The Voice Inside That Never Shuts Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you. Thank you so very much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Phantom Coordinates

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In the car, I have stopped using my GPS.

It happened to me after living in Portland for a few months, too. — The mundane, yet extraordinary, moment when you gaze out over the steering wheel and — you know the road.

Where it leads. Where you can deviate. The stops, shortcuts, speed traps, and turns that will pull you off one course and place you seamlessly onto another. And, even though it has built over time, in the moment, it feels like it happened all at once — like that euphoric three minutes when you finally learn to ride your bike, sailing down the street, without falling  over to one side.

At the post office, I sent a package to an old friend and I wrote my return address on a label with ease. Numbers that, now, are etched on that strange spot in my brain. Numbers that will continue to live here, at this address — even when I do not — in my head, occupying their own room, holding space, long after walking out of it, a home that will sit forever next to all the others where I have lived, and since left behind.

I live here now. Here. Along these roads.

There is a duplicitous feeling, a kind of beauty and terror when you become rooted in place. For me, there have always been three ways to experience home: To Stay. To Leave. To Escape. — And, no matter what state of experience you find yourself living in, it’s a sure bet that you will find yourself surrounded by people who are experiencing that same place in a different way. Namely, if you’re staying — they’re going. And vice versa.

Since returning to New York State, I’ve found myself strangely connected to people that are in various states of transition. And, I do not think that’s by chance. It’s no coincidence the day I realized that I know how to drive myself home from the Colonie shopping center, three different ways — without consulting Siri — many of the people I know or love are in the process of moving on. Leaving New York to begin something new, far away.

It’s been my experience that the Universe will always hold up a mirror and show me what might have been. The Universe will always ask me to choose. — Stay. Leave. Escape. –– In the past, it always seemed easiest to Escape.

Happiness though — happiness is always right where you are. And, that’s the crazy thing about finding your place in the world, and in yourself. You have to stop moving long enough to really see how things are. It turns out, that mirror, the same one that used to tempt you with its possibility, is just a map, showing you all the different routes available. Routes that will, eventually, lead you to the same place.

Like seasons, the ever-changing cast of characters in all the places I have called home, move in and out of my life, marking unpredictable stages of loss and growth. It can be so difficult to say goodbye — to leave behind our phantom coordinates. But now, as I begin embracing all the unexpected people and places that I find myself loving, I realize that — once, it was just as hard to say hello.

Since leaving my parent’s home in September, people have come and go. — Peter abandon Brooklyn for a job with the Department of Justice in Washington DC. Joseph, is packing up the few bags he has, while learning Spanish and saving his pennies for the plane tickets that will take him to Spain in the Fall. And, Jimmy is about to stuff boxes that will be shipped out from Albany and sent to the south side of Chicago.

But, me, I’m on this road — one that, apparently, I have come to know quite well. My rear view mirror reflects back more than what’s behind me. It reveals place itself, infinite in every direction, lines that move us ever forward. And, weaving in and out of the traffic with me — is Happiness.

As dusk falls over Albany, the grey, Winter sky showcases the magnificent, lavender-tinted, East Coast clouds. Each is sewn to the horizon, connected and held together by thin seams of sunlight,  the sky’s fabric falling like a heavy and handsome curtain at the edge of the highway’s stage.

I lean into a bend on the thruway, moving sixty-five miles an hour, under my big, New York sky. And, now, sure of the road, I see it in the infinite space between the lines that run down the center of the lane, these phantom coordinates, and I know  — it wasn’t my GPS that brought me here after all.

 

A City On His Map

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“What would leave you satisfied? Not happy. Satisfied. Happiness is asking too much.”

Joseph sat beside me at the bar, looking directly into my eyes, in his way — which is, and always has been, disarming. His beard was longer and waxier than the last time I’d seen him, but his soft, blue eyes remained the same — forgiving. He understands me.

Since I moved to Albany, I’ve missed him. Sometimes, I am sure he is the only person in the world with whom I can be completely honest. I sip my club soda and take a long moment to process his question. I’ve devoted the last nine months to seeking out my own happiness, and so, to dismiss that, disregard it, and consider only what’s sufficient — not ideal — is a murky state of contemplation.

We sit together, two authors, in the glow of the bar’s TV screens and twinkling Christmas lights, while groups of co-workers from the surrounding office buildings file in, slipping eagerly into the empty bar seats beside us and order each other shots of tequila to kick off the long, holiday weekend. Though this is a popular time of year for reflection, with Joseph I need no special season, he has always allowed me ample space to unpack myself beside him. We are non-traditional in every way, and this, is perhaps the thing I love most about us. But, it is that balance of convention and its polar opposite that keeps us level, only sporadically, on our cosmic see-saw.

This year, as I’ve transitioned from place to place and job to job, I have felt little pieces of myself slip in and out of my own orbit. I am a messy Universe. And, I haven’t made out the big picture just yet. Gravity hasn’t yet locked my planets into place. And, I think, that is the kind of story that Joseph loves most. But, it’s never been my entire story. As I searched for his answer, dipping my straw in and out of  my soda’s rising bubbles, my honesty felt somehow difficult to locate, even to lay it before him, someone who has never judged me. We have sat together at many a bar. Walked together across the better part of Brooklyn. Stared out from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade at the New York City lights. Stood, faces pressed against each other, in a heavy, Summer rain. And, spent hours telling each other stories — in words spoken, on paper, in texts, in jokes, through music, and in epic GIF storyboards. He can make me laugh and cry in the same sentence. And, in the short time I have known him, he has never failed to answer me truthfully. So, I knew, I owed him the most honest answer I could find inside myself, and, I also knew he would wait for it, whatever it was, patiently.

“I think I’d be satisfied with being really loved. Taken care of, in a place that feels like home. — If I can ever find that place.” Even honesty can sound incredibly sad and cliché when you open your mouth to speak it. I looked to Joseph’s face for his reaction. A reaction to a complicated story, distilled down to something almost too simple. His features remained, as ever, soft and kind. He knows me, and my story, in a way that I’m not sure even I understand. And, as a storyteller himself, he sees the trap in mine, the same one I have been writing over and over again for years, where I am the heroine that never needs to be cared for — because her super power is that she’ll always take care of herself.

But, sitting beside Joseph, a person who has been a strange and beautiful mirror for my heart, I feel a kind of dishonesty in the story I’ve been telling. Because, when I break it down, my story is not a collection of observations, but rather, another means of self-preservation. I’ve taken care of myself, not because it’s what I wanted, but, because I’ve been living in such a way that it has become dangerous to be anything other than independent. When you’ve been burned so many times, it will teach you to stand back from the flames. But, there will always be a part of me that seeks out the heat.

“It isn’t wrong to want that, it’s completely natural.” He said deftly, tipping back his whiskey and water, as if he’d known my answer all along. Maybe because he too has avoided the heat. But, he manages that problem by skipping town. For him, staying in the same place too long is its own kind of pyre. Love, is built into the cities where he resides and the people who move with him, beside him, in all of them. It has always appeared to me, that, for him, love is a place he will always be seeking — an eternal and romantic quest — though, he would never label it as such. I frequently find myself in envy of his journey and, more than that, his ability to easily let go of the things which I have so desperately struggled to hold fast.

Sitting beside a person who understands you completely and cares for you profoundly, it can feel indecent admitting that you want someone to see you, to care — to love you. It doesn’t feel natural. It feels like asking too much. Needy and impossible. And, after walking through the entirety of this year, I see how my pursuit of happiness has often confused itself with my own never-ending quest to be self-sufficient. Admitting that I want, and have always wanted, someone else to seal up the leaky holes in my little boat, is one of the hardest things I will ever do. It feels like asking for Divine intervention. Something that Joseph will elegantly argue — does not exist.

Next year, Joseph is moving to Spain. And, part of me wants to disappear with him. To cross continents. To get lost with him, walking through musty museums, our footsteps lost in the hum of foreign tongues. To wander through old, unpaved, and narrow streets together. To experience freedom over contentment — freedom from contentment. To stand beside him, taking pictures of a Universe that is so, incredibly far away from my own. To discover the world outside me, before committing to dive into the immeasurable depths within me. But, part of me knows how dishonest that would be — to myself.

He didn’t try to comfort me in a conventional way as he watched the tears well in my eyes, but, in his indescribable way, his manner alone, quiet and steady, he became my comfort. Reliable and steadfast, I know I can always sit beside Joseph in silence while he speaks volumes. For someone who has spent his last decade traveling, in constant motion, there is no one else I know who can sit so, perfectly still and look at you as if you were the only city on his map.

On the corner of Joralemon and Court Streets, I held Joseph close to me, a force of gravity, even if only in that moment. A planet that, though unruly, will always remain a gem in my galaxy. “Come visit me in Albany soon.” — “‘Kay,” he says. “I will.”  — And, I believed him.

Love is strange and, often, appears in unexpected places. But, sometimes, it can, and will, appear in the one place where you expect it to be. And so, we must go there. In the New Year, and in every year — we must go to that place. For me — Within. For Joseph — Spain. And, as time spirals on, we’ll continue sealing up our leaky boats, alone, until someone shows up to help us with the work, and perhaps, one day, to stay. Someone who will see us, care for us, really love us, before sailing away to some new Universe. — A place that feels like home. — If we can ever find that place.

 

 

Notes In Her Kitchen

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When I arrive, she is standing slumped over a clipboard in her kitchen.

In an hour, the restaurant will be buzzing. Cooks, bartenders, servers. But, for now, it’s just the two of us, and, she hasn’t seen me yet. I’m standing, trying not to breathe, pressing my spine into the doorway, worried that she’ll smell the liquor on my breath.

Though, I know, even when she does, she won’t say anything. She keeps my secrets as well as I do.

 

I watch her for a minute. Scratching out her lists. Her notes. Counting heads. Imagining her plates. I know I have to tell her. But, something about the way she is standing begs me to wait until tomorrow. Something sad and tired in her movements, makes me hurt for her. We are both so tired. — Different things  have left us exhausted.

I decide to wait. It has to be the last thing she hears from me. Not the first. I can’t tell her. Not yet.

Her husband walks up behind me and startles me. He’s got a big plastic tub full of ice. “Hey you! Are you ready for today?!” He shouts, rocking his head back and forth like he’s at a metal show.

“Hell yeah!” I shout back, pumping my fist, as he walks past me into the main dining room. But, I’m not ready. And, before I can face them, I run back to the office and take a long swig out of the bottle of cheap vodka in my handbag.

It’s the hottest day of our Portland summer. We are all sweating, even in the air conditioning. And, when we walk out to the street to set up the restaurant’s booth for the street fair, it feels like walking into a stick of butter. Thick and oily. Even my cigarette smoke hangs in the air like a net. And, as we walk toward the shade of the tent, I have to talk myself out of dying. Not just for my own sake, but for hers.

***           ***           ***

As a drunk, there are moments that you know, without a doubt, that you have let yourself down. But, until that particular day, during that particular summer, I had never truly felt the weight of letting someone else down.

It wasn’t because of something I did or didn’t do. It wasn’t because of an unpaid invoice or because of the liquor that poured from the restaurant’s shelf into my glass. It wasn’t because I couldn’t hack the job, or the people, or the place. — It was because I couldn’t handle myself any longer. I couldn’t be available for all the things that I said I could be. But, how do I explain that to her? How do I explain that I’ve become unhinged? Every time I see her face, it kicks me in the gut. I couldn’t have known giving up on her would hurt like this — giving up on her dream would hurt like this.

She struggled with the blue awning at the left corner of the tent where we sat in the shade. It gave us little relief from the heat. She handed me her stainless steel coffee thermos. “Sare Bear — It’s time. Get me a vodka-soda.” We both laugh. But, my laugh is more an exclamation of my relief than my amusement. I’ve been drunk since this morning. But, now, I have her permission. Permission to forget the heat. — Permission to forget everything.

Under the tent, I sit next to her in a canvas folding chair and we drink our vodka-sodas from thermoses. The crowds haven’t arrived yet. But, the prep cooks keep delivering hotel pans of fried chicken and noodles for us to serve to people that aren’t there. “Fuck this shit! This is total bullshit. We’re not doing this next year,” she says surveying the near empty street. But, I know she’ll do it again next year — because she does what she has to do for her dream, even when she hates it. Even when the process pains her, she is the most utterly committed person I have ever met. I take a sip from my straw and watch her for my cues. I wait for a sign that I can read, because I have learned to read them all.

That’s the thing that kills me about it. I know her. I know when she says one thing and means another. I know when she’s playing it tough, but is headed for a breakdown in the office. I know when she’s going to smile kindly in someone’s face and tear them to shreds the second they walk out the door. I know that she is in love with her kitchen clipboard more than any of us humans. I know how this place tears her apart and lights her up in every minute she stands at her post in expo, looking out over the dining room like it’s the Serengeti, with a line of servers migrating across an empty floor. I know her. And, I know her kingdom is beautiful and tragic. And, there is so much of me that wants to stay.

But, I can’t. I can’t pull it off. Not in the way she deserves. I keep coming back to that promise I made. — I told her I could. — And. I. Can’t.

We press through the day, hot, tired, and drunk. My mind wanders. Floating in front of me like the little clouds of cigarette smoke. Her dreams. Her faith in this place. Her reckless abandon. Her laughter booming through the dining room. Her frustration, held back only by the sliding black door of the the tiny office. Her silhouette, forever bent over a clipboard full of lists. And me, with only one:

Drink. Drink with abandon. No matter who or what you abandon. Drink.

The sun sinks  and my heart with it. I sit alone in the office waiting for her to come back and meet me. My hidden-purse-bottle is empty now, and I bury it deep in the bottom of my bag. I’m still tired and hot and broken. And, I fold myself over my secondhand IKEA desk and weep into my folded elbows. She walks into the office and slides the door closed behind her, because — she knows.

And, she begins to cry too — before I’ve said anything at all.

***          ***          ***

We both sit at the bar with tear stained faces. “Connie, make us both something good,” she says to Conrad, the bartender who watches us lean into each other at the end of the bar. “I love you Sare Bear. And, I’m gonna miss your drunk ass,” she says looking at me and my puffy eyes. I open my mouth to say something, but nothing comes out and  my eyes well up again. “Oh, get over it, Bitch!” she shouts at me as she pushes my shoulder playfully. Connie places two cocktail glasses in front of us. “Shooter boots too?” he asks, placing little, boot-shaped shot glasses in front of us and pouring out shots of whiskey before we can answer. She smiles at me in her wild way.

Our sentimental moment has passed, and now, like I’ve seen her do a million times before, without complaint, she will regroup and rebuild, as I crumble beside her.

***          ***          ***

When I picture her face, even now, I feel my heart drop into my stomach like a piece of lead. There isn’t a sufficient apology for walking out on her dream, even under the guise of making myself well again. It never seems enough. I read about her in the paper, online, and in magazines. I get a link about her on Facebook. She likes one of my Instagram photos. I send her a viral video of a pug I know she’ll love. But, my unspoken betrayal lurks. It stagnates, like a moat between us. What we shared, is gone.

To make myself feel better, I imagine going  back to the restaurant, early in the morning, before she or anyone else arrives. I creep into her kitchen, still clean, untouched from the night before. And, I slide a note onto her clipboard at her station before slipping out the door forever.

I imagine, when she finds my note, she whispers “Whatta bitch!” And then, she tapes it to the wall above her mise en place, next to all her other love notes and drawings. And, she even smiles a little before returning to her clipboard, where she begins today’s list with: “Cilantro.”

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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

Metal-On-Metal

Photo Jul 26, 11 21 28 PM

I hear my own silent scream echo in the subway tunnel. A dissonant harmony with the shriek of the train, metal-on-metal, as we move in the darkness.

My book is cracked in my lap. My feet, ever clad in black Vans, are propped up on the metal poll in the center of the car. By all appearances, it would seem that I have returned to my, once-and-again, status as the quintessential New Yorker.

Late nights on the R train have hosted a menagerie of treasured moments in my new, New York City chapter. I have come to love my lonesome, subway nights. Still bustling, in a quieter, more desolate way. But, despite the empty seats that surround me, a strange feeling sneaks into the car and sits right beside me. Too close. Like a foreigner. A tourist, lacking the ever-important understanding of the New Yorker’s personal space.

I squirm and fidget. Something feels off. — I don’t want to be here.

I try reading, but, my thoughts object. I find myself getting louder, repeating: I don’t want to be here. — And then, as if I were scripted, I immediately begin the the process of dismissing the notion. I feel my body push the idea away. I argue with myself. — This is what you wanted, Sarah. This is the bed you made, now, lie in it. Just, find the Happiness here.

One third of my Year of Happiness, is over. And, today, the radar system for my own bullshit is the most dialed in it has ever been. — When you look and listen for your own Happiness, you see and hear it everywhere. — I take it all in from ground control. — Neon green blips, floating laterally across a grid. Bright specs in a sea of black. Easy to spot, but, difficult to track. — Knowing happiness’ trajectory will not always help you to determine where it will land.

But, seeing  the truth was never the skill that was meant to save us. When it comes to getting happy, noticing isn’t enough. — You have to act. You have to react. — Happiness is not a passive game. If you allow your to life happen to you, then — you’ll get what you get. It’s when you stand up to push back or to embrace it that things really get going.

The last four months, I have started showing up for myself in strange ways. I’ve let my weird, woo-woo, overly-sensitive sensibility rule me. And, I hear my own voice getting louder and louder — in my head and when I speak. It still surprises me how, in such a short period of time, I have learned to be an advocate for the things I want and deserve — even when I know I can’t get them instantaneously.

But still, there is always that little bit of truth that I’ll try to deny myself.

The R train moves through the tunnel and the question rumbles in my stomach as we run over the track: If I don’t want to be here — where do I want to be? Why have I been telling myself I can’t get to that place? What’s the story I’ve written? Where can I begin to rewrite this?

This time, when I ask myself to tell the truth, I wonder, if maybe, — I have been lying to myself.

NYC was always meant to be my layover on the way to something else. Something bigger. But, I’m still waiting for that big thing to show up. And so, fearful of becoming stuck, my head makes an argument for old New York, NY. — The great things it is, the wonderful places it hosts, the thousands of interesting and intelligent people it ferries through it’s crowded streets. — But, somewhere in that argument, my heart uncovers my lie: This is what I wanted all along.

But, the truth is, I’m not sure what I wanted. — But, I know this isn’t it.

Suddenly, I’m here on this train, knee deep in sticky, sweaty, NYC-summer. Real, gritty, dirty and dark. And, I see an old pattern emerge. — I’ve inserted myself into a place I never planned to stay, because I’m not sure how to get myself anywhere else. — It’s my default. — But, I know things now. I’m armed with my truth, even if it hurts — unless Happiness becomes my default, I’ll never find the things I’m seeking.

The train pulls into the 45th Street station and a weight lifts. Like, some other person has just stepped out of my body and exited through the sliding doors, while I remain, still seated — my book fanned out over my thigh.

Honesty is recognizing that you’re not done yet. And, that’s OK. Being unfinished is never a sin or a mistake or even a blunder. — It is a place for jumping off. — A beginning.

The train leaves the station and I feel the electricity surge. The lights flicker. And, something moves through the car. I feel myself light up. — Sparks. — Metal-on-metal.

I know every stop this train makes. But, tonight, I have no idea where I am going to get off.

 

 

Hair Of The Dog

Photo May 31, 12 57 32 PM

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.

 

 

 

The Story I Didn’t Write

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York City.

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

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

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

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

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

The Party’s Over

Photo Mar 28, 4 04 31 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    *           *           *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Photo: My 25th Birthday, Greenpoint, Brooklyn