We walked today, picking fall flowers, dried seed pods and colorful leaves. Chattering like a busy chipmunk, she found pretty rocks in the gravel, drew line after line for us to race from, and marveled at the troops of soldier mushrooms. It was more a meander than a walk, but definitions matter not to a four-year-old. Her thoughts bubble over into words like a flowing well in the flat lands; there is no filter, no pause and the music of it all soaking the earth is innocent and pure.
And it never stops. Ever.
Even in her dreams she is talkative and loud. A social sleep talker, telling her stories and voicing her fears.
But it is a respite to tune into her world, letting it drown out my restless mind that takes eternal practice to quiet for even the rare millisecond. She is my practice. The second most helpful routine has been my daily “devotional” through A Course in Miracles. The workbook doles out 365 meditation topics, and then the app on my smart phone reminds me at specified intervals to return my thoughts to the topic. The topic is always a simple truth, and if I don’t start my day with it, I’m scattered, grumpy, often lost.
We are seventeen months sober now, and I am continually amazed at how much I over-estimated the cure-all properties of quitting. Life is far, far better without booze, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted sobriety to solve all my problems. It didn’t, of course. In fact, it un-numbed the figurative rotten tooth that I’d been ignoring for so long. The pain and the stench of unaddressed issues wash over me now like sneaker waves to the uninitiated Minnesotan at the Coast for the first time.
I’ve believed my thoughts, my painful stories and I’ve suffered. They’ve shaped my life into a plotless, dark and messy B-grade movie. And I won’t go party the pain away anymore.
It’s time to pull the tooth.
Some time ago, negative words about my role in The Angle community came my way through a well-intentioned messenger, and I believed them. I reacted very poorly. I started thinking I had no place here at The Angle. I started getting angry at everyone and everything. I felt unseen, unheard, and unappreciated. I ranted in my columns. I raged in my home.
I was a mess for over a year.
And then, not too long ago, more negative words came my way…a gift, really…and I watched myself go through it all again. I watched me choosing the rathole. I observed as the feelings of shame and unworthiness balled up like a mess of wet and heavy towels that throw a washer off its spin cycle.
But the wet and heavy mess did what it was supposed to this time…I surrendered and let it; it pushed me out of the endless negative cycle and into the freeing arms of forgiveness, thanks in large part to that daily “devotional” and a few well-timed teachers, namely Brené Brown, Byron Katie and four-year-old Iris Knight. Of course, everyone is my teacher and every situation is my chance at growth, even when I resist with all my might as I did for the last year-plus.
Brené Brown writes in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”
That was me. That was me breaking, falling apart, hurting, hurting others because I thought I didn’t belong here: my political and religious beliefs don’t match the majority, my thin-skinned way of doing things is raw and vulnerable, my over-active need for approval interpreted everything as disapproval, my condemnation of other people’s self-righteousness served only to build an ugly self-righteous monster in me.
But that is falling away finally. The false beliefs about my non-fit here at The Angle and who was “against” me are fading into the realm of untruth. My real experiences here are of a kind, hardworking and generous people who, just like me, get grumpy from time to time, but ultimately, are doing their best to live a good life. When I have asked for help, help has always come. When I have planned, people have shown up. When I have erred, forgiveness was forthcoming.
Author and teacher Byron Katie lives her life from a place of stark and joyous reality. What “is” is not worth arguing with, and when we do, we suffer. She teaches that if we believe something should not be as it is, we are choosing pain over freedom. That doesn’t mean we don’t make change where change is needed; it simply means we don’t suffer by believing things shouldn’t be as they are. My words don’t do justice to the simplicity of that truth. Her books A Thousand Names for Joy: Living in Harmony with the Way Things Are and Loving What Is: Four Questions that Can Change Your Life have been tremendously impactful.
As for the teachings of sobriety, Iris and life here at The Angle, they are ongoing, ever-present and always humbling. Iris hugs me fiercely at the end of each day, “I love you, Mama, no matter what,” she says. We have seen each other’s fallibilities, and it’s all still beautiful, still loveable.
If I’ve learned anything from the last year of believing my thoughts about not belonging and not being brave enough to stand alone without the praise and approval of others, not to mention feeling it all a thousand-fold more now not being numb, it’s that it was all my doing, my choices, me believing my fears.
This is my meandering mea culpa, my walk through the woods to grow and heal and ask forgiveness. I can do better and I will.
It’s all going to be just fine. No matter what.
(Published in the Sept 19 issue of the Warroad Pioneer)