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.

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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)

A Hopelessly Romantic Mess

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Here’s the thing about Happiness — if you find any of it for yourself, there’s a line of people queued up beside you looking to get thier fair share.

In some ways, finding peace of mind is like winning the lottery. It’s liberating, and frankly, almost magical. But, we don’t live in a vacuum. Life is about connecting. So, finding love, or at the very least, a little romance, has commanded much of my attention of late. And, along with le romance, a few of my old messes have managed to boil over after bubbling on the back burner for a long, long time.

Dating at 32, is the pits. But, living in a new place makes it even worse. I feel like I’ve been walking on the surface of Mars, trying to keep my eyes fixed on what’s right in front of me while constantly tripping over my own feet, distracted by my phone, deciding whether or not to swipe right.

I’ve stopped counting all the bad dates I’ve been on. One bad date, sometimes, turns into two or three bad dates, because I’m still hesitant to throw up my hands and call a spade, a spade. I believe in giving people second chances, often to my own detriment. But, I’m learning quickly that, my best bet, usually, is to trust my gut — cut and run.

Sure, I’ve been some good dates too, but, nothing that’s stuck. Some weeks, it’s almost clinical. I’m juggling my coffee meet-ups like client meetings. I wonder what the fuck it is I’m missing here. I’ve got all this happiness, confidence, a new job, and amazing friends and family — all rooting me on. Yet, this weekend, I found myself sitting alone in my favorite, Albany coffee shop, staring forlornly out the big, glass window, wondering if I even believe in love anymore.

I’ve recently implemented a phone-free half-hour while I enjoy my daily Americano. Even my quest for romance has become hopelessly un-romantic. So, I take my break, gazing out onto Lark Street, watching people walk their big dogs, warm up their cars, and smoke cigarettes on the corner, waiting for the bus, while I sit very still and breathe deeply, managing my varying existential crises.

When you’re constantly in transition and somehow manage to find a rhythm, it’s jarring. You start wondering how and why you’ve become so comfortable. In my case, I start looking for new and better ways to make myself uncomfortable. — And, love is a sure-fire way to fuck your shit up. Especially when you realize that every bad date is just a huge mirror for your own insecurities. I thought that my happiness would draw positive, like-minded people to me like a magnet. But, I’m discovering, the exact opposite is true. Every date has been a reflection of who I used to be. — A bevy of men who want fixing and freedom. — And, suddenly, happiness has turned into a complicated dance where I’m managing my own crap and trying to manage other people’s crap too.

Being a chameleon is a beneficial trait when you’re playing the dating game. Trying on new skins can lead to new, interesting, and exciting experiences. Morphing into different versions of myself has given me the uncanny ability to make people feel comfortable. And, I can tell you from experience, it is far better to be on a date with a comfortable wet blanket than it is to be on a date with an anxious one. But, one lesson from my Year of Happiness has served as a backdrop for all of these new encounters, and has proved to be one of my most valuable dating tools yet. And, that lesson is: I’m not here to fix anyone.

Everyone is a mess, this — I know. I’m cool with messes. I can live in a mess. Heck, I can even make a mess appear neat and tidy. But, I’m done with cleaning messes, especially messes that aren’t my own. So, do I just keep moving from room to room? Do I take a breather and hang out in my bedroom, the one that I just Marie Kondo-ed? Or, do I level with myself and accept that, at 32, I’m not likely to find a room that isn’t totally filthy?

As an obvious hopeless romantic and an admittedly unrealistic, cinema-fed, true love, happily-ever-after kind of girl — this real-love in the real-world thing feels like eating rocks.

A friend of mine, who met her fiancé on an app, gave me this advice: “Just when you think you can’t take it anymore, like, when you are ready to put a gun in your mouth and end it all — book another date. Get out there and fucking go, go, go girl. Do it. Get it. Coffee. Drinks. Walk together somewhere awful. Anything. Go on 20 more bad dates. 30. 50. Because, you can’t give up! Even when you want to die, especially when you want to die — Sarah, you have to keep on swiping!”

So, I do. For better or worse. I keep on swiping, Goddammit. And, when my roommate makes fun of me for not knowing my date’s name as I run out the door to meet him, I laugh it off. Even if it is mildly depressing. Because, Happiness is about Believing. — There’s only so much joy you can spark organizing your own underwear drawer.

Though, I will say this about tidying up — sometimes amidst the mess, you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for.

This weekend, searching for an old sweater, I opened a Rubbermaid bin that I had shipped back East when I moved home from Portland. It had been sitting, duct taped shut, in a corner for over a year. When I pulled back the dusty, plastic lid, sitting at the very top, neatly folded, I found my “I Believe” shirt. A navy tee that features, a unicorn, a jackalope, and a narwhal. And, I was reminded that, beyond our cynicism, inside all of our sealed up boxes, and buried under our filthy piles, in the messiest of our rooms, everyone of us has some forgotten treasure.

Those bits and pieces from our past lives — they don’t need fixing. They’ll always be there, boxed up or buried. Our old heart fragments, lost and forgotten, will always remain among the mess. They need discovering. So, it’s worth a little bit of poking around, even if you have to get your hands dirty.

In all honesty, I’ll never stop believing. — In love or in magic. — Because, I know, when you seek them out, you find them. It’s just, sometimes, we have to remind ourselves how important it is that we keep on searching, never stopping, until we find what we’re looking for.

So, I continue to take my friend’s advice, I bite the side of my cheek, and I swipe right.

Because, at the end of the day, I’m an addict — and, really, what’s one more cup of coffee?

 

 

 

Maybe I’ll Be Her For Awhile

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The last time I remember knowing exactly who I was, I was seventeen years old, sitting at my parent’s dining room table.

NYU had made an error. They’d sent out an email, congratulating recent early decision applicants on their acceptance to the university before the applicants had actually received their official acceptance letters in the mail. And, the evening I got my email, I sat in front of my PC, staring at my AOL home page, elated.

That night, long before becoming a drunk, sniffing, snorting, or smoking a drug — my whole body buzzed. I was more of an energetic mass than I was a person. And, for the first time, in maybe my entire life, I felt worthy. The vision of myself, one that I had carefully cultivated and constructed, had not only been validated, but, better still, handsomely rewarded.

I’d bust my ass in high school, and, with one click of my mouse, the Universe — and the the university of my dreams — had granted me my every wish. Suddenly I had become the one thing I had always dreamed I would be. And, for the first time in my life, I didn’t care that I had no one to tell.

I sat at the dining room table, my arms folded on my mother’s textured, green tablecloth, the day’s mail piled beside my right elbow and the large, white, water-pitcher-vase, that served as the table’s centerpiece, beside my left. My parents were still at work. I had two, maybe three hours before they’d arrive back home. Shaking, the news bottled up inside me like lightning, news that I knew was to good to relay over the phone, I didn’t quite know how to contain myself. So, I cried. I cried for a really long time. It felt like hours. Sitting quietly at the table, just feeling. Feeling everything. I felt the possibility in my future. I felt the satisfaction of having been rewarded for performing the hard work — work that I was never really sure would pay off. And, I felt like, maybe, having accomplished this one thing — I could be easier on myself.

Just one email in my AOL inbox, sent in error, suddenly gave me express permission to believe in myself and my ability — wholeheartedly. I felt solid, a beacon of myself, and, I cried because I’d been holding onto all that emotion for years. I’d been waiting. Waiting to be actualized or noticed or forgiven. And, there I sat, and — I didn’t have to wait anymore. At that table, I became everything all at once.

I let it enter me and exit my lungs in loud, lonely sobs. I was everything I had set out to be. And, in that moment, I was the most grateful I had ever been. I thanked God. I whispered promises into the air — promises that were meant to assure the powers that be:

I would hold up my end of the bargain.

***          ***          ***

Six months later, only one semester into my dream program at NYU — I dropped out. Promptly changing schools within the university.

Ever since then, I have waited for a night like the one I spent sitting at my parent’s dining room table. I’ve waited for the moment where I’ll feel  sure about who I am and what I’m meant to be doing. I’ve moved from job to job, relationship to relationship, city to city. But, I’ve never sat so still as I did that night, waiting for my parents to come home. Never since that night have I had a moment where I have been so proud to share something with them — with anyone. And, I have never had the Universe so perfectly deliver me my true heart’s desire the way that email delivered me my childhood dream.

Breaking into 2017, I think about the three months that remain in my Year of Happiness. I think about how, in one of the Christmas cards my father gave me this year, he told me that his wish for me is that my Year of Happiness extends into forever. And, I think about what it really means to know who I am and what direction I’m about to move in next.

As someone who was always the “good girl” — an exemplary student, a well behaved daughter, and a loyal friend and family member — it still baffles me that I ended up being the fuck-up with so little direction. It still surprises me when I remember that, there isn’t anything that lights me up today the way getting into NYU lit me up back then. And, I still feel it in my gut every time I change gears — the ambiguity of my purpose here. Where can I begin to find meaning when I don’t have the slightest idea where to look?

In a way, my Year of Happiness has given me something back, even if it is just a fraction of what it was — not purpose, but, a renewed sense of meaning. So far, these nine months and, I expect, the three that remain, have shown me that purpose isn’t always something specific. And, meaning is relative. Maybe it was always the Universe’s intention that I be an entirely new woman every few months. Maybe the God I thanked, those now fifteen years ago, always intended me to be lost and found and then lost again. Maybe it was never about the goals I set and failed to meet. — Maybe it was always about being the chameleon. — Changing with ease.

New skin is easier to grow into and slip out of these days. And, while I may have dropped out of the acting program at NYU, I am still a master performer. I’ve played many strange and tragic roles. I change casts and costumes whenever I like. I see someone I want to be, and, I don’t think about it — I become her. I move in and out of my own scenes, project new heroines, and think: “Maybe I’ll be her for awhile.”

This January, the tenth month in my Year of Happiness, I intend to celebrate my Chameleon — the actress I became without ever really becoming. Things I have always hated — the ambiguity, the uncertainty, the disappointment — maybe these are all functions of my greatest role. The one I have played so well, that the lines separating us are hardly blurred any longer. Her stage is set, and, I know my mark.

The truth is, you can’t know anything at seventeen. You can’t know who you’ll be or what you’ll do. You can’t know if your dream today is the dream you’ll have in six months or sixteen years. You can’t thank God for something that you delivered to yourself. And, it should be obvious, that you can’t expect anything that arrived in your AOL inbox back in 2001 to be worth a damn in 2017.

But, you can always sit at the dining room table.

Change color.

And, feel it out.

Emotional Bypasses & Literary Kidney Stones

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If you start running in woo-woo circles, you’re going to choke on the word “Acceptance” so many times, it’s likely you’ll vomit.

It’s one of those things that, since I got sober, I hear all the time. And, don’t get me wrong. “Acceptance” is great and all. It’s a foundation for a lot of stuff.

So, it has that going for it.

But, the thing about “Acceptance” is, it can only get you so far.

It’s one of those passive actions. It’s very, um, “Think-ey.” And, right now, I’m feelin’ pretty “Do-ey.”

This week marks the start of the 8th month in my Year of Happiness. And, I’m not sure why, but, this month feels like the big leagues. And the reason I’m getting “Do-ey” over here is because, well, it feels like it’s time. Time to get out of my head.

If you are, or were, a 12-Stepper, you know that the 12-Steps of Recovery start off in a kinda “Think-ey” way. But, it’s a trap! That’s how they getcha. They ease you into it and then — BOOM. They hit you with Step 4, hard, like a cast iron skillet to the head.

Working Step 4 (a rigorously honest moral inventory), things get pretty action oriented. And, before you know what’s happening, the gates to hell are opened, and all the recovery newbies are thrown into the fire that the devil lit himself. — Because, if you are really going to recover, then you’re going to get burnt. Like, really, really burnt.

It’s become very apparent to me over the last 8 months, that Happiness, like sobriety, requires quite a bit of action. And, the thing is, when you devote yourself to your own Happiness for an entire year, the things that make you Unhappy become very relevant, and very obvious — very quickly. That awareness, that painful, slow-drip of Unhappiness, has been the Catch 22 of this entire project. The elephant in the room. Because, if there wasn’t some part of me that needed the Happiness in the first place, this entire project would be for naught.

So, I’ve had to ask myself, as I roll into the final 1/3 of my Year of Happiness: How am I going to face these Unhappy things for the sake of my Happiness?  And, honestly, even as I type this, it makes me wince a bit.

Having a blog and being honest (and pretty public) about your life can be unnerving sometimes. Especially when you know that a project, one that you, yourself, have designed, is going to bring you (and your audience) face to face with things that are uncomfortable for you. Owning up is hard. But, owning up publicly is harder.

For me, this project is about more than making myself visible or making you, my reader, a voyeur. It’s about storytelling and shared experiences. It’s about feeling less alone in a pretty lonely world. And, it’s about being unapologetic about your apologies. Whether you live in sobriety or not, we’re not that different. Because, you know — HUMANITY.

I’ve devoted this month to Owning Up. And, no, you’re not going to get a Danielle Steel novel, or the police report from my arrest, or some wild’n’crazy confession. However, you are going to get stories. Stories that hurt. Stories I haven’t written yet, but have been sitting in my veins waiting to bleed out for awhile. And, these stories are going to be truly difficult to write. These are the stories that have been stopping up my Happiness-arteries for years and years. And, I’m choosing to use my Year of Happiness as a kind of literary, emotional-bypass surgery.

There are always stories that are difficult to pass. Emotional kidney stones, if you will. And, this month, I’m doing a very “Do-ey” thing. — I’m going to Own Up to the things that still haunt my Happiness.

So, maybe you’re wondering, why the grand overture?

Well. Owning Up is a bitch. And, frankly, I have to build myself up. I’m sure that being vulnerable and visible in new ways is an artist’s work. And, I don’t know that I’m calling myself an artist here, but, I do know that I enjoy thinking about things in new ways. I enjoy seeing (and writing) people in the places they once were and in new light, where I sometimes find them. Being sober has illuminated so much of my own darkness. But, sobriety cannot do the work of telling the stories that brought me to it in the first place.

All that light, that’s just acceptance. And, acceptance lives in the “Think-ey” side of my brain. It’s time for doing. Action creates change. And, change is what this year has been about. My Year of Happiness isn’t some hook to get you to read this blog. — My Year of Happiness is an experiment. A thermometer. A gauge. A way to see if we really can get from Point A to Point B in one year if we set the intention to do so.

November’s posts are going to get away from the self-help narrative that is often my jam. This month’s posts are going to read like narratives. And, it’s all in the name of Owning Up. In the name of wading through shit in order to get out of the basement. In the name of “Acceptance.”

Which is really to say: Happiness and Unhappiness are inextricably linked. Without one another, we couldn’t appreciate anything in our lives. And, I’m of the belief, this is by cosmic design. I’m also of the belief that we can get more Happiness by dealing with our Unhappiness than we can by just “Accepting” it.

I’ve learned that stories we don’t allow to come out, will continue to come up.

So, here’s to the “Do-ey” nature of regurgitation.

May it be the medicine that I (and, maybe even you) have long awaited.

Artwork: https://www.etsy.com/listing/86717763/vintage-book-art-print-anatomical-heart

Meatloaf at The Ritz

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Here at home, Jolly-old-England is known best for their afternoon tea service, antiquated monarchy, and, the occasional wonky tooth.

I mull over these stereotypes, and others, as I walk the streets of London.

I quickly become aware of the fact that, here,  I am the undignified American. When I stop into a drug store, I fumble through my change purse trying to make correct change for the cashier. He rolls his eyes when I make a self-deprecating joke about being a dumb American. He’s heard this one before, and, he’s not amused.

Brash, outspoken, unapologetically irreverent, unintentionally funny, and unavoidably emotional. — These are things that are said about Americans abroad. And, perhaps these were traits assigned to me by some of my UK counterparts, but, when I catch myself laughing a little too loudly with my friend at a hotel bar, I realize, they happen to be true.

I met up with my client (and friend) at several fancy venues over the course of the weekend. And, despite wearing the nice dress I purchased just days before flying out, I still felt kind of scummy. And, I started to wonder why that was — I wondered, what about my American-ness was so worrisome? Even a nice dress couldn’t cover the bits of me that felt too revealing here.

At first, I was sure that it was politics. Given the wretched state back home, I was worried, at least in part, about how I might be perceived. Would they think I liked Donald Trump? I was worried about being seen not just as an American person, but, as a product of America. I feared my own ignorance. What did this place and these people know about me that I didn’t? — London is old and has dignity. — I am young and have none.

When, I realized, that’s just it. None of us has dignity, really. We remain so, so small in a world where we fight so incredibly hard to be enormous. But, Humility has the power to level us. Humility goes beyond the feelings inside us — it places us in the Universe.

We all have questions about how we look from the outside. We wonder who we’re supposed to be, and how we can assimilate with others — and within ourselves. But, it’s when we let that curiosity become fear — we lose our Humility.

And, as I close this month of reflections on Humility — what it is, where we find it, and what it means in our day-to-day lives, I’m led back to what has become the reoccurring theme, in this, my Year of Happiness: Fear never amounts to anything good.

All the worry and fear around my American-ness reached fever pitch on Saturday before I entered my client’s event. The one I’d been so excited to attend. The one that meant something big for me and my business. The one that had brought 40 women together to celebrate their incredible drive and success. The one that asked me to face the reality of where I stood — in that moment. And, facing reality is daunting for all of us.

When we step out of our Humility, we step out of our same-ness. And, when we other ourselves, that is where our fear thrives. Instead of reminding ourselves of our similarities, our crazy-brains race to find ways that we are different. I tell myself: Maybe I am too brash, too outspoken, too irreverent, too  funny, and too emotional. — How will others read this? I’m doomed. — The sad American.

But, the women from the event started to trickle in, greeting me in their warm British accents. The air in the room began to shift. We recognized each other from Facebook. We embraced. We kissed each other’s cheeks. We made happy little shrieks and squeals. We shook hands. We laughed. We exchanged our business cards and stories about our struggle. We took notes about our dreams and determination. We celebrated our diversity. — And, we found solace in our same-ness.

No one at the event was worried about Her Majesty, The Queen or Donald Trump. We were there for each other, listening to the words in the room, not the voices in our heads telling us to fear all the things we didn’t know.

There was enough space in the room for whatever emotion I felt I wanted to bring into it. And, it felt good. Simple.

Humility isn’t a complicated thing. It is, perhaps, the simplest. Humility and fear are just mirrors for one another. And, to remain humble, you must remain small. You must find joy in what makes you, fundamentally, the same. And, you must find laughter in what makes you different.

And, after all my worrying over politics, it wasn’t Donald Trump that confused and baffled those I met over the course of the afternoon. It was our food that troubled my new friends from across the pond most.

“Is it true that, in America, you eat something called ‘Meatloaf’? It sounds disgusting.” I nod at her, “Yes. It’s a pretty popular home-cooking standard.”

“Oh God.” She says in her delightfully British accent. “And, it’s really made of meat?”

Eat shit.

photo-oct-01-5-27-26-pmThe dog ate a pile of goose shit while we were out on a walk yesterday.

If that isn’t humble, I don’t know what is.

As I screamed out, “Murray! Drop it!” He looked back at me, still chomping away, his pink tongue sloshing over and around his loose, flapping lips, and he smiled his puppy smile. A true, shit-eating grin. — And, in that moment, my sheer disgust melted into laughter.

A dog’s life is 100% pure presence. And, in his moment of sheer delight, Murray lifted me out of my anxious, humanly concern and placed me in a state of acceptance and joy. With his own Humility, he humbles me too.

I sat in bed, overthinking my self-assigned task this past week, reexamining Humility. I tried to make sense of the role it has (or hasn’t) been playing in my life, when I realized: I take myself too seriously.

We get a lot of conflicting messages these days. As our culture moves its focus to self-awareness and growth, it feels like there aren’t many seeds of Humility sprouting up around us. Self-interest has always, to some extent, reigned supreme. And, even when we’re aware enough to think that, perhaps, we should be a bit more humble, we end up finding out that manufactured Humility isn’t half as potent as the real deal.

Humility isn’t so much an action as it is a state of being. So, how do we get there?

Murray stops to sniff and lick a particular patch of sidewalk, he looks up at me and his eyes ask, “This is good, why aren’t you getting in on this?” And, for a minute, I wonder why licking a spot on the sidewalk where a child likely dropped an ice cream cone three days ago isn’t the highlight of my day? — “What can I tell you Murray? We play by different rules.” I say before urging him on, gently tugging his leash.

But, Murray makes me think. While I have no desire to lick the sidewalk, I start to ask myself what I might be telling myself is off limits? My Year of Happiness has shown me that, we don’t have to play by all the rules we thought we did. In fact, rules are pretty much garbage. They limit us in ways that can take us away from the moments for which we should be 100% present. We don’t lose everything by going off the cuff. I don’t know where that rumor started. Risk opens us up to humbling experiences, so, why are we cutting ourselves off from Humility by limiting our lives to predictable and safe experiences?

It’s difficult writing about being humble. Especially when I’m trying to sound like I know what I’m talking about while aiming to both sound, and remain, humble. Even as a quasi-academic effort it’s exhausting and requires patience that feels wasted. It’s much simpler than we’re making it. Humility, as a concept, is easy: In the grand scheme of things — We’re small. — But, that’s a pretty big concept for a self-obsessed culture to wrap its head around.

In a 12-Step meeting, someone once told me: When your world is big, your problems are small. When your world is small, your problems are big. — That statement, is pretty profound. And, for me, it’s more or less the definition of Humility.

Living with Humility doesn’t mean you have to live like a monk. However, it does mean that if you’re going to enjoy your time here on Earth, you’ve got to show up and be willing to experience things moment by moment. Like Murray. If we could allow ourselves to comprehend our own insignificance, I think we’d eat a lot more shit.

We let our brains get the best of us. We forget the moment that’s right in front of us. And, that’s when having a dog’s undiscerning palate, the kind that can lick the sidewalk outside of a CVS and look back up at you with his eyes expressing each new, exciting flavor of dirt like a four-legged sommelier, comes in handy. Animals are truly humble. Their innocent nonchalance is the closest I’ve come to understanding my own Humility. Their worlds are enormous. For Murray, one city block is an unending adventure where he is in a constant state of discovery. New smells, secret hiding places, and life’s simple pleasures — a child’s grubby hand reaching out from a stroller to pet his snout.

Beyond survival, animals exist purely in the moment. — Naps. Snacks. Pets on the head. The intense urge to rip apart a chair, couch, or chew toy. It’s all a visceral love of the moment. The moment is never lost on animals, because they are always right there in it.

And so, it comes full circle as I laugh my ass off in a patch of grass when I realize that Murray has, in one simple action, taught me the same lesson that Baba Ram Dass has taught me over a span of years, in multiple books, and through meditation practices.

Humility, my friends, is about eating shit. It’s about living without fear. Fear is too a small a problem for such an infinite world. Humility is the endless possibility that surrounds us if we choose to get out of our own way. And, when we allow ourselves to be open to everything, the world gives us that magical feeling that reminds us we are limitless.

And then we get to ask everyone, “This is good, why aren’t you getting in on this?”

Hacking Into Easy World

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What if everything were easy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then I wonder — have I chosen to be complicated?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PHOTO: @igercatskills via Instagram

 

 

Pack Like A Fucking Boss

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I was a compartmentalizer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***          ***          ***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Own Your Shit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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