An Open Letter From A Police Wife

I wrote two thirds of this piece on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. All across social media, people were sharing MLK quotes – people who are full of fear and hate the other 364 days a year, and who have no business uttering the words of MLK like they are their own.

I used to be one of those people. I still am on some levels. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached a message of love. I honestly don’t like people very much. I like animals…but people? I can take ’em or leave ’em. Ironically, I work in the social services field. But I think people appreciate my transparency. It’s easier to connect with someone who doesn’t put on airs. My clients nod enthusiastically when I concede that, yes, people can be pretty fucking unlikeable, and I understand why they want nothing to do with them.

I recently heard a woman say, “I don’t have to like people, but I have to love them”. She’s right, as much as that irritates the dickens out of me. However, when I was first trying to find my legs as a law enforcement spouse, I was so full of fear and hate that I could not recognize my white privilege, and I could not love my fellow humans.

It’s not a surprise that I married a police officer. Between 1987 and 1992, the show Square One ran a segment called Mathnet. I was totally into it. Just for context, I turned 6 in 1992. As the nineties progressed, Dana Scully became my first love. For awhile, I wanted to be an FBI agent. That dream faded as soon as I was old enough to acknowledge my athletic ineptitude. My next love was Stephanie March’s character on Law and Order: SVU, Alexandra Cabot. NBC would have made a lot of money off my lesbian sisters if they had the guts to pair Alex Cabot with Olivia Benson…but I digress.

I remember having coffee with a friend from high school. She practically snorted when I told her my new girlfriend was a cop.

But being a real police wife is nothing like Hollywood. My wife, J.L., rolls her eyes whenever Olivia Benson shouts, “Get me a bus!” Nobody says that – at least not around here.

The rush of watching my wife step out of a cruiser in uniform eventually wore off. Reality settled over our lives like a slow moving weather system. I became familiar with cancelled plans and holidays spent partially or fully alone. I listened to the scanner knowing J.L. was searching for an armed and dangerous subject. I watched her march in a funeral procession for a fallen officer. I followed gruesome news reports knowing she was carrying the crime scene on her psyche.

I am intimately familiar with the darkness that law enforcement officers face. Our dinner smalltalk – as a police officer and mental health professional respectively – is the stuff of nightmares. So, despite what you may think, I fully support our law enforcement. But I also cannot wait to get as far away from law enforcement culture as humanly possible.

I was starting to get a sense of what it meant to be a police spouse during the rise of Black Lives Matter. Black men and women were being murdered. Police officers were being murdered. I lived in so much fear – please, not my wife, please not my wife, please, not my wife – that I could not hear anything that people of color had to say. What’s worse was that I vocalized my ignorance. I am grateful I have friends who were brave enough to point out my blind spots, and to help me understand. I am also grateful I was willing to hear them.

The problem with law enforcement culture is that very few people have these skills; to call out a problem or to self-evaluate and change. What’s more, these skills are not encouraged. In fact, they are discouraged. The system is broken, and rather than admit, “Yep, I’ve been looking at things all wrong,” it’s easier for people on a systemic and individual level to get defensive.

I’m not just talking about race, either. Last year, a police officer in a neighboring town got drunk, got behind the wheel, and killed a young woman who was on her way home from work. When I had the audacity, as a police wife, to call police culture out for perpetuating alcohol misuse as a coping skill, as well as the way in which mental healthcare is stigmatized, I got unfriended. “If you cannot hold yourself to a higher standard,” I said, “you should not be in this field”.

Why is it offensive to expect someone in a leadership role to act like a leader? And what is a good leader? A good leader is someone who is capable of looking honestly at themselves and admitting when they’re wrong – or when they need help – thereby freeing their peers to engage in the same work. That’s how trust is built. That’s how change happens. That’s how bridges are built and compassion is born.

You know what really gets my goat? When people claim to agree that something is wrong, but subsequently continue to engage in harmful behavior.

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will”.

Again, I am not writing this under the pretense of perfection. I opened by acknowledging that I’m kind of an asshole. More often than not, I find it hard to like people. And, I am ashamed to say, I once paraded around thinking I was the queen of diversity, when I was actually one hundred percent ignorant about white privilege and racism in America. I was on the civil rights team in middle school, and we learned the whitewashed version of diversity. Color blindness and blah, blah, blah. I was a shallow person of good will. That’s why when other people act the same way, I get worked up. The very things we find distasteful in others, we also harbor in ourselves.

I still don’t know much, but I’m trying. I’d like to think I’m listening now. I rely on my friends to tell me when I’m not. Those are real friends – the ones who call you out. The ones who tell you when you have broccoli in your teeth or when your worldview is hurting others.

The reason I am writing this is because it is incumbent on me, as a police wife who cares about law enforcement, as a human who cares about people of color (because the two are not mutually exclusive), and as a mental health/addiction recovery advocate, to speak up. The system is never going to change unless the people within it have the guts to say the wildly unpopular thing. We need to be willing to get uncomfortable on an individual level. It’s not the job of a person of color or a person with mental illness to make us understand, it’s our responsibility to get uncomfortable, ask hard questions, have tough discussions, and change.

“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right”.

It would be naive of me to think that writing this open letter of sorts is going to abruptly change the world. It will, however, change me. At the end of my life, I can look back and say that I stood for something. I don’t want to be ashamed of my place in the history books.

In his poem, Mental Fight, Ben Okri wrote:

You can’t remake the world
Without remaking yourself first.
Each new era begins within.
It is an inward event,
With unsuspected possibilities
For inner liberation.

I pulled that poem from a piece called, “On Hope” by Daisaku Ikeda, which appears in Tricycle Magazine. He writes,

“An inner change for the better in a single person—one person becoming wiser, stronger, more compassionate—is the essential first turn of the wheel toward realizing peaceful coexistence and fulfillment for the whole human race. I firmly believe that a great human revolution in just one person can be the start of a transformation in the destiny of whole societies and all humankind. And for the individual, everything starts in the inner reaches of life itself.

When we change our inner determination, everything begins to move in a new direction. The moment we make a powerful resolve, every nerve and fiber in our being will immediately orient itself toward the fulfillment of this goal or desire. On the other hand, if we think, ‘This is never going to work out,’ then every cell in our body will be deflated and give up the fight.

Hope, in this sense, is a decision. It is the most important decision we can make”.

Roller Skates

I was scrolling through social media yesterday when I saw a post from someone who had purchased a beautiful pair of roller skates. My inner child’s eyes widened and, green with envy, she proclaimed, “Those. I want those!”

For those of you who aren’t in the social work field, the inner child is a real thing. If you have a wounded inner child – and you don’t do the work of “reparenting” – those wounds will drive the bus your entire adult life. Sadly, most of the adult population is walking around with their wounded child in the driver’s seat.

I’ve been asking my inner child to do a lot of growing up lately. So, once in awhile, I let her win. (Actually, like most parenting, it’s a lot of compromise). Usually she gets small rewards: a Disney Plus subscription, chocolate milk, and snuggles with soft blankets. This time, I let her pick out the shiniest pair of roller skates she could find. She wanted sparkly pink wheels…and she got ’em.

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Can’t wait for these puppies to arrive

When wounded little Autumn is in the driver’s seat, she tries to buy livestock. No joke. In early recovery, my sponsor had to talk me out of buying an alpaca over dinner rolls at Texas Roadhouse. I was heartbroken… and I thought an alpaca was just what the doctor ordered.

This is an uncertain time in history for all of us – young and old. Part of the allure of roller skates is having something to look forward to. “Keeping it in the day” is easier said than done. I’m a Virgo – I thrive on planning. Now that our vacation has been cancelled and my chaplaincy schooling is uncertain, among other disappointments, I feel a little directionless. Having a sense of purpose is an important element of any recovery program. Without that, why are we bothering to do “the work”? As time progresses, we cultivate more and more internal motivation, but I am learning that external motivators still help me more than I’d like to admit.

Something that has been eating me up about the COVID-19 crisis is the way people invalidate the motivations, experiences and feelings of others. It especially irritates me when it comes from a “spiritual” perspective. Don’t get me wrong, I have written on other platforms about what we can learn from the coronavirus. I strongly encourage maintaining a focus on gratitude (if only because it helps impede my own downward spirals). But I think it sucks to tell people they shouldn’t feel afraid – or whatever they might be feeling. I hope – from the deepest part of my heart – that I have never made anyone feel bad about their response to the pandemic. If I have, I’m sorry.

In twelve step programs, they tell you to “stay in your hula hoop, and “mind your own business,” in relation to what other people are saying and doing. Why? Resentment leads to an absence of internal serenity, which leads to relapse. I had a beautiful, hula-hoop-holding Ziegfeld girl tattooed to my arm to remind me of this principle. So, I guess it would be hypocritical of me to tell the holier-than-thous out there to STFU. When I start doing that, I join their ranks. On some level, by getting irritated enough to condemn them, I already have.

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My Ziegfeld girl

Maybe what I can do is just continue sharing my own experience. I think it helps people to know they’re not alone. It doesn’t matter what your life situation is – it’s okay if you’re struggling. If you’re not, that’s okay, too.

I’ve responded a variety of ways to this crisis. Some days I don’t want to get out of bed. Other days I am completely unreasonable. And then there are days I am inspired, helpful, and productive. Sometimes I am all of those things in twenty-four hours.

When social distancing started, I thought I was going to bake a lot of bread and become the queen of meditation. I have not accomplished either of those goals. But, like most things in life, I sure as hell learned.

It’s hard not to think about your own mortality in a situation like this, and I’ve learned how deeply I care about being alive (which is a complete 360° from how I felt before recovery). I’ve learned that my biggest regrets would be not traveling more and not living with the palm trees. (I don’t know what it is about palm trees… I love those sonofaguns). I’ve learned how much I still need people despite being the archetype of introversion. I’ve learned how to keep myself from totally succumbing to depression… and that I should stop placating little Autumn with food (hello, COVID-19lbs). I’ve learned I do like to try new things – like starting seedlings and roller skating at thirty-three.

By golly, I may not come out of this Your Majesty of Meditation but, Universe willing, I could come roller skating by with a basket of produce I grew with my housemates.

That wasn’t what I had planned… but it’s not so bad, either.

 

 

 

 

Faith

It’s just after midnight on April 3rd and I can’t sleep. I’m not sure if it’s because I had a coffee ice cream cone or if it’s because the world feels a little apocalyptic. Probably both.

This year started on a high note. J.L. returned to dayshift after 14ish long months working nights. Around the same time, I was accepted to a 2 year interfaith chaplaincy program. I told myself 2020 was going to be my year. To prepare for a disciplined academic lifestyle, I had intended to spend 6 months living my best life.

Now I’m not even sure what that looks like. We cancelled our annual Florida vacation/real estate hunt. There’s no telling what the summer has in store. Beyond that, it’s hard to even conceptualize returning to school in September. I signed up for extreme discomfort – if not abject terror – but I had planned on being “ready” for that experience – one my school describes as “the churn”. I was going to get my ya-yas out and show up equipped to get my churn on. I’m worried about how the churnin’ is gonna go when we all arrive bedraggled by a global pandemic.

It seems to me that the Universe has an unfailingly bad (good?) sense of humor. My idea of preparing for school was 6-8 months of living wild and free (sober-married-and-employed style, of course). Instead, the Universe asked, “Why don’t we see what the word faith really means? That’ll be fun”.

You see, I knew I was supposed to be an interfaith chaplain. While reading a book by Nadia Bolz Weber, I thought to myself, “I wonder if there’s a way to help people heal spiritually without adhering to organized religion”. While I wasn’t ready to run around telling everyone “the good news,” Nadia’s books rescripted all the traumatizing religious messages I received as a child. I wanted to give other people that gift.

The idea nagged at me. I finally did a Google search and realized interfaith chaplaincy wasn’t just a lovely concept I’d made up in my head.

Then I found a school ninety minutes from my house.

I sat with “the call” for months. Fear held me back. I knew I was going to have to confront parts of myself I’d been avoiding. The call was stronger. Even as I painstakingly wrote the admissions essay and sweat my way through two interviews, I knew I would get in. I have never felt such a clear sense of purpose. I can’t explain why, but I knew the path would unfold before me and it did. I learned that blindly following that inner knowing is called faith.

Then COVID-19 hit.

This is clearly something I am meant to do – there is some reason I was all but carried to this chaplaincy program – so I’m not sure why the Universe would just kill me off in a pandemic. I certainly hope that won’t be the case. There are so many ways I still want to contribute and so many things I still want to see. But my life doesn’t have more value than anyone else’s and it would be arrogant to think otherwise. I have asthma and an “essential” spouse (who is most essential to me, for the record), and I am afraid.

I have to admit my faith has been faltering. In the midst of that, I have also been questioning, “What makes a good spiritual leader? Am I really cut out for it?”

Here’s what I’ve come up with. To me, a good spiritual leader is someone who makes people feel at ease in their messy humanness, and also inspires them to find meaning in the mess. I have to say that I can’t relate to the industrialized version of spirituality out there. What I mean by that is when it’s more about selling your face than sharing your spirit.

I don’t ever want to embody that. Could I be guilty of some of those behaviors? Sure. But it’s not what I’m striving toward.

My dear friend always talks about how life is not “this or that” – it’s “this and that”. I think that’s what interfaith is in a nutshell. So if you identify with the aforementioned expression of spirituality, I’m not here to tell you that you’re wrong.

The kind of spiritual leaders I relate to, however, are the ones who show you the ugly parts of themselves. They openly grapple with big ideas and feelings. They admit when they’re wrong. They’re brave enough to be wrong. They don’t give a fuck about being self-righteous and well coiffed. They’re just real.

Today the people I need are the ones who can admit they followed up a good crying sesh by mowing down a bag of Doritos, but can also find meaning on that very same Hot Mess Express.

Or not.

Sometimes it’s just a shitty train and all you can do is hold on to your seat. I need people who can call that out, too.

When I opened my laptop to start writing, a graphic popped up at the top of my Facebook feed. The words were from Anne Lamott. They said, “Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns”.

“Whoa,” I thought. “There it is. I guess I am living in faith after all”.

 

Grief

It’s funny how these posts tend to pour out of me in bursts. Once I give myself permission to write, the floodgates open. This part of me is like a faucet I keep clamped tightly shut, knowing the water will consume me. Once I start, it’s hard to focus on anything else – to participate in the stream of life in a way the capitalist machine would deem “productive”. I struggle with that concept even when the faucet is secured in place.

I told myself I wasn’t ready to write about my grandmother. “It’s too new,” I cautioned, like a helicopter parent aloft in her own spinning anxiety. I haven’t had a chance to organize my thoughts and feelings in the orderly fashion with which I typically approach life. Truth be told, I don’t know what I feel. I thought I knew what grief was supposed to look like and I was wrong.

The first night without her was gut wrenching. I had the first legitimate craving for a drink I’d had in years. I begged my wife, the dog, the darkness – whomever or whatever was listening – to knock me out. When her house hit the real estate market, I felt an almost-equal sense of devastation. I do not consider the town where I attended high school “home”. It’s a place that will always be synonymous with suffering. My grandmother’s, on the other hand, was a place where I felt grounded. The tidal mud pulled me out of suffering and into the stream of life. It bubbles, quite literally, with activity. When I was almost three years sober, I stood in that tidal mud and sent a plea out to the Universe: “I need something now or I’m done. I’m going to drink, I’m going to use, and I’m going to do whatever feels good. This isn’t worth it”. Not thirty seconds later, my new sponsor called my phone and told me there was another way to live.

Sadly, my grandmother’s became a place synonymous with a different kind of suffering: her own. Now that she’s gone, I feel relieved. For several months before she died, I experienced terror inducing heart palpitations. Sometimes hundreds a day. My empathic heart was literally broken. When she passed, the palpitations slowed and ceased.

If I am honest, most of the death I have experienced has been accompanied by a sense of relief. When my biological father died by suicide, I was relieved. He suffered more than I have ever seen a human suffer – at least in the mental sense. I still have not, as yet, met anyone as lost and sick. And once he was no longer hurting, he could no longer hurt me. Today I understand that hurt people hurt people. I think, wherever he is now, he understands that, too. He may not have found the answers he was searching for when he was alive, but his death validated my choice to continue pursuing recovery.

I know for a fact that there are people reading this and wondering, “why the hell does she reveal all this?” Humans are inclined toward judgment. I don’t let it stop me. Also, if you think this is too much, you should hear the things I don’t say. Friends, my boundaries are FIRE. (I love throwing in lingo I learn from barely twenty-somethings.) That being said, the reason I am so forthright is because I meet people on a weekly basis who wonder, “Am I supposed to feel like this?” And what I’ve learned is there is no guidebook for this shit. Believe me – and this is something I say a lot – I spent the better part of my life searching for the instruction manual to human existence. I loved my philosophy courses. And I’m still prone to search for an adultier adult. Most of the time, I have no idea what I’m doing, and my poor inner child screams, “No! This is chaos! This is scary! I need order! I need predictability!” And my stomach aches and my heart pounds, and the Universe laughs and laughs at my incorrigibility.

So, my grandmother died – my beautiful, beautiful grandmother – and, as it turns out, there is no “right” way to be. Most of the time, I’m okay. But then there are moments when I find myself crying at dinner and not really understanding why. And if you asked me to go to certain parts of Maine, I would vehemently decline. Photos of the coast make me sick, nevermind the rocky landscape itself. That is pain I am not ready to touch. I am not ready to fully immerse myself in that feeling of rootless-ness. At first I berated myself for being avoidant – like an active addict without drugs – but, with a little help, I’ve come to understand that this a gradual process: Our brains have built-in mechanisms to keep us safe. I am not selfish for honoring my process.

There was a period when I worried that my grandmother was out in the ether feeling hurt that I’m not “sad enough” or not “grieving right”. After I spoke those words out loud to another person – who assured me I was being absurd – I turned on my car and it was 11:11. I’ve seen 11:11 multiple times a week since my grandmother died. Sometimes twice a day. I see it on the Roku screen when I shut down Netflix. I see it when I walk by the stove. I see it when I open my phone. I’ve seen it in the company of witnesses who can attest that I’m not sitting by the clock, watching the minute hand creep forward. It startles me. And it might seem silly to some, but to me it seems like a sign.

At the exact moment my grandmother died, a beautiful red bird burst in front of our windshield. “My angels are with me today,” I remarked to my wife. Five minutes later, my mother called with the news.

If that image doesn’t sum up life, I don’t know what does.

A violent pop of color. A brief rustle of wings on the currents of time. There and gone.

Self-Forgiveness

This is an update – of sorts – because I haven’t done any blogging for myself since June. I know I repeat this triviality more than you might care to read, but I’m a Virgo and I like (need?) a rough plan when I start a piece of writing. However, having spent the early morning drinking coffee and catching up on blog subscriptions/Tricycle magazine articles, I decided to go rogue and put my thoughts down with no plan whatsoever. Watch out kids, I’m wildin’. (Whatever that means.)

Does this mean I might actually be learning to relax? Ha! What a lovely thought. In all seriousness, I have been doing a lot of work on myself. These are not small victories by any means. You are dealing with a woman who has to make a conscious effort not to match her food to her plate. Just take the first plate you grab, is an almost-daily mantra. Yesterday, for example, I endured butternut squash pasta on an orange plate. Oh, the horror of two similar shades commingling together! Sure, I could buy white dinnerware and save myself the trouble. But I like my Fiestaware and I refuse to live a life devoid of color.

There are times when I simply cannot abide the spicy black bean soup in the orange bowl. There are times when it needs to be in the blue bowl. And it’s in those moments I need to forgive myself the most. I can control the blue bowl. I can’t control that my grandmother died in July. I can’t wrap a good night’s sleep in a box and gift it to my tired wife. I can’t divert the week’s latest nonsense to some mystical drama llama who exists solely to unburden me of responsibility. When I dig out that blue bowl, it means I am suffering in the Buddhist sense of the word. It means I am resisting the fact that absolutely nothing about our human experience is certain, and it’s causing me pain. And the only way out of that resistance is to acknowledge why I’m doing what I’m doing and greet myself with compassion.

If I were to look at myself objectively – as I might in a clinical setting with a stranger – I would certainly not respond with, “Wow, you are a piece of shit. Why can’t you be normal? It’s just a bowl. Use it. It’s just food. Eat it”. Never – in all my years of working with wounded people – have I found that approach to fast-track healing. That is the voice of a critical, abusive parent. So, if my inner two year old is feeling scared – and she wants the blue bowl – she can have it. Then we can talk about why she needs it. We can examine if there are other ways to get those needs met that don’t include obsessing over which vegetables match her plate.

I have been forgiving myself a lot lately. Over the past five years, I’ve set a number of bottom lines around so-called unproductive behaviors. This summer, I’ve steamrolled over all of them.

For instance, I bought more holiday decorations because my apartment is bigger now and, well, I can. And why not? My choices are in line with my minimalist values because these items bring me joy. Today, I believe I deserve joy.

I’ve also transitioned from a (mostly) plant based to pescatarian diet. If that mutinous diversion from my value system isn’t shocking enough, I also buy many meals from my favorite cafe. Consequently, I’ve put on a little weight. My cold weather jeans pinch my mid-section, and my bikini belly is more Buddha than Bali.

All of the aforementioned is okay. I was tired of subsisting on salad, processed fake meat, and pasta with red sauce. I am also tired of berating myself for not being a cook. (I bake like a mofo. Baking has rules. Baking is safe.) And I am so thankful for that cafe. Some weeks they provide the only nutritious food I eat. Long-term, I’d like to come into balance rather than live in extremes. Can I learn to cook a few simple, healthy things? That process is an on-going struggle – and a messy one at that. The other week, for example, I managed to bastardize a bag of frozen ravioli. That takes skill let me tell you.

Today, I’m allowed to be messy. I am a human being. I am no longer answering to that nasty inner voice telling me I’m not enough.

I am not advocating we all sit around and co-sign our own bullshit. I am merely acknowledging that I am doing the very best I can in this moment. I have to trust that when I learn how to do better (or have healed enough to do better), I will. Historically, that has always been true. In order to accomplish that, however, I need to love the woman I am today. She is not going to grow in soil embittered by self-loathing.

 

200 Things That Make Me Happy

 

Although clinical work isn’t my primary professional responsibility, I love to keep a toe dipped in the water, so I co-facilitate an intensive outpatient group twice a week. It keeps me connected and inspired. A few times a year, we take a break from facilitating our normal therapeutic rotation and offer a structured gratitude group. Rather than asking my clients to write a rote list of things for which they’re grateful, I reframe the concept of gratitude. I ask them to write a list entitled “100 Things That Make Me Happy”. A huge part of recovery, for me, is noticing and savoring the little things.

There’s an old saying that goes, “we teach what we need to learn”. It’s been a shit year – and I’ve spent a lot of time processing the lessons. There’s nothing wrong with that. But none of my recovery mentors have ever said, “it’s more important to make a gratitude list when things are going great”. In fact, the opposite is true.

In early recovery, writing this list is hard. Your brain is healing. You’re just starting the process of cognitive restructuring. Consequently, your thoughts tend toward the negative. You may not even know yourself – your likes and dislikes – and what makes you happy. This is completely normal. But it’s important to start somewhere.

Even though I’ve had a little practice, it’s easy to forget the significance of this activity. Since I didn’t slow down until the 130-150 mark, I decided to challenge myself and push to 200. I stress this to my clients: it’s not a competition. It’s an awakening of the spirit.

I’d love to see your list! Share in the comments!

200 Things That Make Me Happy – A Gratitude List

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Courtesy of https://www.alifeinprogress.ca/
  1. my wife, J.L.
  2. my dog, Cedric
  3. my Subaru
  4. dry shampoo
  5. Pressed Cafe (5a. iced mocha lattes, 5b. beet salads, 5c. white chocolate cookies, 5d. spicy Greek burritos, 5e. grilled tofu 5f. pesto mac & cheese)
  6. overalls
  7. the baby curls at the back of J.L.’s neck
  8. J.L.’s hugs
  9. Trader Joe’s
  10. apple pie
  11. most pie, really
  12. my porch
  13. porches in general
  14. knowing there’s a good show waiting on Netflix
  15. Kissing Cedric’s paws and lips
  16. when Cedric’s paws smell like sweet grass
  17. sweatpants
  18. when Chipotle makes my burrito bowl just right
  19. the sound of peepers
  20. Stevie Nicks
  21. tattoos
  22. airports
  23. tokyo milk honey & the moon candle
  24. farmers’ markets
  25. fresh Maine seafood
  26. antique stores
  27. book stores
  28. botanical gardens
  29. regular gardens
  30. greenhouses
  31. fuzzy blankets
  32. finding a rare seashell
  33. soft serve
  34. FoMu vegan shakes
  35. Olive Garden
  36. french fries for dinner (with honey mustard or sweet & sour dipping sauce)
  37. Mike’s Pastries
  38. aquariums
  39. street art
  40. Christmas stockings
  41. string lights
  42. northern lights dark rum & oak candle
  43. campfires/fire pits
  44. Annie’s cheddar flavor vegan mac ‘n cheese
  45. independent film
  46. Cedric’s puppy noises
  47. kettle cooked chips
  48. my Sudanese prayer beads
  49. dog memes
  50. art museums
  51. Augusten Burroughs
  52. Patti Smith
  53. a hot shower after a long day
  54. that feeling when J.L. and I are driving away from the city toward adventure
  55. when wise old people tell good stories or say profound things
  56. TV shows starring, written or produced by Ricky Gervais
  57. Nadia Bolz-Weber
  58. pin-up girls
  59. Converse
  60. the smell of the Atlantic ocean
  61. Waterfire
  62. vintage markets
  63. street festivals
  64. when J.L. laughs really hard
  65. Burying my face in Cedric’s chest
  66. Cedric’s ear hairs
  67. Cedric’s eyelashes
  68. the smell of Whole Foods
  69. When Whole Foods’ hot bar serves perfect tofu
  70. Whole Foods’ bakery
  71. Massabesic Audubon on a summer evening
  72. Rhye
  73. the smell of rain on hot pavement
  74. Florida palm trees
  75. the Gulf of Mexico
  76. hummus wraps from Hot Rize or St. Augustine’s Crave
  77. Kookaburra Honey Badger iced latte with honey
  78. listening to jazz with the window open during a rainstorm
  79. Chicago
  80. Lexie’s black bean burgers and fries
  81. fresh flowers
  82. dried flowers
  83. mason jars
  84. glass bottles
  85. a good salad – especially with local, recently harvested produce
  86. Shiny Brite Christmas ornaments
  87. Bambolina wood fired pizza
  88. Michael’s the craft store
  89. antique car shows
  90. the cello or violin
  91. slow dancing in the kitchen with J.L.
  92. chocolate croissants
  93. hoodies
  94. the smell of patchouli on other people
  95. Disney/Pixar movies
  96. empty beaches
  97. giant pool floats
  98. J.L.’s love notes
  99. warm items from the dryer
  100. clean sheets
  101. strawberry shortcake
  102. fireworks
  103. Cedric’s whiskers on my face
  104. Cedric’s eyes
  105. good hair days
  106. root beer floats
  107. kayaking
  108. spanish moss
  109. jigsaw puzzles
  110. National Parks
  111. J.L.’s cooking
  112. planning our future
  113. Mucha
  114. The Golden Girls
  115. muscle shirts
  116. Cirque du Soleil
  117. the sound of Cedric crunching
  118. cool bird sightings
  119. the lupines and daisies on the side of the highway
  120. all wildflowers
  121. how happy Cedric is to see me when I come home
  122. when Cedric wipes his eyes with his paws
  123. Cedric’s elbows
  124. discovering a new song on YouTube
  125. drinking tea or eating lunch with my dearest friends – especially outside!
  126. when the cupboards are stocked with snacks
  127. ripped jeans
  128. J.L.’s smile
  129. beard Snapchat filters
  130. bowties for dogs
  131. dogs wearing sweaters
  132. sea salt on my skin
  133. mocktails that don’t suck
  134. built-in bookshelves
  135. decluttering/minimizing
  136. collecting stickers from our travels
  137. Dwight Schrute
  138. getting through the day without any anxiety symptoms
  139. Bombas or Smartwool socks
  140. documentaries
  141. papasan chairs with fuzzy cushions
  142. cattails
  143. fields of sunflowers
  144. the sound of cicadas
  145. butterfly sightings
  146. holding J.L.’s hand
  147. when J.L. sings to me in the car
  148. decorating for holidays
  149. taking nature pictures
  150. alpacas
  151. neon signs
  152. Chihuly
  153. the smell of fresh Christmas tree
  154. lemurs
  155. watching Elf on Thanksgiving night
  156. craft soda – especially blueberry pop
  157. when a Prince song comes on the radio – especially Purple Rain
  158. tofu spring rolls
  159. old school Missy Elliott
  160. Wentworth
  161. laughing with my coworkers
  162. driving at dusk with the windows down and the music loud
  163. random acts of kindness
  164. finding secret places that tourism hasn’t ruined
  165. chopsticks
  166. foggy/misty fields
  167. the smell of sea in fog
  168. honey from our friend’s homestead
  169. fresh baked bread
  170. the golden hour
  171. comfortable sleeping weather
  172. mastering a new trick in Lightroom or Photoshop
  173. colorful nail polish
  174. vinyl records
  175. recognizing the divine in a stranger
  176. the way light filters through blinds
  177. hidden object games
  178. patterns or symmetry in nature
  179. the first sip of coffee
  180. moody skies
  181. Yam I Am burrito from 86 This!
  182. my last name
  183. when Cedric spoons me
  184. when Cedric holds my hand with his paw
  185. the way J.L. makes me feel unconditionally loved and secure
  186.  when J.L. is safe at home
  187. hats
  188. foxes
  189. restored/refinished/bespoke furniture
  190. sustainable living
  191. One Strange Rock
  192. Gabor Maté
  193. a relaxing massage
  194. Demented Santa (a Christmas landmark in our city)
  195. Sally Mann’s southern landscapes
  196. jellyfish
  197. family dinner nights
  198. walking barefoot
  199. my wedding ring
  200. the beauty of J.L.’s heart

 

Dark Night of the Soul

My sobriety date is July 14th, 2009.  God willing, in just over a month, I’ll have made it to the ten year mark. It’s no secret that this year has been one of the hardest of my recovery thus far. Pretty much everything I’ve written since last Fall has alluded to my dark night of the soul. It’s become a running joke in our household: “Guess we’ll just chalk it up to 2018-2019”. The reason I continue to write about it is because I want to be a voice of authenticity. In the recovery world, you read a lot of positive quotes and saccharine soberlogues. I’m guilty of sharing from these categories. What I read about less, however, is reality. Recovery isn’t a happily-ever-after affair. It’s unadulterated experience. It’s being more awake than most have the desire to be. Yes, recovery is the miracle of life – but when you live you hurt.

I want to read fewer commercialized yoga studio clichés and more truth. I guess that means taking Gandhi’s advice and “being the change”.

Although I believe in metaphysical principles like the Law of Attraction, I think there is a limit to their merit. Yes, if you fixate on how much your day sucks, you will attract more bullet points to support your argument. Yes, if you habitually complain, you will attract more things to complain about. However, no matter how positive you are, pain has its place. The question is – are you willing to learn?

I’ve stopped fighting my dark night of the soul. I’ve surrendered to the boughs of the inky forest. The darkness is a womb.

Marianne Williamson uses a building analogy to describe the rebirth process. She writes about how you can’t always renovate the rooms in your house. Sometimes you have to tear the whole thing down.

I hadn’t really penciled a demolition into my 2018-2019 calendar year. But that is recovery.

Over the last eight months, I’ve discovered that I don’t need a demolition so much as I need a stack of eviction notices. If you told me a year ago that I was subletting my identity for free, I’d tell you that you were crazy. In my mind, I had the whole authenticity thing in the bag. I wrote an entire post dedicated to the subject. As far as I was concerned, I wasn’t in the people pleasing business anymore. Little did I know, squatters were still overrunning the place and I had only managed to repossess a few closets. And yes, they were lovely, wild closets – Narnia-esque cupboards filled with shells and feathers, fireflies and baby animals. But they reached capacity, as cupboards do, and the suffocation became a sickness.

It’s one thing to recognize sickness and another thing to do something about it. That’s where pain comes in. Pain runs a twisted delivery service; it dispenses the gift of desperation and transforms anyone who dares to unpack the contents of the box. Without pain would I really be willing to change? Would I really be willing to ask for help?  Truthfully? No. It’s easier to doze off under the pretense of wakefulness.

Most of us say, “someday I’m going to [insert lofty accomplishment here]”. This sentence prevents me from ever being enough. It gives the squatters too much room to weigh in on the paint color.

What strikes me is that in 20,000 years, it’s unlikely anyone is going to know Shakespeare’s name. Or Mozart. Or Kim Kardashian. Or Mark Zuckerburg. (Definitely not Kim Kardashian). It will be impressive if the human species even survives. The real question is – did Shakespeare enjoy his food? Did he notice the sky? Did he love his dog? Did he smile with every ounce of his being? Did he see and experience everything he could? Did he use his gifts to connect with others? Did he know himself?

Part of recovery, for me, is giving up “the chase”. And it’s fucking hard. I’ve been publicly wrestling with it since I started this blog – and privately wrestling with it for my entire life. Just when I think I’ve abandoned all pursuits, I realize sweat is pouring down my chest and I’m still wearing my running shoes.

It’s so easy to forget that our lives mean something without “someday” or that “really big thing”. We don’t have to strive toward “enough”. We already are. In a purely scientific sense, our existence serves the purpose of perpetuating life on earth. If you leave someone to decompose in a field, they become part of the system that sustains all living things. If you consider the majesty of our planet, there is no loftier aim.

I don’t know if I will ever achieve all those big “somedays”. Most of them were never for me anyway. Someday the dust of my bones will become ocean silt. The simplicity of that is beautiful. And when I unpacked my box of pain, I learned simplicity was what I was trying to get back to all along.

A newborn has no memory of the womb. At the end of my life, I imagine it won’t be the night I’ll remember, but everything juxtaposed against it: I’ll remember J.L. slipping my wedding band on after a minor medical procedure, and how startlingly tender it felt for her to make my ring a priority when I was weak and unattractive. I’ll remember the warm smell of my dog’s velvet ears, my favorite coffee shop, and teaching myself to cook something new. I’ll remember the songs that defined me; the piano and cello. I’ll remember the cool, tall grass and the heady flowers. I will be grateful I was willing to unpack – to change the sheets in the guest bedroom – to make room for more of the simple things – the things that matter.