Saturday, August 31, 2013

In the past, when something unexpected (and potentially disastrous) has happened, I have tended to react in a way that someone lost in the woods might do: panic and start running. Apparently, that is the worst thing you can do when you get lost. According to, the best plan of action would be to remember this acronym, favored by the Emergency Response Institute of Olympia, Washington: S-T-O-P.: Stop, Think, Observe and Plan. Here is the first step:

"Stop: If you feel uncomfortable with your situation, don't go any farther. Don't panic, either. Young or inexperienced backcountry travelers should be taught to stay put once they feel lost. "Hug a tree" is familiar, and worthwhile, advice. The rule changes if the area is unsafe or someone in your group needs medical attention. Count to 10, drink some water or eat a little food. These acts often give you a fresh perspective and help you better assess your situation."

In the last couple of days, "Stop" is exactly what I've done. I have paused to gather my wits and to calm myself down, making sure I don't run off in the wrong direction. I am hugging my equivalent of a tree and I feel more balanced than I ever have in a challenging situation such as this. Think, Observe and Plan come next, when I'm ready.

Life is like this sometimes: just when you've made progress in one area, suddenly a new, seemingly even larger challenge appears on the horizon; as if it was deemed I was somehow ready for it. And I want to say: goddamn it I am not ready!!! No one seems to be listening.

In my experience these days, there are only rare moments in which to consolidate information and experiences. Most of the time life moves forward like in a vintage 80's Super Mario-videogame: no going back. The fucking screen chases you from behind and keeps gaining, and if you stop, you're dead. I realize I'm mixing my metaphors here.... Stopping to hug a tree and then running to keep up with the game. Well, both are true. Life is not simple enough to keep my metaphors in check. So. Let's just say that I paused the game for a bit to consult my manual. I will continue momentarily.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sometimes positive experiences can be harder to stomach than the negative ones. Being around healthy people doing healthy things in a healthy way can make me feel more alone than when I'm in the company of people who are struggling in one way or another. And yet, more than anything in the world, I yearn to be healthy and strong. I want to be able to remain the Janita I know myself to be, no matter who enters the room. Nevertheless it still feels like when I'm alone in the room with another person, there are three of us present: he/she, me and the shit I'm dealing with.

I just returned from a wonderful 3-day-vacation in Long Island, where I was paddle boarding, kayaking (for the first time), swimming and having an otherwise lovely time with absolutely lovely people. What for most people would be an awesome little vacation, ends up being quite a bit of work for me. Let me explain. My instinct is to isolate (because I can be anxious and awkward  around people), or let loose by drinking alcohol. Being that I no longer drink, and I'm surrounded by nice people who I love, neither is an option. In this situation it is my job to learn to connect, to hang out, to have conversations, to be present. I can't tell you what a challenge this is for me! It feels like I'm using all my concentration and effort just to seem normal. And yet, I know I'm doing so much better in these situations than I ever have. I'm getting better, and it's obvious. Unloading shit just takes time.

A morning dove had made a nest right on top of a doorway at the beach house I stayed at over the last few days. It seemed like an unlikely spot for a nest, seeing as there was quite a bit of traffic as we all went in and out of the area. Every time I passed through that door I looked at the mother-bird, who was eyeing all of us intently. We all grew quite fond of her and ended up naming her the posh, English name Margaret Daisy due to her Morning Dove-initials.

Perhaps a bit sappy, but I think about Margaret Daisy now as a metaphor for my own life. I'm in the middle of quite a bit of traffic, as I'm trying to nurture something fragile: my sanity and my health. The job that I've chosen as a person who likes to isolate and has addictive tendencies is not the easiest. But like Margaret Daisy, I've surrounded myself with good people who I can trust, (even if we're both still eyeing them suspiciously...). Also like M.D., I have a roof over my head and a sense of serious purpose.

Below, are two pictures of Margaret Daisy and her eggs. I could make this ending superbly gooey by comparing her eggs to beautiful things I am hoping to hatch in my own life. But of course I won't. That would be supremely cheesy indeed.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

It took me a little while to figure out why I was feeling so shitty today, but I finally got it. I'm simply feeling sad. I'm grieving. I'm still so unused to allowing myself to feel my feelings, that I find it hard to recognize them. I'm getting quicker though. Today it took me a bit more than an hour. In the past it used to take weeks. Years actually. Plus I needed help. Now I can figure it out on my own.

As I was walking through Prospect Park, coming back from the library this afternoon, I watched people setting up their barbeque/picnic spreads, with 90's-style sunny R&B tunes blasting in the background. You know the type where some Jamaican dude comes on every once in a while and does a feel-good rap-bit. Man, I so couldn't relate. It reminded me of a woman who approached me a couple of years back after my record-release show. (A show I am still very proud of..) She suggested to me after my performance that I should write happier songs. I can't remember my reply. I probably just felt uncomfortable.. If I could travel back in time into that situation right now, my reply would be this: I can't. And frankly, I don't want to.

But that was then. Recently, I do find myself searching for happier chords on my guitar. It feels good to realize that there's a natural evolution that happens in songwriting, that mirrors the emotional terrain one is exploring at any given time. The album that I'm recording right now has some seriously dark, hypnotic moods, and I feel thrilled about the prospect of performing them. It feels honest, it feels real. And dark doesn't necessarily mean depressing. It can be powerful and uplifting to some. It certainly is to me.

I've come from a dark place, but it doesn't mean that I am a dark person. I just feel compelled to express my emotions honestly while I have them. Tomorrow my emotions will change and evolve, and then I will create something different. Perhaps happier songs will come, but they will come in their own time.

Today, I will honor my sadness, although it is not my intention to wallow in it. I'm making myself my favorite comfort food: mashed potatoes, and I may even drink a hot chocolate afterwards. If you knew me well, you would know that that's some serious self-soothing right there.

“Tears are words that need to be written.”
― Paulo Coelho

Saturday, August 10, 2013

It may seem like a weird thing to say, but I'm new to friendships. Yes, I've had friends over the years, but to be honest, I haven't known how to be a good friend to anyone. Least of all myself. I haven't been capable of consistency, and most importantly, I haven't been able to trust anyone. Many people who I've chosen to be close to, and who I have attracted have also not been worthy of my trust, so that has added largely to my vicious cycle. Luckily, there have been one or two wonderful exceptions to this rule too.

At one point in my life, I lived under the illusion that I had many friends. With all of these people, I shared one common interest: alcohol. For me alcohol was the social lubricant I needed, and without it I wasn't really able to communicate with most people, though I didn't realize it then. For years I had thought of myself as a party girl, and I thought that my drunken conversations with people qualified as strong friendships. I was mistaken in both. When I ceased my "party life", I soon became aware of how unable I was to actually speak to, and to hang out with people. Subsequently, I withdrew into a cocoon. Only a handful of people were allowed in. Well, two people actually.

Now, after three and a half years of being dry/sober I am finally beginning to open up and let people in. But to me friendships are daunting! I have become so accustomed to being the lone wolf--the one who keeps her distance, the one who doesn't need anyone... It feels so much safer. I find most people terrifying!

But seriously. I have a number of new people in my life, and with most of them, my relationship is in a fragile, unfamiliar phase. I'm learning to communicate in a way that is not overwhelming or offensive to the other person, and to become consistent. The rules that I learned about relationships when I grew up no longer apply. Much of that was bullshit, and I'm learning a different way, baby steps. This is my opportunity to thank those friends who have remained in my life, despite my inconsistency and isolation, and those who are now coming into my life bringing new hope, support and love. With all of these people I wish to build deeper relationships than I've been capable of before. I think I'm ready now to be vulnerable, to be seen. Bit by bit, little by little.

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. "Pooh?" he whispered.
"Yes, Piglet?"
"Nothing," said Piglet, taking Pooh's hand. "I just wanted to be sure of you.”
A.A. Milne Winnie-the-Pooh

Saturday, August 3, 2013

This week, I've become hyper-aware of how fast time passes. For a number of reasons... On the bright side, I just celebrated a relationship anniversary this week. On a darker note, in recent months, weeks and days I've heard news of three friends or acquaintances passing; all of them by their own hand.

I can understand the feeling of wanting to say to this world: "I quit." I have certainly been there for lengthy periods of time myself. But when you decide that suicide is not an option--what do you do? In my case, I decided to start fixing whatever was making me feel the way I was feeling. And yes, I'm still on that road. But I'm happy to say that these days quitting is the furthest thing from my mind.

Perhaps for that very reason, it has been extremely hard for me to hear of my friends who decided otherwise. Their passing reminds me of that dark place I once inhabited, and fought so hard to leave. For some strange reason I feel guilt for leaving them behind, even though in my heart of hearts I know I am not, nor ever was, responsible for anyone else's life but my own.

Today, I find life compelling, engaging, heartening, spectacular. Yes, there are moments, even days of devastation, but my overall outlook these days is quite different from what it was a few years ago. Tonight, I am thinking of my friends who possibly never got to see the beauty of this world quite like I see it now. In all honesty, I grieve for that, more than I even grieve their passing. 

Like Mark Twain said:

“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”