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

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Grey Matter

The year is 2014.¬†I schlep¬†my possessions¬†through a heavy rotation of¬†¬†“living spaces” to cure my¬†homelessness.¬†I crouch¬†on some friend’s floor counting change to buy my hipster cigarettes. I fight¬†with my boyfriend over his¬†behavior that I can only defend but so much. I limp¬†under the weight of debilitating¬†anxiety. I wade through stress and loss with the grace of a newborn elephant drowning¬†in the middle of the ocean. My brain escalates its cortisol production with an obsessive fear and fierce determination not to drink.

I survive.

*

The year is 2016.¬†I wake up in my twin’s high school bedroom. I start the day sans¬†nightmares about my EBT money running out. I pour myself some Dunkin and ponder nothing. Two puffs off my douchey vaporizer soothes me.¬†My peace lasts just under five minutes.

One scroll through Facebook leads to fresh¬†pangs of envy–a few of which I wrote about here.

I weigh the many character defects of my personality. Impatience and judgement in spades. An inability to grasp being wrong–that one tops the list. I acknowledge I am not a jealous person. I call my sponsor to stop the circle jerk in my head. I recall that jealousy of other people is a wasted emotion. I cringe when I realize this has changed in¬†sobriety. In¬†AA, old timers taught¬†me to emulate people who have what I want,¬†not envy them. It seems I have given into an emotion I detest.

*

The year is 2015. I’m writing on borrowed time while the house of cards topples around me. I hate my life but I am in love with its possibilities. I marvel over my new LA writing gig, an obvious reward for my sobriety. I hate the reality of writing but I love the romance.

I feel isolated, anxious, inept and defeated. Duress¬†of this magnitude does not become me. I keep writing, as my resentment¬†festers.¬†I attempt¬†to¬†stuff my feelings down, but they plague me for months. It feels wrong and ungrateful of me to complain about my dreams coming true. I see sober women I look up to continue to write and be successful at it. I want what they have, but I don’t like what that looks like. I envy them.

*

It’s the last week of December, 2015. I’m hunched over my new laptop at my (now) husband’s apartment in the Bronx. I reach my deadline limit and impulsively email my editor to take an official hiatus from writing. I feel relieved and proud of myself. Fuck this noise, I think.

I make a prideful choice to stop writing. I hate the pressure and I loathe how isolated I have become. I carry this pride with me into 2016. I admire the universe for presenting me with the option to change. I become a substitute teacher. In doing so, I change my mind for the millionth time.

*

The year is 2016. I wake up feeling envious of other writers. This baffles me, as I have not thought about my previous gig for months. I’ve been preoccupied with science experiments and classroom management. The timing makes sense, though.¬†I start school to become a credentialed teacher on Monday. I give many, many fucks about learning to be a good teacher. I’ve never held a credential for any tangible skill, except to administer CPR. Much to my dismay, that credential has expired–so has my ability to reason.

My brain is a preposterous place. I gain consciousness within and just like that! I fall short of my own expectations. It’s almost like the brain is built to sabotage the good that befalls the thinker. The machine between my ears eludes me once more. It’s times like these where listing items of gratitude digs me out of a self-pitying mire.

To me, jealously and envy are distractions. We make choices–good and bad–that will always precede consequences. Our free will is like the First Amendment–we can say what we want, but that doesn’t mean we are free of responsibility. I made a choice to leave one job to pursue a career that fulfills me. As a teacher, I can’t afford to be self-involved. Students need to learn. They don’t give a fuck about what articles I’ve written or how many meetings I’ve attended to stay sober. All they know is they are one day closer to spring¬†break and one fraction of a point away from passing.

When the student is ready, the teacher(s) appear.

 

Photo courtesy of quotesgram.com

 

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

 

 

 

Scheduling Worry Time and The New Adele

I’ve given the new Adele song teaser from her album 25 just about 25 listens. (I’ve listened to it three times back-to-back in¬†the past 15 minutes). I like seeing people–especially my lady friends–get so jazzed about her singing. I always wondered what made her songs¬†that delicious to listen to, but then I found this article that explains it with science¬†in “Anatomy of a Tear-Jerker.” I am not quite there with emotions being in my comfort zone. Actually, I don’t really have a comfort zone to tell you the truth–I’m not usually comfortable most of the time. But when I hear Adele songs, I can’t help but get drawn into my own emotions because it makes them feel beautiful.

I had to schedule my listening time for Adele and Curtis Mayfield this morning. My brain gets overwhelmed when it doesn’t have the¬†wherewithal to relax. I saw my counselor on Thursday, where she told me that I needed to be more disciplined in how and when I relax. This was news to me because I don’t ever relax, even when I’m relaxing. She gave me¬†solid suggestions after I told her that when I took a selfie last week (one of those cheeky ones where I give an over the shoulder glance) I could visibly see the knots in my back. I told her I was so grossed out that I almost puked. She suggested not puking, practicing yoga, giving guided meditation a go and scheduling “worry time” for 30 minutes every day. I might be the only person on the planet who gets excited that I have a way to siphon off my worry for a concentrated period of time.

I woke up at 8am to¬†ruminate over¬†everything from finances and work to health and exercise. It helped me to write down all of the things in a stream of consciousness. When I read them back to myself,¬†it made me laugh. Many of the things I worry about are not actually areas of concern. My worry is a manifestation of my¬†perceived lack of control. In the 12 steps, feeling out of control tends to mean that it’s time to give the 3rd step another round–“Made the decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him.” I have the opportunity today to turn my worries and confusions over to a power greater than myself–or to Time, which is my version of a higher power this morning.

I begin my yoga practice (again) on Wednesday. I am a highly anxious person by nature, but when I develop a flow in yoga I don’t think about myself too much. I am much more present and happy when my German teacher guides us to do poses in her thick, aggressive accent. She is a lovely woman, really.

Photo courtesy of UnicornBooty

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

Can You Ever Just Be Whelmed?

A new friend from Richmond called me today to see how I was doing. She was surprised when I told her I had been feeling anxious for the past week. She remembered me the last time we talked–that I sounded optimistic and excited to be here. I told her it was the new anxiety meds talking. The serotonin levels struck a balance at some point this week, because my outlook has changed, definitely without my permission. My friend seemed puzzled, so I changed the subject. She didn’t give up so easily.

“You know, Lucy, when I left my husband and moved into my own house, I fell into a neutral zone. I wasn’t too excited. I didn’t react quickly. I just…was.” I laughed when she said this. It reminded me of a quote from 10 Things I Hate About You. The girl who played Alex Mack on Nickelodeon (90s, what) stars as Bianca, the vapid betch in high school who everyone wants to sleep with. The scene spans to her and her girlfriend talking. One of them says, “I know you can be overwhelmed and you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?” The other one says, “I think you can in Europe.” I think you can in the US, too.

I am in a neutral zone. I write during the day, I watch shitty TV at night. I spend time with my mom and aunt regularly. I go to several meetings a week. I eat blizzards from Dairy Queen. I went to a free yoga class at the library. I got my nails done once. The whole thing whelms me.

My classic alcoholic move is to lean into my ambivalence about people, places and things. It is comfortable for me to weigh the pros and cons of literally everything in my life. The downside is my ability to undermine any natural sparks my intuition initiates. I know my Higher Power cleared the way for me to be here with my family. My mom is allowing me to stay, so I’m staying. I don’t think this warrants DEFCON defenses. I tend to read into my ennui as a sure sign of sanity leaving my body. Maybe everything is just okay. Maybe this is my time to just be whelmed. As if.

My friend told me that after awhile, she learned to accept that she didn’t have to shoot from the hip whenever she felt overwhelmed. Her need for emotional extremes dissipated. I think that is happening.

My isolation out here is a smokescreen for how I really feel inside: I need my people. This blog is a smoke signal to all the LA loves in my life. I miss you terribly and I know we will see each other again soon.

Thanks for keeping me the right amount of whelmed.

xo

Photo courtesy of nowverybad.com

Interview With a Vampire

On Monday of this week, I interviewed for a position in a field completely unrelated to my former political pursuits. I walked in that office as a confident woman, strong in my abilities to communicate what I had to offer to this new company. I have always appeared confident in the professional arena, though I know that for the entirety of my career, I led somewhat of a double life: hard-working 20-something during the day and early evening, blotto drunk party girl for the remainder of the night. Day after day: rinse, lather, repeat. I adopted the ‚Äúwork hard, play hard‚ÄĚ mentality as a solid creed by which I could survive in a competitive and demanding field. (To this day, it is shocking to me how I lived that way for so long, suffering needlessly.) My work in politics gave me the notoriety as an organizer/aspiring political hack that I thought would replace the weaning confidence I depleted in order to walk into the job ‚Äúconfident‚ÄĚ in the first place. In short, I faked it. Isn‚Äôt that what we are taught to do? Fake it until we make it?

I have such a vivid memory of the night three years ago when I got the call that I would be interviewing for what was, in my opinion, my dream job at that point in my young professional life. My first reaction was immediate terror. What does this mean? Do they really think I can carry out the duties of this position? What could I possibly offer this employer? Could I stomach such a rigorous interview process? How could I prepare when the interview was only TWO weeks away? Was I ready for this kind of job? These questions induced chronic and intense anxiety‚ÄĒthe likes of which I had never experienced. In my Higher Power‚Äôs fashion of impeccable timing, that same night my best friend had just gotten word that she got her job in California, and it was a night to celebrate. I did not know how to give myself the space to celebrate an interview for a job I really cared about, let alone be present for my friend who was following her dreams, too. Regardless of how I felt‚ÄĒor because of it‚ÄĒwe broke out the Freixenet, while I silently broke out into the emotional equivalent of hives.

I interviewed three times for what would become my job for three years. I worked hard and had great relationships with admirable coworkers and supervisors. Though I was able to be a part of a great movement, I can’t help but think about my attitude going into those interviews and the oppressive anxiety I continued to toil under for the duration of my stay with my employer. I did not trust that I could make a difference, nor did I see that there were people there with me every step of the way to help me contribute to the team. Everything I viewed was through the lens of imminent failure. I rarely slept, even while I worked double-digit hours through multiple campaigns, day after day. I lived a half-life of sorts; I was a veritable vampire who worked incredibly hard during the day, counting down the minutes when I could get home to live my night life, subsisting on alcohol and a 1,000 vials of fears.

By the grace of a power far greater than me, I crossed the glamorous West Coast version of the Rubicon when I moved to Southern California. Los Angeles proved to be the single best place to hit rock bottom and it continues to be the perfect venue for solid sobriety. The job I moved here for gave me invaluable skills that will transfer to whatever industry I find myself working. The confident, less exhausted, person who showed up for an interview on completely unfamiliar turf did not have to fake a damn thing. It is curious to me that after such a small amount of time, facing my fears of succeeding have diminished drastically. My feelings of self-doubt have slipped away, presumably into the empty Wild Turkey 101 bottle I corked on March 16, 2014.

I did not end up getting that job, after all. My former self would have immediately launched into a self-hating, overly critical inner monologue. Yesterday, I got to open the email with a fellow alcoholic who walked me through my feelings of disappointment. There was no handwringing to speak of, no bouts of tears. My friends and fellow alcoholics reminded me that my Higher Power has his own plan and that my job is to do the foot work while my fate unfolds. Today, like the last 354 days, I met with other alcoholics and I will be writing gratitude lists after I call someone who might just need to talk. Today, like every other day in sobriety, I have the choice to trust that my disappointments are fodder for faith. There are no more questions that cause me to doubt myself or my abilities. Today, I know what to do. Tomorrow, too: Rinse, Lather, Repeat.