Stay.

In high school, my sister and I ran cross-country and track. She was the prodigious sprinter, while I was the patient long-distance runner. The amount of comparisons I made between myself and my twin were alarming–her smaller BMI and legs, for starters–disqualified me from being a “real” runner. I opted for the inconspicuous art of running long distances hoping people would get too bored to notice me. The whole sport was a practice in disappearing, slowly but surely. I found it all to be a really dramatic joke, but I needed to be well-rounded. Frankly, I thought that this would help me lose weight and look good. As insecure as I was, I secretly wanted to be like Flo Jo and impress everyone, while simultaneously never being seen. My uniform was about two sizes too small, yet I continued to wear it with the hope that I would soon fit into it.

During one particularly humiliating meet, I got lost in the woods after I fell far behind the girls in front of me. I also tried to spit (like I had seen so many other runners do) while moving at a moderately-fast clip. Instead, I spit up on my extremely short shorts in front of the entire men’s team. I do not know which part was worse: my shorts riding up my See You Next Tuesday, my thunder thighs fighting each other with every stride, or the waterfall of mucus flowing down my shorts. If I were a betting woman, I would have wagered that this was the time to give up. But for some reason, I kept on running for the rest of the season. My times were ‘eh,’ so my desire to distract myself from my insecurities freed me up to socialize. Our coach used to tell us that if we had the breath to talk to each other during one of our six or eight-mile runs, we were doing it wrong. I told myself I’d rather make friends than run faster. As a result, I got team MVP for my senior year. The irony was, in a word, dripping.

All told, I did eventually become a real runner–only after I stopped practicing the sport. Drinking comes in handy that way. I became an All Star Life Sprinter. That is to say, I learned how to run VERY quickly away from things. In fact, I sprinted, hopscotched and hurdled through twelve different locations, spanning from Vermont to Florida, Virginia to California. My resume read like a well-worn map. At one point, I worked in Jonesboro, Arkansas, where I became a crowd (and bouncer) favorite at a fine establishment known as The Electric Cowboy.

The only reason I know the actual number of addresses I accumulated over a ten-year period is because I had to make note of them when I filed for bankruptcy in 2015. And those twelve were only the addresses I could¬†remember. How does one forget where she has lived? It’s like when you’re driving down a busy street and you see a discarded pair of pants on the sidewalk–like, how do you lose your pants, guy? What happened there?

The short answer is, I panicked (I suppose you could say the same for the man who lost his pants). I have had plenty of opportunities in my 12-step program and through therapy to spiritually and psychoanalytically analyze my past behavior. It is clear to me that time is not what slowed me down. In fact, I have moved on four different occasions in recovery: once when I couldn’t afford my place after the accident, several times when I kept breaking up with my boyfriend (staying on friends’ coaches), the move from Los Angeles back home to Virginia (at my mom’s house) and finally to Richmond in the apartment I share with my husband. What has made the difference between my pathological moving while drunk and my displacement while sober is an indefinable sense of finality. I am who I was always meant to be, even as I continue to grow. And more honestly, there is nowhere else I have the energy to be.

I used up all of my panic. And then I ran out of steam.

Two weeks ago, I began seeing a life/career coach. This is a huge deal for me, and here is why:

One of my favorite activities while wasted was chatting up Uber/Lyft drivers. At times, I broke out into French if I sensed the driver was Haitian or from some francophone country. As presumptuous as I was (and still am), I did meet quite a few interesting characters–one of whom was a life coach. He sensed my lost-ness (and perhaps my vulnerability) when I yammered on about how much I hated my job at the time, seizing the opportunity to take on a new client. We exchanged information, which I naturally forgot as I closed the car door.

A couple of days later, he called me. I was a fastidious drunk, therefore I always kept clear notes on whoever left their number in my phone. Very specific things, like “Uber man coaches life wears too much paco rabanne <emoji emoji.> We talked for about five minutes, wherein we set an appointment to do a phone session the following week. Time flew the drunker I got, so a week came and went pretty quickly. I will never forget where I was when I got that phone call. I will never forget because it was one of the last angry drunks I had. I was angry at myself and my life choices, but mostly angry because I could not actually get drunk. I had spent the ensuing week since my phone chat with the Uber man in a cosmic haze of vodka and cocaine, sidled up to a man whose father was a semi-famous producer with a Malibu beach house. He was a writer, something I wanted to be but was too drunk to follow-through with; he was a rich kid, which is something I was fascinated by because I had no money; he had unlimited liquor, which blots out anything else I knew about him. He poured me Bloody Mary after Bloody Mary and I was bloody pissed because nothing worked. After two hours went by, with no drunk luck, we all went outside to watch dolphins pop out of the water over the dwindling horizon’s pink backdrop. Even that miracle of nature bored me. I began to feel the sting of tears emerge from my eyes, and suddenly my phone rang. No one noticed as I slipped away through the window-to-ceiling glass french doors to take the call.

Uber driver began asking me rapid-fire questions about my childhood, my hopes, my dreams. I became increasingly irate as he continued to press the issue of why I seemed so angry, so dismissive. I sputtered off some incoherent ramblings about my mother, my dad’s death, my sister and my Catholic school experiences, but he would not hear any of it. Instead, he simply asked me to talk out loud to myself as if I were a child. I was furious. I told him to shove his Freudian platitudes up his ass, in so many words. We never spoke again. And I never did get drunk.

So I ran until I fell. Straight to the bottom of my pitiless existence.

And then I got sober.

Four years later, I find myself sitting across from a woman I’ve known only through the recovery process. She is a friend who I’ve asked to help me decide what to do with my life, once and for all. During our first session, she recommends that I do not make any job or career moves–no quitting a job, no starting a new job. I felt my ears ring and my chest tighten. I was about to start a job I was convinced I didn’t want. I was there to beg her to tell me anything that would encourage me to leave. But instead, she told me to stay. I was horrified.

Through a series of questions and answers, meditations and surveys, I’ve prayed my way through 1,000 forms of escape fantasies. Every cell of my being screamed at me to turn and run away on my first day at work. Who did I think I was? Why would I start a job with as many doubts as I had? What if I wasted my time, stayed, only to become staid? The vicious memories of conversations I’ve had with past lovers and friends floated to the surface–“I promise, I’m not going anywhere” was my infamous line. I never meant it then, and I did not want to mean it now.

But I am here, staying.

While cleaning up our work kitchen tonight, my supervisor looked at me for a beat too long. I asked him what was up. He says, “There are times when I look at you, trying to read your face. I keep thinking to myself that you will be just like the cooks before you, ready to run away from this place. I see you and I wonder if you have the desire to be here.” It was like getting that call, to hear those words–heartbreaking and entirely justifiable. I looked at him with awe and glee. For the first time in my life, I said it and meant it–

I’m not going anywhere.

xo

 

Photo Courtesy of The Indianapolis Star

 

 

 

 

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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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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