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The Jurors Wear My Face

“All rise!” bellowed the bailiff. From the vantage point of the defendant, I watched myself enter the courtroom, clad in black robes and looking stalwart and stately. My skin hung heavy with seriousness like Margaret Thatcher. My inner judge seated herself regally, met my gaze with utter detestment, then slammed down her gavel with a flair reserved for cinema and full-fledged fantasy. My eyes flitted to the jury, a host of humans whose opinions I valued, a handful of my perceived harshest critics, a couple of historically relevant feminists. Also and most notably, a variety of incarnations of myself. There was the rebel with her feet up, checking her nails and looking bored. Nearby sat the strict moralist, dressed modestly and tightly gripping her code of conduct. On the periphery of the jury floated a shining, faceless representation of my potential. She disappeared entirely if I turned to look straight at her.

The judge who wore my face but not my temperament cleared her throat, eyes squinting to convey her righteous rage and disdainful disappointment. She delivered her inexpugnable edict.

“Anika Spencer, the people, this court, and most importantly yourself, find you GUILTY as charged. You should be ashamed of yourself!”

And I was. Shocked and excruciatingly ashamed.

I walked the three blocks to the liquor store, alternating between staring at my shoes and the cement. I’d just taught the worst yoga class of my life, but that didn’t matter today. Some days showing up is all you can muster. I had some experience with not showing up, so it’s not a given. I entered the convenience store and feigned interest in the racks of chips before weaving my path to the magnum section. The time read 11:45 am. I purchased the cheapest Cabernet I could get my hands on, in the largest bottle available. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d uncorked it before I’d walked the three blocks back to my apartment.

It was nearly four years ago now. It’s been nearly four years since the headlines dropped my jaw. I’d expected everyone else to take care of me, to be my voice, to handle the complex and frustrating decisions, and to navigate the spaces where I felt most helpless and the most deadened. My, at times, adaptive pattern of flipping the bird to each and every moral demand had been running on autopilot. When given the option of a hard choice or a quick out, I’d opted to not participate. Now I was drunk and sobbing in my bedroom at 12:15 pm. I’d been slapped in the face with the knowledge that not only was the world I lived in terrifyingly out of control, but that I hadn’t engaged when I had the option. My closely guarded confession, the truth I’ve never owned in public (outside of the sanctuary of a recovery meeting), is that in the election of 2016, I did not vote.

Three days later, the metaphor of my disengagement from the outer world in the election, the deep shame I felt towards “doing nothing” led to a long coming decision. I would take accountability for my inner world. I would do something. No! I would do ANYTHING, to get sober. The inner and outer world alike were undeniably out of control, and until this point I had chosen apathy. Rather I’d been so afraid of tossing my metaphorical lot in with imperfect humans, I denied myself the chance to choose wrong. I was so angry and annoyed by the ruse of the game, I chose not to play. Yet, here I was, devastated by and mourning the outcome.

Ironically and hypocritically, (Classic human!) given my non-choice/avoidance of the polls, four months later I marched with thousands. Goose flesh rose and fell down my arms as I walked the streets of downtown San Diego in the name of equality and rebellion. On the solemn walk away from the city and crowds, I trailed behind a couple. The man turned to his female companion and stated morosely:

“This was great and all, but what’s changed? Everyone here voted against this already.”

Just as I had in the previous election, I stayed quiet and focused on my shoes. Internally I thought,

“No. Everyone didn’t. I’ve changed. I’m willing to choose wrong and wade my way through quicksand situations. I will show up even if my participation is a raindrop in a hurricane. And there must be others like me. There must be others who were too jaded, annoyed, or indignant to participate in the circus show of last time, who are willing to walk the tightrope now."

On November 3rd, it will be four years minus 4 days since I admitted I was an alcoholic. I wandered the outskirts of life because frankly, I didn’t care to hack it without a drink. It’s not my sobriety date. Relapse is a part of the pathway. I have certainly slid into political apathy. I’ve had to find a program and way forward that works for me, and much like recovery, it doesn’t look the same as the person next to me. My practices and pace are mine. The tools I use to protect my sanity are a revolving door. I try things on and see what works for me. I’m wrong often. Then I choose again.

Internally, I am still every single incarnation of self that’s in the courtroom. I’m the feminist, the judge, the moralist, and the rebel. I still can’t fix my eyes on the face of my elusive, haunting, possible potential, but on November 3rd, 2020, I’ll be making my living amends to all of them. I’ll be making amends to the defendant and the jury. If you’re not an alcoholic or if politics, research, and follow through don’t flood you with overwhelm, you may not understand. But this year my promise to myself, in order to be right with myself, is to perform that some days all I have to offer and everything I can muster action: show up.