Not a chill girl.

chill

“At first I felt these drawings were accidents, then I realized they were a part of me”. Beverly Pepper. Pepper was a sculptor and a decidedly not chill girl. Here’s me trying to dive into her sketches with my eyeballs.

I am retiring “laid back” from my list of “ways I want to be”. “At peace” is a way I want to be. But “laid back” is way too close to “chill” which is just another bullshit way of saying “lower your standards”. I’m too sober and alive for that shit.

This desirable state of chill got stuck in my brain at a young age. I like to blame Teen magazine, for reminding me that boys like girls who are laid back and wear “natural” makeup, aka look conventionally beautiful and don’t ask for much. I solidified that by watching Reality Bites a million times, and brainwashing myself into believing that the best kind of guy was a loser like Ethan Hawke’s character, and the best kind of girl to be was a chill waif who was cool with whatever.

I cannot even begin to explain the trouble this mindset got me into. I can blame culture, but my own teenage insecurity is the thing I can’t put on Winona Ryder and her stringy bangs. I wanted to be liked, and the path I took towards that was being as easily consumable as possible. Which I’m not; none of us our, if we’re being our true self, right? I fought myself for years, trying to push myself into this state of chill. This place where I was not difficult. If you ever wonder why people start drinking so much, one reason may be that they don’t want to care so much. Living with intense feelings is hard.

Today, I am not chill. I get emotional about things I care about. I have deep pangs of insecurity, which I tell my partner about unapologetically. I’m trying to stop forcing my body into a certain shape. I’ve done this before, since I quit drinking, and I always chicken out, and go back to diets. That Winona waif thing got stuck really deep in my mind. Today I ordered new jeans, to fit my growing hips. They are not chill. They are trying to grow into the space they want to inhabit. I’m going to do my best to let them.

The scariest thing about getting sober was being alone with myself. The first few months were numb, and boring. The next few months were euphoric, but I didn’t want to be around people. Things went up and down like this for the first year and a half. In the last few months, I feel like I’ve cautiously stepped out of my cave, and have started connecting with friends again. I still have nightmares about drinking, and spinning thoughts of guilt while falling asleep; I still hear the past. But I feel clean. And I feel safe. But not laid back. I care too much, love too hard, and shine too bright to chill.

You’re not alone in the dark. It’s just dark. Keep going.

It’s been a little over a year since I quit drinking. 3 years since I took a huge leap and left the life I planning with someone else, and went in a completely different direction. Sometimes I look around and realized how far I’ve gone, and how much good stuff I have here, on the other side of that time. I also see how much I still need to let go of, how much I need to soften in some spots and grow stronger in others. This is not a “it was bad and now it’s good” story as much as it’s a “I was there, and it was dark, and I couldn’t see the light, but now I can see both”.  For me, seeing that there was another way to live, without all of the abuse I was inviting into my home, my body and my heart, was what helped me go forward. Yes, things happen to us, and they’re not our fault. Also yes, we decide when to move, to let go, and to hold on to what holds us. You don’t need to own it all, to claim that it’s all your fault, to feel empowered. Some stuff wasn’t, some is, but it’s all behind you now.

This isn’t just about drinking either.

If your partner was an asshole to you, it’s much easier for some of us to believe that we really were too needy, just like they said, and that if we had thought more of ourselves, they would have too. Our insecurity was to blame, not their condescension.  Acknowledging that you were being mistreated is hard to accept, but that acceptance is the key. Then you can move forward, decide what to leave behind and carry with you, and then just keep doing that. Moving, letting go, holding on, moving, letting go, holding on. That goes for mistreatment of yourself too. Decide what to leave, move on, move forward, repeat.

I’m writing this today to tell you that if you’re looking for a story that sounds like yours, and haven’t found it, keep looking. I felt so alone when I went through a big break-up a few years ago, and when I moved to another state, alone, and especially when I quit drinking. It wasn’t until the last one that I started looking, or I should say urgently searching, for people who shared my story. Simply seeing that someone else had done the hard thing that I was trying to do, was comforting. We have such an opportunity to share and listen to each other; to find out where we’ve been and to see where we might go. So if you have a hard thing that you did, I hope you don’t feel like you need to hide it, to prove that you’re fine now. We need your story. And if you’re searching for answers, please, don’t stop. Ask. Search. Read. You’re absolutely not alone in the dark.

 

4 things I learned in 2 months with 5 new roommates.

What is being grounded, what is home, what is being here, what is enough, what am I letting in, what am I shutting out.

The last 2 months have been full of things that require my whole self. The big one was moving in with my boyfriend and his 4 kids. Going from being in a quiet little apartment with my dog and cat, to living outside of town in a house with so many people who are constantly moving and feeling and talking and BEING out loud at the same time—this was a shift.

While there are other things that require my focus – yoga teacher training, training for a race, working full-time with a team of energetic people –this thing, this adjusting to a new life, has been the hard thing. Waking up to run 8 miles requires energy, and it’s not easy, but I can control it completely. Less so with yoga training and work, but still, there is an expectation and a goal and you can be graded or rated. There are tests to pass. Moving in with kids and my boyfriend and into everyone’s life, I have found less expectations that can be met and less to control. There is no manual or training plan that I can download online. I would pay serious money if there was.  Being in these relationships with these people is such a rewarding thing, but there’s no clear way to do it. In this state of ambiguous best intentions and questionable limits of patience, I’ve learned some things. These are reminders to me, but hopefully you can find some truth here as well:

  • Do things because you want to do them. Besides the requirements, the must-dos, like taking care of needs, make sure you want to do the thing for the sake of doing it. Whether it’s volunteering or buying your girlfriend flowers or making kids a giant pancake breakfast, don’t do it for the thanks. That’s where resentment finds you. I love using my time and energy to do “nice things” and favors and extra stuff for the people in my life. In romantic relationships, or working relationships, or friendships, we almost expect those things to be noticed or reciprocated. Kids do not operate in this way, from my observations. You better want to sit and watch Beauty and the Beast, without the expectation that your fellow moviegoer will now want to go to bed on time because you were so kind to watch a movie with her. Not so much. Kids aside, I think this is a good reminder for me in general. Bartering with good deeds is a path to resentment with your partner, with your coworkers and with your family. Do it because you want to. Say I love you and mean it. Take care of needs. Bake cookies for everyone because you like cooking and giving people sugar brings you joy, not because you need validation. I am so guilty of this. I am trial and error personified.
  • Take care of yourself. I hear people with kids say that your kids come first and that they’re the most important thing in the world.  I firmly believe that different things work better for different families, and because I don’t have kids of my own, I will never make sweeping statements on child rearing. Promise. What I do know about living with children is that if you give endlessly of yourself, there is nothing left to hold you together. When I first moved in, I adopted this idea that kids come first, partially because I assumed this is how my boyfriend operated. What I learned is that he had found this selflessness to be unsustainable. Their needs, yes of course, come first. You gotta take care of kids. They’re kids. But everything they want and may need in 5 minutes, he can’t take care of that if he hasn’t taken care of himself. My yoga teacher always talks about making sure your well is full, so that you can teach. Your well needs to be full of the things that nourish and keep you charged. For me, with teaching, it’s rest and food and quiet and sometimes very long showers. Similarly, I need those things to be fully present and able to care for kids without burning out. It’s true for teaching, it’s true at work, and I know it’s true for my ability to be social. I can’t be awesome at your dinner party if I haven’t had a minute to myself all week, if I haven’t found my way to the yoga mat or the running path, or if I’m attempted to live on M&Ms. I learn over and over again that listening to what I need does not make me selfish. My capacity to give of my energy, without an expectation of a return on my investment, is highest when my well is full.
  • Life is full of seasons. This season, of change and newness, is also one of nesting and wanting to be home. I struggle with the idea that I should be doing more. More art, more socializing, more travel. I love those things. Right now though, they’re not my highest priority, but I know how important it is to me to make sure I don’t lose them entirely. Because that’s a good way to break your own heart. Emailing friends more has helped, instead of making physical plans when I’m too busy. Planning small trips away keeps that itch scratched for now. Waking up early every once in a while to make some small piece of artwork. Last week it was clay beads. It was calming and simple and I didn’t worry that it was too simple or not enough whatever. I’ve had to give myself tons of grace with this stuff. Quieting the “you should be” mind is always a challenge though. Like, every day. “This is a season” has become my mantra/way to shut that up.
  • And finally, I would not be here if I was not sober. This season of change is hard, but amazing. I feel stress but also so much fulfillment. At a base level, I don’t wake up feeling anxious as often since getting sober. I would not be able to handle these new stresses with that kind of anxiety. I would never be able to be as present as I need to be with a hangover. This place where I am, this life of challenges and reward and love that I’ve found, would not be possible for me if I was drinking. For you, drinking might not be the thing. I know that finding that thing, that thing that has to go so that you can be free, is the place to start.

So yes, in 2 months, I have learned 4 things that I think are true. Do you think these things hold water outside of sobriety or kids or yoga or whatever else is in my life right now? Do they hold true in yours? What’s your thing that you’ve learned this month? What did you unlearn? I’d love to read about it in the comments. I would also love for you to email me if you questions or things you’d like me to write about or if you have a good story that you want me to read. Give it all to me. It fills my well.

 

 

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

 

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.

Alexis, 32, 0 Miles Away

Something I hear from my married or coupled friends is “I really miss dating” or “I miss feeling like I should put a bra on when I leave the house in case future boo is running to Walgreens too” or (I get this all the time) “I am so jealous that you get to do online dating. That seems really life affirming”.  You guys? This one’s for you. Because you miss it, and I feel like it’s my job to help you feel like you’re right there with me.

If you have been in a relationship for a long time, you may have missed the online dating boat all together. I’m so sorry. You know that feeling of leafing through wet garbage to look for something you lost, but are not really sure you even want it anymore? Like, an earring you kinda like or maybe a 15 dollar check from Consumer’s Energy but you’re thinking, “Is it worth it? This garbage smells really bad”. There you go. That’s what it’s like. Please, don’t be jealous of my positive attitude.Trashdate

Here are some fun things that have happened for me on Tinder this year:

I went on a date.  My take away from that is you should tell me that you live with your parents and hate everything before I spend the time to put on mascara and pants. I bought Wendy’s on the way home from that date. My chicken nuggets made me feel like the evening wasn’t a complete wash.  I love Wendy’s and I’m not ashamed of that. I don’t like people who hate everything and I’m not ashamed of that either.

After something like this, I usually go through the following steps:

  1. Delete dating app
  2. Excitedly do all of the fun alone things that make me happy, like reading and napping and drawing
  3. Wonder if people in the future will refer to this as my prolific period because I make more art when I’m not looking for someone to make out with. Wonders if people in the future will remember me.
  4. Remembers that making out is fun.
  5. Downloads dating app

So then I gave it another go.

I recently had an internet conversation with someone who didn’t look gross and wasn’t holding a dead deer or fish up to the camera. Promising, right? Unfortunately, he made a joke about sex positions, twice, and then told me to relax. Barf. Repeat steps 1 through 5 above.

It’s not all bad, of course. Going dancing is something I do more of when I’m single. Last weekend I went dancing and practiced this slick move where I basically dance away from anyone who approaches me.  My legs were sore for 2 days from doing this.  When I got home, I made my dog “shake” my hand in celebration of the fact that I went out and danced and stayed up late.  She’s really proud of me.

Recently, my therapist asked me if I was dating. I laughed hysterically and finished with a “whhhewww…..yeahh”. Then she wrote something down. I imagine she wrote “Seems to be really good at dating”.

16 months later + 620 words on heartbreak.

Heartbreak is no joke.  Whether you are the one that ends it or not, the end aches with loss and emptiness. Time passes, and sometimes it heals all wounds, like it’s supposed to. Sometimes it doesn’t. People tell you to keep on keepin’ on, because time will totally take care of your sad little heart. Recently I learned that if we don’t let ourselves feel our feelings, and get mad and confront certain shitty truths, time can pass, and we can stay in the same place.

I went through a really hard breakup a little over a year ago. I thought that time would fix things. I thought 6 months sounded about right. But then 6 months passed. I was still hurting. It was constantly on my mind. I met new people but was not fully present because I was always thinking that maybe I made a mistake. Maybe that past relationship wasn’t as bad as I thought. Maybe I needed that person in my life at the cost of so many other things. Only recently, I realized that time does help to numb the sharpness of the loss, but by pretending I was fine, that I wasn’t mad, that it didn’t hurt, I was keeping myself in the same shitty place, mentally. I kept small ties to the person I had been with, because finally letting go would mean exactly that. That I had let them go. I found this quote by Lou Doillon. She’s a beautiful French woman who writes and sings and acts and I would like to be her friend. She had things to say about heartbreak and I was all “yes, yes, mhmm, yes” about it:

The best way to deal with heartbreak, she said, “is to embrace it, to surrender to it, because it’s all right and it makes you a better person to let it destroy you. My grandfather used to say, ‘No one’s dead yet’. The worst drama in life is death. The second drama in life is heartbreak. The worst ones are the ones that have to do with passion. I do believe that passion is a projection and love is a projection, when you fall in love with people who are mysterious enough for you to project whatever you needed to project. Those are the worst heartbreaks because it was all a fantasy anyway. You’re closer to a junkie at that point, so you might as well surrender to [the heartbreak].”—Jezebel

I had so much trouble with surrendering to the heartbreak and the loss because it made me feel vulnerable. I was much better at hurtling myself through the day, with tear soaked cheeks and wine stained lips, yelling “I’M FINE” as I headed off to my zillionth yoga class of the week. I thought I looked very together. Nobody bought it, because wine lips don’t lie, and when I try to lie I fail miserably. So I had to give it up, and go back to square one. Crap.

Heartbreak is hard but I don’t think we need to fear it. Embracing it without romanticizing it, accepting that you might be sabotaging your own grief by not letting go, and being about 10 times kinder to yourself than you think you deserve. That’s my advice, based on a year of mistakes and wrong turns. I deal with as it comes, whether it’s every day or once a week. I just let it in. It’s like a ringing phone. I answer it, I let it talk, and I listen, and then I hang up the phone. Letting the damn thing ring and ring will drive you nuts. I just go with the hope that, one day, it stops calling.

xo

Thoughts? Feels? Leave ’em in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.