The Voice Inside That Never Shuts Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you. Thank you so very much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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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)

All The Women We’re Not

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The women who hold the most sacred places in my life, all love old things.

Antique tables, lacquered armoires, oak inlay, varnished sterling silver spoons, and sets of fine china passed down from their mothers and their grandmothers before that.

Me — I prefer IKEA.

Clean lines. Black. White. Wood. Unfinished. Disposable. Too rudimentary to overthink. Bare walls and sharp edges. I have always hesitated when it’s come time to decorate. In Portland, I lived in my last apartment for almost three years and never hung one thing on the walls. That kind of commitment was too much for me. — Monuments to the past always left holes in my walls.

I spent, and sometimes still spend, much of my time wondering how to pay homage to these women and thier antique sensibility when I have no desire to inherit or admire their aged tables, hang my clothes in their finely-crafted dressers, or eat off their chipped, precious plates.

In a recent, somewhat morbid, conversation with my mother, I told her that when the time comes, there was only one piece from her carefully curated furniture collection that I want to keep — the rest, I intend sell to the highest bidder.

She sat across from me, smiling, in her reupholstered, cream-colored, living-room chair, with her feet elevated on a mismatched hassock that belonged to the couch that I sat on across the room. I could tell, a part of her was sad to hear this news, but, there was a flicker of something else in her eyes, too. — As I’ve aged, I have become so incredibly different than her, and, for the first time, I saw that my deviance has managed to bring her some kind of joy.

As women, we so often find ourselves attempting to recreate the lives our mothers have led. We are chameleons that so desperately want to re-live the lives that have given us our own. Secretly hoping that, somehow, it will help us to better understand ourselves. In a curious way, it is a sort of thanks. And, sometimes, we rebel against it. We try to become anything other than what our mothers have been or would have us be. We ford new, wide rivers, just to say we did. But, in time, we learn that the nature of every river is the same.

As I walk through the last few months in my Year of Happiness, I look for themes. At the onset of this project, I was so sure that by its end, I would know the woman I am. But, in a strange twist of fate, I’ve been surprised to discover that, more than anything else, I’m discovering all the women I’m not.

My cousin, roommate, and best friend has furniture pieces from her parent’s log cabin, her childhood summer home, placed throughout her house (which, it bears mentioning, was built in 1885). Many of them are in disrepair and, these pieces, are some of her most treasured. Weathered, and laced with meaning I’ll never quite understand, her collection is a map of who she was and who she has become. She scoffs at my need for stark, assemble-it-yourself, Swedish simplicity. — “Cheap shit.” She says.

The older I get, the more I’ve felt myself retaliate against the need for things. The need for people. Forfeiting all that space can be dangerous.

But still, I collect all these women I’m not, in my own, quiet menagerie. The woman I’ve become in this past year is not nearly as significant as the women I’ve let go or the women I’ve chosen to keep in my company.

In the last year I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will never be my mother. — An impressive career-driven woman with a laundry list of professional accolades that she’ll never share with you unless she’s pressed. The silent fortitude of a Japanese soldier. Caretaker to a feral cat colony in Brooklyn. Collector of snow globes. A woman who believes that the wrong rug can completely devastate a room. And, a beautiful mother who has, without knowing it, in her unique way, raised a daughter to mirror herself in the most unexpected ways.

In my quest to uncover myself, I’ve found it most useful to cast parts of myself aside. To become the like the old, weathered pieces my mother has carefully placed in every room of her house. For me, this process is different from my mother’s. — I had birds tattooed on my heel for my deceased grandparents, and, to me, this is far better than scraping my fork across their old china plates at Thanksgiving. And, while news of this development disappoints my mother, I know that the more often I let pieces of her go, the more like her I become. — Plates we’ve broken can be just as, if not more, beautiful when we glue what’s left of them back together.

When I move out on my own again, in the Spring, I look forward to sitting in my new space. My mother will help me move my cat up from Brooklyn and, then, she will likely spend the day cleaning my bathroom and kitchen voraciously, even though I’ll insist that there’s no need. — That is her way, and, I expect nothing less of her. She will begrudgingly agree to help me shop at IKEA for a MALM dresser (a piece that I have now assembled several times with expert skill) and she’ll weigh in on the various $20 area rugs, no doubt. And then, I will sit alone in my room, a beautiful canvas of barren walls, on a mattress with no box spring, beside my cat, who will stare up at me, as if to ask me — what comes next? A question for which I will have no answer.

But, in this mild Winter, I remain, sitting happily at the counter in my cousin’s kitchen, laughing along with her and her husband. Murray, their dog, has destroyed four chairs, and counting, from their hand-me-down dining room set. These foam-less, gnawed trophies now sit at the sills of the dining room windows, where Betsy, Murray’s Chihuahua/Shiba Inu-mix sister, sits gazing out into the Albany yonder, barking viciously at any and all invisible intruders who threaten us. And, I think, this is a fitting end for these chairs, these family heirlooms. Unsightly, perhaps, but, fixtures of the house in their own right. — Old things, destroyed by those of us who can never, truly appreciate their past. — Yet, there the pups sit, upon thier shredded thrones and, suddenly, the chair’s purpose and past matter little.

We are all here, now, together, in this old house.

ARTWORK: Daniel Blagg, “Ms. Wright’s Chair” (2013), Watercolor on paper.

 

 

Trading Stories With The Devil

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I will always be a drunk.

Screaming out of cab windows, falling off ledges outside of bars, vomiting in bathroom sinks, waking up without any idea how I made it back to the couch in once piece — these little moments, are built into my DNA. And, I’ve finally stopped wishing them away.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to tell you, or anyone, how to find Willingness. But, at the very least, I thought I might be able to explain to you how it appeared to me.

I was so certain that I’d learned some unknowable truth, pointed and poignant lessons from the tattered scraps of myself that, I thought, I’d left behind. But, like the countless other surprises I’ve encountered since embarking on my Year of Happiness, this week, I find myself standing knee deep in something new and unfamiliar. A feeling that felt impossible. A lesson where I’ve managed to learn everything, and nothing at all. — Willingness isn’t just harnessing the gumption to change, it’s possessing the kind of maturity that allows you to embrace the parts of you that will never change.

When I try moving away from my alcoholism, I talk in a new voice, one that gives me distance from the pain and naivety of some version of my former self. Every time I do this, I get interrupted. I am reminded I cannot get away from things I once was, and these conversations with myself are not unlike having conversations with the Devil. After all, the Devil has collected all my drunken stories, and when I find myself in a joyful moment, he’ll dangle them, like apples, in front of me. — Ripe, with stems still attached. — He coils his tail, watches, and waits. And, I’ll do my best to avoid his bait — each story a precious, juicy, drunken memory — but they call out to me, until I write them, until I drop them here. — Cores and seeds strewn across his fiery floor.

The Devil shows up when I try to write myself into the future. — He shows up before I tell you that Willingness is the key to changing everything. — “It’sssssssssnot.” He hisses. — His apples may turn your stomach, but, they always leave you full with some kind of truth.

Each story he’s traded me, contains the same reminder. — Whatever I am today, I remain, the product of my unchanging past. — My stories will never change, no matter how desperately I once wanted to rewrite them.

All the things I was — I am.

Willingness is the ability to see ourselves. — Grace enough to accept that we are helplessly flawed, and a strange, new power to love what we have become, in spite of ourselves. Willingness is a catalyst, but, it is also an agreement. — We can trade our drinks for the Devil’s wisdom. He’ll keep our stories. And, when we think we have learned everything, the Devil will open to a page and read. The places and characters, still, all the same. The hurt will still cut, a sharp blade in my side. And, each outcome remains unchanged, a gem in his collection:

He is gone forever and I call out sick for a week to drink gin, from the bottle, in bed. The Christmas tree has fallen, and I sleep in spilled whiskey beside it, pine needles pressed into my cheek. Jason and I dance to bagpipes, full volume, at 3AM and the neighbor calls the landlord. I can see that the cop who fingerprints me pities me and I cry when he takes the laces from my shoes. Tony turns the key and kills the engine, pulls me from behind the wheel, and carries me into the apartment, again. I leave the drugs in an empty pack of cigarettes on the picnic table outside the bar, by accident, and they are still there the next morning. — All this, and still, I am beautiful.

In 12-Step, the 6th Step is: We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. — God, if he exists at all, is questionable. I am guided by the Universe, I think — really, who can say? But, whatever it is that fucks us all over and makes this great world spin, I hope it will never remove my defects. They are what set me apart. — Instead, leave me Willingness.

Willingness to love every poor scrap of myself, what is and what was. Willingness to believe that, beyond this moment, I can only become more — never less.

Trade stories with the Devil. Dance in the flames where you once crawled.

For, Willingness was never our freedom to be without — it was the celebration of everything we hid within.

 

Artwork: “The Devil” by @lisanthropie, from her Tarot interpretation series. (https://www.instagram.com/lisanthropie/?hl=en)

 

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 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

Millennials: Big Hearts In The Big Void

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There’s nothing like a good corporate questionnaire to highlight all the things you’re not.

I sit at my MacBook Pro, just one double-click away from zombie status, filling in field after field of yet another online job application. This is just one of the many questionnaires that I’ve completed in the past few weeks. A repetitive, mind-numbing process that reminds me I don’t quite fit the mold into which I am constantly attempting to pour myself.

I keep reading all these articles about Millennials. Fucking Millennials. — The problems we face. The problems we create. We’re asked to face the destitute world that the Baby Boomers have so lovingly left for us to burn down, meanwhile — we’re moving back in with them, staring out longingly from the windows of our childhood. Our lazy, privileged existence, devoid of any work ethic or gumption. — The whole conversation makes me angry. Infuriated. Why are we the generation that no one can figure out?

I hate the sweeping designation that’s been bestowed upon our flailing age group. Not all of us are representatives of the Lena-Dunham-GIRLS culture. — At least we’re not trying to be. I find myself wondering, how should I designate myself? How do we set ourselves apart, step up, and place ourselves on solid ground without compromising our values and abandoning our dreams? And, please, don’t tell me we need to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps.

In searching for the keys that unlock the mysteries of the kingdom, I’ve answered my own question. We Millennials, are the seeking generation. And, for us, today’s commerce lies in the search. So much is available to us. And yet, we choke. There are too many places to begin. It’s no longer the pool of pensions and 401Ks that our parents waded into years ago — security is a thing of the past. Now — this river is wild. And, if we’re going to survive, it’s about finding our true calling. Our purpose. — Heart-based business, baby.

A Baby Boomer once told me: “No matter how good you have it — work is work. You’re never going to wake up everyday and find yourself satisfied and excited to show up at the office. That’s just life, kid.” Um. That’s some bullshit and I’m not buying it. — An antiquated excuse born of another era.

To the dreams Baby Boomers lost in Vietnam we hold up our own. — The Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan — this banner of unending war, which has served as the backdrop of our lives, now more than ever, a sobering reminder. — Our work is worth fighting for.

Privilege, if nothing else, has afforded us Millennials hope. Work is not just work to us. It has to be our heart’s work. Work that feeds us. So, it’s worth waiting for — worth seeking out in this generational void. We, at the cost of returning home, regressing to our 17-year-old-selves, will wait for something that fulfills an unmet need in us — in our world. Oh, and I guess it should pay the bills too? — Therein lies the real gap. The economy is only just now starting to catch up to our wide-open hearts. And, we’re still left wanting.

This questionnaire asks me if I “Strongly Agree” with this? Do I “Strongly Disagree” with that? And, I keep finding myself in this position of being lukewarm. I am trying to remember what it feels like to get riled up about something. To run hot. Where is the heart I so easily find in my writing or in the faces of the smiling regulars I’ve greeted at my plethora of service industry jobs? Why can’t our joy also meet our dividends? I didn’t get sober to lead a thankless life, redeemed only by my employer’s willingness to offer decent health benefits and to match my Roth IRA contributions.

During this process, filling out this heartless questionnaire, my purpose is jolted. Awakened — it remembers. I make the shift from disheartened to inspired. This piece-of-shit questionnaire, now revelatory. A reminder of all these things I’m not, it begs me to put forward all the things I am.

Would you say you are: Stubborn as fuck? Mildly manic? Conscientious? Coyly critical? Empathetic to a fault? Occasionally work-inappropriate? Passionate for people? A wide-open heart? A rabble-rouser? A dinner-table-debater? Tired and poor and yearning to breathe free? Ready to Burn. This. Shit. Down.?

Yeah.

Yeah, I’d say that’s correct. — In fact, put me down for “Strongly Agree.”

 

 

A Daughter Of The East

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Since leaving Portland, I find little comfort in my place.

I’ve been a New Yorker. I’ve felt its pulse. How the city surges and creativity bleeds up through the asphalt in the heat of summer. How the Winter wind gets in your bones and teaches you, that parts of you — were always cold. How Spring emerges in Washington Square Park from tulip bulbs that have ached, for long months, to paint the city with their color.

But, now, my New York moments have become frequent realizations that the place I once belonged — the home that once called out loudly for me — has quieted, and only loops the hushed whispers of my past — dreams for another life.

So, on a random Friday, without a plan, I find myself driving.

I end up in Kingston, New York. — Not on a total whim. — My cousin, more like a sister, who knows me better than most people care to, told me ages ago, that she thought I’d like it here. I pay a quarter to park the car next to the U.S. Post Office and step out into this cold winter day. — She was right.

In upstate New York, I can move with ease. Trees are a more common sight than people and every few miles, the scent of a wood-burning stove fills my nostrils and I am reminded that life can be simpler than subway maps and overpriced high-rises.

Kingston, on the Westerly side of the Hudson, is colorful. Narrow streets lined with bright buildings that are old, but not tired. Kingston breathes.

And so, I breathe with it as I walk around the Old Dutch Church, clutching a cup of hot Earl Grey, out onto a series of little streets which meet one another at curbs that are adorably uneven. The town feels tiny and boasts wood framed, two-story buildings proudly. Each one a New England-y version of the saloons out in the Old West, adorned with decorative, quartered-wagon-wheel fixtures at the corners of each squared-off porch.

Every street corner is regulated by four-way-stop-signs and a flashing red light. Though, I patiently wait at John Street for the Volvo that has the right of way, the woman behind its wheel still waves me on with her puffy grey mitten. And I shuffle, hurriedly, to the uneven curb across the street, waving my thanks with my free hand and gripping my paper tea cup with the other.

This place feels new and old and it floods my heart with it’s charm. I have a moment where I feel like my life is possible again. Real life. — A new apartment building. A new job. A new route to the grocery store. — I could have those things here. I could be OK here. I could be OK. Here. — And, I feel something that I haven’t felt in a long while.

Placed.

I drive through the Hudson Valley and afternoon light hits the mountains, just so, turning them a Holy blue-purple hue that I will not attempt to describe. It reminds me of Sauvie Island, back in Portland. I pull into a gas station and allow my eyes to well up with tears. I let myself pine for Portland. I feel it surge. — All the love I left there. Lost there. Burned there. And, in the parking lot of the Sunoco gas station just five miles out of Kingston, I let it all go and decide –as long as I’m here — it’s time to refuel.

There are reasons to leave the places we love. There is a time to come home and wake your mother in the middle of the night so that she can hold you while you weep. Ruin will sometimes find us, even when we thought we’d escaped it. There are seasons we will lose to depression and bad weather. And, Baba Ram Dass would tell me — Baby, this is all just grist for the mill.

Every now and then, we should take the roads that lead to the places our sisters say we should go. And, perhaps, those are the places we should stay. Rewrite our maps. Discover rivers that will lead us around new curves, spilling out into different oceans. New bodies of water where we can empty out our hearts and make room. Room for bright colors and uneven curbs. Room for new routes and routines. Where strangers with grey mittens will wave us on to what’s next.

Kingston. — On the highway that takes you, in just an hour, to the sister who would have you be happy above all things. A daughter of the East, returns. To this — The Empire State.

Back again, and in the same state as my mother, who once thought she lost me to the wild, wild West.

 

Image Courtesy of:  http://kingston-ny.gov/

 

In-Between-Speed City

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I’m sick. Really sick. East-Coast-sick.

I haven’t had a cold-flu-bug like this in ages. Apparently everything was milder in Portland — including viral illness. — Meanwhile, back in New York…The weather. The people. The attitude. Not one thing is laid back. Not one. Even influenza cannot be bothered with a “mild” setting. Here — it’s all or nothing.

And, maybe that’s what I missed so much about this place. The limitless energy. New Yorker’s don’t have to gear up like we did back on the West Coast. Because, here, there is only one gear — Badass.

I remember when I first arrived in Portland, how people were taken aback by my candor. I said what was on my mind. To the point. I never pussyfooted around. That bothered a lot of people out West. They expected something more dilute and demure. They also thought that I walked too fast. And, even though we adjusted to each other, I missed New York City’s edge. Its speed. — Its sense of urgency. — There’s nothing quite like it anywhere else.

I’m considering moving up to New England, or at the very least, a bit further out of the city — maybe the Hudson Valley. I need an in-between-speed city. As much as I love the hustle, I also feel worn down. I want something easier. Quieter. I try to plot it out sensibly. But it’s difficult. What criteria should be used when selecting a home? I evaluate how I arrived at all the places I’ve been and the things that made me want to stay or go. It seems easy. But, it isn’t really. There are a lot of variables. And, while nothing is permanent — it’s still a big decision. Place can be everything. Mean everything. Place can define you. And, place can make or break your sobriety. — I’m starting to feel that as I slip here in Brooklyn. — I have to be careful.

What does my heart say? I wait to feel the pull.

I know it will take a special place to set my heart ablaze again. I guess it’s just a matter of time.

So, in the interim, I nurse this badass-East-Coast-cold and I tell people it like it is and I walk to work at record speeds.

Because, time — I got.

 

 

 

 

A Temperature I Can Live With

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The last time I felt like I was on fire — I was bonafide crazy.

Holy. Hotness. Boiling over. And, that’s how I know things have gotten bad. — The heat.

It’s been building. Pressure. But, I’ve been preparing for this moment. — The moment where I miss Portland. The moment where I wonder if I made the right choice. The moment where I have my doubts. And, I knew, I knew this moment was on it’s way — so, I readied myself. And, when it arrived, as planned, I embraced it like a lost child, dropping everything to find a place to go cool down with it.

When the hot iron of crazy strikes, and, it’s happened to me several times since getting sober — I know that I have to stop everything. Completely cease. Mentally rest. I tend to run on fumes. In this state, my mind will go ape-shit and find itself creating the worst possible outcome — every time. I let small obsessions take over. I’m curt and angry. And, I show it. I hate showing it. I feel like I might lose my mind. So, this time — I was ready. And, when the moment hit, I made a beeline to the nearest place I could be alone. To sit in it undisturbed. — Silent. Silent. Silence.

The church was empty. Marble echoed the squeaky sound of my black Vans. I looked up at the alter. And I let Jesus know — “I’m back.” But, I’m not really here to pray. So, I tell Jesus that too.

“I’m not here to pray, Jesus. — I’m just crazy.” And, I’m pretty sure, he’s heard that line before.

The last time I sat still, with intention, was back when my ex was kicking heroin then using heroin then kicking heroin then using heroin then kicking heroin. I felt like I was hanging on for dear life. So, every night, I lay in my Portland bathtub and I waited while the water turned from scalding to tepid. My mind, still. I’d be hot and then I’d be cold. And, so, so still. I’d move the water back and forth slowly with my shriveled fingers — but everything else would remain — calm. I let all my thoughts go. I allowed my sadness and my confusion and my pain and my fury and my forgiveness and my hope to coexist in that white, rectangular pot — all of  it, just steeping in the water. I let it come to a boil, and then, I let it cool. I let it cool down until it was just so. Just bearable. A temperature that I could live with.

I sit in an empty church pew because I don’t have a bathtub anymore. I explain this to Jesus. And I apologize for using his space. I tell him how I just need to let the water cool. And, then I let him know that I might need help with that, “you know — if you have some time.” And then, I feel like I need to explain that it’s not about my junkie ex-boyfriend, or anything super serious like that. It’s just me. Me and my shit. I had to clear all that up for Jesus. So, I told him about being homesick. And, — “I know, Jesus, I know — that sounds funny, because I was just homesick for home and then I moved home and now I’m homesick for Portland — which was home — but wasn’t.” And then, I apologize again, because, — “I know, Jesus — it’s fucking confusing.”

After about a half hour, I realize that I’ve asked Jesus to assist me with quite a few things. I wonder — were those prayers? Did I just pray to Jesus? Nah. I turn my head around and, behind me, I see there’s another man praying now. He’s on his knees about ten pews back. I whisper to Jesus — “Help that guy first.” After all, I’m just here to cool off. “Really. Don’t worry about me. I’m good.” — It’s quiet here. That’s all I need.

Cool air blows in from the side door when a little, Latina woman shuffles in with a black and white shawl wrapped around her shoulders. I watch her shove a few dollars in the copper collection box and she lights two red candles. A chill creeps up the sleeves of my hoodie. Cools me down. I feel my blood go from boiling to tepid.

On my way out, I genuflect and, then, I stand in the aisle and tip my black-knit-beanie up to Jesus. “Yeah. So. Thank you, for the space and the air, I mean, for everything. Amen.”

And then, I try to begin again. — With a brisk walk back home.

 


 

Artwork: “Just Ducky”; Beth Carrington Brown;

Just Ducky: A bathtub painting