I have no fear, I have only love

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I was keeping it together. No, seriously. I really thought that after several days of feeling utterly emotionally and physically destroyed that on this Sunday morning, I finally had my shit together. The sun was out. I was walking along the waterfront. I took the longer walk because damnit I finally felt good. Might as well extended that feeling for as long as possible. Typical addict. “This feels good! Make it last forever!’ But as I walked further the reality of what was happening in my life hadn’t gone away. No amount of sunshine and long walks could erase that. Then out of nowhere on my airpods, “Gypsy” by Fleetwood Mac starts. It’s a song about the isolation of choosing the path truer to who you are, despite the freedom that comes along with it. Before I knew it, I was crying. I had stopped to get a coffee along the way in this epic walk. I sat down at picnic table overlooking the river and I sobbed. Like ugly cry on a Sunday morning in public in the bright summer sun with nowhere to hide. I let myself sob because what I do know as a person who has been sober for over a decade is that there is freedom and magic behind those tears. There I was, me and Stevie Nicks, who when she sings “I have no fear, I have only love” really made the waterworks flow, just crying on a Sunday morning. So consumed and knocked out by emotions and my grief, by Fleetwood Goddamn Mac that I failed to realize that there was couple sitting across from me.  The. Whole. Time. A happy couple. The fuckers. The kind of Brad and Courtney couple with perfect bodies and an impossibly adorable looking dog. They were the sort of couple you’d see when you were hungover and instantly feel like you were failing at life. They had it together. In that moment, I had Stevie Nicks, I had coffee, I had tears but I certainly didn’t have it the fuck together. Brad’s eyes caught mine at one point and He awkwardly smiled like what else are you supposed to do to a middle aged gay man so blatantly and openly falling apart in public. When I realized what a mess I was and “Gypsy” ended, I grabbed my coffee and scurried on down the path. Despite a few moments, I was definitively not fucking keeping it together.

Two weeks later, I’d like you to define “keeping it together.” Like what even is that? Am I crying in public currently? No. Am I showering? Yes. Am I eating? Sometimes. Sort of. Am I still overcome with grief and heartache? Also yes. Before we go much further, I guess I should explain what happened. I’ve been stream of consciousness posting about my pain and general malaise for the last few weeks on social media. Without really going into detail because there are other people involved, because I need to process what i needed to process and because fuck you I do what I want. Also, the people who knew, knew. They were important and helpful. Everybody else could wait.  Anyway, in the course of 10 ten days a beloved patient whom I worked with for over a year died of an overdose, Michael and I decided to end our relationship of nine years and to just top everything off, I got the worst cold I’ve had in recent memory. It was a triple quarter pounder of grief and emotional pain. Everything hurt: my heart, my body, my life. I walked like a zombie to my streetcar to work, I went to meetings and cried, I picked at meals with friends. My life was so heavy and hard. It all hurt all of the time and I could not stop crying. Sorry, Brad and Courtney. The death rocked my whole team at work. We were all destroyed. It’s part of our job, sure, sure. But it’s a terrible and shitty part of our job. My marriage, on the other hand, was something that was dying in slow motion for awhile.

Watching nine years of your life spin away like one of Stevie’s shawls is surreal. As it was jointly decided that our marriage was beyond repair, sadness took over. It was a sadness that felt appropriate and horrible and just like something I’d have to acknowledge and get through. I tried to lean into it. There were days when I was fine for most several hours in a row but then out of nowhere “Gypsy”-sized tears would come on and I was unable to stop them. I didn’t even try. What I knew is that I needed to feel all of this horrific, bone crushing grief. However, I was lucky that I wasn’t living in a war zone. Things were not so deeply uncomfortable at home that it made it hard to be there. I kept things super simple: meetings, work, meek attempts at sleeping and eating. That was all I could handle. Mainly, I DIDN’T FUCKING DRINK OR USE DRUGS. I’m sure I slept walked my way through dishes and laundry but I honestly can’t remember. Grief like that is a coma. The world moves around you but you can’t necessarily feel it or even participate in it. Again, I was committed to staying present for these emotions. I knew there was freedom behind them. Eventually.

Two weeks later, here I am. More Stevie Nicks, more coffee and writing.  So I’m back to the velvet underground. There’s less crying daily but the heaviness of my life and of this divorce is still here. We are trying to be kind to one another while attempting to get all of this messy shit handled so we can both start new chapters of our lives. There are pockets of joy sprinkled throughout my day and support from so many people that it’s overwhelming. People text me all day long to make sure I’m okay, to make sure I’ve eaten and to just say hi. I’m overwhelmed by love even when my marriage is ending. Go figure. Therefore, I’m inclined to adopt Stevie’s attitude. I have no fear. I have only love. Sure I have heartache, sadness and grief. But I can also say with no bullshit: I’m not afraid of what’s next. There’s a shit ton of emotions but fear is not one of them. Also? I do have love. Love everywhere and from unexpected places. Love that shows up and says, “I got you.” That’s what I have. And for today, that’s enough.

 

 

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.

 

a path to the rainbow’s end

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So long ago
It’s a certain time
It’s a certain place

Not everybody I know who got sober drank at work. Not everybody I know who got sober did drugs at work. But I certainly did. As did my favorite rock goddess Stevie Nicks. Stevie also slept with Tom Petty and wore shawls to work, things I did not do–yet! I mean there’s still time! Actually, the shawls are more likely to go down than the Petty moment(shudder). Still, Stevie is such a longstanding influence on me that I wouldn’t count anything out. In fact, I’m a little shocked that I haven’t blogged about her here after nearly a year in business. She certainly came up multiple times at urtheinspiration. The thing I love about Stevie is that her songwriting has such layers. Beneath the witchy, lace and leather trappings are some real complex, emotional words. Her writing is unapologetic and truthful while always peppered with a little sadness just to round out the flavor.  Yet the song on my mind lately is “Seven Wonders” a song she didn’t even write for Fleetwood Mac.

The song comes from Fleetwood Mac’s Tango in the Night, two albums after their flawless in every sense of the word classic Rumors. Celebrating 30 years in release this spring, Tango in the Night has a spattering of memorable songs and is notable for being the last album the Fleetwood-Nicks-Buckingham-McVie-McVie lineup ever recorded together. Tracks like “Big Love,” the still solid “Everywhere,” “Little Lies”  and the aforementioned “Seven Wonders” were radio hits for a reason. Lushly produced by Lindsey Buckingham, each song is pure Fleetwood Mac and signs of a band who could pretty much phone it in after 14 albums together. This must-read Pitchfork review of the re-issue nails all the delights and disasters of Tango In The Night but let’s just say, as always with Fleetwood Mac, the back story nearly eclipses the record itself.

Knee-deep in a spiraling cocaine addiction co-founder Mick Fleetwood could barely be counted on during the recording of Tango In The Night while Nicks was out of rehab for her own coke problem but now filled to the brim with opiates. In a move that pre-dates the current opioid crisis, Nicks claims her doctor prescribed her Klonopin as a form of treatment for cocaine addiction. Per an article she wrote for Newsweek in 2011:

What this man said was: “In order to keep you off cocaine we should put you on the drug that we’re using a lot these days called Klonopin.” Stupidly, I said, “All right.” And the next eight years of my life were destroyed.

Naturally, Tango in the Night suffered. “I started not being able to get to Lindsey Buckingham’s house on time, and I would get there and everybody was drinking, so I’d have a glass of wine,” she writes. “Don’t mix tranquilizers and wine. Then I’d sing horrific parts on his songs, and he would take the parts off. I was hardly on Tango of the Night, which I happen to love.” Buckingham himself says of Nicks’ performance on the record, “Stevie was the worse she’s ever been.” Reports of Nicks being too drunk to record and having to have vocals patched together by Buckingham are now part of Tango in the Night’s legend.

Yet for all the drug soaked disasters on Tango in the Night, Stevie Nicks and “Seven Wonders” survives. The song had a major resurgence recently when it was featured on American Horror Story, catapulting it back on the Billboard charts. When you hear today in 2017, its pure Nicks. Written by her backup singer and collaborator Sandy Stewart, Nicks receives co-writing credit by default. According to SongMeanings, “While listening to the demo by Stewart (who did not provide any written lyrics), Nicks misunderstood the phrase “All the way down you held the line” as ‘All the way down to Emmeline’, which is what she sang and led to Nicks’ credit as co-writer of the song.” Classic Stevie. Like what the hell does her version even mean but wait who cares? It’s Stevie. We mere mortals are not meant to understand. Clearly, Stewart was well-versed in the mysticism and imagery of Stevie as the track features lines like “I’ll make a path to the rainbow’s end.” As far as Stevie Nicks Fleetwood Mac songs, it’s not one of the iconic greats. It’s no “Landslide” or “Gypsy.” But I love it for the shawl-twirling late 80’s rock sensibility. Plus, it’s catchy as hell. 1987 was the pinnacle for pop song earworms and “Seven Wonders” holds its own among them.  Knowing we what we know now about Stevie during the time the song was recorded, it’s impossible not to view it as a survival anthem.

So long ago
It’s a certain time
It’s a certain place
You touched my hand and you smiled
All the way back you held out your hand
If I hope and I pray
Ooh it might work out someday
If I live to see the seven wonders
I’ll make a path to the rainbow’s end
I’ll never live to match the beauty again

Rich in the theme of a missed opportunity of fleeting love and happiness, you’d be hard pressed not to see how this relates to a person struggling with addiction. I can’t speak for Stevie but I know for me there were long stretches in my drinking and using and even in early sobriety, where I thought I’d never be happy again.  Love and happiness seem like fantasies when you’re just trying to stay alive. “Seven Wonders” taps into the this sentiment while hiding under the (presumably lace) veil of unrequited love. Plus, the legacy of the song is one of an artist in shambles, barely keeping it together. I certainly identify with wanting to show up but being too wasted to actually be any good. Equally profound is that Nicks has re-claimed the song in recent years and made it her own by performing it live. Talk about not regretting the past or shutting the door on it.

Upon the recent re-release of Tango in the Night, Rolling Stone posted the stripped down original version of the song. In it, you hear an artist fighting for her life but still absolutely killing it. She sounds determined, fierce and broken. It’s a stunning performance that proves that maybe the 8th wonder of the world is being able to escape our demons and survive ourselves. If it isn’t, than Stevie Nicks certainly is.