I traded cigarettes for friends

Last weekend I discovered a major dissatisfaction within my life: the inability to understand women both globally and individually. I’ve been missing out on a fundamental aspect of most girls’ lives. Growing up, my mother did not have any healthy relationships with women. I’m beginning to understand that even the few girlfriends she did have did not like her very much.

I’ve always felt like there was something missing in my life. I’ve tried filling the hole with a ton of different solutions and while they may work out temporarily, often times they fail and leave me with even more confusing questions than when I began.

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I’ve been going through this sort of reinvention phase of my life. I ended a failed relationship with my ex-boyfriend, moved into my own apartment, went pescatarian, quit smoking (finally!), changed my wardrobe, deleted all my social media (I’m back on it now), and really took stock of what my life contained. When classes started I knew I needed to join something, some sort of club or sports team or anything really that would get me involved with a bunch of people who enjoyed the same things I did. Only problem: I have a broken toe (the most annoying injury ever that’s likely going to take about 6 months to heal) and a torn rotator cuff. Suffice to say, my dreams of sports and activities were put on the back burner right around the same time I officially started classes at my new, four year university. Goodbye community college, hello student loans! Except, here I was completely stranded and totally alone. Although I wasn’t far from home, I wanted to taste that independence I’d dreamt about.

I think I called a few people crying during my latest meltdown. I spent the days questioning my decisions, terrified of the idea of failure and total loneliness. In the back of my mind I think I knew it would get better but it kind of felt like everything was falling down and all the hopes I’d prepared were doomed from the get go.

Part of my list of activities I’d wanted to investigate were the campus sororities. My brother was in a fraternity and loved it. The morning after my meltdown I figured, fuck it, why not just see what it was all about. I did the online training (anti hazing, anti drugs/drinking information), paid the $60 and headed off to the info seminar Friday afternoon. I think by the end of the info session I was pretty much sold. I saw how all the girls on the council flowed together.

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The most intriguing part was by far the organization itself. As I came to discover over the recruitment weekend, there were so many traditions, rituals, and rules set down to make the experience as unbiased as possible. I had no idea what any of the house reputations were, what the rumors were, anything. I just knew the women in lines around me. For those few days of uncertainty, before we received our bids and decided our chapters, we all timidly decided to be friendly to one another. We marveled at the decorations and each other’s outfits. We discussed make up and shoes and our nerves whenever we heard the clapping and chanting coming from behind the closed party doors. We lined up in alphabetical order and speculated what the reasons for it were. Come to find, the recruitment process had been so detail oriented, the chapters researched us in depth before we even entered the room. Our online applications had been thoroughly examined and pairs pre-made.

The first day I left and walked home, I felt so insanely connected with the mass of women I’d spent the previous hours with. I knew that I didn’t like all of them and yet it didn’t really matter because we were all experiencing similar thoughts and feelings. We all wanted the same thing: a place to belong, a home.

We weren’t allowed to talk to one another as all 400 of us waited in line to put our final bids into the computers; but we did. We weren’t allowed to call our parents and ask their opinions; but we did. We weren’t supposed to check our facebooks or anything; but we did. And we all rolled our eyes when we got yelled at and we all laughed when the group leaders walked away. We stood nervously, anticipating the end of the weekend and the ensuing festivities. 

When I walked to get my bid the next day, I forced myself to wait an hour before getting my final answer. I cried when I opened up my manila envelope. I cried when I ran down the aisle of screaming students, hoping I didn’t face plant. I cried as I hugged everyone. 

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My own serenity prayer

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I’m not sure if I’m an alcoholic but I’ve always been a part of AA. The thing is, alcoholism runs very strongly in my family. Actually, it’s more that addictive personalities do. My uncle was a gambler and a womanizer and just plain reckless at times, his brother too. My aunt was -for a period- addicted to crack and cocaine and she although doesn’t really do that so much anymore, she definitely maintains a steady beer buzz to this day. My grandma died of liver failure due to her alcohol habits. The doctor told her to stop and she never really did. Coupled with clinical depression, most of my family’s strongest addictive personality types have had some heavy issues, my mother included.

So definitely, yes, I worry about it. I find myself wanting to drink when I want to forget about some things, and so I don’t. I find myself wanting to drink when I have a stressful day, and so I don’t. I worry when I go out with my friends for the third time in four days and we’re drinking and laughing and not really caring if the tab runs itself through the roof or if my hangover really sucks the next day even when I have important things to do.

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But then I also remind myself that I just turned twenty-one not even six months ago and that most of these experiences are new and I can’t hide behind my anxiety for the rest of my life. I have to learn when I can and cannot have a glass of wine, or if that third drink is going to get me hammered, that water between is a marvelous idea. That I can’t mistake caution for cowardice.

When I was little, I spent most nights of my childhood at AA meetings, eating my happy meals and doing my homework, trying my hardest to stay awake as the adults passed around laminated pages and a big binder filled with codes and steps. I knew what it meant when someone got a gold chip and I played with my mom’s whenever she let me hold her keys.

I knew what all the extra birthday cakes meant.

I was never old enough to sit in and listen to their stories. My mom told me to go play with the other kids -if there were any but thank god for my sister because she would play with me anytime I asked, even if she was half asleep. I’ve been back to a few meetings ever since to listen and there’s still the same lemon cakes and coffee dispensers and the people are still telling their truths and even though I feel out of place, I can’t help but feel like it’s still a part of me.

And it only really occurred to me the other day as I was driving and thanking my higher power for making me so wise that I realized how much courage I’ve adopted and how peaceful that makes me feel and how grateful I am for every step I’ve ever had to take to get by, one day at a time.

The Rain Room Is Unveiled At The Curve Inside The Barbican Centre

Fluff & Mold

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Sometimes, because of all the events that have happened with my mom, I forget to remember my dad. Which is a shame because he’s probably the most genuinely good person I know. I’ve heard it said that daughters look for men like their fathers. I really hope that’s true. It used to kind of freak me out a little, I’m not sure why but it did; the idea that I’d be with someone like him.

When you’re little, it’s so easy to see the faults in a person, especially family. When you get older, I suppose the only thing you really try to overcome is that stupid voice in your head that gets judgmental and cynical, the one that tells you what you should and shouldn’t do based on even sillier reasons, ideas you develop about someone when they’re based on nothing but fiction.

I’ve had this anxious voice in my head telling me who I should be and what I should do for most of my conscious adult life and the strange part is my dad is nothing like that. I have no idea where that voice came from. I’d like to say it’s my mom’s fault, but I really don’t know if I can blame that part on her. He’s the only one who’s never hurt me. He’s kind of dork sometimes but as the years go by, I’ve come to cherish that about him. His heart is so kind, so understanding, so sweet.

 

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When I was around five, I stole money from the man who cleaned our fish tank. My mom wasn’t looking and I’m not sure why I did it but the minute I was alone with the stack of twenties on the table, I grabbed a few and stuffed them between the couch cushions. When the man counted his money and asked my mom why she’d shorted him, she was probably so embarrassed she gave him a fat tip to compensate. I don’t know how much money I took or why I did it but I do know that my mom was furious. Her lips curled up in a snarl when I finally fessed up and told her, they turned white around the edges like they did the time I told her I hated her for throwing away all my toys.

She did that periodically, decide we had too many dolls and throw them all away in giant white trash bags, calling my sister and me spoiled brats for manipulating my dad into buying us things.

Manipulate was one of the first “big” words I learned. “Don’t manipulate your sister” “don’t manipulate your dad” “don’t try to manipulate me”. To this day, I still have a problem with manipulation. I can twist any story to make myself the victim, I can use every excuse in the book, I can even look someone in the eye when I do it. Because I was always taught that lying by omission wasn’t actually lying. So I learned how to fluff and snip out the parts I liked or didn’t like. I could just learn to laugh at jokes I didn’t understand so I wouldn’t have to feel stupid asking questions.

When she dropped me off at my dad’s house later, he picked me up and asked me why I was crying. I had to tell him what I did and express my shame. The only thing he said was “don’t worry honey, you don’t ever have to steal. I’d rather just give you money than have you feel like you’d need to steal”.

I think that’s when it started. When it occurred to me that my dad was a softie and I could go around twisting the truth. If I could logically reason out to him why I didn’t deserve to be grounded for yelling at my sister, he’d acknowledge it and let me off the hook. His only exception was violence. You kick your sister, you’re dead and there’s absolutely no way of getting out of it.

So I learned to give the world’s worst guilt trips. I learned how to say the meanest possible things I could think of to make you wish you were wrong. I learned how to snarl just like my mother and I want to say it’s genetic, that snarl, but really I think I never forgot how small it made me feel to see my mother’s lips curl in such a way, to see the blood drain from the edges as her eyes turned into slits and all I wanted to do was curl up in my closet and forget I was alive.

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And yet, all my dad was trying to do was get me to use my words. What a shame the things I did with that lesson.

I learned cruelty all by myself.

Willfully inflicting it on everyone around me because I was angry. Slashing my father’s heart when it suited my fancy. Vomiting up derision just because I could.

And for all the things I wish I could have done differently in my life, I am grateful I can see the malice in that part of me, that cold bitch that lives deep in there somewhere. And I think it’s because of the warmth and innocence in my father’s face that I’ve come to detest that nasty side. I think it’s because of his kindness that I fight everyday to be a better, nicer person.

To this day, I don’t think you’ll find me go a day without smiling. It took me a long time to embrace that teaching but it’s taken me quite a long way.