Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Letting Go of Those Not in Recovery

From my reading this morning of The Language of Letting Go by Melodie Beattie.  Love this.

Letting Go of Those Not in Recovery

We can go forward with our life and recoveries, even though someone we love is not yet recovering.

Picture a bridge. On one side of the bridge it is cold and dark. We stood there with others in the cold and darkness, doubled over in pain. Some of us developed an eating disorder to cope with the pain. Some drank; some used other drugs. Some of us lost control of our sexual behavior. Some of us obsessively focused on addicted people's pain to distract us from our own pain. Many of us did both: we developed an addictive behavior, and distracted ourselves by focusing on other addicted people. We did not know there was a bridge. We thought we were trapped on a cliff.

Then, some of us got lucky. Our eyes opened, by the Grace of God, because it was time. We saw the bridge. People told us what was on the other side: warmth, light, and healing from our pain. We could barely glimpse or imagine this, but we decided to start the trek across the bridge anyway.

We tried to convince the people around us on the cliff that there was a bridge to a better pace, but they wouldn't listen. They couldn't see it; they couldn't believe. They were not ready for the journey. We decided to go alone, because we believed, and because people on the other side were cheering us onward. The closer we got to the other side, the more we could see, and feel, that what we had been promised was real. There was light, warmth, healing, and love. The other side was a better place.

But now, there is a bridge between those on the other side and us. Sometimes, we may be tempted to go back and drag them over with us, but it cannot be done. No one can be dragged or forced across this bridge. Each person must go at his or her own choice, when the time is right. Some will come; some will stay on the other side. The choice is not ours.

We can love them. We can wave to them. We can holler back and forth. We can cheer them on, as others have cheered and encouraged us. But we cannot make them come over with us.
If our time has come to cross the bridge, or if we have already crossed and are standing in the light and warmth, we do not have to feel guilty. It is where we are meant to be. We do not have to go back to the dark cliff because another's time has not yet come.

The best thing we can do is stay in the light, because it reassures others that there is a better place. And if others ever do decide to cross the bridge, we will be there to cheer them on.

Today, I will move forward with my life, despite what others are doing or not doing. I will know it is my right to cross the bridge to a better life, even if I must leave others behind to do that. I will not feel guilty. I will not feel ashamed. I know that where I am now is a better place and where I'm meant to be.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Finding Contentment in Now

I went to a guided meditation this week.  It went about as I expected it would - uncomfortably.

Phones buzzing, doors opening, people coughing, foot falling asleep, back hurting (so bad), butt boney against the floor, head spinning, heart dark and heavy.

I went into it, however, with grace for myself regardless of the outcome. After all, it was a "compassion and loving kindness" meditation.  The least I could do is accept the experience for exactly what it is.

That last bit - the heavy and darkened heart - was the one gift of awareness I received.  I feel it sitting here even now.  The right side of my chest feels open and light, while the left side feels shrouded somehow.  In this awareness, I feel the dull, faint ache.  Physically.  My heart - the muscle - is literally aching.

I have been living my life waiting for it to stop. Everything I do - in work, in play, in relationships - has been a gesture aimed at attaining purpose and meaning in my life.  They are acts of hope and not necessarily presence.  I live my life in the meantime.

I'm reading the book, In the Meantime, incidentally, which suggests that it is a naturally occurring time in everyone's life.  What I can't reconcile, however, is how "meantime" and "presence" can coexist.  Great teachers and philosophers have said that happiness is not having what you want in life, rather, wanting what you have.  But if this "meantime" phenomenon is real, how can that be possible?  Who on Earth could possibly want a meantime experience?

Perhaps it is less about want and more about acceptance.  As painful and messy as my meantime experience has been, it is definitely reshaping me.  No doubt I am a better, albeit slightly more worn, person for it.  Maybe in my meantime "presence" just means having gratitude for the unseen gifts I am receiving.

I have a hunch it also means opening this aching heart of mine to actually receive them.

Friday, December 7, 2012

After the Storm: The Clean Up

A tornado rips through a neighborhood. A wildfire rushes down a canyon, destroying everything in its path. A plane flies into one of the tallest buildings on earth and two of them crumble to the ground. What images immediately follow these events? Messy Ones. Like, "Oh my God, how are they ever going to clean that up?" sort of images. As if the grief and shock of these devastating events isn't enough, the destruction in the aftermath is unbearably overwhelming.

 But, it always gets cleaned up...somehow. It's messy, as there is no prescription for how to tackle the cleanup. And it takes a lot of time and a lot of patience. And, sometimes you'll be pressing on and working hard and determined to finish it, and that's when you run across a photo in the rubble that reminds you of how it was. Instantly, you're pulled back from the positive "start fresh" attitude you had minutes ago. You're pulled back to where everything becomes gray again, and you see the destruction again, and you feel the loss and anger and sadness rushing back. Suddenly, you can't stand to be there. 

So you leave the rubble - you walk away and don't come back for a while. Because it takes that long to rebuild your determination and hope...until you're ready to come back with that photo taped to your shovel and start working again. Working towards rebuilding the life you lost. At some point, the cleanup actually ends and the rebuilding begins. Most of the time, what is rebuilt is so much greater than what was lost. It takes time, patience, perseverance, and determination, but it always gets done. 

Yet another metaphor to put life in a new and hopeful perspective this holiday season.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My Journey...

I love this.  It does a pretty damn good job of describing my journey towards reconciling my religious upbringing.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Grace of Which I Am Incapable

I was in line at Starbucks.  Behind me stood a tall, young woman dressed in scrubs.  The place was buzzing with its usual sounds of grinding coffee beans, the whir of freshly brewed espresso, and the baristas shouting out names of happy recipients of a morning pick-me up.

I looked down the long line of quiet anticipation towards the register, most people surfing their smart phones or eyeing the new holiday line of coffee mugs.

Move people,  I thought.  I had been awake less than 10 minutes and stood there, crankily, in my pajamas.  The sooner I can get that Venti Americano in my hands, the sooner I can become the lovely pleasant person I want to be.

Just then, a vigorous tap on my shoulder and a voice that immediate pierced me as obnoxious,  "Did you want to use the restroom?"

I looked back and short and stalky woman with short gray hair and glasses was standing behind the woman in scrubs and staring inquisitively at me.  I can't even remember if I answered verbally, I had no idea what she was talking about.  I can say that I at least shook my head, but I quickly turned around and imagined an invisible force field all around me that would keep anyone else from talking to me.

"You going to work, hon?"

I could hear the smile in the young woman's voice as she replied to the old woman's attempt at small talk, "yes I am a nurse."

"Oh.  Well I just drove all night from Sedona.  I came here to find my ex-boyfriend who just got out of jail.  I've been driving all night, thinking about how I'm going to find him.  You know, I'm 65 years old, that's a long drive and I'm on my last penny.  Do you live here in Santa Barbara?"

"Yes."  The smile was fading and there was a quiver of discomfort in her voice.

"Yeah, I'm hoping to find a place to settle down soon.  Not here, though, it's way too expensive.  And, you know, I'm 65 years old so I can't get no job or anything.  My ex boyfriend, he was using drugs you know and..."

I can't continue describing the dialogue, because this is the point at which the words lost content and translated to my ear and what little patience I had as nails on a chalkboard.  Her voice rattled on like this for 10 straight minutes, and regardless of her story it all sounded like this:  "Me, me me me me, me.  Me me me me me.  Me."  It was, quite possibly, the most annoying and one-sided conversation I have ever heard.

Shut up! I thought.  Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!  At one point I glanced at the young woman and noted the smile was completely wiped from her face.  She looked exhausted.  I got stuck in a moment of deep empathy for the poor young woman who probably just wanted to be left alone like the rest of us, and I thought about all the possible ways - from polite to hugely rude - I could get this woman to leave the poor girl alone.

Then, the moment we were all waiting for, "I don't have any money, I just spent it all on gas.  Do you think you could be so kind as to buy me a coffee, dear?"

The young woman paused to look down at the gift card that she had nervously been tapping onto the palm of her hand.  "If I have enough on here, sure."

Though I was mostly focused on being a mere 3rd in line at this point, I couldn't help but notice that the old woman responded to the kind offering with a prayer.  She prayed for herself (of course) but, shockingly, then prayed for the young nurse.  She thanked God for people like her that take care of others, and asked God to take care of her.

At long and triumphant last, I made it to the register.  After I had ordered and paid, I looked up at the register next to me, where the young nurse was handing the old woman a cup of coffee.

"Have a good day," said the nurse politely as she headed towards the exit.

"Wait," replied the old woman, "where's your coffee?"

Again I saw the nurse pause and look down at her gift card with longing.  Soberly she looked up and said, "I didn't have enough on here for both of us."  And with that, after waiting in line for 15 minutes on her way to work, she hustled out the door empty handed and without another word.

The room seemed to suddenly quiet and slow down as I became enamored by a grace and patience that I, simply, do not have for others.  If I had to walk away that morning without a coffee in my hand, after all that time and soul-sucking conversation, I most definitely would have cried.  At that moment I knew that, if I had to choose, I would have chosen me.  But the nurse chose the old woman, and something about that pierced me with a longing for that type of grace.

"Venti American for J.J.!" shouted the Barista.  As I got up to pick up my coffee I heard a familiar voice to the left of me.

"You going to work, hon?"

A dark-haired woman wearing a tweed red sweater and black pants lit up with a bright smile and politely replied, "yes I am, are you?"

"No, actually I just drove all night from Sedona.  I came here to find my ex-boyfriend who just got out of jail.  I've been driving all night, thinking about how I'm going to find him.  You know, I'm 65 years old, that's a long drive and I'm on my last penny.  Do you live here in Santa Barbara?"

The last thing I noticed as I walked out the door was that bright smile beginning to fade into pained discomfort.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Relationships 101

Here's a pet peeve I've learned about myself, and a simple request...

Please stop being dishonest with me because you feel obligated to protect me from the truth. As much as the truth may be difficult for me to hear, it's far less hurtful and destructive than the resulting compound of your elusions and lies.

Friends, partners, family, and co-workers - this means you.

Thank You.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sorry, No Magic Genie

“I do believe in God. I do believe in God. I think God has given so much power to people, and intelligence, and said ‘Well, you are on your own. Maybe I’m tired. I need a nap. You are mature. Why don’t you look after yourselves?’…and I think he’s been sleeping too much.”
- From Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder (page 186)

There are parts of the God I used to believe in that I wish were actually true. Having a God that is external from humanity and unaffected by free will and human desires means God has the potential to actually be all powerful. It means miracles really can happen. And that means I have a wishing well - a real life genie - on whom to cast all my desires. And maybe, if I pray hard enough and long enough and if I'm good enough and believe enough, God will actually throw me a bone. I never realized how much solace I found in that - not until I finally came to understand it as a lie.

The affect of this belief can be devastating. Faced with a difficult situation, people often turn to prayer as a means to rid themselves of the circumstances.  On a similar note, one of the most despicable outcomes I've seen from religion is using God as an excuse to absolve personal responsibility.  I know people who voted a particular way during the last presidential election because the church told them to.  Imagine how many days and weeks they saved by not having to educate themselves and make their own decision based on their personal values!  In the same way, I am personally guilty of praying for financial freedom while continuing to rack up credit card debt because "God will provide".

The truth is, when the going gets rough, hope can be a powerful tool.  Our culture uses prayer to manifest hope, because our logic requires that it come from somewhere.  Remove God and hope dissipates.  This is what I used to believe anyway.  I used to think of my atheist friends and wonder why they even bothered to get out of bed in the morning.

But, cut out the magic genie and what are you left with?  Well, as it turns out, the hope is still there. The difference is I have a greater sense of my own contributions and responsibilities around the problem, which may sound like a burden but is actually quite liberating.  I means I'm not at the mercy of waiting on some giant untouchable guy in the clouds to cast down his predestined end game.  It means I actually have a choice in the matter.  It means my decisions have consequences, good and bad.  And it means I have the opportunity to learn from those choices...that I will always have the opportunity to try again and learn more.  Which brings me back to my earlier post, that each experience is a step in the never-ending evolution of humanity - the epitome of divinity.

And the hope?  The faith?  In the light of this being an infinite process towards a perfection that is constantly being redefined...it's stronger than ever.