A Tale of Two Drug Epidemics: The Black and White Grey Area

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 bias toward 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.

Photo courtesy of Billboard

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Surface Tension

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.

The more you know.

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 brĂ»lĂ©e. 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.

Image result for gordon ramsay memes

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.

There you have it: spirituality on the fly.

xo

 

Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Biased Cut

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.

After all, I am a little biased.

 

Featured image courtesy of Get Inspired Everyday

\m/

Yesterday, I changed my maiden name to my legal married surname, just like that.  With one simple stroke of a pen, I went from Miss to Missus.

Yesterday, Danica Roem changed the political landscape of our entire country. With one simple election day, she went from Miss to State Assemblywoman.

*

I remember when Danica legally changed her name from Dan Roem to Danica Roem. Her task was not so simple. She encountered loads of leading questions from state offices, misidentifying her gender AND her name. The process took months. Pronouns became paramount–and evidently too difficult for people to manage. Nevertheless, she persisted.

Two summers ago, Danica came to visit me in Petersburg, VA, presenting for the first time (at least in my presence) as female. True to form,  she flashed me almost immediately. I felt an instant pang of jealousy: this bitch was prettier AND bustier than I was. We spent a couple of hours catching up, uncovering the fact that according to my endocrinologist and hers, I actually had more testosterone coursing through my blood than she did. She also joined me for a 12-step meeting to support my recovery. In a predominately conservative crowd, I felt protective of her, yet she was the one who made me feel comforted. She joked that during the circle-up at the end of the meeting, she was wondering if anyone noticed her jangling male parts protruding under her skirt. No one did. Since then, the Serenity Prayer circle-up makes me laugh every time. Throughout our visit, she was more amped to hear about my recovery than she was concerned about touting her own transformation. I guess you could say I was presenting as a sober woman for the first time, and she was THERE. FOR. IT.

*

Danica and I met in college at Saint Bonaventure University. She sat next to me in my junior year (her senior year) Government class. People gave her shit for constantly raising her hand. I thought she was brilliant. At the time, she was Dan. Not many people knew what to do when this metal head vocalist in a band called Cab Ride Home schooled pretentious co-eds about parliamentary procedure. Dan had long hair and a wide range of opinions on literally everything. I’ve never told her this, but I actually took notes on what SHE had to say, not our professor. I felt like Dan knew more about the issues that mattered to me.

I don’t know the exact moment we became friends. I think it was after class one day when I had finally mustered the guts to raise my hand and participate in the discussion. I was, of course, extremely insecure and self-conscious. She approached me after class to tell me she liked what I had to say. I felt so flattered; here was this loquacious and learned journalism student who knew more about legislation than most Congresspeople with paid legislative staff could ever pay to know. How did I catch the attention of such a special person?

We kept in touch after she graduated. We texted each other with a couple of emails sprinkled into our communications. Then Facebook messenger came around, and we became closer. In 2009, a year after I graduated, Danica and I reconnected. We met at a bar in Richmond to share a few beers. She was back from touring with her band in Germany. I will never forget when she sheepishly reported that she had something to tell me: she was gay. I was thrilled to hear this news, as my best and most entertaining experiences in friendship life were almost exclusively with gay men. It was at this bar where she recounted a story I will never forget. She described hooking up with a dude while masterfully inserting the infamous Mortal Combat catchphrase “FINISH HIM!!!” into the anecdote. It had been a long time since I laughed that hard.

*

In 2013, I received a major phonecall. I was visiting with a friend in San Diego. We had just gone swimming while drinking, one of my most favorite ill-advised activities at the time. I saw that “Dan” was calling, so I immediately answered. Dan was on the line to tell me that she would be transitioning to Danica. I remember squealing so loudly that I thought we might get busted for waking up the apartment complex. We talked for over an hour about what this meant for her identity, her livelihood and her politics. She was candid and eloquent about her transition process. Counseling, hormone therapy, gender identification, fears, hopes and ambitions. I felt so lucky. It took me a few fumbles with the pronouns “she” and “her,” yet she made the effort to make me comfortable. Her selflessness has never wavered.

*

On Christmas Eve 2016, I got engaged. Danica was one of the first people I told. She called me almost immediately. She was thrilled, lovely, gracious and adoring. A couple of months passed, and Danica had some news for me, too. She would be running to unseat Bob Marshall. After a few minutes of gushing settled our excited shrieks, she asked me to be her campaign manager. I nearly lost my shit.

But it wasn’t the time.

Danica offered me the most precious of campaign positions, short of being someone’s spouse. She believed in my abilities when I had long since abandoned my political organizer status. Her faith in our friendship was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. I gave her proposition a lot of thought, but I realized that finishing school, waitressing and preparing for a wedding had me by the proverbial balls. I would not do her extraordinary candidacy the justice it deserved. She understood–of course she did–and she continued forward.

*

As most of us in the campaign world accept with a blistering resignation, the two weeks before E-day are the hardest of all. With that intimate knowledge, I stood awestruck when I glanced up from my fateful walk down the aisle to see her smiling face among the guests at my wedding ceremony. Danica had battled the rush hour DC Beltway traffic to witness the marriage of me to my husband. In essence, she suspended her campaign for one afternoon–an action considered incomprehensible to campaigners and candidates alike–to watch one of her very own friends have her day. She sacrificed a crucial weekend day on her campaign to be there for my E-day, with her signature rainbow bandanna adorning her head like a crown.

*

Danica, you are one of my very best friends. I am honored to know you, because to know you is to love you. In mine, and now the world’s eyes, you are love.

And with that, I will sign off as Danica always does, reminding us to rock on. Go forth and prosper, my Queen.

 

\m/

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