Friday, June 3

The Summer of Liz

I officially reentered the workforce.

I've been deathly afraid of going back to work after I got sober. There were too many variables of which I was afraid would make me relapse. My last job in Minneapolis was a nightmare for a few different reasons, and drinking almost every day didn't help me be an honest, responsible, accountable employee. A horribly mismanaged startup company, the place I was working hired me for one thing and I ended up doing three other completely different things. My writing and editing skills, social media proficiency, and typing speed were the initial traits they sought after. But the lack of communication, not being trained sufficiently in my new roles, and having my job title go from "Head of Creative" to "Utility Assistant" in mere weeks drove me straight to the liquor store every day after work. Whenever someone asked me what I did for work, I shrugged because I couldn't explain it in a way that made sense. What exactly did I do besides be hungover and unhappy?

I quit my job after I got hurt, on Day 2 of sobriety. Up until then, I was slowly getting laid off after my job informed me with the weird little sentence, "We don't have any more work for you to do." My hours went from 40 to 32 to 30 to 25 over the course of a few weeks, and I was allowed to work from home. Being employed while consistently living in sweatpants became the tipping point for my alcoholism. I had no one to keep me accountable, I didn't have to show up on time, I could do my work later at night after I had been been drinking (when I thought I had a more "active mind" is what I told myself), and I didn't have to report to anyone who would be able to tell I had yet again drank myself into oblivion with Coors Light and bootleg hot toddies made on stove. This swan song into addiction was the beginning of the end, throwing up so I could drink more, rearranging my entire life to support my alcoholism, being completely unaware I was also addicted to Ambien, and eating sunflower seeds for dinner. Battered and bruised, I sent an email with the ambiguous explanation of, "my professional relationship with this business must come to a close."

The idea of returning to work scared the fuck out of me. I was afraid I would relapse under stress, cave into the disease, always dormant yet lurking, and go further down than I had before. If I knew if I relapsed, I would die. I've lived with my mom and step-dad for almost a year now. The 14 month draught of employment gave me time to focus on comedy and recovery, but I still felt like a failure day in and day out. I was 28 and living at home with my parents. Shouldn't I be bombarding Facebook with pictures of my engagement or the new house I bought or the kid I adopted from a country whose alphabet is different than our own? 

Facebook has completely altered my perception of success because I can see what everyone I know is doing in real time. At all hours of the day. Yesterday. Now. I am very, very guilty of comparing myself to others, whether it's in sobriety, comedy, or just life. But something poignant I heard in a meeting recently was a very simple idea: it's not a race. For the majority of my life, achieving anything less than first place was automatically a failure. That stupid Ricky Bobby credo "if you're not first, you're last" actually resonated with me. I didn't want to be left behind, forgotten, or criticized for not being the overall winner. I'm insanely competitive because I don't want to be judged for not being first or the best. Some people are further along in their step work than I am. Some people are featuring at clubs when I'm not even hosting. Some people are purchasing their first home with their blossoming, pregnant wife. But it's not a race. I'm not exactly in a hurry to be responsible for another human, anyway. 

The offices of the Washington State Democrats is in downtown Seattle near Pioneer Square. I bought an ORCA card to make use of our slowly growing public transportation system. For whatever reason, it felt like I was really an adult. It was the sort of excitement you get from getting your library card when you're a kid. WHAT. This card gets me books...for free?! ANY BOOK THAT I WANT!? Similar to that experience, I was excited to know that I could get all over the city and not have to swear at anyone from behind the wheel. Instead, I got to stay quiet and look at my phone while homeless people yelled racial epithets at no one in particular. 

The data entry I was hired to do was pretty simple. The March 26 caucus for the state of Washington generated a number of ballots (I'm calling them ballots because "caucus sign-in sheets" sounds ridiculous and lengthy) from each legislative district. Because we still use a paper voting process, a small number of people were brought in to record voter information electronically. This information included their preferred candidate, an address change if necessary, and how they would ethnically describe themselves, which varied anywhere from "white :(" to "honky." Updating the information took no time at all, usually a minute per ballot if we're working at top speed and not getting distracted by Seinfeld opened in another tab of Chrome. The work was based purely on muscle memory and deciphering handwriting. Most importantly, I could leave my job at my job. I didn't have to take it home with me or bitch about it. When I was done, I was done. And then I would get on my bus home and get called a "cracker ass white girl" somewhere between Pioneer Square and SODO. 

I was scared of returning to the workforce because of my schedule and my extra-curricular activities. I was ashamed of my sobriety and I didn't want people to think I was a liability for working a program or that other things would take precedent over my work schedule. I wasn't available evenings, which meant getting up earlier than I normally would have for a nine hour day of swiping ballots with a highlighter. Work was easy. What was I afraid of? Potentially my fear grew from my experience at my last job. I was usually crying in the bathroom by 2pm. I quit going out to open mics or signing up for shows because I was too stressed and tired. Some people are surprised to learn I took a hiatus from comedy before I even got sober. But that's the whole point of this: I'm sober.  I can do this because I'm sober and I don't have to hide my drinking from my employer. 

If I say I'm going to do something, I do it...unless I genuinely forget and not intentionally push it to the ether of a drunken stupor. I've picked up people at the airport before noon. I went above and beyond what was asked of me. I have the restored confidence to follow through and not be ashamed I didn't. Getting and staying sober is the hardest thing I've ever done. Don't let anyone tell you it's easy, and if they are, they're living a lie. Or 20. 

Fear is the catalyst behind most of my decisions, whether or not it's the concept of returning to work, moving across the country, or staying unhappy because I'm afraid of change. I met with my therapist recently and I was discussing the idea of not just having a "fight or flight" instinct, but a freeze instinct. When threatened, I become a tepid, trembling deer, pausing in the middle of traffic with no indication of which way to run. My reaction time escapes me all together and I become dumbfounded and weak. The only thing I can do in that very instance is try to find a word for how I'm feeling, and it's usually when a severe emotion is present: fear, anger, loneliness, defeat, hurt. It will take a few hours for me to process what exactly I was feeling in that moment, and then I react. I have trouble reacting and feeling at the same time, something I've discovered about myself in the last few months. Then I start to obsess over the reaction I could have had in the moment where I really did want to say something. These obsessions have lasted years. Some days, I'll be at Starbucks or I'll be driving or I'm putting on make up and all of a sudden, I'll just say aloud what I would have liked to have said in those instances. My anger has always been thick, and sometimes it makes itself visible when I'm thinking of things in the past. I'll be conditioning my stupid brittle hair in the shower, and all of a sudden, a harsh, having-the-last-word insult will hurdle out of my mouth and echo off the porcelain tile. I can either feel or react, but not at the same time. 

I want so badly to change the past and I have an infinitely hard time accepting I cannot. I'm a student of science and logic, and so far I've learned this isn't possible (yet). I would change the past for everyone, if I could. I know I cannot bend time and space, which is hard for me to accept, even though I know it's not possible. Little sayings come up every now and again in AA that remind us to focus on the present, and remember what we were like and what we are like now. So why am I so combative against the now while I long for the past? Why can't I accept the things I cannot change, even though I really do try. This post may appear as though I'm going into crisis mode when really I'm trying to take an analytical look at my reactions and emotions. My neurosis or diagnonsense manifest in these posts, which is sort of the point. I get to do something I'm good at while taking a retrospective look on all the times that have troubled me, many of which left me feeling emotionally threatened.

The sense of accomplishment is a rare feeling for me. I was driving the other day when I realized I have more sad memories than happy ones. I know, I'm Eeyore. When I look at my past, my memories are a melange of excruciating embarrassment, occasions when I should have spoken up, occasions when speaking up was the wrong thing to do. I'm very uncomfortable with myself the majority of the time, very hyper aware and sensitive. Women are stereotyped as being sensitive, but what if a woman is, like, really sensitive? I'm such a nervous child, constantly thinking about who is looking at me and if my imperfections are that of a speck or a Trinity type blast. Getting sober is the best thing I've ever done, and getting sober is the worst thing I've ever done. This is when those little AA nuggets of wisdom appear: progress, not perfection. I need to find my zen because a Liz divided against itself cannot stand.

And yes, I'm very aware I've been likening myself to George Costanza for this entire post.