growth · recovery · surrender

Friend Breakups

When I limped into recovery over 12 years ago in San Francisco and raised my hand as new to the group, I cried.

I cried with mourning and grief; I also cried with relief.

The mourning was multilayered: I was grieving for having realized how much time I’d spent battling a demon in single-handed combat—a battle I could (and would) never win but continued to launch attack after attack to get under control, to get my life, my heart, my sanity under control.  And I could not.

My efforts were meaningless, but I railed against that monster for a decade.  The opposite of “chasing the dragon,” I quickly learned the consequences of waking the beast and fought tooth and nail to put it back to sleep.  Like an overtired toddler, the beast of addiction could not be soothed with my mortal tools.

So, I cried in that meeting because of all the wounds I’d suffered in that hopeless fight.

I cried, also, because that dragon and the fight I’d waged with it had become the most constant companion I’d ever had (or at least realized I had — it would be a little longer before I came to realize the benevolent forces abundant in my life during all that hellacious time, too).

I cried in grief over the pal I knew I was coming here to say goodbye to with a finality.  Oh Palsy, the times we had!  Together, we travelled from small-town suburbia, to college-town alleyways, to South Korean karaoke bars, and all over the South Pacific.

All the way, like a boulder tumulting down a cliff face, onto a couch in San Francisco.

And here we were, you and I, palsy, having the same ol’ fight again.  The scenery changed, but nothing else had.  And I knew, ultimately, that I had to leave you to find other folks to talk with, to give me new and different ideas and new tools for walking through this marvelous miasma of existence.

And so, I cried for the loss of this dragon-friend with whom I’d traversed continents and decades.

I also cried with relief.

The clatter of swords, I call it.  That moment when you see the brave knight tete-a-tete with the gilded beast, the hero all sweaty and injured and launching her assault again and again.  And you can see, anyone watching can see, that she cannot win.  That what is happening here is a travesty of power — this is twisted and sick to make her continue to fight that monster.  What kind of sick bastard are you continuing to encourage this harm to our hero??

And the hero finally understands.  She realizes the hopelessness of winning and she lets her longsword fall.

It’s slow motion, an end-over-end descent of metal, til it clatters to the floor of the dark cave and echoes against the stone, bouncing and oscillating just a little in its death throes before it comes to a deep stop on the ground.

There is silence.

The hero stands there now, empty-handed, the dragon overhead watching this change.  This isn’t some battle tactic, this isn’t some sly made-ya-look.  Our hero has dropped all of her fight and knows that, if absolutely nothing else, her fight is over.

Relief tumults upon her in waves.  Cleansing, heaving, sobbing waves that I cried in that new room of people who understood.

I am intimately reminded of that moment today as I continue to do my work around Judgment and Control, these friends who have been with me since before the above dragon was awoken.

These two friends have been so close to me, I have thought of them as myself.  I have not seen the molecule of air there is between me and them; I have thought we were the same.

But something has begun to shift, G-d’s Infinite Crowbar prying these stranger, more insidious demons apart from me, and showing me that they are, in fact, not really me.

I have worn them as closely as my skin, and it is a painful process to pull them off, or have them pried from me.

You remember being in ballet when you were little, and you had those thick opaque tights for recitals?  And dancing in your ballet shoes, all the friction created from that movement rubbed your ankles raw?  You sucked in your breath as you danced because a smile was required, and you let those shoes and tights meld into your skin, wearing away parts of yourself, and replacing them with the fabric of this alien material.

You remember after each performance, sitting in the changing room with tightly top-bunned heads, unwrapping those gorgeous silk ribbons from around the white opaqueness, and impatiently yanking or tenderly pulling off those shoes and beginning to unfurl your tights back off down your legs?

You remember that moment when the tights are down to your feet and they have caught?  They are attached to the skin of your heel with blood and a little ooze?  It’s a moist but hard affixing, and the fabric of the tights pulls thin as you tug on it to see how deeply attached it is to your body.

You tug, you make bargains with god, you tell yourself “1,2,3” but start back at 1 when you’ve chickened out.

Sometimes in that moment, you take a deep breath, steel yourself, and rip it off.  You watch the raw patch of skin saturate with new blood and maybe begin to pool into real droplets.  Sometimes in that moment, you know you’re too scared to handle it on your own, and you ask a friend to come and just do it and, like how you do with a phlebotomist, you look the other way while they do for you what you cannot do for yourself.

I am right now both the puller and the asker for help in the pulling.

Judgment and Control are so enmeshed in my person that this individuation is painful, raw, grief-laden, and … a relief.

 

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deprivation · fear · joy · recovery · self-love · truth

Getting the F*ck off my Knees.

On Friday night at 10 minutes to midnight sitting in my parked car outside my apartment building, I was scrolling through Facebook on my phone.  I usually do this as a ‘before getting out of my car at the end of the night’ ritual.  I don’t know why.  Like I’m getting a few minutes’ alone time before I go into the house… but I live alone… with a cat. … so…  In any case, I came across a post about that evening’s blue moon, looked quickly at the clock and exclaimed, “Shit!”

I shut off my phone, dashed out of the car up to my apartment.  I took off my heels, slipped on flats, grabbed my loaner tambourine and climbed excitedly and nervously up the stairs to the rooftop of my building.

Pushing open the door, I saw before me a whitewashed roof with long pipes and what look like abandoned solar panels.  Dropping my keys by the door, I carried my tambourine to the center of the rooftop, shielding myself slightly from the view of neighboring buildings, and turned around to see the full, audacious moon before me. Then, I began to jangle the tambourine, and finally I began to sing.

…uh, what?

As I’ve come to the part of my recovery/internal work where we are instructed to “Humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings,” my mentor asked me how I’d done this step in the past. I told her I usually get on my knees and say some kind of prayer.

“Get the fuck off your knees!” she replied emphatically.

You see, I have a habit of being small.  Of minimizing myself, diminishing myself, down playing and ignoring my own needs out of fear and, mostly now, out of long-grooved practice.  This habit of deprivation and hiding causes many problems in my life, mostly because I am surely aware that I am not “meant” to be a mouse.

Being a mouse, though, often looks like me withholding my truths, not admitting what I really want from others and from myself and from life.  Things like. … I want to get married.  *gasp!*  It was near torture to say this aloud to her when we were discussing truths I never tell anyone.  It feels embarrassing to say it.  To feel it.  To want it. “I’m a modern woman, proud brave able! What a simpering, waif-like desire to have!,” goes my internal monologue.  And I wither to admit it to anyone else.

My mentor and I spoke at length that day, and she finally suggest-/insist-ed that I get a tambourine, dress up in something exciting and shout this truth, and all my others, to the heavens.

*Gulp*

So on Friday morning, two weeks after this suggestion, I finally obtained a borrowed tambourine (you’d be surprised how few there are around!).  I texted my mentor that tonight was the night!  And then I read online that it was also going to be a full moon, a blue moon in fact. This seemed most auspicious.  (For a woo-woo hippie shit chick like myself!)

The evening found me on the roof of my apartment building, fresh from a salsa lesson/live music dance in the city, in a hot dress and pulsing with feminine wiles, furtively tapping this noisemaker in my hand, trying not to feel embarrassed.

And then I began to sing.

I started softly and whirled myself into a crescendo, abandoning decorum, delighting in the jangle and thrill of the truth.  Gyrating, gesticulating, twirling around the rooftop, I sang loudly all the secret desires of my soul and my heart, echoing a refrain of, “I let go of being small!” and hammering wildly on the tambourine, an elegant, alight grin streaked across my face as I hopped lightly over the pipes, spinning around the roof until all my heart’s desires, all my tiny wishes I’m too ashamed to speak, had poured out of my throat and into the moonlit darkness.

Laughing, giddy, adrenalized, I headed back to the entrance door, calling brazenly to the bulbous moon: “Peace out, Blue Moon.”

faith · fear · recovery · spirituality

Float like a Waterbug, Sting like a Bee

It isn’t so much that I’m afraid of heights as it is I’m afraid
of falling from heights.  Therefore, when, 2 months ago, I found myself
in Moab, Colorado dangling on the side of sheer rock face
struggling to find a toe-hold in the millimeter-wide crannies, I began to
panic. 
Now, to pull back the scene a little bit, I was about 15 feet off the ground, strapped into a harness, and attached to a grounding line held by my belay partner only a few feet below.  But it didn’t feel safe.  It felt like I
was stabbing the rock cliff with my feet, trying desperately to find purchase in thin air,
my adrenaline kicking up so high I could taste it.
Muscle-fatigued and terrified, I called to my partner below that
I wanted to come down – I was done.  The rock climbing guide on our trip overheard my plea and walked over from the lines
and climbers parallel to me.  He
suggested that I sit back in the harness, take a break, feel my weight being
held, and catch my breath.  Then he called
up, “You can come down, but if you want to keep going, I’ll help you.” 
Later that evening, back on flat earth in front of a
crackling fire, he chuckled he could see my shoulders slump at that moment, a
moment of resignation, a knowing that, indeed, because of his help, I was going to and was able to keep going.  This sanguine moment of, “Shit, alright, fine.  Let’s do this.”  And, together, we did.  He called out places where I could find my
footing, and shortly thereafter I was at the top, my heart a fluttering canary,
stress-tears straining back in my eyes, weak from fear and exertion – and once
safely back the 60ft to the ground again, proud.
He told me of a concept called a “retro-climb.”  It is only after
you have accomplished this ridiculous feat of effort that you feel pride,
accomplished, and glad you did it at all. 
In the moment, you only feel fear, anxiety, terror.  Honestly, I’ve not felt so frightened in
recent memory, despite the intellectual knowledge that I was completely safe,
held, and cared for.  (My naturopath had
a field day turning down my maxed-out adrenaline once I’d returned to SF!)
In my own personal work lately, my mentor suggested I seek
an internal guide to show me my blind spots. 
As some of you know, I sometimes use a Shamanic Journey meditation
practice that introduces you to internal guides of both human and animal form.
And so, the other morning in meditation, I “went in” to find
a guide to show me what I’m missing, since there are whole areas of my life
that still feel unresolved and cause me distress (see: “romance and finance”; aka
serially single and perpetually under/un-employed).  In this meditation, as the title of this blog
may suggest, I came across a waterbug.
… Now, the waterbug does not
seem like the fancy-dancy spirit animal one would hope for!  It’s not a lion or eagle or even
antelope.  And yet, here it was.  I won’t “bore” you with the details of the
meditation, but the lesson was clear: 
The waterbug floats on the top of the water, not because it
is defying the law of physics, but
precisely because it knows, believes, and trusts in them so completely that it knows it will be held on the
surface.  It is not defying gravity, it
is embracing the truest knowledge that because of the laws of nature, it must and will always be held.
The rock climbing guide and I had a long conversation one
evening about spirituality, and he revealed that his largest question for “God”
or the Universe as he continued to expand his life and open his vulnerable self
and admit all parts of him was, “Can you really love me that much?”
I replied to him that my question is, “Can you really hold me that much?”  Can you really let me know, help me feel, to
my core, that I am held?  That I am
safe? 
The waterbug teaches me that it floats because it doesn’t tense and struggle.  It floats because it relaxes and trusts, and simply embodies a knowing that if it steps onto
the clear surface of a pond, it will be held. 
And furthermore, having seen that it has been held and carried before,
it doesn’t continue to question whether it will be held again in the
future! 
So this is my lesson for the moment: to embody the true
knowing that, like sitting back into a climbing harness, I am expertly and even
lovingly held.  And, should I ever choose
to question (as it can become a choice rather than a habit), there will always
be help offered me.
And p.s., if I mess up and tense up and fall through the
surface of the water… I can swim.
deprivation · faith · fear · recovery · self-denial · spirituality

The Facts of Life

Not like “the birds and the bees”; like the theme song: “You
take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have…”
In this great rumpus race for which we have signed up by the
very nature of being born, we are subject to a variety of experience.  Some of these we deem good, some bad, and
being pleasure-seeking beings, we are partial to those we deem good.
In my own personal relationship to the universe, life, fate
and its many faces/facets, I have oriented my understanding to be one
that says, Everything happens for our own good. 
Even the bad things.
For my alcoholism, I have found recovery, a community, and
way of life that brings me fellowship, understanding, pleasure, laughter, and a
sense of being deeply understood.
For my childhood, I have come to tell myself that because of
my experiences, I’ve become sensitive, compassionate, empathetic, resourceful,
strong, and creative.
For my cancer, I have taken my struggle and survival as
impetus to engage in my life more fully, playing in a band, flying a plane,
acting and singing in theater.
For all these horrors and more, I can look back and deem them “good,”
because they have led me to becoming more useful and engaged as a human.
And yet.
Fuck. All. That.
That we are thrown against the shores of life brutally onto
the rocks of experience, shaping us, reshaping us, and winnowing us down to the
raw beauty of ourselves—  Hey Universe, would
you lay off a minute, huh?
Because perhaps, Shit. Just. Happens.
And that is the worst understanding of all for me.  It is the least controlled, the least
controllable, the most chaotic, disordered, entropy-laden reasoning for it all.
What it means is that we are not “safe.”  And if there is anything I have struggled for
in my lifetime, it is to feel safe.
But in this quest, this blazing, self-propelled quest for
safety, I have built up around myself an armor, a buffer, a multi-layered
sequence of dance steps that I believe if I dodge left, you, it, experience,
failure, hurt, calamity will needly dodge right.
Yet, the Universe has its own dancesteps, and sometimes they
are to bowl you over like a rhino in a football helmet.
Furthermore, by dodging experience as a whole –monstrous as
I believe or fear it to be– I also dodge whatever good that rhinoceros might be trying to hand me.  And therein lies the rub, eh?
As I mentioned a few days ago about the dam, restricting my
own self, need, and experience out of fear of what might happen if I let things
flow, I am scrubbing up against my own realization that I
am restricting myself for fear that bad shit might happen.  I am hoping to control the all of my
experience so I am not harmed anymore.
Because forget all the above bullshit (which I also happen
to believe) about all those bad things becoming or being seen as good things –
don’t fucking think that I want or wanted them too.  They were all still egregiously painful.  And, as I mentioned, human as I
am, I don’t want pain.
In my attempt to restrict my experience of pain, however, I
believe I restrict my experience of benevolence.  Grace. 
Fulfillment.
And so, I am stymied, victim of my own prison, of my own
design to be safe, I am restricted from the greater joys and rewards of life.
“You take the good, you take the bad… “
Am I willing to expose myself, to be vulnerable and open to
the whole of life’s experience, knowing that in my disarmoring, I am (also)
opening myself to unforeseen goodness?
deprivation · need · recovery · self-denial · truth · wholeness

Buying Desire a Hat.

I was at my therapist’s once several years ago now and we
were talking about my closest friendships. 
I was telling her how I was scared to admit my full self to someone
because I feared that my full self, my full array of needs and personality,
would be too much for them to handle.  I
explained to her that I felt like my needs were like a tidal wave, that letting
them out would be releasing one, and I couldn’t do that to any one person.  Or to any several people.  Better to keep it all locked up tight.
But what if I begin to think of my needs and desires not
as a tidal wave, but as held by a man-made dam? 
A dam has immense strength and power; the pressure behind it is exponential.  The
power there, the pressure, comes from the restriction of motion, from the
forcible and intentional holding back of something that had previously flown
free.
You can see where I’m going with this, no?  I’m no expert in engineering, so I don’t know
how one goes about dismantling a dam—and maybe for the purposes of my own
internal metaphoric dismantling, that might be interesting to learn—but
I do know that once the dam has been removed and the water again flows free,
it’s not a potential tidal wave of need anymore.  Now it’s just the normal, everyday flow.  The normal, everyday rise and fall of desire.
Without the restriction and denial of qualities such as
desire and need, they are free to be absorbed into the landscape, a part of the
whole, neither something to be feared or ignored. 
Desire in our culture has a pretty bad rap of it.  Desire, the seat of sin.  And yet, what is it but simply an expression
of self, like humor or wit?  My mentor
and I have been discussing and prodding at my relationship to my own need and
desire, to try to bring them out of the haunting shadows, to not treat them like
the disturbed family members you try to forget you have, til they show up on
your doorstep at Christmas with soggy string bean casserole.
What if, instead, they were invited guests?  Do I even know anything about what and who
they are, after being so keen to shut them out for so long?  Or do I only now know the legend of them,
instead of the qualities themselves?
There is a bit of terror and a bit of awe as I begin to
reintroduce myself to these qualities of self. 
As a person who is so adept at self-denial and deprivation, to allow
that there might be a proper place for need in my life is… incomprehensible.  Like someone who’s
been on a Paleo diet for years, touting the benefits, trying to recruit
converts, suddenly being told that in order to live they must eat cake.  Because not only will it change their entire
metabolism for the better, but, hey, it’s fucking delicious.  And you’re allowed to enjoy it.
Permission to be allowed to enjoy.  Permission to be allowed to want.  Permission to be allowed to need.  And actually, screw the whole permission
thing – it’s not that at all.  It’s not a
choice.  Or an earned prize.  It’s a basic human right. 
To deny yourself a basic human right, like having chosen to
drink fetid water your whole life because you’ve somehow made yourself believe pure spring
water wasn’t for you or that your imbibing it was a danger to the balance of existence… well,
self-denial like that causes a whole host of problems, not least of which is
unfulfillment.

So, the dismantling, the right-sizing of desire and need,
the introduction to them as they are, not as I’ve feared them to be.  And why? 
Because I have a suspicion that fulfillment, purpose, and wholeness are
on the other side of that shift.

determination · fortitude · health · life · recovery · spirituality · surrender

Snookered.

See, the thing about being saved is that it’s not an
absolution.  You aren’t swept back from
the cliff’s edge and wrapped in a cosmic swaddling, rocked into unseeing bliss.  What you are is placed back firmly onto a
path.  A long one.  Back from the edge, back from the place of
giving up on the work of this lifetime, you are nudged—not so gently, but not
without compassion—onto a path that will require of you work for the rest of
your lifetime.
The cliff’s edge, the leap from it, the ultimate sacrifice
as it might be called is the choice to give up all the work that will ever be
asked of you.  It is to say, Forget it,
too hard, too much, there’s no help, no hope. 
To be placed back onto the path you had made some kind of decision—by
omission or commission—to leave means that you are now responsible to take up
the work you’d abandoned.  It is to look
up from your crumpled knees and see winding before you the path of your
lifetime, the work that will surely be needed to accomplish it, and the
knowledge that to be alive is to do that work.
To be alive is to agree. 
To be alive is to sign an agreement daily that you will, however
falteringly, place one foot before the other. 
To be alive is to agree that you yourself and your life are more
worthwhile than eliminating all the possibilities it holds, all the better and
all the worse. 

And so, pulled back from the edge, “saved” as it were, you
walk with a grim humor, knowing that somewhere you have chosen this.

abundance · compassion · deprivation · family · love · motherhood · recovery

Maybe Baby 2

I have been looking at porn.
This porn comes in the form of a Facebook page for local moms who are selling or giving away baby stuff. 
I’m on this page because one of my best friends is pregnant, and I have hopped so far aboard her baby-train, I’m surprised I’m not morning-sick myself!
In the past few weeks, I’ve begun reading a book on pregnancy that she read and loved (The Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy), crocheting baby bibs, buying scrap fabric for burp clothes, and practically stalking her to ask if she wants a breast pump I found online. 
As I spoke of in my 2014 blog post “Maybe Baby,” I am not sure whether I want children. 
As then, I am not in a serious relationship, and I still am not willing to go the motherhood route alone, so there’s no real reason to question if I do or do not. But, reasonable or not, that doesn’t stop me from thinking about it. 
With every article on our drought, the cost of living, the planet’s imminent demise, the expansion of the stupid class — I am convinced for a few moments never to bring children into this hateful world. 
And with every true breath of fresh air, every warm hug, every belly laugh — I am convinced for a few moments that I want another human to bear witness to this world’s incandescent beauty. 
I am the age my mom was when she carried me (33), and then my brother at 36. I have been emailing and asking her all kinds of questions about her pregnancies since I began reading the pregnancy book — what was your morning sickness like? what does pregnancy feel like? did you have food aversions? stretch marks? hemorrhoids? (god help us, she did not!)
I have had the liberty and the luxury of asking my mom these questions, and too, my friend who is pregnant, does not. And I am very aware of this fact, and I think it has spurred my devoted interest in her pregnancy — I want to be there as much as I can, because I want to make up for any absence she might be feeling (real or imagined, to me, since I haven’t spoken to her about it yet). 

I was on the phone with my mom this morning, telling her that I feel my heightened interest in my friend’s impending mommy-hood is also that she’s my first local BFF to be pregnant. One of my other best friends in Long Island had a baby last year, and I was able to be there for a few days when the baby was a month old, but that’s all. There wasn’t the same imminent babyhood. 
I told my mom that I’d been thinking about my very best friend from childhood, a woman I’ve known since we were 3 years old, and how I can’t imagine what it will be like if and when she gets pregnant across the country from me. And I began to cry. 
Of course, it’s about her, my New Jersey friend, and it’s also about me. About how I’ll feel, if and when I also choose to have a family — assuming I’m able — so far from her and my own family. 
This is big business. This mommy stuff. 
And I am wanting to prepare to make that decision in a realistic way — so I have doubled-down on my work around intimacy and relationships (or in my case, habitual lack thereof). This morning, I told the woman I’d been working on these issues with by phone for about 6 weeks (a stranger whose name was passed along to me from a woman I admire) that I have reached out to someone local to work the rest of this stuff with. 
And I have. I will continue this relationship work with this local woman who has known me for nearly 8 years, who has seen me at my best and worst, who can call me out, see patterns, and provide so much space for my feelings and vulnerability that I can practically swim in them and still feel safe. 
Yesterday morning, this same woman (as we were talking about what my issues were and what I wanted to work out) said that she’d always felt for me that my issue was around deprivation. 
… 

She’s very astute. 
And it’s also funny to me because it’s one of those things that doesn’t come into focus about yourself until someone else (who knows you well) reflects it back. 
I am very aware of this time in the generation of women around me. My friends who are certain they don’t want kids, ones who know they do, the ones who can’t, and ones who, like me, are unsure.
It’s a particular, cordoned off time in our lives. And I’m holding the space for that, leaning into the grief of potentially not seeing friends change their whole lives, them not seeing me do the same. I’m aware this is “future-tripping,” but it’s fair to acknowledge my feelings around it, anyway. 
I’m allowed to not know what will happen (for me or for my friends), and I’m allowed to have feelings either way. 
Today, what that looks like is picking up a bitchin’ breast pump for my best friend. Continuing to do the work toward an intimate relationship with a man. And letting myself be both sad and happy for and with my peers.