Easy isn’t an option

I’ve been looking for an easy button most of my life. I wasn’t born exuding what you might call a “fighting spirit.” I did, however, seem to come fully equipped, with a tremendous need for black or white, right or wrong. Gray shades of ambiguity need not apply.

Or maybe I did have an innate need to question and to know–but it was at war with both my environs and my need for the security of clear answers.

My 12 year old self had some pretty serious questions about the dictate to fear God. Why, I wondered out loud to my hella religiously conservative parents, would anyone want a God they had to fear?

That’s a real good question. One that warrants examination & a suitable answer.

But–tellingly–I don’t even remember the rest of the conversation. What I do know is that, years later, sitting in churches across Tampa sipping bad AA coffee, I had to reckon with the God I’d created: a vindictive God who might snatch away anything I loved too much, a God that was always looking to inflict suffering–a God to be feared.

Damn.

And, if my inner need for ease and certainty weren’t enough, I had a bad habit of listening to strong outside voices–especially ones that didn’t know what the hell they were talking about.

In my 20s, I’d started exploring Buddhism. Right away, it sparked something that felt remarkably like life in me. But one of my girlfriends (bless their hearts, for so many reasons) informed me I couldn’t just BE Buddhist. I couldn’t just decide something like that.

Did I ask why the hell not? Nope. Did I ignore her or tell her to mind her own spirit, thankyouverymuch? Nuh-uh. What I did do was tuck my tail & refocus my energy back on Christianity. I walked back into utter soul-desolation (being called an abomination has a chilling effect on people, after all). I willingly took my place in an institution where I’d be battered and bruised for years–because someone else told me to.

But also, truthfully, because the kind of Christianity I was raised with came with easy answers. Living near a destructive force felt easier than drawing nearer to the creative (but crazy ambiguous), life-giving practice of questioning and seeking.

I often look around at other folks and wonder why I’m not as curious as they are. But curiosity is built on the willingness to question tirelessly–to tear down assumptions, destructive psychic patterns, decaying modes of thought. To clear room to for the psyche to be, to do its work of creating, building, discovering.

I had to put my easy button in storage when I started the hard work of getting sober. Sobriety isn’t a process in which you can just let old patterns ride. Everything gets dismantled. Which was the most beautiful gift for me. Because it gave me a toehold for the bigger questions I’m now able to ask. Getting sober gave me the strength to peer into the darkness, to probe it, to admit that there might not be an easy answer–and to stand in the face of uncertainty and ask anyway.

Psychic work has never come easily to me. It’s sweat-inducing, sometimes nightmarish stuff. But what is left over in the light of day is so beautiful, so fresh, it makes the questioning that shifts the ground beneath my feet completely worth the while.

Ruin

Growing up, our family folklore contained a whole mess of cautionary tales against being ruined. The word got repeated so often, I can still hear its South Georgia pull in my head, feel the loss behind it.

Ruination focused on one thing: loss and the inability to move past it, to eventually be able to pull something new out of the ashes. It centered on change: the visceral fear that an unexpected, unforeseen act could happen–and then only utter devastation would remain.

To this day, my deepest fears involve ruining an event. Which is a bit ironic (or maybe just silly–since Alanis Morsette wrote a whole song using “ironic” completely wrong, I have my own fears about wrangling that word into my writing), since by virtue of being an alcoholic in recovery, I can tell you I have ruined plenty of events. Most memorably: the Thanksgiving I showed up at my grandmother’s still drunk(ish) and high(ish) from the night before and on the cusp of a hangover so bad that I could hardly lift my head to eat dinner. I feel like “ruined” works there.

But the stories repeated over and over in my childhood weren’t about events. They were about people. And that kind of thing gets lodged in your psyche: the fear that you might do something so awful it would cause someone to never be the same (a phrased used & understood to mean ruined).

Good Lord Almighty.

I’m all here for taking responsibility for my own actions. But I am not–cannot be–responsible for other folks’ reaction to life events.

More plainly put: I’ve stopped believing people can be ruined.

And, on an even more, practical day-to-day level, I am 100% giving up the fear that I’m gonna ruin anything. Because that fear of ruin… I can see it for what it always was: a desire on the part of the teller to control events, to manipulate outcomes, to force folks into predicability. I’m not even casting aspersions here. It’s human nature to want to whittle life down into the precise outcome we want. But it stifles other people, steals away their freedom of choice. Ruin forces a fear that prohibits folks from making honest-to-God simple mistakes–or making choices that honor the life they’re trying to create, even if other folks take umbrage with it.

Hell no.

Life is too big, too rich for that.

Every day brings new possibilities and new choices. Slowly, I’m letting go of the fear that making the choices that feed and protect my soul, that honor the deep work that I’m doing to be whole and healthy, will ruin anything.

That’s bullshit.

What will happen, in the natural course of things, is that I’ll make some choices that present difficult feelings for other people. That’s okay. What they do with those feelings is their work, not mine.

Everyone has their own work to do. I won’t ruin that for them.

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash