A PCT soul hike

Over 100 days sober and the universe is still leaving me post it notes reminding me why I quit drinking. I imagine I will find them for the rest of my life. And, to be honest, I hope I do. But hopefully they don’t always have to be so damn painful. Most of them are a dagger straight to my heart, making me tear up, and sometimes they make me full on ugly cry. Maybe one day, it’ll be a happy note from the peppy present showing me how great life is right now. Until then, you, dear reader, will have to endure the agonizing memories from some of my more uncomfortable moments which are also immediate reminders of my why.

September through December were the darkest months of my life, so far (a little Homer Simpson reference for you.) I was deep in my cups every night. I was going through a handle of whiskey a week (usually less than a week). I wasn’t sleeping. I was in a perpetual state of brain fog. I would wake up from what few hours of sleep I had, if you could even call it sleep, swear off drinking then go to a boozy lunch at work where I of course ordered a fancy old fashioned while everyone else drank an innocent beer. I cycled between hungover wakefulness, the in between where I was actively consuming, blacking out, passing out, then waking up in the middle of the night, riddled with anxiety and shame. I looked to all the holistic health modalities to explain why I was so tired all the time. Waking up at 3am every night is linked to the liver meridian, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, and is said to store anger and resentment. That must be it! I need to do some soul searching to uncover this anger and resentment. And I’ll do it with a whiskey in my hand. I didn’t dare admit that my beloved drink was to blame. The drink evoked a warmth that uncoiled in my belly and slowly slithered into my every nook and cranny, a false sense of happiness. The drink made me feel alive. That was, until I couldn’t feel anything at all.

I mostly work from home now. Since the start of the year, I’ve been into the office twice. The second time was this week and it was a total last minute decision. My manager’s manager was in town but no one told me in advance. THANKS GUYS. When I sat at my desk, it was so foreign to me (no diffuser! The horror!) that I had to clean up some papers, move binders to the filing cabinet, you know, general tidying. In the process, I found a blue post it note. On it, I, at some point, had written “losing you to you.” I don’t have any recollection of writing this note. I don’t know where or how I came up with such a saying. What I do know is there is not a more concise way to describe what eventually happened because of my drinking. I lost myself to myself. I looked in the mirror and no longer recognized who I was. I didn’t like what I saw and wasn’t willing to accept what I saw. So, I drank. I drank to blur the image of my own existence. I drank to hide who I was. Actually, I drank to change who I was is more like it. I didn’t want to be me or to have the life I have. I wanted something else.

These last 100+ days have been nothing short of humbling. I am constantly reminded of my humanness and my deep desire to belong. Nevermind the fact that I never belonged to myself. I never pulled a chair out for myself and gave myself a seat at my own table. I wanted to be at someone else’s table, even when that table only had two legs and the head of the table held up the third side with his hand. It wasn’t a stable table. So when the head of the table got tired and dropped that side, the table came crashing down and none of us had a place to sit. I was back to my chameleon ways, eyeing the table for one in the sunny corner with a stack of books next to it, but denying myself the opportunity to nourish my soul by finding an even more sketchy table to stand around. There were no seats for me. But there was a group of people that I could stand around/with to look like I belonged. Surely that would be better than sitting by myself. Ensue groupthink.

I’ve said before, I love to learn but I can be a slow learner. Not drinking has been an act of rebellion in a lot of ways. It’s rubbed some people the wrong way and made them uncomfortable. But I’m no longer here to manage anyone else’s uncomfortableness. Not drinking has allowed me to stand rooted in my strength, something that I would NOT have done just 109 days ago. And something I DIDN’T do 109 days ago when opportunity actually arose. I’m no longer “losing myself to myself.” I’m welcoming myself to myself. I’m learning what inspires me, what creativity looks like/feels like for me, what my values are. I’m slowly coming home to myself. And the journey back has been that of a mountaineering professional on a PCT thru-hike. Burn areas, dessert, snow, forest, peaks, valleys, stream crossings, hail storms, thunderstorms, sunny days, windy days, scrambles, flat terrain. A few forks in the trail where I went left when I should’ve gone right but eventually got back. And yet, it’s been the most purposeful experience of my life. I’m exposing myself to the elements and remembering how strong I truly am. How resilient I am. How brave I am.

Double jumps and mushroom power ups

Davis calls me a professional student. He says if I could get paid for all the books I’ve read, courses I’ve taken, and workshops I’ve attended, we’d be millionaires by now. It’s true though—I love to learn. But I’ve been in input mode for so long—taking in all the information, reading all the books, listening to all the podcasts—that I didn’t realize how little I was actually processing. I’ve been unintentionally greedy with all the life gems that have been passed down to me. I haven’t picked up a book (besides Outlander of course lol) because I am full to the gills. I cannot take in one more thing. It’s time to digest, process, and share. I am finally shifting to output mode. And yet, as soon as I say that I feel called to teach, every single Negative Nancy in my head comes out to play, telling me I have nothing unique to offer, someone else is already doing it and doing it better than I ever could, I’m not funny enough or interesting enough so I’ll never have anyone to share this work with. I find the Nancies to be my own worst critics, talking me down from what looks to be a ledge. Or is it a springboard? The Nancies don’t know because they’ve never had the courage to ask! I imagine it as a Super Mario obstacle where a solid double jump could get me to the next level or where a tragic misstep could take me straight down into the unknown world below. If I practice what I preach about what you focus on becomes your reality, I’ll focus on the actions needed to level up. So, instead of asking myself “why me?” as I approach the edge, a question of dead weight, I will make my way (cautiously) to the edge saying “why NOT me?” as I hit a perfectly timed double jump and allow my super mushroom power up of self-trust to take me to the next level.

My darling

My darling,
Lay your head and let me tell you how wonderful you are
Rest here in my lap and I’ll tell you all the ways in which I admire you
Close your eyes and listen to how your presence alone delights me

No doing

No moving

No proving

Find refuge in my love for you
Receive the welcoming of my heart and reside here
Dwell in me as I dwell in you

 
davis on film.JPG
 

Shadow be with me

Growing up, I had a weird fascination with the dark. I would wake up at some ungodly hour when I knew no one was awake just to sit in the backyard and listen to the noises of the night. I imagined what other people were doing at that time, both near and far. I wondered if anyone was doing what I was doing and found comfort in sharing this time with a stranger on the other side of the world. I also wondered if I was being watched, which didn’t creep me out as much as it made me very aware of my surroundings. My mom told me when I was young that humans see by movement. If something is camouflaged, our eyes aren’t necessarily attuned to the out of place patterns; our eyes notice out of place movement. So I would stare into the dark and see what I could see.

My maternal grandmother is blind. As a kid, I watched her gracefully move through the house, using a mental map to navigate her way up the staircase, through doorways, around tables. She knew every nook and cranny of their old house. She knew the exact location and placement of, in order of importance, the wine glasses, the sweets she hid from my grandfather, her sets of silver. I “practiced” being blind sometimes. I would close my eyes and learn to remember my surroundings just like she did, count my steps between my bed and the door, the door and the bathroom, just like she did. I would turn off the lights and focus intently on my own navigation through a room with random piles of clothes and toys. My sisters and I played a game called creepy crawlers in our bedroom hallway. It was essentially hide and go seek in the dark. We turned off all the lights, sealed the bottom crack of the door with a towel, unplugged the nightlights. One person was “it” and the others would hide. The places to hide were very limited. It was a hallway for God’s sake. But we learned how to climb the walls and hang on for dear life. We would shove ourselves—and others—into closet spaces so small a pillow could barely fit. Despite how few hiding space there were, I felt like because I practiced seeing in the dark, that my skills were far superior to my lowly younger sisters. Only plebeians don’t practice their night vision.

I’ve learned through my “study” of the dark that our minds are usually what make the dark so foreboding. While I tooted my own horn about not being scared, I absolutely had moments where I freaked myself out. But those moments happened, not because there was anything “out there” but because I TOLD myself that there was something out there, and I believed it. The more I exposed myself to the dark and learned to sit with the eerie tingles running up my spine, the more I was able to discern my thoughts from my reality. I could ask myself if these tingles are because my mind is running wild with images of coyotes taking me down? Or is it because I actually see a coyote and my body is telling me to fucking move already? Little spoiler alert: it was the images in my mind that made those tingly sensations break out.

Nowadays, I don’t have as diligent of a practice of sitting with the sounds of night as I did when I was a weird kid sitting by herself outside at 2am. But I do make a practice of exploring the darkness of my inner landscape. Is that darkness creeping in because of a story I’ve mentally created? Or is it because I actually have some grief and trauma that I need to acknowledge and process? The answer isn’t as clear as coyote or no coyote but I’m slowly getting better at identifying the exaggerated, and sometimes completely false, stories of my mind and discerning them from the true sensations of grief and trauma and all the other dark feelings. Sometimes I get those eerie, tingly sensations coursing through my body when I’m walking by myself outside, the kind that make my hands sweat and hairs stand up. When those do happen, I do a solid scan of my surroundings. Assuming no danger is present outside, I’ll take a moment to sit on the ground and face so that my shadow is in front of me. I look at my physical shadow, imagine it as a reflection of my internal shadow, and do a scan similar to check for danger. I notice my breath, each body part independently and wholly, and lastly the quality of my thoughts. I’ve found that it’s the quality of my thoughts that can make me more on edge than almost anything else. And so I welcome these thoughts. They’re a symptom of something deeper and I want to get to the root of it. I’m not one for bandaids. Give me the deep, hard, dirty work that gets me to the core of it all. So I ask my shadow to be with me, always. May I never fear the dark. May my shadow teach me to trust the dark so that I may be reminded of my light. May my shadow continue to give me chances to practice grace and love and compassion. May my shadow keep me in communication with God.

Gratitude does not lead to complacency

I’ll be honest. My gratitude practice has been a scanty one. It’s only when things get really bad that I focus on what I’m grateful for, just enough to keep my head above water to take a deep, gasping breath before a wave crashes down on my head. Kook of the day wave crashing style. I may slip under the surface for a second or two, but I eventually find myself grateful for that deep, gasping breath and wonder why I don’t, you know, swim to the safety of the shore, away from the crashing waves. I love to learn, but I can be a slow learner sometimes.

I’ve been working from home more often now. It’s something I wanted to manifest a year ago. And here I am. Sitting in my robe, diffusing oils, drinking ghee coffee, working from home. However, I still find myself wanting something else, something more. My husband reminds me to be grateful for my job and the ability to work from home. I am grateful. I am grateful for the financial support it provides my family. I am grateful for the amazing benefits. I am grateful for the ability to work from home. I am grateful for the tools and resources available at my “disposal.” I am grateful for the learning experiences I’ve had along the way. There, 5 things. 5 breaths of gratitude, I should be good to go for another 2 minutes underwater…

I realize that the wanting something “more” comes from wanting more purpose and meaning in my life, particularly my job. And so yesterday, while deep in the trenches of a 12 hour day of commercial mortgage banking, a thought popped in my head. I am scared to practice gratitude because I’m scared it will lead to complacency. I’m scared that if I don’t have the sensation of waves pounding down on my head that it means I gave up. That I’ve slipped below the surface, content with my situation of drowning. I thought that if I was grateful for something like my job, a job I don’t have any passion for, that I would lose motivation and desire to do something more. Anyone else experienced or thought this?

It’s just dawned on me that maybe it’s my scanty gratitude practice, those one or two breaths I can take before another wave comes crashing down, that has kindled my tiny flame of desire to choose a new way of being. That being grateful for what my job provides me (financial support, learning, flexibility), that being grateful for the waves crashing down (I’m still choosing a way worth fighting for) is simply an access point to creating what I want. But it does need to require so much struggle? I often refer to my (future) decision of finally leaving my job as jumping ship. Water has a huge influence in my life if you can’t tell—it usually doesn’t have such negative connotations but then again, the oceans aren’t always smooth sailing. So perhaps the ship I’ve jumped off is the ship of complacency. And the waves trying to pull me down are the forces of resignation. And the land I see bobbing in the distance is the stability of purposeful living. And what’s keeping me going is my gratitude for the power of choice, my hope and my belief in more. I’m slowly making my way to the land of purposeful living with every incoming tide, choosing to work with every outgoing tide to preserve my strength, choosing to find refuge in the few moments of calm between the next surge, using gratitude as my flotation device, accidentally letting go of it for a bit to scramble and panic only to see the rope was wrapped around my leg. Gratitude never letting me go, always within arm’s, or leg’s, reach to keep me afloat.

The warming sun will come

Spring has sprung y’all. It seems like it happened over night. But I know it’s been months in the making. Everything lost its vibrancy after one last spectacular burst of color in the fall. The heaviness of what was no longer needed was set aside to give life to the next cycle. The dropped leaves become homes for burrowing bees and turn to sustaining food for the trees and plants. The last of the seeds fall from their mother’s arms. Under the heavy weight of snow, the seed babies retreat into the earth and find refuge in the darkness. The snow is an incubator of sorts, providing protection and a sense of safety in the darkness, creating the perfect environment for the bare seeds to weather the season. Then, the snow melts. The sun lolls in the sky for a little longer every day. The warmth eventually makes its way into the earth, gently calling the seeds to sprout and the roots back to action. The melting snow provides a deeply nourishing and invigorating drink for the reawakened plants. They remember what to do. Their time spent in dormancy gave them the much needed break to recoup, reassess, restore, and renew. They come back with as much vigor and purpose as ever before. Bigger and stronger, yet without force. In perfect alignment with Big Mama’s directions.

I see my life reflected in nature and I gleam with such delight! Watching nature reminds me I’m not alone and that I’m right on time. I have the eternal support of Mother Nature. We evolved from millions of years of living in harmony with her. We were never meant to be DOING all the time, year round. I hear people say, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I’ve just been such a hermit this winter.” And I want to hug them, to take them by the hand and show them what the trees and plants and animals are doing. We aren’t separate from nature. Give yourself grace when you enter the darkness. You’re shedding the dead weight, dropping seeds to be nourished by the release of what no longer serves. Give yourself time and space to draw in, to access your corest of cores, and be with that inner guidance. You’ll come out the other side with more certainty in who you are and you’ll be able to trust your strength, your purpose, yourself! Without dark, there can be no light. The warming sun will come, honey. I promise.

I went for a swim

Sitting on a beach in Hawaii, soda water and lime by my side, I was entranced by the lulling of the ocean waves, the rustling of the palm trees overhead, the soft murmuring of people around me. I hadn’t noticed the ocean breeze until there was a pause, and the noise level seemed to drop 20 decibels. Usually, the ocean breeze is a respite from the mugginess and it’s something to be grateful for while near a tropical ocean. However, the weather was so perfect this day, high 70s, blue skies, low humidity, that the wind made it almost nippy. During the pause of the constant breeze, a subtle warmth uncoiled in my belly and spread through my body. It was a similar sensation I would get while drinking whiskey. It was a feeling I craved and I chased it with every consecutive drink. I had never experienced it outside of drinking though. For a split second, I thought maybe my soda water and lime actually had vodka in it. It didn’t. But when you’re newly sober, sometimes you have weird flashbacks and dreams that make you think you’re back to drinking. Anyway, I imagined this uncoiling warmth as my true self stretching out and taking up the space she was meant to occupy. After being shoved into a tiny box and locked away for years, she finally had room and permission to fully own this earth body. To warm all the parts that had been left out in the cold because there wasn’t enough room for all of me. And to graciously welcome all those parts with loving tenderness, to remind them they belong here exactly as they are, exactly as I am.

I cried on the beach that day. We were leaving the next day and I wasn’t ready. I felt like I had just started this process of getting to know myself. It was the first time since I was 13 that I had been to a beach and hadn’t drank. I was only just starting to learn about this new version of myself, someone who could actually enjoy and embody herself without turning to alcohol for help. While I had no idea what the next steps were to continue welcoming and accepting myself, I listened to Glennon Doyle’s advice “Do the next right thing.” The ocean is always where I’ve felt most at home. So, I went for a swim.

When No wasn't an option

No wasn’t an option when I was still drinking. I didn’t say no to another drink, I didn’t say no to going out, I didn’t say no to going out with people I had nothing in common with. I didn’t say no to some sketchy situations. I didn’t say no to DRUNK DRIVING!! (This is perhaps what I’m most embarrassed to admit.) Alcohol made me feel powerful and invincible. interesting and sophisticated. I could carry deep philosophical conversations about the universe as much as I could carry long conversations with top executives about closing multimillion-dollar loans. You may be familiar with Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies. I’m an obliger through and through. I want to people please. I shape shift and camouflage to be one with my surroundings. My inability to say no extended to areas of my life where alcohol wasn’t physically present. I couldn’t say no the greasy foods or to sitting on the couch for hours. I couldn’t say no to getting off social media. I couldn’t say no to spending money recklessly.

I couldn’t say no because I didn’t know what I was a yes for. I’ve been doing a lot of work lately in getting clear on my yes, my why. And huge changes are to come. Scary big changes that have my sobriety set as the foundation. And social situations in which alcohol is prevalent are helping me to practice my no. Saying no to alcohol has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. Saying no is even harder after being REPEATEDLY asked if I want a drink or if “[I’m] sure” when I tell them no thank you. I can feel the discomfort from the other side and I want to fix it by giving in and making them happier. These scenarios have gotten easier only because I know what my yes is. My yes came unexpectedly after I downloaded a sobriety tracker app. It asks you during set up “What’s your reason?” And before I consciously thought of anything, my fingers typed “I want to feel alive.”

Having this be my yes makes not drinking easier. At work, after a pure shitshow of a night, we would joke about how our hangovers made us feel like death. I realized that at the core of my desire to feel alive is that I just wanted to FEEL. I had become so numb to most of my life. I used alcohol to numb out my overstimulation from work. I used alcohol to numb out dread for work. I used alcohol to have difficult conversations. I started to notice that by trying to numb out the undesired feelings, I was also numbing out the most desired ones. Because I didn’t want to feel uncomfortable in any given situation, I couldn’t feel comfortable in even the easiest of moments. Because I didn’t want to be sad, I rarely felt truly happy. What I place my attention on becomes my reality. I was focusing on all the things I didn’t want and wasn’t clear on what I do want. I want to live a full, rich life and it requires experiencing the full spectrum of my feelings. And to feel a dark feeling reminds me that I’ve experienced its counterpart light feeling. When I feel sad about the sudden loss of my beloved dog, I am reminded of how much I love her. And it’s because of my deep love for her that allows me to experience this despair. I am grateful for my despair. If I didn’t grieve her as much as I have, it would mean I didn’t love her as much as I do. I refuse to limit my love to try to prevent any feelings of grief or sorrow. I am a yes for feeling all the feelings.

When no wasn’t an option, my experience of life was dull. I systemically desensitized myself to everything with every drink I consumed. When no wasn’t an option, I felt lost and alone. When no wasn’t an option, I felt jealousy towards those who were doing the things I wanted to do. Now that no IS an option, I feel purposeful. Now that no IS an option, my relationships and experiences are more meaningful. Now that no IS an option, I feel like I’ve taken my power back.