It’s Funny. And It’s Not.

When quarantine feels a little too weighty for me–when the stark gravity of living in a horror-filmesque world puts me right on the razor’s edge of true terror–I pause and think how much worse it would be if I was still drinking.

And it always makes me laugh.

Because holy mother of pearl, I was an absolute disaster. And my choices were–at best–highly questionable. The idea of trying to navigate a pandemic that calls for near social isolation, or at the very least not getting all up on people and actually wearing a mask on your face (not like dangling from an ear or around your neck), would’ve just been impossible.

Take my exuberance, strip it of all common sense, and there you have it: me, drunk.

You get a hug! And you get a hug! I don’t know you? Nevermind. Let’s hug!

All that’s assuming I ever made it out of the house. But more likely, it’d be circling in a wicked shame funnel over here: Drink too much. Text people ill-advised things I don’t remember. Be hungover. Despair. Rinse. Repeat.

If this sounds like a shitty coping mechanism, it was. And it’s only funny to me because it’s over. As a friend pointed out sometime during my first year of sobriety (which is hard y’all. So hard), I never have to be that person again.

When I see the memes and quips about drinking to deal with your kids (or your pets or your existential angst) during quarantine. I cringe. Because I know people are for real doing that. And when you’re in that place–of despair and addiction and shame–it seems like there’s nothing else to do. Coping, when you’ve been trying to avoid coping this whole time by doing the backstroke in a fish-bowl-sized margarita (one with Swedish Fish, of course), seems truly impossible.

So, no, quarantine doesn’t make me want to drink. When I quit, I scratched drinking off my menu of coping mechanisms (it was the only thing on the menu at the time, so that made things a little tricky). But I do often think about the things that made me want to drink. Because, while the pull toward oblivion via cocktail might not be there, the desire to skirt uncomfortable, troublesome emotion is very real.

But so is my resolution to work through that shit.

The driving emotion in my drinking was shame. On a deep, cellular level, I believed there was something so wrong with me, so broken & ugly, that if anyone ever saw it, they would reject me outright. I carried this feeling with me all. the. time. I could never be comfortable, because as soon as I allowed myself a deep breath, my inner critic (who is loud and fucking obnoxious) would start in on all the ways in which I was truly hideous.

I had a boyfriend and a best friend at the time. I couldn’t let either get close to me. I shook violently when he touched me and threw up when I even thought about being alone with her.

I was 16 years old. I felt totally alone. And crazy. And irredeemable.

Until I drank.

And then all that bullshit faded away. I drank to feel comforted. To feel whole. And to finally be able to connect with other people.

I drank for relief.

Sometimes, now, when I don’t want to get up in the fives to give myself time to do the psychic & spiritual work that keeps me sober, I think about that raw and broken 16 year old.

When I run up against a resentment I don’t want to let go, that I’d prefer to let fester so I can shore up my righteous indignation, I remember her.

It’s hard, remembering her. Just calling her to mind brings that burning shame to the center of my chest. And an intense desire to flee.

She still makes me cry.

But she also reminds me that there’s still work to be done. Hell, there’s always work to be done. And I honor her and her pain–and help her finally heal–by doing the work.

Even when it’s messy.

Especially when it’s messy.

High Horses

I’ve got a long history of martyrdom. Not in the heroic, up-in-flames kind, either. Nope. Just the kind that chooses misery and suffers (mostly) silently for it.

What the hell, right?

It’s a bit murky, even for me. But I think it goes something like this: If I choose to do something that I don’t want to do–that nigh on makes miserable–for the “good” of someone else, well that must be righteous suffering. And I’m like moth to the flame with righteousness (or moral superiority. Same same).

Bluntly: misery makes me feel good about myself.

Kind of.

But not really.

Because I’m still, well, miserable.

Obviously a conundrum.

My penchant for martyrdom isn’t a conscious choice. I don’t wake up and excitedly lay out my martyr outfit for the day. Sometimes it starts with something as simple as not speaking my mind…

I own a small indie bookstore that’s been closed to the public since March 15th. For the past 2 months, I’ve been a one-woman book delivery service. Which, truly, has brought me more happiness than I could’ve imagined. It’s allowed me to form relationships with some of my customers (through email, text, and carefully socially distanced chatting) that might have taken years to create otherwise. And the unmitigated joy that people show over a book left on their front porch… well, it gives me hope for the future of the store but also for the goodness and cohesiveness of Atlantans.

I recently had to put some limits on where I deliver books. Metro Atlanta covers a lot of territory. And it isn’t cost or time effective for me to drive 10 miles to deliver a book that sold for $6.50 (especially since I refuse to use the highway, which I swear is Satan’s playground, so that 10 miles can take at least half an hour to cover). So, I set a 6 mile rule. Free delivery within 6 miles of the store.

I swear, the day after I established said rule, I got an order from just outside the 6 mile radius. Like 6.6 miles. I sighed a little bit. But instead of reaching out, I was going to hop on my little martyr horse and ride out to deliver the books. I didn’t want to. I felt resentful. But I was going to do it anyway. And not because I thought she’d cancel the order if I didn’t deliver them. But because I’d be doing her “good,” even if she didn’t realize it. Even if there was really no need.

Then I saw a note on the order, which clearly indicated that she’d be happy to come fetch the books.

And still I wavered. I could just take them to her, I sighed inwardly. (Foot in the stirrup.) It really wasn’t that big of a deal. (Horse mounted.) I was just taking up the reins when my email dinged.

And there she was again, telling me that she’d be happy to come get the books.

This time, I clearly saw the Universe nudging me toward a more fulfilling (less emotionally, shall we say, trying…) career that was more bookseller, less martyr.

So I agreed. I let her come get the books.

And the world did not end. I did not feel morally inferior because I’d let this chance for (unsubstantiated) righteousness slip away.

I felt relieved. And seen. And respected. Because I’d chosen to be honest about what I wanted and needed.

If you’re thinking “Wait. This is the end of the story? That’s IT?!?”, well then perhaps you’ve not encountered the seductiveness of climbing up on your high horse and riding off to save the day (when it didn’t need saving at all). And that’s okay. We’ve all got our thing.

But, for me, seeing this pattern and choosing something different–that’s huge. And as my high horse grazes in happier pastures, I think we’ll both be better off for the insight.

Wolfy Wisdom: Home

If there is but one force which feeds the root of pain, it is the refusal to learn beyond this moment.

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves

I left Florida because I couldn’t live my life on cruise control anymore. Yeah yeah. I know: palm trees and beachy breezes. But, enticing as they are, they’re a poor substitute for really living–which requires guts, grit, and a healthy dose of openness and vulnerability.

Suburban Florida life was never the dream. But, when you’re simply putting one foot in front of the other, even if the path is beautiful, it doesn’t leave a lot of space for dream discovery. And when you don’t have dreams of your own, it’s pretty easy to fall into co-opting someone else’s, just so you have something that you can (erroneously) call your own.

For most of my 20s, my life closely resembled a train wreck. But, once I hit my 30s, bit by bit I began to piece myself, and my life, together: I got sober; Simon & I finally had that baby we’d been trying for; we found the perfect house in a beautiful neighborhood; I started ever-so-slowly writing things and putting them into the world; Simon transitioned and began living into the big, amazing life he was always meant to have.

So far, so good.

All of these things were unfolding in real-time around me. Which didn’t leave a lot of time or energy for deeper dreams. And plus, the scenery (physical & psychic) was a beautiful diversion.

Then, as the endless barrage of a decade of change began to settle, I started to sense it: the uncomfortable emptiness. I had all these beautiful things, a life I’d built piece by piece, against some pretty damn serious odds. And yet.

The ache let me know: something was missing.

If you’d asked me, I could have calmly told you what I thought was missing. But intellectual knowing isn’t the same as soul-knowing. At least for me. Just wrapping my head around something wasn’t enough to compel me into action. But, the soul has a way of finally making itself heard.

My way looked a lot like sobbing in bed in the middle of the night. And I finally had the words: I am living someone else’s dream for my life.

Once you know a truth like that, you can’t unknow it.

People look at me a bit askance when I tell them that the dream–absolutely, without question–is Atlanta, Georgia. Being here. Living here. Making a big, beautiful–sometimes messy, always true & real–life in this city.

But when you are called to something, it’s best not to try to ignore it. Because it is going to keep calling, relentlessly, until you answer.

Atlanta has called me since I was 19 years old. And it’s the call of home, y’all. I belong here like I have never belonged any place else.

It took me 21 years to make my way here. And I am so filled with gratitude to finally, finally be home that the right view of the skyline or the riot of flowers blooming in the spring (that I’m hella allergic to) still make me tear up. And that’s the god’s honest truth.

Taking a chance on this dream–just finally picking up and moving— launched me into this open space full of possibility. Honoring one of my deepest desires gave me the courage to trust myself in ways I hadn’t even fathomed.

I’ve found the space here to learn beyond this moment. To ask hard questions. To wrestle with uncomfortable truths. To take risks. To be vulnerable and open.

It’s a scarier way to live. There no numbing out. And sometimes the lessons are hard. And there’s virtually nowhere to shove the psychic clutter. But the reward is being really alive.

And it’s terrifying, beautiful, raw, and glorious. It’s home.

Doing Hard Things

Somehow, I beguiled the 9 year old into taking a run with me yesterday.

Well, actually, it was more like a directive: Put on your running shoes. Do not lay on the floor and cry like last time. That will not work this time. Pull it together, Tina, and let’s go. (Yes, we totally call her Tina when she’s being obstinate. No, we don’t think it’ll take too much therapy for her to work through it.)

The thing is, Jane is a good runner–when she’s not flailing about and acting like she’s marching into Armageddon when I insist she tie on her shoes. And quarantine has forced us to work on a little concept over here we like to call you-are-nine-and-don’t-get-to-make-all-the-decisions-and-yes-I-AM-the-boss-of-you.

Catchy, right?

So, off we went. After I issued some threats (i.e. bedtime at 7pm if she started acting a fool on the run). Look, I’m not above threats. Especially on quarantine day one-million-seven-hundred-eighty-thousand. And I’ve wised up to her favorite strategy of resistance: doing what I say (technically), then making the whole damn experience so miserable that I wish I’d never made her do it in the first place.

Checkmate, Tina.

Atlanta is hilly. Which makes it beautiful. And makes running both harder and infinitely more interesting. We live at the bottom of a hill. So, runs don’t start out easy. But Jane made it up the hill loping like an antelope. She’s taken to running a bit like a muppet–maybe because her arms & legs have gotten really lanky? But it’s a little silly and incredibly endearing.

I’d strategically planned frequent stops on the run. And also, through subterfuge, trickery, and downright avoidance, managed not to tell her how far we were going (5K). Things went shockingly well for the first kilometer.

En route to kilometer #2 she may have yelled over her shoulder: “Mommy, STOP TALKING TO ME.”

YOWZA. Touchy, touchy.

But all was forgiven after we walked up a big hill versus running up it (see, I’m a benevolent dictator). And, blessedly, we’d hit a flat stretch and got to cruise along, chatting and just hanging out together for a bit.

It was uneventful and lovely… until we hit the two mile mark.

I don’t know when the last time you watched a small human begin to emotionally unravel was… but it’s not pretty.

Before we go any further, here’s a quick bit of background: Jane ran her first 5K with me when she was 7 years old. And we did a Girls on the Run 5K together last spring. Her PE coach at her first elementary school here in Atlanta pulled me aside specifically to talk about getting her into track because she’s a stellar runner. All that is only to say: I’d didn’t ask (wouldn’t ask) her to do something she wasn’t capable of. But running is HARD if you don’t do it frequently. And she’s dug her heels in recently and refused to run. So this was HARD.

I need to stop, she whined in my general direction.

Nope, you don’t. You’re okay. Let’s slow down. You can do this. Stay where your feet are and breathe.

I can’t.

You can.

And so it went for a while.

Then I look over and she’s starting to sniffle. Now, I’ll cop to the fact that (belatedly) at nine years old, the kid is honing her dramatic acting skills. And she’s learned that crying–when it seems genuine and not like a tantrum–can sometimes get her what she wants. So I was wary. But still… she broke my heart a little bit.

We pulled over to a shady little corner.

Buddy, what’s the matter? I pulled her close to me, she put her head on my shoulder and cried quietly.

It’s hard.

It is, I agreed. Because it really IS. But we can do hard things.

She nodded and continued to cry, leaning in for a minute. I waited a bit, kissed the top of her head, asked her if she was ready to finish. She nodded, and we were on our way.

But the whole way home I kept thinking that standing on a street corner deep in our neighborhood, sweaty and completely focused on the moment felt like an epiphany: Jane cried because something was hard. It was a pure expression of what she felt. She didn’t pry and twist that emotion until it came out sideways. It was honest. And transparent. And vulnerable. And I got to be there to experience that emotion with her–without trying to fix it, or reason with it, or in any way control it.

It was just the two of us together, in the moment, understanding that we CAN do hard things. But sometimes we need to cry about them, too.

She finished the 5K by the way. And she was wildly proud of herself. And she should be. Running is hard. Emotions are hard. Vulnerability is even harder.

But she’s a champ–one who can, in fact, do hard things.

I can see your pain, and it’s big. I also see your courage, and it’s bigger. You can do hard things.

Glennon Doyle

Whatever I Want. Gosh.

I’ve run into an odd phenomenon. Maybe it’s best illustrated by a quick little graphic:

Huh.

Well then.

To carve out space to read, write, and meditate, I wake up at 5:30 am. So I can get these these things done before the “real” day starts at 8. And, no, I don’t feel guilting doing these things in the hours before the family chaos ensues at 8am. But anything that doesn’t get done before 8 gets bumped from the schedule. Which means I’m constantly picking and choosing from the very things that de-zombify my soul to make room for the more mundane stuff: walking the dog, fielding 101 questions about Caboodles for make-up storage (it’s the 9 year old’s latest obsession), or answering emails/setting up appointments/et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Lately it’s meditation that’s the loser in the time war. Which is stupid as hell. And I know it. Meditation is the long game for me, where I process what I read, feel, experience. And yet. If it doesn’t happen before 8, well I couldn’t possibly take 15 minutes (!!!) after the day starts.

And then there’s yoga. I do yoga with my kid. It’s time she looks forward to every day. But I still feel that tug when I get on the mat to think about all the other things I should be doing that fall into the “accomplish shit & take over the world” category. But, if I took time to meditate, I’d feel guilty I wasn’t spending time with the kid. So, even when I’m accomplishing a (very important!) thing on my list, like spending time with my sweet kid, I still feel like it’s frivolous time if I enjoy it too much? That is BANANAS. And yet.

Running most consistently gets a chunk of my time (even after 8 am), but mainly because–after over a decade together–Simon gently nudges (aka insists) I go for a run so that he doesn’t have to deal with the emotional chaos that I bring to the table if my mind doesn’t have the opportunity to calm the hell down on a run. But, if the schedule gets tight… you guessed it: I’ll skip the run in favor of being able to check a task off at the end of the day.

Reading brings me the most pure, unmitigated joy. And, fortunately for me, reading is required for my chosen work. Hard to sell books if I’m not (relatively) well versed in them. But still, if I spend an hour or so reading the first thing I think when I pop back out of the story is all the things that didn’t get done during that hour.

Simon, on the other hand, has not a single hesitancy to engross himself in projects and activities he gets excited (or fixated. Whatever) on. And, if I’m being real honest, I resent the hell out of him for it.

But he certainly isn’t the one making me feel guilty when I do things I enjoy.

The fact is that I’m the one devaluing them. But where does that voice come from that tells me that the things I want to do–need to do–to feel healthy and whole, aren’t valuable? Why does my day so quickly become a checklist, especially right now? We’re still quarantining. But that pull is still there to do, accomplish. But it’s like it’s someone else’s agenda that I’m focused on.

At the end of the day, I measure my worth by items checked off my to-do list. Like I can bring what I’ve accomplished before the Universe and it will deem me worthy. But what I’m constantly de-valuing are the activities that bring balance, wisdom, compassion, and connectedness to my world. And those are the things I really value.

Maybe it’s time for me to fire my cosmic judge and just do and be in a way that brings me joy, wholeness, and peace.

My guess is that cosmic judges don’t take kindly go being summarily dismissed. We’ll see how it goes…

An Enneagram of One’s Own

I’ve been married almost 14 years. Which is both forever and not nearly long enough. But one of the things I most know about my person is that once he really gets into a thing, it’s best to join him for the ride. Otherwise, there’s going to be a side circus going on & I’ll just be looking all perplexed and possibly confounded. But most of all, just left out. No, it’s better to go ahead, roll up my sleeves and dig in a bit to his current obsession.

For a while the thing was organizational systems. (y-a-w-n) If there’s anything I resist as if it is actually trying to kill me, it is planners and lists, timelines and flowcharts. I get that organizational systems, for him, are tied to bigger life goal/psychic things he’s working on. But good god almighty, it’s hard for me to invest in. He says “bullet list” and my eyes glaze over.

But, fortunately for me, for a good while he’s also been into personality tests. Which is clearly much more exciting. The inner workings of people? Yes! Let’s analyze that! And, like anything he becomes–ahem–obsessed with, he knows a lot about different personality types, with a keen focus on what drives them to do what they do.

Right now, it’s all Enneagram all the time.

I’m well versed in his Enneagram number. We’ve watched videos, read excerpts, laughed at memes. I’ve watched him try to puzzle out what Enneagram number our daughter might be. And he’s real, real confident he knows exactly what number I am.

But, come on, I can’t just take his word for it, right? Sure he’s approximately a million times more well-versed in this than I am. But lordamercy, I’ve let people tell me about myself all my life. I’m taking that power back, thankyouverymuch.

So, last night I took an Enneagram test.

Holy vexation.

Parsing out my aspirational self from my actual self? Yeah, I guess maybe I’m not so good at that? All I know is that I’d look at the most basic questions about what drives me as a person and be all “I dunno.” Which, for a person who prides herself on being introspective, is all kinds of unmooring.

I am adrift, y’all.

Because what’s required to make the Enneagram work is that I look back on my whole life and take, as a sum, what’s motivated me. Well, shit. I mean, the past 11 years of my life have been a quest to completely overhaul the way I behave, see, and interact with life. Which is why to dig back through who I want to be, the ways I want to be seen and to treat people, underneath to what actually drives me is … well … GOD AWFUL.

And, even more interior-chaos-inducing: the Enneagram doesn’t offer a definitive answer. I had to read up on the personality characteristics of my top 3 types and decide which one I was.

Stop it. That’s too much.

Still, I pressed on. Because I’m brave like that.

I may have a perfectionist tendency or two, because I took the test three times. I agonized over the top 3 personality types that kept showing up until, finally, Simon took mercy on me and told me to read the descriptions of the top 3 to him. So, of course, I started with the one that he hadn’t picked out as my number. And I was all like “yes this!” to like, 75% of it. Which felt really high to me. But how could that be?!? Because the number I was reading is the same number he is and we’re so different and…

Read the other two, he suggested.

So I read the other one that he hadn’t picked as my number.

I got just a ways in before I realized, and had to admit aloud, that these characteristics were who I aspired to be. Not innately who I was. Which was kind of a blow. Because that was #2, The Helper. And of course I want to be someone that helps and nurtures. And I am those things, sometimes. Because I’ve decided to be. But it isn’t what comes most naturally.

So, with great resignation and some tremendous sighing, I read the number Simon had pegged as my personality type months and months ago.

Every last line. Every last line rang true.

DAMN IT! I hate it when he’s right.

As he talked me off that little ledge, he reminded me (gently) that everyone gets a choice about how they behave. Inner motivations, not so much. And nothing more potently makes room for change than to first simply accept what is.

That’s, you know, a pretty profound life lesson for a regular old Monday night.

Turns out, he had my number all along*.

*(ha! sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Oh, are you still hanging around? Fine. I’m a Type 1, The Moral Perfectionist. And don’t you dare say that seems obvious. Don’t do it. Even if it’s true.

Spirit Guides & Spirit Warriors

When I was 26, deep in the throes of active addiction and hell-bent on my own destruction, I thought I was pregnant. It was more of a feeling than a thought. But, because I needed something to grab on to, something to stabilize my free-fall, I started daydreaming who this child would be.

Tellingly, I saw her as a four or five year old, not as an infant. Dark, inky black eyes, a mop of black hair, and skin the color of coffee with a dash of cream. In my visions, she was silent, knowing. Always calm, radiating an inner peace, an assurance that I’d never known.

In my mind, I created a being that resembled me–not at all. Not even a smidgen. Even down to the unlikeliness that my Irish looking self would produce a beautiful, South American looking child. I projected onto this “child” all the things I wanted for myself. Because I needed something to reach in an yank me from a fire that threatened to consume me. I obviously couldn’t be trusted to do that myself. After all, I was the one who’d set the fire.

Maybe my psyche had created a spirit guide. But it certainly hadn’t envisioned a flesh and blood child.

I received the blessing of one of those flesh-and-bloodchildren later on. When the Universe believed me to be ready. I had to wait a long time. And, let me tell you, that waiting was good for me. Because in that time, I got to get a foothold on the path to saving my own damn self.

When Jane arrived (after two years of trying to bring a child earthside), she looked just like me. That piercing moment of seeing myself reflected in a sweet, innocent babe disabused me of any notion that motherhood would save me. All the pain I’d experienced (self-inflicted and otherwise) came rushing forward. And I knew what was required of me: not to protect her from pain, but to teach her to navigate it with strength, assurance, and inner-knowing.

Which is a hell of a task. One that requires continual, deep psychic work–that I be whole and healthy. This mothering thing, apparently, wasn’t for the faint of heart.

Looking at my sweet newborn baby, I decided my first task was to make peace with my body. Most women probably cringe instinctively at the idea. Our society doesn’t exactly encourage a healthy dose of body-acceptance. But, the kid… she looks like me. If I don’t celebrate my own body… well, what am I saying about hers?

This process–which involved a lot of self-talk in front of a mirror and a pledge never to say anything negative about my body (which I’ve managed to adhere to for 9+ years)–was my first lesson that motherhood would not save me, but it sure as hell would hone me.

Our Jane showed up in this world with an off-the-charts emotional intelligence. She instinctively understands other people, can scope out what motivates them and intuit how to navigate their emotional landscape. None of this we taught her. But we do teach her, daily, how to use this skill with kindness and compassion, how to heal instead of hurt.

That spirit guide my bruised heart created when I was 26, I get to be that for my real, living child.

Sure, I totally fail sometimes. And since I like to do everything with flair–sometime I fail real big.

But I always return to teaching her compassion and love, for herself first and then for other people. I’m currently plotting ways to teach her about intuition (listening and caring for it) and lifecycles of emotion, relationships, and life itself.

Motherhood hasn’t been so much about protecting for me but about preparing. It’s about honesty, peeling back the veil of privilege, teaching her to approach the hard things head on–all the while knowing she’s strong enough, in touch enough with who she is to handle it (whatever it may be).

We all come equipped to be spirit warriors. But we need guides. I am grateful I get to be hers for now. It’s a both a blessing beyond measure and the hardest challenge I’ve ever faced.