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

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I am looking, looking everywhere.

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The day of the family reunion — the heatwave hits.

I walk up the hill, out of my grandparents’ driveway. The sun bakes my shoulders and I can feel the sweat beading off the nape of my neck and gliding down my spine, where it eventually meets my bra-line. My black tank top feels heavy and damp. It’s only 11AM but, already, the day feels long. I’m walking across the street, to my parent’s house, to get my bathing suit. I’m surrounded by countryside that I thought might make me feel something that, so far — it hasn’t. Here, I can only feel the passage of time. I see it move under a canopy of green trees, their leaves fanning the air in the slow, Summer breeze. I see it flanked by stones that have been sinking into the ground since my childhood. I see it in the faces of my cousins who, now, wrangle their own children — it was not so long ago it was us who needed wrangling.

Seeing everything as it is, without pretense — that’s Visibility. Young, old. Broken, fixed. Happy, sad. We can exist in this space without judgement. Here, there isn’t any way to avoid being seen — family has an uncanny ability to find you. So, I prepare myself for the viewing. For the first time in a long time, I think that being seen might be easy. — If I can just allow myself to be comfortable in my own, constant state of flux as I weave between the rusted folding chairs and lean in to receive kisses on my cheeks.

Between handfuls of fancy nut mix, a host of relatives asked me, “What are you up to these days?” A question that still stabs me like a sharp, little knife, because, the answer remains — “I have no idea.” — My unending quest for purpose used to bring me shame. But, today, it doesn’t. 32 years in, and I am still at it. — I am looking, looking everywhere.

I kept repeating to my cousin, as we lay out in the blistering sun, “I feel so old this year.” And, I wondered why that was. What had aged me so much in this past year?

Later that night, as I lay alone in my bed, under the hum of the white, ceiling fan, I realized that I’ve finally conceded. — To myself. — I will always be figuring it out. I will always be looking.

In our youth, we are so sure that, at some point, things will become concrete. But, today, I know, at least for me, that will never be the case. — I am not done. Not now. Not ever.

I began in sobriety, struggling to be seen by others. And, now, in my Year of Happiness, I take the steps to begin seeing myself. — A joyful and heartbreaking endeavor. — One that has brought me immense relief.

In reunions past, I have struggled to Wow! my relatives, spouting off my non-accomplishments. Impressing upon them that I had achieved some state of completeness. But, truth be told, my joy is in the Seeking, never the completing.

There are many of us, Seekers, wandering about. We search for truth in the Universe — in ourselves. We read self-help books. We believe in miracles. We watch for signs. We press the people in our lives to help us create meaning. And, often, we are told there is none. — But, we never believe that to be true. Not even for a second.

As I age, I find myself less apologetic. I no longer resent those who ask me for some kind of explanation. Because, in becoming visible to myself, I find that I no longer require anyone else’s approval. Visibility allows me the confidence to stand in front of those that would have me explain myself, and be able to say, outright, that — I cannot.

From my grandparents’ dock, I stare out over the lake. The water is still, except for where my cousins and their children swim. Laughter echoes in the swaying trees, just as mine once did, so many years ago. I stand there alone, beside strewn sandals and striped towels, and my cousins beckon. “Come in! Come swimming!” They shout. “I forgot my suit is across the street!” I yell back. “Then, go get it! We’ll wait for you!”

And so, I do.

Through the years, I have often sought out one kind of love only to receive another. But, I am older now. Older than I’ve ever been. Old enough to know that love is love is love.

And, when love tells you it will wait for you — make haste — jump in the fucking water.

 

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)

 

Put All Your Eggs In One Basket

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It’s coming. / It’s here. — These are your options.

Because, if you don’t believe Happiness is here, or that it’s on it’s way — it isn’t.

I keep telling myself that Belief is about something more soulful — more spiritual. But, I’m finding, a lot of the time — it’s not. For me, Belief, is as simple as trusting my own timing. Try as I may try to simplify the challenges in my life — the resolution finds me on it’s own time. Not on mine.

Timing can rule our Happiness. And, I think, innately, we know this. It explains why we constantly curse the uncanny consistency of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We always tell ourselves that there’s something we should have done differently. If we’d been some other way, things would be better — we would be happier.

But, Belief can only mirror our hypothetical lives. In reality, Happiness works around the constructs of timing. Belief builds on our timing and it’s constant imperfection. Where Happiness is concerned, our missteps are just part of the process.

Stop asking yourself if this is the right time or the right person or the right place. These kinds of questions don’t get us any closer to Happiness. It behooves us to ask them. They slow us down. Instill fear. They open the door to perfectionism which, really, is just our fear in disguise.

Sometimes our timing does, in fact, suck. We’re left wide open to failure. And then — it actually happens — we fail. It’s a terrifying lesson that I’ve learned over and over again. And, would you believe that it only took me thirty-two years to figure out that my failure is the number one thing that I’ve got going for me? — Because, from the rubble of my failures, I have created myself. And, today, I’m really liking the person I’ve become.

Timing is our greatest teacher. All those jobs, relationships, and family fall-outs that left you broken and confused — how many times did you throw your hands up and ask, why? Why do I have to go through this? Do this? Be this? Lose this? — And, how many times were you able to answer those questions, years later?

All the seemingly insurmountable obstacles I’ve faced — turned out to be the seeds for a Happiness I am only, just now, starting to watch push up from the dirt. For as long as I can remember, I have hated my timing. Things came too late — left too early. Or so I thought.

Timing is like the sky or the ocean. You can map the storms and the predict tides — but they can’t be controlled. And, if you really want to experience it — your Happiness — you have to understand that it’s something you’ll never really comprehend. Timing isn’t ours to manage. And, releasing yourself from that responsibility is nothing short of life changing.

Let yourself be exhausted by the puzzling and unpredictable adventures of your life — not by trying to conquer the unconquerable. Belief in our timing is akin to freedom. And some days, failure is the name of the fucking game. Quit beating yourself up. — Tomorrow, the sky will still be there. The ocean too.

At some point in my process, I started to realize that all my questions about timing were just ways for me to avoid what made me uncomfortable. — Not the right time? There’s always next time! Not the right person? Bail. Not the right job? Quit. — I never gave anything a chance. Mostly, because I was scared. Blaming your timing is a really great way to miss out on the things, places, and people that have the power to change you and help you grow.

I have been uncomfortable for the majority of my life. Prone to overthinking, over-analyzing, and anxiety. — I’ve waited for things to change or fix themselves. For people to love me. For bosses to appreciate me. For parents to approve of me. For friends to back me up. I didn’t demand anything because I was waiting for time to give it to me.

Happiness is not a waiting game. You need to hustle. Put all your eggs in one basket — let that basket be the timing of your life. Let it be the Belief that all the inconvenience, absence, and disappointment, led you to this moment — a moment where things actually pan out. The bumps and blemishes on your life’s timeline leave you with an appreciation for your Happiness. Timing is about owning your discomfort.

Being uncomfortable will map your obstacles on the way to Happiness. Face them. You’ll see where your failure has meaning. Belief in your timing is just another form of surrender. — And time reminds us of just how much we have to give. We allow ourselves to become cogs in a bigger machine without even noticing it. And, to operate as a part of something instead of apart from it, is timing’s greatest gift to us.

Happiness. — It’s coming. / It’s here. — Get a fucking basket.

In Stitches

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My world seems so small.

Maybe it’s because there isn’t much happening. But, when I sit down and try to examine why that is, I keep returning to the same thing — in reality — a lot of things are happening.

I’m not a big-picture person. I have trouble backing up. I always find myself too close to the situation. I look at the fragments. And, that’s why, much of the time, I’m disappointed with myself. Disappointed with how things are going. I look at all the little failures and don’t manage to see how they play into everything else. I overlook how all those little missteps have led me to wonderful places that I wouldn’t have otherwise arrived.

Have you ever crocheted a blanket? If you look at one little crochet stitch — it isn’t much. But, after several thousand stitches, you end up with an afghan. Sure, it takes awhile. Yeah, you’ll likely end up pulling out three rows because you’ll notice that you fucked up with your counting a little too late. And, yes, by the time that blanket is done — you’ll be sick as fuck of looking at that same color. But, — you have something. Something big. Something tangible. Something to show for all your time and labor.

I run into problems when it comes to appreciating life’s afghans. I live in the process. The reward, for me, is in the making. Taking the little steps. And, once it’s all said and done, well — it’s all said and done.

Most of the time, I feel like I’ve got nothing to show for myself — no blanket. No payoff.

It feels like the work ahead of me couldn’t be in these little steps. These single stitches. I think that’s why the future feels so daunting. The work I’ve always assigned myself has been in stepping back and seeing the whole, big thing. Making grand decisions for some grand life. And, that’s got me in stitches. I don’t feel equipped. There’s no blanket. And, I want to know — when’s it all going to come together?

I’ve always felt that getting older meant that we had to let go of these small things. I thought we had to follow our little patterns — precisely — so that each row leads seamlessly to the next. And, we have to be very careful — because ripping out rows wastes precious time. But, the truth is, it’s in ripping out the rows that we learn to make the best blankets. Growth is in the repetition. Fuck-ups will happen. I try to remember — It wouldn’t be a genuine, handmade gift without a few little errors hidden somewhere in the chevron.

We eventually find ourselves in our different places — in our different ways. We must remember to occasionally step back, we must look at our work. But, we must also remember to do the work that’s right in front of us. The single stitch becomes the blanket.

It’s all about these little pieces.

I know. — I crochet.

 

 

Doing Things Badly

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This week, my people, has been tough.

A dry, dusty, depression wasteland.

But, rather than abandon you, my faithful, with nothing — I leave you with a morsel from one the zaniest and the most human of my favorite writers — Anne Lamott.

Her book, Grace, Eventually  started me down the road that led me to Baba Ram Dass, and shortly thereafter — to my own sobriety. She is a writer who had little trouble wiggling her way into my heart, and, I hope that this week you’ll devote the five minutes you might have spent reading my words to watching this short piece, and perhaps, you’ll allow her to wiggle her way into yours.

 

Artwork: Nicholas Roerich, “Issa and Giant’s Head”

 

 

 

 

 

 

La Revolution

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Question: What is the difference between a teacher and a guru?

Answer: A teacher points the way. The guru is the Way. In the course of your awakening you will have thousands of teachers. Throughout all of this teaching, the guru waits, beckoning from beyond.

Be Here Now, Cook Book For A Sacred Life; Ram Dass, Pg. 6

I think we’re all waiting for the payoff.

The big reveal. — The moment of release. The summation of all this pain and toil. An unveiling of some blessed reason for the world’s continued suffering, and, what is certain to be, its ultimate demise.

We seek the guru because we tell ourselves it can’t be this. This place. This time. This cast of characters. This. It just can’t be. In our denial and disbelief, we gloss over the thing we know to be absolutely true. We beg answers of the teachers before us — but to truly know — we must go within. It’s clear to me now more than ever — relief is not around us. It is inside us. — Good lives within. — We must find it there and draw it out. A spiritual revolution.

I read the work of Baba Ram Dass daily. I love him. I’d love for him to be my guru. But the truth is, in my seeking him, I become more lost. What’s even more hilarious? — He taught me that lesson. Teachers are funny like that. They shine light where you’d rather not see, so, you go to another teacher, then another, then another. Soon you’ve seen too much, but really, you haven’t seen anything at all. I like to think you know what I mean, because I like to believe that we all are seekers.

I’m still in this funk, so, I’m stuck. I sit patiently and wait for instruction. From anyone, really. A customer. A coworker. A song. Sun glinting off the choppy waves of the water in the bay. — All messages from the Guru.

Recently, a few important people have drifted, unexpectedly, from my life. Teachers. — The best teachers. — And, watching them go has reminded me that there are new lessons I’m meant to learn. It’s not by my design. But, I must remind myself that if I allow myself to be stuck here, then I will continue to be just that. — Stuck here. Any design requires movement. Patience. Love. — Revolution.

Before my eyes, big cities have become incredibly small.

I turn off the television to avoid making myself sick. I embrace and abandon my own sense of place. I wait for healing. I look for apartments in Southern Vermont. I stare at a picture of a covered bridge surrounded by falling leaves, and, in another photo, the same bridge covered in snow. Different seasons. Each lonely and quiet. Isolated and still. It looks like a place my guru might wait for me. I feel myself moving closer to something. — We are all moving closer to something.

But life isn’t about moving. It’s about being. The most sacred lesson, more than any other lesson I’ve learned from my Baba, is the lesson of being. Not thinking, or seeking, or seeing, or knowing. It’s not a tangible trip. It’s not something you can destroy or embrace or free or trap. It’s not something you can kill. No amount of violence, inside or outside of us, can unsettle it.

It’s something we know because we are. All of us. Each one of us.

And, that’s the grist for the mill, Baba would say. — Becoming ourselves is the trip.

 

This moment, is a moment for the guru. — This moment, is the guru.

Vive La France. Vive La Revolution.

 

 

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

 

 

 

Jesus and Our Marbles

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Sunday. — I’m on my knees in a church pew, and — I’m waiting.

Sometimes church seems like the only appropriate place to go when my head feels like the inside of pinball machine. Voices are echoing and the organ is humming. And I’m not sure that anyone’s really listening, but, truth be told — I may not really be praying.

At St. Patrick’s, in Bay Ridge, the crucifix is painted on the wall. It’s a weird sorta mosaic. In most churches, it’s a statue or pillar — something three dimensional — just so you know that Christ is hanging right there in front of you. He’s solid. His limbs are smooth and round and the nails in his hands and feet are these tiny raised bumps that you can reach out and touch if you’re so inclined. But, not here. Not in this church.

I think about that — the dimensions of Christ — while I try to pray. I attempt to slow the thoughts that race around my brain. Today, there’s a lot going on. There are too many prayers. I can’t pick out just one. There isn’t enough time. I try to pray for everyone else and find some way to ignore all my crap. I mean, that’s what I should be doing. But then, where will I put it all? — All this stuff I brought here to iron out?

After the priest reads the gospel, our hearts spill all of their contents onto the floor like giant bags of marbles. Rolling wildly under the pews and across the aisle. No one else hears or sees them. — Well, maybe, mosaic Jesus does — but, if he does, he doesn’t move or change his expression. He’s still just casting his eyes down at Mary with that sad-face that all church Jesus’ have — I mean — he’s dying. And us, we’ve only lost our marbles.

At the end of the homily, my friend, who joined me for mass, grabs my knee. It was like everything that the priest said was tailored to us. With a sideways look, we silently acknowledge this. The strange thing is, we’d only walked down to St. Pat’s because Our Lady of Angels, twenty blocks away, had the wrong fucking mass times posted on the their website. So, when my buddy and I arrived at 11:30AM — missals blazing like spiritual gangsters — the priest was already sending parishioners off, in peace, to love and serve the Lord.

So, here we are, at St. Pat’s 12:30PM mass. Praying and not praying. Spilling our marbles. Waiting for JC to give us a sign that something good is headed our way. But, neither of us gets one. — JC is still motionless up there on the wall.

The mass ends, and after the priest and his posse file out, we follow suit. We leave our marbles scattered across the church floor. Because — it’s better that way. We know they’ll get sorted out here, even without us.

We walk down Third Avenue, where there’s a street fair in progress. There are bagpipers playing and little kids with painted faces and it smells like funnel cake and Italian sausages and my buddy keeps stopping in the middle of the street to adjust his shoe.

For some reason, around Eighty-Third Street, he and I both start to laugh. I’m not sure what came over us. I’m not sure what happened in that church. What we took. What we left behind. But, I will say this — even though I couldn’t say a prayer to save my life — I’m almost certain that one was answered.

 

 

Artwork Photo Credit: Jesus Christ, Painting in a Catholic Church in Maseok; http://d-roamingcat.blogspot.com/2013_02_01_archive.html?m=1

 

Three Years On The See-Saw

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We wake up. Really slowly.

Maybe it takes a year or two to move one, rotten inch. And, it’s sneaky, the business of waking up. Fucking subtle. So, don’t expect it to hit you hard or for it to happen all at once. It’s not some invincible force that saves and redeems you. But, it happens. There is an awakening.

Today marks three years sober. And, like every year, for the past three years, I’ve spent the week, leading up to today, trying to figure out where, exactly, I fit into all of this. Sobriety. — A word I throw around somewhat haphazardly. — I often forget the weight of things. Honestly, I’d being lying if I told you I felt one way or the other about it. In truth, it feels like I’m standing right in the middle of an enormous see-saw.

I wasn’t always up for the balancing act. Three years ago today, I wouldn’t have been able to stand in the middle of anything. Everything was an extreme. — Loss or gain. In or out. Good or evil. God or none. — One side or the other.

Today, I’m not so sure. I find that I’m often open to things that I’m not privy to. Miracles. Fate. Divine intervention. Maybe even some chaos and anarchy. — But, I’m open. That’s for sure.

The night before I got sober, I got cut off at my favorite pub. The owner told me, “Happy Birthday,” as I walked out of his bar, shitfaced. He knew all about sober anniversaries. He was a good guy who was happy to see me go. I, on the other hand, wasn’t so happy. I knew my drinking was bad news, but, I wasn’t so sure that the alternative was better. I think about her — Good ol’ shitfaced me. The girl who was so uncertain about the possibility of something genuinely good coming her way. And, three years later, I look back on that time, wide awake. I didn’t know how to comfort myself back then, because — I wasn’t there. But, now, I’m here every day. And all my voices speak.

The voice that reminds me to cry. The voice that tells me to step up. The voice that ushers me, with care, away from the people and places that no longer serve me. And, the voice that honors all that I’ve lost in these three years. — Together, we kneel at the graves of the many versions of myself that I’ve buried because they didn’t learn the right lessons.

I stand in the middle now, with confidence. Because I know, sooner or later, like it or not — this see-saw’s gonna flip and I’ll see what each end has to offer. I’ll stand high and I’ll sink low. Tides turn. And, I’m not afraid of the change anymore.

It’s nothing I can mark on paper. It’s not even a feeling. Three years is nothing but a notch I use to keep my place in the mess of cogs — a system in flux. Something that, next year, will be even more expansive. Awake and limitless, without warnings or boundaries. I count the years even though I know now — they mean nothing.

Just more room. Room for losses and gains. Ins and outs. Gods and none.

And me. There’s finally room for me.

And, I’m standing, three years deep — in the middle of it all.

 

 

Artwork: Life’s See-saw By: Brad Stroman; http://convergencegallery.com/stroman/stroman.html