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.

No Man Is An Island

Well, since it’s raining and I am valiantly combating the looming possibility of a sinus and/or ear infection, I figure it’s a good time to settle in with some hot green tea and get my blog on.

There is nothing like being cooped up in the house for a few days to remind one of how important it is to be connected with other people.

In my first year of college, one of my favorite things to do (aside from smoke pot, skip class, and neglect to put forth any serious effort) was pick up a burrito and a large, icy Pepsi. I would return to my dorm alone – I had a double room to myself – and add whiskey to my drink. This was a bad idea for a number of reasons, particularly because I could barely eat and was very thin and sick at the time, but mainly because it established my predisposition for drinking hard liquor in isolation.

I hated beer. Not only did it taste like shit but it also took too long to work and I liked to put as little in my stomach as possible. I rarely finished a bottle. Cocktails, however, were a different story. And Jack Daniels…let’s just say that whiskey commercials still make me ache a little. I’m extremely lucky Jack didn’t become my life partner.

It’s sad that Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, and Captain Morgan do, quite literally, become the sole companions of alcoholics far and wide. Isolation is a key component of the disease. My biological father, who died in the clutches of his various addictions, wasn’t found for at least two weeks. A moldy, barely eaten birthday cake rotted on his counter. He was completely alone.

There is no loneliness greater than that which can be found in the eye of addiction’s storm. Many people would be traumatized by the things I saw in my father’s house, but I choose to let those images drive me to make different choices.

I share this very personal story because I want people to know that you can stop before there is no one left in your life. I did.

I couldn’t stop, however, without a clean, sober, and behavior abstaining support network.

How can you help if you’re not in recovery? Go forth compassionately with the knowledge that alcohol can look like a loaded gun capable of exacting both murder and suicide. It can be a siren’s song. A poisonous temptress. Don’t look at someone abstaining with incredulity or pass judgement. Don’t ask: “Why don’t you drink?” or “Why would anyone want to stop?” or “Were you just going through a phase?”

I’ve experienced all of the above and then some. There’s a lot of talk about isolation and loneliness in active alcoholism and addiction, but what I don’t hear about that often is how lonely recovery can be, too.

Alcohol is the cultural norm and when you don’t participate in the norm you can feel very left out. I know that I do sometimes and it hurts. I don’t think the people in my life who aren’t in recovery always recognize how much it hurts and how much work it takes to fight the disease. I try not to take it personally. It’s difficult to understand something when you haven’t experienced it for yourself. The trade off to all of this is that I have a great life that isn’t worth throwing away to feel like I fit in with the majority of society. I have to constantly remind myself that I am not normal. I have a sickness that needs to be treated.

This past Winter I went to visit my childhood best friend. I am certain of very few things in the world, but one thing I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that he will always be there, waiting vigilantly to pick up where we left off or, on some occasions, to pick up the broken pieces of my heart. On this occasion, we were driving home from dinner with mutual friends and his wife was asleep next to him in the front of the car. “I am wide awake,” I said to him from the dark backseat, not referring to sleep, but describing what it’s like to be in recovery. “I wish I could share this wakefulness with everyone”. I went on to tell him about how lonely I felt having to experience emotions so poignantly – happiness, sadness, anger, fear – while inhabitants of the “real” world (v.s. the recovery world) seemed to numb and relax themselves with various substances. Instead of being a blessing, coping skills and emotions were feeling like a punishment.

When the strain of choosing to live my life differently gets to be too much, it is an absolute necessity to have someone with whom I can share my feelings of envy, anger, and sadness. I am lucky enough to know that there are entire rooms of people out there who understand exactly what I am going through and also how to find said rooms. They are the safe harbors from which I must launch into the activity of living.

Coping skills and emotions are not a punishment, although my nature bucks against them. They are gifts. I have the ability to experience life to the fullest extent without any form of dilution.

I also find meditation to be an essential practice. I recently downloaded a meditation app on my phone by Deepak Chopra (Ananda – Living In Love). On his free demo track, he instructs one to mentally say “soul” on the intake of breath and “hum” on the exhale of breath. Having neglected meditation for months, if not years, tears of relief and release streamed down my face. I had this very same experience the first few times I ever meditated. In the stillness, you come back to yourself. You reconnect to your own being.

Connection. It is the antidote for isolation.

A very special, very beautiful person (aka my girlfriend) just took a minute from work to bring my sick face a surprise Oreo Coolatta. When I went outside to fetch it, the humid air felt good on my cold skin. I was momentarily plugged back into the world. The people on the sidewalk and the holiday weekend traffic reminded me that I am a part of something much bigger and not a singular entity existing in a room with a laptop.

We are all a part of a “bigger something”. Soul hum. It is the sound of my breathing and the sound of yours.