Meatloaf at The Ritz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eating Humble Pie

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Ten years ago, I became obsessed with baking pie.

This obsession came years before I got sober or became a vegan. At twenty-two years old, the fire-water-fuel for my pie-baking frenzy was almost exclusively pint glasses filled with vodka-cranberry. And, all my pans were slathered with rich, Irish butter.

My pie-making phase was the result of, what can only be described as a difficult time in my life. I had just graduated college and I had no idea what I was doing. Thrust into the world with a BA in Creative Writing and Irish Studies, I was well equipped for absolutely nothing. And so, I sat in the living room of my apartment and read every pie crust recipe I could get my hands on.

Even with absolutely no direction, I did know one thing: I was going to make the best damn pie ever baked. And so, it began. I spent the first few months perfecting my crust. First, one made with butter. Only butter. Then, shortening. Only shortening. Then, a combo of the two. Then, back to butter alone.

There was a time, I made a pie almost every day, but at the very least — three times a week. My boyfriend and I had friends over for dinner several times a week just to avoid the sheer surplus of pie. Banana Cream. Raspberry Chiffon. Chocolate Mousse. All-American Apple. Blueberry, with a lattice top. Pumpkin-Pecan. Cranberry-Pear. Sour Cherry. Lemon Meringue. — I could go on.

I didn’t know it then, but, looking back, I see how my great pie obsession filled some great need within me. The need to excel. The need to perfect. Pie gave me something to strive for, something to be great at, and when I felt helplessly alone — something to snack on.

As I’ve grown and changed in sobriety, my perfectionism, my drive to achieve, and my need to create things seamlessly has changed quite a bit too. I’ve learned about the unhealthy patterns we create in our desperate attempt to save ourselves from the thing we fear, usually — the unknown.

During my great pie period, pie was more than just a relaxing evening in the kitchen. It was tangible evidence that I hadn’t failed. My truth was baked in, and, you could taste it in every flaky, buttery slice. If nothing else: I was a fucking baker of pies. And, even when I did fail — yes, some of my pies were completely inedible — I had a new goal. I was going to make that pie again, and, this time, it was going to be so good it would make Martha Stewart weep.

Almost exactly a decade later, I’m starting to realize that if you want to learn, grow, and truly change there’s only one kind of pie we should strive to bake perfectly: Humble Pie.

I’ve spent a lot of my life struggling to do things on my own. Because, I always thought that asking for help was a weakness. I thought that admitting that you couldn’t be perfect on the first try was a sure-fire way to get overlooked. But, sobriety has taught me that if we are going to strive to be perfect at anything, we have to be open to letting others tell us what they see (and taste). We have to be open to criticism. We have to fork over a piece of our pie and be comfortable with being told that the filling is way too jammy and the crust is far too soggy.

Humility is a confusing word. It’s often accompanied by negative connotations. And, that’s why I’m devoting the seventh month in my Year of Happiness to Humility and its nuances. Humility isn’t negative when it is practiced in it’s truest form. Being humble is being able to step back and appreciate that something supersedes you — it’s accepting that fact that you’re not always the absolute authority. Humility is possessing the ability to learn, with grace.

So often, we lump Humility in with martyrdom. We step back for show. We let someone else take the stage because we think it will look good for us — but, false Humility stinks of insecurity. And, insecurity is one of the main reasons that we find it so difficult to admit that — THE PIE JUST ISN’T ON POINT.

In the dictionary, Humility is synonymous with “meekness,” “modesty,” and “unassertiveness.” But, I don’t think that’s always true. I think that being able to step back from one’s self and see where there is room to grow — is straight up ballsy. I think it’s inwardly assertive. I think it requires a strong backbone, grace, and confidence to be truly humble. Learning isn’t easy. If it were, we’d all be experts and scholars. Change requires facing the unknown, and, being willing to fuck up.

These days, I don’t bake as much as I used to, but, I still love it. And, even though I perfected my crust ten years ago, a few years back, I had to start from scratch when I went vegan. I’ll be the first to admit, margarine isn’t the same. But, I’m learning. And, I can still make a vegan lattice top pie that would make Julia Child proud.

The truth is — I don’t need pie anymore. I find comfort in knowing, I don’t have to be the best and neither does my pie. And, if people don’t like my aquafaba meringue, fuck ’em. More snacks for me. But, I know I still have to bake, and eat, a Humble Pie on occasion. Because, unlike ten years ago, today, I am open to suggestion and I’m ready to fail.

So, take the pie or leave it. But, if you take it, I recommend the Pumpkin-Pecan.

 

 

Photo: My All-American Apple Pie, Lattice top w/stars.

 

 

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.

Own Your Shit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

Photo Aug 02, 11 31 15 AM

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

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.

 

 

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.