Hacking Into Easy World

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What if everything were easy?

I catch myself having this thought as I drive on I-90 toward the doctor’s office. I’ve had a nagging cough. And, I know it’s bronchitis. I’ve known it’s bronchitis for 2 weeks. But, I’ve put off seeing someone because every time I hack up a phlegm-ball, I’m always hopeful that it’s my last.

I concede to my illness at 6PM on Sunday. Inconvenient timing, sure. But, this is America. — Something is open, somewhere. I know it. — So, I find an urgent care center in a strip mall not too far from the house that’s open until 9PM and I hop in the car.

Before I start the engine, I call the receptionist to make sure all their information is correct. “It is,” she assures me. I can feel her smiling. It’s genuine. Like she’s excited I’m coming in to see the doctor. And, she almost sings into the phone before hanging up, “Ok Sarah, see you in a few!” As I pull out from the driveway, my new neighbor waves at me from across the street, where he stands in his front lawn beside the wood he’s chopped. — Upstate New York, man. — It feels so easy.

I pull onto the highway and the traffic is light. The sun is just beginning to dip beneath the horizon and the clouds are a pink-purple-orange color that makes the sky look soft and edible, like a giant bowl of sherbet. The cars in front of me and behind me, keep the speed limit. No one is ploughing ahead in a rush here. — Tonight, between bouts of hacking, the world is simple and comfortable.

I keep rolling the word around in my mouth, like a cough drop — “Simplicity.”

I wonder when I started to believe — to expect — that the world was a complicated and an unforgiving place? Did growing a up a Brooklynite jade me? Was it the heartbreak and hard knocks in Oregon? Is it genetic, or a learned behavior, this feeling that everything has to be difficult before it can reach some kind of meaningful resolution?

Then I wonder — have I chosen to be complicated?

I’ve had many revelations during my Year of Happiness, but, it strikes me as I drive toward the purple sky on I-90, that maybe, amidst all this peace, I’m about to get smacked with the biggest piece of truth yet. — I’m starting to think, that, all this time, I’ve been making things hard on myself. Because, somewhere deep down, I’ve chosen to believe that everything is difficult.

Now that I find myself in a simple place, a, dare I say it, easy place — I have to ask myself — can I be Open to things being truly simple? Do I need things to feel difficult for them to have meaning? If I let go of my strain, will I still have a sense of accomplishment when I complete tasks, goals, dreams? Or, can I allow myself to live with ease, to keep life uncomplicated, without feeling unremarkable? — I find that I can’t answer the question, which, may be an answer in and of itself.

My journey in sobriety, thus far, has be a trying one. But, when I look at these past 4 years critically, it’s plain that my expectation, from the onset, was that nothing about what I had embarked on would be easy. I assumed I’d have to fight tooth and nail for what I wanted, and so, I did. Goals became challenges. Average accomplishments became feats of valor. Because, allowing things to arrive with ease comes with its own set of complications.

If the expectation is that life is difficult and that things are hard, then, it’s not a disappointment when we find those things to be true. But, if we remain Open to the possibility that life can be simple, what would happen?

I’m finding that when the expectation is ease — so, too, is the reality. It’s difficult to admit that much of my hardship has been a result of my own, negative expectations. It’s woo-woo and I know it. But, that doesn’t make it any less true.

If I am Open to ease and simplicity, ease and simplicity Open themselves up to me. When I assume things are painful — I’ll go into situations swinging. And, my blind fear of the world has caused me to miss out on something easier. — Simplicity.

As I drive home, my prescription bag from Rite-Aid flung into the passenger seat, I know that I’m on the right track. I’m making myself well again. And,  I’m not going to debate the merits of this new move with myself any longer. Because, for the first time in my life, I realize — it’s easier than that. It’s so much easier. I just have to be Open to the possibility of joy, without discomfort as a precursor.

So, I keep the speed limit. And, I drive back home, toward the sherbet sky.

PHOTO: @igercatskills via Instagram

 

 

Pack Like A Fucking Boss

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I was a compartmentalizer.

I mean, I really, really, fucking loved to compartmentalize, you guys.

And, while I was living my past life, as a raging drunk, I found out that compartmentalization can be both a blessing and a curse.

As a functioning alcoholic, it’s a skill you need to survive. As a functioning, emotional human, it’s a sure-fire way to lose yourself completely.

While keeping my many personalities in in their designated places helped me to keep my job, maintain (most) of my professional and platonic relationships, and to pay all my bills on time — it had its dark side. The flip side of the coin was, when I was in real trouble — no one had any idea that I was up Shit’s Creek. Because, the part of me that was drowning was, well, compartmentalized.

When you’re able to separate the good and the bad elements of your personal life into neat, little packages, ultimately, it ends up holding you back. Compartmentalizing keeps you from being Open. Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, per se, when you keep different parts of your life siphoned off from each other, it’s a way of lying to yourself and to the people around you. You can never show up and be all-In. You have to assemble yourself everywhere you go. You have to decide which part of you is going to show up. And, depending on your audience, you have to keep all of your different costumes straight.

When you get home after a long day of changing in and out of different personas, it’s hard to remember who you really are. And, when you don’t know who you are, it’s hard to know if you really want to get sober. — One part of you is desperate for change, but, the other nine parts will happily drag you out to the bar and sit with you until last call.

At some point, you have to start dressing up as the real you.

***          ***          ***

I moved this past weekend. And, when you head into new, uncharted territory, it’s easy to convince yourself that compartmentalizing will ease your unstable feelings and make it easier to transition into a new stage of your life. But, I learned preparing for this move, that, the only thing I really needed pack up — were my clothes.

As I settle into my new room, hang out with my new roommates, and explore my new town — I’m suddenly hit with the relief of knowing — All of me is here. — I’m all-in. I don’t have to check-in with ten, different personalities to decide if I’m OK. I don’t have to wonder if I’m going to screw everything up by merely being myself — because, for the first time, I feel unified.

Before I got sober, I used to be terrified that someone might see me in a down moment. I was scared that my fragility was a sign of weakness or incompetence. But, today, I know that it doesn’t matter what state you’re in (or appear to be in). — What matters is how you show up for yourself and the people around you.

Being one with yourself doesn’t mean that you have to ditch your schizophrenic emotions. You’re still allowed to feel great one day and like shit the next, but, the difference is, when you are united within — you can own it. And, owning where you are in your life is something that I’m still learning to do, but, the longer I practice, the more comfortable I become.

While I’m no expert in the art of moving, I’ve had some good practice in the last year. I’m getting really comfortable with letting go. I realize that moving is just another exercise in being and becoming Open. When you land in a new place, even if you have a home-base and people to show you the ropes, you still have to step into your own and be fearless.

There’s a lot of scary stuff about new places. There’s basic logistics — Figuring out how to drive around. Finding the best grocery store. Learning the shady areas in town to avoid. And then, there’s the emotional turmoil — Meeting new people who are already comfortable in their lives and routines. Wondering if I chose wisely. And, of course, there’s the inevitable feeling of: Fuck, I’m starting over, again.

But, as I embrace being Open — to myself, to my sobriety, and to the point I’m at in my life — I’m realizing that starting over is kinda my specialty. So, I’m not sure why I dread it so much. Since getting sober, I’ve been diving into new situations, relationships, jobs, and places all the time. And, I just keep getting better at it.

When I was a compartmentalizer, I had a bunch of little, safe havens that I fled to when I needed to hide. Those places kept me safe. And, in retrospect, I can see why I made those choices. Back then, it was smart. But, in sobriety, we grow. And growth, for me, has been the gradual building of just one safe haven — Myself.

When you like yourself, you can go anywhere. You can meet new people. You can discover new places and things. And, you can make mistakes.

Before getting sober, I couldn’t be Open with anyone else, because I couldn’t face myself. I left places, people, and jobs thinking I could outrun unhappiness — but, compartmentalizing was just a way of sweeping my pain under the rug so that I didn’t have to face it every day.

This weekend I learned that my compartmentalization skills can still come in handy. — I packed for this move like a pro. — I may not be able to pack up my emotional baggage like I used to, but, man oh man, can I pack up three, giant duffel bags, six Rubbermaid bins, and a banjo like a fucking boss.

As I lay here, sprawled out in my new bed, watching the morning sun spill down from the skylight onto the wall, I finally understand that I can be anyone I want to be in this new place. I’m grateful for my own willingness to be Open to and excited for my new adventures. Clean slates are unnerving, but, they are also incredibly exhilarating.

No more sifting through costumes. This time, I’m only picking one outfit.

And, as it turns out, the one I like wearing best of all — is little, old me.

 

 

A Ghost With A Chip On Her Shoulder

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4 years later, and I’m debating whether or not to go to an AA meeting.

My sobriety “birthday” arrives at the end of this week, and, every year since I stepped away from 12-Step, I have the same debate with myself. — I ask if my sobriety anniversary is really worthy of a special celebration, because, at this point — it’s all the same.

Sobriety: Day in, Day out.

If you had told me during my first year sober that I’d be having an internal battle about whether or not my sobriety “birthday” had any real meaning, I would have laughed at you. Back then, my timeline was my everything.

When I received my 1 Year coin at my AA home-group meeting, I was elated. It was, and may still be, one of the greatest moments of my life. — My energy was so heightened, I thought I might levitate. I had never accomplished so much just by giving something up.

So, I try to return to that moment. — Try to feel that coin melt into my fingers. I try to remember what sobriety meant to me when it meant something different — something more.

Back then, I was open to anything. I was ready to take myself on and turn myself over, part and parcel, in exchange for freedom. And, as a result, I made promises that I still continue to keep. — And, that’s the ticket. — Never let freedom out of your sights.

As I pull into September, facing a new move in just a few days, starting a new year in sobriety, and, trying my best to create a whole, new, happy me — I realize that I have to return to the state that allowed me to step up and experience myself and my life — fearlessly. This month, I hit the half-way mark in my Year of Happiness, so I’ve decided to devote it to being Open. And, I don’t mean Open in a wishy-washy way, I mean — Open to the things that terrify me.

When I got sober in September of 2012, I was so, incredibly scared. Some people knew that. But, most people didn’t. I am a decent actress. And, I’m also a tough girl. I’ve been applauded by many of my employers and friends for being “even-keel.” Which, in my world, means that I keep a smile painted on my face while, inwardly, I’m melting down. It’s a trait common to us people-pleasers. And, the more I recognize it in myself, the more I realize it’s just another form of self-destruction — not a skill worthy of praise.

Getting sober forced me to be Open to my actual emotions. For the first time in a long, long time, I let myself be angry. Tired. Fed up. Lonely. Miserable. Scared. Heartbroken. And, I let it show. After a year of letting all that garbage I’d bottled-up ooze out of my system, I sat in my “birthday” meeting. In a room full of people, strangers really, who had watched me boil over, I felt accepted, in spite of myself. Not only did they accept me — they applauded me. They handed me a coin and told me that I was amazing. And, for the first time, maybe ever — I believed them.

I remember a group member sharing about me that morning, in my “birthday” meeting. He told the whole room how he’d seen me walk in, the first day I showed up, with my hoodie pulled up over my head. How I’d slumped in the corner and looked at my feet. How I hadn’t said hello to anyone, and, when that meeting ended, how I’d rocketed out of the room to avoid having to talk.

Those first few weeks, he said, I’d been like a ghost with a chip on my shoulder. I’d been mad at the entire world, but, I wouldn’t show my face or open my mouth to tell the room why. — But, I still showed up. — Sobriety: Day In, Day Out.

He’d watched 12-Step go to work on me. He noted how I starting to stick around after meetings, smoking cigarettes in the parking lot. He’d watched me push my hoodie back to reveal my long, brown hair. He’d heard me laugh at other group member’s stories. He’d witnessed my walls as they started to crumble and how I’d let them. And, that morning, he watched me sit at the front of the room, in from of him — in front of everyone — holding my 1 Year chip, tears of joy steaming out of my Open eyes. “That’s what we do here,” he said. “We bring ghosts back to life.”

I’d like to tell you that being Open is a decision. Something easy. A task that you just “do,” like any other. But, it isn’t. It’s a process. And most of the time, you don’t even know when or how you’ll be cracked Open. For me, being Open has meant making myself available for things that are ill conceived, unstructured, and unlikely to pan out. Being Open, is being uncomfortable — and showing up anyway. Because the only way you’ll find something new, or better, is if you’re willing walk into something you can’t predict.

7 days into September, and, this month is already scary. New destinations, uncertainty, gigs that may or may not pay off, saying hello to people that are new, saying goodbye to people that I love, letting my heart feel stretched — maybe a little bit too thin — and allowing it, because the alternative is too difficult. But, allowing nonetheless.

So, I send my buddy a text message and let him know that I’ll be attending the meeting he runs in Brooklyn, which just happens to fall on my anniversary. Because, I don’t have have to be a 12-Step devotee to be Open to what the program has already given me.

I don’t need to pick up a 4 Year coin to feel sober or proud. The coin is just the bait. — Fool’s gold. I only need to hold my place in the chair. To take up space in the room. To pull down my hoodie and reveal my, now blonde, hair. To cry. To smile. To clench my fists. — To levitate.

Because, being Open — that’s what gets you to the front of the room.

Image: 7 months sober. On a really, really, angry day.

Lots and Lots and Lots Of Light

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A year is nothing. A year is everything.

I look at my calendar, and the West Coast is an entire year away from me now. I still feel like I could turn around and touch it. Though, my calendar won’t show you the same things that my mirror will. Glass reflects me back to myself. I look and feel older, in ways that are both good and bad. In these short, twelve months, I have seen, grown, and lost more of myself than I have in my whole lifetime.

No matter how (un)enlightened I become, I will always be playing this game of cat and mouse with myself. And, I’ve grown accustomed to it. — I think. Visibility will keep me honest. But, I still try to hide. — And so, I begin this second year, here on the East Coast, chasing myself off, yet again, to somewhere new.

After months of dancing in and out of step with NYC’s incredible beat, I’m being tugged back, toward something slower. Trees and highway. Farmland and family.

Living at home is humbling. You see yourself in the place where you were once a child, and in some ways, it makes you feel that you still are one. It’s not just the house, or my parents, or the neighbor girl who was a baby when you left and now, sneaks cigarettes on the stoop — it’s the city. Streets that seem old and new. There are the old memories that I’ve tried desperately to replace with new ones. And, in in the end, I have had to make peace with the fact that memories are memories. There is no erasing or recreating or forgetting. There is only learning, and finding, and adding new faces to a sea of old ones.

But, most of the time, Visibility isn’t about the number of eyes that see you, it’s about the way you see yourself.

As I prepare to move upstate, toggling my time between city and country life until I find a spot to settle, I can feel it — something more permanent on the horizon. The more I see of myself, the more I know where I want to belong. And, knowing what you want, makes it easier to look. I nestle into the nooks and crannies of myself and I see what feels best. But, for the first time in my life, I’ve promised myself that I won’t pretend to know what’s going on. — I’m just going to go with my heart.

As I wrap up this month of Visibility, I realize that the truth about the truth — remains to be seen. It’ll be there, when I get there. And — I’m not there yet.

So, I make plans to move in with my sister-cousin. I imagine us sitting at the island in the center of her kitchen, laughing and crying, because — that’s what we do when we’re together. We see each other. We make each other visible in ways we couldn’t if we were alone.

Her husband makes her eggs for dinner. Her dog licks my feet. Her flood-light invites moths from across the county to hover above her kitchen door. And, we are there, visible to each other — visible to no one.

She sips a glass of white wine and shows me how to use her Soda Stream. My room, up the stairs off the kitchen, is big. It lets in the light. Lots of light. The closet doors are mirrored and I face myself in three, long panels. — Even living out of my travel bag, I look happier here.

So, I decide I’ll take a few, odd writing jobs. I tell my sister-cousin and her husband that I’ll walk their dogs in the afternoon if they want. I’ll run the dishwasher. Fall is coming, and, I’ll rake leaves. And, now, I won’t have to watch Gilmore Girls alone. — After all, we, my sister-cousin and I, are actually Gilmore Girls, though my Grandmother married that name away — it still runs in our blood.

On the couch, one of the dogs looks up at me inquisitively and I inform her that I am, in fact, a cat person. — But, of course, I am open to new relationships. — She jumps up on my sister-cousin’s lap instead. Dogs know instinctively, in a way humans do not, who will love them best. But, I’m not insulted.

I don’t have it all figured out. I hardly know what the next step will be. I don’t even know if I’ll stay in this town. — I don’t know anything. — Maybe I never will. But, if you want to be seen, by yourself — or by anyone — you have to follow the light. And, in the middle of the hardwood floor, facing the center panel of three, long mirrors, I am surrounded by lots of it.

Lots and lots and lots of light.

 

Own Your Shit

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We’re all a little bit shitty. Right? Right?

Most of us, deep down, somewhere in our gut, feels that there’s something wrong with us. It’s a human thing. It’s unavoidable. And, frankly, our secret stash of flaws can keep us feeling pretty uncomfortable. Because, that hidden cache of crap, when we pick it apart, piece by piece, is bound to reveal — we’re not perfect. A shocker — I know.

In becoming visible, we allow ourselves the freedom to just be. But, the other side of that coin involves the rest of humanity. Maybe I’m stating the obvious here, but, when you make yourself visible — other people see you too. So, be careful where you leave your crap.

You may find your Visibility liberating. Frightening. Exhilarating. Freeing. But, whatever you feel about being seen, however you relate to your own display of imperfection — you have to know that other people are involved. And, your liberation, fear, exhilaration, and freedom might look very different through someone else’s eyes.

From the perspective of an addict/alcoholic, that Visibility — the kind that puts you on display — is the stuff of nightmares. For people who view themselves as fundamentally flawed, it’s one thing to accept yourself — it’s an entirely different feeling to to have others see your imperfections. Most of us have spent years carefully covering our shit so expertly, no one had to be nervous when walking around us. In fact, half the time we didn’t even know what we’d hidden, or where. As we grow and change in sobriety, we tend to uncover these little, hidden imperfections. And then, we work hard to embrace ourselves, despite them. But, the idea of asking another person to accept us, is completely unfathomable. They might not see our shit — but, secretly, we know that they should be watching their step.

This month, I’ve given Visibility a great deal of thought. I’ve enjoyed making room within myself for all the things I am — the good, the bad, and the shitty. I’ve ditched a ton of my baggage, even some of the crap that’s left me feeling uneasy for a lifetime. Giving myself room to be flawed has made me happier. — And, really, that’s the important thing — getting comfortable with yourself, no matter how your insides feel. But, I’m finding that it’s the outward display, the public Visibility, where I’m continually running into trouble.

When you feel good inside, despite your inherent flaws, you want others to feel good about you too. And, when you find some peace in becoming yourself, you naturally want others to accept this person that you’ve worked so hard to flesh out. But, when becoming visible, you have to be ready to accept that no one is going to see you that way that you see yourself. And, sometimes people are going to step in your shit.

As a self-aware person, I have a pretty good idea about who digs me and who doesn’t. And, usually the people who don’t get my vibe, aren’t people I’m drawn to anyway. But, it’s the people who know you, love you, care about you — those people can be your toughest audience. They’ve seen you at your worst (and likely, your best) and they can be pretty uncomfortable around the new, visible you. We all get used to the people in our lives and how they appear. We assign them roles. And, when one person deviates — it’s unsettling.

Here’s the thing: We have to deviate anyway. People adjust to the person you put out there. They will learn to step around your shit. And, more often than not, the people who know you best are going to be the last ones to get on board with the updates you’re making. It doesn’t make them bad people, and it doesn’t make you flawed. Visibility is about big change. Even when we’re just starting to uncover the things we used to kick to the curb, we’re making those parts of ourselves known — we’re changing. And, change makes everyone uncomfortable.

Keep in mind, that while you were trying to convince yourself that you were something other than you are, you were also trying to get everyone else on board with you, and they probably bought into your shit as much as you did! So, as you make yourself visible, you’re also rewriting the story that you’ve been working hard to sell others. Be patient with their transition, but, don’t allow their discomfort to take you off your track. In this kind of learning curve, forever and for always, honesty is the best policy. — Own your shit.

The other thing is — you have to be willing to stand your ground. You’re visible now. So, walk tall. Don’t be derailed by someone else’s outdated version of you. If you’ve done the hard work of becoming visible to yourself, you owe it to yourself to be confident in your convictions — even when others might try to take you down a peg.

I’ve changed my mind about so many things, so many times — I’m sure I seem aloof and crazy to most of the people that have been solid structures in my life. And, I’m sure that it’s frustrating to some of them, but, what I have to remind myself of every day is — no one is more frustrated with my own growing pains than I am. In becoming visible, I am finding it easier and easier to own that frustration. It’s your story, not anyone else’s. And, when you write your own story, the lessons that are born from your mistakes are far more poignant — the successes, far more worthy of celebration.

Allow yourself to be seen — to change — and don’t worry so much about how it looks (or smells) out there.

Not a-one of us is without flaws. We’ve all got our shit. The key that unlocks the kingdom is letting everyone see your shit, yourself included. — If you’re committing to being visible, you simply can’t avoid your own shit. And, here’s a newsflash — no one else can avoid theirs, either.

Rule of thumb: Clean up your messes as best you can. And, when walking with others — remind them to watch their step.

 

 

 

I am looking, looking everywhere.

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The day of the family reunion — the heatwave hits.

I walk up the hill, out of my grandparents’ driveway. The sun bakes my shoulders and I can feel the sweat beading off the nape of my neck and gliding down my spine, where it eventually meets my bra-line. My black tank top feels heavy and damp. It’s only 11AM but, already, the day feels long. I’m walking across the street, to my parent’s house, to get my bathing suit. I’m surrounded by countryside that I thought might make me feel something that, so far — it hasn’t. Here, I can only feel the passage of time. I see it move under a canopy of green trees, their leaves fanning the air in the slow, Summer breeze. I see it flanked by stones that have been sinking into the ground since my childhood. I see it in the faces of my cousins who, now, wrangle their own children — it was not so long ago it was us who needed wrangling.

Seeing everything as it is, without pretense — that’s Visibility. Young, old. Broken, fixed. Happy, sad. We can exist in this space without judgement. Here, there isn’t any way to avoid being seen — family has an uncanny ability to find you. So, I prepare myself for the viewing. For the first time in a long time, I think that being seen might be easy. — If I can just allow myself to be comfortable in my own, constant state of flux as I weave between the rusted folding chairs and lean in to receive kisses on my cheeks.

Between handfuls of fancy nut mix, a host of relatives asked me, “What are you up to these days?” A question that still stabs me like a sharp, little knife, because, the answer remains — “I have no idea.” — My unending quest for purpose used to bring me shame. But, today, it doesn’t. 32 years in, and I am still at it. — I am looking, looking everywhere.

I kept repeating to my cousin, as we lay out in the blistering sun, “I feel so old this year.” And, I wondered why that was. What had aged me so much in this past year?

Later that night, as I lay alone in my bed, under the hum of the white, ceiling fan, I realized that I’ve finally conceded. — To myself. — I will always be figuring it out. I will always be looking.

In our youth, we are so sure that, at some point, things will become concrete. But, today, I know, at least for me, that will never be the case. — I am not done. Not now. Not ever.

I began in sobriety, struggling to be seen by others. And, now, in my Year of Happiness, I take the steps to begin seeing myself. — A joyful and heartbreaking endeavor. — One that has brought me immense relief.

In reunions past, I have struggled to Wow! my relatives, spouting off my non-accomplishments. Impressing upon them that I had achieved some state of completeness. But, truth be told, my joy is in the Seeking, never the completing.

There are many of us, Seekers, wandering about. We search for truth in the Universe — in ourselves. We read self-help books. We believe in miracles. We watch for signs. We press the people in our lives to help us create meaning. And, often, we are told there is none. — But, we never believe that to be true. Not even for a second.

As I age, I find myself less apologetic. I no longer resent those who ask me for some kind of explanation. Because, in becoming visible to myself, I find that I no longer require anyone else’s approval. Visibility allows me the confidence to stand in front of those that would have me explain myself, and be able to say, outright, that — I cannot.

From my grandparents’ dock, I stare out over the lake. The water is still, except for where my cousins and their children swim. Laughter echoes in the swaying trees, just as mine once did, so many years ago. I stand there alone, beside strewn sandals and striped towels, and my cousins beckon. “Come in! Come swimming!” They shout. “I forgot my suit is across the street!” I yell back. “Then, go get it! We’ll wait for you!”

And so, I do.

Through the years, I have often sought out one kind of love only to receive another. But, I am older now. Older than I’ve ever been. Old enough to know that love is love is love.

And, when love tells you it will wait for you — make haste — jump in the fucking water.

 

Be Heard, Not Seen

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It felt like a safe place to hide.

I sat in the small, sparsely filled room — joined only by a few old men and one middle aged woman. A younger man sat in front of the group, waiting to begin the meeting. He opened by reading from a laminated sheet that he held between his nicotine stained fingers. He would read from the very same script at every Alcoholics Anonymous meeting I would attend in that room. But, that day, it seemed like some kind of holy sermon, written that very morning. And, the words that escaped his mouth sounded like some foreign language I would never understand.

Earlier that morning, I had woken from a blackout. I paced around my apartment nervously. Something felt wrong. My skin crawled. I watched the clock.

The pub opened at noon on Sundays. While I was usually dressed and waiting to walk out my door at 11:55AM, I wasn’t on that Sunday. I felt like a bomb, waiting to explode. My heart tick-tocked in a strange rhythm. And, without any real reason, I was frightened.

I sat down nervously at my computer and, without knowing what I was doing, I Googled “AA Meetings in Portland, Oregon.” I was directed to a website that had listings for hundreds of meetings. It was nearing noon, and I saw one meeting, not far my apartment, was about to begin. Without showering or even brushing my teeth, I threw on my dirty jeans, an old t-shirt, and my heavy hoodie and stepped out into the mild, February air. I ran the entire way there. I stopped at the corner, and looked down at the address I had scratched out onto a crumpled Post-It note. I lit a cigarette and I wondered what the fuck I was doing. Who was I? I wasn’t an alcoholic. Right?  — I wasn’t so sure anymore. So, I stood on that corner and I waited for noon.

Halfway down the block, the young man, the old men and the one woman I would see later, inside the meeting room, stood around an old coffee can that sat at their feet on the sidewalk. They were all smoking cigarettes, too. They saw me on the corner, glancing down at them. Though I thought I was being covert, I know now that they could smell my fresh, alkie blood coming from a mile away. But, that day, — I was sure I was invisible.

If you were talk to me about it today, I would tell you that I have mixed feelings about 12-Step meetings. I would tell you that they have saved my life, and, that they have complicated and hindered my life on many occasions. But, I will never say that 12-Step is not a sacred space. It is. — Sacred. — 12-Step was the first place I became Visible in sobriety. It was the first place I stood up and acknowledged that, perhaps, my drinking and drug use were not as free and easy as I would have liked them to appear. AA was the first place where no one tried to change me. It was the first place where hundreds, literally hundreds, of people reached out their hands to help me. There was a time in AA that was, and will always remain, beautiful to me.

At noon, the smoking club filed up the dilapidated, wooden staircase into the meeting room. I waited for them all to disappear, smoking my cigarette down to the filter, before walking the half block to the little, wooden house and up its little, wooden stairs — alone. I stepped into the strange, new room, full of strange new people with as much bravery as I could muster.

The small group of attendees turned to look at me as I opened the squeaky door and walked across the room, tenuously. I sat in a chair in the corner. It had metal armrests and it looked like, maybe, it was a re-purposed seat from an old movie theatre. The room felt ancient. It smelled of mildew and stale coffee. The walls were covered with water-stained, 12-Step slogan posters. — Easy Does It. Think…Think…Think. But For The Grace Of God. Live And Let Live. First Things First. Just For Today. — I didn’t know what to make of this strange, new world. But, to my surprise, it felt like I belonged there.

“Is anyone here for their first AA meeting ever?” The young man asked, looking up from his desk at the front of the room. The entirety of the small congregation turned their heads, slowly, to look at me. And, knowing I was caught, I timidly raised my hand to half-mast. The young man nodded at me kindly, — “Would you please tell us your name?”

“My name is Sarah. I don’t really know if I’m an alcoholic.”

The room sang out in a hoarse, smoker-croaked-chorus: “Welcome, Sarah!” The young man looked me right in the eye, and, in that moment, I felt him see into the depths of my broken soul. And, in front of all those strangers, I began to weep.

“Hello Sarah. You are welcome and wanted here.” He said, never breaking his gaze.

***          ***          ***

I wouldn’t get sober for another seven months. In fact, I left that very meeting, walked straight to the pub, and I drank Jim Beam until the bartender refused to serve me any more. Back then, it was all I could do to shake the feeling that something terrible was about to happen. And, I would let that sense of doom follow me around for many months more before I decided to look it in the eye.

In the beginning, sobriety required that I be Visible and Invisible, simultaneously. — If we want to find help, we need to be seen. But, until we are ready for it, we tend to hide. Sometimes, it is better to just be heard. 12-Step was the only place in my early sobriety that could cater to the dichotomous reality where I so desperately needed to exist. And, on that Sunday morning, I was heard, not seen. An anonymous alcoholic, I was welcomed without question. And, for the first time in a very long time — I got what I needed.

I was allowed to be whoever I needed to be. — And that Visibility was the first step, of many, in my long walk toward a freedom unlike any I have ever known.

 

 

Artwork: “Behind The Mask”, By: Anja; http://photoflake.deviantart.com/art/behind-the-mask-364066755

Let Them See You Naked

Photo Aug 02, 11 31 15 AM

People will try to tell you who you are.

Don’t let them.

We all do it. — We size each other up. — It’s a part of being human. It’s an innate function of our species: For safety. For sex. For food. For shelter. Even in today’s world, we still rely on our animalistic instincts to guide us to the right sources for survival. And, amidst this complicated process, where caveman-meets-modern-day, we’ll find ourselves sizing up other people’s emotional lives, too.–  And, that’s a big mistake.

Since I started writing this blog, I have received many comments (digitally and face-to-face), commending me for my vulnerability in this space. So many, in fact, that I began to wonder, why my “vulnerability” was so striking to so many people. And, of course, in my typical Type-A, Lit-major fashion, I looked to the actual definition of the word in the hope I might gain further insight.

vulnerable

adjective vul·ner·a·ble \ˈvəl-n(ə-)rə-bəl, ˈvəl-nər-bəl\
: easily hurt or harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally
: capable of being physically or emotionally wounded
: open to attack, harm, or damage*

I think because we throw the term around so loosely, we’ve managed to create an alternate meaning for the word. Because, when I read the actual definition, I feel somewhat insulted that sharing my honest experiences, creatively, here on this blog would elicit a reaction where I am deemed: “Vulnerable.” — And, given the specific feedback I’ve received, I don’t believe my audience actually sees me in the way that the aforementioned definition suggests. To the contrary. I’ve examined this recurring theme during my Year of Happiness, and, I’ve come to realize that — I’m not vulnerable. — I am Visible.



And being visible is something that takes people by surprise.

visible

adjective vis·i·ble \ˈvi-zə-bəl\
: able to be seen
: easily seen or understood
: known to or noticed by the public**

Coming into my own, in sobriety and generally speaking, has required that I become comfortable being visible. In a way, getting sober is a kind of transition from vulnerable to visible. Addicts hide in their substances. We’re weakened by them. And, sometimes, especially when we are using, we are susceptible to harm — both physical and emotional. But, no one who is in pursuit of a healthy kind of Happiness wants to be seen as vulnerable. And, that’s why there’s a lot of guilt and shame to work around when you make the commitment to get sober. For many of us, hiding is (or was) a way to stay safe.

But here, in this space — I let you see me naked. Because, I think it’s better to have all the truth, for better or worse, right there for the taking. I publish this blog for my own sanity, and, because I believe it helps others to be open about their truth.


Yes, I have vulnerable moments. We all do. But, my nature is not vulnerable. I have learned that being visible, allowing myself to be seen, lets me own who I am.  It makes me present and available. And, that is the point of sobriety.

But, it’s more than that. For me, being present and available is the definition of Happiness.

The reactions I have received for being honest, open, and raw — worry me. Why are people so shocked by the honest truth? Why is it such a brave thing, to be seen? Is it because I am a woman? Is it because I am a sober person? Is it because the things that I have done or have gone through are shocking? — To those questions, I would answer: No. To me, none of those distinctions are especially exceptional. I think that people, in general, sober or not, tend to be frightened by the notion of visibility.

We think we are supposed to be something other than we are. — Better. Smarter. Productive. Fitter. Kinder. Humble. Obliging. — And, we’re not. We aren’t meant to be anything. We are meant to live as we are. — Strive to be whatever you like, but, live as the person you are today.

As I navigate my Year of Happiness and my sobriety, I constantly remind myself that, whatever I am, I am more than acceptable. I am worthy of being seen and heard. I am worthy — Period. An observer, I watch myself and others. I see how we sometimes bow our heads because, it seems, it might be easier for us if we were to fly under the radar. But, in the past four months, I have made a concerted effort to speak up, in spite of fear, and say what I think should be said, with no motivation beyond my belief that the truth is right and important.

And, not once, has making myself visible resulted in an unwanted outcome. Not. Once.

This month of August, the fifth in my Year of Happiness, is devoted to Visibility. Because, truly, there is nothing to lose by being who you are, fearlessly. There is nothing inappropriate you can say, so long as it is something that is true and from your heart. — Shocking, maybe. But, shocking isn’t always inappropriate. — And, frankly, life gets pretty boring when we live appropriately all the time.

So, let them see you naked. You’re worthy of being seen. You’re worthy — Period.

Make the distinction. — There is a vast difference between being vulnerable and being visible.

Choose wisely.

*”Vulnerable.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 2 Aug. 2016.

**”Visible.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 2 Aug. 2016.

Artwork: “Blue Nude,” By Corrine Galla

Metal-On-Metal

Photo Jul 26, 11 21 28 PM

I hear my own silent scream echo in the subway tunnel. A dissonant harmony with the shriek of the train, metal-on-metal, as we move in the darkness.

My book is cracked in my lap. My feet, ever clad in black Vans, are propped up on the metal poll in the center of the car. By all appearances, it would seem that I have returned to my, once-and-again, status as the quintessential New Yorker.

Late nights on the R train have hosted a menagerie of treasured moments in my new, New York City chapter. I have come to love my lonesome, subway nights. Still bustling, in a quieter, more desolate way. But, despite the empty seats that surround me, a strange feeling sneaks into the car and sits right beside me. Too close. Like a foreigner. A tourist, lacking the ever-important understanding of the New Yorker’s personal space.

I squirm and fidget. Something feels off. — I don’t want to be here.

I try reading, but, my thoughts object. I find myself getting louder, repeating: I don’t want to be here. — And then, as if I were scripted, I immediately begin the the process of dismissing the notion. I feel my body push the idea away. I argue with myself. — This is what you wanted, Sarah. This is the bed you made, now, lie in it. Just, find the Happiness here.

One third of my Year of Happiness, is over. And, today, the radar system for my own bullshit is the most dialed in it has ever been. — When you look and listen for your own Happiness, you see and hear it everywhere. — I take it all in from ground control. — Neon green blips, floating laterally across a grid. Bright specs in a sea of black. Easy to spot, but, difficult to track. — Knowing happiness’ trajectory will not always help you to determine where it will land.

But, seeing  the truth was never the skill that was meant to save us. When it comes to getting happy, noticing isn’t enough. — You have to act. You have to react. — Happiness is not a passive game. If you allow your to life happen to you, then — you’ll get what you get. It’s when you stand up to push back or to embrace it that things really get going.

The last four months, I have started showing up for myself in strange ways. I’ve let my weird, woo-woo, overly-sensitive sensibility rule me. And, I hear my own voice getting louder and louder — in my head and when I speak. It still surprises me how, in such a short period of time, I have learned to be an advocate for the things I want and deserve — even when I know I can’t get them instantaneously.

But still, there is always that little bit of truth that I’ll try to deny myself.

The R train moves through the tunnel and the question rumbles in my stomach as we run over the track: If I don’t want to be here — where do I want to be? Why have I been telling myself I can’t get to that place? What’s the story I’ve written? Where can I begin to rewrite this?

This time, when I ask myself to tell the truth, I wonder, if maybe, — I have been lying to myself.

NYC was always meant to be my layover on the way to something else. Something bigger. But, I’m still waiting for that big thing to show up. And so, fearful of becoming stuck, my head makes an argument for old New York, NY. — The great things it is, the wonderful places it hosts, the thousands of interesting and intelligent people it ferries through it’s crowded streets. — But, somewhere in that argument, my heart uncovers my lie: This is what I wanted all along.

But, the truth is, I’m not sure what I wanted. — But, I know this isn’t it.

Suddenly, I’m here on this train, knee deep in sticky, sweaty, NYC-summer. Real, gritty, dirty and dark. And, I see an old pattern emerge. — I’ve inserted myself into a place I never planned to stay, because I’m not sure how to get myself anywhere else. — It’s my default. — But, I know things now. I’m armed with my truth, even if it hurts — unless Happiness becomes my default, I’ll never find the things I’m seeking.

The train pulls into the 45th Street station and a weight lifts. Like, some other person has just stepped out of my body and exited through the sliding doors, while I remain, still seated — my book fanned out over my thigh.

Honesty is recognizing that you’re not done yet. And, that’s OK. Being unfinished is never a sin or a mistake or even a blunder. — It is a place for jumping off. — A beginning.

The train leaves the station and I feel the electricity surge. The lights flicker. And, something moves through the car. I feel myself light up. — Sparks. — Metal-on-metal.

I know every stop this train makes. But, tonight, I have no idea where I am going to get off.

 

 

All The Truth You Sleep With

Photo Jul 18, 10 17 22 PM

Kate* sold her body for heroin.

Kate was also one of the unlikely teachers that I’ve found in my sobriety, showing me that truth will take root in the most barren places.

When I first got sober, I enrolled myself in a rehab program, and Kate was one of the many, weathered women in my recovery group. She looked unkempt. Distracted. And, I thought her to be something of a loose cannon. But, she had almost one year of sobriety — to my less than thirty days. I wanted to know how. There was something mysterious and unusual about her, and, I watched her carefully. She was short, overweight, and had tight blonde curls that swung back and forth, wildly, when she turned her head from side to side. She was covered in tattoos, most of which, she had gotten recently. She told me that she was in the process of covering up all of her scars. — Something that everyone in the group was trying to do, in some fashion or another.

Kate lived in a halfway house for women. She was on probation for prostitution, solicitation, and drug possession. She’d already served hard time. And, the court had just awarded her custody of her daughter, under the supervised care of her halfway house, after a long period of separation. — I had never met someone who, outwardly, was so much my opposite. She was twenty-three, but, she looked like she was forty. She had tired eyes and when she pulled her legs up under her, onto the couch in the meeting room, she exuded a knowing protectiveness. She didn’t want others to notice her. She looked both ways before doing anything, and, no matter who was present, her motions were preceded with extreme caution.

One morning, Kate showed up to group early. I was the only one in the meeting room. She met my eyes with suspicion, but, then, a smile swept away the clouds of her constantly gloomy face and she walked toward me. “Look,” she said, pointing to a large bandage taped over the length of her forearm.

“Oh my God!” I looked up at her with concern. “What happened?” She laughed and sat down beside me on the couch. She peeled back the bandage and revealed her newest tattoo: “You Are Only As Sick As Your Secrets” was gracefully penned, in ornate, red, scripted letters across the inside of her arm. — “Don’t you fucking love it ?!” She squealed.

Her new tattoo was a popular saying, one that you hear often in 12-Step or rehab. Kate was not the first junkie to make this her slogan, and, she won’t be the last. But, there was something about her reveling in her truth on that morning, that made me think about my own.

Kate had little formal education. Her parents were drug addicts and dealers. And, her life, from the very start, had been nothing but struggle. When I listened to her speak, I felt like a fool for sitting in the same room. — My battle was nothing compared to hers. — I was an affluent kid. Loved and cared for by my family. I wanted for nothing. Yet, here I was. In rehab. It made no sense. How had this happened? What had gone wrong? What had Kate done wrong? Surely, no one deserved the life she’d had. It pained me to even imagine.

I spent days and hours in my rehab group trying to make sense of her. I looked for clues. Observing how she spoke and how she moved. I listened to her story, which unfolded in every session, breaking my heart. — In comparison, my addiction, my dependency, my helplessness seemed like a pittance. No matter how I searched, I could never find the link that connected us. Until that morning, when Kate  showed me, and the rest of the group, her new tattoo.

“Who feels like sharing first?” Our counselor asked, her eyes scanning the room. Kate looked from side to side, and carefully raised her bandaged arm into the air. “Thank you for volunteering. Go ahead, Kate.”

Kate shifted in her seat on the couch, carefully cradling her arm. “You guys, I got this today.” She said, as she peeled back her bandage, yet again, and waved her new, red-inked arm from side to side, making sure the entire room could see it. “It feels really fucking good. Because, I was so sick, you guys.” She paused, gulping something back, hard. “All those secrets I had. Oh my God, I was so fucking sick. I never told nobody nothing about all the shit I did. Nobody knew all the shit that went down. Nobody. Not even my daughter’s father. But, I knew. And, I ate those secrets you guys. I ate it. So, here’s my truth, straight up: I fucked Johns for dope. But, I was really fucking them to escape dope. To escape all of it. That dope was my ticket out, guys. I thought it melted all my secrets. But, it just melded them. It just melded them into one big secret. You can’t get away from that shit, you guys.”

She paused again, looking down at her new tattoo. And then, two, big tears dropped, one from the corner of each of her eyes. She wiped them away quickly as we all  sat watching her, spellbound. — We had never seen her cry.

“You want to know how I got almost a year clean and sober? Tell all your fucking secrets, you guys. Tell them. Because, they make you sick. And, at night, it’s not just the Johns and it’s not just the secrets you sleep with — it’s all the truth. It’s all the truth you sleep with. —That’s the shit that clogs your fucking soul, guys. That’s the shit that will kill you.”

Then, she stopped talking. She looked at me across the circle in a way she had never looked at me before. As if, despite our obvious differences, we were the same. Just women. Just hurt. Just looking for the truth. The same truth. Dropping our dead weight there in the middle of the meeting room floor. — We were only as sick as our secrets. — And, now, Kate was free.

It got quiet for a long minute before we just continued on with our session. But, I spent the rest of that day, night, and week thinking about Kate. — Thinking about all the truth I slept with.

I could not fathom Kate’s life. But, I began to realize that, while I was drinking and using drugs — I could no longer fathom my own life, either. I had stopped being honest. I had lied at every turn to keep myself running at the same pace. I’d kept my secrets well — and, still, they’d caught up to me.

Honesty isn’t one thing. It can’t be. And, when you start telling your truth, it won’t sound how you expect it to sound. But, without it, you’ll have nothing. — You’ll end up with a bunch of lies you have to keep straight. And, then — you’ll have to go home and sleep with the truth.

The truth, when you’re living a lie, is a persistent and terrifying ghost.

Kate was right. Spill your guts, and know, whatever ends up on the floor, can free you. Show up for your life and peel back your bandages. Your scars — covered by tattoos or not — are there to remind you of what came before. — A monument for something real.

Sometimes, when I can’t fall asleep, I think about Kate. And I remember, even when I am scared, and my bed feels sad, and empty — I have all this truth, laying here, beside me.

 

*This name has been changed to protect and honor Kate’s anonymity.