Excellent News, Loves..!

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It has been an honor and a privilege to build a rapport with all of you on this blog. I am excited to continue our blog-friendship on a more expansive platform.

Sending love for the holidays,

Lucy

♥♥

Cruel Ruby

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–

This Song Will (Not) Last Forever.

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.

xo

Featured Image: courtesy of spin.com , photo by Marc Baptiste

El B’s

Alcohol was the master I served for over a decade. But like most alcoholics and addicts of my type, I often take orders from other afflictions. In fact, I’ve written about that for AfterParty Magazine.

I suffer from disordered eating.

There, I said it. Let me be clear, though: I do not identify as an anorexic, nor have I ever purged as a result of binge eating. But I struggle, every day, with the obsession that I am not the size, weight or body type I am meant to be.  According to whom? That remains to be seen.

I wait about two weeks in-between “weighing sessions.” I allow that amount of time to elapse because every time I step on the scale, my heart sinks into my feet. The act itself ruins my entire day. It’s disappointing to self-report that I’ve gained another two pounds; it’s devastating to admit that I lost even more control over my weight. I never cared as much about such a small amount of El Be’s (=lbs, pounds) as I do right now. Not even when I was 16, tortured by the idea of going to Lake Mary for my sweet sixteen, forced to be bikini-clad in public. The idea that anyone other than my immediate family would see me in a bathing suit horrified me.

The first time I knew I had a problem with eating versus drinking was the first break I came home to visit my family freshman year of college. I studied at a small liberal arts college in Vermont, where I discovered the delights of Rolling Rock, 99 Apples and 10-foot glass sculptures from head shops. I mostly remember the -47 degree weather and the fact that one cannot step outside with wet hair without icicles forming. My family took notice that I gained weight, the dreaded Freshman Fifteen. It was actually the verbiage they used, saying my face looked “puffy.” That was code for fat, I thought. Looking back, i’m positive that what they saw were the first physical signs of my alcoholism. It stuck with me, despite their obvious love as evidence contrary to my negative thought processes. I spent the subsequent two weeks fasting on Yoplait and black olives. Fucking disgusting. Yet, effective–

I dropped 12 pounds in two weeks.

I came back to school expecting a huge reaction from my friends. There was none. I was bummed. More than that, I was super angry. Why had I gone to the great lengths I did in order to lose weight? Furthermore, why did I bother staving off my desire to drink in order to starve? I wanted someone to notice how much my hard work had paid off. I also wanted a goddamn potato chip. So I started working out, and I got both.

My best friend in college was my favorite person to work out with. We used to giggle uncontrollably anytime we came to the gym still wreaking of booze (amateurs.)  I take most of the credit for that one, especially after I started sweating. It was hard to take much of anything seriously by that point, but we prevailed. My modus operandi was the elliptical. I loved that I did not have to go anywhere or do anything except move in the exact same motion for an hour in order to burn precisely 650 calories. What a gift. What a coincidence, too, because that’s how many servings of pretzels/chips/crackers I would eat later. The law of averages doing its due diligence, I guess.

I categorize my second semester of freshman year as the darkest few months of my life. Well, until sophomore year when my dad died. Oh, and grad school in New York. Followed closely by the San Bernardino/San Diego days. It’s been quite the ride into the depths! More to the point, I found that no matter where I was, I felt better about my drinking when I could manipulate the intake of food I’d give myself in a given day. I decided never to count my drinks, only my calories. I saw just one snag in this plan: I got hungry after a few drinks. That meant Oreos after hours. Speaking of which, and not to get too far off track, but there was one point during my senior year of college when I went home for Thanksgiving with one of my best friends and her family. We got shit-faced with her friends going out to all her old stomping ground bars. When we got home, I felt sick. Sick, like, I hadn’t eaten more than half a bagel all day, so my body didn’t have the ability to absorb the narsty amount of alcohol I dumped into my system. Lest we forget my affinity for Oreos, I got to a point where I had to throw up. Once I did, I saw that the contents in the toilet were completely black. I ran to my friend worried I was dying. She very sweetly tried to explain to me that what I was seeing were the Oreos I ate earlier, not sudden death. I laughed out loud, but inside I felt like a complete asshole.

Two summers ago, I saw a doctor for my anxiety. My counselor was sweet and helpful, and eventually responsible for helping me turn to yoga as a physical calming method. However, my body had had enough. I was a year and a half sober, deeply immersed in my 12-step program, yet suffering from debilitating anxiety. She prescribed me a medication that, long story short, made me very sick. I won’t go into the ghastly detail it would take to describe what I went through, but let’s just say my symptoms mimicked those of food poisoning. Twenty-four-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week, five-month-long-food poisoning.

I dropped 25 pounds in two months. I didn’t have 25 pounds to lose.

Once my symptoms let up, I had been on my medication for about six months. I felt so much better mentally. And eventually, I got my physical strength back. The one symptom I hadn’t anticipated remaining was the deathly fear I had of gaining all that weight back. So I began restricting. Multiple friends messaged me on social media, asking if I was okay after they saw a picture of myself I had posted. This made me feel exposed, guilty. Especially considering that the friends who said something were not in any way dramatic or critical, just worried. I felt embarrassed and stripped of justification. The medicine no longer caused me to lose weight. My doctor noticed, too. She confronted me about how much weight I kept losing. I told her what I was eating with about as much honesty as when I told my doctor in Los Angeles how much I drank–

The Limit Does Not Exist.

Another, little-known fact: my fiance is a cook at a swanky restaurant. When he moved home from NYC, he was taken aback by my appearance. If I’m being honest with myself, he had been concerned a few months prior. I chose to deflect then, but I couldn’t exactly swat away the truth with him standing in front of me, mano y mano. He expressed to me that there was deep irony in him dedicating his life to loving food, with a girlfriend who chose not to eat any. He was upset and worried. I came clean about how deep my obsession went, but I don’t think that allowed the worry to lessen. So I made it a point to eat every single meal he created. After a few months, I gained back nearly every pound I lost. I was at once proud and horrified.

It’s amazing. Amazing how the brain can convince you that you don’t need food, or love, or honesty. There is way more to this story than what I’ve disclosed here. But that’s because it’s an ongoing issue. I know there are people reading this–particularly women–who know exactly what I’m talking about. Those of us in recovery from anything know that there is almost always a long road to walk in order to heal. I am not sure what my road will look like, but I don’t want to know right now. If I knew what early sobriety would have required of me, I’m not sure I would have followed through with the journey. Thank God for blissful ignorance.

And thank God for writing.

xx

How I Know

I’m going to write as much as possible for the next few days. It’s Friday, and students from all of the public and private schools where I substitute are on overlapping Spring Breaks. I kinda forgot the kids would be out of school for this long (two weeks). I’m relieved to have a break. As much as I bitch to those who will listen, I feel grateful to have more than one job. It’s times like these I can afford to be clueless about my constantly-revolving schedule.

Now, for this:

I’ve had a big, ongoing fear that I will one day run out of things to talk about. Like, somehow my thoughts will stop evolving. I think the deeper fear is that I will have nothing good enough to say that will keep people’s attention. But that’s a bullshit false humility. As long as my brain is functioning on all cylinders, I will have something to talk about. Every time I try not to think or not to write, my brain won’t let me be. Last night was one of those nights. I got to sleep around 3:00 AM.

At 7:00 AM I lurched out of bed. For the past week I’ve barely slapped together one night of decent sleep. It’s tempting to get frustrated by my exhaustion, but I know to pause; I’ve been here before. I did about .5 seconds of research just now to discover that others experience similar physical responses to mine when their Sixth Sense takes over, whether that’s sleeplessness, choppy breathing, sweating, racing thoughts or stomach aches. According to Method 3 of Wikihow’s “3 Ways to Follow Your Intuition,” I have good reason to listen to my Spidey Senses:

Pay attention to your physical reactions. Dangerous or uncomfortable situations may trigger a physical stress response. In addition to an upset stomach, you might feel your palms sweating and your heart racing. In some cases, our bodies pick up on the signs that something is amiss before our brains do. Listen to what your body is telling you: these stress reactions are a signal to the conscious mind to be on guard.

I haven’t talked about this in awhile, but I have a pretty intense story that I point to whenever I start to feel like my gut instincts lead me astray.

On a weekend in the 90s, my twin sister and I were at a Pizza Hut doing the whole “Book It” challenge (do you remember that?!) with our parents. We were two slices deep into our personal pan pizzas when I started to feel my heart beat hard and quick. I ignored it at first because I didn’t want to be perceived as a hypochondriac. (Note: not reaching out for help would be a theme that would follow me well into the next decade). I must have given a weird look, so my mom asked me what was wrong. She sounded worried when I told her, but for whatever reason we all decided to just chill and see what would happen. Minutes later, my heart started palpitating. It didn’t hurt, but I knew something was off in my body. I started to sweat and hyperventilate. Not a moment passed before my dad got a phone call from my older sister’s husband who had gone into labor. He told us that her second born child was delivered safely, but that he had a congenital heart defect. We all sat there stunned not really knowing what to make of this development. Thankfully, my nephew pulled through and is a healthy young man today. But even then, I knew this was something worth remembering. I believe I had a premonition that day.

Though I could go on about the negatives of my anxiety as a result of intuitive thought, having one to listen to in the first place is my favorite part of being human. It’s the most basic and efficient way to suss out any situation by leaning almost completely on my Higher Power. There is no real way to substantiate intuitive thoughts, at least not scientifically. Though, I have read some thoroughly-research articles on the matter, including one published the year I was born. All I know is that my inner knowledge wakes up when I hear certain music or smell familiar fragrances. Is it a spiritual thing? Do other people feel senses at the same time in potentially dangerous situations? I think it’s worth investigating.

Consider this my field research.

xx

Dipped and Dyed

It was two o’clock on a Sunday when my eyes fluttered open. The light was bright–like, make-me-wretch-violently, bright. “Good,” I breathed warily, “It’s not rush hour yet.”

It was two o’clock, to be exact, on Easter Sunday. Really, it was just another day. As long as the Ralph’s on La Brea stayed open until I could get there-or-be-square, fit to be tied, on the buy-one-get-one-half-off sale for Oyster Bay Sauvingnon Blanc wine. Give me wine (from obscure regions like Marlborough of New Zealand), or give me death! Though to be fair, what was more urgent for me was to keep my parking spot secured outside of the apartment. That would require some hustle on my part, to and from the store to secure our provisions. Ah, to be young and drunk!

I enjoyed the forgotten holidays the most. Forgotten to me, that is; Christ rising seems to strike a memorable cord with others. Merely a detail. I didn’t need divine celebration. Like, ever. Who needs God when something secret, magical and sacred happens on the days that officially require nothing out of me, an atheist, and even less from the general hedonistic crowd I worshiped booze with? Rhetorical questions for (holi)dayssssss.

I drank because it made me feel bright and shiny, like the child of God I was fashioned to be. Cloaked in a shroud of false confidence, I celebrated that shit out of holidays I cared nothing about. I had every reason to feel uplifted: good job, a designated drinking buddy (boyfriend), available friends, temporary money in the bank and tight jeans. That’s all I ever needed to have a good time. A pair of Ray Bans didn’t hurt, either. Gotta look the part. Too bad underneath those shades my eyes were blood shot, my energies fixated on my next drink and the future pack of cigarettes necessary to mask my homesickness for the holidays. Staycations are slightly less fun when your alcoholism forces you into them.

We yanked the vodka out of his freezer to take some morning shots. “Oooo wait, there’s some Jager left!” he shouts, “Two more shots. Two for me, I mean. Maybe you, too.” Our couple unit had stayed drunk 28 nights (and some days) to date, a fact we were most proud to highlight. We woke up that day, like the previous 28, hungover and ill-prepared for human contact. And almost on cue, his parents called minutes after our morning “juice” to send their Easter love. And we felt the love. A bottle of Dom Perignon was in our future, sponsored by his generous and somewhat clueless family. “What do you two have planned for today? Dad and I are gonna enjoy this weather.” “Uh, we’ll probably cook some dinner, maybe go out later.” I covered my mouth to stifle my laughter. The only time he and I ever cooked anything, it was the elk his family hunted then put into the freezer. It was delicious, but not in my flavor profile. I think I had forgotten the greens (or was it a carb?) on the stove, setting off the fire alarm. We spent the next 15 minutes fanning the smoke away from the alarm and out of the windows. I took that opportunity to light up a cigarette with my head popped outside. I was selfish. Beyond that, I had a nasty habit of leaving shit on the stove or in the oven while wasted. By a grace higher than I deserved, I never needed to lean on mine or anyone else’s renter’s insurance for fire damage.

I composed myself enough to feign interest for this conversation. We chatted his folks up for awhile on speaker phone, batting away the sunshine streaming through the blinds as if it were a swarm of hornets. Might as well have been. “Oh, shit, we gotta call you back, Mom. We love you.” God forbid we don’t take the incoming call from his neighbor, a man I introduced him to when we moved my couch into his apartment. “Let’s hang out with Christina,” he chirps. For those of us who don’t abuse legal or illegal substances, Christina is a name we used when referring to cocaine. I guess you could say this was our version of an Easter egg hunt–search all the plastic eggs to find your perfect dime bag! Jelly beans are bullshit.

The Neighbors. This was the moniker we used to describe our troupe of European gay men who took us to The Abbey like every night. Easter weekend was no exception. Had I been more harmonious with a calendar, I’d be able to tell you when exactly The Neighbors introduced me to poppers. I know it was while watching sweaty men undulate under strobe lights, dancing to Britney’s Toxic. “Lift up your chin and close your eyes,” one of them said. “Inhale, NOW.” It was then I officially became the Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes. “Wow. This makes me want to do it.” “Do what? He giggled. “Dance like no one’s watching,” I very seriously replied. That was the same night my boyfriend dropped me while giving me a drunken piggy back ride home.

The Dom Perignon didn’t last but for a few measly sips. It kind of devastated me. Sixty bones for a legit bottle of booze and it lasted no longer than the Popov vodka we’d later destroy. For someone who blacked out regularly, I would never forget the nights when I just couldn’t get drunk. Didn’t matter what swill I dumped down my gullet–my liver couldn’t process my drinking at the rate I was going. For an alcoholic of my type, there is no greater heart break.

I wish I could tell you I recognized my need to change right then and there, but I couldn’t. Not enough light seeped through the blinds that day, I guess.

Can’t explain, but it’s almost hard to recognize myself
Slowly I’ve changed, turned into someone else
I find myself doin’ things I’d never do
Dreamin’ of [it] the whole day through
Can’t explain, there is no need
There’s no one else who’s been inside of me

Can’t be explained
And there ain’t no reason to
Something strange
Just takes over you

I drank because alcohol made me feel less alone. I spent time with people who I had nothing in common with because it made me feel more interesting. I experimented with other substance because I wanted to defy my family who had raised me to love myself. With every sip of champagne, I spat in the fire, fanning the flames, drinking at others. I broke my own heart, repeatedly, in order to do what my disease saw fit: drink like no one was watching, until eventually, they couldn’t look away.

This is my third sober Easter. Dipped and dyed, purified. I don’t know that my sobriety makes me feel any closer to the holiday. It does make me wonder how many masses I’ve sat through white knuckling the pew. I have’t tried to investigate that too closely. But with every passing year, I get a little more used to celebrating holidays with my family. My mother continues to make me and my sister elaborate Easter baskets. I still wake up early on Easter Sunday to pick through the fake grass to find jelly beans hidden at the bottom of the basket. I don’t avoid the sunlight coming into my room, either, especially when the plants I have need all the light they can get. This year, like the last, I feel closer to okay. From Perignon champs to French Press cafe.

Happy Easter xx

The Meteor Shower Principle

At 3:30am on August 13th, I dragged my mother outside to watch the Perseid meteor shower at one of its peak shower hours. I hadn’t yet put in my contacts, so squinting only upped my anticipation. I ran back into the house to grab my Dodgers hoody (compliments of one of my besties in Boston–an Irish, beautiful Boston Red Sox-lover at heart) and my seeing eyes. I came back outside just in time to witness some action. I was so excited when I immediately saw a bright meteor shoot across the sky. A couple of minutes later, I saw a second, less bright, meteor make a dash on the night. It didn’t take long before my neck ached from looking up for 10 minutes straight. I stood there willing the meteors to show themselves, waiting impatiently in the dark. I kept my gaze fixed on the north-eastern part of the clear Petersburg skies. It had just rained a couple of days before, providing a crystalline backdrop for stargazing and Perseids-hunting. I wanted to see more, then I realized how fucking cool it was I saw any action at all. I smiled with the thought of two close friends in LA who made the trip to Joshua Tree to watch the Perseids under desert skies. We star-gazed in solidarity–together–in different time zones under the same stars.

I had insomnia that night, so I took to watching my favorite bedtime standby, 30 Rock, on Netflix. The episode I saw featured Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) schooling Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) on The Shower Principle. Lemon gets bummed when she meets with her accountant, who tells her that she does and says the same thing every year. She starts a meditation practice to find clarity; she finds a journal she kept the year before to trace her problem-solving steps. Jack explains to her that the brain needs distraction in order to figure things out. He opines that the best place to have ideas that come without effort is in the shower, when the brain is distracted by nothing but relaxation. He credits Lemon with distracting him enough to problem-solve for his company, Kabletown.

This show is my kind of ridiculous. I want to be like Tiny Fey one day. I’d like to have Alec Baldwin-as-Jack Donaghy’s confidence, too. But this episode made me think even more than it made me laugh. Standing there, under the meteor shower, I started to try too hard to will something into existence. I wanted the perfectly beautiful and natural fireworks show to give me more than it already had. After I watched 30 Rock, having mediated and journaled myself, I realized that I was experiencing The Meteor Shower Principle: peace coming to me when I least expected it.

I can’t will shooting stars into falling, just like I can’t will time to move faster. I am a tiny person under a behemoth sky, watching particles of dust burn up in the earth’s atmosphere. The meteors I saw happened in my periphery–when I least expected to see them. When I try too hard, I tend to miss things that happen in the present. I like the idea of truth coming to me unexpectedly, when I am open and willing to see it.   

I am 17 months sober today, August 17th. I got here by living a program of action rather than will power. I surrendered my attempts at controlling alcoholism by yielding to a power greater than myself. I never expected that I could live my life without using alcohol to comfort me. I never would have come up with that idea if I had been trying too hard to find a solution. Recovery came to me because I stopped looking for myself in other people and things. I’ve had to work every day to do my part in staying sober. The rest has come through grace. I have an abundance of love and support today because I adhere to The Meteor Shower Principle–love given is love received.

xx

Photo courtesy of lionsgroundnews.com

(500) Days of Sober

Five Oh OH!

Double O face today, my friends.

Because my math is shaky at best, I assume yours is, too. Five hundred days = 1.36 years, 11,985 hours, 16.38 months of sobriety. None of these numbers matter more than 24–my span of ruin, rapture or radiant joy in a convenient day-shaped package. Now that I have insomnia, I live 20 out of those 24 hours with a motherfucking smile, tears or a confused look on my face. Sometimes all three.

Here is how I’ve changed in 500 Days of Sober:

1. I connect to something more powerful than me. Love, acceptance of self/others, the sex powers and musical stylings of Bowie.

2. I hone my decision-making skills. I don’t cajole, manipulate or conquer choices. I ask for guidance then make my decision. I ignore self-doubt because that’s boring. Consequences happen, either way.

3. Honesty. What gets under my skin, why and what part I have in that. The truth is kinder to me these days. I don’t apologize unless I mean it.

4. I honor my intuition. These guts turn for me and me alone. I don’t obfuscate my view of the truth within me by drinking. I listen. And I cry now.

5. Authenticity or bust. I am strong in my vulnerability. I relay where I am with no filter, aside from a deep wellspring of joy. It’s my nature.

That said, I am the proud owner of multiple new (or newly discovered) character defects. What the fuck ever, I’m human. I can’t answer several million of the questions I have for my life, so I’ll stop trying. There is a greater force working on my behalf. Because my mother has cable, I caught this Oprah show about attitude. A woman she interviewed described how her life changed when she began thinking, “The world is rigged in my favor.”  Or as my sponsor likes to say, “You can have it.”

In the movie, (500) Days of Summer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt convinces himself he can’t live without Summer, Zooey Deschanel’s character. He gets bent out of shape that she won’t love him like he thinks she should. He sees what he wants to see. Granted, she feeds his fantasy. He throws himself headlong into a murky romantic entanglement. He controls, he cries, he crashes. Summer, like my cruel lover, booze, does not reciprocate the feelings. This is not a love story. There are no winners. Thank God booze is not a person, or I’d have wasted many hours waiting for texts and calls that would never come. Booze hits it and quits it.

Who wants angst when you can just be? I woke up this morning, happy. I get to create beauty. I write, I speak, I listen, I laugh–I laugh harder when someone knows the exact right way to make fun of me. I spend time with my mother. I work. I eat. I yoga. I listen to Joy Division and Rhye. I do not cower before my emotions.

When I untethered myself from alcohol, I created the space to change, to be. The most pressing question I will answer today is, “What do I want to create?” instead of “Will the liquor store clerk give me a discount on Bullet whiskey if I flirt hard enough?”

I am not afraid to be who I am. I am not afraid of much these days, come to think of it. Except maybe intimacy. I cop to that. But that’s where faith comes in. My relationships to friends and family teach me to be less afraid. Fear has little use for me. Action steps, doing the right thing–those replace ambivalence. Or in my case, fear of failure. Also something that bores me.

In short, it is physically impossible to follow fear when my Higher Power is David Bowie.

Bowie is Paris

xx