Dying

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says: “There, she is gone!”

“Gone where?”

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear the load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says: “There, she is gone!” There are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout: “Here she comes!”

And that is dying.

-Henry Van Dyke

The thing about living is that it always ends in dying. We can believe that we have control over how it happens, when it happens and what will happen, but in reality, we have very little to say about it when the time comes. When someone dies young or unexpectedly, it is even more difficult to reconcile the fact than if they had lived to be 70 or 80 years.

It is time once again to say good-bye to yet another friend who is leaving too soon. I have been trying to put into words for a couple of days now what I want to say about my friend, what she meant to me and how much I will miss her, but I chose instead to share the quote from Henry Van Dyke, because I believe that as we say good-bye to her, loving arms and healing light will greet her on the other side. That is what is important. Everything will be made known to her when she “sheds this mortal coil” and is freed from the boundaries and limitations of her physical body.

I believe that she will not be alone, not be in pain and no longer suffer from the many distresses that are a large part of living Life. I have to believe that our good friend who passed away a few months ago will be the first face that she sees and she will never again be scared, sad, lonely, sick or lost.

I will remember you, the best of you and the time we shared. I will keep you alive in my heart, in my thoughts and until we meet again, Rest in Peace, my friend. You are loved.

Defy Definition

“Give up defining yourself – to yourself or to others. You won’t die. You will come to life. And don’t be concerned with how others define you. When they define you, they are limiting themselves, so it’s their problem. Whenever you interact with people, don’t be there primarily as a function or a role, but as the field of conscious Presence. You can only lose something that you have, but you cannot lose something that you are.”
― Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

I read this quote this morning and was once again amazed at how profound simple truths can be. I have always struggled to define myself, to be able to carefully craft my thoughts, responses and behavior into what I thought others needed me to be or who I wanted them to believe me to be. It is no surprise that I was constantly unhappy, unsure of who I really was and felt most of the time as if I were a blank slate, waiting for someone to arrive to write the words that would give me some color and definition. I always felt like a chameleon, morphing into my surroundings and becoming whatever the situation required. I felt that my “true self” was just whomever I was at that particular moment in time, never quite formed, always fluid and changing. Rather like Jell-O that never quite sets, I was always at an in-between state, not having any kind of identity, other than someone’s sister, someone’s friend, someone’s daughter and an employee, a teenager and all the general “titles” that we all carry with us, but are not the sum of who we are, as an individual.

I think the first time that I was able to look at myself objectively and clearly was the first week of my sobriety. I could see that scared, angst-ridden, tortured soul who was running from her feelings; the wounded child who was never able to grieve and heal; the young woman who never cried because crying meant failure and defeat. Those were the most readily identifiable parts of me, as they had been “in power” for the majority of my life. Once I was strong enough and my mind was finally clear, I was also able to see the survivor, the fighter who wouldn’t give up, the intelligent mind that held a great deal of wisdom, awareness and insight. The empathetic, compassionate heart that cared deeply and felt things acutely and finally, the emerging, confident, healthy self that would prove to be my True Self.

It was frightening to let go of my concern for how others defined me because I had placed blame and given power to those for so long, in an effort to excuse myself from any real responsibility for my choices and my actions. “If so-and-so didn’t think I was like this, I wouldn’t have had to do this and that, etc.” or “He thinks I am this way, so I can’t act that way or he would be disappointed.” You get the idea. I was bound by what others thought of me, what they expected of me and who they believed me to be. I had done this. I had given to them the control, the power and the ultimate definition of who I was. Freely and without reservation or thought. They were only speaking their mind, stating their point of view, based on what I had showed them, told them or led them to believe. I couldn’t or wouldn’t take the time to decide that the only opinion or thoughts that really mattered were the ones I held. Once I discovered that truth, everything else fell into place with little to no effort, because it was the truth. In this particular situation, as with most, the truth was easier to live than any lie.

So today, I celebrate a lack of definition and the great space within which I may grow. I set no limits to my growth, nor do I confine that growth to any certain perimeters. I want to grow healthy, grow truthfully and grow within my understanding of self, in awareness, compassion and love.

Today is my Mom’s birthday, so if you all could send some happy, healing thoughts to her, I know she’ll appreciate all the warm fuzzy feel-good feelings.

Happy birthday, Mom. I love you!

Moving

At last count, I have moved something like 23 times since 1988 and I am moving again. I used to love to move and couldn’t stay in one place more than 6 months before the urge to seek a new environment would strike me. Thankfully, I have been able to temper that desire for constant change and have managed to stay in my current dwelling for over 2 years. It’s not so much the task of moving; I love the change, the fresh start and discovering all the great things my new home has to offer.

I must confess that I enjoy the pre-moving tasks most of all; purging and packing. It’s a chance for me to take stock in what I have been keeping that I may not have even laid eyes on for years. It gives me the opportunity to decide if I need it or if it has outlived it’s usefulness or if I am holding onto it for sentimental reasons. Out with the unnecessary to make room for the necessary.

I’ve been doing that in my personal life, in evaluating who is in my circle of trust, what thoughts I carry with me and what beliefs. I have had to clear out the clutter in my mind many times throughout the last couple of years and restock it with positive beliefs. I must throw away the “old” truths (I can’t handle feeling my feelings) and replace them with new truths (I am strong, my feelings will not destroy me) so that as I grow in my recovery, I don’t keep the triggers that led me to drink.

It’s this purging of toxic people, thoughts and truths that enables me to also measure how far I’ve come, how much I’ve grown and I am so much stronger in mind and body than I ever believed possible. It’s a way to make sure that I do not get lazy or let outside forces lead me astray. Getting sober is tough enough but staying sober and deprogramming those old messages is a constant and ongoing task. I have let a few of those old, negative, destructive thoughts find purchase in my mind a couple of times and the power that they carry is not to be dismissed. So, in taking stock of my possessions, I also take stock of what I carry around in my mind, as they both will either hold me back or set me free, depending on what I take with me and what I chose to leave behind.

Karma

Back when I was a smoker, I would never smoke inside, but would always go outside. Living at my townhouse, I would go out on the patio, which faced the back of another building. My neighbor’s upstairs bedroom window overlooked my patio and as a result, my smoke would travel up to her window. Inevitably, it would be open and she would look out of the window, less than pleased at the uninvited smoke and slam the window closed. Being a die hard smoker, I wouldn’t think too much about how my smoking impacted her need for cool and fresh air. I would just think some less than charitable thoughts about grouchy people (kind of like “wow – sucks to be you”) and go on smoking.

Nearly 10 years later, I’m fast asleep in my bedroom, with the sliding glass door open to allow the cool night air in when I awake with the smell of cigarette smoke strongly in my bedroom. One of my neighbors was outside on their patio, smoking away with the carefree attitude I had all those years ago and I was the neighbor that was running to close the sliding glass door with the expression of disgust and irritation. I immediately had to laugh. Karma had found me all these years later and delivered a payback so direct and exact that I couldn’t help but recall my non-smoking, upstairs window neighbor and my lack of concern for her. (Yeah, sucks to be you!) The shoe was solidly on the other foot now. I would have never thought 10 years ago that I would be bothered by cigarette smoke or that I would ever not be smoking, but how completely wrong I was. Now I can’t imagine ever going back to smoking or being so self-centered that I would force someone to suffer the negative aspects of my addiction.

This makes me really stop to think before I act or say things now. I don’t express my impatience by tapping my foot or making dramatic, heavy sighs when the older lady in line at the grocery store pulls out her dozen or more coupons. I try very hard to not cast a critical look at the young mother whose child is acting out, screaming and/or throwing a fit because it’s past their nap time. I have no idea how karma would repay those negative, unkind actions and gestures and I certainly don’t want to find out. 

I instead try to concentrate on putting out positive, healing, loving actions and thoughts. It’s a little more difficult sometimes, but I feel that the return will be so much greater for the effort. If I hear someone say how horrible they are feeling, I will pass by with a comment that may not destroy that horrible feeling, but it will plant a seed of happiness or at the very least, hope. If I come across someone who feels as though no one cares what they have to say, I will stop for a minute and listen. The actions themselves are very small and take no more than a few minutes. It’s just the stopping and shifting the focus from inward (all about me) to outward (helping others) and knowing that time is there, I just need to use it wisely. I don’t consciously keep a tally and look for karma’s return because more often than not, the return is immediate in seeing the smile on that person’s face and a weight lifted from their shoulders.

Watch for karma in your life and see if you can connect the dots.

 

 

The Little Things

Image

I made a promise to myself not long ago that I would get a stationary bike to help me get some much-needed exercise. I said that once I got it, I would spend a minimum of 15 minutes every other day and above all else, I would never use it as a clothes dryer, hanger or any purpose other than to exercise. I have kept my promise on the latter and to the former, I have finally started and succeeded in my goal. I’m bearing in mind that it’s early in the game but thus far, I’m off to a good start. My poor body is in shock from this type of exertion, as I haven’t set tush on a bicycle seat in too many days (years?) to count. So, I am feeling good that I kept my promise to myself and actually did a whole 15 minutes of sweat-inducing, butt numbing and overall good-feeling torture (I mean, exercise) today. That’s the first little thing.

I have long wanted to communicate with someone in another country and I have at last been able to find a pen pal to chat with, share definitions of slang and in general, get another’s perspective on life and all the trials and tribulations that includes. It’s interesting to find that no matter how different the environment, the location or one’s situation, the human condition is more similar than not. Friends suffer from depression, suicide takes those who suffer without relief, man behaves badly and in the process, hurts his fellow man. Priests sin, passions cool; children grow and go away and parents age and die, the sun rises and it sets, with no concern for those it shines upon or leaves in darkness. I have learned so much about my pen pal just in the course of a few e-mails and I feel a kinship already, born of commonalities of childhood, the cancer of mental illness and the sour taste of regret and remorse. But it’s not all bad, either. The triumph of overcoming and growing beyond said childhood troubles, finding strength in oneself and experiencing the compassion of others towards those living with mental illness. Knowing that we are not alone in our struggles and even though there is an ocean between us, we are side by side in empathy, understanding and our hearts go out to each other for our losses. A laugh here echoes across the miles and lights upon another’s face in a reflected smile. No matter how vast the distance, we are as close as words typed on a screen. An instant and a half later, they are read and heard in another’s mind. It’s a little thing, but it’s a good thing.

Lastly, the fact that even though it’s going to be hotter than Hades today, I sit in a blissfully cool, darkened room with the air conditioner saving my skin, my sanity and my soul from the hated rays of the burning, scalding summer sun.

Having this blog and knowing that you will read what I write, possibly enjoy it, maybe read something that in a little way makes a big difference in your day, your perception or just makes you smile.

It really is all of these little things that add up to my happiness and thankfulness today and every day I take the time to think about them.

Back on the Sunny Side

Well, after my last post, I feel that I must let you know that things are much better. It’s amazing how much I can get all worked up/let down over a misunderstanding and how difficult it is to communicate how I feel and why. But once I do communicate (shocking!) I am able to be heard, the misunderstanding gets cleared up and I’m not wrecked emotionally over something that I took the wrong way.

A few months ago, I would have never spoken up, never let that person know how I felt and I would’ve been in extreme depression and (of course) would have most certainly gotten shit-faced in order to deal with those feelings. I’m so glad that is no longer the case. Communicating my feelings is difficult for me, as I have always tended to believe it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Or rather, I’m not worth the trouble that it takes. I can see now what a textbook example of sabotage that is and how it guarantees that I will not feel better, I will perpetuate the belief that I am nothing, I am not worthy and the only thing that will make me feel better is to drink, to medicate and/or to escape from reality. What a vicious circle, indeed.

People cannot read my mind (thank God) to know how I have taken what they say, what they meant by it and where the emotion behind the words is coming from; yet I have always assumed that they should know. I guess maybe I thought I was sending telepathic rays into their brain?? That they had a built-in crystal ball tuned specifically to my thought frequency?? I don’t know how I could’ve realistically assumed that. I guess that’s the keyword, realistically, based in reality. There was really nothing reality-based about my life before. If it felt like reality, I wanted no part of it. If it felt real, get me out. I missed so much because of that. Not only the yucky, uncomfortable stuff, but the part where you get to set things straight and heal the hurt from those misunderstandings and incorrect assumptions. I can’t go back and change the past, but I can certainly learn from it. I will speak up when I feel something, ask for clarification if I’m not sure about the message. Most of all, I will think carefully before I assume that someone’s frustration is actually anger; before I take a general statement personally and before I think the world just wants me to shut the f*** up. It really isn’t all about me all the time and even when it is all about me, it’s not always bad.

Thanks to everyone for their concern and encouragement and most of all, thanks to my dear friend who took the time to set me straight and let me know that we’re still walking on the sunny side of the street. Thanks for bringing the sun to me; you always do.

Posted: No Entry

Did you ever speak with someone and as soon as the last word leaves your mouth, you wished instantly you could erase the entire conversation? Have you ever said something, shared a piece of yourself, only to have the person you shared with criticize your thought, your idea or your heartfelt declaration? I realize now that anytime you allow anyone entry into your thoughts, your fears and your dreams, you provide them with a direct line of fire to your most tender and vulernable parts. Some things are best kept to oneself and while people may think they understand, what they understand are Their Thoughts, Their Reactions, Their Beliefs.
 
I’m certain that if faced with a tombstone marking the death of a small child, I would feel sadness, but nothing close to what that mother felt. When I read about someone being mugged at gunpoint, I “feel” for that person, but I have no clue how they felt afterward or even how they feel today. I can empathize, but empathy is only attempting to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. As we all know, it is not a “one size fits all” world. Some people don’t have the ability to empathize and some could, but care not to. I have to constantly remind myself that I am responsible for myself, I need not second-guess my feelings, I don’t need to seek approval from others. That has been a problem of mine throughout my entire life; constantly seeking approval, permission and direction on how I should feel, how I should respond and opening myself up, only to be shut down. 
 
This time, I am going to do my best to take the sting out of the comments and know that it was just one person’s opinion of one conversation on this one day. It’s just a bunch of words with a whole lot of emotion behind them, but they’re not my words, not my emotion. I wish I were the kind of person who could just let things roll off my back and disregard others’ opinions, criticisms and heated judgements, but as of today, I’m not. I’m working on it and I know at some point, I will be comfortable enough with who I am to stop asking for approval from outside sources, stop seeking advice when I should just follow my instincts and most of all, stop allowing others entry into the privacy of my inner most thoughts. They are mine and mine alone. I don’t need to have someone come in and rearrange or redecorate my thoughts into something more pleasing or acceptable to them. 
 
Thanks for listening to me ramble on. I was thinking of discontinuing this blog, for it is wholly and completely based on my thoughts, my beliefs and my points of view. However, I did tell myself I would commit to writing for a year and I will keep that promise to myself. After that, we’ll see. I would like to thank you for all of your encouragement and your support thus far. I’m going to do my best to shake this ugly mood and move on.
 
I wish I could just wiggle my nose and viola! icky feeling gone. I’ll settle for a healthy dose of escapism, in the form of a really non-realistic, fantastically funny, deliciously ridiculous good book.
 
Good night, my friends.

Friday

Friday. I love that word. It’s like my soul sighs and my entire being relaxes, just thinking it.It’s Friday. Even when I am having a decent week, Friday just gives me a fresh breath, a second wind and a sense of accomplishment. I did it! I made it through another work week and am none the worse for wear. That’s a pretty good feeling, I have to say. I used to look forward to Friday for altogether different reasons; I could finally crack open that bottle of wine, drink it down and then maybe another. Relaxing meant getting drunk. I honestly didn’t know how to relax without assistance. It’s pretty sad, looking back.
 
The body will follow with whatever the brain tells it to do, so getting the mind to slow down, change gears and let go of that repetitive cycle of worry, anxiety and fear helps a great deal. I happened to look in the mirror the other day at my desk and was shocked at the grim, intense, unsmiling face that looked back at me. It startled me for a minute before I realized that is my default face. My “I’m at work and I’m concentrating, focusing, thinking and I’m not at all happy about it” face. That was a huge wake up call for me to change the default setting on my expression. Now, when I feel like everything is “locking down” I take a deep breath, think of something/someone that makes me smile and consciously relax. I have to do it frequently, as I find myself hunched over my keyboard, brow furrowed, the grim line of my lips warning all to back off, leave me alone; giving the overall impression of a troll setting about to decimate some unfortunate victim. I am actually a rather nice person, but a stranger would not see that if they came upon me during such a moment.
 
So, Friday is the day that I am able to relax, fully. I know that I have some time away from work to work on me. I can catch up with family, have a mini-vacation or a quick getaway and leave the troll at work. This weekend I’m fortunate enough to get out of town and spend some time with my youngest brother, who I don’t get to see enough of. An added bonus, I’ll be able to feast my eyes upon mountains, blue skies and all the wonderful creatures of nature. That is something I certainly don’t do frequently enough. Nature is the answer to the question, “How can I feel better?” What better way to relax than to occupy your unsettled mind with images of flowing waters, bending trees and flowers in bloom?   I can’t think of too many. Just thinking about it makes me smile, my shoulders drop and oh look! There are those dimples! I’m pretty sure trolls don’t have dimples.
 
Have a very happy Friday and a most relaxing weekend.

Great Movie Quote

I have said before how much I love movies and especially the ones with fantastic quotes that beg to be used in the course of everyday life. I had the pleasure of hearing one of the most memorable, usable lines the other day in a meeting at work. I believe the movie was “The Girl Next Door” and one of my co-workers used the line prior to explaining where it came from. The line goes something like this:

“In your heart you know the juice is worth the squeeze”

Now, I hadn’t seen the movie but even hearing that line completely out of context, it struck a chord with me. I’ve been fighting the good fight, trying to stay positive, sober and reign in my temper. Some days it seems like it’s a losing battle and other days I’m just tired. Just like all of us; we get tired. Tired of working, tired of swimming upstream, tired of listening to the boss who couldn’t find his way out of a paper bag with GPS. Tired of negative people, tired of being negative, tired of being tired. But when I consider the alternative, giving up, letting go and letting the tide take me out to sea, back to “out there” I know that I’d rather be fighting tired than beaten down and lifeless.

Every day we are faced with so many choices. Some of those choices are relatively easy and don’t require much conscious thought, like not braining that boss over the head with an office chair (o.k., so maybe it’s not that easy sometimes, but you get the idea) Then there are those choices that are so difficult to make it physically pains you. Do I bail out my grown child again or do I let them suffer the consequences of their own making? Do I quit this great paying job to go out on a limb and try something that may not work? Do I stay in this unhappy relationship or do I end it and walk away? Do I give myself the thought of ever having a drink again? No matter how committed we are to our jobs, our family, our relationships and our recovery, there are always difficult choices to be made. We unfortunately complicate things for ourselves by thinking that after a certain number of years being married, it should take less work, not more. After working in a job for so long, the boss should appreciate us more. Once I make the decision to not drink, the rest should be easy, right? Not so much. So, you have to ask yourself – is the juice worth the squeeze?

Is the temporary discomfort of having an honest talk with your significant other worth the possibility of finding happiness or even making a turning point in an unhappy relationship?

Is the pain of seeing your child experience the consequences of their actions worth ensuring that they will learn and (hopefully) not repeat those same actions in the future?

Is the financial uncertainty of striking out on your own and leaving the familiar (yet wholly unrewarding) job worth finding your true worth and even more valuable than money, your happiness?

Is the juice worth the squeeze?