The Light In The Attic

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Be Open, they said. — And, so, I was.

Open to opportunity. Open to new experiences. Open to the road less traveled. Open to new teachers. Open to difficult lessons. Open to all these external things, places, people. — Open. Because if I wasn’t, I knew I’d regret the things I’d miss.

This past month, I challenged myself to “Be Open.” And, I realize this goal may appear to be a lofty one. But, this month has been, by far, the most meaningful yet in my Year of Happiness. What does being Open even mean, really? The answer, I discovered, is not what you might expect.

I opened myself up to a lot this month. I did things that, for me, were risky. I moved to a new place that I was unsure I’d love. — It turns out, I do love it. I committed to a business venture that scared me. — It paid off. I made myself available to people without expecting anything in return. — I was paid handsomely, in gratitude. I allowed myself to receive generosity from others, avoiding my route response of tit-for-tat. — And, I have come to know and appreciate a new kind of humility.

But, the big payoff for allowing myself to be Open, was not that my risk-taking resulted in joy, success, and kindness. The big payoff was that, in making myself Open to all these other things, all these outside things — I became Open to myself.

In the past month, it feels as though I have walked, heavy footed, through the dusty attic of my soul and have flung open all my windows. Little flecks of dust that sat, stagnant on my floorboards, have risen up from under my feet to dance in the sun. Even at my best, I have never felt this available or eager to explore my own hopes and dreams. I am no longer frightened by things that once seemed too big for me to comprehend, much less achieve.

Being Open to myself has made me realize that, win or lose, success or failure, home or just another stop on the road — this is what we are here to do. We are here to experience. We are here to be lofty. And, perhaps, that is why we shy away from things that seem imperfect or leave us with questions and doubt. Being Open is not about the outcome, though it can be wonderful to be rewarded by your Openness — being Open is about the pursuit.

Since I was a small child, I’ve stopped myself. I have always been pragmatic. A thinker. An over-thinker. And, while this may have saved me from a few scraped knees and helped me to ace a few tests, it also stopped me from falling, failing, and getting back up.

My sobriety has taught me that failing is the best thing we can do in our lives if we hope to change and grow. Failure is its own kind of intelligence. It builds a kind of confidence that no amount of safety or studying can assemble. We cannot let fear outweigh everything else, we must use it only to shine light on the destinations where we should be headed. This month has helped me to see that standing still for perfection’s sake won’t get you any closer to the things you’ve dreamed up. Action, with reckless abandon, can bring us to wonderful places in the world — and, can also bring us to wonderful places within ourselves.

Being Open is like telling someone to take whatever is right in front of them — always — no questions asked. Don’t wait for the best offer. Don’t research everything down to a science. Don’t scheme and plan and manipulate the outcome. Being Open is like a scavenger hunt that keeps getting better. Whatever is in front of you, will take you where you need to be — maybe not to the end — but to what’s next. You don’t have to like every stop. You won’t like every stop. But, being Open allows you to get where you’re going without halting completely. Pragmatism and perfectionism have their place, but, not in the pursuits of day-to-day living. — Draw a map today. But, be Open to throwing it out and starting again tomorrow.

Today, the attic of my soul is lit by an Autumn sun. The same one that has set its match at the foot of the Catskills, where the color of the trees will soon set the horizon ablaze, and with it, something inside me, too. For the first time in my life, I am truly Open to burning. To letting dead leaves wither and fall. To letting cold winds whip through all the rooms that live within me. To leaving behind all these old things and walking bravely toward new ones.

And so, I commit to, in every kind of weather, flinging open my attic windows wide.

 

 

 

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Hacking Into Easy World

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What if everything were easy?

I catch myself having this thought as I drive on I-90 toward the doctor’s office. I’ve had a nagging cough. And, I know it’s bronchitis. I’ve known it’s bronchitis for 2 weeks. But, I’ve put off seeing someone because every time I hack up a phlegm-ball, I’m always hopeful that it’s my last.

I concede to my illness at 6PM on Sunday. Inconvenient timing, sure. But, this is America. — Something is open, somewhere. I know it. — So, I find an urgent care center in a strip mall not too far from the house that’s open until 9PM and I hop in the car.

Before I start the engine, I call the receptionist to make sure all their information is correct. “It is,” she assures me. I can feel her smiling. It’s genuine. Like she’s excited I’m coming in to see the doctor. And, she almost sings into the phone before hanging up, “Ok Sarah, see you in a few!” As I pull out from the driveway, my new neighbor waves at me from across the street, where he stands in his front lawn beside the wood he’s chopped. — Upstate New York, man. — It feels so easy.

I pull onto the highway and the traffic is light. The sun is just beginning to dip beneath the horizon and the clouds are a pink-purple-orange color that makes the sky look soft and edible, like a giant bowl of sherbet. The cars in front of me and behind me, keep the speed limit. No one is ploughing ahead in a rush here. — Tonight, between bouts of hacking, the world is simple and comfortable.

I keep rolling the word around in my mouth, like a cough drop — “Simplicity.”

I wonder when I started to believe — to expect — that the world was a complicated and an unforgiving place? Did growing a up a Brooklynite jade me? Was it the heartbreak and hard knocks in Oregon? Is it genetic, or a learned behavior, this feeling that everything has to be difficult before it can reach some kind of meaningful resolution?

Then I wonder — have I chosen to be complicated?

I’ve had many revelations during my Year of Happiness, but, it strikes me as I drive toward the purple sky on I-90, that maybe, amidst all this peace, I’m about to get smacked with the biggest piece of truth yet. — I’m starting to think, that, all this time, I’ve been making things hard on myself. Because, somewhere deep down, I’ve chosen to believe that everything is difficult.

Now that I find myself in a simple place, a, dare I say it, easy place — I have to ask myself — can I be Open to things being truly simple? Do I need things to feel difficult for them to have meaning? If I let go of my strain, will I still have a sense of accomplishment when I complete tasks, goals, dreams? Or, can I allow myself to live with ease, to keep life uncomplicated, without feeling unremarkable? — I find that I can’t answer the question, which, may be an answer in and of itself.

My journey in sobriety, thus far, has be a trying one. But, when I look at these past 4 years critically, it’s plain that my expectation, from the onset, was that nothing about what I had embarked on would be easy. I assumed I’d have to fight tooth and nail for what I wanted, and so, I did. Goals became challenges. Average accomplishments became feats of valor. Because, allowing things to arrive with ease comes with its own set of complications.

If the expectation is that life is difficult and that things are hard, then, it’s not a disappointment when we find those things to be true. But, if we remain Open to the possibility that life can be simple, what would happen?

I’m finding that when the expectation is ease — so, too, is the reality. It’s difficult to admit that much of my hardship has been a result of my own, negative expectations. It’s woo-woo and I know it. But, that doesn’t make it any less true.

If I am Open to ease and simplicity, ease and simplicity Open themselves up to me. When I assume things are painful — I’ll go into situations swinging. And, my blind fear of the world has caused me to miss out on something easier. — Simplicity.

As I drive home, my prescription bag from Rite-Aid flung into the passenger seat, I know that I’m on the right track. I’m making myself well again. And,  I’m not going to debate the merits of this new move with myself any longer. Because, for the first time in my life, I realize — it’s easier than that. It’s so much easier. I just have to be Open to the possibility of joy, without discomfort as a precursor.

So, I keep the speed limit. And, I drive back home, toward the sherbet sky.

PHOTO: @igercatskills via Instagram

 

 

Pack Like A Fucking Boss

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I was a compartmentalizer.

I mean, I really, really, fucking loved to compartmentalize, you guys.

And, while I was living my past life, as a raging drunk, I found out that compartmentalization can be both a blessing and a curse.

As a functioning alcoholic, it’s a skill you need to survive. As a functioning, emotional human, it’s a sure-fire way to lose yourself completely.

While keeping my many personalities in in their designated places helped me to keep my job, maintain (most) of my professional and platonic relationships, and to pay all my bills on time — it had its dark side. The flip side of the coin was, when I was in real trouble — no one had any idea that I was up Shit’s Creek. Because, the part of me that was drowning was, well, compartmentalized.

When you’re able to separate the good and the bad elements of your personal life into neat, little packages, ultimately, it ends up holding you back. Compartmentalizing keeps you from being Open. Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, per se, when you keep different parts of your life siphoned off from each other, it’s a way of lying to yourself and to the people around you. You can never show up and be all-In. You have to assemble yourself everywhere you go. You have to decide which part of you is going to show up. And, depending on your audience, you have to keep all of your different costumes straight.

When you get home after a long day of changing in and out of different personas, it’s hard to remember who you really are. And, when you don’t know who you are, it’s hard to know if you really want to get sober. — One part of you is desperate for change, but, the other nine parts will happily drag you out to the bar and sit with you until last call.

At some point, you have to start dressing up as the real you.

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I moved this past weekend. And, when you head into new, uncharted territory, it’s easy to convince yourself that compartmentalizing will ease your unstable feelings and make it easier to transition into a new stage of your life. But, I learned preparing for this move, that, the only thing I really needed pack up — were my clothes.

As I settle into my new room, hang out with my new roommates, and explore my new town — I’m suddenly hit with the relief of knowing — All of me is here. — I’m all-in. I don’t have to check-in with ten, different personalities to decide if I’m OK. I don’t have to wonder if I’m going to screw everything up by merely being myself — because, for the first time, I feel unified.

Before I got sober, I used to be terrified that someone might see me in a down moment. I was scared that my fragility was a sign of weakness or incompetence. But, today, I know that it doesn’t matter what state you’re in (or appear to be in). — What matters is how you show up for yourself and the people around you.

Being one with yourself doesn’t mean that you have to ditch your schizophrenic emotions. You’re still allowed to feel great one day and like shit the next, but, the difference is, when you are united within — you can own it. And, owning where you are in your life is something that I’m still learning to do, but, the longer I practice, the more comfortable I become.

While I’m no expert in the art of moving, I’ve had some good practice in the last year. I’m getting really comfortable with letting go. I realize that moving is just another exercise in being and becoming Open. When you land in a new place, even if you have a home-base and people to show you the ropes, you still have to step into your own and be fearless.

There’s a lot of scary stuff about new places. There’s basic logistics — Figuring out how to drive around. Finding the best grocery store. Learning the shady areas in town to avoid. And then, there’s the emotional turmoil — Meeting new people who are already comfortable in their lives and routines. Wondering if I chose wisely. And, of course, there’s the inevitable feeling of: Fuck, I’m starting over, again.

But, as I embrace being Open — to myself, to my sobriety, and to the point I’m at in my life — I’m realizing that starting over is kinda my specialty. So, I’m not sure why I dread it so much. Since getting sober, I’ve been diving into new situations, relationships, jobs, and places all the time. And, I just keep getting better at it.

When I was a compartmentalizer, I had a bunch of little, safe havens that I fled to when I needed to hide. Those places kept me safe. And, in retrospect, I can see why I made those choices. Back then, it was smart. But, in sobriety, we grow. And growth, for me, has been the gradual building of just one safe haven — Myself.

When you like yourself, you can go anywhere. You can meet new people. You can discover new places and things. And, you can make mistakes.

Before getting sober, I couldn’t be Open with anyone else, because I couldn’t face myself. I left places, people, and jobs thinking I could outrun unhappiness — but, compartmentalizing was just a way of sweeping my pain under the rug so that I didn’t have to face it every day.

This weekend I learned that my compartmentalization skills can still come in handy. — I packed for this move like a pro. — I may not be able to pack up my emotional baggage like I used to, but, man oh man, can I pack up three, giant duffel bags, six Rubbermaid bins, and a banjo like a fucking boss.

As I lay here, sprawled out in my new bed, watching the morning sun spill down from the skylight onto the wall, I finally understand that I can be anyone I want to be in this new place. I’m grateful for my own willingness to be Open to and excited for my new adventures. Clean slates are unnerving, but, they are also incredibly exhilarating.

No more sifting through costumes. This time, I’m only picking one outfit.

And, as it turns out, the one I like wearing best of all — is little, old me.

 

 

A Ghost With A Chip On Her Shoulder

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4 years later, and I’m debating whether or not to go to an AA meeting.

My sobriety “birthday” arrives at the end of this week, and, every year since I stepped away from 12-Step, I have the same debate with myself. — I ask if my sobriety anniversary is really worthy of a special celebration, because, at this point — it’s all the same.

Sobriety: Day in, Day out.

If you had told me during my first year sober that I’d be having an internal battle about whether or not my sobriety “birthday” had any real meaning, I would have laughed at you. Back then, my timeline was my everything.

When I received my 1 Year coin at my AA home-group meeting, I was elated. It was, and may still be, one of the greatest moments of my life. — My energy was so heightened, I thought I might levitate. I had never accomplished so much just by giving something up.

So, I try to return to that moment. — Try to feel that coin melt into my fingers. I try to remember what sobriety meant to me when it meant something different — something more.

Back then, I was open to anything. I was ready to take myself on and turn myself over, part and parcel, in exchange for freedom. And, as a result, I made promises that I still continue to keep. — And, that’s the ticket. — Never let freedom out of your sights.

As I pull into September, facing a new move in just a few days, starting a new year in sobriety, and, trying my best to create a whole, new, happy me — I realize that I have to return to the state that allowed me to step up and experience myself and my life — fearlessly. This month, I hit the half-way mark in my Year of Happiness, so I’ve decided to devote it to being Open. And, I don’t mean Open in a wishy-washy way, I mean — Open to the things that terrify me.

When I got sober in September of 2012, I was so, incredibly scared. Some people knew that. But, most people didn’t. I am a decent actress. And, I’m also a tough girl. I’ve been applauded by many of my employers and friends for being “even-keel.” Which, in my world, means that I keep a smile painted on my face while, inwardly, I’m melting down. It’s a trait common to us people-pleasers. And, the more I recognize it in myself, the more I realize it’s just another form of self-destruction — not a skill worthy of praise.

Getting sober forced me to be Open to my actual emotions. For the first time in a long, long time, I let myself be angry. Tired. Fed up. Lonely. Miserable. Scared. Heartbroken. And, I let it show. After a year of letting all that garbage I’d bottled-up ooze out of my system, I sat in my “birthday” meeting. In a room full of people, strangers really, who had watched me boil over, I felt accepted, in spite of myself. Not only did they accept me — they applauded me. They handed me a coin and told me that I was amazing. And, for the first time, maybe ever — I believed them.

I remember a group member sharing about me that morning, in my “birthday” meeting. He told the whole room how he’d seen me walk in, the first day I showed up, with my hoodie pulled up over my head. How I’d slumped in the corner and looked at my feet. How I hadn’t said hello to anyone, and, when that meeting ended, how I’d rocketed out of the room to avoid having to talk.

Those first few weeks, he said, I’d been like a ghost with a chip on my shoulder. I’d been mad at the entire world, but, I wouldn’t show my face or open my mouth to tell the room why. — But, I still showed up. — Sobriety: Day In, Day Out.

He’d watched 12-Step go to work on me. He noted how I starting to stick around after meetings, smoking cigarettes in the parking lot. He’d watched me push my hoodie back to reveal my long, brown hair. He’d heard me laugh at other group member’s stories. He’d witnessed my walls as they started to crumble and how I’d let them. And, that morning, he watched me sit at the front of the room, in from of him — in front of everyone — holding my 1 Year chip, tears of joy steaming out of my Open eyes. “That’s what we do here,” he said. “We bring ghosts back to life.”

I’d like to tell you that being Open is a decision. Something easy. A task that you just “do,” like any other. But, it isn’t. It’s a process. And most of the time, you don’t even know when or how you’ll be cracked Open. For me, being Open has meant making myself available for things that are ill conceived, unstructured, and unlikely to pan out. Being Open, is being uncomfortable — and showing up anyway. Because the only way you’ll find something new, or better, is if you’re willing walk into something you can’t predict.

7 days into September, and, this month is already scary. New destinations, uncertainty, gigs that may or may not pay off, saying hello to people that are new, saying goodbye to people that I love, letting my heart feel stretched — maybe a little bit too thin — and allowing it, because the alternative is too difficult. But, allowing nonetheless.

So, I send my buddy a text message and let him know that I’ll be attending the meeting he runs in Brooklyn, which just happens to fall on my anniversary. Because, I don’t have have to be a 12-Step devotee to be Open to what the program has already given me.

I don’t need to pick up a 4 Year coin to feel sober or proud. The coin is just the bait. — Fool’s gold. I only need to hold my place in the chair. To take up space in the room. To pull down my hoodie and reveal my, now blonde, hair. To cry. To smile. To clench my fists. — To levitate.

Because, being Open — that’s what gets you to the front of the room.

Image: 7 months sober. On a really, really, angry day.