Letter from My Future Self

At the suggestion of my mentor and as part of my self-help program I’m practicing different actions to take every day for 30 days. Yesterday I got self-love. So I told myself that I can and will get a job as a copywriter. It’s part of this neuroplasticity thing that creates new grooves into my brain, new roadmaps that are more along the lines of a yellow brick road and not the heart of darkness they’ve been conditioned to follow. As part of that process I wrote a letter to myself—my future self looking back on my past self.

But before I reveal my letter, I want to share something Tara Brach mentioned in one of her more recent talks—I think it’s the one about freedom from fear-based beliefs—about a study in which 50-year-olds were asked if they thought they’d change much in the next decade, and then they asked other 50-year-olds (or maybe 60-year-olds?) if they’d changed much in the past decade. Most of them thought they wouldn’t change much in the next decade, but when reflecting on the past decade, they realized that they’d changed quite a bit. I know that I’ve changed dramatically over the last decade, and now that my 39th birthday is fast approaching, this idea of change and growth is a big theme in my life. Let’s just take a moment to look at my life 10 years ago.

At 29 years old I was engaged to be married to my first husband, and at my older age I thought I was taking a scientific, safe approach to a good marriage. He would be a good provider, and I’d be a (fairly) good mother, even though I didn’t really want kids. We owned a house in a trendy suburb just outside the city. Working at a company he owned, I felt trapped, incapable and unable to go anywhere else, having been fired as a copywriter, which surely meant I was a failure and should just give up. Every night I came home and drank a bottle (or two) of wine, and every morning I looked at myself in the mirror and wondered what the hell I was doing, and hated myself for taking the safe approach to life. I felt like I was dying, and I thought my life was over, since 29 is so old and the beginning of real adult life, the get-your-shit-together age, and I believed that the way that it was then was the way that it would always be. I didn’t believe a higher power existed, but if it did, it couldn’t or wouldn’t help someone as insignificant as me. Starving children in India—they deserve help from God. But me? With my comfortable lifestyle in which I had no reason to complain, and only myself to blame for my problems? Never. I believed I was incapable of love, but I knew that if I had children then I could love them, so I hoped that I could get married and be taken care of financially so that I could focus on my children. And I never dreamed I’d get sober.

No one knows what really would’ve happened, but I think if my first husband and I had had kids we’d have fought all the time, because that’s what we did anyway. And we’d have gotten divorced anyway, and our children would’ve had to suffer and grow up in that environment. I probably wouldn’t have gotten a master’s degree, I wouldn’t have met my second husband, I wouldn’t have moved to DC, which means I probably would not have gotten sober.

Some part of me wants to argue that I’d have gotten sober anyway because my sister got sober, but I’d have done it in another city with other people, and maybe I’d have had kids which would’ve been hard and we’d all be dysfunctional, but we’d have loved each other anyway. Maybe they’d have grown up to be alcoholics and drug addicts and blame me for their problems, and maybe they’d get sober and maybe not. But it doesn’t matter what would’ve or could’ve happened. Because none of those things happened, and my life now is most important, because it’s all I got.

Today love and a rewarding job still feel like distant dreams, but I do have hope, buried, but it’s there, daring to rise to the surface. When I first got sober, that’s all I had, a tiny glimmer of hope, and that’s all I needed. I need to remember that.

When life gets hard, I think of moving back South, but my life is finally starting to take root here. I have a network of women who help me, and who, hopefully, I also help. Recently I learned that my sister and her family may be moving to Richmond, which is only two hours from me, which means my parents will be nearby more often, which means I can visit my family without the time, money, and effort it takes now. One of my friends lives in a comfortable high-rise where she parks her car in a garage, protected from the snowy elements, she works from home, and she’s not far from the metro. What if I had that life? It looks like a pretty good life to me. So why not me? If I got a job as a copywriter making enough money, it’s doable. So here’s to possibilities.

Dear Me,

You really will get a better job that you enjoy, and you’ll be competent and confident in this job. While you may encounter some challenges, you’ll overcome them, and you’ll lose fear and gain conviction. The reality is that everyone’s afraid sometimes, we all just have different ways of expressing it. You’ll be able to walk through the fear and do what you need to do to put your life back together, all on your own. You’ll get help from friends and family, but it will be you who takes charge of your life. You don’t have to rely on a man to do it for you.

You’ll get your own apartment that you can decorate however you want, and it will be a comfortable haven where you can read, write, cook, and do all the things you enjoy. You can live near your workplace so that you don’t have to spend your life trapped in your car, in your fishbowl commuting back and forth to work day after day after day. You don’t have to be in that fishbowl.

It may seem like it’s taking forever, but it’s been nine months since you left your job. Who knows what will happen nine months from now? You could have your own place by then living the life you want. And remember then how you felt when life was comfortable. Bored, right? Stagnant. Remember to be grateful for what you have. Learn to be okay with a quiet, peaceful life, because everything changes all the time.

You will find love. When people meet him, they’ll say, Oh, I can see you two together. Because you’ll be true to yourself, making your personality shine through, and he’ll like that, because he’ll love you for who you are. Not who you used to be or may become, but who you are now, today.­­ And you will love him and appreciate him for who he is. You’ll laugh together. Conversation will be easy. Neither of you will feel like you have to change to make the other person happy.

Life will never be perfect. But it can and will get better. You can look back on this time as one of growth. You know now that you can downsize your lifestyle if you want to, and you still may do it again one day. You still can move to Hawaii if you really want to. The point is, what do you want to do? Life is what you make it.

Today you live in a place that’s the best place possible for your dog in her last days and months. You have food, shelter, a job, relationships, love, time. You have everything you need.

I have everything I need. I will be taken care of. I can take care of myself with help from my higher power and my friends and family. I am strong and beautiful and smart.

One last thing. All those things I beat myself up for, how I didn’t say what I should’ve said or didn’t do what I should’ve done, how I’m not good enough or smart enough, I can apply that same approach to the things about myself that I like, instead of pushing those positives to a corner. The way that I appreciate song lyrics, gourmet food, a dark sense of humor. How I’ve made sure that my dog has had a good life the past 12 years that I’ve had her. And with practice, I’m capable of becoming a better writer who can use her talents to earn a living.

When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Writer… or a Grocery Store Worker

Talking to my old man who I’ll call Tom last night felt like talking to my dad, and I wanted to cry and yell like a teenager that he doesn’t understand and to get off my back. My interpretation of his words was that good jobs don’t exist—good jobs being those that we find fulfilling and that pay well. His intention was to tell me the reality of his work which is that we must accept rejection, not take criticism personally, and parts of the job are disagreeable but the good outweighs the bad so he continues working at his job, his job basically being almost the same as Don Draper’s, but not quite because this is an anonymous blog in which I’m trying to protect everyone’s identity, especially my own. Of course Tom would love to make paintings and get paid to do that, but he doesn’t get to do that. My initial response to his paternal advice was that maybe I’m just one of those people who works in a grocery store, and I didn’t say it but thought that maybe I’d just move to some tropical location and be a grocery store worker there instead of this cold, snowy place.

What spawned all of this was Tom’s question which is the same question he asks me every time we talk, which is, “Any headway on the career change plan?” I felt like I was the husband and he the wife waiting for me to change, or that he’s my parent, waiting for me to grow up. My head tells me it’s so he can decide if I’m a keeper or a gold-digging sugar baby in search of a rescuer. And I’d be lying to myself if I said I didn’t want a rescuer.

My latest career change idea, I explained to my old man, is the same thing it was last time he asked me (but I didn’t say that second part), which is to become a copywriter.

All of the old fears and what-ifs tell me I can’t do it, no one will like my writing, no one will hire me, and I won’t be able to make a living as a writer. But I’m sick of these negative thoughts that only serve to keep me down, and I’ve decided to tell them fuck off. Someone will like my writing. Someone will hire me. I am a talented writer, and I can be funny and interesting, when life’s not kicking my ass. And honestly, what else can I do?

Seriously. Let’s think about this. I can work in a grocery store, which doesn’t pay my bills. I can go back into online advertising, which made me miserable. I can try to make it as a college professor, which would most likely be long hours with little pay and no tenure. I can study something else, like nutrition, which would require student loan debt. Or I can suck it up and build a portfolio so that I can try to become a copywriter at a marketing agency, where I may not write about subject matter that interests me, but I’d make a decent salary that would pay my bills, and I’d be able to use my talent and education.

When I’m struggling with something and someone tells me the reality of the situation, I hear negative. My translation is You can’t do it, This job sucks, All jobs suck, You’ll never find anything you like, You’ll have to get a job writing about content that bores you, No one will like your writing.

So that’s why I’m not excited about this career change plan. Tom explained that he has to deal with rejection in his line of work in which he gets to be “creative” for good money, but he doesn’t create what he really wants to create because he has to pay the bills. Suck it up and grow up is what I heard.

But the thing is, I am out of ideas.

My fear is that if I don’t make a decision and act on it, I’ll stay at the grocery store forever. And if I do that, who will I be? I’ll be a grocery store worker. As much as I’d love to be a humble grocery store worker who finds joy in everyday life, who feels happy being everyday people, who doesn’t define herself by her job title, that woman is not me.

Some words of wisdom from Bob Dylan:

Is That All There Is?

Supposedly I’m on the doorstep of a spiritual awakening, which comes as the result of working a spiritual program, but I don’t want to get my hopes up, and I’m beginning to lose hope in what a spiritual awakening really is. The reality is that I imploded my life only to find that Santa Claus does not exist, and every day my frustration reaches deeper levels, to the point of my wondering if I should check myself into a mental hospital, seek medication, or just… I don’t even know. Suicide and drinking are no longer options, whereas over five years ago they were my only options, from my point of view at that time.

How is this all there is? How is THIS it? How? Clearly I have to stay where I am for now, and this place sucks. I don’t know where to go from here. Most days I’m tired. Motivation escapes me, even for that which I know will make me feel better, like exercise, therapy, yoga.

One of my co-workers, an older woman in her fifties, comes to work every day with a cheerful attitude, and although I don’t work closely with her, she always says hello, addressing me by name, which makes me feel special. I often wonder why she works in a grocery store, and how she can be happy. She’s intelligent, and a foodie, with knowledge about different cheeses and how they pair with dried fruits, jams, meats, and wines. My experiment with pairing with wines failed miserably, and I don’t need to know more, but this woman inspires me with her positive attitude. Presumably she’s poor and unmarried, and at her age she’s certain to have experienced loss, yet she remembers my name and finds time to say hello and ask co-workers about their lives. I aspire to be like her, and I realize that maybe that’s all there is to it. Just be nice to others, don’t try to ruin their day just because I’m unhappy, and when possible do what I can to put a smile on someone else’s face.

I’ve been working on my sobriety long enough to know that helping others necessitates sobriety and serenity. When my sponsee calls me crying I’m grateful to listen. Yet my ego still whispers, Is that all there is? What about me? Where’s my Nobel Prize? When do I find love, a rewarding–or at least tolerable–career, and a place that feels like home? Why does it seem everyone else has at least one of these things but not me? If it’s possible for others, why not me? Am I incapable of love?

How many prayers do I need to pray, how many Buddhist dharma talks do I need to hear, how many tears to cry, how many husbands to marry, how many people to help, how many self-help books to read, how many amends to make before I find peace and love and serenity?

If it’s because I’m resentful at my father and haven’t made amends yet, then fly me to Georgia tonight. Maybe it’s because I don’t meditate enough. As much as I connect with Buddhism, I just don’t see how sitting still and paying attention to my racing, judgmental, crazy mind will help me, and I’ve tried it before.

If helping others is the solution, then why am I not a better person after getting help from others? Lucky, yes. Grateful, yes. But happier, more content, or more peaceful? No. I am still me, and in some ways I feel more self-centered and more selfish after getting help from others because I feel like a taker. I “help” others to help me; my help isn’t really helping them so much as it’s helping me.

I want to believe that life gets better, that I’ll be in a better place six months or a year from now, but I don’t really know that. The thing is, life could get much worse. One of my loved ones could die, I could become homeless, I could lose my job, and my dog actually will die at some point in the next few months or so. I want to believe that everything I left was all for something, and that I’ll have a better house, better husband, more money, a better career after all of these spiritual growing pains are finished beating me down, but I don’t really know that. It’s possible I’ll live in a trailer with no husband and a grocery store job for the rest of my life, and maybe that won’t be so bad, because it’s not about all these external things, which clearly didn’t make me happy before.

The problem is I am the one who stands in my own way. Of course I can do whatever I want to do but what am I willing to do?

The Old Me

“Those feelings of uselessness and self-pity will disappear,” according to the Alcoholics Anonymous book, after working the steps, specifically the ninth step, the amends step. I’ve done all the steps, although I still have some amends to make, and most of the promises, including this one, have come true for me, but not today, and for that I am sad. Today I feel like the old me, and I want to disappear.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I cried (in private) after a negative review from one of my acquaintances whose website content I wrote. Granted, I didn’t get clear direction from her on how she wanted the content written. But I spent several hours on it last week, pro bono, to help build my portfolio, and I had fun with it. Because my latest career change idea is to become a copywriter.

To become a copywriter, I just need a few writing samples which will allow me to apply to entry-level copywriter positions. The salary would be decent. No training or student loans would be required, because I have a master’s in creative writing, which isn’t the same kind of writing, but it is writing, and I have marketing experience. This idea has given me hope that maybe a job exists in which I’m not only competent but I can earn a decent living.

Copywriters, designers, creative positions—everyone—will face rejection at some time. Yet I feel disheartened. Maybe I’m not good at this. Maybe this is not what I’m meant to do. She said that the writing wasn’t the voice she wanted, and that she wanted it to be more “homey” and “easy.” I wrote it from the heart, using simple words, so I don’t know how to make it easier or “homier” than it is. We can discuss it so that I can get a better idea of what she wants, which we’ll do, but right now I feel useless, foolish, hurt, ashamed. What makes you think you can find a job writing, making good money? Why do you think you’re smart enough to do well at this? That’s what my negative head—the old me—tells me. The old me says, What the fuck CAN I do? Am I good at ANYTHING?

My bachelor’s degree overqualified me for my first office job that I got from a temp agency as a law firm receptionist, but I didn’t know what else to do, so I worked there for four and a half years, getting promoted into a coordinator/administrative/proofreader role in which I performed some marketing tasks. From there I discovered that copywriters made good money, and I got a job at a marketing agency writing healthcare newsletters for an insurance company whose goal was to encourage patients to take better care of themselves so they wouldn’t go to the doctor and cost the insurance company more money. The cause disturbed me, but I liked the idea of encouraging better health, so I went for it. And I got fired after a month because the client didn’t like my writing.

It was a huge blow. I’d made good grades in school, I’d been loved at my previous job, and I was a hard worker. So how could I get fired for being incompetent, for doing the only thing in which I, in my opinion, excelled? When they said they wanted the writing to be more this or more that, I didn’t know how to make those revisions. The account manager didn’t like me and wanted me to help him with his job, which I didn’t want to do, not having been hired to work with clients, nor having any desire to do so. I remember the day they fired me. I was locked out of my computer, so I went to the IT guy, who said he’d be in to take a look in a few, and then the account manager and my manager, a former college professor who liked me and seemed to feel sorry to have to fire me, took me into an office and sat me down and told me that they’d talked with the CEO and decided that it wasn’t working out. They gave me some paper to sign, which I didn’t read, but they explained what it was, and I couldn’t listen, because all I could think was that I’d failed and I had a massive hangover I just wanted to go home and sleep off. My hands were shaking when I signed the paper and I wanted to throw up.

When I got home my then-boyfriend, now-ex-husband refused to let me sleep off my hangover and made me go into his office, a warehouse he’d converted into an office space for his start-up marketing agency. He trained me how to manage online ads, which involves minimal writing and more organization and math, and that’s what I did for a year or two. During that time he and I got married and divorced, and I continued to work in marketing, because that was the experience I had, but I hated it. I wrote some copy for a marketing agency at a temp position, writing product descriptions for Motorola, and I wrote some other website content, but mostly I managed online ads. I didn’t keep the writing that I’d done, and I’d be surprised if it still existed since most companies change their website content every few years, and I didn’t make lasting contacts, except for a couple of friends who I’ve re-connected with recently, and who I hope will help me find copywriting work.

In the meantime I feel paralyzed with fear, doubt, and insecurity. The old me wants to give up on the job search and continue working in a grocery store for the rest of my life, move to a trailer in Florida, or somewhere else where I can lower my expenses and somehow afford to pay off my mounting credit card debt and student loan debt. The old me says fuck this whole town and start your life over somewhere else, where no one knows you used to make $75,000 a year working at a marketing agency, and no one has any expectations that you’ll go back to that place. As if anyone really cares or has expectations. The only people who care are my family and me, and unfortunately none of us can un-know that I’d once done well and now I can’t afford to pay my bills.

What I hope will become the new me is the kind of woman who has resolve and perseverance. She tells me to just keep trying. Everyone fails. Not only does everyone fail, but we fail more often than we succeed, because it takes many attempts before achieving success. When it comes to writing or design, my experience has shown me that often those who don’t know how to do it think they can, that it’s easy, like how I think can create a beautiful work of abstract art because it’s just scribbles on a canvas, but when I try to do that it becomes what looks like scribbles on a canvas. Because in reality it takes practice, skill, and talent.

My real fear is that I don’t have the passion to pursue this career path, and if I don’t have the passion to pursue this one, then what do I have passion for? Writing is my life, but that particular career path involves copywriting, and I don’t know if I have the ability or interest in writing someone else’s story. And if I don’t have that, then what the fuck can I do?

Surrender?

I can’t emphasize enough what a rough time I’ve had this past week. When I say that I’m ready for this chapter of my life to end so that a new, brighter one can begin, I don’t just mean that I feel trapped, because in some ways I’ve felt trapped all my life. Possibly—hopefully—I’m learning the true meaning of surrender, because I’m now at a place where I feel like if I don’t find some kind of financially suitable situation soon, it’s time to make another change and go back South to live at my mom’s.

This week my dog Savannah was diagnosed with stage three kidney disease, which means she has only a few weeks or months left on this earth. Just prior to that my best friend of twenty years emailed me to inform me that maybe we shouldn’t be friends anymore, because the friendship is unhealthy due to my feeling judged by her and my inability to take her honesty (about her opinion of the life choices I make or consider making). At the beginning of the week I dropped my cell phone in the toilet, and won’t get a replacement until next week. One of the women I sponsor has stopped emailing me. The week ended with our pipes bursting at my house, requiring that I shower at my old man’s house before our date in which I was to cook dinner for him for his birthday.

All of these things that happened, in addition to the fact that my interviewers from the week before last never contacted me again, gave cause for my private mini-meltdown yesterday, with me screaming at our four barking dogs due to the Snufalufagus-like deerhounds—three of them, totaling seven dogs in the house—who my roommates and I are keeping for the next week and a half.

Actually, these events didn’t cause me to feel this way, but my reaction to them caused my temper tantrum. My reaction now is one of the recognition of total powerlessness and unmanageability. Nothing I do can change my dog’s diagnosis and her inevitable upcoming death. Nothing can keep my best friend from her attempts to divorce me, a common reaction from her, and at this point I am letting go. I can’t undo my cell phone mishap, I can’t make anyone sober or drunk, and I can’t keep the pipes from bursting.

Regardless, I am sad. I want so badly to live in my own place with a decent, tolerable job that pays my bills. I get it. Once I had that and I didn’t appreciate it. Now I have the best place I could live in for me and for my dog in her final days, and I’m making new friendships that I hope are healthier. Out of everything that has happened this week, those two incidents—my dog and my best friend—are the ones that really upset me, and each requires their own multiple blog posts, with loads of complex feelings. But for now I’ll leave it at this: I feel really fucking sad.

Here’s yet another song from Heartless Bastards, who I listen to on repeat. My favorite lyric happens around 2:11: “For along while I thought I would break / Now I know that it just takes a long while.”

Mustard Seed

The conclusion that I’m reaching is that I had to run my life completely into the ground to learn that I won’t be winning a Nobel prize for going to work, that I won’t get the job I love because it doesn’t exist, while at the same time hanging on to what’s either a delusion that Santa Claus exists and will give me what I want as long as I’m good, or else a mustard seed of hope that something better than I dreamed possible is out there waiting for me. If someone else can publish a book, then why can’t I? Other people exist who do the so-called impossible every day, so why not me? When my sister did the impossible and got sober, a seed was planted in me that whispered, Sobriety is possible, even for me, a woman who got drunk every night after work, usually in the privacy of my comfortable home. If I can get sober, then surely anything is possible, and the ninth step promises come true, specifically the one about knowing peace and how fear of economic insecurity will disappear. The question is, what do peace and economic security really look like?

One of the things we talk about in AA is how our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics. I think, sure, my primary purpose in AA is to help other alcoholics, but my purpose in life is to somehow make a decent living doing what I love, which is to write about subjects that matter to me. In this dream life I write about my amazing adventures. I live different lives and write about the people I meet. The realization is finally taking root that I can—and should, and may have to—write in my spare time while working at whatever job I can get during the day. This means that my two purposes collide as the amount of my spare time narrows.

What I’m also trying to understand is what acceptance really means. Accept life on life’s terms. But what is life, really? Does this mean that life sucks and then you die (because if it does, I don’t accept that, haha!), or is acceptance only about what I already know intellectually, which is that we can’t control other people, places, or events? Does it mean that I don’t get to become a published writer, which is all I’ve ever really wanted from life, or does it mean not everyone can become President of the United States, which I’ve never cared for? Because I know I can’t become President. But why can’t I be a writer? If a writer is who I really am, why can’t I be me? If “to thine own self be true” is my mantra, why can’t I live that life of honesty?

One answer—maybe the only answer—is that fear holds me back. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of economic insecurity. So I have to ask myself, Why do I really l want to write? Do I just want fame, for you all to love and accept me? I know that I want to communicate and connect with people on a personal level, and writing is the easiest way for me to do that. God forbid we talk—that leaves me vulnerable. I’d rather post someone else’s song on Facebook than tell my best friend she hurt my feelings. The consequences are the same—I feel vulnerable–but I can hide behind my computer when writing and don’t have to deal directly with a person. And writing also helps me process my thoughts and feelings, and I don’t have to deal with the anxiety of providing an immediate response to someone else’s anger, sadness, or whatever emotion that comes, because as an introvert, I need time.

Then I have to look at what’s really important, and I know fame is not it. Fortune is not it. Connecting with others, yes. Accepting myself for who I am. Accepting others for who they are, which is human.

But what about all the stories I read about people who’ve turned their lives around by changing their diets, getting a regular workout routine, getting sober? Oh yeah. I’ve done all those things. But now I want life to be better. As an INFP on the Meyers-Briggs, a #4 on the enneagram, and as an alcoholic (but sober, in case you’re not reading closely—God forbid someone think I’m drinking), I’m always striving for more. Rarely am I satisfied. Never have I gotten the relationship, the job, the house, the whatever, and then thought, Now life is perfect. Now I can relax. Now everything is exactly as it should be.

Life is not meant to be a veil of tears. But if there’s no Santa, then what is there, and how can I be happy if everything that I’ve learned is a lie? And if happiness comes from within, how am I supposed to find it in there, amongst all the wreckage from the past, where I’ve built armor for protection? I don’t want to be vulnerable.

And what does it really mean to surrender? Am I surrendering my dream of becoming the only thing I ever really wanted, and if so, then who am I supposed to become? Is the white picket fence really just about finding a plot of land and being happy with your own little family? Could it be that those people are the ones who’ve figured it out, who know what life is really about, while I–who always dreamed that happiness was about adventure and traveling the globe, and not about marriage and family–was the one who was wrong. Because really it’s human nature to want to procreate, and maybe something is just wrong with me because I don’t want to do that.

Maybe that’s why some people pursue money. They know life is hard, and money allows us to afford creature comforts. Maybe that’s what the picket fence is all about. It’s not some image of keeping up with the Joneses’, though it may turn into that, but the idea is to get a plot of land, a house to live in, a family to love, and live life.

Intellectually I know that the answer lies somewhere in between and around these possibilities, and I feel that I’m on the brink of getting this message into my heart, but I’m also in a place of truly understanding on a deeper level than before that I really, really do not know anything. This is life. You live it.

And I guess I’m really just becoming myself. I hope.

Here’s another song by Heartless Bastards, which I listen to on repeat these days.