Death, Focus and Finding Beauty

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14 years ago I laid in a hospital bed being pumped full of heavy duty antibiotics, an oxygen mask snuggly fitted to my face and a stout, demanding nurse seated at the head of my bed who routinely refitted the mask and loudly ordered me to breathe. Just an hour earlier the room had been full of medical professionals whose sole mission was to save my life and maybe that of my daughter’s. But the sepsis had ravaged both of us by that point and only one of us survived. I laid in that bed and flashed back to just two weeks prior, as I held my first daughter in my arms while she took her last breath. It was only then, in the stark contrast that I realized that even those agonizingly difficult moments were a gift I was not given with both. Our twins, born two weeks apart and months too soon only lived for about 15 minutes.

I laid there full of disdain for the nurse who was fighting to keep me alive, she was holding space for a life I no longer wanted, so certain was I that it was the event meant to destroy me. It was in that space, wishing I could lull off to sleep and simply wake, held in the arms of Jesus, with my girls, that I first heard Him whisper.

“Look for the beauty in this day Crystal.”

It seemed like a cruel joke at first. How could there ever be beauty in spaces like this? Then I looked over at my mother’s tear stained face, hung low, seated beside a husband who was fervently praying for my life, and I began to understand. Seasons are always woven, they are rarely solitary notes, suffering and joy are often melted together into the tapestry of our lives. The beauty of that day was the love of two who were fighting for me even when I had no strength or desire left to fight for myself.

I would continue to hear that gentle prodding as the days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months and months turned into years. Eventually, I began to seek ways to capture the ordinarily beautiful moments through photography. What started as a vision-shift turned into a way to remember the beauty in the hard seasons. Today, after days of high stress, and countless questions in the midst of this pandemic season I looked over and my breath caught in my chest as I quickly picked up my phone to “snap” a picture.

Daddy is now having to work from home, uncomfortable at our rackety kitchen table, but he was briefly interrupted by a sweet 4 year old, dressed as Princess Jasmine, who just had to hold him tight for a moment. A moment that 14 years ago, laying in that hospital bed, I could have never dreamed of. One miraculous moment, again reminding me of just how big God is and the beauty He provides in the ordinary (and even hard spaces) if we will just have eyes to see.

What beauty are you prone to miss in the distracted hardness of this time? May I encourage you to always look for the beauty? It often shows up in the ordinary.

 

What About the Least of These?

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Maybe I have read too much over the last few days regarding all that is pouring forth on my 4×2 inch cell phone screen, or maybe you will think I have read too little but there is just so much I can’t seem to understand. I could feel the tightness grip my chest as an initial sense of overwhelming details kept lighting up my email, my social media, and my news feed. Declarations of absurdity, declarations of panic, declarations of closures and politics and toilet paper and SO VERY MUCH. Too much. At this time and season and space of my life it just felt like too much- a sentence that even as I type it I am certain I will be judged for.

I am seeing people of faith declaring, in faith, all that they will do as they refuse to bow down to fear and plan to continue their meetings. I am seeing people dismissing the whole thing as folly, while some pass around jokes and make light of it all. And I am seeing others, some silenced by feelings of shame, not want to acknowledge their own fear, their own desire to prepare or their concerns of how it will affect them.

And as I have sought to still my own soul in the presence of my Savior one question keeps echoing through my mind-

What about the least of these?

These events are so far reaching and so deeply impacting that it is just folly to disregard the seriousness of the situation. It goes far beyond “just” concerns about ones own health in the face of a new virus; it is impacting every single American in varying degrees. And I just keep wondering-

What about the least of these?

What about the ones who ARE medically fragile on a good day?

What about the elderly who with their gray crowns of splendor may now be wondering how they can navigate this time? I wonder if they feel disposable as the comments are thrown around.

What about the immune compromised or those with serious chronic conditions who are looking into the face of greater suffering?

What about the least of these?

What will we do? What will we look back, as most of us will be able to, and say about this season? What will we choose? And how did we care for the least of these?

I believe in faith over fear. I also believe our fears should be acknowledged and not shamed while we kick them out of the drivers seat. However, I also believe in wisdom, in knowledge, in discernment, in prudence and applying these in powerful measure as well.  I believe in a God who has equipped us with big, beautiful brains in His sovereignty as well as the possibility of deep and abiding faith. And I believe that we who claim to love Jesus and are “able” have an incredible opportunity to serve and love the least of these who may be in our corner of life.  And I believe that we can encourage one another, inspire one another, and lift each other up to the God who is truly able (even from a distance of at least 6 feet).

Get Back Up

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I believe I first began to use food to “self-sooth” somewhere about age 5. I can remember shuttling away to my bedroom with a box of chocolate hostess cupcakes, certain I had just become a master thief complete with a back up plan: if they were discovered missing, I could always blame it on my brother. My 5 year-old self thought the plan was perfect and my sugar high harmless. It becomes no small battle if you pick food as your drug, you can never just “quit it.” And I would argue that while emotional eating may be the only socially acceptable “drug,” it is only truly “acceptable” for the thin. For, in my experience, you are indeed treated differently if you find yourself taking up “too much space.” So, if I could sum up my journey with food I would borrow a former Facebook moniker and simply say, “it’s complicated.” But today, today smells better then double fudge brownies right out of the oven.

This isn’t about the scale, that is merely a marker of what may be working as I continue my journey of learning what MY body needs. Nor is it simply about losing 50 pounds in the last 16 weeks.

Here IS what is represents though:

It is not quitting on me.

It is gaining almost all of the weight back that I once lost after having gastric sleeve surgery.

It is realizing I was wrong on what it would take to get it back off.

It is not staying in the dying spaces and snuggling a blanket of excuses that sound like defeat.

It is not letting the hard season I am in, or the physical pain I endure daily, or my long list of limitations, or my PCOS shackle me down in a space of Hopeless-So-Do-Not-Try Land.

It represents over 8 years of hard work in therapy dealing with my crap.

It stands as a marker of learning more about how to lean on a God of freedom instead of a god of food.

It represents exactly zero perfection.

It represents more freedom.

It is about pressing into being healthy and strong, not a certain size.

It is about making peace with food battles and no longer labeling everything.

It represents a woman who keeps taking the next step, rising up on bloodied knees and bloodied hands after she falls and not quitting on herself.

So if we are choosing our hard, friends, let us choose the hard that leads to life abundant.

Don’t quit. Don’t ever quit on you and showing up for your life.

You are worth it.

Get back up.

 

Honor and Lung Cancer

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My Dearest Mom and Dad,

I know you remember this moment, you dreamt of it long after you let all of your own dreams die. YOUR child, a COLLEGE graduate and the first one in our family. Your expressions say it all, and so does mine. You both are beaming and I was just happy I could bring you both such joy. I didn’t understand at 21 what I think I might today, and I am wondering if you both see it more clearly now too?

Dad, you started working after junior high, and mom you never got the chance to finish high school, parenthood arrived early in your journey and changed everything. I thought on graduation day you both were living a bit through me, and while a sliver of that may be true I now see the heartbeat of your dream more clearly. It wasn’t about college as much as it was you two believing that was a ticket to a better life. But if your peel back all those layers the better life really wasn’t about college, it was always about breaking the cycle, wanting better and more for your children as you grappled with navigating your own lives. It was about freedom, a freedom that seemed elusive to you but you wanted desperately for your kids and it just dressed itself up like “college.”

And so tonight as I wonder what I most need to say, it is this:

You did succeed. Because Mom and Dad, this little girl grew up to be a warrior who walks in more freedom then the two of you ever dreamed. You DID succeed, not because of the career I chose or because of how much money I have but because you taught me to run my race, to never quit, to dream bigger dreams then I could ever do alone, and a thousand other lessons you never thought you could teach.

And now we enter what I think may be the most important chapter of our earthly story, the nearing of the finish line. And I have to say to you both that this space is far more important to me to do well then getting any college degree. It is far more important that I do THIS season well more than any before it. It is MY turn to show up in the hard spaces, to cheer YOU on, to be YOUR shoulder to lean on, to pour out MY love in all the everyday ways, and to remind you that you are not alone in this journey.

Today was a hard day Mom and Dad, but you have known many.
Mom, you tried not to cry as you told me the news and I held you.
Mom, it is ok to cry.
Dad, it is ok to be emotional too.

Lung cancer.
Mom.
Congestive Heart Failure and COPD.
Dad.
Today is a hard day but none of this gets to win because God ALREADY HAS.
He formed you, He loves you, He holds you and He will NEVER leave you.
I pray that you both would lean in with every fiber of your being and find just how sweet He is, especially in the gut wrenchingly hard spaces.
I confess I am not sure I will do this chapter well, I want to do a throwback to age three when tantrums were acceptable, I want to be selfish and I want to fight the fallenness of this world because I am certain I will never feel ready to even think about the earthly story ending with you.
But I will keep showing up, imperfectly, loving you and lifting you up the the God who delights in you.

Love,
Your “Baby”

Conversation with a Sexual Predator

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I had just entered Costco with my husband and kids when I saw you. You are older, heavier, and balder then you were 23 years ago but your features are burned into my memory like a scared wound.  The revulsion I felt in my body was rapid. Just the sight of you made my stomach turn, my fists curl, and my pulse race. The bile that raised up burned my throat as I willed it back in place. 23 years since you robbed me, groomed me and violated me. Do you remember me?

My husband said we could leave the store, that I didn’t have to put myself through this- the seeing of you.  But you see, I am not who I once was and I don’t run away or cower down or submit to evil anymore. I would not be the one to retreat today.

I saw the woman at your side and I wondered if she knew who you really were. Did you tell her you are a sexual predator? Does she have kids? Have you changed? The bile rose in my throat again. I didn’t fight back before, I never stood up for myself, for I was utterly convinced (despite the few who learned of what happened saying otherwise) that I had somehow caused it all.  Me, “a stupid, seductress, teenage slut” was responsible for what you did… I even planned on taking my own life after you attempted to rape me and failed because of the shame that enveloped me, the knowing that I couldn’t wash away your fingerprints on my flesh.

But not today. I am no longer her.

I thought it was time you meet me.

I feared I may have missed my opportunity while I regained myself, so I whispered silently to the God who has redeemed all you stole, “give me another chance…”

I stood in the middle of the aisle as my husband grabbed some butter and you rounded the corner with the woman.  You looked up, you recognized me, and you quickly looked away. I stood there, arms crossed, and invited my children to gather around as I explained that this is what a predator can look like. And then, after what felt like too long, I willed my feet to move. I walked right up to you and leaned in a bit, you turned with a smile. That smile made it clear what I needed to say.

I wonder what you expected.

“Have you told her who you really are T**?” You looked at me with disdain before you looked away.

Again, I grew a bit louder, bolder, and unwavering– with one look I knew you had not changed.

“Does she know you are a sexual predator? Does she, T**? If not, she really deserves to know who you are and what you have done.”

At this, behind you, I heard her asking who I was, and then when my words registered, I saw her eyes grow big and heard her exclaim, “WHAT?” I faintly heard my husband behind me say, “I don’t think she knew.” And as you started to walk silently away I drew one last breath to say, “Who better to know than me, your victim!” And the chain fragments that were still being carried by me, fell. Did you hear them? It sounded like a surge of my power coming home, where it always belonged.

And walking away to a clammer of sounds between you and that poor woman, that my mind just could not be bothered with, I realized that I had finished taking back my power- power you once robbed me of.

Were you surprised to find yourself before one you once overpowered now standing before you fiercely, unflinching, a warrior?

I turned the corner of the aisle and fist pumped the air, then turned to look at my daughters who had watched it all.  And I realized again, it is NEVER too late to take back your power, to fight for your freedom, and to land in the beautiful, bountiful land of victory.

Dear T**, I wish you knew my Jesus.

 

A Birthday Message

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We met mid-October, just 4 months before this picture was taken on your 15th birthday.

I can still picture it like it was yesterday, you standing there wearing that black boa wrapped around your neck while your sister sat at the table. Me 25, you just shy of 15.

Impossible.

Crazy.

Mom number 6, I believe they said.

I can still remember how the goosbumps rippled across my flesh when the whisper echoed through my mind-

“Meet your daughters.”

In fact, just thinking about that moment brings tears to my eyes- every. time.

Impossible, God!

Absolutely crazy!

No way! I immediately started to argue back…

Not because of you and your sister not being worthy of being chosen, you both have ALWAYS been worthy, but because I felt so unworthy, so ill equipped. And I was.

But then God did something only He can, he knit you both deeply into our hearts.

Forever and always.

Nothing and no one can shatter what God bound.

I know, it feels impossible to understand but one day I fervently hope you do.

So today, on your 29th birthday, just over 14 years later, here is what I long for you to know:

I pray that one day you will see and understand…

you were chosen then, you are chosen now, and you will always be chosen by us.

us choosing you is NEVER contingent on you choosing us.

you are loved deeply and passionately, imperfectly but ALWAYS.

 

I pray that one day you will walk in total freedom…

that the wounds of the past will heal.

you will believe your worth.

you will walk in victory, for that which the enemy meant to destroy you God can redeem and use powerfully.

 

I pray that one day you will see…

how God has always loved you.

how God has always pursued you.

how God is the only way to the healing place and the land of fulfillment.

how God has created you and sustained you and has great plans for you.

 

I pray that you would know…

that we understand our love can’t fix everything or maybe anything at all, but we are still here loving you anyways.

that we understand we can’t ever fully understand.

that we know we can never take the place of another.

that we are always fighting for you, no matter where, no matter what, we are fighting for you in the only way we can: we remain and we are lifting you up to the God who is able.

that we long to see the day where you are walking in freedom, enslaved by nothing.

that we still believe that your birth mom is remembering you today, if able.

 

Happy Birthday to our dearly loved and precious oldest.

We remain here, still loving you, still choosing you, imperfectly but always.

You are worthy.

 

Tempted to Quit

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This is not a post about weight loss, though if you must know I can now brag about my ability to play give-and-take with the same 40 pounds. I can list that under my super powers along with my ability to sausage myself into a pair of spanx like it is an olympic sport! But that is not the point of this post.

Sometimes I am tempted to quit.

Do you ever feel like just giving up?

The hard space you are in never seems to end,

The doctor calls with the news that you have cancer,

You never seem to overcome that thing that seems to be destroying you, or maybe

the pain is relentless and you are weary.

And the elixir of despair roles in, blankets you and tempts you to just quit.

I have learned that some people quit showing up for their life long before they actually die.

Unable to cope, they mope and they turn to whatever can offer some whisperings of comfort.

I have been there.

It is the space of defeat and disillusionment.

9 years and roughly 70 pounds separate the woman in these 2 photos.

But the digital numerals on the scale were never the point, the storyline and the struggle can’t be tiddly summed up in a photo. Oh, photos can be so misleading, so let me peel back the curtain of what you do not see…

The photos don’t tell of the children missing, the health battles, the parenthood struggles, the marriage counseling, the parents dying, the rejection suffered, the pain continuing, and one thousand other tear dwelling spaces.

However, the photos DO silently proclaim a woman who has not quit and will not quit.

They hint of a woman who keeps showing up for her life and fighting for her freedom.

And today, dear one, that is my message to the one who is weary…surrender but don’t ever quit. In the midst of the storm Jesus is there, offering to carry you through, giving himself, and declaring His love for you.  With Jesus, surrender feels a lot like freedom. And I am slowly but surely learning that you can find freedom in the hard spaces because God never wastes a hurt. He has you.

Focus your gaze carefully, breath deeply, surrender completely, and take the next step holding onto the One Who Has Mighty Plans For You. This too shall pass.

The question is always, will you allow God to shape you through it, or the enemy to destroy you because of it? We freely choose. And I pray today that you will always choose freedom.

Share with someone you love and remind them to keep taking the next step.

 

Suffering

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Delicately pink and offendingly small.

Small enough to hold what once was two souls in their unfinished frames, and yet big enough to bury all my hope for the future.

I stared at the coffin as the numbness ran through my flesh, the numbness felt like a protective cloak that was holding in what was left of my sanity.

How do I grieve the loss of my children, God? How can I possibly keep going?

I looked down at the ground, carefully covered in that fake plastic grass carpet that attempts to pretty up a dying scene and hide the newly hewed out hole of earth that will welcome the latest to their return to dust, and I kept picturing my flesh falling forth into the hole.

I thought, just fall into the freshly turned dirt, heavy with the dust of those who came before. Fall in and join the dead, for what is left of you now? Hope is gone.

Let me die here with them, Lord. Why did you let me live? 

The melody began in my mind, softly, tenderly declaring words of hope and truth that were not felt by even one bone of my flesh. A song of praise, of praise to the God of dust, to the one who gave and to the one who took away.  All of my spirit joined in the chorus playing in my mind as the tears poured down my cheeks in surrender. How could I be filled with a song of praise to God while I stood at my twins’ graveside?

Was that one moment any less miraculous than if He had saved them? Or was it simply not what I would have chosen?

When would I ever choose to suffer? When would I ever choose pain? No, I would choose what I could control and fix and whatever felt good, but never would I choose pain.

What if there is profound purpose in the pain? Even as I type those words my flesh is ridiculously offended. Because, really, my self indignation wants to tell God how He should write the story differently, and it begs the question of his goodness. But does God owe me anything at all? And what could He possibly give me when I am faced with suffering, apart from my cries to remove the pain?

I am sitting in this space, over 13 years after the burial of my twins, asking the same question as I sit in yet another season of suffering and pain.

I read from Genesis to Revelation of some who came before, of God’s faithfulness, of His abilities to do far more than we can imagine, of His love. While something deep inside me cries out a deep and resounding, “Yes! True!,” they also feel like mere words on a page as I sit in this season right now. Should my feelings be what lead me? Only if they lead me to Him in eventual surrender of the simple realization that I am not God.

Remember.

I read of monuments they once built in the times of the Old Testament.

Monuments to remember what God had done.

Monuments that declare that God is bigger than their battle, bigger than their pain, that He always has a plan.

And I will myself to remember that scene, in that cemetery, with that small, soft pink coffin and with God pouring forth a song of praise in the darkness of death, and I remember anew how unfathomable His love really is. My mind still can’t comprehend how He was able. He became my hope without end. I did not come to my end that day, and light and beauty did dawn again.

In the suffering seasons, I have learned that His greatest gift to me has not been in the removing of my pain, but in the depth of His presence.  I have no words to express the mysteries of intimacy with God, apart from the deep certainty that He is worth everything, He is who I was created for, and He is my perfect peace in the storms. It is a gift of knowledge and intimacy with God only learned in the profoundly hard spaces, quiet possibly because that is what it takes for us to see and hear Him most clearly– the certainty that we need our Creator for our very next breath.

My feelings, while informative, are horrible drivers.

I have to fight to see the truth-

And to hunger for Him like the thirsty long for water in the desert.

God promises it will be hard. He promises it will cost us. He promises it will be worth it. But most profoundly He promises to give us Himself. In this we receive the most incredible gift, and this is the detail that changes everything, making the impossible possible.

This, my friends, not the absence of suffering, but the presence of the Savior, is the very pulse of the abundant life.

 

A Lesson

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“Mommy, whatcha doing?”

“Spending time talking with God, sweetheart.”

“Ok, Mommy, I am going to join you. Let me get my Bible.”

“Mommy, God is good, and I will write about Him.

He made me beautiful and you beautiful and every single person beautiful.

I will always worship Him because I love Him.

I am going to read my Bible.

This is how I fight the enemy.”

*begins to make up songs about her and Jesus fighting the enemy as she diligently “writes notes” and “reads.”

 

They say that little eyes are always watching and you are always teaching. I have found it to be the most humbling of spaces. I often get lost in the heavy gravity of the responsibility of parenthood. Long ago I had plans of being the “perfect mom,” though I would never have admitted that. (Who would? It sounds braggish–instead, just wear the pressure like all the others still yoked to this impossible plow). My intentions were good but irrelevant, the reality of one crazy enough to try to do the impossible. Lessons too numerous to count have stripped away the perfection illusion like removing the flesh of a stinky onion: one layer at a time.

 

I have modeled imperfect one-hundred-percent of the time, and more often than I want to recollect I have modeled behavior that will never bear life giving fruit. I am, most days, woefully aware of the failed moments I am presenting, and shame taunts me like the the blood-thirsty, fang-bearing monster that it is. But slowly I am learning that I don’t have to let it bite, nor do I need to offer up my flesh for its flagellation..that too bears no good fruit.

 

God gently reminds me in moments and spaces like this today that, while I am an imperfect vessel, He specializes in using just that very kind. I fail, I fall, but I also crawl, kneel, and seek with an unquenchable thirsty-need the God who is chiseling me through it all, and my kids are seeing that too! I do not offer up hollow lip service; I don’t pose or pretend (or at least I try not to). I model a very real sinner seeking her powerfully real Savior, and that may be the most important lesson I ever get to teach.

 

Tag a person who needs a reminder that God is bigger than our failures.

 

God, Pain and Becoming a Drunk

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I looked down at the amber liquid that sat so peacefully in the glass as the light danced through it, and I desperately tried to will the muscle spasms that were tearing through my pelvis to end. I slowly sipped while beckoning the liquid to start relaxing the battle in my flesh. Six weeks since the miscarriage, six weeks since a good-bye of my third daughter to Heaven, six weeks of my body being on fire, again.

Six weeks of running.

I took another sip while wishing the wine was actually a piece of cheesecake because that is my true lusty drug of choice. Food, specifically sugary fats in almost any form, give me a hit of that. I don’t even like the taste of wine, and after all this time of “trying it,” I am guessing I will never develop the taste to actually “enjoy” it. Instead, it feels more like a powerful bottle of medicine, complete with liver warnings in cases of excessive consumption. Another sip.

After 8 years of therapy working through the whys of an eating disorder, trauma, and grief and loss, I don’t really need anyone to tell me how I got here.

Pain.

This time, though, it is physical, not just emotional, and it is the wrong time in this country to ask for help with physical pain- so sip.

My oldest barged in through the front door and declared she had placed her letter in the mailbox. She was bouncy with anticipation. I took another sip; the muscles were starting to calm as the warmth ran through my flesh. It was the first time she had ever written to her birth mother, and it was a big deal. I began to flash to images of her birth mother–brief moments we had shared in earlier years, and it hit me again: there is no difference between her and I. We both need a Savior. She chose meth, I chose cake, and now I am sipping on wine…all to “escape” the pain. The promise of “escape” is the root of the lie. “Only by the grace of God go I,” I mantrad as the tears once again filled my eyes… and now I am more certain than ever that one change can literally change everything.

I took another sip, and I heard Him gently and lovingly repeat the words he had whispered earlier that day, words I wanted to push away as I tried to walk…

What if feeling the pain DOESN’T destroy you?
What if you give all the fear to me?
What if I am enough to carry you through this too?

The tears fell.
What if God is right?

I took my last sip of wine and surrendered.

That was 40 days ago.
That was in the middle of the pain.
That was broken and battered and uncertain if I could keep surrendering all the moments and all the days of whatever lay ahead.
It was a step.

I have kept “stepping” through all the messy moments of the last 40 days.
I have kept leaning through the pain and physical setbacks.
I have learned more about breathing.
I have learned to like super dark chocolate and now know that the brand matters.
I have seen Him show up in a thousand different ways I may have missed before.
I have watched all of my littles grow and my littlest give her life to Christ.
I have lost some weight, increased my muscle mass, and grown able to do more than I have since I had hip surgery 3 years ago.
I am no longer having muscle spasms, but I do still have pain.
I have not arrived, but I am learning.

One moment at a time, one day at a time, I am learning anew He is able.
God is bigger than my lack of trust, He is bigger than my pain, and He is bigger than my fears.
He is truly a God whose strength is made perfect in our weakness…
Because I chose to run, I chose to drown, I chose defeat, I chose lies-
BUT GOD
Chose to rescue me.
BUT GOD
Changes everything.
BUT GOD
Is never content to leave us in the prisons we fashion for ourselves.

He is the God of freedom.
He is the God of peace.
He is the God who saves, rescues, and redeems.
And He does all of this because He loves us.
Broken, crazy, lost, stubborn, hurting, US.

May He never stop rescuing me, and may my pain draw me nearer and allow me to see clearer the One Who Is Worthy.

Do you know my Jesus? And if you do, what are you refusing to surrender and trust Him with? He promises He is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever imagine, and I continue to be proof.

Sincerely,
A Woman Who Never Imagined She Would Become a Drunk