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

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Give Me Your Hands ‘Cause You’re Wonderful

The last thing my father did before he died was play a flute solo in church. Power move. He was an atheist who frequented our Episcopalian church with the simple excuse to play music for people. He ended on a high note–literally–sat down in his chair, slumped over and died. He felt no pain. He would elicit no such drama.

“Atheist Dies in Church, Performs Final Solo,” read the headline in my mind.

David Bowie’s last release, Lazarus, was ‘parting gift’ for fans in carefully planned finale,” crept across my screen in the still of the night.

Gordon Morrisette, aka Tony, died on December 10, 2006 at the age of 68. David Jones, aka David Bowie, passed away on January 10, 2016 at the age of 69. My heart shattered with the news of my father’s death. My heart breaks more quietly and more gently with the news of my spiritual godfather’s death. I knew Bowie’s death would come. I’ve heard this song before–

Love is lost

Your country’s new
Your friends are new
Your house and even your eyes are new
Your maid is new and your accent, too
But your fear is as old as the world

*

The most important gift I received during my last Christmas of drinking came from my neighbor, Fly. He brought me fancy Russian vodka, a wooden print of Hunter S. Thompson and a canvas screenprint of David Bowie’s mug shot. I was ecstatic. I drank the vodka with a friend in one night while Bowie flatly stared at me, his gaze steadfast and unmoving. The picture I took of those gifts turned out to be a prophetic one–I tumbled into sobriety not three months later. Even in black and white, Bowie’s steely glare penetrated the chaos in my mind. It was unsettling.

bowie print

The walls (one of which was blue, blue, electric blue) in my apartment at “Rampart Village,” Los Angeles, were incredibly thin. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall. We tenants came to recognize the distinctive footsteps of every neighbor who walked up the stairs. Fly learned mine for Apartment 203. Every so often, he would blast Bowie next door to welcome me home. I could hear him playing Hunky Dory and Young Americans at all times of the day and night.

blue blue electric blue

In high school, my sister and I participated in every after school activity we could think of, which meant we got home late. When we’d turn onto Berkeley Avenue after a 45-minute commute from Richmond to Petersburg, we’d hear our father playing the flute from a mile away, making sure to keep the window open. He serenaded us at home, performing covers of Marvin Gaye and Big Band songs. I can still feel the exciting comfort in those familiar sounds. He showed unequivocal love through his music and art.

daddy.jpgGordon Morrisette, self-portrait circa 1978…

I know I’ve seen that face before.

Dance in bars and restaurants,
Home with anyone who wants,
Strange he’s standing there alone,
Staring eyes chill me to the bone.

*

I remember the day I declared Bowie as my Higher Power. I couldn’t wait to tell my sponsor. She giggled, then sweetly surprised me with Bowie episodes from Flight of the Conchords. I thanked her and gently asked if it was okay that I was sexually attracted to my Higher Power. She laughed as we both let that absurdity sink in. I knew Bowie was my One because he had been there all along. Labyrinth, released the year I was born (1986), 12-steps the year I came to believe (2014). The program required me to come to be willing to accept that something greater than myself could restore me to sanity. I knew choosing a mere mortal was tricky, but I gave no fucks. His music would be my muse. My shaky hands and my temples dotting with sweat ceased and desisted when Bowie came on the radio and that’s all I needed to know. As I binged on Netflix, three or four months sober, I began recognizing Bowie songs in some of my favorite movies and shows. His song Fashion plays as Cher chooses her outfit for school in the opening scene of Clueless; All The Young Dudes plays as the stoner dudes walk the “grassy knoll.” Cat People (Putting Out Fire) breaks out at the beginning dance sequence on an episode of The Office called CafĂ© Disco. I couldn’t believe my ears.

My friends threw me a party when I turned one year sober. Our crew at Hollywood Latenight–the misfits, the miscreants, the tight-pant-leather-wearing pod people–rang in my new year and it was one of the best nights of my life. My male friend showed up in a revealing glitter onesie. My other friend, the matriarch of our group, brought me Bowie vinyl covers and lyrics scrawled out with purpose. Another friend brought me a Bowie mug that looked like a Warhol print. We watched projections of Bowie being all of the things. We talked about our sad pasts with music on our minds. That night, Lady Stardust was born…

And he sang all night long
Femme fatales emerged from shadows
To watch this creature fair
Boys stood upon their chairs
To make their point of view
I smiled sadly for a love
I could not obey
Lady stardust sang his songs
Of darkness and dismay

Hollywood Latenight.jpg

My name at Hollywood Latenight is “Judgy Snatch.” It suits me.

image

*

The last time I flew when I was actively drinking, I reeked of vodka. It was an early-early- morning flight, but that didn’t stop me from going hard the night before. My good friend met me at the airport, startled at the sight of me and my fire-breathing pyrotechnics. She furrowed her eyebrows and asked me if that was alcohol she smelled. I laughed it off, but the shame of her question cut me so deeply I couldn’t catch my breath. Not that I would have wanted to.

The first time I flew sober, I was skiddish and terrified. I paced up and down the airport’s corridor, trying to keep myself busy. I gave up and sat down after a couple of minutes because my heels were unforgiving. The second I sat down, Bowie and Freddie Mercury came blasting over the speakers. I wept with joy. I had arrived and Bowie hadn’t forgotten me. When I got off the plane, I met a woman from San Diego outside smoking a cigarette who casually mentioned she was several years sober. She gave me her number, whereas I was ready to give her my first-born.

You see, Bowie was always there. I never worshipped his human side; I prayed to his spirit. Somewhere in the far reaches of my body, mind and soul, I was able to differentiate between the man and the myth. Bowie tapped into something not many of us have access to: pure creativity. He helped us dream. He made it okay to be weird as fuck. To me, his death elevated Bowie to mystical, mythical proportions. And he makes even more sense now.

*

When I moved home, my mother asked me why I chose David Bowie as my Higher Power. (I think she wanted to get to the bottom of why in hell I got Bowie’s likeness tattooed on my right arm.) I told her it was because I found he had a power greater than I did. My mother matter-of-factly replied, “He’s not more powerful than you are, Lucy.” And she’s right, he’s not. But his flamboyancy gave me the permission I needed to be myself. Bowie the human is not who has kept me sober for nearly two years.  Rather, my connection to his music incited the imagination I never knew I had. His performances proved to me that I, too, could tap into the same power–absent of fear or judgement–that made him move with such freedom. With all that said, my dad wouldn’t have cared for the Bowie theatrics or for that matter, my tattoo. But because my love for you would break my heart in two…(sorry dad)!

bowie tattoo.jpg

I love you, Bowie. I don’t love you the way I love my father, but I love you all the same. And Dad, I know what good music is because of you. I remember your stories about playing back-up for Sonny and Cher and Marvin Gaye at the Norfolk Scope. Your sound was always jazz, but you played some mean funk with the greats. You never liked rock ‘n’ roll all that much, but you respected good musicianship when you heard it. You and Bowie left a legacy of dignified talent and love. I can honestly say that I would not be who I am today if it weren’t for the likes of you. I promise I won’t look for you, but I’ll listen. The Stars (Are Out Tonight), shining for both of you. The Universe honors you

Stars are never sleeping
Dead ones and the living

We live closer to the earth
Never to the heavens
The stars are never far away
Stars are out tonight

Bowie, my heart will be your moving shelter. I will love you forever and ever, amen. So keep your ‘lectric eye on me, babe. Put your ray gun to my head. Press your space face close to mine, love–

Freak out in a moonage daydream,

oh yeah.

Photo courtesy of Huffington Post

Off The Sauce September

Did you know that September is National Recovery Month?

WE GET A WHOLE MONTH.

I remember when I got a chip for 30 days of sobriety in April of 2014. I had never made it 30 hours sober–much less 30 days–before that. At the time, I had a humorous case of the nervous sweats and an incurable desire to wreck every double-shot, Trenta iced coffee from here to eternity. I numbed myself with phone calls, constant coffee to the face, Now and Laters, entire economy-sized jars of pickles, HBO Go and Netflix. I walked over a mile one way every morning to my home group meeting at CafĂ© Tropical on Sunset Blvd, leaving my apartment by 6:15 am to make the 7am meeting (and to have time for two smokes beforehand with my friends). I chose the morning AA slot due to its magical charms and my utter disbelief that I could be up that early and not still be legally drunk.

sbxAn entire month sober–that blew my fucking mind.

And it still does. I celebrate 18 months sober on September 17. My heart grew one size bigger with the realization that I get to celebrate this milestone during the one month a year that is dedicated to shining a light on addiction and recovery. I recognize the magnitude of this shit–it is my right and responsibility to speak up. I am one person in recovery out of millions. I am alive and well today because I got help for my addiction to alcohol.

My enthusiasm for recovery hasn’t smoldered, but it has morphed into something far better than I could have imagined. The best and most beautiful gift of my sobriety is the freedom to be available to other people. I connect with new people and old friends who have resurfaced in my life now that I am not a complete C U Next Tuesday. It seems there is no shortage of love to go around. Forgiveness and acceptance are the prime suspects for my criminally large joyfulness.

I’m stepping up my game this month. Gratitude lists all the fuck over social media at least once a day, accompanied by topical memes and pictures of pandas (Google “panda daycare”– a surefire way to get you really happy, really fast). I’m doubling my meetings this coming week (my attendance is more sparse than I would like it to be). I am calling, writing or texting at least one person in recovery every day. I am following up on a story I wrote about the Unite to Face Addiction Rally by attending it in DC October 4. Lastly, I am “talking to Bowie” on a super frequent basis–i.e., praying a bunch for people and showing my flamboyant love to whomever is around to receive it. I am making myself more available, is the thing.

So let’s do this.

xo

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

To LA, With Love

I am three weeks into my personal odyssey and I am already itching to come home. I miss you, Los Angeles! The entire point of me being in Virginia is to exhume my finances in order to address them, while also seeking therapy for the shoddy status of my alcoholic brain. I know these things to be true, yet I “forget” them on a second-by-second basis. The God’s-honest truth is that this transition has me feeling like a newcomer again.

It isn’t easy being an adult in my childhood home. All amends have been made, so my mother and I are left with each other as our new and improved selves. My mother is retired, working here or there on freelance writing gigs. I am also writing at home, which makes for an odd pairing. Coffee percolates constantly around here, as do our tempers. The internet goes down every five to 10 minutes, depending on the weather and/or our moods. (Bite me, Verizon internet services). It rains and thunders every other day; our temperaments follow a similar pattern. My mother and I are essentially the same person a few decades apart. I have been living alone in my own dorm rooms, studios and one-bedroom apartments for 12 years. My mother has lived alone in our house for almost that exact amount of time. Naturally, we each have our own ideas about what domestic life looks like for us. I benefit from her practice of self-care, including home-cooked meals, decent bed times and frequent walks around the neighborhood. I broke my habit of LA breakfasts consisting of gummy bears and cold brew coffee in exchange for freshly-made egg, tomato and avocado sandwiches. I am tickled to see that I can learn how to take care of myself from the mother I once pushed away. I have much to learn, Mama-san.

Yet, I pine for the mean streets of LA. I am used to cars whizzing by at all hours of the day and night, interrupting my train of thought. I miss wildly gesticulating when all of those cars don’t yield to pedestrians like me. I got spoiled by the balmy 70-degree temperatures (with the largely overrated 100 million degree summer heat). I long for the mobility I had with Uber at my beck and call. I took for granted the extensive meeting roster, totaling about 3,000 meetings daily in the city. The meetings out here are rife with wisdom and old age, though I am the youngest member of every group by at least 20 years. On my way home from a meeting two days ago, we passed by a duck-crossing sign in Hopewell. The most exciting thing next to that were train tracks. Toto, I don’t think we are in Africa anymore.

My financial ducks are in a row, but not enough to cross any kind of stable road. All signs lead to recovery, though. I live in my mom’s house rent-free. I pay my way by cooking every now and again, washing dishes and trying to corral my petulance. I hold out hope that I will be self-supporting soon enough to return to my friends, my boyfriend and all the trendies on Sunset Boulevard. I see my new therapist this coming Monday for two hours of self-referencing bullshit—at least my mom won’t have to hear it anymore. I’ve made calls to a couple of AA women for some awkward chit chat. I will see my family and friends from VA Beach, Richmond and DC in the next couple of weeks. The scales are tipping in my favor.

I’ve got love for you, Petersburg, don’t get me wrong. But I have several reserves of love stored up for my main hang, LA. So take it easy, babe…I’m comin for ya.

Photo courtesy of la.curbed.com

Along Gratitudinal Lines

I will be the first to admit that riding the bus in LA brings out just about every negative or unsavory thought and emotion from deep within my psyche, where I have managed to keep them at bay for almost a year’s time. When I board the bus to find my seat, my senses are almost always immediately assaulted by one noxious odor after another. I have some real questions here, people…like why does it always smell like someone up and defecated in the middle of the isle? Is this the best place for you to pass gas, in confined corridors? Real questions.

Forgive me, my privilege is showing.

I’ve gotten on the right bus going the wrong direction; I’ve taken the bus on time and have gotten off three stops too early, having to walk a mile out of the way to my destination, and it’s only been a week. Up until a couple of weeks ago, I’d been terrified to expose my directional weaknesses to avoid the inevitable hiccups of public transportation. The truth is, I don’t have the money to spoil myself on Lyft rides, let alone car payments. I feel most challenged to pivot straight to gratitude when I am at the mercy of the public transportation system. I know myself well enough to know that when I am ungrateful, my brain starts overpowering my spirit, and that reminds me a great deal of how I justified my drinking in the first place.

One such night last week stood out to me where I needed gratitude to protect and defend my sanity. I watched myself pitch a major internal bitch fit, followed swiftly by a categorical Terrible-Two’s toddler-like meltdown. I had accidentally ridden 20 minutes in the wrong direction, which gave my brain permission to shift into self-pity that I couldn’t better my situation at that moment, not to mention disappointment in my attitude. This is where my sober brain took over to show me a split-second of reasonableness. I knew from experience what a cute couple acceptance and gratitude made. I have written at least one gratitude list a day for the better part of a year to practice for moments like these that threaten my serenity. I dried my tears, silently praying to my higher power to say “Thank you”. I continued, saying “Thank you for my health and safety. Thank you for this bus driver. Thank you for keeping me sober in this time of distress”. I witnessed the chemistry of my thoughts change. I realized after a solid 10-minutes of exercising gratitude, I felt MUCH better.

I have every reason in the world to be grateful. Everything happening in this span of 24 hours is just as temporary for me as it is for everyone else, even those who drive their very own cars. This is the time to wake up to the beauty that it is to be a 28-year-old female in the middle of Tinsel Town with the coolest people I have ever met as friends. Seeing my surroundings as they are, not as I would have them to be, makes the margin of ingratitude that much smaller. My gift as a human is to tune out all of the distractions–including my own thoughts and feelings–that fool me into thinking things are not exactly as they should be at this very moment. I once had a coworker/mentor tell me that when I got to be so dismissive of my own reality that I was “just trippin”. I laugh a little when I see how silly it is to get myself all whipped into a mental lather about how much I don’t have or how much I need to still do to be successful. I am exactly where I need to be. And so are you.

xx