Before and happily ever after

Oh hi, here’s me!

There’s this non-profit I like, Big Vision NYC, and they’re doing great stuff in the substance abuse space. They asked me to share a bit of my own story, and a “before and after picture”, for their social media pages. My first thought was “Aw, shucks, y’all!” and my next thought was “I don’t want people to see drunk pictures of me” and then my chest started to feel a little smooshed under the weight of feels, so I took a minute to think. When my chest feels crushed, there’s usually some truth hiding beneath the surface, asking for a way out. So I started digging.

I started looking through old photos. I lost my phone a million times in my 20s, so the photos I still have are the ones I chose to share on Instagram. I took a trip back in time, seeing a photo and remembering the story. There’s me, drinking white wine at a wedding, but there is no photo of the cut on my nose that I got when I tripped, blackout drunk, onto my face later in the night. There’s the photo of me looking skinny and blonde in NYC, sipping a cocktail on my birthday. There aren’t photos of me fighting and crying with my ex, again in a state of drunken confusion to the point where I was scared of how confused I was. There were also a lot of happy photos, because I was happy. As my drinking got worse, I still felt happy sometimes. I just felt anxious and scared more of the time. I realized a few things looking at these old photos:

You can’t tell from someone’s social media posts whether or not they have a substance abuse problem. Not that it’s your business, but it does create a false reality in your mind. If you’re struggling, and don’t see anyone around you struggling, that loneliness can make the idea of quitting even harder. But believe me: they’re out there. We’re out there. Our pictures might not tell the whole story though.

2. I didn’t realize how happy I could be. Back then, I would have told you that I was fine. I wished that I didn’t get so drunk, but otherwise, fine. Then the drinking was not fine, and it had to go. And then things were hard, and I doubted that this quitting was even a good idea. Until it was more than fine. Until I was able to do so much more, and feel so much healthier, and wake up feeling like I was 100 percent high on some clean drug that turned out to just be how you can feel when you stop drinking. Who knew? Not me.

3. Sobriety looks different for everyone. Honestly. You get to take your true self, and find out what it needs to be happy and at peace and then you just get to do it. It’s nuts. So if my pictures look different than yours, that’s good! That means you’re doing things in a way that feels genuine for you. I’m always working towards that, and away from that desire to compare myself to others. It’s such constant work for me.

I found a picture from my 30th birthday. I’m sitting on the floor, with my dog, drinking champagne from the bottle. It wasn’t a tragic night, and nothing awful happened. But looking back on it, I see a girl who is letting life happen to her. She doesn’t even know how good it could be. She doesn’t know that she can say no to the bullshit that she’s letting in. Then I saw an “after” picture is me, 4 years later, and I can see the peace in my eyes. Other people may not be able to, which is why this feels important to write about, chest-crushing feeling or not.

One final thought: If sobriety is a new idea that you’re throwing around, I suggest jumping in and finding out what speaks to you. It might be before and after pictures, it might be stories, or memoirs. Or scientific studies, or AA, or something cool like emailing me and asking me a zillion questions. No shame, just you letting yourself get what you need to start a new chapter. For me, it’s the best part of my story yet.

Boo! A story about ghosts.

ghost

ɡōst/

noun

  1. an apparition of a dead person that is believed to appear or become manifest to the living, typically as a nebulous image.

There’s been a ghost in my house, y’all. A “nebulous image” that’s been chasing me like a shadow. Let me tell you a story.

In the last year and a half, I have tried to deal with a bunch of change and grief in so many fun ways, most of which I’ve mentioned here already: running from it (figuratively and literally), drinking too much, dieting too much, dating too much and generally pretending that everything was ok when it wasn’t. Like, here is a hole…I will fill it with all of the things except more me. 

I reached a point of exhaustion with it all the other day, and something amazing happened. All of the too much-ness washed over me like a wave, and I felt like I had been knocked down. When I got up, I was alone on a shore of sorts (ok, it was my sister’s bed in Chicago), feeling dehydrated and sore, and could clearly see that I was holding onto a ghost in my mind. The ghost wasn’t just the past relationship. It was my old house and my old job. It was old habits. It was good things and bad things that had made up a home. I had spent the last 18 months trying to pretend that the ghost didn’t matter, until it all mattered too much to move. It was time to let the ghost go. It was dead. I couldn’t breathe anymore life into it. I suddenly felt like I had been sad enough.  I had cried and screamed enough. I had wondered “what if I had…” exactly enough. After wringing all that sadness out, I was left with a choice, as I saw it: I could let go and move, or cling and stay.

In the last 18 months, I’ve learned so much as I’ve stripped away the things that I no longer needed and added on new layers that were completely my own. In the end, it was me and the ghost on the shore. I forgave it enough, but I didn’t fall down at it’s feet. I looked it in the eyes and said goodbye. Now I’m walking away. It’s the most grateful I’ve been for a revelation in almost exactly 18 months.

Sometimes walking away is coming home.

xo

 

Big coat+ big hair, don’t care.

Let me tell you a short story about big hair and big coats.

The other day I busted out the blow dryer, which I hadn’t done since I chopped my hair off. I blow dried my hair with the sole purpose of seeing how large I could make it. VERY LARGE, as it turns out.  And yes, I have free time that I spend very unproductively.  Now, this hair was not beautiful. Not something where I thought, Yes. This how we get the boys. More like Wowmy hair is so big and hilarious. I had a similar moment with an over-sized pea coat I recently picked up at a little shop called “Hall Closet, Parent’s House”. It does nothing for my form. It hugs nothing. It flatters nothing. It is so warm, and it makes me feel like Dana Scully from The X-Files, which is a good thing to me. Now, this might not seem like a big deal. I have enormous hair and a weird coat. Cool. BUT the point is that these weird things make me happy, and they’re not there to impress anyone. Nobody cares but me. That is something I have learned to embrace, after years of caring too much about what others think. Hell, I currently care too much about what others think, which is why unexpected joy about crazy hair and clothing is a tiny celebration.

I cannot tell you the number of times that I’ve walked into a room and wanted to melt into the floor boards. In these instances of melting with insecurity, I’d like to think that I was just gathering steam. Gathering steam, gearing up for day when I would walk to the coffee shop in my giant coat, and Conan O’Brien like hair, and feel super fantastic about myself, and then head back home. That kind of happiness, however infrequent, is my favorite thing about right now, and it just wouldn’t be as special to me if I was pretending that today was the first day of my life. That past stuff is mine, and to dismiss it seems like a really bitchy friend move to my past self.

Why does stuff that has happened to us matter anyway? Why not just start over and say “That was last year, NEW YEAR NEW ME I LITERALLY CANNOT REMEMBER ANYTHING THAT HAPPENED BEFORE TODAY LALALALAAAAA”.  I have tried this before, and for me personally, it does not work out. I have to respect myself, and that means acknowledging that I am all of my parts. All of my days. Even if I don’t remember them all clearly, they happened. I was me during them. Now I’m here, always. I’m carrying my past with me, not as a burden, but as a base. I can stand on all of the yesterdays. If I went through something hard, and I learned anything, I have that to prop myself up. If I made a choice that I regret, I have that. It’s here, so I might as well stand on it instead of letting it sit on top of me. It’s very hard to move that way. I don’t need to make things harder than they are.

I have no idea what you should do next, and I will never try to tell you that I do. If you’re like “what should I have for dessert” or “should I text this girl”, I will totally offer you advice. But, for the big stuff, the “seriously, what do I do next”, I think there are answers inside of our yesterday and today and plans that fell through and mistakes. I think that, when I listen to myself, and recognize a small shift, like giant hair and coat confidence, I can learn a whole lot from that. That matters to me.

xo

Alexis

PocoSmall

This doesn’t exactly relate to my post, but I dreamed this up when I fell asleep while writing it, so…yes. Comment/share here or on social media to be entered to win a print of my weird boat dream.

Emergency kit

When life gets hard, I pull out an emergency kit. My emergency kit has a dog in it. It also has coffee, a candle, sage and something to write with. There are some rings in there that remind me to be strong; one from my sister, and one from me. I put them on, make the coffee, and burn the things that smell good. I write with one hand and pet the dog with the other.

When emotions swirl in, and wrap themselves up in my head, I’ve been trying to resist the urge to do battle. I’ve been trying to learn about mindfulness lately, as I figure 488 million Buddhists can’t be wrong about something as simple as being present. I find it challenging because my brain is a pretty loud, jangly place. It is not a peaceful drive in the country. It is a sticky child in the backseat eating crayons, asking if we’re there yet.  So I’m interested in this mindfulness business, focusing on letting feelings come and just sort of observing them. This is uncomfortable at times, which is why I don’t think that the Buddha would mind me pulling out said emergency kit before sitting with all of this shit.

Eventually, I would love to feel comfortable wherever I am, with no need for a sense of security. My inner calm would be all I needed. For now, as I figure that stuff out, I’m not going to feel bad about the fact that my dog and some sage can help me avoid a panic attack. Or that sometimes they aren’t enough.  If I’m going to jump into all of this vulnerability, I need a baby blanket sometimes. Literally– I have the blanket I came home from the hospital in, on hand. JUST IN CASE. If I’m going to quit drinking booze to try to find some inner peace and balance, I’m going to occasionally eat ice cream while crying to my mom about how dating is hard when you have to tell dudes that you’d love to meet for drinks but that you won’t be drinking and could they please for the love of PBR just order a beer and not get weird about it?  I strive to love every inch of my body, because it’s mine and I know deep down that it’s great. I’m still going to spin into a body-loathing frenzy from time to time that involves trying on 7 pairs of jeans and then hiding in bed pants-less for a few minutes before getting back up and trying again.

Pants attack

When pants attack. *

Last summer, I wanted to do a headstand. I practiced almost every day in my room, smashing around, falling down, and sweating. It was not pretty. Eventually, I figured it out. I was able to do one. So I tried handstands. Same process, same smashing. I still can only hold it for a few seconds before I fall on my face, but those moments that I’m up there, balancing, feel good. The moments that I’m lying on the floor panting, checking for rug burn, also feel good. It’s a mess, but the whole thing makes my body stronger. Trying to do a handstand makes my arms just as sore as doing the actual handstand. Point: There aren’t good and bad parts here. Just parts. Trying parts, succeeding parts, starting over parts.

Today, I thought about some heartbreak, and I thought about some insecurity, and I felt small. I took a bath. I thought about all of the ways in which I am capable of treating myself like shit, and was tempted to do them all. I drank some coffee. I convinced the dog to snuggle with me by bringing all of my bedding to the couch. I lit a candle. I wrote this. Every step forward is a celebration.

 

*Want a colorful print of pants attacking? Comment here or share this post for a chance to win your very own copy, which I will send you in the mail. xo

Congrats to last week’s winner, the beautiful and talented Andrea Gallagher. I picked the winner live on Snapchat (me: perplexxis) so you know it was an honest random pick 🙂

GTFO vs. bloom where you’re planted

Honest admission: I want to put my bed into a camper van, toss the dog in there, with a bunch of paper and pens and paints. I would drive around the country, slinging art, sleeping in my van. In reality, I would have no clue how to fix a van if it broke down, and without my sturdy 9 to 5, I wouldn’t have the money to do it in the first place. I like showering in my shower. I like sitting in my bedroom, after work, burning candles and rearranging furniture.  I recently started contributing more than zero dollars a month to my 401K fund, and I feel good about it. If that doesn’t strip me of my wanderlusty free spirit badge, I don’t know what does. And yet, the desire to run remains.

ByeJobsmall

Dream*

When I get restless, I first look back, to see if that’s the place I want to be. It’s not.  Paulo Coelho says “I think it’s important to realize you can miss something, but not want it back”. I miss Chicago, I miss mysterious, toxic people, and I miss smoking and drinking and dancing until the sun rises, but I don’t want any of it back.

I decided to move to Michigan from Chicago a year ago, to recover after a breakup and to find comfort in a state that I grew up in. It was part knee jerk part planned reaction. Most things I try to plan go directly to shit, but somehow, this one worked out. I had planned on a year. A year is, in my mind, how long you stay somewhere. A year is long enough to find a new passion, or job, or lover or person to live with. It’s long enough to hate something, to discover something better, or to decide it’s time for a fresh start. After a year, with no real reason to leave, I have no idea what to do. This has led me to a discovery: I love to react. Anyone else? Not reacting is hard, right? I started thinking about moving out of Michigan. Why? No idea. I just feel like I have to do something. Staying and just doing the things I’m doing now feels wrong, even though I love the things. So how long do we stay? Why do we stay? How do we know if we’re running away from something or towards something and do we have to judge it? Sometimes words do battle in my head. The word “complacent” and the word “content” fight when this topic comes up and I haven’t come up with a winner.  Did I “run away” or did I “try something new” when I left Chicago? Does it matter, if I’m better for it?

I’m in a better place now, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to run.

 

*Want me to send you a beautiful large print of this silly drawing I did? Leave a reply or share this post, and I’ll pick one of you at random and mail it to you.

Come hang out in this mess.

“Please don’t clean for me”, my mother says before she comes to visit.  I used to ignore her, and fly into a sweeping  and Windex frenzy. At some point I stopped. I realized that no amount of cleaning would make her feel differently about me. She knows I’m not perfect, so there isn’t a point in hiding the laundry in the closet in an attempt to prove otherwise. I fly into a frenzy about plenty of other things, but that is a different story for another day.

I am fairly certain that no one feels like their perfect Instagram looks all of the time. The moments of “finished product” or mornings of picturesque coffee-scapes are fleeting. Most of the time is spent knocking coffee grounds off the scooper and onto the counter AGAIN and cleaning them up with your hand and what the HELL is the dog licking off the rug. Ew. What is that? Then, for maybe 30 seconds, the freshly cleaned counter is dappled with sunlight, and the coffee looks like art. There are no drips on the edge. Your dirty hands are not in the frame. And that’s fine. I am not railing against curated online imagery, or magazines full of perfect moments. I just know too many bloggers and stylists and photographers and event creators to believe for a moment that anyone lives like this all of the time, or even most of the time. These are beautiful, messy, real people, who are not perfect.

Our lives are full of so many moments. Some make us want to and take a picture. That is so beautiful. I want to remember that, to show everyone how beautiful this is. I don’t think that’s fake or hollow. Please, show the world a beautiful picture. But in our daily lives, it takes a little more vulnerability, not to overuse that word, but it does, to show the unhinging and the mess. To admit, even if it is to a few of your friends, that you are not feeling amazing. Tell them about a mistake. Tell them what you learned, or didn’t learn and how you totally made that mistake several more times. Let people come to your messy house. Do not apologize for your dirty car. You are living, and I think showing people that is the simplest way to build a community. Not a community of admirers, who are certain that your life is perfect, but of people who see you and know you. That feels like home. I promise. Even if it’s three people, it’s a relief.

There will always be people to judge you for being messy, for being too neat, for being boring, for being too crass or too hippy-dippy or whatever it is. I know: I have been very guilty of being annoyed with people for their “perfect lives” or “seemingly well-behaved dogs” or “ability to drink just 2 glasses of wine and not 5” or whatever it is. That has shown me two things:

  1. I was judging people based on what their lives looked like and
  2. All of those things had to do with my own insecurities.

Do what you want. Take selfies and take pictures of your perfect brunch date. Do it because you want to. When you are sitting there, though, looking through images online or in magazines or on television, remember: these images can’t encapsulate a person. These images do not change who you are. Your reactions might teach you something, like, “I am really insecure about how horribly behaved my dog is”, or “I really have a messed up view of my body if that person’s body is literally making me grit my teeth”. It’s fine. You are not a horrible messed up person. You are a person. These are other people.  I read this quote by Baba Sheikh Farid that Laura McKowen referenced in an essay:

“I thought it was I alone who suffered. I went on top of the house, and found every house on fire.”

 We’re all so hard on ourselves. We’re all on fire. I hope we can be a little messier together, and find the beauty there too. I’m trying to do my part, by sharing my mess. Seriously, I have no idea what the dog is licking off the floor. She’s gross, and she’s probably going to jump directly at your crotch when you walk into my house. I’ll live.

 

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