Karma Chameleon, You Come And Go

Photo May 28, 5 34 22 PM

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.

 

 

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Trading Stories With The Devil

Photo Jun 21, 9 57 03 PM

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)

 

You Can Lead A Drunk To Water

Photo May 21, 9 50 33 AM

When you’re a drunk, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to realize that you’re a drunk. — Trust me.

But, it won’t be opportunity that makes you willing to change.

The day I realized I was alcoholic, I gave no fucks. I wasn’t in the wake of severe sickness or a heinous hangover. I didn’t have a nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach. As I recall it, what was ostensibly the most dramatic day of my life, was not very dramatic — at all.

On the contrary. My haphazard self-discovery occurred in the midst of what was an otherwise arbitrary moment. Completely ordinary. It was as though I had already made room for the information, as if I had been expecting it to arrive. And, in most ways, it felt as if nothing had happened at all. Except — something had happened.

On the day of my revelation, I was still enrolled in a state sanctioned outpatient rehab program as part of my sentence for DUI, which I’d been charged with earlier in the year. As was part of the routine, I’d been drug tested the Friday before — which meant I was in the clear to drink for several weeks before I’d be tested again.

I’d been living my life this way for months. And, even as I neared the end of my first stint in drug and alcohol treatment, I worked around it, diligently, continuing to drink when I knew I had enough time to detox before being tested again. Yes, I fucked the system. And, I fancied myself clever and rebellious for doing so. The majority of my rehab group was behaving in the same way. But, I remember feeling so above them all. I imagined that I was the only one who was truly “managing” my problem. Because, after all, I didn’t really have a problem. I’d just been caught in a low moment. Who hasn’t?

I ignored the warning from Jim, our rehab group leader, — “I know what you’re up to, Sarah. I can’t prove it, because you’re testing clean, but, this will catch up with you. Maybe it’ll be while you’re working with us in here, or, maybe it’ll be when you get back out there into the real world. Tread lightly, sweetheart.”Β  But, I knew better. Stupid, fucking Jim, I thought, he didn’t even know that I’d never left my “real world.”

Except — he totally knew. And, that’s what he was trying to tell me.

Of course, Jim was right. Everything would catch up with me. But, when it did, I would have no Willingness to change, whatsoever. And, that’s how it goes. We sometimes discover our truth in a moment when we have absolutely nothing to gain from it. — No hope. No momentum.

On the day of my revelation,Β I walked by my local pub and I stopped to peer in through the big, glass window. My fair-weather-friends sat ponied up to the bar, laughing. Amelia, one of my favorite bartenders, mixed her signature Sunday-Bloody-Mary in a pint glass. My small little world waited for me inside — a tall glass of infused vodka and tomato juice, topped with an excessive vegetable garnish — and all that sloppy, smarmy camaraderie. My only happiness, just feet away.

I was inclined to walk in, then and there. But, as soon as the thought entered my head, I knew I couldn’t. — I had errands to run. Several that involved the use of my car. And, between the breathalyzer I’d have to blow into to start the engine and the other adult-like tasks that needed doing, — I knew I couldn’t have that Sunday-Bloody-Mary. Not yet.

And, that was the moment. — The singularly unspectacular moment when I realized I was a drunk. I knew that if I had just one of Amelia’s Goddamned Sunday-Bloody-Mary’s, that my day was shot. — I’d be at that bar until it closed or until I was cut off and kicked out — whichever came first. And so, I scheduled my errands around the absolute certainty that once I was seated at that bar — I wasn’t getting up again until I was good and shitfaced.

This is the definition of alcoholism.

You would think discovering that my life revolved around something so meaningless, so empty, would lead me to some sort of existential reckoning. A reckoning that would get me some Willingness. A reckoning that would usher me out of my small, shitty life and into the bigger, better pastures for which I was destined. But, it didn’t.

The day I realized I was an alcoholic, I did what any good alcoholic would — I got the bullshit tasks I needed to get done, done. And then, I marched right back to that pub and I got down to business. — And, I drank to blackout.

Willingness is not born to those who acknowledge its necessity. Willingness is born to those who are ready to ask for help. And, help is the one thing that every drunk will need.

Sometimes, help will stand right in front of you. Like Jim did, for me. But, if you’re a real drunk — you’ll likely ignore the many life rafts that float up along side you while you’re sipping your beverage du jour, floating downstream.

Jim was just my warning sign. A marker scratched into the door frame that documents my alcoholism’s many growing pains.

Willingness is that invisible hand for which, eventually, we reach out when there is nothing left for us to hold on to. It is the last notch we’ll gauge in the doorway. But how and when we decide to do these things, is still a mystery. But, be assured that someone, like Jim, will lead you to the water. And, maybe, on that day, you’ll gulp it down. But, if you’re like me, the chances are better that you’ll run from the oasis the first time you come upon it.

But, on some other day, you will find yourself with Willingness. Jim will be long gone. You’ll be staring through the glass window of the pub and you’ll decide — you don’t have to drink that day. And, you’ll think of Jim as you pass by door, whispering to yourself:

“Tread lightly, sweetheart.”

Dueling Dualities

Photo Jun 05, 2 53 02 PM

I stood along the Promenade, facing NYC’s skyline, twice this week. Once in happiness, and once in sadness.

Sometimes, being committed to your own Happiness can leave you feeling a little, well, — unhappy. When you’re connecting with new people, and their versions of Happiness, dualities are unavoidable. I am constantly reminding myself of this, but, no matter how many strings I tie around my finger, I still manage to forget. I’m often beaten by my own, one sided-ness.

I’ve been single, with intention, for over a year now. And, with my track record — that’s one heck of a clip flying solo.

Being unattached meant facing pieces of myself that, previously, had been easy to avoid. It meant becoming comfortable with who I am, in all my incarnations, and being beholden to no one. During this time, my only task has been to show up for myself, and to meet the eyes of whatever woman stares back at me from the mirror. For me, that’s been no small feat. But, I’m learning that progress is an inside job. And, sometimes, you have to trust yourself to show up and be present.

Structure and repetition have always made me feel safe. But, when it comes to my Happiness, I’m discovering that deviating from my master-plan always turns out to be the key to unlocking the parts of myself I’d kept well hidden.

Once hailed Queen Compromise, I’ve been known to bend or change little bits and pieces of myself to make parts of my life work. I’ve altered my own data. And, I’ve had a reasonable amount of success operating this way. I’ve held on to things that, surely, I should have lost sooner. And, I’ve made deals with the Devil that paid off — until they didn’t.

Historically, I haven’t always held fast to my beliefs if, by letting something of mine go, I could trade up. But, eventually, the act of constant compromise made me bitter. I had given myself away, piecemeal, and had nothing to show for it. So, when I set my sights on Happiness, I knew it was imperative that I only compromise in places where I’d left enough room to remain true to myself. To keep things brutally honest, even when the outcome was less than ideal. And, more often than not, this has been a painful act. Especially since I’ve been trying to get myself back out there and connect with new people, authentically.

In spite of disappointment, I haven’t lost hope. I am determined to believe that there is some kind of middle ground. If I didn’t believe this — I’d give up. So, this has become the one compromise that I’ve allowed to become a living, breathing part of my Willingness. — I leave room for things and people to move in and out of my life,Β  without panicking. But, I have to manage that room carefully.

At first, limiting my space made me feel small. It felt like I might have to turn something away that seemed worthy of compromise. And, that’s the part that hurts. — When you want something so much that you’re willing to bargain, but somewhere inside, you know you can’t — not if you want to hold on to your Happiness in the long term.

But, I’ve found that, in the beginning, Willingness only creates only a tiny opening. And, if we try to size-up too quickly, we find ourselves lost in space. We only need enough room to hold what we already have, and, with time, our Willingness will build, creating even more room, and then we can allow ourselves to grow into something else, something bigger.

Even when the door is left ajar, there are only a few who will dare to push through. And, this is something we have to expect and accept — sometimes woefully — but always, without compromise. Never bargain with, or for, yourself.

While I can’t tell you what Willingness is, I can tell you what it isn’t. — It isn’t closing yourself off in the name of safety. And, it isn’t limiting yourself because you are unsure of the variable nature of the heart and its ability to morph, move, change, and grow.

Willingness is standing in one place with two different feelings. — Happy and Unhappy. — The promenade, in the sun and in the rain.

Some dualities are law. — For each reaction, there is an equal and opposite reaction. — And so, we must remember to choose our reactions wisely. Compromise only for what will aid in growing our Happiness.

And, if something, or someone, good walks away, well, you get two feelings for the price of one. — Now, that’s a bargain.

Hair Of The Dog

Photo May 31, 12 57 32 PM

9:47AM: I poured myself a third shot of vodka.

In the office, I sat alone at the beat-up, IKEA desk we’d purchased on Craigslist.Β  I felt appropriately contained in the tiny, windowless room at the back of the restaurant where I was the general manager. I’d come in early to write the schedule for the servers. The peak of Summer, it was hot. The air in the hall was thick with the rancid stink of the hamper, filled to the brim with dirty kitchen linens, which sat, a palpable presence, just outside the sliding office door.

The previous evening’s service had been a busy one. I’d stayed late with the chef-owner and drank. When the last customers left we turned up the music and laughed at our own jokes. Later, I took a cab home, drank more still, and blacked out. I woke up in my clothes, on the couch in my living room, my cat staring at me from her perch on the armrest. I splashed water on my face, brushed my teeth, changed, and reapplied my mascara quickly before returning to the restaurant.

And then, I was back in that office, as if I’d never left. Three shots in. And, suddenly, I was terrified. After printing the schedule and pinning it up on the cork bulletin board, I felt sick. Was this how the rest of my life was going to be? Drunk, still accomplishing my tasks with ease? The static motion of mediocrity in which no one challenged my insanity?

One of the cooks walked up to his locker and looked into the office, his eyes darted from my face to the the bottle of Seagram’s Extra Dry that sat beside a staunch, little cocktail glass, still wet from my last sip, for which I made no excuse. “Hair of the Dog?” he asked, laughing. I smiled.

But, it wasn’t. It wasn’t Hair of the Dog. — That was what I had become.

That day, was the day I became Willing. Willing to do whatever I had to do to be something other than what I was. It hadn’t been the day of my arrest, five months earlier, it hadn’t been an embarrassing or violent episode, it hadn’t been a blackout. — It was me, realizing the devastating normalcy of alcohol’s place in my daily life. It touched everything and nothing at all.

My life had become varying states of disconnectedness. I could do my job, see my friends, feed my cat. But, I was gone. Somewhere that, even I, could no longer find. I’d become something, I was no longer someone. I was a machine, and the cost of my fuel had left me penniless.

Willingness, this month’s theme in our Year of Happiness, is a concept that is often lumped-in with something else: Desire. When we want something, when we truly desire it — we tell ourselves that we’re willing to do anything for it. But, that isn’t true. Willingness is something that goes beyond desire. It is the turning point at which one is enabled to act. — To change.

I spent months dissecting my own desire to get sober. I went to 12-Step meetings and then, immediately following, b-lined to bars where I got shitfaced. I would go for 24, sometimes 36 hours without a drink, and then would stand at my kitchen sink and gulp down a full tumbler of Jim Beam, neat, like a glass of water. I had all this desire. — But, was unwilling to change.

How I came to be willing on that Summer morning in the restaurant office, I still don’t know. People have told me that Willingness comes from divine intervention, desperation, or love. I’m not sure that my Willingness was born from any one of those things. And, truthfully, it’s not really important to me that I discover my Willingness’ origin.

When we talk about Happiness and a means to finding it, we cannot avoid facing our own Willingness. We’ve been told Happiness is a choice — and it is. But, it’s possible make choices without being willing to act on those choices.

Willingness is our final phase of reconciliation before action. Without action, nothing changes. So, Willingness becomes the final impetus, the push that will begin the journey from Point A to Point B. And, maybe you’re curious — What does Willingness look like? Where will you find it? What must you do to become willing?

I wish I had the answer to those questions. I don’t. Not for you, anyway. Willingness is perhaps the most elusive and personal concept we’ll explore during this series. Because, what drives us to change — is something buried so deep within us, that even when we try to communicate it to someone else, we struggle in finding the right words.

What was the difference between the feeling that I never, ever wanted to drink again and actually walking into that same office where I had been piss drunk, days earlier, and giving my boss one month’s notice because I’d enrolled myself in a rehab program? — I cannot describe it. Willingness is an unpredictable internal catalyst. It’s sly. My Willingness came to me when I was already three sheets to the wind. A voice whispering in my ear, telling me that I was more than a sad drunk, and that the vacancy I had allowed myself to exist in, was wasted space.

This month, I will not advise you on how to find the Willingness that makes it possible for you to unearth your own Happiness. How you will go about uncovering that mysterious piece, is the part of the story only you can write.

On that Summer morning, after all the cooks arrived and began their prep and my servers were on the floor mopping under tables and brewing big carafes of coffee, I stepped outside and sat in my usual spot at the picnic table closest to the side door. I propped my feet up on the bench, my black Vans with white polka dots punctuating my legs like a sentence. I lit a Parliament, and with each drag off my cigarette, I could taste the cheap vodka I’d drank earlier that morning.

And, I still remember looking up into the hot sun, knowing, if I could just make it one more month, I’d never have to feel that way again.