the heart asks for pleasure first

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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 didn’t feel anything. Maybe I need more.

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For a platinum level drug addict like myself, remembering specific times that I was high is difficult to say the least. That’d be like our dear president trying to remember the people he’s blocked on Twitter. There’s just too damn many of them, darling.

As I sat down this morning and sipped coffee, I scanned the internet for prompts, inspirations and something to write about.  Turns out, today is kind of a fucked up day to look for writing prompts. Yeah 1,000 words on Hitler’s birthday? I’m gonna pass on that. Ditto with the 18th anniversary of Columbine. Although as a Colorado native, I certainly have thoughts on all of that but I feel like I covered them pretty well back when the Aurora shooting happened in 2012. After briefly considering a post that would simultaneously have paintings by Joan Miro while talking about Jessica Lange movies, both of whom were also born today, I remembered it was “420.” That “holiday” gets all the eye-rolling and air quotes from me because I think it’s ridiculous. Having just lived in Denver and seen 420 stupidity up close and personal, let’s just say I’ve had my fill with poorly dressed stoned white people people dancing in the street. Still, I was sure I could come up with a funny story about smoking pot. After all, I smoked it for a long time so there had to be fodder in there somewhere. But again, when you’re were high as much as I was it gets rolled into some big cerebral blob and none of it is all that entertaining. What I did remember, though, was the first time. The time it didn’t work.

At my late 80’s mountain brewery town junior high, there were a lot of “Jens.” You know, Jennifers who turned 13 and after trying out a heart over the “i” in 5th grade, suddenly landed on a more casual approach to their moniker. My first time smoking pot was at Cool Jen’s house. Cool Jen is not to be confused with Theatre Jen or Jen Who Wore Her Collar Popped Up On Her Polo Shirts. Cool Jen wore denim jackets and acid wash jeans, lots of lip gloss and listened to Mötley Crüe. Although certainly more stoner/rocker than my new wave listening self, Cool Jen’s appeal was universal. Me and my best friend along with a bunch of other randoms wound up at Cool Jen’s house. We were going to smoke pot. By now, at age 14, I had already drank enough times to consider myself a seasoned partier so pot was the most logical step and it was a big deal.

We’d all talked about it endlessly, trying to figure out what our exit strategies were, how to deal with our parents and basically how and what it would feel like. It felt extra risqué for me because not only was my dad sober but he was also a narcotics officer on the police force. Plot twist/irony alert/of course he was. It would be like if Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter Apple secretly ate Wendy’s and shopped at Old Navy. The rebelliousness of the act was certainly part of the appeal but smoking weed held the promise of getting outside myself and that’s what really excited me. I already knew that drinking made me disappear and was now open to any and all other substances that would help me do the same.

Thankfully, one of the Marks were there to help guide us new pot smokers through the experience. Like Jens, there were a lot of Marks at our school. Unlike Jens, I think they all of them had long hair and smoked weed thus making them truly indistinguishable. Mark lit what I’m 82% positive was a joint (but can’t really remember because drugs) and passed it around. A smoker of stolen Marlboro red’s already, I knew the basics of the act so when it got to me I knew what to do and I was already instructed to hold it in. Some kids coughed and wheezed. Other held it in and let out massive clouds of billowing smoke. Someone lit it for me because I was (and still sort of am) was as coordinated as an aging walrus. I held it in and let it out and passed it on. It went around and round and then it was done. We hung out in Cool Jen’s yard and listened to music. And everybody laughed and had red eyes. Everybody but me. It didn’t work. I was pissed. Maybe I did it wrong? Maybe it was bad weed? Maybe I needed more? Another girl (not a Jen. Maybe a Megan?) there assured that it was normal for a first time and that it doesn’t work on some people. Other kids told me I should try it again sometime. And that’s all I needed to hear. I went on to try it again soon after that and it worked. So did acid right after that and so did ecstasy and cocaine a few years after that.

Some 30 years later, this the part of the story I find really funny. I know there are non-addicts out in the universe who try drugs and alcohol and it doesn’t work for them so they never do it again. This fascinates me! Because every drug or drink, even the terrible ones that made me want to scrape my skin off or puke my guts out, I tried again. Some several times, you know just to make sure. Special K, Gin, Crystal Meth all things I really hated but did for extended periods of time because maybe I was doing it wrong or maybe I just needed more? This is not normal. It would be like continuing to eat Pad Thai even though you had a peanut allergy. What this memory really does however is shout at the top of its lungs, “YOU ARE AN ADDICT AND YOU ALWAYS HAVE BEEN, DUMBASS!” which is something I need to hear and remember on the daily, especially on 420.

 

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It was an epic showdown between two individuals and I saw it all go down.

These two sets of eyes, one to my right, the other directly in front on me, casually met at first. Then something switched, like they realized what the other one was made of. Before you knew it, both opponents were giving each other the stare down. Each of them transfixed by the other and me and the people next to me were soon invested in this showdown too. This eye-lock for the ages last a few moments until the staring ninja in front of me let out a loud giggle. Or was it a coo? Whatever you’d call it, it was one of those sounds so brain explodingly cute that it could only come from a baby. His opponent, an 11-year-old female corgi, apparently loved it too and wagged her tail wildly. In response, myself and the man seated next to me both made our own unique noise that was something between a laugh and an “awww” sound. This Olympics of Adorableness happened yesterday. At an AA meeting.

If you wait long enough, everything comes around again. Or at least this is what I have been told by countless sentimental movies, thoughtful commercials and wise folks. While I would like to think that every experience I have is unique and one of a kind, it’s hard to not feel like a lot of my current existence isn’t mirroring the past. For example, when the husband and I started dating seven years ago, we lived in different cities. We are currently doing that once again for the next six weeks. Likewise, we lived in a near empty apartment while we waited for furniture some four years ago and  here we are once again doing the same thing yet this time in Portland. But the biggest redo from the past is starting over again with my recovery.

While I didn’t relapse, moving to a new town in recovery means basically starting from scratch. Having gotten sober in Los Angeles and then moving to Denver at 2 years sober, I’m familiar with what it takes to submerge oneself. And it’s a whole lot of work. I sigh just typing those words because I am inherently entitled, self-obsessed and lazy. Therefore, “doing the work” of recovery isn’t always my favorite. Like it’s fine and I know it’s necessary but really can’t I have someone do it for me? Isn’t there a temp agency I can call, a hologram I can use or a pill I can take that will have the same effect? Since the answers to those questions are an emphatic no, no and hell no, I realize that I have to just throw myself in. I have to go to many as meetings as possible. I have to talk to other people who have what I have. I have to show up. In my early days of recovery back in 2009, there were some meetings where I’d just listen and I need to do that now, in a new town. And that’s how I wound up witnessing Baby Versus Corgi staring contest yesterday.

I went just to get out of my head, a crazy place I’ve hung out in entirely too much lately. I don’t seek from meetings anymore. I don’t go to judge or to get anything. I go because I need a reminder of what I have and need to see miraculous transformations in person. Watching people turning into butterflies is the most amazing thing about 12 step meetings. Hang around long enough and you’ll see people on death’s door suddenly become someone beautiful, happy and productive. What can say? I love Cinderella and I’m a sucker for makeovers. I am lucky to have seen it several times in others and even in myself. Sure, sure, sure there’s a lot of a stuff to bitch about with meetings. While the internet has about 600 billion posts doing as much, I’m not really in that game anymore. Bitching and whining instead of actually evolving is so 2008. I currently go to meetings save my own life and watch others do the same and that’s about it. So every so often you get treated to something extra at a meeting and yesterday it was this corgi/baby lovefest.

Watching those two was like a living, breathing meditation. So sweet, funny, real and genuine, the interaction universally confirmed that the world is amazing and I have a lot to be thankful for. Their Disney movie interaction was a stunning contrast to what the poor adult humans in the room were sharing. On a seemingly average Wednesday, so many open hearts shared about relapsing over the weekend, about wanting to drink, about not wanting to live. Each person who shared needed to open their mouths and by doing so helped everybody else in the room, myself included. By choosing to shut up (for once) instead of sharing about my cats, I opened my heart too. I felt connected to a room of people in a new town but who were now anything but strangers.