Haunted

blondes

Ghosts. Some will stay with you. Some will leave you.

It goes far beyond trick or treat. Many of my ghosts still go “Boo!” in the night, but, most of them haunt me from afar. Actually, some of my ghosts aren’t dead at all — they’re very much alive.

I still find it difficult to believe that this is my third, sober Halloween. The first was euphoric. My first holiday after getting clean, I sat on a chilly porch in a big, grey hoodie. I wore a knit animal hat with my best friend, who had one too. We laughed, passed out candy, and I felt like — for the first time — I had finally discovered what I wanted in life and that I had it — sitting there on that porch — sober. My second Halloween, I was completely lost. This time last year, I was more haunted than ever. I was flanked by ghosts — most of which, weren’t even mine. I wore a blonde wig. I sat, with over a year of sobriety, wishing I were somewhere else — someone else. I wanted to change a situation that wasn’t mine to change. I ignored my own fear. I hid from it. I took a smug selfie, which I posted on Facebook with the caption: “So, blondes really do have more fun.” I thought that if I typed it out, maybe I would believe it were true — It wasn’t. Even my smirk lied.

This year, I don’t know what to expect. I feel a ghost walking next to me. Part of me wants to run. Part of me wants to offer up my skeleton-hand. Sometimes the only way to chase away spooks is to face them. Look them in the eye. And, sometimes, it’s best to realize that ghosts are ghosts, and to leave them, where they belong, in the ground.

Sobriety makes choices like these, easier. I know what’s practical, rational, and even wise. But, knowing has no bearing on my impulse. When I feel, I feel big. My heart opens like a flower, or it seizes up like the breaks on a runaway train. I’ve lived in my own extremes. My first and second Halloween in sobriety were my typical modus operandi — High/Low. Utopia/The Underworld. So, what’s next? What follows up the two, opposite ends of the spectrum? Normalcy? Mediocrity? Boredom? Stability? Do I want those things?

I think of that first year, my friend, smiling, in his blue-cat-hat. How I shoved Reece’s Peanut Butter cups into my face and thought: This is what it’s really about — Joy. Laughter. Freedom. Love. — That porch was cold, but heat radiated from a new place in my heart and I felt a warmth I hadn’t realized I had inside myself. I think how,  a year later, that same warmth had burned out. How even warm rooms felt cold. How ghosts filed in and took what wasn’t theirs to take. How I hid inside myself and kept smiling. I didn’t know — A blonde wig wouldn’t fool anyone. Even  myself.

I wish I had some crumb of wisdom for you in this post. I wish I could offer something honest and true that would carry some weight. A bit of hope. A story where all the costumes fit. A story where the candy doesn’t rot your teeth. But, all I can think about is how it feels — being haunted. Quiet, secretive, and dark. I suppose it’s only appropriate that as All Hallows’ Eve nears, all the undead and invisible spirits have come to pay me a visit. My own heart-hinges are creaky and they echo here in my haunted-house-head.

I offer up a prayer for the dead. For the ghosts that still haunt me and for those that have gone their own way. It’s the best I can do. I pray that, this year, things fall on even ground. That there is happiness and reverence. That, whether my wig is on or off, I am who I am — without fear.

As for the ghost at my side — there’s no escaping it — I reach out my skeleton-hand.

 

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Peripheral Visions

Photo Oct 21, 5 29 00 PM

I don’t worry about the obvious things.

When I enter a state of worried-panicked-frenzy, I know better than to examine what’s right in front of my nose. I have always managed to keep those details well tended. The thing I am wary of: The periphery.

I, like many alkies and addicts, am very good at keeping up appearances. I know what to say and how to say it — even to myself. I mastered that skill long, long ago. Back while I was still drinking, I had to convince myself, and you, that I was not only OK, but, better than OK. — Great. Stellar. Perfect.

These days, I often find myself painfully sober. So, I keep up other appearances. Without the booze, emotions and feelings become a special-kind-of-complicated — communicating them, containing them, and sometimes hiding them — even more so. I feel it, the hair on my arms stands up as the pub turns on it’s magical-magnetic-tracking-device. I fight the pull. But, I keep quiet, because I’m OK. — I think.

But, that’s how it happens. Or, so I’m told. Seasoned, sober old-timers will tell you that it starts, first, with that teeny-tiny, itty-bitty, little thought — You’re OK. The second thought becomes — well, a bourbon might end up being OK too. And, the third thought — there’s no time for that — because you’re already seated on a bar stool. Struck drunk.

It isn’t obvious. All these little things appear innocuous. The fucking periphery.

So, I tread lightly. I can’t see where or how all the shit starts to pile up. But, I’m starting to notice my own cracks and how they’ve widened. I’m no fortune teller. I can’t say when or how, or even if, it will collapse. Yeah. Maybe, it won’t collapse. But, it’s there — the little voice that tells me — It. Just. Might. Collapse.

The not-so-obvious feeling. That’s the one that worries me.

On a Friday night, I stay in as a precaution. I sit at the dining room table and I write it down in Sharpie marker on a little, maroon notepad — the most obvious thing I can think of: Don’t fuck it up.

I pour myself another cup of coffee.

It’s tenuous and tenacious — my sobriety. In this moment I respect it’s power. I allow my unwise inclinations to dissolve. I let them go. I don’t judge them.

Lots of things can happen, the good and the bad. So, I decide to open my eyes a little bit wider. I monitor the periphery closely.

In a still moment, my little feelings subside. My coffee mug is still warm in my hands. I’m here. Now. And — I’m OK.

Better than OK. — I’m Great. Stellar. Perfect.

 

Strangers With Candy

stranger

Sometimes, I don’t know myself.

Getting sober has been a crazy evolution.  I’ve glided, then bounced, through various stages of metamorphosis. But, despite charting my own movements, I’m still a stranger.

What’s even scarier than not knowing the person I’ve become — is liking her. She sees things in a new, easy-going way. She’s funny. She doesn’t care about crap that doesn’t matter — for the most part anyway. She’s more and more consistent with every month that passes. And, sometimes, that means she’s a consistent mess, but there’s a stability in her clutter that feels like some kind of Darwinian progress.

She’s shown me that when I let myself cave and make some room,  I have the ability to develop into a different, better version of myself. For a time, I kept things as small as possible — contained them. I used to think that if any one thing got too big — it would all go to shit. Back then, I was set on taking things. Now, the space I inhabit is given to me. There isn’t an internal struggle for territory any longer. I’m kinder to myself. I respect my own wisdom. And, while I will still break my own rules, my own promises, and occasionally my own heart — I know that I can trust myself to see things as they are.

A fog has lifted. My mind no longer talks in a desperate, panicked voice. I’m less apologetic: Life’s too short for desperation. — Take me or leave me.

This stranger I’ve allowed to inhabit my space — I listen to her — even if I choose to ignore her advice. Like me, she is sensitive and pragmatic, but, she knows where a bit of tough love and recklessness will serve her — and us. She has good ideas. Sometimes, I even think I trust her.

So I do this thing — this dancing with myself. And, it’s not so bad. We cut a rug almost as well as my father and I do at family weddings. This woman suit I wear — it fits better than when I first tried it on. I’m almost comfortable. Maybe the older, more rigid version of myself has finally softened. And, suddenly, this person I never intended to be — the one I avoided — has become the best version of me yet. Go figure.

Sometimes strangers will offer you candy — let yourself be tempted. This other version of me — She was patient. She was kind. She moved slowly, allowing me to change without seeing or feeling it. She snuck into my day to day being. And, just like that — I was someone new.

Like a chameleon, I shed that skin — old feelings and people — it feels good. I discover that those things we hold on to so desperately are the things that we need to let go of most. Discarding the older version of yourself, the one that no longer fits, is liberating — like tossing out your “fat jeans.” It’s more than a costume change. It’s a declaration.

Give in. Go without a fight. Evolve.

Take the candy.

 

 

 

 

Just For Laughs

Photo Oct 07, 7 05 36 PM

My giggle has snowballed.

What started off as a thin curve in the corner of my mouth, now parts my teeth and lips. Old, stale air busts out of my lungs, exhaling dust, like a door being pulled off an ancient, sealed tomb. It’s more than just a breath — I let everything go. I once sat, tight-lipped and quiet, but now — wild noises erupt from my face.

Laughter. It’s happening.

At unpredictable times, with unpredictable rhythms, and in unpredictable places. It’s disconcerting — and glorious.

Up until recently, laughter was something I used with caution — I guarded it. I covered my mouth with my hands. Laughter seldom passed these lips that, for a long while, only spoke solemn words. Back then, I let all the jesters in my life perform without reward. I held on tightly to a pain that, I was sure, laughter would invalidate. So, it leaked it out in small spurts, like little coughs, that barely sounded.

I have since learned to let things escape.

Now, I hold my knees together while my stomach shakes. I laugh — tears streaming from the corners of my eyes, running over my cheekbones — which are sore from smiling. Sometimes, I think I need to be sedated. But, instead of quieting the squeals of my sweet abandon — I let them loose. It frees me up. It makes space for the things that need the room. It allows others to do the same. The word “infectious” is not an appropriate one here. This thing — this audible joy — is not a disease. It’s the cure.

Laughter is its own form of permission. The first time I set it free — along with the ancient air that sat trapped in my gut — I felt like I might be sick. I didn’t know what I was letting go of. I have learned to embrace the vacancy. There is just an empty space now, but, it’s not a void that needs filling. So, I leave it — happily unoccupied.

Today, I snort out my pleasure like a pig in shit. I sit in front of the TV screen and let it hit the chords I cannot hit myself. I let a friend’s sarcasm rub me the right way. I feel it — my own fresh air — rushing up the sides of my chest. I belt out chuckles that travel from the couch to the kitchen.

Laughter is the great necromancer. Something in me is alive again.

I feel it rise in my throat. I throw my head back. I let it escape me.

Now, who’s got a good joke?

Queen Of Tides

Photo Oct 01, 6 43 09 AM

The tide goes out.

Fucking planetary shifts. Everything feels like it’s moving but, in truth, it all remains the same.

I’ve been toggling between complete abandon and steadfast rigidity. Even in my sobriety, there is lack of balance. I make subtle shifts in an attempt to adjust, but, I’m still unsure if I’m putting my weight on the right foot. I only know one thing for sure: I cannot keep standing still.

Change is like pulling teeth. Gritty, bloody, then sore. I’m the Queen of Comfortable. I like knowing what’s next. Guarded. Predictable. Safe. But I’m finding, these days, that I’ve started to lose interest in safety. Being stationary — a statue in status quo — has never been my forte. But, moving in a different direction is scary. There are only certain people and things I can count on — what if they don’t move when I do?

I ask myself, should I listen to my mother? Or God? Or my heart? — Are they all the same? Is the crazy, homeless guy outside my apartment window my guru? — Probably not, a friend tells me. So who’s the expert? Is it me? Maybe that little voice going off inside me isn’t wrong. Starting over is hard. Starting from scratch is harder. I try to remember that I’ve become skilled at wading through the changing tides.

I wonder how many things I’ll change my mind about this week. Which dreams I’ll abandon — And what I’ll exchange them for.

I sometimes think about what I’m missing while I’m busy giving myself lectures on why things can’t and won’t turn out well. Being careful, playing my cards right, waiting until the iron is hot, then striking — it’s all a satin bow on my rotting pile of procrastination. I’m tired of waiting. For a long time it was someone else who held my strings in place. Now, I’ve no one to blame but myself.

I lay quietly in the dark — I allow myself to hear the sad thoughts that make my heart turn to glop. It’s the stillness, not the mayhem, that draws the tide back in — gravity. The water glides with such ease, when it’s finally pulled back into the well at the ocean’s core, it leaves behind soft lines in the sand — they wait under the waves until the water peels back like wrapping paper.

The moon is up. And, I think — maybe I’ll do something crazy.

Everything is different. Gravity.

The tide comes in.