Grace & Ease

When I signed up for AA*, it was with the understanding that they were going to fix me. Although I’d mostly pulled my shit together from the outside, on the inside I was a mess. I felt suffocated by shame, terrified of actually experiencing real emotion, and mostly just broken. Oh, and I was completely devoid of effective coping mechanisms.

Drinking was my coping mechanism, and it landed me in meetings with an oddball bunch of folks who drank bad coffee.

I liked those oddballs though, because they didn’t find my obsession with alcohol or my inability to stop drinking once I’d started strange in the slightest. And they told me I never again had to be the person I’d been when I was drinking.

That felt like being born again.

Part of what they laid out for me was that I never had to pick up a drink again, as long as I followed the 12-steps. And continued going to meetings. Like, forever.

A couple competing things were going on for me during the first 2 years of sobriety: I never felt really at-home in AA (which made me feel like a complete loser, because folks are always saying how they never felt at home anywhere until they walked in the rooms of AA. Huh. I didn’t feel at home there, either. So what was wrong with me?), and I had a couple sponsor relationships that were pretty damaging (which is tough because your sponsor is supposed to walk you through the 12-steps, and you have to trust them in order for that to be a possibility). Oh, and I was hella stubborn… as I’ve always been.

So, after 2 years I quit AA. Cold-turkey. No sponsor. No meetings.

But here’s the thing: I’ve always been a spiritually-oriented person, so I stayed committed to spiritual practice. I’ve also been in and out of therapy since I got sober. And I talk about recovery a lot.

I never neglected my recovery. I wasn’t “white knuckling it.” I was working to stay sober by constantly examining the patterns in my life, exploring my lack of coping mechanisms and trying to implement ones that wouldn’t blow up my life, and taking a hard look at the need for escape that made me want to drink in the first place.

But even after 11 years, I don’t consider myself “recovered.” Because, although I’ve never picked up a drink or drug again, I’ve got these addict behaviors that can creep out from time to time. I think of them as relapse light. They can be incredibly destructive. And they’re insidious.

When I was about 5 years sober, I had been a stay-at-home mom for 3 years. For me, staying at home was one of the most beautiful, mind-numbing, joyful, isolating experiences of my life. It was so beautiful and so horrible at the same time that my mind almost melts when I think about it even now.

I am grateful for the time I got with our daughter. And I wouldn’t trade it. But it was excruciatingly hard.

I think we’ve already covered the idea that my coping mechanisms can be iffy. During the hard and seemingly interminable toddler years, I did not pick up a drink. But what I did do was lose myself in an incredibly emotionally entangling toxic friendship. This friendship was obsessive escapism–and it fed this minor messiah complex I’ve nursed since I was a kid.

Relapse light.

Instead of dealing with my shit, I was escaping. And getting unentangled from that relationship was emotionally messy, logistically awkward, and shame-inducing.

It also showed me I had more work to do in my recovery.

I don’t think it’s inevitable that relapse is part of recovery. If I’d ever believed it was, I don’t think I would’ve put in the work to get sober. But building a recovery that is joyful and full of growth and exploration means looking at the other ways that relapse light can happen–and addressing those openly and without shame when they arise.

And just acknowledging the way that old behaviors have caused chaos in my life makes me more compassionate towards folks for whom relapse with drugs or alcohol is part of the journey.

AA did fix me. Or, maybe more accurately, AA helped me face the idea that I was powerless over alcohol. And that’s a fact for me.

But I do find power in taking control of my own recovery, in finding what works, and in creating real coping mechanisms that allow me to move through the world with more grace and ease.

And god knows I surely needed more grace and ease. Don’t we all?

*You don’t really have to sign up. But you do have to show up.

**I’m reading The 12-Step Buddhist, which spawned all these recovery musings.

Book Nerd Love (a Thank You)

Almost 2 years ago, I got this wild idea to open a bookstore.

What could be better for an extrovert with an immense enthusiasm for both people & books, right?

Except that I tend toward the risk-adverse. And I have a well-documented history of sticking with what I’m good at. Running a business? Well, that was uncharted territory…

Opening a bookstore involved writing a business plan (I resist even making a to-do list), figuring out funding (I’d rather eat a bug than think about finances 90% of the time), and securing a commercial space (a daunting task requiring contracts and commitment and other scary stuff).

If I’d attempted to embark on this bookstore adventure at any other point in my life, I wouldn’t have gotten past the daydreaming stage. But an incredible alchemy spiritual lessons I’d internalized from some folks who don’t even know they are spiritual teachers and the pull of committing to a neighborhood like EAV and putting down roots to serve the community–well, it made me brave(r).

And, really, the Universe kept nudging things into place to bring this little venture to life. Every time I got nervous or wondered what the hell I was thinking, another piece would magically just fall into place. To the point that opening a bookstore felt like a calling–an answer to a question of community and place, a real labor of love.

From its inception, so many folks pitched in to make Bookish happen. In big ways and small ways, they offered support, money, encouragement, connections. When the Grand Opening finally happened, and the store was packed with southeast Atlantans–most of whom I didn’t even know yet–I felt it… that knowledge that community spaces are always bigger than the people that run them. And that Bookish really was going to be a place centered on connection and community.

That connection, and the dedication of loyal customers to spreading the word about Bookish, is what has carried us through this pandemic. We’ve been delivering books to people’s doorsteps since we closed to the public on March 15th. We’ve Facetimed with our customers to show them what we’ve got in stock that hasn’t made it on the website just yet (pivoting from zero online presence to getting an e-commerce site up & in a groove has been something real special). We’ve texted recommendations (complete with pictures!) to customers looking for books to keep their kids entertained or something they can escape into to shut out the pandemic world for just a bit. We’ve ordered (and sold) what feels like a metric ton of antiracism books. And we’ve fielded special orders through just about every communications means possible (except carrier pigeon).

People have rallied around Bookish, and we’ve been happy to respond by keeping the community in books throughout the pandemic.

The bottom line is Bookish has been fortunate, and I know it. And I’m so very grateful.

So, when the air conditioner broke just over a week ago, I figured it would suck but I could figure it out. And then our trusty AC guy called with the repair bill. I knew it was going to be pretty shitty when he asked if I was sitting down.

Damn.

When the number came in at over a thousand dollars, I cussed the folks who leased me a building with an 20+ year old AC unit, and I railed against commercial leases in general (you really don’t want to get me started on this particular topic. It makes me a tad stabby).

And then I thought back to 2 of my favorite customers who, on separate occasions completely independent from each other, made me promise if finances got dire I’d ask for help.

I suck at asking for help.

But staring this AC bill in the face didn’t leave me a whole lot of wiggle room.

I thought, when I posted the GoFund Me to Keep Bookish Cool, that I’d raise a couple hundred dollars. Which would at least put me in a financial position that felt less precarious. It was a relief just to consider not having to swing the whole bill. I felt lighter.

And then the donations started coming in. Some in $10 increments. Some closer to $100. Every single one felt like a tremendous gift. I watched the number steadily rise. And I kept blinking back tears. Because what was even happening?!? I started looking at the names of donors… and they were my neighbors, my customers, people from Parkside (hey, Pandas!), folks from Burgess-Peterson Academy, people I know well, and people I don’t. But all of whom I now love. Because within a few hours the GoFundMe was 100% funded.

The amount of gratitude I feel isn’t easily quantifiable. To ask for help and have the whole community rally around me has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life.

It’s the most clear affirmation that Bookish truly means something to the community–that it really is so much bigger than me & my dream. And that investing in community is 100% where it’s at.

Not that I ever really doubted… but still.

So, for every friend (whether they be long-distance or an ATLien, new or old), every customer (regular or less frequent flier), every person who loves the idea of Bookish even though they’ve never been in the door, every EAVer who supports local business always–because it’s what we do, every single soul who donated even a dollar to this campaign–THANK YOU.

Everyone needs a bit of hope every now and again. And I don’t think I knew how much I needed y’all’s light until you gave it so freely.

The love that poured in through this GoFundMe has buoyed me. And it’s also paid for an AC repair AND July’s rent.

I am humbled. I am grateful. So from one book nerd to another: THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart.

Inner Voices are Bananas

Folks used to say AA would completely ruin drinking for you.

Obvi, right?

But here’s a truth you have to understand before that statement can make one iota of sense to you: addiction is based on lies.

In active addiction, you lie to yourself. To other people. To the Universe. And the lie that keeps coming up, the one that can be most destructive, is that maybe you aren’t an alcoholic at all.

Maybe you can drink like a normal person this time.

And so, if the lie sneaks up on you masquerading as truth, you could find yourself at a bar, ready to relive the glory days (pro tip: puking does not a glory day make)–which likely translates into getting blackout drunk.

Except, the whole time you’re inching toward oblivion (or hurtling, depending on if you are Bud Light or Everclear), the AA slogans that drive you nuts, the quips that old-timers offer up in meetings, seemingly random passages from the Big Book will pop into your head.

And AA will have ruined drinking for you. Because you know. You know there’s hope, that people really do recover, that you can have life. And that you don’t have to slowly die like this.

And once you know, you can’t unknow.

In early sobriety, I counted on this idea that AA would ruin drinking for me. In fact, if I started to “romance the drink” (it’s really supposed to be romanticize. but there was a woman who always said “romance” in the meetings–I swear she managed to work the phrase into every meeting she went to–and I always giggled at the idea of sitting across from a Bud Light bottle at a fancy restaurant, leaning in over candlelight. You know, romancing) I’d always come around to the idea that the whole damn thing would be ruined for me anyway, so why even bother?

Lately, I’m finding a parallel between drinking and toxic thinking. Well, in the ruination of both destructive habits at least.

Drinking was ruined by AA. Toxic thinking has suffered a similar fate from a one-two punch of Buddhist lovingkindness and a more critical examination of my own self-talk.

Yesterday, I was walking through the neighborhood cooling off after my run. I came up on a house that had a lot going on in the backyard. I immediately started passing judgment on who those people were that lived in the house. Not on the state of their yard. On their character.

What the hell, right?!?

My inner voice had some feels about that: Oh my God. Why are you so horrible? Who even thinks those kind of things?!? What is WRONG with you?

But then, like some sort of weird voiceover, the lovingkindness/invisible therapist voice was all: What an interesting response to a cluttered yard. Let’s examine that a bit… what do you think bothers you so much about what’s going on here?

Even though I still don’t have a deep grasp of what bothered me so much about a few old cars in a backyard (although I can guess & it’s not pretty), that toxic self-talk, the one full of recrimination and blame meant to cause shame, got gone immediately. Like I could actually feel it receding.

So, as bananas as the whole experience of having two competing voices battling for my attention in my own damn head was, I can tell you that shutting down that super-critical asshole voice in my head that is always trying to convince me I’m a shitty person felt like a pretty big triumph.

I have a feeling that banishing toxic thought is a lot like recovery–it’s a daily maintenance kind of situation. But I’m kind of digging this forward momentum.

Because once you know, you can’t unknow.

Wonder what I’m going to ruin for myself next?

Simple Wisdom

Just be where you’re at, right now.

I know this doesn’t sound particularly deep. But it’s 100% my mantra for today.

I am an all or nothing kind of girl. I don’t half-ass too much. Which can be good.

Or not.

Because, sometimes, that all-in-ness can translate into not paying attention to where I am right now. I make everything a referendum on my personality, my worthiness, my potential. Which means there’s little room to respond to current conditions–whatever those may be.

This idea of just being where I’m at right now popped up in yoga this morning (thanks, Adriene!). It helped me work through the fact that I was way bendier one one side than the other today (I like to be symmetrical, thankyouverymuch). A small thing, sure. But just being able to sense what my body needs, and to not see my current state as a limitation (or even a triumph) but just to let it be… it feels kind of revolutionary.

I’m a Virgo. We rarely just let things be.

The reminder to just be where I’m at also came in handy on my run–when my ankle went all janky and my joints literally felt like they were unhinged. Why? Who the hell knows? But it looked something like this:

Typically, I’d get all up in my feels (and WAY into my head) about what would happen if my ankle got pulled out of alignment because my hips were too tight and then my foot got all janky and I couldn’t to to the chiropractor because COVID and then my leg got so off-balance and tight and out of whack that I couldn’t run and then I’d be all mentally out of balance and sad and not nice and then maybe no one would like me anymore.

Right.

And that started to happen. It did. But then I remembered: just be where you’re at, right now. So, instead of that shitshow of a mental spiral, I just kind of shrugged.

My body feels a little weird, right now. So right now, I’m going to take it easy. Because that’s what I need. Not forever. Maybe not even tomorrow. Right now.

Instead of making myself miserable trying to power through this morning’s run at optimal speed, I slowed it down. And suddenly I realized there was a breeze. And that it was cool out–instead of hella swampy like it has been the past few days. I chose to be fully present in the moment–and the moment was beautiful, even if it wasn’t the run I’d planned out.

Just be where you’re at, right now.

Just be.

Mantras & Tea Time

I’ve got a long-standing habit of trying to scuttle away from fear.

Can you really blame me? Fear–intense, soul-chilling fear–has been part of my world since I was 8 years old. And lots of times, I don’t even know what I’m afraid of. I just know that I’m scared as hell.

Portrait of a Fear-Scuttler as a Young Girl

To cope, I learned to shove the fear down. Way down. In psychic places that I tend to avoid completely.

For me, fear and anxiety aren’t the same thing. It’s likely they stem from a similar psychological source, I suppose. But they feel different. Anxiety feels sketchy, like I want to climb out of my skin–but I’m simultaneously too scared of life in general to move. It happens all at once. And it’s broad and far-reaching. I know what it is and can identify it. I pretty much hate it, but I know how to move through it.

This fear, though, it’s more stabbing. And it comes out of nowhere. If it was audible, it would be a horrified gasp. It’s quick and to the point. Which is why I can shove it away. It doesn’t linger and settle into a generalized malaise the way anxiety does.

So now that we’ve established this fear situation, I’ll tell you a story:

The 30-day yoga camp I signed up for with Adriene (after my brief failed venture to find more “spiritual” yoga) comes complete with mantras. Which is rad. My mind tends jump all over the place like a ferret in a popcorn maker, so anything that can focus my thinking a bit is welcome.

Today’s mantra: I embrace.

Y’all know the drill. You set an intention (using said mantra) at the beginning of the practice. Mine was “I embrace the vastness of my spiritual nature.”

Huh.

I have no idea where that came from. It popped into my mind & I ran with it.

So, there I am, meditating after yoga (because during yoga, I’m just breathing. That’s the beauty of it. I’m focused and breathing, connecting with something still and quiet at the core of who I am), and this fear pops up. And it stabs me once in the heart (it’s a bitch, and it knows how to wound).

Of course, my instinct was to push it away. You don’t really invite a bully to sit down to tea.

Except–you kind of do. Or, more aptly, it’s what the Buddha would do:

Even after the Buddha had become deeply revered throughout India, Mara [the demon god] continued to make unexpected appearances. The Buddha’s loyal attendant, Ananda, always on the lookout for any harm that might come to his teacher, would report with dismay that the “Evil One” had again returned.

Instead of ignoring Mara or driving him away, the Buddha would calmly acknowledge his presence, saying, “I see you, Mara.”

He would then invite him for tea and serve him as an honored guest. Offering Mara a cushion so that he could sit comfortably, the Buddha would fill two earthen cups with tea, place them on the low table between them, and only then take his own seat. Mara would stay for a while and then go, but throughout the Buddha remained free and undisturbed.

Tara Brach, Ph.D., Inviting Mara to Tea
Source: Mara Tempting Buddha

I’m going to be straight up and tell you that I did NOT invite my fear to tea. But I also didn’t chase it out with a pitchfork, either. I took a few tentative steps closer to it, though. I looked at it, not to probe into where it came from or why it was there. But just to see it. Just to embrace all of myself, all of my experience. Including the fear.

Maybe that’s what it means to embrace the vastness of my spiritual nature: to simply walk towards what arises, seeing it as a teacher instead of a threat.

I would’ve explored that further, but right then the dog nosed her way into the room and sat square on my lap and started licking my face. And then the kid came flying in to retrieve the dog–and Mara left on his own accord, because the whole scene as just too chaotic to bother with tea anyway.



But Is It SPIRITUAL Enough?

Since I started writing every weekday, my meditation practice has gotten bumped.

Which, you know, is about the worst idea ever.

But I’ve got this idea that all the “for me” things have to be done before 8 a.m.* Except running. Which I’m willing to fit in whenever–because I need people to like me, and running facilitates that. More than you might imagine.

In an effort to restart my spiritual practice, I decided I want to incorporate yoga as a moving meditation before I do sitting meditation. Because more is better, right? Really, it’s not even about more though. It’s about focus. My mind flits off in a zillion directions during meditation (totally normal. But annoying), and yoga is a way to focus that energy before I sit.

I decided I needed a more “spiritual” at home yoga practice. So, I set off in search of one (via YouTube because pandemic). And I landed on Ashtanga yoga, which felt 100% unfamiliar and super-spiritual for some reason. I fired up the video and began.

This seems like a good time to mention that I’ve been doing Yoga with Adriene for something like 6 years. Her motto: find what feels good. She’s goofy and pretty much exudes lovingkindness, even though a screen. She doesn’t take herself too seriously (I’m a Virgo. By nature, I take myself WAY too seriously), and she insists (gently) on self-love and coming to the mat just as you are.

I’m not this cute when I do yoga, no matter how spiritual it is. But, you know, GOALS.

So, I start this other yoga, the unfamiliar, not-Adriene one that I have deemed “spiritual.” And I immediately hate it. The instructor is kind of just barking out poses, which I’m trying to jam myself into. Because, even though she’s saying to listen to my body, I don’t believe her. Everything about her demeanor indicates that I am a grave disappointment if I can’t do these strange poses–some of which I’ve never seen in my life. I realize that I am projecting on this woman, but I swear she readily facilitated that projection.

I’m on minute 44, feeling less spiritual than ever, when Jane comes Kramering into the room.

“Your aren’t doing Yoga with Adriene?!?” she asks, clearly baffled by my disloyalty and, at the same time, skeptical of this rather austere woman who has replaced Adriene on the screen.

“I can do different things sometimes,” I mutter, disgruntled by both the interruption and the challenge to my new “spiritual” yoga practice. I send her back out from whence she came, still muttering internally.

I flop back down on the mat and look at this severe woman staring back at me.

What am I even doing?

Everything in the room feels weighed down. And lacking in joy. Which makes me wonder why I always think that truly spiritual things have to be so heavy. And hard.

Doing yoga with Adriene is light and airy, full of love and acceptance and the things I try to center in my life. It feels good to invite her (via a screen) into my space. And I trust her. I value her guidance and her insight and her focus on compassion and love.

Why do I think that isn’t spiritual enough?

I grabbed my laptop, climbed up onto my bed, and nestled into the pillows. I sifted through entries until I found the perfect 30 day yoga camp–with Adriene.

Because light and love are spiritual, too.

And the fact that my 9 year old has more intuitive sense than I do? Well, I’m just gonna take that as a sign I’m raising her right (that is what it means, isn’t it?!?).

*I wrote this post after 8 a.m. & the world still seems to be spinning. Amazing.

Rural Florida & a Sign

Once, years ago, I found myself driving though a rural part of Florida. I was headed to work in the late afternoon, teaching writing to folks who thought writing had nothing to do with what they wanted to do with their lives.

It’s real bleak to share the thing that brings you joy with folks who couldn’t give a single shit about it.

But, there I was, driving along, watching the flat land stretch out to the horizon. I think there were cows. In my mind now, at least, there were cows. Rural Florida is, indeed, the South. It bears no resemblance to its coastal, sometimes more urbane, cousin. And driving though it requires some good, twangy country music.

At least, for me it does.

I’ve loved country music since high school. It’s storytelling at its finest. And it fills me with big, big joy. Or brings me to tears. But it never fails to make me emote, to feel. Country music feels like being alive to me. It’s that good.

It was also the background to a helluva lot of my drinking.

Of course. The perfect country & western song involves: Mama, trains, trucks, prison and gettin’ drunk.

So, I’m driving through rural Florida, feeling real countrified and a drinking song comes on. Since music is soul-memory, immediately that song triggered the most definitive craving for a drink I remember having in sobriety.

And, because sometimes when things are going to hell in a handbasket, life throws in one more thing & shit gets even more real, I was at that moment, driving by a bar with a neon Bud Light sign shining like a beacon. (Yes, I drank a lot of cheap beer. Let’s not dwell on that life choice right now.)

It took my breath away, this longing for a drink. Or was it longing for the part of me I had to let go in order to keep living?

Maybe both.

But what drove me to tears was feeling completely stripped bare. Defenseless. Vulnerable. Because, I realized right there in rural Florida with country music floating through the air & that damn neon sign beckoning, when I quit drinking, I relinquished my ability to hide.

Alcohol had been my shield from feeling anything too deeply. It’s a terrific numbing agent. And now it was gone.

I was going to have to feel things I’d been sheltering myself from for years. There was no place to hide anymore.

The terror I felt in that moment, faced with actually living my own life, was staggering. I wanted to bolt. Physically, I ached to run & hide.

But there was nothing to do except keep moving forward.

I turned off the country music. Mid-song, which is like sacrilege. And I kept driving.

It’s such a small event, really: the music, the bar, the willingness to keep driving. But it marked the beginning of my choice to get sober–to cut the bullshit, do the work, get real, and live my life.

Sobriety is an ongoing process. And it’s rarely dull. I’m constantly presented with opportunity for growth. Which really just means that I have to handle shit as it arises–the squirrelly, the scary, the just plain old too much. Because, without the alcohol, there really is no place for me to hide when things get … intense.

But that’s okay. It becomes okay. Because there’s healing and there’s big, big life out there.

And when I feel too out of synch with myself, with my emotions, I find that a little country music gets me right back where I need to be.

On a Corner in Atlanta

For the past 4 years, my Black Lives Matter shirt has taken its place among the rows of strategically folded tshirts in my drawer. They’re arranged so I can see the image on the front of each shirt. Which is important, because I think of my t-shirt selection as my mood board for the day.

Who doesn’t really?

I wore my Black Lives Matter shirt a lot right after the murders by police in 2016. It felt like daily protest, just me marching about the world in this shirt.

I know that might seem ridiculous now. But it felt radical then. Which, truthfully, is part of the problem. Even the smallest gestures from white people are seen (by ourselves) as meaningful and heroic. When, really, what we need is to burn the whole system to the ground and build something truly based on equity and celebration of diversity over whiteness.

But I digress. We’re supposed to be talking about a t-shirt.

After the first year or so, I started passing over the Black Lives Matter shirt more. Not because black lives mattered less to me. But I started to wonder who the hell I thought I was to proclaim that black lives matter. I mean, wouldn’t black people look at me and think, “Well, no shit. And who are you to tell me I matter?” As if it were a question.

Because Black Lives Matter is such an obvious statement. Yet, for years those words were somehow militant, radical, suspect.

Think about that for a minute.

But, occasionally, I’d see the Black Lives Matter t-shirt in the drawer, dust it off, and wear it.

Here’s what happened every single time:

Some mediocre white guy would give me side-eye.

Some white mother with kids in tow would look at me askance.

And I’d draw smiles from most of the black people I passed. And at least one, often more, would stop whatever they were doing, look me in the eye and say “Thank you.”

Holy fuck.

Wearing a t-shirt proclaiming the basic human dignity of black folks was enough to make someone stop and thank me.

That has been the state of our country for black folks. That’s how bleak it has been on the human rights front, right here in the United States.

It always made me cry, by the way. The thank you. It was the single most humbling experience I’d ever had (over and over again). But the crying I saved for later (because white tears are a no). Those moments were about folks feeling really seen, even if just for a second.

And now, here’s the part of the story where I connect the t-shirt to something else. (You were wondering if it was going to happen, weren’t you?)

Neighborhood folks have been gathering on the busiest street corner in my little neighborhood to have a Black Lives Matter protest/vigil each evening. They hold signs, wave to folks, and are generally just present.

I knew they were doing this. But I didn’t go.

Because, unlike a march downtown, where the whole group storms up to City Hall or to the Capitol or the Police Headquarters with demanding to be heard by folks in power, what were we going to accomplish standing on a street corner in our neighborhood?

There’s a lot of talk about performative allyship right now. And no one needs one more white person stroking their ego right now and calling it activism. So, I fretted that maybe we’d just all be making ourselves feel good standing out there–to no real avail. I worried it was just performance.

But, finally, I caved. Because I drove by on Tuesday night and folks were all out there holding signs and folks were honking and waving, and it cracked something in my reticence.

So, last night, I gathered up the 9 year old and off we went.

It took 5 minutes standing there on a corner in my own neighborhood to realize what folks smarter than me who’d already been doing this for a week already knew: this wasn’t about me at all. Not about performativity. Not about my ego.

It was about letting people, black people, know that they are seen.

And valued.

It’s so simple. It shouldn’t need to be said that Black Lives Matter. It should be a given. But it’s not. Not in this country.

Holding a Black Lives Matter sign on the corner of a little intersection somewhere in Atlanta isn’t going to change policy. And there’s so much work to be done on that front that I think we each have to find a way to meaningfully engage in that work if we really believe black lives matter.

But that doesn’t make acts of solitary performative, either.

If a single black person drove by that little cluster of white folks on a street corner and felt an ounce of hope, or felt seen, or just thought “well, no shit. Of course black lives matter” then it wasn’t useless.

It was just (part of) the right thing to do.

Meandering Spirituality

I’ve spent most of my life trying to think things to death.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Virgo. Or because I’m a 1 on the Enneagram.

But most likely, it’s because thinking is not doing.

Doing has consequences–real, tangible things that are set in motion by my actions. Thinking… well, I’m not going to make any grand impact–on the outside world or my inner landscape–with just my mind. I’m not all wizardy-powerful like that.

An added benefit to thinking things to death: no one knows exactly what goes on in my mind but me. So there can be all kinds of fancy footwork in my head that allows me to never actually be wrong.

The trade off for never being wrong, though, was that nothing ever really touched my spirit. There was no trial-by-fire burning down of the psyche –so that something new and more beautiful could arise. There was just the constant building of what I thought were castles, but turned out to be hastily cobbled together shacks that wouldn’t withstand even the slightest tempestuous gust.

I spent a lot of time, for instance, intellectualizing spirituality. Now, there are lots of folks who talk about spirituality and religion of all varieties with an academic bent. I love that–the marriage of the mind and the spirit. But I was sacrificing my spirit–messily, bloodily, tragically–to keep my spirituality in my mind, where it couldn’t touch me and wouldn’t change me.

This is an odd tact for someone who’s been on a spiritual quest since fourth grade. In those 35 years or so, I’ve been a Christian (saved, resaved, was I saved enough?), an agnostic, a (super evangelical everyone is going to hell if they haven’t accepted Jesus as their savior RIGHT NOW) Christian, a very pissed off anti-Christian agnostic, a Wiccan, a Buddhist, a self-loathing Christian, a Buddhist again, a putting-up-with-too-much-bullshit-from-the-church Christian, and finally a Buddhist.

I mean, that’s a hell of a lot of questing.

And I used to be super-embarrassed about all this jumping about. But now, I’m kind of proud of it. Because each move (especially from self-loathing Christian to my current spiritual iteration) has been a result of getting really honest and addressing difficult truths. Not intellectual truths. Spiritual ones. Which have always been a bit more tricky for me.

When I got sober (at 33), I had to take a serious look at the God I’d constructed. And I had to ask myself, with life or death seriousness, if that was a God I could rely on, trust, open myself to.

Uh, no. Because that God was fiery. And brimstoney. And He may or may not smite me for the tiniest infraction. And He was probably going to take away the things that I loved most (because maybe, just maybe, I would love them more than I loved Him) just for sport.

Hell no.

So, I read a lot of Brennan Manning, and I reimagined a God who loved me more than I could begin to fathom. A God who wanted good things for me, who would guide me through the insanity and pain that could break out in every day life (but who would never smite me with any of those things). I reimagined God as refuge and love.

This reimagining could only get me so far, though. Because I never prayed. Thinking not doing, you see. I read. I imagined. But I did not commune. This beautiful (and I think true) version of God carried me through some incredibly painful times. But God remained “out there.”

I needed something inside my soul that was going to bring about the kind of sustained spiritual awakening that I’d heard folks talk about in AA. And to get that, I need to move beyond intellectualized, over-analyzed Christianity to a point where I could get real and invite into my innermost self something that could bring me to a point of wisdom, peace, enlightenment.

I had to get honest about the fact that the damage the church had caused me made picking up a Bible impossible. Approaching God from a Christian perspective was riddled with judgement and pain, and I couldn’t draw close to that God because my soul hid under self-protective numbness every time I tried.

And so, I stopped.

I stopped trying to make a belief system that had caused me untold agony work for me.

But this isn’t really about walking away. Not for me, at least (although some folks get real caught up in that). It’s more about what I’m walking toward.

I’m making my way toward a still pond with no ripples. A peace and knowing, a goodness, that has always lived inside of me. (That is inside of you, too). But that I can’t intellectualize. I have to practice stillness to access it, to unearth the compassion that’s part of my nature. Part of my being.

I am working on being still and knowing.

And that, for me, isn’t about thinking. It’s doing.

Even in stillness.

Secrets Are Small Soul-Deaths

A woman who carries a secret is an exhausted woman.

Women Who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés

I gave up being exhausted in late 2008. For 33 years, I’d been collecting secrets (big and utterly minuscule) and stacking them precariously in various corners of my soul. Which meant I couldn’t round a corner without being smacked with a wall of shame.

And shame is soul-death, pure and simple.

Shame is also a liar.

Shame told me to keep these secrets because I was so vile that I’d be alone and reviled if they ever spilled out into the light. That I was unlovable, so I had to cling to anyone who told me otherwise. Because if they only knew about the secrets…well. They’d surely retract their love, affection, esteem. They’d go. Then it would just be me and the shame. And that felt–feels even now when I think about it–utterly unbearable.

Good news: this was all 100% bullshit.

Sometimes people remark on my willingness to be vulnerable and to share things that feel brave to them. Which is so kind. But, truly, this is my medicine. I don’t have secrets anymore. I can’t. They almost killed me.

But to be clear: I didn’t heal by trotting every secret out into the world, to be poked and prodded by everyone and their housecat.

But I did tell every secret–every single one–to one person.

I got sober through a 12-step program. And Step 5 goes like this: “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

So, just to clarify for those of you who aren’t familiar, in Step 4 you take a “searching and fearless” personal inventory of yourself. That means owning all the things you’ve done that you wish you hadn’t. Facing all your resentments and fears. Squaring up with your part in the shitshow that you’ve spent your entire life trying to pin on someone or something else.

Then you lay all that out for one other human being. You lay all your secrets bare.

It sounds horrifying, right?

Or maybe it sounds freeing, depending on exactly where currently travail in your emotional landscape.

But horrifying or freeing–it is necessary.

Because those secrets lose their power the moment that they’re brought into the light. When you bring your most wounded self, the parts that flinch when anyone draws near them, to a person who has also been deeply wounded but who has begun to heal–they know how to create space for your secrets, to bear them with you for those sacred moments. And then to help you release them.

When we start thinking about embracing vulnerability over shame, we’re already moving in the right direction. But we have to choose wisely. Because sharing secrets indiscriminately with the world at large–or even with another person who proves untrustworthy in their response–can re-injure delicate scar tissue, can send us even deeper into shame.

Your secrets are killing you. They are depleting your soul’s energy. They are exhausting you.

Find your person. Someone sacredly trustworthy. A spiritual adviser. A therapist. Tell them the secrets that make you wake up in a cold sweat at night. Tell them the things that you are certain make you unloveable.

Give up being exhausted.

And then, just keep telling the truth. To yourself. To the people who hold your sacred trust. To the world.

No more secrets.

No more shame.

(*All my understanding of shame comes from Brené Brown, most specifically her book Daring Greatly. There’s also a great chapter on secrets & shame in Women Who Run with the Wolves, which is one of the most soul-freeing books I’ve ever read.)