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.

 

Going Postal: Christmas Edition

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Before pulling into the parking lot of Dennis’ Seven Dees Garden Center on Powell Boulevard, I stopped at the liquor store and got a big bottle of Jim Beam White Label.

It was a Tuesday. I was going to put up my Christmas tree. And, Goddammit, I was going to be drunk.

I threw the bottle, in it’s slim, brown, paper bag onto the passenger seat and drove down the road blasting a Nat King Cole Christmas album with the windows down. It was cold and my windshield was dirty. The Winter sun glinted in my eyes and I pulled down the sun visor as I turned off the road and into Dennis’ lot where three Mexican men were tying a tree to the top of a forest green Subaru.

Inside, twinkling lights were strung up under a white, plastic canopy that housed flocked, white Christmas trees, lined up by size, in tidy rows, as far as the eye could see. Red, glass ornaments reflected the glare of silver tinsel. Life-size Santas stood guard in every doorway. And, the woman who stood at the cashier’s counter wore a green sweater laced with cheap, golden threads and had glittery silver snowflakes dangling from her ear lobes. “Can you tell me where the Fraser firs are?” She looked up at me smiling her big, toothy, smoker’s smile, “How tall, hun?” She croaked. Unsure how to answer, I considered inquiring what height she thought might fill the loveless void my living room had become.

“I don’t know. Six feet?” I asked her, not really concerned with height, only with getting something to convince myself that the holiday season of 2011 was not, in fact, the fifth ring of hell. “Carlos!” she shouted across the store, “Can you take this little lady over to the Frasers? — Go over there with Carlos hun. He’ll help you.”

Carlos stood behind me while I pushed my way through branches and needles in an aisle at the far end of the lot. “You like that one? I can open it for you, so you can see it,” he said stepping forward. “That’s ok. I’ll take it. It’s fine.” He looked at me as if he understood why I was there — a look that acknowledged both my indifference and his pity for me. “Ok. No problem. Which car is yours?” He picked up the tree before I could answer. “Black Honda Civic. The one with the busted tail light.” He nodded, leading me down the aisle and back under the heated canopy. “Ok. You pay inside.” I handed him my car keys and walked back to the cashier with the white ticket Carlos had ripped from the top of the tree and handed to me.

I paid Sissy Snowflake sixty-five bucks for the tree and another twenty for my impulse buy: A big, red, light-globe that sat on the edge of her counter. “Happy Holidays, Hun,” she said handing me my change.

Carlos saw the bottle of Jim Beam poking out from the brown bag on the passenger seat. “You throwing a Christmas party?” He asked, smiling, as he tied the twine taunt around the roof of my car. “Yeah,” I said, “something like that,” handing him a ten dollar tip.

Back home, I pulled into our driveway which, now, was just my driveway. I looked at the tree strapped to the roof like a dead body and did everything I could to stop myself from breaking all the car’s windows. I held my bottle of bourbon, like the baby Jesus himself, and left the tree atop the Honda. — First things first.

In the kitchen, I didn’t even bother to pull down a glass. I opened the bottle, letting the click of the breaking, plastic seal sound the coming of my lord and savior: Jim Beam. I drank from the bottle in gulps. It burned the back of my throat and sent a shiver up my back that started in my stomach. I hadn’t eaten a proper meal in weeks, and, the warm liquid sloshed in my empty stomach like an angry sea. I felt my cheeks flush red and, after a minute, I could breathe again.

I put on Frank Sinatra’s “Christmas Songs By Sinatra” and sat on the arm of the couch with my open bottle and my green, Rubbermaid Christmas bin at my feet. Inside the bin were smaller boxes of ornaments my mother had packed up for us before we moved, a tree skirt, old lights, stockings, and a Glade cinnamon-apple scented candle that we hadn’t finished burning the year before. I dug out the plush snowman with a hook at his feet and placed him on the fireplace mantle and hung my cat’s Christmas stocking. She sat watching me from her window perch in the sun, nonplussed.

When I was drunk enough, I decided to get the tree. Carlos had already put it in the stand, so, I just had to cut the twine and get the thing from the driveway, through the garage, and into the living room. It seemed easy enough, but when I got out to the car, the tree seemed bigger than when I had poked at it’s branches on the lot. I stood there for moment with my scissors, trying to figure out the best way to maneuver the sappy beast into the house. And, as I walked around the side of the car, snipping at the twine on the back, passenger side, the mailman turned the corner.

I’d seen him many times before. He’d always waved to me as he wheeled by during the Summer, while I sat on the back porch smoking cigarettes and drinking PBR. He was a fit, older guy with salt and pepper hair in a tight, military cut. Tall and lean, he walked quickly, and that day the dusty blue of his Postal Service uniform contrasted his red cheeks in the cold. He watched me fumble as he counted out my neighbor’s holiday cards and placed them in her slot. I struggled, sliding the tree off the driver’s side, almost falling. The plastic stand hit the asphalt, hard. It didn’t break, but, it startled me. “Godfuckingdamnit,” I spat out in frustration under my bourbon breath.

“Need a hand there?” The mailman asked in a warm, kind voice, as I dragged the stand over the gravel toward the garage. “No. That’s ok.” I said, tripping over the cement lip where the garage met the driveway. “Jesus. Fuck.”

“Here.” He said, walking toward me. “Let me help you there. You really need two people to do that job.”

“I’ve got it! Jesus.” I shouted. The sound of my voice reverberated off the walls of the garage and out onto Cora Drive, hitting the street like a piece of metal. “I’ve fucking got it.”

“Alright lady. Fine.” He said, putting his hands up, conceding. “Just trying to help you. Jeez.” He walked back to his cart at my neighbor’s front door and wheeled it up to his little truck around the other side of the circle. And, I stood at the garage door, wondering who I’d become.

***          ***          ***

Later that night, after the sun had gone, the apartment was dark, save for the lights on the tree. After the mailman left, I’d struggled for another ten minutes, but managed to get the tree up the single step and into the living room where it sat, undecorated, while I wept between swigs of bourbon.

As my Sinatra album repeated for the fifth time, I strung up the lights. I hung my favorite childhood ornaments. And, as tears streamed from the corners of my eyes, I pulled out the little angel my mother had wrapped for me, specially, in paper towels, and placed her at the top. — She looked down on me softly as I sunk to the floor where I grabbed at the blue carpet beside my now near-empty bottle. Even in that, the saddest and most desperate of moments, my tree was absolutely beautiful. — A light in my darkest season.

Completely blotto, I held myself up at the kitchen counter and pulled out a notepad and a pen from the junk drawer and wrote a note to the mailman. I stumbled to the front door and clipped it to my mailbox outside.

THANKS FOR TRYING TO HELP ME WITH THE TREE. I’M SORRY. IT REALLY WAS A TWO PERSON JOB. BUT, IT’S BEEN A CRAP YEAR, AND I REALLY NEEDED TO DO IT MYSELF.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS.

SARAH

Not like a cut. Not any more.

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He didn’t love me. Not enough.

The first time I had the thought, and really acknowledged it, I was laying on the bed in his brother’s guest room.

I’d had that thought before. And, I’d had it many times after. But, that day, I remember, it was raining. I left the living room in tears, though, now, I can’t remember why. And, alone in that quiet room, I lay in our bed and I cried. I knew he wouldn’t come in to comfort me. I knew that for sure.

I have a vague recollection of the blanket being a blue plaid. Though, if I’m honest, I can’t really remember now. It’s funny what we’ll retain and what we’ll let go and what we’ll just overlook. Little details — and big ones. But, it had that smell. The smell that other people’s guest rooms have. Like the sheets have been washed, but, maybe a few weeks ago, an evening or two after the last occupant climbed out of them. It smelled like home, but, someone else’s home.

And that, I think, could sum Adam up. He was home. But, never my home.

On that rainy afternoon we were only two days into our cross-country trip, at our first stop on the way to our new hometown: Portland, Oregon. We’d packed up our Greenpoint, Brooklyn apartment furiously the night before and left my mother and father standing at the curb of Nassau Avenue with boxes and bags to save for us and ship to us. We’d stuffed the car so full of our possessions, it literally burst at the seams. Weeks later, in California, we would blow a head gasket due to pulling all that weight, but, we’d driven on anyway, thinking it was a busted radiator cap until we took it in to the Honda dealership in Gresham, Oregon, the day after we checked in to our extended stay hotel.

Just two days into our trip, and only 6 hours from Brooklyn, I felt like we’d driven across the world. And, I knew. — I knew I’d made a mistake. But, there are some mistakes you have to keep a secret. There are some errors where you must hold your tongue. You must let them play out because — Maybe. Maybe it will be different than what you know it to be. Maybe it can all work out. Maybe.

He’d tried to leave me once before, back in New York City. But, I told him he had to stay. We’d figure it out. And he did. He stayed. He let the comfortable love we’d fallen into carry us across the distance that the love we’d lacked for ourselves couldn’t. We allowed something wrong to pose as if it were right, because, maybe we didn’t want to be alone and maybe we didn’t think we’d find anyone better. And still, even after all this time, I haven’t. I haven’t found anyone better.

Different, but, never better.

On his brother’s guest bed, I hugged a pillow to my chest. I could hear laughter in the living room, beer cans cracking open, the clink-clink-clink of the refrigerator door swinging shut. I remember hearing all that and wondering if he’d heard me crying.

He can’t blame me for wanting him to stay. And, I can’t blame him for wanting to leave. Time and space and everything that happened after him made blame useless. Now, it’s just hurt. Not like a cut, not any more. Like a bruise. Old, but tender to the touch. It still stains my arm a dark purple, and, I press it, hard, with the tips of my fingers, more often than I should. I know. — I know.

I think about it now, and, long before I’m sad or angry, I’m sorry. Sorry I didn’t let him go the first time, when we’d stood arguing on 1st Avenue in the East Village. I just couldn’t let him go. And so, we got back on the L train and we made it work. Stupid love. But, the biggest I have ever known. The kind you know so well, you can remember every detail. — Each, like one of his socks strewn across our bedroom floor. After he left me, I found his socks for months. Under the bed, in the closet, beside the couch at the lip of the electric heater, and fallen between the washer and the dryer. I washed them all again and I wore them as if they were my own.

I’m sorry for things I said and didn’t say. I’m sorry for pushing him into the bathroom wall in anger. I’m sorry for embarrassing him in every one of my blackouts. And I am sorry, most of all, for the things I couldn’t remember. The words I said that he would speak with his eyes the next morning while he sat on the black couch, head in his hands. I knelt on the blue carpet and begged him to stay. And, all I could think while I was on my knees was how my mother once told me: “Never beg a man to do anything.” But, I did. And, I still don’t regret it.

Before he left, I drank to forget. To forget that he didn’t love me. Not enough. I drank to forget the words he never said, but, I wished he had. And, I drank to forget that I’d let it all happen. I drank to forget that rainy afternoon in his brother’s guest room. To forget that moment of knowing it was too late for us, but, knowing it was too late to turn back, too.

After he left, I drank to forget. To forget how much it hurt. To forget how empty everything felt. The living room, the kitchen, the bed, the car. I drank to forget the way I knew every piece of him. The curve of his wrist. The beds of his nails. The blue pools of his eyes. I drank to forget all that, and more still. But, it didn’t work. Even with a different man laying beside me, he always lay there with us. Like a ghost. And, eventually, I stopped wishing he would go. Sometimes I drank hoping that, maybe, he’d stay forever.

4 years sober, and, he still hasn’t left. The last time I saw his face it was February, 2012. But, in a strange way, I still see him everyday. I press the bruise and watch as it whitens at the edges. I still  feel it. So old. But, it still aches.

People tell me that — it’s over. That it isn’t worth the pain or the time or the regret. But, with all my wits about me now, for better or for worse, I’ll decide. I’ll decide what I want to keep and I’ll decide what I want to let go. And I’ll decide if when I told him that he would never find someone that could love him as much I as did, do, did, do, did, that I was right. Because, as cruel as it sounds, even now, it still feels true. It feels as true as the sickness that swells in the pit of my stomach when I wash my hands at my mother’s kitchen sink because the smell of her soap is the same smell that lingered in our kitchen the day he walked out of it.

I am so sorry.

I’m sorry for the things I said and didn’t say. I’m sorry for pushing you into the bathroom wall in anger. I’m sorry for embarrassing you in every one of my blackouts. And, I am sorry, most of all, for the things I can’t remember. The words I said, that you would speak with your eyes the next morning while you sat on the black couch, head in your hands.

But, I will never be sorry for how I knelt on the blue carpet and how I begged you to stay.

The Face Of The Hammer, The Head Of The Nail

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I leaned against the kitchen counter, exhausted. The taste of vomit, fresh in my mouth.

I had been arrested the night before and released from police holding at 5AM that morning.

The officer behind a slate colored, wire divider pushed a clear bag filled with my personal belongings through a long, rectangular slot. Inside, the necklace my father gave me for my 18th birthday, a silver pendant, had been placed carefully into a little, plastic bag, where it glinted in the florescent light. Next to it, lay the bright white laces of my shoes and the long white string from my hoodie, all of which the booking officer had carefully removed from my person while I stood, silently crying.

My phone. My wallet. My house keys. These were the possessions that I had with me. My property. As I ran my fingers along the outline of each item in the bag, I felt like a criminal.

Later, in my apartment, my eyes kept returning to the clear, plastic bag sitting on the edge of my small, dining room table. I kept weeping. Again and again. I lost count of the times I forced myself to cease my sobbing and regain composure.

I had taken a cab back to the apartment after walking out into the stark, empty street in downtown Portland.  Darkness permeated everything on that eeriest of mornings. The cold, punishing brick of the building from which I had just emerged, loomed behind me, threatening violence. I had only six hours before I had to return to that very street and appear in court for my arraignment. But, by that time, the city would be awake, lit by the winter sun and full of scurrying worker-bees. Now, it was just dark, silent, still.

My mouth felt dry and tasted of stale liquor. I could feel that my eyes were red and the cold stung my chapped, peeling lips. I remember wanting to die. Hoping to somehow be struck by lightening or to suffer a heart attack or be hit by a stray bullet. I wanted something big and powerful to sweep in and take me. Something to wake me from that heavy, dream-like haze.

In the cab home, I told myself: Sarah. This, is  a very human lesson.

If only humanity were a better teacher, then perhaps, I would have learned that lesson long before having to learn it the hard way. But, in that moment, I was too tired for regret. I focused only on staying awake long enough to get home. Long enough to get into bed and sleep, which seemed like the only plausible way to wake from that unending nightmare.

I did sleep, though, it was the restless kind with haunted dreams. I woke and, like a robot, dressed myself for court. I appeared before the judge, still unaware of myself. Floating in space. Lost. Alone. I had called Tony, my dear friend, dazed, and asked for a ride. My car had be seized. He drove me downtown to court, and, on the ride, we were both solemn. The sad look on my face upon climbing back into his car after court, where I’d been handed a stack of paperwork and been yelled at by a judge who had little pity for sad, drunken white girls, informed Tony that things hadn’t improved. On most days, he could make me laugh without any effort at all, but, on that day, he didn’t even try.

“You have to tell them,” he said as he ate from our shared plate of tater tots at DOTS. “You won’t be able to keep it a secret. They know you’ve had a rough time this year. They’ll get it. They’ll help you. You have to tell them.”

I didn’t answer him because, I knew he was right. But, I couldn’t get the words out just yet. I couldn’t eat either, but Tony pushed the plate toward me and gestured at the tots. “Shitbird, you gotta eat.”

Later, alone in my apartment, leaning on the kitchen counter, the words finally started to bubble up in my throat, thick and sour, like witch’s brew. That’s when I vomited in the sink.

There was no way to explain it away. It could only be an admission. A confession. A plea for forgiveness.

Me: A drunk. A failure. And now, a criminal. Those are the words I wouldn’t speak, but, that would be silently woven into my careful explanation.

I walked over to the dining room table and pulled the small, clear plastic bag from inside the larger one. I hung my little pendant around my neck again, where it rested on my clavicle like a weight. I felt along its edges and in its grooves with the tip of my index finger and I tried to remember how things felt before everything happened. Hours ago. Days ago. Weeks ago. Months ago. Years ago. But — I can’t. And, in that moment, I knew, there would be parts of me that would never will feel the same, ever again.

It was too late to explain the means to my end. It was too many things. Too many moments. Too many people. Too many places. Too many drinks. Too many losses. Too many goodbyes. And in that moment, the face of the hammer and the head of the nail mattered not. Only the force of the blow.

I pressed the green “SEND” button at the base of my phone.

“Dad. Something bad happened. Do you have a minute? I have to tell you something.”

Burn, Baby. Burn.

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Martyrs are crazy, man.

I remember reading about Joan of Arc for the first time when I was a kid and thinking: This chic is fucking nuts.

Yet, I turned each page, unable to tear my eyes away from her gruesome end. Her expression, stoic, as her face disappeared into a haze of smoke and flames. I couldn’t fathom a world where someone would burn for her Beliefs. But, the older I get, the more I learn — people do this everyday. And, usually, it’s not for God’s sake.

The truth is, like it or not, we’re all a little bit martyr-y. I’ve been picking this theory apart, because — it bugs me. I don’t like the idea of people killing themselves, literally or figuratively, in the name of something else — especially expecting praise.

Since my Year of Happiness began, I’ve devoted a lot of time to discovering how my Happiness has been thwarted by my own martyr-like Beliefs and actions.

I’m gonna lay some Belief smack-down on y’all: We’re all selfish, narcissistic, idealistic, and self-serving. — Some of the time. — It’s called Being Human. And, I’m here to tell you that you’re supposed to fuck up and, occasionally, be an asshole. If you’ve been conditioned by your parents, family, coworkers, significant others, children, or friends to believe otherwise, you’ve got some serious martyr-issues to deal with yourself.

People who tell you that they do everything from a selfless place — are liars. Even the most selfless people get pleasure and happiness from the good acts they perform. Martyrdom, by definition, is self-serving. That is to say, to a martyr, to serve God is to serve one’s self. And, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Serving other people is THE BEST thing we can do. But, the thing about martyrdom is — to do it right — you can’t expect anything in return. That’s the rub. And, the part where most people fuck up. Unless, of course, you’re Joan of Arc.

But, I’m not here to talk-up theologian mumbo-jumbo. I’m here to tell you that your Belief and commitment to your own Happiness, doesn’t come with a list of prerequisite actions. You’re not selfish or idealistic to a fault if your priority in life is Happiness — Your Happiness.

I think that was the crux of my problem. I always felt that I owed someone — that there was a price to pay for feeling happy. — I had to have a certain job, look a certain way, talk a certain way, act a certain way. And, because I never lived up to my own impossible standards, I unknowingly held a fundamental Belief that I didn’t deserve better. And, that Belief was all-encompassing.

This week, I tackled a lot of the Beliefs I grew up with. Some from home, some from school, some that I’d created, myself, in adulthood. None were very positive. But, more importantly — none of them were true.

As we grow into adults, our little-kid Beliefs grow too. We never revisit the flawed system into which we’ve built ourselves. And, we forget that we wrote all these Beliefs during a time in our lives when we didn’t have the capacity to comprehend the doctrine to which we pledged our faith.

We’re never taught as kids that — Belief is flexible. — It is.

So often, we find ourselves feeling inadequate, powerless, and alone. But, if we leverage our Beliefs, we’ll find that this is never the case. We are, in every moment we live — Worthy, capable, and supported, each of us, integral parts of this incredible celestial ensemble. If your life is a testament to the things you value, shouldn’t the first thing on your list be Yourself? Your Happiness?

This is your gift to the world. — You. — Your unique being and all the gifts you already posses.

Happiness, I’m discovering, grows from a very small place within us. It has an uncanny ability to permeate into all areas of our being — if we let it. But, first, we must hold a Belief, even if it is just a small one, that we are worthy of the Happiness we desire.

I was a dumpy kid. I didn’t have a lot of friends, and, the ones I did have were dumpy too. We supported each other. But, we never believed that we belonged — not at the cool table, or at the pretty-girl-clique parties, or to get picked for school sports teams. And, maybe, that was true back then. But, I think, it’s more likely that we let a little bit of chub and big crew of mean girls get us down.

We were always good enough. But, we never believed it. And, for me, finding Happiness now, is about revisiting those things I internalized long ago. Eradicating ridiculous, outdated Beliefs that were never true. Finding my Happiness, largely, has been slowly silencing the voices that have been lying to me for as long as I can remember.

My advice? If you really want to be happy, don’t be a martyr for the sake of the self-deprecating voice you created to explain the unfairness of your youth. That voice is ridiculous and has no bearing on the person you’ve become. That voice only silences the one you’ve been given by the Universe. The one that serves you and everyone around you.

Martyring yourself for accolades doesn’t make anyone happy, especially you. More importantly, it doesn’t change the past. Real change takes place when our Beliefs reflect the people we have become, today.

Belief is flexible.

And, with few tweaks, I think you’ll be surprised how fast Happiness will light you up.

No inferno necessary.

 

The Story I Didn’t Write

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When I moved back to New York City, I had a story.

I had a bunch of stories. Stories about what happened in Portland. Stories about moving back home. Stories about my plans moving forward. Stories about who I was and who I am and who I’m going to be.

But, time passes. Eight months, if anyone’s counting. — I sure-as-fuck am. And, this making-Happiness-a-priority business was the first  in an unexpected chain of events. Not the least of which is — the author of my story has changed. I’m realizing that Surrender, if you let it, will write your story all on its own. And, it’s an unparalleled kind of freedom.

When it comes to Happiness — stay out of its way. We spend a lot of time being our own worst enemies. We write all these stories about who we were and are and plan on being — and it doesn’t help us. In 12-Step recovery they’re always harping on about tempering your expectations. And, I hate that. I don’t like tempering anything. I tempered my drinking — wasn’t that enough?

It’s not about tempering Goddammit. No. Fuck that. — It’s about expectations in general. — Don’t have them. Don’t have some prepackaged story that you’ve ghost written for another version of yourself. Dream. In the moment. Go for it, right then and there. Don’t plan on anything. Write as you go. Or, don’t bother, let Surrender write the whole fucking thing for you. The story shows up. — It’s a magical business, storytelling. And, planning and tempering — who needs it when you’ve got magic?

When I touched down in New York, this was my story: I was going to be at home for a few months, settle in, save some dough, take a break, regroup, and move to upstate New York to start anew. Hills and mountains. Fresh air and quiet. I played with the variables. Different jobs. Small business. Big business. Maybe I’d take a little extra time off and make the big push to work on, heck, finish, my book. I didn’t know a damn thing. But, I just kept on writing that story. I kept turning up the heat. — Do it Sarah. Get there. Finish this. Make the move worth it. But, worth what?

Eight months. I watched the tree outside my bedroom window go through a full life cycle. I battled a pretty gnarly bout of anxiety and depression. I wrote. I didn’t write. I became a barista. I rode the subway. I applied for jobs. I interviewed for jobs. The story I’m living now is nothing like the one I was writing in my head on the flight here.

Since embarking on my Year of Happiness, I’ve been trying to figure out how I should go about surrendering my story. It’s tough. I’m so close to it. Attached. It’s personal. We spend a lot of time fine tuning our own stories. It’s hard letting them go. They are part of us. But, you know how the cliché goes — when you stop trying to write the next chapter, it writes itself. Happiness wants you to find the words. And, when your heart figures it out — it’s such a relief, Surrender. I can’t even tell you.

On my birthday road trip, I sat in my hotel room after spending hours walking up, down and all around Charleston, South Carolina. I had blisters and a nice sunburn. It was one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. Slow, romantic, surrounded by water, and clad in seersucker. Suddenly, I felt panicked. I became desperate to write that city into my story. I pulled up LinkedIn and Indeed and Monster and all the other job-hunting sites on the interwebs. After an hour of desperately clicking link after link in a wild frenzy — I broke from my craze and, I started laughing hysterically. I was a fool, and I knew it. I felt it punch me right in the face. — It was in front of me the whole time.

New York City.

In my old story, I had a lot of rules. I couldn’t stay here. I could stop here, but, I couldn’t put down roots. Not again. In my old story, it cost too much money, had too many old memories, too many bars I wouldn’t be drinking in, it was too crowded, too dirty, too hot, too cold. But, in my little room at the Charleston Holiday Inn Express, I remembered the real reason I came home eight months ago. — It’s too good to give up. — Every pricey, precious, boozy, bottle-necked, begrimed, humid, hyperborean inch of it.

Surrender, sometimes, is listening to the thing that your heart told you to do a long time ago. Before you started writing stories.

I am New York City. At my core. — Whatever it is and everything it isn’t.

I surrender to the city that broke my heart. And, I surrender, again, to the truth of the thing, which is — that same city saved my heart. It’s a magical business, storytelling.

And, in this story, the one I didn’t write, — I stay.

The Great, Woo-Woo Crusade

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“The Year of Happiness.”

I know. Just reading it makes me want to barf a little bit, too. But, this is how it starts? Right?

As someone who has been perpetually on the dark side of things, the mere mention of Happiness is like being dragged out from a dark cellar into the light of a blazing sun and being screamed at in Chinese. Which is to say — I have no idea what’s happening.

But, it’s happening.

I’ve mentioned that I’m a self-help junkie. Books. Movies. Workbooks. Day planners. Online lectures and seminars. You name it — I’m into it. I’m not ashamed. Not to toot my own horn here, but, seriously, I’m post-doctorate-level-well-read in this genre. From the critically acclaimed to the absolute-worst-ever dreck, my self-helping skill spans oceans and continents. And yes, sometimes, I watch Oprah.

I’ve had many people poo-poo my love of the woo-woo. I’ve been slighted, both on social media and by “real life” peeps. I don’t care. Honestly, I’ve learned heaps about myself, and others, by burying myself in this kind of material. I’ve implemented changes in my own life, and, I’ve seen results.

So, the idea to devote the year to  “Choosing Happiness” didn’t just appear out of the ether. I figured out, long ago, there’s got to be something to this deliberate Happiness thing. But, until now, I didn’t see any way to implement it. Pure, unadulterated Happiness never made it into my self-help arsenal.

If I were so motivated, I could sink my whole life into analyzing my clinical depression. I could unpack the roots and effects of my alcoholism. I could self-help my way through a few more decades with all the crap I’ve stowed on deck. But, there’s an inherent dishonesty in avoiding it. — Happiness. — I kinda know that’s where the answers I’ve been seeking live. Yet, I’ve never really committed myself to getting there. I haven’t really made an effort to sell myself on the concept. And, if Happiness really is the Holy Grail of all this self-help questing, then — I guess it’s time for a Crusade.

That’s right. When I say I’m committing to a Year Of Happiness, I fucking mean it you guys.

That said, I realize, especially for a person like me, this endeavor is going to take organization and planning. Strategery. That’s where this blog steps in. This is the place where I’m going to splay Happiness out in my very own, Dexter-style kill-room and take it apart piece by piece. I’m going to figure out how everything works, and then, by God — I’m going to make it work for me.

Each of the next 12 months will examine a theme — not unlike the 12 Steps. (Apropos, I know.) And, each week, I plan on unpacking said themes and examining how they play into the Happy Factor.

More than anything else, I plan on using this space to eradicate all my well-rehearsed excuses.

*               *               *

Before I sobered up, I was convinced Happiness and sobriety were synonymous. I figured if I could just stop using, I’d finally arrive at Happiness. But, with 3 1/2+ years of sobriety — I know that isn’t true. However, I am sure both require the same caliber of commitment.

In that vein, April’s theme is Surrender. Is it cheesy? Maybe. But, it’s one of the most difficult and complex things you can do in your life. We surrender to people, places, concepts, laws, governments, feelings, faith, and ourselves — every single day. But, surrendering with intention is extremely difficult.

Surrender means starting where you are — details be damned.

And, surrendering to Happiness? For many of us, that means forfeiting all the baggage we’ve been lugging around. That’s hard. Surrendering to sobriety meant giving up an addiction — a torrid love affair. So too is the trade off (up) for Happiness. We get the good door prizes for our sacrifice.

This week, surrender feels like a lot of effort. Quieting the gloomy voice that’s constantly speaking to me is difficult — and, at times, it’s impossible. But, that’s what The Year of Happiness is all about. Being willing. Surrendering old stories and giving voice to new ones.

It’s crusade time. You in?

 

Photo courtesy of Ebay: http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/GRAIL-CAT-spoof-funny-T-Shirt-Mens-6-sizes-8-colours-crusade-kitty-joke-/151276415654

 

 

The Party’s Over

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It feels like I’ve been tripping on some terrific hallucinogens y’all.

Honestly. I have no idea what’s changed — why I’m reeling, but, I’ve jumped off and hit the deep end of my depression. And, let me tell you, someone strange has bounced back.

Birthdays have been known to do funky things to me. And, with my birthday arriving at the end of the week, I wonder if maybe that’s it. A sort of 30-something reckoning. But, whatever tipped the scales, I’m feeling it. And, it’s tugging at me like a million invisible strings, all pulling me toward something big.

Happiness. — I used to believe that it was a place and that we’d magically find ourselves.

It’s been an elusive destination. And, for a time, I was sure, feeling good was something we arrived at by chance. Our lives, like some fantastic cocktail party, when in struts Happiness making a grand entrance. She’s everything you’d want her to be, waving a tumbler of aged whiskey high above her head, rocking her skin-tight black dress, sporting ungodly-high-heels, flipping you off with her fire-engine-red nail polish. She was the perfect party girl — who lived only to disappear into the crowd, lost again, to the dance floor.

The truth is — that was me at my 25th birthday party. And, the party’s over.

Joy and happiness have never been the result of some effort on my part. It always found me. Unplanned and unreliable. Like a dog, three states away, finding it’s owner by some untold mystery of the universe. But, kids, I’m getting older. And, every time that dog gets away, it takes him longer and longer to find his way back to me again.

Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it isn’t. But, something’s flipped like a railroad switch. And, this time, I’m not leaving my happiness in the hands of chance.

    *           *           *

This blog has served me in a host of ways. It’s forced me to sit down and take stock of myself — every week. To write — regardless of who or where I am. It’s been an outlet for whatever I’ve bottled up to explode. It’s been a conduit for consistency over days, weeks, and years. And, it’s provided a vehicle for me to reach others in ways I never could have predicted.

I’ve connected with close friends, strangers, and mere acquaintances. I’ve heard countless stories and received unending love and support. I get emails that touch my soul, bring me to tears, and help me to hope and dream in a way I didn’t know I could. For these past 2 years, this window where I type 350-1000 words every week, without fail, has allowed me to reconnect with myself. And, this whole time, I think I was secretly waiting for the day when I would be moved to write this very post.

This blog is about to change, big-time, to reflect a new me. — Going forward, we’re letting a lot go.

I used to think if I let go of all the things, places, people, incidents, pain, and progress that I’ve lived through and with, in and before sobriety, I’d lose everything. — I’d be blank. But, in truth, no matter what place I write from, I’ll never have everything that I started with. I’m called to create something new, and in this place, I find myself with a different kind of power.

A proprietor of my own happiness, I have decided to put creation before chance. My goal in the coming year is to go beyond hoping. I have decided to facilitate the life that surrounds me. To change how I feel, because we, as humans, have that power. I aim to build a life where growth is no longer the side effect, but instead, the intention.

This year will be a year of happiness. And, for the next 365 days, that will be my only focus. This blog will, of course, continue to document my time. As readers, you can expect a change in tone. And, while I may lose a few of you, I know that in order for Saucy Sobriety to move forward, it must move with me — even if that means experimenting with something new. We’re moving away from the things that kept us stuck.

Signing off this week feels bittersweet. I’m leaving this comfortable space I’ve created, knowing that when I return next week, things will be different. But I am moved to change. I hope that you’ll change with me. — Sign on for it. Be a part of this — A year of happiness. 365 days. 52 weeks. Be inspired to ignite something new and different within yourself, too.

But, in whatever capacity, wherever I may find myself headed in hot pursuit of joy — I hope you will join me.

 

 

Photo: My 25th Birthday, Greenpoint, Brooklyn

The Promise of Color

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Spring draws us out.

Cynical, tired, hopeless, and angry as I find myself — there’s something that soothes every state of unrest in the way the sun rises this time of year. It’s a different shade of yellow. Creamy and light, never sallow. Spring has a grace the other seasons lack. The promise of color. Time moves us forward and we are given permission to let our dead things feed a new Earth.

The tree in my parent’s back yard litters the ground with little, red buds. The pointed tips of green leaves push their way up through thawing dirt, packed tight by feral cat’s paws. And the local squirrels make plans to execute their annual vendetta against my mother’s stoop-garden bulbs.

This time last year everything was soooooo nice. Nice city. Nice boyfriend. Nice apartment. Nice new job. Nice. Nice. Nice. — Oh, and stagnant. Stagnant and boring. I’d always imagined “Nice” as a place I’d want to stay. I thought I’d enjoy stability. But, forever restless, “Nice” needed moving forward. Growth. I began to feel the momentum of Spring pulling me toward the ring. Though, I hadn’t agreed to fight yet. I first spent a few months trying to make “Nice” work.

In Brooklyn, things move, begrudgingly. Uncomfortable and awkward. But, movement is movement. Time passes. And while I keep pushing up against locked doors, part of me feels assured a key is bound to show up. So, I dig in and wait.

When you abandon “Nice,” life picks up speed. The seasons bleed into one another and little things morph into bigger ones. A seemingly harmless unrest can turn into a move across the country. The arc of change is never what we anticipate. And I think, maybe, I did fuck up. Royally at that. It wouldn’t be the first time I made a huge life decision in haste.

I allow room for the possibility. And I’m finding the more I revel in my missteps, the more I like myself. I become increasingly amused by my uncanny ability to be me. I used to be so scared of making mistakes. I was a fearful kid. A fearful young woman. But, the worst of my wounds have scabbed over, I am no longer scared. I know now, with certainty — it absolutely will get worse. And, I know that even after shit hits the fan, it’s possible to get back to “Nice” and still find yourself unsatisfied. I devoted all that time to the pursuit of perfection, and wouldn’t you know — I ended up becoming the fuck-up girl anyway.

Each mistake gives me a new kind of freedom. And, I’ve started letting myself off the hook for losing track of the woman I thought I was supposed to be. Because now, I’m so far off course, it hardly matters.

“Nice” is a temporary thing. It’s better that way.

Eventually, a yellow sun rises and the dark season yields to new color.

 

 

A Sinking City

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I took a long walk along the promenade in Brooklyn Heights.

I stood against the black iron fence, leaning into New York City’s skyline. I am still waiting for it to embrace me again. But, it only feels tired. Tall cranes and buildings rise, holding themselves up, heavy, against big, grey clouds. Jogger’s treads fall hard against the pavement. Couples in black coats on benches, pressed hard into one another, stiff, like magnets. And I walk, leaden, moving slowly toward Cadman Plaza.

I remind myself that the weight, the heaviness, isn’t forever.

I try to be patient and allow this time in my life to pass without argument or complaint. I let the city rise before me, flooded in darkness. I feel tired. The weight of too many narratives threatening to sink me and this island.

Stories will wait until I have words enough to write new ones.

Meanwhile, I listen for Guru and wait on the sun.