Killer On the Road

Jim Morrison had the sexiest voice of anyone ever and now he’s gone but still he sings gravelly voiced from the speaker down the hall as my husband takes a bath after his morning run. This country is fucked and we are stuck right down in it for better or worse (worse, mostly, it turns out). I’ve no idea what to do about that but I feel it a lot deeper than he does, this I know for sure.

Not much I can do about that either. Can’t yell or scream or cry or seethe enough to make it as real for him as it is for me because he is a man and he is from another generation. One that may actually be taken care of til it dies off. But I am a woman and I am of a generation which will likely not be taken care of even though I have earned it, doesn’t matter. Faith? Hope? Drugs? Lies? Truth? Life? Addiction? Death? Who is in charge and who is not. Do we fight or do we flee. Should I post on the blog today? I think this over as I sip my coffee. What to say? Why am I doing this and who is it for? I have recently considered becoming addicted to cigarettes on purpose just for something shit to do.

I text with a friend about moving to Costa Rica. I know nothing at all about Costa Rica but turns out I know pretty much fuck all about America, too, so whatever will be will be. Independence Day is hilarious. Peace and love, hot dogs, water ice, and bullshit all down your naive throat. I don’t blame myself for getting drunk all the times I did. Or trying to blunt the pain of this extremely painful life. Outside my window there are green trees and soft breezes blowing through them like whispers of a time when I was too young to understand how my life was being disassembled right out from under me.

Fireflies. Fireworks. The smell of a charcoal grill and the feel of a cherry popsicle dangling from my tiny little mouth. There was an innocence to summer grass beneath my feet and the red and blue twinkle of July 4th party lights reflecting on the surface of the pool in the yard at night. I remember it and smile for a second, smile briefly but sincere none the less. I hate it here. Jim Morrison is drowned out by hedgetrimmers. Poetry is a wheel of cotton candy pink birth control pills that some bible thumper prude Christian refuses to distribute to a hot young thing at the local Walgreens because #religiousfreedom. I never want to have sex again because everything is politics and smells like stale beer on abusive breath and tastes like the butts of cigarettes drowning in the stagnant water left for the mosquitos in the bird bath which sits peeling and rusting in the 12 noon suburban sun.

Sunday, Late Afternoon (audio)

I saw this beautiful boy on the internet, a poet. His words were captivating, heavy with melancholy. He could enter into the silent parts of you and whisper against the walls inside. His imagery is haunting. A beautiful, beautiful boy. And he’s not posted anything for almost seven months now, at least not to Instagram. Lotta poets on there, or there used to be. I was one of them. Years ago, years gone by.

Times change. So do people. So does poetry and trendiness. So do platforms and the space they hold in our minds, which have changed a lot in the past few years, too. I think we are afraid. And we are searching for the things that make us feel less so but underneath every stone we turn over we still find that we have the same fear. It hasn’t changed that much since we were little. It is still there. This fear of silence. This fear of death. This fear of living. I see these poets who fall in love, fall our of love, and as they fall they are desperate to bring all of us down with them. Listen to me. Listen to my ache. Hear how this infatuation haunts me, grips my throat and fills my lungs with noise. It is so bad. So very very cruel and bad this sweetness which crushes me.

There was a time when I wrote poetry and sold it. My little clips and collections were received with such warmth and light. Even my darkest words, my deepest wells of desire and fear, longing and eroticism. It all consumed me then. Not so much now. Now my immersion in life is of a different kind, of a different texture and spin. What I used to hold so tightly I have all but let go of and forgotten. Almost so easily it makes me smile, as I am doing now. What I had thought was a given in a schedule or a day or an activity or a relationship, I see now is not. It’s all up to me. It’s all up to us to decide what belongs and what does not. Where we want to be and where we don’t. It’s all a made up thing.

This life, like poetry, we come to it in silent reverence, we leave it, we come back. I sit now by the open window in my writing room. I remember my place inside myself, this home that I wrecked and left. I’m eating these little candies I used to eat when I was a kid, these fruity gummy things. The sunlight is the softest I have ever seen as it suffuses through the late afternoon. We meant to do so much more than we did today but it’s Sunday. So what. I don’t want my poetry back. I don’t believe in going back because there was a lot of pain there that I couldn’t see but I could feel. If I let myself, I could have felt it so completely. But I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t half the woman I am now. So healed after having been so broken. So in love with the silence that even the fear falls asleep and I can finally dream.

Steal Away (audio)

I sit sipping fresh cappuccino by my open writing room window. The rain is coming down in tiny sprinkled bursts as the light wind glides through the gigantic green trees. There’s no thunder but small flashes of lightning pulse every once in a while. The gray of the cool sky feels like a merciful hand over a closed tired eye. I just want to be away. Away from here. Away far enough to actually see what I’m looking at. So much change has happened for me in these last five months it feels overwhelming at the moment. And maybe that will pass, I am sure it will – this feeling like there’s nothing left to hold on to because everything has been swept away by the giant wave of sobriety as it crashed over me. I see things now for what they really are, or should I say instead: I feel the real things now. I feel the things that aren’t right and haven’t been for a very long time. My whole life has been upended and trying to minimize the effects of that is scratching at the insides of my bones. Something inside still needs to be let out. When you see what needs to change you have to go about changing it. I guess. Or not. Maybe not. Maybe the thing is to just stop blaming myself for any of it.

Who You Are Without Your Self

Everything I write falls short of what I want to say. Fuck, it’s frustrating. I don’t want to have to but I can tell I’m going to have to renegotiate whatever unspoken agreement I previously had with my writing. Reconstruct a new kind of relationship with the thing inside me which desires to speak. Because wherever my words came from before does not exist anymore. Something dislodges when you first get sober, some big chunk of a thing that you thought was an essential part of you just suddenly breaks free like a giant iceberg and begins to sail right on off into the mist-covered ocean. You can almost hear it crack. That catastrophic sound slicing through the pristine arctic air, all alone where nobody in the whole world can see it or hear it or bear witness. Only you and the echo of whatever part of you that is ancient, timeless, and eternal. As that massive ice formation melts, it ebbs farther and farther away from you, leaving a gash in its place, a colossal empty space. Now that the addiction is quiet, there is a cut-out space in the side of my perception of myself. I used to have something to springboard from but now that home base is gone. If I try to start anything from that old version of me, I fall over the edge into nothingness. I need a new base camp. I need to reorganize some foundational internal shit or I’ll drown.

In Command of the Darkness

Any kind of addiction or abuse is an attempt to outrun the darkness inside of you. That may sound counterintuitive but it’s the truth. Nobody’s life is devoid of trauma, separation anxiety, fear of the unknown, maladaptive measures of self-destruction where there ought to be serenity.

Fuck ‘self-love’ and ‘self-care’ and all that fuzzy blanket bullshit. You have to go into the darkness you have been running from. The thing you were told was obscene. The thing that you were never allowed to speak about or express or acknowledge. The part of you you were told could not exist. But you knew it did. You knew it. That part of you that writhed inside, that they kept hacking away at but that always grew back louder with more heads and more teeth. The place inside of you you were told was grotesque, hideous, unclean. You were forbidden to look.

You know why they forbid it?

Because you will find yourself there. They didn’t want you to look because they were afraid you might find yourself there. And because they couldn’t bear the thought that parts of you were dark because if that were true about you, what did it say about them? Their keeping you from the shadow was their keeping you from yourself. But that’s the only way you will ever make peace with it. Not by getting out of it, by getting into it. You’ve got to crawl into your darkness. You have to get into where the sickness first began. Your sick inheritance.

Not so you can kill it off. You will never kill it off. What you want is to be able to peer into the eyes of it, the wound of it, understand it. Once it’s integrated into your own reconstruction of yourself, you own it. Dominate it. Become its master. Until you do, you can never comprehend the profound benevolence of that. The unfathomable power of being in command of yourself.

Calling the Shots (audio) (day 140)

I submitted the second draft of my book manuscript yesterday. I believe in this book so very much and it’s so hard to wait to hear back about whether or not it is good enough. Maybe it is especially hard when the contents are all about how you tried to destroy yourself for a long, long time before you somehow started to save yourself instead. And you are still new at the saving part.

Something has changed about me in the last almost five months (140 days today). I fit inside myself now. I am not sure I could have ever said that and meant it so entirely as I say it and mean it right this minute. Perhaps that sounds rather crazy considering I am a grown ass forty three year old woman (mother, wife, etc.). I get that. I feel a little bit crazy, to be honest. If anyone had told me a year ago – even six months ago – that I would have written a whole damn book about my early sobriety journey, I would have sworn they were out of their fucking mind.

And yet. Here we are. It’s a kind of wilderness, getting sober and staying that way in a culture literally obsessed with sucking down alcohol all the time. I wish I didn’t mean all the time but I do. There’s every opportunity every which way to get buzzed or trashed or whatever you wish any time you like. Of course, most people are not alcoholics. I guess most people aren’t addicted to the drinking. It can be so hard to understand it all. After a while everything just gets fuzzy. Reaching for help if you think you need it can feel like reaching a hand out into a dark abyss of nothingness. It’s hard to figure out what to hold on to. How to break your own fall.

The editor was frustrated by the first draft of my manuscript. She told me I had two voices, one clear and compelling, the other dark and thickly confusing. She said the second voice went off on tangents that were impossible to follow. When she highlighted this to me it suddenly felt obvious to me where before I sort of knew it but wasn’t sure what to do about it. I cannot help but think that the dark confusion was the voice of what my addiction did to me. Seduced and lured and promised me a richly extravagant adventure but then just as smoothly trailed off into nowhere and left me there with all the nothingness.

I extracted that voice from the manuscript as best I could. I tried to identify each instance where the voice of vague incoherence, that almost desperately searching voice of longing and emptiness, was entangled with the voice of clarity, conviction, and knowing. And little by little I pulled them apart. I did what had to be done to rid my story of what was trying to strangle it. The confusion that was trying to keep the truth from finding its own way out.

It was hard to throw away some of those dark poetic passages. I still worry that I managed to preserve the substance, both the dark and the light, and only trashed the extraneous drivel. We are so often taught that dark is bad and light is good. I think that’s misleading. I think both dark and light are vital and necessary to our stories, as long as that darkness and that light are true.

There is the darkness of my shame, my trauma, my hurt, my fear and my pain, and that darkness is honest. I know because when I curl up to it to shower it with compassion and comfort instead of run away from it, it enlightens and frees me. It opens me up to the light of revelation and renewal. Good shit.

But then there is the darkness of my addiction. The secret vicious voice of a thing that wants to ruin me from the inside out. A voice which, when I got so close I fell into it, trapped me. It pinned me down and deadened me. It promised me everything and led me to nowhere. It left me with only emptiness, fear, panic and confusion.

So I get why only one voice can prevail if I want to tell my story properly. With honesty and decency and integrity and hope. Out in the light where other people will be able to see it. I want to share my story with all my might in the best way I know how. The shadows and the illumination.

Working my way through this process, the lengthy process of recovery and of writing about it, is the best kind of struggle. I much prefer it, in fact, to the other kind. The struggle to keep slamming booze into my veins. The struggle to hide it, manage it, control it, ignore it, deny it. The struggle to express my desires, hopes, beliefs and dreams all while clinging desperately to a voice that wasn’t really mine but belonged to something beyond my control.

There is some debate in the recovery world about whether or not addiction is a life-long struggle for anyone who has had to heal from it. I’m not sure this matters that much in the long run. If you have to put down the booze because it has been treating you like shit I don’t see how that miraculously becomes something you can reverse or move past or ever experience differently in the future. But I will say this: If I am stuck with my addiction then that means that my addiction is stuck with me, too. It means I’m calling the shots for both of us now. And ain’t none of them whiskey.

What I Finally Lost at 100 Days Sober (day 101)

The calendar where I keep count of my sober days clicks (not unexpectedly but still it’s startling) into triple digits and I feel a deep tug in my stomach. I am not sure exactly how to describe the feeling, perhaps because I have never felt it before – this particularly odd sensation of dread, detachment, and . . . reverence? awe? . . . . all braided together like a giant knot right at the dead center of my core.

Loss. It might be the perplexing feeling of loss. Which may sound weird and admittedly it is weird for me, too. People like to tell you to ‘celebrate each day’ and that ‘each day of sobriety is a gift’ and all that jazz. All cool. All true. But there is a vast difference between the casual spouting of a cliche and living each and every day out in real time with real feelings and real people and no where to hide. Actually no – correction – no desire to hide.

That may be it. You want to reveal everything. You don’t want any more secrets because to get to one hundred plus days sober means along that way you revealed some massively heavy shit at the very least to yourself and found it incredibly freeing.

And the sense of loss is this realization that those double digit days are never coming back. Not the euphoria of the first few weeks of new sobriety. Not the brutality of the acute fixations, the cravings that gnawed through the lining of your sick stomach or exhausted, hollowed-out brain. And what is rather surprising is that you miss all of that. Not in the kind of way where you want to do it over again (fuck knows) or want it back but rather in the sense that you have now managed to string together a solid backstory of your first steps toward fixing your own life.

It’s like being really proud of your kid for learning to ride a bike but also realizing she will never learn it again for the first time. There’s a melancholy to it.

To find out you can miss something without clinging to it. That you can cherish something and not suffocate it or try desperately to recreate it or pick yourself apart for the ways you didn’t do every bit of it ‘right’ – this is one of the most profound and astounding revelations you are blessed inexplicably to receive when you are free of the substance which abused you for so goddamn long. You can experience loss in all of its bizarre facets, you can withstand the passing of time as it slides through your now-steady fingers, without needing it to be anything other than what it is.

Which is to say you do not need to numb yourself out of it. It is not unbearable. It is not unthinkable to feel the longing which you have felt your whole entire life, the one you kept sinking yourself to the bottom of the beautiful bottle to try to kill off, and pour the coffee. And write about it. Look at it. Sit inside of it and watch its light and its shadows make strange shapes on the walls of your newly pristine mind.

On the morning of my hundredth day, a very loud bird sang its very brazen song directly outside my window and I was up stupid early as I am now all the time. I wrote for two hours. Then I poured two very large mugs of hot fresh coffee and brought them into the very large California king bed. I handed one mug to my husband. He with the lovely tan skin and wild blonde hair. And we talked about some very, very hard shit that I had been feeling for a very long time. Stuff I knew I had to say because sobriety means not faking and not faking means not hiding. Anything.

The contents of that tricky, imperfect, human, honest, tender, scary, eye-heart-soul-mind-opening conversation that I was – we were – actually able to bear are for another post entirely. But for right now, I remember what I lost as we talked and cried and hugged and unfurled. As I let out the toxic shit that was tugging at me in the aching swallow of my throat at one hundred days, I lost a very old pattern which kept me locked in a kind of self-destruction I hope I now mercifully have the strength and conviction to continue to outgrow. The pattern where I hold my pain in. That part. The part where I try not to hurt others by hurting myself instead.

At one hundred and one days, the double digit days are over and not coming back. But each one stacked upon the others taught me more than I was aware of until yesterday. If you can find it in yourself to share your pain, the pain becomes a possibility. If you can share your pain with someone who is willing to do the messy work of honest and flawed love with you, the pain becomes hope.

The triple digit days will go on for quite some time now. Years and years, the Universe willing. I think I will still count them. What the hell. We’ve come pretty damn far. Still plenty far to go. And that’s actually a more comforting thought than you might imagine.

On the Integration of Self in Early Sobriety (audio) (day 97)

What begins to happen is this wild sort of integration of the self. Because in sobriety you cannot leave yourself – you cannot abandon the good or the bad, the highs or the lows – the self has no choice but to do what comes naturally. That is to say, that which is not chemically induced or artificially manipulated. The self begins to integrate. And you feel stronger because all your bits aren’t scattered randomly all over the place, instead they are collecting and reflecting and building and restructuring the halls of the temple that is you.

There is a palpable sense of cohesion. Like all the chain links inside begin clicking into place. It feels a bit fortress-like. Perhaps it is the feeling of a self-protection you never had before. You are kinder and yet also you are steelier in ways that frighten you a bit but exhilarate you even more. Perhaps it is self-respect, this thicket of vines intertwining inside of the wilderness that is you. You make deliberate decisions about what you let penetrate, what you let into your space. You find that a hell of a lot of things will no longer be allowed.

All of the shards and sharp pieces take mercy on your psyche. Instead of cutting you up, piercing at your mind and your body, they begin to align themselves with one another like making a mosaic out of shattered clay or one of those beautiful stained glass windows you see in cathedrals all around the world. Self-loathing, self-hatred, self-judgment, self-harm, self-abuse, self-degradation, all these jagged edges fit together like puzzle pieces so they can finally stop hurting you and start making themselves known to you as tools, as bits of whispers, of art. Smaller pieces of a breathtakingly worthy creation. Yes, you did yourself dirty for a long long time. Yes, it is still hard to process. But you can face it all now. You can touch it and hold it and heal it and mend it.

No matter how ugly you felt or how cruel it all became. How many times you took your precious hurting body and hurled it against the pavement. It is all coming together now so you can see it and yet remain in control of it. Offer it peace. Offer it clean water and a warm safe bed. You were not subhuman. You were not bad you were hurting. You were not weak you were strength distorted, strength overgrown. A kind of strong which strangled itself.

I don’t know if this is making proper sense. As of late, I am a collection of moth wings fluttering all the time and my mind is drifting more often than not to grander places which I have never before seen. You know what I think? I think we run from our power even faster and harder than we run from our pain. I was running fast and hard in the cold early spring morning air a few days ago and tears were just streaming down my bare face in hot electric tracks. I’m ninety-seven days sober and tears and I are now just friends. I give in, I let them come and do what needs to be done. I think of them as holy water the angels pour through me, a connection to a higher realm. I love that I do not fully understand them. Tears are faith.

The amount of fucking weight we carry all the time. It’s too much. The way we live is not forgiving enough, not benevolent or soft enough to cradle the shards and broken bits. We need cushion. We need tendering. Not so we can fall helpless but because that is where the power lives. In that place where the good dovetails with the bad in such a way that you finally realize there is always both at the same time, and neither. We are so much bigger than that. We are the being which can see all of it. As we pull on our jeans and apply lipstick and fix the hair and drink the coffee and walk the dog and drive the car and hug our precious ones and fight the good, sweet, hard, beautiful, necessary fight. One day at a time. One tear, one breath, one word, one piece at a time we are becoming whole.

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Photo: self portrait 4.6.22

Take Everything That’s Meant for You (day 96)

With my eyes tight shut and my heart beating fast in my chest, I listen as she describes for me the unique texture of my hair. It’s dense but fine, apparently. As she speaks, I can feel her breath on my skin and tiny blades of strawberry blonde pricking the top of my nose and my cheeks as the scissors slice away the front of my long mane. I’m nervous and exhilarated by the feeling of not knowing and not being able to undo what’s happening.

They say women get bangs when they are fresh out of their minds. Emotional distress bangs I once heard them called. This makes me smile to myself because people love to call women insane. They love to turn fun shit into all kinds of manic speculation about her fragile mental state for their own entertainment. Sigh. And so it is that I got bangs at ninety-five days sober and on day ninety-six I could not be more in love with them. They are thick and long and graze the tops of my dark eyelashes. My stylist refers to them as ‘French cut’ and so I cannot help but wonder if Paris should be in my near future simply because it sounds exotic and playful and crazy.

We spend a lot of time denying the light within. A lot of time denying the darkness, too. Equally dangerous is the denial of either. This thought occurs to me at random and while I can sense the depths of this dazzling revelation in the essence of my soul, I am more immediately distracted at the moment by a persistent headache I can only assume has been brought on – hilariously enough – by the non-alcoholic white Zinfandel I treated myself to last evening. Tannins or some shit. That’s why I was always a Sauvignon Blanc girl. What a lot of nonsense. I just wanted something pink swirling around in a gorgeous goblet in my hand. I can’t stand this headache it’s so not worth it. Fuck wine – boozy or not. How in the whole wide world did I ever put up with so very, very much worse for so very, very long.

NA drinks are fine and whatever. But I pour Pellegrino just as happily. The thing is it’s all head games. It’s all marketing we absorb through the skin and into our bloodstream into our mushy twisted brains. I’ve had the wildest dreams since a few weeks ago. Not while sleeping but while awake, like the kind of dreams they always talk about in motivational bullshit that I always wanted to experience but for some reason couldn’t. I never understood when someone would say “What are your big dreams?” I want a German Shepherd which is a fuck lot of dog for a tiny thing like me. I want to march my body right out of the office job that doesn’t even come close to scratching the surface of exploring all the juicy creativity which is bubbling inside of me. I want a life of good interesting artistic work. Some kind of soul electrifying, meaningful, deeply kind but jarring, disruptive thing. A thing that vibrates and surprises and comforts and challenges and shimmers.

When I decided I was getting sober it was a deeply rooted decision which happened in a flash but over a decade. That is to say I had wanted it for so long but then finally just did it suddenly without flinching. I wanted my sober date to be 1.1.22 which is significant for numeric reasons, symbolic to me of angels all around. And I will turn 44 this year. It all means something inexplicably beautiful to me. Something drenched in magic and promise.

So I just fucking did it. I wanted it and I took it. For myself. Everybody else’s opinions be damned. Isn’t that how all decisions must be made if you are to live your own life? On your own terms?

I mean, I got bangs for fuck sake. Clearly I’m out of the mind they wanted me locked away in and into my own now. Can taking everything else that’s meant for me be that far behind?

But I’m Over It Now (day 94)

I light up a cigarette and watch as the heavy rain comes down in sheets. It’s the kind of cold you can smell as the wind catches the scent of boardwalk treats, funnel cakes, french fries, cotton candy. My eyes travel up the twisted side of a bright blue roller coaster track as it winds up and up into the empty air. Too early for the kiddos to be crawling and screaming all over everything.

It’s quiet in the little seaside town. Only half the restaurants are open yet, the season timidly begun. Even the waves are almost nonexistent against the beach. Tucked safely underneath a dimly lit overhang adjacent to the grand old hotel, I take another drag of my smoke and notice the sky is a wild deeply carved gray behind the darkest heavy clouds. Storm skies are infinitely more interesting than clear ones. I’ve always loved the rain more than the sun.

My mind drifts over the things he said earlier. The things he didn’t. Neither of us did. He’s out hunting us down some stronger coffee than the shit they provide in sad limp bags in the hotel. Good beds tho, and a very large fridge in which now sits a half drunk bottle of non-alcoholic chardonnay and a small cup of unopened yogurt. I wanted so badly to get away. He never disappoints. He can find the best of the best of everything, especially the stuff I’m too shy to ask for. He’s always thought bolder of himself than I dared think of me.

I crush the cigarette into the rigid side of one of those tall cigarette collector bins they set out for the rest of us. I remember when you could smoke in bars. It was fucking fantastic. That’s where we met. Night after booze wrecked night. The laughter and the sex and all the other plastic highs. We have each other now, still. Minus the bullshit. Minus the big and little falsities. A lot has fallen away from me in ninety-four days, like tender meat tumbling easily off the bone.

I used to let people have access to me in a way that warped my sense of worth. Access to my mind, my love, my body, my attention, my loyalty, my secrets. People who did not deserve it. Back then everyone was better than me in my imagination. Getting sober has ended all that with a swiftness I could not have been prepared for but I’m grateful nonetheless. I’m still learning, of course, but that got real clear real fast.

He appears from around the corner, soaked and carrying two large cups of dark roast black coffee. I smile a little because I feel happy in a content kind of way. I smile because I mean it. And far off in the distance, sunlight claws its slender pink fingers against the horizon. The day will change. It will become very shimmery bright and, for reasons inexplicable, I will not mind in the least.

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Photo taken by me while wandering the very old crooked seaside hotel.

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