Tuesday, October 27

It's only castles burning.

It's been a rough year.

Three people I've known within two comedy communities have lost their lives in the past year. The discovery of each loss was tremendously hard to face, mostly because the information was first made available to me by the use of Facebook in all three circumstances. Vague, ambiguous posts started multiplying throughout my newsfeed. It became clear something was wrong, even though I wasn't sure how the unfolding of information would affect me. But then I saw a name. A permanent, unforgettable name. That hurt, that pit in your stomach that grows with the confrontation of reality is incredibly painful. Sharing the art of comedy means having hundreds, if not thousands of connections across the country. And in all three deaths, family, friends, and comedians crawled out of the mourning woodwork to pay their respects and to try to make sense of the tragedies that took place.

Three people who shared the love of comedy are gone, but the best the remainder of us can do is laugh. I assumed hosting the showcase at the Blue Moon last night was going to be difficult. For eight hours before the show, I paced back and forth trying to find the right words. Not addressing the situation felt wrong, and over-addressing the situation felt equally uncomfortable. I cried on and off yesterday, one causing me to start over on my make up and another was triggered by voluntarily watching the movie 28 Days. I was pretty close to saying "fuck it" but I decided on trying to give off at least some impression my appearance mattered and blinked heavily through a mascara application.

I had to skip through a few too many uncomfortable songs while driving to the venue. I sat in my car beforehand to gather my thoughts. How do I say something poignant to a room full of people who lost someone so dear to them? Rehearsing my possible choices of words felt like an act, like the ill-prepared toast was a bit on its own. In the end, I did eight minutes of jokes that were warmly received by those who gathered to remember Meredith and her love of comedy we all share. Comedy is what tied us all together. We were in that room not only to mourn the loss, but because Meredith provided that exact space to a ton of blubbering people who were extremely grateful for her time on earth. We shared pizza, laughter, and in some cases, alcohol. I arrived home at the end of the evening feeling a sense of peace, but I knew that the pain and suffering others were experiencing was far from over.

Depression is a cruel, cruel villain. I've always struggled answering honestly when a doctor or nurse gives me that piece of paper that rates my mental health, often on a scale of 0 to 5. How many days do you have trouble paying attention? How many days to you find yourself having difficulty accomplishing normal tasks? How many days of the week are you struggling to sleep? Are you sleeping too much? Are you contemplating how to end your life? How many days do you think that you would be better off dead?

During the deepest parts of my depression, those answers have been difficult to circle. Most were quickly circled 4's all the way down the front and back of the page and then forgotten about. But the suicide question always baffled me. While I have never outright thought of ending my life, I have made peace with the aspect that at one point or another, none of this is going to matter. The idea of death was comforting, just to know I didn't have to face ridicule about sleeping too much, drinking too much, being an extremely inactive person, and having a poor diet that could definitely use improvement. I also didn't want to alarm anyone. I am simply comforted by the fact that at some point, none of this will matter. But that didn't seem to equate by circling a 0 or a 1 under these loaded questions at a dermatology appointment.

Never have I made plans to kill myself. I didn't orchestrate an elaborate plan. I didn't turn to internet forums which discussed the action in length. But there were times I just wanted to relax, and being awake didn't allow me to relax. May and June of this year were the two months of my life where executing the most simple of tasks became unsettlingly difficult. There were times where I woke up and would immediately start crying. There were times where the energy to walk out to my car desperately eluded me. There were times where I would wake up at 3:30 in the afternoon and think, "Nope. Not yet." I slept all the time. My rumination, while still incredibly active, was full steam ahead into every instance of anxiety I've ever experienced. Taking care of myself became a mountain climb of a chore. I talked slower. I could hear myself speaking so slowly, wondering if others noticed. Others did notice. Each time I went outside and exposed myself to the elements, I would wince at the atmosphere, almost as if I was hungover. Eating became a challenge. Some nights I went without dinner because I didn't have the energy to go down the stairs and back up. I watched the entire series of Law and Order: SVU over a span of five weeks. I'm pretty sure I reached the end of Reddit on more than one occasion. I couldn't do anything. How was this living? I was basically dead with a pulse, a coma I only awoke from when I had the energy.

And those are the days where I lied in bed just wanting nothing. What used to be my coping mechanism of drinking too much and not having any regard to any other human life slowly creeped into a habit of sleeping all the time, an escape. I no longer think I sleep too much, but I definitely have a Circadian rhythm that is not conducive to a 9 to 5 schedule. I've come to accept this, that my depression and/or my physiology is not largely recognized by the production cogs of what we sometimes struggle to recognize as "society."

For the last six months I've gone through a lot of different kinds of medication management. Dosages increased, decreased, cut in half, tapered, increased, stabilized. May and June were so emotionally catastrophic based on a variety of external factors, but it was mostly because of a change in my medication that I reacted to very poorly. While my depression fell somewhat to the wayside, my anxiety and rumination habits became rampant. Everything became worst case scenario. Driving became a challenge because every other driver on the road either became a "dipshit" or a "fuckhead" depending on the time of day. I had my energy back, but at the cost of emotional volatility.

Each day, I begin an endless search for balance. Some days I find it in AA. Other days I find it in a joke I haven't told in a long time, or within a conversation before bed. But the search for balance is exhausting, often times painful. Normality is a myth. There are seven billion people on this rock flying through space, and somehow Western society/old white men decided that we all needed to have the same brain chemistry and mental health. But it isn't that simple. There is a huge stigma against mental illness, which lies in the fact that many of us are different. "Different" implies something is wrong or negative with us. We are broken and need to be returned to the factory instead of being given sustainable maintenance.

I get it: the feeling you can't go on, the isolation, the physical and emotional pain that you just need a break from. In some cases, the ultimate solution is unavoidable. In the mean time, we can pay it forward. Someone last night said to me, "I know Meredith is gone, but I'm going to keep doing what she did and be the best person I can be." Tell people you love them. Hug them. We never know who is suffering underneath a seemingly composed surface. There are times where someone has told me "everything is going to be okay," and at that moment, those words were exactly what I needed to hear.

Please be good to one another.

Monday, October 12

There was an Apathetics Anonymous meeting last night but no one cared to show up.

I finally got a sponsor.

For the last seven or so months, every healthcare or chemical dependency professional (wording that way makes it sound like a professional drunk) has told me three things: go to meetings, work the program, and get a sponsor. I accomplished the first two things. Since I've been sober, the longest time I went without a meeting was nine days, and I've done the steps in increments and mostly out of order. I've made amends with the appropriate people unless it will cause harm to myself or others, admitted to myself daily that my life had become unmanageable while simultaneously being powerless over alcohol, and did a ruthless inventory of my faults and character defects. But it didn't seem like enough.

I've been extremely resistant to getting a sponsor. I heard horror stories about how sponsors were too involved in their sponsee's life, that I wouldn't be allowed to have a life outside of the program, that they were going to make me pray against my atheist will. I also resisted because getting a sponsor meant one more person to explain my past to, one more person to list the onslaught of negative events in my life and why they drove me to drink, one more person to report to. Before I was discharged from inpatient, I became extremely overwhelmed at what my counselors were expecting from me: go to two meetings a week, go to outpatient two days a week, find a therapist, find a psychiatrist, find sober friends, and find a sponsor.

That list seemed incredibly lengthy to me. It's taken me months to discover the right people and to figure out who exactly is covered under my horseshit health insurance. It's exhausting. I feel like I need to print out a resume of the last 11 years of my life and hand it to any professional I'm meeting for the first time. Here are the years of my life that were shitty. 2011 wasn't so bad. 2013 was awful for too many reasons, and 2004 was the worst. I started drinking here, here, and here, and I ate too much acid here and thought I was invincible here and here. Now I'm here. Now I'm here.

Picking a sponsor isn't the easiest task. You need to pick someone of your own gender because AA frowns upon the interminglings of those whose genitals don't match up. I went to a few different meetings in Minneapolis, mostly just to attend a meeting and not to find a sponsor, but there were many women with whom I felt an extreme disconnect, and overall didn't feel comfortable asking them to become an important role in my life. They may have had a very, very Catholic higher power, a backstory which I didn't identify with or maybe identified with too much, a view of the world which I had trouble processing, or that they were three times my age. Sponsors have also been known to tell you that you can't have friends who drink, and that you need to distance yourself from those who dabble with alcohol. I didn't want someone to tell me I had to dump all of my friends and find new ones, that seemed ridiculous and unrealistic. Overall, I didn't come across anyone comfortable I felt comfortable sharing my alcoholic resume with. So I went to my two meetings a week, savored sober alliances, and dinked around on r/stopdrinking when meetings were no longer in session for the day or until the bars were closed.

Until last Tuesday at my homegroup.

My sponsor shared that she's been battling depression, that she's been struggling to fully remove the comforter in the morning and greet the day. She was clearly struggling on an emotional level, and I connected with her before even speaking with her because I identified with so many issues she was sharing with a small group of drunks. At eight years sober, she was still struggling. I'm almost at eight months, and even though I'm still struggling, her experience signified that sobriety isn't easy: it sucks. It sucks, but there are things we can do to find a way through life that isn't painful or filled with alcohol. There have been times where I've collapsed on the floor, wishing there was "an easier, softer way." While my cravings have been minimal, I felt as if I needed to speak with someone who understood my struggles with not only alcoholism but depression, so I approached her after the meeting.

We traded numbers and I gave her the usual crash course of my birthday, why I'm back in Seattle (which has become my least favorite question to answer because there are too many answers), and a short explanation of why I didn't get a sponsor for the first eight months of my sobriety. Yesterday we met for coffee and I was able to explain my life in detail and why I live the life I do today: my life was out of control, which meant I, myself, was out of control. She has given me homework of really doing some soul-searching of why I have so many negative concepts of god. I have some very stark opinion on religion that I don't push on people because I expect them not to push their religious beliefs on me, like the one time I was sent to the drunk tank at age 19 and had a neighbor leave a bible on my doorstep the next day. If asked, I will explain honestly. But I consider myself a pacifist atheist, meaning I'm not going to be militant about something I don't believe to exist. So far, I am not praying. I am simply waking up and saying "please," and when I go to bed, I say "thank you."

There has only been one significant time in my life where I really felt like I was praying without the intention of doing so. An ex-boyfriend didn't come home one night. It turns out his legal trouble had caught up to him, unbeknownst to me, and I expected him home at a particular time. An hour and a half later, when I received no texts or smoke signals, I checked the Hennepin County inmate roster just to clear my mind. And sure enough, First Middle and Last Name popped up on the website I was certain from which he'd be absent. With my cat in my lap, I cried and repeated "please..." over and over. To whom, I'm not sure. I was in a state of true helplessness. Today, I consider praying to be "well wishing with a religious back." I explained this particular instance of spirituality to my sponsor, in addition to why I have been adverse to various components of religion, thus the morning "please" and evening "thank you."

Once we hashed out my religious skepticism, we discussed my meetings and why I've been only going to two meetings a week. Like I said earlier, having a heavy aftercare plan in regards to rehab was a little daunting. My counselors agreed two meetings a week would be sufficient as long as I was attending outpatient and seeking professional help. She has instructed me to go to five meetings a week instead of two. Initially, I was extremely put off by this, as I was hesitant about making my entire life about the program. What about comedy? What about family? Love? Friends? I'M NOT GOING TO HAVE ANY TIME TO DO ANYTHING ELSE! I thought to myself. I'M GOING TO HAVE TO QUIT COMEDY. I CAN'T SPEND TIME WITH MY FAMILY OR GO ON REDDIT AS MUCH AS I WANT TO. WHAT ABOUT DOING THINGS I ENJOY FOR FUCKS SAKE!? Obviously sobriety should be my top priority, but I have exhibited no intention of abandoning my meetings or leaving my 6 month chip at home instead of taking it with me wherever I go. I didn't like that she was going to increase my meetings after I had made significant progress with only two. But I tried it out, and in the last week, I went to five meetings. I enjoyed all of them, some go more off the rails than others, and I officially found a women's meeting, something I've been searching for ever since I uprooted myself from Minneapolis. In the last week, I've attended five meetings, yet I've still found the time to take myself to a movie, make important phone calls, hang out with family, listen to those who need it, go do a heinously disorganized one-nighter in Walla Walla, watch the Seahawks game, and express my feelings in more than one way. And yet I'm still here, and I'm still sober.

Something I have a habit of is always assuming things are going to take longer than the actual duration of said event. AA meetings are usually no more than 90 minutes. Five meetings a week means committing roughly 7 hours a week to AA, maybe more depending on phone calls and meetings with my sponsor. Some people work more than 7 hours in one day. Once I am able to whittle things down to a tangible number, I am able to make more sense of the time I'll need to set aside to complete certain tasks. This phenomenon is also why I am never late to anything. I leave an hour early when the drive will take roughly 30 minutes. I always need to be at the airport 90 minutes before a flight, sometimes 2 hours on days where the entire nation felt the need to accompany grandma for a particular holiday. If there's going to be traffic, I will reschedule my scheduled event for another time where I won't have to sit and swear in it. I think, in some ways, I do this to not draw attention to myself and because I don't want to apologize for something that was under my control. Some people are just late, and that's fine. I don't hold it against them. And then there's late like "comedy late," where the start of the show is posted as 8pm when actually it's more like 8:30pm. I kind of went off the recommended path of this trail here, but at the end of the day, I need to commit just 90 minutes of my day to my sobriety while still having "days off."

A lot of people have asked me if AA helps, either because they saw this blog or because I've been rather public about my recovery. I'm still sober, so there is no proof that it doesn't work. I followed the explicit directions of my inpatient and outpatient counselors while also setting limitations for myself so that I can still do the things I want to do, like scream-cry over how badly yesterday's hot garbage fire of a football game ended. In early recovery, I was hesitant to go to AA because I associated it as a form of punishment. An idiot friend in high school turned me in for under age drinking. After a chemical assessment, I was labeled as a "severe alcoholic" at 16 and sent to outpatient and AA. I wasn't ready to be sober. I hadn't even started at Evergreen and that's where I majored in Alcohol and minored in Hallucinogens. So of course, I didn't stay sober and was discharged early. I am now in a place in my life where I need to stay sober. My life and sometimes, the lives of others depend on this.

On Wednesday, I will be eight months sober. I have spent two-thirds of the last year sober. This is the longest time I've been sober in 11 years. I wonder what I could have been capable of if I had sought help earlier. I probably could have been unstoppable. But I can't change the past, something I have never been able to accept. But sobriety is about progress and not perfection. Eight months means progress, and even if I have to take it one day at a time, I can strive to be undefeated.

Thursday, October 1

I'll be your emergency contact if you'll be my ride or die.

I finally figured out how to describe that stupid "falling in love" feeling that we experience at one point or another in life:

You're wearing socks. Nothing out of the ordinary, maybe you even wore them yesterday. And maybe the day before that. You're brushing your teeth, staring into the mirror while foaming at the mouth. Your cell phone rings from downstairs. You can't let the mystery caller hear your terrible voicemail you've procrastinated to change, so you run to answer it. You make it down three stairs when the arch of your foot hits the edge with too much of your own force behind it. Your foot shoots down to the next stair, and while it lands safely under your weight, your spine shivers behind your wavering stomach, which now seems to be located in your ribcage. That wavering, the sense of panic, that "woof, that could have ended badly" feeling: that's it.

I'm not sure why I liken the love feeling to the sensation of inclement fear, probably because love is scary. If Donnie Darko has taught us anything, it's that the only existing feelings are love and fear and that Noah Wyle's career clearly depended on the success of ER. So why does that upside down feeling cling to the bones which make up my chest cavity when I relive memories where I felt infinite?

Another way to describe the stupid love feeling: you're on your way to the airport. You're running through the mental list of things you did bring and suddenly you remember something you were supposed to bring. Of course, the pink disposable razor from Target can easily be replaced by another razor that has at max two sessions. It's that feeling you left something behind, that you aren't complete, that you can't navigate life without it.

Love is one of those feelings you can't avoid: it just happens to you, often times without specifically searching for it. You can technically avoid it by drinking alcohol every day and shutting yourself in your room while having minimal contact with those who really care about you, but that process isn't ideal. You aren't hacking your way through a sweaty jungle with a machete and a guide who doesn't speak your language in search of the emotion that drives people to ambiguous Facebook posts, texts you wish you could take back, irrational and spontaneous decisions, and in severe cases, standing outside of someone's window with a boombox over your head. Love is difficult to stifle, so why do we try to harbor the raw sensations of compassion, lust, and respect?

I can only speak for myself, but my reservations about shouting a name from the summit of a Swiss mountaintop spawned as a specific series of unfortunate events. Lemmony Snicket doesn't know shit when it comes to my 2004 and it would definitely make a horrible movie. Experiences shape us while instilling a sense of fight or flight for when similar circumstances manifest in the future. This is going to be a poor example, but it's the best I've got right now: remember when you got food poisoning from the first time you ever ate a torta from that sketchy taco truck parked behind a Dress Barn in Kearney, Nebraska? Obviously you're going to cautiously approach your next torta with a Plan B consisting of a quesadilla or maybe just chips and mild salsa. As I excited leave this stupid Mexican food metaphor behind, it's no wonder that when an experience leaves us feeling abandoned, rejected, alone, or isolated, we harbor the memory for when we encounter a similar situation in the future.

Over the last ten years, I have approached most situations with a PROCEED WITH CRIPPLING CAUTION AND EXPECT TO GET HURT EVERY TIME YOU LEAVE THE HOUSE attitude. Although this mind frame has been unconditionally exhausting, I think it has saved me from feeling vulnerable. But do I really need saving from vulnerability? Why can't I feel vulnerable without simultaneously feeling weak?

Entrusting someone else with one of the most powerful feelings is scary. I word-vomited big time because I binge feel, and I can't shove my carefully chosen words back into my facehole. They are out there, plump and yearning to stain the carpet. I've felt incredibly vulnerable in both the past and the present because I have opened myself to people who could potentially deny me of emotional reciprocation, or that the sense of love is to be met with warm eyes and hands. Once that card gets revoked more than once, you begin to think it's you. Every time I've been left in an unfavorable situation, I always wonder if it has something to do with me. Is it my fault they don't feel the same way? Could I have been more available? More receptive? More compassionate? It's a bad habit I've developed over the last few years. I can step back from a break up or a separation and know it's not me, but why do I still blame myself? It's because of that first torta and I can't learn from my mistakes.

Currently I'm in this limbo of how I feel versus and the words I choose to describe those same feelings. There are feelings of regret, caution, and safety, all of which are nagging at me in the form of anxiety. You went through this already! Don't you remember what happened last time? Don't you remember how bad you felt and how long it took you to recover? Are you going to put yourself in that same position again?


Love is the "restore factory settings" over all of your other emotions that should matter but they don't. Perhaps the idea of hope makes you do stupid things, like the boombox scenario or not learning from your Nebraskan torta dry heave. It could be our biological drive, or the extreme sense of connection to another human being who makes you feel complete, and that if you lost that person, your purpose in life is withering.

Yesterday I was crying on the floor in my room when my five-year-old nephew came in and found me. He sat on the floor with me and put a hand on my back. "Auntie, sometimes you just need to be sad but it's okay. You just need to start over." I was pretty floored by the compassion that oozed from this banana-scented tiny person. "Starting over" meant giving up the hope that was fueling the swoony text messages, ideas for future plans, selfies. "Starting over" meant learning how to trust someone new all over again. "Starting over" meant putting myself on lockdown until I need to fear someone else will take the rug out from under me.

So where does this leave me? Starting over and forcing said hope down into the abyss where my drinking problem is located would mean giving up on how I really feel. In short, I've placed myself in a vulnerable situation because of the feelings I cannot ignore. I'm continually nauseated from slipping down the stairs in my socks, and I'm scared to go barefoot. Going barefoot would mean starting over, and I really like the chances I'm taking when I wear socks. Holy shit I am also really disappointed in the metaphors I've chosen to use throughout this post.