I made it 1/4 of the way through Gabriel García Márquez’s novel Love in the Time of Choleraduring college before I set my copy down never to return to it again. I mispronounced cholera for the duration of my time between those covers. The way I said it, ignorance sounded like ko-LEH-rah. I don’t do fiction, and my friends argue how absurd it is that I reject new and colorful worlds in favor of books that refuse to offer a brighter reality besides the one we are in right now. You’d think that favoring non-fiction would offer me better information about such a devastating disease like cholera, not to mention how to properly pronounce the word.
Since the winter, I’ve returned to browsing movie selections from the 90’s where I’ve repeatedly considered Outbreak then went on living my life instead. I suppose my imagination has not had the patience or bandwidth to process large-scale, global and altogether fictional health crises. Why would it? As recently as January and February of this year, the world and our healthcare system continued to exist just fine within their normal levels of dysfunction. It seems only natural to take for granted the scientific method, PPE, or the internet in anticipation of a time like this.
I haven’t written anything for this site in all of 2019. I made the determination that it would be better for me to jump with both feet back into my career as a full-time political campaign operative. That, and it took about three rounds of ADHD medication trial runs to see what would ultimately help me focus on something. I can’t ignore the compulsion to write, now that we are quarantined, nor would I want to. My self-critical nature is at peak capacity, so I’ll get shit done while the rest of my psyche is distracted with all the things I could be doing.
What you missed, in a boxy word cloud:
the precipitous fall of the middle class / reproductive health under siege / Virginia state races clocking in at an unprecedented 2 million on campaign expenditures / sober being possible, even probable during election season / i’m somebody’s boss now (actually, two somebodies) / buying a house / adopting another dog / lots of HIIT classes / being sober six years / Fleabag.
I don’t know why it took me so long to get back to writing. I think it was a mixture of habit, an over reliance on my job to prop up my self-esteem, insecurity that I would not have more to talk about, and the classic “I’ll get to it when I’m not so busy” line at the fore. Whatever the case was, it no longer is. Looks like the responsible thing to do for my creativity and posterity is to write down what I consider the day to day, mundane thoughts that I will look back on in 40 years to help people see how asymptomatic individuals, who either had COVID or didn’t, decided whether or not to self-quarantine. Mostly, who learned how to make bread at home. The racial disparities we already knew existed seem more evident than ever before. People who can’t afford to stay home are automatically at more of a risk than the rest of us. At this point, the only non-essential person I know is the one who refuses to stay home when given an actual choice to do so.
Being a person in recovery during this phase of social distancing makes me feel similar to my first few months as a sober person: light-headed, agitated and defiant. It is unclear what I am defying at this time, besides the social niceties that ask only for basic personal grooming. I work out every day instead of anger-journaling when I’m not even mad. Somehow, I roped myself into being of service to my 12-step group simply by having a jump on Zoom tech because of work. I’ve seen three people cry on screen in the past two weeks, and one of them was me. It feels like everyone is a newcomer these days. The entire world is subject to similar models for disease control and prevention. Whether or not we all agree that addiction also qualifies as a disease ceases to matter when so many lives are on the line or on pause. What addiction and COVID-19 have in common is the most devastating and deadly aspects of both are largely invisible.
I empathize with all of the people in recovery who rely on in-person meetings to stay connected and accountable. In my opinion, how we are now at the level of self-isolation is similar to what hitting bottom looks like–a state of being that normal people without addiction or alcoholism might otherwise never experience.
And so, I am here to connect with anyone who reads this and recognizes the clawing, obstinate and repetitive voice telling them there is no point to staying sober. There are millions of us tuning in to connect with you, even when you’re 3,000 miles away.
As a feminist, I care about two things: Who gets heard and How. As a sober person, I care enough to do something about it.
Lately, I’ve been troubled with thoughts about the opioid crisis in America. I share the deep sympathy and outrage of our populous for victims of mass addiction. Big Pharma, like the good drug kingpin it is, has carved out huge swaths territory in the heartland with its derivations of synthetic heroin. While I empathize with those struggling to claw their way out of despair, I am coming to know a much deeper emotion than empathy: anger at the disparate responses to current white death versus black death during the crack epidemic years.
I want to know how and why we are in such an uproar now, in 2018. Why haven’t we read reports about white people being incarcerated at staggering rates for drug-related crimes? Where were the documentaries about crack addiction and the road to recovery? Are we really that ignorant to the situational blindness of our biases?
I don’t even want to hear about how the political climate is to blame. I know our current administration is on a broad highway to hell, but this shit is not new. In 2017, a writer named Dahleen Glanton from the Chicago Tribune had this to say about our bullshit cultural responses to addiction:
In the 1980s, instead of pouring resources into counseling and other forms of treatment, America chose to tamp down on crime. Officials thought they could arrest their way out of the crack cocaine crisis and it would go away. In the end, that approach had as much of an adverse impact on African-American families as crack did. Hundreds of thousands of African-Americans across the country ended up with prison records because of minor drug violations — a legacy that continues to contribute to the decay of poor, urban communities.
I am by no means a scholar on the War on Drugs, addiction, alcoholism or any other brand of compulsive behaviors. I am, however, a white woman who recognizes her privilege when she sees it. How many times did I drive drunk and recklessly without being pulled over? Dozens. Where were the belligerent and/or violent cops when I “road dirty” on the 5 from LA to San Diego? In my rear view mirror. Why is it that I am embraced for speaking openly about my struggles with alcoholism, rather than criminalized for “choosing” to act on my impulses? And let’s look at the way Whitney Houston’s death was covered: with endless loops of video showing her high off her ass, saying, “crack is whack.” The media made fun of her. People called her a crackhead. When Philip Seymour Hoffman died, they touted his genius and what a tragedy it was to lose such a legend to heroin addiction. The implicit media biastoward white people and against black people is clear: white people “struggle with addiction” while black people “choose to live this way.”
In the ’80s, the “Greed is Good” mentality drove a lot of polo-clad people to dive into the excesses of the time with some good, old-fashioned nose candy. Simultaneously, industrious people began to capitalize on the less expensive version of cocaine: crack. The cause and effect formula here makes total sense to me. Rich people could afford cocaine. If rich people got caught with said cocaine, they could also afford attorney fees. Poor people could afford less-expensive crack. If poor people got caught with said crack, they went to jail. Poor communities began to suffer greatly as crack ravaged their populations. Rich people went about their business making money while also spending it. Somewhere in this seemingly cogent formula, something stopped adding up: how is it that poor people became criminals when rich people skirted the law? Why is it that a disproportionate number of black people were being locked up for smoking and snorting the chemical equivalent for white people? The answer is as racist as it is unsurprising: people start to give a shit when white people die. Thus, this cold, hard fact remains: “Oppression is as American as apple pie” (Audre Lorde).
Addiction does not give a fuck about what your creed, denomination, sex or opinion is. All it cares about is winning. We are, as a nation, coming to believe this as a fact of life. We rally, we march, we lambaste politicians for their indifference to gun violence, environmental health and drug industry influence. Glanton observes our cultural shift with addiction:
White suburbanites are lobbying their state officials to help them solve a problem that is ruining young people’s lives. They are holding rallies on statehouse lawns, urging elected officials to treat their addicted children with dignity — something that young people addicted to crack never received.
It is my goal to broaden the conversation about addiction and alcoholism. Scientific advancements aside, the social and spiritual consequences of life on an obsessive loop won’t stop until we as a society jar ourselves awake. I am one person who found herself in the grips of a progressive disease. I choose the word disease because it encourages health practitioners and insurance companies to treat it like the health crisis it is instead of the choice it very much is not. Erasing the stigma of addiction is a noble cause, but I don’t want to die on that hill. I care more about what happens to people of color who struggle with not only addiction, but also being black in America. We hear from lots of white people who took the path of recovery. I want to see how we can apply intersectional feminism to other voices who deserve to be heard.
When it comes to addiction, it can’t be black and white. Let’s move into the crowded grey area where recovery applies to all who need it.
In high school, my sister and I ran cross-country and track. She was the prodigious sprinter, while I was the patient long-distance runner. The amount of comparisons I made between myself and my twin were alarming–her smaller BMI and legs, for starters–disqualified me from being a “real” runner. I opted for the inconspicuous art of running long distances hoping people would get too bored to notice me. The whole sport was a practice in disappearing, slowly but surely. I found it all to be a really dramatic joke, but I needed to be well-rounded. Frankly, I thought that this would help me lose weight and look good. As insecure as I was, I secretly wanted to be like Flo Jo and impress everyone, while simultaneously never being seen. My uniform was about two sizes too small, yet I continued to wear it with the hope that I would soon fit into it.
During one particularly humiliating meet, I got lost in the woods after I fell far behind the girls in front of me. I also tried to spit (like I had seen so many other runners do) while moving at a moderately-fast clip. Instead, I spit up on my extremely short shorts in front of the entire men’s team. I do not know which part was worse: my shorts riding up my See You Next Tuesday, my thunder thighs fighting each other with every stride, or the waterfall of mucus flowing down my shorts. If I were a betting woman, I would have wagered that this was the time to give up. But for some reason, I kept on running for the rest of the season. My times were ‘eh,’ so my desire to distract myself from my insecurities freed me up to socialize. Our coach used to tell us that if we had the breath to talk to each other during one of our six or eight-mile runs, we were doing it wrong. I told myself I’d rather make friends than run faster. As a result, I got team MVP for my senior year. The irony was, in a word, dripping.
All told, I did eventually become a real runner–only after I stopped practicing the sport. Drinking comes in handy that way. I became an All Star Life Sprinter. That is to say, I learned how to run VERY quickly away from things. In fact, I sprinted, hopscotched and hurdled through twelve different locations, spanning from Vermont to Florida, Virginia to California. My resume read like a well-worn map. At one point, I worked in Jonesboro, Arkansas, where I became a crowd (and bouncer) favorite at a fine establishment known as The Electric Cowboy.
The only reason I know the actual number of addresses I accumulated over a ten-year period is because I had to make note of them when I filed for bankruptcy in 2015. And those twelve were only the addresses I couldremember. How does one forget where she has lived? It’s like when you’re driving down a busy street and you see a discarded pair of pants on the sidewalk–like, how do you lose your pants, guy? What happened there?
The short answer is, I panicked (I suppose you could say the same for the man who lost his pants). I have had plenty of opportunities in my 12-step program and through therapy to spiritually and psychoanalytically analyze my past behavior. It is clear to me that time is not what slowed me down. In fact, I have moved on four different occasions in recovery: once when I couldn’t afford my place after the accident, several times when I kept breaking up with my boyfriend (staying on friends’ coaches), the move from Los Angeles back home to Virginia (at my mom’s house) and finally to Richmond in the apartment I share with my husband. What has made the difference between my pathological moving while drunk and my displacement while sober is an indefinable sense of finality. I am who I was always meant to be, even as I continue to grow. And more honestly, there is nowhere else I have the energy to be.
I used up all of my panic. And then I ran out of steam.
Two weeks ago, I began seeing a life/career coach. This is a huge deal for me, and here is why:
One of my favorite activities while wasted was chatting up Uber/Lyft drivers. At times, I broke out into French if I sensed the driver was Haitian or from some francophone country. As presumptuous as I was (and still am), I did meet quite a few interesting characters–one of whom was a life coach. He sensed my lost-ness (and perhaps my vulnerability) when I yammered on about how much I hated my job at the time, seizing the opportunity to take on a new client. We exchanged information, which I naturally forgot as I closed the car door.
A couple of days later, he called me. I was a fastidious drunk, therefore I always kept clear notes on whoever left their number in my phone. Very specific things, like “Uber man coaches life wears too much paco rabanne <emoji emoji.> We talked for about five minutes, wherein we set an appointment to do a phone session the following week. Time flew the drunker I got, so a week came and went pretty quickly. I will never forget where I was when I got that phone call. I will never forget because it was one of the last angry drunks I had. I was angry at myself and my life choices, but mostly angry because I could not actually get drunk. I had spent the ensuing week since my phone chat with the Uber man in a cosmic haze of vodka and cocaine, sidled up to a man whose father was a semi-famous producer with a Malibu beach house. He was a writer, something I wanted to be but was too drunk to follow-through with; he was a rich kid, which is something I was fascinated by because I had no money; he had unlimited liquor, which blots out anything else I knew about him. He poured me Bloody Mary after Bloody Mary and I was bloody pissed because nothing worked. After two hours went by, with no drunk luck, we all went outside to watch dolphins pop out of the water over the dwindling horizon’s pink backdrop. Even that miracle of nature bored me. I began to feel the sting of tears emerge from my eyes, and suddenly my phone rang. No one noticed as I slipped away through the window-to-ceiling glass french doors to take the call.
Uber driver began asking me rapid-fire questions about my childhood, my hopes, my dreams. I became increasingly irate as he continued to press the issue of why I seemed so angry, so dismissive. I sputtered off some incoherent ramblings about my mother, my dad’s death, my sister and my Catholic school experiences, but he would not hear any of it. Instead, he simply asked me to talk out loud to myself as if I were a child. I was furious. I told him to shove his Freudian platitudes up his ass, in so many words. We never spoke again. And I never did get drunk.
So I ran until I fell. Straight to the bottom of my pitiless existence.
And then I got sober.
Four years later, I find myself sitting across from a woman I’ve known only through the recovery process. She is a friend who I’ve asked to help me decide what to do with my life, once and for all. During our first session, she recommends that I do not make any job or career moves–no quitting a job, no starting a new job. I felt my ears ring and my chest tighten. I was about to start a job I was convinced I didn’t want. I was there to beg her to tell me anything that would encourage me to leave. But instead, she told me to stay. I was horrified.
Through a series of questions and answers, meditations and surveys, I’ve prayed my way through 1,000 forms of escape fantasies. Every cell of my being screamed at me to turn and run away on my first day at work. Who did I think I was? Why would I start a job with as many doubts as I had? What if I wasted my time, stayed, only to become staid? The vicious memories of conversations I’ve had with past lovers and friends floated to the surface–“I promise, I’m not going anywhere” was my infamous line. I never meant it then, and I did not want to mean it now.
But I am here, staying.
While cleaning up our work kitchen tonight, my supervisor looked at me for a beat too long. I asked him what was up. He says, “There are times when I look at you, trying to read your face. I keep thinking to myself that you will be just like the cooks before you, ready to run away from this place. I see you and I wonder if you have the desire to be here.” It was like getting that call, to hear those words–heartbreaking and entirely justifiable. I looked at him with awe and glee. For the first time in my life, I said it and meant it–
I never worked in restaurants prior to opening my business with my husband, Charles Headen. I learned how to do this myself. I read a lot of books about plating, how to run a restaurant, how best to be efficient and good business practices. Cooking is not in my background. My mom remembers me playing “restaurant” with my sisters, pretending to charge them for the food that I cooked!
Do you own your own restaurant?
We own our own catering business: Elegant Cuizines (Don’t forget it’s spelled with a “z”!). Right now, we cook out of a commercial kitchen. Soon we will be opening up a new business location at 1110 West Broad Street (off of Patterson), where it will be primarily take-out.
When was the first time you remember being treated differently than your male coworkers?
People always assume Charles is the chef. When clients introduce themselves to us, they shake Charles’ hand and pay their compliments to the chef. I let them know that I am the chef—Charles is more the Front of the House person. That’s a HUGE assumption!
Has anyone spoken to you or about you in a derogatory way?
Not really. But customers can be rude in retail services in general.
When and how do you feel valued as a woman in the kitchen?
I always feel valued at work. It’s because I love and enjoy it. I create spontaneous recipes and always bring God into my work. I say to him, “Ok God, what are we gonna cook today?” I make my own jerk spices, which is cost-effective. I merge American food flavors with African flavor influences.
Do you perceive differences in how men and women cook?
Women maybe cook with a little more passion.
Why do you think a woman’s place is in the kitchen?
A woman’s place isn’t just in the back of the house–it’s all over. We have two girls who I am raising to be strong. Being a chef and a mom is not easy but being a chef with kids is really hard. Compared to the family structure of the 50’s, I am considered a “bad wife” because things get messy and I can’t always have the house clean and have the kids ready for school or bed. But we know we can’t do any of this without God. Charles and I both have chef’s coats with bible verses on the backs, reminding us to keep God at the center of our business and our lives. The bible verse on the back of my chef’s coat is 1 Corinthians 2:9 “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” Charles has 1 Corinthians 16:13 on his coat: “Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, be courageous and be strong.”
I grew up watching my father cook. He used to wear this apron that said, “Have you hugged an Episcopalian today?” But I could have sworn he had one that also said, “Kiss the Cook.” Either way, he got plenty of hugs and kisses from his daughters and wife.
The history behind our culture’s blend of romanticism and wit using this phrase dates back to the 1800’s. In fact, the Italians may have coined the original verbiage. True to form, there is drama and intrigue at its core:
The first written evidence of the phrase “kiss the cook” is in an Italian-English dictionary by Giuseppe Marco Antonio Baretti, published posthumously in 1813. He translates the phrase Chi tardi arriva male alloggia as, “they that come too late must kiss the cook.”
It took me no time to come up with the title for my new interview series, “Don’t Kiss the Cook.” In fact, I could add onto that sentiment with the following: 1. Don’t touch the cook 2. Don’t leer at the cook 3. Don’t give back-handed compliments to the cook 4. Don’t untie the cook’s apron 5. Don’t condescend to speak to the cook 6. Don’t underestimate the cook. Once I spent roughly 30 minutes in my first prep cook role, I could see that the differences between male and female cooks were staggering. Or should I say, the differences in how women are received in the kitchen bares an acute and vastly different weight than her male counterparts. It might be more accurate to veer away from the sordid love roots of “Kiss the Cook” when describing how it actually feels to be a women in the kitchen:
But what may have had the biggest impact didn’t come until 1989 on Married…With Children when Al Bundy—played by Ed O’Neill— wore an apron that said, “Kiss the Cook – Kill the Wife” during the season four premiere of the popular FOX sitcom.
I have been told in no uncertain terms that I should be handled with Kid Gloves–that I should be treated as though I were someone’s “girlfriend who you don’t have sex with,” in order to keep the peace between males and females in the kitchen. That is but one avenue out of many where I could have accepted the way things have always been done; how “it’s just restaurants.” But I didn’t and I won’t.
That is why I am introducing a new series to this blog. I’d like to keep my Higher Power at the center of all of this, but I’d also like to tell the truth of how things really are. I have sent out the call to countless women who have answered, emphatically. We are but few in professional kitchens, but we are mighty. That said, you’ve heard enough from me for now.
My first featured interview is with a woman I love and respect. She is someone my sister and I went to high school with and continue to keep in touch with today. She is a beautiful person and amazingly talented executive chef. Without further ado, I bring you Theresa…
Featured image (original photo), courtesy of Kate Spade (Rest In Peace)
I was never “good” at science. With one exception–biology, sophomore year. I think it was something about the exotic vocabulary and pictures that piqued my interest. Ironically, two years ago I became an ad hoc / extemporaneous long-term substitute teacher for the sciences, ranging from biology and chemistry to physics and astronomy. Thank God it snowed for the first four days I was supposed to start teaching. I played catch-up the entire time I was snowed in. The last time I studied that hard was sixteen years ago. Note: I was 16 years old sixteen years ago. I just got a little faint.
I still have some work saved from High School. On paper and floppy discs! In one big folder, I tucked away several essays from my English AP classes and notes from bio. The diagrams are labeled and colored with such exquisite detail that it almost seems as if a science person drew them. When I moved back home in 2015, I exhumed my notes and found one section totally dedicated to surface tension. Its definition stuck with me then, and continues to float around in my mind now–
Water molecules want to cling to each other. At the surface, however, there are fewer water molecules to cling to since there is air above (thus, no water molecules). This results in a stronger bond between those molecules that actually do come in contact with one another, and a layer of strongly bonded water. This surface layer (held together by surface tension) creates a considerable barrier between the atmosphere and the water. In fact, other than mercury, water has the greatest surface tension of any liquid.
What gets me about the concept of surface tension is that it can be personified, which is probably why so much of bio makes sense to me. We all know the feelings associated with water metaphors: learning to tread water; feeling like your drowning in paperwork; singing in the rain, when it rains it pours. But surface tension never gets its due in our vernacular. Today I felt so many feelings that the “floodgates opened,” which of course means I cried. Again. But what followed, as is always my way, were the thought bubbles. Why is it so upsetting to be seen upset? How is it that in a very stressful work environment, the less I want to lean on other people the more I absolutely must?
How, I often ask myself, is it possible for other people to handle pressure at work? Why is no one else crying? The immediate answer to one of these questions is that dudes and ladies handle stress differently. The quota so far is for every one cry I have in a two week period, there are three nights where any one of my coworkers slams dishes, lashes out at a cook or decides not to show up for work. The odds are in neither party’s favor.
There are so few of us in the kitchen. We work anywhere from 50-80 hours a week, morning noon and night. We kind of have to work well together. It’s like being marooned on an island. We have to try not to cannibalize each other to survive (all due respect to the profession which, thankfully, requires us to know how to cook enough so that we don’t have to resort to such measures–emotionally or otherwise). Like water molecules, we have to stick together. But oh, the tension. God forbid someone walks into work with a sour mood. We all feel it. I often put a voice to this when it happens, which my coworkers do not appreciate. Conversely, when one or more of us is in great spirits, it can uplift the whole crew. I swear it makes the food taste better.
It’s like a pressure cooker. Everyone is exhausted. I have burns and cuts and aches that just keep happening. Yet it’s part of the deal. The physical burdens of the job are nothing compared to what it feels like to be a complete novice in a world where everyone else seems to know what they are doing. Not to mention the fact that I am hyper-sensitive/critical of any sideways glances, comments or insinuations about my femininity. For the most part, that’s a good thing. Recently a male coworker asked me what it felt like to be one of four females out of 20+ people working in the kitchen. I told him I was excited–it meant I had a front row seat to watch the Patriarchy crumble.
My bark is almost always more vicious than my bite.
What it actually feels like is quiet defeat. I can pitch a fit or become spontaneously combustible, but people still need to eat. SOMEONE NEEDS TO DOUBLE-BOIL THE FUCKING crème brûlée. That’s the way it goes.
As embarrassing as it has been to lose my shit on the regular, I am also relieved. Several of my kitchen mates remind me I am in the right place. Remember that guy, what’s his name, GORDON RAMSEY? That guy loses his shit for millions of dollars a year. He doesn’t cry; he yells.
He’s straight up abusive to his staff, but at least he has a sense of humor. I won’t even discuss the parity of positive public opinion on women cooks versus male cooks, but I think you can piece it together. Bad behavior gets rewarded. In any other profession, our vastly inappropriate conversations about literally anything would get us fired. But in the kitchen, you better buck up and shut up or someone will show you the door. It’s refreshing. It’s also brutal and infuriating. But in every job I’ve ever had, no one is above the law of proving themselves. And for someone as impatient, perfectionistic, judgmental and sensitive as I am, time is an imperious bully. I want to be good at everything before the oven timer for the bacon goes off first thing in the morning. Not going to happen.
So there is acceptance. And that surface tension. We are all little water molecules buoying each other up. I had a conversation with Bowie today about it. In recovery and otherwise, this is where I’ve been led. These coworkers and friends are my current spiritual teachers. I pray, as I have on many stressful days, to acknowledge to my Higher Power that I’d be crazy not to follow, follow where He leads.
Now feels like the time to break with tradition: waiting the painstaking hours-minutes-seconds until the clock strikes 12AM on March 17th to blog something–
Instead, it’s 9:16PM on Thursday, March 15th.
I realize that time is but a construct and the day-counting is more like a superstition at this point than an actual measure of my recovery.
So with the grace and pre-supposition of a power greater than myself carrying me over the line, I will turn four years sober on Saturday. This anniversary means everything to me.
And nothing at all.
Year three created a new paradigm of sobriety for me. I married my favorite person. I discontinued my studies to become a teacher. I moved. I started a new cooking job. Saint Bonaventure beat UCLA despite the shadow of a 48-year heartbreak. Any one of the above entitled items, in and of itself, is life-altering (well, most of them). But stats over time don’t really do it for me. I am accustomed to these types of changes. More to the point, I am comfortable with the chaos that accompanies turmoil. I know what it is for my actions to precipitate reactions in others–to my words and behaviors. I have intimate knowledge of the fallout when my ambivalence toward, say, my career, causes confusion in others and panic in myself. It’s tough stuff, but it’s kind of my wheelhouse.
Time is neither friend nor foe. I am the same person I was last year, except a lot more honest. I forgot to doubt myself. I am at peace. It has been exactly two months since I felt the familiar pangs of extreme anxiety. My brain is neutral and my heart is full. I am still clumsy in my intimate relationships and messy in my day-to-day planning. My 2018 planner and my station at work are nothing if not a perfect reflection of a hyper-active mind.
The process of planning our wedding caused my husband and I stress unlike any other we’ve known. Granted, I (technically) caused this stress–I did say ‘yes,’ but then, so did he–asking me to marry him and all. We signed up for it, enthusiastically.
We found ourselves a newlywed nest, but not without months of searching what seemed like every apartment in the city up for rent. I switched jobs two months later on what felt like a whim, but was really a moment of gumption. As a result, we run on opposite schedules like two tired, creaking ships passing in the night. This break in our routine surprised even me–I’m not certain what came over me. Perhaps a smidge of impulse and a little selfishness. I stopped mid-shift and swiveled my Danskos in the direction of my restaurant’s kitchen manager to switch from Front of the House to Back of the House.
I had a lot of nerve this year.
See also: I am someone’s wife. A wife and a prep cook. A former playgirl turned lush for commitment. I did something I promised myself I would never do: I followed a man’s lead. I came home that night with the overwhelming desire to tell my husband his delight and love for cooking to nourish others inspired me–enough to start all over again, again. From politicking to freelance writing to classroom teaching to oyster shucking–I am dizzy from the trip. I never imagined I’d be elbow-deep in condensed milk or grilled asparagus, yet here I am.
My work mentor (second only to my chef-husband-mentor) taught me some kitchen basics, least of all how to make a biased cut. Visions of celery, onions and jalapenos dance behind my eyes, all reminding me to cut identical sharp angles for continuity. My instinct was to scoff at the peculiarities of this new kitchen jargon, but I held my tongue. I remember all too well entering the rooms of recovery, ambling around the confusing vocabulary of hope in my beloved 12-step program. I am humbled by the temperatures and textures I have yet to learn. I have been here before. I recognize the need to know nothing in order to learn something. My recovery has taught me the precise need to know that I don’t know. Every heartening moment of growth is a direct result of ignorance terminated by experience. My higher power has protected me in more uncertain times than these. I’ve made it this far and I am in the company of some greats.
Anxiety is a cheap trick. I admit I get a high when I feel the wheels in my mind turning, churning and burning for resolution to untold fear. My adrenaline revs up and I feel hyper-aware. However, I don’t usually realize until it’s too late that my body has already decided that the Sky is Falling. I often mindlessly dismiss my “ticks,” like when I start picking at my lips until they bleed or breathing with shallow gulps, that something is very wrong. I wore bright lipstick several times this week without admitting to myself that I was trying to cover my lips, as opposed to showcasing pure fabulousness. This can lead to me internalizing everything until it all comports as anger and I implode (in private), or I just burst out crying (in public). Both scenarios visit me with alarming frequency, especially around the holidays.
All told, I feel sucker-punched every time anxiety attacks.
I know–somehow, someday, someway–I will become a more seasoned mental health practitioner. For now, it is enough to recognize what things trigger my anxiety and alcoholism. If you are like me, you know that this is a major feat. Panic, too, shall pass–
Alcoholics are highly sensitive people. I, for one, feel like a bruised mango at the bottom of a heavy load of fresh produce–and that’s on a good day. This fact about myself kinda sucks, as I work in customer service. But over-sensitivity has been cruel in every job I’ve ever had. I am not surprised that I used alcohol as a solution. Alcohol bites back, though. Much harder than the sting of rejection, boredom or hurt feelings ever could.
I believe that the spiritual solution to my malady is a Higher Power. I take the 12 steps plain, no sugar and no room for cream. But sometimes it’s hard to admit out loud that I have to follow through on self-care, too. The way I have been taught to feel better is to help other people. Eating regular meals, meditating and exercise are some pretty basic measures that help, too. But sometimes all I can muster is putting on a face–smiling, with contoured cheeks and matte-finished ruby lips. I acknowledge that some of us in recovery and many others of us on a different path need to know that the burden to “feel better” is not ours to carry alone. There are some groovy people out there who are willing to work with you, even though they might not understand exactly how you feel. But it is our responsibility to speak up, sooner rather than later. It can feel embarrassing to show what people might view as “weakness” when we admit that situational depression or overwhelming feelings are getting to us. I can promise you that it is worth speaking on it. People might surprise you. Time and time again, I have found that when I expect no one to understand, someone always shows up to defy my expectations.
The dividends for being honest pay handsome rewards.
Today, I had an anxiety attack at work. This time, it came out in tears rather than anger. My default was to quickly run outside to cry it out. But before I excused myself, I paused to tell someone in the kitchen–albeit through broken sentences–that I was having a panic attack. I don’t know why I did this; I just needed someone to know. To my fear’s dismay, two managers came outside to see if I was okay. It made me feel safe and protected, not judged. Not for one second. I feel like that was the first/best Christmas gift I’ve gotten this year. Their compassion and kindness grounded me enough that I could finish my shift with a non-bullshit-fueled smile on my face. It is not often that I am humbled enough to be (almost) speechless.
It is a curious thing to be forceably made vulnerable because of mental illness. The -id in me hates that my shit is laid bare like that. But the super-ego of my psyche is straight up grateful. I do not think that I could last more than a few days in any job if it weren’t for people who attempted to understand rather than to be understood. Groovy people, I tell ya.
Featured Image: courtesy of spin.com , photo by Marc Baptiste
We started our luna de miel with a missed connection in Atlanta. There were tears–there were many tears. But they dried when the dude at Delta’s customer service counter upgraded our seats to First Class on the last flight of the day leaving for San Jose, Costa Rica. The subsequent eight-hour layover resulted in our first Atlanta 12-step meeting. My husband insisted on getting a good start on our photo-journalism tour of Central America with an airport picture for posterity:
We made it to San Jose in roughly five hours. The internet did not come with us. Though Waze was available every now and again, we felt supremely confident that we could mesh our Rosetta Stone and Kitchen Spanish-speaking skills to ask for directions if we needed them–WHEN we needed them. I’ll spare you the details of our trip from Hertz rental cars to the phantom toll booth peaje de fantasma where we were forced to drive backward on a one-way highway. I don’t know why I didn’t hit “avoid tolls” on Waze, because here in Los Estados Unidos, I firmly believe highway tolls are unconstitutional. I refuse to pay them in dollars or colones. My stubborn streak forced us to learn the word and deeper meaning of “change” in Spanish: cambio. We had to, considering we only had a $100 bill to pay a $2 toll. Lady Luck would have come to visit the teller if we chose to surrender to our own ignorance.
The policia took pity on us, too. Our language barrier resulted in a telephone call to the b&b bungalow we reserved for the night. Two ex pats from Germany–a retired couple–answered the call in sleepy tones, asking if it was John on the line. The officers thought this whole thing was hilarious, but neither we nor the Germans found a phone call from the police in the middle of the night amusing. We followed the police van for a few minutes through Altenas, arriving at Apartmentos Altenas. The couple showed us to our bungalow, all the while explaining our late-night intrusion gave them no time to prepare for us as they typically would have. All things considered, it was perfect.
When I asked the husband proprietor how long he and his bride have been married, he replied, “150 years.” I knew right then that my being a directionless wonder, leading my new husband down one-way highways to avoid tolls at all costs, got us exactly where we needed to be. This humble and intelligent couple not only cooked us desayuno the next morning, they told us all about their journey from Germany to Costa Rica while giving us a tour of the property. They showed us this elaborate garden with a homemade irrigation/mini-drip mechanism, where they grew vegetables alongside exotic herbs. The only word I remembered was Bohnenkraut, meaning Summer Savory. Smells like oregano, taste bitter like something else (I’m not the cook here, John is). Evidently it’s a German must-have, akin to cilantro for Costa Rica. An herb I despise but also wish I loved because IT IS IN MF EVERYTHING.
We were sad to say goodbye to this place. But we had three-point-something hours more to drive through weaving mountain roads with the ever-present possibility of mudslides and/or detours. Not to mention the abundance of stray dogs who don’t seem to mind oncoming traffic. We learned the hard way that stopping for puppies is not welcomed, though hazard lights are; that motorcyclists care little for their own safety or for ours.
The best part of our trip was the free coffee with a view. Another impossibly generous couple offered us coffee and dulce de leche on a mountaintop perch. We literally sat with our heads in the clouds watching the winds take shape … bosque nuboso.
Our first resort stay was one of the prettiest and loneliest places I’ve ever visited. We stayed at El Establo, where the Pizotes outnumbered humans 2:1. The Hydrangeas everywhere balanced the flora and fauna considerably, though.
Monteverde, turns out, is a city/town/province that is enormously influenced by Quakers. We were psyched to know this mini-colony has a Friends Meeting House. Too bad we showed up for a scheduled meeting that Wednesday to an empty wooden play house. Empty of 12-steppers, that is. We read to each other from the literature out loud while two actors practiced stage direction and lighting for an upcoming Halloween-themed production. It was weird, but it was enough to keep us sober and pleasant enough.
The Monteverde leg of our trip was designed for us to “explore” the area. We got lost a lot. That’s what helped us transmute our sense of panic and doom to wanderlust and an electrical humility. John drove us using 4-wheel drive down and up every calle. The roads were rife with pendejos, but the locals were incredibly gracious and warm. We ate olla de carne and casado at places like Sabor Tico and Tico y Rico; drank coffee at Cafe Besos, Stella’s Bakery and Choco Cafe. The air smelled like chocolate and coffee. The rain was barely chilly or obstructive. The nights were clear and quiet. We may have stumbled over our spanish words a bit, but the locals continued to speak to us in the most charming and calming way. Not much was lost in translation.
There were many frijoles, but not much touristy activity on our part. If one more effing person asked us if we were going zip lining, puede haber perdido mi mierda. We opted for hiking at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, instead.
I think our hike(s) amounted to about five miles. At one point, we paused to take a picture of this giant tree that seemed to sneeze out a glorious flurry of butterflies. Seeing sanctuaries for all of the mariposas made me remember the nickname one of the cooks at my old restaurant job gave to me, mariposa traicionera, roughly translated as “treacherous butterfly.” I still am not sure what to make of that one. Alas, the hike was brilliant.
So brilliant by design, this hike was, that we ended it at the mouth of las cascadas.
There were besos–there were many besos.
But as is our way, the fun didn’t stop at the cascades. There would be more driving. Lots more driving.
We spent four nights at El Establo, with awesome service and spotty internet. The channels were all in spanish, so we did our best to reckon with Netflix, taking it as an opportunity to watch Mindhunters (give the series a chance, it gets really good midway through the first season).
We off-roaded for our third hours-long trip, heading toward Guanacaste. The rain never stopped falling because we were in the rainy season for the region, but we kind of enjoyed it. Never were there more appropriate circumstances than these to continuously hum “I’m Only Happy When it Rains,” by Garbage. And we got miserably lost, this time to an excellent soundtrack. We anticipated no connection while driving, so I downloaded one of my favorites, The President’s Summer Playlist 2016 (PRESIDENT OBAMA IS THE ONLY PRESIDENT FROM WHOM I’D TAKE MUSICAL RECOMMENDATIONS). We stopped to ask for help reading un mapa, got some fried pork rinds and unwittingly used someone’s home toilet, mistaking their storefront for a tienda rather than a casa.We took the Pan American Highway/Route 1, where instead of stopping for stray dogs, we were halted by giant livestock.
This leg of our journey marked the first time we truly stopped taking ourselves so seriously. Up until this point, we were so wrecked from all of the travel and lost-ness. It felt wonderful to laugh at how clueless we are as a unit. We solidified what I so lovingly refer to as our travel trauma bond. In spite of the chaos that unrelentingly ratcheted up our stress levels, we have never been more kind to each other throughout our entire relationship. If we got nothing else out of our honeymoon, that alone would have been worth it.
But we did. We got massages, aromatherapy, home-cooked meals, enormous surf at la playa El Jobo, poolside beds and coconut virgin daiquiris. We felt like royals at Dreams Las Mareas. That ish was fancy.
We arrived at night, skidding into the parking lot breathless from the insane roads and parrots in our periphery. The staff greeted us with two full champagne glasses, which we promptly insisted they (kindly) get the fuck out of our faces. They didn’t really understand, and we didn’t need them to. We simply can’t afford that kind of luxury.
We ate seafood, steaks, salads and plantains aplenty. The fruit at breakfast was unlike anything I’d ever seen or tasted. There were tourists from all walks of life on their honey moons, birthday vacations and retirement trips. We felt happy, but the continuous service and attention felt uncomfortable. Not too uncomfortable, as we stayed for three nights, walking the grounds for hours and returning to our suite each night to wear our swanky plush bathrobes. We ordered room service and watched the ID channel in English. There simply is nothing better. We gifted the room service guy with our free bottle of wine. We spent too much money on getting our clothes laundered and we used the balcony Jacuzzi, but not before we thought we broke it. This was opulence at its finest.
We ended our stay with the gift of a gorgeous sunset. The next day, we schlepped through our final road trip. When we arrived at Liberia airport, I realized we left all of the beautiful souvenirs purchased at Don Juan coffee/chocolate tours in the trunk of our Kia rental. THERE WERE TEARS. Those tears quickly turned to anger then defeat. We hugged each other, then shut up. There was nothing more we could do to change the situation while lining up in zone 2 to board our plane. I cried and prayed until we were seated then greeted with Starbuck’s coffee on the flight. It’s like they knew what would settle me down.
Our trip to Costa Rica changed me. I am a little less fearful, and a little more willing to trust the person I am. My husband was the real MVP of the trip, thank god. If you’ve made it this far through the blog post, you’re probably almost as exhausted (if not more) than we were when we arrived home this past Monday. Thank you for reading. There is more to come, there always is.