Remember when you were twenty years old, and you had thrown away everything because of a boy, back at home in your parents house in the suburbs, working 40 hours a week at a coffee shop for $7.50 an hour?
You were looking for an apartment, but nothing, even out in the boondocks, was below $800 a month. You were still pining for your ex-boyfriend, in spite of the fact that you had relapsed on alcohol while living with him. You still thought he was your twisted soul mate.
Do you remember moving into your best friend’s aunt’s upstairs bedroom? Getting a job at Trader Joe’s even though you had taken a handful of muscle relaxers and blacked out during the interview?
Do you remember digging through drawers in your best friend’s aunt’s house for whatever pills you could find, taking them even though you didn’t know what they were? Going in the back room of Trader Joe’s and drinking the loose beers in the bathroom quick as you could, then putting them into the trash, then taking the trash out into the back so nobody would see before going back out on the register to ring up customers, smiling, “Hi, how are you?”
Remember how you got fired because your ex came into town and you couldn’t resist taking off for a week, even though you knew you would get fired? Do you remember his best friend telling you both that you were bad for each other, that you only caused each other to self-destruct? Do you remember getting a DUI and having your license suspended?
Do you remember on the last day of that week away, driving down through Northern California, taking your pill bottle out of your purse while listening to Frank Sinatra’s “I Get A Kick Out of You” on his car stereo and freaking out because you realized it was completely empty?
Do you remember everyone in your life being sick of your shit?
And when you checked into an outpatient program, your car caught fire on the way to the building. And two weeks later, you met your husband, the kindest guy you’ve ever known, the first one who treated you like an equal and not some dumb girl.
Do you remember being 25, working at a small press in Berkeley, watching all of the books come across your desk from female authors–mommy bloggers, poets, freelancers–who had written books about their self-made careers, their travels, their children, their open marriages, their transgender pregnancies?
Do you remember starting this blog back then, because you thought you could be like them, because you thought your book could someday be published there, too?
Do you remember being “let go” from the publishing company? Do you remember being unemployed for a year and a half, sick as a dog from the back pain medicine you were taking, taking all sorts of other pills to counteract it, floundering, fumbling, not even writing music anymore?
Do you remember that you had given up?
You weren’t spending time with anyone, it was an effort to get out of the house to walk around the block with the dog, you were having issues with your heart rate and were trying desperately to take yourself off of 5 different pills your doctor was prescribing you, but had no idea how to do that.
At 27, you thought your life was over. And it seemed like it was. No job, addicted to pills, living in your grandparents house, your family distracted by their own issues, your husband working 7 days a week to get the hell away from you.
Do you remember crying at your husband’s friend’s house, saying, “I don’t know what’s happened to me.” And being embarrassed that it had come to this–you never cried. But here you were, crying every day. Waking up and wondering how you were going to get through the day. Praying to a god you didn’t believe in anymore to take away the pain of being hopeless and alone, of feeling like you were going through life wrapped in gauze, a stranger to happiness.
Do you remember checking into a program to cold turkey off the pills your doctor wouldn’t help you get off of? Him saying, “You need these pills.” Do you remember how hard that was? Not sleeping more than a few hours a night for a year, the inner thrumming in your nerves, constantly feeling like you should be moving but being exhausted at the same time, like your body was doing some complicated nervous system speedball?
How no one understood what you were going through?
Do you remember that for nine months, you couldn’t feel joy?
And when you finally had a moment, one day, where you felt good, out driving the car, like you were on the right path as some kind of bird flew through the air in front of your car windshield, you held on to that moment for another year, remembering an essay Anne Lamott wrote about how we cobble together all these eight second blips of happiness–how her essay got you through, made you feel like you weren’t the only freak who felt bad all of the time.
Do you remember all the friends you met? Picking up a kettlebell because it was a challenge, losing 30 pounds of flab, having people to talk to for the first time in years.
Do you remember playing your sister’s old piano in the quiet of your grandparent’s musty house when no one was around, transcribing your song from guitar and singing it like you were on fire, how you felt like you were tapped into a crystal geyser? I’m in the right place, you thought as you thrashed the keys with your fingers, singing into the dead air as the sun burst through the dirty picture windows over the piano–even though you’re not a classical pianist, not even a pop rock pianist, not by a long shot.
Do you remember started to record yourself playing songs again, and posted the videos on facebook even though you were scared shitless that everyone would laugh at you?
Do you remember going into the recording studio for the first time in years, putting down tracks for four of your songs, getting positive feedback from the engineer and engineers in training, slipping the rough mixes into your CD player on the drive home, listening to your songs, and feeling like everything was finally clear?
Do you remember when you read one of your non-fiction stories in public, how you had 8 friends with you, and you felt like a star, and when you read, everyone laughed, or said “ew” at the right moments, and you said to yourself, this is one of the best nights of my life?
And do you remember this morning, reading a blog by one of the published mommy bloggers whose book you worked on back at that small press company you were employed at, reading all her publishing credits, noticing she lived in LA, reading a post she wrote that was poignant and resonated with you but hating that it was poignant and resonated with you even as you enjoyed it?
You wiped the bleariness of waking up from your eyes, looked at your blog stats and realized only 50 people even glanced at it yesterday, thought yourself downright delusional to think anyone would be interested in reading what you have to say.
You were wearing a formerly black sweater, now gray and threadbare, the sweater your husband bought you eight years ago, drinking cold coffee, procrastinating on taking the dog out, wondering how you were going to make ends meet, stop working so hard for so little all of the time, wondering if you’d ever amount to anything, wondering why after so many years of wanting something you’d been waylaid and sidetracked by pills and men and depression and joblessness and fear. You were feeling regret…
Do you remember that as you remembered all of these things, you started writing a letter to yourself in your journal? You shared it on your blog hoping that maybe one person might read it and not feel alone, feeling like a cheeseball for wanting to connect with other struggling artists out there, feeling like all the “established” artists are going to judge you, but knowing that connection is why you do this thing: creation.
Do you remember putting this up on your blog even though you knew people would judge you, your family might read it, everyone might say, “Oh my god, she’s such a beginner. I was already doing all of this stuff by the time I was 20.”
Do you remember telling yourself, if only for a second, that you’re glad you’ve been able to finally feel–for the first time in your life, you have these moments where you are completely in the moment, and it’s only because of the battles you’ve faced. So what if you’re not successful to the world. So what if only once in a while someone reads this blog and something resonates. So what if it’s only a small group of people. You haven’t given up.