The Hunker Bunker

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There is nothing worse than being stuck.

I’ve heard it said, the definition of hell is standing in one place while wishing you were standing in another.

Unfortunately for us, it would appear that the human experience itself is an ongoing parade from one plane of our stuck-ness to the next. We stop. We assess. We look for new places to stand. And, me, I know — I’ve been in this spot before. I’ve felt it. — Change is imminent. I’m on the brink, but, I still find myself looking too far down the path ahead. I get caught up in distances that are too mysterious to gauge.

And, when I become overwhelmed by my own sense of place — or lack thereof — I do it. — I hunker.

My best friend can predict my hunkering — episodes of withdrawal and isolation — with laser-like precision. It’s no secret when I am tired of fighting the good fight. I become exhausted searching for the next, best place. So, I resign myself to my bed where I binge-watch television shows on Hulu and Netflix and tell myself that nothing will ever change. Ever. Ever. Ever.

It sounds terrible. But, in truth, it’s pretty fantastic. Not only is hunkering incredibly relaxing, non-invasive, and cheap — it’s the pre-cursor to breakthrough.

I wrote recently about the advantages of identifying patterns. — How labeling my predictable routines has helped me to see where I was wrong, or where I needed to change, or where I kept putting myself in harm’s way. And, yet another advantage of this self-awareness is — you know when things are about to shift.

Hunkering is a sign. And while I’ll admit that it’s a behavior that sends up some red flags, — mainly a house-ridden, quiet, and antisocial alcoholic — it’s not all bad, I assure you. I’ve camped out in the hunker bunker many times before. I know the drill. And, I know that what follows is the sincere desire, drive, and momentum — to evacuate.

An experienced hunker-er knows that change is inevitable. There are only so many hours we can stay in the good graces of our beds. There are only so many days we can devote to celebrating our own misery. And — there are only so many episodes of The Mindy Project available on Hulu Plus.

The truth is, if we stand in one place long enough, wishing we were standing somewhere else — we will eventually move toward that other place. We move because it is unbearable if we don’t. Sometimes, we don’t even know that we’ve taken the step.

To hunker is to catalyze.

So, I tell my best friend, lovingly — I’m going. Don’t call. Don’t write. Don’t text. I’m headed into the bunker. I know the drill. I celebrate my stuck-ness. I know where I’m disappearing to, and I know what’s coming. And, soon — I’ll emerge.

Because, after standing in the same place for far too long there is nothing else to do — but move.

 

Artwork: Andrew Wyeth; Daydream, Tempera on panel.

Hand Signals

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I’m laying in Shavasana on the living room floor.

My head is uncomfortably quiet. In the gold plated fixture on the ceiling where a lamp used to be, I see my own reflection. I’m wearing black, and, I stare at my corpse. Palms open. Hands signalling to myself — the crow above.

Since returning to New York, I’ve revisited many things. Most of which, are very different than the way I left them. People. Places. Feelings. While I was gone, I wasn’t the only one reinventing myself. Losing myself. Rebuilding myself. It was all happening here, without me.

The world spins madly on. But, this evening, after returning home from a 12-Step meeting, the only thing spinning inside me is an immense gratitude. — A gratitude so big that it quiets everything else.

In Portland, I’d all but lost my 12-Step program. I crumbled after meeting an unstable and dangerous person, and, it almost took me out of the game that made me. I forgot who I was and how I had arrived at my own sobriety. I connected confused feelings to 12-Step that were better left isolated, and, as a result, I returned to the angry and bitter woman I had worked so hard to leave behind. But, here, back home, I’m peeking through the crack in the door. I am revisiting the program that once saved me — with a childlike caution. There is comfort returning to this thing that never truly left me, though, I tried to tell myself it was gone. Things I once let frighten me, return and become my beacons. My reminders. — We are here. — And, none of us is safe, but, unified, we are all alive and trying.

Change, so incredibly painful, — ushers us forward.

In a church basement, things I had forgotten return to me. My ears, once again, are opened and humbled by someone else’s pain. And, in a strange moment where I feel loss and gain simultaneously, I remember how it feels to have a profound understanding of someone else without knowing them at all — the power just one voice can wield.

In quiet stillness, our hands reach out for each other. I am truly home again.

Nothing is the same. No one is the same.

Visibly shaken, our hands make quick work of signaling our stories. Dark shadows on a bright wall. And, in our shared state of despondent confusion, we are united in possibility.

And gratitude. — Immense and compelling gratitude. — The kind that quiets you for days. — Until you hear your own words leave another man’s mouth.

And, without making a sound, you have returned. To this beautiful, and changed, universe. — Brooklyn.

 

 

Little Fish, Big Sea

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The subway. It’s revelatory. I’d forgotten.

Every time the conductor cries out “Stand clear of the closing doors!” and the bell chimes, I have a sort of epiphany.

It’s been awhile. But, I’m back on the train — literally and figuratively.

These moments. These people. These — STOPS. I think about them. With every little movement, something huge shifts. Someone changes. A woman turns the page of her book. A kid shoves his scooter under the orange and yellow seats. A guy stuffs a bagel with cream cheese into his face and the white glop oozes out the sides of his Everything and over the wax paper and down his fat, pink fingers. — It’s a show. A glorious fucking show.

I sit on the 2 train, awed. I wonder — Have I been gone so long that these vignettes of mundane existence, these glimpses into the drudgery of everyone’s daily, city commute, have suddenly become the most romantic thing in the world? Maybe it’s because I’ve only been home for a month. And, sure, everything is still shiny and new. But, no, the more I think about it — it’s so much more than that.

I boil it down to get to what’s different and, — I think it’s sobriety. And no — not just the fact that I’m clean and sober — whomp, whomp, patontheback, patontheback — it’s more. It’s one of the side effects of sobriety that have slowly begun to crop up. A kind of gift. It’s something I was denied while I was living here years ago, but now, I suddenly have access. And that, that thing I’ve finally tapped into — is the ability to admire the machine of which I am part.

Here, inΒ  New York City, sober, I have allowed myself to become small again. Something I never could have permitted myself to do before. Back then, I wanted to be a big fish. The biggest fucking fish in the biggest fucking sea. And, blazing forward in my self-obsessed fury — to become and to have and to live and to consume — I missed it. I missed the incredible beauty of living a small life. I never saw these little pieces. The city under a microscope.Β  I never appreciated the infinite and tiny parts of this incredible and unique place that, without asking anything in return, surrounds and envelops me with beauty and intrigue.

All this. Right here. A big sea. A HUGE FUCKING SEA. And me, somehow, no longer terrified of being a guppy. To the contrary — I wish I were smaller. I want to see it all come up around me. My eyes well up as we clatter through the dark tunnels of the NYC underworld. I keep thinking of all the things I missed while I fought so hard trying to get upstream. — All the pages that were turned, all the scooters that were shoved, and all the cream cheese that was oozing. — And, I missed it.

But, I catch myself and I smile when I hear it again. — “Stand clear of the closing doors!”

And, one last straggler — a man in a suit with a missing button — squeezes through the metal doors and joins our little school of fish and, together, we all dive beneath the waves of the East River.

 

 

Photo: “Portraits, 2-3 Train” By: James Maher; http://www.jamesmaherphotography.com/photoblog_view_post/637-portraits-2-3-train

 

Three Years On The See-Saw

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We wake up.Β Really slowly.

Maybe it takes a year or two to move one, rotten inch. And, it’s sneaky, the business of waking up. Fucking subtle. So, don’t expect it to hit you hard or for it to happen all at once. It’s not some invincible force that saves and redeems you. But, it happens. There is an awakening.

Today marks three years sober. And, like every year, for the past three years, I’ve spent the week, leading up to today, trying to figure out where, exactly, I fit into all of this. Sobriety. — A word I throw around somewhat haphazardly. — I often forget the weight of things. Honestly, I’d being lying if I told you I felt one way or the other about it. In truth, it feels like I’m standing right in the middle of an enormous see-saw.

I wasn’t always up for the balancing act. Three years ago today, I wouldn’t have been able to stand in the middle of anything. Everything was an extreme. — Loss or gain. In or out. Good or evil. God or none. — One side or the other.

Today, I’m not so sure. I find that I’m often open to things that I’m not privy to. Miracles. Fate. Divine intervention. Maybe even some chaos and anarchy. — But, I’m open. That’s for sure.

The night before I got sober, I got cut off at my favorite pub. The owner told me, “Happy Birthday,” as I walked out of his bar, shitfaced. He knew all about sober anniversaries. He was a good guy who was happy to see me go. I, on the other hand, wasn’t so happy. I knew my drinking was bad news, but, I wasn’t so sure that the alternative was better. I think about her — Good ol’ shitfaced me. The girl who was so uncertain about the possibility of something genuinely good coming her way. And, three years later, I look back on that time, wide awake. I didn’t know how to comfort myself back then, because — I wasn’t there. But, now, I’m here every day. And all my voices speak.

The voice that reminds me to cry. The voice that tells me to step up. The voice that ushers me, with care, away from the people and places that no longer serve me. And, the voice that honors all that I’ve lost in these three years. — Together, we kneel at the graves of the many versions of myself that I’ve buried because they didn’t learn the right lessons.

I stand in the middle now, with confidence. Because I know, sooner or later, like it or not — this see-saw’s gonna flip and I’ll see what each end has to offer. I’ll stand high and I’ll sink low. Tides turn. And, I’m not afraid of the change anymore.

It’s nothing I can mark on paper. It’s not even a feeling. Three years is nothing but a notch I use to keep my place in the mess of cogs — a system in flux. Something that, next year, will be even more expansive. Awake and limitless, without warnings or boundaries. I count the years even though I know now — they mean nothing.

Just more room. Room for losses and gains. Ins and outs. Gods and none.

And me. There’s finally room for me.

And, I’m standing, three years deep — in the middle of it all.

 

 

Artwork: Life’s See-saw By: Brad Stroman; http://convergencegallery.com/stroman/stroman.html

 

The Break-Up

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Breaking up is hard to do.

When I was a kid, I used to love it when the oldies station would play Neil Sedaka and it would spill out of the car-radio speakers. Back then, I had no idea what the lyrics meant, but, I gathered that holding onto love was important. And now, I know, much of our love is the kind that we hold on to, desperately. Not the adult kind where — you know — you let it go and it returns to you.

I’ve tried that tactic. Love seldom finds it’s way back to me. The letting go part is too hard.

I think that’s the beauty of getting older — beginning to see your own patterns. Internalizing them. Recognizing them as they’re happening. Developing a keen awareness of what our bodies and brains would have us do, even if we ourselves are totally checked out. It’s pretty amazing how we all have our own modus operandi. From folding laundry to getting our hearts broken, it’s a cycle — on repeat.

Now that I’m back in New York City, I’m starting to see them. — My old, Portland patterns beginning to emerge. Some good, and some that I was hoping to leave behind. I try not to overthink it. But, of course — I do.

New York. — It’s an old pattern, but, I have to see it in a new way. Because, it is new. I’m new.

I decide I have to break-up with myself. Because, my two selves — we’re in two different places. We’re at the pivotol moment when you realize that there’s this one thing — and it’s just not what you want. It’s a deal breaker. So, you have to let go. And, letting go is hard.

If it were the old me, the Portland-me, — I’d stay. I’d try to make it work. Tip-toe around it. Insert myself in little ways only to have my own current pull me back out to sea. I know the pattern.

I have to break-up with the girl who’s always just skirting the heart of the problem. I’ve decided to be straight forward with everyone now that I’m back home. — And, I’m realizing that I need to have that same candor with myself.

I’m breaking up with the girl who worries about what other people think of her. — Where she is in her life. — Her marital status, her veganism, her body, her life’s plan. I may be sleeping in the same room I was when I was 18, but, I am decidedly not that girl anymore. I’m a grown-ass woman. — I’m weathered and wise. Independent and inspired. I have my Portland-hippie roots grounding me, and, I’m not scared to set them down.

Breaking up with this part of myself is hard. But, it frees me up. It makes room for new love. — The adult kind. The kind that I was once so busy holding on to, I never had time to feel. — So, I say my goodbyes and I let her go…

And now, I stand here — ready to welcome whoever comes back for me.

 

Artwork: “Letting Go” By: Annalee Davis; http://www.annaleedavis.com/