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.

 

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.

 

 

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.

Hitting Pain: Speed Bumps on the Road to Less

If one is lucky, a New England summer might yawn and stretch lazily into fall.  This year, however, the morning air became abruptly crisp. A smattering of ambitious leaves turned defiantly against the waning sun before the calendar could even declare September’s arrival. Personal growth happens like that, too. Sometimes it languishes, with little to no forward movement, and other times it feels like someone stepped on the accelerator without asking for permission.

My growth game has been languishing until very recently.  Since starting a new job, I’ve fallen into some of my old spending habits: Starbucks whenever the whim strikes, compulsive splurges on superfluous snacks, and etc. I know something is off when I walk into Whole Foods for cereal and quinoa cookies and leave with $75 of vegan junk food. Speaking of veganism, I’ve managed to twist plant based eating into: “This candy is made from plants, so it’s fine”. You know, the old “chocolate salad” logic. If I had used the aforementioned logic on my other issues, it wouldn’t have been long before wine coolers turned into liquor. Or “friendly” coffee with a woman I shouldn’t see turned into a tangled, painful mess. All that being said, I have made strides in the right direction. I don’t cry at dinner anymore. (Seriously, eliminating cheese from our home was ugly business.) Our weekly grocery list no longer contains four pounds of cheese and a carton of heavy cream. That’s noteworthy progress, if I do say so myself. I’m sure my arteries thank me. Also, Starbucks and snack binge(s) aside, I haven’t been blowing cash left and right. I have a Stevie Nicks tattoo to finish and several more tattoos in the queue. In addition, we finally turned our junk room into my walk-in closet and home office. We don’t have room for my addiction to Michael’s holiday decorations. My choices, overall, are more in line with my values.

It’s in my nature to do the “two steps forward and one step back” dance. But, sometimes, life necessitates that I suck it up and tango. I wouldn’t say that life has forced me to tango, but I have been “hitting pain”, as they sometimes refer to it in 12 Step fellowships, and pain is the great facilitator of change. A long time ago, I remember writing about how the word “no” is worthy of its own blog post. However, I haven’t been able to write about it because I am still learning how to use it. In fact, not only am I learning how to speak my truth, I’m still discovering what, exactly, that truth is. It is a complex process and it isn’t always pretty to behold.

In the beginning of August, I had an unsavory experience which forced me to make adjustments to my recovery meeting schedule. As a result, I decided to start attending a women’s meeting. In the past, I was resistant to the idea of gender specific meetings. To be completely honest, the idea of spending time with women feels about as appealing as throwing myself to a family of malnourished tigers. Don’t get me wrong: I love women. Well, one woman in particular. But being around a gaggle of girls has never been my scene. And that’s an understatement. I’m not really sure what that’s about – and why it’s an issue I haven’t been able to resolve in eight years of recovery.

Someone with substantially more recovery wisdom pointed out that maybe I don’t need to be someone who enjoys running with a clique of chicks. I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m a lot more comfortable in my own skin. However, I’m also an introvert. I crave human friendship – and my relationships are important to me – but I like meaningful one on one interaction. Anything else is painfully over or under stimulating (and sometimes both at the same time). It drains my spirit.

I’m going to stick with my women’s meeting; I know for a fact that it’s helping me grow. It’s also my responsibility to pass on the gift that was so freely given to me. However, I need to shut the door on the idea that there is something wrong with the way I operate in the world. The fears of my inner sixth grader aren’t calling the shots anymore. I am a strong, vibrant, nearly-31 year old woman. I don’t need a clique of chicks to have relationships of meaning and value. I am part of a diverse tribe. And, by and large, I enjoy meeting with said tribe members on an individual basis, thank you very much.

Too often, we live our lives based on what we think we “should” do. I know I am certainly guilty. I’ve come to realize that living from that platform is a debilitating form of existential dishonesty. It’s also frickin’ exhausting. My new life’s mission is to live my truth – and a huge part of living my truth is going to be exercising the word “no”.  If other people don’t like it, that’s too damn bad. The response of others is neither my business nor my responsibility. If someone has a problem, that’s their own shit. My only responsibility is to be honest. When I am in the wrong, it’s because I’ve been dishonest. I know my dishonesty has left casualties in its wake and I am working on making sure I don’t repeat the same mistakes.

This is my truth, in all its raw and gritty glory: I do not want to attend a girl’s night out with a group of women. Hell, chicks or dicks, I don’t want to attend any rambunctious night out. I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to be a person on the autism spectrum, but I imagine the kind of sensory overload I experience is not entirely dissimilar to a trip to a noisy store. For the record, when three unrelated people text me at once, I have a meltdown. I’m not built for it. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I also will not spend one second of my time tolerating homophobia – or bullying masquerading as politics – for the sake of being polite. I will not put myself in those situations and, if I find myself unwittingly subjected, I will leave immediately. And no, I probably don’t want to take those family photos. I enjoy doing individual, outdoor portraiture for a good cause. Unless you’re an individual who wants outdoor/natural light photos done for a cause, I can’t help you. On the other side of that coin, I reserve the right to take photos for whomever I damn well please. If I decide to make someone exempt from my usual standard, that choice is mine – and mine alone.

Perhaps most importantly, I reserve the right to change my mind. In five years, reading educational material about studio lighting may not bore me to tears. Maybe I’ll want to invite ten women over for a pajama party. Maybe I will actually initiate a group text rather than contemplate throwing my phone down the garbage disposal. And all of that will be okay because I am a constantly evolving human being with unique preferences and a voice that deserves to be heard.

Uncovering these things has made me a little angry – mainly at myself – because I have denied my voice for so long. I have been afraid of offending or inconveniencing others. I have asked: “What will other people think?” I have been a people-pleaser. I should have been asking: “What do I need?” Nobody else is responsible for meeting my needs. And it’s not selfish to meet them myself. In fact, it’s the self-caring, healthy thing to do. Ultimately, the more I deprive myself, the more I end up harming other people, too.

At the end of the day, I am aiming for simplicity. I am striving for less. If you think about it, “less” is the antithesis of addiction, which is the craving for more. And the road to less is paved with the word “no”.

 

To Light a Candle

I am pretty proud of myself. I finally made an appointment to see the dentist. Granted, my bottom teeth are feeling alarmingly sensitive…but what really matters is that I have one foot in the door.

I know, I know: Not cool. But isn’t it funny how we only change when we are in pain? I think we are all guilty of it to some degree.

I wish I could say that pain didn’t motivate me to start looking at my eating habits. What I can say, however, is that it didn’t take much pain. I’m not waiting for the situation to escalate or for some awful diagnosis to develop from continued unhealthy eating.

We’ve been cleaning out our freezer and pantry – eating through the last of our non-plant-based food items – and instead of savoring the cheese and butter, I have felt almost annoyed by the chore of slogging through all the dairy. Last Wednesday, we went to see Stevie Nicks and the Pretenders. Before the show, I ordered one “last” roll of my favorite sushi. (For the record, we haven’t given up on our commitment to spend less eating out. We had a gift certificate. 🙂 ) While it tasted delicious, I was acutely aware of how heavy it felt in my stomach. I worried I would feel too queasy to watch my rock’n roll goddess perform. Luckily, I rebounded… but another door slammed shut on my doubt. My body is ready for change.

IMG_5582
Our beautiful sushi platter. The roll on the front right is vegetarian!

After a night of fitful post-concert sleep, my wife and I dragged our tired selves to a new vegan juicery and cafe. (Who the hell can sleep after being in the presence of Stevie Nicks?) At first, the clubby music and steep prices at the eatery raised my eyebrow, but when our drinks and breakfast arrived, I felt surprisingly satisfied and inspired. The food was yummy and filling. Best of all, I didn’t feel gross after putting it in my body. It gave me pause to think that people will buy four or five $10+ cocktails in an evening without batting an eye, but one comparatively priced health drink might be considered over the top. Which product should we really value more? If your answer is the cocktail, we might need to talk.

IMG_5603
My smoothie (cold brew, banana, nut butter, almond milk) & vegan granola bar.

It seemed like a good morning to continue our foray into the world of veganism, so we went to Whole Foods to replenish our dwindling supplies. Instead of feeling limited by the lack of choice, I felt happy and excited to be proactively improving our health. At the check-out line, I braced myself for sticker shock but, because I had done my research, stocking up only cost us what I would usually spend on a week’s worth of groceries. It really helped to be at a different grocery store, too. There were a lot fewer processed foods jumping off the shelves – or maybe I just didn’t notice as much because it was unfamiliar territory.

IMG_5607
Our new fruit bowl

To be fair, I still have animal products in my system… so I haven’t started the withdrawal process yet. The food in my work environment also continues to pose temptation. However, I am feeling cautiously optimistic and creatively inspired. Having a yummy vegan treat and a successful grocery experience really helped build my confidence. I also saw a comforting film this week. It talked about how perfection isn’t the aim of eating plant-based food – it’s improvement. Eating nutritiously doesn’t mean never, ever indulging. It means being healthy most of the time. I feel like I don’t have to say goodbye to our yearly batch of cut-out Christmas cookies (which we tend to give away) or a birthday sweet. On the rare occasion I do have something unwholesome, I just need to remember that I have’t given myself license to have all the unwholesome things. Embracing minimalism has also taught me that the rarity of an occurrence adds to its overall value. I think that philosophy applies to food. It tastes more decadent if you don’t have it every day.

The question is whether or not this philosophy will work in application. A complete abstinence approach has been the only way to treat my substance abuse issues. I’m on a mission to find out if food will be any different. I will adapt my methodology accordingly and report back to you.

The other interesting factor the film touched upon is the importance of a likeminded support system. I’m really blessed to have a wife who is on board. It would be much harder to make these changes with certain kinds of food still in the house. I also draw strength from watching documentaries and following online communities. It’s interesting how the tenets of recovery are the same regardless of how the addiction manifests.

We really just need to fill the voids inside us with genuine connection and community.

When I started following a personal finance blog last fall, I never knew I was about to embark on this crazy journey. First, I changed the way I view money and consumerism. Soon after, I simplified the way I relate to my possessions and the items in the space around me. I also started to prioritize activities and eliminate those that were not adding any value to my life. Next, I assessed how to lighten my footprint on the planet and be kinder to my global brothers and sisters. Finally, I examined my relationship with food and found it sorely lacking. One thing has become clear: Recovery is about so much more than stopping a behavior. It is about growing and growing and growing. It is about discovering the interconnectedness of all things. It is about wading beyond the shallows of life and finding joy and understanding in the depths. Recovery isn’t about stopping. It’s about starting.

I needed to open my mind. Putting down alcohol, drugs, awful relationships, and credit cards seemed like miracle enough. But the miracle was only just beginning to unfold.

This stuff is exciting. It is so much better than getting drunk or high. And if I can have it, so can you. I want you to know that it is not only possible….it is waiting for you.

Sometimes it still takes pain for me to change, but I’m finding that I am increasingly motivated by a plain and simple desire to be better than the person I was yesterday. When I got clean and sober almost eight years ago, I had a flame the size of a candle burning steadily inside of me. It was enough to keep me alive. Today, that candle flame has expanded into a blazing inferno. Every time I share with others, it ignites further still.

I have never been the kind of person who can sit down and shut up. It used to be about trying to control the world around me. Now I stand up and speak because I want to pass on the gifts I have been so blessed to receive.

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

– Eleanor Roosevelt

Mangrove Musings

I don’t know much about Ernest Hemingway, but I can certainly understand why he chose to keep a home in Key West. Florida was never on my “must-see” list – I had always dismissed it as a tourist trap – but after visiting several times, I found myself surprisingly and unabashedly in love. If you can get beyond the strip malls and the dangerous highways, there is something both indescribable and intoxicating about the peninsula.

I love the South in general. The sight of Spanish Moss destroys me in the best possible way. I love the flowers, the birds, and the vague sense that everything is a little haunted…like energy from several centuries is trapped in the humidity.

After dedicating several trips to the Tampa Bay region, J.L. and I picked the Florida Keys for our belated honeymoon. At first, we questioned our decision. Although our rental house in Grassy Key was beyond breathtaking, the weather was initially very moody. The wind washed pungent seagrass onto our small beach. When the grass started to rot, the smell was hard to abide. Furthermore, we realized we had chosen an especially busy week. The traffic was so bad that we were unable to enjoy Key West or Bahia Honda park.

While we certainly encountered our fair share of challenges, J.L. and I were not about to sulk in such a beautiful place. I’m so glad we made that conscientious choice.  We may not have posed for a photo at the southernmost point of the U.S., but we did stuff our faces full of mahi-mahi, spend a glorious day in the Everglades, get acquainted with a crew of rescued dolphins, watch gigantic fish swim in the lights underneath our dock, eat cheesecake by the fire, and swim like fiends in our ridiculous pool. All the while, the air was filled with the perfume of tropical flowers and tiny lizards scurried over every conceivable surface.

Our very favorite thing, however, may have been taking the kayak out to explore the little inlets near our rental property. We saw so many birds – most notably a crane – and a prehistoric horseshoe crab. In one cove, we floated in one or two feet of water, while below us there were literally thousands and thousands of upside-down jellyfish. It was a surreal experience.

While I will never forget the beauty of the Keys – nor the novelty of seeing a sea turtle in the wild or a crab crawling out of a hole in the forest floor – I am still haunted by some of the pollution I witnessed.

In one of the state parks, there is a sign informing visitors that the Keys are on a well-traveled shipping route and, unfortunately, the passing ships are responsible for much of the trash that washes up on shore. As if the sign wasn’t disconcerting enough, the volume of trash I saw trapped in the mangroves shook me to my core. There wasn’t much I could do about it from the kayak – or without an army of helpers – but the image made a lasting impression. I don’t remember seeing nearly as much garbage twenty years ago as I played on the pristine, rocky beaches of Downeast Maine.

One of the most amazing things about getting clean and sober is that the world begins to open up to you. I have been very blessed to travel in recovery; this year I am looking forward to visiting St. Augustine, seeing Cirque du Soleil in Montreal, and celebrating my 31st birthday in New York City. Before I got sober, I had never even stepped foot on an airplane. Traveling is most definitely a gift… but it is also a teacher. It forces you to see the world with fresh eyes. When I was active in my disease, I was too absorbed in my addiction to think about how my life impacts the planet or my neighbors around the globe. Today, not only am I self-aware, but I am also aware of the world around me.

When I wrote Losing the Mess, I shared about how I am striving to cultivate an oasis of peace in a chaotic world. I think that sometimes we can focus on the problems around us rather than attending to the issues within us. It is the perfect cop out: “How can I possibly work on myself when there are so many problems around me that need to be solved? It would be selfish. No one would dare accuse me of making excuses when I’m being helpful”. This armor we construct around our fear is more transparent than we think.

I have always been a very sensitive and altruistic person, so it took awhile for me to understand the concept of self-care and “wearing the world like a loose cloak”. When I took the burdens of the world on my shoulders, I didn’t realize I was adding to them rather than alleviating them. Working on myself is the best possible thing I can do to foster healthy relationships and heal our ailing planet.

It sounds counterintuitive… but most things that work are contrary in nature. Imagine if everyone in the world stopped fighting and worked on becoming the best person they could be. I think we might finally know peace.

I don’t have control over anyone else, though, so I can only focus on myself. This has become a key mantra for me in the past year: “Can’t control others, can only control myself”. Aaaaaand repeat. Because I forget just about every five seconds. Relating to the world from this perspective helps me maintain a sense of compassion. I am still far from perfect, but it has saved me from becoming an angry and jaded person.

In Losing the Mess, I talked about “skimming some of the murk from the swamp” by bettering the space within my control. I guess this post is about how I am continuing to explore that concept. It has been almost a year since my honeymoon and – coupled with the fact that I just recently watched the documentary The True Cost – I am beginning to push the envelope of personal change further still.

I never thought about the people who make my clothes. After watching The True Cost, I am a changed woman. I love documentaries – part of the work I do with the Human Too campaign draws from the documentary spirit – but I think it’s easy to walk away from these visual educations and think: “Ugh! Society sucks. Why can’t other people get their shit together? Human beings are gross. This world is doomed”.

Whelp, that attitude isn’t very helpful. And I don’t think that’s the kind of reaction filmmakers are trying to inspire, either. I admit, I looked at the footage of shoppers in various chain stores – and beating the shit out of each other on Black Friday – and thought “Murderers! Awful, awful people!” But then I stopped and thought: ” You’re the same. How about focusing on how you can do better?”

I don’t think I am going to single-handedly save the world by shopping from fair trade stores and rinsing out my plastic cups for recycling. But if I try to treat the environment and my global brothers and sisters with thoughtfulness and love, at least I can look back on my life and feel a sense of peace because I did the best I could with what I had. What more do we have to offer, really, than our very best?

Life feels so much better when you relate to it from a gentle place. I am interested in judging less and doing more. It doesn’t matter what other people are doing. It matters what I am doing. I used to get offended when people in recovery meetings told me to “mind my own business”. Now I cherish that advice because it refocuses my attention on the one thing I can control: myself.

Here are some of the changes I am implementing:

  • Giving up bottled water. Although I am not willing to sacrifice my favorite seltzer, there will still be a whopping 48+ plastic bottles/month that no longer come from my household.
  • Recycling more in general. I need to stop being lazy and rinse out my yogurt dishes, margarine containers, and rare iced coffee cups .
  • Buying fewer articles of clothing, i.e. not shopping for “fun”. (Seeing how much damage the garment industry is doing has taken the fun out of it for me.)
  • Researching earth and people friendly brands. Patagonia is my favorite. I also like the looks of Alternative Apparel for basics.
  • Giving up some of my favorite brands…like Victoria’s Secret. Vicky, the secret is out: You’re mean! We’re breaking up!
  • Simplifying holidays. There’s no reason we need to have presents stacked from floor to ceiling. (We got off to a pretty good start on this goal in 2016.)
  • Focusing more on consumable gifts. Experiences are much more valuable than things.
  • Adopting an attitude of longevity in spending versus an attitude of disposability. I do not need to replace perfectly good items just because it’s “trendy”. I will ask myself: “Is this item high quality and made to last?”

I’m not sharing all this on some mad mission to change the world. I’m sharing this because maybe there are people out there, like me, who are just trying to navigate this shit with some sense of dignity, grace, compassion, and peace. I know I don’t feel very peaceful when I’m railing against other people about what they “should” be doing. I feel peaceful when I make changes in my own life and share my story with others.

I think that’s what the process of healing often looks like: sharing your story and saying, “Hey, if you’re interested, I can show you how I got to this point in my life”. I know that’s how it worked for me when I was getting clean and sober.  No one said: “You have to do it this way,” or “Hey, you’re pretty fucked up. Why don’t you pull your shit together?” People just shared about how they modified themselves and, if I wanted to make a change, I was welcome to ask them to show me the way.

I recognize that I am profoundly privileged to be thinking about these issues. My life no longer revolves around some form of addictive obsession. I have a roof over my head, food in my belly, and a reasonable amount of mental and spiritual wellness. My heart is overflowing with gratitude.

It always amazes me that the happiest people in the world are those who arguably have the least. It’s not the millionaire or the king. I want to emulate the people who find abundance in “enough”. Now that I don’t have to chase substances or behaviors, I want to stop chasing “more”.  I want to honor the planet that sustains me and share my abundance with my brothers and sisters.