Impermanence

“Write,” I tell my clients. I sing the merits of the writing process: rewiring the brain, getting uncomfortable, finding a voice, purging toxicity, cultivating awareness, discovering patterns, sitting with self, developing connection…

And then I go home and swallow the words that rise in the midnight darkness because they are ill-timed and inconvenient (yet that is the only time I make for them).

I’d rather not be a hypocrite – even if I’m the only one aware of my hypocrisy.

Lately, I’ve been acting like a lighthouse with legs. I’ve been dashing madly around my island – raving about the waves – when my job is to stay with my light. There is no real aid in rescuing, only in illuminating. I can’t illuminate when I’m unglued from my foundation, my lamp cooling in the dusk like an afterthought.

In the interest of practicing what I preach – “Write! Illuminate! Make yourself a priority!” – here are the words I tried to blanket in sleep:

There comes a time when Mortality darkens your doorstep with the sole purpose of decking you in the face. You’ve acknowledged Mortality, of course; you know it’s there. But prior to the uninvited appearance on your doorstep, your interactions have always been limited to polite nods – like passing a stranger on the street. You accept the stranger’s existence, but you don’t make prolonged eye contact.

When Mortality stops to blacken both your eyes, gazing brazenly into the core of your being, you have to decide what to do with the intimacy of the encounter.

Most humans –  active addicts, especially – would rather close their eyes and pretend the exchange never happened. Distraught by the implications of what they’ve seen, they choose blindness. They choose clinging and craving. They construct elaborate castles out of sand, feigning permanence and certainty.

Somewhere along the line, without quite comprehending the magnitude of my decision, I stopped choosing blindness and opened my eyes. I wasn’t looking for impermanence, but it was waiting on the other side of my lashes.

Having spent most of my life running from pain, its arrival is still a shock, like falling through a frozen lake into icy water. A drowning man’s knee jerk response is to resist, expending precious energy in the wild flailing of limbs. A return to the ice – if there is to be one – requires surrender.

We will likely fall through the ice many times in our lives.

In “A Buddhist Perspective on Grieving,” Roshi Joan Halifax writes:

The river of grief might pulse deep inside us, hidden from our view, but its presence informs our lives at every turn. It can drive us into the numbing habits of escape from suffering or bring us face to face with our own humanity…

When we move through the terrible transformation of the elements of loss and grief, we may discover the truth of the impermanence of everything in our life, and of course, of this very life itself. This is one of the most profound discoveries to be made as we engage in Buddhist practice. In this way, grief and sorrow may teach us gratitude for what we have been given, even the gift of suffering. From her we learn to swim in the stream of universal sorrow. And in that stream, we may even find joy.

We all suffer. We all swim in the stream of universal sorrow. We are all afraid. The sound of ice cracking sends terror down our collective spine. This is our humanity. When we deny our suffering, we deny our humanity. When we make ourselves numb to the stream of sorrow, we disavow the truth of our existence.

Addiction, by its very nature, is making that which is human progressively inhuman. The avoidance of suffering is the avoidance of life itself. The paradox is that in order to love, we must open ourselves to suffering. Everything changes. Everything. 

My wife and I recently went to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. During our visit, I snapped a photo of the sculpture Guanyin and the associated display. It said:

Buddhists believe that, although life is characterized by suffering, every being has the potential to achieve enlightenment and freedom from the cycle of birth and rebirth. A bodhisattva (“enlightened being”) has reached the state of Buddhahood but remains on Earth to help all beings attain enlightenment.

I don’t pretend to have reached Buddhahood by any means, but I do know that the recovery process has delivered me to a state of wakefulness. Sometimes it hurts to be awake, because it means I have embraced the full range of the human experience. Sometimes it’s lonely, because I want to be numb like so many of my  peers. But reading the museum plaque comforted me, as if I’d had a conversation with the Goddess of Mercy herself:

IMG_9547
Guanyin

“Why am I here?” I inquired.

“You are here to help,” she replied.

En-lighten. Illuminate.

Suffering magnifies the radiance of everything else. Grief emphasizes the value of everything that is not grief; driving in the rain, a tired mother’s tongue-in-cheek admonishment, the color green, warm skin, cool sheets, the smell of coffee, a sincere thank-you, a paper grocery bag, every atom of beautiful minutiae

On my way home from work, I thought about how I would write this. I thought about how we all fear suffering. I thought about what it means to be sober and what it means to live in the truth of humanity, and how the two are pretty much one in the same. And when the back window of the vehicle in front of me came into focus, I saw a sticker:

Love > Fear

Selfishness

When I woke up this morning, there was a coating of snow and ice on both the ground and my vehicle. It took me nearly thirty minutes to scrape off enough ice to complete my admittedly wasteful and compulsive drive-thru coffee ritual. I couldn’t get the ice off the hood of the car while safely parked in the driveway and, thinking it would still be solidly frozen for a three minute jaunt down the street, watched in alarm as it peeled off and smashed on the roadway. In my Monday morning misery, I had acted out one of my own greatest pet peeves.

Sitting down – coffee in hand – to begin my home-office work day, I felt the hot release of tears stream down my face. My seasonal affective depression reared its ugly head, trampling on my motivation.

Living in New England was never my ultimate goal. When I was younger, I dreamed of moving to San Francisco – a temperate climate where I thought I would be “safe”. Now I dream of beach town life, where there is never a shortage of vitamin D for my winter weary brain. But I have to be wary of this “grass is greener” syndrome. Just yesterday I wrote about how I don’t want to spend my life chasing the next thing; true contentment exists only in the now.

The two things that help me shake the “grass is greener” syndrome are playing out the tape and making a gratitude list. Let’s get real, even if I did live in Florida, I wouldn’t spend every waking hour on the beach. I’d be working and dealing with the same stuff I am responsible for in my much colder northern life.

At the end of the day, I am selfish. I want complete and utter freedom over my own brain. But that’s not how it works. I need to utilize my capabilities to contribute to this planet. Furthermore, my own brain is not a place I need to be hanging out 24/7. After all, my addictive wiring is what got me in trouble in the first place. I need to spend time giving to others and earning my place in society.

On our last day in Florida, a young couple pulled up to the condo next to our rental and proceeded to move in. I seethed with resentment. As an older person, I should be in a position to move to a waterfront Florida condo. How dare they?

The real questions I needed to ask myself were “How dare you? What gives you the right to be so entitled? What gives you the right to presume to know anything about them? What gives you the right to think you deserve anything?”

This is a prime example of how dangerous it is for me to think I know best rather than trusting the timing of the Universe. If I think about it from an objective perspective, I know for a FACT that living in that condo would not be a good choice for me. I would go bananas living next to a weekly vacation rental property. I hate noise. I am also an ironically private person. A condo complex with shared walls and wide open patios is not an ideal set-up for a painfully introverted writer. It would be character-building… to put it nicely.

Walking the beach on our last afternoon, I recited a mantra as I sloshed through the water and perused the shallows for shells: “Thank you for my blessings. Please remove this selfishness from me. Thank you for my blessings. Please remove this selfishness from me. Thank you for my blessings. Please remove this selfishness from me.”

When I wrote about privilege, I talked about how I used to pray for a fraction of the things I have today. Moreover, I know there are many people who would love a week long vacation or a loving marriage, not to mention the luxury of working from home. Who am I to forget these things? It’s NOT okay… and a sign that I need to do some work on myself in the form of cultivating gratitude.

Luckily, I am plugged into my higher power – a power I choose to call “the Universe”. Even when I’m choosing to wallow in a swamp of selfishness, I’m still tapped in and willing to listen. That day on the beach, a woman walked by with a 12 Step triangle on her t-shirt. The shirt said: “Acceptance is the key”. I was flabbergasted.

Acceptance is the key! I need to spend less time obsessing over what I can’t change. The timing of my life has always worked out in my best interest.

It wasn’t just the woman with the t-shirt. That morning, Rhiannon came on the radio as soon as we started the car. Rhiannon comes on randomly whenever I need a sign. For example, it played when I pulled into the courthouse to face a dangerous man I had no desire to ever see again. It played when I was nervous about a photo shoot. It plays every time I need a little faith. The music that empowers me played for the rest of our trip. Stevie sang in the store. She sang on the highway. She sang in the airport. I haven’t heard her on the radio as much in the last six months as I did in the space of two days.

I am exactly where I need to be at this moment in my life. Most of the time, I can’t understand that until I see it in hindsight – and that’s unfortunate. It also doesn’t matter how many things I check off my bucket list. Those experiences will enrich my life but they will bring me neither serenity nor contentment. The only thing that can fill the gaping, insatiable void is connection. There is nothing else that can pull me out of the most dangerous neighborhood in my head. Believe me, I tried seeking out every other alternative. The only way I can quiet my mental malady is by connecting to the divine in others – and striving to channel that divinity for the benefit of those who are also in need of connection. The paradox of my freedom is that it doesn’t exist when I get my own way; it exists when I open myself to the flow of what is. 

I will strive not to forget the strange angel who passed me on the beach: Acceptance is the key.

 

 

Vulnerability

I’m not going to lie. One of my favorite things about vacation was not being completely saturated in recovery. Don’t get me wrong – my recovery is a priority. I wouldn’t have nice vacations or a nice life without it. But I eat, sleep, breathe recovery 24/7: I work in recovery, volunteer in recovery, and socialize in recovery. I even “think” in recovery – not in the cult-y sense – but in the sense that a helpful cliche is always right on the tip of my tongue.

The other week I ran a group about the masks we wear, i.e. the “tough guy”, the “class clown”, the “June Cleaver”, or the “people pleaser”. I think one of the things I’ve been struggling with lately is that recovery itself has become a type of mask. It’s like a stomach-turning competition to see who can be the “most spiritual”. People parade around with an air of manufactured genuinity and, yet, there isn’t a single shred of authenticity in sight. It leaves me feeling disillusioned and slightly disconnected.

When other people gross me out, I have to take a look at myself. First of all, as human beings, we wear masks because we are afraid people will really see us. So, by that logic, I should have compassion for people hiding behind masks. It’s not like I haven’t worn them before. I could probably take a moment to dismount my royally bitchy throne of self-righteousness. Second of all, as much as I try to “keep it real” (yes, even on social media), I’m sure people have perceptions about my life that may not be accurate. Therefore my perceptions may not be accurate. When I have one finger pointed at someone else, there are three pointing right back at me. (There’s one of those cliches!) Finally, it is my responsibility to connect with “my kind of people” – the people who share similar values and aren’t perfectly fucking zen 100% of the time. The truth is, I like to be alone. If I need to plug in to my (fantastic!) tribe, it’s my responsibility to cultivate the connection.

One of the things I’ve learned about life – an article of wisdom that is increasingly defining who I am – is that the external doesn’t make humans happy. I’m not rich, but I have a great marriage, my dream job, and (almost) everything I want (still wouldn’t mind the classic car/truck and the dog). And yes, I derive great joy and satisfaction from those things, but they are not responsible for my happiness. It always irritates people when you say “happiness is an inside job”. And so they chase the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing, until one day they wake up and realize they spent their whole lives chasing. I am determined to step out of the race to nothingness. My little family has goals we are working toward, but I am not going to anesthetize myself with bullshit until we reach them. And sometimes the present moment hurts. It hurts to come back from vacation to a cold, gray, troubled city. It hurts when the squirrel in my brain steps back onto the wheel and starts spinning. I have an idyllic life, but that doesn’t mean that it’s perfect. Sometimes I need a break. Sometimes the only decision I should be making is where to set up my beach towel.

I recently read a quote that said “the meaning of life is to be alive”. It’s so simple. It’s not to find the “one” and pop out 2.5 children. It’s not to drive a luxury vehicle emblazoned with a status symbol. It’s not to fill a storage unit with bullshit. It’s not to turn piousness into a competition. Yet that is what we spend our lives chasing – the gauge we use to measure our success. My heart aches for all those who are measuring themselves against that empty standard and coming up short. You are perfect just the way you are, whether you have those things or not.

I’ve said this before, but I am so grateful I am slowly learning not to place so much emphasis on how things look on the outside. There was a period in my life when “things” were hard to come by. I wanted those material commodities; I thought they would make me happy. I also wanted to project an image. I wanted to “look successful”… and also “tough”.

Someone at work approached me one day and said: “You have a very gentle spirit”.

“Thank you,” I responded wistfully, “but some people think I should be more aggressive”.

“No,” he said. “That’s not who you are”.

It was one of the most validating things anyone has ever said to me. Vulnerability isn’t a weakness. It’s the one thing I should be pursuing.

It helps me immensely to witness other people being vulnerable. There have been times when I think it has even saved my life. I’d like to think that I’m pretty candid, but if it would help to witness some of my imperfections, I am only too happy to share within reason (gotta have some healthy boundaries, right?): While traveling, I struggle with tummy troubles and binge eating. I have terrible skin and a myriad of other minor to moderate health issues. I am chronically anxious. When I complete a task, I spend twice as long as the average person – either because I can’t focus or I need it to be perfect. Math makes me cry. So does attempting exercise poses. I have no eye-hand coordination. Due to being traumatized by various instructors/peers, I don’t like doing things I’m not good at in front of others (see math, exercise). One of my biggest fears is getting lost. I go through periods of extreme germaphobia and hypochondria (my wife once had to disinfect every doorknob in the house and my steering wheel). I have trouble saying no to things I don’t want to do.

In short, I am perfectly imperfect. I am growing. Some of these things will always be a part of me, and others will diminish as I continue to change.

You are perfectly imperfect, too. Let’s take off our masks together. Let’s step off the consumer carousel – the maddening merry-go-round that spins us into a frenzy of buying our way out of “not good enough”. We are all good enough. Let’s talk about our joys and our sorrows. Let’s hold each other accountable when we rejoin the race (goodness knows I sometimes find myself running a few miles).

I want to see your faces.

Privilege

It has been almost one year since J.L. and I decided to change our eating habits. Looking back on where we started and where we are today is a fascinating exercise.

In April of 2017, I burst through the dietary gate chomping at the bit. “No more added oils or high sodium content,” I declared. “Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts. Period. Anything else will just not be available in our house”.

I’m smirking as I write because, needless to say, my fervent declaration did not stand. But this is not an altogether bad thing. Today, there is still no meat or dairy in our house.

So, while I may think raw kale and whole wheat pasta is disgusting – and I may enjoy Earth Balance, soy “chick’n tenders,” and homemade vegan cupcakes – we have accomplished what we set out to do: eliminate meat and dairy from our household. If we can accomplish and maintain that change for a year, what can we do in two?

I have learned that there is a difference between a plant based and a vegan diet – and that it’s possible to be a “junk food vegan”. I tried the unpalatable cheese substitutes and the large assortment of mock meats… and I got 90% of it out of my system. However, when I look at our dinner menu this week – as compared to a year ago – it’s completely different. A year ago, I would have needed four pounds of cheese and a carton of heavy cream to prepare for our meals. This week, we’re having roasted cabbage steaks and turnip (a belated nod to St. Paddy’s Day), chipotle tofu burritos, Mediterranean chickpea-veggie wraps, and cajun cauliflower pasta (sans the heavy cream and cheese!) Most of the ingredients will come from the produce department.

I’m not a vegan. I don’t know that I ever will be. That being said, I would like to continue to grow. What’s next for us on this food journey? Well, we’ve drastically reduced our sugar intake, but this year we’d like to push that envelope further. Most of the candy I enjoy isn’t dairy free, so that was easy to give up…I don’t even crave it! However, there are still some surprisingly delectable vegan treats. I guess I’d like to see dessert reserved for holidays. I’d also like to persist in steering away from the meat and dairy substitutes, and the frozen convenience foods. We have our go-to frozen meals – vegan pizza, arrabbiata pasta, and chik’n – but I don’t want to add anything else to that rotation. I tried everything under the sun. Now it’s time to move on and continue to build our growing repertoire of healthy homemade recipes.

When we started this process, I wrote about how even considering these changes denotes an incredible amount of privilege. The subject of privilege is something I’ve been contemplating a lot lately.

I remember a time in my life when I prayed for even a quarter of the things I have today. I can vividly recall crying in a Kmart parking lot because I couldn’t afford a $5 package of underwear. This week, my greatest dilemma was whether or not I wanted to splurge on a reduced-price satellite radio subscription. Since I find today’s mainstream music to be revolting, I decided the subscription was worth it. This is a testament to how far my recovery has taken me, but also a reminder of the advantages I enjoy. While I decide which stations I like best – and delight in the fact that I can listen to 40s jazz, opera, and reggae in the space of ten minutes – many of my fellow humans spend their time wondering where their next meal is going to come from, nevermind if it’s “organic” or healthy. I haven’t forgotten the day when I shared that very same anxiety.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs demonstrates that people must have some very basic needs met before they can even contemplate the ultimate human aim: self-actualization. The task of self-actualization goes hand-in-hand with societal progress. Unfortunately, many of the people who are primed for Maslow’s uppermost tiers are too busy pursuing “more” to reach their full potential and, therefore, further societal progress. These same people expect those who don’t even have their most basic needs met to improve themselves. The hypocrisy is astounding.

Since my job is to focus on me, regardless of what I perceive other people to be doing wrong, it’s important that I don’t forget how privileged I am to have my basic needs met… and to pursue Maslow’s uppermost tiers: love & belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

Some of you already know that I love the Frugalwoods blog – and that it inspired me to make some big changes. I’m certainly not in the same realm – by any stretch of the imagination – but I am debt free and only just starting to invest about 55% of my weekly wages into savings. One of the greatest criticisms of Mrs. Frugalwoods is that she is misleading about her privilege. I find this to be curious. One of my favorite things about her is the way she directly confronts the benefits she has enjoyed in all aspects of life. Moreover, she is doing things differently from her well-appointed position.

For some, the intimation of privilege is an affront. I used to feel that way. How dare you presume to know anything about me? Today, however, I firmly believe that we’re not going to change our broken systems until the defensiveness stops. Recovery requires a willingness to embrace constant self-evaluation – no matter who you are. I had to learn that lesson the hard way (sadly, most people do.) And recovery isn’t just for addicts. It’s for all of mankind. It’s a reclamation of our best and healthiest selves. Acknowledging privilege isn’t akin to accepting an insult. It’s acknowledging where we have been blessed abundantly (and it may not be in every arena!), exercising gratitude, and accepting an invitation to use our stature (whatever that entails) as a launching point for benevolence and mindful living. To me, mindful living means recognizing that some people don’t have their most basic needs met…and evaluating how I might be unwittingly complicit in that. Over the years, I’ve been surprised and dismayed to discover the ways I am participating. By constantly working toward being the best person I can be, I hope to become less and less complicit.

No matter where we fall on the privilege spectrum, our natural reaction as human beings is to become defensive when confronted by someone who lives in a way that challenges our belief systems. We resist looking at ourselves. We dismiss the skills we could apply because some of them don’t apply. We instinctively view the idea of any kind of change – the slightest suggestion of improvement – as a direct attack on our value as a person. We buck the idea that we could possibly share common ground with someone who isn’t exactly the same. This is an ancient kind of wiring…and it has lost its usefulness to our evolution.

Growth is one of the very things that makes us human. Change is the only constant. I have come to believe that the more we resist, the less human we become. Recovery has allowed me to stop running from my humanness – or to at least slow down and consider my pace and direction. I used to see being in recovery as some kind of deficit. It meant there was something “wrong” with me. Now I view recovery as it truly is: a privilege.

Breaking Free: A Bucket List

Last weekend, I was standing in line outside the Paradise Rock Club with my wife, brother-in-law, and sister-in-law. For the first time – possibly ever – I felt the totality of my thirty-one and a half years hit me like a ton of bricks. The temperature had dipped into the low thirties, and I was shivering in a light winter jacket and a beanie hat. Many of the girls in front of me were lacking coats, and some were wearing belly shirts and cropped jeans rolled high above their precariously heeled ankle boots. Their chatter grated on my nerves. I not-so-secretly pined for the warmth of a snowsuit. Looking at my family, I was relieved to see that we were all sharing the same thought: Please let this line move quickly!

Once inside, someone promptly vomited on the floor. Gazing around the venue, I yearned for chairs to cushion my now-aching back and wished the din of talking would cease while the headlining musician played. I had to laugh at myself: These mostly-college-aged kids weren’t doing anything college-aged kids haven’t been doing since the advent of the club circuit. I had, without really noticing the magnitude of the change, simply aged.

Some women talk about their thirties as a kind of revelation, and I would have to agree with that sentiment. I have a very clear idea of who I am and what I want, but I also know that both of those things are fluid. I have arrived at this place via years of painful lessons and regret. My high school days – and almost half my twenties – were spent in mortifying pursuits, far removed from my well adjusted peers, who were successfully attending college and enjoying chilly chatter outside teeming concert venues. I may not want those early twenty experiences anymore, but I robbed myself of them at the time.

A lot of my regret is driven by the commonly accepted perception of how one’s youth is “supposed” to look – what I “should” have done and how I “should” have acted. But I needed my mistakes, failures, and abysmal abnormalities to deliver me to the doorstep of my successes. I can confidently say that my thirties will not be plagued by “shoulds”. I already know that many of the things I value go against the grain…and I’m alright with that.

Not unlike one’s twenties, society has this idea of what constitutes success in one’s thirties. I don’t want the 2,500 sq ft house, the designer handbag, or the kids. I shunned the large and expensive wedding. I don’t even want the Master’s degree (instead, I would love to bring back the practice of apprenticeship). People say: “you could go back to school,” or “you’d be a great mom,” or “you could _____________”. I’m flattered, but that’s not who I am today.

Simplicity seems to be synonymous with mediocrity. I couldn’t disagree more. Just because I crave simplicity doesn’t mean I don’t strive for success. Rather than juggling more than I can handle (or just enough to make me miserable), I want to fulfill my carefully chosen responsibilities with dazzling efficiency. Furthermore, as far as I’m concerned, there is nothing mediocre about breathing room. There is nothing mediocre about spending a luxurious morning baking muffins from scratch and draping oneself – coffee in hand – over a sun warmed lawn chair. There is nothing mediocre about coming home at a reasonable time and enjoying the evening with your spouse. That, to me, is the quintessence of freedom. Time and choice are man’s most valuable currencies. Rather than pursuing material status symbols – and avoiding my own skin with an overbooked schedule – I want to spend those precious currencies checking off the items on my bucket list.

Autumn’s Bucket List:

  • Finish writing a book (started!)
  • Meet Stevie Nicks (it’s a long shot – but hey!) and never miss another tour as long as she lives.
  • Move to Florida. Save half my income for our move (started!)
  • Bake more
  • Read more
  • Audit philosophy classes
  • Fix my broken foot so I can hike and complete a 5k
  • Go back to NYC
  • Visit England. See the moors.
  • Cruise Florida in a classic muscle car .
  • See the West Coast – San Francisco in particular
  • Visit Zion National Park, the Grand Canyon, and Sedona (next year?!?!?!)
  • Road trip the USA and blog about it. Take a picture on Route 66.
  • Become an advocate for teaching police officers healthy coping skills. Lobby for changes to academy curriculum to include comprehensive courses on coping skills and building community bridges.
  • Help open a dry bar and use the space to foster genuine human connection
  • Photograph a temple in Bhutan
  • Work entirely for myself
  • Become a master of discipline
  • Have at least 2 dogs in the family – but one will suffice.
  • Finish tattooing sleeves on both arms… and then keep going.
  • Take another looooooong vacation from social media.
  • Finish our scrapbooks
  • Visit Disney World at Christmas and eat all the treats and see all the lights.
  • Procure an indoor, natural light studio for Human Too.
  • Go back to attending the symphony
  • See all the Cirque Du Soleil Shows
  • Renew our wedding vows
  • Become a life coach
  • Help make a documentary
  • Grow a little garden
  • Spend the day with alpacas
  • See the cherry blossoms in D.C. Visit all the museums.
  • Also visit famous treasure/shipwreck museums. Go on a real buried treasure hunt.
  • See a Mucha exhibit
  • Drastically reduce or completely eliminate our consumption of single use plastic

That’s it – for now! In recent weeks, I’ve vicariously witnessed what it’s like to approach the late stages of life. I know that everyone inevitably has regrets, but I don’t want to look back and realize I lived someone else’s vision. The one thing every decade seems to have in common is the human drive to seek validation from outside things. I think an important part of my recovery has been slowly breaking free from that. I still get caught in the trap. Addiction magnifies the validation drive. While I still love certain external things – like tattoos and muscle cars (and don’t get me started on the Viva Terra catalog!) – it’s because I enjoy self-expression and the rumble of engines…not because I want someone to like me. The less time, energy, and money I spend on people pleasing – or some gossamer definition of prosperity – the more I invest in myself and my freedom.

Liberation from the conventional interpretation of success looks different for everyone. My “breaking free” will surely look different from yours. Perhaps your idea of “breaking free” is a return to so-called convention. There’s nothing wrong with that. What matters is acknowledging that you are worth the fulfillment of your vision – and the determination to stick to that recognition with unwavering commitment.

What’s on your bucket list? Write it. Chase it. Don’t let anyone (especially yourself) sway you with “should” or “could”. In the words of Fleetwood Mac: Go your own way.

Worthiness

I write every day now. This is both a blessing and a curse. When my body violently rejected medication prescribed to keep me focused and functioning, I wasn’t sure how I was going to maintain or progress in the workforce. It’s not an understatement to say that getting a new job saved my life. Not in the “literally going to die” sense, but in the “if something doesn’t change, I don’t know what I’m going to do” sense.

The flip side of doing what I love is that it poses new hurdles in my ongoing quest to take care of myself. Most days, I hermit myself away in my home office, and spend hours staring at a screen. This, in and of itself, isn’t the problem; millions of people spend their days staring at screens. In re-reading that statement, I guess I could digress on how that is, in fact, the problem…but more on that shortly. My issue is that I struggle to separate from the screen. When I’m not working, it’s either attached to my body like an appendage or I’m using some variation for my entertainment. I also have difficulty setting limits and designating days for myself. It’s not about a lack of time, it’s about poorly managed time.

I am making a concerted effort to foster better habits. In the past ten days, I’ve gone to (part two) of a wellness visit, obtained a blood work-up, consulted with a podiatrist, and chopped off my unruly hair. Truth be told, that’s more than I typically accomplish in a year. The screen time, however, continues to evade modification. My favorite excuse is that the weather is bad – which isn’t entirely inaccurate. When it isn’t twenty-five below zero, it’s fifty degrees and pouring. Right now, it’s snowing. You’ve gotta love (hate) New England.

Version 2
Why would I want to leave this cozy corner?

The other afternoon, I determinedly shut my laptop and, disgusted with the heaviness behind my eyes, snuggled up with Patti Smith’s latest book, Devotion. I honestly can’t remember the last time I read something that was just for me. Even though I had to pause and research the poets and philosophers she referenced, I devoured it. I learned (or re-learned) about Simone Weil, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, and Camus.

When I was finished, I felt like a different person but, ever the creature of habit, I logged online to check work notifications. The first thing that appeared in my line of vision was someone’s selfie. I was dismayed.

In that moment, it dawned on me that I needed Wikipedia to inadequately grasp the nuances of a ninety three page book. I reflected on how Simone Weil knew Ancient Greek by the time she was twelve. She also fasted and denounced romantic relationships because she was passionate about the disadvantaged. Less than a century later, what are we doing? Taking selfies?

I scrolled by an article called “Social Media is Making Us Dumber” a dozen times before I finally caved and skimmed it. The premise was more political than anything (surprise, surprise), but the title holds validity. How many hours do we spend in pursuit of absolutely nothing? A century ago, people were enlightening themselves by learning extinct languages. One could (rightly) make the argument that this was a luxury reserved for the bourgeoisie but, today, most of us are well appointed enough to honor our precious time with more reverence. At the end of life, I doubt anyone is going to say “Gee, I wish I had played more Candy Crush!”

As I sit here typing on an exceptionally accessible platform for creatives, listening to free music, I am struck by how tragic it is that we are using these miracle devices to destroy ourselves. I know I perseverate on this topic frequently, but I’m confident that technology has sealed our common fate. I feel pity for people who look down on addicts; with few exceptions, we are all addicts. The only thing that separates us is variety of vice. Tech is unquestionably the last frontier in my own personal battle with addiction. If I’m honest, it’s probably where my journey began nearly twenty years ago.

As an empath, it takes daily effort not to focus on how broken everything is. In addition to the far-reaching ramifications of technology, our food, economic, legal, and healthcare systems are malfunctioning on an abysmal scale. And our overarching political system? That, too, is a sham.

Although I’m an empath, I’m also a problem solver.  I’m proficient at assessing how systems could be improved and brainstorming solutions. But the trouble isn’t that the world lacks problem solvers… the trouble is fear, greed, and ego.

For years, I’ve recognized that my task is to operate (and contribute) peacefully within the trouble and the brokenness… but I’ve resisted, not unlike a fish flopping and writhing until it runs out of air. The ending doesn’t change and the only person I’m really hurting is myself. After all, isn’t presuming to know best the grandest egotistical gesture of all?

In my post Love and Wonder, I talked about finding an unshakable sense of purpose in the brokenness. I’m continuing to work on executing said purpose through mindful and intentional living. There are times when I feel like the only way to live with pure intention is to throw my phone and laptop out the window. Unfortunately, that is not a reasonable solution.

The idea of creating a morning ritual keeps popping up in my life. Several people have espoused the benefits of starting the day with habitual meditation, positive visualization, and other healthful routines. I am an “emergency meditater”, i.e. I only meditate when I’m in extreme emotional distress. Meditation is very effective, but I need a fire under my ass to practice. Before I went to court last month to confront a sexual predator , I immersed myself in such a deep state of meditation that I was able to pull from the guided visualization hours later. Since I infrequently experience this level of agitation, I need to start small in order to cultivate new habits. My current goal is to start my morning with a short reading and, if I anticipate any stress in my schedule, to spend ten minutes working on a meditative coloring page. I’m embracing the fact that my ritual doesn’t need to look like a guru’s in order to have a positive impact on my day.

January is as much a month for reflection as it is for manifestation. At this time last year, I was eating peanut butter M&M’s for lunch. Today, there are no meat or dairy products in my household… and I don’t eat candy for lunch. It took a year to accomplish this small shift. Likewise, it has taken well over a decade for me to visit the dentist every six months. In order to follow through with my podiatry appointment, I had to pick a podiatrist two blocks from my house. If I had made any other choice, I would have failed to schedule a consult.

A friend of mine gently pointed out that I can’t expect to rewire my brain without accountability. I am slowly – and I mean very slowly – learning how to structure accountability for myself. I’ve managed to do so with drugs, alcohol, spending, relationships, food, and healthcare. Now, I just need to figure out a source of accountability for screen time. I would love suggestions!

Learning to love myself enough to safeguard my mind, body, and spirit has not been an easy process. It still isn’t. In fact, it has been one of the longest running themes of this blog. But I guess recovery, in a nutshell, is self-improvement.

I chose “worthiness” as my word for 2018. In my experience, people fail to take care of themselves because they don’t feel deserving. As I immerse myself deeper in this journey, there are times when I don’t feel deserving. For instance, when I saw an x-ray of my foot, I was possessed by the urge to both cry and vomit. I wanted to blame someone else but, at the end of the day, I allowed myself to get to a point of no return. Since my stride has been incorrect for years, I now have terrible hip discomfort. Sometimes it’s so bad I can’t sleep at night. At thirty-one, my body is irreversibly damaged. What would be different if I had intervened when I finally got health insurance in 2014? This line of questioning ultimately doesn’t serve me. I have to forgive myself. Pursuing treatment is self-forgiveness in action. Descending into an avoidant reality is not.

I have a vision for my life… and it’s a simple one. I want to share a small home in a southern seaside town with my wife – perhaps a little cottage or a two bedroom condo. I want a dog and, if I’m particularly lucky, a vintage muscle car from which he can happily slobber. And I want the three of us to explore every nook and cranny of this country. Along the way, I hope that my willingness to be unabashedly vulnerable will help someone. And that’s it. That’s all I want. But I can’t manifest this vision if I treat myself like I’m unworthy. I have to propel myself forward with self-compassion.

P.S. No, Really, I Won’t Be Silent

Talking about sexual misconduct makes people uncomfortable. Within the first twelve hours of publishing my last blog, I got the sense that my story wasn’t going to be any different.

“Why put your life on blast on social media?” Here’s the thing (and I know I repeat this like a broken record): I’m a recovering addict. Social media is one of the many things I can abuse. I’ve made the choice to use it – both personally and professionally – as a tool for positivity. We have a collective decision to make about technology; it can be used for good or it can be used for destruction. When I post something, it generally falls into one of two categories – I’m either preserving precious memories or aiming to help another human being. I’ve even started assessing the way I document memories. I had an interesting discussion with one of my best friends on the subject of pride.

There is always room for improvement but, in general, I feel like I have good boundaries. The content I share only scratches the surface of the breadth of my life. There are definitely things that are none of anyone’s business. There are also things I will only share in a memoir somewhere down the line. The measuring stick I use for disclosure is the question: “Can my experience with this situation benefit someone else?” I shared my experience as a woman who moved from victimhood to empowerment in the hope that it would cultivate strength and solidarity.

One of the greatest gifts of my recovery is that I have grown increasingly comfortable in my own skin. While people’s judgement mystifies me, it doesn’t dissuade me from standing unabashed in my raw truth. I feel sincere sadness for those who think I should be quiet. It says more about their life than it does about mine. It must be hard to be so unhappy that you have to put down someone who is spreading their wings in freedom. This distinct class of judgement denotes fear, envy, and self-loathing. And let’s face it: the perpetuation of silence is a gigantic part of the problem. For centuries, women and men alike have been forced to endure sexual abuse with no way to safely vocalize their pain and suffering. Furthermore, women grow up with the expectation that we will quietly accept our lot in life… even if it is intolerable.

I firmly believe that storytelling is the way to healing. I used to think that making a forceful argument or engaging in a debate could lead to change. I haven’t found that to be accurate. In fact, I have found that it repulses people, burns bridges to understanding, and invites rigidity in opposing stances. I used to go on tirades and rants on Facebook about various things I found to be unjust, especially when people advocated for violence against police officers. My diatribe didn’t change anything and, because I was operating from a place of fear for my law enforcement spouse and friends, it made it look like I didn’t care about my brothers and sisters of color. When I operate from a place of fear, it turns me into a person I don’t particularly like. At the core of my being – in a divine place  untouched by fear and anger – I have unconditional compassion for other beings. My responsibility as a human is to try and live from that place as much as possible.

I do my best not to argue anymore. I share my personal experience instead. If you don’t like it, that’s fine. You have your truth. This is mine. I do not need to feel guilty or ashamed. I am a writer. It’s just who I am. But I’m not meant for fiction or poetry; I’m meant for exploring and reflecting on life from my singular perspective. After my experience this summer, I certainly have a strong perspective on how things could be improved. In conveying my interpretation of events, I tried my best not to wish anyone harm or ill will.

Today I also try to distance myself from those who are domineering and abusive with their opinions. I have been that person- even in the context of this blog – and I don’t want to be anymore. I recognize that I become like the people with whom I surround myself the most. I can have compassion without accepting negative energy in my space.

We are all walking, talking anthologies of our beliefs. I’d posit that it’s impossible to craft a genuine narrative without betraying a worldview. I want my beliefs to look less like an arsenal of weapons and more like an invitation to collaboratively create peace. I am flawed in my practice, but this is the ideal toward which I strive. It benefits me to constantly evaluate what I bring to the table. How can I connect with someone if they bring an invitation and I bring a sword? These days, I find myself asking the opposite question. Most of the time, all I can do is hold space at the table, invitation in hand.

Reading – or listening to – other people’s stories with an open heart has saved my life and shaped the woman I’ve become. I am grateful to each person who has shared their recovery experience and provided a roadmap for me to follow in their footsteps. I am equally grateful to the people who have shared intimate pieces of themselves in order that I might challenge myself and grow. Each human narrative is an archway through which we can enter our unexamined minds and extract previously undiscovered insight. Socrates said that “the unexamined life is not worth living”. Several millennia later, the profound value of his wisdom remains unchanged.