The Voice Inside That Never Shuts Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you. Thank you so very much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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I Am Disappearing.

Just shy of three years ago, I turned thirty. And, that’s when I threw my heart into this blog.

At a turning point, and one of the most difficult junctures in my life, there was nothing left to do but — write.

Having just left my heroin-addict boyfriend, I was a few months away from celebrating my second year sober. And, with the world crumbling around me, I was beginning to feel that, in sobriety, I’d lost almost as much, if not more, than I had gained. I had feelings so complex, I didn’t know how to begin unpacking them all, I only knew that they felt worthy of documentation. — So, every Tuesday night, I sat up in my bed, writing feverishly, into the late hours. Hoping to capture something I was sure I’d lost, or, better still, to get a glimpse of something good I had missed.

On the day of my thirtieth birthday, I woke up early to open a package my mother had sent me from New York. It contained, as ever, a poignant note that made me cry, packed along with a long-sleeved blue and grey striped blouse — which I still have, wear, and love.

As I pulled my new top over my head, standing in front of the mirror, I noticed for the first time how thin I had become. While I had been with my addict-boyfriend, I had all but stopped eating.  I had not noticed the physical toll all the stress had taken on me. Staring back at myself in the mirror, I did not notice my age. I saw only how my eyes had fallen back into my cheek bones, how my once snug jeans hung slack over my thighs, and how the size-small top my mother had sent me, fell over my shoulders like a sweater. — Before leaving my apartment for work, I sat down at my computer and wrote: I am thirty. I am disappearing.

I never published that post. Because, back then, I wanted to disappear. And so, calling attention to the ribs pushing up through my chest like piano keys, seemed like it would reveal a little too much about what was actually happening to me. It required sharing an awareness that I was ashamed to admit I had — the knowledge that: I was sober, and, I was not doing well.

Truth be told, as I have written my blog over the years, I’ve left out many of the big details in my life’s story, as it’s unfolded, here, on this page. Because, no matter how present we become, there are parts of us that will always hurt when they are seen.

In just a few weeks, I turn thirty-three, my year-long blog project: My Year of Happiness, will reach it’s conclusion, and, should you care at all to know, I am filling out my clothes just fine. — There is no mistaking that I am still here. In the three years since my unpublished post, I never did manage to disappear.

But, a lot has changed in the past three years. Most of it, good. Some of it, painful. But, despite the redacted details, this blog, and its loyal readers, have been right here with me. You have seen a changing life and a small chasm of the world through my eyes. And, so, in the spirit of transparency, I feel obligated to notify those of you that may find this information pertinent, that, in conjunction with the end of my Year of Happiness — so too will end Saucy Sobriety.

I have spent the entirety of the New Year, 2017, brainstorming how to continue writing this blog in a way that could remain true to me. But, I just can’t. I have poured over old posts, tried to find solace in writing new ones, and spent hours contemplating what it will really mean to discontinue a three-year writing project that, in many ways, has defined me. Yet, something in me keeps chiming — It’s over.

And, it was in reading my unpublished blog post from three years ago, that I found my answer: I am thirty-three. I am disappearing.

But, this time, it is not because I’ve lost myself. — It is because I have found her.

Within, I have unearthed something new and exciting. A life where I can be so many things — all of which have nothing (and everything) to do with being clean and sober. It has been many, many months since sobriety has been the cornerstone of my life. Years ago, at thirty, sobriety was the only thing I had to my name. And, this space, this dot com, has been a testament to my own timeline. My change. My growth. My progression. And, my setbacks. — In a way, it has ushered me into a new, beautiful Universe. And, still, it allows me to go back and remember myself when I forget her. Even in those details that were lost between the lines, I am able to see a woman who has Become.

Now, I notice everything. Everywhere I go — I look for the story. — My story.

My life has taken its shape in the little things: Place settings at a friend’s dinner table. The light that fights its way through a thick canopy of leaves. The tired expression that the old man in cowboy boots wears as he pumps his gas at the Sunoco station. — Before sobriety, I was only worried about myself. — How I felt. How my life appeared. How I would survive all the things I was so sure were being done to me.

This blog has taught me to see. To see everything. To disappear into the background just enough to know that I am a part of something that is so much bigger than anything I ever was, or could have been, on my own.

This blog has taught me to find Happiness everywhere.

And, as my Year of Happiness comes to a close, I see that this has been only one chapter in my story. A bridge I’ve written to take me across the things I could not have waded through alone. I had to write them on paper. I had to have you read them on paper. But, with both my feet back on solid ground, I know that it’s time for new projects, bigger projects. — Time for a new story.

So, in some way, three years later, my story sounds more or less the same. I am disappearing.

But, it isn’t the same. It could never be the same. Because, I will never be the same.

Writing these final posts will not be an easy task. It is difficult to know how to say goodbye. — To you, and, to a younger version of myself.

But now, it is important for me that I begin writing a new story, on my own, without an audience. — One that, I know, I’ll sometimes wish I could share with you.

PHOTO: Selfie, My 30th birthday, 2014

 

 

 

 

A Hopelessly Romantic Mess

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Here’s the thing about Happiness — if you find any of it for yourself, there’s a line of people queued up beside you looking to get thier fair share.

In some ways, finding peace of mind is like winning the lottery. It’s liberating, and frankly, almost magical. But, we don’t live in a vacuum. Life is about connecting. So, finding love, or at the very least, a little romance, has commanded much of my attention of late. And, along with le romance, a few of my old messes have managed to boil over after bubbling on the back burner for a long, long time.

Dating at 32, is the pits. But, living in a new place makes it even worse. I feel like I’ve been walking on the surface of Mars, trying to keep my eyes fixed on what’s right in front of me while constantly tripping over my own feet, distracted by my phone, deciding whether or not to swipe right.

I’ve stopped counting all the bad dates I’ve been on. One bad date, sometimes, turns into two or three bad dates, because I’m still hesitant to throw up my hands and call a spade, a spade. I believe in giving people second chances, often to my own detriment. But, I’m learning quickly that, my best bet, usually, is to trust my gut — cut and run.

Sure, I’ve been some good dates too, but, nothing that’s stuck. Some weeks, it’s almost clinical. I’m juggling my coffee meet-ups like client meetings. I wonder what the fuck it is I’m missing here. I’ve got all this happiness, confidence, a new job, and amazing friends and family — all rooting me on. Yet, this weekend, I found myself sitting alone in my favorite, Albany coffee shop, staring forlornly out the big, glass window, wondering if I even believe in love anymore.

I’ve recently implemented a phone-free half-hour while I enjoy my daily Americano. Even my quest for romance has become hopelessly un-romantic. So, I take my break, gazing out onto Lark Street, watching people walk their big dogs, warm up their cars, and smoke cigarettes on the corner, waiting for the bus, while I sit very still and breathe deeply, managing my varying existential crises.

When you’re constantly in transition and somehow manage to find a rhythm, it’s jarring. You start wondering how and why you’ve become so comfortable. In my case, I start looking for new and better ways to make myself uncomfortable. — And, love is a sure-fire way to fuck your shit up. Especially when you realize that every bad date is just a huge mirror for your own insecurities. I thought that my happiness would draw positive, like-minded people to me like a magnet. But, I’m discovering, the exact opposite is true. Every date has been a reflection of who I used to be. — A bevy of men who want fixing and freedom. — And, suddenly, happiness has turned into a complicated dance where I’m managing my own crap and trying to manage other people’s crap too.

Being a chameleon is a beneficial trait when you’re playing the dating game. Trying on new skins can lead to new, interesting, and exciting experiences. Morphing into different versions of myself has given me the uncanny ability to make people feel comfortable. And, I can tell you from experience, it is far better to be on a date with a comfortable wet blanket than it is to be on a date with an anxious one. But, one lesson from my Year of Happiness has served as a backdrop for all of these new encounters, and has proved to be one of my most valuable dating tools yet. And, that lesson is: I’m not here to fix anyone.

Everyone is a mess, this — I know. I’m cool with messes. I can live in a mess. Heck, I can even make a mess appear neat and tidy. But, I’m done with cleaning messes, especially messes that aren’t my own. So, do I just keep moving from room to room? Do I take a breather and hang out in my bedroom, the one that I just Marie Kondo-ed? Or, do I level with myself and accept that, at 32, I’m not likely to find a room that isn’t totally filthy?

As an obvious hopeless romantic and an admittedly unrealistic, cinema-fed, true love, happily-ever-after kind of girl — this real-love in the real-world thing feels like eating rocks.

A friend of mine, who met her fiancé on an app, gave me this advice: “Just when you think you can’t take it anymore, like, when you are ready to put a gun in your mouth and end it all — book another date. Get out there and fucking go, go, go girl. Do it. Get it. Coffee. Drinks. Walk together somewhere awful. Anything. Go on 20 more bad dates. 30. 50. Because, you can’t give up! Even when you want to die, especially when you want to die — Sarah, you have to keep on swiping!”

So, I do. For better or worse. I keep on swiping, Goddammit. And, when my roommate makes fun of me for not knowing my date’s name as I run out the door to meet him, I laugh it off. Even if it is mildly depressing. Because, Happiness is about Believing. — There’s only so much joy you can spark organizing your own underwear drawer.

Though, I will say this about tidying up — sometimes amidst the mess, you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for.

This weekend, searching for an old sweater, I opened a Rubbermaid bin that I had shipped back East when I moved home from Portland. It had been sitting, duct taped shut, in a corner for over a year. When I pulled back the dusty, plastic lid, sitting at the very top, neatly folded, I found my “I Believe” shirt. A navy tee that features, a unicorn, a jackalope, and a narwhal. And, I was reminded that, beyond our cynicism, inside all of our sealed up boxes, and buried under our filthy piles, in the messiest of our rooms, everyone of us has some forgotten treasure.

Those bits and pieces from our past lives — they don’t need fixing. They’ll always be there, boxed up or buried. Our old heart fragments, lost and forgotten, will always remain among the mess. They need discovering. So, it’s worth a little bit of poking around, even if you have to get your hands dirty.

In all honesty, I’ll never stop believing. — In love or in magic. — Because, I know, when you seek them out, you find them. It’s just, sometimes, we have to remind ourselves how important it is that we keep on searching, never stopping, until we find what we’re looking for.

So, I continue to take my friend’s advice, I bite the side of my cheek, and I swipe right.

Because, at the end of the day, I’m an addict — and, really, what’s one more cup of coffee?

 

 

 

All The Truth You Sleep With

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Kate* sold her body for heroin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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.

 

 

Light Me Up, Santa

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I want a cigarette so fuckin’ bad, I can taste it.

In the coffee shop, I stand at my post in the window, watching passers-by stroll down the avenue, little breaths of smoke trailing behind them. Their mouths, happy, little chimneys.

Camel. American Spirit. Marlboro. Kool. Newport. And, my old brand, Parliament. — The bodega across the street, with bright signs flashing, taunts me in the morning darkness.

But, I allow myself to be distracted by holiday joy. Inside our coffee-fueled-snow-palace-workshop, the scent of java wafts magically about as my coworkers pour the new, limited-time-lattés — Peppermint Mocha, Gingerbread, and Maple Spice — into tall, white paper cups. We stand at attention, turbo-caffeinated elves, under a cascade of twinkling lights and dangling crochet snowflakes.

From open to close, our soundtrack is Michael Bublé’s Holiday Pandora Station. “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!” he croons, as a man jogs by wearing shorts and hoodie. Yes, it’s 60 fucking degrees outside, and — if we’re being honest — it doesn’t really feel like Christmas. But, I’m trying here.

During my break, I want nothing more than to stand at the back door, sipping a plain-old-soy-latte, sucking down three glorious Parliaments in quick succession.

‘Tis the season! — And really, that’s the thing I try to remember. — It’s just seasonal stress. Holidays make hard things harder. And, I remind myself when I can think of nothing but nicotine’s sweet kiss — cravings are just a chemical warning. — Ease up. Relax. Breathe.

Some days, I think I may as well have a cigarette — because breathing isn’t easy either way. It’s hard to be patient, waiting on change. Placing one foot in front of the other. It’s slow. And, the holidays are a pine-scented reminder that time is passing far more quickly than I’d like. — I’m not sure I’m ready for 2016 just yet. Not sure that I want to concede to another disappointing year. — “Come on Sarah, it’s nothing a latté can’t fix,” my favorite coworker tells me, steaming soy milk with an elfish grin painted across her face.

As Michael Bublé, fondly known in the coffee shop as “The Bubés,” really leans in to the chorus of “Santa Clause Is Coming To Town”, I am reminded that — other than a nice, long smoke break — there’s not much I need this Christmas. I got my wish — I’m back home. And, I’ve got it pretty good here. Depressed, sure, a bit. But, I’m lucky. — And, I know it.

Things will fall into place. Somehow. Eventually. Hopefully.

In the meantime, I remind myself to be grateful. — To be a good girl.

This year, my list is short. All I want is my spark back.

So, go on Santa — light me up.

 

 

 

(Un)Pack Your Heart

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I am leaving Portland in 48 hours.

As I pack, I find stories strewn about everywhere. Stacks of old papers. Pictures. Books. Dresses and socks. Keychains and candles. Molskines and mugs.

I can hardly breathe. — So, bear with me, there won’t be bonafide essays for a few weeks. Just travelogues. Notes on a transient life — which has spilled out in front of me like a bag of rice on the kitchen floor.

One thing is certain — we can tell who we were by the things we carry. Tim O’Brien once wrote a beautiful book that captured those feelings I’m only now beginning to understand.

What follows here are snapshots. Truly. There is so much more. Boxing up my life. Leaving this place I love. I sit with it. I look at it. All of it. I lay it all out on the cutting board. And, I cut away the pieces. Choosing the ones I will throw in my pot — and tossing the rest to the side.

I acknowledge these. These that were. These that shall remain.

1. Adam

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His photos are all in one box. I put them there — years ago. A coffin at the top of a closet. The lid was covered with dust. We used to take photo-booth-photos everywhere we went. I still have all of them. The strip above was from our friend’s wedding. He loved me on that day — I remember — and I loved him back. We danced. We sat on cement steps with plates of food in our laps and we laughed. I have tried to throw everything of ours away before. No matter what I trash, I will forever keep this photo strip. Always. Because he was my first love. And, I will never love that way again. And this. — This is what that looked like.

2. Theresa

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My maternal grandmother died before I was born, but I’m told that we are a lot alike. My mother says that she was no-frills. That she said what she had to say when she felt like saying it. That she insisted on eating salad with every meal. — And, that she was a fox. People see my fair skin and know that I’m Irish. But, they forget that her Mediterranean blood courses through my veins too. In the Summer, my shoulders turn her Italian, olive brown.

I knew my grandfather well. And, I knew he loved her real bad. — Even years after she died. — He’s gone now too. But, every time I consider settling on some guy — I think about them. And, I know, there’s some dude out there who’s gonna love me, real bad, even when I’m dead. And, I’m waiting for him.

When I see the picture above, the one with my mother sitting in Grandma T’s lap, I think to myself — we all look alike. And, we’re beautiful. Three generations of beautiful. Theresa’s dead, but she sees me. — I’ve known that since I was a kid. It’s weird. — I keep her pictures in every room so she can watch me. So she knows — her daughter did a really good thing.

3. Dad

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My dad is, and always will be, a strange bird. But, there’s no guy in the world who will ever love me more. Growing up, he used to listen to a lot of classical music. Opera, symphony, choral — all that stuff. He had bookcases full of classical recordings. One day, he was just over it. Suddenly — it was all Bob Dylan — all the time. He used to pick me up at play rehearsal in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn and blast Blood On The Tracks like it had been released that day — every day. If we’re being honest, I’d rather not admit I know every track by heart — but, I do. My dad gives me Bob Dylan postcards and books. It’s like, he’s telling me — subliminally — if I get Bob, then, I’ll get him. That alone is enough to keep my interest. I don’t always acknowledge it, but, I love that my Dad is weird as fuck. Because, I am too. And, it’s nice not being so alone in my weirdness. He’ll watch an entire season of any HBO show I want — in 1-2 days. When I sold my complete series of OZ DVDs on Hawthorne yesterday, it kinda broke my heart. But, my Dad knows what’s up. He’s got HBO GO. And, I know, we’ll get back into it. And now, while we’re in the car — I get to pick the album. — I paid some dues getting through, Tangled Up In Blue.

4. Mom

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My mom sends me a card for everything. They arrive so frequently, I forget how amazing they are. Now, I’m finding them everywhere. Sometimes, she’ll throw in some cash and tell me to grab a bite, or to do something nice for myself, or to buy the cat a treat. She wants me to be happy — always. In good, motherly fashion, she has always wanted me to have, feel, and be the best. I find her heart scribbled on tiny cards everywhere. Maybe she doesn’t know — I save them all. When I was little, she emphasized the art and necessity of the “Thank You” card. — How it will “never go out of style to have class.” How, to appreciate people and things is important. It occurs to me as I pour over her notes — crying like a child, because it’s uncanny how she always knew exactly when I needed saving — that I should send her more cards. There is no one in my life more deserving of thanks and kindness. She deserves nothing less than 100% class. And, there’s no one who needs more reminding to do kind things for herself. Someone needs to give her permission to feel good. Maybe that person is me.

The card above was sent to me at Christmastime — the year that my heart was first brutally slaughtered. Whenever I come across this note — I’m reminded of who I’m supposed to be. And, that’s a woman who’s a lot like my Mom. — Gracious, brave, strong, and impossibly classy.

5. Me, Myself & Eye

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I took this photo yesterday in my kitchen.

I wanted to share a vulnerable moment with you this week because, well, that’s how I’m feeling. I wanted to show you the vulnerability. But, I don’t have to. I’ve been showing you for months and months. These things I’m packing up aren’t me. They’re my archives. All this crap I’m putting into bags and boxes — those aren’t the moments — they’re the evidence. Proof. My tears are like that too. All that outside stuff.

The good stuff? — It’s packed up and ready to go.

Better still, it’s on its way.

Me. — Coming soon. To a city near you.

 

 

Unedited Me

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I keep asking myself — What am I really looking for in New York City?

I’ve never really sat down and thought about all the things I need in an analytical way. I usually just go with the flow, and, as things change — I make the necessary edits.

I was raised by two lawyers. So, I was editing myself before I even knew writing was a thing. And, when I did learn to write, because my folks had been coaching me, both consciously and unconsciously, to eliminate every unnecessary word, I never did beat around the bush. I always got right to the heart of the matter. Brevity. Was. King.

And, it’s true, frankness is all well and good — in expository writing. Brief writing. Law making. Compliance. Lawyer-y stuff. But, the trouble is — and always has been — I turned out to be more of a hippy-dippy spirit than my parents bargained for. I don’t mind if a sentence ends in a preposition. I won’t obsess about how my sentences begin — so long as I still have your attention when they end.

I see this pattern reflected everywhere. Especially in my sobriety. — I began the process of getting clean and sober, almost 3 years ago, in a completely analytical way. I made a checklist of all the things I could and could not do. I followed strict and specific rules. After all, brevity, I believed, would save me, so — I kept it short and sweet. And now, it’s all become second nature. As it happened, my own strict rules did not end up serving me in the way I had initially envisioned. So, I made edits. — My own, beautiful edits.

In the course of my life, I have edited everything. My love. My words. My body. My thoughts. I’ve tried so hard to squeeze all my things into a very precise framework. And, I truly believed, if I could just make everything fit, this plan of mine would produce some unblemished, polished, finished product. The perfect outcome.

On one of my epic walkabouts around Reed College campus, it hit me. — THE LESSON. — The thing that trumps all things I have learned here, and maybe, that I’ve learned in my entire life.

Scrap the edits.

It’s funny, because when I texted my father, the editor extraordinaire, in a panic about my big move, he texted me back with the great words of Julius Caesar before crossing the River Rubicon: Alea Iacta Est. — The Die Is Cast.

And, I see it now, when I look in the mirror. My face. My frame. My heart.

I see myself. Unedited. — And, my father was right. It is written. I am written.

I have put myself back together. All the things I have built — I have built from nothing. It took the better part of 6 years, but now, I am here. And, it’s too late for edits. — The trouble I could have saved myself. The heartache I could have been spared. The run-on sentences. The extra adverbs. The sentences that end in fucking prepositions. The EVERYTHING. — It’s all right here. She’s right herestaring back at me.

I tell my reflection: We won’t edit our love anymore. We get to own the heart we stitched back together. We won’t settle for less than we deserve. Our words, fair or foul — are ours. And, we speak for ourselves. We are our words — and sometimes — we’re dirty. Our body, it’s imperfect. We acknowledge our flaws. — Sometimes they’re all we have. We listen to our own quiet noise. You and I, we’re a team. The team.

*          *          *          *          *

Editing is for lawyers. And, I, I am a woo-woo-hippy-dippy-rule-breaker — with a semi-structured, somewhat-fool-proof plan. — An imperfect and beautiful representative of an unstable and curious humanity.

Alea Iacta Est. So, I scrap my practical edits and I ask myself again — What am I really looking for in New York City?

But, I think, the better question may be: What’s there, in New York City, looking for me? — The flawed, wounded, empowered and amazing — Unedited Me.

 

 

The Red Room

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I spent my lunch break in the self-help section at Powell’s City of Books.

And, I know. It’s bad. But, it’s how I roll when I’m in a rut.

In sobriety, I’ve learned pain is predictable. I know when it’s coming. And, I know what to expect. There are levels of rut. In 12-Step, when you’re still sweating alcohol and amphetamines, they tell you, “It will always be peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys.” — It’s mostly valleys.

So, back to the self-help section. I’m not entirely sure how I ended up there. I know I started in the Red Room — the travel writing section. I was reading David W. McFadden’s An Innocent In Ireland. It was really good, too. I was totally planning on buying it.

But, I was standing there next to this intellectual-type-guy with horn-rimmed glasses. He was paging through some book on Greece, and I found myself getting pissed off. Like, really pissed off. And, I had no reason to hate this guy. Absolutely. None. But, I absolutely did. He was breathing too loudly and he was turning the pages too recklessly. One moment, I’m in this pub in Ireland, and the next, I’m about to lose my shit — thinking, “Screw this fuckin’ guy, and, screw Mykonos!” At that point, I just couldn’t take it any longer. McFadden went back on the shelf. I’d come back for him later.

Next thing I knew, I was two rooms over — in the thick of it — Self-Help: General. I’m standing there reading Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life. And, fuuuuuuuucccckkk. It’s good. It’s Mykonos beaches good.

I’m on page twenty. And, I seriously I have to get back to work. But, with those twenty pages under my belt, I’m walking out of the store, then onto Eleventh Avenue, then up Flanders Street and — I’ve totally bought into it — Goddammit! — I CAN heal my life!

I can see it. This hysteria. It’s just the rut. A big, long valley. It’s the same place where I always get stuck. Post-break-up and pre-break-through. And, when I’m here — I read a self-help book. And, it’s bad. It’s awful. It’s a waste of ink and trees. And, as I’m reading it, I’m thinking, “God, I hate myself.” Because, I kinda do. — That’s how you end up in the self-help section.

But, then, it happens. — I help myself.

The thing is, there comes a point where we completely detach. Someone has to talk us into changing. And yes, sometimes it ends up being a hack who’s spiritual abundance is superseded by monetary gain. But, sometimes, hacks can make good points. I should know.

So, I do the rut-thing. I’m in bed, with the blinds closed, for days. I watch terrible rom-coms until I start to smell and the cat begins to pity me. Eventually, I convince myself to shower and take a walk. And, that’s when it happens.

I get back to dreaming. The sun kisses my vampire skin. I see the hot-pink flowers that don’t exist on the East Coast. There’s a calico cat rolling in a patch of long grass by the hippie-guy’s house. And — I’m here and I’m alive and I can change.

And, that’s how it happens.

Go to the Red Room. Meet McFadden for a pint. Escape the horn-rimmed-glasses-wearing- Grecian-jerk. Lose your place in time and space. And, return to consciousness with Louise Hay.

Twenty pages later. — No, I haven’t healed my life. But, I’ve helped myself.

And, that’s the hardest part. Helping your heart. Convincing yourself that you’re close.

That it’s coming. — A peak. — Change.

 

Bitter(s).

AngosturaBittersAd

I sit at a bar shaped like a horseshoe and I order soda with Angostura bitters.

My 12-Step friends will hold the bitters against me — the same way they do when I lick the side of the vanilla extract bottle while I’m baking. I decide I don’t care.

I’ve been waiting for this.

I sit across from a hipster-geek in a wool, skull cap. The weather’s too warm for that, but, in Portland, no one cares. The bartender showcases a tequila bottle I don’t recognize for two drunk women at the end of the bar. They snack on fried food and chew with their mouths open and they don’t realize how old they look, bat-bat-batting their eyelashes and laugh-laugh-laughing at something the bartender says, but, everyone knows without hearing — it isn’t funny. Their husbands are outside smirking and smoking cigarettes. They turn to gawk at a group of three, tall twenty-somethings who walk by in patterned leggings that hug their perky, little asses.

I hammer my straw down into the ice, like I’m breaking something up. I stir — like there’s whiskey at the bottom of my glass. There isn’t. But, I continue eyeballing the good shit on the shelf.

I pass this bar every day. I look in its big, rectangular windows. Behind my own reflection, I see smiling lips that leave blots of red lipstick on the edges of tumblers and the tips of little, black straws. I wanted this — to sit here. To feel it. Soft leather. My purse dangling from a hook at my knees. I wanted to breathe out. — A release. A homecoming. My heels drawn up against the sides of a bar stool. — I’ve waited.

The perfect conditions. The right amount of cloud cover. The slice of evening right before the Saturday crowds filter in through the angled, double doors. A hum, a quiet energy — like something might happen. But it doesn’t.

I can’t explain it. — It’s not what I wanted.

The hipster-geek doesn’t look up from his smart phone, even when his hand searches along the bar for his drink, which, I am certain, is an old fashioned. The older women, who think they’re young, wave their hands back and forth. Pinot gris sloshing at the sides of their glasses, just barely contained. The bartender reaches for his bar rag, but, in the end — doesn’t need it.

I ask for my bill.

“All you had was soda. Right? We don’t charge for soda.” The bartender walks away from me. So, I thank his back. This is what being castrated feels like — I imagine. Suddenly, I’m worth even less than the dollar it cost for me to keep the seat warm.

Whatever it was I was hoping I’d feel — I know now — I can’t anymore.

The chewing, cackling hags. The lechers with cigarettes that dangle from their lips. The bartender’s display of insincerity and faded tattoos. The smell of spilled beer and dirty mop water. It’s hardly a return to the days I used to live for. — His hand grabbing for mine, while we poured over menus, the sun sinking into another river. Here, I’m lonely. And, the wood of this bar is scratched.

At home, I crawl into bed and I lay very still. I bury a feeling I didn’t know I still had.

I just wanted a moment in the bar. But, the moment’s gone.

Rain taps the window and the cat swats the venetian blind and I miss things I haven’t missed in a long time. Adam. And New York. And our railroad apartment. And they way the sun spilled over Nassau Avenue in the summer when I was twenty-five.