The L.A.w of Diminishing Returns

Two towels on the beach at Venice
My husband and I made a big decision last week. Other than agreeing on what apartment we wanted as our first together, where we went on our honey moon and how we spend our money, this decision is the biggest ticket item to date. I haven’t shared what we decided with many people because I worry so much about pleasing them–but mostly, I’ve changed my mind so many times I’ve even lost track. For weeks, I spoke with certainty and absolutism about my desire to move back to Los Angeles. I had two phone interviews and one video conference interview for jobs on the West Coast. It felt like the Universe was thrusting me into a dream scenario. I wanted so badly to feel content and confident in our decision to leave for L.A. because it seemed like such a sure thing. Something–many things–changed. As a result,  I’ve worried for countless hours about the integrity of my word. I worry less, now, because I did not make this decision in haste or on my own.

We are staying in Richmond.

For the whole of my recovery — 4.40 years, 52.87 months, 1,611 days, 38,652 hours — all I wanted to do was be back in LA. I cried every day for a year upon my return to Virginia. I bought plane tickets to L.A. I could not afford, twice–only to cancel both trips. I have nurtured an obsession with Los Angeles, California, which to date has not gone away. Nor have the friends, recovery network or mysticism of the metropolis. My spiritual awakening happened between the palm trees and the graffiti. I abandoned my independence on Sunset Blvd in exchange for a more fulfilled life with other people. I woke up in the Land of the Living between Cafe Tropical and the Silver Lake Lounge. I cannot quit, L.A. and I don’t think I ever will.

My husband agreed to spend our summer vacation in California. We celebrated my June birthday in San Diego with my best friend, walking around El Cajon and Ocean Beach. We met up with my other best friend to watch him surf at San Onofre Beach. In every picture we took, my smile was triple-wattage bright and happy. Almost every person who commented on the photos observed this. I was in heaven.

We met up with several of my friends at the apartment where I used to live. It is a beautiful old hotel with poor acoustics and lots of character. Hard wood floors, built-in book shelves and decorative alcoves designed after The Missions of California. I still get excited when I think about all of the decorating possibilities of a single unit. We barbecued and bitched about life, liberty and Trump’s America. It was the most fun I’d had in as long as I could remember.

Before we left Richmond for our trip, my sponsor encouraged me to treat this time as a vacation, not as a means of getting back to L.A. I promised her to leave my schemes at home in Richmond, to enjoy the trip with my husband, no strings attached. I meant what I promised. But the second we touched down at LAX, I felt myself switching gears. My subconscious was on an immediate and urgent scouting mission for happiness. We had arrived.

We spent a week in Los Angeles, attending a Janelle Monae concert at The Greek Theater, going to meetings in Hollywood and Atwater Village, walking up and down Sunset Blvd and eating eating eating. Everything was as I remembered, but better. Everyone was hip and fun and excited to see us. It felt so right to be where I first understood who I was. The entire experience made me grateful to be able to show my husband the part of me he had never had access to. We were both over the moon with joy and excitement. He seemed to like life in the city just as much as I did. We both exchanged many knowing glances and ideas about how cool it would be to live here together. And it would be.

We got home around 7pm on July 5th and by 10PM, I had applied to three L.A. jobs. We were on a trajectory and there was no turning back. I went to several meetings in the next three days, breaking the news to my recovery buddies that we were making big moves. Things were progressing so quickly and so easily. I couldn’t believe that I was finally getting the chance to be back with My People in My City. My husband seemed overwhelmed, yet hopeful and excited. THIS WAS HAPPENING.

And then, and then.

On the advice of my sponsor, I meditated — hard. I began to sit still with our decision. I spent hours poring over pro’s and con’s lists, calculating the gains and losses. On our third pass through the Master List, I noticed something odd: the Pro’s column to staying in Richmond grew longer than I realized. I swatted away the notion that maybe there was something I wasn’t acknowledging about our life here. I reminded myself of the racism, small-mindedness and provincial attitude I’d grown to loathe about RVA. I ignored my first gut feeling to stay, and I carried on meditating.

For the next few weeks, I prayed and I meditated more. I began working with a woman from L.A. who was a huge part of my early sobriety. She and I spoke at length about standing firm in decisions and building faith in our Higher Power; that any move we make is right if we are surrendered. During this three-week period, I made amends to my former boss. He offered me the option of re-joining the kitchen — an offer to work in a new restaurant, under the direction of women cooks and managers. One dream I was not at all prepared to have realized. Slowly, I began to acknowledge a subtle shift within my spirit.

At the beginning of August, a steady thrum of ideas took hold of my brain. One such  concept–the Law of Diminishing returns–began to pin ball itself within my consciousness:

concept in economics that if one factor of production (number of workers, for example) is increased while other factors (machines and workspace, for example) are held constant, the output per unit of the variable factor will eventually diminish. In everyday experience, this law is expressed as “the gain is not worth the pain.”

How and why in the f*^%k was this on my brain? It has taken me many meditation and yoga sessions to come to some sort of understanding. The pain of leaving yet another place is no longer worth the gain of getting what I thought I wanted. Because what I want has changed.

The constant here is Los Angeles. This would explain my inability to love the city any less over time, simply because it continues to be awesome. The variable factor is me and my plus one. My need to be entertained, to be satiated by the constant stimuli of the Emerald City has diminished. This is not to say it has gone away. But my need to be there has.

Part of me is heart broken for my former self. I never thought in a million galaxies or years that I would turn down the chance to be back where I came alive again. This time around, however, I got to make the choice. When I was jettisoned out of L.A. the first go-round, I thought it was because I had no place there, that I should give up trying to be in such a cool place with such amazing people. Quite the contrary–I came to Virginia to heal and unwittingly meet my future husband. I think there is something to be said about accepting that I am someone who wants to put down roots. I ran for years, with great speed and agility. As I have mentioned in this blog before, I am weary from all of the running and chaos. I want to be free. What that looks like for me now is to stay.

It is time for me to finally be in Richmond. I have no idea what that looks like, except to release my expectations and give life here a real try. My husband agrees.


Lucy Hartman

Lucy Hartman

I'm funnier when I'm sober.