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.

Not a Tavern but a Temple

Lately the urge to write has been keeping me awake at night. I go through the motions of the daily grind and – when it’s time for sleep – my spirit is restless. “Don’t forget about me,” it nudges.

Looking back at all of my entries over the span of a year and a half, I notice a few running themes. I focus a lot on not allowing the world to get me down. I see myself struggling with deep frustration and anger over societal attitudes toward alcohol; namely that people are dying and nothing changes. (“The world doesn’t care what you think,” I recently heard a woman say. She’s right.) I also notice that I have learned a lot about what it means to “let go” in various realms of life – whether it be a toxic job or a feeling that has worn out its welcome. But there is one thing I don’t talk about a lot: what it was like when I was engaging in compulsive addictive behavior.

What was it like? In a nutshell, it sucked. I don’t really like to spend a lot of time recounting the battle stories. At the end of the day it’s not about the alcohol, the drugs, the credit cards, or the heartbreak. Why not? This is a blog about addiction and alcoholism, right?

Well, this is a blog about my individual journey in recovery. And writing it probably helps me more than it helps anyone else. It allows me to recognize my own patterns and to call myself out on my own shit. But this is also a blog about human relationships. In January of this year an article was published by the Huffington Post which posits that addiction is caused by a paucity of social connection (The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think). Other literature on alcoholism suggests that the active alcoholic is completely incapable of forming a genuine connection with another human being (This is a powerful statement. Want to talk about it? Leave a comment). So I guess this is the story of how I am constantly, imperfectly learning the true meaning of love and connectedness.

Speaking of love, I just got married. Yup. Four days ago!

My wife has the most astounding capacity for love. It is truly unmatched by anything I have ever witnessed. She once anonymously bought breakfast for a forlorn looking old man sitting in a diner. The waitress said that he got cookies every day. She covered those too. She gave up part of her Christmas to bring comfort and companionship to a woman who lost her husband. If I ever accepted the offer, she would carry me over every mud puddle in my path. Not only does she know how I take my coffee, she will go out in a blizzard to get it. When I’m cold, she takes the socks off her feet and puts them on mine. But most significantly, she has seen my fear. She has watched me balk at trust like a wild horse and remained steadfast. She is a calm voice and a gentle hand. And yet I am not tame. I am free.

Freedom doesn’t equate to a lack of commitment. It is a safe space. It is vulnerability.

Our vows said “I offer you my hand, my heart, and my soul, as I know they will be safe with you”. She is the safest place I have ever known.

She read a poem by Roy Croft at our wedding. One particular line echoes in my head:

“I love you because you are helping me to make of the lumber of my life not a tavern but a temple”.

I hope she knows how much she has taught me about love. She adorns the temple of my life with flowers. She is sunlight in its windows. She is the color in the sand of its mandalas.

Be Yours: Love and Recovery

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought it might be fun to write a piece on relationships.

Maybe you read that and groaned. How stereotypical of me, right? And really? Valentine’s Day? It’s commercial nonsense. It makes single people feel resentful and lonely. Shouldn’t we show our love to one another every day of the year?

Bearing all that in mind, those of you who know me in “real life” may also be thinking: “Uhm…Autumn? You’re kind of terrible at relationships”.

And you are absolutely right. If it is Dumb, Dangerous, Dysfunctional, Destructive, or Dependent…I’ve done it. Probably more than once. Possibly one hundred times. That’s a lot of “D’s” on my romance report card. Believe it or not, this track record is exactly what qualifies me to write about relationships.

If you are new to sobriety and/or recovery, I do not suggest getting into a relationship. I can only speak for myself, but it took three years of continuous sobriety just for my head to pop out of my ass. And remember those Titanic seats? It’s so easy to make another person your drug. I still have to work very hard not to do just that. Very, very hard.

I did not love myself when I started my journey in recovery. How can you love someone else if you do not love yourself?

You can’t.

For the first time in my whole life, I am in a healthy relationship. I do not hear that I am “stupid”, “not good enough”, a “bitch”, or a “whore”. I am not being assaulted or abused. I am not being stalked or taking part in stalking. I am not being used or taking part in using. There are no lies or mixed messages. Healthy doesn’t equal perfect – it equals safe.

In order to have a healthy relationship, I had to care about myself. I had to stop allowing toxic and unsafe people to be a part of my life. I also had to decide that I was going to be the kind of person who is safe to be around. I had to be accountable.

It is so easy to blame other people.

Water rises to its own level. The darkness in me naturally gravitates to the same darkness in others. I had to change myself in order to change what I attract. I had to learn to be self aware.

I am still learning what it means to love someone. Ideally, I am looking for the “guardian of my solitude”. Sometimes I am not good at being that guardian in return. It can be more comfortable to return to old habits of control, manipulation, and suffocation. “More,” my disease whispers. “All”. I now know that isn’t love. It is fear.

Maybe some of you out there don’t feel like you’ve ever truly experienced safety or love. If you can love yourself first, I promise it will be more beautiful than you can possibly imagine.

My girlfriend loves me in a way that frequently makes me cry tears of joy, healing, and relief. I can feel it filling the broken places I created or allowed others to create. It overwhelms me and spills out my eyes. Before she loved me, however, I had to fill these same broken places with my own love. And there are some voids that even her strongest love cannot fill and can only be satiated by recovery. It’s important for me to never forget.

Perhaps writing this helps me more than anyone else. The things I love about my girlfriend – the way she holds my hand, the comforting sound of her breath, the profile of her face while she sleeps, the pure joy in her laugh – can easily slip away if I am not diligent about nurturing my own separate being.

In earlier years of recovery, I transformed Valentine’s Day into “Self Kindness Day”. I cooked myself fancy pasta. I bought nice lingerie or made plans to take myself to the symphony. It felt fantastic. This year, a “Self Kindness Day” is my wish for all of you. Be yours. You deserve it.