The heart of me

Yesterday was Mother’s Day. A complicated day for me, full of memories I want and memories I don’t want. Memories of another life, another time, another place. And that’s not to be overly dramatic, either.

I have come to view my life experience, up to now, as somewhat of a civil war inside myself. Parts of me have been in combat with other parts of me. As I come to know all of these factions, I can see how they’ve worked against each other, how the combat has been a no-win situation for all of me. I’ve been successful identifying and healing some of the big parts, and I look at those as literal reconstructions. Still a bit of work to do, but the house stand better now than it ever has.

One of my other lives is my younger self, when I was a lot more filled with misery and despair than now, but still not up to a level of happiness or fulfillment. I couldn’t figure out how everyone else had gotten the memo about how to do this living thing, and I spent quite a lot of time banging my head against various walls.

I couldn’t figure out how to be successful at much of anything, including easing my own pain. I tried very hard to drink it away, but I was a largely unsuccessful drunk. I felt that if I just hun around at the bars, I would eventually be the only one left when the lights came on, and someone would scoop me up and take me home. That didn’t happen.

I still have no clue about how to pick up women, or allow myself to be picked up. No clue about what the rules of dating might be – more than one woman has been enraged that I “dumped” them, but I never knew I was dating them in the first place. I thought we were just friends, since there was no sex, no kissing even. Color me stupid.

When I thought I was dating someone, because I really wanted to, I still wasn’t exactly what I was supposed to do. Ask them out to dinner? Pay for dinner? Go out to the bar like always but stay close to them? I had no clue. It always ended badly. So, just drink more and pay no attention to the sobbing woman in the corner of your own heart. She’ll be fine.

I am entirely ambivalent about sex, to be honest. Perhaps I don’t have a high sex drive, which is fine. That usually gets more negative response from other folks, for some reason. Either tales of how high THEIR sex drive is, or pained looks of sympathy. They don’t understand how little I care about it, so no dramatic music is necessary.

My younger life was consumed with trying to navigate the vast expanse of what I thought I was supposed to be doing, and what I was actually doing. I thought I was supposed to be having wild sex and unbridled episodes of debauchery with multiple people. I thought I was supposed to be narrowing the field, and beginning to establish promising relationships for the purpose of “settling down” with The One. I thought I was supposed to be getting ever closer to what I wanted, but in all honesty, I had no idea what I wanted.

What I realized a long time later was that notion of “settling down” was my mother’s notion, my parents’ generation’s notion, of how life was supposed to go. It was also excruciatingly dominant culture, heterosexual, Christian. I didn’t yet have the vocabulary or maturity to understand that one of the reasons I was having so much trouble with the goal of forever after and what not was because I didn’t buy into any of the sources of that model. I didn’t know exactly what my life was supposed to look like, or what I wanted it to look like.

The other reason it wasn’t working for me, aside from the drinking part, was my own self-esteem and self-loathing issues. I didn’t want to have a relationship with me, so why would anyone else? But again, I lacked the maturity to connect those dots, and it was the fault of the entire Lesbian nation that I had not found The One. They didn’t know what they were missing, and neither did I. As I’ve heard in recovery rooms, I was comparing my insides to other people’s outsides, and coming up short every time.

I had no goals. I reacted to most things. There was a tiny sliver of light between stimulus and response, and most of the time I ran past it. I was angry at everything, and everyone, the whole world. You – whoever you were – contributed to my misery and so screw you, and the horse you rode in on, and get the f*ck out of my face. I wanted to fight, all the time, about all the things. It didn’t matter, as long as I was fighting, because life was being fair to me, and that wasn’t fair. That’s how I went through most of my days, and nights. Fighting.

To a large extent, I understood that what I was doing wasn’t working, because the misery persisted. I wasn’t winning the fight. Any of it. This was not just unhappiness, it was misery. I was needy, greedy, and had nothing to give. I was a gaping black hole that encroached on other people’s space without invitation, and sometimes consumed them entirely without so much as a nod of appreciation. Maybe a burp, but that’s about it.

When I got sober in 1988, I still didn’t realize how badly I was moving through life. I didn’t realize the impact of anything I did, because I figured I was inconsequential enough to have caused no damage as I bulldozed everything around me, including my soft parts. I was not generally a blackout drinker, so I remembered nearly every second of every horrible day and night that I had spent on my rampages. I had not cared about anything or anyone, including myself, and now I had to pick up the pieces of what I’d destroyed.

It took a few minutes to get my bearings after years of stumbling around in the dark, and there are still shards of debris that are uncovered even today. But, things are much improved I understood impact, understood that even when you don’t know what you’re doing or don’t mean what you’re doing, you can still have impact on someone, or something, and you’re responsible for that.

I understand responsibility now. I don’t always do a great job of it, but I understand it. In all honesty, I do a much better job that I’ve ever done before, so there is progress. But, the misery persisted after progress, after reconstruction, so now what? Oh, I know – it’s the place I’m living. I’ll go some other place, and I’ll be the new kid in town, and more importantly I’ll have no history. OK, let’s go! Eight hundred miles away sounds like a healthy distance from the wreckage of the past.

So, as they call it in recovery, I took a geographical remedy. The whole problem was where I was living, but this new place, well things are looking up! New living arrangements, new job, new people – that will cure everything. Right? Um, not so much.

Wherever you go, that’s where you are. I was taught that in early recovery, and found it to be true. But, I forgot that when I packed up my dog and my stuff and headed East, toward the Smoky Mountains and beautiful land and shining happy people. It was all going to come into focus here, just wait and see.



Well, I have found a few things here, none of them what I had in mind. I’ve found me. But, I had to lose some things, though. I had to make room.

I had to lose my uterus. That was a relief, actually. I’d never had any plans to use it, never understood what the hell it was doing, and it never functioned correctly. It actually tried to kill me at one point, so good riddance.

I had to lose my arrogance about race, and the sure knowledge that I knew what racists looked like, and what systemic racism looked like. I had to lose a few friends, and a few relationships that did me no good. I had to loose the notion that I deserved the abuse and the emotional deprivation.

I also had to lose my survivalist outlook, that I don’t need anyone and I can do life by myself. That my only job in life is to survive, and that I can ignore fun, and silliness, and chaos, and doing things that make no sense just because I can. I had to lose the notion that I know what I’m doing and don’t need to learn anything else.

I had to lose the home I grew up in, and most of my tangible history there. Flood waters destroyed evidence of nearly everything I remember from my growing up years – the piano I learned to play on, my childhood bedroom, pictures that I can now see only in memory.

I had to lose my mother, who eventually faded into the recesses of her own mind, and was lost to the rest of us. She fought the good fight, and I love her for that. I hope she feels that it was all worth it. She taught me how to fight, and she taught me how to survive. I truly hope there was more than that for her. I am still trying to find the more-than-that part for myself,, though, but I keep plugging away at it.

I had to lose my job, which challenged everything I’ve ever been sure of in my life. I’ve been working since I was 15, and have been learning how to live outside the regimentation that 9-to-5 linear functioning brings to a more creative left-brained chaotic thinker. I never liked it, but thought I had no real choice, and thought I could not survive without it. It’s a little more challenging, like it’s more challenging to be left-handed in a right-handed world, but I am surviving.

One would think I’d lost enough, made enough room inside myself, to have invited in everything I’ve been wanting. Well, that’s not exactly true at this point, but there is some change.

I’m learning a little bit more about how this body works, which has always confounded me. I listen to my doctors (mostly) and pay attention to what I believe my body is telling me. I still don’t drink, or smoke (anything), but I do eat badly some days. Exercise is part of my life, although I go through phases where I just don’t want to do it. I still try, however, and I suppose that’s just how it goes.

My depression is no longer an exercise in futility and stark misery. I get sad. I’m sad right this moment because yesterday was Mother’s Day, and my mother is not here. But I understand that, and I’m not paralyzed by it. I can move. I will take the dog out, I will eat lollipops, I will drink coffee. I will know that I am OK.

Perhaps that is the most beneficial thing I’ve gained, knowing that I am OK. That was one of the last things I told my mother before she died – I’m OK. Don’t worry about me, because I’m OK. Shortly after that, when I lost my job not even six weeks later, I wondered if I’d lied, that I wasn’t OK. But then I remembered something she’d told me a while ago, to never let any job make me think I couldn’t make it any longer, that I had to leave. Not for any job, she said.

So, I’m OK. It’s scary, but I know I’m OK. It’s scary, but…nobody ever said it wouldn’t be. I’m not the same person I was when I was 8, or when I was 21, or when I was 40, or even yesterday. But I’m still OK. Tears and all, I’m still OK.

I’m in here, yo.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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