Grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-Forgiveness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

 

Florida: Vacation Vignettes

May 5th: Gypsy Landing

One of my bucket list items is to become a travel blogger. When we vacation, I normally post daily Facebook updates chronicling our trip. I don’t feel up to it this time. It’s a testament to how tired I am. The desire to write is there, but I need a quieter way to reflect.

At the moment, thunder is rumbling in the distance and I’m drinking a melting iced mocha on our jungle-like patio (Starbucks only gives you cardboard straws here, which makes me much more enthused about their exorbitant prices). We’re staying in a bungalow that can only be described as ramshackle meets updated; the owner calls it “Gypsy Landing”. There are lizards and snakes in the garden and I am unbothered by their presence. I like watching them scurry and slither.

Gypsy Landing Ornamentation

We chose this town as part of our continuing real estate exploration process. Gulfport is known as the Florida destination for artists and hippies – which is right up my alley. So far, the town motto “keep Gulfport weird” seems to mean inebriated and tangled with greenery, but my first impression could be off base. That’s not to say I don’t like it. Yesterday, for example, I would’ve happily bought two pieces of locally painted/refinished furniture if the store had been able to ship them home. It was probably for the best that they couldn’t; we are trying to pack as little as possible when we move south. After we relocate, I will come back to furnish our home. Although I will be leaving sans coffee bar and funky side table, I was inspired to add a new item to my bucket list: learn to refinish furniture. Growing up, my grandparents ran an antique shop out of their coastal Maine barn. If I could manage a little custom furniture shop in Florida, I would be overjoyed. This stuff runs in my blood.

Another goal I have is to be a one car family (or a one regular car/one vintage car family). I have this romantic vision of walking to work from our own bungalow. Laugh at me if you will, but I choose to keep an open mind about the future. These dreams certainly won’t manifest if I get caught up in the reasons why they’re unrealistic – and the idea of driving doesn’t do much for me. The strip malls and terrible drivers are part of what I hate about Florida. It makes me laugh that there are so many things I find repulsive and yet I am bewitched. Despite having Scandinavian ancestry, I feel more attractive unshowered and covered in sand in Florida than I do freshly groomed in New Hampshire. The humidity wraps me in its arms, gently curls my hair, and pulls the toxins from my pores. I’ve heard people describe heroin as a warm hug. That’s how I feel about the sweet, heavy tropical air.

May 7th: Keep Gulfport Weird

This morning we went to a farmer and artisan’s market in town and I fell in love. We bought fresh sourdough bread from a German baker and light, spongey rum cake from a woman with striking eyes. She said, “God is good and blesses us all”. I am normally wary of these messages as an openly gay traveler in the South, but I felt like she meant it and was inclined to agree. We could smell the sugar from her cake long after it was devoured. We also picked our official souvenir: elephant wind chimes from a woman who travels to Nepal twice a year. Everyone at the market greeted us with a cheerful “good morning!”

Bread from the market with a spicy sauce

The simple pleasantness of the marketplace gave me a lot to think about on our afternoon drive south to further explore the region. I was enchanted by Anna Maria Island, but a quick real estate search revealed it to be way out of our budget. As we passed through Longboat Key – a route characterized by mansions, luxury condominiums and golf courses – there was a continued shift in the socioeconomic and racial landscape that left me feeling a little sad. Suddenly I understood the phrase, “keep Gulfport weird”. I was relieved to return to the greater St. Petersburg area – to the rainbow flags, wild gardens, and spectrum of skin colors.

I can’t judge a place based solely on one afternoon drive, but I know that I don’t want the gate and the golf course.

Instead, I dream of a bungalow and a stone patio (so snakes can’t make their home underneath) and dinners outside in the evening. I dream of a little yard, a lime tree, and a plastic swimming pool for Cedric. I dream of grilling vegetables from the market. I dream of stone Buddhas and seashells in the garden.

Even if we were billionaires, I wouldn’t want the gate or the golf course. I’d buy the Don Cesar Hotel on St. Pete’s Beach and make it my palace. It’s one of my favorite buildings in the world.

The Don Cesar

May 9th: Temple of the Divine

St. Petersburg is home to Haslam’s Books – a gigantic new & used bookstore that has been in operation since 1933. Despite our minimalism, we are suckers for a good bookstore. We have a few rare and collectible pieces in our own tiny library. Amazon Kindle is great… but nothing compares to the smell and feel of a real book. We decided to spend the morning checking Haslam’s out. I loved the lettering on the side of the building and the resident cat. Unsurprisingly, I was immediately on the hunt for anything Florida related. I didn’t find any must-have antiques, but I did pick up a gritty memoir-style collection of essays based in the sunshine state and a Pulitzer Prize winning history of the Gulf. Some might wonder why I’m so obsessed with Florida. Simply put, I am driven to connect with “real Florida” and “old Florida”. This place was once an untarnished paradise. Every time we visit, I get a little taste. As for “real Florida” – well, we do intend to live here. I am a writer and a social-worker-of-sorts. I want to bear witness to the humanity of the place. In my experience, the quickest route to the human essence of any region is through storytelling.

Haslam’s Books, St. Petersburg

When people come to Florida, they often intend to fulfill their basest desires. But I think there is something more primitive at play than the desire for escape – something beyond the bars, strip clubs, strip malls, and theme parks: the human need to connect with nature. When you peel back the ugliness with which it has been suffocated, Florida is a staggeringly beautiful temple of the divine.

Tonight I stood in the Gulf and watched a manatee peak its face above the water. It was no more than fifteen feet from me. Another manatee swam nearby. At least two dolphins fished behind the manatees. Approaching storm clouds turned the water an otherworldly turquoise and a light rain pelted my back. I didn’t care that the waves splashed my legs and soaked my shorts. At sunset, the Gulf is warmer than bathwater. Conch shells rolled around my feet and I grabbed them in fist fulls. A fisherman, seeing the unadulterated joy on my face, nodded and smiled. As the manatee and I coexisted for a few blissful minutes, tears welled in my eyes.

Where else can you experience that kind of connection? What could be more spiritual than the converging grace and power of sky and sea?

Pure joy post manatee/dolphin sightings
Fuzzy evidence of our dolphin encounter

May 10th: The Monk

Today was the last full day of our trip. Ironically, a monk made an appearance on our final evening walk. The Buddhists teach that attachment – or craving and clinging – lead to pain and suffering. These teachings play a huge role in the Buddhist approach to recovery. While the monk disappeared into the dusk, the wisdom he symbolized didn’t. As darkness shrouded the shells and silhouetted the sea birds, the tide pulled the sand from under my feet and my balance became unstable. I thought of transience and resisted.

J.L. finally tried to coax me out of the water. “Let’s go see our pup,” she said. Still, I lingered. Walking back to the car, I swallowed my tears.

Thank God for our dog – my North Star. There are heavy things waiting for me. But so is he.

I actually tapped out on this vacation – which rarely happens. I think living out of a suitcase was just another reminder of the unsettledness of the past six months. The feeling passed, however, and I am reluctant to leave.

The thing about recovery is that the clinging doesn’t stop and the craving doesn’t go away, but I don’t permanently live there. It comes and goes like the sand under my feet.

I hate to concede but perhaps it is a good time to say “see you soon”. Despite frequently reapplying sunscreen, I somehow burned to a crisp. As a tattooed person, this is a cardinal sin. Sometimes I shake my head at the lobster red bodies on the beach. Clearly I am also still working on the Buddhist concept of loving kindness. I see you, Karma.

And I’ll see you soon, Florida.

Adjustment

I’ve never made any bones about the fact that I am in recovery – or that I attend recovery meetings. I don’t put my recovery program on blast but I reserve the right to live and speak my truth. I cannot, however, take credit for that truth. All the knowledge I have acquired came from other people. I’ve been doing this recovery thing for almost a decade now; it’s rare I hear something new. But I keep going to meetings because my brain needs regular rewiring. I need to be reminded of the same things over and over…lest I conveniently forget. Over the weekend I heard someone say something that blew my freakin’ mind. Not only had I never heard it before, but it was so painfully simple I was horrified I hadn’t thought of it myself. Are you ready?

Our goal isn’t just to accept life on life’s terms but also to adjust to life on life’s terms.

LOL. Wut? This might not be a life changing revelation for most of you, but I almost rocked out of my chair nodding in recognition. Acceptance has always been a challenge for me (and most of my fellow brothers and sisters in recovery). Why? Because acceptance means we’re not in control. When I’m not in control, things feel uncomfortable. As I’ve mentioned numerous times before, I don’t like uncomfortable. For years, I’ve been learning how to practice acceptance. But it never occurred to me to take acceptance one step further and adjust.

Sure, I’ve unwittingly adjusted to many things – but what, I wondered, would it be like if I adjusted to events in my life with intention?

Here’s why this is so important: I can accept life on life’s terms but I don’t have to like it. So I can accept, grumble, and generally choose to be a miserable cow, OR I can take it one step further. Adjustment, to me, signifies actively taking a situation I find to be less than ideal and thriving anyway.

I have to be honest. I have not been adjusting to life very well. In my last post, I talked about how we moved to a new apartment back in November. Well, now we’re moving again. In four more days, I will be sleeping in another new home. Beyond that, I have failed to adjust to my wife’s transition to the night shift. I’ve accepted it. I’ve even done my best to keep my grumbling to a minimum. But it has changed our lives in ways I never could have anticipated. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss our old life. But that life is gone. The home is gone, the schedule is gone, that stage of our lives is gone.

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So in love with our new space. The built-ins! The floors! The columns! The painted tin ceilings! Everything happened for a reason.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that law enforcement and military spouses are pretty tight lipped. We carry our load without fanfare. Some drink to cope. Others have affairs. Still others buy designer bags and luxury cars. If everything looks great on the outside, we can tell ourselves we’ve made it.

That’s not who I want to be. First of all, I don’t like bullshit. I just don’t. I don’t want to perpetuate it or be around it. Anyone who tells you this is a cakewalk is lying. The reason we have brain disorders like addiction is because we don’t effin’ talk about things that matter. Like our (gasp!) fears and our (ugh!) feelings. So there’s that. But secondly, I don’t want my happiness to be contingent on one person. It’s not healthy or fair. My wife deserves better than that. She has plenty of her own stuff to worry about. Contentment should be derived from multiple sources.

Sure, this transition is hard, but that doesn’t mean I have to write off this entire period of our lives as a loss – something to be accepted and endured. It can also be a time of growth and creativity.

I’ve been living in reluctant acceptance for months now. I was planning on hanging out there and maybe even playing the victim. But when that individual talked about adjustment, a light bulb came on in my brain. It was akin to being forced to look in the mirror.  I have choices. Why is it so easy to forget where I have power?

What does adjustment look like? I’m not completely sure. I imagine it’s going to be messy – if not a little ugly. But I have some ideas. A good start will be making our new space into a home. I’d also like to be the mom I’ve always wanted to my dog. Not the exhausted, stressed out catastrophe I’ve been for months. My little boy deserves better, too. Another thing I’ve had to accept is that my sweet baby has some health issues – and I am terrified those health issues could impact the longevity of his life. So I want to make every day a good day.

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Me and my best bud. He makes my heart burst.

I miss the friends I haven’t seen since this craziness started. And there are children in my life for whom I want to be present. There are scrapbooks and photo books I’ve neglected, and memoirs to finish reading. Hell, if I got really motivated I could start my own. If I’m being truthful, though, I should keep it simple. I tend to overcomplicate things with my schemes and expectations. It would be worth celebrating just to get back into a routine or take the car in for its six month service.

I typically don’t compose a post in one sitting, so I took a break to go over to the new place and unpack some boxes. As we drove, I reflected on how change and loss can be so grievous that accepting – let alone adjusting – can seem impossible. We’re lucky that is not the case for us. It’s funny – when you fall prey to self pity, you can always write yourself back to a place of gratitude.

I’m not sure whether it’s the writing or the extra daylight – or maybe the promise of Spring and a beautiful new home – but I feel like I’m finally turning a corner. It’s been one hell of a Winter.

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.