The Light In The Attic

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Be Open, they said. — And, so, I was.

Open to opportunity. Open to new experiences. Open to the road less traveled. Open to new teachers. Open to difficult lessons. Open to all these external things, places, people. — Open. Because if I wasn’t, I knew I’d regret the things I’d miss.

This past month, I challenged myself to “Be Open.” And, I realize this goal may appear to be a lofty one. But, this month has been, by far, the most meaningful yet in my Year of Happiness. What does being Open even mean, really? The answer, I discovered, is not what you might expect.

I opened myself up to a lot this month. I did things that, for me, were risky. I moved to a new place that I was unsure I’d love. — It turns out, I do love it. I committed to a business venture that scared me. — It paid off. I made myself available to people without expecting anything in return. — I was paid handsomely, in gratitude. I allowed myself to receive generosity from others, avoiding my route response of tit-for-tat. — And, I have come to know and appreciate a new kind of humility.

But, the big payoff for allowing myself to be Open, was not that my risk-taking resulted in joy, success, and kindness. The big payoff was that, in making myself Open to all these other things, all these outside things — I became Open to myself.

In the past month, it feels as though I have walked, heavy footed, through the dusty attic of my soul and have flung open all my windows. Little flecks of dust that sat, stagnant on my floorboards, have risen up from under my feet to dance in the sun. Even at my best, I have never felt this available or eager to explore my own hopes and dreams. I am no longer frightened by things that once seemed too big for me to comprehend, much less achieve.

Being Open to myself has made me realize that, win or lose, success or failure, home or just another stop on the road — this is what we are here to do. We are here to experience. We are here to be lofty. And, perhaps, that is why we shy away from things that seem imperfect or leave us with questions and doubt. Being Open is not about the outcome, though it can be wonderful to be rewarded by your Openness — being Open is about the pursuit.

Since I was a small child, I’ve stopped myself. I have always been pragmatic. A thinker. An over-thinker. And, while this may have saved me from a few scraped knees and helped me to ace a few tests, it also stopped me from falling, failing, and getting back up.

My sobriety has taught me that failing is the best thing we can do in our lives if we hope to change and grow. Failure is its own kind of intelligence. It builds a kind of confidence that no amount of safety or studying can assemble. We cannot let fear outweigh everything else, we must use it only to shine light on the destinations where we should be headed. This month has helped me to see that standing still for perfection’s sake won’t get you any closer to the things you’ve dreamed up. Action, with reckless abandon, can bring us to wonderful places in the world — and, can also bring us to wonderful places within ourselves.

Being Open is like telling someone to take whatever is right in front of them — always — no questions asked. Don’t wait for the best offer. Don’t research everything down to a science. Don’t scheme and plan and manipulate the outcome. Being Open is like a scavenger hunt that keeps getting better. Whatever is in front of you, will take you where you need to be — maybe not to the end — but to what’s next. You don’t have to like every stop. You won’t like every stop. But, being Open allows you to get where you’re going without halting completely. Pragmatism and perfectionism have their place, but, not in the pursuits of day-to-day living. — Draw a map today. But, be Open to throwing it out and starting again tomorrow.

Today, the attic of my soul is lit by an Autumn sun. The same one that has set its match at the foot of the Catskills, where the color of the trees will soon set the horizon ablaze, and with it, something inside me, too. For the first time in my life, I am truly Open to burning. To letting dead leaves wither and fall. To letting cold winds whip through all the rooms that live within me. To leaving behind all these old things and walking bravely toward new ones.

And so, I commit to, in every kind of weather, flinging open my attic windows wide.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

A Ghost With A Chip On Her Shoulder

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4 years later, and I’m debating whether or not to go to an AA meeting.

My sobriety “birthday” arrives at the end of this week, and, every year since I stepped away from 12-Step, I have the same debate with myself. — I ask if my sobriety anniversary is really worthy of a special celebration, because, at this point — it’s all the same.

Sobriety: Day in, Day out.

If you had told me during my first year sober that I’d be having an internal battle about whether or not my sobriety “birthday” had any real meaning, I would have laughed at you. Back then, my timeline was my everything.

When I received my 1 Year coin at my AA home-group meeting, I was elated. It was, and may still be, one of the greatest moments of my life. — My energy was so heightened, I thought I might levitate. I had never accomplished so much just by giving something up.

So, I try to return to that moment. — Try to feel that coin melt into my fingers. I try to remember what sobriety meant to me when it meant something different — something more.

Back then, I was open to anything. I was ready to take myself on and turn myself over, part and parcel, in exchange for freedom. And, as a result, I made promises that I still continue to keep. — And, that’s the ticket. — Never let freedom out of your sights.

As I pull into September, facing a new move in just a few days, starting a new year in sobriety, and, trying my best to create a whole, new, happy me — I realize that I have to return to the state that allowed me to step up and experience myself and my life — fearlessly. This month, I hit the half-way mark in my Year of Happiness, so I’ve decided to devote it to being Open. And, I don’t mean Open in a wishy-washy way, I mean — Open to the things that terrify me.

When I got sober in September of 2012, I was so, incredibly scared. Some people knew that. But, most people didn’t. I am a decent actress. And, I’m also a tough girl. I’ve been applauded by many of my employers and friends for being “even-keel.” Which, in my world, means that I keep a smile painted on my face while, inwardly, I’m melting down. It’s a trait common to us people-pleasers. And, the more I recognize it in myself, the more I realize it’s just another form of self-destruction — not a skill worthy of praise.

Getting sober forced me to be Open to my actual emotions. For the first time in a long, long time, I let myself be angry. Tired. Fed up. Lonely. Miserable. Scared. Heartbroken. And, I let it show. After a year of letting all that garbage I’d bottled-up ooze out of my system, I sat in my “birthday” meeting. In a room full of people, strangers really, who had watched me boil over, I felt accepted, in spite of myself. Not only did they accept me — they applauded me. They handed me a coin and told me that I was amazing. And, for the first time, maybe ever — I believed them.

I remember a group member sharing about me that morning, in my “birthday” meeting. He told the whole room how he’d seen me walk in, the first day I showed up, with my hoodie pulled up over my head. How I’d slumped in the corner and looked at my feet. How I hadn’t said hello to anyone, and, when that meeting ended, how I’d rocketed out of the room to avoid having to talk.

Those first few weeks, he said, I’d been like a ghost with a chip on my shoulder. I’d been mad at the entire world, but, I wouldn’t show my face or open my mouth to tell the room why. — But, I still showed up. — Sobriety: Day In, Day Out.

He’d watched 12-Step go to work on me. He noted how I starting to stick around after meetings, smoking cigarettes in the parking lot. He’d watched me push my hoodie back to reveal my long, brown hair. He’d heard me laugh at other group member’s stories. He’d witnessed my walls as they started to crumble and how I’d let them. And, that morning, he watched me sit at the front of the room, in from of him — in front of everyone — holding my 1 Year chip, tears of joy steaming out of my Open eyes. “That’s what we do here,” he said. “We bring ghosts back to life.”

I’d like to tell you that being Open is a decision. Something easy. A task that you just “do,” like any other. But, it isn’t. It’s a process. And most of the time, you don’t even know when or how you’ll be cracked Open. For me, being Open has meant making myself available for things that are ill conceived, unstructured, and unlikely to pan out. Being Open, is being uncomfortable — and showing up anyway. Because the only way you’ll find something new, or better, is if you’re willing walk into something you can’t predict.

7 days into September, and, this month is already scary. New destinations, uncertainty, gigs that may or may not pay off, saying hello to people that are new, saying goodbye to people that I love, letting my heart feel stretched — maybe a little bit too thin — and allowing it, because the alternative is too difficult. But, allowing nonetheless.

So, I send my buddy a text message and let him know that I’ll be attending the meeting he runs in Brooklyn, which just happens to fall on my anniversary. Because, I don’t have have to be a 12-Step devotee to be Open to what the program has already given me.

I don’t need to pick up a 4 Year coin to feel sober or proud. The coin is just the bait. — Fool’s gold. I only need to hold my place in the chair. To take up space in the room. To pull down my hoodie and reveal my, now blonde, hair. To cry. To smile. To clench my fists. — To levitate.

Because, being Open — that’s what gets you to the front of the room.

Image: 7 months sober. On a really, really, angry day.

Be Heard, Not Seen

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It felt like a safe place to hide.

I sat in the small, sparsely filled room — joined only by a few old men and one middle aged woman. A younger man sat in front of the group, waiting to begin the meeting. He opened by reading from a laminated sheet that he held between his nicotine stained fingers. He would read from the very same script at every Alcoholics Anonymous meeting I would attend in that room. But, that day, it seemed like some kind of holy sermon, written that very morning. And, the words that escaped his mouth sounded like some foreign language I would never understand.

Earlier that morning, I had woken from a blackout. I paced around my apartment nervously. Something felt wrong. My skin crawled. I watched the clock.

The pub opened at noon on Sundays. While I was usually dressed and waiting to walk out my door at 11:55AM, I wasn’t on that Sunday. I felt like a bomb, waiting to explode. My heart tick-tocked in a strange rhythm. And, without any real reason, I was frightened.

I sat down nervously at my computer and, without knowing what I was doing, I Googled “AA Meetings in Portland, Oregon.” I was directed to a website that had listings for hundreds of meetings. It was nearing noon, and I saw one meeting, not far my apartment, was about to begin. Without showering or even brushing my teeth, I threw on my dirty jeans, an old t-shirt, and my heavy hoodie and stepped out into the mild, February air. I ran the entire way there. I stopped at the corner, and looked down at the address I had scratched out onto a crumpled Post-It note. I lit a cigarette and I wondered what the fuck I was doing. Who was I? I wasn’t an alcoholic. Right?  — I wasn’t so sure anymore. So, I stood on that corner and I waited for noon.

Halfway down the block, the young man, the old men and the one woman I would see later, inside the meeting room, stood around an old coffee can that sat at their feet on the sidewalk. They were all smoking cigarettes, too. They saw me on the corner, glancing down at them. Though I thought I was being covert, I know now that they could smell my fresh, alkie blood coming from a mile away. But, that day, — I was sure I was invisible.

If you were talk to me about it today, I would tell you that I have mixed feelings about 12-Step meetings. I would tell you that they have saved my life, and, that they have complicated and hindered my life on many occasions. But, I will never say that 12-Step is not a sacred space. It is. — Sacred. — 12-Step was the first place I became Visible in sobriety. It was the first place I stood up and acknowledged that, perhaps, my drinking and drug use were not as free and easy as I would have liked them to appear. AA was the first place where no one tried to change me. It was the first place where hundreds, literally hundreds, of people reached out their hands to help me. There was a time in AA that was, and will always remain, beautiful to me.

At noon, the smoking club filed up the dilapidated, wooden staircase into the meeting room. I waited for them all to disappear, smoking my cigarette down to the filter, before walking the half block to the little, wooden house and up its little, wooden stairs — alone. I stepped into the strange, new room, full of strange new people with as much bravery as I could muster.

The small group of attendees turned to look at me as I opened the squeaky door and walked across the room, tenuously. I sat in a chair in the corner. It had metal armrests and it looked like, maybe, it was a re-purposed seat from an old movie theatre. The room felt ancient. It smelled of mildew and stale coffee. The walls were covered with water-stained, 12-Step slogan posters. — Easy Does It. Think…Think…Think. But For The Grace Of God. Live And Let Live. First Things First. Just For Today. — I didn’t know what to make of this strange, new world. But, to my surprise, it felt like I belonged there.

“Is anyone here for their first AA meeting ever?” The young man asked, looking up from his desk at the front of the room. The entirety of the small congregation turned their heads, slowly, to look at me. And, knowing I was caught, I timidly raised my hand to half-mast. The young man nodded at me kindly, — “Would you please tell us your name?”

“My name is Sarah. I don’t really know if I’m an alcoholic.”

The room sang out in a hoarse, smoker-croaked-chorus: “Welcome, Sarah!” The young man looked me right in the eye, and, in that moment, I felt him see into the depths of my broken soul. And, in front of all those strangers, I began to weep.

“Hello Sarah. You are welcome and wanted here.” He said, never breaking his gaze.

***          ***          ***

I wouldn’t get sober for another seven months. In fact, I left that very meeting, walked straight to the pub, and I drank Jim Beam until the bartender refused to serve me any more. Back then, it was all I could do to shake the feeling that something terrible was about to happen. And, I would let that sense of doom follow me around for many months more before I decided to look it in the eye.

In the beginning, sobriety required that I be Visible and Invisible, simultaneously. — If we want to find help, we need to be seen. But, until we are ready for it, we tend to hide. Sometimes, it is better to just be heard. 12-Step was the only place in my early sobriety that could cater to the dichotomous reality where I so desperately needed to exist. And, on that Sunday morning, I was heard, not seen. An anonymous alcoholic, I was welcomed without question. And, for the first time in a very long time — I got what I needed.

I was allowed to be whoever I needed to be. — And that Visibility was the first step, of many, in my long walk toward a freedom unlike any I have ever known.

 

 

Artwork: “Behind The Mask”, By: Anja; http://photoflake.deviantart.com/art/behind-the-mask-364066755

Let Them See You Naked

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People will try to tell you who you are.

Don’t let them.

We all do it. — We size each other up. — It’s a part of being human. It’s an innate function of our species: For safety. For sex. For food. For shelter. Even in today’s world, we still rely on our animalistic instincts to guide us to the right sources for survival. And, amidst this complicated process, where caveman-meets-modern-day, we’ll find ourselves sizing up other people’s emotional lives, too.–  And, that’s a big mistake.

Since I started writing this blog, I have received many comments (digitally and face-to-face), commending me for my vulnerability in this space. So many, in fact, that I began to wonder, why my “vulnerability” was so striking to so many people. And, of course, in my typical Type-A, Lit-major fashion, I looked to the actual definition of the word in the hope I might gain further insight.

vulnerable

adjective vul·ner·a·ble \ˈvəl-n(ə-)rə-bəl, ˈvəl-nər-bəl\
: easily hurt or harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally
: capable of being physically or emotionally wounded
: open to attack, harm, or damage*

I think because we throw the term around so loosely, we’ve managed to create an alternate meaning for the word. Because, when I read the actual definition, I feel somewhat insulted that sharing my honest experiences, creatively, here on this blog would elicit a reaction where I am deemed: “Vulnerable.” — And, given the specific feedback I’ve received, I don’t believe my audience actually sees me in the way that the aforementioned definition suggests. To the contrary. I’ve examined this recurring theme during my Year of Happiness, and, I’ve come to realize that — I’m not vulnerable. — I am Visible.



And being visible is something that takes people by surprise.

visible

adjective vis·i·ble \ˈvi-zə-bəl\
: able to be seen
: easily seen or understood
: known to or noticed by the public**

Coming into my own, in sobriety and generally speaking, has required that I become comfortable being visible. In a way, getting sober is a kind of transition from vulnerable to visible. Addicts hide in their substances. We’re weakened by them. And, sometimes, especially when we are using, we are susceptible to harm — both physical and emotional. But, no one who is in pursuit of a healthy kind of Happiness wants to be seen as vulnerable. And, that’s why there’s a lot of guilt and shame to work around when you make the commitment to get sober. For many of us, hiding is (or was) a way to stay safe.

But here, in this space — I let you see me naked. Because, I think it’s better to have all the truth, for better or worse, right there for the taking. I publish this blog for my own sanity, and, because I believe it helps others to be open about their truth.


Yes, I have vulnerable moments. We all do. But, my nature is not vulnerable. I have learned that being visible, allowing myself to be seen, lets me own who I am.  It makes me present and available. And, that is the point of sobriety.

But, it’s more than that. For me, being present and available is the definition of Happiness.

The reactions I have received for being honest, open, and raw — worry me. Why are people so shocked by the honest truth? Why is it such a brave thing, to be seen? Is it because I am a woman? Is it because I am a sober person? Is it because the things that I have done or have gone through are shocking? — To those questions, I would answer: No. To me, none of those distinctions are especially exceptional. I think that people, in general, sober or not, tend to be frightened by the notion of visibility.

We think we are supposed to be something other than we are. — Better. Smarter. Productive. Fitter. Kinder. Humble. Obliging. — And, we’re not. We aren’t meant to be anything. We are meant to live as we are. — Strive to be whatever you like, but, live as the person you are today.

As I navigate my Year of Happiness and my sobriety, I constantly remind myself that, whatever I am, I am more than acceptable. I am worthy of being seen and heard. I am worthy — Period. An observer, I watch myself and others. I see how we sometimes bow our heads because, it seems, it might be easier for us if we were to fly under the radar. But, in the past four months, I have made a concerted effort to speak up, in spite of fear, and say what I think should be said, with no motivation beyond my belief that the truth is right and important.

And, not once, has making myself visible resulted in an unwanted outcome. Not. Once.

This month of August, the fifth in my Year of Happiness, is devoted to Visibility. Because, truly, there is nothing to lose by being who you are, fearlessly. There is nothing inappropriate you can say, so long as it is something that is true and from your heart. — Shocking, maybe. But, shocking isn’t always inappropriate. — And, frankly, life gets pretty boring when we live appropriately all the time.

So, let them see you naked. You’re worthy of being seen. You’re worthy — Period.

Make the distinction. — There is a vast difference between being vulnerable and being visible.

Choose wisely.

*”Vulnerable.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 2 Aug. 2016.

**”Visible.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 2 Aug. 2016.

Artwork: “Blue Nude,” By Corrine Galla

All The Truth You Sleep With

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Kate* sold her body for heroin.

Kate was also one of the unlikely teachers that I’ve found in my sobriety, showing me that truth will take root in the most barren places.

When I first got sober, I enrolled myself in a rehab program, and Kate was one of the many, weathered women in my recovery group. She looked unkempt. Distracted. And, I thought her to be something of a loose cannon. But, she had almost one year of sobriety — to my less than thirty days. I wanted to know how. There was something mysterious and unusual about her, and, I watched her carefully. She was short, overweight, and had tight blonde curls that swung back and forth, wildly, when she turned her head from side to side. She was covered in tattoos, most of which, she had gotten recently. She told me that she was in the process of covering up all of her scars. — Something that everyone in the group was trying to do, in some fashion or another.

Kate lived in a halfway house for women. She was on probation for prostitution, solicitation, and drug possession. She’d already served hard time. And, the court had just awarded her custody of her daughter, under the supervised care of her halfway house, after a long period of separation. — I had never met someone who, outwardly, was so much my opposite. She was twenty-three, but, she looked like she was forty. She had tired eyes and when she pulled her legs up under her, onto the couch in the meeting room, she exuded a knowing protectiveness. She didn’t want others to notice her. She looked both ways before doing anything, and, no matter who was present, her motions were preceded with extreme caution.

One morning, Kate showed up to group early. I was the only one in the meeting room. She met my eyes with suspicion, but, then, a smile swept away the clouds of her constantly gloomy face and she walked toward me. “Look,” she said, pointing to a large bandage taped over the length of her forearm.

“Oh my God!” I looked up at her with concern. “What happened?” She laughed and sat down beside me on the couch. She peeled back the bandage and revealed her newest tattoo: “You Are Only As Sick As Your Secrets” was gracefully penned, in ornate, red, scripted letters across the inside of her arm. — “Don’t you fucking love it ?!” She squealed.

Her new tattoo was a popular saying, one that you hear often in 12-Step or rehab. Kate was not the first junkie to make this her slogan, and, she won’t be the last. But, there was something about her reveling in her truth on that morning, that made me think about my own.

Kate had little formal education. Her parents were drug addicts and dealers. And, her life, from the very start, had been nothing but struggle. When I listened to her speak, I felt like a fool for sitting in the same room. — My battle was nothing compared to hers. — I was an affluent kid. Loved and cared for by my family. I wanted for nothing. Yet, here I was. In rehab. It made no sense. How had this happened? What had gone wrong? What had Kate done wrong? Surely, no one deserved the life she’d had. It pained me to even imagine.

I spent days and hours in my rehab group trying to make sense of her. I looked for clues. Observing how she spoke and how she moved. I listened to her story, which unfolded in every session, breaking my heart. — In comparison, my addiction, my dependency, my helplessness seemed like a pittance. No matter how I searched, I could never find the link that connected us. Until that morning, when Kate  showed me, and the rest of the group, her new tattoo.

“Who feels like sharing first?” Our counselor asked, her eyes scanning the room. Kate looked from side to side, and carefully raised her bandaged arm into the air. “Thank you for volunteering. Go ahead, Kate.”

Kate shifted in her seat on the couch, carefully cradling her arm. “You guys, I got this today.” She said, as she peeled back her bandage, yet again, and waved her new, red-inked arm from side to side, making sure the entire room could see it. “It feels really fucking good. Because, I was so sick, you guys.” She paused, gulping something back, hard. “All those secrets I had. Oh my God, I was so fucking sick. I never told nobody nothing about all the shit I did. Nobody knew all the shit that went down. Nobody. Not even my daughter’s father. But, I knew. And, I ate those secrets you guys. I ate it. So, here’s my truth, straight up: I fucked Johns for dope. But, I was really fucking them to escape dope. To escape all of it. That dope was my ticket out, guys. I thought it melted all my secrets. But, it just melded them. It just melded them into one big secret. You can’t get away from that shit, you guys.”

She paused again, looking down at her new tattoo. And then, two, big tears dropped, one from the corner of each of her eyes. She wiped them away quickly as we all  sat watching her, spellbound. — We had never seen her cry.

“You want to know how I got almost a year clean and sober? Tell all your fucking secrets, you guys. Tell them. Because, they make you sick. And, at night, it’s not just the Johns and it’s not just the secrets you sleep with — it’s all the truth. It’s all the truth you sleep with. —That’s the shit that clogs your fucking soul, guys. That’s the shit that will kill you.”

Then, she stopped talking. She looked at me across the circle in a way she had never looked at me before. As if, despite our obvious differences, we were the same. Just women. Just hurt. Just looking for the truth. The same truth. Dropping our dead weight there in the middle of the meeting room floor. — We were only as sick as our secrets. — And, now, Kate was free.

It got quiet for a long minute before we just continued on with our session. But, I spent the rest of that day, night, and week thinking about Kate. — Thinking about all the truth I slept with.

I could not fathom Kate’s life. But, I began to realize that, while I was drinking and using drugs — I could no longer fathom my own life, either. I had stopped being honest. I had lied at every turn to keep myself running at the same pace. I’d kept my secrets well — and, still, they’d caught up to me.

Honesty isn’t one thing. It can’t be. And, when you start telling your truth, it won’t sound how you expect it to sound. But, without it, you’ll have nothing. — You’ll end up with a bunch of lies you have to keep straight. And, then — you’ll have to go home and sleep with the truth.

The truth, when you’re living a lie, is a persistent and terrifying ghost.

Kate was right. Spill your guts, and know, whatever ends up on the floor, can free you. Show up for your life and peel back your bandages. Your scars — covered by tattoos or not — are there to remind you of what came before. — A monument for something real.

Sometimes, when I can’t fall asleep, I think about Kate. And I remember, even when I am scared, and my bed feels sad, and empty — I have all this truth, laying here, beside me.

 

*This name has been changed to protect and honor Kate’s anonymity.

 

Game Night, For Drunks

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The Blame Game has bullshit rules.

Like a game of Twister, it all starts out simply enough: Spin. — Right hand. — Red.

But, in the end, it’s a mess of arms and legs. Heads shoved into armpits and crotches. A ballet, with its dancers stumbling, grabbing, and stomping — on toes, fingers, and hair in a hopeless, and ultimately futile, effort to stay upright. Exhausted, the company finishes their routine — all sweaty, sore, and likely, with cricks in their necks.

In the Blame Game, the winner is always left standing. But, — no one has really won.

Because, the Blame Game isn’t really a game at all. Blame is just the mud we sling at each other when we don’t have any answers.

Blame is the magic paint we use to gloss over the harsh reality that — some things are simply intolerable, beyond reason or explanation. And, rather than face our honest truth, we prefer to duke it out in the muck, for as long as humanly possible. — Making our last ditch efforts to avoid facing and feeling the pain and discomfort we’ve created for ourselves.

Blame — is easy. It requires nothing more than a pointed finger. That’s why people who avoid the truth love it so. — And, before I got clean and sober, I was one of those people.

When my ex left me, a year before I ditched the drugs and booze, I blamed the ever-loving shit out of that motherfucker. The morning he left, I fell to my knees on the blue carpet in our living room and wailed like a small child, our cat staring at me like some kind of strange extraterrestrial. My ex left me there, without finishing his coffee. And, I remember watching the steam come up off his brown, IKEA coffee mug, evaporating into the air — along with the rest of my life.

Back then, his leaving me was a huge surprise. After six and a half years together, I never fathomed that our small, unattended issues would have exploded in that way, leaving me vaporized on living room floor, like the shadow of the woman on the steps of the Sumitomo Bank in Hiroshima. — What happened here? I remember wondering.

But, in that moment, I didn’t hesitate with my answer. I was quick to blame. Because, I didn’t have to wonder, I knew — IT WAS ALL HIS FAULT.

In the weeks following that harrowing morning, before my ex was totally moved out of our apartment, I had screamed, sobbed, begged, and pleaded with him. I had sent him countless emails, first sentimental, and then, seething with hatred, anger, and hurt. I had performed my role as the crazy ex-girlfriend with expert precision. And, still, I contended — IT WAS HIM. How had this happened to me? Why had he done this to me? What could I possibly have done to deserve this happening, to me?

Well, for starters — I was a mean, black out, drunk.

I rarely remembered what I had done or said on the nights I’d had too much to drink — which was every night. And, over time, that kind of alcoholism can build on itself until you’ve alienated pretty much everyone around you, even the people who love and care for you.

I was too drunk to be honest with anyone, especially myself. — And, I had been so far gone that I hadn’t seen where my drunkenness had ruined me and everything around me. My blame was born of my ignorance and hurt. I was broken, and seemingly, without reason. And, we humans, we need our reasons. — So, where there is none, we create reason.

Later, it would be my sobriety that gave me reason. I discovered the Honesty I had been avoiding with every shot of whiskey I downed, was available to me without any kind of booze at all. — I just had to face it. — It was truly a revelation. And, when you look that kind of truth in the face, the Blame Game evaporates into the air — almost as quickly as I did that September morning, so long ago.

But, Honesty won’t answer every question. And, sometimes, it brings with it new, equally difficult questions. I still ask myself why my ex didn’t help me seek assistance for my drinking problem. Wasn’t I worth more than abandonment? Then, I ask myself, why I drank the way I did back then in the first place?  What was so wrong? What had I said to my ex in those moments I cannot recall? What cruelty had rolled off my tongue that was so horrid, it deserved the punishment I received? — I will never know. — And, even today, the new woman I’ve become, still wonders.

But, part of facing the truth is coming to terms with the fact that some questions are not meant to be answered. Everything is a lesson. And, sometimes, lessons are painful.

Getting honest requires that we forgive. — Ourselves and the people around us. — Even when we don’t have the whole story.

Honesty requires that we let go. And still, I recognize that there are things that I didn’t deserve. There are things that I have a right to be angry about. — We cannot let everyone off the hook because, once upon a time, we were drunks. But, what’s past is past. And, posing unanswerable questions to people who are long gone, is no better than mumbling nonsense to yourself like a mad woman.

Start over. Reset the board. Play the game you’re in today.

Spin. — Right Hand. — Red.

Make your move with all the grace as you can muster. — Dance the dance. — Know, that someone will knock you down. And, when you fall, you should try to land as softly as your body will allow.

And then — get back up — and beat the ever-loving shit out of that motherfucker.

 

 

Lies, Lies, Lies (And Other Shitty Side Dishes)

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Liar, liar, pants on fucking fire. — Yeah. I’m on to you.

The truth? — We’re all pretty big liars. It’s one of those things that no one likes to admit, but, we can’t really deny.

But, you’re not that bad. Right? You’ve only told your friend she looked ah-maaaa-zing when she showed up at your place wearing a hideous, monstrosity-of-a-dress, ready to “slay,” just a few times. You’ve embellished an otherwise mundane story to make yourself look like a hero. And, you’ve flashed a painful, pea-filled smile as you wolfed down your Aunt Edna’s barf casserole because, she’s fucking old, and you just couldn’t live with yourself if you hurt her feelings. — It’s okay. We’ve all done these things.

The lie I’m interested in is the lie where you tell someone that you’re great, perfect, fine and dandy — when, inwardly, you’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown. That lie, is the lie where you end up burying yourself and your Happiness for the sake of polite conversation — and it’s unacceptable.

July, or, month four in my Year of Happiness, is about getting honest. And, sure, Honesty can be relative — I get that. I’m not in Camp “You’ll Burn In Hell” if you bend the truth here and there, especially for the sake of sparing your friend’s feelings, giving yourself a little confidence boost, or contributing to the maintenance of Aunt Edna’s long-surviving-casserole-pride.

I’m most concerned with the lies that we tell ourselves. Lies that present our Happiness, or lack thereof, as something other than it actually is. Lies that make excuses and apologies for our humanity and humility.

If you’re committed to your own Happiness, then you’ve started to change the things that you don’t like about your life — surrendering old patterns, believing in your power to recreate yourself, and becoming willing to journey into new, uncharted territory. — These are all things you can’t fake. In the beginning, your bark will be bigger than your bite, but, eventually, if you really want Happiness to show up for you, one has to catch up to the other. — Happiness requires walking the walk.

I hearken back to 12-Step here, because, the 4th Step, is an important one. In traditional 12-Step, the 4th Step is where you assemble a complete moral inventory. AKA — You make a list of all the shit that you’ve done, and, all the shit that you think has been done to you, and then, you spew your guts into a journal, for weeks, penning a unwieldy manifesto of reasons that you’re still mad at yourself and the rest of humanity.

The process is cathartic and disheartening and revelatory and painful and freeing. And, it’s the step that often turns people off of 12-Step recovery, because — it’s difficult. But, the thing is, getting honest is, without a doubt, the biggest part of buliding lasting sobriety — and Happiness.

Tread lightly. Sometimes the 12-Step version of getting honest can feel like you’re stuck singing an endless chorus of mea culpas. It’s all very self-flagellating. And, something I’ve learned out in the world, on my own, away from my 12-Step program, is that the biggest part of Honesty, is being able to acknowledge all the things you’ve done — and then let them go. We can’t keep revisiting the disasters we’ve left in our wake. — We have to learn our lessons well and then make a run for it.

The more honest we get, the less we have to carry around with us. It’s the baggage we sling over our shoulders and carry on our backs — resentment, bitterness, hatred, anger — that will never serve us. And, if you’re toting a ton of luggage around with you, chances are there’s some kind of truth you’re avoiding. — It will always catch up with you.

Honesty is more than facing the past. Honesty is finding a way to feel OK being yourself, in any state, without apology. Knowing that you can change, drastically, from day to day, and never feel the need to explain your position to anyone else. You’re allowed to be insecure in one way and confident in another — you don’t have explain the nuances of your inner being to people around you.

In many ways Honesty is on par with independence. Lies are just ways that we tie ourselves into a bigger narrative, making the people around us feel comfortable. We all want to fit in. We want to be a part of an important story arc. And, when we feel that we’re not, we’ll stretch ourselves thin to help us feel that we belong. But, Happiness is attached to the kind of Honesty where we become genuine. Sometimes, it requires flying solo. Sometimes the truth will hurt someone else, but, it still serves everyone in your life best, to just tell it like it is.

Come clean, to yourself. Be your own judge and jury. Acknowledge the little lies you tell yourself and others. Notice where you undermine your own joy for the sake of someone else. And then — quit it, Goddammit!

Honestly, honesty isn’t always as delicious as it sounds. But, like Aunt Edna’s casserole, life will be easier for you, and for everyone around you, when you just choke it down. And, who knows? Eventually — You may even acquire a taste for it.

 

 

Karma Chameleon, You Come And Go

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Bad dates.

If you want to find out exactly who you are — go on some.

As much as the whole process pains me — I’ve put myself back out there. Dating in New York City is a big, boiling pot of disaster. Believe me. It’s shameless, ruthless, and largely — heartless. The gauntlet, a line of lawyers, artists, project managers, analysts, educational administrators, creative directors, and motherfucking entrepreneurs.

In the last few months, I’ve been in coffee shops, on park benches, making walkabouts through the guts of Brooklyn, and dancing to washboard bands in small, dark bars. It’s exhilarating, illuminating, exhausting, endlessly disappointing, and emotionally taxing. I feel like I’ve tried on so many different versions of myself that when I’ve actually sat down to be alone with my own thoughts, I’ve had to sort through the many women I have become, and pick out the one that best fits me in the moment.

My Year of Happiness has brought me to a place of total confidence, where, I know without a doubt, what I want most in my life. And, even in the brief moments where I am without total surety, it’s as simple as restating the word in my head: Happiness. — And, I am quickly reminded of where I am headed. I am able to focus myself to a point of clarity that, once, seemed impossible.

How does the kind of Willingness, the kind where we show up for ourselves, evolve? I’ve often wondered, what actually happened here? This Willingness is so different from the one I found when I got sober. This Willingness is born out of my boldness — not my defeat. It gives me immense power. More than I’ve ever had in my life. — And, I am not afraid to wield it.

Dating can feel a lot like the life I led before I got sober. It sometimes asks me to be a chameleon. — To participate in a complicated and colorful dance. — Moving delicately over leaves that will bend unexpectedly. Appearing one way and feeling another. And, I’ve found, over just one cup of coffee, my feelings can drift from lofty, sweet and starry-eyed to panicked and desperate as a cornered cat. All the while, I’m holding fast onto my same expression. — A closed-mouth, red-lipped smile with soft, lined, blinking eyes.

But that is not Willingness. That is acting.

Willingness is the thing that shows up for you. It’s not there to save you. When I say for you, I mean it is for you to use. A tool that you’ll have to pick up yourself. Willingness is the little alarm that rattles your ribs, the train whistle that never escapes your lungs. It’s a message, a warning: Get out! Stay put! Wait it out. This one. No. — This one.

Willingness is the thing that will convince your chameleon skin to return to its original color. It is the unexpected joy of wearing yourself, without fear. Willingness is knowing what you want, and politely, accepting nothing less.

This month, Willingness has helped me to step through my past. — To see where I have been stuck. To see where I have been a shape-shifter. To see where I have taken only what I could get, nothing more — accepting a meager ration. And, five weeks later, I know what I deserve. — What I deserved all along.

Willingness makes me more than a spectator. I have become my own superhero. A sassy chameleon, with a red mouth and red nails — who speaks to and points at anything she likes. Without apology.

Whatever your chameleon skin looks or feels like — wear it. To the coffee shop. To the park. Walking down the humid streets of Crown Heights. Dancing in the dark. When you’re clad in your Willingness — you rule the dance floor.

A return to a world where rejection has become a part of my every day, for a moment, seemed daunting. But, as I watch thousands of faces peer into subways cars, feet shuffle down avenues, smiles beam across tables and bars, and hands reach out for each other under the city lights — I know there will always be someone, something, somewhere waiting to be found. And, I, have become a willing seeker.

Willingness can be elusive, but, when it does appear — the rest will fall in line. It’s karma, baby.

So, change the color of your Happiness. Throw off the skin that no longer suits you.

And wherever you sip, sit, stand, walk, or dance — never be afraid to go it alone.

 

 

Hair Of The Dog

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9:47AM: I poured myself a third shot of vodka.

In the office, I sat alone at the beat-up, IKEA desk we’d purchased on Craigslist.  I felt appropriately contained in the tiny, windowless room at the back of the restaurant where I was the general manager. I’d come in early to write the schedule for the servers. The peak of Summer, it was hot. The air in the hall was thick with the rancid stink of the hamper, filled to the brim with dirty kitchen linens, which sat, a palpable presence, just outside the sliding office door.

The previous evening’s service had been a busy one. I’d stayed late with the chef-owner and drank. When the last customers left we turned up the music and laughed at our own jokes. Later, I took a cab home, drank more still, and blacked out. I woke up in my clothes, on the couch in my living room, my cat staring at me from her perch on the armrest. I splashed water on my face, brushed my teeth, changed, and reapplied my mascara quickly before returning to the restaurant.

And then, I was back in that office, as if I’d never left. Three shots in. And, suddenly, I was terrified. After printing the schedule and pinning it up on the cork bulletin board, I felt sick. Was this how the rest of my life was going to be? Drunk, still accomplishing my tasks with ease? The static motion of mediocrity in which no one challenged my insanity?

One of the cooks walked up to his locker and looked into the office, his eyes darted from my face to the the bottle of Seagram’s Extra Dry that sat beside a staunch, little cocktail glass, still wet from my last sip, for which I made no excuse. “Hair of the Dog?” he asked, laughing. I smiled.

But, it wasn’t. It wasn’t Hair of the Dog. — That was what I had become.

That day, was the day I became Willing. Willing to do whatever I had to do to be something other than what I was. It hadn’t been the day of my arrest, five months earlier, it hadn’t been an embarrassing or violent episode, it hadn’t been a blackout. — It was me, realizing the devastating normalcy of alcohol’s place in my daily life. It touched everything and nothing at all.

My life had become varying states of disconnectedness. I could do my job, see my friends, feed my cat. But, I was gone. Somewhere that, even I, could no longer find. I’d become something, I was no longer someone. I was a machine, and the cost of my fuel had left me penniless.

Willingness, this month’s theme in our Year of Happiness, is a concept that is often lumped-in with something else: Desire. When we want something, when we truly desire it — we tell ourselves that we’re willing to do anything for it. But, that isn’t true. Willingness is something that goes beyond desire. It is the turning point at which one is enabled to act. — To change.

I spent months dissecting my own desire to get sober. I went to 12-Step meetings and then, immediately following, b-lined to bars where I got shitfaced. I would go for 24, sometimes 36 hours without a drink, and then would stand at my kitchen sink and gulp down a full tumbler of Jim Beam, neat, like a glass of water. I had all this desire. — But, was unwilling to change.

How I came to be willing on that Summer morning in the restaurant office, I still don’t know. People have told me that Willingness comes from divine intervention, desperation, or love. I’m not sure that my Willingness was born from any one of those things. And, truthfully, it’s not really important to me that I discover my Willingness’ origin.

When we talk about Happiness and a means to finding it, we cannot avoid facing our own Willingness. We’ve been told Happiness is a choice — and it is. But, it’s possible make choices without being willing to act on those choices.

Willingness is our final phase of reconciliation before action. Without action, nothing changes. So, Willingness becomes the final impetus, the push that will begin the journey from Point A to Point B. And, maybe you’re curious — What does Willingness look like? Where will you find it? What must you do to become willing?

I wish I had the answer to those questions. I don’t. Not for you, anyway. Willingness is perhaps the most elusive and personal concept we’ll explore during this series. Because, what drives us to change — is something buried so deep within us, that even when we try to communicate it to someone else, we struggle in finding the right words.

What was the difference between the feeling that I never, ever wanted to drink again and actually walking into that same office where I had been piss drunk, days earlier, and giving my boss one month’s notice because I’d enrolled myself in a rehab program? — I cannot describe it. Willingness is an unpredictable internal catalyst. It’s sly. My Willingness came to me when I was already three sheets to the wind. A voice whispering in my ear, telling me that I was more than a sad drunk, and that the vacancy I had allowed myself to exist in, was wasted space.

This month, I will not advise you on how to find the Willingness that makes it possible for you to unearth your own Happiness. How you will go about uncovering that mysterious piece, is the part of the story only you can write.

On that Summer morning, after all the cooks arrived and began their prep and my servers were on the floor mopping under tables and brewing big carafes of coffee, I stepped outside and sat in my usual spot at the picnic table closest to the side door. I propped my feet up on the bench, my black Vans with white polka dots punctuating my legs like a sentence. I lit a Parliament, and with each drag off my cigarette, I could taste the cheap vodka I’d drank earlier that morning.

And, I still remember looking up into the hot sun, knowing, if I could just make it one more month, I’d never have to feel that way again.