Big Girl Pants

There are a couple bright and shiny “lightbulb” moments in my sobriety story. These are moments where a deep knowing and understanding is reached seemingly in a single moment, a single thought. Though that is the felt experience, I think the reality is much more plodding. I think these “Ah-ha’s” as Oprah would say, are actually just culmination steps. There have been a thousand choices, moments, reflections, and changes made that have aligned and built upon one another until the tipping point of readiness for change is reached.

In that moment the felt sense is grace and ease and awakening but it is only so easy because of all of the groundwork and plumbing that’s been previously laid.

Or as Oprah would also say, “The moment when inspiration meets preparation.”

I remember one of these lightbulbs occurring for me in early sobriety.

I was about six months sober. I got sober in Vancouver, BC. It is a long and convoluted story how this nice American girl from the suburbs of Boston ended up and a hippified, west coast, Canadian, city. In short, I followed a pretty girl and in the haze of alcoholism believed a location cure would solve all of my ills.

In reality, I wasn’t really following a girl but the idea of escape and my alcoholism not only wasn’t cured by the move but escalated rapidly.

Ultimately though Vancouver is where I hit my “bottom” as we say in sobriety circles and it is the city I fell in love with through recovery. It has since become the place I have decided I want to make my forever home.

So I was six months sober and the holidays were fast approaching. I was coming to the legal end of my visitor visa to Canada and had to get out of country for a period of time if I ever hoped to return. So I had to go. The only real place for me to go was back “home.” Home to my parent's place in Boston and then home to see my children in New Jersey.

In my alcoholism and escape west I left behind my two beautiful children – at the time just eight and two.

[Wow. It hurts my heart very badly to write that even still. I can feel the ache in my chest, tear ducts welling. The thought of those little faces and that painful time. *Pause to feel* I am just so grateful we have all survived and are all thriving.]

So I’m six months sober. I’m working my steps and am (ironically) on my ninth step at the time – i.e. making amends. I need to leave Canada and am desperate to reconnect with my children who I miss terribly.

I contact my ex-wife and she graciously agrees that I can come to her place for a couple of days around Christmas and spend some time there so I can see both the children and their new environment. Quickly after I left she sold the house we lived in together and moved with the kids about and hour away and closer to her work.

So I would visit. Chill for a couple days with littles and then I would take the kids north to Boston so they could share the holidays with my family and we could have some 1:1 time.

I remember driving to them on a foggy and cold Christmas morning. I was so anxious to see my little family.  My little family that I felt so totally terrible and guilty about leaving. My little family I had wanted so badly. My little family I had had such beautiful hope for. My little family I had loved so but couldn’t figure out how to actually be with, stay a part of.

And then I was with them and it wasn’t bad. It was lovely and right and wonderful. To hold them again and feel their little bodies, feel the pound of their hearts, chest to chest, against mine.

We reconnected and it was great.

Navigating my relationship with my ex-wife was more challenging however. I felt so terrible about how our end had played out. It had been messy and awful and there were so many things I wished (in sobriety) I had done differently. I hadn’t forgiven me. I hadn’t forgiven her. I was also terribly angry and resentful. All of the unresolved pain and issues of a 17-year marriage were suddenly right there. On my chest and playing across my face at times. I was trying my best to be “my best self” but finding it increasingly more and more challenging as the minutes, hours, days ticked away.

I like the thought I heard expressed by one of my yoga teachers once, “Oh, you think you’re healed? You think you’ve processed and asana-ed and forgiven and meditated yourself into peace? Go home and spend a week with your family at Christmas and come back and tell me about how “healed” you are!”

That still makes me laugh because it is so my experience. I was sober! I was doing my steps! I’d graduated yoga teacher training! I was a mother-loving meditation teacher for god’s sake!! But still I was finding it increasingly challenging to keep my shit together.

Layer on this the pressure I had put on myself about doing my step nines while I was on this trip. “Sober Jess” really wanted to do my step nine with her so I clear the space and apologize. However, it is very challenging to do that when you are cycling between the grief of loss, the anger of betrayal and the guilt of failure.

There was much going on in my interior landscape. The voices were loud in my head and my heart was hurting.

I did manage to eke out an amends to her during that trip. I have since learned that amends, like everything else in life, are layered and come at different levels over time. Particularly with the deeper relationships. My ex-wife and I have peeled deeper and deeper into that onion over the course of the last three years and currently have an amicable and peaceful relationship I am so grateful for.

So I’m staying in her home, it is the holidays, I am hanging with my children. One evening she comes up to her room which she’s has ceded to me for the visit so I can sleep with the kids (it’s the only king bed in the house). She pops her head in the door and has a smile on her face. I’m sitting there on top of the bed scrolling through my iPhone. The kids are downstairs playing. We can hear their voices lightly in the background. I look up expectantly.

She says, “So M (her new girlfriend) is coming by. She’ll be here in like ten minutes. She wants to meet you.”

White noise. Sounds of waves crashing in my ears. I freeze like a dear in headlights. I feel my face flush and temperature rise.

Her girlfriend. The woman who is fucking my ex-wife and gets to see my children as often as she likes, the new me, the replacement, is popping by in ten minutes and this is all the warning I get? Something in my brain snaps and I revert to old behavior.

“Really H?” I say voice rising. I stand and whisper yell, “We’re married for 17 years and you want me to meet your new girlfriend and you don’t even ask?” I point aggressively take a step closer to her, “You just tell me she’s coming and somehow I’m supposed to prepare in ten minutes?!? That’s not cool H. Jesus you’re so inconsiderate. No, it’s not ok with me. Fuck!”

“Jesus Jess,” she says a bit stunned and surprised, “I didn’t think it would be that big a deal. I figured you’d want to meet her too.”

“Well I don’t and I won’t. It’s fucking insensitive. I’m not doing it!” And with that I stormed off past her, with all the self-righteous anger of a PMS-ing teenager (though I was 42), down the stairs and out the back of the house.

I ran outside and the cold night air hit my face. Head down I continued behind the house to the back driveway, something inside me just desperate to get away. My feet hit asphalt and I looked up. There before me was parked my rental car and next to it what had (once) been my Jeep. My beloved Jeep. Beautiful, pristine, top of the line $50K Jeep. The Jeep that was the symbol of all the stuff I had had. All the stuff I had lost to drinking and to the divorce. The Jeep that now belonged to my ex-wife. It was something that at the time I felt a great resentment about and felt I had been “screwed” out of. In actuality she paid me for it in the divorce settlement. In hindsight it was much less screwing and more “I’m trying to be totally ethical in my dealings with this nutcase alcoholic I married.”

In that moment though I had lost all perspective and the weight of all the loss, all the anger, all the grief, all the feelings hit me like a thousand pound emotional bomb. And I crumbled. I literally collapsed to the ground next to the Jeep, the symbol of loss, weeping. As I wept a light snow began to fall.

Now listen. As a former stage actress I couldn’t have loved the drama of that moment more!

            EXT – UPSACLE SUBURBAN HOME. SECLUDED DRIVEWAY BEHIND HOUSE. NIGHT.

The crumbled shell of a woman collapsed to the ground under the weight of loss. Lit reflectively by the yellow glow of a distant street lamp. As she weeps and heaves, a light snow begins to fall.

As a human being though it was a hard moment to experience. I had been trained though. Before I left my sponsor had sat me down and we talked for a long time about what to expect and what I should do in moments I felt overwhelmed and at risk. I was to call. I was to call him and if I didn’t get him I was to call someone, anyone, in my AA support network. “Call first” was my training.

So I did. I called him and I was grateful when his lovingly warm and twinkling voice picked up on the second or third ring.

His sponsor Spidey sense must have been tingling because he answered with a concerned, “What’s going on?”

“She wants me to meet her girlfriend. Her GIRLFRIEND!” I said sobbing. “She didn’t even ask. She just told me. Phht! Like that. Like it’s nothing. This woman. This woman’s who is fucking my wife is coming over and now, what? I’m supposed to just dance around like some fucking monkey and pretend that’s ok? I can’t take it. So I ran outside and I’m sitting on the ground in the cold and snow crying because it’s bullshit. She always does this. Our whole goddamn marriage. Seventeen years of this. This is why I left. She’s so fucking insensitive! I just can’t. I’m trying so hard!” I cutoff there into sobs, unable to continue.

“Ok sweetheart,” he said soothingly. “Take a deep breath here.”

I did. Though may I have hiccupped out the exhale.

Patiently and slowly with a gentleness in his tone he responded, “I can hear how upset you are and can appreciate how overwhelmed you must feel.”

“I am. I really am!” I responded quickly, urgently.

“Ok.”

Pause.

“Can I ask you a question?”

Hiccup, “Ok,” hiccup.

“Who decided to go back east and visit everyone at Christmas? Was it Heidi or was it you?”

Pause.

“It was me.” Then quickly, “But you know I had to leave and there were extenuating…”

He cut me off gently. “I understand. But you could have chosen to go a lot of different places and do a lot of different things Jess. But you chose to go to NJ and visit your ex-wife and children at the holidays, didn’t you?”

Pause.

Slowly, “Yes.”

“That was your choice, was it not?”

“Yes, it was.”

Still calm but with a slight driving like an attorney fact finding with the expert on the stand, “And who decided to stay with their ex-wife, in their ex-wife’s home for this visit?”

“It was me.” I said.

“And who gets to make the rules in Heidi’s house? Heidi or someone else?”

Pause. Oh this one was harder.

“Heidi.”

“Oh, Heidi. I see.”

“But…”I halfheartedly attempted to interject some pleading though knew in my heart it was a losing game. He was right and I needed to trust where he was trying to take me.

He continued, “And in this situation who are the most important people? You? Heidi? Or the kids?”

Boom. “The kids.”

“Right. The kids.”

Pause to let that land.

“So here’s what you’re gonna do. You’re gonna stop sniffling. You’re gonna get up off the ground and put your big girls pants on and march back into that house with a smile so big on your face it could light a small city. You’re gonna apologize to Heidi and you’re gonna meet the girlfriend and make nice. And if H wants you to meet fifteen girlfriends you’re gonna do it all with a smile on your face and a generous heart because it isn’t about you. It is about those kids and what those kids need to know right now is to know that you’re ok and they’re safe. They need to know it is all gonna work out and Momma and Mommy are solid. They need to be the focus and the center of attention and every single thing you say or do on this visit should be about how to make them feel safe and secure and ok because that’s what they need right now. You’re going to put on your big girl pants and pretend to be the woman you aspire to be because that’s what they need and you’re their Mom so that’s your job. You’re going to do this because that’s what grown-ups do. We do the right thing and sometimes the right thing means putting others needs ahead of ours for a moment and being of service rather than being the center of attention.”

LIGHT-MOTHERFUCKING-BULB

He was right. He was so right that I immediately stopped crying, I thanked him. I sat there dazed for a moment then I got up and dusted myself off, straightened my clothes, walked back into the house and did exactly what he said.

It wasn’t about me, it was about them. Whatever pain I was in could wait because their pain took priority in this moment. I was their Mom and they needed me to show up so that’s what I was going to do because that’s what grown-ups do.

Lightbulb.

A lighbulb built on hundreds of meetings and coffee talks with sober friends. Lightbulb built on hundreds of hours of yoga and meditation and reading and crying and therapy and step work. I had done the work. The moment came. I was ready and I changed.

I am so grateful.

Missing You

I miss a lot of people. I miss a lot of people a lot of the time.

I’m reminded of this at this moment because I am particularly missing my daughter and son. As a divorcee and co-parent I get them for part of the summer and some key holidays/visitations. I look forward to the summer all year. It’s an extended time for just them, just us. Less pizazz and more day-to-day life. I get to see them, really see them and check-in on how their journeys are going. Perhaps even get a glance into their inner universes.

I also get scared every year that I may not be up to the task. I fear that somehow I’ll break them or myself during our time together. Ironic given that I was their primary caregiver for much of their early lives. The sting of my nervous breakdown into alcoholism remains and I seem to forget that every year how capable I actually am. I still get worried and anxious prior to their arrival.

Well, they were here and it was remarkable and beautiful.

We’ve spent the last six weeks laughing and talking and clowning and fighting and sitting and i-pad-ing and time-out-ing and swimming and walking and eating and complaining and lounging and shopping and doing all of the things a family does at the height of summer.

I’ve watched their bodies stretch and brown. Witnessed the minute to minute changes of mood move across their faces. I’ve looked deep into their eyes – blue and brown. I’ve held them and cuddled them. I’ve told them to get off me. I’ve felt the slowing rise and fall of their chests as they fell asleep against me. Smelled the most heinous of morning breaths. I’ve been in awe of their good manners and quick wits. Laughed at their sassiness and clever points of view. I’ve gotten frustrated awesome smarts (when turned against me) and stubbornness (so much like my own). I’ve done laundry and more laundry and more laundry. I’ve worried. I’ve picked and prodded. I’ve overspent. I’ve rolled my eyes at their terrible jokes and equally awful farts. I’ve laughed until my stomach hurt at some quirky moment. I’ve been annoyed by the 4,000th repeating of some question I already answered “no” to five minutes before. I’ve done dishes and more dishes and more dishes. I have cringed many times hearing my voice rise and snap and yell or chastise over some silly transgression. I’ve said and heard “I love you” more times than I can count. I’ve hugged and been hugged.

In short, I’ve been a mom.

And then, several days ago now, I flew them to a small southern airport and left them in the super loving and capable hands of their fathers.

I promised my daughter I wouldn’t cry because that’s what she wanted. We both knew, even in her asking, that I would never be able to hold to that wish. The truth is that I had been crying for days already by the time she even asked.

Rarely in front of them, but crying none-the-less. To myself, to the ocean, to my wife, to the sunset. Occasionally one of them would suss me out. “What’s wrong now?” they’d ask – face half turned, eyes squinted, assessing. To which I could only chokingly respond, “You’re just so beautiful, do you know that?” or some other equally syrupy statement they’ve heard a million times. They’d invariably roll their eyes and run off to some other distraction. Leaving me to clean myself up and stare after them.

That’s one of the things about this feeling game they don’t warn you about. The good news is that you get to feel the good. The bad news is that to feel the good you also get to feel all the bad too. Not that missing them is bad. It isn’t. It’s just, well, fucking OUCH man.

So I miss them. There’s nothing to change. There’s nothing to do. There’s just feelings to feel and sometimes that’s the hardest thing around.

In missing them I’m reminded of others I miss: my father; an aunt and uncle; Eli; ex-girlfriends; people from past jobs; friends; teachers; mentors; bosses; that drug using roommate of mine; the crazy neighbor in NYC; the boy I was a nanny for; that guy who lived in his van in Seattle and would come through my Jack-In-The-Box drive-through window each morning…

I miss people I love dearly but don’t get to see or connect as much as we used to – friends, sisters, sponsors, cousins, my ex-wife, family…

Again, nothing wrong. Nothing to change or do. Just feelings to feel.

Yeah (stormy emoji; sassy emoji…. prayer hands emoji)!

So just know that basically if I’ve ever met you and we’ve shared more than five seconds together it is highly likely that I’ve thought of you, am reminded of you, have thought longingly of you, and I miss you. Depending on the length and breadth of our relationship it I also highly likely that I’ve shed a tear or two and/or laughed and/or thought of how lucky I am to know/have known you. I am so grateful the rich tapestry of love and care that has been shown to me over the course of my 44 years on this plant through the people who have moved through my world. Thank you and I miss you.

I promise I’ll try not to cry the next time I see you.

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No guarantees.

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I’ve already started.

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(cry face emoji)

1,145 DAYS - A DAY AT A TIME

I celebrated three years sober last week. Exactly three years and two months from the morning I woke up in a Vancouver hospital bed, admitted for organ failure (again!), under suicide watch and too groggy to make out much other than the handwritten date on the nurse’s notes board across the room.

From this relatively lofty perch, three years on, it is nearly impossible now for me to believe that was me. But it was. It is.

I heard a joke when I first started to come AA. I was slobbering and blubbering over some early sobriety crisis du jour after a meeting and an old timer came up to me. A little man with a couple days of stubble on his cheek and coffee breath he leaned in and whispered conspiratorially, “Don’t worry sweetheart. When you get sober only one thing has to change.”

Red-eyed and sniffling I said, “Oh yeah? That’s a relief. What is it?”

With a twinkle in his eyes he blasted, “EVERYTHING! HAHAHAHA!”

I cringed as he shuffled away wheeze-coughing loudly at his own joke.

At the time I wanted to tell him to fuck right off! I was so overwhelmed by everything in this new life of mine. This sober life. I was working so hard, I thought, at the new me I was trying to become but feeling like all the skin had been ripped off my body. I was just one giant nerve, exposed to the elements, without any of the coping mechanisms I used to deal my whole life. I didn’t want to change everything, I just didn’t want to die. And I wanted to do that with as little work as possible and get the biggest possible reward.

So basically, a run of the mill addict.

Now I know just how true that old guy’s statement was. The path I walk now was unimaginable to that shell of a gal that was me in early sobriety (hell, I was a shell of a gal my entire life! I just didn’t know it until I stopped drinking and using various things to block how bad I was feeling.)

There is another AA saying, “Pain is the price of admission,” and this too has been true for me. It was only when the continuation of life as I was living it was more painful that the pain of changing, was I ready.

See I’m stubborn. I’m a smartass. I’m quick. You’re all idiots. I know better than all of you put together. Not at everything, but most. You’ve been assessed world and you’ve failed, horribly! At the very least you’ve failed me. I don’t trust you.

Pain has been the diamond edged sword life has used to cut through that level of bullshit, MY level of bullshit and make me humble enough to grow. The proverbial “piece of shit at the center of the universe,” I believed as much in my rightness back then as I did in my rottenness and your badness.

I know now I’m not as right, you’re not as wrong or bad, and the only rottenness within me was the belief that I wasn’t lovable.

Three years on I’ve begun to learn lessons more gently too but in the early days my pain motivated me to consider listening and taking direction for the very first time in my life.

Through staying sober, taking suggestions, doing the steps, getting help to address my trauma/disconnect/PTSD issues what that old man with coffee breath predicted was proven to be true. Everything HAS changed. From my perspective to where I live, to what I do, to who I love, to who I spend time with - even my likes and dislikes…EV-ER-Y-THING!

That sounds so scary to a new person because of the unknown nature of the outcome and the scale of change. The reality is much more palatable however. All that change happens micro step by micro step. Most of it has come through an uncovering of my actual voice and desires that was so long suppressed because of my various addictions and belief I wasn’t ok.

Like a train moving steadily down the track we just chug along into this new sober life and only in moments of reflection and pause to we look back at the distance travelled and stare with awe at all the rungs crossed.

That level of pain also required me to seek and allow others to truly help me for the first time in my life. Just staying alive in the early of days of sobriety, staying sober, required help. When I tried to do it “on my own” I would relapse. My disease forced my hand. Forced me to ask for help. Forced me to let people in. Little did I know at the time that that connection and trust in trustworthy people would end up being as healing as anything else I’ve done tactically.

In my counselling program at school I’ve since learned that that the trauma inflicted by people in early life can only ever be healed in connection with people (though perhaps not the same ones). To allow myself to be loved and supported was and is a revolutionary act for me. Revolutionary, radical and brave beyond words as it is for anyone suffering from early childhood abuse and trauma. Early in life my brain learned the lesson that people aren’t safe, don’t trust them. I’ve seen my entire experience of existence through that lens. To reprogram that is, well, it will likely be my life’s work. It has also been the key to unlocking my freedom.

So, life today.

I always get a little squirrelly around my “birthday” or “cake” as they say on the West Coast – i.e. the anniversary of my sober date. I’m swept up into a lot of remembrances and feelings. There is some grief still as I continue to mourn the passing of people and parts of my old life. There continues to be the processing of guilt and allowance of what happened, forgiveness of myself and others. There is survivor’s guilt too. There is fear about the future and my ability the continue down this path successfully.

For the first time this year though I can also say that the feeling of hope and joy about what is is equal to if not greater than the mourning over what was lost or couldn’t be. My life, MY life, MY NEW life, is honestly 50,000 times more than I had ever hoped I would be worthy of or get a chance to live. I am honestly living my dream life with my dream girl on my dream coast in my dream city. That being said, more precious to me than all of the acquisition of accomplishments and things and people is the space that now resides within my chest.

The sucking hole of pain and anxiety and grief I ran from for so long has lessoned its grip on every part of my life.

My kids are in town this month. I realized this trip that for the first time in their little lives I can actually sit with my children in stillness and just play or be. Sounds easy but for me previously it was impossible. My anxiety before would have me popping up from task to task. My belief I was failing or had failed them never allowing me to settle in the moment. I’d be worrying about fucking them up or feeling guilty about something or worried about the next thing or trying to control them. I could never just be there with them. In the moment. In the now.

We get more “now” these days. It’s precious and beautiful. It’s some of my favorite times.

The other big thing I’ve noticed is that I can feel uncomfortable, acknowledge that (not run to substances), perhaps share it with another ally and/or soothe and mother myself. It is not the end of the world. I won’t die. My feelings won’t kill me (not feeling them might however.) Usually they just want to be acknowledged, noticed. In the noticing the grip lightens and the moment passes.

The last big change of late is that I can actually feel what I want and need. Get this, sometimes I listen to myself and do it! What?!?

I can pause. I can be still. I can be real. I can tell you the truth. I can say the hard words even though I’m scared you may reject me…sometimes at least.

Today I am less bold artifice and more authentic me. I’m meeting myself for the first time. Guess what? I’m pretty cool. I’m starting to really like me. I wouldn’t say it’s love just yet but there’s a hardcore crush developing for sure. I mean, have you seen my eyes?!?

Just one thing has changed, everything. For this I am so grateful.

This what three years sober looks like for me.

SINCE YOU'VE BEEN GONE

A year and a few days ago one of my best friends died from the disease of addiction.

I am still shocked by that reality. That, in fact, he isn’t here. That I can’t just call him. That I won’t just see him around. He won’t be coming over for a coffee and a chat ever again.

I have been actively mourning him for a year now yet, at moments, it seems so fresh and new.

I am still shocked by the intensity of the grief that I feel whenever I am reminded of him. This happens quite often as I still live in the same place our relationship began and flourished in, I am still friends with some of the people we knew together, I still frequent the same meetings we attended together.

But I have noticed that since he’s been gone I go to those places less, have stopped seeing many of those people, and attend those specific meetings much less frequently.

Sometimes it is just too hard. Sometimes it hurts too much. Sometimes though I wish to process the grief the sight of all those shiny-faced, newly-sober, gay boys standing up at the podium expressing their joy at their newly won freedom from drugs and alcohol is just more than I can actually bear.

Because in their faces all I see is the face of the man I adored and will never be able to hug and love and laugh with again.

So instead I travel the world to all the places he will never go. I make new friends, he can’t meet. I get to live a life of abundance and joy and connection that he won't get to participate in.

Then there’s the guilt.

I have been told that survivor’s guilt with such losses is quite common. I don’t know that knowing that helps 1% of the hurt my heart feels every time I think about what he missed/is missing.

At his funeral one of our mutual “friends” expressed to me, in his grief, that at the end of his life, at the height of his addiction, my best friend hated me. As was relayed by this third party my best friend felt I had abandoned him. This person wanted to make sure I knew that.

I will never forget this moment.

It is absolutely one of the cruelest things anyone has ever done to me, said to me. This reveal of pain and guilt expressed all over me at the most inappropriate moment. I had literally just shared my eulogy. The hall wasn’t even tidied up yet. People were still lingering.

As it was happening I remember taking a deep breath and thinking, “Oh God help me. This person is in a great deal of pain. This isn’t about me. Help me survive this moment with dignity.”

I did manage to move through that moment with some grace. I didn’t punch him in the fucking face! Though for a period of time I wished I had.

It has stuck with me ever since though. I could express here lots of excuses and reality check’s to that statement but I won’t. My relationship with my best friend meant more than a couple of apologetic lines here could ever describe. I will simply say that only the two people involved ever really know what goes on in a relationship, all the nuances. I loved my friend and he loved me and we both tried the best we could at the time to stay in connection and offer support throughout the length and breadth of our relationship. Even to the end.

Still though…the guilt. Could I have? Should I have? Was it right? Was it enough? Why him not me?

If he was here I know how he’d respond, “Jesus, enough already!” while he nervously played with his nose ring and rolled his eyes. Then give me a hug and try to make me laugh.

So in honor of him today I say - enough already! Enough already guilt. Enough already remorse. Enough already trying to forget.

Today I want to live life in all of its Technicolor realities – lump in throat and blurry eyes included. Today I welcome the loss. I welcome the grief. Today I welcome the reminders of a man whose love changed my life forever. Who protected me and loved me and sheltered me and helped me to find sanity in the absolute insanity of early sobriety. Today I choose to remember my friend in love. For better or for worse. I remember.

Footnote – I wrote this yesterday morning. Yesterday afternoon I went on a walk here in Vilnius and as I was walking I was listening to a podcast – Invisibilia from WNYC. Anyway this podcast just randomly (hello universe) happened to be all about psychological resilience to loss. What are some of the factors that make some more resilient to loss than others? Are there trends and patterns to “successfully” moving through grief? Turns out one of the key characters highlighted was a 70+ year old widow who had recently lost her husband of more than five decades to cancer.

This widow was literally speaking my experience describing her feelings of loss, survivor’s guilt, etc…basically everything I’ve outlined in the essay above.

The kicker. At the end of her story she mentioned her husband’s name – Eli. Also my best friend’s name. At this I stood stock still, listened. Then I started crying.

They said, “Eli was his name. In Hebrew the name Eli suggests ascending to God. Something on high.”

Eli - my friend who has ascended.

At the end of the story the widow takes part in a skydive as a way to memorialize her husband and feel closer to him (he had formerly been a paratrooper). During the entire experience the widow chanted, “I love you Eli. I love you Eli. I miss you Eli. I’m doing this for you… I love you Eli. I love you Eli. I miss you Eli. I’m doing this for you…”

The pic used below is from one of the last times I saw Eli in health. This was days before he relapsed. He was on a jog and we ran into each other as we seemed to daily, intending to or not, in the gay-bor-hood. We met at this tree – the wishing tree in the West End in beautiful Vancouver. I was taking pictures of the tree when he ran up to me. We hugged. He looked so vibrant. Tan and strong and healthy, light in his eyes. When I showed him the Beyonce wish he said, “Who the fuck doesn’t?!?” and we laughed. He hugged me again and with promises to get coffee soon he jogged away in the sunny summer day, me standing there watching him go.

I love you Eli. I love you Eli. I miss you. I’m doing this for you.

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THE RETURN

Since October, when I began school to become a counsellor, my life has been a churn of emotion and activity. It has been one of the most challenging experiences I have had in sobriety – addressing directly my emotional baggage. The level of pain that has come has been a surprise. I knew it was gonna get rough – I chose the program I am in specifically because I knew they dug deep. At the same time I was really scared. I mean there’s a reason I’ve been running from this shit for 30 years. I didn’t really know how bad that would actually feel. Turns out I had every reason to be scared.

It has been at times excessive and overall exhausting. Stuff has come up (wounds and grief from my past) that has hit me like a mac truck going 80 miles an hour. I’ve loved it and totally hated it. I’ve raged. I’ve learned. I’ve fought. I’ve dug deep. I’ve run. I’ve sassed and rolled my eyes. I’ve emotionally and spiritually backtracked while concurrently taking remarkable leaps.

Outside of school life’s pace has accelerated. Work has made unexpected demands during the same period and what I had planned to be a calm and easy year on that front has transitioned to one of my busiest (travel and workload wise) of my career. In December I kicked off prep work for my charity’s 2018 season. I continue to commute 3000 miles to see my kids monthly. I got married in January.

In school they talk about anxiety binding behaviors – i.e. when you become uncomfortable what do you do to find relief (rather than address and feel the original anxiety/issue)? This could take many forms and usually shows up as behaviors. Often these behaviors follow a trend of overproducing or under producing. Like overeating or drinking or excessive sex or overworking or getting really “busy.” Under producing may be lying in bed or disconnecting/isolating or Netflix.

It’s all distractions in one form or another.

The irony of these behaviors is that though they seem to provide temporary relief what they are actually doing is further deepening the grove and power in your brain of the original issue.

Here are some of MY anxiety binding behaviors have been in full effect since this fall:

  • Overeating and weight gain which is just fucking awesome – 30 extra pounds of awesome since October to be exact.

  • Excess activity level – I’ve literally flow over 50K miles in the first three months of this year.

  • Overcommitting at work and personally.

  • Due to the work/school busy and travel I am isolating from my friends and feel quite a bit of disconnect from my Van community.

  • I’ve taken cold medicine excessively.

  • Not saying “no.”

  • Focused on my partner and our relationship obsessively while not taking care of myself.

  • I’ve eaten candy excessively.

  • I’ve taken non-narcotic sleeping aids excessively.

  • I stopped working out and doing yoga.

  • Overspending.

  • I’ve used people, kicked up shit from my past, and created drama to not feel my stuff.

  • I’ve picked fights.

  • I’ve been really pissed off at God.

  • I’ve been really pissed off at my brain and how it works.

  • I’ve been really pissed off at school and them trying to help me.

  • I’ve been really pissed off at my wife and her trying to love me.

  • I’ve whined and acted like a five-year-old.

  • I’ve disconnected from my higher power and AA.

  • At one point I even thought of relapsing but I didn’t. I did what sober people do and reached out and got help instead, thankfully. I did however make sure everyone at school know they had PUSHED me to nearly relapse lol

 It’s been a fucking hoot

The cool thing about this is that even in the midst of the churn, I am sober. As they say in AA, and it is true, “As long as you are sober you have choice.” My training in sobriety has taught me that when life gets out of control and you feel like you are starting to lose it…get back to basics. Come home to the program and do what you did to get sober in the beginning.

So about a month ago I decided it was time. That was my choice. I needed help and I needed to get back to basics and stabilize. So I started doing what I did in the beginning – back to basics.

I chose to put everything else (mainly school, relationships, charity work) on a brief hold and I committed to working with a partner on the codependency 12 steps as outlined in Melody Beattie’s brilliant book “Codependents Guide To The Twelve Steps.”

I also starting doing a daily gratitude list and sharing it with a partner - or as MB calls it a "Miracle Buddy."

That sounds more organized that it actually was. I kinda fell back into choosing myself by literally just blowing off everything else and making my daily practice, gratitudes & step work the priority. I never said to any of those other parties, “I am officially de-prioritizing you…” I just did. Unconsciously at first.

I wanted to do the codependency steps because long before alcohol I was addicted to people. I was noticing a trend that a lot of my “busy” had to do with just not saying “no” and not enforcing boundries. I also wanted to try and not repeat some of the patterns in previous relationships with my new wife and I could see them starting.

I wanted to do the gratitude list to regain my perspective.

So I’ve I restarted my morning practice of meditating, journaling, gratitude’s, reading AA literature. I’m doing my steps.

What I realized in slowing things down and getting back into my daily practice is that it’s been really confusing this last little bit. I had a bit of an existential crisis.

See I felt so great for a while after getting sober. Great enough that I was able to finally start figuring out what I actually wanted to do and be. I discovered the idea of counselling when I started my charity. Then I started school and BAM! all the same old bullshit came up. I felt horrible. Horrible like I haven’t in a long time. Not since early sobriety. I started wondering what is the point of all this work if only to feel worse? Will it only ever be more and more churn and pain? Will it ever stabilize? Do you ever feel better or is the new life I’ve signed up for just one about digging into and feeling your shit constantly? I mean feeling LIKE shit constantly. What’s the point of that? If so, then I think I’d rather not.

I realize now I’d begun to lose faith in the process.

Through my daily practice my connection to myself and HP is returning. I’m feeling my gratitude again, the light. I’m seeing hope. Most recently I read these two pages from the great Melody Beattie and it was as though she was speaking my entire experience of the last seven months:

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So for this moment, hope returns. I can feel already that something has shifted. Mostly I’ve regained my connection to my HP and with that faith. The pause is returning. I’m returning to me through meditation. I can see the thoughts again and not be IN THEM quite so entirely.

From here? Who knows. That’s what 34 months in sobriety looks like for me.

Heal

I was walking down the street yesterday. It was a rainy Van City winter day. Light jacket optional but rain gear mandatory.

I had just shared a beautiful morning in bed with my love. It was one of great Sunday mornings full of laughter and playfulness you are gifted early in relationship. Eggs, toast and coffee in bed as you plot out a bright and beautiful future together.

We split at the gym as she went to build her muscle fiber and I headed off to yoga to build… well me. Yoga continues to be one of the greatest gifts I’ve discovered in sobriety. Outside of all the bullshit that can infiltrate any modality that is a call to fractured souls, yoga continues to be a safe harbor for me. There is just something about that movement and breath. It stills the chaos in a way only alcohol ever did for me.

To get to yoga I get to walk through my beautiful city. I like to go a slightly different way each time. This keeps the city fresh and fun for me. Shall I compete with the nouveau riche in Yaletown or a do a more leisurely stroll along the sea wall? Rough it on Hastings or rub elbows with all the tourists in Coal Harbor? As I was considering I was walking. As I walked I suddenly noticed where I seemed to be going. Isn’t it funny how we’re led by our souls at times, before our hearts and minds even know?

I was walking down by the Stadium.

When I noticed this my stomach flipped and my chest tightened. I was heading to that place where my darkest happened. The place I tried to die.

When I first moved to Vancouver I did so by subletting an apartment from my then on again/off again girlfriend. She would go live with her boyfriend (What’s that you say? She had a boyfriend while you guys were? Wait, what? ) while I covered rent, pretended I didn’t have feelings, and tried not to imagine them fucking every night.

I’m sure it was a super subtle way to try and “get her.” I was full of those kinds of plans back then. My life was so out of control that I played at trying to control others to not feel totally insane.

Well as you might imagine this apartment business was a horrible situation (How’s that you ask in shock? But Jess, it sounds so awesome?!?) that I happily betrayed myself into. I was distraught having just left me wife of seventeen years and children to start a new life 3000 miles away. I was racked with guilt but giddy with freedom. I had finally gotten everything I said I ever wanted (not the first time) and was more miserable than I’d ever been (also, not the first time). I was an alcoholic nut job with money to burn in the final stages of meltdown. It was a horrible, dark, time.

It was on the balcony of this apartment that I tried to slit my wrists to get her attention. It was in this apartment that I betrayed myself worse than I ever thought I could. It was in this apartment that the darkness moved in like tar and the most shameful acts of my life occurred. It was in this apartment that I crossed all of the lines I swore I never would. It was in this apartment I made my final plan when my first attempt didn’t work. It was the door of this apartment the RCMP kicked in to save my life after a week of frantic phone calls from my family back in the States.

As you might imagine, I do not visit this area very often. It is riddled with heaviness for me. Imagine my surprise when on the tail of this lovely bright morning of love and security and connection, on my way to my healing place, I found myself walking there.

Upon realization I stopped walking and I paused. I stood still and let the tears come. I’m learning to allow them more now. It was helpful that in the hard downpour of rain a couple extra droplets of tears went entirely unnoticed. I paused some more and then thought, “Of course.”

I’m in school right now. I’m studying to become a Therapist. I am in the first few months of a three-year program so it is early days. But one of the things they have absolutely drilled into us even in this early going is that true healing of trauma can only ever come through connection. Connection is where it “broke” to begin with (whatever your IT is) and so through connection it can heal. Of course then after a morning of absolute love and connection, on my way to another place of healing, I would be a provided an opportunity to heal my connection with myself.

Because, honestly, that’s been the hardest part of this healing journey for me. Building a relationship with myself. Learning to trust myself. Learning that I can keep myself safe. Starting to even love myself.

Hardest of all has been forgiving myself.

Here’s the God’s honest truth…the majority of the shit that’s gone down in my life where I was hurt or betrayed…where I felt shame or sadness…I was older than 17. I can’t blame Mommy & Daddy. I chose every single one of those situations and circumstances. Chose, hell I created 99% of them! Yes, much of it was based on a broken belief system but I DID IT TO ME. Learning that. Seeing that. Knowing that. Knowing that I didn’t keep me safe when I could have has been a very hard pill to swallow. But in knowing that also comes my greatest strength. Born from the grief around that betrayal comes the blinding light of knowledge. Because I know I can now make different choices. Because I know, I can choose to keep myself safe. I will still make mistakes and I will still change my mind but because I know, I never have to be victimized the way I was when I did it to myself. Self-betrayal will always be the deepest, hardest, cut and now I know I don’t have to do that anymore.

So I walked down the hill to the stadium. Down to Citadel Parade, the street where I lived. I looked up at the balcony where I almost ended it all and I cried. I let the rain wash the tears from my face, wash the shame away. I held myself and took care of myself as the emotion rolled through me.

When I was done I took a picture of the building because I never wanted to forget that moment. The moment I met me at my darkest, took care of myself and forgave the unforgivable.

As I walked on to yoga class, my iphone shuffled to the next song and through my earbuds I heard Tom Odell sing his heartbreakingly beautiful song, “Heal” (I shit you not).

The Universe is an amazing place and I, we, are adored. This is what 2 ½ years sober looks like for me.

Heal - Tom Odell

Take my mind
And take my pain
Like an empty bottle takes the rain
And heal, heal, heal, heal

And take my past
And take my sense
Like an empty sail takes the wind
And heal, heal, heal, heal

And tell me somethings last
And tell me somethings last

Take a heart
And take a hand
Like an ocean takes the dirty sand
And heal,…

Take a heart
And take a hand
Like an ocean takes the dirty sand
And heal, heal, hell, heal

Take my mind
And take my pain
Like an empty bottle takes the rain
And heal, heal, hell, heal

And tell me somethings last”

Frozen Heart

The whole hive of snowflakes was abuzz. They had heard from the snow queen that the Annual Sprinkle was just moments from commencing. This was the time each year that every snowflake dreamed of. The moment they would reach their full potential, leap into the ether from their cloud based home, into an unknowable and exciting future.

The giant clock display above Hive 217-B counted down the hours, minutes and seconds - 2:14:05, 2:14:04, 2:14:03… The snowflakes were clumped together near the edge of the cloud surface, apex to apex, eagerly chattering with their neighbors.

“I can’t wait to test out my flying skills – weave, turn, redirect, sink…” said Marcy from cloud Level Nine.

Roy from the Ice Region laughed in his drawl, “Hahaha! The word is that hive 218A, B AND C just missed the window last night. Conditions warmed unexpectedly - and now they’re in the back of the line. Suckers!”

“Feel that breeze! It’s getting cooler by the moment!” Freddie beamed with her fellow Level Twos.

Janet from Cold Peak giggled with her pals, “I can’t wait to see Gary! You know Gary from hive 214? The one with those AMAZING dendrites? Right! Anyway, he went two days ago and we’ve planned a date on the surface.”

All was light and excitement and chatter and ease. Every flake eager to begin the next chapter. Leap into the unknown.

All except for snowflake Sophie. Sophie sat in the back of the cluster. Just slightly removed from the crowd but still part of. She sat looking at the black void of the exit, the clock ever ticking away in the background, and at all the smiling faces of her friends and neighbors.

Inside her mineral heart hurt.

Sophie ever merry and bright. Sophie, funny Sophie – wasn’t funny or bright here. Sophie who everyone loved and who everyone felt a connection to felt terribly alone in this moment. Sophie felt so sad.

She wasn’t scared. Though sweet and funny she was a badass little flake. Fierce and pointy in all the right ways, she could protect herself. Sophie had a sense of adventure and a zest for life. She was affable and easy going but was an adventure seeker and a true doer at heart. No, it wasn’t a fear of the unknown OUT THERE that scared her. It was the fear on the unknown IN HERE. As she thought this, the little flake instinctively took one of her six elegant branches and bended it to touch her inner mineral heart buried deep inside her chest.

As a young flake in school they had all learned how they formed. ”Snowflakes nucleate around dust, mineral or organic particles in moisture-saturated, subfreezing air masses.” Professor Needle had said.

Now she sat – prong to mineral – and thought, “What is this feeling? Why am I so sad?”

See Sophie had always seemed a sparkling little creature externally. Though a handful at times, she always seemed so happy and beloved and wanted from all of those around her.

But inside, deep inside, Sophie never felt wanted. Though she had never admitted it to anyone, she deeply suspected that beneath her sparkly white crystals, her successes, her cheery flake demeanor, lay a dirty rotten core. Not a noble iron or copper particle but rather dead, ugly, dust.

Because of this suspicion Sophie always tried so hard. She tried at this and she tried at that and most of the time she was successful. Everything was about effort and reward for her, nothing was about ease or allowance. She liked to take action. She liked to control. She liked to force outcomes and push through. So it shocked her that in this ultimate moment of doing she found herself pausing.

In that pause she felt.

What she felt surprised her.

Because inside the little flake, in the deep recesses of her mineral she could feel a chasm of sadness that seemed bigger than the whole world. Surely it was so big it could swallow her alive as well as all the other flakes on her cloud.

Overwhelmed by the feeling and not knowing what else to do, Sophie sat. Prong to mineral heart. And as the voices around here continued to ramp up and chatter in excitement, and the clock ticked down in the distance, Sophie allowed herself stillness and silence and pause. In that pause she felt into the deep darkness of her mineral.

At first it was all darkness and despair. Her little tentacles shook, and icy tears dripped from her eyes as she allowed the pain inside her to be felt. Eventually though she noticed there were edges to it. It was her, but it wasn’t all she was, and it wouldn’t suck her in entirely. Or her cloud community. Feeling this would not end her or her world.

She asked the pain, “Are you all I am? Is there nothing more? Am I truly just a piece of dirt? Broken, dead and ugly? “

She paused after asking the most earnest question of her life, nervous, waiting an impossibly long moment for a response. What boomed back from the very depths of her mineral heart, louder and surer than anything she had ever heard before was, “Of course not sweetheart. You are love. You are loved. You are enough.”

Sophie took a deep breath and looked around her again. Her eyes glistened. This time with ice tears of gratitude. “I am enough.” She whispered to herself and as she said it she knew it. Well maybe not 100% but enough. She knew it enough to start. Then she felt it. She had a sense her mineral was warming under her attention.

Though less sad, she still felt an aching, a loneliness. As she looked around the room she thought about how she had always reached out to others in the world, ached for connection her whole flaking life! She was beginning to realize here, in this moment, perhaps she had always kept something back. Though she had wanted connection it was truly the thing that had scared her the most. It scared her because she thought perhaps others might see her worst fear. They might see something rotten deep inside her. Something unlovable and bad. She had always kept something hidden to keep herself safe.

It didn’t feel so safe anymore. Now it just felt lonely.

Then in a flash of inspiration she though, “Ssince we’re all the same, all minerals wrapped in ice, perhaps others have felt this way too? Perhaps others have held themselves back? Perhaps others feel lonely and unknown? Perhaps if I reach out a tentacle, I will be met?”

And so, she went to the nearest cluster of flakes – Marcy and Roy and Freddie and Janet. They were giggling over some quip as she stepped close and was connected in.

Marcy look at little Sophie’s face, saw her tear stained appendages and asked, “Is everything ok?”

Sophie took the deepest breath of her life and on the exhale of a single breath sputtered out, “I’m so scared sometimes that my core mineral is a piece of dirt. The dirtiest darkest piece of dirt. And that if I let anyone of you see it, nobody will be my friend. And so, I’ve always kept something separate, something apart and I don’t want to do that anymore. Cause we’re about to jump off this cloud into our new lives and we may never see one another again and the idea of going into my next life without ever having been known in this one makes me so sad I want to cry. And I thought maybe I wasn’t the only one that felt this way. That maybe some of you may too and I thought before our seconds run out I’d just like you all to know. I love you!”

And then she breathed. And looked at the stunned face around her as they took in her words.

Marcy was the first to speak in a quiet a halting voice, eyes to the ground, “I thought I was the only one who suspected she might be made of dirt.” Then she looked up. Right into Sophie’s eyes.

Sophie considered Marcy and Marcy considered Sophie and in that moment, they both knew they weren’t alone.

Almost all at once all the other flakes began to speak. Sharing their fears and hopes and dreams. They stepped closer and tighter together with each share. Tentacle to tentacle, tear stained eye to tear stained eye, mineral heart to mineral heart.

And as the clock ticked down, marking the start of the next adventure, they were seen. Really seen. Then the buzzer buzzed.

The last thing Sophie remembered, as she jumped into her new life, the cold wind on her face, tentacles splayed, was how warm her mineral felt and how ready she was for whatever transformation was about to occur.

That didnt work. Do the opposite. What the hell do you have to lose?

There has been a lot of life happening of late. A lot happening, a lot less writing.

I feel called to come back to this practice now though. I’ve missed it. I’ve wondered whatever would I write about as I am as far away from misery as I have ever been. Nothing is blowing up. Nobody is doing me wrong. Nobody is pissing me off. No walls are crumbling around me. So, what to write about? Can peace be interesting too or is just misery that’s tantalizing?

Here’s my current world in a snapshot:

I’ve good days and less good days.
I’m forgiving myself more.
I’m accepting imperfection more.
I’m being responsible more.
I’m loving myself more.
I can still be an asshole.
I can still act like a 5 yr. old.
I can still be 100% irresponsible.
I can still have tantrums.
I can still disengage, ignore, run and hide.
I still can act like a raging alcoholic.
I still storm.

All in however I seem to have quicker access to a valley of peace within me than I have ever had before.

Like the proverbial rubber band, this lady is snapping back quicker and quicker. And in the return, there is much more solidity as I continue to refuse to run and hide from the ouchy bits. I’m doing the opposite of my initial (programmed) reaction mostly and it continues to work.

Want to push her away? Pull her closer and open up more instead.
Want to fight and scream? Pause and listen.
Want to run and hide? Stand strong, act and be seen.
Want to drink? Go to a meeting.
Want to deflect? Take responsibility.
Want to hate? Love.
Want to disappear? Speak up.

The cumulative result of these actions seems to be a solidity in self I heretofore thought impossible. There remains incongruity between inner and outer worlds at times but it is happening less and less.

The less I push and force the more things seem to just be happening. Things previously thought impossible are occurring regularly and more powerfully. I am starting to really get to the core of an issue or two and forgive, in peace.

Perhaps I can share a victory...

I’ve written previously about a girl who looms large in my emotional world, though now rarely in my physical one. She has been an amazing catalyst for me. We met when my relapse started. Through her I was introduced to so much of what has changed me for the better. Through her I experienced amazing amount of hurt and toxicity and damage. We were awful with and to one another. We were at times amazingly sublime.

Outside of my parents and children I have never loved anyone more. Outside of my father, I have never hated anyone more. Outside of my parents I have never been hurt by anyone more. Outside of alcohol I have never been addicted to anything more. Trying to extricate myself from our story has been the hardest emotional hill I think I’ve ever had to climb. It has been a daily struggle at times and it has been real.

As real as fighting my addiction and as equally life threatening.

There have been many attempts and iterations. We’ve had total contact and none and everything in between. I’ve vacillated between identifying her as evil incarnate and the love of my life. From dead to me to my absolute obsession to just another bozo on the bus. It’s been fucking messy at times. I’ve been a fucking mess about it at times. And at times it’s just been, meh.

Here’s what I’ve come to and it is as simple as it is powerful and potentially freeing - it was never about her. Ever. It was always me. Always.

BOOM!!

And goddamn it!!!

Here’s what I’m finding folks...it’s never about anyone else. It’s just me and my relationship with myself and my higher power.

When I am the most uncomfortable with me, I will absolutely create the circumstances in my world to reinforce that. If I don’t like me, I will absolutely create a world that reflects fear and pain and dislike. If I’m angry with me the world with be a hate filled morass. If I’ve no patience with me the world will seem to have none as well. If I can’t be kind to myself the world will seem the unkindest thing ever.

Everything I thought, she was doing to me I was choosing to participate in. Every unkindness, I helped create. Each fucked-up experience, I put myself in a position to have.

So, that’s shit. 

Listen, I’m not happy about any of this. It would be much easier for me if all you assholes would just change already so I don’t have to. What I’m finding though, is that it just doesn’t work that way. They say it’s an inside job and goddamn it, I think they’re right.

Again, not happy about it. Still eye rolling, gum popping, hand on hip-ing and clearly cursing about it. Curse all I want I continue to return to the same truth and these days I really believe in true. Real. These days real and true are everything to me.

The reason this relationship has been such a hard battle was not really because of her. It was because in reality I was battling myself. I was battling myself for my right to exist. I’ve been fighting my innate and core “basement” belief that I am a piece of shit. Am I willing to just love me? Am I worthy of love? Am I ok? If so, what the hell does that look like?

I have no practice in moving through the world accepting myself as a worthy, whole, being. It seems as impossible and scary to me and my “little Jess” as a life without booze seemed to me two and half years ago.

Yet, here I am. Sober. So, if that impossibility is possible, what else is?

How am I now healing this wound today? I am acknowledging myself, taking 100% responsibility for my part, asking for forgiveness, and trying to be nicer to me. I did what I did, participated as I did, because I thought it was all I was worth. If I continue to work on believing I have more worth, perhaps I won’t have to create/participate in that kind of pain again. 

This is my work. 

And interesting or not, this is what 30 months sober looks like to me. Next time I’ll try to have more car crashes and topless broads ;)

Liberation

A week ago yesterday my life changed.

Isn’t that a dramatic statement? Well, if a retired musical theater actress-yogi-recovering alchie-come blogger can’t be dramatic, who can?!?

It is dramatic perhaps, it is also very true. You see a week ago today I watched and felt my way through the closing ceremony of a charity I created. I say “I” like it was just me – it wasn’t. There were more angels than I could possibly list here who got involved and helped to make it happen. But the royal “I” got to sit through the closing ceremony of Liberation In This Lifetime’s first Reset Retreat.

Liberation is the fulfillment of a lifetime dream for me. You see, when I was little I had this mantra each night I would repeat to myself all about my future. It was a critical tool I used to help me survive the very painful and chaotic experiences I was living through.

My mantra included some key elements: I was gonna have stuff and kids and security and lots of success. There was another part of this mantra that I’ve never really shared before. I wanted to help people.

I didn’t know exactly how this last part would materialize or what it looked like but I had a sense, even then, that it would be a place people in pain, poor people (like I was) could go and feel loved, wanted, taken care of and believed in – basically all of things I didn’t feel like I got way back when.

I haven’t shared this last little bit about my mantra before because I never actually believed I would. I never believed I could do it. I never believed I was worthy of living this dream.

I’m pausing here after having written those last sentences and holding myself as I rock and allow a couple of tears to fall. It hurts to know and feel that pain of not believing in myself. How much pain I’ve put myself through due to this misunderstanding.

It is absolutely breathtaking how much I never have believed I was worthy of my dreams. When I did attain something I always attributed it to luck. It was never MY doing. I’d either gotten lucky or clearly I’d scammed my way into whatever positive result occurred. When I didn’t get my golden ring du jour I blamed everyone else for what I didn’t attain. It’s your fault or Mom & Dad’s fault or my shitty gene’s fault or society at-large fault. I now see that each time I didn’t obtain something, it was actually because I just didn’t believe I was worthy. I stopped when I hit a roadblock or created my own. I listened when others told me I couldn’t because in my heart of hearts I believed them.

This dream that became Liberation was like that but even more so. It was so precious to me that I didn’t even verbalize it to people (accept maybe when drunk or when trying to impress someone with my “goodness”). It just rattled around my brain. A whisper, a calling of my higher self that I poo-pooed and ignored for years.

To me it seemed like it was just impossible and something I would take to my grave. It would be my death bed regret for sure but you can’t have it all, I believed.

Well about seven months ago now I decided I wasn’t going to ignore it any more. See I have had the painful but liberating experience of having survived the impossible already. I fucking lived. I survived a disease and brain that wanted me dead. I am not dead. My very existence without drugs and alcohol and depression seemed entirely impossible to me a little over two years ago. But it has happened. I’m sober and I’m living. I am not depressed. In fact, I’m thriving. So if that impossibility is possible, what else is?

With this new understanding and the numerous tools I’ve acquired in my twenty odd years as a project manager in Corporate America, I put together a plan. I did what I’ve taught others to do at work – focus less on the goal (the uncontrollable) and focus instead on what can be done here, today, now (the controllable) to help start progress towards “this thing.”

Then DO IT. Regardless of whether you think you can, DO IT. Regardless of all the nightmare scenarios your brain cooks up, DO IT. Regardless of how impractical or impossible it might seem, DO IT.

I gathered a bunch of my favorite people together in Vancouver and we created a Board of Directors. We named ourselves and “this thing” became “Liberation.” We started talking about how we’d bring Liberation to life.

It was a bit of work and lots of PowerPoints but all of the sudden we had a mission statement and goals and a logo and a website and a training curriculum. We began to put it out to the universe and like lightning others started showing up – teachers and chef’s and practitioners. We began raising money and BOOM (it wasn’t BOOM or magical actually. Actually we just plodded through micro step by micro step) we had an application and people were being admitted and the retreat center was booked, rides were being coordinated and we were buying food. Lastly, in the ultimate sign of realness, we had t-shirts made.

That’s when it hit me, how real this actually was going to be. There was something about holding a piece of cloth with a logo I’d had made a few months before in my hand that struck me – this was actually happening! I’ll never forget that moment. Standing in the parking lot of the store, having just picked the top shirt out of the bag to have a look, softness of the blue cloth in my hand, summer sun blazing on my face, moist eyes closed and my lips moving silently over and over, “thank you, thank you, thank you…”

Ten days or so later I was baking in the sun again in our outdoor yoga shala at Liberation. Each day of our retreat was built around a theme of love. The final day and theme was, “Giving Love.” And I got to witness each beautiful soul return what they’d been given all week. Sharing talents and moments, hearts blazing. Open. Joyful. Free. Loved. It was just awesome.

I had the feeling about half-way through the experience like I was maybe having a heart attack. A love heart attack. My heart literally hurt from the amount of love it was experiencing. I kept saying all week, and it was especially true during the closing ceremony, “I feel like the Grinch and my chest is two sizes too small for my heart.”

It was true. It was. Now I see that not only has my chest expanded to fit my heart but my life has as well.

I am more grateful than there are words to describe. This all started when two years ago I lay in my hospital bed and made the conscious decision that I would try. I would try life, for real. I am so incredibly grateful that I made that choice. I am so incredibly grateful for all of the love I have learned to receive as a result.

Liberation indeed.

https://www.liberationinthislifetime.org/

https://www.gofundme.com/liberationinthislifetime

 

The girl has left the party

I’m going to be honest here. I’ve been struggling a bit with E’s passing. Yes, of course, there’s been an enormous amount of grief for me in coming to terms or beginning to come to terms with the finality of death, the reconciliation that that finality requires. I miss my friend and the idea that he only now lives in my memory, our memory, makes my heart ache in a way I don’t know that I have the language to describe.

But more than that I grieve for how he passed and the details of that passing. That has been hardest for me to get over or through. I feel sad. I feel guilt. I feel blame and I feel remorse.

I spoke to a friend about this recently and he said to me:

“Oh honey. Do you remember when we were drinking how we were? How messy we were? How we were by 3am when they turned the lights on and it was time to leave? How when we’d be leaving the party it was never graceful. Our hair would be all jacked up, makeup sliding off our faces, a little throw up on our shirt, maybe our skirt tucked in  our underwear, walking with a limp cause we’d broken the heal off one of our shoes?

We were never pretty when we left the party. Do you remember?

But we shouldn’t confuse how we left the party with who we are. We are so much more than the throw up on our shirt or the skirt tucked in our underwear.”

And so today, I’d like to focus not on how our dear friend left the party but rather, on how he lived. The bright, gorgeous, warm and epically brilliant light that was E.

E loved fun. There was nothing better than when E would get a sparkle in his eye, some plot in mind, and rally his friends to make it happen. Whether it was kidnapping a buddy outside a meeting for a long weekend away or rallying a group for a midnight showing of Rocky Horror or camping with a bunch of city folk queers. His enthusiasm for adventure and fun were unending. He’d get that silly giggle and shake his hands. All teeth and vibrating energy.

I’ll really miss plotting adventures with him.

E was quick. His mind was incredibly sharp. He could make me laugh more than anyone I have ever met before or since. His humor belied an amazing intelligence. Not much got past E. His humor was sharp and cutting and yet somehow warm. At the same time he was silly. One of his favorite things to do would be to send me the most grotesque things via text to make me laugh. Horrible, horrible things he’d trolled from the darkest edges of the internet. They were shocking but so very funny. And somehow he knew how to time them so they reached me at the most inappropriate moments – like in the middle of a board meeting or a parent teacher conference. So awful and so very, very funny.

I’ll really miss his laugh.

E loved the arts. This was one of our favorite things we shared. We’d have long, deep, discussions dissecting literature and music and fine art. He was always game for seeing a play with me or heading to the gallery. He loved fringe artists and festivals. Work on the cutting edges. The avant garde. The more cringe worthy the better for E. Like the movie showing we went to at a queer film festival that was full of shocking shorts like the one with artist who made out with her parents and filmed it. Or the one with the artist who cut off her breasts and filmed it. Artist barfing over each other and cutting things off – he loved that shit.

He also had a taste for the more traditional art scene. I bought my favorite piece while with E on a culture crawl a couple years back.

He could convince even the most uniformed that the experience of culture (a symphony or an opera perhaps) would be good for them. Many a young gay man in Vancouver was bamboozled by E with promises of adventure and excitement only to find themselves front row center listening to Mozart or Mahler, much to their chagrin and his mirth.

I’ll really miss exploring the arts with my friend and the discussions we had.

E was an amazing advocate. He had an incredible sense of social justice. E loved his queer community in all of its flavors – Gay, Lesbian, Trans, etc... I learned a great deal about Tran’s advocacy from my friend.

E loved his positive community. He educated so many about living with HIV, including me. I could ask him frank and bold questions. He would never judge me. He’d just kindly, patiently and honestly answer. E wanted to help his community and felt passionately about reaching out. He did this through his work at Rain City and with other groups like Positive Living.

E loved his sober community too.  He volunteered his time, took service positions and was always there whenever someone reached out for help. He was brave in his support for his fellow addicts and alcoholics and I always admired his ability to support people in the deepest darkest places. He’d go places most of us would cringe at. I personally know of at least three people whose lives were saved by E’s intervention. He brought people to hospitals, sat by bedsides, found them in alleys bringing a burger and having a chat, took people to meetings, held hands. E would march. E would petition. E called. E did. The world is better for E having been here.

I will miss E’s doings and giving voice to those who otherwise wouldn’t have one.

Finally, E was a great friend. He loved his friends so and made us all feel very special.

E was a magnificent hug giver. He’d hold you tight and a little too long as though he knew he only had so many hugs to give in this life and wanted to make the most out of each one.

E was a great companion and talker. We’d have amazing discussions on feminism and sex and relationship and queer rights and drug use and bath houses and art and homelessness and HIV what self- help book we were obsessed with and Abraham. Nothing better than being on a road trip with my buddy. Filling hours of travel time with stories and laughter and observation.

E could listen too. How many times I called him weeping about some overblown personal tragedy and he’s just kindly hold space while I babbled and then say the three or four exact sentences I needed to hear to snap out of my self-imposed melancholy.

E was kind and thoughtful. Always bringing little gifts or calling on a special anniversary or holiday you shared or he knew was important. E was reliable and trust worthy. E showed up. He came to my graduation, was often the first one to arrive at my parties, visited me in the hospital, helped me move, and was at my cake.

I will miss all the special moments we shared, too numerous to talk about here. I will miss the hugs. I will miss the connection. I will miss reminiscing. I will miss laughing together and sharing the journey.

Our E has left the party. He’s dancing somewhere now. Light and free. Giving God a fucking earful about this and that. Still advocating I’ve no doubt. Eating the best goddamn beet salad ever! He’s free and I celebrate his freedom. I celebrate the good work he did while he was here. I am so, so very grateful for E. So grateful for the time I did get to share with him. So grateful for our friendship. So grateful for our picnic lunches at the beach. Grateful for my sobriety in which he played a major role. So grateful for his love and for always making me feel like a goddamn princess.

I will love you forever my friend. Thank you.

When your best friend dies

Your heart hurts

You feel like you can’t breathe

You just miss him

You can’t believe that he only lives now in your memory

You can’t believe how happy memories now hurt

You don’t know what to do, don’t know what to do, don’t know what to do, don’t know what to do

You reach to call but there is no number that connects you anymore

You are happy his pain has ended but don’t understand the point of all that pain to begin with

You think maybe God is a fucking asshole

You wonder how flesh and bone and spirit can evaporate into the past as though it never was

You wonder why

You imagine the horror of the final moments and weep again for your love

You wish you had been there to hold his hand, ache to provide that comfort

You wish he had known how lovable he was

You are mad

So so so mad

You search for the last details but then wish you hadn’t once you learn

You cry more than you ever knew you could

You want just one more breath, hug, kiss, laugh

Please just one more

You miss him

Your heart hurts

AMENDS - Physical

There are many debts that one accrues in life. Some physical, some emotional, some financial. I don’t think this is unique to those dealing with addiction. I do think perhaps with addiction the severity of the experience can be somewhat amplified.

The whole trifecta of debt collection has shown up in my life of late and it has been interesting to watch the unfolding of these matters coming to a head and my new responses in relation to them.

Here I’d like to start with physical as it is top of mind due to a recent surgery. I will address the emotional and financial during another blog.

So it may seem obvious to you reading this that drinking about two bottles of vodka a day for nearly a year would have a significant physical impact on your body. Yeah? Well good on you. Not me. My Peter Pan like view at times of myself and life blocked this realization. So it has been somewhat surprising news to me.

See I have always been so unaware of my physical self. This poor body and her aches and pains were only ever paid attention to when they reached mission critical. I would do things and just assume my body would show up and comply. I am always shocked and amazed when this doesn’t happen.

Run a half marathon without training? Why not. Exclusively eat a high sugar and white flour diet and have the energy reserves for fulltime job, fulltime parenting, and fulltime life? Done. Go to work on Monday after being in the hospital on Friday due to organ failure due to drinking? Sure. Travel around the world in a different time zone each day, sleep minimally and sporadically, and each shitty road food but somehow maintain perfect mental processing, positive attitude, sobriety and high level of physical activity? Of course.

I see now how noble my physical self has actually been my whole life. Fighting and showing up for me. Even when all I could ever offer her in return was hate and disgust with descriptions like, “I’m fat. I’m ugly. I’m slow. I’m out of shape. I’m stupid.”

Here’s the nuts and bolts of my physical debt due to not only my addiction but forty some odd years of maltreatment to my body - I’ve got some things.

My teeth seem to feel very strongly about NOT staying in my head. I have some irreversible long term organ inflammation and damage as a result of the drinking. My brain function was damaged from the booze for a while- i.e. I couldn’t read more than a paragraph, couldn’t hold attention, etc. Kidneys and liver aren’t super psyched. I am prone to ulcers and bleeds and have pretty severe anemia. My intestines have opinions about what I eat and when and are sure to communicate their displeasure to me when I veer off track.

All of this requires ongoing treatment and observation and care. CARE. Self-care. Self-love. Love.

Radical concepts.

She who could never even make a Dr. appointment much less show up to it now does so somewhat regularly - somewhat. Green stuff now passes my lips with increasing frequency - occasionally. I even fucking floss - sometimes.

Progress not perfection.

It is all love. It is all compassion. Finding compassion for my physical self has been a remarkable learning. Showing up for myself (sleeping when I am tired. Saying “No.” Not overcommitting) is a huge lesson and is new behavior.

Just mentally speaking to and of my physical self in kind and loving terms is new. Here is one way I’ve recently noticed this change.

I am a bath taker. I do so nearly daily and only take showers when it is required only due to time constraints. Baths make me happy. It is my ultimate “me” time.

I had a shocking moment of clarity a few months back during a bath. I had recently seen a video online about women and their critical body talk. That video made me hyper aware of how many of us speak to ourselves quite caustically. I was shocked when taking a bath, after seeing this video, to realize how I too was speaking negatively myself about the body I was seeing.

 As I washed this amazing physical vessel that has shown up for me again and again I would spew the most awful, vile, thoughts at her. “Ugh! Your feet are so big. You can never find shoes like a normal person. Ugh! Your calves are so ugly. They’re so disproportionate. You can never wear shorts or short skirts. Ugh! Look at the cellulite on your thighs. Gross. Ugh! Your belly is disgusting. Ugh! Your arms, I hate your arms. You need plastic surgery. Ugh!...” And so on and so forth.

When I actually stood back and listened to what I was saying to myself I was stunned. I would never allow anyone to speak to me this way. I would never speak to another this way or be ok hearing them voice these thoughts about themselves. But there I was, each morning, participating in this trance of hate towards my poor, beautiful, body.

A self-hate ritual.

I decided then and there that this needed to change. I now make a concerted effort when washing to go through a ritual of thanksgiving to each body part. “Thank you feet for always showing up and taking me where I want to go towards all the good in my life. Thank you calves for being so strong and helping me have so many great experiences like yoga and hiking. Thank you thighs…” etc.

This simple change has been very powerful for me (again, when I remember to do it). It allows me to start from a foundation of love rather than hate regarding my physical self. It’s simple. It’s practical. It works for me.

A self-love ritual.

My beautiful body, like a plant that finally gets turned towards the light, is basking in the love. I used to be on eight different medications for physical and emotional maladies. Now I am now on none. My body is healing. I can read again. I can concentrate. I can function. My nervous system has calmed down. My brain is healing. She/I am healing in the love. She/I am getting stronger in the love.

I am very grateful for this awakening and for the opportunity to pay back the debt, with joy, to this spectacular physical vessel.

20 Months

There is a divinity in friendship and community that, for me, trumps nearly all other healing methods.

THIS is the unspoken power of AA and programs like it. It is the healing and support found in the power of the group.

Last night I had the privilege of sitting around a table with some of the most stunning (spiritually and physically) people I have ever known. We were celebrating one of our little gaggle's eight years in sobriety. We laughed. We commiserated. We told stories about our pasts and insanities. We talked of cleaning up messes and our natural inclination towards chaos and troublemaking. We both tittered and teared over the times we've "burned shit down" both on purpose and not. We joked about how we couldn't even drink water un-alcoholically. We spoke of pain. We commiserated over our dating shenanigans with women and men; normies and non; al anons and fellow alcoholics. We talked about the tools we've learned and how often we still choose not to use them. We reaffirmed that when we do that magical things seem to happen in our lives.

Mostly though we just laughed. Like knee slapping, nose snorting, side hugging laughed. It was authentic and real and so very divine.

There was no pretense. There was no bullshit. There was no role playing. There was no pretending to be sober - we just were. Each woman was so authentically herself, open and visible, unarmored. And it was enough. More than enough it was fully embraced and accepted and loved.

I paused at one point and looked around the table at the collection of these dynamic program women. Tattooed and pierced and plunky and punk and yogic and not. The easy sophistication. The absolute presence in the moment. The brutal honesty. The courage to tell the truth on and about themselves. The bravery to attempt to live life on life's terms with compassion. The absolute goodness and depth that sparked in each set of eyes - green, blue, brown.

These women vibrated with life and health and beauty and clarity and everything I've ever wanted to be.

And then I realized I was one of them.

It was a good night.
 

Thoughts from the plane

The words may never be perfect, say them anyway.
The moment may never be exactly right, try it anyway.
You may not be 100% ready, take a step anyway.
Don't get too caught up in the preciousness of an action. If the time has come for action, do.

How much of life we spend in waiting for perfection - in ourselves, in a moment, in another, in an action, in the words?

How much of our life have we spent not living, stagnating on perpetual hold?

You don't have to have it all mastered before you start. You don't have to have every answer to every question calculated to begin movement. You don't have to have it all figured out. You never will anyway. And even if you could have it all figured out it is highly likely to change once you begin. So why waste all that energy plotting and planning for a future that may not ever arrive? Or may arrive totally differently than you are imagining?

Instead breathe. Be here now.

Worry less about the end goal. Think more about what small step today you can take. Then do.

You are enough. You have always been enough.
 

A Myth

Jem the celestial creature was created in the realm of the gods. Her sparkle was total and laugh contagious as was the condition of her kind of spirit faeries. Even in that realm she was distinguishable for her light and beauty. She was also legendary among the fairy set for her inquisitive nature. She watched and asked lots of questions, sometimes to the chagrin of her fellow fairies who were peppered day and night with, “Why?” and “What for?” Her charm so total however that even a temporary annoyance would be transitory in nature and quickly forgiven.

Her life in the kingdom of the Gods was one of music and merriment. Sunny days in flowered fields shared with her fairy sisters and their warm embraces. Jem wanted for nothing. Her life one full of joy.

One day a messenger of the Gods came to her little meadow. Her presence was requested at once for an audience with the holy order.

She bounded to the great cloud on which the Gods held audience excited by whatever it might be they were calling on her for. Entering the space Jem was momentarily breathless at the vibration of power exuding from the creatures before her. Some took human form, some animal. Some had many heads and limbs, some less. Here was Brahma and Saraswati, there Vishnu and Lakshmi. Shiva and Parvathi. Ganesh, Rama and Jem’s personal favorite for he always made her laugh – Hanuman. And many, many more. The space was layered in clouds to infinity and on each sat a figure. The energy of the space was magnetic and resonant like a deep OM. There was a warmth too. In each set of eyes that now shone upon her there exuded a sincere knowingness and deep compassion.

Parvathi, the Divine Mother, was the first to speak.

“Dear Jem we have called you before us today because we need your help. Humanity needs your help. We would like to send you to the physical realm on a special journey for us.”

Jem’s little fairy heart expanded in her chest at the very thought. Oh the excitement! An adventure to be sure. She felt giddy and light at the thought.

Parvathi continued,” You are to journey to the physical world. The physical world has much pleasure. But dear Jem, it is also full of much danger and darkness for such a beautiful creature as you. Many in that realm have forgotten who they are. They have forgotten their true spiritual nature and so there is much sadness and pain.”

Jem felt her excitement dim and doubt began to creep in.

Vishnu spoke next, “You will have to leave this place. You will not remember your fairy-ness and your home. Your Fairies sisters and family will no longer be by your side. Your journey will be to remember who you really are and find your pathway back to here, to you.”

All of the sudden Jem felt very sad and lonely at the thought. “I am scared” she said, “Why do you send me to such a place when I am happy here and loved.”

“We send you because the world needs your light. They have forgotten they are light and so we must send reminders in the form of people to walk among them. You are one of those reminders. In your journey through their light and dark you will shine a path for others to follow.”

“Will I be hurt?” asked Jem in a shaky voice, a tear falling from her beautiful spirit.

Sarasvati moved to hug the little sprite and then spoke, “You will feel the entire range of the human experience and yes, this includes pain. But we promise that we are always here. You can always come back to us in moments of stillness and meditation to take shelter and recharge and be reminded of who you really are. We are watching and taking great interest in your journey. You will help a great many people.”

“What if I am not up to the task? What if I can’t find the path? What if I fail?”

Ganesh responded, “You can’t fail. Every path is THE path. Every path leads home. You can’t get it wrong. No wrong path exists. There are just lots of different paths and if you don’t like the path you are on you can always just step to a new one. The point is not the path but the walker. How you walk the path and feel on the journey is the point and in this we have great confidence in you. You are love and shine love so brightly. The world needs your love.”

Jem knew this to be true deep in her total knowingness. She steeled herself, wiped the lingering moister from her cheek and squared her shoulders. She finally and firmly nodded her acceptance of the challenge of the Gods and in a blink she was born into life the dark haired, red faced, third daughter of the baker and his wife.

Before she was even born there were expectations and dreams and curses and anxiety. The household was already strained to the breaking point under the weight of debts and mismatched couplings. The baker had been injured severely in a baking accident which made work hard to keep under the best of circumstances. These were not the best of circumstances. With each failure and loss the monster in him grew finding escape and release on his little family. In the light of day he raged and smashed and threatened. Behind the anonymity of dark places and locked doors he crept and preyed.

The wife was of noble birth but had married down classes to escape the tight constrictions of her family. Her father, a nobleman, suffered from his own ailing’s of mind and body. He broke under the expectations of duty and honor and fell into drink to escape. His lashing at his daughter, the Baker’s wife, took the form of inaccessibility, cerebral boxing matches and verbal acidity. His daughter yearned for light and ease and escape and thought she had found it in the charming baker.

The baker and his wife met at a community gathering of many villages. The villagers were gathering to protest the latest mandates of the king. The king had declared war on a distant sovereignty. Young knights were dying in faraway places with unpronounceable names.  The two united over a common purpose to fight for fairness and freedom for all. Sparks flew and they were off. They ran into the fray to fight for justice. They ran into the fray to protest inequality. They fought and ran, fought and ran. Then just ran. Far from their pasts. Far from their histories, they ran.

Now these many years later the weight of life and responsibility had long ago ceased their run but not their fight. Now just ran in place. They still battled against injustice but it was the injustice of how they treated one another and so there was never a victor to be declared.

This was the world our dear Jem was born into. In the earth realm she was named Jessica a name meaning “She watches."

Jessica’s start in life was often confusing, chaotic, violent and full of loss. One of her first memories was watching her mother drive off. The Baker’s Wife no more. Her mother had left the Baker to reclaim her name. In the leaving though she had also left behind her little girls with a man whose monster side was growing day-by-day.

Throughout it all Jessica watched. Though she did not remember her fairy origins as the gods had predicted, there was a knowingness about her from the start. A deep wisdom. She took it all in and knew inherently (though she didn’t yet have the language to name it) that this was not right. Her place was elsewhere.

Her transition from the god realm to the physical had not dimmed her light and ounce. From an early age her light shone. People commented on it almost from birth. Her sweetness. Her speed to laughter. Her seemingly inherent joy. People enjoyed being in her presence to share in the glow of that light.

Day-to-day life for Jessica remained troublesome. The chaos increased as the Baker changed jobs and locations again and again. The little family lived in seven houses across several kingdoms before Jess was five. The violence and cruelty also increased. Throughout it all though the knowingness remained, this was not right. Her place was elsewhere. She would find her place one day and in her place her light would be safe to shine. She would be loved.

See, in her transition from the realm of the Gods, one of the things our little fairy had forgotten was that she was love. Her current life circumstances seemed to reiterate this. In her human mind not only was she not love but she was unlovable, unwanted, and she suspected inherently broken.

Having survived childhood Jessica began the pursuit of the many paths Ganesh had spoken of. All paths for Jessica seemed to intertwine in a search to fill the void of love with people and things outside herself. First in music, “Will you love me?” Then acting, “Will you love me?” Then in school, “Will you love me?” Then relationships with men, “Will you love me?” Then in travel, “Will you love me?” Then relationships with women, “Will you love me?” Then a corporate career, “Will you love me?” Then a marriage, “Will you love me?” Then possessions, “Will you love me?” Then a business, “Will you love me?” Then money, “Will you love me?” Then children, “Will you love me?”

With her perceived failure on each path, Jessica’s frustration and anger grew. The void of love seemed to have increased in scale until now it felt like a black hole within her chest. A sucking sound. It wasn’t that nobody had said yes. Many had. Many had tried with their whole beings to fill her sense of lack, but it never worked. She started to become very, very fatigued from the journey.

Finally she landed on a new path – drink. Jessica looked to alcohol and asked desperately, “Will you love me?” and when she heard back a resounding, “Yes, I will love you.” She knew it would be total. It wouldn’t fill the void but it would mask the pain. And in that oblivion, finally perhaps peace.

Throughout it all her fairy light had remained. And though she hadn’t ever found ease, her journey had been courageous and she was admired for the effort and sparkle she had brought the various paths. She was widely adored externally even as she considered herself a failure. Now though, with alcohol, the false positive path, even her light was being lost. People began to fade away from her. Her world got very small and dark. The disconnect from her fairyhood origins was total.

One night Jessica decided this path would be her last and when death came it would be welcome.

Death did not come however. As those very many people to whom she had shined light on over the years and to whom she thought she had been well forgotten united to try and remind her of her light that they could all see and she could not. They took her from that dark place and began introducing to her places where they had found peace, they had found comfort in the journey. Through them she was introduced to community and to program and to meditation and to yoga. Through the love and care of that community and the tools learned in program, meditation and yoga she found her pathway back to source.

Now a teacher of the very techniques that saved her life, she has been of service in saving the lives of others. More importantly she has been reminded and returned to the knowing that she is love and inherently loved. Her glow is brighter than ever attracting many who wish to be reminded of their own innate lovable nature.

One night in meditation she was brought to her fairy field, the mirth and hugs. She was reminded of the god realm, the clouds and her origin story. She felt her inner Jem awaken and in that moment the void filled. Her self-love total, the search outside herself concluded. In that moment she asked herself, “Will you love me.” And her whole spirit hollered back, “Yes! I always have.”

The God’s watched it all with joy congratulating themselves on their good choice.

 

Road Warrior - Jan 2017

It has felt pretty dark this week and none of the usual "tricks" have made it feel better.

I've been working a lot. Feeling stressed. Not sleeping. Eastern Europe ain't my jam. It's cold and fucking depressing. Missing my people and home.

Vodka here, vodka there, vodka vodka everywhere.

...

And then a friend called. And two more texted. And a handful messaged me.

My people showed up.

I was honest and let them know. That sometimes I really feel like I'm not ok. That though I'm 19 mo sober, today I'm counting minutes. That sometimes I just want to run and cry and hide. Sometimes I just get so frustrated at not feeling better that I feel done. That I don't have it fucking figured out. That my program and yoga feels a lifetime away today. That today feels really lonely and sad and uncomfortable.

Then they remind me of my light. They remind me of my value. They remind me of my worth. They remind me I'm lovable. They remind me of my HP. They remind me of grace. They remind me of gratitude. They remind me to inhale and exhale. They remind me to lean into the uncomfortable and breathe. They remind me of acceptance.

I really needed to be reminded today.

Thank you to all my people! You continue to help me save my life.

So dear heart, this is how I answer your question today.

I had someone recently ask me how I knew I was home when I found Vancouver.

There are so many answers to this question depending on time of day, day of week, mood, moon and a million other factors. Here is how I knew I was home today.

I woke with a buzzing brain. There was much to do. All kinds of activities requiring attention. Laundry and packing and unpacking and tidying and following-up and life. An irksome email from work set off a mental loop. I paused. I took a breath. I reset and I started the morning as I do most when home, a coffee in my special spot. Looking out at sailboats bobbing. In awe of the abundance that is my life. I did some readings. I did dome writing. I did some meditating. I did some yoga.

Home.

I had the luck this morning of meeting with a friend who is struggling. I could see her, really see her. So brave in her beauty as she spoke of loss and darkness and sadness. I could listen and offer care and support without needing anything from her or needing to provide anything to her. No judgement good or bad, just witnessing. Listening. I could just be a friend. I could be of service. I could see in her eyes the ache and fear I’ve seen and felt so often in my own. I could see our shared humanity and experience.

I’ve learned how to do this because this is what so many have modeled for me here, offered to me, here in my home.

I went to an AA meeting. Caught up with friends. Was given and gave hugs. Talked to my Sponsor. Promises for coffees and catch-up dates with others. Knee squeezes and winks as we settled into business. This room. The very room I’ve sat and spilled my guts and screamed and laughed and cried and listened and pretended to listen and chatted for hours on end over the last 19 months. I know every crack in the ceiling. I know every branch on the tree out the window. I know every face. I know their stories and they mine. This is the room I got sober in. Home.

Met a beauty afterward.  We stopped at a flower shop owned by a friend of ours. We laughed while looking at beautiful things – ooh-ing and awe-ing as our handsome friend behind the counter described his creations and selections. I bought a terrarium. She picked a plastic dinosaur to live inside and made it a scene. Home.

At lunch with the same amazing creature we talked of ouchie bits and loves. Where we’re going, where we are. Triumphs and losses. I got teary eyed as I listened to her talk of the beauty she sees in simple things like the geometry of tortilla chips and the yellow of melted butter. My heart sang at the idea of there being people in the world who think like that. MY people. Home.

I walked in the rain. Looked at the lovely trees and grey skies. Happy for the weather. Thinking of the treasure of spring soon to be here. Listening to seagulls. West end loveliness. Concrete and trees and beach and palm trees. Snow peaked mountains in the distance. The perfect natural habitat for this ameri-blesbian. Who knew? Home.

Later I met another pal for café. Someone I hadn’t seen in a while. This friend had come to visit me in the hospital after my last suicide attempt. She had brought me an iPhone charger so I could text my family and let them know I was alive. She brought me food and hugs and her boyfriend to cheer me up. Home.

Today we talked of our journeys. The straight paths and the winding ones. The thorns and brambles as well as the sunny fields. We laughed over exes. Giggled at what we thought we knew then, in awe of the women we’ve become and continue to evolve into. She held my hand as I talked of the sad bits. I held hers when she did the same. I sat back and took a deep breath of gratitude at the woman sitting before me. I got teary eyed when I told her I loved her. Home.

Dinner with my fella. Well not technically as we’re both gay but he’s still my fella. A kindred spirit and dear heart. Someone who means a great deal to me for his truth telling, fierce sobriety and loving eyes. Someone who gets my crazy depth and matches it with his own. I love his laugh and humor. I love his enthusiasm and how he is fearless in making endless pacts with me we don’t always keep but absolutely love each other through. In his laugh is home.

Tonight I’m in bed. Rain on the window, cars driving past. Salt air mixes with mountain air and fills the room with a delightful freshness from the crack in the window.

I feel sadness, heaviness at having to leave in the am for parts south and work. Leaving my friends for a spell. I’ll be back soon. I know this. Even still I feel this tinge of sorrow every single time I leave. I have never felt this ache before about having to leave a place. I find myself wanting just to stay more and more, be gone less and less.

Home.

Beauty on the Beach

A little over two years ago now I had a photoshoot on a beach in Hawaii with a pretty girl. She was the subject and I the photographer. I remember feeling so grateful to be there with her that day; to experience someone so free and true. Watching her I felt the deepest, saddest, yearning of my entire life. Here, before me, was a creature who was so the antithesis of everything I felt might life had become about. Not only did I yearn for her, I yearned to BE her. All the freedom. All the joy. My life felt so small and grey and claustrophobic in comparison. The delta between her life and mine seemed a chasm almost too wide to imagine.

She ran and leapt and bended and laughed at the feel of the warm sun on her skin, the hot rocks and sand beneath her. I laughed with her and witnessed it all through a phone screen, clicking away as that profound yearning and aching for more lit in my chest.

In reality she was not as free and joyful as I projected her to be and I, not as trapped or dead as I felt.

I was in none of the pictures.

I am back on a beach in Hawaii today, sans that girl - her lesson now well learned. In no part of my life do I feel trapped. In no part of my life do I feel dead or grey anymore. That small spark that ignited that day on the beach has grown into an enormous flame of passion for life and service and sobriety.

Do I feel sad sometimes? Sure. Angry? Yup. Frustrated? Entirely.  Am I sometimes hurtful or not yet up to the task or unspiritual? Abso-fucking-lutely!

But that aching, deep, bone-weary, fatigue at life has lifted. Today I am happy enough.

Better than happy though I am grateful. Grateful for that beautiful girl on the beach who changed my life forever. Grateful for myself for having the courage to change and the strength to follow through. Grateful to the universe for flexing and supporting me in every step. And entirely grateful for the cavalcade of angels who have shown up along the way to hold my hand and walk with me.

Today there was another photoshoot in Hawaii and I was in all of the pictures. I was the beautiful, free, laughing girl on the beach bending and flexing in the sun. For one of the first times in my life there was absolutely nobody else I wanted to be in that moment.

 

This is what 18 months sober looks like for me.

Here comes the sun

I love the morning after. Cut grass. New dawn. You can just breathe better.

I tend to have these little phases of growth that are super intense little dark nights of the soul.

I can see how they happen. A universal theme seems to be getting pulled outside myself to pursue. Jettisoning myself to follow a path. The path is often full of sparkly reflections and I am momentarily hypnotized. I launch myself after the sparkle pushing through inconvenience and reality. Force myself to press forward through brambles and thorns often of others making. In the thicket I tend to get a bit nicked and overwhelmed and disoriented.

Eventually I find my way out. Out to the light. Back to me. A bit wiser, perhaps a bit graver with the lessons. Always, always a more solidly integrated me. Perhaps I end up a bit sore from the journey, fatigued by the sojourn. But eventually I seem to find myself grateful for the lesson.

The lesson for me these days is just fucking everything. It is everything because ultimately what I am being reminded of in each case, each circumstance, again and again and again… through people and paths and particulars is that I AM OK.

I am always ok. I will always be ok. My core essence is love and connection. My core purpose is service. My whole reason for being here is to remind myself (and others when the opportunity arrives) of that as often as possible.

When I veer from this it is ouchie and it is fantastic. Fantastic because in the veering there is always an opportunity to return. To return home to me. Return to me perhaps more solidly me than before.

Here’s the deal…my life isn’t clean. I’m too loud at times. Too broad at times. Swear too much. Laugh too much. Want too much. Talk too much. There is very little about me that is tidy and contained. I cry too much and probably fuck too much. I use people without meaning to. I discredit my intrinsic worthiness. I pour faith and love into those who are not deserving. I don’t always know how to take care of myself well. I sometimes forget that I am worthy of love just because I am.

But that’s ok. Though there is a lot of “too” there is also plenty of “just right” as well. My wounds make me beautiful. When I love you, I really do. I’m a good friend, supporter and ally. I can be quiet as much as I can be loud. I can sit with you for hours holding your hand just ‘cause.

My humanity makes me beautiful. If you cannot see that well, I cannot help you see that. I can only continue to hold the space I occupy with as much grace as I can muster. I can pray and whisper peace. Hope for a new dawn.

I can remember. Sometimes it is all I can do to only remember “I am” and have that be enough.

Here comes the sun do-be do-be.

Alligator Brain

There are certain people and certain situations I’m finding which activate my “alligator brain.” When I am in this state I react in very clearly defined ways; most of which are self destructive; most of which are entirely unconscious. They can include but are not limited to:

  • Feeling very, very depressed
  • Feeling very, very high
  • Getting whiplash going between the two
  • Taking medications not as prescribed
  • Trying to “run” and disappear in any way I can – work, people, travel, etc…
  • Stopping doing all manner of things that I find regularly helpful (meetings, working out, readings, writings, yoga). Not because I want to but because I literally cannot force myself to do them
  • Falling out of contact with people who love me and have my best interests at heart 
  • A generalized “panic” or “wrongness” feeling
  • Not seeming to not fit in
  • Feeling stress
  • Not seeming to be able to keep up
  • Making dramatic gestures
  • Cutting people from my life in a flourish
  • Adding people to my life in a flourish
  • Ignoring situations that require attention
  • Wanting to change everything
  • Wanting to disappear
  • Having inappropriately intense reactions to people and situations
  • Obsessive and compulsive thoughts and actions

Alligator brain. What do I mean by this? A friend explained it to me this way the other day beautifully. She described how when interacting with a former boyfriend of hers, her reactions were insane. Super high, super low. He’d say “boo” and she’d want to jump in front of a bus. She’d allow bad behavior and make lots of excuses. She’d never had this type of situation with a guy before or since. She realized the “why” with him at some point which was that he reminded her of her father. In doing so when he said “boo” it activated a very old, very powerful part of her brain. She called it alligator brain, a term which I clearly love. So her reaction wasn’t really relative to the situation but rather a hodgepodge of old/new/present past and very, very powerful.

I suppose this could also, in more intense circumstances, be referred to as PTSD.

Well I’ve been living in alligator brain for about a month now and I can tell you, it kinda sucks.

I’ve recently been home for the first time in also nearly a month and have had a second or two to breathe. In that breath, realizations. In those realizations I’ve seen how incredibly close I just came to relapse and was reminded just how truly cunning, baffling, and powerful this disease of mine is.

So it started for me with some internal/external circumstances colliding. My best friend in the program relapsed and has been struggling to stay back in. This doesn’t really have anything to do with me other than I miss him and worry about him and am mourning him and our friendship. His sobriety is his journey and I’ve no judgement, but it is sad. My rational brain knows this. Alligator brain, not so much.

How did that take form?

My reaction to my friend going out has been as if he has died. He hasn’t died. He hasn’t done anything in fact other than do what addicts do naturally – use. He’s doing what I and so many others of us have done, tried to get well really hard and then hit a wall in sobriety that our level of “wellness” couldn’t meet.

My reaction was weepy and excruciatingly painful. I’ve cut him off and cut him out. Alligator brain reaction:  people close to me breaking promises; people can’t be trusted; this is a dangerous person; protect yourself. Pappa can you hear me?

I stopped going to meetings. I stopped going to meetings because all of the sudden I found the rooms full with sick fucks who just lie and fail and disappoint. This isn’t true. I mean there is sickness but there is also tons of beauty and strength and wellness. I stopped being able to see the latter. Alligator brain reaction:  this environment isn’t safe; these people can’t be trusted; protect yourself. Pappa can you hear me?

With this foundation element removed I began to slip and get caught in the mud and bogs of life. Work too much? YES! Want some crazy powerful opioids for that tooth? YES! Travel too much and don’t go home for a month? YES! Break up with a girl you actually really like? YES! Stop listening to, reaching out for, and taking advice from sober friends and allies who love you? YES!

Finally, the coup de gras, I allowed someone back into my world who I cannot coexist with in any way that isn’t personally very painful for me. I think I allowed her in because I wanted a distraction of sorts. I wanted to “test” my wellness. Well, I am well enough to know that there is no sanity there for me. Like any relapse with her it was really delightful for a smidge, until it was not. Then it was just excruciating because I can never get my fix, my high. I can never be her single point of attention.

I’ve faced it and addressed it. I’ve re-opened wounds for myself in the process which now must heal again. But this was my journey to have. I chose it and accept it and will be better for it because this time I own it but…fuck…the ouch.

Alligator brain reaction: I’m unlovable; people lie; I’ll never be enough; I’ll always be left; I’ve failed again cause I’m not enough; I can’t ever get it right. Mama can you hear me?

I am so grateful to now realize what has been happening for me. I also realize how powerful my core addiction to people really is and how fierce my alligator brain programming remains. For me my codependency is as deadly as my alcoholism is – as both the best friend and former girlfriend situations illustrate. My codependency can take me the fuck out, it has before and I could feel it happening again. It’s no joke.

Conversely my healing will never come from outside of myself. I am already healed in fact; I have just forgotten it again because I got pulled. Like a puppy with a new chew toy I do love to play catch and I am easily distracted. I will run and chase after any new, shiny, object that offers the promise of easy and immediate satisfaction. Unfortunately what I always find outside of me are other broken people, doing the best can but unable to be 100% perfect 100% of the time as I would require them to be to feel ok based solely on their behavior towards me.

So, fuck, we’re back to this being an inside job.

Back to basics -  90 meetings in 90 days, personal practice, meditation and reading and writing. All else is secondary.

Yup.

This is what sixteen months sober looks like for me.