forbidden happy

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You’re okay.

You’re okay.

You’re okay.

I had to kept saying this to myself as I laid in bed. I had to keep saying it not just because I knew it was true but also because saying it was helping. See, I woke up with my heart racing, sweating and generally having that feeling I was far from fucking okay. As I closed my eyes (You’re okay. You’re okay. You’re okay) I tried to believe it. I mean really feel like I was okay. My heart eventually took it down a few notches. I started to breathe normally. And right on cue, one of my cats laid on my chest.  We were okay. I am actually okay. That was the truth. After all, this isn’t some old feeling I had years ago although waking up in terror thanks to years of delightful things like depression, addiction and PTSD is an old familiar feeling. No, this happened this morning.

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It happened this morning at what could arguably considered that height my personal okayness. Fuck okay. My life has currently transcended to fabulous. New job, great relationships, strong connection to my recovery and the incredible people in it, plenty of food, money, coffee and all of those things I need to survive. So why did I wake up there? Why did feel like I used to when I would wake up to the shitstorm of my life during yet another body crushing hangover? Why, after nearly nine years, did I wake up convinced for even a few moments that I wasn’t okay?

The easy answer? Blame it on the wiring. Much like blaming it on Rio or blaming it on the rain, blaming it on the wiring for people like me with mental health, uh shall we say, “challenges”, is the easiest route. Just because I am better and continue to grow doesn’t mean I’m going to have the thoughts of a totally sane and healthy person all of the time. The default setting of HOLYFUCKINGSHITEVERYTHINGISTERRIBLE is a tough one to override. Is it better than it was in 2009 or even 2015? Hell yes. But does it still exist? Do I still struggle with a brain hell-bent on self-destruction and misery? Also, hell yes. The thing is there’s a bunch of healthy stuff I do to drown that voice and those feelings out and I can currently say that all of those things are working. So perhaps it’s a glitch in the system and one that won’t last. I mean, I already feel better sitting at my kitchen table writing and drinking coffee.

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Yet it could also be something else. Something more ingrained. Yesterday, I was walking home after hanging out with someone from my recovery family. Fall leaves crunched under my feet for the first time. The air was warm but crisp. The quickly vanishing sun had turned downtown Portland a peachy orange color. The world in that moment felt beautiful. Life felt beautiful. Moreover, I felt really, genuinely, no bullshit happy. Like happy with no exceptions. Like not that kind of happy that’s temporary or faked or delusional. But legit happiness. Short of bursting into a musical number, I walked home happier than I can remember being in quite sometime. These are moments worth cherishing and remembering. Not because there was some big material payoff or splashy life milestone. But because a person like me can feel this way and can feel this way most of the time. It’s also worth remembering because there’s still a teeny, tiny part of me that thinks I don’t deserve this. That I shouldn’t be happy and that I should go ahead and do something to fuck it and up and sabotage it because it’s not like it’s going to last anyway, right?

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My idea of happiness, much like these candy colored ridiculous Lisa Frank pictures of unicorns, is decidedly twisted and out of whack. Like a good addict, I want happiness to be bigger and last longer. New, Improved Happiness! Now 100 times stronger than original recipe happiness! So right away I’ve set myself up for something that can’t happen or at the very least is not in any way sustainable. Thus when I don’t live a life that feels like an endless loop of someone winning both showcases on The Price is Right then I can go ahead and choose to feel fucked up, sad, and miserable.

“Choose” is the magic word here, kids and one that I didn’t know when I was drinking and using. I thought horrible things just happened to me and that I must have been cursed. I reality was, however, I chose some pretty horrible things and had life that reflected those choices. So yeah I can choose to feel happy. I can choose to see the truth that I’m okay, I’m okay, I’m okay. I can choose all this and still wake up in terror and have to choose it all over again. This is fine. Happiness isn’t something forbidden and out of reach or something spectacular that I’m not worthy of. It’s something that shows up under my feet like the fall leaves or lies on my chest like my cat. It’s something that’s already available. All I have to do is choose it.

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I’m a spiritual being, muthaf*ckers

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Let’s get this out of the way before we roll up our sleeves and really talk about God: people who wear “Spiritual gangsta” hoodies or refer to themselves as gurus or have things like “Christ first” in their Twitter bios are the worst. I mean I get it. Everyone is seeking something so maybe these folks need to fly their freaky spirituality flag to let the world know how down with G.O.D. they really are. But still it does feel obnoxious. Like the most spiritual and god-like people I ever met were the ones who were humble and did amazing acts for their fellow-man all pretty much on the d.l. They didn’t need sweatshirts or Facebook groups to prove that they had spiritual lives. But who I am to judge really? I’m a seeker like everyone else even the spiritual gangsta. And this whole road of seeking is, as far as I can tell, a messy affair.

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t really do organized religion. I’m not much of joiner, I find religious services to be snoozy and oh yeah, I sort of hate people. So these things don’t really make yours truly the ideal candidate to organize your church picnic. Nevertheless, I have a version of god and spiritual life. Go figure. I had long thought the two went hand in hand and you couldn’t have one without the other. But, much like chocolate and peanut butter, I’ve discovered some people can enjoy religion and spirituality together while others have them a la carte. Thanks to nearly dying from drugs and alcohol and then getting sober, I found God. Not like God was missing. He’s not Carmen San Diego or something. Or even that I was struck by a lightening bolt and started dancing in the streets and speaking in tongues. I simply found something bigger than myself. My own version of god has a sense of humor (obvi) and takes their own damn time figuring things out but is always there for me. That’s really all I can tell because it’s my god, not yours. And I’m a middle child and bad at sharing. Get your own damn God, goddamnit.

So this thing bigger than me and more powerful than me keeps expanding and I’m still desperately seeking God. This apparently is good news. I was in a meeting on Saturday morning with drunks and drugs addicts, as I’ve been known to do, and there was a woman celebrating 30 years sober. She talked about moving through rough patches recently. She shared honestly about not always feeling connected to her version of God. But mainly, what I heard, was a woman who was sharing about still seeking. She’s still looking to strengthen the spiritual connection, to grow and to keep changing and getting better. By sharing about struggling but somehow persisting and staying sober anyway, she let me and presumably the others in the packed room know that we were okay just where we are. Because God and from what I can tell spirituality in general isn’t some graduate program or reality tv competition. There isn’t an end in sight or a certificate to achieve.

God is on my mind this morning because I noticed I had several conversations about god this weekend. As an old AA friend of mine once said, sober people either talk about alcohol or they talk about god and this weekend, it was primarily the latter. Life is a mystery, as my own spiritual conduit Madonna once said, and therefore so is God. When I have conversations about God with sober people that’s sort of what we’re doing: unravelling the mystery and getting clues from one another on how you do this whole god thing. Before I stopped drinking and using drugs, I thought God was some punishing being who hated me for being gay and was probably still low-key pissed off at what a bad Catholic I was. So I need to see and hear what God is for other people and then go off continue to seek my own.

Therefore it isn’t really my business if someone has a God who hates gay people or belongs to a religion that oppresses women. Likewise it’s not my concern if Facebook friends post overly religious crap. I’m too busy trying not to be a horrible person, one day at time. So I guess even the guy in the “Spiritual Gangsta” hoodie gets a pass. That said, I’m gonna hold off on ordering one for myself.

 

out of service

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It all started by a waterfall with cliff divers.  Okay and there was also a mariachi band and a large orange monkey. There was also magicians, an old drunk couple with guitars and the gloppy enchiladas that should probably be considered a hate crime against Mexico. Little red flags popped up and me and a bevy of other teenagers would magically appear with chips and salsa and sopapillas (this puffy, fired dough pillow creation best eaten at mouth scorching temperatures and drizzled with honey.) Later, they’d tear me away from all of this glamorous action and sequester me to a hot steamy kitchen where my loud thin Vietnamese manager Hong would yell at me, “Do something!” Suffice to say, I didn’t last very long.

Yep, it all started nearly 30 years ago when I was 15 and working at a ridiculous Mexican restaurant/theme park/Denver anomaly called Casa Bonita. The “it” in question is my almost 30 year on and off again career of waiting tables, working behind retail registers and dealing with the general public. These restaurant/retail gigs have always made for good money makers while I’ve persued drugs or writing or getting sober. Now at age 44, my time behind the counter and I’m sad to report by fake waterfalls with cliff divers has come to an end.

While I won’t say, “I’ll never go back!” to working in cafes, shops or restaurants, I will say for the time being it looks like that chapter of my life is officially done. On Saturday, I said goodbye to the part-time gig I’ve had since I moved to Portland at a culinary shop/cooking class hub. While aspects of it were fun, I did feel a little like the daytime stripper way past her prime. Bitter, slow and armed with one liners ripe for any possible thing that could come up, it became clear that my time in this arena had run its course. The fact that no one got stabbed and my sobriety remained in tact means my time there was success. My new adventure, working as a peer counselor for the State of Oregon will put in me in an entirely different realm of the word service but will certainly take me out of this weird wonderful, fucked up world that I have known since my teen years.

It’s an over-simplification of the highest order and a snap judgement anyone can and has made probably any time they’ve left their house, I can confirm that people are the worst. Entitled, rude, awkward, racist, homophobic, cheap, dishonest, mean-spirited and generally awful, people put it all out there when their shopping and eating out. I also happen to be people too so I know this is true for myself as well. We like to think “everyone’s doing the best they can” but I’d argue that when we’re shopping or eating out that we are often on autopilot and the first things to evaporate are our common sense, manners and general non-shittiness. Like we don’t go places with the intentions of being awful but we don’t exactly set out into the world with the opposite intention either. However, I will say after you’ve worked with the public long enough, you no longer flinch when cray-cray shit flies out of their mouths. Somewhere around Year 500 of me working with the public, I developed a protective shield, one that kept me free from reaction while also making everything and everyone seem funny, human and really not that bad. Naturally curious and nosey, I do actually like talking to people, the big weirdos. So as I took on these gigs in sobriety I was able to have fun with them and promptly forget them when I went home.

Back when I was waiting tables, a friend once optimistically chirped, “But as a writer waiting tables must be a great insight into people, right?”  I’m sure I agreed and muddled sure, sure, sure then followed it up by some insightful, funny story about customers. Yet now I’m not so sure. After all, it’s a micro-glimpse into their lives and not really who they are. Yet I will say as a person who loves to write dialogue, working with the public has been invaluable. Plus, people are really vulnerable(read: insane) when they’re eating and shopping so you get to see them in a heightened state which is great for dramatic purposes. Yet for all the drama and all the years waiting tables only a few good stories remain and they are simplistic at best. Here are a few of the most memorable:

That time I waited on Isabella Rossellini. For obvious reasons– duh!

That time I watched a sleazy guy cut his girlfriend’s steak for her. Despite watching people vomit or get in fights, this sticks in my brain as one of the grossest and oddest things I ever saw waiting tables. I don’t know why but it’s forever lodged in my conscience.

That time I got to escort Harrison Ford backstage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. Harrison. Goddamn. Ford.

That time a customer posted a negative Yelp review of the place I worked at and singled out my shitty, snotty attitude. She wasn’t wrong.

That time I got to send clothes to Cher’s house for her to try on and she in turn sent me a signed cd.

That time I helped Roseanne pick out body glitter and punk rock records.

That time a couple had sex in the changing room at a boutique I worked at.

That time Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks sang Happy Birthday to her friend at the restaurant I worked at.

That time Rene Russo ate in our restaurant while her kids ate Domino’s in her car.

That time I got hit on by a customer at lunch and later hooked up with him in between shifts.

That time a D-List actor rudely yapped on his cell phone and ignored his 4 year-old kid while dining at my work. He even left the kid(!!) alone while he went to the ATM and he didn’t tip.

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That time, despite being really high/drunk I actually made a lot of money. Okay. That was most of the time.

Did I mention Isabella Rossellini already? The point is the fodder isn’t nearly as juicy as you might think. And without the celebrity sightings the cache of my illustrious customer service career completely bombs. I’ve mainly learned that people want to be heard, people want to be noticed and people shouldn’t be fucked with if they’re hungry. Also, this makeshift career of helping other people has oddly opened the door for me to want to help them even more, beyond bringing dessert menus or helping them pick out body glitter.

Service, as fate would have it, is a necessary part of my recovery. At nearly 9 years into this jam, I am constantly on the hunt for new ways to be of service. They say helping others keeps people like me out of our heads and I am all for that. Thus my new career and even writing have pushed me into a life less about Sean. Or at least that’s my hope. Plus, if all else fails I can return to this old wacky world. That’s the thing. Once you’ve conquered it you can do it anywhere and at anytime.

Meet me by the waterfall and I’ll bring you some menus.