a river I could skate away on

657002_wallpapers-charlie-brown-and-friends-ice-skating-1024x768_1024x768_h.jpg

In case you forgot to watch it, The Very Sean Paul Mahoney Christmas Special from 2017 featured, as all great holiday specials do, a lot of crying in the shower and the music of Joni Mitchell. It wasn’t exactly Bing Crosby in a fucking sweater singing with “A Christmas Song” but it’s where we were. All of that said, I think I should warn you this isn’t about to be one of those fuck Christmas essays. Despite not being Christian at all, I happen love Christmas. It’s a magical holiday that somehow marries my intense love of cookies, glitter and bone-crushing melancholy. It’s also a day that seems to be 1000 times more quiet than other days. Like I love going to a downtown area on Christmas day and seeing all the closed restaurants and shops. The world finally gets sick of hearing itself talk and shuts the hell up on Christmas Day. I guess that’s what they mean by Peace On Earth? I had that moment, that moment that’s so quiet and beautiful it could only happen on Christmas Day, last year and after the month I had, I felt like I earned it.

While I don’t hate Christmas, one thing is for certain, I detest unsolicited advice. I work actively to not to be that guy who says shit like, “Well, you know what I would do…” or  worse “What you need to do is …” Ain’t nobody wanna hear advice from me that they didn’t ask for. But I will hand out this nugget for free: maybe don’t start therapy for long simmering PTSD around the holidays. Take my word on this one, kids. No, Burl Ives. There was nothing holly or jolly about my mood leading up to the holidays last year. (By the way, Christmas is the only time of year we take a moment to pause and  honor the vast talents of Burl so that’s another thing to love about the holiday.) But it all needed to happen. Revisiting old physically violent parts of my past just so they’d finally make sense sounded like a horrible idea. Frankly it sounded scary and hard and like the reason why I drank and used drugs for 20 years. Yet I was ready. I’d been sober almost 9 years, I felt loved and protected by the people in my life and I had bad ass health insurance.

Still the timing was undeniably sucky so thank god for Joni Mitchell. While I couldn’t convince Joni to go to therapy for me (she’s a frail woman, people! I’m sure she would if she could!) she at least provided a soundtrack that made my Christmas life livable. I guess this could have also been an essay about how “River” by Joni Mitchell is the best Christmas song ever. I have at least 800 compelling words to argue that point. Yet that would mean I couldn’t write about myself and that would be unacceptable. Anyway, last year that song came on at the wrong time (or the right time) just a few days before the holidays. By this point, I had been in therapy a few weeks. We had already unearthed some of the hardest, most brutal parts of my past. It was a rough but cathartic journey which resulted in a lot of tears. Insert several of the aforementioned cries in the shower here.  I wasn’t crying because I was still afraid. I wasn’t crying because the wounds were fresh. I was crying for poor, old Sean of the past. I was crying for all the things he went through and all the years he avoided feeling anything at all. I was mourning a life that was broken and that never felt like it deserved a chance to get fixed until 2009. It was all appropriate but it hurt like a motherfucker. So when Joni sang, ” I wish I had a river I could skate away on” I was like “Yeah, bitch! Me too!” Per her request it need to a be so long that it could teach my feet to fly. I needed to fly far away from this shit.

But that’s the thing,  I couldn’t. The beast of an examined life of accountability (which sounds awful when you put it that way, tbh) is that I get to walk through the fire head on, regardless of how hard an unsavory it is.  There’s no skating away or moving around it. When you listen to “River” its clear Joni had done fucked up at that point in her life and she wanted to skate away from all of it. A renowned wine drinker and cigarette smoker, I’m sure La Mitchell used the same ways to “skate away” that I did.  Drugs and alcohol were terrific for that. A few shots, a few lines and the things that I put off feeling for years were put on hold indefinitely. Yet despite all odds there I was: a person who hates facing shit doing precisely that. “River” contains a riff of a deconstructed jingle bells beneath it’s heart wrenching lyrics which fits that moment perfectly too. Here it was Christmas, a time I love with people I love and my heart was imploding. “Jingle Bells” but make it devastating.

To get outside of myself, I baked an obscene amount of cookies.  I mailed tins filled with treats to family around the country. I took cookies to work. I brought cookies to AA meetings. Maybe Mrs. Fields went through PTSD therapy too and thus her business was born? The point was I got through it and I would even say really enjoyed my holidays.  The tears still came but I talked to a network of people who got what I was going through. My sister reminded me that by looking at this difficult stuff and finally healing, I was giving myself the Christmas present of freedom. Sigh. I had really wanted a waffle iron but I knew she was right.

When Christmas 2017 finally showed up, so did the perfect light dusting of snow, just like it does on the holiday specials. My husband and I walked to a movie, like we do every year and there it was: the quiet. We were in downtown Portland but it felt like nobody else was. It was beautiful. I had more work on this journey I needed to do but in that moment everything was okay. “Peace on Earth” means something in moments like that when you’re not exactly at peace yourself.

Today, I am happy to report that while it is decidedly still coming on Christmas and they are still cutting down tress, my feet are firmly planted. Skates hung up and face forward, I don’t have the desire to skate away. I will still bake excessively. I will listen to Joni Mitchell. I will still probably cry at some point. But maybe this year, I can remind somebody else struggling of the gift of freedom, too.

Advertisements

I’m Gonna Be Festive. Dammit.

Cat-Hates-Christmas-Sweater-800x600.jpg

It might not happen today. It might not happen next week. It might be a minute, as in the kind of minute that could take a month and not just 60 seconds. But it will happen. I’m going to be happy and I’m going celebrate. For fuck’s sake.

Moving into my first holiday season* sober back in 2009, I was petrified. What if multiple listens of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” caused me to relapse? (This is a legitimate concern, by the way. Turn on Judy Garland’s version and try not to wash down a bottle of Xanax with a tumbler of Jim Beam.) What if I was horribly miserable during the most wonderful time of the year? What if my first set of sober holidays were like everything else that first year–miraculous but really difficult? I voiced these concerns to my first sponsor to which he replied, “Boo, you need to worry about Tuesday.” His point was I was just as likely to relapse on any random day of the week than I was on the holidays. Fair enough. After all, I never needed a calendar holiday to justify being a hot wasted mess. He also said, I might as well find joy in the holidays and make them my own. In other words, embrace them or get crushed by them. I am also what’s been diagnosed as a “massive depressive” which means I even have to do depression more over the top and more dramatic than the average bear and therefore this is a good strategy. To say that holidays can be triggering for us residents of Depression Island (best. reality. show. ever.) is an understatement of the “maybe the planet is kind of getting hotter” variety. I have found that if I do fun things, watch ridiculous holiday movies, eat copious amounts of bake goods and hang out with people I love, the whole depressing holiday stigma melts away.

53940-Over-The-Top-Christmas-Decorations.jpg

Now, it should be mentioned again that I have no religious affiliation attached to the holidays and use them instead to celebrate peace on Earth and practice kindness. It’s also a nice time of year to breathe and enjoy beauty. This year, 2016 the year wherein Bowie, Prince and Cohen said, “You’re on your own, bitches!” it’s more vital and more challenging than ever to deck the halls. Don’t think I haven’t considered trying to operate the rest of 2016 as well as the holidays underneath a pile of cats and blankets (best. Christmas. special. ever). After all, it’s just 49 days. I think if I hid for 49 days people wouldn’t even be concerned. I mean Olivia Newton-John’s boyfriend disappeared like 10 years ago and we’re still not that worried about it.

What happened on Tuesday–which I won’t refer to by name for the sanctity of the internet and out of respect for you the reader– would be reason enough to zip up my massive depressive bodysuit and just linger there until further notice. Granted that event and the person at the center of that event are fucking terrifying and depressing. As stated at the top of the post, it will take a while for me to get over the shock and despair which has been sprinkled over humanity like sugar cookie decorations. There’s no time limit on sadness, by the way. I’ve read these horse shit posts over the last few days that are all, “Oh. Maybe it won’t be so bad. And now we can all breathe.” (By the way, STFU Oprah) Um. No. Fuck you. Maybe we’re not ready to breathe. Maybe we’re not ready to hop into action and fight the power either. Maybe we just need to eat Chinese food and watch a show about Queen Elizabeth. Okay? Stop telling me to fucking getting over it or to galvanize, Internet. I need to be still, hug my husband and my cats and not move too much until further notice.

dyr6ua.gif

I will most likely move from wanting to slap everyone to wanting to hug everyone on Thanksgiving. It is my favorite holiday. There’s no gifts. There’s no out of whack expectations. Just pie and gratitude. I adore cooking and eating with my favorite people so Thanksgiving is kind of like my version of the Super Bowl. Last year was magical as we ate dinner and watched the snow fall. We had my grandma over along with other beloved family members. This year, grandma is no longer here and the group will be tiny. But the truth is I actually have a lot to be grateful for. I took several amazing trips to different parts of the world. I saw some amazing art and read incredible stuff. I got on the other side of pneumonia that nearly killed me and now feel better than ever. Creatively, I’ve had a complete overhaul and renaissance that can only be described as whoa. And I’ve been lucky enough to stay sober and present through some heavy, heartbreaking shit. Basically, I have a lot of gratitude to be expressed this Thanksgiving and will eat the amount of pie proportional to said gratitude.

WorldsLargestPumpkin.jpg

Right after that, it’ll be Christmas. The thing I like about Christmas is that it gives me a moment to be quiet and be still. Snowmen, twinkling lights and yes, even some of that sad ass music in the background are all things I look forward to. As suggested, I’ve grown into making the holidays my own. Every year, my husband and I along with a bunch of old Jewish couples go to the movies on Christmas Day. We eat brunch. We do gifts and then we sit in the dark and watch a movie. It’s heaven and I can’t wait to do it again. The thing is: no person, no event, no election can rob beauty from my life. No political climate can negate the truth that my life is beautiful and should be celebrated as such. Combatting the external shittiness of the world starts with me having joy. In fact, it feels more important than ever right now. And when the time is right and I feel less fragile, look the hell out.

 

*Read more about my first holiday sober in a Tough Cookie Christmas available here!