The Face Of The Hammer, The Head Of The Nail

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I leaned against the kitchen counter, exhausted. The taste of vomit, fresh in my mouth.

I had been arrested the night before and released from police holding at 5AM that morning.

The officer behind a slate colored, wire divider pushed a clear bag filled with my personal belongings through a long, rectangular slot. Inside, the necklace my father gave me for my 18th birthday, a silver pendant, had been placed carefully into a little, plastic bag, where it glinted in the florescent light. Next to it, lay the bright white laces of my shoes and the long white string from my hoodie, all of which the booking officer had carefully removed from my person while I stood, silently crying.

My phone. My wallet. My house keys. These were the possessions that I had with me. My property. As I ran my fingers along the outline of each item in the bag, I felt like a criminal.

Later, in my apartment, my eyes kept returning to the clear, plastic bag sitting on the edge of my small, dining room table. I kept weeping. Again and again. I lost count of the times I forced myself to cease my sobbing and regain composure.

I had taken a cab back to the apartment after walking out into the stark, empty street in downtown Portland.  Darkness permeated everything on that eeriest of mornings. The cold, punishing brick of the building from which I had just emerged, loomed behind me, threatening violence. I had only six hours before I had to return to that very street and appear in court for my arraignment. But, by that time, the city would be awake, lit by the winter sun and full of scurrying worker-bees. Now, it was just dark, silent, still.

My mouth felt dry and tasted of stale liquor. I could feel that my eyes were red and the cold stung my chapped, peeling lips. I remember wanting to die. Hoping to somehow be struck by lightening or to suffer a heart attack or be hit by a stray bullet. I wanted something big and powerful to sweep in and take me. Something to wake me from that heavy, dream-like haze.

In the cab home, I told myself: Sarah. This, is  a very human lesson.

If only humanity were a better teacher, then perhaps, I would have learned that lesson long before having to learn it the hard way. But, in that moment, I was too tired for regret. I focused only on staying awake long enough to get home. Long enough to get into bed and sleep, which seemed like the only plausible way to wake from that unending nightmare.

I did sleep, though, it was the restless kind with haunted dreams. I woke and, like a robot, dressed myself for court. I appeared before the judge, still unaware of myself. Floating in space. Lost. Alone. I had called Tony, my dear friend, dazed, and asked for a ride. My car had be seized. He drove me downtown to court, and, on the ride, we were both solemn. The sad look on my face upon climbing back into his car after court, where I’d been handed a stack of paperwork and been yelled at by a judge who had little pity for sad, drunken white girls, informed Tony that things hadn’t improved. On most days, he could make me laugh without any effort at all, but, on that day, he didn’t even try.

“You have to tell them,” he said as he ate from our shared plate of tater tots at DOTS. “You won’t be able to keep it a secret. They know you’ve had a rough time this year. They’ll get it. They’ll help you. You have to tell them.”

I didn’t answer him because, I knew he was right. But, I couldn’t get the words out just yet. I couldn’t eat either, but Tony pushed the plate toward me and gestured at the tots. “Shitbird, you gotta eat.”

Later, alone in my apartment, leaning on the kitchen counter, the words finally started to bubble up in my throat, thick and sour, like witch’s brew. That’s when I vomited in the sink.

There was no way to explain it away. It could only be an admission. A confession. A plea for forgiveness.

Me: A drunk. A failure. And now, a criminal. Those are the words I wouldn’t speak, but, that would be silently woven into my careful explanation.

I walked over to the dining room table and pulled the small, clear plastic bag from inside the larger one. I hung my little pendant around my neck again, where it rested on my clavicle like a weight. I felt along its edges and in its grooves with the tip of my index finger and I tried to remember how things felt before everything happened. Hours ago. Days ago. Weeks ago. Months ago. Years ago. But — I can’t. And, in that moment, I knew, there would be parts of me that would never will feel the same, ever again.

It was too late to explain the means to my end. It was too many things. Too many moments. Too many people. Too many places. Too many drinks. Too many losses. Too many goodbyes. And in that moment, the face of the hammer and the head of the nail mattered not. Only the force of the blow.

I pressed the green “SEND” button at the base of my phone.

“Dad. Something bad happened. Do you have a minute? I have to tell you something.”

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Pack Like A Fucking Boss

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I was a compartmentalizer.

I mean, I really, really, fucking loved to compartmentalize, you guys.

And, while I was living my past life, as a raging drunk, I found out that compartmentalization can be both a blessing and a curse.

As a functioning alcoholic, it’s a skill you need to survive. As a functioning, emotional human, it’s a sure-fire way to lose yourself completely.

While keeping my many personalities in in their designated places helped me to keep my job, maintain (most) of my professional and platonic relationships, and to pay all my bills on time — it had its dark side. The flip side of the coin was, when I was in real trouble — no one had any idea that I was up Shit’s Creek. Because, the part of me that was drowning was, well, compartmentalized.

When you’re able to separate the good and the bad elements of your personal life into neat, little packages, ultimately, it ends up holding you back. Compartmentalizing keeps you from being Open. Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, per se, when you keep different parts of your life siphoned off from each other, it’s a way of lying to yourself and to the people around you. You can never show up and be all-In. You have to assemble yourself everywhere you go. You have to decide which part of you is going to show up. And, depending on your audience, you have to keep all of your different costumes straight.

When you get home after a long day of changing in and out of different personas, it’s hard to remember who you really are. And, when you don’t know who you are, it’s hard to know if you really want to get sober. — One part of you is desperate for change, but, the other nine parts will happily drag you out to the bar and sit with you until last call.

At some point, you have to start dressing up as the real you.

***          ***          ***

I moved this past weekend. And, when you head into new, uncharted territory, it’s easy to convince yourself that compartmentalizing will ease your unstable feelings and make it easier to transition into a new stage of your life. But, I learned preparing for this move, that, the only thing I really needed pack up — were my clothes.

As I settle into my new room, hang out with my new roommates, and explore my new town — I’m suddenly hit with the relief of knowing — All of me is here. — I’m all-in. I don’t have to check-in with ten, different personalities to decide if I’m OK. I don’t have to wonder if I’m going to screw everything up by merely being myself — because, for the first time, I feel unified.

Before I got sober, I used to be terrified that someone might see me in a down moment. I was scared that my fragility was a sign of weakness or incompetence. But, today, I know that it doesn’t matter what state you’re in (or appear to be in). — What matters is how you show up for yourself and the people around you.

Being one with yourself doesn’t mean that you have to ditch your schizophrenic emotions. You’re still allowed to feel great one day and like shit the next, but, the difference is, when you are united within — you can own it. And, owning where you are in your life is something that I’m still learning to do, but, the longer I practice, the more comfortable I become.

While I’m no expert in the art of moving, I’ve had some good practice in the last year. I’m getting really comfortable with letting go. I realize that moving is just another exercise in being and becoming Open. When you land in a new place, even if you have a home-base and people to show you the ropes, you still have to step into your own and be fearless.

There’s a lot of scary stuff about new places. There’s basic logistics — Figuring out how to drive around. Finding the best grocery store. Learning the shady areas in town to avoid. And then, there’s the emotional turmoil — Meeting new people who are already comfortable in their lives and routines. Wondering if I chose wisely. And, of course, there’s the inevitable feeling of: Fuck, I’m starting over, again.

But, as I embrace being Open — to myself, to my sobriety, and to the point I’m at in my life — I’m realizing that starting over is kinda my specialty. So, I’m not sure why I dread it so much. Since getting sober, I’ve been diving into new situations, relationships, jobs, and places all the time. And, I just keep getting better at it.

When I was a compartmentalizer, I had a bunch of little, safe havens that I fled to when I needed to hide. Those places kept me safe. And, in retrospect, I can see why I made those choices. Back then, it was smart. But, in sobriety, we grow. And growth, for me, has been the gradual building of just one safe haven — Myself.

When you like yourself, you can go anywhere. You can meet new people. You can discover new places and things. And, you can make mistakes.

Before getting sober, I couldn’t be Open with anyone else, because I couldn’t face myself. I left places, people, and jobs thinking I could outrun unhappiness — but, compartmentalizing was just a way of sweeping my pain under the rug so that I didn’t have to face it every day.

This weekend I learned that my compartmentalization skills can still come in handy. — I packed for this move like a pro. — I may not be able to pack up my emotional baggage like I used to, but, man oh man, can I pack up three, giant duffel bags, six Rubbermaid bins, and a banjo like a fucking boss.

As I lay here, sprawled out in my new bed, watching the morning sun spill down from the skylight onto the wall, I finally understand that I can be anyone I want to be in this new place. I’m grateful for my own willingness to be Open to and excited for my new adventures. Clean slates are unnerving, but, they are also incredibly exhilarating.

No more sifting through costumes. This time, I’m only picking one outfit.

And, as it turns out, the one I like wearing best of all — is little, old me.

 

 

Own Your Shit

Photo Jun 17, 5 06 26 PM

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

Photo Aug 09, 11 56 27 AM

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

All The Truth You Sleep With

Photo Jul 18, 10 17 22 PM

Kate* sold her body for heroin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Trading Stories With The Devil

Photo Jun 21, 9 57 03 PM

I will always be a drunk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the things I was — I am.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

You Can Lead A Drunk To Water

Photo May 21, 9 50 33 AM

When you’re a drunk, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to realize that you’re a drunk. — Trust me.

But, it won’t be opportunity that makes you willing to change.

The day I realized I was alcoholic, I gave no fucks. I wasn’t in the wake of severe sickness or a heinous hangover. I didn’t have a nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach. As I recall it, what was ostensibly the most dramatic day of my life, was not very dramatic — at all.

On the contrary. My haphazard self-discovery occurred in the midst of what was an otherwise arbitrary moment. Completely ordinary. It was as though I had already made room for the information, as if I had been expecting it to arrive. And, in most ways, it felt as if nothing had happened at all. Except — something had happened.

On the day of my revelation, I was still enrolled in a state sanctioned outpatient rehab program as part of my sentence for DUI, which I’d been charged with earlier in the year. As was part of the routine, I’d been drug tested the Friday before — which meant I was in the clear to drink for several weeks before I’d be tested again.

I’d been living my life this way for months. And, even as I neared the end of my first stint in drug and alcohol treatment, I worked around it, diligently, continuing to drink when I knew I had enough time to detox before being tested again. Yes, I fucked the system. And, I fancied myself clever and rebellious for doing so. The majority of my rehab group was behaving in the same way. But, I remember feeling so above them all. I imagined that I was the only one who was truly “managing” my problem. Because, after all, I didn’t really have a problem. I’d just been caught in a low moment. Who hasn’t?

I ignored the warning from Jim, our rehab group leader, — “I know what you’re up to, Sarah. I can’t prove it, because you’re testing clean, but, this will catch up with you. Maybe it’ll be while you’re working with us in here, or, maybe it’ll be when you get back out there into the real world. Tread lightly, sweetheart.”  But, I knew better. Stupid, fucking Jim, I thought, he didn’t even know that I’d never left my “real world.”

Except — he totally knew. And, that’s what he was trying to tell me.

Of course, Jim was right. Everything would catch up with me. But, when it did, I would have no Willingness to change, whatsoever. And, that’s how it goes. We sometimes discover our truth in a moment when we have absolutely nothing to gain from it. — No hope. No momentum.

On the day of my revelation, I walked by my local pub and I stopped to peer in through the big, glass window. My fair-weather-friends sat ponied up to the bar, laughing. Amelia, one of my favorite bartenders, mixed her signature Sunday-Bloody-Mary in a pint glass. My small little world waited for me inside — a tall glass of infused vodka and tomato juice, topped with an excessive vegetable garnish — and all that sloppy, smarmy camaraderie. My only happiness, just feet away.

I was inclined to walk in, then and there. But, as soon as the thought entered my head, I knew I couldn’t. — I had errands to run. Several that involved the use of my car. And, between the breathalyzer I’d have to blow into to start the engine and the other adult-like tasks that needed doing, — I knew I couldn’t have that Sunday-Bloody-Mary. Not yet.

And, that was the moment. — The singularly unspectacular moment when I realized I was a drunk. I knew that if I had just one of Amelia’s Goddamned Sunday-Bloody-Mary’s, that my day was shot. — I’d be at that bar until it closed or until I was cut off and kicked out — whichever came first. And so, I scheduled my errands around the absolute certainty that once I was seated at that bar — I wasn’t getting up again until I was good and shitfaced.

This is the definition of alcoholism.

You would think discovering that my life revolved around something so meaningless, so empty, would lead me to some sort of existential reckoning. A reckoning that would get me some Willingness. A reckoning that would usher me out of my small, shitty life and into the bigger, better pastures for which I was destined. But, it didn’t.

The day I realized I was an alcoholic, I did what any good alcoholic would — I got the bullshit tasks I needed to get done, done. And then, I marched right back to that pub and I got down to business. — And, I drank to blackout.

Willingness is not born to those who acknowledge its necessity. Willingness is born to those who are ready to ask for help. And, help is the one thing that every drunk will need.

Sometimes, help will stand right in front of you. Like Jim did, for me. But, if you’re a real drunk — you’ll likely ignore the many life rafts that float up along side you while you’re sipping your beverage du jour, floating downstream.

Jim was just my warning sign. A marker scratched into the door frame that documents my alcoholism’s many growing pains.

Willingness is that invisible hand for which, eventually, we reach out when there is nothing left for us to hold on to. It is the last notch we’ll gauge in the doorway. But how and when we decide to do these things, is still a mystery. But, be assured that someone, like Jim, will lead you to the water. And, maybe, on that day, you’ll gulp it down. But, if you’re like me, the chances are better that you’ll run from the oasis the first time you come upon it.

But, on some other day, you will find yourself with Willingness. Jim will be long gone. You’ll be staring through the glass window of the pub and you’ll decide — you don’t have to drink that day. And, you’ll think of Jim as you pass by door, whispering to yourself:

“Tread lightly, sweetheart.”

Burn, Baby. Burn.

joanadoration

Martyrs are crazy, man.

I remember reading about Joan of Arc for the first time when I was a kid and thinking: This chic is fucking nuts.

Yet, I turned each page, unable to tear my eyes away from her gruesome end. Her expression, stoic, as her face disappeared into a haze of smoke and flames. I couldn’t fathom a world where someone would burn for her Beliefs. But, the older I get, the more I learn — people do this everyday. And, usually, it’s not for God’s sake.

The truth is, like it or not, we’re all a little bit martyr-y. I’ve been picking this theory apart, because — it bugs me. I don’t like the idea of people killing themselves, literally or figuratively, in the name of something else — especially expecting praise.

Since my Year of Happiness began, I’ve devoted a lot of time to discovering how my Happiness has been thwarted by my own martyr-like Beliefs and actions.

I’m gonna lay some Belief smack-down on y’all: We’re all selfish, narcissistic, idealistic, and self-serving. — Some of the time. — It’s called Being Human. And, I’m here to tell you that you’re supposed to fuck up and, occasionally, be an asshole. If you’ve been conditioned by your parents, family, coworkers, significant others, children, or friends to believe otherwise, you’ve got some serious martyr-issues to deal with yourself.

People who tell you that they do everything from a selfless place — are liars. Even the most selfless people get pleasure and happiness from the good acts they perform. Martyrdom, by definition, is self-serving. That is to say, to a martyr, to serve God is to serve one’s self. And, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Serving other people is THE BEST thing we can do. But, the thing about martyrdom is — to do it right — you can’t expect anything in return. That’s the rub. And, the part where most people fuck up. Unless, of course, you’re Joan of Arc.

But, I’m not here to talk-up theologian mumbo-jumbo. I’m here to tell you that your Belief and commitment to your own Happiness, doesn’t come with a list of prerequisite actions. You’re not selfish or idealistic to a fault if your priority in life is Happiness — Your Happiness.

I think that was the crux of my problem. I always felt that I owed someone — that there was a price to pay for feeling happy. — I had to have a certain job, look a certain way, talk a certain way, act a certain way. And, because I never lived up to my own impossible standards, I unknowingly held a fundamental Belief that I didn’t deserve better. And, that Belief was all-encompassing.

This week, I tackled a lot of the Beliefs I grew up with. Some from home, some from school, some that I’d created, myself, in adulthood. None were very positive. But, more importantly — none of them were true.

As we grow into adults, our little-kid Beliefs grow too. We never revisit the flawed system into which we’ve built ourselves. And, we forget that we wrote all these Beliefs during a time in our lives when we didn’t have the capacity to comprehend the doctrine to which we pledged our faith.

We’re never taught as kids that — Belief is flexible. — It is.

So often, we find ourselves feeling inadequate, powerless, and alone. But, if we leverage our Beliefs, we’ll find that this is never the case. We are, in every moment we live — Worthy, capable, and supported, each of us, integral parts of this incredible celestial ensemble. If your life is a testament to the things you value, shouldn’t the first thing on your list be Yourself? Your Happiness?

This is your gift to the world. — You. — Your unique being and all the gifts you already posses.

Happiness, I’m discovering, grows from a very small place within us. It has an uncanny ability to permeate into all areas of our being — if we let it. But, first, we must hold a Belief, even if it is just a small one, that we are worthy of the Happiness we desire.

I was a dumpy kid. I didn’t have a lot of friends, and, the ones I did have were dumpy too. We supported each other. But, we never believed that we belonged — not at the cool table, or at the pretty-girl-clique parties, or to get picked for school sports teams. And, maybe, that was true back then. But, I think, it’s more likely that we let a little bit of chub and big crew of mean girls get us down.

We were always good enough. But, we never believed it. And, for me, finding Happiness now, is about revisiting those things I internalized long ago. Eradicating ridiculous, outdated Beliefs that were never true. Finding my Happiness, largely, has been slowly silencing the voices that have been lying to me for as long as I can remember.

My advice? If you really want to be happy, don’t be a martyr for the sake of the self-deprecating voice you created to explain the unfairness of your youth. That voice is ridiculous and has no bearing on the person you’ve become. That voice only silences the one you’ve been given by the Universe. The one that serves you and everyone around you.

Martyring yourself for accolades doesn’t make anyone happy, especially you. More importantly, it doesn’t change the past. Real change takes place when our Beliefs reflect the people we have become, today.

Belief is flexible.

And, with few tweaks, I think you’ll be surprised how fast Happiness will light you up.

No inferno necessary.

 

“Slow the Fuck Down.”: And Other Advice from Dad

Photo Apr 12, 12 07 38 PM

My birthday gift to myself? — I took an impromptu road trip. I headed down south with pure wanderlust pumping through my veins. My radio was turned up, my windows were rolled down —  and no one was going to stop me.*

*Until I got pulled over for speeding.

Not only did I get pulled over, I received a summons. Not your regular-old speeding ticket. Apparently, I was driving “recklessly.” Well, that’s what they call it in Virginia. In New York, it’s called driving. But, in any case, I have to send a lawyer to represent me at a Virginia courthouse in June. I’m told that I’ll just have to pay a fine. Which, I guess I had coming. This is America after all. Penalties — I expected.

What I wasn’t expecting, was having a revelatory moment. After the initial panic of being pulled over subsided I, of course, Googled my charges. And then, promptly, I texted my father — an attorney — freaking out. Positive that I was going to have to serve a year in prison, just one day after turning 32, I was wigging out. How was I going to spin this, my “Year of Happiness,” into my “Year of Incarceration”? This was definitely among the worst news I could have received. But, in proper Dad-like-fashion, he escorted me off my ledge in crazy-town, and convinced me everything would be just fine. He told me to enjoy my trip. And, I sat in my hot car, staring at my iPhone, wondering — How?

After splashing some cold water on my face and sucking down an iced soy latte at a rest-stop Starbucks in Virginia Beach, I realized that I had to let myself surrender to the experience. If I was going to enjoy my trip — which had only begun 4 hours earlier — I had to let my panic and frustration go.

It’s easy to say “I surrender.” I think we all imagine that surrendering, once we decide to do so, is an easy action. We pull over to the side of the road, we say “Yes, officer. No, officer.” We get the ticket. And we accept what’s going on, because — we have to. But that’s just part of the surrender. It’s in the aftermath of surrender where we really have to do the dirty work.

Surrender isn’t in the action of giving in. Surrender is living with yourself after you’ve taken action. You give in. You give yourself up. But — then what? What’s the action that follows your surrender? Because, until you figure that out, there’s no way to know where your work lies.

It’s obvious — to me anyway — that we all want to be Happy. If being Happy were as easy as just wanting it, we’d all be living Happily every after. The thing is, Happiness isn’t just a vague concept. It’s actually quite specific. We are all unique and different beings. What makes me Happy, probably wouldn’t do much for you and vice versa. So, identifying what it is you want, being specific about the things that will bring you joy, is the first and most vital step to actually getting on the road to finding Happiness.

And, as someone who’s all over the map about what she wants, it’s no wonder I’ve been grasping at straws for so long. In the past, I’ve latched on to the wants and desires of the people I’ve loved. I thought, maybe, since they loved those things — I would too. But, that method has only led me down dead end roads.

This week, surrender means slowing down. Literally and figuratively. If I can’t put my finger on what I want — that’s OK. But, it means, at the very least, I have to surrender what I don’t want.

I don’t want another ticket. — So, I stick to the speed limit.

Surrender is identifying where the plan isn’t working, and implementing something that does work. That sounds rudimentary. I know. But, it’s a simple step that we all avoid and, as a result, we continually get stuck circling the situations and feelings we don’t want. We never let ourselves move on.

Truthfully, driving at 55 mph may not change my life, but, it’s doing something differently. It’s better than harping on about the thing that wasn’t working.

We want surrender to be fast. — Like, driving 79 mph in a 55 mph zone. — But, it’s not. It’s slow. Like, School Zone slow. And, it’s deliberate. It takes time.

So, this week — Month 1, Week 2 in my Year of Happiness, this is it: Surrender, at age 32, is taking your Dad’s advice to “Slow the fuck down.” I chose to abandon my panic and, instead, reveled in the fact that dear-old-Dad finally chose to speak in my superior vernacular of profanity. And, I found myself appreciating that, even though it may take time, we all can learn a new language.

Eventually, we can find ourselves speaking the very same language as the things to which we are desperate to connect. — Mainly Happiness. — Which, you should know, I did find on my road trip down south.

A journey that I decided to make — in spite of the speed limit.

 

The Great, Woo-Woo Crusade

woowoo

“The Year of Happiness.”

I know. Just reading it makes me want to barf a little bit, too. But, this is how it starts? Right?

As someone who has been perpetually on the dark side of things, the mere mention of Happiness is like being dragged out from a dark cellar into the light of a blazing sun and being screamed at in Chinese. Which is to say — I have no idea what’s happening.

But, it’s happening.

I’ve mentioned that I’m a self-help junkie. Books. Movies. Workbooks. Day planners. Online lectures and seminars. You name it — I’m into it. I’m not ashamed. Not to toot my own horn here, but, seriously, I’m post-doctorate-level-well-read in this genre. From the critically acclaimed to the absolute-worst-ever dreck, my self-helping skill spans oceans and continents. And yes, sometimes, I watch Oprah.

I’ve had many people poo-poo my love of the woo-woo. I’ve been slighted, both on social media and by “real life” peeps. I don’t care. Honestly, I’ve learned heaps about myself, and others, by burying myself in this kind of material. I’ve implemented changes in my own life, and, I’ve seen results.

So, the idea to devote the year to  “Choosing Happiness” didn’t just appear out of the ether. I figured out, long ago, there’s got to be something to this deliberate Happiness thing. But, until now, I didn’t see any way to implement it. Pure, unadulterated Happiness never made it into my self-help arsenal.

If I were so motivated, I could sink my whole life into analyzing my clinical depression. I could unpack the roots and effects of my alcoholism. I could self-help my way through a few more decades with all the crap I’ve stowed on deck. But, there’s an inherent dishonesty in avoiding it. — Happiness. — I kinda know that’s where the answers I’ve been seeking live. Yet, I’ve never really committed myself to getting there. I haven’t really made an effort to sell myself on the concept. And, if Happiness really is the Holy Grail of all this self-help questing, then — I guess it’s time for a Crusade.

That’s right. When I say I’m committing to a Year Of Happiness, I fucking mean it you guys.

That said, I realize, especially for a person like me, this endeavor is going to take organization and planning. Strategery. That’s where this blog steps in. This is the place where I’m going to splay Happiness out in my very own, Dexter-style kill-room and take it apart piece by piece. I’m going to figure out how everything works, and then, by God — I’m going to make it work for me.

Each of the next 12 months will examine a theme — not unlike the 12 Steps. (Apropos, I know.) And, each week, I plan on unpacking said themes and examining how they play into the Happy Factor.

More than anything else, I plan on using this space to eradicate all my well-rehearsed excuses.

*               *               *

Before I sobered up, I was convinced Happiness and sobriety were synonymous. I figured if I could just stop using, I’d finally arrive at Happiness. But, with 3 1/2+ years of sobriety — I know that isn’t true. However, I am sure both require the same caliber of commitment.

In that vein, April’s theme is Surrender. Is it cheesy? Maybe. But, it’s one of the most difficult and complex things you can do in your life. We surrender to people, places, concepts, laws, governments, feelings, faith, and ourselves — every single day. But, surrendering with intention is extremely difficult.

Surrender means starting where you are — details be damned.

And, surrendering to Happiness? For many of us, that means forfeiting all the baggage we’ve been lugging around. That’s hard. Surrendering to sobriety meant giving up an addiction — a torrid love affair. So too is the trade off (up) for Happiness. We get the good door prizes for our sacrifice.

This week, surrender feels like a lot of effort. Quieting the gloomy voice that’s constantly speaking to me is difficult — and, at times, it’s impossible. But, that’s what The Year of Happiness is all about. Being willing. Surrendering old stories and giving voice to new ones.

It’s crusade time. You in?

 

Photo courtesy of Ebay: http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/GRAIL-CAT-spoof-funny-T-Shirt-Mens-6-sizes-8-colours-crusade-kitty-joke-/151276415654