Row, Row, Row Your Boat.

Photo Feb 24, 11 25 18 PM

Good shit is happening.

I’m here, standing at the helm of my happy-boat, but, I’m starting to realize — I have no idea how to steer this thing.

I’m fighting my instinct to return to it: Survival mode. It’s not my fault. It’s built into my most intricate hardware. My skills have been honed and they’re ready and waiting to save me from imminent disaster. For years, I’ve just kept rowing. I never thought I’d know the day when I’d be able to slow down and sit tight. But, I’ve never really seen calm water.

I’ve heard about this place, but, I didn’t think I would actually end up here. And, for the first time in recorded history, it appears that my boat is not taking on water. Could this be the moment when I get to ease up and let the current pull me where it pleases? Because, if it is, I’ve gotta say, it’s strange not having any kind of game plan. And, what’s even more bizarre, is to think that — for me to get here — a game plan of mine actually worked.

It feels like a miracle. What is this place? Is it real? Do they have dark chocolate? They must.

I shift my weight and find my balance. I start to trust the water that keeps me afloat. Suddenly destination-less, I learn that there isn’t a finish line to race toward — and there never was. I breathe out a sigh I’ve been holding onto for ten years and I’ve never felt so still. I notice my own, small movements in ways I never have before.

In 12-Step meetings they’ll tell you to slow down. — Just stop. — Stop drinking. Stop drugging. Stop talking. Stop squirming. Stop planning. Stop apologizing. Just be. And, when you do — it’ll all fall into place. Maybe it’s true, and maybe it isn’t. I don’t know if everything fell into place because I got sober. But, I see now how rowing against the wind has made my arms strong. In sobriety, one thing’s certain — I’ve taken responsibility. — For my life. For the things I’ve done. For who I’ve been. For what I’m becoming. And, most importantly, for who I am.

I have learned to keep myself afloat under fire.

Addiction has always been my escape plan. A justification. An excuse. A short-term gain. A way of bending time that wasn’t mine to bend. For a long time, I was rowing in someone else’s boat. And, truthfully, I couldn’t tell you whose it was. But, it always had leaks I could not repair. Because, when you’re in someone else’s boat, you’ll never have the tools to fix all the damage. A good sailor knows her own boat best. Sobriety built my boat’s skeleton. But it was me who spent years sanding plywood and plugging holes. And, while I floundered off shore — I learned to steer.

Clear skies and smooth waters — it still feels wrong. From my happy-boat, I cast my eyes to the horizon, looking for the next storm. It’s not pessimism — it’s boat-smarts. Just the remnants of a survival mode that was once my default. But, with every new ship we build, we dismantle another.

So, I steady myself. I let the current pull me where it would have me go. Because, one way or another, it all falls into place.

Like the weathered paint on my happy-boat’s bow, my fear dissolves into the lapping water. And, I pull up my oars.

 

 

 

 

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An Unseasonal Sun

Photo Feb 18, 5 33 21 AM

I had to find it. — All things go.

In 2012, when I first got sober, I played Sufjan Steven’s album, The Avalanche, upwards of a thousand of times while I drove my car all over Portland, inhaling and exhaling countless Parliament cigarettes. Smoke trailed from my nicotine stained fingers, out of the rain-spotted-car-window, into the wet Oregon air. The song “Chicago,” in one of its three album versions, was always on repeat — singing out an impossible promise — “All things go.”

Back then, I was sure — nothing was ever going to go. Not the feeling of dread, or the pain, or the loss. And, certainly not the heaviness of that world. In the early days of sobriety, everything felt so permanent. But, in my car, with my windows rolled down and my cigarettes and my Sufjan, I clung to the few, small things I did have. And, those little bits allowed me to hold the small belief that, if I just kept driving — eventually — I’d arrive somewhere.

Two days ago, and nearly three years later, it happened. — All things went.

I felt some kind of magic pulse through the concrete under my boots. The sky shone a strange hue I’d never seen before. And, in a second, after years of waiting for something I was certain would never come, I returned to a place of surety I’d left behind long, long ago.

After three years of stepping in and out of the same puddle, I stood there, on the sidewalk, in my muddy shoes and I let an unseasonal sun, warm my tired, soggy feet. Inexplicably free from all my old chains, I felt it. — I was no longer waiting. Not for anything or anyone. Not anymore.

It’s all arrived. Everything. And, the things that I thought would never go — went.

The pain dulls slowly. But, its memory is now the innocuous thing that reminds me that I am stronger and more beautiful than ever before. I don’t let tiny words hit me like big arrows. I’ve worked hard. I’ve earned my place. And, in this place — I’m free to just let go.

Of course, there’s the actual letting go. The act of releasing all the crap that holds us captive. — The meaning we’ve assigned to things and people. And, that shit takes time. Time that moves slower than any clock or calendar would have you believe. It requires blood. And, your heart will bleed. My heart bled. For years, red trails followed me from my apartment to my car to my office and back to my bar stool. But, more than ever, here, now, I know — wounds will heal. Blood, clots.

The people and the places I lost along the way — I was meant to lose them. But, every faded face and weathered park bench gave me something. They are the rings of my tree. The substance of my bark. All that time is built into my body and allows me to stand, unmoving, when the wind would beg me sway. And all that blood I spilled — it’s just the old sap I pulled up from an almost-dry land.

Clouds move with the wind off the Cascades. Some days, we are gifted an unseasonal sun.  And, on those days — I drive. I roll down my car windows, and, with almost two years cigarette-free, I blast Sufjan at max-volume. I put my arm out the window and I cut the warm air on the Burnside Bridge with the side of my flattened, airplane hand.

I had to find it.

All things go.

 

 

 

 

Here, In My Place.

Photo Feb 11, 6 17 19 AM

Oregon. It’s more than just the place where I got sober. — It’s the place I invented.

Five years ago, I was so sure I knew the road I was traversing. I was sure of everything. I thought I had defined who I was. And, when I headed West from New York City to Portland, with my love, my ambition, and my idealistic dreams, it all seemed so — written. Today, I know that those first steps were only the prologue in a much longer story.

I always thought it would be the place that changed me. Oregon. But, that wasn’t so. This place wasn’t my savior or my curse. Though, at different points in time, I’ve thought it was both. And, I think that’s what I find most interesting about our sense of place. — We think it will define us, but, it’s us who will define it.

No, it never was the Wild West, or the wide and winding rivers, or the deep and twisted gorge. It was the maps I’ve etched onto my own heart. — Maps I could not have penned until I was already in motion. It was sobriety. Something unexpected. Someone unexpected. And, after many falls, I learned — I’d just been fighting to stand in my own place. — Trying, a little too desperately, to forge a trail that had existed inside me all along.

Re-writing your own concept of place is painful. It’s unpredictable and the trajectory is constantly changing. You’ll want to stay still, but, eventually, you’ll give in to the motion. You’ll succumb to your location. And, you’ll laugh at yourself for thinking that you’d stay in this one place — and that, here, you’d know yourself, with surety, forever. So many of the promises we make to ourselves in our youth are truly fool’s gold.

Our true place is un-seeable. Un-knowable. Somewhere we can never truly visit. Its location is our heart’s guess work. We walk through uncharted lands. We look for our place. And, all of us, with our small semblances of pragmatism, find it a challenge to navigate terrain that’s daunting and foreign. We resist. We trip over the Earth we thought was secure beneath our boots.

But, in time, we’ll all discover that we can never locate our true place. There are no coordinates to enter into a GPS. — Only the long steps it took us getting there. The dirt between our toes. The love that pulls us in one direction, then, the explosion in our heart that blows us off the course, landing us somewhere we’d never intended to go.

Yet, here, in this place, we stand. And, just by having made it here, we have done something worthy. We’ve arrived at a destination. Our place. We can put down roots, or, just as easily, we can pull them up and walk onward. We draw one map while we read another.

So, maybe it’s true. Place can define us — but only if we write our own maps.

Here, in Oregon — I recognize the land. I know when the weather is going to turn. I can feel the change in the atmosphere. And, even on the days when it smells like New York, and the sky behind Mt. Hood mirrors one I saw floating above the Brooklyn Bridge years ago — I know where I am — I know where I stand.

It’s here, in this place, I have put down my roots.

And, at the base of a mountain, amongst Oregon pine, amidst all this rain — I’ve grown.

On The Ignorance Of Shmoes

Photo Feb 03, 10 28 49 PM

If you get sober — it’s bound to happen. A shmoe will weigh-in on your recovery.

And, I hope, by then you’ll have grown a thick skin. I hope that you’ll have learned that the only opinion that truly matters — is your own. And, I hope that you’ll have all the tools you need to get past the fact that someone who doesn’t know you or your story — thinks it’s OK to make passive-aggressive judgments about you, your life, and the people who choose to love you.

It’s all part of playing ball.

Though, if you’re wise, being judged will get you thinking. It will beg important questions of you. Like — What is my recovery? Who, beyond myself, has the power to make it legitimate? Anyone? And, how will I thwart attacks from people who just don’t understand?

People who aren’t sober — don’t understand what it means to get sober. They don’t know what it takes. And, they certainly don’t know what it took you. Usually, if they’re still drinking or using, even if they are normal drinkers or recreational drug users, they’re hyper-aware of the fact that you’ve done something they haven’t. Our dark intuition fears what it recognizes. — A highly advanced and amazingly brilliant feature that’s built into our personal self-defense systems. We weigh-in on what threatens us, because it gives us the illusion of dominance and control. — But, don’t be fooled. Erroneous thoughts hide the keys to our power. Which is to say: We can not be harmed by our same-ness — only healed.

One thing that getting sober has afforded me — is the understanding that at no time am I ever completely in control. I fight that assertion, because I am, and always will be — stubborn. But, in many ways, I have become wise. And, in sobriety, I am able to surrender to the judgment of my own mind. I accept that the judgment of others is only a reflection of themselves. I no longer endeavor to define myself for you — it wastes my time. And, I’ve wasted too much time already.

It’s about what I believe. What I know.

And, those of you who sit in judgment will eventually find that, it’s you who are the hot-messes. You’ll put up your armor and insist that the world has been done-to-you, but, I’m here to tell you: That’s just a lie you’re telling yourself. I know better than anyone — we’ve done it to ourselves.

We stay. We have another drink. We do another line. We write pretty lies so that we can read them back to ourselves and pretend they’re true. We wallow in a past that’s done and gone. We relive moments that have lost all their meaning. We create meaning where there is none. And we say it’s unfair when, all along, it’s us who have been standing in the same. exact. place. — I know. I’ve done it.

I’d be a liar if I told you that I don’t judge you too, Shmoe. But, what I say about you between my ears — stays there. I’m a friend of Bill W. — I know about restraint of pen and tongue. But, there will always be an appropriate time for speaking out. For owning our guts. For wearing our skin.

So, throw your words at me. I’ve heard them all before. — I’ve said them all before. My skin is thick. My mind is clear. My heart is sure.

My recovery — it’s mine.

And, Shmoe, there aren’t words you can write, say, or sing that will ever take that away from me.