gratitude

THE MOST BORING PERSON IN THE HUDSON VALLEY

Let me get this straight. You want me to wake up at 5AM without a hangover, pack up a rental car with suitcases responsibly packed a day or more in advance, then drive 3 hours through the beautiful terrain of the Hudson Valley until I reach a cozy bed and breakfast in a house built in the 1870’s? Fine. I can do all that.

I suppose you also want me to stroll lightheartedly through the quaint vacation town, browsing antiques and old bookstores for hours on end, and I also suppose you’d like me to do all of that without spending a moment plotting, scheming, or obsessing over how I can convince the boyfriend that 10AM isn’t at all too early for a celebratory glass of something.

You’d like me to luxuriate luxuriously on cafe terraces while sipping espresso and eating a delicious, flaky pastry filled with tangy, tart lemon curd, chewing slowly, not wanting the mouth orgasm to end, watching the peaceful wanderers wander by in pursuit of the same contented Sunday afternoon.

And finally, you’d like me to end the day with a delectable meal at a lovely restaurant, all without having chugged a tallboy before leaving the house. You’d like me to decline the wine list, only order stupid food, and leave completely satisfied with what was one of the best meals I’ve ever had? Then you’d like me to cuddle up with the boys, watch movies, and drift off to sleep by 10PM, waking up by 6AM the next morning fully rested and hangover free, ready to start another day of peace and tranquility without the constant chaotic chase of that next sip, that next dip into a dive for a whisky/beer combo to propel me forward miserably.

You want me to have a sober vacation, but more importantly, you want me to LIKE IT?

That’s exactly what I did over Memorial Day Weekend.

It was marvelous. 

I took this very same trip in the fall of 2013. It was a disgusting mess. I packed the very morning we left because I was too drunk the night before to get anything productive done. I drove with a pounding headache, not feeling normal until we made it to our destination and were able to grab lunch (a beer with a side of sandwich). I stumbled through the day, counting down the hours until dinner would arrive and heavier drinking could begin. Fuck antiques. Fuck strolling. Fuck serenity. Me want vodka. ME WANT DEATH AND DESTRUCTION.

In 2013, we made stops at liquor stores all weekend long, him sitting in the car while I ran in to buy large bottles of things for us both to drink, as well as mini-bottles he didn’t know about that were just for me. The minis would be stashed in my suitcase so I could stealthily sneak away, downing a few here and there, hoping to keep the levels in the “public” alcohol bottles located in the kitchen from dropping down too quickly, thus concealing the true quantities I was actually consuming. Side note: These empty minis would be found one year later in the same suitcase as I packed for another trip. I would sneak them out of the house to the trash, the shame flooding back as fresh as ever. 

That trip in 2013 was total misery. I was in a constant state of sloppy, painful drunkenness peppered with extended periods of sloppy, painful hangover. The drunks and the hangovers blended seamlessly with one another until I was never able to tell if I was okay or not okay. Nothing was enjoyable.

When we returned home that year I felt as if I had been through hell. I needed another vacation to recover. And drink more.

I DON’T HAVE TO DO THAT EVER AGAIN.

I can live. I can stare at the sky and smile. I can savor time, tastes, smells. I can become consciously aware of sun on my face, of the antiquity and inevitable history built into old objects that I hold in my hand. I can feel the goosebumps running down my spine as my boyfriend grabs my fingers and squeezes while we wander down cobblestone streets, stopping for extended moments to admire the architecture and manicured gardens.

Before I got sober, and even for some time after I put down the drink, this all seemed impossible. During early sobriety I could hardly comprehend watching a movie on Friday night without a cocktail. I’m supposed to SIT? Stare? Watch? That’s IT? You must be out of your goddamned mind.

But I made myself sit there and watch the movie. It sucked. It still sucked the next time I did it, too, but less so. The only way anything started to make sense again was by LIVING. Experiencing. Trying. Being uncomfortable without grabbing for my medicine. When they tell you not to give up before the miracle happens, that actually MEANS something. Actively choosing to endure the discomfort when every cell in your body is screaming for a drink? That makes you stronger. That is lifting weights with your sobriety muscles. It hurts. You’ll be sore the next day. But you’ll never get stronger without it.

If you’re struggling, just know that with some time and effort, you too can be the most boring person in the Hudson Valley. You’ll love it.

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GET GRATEFUL FOR GRATITUDE, GIRL

When I first started listening to The Bubble Hour — a weekly podcast about recovery — one of the first episodes I turned on was called A Grateful Heart Will Never Drink.

I was only a few weeks sober and hanging on by the skin of my teeth. I suffered through a miserable day at work, boarded the subway for my daily 40 minute commute home, put in my earbuds, and pressed play on my phone. The hosts began advocating for a daily practice of gratitude as part of sobriety and recovery. I would say that it was only a matter of MAYBE three minutes before I turned off the episode and thought THAT’S SOME FUCKED UP KUMBAYA BULLSHIT, RIGHT THERE.

So… let me get this straight. You divine and usually super helpful ladies of BLOG TALK RADIO (said in a peppy British dialect and sometimes twice for no apparent reason) want me to be grateful that my life fucking sucks right now? I’m miserable and feel like I’m dying but you are suggesting that I act like I’m at Thanksgiving dinner every fucking day and talk about or list the things that I’m grateful for in my life? You must be out of your goddamned minds. The only reason I even do that on Thanksgiving is because it makes my Grandma happy and the faster I get it over with, the sooner I can start shoving a gallon of cornbread stuffing down my throat. But this isn’t Thanksgiving dinner. I’m sitting at the gates of Hell right now and Amanda and Ellie and Lisa and Jean and Catherine are telling me to hurry up and get grateful for the effing heat. I’m having anxiety attacks every few hours. I can barely figure out how to answer the phone and have a normal conversation with my mother because my voice is shaking from withdrawals and I can’t find any words and I’m sure I said something crazy like HI MOM I SPEAK ENGLISH BAD BECAUSE I REAL TIRED ALSO STUPID I CAN GO NOW? NO SALIVA ON TONGUE I GO MAKE SOUP NOW OK BYE. FJLDJFKL. But, yeah. Let me just take a moment right quick and talk about the lovely weather. Really glad I get to have a panic attack in low humidity! Grateful for the corner drug store because they have the medicine that makes me not feel like I’m going to throw up all day and night! Let me express my gratitude for HGTV because if I watch enough episodes of Property Brothers, I dream mostly about trying to find vodka bottles in drywall and less about me dying.

Gratitude is stupid. And they even said that those listening in early sobriety might think that what they were saying was absolute mumbo jumbo. AND I DID THINK THAT. And I skipped to another episode that was a little more upbeat called DENIAL EQUALS DEATH. Or something.

But the universe had its own opinion about what I really needed and, like rhythm, the practice of gratitude eventually got me. It was entirely unexpected. I had just become a member of an online support group called The Booze Free Brigade and got a message on Facebook from one of its members. For anonymity’s sake, let’s just call her Shania Twain. Shania introduced herself and then brought up the topic of gratitude. OMG THIS SHIT AGAIN. She mentioned that she had put together a smaller and more focused group as an offshoot and accentuation to the support we were already getting. In this group, we would post daily about the various things we are grateful for. The idea is that by sharing our gratitude, those little nuggets of hope and joy would then begin to grow and multiply and fill our hearts and the void that years of drinking had created.

I’m not going to lie here. Even as I said YES and thanked Shania her for extending the invitation, I still thought that maybe and quite possibly it was just an entire crock of shit. But for whatever reason at that very moment, my heart and mind became willing to try anything and everything. Because obviously whatever it was that I had been doing all of these years since my last relapse was NOT working. Shania sent me the invite to the group and suggested that I go back and listen to that god awful episode of The Bubble Hour that I started but never finished. And I did. And this time I really listened. And I tried to keep that very faint ember of willingness glowing as brightly as possible. I have since re-listened to that episode and it’s actually REALLY GOOD.

I met a bunch of other really amazing women in the group. Again, for anonymity’s sake, let’s call them Trisha Yearwood, Miranda Lambert, Tanya Tucker, Reba McEntire, Carrie Underwood, and Shakira. All Grammy worthy superstars that inspire me daily and make me want to be a better man.

The first few posts were difficult. It felt really forced and I had a hard time opening up my field of vision to really take in what it was that I was fortunate enough to have in my life. But slowly that field of vision began expanding. And reading all of the country/pop superstar’s gratitude lists made me take note of things in my own life that maybe I was taking for granted or overlooking. Eventually, I started noticing that my days were brighter. Things were more colorful. I could walk down the street and acknowledge the beauty around me. And then that gratitude leapt from the pages of the online group and started taking hold of my normal daily life. I would tell people like my boyfriend just how grateful I was for him, for our life, for our house, for our family and friends, etc.

Everything. Just. Got. BETTER. And no matter how bad I feel on any given morning, a brief OR elaborate rundown of what I am grateful for never fails to make me feel better. And because I am so very conscious of the amazing things that I have in my life, I find myself not at all wanting to drink. Because I know I will lose those things. And because I am constantly marveling at the new direction my life is taking, drinking just doesn’t seem like anything that I have any desire to do. I’m already having a great time! Insert a few poopy days here and there but for the most part, life is good. HARD. But good. Good BECAUSE it’s hard. And because I’m feeling it. And I’m taking it on.

A grateful heart will never drink? The word ‘never’ is a lot to wrap your head around. Less likely, definitely.

A HUMAN?!? I’M NOT A HUMAN! WHAT A STUPID THING TO SAY TO ME!

Well, holy fuck. I survived the past four days and am nearly back to myself. After exactly two months of hard fought sobriety, nature decided to reward me with one of the nastiest flu bugs I have ever had. RUDE. And, yeah, I DESERVE to be rewarded for doing something so monumental and significant like not pouring poison down my throat, right? Because I am the most important person in the world and heaven and earth should stop and take note that I don’t get drunk anymore. Sure, there are people out there curing cancer but look what I just did! I didn’t get shitty and fall down the stairs for SIXTY DAYS. Shouldn’t it be on the news? You know, just before the weather. They should flash my photo on the screen for all of the viewers to see. My face should be surrounded by really bad clip art graphics of confetti and thumbs up signs. The news anchor who only has an accent when she introduces herself (Maria Consuela Guiterrez- Johnson!!!) would enthusiastically deliver the report on my internationally relevant accomplishment: AND THIS JUST IN FROM QUEENS. A SLIGHTLY CHUBBY BUT DEVASTATINGLY HANDSOME MAN, PICTURED HERE, JUST FINISHED GOING TWO MONTHS WITHOUT PUTTING A SINGLE DROP OF VODKA INTO HIS MOUTH. AMAZINGLY, HE ONLY DRANK WATER, SELTZER, AND THE OCCASIONAL CUP OF COFFEE. EYE WITNESSES SAY IT WAS SIMPLY UNBELIEVABLE AND THAT HE HASN’T PUKED ON ANY OF HIS FRIEND’S HAIR IN A FULL TWO MONTHS!

Okay. So 60 days is a big deal. To me. And to you, maybe. Because you know how difficult and life-shifting this all is. But outside of my circle of fellow sober freaks, there wasn’t much fanfare. Because ultimately, alcohol consumption, or lack thereof, really doesn’t matter much to people who don’t have a problem with it. As the day approached, I joked with my boyfriend about celebrating. He was generally supportive and happy for me as he always is. But he didn’t do back flips or buy me an airplane or anything so I was obviously a little hurt. So let me get this straight. I just told you that I haven’t had a cocktail in 60 days. Why the fuck isn’t your head spinning around independently from your body?! Why the fuck aren’t you up and dancing a highly elaborate celebratory jig in my honor? WHY ISN’T THERE LOBSTER ON THE TABLE?! WHERE IS THE FUCKING LOBSTER!?!?! There would be no lobster.

When day 60 finally arrived, what had started as a pesky sore throat the day before had morphed into a raging, destructive, and terrifying flu. I woke up and felt like I had been hit by a truck. A Ford, not a Chevy. I crawled to the bathroom and tried to take a shower but realized about 30 seconds into it that I couldn’t stand to lift my arms above my head to wash my hair. I dried off halfway and got back into bed partially wet. I called out sick from work and spent Friday-Sunday holed up in a dark cave completely miserable. But sober. Some things I learned:

  • If you fall asleep with a movie on the TV starring Katherine Heigl and you have a 103 degree fever, Ms. Heigl will turn into a giant cat in your dream and antagonize you incessantly as you sleep while she says whatever lines she is saying in the movie.
  • Your bedroom can be both Antarctica and The Sahara Desert simultaneously. And you can hallucinate camels and penguins concurrently. And you can mistake your Chihuahua for Kelly Ripa.
  • If you are a recovering alcoholic and feel miserable, you might actually consider drinking alcohol even when you feel like you are dying. Even if your resolve and love of sobriety had been rock solid up to that point. You might still want to drink. I did. Briefly. Fleetingly. The old me would have just gone for it. I would have somehow dragged myself to the store to pick something up. I’d get a nice buzz going and suddenly convince myself that I didn’t feel so bad. The idea that I was home alone for the entire day and could drink without anyone knowing would have invalidated any symptom, hallucination, or chunk of mucous coming out of my nose. I felt awful and what I always did when I felt awful — or felt anything for that matter — was drink. I never thought I’d need to be so on guard while feeling so shitty. But I did. Just a heads up in case ya’ll ever get sick in early sobriety.
  • Maybe have someone else walk your dog if you can barely walk yourself to the bathroom. It’s almost summer and the fireflies are out. I’m terrified of bugs and any insect that can make its ass light up is obviously a witch. Stumbled downstairs with the pooch at dusk. Already disoriented and upset that he wouldn’t hurry up and shit, imagine my horror when sudden yellow lights start flashing inches from my face. Needless to say, I picked up the dog and got the fuck out of there FAST.

This was a really good reality check for me. I mean, obviously I’d rather not have had the flu. But there were definitely takeaways from such a nasty experience. It reminded me that life will happen as it happens. There will be disappointments at inconvenient times. Sometimes when celebrations should be happening, we will be mourning or puking instead. And there is not a damn thing you can do about it but ride it out and stay sober.

During a really bad stretch of time on Friday night, I was sobbing in my bed as my boyfriend lay there next to me. I went on and on about how it wasn’t fair and that after all of the hard work I put in staying sober and learning about myself, THIS was the reward. He said — this isn’t verbatim and it could have been one of many hallucinations– but I think he said “Babe. You aren’t sick because you are a recovering alcoholic. You are sick because you are a human.” I don’t remember what I said in response but knowing me, I probably got up defiantly, snorted lots of snot, and screamed, “A HUMAN?!? I’M NOT A HUMAN! WHAT A STUPID THING TO SAY TO ME!” or something equally delusional. But he was right.

I may not get to drink like normal people, but I get to be sick like normal people. And that is NORMAL enough for me, thank you.

I also couldn’t help but taking inventory of how destroyed my body felt when I woke up. I thought, “OH MY GOD. You used to wake up feeling this bad every single day. Sometimes even worse.” I immediately yearned for the past 60 mornings where, to varying degrees, I woke up feeling at least NOT DEAD. Sometimes even fantastic. But never hungover. Never decimated at the hands of my disease. And I wanted 60 more of those days. Maybe 120. Maybe a year. But for now, one at a time.

I’m really not at a place where I can say something like, “Everything happens for a reason.” I wish I could but I don’t know that it’s true. I really don’t think there is a reason a plane crashes and kills 250 people. There is a cause. That’s all. Faulty equipment, pilot error, etc. But I do know that occasionally something happens that seems coincidentally perfect. I’m feeling much better now on my 63rd day sober and while the past few days threw me for quite a fluish loop, I have a renewed value for peace, health, and happiness. I feel renewed at a time where maybe I was starting to take things for granted.

So the moral of the story? If you are feeling yourself start to drift and you aren’t seeing pink clouds, go lick the subway stair railings and see what you can catch. JAY KAY JAY KAY. Don’t. Gross.

 

I WANT TO BE IN THE PICTURES

Woke up this morning feeling lovely. The sun was shining after a disgusting and rainy day the prior morning. And though it was dark and dreary yesterday, I still managed to have an upbeat day. I still said FUCK and SHIT a lot on the way to work as I got splashed by rain water from cars driving by, but it didn’t dictate my overall mood. And today the rain is GONE! And it’s FRIDAY. I can’t believe I look forward to Friday now. Some Fridays I have plans. But the empty Fridays are the ones I look forward to the most now. I look forward to swinging by the grocery store after work without any idea what I want. I walk around filling my cart with various non-alcoholic beverages, fresh fruit, chocolate or ice cream if I want to be bad (and I always want to be bad). I’ll swing by the drugstore and maybe grab a new kind of lip balm or a box of tea I’ve never had before or both. Maybe I’ll pick up a magazine if anything looks good and possibly a movie from Redbox though I typically rent from On Demand. I might grab the dog a new toy or a special kind of dinner to see how excited he gets when filet mignon is on the menu instead of kibble. Essentially, I fill my night up with options. Then I go home, get in my pajamas, order dinner, and sit safely in my bubble filled with all of the awesome things I like.  I remember the first Friday sober. It was awful. The second and third Friday weren’t so hot either. A general feeling of uneasiness, anxiety, not knowing what to do or how to relax. And then that all lifted.  

Got ready for work and opened my front door. This is a photo taken directly from my front stoop:

Image

Those are the catering trucks for the filming an episode of the CBS show Unforgettable starring Poppy Montgomery which is shooting DIRECTLY in front of our home. I saw an episode of Unforgettable a while ago but I forgot. (GROAN) There are two responses that a person might have when their life becomes invaded for an entire day by union stagehands. You might become angry and annoyed and throw eggs and underwear. OR. You might get really excited. I got excited. I’m a writer, specifically for theatre, but would love the opportunity to write on a comedy series someday. So to me, these kinds of things make me giddy. And as I walked from my front door to the train and passed all of the trucks, dressing rooms, and chain smoking production assistants, I experienced quite a few  and some very fucking bizarre emotional responses and thoughts.

First, I noticed that the signs said they’d be filming until approximately 10PM tonight so they’d be around when I got off work. Out of nowhere and obviously without any active participation of my own, the following thought flashed through my mind for a split second:

OH COOL! SO WHEN YOU GET HOME, YOU CAN HAVE A FEW COCKTAILS AND THEN MAKE A DRINK IN A PLASTIC CUP AND WALK AROUND THE SET AND TALK TO PEPOPLE AND SEE IF YOU CAN NETWORK AND MEET PEOPLE!

Okay. WHAT THE FUCK? Tell me how my head goes from seeing a film shoot to planning a night of drinking in 2 seconds? They are not at all related. My wires are severely crossed. I have no desire to drink. But the mere excitement of something happening out of the ordinary immediately caused my mind to seek accentuation. Excitement begets the need to be even more excited. Because excited on its own is never enough. I laughed out loud and also felt my face do this weird contorting thing and I’m sure my expression was equal parts amusement and OH MY GOD, REALLY? It passed. And none of those things are going to happen tonight, obvsies.

The next thing that I felt was a brief and disturbing pang in my soul. It was one of regret, shame, and the feeling that my life has already passed me by. I KNOW THAT’S NOT TRUE. But the sight of seeing mass amounts of people living their dreams really got to me. I live in an amazing city of opportunity and I’ve wasted six years of my life doing practically NOTHING. And all of my peers have passed me by. And it will never be mine. None of that will ever be mine. Nauseated, I stopped myself and thought something along these lines but I’m paraphrasing because all of these flashes of emotions and thoughts happened VERY fast:

YOU ARE 32 YEARS OLD. YOU ARE TALENTED. YOU ARE NOT ON ANYONE ELSE’S CLOCK. THERE IS NO RULE BOOK THAT SAYS YOU MUST HAVE ACCOMPLISHED X, Y, Z BY A CERTAIN AGE. YOU ARE GETTING STRONGER BY THE HOUR. BY THE DAY. IF YOU STAY SOBER, ALL OF YOUR WILDEST DREAMS CAN COME TRUE.

And then immediately following that, I saw…. THEM.

There is this gay couple that moved into a corner house about a block from mine. They purchased their home. I rent mine. They have an immaculately landscaped yard that people stop and stare at. Mine is disgusting and mostly cement. They seem to be wealthy or at least well off enough to never have to leave their home for work. I sometimes have a hard time paying my bills and put in 50+ hours a week at the office. I’m not proud to admit this, but I have spent almost 2 years in my disease walking past their house scowling in disgust at their seemingly perfect life. I’d roll my eyes every time I’d see them in their yard working on things WHICH IS EVERY SINGLE DAY. I mean, isn’t it DONE BY NOW? One time I saw one of them on their hands and knees trimming grass with a pair of FUCKING SCISSORS. Like. Blade by blade. Everything about them made me sick to my stomach.

I realized that the interior of their home is being used as a location for the film shoot. Which means they got paid a shit ton of money to let the show use their house. And the familiar feeling of disdain and, yeah, jealousy, came washing over me once again.

Ever since getting sober, my attitude has changed a bit. I still find them obsessively overbearing about the look of their property and wonder why they sometimes sit in their window watching people walk by. I think it’s because they want to see others admiring their work. But I’ve gotten a lot better about it. I’m not going to lie and say that I don’t care anymore. But I care a lot less. And that’s progress. But seeing the attention they were getting put me back momentarily where I had been. For two years I stumbled past their home from the liquor store with my bottle of vodka shooting dirty looks in their direction. How awful of a person had I become? No. NO. I didn’t become an awful person. I was a good person displaying symptoms of a terrible disease. I still have a lot of shame about how affected I was by this happily married couple. And here it was again in full force.

Why did I care so much? Why do I still care a little? It’s a few things. First, I think I’m embarrassed/ashamed/regretful that I didn’t keep my shit together. Their life was a reminder of where I could have been if I didn’t derail. And AGAIN, I must tell myself that I’m not living on anyone else’s clock. My journey is my journey. Second, I think it is a product of me not practicing gratitude for the things I do have. I’m working on that now and am part of a lovely gratitude group online. There are days where it feels stupid to make a list of the things I’m thankful for but when I do it consistently, I find myself amazed at the awesomeness around me and don’t covet or desire the riches of others quite as much. I mean, I still want a nice house, a nice yard, money to ease financial worries, and a job doing what I love BUT I don’t want YOUR house, yard, money, or job. And I don’t have to be mad at you for having it. And I don’t have to be mad at myself for not having it YET.

As I walked by their house, one of the men looked up at me and smiled. I think I was in mid-anger/disgust. But in a split second, I forced a smile and waved. And that action soothed my soul. And as I walked past them, that anger and disgust faded. And I was left with a clear mind to process why I felt the way I did and what it all meant and that those two men were a lovely couple who worked hard and are proud of what they have together. I mean, they are still fucking asshole freaks. Who trims grass with scissors?!? But they might be nice asshole freaks. Who knows? I’ve never bothered to find out.

And here I am at work drained but hopeful. A very intense two minute walk, a glimpse into the dark places that still exist, and a replenishment of strength and hope that MAYBE if I keep at this, I’ll be in a writer’s room someday preparing a script for one of those shoots.