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Facing my fear of public speaking

6 Jul

10:22 pm

And, it’s about time, eh?  It’s only been 13 years!

Seriously.  I’ve had what some call fear, what others call performance anxiety or a social phobia around speaking in front of groups for 13 years–ever since that fateful day in one of my graduate school seminars where I literally lost control of myself and shut down during a group presentation.  I am sure I must have drunk the night before, so there was some element of alcohol involved, which probably served to heighten the feelings of panic.  A few months prior, I had also had my first literal panic attack in another class, so my nerves had already been rewired/primed for panic by the time this incident happened.

What actually happened was what happens now, every time I speak in front of any group, whether comprised of strangers or friends:  my heart starts to beat UNCONTROLLABLY hard; I can’t breathe; I can’t speak; and I feel SO nervous and amped up by all this stuff going on inside my body that I feel like I’m about to pass out.

Before these past few months, I’ve been able to straight up avoid EVER talking in front of groups.  Of course, I’ve had to endure these occasions once in a while–saying goodbye to a group of fellow volunteers on a volunteer project; saying my name and what I do in front of a group of my coworkers–and they have felt utterly horrific.  My heart pounds, my entire body starts shaking, my voice starts wavering, or, I just can’t breathe and start to dart around in place, wishing with my entire being that I could just GET THE EFF out of that room.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when I found out that I have to give a (short, probably not a big deal) presentation for my job in front of my (small, only about 20 folks) team at a group meeting in July.  UGH.  I’ve literally been obsessing about it since I found out a few weeks ago–like, extremely nervous at even the thought of standing up, talking, trying to figure out how the heck I’m going to remain standing.  I haven’t even been able to imagine past the first few seconds of my talk.

So, I decided two weeks ago that I just need to resolve this–if not solve my problem, then somehow resolve it.  I made an appointment with a psychiatrist, hoping/thinking that he’d prescribe me either Xanax or some other benzo used for panic attacks.  Come to find out, there are tons of people just like me, and they are all using beta blockers!?  The doc gave me a prescription for a beta blocker; long story short, I went to a public speaking group the other night to “try it out,” and uh, I actually stood in front of a group of strangers willingly and talked my head off–no nerves, no aversion, no shaking voice, no sign that I wasn’t “a natural,” as several people who congratulated me after I came down told me.  (what a fraud, I laughed on the inside; hey, whatever it takes, the other me shot back)

Either the drug worked, or I just didn’t feel that much anxiety in this particular situation.  The people I was speaking in front of were warm and welcoming; strangers; no one related to my job, I thought.  Hmm.  There was no sense of, I have to perform my JOB AS A WRITER, which is connected to this talk, PERFECTLY, or someone somewhere is going to find out what a fraud I am, what an imposter!

I am fairly sure that this drug will help me–it’s already sort of stopped that creeping sense of anxiety I had even just a few days ago, thinking about my work event–to “retrain” my brain, at least a little.  I’ve witnessed that I can get up there and actually talk in front of people without that horrifying sense of fear and panic, and that has somehow already rewired me to feel less nervous about the upcoming work thing.

Still.  What if I was just not nervous enough because these people have nothing to do with work?  Because I don’t care what they think?  Because I felt safe there, and not judged?  It’s interesting to me that this sort of PTSD surrounding talking in front of groups revolves not necessarily around all groups, only groups where I am performing and that performance is based on something that I feel insecure about (apparently, writing).

What surprised me more than this discovery–I kind of knew that this is a form of PTSD; what I didn’t know what how intertwined it is with my sense of imposter syndrome related to writing and journalism–was how empowering and relieving it was to dredge up my drinking past, my panic attack past (related to my drinking past) with an actual psychotherapist!  I haven’t really talked about it in years; I stopped going to AA years ago, too.  It was nice to just get it out there again, in the open.

I am so tired of this old story about my fear of public speaking; I wasn’t always like this, and I have to believe that nothing is impossible, that this story I have told myself for 13 years is not forever truth.  I have to believe that I can tell a new story about myself when it comes to public speaking–and frankly, I AM starting to believe that it could be as simple as some medication and exposure therapy to at least allow myself to survive these public speaking situations.

It just feels good to have finally stopped running from what has obviously affected both my professional and personal life for almost a decade and a half.

Now, we’ll have to wait and see how things pan out at my work even in a few weeks.  Sure, I am dreading it, but with this medication and a few more practice runs at the public speaking group and other events (maybe speaking at an AA meeting?), I might just survive.  (I am not looking to THRIVE as a public speaker at this point, just survive; and that’s good enough for me right now.)

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Being here, and now

23 Jun

10:37 pm

Just a quick post tonight to say, be here, now.

DDG, try to stay in the moment and, be here, in the now.

After a great workout this morning–where I thought of nothing but how nervous my job is making me and that I have GOT to get some Xanax or something to bring along with me to the next team meeting if I’m EVER going to get through the presentation that I’ve been tasked with giving–and a nice evening on the beach; I realized just how hard it has become for me to stay in the moment these days.  If I’m not obsessively checking my work email and making my work to-do lists, I’m checking personal email or scrolling through Facebook and LinkedIn.  I am always thinking about something, or thinking I should be thinking about something; I am forever making plans, or making contingency plans.  It’s starting to feel a bit obsessive.

When I was getting sober, I didn’t feel so wound up.  When I was working at my last job, I didn’t feel so controlling.  I feel like there is a lot riding on me staying focused these days, especially at my new job.  I do have a lot to get done–thing is, I don’t have to do it all perfectly, and I probably could get away with not getting it all done!  I keep telling myself I have nothing to prove, yet, around every corner, I am doing things that scream, Love me!

Lately, I’ve been feeling like if I let one thing go, the entire sweater will come undone, the house will collapse, everyone will find out that I’m really an imposter.  And let’s face it, these days, I’d rather not be writing most of what I have to write as a science writer, sitting on a beach in a meditative state.  I’d MUCH RATHER not be pretending to care about chasing after the rewards of the rat race.  Island life taught me that it’s OK to reject these ideas and it’s even more OK to choose to live a life that does not glorify them.  Yet, I’m in this new life out of choice, so…I had better learn to live in it without having panic attacks!

There MUST be some value in literally refusing to let one’s mind wander.  You know, down that road of distraction via social media, or negative thinking by way of obsessing over events yet to happen.  I’ve been guilty of both of those lately, and I have to believe that forcing myself to think positively–differently, at least, than I have been doing lately–will have some sort of impact on moving my thoughts to a different place and/or new level, to staying in the here and now.

I MISS that me, that girl who somehow, after all her time chasing and competing on the mainland, was able to finally unwind and unplug and learn how to just sit, and breathe, and embrace the rich nothingness of the moment.  These days, I am preoccupied and miss the richness of a lot of my moments.  My goal in the next few weeks is to focus on learning to stay here, now, while also getting my work done; to breathing through my anxiety and thinking beyond it; to remaining at least somewhat of a willing participant in the life I have chosen.

I know it won’t be forever, and I’ll come around to finding a new here and now.  But for now?  Stay in the moment, DDG.  Be here, and now.

The power of expectations

29 Apr

12:02 am

I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations lately–who gets to have them, if anyone, and when they should be had, basically.  In fact, I expected this post to go smoothly–I mean, I wasn’t thinking it would go any other way–and after typing a few paragraphs, I hit the wrong key and deleted everything!  Haha.  So much for my expectations!

The other day, my mom told me all about her hashtag-fail of an evening at her brother’s (my uncle’s):  in my words, he and his partner got stupid drunk (this has been happening for as long as I can remember; they love to drink, but at this point, I wonder if they might consider themselves on the alcoholic spectrum?) and said mean things, and he ended up passing out before she went home.  She expected the night to go one way, and it didn’t; I talked to her today, and she also expected him to react differently to her reaching out to follow up on his short email of an apology, and he didn’t.

I do this all the time, putting expectations on people’s behavior toward me, and then when they don’t behave how I expect or want, I become upset and almost obsessive.  Why didn’t they do this (what I thought they should have done)?  Why didn’t they say this (what I thought they should have said)?

I had a roommate about 10 years ago (man, time flies!)–in all honesty, I feel like I lost her when I decided to get sober; or, at the very least, we both had a hand in our growing apart–who was studying to be a clinical psychologist, and she was the first person to ask me why I was putting expectations on people’s behavior.  It was the first time I wondered, in fact, why I expected people to do and say things that seemed “right” to me, but that really had no basis in any universal truth or code of conduct or morality.  It was the first time I looked back at my own role in bad relationships; it helped me to start to let go of a LOT of stuff that I was holding way too close to my heart.  It helped me to stop taking everything so personally–a trait I am pretty sure I learned from my mom.

It’s really hard to not have expectations, I have to say.  I have high expectations for every weekend, but I usually don’t get as much done as I want, and I feel let down.  I had expectations of my new job (as my boo pointed out to me the other day) that I wasn’t really aware I had:  I thought my new job, because it was in the “nonprofit” realm, would be less “corporate,” but I’ve discovered over the past five months on said job that this simply is not true (and, in fact, it’s more “corporate” than any other job in the professional world I’ve held!).  I don’t know–plug in any task, chore, event, situation, and I have some level of expectation around it.

It’s also hard to determine what, actually, are expectations, and what are hopes and dreams and goals.  I don’t want to have no expectations of let’s say, my relationship or job and then not know what I’m striving to gain, or hold.  My question to self has always been, should I expect anything, and is having NO expectations a form of cynicism?  It’s almost impossible to not expect things:  when I inhale, I expect to breathe, right?  When I walk into a church or synagogue, I expect to feel and be safe (ugh).  When I interact with coworkers, I expect to be treated fairly and with an appropriate amount of professionalism…and now I’m getting into the territory of “personal ethics” versus “truth” or “morality,” and that’s where it starts to get blurry.  Not everyone has your code of personal and professional ethics!

It’s nebulous, and it’s challenging–my ideas and moods and perceptions change on a daily basis, as I hope (expect?) other people’s do, too.  How much should and how much can I expect?  Or, what expectations protect me from being cheated, or hurt, and what expectations, if not met, should force me to change something in my life in order to honor myself, others, my goals, or my worldview and set of personal ethics?

Hmm…

“Deep” thoughts for a Sunday night.

It’s a work in progress, figuring all this out; but I will say, not drinking and being hungover makes it a lot easier to see it all clearer–and, to stop introducing unnecessary complications into my relationships to people, places, and things.

On boundaries and saying ‘no’

7 Apr

12:40 pm

So, this morning, as I was scrolling Facebook, I became frustrated:

Why do I have to care about you?  Ugh, I should have gone to that thing last night–why am I so lazy, why am I so antisocial? 

And, on and on and on.  I saw in the early years of my sobriety just how much I could overthink and overanalyze, and how this contributed to my unhappiness and dependence on wine to escape my thinking.

It got me thinking about something else, too:  here I was, on a beautiful Sunday morning, and what was I doing but berating myself because I had let my Facebook feed intimidate me!

In getting sober and staying sober, I have come to realize that creating boundaries and saying ‘no’ are essential to my peace of mind.  There are a LOT of things that caused me to binge drink and drink alcoholically, and I never made the connection between that reactive behavior and the bullying forces in my life until I got sober.

In fact, there are a lot of bullies in everyone’s life–whether your friends, parents, or coworkers are consciously aware that they are being bullies is up for debate, though.  And, until I started to understand the concepts of boundaries and saying no–that there could be emotional bullying, and that this is far more prevalent than actual, literal bullying–I didn’t get that I could both say, No, I will not do that, and say no to taking on other people’s stress or expectations of me (or themselves).

It still makes me feel angry when I delve into this aspect of long-term sobriety, and I feel like this is something that will never go away completely because almost everyone out there (including myself) is engaging in some form of bullying–whether it’s dumping their emotional baggage on you, manipulating your weaknesses, or just using your reactions to make themselves feel better.  I have to remind myself, almost daily, that it’s ME who is in control of how I perceive and receive people, and how I react and interact with them–that ultimately, bullying is a two-way street.

Some real-world examples:

Facebook/social media–Before I got sober, I would scroll relentlessly, and I would allow everyone’s story to affect me.  I would internalize my feelings of “not good enough” and “guilty” and “should have, could have, would have” without realizing that one, I didn’t need to feel any of that, and two, I had control over who and what I let into my worldview.  These days, when I feel that coming on, I try to remember that social media is not real life; people posting to social media are not trying to offend me, personally; and if I want to not care, I can choose to not care and close the app.  I don’t have to feel guilty about not really interacting with my so-called friends; I have friends in the here and now, and I can interact with them–and this is healthy, and it is good enough.  These days, I would much rather engage people offline, in the real world, and not on social, email, or text.  And, some days, it’s as simple as closing the app and moving on with my day–and not judging myself to be a bad friend, somehow, because I have chosen to be a spectator on social media and not a player.

Parents–You know, before I got sober, I didn’t have as much frustration toward my parents for their mental health issues as I do now.  I knew that my mom’s difficulty setting emotional boundaries and my dad’s bullying behavior definitely contributed to my drinking, but I didn’t know exactly how.  In any case, I internalized my mom’s pain, and I always tried to please my dad–two things that I have to work very hard at today, every time I talk to them, to NOT do!

These days, I don’t know if I’ve figured out exactly how these family relationships have made me who I am, but in getting sober, I have learned that calling my parents less is OK, that not allowing them to control how I feel is OK, that putting up boundaries and saying no to their projections and expectations is OK–I wish it was different because they are in their 70s and “should know better,” but…

My mom has a lot of health problems these days, and so, our calls are always quite long and tedious. I feel like she feels slighted that I don’t call often, and I feel almost unconsciously judged for having become an alcoholic drinker and for not having had kids; but none of this matters when it comes to me needing to say no to taking on her bad mood or her feelings of helplessness.  In part, I think she wants me to share my own health problems, but I refuse to go down that road because it’s almost as if she relishes that; simply put, I DO NOT relish it.

My dad is an entirely different beast in that the family believes he has multiple actual mental health disorders, and his entire way in the world with everyone has always been about manipulating other people to do what he wants them to do for him, and expectation (I am hard on myself and need to prove my worth, so you should be, too).  I have simply come to the frustrating conclusion recently that nothing will ever change in our relationship except the way that I deal with it.  I have decided that while our conversations won’t change, and while I’ll never likely be able to directly say no to him, I can say no to his expectations–I love our life, and I don’t have to let him lead the conversation toward accomplishment as a measure of success.

Job and school stress–It took me getting sober to see that I was putting a TON of unnecessary expectations and pressure on myself for many, many years.  And, that I don’t have to respond to stress the way people around me are either responding to it or worse, telling me how I “should” respond to it.  It’s like, I don’t have to keep up with the Joneses by wanting that house, or that car, or that “bigger” job–likewise, at work, I don’t have to stress out just because my boss or coworkers are stressing out, necessarily or unnecessarily so.  You don’t have to stress out to care, or to prepare; stress will not help you have fun.  You can (and should!) take long showers, eat nice dinners, go to your yoga class, or hey, even hit the beach (man, I miss it!)–AND get your work done, and be a careful, caring employee who is worthy of her paycheck.  This mentality is really hard to push back against, but I have to push back–if not just in defense of my health, but in defense of my sobriety.

Exhale.  We all have to set boundaries and guard them fiercely, no matter if we’re getting or staying sober.  Likewise, we all get to say ‘no’–and that is a beautiful thing.  I think that is the most empowering aspect to my sobriety, and to my evolving life and lifestyle these days.  As recovering binge drinkers or alcoholics, saying no is essential to our happiness, to our joy, to our continued sobriety.

So…just say no (sometimes)!

Where’d DDG go? I’m right here, Elliott

9 Mar

11:44 am

And like Elliott, it’s been so long since I checked in on him, he grew up into a man!

Hi, guys.  WOW, I don’t think I’ve chased around this much in my life since, well, I worked a full-time job back in my cold, big-city days.  And even then, I managed to ALSO live a double life, drinking away four, five, six hours every night.  HOW on EARTH did I work, eat, work out, AND drink five hours every night–and still maintain a handful of friendships, an often-bordering-on-broken romantic relationship, and make phone calls to the family every Sunday night?

In case you haven’t been reading my oh-so-interesting posts about my struggle with what I’m just calling “hot flushes” (as opposed to hot flashes), let me quickly say:  I have been having this “thing” that happens to me pretty much constantly, wherein, my skin feels very hot all over, but I also shiver.  And I don’t sweat.  And this lasts for hours, days, weeks, sometimes months at a time.  I chalked it up to perimenopausal weirdness that I can’t do much about.  However, when I went to a gynecologist, she was like, that doesn’t sound like hot flashes; and then, when I went to an endocrinologist, she was like, the symptoms you’re describing, I’ve only seen in ONE other patient in my entire career, and, your blood tests say that you’re body is hypothyroid but your symptoms are hyperthyroid (figures).  So, there might be more going on here than I originally thought.

Anyway, this is all just to say, the way I’ve been dealing with this is by taking a hot/cold shower at night, which means, over about 20 to 30 minutes in the shower, I change the temperature of the water from hot to cold, eventually ending with cold when my skin can tolerate it; somehow, it like, “resets” my body’s interpretation of its temperature.  SO WEIRD, I know.

As I was methodically going through my nighttime routine last night, I was like, huh, what would my nights be like now, if I was still drinking until 2 or 3 or 4 am?  I mean, would I still be drinking?  I would definitely not be taking care of myself the way I have to each and every night these days, just to be able to get to sleep; like, maybe I would just pass out and avoid feeling the body heat, avoid having to meditate myself down from feeling stressed about it, avoid having to take a series of deep breaths (I have what seems to be related irregular heartbeats, too–doh!)…?  Would I just pass out and avoid it altogether?  Probably not, which means, I’d somehow have to juggle it all.

Which, well, I wouldn’t be juggling it, and my life would be falling down…

And it just made me see how important my sobriety actually is right now, and how grateful I am to be ABLE to care for myself at night (and that doesn’t include forgetting about it all by passing out).

This year, 2019, has just been blowing me over–I will bend, but I will not break, one of my high school teachers used to quip.  And, I guess that could sum up the past three months for me, being bowled over by the seeming-hurricane winds of my neverending to-do list!  It’s all good, though, and I’m glad I’m making it through the days–and the nights.

Since the last time I blogged, I’ve become entrenched in my new job.  I started it about three months ago, and I feel like I haven’t looked up from the page since then.  I have to preface this by saying, it IS a nonprofit, and I DID have some inkling about the workload (large), but, I am constantly reminded that I gave up a job that was pretty cut-and-dry for something that is anything but that.  I will say this:  there are things I like about it, and things I don’t, and that’s where I’ll leave it.

There is one thing that stands out, and that is having to–gasp–speak in public at a work retreat the other week.  If there is anything that causes me anguish, aside from nighttime body heat and insomnia, it’s gearing up to speak in front of a group.  I may have talked about this before on my blog, but when I was in graduate school, I started having panic attacks related to drinking; and then, during one of my seminars, for which we had to give a lot of individual presentations, I suddenly froze up, my heart start hammering in my chest, and I became so anxious that I could barely speak.  One of my generous classmates stared me down, and as we locked eyes, she was able to move me out of that place.  From that point forward–that happened over a decade ago–I have not been able to escape feeling the same intense physical reaction to speaking in front of a group.  Someone recently told me that it sounds like PTSD.

Well, at this work thing, I had to do just that–I have been successful at avoiding it, but really, you can’t avoid it for the rest of your life; there will be times when you have to get up in front of a group of people and talk.  And, of course, all the same things started to happen when my name was called:  yammering heart, whirling mind, the literal inability to breathe such that, I come across as either winded or stuttering when I am actually talking.  But, because I had no choice, I started talking and just went through it.  I apologized a few times, stumbled over my words, was breathless at least twice and had to stop and inhale and apologize again; BUT, I went through it, made it to the end, and by the end of those five minutes, I was at least still talking.  And breathing.

It was good for me to see that I could get through it.  No one is going to die, I thought.  With that new knowledge, I realized, well, if I can get through it by just going through it to the end, sticking it out to the end; then, I should be able to apply that practice to my night heat–I just have to go through my routine, wait to cool down, and wait to fall asleep.  I don’t know why, exactly, but it was just really empowering to see that I COULD get through speaking in public–it was painful, and I will avoid it, but I CAN do it, if I have to–the same way that every night since I started my new routine, I eventually DO cool down, and eventually do fall asleep.

Of course, you can apply this to sobriety!  You CAN get through those nights of horrible cravings, those days of zero-dopamine lack-of-motivation, those months of want and lack and sadness about losing your “everything.”  You can and will get through it if you just keep going.  Just keep not drinking, no matter what and how you feel.  You will make it through to the end.  No one is going to die.  You got this.  (notes to self, literally, in my journal every day, to this day)

Getting all Marie Kondo on this isht

17 Feb

1:03 pm

Just a quick post to say, we got our isht out of storage, the both of us.  And just like that, my “life in Storage Wars” is over.  After 9 ridiculous years, I finally and quite unceremoniously (my love actually cleared out my unit, and I closed out online, so I wasn’t even there) vacated my near-decade old room away from room.  And, the past few weeks, I’ve been going through yet more boxes and bags of clothes, books, pictures, paperwork–tons of CDs, a “Let’s Go: Europe” book from 1993, an MCAT prep guide…all of which are about as valuable to me now as, well, a glass of red wine!

I have to admit, I’ve been feeling pretty damn happy and proud of all the things I’ve done (lived through), and excited about the future.  I mostly let go of this past a long time ago, the one that was weighing me down with should’s and must-do’s, careers that I tried but was never meant for, relationships that ended up YES, teaching me things but also leaving deep psychic scars.  But, I clang to it in some way; hence, a storage unit for 9 years of stuff dating back to 1993 (and earlier!).

It just feels great–mainly, I see now just how HAPPY and GRATEFUL I am to have the life I have now, to have the man I have now, to have the dog and the job I have now (I would not trade schlepping to an office every day for anything anymore, though, I sure had some cool clothes to do it in; I am perfectly content with the low-stress version of what I used to do, and honestly, secretly, I want to make it even MORE low-stress); super-grateful for the memories of 6 years on the island, a move without having made I would probably still in many ways be in that dark place that I was in for decades.  Kind of like a few of my old friends, who still drink, who still do the same jobs, who still cling to that big city as “home”…when there is a whole, colorful (warm) world out there to explore.

I mean, I know our 20s and 30s are not easy, but the searching is of course, necessary; searching for what fits, and doing all sorts of things that just don’t make you happy.  Some people move on quickly, or start doing what they really want almost immediately–others, like me, take years to stop trying to please people who are not ourselves; and frankly, we ALL take years to pay off that student loan debt that is holding us back.

Anyway, it just feels great.  I cannot emphasize enough how ready I am to move on, to move forward, to simply clear out the past.  To really, truly let it go so I can make room in my mind for, well, everything else, maybe even blank space.  In this round of boxes, I’ve found so many items that I clung to for years, that I simply happily and gratefully acknowledged the person or experience’s role in my life, and then threw out.  I think my other boxes, the ones from high school and college, were more difficult to pare down since a lot of that stuff is just stuff that you don’t want to get rid of!  And you shouldn’t.  But these boxes, the stuff from my recent past, well…

Don’t get me wrong, there were and are a lot of things that I want to keep–things like framed pictures of recent trips (well, dating back to the 2000s) that “spark joy” in that they remind me of my growth:  who I was then, and who I became because of those times.  And, they remind me less of the failed relationship or job of that era and more of the actual place, and the experience, and my particular love of the Getty in LA, or the Rodin in Paris–and so, I cherish the now-framed black-and-white photos that hang on my walls here, now, because I still love those places and they still remind me of me.

I don’t know if I believe in purging necessarily; but for some reason, right now, at this time in my life, I am SO ready to retire it all; to retire, in a way.  I have been grinding away for years, and it’s not been all bad, and I wanted a lot of the writing gigs; but right now, I’m ready to put some of it behind me, and start on a new path–truly, one that redefines me, maybe away from writer, science writer, journalist, maybe just more toward creative writer.  I didn’t dream of this as a kid; I dreamt of being a poet, a vet, and later, an anthropologist in Africa.  I’ve dreamt of opening a coffee shop for decades, long before I actually started working as a barista.  I have so many other dreams that have nothing to do with writing, and especially science writing, is what I’m saying; I drank for years to cope with the stress of this work, and with the stress of “should’ing” myself into it.

Lately, and this might sound weird (perimenopause is weird, and no one told me about that mid-40s awesomeness either), but at almost 45, I kind of feel ready to die.  Haha.  It sounds ridiculous, and I mean, ready to die to my old self, and be reborn into a new version of me, the one who I’ve been building and cultivating for years…but who still hasn’t been allowed her long day in the sun.  As I went through my boxes, I found this tube of pink lipstick that dates back to 1994, when I was 20 and studying abroad in Paris.  Yes, a 25-year-old tube of lipstick can be harder to trash than a drinking problem–this is long-term sobriety to me, this eventual letting go and evolution of self, of how we choose to see ourselves in our lives, of who we choose to be.

Sobriety continually gives us choices to be–the same, different, old, new, evolving.  It’s up to us to do what is a scary and constant paring, cleansing, purging…with that elusive goal of sparking joy in our present moment.

The pictures I have hung DO spark joy, and I am relieved and so very happy about this.  I was afraid they wouldn’t, that they would remind me of those times and make me feel nostalgic for my old self, my younger years, the people associated with those times who are no longer here, or in my life (What a waste, one might lament; what’s the point of any and all relationships?); yet, they didn’t.  They don’t.  They spark joy.  I was afraid of my reaction, but you know what, I, too, have changed; I have evolved to prioritize joy over nostalgia and sadness.  Maybe it’s just that so much time has passed, and I can only now appreciate the joy of those moments, the simple beauty of the imagery that made me snap the pictures in the first place.  Only now can I relive the past and feel joy–not because I have forgotten the past, or gotten too old to remember; but because I can see it clearly now, and can find a healthy balance between past and present feeling.  Maybe I am just ready to move on, to retire in a way, to let go of that past in order to make way for a wonderful most-recent past, a present for which I am grateful, and a future that I increasingly believe holds the best yet to come?

Back again to where it all began

5 Feb

10:32 pm

Tonight, I am remembering last August, when I paid a visit to the city where I first got sober in the summer of 2012 (and started this blog!).  My fiance is there now, getting his stuff and hopefully, my stuff out of storage so that we can finally consolidate it all under one roof.  I’ve had my stuff in a storage unit for a ridiculous number of years (I’m too embarrassed to reveal how many; suffice it to say, *I* am that person they write stories about when they want to feature the amount of money people waste on storing stuff that eventually becomes the equivalent of a big, fat ZERO), so this is good.  What is also good is that I am not there with him, having pangs of doubt and longing as I consider cutting my last remaining tie to the city that stole my heart and then, stole my sanity!

I spent 5 years there, and I went back many times since moving away almost 9 years ago, always with the plan that I would move back one day.  Before I left, I put my stuff into storage, and over the course of these many years, have consolidated and moved to a smaller unit, but I never got rid of it.  Of course, I am moving back here, I kept telling myself:  this is where I went to grad school, had amazingly new experiences, became a drunk, had my heart broken and mind burnt with every crushing hangover.  Of course, I have to live out the rest of my days here.  These are my people, this is where I belong.

Not being there to finally say goodbye might be a good thing–to just let it go, finally and forever, from afar.

Anyway, it’s got me thinking about the week I spent in the city this past summer–I tend to go back once a year, to “visit friends” (I literally have no friends anymore in that town except my brother, who has recently moved there part-time), “reconnect with the city/see my old haunts” (I have wasted countless days, walking past old apartments, old bars, old university buildings, being reminded that I am simply chasing a drunken ghost), and, I guess, plan my move back.  Yet, every time I go back, I become slightly less enamored with the place; sure, I will always love it–I went to graduate school there, I became a drunk, I had many life-altering experiences; it’s the place where I spent the first month of my sobriety holed up in a studio, starting this blog in an attempt to finally get sober.  I remember during my last stay this August, I walked by the studio where I got sober and started this blog, and took a picture of the place–again.  I have more than one picture of that place, and of all the other apartments and sublets I lived in in that town.  I can’t let go, and I don’t want to.  Why?

I haven’t lived there in many years–that must tell me something, right, even amidst my rationalizations of why I can’t let it go (because I am still in love with it/that life/that lifestyle/my dreams of that era).  Thing is, I never did come back, and I’m not precisely sure why, except, I couldn’t financially, and I didn’t really want to anyway.  It’s cold, and dark, and my dreams are all intact, inside my mind; I can be anything from anywhere; I can write from anywhere, not just a cold, dark city where I also lost my mind to wine.  The more times I return, the more I see that it is and always will be part of my past–the past is the past, and searching for it is just, well, like I said, chasing your own ghost.  When I look at it that way, I have to wonder, why not just let it go?

These days, I am starting to sort of feel being in my mid-40s:  the whole perimenopausal thing has something to do with it, but I have to say, it comes and goes and right now, I feel totally normal (plus, my blood work came back at almost all normal levels, so that leads me to believe that nope, at the ripe old age of 44, I am definitely not in menopause yet!).  It’s just, when I wander around that city (in particular, but not just that city alone), I am very much aware of the difference between me–and my life, and my state of mind and being, and my sobriety, and all the amazing experiences I have had AFTER leaving that town–and all the 20- and 30-somethings around me.  I have to accept not that I’m not young or that I’m old, but that I’m just not THERE anymore.  My being is telling me to just let it go; it’s too much work holding onto it, and there are so many other things to do, and dreams to be had!  I can–and will–let go of holding onto that past, that idea of who I was in that past.  I am still her, she still is me; but, we are here, now, and we are plugging away, moving and building.  I do not belong to that time, to that past; I belong to me, here and now.

Speaking of which, yes, I continue to build–every day is like laying one lone brick, and hoping it doesn’t fall down or get knocked off by an unexpected wind that came up in the night.  My new job is sort of a lot of work–and YES, YES, I am grateful (it’s good work, and my coworkers are probably the nicest, most fun people on the planet to work with), but…  I miss my old life!  Haha.  I have to admit, I miss the freedom of being, of time, of mind, of dreams that island life granted.  There is just no other way to say this:  I am back in the real world (well, I work from home, but I work every day from 9 to 5, and my day is fairly regimented), but I long to be on that physical and metaphorical island, soaking up the nothingness of the moment, and the magical possibility of the future.  I miss being/feeling “young” (um, I moved there the year I turned 38), which I guess entails a bit of saying “fuck it” and just doing what I want, not caring anymore about achieving and doing “important work,” or participating in the consumer culture of the mainland–I mean, who wouldn’t?  I miss the sense of fullness of soul that comes with no material possessions.  Sure, life here is easier, and I need this “real-world” job so that I can continue to build something that sort of broke down after years as a freelance writer, but…I miss being a freelancer, too!  And, most of all, I miss being a barista–ahh, the simplicity of it, the satisfaction, the sense of ownership of doing something a little bit unique to my story and my past.

I have hope that soon come, after the bricks have been laid, we will move forward, or back to, the place that stirs magic in our hearts.

As for that old city where I got sober and that I might not have any remaining connection to once my manz clears out my storage unit in a few days for me–well, there is nothing left to do but let it go.  Accept what happened, and what has passed; and let holding on, and longing, and the old idea of my younger self–let it go.  I am here now, wherever that may be; I belong to this story, to this place, to this here and now.  And, thank Goddess for that.

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