Twenty-Four Things I Know To Be True

Twenty-Four Things I Know To Be True

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Me with my grandfather on my second birthday 

Is it wrong to say that the most memorable birthday I’ve ever had I was wasted? I mean, like drunk enough that I don’t remember most of the conversation that happened. It was my 21st, so maybe that makes sense to you, but I was already two years into a drinking story that would take everything and leave me on my knees begging for someone, anyone to save me. I’d been drinking all day with my two close friends. That night we’d have a big birthday dinner at a trendy restaurant downtown. It would be the first birthday I would celebrate with my dad in over 9 years. Afterwards, someone told me my dad had said some really heartfelt things. People had cried. I still don’t know what he said. But, I do remember how happy I was. There are photos of me laughing. I’m skinnier than, have straight brown hair. But my eyes, my eyes are the same: crinkled in the corners already, my face flushed, my lips turned upwards in celebration.

That was truly the first birthday I enjoyed. I’ve spent birthday’s in tears – days that only serve to remind me that my relationships with my parents which was tenuous at best.  I planned a big 16th birthday bash. I remember the pink and sparkles. I remember family taking the train in to Manhattan to eat overpriced Chinese food. I don’t remember having fun.

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My twenty-first birthday

Last year I got engaged on my birthday. Well, to be honest, I bought myself a diamond ring and told my ex at the time who had accompanied me to Durham for a trip, to break up with who she was seeing a marry me. I relapsed on my birthday.

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I’m pretty sure I turned twenty here 

This year I right out told my partner “I hate birthdays.” We’re going to go to a trendy place for dinner in Boston. I have a gift I’ve been saving from my Dad to open. I took the day off and I’ll probably read, go to a bookstore, spend too much money. It’ll be quiet. I’ll be sober. I’ll be 24. In honor of that & because my friend Laura McKowen is a genius here is a list of twenty-four things I’ve learned in the last years:

1. You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. Real love moves freely in both directions. – Cheryl Strayed

2. There is no rule book, there are no rules. Trial & error lends to self-discovery and heartbreak. There’s no scooting around the hard bits.

3. Figuring out I was an alcoholic was one of the most painful conclusions I’ve ever come to / or will ever come to. Pretending I wasn’t, was harder.

4. If you know you are something like a writer, an artist, a mother, a friend: be that thing. Don’t wait for anyone to crown you. They won’t. Buy yourself your own damn crown. Then show up. Continuously and no matter what.

5. I’m still convinced my sister was a tiny love bundle sent from heaven to help me practice not being a sick selfish asshole. However, also to remind me that my sick selfish asshole side is loved no matter what by this small human.

6. Sex is NEVER EVER an obligation, a requirement, painful, or something you should feel coerced into. If any of those things happen or have happened find yourself a therapist and start talking. These things will damage you. Talking and therapy will help.

7. A therapist is worth the investment. Invest. Find someone you trust and sit with them weekly. Try to trust them. Try to understand that the very best relationships take time. They’ll ebb and they’ll flow. They’ll glow.

8. Be present. Work hard to cultivate a presence you like. Don’t wait for your future self to get on board. Plant your feet firmly here and now.

9. If you ever feel lost or confused or lonely or all three or other hard feelings look up. Anne Lamott says that’s all you need to do to see God.

10. Look for the teachers. I spent an adolescence trying to find the adult. I never found them then, but I’ve found them now. I count: Cheryl Strayed, Chloe Caldwell, Mary Karr, Anne Lamott, and Glennon Doyle Melton as my very closest teachers. When I think “how” or “why” I pick their books up and go “oh.”

11. Believe in something greater than yourself. It can be as small as twig or as great as Allah, God, a higher power. There is magic in the mundane too.

12. Listen. This is something that takes time to master. Listen. To me. To you. To the noise the leaves make against your window, to the homeless woman on the train, to the customer who is at the end of their rope, to your nearest and dearest. There is no hierarchy. We’re all doing our best.

13. Pain is not a competition. Don’t use it to level up. You will lose. I believe it was Amy Hempel who said just because you scrape your knee too doesn’t make mine hurt any less.

14. Love is love is love is love is love. Times a million. I know this to be true even though my track record with love is…really sucky.

15. Buy the shoes/dress/wooie tarot deck. Life is short. Life can be ugly. If these things help, don’t deny them.

16. People will leave your life. Don’t cling to them. Let them go. That’s a hard painful thing especially if you love them. That love probably most likely flows both ways. Try to hold them in their pain too. Remember: we’re all human.

17. Stephan Cope says “there are, of course, a thousand ways of being stuck.” Find what releases you. Do those things. Stuck does not mean stop. Actually, it means the very opposite.

18. Tattoos are permanent. That’s about it.

19. Don’t believe your eighth-grade art teacher when he says you’re a bad artist. Make art anyway. You’re not. He’s a bad teacher.

20. A hot shower, a cup of coffee, a few words, and sleep have the power to fix just about anything.

21. Don’t lament too much about not being the best. If you want to be the best in something you have to be the worst first. Anybody who doesn’t start on the first rung, will, eventually, burn the heck out. It takes momentum to get to the top and once there you’ll search for what’s next.

22. Pick things that soothe you and do those things daily. Make to do lists. Make notes to yourself. Make love to yourself. Make art and noise and mess. Choose you every damn time.

23. We don’t get to know how the story ends, no amount of tantrum throwing will get you an answer. Try to understand that in time and patience are virtues to embrace.

24. A birthday is not a death sentence: it’s a cause for nostalgia, wish making, & a clean slate all wrapped up in one beautifully sweetly tied gift. It is solely yours.

Happy birthday to myself. I think I’m liking who I am today.

Love is Love

Love is Love

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Over the past few days I’ve been beating myself up for not having the words to write anything down. I’ve been talking a lot, but writing significantly less. And then I got an idea. What if I just talked. I’ve seen countless women do it on countless platforms, what if I just tried. So this is me trying to have a conversation with you all. It’s a tentative unedited 9 minutes of me talking about love. The different forms it takes in my life, the ways I want love now and tomorrow, and it’s inspired by all the love I currently have in my life. Love is something that we all get to share. Although it varies in the forms it takes, it’s the one universal tie that binds us all. I’m speaking from a place of fear, of hope, of LOVE. For you and me and for this. I mention the podcast I posted yesterday featuring Anne Lamott and Glennon Doyle Melton. I mention Cheryl Strayed who has one of my favorite quotes about love in her book of letters, Tiny Beautiful Things:

“It is not so incomprehensible as you pretend, sweet pea. Love is the feeling we have for those we care deeply about and hold in high regard. It can be light as the hug we give a friend or heavy as the sacrifices we make for our children. It can be romantic, platonic, familial, fleeting, everlasting, conditional, unconditional, imbued with sorrow, stoked by sex, sullied by abuse, amplified by kindness, twisted by betrayal, deepened by time, darkened by difficulty, leavened by generosity, nourished by humor and “loaded with promises and commitments” that we may or may not want or keep.”

I want love for you. Whatever form it may take. I know we are worthy. Please let me know if you want to continue this dialogue with me. I’d love to keep holding this space and having conversations with as many of you as I can.

PS: Sometimes we need love bowls. I suggest you keep yours well-stocked. Let yourself see love, really see it, and suddenly you’ll see how surrounded you are by it. All the damn time.

Learning to Love Myself Through the Eyes of a Stranger

Learning to Love Myself Through the Eyes of a Stranger

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It’s the very best one I have. (Photo credit: Stephanie Anderson)

I’m a notorious friendship cheerleader. Literally. I will do anything for the people in my life. Over and over again. And I don’t usually expect a lot back. It’s been a struggle. Sometimes the ebb and flow feels pushed or stagnant. Sometimes I just need a little loving, but I’m not sure who to ask. Loving yourself is really handwork and I think we need people in our lives who do so with little risk, with ease and comfort. I think I found that person. Which brings me to the very best part…we’re strangers! We’ve never met. We have a few weeks of friendship between the both of us and yet. And yet, last week was the best week of my life when I started to learn how valuable I am. I can ask for boundaries and love and my own cheerleader. I can show-up for my life consistently, not always with a smile on my face, but always with peace in my heart. It’s incredible to get to see yourself through the eyes of another person. It’s incredible to get to reflect that other person back to them. It’s pretty incredible how big this world is, yet how small it feels when you feel loved and seen and heard. Sometimes I feel in writing about this I sound too happy. The stories of the pink cloud are abundant. But, I’ve been there too. The happiness that’s fleeting because it was never really mine to begin with. It was pausing, hovering over my head, my life, but bound to disappear at the whiff of a little trouble, a little trial or error.

This happiness y’all. This happiness feels tangible. Like I can look at my flowers in the only cup I had that would fit them and feel content. Like how I danced in bed this morning over and over again to the same song (Heavy by Birdtalker listttten to it). How life feels new, but at the same time ancient. The title of one of my favorite essays by Cheryl Strayed comes to mind – The Future Has an Ancient Heart. I think I finally understand what Carlo Levi meant. Of course. We’re not doing any of this for the first time. We’re relearning how to do the things that feel the most primal. We are all born nurturers, but this world tears us so far from that thing, that thing that makes you recognize yourself in a stranger, or love in a random act. That thing is what propels me to look at my happiness now as not something fleeting, not something to be scared of, but something that is only going to continue to evolve. If I keep nurturing it. Ever so slightly, it will grow bigger. Happy Monday.

Walking Through the Muck

Walking Through the Muck

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The tiny, beautiful note that changed my life.

The first time I saw those words I was waiting to cross the street in front of my childhood home. My heart was heavy. I live in a hell that I couldn’t get out. Everywhere I turned was misery. I felt helpless and terrified most of the time. I was 105 pounds and 5’6. There was nothing healthy in any sense of the word happening. I hated – no I loathed – my mother’s new boyfriend. And for really good reason. He was AWFUL. He was gross. He made me feel small and wounded even more than my mother already had. I had turned to a wise older friend for many years and on this particular day she sent me the advice of Sugar aka Cheryl Strayed aka one of my now favorite writers. I remember clinging to the words with all the hope of a survivor in a life raft. I was dessssperate.

Almost 8 years later I look at the note on my phone where I saved the words that changed my life. Acceptance is a small quiet room. Acceptance is not taking shit. Acceptance is not resigning myself to a life of monkhood. Acceptance is not bawling my eyes out every night. Acceptance is showing up today for my fucking repressed feelings. Acceptance is coming to terms with the fact that yup I have a problem with alcohol and commitment and intimacy. Acceptance is going to a professional and saying those words aloud and trying not to worry how I sound. Acceptance is not making some grand statement about change and relishing in a pretty bow on the ending of every blog post because this is my life and I don’t even own a bow let alone have enough energy to insert one into every life lesson. Cause sometime life lessons suck. Big time. And I’m still alive and sober and breathing and I can also feel my pain and feel raw and allow myself to just sit. There’s no shortcut through healing. We don’t get to the other side by a nice tidy raft. We walk. Usually alone. With a lot of self-doubt plagued by every other time it didn’t work out. This time I walk with a little bit of a whisper in my ear. I’m not in fact alone. Because if I was I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be okay. I wouldn’t feel safe and loved a lot of the time.

Acceptance is a small quiet room. It’s an understanding that today is where I need to be. That one day this helpless period of sadness and depression and loneliness will add up to something beautiful. There’s a scene in Love Warrior when the author Glennon Doyle Melton is talking to her God who’s sitting in the corner knitting. She’s telling her all the horrible ugly truths of her life. And she’s getting really frustrated that God just keeps knitting. Like what the fuck God? And then she takes a closer look and she realizes that God is knitting her life. Of course.

On the ugliest saddest loneliest days I think about my God knitting. Rocking back and forth. Working on the tapestry of my life. And literally a feel a pop in my sternum and I breathe.

How I’m Learning to Love the Broken Pieces

How I’m Learning to Love the Broken Pieces

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The polka dot blouse that launched a whole lotta love for my own self

Fearless: I want to think again of dangerous and noble things. I want to be light and frolicsome. I want to be important and beautiful and afraid of nothing as though I had wings. ~ Mary Oliver 

I recently admitted to a friend that a lot of the sex I’ve had hasn’t indeed been consensual. The line of course can be blurry, but I do know that more than once I’ve ended up in bed with a partner without the voice to say “I don’t want this.” In turn, the ability to not say no when I needed to most has turned me into some sort of automatic “yes” machine. I’m quick to agree to do anything that will help you even if it puts me at a physical or emotional disadvantage. I always put my friends first without even a thought. My therapy sessions are my safe havens, where I drop the mask and sometimes cry, sometimes talk a mile a minute, but cry often just breathe. Breathe. It seems like it would be hard to forget one of the major things that keeps us alive, but every damn time whether I’m anxious or tired or stressed or scared it’s because I haven’t taken a few minutes to sit, silently, and feel my breath. It’s a grounding thing for me. I used to struggle in yoga classes to breathe when the instructor said to do so. I couldn’t time my breaths. I couldn’t feel the rhythm in the room. It’s been awhile since I’ve taken a yoga class, but sitting on my yoga mat in my own apartment staring at an altar I had constructed from the very things that bring my the most happiness in this world I still couldn’t quite get it. It’s like there’s ticker tape in my head and frankly I’m surprised it hasn’t spilled out of my ear yet.

Last night I watched the first few episodes of The L Word. My mind and heart were blown to bits and pieces very quickly. If anyone had been at arms reach there’s no guarantee I wouldn’t have thrown them into bed with me. But I’ve done that enough before to know I’m not going to get the end result I want if my lust is grounded in need. A need so deep that sometimes I feel like no one ever on this planet could possibly fulfill it. And that’s probably true. It’s also no ones job to fix that. I have a hole in my heart. I like to picture it as the size of a medium coffee lid, a little curled at the edges, patched up by various band aids and stickers, like a child’s toy who’s been doctored up one too many times. I can see straight through to the other side.

Cheryl Strayed talks about two empty cups, having to fill them up for herself after her mother passes. The program of AA talks about them as a god sized hole, it’s why I am the way I am. Believing it exists is the very essence of my being here today, it’s a survivor’s wound, a reminder that I am here despite, but also a challenge to every potential mate. Will this be the one to fix me? Will this be the one who loves me enough? Those are the wrong questions. Because the answers are completely dependent on frivolous things for me. Do you use your words well? Can you be next to me forever, but also go stand over there? Can I have it both ways? I’ve heard for a long time that healing the relationship bits of ourselves start with (spoiler alert) OURSELVES. But it’s a lot easier to talk the talk than walk the walk. I can say I’m working on me but scrolling through Tinder every night, getting a quick fix, and then deleting the app like it never even happened does not a healed hole make. Also, embracing my flaws and wearing them as badges of honor, accepting them as things I just can’t change, doesn’t work for me. I have to be able to change the behaviors that have hurt me in the past. If I can’t do that I can’t move forward. And if I can’t move forward then I’m stuck here, stagnant, just me and my holes. What if I took a different approach this time? What if I embraced the brokenness but loved myself so intensely that the sharp edges never pierced me again? And if they did I’d have so much love and support I wouldn’t even need a bandage? What if I started to change slowly, but perceptively. What if I could do this with someone else?

Today I woke up and put on the polka dot special occasion top I haven’t ripped the rage off even though I loved it soooo much. I put on the lipstick and the earrings and walked out the door with a smile on my face. Because when I looked in the mirror I didn’t see you, I saw me. For the first time in a long time what reflected back at me wasn’t who I was trying to be, but who I am. A freedom. A beauty. A wholeness.