This is Real

It is so frustrating when I am in the middle of making dinner and realize I need another pan, but I take one look at what I’d have to do to get one, and I completely shut down. I decide not to wilt the kale and sear the garlic. I decide to just go with what I have because it’s too much effort to wash a pan. It would be one thing if this was just once a week, but when it’s every damn night, it gets debilitating.

When every day I go to work and I usually start out okay, but by the middle of the day I’m slumped in my desk chair. Or the reality that many mornings, before I go out the door in the morning, I’m playing that poem I recently posted over and over again just to give myself the courage to go to work. Even the fact that I have that poem half-memorized from reciting it to myself so much to just give myself courage.

“Some people will never understand the superpower it takes for some people to just walk outside…” “…screaming for their pulse to find the fight to pound…” “every time I hurt I know the wound is an echo so I keep listening for the moment that grief becomes a window…” “…knowing their is a chance our hearts have only just skinned their knees…” “…friend if the only thing we have to gain in staying is each other, my god that is plenty, my god that is enough, my god that is so so much for the light to give…” “…live, live, live…” (From The Madness Vase by Andrea Gibson)

I went to the doctor today. And it wasn’t for my body, it was for my soul. It may have been a medical doctor, but I needed an emotional one. When I reeled out my history, how I’ve struggled with depression since I was 15, he asked why I hadn’t been on medication before. “My parents kind of didn’t believe in doctors, and also I have a lot of neglect in my past.” That statement was loaded.

It also wasn’t completely every morsel of truth. I am stubborn. And everyone has told me – “Once you get divorced it will be better. Once you do the steps it will be better. Once you get through EMDR, it will be better.” The past 2 months have proven it to me that it’s not better. No matter what I do, I am chewing glass constantly. It’s why my smile has such an intense sparkle.

My friends know I’ve been tossing around the idea of medication for at least a year now. In actuality it’s been 2 years since I first came across this idea. The telling thing is that my mind hasn’t changed. I’ve had periods of up time, periods where I smile and I’m happy and I’m okay. But I always drop back down again into the dark, and it’s tiring. I’m tired of bouncing along the bottom.

The past 2 months have been the worst in a very long time. I have lost all motivation. I am sure it has something to do with starting a new full time supervisor job and totally changing my career path. But my career path too just served as a way to keep me running. There is a Pablo Neruda poem that I love that says:

“If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving, and for once could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves and of threatening ourselves with death.”

Except, that my silence is filled with sadness I’ve never taken time to stop and face. Now that I have taken time to stop and face it, it’s hit me like a ton of bricks. “And the bass keeps runnin’ runnin’ and runnin’ runnin’ and runnin’ runnin and runnin’ runnin’ and…”

Somehow I have always wanted this to happen, though. Somehow I have always felt that I’m just outrunning myself and I want permission to just stop, collapse, admit I really am not okay and line up my external reality with my internal one.

I did a daylong meditation retreat on Sunday and it was horrible. The idea of it was lovely. The thought and intention behind it was fantastic. But we started with a meditation connecting with our body, and it was then I realized just how much emotional pain I’m holding in my body. A LOT. I was all choked up. And the whole day was about sitting with unpleasant feelings. I had pretty much only unpleasant feelings and meditating felt like absolute torture. I wanted to be anywhere but my body. There were other meditation events this week that I was planning on attending, but I haven’t. It feels much too raw.

I knew even more surely that I needed to take next steps.

I was terrified going into the doctor’s office today and jittery from drinking only coffee and having no breakfast. They asked me to fill out the medical history form, of course, and they asked about mental illness. For the first time I stared at that in recognition. Then I marked:

Mom: Depressed.
Dad: Mentally ill. Thyroid.
Grandparents: Mentally ill. Bile duct cancer. Depression. Anti-psychotics.

I stared at the page in shock. I don’t think I’ve ever so concretely put down the fact that my father is mentally ill. My mother is mentally ill. My grandparents, also mentally ill. My parents are undiagnosed. But it’s obvious. The questionnaire didn’t ask about aunts, uncles, cousins, and that would have been even more revealing. I’ve known these things, but never written them so clearly in front of my face. I felt the cold reality of this whole thing settling over me. My DNA was a mess of strange genes, and I was a petri dish that a bunch of them had gathered in.

So I told the doctor (a cool guy who blends Eastern AND Western medicine) some of my history. That I had been in counseling for PTSD, and why. That I’d been depressed off and on since I was 15. Divorced. Crazy family“Why weren’t you on medication before this?” All of my friends have been shocked at this very thing – that I have never been medicated.

After explaining my symptomology, the doctor prescribed me Zoloft, with instructions to pay attention to its affects. He’s concerned (I’m concerned, too) that I might have Bipolar II, and if so, Zoloft will make my manic states worse, so I’m instructed to look for that. He asked me to get a nutrition lab done so we can look for any markers in my nutrition that might cause depression, too.

I was also told not to date. I quote – “You’ll be a new person next year after we get this thing sorted out so you don’t want to get into anything before then.”  I don’t know how I feel about that, to be honest; I’m tired of avoiding dating. But maybe it’s just a signal that I can take things more slowly and just ease into friendships with men, like I have been. But that’s a whoooole other post.

I left the office feeling both relieved and totally different. Something pinches my heart with a strong thumb and forefinger, and the resulting pain and bruising is proof that it’s not a dream. The reality is: I am now a person prescribed to take depression medication. I am depressed.

This is real.

What I’ve Been Reading Recently…

So, it turns out that being out of school is much more conducive to picking up a volume of the written word and perusing it for pleasure.

In the past month I think I’ve read… 5 books? I’m losing count now. I figured that this prodigious amount of reading merited some reviews of these books. I’ve been excessively excited about most of them and dying to recommend them to people, so… thanks for being my guinea pigs! 😉

Without further ado…

1. Immortal Diamond – Richard Rohr
My friend loaned me this book about a month and a half ago (maybe more? sorry, H, I’ll get it back to you soon) when I said I needed more spiritual reading for my mornings. What a powerhouse of a book. Reading it kind of made me think about being a Christian again. In the most non-traditional sense possible. At heart, I think I’m just a mystic no matter what religion it’s tied to. This book is all about transcending the ego (or transmuting/transforming it, depending on what language you’d like to use) and finding the immortal diamond within us all. That’s a really, really pithy way to describe the entire book. Honestly I just suggest getting it yourself if you are interested in any type of mysticism. It’s a great read. I honestly need to go through it again; there is SO MUCH there.

2. The Desire Map – Danielle Laporte
I mentioned this book in my last post. Danielle Laporte is a life coach and has produced an insane amount of material. This book came along right when my quarter life crisis first hit and I jumped at it. A blogger friend of mine was offering the opportunity to do an online book group for it and I thought it was the perfect opportunity. So I’ve been working through it now for about 2 months. Namely, I’ve discovered I’m truly motivated by the 6 core feelings (she calls them CDFs or Core Desired Feelings) that I mentioned in my last post – Sacred, Grounded, Belonging, Flow, Electric, and Liberated. I’ve had these words for about a month now and I have definitely noticed them in all facets of my life. Furthermore, it helps me to live much more intentionally. Danielle recommends steering your entire life towards these feelings – her message? To feel good, of course! That’s pretty much the point of the book: figure out what feelings are core for you, and live in a way directed to them. AKA following your bliss. I highly recommend this book if you need a new way of looking at goals or if goal setting wears you out! I promise this version of it won’t!

3. The Fault in Our Stars – John Green
This is the only fiction book I’ve read in the past couple of months, so far. And to be honest? I was not and am not impressed. Everyone was all ga-ga over this book and gushing about how SAD it was and how PROFOUND it was. Maybe it was supposed to be ironic? Maybe that was the point? I really don’t care. It was awful. It was another cliched cancer book, and I read a ton of those as a teenager so I am really over this trend. Plus, the entire plot was so predictable. I personally like creative, interesting, different books that radically shift one’s mindset on something. Like Perks of Being a Wallflower when it came out. Now that was a book. This one… well… nope. (Yes, it pretty much is NOT a book but a piece of cancer fan fic)

4. If The Buddha Dated – Charlotte Kasl
So, my therapist recommended this book to me months ago when I complained about feeling totally inept at dating and relationships with men. Of course I promptly ignored his book suggestion until I felt really desperate. Then I picked up this book. OMG you guys. I’m telling you. If you read ANY book on dating, read this one. And it’s not just good for people actively dating. It’s a spiritual approach to the whole thing (mostly Buddhist, but Charlotte is Sufi, Buddhist, and Quaker, so it’s not all Buddhist). It talks about centering yourself first and living out of a spontaneous authentic center as the basis for all you do. A-MAAHHH-ZING. Thanks, therapist… you were right, again.

5. The Power of Myth – Joseph Campbell
I’m just finishing this book up and wow. I got it as an e-book from the library, and I have historically started out slow in reading e-books. Well, this book started as a slow read for me, and then I have absolutely devoured it. The mythic ideas throughout have been fascinating. I find myself realizing what he talks about – we live in a society that has no main myth. I can feel the ache while I read other myths, the longing for a core myth of my own and the relation in my soul to the myths he mentioned. They’ve become informative and transformative for me just in reading through this. This book has been hitting me in the gut and has provided several eye-opening realizations. Recommend, recommend! If you haven’t read it yet – DO!

Next up on my reading list, I have Island by Aldous Huxley, finishing off The Women Who Run with Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and Many Roads, One Journey by Charlotte Kasl. That last one might be considered a bit blasphemous by some of my friends. But I like living outside the lines. I want a full perspective on recovery, not just a program one. And I’m curious to hear her perspective. I’ll let you know what I think after I read the book.

What have you been reading? What are some recommendations you have? What do you want to read next?

[Ps. I am NOT being compensated for any of these reviews – they are purely based on my own opinion]

Stay Here With Me

There is a spoken word poem by Andrea Gibson that is my love poem to myself. It’s called The Madness Vase/The Nutrionist. I heard it in person last week when she was here for a sold-out show in Colorado Springs. (By the way, talk about an awesome experience – attending a SOLD OUT Spoken Word show. All the feels, errywhere)

 

 

It just so happened that the day I saw her live was the 10th anniversary of my Gramps’ death. He died the year I was 15, which was one of the most difficult and painful years of my life. Spoken word has always pulled me back to that year, as evidenced by the poem I shared on here a couple weeks ago. So it seemed so extremely fitting that I, by no fault of my own, ended up at a spoken word show on the 10th anniversary of his death.

In any case, I had watched The Madness Vase about a week before the show, and cried. Spoken word always makes me cry. This one in particular so spoke to me in my current and past selves.

But hearing it in person, on the anniversary of my Gramps’ death, was an incredibly healing experience. I could feel her in me, the 15 year old. The depressed one. The one that didn’t want to live anymore, that strained with the effort of staying in her skin for one more day, that drew bloodlines on her calves trying to let her trapped self out. The Madness Vase grabbed her and didn’t let her go. I grabbed her, hearing these words, and didn’t let her go, and I whispered to her, backwards in time, Live. Live. Live.”

Because I think my current self can still somehow reach back to my past self and speak those words to 15 year old Laurie. I think it kept her alive from then until now.

And well, the poem’s been rattling around in my heart like socks in a clothes dryer ever since. I found Andrea and Kelsey’s Tumblr yesterday and I’ve been using it to speak healing to myself, over, and over, and over. I encourage you to go have a read if even for a moment you don’t want to be here. Not even just necessarily if you want to commit suicide. Maybe you’re just so tired of life and don’t want to be here anymore, and you’d never pull the trigger or swallow the pills, but some days you just wish a Mach truck would plow you and end it all.

This site will give you a few reasons you might want to stay. Stay here. Stay present. Stay aching.

Lately it’s been so hard for me to stay here. To feel that generous ache that takes over the black hole of my heart and to want to stay here in the face of all the wounds that still need healing. There is no bruise like the bruise loneliness kicks into your spine.” It’s hard to stay here with the bruises.

This poem makes me want to never stop crying. And maybe that’s a good thing, because lately I’ve been coming out of my skin and trying to put my own self back in. Doing my addict thing and avoiding the raw fierceness of my inner girl who is crying for healing. So maybe I just need to keep “listening for the moment when the grief becomes a window.” Maybe I just keep repeating to myself fiercely, these words: “you stay here with me, okay? you stay here with me.

Live. Live. Live.”

 

You too, out there. You stay here with me, okay?

 

One can learn a lot in 2 years.

Today I am officially 2 years sober from alcohol!!!

I am laying in bed at 10 o clock in the evening, nursing an ear infection, with a dinner that for some reason upset my stomach and had me in the bathroom for 30 minutes (TMI, I know. Deal with it), and yet, I am smiling. Gratitude. Despite not feeling great I went to a meeting tonight and celebrated with my community. It was a new meeting but it’s amazing how even there where I know no one but one other person, my Higher Power meets me. It’s magical.

My whole sobriety is fucking magical.

Despite the last couple of weeks where my sick and twisted brain has tried to convince me that I’m not an alcoholic (denial never leaves, y’all), I see tonight that it’s crazy I’m sitting here. I told a run-down of the last two years tonight and as I spoke I marveled. Because when I decided 2 years ago to go into recovery, I have no idea why I did. I just for some reason thought, “I can’t stop this. I need help.” I have no idea why. It was not a huge moment. It was just a decision.

And yet it has been the best thing in my life. I’ve learned some major things, like:

  • For me to drink is to die. It still takes a bit for this to get through to my brain, but it rocks me when it does. I realize that my drinking will actually lead me to a. kill myself or b. kill someone else. Actually, B is probably more likely. I drank and drive quite a bit and almost wrecked into someone once. The fear of killing someone honestly does keep me sober some days.
  • I can’t do sobriety by myself. I tried for quite some time, to do things my own way. And honestly it DID work, until it didn’t. And when it didn’t, it really didn’t. I had to get a new sponsor back in November because I almost drank. I had been working steps only with someone in my other program. Same steps, but working with an addict who gets it is so much different. And I didn’t think it was… until I was faced with it. Which brings me to…
  • Taking suggestions. They always say this in my recovery program and I always thought I was good at it until I started doing it. Then I was like, “oh. Haha. I can’t take suggestions. Haha! Yikes on bikes.” Which THEN also brings me to…
  • Humility. For reals. You guys I thought I was the bomb.com when I started recovery, because I HAD DONE THE STEPS in another program so I KNEW. I didn’t know. It took me a long time to figure out that I didn’t know. Probably at least 3-4 months. Maybe more. And some days I still have to be humble and admit I don’t know. And damn some days that sucks. But when I get it, I learn so much more than I ever thought I could.

I think maybe one of the things I’m most grateful for is that today, I know what I love. Back when I first got sober, I had no idea what I liked to do. I liked to drink and that was about it. Or sometimes play guitar. Today?

I love hiking. I love spoken word poetry. I love writing this blog. I really deeply love my spiritual practice and having one that I try to commit to. I’m passionate about buddhism (which is a huge part of my practice) and what that has opened up for me. I’m passionate about true spirituality in general and people who are committed to that practice. I love being with my community. Hanging out with friends. Having an artistic community. Steering people towards a life they REALLY love. LAUGHING. Private jokes. The outdoors. Plants. The ocean and beaches where I’m alone. TRAVEL – and NOT just to run away from life by doing it.

2 years ago, I couldn’t have named any of that. Even a year ago I couldn’t have.

Honestly, only my Higher Power and doing the work I’ve done could have got me to where I am today, and I could not be more grateful. I have a life that I love and I am present within it. That is a wonderful gift. It strikes me that, after having a brush with death in more ways than one, I am privileged to have a life today where I am fully present to it.

I could not ask for more.

I’m toasting you all with my cuppa tea over here… here’s to you all, sober community – thank you for being a part of my sobriety. And to the rest of you who read, here is to you for being witness to this beautiful life, it truly brings healing to me to have you read.

Thank you.

Let Off With a Warning

I love long drives. Something about the open road is tremendously appealing to me, so on Friday when I left for a little mountain town about 2 hours away, I was ecstatic. Freedom was in my grasp!

On the way to this town, there is a huge valley. The highway through it is long and flat for a good 5 miles and speeding is almost irresistable.

(Really, I just want to know how you DON’T speed going through this valley. I’m pretty sure it’s actually impossible.)

Up until recently, they weren’t really regulating the 65mph speed limit. I’ve driven this way countless times, complete with pushing my little Honda to at least 80. That’s a conservative estimate, because I know this trip I was edging 90 miles per hour. I might have an adrenaline problem. In any case, I have never seen a cop in this area until this winter when I went through with some friends. Hmm.

This was in the back of my mind driving up this time, but I thought “Surely it was just a one time thing.”

I went flying down that first hill. There was a car in front of me going the speed limit, which I thought was lame. I mean really? I promptly passed him and at the point where the road starts going up again (right at the edge of that shadow from the first hill) I had hit almost 90. My car, however, is old and has 223K miles on it, and I slowed down for fear of making the rattletrap thing fall apart. My bumper is already duct taped.

(pretty much, this needs to happen)

Well, needless to say, I crested the hill and slowed down to a modest 76 miles an hour. I know this, because I passed a cop.

(I am indeed one of the internet masses that can’t resist a cute cat. You’re welcome)

As soon as I passed him, I knew I was toast. He pulled a u-turn. “Oh f-ck,” I muttered. I slowed down and he caught up with me. I was shaking as I pulled over to the side of the road. Cops always make me nervous. I immediately just pulled out my license, registration and… oh damn. Shit, shit, shit. This cannot be happening.

I couldn’t find my current insurance card.

Let me also clarify that I am the super goody goody who has never gotten a speeding ticket, and hasn’t even gotten a TRAFFIC ticket in 5 years. Yeah. 5 years. And here I am with an expired insurance card.

The cop saunters up to my already-rolled down window. To my surprise I see he is young, ginger, and handsome. “Ma’am, do you know why we pulled you over today?” he drawled, with the sweet tones of a country boy.

My voice was shaking when I replied. “I was speeding?”

“Yes ma’am. Do you know how fast you were going?”

“Um… 70…(seeing the look on his face)…75?”

“76.”

“Oh.”

“Can I have your license, registration, and insurance?”

“Um, well, here’s my license and registration, I’m still looking for my insurance…” I turn away from him to paw through my glove box desperately, as well as the pile of crap I’d already pulled out of it: old resumes, my Owner’s Manual, napkins. “Um I guess this is the most recent one I have,” I finally said in resignation, handing him one from this time last year.

“Okay just sit tight ma’am, I’ll be right back.”

He walks off and I turn right back to my glovebox and continue my desperate pawing. In my head I just know I’m doomed. I am definitely getting the first speeding ticket of my life today. Expired insurance at a speeding stop is pretty much a death knell. I’ve been paying my insurance faithfully every month – where the h-e- double hockey sticks is that damn card? I finally turned back around when he came back to the window.

“Ma’am, I’m going to let you off today with just a warning.”

“Oh my God! Thank you so much!” I was absolutely floored.

“Yeah I saw how nervous you were, you were shaking when I came up to the window. So, just… be more careful, go the speed limit, okay?”

“Yes, sir, I will. I’m so sorry.”

“You have a good day now.”

I rolled up my window. Still shaking, this time in disbelief. Why the hell had he let me off? I could only surmise that it was because I was young and looked quite fetching. I absolutely did not deserve it, and I knew I didn’t deserve it!

My treacherous heart, however, lurched in rebellious glee that I’d gotten away with speeding. (I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that)

It’s funny because I think this instance parallels my current life circumstances. Truthfully? I’ve been getting warnings that I need to slow down. The irony of this is just now hitting me as I type this. I got a warning to slow down. My life has been warning me to slow down. Parallel?

And this is kind of important. When I speed up my life, I lose sight of priorities. I get close to a sobriety birthday and I cut down on meetings instead of increasing them. I drift away from community. I think I’m a bother to them, so I don’t call or stop by. But I keep going, I keep getting faster, because my own rebellious heart jumps in happiness at getting away with so much. I can start a new job, and do spoken word poetry, and work on a 4th step in one program, and do my 12th step in another program, and work on revamping my blog, and look at new career fields, and have two sponsees (that I’ve been almost too tired to give to like I should), and do my 11th step in the morning, and join a new book club.

I’ve been speeding up and trying to escape my life by outrunning it. At that place, it’s only a matter of time before the top blows, I tip back the bottle, and guzzle.

This incident also reminds me of a night just before I got sober, where I got busted drinking by the police on my college campus. I was the oldest in the room… 23 years old. The next oldest was 20. In other words, I was the only legal person there. The cop never checked my ID and let me go. I went back to my room and I knew I had lucked out for some unknown reason. The next morning, I went to my first recovery meeting. A week later, I stopped drinking for good.

So I feel like it was a good reminder of that moment almost 2 years ago. A warning of what will happen if I don’t check myself before I wreck myself. I think it’s lucky, or maybe my Higher Power, that I was on my way to a recovery retreat. I was heading to the exact place I needed to be.

It’s also interesting that all weekend I found myself questioning my alcoholism. Over, and over, and over. “Maybe I’m not really an alcoholic, I mean I didn’t drink as long as these people, and I never got a DUI, and I don’t have a lot of drunk stories, and, and, and.” Differences instead of similarities. Not remembering that I lose control when I take the first drink. I drink to escape, escape, escape. Forgetting that two separate therapists told me to consider going to a 12-step program for it. Forgetting the night I was drunk driving and almost hit someone. The insanity was strong with this one.

I was reminded over and over this weekend why I’m sober and why I belong in recovery. Why I need to slow my life down some and remember my priorities, and as they say, keep first things first.

Considering the circumstances, I’m really lucky I was only let off with a warning.

 

Okay. I overdid it.

I wrote awhile back on how full my life was. I’ve had some friends caution me in the past 2 weeks about taking care of myself. I even thought I was fine, just doing life. Well. I was wrong. (Surprise!)

I got to this weekend and I have been totally wiped out. Not a little, but a lot. To the point where I’m noticing emotionally to an extent that I haven’t in a long while. I went to a poetry slam last night, and while the content was deeply moving as usual, one poem particularly rocked me. A woman shared about the death of her mother.

During the poem, I was okay. I could hold it together. It made something deep inside me ache, but I could hold it together. The next poet came up and did a funny poem to break the mood. Except it didn’t break mine. Something had lodged in my throat and in the spaces between my vertebrae. When I laughed at his lines, suddenly that’s when the tears came. I sat laugh-crying as my stomach contracted trying to purge up the feelings. Death and sadness, of course.

It stuck with me. Another poet, just after that, did a poem I’ve heard him read before about his time in Afghanistan. It’s rough, but I was able to sit through it the first time. I couldn’t sit through it last night.

I only get like that when I’m terribly overextended. r Worse, I’m 3 weeks from a recovery anniversary and I haven’t been at enough meetings. I went to one alcohol recovery meeting last week. That was not enough.

I’m not even going to tell you what I did all week. I had it all written out and it made me sick to look at all of it.

And now when all the feels are hitting… things are crashing on my head. It’s the Columbine anniversary tomorrow. On April 29 I have another anniversary for a former Azeri student (knew him when I was teaching English in Azerbaijan) who was shot and killed. I have some other stuff coming up that’s rough that I can’t mention here just yet, but I’ve felt it coming on for about a month now. I’ve worked very hard to build a recovery community, and lately it’s felt like I still have no one, or very few, to fall back on. I know part of that is my own brain after being out of meetings the past couple weeks. But part of that is true. And I’m really tired of working so hard and getting nothing.

Hell, I’m just really tired.

I’m not going to take an official blogging break, but if you don’t see me here for a bit, that’s why. You’re welcome to read my other material especially if you’re new here. (See my About The Writer section) That in itself explains why it’s so imperative for me to make sure I’m gentle with myself.

Think of me. I’ll be back when I have more to give, which hopefully will be soon. I’m off to do some self care. 🙂

Love you all.

Spoken Word Poetry – My Messy Beautiful

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Recently, I got involved with spoken word poetry.

Now, I’ve been a poet since I was 15. I spin words like a grandma spins yarns for knitting blankets, sweaters, and baby booties. Some of you have picked up on my poetic ways through various posts. However, spoken word is a whole new experience to me. I’m not just reading my poetry. I’m acting my poetry. That’s totally out of my comfort zone. But I am inexplicably drawn to it. I can’t get over it.

The first time I saw spoken word poetry, I was blown away. I instantly thought, “I want to do that.” I twiddled my thumbs and didn’t pick it up again until last year. I was required to do a creative project for my Psychology of Diversity class, and I decided I would do a spoken word poem. It took me a month or more to get the words just right. It was so fun to perform and so fun to see how speechless people were.

I still wasn’t all in, but people kept mentioning this spoken word poetry thing to me. A fellow classmate at my school went to the meet up on campus. I thought about going but it was my last semester. I finally went to my first slam with a dear friend in February. It was a Friday night after a long week and I debated not going, but in the end, I pushed myself out of my apartment and down the street to the nearby slam. I walked in and had the pleasure of sitting on the front row. I didn’t know what this was going to mean.

I saw the expressions, the tears, the anguish, the passion bleeding across every face that walked up to that stage. Even on the faces that felt superfluous, redundant, mortified and ashamed to be standing shredding their hearts in front of a room of half-strangers, passion was lurking. And the skilled wordsmiths who stood and burned themselves like incense to the sky made me realize why an Old Testament god might have demanded offerings. These poets hadn’t just written the words; they became funeral pyres to them.

Fire is catching, especially to a fellow wordsmith.

Their words spilled out onto me like the perfume the prostitute poured on Jesus’ feet. She washed his feet with tears, kissed them, dried them with her hair. My dirty, road-weary heart full of care was doused in a sacrifice bought by their full year’s salary. I cried because I heard, in the echoes and the timbre of their voice, the same story I told in my darkest and brightest moments. When they talked about sorrow, I saw my dying sister’s face on a white hospital bed. These poets took death, love, sex, passion, social prison, and all the feelings of inadequacy, and showcased them like jewels for the world to see.

I wanted to do that. Desperately. And something in my heart jumped then and I thought, “I can do this. I need to do this.” Because every word they were saying was every word I’ve been saying since I was 15 years old and begging for someone to listen to me. I knew these people, because we’re all connected somehow. And because the quiet words I’ve written and kept to myself are the ones they were living out loud. They were warrior freaks and unashamed, and I cracked open a little more in the presence of their brightness.

Vulnerability is catching, too.

So I read, officially, for the first time a week later. My hands were shaking and I could barely look at the audience.

I’ve been a poet for more than 10 years, but bearing my heart like lion’s teeth and having that kind of audacity – well, that’s new. It’s nothing to write these words here where I don’t actually have to speak them. But there’s something about hearing your voice echo through a room. You’re exposed. It’s like being a stripper but with your heart. Your words are dancing on a pole, sliding out of your mouth, wrapping back and forth like a snake. And all I could wonder at that moment was, “Am I good enough?”

I know my quiet written words are good enough. I know when I’ve written a kick-ass poem, or a well-crafted blog. But this was new. This feeling of being so inside my element yet so. damn. vulnerable. My respect for these poets has grown by the hour as I feel the fear whipping at me like high-speed winds on a clifftop. Standing in front of that microphone is like jumping into the abyss.

Yet, it’s taught me something new about bravery, and courage, and staying with my mess.

It‘s shown me that audacity is windmill-kicking that gripping, gnawing fear right in the face. It’s trying again even though your soul wants to stay in the “not good enough” litany it always provides. And when you still feel inadequate, and small, and like an island to yourself up on that stage with all the eyes boring into your soul, it’s telling yourself, when you leave, that bravery isn’t built by doing only the things you know how to do best. It’s built by grabbing your passion by the horns. Cuz you’ve got Old Red underneath you, and it’s the biggest, baddest bull of them all. Unbroken and untested in the arena and you’ve got to stay on for 8 seconds and you have no damn idea how. And courage is saying, “Well fuck it, if I die this will have been the best 8 seconds of my life.” So you get on, and you ride.

That’s real bravery for me, right there. Not just sticking with what I know best, but jumping out into new territory. Being a trailblazer.

The last time I read was two nights ago – Saturday night. I wasn’t going to read. But I decided to just go for it anyway, with a raw, vulnerable poem I’d written after the last slam. I’d stayed up until 2am trying to write something good enough for the audience, and finally when I was worn down and squeezed out, I gave up. I gave up and wrote about how painful it is to try to find words to encapsulate something that’s indescribable. I went down to the rawest part of my soul and plumbed it, pulling up the junk for all of them to see. That was the poem I chose to read only two nights ago.

It’s the poem I’m going to read for you, now.

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This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!