You must have been looking for me.

It starts in the summer. Just as the weather warms up, the sundresses come out of the closet, a new package of hair ties is purchased to hold my ponytail high and only God knows what happened to last summer’s hair ties. Socks become a thing of a chilly past – its sandals or barefoot now. My toenail polish is made shiny and bright each Sunday. That’s when it starts.

The phone rings and for whatever reason, I feel lucky. Maybe because I know outside is heavy with heat, but I’m in air-conditioned rooms — cool and free. Today, I am inspired to answer the phone. This will be the start of a new adventure.

“Wow, you answered,” the voice says. “A couple of us are going to the pier for dinner, do you wanna go?”

The voice belongs to a man (only once to a woman) and is lightly tinted with concern, it lies about others being invited. It’s just us. But I play along. This year is different, I am cool and collected. My fingernails match my toenail polish. I did not even smudge them this time. I get a text with the location like I didn’t already know, like I wasn’t already on my way there.

There are two seats at the bar, we don’t get menus. This is where we stop pretending.

The sun set over the ocean hours ago, but the sky won’t turn pitch black.  There are empty glasses that beg to be counted — I hope the grouchy bartender comes back. I can guess that the body that came with the voice has left. Still, I search. It’s darker in this stale venue than it is outside. My eyes search for a familiar face and they find one.

“Oh no,” it says, half-amused (or is that half-horrified?) “I mean… I thought you stopped. Didn’t you go to jail recently or something? What happened? You don’t look so good.” The face says it all. The words I didn’t want to see in the reflection of the dirty bar mirror.

The bartender returns and replaces the tiny glasses with two larger ones. Were they both for me? Cold and shimmering, I grab one with hands clad in chipped nail polish. The face didn’t wait for an answer.

But I want to hear my voice anyway.

“I don’t know,” it says. “I guess we fell in love again.”

SDWI / Thursday Writers, May 14 writing prompt: We fell in love again.

Birds in nature vs. My thoughts

Not really sure the last time I checked out birds. Not in a poetic and meditative state, but just like — birds. Maybe one got caught in my air conditioner (or so I imagine because that’s what it sounds like but I’m too scared to check.) Or maybe I notice because their piercing shrieks seem compete against the busy street noise I hadn’t noticed until I noticed the birds.

Whatever the case, I can assure you, I don’t think romantically about birds at all but I do wish I had more space to contemplate thinking about them.

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We do not seem to be getting to the point.

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There is a piece I am supposed to be writing about relationships that is due in three days. Just like my relationships, there have been many starts and stops and questions begging to be answered… so I avoid it all together.

In a moment of brilliance, I thought it’d be good to go back to my first boyfriend. Document that patterns that it had created, the fondness and nostalgia that being a teenager in a relationship evoked. Except, that if I look at it with the most honest eyes I can, the patterns had already been set. We were merely playing our roles.

Last year, a former “fling” of mine died by an apparent suicide-by-cop in the desert, only two miles from my regular go-to getaway in Joshua Tree. We had not kept in touch over the years, it had been at least 12 years since I’d seen him. He’d kicked me out for being drunk and rude. The last things I’d said to him had been awful.

Big deal, everyone has someone like that in their life, I assume.

The thing that troubled me is that only three months prior he’d reached out to me. Out of nowhere. Sent me his address and phone number. The same address that would show up in the newspaper articles where his…. “being”…. stopped.

I had started writing essays on each former fling and love interest.

You’d think that for being 34 and single, there wouldn’t be much to write about. Or maybe you’d think there was more. I won’t tell you how many there are, and I likely won’t share any of those essays. It is a complicated thing to look back at a relationship and see that all I could see in it was myself. Where had I been wrong? Where had I been right? What did I lose? Who did I hurt? How had I been hurt? What had I hoped to gain?

The essays turned out to be less about the boys and the men, and more about my ego and self-obsession. There were very sweet, special memories that feel uncomfortable and undeserved. I am prompted by guilt to find the gentlemen on social media and make sure they went on to live normal happy lives. Yes, many of them did. Some of them, I can’t find. A few seem to be exactly the same.

There is, of course, a common and delicate thread that is woven throughout most of those relationships which now almost looks like it’s colored neon. The moments I picked the fights, the ideas I didn’t want to adopt, the times I slammed doors and declared, “This is over.”

It was always those delicate and brief moments when the person sitting across from me, probed my eyes looking for a reason I behaved the way I did. They wanted an explanation I couldn’t give. It was a general interest that did not make them run, but instead, begged of them to ask if it was okay to stay.

As you could imagine, I was fine making relationships all about me: except when it became about me. My insecurities and shortcomings were not suitable topics of conversations. In fact, if it was even slightly hinted at that I had some work to do to be a suitable partner, we broke up. You could not expect me to do work on myself when you were the one who chose to be with me. So we both suffered.

Until someone called it quits, anyway.

Being able to see that dynamic from a distance of many years, has been important as I consider the future. Of course, all this self-work has ruined my ability to view an interesting man as anything but an interesting human. Oh, so interesting.

So interesting that now I’ve become involved in their well-being. What a novel concept. The one I’m not always invited to but now I grow concerned by. Why does this guy have these weird responses to money? Why does he care about his hair so much? What’s his relationship to his dad like? Why can’t he hang out with me without smoking like he has a spare set of lungs stashed away somewhere? Why don’t any of his stories make sense?

Did it start as a child when he got picked last? Was he bullied or the bully? Did this all stem from neglect as a child? Why doesn’t he have baby photos? Was his mother a narcissist? Is this why he’s attracted to me – some Oedipian manifestation, a need being satisfied? Where does he find his identity? What is his identity? Is he going to mind if I don’t see him the way he sees him?

 

The point is that we’re missing the point.  There have been many starts and stops and questions begging to be answered… so I will avoid it all together.

 

He took the easy way… What was the easy way?

If she weren’t writing in blood, she’d bring him her jokes, a new liver, and a shovel for the mud. If he were not knee-deep in mud he’d bring her his drugs, he’d get her a typewriter.
Metric, Grow Up & Blow Away

Happy Quarantine, hope everyone is well! While hundreds of thousands of people are dying and millions more are battling for their lives and a country tears itself apart over money and money and money, I felt like focusing on something selfish and infinitesimal.

During this strange shift in the world, I have experienced a multitude of personal shifts as well.
As most people have.
As is to be expected when everything ordinary is turned upside-down and inside-out and roughed up a little bit.

I am grateful for my alcoholism at this time. When my life was constantly run on fear and bad unreasonable decisions based on those fears, I begin to realize how dumb that is. How short-sighted. How human. Or someone else will remind me.

But I don’t wanna be human, I wanna be holy, I wanna be different, I wanna be divine… like I was meant to be.

So then I go through the process of really analyzing those fears. What feels threatened? Is it a real threat? What happens if the thing comes true? Who am I? What does it mean to me? To you? Does it mean anything at all?

Then I could see how everyone’s vision is clouded by fear. Are threats real? Do dangers exist? Of course. But what can I do about it? Only what I can do and that is not a lot besides stay home and praise God and yell at my parents to sit their asses at home. (Ice cream is NOT essential, you guys! ugh, so annoying…)

I started this post to talk about lying and ended up talking about fear. But the two aren’t extremely unrelated. Just bear with me while I make the journey.

Since getting sober, I’ve become straight up magical at detecting lies. I have been given an intuitive gift (haha) that probably everyone has but that I’ve only now begun to listen to. (Yes, everyone has this gift.) I used to get mad when I would be lied to. Now I get sad.

I don’t get sad for myself, but for the person who is unable to recognize truth or the value of it. I know what that place feels like, to be so disillusioned with the world you begin to create your own. It can be the only thing making life bearable. Which was what I did. And in my made-up reality, everyone else owed me, everyone else was out to get me, and I never did anything wrong. And if I oh-so-humbly admitted with grace and price to some wrong doing, it was undoubtedly the tip of the iceberg for the garganuant lie beneath the surface I was too blinded by shame to name.

In this quarantine, as I’ve been having to talk to more people for my own sanity, these red flags pop up. I shoo it away, because it ruins the conversation to ask too many questions. And also, isn’t it just enough to know someone is lying? Do I really need to make a conscious effort to name their lie when they probably won’t even be able to recognize it?

So I listen patiently, “Oh yes, really – mhmm, no I didn’t know that… so interesting…” and I hear their voice tell a story they believe, or want to, and at some level believe that I want to believe, too. The fear that they aren’t enough, that they need more, that they need to entertain… I wish I could tell them it’s not worth the trouble. For me or anyone else.

Embrace yourself. Be alone. Trust God.

Love someone that isn’t you… for once. And do it selflessly.

“Maybe a mouse gets to thinking pretty early on how the whole world is run by these enormous feet. Well, from where I sit, I figure the world is run by one thing and this one thing only. Panic with a dog-face, devil-face, hag-face, whore-face, panic in capital letters with no face at all—it’s the same Johnny Panic, awake or asleep.
His love is the twenty-story leap, the rope at the throat, the knife at the heart.
He forgets not his own.”

Sylvia Plath, Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams

Everyone so intimately rearranged.

How do people live without reverence?

When I first got sober, I used to laugh at meetings when they’d say something like, “I’d get on my knees” or “I’d hit my knees” (okay, I still laugh) as I imagined inappropriate things amidst a very spiritual talk.

But have you ever fallen on your knees with complete reverence? I have. Sometimes it was good. Sometimes it was bad.

The first time it happened, I was eight or nine years old. My body was racked with terror, every cell was on guard. My soul fled my body. I lost control. My knees buckled and I collapsed on tiny knee caps and went straight for the Manager when I yelped out a prayer, God, please help!

That wasn’t me falling on my knees in reverence of anything holy. That was me as a child and scared. It was the beginning of a relationship with fear that would last for a few decades. It set the foundation for a life without safety or security, with horrors my little brain produced in constant fashion, my personal manufacturing-plant of fears.

Now I can see I wasn’t in any real danger. But I lived for a long time thinking that I was.

In fact, I began to seek danger. I created situations that made that energy and fear pulse through me like gasoline: I was toxic, I was combustible, my mere presence was an indicator that something was wrong.

Eventually, my own body grew exhausted. It collapsed on it’s knees in reverence to Surrender. I could not keep up. The faint sense that I should be amped up constantly lingered in my little newly sober brain, though. Where was the drama? The excitement? Where was the pulsating danger reminding me I was alive but should have died?

Instead, other people around me died. And they died rapidly. Sometimes it was only a spiritual death, but the light left their eyes all the same. I won’t attend your funeral either way, sorry. I won’t fall on my knees in reverence to your death. I’m not interested in pretending you were saintly and flawless. I like the messy you, the grumpiness and pain, the biting humor, the advice you gave that I never asked for…

It could be the grief catching up to me, the mourning I tried to outrun, but I’m seeing all those lives now in such a different light. Each of the lives I’ve known, of others and my own, don’t just illuminate my future. They highlight and explain it, like a blacklight on a dirty carpet — ohhh, I see that there, that filth, that debris...

Now I see what I need to do.

Now I see how each of the words I’d exchanged with every soul that was lost carried meaning. Sometimes it was that it meant nothing. That still means something.

Sometimes this grief, this guilt of surviving when I tried everything to die, shakes me awake. I could be walking at the park reading chalk on the sidewalk, or sitting at a red light wondering where the lady in the car next to me is going all dressed in black. I could be hanging up a phone call with a person I couldn’t make happy, or listening to a song I used to soothe myself to sleep when the booze wasn’t enough.

I could simply be sitting across from you, with your holy story and the heart that withstood it, and smile. Oh, the coffee is cold, oh, the music is loud, can I see the pimple on your nose? Your furrowed brow and your sarcastic laugh. These trivial moments that don’t seem like much but…

When you smile you are genuine — you are so present and you don’t know how brilliant that is. Your heart, you haven’t even begun to see it’s resilience.  As we leave each other, on good terms or on bad, I do — I fall on my knees in reverence of you and every cell bows in within me.

For the souls that the good Lord has blessed me in knowing, for the spirits that have awakened me, for the angels that never knew they were doing their job. I collapse in awe of all the wonder we don’t stop to see, in you, in me, in the air that we breathe, in the streets that we walk, in the hands that we shake, in the words that we speak.

The wonder is so imposing I almost can’t get up.

Anger is the weapon of the powerless [PART 2]

In the course of the past year, I have gotten angry exactly three times.

Angry to the point where my chest tightened, my breath became shallow, and the thought “I would not regret if this person died today” crossed my mind. Maybe the thought “I need a drink” came up, maaaybe. Certainly every cell in my body pulled me to exit the situation and run and burn some bridges on the way.

Luckily, thanks to years of DBT and AA (…and GOD), when resentful thoughts become constant companions in a hot shower, during a delicious meal, amidst a long drive, when brushing my teeth, etc… I am able to recognize that I better check myself before I wreck myself…

Two of these instances were work-related. The other was related to my writing, sorta.

Was I genuinely mistreated in all three situations? Yeah, actually. There were legitimate reasons for me to feel the way I felt. My boundaries were not respected I was degraded I was lied to. I ran it by some people that have been known to say I was at fault for stuff and no, they totally agreed. But if you know anything about AA, you know you gotta look at your part, too right?

What could possibly be my part?

Did I have reasonable expectations of others when they did not know I had these expectations? Ehhh…

Do I find it objectionable to put my well-being in the hands of people that have already shown me they were unsafe? Um, yeah.

Why should my well-being ever be in the hands of others? Does it feel good to be validated? Yes, totally. But do I lose my value if it turns out someone’s compliments on my writing was actually just a ploy to get into my pants? No, I don’t think I do.

I have learned over the past year to be careful who I give power to. I don’t have the luxury of indulging in anger. For me, it’s the difference between hearing God and not. For me, it’s the difference between staying sober and not.

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Put it in neutral.

celebrate the mediocrity, the routine, the mundane. remember all those days you wished that things were different, then when you hoped they’d stay the same. remember when you prayed before you knew what it meant? when it felt more like wishing and you begged to forget. celebrate the mediocrity, the warmth in your hands. the fingers fully functional, not small and clammy fists. your heartbeat, in a regular rhythm. no longer a desperate drum. now you feel protected, now you feel defended. but this steadiness, it suffocates, claustrophobic you’ve become. the air is stale, movement is subtle. there isn’t a reason to run, this is the life you were meant to want. but where is the adrenaline? where is the rush? the anxious feat of beating death and again and again and again. the adequacy of having a life: the loss of meaning. waiting for the next storm to come, a wait in glee. but don’t forget to celebrate this exact mediocrity.dumpster

This is fiction.

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The pastor of the megachurch started.
“Imagine having a father who loves you so unconditionally that no matter how many times you mess up, you can’t be separated from his love. How would you live if that you had the love of a father like that?” he said.
His hands gestured emphatically, the air punctuated with fervor. I’d been mesmerized by that choreography. It was far more interesting than the boring scenario he’d proposed. My dad loved like that. But the family therapist at the first rehab I’d attended had seen things a little differently.

“This is very codependent behavior,” the family therapist said.
“Yes, he is,” I had said. Through DUI’s, totaled cars, stolen twenty-dollar bill by twenty dollar bill – I couldn’t get my father to give up on me.
“Not him,” the therapist said,
Interested and curious, I’d shifted to look at my mother. Well, I’d never seen her this way before, but…
“He means you!” my sister said. She hated confrontation and part of me was impressed with her outburst.
“If my daughter needs help, I’m going to help her. I don’t know what you expect me to do. Leave her in jail? I’ll bail her out. If she’s in the hospital, we’ll go visit her. What do you suggest I do, doc? Let her kill herself? Nah… You must not have any kids. You have kids? Go fuck yourself. You don’t know what you’re talking about,” my dad said.
The therapist was unphased by all of this and wrote down some notes on a yellow notepad. My dad was right. What was he supposed to do, let me suffer the consequences of my actions? I agreed with my father. And this made me angry.
“He’s not a doctor, you idiot,” I said.

The pastor went on to say that we could have our very own father just like the one he’d described. I imagined the Oprah episode when everyone in the audience gets a car — You get a loving father! And you get a loving father! And you
Gawwwwd,” the pastor said, “is that Father.”
There was a dramatic pause. A lady in the row in front of me pulled out a tissue from her fanny pack. I saw her shoulders rise and fall with each of her soft sobs. I was glad the megachurch was air-conditioned and dark. My head hurt. The night before had been spent doing things anyone else in that church building would have begged forgiveness for. But what did I need forgiveness for? I hadn’t saved up brownie points for an eternal retirement in a Heaven I couldn’t imagine. I was vomit-deep in Hangover Hell more often than not. The only reason I was even in church was to play my “good girl” act to my boyfriend’s mother’s harrowing “helicopter mom” act. (Except hers wasn’t an act.)

Asking forgiveness meant I wanted to do good but oops, I did bad instead. Asking forgiveness insinuated I wanted to behave as others hoped and expected. But I didn’t want that. It would mean I wanted to deserve the love of my father or anyone else that showed me. His intolerable love that never came stamped with any seal of judgment. His blissful encouragement that I would feel better someday soon. Out of pride, selfishness, or ignorance, I had a hard time surrendering to any option that meant I had to surrender to being wrong.

The reaction of the churchgoers around me made me uneasy. Tears made me nervous. It occurred to me that this room of almost three thousand people, souls if you will, might not have had real-life fathers willing to save them from themselves. Did this make it easy for them to want to imagine a God that loved them? Or did it make it impossible? My resentment toward my father’s unwavering love made the love of God seem repulsive. Things would get worse between me and God before they got better at all.

I sat at a cold round table in a room that reminded me of my elementary school. Shiny green linoleum and stale air-conditioning, a sterile and overly used environment. I ran my fingertips over the cold metal chain locked around my waist. Everything in jail was cold.
Family members of other inmates began making their way toward the round table that held their own imprisoned loved one. My parents found me. They looked so tired, so out of place. It had only been two months. Granted I’d never been away from them that long but, how did they age so quickly?
The deputy came around to each table, removing inmate hands from the cuffs chained to our waists. I hugged my mom. She was warm and smelled like mom. Chanel No. 5 and translucent powder. She wore new earrings.
I hugged my dad. He was warm and smelled like dad. Deodorant, mints, and his car’s “New Car Smell” air freshener that hung from a pine-tree on his rearview mirror.
My eyes met my dad’s. They were big like mine, but full of optimism, full of humor, full of faith that I’d be okay.
“You’re going to put this all behind you one day, midge,” he said. Midge, short for midget, his nickname for me when we’d all discovered I was just going to be the short one in the family. “You’re going to be okay, and when you’re ready for help, we’ll be here for you. You let me know, okay?” He put his warm hand on top of mine and patted it.
At that moment, I really believed him. I was grateful for him. I had faith in his faith. I found joy in his optimism. I felt possibility. When I was ready.

I understood at that moment he’d been acting as a surrogate. On a miniature diorama scale, he displayed love that exists for someone as undeserving as me. How much greater and holier could the love of this God I’d heard of be? How much more faithful? How much more would be possible if I’d accepted it? It overwhelmed me. But I felt it.
NO CONTACT!” A deputy shouted from the corner of the room. “One hug at the start of visiting! One hug at end of visiting, sir!” My mom, dad, and I all jumped.
I looked at my dad, I was wide-eyed and startled.
“He just didn’t get his donut this morning, midge,” my dad said. He mimed biting into a donut, his eyes twinkled a joy that seemed to say, Let’s just make the best of this.
“I think you’re right,” I said, embarrassed by my dad’s theatrics. “I completely agree.”

I’m supposed to be doing something else right now.

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Something that doesn’t include eating avocado and staring at my patio wondering why my dad gave me the cutest tiniest BBQ when I have literally never grilled anything in my entire life. Like, ever. I’m not even sure I own a lighter. Don’t I also need charcoal or something? And like, a fluid?

“In case you don’t feel like cooking, you know, just throw something on the grill,” he said.

I like the way it sounds. The casual decision to forego traditional meal preparation with a stove and clunky cookware to… throwing raw meat (I’m assuming) over the fire and eating it with bared teeth and greasy hands.

This is what I imagined my dad meant and pictured his youngest daughter doing in the wild of a Poway patio on a warm summer after-work evening.

(By the way, do you want to donate your patio furniture to me? Thank you.)

But like, I don’t even cook, really. Up until last week, I only owned a ten-inch pan that I bought because it had a cute wood handle and was rose pink. Last week I found the matching pot so I bought it. For Christmas, my sister bought me an Instant Pot which I won’t deny is the most magical thing ever. The rough part is the amount of food it makes. I don’t need that much food. Once it’s tupperwared and refrigerated, it might as well be tossed in the trash because I won’t open the fridge again for another two weeks.

Last year at this time, I weighed 22 pounds more than I do right now. Part of this can be attributed to being obsessed with walking my dogs. The other is not needing psychiatric medications that are known to make it impossible to lose weight. Some psych meds make you crave. I remember not being able to want to stop eating sometimes. It was ridiculous. However, it always struck me that when I’d be hospitalized for medical conditions and pain, the first and, often, the only thing I’d be told was, “Lose weight.”

Come to find out later, that was not the actual issue and I still am in pain frequently but then I am also still overweight. But some of this pain I’ve had since I was a child and it wasn’t a weight issue then. Just like it isn’t now.

Sort of accidentally, a book about trauma made its way to me. I love it so much. My sister went to college for psychology and I would read her college textbooks as a teen. My brain loves learning about itself, such ego, right? This book reminded me of those days.

It is also probably because of this, that it’s difficult for me to imagine humans as being anything but re-enactments of their memories. Even for the ones that swear not to repeat their parents mistakes. For example, every decision they make with their own children is dictated by doing the opposite of what their parents did to them.

Did that make sense?

I’ve been doing a lot of work around these re-enactments. Even the way I hold my body awkwardly when I sense conflict or the way I hold my breath when I’m considering saying how I really feel about something is just such an obvious regression. To little girl me. Not in control of much, at times, even now, not even of her body.

I finished my avocado so I lost my enthusiasm to write something cohesive. Also, now, I should probably get back to what I was supposed to be doing to begin with…

My story is the amazing truth.

migraines for days

my post-migraine sleepathon smile.

Maybe it’s because of my years as a habitual liar and Omitter of Truths, that I have a hard time believing all the things people tell me. Not in an especially critical or cynical way. Not even in a suspicious way. Just in a-“I wonder if they really know how they feel about this”-way. Sometimes when I thought I was being honest, I wasn’t…all the way.

It may also be because of my years as a habitual liar and Omitter of Truths, that I have a hard time believing the people that seem to believe everything I tell them. How many times did I sit across from someone blatantly lying to my face and I’d patiently accept it? Not surreptitiously or resentfully but out of pity. Or finally resigned that this was a lie too big to conquer in one conversation or too small to matter in the long run.

I’ve found that I surround myself with people that look beyond the words being said. The people that will ask a straight-forward question, listen to my answer as if scanning it, then pause – ask me another question about my answer – then listen. This is good (and annoying) because the only thing worse than lying to someone is inadvertently lying to yourself. But it takes the type of people that “get” me to know what kind of question to ask.

That’s what we gotta do is get down to just one story, the true person we are, and live it all the way out. -Denis Johnson, The Starlight on Idaho

These types of people know where I keep my secrets, where I tuck the lies, where the delusions take over reality and fears take over my words.

That’s what is so hard about recovery. It’s the act of finding out who you are in real life. In my addiction, there were so many versions of me floating around out there and they all sucked. Then I had the delusions of who I intended to be, and those were all very compartmentalized and separate in my brain.

One personality for work, one personality for church friends, one personality for family, one personality for AA friends…

Sometimes the more difficult thing was finding out who I was not. A lot of “outsiders” not in AA think that writing a list of our character defects is a demoralizing and degrading act. Well, for one, if you think that then I think you should write one. It is a step into humility, that’s for sure. But more than that, it’s a step into owning who you actually are.

If anyone escapes childhood and adolescence without any trauma, then good for you. You’re probably a great person and somehow got lost and ended up on my blog.

But for the rest of us, those traumas packed on a bunch of descriptors of what we thought defined us. We identified with those parts of ourselves that were dirty and broken and carried that into every part of our lives. Or else we tried stubbornly to ignore them or drown them in booze, drugs, sex, food, etc.

To ignore a trauma is just as much a betrayal to my identity as it is to have it become my identity.

That is also so difficult to grasp. To let go of even the bad things I thought I was. If my whole personality was based on being an asshole alcoholic, and now I’m honest and Christian and sober, who the hell am I? What am I left with? A child of God, ok, but what does that even mean. I have a lot more experience being the “bad things” than I do with this honesty business. It’s tough. It’s scary. It’s dangerous.

Yet, that’s what makes it all so thrilling. And as any good alcoholic will tell you, sometimes chasing that thrill is all we’ve got.

And God. I think God when He sees me in these “honesty or die” situations, is like, “Uhh, we already know you’re going to tell the truth, stop making it such an ordeal. Scoot, scoot, leave that person a note that you hit their car and move along… there’s more cool stuff coming your way…”

Life limped along at subsonic speeds

Well, it’s been a long fast two months but I think Gladwell is finally understanding my exaggerated made-up American Dog Sign Language and can keep up on brisk walks and periodic jogs. Even a lady we always walk by noticed how frolicky he is now!

I’m very proud of the young senior he’s becoming.

❤️❤️❤️ Always adopt an older dog, guys. ❤️❤️❤️

Coppola left me hanging with a stupid kissy-face.

Coppola hasn’t runaway for good and that’s always an achievement. Don’t forget to love Coppola!!! He is da best.

Looking back at 2019

The song Defender by Rita Springer ALWAYS. ALWAYS. ALWAYS. makes me cry.

It started last January when I was in church and I heard the song for the first time. The song interested me because it’s pretty brutal at first, talking about the head of my enemy and all that. Basically how God has already won every battle. Like, geez Christians — cool it with the violence. Then it went on with, “Your love becomes my greatest defense” and my heart became a little mushyyyy and I was like, “Aw, God…. yeah, your love really IS my greatest defense.”

I stood there, nodding along instead of singing like I usually do because I wasn’t familiar with the song yet. Then the chorus was sung.

All I did” was praise, …worship, …bow down, …stay still.

First things first: Jesus really is my salvation. To the core of my being and despite every argument I have with God, I can’t fathom existing in a life that pretends He doesn’t exist and has a meaningful presence in my daily life. He. Is. Everything.

But this song cracks me up because when I first heard it, I was looking back at 2018. I’d just celebrated a year sober, I had moved out of sober living, but I was completely and utterly aimless and frankly kind of depressed.

But all the things! All the miracles. All the battles won! In 2018 I was just barely learning how to stay still. I was only just beginning to praise. I could only fathom bowing down. There I was, trying to worship and taking all the credit. But God came through for me, anyway.

Then 2019 had some rough patches. More aimlessness. More stuckness. More what-the-fuckness, honestly.

I’m nothing if not loyal.

Today’s society and culture is one that doesn’t really favor that. Especially when it comes to supernatural beings that people supposedly cannot see. People turn in their gods with whatever the latest celebrity or scholar says, and they smug-shrug and say with all their confidence that it’s cute I believe in a god but you know, “that’s not really for me.”

Well, ok. Thanks for making God out to be like, an option, or something.

I can stand here and tell you I don’t need air. I don’t believe in air and yeah, “science” but oh who cares, man-made and all that. Show me some air and then maybe I’ll tell you that’s in my lungs keeping me alive. But hey, if that works for you… go on. Keep calling it “air” that is giving you life, it’s cute.

Sounds ridiculous, right?

So when I heard this song again this Sunday, ughhhdhhdhdimtotallynotcryingasitypethisseriouslyyyyyyyNO,ItotallyAM.

Like I was saying, so I heard it this Sunday and I was just so overwhelmed by the love that protected me all last year. When I really was so damn lost and overwhelmed, I did the only thing I could do and that praise God because I know He is good, worship God because He is the only one worthy of my worship, literally bowed down every morning during three awful months when I cried every other day and just begged God for a clearer answer and please make it soon… and all those times I stayed still.

For an alcoholic, for someone with a spirit as restless and irritable as mine, it’s so easy to give up. To give in. To get up and walk out. That is everything I have done my entire life. Staying still has never been an option I’d consider choosing. Last year, I did. I can see now so clearly (that I broke down sobbing for the rest of the song at church) the fruit of doing so. The fruit of faithfulness and works. The risks I took that I didn’t want to. The steps I made to things I wasn’t sure I wanted. The faith I had when I wasn’t sure why.

Now, as I sing that song at full lung capacity, I can feel how good and holy God is. What a miracle He’s even given me the opportunity to bow down.

What a gift it is to stay still.

The way everything turned out is completely different than what I’d expected. And oh, it’s just soooooo much better!!!!!

Now what sweet miracles and detours do we have in store this year, my Heavenly Defender? Whatever it is, here I am.

My apartment is a total disaster

For some reason, I slept in my office last night.

The “some” reason being my bedroom is covered in clothes. COVERED. How did I ever acquire so many clothes when I just donated two giant boxes of them six months ago? Ughh…

Anyway, I slept in my office on my velvet green fold-out couch and two super duper warm blankets I got for Christmas and my birthday. One of them is weighted and the other is super fluffy. (Side note: I’m super excited to sleep tonight.) I fell into a deep, deep sleep. I have no idea what I dreamt, and it would be boring to describe anyway, but I have faint memories of it and it makes me happy. So I’m planning on sleeping in my office again.

I came in here right now to start getting ready for sleep and laughed. How did I miss that this room is also a mess? My floor, desk, table, AND FOLD OUT COUCH are all being weighed down by piles of books, magazines, pens, and journals. So if we wanted to get analytical about this, we could describe these rooms as clear definitions of my personality: a vain bookworm.

Or call it what it is: obsessive.

Because before the mess of these two rooms these past two weeks, they were pristinely organized each evening and morning and tidied up so you’d think I had no clothes or interests.

Yesterday, I found myself wishing I still had a set of Encyclopedias. Remember those? We actually had two sets growing up (one was a children’s version) and a set of medical encyclopedias, and a set of the Annals of America. We also had a collection of, I think it was like, “Greatest Literature in the World” or something that had stories like the Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and Moby Dick by Hermann Melville. Did I mention I was like 10, when I started reading these? This was mostly out of boredom but have you ever read the Metamorphosis??? It’s freakin’ weird as an adult, and beyond strange for a ten year old. I kinda remember my mom yelling at my dad for buying them but I don’t think any of us realized that those books would be the things that the strange child they’d created would read. (Breaking news: I just found out my parents got rid of all the books during a recent cleaning out of a storage unit — waaahhhh…)

I forgot where I was going with this but I have something to say about that book I re-wrote and I finally figured out why I hate it and why you shouldn’t take people’s advice even if you deeply admire them.

But I’ll save that for another day.

Okay, good night.

zzz....

my blankets are calling me…

Does driving drunk make you a very bad stupid awful person?

 

Hungover 2015

Hungover 2015 again

Uhhh.. sober. jk I was super wasted.

Oh, I don’t know.

Probably not.

But it doesn’t exactly make you a cool person, ya know.

You know what alcoholics call New Years Eve? Amateur hour.

I know, I know, you’ve heard all about how irresponsible and dangerous drinking and driving is. (Hey alcoholics, I don’t mean it in the cool sexy way you want to pretend you are. That’s a delusion. You’ll figure it out when you sober up. Don’t get me wrong: there is some definite cool sexiness in you, for sure, it just isn’t manifesting when you’re swerving on the highway pretending youR car is PacMan. whodoesthatomgidknotmeiswear)

Surely there is someone you can think of that is vile, selfish, irresponsible, self-centered, ugly, like —  what is wrong with them, were they raised by wolves, ew… someone who just makes you go, UGHwhyyy do they have to exist?

Okay, well, that’s also you when you get into a car with the intention to drive ‘just around the corner’ when you’re ‘not hammered, I swear, I only had two beers’ or whatever.

Let’s go through all the reasons and situations in which it is OK to drive after consuming alcohol or drugs (YES, MARIJUANA, THAT INCLUDES YOU):

Ok, phew. I thought I was going to have to work harder.

What about that I just drank and now like, my parents are gonna be soooo mad I’m passed my curfew and she’s gonna killl meeee if I don’t get home right now!

….or my boyfriend made me soooo mad, I’ll show him by going over to side dude’s house and you know what.

….or my friend’s a bitch and she can figure out how to get herself home, so imma go now.

…or dude, maybe I’m the one hyping this up waaay too much and I need to chill.

…it will never happen to you. You’re careful. You drive better when you’re drunk. It isn’t a big deal. You do it all the time.

OK.

If any of this seems absurdly ridiculous and like ‘omg, so dumb, I’d never say that’ — then fine. You are a much better person than me. These were all the lies (and soooooo many more) I told myself and others every. single. time. I got into a car after drinking.

Of course, it didn’t seem like a lie at the time. It seemed reasonable. I was being honest to myself. But then again, my BAC was around 0.22 – 0.26 (yes — zero point two – two for my 1st DUI, zero point two FOUR for my 2nd DUI and zero point two SIX for my 3rd — do you notice a pattern?) so I wasn’t exactly someone you’d take life advice from.

BY THE WAY — I hesitate to say this because I still have a lot of shame about it… I drank and drove for 4 years before I got my first DUI.

Then a year later, I got my second.

Then, I kept drinking and driving for another SEVEN YEARS before I got caught again for my third DUI.

That felt disgusting enough to type out so I’m not going to tell you all the bullshit that happened in the years I was “getting away with it” because I “drove better when I was drunk.”

Obviously, I’m an alcoholic. You are a responsible normal drinker so this doesn’t apply to you.

Yeah, right.

As soon as you get a DUI, everyone will talk to you like you’re an alcoholic. It doesn’t matter that you actually aren’t and just made a mistake. Because what sane rational smart person would get behind the wheel of a car after drinking?

So anyway, BACK TO YOU: All the reasons to NOT drink and drive:

  1. Best case scenario: You get arrested and now owe a bunch of time (OK, I served jail time but even if you don’t go to jail you have to meet a bunch of court requirements that are really annoying and depressing AF) and money in fines (HI — my DUI in California cost me $15,000. You got an extra $15K lying around somewhere? Can I have some? Please?) Now you feel awful and your felony or misdemeanor (if you’re lucky) will show up on your record and that’s kind of a dealbreaker for some employers, you know. Technically, you’re a criminal now when all you did was drink a wine cooler and swerve a little. But this is the best because now you get to learn that things could have been SO MUCH WORSE.
  2. Not great scenario: You kill yourself or someone else. Families are devasted. People hate you. Etc. If you survive, and it’s the first DUI, maybe you’ll get manslaughter, I guess? But anything after your first one is an automatic murder charge so… Hi mom/dad/grandma/grandpa, my name is ___________, I’m a murderer.
  3. Worst case scenario: You get away with it.

The reason it is the worst if you get away with it is that you will do it again.

And next time, stats show you’ll drink more (remember my BAC pattern? that isn’t uncommon, it happens a lot especially with women because we metabolize alcohol way differently than dudes especially as alcoholism progresses.)

OK that was all way more lecturey than I had planned for this to be so I’ll finish this up.

Responsible behavior

BEING A RESPONSIBLE DRIVER IS SIMPLE: IF YOU ARE DRINKING, DO NOT DRIVE.

  1. Plan your safe ride home before you start the party, choose a non-drinking friend as a designated driver.
  2. If someone you know has been drinking, do not let that person get behind the wheel. Take their keys and help them arrange a sober ride home.
  3. If you drink, do not drive for any reason. Call a taxi, a ride-hailing service, or a sober friend.
  4. If you’re hosting a party where alcohol will be served, make sure all guests leave with a sober driver.
  5. Always wear your seat belt — it’s your best defense against impaired drivers.

If you see an impaired driver on the road, contact local law enforcement. Your actions could help save someone’s life. Source

More reasons not to drive while intoxicated:

  1. Lyft
  2. Uber
  3. Taxi’s
  4. Life
  5. These people
  6. https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2019/jun/19/city-lights-vista-drunk-driver-drunk-pedestrian/
  7. https://www.10news.com/news/local-news/dui-driver-pleads-guilty-to-2018-wrong-way-crash-on-i-5-ramp
  8. https://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/jeffrey-levi-mustang-toyota-interstate-15-miramar-road-scripps-ranch-dui-sentence/2061036/
  9. https://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/wrong-way-dui-driving-drunk-interstate-8-5-santee-woman-sentencing-manslaughter/153272/
  10. https://fox5sandiego.com/2019/11/16/woman-seriously-in-crash-with-suspected-drunk-driver/
  11. https://fox5sandiego.com/2019/12/02/driver-dies-after-hitting-palm-tree-in-east-county-police-chase/
  12. https://fox5sandiego.com/2019/12/25/christmas-eve-crash-sends-two-to-hospital/
  13. https://timesofsandiego.com/crime/2019/12/27/drunk-driver-crashes-suv-into-jack-in-the-box-in-imperial-beach/
  14. https://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/deadly-escondido-hit-and-run-new-father-charges-arrest-epd/2227034/
  15. https://fox5sandiego.com/2019/12/20/alleged-drunk-driver-charged-with-murder-in-restaurant-workers-death/

OK I just googled “san diego DUI” and those were the first ones to show up and then my laptop started overheating, I’m not kidding, because I opened so many tabs and there were still pages upon pages of stories of peoples whose lives have been effected by someone thinking they were OK to drive.

If you aren’t sure you commit to not driving drunk, these are some resources to help:

1-800-662-HELP (4357)

https://www.smartrecovery.org/

https://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/what-is-aa

http://www.bbaworks.com/

https://refugerecovery.org/

https://womenforsobriety.org/

https://www.lifering.org/

https://www.sdrock.com/messages/2013-12-24/

https://www.sdrock.com/messages/2013-04-21/

https://www.sdrock.com/messages/2013-04-28/

https://www.sdrock.com/messages/2012-10-21/

https://www.sdrock.com/messages/2011-09-04/

Email me if you need something: vanzsetfree@gmail.com

And you know what… most people only find my blog after they get a DUI. I get it. If anything, I probably have a reallllyyyyy accurate idea of how you’re feeling. And no, you’re not an awful person. You are still wonderfully made in the image of God and ya know, God loves you. No one can take that away from you. So, that’s kinda cool.

Love you,

Vanz

giphy

 

This is exactly the kind of post I hate reading.

What mask?

An unfinished painting from 2007 I’d forgotten about

As an angry teen and former Catholic, I liked the term “confessional poetry.” Reading this stuff was exactly like eavesdropping on someone’s self-indulgent and dirty therapy session. It inspired the kind of writing I’d hope to do someday.

Now that I can thumb through 200+ pages of words I’ve written in a form that doesn’t agree with me at all, I can see I tried too hard. Telling the story was annoying enough, I didn’t need to make it complicated. Whatever. It’s over.

So now I smile and frolic back here to my unassuming blog, to my needy journals, stretch my fingers, examine my favorite pens, think all my short-lived thoughts, highlight a magazine article, merrily jot out a sentence then… distracted – I click, I scroll.

On the social media, I scroll.

On the comments of articles, I scroll.

On the cheerfully filtered photos with deeply contrasted captions, I scroll.

On the emailed newsletters, I scroll.

People my age have had the opportunity to “grow up” on the internet. Our lives acclimated in pace to the advance of technology. We watched sex tapes launch celebrities. We marveled at glamorous eating disorders, blatant pedophilia, and dramatic addiction. Privacy and anonymity became a shore we felt more comfortable losing sight of. So we jumped on ships, took a bunch of photos with digital cameras, said a lot of words to the imagined masses and shared them. With others. Also on ships of self-indulgence.

We began to ride the waves of validation, buoyed by hearts and thumbs up reactions. Some people should work on their aesthetic but as a generation we collectively know the story we tell about….anything… can get us attention. In this economy, attention means money.

This is a boring and not-abnormal human behavior, I think. Something about the survival of the fittest, I’m sure. The self-revelation has just changed a bit. In today’s version of flash-“confessional poetry,” I think even Sylvia Plath would roll her eyes.

Over and over again, I see posts and comments of people baring their souls. Such troubled, broken, traumatized souls. [read: a human soul.] Look, see, I’m flawed. No, no applause, please. I’m just a human trying to “human” in all my self-deprecating glory for all the world to see. Thank you, I am strong, I’m glad you realized that. Nope, no gods or magic – this is all me.

We used to flaunt digital photos of nightclubs and oversized SUVs.

Now, we prostitute our humility.

This is me too, by the way. I enjoy the written challenge of having a reader feel as awful as I have felt. (“How do I describe overwhelming nausea that made swallowing my spit super challenging? Hmm… what’s another word for shamesosuffocatingIwannablowmybrainsout? I’ll check Thesaurus.com…“) But maybe, just maybe [insert wistful sigh and a dreamy distant look] they’ll walk away with a little hope. [insert eye twinkle]

But this has always been my habit. Even as a five-year-old with deep five-year-old thoughts, I’d scribble inspired markings on notepads and tell my mom I was writing a story and could she please leave me alone. Delusions of grandeur.

That is still me. It sounds pretentious to call it “writing” though. It is just me documenting the digestion of my thoughts and experiences. Actual scribbles. There isn’t an art to it at all, it’s just for record-keeping purposes. On the internet sometimes. In a journal usually.

It’s so weird how the bank teller was so nice to me last Friday but today, she didn’t even laugh at my frostbite joke. I should have checked her hands, made sure she wasn’t missing any fingers. No, if she was missing a finger, I would’ve noticed as I handed her the deposit slip. She lives in San Diego, where would she have gotten frostbite? I think toes are easier to lose than fingers… I can’t see her feet from the counter. Maybe my frostbite joke just wasn’t funny. This is why I can’t make female friends.

But, the internet.

It has inspired people newly acquainted with their thoughts to share them. Publicly. That is a dangerous thing.

It is dangerous because it’s a new party with new rules — this “honesty” vibe is a whole new scene. You show up and smile, everyone likes you enough especially if you’ve filtered your photos well. But now you’ve said something controversial and people are keeping an eye on you. This is when your dance begins.

Eyes can give supportive and interested glances. Eyes can also roll, very judgy. This new attention can be intoxicating so it is maneuvered in an effort to not lose balance. People hope to harness this energy into sponsorship from a treatment center, energy drink, or roll it into a podcast. Must. look. good. and. flawed. Keep dancing. The goal is to be real, relatable, genuine — authentic. The dirtier and grimier you can get, the better. But still maintain enough distance so people don’t think you are actually, still right now, gross and dirty. A delicate dance that when performed with rehearsed mistakes, will garner you admiration and there is always someone that’ll say, “OMG me too!” My generation loves these words. We don’t want any of that fake TV shit. We grew up on reality TV and we know it’s scripted.

“I’m going to share a deep dark secret, and I’m going to overdramatize every ounce of it so you know just how real it is. I’ll pretend to have grown from this secret but in truth, I just use it as a launching pad to excuse my incessant need for your validation. I need you to tell me, with likes and comments (absolutely do not under any circumstances actually reach out to me in a human capacity with a phone call or text message, keep it all on social media so people can see how important I am), that my content is marketable so I can become an influencer and live off that sweet internet cash and take glossy IG travel pics. If you don’t, I will act out and break the third wall, then go super meta with an apology about how all that just happened because I didn’t get enough validation. But don’t call me. Or text me. Keep your comments on social media.”

We’ve traded in strobe-lit nightclubs for early morning feed-the-homeless photo ops and replaced a gas-guzzling SUV for humble bicycle pics. Then there was the trading-in of our good intentions, privacy, and dignity. Those things were all fleeting anyway. We used to tease intimacy on the internet by providing a peek into everyday lives. Spark a little curiosity. If you wanted more, pay $7.99 for the Chinese lunch special to stumble a dance face-to-face with an awkward absurdity in knowing each other with the naked transparency we saw on the internet. Sometimes it works. Sometimes at least you got lunch.

But, no. Now, these days at an introduction, we throw the clothes off our souls for cheeseburgers. We don’t even care if the buns are gluten-free or moldy. Is the beef grass-fed or, you know what? If the soft calf is still bloody and smiling at us that’s great! At least it’s giving us attention.

Still, don’t forget that danger. If you haven’t previously mastered living a double-life in the past, like since the age of five, take it slow. Only once you’ve had both lives crash and burn will you be able to sort through the wreckage in order to reconcile the internet-you with the fleshy-you. Honestly, that’s the sweet spot though.

Now your oversharing is less a grotesque rotting meat market and more of a cute boutique deli.

To continue mixing bad metaphors, that dance of humility that you’ve been practicing and rehearsing? It’s like muscle memory now! Just in time, because people are scrolling while they’re sitting on the toilet or waiting for their drug dealer so they have a couple of seconds to spare.

Are you ready to perform your rehearsed confessional now? Make it a good comeback, extra humble — heck, it can go viral. Hey, with that kind of exposure, you can become a life coach. The internet is your oyster…

Anne Sexton wouldn’t necessarily be proud but what did she know, anyway? She didn’t even have any IG followers.

And we are magic talking to itself,
noisy and alone. I am queen of all my sins
forgotten. Am I still lost?
Once I was beautiful. Now I am myself…

-Anne Sexton

I can’t stop thinking about your goodness

There are over 600 pages of my psychiatric health in my medical records spanning from 2008 to 2018. Here are two pages.

IMG_6085

This first one photo is from a psychiatrist appointment on September 28, 2017. I drank that entire summer of 2017. Ok, I drank every summer for a lot of summers. But in September 2017, a manic episode led me to spend over $400 in the course of a couple of hours. I drank because I didn’t feel OK. I roamed around La Jolla getting kicked out of places. Then I went home to a room I rented in Mira Mesa before going to a coffee shop in Encinitas. I don’t really remember how I got there considering I was broke. There, I felt so out of control I called 911 and was carried away on a stretcher in an ambulance. There, I did a Facebook Live of my emergency room admittance. It was a shitshow.

My roommates ended up having a weird intervention for me saying that I scared them. They’d never been around someone like me so if I had another episode, they wanted me to leave. Sure, they were kind about it, don’t get me wrong. They did the best they could. Have you ever tried living with a bipolar alcoholic?

In the moment though, I tried to educate them the best I could about bipolar disorder and alcoholism. Quickly, I tried to make them remember I was a human not just these dysfunctions. But there was no reconciliation to make them feel safe because honestly, I fucking wasn’t. As the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous kindly states: “A drinker in his cups is an unlovely creature.” I was bipolar, non-compliant with meds, and “in my cups”.

Then I found out in early October, that my friend Chris was dead. (I thought he had died recently but he had been dead since the summer.)

Chris was a friend from sober living in 2016. We were instant best friends. Our conversations ranged from racism to Conor Oberst to the Beat Generation. Our inside jokes drove our house manager crazy. All one of us had to say was “Ambercrombie and Fitch” and we’d lose it. Or our endless drives to and from meetings in my beat-up VW Beetle. The CD player didn’t work but the radio did and it was all we listened to. The same dozen songs on constant rotation. Some of our conversations still pop into mind when I’m driving around or when I hear a song, and I will explode in laughter. My entire chest swells up in joy at the ridiculousness of our early awkward sobriety. I laugh, by myself now, to the point of tears. Then I remember. There were also hours and hours of listening to him combat God.

“God hates me, if he exists” is a frequent thing he’d say. When he got kicked out of sober living for not getting along with the manager and not wanting to continue his stepwork, which was… ya know, supposed to get you God-reliant, he relapsed on weed.

Then alcohol.

Then he was homeless.

Being homeless when it rains really sucks, Vanessa. You have no idea. I smell like death.

Then he relapsed on meth.

The last time I saw him was at a Motel 6 in Vista in January 2017. I picked him up to go to a meeting and even though he hadn’t told me he’d relapsed on meth, just by being within 20 ft of him, my spirit recognized it. I became unbelievably unsettled. There were two girls in the car with me that night. They had asked for a ride to the meeting and I remember thinking, “There is no way in hell I can have him in the same car as these girls.” But dysfunction breeds dysfunction, and he got in.

At the meeting, Chris fidgeted in his chair and asked me to go outside with him for a cigarette.  I watched as he broke two cigarettes trying to light them. Finally, I lit one for him and gave it to him. Then he broke it when he tried to flick the ash off.

“I can’t sit, let’s go walk,” he said, finally frustrated he couldn’t get the nicotine he wanted.

There was no point to our walk. It was just something to do. There were no inside jokes, no laughing, there was nothing I could say to make it better. All I could do was sit.  There was no anger. There wasn’t any disappointment. I don’t know that there was even any sadness. All there was between us was distance. It was not my friend. I felt like throwing up.

When I dropped him back off at the Motel 6, he asked me to forgive him. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to forgive him for.

“This is just a little relapse, just a small one. Like yours, before you got back into sober living, right? Like, I’m going to get sober like you, I’m going to find God, I guess. This is just my first step or whatever, I’m powerless. Will you come up with me? Flush the rest of the tweak? Will you flush it for me?”

In another dimension, my body leapt out of the car and marched to Chris’s motel room and took all his drugs and flushed it all away. All his problems went down the drain. His fears about his schizophrenic father. His fears about his broken heart. His fears about who he was and what he was worth. In that dimension, Chris’s life was saved. He found God.

Instead, every. single. cell. in. my. body. stayed in place. Nothing could get me out of that car.

“I’ll go with you,” one of the girls in the backseat said. I turned around to look at her and remembered, I was responsible for these two other lives in the car now, too.

“No,” I said. I said bye to Chris but he didn’t hear me. He meandered across the parking lot back to his room. My car made its way out of the parking lot and my spirit began to rest.

A few months later, I got a call from a Georgia phone number.

“Hey Sneaky, it’s me! Shit got real bad in San Diego, man. Real bad. I’m back home now, I’m going to church with mom and dad. Can you believe it? God is real, man. He saved me, I’m going to send you a pic, ok, check out my cross. They have me set up at a motel right now, but I’m good, I got a few weeks sober. Shit got real bad, man…”

At that moment, I was nursing a hangover. Nestled in dirty blankets on a mattress on the floor, there was vomit in my hair and dry mascara tears on my face. I was barely clothed. Happy to hear from him but annoyed he didn’t ask about me. What about my relapse and despair? Do you see how this disease is a physical, mental, and social manifestation of nothing but selfishness?

I wasn’t being selfish because I thought I was more important. And he wasn’t being selfish because he didn’t care about me. But we each in our private minds were running on a terror that was too deep for either of us to name. We didn’t want to die and we wanted someone to tell us we wouldn’t. We couldn’t be that hope for the other.

I don’t want anyone to confuse this as us being “bad” people. We were very sick people and we had get well.

He sent me a photo. In it, he smiled in a parking lot with looming trees lacing the sun behind him. He beamed so brightly. His tall lanky frame, his skeletal fingers pointed to his chest – a large cross hung around his neck.

“You look good, Chris, good to know God’s got your back,” I said. An empty CVS bag crumpled beneath me. I threw up bile into it.

“He does, and you know…” he said. There was a hesitancy I didn’t recognize in him. He paused. “…That was kind of fucked up what you did. What you and Steve did… never… I never would’ve expected it from you but I really do forgive you. Jesus showed me, so I forgive you. Life is too short, I think you meant good,” he said. “I really think you meant good by it.”

“Chris, what are you talking about?” I asked. Steve was his sponsor. We’d kept in touch only because he knew that Chris trusted me. So if anyone would hear from Chris, it’d be me.

“He doesn’t trust anyone, Vanessa. But, he trusts you he thinks you’re all right.”

I racked my fuzzy memory trying to recall what I ever could have possibly done against Chris. And especially what did I ever do where Steve was involved. Was it because I left him at the motel? What was it?

“Hello, Chris? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, but I still felt guilty.

“The earbuds,” he said.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about Chris, can you just tell me?”

“You and Steve, you guys kept talking to me through my earbuds when I was trying to listen to music. You guys never left me alone. You guys said some fucked stuff man, like you didn’t want to talk to me if I never got sober. It wasn’t cool, I was going to get sober. I didn’t need you harassing me like that, that’s fucked, Vanessa,” he said. “I forgive you.”

My body felt on fire but I was shivering cold. That conversation never happened.

The tone in his voice… I knew there was nothing I could say to convince him I had not been secretly relaying messages to him through his earbuds.

Nausea overcame me in a wave. I curled up and dry heaved on the dirty carpet near the mattress.

“I forgive you,” he continued. In another dimension, I badgered Chris into submission. Into sobriety. I led him to God. He got sober. I asked for forgiveness.

“Chris, I have to go,” I said. I hung up. I stared at the photo he’d sent me. He did look much healthier, he’d been eating at least. His smile was so big. The sun shined so brightly in that photo. I could practically hear his laugh. His teasing nickname for me, “Hey Sneaky!”

Months later, a friend would call me while I was hungover and at work to tell me Chris had died.

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I can’t express what happened to me exactly, only that I showed up at my AA workshop on October 8th, shaking and with vomit still on my breath. I told that group of strangers that I couldn’t end up like Chris. He thought I had gotten better. He believed I had answers. He wanted to believe I did. I wanted to believe I did.

If Chris had truly found God, like he said he had with the lightness and peace in his voice that I hadn’t ever heard from him before, I was glad. I wanted to find Him again, then, too.

If Chris had just lost his mind and was deeply psychotic and detached from reality, well I still wanted that peace he had in his voice when he talked about God.

Maybe I’m the crazy one. Still here, giving God the glory.

But maybe I’m crazy to still have doubts. To see and feel God in action in all these small and painful moments, and dismiss it as a coincidence.

To look back over the last two years of recovery and say, I did it all myself.

To remember every lie I told and promise I broke. To pick up the phone without shame or blame, to make it okay to the people I’d hurt.

To read these notes written by a doctor and feel so close to the 31-year-old Vanessa Gomez but with overwhelming and beautiful relief at 34 years old, to feel so distant from her, too.

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Though hope can be painful, I’ll try to be faithful.

Leaving Joshua Tree as I type this. On to a new adventure. Whatever that means.

I like lists. Here’s one as I enter my 34th year of existence.

  1. For literal God’s sake, Vanessa, spend more time doing things for other people. This is vague because I haven’t listened to God enough to figure out how. But I know He’s been not-so-subtly pointing me in “a” direction.
  2. Less phone time, more face-to-face time with humans. Especially ones I like and that like me back enough to create space for me.
  3. Without completely exorcising my optimism and faith in humanity, I will live in the present reality. When you have a disposition like mine, rooted in fantasy and optimism, it’s easy to experience heartbreak when things don’t go as planned. That’s fine, I can deal with a little heartbreak. It’s all the unhatched plans I make on the contingency of that optimism that is frustrating. More real plans, please.
  4. Continue falling in love with the idea of people all the time, every day, like Jesus said… just make it less focused on the emotionally and legally unavailable.
  5. Visit a forest, geez.
  6. Practice honesty with kinder words. Not everyone appreciates blunt transparency like I do. Even though I say honesty with love, when someone is already hurt, all the honesty in love can still sting.
  7. Or better yet, say nothing at all. I don’t have to talk all. the. time. Listen.
  8. Travel with people!!! You’d think this would be easy but I really don’t like traveling with people, haha. I am inherently selfish. Sigh. THERE now my secret is out. asifyoudidn’tknow
  9. Write. Good photography isn’t a substitute for shitty writing.

When I got sober, I felt this awful urge to do ALL THE THINGS AT ONCE because I felt I’d wasted so much time. I didn’t want to waste my time doing anything unimportant because I had this dread that God was going to end my life soon and I was just getting started. It would be his final joke. That is my sense of humor, NOT HIS.

I feel like I have a little more time than I originally expected so I’m going to chill. Relax.

Do unimportant things if they bring joy.

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“I mustn’t forget when I see the sun set that tomorrow it will rise again so I tattoo instructions on my ass, that say don’t ever put this body in a casket. Burn it and put the ashes in a basket. And throw them in the…” [the California desert, plz.]

As an artist you may be extraordinary, but morally speaking you’re worthless.

~ one of Picasso’s chicks

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I think about worth pretty consistently. There are many people walking around like they have none. You can tell who these people are by their restlessness and irritability. They yell and pout when things don’t go their way. They try to devalue others by speaking about them or to them poorly. An internal feeling of low-worth manifests itself externally without any gray area: either full-bore arrogance and entitlement or pitiful and annoying people-pleasing.

The former: stubborn and unwilling to adapt.

The latter: slippery and undesirable to grasp.

Sometimes the ones most fearful about their lack of worth, are the ones that stuff their days with so much activity, they don’t have to wonder what it’s all worth.

Last week, we had a meeting at work where everyone talked about something they want to improve on. There were promises of healthier eating and more exercise, of course. There were genuine desires to improve their professional craft. Someone threw in a vow to return all calls in 24 hours. I had forgotten the assignment until I was driving into work that morning. When I got to the office, I started jotting down non-sensical and disjointed thoughts.

We went around the table and then it was my turn. I verbally vomited the mental nausea I’d been fighting in my skull for months: I want to do less. I want to care less. I don’t want my minutes to be measured by dollar signs. My breathing shouldn’t have a monetary value. I want to pursue stupid passions for absolutely no reason except that they bring me creative joy for the moment. And maybe, if I’m lucky, someone will be inspired to take off their price tag, too. Maybe they’ll jump into a puddle with their dog and laugh like they haven’t laughed in years. Or maybe they’ll finally take a nap. Or maybe they’ll enjoy another human for the sake of that human and not because there is anything to gain from them. I don’t want to monetize my existence. I don’t want to monetize my worth.

It is an oddity to feel comfortable enough at my place of employment to say such strange things. It is a blessing to be in a room with people who nod their heads in understanding. It is pure naivety to think I can navigate the world like this, without the worth society wants to put on me. If they think about my worth at all.

The people we pay attention to are the people we are told we should want to become. This is why Jesus is so unpopular. No one wants to be last so they can be first. A leader would never act as a servant. The rich wouldn’t share with the poor, wtf. Last time I checked, this was Americuh! I work for my dollars and maybe you should, too. And by the way, I’m better than you because I have dollars and you don’t and ew stay away, I don’t want to catch your humility and poverty. Where’s my hand sanitizer…

Ever since I was a kid, I distinctly remember wanting to be friends with the kid no one wanted to be friends with. I had friends, I didn’t need more. But I knew they didn’t have any and I wanted to share. Sometimes this was cool. The kid would acclimate to a social life and flutter off to make their own friends. Sometimes the kid was just freakin’ creepy and I’d think to myself, “Gee, this is why you don’t have any friends.”

Other times there’d be a kid who was so displaced that I couldn’t fully appreciate their gift of uniqueness at the time. Like there was a kid that when we would all take turns reading aloud from a book, he’d read with such enthusiasm his voice would fluctuate with the drama in the plot and he’d give characters different voices. The other children in the class would roll their eyes and laugh at him. I personally found it annoying because I wanted him to hurry up with his part so I could read mine. Now that I think about him, I think — that was so cool. He really liked reading. I hope he continued to read like that up to this day. I hope that enthusiasm wasn’t snuffed out of him because his joy for reading couldn’t be converted into a high return investment so he can save for his retirement.

Consistently, I am afraid for people that don’t want to take risks. You know these people, they are the ones that think safety is the ultimate goal. I’m an alcoholic Christian. Man-made safety is the anti-Christ as far as I’m concerned. Finding safety in a bank account, a reputation, a human relationship, in m y s e l f , is a death sentence. My safety comes from knowing that God is radical in ALL things. In His love, patience, forgiveness, kindness — these are offered in a holy helping to even the most unworthy.

I say unworthy but who am I to determine a person’s worth? Just like who are you to determine mine?

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If you took away every label, title, adjective you use to unconsciously place or withdraw value on others (and yourself) what would you be left with?love

All truth is a paradox: I love being alive.

I’m a really positive and optimistic person in a slightly cranky way. And I absolutely believe in Jesus and the Kingdom and eternal life and so on and so forth… And yet my entire life when I’ve been in high places I’ve felt like jumping because… I find it exhausting here. I don’t think of it as suicidal at all.

All truth is a paradox: I love being alive. -Anne Lamott

I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?

-Van Gogh

I could walk in 70 degree afternoons forever. And indeed, I tried. Unfortunately, Gladwell’s little legs had trouble keeping up. He let me know when he needed a time out. This he told me by plopping down mid-walk and refusing to get back up. Then, when he was ready, he’d stand back up and stare at me expectantly like, “Are you ready?” Then trot along wagging his tail.

Coppola, on the other hand, only rested once. He plopped right down beside Gladwell in the middle of the trail path and sniffed the flowers. Well, ok. Otherwise, he was pretty patient and took in the scenery when Gladwell needed to catch his breath.

I’m sure I had other plans for the day but I don’t remember any of them.

Ok, yeah..this is a good place to stop.

Relationship Status: “It’s Complicated with… the dead.”

I've got a ways to go

In 2008, I was a nightmare.

It’s as if the thought of being a decent human being had never crossed my mind.

“What’s that?” I likely would’ve asked, before chugging some whiskey, rambling on about astrology, and blacking out somewhere. (Fun fact: In an effort to control my drinking, I switched from whiskey to wine when I turned 25. Spoiler alert: It didn’t help.)

I’ll spare the world the details of my unchaste life but I will say I embraced the culture of casual sex being a past-time. When I look back at it now, I think it’s because the thought of becoming intimate on any other level seemed impossible and unsafe. Sex was a physical representation of two people understanding each other for fun. We didn’t have to know each other beyond that. Sometimes there was some residual stuff that came from that though. Sometimes I lingered a little too long or conversation got a little too deep. Whenever this happened, I’d pick a fight, burn the bridge, and steal the vodka on my way out.

Such a thing happened back in 2008.

I can’t remember when I first met Jacob Cato. Where I’m from, everyone just knew everyone. It was impossible not to. But Jacob caught my eye because he was gorgeous. He looked exactly like Christian Bale but with tattoos. Swoon, much? He also just had this very cool way of acting. The typical nonchalant, laid-back, confident thing that guys do that makes insecure 20-year-olds target them.

In the way things go when they go… we began connecting frequently. There was one girl I kind of hung around with who had very real feelings for him. I can’t remember how the conversation went, but she found out I’d been sleeping with him. She wasn’t mad.

“Can you just tell me if he ever talks about me?” she’d asked. She was sitting on the bathroom counter in my rundown apartment, playing with her hair.

“Sure,” I said.

But I never did because he never did. Except once when I pried and all he said was, “Oh, she’s a nice girl.”

The last time I saw Jacob was June 18, 2008. I had just quit my job because it interfered with my drinking. Then panicked and realized I’d better get another one. When I’d been offered a job at a motorsports company, I rejoiced.

“Jacob, I got the job. Let’s celebrate. I’m coming over,” I said. I had a Sidekick phone (la-di-daaa) and a Mini Cooper. It was already kind of late and I had to wake up early to start the new job the next day but felt I owed it to myself.

When I got to his apartment, he’d gotten me a bottle of vodka, he had a giant bong he smoked from, and he had something on TV. I was always impressed he had his own place. He worked at a school nearby that was somehow connected to his native American heritage. He liked being able to mentor the kids there. There was a real concern for them, understanding that they likely came from dysfunctional families with drug and alcohol problems.

“Is that how your family is?” I’d asked.

“No. My family lives in this same complex. We’re close,” and he took a hit from his bong.

From there, our conversation turned to the spiritual.

“I just feel bad all the time,” I said.

“Your aura needs to be cleansed,” he said. “I used to cleanse auras for people, everyone should get it done regularly.”

“Can you cleanse mine?” I had asked. He looked at me with an expression that to this day still puzzles me. It was a cross between sheepish and reluctant.

He shook his head.

“No, I can only cleanse male auras. It’s not right for a man to cleanse a woman,” he took another hit. I was disappointed.

We did what we usually did, and I got drunk like I usually did, and when I saw it was 2 am I blamed him for….something. I think I brought up something that I know was a really sensitive subject and he told me to get out. I began throwing things at him and walked into his kitchen, saying something about his disgusting dishes. Just when I went to grab one, I picked up a cup with the Golden Butterfly print. It was a print I’d grown up with and that I’d seen at his house before. It angered me that he would own a cup so sentimental to me. He warned me not to throw it. I said something along the lines of, “Why the FUCK do you have this cup?” and put it back into the sink.

I left.

On my way home, angry and crying, I saw blue and red lights in my rearview mirror.

I got my first DUI.

I lost my new job.

I never saw Jacob Cato again.


A few months ago, I got a message from someone on Instagram. Immediately, I was like, “Oh, he’s cute…” When I clicked on the profile, I was beyond shocked to see it was Jacob. His message to me was short and odd. I screenshot it and sent it to my friends.

“Here’s the asshole I used to screw when I was a blackout drunk, ew.” Super spiritual of me, I know.

This was literally like, 4 or 5 months ago.

When I didn’t reply to him, he sent me an address on Cactus Flower Rd.

“???” I replied

“Swing by if you’re ever in the area”

I blocked him.


I’d like to say I never thought about Jacob after the last time I saw him but I’m sentimental, I think about everyone. When I moved into my new apartment and saged my house, I thought of him. When I got my dishes with the Golden Butterfly print, I thought of him. When I cleaned up my phone this week in an effort to clear up some memory, I saw the screenshots of his Instagram and hovered over them with my finger. Then I selected them and deleted them.


Today, I found out Jacob Cato was shot and killed by San Bernardino police.

https://www.desertsun.com/story/news/crime_courts/2019/11/20/morongo-valley-man-fatally-shot-after-pointing-gun-deputies-cops-say/4255311002/


My belief has always been that God puts people in our lives for one reason or another. To teach us something, to give us an opportunity to help, to be helped. There are opportunities for kindness at practically every moment we are alive and breathing. What I recognize and value now that I didn’t before is that we aren’t just physical beings. An individual is not disposable, is not usable, is not less valuable “just because” I decided they were. We are flesh and blood, and thoughts and love, and anger and beauty, and created in the image of God. We are holy.

I really wish I had told me and Jacob that back in 2008.

I’m likely not returning to social media anytime soon.

coppolaaaa

we decreased our screen time by 54%

But I felt compelled to update this here because of the handfuls of panicky people that have reached out and therefore, made me panicky as well. OMG, did I die and I don’t know!? ….No, no, I just got rid of Facebook and Instagram….

This little site is always being updated, in case you care enough to follow it.

Anyway, the end of the year is approaching and the book I have yet to complete sits on my desk. Every time I pick up a page to edit it, I feel strongly compelled to throw it away. Yes, because it’s awful writing. No, I’m not being self-deprecating, it actually truly is horrible. But also, I just am sick of the story. Why do I have to keep retelling the same story? This has always been my beef with God.  GOD, CAN YOU MAKE ME MORE INTERESTING, PLEASE? I’m sick of talking about alcoholism and mental illness. And by the way, God, you don’t exactly work as a great conversation starter when making new friends, either.

“What I believe about God is the most important thing about me.” – AW Tozer

At this point in time, I struggle to complete the book because 1) I’m happy and 2) I’m sick of the story.

Since I was a little girl, writing was my sanctuary. A place full of make-believe realities and investigative reporting of my inner thoughts on the observations of the outer world. Also, it was very private. I could say whatever I wanted because no one but me and maybe a teacher would read it. That honesty of my thoughts, however crazy they actually were, was the voice that grew. The voice that I learned to appreciate and listen to. And it was the voice that I lost when I became an alcoholic and realized I really couldn’t tell the true from the false anymore.

When I got sober, I figured I could write myself back to the truth. Find myself, that lost voice, somewhere between the worn-out ‘n’ key and the space bar.

Also, there was a very strange marriage between my conversion to Christianity and my writing revival. The two came about at the same time and I haven’t been able to peel them apart since then. Really, I stopped trying. Without God, I wouldn’t have the courage to write about even a quarter of the things I’ve written about.

But now I’m annoyed.

I’m annoyed because the anticipated comments, either positive or negative, began to worm themselves into my writing process. All these little voices of, “Well, how would so-and-so take this?” or “Do you think so-and-so will know you’re talking about them?” began to edit the words I wrote as I typed them.

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R.I.P. to the tree that had to die for my shitty story to live in the physical world.

So it’s helpful to be off social media. Even though the support and comments were overwhelmingly positive.

But also, I’m happy. It’s so hard for me to write when I’m happy! I just don’t see the point in curating the worst times in my life, prettying it up in neat little black and white letters, and serving it up for someone else’s eyes to feast on and suffer from. Half of me doesn’t even recognize that girl in the story anymore, and the other half just wants to politely nod at her so she’ll go away.

…and BY THE WAY, I don’t want to sound overly dramatic but Red Smith’s quote is accurate, “Writing is easy, you just open your veins and bleed.” It isn’t as though I can just “fake” the sorrow I felt when my parents came to visit me Thanksgiving week in jail. How my mom wore her prettiest blouse and my dad looked like he’d lost a ton of weight, and they just sat there smiling at me. Pretending they weren’t visiting their little girl in jail, the one they used to smother with too many hugs and words of encouragement. My mom’s hands, the ones I used to grab and pull and take the rings off of as a curious child as I sat on her lap. Now those soft plump hands were visibly aged and unpolished. My dad’s big brown eyes I recognized as the prototype for mine, had love beaming straight out of them, it hurt to look at them. It physically hurt to know these people created me, kept me alive, nurtured and loved me, forgave me, and there. I. was.

“…I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.”-Joan Didion

It’s exhausting, is all I’m trying to say. But complaining about it here felt vaguely honest and somewhat familiar.

But anyway, I’m alive and well and happy and busy and writing and not writing and adopting all the dogs that love me. Call me if you have my number. Stop by if I can give you hugs. If you don’t, figure out a way to get in touch. People are pretty good at figuring that out.

Ok, bye.

Day 6 – NaNoWriMo

If I’m being completely honest, I’ve spent most of this evening replying to emails instead of writing. I flirted with the idea of just editing the last project I completed in November 2018 and trying to mold that into something that doesn’t bring me tremendous buckets of shame. Why is it so hard this? I waited until I was a year sober to start writing this book. Then I had revelations, an experience of how it should turn out. Then I started over. Now I’ve lost my voice.

I read what I’ve written and I don’t recognize the voice.

It’s like, here or in emails the writing comes with little effort. Even in person, I can retell parts of the story and I am satisfied. But when I open the document creatively named NaNoWriMo 2019, my language becomes halted. Terse. Alien. Forced.

This is disappointing.

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God, help me.

NaNoWriMo – Day 5

Eek. Didn’t write for two days and I didn’t hit my word count today,

But I have untangled a necklace and cleaned my kitchen so… there’s that.

Uhh…. my blind deaf dog unsurprisingly cannot climb or descend stairs. I found this out at the park last night when we went down some steps and he um, like, tumbled the entire way down. Coppola looked back at his disabled brother and then just kept walking which I thought was pretty rude. But Gladwell just stood up on his pudgy stubby legs and tried to figure out which way to go. Poor little guy.

More words tomorrow I hope.