Carmine Carmichael smoked his last cigarette twenty minutes ago. The sun rose above the row homes on Sutter Street as he sat down on the marble steps at the corner. He hadn’t slept in three days, hadn’t eaten in two days and hallucinations had begun. His four-week-old blue jeans felt crunchy as he ran his hands up his shins, to his knees and then his thighs.
A dead leaf blew down the sidewalk, past his battered sneakers and he thought of how peaceful the dead leaf must have felt. It was, after all, devoid of all feeling. The leaf had lived its life on a tree somewhere as people passed it by without a thought.
Carmine knew exactly how that little leaf felt. Another leaf blew past and Carmine reached his filthy hand down and scooped it up with care. The weak stem felt dry in his fingers as he twirled it around, looking at the rips in the body of the little leaf.
“I’ll bet you were once so beautiful, little leaf, just like me. I was a strong man once, little leaf.”
The little leaf stood lifeless in his fingers and Carmine felt his eyes well up as he clutched the leaf to his chest. Little leaf pieces fell to the ground as Carmine sobbed.
Footsteps echoed in the distance and Carmine put his filthy hands back on his thighs and watched the leaf blow away in a dozen pieces. Carmine watched as shiny, pristine shoes stepped on and over the leaf.
I was always a people pleaser. Always… I couldn’t stand to be disliked so I would keep my feelings buried and wear that plastic smile, laugh that fake laugh and do what it took to gain acceptance. This is probably the worst thing I have ever done to myself. This is worse than sleeping with strangers, driving like a maniac or even breaking a window (on purpose). Because by not speaking my truth, I fortified a wall of lies around my soul that I still chip at today.
I suck at speaking my truth. I get that knot in my stomach and I get all frazzled and start thinking too much. That’s when my truth turns into a monster.
Now, while I am an average writer, I suck at talking. Seriously. I hold it in so long that by the time I do get it out (sometimes hours or even days later) it comes out all crazy and illogical. And honestly, at that point I have lost my focus. This has plagued me since I was little.
Saturday night my boyfriend and I went to a bar & grill. Ugh, I know. But his friend (who he hadn’t seen in over twenty years) was playing in a band (with his other long-lost friend) and he just wanted to clear the air with things in the past. Okay… no biggie.
We talked before we got out of the car and made a pact. Neither would leave the other under any and all circumstances. Period. If things got hairy or either of us started to feel uncomfortable we would say so and then we would jet. Okay, there is the pact.
That pact lasted about fifteen minutes. Yeah, he left me sitting at the bar (with my soda and Loaded Nachos) and went to go mingle with all his old friends. I sat there alone for thirty minutes being ogled by creepy old guys and the ‘shot girl’ asking me three times if I wanted a shot. My blood pressure shot through the roof the first time she came by with her tray full of booze loaded test tubes. I snapped ‘no’ as I waved my hand. Still, she came by two more times. Ugh, again.
So I am trying to see through the wall to locate my boyfriend in the other part of the bar. “Where the fuck are you?” I am thinking as I get upset. I can’t see him but hope he is on the other side of that wall.
I finally spot my boyfriend and some hot blonde hanging all over him. Okay, now I am feeling resentful, angry and jealous. This is just not fucking going well… at all. My whole ‘fight or flight’ thing is kicking the shit out of me because I am extremely uncomfortable.
I do not belong here.
So finally after all that, he comes back over with one of his friends. I know my face says, ‘you suck’ because, after all, I wear my heart on my sleeve. His friend apologizes to me for keeping him away. Do I get an apology from my boyfriend? Nope. All I get is justification and ‘I didn’t do anything wrong.’
For the rest of the night, true to form, I stuffed in all inside because I didn’t want to ruin the night or act like an ass in the establishment. That’s what I used to do back when I was ‘out there.’ I’d act like a total psycho no matter where I was if whoever I was with at the time hit me with a perceived injustice. But this time I wasn’t drunk or high. I was just me… raw and real with my emotions.
So I guess I have grown up a little. Most of my old behaviors didn’t ooze from my pores and I kept my composure for the rest of the night. I did try to bring how I felt up later on when we got home, but that didn’t go well.
Today I did bring it up. I had to speak my truth. I had to say where I was inside and I had to let him know that I was not mad at him, but that he broke his word to me and that hurt. And it wasn’t a question of me being right. That’s not what I wanted. I wanted an apology for him leaving my side; for him breaking the pact we made in the car. He did apologize (sort of) after (from an outsider’s point of view) a hilarious argument/discussion/fight outside on Sunday.
So I was watching the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) this morning and there were all these fascinating episodes that dealt with “self.” Like, how we treat the self, how outside events impact the self and so much stuff I went out and bought a book by one of the people Oprah was interviewing. “The Untethered Soul” by Michael A. Singer. The book is to liberate us from a contained self-image.
Based solely on the interview, the information I gathered from the show and snippets of the book I scanned, I have hope that this book will break me through my final barrier… me.
I have always tried to keep it real. I’ve tried to remain grounded in all I do, say or feel along with trying to be there for anyone who crosses my life path. But there are these things, these feelings, that get in the way on a consistent basis. And when I let my head get the best of me, I am no longer keeping it real per say, but getting sucked into a myopic array of disillusionment which takes me back to that dark room of self-loathing.
Yeah, pretty messed up stuff. The more messed up part of all this crap is that I project this putrid bile onto other human beings. Instead of just being in a moment or looking at things for what they are, I tend to read deeper into whatever is going on and then I project my thoughts, insecurities and the like others.
This leads to:
feeling less than
That is a pretty hefty list of awful feelings, ideals and all around yuckiness.
Lately, I have been way up in my head. This is a tough place for me when I am trying to live a life of peace. My head is not peaceful. It is constantly chattering, whispering and telling me rotten things. I believe these things. I give my thoughts weight and that is when the horrible list above comes into play. I used to drink and drug to get rid of these thoughts and feelings. Drinking and drugging is not an option for me.
This is why I bought the book. My thoughts (and yours) are so automatic, I never question them. You’ve heard the saying, “I think, therefore I am.” UGH!!! How awful is that? I certainly do not want to be what I think! My twelve-step program helps ( a lot!) but lately I just feel like I need an added tool.
As I go through this book (highlighting sentences and paragraphs like I always do) I will be updating my blog with what I have learned and if any of it is making sense. It made sense on Oprah’s show, therefore, I am sure it will make sense.
When I first got sober, it was pretty easy for me. I’m not bragging, but I had hit such a low point that I figured getting clean and sober might well be worth a shot. The one thing I hadn’t discovered in my new sobriety was ways to cope with life on life’s terms. This was definitely something I needed to figure out quickly.
See, life just kept on happening to me. It didn’t matter that I was clean and sober, or that I was trying to do the next right thing. It didn’t matter that I was making a valiant effort to see my kids, to stay away from people, places and things or that I was working a rigorous twelve-step program.
My car still broke down, I still got yelled at by my boss and I still had (very) bad hair days.
Of course I would go into the “poor me” cloud. “Hey, I’m doing the right thing… what’s this crap all about?” I had this grandiose sense of self (huge ego!) that since I finally started to do the right thing (after years of doing very wrong things) that I should get a reprieve of sorts and nothing bad should ever happen to me ever again. Ever.
Reality check: shit happens. I had to deal with life on life’s terms and I had to find out pronto how to do that.
The only way I could do that was to go to meetings, be around other sober people who had serious clean time and work a good program.
I learned that drinking or drugging was not a coping tool. It just added fuel to the already out of control fire that raged inside me.
I learned that I should start writing again and that I am a pretty good photographer. I learned my triggers and how to avoid them most of the time. Sometimes triggers still invaded my head space (usually when my mind was idle) and I learned that the best thing to do in that situation was to call another alcoholic in recovery. Maybe they could help me. Turns out, I was helping them just as much as they were helping me.
I couldn’t wrap my head around that one. How the hell could I possibly help someone with years of sobriety when I was so new? Now that I have over six years clean and sober, I know how. Because when I talk to someone new in sobriety it puts things in perspective and reminds me of the way I used to think. I no longer think that way.
Some of the ways I learned to cope:
Go to a meeting. Talk to another alcoholic in recovery.
Go for a walk.
Go for a drive.
Listen to music.
Go to a park.
I can always come back to the problem later. Obsessing and keeping the problem at the forefront of my mind will not help me. And trust me, I am huge on obsession. After all, I am an alcoholic and everything is about me.
If I had a dollar for every time I asked someone “What’s wrong?” with the presumption that it had to be something I did, I would be retired and living in my dream cabin in the mountains.
See, another HUGE thing I had to learn to cope with was myself. I had to learn that people pleasing was not a coping tool, rather a way to mask whatever guilt or remorse I was feeling. I had to cope with that. I had to learn how to recognize the difference between actually coping and sweeping the problem under the rug or enabling someone or using other poor methods:
ignoring the feeling
None of these ways worked! These were not coping tools, these were character defects that I used to hurt people to get my way, pretending I was right (when I knew I was wrong). Because as long as I was sure other people knew I was right, I felt better, if only for a short time.
How do you cope with day-to-day life or problems that come down your road?
My good friend Heather introduced me to this phrase: “Just be.” She has an awesome blog about alternative therapies. Go check it out! I’ll be here when you get back.
Back to “just being.” It took me a little while to really grasp what exactly that meant. I’m really good at nodding at people when they start talking about things I may not understand, this is true. I am even better, however, at nodding at things I want to understand.
And I desperately wanted to understand and learn how to “just be.” So I gave it some thought. Okay, I gave it a lot of thought teetering on the brink of mildly consumed. And then one day…
I was sitting on my front step, drinking my coffee, smoking my cigarette (bad girl!) and listening to the birds while feeling the wind on my face and watching the stars in the sky twinkle brighter than ever (stars seem their brightest between four am – five am).
And then like a sparrow nearly smashing into my face it hit me. In that moment, on my step surrounded by nature, stars and cars in the parking lot… I was just being. My head was not racing with thoughts, deadlines, my kids, money or writing. I was just a body on the step with a blank mind enjoying my environment.
How awesome is that? Let me tell you, it was so awesome that I try to “just be” at least 3-5 times a week now. And it helps. A lot. There is great peace and growth in just being. It is one of my favorite things to do.
I joined Oprah’s Lifeclass a few weeks ago and I have to say… I love it. I am about ten classes in and am learning a lot about myself by answering thought-provoking questions that only I can see the answers to. There is also a Daily Life Question that we have the option of answering. It is linked to the users Twitter account.
As I read some of the answers (a lot of them anonymous) I shuddered at some of the things a lot of people have been through usually in great part by their parents. I saw remnants of abuse, both physical and sexual, mental anguish, alcoholism, abandonment… 😦
It just got me thinking.. like.. what the hell do I have to bitch about? Ok, yeah.. my childhood wasn’t the greatest.. I have always been socially awkward and put a lot of my worth on my physical beauty (but am too lazy to do any upkeep on it). I tend to talk way too much when I get nervous and yes.. I am an alcoholic.
BUT – I am sober! I AM beautiful! I grew up poor.. but I have character. I have small boobs.. but I have a great butt! I can be very indecisive, but when I know what I want.. no one is stopping me.
It is so important for me (and you!) to look at the silver lining in the dark, looming clouds that hover over our heads from time to time.
We have all been through our own share of hell. I remember years of self-pity, beating my head against the wall as I cursed and screamed “WHY ME?!”
Well, why not me? Bad things have happened to me because I have the ability to help others. If all I can do is take my experiences and share them with another, then whatever I have been through is not in vain.
I just read a tweet from a fellow tweeter. I got the impression she was down in the dumps… she said she felt, “out of sorts.” I have felt like that many times in my life (I’m sure most people have). I replied to her tweet and told her to make a gratitude list.
Then I thought, “Darlene! You’re a genius! You should make one.” So I am. Right here, right now.
I am grateful for:
the ability to use all five of my senses
the gift of writing
a sunny day
a Sunday morning
making some one smile
a brand new notebook
that I was born exactly when I was born
Tyler State Park
other people’s opinions
These are just some of the things I am grateful for. But, I want to hear from you. What are you grateful for? What makes you say thank you. What helps you through your day?