The Voice Inside That Never Shuts Up

Every day, after returning home from middle school, I sat at our kitchen table. Hours before my parents would arrive back home from work. I’d eat my afternoon snack and I’d wonder what it would feel like to be an adult. Long hours I spent there, in that square, wood, and wicker chair — wishing I was someone else.

Most days, I still feel like that little girl. Unsure of where I belong or how I’ll get there. I still wonder if all the things I waited on, after all these years, will really, truly, bring me the Happiness I dreamed they would. Yet, as ever, I look forward. There are things I know I will always have: An unfaltering curiosity. A deep, unprecedented faith in love. And, a strange belief that — somehow, despite the odds — everything will be OK.

As I write this, it is my thirty-third birthday. And, I’m not sure how to explain this past year. Everything changed. — My heart, the people who surround it, the dreams it dreams, and the place it resides have all spun forward into new realms of Happiness — places that, I am quite sure, I will never understand. And, I think, these gifts, and many more, are the real fruit of seeking out my own joy. — The little girl at the kitchen table could never have foreseen this.

After more than three years of weekly Wednesday posts, never having missed a-one, this will be my final blog post here at Saucy Sobriety. These past few weeks, I’ve thought long and hard about how to leave things with you. What to impart that could possibly communicate or encapsulate everything I’ve come to understand from taking part in this process. — The thing that will comfort those of you who still sit, waiting and wishing, at the kitchen table. — But, to no end. Because, blog posts or none, there will be no end to this endeavor. Happiness and the discovery of self are pursuits I could never abandon, even if I tried. And, I remain steadfast in my advice, that — you, too, should continue to seek these things in life.

If this past year, heck, these past three years, have taught me one thing it’s this: Happiness is not something you’ll stumble upon. It is something you build. — Do not sit in wait. — No one is coming for you.

Brick by brick. Story by story. Friend by friend. Mistake by mistake. Place by place. Lesson by lesson. — We find our own Happiness. We find our own sobriety. We find our own love. — Within.

Inside each of you, is an incredible light. Something magical and intangible, that I cannot explain. I cannot explain my own light, either. But, as our time together comes to a close, I know that this blog has been one step of many in my unending journey to do just that — to find the hidden magic and bright light that reside inside each of us. My quest, is one that will forever seek out joy and understanding in this life that, otherwise, can be pitiless and cruel.

The day-to-day can be ruthless. Heartless. Thankless. Yet, I strive on. And, maybe, like the little girl in the kitchen, you too will recognize the small voice inside. — The one that tells you the next moment may carry with it everything that you’ve been seeking. And, sometimes, to your surprise, it does. And, it’s in those moments that we find reward, despite all the heaviness.

Happiness and sobriety are the same thing. They are gratitude — for everything — as it is. The present moment is the only tangible thing we’ll ever have. We can hold on to the past, so much so, it halts us, hurts us, and makes us ill. We can hang our hats in the future, but, to be certain, the future we’ve envisioned is NEVER the one where we’ll actually arrive. So, in the here and now, we must take what we’ve been given and find some way to treasure it.

In this moment, my phone bings and chimes. Friends and family send me birthday wishes. I open cards from my parents, my bosses, my grandparents, and in the background, I listen to music that makes me feel joyful. And, though I feel as old and out to sea as I ever have — I know I am a little boat who has learned to break the big waves. — I am surrounded on all sides. With love.

Today, more than anything else, I want to thank you.

If you were a regular reader, or just one of the few who click through these posts every now and then, it means so much to me that you’ve taken any time at all to take part in my story. To know someone has listened to me and heard me, is perhaps the greatest gift I could ever ask to be given. Your time, attention, compassion, support, and empathy have been the glue that’s held me (and this blog) together over the years.

Thank you. Thank you so very much.

Thank you for contributing. Thank you for being witness. Thank you for passing through.

I’ve said it before — I’m crap at goodbyes. So, I’ll leave you here:

Happiness is the reward for seeking. In its pursuit, you will discover who you are and where you’re meant to go.

Listen to the voice inside that never shuts up. — She is telling you something worthwhile.

Hear her. Write her. Sing her. Dance her. Read her. Cook her. Sell her. Sew her. Walk her. Run her. Drive her. Bathe her. Climb her. Swim her. Fuck her. Comfort her. Cradle her. Raise her. Plant her. Judge her. Dress her. Dream her. Hide her. Hate her. Find her. Feed her. Open her. Punish her. Shut her. Forget her. Forgive her. Starve her. Break her. Save her. Reward her. Release her. Kiss her.  Kill her. Cut her. Mend her. Bend her. Resurrect her. Love her. — But, never, never leave her.

Whoever she is, whatever she is, wherever she is — day in, day out — stick with her.

When you are bereft, she is your Happiness. When you are lost, she is your Home.

 

 

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The Beauty In All Things

My mother apologizes for the untidiness of her supremely tidy dining room every time I come home to visit.

For as long as I can remember, tidiness has been a priority for my mother. And, when things do not appear as she sees them fit to appear, she is apologetic. In the same way, and with almost the same vigor, my father is unapologetic for the state of disarray in his “den.” Which is (or, I should say, was) a room that has all but one square foot of workable, moving space left in it. The rest of the floor, lays hidden beneath piles and piles and piles of books. These trembling towers of tomes are near collapse (as is the ceiling under them, right above my mother’s very tidy living room), all covered with three quarters of an inch of dust, and, most of them — unread.

Truth be told, I care little about the tidiness or untidiness of either of my parents respective spaces. I do, however, care about the stories these spaces tell. I care deeply about the character each room plays — the set in our little family’s Brooklyn house. I love how the acute nuances of our spaces (or lack thereof) can reflect our core traits and indicate how we’ve moved and continue to move through the world.

But, this story is not about my parents or the rooms in their house. — This story is about beauty.

As a child, beauty confused me. An awkward and lonely kid, I never felt beautiful. Beauty, as I understood it, was simple: Molly Ringwald. I wanted to be her. Red haired and moving through the world with her easy angst. She was a misfit, unconcerned with what anyone else thought of her. I watched all of her movies over and over again. I wanted to look like her, to pine after jocks like her, to dress like her, to love like her, and to be loved like her. I’d sit in the living room, curled up on my mother’s reupholstered chair with a big blanket, warm in the blue glow of our tiny 22″ TV set with a built-in VCR. And there, I let all that beauty wash over me like warm water.

But, the thing was, I didn’t look like Molly Ringwald. I never fell for a single jock. Not one. It was always the geek. — Every. Single. Time. Instead of her cool, bohemian clothes, I was clad in matching skirt and sweater sets from The GAP. And, love? Forget it. — Dorks of my caliber were lucky if we had someone willing to sit with us at lunch.

So, I wrote. — In little notebooks. For my English class. On my computer. In the back of my loose-leaf binder during science class. — I wrote everything.

And, in choosing all my words, so very carefully — I learned to be beautiful in a different way.

Sometimes, to be the storyteller, you must live on the periphery of your own story. If you want to tell it like it is, it helps if you don’t get too close. And, I think that’s why I’ve always loved writing. It’s kept me one step away from really getting into the tough stuff. Writing can be safe, in the dirtiest kind of way. You get to see everything, but, you can avoid feeling anything. You can always step back when things get too hot.

Storytellers aren’t judges. We are observers. — So, we let our mothers apologize for the untidiness of a perfectly tidy room because, we see. We see that, in the apology, there’s a story. How, in that apology she has told us: She values this place where we come together and sit. How, in this room, she gathers her child, her husband, her family, her friends and, here, they have a place at her table. A table that, sometimes, will be bare, with only a decorative basin at its center, and, others, will be set with fine china and cloth napkins. The apology is not for me, but rather, a note to herself. How she’d rather not have the little things clutter this, her sacred space.

We let our father’s “den,” now in such a state, that an entire episode of Hoarders could be devoted to cleaning it out, be. Because, this is the space where he stows his books. Tomes that he is saving, because, for him, there is value in words — spoken and unspoken, written and unwritten, read and unread. And, these near-tumbling towers of paper and dust are monuments to all the words he has and has not said. He needs them there. Why? I don’t know. — I don’t need to.

We, the storytellers, experience the world by allowing others to show us the beauty in all things.

My cousin Jeremy, with his love for Breen suits. My friend Joseph, with tattoos on his chest like mile markers from his ten-year journey across the country. My friend Lizzie, with her affinity for off-color, ill-timed jokes. My dead grandfather, with his turkey-laugh and his ability to be endlessly entertained by cats. My favorite bartender and dear friend, Tony, and his undying love for Elvis Presley and nights at the opera. My ex, Joe, and his habitual practice of reading true crime books in a claw foot bath tub until the water turned cold. — These people. Their idiosyncratic ways. They have colored my life. They have written my pages so beautifully that, I am sure, there is nothing better than to have been witness to them all.

But, as I write these final posts here on this blog, I see more clearly than ever, that to write my own story — to find my own Happiness — requires more. It requires stepping away from the page and into the fray. Happiness is living in all the beauty that surrounds me — not just observing it.

Happiness is the room. However it’s kept. — Mess or none. — If we choose to really be there.

 

 

 

Jim Beam: A Love (Goodbye) Story

All endings beg us to return to the beginning.

As I try to wrap up this blog, to tell the stories that matter to me — the ones that mean the most — I keep returning to Jim Beam. I’ve been unable to escape the thought of his squared, glass bottle. Like a person. A character. — Jim Beam, Bourbon Whiskey, was an essential player in my story. — Just brown booze in a bottle, sure. But, still, after all this time, I’ll refer to that particular bottle as: “Him.” Because, like a fallen sidekick, I still sometimes miss his help.

I miss how I never felt alone, knowing I had a bottle on the kitchen counter. How I could go to any bar — and there he’d be. Seeing a bottle of Jim Beam White Label behind the bar, even now, makes me feel like I’ve run into an old friend — an old lover.

What’s funny is, admitting this doesn’t make me feel ridiculous at all. Not one bit. Because, as I come to another ending in my life, I am aware now, more than ever, of how important it is to recognize the anchors that root us in our past experiences. Jim Beam — yes, to be sure — was just booze in a bottle. But, he was there. He was there, for almost everything in my life before I got sober. And, he was the bottle I tipped back — the bottle who saved me — when things were the most difficult they’ve ever been.

While I was thinking about it, I realized that getting sober is not the hardest thing I’ve ever done. — It was surviving the pain of heartbreak. And, during that period in my life, Jim Beam saved me from myself. There were so many times I turned myself over to that squared, glass bottle, completely, because staying present would have killed me, and nearly did.

I sat through countless 12-Step meetings where members told stories about how alcohol or drugs had saved them from themselves. And, of course, this is how things went awry. Booze can’t actually save you, not forever anyway. But, before things got bad, beyond the-point-of-no-return bad, there was a time where being drunk made my life possible. It gave me a reason to live — when I felt that I had not one. When it came to Jim, I never had to do anything to earn it. I had his love. Jim Beam always sat in wait for me, ready when I needed him. And, now, allowing myself to recognize that, to feel that, I understand why getting sober was so hard. There aren’t many people who will show up for you like that.

Alcoholism, the disease, isn’t about drinking. It’s about what we got from the drink. It’s what waited for me at the bottom of that bottle that defined my problem. Back then, I never thought to savor each sip, thinking the drink would love me back. But now, if I’m being honest, — somewhere inside of me — that was what I thought: I thought at the bottom of every bottle of Jim Beam I would find the love that had left me bereft. And, when I see that bottle today, it doesn’t make me feel sad. It makes me feel grateful. — Grateful that I am alive. — Grateful that my own heart didn’t kill me.

Love, like drinking, is most beautiful in the process. — Never in the result. Love and liquor are comforts you can count on — until you can’t anymore. One day, love is the only thing you believe in, and the next, it’s walked out on you. One day, a drink is what saves you from yourself, and the next — it’s killing you. You have to be careful how far you let things take you outside yourself.

Learning to be present with loss is the hardest thing any of us will ever do. And, we do it everyday. We lose people. Jobs. Places. Things. — Bottles. — And, worst of all, we lose the love that is built into each one of these things. There is no stopping it. No preventing it. The only thing we can teach ourselves to do, is to allow love to go. To leave us. And, to know, somewhere, we will find it again.

This blog, over the years, has been the place I’ve thrown all my love. Anger and calm and joy and death and transition and waiting and finding and EUREKA! It has been everything. And, I think, this particular goodbye is so difficult because, I know that it is because of writing this blog — week after week, month after month, year after year — that I know, not only how to say goodbye, but, why I need to say goodbye. I know now that goodbyes are never permanent. Just like Jim Beam, Saucy Sobriety will sit on the shelf — a reminder that, somehow, I survived.

At the bottom of this bottle, this blog, there is a sweet, unpoured sip that I will never taste. And, I will always wonder: Does that last little gulp contain all the love that I got so incredibly drunk trying to taste?

To which the answer is, obviously: No.

Because, Love was the process of getting to the bottom of it all.

And, that, to be sure, I have tasted.

 

 

 

 

 

I Am Disappearing.

Just shy of three years ago, I turned thirty. And, that’s when I threw my heart into this blog.

At a turning point, and one of the most difficult junctures in my life, there was nothing left to do but — write.

Having just left my heroin-addict boyfriend, I was a few months away from celebrating my second year sober. And, with the world crumbling around me, I was beginning to feel that, in sobriety, I’d lost almost as much, if not more, than I had gained. I had feelings so complex, I didn’t know how to begin unpacking them all, I only knew that they felt worthy of documentation. — So, every Tuesday night, I sat up in my bed, writing feverishly, into the late hours. Hoping to capture something I was sure I’d lost, or, better still, to get a glimpse of something good I had missed.

On the day of my thirtieth birthday, I woke up early to open a package my mother had sent me from New York. It contained, as ever, a poignant note that made me cry, packed along with a long-sleeved blue and grey striped blouse — which I still have, wear, and love.

As I pulled my new top over my head, standing in front of the mirror, I noticed for the first time how thin I had become. While I had been with my addict-boyfriend, I had all but stopped eating.  I had not noticed the physical toll all the stress had taken on me. Staring back at myself in the mirror, I did not notice my age. I saw only how my eyes had fallen back into my cheek bones, how my once snug jeans hung slack over my thighs, and how the size-small top my mother had sent me, fell over my shoulders like a sweater. — Before leaving my apartment for work, I sat down at my computer and wrote: I am thirty. I am disappearing.

I never published that post. Because, back then, I wanted to disappear. And so, calling attention to the ribs pushing up through my chest like piano keys, seemed like it would reveal a little too much about what was actually happening to me. It required sharing an awareness that I was ashamed to admit I had — the knowledge that: I was sober, and, I was not doing well.

Truth be told, as I have written my blog over the years, I’ve left out many of the big details in my life’s story, as it’s unfolded, here, on this page. Because, no matter how present we become, there are parts of us that will always hurt when they are seen.

In just a few weeks, I turn thirty-three, my year-long blog project: My Year of Happiness, will reach it’s conclusion, and, should you care at all to know, I am filling out my clothes just fine. — There is no mistaking that I am still here. In the three years since my unpublished post, I never did manage to disappear.

But, a lot has changed in the past three years. Most of it, good. Some of it, painful. But, despite the redacted details, this blog, and its loyal readers, have been right here with me. You have seen a changing life and a small chasm of the world through my eyes. And, so, in the spirit of transparency, I feel obligated to notify those of you that may find this information pertinent, that, in conjunction with the end of my Year of Happiness — so too will end Saucy Sobriety.

I have spent the entirety of the New Year, 2017, brainstorming how to continue writing this blog in a way that could remain true to me. But, I just can’t. I have poured over old posts, tried to find solace in writing new ones, and spent hours contemplating what it will really mean to discontinue a three-year writing project that, in many ways, has defined me. Yet, something in me keeps chiming — It’s over.

And, it was in reading my unpublished blog post from three years ago, that I found my answer: I am thirty-three. I am disappearing.

But, this time, it is not because I’ve lost myself. — It is because I have found her.

Within, I have unearthed something new and exciting. A life where I can be so many things — all of which have nothing (and everything) to do with being clean and sober. It has been many, many months since sobriety has been the cornerstone of my life. Years ago, at thirty, sobriety was the only thing I had to my name. And, this space, this dot com, has been a testament to my own timeline. My change. My growth. My progression. And, my setbacks. — In a way, it has ushered me into a new, beautiful Universe. And, still, it allows me to go back and remember myself when I forget her. Even in those details that were lost between the lines, I am able to see a woman who has Become.

Now, I notice everything. Everywhere I go — I look for the story. — My story.

My life has taken its shape in the little things: Place settings at a friend’s dinner table. The light that fights its way through a thick canopy of leaves. The tired expression that the old man in cowboy boots wears as he pumps his gas at the Sunoco station. — Before sobriety, I was only worried about myself. — How I felt. How my life appeared. How I would survive all the things I was so sure were being done to me.

This blog has taught me to see. To see everything. To disappear into the background just enough to know that I am a part of something that is so much bigger than anything I ever was, or could have been, on my own.

This blog has taught me to find Happiness everywhere.

And, as my Year of Happiness comes to a close, I see that this has been only one chapter in my story. A bridge I’ve written to take me across the things I could not have waded through alone. I had to write them on paper. I had to have you read them on paper. But, with both my feet back on solid ground, I know that it’s time for new projects, bigger projects. — Time for a new story.

So, in some way, three years later, my story sounds more or less the same. I am disappearing.

But, it isn’t the same. It could never be the same. Because, I will never be the same.

Writing these final posts will not be an easy task. It is difficult to know how to say goodbye. — To you, and, to a younger version of myself.

But now, it is important for me that I begin writing a new story, on my own, without an audience. — One that, I know, I’ll sometimes wish I could share with you.

PHOTO: Selfie, My 30th birthday, 2014

 

 

 

 

The Long Goodbye

I have never been good at endings.

I don’t cry at funerals. I have stayed in relationships, long after things have been thrown at me. And even after years of sobriety, I still find it hard to know when it’s time to leave the party.

Goodbyes are always complicated.

My first thought, as I come to the end of something big, is to let it slide by, unnoticed. To watch passively as it easily drifts away. But, the truth is — nothing of note ever drifts away easily.

In the past, I allowed things to carry too much weight. Which, in many cases, I’ve discovered, has ushered in the beginning of several downfalls. Somewhere on the road, while I gained traction in my life and sobriety, I convinced myself that certain things should not matter — or, at the very least, I’ve pretended that they should not matter. As a result, I let things get swept away. But, in reviewing this year, I see how flawed that system has become. And, in my efforts to dismantle it, I’ve learned that, more often than not, one of the most solid bricks in the foundation of my new-found Happiness is the ability to say a proper goodbye — even when it is hard.

Letting things go is important. Incredibly weighty. So much so, that I’ve tugged these blog posts around with me, written and unwritten, like little balls on chains. Stories and lessons that I’ve needed or wanted to share, but, many times, have been too scared to cut loose. But, this year, the more open I became — the more truth I blurted out — the better I felt. I suddenly had more space to occupy than I’d had in years. — Sometimes, the things that we keep too close are the things from which we need the most distance.

That distance can be difficult to navigate. There have been times during my Year of Happiness where this blog has felt like an extension of my person, another limb. Other times, it’s felt empty and unfulfilling — a blank page, begging for an explanation that I’ll never have. But, recently, I’ve discovered that, no matter what place the weighty things hold, we owe them. We owe the things that have been constant in our lives. Good and bad. Homage must be paid to the people, places, and things that have become a part of our day-to-day, regardless of their placement. Truly, it is these little things that make us.

You can never know how long something will stay with you — even after it’s left you. And this year, one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is: You must learn to say your goodbyes. Even the ones that are long overdue. That can mean a host of things — revisiting old love, tending to old wounds, beating on your steering wheel in parking lots, crying for pieces of your heart that can never be retrieved, writing letters that you’ll never send because, no matter what you have to say — some words aren’t meant to be read or heard or even said at all.

This week, I was telling a friend how, when I was a child, my parents would correct me when I’d say that someone had “passed away.” — “They died,” I remember my father saying, “they didn’t pass away. They’re dead.” It sounds harsh, cruel even. But, it’s true. Taken out of context, and applied here, to the general idea of letting go, it still holds true. Letting an ending slide doesn’t serve anyone. Goodbyes are severe. They cut and bleed. But, they remind us we are still here. Alive and breathing. And, so long as we are still here, fighting the good fight, all wounds heal, even if we are left with scars.

It would be easy for me to let my Year of Happiness go. To slide right by it.  To say that, even if I don’t write my life out in so many words — it will go on. But, it won’t. Not in the way I’d intended.

This goodbye is a death, of sorts. But, it’s an evolution too. A Year that has carried me from one place to another. There is no way for it to slip away seamlessly. It it was never the organized syllabus of lessons and revelations I’d planned on documenting. It has been messy and painful, and on many days, it has been decidedly Unhappy. But, it has taken me to all the places I hoped I’d go — and to places I could never have predicted. For all this, I am eternally grateful. But, the Year is dying — it isn’t passing away. And, it is only right to mourn something’s death by celebrating its life.

Even as I struggle to write an appropriate ending to what feels like its own era, in these final weeks, a part of me knows that by seeking out a way to properly say goodbye to this Year of Happiness, and to all the parts of myself that will disappear along with it, I have gained something beautiful — in simply letting it go.

Artwork: Andrew Wyeth, “Benny’s Scarecrow (Jim Loper’s Coat),” Watercolor And Black Ink Over Graphite With Scratching Out On White Wove Paper, 1955

 

The Muddied In-between

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July 15th, 2014, I walked down SE 37th Avenue toward Reed College campus.

The canvas of my black Vans, a pair far beyond their prime, ripped at the seams of the heels. That morning, I’d cut up a pair of Levi’s jeans that I’d bought on 14th Street in NYC back in 2008, and pulled them over my sticky legs. I never wear shorts, but, that day in Portland, it was too wicked to wear anything else. It was too hot to stay inside. And, I shoved my book, an old, red sheet, and a bottle of water into my canvas, “Catch 22” bag from Barnes & Noble and stepped out of my apartment, waiting to find some space to breathe. But, the air was too thick.

Like that day in July, my life had stagnated. Love and joy had left me. And, I walked down the sidewalk, shoes disintegrating, toward the only place I had left that, I felt, could still hold the entirety of me: The green lawn beside Reed’s gravel track, in the the shade of a tree whose trunk looked as weathered as I felt.

I cast my sheet out, hoping for the assistance of a breeze that never came. The leaves above me moved in slow, gentle waves. The sun glinted through the green canopy, and I lay on my stomach, my head turned to one side, watching the brave few walking their panting dogs toward the nature trail that ran along side the brook on the other side of the red, brick dormitory.

Happiness, in that strange summer, always found me beneath that tree. The sun, sparkling, between cracks in the branches, reflecting off my Ray-Bans. Beneath me, was an Earth that felt damp and alive. Above me, was a cloudless, unmoving sky. — When we are sure we are forsaken, there is always a place we can go to find ourselves again.

***          ***          ***

This month of March, is the final month in my Year of Happiness. And, it doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel right that a whole year has past since I first decided that, if I was determined, I could uncover anything — only by deciding to seek it. I continue to search for moments in my memory where I have been as sure, as aware, as I am now. Moments when I knew where to go to get what I needed. There are so few, but, in seeking them, I am able to measure how truly profound those few moments in my life have been.

I’m still not sure how to sum this year up. It has been unlike any other. And, I tell myself that this can be said of any year, but, I know that, somehow, this year has been different. I have sought myself, and others, in a different way. I have allowed myself, and those around me, room to move. And, as a result, I have discovered such truth and hurt and joy and Happiness that, now, as I try to describe it, words fail me. In making these discoveries, I find that, everything I’d been seeking was with me, inside me, all along. And, when I close my eyes and try to pinpoint the exact feeling that has connected me to this new freedom, I always find myself beneath my weathered tree.

***          ***          ***

I unlaced my Vans and pulled my feet out from inside them. I placed my heels on the grass, and let my toes press into the dirt. I let my head rest on the corner of my red sheet and I spread my arms wide. I let my chest, beaded with sweat, press into the ground, hard and uneven beneath me. And, even though I found myself more alone on that afternoon than I’d ever been — in that quiet, solitary moment, I felt that I was a part of everything. A perfect sky hung above me. A cool Earth surged beneath me. And, the umbrella of my tree’s leaves, floated somewhere in-between the the two.

I wrote a song about Oregon. And, in it, I sing, “The mountains hold your heart, but, they don’t own you. Tree tops touch the sky, but, they’re still rooted deep below you.” And, for me, this is what Happiness has become. The muddied in-between. The balance of what we can truly touch and what we can only see in the mind’s eye. There is no time, person, or place that can define us. What will define us, is the time that we allow ourselves to sit still and truly become part of everything.

Happiness is not joy. Happiness is everything. Joy is the recognition that you have been a part of any of it — all of it.

It’s all very ambiguous. Very hippied out.  And, that’s what I missed while I was busy being so methodical and regimented. I missed out on the beauty of all my missteps because I was fixated on creating something that I’ll never be able to create. Because, it has already been created for me, for us — not by us. The sky, the tree, the ground — they were already there — just as we are here.

This time last year, as I brainstormed my plan for writing my Year of Happiness, I imagined I’d be wrapping up all this time in some kind of bullet-pointed retrospective. Expository obscurity. A list of lessons and realizations. A set of instructions. Definitive proof that the the pursuit of Happiness can never be fruitless. But, as I stand, looking out over these last, four weeks before me — I know. — I’ll write no such list.

Photo: Selfie, July 15th, 2014

 

 

 

Strangely Stable, Sarah of Troy

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Water pooled in the streets of Albany, streaming out like rapids from beneath giant piles of filthy snow. Under the sidewalk, I could hear it, rushing, beneath my feet.

It’s hard to say if Spring has truly arrived, or if this reprieve is just another one of Winter’s ruses, but, in moments like these, the only thing to do is accept the gift that you’ve been given and let it bring you whatever joy it can offer. So, I took several walks, all in Troy, NY, the city of little bridges — the place I’ll soon be calling home.

With a friend, I wandered downtown, along the old, brownstone-lined streets and then, beside vacant, boarded-up warehouses by the river. My coat fell, hot and heavy, on my shoulders.

I found myself thinking about peace. — How to get it. What it will require of me. Why, so often, I manage to distance myself from it. My creative drive, always finding new ways to avoid it. — I’ve known so little peace that I’m not always sure what it looks like, but, I have learned that you’ll never find it walking alone, without purpose or reason. Growing up in New York City taught me to keep my head down and my pace quick. But, walking along the Hudson, I was reminded that I have no reason to hurry. In the light of a new sun, I allowed myself the rare occasion to feel that, maybe, I am at peace. Maybe, I feel great.

***          ***          ***

In my new landlord’s office, he added a special clause in the lease to allow my cat to live in my new apartment, and, as I initialed the amendment, I thought about her, back in Brooklyn, laid out in the sun on my Mother’s carpet. I had the thought that she was probably happy too, and almost just as warm as I. I knew, even with the three hour drive between us, that sun would still manage to touch us both.

***          ***          ***

I tell my friend how I believe everything is connected. — But, I didn’t always feel that way.

It was one of the hardest lessons I have had to learn. — To take special care, because everything is reflected in everything else. — But now I understand. I see it everywhere. How Happiness begets Happiness. How negativity and dread beget more of the same. When I first got sober in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, old men told me, between puffs on their cigarettes: “Seeing the good in everything  is a skill, and some days, it’s one that’s not very easy to exercise. But, young lady, you can save yourself some heartache — by doing it anyway.” And, nearing five years later, I’ve begun to reap the fruit of those seeds, the same ones those old men helped me to sow, all those years ago.

Since my cousin and her husband welcomed me into their home in September, I have worked to adjust my mindset harder than I ever have in my life. I have stepped out of every comfortable place that I’ve found myself standing. And, as a result, I have discovered incredible new rhythms in the beat of my heart. Just six months later, I can feel all that work in my legs and arms. The old men were right. I am tougher than I ever knew I could be, but, I am softer too. And, after a year of solid and sometimes debilitating depression, I have never been more sure that, for now at least, I have come out on the other side of a pain I could never really name or define. I’ve stepped out into something I didn’t plan, facilitate, or imagine.

Instead of hating myself for moving, again, I feel strangely stable. I am about to belong to another, new place. And, as I scratched out the dollar sign on my deposit check , one that still displays an old Oregon address, I felt a strong and sturdy root spring out from the sole of my shoe and crawl deep into the Earth beneath me.

***          ***          ***

Home isn’t a place. It isn’t a city. It isn’t a coordinate you can locate on Google maps. Home, simply, is where we stow our love. Home is the three hour drive south to my parent’s door. Home is my cousin’s dogs yipping and jumping up in windows of the front door as I open it, my hands clinging to bags of groceries. Home is the sun falling on my back, my shoulders damp with possibility. Home is a late-night drive home in a snow storm, feeling more alive than I ever have before. Home is belonging to a place, where old memories fade into the past and new ones hang in the air, like the sparkling, cheap-o, Wal-Mart Christmas ornaments that I placed on the Charlie Brown tree that sat on my cousin’s kitchen counter until the day before New Year’s Eve.

“Things fall apart before they come together,” Old Andy told me once, outside an AA meeting in Portland, a Pall Mall hanging from his old-man lips. He’d been sober longer than I’d been alive, and I trusted that he knew everything. So, I believed him. But, even back then, I couldn’t imagine how my life “coming together” would look. And now, I know that’s because we are always falling apart so that we can come together. — In every moment of every day, we break so that we can reassemble. — The light and the darkness will always dance a little too close together so that we can be sure to see that both are always there, reflecting our home right back into our hearts.

Whether in shadow or in the light, our hearts, if we are lucky, will beat. Drawing us back and moving us ever forward. Always bringing us to the same place.

And so, I sign my name, Sarah of Troy, at the bottom of my lease and wait to receive the keys that will open the locks to a beautiful, new door.

 

An Accumulation Of Snow

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On my Sunday drive to Troy, cars moved slowly, cautious in the hazardous conditions.

Little, black bumpers, fishtailed in and out of their slushy lanes and I wondered if it was wise to be making the trip at all. At the side of the highway, trees stood black against a white-out sky, with soft snow collecting on their branches. — But, it will always be my opinion that it is best to make the trip toward something you want, even if it is treacherous.

I parked at a curb where the snow plows had pushed small mountains up onto the sidewalk. The few people that were out, walked down the middle of the street. I forced my car door open. The huge drifts made it difficult for me to climb out, and when I I found what I thought was some sure footing, I stepped out and stepped gingerly onto a dense snow pile, where my foot fell through, breaking through the snow’s hard crust, crunching all the way down, hitting the sidewalk beneath. Snow fell in my boots, wet and cold. — And It is in these moments of unexpected discomfort and surprise I feel most alive. — Of course, I did not bring a change of socks.

Early for my tea date, I turned my face skyward. White and open. The street before me was near empty, but for a few street walkers and a few business owners who worked hastily, shoveling and salting outside the front of their doors before closing up for the night. Just beyond, at the end of the street, the Hudson flowed, moving under Troy’s little bridges, flat drifts of ice and snow moving along with it.

Over tea, I found myself talking about my sobriety story for the first time in a long time. It felt strange. Foreign. Like a memory that I had to search for at the bottom of an old laundry hamper. Things have become hazy, like the white squall outside. And, I see that what was once my only story, has become a mere precursor to everything else in my life. When I turned to look out the restaurant window, watching the still, white, little city move in its Winter beauty, it felt like the world was just waiting for me to make my next move.

For the last few years, I’ve credited sobriety with bringing every good thing into my life. But, that isn’t the truth.

Across the table from my friend, I began to launch into my old story, the one that, for the longest time, I let define me. But, mid-sentence, I stopped myself.  In a moment of awakening, with dripping boots and wet socks, I realized — Sobriety doesn’t define me anymore. Sobriety has allowed me to be present and available for everything else that has defined me.

Today, as I publish this post, it is 4 years, 53 months, 231 weeks, and 1620 days sober. It is not my sober anniversary. It is not a day marked with any particular significance. It is just another day. And, that is sobriety’s greatest gift — the gift that has made the ordinary become effortlessly beautiful. An accumulation of snow that started off as only a few peaceful flakes falling from the sky, has now left drifts on the sidewalks — dense purpose , piled so tall that falls into my boots. A storm that’s tested my tree’s branches, but still manages to make everything look as if the world were made up entirely of magic.

Today is just another day where I am afforded the luxury to just be — so long as I show up. A huge drift that, eventually, will melt with the Spring, but whose water will nourish the frozen ground as it thaws, feeding another day, a flower that will push up from the soil and peel open its petals in the sun.

As I draw closer and closer to the end of my Year of Happiness, I see that, it can never be just this year. Days will stack up upon days, and, I will still be sober for them all. I am still here. My father’s Christmas wish for me — that my Year of Happiness will go on forever — will come true. So long as continue to drive through the storm, determined to get to the places I want to go.

Sunday, talking about sobriety was difficult, because I have graduated from that story. At the beginning, when I had just 1 day of sobriety to my name, it was all I had to cling to. It was the only thing I had left that didn’t break my heart. It was a true success, the kind that I hadn’t had before. But now, with so much behind me, I don’t want sobriety to be the accolade that I hang my hat on. In some ways, it has rendered itself completely meaningless. And, that feels a bit scary. — Valuing myself for all the things I am — not the things I have given up.

But the sky sent down its storm and a new lesson with it. Snow does not define or explain itself. It just falls. It cares not about the mayhem of the roads, the dirty sidewalk drifts, or the sore shoulders it will leave with its shovelers. It knows nothing of its own beauty as it lines the railings of quiet stoops and country rooftops. It is just there, creating the scene. Existing just to exist, before it melts away.

This week, I feel a sort of sadness in thinking about my sobriety. Not because I am not proud of what I’ve done but, because, it is a story that I held too dear. A story that I know — I have to let go.

Tomorrow, it will be 1621 days sober. Then, 1622. Then 1623. And, I will still be here. Breathing. Feeling. Existing. And, snow will continue fall, and I’ll find places to drink warm tea with warm people.

And, wherever I sit, I will continue to be reminded that anything is possible, that everything can change — and, when I forget, I’ll be gently reminded by the cold, wet snow that’s still melting in my boots.

Phantom Coordinates

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In the car, I have stopped using my GPS.

It happened to me after living in Portland for a few months, too. — The mundane, yet extraordinary, moment when you gaze out over the steering wheel and — you know the road.

Where it leads. Where you can deviate. The stops, shortcuts, speed traps, and turns that will pull you off one course and place you seamlessly onto another. And, even though it has built over time, in the moment, it feels like it happened all at once — like that euphoric three minutes when you finally learn to ride your bike, sailing down the street, without falling  over to one side.

At the post office, I sent a package to an old friend and I wrote my return address on a label with ease. Numbers that, now, are etched on that strange spot in my brain. Numbers that will continue to live here, at this address — even when I do not — in my head, occupying their own room, holding space, long after walking out of it, a home that will sit forever next to all the others where I have lived, and since left behind.

I live here now. Here. Along these roads.

There is a duplicitous feeling, a kind of beauty and terror when you become rooted in place. For me, there have always been three ways to experience home: To Stay. To Leave. To Escape. — And, no matter what state of experience you find yourself living in, it’s a sure bet that you will find yourself surrounded by people who are experiencing that same place in a different way. Namely, if you’re staying — they’re going. And vice versa.

Since returning to New York State, I’ve found myself strangely connected to people that are in various states of transition. And, I do not think that’s by chance. It’s no coincidence the day I realized that I know how to drive myself home from the Colonie shopping center, three different ways — without consulting Siri — many of the people I know or love are in the process of moving on. Leaving New York to begin something new, far away.

It’s been my experience that the Universe will always hold up a mirror and show me what might have been. The Universe will always ask me to choose. — Stay. Leave. Escape. –– In the past, it always seemed easiest to Escape.

Happiness though — happiness is always right where you are. And, that’s the crazy thing about finding your place in the world, and in yourself. You have to stop moving long enough to really see how things are. It turns out, that mirror, the same one that used to tempt you with its possibility, is just a map, showing you all the different routes available. Routes that will, eventually, lead you to the same place.

Like seasons, the ever-changing cast of characters in all the places I have called home, move in and out of my life, marking unpredictable stages of loss and growth. It can be so difficult to say goodbye — to leave behind our phantom coordinates. But now, as I begin embracing all the unexpected people and places that I find myself loving, I realize that — once, it was just as hard to say hello.

Since leaving my parent’s home in September, people have come and go. — Peter abandon Brooklyn for a job with the Department of Justice in Washington DC. Joseph, is packing up the few bags he has, while learning Spanish and saving his pennies for the plane tickets that will take him to Spain in the Fall. And, Jimmy is about to stuff boxes that will be shipped out from Albany and sent to the south side of Chicago.

But, me, I’m on this road — one that, apparently, I have come to know quite well. My rear view mirror reflects back more than what’s behind me. It reveals place itself, infinite in every direction, lines that move us ever forward. And, weaving in and out of the traffic with me — is Happiness.

As dusk falls over Albany, the grey, Winter sky showcases the magnificent, lavender-tinted, East Coast clouds. Each is sewn to the horizon, connected and held together by thin seams of sunlight,  the sky’s fabric falling like a heavy and handsome curtain at the edge of the highway’s stage.

I lean into a bend on the thruway, moving sixty-five miles an hour, under my big, New York sky. And, now, sure of the road, I see it in the infinite space between the lines that run down the center of the lane, these phantom coordinates, and I know  — it wasn’t my GPS that brought me here after all.

 

Carlee, Carlee, Carlee Chameleon

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Carlee, the beauty school director, tells me that she loves my glasses.

“Those are fabulous. I have a pair just like them! I love them!” She squealed. She is thin and wiry and impeccably dressed. A button-less, coral cardigan is draped around her sinewy, sculpted arms. Her white-hot-blonde curls dangle like tight springs at the tops of her shoulders. She was complimenting me, of course, because it is her job. But, I don’t mind. And, she’s right, my glasses are fabulous.

In the true spirit of chameleon-ism, I’m touring an aesthetics institute because, I’m thinking about changing color — again. I’ve been chided, warned, and scoffed at for entertaining this idea, but, I’ve also been patted on the back and encouraged. And, in managing other people’s responses to what I’m thinking about doing, I begin to realize just how much I’ve learned in this past year. And, not just about me.

When you’re a chameleon, color bleeds. You step on one leaf and your leg turns a waxy green, and then, in your next step, your webbed toe turns a bark-y brown. Then, you’re standing on a yellow blossom and your whole torso blooms along with it, igniting like a burst of sunlight. — Our surroundings change us. People. Places. Circumstances. Situations. Everyday, we step onto a new palate of incredible color. And, I can’t help but think, for so many years, all I wanted was to remain in one place. To understand myself in one color. — But, try as I may, it can’t be done.

Carlee holds the grey door open for me as we walk into a stairway of floor-to-ceiling windows. “This is our new space,” she says, “we just moved into this building, only a few months ago.” — I figured as much, because I made it to my interview on time only because I saw the shiny, new building, with it’s giant windows and inviting sign, as I drove by it on route to the old location — the location Google maps still deems accurate. At the top of the stairs, we walked onto a floor filled with classrooms. White, dry-erase boards lined the walls and book bags sat in chairs at empty desks. “The students are taking clients in the clinic today,” Carlee told me, pulling her cardigan tightly around her tiny frame. “And, it’s a good thing! It’s darn chilly up here!”

Carlee is the type of woman you’d expect to say “Darn chilly.” She is peppy, and, her breed of chameleon is chipper and bright. She is wiry, I suspect, because she is designed to pounce on you with unsolicited positivity and cheer at well-timed intervals. Her eyes are an icy blue, and they actually look at you, really look at you, when she is talking. “I hope I’m not going too fast,” she said, “I get kinda excited to show people around the new building. I graduated in 2008. And, I still can’t get over this new space!” Her tiny, one-inch heels click-clacked across the the top of the linoleum stairwell. “Let’s head back down to the clinic. Then, we can chat in my office.” Her eyes sparkled when they met mine, as if to hypnotize me, before she ushered me, with her twiggy arm, toward the stairs.

I watched the students in the clinic. Some were much younger than me, some, much older. They wore scrub-like uniforms with white, slip-on shoes. It was very clean and quiet. I found the whole scene very calming, custom-made for my OCD-like tendencies, tending toward cleanliness and the minimalist. I thought about one of the instructors from the the beauty school I worked for in Portland — Erica. — I recall her flawless skin and her immaculate attention to detail. For Erica, aesthetics were about so much more than appearances. They were about order. Beauty was her way of commanding the universe. And, there, standing beside Carlee, I felt bad for having thought Erica was an emotionless stickler. I see now, this kind of order, this clean and untouched universe, kept her sane.

Back in Carlee’s office, she sat behind her desk gathering materials to place in a white folder for my consideration. Tuition information. Financial aid applications. Course outlines. Scheduling options. And, should I decide to apply, a form to be completed by the person of my choice, serving as my letter of recommendation. She handed me the folder, closed, and looked at me, I mean, really looked. She was like a beautiful, delicately styled, praying mantis. I was not sure if she was going to hop across the desk and eat me, or gaze upon me with her big, icy eyes until I said something. And, then, I felt my color change right in front of her — I became, suddenly, a deep, peaceful, navy blue — a perfect match to the freshly painted, silky walls of her tiny office.

“Carlee, can I be honest with you about something?” Carlee tilted her head to the right, looking at me as if the answer to my question was obvious. “Of course,” she said.

“I’m thirty-two. And, I’m not sure if I’m going to apply for this program. But, I can tell you, I really like it here. The thing is, I’m a NYU graduate. And, that probably sounds like a snobby thing for me to say. But, when I think about investing in attending this program, I think, maybe, I’m too old or too something — like this is a non-sequitur — I don’t know. I’m not sure what I think I am. But, it would be a huge shift for me. And, I just wonder if you’ve had a student or students here that, maybe, sound like me. Because, I’d like to know that I’m not crazy for thinking about doing this. And, it’d be nice to hear it from someone who isn’t, you know, related to me.”

Carlee paused. She laced her manicured fingers together over a stack of manila folders that sat in front of her on the desk. She leaned in a bit, like she was going to tell me a secret, but, instead of talking, her eyes met mine and softened. Now, she appeared more like a lean giraffe than an insect, her neck craning, gracefully toward me. Her swooping curls, tumbled forward from behind her ears and fluttered gracefully at the sides of her cheeks.

“Sarah, I know you probably think I’m here to sell you a seat in this class. And, technically, I am. But, the truth is, whether you apply or not, whether you enroll or not, or whether you walk out this door never to return again — or not — this class will be filled. And, I want you to be here because you want to be here. And, that’s up to you. You’ve got lots of time to think about that. But, here’s my answer to your question. I graduated from this institute in 2008. I was thirty-four. And, when I got here, all I knew was — it sounded good. It sounded like something different. It sounded like something fun. And, it sounded like changing. Changing my life. And, since then, I’ve worked in this amazing industry, and now, I’m the director of this school. I love it here. I enroll girls who are eighteen and I enroll women in their sixties. And, there’s one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty: You’re never too old to want something new, to do something new, to be someone new. It’s great that you have an undergraduate degree. Really, I think that’s great. But, do you think it’s great? Because, if not, you’re never too old to learn something new. — And, if you want to do that here, we’d love to have you.”

In the parking lot, I sat in the idling car and I drank the cold, Dunkin’ Donuts coffee that I’d left in cup-holder to the left of the wheel. The little, plastic, Oregon license-plate-key-chain that reads “SARAH” dangled from the rear-view mirror where I’d hung it the day I drove out of Oregon for the last time. My eyes welled up with tears as I stared down at my shiny, white folder. Filled with clean, white pages, begging for navy blue ink.

The truth is, we can’t know what color we’ll turn next. We can only know that we’re changing. Learning. Painting legs and toes and torsos — with every, beautiful step.

ARTWORK: “Chameleon 2” By Tilen Ti

(www.etsy.com/shop/tilentiart)