the heart asks for pleasure first


I guess the idea shows up in your brain when you’re watching an Emily Dickinson movie on Amazon.

The film being A Quiet Passion starring Cynthia Nixon as the elusive poetess. The title doesn’t lie as it’s a quiet little church mouse of a movie but honestly it’s worth the watch for the poetry alone. Long a poetry nerd since childhood, the movie reminded me the Emily Dickinson is overused, over-quoted and maybe even overrated for a reason. The woman was a genius. Her sensitive soul and deep affection for her family mixed with a famously reclusive nature have always spoke to me. Therefore, the film’s choice to have Nixon read her work in voiceover is a brilliant one. In one scene in particular, my jaw fell open when I heard her speak these words:

The heart asks pleasure first,
And then, excuse from pain;
And then, those little anodynes
That deaden suffering;

And then, to go to sleep; 
And then, if it should be
The will of its Inquisitor,
The liberty to die.

Well, that was it. Ms. Dickinson, as portrayed by Miranda from Sex and the City, nailed it. The “it” I’ve been thinking about for the better part of a month: the journey of the heart. Of my heart, specifically. See, without me even trying or setting an intention or making vision board or visiting a witch (all things I approve of, just things I didn’t do) my heart changed. Love changed. Listen, this might sound like a bunch of nonsense so feel free to close your laptop or go read a really important article about the best episodes of The Barefoot Contessa.  But the best way I can describe it is it all got bigger. My heart could suddenly handle more. More love, more heartbreak and more change. And love, dear sweet love whom I’ve tried to push around and control my whole life, proved to me it was the boss. In the world of recovery, we often say “life on life’s terms” but I think we should say love on love’s terms, too.

Maybe it also shows when you hear a Savage Garden song in a Lyft.

“Is the music okay?” my sweet 50-something year-old driver asked me. “Perfect,” I said. Sometimes you just need to lip synch, “I’ll be your dream. I’ll be your wish. I’ll be your fantasy” in the back of a stranger’s SUV. Last week, was one of those times. For that 10 minute ride, I was happy to listen to Savage Garden and give my brain a breather. It was an emotional rollercoaster of a weekend. From a joyous evening to celebrate with new friends to watching a loved one suffer, it was clear early on that my role was to just be wherever you invited me. The fact that I’m even able to do that still blows my mind after 9 years sober. Had you known me before when sending me a text message was akin to tossing a folded letter down a dark well, you’d be impressed too. Sure, I wasn’t doing as directed by Savage Garden and standing with you on a mountain or bathing with you in the sea,  but I was showing up for you last weekend and it felt good.

What happened by just showing up, is it availed me to some amazing experiences. One of which was sitting in a room with fellow addicts where someone I love was sharing their story. I scanned the building and noticed that 95% of the crowd was gay men. Gay men of all ages and varying lengths of sobriety. This is special for me because I never in a million years would have ever thought I’d have groups of gay men across several states that I felt  loved and accepted by. But here I am, gifted with male friends who are more than just fucks, adversaries or exes. We are connected to one another by the heart and by a common journey. What these people do, with varying degrees of success, is just show up and support each other and hopefully get better. The fact I get to be a part of something spectacular like that isn’t lost on me. By the end of the night, I soon didn’t feel like I needed my retreat into Savage Garden nor was my act of showing up all that remarkable. I felt honored just to be there.

It’s probably present too every time a friend picks up the phone.

The pursuit of being the cool bitch with a whole gang of friends has taken me to dark places. In the name of “cool” and on the never-ending quest for approval, I’ve done everything from shoplifting to trying heroin to snorting Special K with drag queens. Now at age 45, I am finding myself again seeking, finding and cultivating new friendships. It’s humbling to put myself out there, call people and be open. On some entitled level, I feel like I should just get a group of new friends each time I move to a new town without having to do any work. Like can’t we just have a casting agent take care of it? Can’t we hold auditions? Sadly, no. However, I have somehow found cool, funny, brilliant people to hang out with who I want to get to know better. I’ve rallied and pushed aside my shitty attitude to make friends. What’s more, and this is that expansion of love at work here, is I am open to be vulnerable and real with people I barely know, cool kid status be damned. I don’t take people hostage anymore and force them to get wasted with me. I’m just letting friendship happen. Already, I’ve been gifted with more than one phone call to a friend who somehow always gets what I’m going through, despite us not knowing each other for that long. This person speaks my language, lets me be myself and I try to do the same. It’s an incredible gift especially for someone newly back in the friendship game. Yet my heart is also grown up enough now to know that I can love these people in this moment, without expectation and somehow that feels like enough.

Maybe it’s always there.

Coming home the other night after being out with friends, my husband was already tucked in bed. A sleepy, funny random conversation that only couples who really like talking to each other followed, despite it probably not making a hell of a lot of sense. My heart and the rest of me wanted to go to sleep but it was later when I thought about those snuggly seconds before passing out that I realized that my pursuit of love and friendship begins and ends here, at home. The beings who live here: my cats Maeby and Larry and mainly, my husband Michael are the ones who teach me how to love all day long and who remind me that no journey my heart wants to take is too dangerous or too scary. No friendship too risky, no act of kindness without reason. Because every road leads back here–home. As Emily herself once wrote, I dwell in possibility and where I live is filled with precisely that.


I know I’m unloveable. You don’t have to tell me.

love haring

First off, let’s calm down. Those are Smiths lyrics in the title. This isn’t some piece about how miserable and unloved I am. This isn’t some 1,200 word soliloquy about how much I hate myself. But wouldn’t that be evolved if it was? No, seriously. If I was all, “Look I’m sort of over myself and here’s why.” In a culture where we’re all trying to convince one another how “great” we’re doing,  wouldn’t people freak out if we just blurted out how shitty we felt about ourselves? In fact, I know they would. As a person in recovery, I’ve seen people’s faces flop to the floor when I casually mention depression or make jokes about thoughts of suicide. (Thoughts of Suicide- the new perfume from Estée Lauder. It’ll pass.) It doesn’t go over so well. I’m breaking a fourth wall and people do not dig it. It’s like telling people who love wrestling how fake it is. They know it’s fake. They just don’t want to talk about it, okay? So fine, fine, fine. I get it. Well, now I do. (sometimes) I know not everybody wants to hear cocaine stories or tales of mental woe. That’s why I have these here pages and the rooms of recovery.  But since I’m not at some polite function where everybody is sipping red wine and trading puns about the news of the day, let’s get back this business of being unloveable. This is my house we can talk freely about those sorts of things. Dammit.

Back in the summer of 2009, with seven months sober, I found out that I was HIV positive. I’ve told this story before and probably will a lot more because it’s perhaps something I can say out loud that might help other people. Thus if it’s a story that makes folks uncomfortable, I kind of don’t give a fuck. Anyway, I most recently told the whole tale here, if you’d care to read it. Or you can just wait until I turn it into a musical ice show extravaganza. One of the many reverbs of that diagnosis was this thought in the back of my mind that I’d never date or fall in love again. Now this, unlike the title, was a real moment of self-pity. This was a sad music, wear black and chain smoke state of mind. This was me feeling like the big love story I wanted again wasn’t going to happen. Before we start crying, let’s put on Dionne Warwick.

The music of Hal David and Burt Bacharach doesn’t make it all better but it couldn’t hurt. Besides, I was in bad shape. I was trying to stay sober, trying to process this health diagnosis and getting over a 12 year relationship imploding to boot. Never falling in love again sounded like a very real prospect, Ms. Warwick and I wasn’t too happy about it. Nevertheless, me and my unloveable ass marched on. What other choice did I have? I heard them, the infamous them who say wise shit in 12 step meetings, say in my early recovery, “We’ll love you until you learn to love yourself.” This was a relief because I had no idea what loving myself even looked like. My attempts at loving myself included dropping ecstasy during the day and going to a bathhouse, shopping and drinking margaritas alone and smoking weed and watching 80’s movies. Yeah, pretty sure you won’t find any of those activities in the self-help section of your local bookstore. Clearly, I was going to need all the help that “they” could give me. For someone with low to zero self-esteem, this notion of loving yourself sounded obtuse. I mean where did I even begin? Did I need to send myself flowers? Take myself to dinner? I had no clue so I was thrilled that people who seemed to really like themselves would show me what the fuck it was all about.

lift love up

Here’s the thing: I really hated myself. I don’t know where it started or why or how. But the feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing were so long standing with me, that they felt normal. Therefore, I needed to start simple on this whole loving myself song and dance. “Self-esteem through esteemable acts” is what they said. Things like going to meetings, resting, eating well, laughing, helping others– all fell under the esteemable acts category. Basically, doing less horrible stuff regularly would help me feel less horrible. And they were right. Over time, these little things helped me flip the script. Yet I hated myself for decades so it wasn’t like I woke up one day and was like, “Oh my gawd, y’all! I totally love myself!” This hatred paired with my other longtime homie self-sabotage didn’t hit the road right away. It took me months to give myself a break, to be nice to myself and to stop trying to self-destruct. Even in recovery, I wound up in many self-hating situations and slipped back into old behavior like it was a cozy sleeping bag.  But fear not. I promised you a non-downer post. I swear there’s a silver lining. Listen to this Ne-yo song written by Sia, a sober alcoholic and we’ll get there.

Despite setbacks and fuckups, I got there. I eventually could hang out with myself and really enjoy it. Before I knew it, romance entered the picture too. Nearly a year after that diagnosis, I met Michael. I was in Denver hanging out with my sister and met this funny, charming lovely being. We had several dates and we were instantly taken with each other. But he didn’t know that I had a condition that put me in the unloveable category. After being together for days, my sponsor at the time told me I had to tell him. My stomach was in knots at the very idea but she was right. I planned on telling him as soon as possible. We were on our way home from a movie and I just blurted it out. There I go with the blurting things out again. His reaction was shocking: He said he didn’t care. Insert lots of tears and kissing and the catapulting of our romance.  The point is I was wrong. Turns out I was loveable. Shows you what I know.

I mention all of this now because this guy who proved me wrong and I are currently separated. Oh god, no. Not like that. That would be a fucking downer. No, he’s just out of town working for the next six weeks. But here’s the real miracle of this whole rambling roller coaster of emotions: even though he’s not around, I know that he loves me, that others love me and that I even love myself.  And that’s the best ending of all.

Fade to black. Roll credits. Play The Smiths.