February 6, 2015 § 2 Comments
Anytime we experience a major change in our lives, we go through an adjustment period where we try to establish some sense of normalcy. Whether it is a positive change (like the birth of a child) or a negative one (like the death of a loved one), our lives are forever altered, and we have to re-establish how we move through the world.
I experienced this when my mother died. I experienced it when I entered recovery. Most recently, I experienced this when I endured treatment for cancer.
When I got the diagnosis, I stayed positive. I wasn’t going to let “it” win. I wasn’t going to let it change my life. It was a blip – a speed bump – a hurdle…you pick the metaphor. I was going to do what the doctors wanted and be done with it. Besides, everyone told me that I had the “good cancer” – just thyroid cancer, right? No big deal, right? This was last September…
I gave myself until Christmas to be back to “normal.”
Call it naïve. I do. I was naïve. The good cancer? Seriously? Like any cancer can be good. It was foolish to believe that. Furthermore, I was unrealistic to think that my body would return to its pre-cancer state. Silly, when you think of it…they took a vital organ. I ate radioactive material. No matter my mindset, my body would never be the same.
So now, I’m trying to figure out this “new normal” and I’m having to accept some harsh truths about my reality.
It’s not just a pill a day. It’s a drawn-out process (and challenge) to find the right dose taken at the right time in the right way. Too much and I feel like I’m having a heart attack. Too little and I can’t stay awake. I’m still waiting to find “just right.”
I need more sleep than before. Sucks for me – I was a resident night-owl. I had no problem functioning on 4 hours of sleep. Now, it’s like 9 – 10 hours. I go to bed at 9, not 2. And I hate it…but I feel horrible the next day if I don’t. (And by horrible, I’m talking tequila hangover.)
Everything I eat and drink seems to affects me. EVERYTHING. Some food makes me physically feel better than others. Anything even remotely bad (read ENJOYABLE) makes me ill. (See hangover reference above.)
Everything takes more effort. I just can’t do what I could before. I need to rest more and do less…which completely pisses me off. I don’t like having to slow down. I don’t like having to consider my limitations when I’m planning my days.
My brain doesn’t always cooperate. This is the worst one…I love my mind. I struggle with words. I have trouble writing. I say things backwards. I can’t remember things. And I refuse to surrender this one.
Reading back over this, it sounds whiny. It sounds angry. If someone told me this, I would want to tell that person to be grateful for being alive and point out it could always be worse. And it could…and I am grateful.
I didn’t write this to complain. I have an awesome life. I have so much to look forward to this year – including a wedding. I’m marrying my best friend…someone who has supported me through so many things. And we’re happy…really happy together.
My mindset remains positive. I got this. I’m not going to let cancer define me. I’m not going to add that badge to my collection. And I’m moving forward in life, in faith, and with a tremendous sense of gratitude.
Like everything else, I wrote this to process my reality. Once I write it, I can’t deny it. I wrote this to acknowledge how things have changed…to determine my new normal.
At the same time, I know it won’t always be like this. I have lived a hundred lives – some of them in a single day – in the 46 years I’ve been on this earth. Today, I accept where I am. I accept this life with all of its obstacles and blessings. And I wish you the same…
December 19, 2014 § 2 Comments
I started this year with confidence. I was on my own. I was moving forward. I was sober and I was happy. I knew something big was coming…I knew it would be in July. I didn’t know what but I knew it would change my life forever. In my mind, it was going to be epic and positive and fulfill the dreams I had thrown out into the universe.
In July, my something big appeared in the shape of an 11 cm tumor.
My something big was cancer.
Now, I was told I was lucky because I had the “good cancer” – thyroid cancer. Survival rates are high. Treatment is “easy.” It’s just a “little” scar. And in comparison to other illnesses, I was lucky.
No cancer is good cancer.
Physically, I recovered quickly…the scar is smaller than I thought. The treatment was easy for me. Regulating the medication has been rough but I’m getting better every day. And yes, my body is different now. I am dependent on medication but I’m alive.
Emotionally and mentally – I’m still not there yet…and I don’t even know where “there” is anymore. Before I got sick, I knew what I was doing. I felt like I was manifesting my purpose. I had made it through the wilderness (Dante’s, not Madonna’s).
When I found out the diagnosis, I knew I would get through this. I was more than a conqueror. I had no doubt in my mind I would live and I would be healthy again by Christmas. My friend told me I “yadda-yaddaed” cancer.
But July was supposed to be epic…positive movement down a path I had wrestled from the darkness…a reprieve, a reward, an affirmation of this life’s pain.
I waited for my revelation.
I waited and waited for some epiphany about life and death.
I waited for mortality to appear.
I waited for the hallelujah chorus to sing of my purpose.
I waited for some angel to illuminate my path.
I waited for a sign…a burning bush? A parted puddle?
Nothing. Nada. Zip.
Maybe life was the sign…maybe there was no big, cosmic message…
Now, months later…silent months where words abandoned me…I’m forcing myself to write. I’m forcing myself to remember. I’m forcing myself to dream…because if I don’t do these things now, if I don’t push myself, complacency, disguised as waiting “to be ready,” will win.
So today I write to live…to figure out who I am, where I am going. I write because it is time to move forward and direction doesn’t matter.
June 21, 2014 § Leave a comment
I was sitting outside this morning enjoying the peace that comes with the Saturday morning, first cup of coffee. The weather was cool; the birds were happy. I was happy (note past tense)…until one little thought – about money – popped up into my head. Then another, and another…my mind felt like a container of Jiffy Pop on the stove – each idea forcefully surfacing and expanding until that’s all I could think about…my mind swelling with doubt, anxiety, worry…
I took another sip of coffee. This was not how I wanted to start my morning.
Another thought pushed its way to the surface, “You have everything you need.” I turned it over and over in my mind, clearing out the space to think, but searching for evidence to validate that thought. I could list about 10 things “I need” (about 50 things “I want”), but did I need any of those things this morning? Did I need any of those things today?
No, I didn’t.
Had I done some financial planning? Set my financial priorities? Had I done all I could in this area?
Yes, I have.
Was there anything I could do in that moment to change my financial life? Was it worth my morning’s peace? Did I want to let it define my day?
No, not at all.
So I took another sip of coffee and kicked back in the chair. I did have everything I needed to be happy and peaceful in this moment. I had done all I could do in this area, and now it is time to trust the universe will provide. It was time to cast my cares and enjoy my day.
This is basically how my mind works most days. Often, the issue that comes up is money, sometimes it’s health, relationships, etc. An anxiety-laden thought pops up and tries to dominate. If I don’t stop it immediately, it gains momentum, growing, seeping over into other areas (thinking about saving for vacation somehow becomes starving on the street).
Ultimately, I take the same steps, ask the same questions:
1. How does this impact my “now”? If it doesn’t impact the now, why is it here? It’s like Debbie Downer crashing my thought party.
2. Have I done all I can do in this area? Sometimes these thoughts pop up for a reason – to direct us to where I should put my energy and intention. If I have done all I can do, I let it go. (Get out Debbie Downer.) If I haven’t, I continue to the next question.
3. Can I do anything about it in this moment? Most of the time, the answer is no because insidious thoughts like to surface during moments of peace and happiness. If there is anything I can do, then I do it…or schedule a time to do it.
4. Then I remind myself , “You have everything you need in this moment to be happy.”
5. Resume happiness.
I’m headed back outside, second cup of coffee in hand, to enjoy the rest of my morning. I hope you all have a wonderful, joyous day. I will.
June 14, 2014 § Leave a comment
I love my friends. I value them. I accept them without judgment. I pray for them. I will drop everything and go if they say they need me. I will listen. I will open my home to them if things get tough. I don’t even mind helping them move.
In truth, I’m not good at reaching out. I disappear..frequently…into my own life, my own mind. It’s not that I don’t think of my friends…it’s not that I don’t want to talk to them or hang out or be a part of their lives. I just get lost in my own head, putting off the text, the call, the message, until it’s been so long that I’m uncomfortable – ashamed even – making it even more difficult to renew the relationship.
I’m an introvert. I give and then I hide. I like to think my friends know this about me. That they understand…and they forgive me for my needed solitude. But lately, it’s been bothering me.
No, I’m not lonely.
No, I’m not sad.
No, I’m not in need of external validation.
No, I’m not moving.
No, I don’t need help.
But, yes, I miss them. Worse, I worry that my lack of effort hurts them. I worry they take it personally and think I’m not interested in being a part of their lives. I don’t want to lose them. I don’t want them to think I walked away…or that I don’t care.
So that leaves me in this familiar space…where I vow to do better, where I contact the people I love and tell them so, where I leave my cave and go out into the world – the real world, not just this virtual one. And I will do the best that I can until I can’t, and I disappear again.
To my friends:
I do not apologize for my needing solitude. I ask for understanding.
I do apologize if I hurt your feelings. I ask for forgiveness.
If I disappear, come and find me. I welcome you.
I need you more than you realize.
I love you more than you know.
May 2, 2014 § 1 Comment
Many people in recovery have a desire to give back to the world. We want to help people who are struggling. We want to be kind, where kindness is absent. We want to show love to those who feel unlovable. You get the idea. Help people who are suffering because someone helped you.
Sometimes, because of our experiences, because we want to stop people from going down the path we know so well, we intervene. We offer help. We make promises. We think we can handle it. We think we can solve a problem that isn’t really ours (worse, it’s not really one that can be solved). We make commitments before we consider the whole picture…
Then comes that moment…”Oh fuck! What did I just promise to do? What the fuck was I thinking? I am such an idiot. This is going to be a disaster. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”
That’s where I was yesterday. I’ve extended myself in a direction that risks my peace and serenity, even my heart to a degree. But I can’t take back the offer…I won’t pull the rug out from someone who is struggling. I won’t go back on my word.
Last night was bad. Flashback bad.
Today, though, I woke up to a different world. I am drawing deeply on my faith. I am letting go of all of the “might happens” and “worst case scenarios” so I will not manifest them. I am praying intently for whatever is best for all involved to happen. I pray for peace and for strength. I will not focus on the future and lose this beautiful day.
That’s today…and tomorrow…and the next day. One day at a time. One choice at a time.
The lessons are much bigger, though. The lessons are of diligence, patience, self-knowledge, and faith. We cannot avoid these situations, for people will always need help. We can, however, learn how we can help people.
How to avoid having that “Oh Fuck” moment in the first place…
1. Know your triggers. Triggers split you wide open emotionally. Some triggers hit so fast, so deep you don’t even realize what is happening. If you aren’t careful, this can be the genesis of a bad decision…or a good one. Just know what triggers you, so you know where the energy, the thoughts, the fears, etc. originate.
2. WAIT. WAIT to make an offer. If you are in recovery, you have learned to manage triggers in relationship to your addiction. Treat this the same way: Wait. Now, the science of addiction has taught us that cravings last an average of 5 minutes. With these types of triggers, when a serious decision has to be made, you need to give yourself more than 5 minutes, more than an hour, take the time to think through the whole thing – the best scenario, the worst scenario, etc.
3. Know your limitations. Know what you can do…and what you can’t do. Know what is good for you…and bad. Don’t make offers that take resources you need to be okay. Resources include energy, time, money, space, peace, etc. (Yes, peace is a resource. Don’t just give it away.) Don’t make promises that leave you struggling…that will just build resentment. Be very clear, very honest, and very realistic with yourself (and other people involved) about what you can and cannot do.
4. Honor the sacred inside of you. You know what the right thing to do is. If you clear out the triggered emotions, if you find that still point, if you listen, you will know what to do. Listen for the story. Ask yourself, “Should I do this?” The right answer is the one that comes in a basic yes or no. If the answer comes with an explanation, if you find yourself building a story, or trying to explain yourself to yourself, or justify the decision, then you are making the wrong decision. The right decision comes with peace, not justification. It’s simple. It doesn’t need to be explained.
For me, I am triggered by injustice. I am triggered by abandonment. I am triggered by the threat of homelessness. I know what happens to people who wind up on the street. And the next thing I know, I’ve got someone sleeping on my couch…
After writing this, after applying my own guidelines, I realize I made the right decision in the first place. All of the fear, all of the anxiety, all of the negativity, that’s my past talking. In the light of day, when I ask myself whether or not I should open my home to someone in need, I get the simple, gentle “Yes.”
April 27, 2014 § Leave a comment
I’m coming up on my 3 year recovery anniversary. Three years feels like ten, feels like twenty…another lifetime ago. So far away yet so real, so close. Recovery requires diligence. It requires conscious, daily management of my mind, changing my responses, my beliefs, and my mindsets. I have also learned to nurture the battered parts, gluing together the broken pieces. That is the work.
During this time, sometimes I felt like I focused so much on “recovering” parts and pieces of my old self, my pre-using self, that, ultimately, I was more focused on getting back than I was on moving forward. Ironically, I can never really go back – I cannot restore the person I once was. I can only become something new – a culmination of my entire experience. Discovering the parts I didn’t know existed is the joy, as I celebrate who I am becoming. Ever dynamic, ever shifting, I choose to move forward – through the fear, through the loss, through the remnants – to discover who I am…and who I want to be.
Recovery / Discovery – a continuum of the process of growth, of becoming whole, of moving through this world. I feel I have recovered all that I can and now it is time to embrace discovery, to be open to a different self, a different vision, and many, many different dreams.
The hardest part of me to recover was my creative life. I have been nurturing – so carefully, so cautiously – the tender, resilient artist’s heart within me. I thought that part of me had died. Then I started writing…and I felt it faintly beating. Slowly, lovingly I brought it back to life…three years, three years of trying, three years of denial, three years of overcoming my mountains of grief and doubt. Moving backward and forward to drag that part of me into the now, into this me, into my present to become my future.
One day, I was back. I woke up and knew it was time. I was whole. I was ready to start shooting (with a camera) again.
With recovery of my artist’s heart, came my latest discovery. At one time, my pre-self served love – every second, every frame – was my testament to love. It fulfilled me. However, what would have made me “happy” before makes me feel a little empty now – as an artist, as a person, etc. I am discovering that I need more – I need my work, my art to be meaningful – truly meaningful. I need to serve a power higher than self, than vanity. I am compelled to create yet I can no longer continue in this vein.
So I’m rethinking my artist’s manifesto…figuring out how I move forward on my quest for beauty and for meaning – how to restore love to my work – how to embrace the entire world as my muse. I surrender to the Universe and ask it to show me how to best use the gifts I have been given.
My advice to you, whether you are in recovery or not: You possess gifts as unique as you are. Don’t be afraid to discover them. Embrace them. Nurture them. Write your own manifesto for your life and make it your truth, your future. You have more – are more – can be more than you realize.
April 13, 2014 § Leave a comment
For the artists…
“GEORGIA O’KEEFFE: I have been very fortunate, much more fortunate than most people. I don’t–for instance, I can imagine myself being a much better painter and nobody paying attention to me at all, but it happens that the things that I’ve been doing have been in touch with my time so that people have liked it.” From a PBS interview with Georgia O’keefe in August, 31 1997. (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/entertainment/july-dec97/okeeffe.html)
“Most writers MUST have a day job. Before King hit it big he lived in a trailer, wrote in the water heater closet, and taught school. He was not a successful writer and he was ready to give it all up when lightning struck.
I’m still waiting for that to happen to me. We all are.” –anonymous.
I’ve been swinging a dream like a hammer for years. I create. That’s what I do. I write. I photograph. I paint. I’m…
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