Lots and Lots and Lots Of Light

Photo Aug 17, 5 06 02 PM

A year is nothing. A year is everything.

I look at my calendar, and the West Coast is an entire year away from me now. I still feel like I could turn around and touch it. Though, my calendar won’t show you the same things that my mirror will. Glass reflects me back to myself. I look and feel older, in ways that are both good and bad. In these short, twelve months, I have seen, grown, and lost more of myself than I have in my whole lifetime.

No matter how (un)enlightened I become, I will always be playing this game of cat and mouse with myself. And, I’ve grown accustomed to it. — I think. Visibility will keep me honest. But, I still try to hide. — And so, I begin this second year, here on the East Coast, chasing myself off, yet again, to somewhere new.

After months of dancing in and out of step with NYC’s incredible beat, I’m being tugged back, toward something slower. Trees and highway. Farmland and family.

Living at home is humbling. You see yourself in the place where you were once a child, and in some ways, it makes you feel that you still are one. It’s not just the house, or my parents, or the neighbor girl who was a baby when you left and now, sneaks cigarettes on the stoop — it’s the city. Streets that seem old and new. There are the old memories that I’ve tried desperately to replace with new ones. And, in in the end, I have had to make peace with the fact that memories are memories. There is no erasing or recreating or forgetting. There is only learning, and finding, and adding new faces to a sea of old ones.

But, most of the time, Visibility isn’t about the number of eyes that see you, it’s about the way you see yourself.

As I prepare to move upstate, toggling my time between city and country life until I find a spot to settle, I can feel it — something more permanent on the horizon. The more I see of myself, the more I know where I want to belong. And, knowing what you want, makes it easier to look. I nestle into the nooks and crannies of myself and I see what feels best. But, for the first time in my life, I’ve promised myself that I won’t pretend to know what’s going on. — I’m just going to go with my heart.

As I wrap up this month of Visibility, I realize that the truth about the truth — remains to be seen. It’ll be there, when I get there. And — I’m not there yet.

So, I make plans to move in with my sister-cousin. I imagine us sitting at the island in the center of her kitchen, laughing and crying, because — that’s what we do when we’re together. We see each other. We make each other visible in ways we couldn’t if we were alone.

Her husband makes her eggs for dinner. Her dog licks my feet. Her flood-light invites moths from across the county to hover above her kitchen door. And, we are there, visible to each other — visible to no one.

She sips a glass of white wine and shows me how to use her Soda Stream. My room, up the stairs off the kitchen, is big. It lets in the light. Lots of light. The closet doors are mirrored and I face myself in three, long panels. — Even living out of my travel bag, I look happier here.

So, I decide I’ll take a few, odd writing jobs. I tell my sister-cousin and her husband that I’ll walk their dogs in the afternoon if they want. I’ll run the dishwasher. Fall is coming, and, I’ll rake leaves. And, now, I won’t have to watch Gilmore Girls alone. — After all, we, my sister-cousin and I, are actually Gilmore Girls, though my Grandmother married that name away — it still runs in our blood.

On the couch, one of the dogs looks up at me inquisitively and I inform her that I am, in fact, a cat person. — But, of course, I am open to new relationships. — She jumps up on my sister-cousin’s lap instead. Dogs know instinctively, in a way humans do not, who will love them best. But, I’m not insulted.

I don’t have it all figured out. I hardly know what the next step will be. I don’t even know if I’ll stay in this town. — I don’t know anything. — Maybe I never will. But, if you want to be seen, by yourself — or by anyone — you have to follow the light. And, in the middle of the hardwood floor, facing the center panel of three, long mirrors, I am surrounded by lots of it.

Lots and lots and lots of light.

 

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Own Your Shit

Photo Jun 17, 5 06 26 PM

We’re all a little bit shitty. Right? Right?

Most of us, deep down, somewhere in our gut, feels that there’s something wrong with us. It’s a human thing. It’s unavoidable. And, frankly, our secret stash of flaws can keep us feeling pretty uncomfortable. Because, that hidden cache of crap, when we pick it apart, piece by piece, is bound to reveal — we’re not perfect. A shocker — I know.

In becoming visible, we allow ourselves the freedom to just be. But, the other side of that coin involves the rest of humanity. Maybe I’m stating the obvious here, but, when you make yourself visible — other people see you too. So, be careful where you leave your crap.

You may find your Visibility liberating. Frightening. Exhilarating. Freeing. But, whatever you feel about being seen, however you relate to your own display of imperfection — you have to know that other people are involved. And, your liberation, fear, exhilaration, and freedom might look very different through someone else’s eyes.

From the perspective of an addict/alcoholic, that Visibility — the kind that puts you on display — is the stuff of nightmares. For people who view themselves as fundamentally flawed, it’s one thing to accept yourself — it’s an entirely different feeling to to have others see your imperfections. Most of us have spent years carefully covering our shit so expertly, no one had to be nervous when walking around us. In fact, half the time we didn’t even know what we’d hidden, or where. As we grow and change in sobriety, we tend to uncover these little, hidden imperfections. And then, we work hard to embrace ourselves, despite them. But, the idea of asking another person to accept us, is completely unfathomable. They might not see our shit — but, secretly, we know that they should be watching their step.

This month, I’ve given Visibility a great deal of thought. I’ve enjoyed making room within myself for all the things I am — the good, the bad, and the shitty. I’ve ditched a ton of my baggage, even some of the crap that’s left me feeling uneasy for a lifetime. Giving myself room to be flawed has made me happier. — And, really, that’s the important thing — getting comfortable with yourself, no matter how your insides feel. But, I’m finding that it’s the outward display, the public Visibility, where I’m continually running into trouble.

When you feel good inside, despite your inherent flaws, you want others to feel good about you too. And, when you find some peace in becoming yourself, you naturally want others to accept this person that you’ve worked so hard to flesh out. But, when becoming visible, you have to be ready to accept that no one is going to see you that way that you see yourself. And, sometimes people are going to step in your shit.

As a self-aware person, I have a pretty good idea about who digs me and who doesn’t. And, usually the people who don’t get my vibe, aren’t people I’m drawn to anyway. But, it’s the people who know you, love you, care about you — those people can be your toughest audience. They’ve seen you at your worst (and likely, your best) and they can be pretty uncomfortable around the new, visible you. We all get used to the people in our lives and how they appear. We assign them roles. And, when one person deviates — it’s unsettling.

Here’s the thing: We have to deviate anyway. People adjust to the person you put out there. They will learn to step around your shit. And, more often than not, the people who know you best are going to be the last ones to get on board with the updates you’re making. It doesn’t make them bad people, and it doesn’t make you flawed. Visibility is about big change. Even when we’re just starting to uncover the things we used to kick to the curb, we’re making those parts of ourselves known — we’re changing. And, change makes everyone uncomfortable.

Keep in mind, that while you were trying to convince yourself that you were something other than you are, you were also trying to get everyone else on board with you, and they probably bought into your shit as much as you did! So, as you make yourself visible, you’re also rewriting the story that you’ve been working hard to sell others. Be patient with their transition, but, don’t allow their discomfort to take you off your track. In this kind of learning curve, forever and for always, honesty is the best policy. — Own your shit.

The other thing is — you have to be willing to stand your ground. You’re visible now. So, walk tall. Don’t be derailed by someone else’s outdated version of you. If you’ve done the hard work of becoming visible to yourself, you owe it to yourself to be confident in your convictions — even when others might try to take you down a peg.

I’ve changed my mind about so many things, so many times — I’m sure I seem aloof and crazy to most of the people that have been solid structures in my life. And, I’m sure that it’s frustrating to some of them, but, what I have to remind myself of every day is — no one is more frustrated with my own growing pains than I am. In becoming visible, I am finding it easier and easier to own that frustration. It’s your story, not anyone else’s. And, when you write your own story, the lessons that are born from your mistakes are far more poignant — the successes, far more worthy of celebration.

Allow yourself to be seen — to change — and don’t worry so much about how it looks (or smells) out there.

Not a-one of us is without flaws. We’ve all got our shit. The key that unlocks the kingdom is letting everyone see your shit, yourself included. — If you’re committing to being visible, you simply can’t avoid your own shit. And, here’s a newsflash — no one else can avoid theirs, either.

Rule of thumb: Clean up your messes as best you can. And, when walking with others — remind them to watch their step.

 

 

 

I am looking, looking everywhere.

Photo Aug 13, 12 32 58 PM

The day of the family reunion — the heatwave hits.

I walk up the hill, out of my grandparents’ driveway. The sun bakes my shoulders and I can feel the sweat beading off the nape of my neck and gliding down my spine, where it eventually meets my bra-line. My black tank top feels heavy and damp. It’s only 11AM but, already, the day feels long. I’m walking across the street, to my parent’s house, to get my bathing suit. I’m surrounded by countryside that I thought might make me feel something that, so far — it hasn’t. Here, I can only feel the passage of time. I see it move under a canopy of green trees, their leaves fanning the air in the slow, Summer breeze. I see it flanked by stones that have been sinking into the ground since my childhood. I see it in the faces of my cousins who, now, wrangle their own children — it was not so long ago it was us who needed wrangling.

Seeing everything as it is, without pretense — that’s Visibility. Young, old. Broken, fixed. Happy, sad. We can exist in this space without judgement. Here, there isn’t any way to avoid being seen — family has an uncanny ability to find you. So, I prepare myself for the viewing. For the first time in a long time, I think that being seen might be easy. — If I can just allow myself to be comfortable in my own, constant state of flux as I weave between the rusted folding chairs and lean in to receive kisses on my cheeks.

Between handfuls of fancy nut mix, a host of relatives asked me, “What are you up to these days?” A question that still stabs me like a sharp, little knife, because, the answer remains — “I have no idea.” — My unending quest for purpose used to bring me shame. But, today, it doesn’t. 32 years in, and I am still at it. — I am looking, looking everywhere.

I kept repeating to my cousin, as we lay out in the blistering sun, “I feel so old this year.” And, I wondered why that was. What had aged me so much in this past year?

Later that night, as I lay alone in my bed, under the hum of the white, ceiling fan, I realized that I’ve finally conceded. — To myself. — I will always be figuring it out. I will always be looking.

In our youth, we are so sure that, at some point, things will become concrete. But, today, I know, at least for me, that will never be the case. — I am not done. Not now. Not ever.

I began in sobriety, struggling to be seen by others. And, now, in my Year of Happiness, I take the steps to begin seeing myself. — A joyful and heartbreaking endeavor. — One that has brought me immense relief.

In reunions past, I have struggled to Wow! my relatives, spouting off my non-accomplishments. Impressing upon them that I had achieved some state of completeness. But, truth be told, my joy is in the Seeking, never the completing.

There are many of us, Seekers, wandering about. We search for truth in the Universe — in ourselves. We read self-help books. We believe in miracles. We watch for signs. We press the people in our lives to help us create meaning. And, often, we are told there is none. — But, we never believe that to be true. Not even for a second.

As I age, I find myself less apologetic. I no longer resent those who ask me for some kind of explanation. Because, in becoming visible to myself, I find that I no longer require anyone else’s approval. Visibility allows me the confidence to stand in front of those that would have me explain myself, and be able to say, outright, that — I cannot.

From my grandparents’ dock, I stare out over the lake. The water is still, except for where my cousins and their children swim. Laughter echoes in the swaying trees, just as mine once did, so many years ago. I stand there alone, beside strewn sandals and striped towels, and my cousins beckon. “Come in! Come swimming!” They shout. “I forgot my suit is across the street!” I yell back. “Then, go get it! We’ll wait for you!”

And so, I do.

Through the years, I have often sought out one kind of love only to receive another. But, I am older now. Older than I’ve ever been. Old enough to know that love is love is love.

And, when love tells you it will wait for you — make haste — jump in the fucking water.

 

Be Heard, Not Seen

Photo Aug 09, 11 56 27 AM

It felt like a safe place to hide.

I sat in the small, sparsely filled room — joined only by a few old men and one middle aged woman. A younger man sat in front of the group, waiting to begin the meeting. He opened by reading from a laminated sheet that he held between his nicotine stained fingers. He would read from the very same script at every Alcoholics Anonymous meeting I would attend in that room. But, that day, it seemed like some kind of holy sermon, written that very morning. And, the words that escaped his mouth sounded like some foreign language I would never understand.

Earlier that morning, I had woken from a blackout. I paced around my apartment nervously. Something felt wrong. My skin crawled. I watched the clock.

The pub opened at noon on Sundays. While I was usually dressed and waiting to walk out my door at 11:55AM, I wasn’t on that Sunday. I felt like a bomb, waiting to explode. My heart tick-tocked in a strange rhythm. And, without any real reason, I was frightened.

I sat down nervously at my computer and, without knowing what I was doing, I Googled “AA Meetings in Portland, Oregon.” I was directed to a website that had listings for hundreds of meetings. It was nearing noon, and I saw one meeting, not far my apartment, was about to begin. Without showering or even brushing my teeth, I threw on my dirty jeans, an old t-shirt, and my heavy hoodie and stepped out into the mild, February air. I ran the entire way there. I stopped at the corner, and looked down at the address I had scratched out onto a crumpled Post-It note. I lit a cigarette and I wondered what the fuck I was doing. Who was I? I wasn’t an alcoholic. Right?  — I wasn’t so sure anymore. So, I stood on that corner and I waited for noon.

Halfway down the block, the young man, the old men and the one woman I would see later, inside the meeting room, stood around an old coffee can that sat at their feet on the sidewalk. They were all smoking cigarettes, too. They saw me on the corner, glancing down at them. Though I thought I was being covert, I know now that they could smell my fresh, alkie blood coming from a mile away. But, that day, — I was sure I was invisible.

If you were talk to me about it today, I would tell you that I have mixed feelings about 12-Step meetings. I would tell you that they have saved my life, and, that they have complicated and hindered my life on many occasions. But, I will never say that 12-Step is not a sacred space. It is. — Sacred. — 12-Step was the first place I became Visible in sobriety. It was the first place I stood up and acknowledged that, perhaps, my drinking and drug use were not as free and easy as I would have liked them to appear. AA was the first place where no one tried to change me. It was the first place where hundreds, literally hundreds, of people reached out their hands to help me. There was a time in AA that was, and will always remain, beautiful to me.

At noon, the smoking club filed up the dilapidated, wooden staircase into the meeting room. I waited for them all to disappear, smoking my cigarette down to the filter, before walking the half block to the little, wooden house and up its little, wooden stairs — alone. I stepped into the strange, new room, full of strange new people with as much bravery as I could muster.

The small group of attendees turned to look at me as I opened the squeaky door and walked across the room, tenuously. I sat in a chair in the corner. It had metal armrests and it looked like, maybe, it was a re-purposed seat from an old movie theatre. The room felt ancient. It smelled of mildew and stale coffee. The walls were covered with water-stained, 12-Step slogan posters. — Easy Does It. Think…Think…Think. But For The Grace Of God. Live And Let Live. First Things First. Just For Today. — I didn’t know what to make of this strange, new world. But, to my surprise, it felt like I belonged there.

“Is anyone here for their first AA meeting ever?” The young man asked, looking up from his desk at the front of the room. The entirety of the small congregation turned their heads, slowly, to look at me. And, knowing I was caught, I timidly raised my hand to half-mast. The young man nodded at me kindly, — “Would you please tell us your name?”

“My name is Sarah. I don’t really know if I’m an alcoholic.”

The room sang out in a hoarse, smoker-croaked-chorus: “Welcome, Sarah!” The young man looked me right in the eye, and, in that moment, I felt him see into the depths of my broken soul. And, in front of all those strangers, I began to weep.

“Hello Sarah. You are welcome and wanted here.” He said, never breaking his gaze.

***          ***          ***

I wouldn’t get sober for another seven months. In fact, I left that very meeting, walked straight to the pub, and I drank Jim Beam until the bartender refused to serve me any more. Back then, it was all I could do to shake the feeling that something terrible was about to happen. And, I would let that sense of doom follow me around for many months more before I decided to look it in the eye.

In the beginning, sobriety required that I be Visible and Invisible, simultaneously. — If we want to find help, we need to be seen. But, until we are ready for it, we tend to hide. Sometimes, it is better to just be heard. 12-Step was the only place in my early sobriety that could cater to the dichotomous reality where I so desperately needed to exist. And, on that Sunday morning, I was heard, not seen. An anonymous alcoholic, I was welcomed without question. And, for the first time in a very long time — I got what I needed.

I was allowed to be whoever I needed to be. — And that Visibility was the first step, of many, in my long walk toward a freedom unlike any I have ever known.

 

 

Artwork: “Behind The Mask”, By: Anja; http://photoflake.deviantart.com/art/behind-the-mask-364066755

Let Them See You Naked

Photo Aug 02, 11 31 15 AM

People will try to tell you who you are.

Don’t let them.

We all do it. — We size each other up. — It’s a part of being human. It’s an innate function of our species: For safety. For sex. For food. For shelter. Even in today’s world, we still rely on our animalistic instincts to guide us to the right sources for survival. And, amidst this complicated process, where caveman-meets-modern-day, we’ll find ourselves sizing up other people’s emotional lives, too.–  And, that’s a big mistake.

Since I started writing this blog, I have received many comments (digitally and face-to-face), commending me for my vulnerability in this space. So many, in fact, that I began to wonder, why my “vulnerability” was so striking to so many people. And, of course, in my typical Type-A, Lit-major fashion, I looked to the actual definition of the word in the hope I might gain further insight.

vulnerable

adjective vul·ner·a·ble \ˈvəl-n(ə-)rə-bəl, ˈvəl-nər-bəl\
: easily hurt or harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally
: capable of being physically or emotionally wounded
: open to attack, harm, or damage*

I think because we throw the term around so loosely, we’ve managed to create an alternate meaning for the word. Because, when I read the actual definition, I feel somewhat insulted that sharing my honest experiences, creatively, here on this blog would elicit a reaction where I am deemed: “Vulnerable.” — And, given the specific feedback I’ve received, I don’t believe my audience actually sees me in the way that the aforementioned definition suggests. To the contrary. I’ve examined this recurring theme during my Year of Happiness, and, I’ve come to realize that — I’m not vulnerable. — I am Visible.



And being visible is something that takes people by surprise.

visible

adjective vis·i·ble \ˈvi-zə-bəl\
: able to be seen
: easily seen or understood
: known to or noticed by the public**

Coming into my own, in sobriety and generally speaking, has required that I become comfortable being visible. In a way, getting sober is a kind of transition from vulnerable to visible. Addicts hide in their substances. We’re weakened by them. And, sometimes, especially when we are using, we are susceptible to harm — both physical and emotional. But, no one who is in pursuit of a healthy kind of Happiness wants to be seen as vulnerable. And, that’s why there’s a lot of guilt and shame to work around when you make the commitment to get sober. For many of us, hiding is (or was) a way to stay safe.

But here, in this space — I let you see me naked. Because, I think it’s better to have all the truth, for better or worse, right there for the taking. I publish this blog for my own sanity, and, because I believe it helps others to be open about their truth.


Yes, I have vulnerable moments. We all do. But, my nature is not vulnerable. I have learned that being visible, allowing myself to be seen, lets me own who I am.  It makes me present and available. And, that is the point of sobriety.

But, it’s more than that. For me, being present and available is the definition of Happiness.

The reactions I have received for being honest, open, and raw — worry me. Why are people so shocked by the honest truth? Why is it such a brave thing, to be seen? Is it because I am a woman? Is it because I am a sober person? Is it because the things that I have done or have gone through are shocking? — To those questions, I would answer: No. To me, none of those distinctions are especially exceptional. I think that people, in general, sober or not, tend to be frightened by the notion of visibility.

We think we are supposed to be something other than we are. — Better. Smarter. Productive. Fitter. Kinder. Humble. Obliging. — And, we’re not. We aren’t meant to be anything. We are meant to live as we are. — Strive to be whatever you like, but, live as the person you are today.

As I navigate my Year of Happiness and my sobriety, I constantly remind myself that, whatever I am, I am more than acceptable. I am worthy of being seen and heard. I am worthy — Period. An observer, I watch myself and others. I see how we sometimes bow our heads because, it seems, it might be easier for us if we were to fly under the radar. But, in the past four months, I have made a concerted effort to speak up, in spite of fear, and say what I think should be said, with no motivation beyond my belief that the truth is right and important.

And, not once, has making myself visible resulted in an unwanted outcome. Not. Once.

This month of August, the fifth in my Year of Happiness, is devoted to Visibility. Because, truly, there is nothing to lose by being who you are, fearlessly. There is nothing inappropriate you can say, so long as it is something that is true and from your heart. — Shocking, maybe. But, shocking isn’t always inappropriate. — And, frankly, life gets pretty boring when we live appropriately all the time.

So, let them see you naked. You’re worthy of being seen. You’re worthy — Period.

Make the distinction. — There is a vast difference between being vulnerable and being visible.

Choose wisely.

*”Vulnerable.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 2 Aug. 2016.

**”Visible.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 2 Aug. 2016.

Artwork: “Blue Nude,” By Corrine Galla