Sirena.

I don’t know what stranded me here, the maelstrom or the shipwreck.

See how the water is grey, moody, unforgiving against the jagged natural barriers of jutting rocks that line the speckled sand there, holding each at bay? How the sky moves in half-time to the waves, a lighter shade of dark than the water, but only ever so? How the deceptively soft blanket of clouds roll continuously parallel to the horizon? 

There will be no calm, again, today. I can feel it in my bones.

That gutted ship, down that way -- the one with the ornate mast and blown-out stained glass -- squatters live there now. They pretend they built that ship, that it is still a brilliant and vast vessel worth of envy. They know that I know better, that I used to guide that berth to shore. They occasionally still scream in my direction, as if I ever forget that they’re hiding in the rotting, mildewed shadows, but the wind strips their voices of any substance. I stopped listening so long ago.

That’s the ship that first lead me here, to this place, this otherworld. 

That other one, though, just before the bluff on the edge of this cove? That one is newer. It showed up while I was gone from here, before. I can’t tell you much about it; I’d only ever seen it from afar. The wood of the hull still smells fresh of sap and gentle rain. It should have held strong. Maybe the trees were still too young when they harvested them for lumber, the shipyards-men too eager to be on their ways, out on the open sea with the rest of us. 

Whichever the reason, the bow should never have blown out like that, splinters everywhere. There was no explosion, no battle fought. Just the elements. 

Just water, in the powerful, forceful hands of the gods.

Storms on the surface are different than they are below, at least I think so. Currents run fast, sure, light turns green and fades too quickly for night. So rarely did you ever see a whirlpool. You just learned not to get too close to the surface. That’s where the real damage would be done, where the real danger lay. 

I braved it, once. I remember how the air tore at my eyes, how the rain kept me wet but in a chilling, defeating way. How disorienting it all was, everything heaving and retching, unable to keep upright. No balance, no center. The sounds of the wind and the clouds as they bashed together, a deeper bellow than the groaning of the waves against the gallows of the ships. The only light came in flashes, and gone again before it could be of use for vision.

I saw men lose themselves. Swallowed whole into the storms or the ocean, or both. Neither were forgiving. Neither exercised restraint, or mercy.

I could never unsee it, even if I wanted to.

I watched that ship sink into the darkness, full well knowing what would happen to its inhabitants and contents when it inevitably reached the bottom. Not that I could have stopped it, no. But I didn't try, either.  

And now it’s washed ashore, here, on this beach. I live in its shadows, in this cove. It loomed there, just like that, when I found myself here. I am inexplicably drawn to it. Maybe it’s a misplaced responsibility -- if I couldn’t save it before, I can at least watch over it now. Keep the squatters and the seagulls and the scavengers at bay. I listen to it groan against the tides, ever shifting and settling into its sandy bed. It is a comforting reminder of when I had a purpose, a meaning.

At least I think it’s the same ship, the one I watched sink. It all blurs together sometimes, I can’t always keep them straight. Things are different here, you know. The air is heavy and thick and hard to breathe more often than it is not. It leaves my head foggy and throbbing, dark around the edges. I lose whole segments of time. This must be what it feels like for you, to exist where I come from.

Learning to stand went much like you’d imagine. It was adapt or … perish. I wasn’t ready to give up just yet, though I guess I had plenty of reason. If you have to know, I filleted myself. The piece of broken anchor I used to slice myself in two was hard and dull for that kind of work, but I made do. We are ever resourceful, after all. We have to be. It was a mess, don’t get me wrong. But I survived. I’m standing, aren’t I?

Now I stand here and I stare at the horizon, where the air meets the sea. I watch the ships pass in the distance and the storms roll in and out and back around. It’s always a circle, a cycle. Things always come back around. Never quite the same, but they do. 

I barely remember what it was like out there, anymore. I never belonged there, not really. Too in love with the dark brooding depths of the ocean, with it’s sea glass edges kissing these shores. Too aware of an entire world beyond the one I’d always known. I still stayed and did my job and I worked hard and for what? It was probably one of your kind who left me here, confused after that storm and that ship, thinking me something else, someone I’m not. I know how you see me. I’ve stood here long enough to hear the stories. I know I’m lucky to still be alive at all.

This place is nothing like I imagined. It’s clear what I am at first glance, I can’t change that. Your kind make it known, too. They think I wrecked these ships, that that’s what we do. All I ever wanted to do was guide them back home. Show them how to navigate between our worlds and take it back with them, grant them a safe harbor.

I want to believe that’s still something real. A safe harbor. I haven’t quite been robbed of that, yet. 

This is where I live, now. Between here, and there. Among the wreckage and the dirty sand, the suffocating air and the torturous waves. I don’t know how much longer I’ll stay, not that I have anywhere to go to. The land is so rough and unforgiving, tirelessly so, when you’re not built for crossing it. I am so heavy and slow, here. But the sea -- I can’t go back to the sea. Look here, you can see where that rusty anchor, the one I used to split me, failed to carve out my heart, after it jaggedly shorn my hair in mourning, a sacrifice to the whispers in the waves your kind rarely ever hear. Here are the scars on my throat where it cut deep enough to steal my voice, for a while. How did you think the point became so dull, before I crudely fashioned these desperate, primitive legs?

No, I don’t think I could go back. It’s too clear now what happened, what I’ve become. I would be relegated to the outer reefs, a monster they’d use to scare the hatchlings and the guppies. The sea would never have me, now. 

Besides, I haven’t even told you the most tragic detail, yet.

I can’t recall how to swim.

And who wants to watch a butchered mermaid drown?

instagram.com/tabathaetc

instagram.com/tabathaetc

2017: A Word (the second).

I have never not been involved with addicts.

They're almost healed. Almost.

They're almost healed. Almost.

Most are children of alcoholics, if not ones themselves. There was that one guy, legitimately born on crack. And the one I held through his heroin withdrawals on my bedroom floor. And the active user, the one who called me to pick him up from his benders, the one who grabbed me by my spiky short hair and tried to force me to do a line “as a joke.” 

I had never been more grateful for my near complete inability to breathe through my nose, than that night. 

People still scoff in indignation when I state that I’ve never as much as smoked pot. How is that possible? they laugh. I am a liberal artsy punk kid -- drugs are at some point part and parcel with that tattooed and pierced and hair-dyed package, aren’t they?

But I knew better. Maybe it was my sheltered upbringing, but I fully believed in the gateway drug concept -- not from a scientific, chemical standpoint, but from knowing myself well enough. Knowing the strength of my feelings … and fears, and anxieties … once I began to do anything more than drink those away -- let’s just say, that scene, in Requiem for A Dream, with Jennifer Connolly, in that dank basement room? That felt like prophecy.

Because, I, myself, am the descendant of an addict -- a fact I didn’t learn until full adulthood, after my own turns with binging and black outs I could never quite mitigate, when the allure of Not. Fucking. Feeling. Anything. overtaking any concept of sense or restraint was my regular weekend past time. I had long already been completely disconnected from my corporeal self, and the promise of being able to chill out and let go and not care who was touching me or where … that, in and of itself, was drug enough, even if I never felt so come morning.

I never really stopped to drink that all in. I just kept drinking.

Even in my marriage, alcohol was the undercurrent of our union. We drank to be social; we drank to date; we drank to overcome fights and we drank to forget our damage … and each other. I drank to gather the strength to leave, to escape the hell I was living inside of that house and at the hands of my former spouse. And I drank to continue on that journey, to release the immense stress and sadness and anxiety at the end of my days -- as women, we are encouraged to do. Just look at Facebook for the memes about moms and wine.

And, I drank to not hate myself for becoming someone else’s other woman, and to dull the incapacitating ache that came from loving someone I couldn’t have.

When I decided to not date last year, I quietly toyed with not drinking, to force myself to sit with my heartache and discomfort and to feel my feelings without dulling them to the point of incoherence. Inevitably, once a month or so, a friend would come to town, or an event would take place, and I would partake because, well, that’s what you do when you suffer from crippling anxiety and low self esteem and you want to pull off being cool or interesting or relaxed and not a general fucking trainwreck on the inside.

Only a couple of times did I see the shadows of my former self -- around the death of a college friend; in handling the unsure terrain of a new-old relationship -- and each time, the shame and regret were as sharp as the headaches and nausea that last for days, in the wake. 

I have spent countless hours in therapy over my 33 years, deciphering my own patterns of brokenness. I have been on medications and off; I have done meditation and cognitive behavioural and yoga and anger release and running and journaling and self-affirmations and witchcraft and radical forgiveness and vulnerability and in the end, in the very flagging end, the one thing I have clung to is … 

Alcohol. 

Knowing it is a depressant. Knowing it hinders my abilities to make smart, rational, loving choices. Knowing it robs me of full days in exchange for nights I only vaguely remember. Knowing it destroys my blood sugars and my heart rate and dulls my complexion and makes my hair fall out.

I have never wanted to admit there was a problem. 

I still don’t, actually.

But I’m willing to try a year without it, a day and a week and a month at a time, to see what difference it can make.

Because I’ve watched women I admire and women I once partied with set down their bottles and let their hazy eyes clear. I’ve already lived with the Serenity Prayer as my internal plea for so many years -- dealing with active and latent addicts your entire adult life will do that to you -- that I am no stranger to that quest for that step back, that reevaluation. Can I accept this? Or can I change it? Can I tell the difference?

Can I tell the difference?

I know that I am codependent, though that is a post for another time. It is my greatest struggle, to see my own value and worth through my own eyes and not in conjunction to anyone or anything else. And I know that behavior, along with my traumas and my mental health wiring, are a prime and fertile land for a seemingly innocuous substance to take hold, especially where I sit in my life right now -- as a single parent, on the cusp of real poverty, navigating one of the most complex and heartbreaking in-flux relationships I’ve ever encountered.

Besides, have you seen those before and after photos of people who quit drinking? Dang, you guys. Dang.

I want to be able to see my life as clearly as my prescription glasses will let me. I want to learn to sit with the ugly as easily as I sit with the beautiful (which actually I don't do well with either because anxiety ruins fucking everything). I want to be present. I want to be open. And I don't want to have to live my life counting on a social lubricant to feel worthy of taking up space in the world.

I want to be able to love and to be loved without having to be lit to express or accept it.

So, my other word for 2017 is short, simple, and hopefully the beginning of true serenity.

The last time going out in 2016. I actually only had three drinks over five hours, and twice as much water. I'm petty and made it seem like a lot more on Snapchat. And it bit me in the ass. Hard.

The last time going out in 2016. I actually only had three drinks over five hours, and twice as much water. I'm petty and made it seem like a lot more on Snapchat. And it bit me in the ass. Hard.

Sober.

Celibacy 2016: September/December.

Clearly, I failed.

Please to notice the lack of hat and complete hair color change. 

Please to notice the lack of hat and complete hair color change. 

Had I written the post I intended to in September, I would have copped to downloading a new dating app on the encouragement of my colleagues for a story for work. And I would have admitted to going on a date, ish -- where a guy met up with a group I was already with and despite copious amounts of alcohol and a night much later than I’ve seen without a baby screaming at me in quite some time, I would have told you that I didn’t count that as a failure.

A photo posted by Tabatha (@tabathaetc) on

Because when it came down to it, I walked away at the pivotal point. I literally grabbed my shoes and walked the eff out of that place and with my head held high, I got myself home and to my own empty bed and I slept well knowing that I didn’t settle for something I didn’t want because it was easier or because I felt like I owed anybody anything or simply because I was too drunk to care.

This was a win for me, if ever there’s been one. And that’s actually kind of really tragic to say at almost 33 years old.

But reading over the commandments, I was sucking at some other parts too. I know I bitched to my new immediate coworkers about being single -- moreover the complete lack of interest I saw around me. I know, in the throes of a new job and a new home (and a new school for the kids), I wasn’t taking the best care of myself. Lots of eating out. Definitely not enough water or sleep. Certainly not enough exercise. Way too much stress. Rarely seeing friends or doing things for myself. Money being so painfully, restrictively tight that breathing felt expensive. Losing friends. Feeling isolated. Pulling back, in general, from life.

A photo posted by Tabatha (@tabathaetc) on

I fought harder than I anticipated to hang in, just to adulthood in general. I was adjusting. Most importantly, the ache I had been carrying around with me had become almost entirely manageable. Despite all of the changes and their overbearing effect upon everything I once knew, I was able to see happiness for myself somewhere off on the horizon.

And then.

As I began to wrap my brain around writing that September update, the secret caveat I had been silently carrying around for this whole thing, the singular seemingly impossible event that I would have openly, gladly, enthusiastically thrown this whole project to shit for ... actually happened.

This guy ... came back.

atleastthistimeihaveproofiwashappyviatabathaetcdotcom

And while I am not ready to talk about it much further at this point, I can say unequivocally and without hesitation that his re-entry into my life was absolutely pure magic. And all of the heartache and pain and confusion I carried for so long were swept away -- because what that was, what we were before, however ill-advised -- it was real. It was not lies and gaslighting and usage of me as an object and however many other things I had to tell myself to attempt to wrap my brain around everything. It was a real, and valid, thing.

We really did love each other. Before. In-between. Apart. Presently.

So as you can imagine, 9 months, 11 days, and a spattering of hours into this project … it ended.

What has occurred since that point will come, in time.

Sitting on the other side of 2017, I can see in equal measure that through this adventure, however it played out, I learned a great deal about myself and my autonomy and what exactly it is that I am worth and what is worthy of me … and I have also learned that I still have much more work to do on myself, going forward.

But we’ll get there. I’ll get there.

I'm proud of myself for making it as far as I did and making the commitment to myself. It's going to take a slightly different turn for the upcoming year, but if this codependent-leaning mess of a woman can make it 3/4ths of a year without being in a relationship ... then I'm pretty sure I can take on anything.

Including the battle I've been avoiding for over half of my life.