Breaking Points and Superpowers.

            Since starting this blog, I have a developed a few superpowers.  My most obvious superpower is that I have managed to stave off alcohol for 1 month and 24 days.  I passed up a glass of red wine at my “office” Christmas party. Yes, I made it through the entire gingerbread house making competition without a single sip!  Usually, I absolutely hate party games, board games and just about anything else that might get in the way of me drinking and sharing my opinion with the entire world.  The sober me is thankful for stupid shit like gingerbread making competitions, because these activities keep me from nervously obsessing over everyone else’s glass of white wine!  I also celebrated my 33rd birthday with seltzer water.  That’s right.  I drank 12 cans of La Croix in 2 days. And it was really fucking awesome.  Hmmmm… pamplemousse.   

Another superpower I have developed is: self-awareness.  Super duper self-awareness.  This super duper self-awareness superpower has helped me realize that since becoming a “blogger,” there is now this slightly unwelcome voice in my head that is listening to every conversation and thought I have and wondering if it could be an interesting blog topic.  This voice also reminds me to just write, to be me.  Not Cheryl Strayed or Elizabeth Gilbert.  Not a slightly forced metaphor about a map.  Just me.  Sarcastic, grammatically incorrect, raw, ecstatic, stream of consciousness me.  This super duper self-awareness has motivated me to listen and just sit the fuck down and star pounding the keys when I feel the urge.

Now, these superpowers didn’t come easy.   Every superpower I have came from a tremendous shit show of a break down.  For me, when I reflect on my break downs, each one sits in my mind like a black and white polaroid.  Something happens and everything stops and then nothing is ever the same again. 

I have had 2 of these moments in the past 1.5 years.  In June 2015, I started a support program for homeless children in a farm worker town.  As part of this program, I conducted the community’s first homeless census and found that 1 in 5 children qualify as homeless in our small town.  I also found a family of 6 living in a dilapidated shed and stopped sleeping.  After a year of applying to every housing support program in the county, the family still ended up in their car. 

The other moment was waking up on November 10, 2016.  I drank 2 glasses of wine and took a tylenol PM as the election results rolled in.  The alarm beeped at 6:21 am and I stumbled out of bed and paced around the house with my boob hanging out of my coffee stained bathrobe.  My mind raced.  I shouted to my partner, “I am just going to pay the rent on a new office, so I can have a place to keep clothes and other donations for our homeless program. Fuck it.”  I mind raced, trying to find solid ground, asking unanswerable questions about what would happen and what could be done.  I paced more. My thoughts raced.  I collapsed on my couch, gasped for breath and sobbed.  Tears falling down pale pink cheeks and leaving bathrobe fur all matted and wet.  “You are allowed to be upset, but you scare me when you panic like this,” my partner said as he held me close. 

Tomorrow is another breaking point.  We aren’t sure what kind of breaking point it will be, but we know it’s gonna happen.  Saturday will be the largest demonstration in US history.  With some many people coming together, something has to start moving.  Something has to break.   

I recently reconnected with a sober, spiritual guru, activist friend.  She wrote a book about the Egyptian revolution and knows a shit ton about social movements.  She is a bad ass.  A chigona!  She reminded me about the metaphysical and spiritual connections that start movements. We talked for hours about how that “coming togetherness” coupled with a fierce gaze that never loses sight of power and privilege is where our movements must begin.  What the fuck is going to happen now?

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Addiction, Donald Trump and Other Sources of Shame

When Donald Trump became our president, shame became an inextricable part of us.

                On November 9, 2016, the emotional and ideological landscape of our country was transformed.   We woke in a land that was unrecognizable.  To survive and move forward in this strange new reality, we must create new maps.  So together, we are connecting new dots, tracing out new contours.  We hope these lines will lead us towards a new horizon, toward a better future we can’t quite imagine or see.

                  Creating this new map must begin with making sense of what is means to be here, right now. Now that our initial disbelief is not longer tenable (this is really happening) and the moments of gripping fear momentarily subside (California will protect our undocumented families and launch its own damn satellites) and red hot rage stops coursing through our veins (cue videos of baby animals!!), there remains one emotion we can’t seem to shake.  It punches us in the gut when I scroll through new headlines or our Facebook feed.   It sits with us like a second skin.  It’s an inextricable part of our new national identity: shame.  For me, at this moment, it’s helpful to take a look at shame, what it means for me and how it shapes the our new topography.

                   If you want to learn about shame, ask an addict.  Shame is something addicts know very well.  The downward spiral of addiction looks something like this: craving, resisting, indulging, soaring high, crashing, forgetting, waking up, temples throbbing, mouth dry, stomach gurgling, regretting and a slow descent into the slough of shame. Rinse. Repeat.

                   In the aftermath of an addictive binge, we find ourselves groping around a dark room trying to discern the many sources of shame.  Our minds frantically dance around, picking up frayed wires and trying to figure out where all the loose ends might lead.  We scan the room for clues.  We check our cell phones frantically.  We try to read our partners body language. (“Did I get in a fight with my partner last night?  Do I have to admit that I secretly chugged vodka, because I was scared drinking 2 negronis wasn’t enough?  What will I feel ashamed for later? Am I an alcoholic?  What else don’t I remember? Fuck!)  Once the mania calms and the discomfort sets in, shame comes and for the next four years, it’s here to stay.

             I have been sober for 1 month now  (woo hoo! my first soberversary!), so all of my shame is still very close to the surface.  Experts in the world of addiction recovery say there is only one way to release yourself from the shackles of shame: you have to say a lot of shit out loud to a lot of people.  You have to connect to others, to find a deep source of humility and admit the things you said and did and in order to begin to release some of the built up pressure.

             This whole sobriety thing is new to me, so I am still learning how to talk about my shame.  My shame stories come out in unexpected ways.  Sometimes, I just blurt it all out in one go.  Other times, I dance around the truth until someone forces me to look at it.  For example, one of my soul sisters called me from the East Coast last Sunday.  It was 8:30am PST and began the conversation with my proud proclamation, “look at me girl!  I am now part of the not-hungover masses!  There are a lot of old people up at this hour!,” I blurted out as a quickly paced across Asilomar Beach.  I hadn’t spoken with her since I had admitted to all my loved ones that I am an alcoholic (read: previous blog post if you haven’t!).  I felt like I needed to say something, up front, that acknowledged this new part of my life.  Yet, it wasn’t until the end of our 97 minute conversation that I got up the courage to tell her about how I realized I was an alcoholic (read: sneaking vodka from my landlords cupboard and getting black-out drunk and screaming, crying and spewing out a bunch of disconnected thoughts about feminism, masculinity and Trump, and not remembering any of it).  She, like a wonderful soul sister does, immediately validated my experience, “You’re so brave.  I would never have the balls to steal vodka from my landlord.”  She laughed, inhaled and said, calmly and sincerely, “Thank you for telling me that.”     

               This was the perfect thing to say.  I knew she was not encouraging my behavior and she helped me feel like I wasn’t a piece of shit.  Because that was shame does to you.  It tells you that you are shit.  She thanked me for sharing that wound with her and made me feel like I was still worthy of love and friendship. 

                  Needless to say that all I wanted to do for the next hour was blurt out all my shameful secrets.  Instead, I walked across the beach feeling disoriented and slight stunned.  I kept putting one foot in front of the other and listening to the sound of the shore lapping on the beach.  My partner kept asking me questions, but I couldn’t compose a response or even speak in complete sentences.  Disconnected thoughts bounced around my brain.  My soul sister was so supportive, so why did I still feel so strange?    

             I’ll spend my life trying to understand shame.  Here is why I felt so light headed after my soul sister conversation and here what I know now: Shame grows from secrets.  The more secrets we keep from ourselves and others, the more shame we feel.  Over time, the secrets build up. Shame is heavy like lead. The weight of shame becomes familiar. 

           So, in my confession, a weight had started to lift. In it’s place, there is some emptiness.  Now I feel some disconnected, frenetic energy bouncing around in that space.  My high functioning addictive personality tries to fill emptiness quickly with goals, grants, aspirations and social events.  But now I am slowing down.  Stripping the bullshit away.  Letting that shit go. 

            I hope that this energy, this empty space gives me the courage I need to keep talking, writing, connecting, to continue drawing my own map in this land that is entirely unknown to me: the brave new world of sobriety and the disgusting, shameful world that is now lead by Donald Trump.   

                This feeling of emptiness and exposure, of not knowing where to put all our shame and not knowing what happens next, is something we all feel right now.  The threads that formed the fabric of our national identity have been torn apart and can’t be sewn back together. There is a part of me that believes that irreparable damage is a good thing.  It forces us to confront the simple truth: things are not OK.  I am not OK.  We are not OK.  We haven’t been for a really long fucking time.  Let’s pull the skeletons out of the closet, America. Let’s look around, at ourselves and our community.  Let’s start sifting through this rubble and come together in a more honest and truthful ways. 

             When the clock strikes midnight tonight and we say good bye to 2016, I hope to send some of my shame with it.  I hope that we have the courage to keep connecting, to move forward towards that line where the sky meets the sea.  To keep making our new map together.         

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As promised, many photos and videos of baby animals will be included in this blog.  Above is a photo of Gordon Gonzo Gizmo Gorgonzola (Gizmo or Gizzy for short).  We have had him for 3 whole glorious days.  Everyday is filled with puppy love and incessant puppy psychobabble.  I have referred to Gizzy as “moop bucket, cheese whiz, marsupial monkey pants” and a variety of other nonsensical nicknames aka gibberish, puppy psychobabble.  The only disappointing thing about Gizmo is that he seems to be nocturnal. Above he is featured with his favorite pink elephant.   

I can thank Donald Trump for one thing.

Donald Trump helped me realize I have a problem with alcohol.  Now, Donald Trump is helping me get sober. 

I have always liked to drink.  Over the years, I have acquired a love of all types of libations. The bitter, tingle of an IPA as it hits the back of your tongue, a dewy bottle of chilled white wine waiting in the fridge after stressful day at work, a bloody Mary made with all the fermented fixing.  I love the feeling of warmth that opens up in your chest after your third glass of Chardonnay,  the heady, irreverent buzz of taking a shot of tequila while sipping a Coors light or sitting next to your best friend, an open fire crackling on a sandy beach while sipping Bulleit bourbon straight from the bottle and feeling like a pair of untamable, feral women. 

For me, alcohol was everything.  It was relaxation, stress relief, fun, sophistication, adventure and a centerpiece of all social events.   

While I have always enjoyed drinking, alcohol took on a new meaning in my life after I turned 30. My thirties have been filled with anxiety and excitement.  The endless photos of marriages, babies and houses purchased that cling to my psyche after I close the Facebook window, the uncomfortable pang of wanting a child so bad I can feel it in bones (it hits me at the strangest times!), the realization that I am not wealthy and I can’t afford to build a life in Central California, a skyrocketing career doing work I really care about, the discomfort a being a young woman in a board room full of old, white men, the election of a fascist, misogynistic, pig head and the spiral into darkness: these are the things that have made turning 30 so amazing and so utterly, disorienting.  These are also the reasons I started drinking—a lot. 

Alan Carr makes an analogy about drinking that I find very useful.   He says that drinking is like the sipping the nectar from a “pitcher plant,” a flower that slowly lures insects toward their death with a sweet,sugary juice.  The insect lands on the plant and starts drinking.  At first, the nectar is delicious, intoxicating.   Slowly, the insect starts to slip.  The downward slope is so gradual that the insect doesn’t notice.  It just keeps drinking the nectar, oblivious.  Eventually, the insect slips too far down, it can no longer escape.  It looks around and sees it’s surrounded by death, empty exoskeletons of ants, flies and other insects suspended, weightless in the heavy syrup.  By the time the insect realizes its in trouble, everything around it is dead.

As I struggle to make sense of my relationship with alcohol (am I an alcoholic? can I even drink? why do I feel so out of control? what the fuck did I say last night?), Alan Carr’s theory of alcoholism has been helpful.  He and many other believe that there is no such thing as an “alcoholic,” a word that is both scary and stigmatizing.  There isn’t an invisible line that divides people who drink into two distinct categories: causal drinkers and alcoholics.  Rather, he believes that everyone who drinks is sitting on the edge of the pitcher plant slowly moving downward towards addiction and “alcoholism.”  Some of us, those with a genetic disposition and exposure to certain environmental factors, will slip more quickly—much more quickly—toward the point of no return.  Some people never get there.  Yet, at it’s core, alcohol is an addictive, destructive substance that ultimately leads to death.

In retrospect, with clear, sober vision, I realize that I had been slipping quickly for the past two years.  And on November 10, 2016, after Donald Trump became the President-Elect of the United States, things got bad—really, really, really bad.  For me and for just about everything I care about.  I got really angry, really drunk,  many times and hurt some people I care about.

So, Donald Trump showed me I need to get sober to keep up the fight that will be the next 4 years and to keep everything I love in my life.   And that’s what this blog is all about, the battle of sobriety and stickin’ it to Donald Trump. Thanks for joining me on this journey!

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This is a photo of my post TRUMP matic stress relief: a new puppy.  His name for now is “chub chub.”  He will arriving shortly after Xmas.  Baby animals will definitely be my #1 source of strength as I get sober and fight fascism.