I’m not sure what I expected for my first week of sobriety. I think I imagined that everyone would sense an improved me, that I would give off new energy and excitement about life and there would be an extra skip to my step that would make heads turn and people would say, “That girl is a force….” Well, that didn’t happen. Not even close. The first week I was exhausted. I was so, so tired yet I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t understand why I felt so depressed having made this conscious and vital step toward health and peace of mind. I had restless legs, which was the alcohol trying to find a way out of my system, and once I did sleep it was so difficult to get up, it felt like my head had been steamrolled into my pillow. One of the reasons that I couldn’t sleep too well, aside from the restless legs, is that when I did fall asleep I would dream hard. My brain was an HD movie, vivid and elaborate. I was like Dorothy when she stepped out into Munchkin Land in Technicolor, I felt that I too had been siphoned out of a dust cloud and kerplunked into a world of bright colors and dancing munchkins on acid. And I think the part that was the most perplexing was not the dreams itself, but that I actually recalled my dreams. I couldn’t remember the last time I dreamt. I was disturbed by my own imagination. But, once I realized this I actually got excited, I was sober and dreaming again. Being sober was so trippy!!! There was much to change before I could get too excited about going to bed. How can I get to the point of falling asleep in a way that didn’t feel like torture? I was white-knuckling my sobriety, cleaning more, constantly doing laundry, watching a ridiculous amount of Netflix shows while folding clothes. I had to keep busy because if I didn’t, I could get bored and walk down the street and get a bottle of wine to nurse me back into black and white dreams I wouldn’t remember.
I had to recognize the times of day when I would feel most like drinking. Since I moved to California, as a young adult, I was told that it was legal to consume one beer during your lunch break. I never bothered to look this up to see if it was true but just believed what multiple people told me at face value. It was too good to be true (which I usually am a skeptic of) but I absolutely wanted to believe it. California can be its own special circumstance quite often so I just went with it and hoped my friends knew what they were talking about. Really though, it is not true. California is an “at will” state and you can be fired for any number of reasons if your employer doesn’t think that you are able to perform your duties. Also, if any employee, especially a supervisor, knew that I was drinking off the clock and I came back and fell down in the store, acted out, or behaved in any questionable way, that boss can get fired for knowing I was a liability and then failing to act. I had been putting myself and others on the line for nearly 10 years without knowing it. Of course I wasn’t the only one doing this which made it seem justifiable. It was like smoking weed, it wasn’t legal but no one wanted it to be enforced so we all willingly turned a blind eye.
So at lunch, I started eating places that either didn’t serve alcohol or had never served ME alcohol. There were places I could go to that would just put an IPA on the table without asking if I wanted it, they just knew I did and I could almost hear the “Cheers” theme song play in my head. I also had to start walking home a different route so not to be tempted into the bars that I would frequent. Even in the grocery store, I had to avoid my favorite aisle flanked with names of countries I never visited but felt worldly in…Italy, France, Argentina, or just Napa Valley. I used to get giddy filling my wine glass. I nearly hugged myself when I took my first sip of the day. I especially loved to drink while cooking which is why I think I thought I loved cooking. Cooking while drinking just made me look like a knowledgable foodie, like I had that thing I was so afraid to be without, an interest. Really, I would have paired anything with alcohol, but it was fun to pretend there was a rhyme or reason.
Sobriety did make cooking less fun. I still haven’t made my way back into it with as much enthusiasm. But, it’s worth putting my excitement into other hobbies until the cooking bug sparks back up. So that was the other thing, hobbies. What the hell were my hobbies? What did I really enjoy? Oh this was a scary question, I was so stumped and so reluctant to confront this. It felt like that scene in American Beauty when Kevin Spacey tells Mena Suvari that she’s boring. I was afraid to know that about myself. I was afraid that I would be completely boring as a sober person and it was only going to be more obvious to everyone around me.
One thing I was able to identify after I got through that first week of restless sleep, and once that first bit of energy started to kick in, was that I absolutely loved waking up sober and not being bogged down right away with headaches and shame. Also, the act of changing up my routines, like eating in new places and walking home on a different path already made life more interesting. I was able to see that I was actually quite boring as a drunk. I was set in a routine and rarely ventured out of it. With this tiny bit of encouragement I was able to try to remember what I used to enjoy doing, hence, figure out some new and productive ways to occupy myself.
To get back in touch with myself I had to take a trip down good ol’ Memory Lane and get to know myself again. It involved rifling through boxes of photographs, journals that I haven’t had the stomach to read for years, and memorabilia whose significance I could no longer recall. It was actually kind of liberating to approach myself with an open mind, knowing that I might find some incriminating evidence of a selfish individual, or style choices that remain forever questionable, or at best, qualities of a person I may even like. I found journals filled with first times; first sex, first love, first time living on my own, first heartbreak. I felt like I had so much to tell that me which was a good sign, because that meant I’d learned something since. I found poetry I wrote that I found surprisingly… good. I found myself sort of proud of me at 20 and thinking, “you’re alright, I like you.” Meeting myself again in a subjective light, a little vignette of my young self, I found a few things that have been consistent about me, or dare I say, some talents?
I’ve always loved fashion which is why I’ve made a semi-career out of it. From the time that I can remember, style has been important to me. I saved up my allowance to buy the clothes that I really wanted and hair products that my mom never bought. I was always adventurous with my hairstyle and putting outfits together. Even when I entered into Junior High, when girls got really mean and could find any reason to spread a rumor or be cruel, I maintained my personal sense of style. My mother made a lot of our clothes as children up into High School years though not as frequently. She would teach me about fabrics and fit. When we thrifted she would show me good finds by the quality of the material, the stitches and construction. My mother sewed most of her own clothing and she would let me borrow pieces to incorporate into my own look. While other kids were wearing Guess Jeans, Bass penny loafers, Adidas slip-on sandals and carrying colorful Liz Claiborne purses around, I was mix and matching pieces from my parents closet, anything from my mom’s pantsuits and silk tank tops to my dad’s flannels and turtlenecks. I never had a signature style, I wore whatever my mood reflected, and I still do to this day. I never realized, when I was supposed to be idealizing what kind of adult I wanted to become, that people made careers out of fashion, whether it be designing, merchandising, or styling. Style was never something I identified in myself as a skill, it was just something I loved. I never really knew anyone that loved their job.
In my more self-righteous and free-spirited days I would write poetry and perform spoken word. I really don’t have any interest in doing that again, it also isn’t as trendy as it was when Mos Def and Saul Williams were the poster children for bohemian-speakeasy meets hip-hop. But it was nice to remember myself as someone who was able to put myself out there, particularly coming out of High School, where I was not so confident to perform much in front of people. In High School I was a cheerleader for a little while and enjoyed choreographing routines and making up cheers but was kind of limited in my athletic abilities. Moreso, there was a group of girls that liked to sit in the front row during some of our halftime performances so they could laugh and heckle me. Looking back I think I would have enjoyed theater, people tell me I’m very animated and can do spot-on impressions of people I know. But then, the idea of putting myself in the position to be humiliated doing something I enjoyed was out of the question.
And then there was dancing. Dancing was something I discovered I loved when I was able to get into dance clubs in Japan as a teenager, or with a fake ID stateside when I was underage. It was when I felt the most beautiful, sexual, uninhibited, and confident. I never had a problem going anywhere by myself. Not ever. When I was a child I would wander around endlessly from neighborhood to neighborhood. As a teenager in Japan, I worked jobs after school and used my own money to take trains to random places. I did end up in Karaoke bars with strangers singing Top 10 Hits and giggling the whole time. That really does happen in Japan. And then when I turned 21, I went to spoken word joints and dance clubs when I was restless and needed to let something out. I met a lot of interesting characters during these excursions. People would almost always be surprised that I was showing up places by myself. Then, I didn’t really drink very much for a few reasons: 1) I usually had to drive home. 2) I generally couldn’t afford more than 2 drinks. 3) I spent the majority of the time dancing so I didn’t even think about the drinking most of the night. One of my favorite people of all time to dance with is Reggie Watts who used to sing for a group called Maktub in Seattle, Washington. He would frequent a night club called The Baltic Room on funk nights. He was someone who made me realize that some people have a natural flow, a natural sense of self when dancing and that I was one of those people. When we danced we never touched but would morph into each others movement as if we had some magical ball of energy we would pass back and forth. Some of you may know Reggie as a multi-faceted talent on Comedy Central, famous now for his comedy and music, but to me Reggie is always my dance partner.
When I thought of dancing after becoming sober I was so afraid that it was something I could only do when I was sauced. What if I only thought I could dance? In San Francisco I prefer to dance with the gays. I can dance like I really want to dance, fierce and voguing, grabbing on to some big Bear’s leather harness and dipping my back like Jennifer Grey to her Patrick Swayze. Also, when you dance at gay oriented places, it’s more sexual, over the top, and “anything goes.” I felt, at first, a little stiff and out of my element. It didn’t take much to loosen up and feel like I was HOME! A local DJ set called Honey Sound System had a residency every Sunday night that was my “church.” The weirder more “out there” I danced the better. You can’t do this at straight places. You become “the one have who’s having the most fun,” as one guy put it to me. You never want to be “the one.”
Dancing one night out a week was not enough. I ached to dance. And, I literally ached when I danced, I was so out of shape. I hadn’t paid much attention to my body in years. I was hipster-thin but I was soft and doughy. I had no flexibility and little stamina. My skin on my belly still sagged from my second birth and I barely needed to lean over before it resembled the skin of freshly shaved testicles. Quitting alcohol made me shed about 10lbs right away which also made my skin seem dry and crepe-y in places. My breasts completely disappeared. A few months after getting sober I also stopped nursing. My daughter so eloquently described my breasts as “sagly” gently combining two damning words together “saggy” and “sadly” to create “sagly.” It really was the perfect word to describe them. I mourned the loss of my breasts for nearly 6 months. I will be damned if I don’t age naturally. Go ahead and tell me how young I am and that I will change my mind when I get older, but I am determined to accept how I am destined to turn out. In order to love my body I needed to do more of what made my body feel beautiful, which was dance. I developed my own dance style/regimen which is a combination of classical, stripper, yoga poses, and hip hop. Sound interesting? To say the least. I love to show off when I dance. I’m a terrible partner dancer because I am a selfish dancer. I only like to dance with people who don’t touch me too much or try to twirl me around out of my rhythm. And I like to lead. Guys find me emasculating to dance with unless I am seducing them with my body in which case they’re predominantly gay so it’s just for show. Doing this started to build up muscle and increase my flexibility. I felt strong and agile which made me feel sexual and frisky. The muscle I built actually gave me the tiniest bit of an ass that use to be this area behind me that sort of melted into the back of my legs. And my beloved breasts perked up, just a tad out of sagly status.
I dance almost every night, late, usually when everyone is asleep. When I first started this routine I was really self-conscious to do this in front of my husband. There is little to no place to go in our flat for privacy so I had to learn to be open with it. I noticed I wouldn’t follow through with my movements or let myself get too artistic right away. My husband would occupy himself most of the time on the IPad while I fumbled away half-naked with yoga stances I picked up off Instagram, or just dance around the room. I’d check in my peripheral to see if my husband was watching, he never was. I kind of couldn’t believe it, I was half-naked after all. To his defense, when I asked him about this later he did say that even though I was dancing around in my underwear, it didn’t feel like an invite to engage in any sexual activity. He’s probably right, I was doing it entirely for me. Dancing was my alcohol, I often can barely sleep unless I’ve done it for a little while. I’m not trained so I never thought I could call myself a dancer. But a photographer friend of mine asked me if I was a dancer to which I replied, “Well, I dance every day, I feel like I kind of have to.” To which he said, “Then you’re a dancer.”