When I was a 17 year-old baby, feminist wannabe, I would take black eyeliner and scrawl words like, ‘slut,’ ‘bitch’ and ‘whore’ on my arms and (if I was feeling really brave) my legs. I would also pair baby doll dresses with ripped tights and knock-off Docs. It was the 90’s and I was playing a part in a fleeting, feminist cultural mini-moment called The Riot Grrrl Movement. I was probably too young to really understand the steeped in irony and anger mission and message of the movement (I am not really even sure that you could call it movement) but I wasn’t too young to feel the intense pain and power of those words. It was shocking but deliriously freeing to wear those words on my skin in full view (mostly to bookstores and Waffle House). It was a phase. The feminism and ‘fuck the rules’ attitude stayed but eyeliner became something regulated to eyes (thankfully) and although I did finally score some real Doc Martens, they now occupy a corner of a box in my closet.
I have been thinking a lot about that lonely, angry 17 year-old girl lately. Everything was so painful for her. Life was so very sharp and hiding and numbing, so very comforting. I was 17 when I discovered the fluffy, dulling effects of pot and alcohol (but mostly pot). I wish that girl would have had someone to illustrate the second and third act of that story. I wish someone would have told her that life was beautiful without all of that shit… But I don’t have a time machine and I know ‘should have’ is an epic waste of time.
What made me think specifically of my “Riot Grrrl” days was the very strong compulsion I have had lately to scrawl words on my arms and legs, this time in sharpie. Over the past few weeks, I have written, “Do the next right thing” across my wrists and “enough” on my ankle and the back of my hand. Is it my inner riot grrrl coming to the surface or my inner wounded teenager seeking solace and healing? Now instead of acting out, I am trying to take better care. I am trying to remember, not let go.
Today was a bit of a shit show. I am trying really, really hard at my job. I am being consistent and holding students accountable, per mandate from my administrator. I try to pretend that it is easy. I am trying to move forward and stay positive but the tapes in my head, the ones that tell me I am going to fail, that I am stupid for thinking I could do this job and that I am only working for a recommendation at the end of the year (because I am afraid I am going to be laid off or worse, fired) are playing on a relentless loop. Being a hard ass in the classroom means that not every student adores me. It means that not even every other student adores me. Being a drunk last year means that my administrator doesn’t fully trust my judgment and still wonders if I am going to revert to my flakey ways. It all means I am not PLEASING everyone AND I am shocked and disappointed at how sad and freaked out I am by that…
The writing. It all comes back to the writing. As a teenager, I wrote on my arms, in composition notebooks and on pieces of canvas to survive and process the horrors of my childhood and adolescence. As a woman, and especially a woman in recovery, I write to survive the horrors of my addiction to process the pain I have both suffered and caused via this disease. I write so as not to drink. I write to recover. I am writing here tonight so I can walk into the classroom tomorrow, head held high, possibly with sharpied arms, ready to keep trying and maybe even love myself and the world just a little bit more.
Maybe I should try tattoos next.
I feel terribly guilty. I have been reading your wonderful blog posts and comments but I have been in the trenches and too exhausted to write anything meaningful here. I am adjusting to being back in my classroom and I am beginning to feel more human at the end of each day. Many wonderful, frightening and life affirming things have happened over the last two weeks. Below is a brief (though probably poorly written) overview:
1. I came out of the alcoholic “closet” in my department at school. When I told my beloved colleagues that I was in “recovery,” one of my favorite people was briefly confused and thought I had suffered a cancer scare. They were all very understanding and I feel really well supported.
2. A good friend, who is also a colleague and mentor, gave me some really straight up feedback on how I was perceived last year at work. I thought I was successfully hiding my increasing descent into hardcore alcoholism but mostly it just appeared I wasn’t as good at my job or as passionate about teaching as I had been. This made me incredibly sad for a little while, but I decided to look at it as an opportunity.
3. I reached and coasted past 60 days. My new AA buddies made a big deal at my Friday meeting. A really good friend made a cake and gave me a beautiful angel statue. I feel more at peace and healthier every single day. Things are so much better at 60 than they were at 30 days. I still have shitty moments and shitty days but overall, I feel better than I have in years.
4. My husband and I have had several really powerful and reflective talks about our collective and individual alcoholism. We are doing a good job (most days) of being powerful allies to one another.
5. I had some friends over for dinner. This seems small, but sober entertaining was a huge milestone for me and makes me feel infinitely more human.
6. I have realized that I am soooo much better at my job and better at balancing my job and family sober. The difference is truly staggering.
That is all I have for now. It is 10PM and I am actually tired (finally!!!). Night, night. 🙂
I have had a lot of thoughts kicking around in the old head the past few days. This past weekend was significantly better than the last. I am calmer, more reflective and I seem to have lost the inclination that I could, at any moment, crawl directly out of my skin. Signs of progress, perhaps.
Last night, before bed, I read half of Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety. I read before bed, like a normal person. I have been reading at night all summer (mostly because I can’t fucking sleep), but last night it really hit me: this new life I have. I feel like I am settling in. The edges aren’t quite as sharp. The sounds are not quite so brash and vulgar.
Now, not everything is magically wonderful. I still hate doing laundry and will put off paying bills until the cows come home. I am still loud and temperamental. I still yell at my kids too much. I still spend way to much time dicking around on my laptop. But many things are better. When I laugh, I actually feel it. It actually startles me sometimes, this strange rattle in my chest. It is a different laugh. Or perhaps, I just haven’t noticed it before. I feel better. I feel more whole? My daughter flipped on the lights this morning while I was attempting to wake up (thanks, baby) and she looked into my eyes and said, “Momma, your eyes! They’re beautiful!” She said this as if she had never seen eyes before, but I when I think about what my eyes looked like in the morning (cloudy, red, miserable) just a month and almost a half ago, I see where she might be coming from.
Here is what terrifies me of late: I have managed to construct a lovely little bubble around my sobriety because it is summer and I am a teacher. School. Starts. In. Two. And. One. Half. Fucking. Weeks. Shit! I am no where near prepared, lesson wise and I an feel shakily prepared emotionally and spiritually. The roller coaster routine of school and work and the stress of teaching are HUGE triggers for me. As I have written about in the past, I began to suck at aspects of my job near the end of my drinking and I am expected to kick it into high gear this year. I have a stack of books I was supposed to read over the summer to bolster my classroom management of which I have read about 3 pages total. It all feels very unforgiving. But people do this, right? They quit drinking and go right back to work. They succeed, right? People do this. All the time. What makes me so fucking special? I have been given a gift these past months and I sincerely hope I don’t fuck it all up.
I woke up this morning with “John Wayne’s Teeth” from Smoke Signals playing in my head. If you haven’t watched Smoke Signals go right now, rent it from somewhere, sit your butt down and watch it. It is a beautiful story about American Indian life and redemption. I screen it at least once a year either in my classes or during some random period of time where we babysit and show films. If I haven’t mentioned it before, I am a high school English teacher.
We live about 15 minutes away from the largest reservation in the US, The Wind River Rez. About 16% of my students are Native. Alcoholism is both endemic and epidemic on on the Rez. I hear heart breaking stories from my students. I am supposed to be role model. I am supposed to provide sanctuary. For awhile now, I have felt like a fraud.
What will a sober teaching practice look like? I absolutely love teaching. I am relatively new at it and fought for the position I have currently. I almost pissed it away last year: teaching hung over, not planning like I should, late on paperwork and grading because drinking was my weekend priority. No one ever called me on the drinking but I am guessing my principal knows something is up. I neglected duties related to an after school tutoring program and subsequently was removed. I am starting my third year and my principal has told me that she is evaluating whether or not I am a good fit. Basically, she told me to get my shit together or I am done.
The more I evaluate my alcohol use and related actions and inactions, the more I see how much is riding on successful sobriety. No pressure, right?