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.

Dead Batteries

It all started a few weeks ago. I was prepping for a photo shoot and I noticed a strange pain in my chest muscles and shoulder. My left hand was tingling and intermittently numb. “I’m too young for a heart attack,” I comforted myself. “It’s probably just a little carpal tunnel”. Like most problems I don’t want to deal with, I ignored it. I was right about one thing: I wasn’t having a heart attack – although one should not take that possibility lightly – but the sensations didn’t get better either. In fact, they got worse. When the discomfort disrupted my sleep and the tingling spread to my right hand, I was finally freaked out enough to call the doctor. The triage nurse didn’t seem impressed with my inability to get in right away but she also didn’t seem inordinately alarmed. I’d never been sent from reception to a triage nurse before, so I decided to drag my reluctant, tingly self to immediate care.

Not to ruin the surprise, but the ending of the story isn’t very dramatic. The nice lady at immediate care poked me a few times and sent me over to X-Ray. As it turns out, I have degeneration in a few of my discs. The primary issue, however, was that my back muscles were so tense that my spine lost its healthy curve. The Doc suspected the tension was influencing the ability of my nerves to properly do their thing.

I know on particularly stressful days my lower back aches, but I never noticed how much tension I carry as a norm until I had a few doses of Aleve and an “addict friendly” muscle relaxant. (I define “addict friendly” as one that doesn’t influence state of mind. I’ve had wilder nights on a normal dose of cold medicine. If you are in recovery, I recommend having a trusted friend, spouse, or sponsor help keep you accountable for taking medication as prescribed. We are only as sick as our secrets). Despite the fact that the warm pins and needles, numbness, and pain have mostly ceased, I am still left to wonder why my muscles were so tense. Without the aid of medication, why does my spine stand at attention like a soldier waiting to be slapped across the face? How am I going to stay relaxed when I stop my regimen of pills? This isn’t a drug seeking question so much as one that stems from a desire to get proactive. It’s embarrassing to be told that you are sitting on an exam table, one tier short of the ER, because you can’t relax.

This has lead me to ask, both literally and figuratively, “What am I feeding myself”?

What does my diet have to do with it? Well, a lack of nutrition is certainly detrimental to one’s overall wellbeing but I am also talking about what I feed my other senses. What do I feed my eyes and ears? How am I nourishing my spirit?

In my last apartment, I didn’t have a television (I didn’t have the internet for awhile either!) I loved it. Granted, I acquired Netflix and Amazon Prime on a tiny Kindle Fire, but I wasn’t constantly inundated with commercials and the fear mongering news media. Someone once compared my home to a treehouse. Nestled in the back of a huge, antiquated residence and bordered by leafy treetops, it was falling into disrepair and yet airy and full of beautiful filtered light. It had a window seat and a painted copper ceiling. Despite the stabbing in the neighboring house and the girl who sobbed in the bathtub behind the bedroom wall, it was somehow a disconnected, elevated safe haven… until the disrepair become too much to abide, a raccoon the size of a small bear took up residence under the stairs, and the neighbors played the same techno beat all night long…on my one evening off from the night shift. (I have to chuckle at the fact that it was the techno rather than the stabbing that pushed me over the edge.)

I do not blame the television for my present stress – although I do think it has the propensity to distract me from making more fulfilling or holistic choices with my time – but I strongly believe social media, namely, Facebook, is one of the poisonous culprits.

Unfortunately, Facebook is a necessary evil. I use it to promote and run my photography business. I also use it to reach others with this blog. The key for me is distinguishing between a useful tool and a drug.

Facebook has been truly disgusting lately. There has been an explosion of nastiness and the masses spread it like a pandemic. I don’t say that in a self righteous way; I have probably participated. Scrolling through my newsfeed, I can feel my heart filling with hate. In any given moment, one can be confronted with some hideous example of white supremacy and then simultaneously experience the hypocrisy of someone who is constantly shouting about the racism of others but who is also clearly racist himself. (I used to think this kind of hypocrisy was called “reverse racism” but someone kindly pointed out that this term is antiquated and offensive. I am still a student of life!) I truly felt awful every time I opened the app on my phone. It enflamed anger and hatred toward my fellow man. In sharing my struggle with a group of supportive people, I coined my affliction “human race-ism”: the feeling I get when I hate everyone and want to move to a compound on an island.

This desire to escape is scary. Isn’t it the very reason many of us drank and drugged in the first place? The craziest part is that I knew it made me feel terrible and yet I continued scrolling as if stopping would somehow mean missing out. And that, my friends, is a prime example of addictive behavior.

I’ve decided to look at myself as a battery in need of charging. It’s not enough for me to abstain and go to meetings. I need to be wary of where I “plug myself” in the world. Is my battery energized or drained? Facebook drains my battery. Popular music drains my battery. The news drains my battery. Eating horseradish pub cheese with a spoon fashioned out of a wheat thin drains my battery (not because pub cheese isn’t delicious…but because I’m about to turn thirty and my metabolism has had enough of my gluttony).

I know that assessing the current “outlets” in my life isn’t going to completely solve my back issue. I expect I will have to “plug in” to new habits; perhaps regular massage, acupuncture, and yoga. In the meantime, it doesn’t hurt to honor the memory of my old apartment and “unplug”.  For me, this means only listening to classical music or CDs in the car. It means doing a sugar detox with my beautiful spouse. It means less coffee and more water (UGH!). It means following Buddhist teachings on Twitter rather than the latest hateful trend on Facebook. It means strictly adhering to guidelines around what I post. (Guideline 1: Is it related to my business? Guideline 2: Is it related to my blog? Guideline 3: Is it something my grandmother would enjoy seeing?)

In the past, I would condone staying angry and “plugged in” to the wrong outlets by claiming that I was being an advocate for change. I am learning that I can evoke positive change in silence. I can go to the polls. I can recycle. I can be the kind of person I want to meet. And that is enough. Railing angrily against injustice not only helps no one but it also hurts me. Anger begets anger. Hate begets hate.

If things in the world don’t turn out the way I want them despite my best efforts, it’s not because I haven’t done enough. It’s not my fault. It is because things are exactly the way they are meant to be in that moment. Why? Because if things were supposed to be different they would be different. It is such a simple concept and yet one that is so hard to accept.

When I choose not to plug my battery into certain outlets, I am not choosing ignorance or choosing apathy. I am choosing peace.

In Like A Lion

It happens every year without fail. About a month before St. Patrick’s Day my heart begins to fill with a mixture of loathing and dread. It does not feel like a day of religious and cultural celebration. In fact, it seems more like a holiday in need of renaming. Perhaps “Chug Green Beer Day” (or just “Beer Day”!). Or “Make a Drunken Asshole of Yourself Day”. Or “Day Drinking Day”. The amount of alcohol consumption deserves an Olympic event. The masses come out and the booze worship commences. I am sadly reminded of sheep at a trough.

The other week I was driving to work and noticed a deranged woman teetering down the center line of a very busy and dangerous street. She tried to win an audience from every vehicle that passed. It was like watching a scene from the Walking Dead unfold before my eyes. She put her mittens against my window as I tried to creep by and all I could do was shake my head at her through the glass. I felt a mixture of horror and pity. Not wanting her to get run down, I made sure local law enforcement were aware of the situation. Later, I learned she had been asking drivers for her favorite libation. In the days that followed, she was struck by a car as she engaged in the same alcohol seeking behavior.

In recounting the story to others, it was theorized that she was suffering from dementia or some comparable illness. But I recognized the wet brain before she was close enough to reach out and touch. I was not surprised to learn I was right.

The last time I saw my biological father alive was an eerily similar situation. I stopped for a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage” was playing on the radio (“The lunatic is on the grass…”) The pedestrian was my father. Except it wasn’t really my father. It was an empty shell. A zombie. There was nothing human about what I saw drift like a ghost across the street.

I don’t know if I ever actually met my father, the man, in my lifetime. The sickness took everything and it took everything early. All I knew was the disease and its complete moral bankruptcy.

This is what alcohol does. Sure, it can be relaxing or “fun”. But it also makes people sick. It kills. It alters our state of mind and therefore robs us of the ability to be wholly present in the moment and to form genuine connections with others.

I fail miserably to understand how people can turn a blind eye. Our society is absolutely saturated with and enamored by booze. We continue to choose it even as we kneel next to the coffins of our dead.

I’ve focused a lot in my posts on “wearing the world like a loose cloak” and not allowing it to break my spirit. I try to live and let live. I work on keeping the focus on how I can change myself and not on how I can change others. For the most part, I think this is the healthiest attitude. On very rare occasions, however, I think it’s more appropriate to take a stand and ask people to wake up and take a good, hard look around.

In thinking about the sheep analogy I made earlier, I am reminded of Dr. Lecter …”Do the lambs still scream, Clarice”?

I am certainly haunted.

“I don’t drink that much,” you say to yourself as you read, “I am not part of the problem”.

But you are definitely part of the problem as long as you are silent. The status quo is perpetuated by silence. The stigma around addiction is perpetuated by silence.

Turn on the radio. How many songs do you hear about getting wasted? One of my favorites is about this guy who “works his ass off” but can’t pay his rent so he says fuck-it-let’s-blow-it. Party time!

Awesome. How about “turning down” and being responsible? That would be a travesty, huh? What about having a loving, healthy relationship instead of “fucking bitches up”? What about having fun without a lubricant? What about dealing with reality, good or bad, without a sedative?

I’ve said this before, I’m not a prohibitionist. I’m about positive change. I’m about spreading love. I’m about saving lives and creating a better world. All I’m asking is for anyone who will listen to stop and think.

People absolutely flipped their shit when they thought Ebola was coming. Where is the same outrage for those dying from alcohol and addiction?

Maybe I’ve pissed you off. Maybe you’re feeling very defensive about your drinking. If I’m right, you’re only serving to prove my point. If alcohol doesn’t really matter that much, why guard it so protectively?

My time has been worth it if only one person stops glorifying alcohol use and abuse after reading this. Seriously, waving alcohol consumption around like a brightly colored flag is not something worthy of pride. We should not be proud that this is the norm in our media. We should not be proud that our youth are aspiring to escape and excess and consequently dying.

I challenge you to break free from the majority. I challenge you to be a lion instead of a sheep. I challenge you to say enough is enough and to live that truth. You can make a difference. Change happens one person at a time.