A Year Of Beautiful Mistakes

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Tomorrow — it will be the New Year. And, traditionally, that has meant absolutely nothing.

As an adult, I’ve never devoted too much time to pondering what the New Year will hold in store. I’ve always returned to my track record: Which is to say — It’s going to be bad.

In years past, it meant fancy dinners, donning little black dresses and the clink-clink-clanking of champagne glasses — almost always followed by blacking out in cabs, or at bars, or on my couch — my black, open-toed heels still strapped to my blistered feet.

To my own credit, I sometimes have made attempts to kick off the New Year with a few, tiny shreds of hope and optimism, only to be thwarted later, and reminded that, no — No-Siree-Bob — this year isn’t going to be my year either.

I’ve never been one to make resolutions or to scribe an epic list of the things I hope to change and improve. That’s never been my style. And, I have always surrounded myself with people who were equally disillusioned. I mean, why bother? A kiss at midnight and a fifth of whiskey always seemed like more than enough. Until — it became too much. And, even in letting the bottle go, I have still managed to get lost in my unrealistic expectations.

In 12-Step meetings they’ll tell you that expectations are future disappointments. And, in some cases, that’s very true. I’ve spent most of my life waiting for something or someone that will never show up. I’ve tried to resurrect things that were cold and dead in the hopes that I could make them breathe again. I’ve wanted to fix everything, picking up the jagged pieces of my life like a broken wine glass from the floor, my fingers bleeding, never thinking to cut my losses and start over. Even in sobriety, I’ve made the same mistakes, over and over, expecting some different outcome. — The very definition of insanity.

But, as much as I’ve lost to my own expectations, in my sober adventures, I’ve also found that there is much to be gained by being present, and expecting good things in the moments for which I am truly there. Sober, I’ve made myself open to possibility — more than ever before. I’ve found gratitude for small things. I’ve learned that, sometimes, the same mistake can take you somewhere new — somewhere magical. But it won’t always happen on the first try. Or the second. Or even the third.

Now — more than ever — I have to be careful without cowardice. I cannot roll in and out with every tide, nor can I plant my feet in the sand. I have to remind myself that I’ve spent too much of my life writing off my own expectations. And as a result, I’ve tolerated the shittiest of situations for far too long and I’ve let myself off the hook when I should have remained accountable. But, this year, something is different.

For the first time in years, it’s looming. — Big change. — Like watching a storm cloud break over the ocean and seeing the sun spill out over the dark waves. Good things — they’re coming. And, for some strange reason, in this new year, 2015, all my dreams seem plausible.

My wish for us — whatever this New Year may bring — is that we be present for all our days. That we live in the moments that raise us up and in those that leave us wanting. Because, like Baba Ram Dass has told us from the very start, to Be Here, Now, is to truly live.

And so, it is with some relief and a twinge of sadness that I bid farewell to 2014. My year of beautiful mistakes. Not the least of which has brought me to this moment — one where I stand most presently.

On this New Year’s Eve, I hope that you find yourself as I do — In love.

For, where there is love — all things are possible.

 

Happy New Year.

 

 

 

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The Re-gifted Reindeer

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Get out the wrapping paper. It’s re-gifting time.

Yes, I’m home for Christmas. I’m 30. And — in some cultures — I’m what passes for an adult. Yet, here I am, on the couch in my parent’s living room, sitting cross-legged in my pajamas — wearing sparkly reindeer antlers.

For a just a moment — I judge myself harshly. I mean, how is it, really, that after all this time and after all the crap I’ve been through — grown-up heartbreak, real-life lessons, crap-ass jobs, meaningful-to-meager relationships — that I’ve returned home only to be reduced to some primitive version of myself?

Truthfully, I’m not sure. Which is why, this year, I’m trying to cut my bad self a little slack. I’m starting to realize that my self-assessments were never really quite accurate. Each sober day that passes, I make new peace with whoever this woman is that I’m becoming. I’m no teenager — despite the very-real-feeling that I will remain seventeen for all perpetuity. And, while it’s true that, most days, I wish I were something different — something more — I’m starting to feel more comfortable declaring my own instability.

The holiday season is a time for compassion. We’re supposed to go deep and give big. And this year, the only way I can give more of myself is to dust off those old, buried pieces of my soul — the ones that I deemed unfit for consumption. Perhaps I was too hasty in writing myself off. I think it’s time that I dug out my old gifts and gave my new, sober hardware a run for its money.

It’s time to start re-gifting. — Re-gifting myself.

So many of us hand out the same gifts, year after year. We give away the safe pieces of our heart — the pieces with smooth edges — the parts of us that we think are worthy. I’m realizing that it’s time to start putting more on the table. It’s time to bust out the sharp-edged-second-tier-heart-bits.

Sobriety has taught me how to give more of myself. And, sometimes, it’s uncomfortable. Showing up to the holiday party with extra baggage is scary. We give ourselves the illusion of being in control when we allow everything in our lives to remain the same. — And, let’s face it, there is something comforting about the neighbor showing up with the same-fucking-fruitcake every year — even if it’s become your annual tradition to drop it into the trash can like a brick.

I sit on the couch, my festive, sequined antlers twinkling in the Christmas tree lights, and I’m reminded that I need to re-purpose these negative feelings. Especially the ancient ones that were written into my DNA long ago. How we see ourselves is just the story we write in our own heads. It’s time to write something better. My family will always expect one version of Sarah — but the truth is, they’ll have to accept whatever Santa decides to throw under the tree. And, by actually facing my own shortcomings, I become less apologetic for the things I’m not.

This year, I encourage you to re-gift all the things that don’t serve you. Write something new. Find the unused parts of your heart. Predictable appearances are overrated.

Give more.

Red noses get noticed. Let your freak flag fly.

The Ghosts Of Christmas Past

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“Spirit!” said Scrooge in a broken voice, “remove me from this place.”

“I told you these were shadows of the things that have been,” said the Ghost. “That they are what they are, do not blame me!”

December 20, 2011 — My phone rang, waking me with a start. It was my mother, which I found odd because she knew to never to call me before noon. And, in that off moment of sleepy confusion — I knew — she had bad news. At the end of the line, a coast away, my mother choked out the words: My cousin had been killed the night before in a tragic accident. She had bought me a plane ticket home. I was going back East.

I had been drunk, almost constantly, for several months prior to his death. And, in the truly sobering moments that followed my mother’s phone call, I struggled to locate my emotion. I had rendered myself dull and numb. Tears dammed up behind my eyes. Words got caught in my larynx. Nothing in the room moved — except my arm — which swung out to my right side, off the bed, and grabbed for the open bottle of gin sitting on my bedside table. 7:43AM. I remember. I took a swig.

At work, my gracious coworkers had rallied for me. The skeleton crew that remained for the Christmas holiday had all divvied up my waitressing shifts without complaint. The bartender slipped me shots of whiskey during dinner service. It was the first time I ever drank on the job. After my shift, I sat at the pub around the corner from my apartment and I drank more. Bourbon. I left at last call and I only slept for a few hours before waking up and tossing my clothing into a suitcase haphazardly between swigs from my bottle of bedroom gin.

I arrived at the airport early and I sat at the bar while I waited to board my flight. As I slurped up the last, red sip of my 4th Bloody Mary through a long black straw, the man next to me asked me if he could buy me another. “I’m guessing you’re not having such a Merry Christmas,” he said. The bartender put my 5th drink down in front of me as the man got up. “Happy Holidays,” he said, wheeling his bag toward the gate. When I asked the bartender for my tab, she told me that the man had taken care of my entire bill.

I have never been so drunk on a plane. I ordered two 2 vodkas — the flight attendant handed me the 4 little minis like a vendor at a sporting event. I didn’t bother to mix them with my club soda. I remember holding each blue bottle up to my lips — one, then another, then another. I woke up from a blackout as we hit the runway at JFK International Airport. My head felt like it had been slammed between two bricks. My cousin met me at the baggage claim, where we collapsed into each other’s arms and cried. As we walked to the car she said, “Jesus Christ, Sarah. You reek of vodka.”

It has never been necessary to hide my drinking from my family. This behavior was routine — my routine — our routine. And, given the circumstance of my return, I wasn’t the only one taking nips on the sly. We shuttled from my childhood home, to my aunt and uncle’s house in New Jersey, and back again. We all wept and drank. We sat perfectly still between embraces, and we were silent between sobs. The Christmas decorations only noted the season. We’d all forgotten what day is was — the clocks had stopped and the calendar was just a piece of paper on the wall.

Christmas Day, just days after the funeral, I flew home to Portland. I drank more vodka on the plane. And, when we landed, I had my cabbie drive me directly to the pub. I didn’t bother to stop at home and drop off my bags. For last call, the bartender turned off the juke box and played Elvis’ Blue Christmas and I got up to vomit in the women’s room.

*           *           *

This will be my third sober Christmas. And, when I arrive at PDX to fly East, I will sit and wait for my plane at the gate — not the bar. I will sip my complimentary cranberry cocktail and I will page through a fashion magazine and listen to Frank Sinatra’s Christmas albums on my headphones. I will lay my head on the folding tray and try to sleep until the captain illuminates the “Fasten Seat Belt Sign” and announces our descent.

At JFK, I will walk past the baggage carousel and see the same spot where my cousin and I fell into each other’s arms before she drove me home, stinking of vodka. And, while I wait in the taxi line, the dam will break and I will cry again for my cousin who is gone.

I will pull my bags out of the back seat of a yellow cab and I will hug my mother on the stoop of our house in Brooklyn. When I walk in our front door, I will smell the perfume of the Douglas Fir. And when I see that Christmas tree, lit, in the corner of our living room — nostalgia will stop my heart for a just a few beats. My father will come down the squeaky steps and fold me in his arms before he kisses my forehead and says, “It’s good to have you home Monkeybird.” And, in my eyes, he’ll see — It’s good to be home.

It’s also good to be sober. So, I won’t think about drinking until I open the cabinet to the left of the microwave. I always find my old bottle of Jim Beam while I’m looking for something else in my mother’s kitchen. I poured my cousin a secret drink from that same bottle on Thanksgiving Day, 2011, just a month before his death. It seems fitting that the bottle should remain unfinished. And so, I honor his memory with every drink I do not take.

These were shadows of things that have been. — That they are what they are, do not blame me.

So, I leave my bottle on the shelf for ghosts. Because, my parents never cared for bourbon.

Which is crazy. — I know.

 

 

[Italicized Prose Excerpt: Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol; Artwork (before edits): Sol Eytinge, Jr.]

Angels We Have Heard, Are High

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Angels, if they show up at all, will show up in varying states of sobriety.

I learned this over the weekend while helping out a friend who is laid up at home, recovering from ankle surgery. If you decide to show up for someone who takes prescription drugs like a normal person — you may end up getting more than you bargained for.

Being of service to an immobile, normal drinker meant that I got to pour whiskey. Because, as the best of us addicts know, the fastest way to kick start your pain relief is to chase your pills with liquor — straight, strong, and brown. So, I did what any good alkie does — I employed my somewhat questionable nursing techniques and administered the good stuff.

When I pulled the cork from that bottle, it made the squeak-pop-ah! sound I remember a little too well. That spicy perfume — it burst into the air under my nose like a vapor firework. BOOM. Happy Fucking Holidays! Glorious whiskey. It’s been years. Years. But, it comes back to me like an old lover  — that wood, fire, and sweetness. I poured 2 fingers into a small glass and carried it out to my friend — feeling like I was one of the 3 fucking kings.

There aren’t many people that will remind you of who you are while they are miserable and writhing in pain. And, there aren’t many angels that will show up when you actually need them. But, somewhere between episodes of various HBO series and cheesy holiday movies, something happened to me. I went from trying to be someone else’s savior to being saved.

Since getting sober, showing up for people means something different. It means owning the woman I am when I walk into the room and offering what I actually have to give — knowing it’s enough. Somewhere along the way, I forgot how to do that. And, apparently, it took a hopped-up Christmas angel to remind me that the person I am is a helluva lot better than the person I’ve been forcing myself to be.

So, it turns out, I did get the angel I’ve been praying for —  but even better — I got a totally badass angel with a bionic ankle that has a steel plate, 2 pins, and, like, 10 metal screws. And, even after 5 rounds of Oxycodone and 4 fingers of whiskey, he still managed to find kind things to say to me, even though it was me who was supposed to be the moral support. I guess I forgot that the broken bits inside our hearts need just as much care as our shattered bones. And, as fate would have it, that winged Christmas junkie with an elevated leg and a taste for Stumptown cold brew, he did all the fixing — my fixing — all from his horizontal position.

So this year, I’m ringing as many bells as I possibly can in hopes that my crack-baby angel gets his ankle back soon, and you should too.

This holiday season, lose the bows and the little black dresses. Show up to the Christmas party in worn out jeans with a stack of rom com DVDs.  Because, sometimes, pouring the whiskey is far better than drinking it. And, if you find yourself bar tending for the right angel, you may be reminded that — you were always enough.

Gloria, In Excelsis Deo.

 

 

Pardoning The Turkey-Bird

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If you’re in the mood for a sentimental Thanksgiving retrospective — you’re shit outta luck.

There will be no jovial, light hearted fluff piece where I wax poetic on my many, zany family characters nor will I dramatize the hilarious-pseudo-tragedy of some overcooked turkey disaster. Because, this year, my family was in New York and I’m a vegan.

The one thing I must note, after the events of this Thanksgiving weekend, is the serendipitous nature of life — the law of attraction, fate, God’s will — call it what you want. Sometimes the universe will fork something over that’s too good for telling. The kind of holiday story that can be tied up with a big, red bow and stuck under our existential Christmas trees like a present for each one of us to open with glee, whilst sipping peppermint hot cocoa. The kind of story that does best living in our hearts. A holiday tale that sounds better between our ears than it does between periods, dashes, and commas.

Thanksgiving Day, I drove to a friend’s house with three huge bags full of frozen Tofurky pizzas, guacamole, and coconut ice cream. I slowed on Belmont Street. As I approached the Horse Brass Pub, I felt it — the cosmic pull. I felt my foot pulse on the brake. And, truly, I considered it — stopping there for just one drink. I could feel my fingers wrapped around a rocks glass. I could hear the scratched, smokey laughter of the three, old men sitting next to me. I felt the vibration of that solemn energy which always hangs in the air of bars on holidays. You can feel it — the nights where everyone who’s ponied up to the bar knows — they should be somewhere else. I recall the permission that just one drink could afford me — how I could forgive myself for a lifetime of letting my love and my joy escape me.

I’m not sure what moved me. Maybe it was the the thawing pizza and melting ice cream, or, maybe it was the thought of my friend sitting alone in his house, but, I decided to accelerate. I decided to forgo the one drink that would have turned into my entire holiday. As I drove past the bar, casting my gaze out of the passenger window, I saw them — locked gates. The bar windows were dark, their neon signs coiled and black. THANKSGIVING. Suddenly I became  aware — stopping here — was never my decision.

Give thanks. It’s so much bigger than we are — this life. I’ve chosen to be sober in an attempt, however feeble, to have the best life possible — the life that I was meant to be living before I lost myself. But, more often than not, being sober is hard, and staying sober is harder. When I decide how to walk the path, too many times, I end up stranded. I watch my imagined life and how it continues to fall short of my expectations. I wander down the “safe” path when, all along, the universe has been calling me to travel the uncharted road.

So, this Thanksgiving, I decide that I am no longer going to decide. Right there on Belmont, I learned to forgive — I pardoned my inner-Turkey-bird.

During the holidays, I tap into the childish wonder I once possessed. I listen and I watch for magic. And, when I do that — the path finds me. The world falls into place, however haphazardly. And, I keep driving.

Because, the gate is locked, friends are waiting, and the bag of frozen groceries is melting.