known as the 13th step). One of his favorite catch phrases was about cleaning up your side of the street. Most addicts, hell, most people, aren’t exactly adept at this.

I snagged this definition of the phrase from The Big Book: Keeping your side of the street clean in recovery means making good choices and owning up to bad choices. It means developing empathy and regard for others. Keeping your side of the street clean in recovery is also part of living a spiritual life. I interpret it a bit differently; because I tend to try and sweep up parts of the street that aren’t mine. It’s easy to recognize other people making poor life choices. The urge to tsk tsk, shake your head, judge or give advice can be strong. It’s so clear when other’s are fucking up….but before you say anything, have you looked at your section of sidewalk lately?

For me, it’s easy to get caught up in the world of others, and lose focus on my own well being, goals and personal journey. It doesn’t really matter that this drive comes from a place of care and compassion as opposed to malice. I’ve spent way too many years immersed in people who care way too little about me; and far too few hours figuring out why I wasn’t putting all of that energy into myself. Now, with countless hours to delve into all the dark, cobwebbed corners of my own neglected psyche, I’m still fighting the urge to run from my property, over to other’s, and start sweeping. I’m so used to neglecting myself that it’s become second nature. My default. I see this trend in a lot of women I know and in exactly zero men.

Women are often taught, from birth, to put themselves aside. For decorum (shhh, be quiet, be seen and not heard) for the comfort of society (boys will be boys, girls will be…stifled) and for the comfort of men. We are trained to put our needs and satisfaction aside and we continue that into adulthood. Women nurture others and neglect themselves, constantly. We are so busy scrubbing everyone else’s sidewalk while our own patch becomes desolate, covered in seasons of leaves. I urge you, my sisters, to be fearless with your goals and desires in life. To not let anything stand in the way of truly exploring and knowing yourself on this journey. It’s the hardest thing in the world to do, and it’s going to fucking hurt, but, I’m hoping, it’s worth it.

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