While Patience Percolates

The sweetest sound in my mornings is the subtle music coffee makes¬†while it percolates. The only overture which guarantees I’ll make it anywhere–ever–is the promise¬†of coffee. I don’t have much luck once I get downstairs to pour my first cup because I outrun the speed at which the coffee drips. I remember when I helped my mother purchase our coffee-maker; I insisted she buy the one where you can pour a cup while the machine suspends its production. One can always put the¬†pot back on its burner. This mad rush in the morning drives my mother crazy. She doesn’t get why I can’t just¬†wait.¬†Maybe¬†put more makeup on or something? she asks. No, mom, it doesn’t work that way. There isn’t enough mascara in the world.

Lack of patience, she portends, will make for unnecessarily miserable days to come.

My coffee routine, of course, is a microcosm of my world view. My absence of patience has led me down many creative dead ends in my lifetime. This is not to say that my mistakes are less beautiful than my successes, just that they are less obvious and much more difficult to unravel. So we shall call them creative cul-de-sacs.

Thanks to my practice of silence with self, meditation hastens my patience production right along. What’s interesting, though, is it also makes me feel irritable or sometimes angry. When I sit still for 12 minutes, as I have done most days for the past week, I feel great until I don’t. It’s almost as if my addictive self gets frustrated with the few minutes where my spirit and soul spurn my brain’s anxious intrusions. I am rarely ever angry with a person or an event on these occasions. I feel frustrated for absolutely no reason at all–not one I can recognize, anyway.

I fell into a thought cul-de-sac this week with my teacher life. On Thursday, a parent of one of the school’s students came in to tutor me in science, equipped with cool demos and funny stories of his teaching experiences. I listened with rapt attention, hanging onto his every word. I thought, “How the fuck am I ever going to be able to understand the laws of the universe, let alone teach them?” My thoughts made their crescendo to a point where if this nice man looked up from his book, he would have witnessed the thought bubble¬†hover ’round my head. He kept talking, though, so I kept swatting the thought bubble aside to obsess over later.

I’ve started three careers since 2009. I’ve been a political organizer, a writer and now a teacher–five years, eight months and six months, respectively. Never once did I picture myself skipping into the sunset while fundraising for candidates. Never once did I imagine birds chirping as I write the final pages of my novel, greeting the daylight with no sleep on a deadline that looms. But more than once, I’ve pictured myself teaching sixth graders about protons and neutrons–and liking what I see. More than once, I’ve watched as the smile creeps across a students face when she correctly identifies the phases of the moon in order, no less. More than once, I saw myself fulfilling my vocation.

My twin called me on Friday to see how things were going. I told her how intimidated I was by the whole “being teacher-ready” process. I explained how much of a paradox it is that more people are leaving the profession than are coming into it. And why do I have to work so hard for credentials and placement when that is the case? She went into real-talk mode immediately. “What do you define as success?” she asks. And for the first time in my life, I answered without a convoluted response: “I want to be a good teacher, that’s all.” She told me how hard it will be to have that success. She is in her third year of residency as a podiatrist, living in something similar to a sleep-deprived hell. She told me that to work toward something I define as success, I can’t be fooled by self-doubt. That I have to work hard to remain focused. That I have to be patient–“Lucy. You HAVE to be patient,” she repeats thrice, for dramatic effect.

On many a campaign trail, I learned from training that a voter won’t be fazed by a candidate’s message until he’s heard it an average of¬†seven times–and in as many ways. I wonder at this point how many times my sis will have to repeat herself for the message to resonate. As it turns out, the pursuit of success as I’ve defined it will not be subject to my impatience. Lest I forget, I promised myself over two years ago that my ultimate definition of success is to remain sober one day at a time. That’s all. It is clear to me now that I will have to remind myself of this definition every day, multiple times a day. But when I don’t remember to do this, and my coffee is still brewing, I’ll need a little help from my friends. Who knows? Maybe I can remind them, too.

And like a good friend, I’ll tell them it’s “Time for Da Percolator.”

A good friend who gets songs from the 90’s stuck in their heads.

 

Photo courtesy of Healthy Home and Kitchen

 

 

 

 

 

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Snowlidary Confinement

Day six of snowed-in-ness and the plows JUST arrived. Side streets all over Petersburg¬†were¬†caked with snow and ice, long after the storm had passed. Snowzilla–or Storm Jonus–swept¬†Virginia¬†last Thursday night, right on the heels of news that I’d be my school’s new¬†permanent science class substitute.

I haven’t been to school yet.

But I now know a hell of a lot more about plate tectonic shifts, velocity, photosynthesis and convection. I saved about 100 articles on Facebook from I Fucking Love Science, too. I’ll¬†do myself the favor now and¬†tweak that URL for the kids, out of common decency.

Kids love snow days. I have never much cared for them; I don’t do cold weather, nor do I revel in snow play. I’m sure that¬†teachers appreciate them a whole lot, though. These snow days were different for me, however, because they were my first ones spent sober. I was grateful for them, but¬†with a caveat: I fear¬†loneliness. And, irony/pun intended,¬†I am not alone.¬†Isolation of any kind¬†is a big cause for concern in the recovery community. The same can be argued for those experiencing depression. Often, individuals dealing with addiction qualify as¬†dual-diagnosis¬†cases (myself included)¬†facing the double-whammy¬†that is¬†mental health issues AND addiction. Generally speaking, isolation makes me feel kinda bleh. This means that I have to get out to meetings where other humans are; coffee, dinner and movie AA dates are nearly non-negotiable (trust me, I’ve tried). I’m not a fan of contrived socializing, any more than I am a proponent of Netflix for a week straight with no outside interaction.

But now that I love being in my own company, otherwise-isolating snow days¬†are a blast. I did online AA meetings, I spoke on the phone to my recovery and non-recovery friends and I blossomed within my at-home¬†30-day yoga practice. Thanks to a few¬†hours of intense yoga sessions–with candles burning as I wore my skivvies–I can now do headstands. I have been practicing yoga for NINE years without ever achieving such a thing. The best part of all of this is what I discovered: isolation is not the same as spending time alone. Being snowed in was not my choice, but spending quality time with myself very much was.

Not every¬†person in my very (very) small circle of AA friends out here agrees with my opinions on alone time. I don’t blame them; alcoholics in a snow storm is like a set-up for a bad punchline. Setting aside the pleasant shock of seeing snow for the first time since 2008, I had a few reservations myself. At the slightest glimpse of a storm, I would be the first one in the liquor store line to stock my shelves with “provisions.” But the closest I came to that kind of self-sabotage were the relapse nightmares I had for the past two nights.¬†As scary as it is to imagine a life back in active addiction, a dream is just a dream. (I had one exception: I dreamt three nights ago I went to space with Rob Lowe.)¬†My reality is much sweeter, albeit quite cold. Altogether, free of any Rob Lowe not on a screen.

I’m not saying it’s good to hole up inside your home and tell the world to go fuck itself. I’m merely pointing out that it can be nice to take a break from constant socializing. I think we could use a little more of that.¬†What is most¬†important for me to remember is to jump back into face-to-face interactions as soon as possible. I’ll do so, with snow boots on. Maybe some flannel.

Enjoy the sun, Cali.

Photo courtesy of ToppixGallery

 

 

 

You Started It

Last year, man. WHAT a production. Gay marriage got really legal, fire arms were used for suffering, Bowie and The Weeknd released two new songs each, I filed for bankruptcy, LA had another earthquake (I think). And that Adele. The world danced on its axis–with the bravado of a psycho maestro.

2015, you were a real piece of work. Lots of emotions.

I began 2016 with Pellegrino, Ferrero Rocher, Ryan Seacrest and Times Square on the TV, transporting me back to where I¬†elbowed through thousands of¬†tourists not even 24 hours before. The drama of it all. I spent the hours prior to balls dropping ’round the world at an “alcathon” with my sponsor. We ate barbeque, listened to Scorpions and¬†managed to stay sober. All in all, I’d say it was a proper way to ring in the New Year.

I ushered in the daylight portion of January 1 with my (late) dad’s side of the family. I saw my cousin and his wifey, who¬†are in from Brussels. I informed him immediately¬†how I realized–as I hope he did–that¬†Antwerp is, in fact, also¬†in Belgium. I was really proud of that.¬†He tried to¬†humor me. Americans me and our my¬†bunk geography, boooooo. I then¬†went home to complete my first day of Yoga Camp, a 30-day, in-home yoga challenge. Yoga is legit the only thing that makes my spirit feel connected to the rest of my body. I took up a practice with YouTube–more specifically Yoga With Adriene (I seriously cannot say enough good things about her). Don’t fret, though, I’m not a resolutionist. It took about two hours of talking myself into doing something I already¬†wanted to do¬†before I could commit to the mat. Whatever, I did it and I loved it.

Yoga With Adriene

(That’s Adriene,¬†my new bud. Look how proud of me¬†she is).

I decided 2016 is already great. Great, because I’m alive, sober and still slingin curse words. I’ve already had about 40 million obsessive thoughts so far, but none of them were about drinking so FUCK. It’s working. And I’m working. Got a surprise paycheck from substituting, so I’m not complaining. Great, too, because I made a decision to start saving. Maybe for a car, but maybe for something else. Perhaps a move. All I can think about (not that this is anything new) is going back to Los Angeles. I won’t make any rash decisions because that shit is too expensive. Several thousand¬†ill-conceived moves led me to a mountain of debt that is currently getting “mitigated.” From 2008 to 2015, I had 12 different addresses. No more double-digit logistics. No, no, that’s not my way anymore. Only one.

The kicker is, I’ve set my intention to be where I am. Except I travel to Pennsylvania tomorrow to help my sister and her husband pack up for him to move. From NYC to VA to PA. Thank God for Greyhound. I straight up have no idea where I am headed in 2016. I was told early on in sobriety that if you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything. I’m practicing The Big Pause. But my heart knows what’s up. I’m not ignoring it, just priming it. My family is here, my boyfriend is in NYC and my heart is in LA. I have faith I’ll end up where I’m meant to be.

A big thank you to all of you for a great first year of bloggership. I’ve loved the process of spilling my guts to total strangers and friends in over 30 different countries. Thank you for reading…and listening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Ambivert’s Dilemma

Back in the dog days of summer, 2015, I visited with friends I’ve had since middle school. We talked for hours about all sorts of things, particularly how our lives had run parallel to each other’s over the years. For whatever reason, we began to talk about the difference between introverts and extroverts. We all decided that each of us fell on different spots of the spectrum. One of my girls brought out her copy of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can‚Äôt Stop Talking¬†by Susan Cain. She gave me the introvert vs. extrovert quiz,¬†where we found that¬†I am what is known as an ambivert–someone who is equal parts extrovert and introvert.

Back in¬†my dogs days of drinking, I thought alcohol enhanced the extrovert within me. I took every opportunity to be the center of attention. I became more sassy, more bold, more passionate. What my cohorts and/or “audience” did not see when I became inebriated was my private disquiet, my severe discomfort. I¬†hurt internally as I performed externally. I did¬†not recognize my need to be true to the introvert I knew myself to be. I denied my desire to be alone because I was lonely; the thought of being with people¬†made me want to jump out of¬†a 13-story window.¬†The paradox I faced was the desperate need¬†for attention that rivaled my need to isolate. What a set up! An introvert who doesn’t want to be alone¬†who also¬†has¬†a dangerous habit of isolating. I began to implode. When I drank, I became combustible.

As I entered into recovery, I avoided any place where I knew more than a couple of people would be. The only crowds of people I could tolerate were at meetings. I couldn’t bring myself to “fellowship,” in large part because of my distaste for program people using that word as a verb. I found that my insecurities in early sobriety prevented me from feeling joy in socializing. I forced myself to go anyway,¬†on the advice of my sponsor and program friends. I am glad that I was able to¬†ignore the severe discomfort I felt while socializing in those early months of fragility. However, I am finding more and more that I enjoy time alone more than I enjoy being with lots of people. And I am in good company.

My people-pleasing streak is slowing to a painful lurch. This comes at a good time, as it is the holiday season. My diminished need to be everything to everyone is much more economical in its¬†spiritual and monetary value. I don’t say “yes” to every invitation to hang out, nor do I squirm in self-doubt when I actually am around people. Now that I am able to become friends with the introverted part of myself, I am much more fun to be around these days. In fact, I prefer being my own friend, rather than outsourcing friendship to others. The introvert and extrovert within me¬†are best friends. As a result, I am better friends with others around me, if not a quieter friend.

Less personal shadow boxing = more interpersonal success.

The day-to-day challenge I face–other than to remain emotionally sober–is to shine forth as an authentic version of myself. Rather¬†than picking and choosing the parts of me that fit what I think people want to be around, I need to show up as-is. I think most people find it challenging to be true to themselves, but for me it’s a matter of exposing the shadowy parts of my personality that want to keep the addictive side of me alive and unwell. I can honor the introvert I am without isolating. I can be extroverted without disassociating. I can be sober, therefore I can be a true ambivert. Maybe I can take my ambivert self to more Christmas parties this season. Or maybe I’ll remain in my sweatpants.¬† The dual sides of me are no longer in competition. As long as I put recovery first, I am¬†golden.

So, we’ll call it a draw.

Photo courtesy of BrideMag

Part 2 Lady St*rdust is Born

Ladies and Gentleman, meet the woman, the myth, the legend–Lady Stardust:

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 I have never seen a more relevant (in my eyes) Halloween costume. I love Halloween because people get to be whatever they want to be in front of everyone. I think we should celebrate Halloween all the time–maybe it would give us all permission to actually be what we want to be without fear of reprimand or scorn. That is, unless, you want to unearth your secret racism or misappropriate cultural stereotypes for your own gain. 

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I’d like to wear more glitter and colorful hair. I’d also like to wear full body suits with high-heeled boots like Nicole did, because I think it would make the world a better place (just like she does). Halloween is a good exercise in the IDGAF mentality. David Bowie created an alter-ego in Ziggy Stardust because he did not give a fuck. His rock star persona made him a rock star because he took outrageous liberties when he cultivated this other-wordly character.

So when I gave no fucks, like Nicole and Bowie, yesterday turned out to be the best Halloween I’ve ever had. I joined my friend Fancie while she officiated a wedding in Chester. We traveled to the couple’s home where they were married in the back yard with their close families and friends. They stood next to the grave they made for their dog “Nicholas Cage.” The lovers were tattooed from head to toe, grinning from ear to ear with excitement and love. It was one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen. The couple dressed as devilish ghouls and they looked amazing. They were so nervous, but their vows were heartfelt and I could feel their love for each other. It was an honor to be a part of such a rad wedding celebration. No one questioned the woman dressed as a Pineapple taking pictures for them on everyone’s iPhone.

PineappleThe only thing that trumps not giving a fuck is spending Halloween sober. I am so grateful to have my second sober Halloween in the books. Holidays–even the silliest ones–are tough for recovering addicts and alcoholics sometimes. Every now and again I get euphoric recall about the fun I had getting wasted with my friends. What I have to remind myself, however, is the unfun I had walking home alone getting lonelier and lonelier with every step. Half the time I ended up on some stranger’s couch, confused and disoriented as to how I got there. Even if I started the night out with my group of friends, I almost always ghosted them to stay out later at the bar or to go home with a stranger. I’m sure they were worried about me, but I didn’t have enough others-centered thoughts to care.

I look forward to dressing up for Halloween next year. Maybe in the near-future, I will be dressing up my toddlers in cute costumes. Half the fun of Halloween is getting to see my friends’ children dress as mini cupcakes, lions, Forrest Gumps or elephants. Me as a mother is a real-life costume I wouldn’t mind trying out.

Spookier things have happened.

Featured image courtesy of Popblerd

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