A Little Happier: Is This Person My Judge, or My Champion?

On the Happier podcast, Elizabeth and I talked about personal anniversaries, and that discussion reminded me of a scene I read recently. It’s from a book of essays called Nothing Good Can Come from This by Kristi Coulter. It’s a book about many things, in particular, about her experiences with having a drinking problem, giving up drinking, and living in sobriety. After I’d finished the book, one episode from an essay called “Elephant Gray” really stuck in my mind. In this essay, Coulter has quit drinking, and she’d achieved her fiftieth day without a drink, and she thought she deserved a “congratulatory treat.” She bought herself a cupcake, and as she walked back to her car, she passed the upscale department store Barneys. Just inside the front door, she spotted a pebbled-leather Belstaff bag in an unusual brownish-gray color, “elephant gray.” The bag was absolutely gorgeous, and she decided to splurge and buy it—even though it was very, very expensive. It was $1,700. Now, Coulter emphasized that she could afford this splurge, she had the money to buy the bag. But nevertheless, as the clerk started ringing it up and wrapping it, she started to feel ashamed of herself for buying something so expensive on impulse, and she thinks, “for such an arbitrary milestone.” Even though the store clerk was acting in a very friendly way, she worried about what he must think of her. She thought: “Maybe he secretly hated me, I thought. Maybe he was inwardly shaking his head over the kind of crazy woman who gets giddy over a bag the color of an elephant…” She told him, as if in apology, “This is to celebrate my fiftieth day without a drink.” He looked up, beamed at her, and stuck out his hand. “That’s wonderful,” he said. “Congratulations. I have six years.” And they shook hands.  She wrote, “I thought of him every time I carried the Belstaff bag.” Sometimes, the people we fear are judging us are willing to be our enthusiastic champions and sympathizers, if we give them the chance.





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