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.

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!

distilled. (a poem)

distilled.

faces flashed by.
warp speed
slowed by
your eyes, my eyes.

I caught them
a butterfly
wings fluttering
softly against my hand.

Wide open
you gulped
a world full of
brackish water

Through the opened lids
everything flooded
an ocean in your
one entire drop of self.

But you laughed.
because beauty of
asymmetry
is this…

that by swallowing
the ocean
you can lose
the drop

and all you
ever wanted
was to be
a very lost drop.

distilled.

Neruda; the flowers.

I have had a little obsession lately that has sprung up in my bones. It’s really been waiting for me for years, ever since I saw the first line in a Neruda poem. I don’t remember what that first line was. I do remember the feeling, though.

“Oh, hello. It’s so wonderful to see you again.”

As if I had written that line years and ages ago, and I was meeting it again after a long parting. The way we met was with a joyous pang, a breathless smile, a freefalling of surrender into the bonds that once held us close; that held us even still.

A few months ago, I got a huge book of Neruda poems in both English and Spanish. I read them as if I were in a trance. I fell into the ocean of words and wanted to drown. I lost myself among them…

“…little one, red grain
of wheat.
the struggle will be hard
life will be hard
but you will come with me.”
(
Neruda – The Mountain and the River)

—–

My mom sent me a card recently. We had met for coffee and I had broken some news to her, about going away. Depending upon this or that. Afterwards, she was sad. We live in the same town, but a few days later I got a card in the mail, with a flower on the front.

“You still stop and look at the flowers when you walk by,” she wrote.

I don’t remember everything from when I was two years old. But my parents tell me about this facet of my early personality. It’s one of the lovely times when I was young. They would walk along the Highline Canal in Denver, and I would stop. Because there was a flower to be looked at. They used to call me Ferdinand.

ferdinand
(Source)

I have been rather unfamiliar with this story, but looking it up just now, I am moved to tears. Silly me.

“My love, to my life,
you came prepared
as a poppy and as a guerilla fighter…”
(Neruda – Ode and Burgeonings)

—-

In life, there is fighting. And some things are worth the flaming chaos of battlefields.  The point is to pick flowers in the middle of it all.

That was poetry for me, always. Since I began, it was a way for me to endure the ceaseless fighting. To find my own internal ceasefire despite the rain of grenades, bullets, and bombs all around. I was awkward with words at first. Trying to fit them together in ways that opened my soul to the light. It wasn’t until the deepest dark that I split myself open and scooped out all of those slimy little seeds buried in the red flesh.

Now I have vines growing everywhere. And flowers.

watermelonvine
(Source)

—–

Even in the darkest of times, I only need look around and my soul is eased. The gift of Ferdinand, bequeathed on me from the start. This morning, I looked out of the windows at work and snow was dancing in the sun. The sparkling flakes reminded me of a quieter place, deep within yet high above myself. I caught my breath and was brought back to silence, again.

Ceasefire.

——

I love Neruda because words get me through things. And his words are like lassoes. When I am fighting, fighting, fighting, here they are suddenly. A beacon on the hill to keep my eye on, a lighthouse in a rocky sea, a handful of daisies with yellow suns in the middle.

daisies
(Source)

I bemoan my lack of funds on a regular basis. I pinch pennies like a tax collector in Bible times. Poverty licks my feet like a stray dog.

“If you can’t pay the rent
go off to work with a proud step,
and remember, my love, that I am watching you
and together we are the greatest wealth
that was ever gathered upon the earth.”
(Neruda – Poverty)

I fell in, again, to this ocean of words. Words I could have written myself. I want to lose myself in them, because for a moment there if my eyes are on those words, I forget the battlefield.

——

My favorite collections are the ones that has both Spanish and English versions. Through the eyes of Neruda, Spanish has become like a coded language for me. Not only do his words trap me in English, they seduce me in Spanish. It’s like getting lost in someone’s eyes and completely forgetting yourself.

So I’ve been learning Spanish by learning his lines.

“Mi lucha es dura y vuelvo
con los ojos cansados
a veces de haber visto
la tierra que no cambia,
pero al entrar tu risa
sube al cielo buscandome
y abre para mi todas
las puertas de la vida.

Amor mio, en la hora
mas oscura desgrana
tu risa, y si de pronto
ves que mi sangre manche
las piedras de la calle,
rie, porque tu risa,
sera para mis manos,
como una espada fresca…”
(Neruda – Your Laughter)

With each line, I feel as if I am speaking rosebud petals. Wrapping words like chocolate around my tongue. Gathering in my hands, in this wild battlefield, a fresh sword.

——-

“Because while life harasses us, love is
only a wave taller than the other waves:
but oh, when death comes knocking at the gate,

there is only your glance against so much emptiness,
only your light against extinction,
only your love to shut out the shadows.”
(Neruda – XC)

Neruda’s words are how I talk to myself. They are the way I am learning self-compassion. They are, for me, as Thich Nhat Hahn’s “Oh my darling, let’s talk on Friday.” When I say these words, I am saying, “I love you. I will never leave you. I will always take care of you.” (Elizabeth Gilbert) These words keep me from the edge of death. When I’m standing on the precipice, they give me the desire to walk backward. When I’m on the battlefield, they rouse my courage as Aragorn – “But it is not this day!”

aragorn
(Source)

These words are a way for me to keep the faith  – they are the flowers.

With these words, I endure.

—–

“Stand up with me.

No one would like
more than I to stay
on the pillow where your eyelids
try to shut out the world for me.
There too I would like
to let my blood sleep
surrounding your sweetness.

But stand up,
you, stand up,
but stand up with me
and let us go off together
to fight face to face
against the devil’s webs,
against the system that distributes hunger,
against organized misery.

Let’s go,
and you, my star, next to me,
newborn from my own clay,
you will have found the hidden spring
and in the midst of the fire you will be
next to me,
with your wild eyes,
raising my flag.”
(Neruda – The Flag)

my hands are small

It’s not metaphorical. It’s true. I have tiny hands. Size 4.5 ring finger. And they can’t dot things neatly, like that title up there that sits, balancing, without a period to stave off the anxiety of no ending.

My hands can’t stop uncertainty.

“My world keeps spinning around.”

like the lyrics of this song that played just as I wrote that sentence, the world moves. Sometimes, it flashes like a brilliant sun on a white winter day, searing your eyes with brightness that is unavoidable. Sometimes, it’s like a ghost in the wind on All Hallows Eve, dancing through the falling, tender leaves; sneaking by, indistinguishable from the breeze on your cheeks.

I hate endings. I hate not-endings. I can’t decide.

I hate the in-between the most. Teetering on the edge of whether this little thing will survive. My fingers just aren’t big enough. Even if I reach out to hang on, I barely brush your shirt-tails when you move past.

It’s for the best because, no one can ever know the inside. The thoughts that drift by me like raindrops over the windshield. No one knows the dialogue.

No one sees that behind my eyes, I just saw God. It walked up to me with a quiet, knowing smile. It looked into my soul. Unzipped my skin to touch the underneath… then stepped inside and zipped it back up. It was trapped like a butterfly under a glass, inside the cells of my skin. And no one knows, but me, It, us… how it feels.

And maybe no one else was meant to.

maybe my small, small hands should drift to a sputtering stop, because I don’t have to reach. endings or not-endings or in-betweens are not definitions, anyway.

What I crave is here, and It’s dancing on the slow in-out current of my breath.