Saturday, March 9, 2013

Surrender to the Second Act


Ladies and Gentlemen!  My deep apologies for the extended intermission.  I know you’ve grown restless, but please, bear with me for just a while longer.  Avail yourself of the concession stand.  Of course, it’s Recovery themed, so Mixed-Berry Smoothies, Lattés, Dark Chocolate-Cashew Brittle, and Hand-pressed Fruit Roll-ups inscribed with AA’s Twelve Steps.  It seems there’s been a malfunction with the curtain’s pulley system.  The microphone, as you can tell, is inconsistent in volume.  And the chorus—essential back-up for our headliner!  They sing AND dance.  Tap dance.  The tiny metal pieces keep skittering off their shoes and buttons keep popping off in the most inappropriate places  So we need to get them all refitted before we can send them out. 
But really, I know you know the show could go on without all this.  Our headliner could just say, “To hell with the back-up!”  I mean, a chorus is helpful, but not essential.  Every now and then, you need to take the stage alone.  Sing a cappella.  Deliver the empowered monologue.  So of course, she could just push through the curtains and Get On With the Show!  We’re all restless, aren’t we, to see what’s next?  So what’s the problem?  Is our star being petulant?  Demanding?

Oh shit.  I was never meant for Broadway.  I’m just petrified, caught in-between Acts.  I knew exactly what to do in Act One of my life.  I had the script typed and bound and memorized from the time I was a kid: 1. Be very, very smart and be as perfect as possible in school because that will earn you admiration and approval which is just as good (or equal to) love; 2. Follow the rules (that you will be taught) to become the kind of writer that you want to be; 3. Choose your role model (Writer/Professor) and follow their path, but try to outdo them—do it faster and all at once (Writer/PhD/Book/Wife/Mother/Tenure-Track Professor); 4. Ignore Craziness/Eating Disorder/Alcoholism.  As the heavy red curtain falls, (let’s add gilt trim) I am lying in a hospital bed, my hacked up arms wrapped in gauze, suicidal, hung-over, and twenty pounds under-weight, about to be given the ultimatum (to be redundant) of a lifetime, from my husband: “If you don’t stop drinking stop cutting stop starving you can’t come home to the kids and me.”
So here I am waiting in the brilliance of Intermission.  Waiting and wandering and working on well-being.  It’s been two years since that ultimatum, two years since I last had a drink, two years of sobriety, from alcohol, anyway.  Time to regain much of my physical health.  I no longer wake up at night because my heart beats so fast against my chest I think it might punch through, I no longer hide cuts on my arms under bandages and sweaters.  I no longer stockpile medication to take by the fistful when things get “that bad.”  Time to gain stability--for once in my adult life.  It’s been almost eighteen months since I’ve been inside a hospital—mostly due vigilance, though in part due to Dr. B. telling me that the next time I go inpatient I’ll either go to the state hospital or to a group home.  What can I say?  It seems ultimatums work.  Time to work through my SHAME, Shame, shame.  Today, I was telling a friend that I know my shame over being an alcoholic, over having Bipolar Disorder, over struggling with an Eating Disorder has largely left me when I realized I no longer taste the bloody metal in my mouth every time I’m confronted with some moment from the past tied to my drinking, manic-depression, starving, or purging.  Rather, I’m usually grateful because I can see myself in those awful, tortured, sad, past imperfect scenes as someone who was (and still is) worthy of compassion, help and forgiveness and in need of succor.

Most importantly?  Intermission has given me (most obviously) time.  A break.  A rest.  But now it’s time for the Second Act.  Spring Ahead.  The clock moves forward.  And guess what?  I’m sitting in my dressing room, scared shit.  Because I don’t know what to do or who to be when I leave and go back on stage.  I don’t have a clear place to go once I let go of the last page of Act One.  No more Professor Kerry dream.  That PhD that’s framed sits in my office up in the attic of my house, not in an office on campus anymore.  No more Sure Thing, Sure Bet, Do This, and I Know I Get That.  And I should feel liberated, right?  I get to start over—rethink what I want from my life, rethink how I want to direct my talents.  But I’m 40 and have two kids and am married and by now, should be adding to my retirement fund, or at least have some idea as to what my Second Act could be.  Instead, I’m just sitting here looking at a whole rack of potential costumes, eyeing their feathers and frills and sequins and baubles, but I don’t see one for me.  Okay, maybe the green Flapper number, but that would require some moonshine Gin drink and I can’t have that, soooo.
Maybe I just can’t see my Second Act yet—can’t see past my own past, if that makes sense.  The worst kind of stage fright. 

But this is not who I am, burying myself inside Intermission.  Just break down the word.  “Inter”-“Mission.”  Between missions.  Act One was only the first mission of my life.  Act Two is going to be the second mission of my life—and I need to think of this AS an actual Mission—a calling that I am charged with carrying out, something that reaches beyond myself, though using my talents, for some larger purpose.  The idea of this feels grandiose, feels like maybe I’m betraying my dream from Act One.  Makes me feel guilty, like I’m wasting those PhD years.  And yet.  Didn’t those years also lead me to blackouts and scars and starvation and Electric Shock Therapy and hospitals and countless separations from my family and suicide attempts and finally, thank god, Intermission?

Ladies and Gentlemen!  Please excuse the lack of fanfare.  We apologize in advance.  The chorus will not be onstage.  The curtain does not work.  The microphone is shot.  But the lights!  Cue the lights!

I’m here.  Center stage.  Open to suggestions.  Humble and Hopeful and Heartful.   





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