Why My Dog is My Spirit Guide

Life has been hard since we adopted our dog. Nothing happened the way I imagined. Obviously, I had a Pinterest-perfect vision in my head – to include “baby” announcement photos for the purpose of surprising our friends and family when they discovered the “baby” was a puppy. Well, maybe not surprise. Anyone who knows me well is aware that I would rather poke out my own eye than bring a child into the world. I have pretty strong (and unpopular) views on reproduction and overpopulation. But I digress. Don’t get your undergarments in a twist. I probably like your children. They’re cute.

Anyway, my puppy announcement photos didn’t happen. Instead, we were compelled to move from our home of six years into an apartment complex – smack in the middle of the holiday season. Consequently, I had to resign from a Board of Directors position because my membership was contingent on my address. I was hoping the “luxury” complex we chose would ease the loss… but it has turned out to be far from luxurious. One can only compare the experience to moving back into a college dormitory – a dormitory from which the resident assistant is conspicuously absent every weekend. I don’t know why I was shocked that people can live so inconsiderately – or how a nice property can be so poorly managed – and yet here I am. To add insult to injury, in the midst of our lives turning upside down, my wife received a well deserved promotion and was reallocated to the night-shift. The promotion? Fantastic! Night-shift? Not so much.

Long story short, everything changed in the space of two months. Some of it was good, some of it wasn’t. Unfortunately, change of any kind cripples me. I prefer it in much smaller doses. At the very least, I like more time to plan. Naturally, my body said “nope” to all of it, and my health declined like a plastic sled on a hill of ice. It’s terrifying to not know why your body isn’t working correctly or when you will finally get answers.

Is this a blog or a bitch-fest, Autumn? Well, this is a no-holds-barred account of how recovery doesn’t promise that – just because you stop drinking, drugging, or other behavior-ing – life is going to be all that and a bag of fucking chips. Even after ten years, my brain doesn’t like this unpalatable piece of news. It just wants things to feel good. All. The. Time. Recovery – i.e. real life – doesn’t feel good all the time. If I sound angry – it’s because I am. In real life, people get angry. I try not to let anyone see my anger because – God forbid – they find out I’m not perfect. Guess what? I’m not. Thankfully, I have reached a point in my journey where I am more interested in being genuine than I am perfect. And I am worn out by these past months. I am tired of my body betraying me. I am disgusted that my neighbors and fellow humans are so self-centered they can’t consider how their behavior and choices impact others. Some days, I’d like to lose my shit and take it out on the first person who looks at me the wrong way. But I don’t. Why? Because my expectations of people/life are the roots of my discontent – and only I can change those. It’s just that I don’t always have the strength or desire to work on myself. Odds are the people who piss me off don’t have the strength or desire either. We are all, ironically, on the same boat.

Enter my sweet, one-year-old, three-legged dog, Cedric: He is the most handsome – and the most infuriating – creature on the planet. And he’s teaching me to grow up. I can’t stay in bed and hide. He needs me. I mean really needs me. My dog has more neuroses than I do – and that’s saying something. It requires a lot of effort on my part not to match my food with my dinner plate. For instance, green food on a red plate is highly unsatisfactory – unless it’s Christmas. Green food on a green plate is also unacceptable. Too much green. At any rate, he’s the clingy, anxious, canine version of me. Even so, he’s also the manifestation of the Divine. He teaches me what I need to know – with or without my permission. I spend less time asking, “Why is this happening to me?” and more time asking, “What is this teaching me?”

If my imperfect, three-legged, neurotic, crazy-making dog is a manifestation of God, I guess anyone can be – even me.

Like a good addict, I thought having a dog was going to fill the void. Instead, it brought parts of myself to my own attention. These moments don’t occur while frolicking in fields of flowers and fuzzy caterpillars; they occur when I’m standing in pouring rain and sub-zero wind holding a bag of dog shit. These are holy moments precisely because I am uncomfortable. I am opposing my disease – a disease which is always seeking the chemical reward in any given relationship or situation. I’m not trying to say that love, in its purest form, means tolerating awfulness – it took me a long time to stop doing that – it just means that it isn’t always comfortable.

In the beginning, most moments felt uncomfortable. When the temperatures were (slightly) more seasonable, we took Cedric on late night walks to burn off some energy. If we were lucky, we’d all get six hours of sleep. Even though we were together, those walks made me feel like an outsider. I could see television screens flickering in warm living rooms and smell the often overpowering fragrance of dryer sheets and fabric softener. I felt like everyone around me had a concrete sense of home and direction. I wondered if the homeless felt this sense of isolation – but substantially magnified – as they trudged through the dark. I grieved for them. My life was barely recognizable but at least I had a roof over my head and my wife and dog by my side. When I looked at Cedric, I felt deeply disappointed in myself. There he was – not even one – missing a leg and moving to yet another home – and I was struggling to navigate a few curveballs. He had been thrown down the stairs by a soulless cretin and I could barely muster an ounce of grace. I didn’t feel worthy of being his mom, but I was inspired by the way he barreled onward, his sweet, cinnamon-colored ears flopping determinedly with every hop.

I still don’t feel worthy of Cedric. He is better than me in every way. Sometimes, when I look at him, fat tears roll down my cheeks. He forces me to be in the present moment. At least once a week, he tries to bury my phone. He tells me – not so subtly – about the things that are really important. He loves me unconditionally when I don’t get the message. He is teaching me to love in ways I was never capable of loving before; how to be patient and understanding, and how to put another being’s needs before my own. I thought I knew how to be and do all those things, but I haven’t even scratched the surface.

Life still doesn’t feel settled… but my precious dog anchors me. No matter what’s happening, he is there. And I mean right there. I may not be able to predict anything about my day,  but I can predict he will need to be fed and walked and snuggled. He will need me. The funny thing is – even though he depends on me for survival – I need him more. If I watch carefully, he will always show me the way forward.

 

 

September

I always hated my birth month. September signified a new school year – the arrival of which I despised more and more as the years passed. I was expected to sit still and think thoughts that were no longer my own. My teachers reported that I was easily distracted by windows or daydreams. They compared me to a butterfly… darting from one flower to the next. They wanted to pin my wings inside a glass case.

When I didn’t understand the math problem or possess the necessary patience for hours of bland nightly reading, I felt stupid, angry, and worthless. I wanted to read a book that didn’t traumatize me with religious teachings beyond my developmental capacity to process. I wanted to mix mud and decaying plant matter into secret recipes of my own imagining. I wanted to climb trees and survey the world from behind a lush screen of pine. At those heights, I felt momentarily safe from all who wished to enslave my mind and crush my spirit. My only agenda was freedom. My only obligation was to execute my own self-directed curiosity.

September was physically uncomfortable, too. The mornings were bracingly chilly but, by the time afternoon recess passed, the classrooms reeked of sweating children. At days end, an open lunch box smelled slightly sour; hints of warm milk and stale peanut butter and jelly.

Not much has changed in thirty two years. I may no longer wish to live in a treehouse or a boxcar (and even that is only a half truth), but I am still resisting the glass case. I am still heeding the call of wild meadows, tangled with blooms of freedom and self-directed curiosity. I still dread the coming of September. I  press each passing wildflower between gossamer pages and run my fingers longingly over the stationary. I know my ministrations won’t bestow the weight of permanence upon page nor plant, and yet I devoutly honor the ritual.

Dr. Gabor Maté – a man who possesses one of the most beautiful minds on our planet – describes this phenomenon as counterwill. I have spent most of my adult life hating this mysterious characteristic. “You need to fix it,” became my internalized mantra, born of years of external pressure. Much to my surprise, there is nothing to fix. The work is to accept my natural wildness and refrain from self-punishment. It is only from the safety of this space that authentic growth can occur.

Everything I know about healing is counterintuitive. The less I resist my own resistance, the more liberated I become.

September was somehow different this year. I never noticed it before, but everything looked so gold. The landscape was sun drenched and harvest-colored. Some website on color symbolism says that gold is “associated with higher ideals, wisdom, understanding and enlightenment. It inspires knowledge, spirituality and a deep understanding of the self and the soul”.

Maybe it’s not that September changed. After all, it was still cold in the morning and sweltering in the afternoon. School commenced as usual, congesting the highways with extra commuter traffic.

Maybe I have changed. Maybe I put down my sword and discarded layers of heavy armor. Maybe I grew weary of waging a war that had already been won.

Maybe the only thing left to do was surrender, propelled by easterly winds and the promise of foreign flowers.

The equator is middle ground. A halfway point between two extremes. Balance.

Maybe I am finally ready to drift in that direction.

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.

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.