200 Things That Make Me Happy

 

Although clinical work isn’t my primary professional responsibility, I love to keep a toe dipped in the water, so I co-facilitate an intensive outpatient group twice a week. It keeps me connected and inspired. A few times a year, we take a break from facilitating our normal therapeutic rotation and offer a structured gratitude group. Rather than asking my clients to write a rote list of things for which they’re grateful, I reframe the concept of gratitude. I ask them to write a list entitled “100 Things That Make Me Happy”. A huge part of recovery, for me, is noticing and savoring the little things.

There’s an old saying that goes, “we teach what we need to learn”. It’s been a shit year – and I’ve spent a lot of time processing the lessons. There’s nothing wrong with that. But none of my recovery mentors have ever said, “it’s more important to make a gratitude list when things are going great”. In fact, the opposite is true.

In early recovery, writing this list is hard. Your brain is healing. You’re just starting the process of cognitive restructuring. Consequently, your thoughts tend toward the negative. You may not even know yourself – your likes and dislikes – and what makes you happy. This is completely normal. But it’s important to start somewhere.

Even though I’ve had a little practice, it’s easy to forget the significance of this activity. Since I didn’t slow down until the 130-150 mark, I decided to challenge myself and push to 200. I stress this to my clients: it’s not a competition. It’s an awakening of the spirit.

I’d love to see your list! Share in the comments!

200 Things That Make Me Happy – A Gratitude List

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Courtesy of https://www.alifeinprogress.ca/
  1. my wife, J.L.
  2. my dog, Cedric
  3. my Subaru
  4. dry shampoo
  5. Pressed Cafe (5a. iced mocha lattes, 5b. beet salads, 5c. white chocolate cookies, 5d. spicy Greek burritos, 5e. grilled tofu 5f. pesto mac & cheese)
  6. overalls
  7. the baby curls at the back of J.L.’s neck
  8. J.L.’s hugs
  9. Trader Joe’s
  10. apple pie
  11. most pie, really
  12. my porch
  13. porches in general
  14. knowing there’s a good show waiting on Netflix
  15. Kissing Cedric’s paws and lips
  16. when Cedric’s paws smell like sweet grass
  17. sweatpants
  18. when Chipotle makes my burrito bowl just right
  19. the sound of peepers
  20. Stevie Nicks
  21. tattoos
  22. airports
  23. tokyo milk honey & the moon candle
  24. farmers’ markets
  25. fresh Maine seafood
  26. antique stores
  27. book stores
  28. botanical gardens
  29. regular gardens
  30. greenhouses
  31. fuzzy blankets
  32. finding a rare seashell
  33. soft serve
  34. FoMu vegan shakes
  35. Olive Garden
  36. french fries for dinner (with honey mustard or sweet & sour dipping sauce)
  37. Mike’s Pastries
  38. aquariums
  39. street art
  40. Christmas stockings
  41. string lights
  42. northern lights dark rum & oak candle
  43. campfires/fire pits
  44. Annie’s cheddar flavor vegan mac ‘n cheese
  45. independent film
  46. Cedric’s puppy noises
  47. kettle cooked chips
  48. my Sudanese prayer beads
  49. dog memes
  50. art museums
  51. Augusten Burroughs
  52. Patti Smith
  53. a hot shower after a long day
  54. that feeling when J.L. and I are driving away from the city toward adventure
  55. when wise old people tell good stories or say profound things
  56. TV shows starring, written or produced by Ricky Gervais
  57. Nadia Bolz-Weber
  58. pin-up girls
  59. Converse
  60. the smell of the Atlantic ocean
  61. Waterfire
  62. vintage markets
  63. street festivals
  64. when J.L. laughs really hard
  65. Burying my face in Cedric’s chest
  66. Cedric’s ear hairs
  67. Cedric’s eyelashes
  68. the smell of Whole Foods
  69. When Whole Foods’ hot bar serves perfect tofu
  70. Whole Foods’ bakery
  71. Massabesic Audubon on a summer evening
  72. Rhye
  73. the smell of rain on hot pavement
  74. Florida palm trees
  75. the Gulf of Mexico
  76. hummus wraps from Hot Rize or St. Augustine’s Crave
  77. Kookaburra Honey Badger iced latte with honey
  78. listening to jazz with the window open during a rainstorm
  79. Chicago
  80. Lexie’s black bean burgers and fries
  81. fresh flowers
  82. dried flowers
  83. mason jars
  84. glass bottles
  85. a good salad – especially with local, recently harvested produce
  86. Shiny Brite Christmas ornaments
  87. Bambolina wood fired pizza
  88. Michael’s the craft store
  89. antique car shows
  90. the cello or violin
  91. slow dancing in the kitchen with J.L.
  92. chocolate croissants
  93. hoodies
  94. the smell of patchouli on other people
  95. Disney/Pixar movies
  96. empty beaches
  97. giant pool floats
  98. J.L.’s love notes
  99. warm items from the dryer
  100. clean sheets
  101. strawberry shortcake
  102. fireworks
  103. Cedric’s whiskers on my face
  104. Cedric’s eyes
  105. good hair days
  106. root beer floats
  107. kayaking
  108. spanish moss
  109. jigsaw puzzles
  110. National Parks
  111. J.L.’s cooking
  112. planning our future
  113. Mucha
  114. The Golden Girls
  115. muscle shirts
  116. Cirque du Soleil
  117. the sound of Cedric crunching
  118. cool bird sightings
  119. the lupines and daisies on the side of the highway
  120. all wildflowers
  121. how happy Cedric is to see me when I come home
  122. when Cedric wipes his eyes with his paws
  123. Cedric’s elbows
  124. discovering a new song on YouTube
  125. drinking tea or eating lunch with my dearest friends – especially outside!
  126. when the cupboards are stocked with snacks
  127. ripped jeans
  128. J.L.’s smile
  129. beard Snapchat filters
  130. bowties for dogs
  131. dogs wearing sweaters
  132. sea salt on my skin
  133. mocktails that don’t suck
  134. built-in bookshelves
  135. decluttering/minimizing
  136. collecting stickers from our travels
  137. Dwight Schrute
  138. getting through the day without any anxiety symptoms
  139. Bombas or Smartwool socks
  140. documentaries
  141. papasan chairs with fuzzy cushions
  142. cattails
  143. fields of sunflowers
  144. the sound of cicadas
  145. butterfly sightings
  146. holding J.L.’s hand
  147. when J.L. sings to me in the car
  148. decorating for holidays
  149. taking nature pictures
  150. alpacas
  151. neon signs
  152. Chihuly
  153. the smell of fresh Christmas tree
  154. lemurs
  155. watching Elf on Thanksgiving night
  156. craft soda – especially blueberry pop
  157. when a Prince song comes on the radio – especially Purple Rain
  158. tofu spring rolls
  159. old school Missy Elliott
  160. Wentworth
  161. laughing with my coworkers
  162. driving at dusk with the windows down and the music loud
  163. random acts of kindness
  164. finding secret places that tourism hasn’t ruined
  165. chopsticks
  166. foggy/misty fields
  167. the smell of sea in fog
  168. honey from our friend’s homestead
  169. fresh baked bread
  170. the golden hour
  171. comfortable sleeping weather
  172. mastering a new trick in Lightroom or Photoshop
  173. colorful nail polish
  174. vinyl records
  175. recognizing the divine in a stranger
  176. the way light filters through blinds
  177. hidden object games
  178. patterns or symmetry in nature
  179. the first sip of coffee
  180. moody skies
  181. Yam I Am burrito from 86 This!
  182. my last name
  183. when Cedric spoons me
  184. when Cedric holds my hand with his paw
  185. the way J.L. makes me feel unconditionally loved and secure
  186.  when J.L. is safe at home
  187. hats
  188. foxes
  189. restored/refinished/bespoke furniture
  190. sustainable living
  191. One Strange Rock
  192. Gabor Maté
  193. a relaxing massage
  194. Demented Santa (a Christmas landmark in our city)
  195. Sally Mann’s southern landscapes
  196. jellyfish
  197. family dinner nights
  198. walking barefoot
  199. my wedding ring
  200. the beauty of J.L.’s heart

 

This Is Not Okay

This morning – before I had my coffee or the stomach for breakfast – I looked a compulsive sexual predator in the eye and took back the control he stole from me. This is only one part of my “#metoo” story, but it’s the part that needs to be told the most.

At the end of the day, this story isn’t about the man who exposed himself to me in August of this year. It’s about the failure of a system that allowed it to happen. The individual in question allegedly suffers from debilitating mental illness. Today, his attorney filed a competency motion to determine whether or not he is fit to face charges. Truth be told, I’m not interested in unduly punishing a sick person. It can’t be easy to endure life at the mercy of grotesquely altered brain chemistry. But mental illness is an explanation…not an excuse. Ideally, I would like him to be compelled to seek a higher level of care. I would also like him to carry a criminal record for the protection of other women. However, I don’t hold out hope that I will be satisfied with the outcome of this case. All I can do, in the interest of womankind, is pursue it to the fullest extent possible.

What does make me angry – and angry isn’t even an adequate word…profoundly sickened, perhaps? – is that this incident occurred when this person was under the “supervision” of no less than two staff members from the dual diagnosis facility where he resides. Moreover, his genitals weren’t exposed for seconds, they were exposed for minutes.

If you’re enough of an insensitive, uneducated asshole to ask me why it went on for minutes, it’s because I was in a state of complete and utter shock. I was also in a recovery meeting. “Should I call the police?” I wondered. “What about everyone’s anonymity?”

Here’s what happened (consider yourself forewarned that I’m about to be graphic):

I was running late. Everyone was already seated and the reading was almost finished. The tables were arranged in the shape of a haphazard square. As I sat down, I noticed him staring at me. It wasn’t the typical dull stare of someone bored with the material; it was almost a trance. His eyes were dark pools of black. The intensity of his gaze was disconcerting, but I was really looking forward to the meeting, so I dismissed it. Unfortunately, he was sitting across the room, directly in my line of vision, and I couldn’t ignore his invasive stare. When he locked eyes with me again, he put both of his hands in his shorts and manipulated his genitals so they were exposed. At that moment, I felt as though I was looking at the room from a distance. “This isn’t happening,” I thought. “I need this meeting. This isn’t happening”. I looked at everyone but him. I looked at my friend in the corner. I looked at the guy who was speaking. I despaired that I seemed to be the only one who knew he was using me for his own gratification. Finally, I dared to look at him. His genitals were still exposed. With one hand, he continued to adjust them for maximum visibility. A voice of reason sounded clear and true through my horrified daze: “This is not okay”.

I left the meeting and my sponsor kindly offered to deal with the situation. When she approached the staff members responsible for the residents of the facility, they knew who he was before she even had to identify him. They knew he engaged in these types of behaviors. Their responsibility was to protect him and to protect me. They failed miserably.

It’s an understatement to say that the support staff dropped the ball. But so did their superiors. Why was someone known for compulsive, indecent sexual behavior allowed to attend a co-ed recovery meeting? Why not a men’s meeting? If he is, indeed, mentally incompetent, how could he benefit from a recovery program which utilizes cognitive behavioral strategies? If he was stable enough to benefit, how can one now make the argument that he is incompetent to stand trial?

To add insult to injury, this particular agency tried to excuse their oversight by pushing the mental health card. Yes, there may very well be legitimate mental health concerns; however, that doesn’t condone the staggering and inexcusable negligence. I’m grateful it was me sitting in that seat… and they should be, too. If it had been a young woman with days of sobriety and untreated trauma, that event could have triggered a relapse or an overdose death.

I thought about filing a civil suit but, in the long run, no legal battle is going to solve the issue at hand.  We need thorough systemic change. We need to stop hiring under-educated, under-trained, uncaring mental health workers and paying them dismally low wages. We need to allocate more funding for mental health treatment. There are little to no resources for the treatment of morbid mental illness. We also need to completely overhaul our legal system. I didn’t understand until I experienced it – and I don’t blame the patrol officers or the police prosecutors. I blame the dysfunctional establishment they’re doing their best to navigate. If I hadn’t advocated for myself – and if my LEO wife hadn’t advocated for me – I would have been in the dark. I’ve never been to court before. I had no idea what to do. I can’t imagine facing a rapist or attacker with no one there to guide me. My heart absolutely aches for other women who have been victimized. We are revictimized by the current system, which is too overburdened to provide adequate support, and favors the perpetrator.

On August 9th, someone used me for sexual fulfillment without my permission. He didn’t even have to touch me. I’m not sure how the people whose negligence enabled him are able to sleep at night. I’m also not sure how men who become defensive about rape culture live with themselves – nor am I sure why some women uphold their misogyny.

There are many things I do not understand, but I do know that the era of female power has arrived. I may lose in court – only time will tell – but I will never stop telling my story. You can’t silence me. This morning, when I looked a sexual predator in the eye, I took back a power that has been gradually siphoned from me since childhood. It wasn’t just about the incident this summer; it was also about every single time someone took something from me that wasn’t theirs to take. Today, I took it back. Now my task is to add my voice to the chorus of silence breakers. We have had enough.

 

Musings on Food and Freedom

When your body is craving sugar and dairy, it’s amazing where you can find it. Take, for example, the caramels I bought last Halloween for the purpose of melting over apples. They sat in the pantry for months. However, once they were the only available option, we annihilated them. I also dug out a restaurant gift card that had been sitting around since last September. I gluttonously seized the opportunity to inhale two plates of Alfredo and a huge serving of fried donuts with chocolate dipping sauce. When in Rome, indeed!

If I look at things through the lens of these examples, I could conclude that no progress has been made on our healthy eating journey. However, that’s simply not true. Over the years, I have learned that growth and progress tend to be slow…and this experience is no different.

First of all, our grocery cart has been looking ridiculous. And by ridiculous, I mean awesome. I wanted to take a picture for you, but I was afraid people would think I was crazy. However, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t bursting with pride as I admired the bounty of produce and whole grains. I have discovered that I really like whole wheat pasta, sprouted beans and lentils, very suspicious looking Fire Engine 2 veggie burgers (with stir fried vegetables, guacamole, and sprouts), whole wheat frozen pizza crust, and fiber-rich cereal with banana.

I have also discovered that I do NOT like crispbread crackers… nor do I find kale to be particularly appealing. It might have been because I doused my kale creation in so much sriracha that I nearly got sick…but more shall be revealed. Also, don’t talk to me about chocolate almond milk. It belongs in the trash. Don’t make something into a health food if it’s only going to be vaguely-chocolate swamp water.

Bland crispbread and rage inducing “chocolate milk” aside, traveling is going to be much more of an obstacle than I initially anticipated. We recently went on a three day road trip and I got a little out of control. If I want to travel wisely, I’m going to need to start packing snacks. If you set me loose in a service station full of twinkies, candy, and chips, I am going to have an apple hand pie for breakfast, followed by a Hershey bar, chocolate cookies, and honey roasted cashews. (Yes, that happened.) Restaurant eating isn’t easy, either (as you may have already gathered from my opening). On our trip, I chose a salad for dinner…but I also had to have a side of cheese stuffed breadsticks. The following morning, breakfast went straight to hell, too. I regressed right back to my favorite stand-by of ketchup-doused scrambled eggs and corned beef hash. I didn’t even consider a less offensive, cow-friendly pancake.

So… those weren’t shining moments for me. But here’s the thing: When we came home, I got right back on the horse. That’s because our home is a healthy environment. When I don’t have access to unhealthy food, I don’t eat it. Since our environment has changed, I have also noticed some subtle shifts in my thinking. I don’t salivate over the processed shit at the grocery. I have a list and I go right for the things I need. I have also started to consider healthier choices when we go out. Before, I wouldn’t even look at a salad. In fact, the last time we were at that particular restaurant, I had a basket of chicken wings with extra dipping sauce.

These are the key things I have learned thus far:

  1. My home is a safe place and I should eat there as much as possible.
  2. Meal planning and list making are essential for success at the grocery store.
  3. I need to pack snacks if I’m going to survive five hours of driving or a layover at the airport.
  4. I should try to find vegan or vegetarian restaurants as much as possible while traveling.
  5. When I get crazy, it isn’t an excuse to give up. I simply must get back on track as soon as possible.
  6. It’s important to be gentle with myself. It’s about progress, not perfection. I’ve probably consumed more fiber in the past few weeks than I have in a year. And that is most certainly a good thing.
  7. My wife, J.L., reports that routine has been essential for her. She eats certain foods at certain times of day, and her body has adjusted to this schedule. When she deviates from her routine, the day doesn’t go as smoothly.

I’m struggling with the commitment piece but I am determined to follow through, especially since I have my spouse cheering me on. Oddly enough, it’s not the sugar that’s getting to me, it’s the butter. Right now, I feel like the hardest things to give up are butter (on my toast, pasta, and vegetables), plain greek yogurt (SO GOOD in chili), and feta (my salad feels so sad without you, buddy). If push comes to shove, I might have to give Earth Balance a try. The whole “oil free” or “no added oil” thing – while it makes perfect sense from a health perspective – is a little too extreme for me, and, as we all know, I am wary of extremes. However, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes are also extreme…so I should at least try to put my best foot forward.

J.L. and I went on a date tonight and it struck me how profoundly privileged I am to even be making these changes. Some people don’t get anything to eat, let alone a choice. Others aren’t educated enough or mentally sound enough to consider these issues and make rational decisions about their health.

We went to see a documentary called “God Knows Where I Am”. It’s about a homeless woman who died in an empty house just twenty minutes from our city. She was mentally ill and refused to take her medicine because she suffered from psychotic delusions. She didn’t think she was sick. (To be fair, it is an outrage that anti-psychotic and mood stabilizing medicines are still so harsh and debilitating.) She starved to death over the course of approximately forty days. The house she died in was about five hundred feet from other residences… and no one even noticed she was there. I expected it to be a disturbing movie, but I didn’t expect it to resonate with me so personally. There were a lot of parallels to the life and death of my biological father. I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on it, but I certainly remember his delusions, his stays in mental hospitals, and the electroshock therapy. He also died in a very sad, gruesome, and lonely way.

You can’t have a parent like that and not be impacted, but I think that so many people choose to let this kind of trauma define the rest of their lives. That makes me sad…and also a little angry. I acknowledge and accept that I have witnessed and been through some very tough stuff. However, I choose not to be a victim of my past. I realize that I have no control over my other family members, I ask for help when I need it, and I work tirelessly to improve myself. I think it’s a slap in the face to my deceased parent to do anything else. He didn’t have the opportunity to experience freedom from his own mental imprisonment. He was too sick to properly advocate for himself…and so was the woman in the film. You can’t advocate for yourself when you’re psychotic and suffering from morbid cooccurring disorders. I do have the opportunity to advocate for myself and I choose not to waste it.

All of that is not to say that I am strong on my own. I am joyful, free, and mentally sound because I have a whole community of people holding me up. But I accepted that I needed help, asked for it, and I work on it every day. I may not be able to choose where I come from or the cards I have been dealt, but I am free to choose how I respond or whether or not I needlessly suffer in silence. I intend to cherish every moment of my freedom and live my life to the fullest. I am so grateful to be clean and sober and I truly believe that I am only fit to help others when I have thoroughly worked through my own issues.

If you’re out there wishing you could make a change, I hope you will stop selling yourself short and ask for help. You are worth it. There is no shame in admitting that you’re not perfect or that something is wrong. In fact, it’s only human. We all have flaws. I marvel at the fact that I am currently so content and well adjusted. Considering where I come from and the obstacles I had to overcome, it’s an incomprehensible miracle. If it’s possible for me, it’s possible for you. My life is pure magic today. The only way things could get any better is if I could help my wife retire early and we could get a dog. When I look out the window at the newly bursting trees and the gray Spring sky, my heart bursts. Some people try to rain on my parade, but I choose not to let them. Instead, I hope that they can find peace, too.