How to Choose Your Decibel Level

Once I found my voice, I could not shut up. The ‘voice’ I reference here is my authentic self–the one I clawed my way to find in recovery. I worked day in and day out to get my AA program going. Through an act of Bowie, I lost my political job six months into my first year sober. Six months after that, I got my first writing gig. From that point forward, the door flew wide open for me to become as vociferous as I saw fit. I wrote just like I spoke–loudly, and with frequent usage of the word “fuck.”

I’ve noticed a distinct hesitation in my willingness to vocalize things lately, however. I shrink before the bold ideas I initiate in inner dialogues; I don’t pitch articles to other publications; I am reluctant to speak “too much” about addiction and alcoholism. A part of me has succumbed to the fear I once allowed to shut me up. In doing so, I’ve unwittingly invited my alcoholism to crush my courage.

And I’m not sure why.

I believe in synchronicity. More specifically, I have faith in it as a means of recognizing my Higher Power in seemingly random acts of awesome. On one such occasion, I heard a guy say at a meeting that the difference between faith and belief is that when he believes in something, he has blind faith, he is hopeful. Conversely, when he has faith in something, he has evidence-based confidence that things will work out, simply because they always have. At this point, I have faith that my voice will grow louder and more boisterous–

Simply because it usually does.

That being said, I’ve learned I have different decibel levels as a writer and as a person (I’m convinced the two are separate things entirely). Growing up, my sister and I always caught shit from our teachers and my father for being super loud. We decided it was impossible for us to whisper, most likely due to our Italian-ness. Furthermore, we didn’t give two fucks–no fucks from me, no fucks from her–nary a twin fuck was given. Whenever we were loud AND sassy, our father would cover his ears and ask us to please keep it down. I always thought that was funny coming from a life-long musician who spent most of his adult life in front of elaborate speaker displays on stages the world over.

Now that I’ve begun my part-time job as a high school online electives counselor, I’ve had to tone down my voice. For the last seven months, I’ve dropped several expletives in every piece of writing that’s been published. I’ve also spoken at length to randoms all about recovery. I realized  when I got hired for my new gig that this wouldn’t be the proper platform for me to go on about the rawness of recovery. I did have a proud moment, though, when the kids clapped after I announced on my first day that I did not curse once. They were beaming with pride.

I know that not everyone needs or wants to hear about what life is like for someone in early recovery. I also know that people expect me to give a quantum leap of shits about the impending presidential election. On both counts, I am without a care. I think speaking up about my recovery is not only a blessing, but a duty. Now that I no longer have the pressure of being a political professional, I have the pleasure of sitting this election out. In short, I get to abstain from being heard and shut the fuck up for once.

I remember a night right before I got sober when I walked across the hall (approx. three feet away) to my neighbor’s apartment to have a glass bottle of wine together alone. I brought with me a large Trader Joe’s two/four-buck-chuck, as my friend put on Graceland while she made jewelry. Four glasses into my writing project, my handwriting became as unintelligible as my thoughts. I continued to write, but nothing I put down on paper made any sense. I drowned my voice that night, like so many other nights before it. So I looked on longingly as my friend created beautiful pieces of wearable art, sipping on my bitter defeat. That was one of my saddest moments because I knew I couldn’t connect with myself anymore. The addiction was louder than me…whoever that was.

Now that I live with my mother–who has inherited bad hearing–I am forced to be loud. Each time she asks me to speak up, I do. Sometimes I even shout

A little bit louder, now.

Photo courtesy of HD Wallpapers

 

What Thinking is to Feeling

French philosopher and all-around¬†top notch thinker¬†R√©n√© Descartes once said, “Je pense, donc je suis,”¬†[I think, therefore I am].¬†This is a wonderful notion when¬†our thoughts aren’t obsessive. But what happens when we no longer have the luxury of making our interminable thoughts who we are? How do we separate what we think to be true about ourselves from who we actually¬†are?

I spoke with a good friend of mine from the program today.¬†She shared with me her struggles¬†against negative thinking. Our conversation veered into how our thought patterns as women too-easily¬†become opportunities for negative self-talk. We talked about how hard it is to separate our images from our hearts and souls within. She told me how she practices saying “my body feels sick,” as opposed to saying “I am sick.” I found this simple action to be quite profound. It reminded me of what my sponsor used to say, that a part of her feels sad or disappointed, but that an emotion does not consume her entire being. The French say “J’ai faim,” meaning¬†“I have hunger,” rather than “I am hungry.” Language–whether spoken out loud or within–is everything.

Lately, I’ve experienced obsessive thoughts of my own. Though I was diagnosed with OCD in early sobriety, I know that part of what is going on is spiritual malaise. I have become distrustful of the processes I am currently participating in: finding my feet in the 12-step community in Virginia, filing for bankruptcy by the end of 2015, being in love in a long-distance relationship. All of these things are big opportunities for growth and change–arguably the two biggest¬†buzz words in recovery–both of which¬†bring on a torrent of unrest and unease within my psychic chambers.

Two friends recently sent me an article that outlines the science behind happiness. I jumped at the chance to see science backing what I have found to be true so far: positive thinking affects positive change. Neuroscientists found four rituals that help us change the shape our thoughts before they turn sour: practice gratitude, label negative feelings, make decisions and touch people (not in a lude or lascivious manner). These thought behaviors stimulate serotonin and dopamine production, not to mention eradicate self-pity and discouragement. Who’d have thunk it?

Sensory overload helps with a brain like mine. It’s almost like exposure therapy when I drown my thoughts with very loud music or extremely bright colors. I have never felt more at peace than when I visited LACMA a few months into sobriety. I joined a friend who wanted to check out the new¬†James Terrell exhibit. It is nearly impossible for me to explain the peace I felt, being overtaken by silence and color. My entire body breathed a sigh of relief with every gradual change in the neon landscape.

I am grateful to the art of science. I have more of an appreciation for it now that I¬†believe in¬†a Higher Power and/or God. I know that more often than not, my thinking tends to stymie¬†my progress.¬†I am sober to feel better about myself and to have the chance to share my joy with others–not to stew over the “what ifs” or the “coulda, woulda, shouldas” that make me miserable. I am grateful to friends who appreciate the science behind what we all want in our lives: to be happy.

When I think (happy), I am (happy), at least, over time. Just a small amendment to a great thought. Way to be, Descartes.

xx

Photo courtesy of LACMA

Off The Sauce September

Did you know that September is National Recovery Month?

WE GET A WHOLE MONTH.

I remember when I got a chip for 30 days of sobriety in April of 2014. I had never made it 30 hours sober–much less 30 days–before that. At the time,¬†I had a humorous case of the nervous sweats and an incurable desire to wreck every double-shot, Trenta iced coffee from here¬†to eternity. I numbed myself with phone calls, constant coffee to the face, Now and Laters, entire economy-sized jars of pickles, HBO Go and Netflix. I walked over a mile one way¬†every morning to my home group meeting at Caf√© Tropical on Sunset Blvd, leaving my¬†apartment by 6:15 am to make the 7am meeting (and to have time for two smokes beforehand with my friends). I chose the morning¬†AA slot due to¬†its magical charms and my utter disbelief that I could be up that early and not still be legally drunk.

sbxAn entire month sober–that¬†blew my fucking mind.

And it still does. I celebrate 18 months sober on September 17. My heart grew one size bigger with the realization that I get to celebrate this milestone during the one month a year that is dedicated to shining a light on addiction and recovery. I recognize the magnitude of this shit–it is¬†my right and responsibility to speak up. I am one person in recovery out of millions. I am alive and well today because I got help for my addiction to alcohol.

My enthusiasm for recovery hasn’t smoldered, but it has morphed into something far better than I could have imagined. The best and most beautiful gift of my sobriety is¬†the freedom to be available to other people. I connect with new people¬†and old friends who have resurfaced in my life now that I am not a complete C U Next Tuesday. It seems there is no shortage of love to go around. Forgiveness¬†and acceptance are¬†the prime suspects for my criminally large joyfulness.

I’m stepping up my game this month. Gratitude lists all the fuck over social media at least once a day, accompanied by topical memes and pictures of pandas (Google “panda daycare”– a surefire way to get you¬†really happy, really fast). I’m doubling my meetings this coming week (my attendance is more sparse than I would like it to be). I am calling, writing¬†or texting¬†at least one person in recovery every day. I am following up on a story I wrote about the Unite to Face Addiction Rally¬†by attending it¬†in DC October¬†4.¬†Lastly, I am “talking to Bowie” on a super frequent basis–i.e., praying a bunch for people and showing my flamboyant love to whomever is around to receive it. I am making myself more available, is the thing.

So let’s do this.

xo

The Lion, The Witch and the Warhol

I relish the nights when songs get stuck in my head. One of the reasons for this quirk is my desire to quiet a rambunctious mind. I find that songs replace thoughts I would otherwise discard. I don’t particularly mind the repetition, as I am a creature of habit if ever there was one. A familiar song is like lullaby for me, anyway. I experience insomnia every couple of nights, though it doesn’t bother me one bit because I learn more about music when I’m waiting to fall asleep. For the past few weeks, I’ve had Donovan and Louis Armstrong keeping me company. The latest addition to the nighttime collection I’ve amassed is Bowie’s Andy Warhol from his 1971 album Hunky Dory. I love me some Bowie, but this song is most def in my top three. It’s just so…weird.

As I lay down to sleep one night last week, I attempted a meditation practice. Approximately three million nonsensical thoughts crowded my consciousness until it got very quiet. I heard the murmurings of Bowie as Warhol on the track and I became instantly calm. I remembered what I had read about this song–that Bowie was all proud of himself for creating a tune that he was sure Warhol would love. Turns out, Andy was annoyed and super bitchy toward Bowie for writing it in the first place. Bowie revered Warhol, but the feelings were not exactly mutual. (Not to worry though–Bowie ended up playing Warhol in the movie Basquiat, which gave him some closure, I suppose). Ahhhh, the webs we weave.

My brain did a rather curious thing as I played the song in real time. I began to free associate during my meditation. Free association, to me, is like interpretive dance for the word-happy ones among us. On the third play through, I thought of my favorite book as a girl, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I used to love this book, especially because one of the characters shared my name (I love self-referencing, because I can). My brain then jumped to a possible title for this blog: The Lion, The Witch and the Warhol. I googled the title to make sure no one had used it yet. To my delight, I did not catch it anywhere. What I did find, however, was a collection of Warhol pieces known as The Witch Myths Series. Thanks, Universe! The Myths collection includes works of American villains and/or mythical figures of the collective consciousness, redone in a most distinctive Warhol way. I’ve seen this collection before, but I never knew its name. He believed many of the characters, like the Wicked Witch of the West and Uncle Sam, represented parts of his own personality. I think he loved self-referential things even more than I do. Just a theory.

The Witch Myths made me think about the facets of my own personality. Lately, the “character defects” motif continues to inspire me to get to know myself. Though I’ve walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Defects in my sixth step work in AA, I have only caught a glimpse of what constitutes a defect of character and what serves a higher purpose. My dad used to tell me that crazy, narcissistic or wayward people were exciting and interesting for a reason. He did not mean to tell me I should revel in these attributes, but my teenaged brain clung to his words as validation. I don’t consider myself crazy, just complicated. I have let go of judgement recently, considering how weird I am. It is way more fun to be free–it leaves room for other weirdos to come be free with you.

I am experiencing a period of self-transformation by being still. I have decided that it’s okay to discard some of my old ideas of what’s supposed to make me happy. I am open to more people, places and things because resisting the experience of being home no longer serves me. I meet new people and I see new things. This strange world in Virginia inspires me to be myself. My old beliefs float away as easily as the the little florets on a dandelion. When I was a little girl, I would pick these flowers that are actually weeds and blow on them like birthday candles to make my wishes. Being home is the flower, not the weed. I made a wish and I said a prayer for my Higher Power to help me heal and be happy. He listened. And just as my defects are open to interpretation, I will interpretive dance in words to free-associate once more: dandelions, Andy Warhol, the Dandy Warhols, Bohemian Like You. Or weird, like me.

Go be free, ya weirdos.

xo

Photo courtesy of modernartcollecting.blogspot.com

Humor in the Divine

I used to recoil at the thought or suggestion of meditation.¬†I never gave much credence to time spent alone because the idea of me spending more time with myself than was necessary felt unbearable. I did not see the freedom in stillness, nor did I believe I could ever find spirituality within myself. I spent my days and nights seeking meaning and happiness in the external–I relied solely on people, places and things to do my bidding for me in the world. I also secretly sought happiness in everything except following my intuition or believing in a power greater than myself.

Trust that still, small voice…have faith. You will find a way.

Diane Mariechild.

I do not know who Diane Mariechild is, but she has a really decent point. I realized tonight after speaking and meditating with other recovering alcoholics that the way I reconnect to my higher power and quiet intuition is through humor. I cannot digest such heaping doses of spirituality without laughing at the absurdity in taking myself or this life too seriously. The more sobriety I experience, the funnier things become. I have a friend who reminds me that the icy fortress that once encased my heart continues to melt through tears, and I believe even more so through humor. I feel happiest when I am around people who are intelligent and funny. In my experience, the more a person is willing to exercise rigorous honesty with themselves and the world, the more likely it is that they have a great sense of humor.

I practice meditation daily, spending anywhere from 12 to 20 minutes silent and still. Depending on my mental state, I am either completely distracted or perfectly content. When I first got sober, the thoughts and feelings that came up after 20 minutes of torturous silence were far too much for me to handle without self-given permission to relax a little. With the help of some friends who suggested I take it easy, I was able to back off from the impossible task of perfecting a lifelong practice. It turns out that spirituality has absolutely nothing to do with perfection. In fact, I believe perfection and spirituality are mutually exclusive.

My Golden Rule: If it is funny, it is probably true…and it gets funnier.

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Say Uncle

Friday, that’s what’s good. I started this morning unwittingly speaking to a group of recovering alcoholics about my process of surrender. This is my very favorite topic to discuss because in the past six months, external forces in my life have all but pistol-whipped me into a constant state of bowing (or Bowie-ing ūüĎĆ) before the Powers that Be. Never before has it been so impossibly clear to me that my reactive state to things outside of my control will not work when the universe responds better to a calmer, non-reactor. I wrote about my tussle with Fate here.

My Crash
The Toyota crash that lives on in LA infamy

It makes me cringe when I think about where I was mentally six months ago. I woke up each morning sending intentions to Bowie for good measure, then immediately ruminating over my financial messiness. Almost as if The Force heard me and decided to laugh one day, I was involved in a major head-on collision that directly insured financial meltdown and general chaos. I will forever remember the feeling of absolute certainty that this was not how I go out–whether by death or by relapse. I don’t know how or why that thought came to me, but the second before I saw the truck barrel toward me, I felt myself release control and accept that I was not going to die and I did not have to drink over this. I fully cop to the possibility that I was undergoing shock, yet my intuition tells me that I was watching myself undergo a profound shift in perception. I saw my life exactly as it was in that moment, even if it was at point-blank range.

Without disclosing too many details, I will just say that I could no longer continue at my former job without an available vehicle. Cut-to: no job, no way to afford my apartment, out by the first week of February. At this juncture in my already-storied sobriety, I see that my instinct to suit up for an arm-wrestling tournament with the Universe is futile and self-defeating. With all of the courage and support from friends I can muster, I Say Uncle. You win, magnificent unicorn of a higher power. Today, my choice is to either feel sorry for myself or to stay open to being pleasantly surprised by life. I am but a passenger.

 

A Cloud of A Different Color

My name is Lucy, and I am a recovering alcoholic. ¬†Today I made the executive decision to write my experiences as a person relatively new to sobriety because it occurred to me that my truth could quite possibly help someone–or at the very least, provide some insight into a sometimes-nebulous way of life. ¬†I pay no mind to the fears about speaking up I’ve held onto in the past; the dramatic spiritual shifts in perception I’ve experienced in the past 10+ months compel me to move forward give less f*@#s.

I run in some pretty fabulous circles. Most of my friends are sober buddies who happen to be very artistic and exceedingly intelligent. One of the common experiences some of these people have had in the first few months of their sobriety is what’s known as the “pink cloud” effect. The pink cloud describes a state of sudden blissfulness where mornings cease to include righteous hangovers or hapless attempts to figure out what was said or done the night before. I personally did not experience this state of boundless joy. My experience in the first few weeks of sobriety included gnawing anxiety, a car that stalled on the freeway twice, terrifying nightmares, a semi-permanent caffeine buzz, self-doubt and a curious desire to purchase and smoke 1,475,857,000,324 packs of cigarettes (much like my preference to not count my drinks, I refused to limit my nicotine intake…which may or may not still be the case).

While my external surroundings have grown ever-so-impermanent (more on that at a later date) the one constant I have come to rely upon is my growing faith in a power greater than myself. Before I mislead you, let me be very clear: the higher power I chose for myself is David Bowie, not any kind of G-d or religious figure. Bowie’s attitude is that of a flamboyant, outrageous, thoughtful, talented, sexualized, spiritualized, incandescent punk, one that I can only hope to internalize. I strive for such a glamorous, nonplussed way of thinking and being. In my early sobriety, I’ve needed to see God as a state of mind, not as a biblical reference. I have encountered extreme difficulties in the last few months that I could have never weathered without knowledge that some idea or some person much more powerful and fabulous than myself could keep me sober.

The overall crux of this sobriety thing is helping other people by being of service, whether that means calling other recovering alcoholics to check in, or to show up for our families when they need us. Basically, to stop being selfish pricks motivated solely by self-pity and compulsive behaviors. I continue reaching out to other people to stay out of the tangled mess that my mind sometimes becomes, but mostly I like to feel understood over feeling utterly alone in the barren wasteland of an obsessive brain.

I wish I could stay up to write more, but then I’d be lying and I’d owe someone an amends. I need to be up by 6AM to spend my time with other recovering alcoholics, swapping war stories and trading information about what we know to be true.

 

Photo courtesy of Flashbak