over there

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“Nothing is ever really over…just over there.” – Carrie Fisher

“A writer must really be in a bad place if they start their blog posts with quotes.”- Me

Both of the above thoughts happen to be true for me in this moment. Maybe I’m not in a bad place per say. Like the emotional equivalent of Detroit. There’s no immediate danger or lying on the kitchen floor sobbing. But a sort of sad place? Yeah. Which is odd because I had, by all accounts, on paper, a very happy celebratory weekend. Yet here I am drinking coffee, looking at the misty hill outside my window feeling pretty damn fragile. Fragile is a great word and I’d like to take a moment to whoever it was who started using it to describe not just glass and fancy breakable things on your grandma’s mantle but the human condition. Maybe it was Trent Reznor. Let’s just say it was Trent Reznor, for the hell of it. Thank you, Mr. Reznor because that’s what I am today. Not a crying mess but fragile. There are a couple of reasons for this here fragility.

First of all, it’s not lost on me that today is June 12th. It marks a year after the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. I remember expressing to a straight coworker last year how heartbreaking I thought it was and they replied, “Did you know people there?” My first reaction was to sarcastically say, “Yes. Because we all know each other.” My next reaction was to snap, “No but people died and I’m not a robot so can’t I be upset?!?” Instead, I just said, “No” and moved on. What broke my heart then and still today was that it even happened. That it happened to people like me and that because it happened to people like me and it happened at the hand of guns, it would be lessened over time and not treated like other tragedies. Thus far, I’m sad to report I was right. One year later, this tragedy has been quietly swept under the news carpet and rarely brought up, despite being the biggest death toll due to gun violence in the United States. It has not brought about legislation changes. It hasn’t even been over-sentimentalized or over-politicized. It’s been so shrugged off that when people like Hillary Clinton have mentioned it I’ve found myself shouting, “Thank you!” Listen, we all know the reason why and we know had this happened at a sporting event or somewhere involving families it would be a different story. But it didn’t so it isn’t. And ain’t that a bitch. All I can do now, today in 2017, is think about those 49 people who lost their lives and shed a tear for them. My sadness for them isn’t over, as La Fisher said at the top of the post, just over there.

Also “over there”? Me the little kid from an alcoholic home. He showed up this weekend unexpectedly. It happens when I’m around family sometimes. This little kid, being just a kid, still gets his feelings hurt by my parents or siblings. He still feels less than his perfect brothers. He still feels like a big gay weirdo who won’t ever be enough. He still thinks he isn’t okay. Me, the 44-year-old sober man, knows that these old stories aren’t true but also knows, despite the mass amounts of work I’ve done to heal my past, that this kid is bound to show up and have his little heart-broken again. My old sponsor like to remind me that family could push my buttons because they were the ones who installed them. While I’d like to think said buttons have been modernized to a touchscreen, the point is I still have them and they were still pushed over the weekend. But the good news is I didn’t react. I was there to have fun and celebrate. My own emotional baggage or hurt feelings could wait until I got home. Clearly, they did wait and I had a moment to cry in my Starbucks yesterday while on the phone with someone who gets it.

The truth is this kid, this part of me, might not fully ever get over old wounds. Pain and grief? They’ll probably always sting too. And that’s okay. I know for a fact that I hurt less than I used to, that it feels good to cry, to have authentic reactions and that it’s okay that, like the hill from my window, it’s all still over there.

Handle With Care

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It’s a recipe. That’s the only way I can describe it. I’m sure that has something to do with the fact that I’m ravenously hungry every single time I sit down to write but it’s the only metaphor I have in my writerly rolodex right now. The ‘it’ I’m talking about is self-care, in case you were wondering. Those two words were a head scratcher back when I was on my tequila soaked kamikaze mission. The closest I ever got to self-care back then was going 24 hours without lying or avoiding a blackout for an entire week. So now that I’m this sober adult and shit, I still regularly tinker with this recipe on doing actions that help this love cruise of mental wellness stay afloat.

Last Thursday, I figured I better scramble to get some sort of self-care recipe in action. For starters, I logged off Facebook and Twitter and I avoided news headlines. Listen, everybody everywhere was talking about this world event happening, one that I find horribly depressing, and I honestly didn’t want to engage. Besides, what could I possibly add to a conversation with so many voices? I detest redundancy and more than that I hate being beat to the punch when making jokes about current events therefore I passed on reading and commenting. Intuitively something told me that hanging onto my serenity was more important than obsessively reading and wringing my hands over this train wreck in slow motion. It turned out to be a good move but it wasn’t easy and had a lot of steps like making a paella and macarons at the same time. Mmm macarons.

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In addition to not reading the headlines or being on social media, I had to take it one step further, I turned off my phone on Friday. FOR THE ENTIRE DAY! This deserves all-caps and an exclamation point because I’m undoubtedly my smartphone’s bitch and I know this. Hi. I am an addict so of course I cradle and obsess over the damn thing like I’m Gollum with a piece of shiny jewelry. I always laugh when people in recovery come to meetings only to spend the whole time playing on their phone. Boo, you are in the right place, you freaking iPhone junkie. So that was difficult but not impossible. I knew if I didn’t want to know anything, I’d have to cut off my pocket-sized link to the outside world. Next, I brought a book to work. Sounds simple but replacing the fondling of my phone with something more tangible was key in order to keep my mind off of that stuff that was happening. Books have always been my touchstone to my higher self so reading turned out to be a godsend.

The day was chill and clipped along at a normal pace. I engaged with a few visitors who were there just to see something beautiful and get their mind off of things. One in particular was so kind and clearly upset that our conversation made me teary. Like run to the bathroom just in case I totally lost it teary. Moments of tenderness aside, I couldn’t wait to get the fuck out of there and go home. But before I went home, I stopped at the bookstore. As I’ve mentioned before, libraries and bookstores have always been sacred places to me where I can manage to center myself. After about 20 minutes of perusing the fiction section and picking out a few titles, I wasn’t okay. I got sweaty and hot and felt like I couldn’t breathe. It wasn’t  panic attack but I needed to go ASAP. I realized in that moment of feeling like crap in the bookstore that despite all of my wrapping myself in bubble wrap, something was still broken. I was fucking depressed and devastated.

I walked home with my books (along with some burritos for dinner) like a zombie. No sacred place, no amount of precaution could disguise the fact that I currently felt like I didn’t belong in the country where I was born. The country, that I believed when they told us in Catholic school we should be proud to live in, now wanted totally different things than I did and that really fucked with me. Which is fine. I’m one of those prone to butt-kicking depression types so to think that I wouldn’t occasionally get my ass handed to me by emotions would be like thinking that McDonald’s will just one day decide to stop making Big Macs. Ain’t gonna happen. For what it’s worth, I don’t think “getting over it” is the answer. I think that sort of “don’t deal with it” thinking is the reason we’re all hooked on drugs and drinking our faces off. I no longer shoot to get over things. I shoot to move through things, regardless of how long it takes or how much it hurts.

Nevertheless, I got home, had dinner with my husband, watched an episode of Top Chef and was actually in bed by 8:30pm. I’d had it. The final step in the recipe was, “if all else fails, go to bed” so that’s what I did. By Saturday, I’d glanced at a few headlines and was shown a picture of White House staffer in a nutcracker uniform but otherwise I was still off the grid. We saw a play, had dinner with friends and generally moved to a more light-hearted place. There was a lot of laughing going on which helps me immensely. Undoubtedly, the winner of the weekend was prayer and meditation. I’ve been gently directed to do more of those things lately and have been sort of practicing a half-assed spirituality for months. I only turn to these things when I’m in bad shape so suffice to say, I was praying and meditating like it was going out of style. On Sunday, I started peaking my head out again. Tweeting, processing events with coworkers, texting program friends, more laughing. I read a little more news and spent more time on Facebook, two terrible ideas. I quickly moved back into self-care and had a great dinner with my husband followed by another early bedtime.

I share all of these boring-ass details of my weekend because that’s what the recipe looked like. Handling myself with care took a lot of steps and to my surprise I still felt shitty. As I started to get down myself yesterday for still being a raw, emotional wreck, a little light came on. I didn’t drink all weekend nor did I use drugs and I also didn’t hurt myself or others. So in my mind the recipe was a success. Sure, I would like to feel magically fabulous with all of my hurt gone but staying sober and relatively sane was good enough. Hell it was a miracle. I recently talked to a sober homie of mine and we both agreed that drinking right now and being “out there” right now would be a nightmare.

As far as me and this country goes, it’s one day at time like everything else. It’s acceptance, like everything else. It’s love and tolerance, like everything else. And it’s also plane tickets. Late Friday night, my husband purchased our flights for a long-brewing trip to Europe. Because when the going gets tough, the tough make a recipe for self-care and the tough also get going to Paris.

hey! shut up.

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It’s the same canned music at my day job, day after day. You know, that innocuous steady bum-bum-bum in the background that plays at every store, airport, cultural destination. Inoffensive enough if you’re just visiting an establishment. Truthfully? You might even not notice it. You might just stroll around and be none the wiser to the sounds that populate my days. You might wonder if music was even playing at all. You might, if you’re not a person like me. I’ve always paid attention to the song in the background for some reason because who knows? Maybe a great song has been paired by the universe to particularly match the moment of what’s going on. Or if by chance its a really awful, wildly inappropriate song for the moment, even better. Sometimes, it’s just a lyric or an idea from the random song picked out of a hat by the digital music gods, droning on the background that inexplicably matches the moment. Like, “Hey! Shut up”, for example.

This lyric, featured in what’s sort of a love song from 1989 by Bonnie Raitt entitled “Have a Heart,” slaps a smirk on my face each time it comes on. For one thing, it’s the very first thing we hear Raitt say at the tip-top of the song. It’s a funny and sassy on-brand way to start a Bonnie Raitt song. Though tiny in demeanor, Raitt’s been to hell and back so if she playfully tells you, “Hey! Shut up” you might wanna consider it. Not only do I find this a hilarious way to start a song, it’s advice I pretty much need to hear all day long.

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A beloved friend I got sober with, who met me when I was whirling dervish of emotions and a category 5 hot mess, once described me as “wonderfully verbal.” Although too much of a saint to admit it, I’m sure he was trying to say I talked too much. This is something I’ve known for decades. “Blurt it out and clean it up later”is how we roll around these parts. As frank and fun as that can be, it’s also frequently insensitive and just stupid. As I’ve aged, however, I’ve tried to run things through a filter BEFORE they blast out of my mouth and for the most part there has been some improvement in this department. My husband, who just last weekend shook his head and tried to get me to stop blabbing my big dumb opinions around friends who may be offended by said opinions, might argue about my progress. Nevertheless, I am at the very least aware that I need to pause before things fly out of my mouth. What I still struggle with is shutting up entirely. Particularly when there are dynamics that have NOTHING to do with me or where my opinion isn’t really necessary. If I’m really real here (which isn’t that the bare minimum that we expect from people who never shut up?) I’ll tell you that I had this lyric in mind and wanted to give you sparkling before and after look at how someone who needed to shut up and finally did. You’d marvel at how my life had changed and soon you’d do the same thing. Yeah, that’s what I wanted to do but just yesterday more garbage flew out of my mouth at the speed of light. Sigh.

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Without getting into the particulars and blathering even more, let’s just say I participated in a bitchfest, some gossiping, a little character assassination and general asshole-bigmouth shenanigans. It was at the end of my day too. I’d made it several hours without running my mouth and for nothing. 3 minutes of yammering shot it all to hell. I was really disappointed in myself too. Look, I’m 43 and what was cute in the cafeteria at 17 or delightfully vicious in the club at 25, is just plain ugly now. Earlier this week as my sponsor and i talked about my character defects (because we’re at that joyful and not uncomfortable at all stage of our work. Please stab me.), I fessed up to gossip being a big problem for me. What was fun, now feels icky. He pointed out that maybe it feels gross now because it no longer works. I wholeheartedly agreed and assumed that was that. It doesn’t feel good therefore it will go away and I shall never do it again. Roll the credits and cue the triumphant music!  What I neglected to consider is that in order to not feel icky I have to stop the behavior entirely. Double sigh.

As a writer, communicator and lifelong bigmouth, on a cellular level I know the benefits of editing. I know that I need to organize my thoughts for them to make sense. I know that sometimes being quiet and listening is more called for and even for valuable than talking just to hear myself talk. I also know that thinking about what I’m going to say can before I say can often save me from embarrassing or confusing statements.

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Yet here we are at the top of a new day. With more opportunities to say stupid shit and clean them up later. Sadly, I am clearly in no position to give you advice on how to shut up and how it might change your life. What I can tell you is this : noticing the music in the background, being great at conversation, even having frank funny and unpopular thoughts that get you unfollowed on Twitter are actually character assets.

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The other stuff? It’s a work in progress, as cliche as that might sound. I’m taking the fact that I feel terrible when I engage in this behavior as a step in the right direction. Following through and changing is the tough part and it always has been. It’s the part that separates the men from the boys and one where I really have to buckle down and change. Therfore, I wouldn’t be surprised if a post entitled “Oops. I did it again” shows up in your newsfeed soon. But until then I can try, I can listen and I can attempt to shut up.

Your Permission Slip

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Yesterday sucked. I know this late-breaking news for you. But yeah. Yesterday was horrible. And there’s something freeing in just saying that. For me,anyway. I spent a long, long, long, time acting like everything was okay and dealing with the toxic fallout from that kind of delusion. So now when things are really sad and fucked up and totally senseless like yesterday’s shooting, it’s a gift to be able to say, “I am in pain and this sucks.”

And that’s what I did all day yesterday. My morning started with me at a meeting. I did not want to share. I just wanted to be with other people used to drink or use drugs whenever terrible shit would happen so that’s what I did. Thankfully a woman talked and ended her share by saying, ” I just want to take 10 seconds of silence for the people who died in Orlando.” Well that fucking did it. The tears ran down my face and I straight up did not care. I cried the rest of the meeting and cried when I thanked her for her share. She looked at me like I was crazy/like she felt really bad for me. Again. Didn’t care. Later on, at home I sent out text message carrier pigeons to all the people I knew would get what I was going through: My sponsor, who told me that crying was a good thing. My bestie in LA who was devastated and told me not to be alone. Another queer person from the program who told me they got. And all of my online homies who were crying alongside me. I cried at work as texts from playwright friends came in which also said how sad they were and how awful they felt. A lesbian couple came into my work and we were all mutually really nice to one another. We were laughing and generally chatting like we’d known each other for decades. But what it felt like we were saying is , “I know. This is terrible. I love you.” Much later back at home with a chocolate bar in hand and Game of Thrones on my television, I got a text from a family member who just wanted to say they loved me and that they always had and they were thinking of me and Michael all day long. More tears.*

The point is, despite my years of acting like everything was peachy, I felt my emotions yesterday. No it wasn’t fun but it felt appropriate. It felt appropriate to mourn the lives of 50 people I did not know. It felt appropriate to feel scared and angry and depressed all at the same time. It felt appropriate to reach out. This is still new behavior for me. Back in the day, everything from September 11 to the death of someone else’s family member was dealt with at a bar. Not coping was my way of coping.  That’s a hideous strategy, by the way. It only means that you’ll numb yourself into being an emotionless, alcoholic cyborg and when you finally do deal with your shit, it’s turned into some kind of demon that multiplies the longer it’s left in the dark. Yet I feel like we all still need permission to actually feel shit like a human being. At least I do. Having my sponsor tell me to keep crying yesterday immediately poured gasoline on my old cyborg circuitry. Being a human is some messy ass business and yesterday I felt like I was given a pass to do that.

Therefore I would like to extend the favor. Please cut out the slip at the top of this page and use it to feel whatever the fuck you want. If you are heartbroken, use it. If you are angry, use it. If you had something really good happen and feel bad about being happy, don’t and use it. But mainly don’t let people, including my bossy self, tell what you need to feel. This slip also allows you to be a white woman who identifies with Beyonce’s Lemonade even though they tell you cannot. This slip lets you cry for people in a foreign land whose lives are torn apart by war even though you are thousands of miles away. Finally, the slip lets you feel anything you want for the people killed at a gay bar in Florida yesterday even though you might not be gay or from Florida or even American. Plus, it never expires.

Which is good since I plan on using the hell out of mine.

*Actually crying when I wrote that sentence.