Own Your Shit

Photo Jun 17, 5 06 26 PM

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.

Photo Aug 13, 12 32 58 PM

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

Photo Aug 09, 11 56 27 AM

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.

 

Game Night, For Drunks

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The Blame Game has bullshit rules.

Like a game of Twister, it all starts out simply enough: Spin. — Right hand. — Red.

But, in the end, it’s a mess of arms and legs. Heads shoved into armpits and crotches. A ballet, with its dancers stumbling, grabbing, and stomping — on toes, fingers, and hair in a hopeless, and ultimately futile, effort to stay upright. Exhausted, the company finishes their routine — all sweaty, sore, and likely, with cricks in their necks.

In the Blame Game, the winner is always left standing. But, — no one has really won.

Because, the Blame Game isn’t really a game at all. Blame is just the mud we sling at each other when we don’t have any answers.

Blame is the magic paint we use to gloss over the harsh reality that — some things are simply intolerable, beyond reason or explanation. And, rather than face our honest truth, we prefer to duke it out in the muck, for as long as humanly possible. — Making our last ditch efforts to avoid facing and feeling the pain and discomfort we’ve created for ourselves.

Blame — is easy. It requires nothing more than a pointed finger. That’s why people who avoid the truth love it so. — And, before I got clean and sober, I was one of those people.

When my ex left me, a year before I ditched the drugs and booze, I blamed the ever-loving shit out of that motherfucker. The morning he left, I fell to my knees on the blue carpet in our living room and wailed like a small child, our cat staring at me like some kind of strange extraterrestrial. My ex left me there, without finishing his coffee. And, I remember watching the steam come up off his brown, IKEA coffee mug, evaporating into the air — along with the rest of my life.

Back then, his leaving me was a huge surprise. After six and a half years together, I never fathomed that our small, unattended issues would have exploded in that way, leaving me vaporized on living room floor, like the shadow of the woman on the steps of the Sumitomo Bank in Hiroshima. — What happened here? I remember wondering.

But, in that moment, I didn’t hesitate with my answer. I was quick to blame. Because, I didn’t have to wonder, I knew — IT WAS ALL HIS FAULT.

In the weeks following that harrowing morning, before my ex was totally moved out of our apartment, I had screamed, sobbed, begged, and pleaded with him. I had sent him countless emails, first sentimental, and then, seething with hatred, anger, and hurt. I had performed my role as the crazy ex-girlfriend with expert precision. And, still, I contended — IT WAS HIM. How had this happened to me? Why had he done this to me? What could I possibly have done to deserve this happening, to me?

Well, for starters — I was a mean, black out, drunk.

I rarely remembered what I had done or said on the nights I’d had too much to drink — which was every night. And, over time, that kind of alcoholism can build on itself until you’ve alienated pretty much everyone around you, even the people who love and care for you.

I was too drunk to be honest with anyone, especially myself. — And, I had been so far gone that I hadn’t seen where my drunkenness had ruined me and everything around me. My blame was born of my ignorance and hurt. I was broken, and seemingly, without reason. And, we humans, we need our reasons. — So, where there is none, we create reason.

Later, it would be my sobriety that gave me reason. I discovered the Honesty I had been avoiding with every shot of whiskey I downed, was available to me without any kind of booze at all. — I just had to face it. — It was truly a revelation. And, when you look that kind of truth in the face, the Blame Game evaporates into the air — almost as quickly as I did that September morning, so long ago.

But, Honesty won’t answer every question. And, sometimes, it brings with it new, equally difficult questions. I still ask myself why my ex didn’t help me seek assistance for my drinking problem. Wasn’t I worth more than abandonment? Then, I ask myself, why I drank the way I did back then in the first place?  What was so wrong? What had I said to my ex in those moments I cannot recall? What cruelty had rolled off my tongue that was so horrid, it deserved the punishment I received? — I will never know. — And, even today, the new woman I’ve become, still wonders.

But, part of facing the truth is coming to terms with the fact that some questions are not meant to be answered. Everything is a lesson. And, sometimes, lessons are painful.

Getting honest requires that we forgive. — Ourselves and the people around us. — Even when we don’t have the whole story.

Honesty requires that we let go. And still, I recognize that there are things that I didn’t deserve. There are things that I have a right to be angry about. — We cannot let everyone off the hook because, once upon a time, we were drunks. But, what’s past is past. And, posing unanswerable questions to people who are long gone, is no better than mumbling nonsense to yourself like a mad woman.

Start over. Reset the board. Play the game you’re in today.

Spin. — Right Hand. — Red.

Make your move with all the grace as you can muster. — Dance the dance. — Know, that someone will knock you down. And, when you fall, you should try to land as softly as your body will allow.

And then — get back up — and beat the ever-loving shit out of that motherfucker.

 

 

Lies, Lies, Lies (And Other Shitty Side Dishes)

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Liar, liar, pants on fucking fire. — Yeah. I’m on to you.

The truth? — We’re all pretty big liars. It’s one of those things that no one likes to admit, but, we can’t really deny.

But, you’re not that bad. Right? You’ve only told your friend she looked ah-maaaa-zing when she showed up at your place wearing a hideous, monstrosity-of-a-dress, ready to “slay,” just a few times. You’ve embellished an otherwise mundane story to make yourself look like a hero. And, you’ve flashed a painful, pea-filled smile as you wolfed down your Aunt Edna’s barf casserole because, she’s fucking old, and you just couldn’t live with yourself if you hurt her feelings. — It’s okay. We’ve all done these things.

The lie I’m interested in is the lie where you tell someone that you’re great, perfect, fine and dandy — when, inwardly, you’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown. That lie, is the lie where you end up burying yourself and your Happiness for the sake of polite conversation — and it’s unacceptable.

July, or, month four in my Year of Happiness, is about getting honest. And, sure, Honesty can be relative — I get that. I’m not in Camp “You’ll Burn In Hell” if you bend the truth here and there, especially for the sake of sparing your friend’s feelings, giving yourself a little confidence boost, or contributing to the maintenance of Aunt Edna’s long-surviving-casserole-pride.

I’m most concerned with the lies that we tell ourselves. Lies that present our Happiness, or lack thereof, as something other than it actually is. Lies that make excuses and apologies for our humanity and humility.

If you’re committed to your own Happiness, then you’ve started to change the things that you don’t like about your life — surrendering old patterns, believing in your power to recreate yourself, and becoming willing to journey into new, uncharted territory. — These are all things you can’t fake. In the beginning, your bark will be bigger than your bite, but, eventually, if you really want Happiness to show up for you, one has to catch up to the other. — Happiness requires walking the walk.

I hearken back to 12-Step here, because, the 4th Step, is an important one. In traditional 12-Step, the 4th Step is where you assemble a complete moral inventory. AKA — You make a list of all the shit that you’ve done, and, all the shit that you think has been done to you, and then, you spew your guts into a journal, for weeks, penning a unwieldy manifesto of reasons that you’re still mad at yourself and the rest of humanity.

The process is cathartic and disheartening and revelatory and painful and freeing. And, it’s the step that often turns people off of 12-Step recovery, because — it’s difficult. But, the thing is, getting honest is, without a doubt, the biggest part of buliding lasting sobriety — and Happiness.

Tread lightly. Sometimes the 12-Step version of getting honest can feel like you’re stuck singing an endless chorus of mea culpas. It’s all very self-flagellating. And, something I’ve learned out in the world, on my own, away from my 12-Step program, is that the biggest part of Honesty, is being able to acknowledge all the things you’ve done — and then let them go. We can’t keep revisiting the disasters we’ve left in our wake. — We have to learn our lessons well and then make a run for it.

The more honest we get, the less we have to carry around with us. It’s the baggage we sling over our shoulders and carry on our backs — resentment, bitterness, hatred, anger — that will never serve us. And, if you’re toting a ton of luggage around with you, chances are there’s some kind of truth you’re avoiding. — It will always catch up with you.

Honesty is more than facing the past. Honesty is finding a way to feel OK being yourself, in any state, without apology. Knowing that you can change, drastically, from day to day, and never feel the need to explain your position to anyone else. You’re allowed to be insecure in one way and confident in another — you don’t have explain the nuances of your inner being to people around you.

In many ways Honesty is on par with independence. Lies are just ways that we tie ourselves into a bigger narrative, making the people around us feel comfortable. We all want to fit in. We want to be a part of an important story arc. And, when we feel that we’re not, we’ll stretch ourselves thin to help us feel that we belong. But, Happiness is attached to the kind of Honesty where we become genuine. Sometimes, it requires flying solo. Sometimes the truth will hurt someone else, but, it still serves everyone in your life best, to just tell it like it is.

Come clean, to yourself. Be your own judge and jury. Acknowledge the little lies you tell yourself and others. Notice where you undermine your own joy for the sake of someone else. And then — quit it, Goddammit!

Honestly, honesty isn’t always as delicious as it sounds. But, like Aunt Edna’s casserole, life will be easier for you, and for everyone around you, when you just choke it down. And, who knows? Eventually — You may even acquire a taste for it.

 

 

Karma Chameleon, You Come And Go

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Bad dates.

If you want to find out exactly who you are — go on some.

As much as the whole process pains me — I’ve put myself back out there. Dating in New York City is a big, boiling pot of disaster. Believe me. It’s shameless, ruthless, and largely — heartless. The gauntlet, a line of lawyers, artists, project managers, analysts, educational administrators, creative directors, and motherfucking entrepreneurs.

In the last few months, I’ve been in coffee shops, on park benches, making walkabouts through the guts of Brooklyn, and dancing to washboard bands in small, dark bars. It’s exhilarating, illuminating, exhausting, endlessly disappointing, and emotionally taxing. I feel like I’ve tried on so many different versions of myself that when I’ve actually sat down to be alone with my own thoughts, I’ve had to sort through the many women I have become, and pick out the one that best fits me in the moment.

My Year of Happiness has brought me to a place of total confidence, where, I know without a doubt, what I want most in my life. And, even in the brief moments where I am without total surety, it’s as simple as restating the word in my head: Happiness. — And, I am quickly reminded of where I am headed. I am able to focus myself to a point of clarity that, once, seemed impossible.

How does the kind of Willingness, the kind where we show up for ourselves, evolve? I’ve often wondered, what actually happened here? This Willingness is so different from the one I found when I got sober. This Willingness is born out of my boldness — not my defeat. It gives me immense power. More than I’ve ever had in my life. — And, I am not afraid to wield it.

Dating can feel a lot like the life I led before I got sober. It sometimes asks me to be a chameleon. — To participate in a complicated and colorful dance. — Moving delicately over leaves that will bend unexpectedly. Appearing one way and feeling another. And, I’ve found, over just one cup of coffee, my feelings can drift from lofty, sweet and starry-eyed to panicked and desperate as a cornered cat. All the while, I’m holding fast onto my same expression. — A closed-mouth, red-lipped smile with soft, lined, blinking eyes.

But that is not Willingness. That is acting.

Willingness is the thing that shows up for you. It’s not there to save you. When I say for you, I mean it is for you to use. A tool that you’ll have to pick up yourself. Willingness is the little alarm that rattles your ribs, the train whistle that never escapes your lungs. It’s a message, a warning: Get out! Stay put! Wait it out. This one. No. — This one.

Willingness is the thing that will convince your chameleon skin to return to its original color. It is the unexpected joy of wearing yourself, without fear. Willingness is knowing what you want, and politely, accepting nothing less.

This month, Willingness has helped me to step through my past. — To see where I have been stuck. To see where I have been a shape-shifter. To see where I have taken only what I could get, nothing more — accepting a meager ration. And, five weeks later, I know what I deserve. — What I deserved all along.

Willingness makes me more than a spectator. I have become my own superhero. A sassy chameleon, with a red mouth and red nails — who speaks to and points at anything she likes. Without apology.

Whatever your chameleon skin looks or feels like — wear it. To the coffee shop. To the park. Walking down the humid streets of Crown Heights. Dancing in the dark. When you’re clad in your Willingness — you rule the dance floor.

A return to a world where rejection has become a part of my every day, for a moment, seemed daunting. But, as I watch thousands of faces peer into subways cars, feet shuffle down avenues, smiles beam across tables and bars, and hands reach out for each other under the city lights — I know there will always be someone, something, somewhere waiting to be found. And, I, have become a willing seeker.

Willingness can be elusive, but, when it does appear — the rest will fall in line. It’s karma, baby.

So, change the color of your Happiness. Throw off the skin that no longer suits you.

And wherever you sip, sit, stand, walk, or dance — never be afraid to go it alone.

 

 

Trading Stories With The Devil

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I will always be a drunk.

Screaming out of cab windows, falling off ledges outside of bars, vomiting in bathroom sinks, waking up without any idea how I made it back to the couch in once piece — these little moments, are built into my DNA. And, I’ve finally stopped wishing them away.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to tell you, or anyone, how to find Willingness. But, at the very least, I thought I might be able to explain to you how it appeared to me.

I was so certain that I’d learned some unknowable truth, pointed and poignant lessons from the tattered scraps of myself that, I thought, I’d left behind. But, like the countless other surprises I’ve encountered since embarking on my Year of Happiness, this week, I find myself standing knee deep in something new and unfamiliar. A feeling that felt impossible. A lesson where I’ve managed to learn everything, and nothing at all. — Willingness isn’t just harnessing the gumption to change, it’s possessing the kind of maturity that allows you to embrace the parts of you that will never change.

When I try moving away from my alcoholism, I talk in a new voice, one that gives me distance from the pain and naivety of some version of my former self. Every time I do this, I get interrupted. I am reminded I cannot get away from things I once was, and these conversations with myself are not unlike having conversations with the Devil. After all, the Devil has collected all my drunken stories, and when I find myself in a joyful moment, he’ll dangle them, like apples, in front of me. — Ripe, with stems still attached. — He coils his tail, watches, and waits. And, I’ll do my best to avoid his bait — each story a precious, juicy, drunken memory — but they call out to me, until I write them, until I drop them here. — Cores and seeds strewn across his fiery floor.

The Devil shows up when I try to write myself into the future. — He shows up before I tell you that Willingness is the key to changing everything. — “It’sssssssssnot.” He hisses. — His apples may turn your stomach, but, they always leave you full with some kind of truth.

Each story he’s traded me, contains the same reminder. — Whatever I am today, I remain, the product of my unchanging past. — My stories will never change, no matter how desperately I once wanted to rewrite them.

All the things I was — I am.

Willingness is the ability to see ourselves. — Grace enough to accept that we are helplessly flawed, and a strange, new power to love what we have become, in spite of ourselves. Willingness is a catalyst, but, it is also an agreement. — We can trade our drinks for the Devil’s wisdom. He’ll keep our stories. And, when we think we have learned everything, the Devil will open to a page and read. The places and characters, still, all the same. The hurt will still cut, a sharp blade in my side. And, each outcome remains unchanged, a gem in his collection:

He is gone forever and I call out sick for a week to drink gin, from the bottle, in bed. The Christmas tree has fallen, and I sleep in spilled whiskey beside it, pine needles pressed into my cheek. Jason and I dance to bagpipes, full volume, at 3AM and the neighbor calls the landlord. I can see that the cop who fingerprints me pities me and I cry when he takes the laces from my shoes. Tony turns the key and kills the engine, pulls me from behind the wheel, and carries me into the apartment, again. I leave the drugs in an empty pack of cigarettes on the picnic table outside the bar, by accident, and they are still there the next morning. — All this, and still, I am beautiful.

In 12-Step, the 6th Step is: We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. — God, if he exists at all, is questionable. I am guided by the Universe, I think — really, who can say? But, whatever it is that fucks us all over and makes this great world spin, I hope it will never remove my defects. They are what set me apart. — Instead, leave me Willingness.

Willingness to love every poor scrap of myself, what is and what was. Willingness to believe that, beyond this moment, I can only become more — never less.

Trade stories with the Devil. Dance in the flames where you once crawled.

For, Willingness was never our freedom to be without — it was the celebration of everything we hid within.

 

Artwork: “The Devil” by @lisanthropie, from her Tarot interpretation series. (https://www.instagram.com/lisanthropie/?hl=en)