What Really Matters

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl writes about life in a concentration camp in the Holocaust:

“In the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him—mentally and spiritually… Of the prisoners only a few kept their full inner liberty and obtained those values which their suffering, afforded, but even one such example is sufficient proof that man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward life. Such men are not only in concentration camps. Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering.”

What I take from this is that to live a spiritual life is a choice, and it’s a continual choice, an effort one puts into life on a regular basis. For me it has to be daily, though I often go astray, especially when life is going well. It’s through suffering that I’m brought back to a place of humility, and then that I reach out and ask for help, as well as offer help, if I’m keeping my heart open.

Take last week for example. I spent the week going through the motions, doing homework, going to work, not getting a lot of writing done but some, most of it complaining about petty things that don’t really matter (most of which I did not post) instead of getting into the deeper questions. I didn’t want to do any inner work. I just wanted to finish homework so I can get through this, graduate, make more money, get my own place, and live happily ever after, right? Ha!

By the end of the week, in my head I was bat-shit crazy. I may have looked normal on the outside, like business as usual, my friends, but I’m telling you, in my head I’d had a thousand different arguments with basically the rest of the world. This person over here wasn’t doing what I wanted, that person over there didn’t respond to my texts (don’t they know who I am?), I got jealous of this other person, and another person, and when am I going to get mine? I have so much school work to do and not enough time, how am I going to spend quality time with myself and my friends plus do everything else? That dude ripped my heart out and now I can’t love anyone else and it’s all his fault, yada yada, blah blah.

It’s all total bullshit. Petty bullshit that doesn’t really matter.

Yesterday I spent the day on the river with a friend, silently resentful about all of these things, thinking, Eff ‘em all. I don’t care. I’ll do my own thing and go off on my own island and everyone else can do whatever. It was the old me. The old me crept back in, and I wasn’t even aware of it. It was a gorgeous day and I could barely appreciate it because I was so focused on where this is all going and who’s going to take care of me.

On the ride back home I told my friend about this book I’m reading, and he said something along the lines of what Tara Brach often talks about, which is this: What really matters? What is it that truly matters on a deeper level?

That’s when I realized, Oh my God. None of that stuff I just wasted the day ruminating on, building up resentments about, even matters.

Then another friend of mine spoke last night of how he can get so focused on what’s in front of him that he can’t see the bigger picture, which is why he has a therapist and a sponsor to help guide him in that.

We can choose our guides to help us along the way. I have access to my spiritual guides who help me remember to focus on what’s important. Because, let’s be real: do I really care about that little thing that was bothering me? And if so, why? In the grand scheme of things, is that truly important? What is it that’s really bothering me? What does that particular situation mean for me?

It usually boils down to this: a fear of abandonment, of being alone, forever, with no one.

But what I’m forgetting is that I have someone. I have a lot of someones, a lot of friends, and of course my sisters, and I have access to an inner strength that I can draw from at any time I choose, and I have a belief and a purpose that there’s something bigger than me, there’s a bigger picture. Which doesn’t make me or my feelings any less important or any less valid.

In Frankl’s book, he writes about how a few of the prisoners would offer some bit of hope or generosity to someone else, in spite of their own suffering. What I got from it was that this was a person who utilized their suffering to access an inner strength by showing compassion for someone else. Most people who suffered became violent or apathetic, and those who became apathetic died because they no longer had the will to live. Some of those who died anyway were able to access this inner strength before they died. My point is, it brings me back to this: How do I want to spend today? Do I want to spend my time worrying about minor things, or do I want to look at the bigger picture of what’s truly important? Relationships, how we relate to one another, how I can show love and compassion for someone else, and for myself, that’s what matters. And in finding gratitude for all the things, big or small, that life has to offer.

I’ll close with this: yesterday I witnessed a cormorant dive into the water, swim under water, catch a fish (presumably), then fly off back over the water. This is probably an everyday occurrence that everyone on the river sees happen all the time, just like the sky is something I see every day, but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating to watch. We can look at the world with childlike curiosity.

And right now, at 8am on a Monday morning, construction workers just started their work on our front porch. I hear there’s a jackhammer involved, but right now all I can hear is an electric saw while the smell of gasoline floats into my room through the window unit. Effing with my serenity as I write about birds floating over the water and let’s all sing kumbaya, folks. Hahahahaha! Good thing I woke up at 6am and meditated already this morning. Which is more than I can say for what I did last week, and you see where that got me.

And hey, if a man can survive a Nazi concentration camp, I can live through a few hours of noise pollution. And this just might be my cue to go to Zumba, another self-care/self-love act I didn’t do last week, and which I’ve been wanting to write about for ages because I love it so much. But I’ll leave that for another day.

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The Meaning of Life and Other Light Topics, Like Death

Where do you go when you die?

A week or so ago I had a dream that someone held a gun to my head, and in that moment I knew death was inevitable, so I just closed my eyes and said, Go ahead and do it. I don’t remember feeling fear so much as feeling that whatever was about to happen next was simply inevitable. After that I remember a feeling of flying out of my body and being nothing but mind, or spirit, or whatever you want to call the stuff that is you which is not physical.

I believe that dreams are a doorway into the subconscious or the soul. Somewhere deep down we know things we can’t always easily access. This dream for me is about transformation. Growth and rebirth. On some level while the transformation is happening we know it but we don’t always feel it, not right away. It’s not until one day I realize that I no longer think about that obsession that used to haunt me. Or I find that I no longer react or feel a certain way in certain situations.

Change can be terrifying. At the time it can be scary leaving the comfort of the known reality we’ve been living in, even when that reality was no longer the direction in which we needed to grow.

Often I wonder where my mom’s soul is. Where her mind is, her thoughts. Her face is so clear to me in my mind’s eye. The memory of her is so fresh, how smooth her skin was the last time she kissed me good night. I can hear her words in my head. I remember the scent of the perfume she wore when I was a child, perfume that she hadn’t worn in years. Is she now in some kind of parallel universe, what some might call Heaven, is she aware of what’s going on in this world now? Was I in some other world prior to this, and now have no memory of it? Sometimes I have random dreams about faraway places, and sometimes I dream that I am some other person, or a mere observer inside someone else’s life, and I wonder, Is that my mind making that up, or is that a memory of a previous life? Is it symbolic of not being an active participant in my life, or a scrambling of the brain to show me a story like a movie, or something else?

I’m okay with not knowing the answer, and making a choice to believe what I want about it, with the knowledge that I don’t really know. My belief is that she’s an angel, she’s always with me, and we’ll be together again one day. It’s a comforting thought that brings me serenity. Of course, there’s no way of knowing for sure, not without dying, and I appreciate my life too much to do that to myself on purpose. That will happen anyway one day; I’ll get the answer soon enough.

The last time I kissed Mom, the last time when she was still conscious, it was late, for me, and we’d stayed up watching the Olympics. We’re not a kissy-kissy family—usually we just hug, but for some reason that last time, I’d walked over to her and kissed her cheek, and she kissed mine. She’d been sitting in her chair wrapped up in her blanket and she’d looked so tired, but determined to stay up and watch the Olympics. Earlier I’d asked, How does everyone remember Usain Bolt? When everyone cheered him on, because I barely remember yesterday, let alone the Olympics four years ago, though admittedly I never watch the Olympics. She told me how he’d been a gold medal winner for the past eight years. She’s always knew what was going on, in the news, in sports, in her community. She paid attention. She paid close attention to what was going on in the news, and she read books of all kinds: books about politics, current events, historical fiction, science fiction, nonfiction, just plain old fiction. Over the year or two prior to her death I’d catch up on the news before seeing her so that I’d have a clue what she was talking about because I spent most of my life under a rock of self-absorption. The Thanksgiving before she died we all spent together, her, my sisters, and me: “The Girls.” I’d caught up on the news which I’d tried to do anyway but to me at the time it was usually either way too stressful or else just plain boring, so I got the basics and went down to my sister’s in Virginia where she and her husband and kids lived at the time. My other sister and Mom came to visit from North Carolina, and just before the meal someone decided we should each talk about something we were grateful for. Mostly we were grateful to have that time spent all of us together, since it was rare now that we live in different states. And the talk about politics began, and I stayed silent for the most part. I agree with their viewpoints, so what’s the use in preaching to the choir? Everything would be fine in the election, no way would the world—my world, anyway—ever go crazy in my lifetime, so who cares?

The next morning Mom was getting ready for the day, fixing her hair in the bathroom, and I came in to talk to her, and somehow we landed on the topic of conversation itself.

“What do you like to talk about?” she’d asked me, since she knew I wasn’t big on talking politics, or much of anything else.

The meaning of life, I would say now, without hesitation, and it was the thought that popped into my head then, but for some reason didn’t seem appropriate. It felt like the wrong answer, something she’d laugh at and say, Oh, is that all. At the time I hesitated more before speaking than I do now. Now I’m becoming more like, This is what I think and if you don’t like it, oh well. I’m not 100% there but well on my way, finally, to not worrying as much about others’ reactions. For the record, Mom would be happy to discuss the meaning of life, so why I’d hesitate has nothing to do with her and everything to do with me.

Instead I answered this: “I don’t know, just random, obscure things, like what they talk about on Radiolab,” I’d replied. Radiolab is my favorite NPR radio show similar to This American Life but better, in my opinion.

“The esoteric,” she’d replied.

I’d told her about how my ex’s brother believed humans were created by aliens and that our lives were a video game just for their entertainment, and what a fascinating belief that was to me. At the time I couldn’t articulate much beyond that why it was so fascinating to me other than to say that the brother clearly is insane, but at the same time who am I to say someone else is insane just because they believe something different from me? If everyone in our culture held that belief, or even just a percentage of us, it might not seem so odd. Don’t all religions have their own creation myths? And how can I know for sure that we weren’t created by aliens for their entertainment? I have no idea who created us or why. These are all things I would say to her now, and can still say to her, am saying to her now with these words on this screen. I choose to believe she’s reading this, or hears what’s in my head, that she’s proud of the woman I’ve become. And by the way she’d be happy to see that I’m someone who today devours the news because this shit is crazy, and I can’t wait until the movie on all this comes out, but I’m still not someone to argue with others about what’s going on, who does what, or why. I do like to think about how all this is going to end, but no one ever thinks it will be in our lifetimes, because even though we know on some level life as we know it inevitably must come to an end, we can’t really comprehend it. Most people don’t like to talk about it.

Most people don’t like to talk about death, and when I bring up my mother, if they haven’t experienced death of a close, loved one, I sense that they want me to stop talking, but I don’t. Or maybe they just don’t know what to say, like how I was before Mom died. We are afraid of death, of everything about it. To talk about it seems morbid. People who haven’t experienced it themselves seem to think maybe it’s too painful for me to discuss, or it may seem that I’m obsessed with her or death in general. But it’s not that, and I don’t feel hopeless or depressed about it. Rather, it’s my way of acknowledging Mom’s life and the impact she made on me. When I tell my classmates to watch their blood pressure or post an article on Facebook about how importance of quitting smoking, it’s not to preach or wallow in regret about how or why Mom died, but to learn from her death and try to illuminate to others on how they might live a longer, healthier life. Responses range from fear about dying, and how they might prolong their own lives, or I may get a comment about how when your time comes, it comes, and if smoking doesn’t give me cancer, something else will because we can’t live in a bubble. I agree with both, and still find both responses amusing. No, you cannot avoid death, but yes, you can make choices to limit your chances of dying a slow, painful death of suffering. Most importantly, we can make choices to feel good in a healthy way today. Because today is all you got.

purpose

I want to find some newer songs to post, and not those that are 10+ years old, but these are the ones that pop into my head… My favorite verse is this: “I want life in every word / to the extent that it’s absurd.” As a side note, I like how the person who made this video (aka 3BeStillMyHeart3) calls it another of her (or his or their) “pooey” videos simply because I like the use of the word “pooey,” though I wish this person wouldn’t be so self-deprecating. I can relate to how this person feels. Maybe she needs to join CODA. Just saying.

Feeding the Good Wolf

Last night my boss, Cathy, had my co-workers and me over for dinner and a movie, which was literally that: dinner and a movie. Ie, communication wasn’t the predominant theme—but that was okay. We sat together like a happy family, in comfortable silence, occasionally throwing out commentary on what was happening in the show, but mostly just watching the show–and me petting the cat, Kikui, whose velvety nose I wish I could kiss right now because she was such a sweet little smoochy woochy.

But I digress. Our shindig was similar to the experience I had with Cathy last week, when we drove to New Jersey for a conference, in that I’d imagined hours-long heart-to-hearts in the car on the way and in the hotel, because I feel a connection with Cathy, but instead I had homework that I spent the night working on, and she had some games to play on her phone, which I thought was cute. Some of my friends are gamers, though I was never big into it myself. Yet there’s something about allowing yourself to use just be a kid that really appeals to me. My former roommates convinced me to play a virtual reality video game called “Rush of Blood,” that I think they got a kick out of seeing me with the goggles on, bouncing all over the room with a remote control gun in each hand, yelling, “Die, suckers!” to the killer zombies popping up in front of my face. Hey, it’s a dog-eat-dog world, my friends. You have to defend your turf. Just kidding. Really what I wonder is why can’t we all just get along? Maybe I should’ve tried to be friends with those killer zombies, but the video game didn’t have that option. Something about holding a toy gun in your hand, the fear of perishing, the adrenaline rush that comes from that primal instinct to survive that really just brought out the bloodthirstiness in me.

So I can understand why gamers like gaming, though I prefer being in nature.

Anyway, we watched “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a new TV series that stars one of my favorite actresses, Elizabeth Moss, who also plays a badass cop on “Top of the Lake.” This show brings to light what crazy times we live in, in case anyone needed a spotlight on that particular topic.

My co-worker Beth, who’s 60, remembers reading the book when she was in her 20s, and I can’t remember when I read it. It was published in 1985, so I knew I couldn’t have read it then, because I’d have been nine years old. Cathy noted that she wasn’t even born yet in 1985. Christy’s a few years younger than I am, but never read it. Regardless, the four of us come together. Age doesn’t matter, but it’s interesting to reflect on, especially when you remember things that other generations have no memory of. At times I feel like I’m becoming a living relic, an artifact, and/or a witness to those artifacts, which really we all are if you think about it. It’s so flattering when younger people are interested in hearing the experience I have to share. Eg, Cathy remembers being in elementary school when 9/11 happened, but not really knowing what was going on, while I remember details from the whole day, including the drive home from work, past the Centers for Disease Control (a potential target in our minds), terrified the world around me would blow up any moment.

As an American growing up in the 80s and 90s, I’d spent my life thinking the world was a relatively safe place—well, except for how we thought the Russians were going to bomb us and the apocalypse would happen via nuclear war any day now—but other than that little fear (which by the way was much more pervasive when my parents were kids what with the bomb shelters and all), when I was a kid we felt like the world—school, church, the grocery store, work, airports—were generally safe. There had been a shooting at my high school but that was in the parking lot on a Saturday, so it kind of didn’t count. The fear was always there but the reality didn’t hit (me, anyway) until 9/11.

Nowadays some of us accumulate bug-out bags or go ahead and take the leap and learn to live off the land. I sure wish I had a piece of land and a little house of my own, with some goats, chickens, and a garden. Oh well. Maybe some day.

What I’m trying to say is, this TV show makes you think. I don’t want to feed into anyone’s paranoia, but it’s scary how slowly and insidiously oppression can rise in a society. In looking at other countries, and history… well, it’s just scary. Maybe we are wired to fear for our lives, the fight-or-flight response built in to protect us from predatory animals, and maybe the apocalyptic story originates from growing up in a predominantly Christian society, or maybe the story of the apocalypse in Christianity comes from some innate, inevitable knowing, or maybe from the fight-or-flight response. Chicken or egg, who knows. Doesn’t matter really. Just interesting to think about.

My ex’s brother believes that our world was created and is controlled by aliens playing a video game for their entertainment, that we live inside this video game. He even published a paper on it in some scientific AI publication. This, to me, is a fascinating belief. If I believed that, I might just commit suicide. He’s okay with it, or so he writes in his paper, though admittedly I didn’t read the entire 20-something pages of it, it being a dense read and me feeling like my life operates on a constant time deficit as it is, without spending time reading something that quite frankly made me feel depressed.

One could argue the same for watching “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and I would not disagree. I’ve only gotten to episode 3, but the show so far hasn’t left me with a feel-good feeling about our future. Then again, I’ve always been one to appreciate all the possibilities of what could happen, and since I was a little girl I had a bizarre affinity for devouring terrifying, nightmare-provoking movies.

On the other hand, I try to feed the good wolf these days. So I thought about what Wayne Dyer writes about in some of his books. He was influenced by a book, Man’s Search for Meaning, written by Viktor Frankl, who lived in a Nazi concentration camp but yet found a way to have a positive attitude, which may have been ultimately what saved his life.

My sister Sherry recently told me that she felt sick of how our society acts like everyone should be bright and cheery all the time. She made a valid point of how living in the moment doesn’t necessarily mean always being bubbly and effusive. Sometimes we just don’t feel that way, and nothing anyone else can do or say can change that. For several months after our beloved mother died unexpectedly, no amount of positive affirmations, no number of hikes in the woods, no words or actions could change the feeling of devastation and utter loss we felt. Not enough birds could sing, no one could smile or joke enough, nothing. And that’s okay. It’s okay to feel sad sometimes, to allow that. We don’t have to be cheerful 24/7—it’s not natural. Personally, my threshold for pain has become much lower, and I surround myself with as much positivity as I possibly can. But it’s unhealthy to bury grief, anger, or negative or undesirable emotions. It’s all about what we do with those emotions that makes the difference.

I’m rambling a bit so I will cut to the chase to say this: shit happens, and shit can happen at any time, but we can persevere. We can not only survive but thrive. My plan is to read Viktor Frankl’s book, continue to say positive affirmations, feel and show love for others, allow myself grief when needed, and while I may watch these shows sometimes, I refuse to let anyone else’s bleak prediction rule my life. Not that I don’t have a few emergency supplies just in case—I’m a big fan of emergency preparedness—but I’m also an advocate of living life to the fullest. Rather than hoping for the best and expecting the worst, I try to expect the best from life, with the understanding that the world and everything else, apart from my own thoughts and actions, is beyond my control.

With that I’ll leave you with a quote I found on Wikipedia from Wayne Dyer: ”My beliefs are that the truth is a truth until you organize it, and then it becomes a lie. I don’t think that Jesus was teaching Christianity, Jesus was teaching kindness, love, concern, and peace. What I tell people is don’t be Christian, be Christ-like. Don’t be Buddhist, be Buddha-like.”

Here’s a beautiful song, my favorite lines being this:

“Never know the abilities that you possess
Til you find yourself and lay all assumptions to rest
I’ll never stop writing when there’s no ink left
It’ll never stop flowing even when there’s no breath
And I’ll never find the words that describe my mind
I’ll never stop looking
I’ll never stop trying”

What Is Your Purpose? Part II

From yesterday’s post, I want to elaborate on an answer for the question posed in the headline (“What Is Your Purpose?”). The best answer I’ve found on this question that I’ve asked myself for most of my life comes from Eckhart Tolle in his book The Power of Now, in which he writes that your/our/my purpose is to grow and learn. I would add to that the Buddhist philosophy of living in the moment.

Tolle’s answer is profound, but at the time my response was, I KNOW but what am I supposed to do for a JOB? A career? How do I support myself in a meaningful, fulfilling way? What job do I go to every day, 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week? How do I spend most of my waking time, and with whom?

relax

I didn’t know where my path was. I just knew I wasn’t on it. I felt like I was already growing and learning—which, by the way, is a huge improvement over how I felt for most of my 20s, which was that my life was stagnating in a toxic cesspool of going nowhere fast. When I look back on it, it feels like I didn’t even really try, but I did try. I tried in all kinds of unhealthy ways because I just could not open my eyes and see the beautiful things that life has to offer.

My days were spent commuting to a job I hated, with people who were perfectly fine but I just couldn’t relate to. It’s taken me a long time to realize that the job itself doesn’t matter so much as my attitude towards it, but that’s easy to say now that I’m working at a much lower stress job with good-hearted people. In my case I left the marketing industry to work in an organic grocery store (while pursuing a master’s degree in nutrition, but that decision didn’t come until a year later). It was so hard to leave such a well-paying job but it’s the second best thing I’ve ever done (besides getting sober).

What is the practical answer for finding purpose? More specifically, how can I be content with my life?

 

It took me ages to learn that it had to do with this moment. What am I doing right now to find serenity and contentedness? For years that looked like having a glass of wine after work (which was never one glass, by the way). And all I thought about all day long was five o’clock, and how good that drink would feel going down. What a relief. But it was temporary and shallow, unfulfilling for my soul and heart.

You may read or heard about what people say they regret most when they’re on their deathbeds, which is never that they worked more. It’s never, Oh I wish I had spent more time meeting all those deadlines. Probably no one says, I’m glad I drank so much all those years. It’s usually, I wish I’d spent more time having fun, enjoying life, spending time with loved ones.

In my Foundations of Health and Wellness class I learned the importance of making time in the day for play. Yes, play. Whatever that means for you. It could mean dancing in your kitchen while cooking, or in the bathroom while getting ready for your day. Maybe it means finding a game or activity to do with a friend. And I learned the importance of self-care. That means setting aside time each day, even if only for a few minutes, to do something I enjoy, that’s good for me, and for me that is writing this blog, which is a form of therapy for me. I’ve been through hell and back over the past few years, even more so since last August when my mom died, and again when my ex left me a few months later. But worse things have happened. At the time I made a list of those things, which included living in a war-torn country, losing all or part of any function of my body, accidentally killing someone else (or deliberately killing someone else, for that matter), witnessing others suffer… the list goes on. Any of those things could still happen to me; I’m not exempt. I know people who’ve experienced these kinds of things, and some of them cope well with it and others do not. How do you want to live your life?

pay attention

The events that have happened in my life are just a part of life. Not to dismiss them, because my pain (just as yours) is no less valid than anyone else’s, regardless of the experience. There was a time I felt I should apologize for not having bigger problems but I no longer feel that way. Instead I can acknowledge that life could be worse, but it could be better too, and of course sometimes life is painful, but I can and will persevere. I’m resilient, if nothing else. You are too. You made it this far, didn’t you?

If you’re like me, and you have no idea what you want to do, just do things you enjoy. When I left my marketing job, or maybe just before, I took a painting class. As a kid I liked art, and I was told I was good at it, but as I got older, drinking took precedent over everything in my life, and making money became the only thing I could do otherwise to feel like I had some control over my life, to feel secure with a roof over my head and food in my belly. What I discovered was that if I continued to do those things I enjoyed, I had something to look forward to, and you never know what can come out of a hobby. Just don’t put pressure on yourself to become world-renowned at it (that’s what I do, lol). Do it because you enjoy it, and for no other reason. Otherwise, it won’t be fun. You’ll just be putting pressure on yourself to do Something and be Somebody, when you’re already somebody doing something.

So one answer to finding purpose in life is to make time each day to do something you enjoy, something that requires introspection, or quality time with someone else—not watching television, which takes you away from engaging with others, or with your own heart and soul. (Not that I don’t like TV, my friends. “Orphan Black” is my new obsession that poses fascinating questions I want to discuss later.)

I wanted to make this a short post so I’ll end it here. Finding purpose in life is one of my favorite things to ponder, so more suggestions may come to me (eg, 12-step programs offer a different answer) that I can address later.

find

Peace and love,

TCH

What Is Your Purpose?

How do you find meaning in life? What is the point of all this? Why am I here? Why is anyone here? What is our purpose? What else is out there?

These are questions that baffled me my entire life, and I often concluded that there was no point, there’s nothing or no one out there, or no one in here anyway, that if there was a God, he, she, or it didn’t care about me, because I wasn’t one of the chosen ones. I wasn’t one of those who had what I thought was an innate quality that you had to have which made you spiritual and faithful. How do you believe in something you can’t see and for which you have no scientific proof? Those other people who had burning bush experiences were either insane, hallucinating, or else they had some special characteristic unavailable to me for whatever reason.

When I was in college, I dated this guy who I adored, who I’ll call Seth. Seth had a belief, faith that life would work out, that he would be taken care of no matter what. He’s the only person I know who could smoke pot all day and still be energized. Maybe he had ADHD, who knows. (But please note that I’m not advocating marijuana use; if it were up to me no one would drink or drug at all, ever, but that’s just my two cents, and if you want to drink or smoke, that’s your prerogative and I try not to judge.) I could not understand how Seth had this faith. His friends all seemed to be the same way, the ones who I liked anyway. And I was jealous. There was a wall between them and me, and I did not know how to tear it down. I’m the one who built it, so of course I wasn’t about to get rid of it, even though I wanted what they had so badly.

Three events stand out in my mind about Seth that just blew my mind at the time, but I will talk about one of them today because this post is already too long.

Just before I moved to London, I broke up with Seth, because I had things to do, a life to live, and that didn’t include being a 22-year-old stepmother for a guy with two toddlers. My plan was to move to London and experience life. But then one night, for some reason, it seemed like a good idea to attempt suicide before experiencing this big adventure that actually seemed pointless because nothing really mattered anyway (I was depressed). Seth saved my life after I’d overdosed on sleeping pills, and when I woke up the next morning, he said, Let’s just get married. I thought, That’s a terrible idea. He was so willing to take care of me, so foolish and naive. I knew it then and I know it now. In my heart I knew it was unhealthy, and not the solution.

When I got to London, the hostel where I was staying cut my visit short by a week (I’d booked two weeks and they thought I’d booked just one), and I didn’t learn this until the end of the week, so I had to find a place to live immediately. I had no home, no job, not much money, and I was there alone. The only person I knew was this gorgeous girl from San Diego who all the English guys fawned over, whereas I was just a boring girl from some unknown town in Georgia. She was a poet, and she got what I imagined was a fulfilling job at an independent bookstore with all the cool people, and moved to Camden Town, where all the artsy-fartsy people lived, and then promptly no longer had time for me. Once I went out with her and her cool girlfriends, who were indifferent to me, so that was it for me. I was on my own.

So after a few weeks of pure hell, I called Seth crying, hoping for a comforting voice, a friend. He’d always comforted me before when I was down, so why not call now, after I’d broken his heart? Hahaha! Right. He was sweet but at the same time he let me know he’d just started dating Rita, this supermodel of a girl from one of my English classes who’d previously dated a co-worker of mine who I’d had a crush on. Seth had wasted no time finding this girl, who seemed a lot more together than I was at the time. Her dad was rich, in my mind, because he was an attorney, and she was from the city, ie, she was worldly, taken care of, confident.

These memories bring me back to how I felt at the time: inferior to everyone else, unable to attain whatever it was they had that I could never put my finger on. They all had money (or so I believed, and which seemed to me the ticket to freedom), confidence, a plan. They all seemed to know what they wanted and they knew how to go after it. Me? I was just bumbling around, hoping for the best, expecting the worst.

One reason I adored Seth so much was because he provided me with emotional support. My drinking career was progressing fast—I’d started drinking at 14, but could only drink on weekends. By the time I was a senior in college, I was drinking at least four nights a week, often while working. I felt deeply depressed and often cried for no reason I could ascertain, and Seth would soothe me with reassuring words about how I was being taken care of, that I had love in my heart. And he talked about God. Not in a churchy way, but in a heart-filled, cut-to-the-core way. All these concepts were so foreign to me, but spoke volumes. How could he know all that stuff? How could he be so sure?

To this day I don’t know what it is, or was, that made him and at least some of his friends so spiritually in touch, but I can take a guess.

Hardship, for one.

Hardship combined with a fighter mentality, not in a violent way, but a positive attitude that I can get through this. Well, he came from a broken home, and had gotten a girl pregnant when he was only 22. That would probably make someone’s life challenging, to say the least, especially a kid who had not gone to college. So he did what he had to do, and he took care of his family.

This post is already getting too long so I will cut to the chase. How is it that now I believe in something I’ve never been able to see, hear, smell, or touch? Although I grew up in the Bible belt, my parents didn’t require that I go to church. My dad was an atheist, and my mom encouraged independence of thought. When my sisters were little, our parents took them to church for social reasons, but then they divorced when I was three, and nothing social or church-like happened after that. One of my neighborhood friends took me to church with her on occasion, which I remember wanting, because I wanted so badly to have faith, to believe in God, to go to heaven when I died. Maybe I wasn’t good enough, and if I didn’t go to church and become a Christian and get saved, I might go to hell for all of eternity. But somehow I could never become a member of the church, or relate to what the preacher talked about, or remember all the stories and history, and why Jesus died for my sins. To this day, one of my favorite lines is the opening of a Patti Smith song (Gloria): “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.” It represents to me a defiant spirit who feels that if there is a God, he’s not here for me. That was how I felt.

Whatever my oldest sister believed was what I believed. She’s a poet and an artist, and I related to her. Sherry and I started getting close when I was about 14, when she took a sudden interest in me. She’d had a hard life and didn’t go to college right away, but after she did, she came home and taught us all, Mom included, the things she learned. Not the book stuff, but just the… open-your-mind-to-the-world stuff. It was wonderful.

Once Sherry came home after I’d spent a weekend hallucinating on drugs in Atlanta after having told Mom I was at a friend’s house across the street, and Sherry she told me that she’d found God. I’d just finished hallucinating a police car while driving high as a kite the hour and a half back to where I lived, and was still hallucinating when she told me this, and somehow her very words produced a feeling that God was there, right then.

And if that was the case, well. I was in big trouble.

She described some kind of spiritual experience she’d had that sounded half-baked, and I remember thinking, Don’t be telling me this right now. I’m on drugs right now, and if there’s a God, he knows what I’m doing, and he ain’t happy with me right now. I remember thinking, I thought you were an atheist, and I’d accepted that as the answer. That was what made the most sense, scientifically. Of course there’s no God. We evolved from primates who’d evolved from amoebas eventually somehow and there’s not some bearded old man in the sky who controls my destiny. There was not some entity who knew everything that happened and was going to happen. That was my senior year of high school.

And then I met Seth in college a few years later, and his perspective further opened the doorway into a concept that I previously dismissed. But even then I still wanted so badly to have faith, and I thought you had to have dreadlocks, do yoga, hug trees, be a vegan, smoke a lot of weed, and be a very relaxed, chill person who automatically had this thing called spirituality. I wanted to be that person so badly, but I was so tightly wound and so lost that only a drink could unwind me, temporarily.

Fast-forward to seven and a half years ago, six months after I moved to Maryland. One night I was sitting in bed, only slightly buzzed, watching this Alfred Hitchcock movie about a woman who’d woken up in jail after having killed her husband in a blackout. I remember thinking, My God. That could be me. I had no idea what I’d done in my blackouts. No memory. My first husband liked to remind me, and it was not a pretty picture. I was a completely different person when I was drinking. Then I remember thinking, I wish I could find God.

Then something happened.

I felt like a higher power was there in the room with me. This thought came to me: God is right here, now.

It felt the same as when Sherry told me she’d found God but less scary. Not exactly comforting, but somehow just this knowing feeling. This time another thought came to me: You will never find God as long as you’re sitting here getting drunk every night.

Where did that thought come from? How did I know that? Somehow I just knew it. I had not heard it anywhere. No one told me that in order to get sober I had to believe in God. I had no idea what AA was all about, that it was based on spiritual principles. All I knew was that I was blocked off from the world sitting in my room alone watching creepy psychological thrillers about the very real possibilities of what human beings are capable of. I was not really living life, not participating in any fulfilling or meaningful way. I had no friends. I worked from home. I hated Maryland (which I now love, btw—this is a beautiful state), I hated the snow, I hated the landscape, I hated the people, I hated my apartment. All of those things I now love (except the apartment—that place sucked).

A month later I decided I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, as they say in the rooms. I was sick of the hangovers, that’s all. I was not thinking about God. So I went to an AA meeting.

And they talked about a higher power in there. I had no idea that AA had anything to do with a higher power.

For a lot of people who come to AA, the idea of God is a repellent. So many people grew up with religion being forced on them, and the notion of God as a punishing God is a pervasive cultural belief, ingrained in us from the time we’re born, even if we didn’t go to church growing up. Then there are people from other religions, who come to AA and feel alienated because in most meetings we say the Lord’s prayer. It’s a shame really, that the program is not more inclusive, and equally a shame that many people can’t get past that. Easy for me to say, being neither atheist nor religious. And that includes Christianity. I am not a Christian, but I respect Christians who truly believe in living a positive way of life, just as much as I respect Muslims, Hindus, Jewish people, atheists, and agnostics who exercise their life-views in positive ways. Buddhism makes the most sense to me, as a practical way of life, but I am not a Buddhist either. I believe in a higher power, which I call God, simply because it’s easier to call it God than anything else, and most people know what that means, though we have different interpretations.

How is it that I believe in this thing I can’t see? Well, I’ll tell you. I simply made a choice. I chose to believe in it. You can replace the word God with the word good or love, both of which I can’t see, but can feel, and have access to at any time. When I’m in a negative state of mind, I may behave in negative ways, and there’s no God in that. No good in it, no love. I’m not spreading goodness when that happens, and I feel miserable.

It’s probably terribly unsatisfying news for any skeptics out there, to find out that I never received any kind of proof, other than a feeling, and that feeling began as a glimmer of hope that maybe I would be okay (this came, by the way, two years prior to getting sober, after my sister got sober but that’s a whole nother blog post), and the feeling has evolved into a full-fledged belief that everything will work out, even during hard times, no matter what happens. And the reason it will work out is because in many ways (in all ways?) I create my own reality. I’ve decided to make the best of this life, of this moment, because this moment is the only thing I know for sure. I wish I had a more satisfying answer for those of you who may feel like how I used to be, which was purely skeptical and jaded. What bullshit to have faith just because you chose to have it. Where’s the burning bush? The lightning strike, the neon sign that I am God and I will protect you forever and you’re here for a reason, a deeply profound reasonAnd you’ll become rich and famous and everyone will love you.

I don’t know, man. I didn’t get that sign. But I know my life ain’t for nothing, as much as I know your life ain’t for nothing either. My mother’s life wasn’t for nothing. She made a profound impact not just on me, but on her community. Just as Pedro did. Just as Michelle did. Each of them in their own ways. Even as much as my friend from high school/college (Sean) who committed suicide seven years ago because he never could figure out what the point of all this was. I just hope that you, my dear readers, do not feel that this world is not your home as much as it is everyone else’s. Maybe there’s a better home after this, but why speed that process up when you have no idea what happens after this? Enjoy this moment, now, here.

This faith I’ve found is something that came after decades of self-pity, bafflement, uncertainty, insecurity, of a feeling so incredibly lost that I had no idea how I would ever. Figure anything out, ever. And it’s not like I figured it all out one day. The older I get, the more I realize I don’t know. But that’s okay. Every time life throws me a curve ball, it’s an opportunity to ask what there is for me to learn from this. So far the lessons have only come through terribly painful circumstances that made no sense to me but seemed to have been required for me to get to this place of… serenity. Word is that you can learn these lessons from joy too, but I’m not aware of how that works.

One of my friends is an atheist, and doesn’t understand how or why some people have such strong faith. She seems happy, so kudos to her. Some AA members are atheists and find a way for it to work for them, so more power to them. Some people get sober without AA, and I salute them. Most people don’t need or want AA but many of us want a spiritual way of life. And a lot more aren’t interested. They don’t have that desire for a meaningful life, and that’s fine for them. You do whatever works for you. It doesn’t matter to me if you believe in God, don’t believe in God, drink, don’t drink, or what you do, as long as you’re not hurting other people. No one else can tell you what to do, how to live your life. I’m simply telling you what has worked for me. And I do want you to be happy, for selfish reasons, to be honest. Because if you are happy, you’re probably going to spread positivity to the world around you, or at least you most likely won’t be killing, stealing, or cheating other people. And also because now that I’ve finally found a positive way of life, I want everyone to have that. I feel like if I can find it, so can you.

One last comment to those of you who think you’re different, that this won’t work for you. When I was in high school a psychiatrist diagnosed me with chronic depression. What I heard was that it’s incurable, therefore nothing can be done to change it. I was doomed, no matter what. Here’s what I have to say to anyone else who gets a similar diagnosis, or interprets it in that way: Don’t believe that bullshit. My therapist now says I have situational depression. Who knows? You create your own reality. That doesn’t mean don’t take medication (or that you do–I am not a doctor and have no idea if you should take your meds or not so please do not take this as encouragement to do one or the other), and it doesn’t mean that you don’t go to a therapist, church, temple, or whatever works for you. It means you do everything you can to help yourself. Give it your all. If one thing doesn’t work, give it a good shot and if that doesn’t work, try something else. But have patience. And don’t beat yourself up when you slip because we all slip. That’s called life.

It brings me back to these questions to ask yourself when in doubt:

  • Is this good for me?
  • Is this how I want to live my life?

There are other important questions to ask, like Is this good for other people? But that can be a more difficult one to answer until you can look at the bigger picture in the long term, which most of us can’t do when we’re confused about our own existence—at least, I couldn’t, nor did I care to. But if you think about the bad decisions you made in your life, chances are they were hurtful to others, either directly or indirectly, even when you were doing something they wanted you to do.

Here’s a beautiful song that’s been out there for a while but I’ve never paid attention to it until this morning when a friend sent me a link to some of their videos. I’m not sure I know what he means when he says “I struggle to find truth in your lies” but the words that resonate with me are these:

In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
And where you invest your love, you invest your life
Awake my soul, awake my soul
Awake my soul
For you were made to meet your maker

Give Yourself A Pep Talk

Lately I’m feeling anxious about this career change. What if I’m no good at it? What if I can’t remember anything? What if I hate it? What if, what if, what if. Fear. Just pure fear.

I’d hoped to be out of school in a year, but had to drop two classes, which means I probably can’t take four classes every semester as I’d anticipated, which means it could take up to two years before I’m finished. Two years is not a long time but today it feels like forever. You’d think I’m starting tomorrow with the amount of anxiety I’m experiencing over it lately.

So I give myself a pep talk as I would to a good friend: You’ve traveled three times in the past four weeks, without much time off work, and you’re not only working full time, but you’re in graduate school. When would you have had time to clean? You’ve spent most of your free time writing, napping, going to support group meetings—these are all necessary for your self-care! Do not cut those things out! Maybe cut back on the writing and napping just a smidge, if you can. Your room is fairly clean now, and when you have a day off you can start chipping away at it.

There’s this thing called “integration” which, from the way I understand it, is a way of positive self-talk, the way a loving parent would talk to their child. It feels weird to talk to myself in third person, or second person, whatever it is, so I go back and forth in my head with this.

I just spent two days with my boss, who I like a lot, so this was not a bad thing, at a conference in New Jersey. We learned about (disease-preventing) benefits of herbs, and it was nice to have quality time and conversation with Cathy, who I find inspiring. Mostly I stressed about it though, because I like to have an hour minimum to myself in the morning and again at night, to write and process my thoughts and feelings. I’ve gotten so spoiled with having a lot of “me time” that my insides seized up at the thought of not having that for 48 hours. LOL.

All this “me time” plus traveling has created a mess out of my bedroom, and I’m not as on top of my school work as I’d like to be. In my work I meet a lot of nutritionists who work for supplement companies, probably making good money, and I think to myself, Can I do that? Would I be good at what they do? I’d initially planned to work one-on-one with clients but now I’m in so much financial fear that I would sell my soul to get out of debt. Just kidding. Never gonna do that again. The most important question is, Would I even want to work for a supplements company? Luckily I don’t have to decide this today.

The other night I had a dream in which a former co-worker wrote a negative comment on my blog, then called me up and told me I was fired. I think the stress of all the traveling and less me-time has gotten to me. The fear of the unknown with the career situation. The lack of time spent exercising and doing other self-care things that nourish my spirit. All because I’m too busy doing homework, and even then I’m not spending enough time on that.

I want to write more to wrap this up but I have to get to work. I wrote most of this post last week and am feeling better today, and have started a different post that I’ll try to finish and put up tomorrow. Mostly I wanted to let y’all know I’m still alive and kicking, and I’ve been stressed out, but I’ve been saying positive affirmations, started listening to positive music again, cleaned my room, and doing other self-care things to help me. When you feel yourself spiraling into a negative direction, ask yourself, Is this how I want to spend my time? I am all about rewiring my brain for positivity. Try it! You never know how much better life can get if you don’t try.

It’s A New Day

One false belief I used to hold tight was that my life had to be difficult. Life to me was a battle to get through, and I had to spend my days commuting to a job I hated, to make money to live, and to pay off my student loan debt. Those other people who didn’t take 9 to 5 office jobs were just different from me—they had more self-discipline, they didn’t need someone else imposing structure on them, they had more self-confidence to start their own businesses, for example, or so I thought. But if you’re lucky, hopefully one day you wake up and realize you don’t have to do shit. You’re not required to do any of this.

For me, one wake-up call happened after I had about a year sober, and I’d spent every day working at my marketing job, twice a week teaching English composition and literature at a local community college, and five nights a week at a support group meeting. And I was (doing a half-ass job of) planning my wedding. I was exhausted, and complained to one of my friends about how I had to do this and I had to do that, and going to meetings all the time was wearing me out. She stopped me and said, “You don’t have to do anything. This is a choice. If you don’t want to do this, don’t do it.”

Eventually I realized I didn’t want to do either of those jobs, and that no one was forcing me to go to meetings every single night. And I realized I didn’t want that marriage either, but that’s a whole nother story.

Now I’m not saying everyone should quit their job, leave their spouse, and stop going to meetings every night (if you do that). What I am saying is that you choose how you want to spend your time. And you choose what kind of attitude you want to have about it.

Today I don’t particularly feel like going to work. I’d rather have the day off and write all day. But I do like my job, and I like my co-workers, and I have plans to meet with friends afterwards, which I’m looking forward to. So one thing that helps me is to remember that, and also to say positive affirmations.

Positive affirmations seemed like total bullshit to me for a long time. You’re just lying to yourself all day, is what I thought.

But then finally one day I realized it doesn’t matter.

Whatever you believe is true, is true.

Today I believe I’m an incredibly lucky person who gets to spend time with interesting people who care about the world. I get to listen to the birds singing outside. I get to type these words on this page.

That doesn’t mean I won’t have sad or upsetting circumstances in my life. We will all have that because that’s just life. But I can choose how I want to react to those events that are out of my control. When something I don’t want to happen happens, or when something I want to happen doesn’t, I get to ask what I can learn and how I can grow from that situation.

This is the opposite of how I spent most of my life feeling. For years I felt unlucky, ungrateful, disappointed in adulthood and all the responsibilities it brought. Why did I have so much debt, why couldn’t I get a job I liked, why couldn’t I find a good man, when would I ever be happy and have a good life?

It feels funny to me now, reading that previous paragraph. Because here’s the thing: I am happy now, and I have a good life now, even after the saddest events of my life that happened over the last nine months. And it’s all because I have a new perspective. It’s also because I made changes in my life that weren’t suited for me. Some people might love working two jobs but hey, that’s just not for me. The point is, I figured out a way to live my life without needing two jobs. Hopefully that won’t change, but you never know. If it does, I will find a way to adjust. One thing I know about me is that I’m incredibly resilient.

What about you? What are your strengths? Once you get through something difficult, you can look back and see that you got through it, and you did the best you could at the time, which is all you can do. My mom used to tell me, Just do the best you can. That’s all you can do. Don’t compare yourself against others, but against an earlier version of yourself. If you’re beating yourself up for not doing something perfectly, stop. Ask yourself what you’d tell a good friend, a loved one, if they were going through a hard time. You’d probably speak to them gently, Hey, you did the best you could do. This too shall pass. Life gets better. It does not have to be hard. It’s only difficult if you insist on swimming upstream.

There are good things in store for me. And for you too. You’re worth it. Your life is worth it. You deserve all the good things that are coming. Remember the law of attraction. I told my best friend that I still wanted something that doesn’t appear to be very good for me, and she said, Don’t put that out there. It resonated with me. The best is yet to come. I deserve the good life that’s waiting for me, that’s right in front of my face. And so do you.

When you catch yourself stuck in negative thinking, stop. Ask yourself if this is really how you want to spend your time. Is this serving you? Those momentary feelings of satisfaction are nothing compared to the peace you feel when you learn to let it go.

I dedicate this song to my best friend, who recently graduated from acupuncture school and is starting a new phase of her journey. We’ve been through heaven and hell together over the last 23 years, and I’m so grateful to have her in my life, that we’ve grown together in a positive way. Love you, K!

Peace and love,

TCH