Forgiveness & Love & Remembering

Moving forward involves forgiving myself. Sometimes, it’s easier said than done. But it’s a spiritual practice…

Occasionally, usually as I’m trying to fall asleep, a memory will drift across my consciousness. I’ll pick up the string and follow it along. And then, unwittingly I stumble on a semi-related memory that makes my stomach clench and cold dread slide through my body straight down to my toes. Always, it’s a memory of something I did when I was drinking. Something I would never dream of doing now. Something that makes me think “what the actual FUCK?”

Truth: I hate those memories.

Coverse truth: Those memories keep me humble. They remind me who I am.

I never again have to be the person I was when I was drinking. That much is a welcome truth. And I believe I’m forgiven by the Universe for brokenness, my transgressions. I don’t carry guilt anymore. I found it too destructive a burden, one that kept me stuck in the past instead of moving forward. But hot damn, does it floor me the things I did.

And the most fucked up part: I believed I wouldn’t be me anymore without alcohol. Seriously. I thought I wouldn’t be witty or charming, sensitive or fun. But I’d long stopped being any of those things. I could mimic the actions (sometimes). I could carry on what I thought were deep and meaningful conversations. But I didn’t really know how I felt about anything. I wasn’t letting people see me. I was letting them see what I thought they wanted to see. And any time the potential for a real emotion arose, I just numbed it with alcohol.

An unmitigated disaster. That’s what I was.

And, no, I don’t like to remember it. I especially don’t like to run across memories buried in my subconscious. Remembering them takes me right back to the wreckage I caused–for me and everyone around me. But maybe it’s a good exercise, the remembering. Because then I have to practice forgiving myself. Again.

I do believe the Universe has forgiven me. Forgiving myself is something I’m still learning. Bit by bit. One resurfaced memory at a time. But, as much as I may not like it, my ability to forgive myself is directly tied to my ability to forgive and love others.

I used to find something noble and strong in holding a grudge, in remembering the ways in which I’d been wronged to prevent future transgressions. It took me years of sobriety to finally understand that grudges (resentments) keep me stuck, stop me from growing. They take up too much mental space. The emotional scabs stay raw, so I can’t heal. I can’t move.

Forgiveness is a return to Love. And that’s where I’d rather be.

So, I forgive myself for being like napalm in people’s lives (most of all my own). I forgive other people (it’s a process, for sure. I swear, I forgiven some people like 3 different times for the exact same transgression. Not similar transgressions. That exact one. Like I said, it’s a process). And, when old memories come creeping in, unbidden, in the middle of the night, I allow myself to remember. I take a deep breath and forgive myself again.

 

 

Puzzling Through

Know what grace looks like for me? It looks like reckoning with a 1000 piece puzzle. It looks like family. It looks like gratitude.

It’s been a few weeks since Jane and I embarked on our Epic Puzzling Adventure. One day at Target, more or less on a whim, I picked up a 1000 piece puzzle because I am a glutton for punishment adventurous. A puzzle seemed like a nifty, wholesome way for Jane and I to do some quality time. I mean, usually I opt for giggling with her as people face-plant on AFV or expressing my deeply held belief about Pilgrims in our spare time. But, I mean, a puzzle could be fun, too.

 

We dumped the entire puzzle on the dining room table and set about sorting through ONE THOUSAND PIECES to find all the edge pieces. The sheer volume of little funny shaped cardboard pieces meant they got shuffled all about, some teetering precariously on the edge of the table. Our boxer pup slimed at least one of them as she sniffed to figure out if they seemed edible (that dog and I have VERY different ideas about what might be edible). Occasionally, Jane and I would hear a piece quietly thunk to the floor. And then we’d yell, “DON’T LET THE DOG GET IT!”, as we both scrambled to find it before Delilah used it as her daily dose of fiber.

Pro Tip: If it’s going to take you weeks to finish a puzzle, you probably shouldn’t leave it on the dining room table. If you do, pieces will get shuffled under papers. Someone might use your puzzle as a coaster. The dog might occasionally try to snag a piece off the table, not really because she’s interested but because it’ll get a rise out of the whole family.

Jane and I took to doing the puzzle in spurts. We’d start on it and get really engrossed in finding a specific kind of piece. I liked the aqua camper. She got entranced by the fire. Then, invariably, one of us would get bored and wander off (usually her) while the other puzzled on valiantly (usually me). But even if Jane wandered off, she’d pop back in frequently, always finding a piece to snap into place or cheering me on when I was on a hot puzzling streak (you wish you were me, don’t you? I know. I’m hella cool.)

These moments, when we were working together toward something that seemed almost unreachable, they gave me hope. The whole trope about mothers and daughters not getting along really bugs me. I love my kid a lot. But I also really LIKE her. I value her input. I think she has stellar ideas. She’s introspective and kind. I want her to choose me when she’s an adult. I am hyper aware that children do not have to choose to allow parents to be part of their lives. I hope I am the kind of mother that she will want to rely on, that she will trust, that she’ll look to for encouragement and support. And the fact that we could work together on this damn puzzle, even when one of us got frustrated, meant something to me. It meant a lot, really.

As we got close to the end, Jane kept wanting to count the pieces. And I tried my hardest to stop her. I just knew, after all the shuffling, falling, coaster-using… I knew we’d be missing some pieces. Well, I didn’t know. But I assumed. And I didn’t want to know for sure. Because why would it be worth it to do this crazy big puzzle, if we couldn’t even get all the pieces together?  I mean, what would be the point even?

And sure enough…

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But, in the most bizarre twist, I realized that I wasn’t bothered. Not really. Because if you leaned back a little, that missing piece wasn’t as noticeable. My eyes kept landing, instead, on the parts of the puzzle Jane & I had adopted as our own, the ones we’d worked so hard on.

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And if I stood back even further, all I could really see was all the bright colors, and the woodland creatures wreaking havoc on a hapless campground, and the hours of fun and camaraderie. Unless I looked for it, I really couldn’t see that missing piece at all.

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Jane keeps asking if it bugs me, that we’re missing ONE piece. I get why she asks: I kind of acted like it would be the dawn of the apocalypse if we lost a piece. But I keep assuring her that it doesn’t matter.

For my first 33 years, I spent so much time fixated on what was lacking. Looking back, it feels like sometimes lack was ALL I could see. I missed lots of beautiful people, experiences, moments … they were all muted, drowned out by what I thought I didn’t have.

Know what grace is for me? Realizing that lack no longer defines my worldview. That each day, I’m astounded by what I do have. Because my whole life could’ve gone down so very differently. Getting sober taught me to see all the beauty that weaves itself together, so that lack isn’t apparent. It taught me to look at the bigger picture–and to be grateful for the 999 pieces that we do still have.

Getting Unstuck

I’ve working on getting myself unstuck from a pretty significant rut. But good news… I found 5 relatively simple things I could do to reconnect with myself & the world around me.

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I’ve spent the past few weeks re-examining my life a bit. I guess that’s to be expected since I’m (ahem) . . . middle aged. (WTactualF?!?)

I first realized there was a problem when I caused a online scuffle on Facebook with some other folks, and I was completely unable to let it go. Like hella unable. As in not-gonna-let-that-shit-ride. As in personal interior devastation and destruction.

Holy shit. Hello, outsized response to criticism. (Let’s be clear: I’m talking about my own outsized response here. I’m not trying to take other people’s inventories.) So, yeah, something was WAY wrong with my internal balance. And upon further examination, I realized my personal growth had kind of stagnated. And I just didn’t feel the same muppet-like enthusiasm for life as usual.

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(Actual footage of me on an average day)

How’d I get out of my rut? So glad you asked. Segues are SO hard.

5 (Relatively) Quick & Easy Ways I Got Emotionally Unstuck

  1. I got me a therapist. I am 100% on board for therapy. We’d all be much happier (and more well adjusted) if we ALL had a therapist. Sure, they require an investment of time, money, and emotional energy. But (and I think as women we sometimes forget this) I am worthy of that investment. So are you. Yes, it’s hard work sifting through some of the past events and current hangups that landed me in emotional quicksand in the first place. But you know what happens if you stay in quicksand too long… (I mean, as an adult I haven’t really encountered quicksand as much as I thought I would. But as a kid, I knew all about the hazards of quicksand. So, I’m always prepared for a quick escape)

2. I delved into my spiritual practice. Over the years, my spirituality has looked wildly different–depending on where I was in my journey. Right now, it looks a whole lot like reading a lesson from A Course in Miracles each morning, practicing the exercises throughout the day, and finding a crystal that resonates with me (I them to set intentions and to return to as a touchstone so I don’t wander during the day). I’ve had to learn about 100 billion times that a spiritual practice is crucial for me. Like, I absolutely cannot exists happily without it. And, you know it’s kind of the whole foundation of my recovery:

It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe. We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.

So, yeah, NBD… spirituality is just the key to EVERYTHING.

3. I started striving toward being fully present. During those two days when I was so in my head about a conflict going on in the ether, I couldn’t even participate in conversations happening right in front of me. This undercurrent of ugly self-talk, picking arguments with ghosts, and just general bullshit that my brain pulls sometimes had me miles away from where my feet were. It sucked. So, I made a conscious choice to be more curious about my immediate surroundings. What did I hear, see, smell, feel? What made this moment unique? Where could I find joy, or love, or hope, or connection? The pictures at the top of the post, they’re where I’ve been the past 2 days: physically, mentally, and emotionally. They are real. They are here. The present matters. It’s all I’ve really got. So, I sure as hell am going to make an effort to embrace it.

4. I put down my damn phone. Well, I put it down MORE than I had in any recent memory. Suddenly, it seemed foolish that some flat rectangular object could have that much pull over me. Instead of enhancing my life, it was really bringing me down. So, I cut it loose(ish). And I created some hard and fast rules for myself about engaging on social media. It turns out that it’s MUCH easier to be present if my nose isn’t always pressed up against my phone. Who knew?!?

5. I made it a point to connect. I love people. Which is why I love social media. But nothing beats looking someone in the eye and really connecting with them. Small connections, seemingly inconsequential interactions… they make up so much of our lives. The way we move together in the world and develop empathy and understanding can be truly beautiful. So, I committed to letting more of that beauty into my life–to really see people, to interact with them in ways that are kind and compassionate, and to laugh. In real life.

And these 5 things, well they’ve got me feeling a lot more like this these days:

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So, when you find yourself in an emotional rut, what do you do to get unstuck?

Monday Twitchiness

I’ve got a mental list of all the things that MUST be done before mid-September that wraps all the way around my brain (twice) and squeezes it like a boa constrictor.

I am excited. Or anxious. Or, maybe, just really energetic?

I’ve got this feeling that begins in the center of my being and radiates out that makes me want to move. But it’s an amorphous feeling—and I can’t decide if I need to literally get up and move—you know, like get shit done—or if I’m supposed to be searching something out, learning, pushing my intellectual/emotional boundaries.

It’s a state of flux.

I am UNCOMFORTABLE with flux.

Maybe the feeling stems from moving. I’ve got a mental list of all the things that MUST be done before mid-September that wraps all the way around my brain (twice) and squeezes it like a boa constrictor. I alternate between rarin’ to go on that and complete ennui over the mundane nature of packing a bunch of material possessions we don’t likely need anyway that are just going to psychically (and physically) clutter our new digs.

And, of course, I still have work projects that I both need and want to do. But I only get about 13.5 minutes of good-focused work done before something ELSE that needs to get done makes off with my attention. Then I find myself just staring. At nothing.

I’m overwhelmed, it seems.

But I’m also excited.  And heavily caffeinated.

And then I want to ponder big, philosophical questions. Or dig at my current conflicted feelings about Christianity, which are fascinating to probe but don’t exactly get boxes packed or client work checked off my To Do List.

This space is a weird one to occupy. Especially on a Monday.

More coffee will fix this. Right?

But even if I have to sit with these bizarre-o feelings until we move (3 weeks. Just 3 more weeks), I’m grateful to have work that needs to get done and to have the financial means to move to a new house. And, truth be told, I like new adventures. And moving is one big clusterfuck adventure.

Fresh starts are reason for celebration. And ours, in a brand new house, will begin 15 years and two weeks after Simon and I first met. We’ve been drunk, gotten sober, struggled with infertility, had a baby, lost a pregnancy, transitioned (well, him… but it’s a process for the whole family), and moved to Atlanta. This new house feels like a nod to all we have been through and a celebration of who we are going forward. It’s something we chose together, something we want to build on and live into.

So, I guess, primarily I’m sitting with the excitement of beginning anew. We get to hold on to all we love about Atlanta, and we get a clean slate. It’s a tremendous win for us, a validation that we’ve done things right. I’m grateful… for a new house, for a family that stayed together despite the odds, and for my ability to stay (mostly) in the moment.

Okay, okay… I’m rarely in the moment these days. But I’m not totally freaking out, either. Progress not perfection, y’all. 

 

 

Photo by Robert Shunev on Unsplash 

Valedictorian of Taking Myself Less Seriously

I like to be valedictorian of everything. I want my conversation to be the wittiest, the wisest. I want my contributions to be insightful and to command respect. And I never, ever want to admit that I am wrong. I’m a gem, aren’t I?

I like to be valedictorian of everything.

I want my conversation to be the wittiest, the wisest. I want my contributions to be insightful and to command respect. And I never, ever want to admit that I am wrong.

I’m a gem, aren’t I?

The good news is, after years and years of being a perfectionist with a zillion excuses and justifications for never actually TRYING at much of anything, I got sober. And that taught me two important lessons: 1) Perfectionism is just a bullshit excuse to prevent me from ever really putting myself out there, and 2) I don’t know shit about shit.

Really. I am wrong a lot.

The first few years of sobriety taught me that I’d been a master at making myself a victim, at playing helpless to avoid work, and pain, and adulting. So I womaned up and started taking responsibility for my own chaos. And it sucked. I thought my tragic victim role was all kinds of romantic (it wasn’t). But this actual attempt at vulnerability and openness–the kind that allows you to learn, grow, and accumulate real wisdom–was gritty, and real, and hard AF.

Then I had a baby. And motherhood disabused me any idea that I was always right. And it sure as hell has taught me to admit when I’m wrong. Jane has taught me about ditching perfectionism in favor of joy and about letting go of expectations and just being in the moment. I’ve relinquished the constant need to be right in favor of building up and supporting the people I love the most. (But I still love an “I told you so” more than I probably should. Progress not perfection, y’all)

But the latest BIG lesson for me is a doozy: I take myself too fucking seriously.

 

After we all stop singing Closer to Fine, I’ll give you the most mundane (profound) example. Ready? Alright:

This morning, I was plodding along on the track. And my leg was all janky. It was tight, and the tightness was throwing off my gait. And I was going to run through the accumulating pain. But then I thought: WTF? What am I trying to prove? Hasn’t this summer been all about really diving into the adventure of running? Why the hell wouldn’t I just stop and stretch? What was I trying to prove? That I could run a 5K? I’ve done that over and over and over again. This run just wasn’t that serious. I had nothing to prove.

So, I plopped down on the side of the track, laid back, and stretched. For a good long time. I ran a few more laps. Then I stretched AGAIN. And it felt luxurious. And indulgent. But it also felt like adulting. Because I was taking care of my body. Turns out that, over this long, hot Summer of Running, I’ve learned to trust my body and to listen to what it’s really asking for.

I’ve also learned to listen to my heart. Because living a satisfied, joyous life isn’t about being right all the time. Or holding firm to a position (or an identity) when you’ve outgrown it, or evolved past it, or when it just no longer works for you. There’s power in evolving, in being open, in embracing change.

And there’s so much room for joy when I don’t take myself so fucking seriously. It’s only life after all.*

 

*C’mon. You knew I’d work in that last Indigo Girls reference, didn’t you?

There Is Power In the Seeking

Yesterday, during approximately the last 15 seconds of an AA meeting, a dude chimes in with this nugget:

“The power isn’t in ‘knowing’ God. The power is in the seeking of God.”

And I was all, “Don’t mind me. I’ll just sit over here quietly. Mind BLOWN.” Because YES. It’s this that I have been trying to put my finger on for weeks. This is what called  me back to AA. This seeking.

In theory, I’ve always been a seeker. I revel in pondering big questions about God, humanity, and purpose. In fact, I gravitate to these conversations–but try to engage me in small talk & I’m a hot mess. (SO BAD AT IT. Tragic, really). But I’ve struggled with how to do more than just ponder the big questions abstractly. Distantly. I don’t always know how to engage with them, get hands-on about them, and turn them into practice.

That was what AA gave me the first go-round: a set of steps (a guideline) for connecting with my Higher Power. There was work to be done, it turns out. I mean, relationships are beautiful–but GOOD GOD, they are work. My relationship with my HP requires work. And that work is the seeking. And that’s where the power lies.

For a long time, I stayed connected with the Universe (God…whatever…) through really traditional Christian practices. I had a community that pushed me to examine and expand my spiritual practices–that offered me accountability. That sense of community was central to my seeking. But that’s not where I am at the moment. Right now, church is–for me–about celebrating God, lamenting and rejoicing in community, and striving for more justice & mercy in the world. But I’ve been missing that one-on-one connection that pushes me to do the work, to seek.

I wish I could excel as a solo seeker. It sounds so cool. And mystical.

But it’s really not who I am. I process life by talking about it. A lot. And I strive for stronger connection with my own spirituality when I watch other folks live out theirs in ways that wow me.

There’s a line in “How It Works” in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous that says, “If you’ve decided you want what we have, and are willing to go to any length to get it…” I always thought of that line as a “do you want to see the world through something other than the bottom of your pint glass?” situation. And OBVI, the answer was yes.

But, at this point in my own evolution, the question seems much weightier. Like a spiritual question. Am I ready to seek “conscious contact” with God (the Universe… whatever…)?

And that’s how I ended up sitting in AA meetings (after an 8 year hiatus). Because so many of the folks there ARE seekers. They’re examining their actions, their motivations, their spirituality–taking stock of it all and seeking to be better, to be more connected with their own Higher Power (whatever they understand that to be).

There’s power in the seeking. That’s my current mantra. So now I’m curious: what drives you to connect to something bigger than yourself (whatever that something may be)?

A.A. (The Return)

When I walked into AA almost 10 years ago (in my cowboy boots and jeans, hair pulled back neatly into a ponytail, with a Big Book in hand, because I like to be valedictorian of everything), I was willing to show up. And that was about it.

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When I walked into AA almost 10 years ago (in my cowboy boots and jeans, hair pulled back neatly into a ponytail, with a Big Book in hand, because I like to be valedictorian of everything), I was willing to show up. And that was about it.

I didn’t want a sponsor. Because, I mean, how do you even go about picking someone that’s going to shape your spiritual formation? In all the meetings, they were always on and on about “spiritual fitness” and how one day my relationship with my higher power would be all that stood between me & a drink. That’s BIG. How did I know if any of these jokers were even qualified to help me dig through all this emotional baggage to get (and stay) sober?

And I sure as hell didn’t want to call people. The AAs seemed to want me to call people just to say hey. To talk about…whatever. Uh, no thanks. I had friends for that.

And sharing in a meeting? No. Definitely not. I mean, first of all, most people just rambled on and on and said nothing of any significance. Then, if I did decide I wanted to share, I couldn’t hear anything anyone said over the roar of “DON’T FUCK IT UP” in my own head. So, no. Sharing wasn’t going to happen. Not for this alcoholic.

I showed up for two years. I did work the steps–mainly because I found a sponsor who didn’t want a relationship with me at all. She wanted to get me through the steps quickly and thoroughly so I could stay sober. She did. And I did. (She was precisely what I needed in that moment in my life. And I’m so grateful for her.)

But then I was done with AA. I stuck around because I believed the line that if you stop going to meetings, you’re going to get drunk. Then I gave myself some credit, continued to practice the principles and work on my relationship with my Higher Power–and quit AA.

When unmistakably, and completely out of the blue, I knew I needed to go back to AA meetings, it wasn’t because I wanted a drink. Or because I was afraid I’d drink. I mean, I if I say God told me to, are we gonna be able to take me seriously after that. Because that’s what happened. I stayed sober because I have been maintaining that relationship with my Higher Power all along—and so I knew I, undeniably, that I was being called to go back.

I still have no idea why.

But I do know this. I am so different than I was 8 years ago.

Look, AA meetings are all about sharing experience, strength, and hope with a whole group of (mostly) likeminded folks. These are people who have gotten a daily reprieve from their own self-inflicted hell. And the only way they get to keep that reprieve is to work on their spiritual life–striving toward selflessness, connection, service. HOW COULD I NOT LOVE THAT?!? It’s literally almost everything I love & strive for in my own life. And folks are just sitting around, talking freely about their struggles & triumphs, supporting each other & pushing each other to grow. It’s kind of miraculous, really.

But it comes down to willingness. 8 years ago, I wasn’t willing to do shit. I wasn’t willing to share my vulnerability, to admit that sometimes I might not exactly know everything. I wasn’t willing to let people see me. And you can’t exist in AA without being seen.

The program hasn’t changed at all. But my perspective has. I have.

It’s like my buddy said after a meeting, “It took me a long time to understand, but it’s all just love in here, man. It’s just love.”