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 09/12/18

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.

Recovery Diary 08/26/18

Classical music in the early mornings is not a foreign concept. It feels repetitive; meditative. It puts me in a trance able to ease racing thoughts and any bodily discomfort. Mornings are a time of reflection to sit and think, think, and think some more. Mornings are sacred. Mornings consist of mediation, reading, writing, and quietly staring off into the distance allowing creativity to scream loud and exciting thoughts into these commonly absent ears.

I paint a lot. I draw a lot. I write a lot. I read a lot. Does that make me an artist? Everyone is an artist is my response every time someone calls me one. I say this because I want so badly to be an artist that I am afraid of being one. Does that make sense? It is staring at the gold medal at the Olympics, afraid to take it out of the announcers hand because once it touches your fingers it is all real. Everything you worked for is real.

I had a dream last night that I was in the Olympics. I was an aerialist. They don’t have that sport in the Olympics, but behind my close eyelids the competition was very real. I was the best so naturally everyone hated me. I was ostracized from the team and forced to train on my own. Despite all odds, I won…? I actually woke up just before the results were in. I finished the dream for myself. I got the gold. All the hard work paid off. I took the medal. I touched the gold. I allowed that dream to be achievable.

I’ve always been drawn towards seemingly impossible goals. When someone says I wish I could just do ______, I automatically want to do that thing. I want to prove to them and to myself that whatever they have deemed unachievable in their mind is actually within arm’s reach. Go do it! Go do it! I always want to scream in people’s faces, but that would be rude and uncalled for and so I bite my tongue and let them vent about all the things that want to do in life but never will.

I don’t want to have any regrets. I want to do whatever is on my budget list. I want to be open to changes in my goals, to growth along the way. I never want to lose my determined spirit. I want, I want, I want… damn I want a lot of things.

Meditation helps me let go of all these racing ideas and thoughts. I need to be more present is what my therapist tells me. I’m motivated she say, which is good, but sometimes it’s okay to just be. Yesterday I tried to just be. I didn’t know what to do so I sat on my bed and listened to classical music and read. I don’t think I give myself enough credit for how present I can be. Each morning is filled with meditative and present rituals.

I like to write unconsciously, spilling all the thoughts onto paper as if to help sort them out. But, sometimes they don’t need sorting. Sometimes they are fine just the way they are.

Self-Appreciation

Written by: Madeline McCallum, contributing writer and blogger at http://madelinesmusing.blogspot.com/?m=1

Self-appreciation

Image source

“We appreciate your consistent releasing of resistance.

We appreciate the continual opening of new doors, allowing your further discovery of who-you-are.

We are eager about the consistent ease that is before you.

We are eager about your new desires still to be launched.

We are eager for your inevitable rendezvouz with good-feeling ideas and experiences.

We are eager for your realization of the unlimited abundance that surrounds you.”

(Esther & Jerry Hicks)

I had a moment the other day where I paused in my tracks and considered how wild it was that past-me, some previous version of myself, had worked so extremely hard to make sure my feet were standing right where they were at that moment – on the London pavement, coffee in hand and opportunity stretching before me.

To be clear, at no point in my life did I ever really plan out a specific road map – and that used to stress me out. I’ve always known my ambitions and my bigger-picture dreams deep down, but I tend to get bogged down in the “how,” in feeling like I need to be actively doing something to make all of my dreams happen. When given the topic of appreciation, what first came to mind was an image in my head of me just wrapping my arms around myself, praising the girl who, from a very early age, committed to a life of doing everything in my power to live a life of adventure, of ambition, of reach, of no boundaries. Because of her relentless commitment to herself, I am now in a place where I can recognize and fully bask in all that I have achieved in my mere two decades on this planet.

I appreciate the family who instilled these values in me – a family who never drew strict lines around me (and thank goodness, because my internal demons definitely took care of that one for them…), a family who showed me that through hard work and perseverance, I can truly achieve anything I set my mind too.

I appreciate the time I have allowed myself to heal. As much as hindsight allows me to recognize the rewards of all of my hard work and nose to the grindstone moments, it also lets me recognize that none of that hard work would have come to fruition if there weren’t also periods of pause. I hope that I continue to give myself this grace – realizing that this recovery is a marathon, one that requires dedication and training every day. And that two years, or five years, or ten years, is just a blip on the timeline of my full life. I am not losing time or wasting time – rather, I am giving myself back years of love and feeling and wholeness.

I appreciate the relentless commitment I have made to myself. This body and this mind is my home, and I intend to treat my home with respect and care for its longevity. Time has shown me that every time I dig deep into my core values and use those to guide my actions, the result feels right and truly bountiful.

I appreciate that at some times I may not feel so content with myself, but I hope that I can look back and remember that I have always made it through those rough patches – and come out stronger and more resilient on the other side.

We are eager for the tipping point that will surely come that will allow you to see yourself as we know you to be: deserving of all manner of abundance, worthy of all good things, satisfied with what-is– and eager for more.

(Esther & Jerry Hicks)

Mindfulness vs. Resolutions

Written by: Madeline McCallum, contributing writer and blogger at http://madelinesmusing.blogspot.com/?m=1

Mindfulness and mental health

“You go where you look.” The repeated phrase of my ski school trainer, my driving instructor, my ballet teacher, my high school tennis coach. A lesson that at the time I filed away as just another way to improve my performance, but now realize was probably the most relevant and profound advice I have ever received.

What you are giving energy is what you are giving life. More important than any physical resolution, concerning my health or my weight or something I need to fix or change, this year I resolve to try to pay more attention to where I am investing my energy. If I’m focusing on stress, or on the past, or on everything that can go wrong, then I am probably directing myself down a path of disappointment and grief. We have an internal dialogue going on 24/7, but as I heard Dan Harris say recently on a podcast, so often we pay more attention to the speaker in our head than the listener. By only engaging with the speaker that tells me I’m scared, that tells me I’m a failure, that tells me I’m way too busy to figure out why I’m scared, I miss out on a whole other dimension of human experience.

I prefer mindfulness over resolutions. Mindfulness deconstructed from the zeitgeist version of it – at its core, it really just means stepping back and listening to your internal dialogue. If you set out on a quest to quiet your thoughts, you will not be successful. If you approach mindfulness as another thing to add to your “New Me” to-do list, then the quest is doomed from the beginning.

There is so much to be said for just observing your thoughts, without judgement. When I learned that my thoughts aren’t truth, that the speaker in my head is not always quoting facts, it was honestly revolutionary. Taking time to just tune in to the movie constantly projected on the cluttered walls of my mind helps give me clarity into why I may be feeling the way I am and always reminds me to quietly redirect my mental energy. As Dan Harris says, “You just want to see whatever is there, so that it doesn’t own you.”

Another reason I prefer mindfulness over resolutions is because resolutions imply rigidity. How do I know what is going to serve me in October, when I barely know what I want for dinner tonight? Mindfulness allows for flexibility – it is the practice that helps me make quick decisions that feel right, in tune. It allows every day to be a moment to focus on my intentions, not just the beginning of the year.

I try to stay far, far away from anything that connotes restriction – and resolutions seem to have gained a reputation for doing exactly that. I like the idea of committing to something that adds, that brings joy, that gives back to my community and my loved ones. By being very conscious of where I’m throwing my energy, ultimately I’m showing up as the best, most authentic version of myself, both in my inner dialogue and in my interactions with others.

You go where you look. And once you find yourself somewhere, there you are. I have a tendency to constantly calculate my next move and forget about the girl who is here, now, present tense. In all of the planning and prioritising, and even in the depths of the quest for betterment, the girl that likes soft rain on tin roofs and tends to get distracted by sunlight on her cheeks gets lost. Here’s to prioritising her, to observing my thoughts but not necessarily believing them. And to be mindful of my precious energy, because when channelled in the right direction, my strength can move mountains.

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.  

Tuesday Night

Written by: Emily Blair, Director of Operations

reflection

Reflection.  Such a tricky term for someone such as myself.  When I think of reflection, I am consumed by perfectionistic thoughts, wondering how to reflect “correctly,” as if there is such a thing.

I know the truth is that there is no “right” way to look back on what was and look forward on what is to come.  That’s a difficult concept for me to digest, which may sound silly to some.  But maybe others can relate.

So when thinking about our intention for the month of December, reflection, I initially sat down to create a formula on how to engage in reflection.  Thoughts such as reflecting has to be chronological, I must hit all of the major events, I should include both the good and the bad, ran through my head until soon it turned into I have to write down absolutely everything from 2017.  Suddenly I was crafting a novel instead of engaging in a meditative reflection.

And so, as I’m writing this, I am choosing to leave behind everything that initially came to mind when considering how I could go about sharing my thoughts on reflection.  Instead, I’ve decided to share an experience I had at my dojo (the place where I practice karate).

On Tuesday evening of this week, I went to a meditation class after attending a sparring and technique class.  One of two women who run the dojo, Sei Shihan Nancy (her title, Sei Shihan, indicates that she is a 6th-degree black belt), leads the meditation each week, and after the meditation, she often shares some of her own personal thoughts on the practice.

This past Tuesday, I was feeling incredibly insecure.  I was having a terrible body-image day and feeling defeated after one of the previous classes, sparring, which is still a very new and difficult class for me.  I almost didn’t attend the meditation class because I was feeling disconnected, my mind racing with thoughts telling me I was inadequate.  Some part of me decided to stay, though, sitting on the ground, deepening my breath, trying to quiet my thoughts.

It is not the meditation itself I want to speak about but rather what Sei Shihan Nancy shared afterward.  Sei Shihan Nancy began to discuss the founding of Thousand Waves, which is the name of the dojo where I practice martial arts.  I knew that the dojo had been founded by women, for women, as a space to empower each other, but on Tuesday, Sei Shihan Nancy went into more depth about the history, sharing a piece of the story that moved my heart.  She shared how she began this mission largely because of the way women are at war with their bodies, and how we often don’t feel beautiful or strong enough, thanks to the way our society has crafted an entire industry to cultivate this thought pattern.  She went on to tell a story of one woman who used to stand on the outskirts of the training floor (at a previous space they practiced at), watching others engage in karate but never feeling confident enough to do so herself.  One day, a friend dragged her in, and she experienced the art for herself.  She is now retiring at the end of the year after learning through the senior Shodan curriculum (Shodan is the rank name for a first-degree black belt) at the Seido school.  Sei Shihan Nancy shared how it was moments like this, watching women discover the scope of their capabilities, that reminded her of why she did what she did.

After hearing Sei Shihan’s story, I began to reflect on why I started martial arts.  I began because I desired to deepen my sense of self-worth, to begin to use my voice, to stand up for myself, to set boundaries, to understand that I am more than something to be looked at, to heal my relationship with exercise.

And I thought to myself: this is reflection.  A quiet moment of genuine, non-formulated reflection.

I’m glad some part of myself urged me to stay for meditation class on Tuesday.  I feel as if, in some way, Sei Shihan Nancy knew the words I needed to hear that night.

A Moment of Reflection

Written by: Madeline McCallum, contributing writer and blogger at http://madelinesmusing.blogspot.com/?m=1

“You do not just wake up and become the

butterfly

 growth is a process”

Rupi Kaur, The Sun and Her Flowers

Day to day, we expect to fix everything, change the world, and heal ourselves within 24 hours. We get frustrated when important things take time, when we are forced to sit with any discomfort. But when we take the time to actually reflect on our life over a certain period of time, the realization of just how much you have grown and changed can be staggering.

As I was taking a walk in a park near my house the other day, I found myself really contemplating where I was at that moment versus where I was at this time a year ago. As I watched the evaporation of my breath curl around the fingers of my gloves, I felt tired and run down and a little bit lost.

I’ve found the relentlessness of time a bit overwhelming lately – feeling like I need a massive break from life for a bit, but actually, I only have a few days off for the holidays before I am back in the office again. After graduation and upon entering the world of “adulthood,” the majority of the markers of space and time we are used to cease to exist. I’m used to working myself to the bone until winter break, or summer break, relishing in the weeks off and the downtime spent at my childhood home, where I easily slip back into the dependent lifestyle of an exhausted teenager. Life was marked by semesters, by summer break and the beginning of term in the fall, by the schedule of our classes and the weeks we were able to spend resting or on vacation. Now, I can’t help but feel that when I look into the world ahead of me, all I see is “work work work” on an endless loop, with no time off and no space to breathe.

I kept walking further into the park, around the back where there is a lovely little duck pond and a small running creak. I stood on the bridge, watching the ducks slowly swim around and the circular ripples dance out around them. I thought about how right in that moment, when I took a deep inhale in and an exhale out, I felt rest. How crucial it is to now mark my time intentionally by moments like these – in the midst of a working week, taking some time to breathe in and reflect on time passed and ponder the future.

The past year has been tumultuous to say the least, packing in probably the most change I’ve gone through the smallest period of time, ever. I found myself wondering whether I would ever feel grounded again, or if I was just a perpetual wanderer, a gypsy looking for somewhere to lay her head and someone to hold her hand. Although I don’t feel completely settled, I look back on those memories of complete disorientation and feel my feet firmly planted, my thoughts less anxious, and I smile. We truly have no idea what the future holds for us, and hindsight is such a funny thing. If I could tell 18-year-old me what lay before her in the next five years, would I? Would she even believe me? There is no way I could have fathomed how my life would play out.

As I stood looking out onto the pond, the winter air freezing my cheeks, I thought about how there are always ripples created, and the possibility that another duck may fly over and create even more disruption to the circular swimming motion, but the ripples also always settle. If I stood there long enough, I’d see the pond settle into a glassy surface, reflecting back to me the beautiful view of the park trees and the greenery surrounding me. That seemed to me a pretty beautiful realization – no matter how chaotic the surface gets, it will eventually settle. The pond may even freeze over, but the depths below are always kept warm, flowing, just waiting until the next season when things will thaw out and expand.

We do not just wake up one day and become fully-actualized. It takes so much time, and maybe our entire life time. Somehow we put the pressure on ourselves to figure it out before the sun rises the next day and we forget to reflect on how far we have actually gotten, just by getting out of bed every day. Five years ago I had no idea what I wanted, I had no idea who I was and what I liked or disliked and what gave me enjoyment, made me feel alive. The other day in the park I felt warmth in my heart because I knew I loved the trees, and walking, and listening to my favorite music while I walked past the man selling the Christmas trees and hot chocolate. All of the things I have done this year, and in the last decade, have led me to this moment of contentment. And even the parts of this year and that moment that don’t feel so certain or so great – I can take comfort in knowing that next year at this time, hopefully I’ll be smiling at the ways the universe got me through these, too. The sun rose this morning (even though it was pretty gray and in the British winter time, the sun seems more of an abstract idea than an actual, physical presence). But it is there. And it will be there tomorrow.

Wishing everyone happy holidays and a very happy new year – may you allow yourself to rest and reflect!

Spirituality

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.