Love and Wonder

I loved technology when I was a kid. In middle school, I entertained myself for hours by teaching myself HTML code and photo manipulation. While the internet ultimately played an integral part in my addiction, it was also a creative outlet and a tool for inspiring positive change. I started my social media campaign, Human Too, in that same spirit of positivity and I feel incredibly blessed to have creative license in my career as a web content manager. However, the drawback of working with social media platforms is that you actually have to use them.

Sometimes I wonder if there isn’t some element of futility in trying to harness social media for benevolent purposes. The part of me that teeters on the edge of needing a tinfoil hat -but I don’t think is too far off the mark – cynically believes that technology is not only a drug contributing to the achilles’ heel of civilization, but also a means by which the masses can be easily manipulated. That’s some serious 1984 or House of Cards shit, but it’s tough to refute. The difference between me and other cynics is that I still think it’s possible to live a contented and meaningful life in spite of the disillusionment.

When you turn on your TV set or scroll through your newsfeed, it seems as though the world has collectively gone mad. And maybe that’s not far from the truth. The world doesn’t make sense. There is an element of absurdity to the whole concept of human existence. But when you unplug and stop to consider the realm directly outside your window, the picture is likely to stand in stark juxtaposition. Maybe you hear the traffic or the crickets. Maybe you watch your neighbor get the mail or water the garden. Maybe the breeze blows. Maybe someone on the street coughs or waves or speaks indistinctly. And maybe, in that moment, everything is okay. So which version of reality is the most accurate?

If you choose to invest yourself solely in the digital narrative, it’s easy to view the world as an angry, hostile place. And sure, people are angry…but mostly we’re afraid. I can only speak for myself, but my buttons are most easily pushed in terms of my identity as a gay person, a woman, and a police wife. “How will you hurt me? What will you take from me?” These are the questions behind my own personal brand of rage. My fears are immediate and acute and frequently supersede my consideration of my global brothers and sisters. We are all self-preservationists in our anger. We are driven by and united by fear.

All of that is not to say that self-preservation is bad. The instinct to survive is what makes us human. Fear is human. It is merely an observation that we share a common ground.

In a climate saturated with the threat of nuclear war and simmering racial tension, it’s only natural to feel like our existential terror is somehow unique. But millions of people have experienced or are currently experiencing the heaviness of wartime. Millions of people have experienced plagues, famine, natural disaster, genocide, and the collapse of civilization. Millions of people have held their lover and wondered what kind of earth their children were destined to inherit. We have been fearing the end since the beginning. It’s part of the package deal when you occupy this planet.

I used to get very upset by the idea that there is no life after death. I don’t know what I believe anymore, but I think it’s highly likely you simply cease to have consciousness. I believe our energy leaves an imprint on a place. I also believe in the fabric of the Universe – a divine thread connecting all living things – but beyond that, I cannot say for certain.  The only reason the uncertainty bothers me now is because I can’t bear the idea of not seeing my wife. I guess if we don’t have consciousness, we don’t know the difference.

These are heavy thoughts. Perhaps you’re thinking: “What’s the point?” And here’s where the cynics and I diverge. The point is that you are conscious in this moment. The point is that you have the ability to love and to be filled with wonder. Our purpose, in my view, is to love and wonder.

Early in my college career, I spent about five minutes as a philosophy major. Looking back on my notes, I found a page that declared “the meaning of life is awe”. If you can maintain your sense of awe, you have unlocked the secret of living. It’s hard to say how that bit of insight came to me, but I have subscribed to the ideology ever since.

Addiction numbs our consciousness. Our drugs of choice block us from feeling love and wonder. We die prematurely.

There’s a reason Buddhists strive to be “awake”. There’s a reason yoga and meditation advocate for the present moment. The “now” is all we have. It is the only time in which we are able to love and be loved. It is the only time we have to consider the profound and miraculous beauty of our delicate existence. The precariousness of our position is what makes it breathtaking.

I don’t think anything needs to “come next” for this flawed and absurd life to be more than enough. We don’t need to do anything for life to have meaning…we need to simply be. I have often sat by the ocean and reflected sadly on the idea that the dead no longer have the capability to inhale the intoxicating air. It is a gift to experience the wonders of this wild earth. I think the real question is whether we receive it or we reject it.

The activity of appreciating the morning light is not just for poets and painters – it’s for humans. If all I do with the rest of my days is exuberantly behold the sunset and love as much as I can, I have achieved the “it” for which mankind toils. If all I do is celebrate wildflowers, a good meal, clinging rain drops, a shy smile, cool summer grass, and all the other remarkable minutiae…it is enough.

I am sober. I am awake. My being vibrates in the truth of the moment.

The cards are stacked and it’s hard to say how the deck will scatter. I don’t know if anything I do will ultimately make a difference. But I know that my being has purpose. I want my voice to be a whisper in the din: “Wake up”. Don’t die without living. Don’t live without meaning.

The Launching Point

I’m listening to Gregory Alan Isakov while I write. “I’m sorta happy most of the time…most of the time,” he sings, his voice betraying a melancholic irony. I would describe my life in recovery that way, except my declaration would contain neither melancholy nor irony. Comparatively speaking, my life before recovery was nothing but an exercise in melancholia. It was a constant yearning for something I could never quite nail down. Today, I don’t spend my time courting this old darkness. I experience countless moments of joy. And when I am not joyful, I try to stay in the realm of contentment and gratitude.

My last post was about the how of recovery. It was about confronting your own denial and self-sabotage. It was about not allowing your ego to kill you. If you’ve managed to bust beyond that, please accept my hearty congratulations; that’s no easy feat. I sure took my sweet time, clutching my maladaptive thinking like a security blanket.  But now you might be wondering: “What is recovery supposed to feel like?”

I hate to burst any bubbles… but in my experience, recovery feels like regular, old LIFE. However, this shouldn’t be a disappointment for a multiplicity of reasons. First of all, recovery gives you a life. Or gives it back to you. It all depends on how you frame it. As far as I’m concerned, that in and of itself is a miracle. I never thought I was going to have any of the “normal” experiences “normal” people had. I was broken and I didn’t fit in the Great Puzzle of All Things. Today I understand that I am a divine being, like all other beings, and I am worthy of my place in the fabric of the universe.

Secondly, if we are seeking growth in recovery, we are given tools that, sadly, a large percentage of the general population hasn’t accessed – addict or not. This means our lives have an amazing depth and richness. Our disease forces us to self-actualize for survival. But self-actualization takes work and change…two words that send addicts and normies alike running for the hills. It’s so very human to try and grasp on to constants and certainties in a world that is, by its very nature, neither constant nor certain.

Thirdly, recovery allows you to experience life without any kind of anesthetic. Why would you WANT to feel pain? Well, for starters, when you feel the pain you can move through it rather than carrying it around on your back like a bag of rocks. But I think the more important question is: How can you numb selective parts of your life without tainting the whole? If your fingers are numb, it impacts your entire sensory experience. Furthermore, you have to be aware of your senses to effectively utilize or expand them. When you are open to all emotions, you are gifted with a new level of awareness…and you are able to experience joy more poignantly than ever before. All in all, recovery means less suffering – because you are able to process pain and let it go – and longer periods of unbridled gratitude and contentment. It is better then any high in the entire world. It is peace.

I caution anyone who is getting clean and sober for the first time – or the second, third, fourth…never stop trying! – to beware of the “pink cloud”.  For some, the first months can feel like a huge pile of suck. But for others, it can feel like a fluffy cloud of wonderful. Eventually, this fluffy cloud will dissipate and real life will send an unprepared cloud dweller crashing back to earth without a parachute. When reality hits, falling off the wagon can look like a mighty fine alternative. I’m not saying you shouldn’t enjoy recovery – or  that you should spend life looking over your shoulder (unfortunately this is something I need to work on). I’m just saying that it might be a good idea to pack a parachute. I like to think of my parachute as a tool box: Which resources can I utilize when things go wrong? Which skills can I use to prevent relapse and make healthy decisions? However, it’s not just about knowing you have a toolbox. It’s about using the tools inside. That’s where the rubber meets the road and the recovery materializes.

I have faced many challenges since I embarked on this journey. I have survived several abusive and/or toxic relationships and confronted my related behavioral addiction. My estranged father died by suicide. I lost my beloved grandfather. Other family members have also passed. I am still unable to find a paying career path that doesn’t make me feel like I am wasting precious hours of my one and only life.

While the challenges have been inevitable, so have the triumphs. I was willing to get help and get healthy. This willingness was all it took to push the horizons of my existence wider than my illness allowed me to imagine possible. I was able to graduate from college. I made friends who became family. I met and married the love of my life. I took my first airplane ride and have subsequently taken several more. I moved to a new state and built a wonderful new life. I started creative projects that now enable me to experience spiritual fulfillment.

I have only scratched the tip of the iceberg. My gratitude list is much longer than my list of challenges. Part of this is because I try to find a blessing or a lesson in times of trial and tribulation.

Sometimes there are no discernible lessons or blessings in our challenges. But surviving certainly counts for something.

I used to look at some of my friends and envy their lives. I felt like I was standing outside in the cold peering through a window. Inside, it was warm and bright and cozy. They came home, ate dinner with their spouse, and curled up to watch TV. Nothing about that picture of idealized normalcy was particularly glamorous but it was a life that seemed too hard for someone like me. Nevertheless, I craved that glowing light, warm meal, and safe and loving person. But I had to learn to be a safe person and to love myself first. Recovery helped me do that – to be whole on my own. Only then was I able to attract someone who mirrored the things that I valued and also sought.

Everyone’s idea of normalcy is different. The image of the cozy home just happened to be mine. But I’m not standing on the outside looking in anymore. I have that simple life today.

In my experience, recovery isn’t about grand accomplishments – although we can certainly attain them. It’s not about fame, fortune, fancy material possessions, or even finding “the one”. Recovery is about living life on an even keel. It’s when the roller coaster ceases to undulate so severely that you suffer from perpetual whiplash. It’s being content to contribute to society, no matter how humble the contribution. It’s reveling in a bite of delicious food, your best friend’s voice on the phone, or your feet in your lover’s lap. Recovery is quiet and unassuming… and that quiet place becomes a launching point for everything else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Devil’s Lettuce

There is nothing like reading the news first thing in the morning to get me all worked up. I shouldn’t do it. But sometimes I do. And what’s worse is when I read the comments. Oh, God help me, the comments.

This morning I happened to read several successive articles on the legalization of marijuana. Please give me a second to say more before you start pointing an accusatory finger and screeching “Prohibitionist!”…I’m about to surprise you.

If push came to shove, I would vote “Yes” for the legalization of marijuana. Why? Industrial hemp saves trees. (Heaven forbid the plant be used for more than just getting high!) Marijuana does have medical applications. And, most importantly, prohibition leads to more drug dealers and violence. I love a police officer so I like things that could help keep her safe. We could tax legal marijuana like crazy and funnel the money into badly underfunded mental health and addiction treatment programs or protective vests for our law enforcement officers and canine units.

All that being said, I am writing today because I feel like we need to dispel some common myths about marijuana and be educated about it if we are, in fact, going to legalize it. For the record, I don’t want my blog to become a political soapbox. I want it to be a venue for spreading awareness and education

When newspapers hold polls for the public to weigh in on whether or not pot should be legal, supporters often spout off about how marijuana has never killed anyone, it’s not a “real” drug”, it’s the least harmful drug, and you can’t become addicted to it.

WRONG.

“Do your research”, they say, pretentious as absolute fuck, and neglecting to remember that “doing your research” entails looking at more than one side of the picture.

I have to say that I’m surprised marijuana supporters are so rude. They call those opposed “ignorant”, “uneducated”, “stupid”, and “crusty, washed out old people”. I thought the THC inclined were supposed to be peace loving hippies? If you need to throw around insults like a petulant child, then please, by all means, smoke a bowl of your favorite Mary Jane and come back to the conversation when you’ve mellowed the eff out. What happened to “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all?”….or this crazy thing called respecting the elderly? You can disagree without being ageist or mean.

I digress.

Back to the subject at hand i.e. the “other side” of the marijuana picture. The following information is excerpted from the seventh edition of the book Drugs in Perspective by Richard Fields.

“Past month users [of marijuana] number 14.6 million (61.1 percent of U.S. population) (SAMHSA 2004)” (109).

“In the 1960s, the THC content of marijuana was 1 to 2 percent in potency…Today the THC content of marijuana averages 6 percent…hashish is 10 percent…and hash oil is 20 percent…This increase in the potency of marijuana means we are looking at a new drug with new problems” (111).

“Strong psychological dependence does develop in many regular users of marijuana, as evidenced by a need for cannabis use every day to perform certain tasks, to relax and unwind, or to sleep. The individual’s life begins to revolve around the use of marijuana as a primary activity” (111).

“Withdrawal symptoms after steady use may include irritability, decreased appetite, restlessness, sleep disturbances, sweating, nausea, or diarrhea. Hangovers are not uncommon…[and may present as] light-headedness characterized by the inability to gather thoughts…Researchers have well established the fact that chronic marijuana use can cause physical dependence by identifying full blown withdrawal symptoms in the newborn babies of marijuana dependent mothers. Treatment for the addiction to marijuana requires the support of an outpatient treatment counselor knowledgeable about alcohol/drug recovery and marijuana dependence” (111).

“The tars in cannabis smoke are 50 percent greater by weight than tobacco tars and 70 percent higher in cancer-producing substances” (112). (Less dangerous than cigarettes my ass!)

“Research suggests that cannabis, particularly when used regularly, tends to suppress the body’s immune response and ability to combat infections. Marijuana temporarily arrests the maturation of developing T cells, which protects the body from colds and other bacterial infections” (112).

“Chronic use of cannabis…[affects] fertility….Marijuana is suspected to be harmful to the fetuses in pregnant women; research with rhesus monkeys has shown pregnancy problems such as stillbirth and spontaneous abortion. Reduced birth weight is also a characteristic of surviving fetuses” (112).

“Most researchers agree that cannabis use, during the primary developmental years of 11 to 15, in particular, interferes with physical and mental maturation processes and impedes emotional development. Research describes an amotivational syndrome with symptoms of apathy, lethargy, and a general lack of involvement and motivation in growth and developmental activities” (112).

Finally AND alarmingly:

“Cannabis intoxication and chronic marijuana use impair short-term memory, alter the user’s sense of time and space, and impair overall coordination and motor functioning. The ability to track other vehicles is also impaired and is a major problem in driving a car…A study of airplane pilots reported that, after smoking marijuana, performance was impaired up to 2 to 3 days later” (112-113).

As one might have guessed, I’m not really all about criteria here at “Not Otherwise Specified”, but marijuana certainly meets the criteria for addiction with the presence of tolerance (drug seeking behaviors marked by a need for more and more of a certain substance), withdrawal symptoms, and psychological and physical dependence. So we have already dispelled the myth that it is not a “real drug”. Just because it’s from a plant doesn’t mean it can’t be dangerous if used improperly. Some kinds of alcohol are technically made from a plant if one wants to split hairs.

And please, for the love of all that’s good, don’t drive under the influence of marijuana. I am ashamed to say that in the days before I entered recovery, I drove in states of cannabis intoxication. It was always questionable, but one night in particular, I had an argument with my passenger over whether an animal in the road was a skunk or a cat. If you can’t tell the difference between a skunk or a cat, you should not be behind the wheel of a car. We don’t even want to get into what it’s like to drive both drunk and high. I didn’t know where I was and I thought I was where I wasn’t.

I’ve obviously presented a lot of information along with my own anecdotal experience. The purpose, as I stated before, is not to start a political debate. If the current trend toward legalization continues, please just take a moment to remember that marijuana does indeed carry risks that are similar to those of alcohol and other drugs. Be aware and exercise caution and moderation.

As someone in recovery who has a problem with marijuana, the idea of legalization can be terrifying. But that doesn’t stop me from keeping an open mind. I would just hope that marijuana users will respect that there are recovering addicts out in the world and refrain from smoking in public places. We are entitled to feel safe when we breathe shared air.

Every issue has pros and cons. Why not acknowledge both and be good to each other?