The Anger that Consumes Me

Khairzul
Painting by Khairzul

To be mad as a hornet. To be at the boiling point. Hot. Seeing red. Anger is so poetically expressed that it is a gut-punch to see and feel it. It can burn with the hottest lava and remain for days among tumbled embers.

They say that anger is actually fear. It’s suppressed fear over something, at some level, that manifests as anger. Usually it triggers our feelings of lack of control. It disrupts our security. There is always a perceived threat that lies beneath the surface of anger’s object.

I woke up yesterday to its small flames under my pillow. This little flickering friend likes to ignite Angereach day. Sometimes it waits patiently for midday; other times, when it is especially cruel, just as I am about to sleep. It’s there, and I don’t like its presence.

I have tried to rival it with logic.
Love has tried its best to hold the anger, tight as a fist wrapped in metal.
God has been asked to enter in and sweep it out onto the street.

It remains.

Yes, I have asked my friends how to expel it. There good words of wisdom, I have tried, but it remains.

Now, I walk with it uncomfortably.

Each day I start my practice. I get out my list. I name the pain, the fear, how it still hurts. I call it into being and I give it my own name, my part. I hurt myself in the absence of the offender.

It’s an old wound, this anger.

Like a friend, I must ask its true name. What is it I need to face? If it is something to be changed, I ask for the willingness to change. If it is something that is outside of my control, I ask for the ability to let go.

It’s practice. Anything hard takes practice and a simplicity of repeating steps. I’m not sure when the anger will be lifted. It will, though, eventually. It reminds me that pain, like pleasure, is fleeting. But when the pain is self-made, the first realization must be one of choice. Do I let loose this small dragon, or do I continue to stroke it?

Today I am choosing to let it loose. I always have the option to pick it up tomorrow. For my serenity and recovery, I hope not.

***

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Total Fail…But With Fancy Socks

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Recently I came face to face with failure. It didn’t seem like such a big deal because it had to do with a hike. I have headed back on a trail without finishing before, but this was something I was determined to accomplish…and didn’t.

On Saturday I set out to hike Picketpost Mtn on the Tonto National Forest, close to Superior, AZ. Those who are familiar with this hike know that it is a hard one, mostly because you have to rock scramble on loose, crumbly rock and steep terrain. I was woefully unprepared.

Loaded up with water, my camera, lenses, and lacking the right shoes to keep a grip on the boulders, I set out on the trail. I’m used to quick elevation climbs at this point, so the gain wasn’t causing me any issues. I thought, this must be why so many people turn back, because of the steep climb. Who knew? As I climbed, the views became more dramatic and expansive. The weather swirled in the distance and the wind swept the desert scrub and tiny wildflowers.

I stopped at several key points to take some photos and realized that I had too much weight on my pack to be balanced. I had to be especially careful not to slip and to move my weight from back to front, as not to pull myself backwards.

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Why did I want to do this hike on an impulse? I knew that it was a challenge and I have known a few of my friends to do it, but it was much more than that.

I wanted to set out to find some reserve within myself to make me feel good enough again.

Again? Have I ever?

There are times in my life that I have felt on top of the game – what game – the game of feeling better than or at least equal to. Mostly, I have always felt like I never measured up and related to anyone, like I missed the instructions that allow me to finish things with confidence and success as I saw my peers do.

I’m what you might call a Jill of All Trades. I am just okay enough to do many things, but never that superstar that gets kudos. As I get older, I don’t get the attention I used to get from men, and the women I know are so wrapped up in trying to work and raise kids, few of us can do that bonding to help bolster each other up.

We all struggle with feeling like we’re lacking something. The hole of the soul we might fill with the thrill of the chase, alcohol or drugs, a winning streak, that final triumph of a pursuit that goes well. Now that I am sober, who or what can fill that eternal void of the restless soul? What can define me?

These are the questions of an unprepared woman looking for answers.

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On the nasty precipice of that mountain, I had a fast fall when my footing gave way to loose rock.

I slid down quickly.

It all happened and I had NO control. Gravity did her job.

My blessing was a strong Manzanita tree who cradled me, cut and bruised, but still intact. I was able to gather my wits and crab-crawl my way to a safer bench.

You would think I would have thrown in the towel after that, but no. I climbed and tripped, cried and inched my way up and away into the setting clouds until I could no longer take it. I was hurting and scared. The storm was coming in and dark would soon be upon me, and there was no way I wanted to navigate that mountain in the darkness.

I came back down to the ground without completing the climb.

I am still disappointed, but I realized some lessons through all of this.

  1. Failing means you actually are doing something that challenges you. I am willing to take a risk.
  2. Stubborn pride and unrelenting ego are formidable foes. Being humble is being teachable.
  3. My worth is only defined by me. What you think of me is none of my business, nor should it be.
  4. If I act as if I am someone who is already whole, I am. What a paradox! Thinking about the ways I am not *there yet* only result in mental gymnastics. My actions change my thoughts.
  5. If it isn’t required and doesn’t bring me joy, don’t do it. Life is full of necessary pains, so why add to it? Have some fun.

And, on that note, I bought myself some fun socks:

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Shattered and Joyful

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The woman I was four months ago was close to death. From her bed, she watched days pass, nights eclipse through the shadows. I see her now as I would watch someone moving down a long hall. Her contorted face forms a silent howl.

She comes to me when I hear a song, or remember a moment lost in a blackout. When someone reaches out for help from the grip of despair, I know that grip that constricts everything.

Being new again, to life, is more difficult that I can convey. Light and sound pierce me, like I was rescued from a mine shaft after spending days in darkness. Life itself seems too loud and too close, but I am learning to live with the fullness of it.

As a sober woman, I look at the past as shattered glass – and the fragments do not have to be my weapon. Each one holds a precious mirror of what moments are like if I choose to return to them. Instead, I hold them gently and whisper that something else is being pieced together.

I live my life by hours. Hours are easy. Each one is as full as I can make it, and made fuller when I hold my dog, or watch the Cooper’s hawks at the park, or talk to friends. The road to recovery is hard, but it is full of unexpected joys, small moments where I can actually be present and alive.

Not everyone gets to experience a complete breath without pain.

To be free from pain; that’s a type of happiness.

I want to return to the woman in that long hall and hold her until the howling stops. But for now, I live my hours and nurture them.

********

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Becoming Impatient, A Virtue

morrigan
Morrigan

I woke up angry again. The feeling of it scratched at my sheets and gnawed my arms, so that I had to leap out of the bed to get away from it. That feeling like steal wool against flesh.

Anger is not my normal state. My normal state is somewhere between here and Tijuana. My normal state is anxiety, the way you feel when you fall asleep behind the wheel for a few seconds and are on a hairpin curve. I can be cat-like, prone to scamper. But anger is something else for me.

Someone told me after I got sober that I have a lot of anger; that he has seen that side of me very few people know about. Repressed anger is something most alcoholics carry—especially women. In truth, all women. Our anger turns to sadness—overripe fruit set to pop its pulp and sicken the air.

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Demeter Mourning

I am not an angry person in that belligerent, obvious sort of way…Male anger. I think I am just impatient, knowing that everyone around me agrees that I need to be patient, but I am not in agreement. That’s the thing.

“If you are not angry, you’re not paying attention.” << My mantra when I was a twenty-something. “If you are angry, you are not living in gratitude,” I am reminded. As if gratitude is on the shelf all alone, as an urn with special cremains from angels.

No, I say. Anger and joy can co-inhabit. Gratitude and disdain, equally so. Gratitude MUST know the contents of my grief for me to even recognize the grace of being alive, the love that still remains. Gratitude respects a good sorrow.

We live in a world that is not set to stop for us to exhibit one thing or another in perfect order. Feeling states are not art exhibits, and rarely are they exclusive.

I’m waking up in anger because the world is not slowing down for me. Or for you.

It can be trite. I know I am growing older into middle-age womanhood. “You can still have kids?” “Why don’t you just focus on your career?” “Ever think about getting a job?” <<<Countless questions about being a 45 year old, childless, in recovery, poor woman writer.

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Durga

It pays to have women friends. I’m sure I’d be a lot angrier if I didn’t.

Holding this breath like a wish for desire only exasperates, and then the pace of one day to the next just doesn’t stop for anyone. How many things have happened over the past few months? Years? Did you expect them? Were you patient for them?

I am impatient. I don’t care for the scheme of things, and if I could raise the wild places out of their peril, the wild beings away from what is certain apocalypse, why would I choose patience?

If I could find that place I envision, the kindred partner, the freedom to roam, would I jump? Yes, I would.

There is the very real now versus the prospective future of waiting games and being patient. I choose to embody the now. And, maybe, just maybe that anger upon waking won’t make its appearance.

Second Chances

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Second chances, I have had many. Whatever it is, call it God or the Universe, or the Everlasting Energy, has stopped the trajectory of my chaos, that endless comet of catastrophes, and set me back on the path I was meant to be on. Sometimes a bit bruised, sometimes dusty, but when it comes to second chances, I have had more than a few.

Yet, I continued to veer off course.

Some of us test the waters to the point of drowning, and find ourselves in the tide looking up at the stars, never knowing how it is that the tide always sends us back to safety. But sometimes it doesn’t. I know too many who never got a second chance, who just washed away into the distant welcoming deathtide.

When I was in the hospital last summer, it occurred to me that I may not have many chances left. Hitting 40, you realize that the romantic idea of dying young passed you by and here you are in middle age. No smoky car engulfed in flames. No overdose. No suicide penned in the name of lost love.

You begin to ponder all of the crazy neuroses and freak accidents that your younger self never considered, like dying in a horrible washing machine accident or being speared by a swordfish at Pike Place Market. Not so flippantly speaking, death ain’t all that great.

You start to covet your wrinkles and less-than-tight abs a little more. The things you did to bring down the lights seem cruel and petty. Who wants to go down like that?

Nth chances, I am well aware of. I live with a bit of death on my shoulder, just to keep me on my toes. And it isn’t about fearing death; it is just a healthy respect.

Self-destruction, I have put away that book and crawled out the window. When you know, viscerally so, that it can all end (and will) you come closer to life than you ever had before. We are creatures of intimacy. I forgot this for a long time, but it was there sleeping like Rip Van Winkle, and Life pulled me back up to see the stars.

And Love is my redemption.

Refuge

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In the woods of my youth, I would tell my dreams to whomever would hear them, usually the swayback mare or the barn swallows who built their nests high in the corn crib. As a child of the country, the forests were my refuge. In the woods I was someone, the narrator of my own life, the one I meant to have.

On summer days I would spend hours looking for insects, reptiles, and amphibians. I was obsessed with their seeming insignificance or disdain felt by most humans. For me, they became worlds beyond worlds, an unseen realm of dreamers keeping track of the earth’s secrets. They saw things most mammals cannot see. They recorded the events of much more complex creatures with their own simple arithmetic of rhythmic chirps and bellows.

In these times, I seek out this refuge, but where do I find it? Gone is my Indiana home of wildflowers and forests skirting the edges of farms. In a desert city, there are few places to hide from the chaotic world. A friend of mine used to refer to the human world as the “meat world” and nature as the “fur world”. The fur world is much more than that. It is the place of plants and stone and soil. It is the water world, and the decomposed humus that reminds us of our death.

One of my favorite places in the woods was a natural sinkhole. I would sit there among the saplings and undergrowth, imagining it to be a cocoon, a sacred bowl that contained protective powers where I would feel safe, where I would speak to God.

For so long, I have been without refuge. What I found was false sanctuary in a bottle, running, un-remembering. In this limbo, I am learning to return to the lessons of insects. What appears to be insignificant can sometimes save. I cultivate a refuge among ant hills and alleyways where coyotes run.

And in my cityscape, I listen to the wild beneath.

 

 

 

Directionless

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I have been feeling quiet lately. More so than usual. There are plenty of problems to solve, decisions to make, people to contact, things I set out to do years ago lined up at the door. Yet I cannot make a decision, make a call, move.

I feel as though complete stasis has set in. Seriously. I just want to be “left alone” – but do I? No. I miss people. I miss genuine connections. I miss waking up to a life that doesn’t feel so in flux. I miss close friendships, doing dishes with someone, having a laugh. And, I realize that this isolation is mostly my doing.

But when there’s an opportunity to be less hermetic, even if it is playing pretend, I take a pass. I go back to quiet.

Even though it isn’t winter technically, it is a winter season of the mind. I just don’t know what I want. I feel itchy and awkward and unlovely.

One of you will say it, so I might as well be the first: midlife crisis?

Maybe. It’s not like I have previous experience with midlife.

Some of it may also be that I don’t use substances to alter my internal landscape or keep me from *all the feelings*. That’s a big part of my life now: being committed to feeling everything, even the discomfort, and not r-e-a-c-h-i-n-g for something/someone when life is freaking hard.

I just want to understand why some people seem to come out of the birth canal knowing themselves so well. You know, people who find a purpose early on and stick with it.

Like the internal compass is set:

  • Career
  • Family
  • Marriage
  • Life purpose, etc.

Some people seem to intuitive have a direction, their “true north”. How do you find that *thing* and not stumble and fumble around for 20 years? That is what I want to know.

Direction.

 

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

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“Two or three things I know for sure, and one is that I’d rather go naked than wear the coat the world has made for me.”
― Dorothy Allison, Two or Three Things I Know for Sure

Over the course of my life, I have written extensively about my background. Candidly, unapologetically. Most of my readers know I am in recovery, grew up poor, and overcame a lot of trauma as a child…

I think the word we insist on using now is survivor.

And it is true; I am a survivor.

But here’s the thing, in an email conversation I was having recently with a wise woman, I discovered that this survivor label no longer serves me. In a way, it has limited me to always being the abused kid, the writer-alcoholic, the poor adult hopping from one near-miss tragedy to the next.

It seems that while survivor might be a badge of courage, it also assumes some basic things about a person, allocating him or her to a moment in time when surviving was the only goal.

And this isn’t even a post about thriving, although thriving is something most people aspire to, survivor or no. This is about the stories we tell ourselves, and in turn, the world.
Inadvertently, in all of my surviving, I forgot the other aspects of who I am and landed precisely in the middle of the narrative I created these last few years.

For example, how I ended up in Phoenix was not so surprising given the narrative of the life I was creating – preferring the wild fantasy to the facts. A survivor just goes with the pull of the tides, right? No. There was a deliberation of story, of belief.

But what would have happened had I done something else? Hmm.

What would have happened if the life I thought I loathed was just mirroring the story I kept creating rather than actual reality or what could have come to fruition?

I’d say any one of us is capable of re-writing a story in the moment – scrapping the old narrative when we find it going in a prescribed direction. Almost every decision we make is based on these stories, from work to romance; family to identity.

All of this has prompted me to JUST STOP TELLING THOSE DAMNED STORIES. Stop already.

Stop telling stories about being poor as shit, drunk as hell, and even…as much as it hurts me to leave her behind…lost and alone at age 10.

Because these stories aren’t where I live anymore, or what I live.

So expect something new from me in the coming months. Wildly, fervently, freeing-ly new… as I set pen to paper, and begin.

On the Tiger’s Back: Addiction, Society, and Uncertainty

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** An excerpt

 

The alarm goes off. How many days have I missed work now? My blue room has shadows and in the shadows, I see the summer sun waiting for me. I have been in this room for several days. I don’t sleep, only suffer with my eyes closed. My pets draw in closer to me. Their looks of wonder and perhaps sadness reflect the reality of my life. I cling to them, these innocent fur-bearers, as if they were my very life.

And they were.

Their need kept me alive.

Rolling out of bed was like moving stones. One leg over the side – then the other. Dead tree limbs for arms, winter in my eyes. I make my way to the bathroom to vomit again, wash my face, feed the cats and the dog. Life just keeps tunneling into this darkness, blaring its ugly horn in my silence. I pour a drink and lie down on the carpet, wondering if I have lost my mind finally; wondering what life can allow, what edges I can push against until the sharpness bleeds me entirely.

*******

Throughout my life, I have dealt with alcoholism. From the first drink, it was everything to me. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to be courageous, brave… comfortable. You see, I was never comfortable. I was the girl who tried but never succeeded, the one who barely touched the center of any group. I was always out coaxing wild creatures from hiding or creating fantasylands where I was someone else. There was music, art, and the beasts of the forests. These kept me, held me. In poems, I was the caustic blaze of a city on fire. I was a queen to the tapestry of unicorns and other mythic beasts. I was the mad gin-drinking wanton with a revolver strapped to her thigh. I was many things. I was so many, in fact, I drifted far away from the girl who tried.

There are many theories and opinions about addiction, addiction treatment or recovery philosophies. I do know that no animal willingly chooses annihilation without being completely insane or seeing annihilation as something other than death. For the mad, life is worse than death. Addiction is the antithesis of life. Addiction is a rabid animal set loose in the mind, body, and spirit that convinces itself that annihilation can be life.

Like creativity or genius, we tend to view the realm of addiction as fantastic, extraordinary. We make shows about it. We spend billions of dollars on it in jails, courts, institutions, and treatment centers. We have “programs” and pathways out for those “willing” enough to accept the rainbow at the end of the clouds. We have so many portraits of addiction, we have lost sight of the complexity of its enormity, its anonymity. I have friends who – despite everything I have lost or done over the years – continue to deny my addiction. It would be painful to accept. It would prompt them to ask their own hard, troubling questions – to view behaviors better kept locked behind closed doors, in cars, in the mind.

In my pursuit of sobriety, I have come to realize that there’s really no way for me to speak about my own experiences without weaving in a societal portrait of recovery. Likewise, I cannot write about recovery without relying on my intuition and perception, having been in rehabs and “holistic” treatment centers and having participated as a Kool-Aid drinking member of AA and other programs.

When you ask most clinicians about treatment options for addiction, twelve-step programs are the go-to suggestion. Not that their rates of success are particularly good – they just propagandize society’s agenda of compliance, lack of personal power, group buy-in, reliance on outside forces, and a steady push to return the individual to “normality.” And while AA and these programs work for some people  – and I do not wish to diminish their effectiveness with those who benefit – I know twelve-step programs don’t work for all. I certainly don’t believe that those who deviate from this model of recovery are doomed.

I have lost friends to this disease. Friends who did all the right recovery things – some of them in programs for years, only to fall into severe and ultimately fatal relapse. I have grown all too tired of hearing, “Oh, if they only didn’t stop doing their program,” or “If only they had gotten a program,” etc. When I suggest that perhaps the program alone wasn’t enough or perhaps it was a combination of events that kept the person sober and a combination of events that led them to the end, I am usually ignored or seen as pugilistic, rather than as someone who sincerely wants to understand this disease. To this I ask, why not question our options?

I think there’s always more to the story…

I do not believe in an addictive type or personality. I believe addiction is cultural, a societal make-up easing us into carefully formed facades that serve the root of addiction. Secrets are titillating. We grow up with a predilection for lying. We assume roles – encouraged roles – and play out our secret lives and desires in ways that often lead to addiction or self-destructive or abusive behaviors. I do not believe in a defective individual; I believe we are made to believe that lies and hidden desires are better options than self-awareness, courage, and bold honesty.

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We humans like a tidy explanation. Empires and religions are built upon this internal compulsion for reason and logic. And when these fail us, we fall back on the particular recipe of faith we were given. Those who walk outside of these lines and live a little too fully or differently are dangerous – not just to society but to self. Arguably, the alcoholic/addict is a pariah not unlike criminals and madmen. Recovery – the industry of – does little to move away from this otherness.

Recovery-based paradigms encourage the “strange terrain” that embodies addiction, the fatal flaw, for example, that set some up for a life of addiction and do little to critique a culture that encourages the formula for this pathology. Otherness is irrational. Otherness is dangerous. Recovery paradigms have less to do with morality and more to do with conformity. Case in point: it is more socially acceptable to be a corporate thief than it is to be a black dealer. Take a look at any prison and one cannot deny this truth. If society truly cared for morality, and not simply “falling into one’s place,” the spectrum of justice would reflect this.

Recovery – if it is to be effective, meaningful, and lasting – must include this dialogue.

 

The last night
with him, lying down,
he places his hand
on the space
where my ribs furl
back like wings.

To steady
me, to keep me
from rising.
– Nancy Mitchell, The Leaving

 

From the top of the slick rock, I hear the last song cascade down through the stadium, echoing off of the canyon rocks. I have been drinking since noon. The wind whips my hair and dress as I walk along, between couples, between vendors selling t-shirts and other merchandise. Some are packing up. I watch the skyline dim – the corners of the night have become an indigo stain, a broken pen. No stars pierce the clouds. 

*******

As to my own journey, healing and recovery must involve purging habits and rituals, illusions and expectations. In a broader, more effective discourse, we must understand the concepts of recovery that society wants us to purchase. We must understand the touch we thought would bring salvation or balm. We must understand and embrace the ache that demands something to be filled, attained. Burning the desire itself for normal responses to abnormal society is catharsis. To question whether being found or walking a certain path is what is intuitively right for oneself is essential. Recovery must involve honoring one’s deep feeling ways or views, sensitivities and persuasions.

Recovery or healing is borne from realizing that the flame that shines so luminously in what we want – the fairytale or medicine – exists within. It is in knowing that the answers cannot be constricted to one path, but in many roads of exploration, questioning, and wise uncertainty.

 

** This is an excerpt from a complete article to be published in July 2014.