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

 

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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