Recovery Diary 10/29/18

Stick with it. It gets better. Trust me. -Note to self

Everything is different moment by moment. Things peak and then crash each time I open my mouth to breathe. My lungs are unstable pipe bombs that vacillate between filling with fire or cotton, leaving me to either breathe out sparks or clouds. Waking up usually begins with a neutral emotional radar, one in which there is no attachment to how the day is going to pan out. But, then somewhere along the passing moments I feel my thighs rub together or my stomach crinkle into a cascade of rolls. Something, anything – a memory, a song, a smell- could set off the pipe bombs of my lungs. Then I breathe out fire and heat and rage and despair. Internally I spiral, slowly unwinding everything I knew to be truth only moments before. Everything becomes bleak and hopeless and relapse feels like my only option. I become flooded with memories and past mistakes. I am haunted by the voices of past selves whispering of my worthlessness and failures. Essentially I explode. My lungs pop, ricocheting debris and destruction through my throat and out my mouth. Through my eyes, the entire room crumbles, I melt, and everyone around sees this dramatic decline, but, in reality, it’s invisible. The whole explosion that is causing my complete emotional breakdown, only I can see. I am alone. Completely alone in a war that no one knows anything about. And that is worse than swallowing your own bombs.

I could open my mouth. Tell those who love me when I am at war. Explain to them what it feels like, how I am truly doing, what is going on inside my brain. But it feels like betrayal. Betrayal of my mind, my recovery, and most importantly their trust because bombs go off all the time. I don’t know when the bombs will be triggered. I can’t predict why, who, or what will cause the warfare. So, fear keeps me from believing that loved ones won’t be overly worried when they discover how violent my internal experience can still be. I believe that they believe that things are now calm, neutral, and stable- which they are in comparison to where I have come from. I have moved from the front lines to- I don’t know- an army base, one that is targeted regularly but not under an immediate death threat? But that’s the reality of recovery from any addiction. It’s a constant battle and I’m not sure that anyone who has not walked through the struggle could understand. It’s not hopeless. Those of us in recovery know this. It’s not always bleak and dark. But, how can you explain that war isn’t always terrible? There are moments of joy, freedom, love, community, confidence, and hope. Even soldiers find a family away from home. They eat meals together, they find the joy of the sunshine. There is a sense of accomplishment when they go to bed at night because, hey, they lived. They lived another day. Addicts, when we lie down sober from our addictive behaviors, we feel the same. We lived. We lived another day without destroying ourselves.

As the months pass and I get farther into recovery, I start to forget I am at war. I believe that one day the war will come to an end, that true freedom comes when the my flag is planted into the ground and all my demons retreat. I kill more with each passing day. I become stronger. My enemies grow more fearful. The war has been going on for so long, but I am finally on the winning side. Some demons are even converting and beginning to fight on my behalf. Even they are tired. We all just want some peace. Peace comes sometimes now. I think you innately begin to manifest the things you desire most.

Peace comes in the form of car rides with the windows down and the music up loud. Joy is when Erik and I dance through the streets at night in the rain critiquing societal standards simply by being alive. Freedom comes during midnight custard runs or pie parties with my roommates. The brick wall that kept me from life is breaking down. I am getting more and more tastes of the other side. This is why the moments where my lungs explode and fall deeply into myself through a battle of fury and rage are bearable. I take them with stride. I welcome them in the same ways I have learned to greet rejection.

One more battle with my mind brings me one step closer to total freedom in recovery.

Recovery Diary 09/16/18

When I was in Costa Rica in February, everyone gathered on the beach with drums and ribbons to dance, howl, and sing as the sun set. There was a loud roar from the entire crowd when the sun made its final descent along the horizon. When the party slowly faded and the sky turned from pink to purple, we all packed up and started filed like little ants back into our tents in the forest before it got too dark to see anything.

When I was in Thailand in June, we sat on the beach singing mantras and strumming guitars while lying on our backs in a circle. We sang louder and howled as the sky turned pink and the sun dipped away for the night. We stayed on the beach until twilight and the mosquitoes became unbearable. Then we went back to our bungalows, made curry, and danced with our host families young daughter.

Today, I was sitting on a deck in Key Largo watching the sun set over the ocean’s horizon line while listening to Tash Sultana and laughing with my best friends. We smiled and argued over whose picture captured the sky’s beauty the best- even though the pictures were nearly the same. Then we sat in rocking chairs and talked nonsense before coming inside to prepare for tomorrow’s day full of adventures.

Nighttime tends to be the most difficult for me. It is the time when urges are heightened and nightmares come to life behind my close eyelids. It is where I lie in the dark afraid of the hurt child inside me. It is when my stomach is bloated from a day’s food and I take another sleep aid to try and calm my racing mind- which has suddenly convinced me that I am nothing but cellulite. The dark brings the demons out in me. The shadows of the night and the demons from my past are best friends. The speak to one another underneath the black sky like old lovers- embracing and precious.

Some nights are full of tender moments. Moments that make my soul smile and my heart race. Like last night when my friend and I stayed at this man’s house in Coco beach. It was just a room that he rented out for $25 a person. He was older and single. He said he gets lonely and likes meeting interesting people. There was another guy staying in the back room. We all chatted, ate rice and beans, watched Avatar, and swam in the pool. The night was peaceful. It was free of the voices in my head. But I woke up the next day to my friend telling me I kept hitting and pushing her away in my sleep. I shrugged it off, but there was a sinking in my stomach. Even on nights where I believe the peace I always pray for has finally overtaken the demons, I am reminded of those memories in my head.

“Nightmares…I have nightmares sometimes,” I explain, “I’m sorry.” Suddenly I am embarrassed and hurry to finish Charles’s dishes.

I don’t want people to know I still struggle.

I am still hesitant about breaking the illusion of perfection in recovery.

Two nights ago I was in the forest, dancing to Ben Howard at midnight in this room called the Glass Castle. As the music continued, the harder I danced. There was passion pouring out of fingers, anger expelling from my feet. I felt powerful. I felt so damn powerful. Then the music stopped. I noticed the sweat covering my legs and stomach. I noticed the dark. I laid down. I closed my eyes and listened as the next song began. I sang along, humming mainly because I didn’t know the words. A peace rushed over me. A sensation of gratitude and longing. Longing for time to bend and swallow me into this memory. Everything just felt right because while completely encapsulated by the music and night, it all made sense.

Recovery, like everyone always says, is not linear. There are ups and downs, twists and turns. Sometimes you go left when the map wanted you to take a right, but you get rerouted and everything turns out in the end- if only you keep moving. But, recovery is so much more than that.

Recovery is simply life.

The sunsets, the nightmares at Charles’s, the dancing in the forest, these were all moments that reminded me what it means to be human. You have these divine realizations of the beauty of each passing day, the celebration with communities about the coming night and the promise of the next sunrise. You have dark moments like the nightmares that keep you grounded. They remind me where I come from. They remind me of my strength, of my resilience, of my continued hope. Then there is the dancing and the freedom of my movements. The sweat, the heavy breathing, the music, the ground beneath my body, and the intensely black forest sky above my head- these are the moments of understanding. These are the moments when this crazy recovery journey I have been on, for a second, appears in my mind as a cohesive narrative.



Recovery Diary 09/12/18

It’s 8pm but it feels like 2am because I spent all of last night tapping my foot against the wall and counting the shadowy lines through the window panes. I’m in Florida, somewhere in the woods, in a cabin by a underground cave that I’ll be scuba diving tomorrow. I love it. I love the taste of adventure fresh on the tip of my tongue and the promise of the water that the next sunrise is going to bring, but I also struggle, even on vacations, even on adventures.

I forgot all of my medication in Chicago. I realized it at 11pm last night and my heart sank. Of all things, of all the damn things I could have forgotten, it had to be the medicine. The one thing that isn’t easily accessible to me when I am driving around the southern forests looking for random caves to jump in to. I had to make frantic calls and find a CVS the next morning. I felt nauseous from the lack of medication last night and my heart was racing because I didn’t take the pill that keeps the arrhythmia at bay.

I have a chill personality, but a racing mind. I have so many ideas and thoughts and plans and dreams that jump behind my eyelids with each passing moment. The tree on my left inspired a short story playing out behind my right eyelid while the song in my ear plays a modern dance piece behind my other eye. Call it the syndrome of a creative. Call it the artist’s madness. Call it whatever you want, but there are moments where I lose it. Not externally, no externally I have never been calmer, but internally I am a bucket of boiling lava that is raging a war against my intestines and throat.

I started making a list of all the things I needed to accomplish when I got home. At what point did my racing thoughts turn from creative to anxiety? I couldn’t tell you. Perhaps somewhere between arguing with the pharmacist and incessantly calling my psychiatrist hoping that she would call back. But, there was a switch and suddenly the adventures of my friend and I in the forest, scuba diving, and camping in tree houses became an obsessive search of the vaccines I never got and what diseases I am now going to die from. I don’t know why, of all things to worry about, vaccines popped into my head. Maybe because I had been dealing with doctors to try and figure out my medication? Who knows why the mind does what it does? But either way, I googled Walgreen’s clinics next to me and tried to make an appointment. I mean, might as well go in tomorrow so that I don’t worry for my entire trip right? Plus if I wait another day before being vaccinated, I could be infected tomorrow and I’d never forgive myself.

The mind is a crazy machine. It needs to be carefully watched and attuned or else it may run rampant and convince you that you should spend your time in rural Florida searching for a Walgreen’s clinic instead of diving the underwater cave 100 yards from your cabin.

Flash forward to passing out around 8:45pm and waking up to the 90 degree heat of the morning. Flash forward to a night’s rest and the magic of sleep. Sleep has a remarkable ability to reset the mind and challenge my irrational thoughts, worries, and obsessions.  I decided the mix of sleep deprivation and forgetting my medication resulted in the panic. I’m sure anyone reading this would have been able to figure that one out. But when you’re trapped in that moment, everything feels so real, so heavy, so extreme.

Yesterday was a day heightened by anxiety. Today was a day enlightened by adventure.

Diving into that cave…breathtaking.

The thrill of swimming through those smalls crevices…heart-stopping.

The beauty of the pictures….unexplainable.

The moments…cherished.

Not a Narrative

Written by: Madeline McCallum, contributing writer and blogger at

Image source

“So a continual and deep risk for us, if we are to feel the presence and friendship of all there is, is to humbly lift the veils we drape ourselves in, the veils that insulate us as the self-creators of everything we experience.

“Whether we accept it or not, we are asked to let life, in all its unseeable elements, touch us.”

-Mark Nepo from “The Exquisite Risk: Daring to Live an Authentic Life

I feel really frustrated when I wake up and find myself in a Bad Day again.

I would actually consider myself pretty in line with social researcher Hugh Mackay’s concept of happiness – or, rather, his attack on the concept. He says that “the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness” has led to a “contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness.” If there is one thing I am not afraid of anymore, it is my range of emotions. I think that my capacity for deep feelings, for sentiments strong enough to carve ravines into the canyons of my memory, is actually a beautiful thing that makes me uniquely me. Not everyone has access to such a wide spectrum of being – and I’ve grown to appreciate it as a gift.

However, when it comes to recovery and those feelings and urges that don’t have an explanation and don’t make any sense, I still get taken aback when they seem to crop up out of nowhere.

And this isn’t just waking up on the wrong side of the bed.

This is like somehow I managed to crawl inside one of my night terrors while I was sleeping and when I woke up I didn’t blink out of it – instead I see darkness, I feel heavy, my brain is like smog and my heart is drowning and I want to press the Off button and hope that tomorrow I can reboot.

I struggle to see how the presence of this kind of experience in my life can still mean that I am on some sort of road to recovery.

And as I write that, I am thinking that maybe it isn’t about a road to recovery, or really a road at all. A road seems to imply an end, a final destination. But maybe recovery is really just a wave, a tide that ebbs and flows but always feeds back out into the vast ocean of self.

I recently came across a Margaret Atwood quote that I think captures the essence of this wonderfully:

“When you are in the middle of a story, it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or someone else.”

The story of my journey isn’t a story yet – it can’t be neatly tied up into a beginning, middle, and end. And thank goodness for that, really – that gives me room to grow, to experiment, to fail, to try again.

Recovery means staying On even through the Bad Days. Just that, just the getting through, is recovery. It’s been crucial for me to recognize that there isn’t an alternate universe that I’m striving for where every day is full of happiness and fulfilment and great strides forward.

My day to day life is full of so much glory that I am constantly floored by the magic and mystery of it all, and it is also full of dips and clouds and moments when I feel like a puddle on the floor.

Being patient with myself means recognizing that all of me, the night terrors and the wonder, the eyes that see beauty in every crack and crevice as well as the soul that stores pain like throbbing wounds in the muscles between my shoulder blades, is part of my story. Even if it’s not clear to me yet, even if it never will be clear. It is valid and it is my truth.

Intentionally Mindful

Written by: Gracie Mayer, contributing writer

Breathing, circulation, digestion. Your body completes so many actions every day without your attention, intention or mindfulness. Your body is constantly working for you, a chorus of natural processes orchestrated without you giving a single thought, command or request. There is so much in the natural world and in our own bodies that happens without mindfulness. We run, dance, jump, play, and work often without taking the time to be aware and grateful for the miracle of our own natural mechanisms. When reflecting on these bodily functions that occur seamlessly, like breath, my attention was drawn towards the actions I complete everyday without giving much thought or intention to the process. And since the new year has begun, everyone is buzzing with talk of resolutions. My resolution this year is a large intention that encopasses most of my goals in one statement: To live intentionally through experiencing my life more mindfully.

Take, for instance, breath. When I slow down enough to become mindful of my breathing, I am able to create an intention behind each breath. For example, I can use my breath to calm my nervous system. I can use my breath to clear my mind. I can use my breath to create space and heat in my body. I can use my breath to engage my muscles and activate my senses. I can use my breath to create sound and vibration. I could go my entire day without giving my breath a second thought, and my body would continue to take in air and expel it just the same. However, when I take the time to become mindful of this natural process, a world of opportunities arises in which I can utilize my body’s functions for an intentional purpose.  The gravity of this realization brought such a paradigm shift in my own life. I began to realize that some days I was just going through the motions and allowing my life to pass by without a sense of purpose or intention. I have seen drastic changes in my own life by simply becoming more mindful and using the awareness to create an intention and purpose for my actions.

Now I set intentions each and every month. These intentions are a direct response to a behavior, mindset, or action that I have become mindful of in my everyday life.  In addition, I began to see that the more mindful I am of my actions, the more introspective I am of my emotional/mental health and wellbeing.  When I begin to see patterns of behavior arise in my daily life that do not serve my highest self, I am able to look at what is driving the behavior, which is always some type of emotional unrest that I need to address.

I am constantly in awe of the opportunities that I create in my life when I choose to live intentionally. But more recently I have realized that the more mindful I am, the more purposeful my intentions become. It is often easier to walk through our day to day lives as we always have, often times habitually repeating the same patterns of damaging behavior.  Every behavior that we do serves a purpose, but the purpose may be causing more harm than good.  For instance, our behaviors may be to numb or to escape uncomfortable emotions. When we live each day more mindfully, we can reveal these behaviors and begin to transform our lives.

As I begin this journey into the new year, I invite you to wake up each morning with a conviction to live mindfully. Living mindfully can act as a catalyst that gives life to intentions. An intentional life opens opportunities, connection and growth. Each of our journeys requires that we play an active role.  Our personal growth demands that we live purposefully to support the change.  


Written by: Morgan Blair, Founder and Creative Director

My heart felt dry, like someone had taken a sponge to the pumping machine inside my vulnerable chest and dried up all the blood, water, and liquid that might have offered some relief. My eyes were dry. My skin cracked. And there came a time when I was so delusional that I had no concept of which way was up and which way was down.  

Then came the fall. The painfully, terrifying free fall towards everything new and nothing I understood. The fall towards the unknown.  The inevitable fall. I had been resting on the edge of a cliff for years now, teetering between what was real and what wasn’t. Until one day I finally said, “it’s about time,” and jumped off the side.

I fell for months in complete darkness with no idea where I was headed. I fell in despair and hopelessness, in tribulation and trials. I fell for everything that was no longer serving me and towards everything that could be rebuilt.

There was a bottom. It came with a thud and skinned knees. It came abruptly. It was painful. It was scary. After all, I had lived in utter blackness for months. I didn’t recognize the world when it was caked in such color and possibilities. I wanted to go back. I wanted to rest back on the cliff in the confusion and depraved heart. “Help,” I called out and there in the space above my scared little body came a hand. “Take it,” said the hand and the moment I reached up and touched it everything became clear.

Rainbows and butterflies, dancing unicorns and glittering turtles. The world became a magical place.

The Crack in the Crystal Ball

 Written by: Gracie Mayer, contributing writer

We will never fully understand the world by trying to look into the future and predict where our paths will take us.  We usually only understand our experiences when we reflect back on where we have been and what we have learned.

Because we spend every day with ourselves, we fail to see how much progress we make on a daily basis.  Progress and growth are often so uncomfortable and painful, yet we don’t take time to stop and appreciate the process that is happening and give ourselves recognition for all we have walked through.  My birthday is at the end of November, which is also very close to the New Year.  So each time I add another year to my life, I make an effort to reflect on the calendar year that has passed.

Looking over the last year of my life is one my favorite self-reflection activities.  And yet sometimes I can feel paralyzed when I reflect on the unexpected detours my journey has taken.  I am reminded of how the unknown used to leave me so shaken that I would return to negative patterns of behavior that I knew would ultimately lead back to treatment – a predictable and safe conclusion.  However, the more I stepped into recovery, the more I realized that the universe does not curse or bless.  The universe does not dole out good and bad.  The universe only provides neutral experiences.  It is in the way in which these experiences impact our lives for better or worse that is in our conscious control.  A broken heart can render us incapable of leaving the house.  It can color our views of the world so much so that we refuse to trust those around us.  It can drive us to put up guards, locks, and walls around our hearts to make sure that nothing and no one will ever harm us again.  And little do we know that these guards keep the hurt out, but along with the hurt, these walls also keep out any potential good as well.  A broken heart can also drive us to create a masterpiece.  A broken heart can inspire us to chase a dream that has long eluded us because we realize the fleeting nature of our existence.  A broken heart can help us re-evaluate the kind of life/partner/career/family we want which instills a new sense of self-worth and a refusal to settle for any relationship, situation or activity that makes us feel “less than” or “not enough.”

Sometimes I see pictures of my younger self, and I sit in wonder.  This 6, 9, or 12 year old Gracie had no idea the turns her life would take.  Did she know that the college experience that she dreamed of — advancing with ease throughout all four years, meeting the love of her life and friends that would last a lifetime – would change into a series of residential treatment centers, struggles to go back to school, and ultimately attending a small college nothing like any that she had dreamed of?  Did she know she would fall in love like the magic she dreamed of only to have it crumble and leave her questioning what she could have done differently to keep it?  Did she know she would also have the chance to go to Africa, Europe, and South America?  Did she know she would fight back for her life and become strong enough to run two marathons?  Did she know she would meet people that would change her life forever and that she does have friendships that will last a lifetime?  Did she know that the turns in her life would grace her with empathy, resilience, fortitude and courage she never understood a fraction of before?

I no longer fear the unknown like I used to.  Of course there are still days where my stomach turns with anxiety, longing for a crystal ball that will assure me everything will be okay.  But more and more I have learned that the crack in the crystal ball – the unexpected event, or the unexpected gift that comes from the sometimes devastating turn of events – is really the most exciting and inspiring part of the journey.  Now I embrace change, and I even chase it.  I make a concerted effort to step into the unknown.  In the last year I decided to start the journey of yoga teacher training and became a certified yoga teacher, meeting friends and finding a community that brought such healing to pieces of me that I hadn’t realized needed it.  I graduated with my master’s in Social Work and was able to have the gift of working as an individual therapist, returning the gifts of a listening ear, understanding friend and unconditional support that were given to me at my hour of need.  I packed up my life and decided to move to a new state, start two new jobs and throw myself into a completely new climate and community.  I embraced change, leaned into it and actually chose it.  I chose growth.  I chose to trust the crack in the Crystal Ball because honestly it has been the most beautiful and transformative influence in my life.

I cannot wait for the future and yet I am constantly in awe by the beauty of the present.  I am so excited to see where this journey will lead me in the next year of my life.  I cannot wait to look back at pictures of my 20, 21, and 24 year old Gracie and think…she had no idea of the beauty that was to befall her life.


Written by: Morgan Blair, Founder and Creative Director

Somewhere between 7:15 and 8:06 I found myself in a tailspin of wound-too-tight brain zaps, which left me lying on the floor, wrapped tightly in a blanket, and my fingers counting my pulse. And there among the dirty carpet and snotty tears, I found a flicker – not an explosion, not an awakening – but a flicker of goodness among all these minutes of personal anguish.

I was okay.

I was okay and I was going to be okay.

One. Two. Three breaths and I was halfway across the rickety bridge to whatever the other side of this journey had to offer. And perhaps that is how it goes. One night gives birth to the strength to fight another and another night gives you the strength to face a day. Then, before you even know it you’re doing it. Whatever “it” may be. But in the moment I was there. I was taken to a place where I was scared and hurting and unwilling to go on. For this reason, the moment was precious. I bottle it up and save it on my shelf as a trophy, gold, shiny, glittering with pride and accomplishments.

Victories are found in the quiet moments, the moments we are certain we cannot go on, and then we do. “The strongest warriors are the ones we know nothing about.”  I read that quote the other day and shrugged it off. But as I lay here, heaving into the carpet, I think again. That quote is me and that quote is you. It is about anyone who has breathed through the night they didn’t think they could survive.

So, I turn off the lights and I stay on the floor until all my tears have dried. I fall asleep to the rhythm of my short distressed breaths. I have no dreams. No thoughts I can still muster up. But, then I wake up and feel a smile creep upon my lips. I get dressed and find a way to begin again.

Steps Towards Freedom

Written by: Morgan Blair, Founder of Unpolished Journey

Oh Darling, it’s just a step,Image result for holding the universe

with your eyes closed tight

and your hands tied

and your feet bound

and your faith caught up

between the what is lost

and what is found.

Oh Darling it’s just a step,

towards everything that’s right

away from darkness

and into light;

a step of courage,

a step of hope,

a step to flourish,

a new way to cope.


Related imageOh Darling, you must walk

away from all you know

off this cliff

towards the freedom

you deserve to hold.



Written by: Morgan Blair, Founder and Creative Director of Unpolished Journey

Related image

We drove a long way. Six hours to be exact. To see it. See the eclipse. Out in the middle of no where, in the line of totality, on the highest point of the Native’s land. We set up camp, got out the hummus, and turned on some Nahko to prepare our minds and spirits.

These moments mean more to me than they might to the average person. I look out at the rolling hills, I feel the blazing sun on my skin, I taste the pita and hummus on my tongue, I hear the music, and everything- I mean everything- is amplified as if coming out of a blaring speaker somewhere off to my right. I know what it is like to be trapped in darkness, to be friend’s with death, to fantasize about fading away. I know darkness, therefore light is overwhelmingly beautiful. It is a sight I always feel I am seeing for the first time. A new friend, a new food, a song, an experience, water, life, love, hope, all these things allow me to fall in love with life all over again.

Lightness, goodness, hopefulness, these are equal to the eclipse. A sight that together the entire nation shared in its wonder. Together we stood up there on that hill under the 90 degree sun, cheering as the day turned night, as the universe took control of our attention, as we, if even for a moment, were not distracted by our differences. Unity. What a sight. The world is a magical place. So many concepts unexplained to us.

I rested on that hill, under the newly night sky, and embraced the dark. I sat in the dark, yet completely encapsulated by the light and magic of the moment.  I used to only recognize the dark, but now I am friends with the light. Now I can feel these experiences with an intensity some may see as unimaginable.  I know death, I know hopelessness, I know despair, and I am so thankful for that because in knowing these things I am able to appreciate their counterparts that much more.

Today is my little cousin’s birthday. He passed away a year and nine months ago. I still don’t know what to do with that loss. But somewhere during the eclipse I felt like I got a glimpse of his beauty once again. He was there. There was a chill in the air, a comforting blanket of hope, and he was the one covering me in it. What a thought? What a sight? What an experience?

I write them down now, these experiences. I don’t want to ever forget all the light I have felt. I don’t want the darkness to win over my mind. I set reminders for myself.

The eclipse.


Energy of hope.

Energy of light.

I write these things down, close my notebook, and smile as I express gratitude for being healthy, alive, and hopeful enough to embrace these moments.

Embrace your own moments of light today.

Stay magical,