Lean into the Sadness: thoughts on rage, despair and healing

Remember the other day when I was listening to Bruce Hornsby and writing about happiness? Today it’s Glen Campbell, because when I have the blues, I always go back to my roots. Classic country and cowboy music is about as good as it gets in my book. I’ve been tapping in my love of music this year in a way I haven’t in quite some time. Just another tool in the recovery toolbox, one I let get rusty for awhile. Sadness is dogging me this week, despite my happiness declarations (which I still believe, by the way).

This week the world seems heavy. Heavy, hard and mean. Issues threaten to swallow me in their vast terrible brokenness. Racial Injustice. Democracy. Polarization. Terrorism. How do we even stand against evil systems like this, systems which have reigned for thousands of years?

I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. I feel a ball of rage in my gut for things I feel helpless to change. Even though I use the tools I know will help: meditation, avoiding social media, self-care, I still feel stuck. Stuck or trapped or isolated. While these feelings may not be entirely reliable, they tell me about the state of my soul. They move me to empathy, to explore other perspectives, to lean into confusion and pain. They also warn me against becoming trapped in patterns which only lead to self-destruction. These feelings push me to connect with loving people, beautiful places and peaceful practices.

I want to do something but rage is not the fuel for this fire. Love is. Love is. But I damn sure don’t feel loving right now. Normally this is where I withdraw and practice all my escapism and distraction rituals. But I’m not going to do that. Not this time. I’m learning new ways to engage with the world, in love, as it is. Even on tough days, like today.

Maybe it’s a cop-out to make this confession and then send you elsewhere, but if you are like me, feeling impotent, faceless rage and not sure how to dispel the overwhelming despair, then you need to read these words from Brian Zahnd as much as I did.

It’s ok to cry while you read it. Sometimes it helps.

“When the risen Christ appeared to his disciples, with the wounds of his suffering still visible, he did not say, “Let us rage against Rome and the Sanhedrin.” No, Jesus spoke a word from elsewhere. He spoke the first word of the new world. He said, “Peace be with you.” And in due course these earliest of disciples turned the Roman world upside down by embodying the Pax Christi, a transcendent peace that exposed the Pax Romana for the empty propaganda that it was.

So here is my advice for those of us who inhabit this age of rage.”

Read the rest of this beautiful message here.

Love: How I make sense of the world in violent times

Sundays tend to make me thinkful. Often I experience a sort of dissonance between the way I once understood God, and the way I understand God now. Much has changed for me over the last few years, a widening and deepening. I read something this morning that I love:

We must therefore, never underestimate our power to wrong about God, when imagining God –whether in prose or in poetry. – Brian MacLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy

I have been wrong, no doubt about many things I am still wrong. But over the last few years I’ve learned that when God strips everything else away, Love remains. The Spirit of God is love, and it does not change or fail or fall away. When Christ hung on the cross, it was not to appease the wrath of God. We already understood gods as wrathful and bloodthirsty and have for thousands of years. Instead, Christ came to reveal the true nature of God. Even when humanity seeks to put God to death, He loves. He forgives.

This is not the image of God I learned from my childhood. While this concept is not a new revelation, it is a new revelation to me. It is a facet of God I had not yet considered, but now that I have, it has entirely changed how I see the world and the people in it.

But it is a slow reconciliation.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to reconcile is the concept of original blessing. The congregations I have taken part with have always emphasized sin. We are born in sin. We live in sin. Mankind lost to Original sin. This sin is almost, always personal in nature: lies, swearing, greed…you probably know the list. But, there is a reality before Genesis 3. Somehow we forget this, or we’ve simply never considered it this way.

Before there was sin, there was blessing. We were created in communion and for communion. Even before His death, Jesus showed us there is still communion with God. He washed the disciples feet and He broke bread with them. This is the very face of God revealed in a way humanity had seldom imagined.

No other god has ever revealed themselves in this way.

Yet somehow we still miss it. We let our focus settle on our imperfections (for me, those are many) rather than on the One who dwells first with us and then in us. We are not repulsive to God. Not a disappointment; not an abomination. Every single person who has ever lived and ever will live was created by love and in love. Every one.

Created by Love and in love. Created to love.

For so long I missed this. As I understood it, I was born in sin and redeemed to correct and save others. The strength of my belief was under-girded by how many people around me understood God the same way. Numbers meant power and power meant the ability to shape the world in our image.

But I do not need to save the world. The position of Savior is more than adequately filled. He declared His work finished, enough. Furthermore, I do not need to fix the world, since Love is already doing the restoration work. I can even let go of judging the world, God has judged it already and found it very good (He hasn’t changed His mind on this revelation either). My one and only job is to love the world. Love the world and it’s people, it’s features and cultures and forests and fields. Love with my words and my ways and my life.

I’ve come to believe the world doesn’t have a sin problem. If Jesus died once and for all, then sin only has power where there is not love. No, the world suffers from a Love problem. When we worship systems and power instead of God, the world suffers. Placing ourselves, our agendas, our desires above our neighbor, the world suffers. We create division between people groups and ideologies. We always belong to the good guys, and they always belong to the bad guys. And the world suffers.

But we have received a revelation that life doesn’t have to be this way. These systems and powers and principalities are shadows but we can bring the light. That light is Love. It looks different from the rule books, different from systematic theology, breaking down barriers religion has erected. It’s messy and unpredictable, and it’s breaking through. Here and now, all around  us.

We love because we are already loved. We have been since the dawn of time.

Kingdom come.
On earth as it is in Heaven.
For God so loves the world. This world.
He is love, and in Him, we are love.

 

Though I speak all the languages of earth and of angels, if I didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.  If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

 

Making space for emotional and spiritual health

In May, I stayed pretty busy. It was a good sort of busy. I felt like I was growing and contributing and celebrating important events. Not at all the wheel-spinning busyness that is exhausting with nothing to show for it. This month, and likely this entire summer, is intentionally much slower. It’s a time for more internal work rather than external work. Time to take the lid off my emotional and spiritual health and stir it up a bit, see what floats to the surface.

Healing from trauma is interesting. For awhile you have to look trauma in the eye. Then you have to step back a bit and let it all settle again. If you move too quickly, you end up with a worse wound than you had to begin with, but if you wait too long, or leave the work unfinished, it festers. Last month was a good time to step away and let the dust settle a bit. Now I can more clearly see the things which still require attention.

This week, I did some work with understanding spiritual trauma, and some research on anxiety, both causes and techniques to deal with it. Unfortunately, these things snag all my triggers. Here a trigger, there a trigger, everywhere a trauma trigger. I’ve meditated so much I dream about meditation, not even kidding. I’m not as worried about depression anymore, but stepping away from that lethargy means engaging with things that are difficult.

I journal, and share with some of the people I trust, but none of these things change the fact that I am currently in an unresolved stress cycle. This means I that I can’t escape from the thing which triggers my fight or flight reaction. It’s a frustrating situation. In many ways I my emotional and spiritual health is improving. However, until I can break free of this cycle, I face the probability of regular set backs .

I see the problem, but I’m currently unable to solve the problem.
And so the question remains, where to I go from here?
My guess is figuring this out, will be my work for this summer.

The true story of Nattie Rose: Mother, book lover, friend

Once upon a time, a fair princess, Nattie Rose, lived in a hobbit house, right in the middle of a cornfield. The princess loved purple, and diet coke and books. She had so many books they stacked from floor to ceiling. Even though the eaves were low in the hobbit house, when she looked at her stacks of books she felt she possessed great treasure, a richness of words and stories.

Two fair children lived with the princess. They didn’t have magic or perform feats of great strength. In fact, they were fey, funny and mischievous and sometimes downright naughty. In other words, they were much like most ordinary children except these two were hers. She loved them as much as her books and then times infinity plus the moon.

The princess possessed a great many gifts besides her children and books. Although sometimes life seemed unimaginably cruel, she never stopped believing good fortune awaited her. “Onward and upward,” she’d say after every set back. The princess also possessed the gift of words, which she shared generously with anyone who needed kindness or encouragement.

The one thing the princess could not do well was dishes. Occasionally dishes would pile almost as high as her stacks of books. When this happened, her counselors would advise she fill the little bathtub in the hobbit-sized bathroom with soap and water. Then everyone would laugh at the absurdity of washing dishes in the tub, but once they were done the princess was able to be happy again, and read her books without guilt or danger of cutlery avalanche.

One day, the princess began to feel a bit ill. At first she attributed her loose fitting gowns to the meager fare she and her children subsisted on since her prince had succumbed to an evil spell and disappeared. But soon, even the the blandest food and her beloved diet coke made her sick. Although her counselors and family begged her to see a doctor, there was barely enough money already to care for her children. She simply couldn’t consider the selfishness of paying for medicine instead. It was only when she became too weak and sick to tend to the things she loved most that she finally sought help.

Alas, when the doctor put her in an enchanted sleep and looked beneath her fair skin, he found a demon wrapped around her stomach. It’s vile arms reaching up her throat as though to strangle her from the inside. Although they couldn’t slay the demon, they hoped to find medicine that would weaken it, or shrink it. Perhaps they could try again one day when she was stronger.

But the princess by now was very weak and tired. Although she loved her children, family and friends desperately, she didn’t have the strength to leave her sick bed. One night, not long after the doctors delivered the diagnosis, Princess Nattie closed her eyes and never opened them again.

Natalie Rose York died before dawn on June 7, 2007. She was loved by many and is still deeply missed and mourned by those who were touched by her friendship and love. More than anything in this world she loved a good story. Today in her honor, I’ve shared the tiniest piece of hers. Since she is still writing her story in my life, I decided it isn’t time yet to say “the end.”

Onward and upward.

Loving the world as it is, no matter the news cycle

I never used to care about the news. Granted, this is a pretty short sighted way of living in the world. But I vaguely remember a time when I assumed most things would continue working as they are always have. This was before I became aware of a larger world view (I know this is privilege at its finest, but the best we can do is admit our weaknesses and mistakes and move forward). Suffice it to say, I lived blissfully unaware of so many things for a long time.

Perhaps, for some of us, this is the trade we make when we are in the trenches of parenting. When our family needs demand our attention for most of our waking hours – and many of our sleeping ones – there simply isn’t time or room or strength to face the world as it is. So we build mental constructs of how it should be so we can feel comfortable, and we live as though those things were true. Maybe that’s privilege speaking as well, I cannot say for certain. It has been my experience, anyway.

Last year arrived like a landslide, children becoming adults, and going off to school. Politics became…what they are now. And I? I found myself facing a whole reality which I hadn’t realized was keeping pace with my tidy little family life. my fairly uncomplicated existence.

Enter despair, uncertainty and, with a flare of trumpets, my codependency. When I can’t count on anything else she will fix, change or justify by any means necessary to make the world a peaceful place again. Honestly, I’ve spent most of my life trying to tidy things up so they look pretty in a box – with a bow. I practically have a PhD in dysfunction.

Fortunately, I’m learning to be more whole-hearted now, which means codependency has to take a back seat. She’s not so great at fixing broken world systems anyhow. It’s easy to cover up a few bad personal choices, but genocide and hate crimes are harder to explain away.

So here I am, looking at this great, big, beautiful world and all the people in it. I can’t fix it, these systems, the climate, the violence and hatred and war. I can’t explain away the despots and warlords, the nationalistic rhetoric of a handful of power hungry madmen – and a few mad women- who would shape this fragile globe according to their nightmare vision.

As much as I want to, I can’t check out either. I can’t pretend this isn’t happening. My eyes are open now. I can’t close them again and remain true to my soul. So the question I ask myself every day is this: how do I love the world without fixing it?

The Kingdom of God will come – not everywhere at once, not suddenly, but gradually, like a seed growing in a field, like yeast spreading in a lump of bread dough, like light spreading across the sky at dawn. – Brian McLaren

We can’t fix the world. But we can make it better. Each of us in small and not-so-small ways. This week do your part for love, truth and beauty. – Diane Butler Bass

Both of these quotes entered my life this morning in different ways and right on time. Maybe I can’t stay away from the news. And I’ll probably have to keep meditating on account of my rage. I’ll definitely keep contacting my representatives on the daily. But I am not powerless to enact change. Perhaps not on a global scale, but on an even more intimate level.

I can create change in the world face-to-face. I can give birth to mercy, kindness, compassion and inclusion here, on the very ground where I stand. The Divine in me can bleed out of my fingertips and off of my tongue into a world desperate for something beautiful.

Even if no one sees it, especially if no one sees it.

I can rewrite the curse of original sin with a reminder of deeper, more permanent truth: original blessing. Starting here. Starting now. Today.

The power of Possibility: What I learned in 60 days of writing

Do you know what I love? Possibility. The clean slate, the new page, the unwritten day.

Do you know what sometimes terrifies me? Possibility. The huge mistake, the wrong choice, looking silly, foolish, stupid, wrong.

I’ve been writing and sharing for sixty days now. Sixty. According to everything I’ve ever read about habit, I’ve more than established one here. (Though truth be told, this weekend I thought to myself, “ohmygosh I cannot wait to take a weekend off from having to write something.”)

For sixty days I’ve sat here and looked at this blinking cursor. Some days I can’t wait to use it. To share and consider whatever lays uppermost in mind this particular day. The space is mine; the internet is mine. The whole dadgum universe is mine to shape and create in any way I have the courage to shape it.

Then there are days where the cursor mocks me, daring me to speak, assuring me that someone, somewhere is waiting for me to say the wrong thing. Waiting to denounce, silence and shame. Each and every day is a coin toss daring me to open the lid and place my fingers on the keyboard.

Who will greet me and how will she feel about possibility today?

When I was in college, I minored in psychology. I loved learning about the ways we think and what motivates us to say and act and be who we become. As I have aged, that interest has evolved into a fascination with people’s stories. When someone allows me the privilege to see their life through their eyes, I understand a little better. I am able to climb into their shoes and walk around a little bit. Even reading a story from someone else’s perspective, fact or fiction, reveals a side of life I hadn’t known before.

It’s precious, this gift of story. When we share the hidden parts of ourselves, we often do so with someone we trust, who we hope will respond in affirming ways rather than condemning ways. I have those people.

It’s another type of risk to release a story into the world. Ask any author and they will tell you that words give birth to stories, and stories are as precious as a child. We weave from soul and air, and sometimes from blood and bone to create something we release into the world. But once we let it go, we cannot control whether the world will embrace or reject our creation, our story, any more than we can with our flesh children.

Perhaps it’s because I am in a season of releasing, launching children and letting go of expectations and dreams we cherished that I find the courage to release these words and stories every day. Maybe it’s easier to let go once we stop holding everything so tightly.

I wish I knew what the formula is which makes me embrace possibility rather than cowering under the covers certain that no matter what I do it will turn out wrong. Failure is always a possibility, right?

Sixty days of writing haven’t made me any more certain of the outcome on a day to day basis. Each day the cursor waits for me to sit down and begin while possibility unrolls before me.  I haven’t tamed my dread at all. But I’m learning to sit with it. There’s as much room for my discomfort as there is for my enthusiasm. I’m learning I’m strong enough to live with the possibility of disaster without being swept under to drown.

Hopefully, sharing my story will bring more joy than pain. Even if it doesn’t, sharing is the real point. Stories are how we connect, find belonging, and realize we are not alone. Other brave souls have rescued me with theirs, and now I’m adding my own voice to the song. It isn’t pain or failure or fear which negate the gesture. Only rejecting possibility can do that.

I’m telling the story to myself as much as to anyone listening. A story of hope, of change, of healing, of the possibility that all these things which have happened, were only ever meant for me to create something beautiful from the pieces.

Anything is possible, right?

Fifty days later: Thoughts from the middle of everything.

Fifty days ago, I decided I would write and publish a blog for one hundred days in a row. Today is day fifty-one which means it’s all closer to the end than the beginning from here. I’ve reached the middle at last. When I started this project, I hated everything (perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but not much), and I could tell I was circling the drain of depression. The question I ask myself today is whether or not writing and sharing daily is really makes any difference.

The answer is yes. It is making a difference. I am different than I was fifty days ago. I’m emotionally healthier than I was fifty days ago.

Is it all due to the writing? Probably not. However, the writing has been a catalyst, a foundational habit on which other positive changes are laid.  I write daily. Since beginning to write, I also run and meditate daily. My reading is more focused; I finish what I started. After completing a journaling class, I write in my journal before blogging each day. I wrote the curriculum for and co-taught a community care class which opened the door for many brilliant conversations on self-care/ self-awareness, compassion and healing. I’m reworking step 4 (Inventory), and shared my own story of recovery with my recovery community.

Yes, these fifty days have been full with all of the pieces playing a vital part of my journey back to health. The spark, however, comes from this practice taking place on-screen every day.

The discipline of writing so many days in a row, forces me to plan intentional writing time. On the days when I have not, I’ve regretted the cobbled together silliness that gets published. The same response happens on the days I procrastinate too long and am trying to make coherent thoughts with my afternoon brain. Afternoon brain can do many things, but writing isn’t one of them.

I continue to learn more about myself every day. How toxic relationships have stolen my joy for far too long. How I can live within healthy boundaries instead of exposing myself to further harm. I’m inspired to be bold again, and honest, and kind. I often feel afraid, still, but I don’t let fear be the loudest voice in my head.

More than anything, writing opens up my desire to be creative again. I don’t know how long my creativity laid dormant. I only know I’d forgotten how good it feels to create something new in the world, even if no one but me knows of its existence. Writing ignited the spark and all the other creative endeavors are blowing life into it, convincing it to stay, to grow.

Even though our life circumstances haven’t changed, and the waiting continues to feel like drowning in molasses, I wait differently now. I am not without hope, not the powerless victim of whatever circumstance tries to throw my way. I can generate change, within and without. Writing has taught me this. Showing up, following through, embracing imperfection, muscles I’d forgotten to flex. Using them makes me feel strong again. Even on sad days, I don’t have the despair that was so heavy before.

And here you are, fifty days later. Patiently returning to read each day. You provide inspiration too. You remind me we aren’t alone in this big, old, chaotic world. I remember now that we are far more alike than different most of the time.

What will I do after the next fifty days? I’m not sure yet, but that doesn’t bother me. In time, all things will be revealed. Until then, I continue to do the work I know is good and healing. I don’t have to be afraid to stop doing things which aren’t beneficial, or to try something new, or recognize when a season changes. All things change. Even me.

Thank goodness.

How to wake up and find inspiration

Remember the journaling class I signed up for with my birthday money? Even though it’s only been four days, I’m having a great time learning, shifting my perspective and rediscovering inspiration. In fact, today’s lesson was to write about things which inspire and how to create more opportunities to experience those things. As I wrote, I realized I haven’t bothered with inspiration much recently. When you live in survival mode, there’s not much room for inspiration.

Survival mode isn’t always something we consciously choose. It certainly may be if we receive a terrible diagnosis or when a loved one faces a crisis. Birth and death and transitions can all be times when we focus simply on getting through the day intact. This is appropriate, but hopefully temporary. Sometimes, however, survival mode is crafty. It rises slowly around us if we’re mired in toxic relationships and unhealthy thought patterns, or when our environment suffocates rather than enriches us. Before we know it, we’re drowning. All we can do is keep our head above the water, sometimes not even that.

Perhaps we suffer from trauma. Forgetting there’s any other way to live, we keep our heads down. We strive to meet all the “shoulds” and exceed all the expectations.

I’ve been living this way, and failing miserably on all three accounts.

I don’t know what or why I began to wake up from this perspective. Although, I’m certain it began slowly.  Just as we can’t be certain what moment dark becomes dawn, we only know suddenly we can see again. At least, that’s what waking up to inspiration is for me. Maybe it was a series of unimportant choices each one leading to the next, like stepping stones back to myself. Perhaps, my spirit simply couldn’t sleep any longer. Awake at last, she nudged and prodded, slowly bringing me back to life.

If I had specific answers, I could write a 5-step program and be a millionaire.

I only know day-by-day, I find inspiration in the most unexpected places.  From a community of journalers, to a podcast, to conversation with a friend in recovery, every place I turn confirms the path I’m traveling is the one to life and light and beauty. It will eventually lead me home to myself.

I’m alert now, awake to promise and possibility. I’m searching and seeking, trying and failing, forgetting to care about what anyone else thinks.  When I journaled today I wrote about new experiences, exploring, learning, finding my voice again and using it. I wrote about reaching out and meeting new people. Traveling. Moving. Changing. Beginning again.

For most of us, it isn’t that inspiration is so hard to find, it’s that we are so focused on how to get through what’s next that we simply miss it. Most of us, just like me, don’t even know we’re living this way. I don’t know what inspires you to create.  I can only determine what inspires me. But I also hope, if you need a wake up call yourself, you might take a few minutes and think about, or write down the answers to a few questions:

  1. What inspires me?
  2. How can I develop opportunities for inspiration?
  3. How can I have more adventure?
  4. What do I want to do next?

    The crazy thing about this writing, reading, being vulnerable adventure I’m on is how much fun I’m having even when I’m afraid. Every day holds something new, even the hard days. I’ll hang on to this being awake feeling with everything I have. The time for sleeping is over. Inspiration is waiting to be discovered, here, there, everywhere I go.

How four “unimportant” choices changed my life

Today the Hunky and I went to a nearby monastery. The moment I walk on the grounds, a sense of overwhelming peace comes over me. It’s the perfect place to pause, linger and dive into deep thoughts. I spent my portion of the day thinking, journaling and reading, but first, I took a walk on the Rockdale River Trail. Since I wasn’t equipped for a true hike today, I only traveled a couple miles. Taking only myself and my thoughts, I spent some time considering how small choices sometimes change the entire trajectory of your life.

I’m not talking about momentous occasions: which college to attend, whether or not to have surgery, where to move type decisions. I mean the odd occurrence when we blithely choose to do something, giving it barely a thought, and afterwards nothing is ever the same. Crazy life shifting moments where you have to wonder if fate or design reached in and flipped a switch in your brain, leading you to the right course for your life. I like to think I have control over many things, but moments like these, I wonder if I’m really only along for the ride.

The time I said yes to a “we have no better offer” Valentine’s Day date.

It’s true. My husband and my first date was because neither one of us had a better offer. We’d been friends for a bit. Both recently ending relationships which weren’t really serious anyway, but still left us dateless on an important date night. However, once we’d decided to just hang out with each other, it was all over. Valentine’s Day ended up being crazy romantic. I walked around with a big goofy grin on my face everywhere (still do, most of the time). And within weeks, we knew this was the actual big L.  I barely gave the choice a thought the day I made it, and it is to date, the single most important, and best, decision I ever made.

The time I read Fast, Food Nation because it “sounded kind of interesting”

Let me be honest here. I never ate a single vegetable growing up. I hated them. Hate. And if my mom made me eat things I hated I would literally vomit everywhere. Probably on purpose, though it sure felt involuntary at the time. Even once I got older, my veggie palate was pretty spare. But reading Fast Food Nation was so horrifying (and really only the tip of the iceberg for what I’ve since learned about mass production of food, especially meat) that even before I finished it, I knew meat and I were through. Over the last twelve years my palate has vastly expanded, and changed. I still don’t eat meat, a decision which has opened my eyes to so many concepts I now practice.

The time I blogged for thirty days on “organization”

This one probably had a bit more consideration behind it then the first two choices, but what’s funny about it is the place I began, is not at all close to the place I finished. I planned writing about getting organized, managing my stuff and my schedule. I wanted to find a way to have it all and still have room for more. What I found instead is minimalism. At some point on that thirty day journey, I fell into the minimalism rabbit hole. I haven’t found my way out yet. I discovered that not only do I not need it all, I don’t even want it. Not the square feet, not the stuff, not the clothes, none of it.  I even minimized my books (that one hurt a little).

The time I fostered a puppy “for a week”

I still think I could successfully foster a pup. What I cannot do is take in a dog, have it become deathly ill, sleep with it on the couch for fear it will die in the night, have it’s departure delayed due to illness for six weeks and then hand over the dog I have grown to love. We took in Moses, a tiny, scrawny, wormy puppy with no intent of keeping him at all. But life happened, as it does. By the time Mo recovered from parvo, I couldn’t imagine our house without him. Since then he’s brought laughter and joy and daily squishes. He’s my best guy.

There’s plenty of other decisions I’ve made over my lifetime. Some big, most not terribly consequential. Some of them have changed my life at least as much as these four things, but in those instances, I felt the weight before making them. I understood their import and power to change things completely. These four decisions were throw-away choices at best. Still, I can’t imagine who I would be without having made them. Life is funny like that sometimes.

Stepping Stones: How we recover ourselves


We need emotional vulnerability to grow. We are like crabs. We don’t grow where our bodies are hardened. The greatest loss is not that we experienced pain. The greatest loss is that we lost the connection to our essence. That’s our wound: the loss of connection to ourselves. When you recover, what do you recover? Yourself.
From Drink: The intimate relationship between women and alcohol by Ann Dowsett Johnson

Today I’ve written something every day for forty days. Not everything is worth going back to read again, but some of it has been very important. I see these days lately as stepping stones. Some time ago, I lost myself. There isn’t any one person or event solely responsible – is there ever? Where we go and who we become is inextricably tied to everything which came before, wonderful and terrible. No one is solely responsible for where we find ourselves except us.

Whatever the reason we wander away from the essence of ourselves, recovery means finding our way back again. It means sliding into this weary skin and finally feeling at home here. It’s uncovering our wounds and scars and maybe even letting others touch them, touch us, place their hands in the hole in our side.  

It doesn’t matter what happened to turn me back to myself, maybe just as in the wandering away, it was a maddening mixture of voices and influences. I only know that for awhile, I wasn’t sure which way to go – forward or back. Keep pushing ahead believing I could fix my way out of the mess, or trace my steps backward, until my soul at last caught up with the rest of me.  I hoped that by pushing ahead I might rediscover myself, bold and shining and perfect, somewhere up ahead. But recovery whispered, No. No child, you must go back and get her, the wounded one you’re running so far from.

And so it is. The shining bold and perfect me I envisioned was only a mirage. Too perfect to be anything but a brittle imposter, a pretty public face. I’d left my soul behind somewhere, lost in the wilderness of life.

She was waiting. Waiting for me to go back and find her. Waiting to be recovered, like a widow’s mite, the pearl of great price.

It’s not easy. This returning, recovering. The path has disappeared behind you. All the demons you ran so fast and so far from, they’re waiting. They don’t starve and waste away while you forge onward. Instead, they lurk. They linger. We have to vanquish them one by one, sometimes more than once, all the way back to ourselves.

There’s cliffs and canyons, detours and distractions. The way forward didn’t seem this difficult, perhaps this is why we didn’t return before. But there’s voices also, leading us, guiding us, reminding us of the soul who waits for us. And friends, if we’re lucky, friends who remember, who wait along the way, pointing, cheering, clearing the way for a while, bringing us closer to ourselves than we would be without them.

For me, there’s here. These stepping stone words and stories. Each one a stepping stone, pointing me, guiding me, leading me back to myself. I’d forgotten, forgotten her, forgotten how not to be afraid, forgotten how to be me without someone telling me what should define me.

I see her now, glimpses and whispers. She’s close, very close, dancing in the flickering afternoon light under the trees. Welcoming and brave, stronger for the breaking, wounded and lovely and so much wiser than I imagined she would be.

Almost there, now.
Almost home.