My Life is Full – Learning to Prioritize

It’s been in the last couple of months I finally started getting what people with a lot of time in 12-step meant by saying, “My life got really full.” Recently, my life has gotten very full.

Back a couple of years ago when I started recovery, I couldn’t tell you what I truly loved. I couldn’t tell you if I liked to rock climb, or mountain bike, or run, or take photos. I had lost myself completely, within my addiction and with the addiction of others in my life. (On that note, I definitely qualify for Al-Anon; someday I will work a set of steps in there, but AFTER I finish up my steps for my other 2 programs)

Today?

Well let me tell you what I’ve been up to.

First of all, there’s the random business of trying to get my blog out there, which takes a lot of work. Also, I’m trying to get a promotion at my job. I had my first interview this week and have a second one next Tuesday. So I’ve felt like I have to be on top of my game completely at work right now. Between both of those, that’s kept me a bit crazy.

Last Friday night (the 21st), I read a spoken-word poem at a poetry slam. I then left the poetry slam, went to a local coffee shop, and on impulse read the poem AGAIN to all the coffee shop patrons. I love spoken word poetry terribly much… at my first slam I knew that these were MY people. They got everything I’ve ever thought since I was 15 years old. It was like walking into a 12-step meeting for the first time, except slightly different.

On Monday night, I attended my Buddhist sangha that I am a part of and, thankfully, sat and meditated with my community for awhile. Lovely.

Then I went to a philosophy discussion group at a local coffeeshop, with a old friend turned new friend (long but awesome back story). We read a philosophy text before coming, and then discuss. Intellectual stimulation for the win!

The next morning, Tuesday, I had coffee with my mom before work. Just needed to reconnect with my mama, who I haven’t seen in awhile. 🙂

Tuesday night, had dinner with aforementioned friend and her husband, one of the bright spots of my week. Her husband is the main person who was by my side the day of the shooting. We haven’t really connected again since, but I keep running into Candace, his wife, and we have so much in common it’s ridiculous. We talk about Rachel Held Evans and fundamentalism recovery and conflict resolution and feminism. It’s pretty much fantastic. So we decided to make it all official and be for real friends (haha). The whole night was fantastic and I’m still jazzed thinking about it.

I did make kind of a mistake on Thursday night when I went out with a work friend. She got drunk in front of me. I probably should have left earlier than I did. I didn’t feel at ALL jealous. In fact I was so glad that I wasn’t going to be regretting what I was saying the next morning, or feeling super nauseous, which when I’m in my spiritually fit mind, I HATE feeling – nausea is the worst (My drunk mind doesn’t give a f*ck, in fact it’s like it wants me to be nauseous). So it wasn’t the jealousy factor. It was just that, I have been really busy and honestly, have not been taking time in the morning to center myself. Being around that un-sober energy was really unsettling.

However, it showed me that prioritizing is very important for me. I’ve gotten off center a bit this week because I want to be open, friendly, giving, generous.  Those are ALL good things. The problem is when I ignore the inner voice that says “you need to say no to this right now.” I ignored that voice on Thursday night and had to really work to re-center myself. I’ve ignored that voice, too, that says I need to slow it down a little and take a little more time for myself, to ground myself in the mornings at least. (Good timing, too… I’m on Step 11 in my love addiction work – HA, Higher Power!)

I’ve learned a little though. I tried not to stay in self hatred about it. I pulled myself towards compassion today and just realized that centering myself is a huge priority for me, because I grew up in an environment where I was centered around someone else. It’s extremely important, vital really, for me to watch that now. But also to be gentle when I get off center because it’s such an ingrained pattern of mine. I learned it very well for 20+ years. So, it’s really okay, Laurie, that you’re off center right now. This feels normal for you so you just stepped back into an old role. Those were my sweet words to myself on Friday.

So then I went and saw a recovery friend. Talked to one of my sponsors. And went to a combined AA and Al-Anon meeting Friday night. A meeting Saturday morning. A meeting Saturday night. A meeting this morning. In other words, I made my recovery and my Higher Power a priority for me.

Today, I get why people say that their life is full and they have to make sure to keep recovery a priority. It’s happening to me. It’s beautiful, a miracle really! I couldn’t have imagined I would ever get to this place in life! I am beyond thrilled to have such amazing friends, such a lovely community both in and out of my 12-step work.

But it’s also really vital for me to remember why I got here in the first place. To touch back with my recovery community, with my program, with my step work. If I can stay in touch with that, and re-center myself with my Higher Power, I can keep the strength to say no when I need. I can say to friends, “No, I’m sorry, I need to go home now,” instead of pulling a Thursday night and staying in a place that’s pulling me away from myself.

Like the old-timers like to say… I have to make my recovery, and my spirituality, a priority. When I do that, all the rest will fall into place.

An Award? For Me??

My lovely friend Maurnas nominated me for the Liebster Award! I was so shocked to receive this, I almost couldn’t believe it was happening. Since when have I been popular enough to get an award? (Thank you, Maurnas!)

I love lists in real life, but sometimes think they’re cheesy on blogs. But… because it was Maurnas, I decided to oblige. 🙂 (Because who else can I gush about LoTR and Elvish and lembas and Lothlorien and the Shire with, and who else would understand why I know Elvish curses?)

1. How long have you been blogging?
In general, I’ve been blogging since I was 14 years old and discovered Blogger (that’s 11 years). I had a Xanga back in the day, after I got tired of Blogger. After Xanga, I used my Facebook Notes for awhile, and now here I am on WordPress. I’ve been on WordPress for about 4 years, and on this particular blog for 2.

2. What inspired you to start your blog?
I started my blog because I felt really alone as a shooting survivor. It’s a really unique experience, and I was desperate to try and find other people who understood it. If not the shooting piece, the trauma piece. This blog has changed and morphed since then; I gratefully discovered The Rebels Project in December 2012 and that gave me a wonderful community to process being a survivor in. Now, I also write about my addiction recovery and surviving the household I grew up in, and what my life looks like now.

3. What is your favorite color?
I have two or three. I am absolutely obsessed with this particular shade:

turquoise

I also love orange and fuschia. Bright colors all the way!

4. What is your all time favorite movie?
I don’t really have all time favorite movies… I DO have movies that I really can’t get over, though. By which I mean, I cry like a little child when I watch them. A couple are:
Suckerpunch – I feel like this movie is a Jungian perspective of my life story. I cry every time I watch it.
Slumdog Millionaire – this movie gives me so much hope when I look at all the crap in my life. Love. Also, I cry. “This is our destiny.” *bawls*
American Beauty – the best scene is the one where Ricky Fitts looks at Lester Burnham’s face right after he dies, in reference to his earlier quote:
“It’s like God’s looking right at you, just for a second, and if you’re careful… you can look right back.”
… holy fucking shit, I cried so hard. I know exactly what he meant.
Frozen – because I have serious love for my sisters. ❤ Wish I could have had an Elsa moment for real. Figuratively do for my remaining little sis.
Honorable Mentions: The Place Beyond the Pines – gutwrenching and fantastic and Drive – ridiculously violent, but ohhhhh the MUSIC.

5. When do you typically work on your blog?
I work on it at work a lot because I am allowed to go on WordPress between when I take calls. So I do segments at work. Either that or at night when I get off work and am chilling out.

6. Coffee, tea, or neither?
Or both?? I love, love, LOVE coffee in the morning. It’s so soothing. Especially after dragging myself out of my nice comfy bed in the morning.
But when day turns to night, I love tea. I’m one of those early-old ladies who makes herself a cup of tea before bed, and it is delightful. My favorite one right now is the Traditional Medicinals Nighty Night tea. Mmmmm.

7. Is writing a career or a hobby for you?
I don’t get paid to write, but I wouldn’t mind getting paid for it. 🙂 But I don’t know if I would call writing a mere hobby, either. It’s kind of necessary to my life. I don’t know what I’d do if I stopped writing… I’ve written as a form of processing since I was 10, and to lose that now would be awful… I don’t know if you call that a hobby. It’s more a way of life.

8. What do you love most in this world?

I have lists for everything (just as Maurnas mentioned), so I can’t pick just one. Here’s my list:

1. My little sis, Grace… I’ve worked hard to have a good relationship with her and she means so much to me.
2. My bestie Carly. I’ve known her since I was 5. She’s practically my sister. I would be so lost without her and her ghetto ass in my life. 😀
3. My recovery!! The chance to live the life I have today… AWESOME.
4. TRAVEL.
5. Meeting new people
6. Art.
and bonus – 7. The aforementioned Elvish curses: nino hithighlia lasto bethdir, reeohneein bruinin dan een oo lire… Typed phonetically from memory, just sayin. That’s the curse that Arwen calls down on the Ringwraiths at the river in Fellowship of the Ring.

9. Can you share something that you have learned recently?
Still in progress: that I am allowed to have a center within myself, to be connected to it, and to stand in that center, no matter what’s going on around me. This lesson is a bitch and keeps getting tested.

10. Where is your favorite place to shop online?
I probably buy the most from Amazon. But I love looking at Anthropologie… their stuff is beautiful even if it’s totally unaffordable. Also True and Co. and Eberjey. Yum.

11. What is your biggest pet peeve?
Grammar mistakes. People driving badly on the interstate. Arrogance of any kind. Getting catcalled walking down the sidewalk (I’m looking at you, Sayulita, Mexico).

And now to nominate blogs with under 500 followers to carry on the love! I’m only nominating 2:
My best friend Carly over at Growing Butterfly.
Smile, Kiddo

I’m… Tired.

So, I’ve been ramping up and speeding up and trying to organize so that I can shift this blog over to a new design and a new domain name. (Yes, for reals! Coming soon!) But one thing keeps coming up for me.

I’m tired.

I look across the blogging web-o-sphere and my mind automatically starts comparing and compartmentalizing. “Oh, this one has that many followers, oh that one writes so cleverly, oh that one is good at branding and marketing” until suddenly I am so small that I look like a mouse and my voice comes out in a squeak. How dare I think I have anything to offer?

I get discouraged because I try to build readership but let’s face it – I’m shooting in the dark. I don’t know what I’m doing, to be honest. I want to market myself, brand myself, speak up for myself, but I look around and get overwhelmed. Everyone else here seems to have it figured out. Me? Well… I’m just one. step. behind.

Until finally looking at it all, I’m so tired that I just want to toss in the towel.

Of course, this means it’s time to lean in. Lean right into that nasty pain that’s whispering insidiously, “You’re. not. good. enough. What makes you think you have anything worthwhile to share?” And keep leaning. Lean forward so far that I fall over the cliff and suddenly I’m flying, out of the nest like a baby bird, flapping my wings and looking socially awkward but hey – I’m keeping myself afloat.

The thing is, I need some air currents to catch my fall.

I’m hoping you can help. Listen, I’m stubborn and it isn’t easy for me to actually ask for that heavy word – HELP. It’s a four-letter word after all, and far more damning than any curse. But I’m tired of being tired. I do believe, so deeply and genuinely, that my words are worth it, but I just can’t do this alone anymore. I need you. So I’m asking.

Can you tell me what you’ve done to market your blog? To get your voice out there? To be so audacious and daring and brave as to believe that your words are powerful and deserving of an audience, and then going and getting one? How do you get past the overwhelming feelings that comparison brings up, and what you do on a daily basis to combat it? How do you manage keeping up with your readers through social media? Would you be willing to share your secrets with me? If so, share below or send me an email: bornsirius at gmail dot com.

Quarter Life Crisis

If you are feeling trapped and dissatisfied, have recently experienced a complete change of life direction, and are in your mid to late 20’s, you might be experiencing a quarter life crisis.

10 Signs You're Having Your Quarter-Life Crisis

Common side effects of quarter life crisis include:

A sudden change of mind on career paths.
A drastic move across the country/world.
Breaking up with longterm boyfriends.
Feeling stifled, stir-crazy,  and unfulfilled in your current life situation.
Wild-eyed dreams of entrepreneurship.
Sudden indecision about your life goals.
Dramatic moments of wondering “what does it all mean?”
Paralyzing depression at all the options available to you.

——

Recently, I have found myself in the grips of quarter life crisis. Don’t think that’s a thing? Well, apparently, you have never been 25 years old.

I didn’t see it coming. Maybe I should have. After 23 months of alcohol sobriety, and 22 months of love addiction sobriety, all that inner work was bound to change my outer landscape eventually. I was bound to dig through all that shit and find out that what I’ve been striving for isn’t what I want, in the end.

When you’re in your addictive cycle, whether it be love or alcohol, all you see is the illusion. For me, some of that illusion was hard work that in my mind, I “had” to do or “should” do. It was this illusion of what I needed to be for others (or for my internal critic) that often led me to drink or to acting out with men. I was so in tune with this that I never got the chance to see who I really was outside of all my ideas of who I needed to be.

“You have to be a good daughter. You have to take care of this person all the time. You must stay married, it’s God’s will. It’s your job to just suck it up. You shouldn’t say that. You should do this.” Blah. Blah. BLAH.

I put myself in a cage. I was the small woman building cages for everyone she knows, from that Hafiz poem. I built a nice little cage for myself. One of my favorite songs for years was Simon, by Lifehouse:

“Catch your breath, hit the wall,
Scream out loud, as you start to crawl
Back in your cage the only place
Where they will leave you alone.
‘Cause the weak will seek the weaker til they’ve broken them.
Could you get it back again?
Would it be the same?
Fulfillment to their lack of strength at your expense,
Left you with no defense;
They tore it down.”

Well… recovery started doing something, both addiction recovery and the EMDR work I did. The walls became doors. Unlocked ones, because I’d found the key.

Imagine my shock, recently, when stepping outside the door I found a different world than I knew existed. Kind of like that movie The Truman Show. My life was totally scripted, and then I saw the cracks. And then I completely left that life.

So it should be no surprise I’m having a quarter life crisis, I suppose. But it still took my breath away in a slightly frightened, slightly anticipatory way when I wrote these words in my journal on the way home from Mexico:

“I think I’m going to at least defer my graduate school acceptance.”

Best gif to describe what everything inside of me did after writing that?

 bradwhat
(yes, I have used this before. my blog, my rules!)

AKA:

“If I’m not going to be a therapist… then WHAT THE F*CK am I going to be???”

I have been gearing up to be a therapist for 10 years. 10 years is a long-ass time for a 25 year old. That’s when I was 15, folks. Only a wee babe just out of the womb, practically. And now my plans for the past 10 years are suddenly just… not plans anymore?

Cue quarter life crisis.

The last two weeks have been a strange mixture of totally stoked and abso-freakin-lutely terrified. I have some ideas of what I want to do. Actually, the problem is that I have TOO MANY ideas of what I want to do.

I could be a photojournalist. I could be a life coach. I could be a cultural anthropologist. I could be a full time writer. I could be a  marketing consultant. I could be a wellness consultant. I could be a travel writer. I could learn graphic design.

Ai yi yi. With all these beautiful things, how could I ever decide? Thus, I’m trying to just sit in the space and see what happens. That’s what my sponsor told me to do, so I’m trying to take advice. Just sit with it and see what comes up.

I have 3 things I’m holding onto as a guide. I mentioned them in my Mexico post. 3 passions that make me feel sparkly and alive.

Art.
Travel.
Connection.

Whatever I do, it needs to mix these three, somehow. I don’t know what it looks like. But these are the things I love. (Suggestions are VERY welcome!)

So, despite the anxiety of feeling like I’m at the crest of a rollercoaster… I’m stoked. The world is my oyster. I can do anything, it seems… and with so many things that I love, the future looks extremely colorful.

Crisis? What crisis? THIS IS AN ADVENTURE!!!

Quotes Picture: it's a dangerous business, frodo, going out your door if you don't kick your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to

——

If you are experiencing symptoms of quarter life crisis, ask your doctor if New Opportunity might be right for you. Side effects may include heart palpitations, nervous tremors, adventure, drastic change, and excitement overload. New Opportunity is not for everyone. If you have a stable career that you love, a boyfriend who is a potential life partner, or feel fully satisfied in your life, New Opportunity may cause extreme mood swings, depression, or anxiety. However, if Quarter Life Crisis has recently struck you, stagnancy is optional. New Opportunity can give you that push you need to get going and change your life. Try it today!

Beaches, Booze, and Boys – Sayulita, Mexico

After my series of very somber posts, I figure it’s time to lighten things up around here! 🙂 Who wants to hear about my Mexico trip?!?!

Hooray,  that’s at least 2 yes’s, so let’s get going!

I had planned a weeklong vacation to the small surf town of Sayulita, Mexico, which is about 40km outside Puerto Vallarta. From what I’d heard before going, it was less touristy than Puerto Vallarta and had more of an authentic Mexico vibe. To the shock (and horror) of some of my friends, I was going all alone.

Me? Well I was delighted. Adventurous times, ALL FOR ME! No asking other people where they wanted to go! No having to plan for others! Magical, magical time where I could explore all I wanted, whenever I wanted! And yet… I needed something.

exitbuddy

And I did. Handily, she happened to sit next to me on my flight. She had a Mexican boyfriend and was traveling to meet him in Puerto Vallarta. She’d been here before and actually had lived in PV for 6 months. (props to her!) We spent an hour in the customs line just chatting about random things.

Naturally, when she and her boyfriend offered me a ride to the bus stop later, I took it. (Hey, exit buddy, remember?) Adventure number 1.

Exit Buddy had already given me 40 pesos for the bus, and Mexican Boyfriend had described the bus station where he was taking me, a place I’d read about on Google. I figured Mexican Boyfriend might know more about his city than I did from reading Google. So really, I was taking a calculated risk (Just take my logic so you stop freaking out). Also, my intuition was saying it was fine, and my intuition is damned reliable.

Only 10 minutes later I was safely on the bus to Sayulita, Mexico, thrumming with excitement. (See? Intuition FTW!)

smeagol

I was not in America anymore!! Dorothy was in a beautiful new land of COLOR! I felt glee surging through all of my cells. The sounds of secret language, the dingy yet brightly colored buildings, the musty smell of tropical air. I was HOME – in a rackety local bus with a questionable driver. Yes, this felt exactly right.

I arrived in Sayulita and got settled in my room. First thing I did was gulp down a glass of bottled water. I could feel the culture shock settling in; the dread of trying to speak a language not my own, the fear of not being understood and not getting what I needed. What did I need at that moment?

steak

I dreadfully needed a meal. I roamed the streets of Sayulita, terrified to ask for what I needed in my terrible Spanish. Finally, after about 2 hours (I’m not kidding, my language shame can be massive) my hunger overtook my fear and I stopped at a little taco shop. I proceeded to try to order. I said the first thing that I read on the menu under Chicken. The manager laughed in my face. “Do you know what that is?” he asked in English. My cheeks were red and I dropped my eyes. “No,” I said. He explained and I changed my order. I meekly sat down at the counter and tried to swallow my shame. At least now, I had food to wash it down with!

The next morning I made my first jungle trek out to a nearby beach, about a 25 minute walk from the room I was staying at. Maria, the girl working at the coffeeshop/bookstore downstairs, had told me that Malpasos was a good beach to go to. Quiet and huge, and no one goes there. “Perfect,” I thought. Being the direction magician I am, I followed the directions Maria had told me exactly one time and steered myself to this beach full of awesomeness:

malpasossouth

Oh yeah, and did I mention that’s only ONE half of the EMPTY beach? This was the other half:

malpasosnorth

Do you see people in either of those? Yeah, me neither. I saw maybe 10 people on that beach, in the span of 3-4 hours. And that’s my high estimate. It. was. glorious. And as an added bonus, I’d had a beautiful jungle hike to take me there in the first place.

junglemalpasos.
(FAH REALS, PEOPLE!!!)

If there’s a heaven, it’s at Playa Malpasos, Riviera Nayarit.

That privacy also meant I saw a fair amount of nudity from the people who did frequent that beach, but who could blame them. It does look like Paradise, after all. (ps. If you haven’t skinny dipped in the ocean, you haven’t lived… so put that on your bucket list for next time you’re at a deserted beach)

A few days later, I headed off to Playa Carricitos, on the other end of town. This is what I found:

playacarracitos
(Is this real life???)

Ahhh, Mexico. How I love thee and thy deserted beaches only minutes from the tourist-frequented ones.

I spent several days of my week there hiking to the beaches the locals frequented; Malpasos and Carricitos. Forget the crowded, party vibes at Sayulita’s main beach. I’ll take quiet ANY day.

However, someone didn’t get my memo about QUIET.

If I could sum up Sayulita in 3 words, it would be: Beaches. Booze. Boys. (Hence, the post title)

flynn
(Yep, Dem Boys)

Unfortunately for them, all of them expected me to react thusly:

aladdinjasmine
(Oh sure I’ll go on a magic carpet ride with you even though I don’t know you! *wide-eyed blink*)

But I went for the first word – beaches. And since I didn’t go for the other two (boys and booze), I also spent a large part of my week rejecting offers of either one, or both at once. No, I don’t want a cerveza. No, I will not go to that party with you.

However, this offered an unexpected highlight of my trip… Endless hours of amusement. I have nicknames for most of the boys now. For the sake of time (and for sake of saving stories for later), I’ll only tell you about a couple of them.

Justin Bieber definitely files under “youngest and sassiest.”

justinbieber

He was a waiter at El Itacate, my taco shop. The first night he met me, he asked me out for drinks in his laughy, sassy way. I skirted the issue and left before I had to give an answer (but not before he’d tried to discount my dinner to HALF of what I owed – I argued and insisted on paying the full amount).
I returned the next night, my last night there.
“Now tell me where you going after this?” he insisted.
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” I was trying to be vague and hoping he’d get the idea. But he wouldn’t stop his harassment and I couldn’t stop laughing. He was hilarious.
Finally I said, “Okay but I am too young for you.”
“How old are you?”
“25.”
“Oh! I am 25 too!”
“Yeahhhh. Sure you are.” I grinned.
“Okay, okay. But I am always with the older girls! My last girlfriend was 3 years older than me.”
“How old are you?”
“20.”
(Does it make me a horrible person if I couldn’t help laughing in his face?)
Finally he gave up.
“You are not going to go with me.”
“No.”
“Well what am I doing then?” with a mournful, puppy dog look.
“I don’t know.” (laughing to myself)
He walked away rather dejectedly and half-heartedly waved goodbye when I said “Adios” a few minutes later.

Then there was Montreal, a Canadian surfer who hung out at the San Pancho surf shop.

ironman

He was handsome, direct, and maybe a little cocky (just maybe). The second day I talked to him, he asked me to drinks within 5 minutes of my showing up. I said yes…

And then was stricken with anxiety. “OH SHIT!!! I’M GOING TO FAIL MY SOBRIETY IN SLAA!” all my thoughts shouted.

“Umm… hey. Sorry. I am going to leave right after this so, I’m not going to go with you to get drinks after all.” Those words were awkward, but I survived them. I was only there at the surf shop to buy some hippie pants, anyway.

I didn’t anticipate talking to Pablo the shop owner until Montreal returned with his lonely drink. And then it began.
“Hey, why did you say yes and then no? You’re missing out on a good time. I’m pretty awesome.”

moment

I felt faintly amused but not at all ready to surrender myself. “I know, that wasn’t cool. I’m sorry I did that.”
“Yeah well, it’s your loss.”
“Well I don’t really even know you.”
“Drinks is a good way to get to know someone. “
“Yeah but I’m leaving tomorrow.”
“Well all the more reason to live it up before you leave. You can leave with a smile on your face.”
“I already am leaving with a smile.” (Apparently Mexico made me ballsy)
“Well, you can leave with even more of a smile on your face.” (and really, is that the best you can do?)
This back and forth lasted for about 5 minutes, until I paid for my pants and left the shop. As I was leaving, Montreal called out,
“Hey, the offer still stands.”
“Okay.”
“And I’ll come find you later.”
“Um. Okay.”
I hotfooted it out of town and back to Sayulita. And thank heaven, did not see Mr. So Sure of Himself Montreal again.

In the end… I had a pretty awesome time and I’d go back in a second (most searched term in past 2 weeks: freelance jobs). Despite all the crazy boys, the beaches were divine, the food was insanely delicious, and the other fascinating people I met were inspiring. Most of all (serious moment) I learned how to be with myself, by myself. I learned more about myself than I ever have. I watched myself handle crazy, silly boys, culture shock, and taking care of myself when I felt down and depressed. I saw too the things that stand out as important to me: Art. Travel. Connection.

Some of my favorite moments the whole trip?

A conversation I had with an artist named Oksana, who was selling her boyfriend’s art on the street to make a living. Mornings sitting with Maria at the coffeeshop downstairs, discussing life. Understanding only a little of the Spanish the waitstaff at El Itacate spoke, but feeling a strange sense of belonging while sitting there with them. A 12-step meeting in another country, and all the beautiful connections that brings. The last afternoon in San Pancho, sitting with Ali and Ava, two little Mexican girls, playing dominos in a shady upstairs room. Simple moments, but the profound gratitude I had while in them lasts until this day two weeks later, sitting in front of my computer in chilly Colorado. Artistic moments. Moments on the road. Moments where I was connecting. Despite the hassle of dealing with catcalling men… I’d go back in a heartbeat.

I mean, who wouldn’t go back to this?

malpasosfootprints

The Patron Saint of Lost Causes (The Day My Sisters Died, Part 3)

If you are just joining in, I invite you to read Part 1 and Part 2, here and here.

——-

st. jude
(St. Jude – The Patron Saint of Desperate Cases and Lost Causes)

“If this is salvation, I can show you the trembling.
You’ll just have to trust me. I’m scared.
I am the patron saint of lost causes…

…We’re not questioning God.
Just those he chose to carry on His cross.”

-Anberlin, *Fin

I was a lost cause walking into the Emergency Room that day. The whole world was swirling around me, like a tornado. I sat in a plastic chair in a daze. The news was droning our story above me, but I was in so much shock I couldn’t process it. I heard my mom, as if from a distance, asking the ER nurse where Stephanie was. The nurse was repeating details of where Rachel was, but not Stephanie. Even knowing the truth, I didn’t want to admit it. I felt sick to my stomach.

After a few minutes, a detective from the police department came and found us. He led us through the hospital in what seemed to me like a maze. I could barely focus. Suddenly we were in a quiet conference room. My friend G– had followed, but wasn’t allowed into the conference room with my mom and I. I am not sure where Grace, my youngest sister, was. I can’t remember if she was there or not.

The only questions I remember from the detective were where we thought the shots had been coming from, and whether we knew anything about why the shooter had attacked us. I explained where I thought the shots had come from, later on finding out they had come from the exact opposite direction. That’s just how confusing it was. I also told the policeman that I knew the shooter had come from the YWAM base in Arvada down to where we were. Honestly, I had no logical reason for that. I just absolutely knew (and was correct). I thought at the time that maybe it was because I’d also been involved with YWAM.

After the questioning, we were taken upstairs to a huge waiting room. I walked in and saw one of my boyfriend’s friends there. I went right over to him and he hugged me, tears sparkling in his eyes. I sat down with him and my other friends who’d arrived. My mom and sister went into a smaller room off of the waiting room.

Another detective arrived and they called me into the room. I knew what this was going to be. I saw the look on the detective’s face, the agony in his eyes. “I’m so sorry. I have to tell you that your daughter Stephanie is dead.” My sister Grace let out a loud cry. My mom had tears streaming down her face. I remember feeling numb, not crying. My friend G– looked at me and grabbed my hands. “I need to tell you something important,” he said. “You need to remember this.” Yet today for the life of me I can’t remember what he said just then. I just remember his desperation. “We’ll pray for resurrection,” he said a moment later. “All is not lost.” I knew it was.

We waited.

My dad was in surgery. They were trying to take Rachel into surgery, but were having a hard time because she kept losing blood. My boyfriend arrived in the middle of this. I took him to a side room and that was where I told him that I loved him for the first time. He tried to stop me, but I wouldn’t be stopped. “No, you need to know. I love you.” I was desperate.

His mom was there, trying to find out what we needed. Scores of other people showed up. My friend Sarah, who had tried to get to the church but couldn’t get through the police barricade, kept trying to get me to eat. I wasn’t hungry; how could I be? She and my boyfriend insisted I should eat. When I told them the only thing I felt like eating was dark chocolate and Mountain Dew, they went to the gift store and bought me a bar of Cadbury’s dark chocolate. Someone handed me a bottle of Mountain Dew.

It’s so odd the little details you remember. Friends. Chocolate. Mountain Dew.

My dad came out of surgery and was in the recovery room. They asked if we wanted to go see him, and of course we did. We were escorted through two sets of double doors. My mom, Grace, and I huddled together as we walked through the doorway. My dad looked only semi-conscious, laying there on a white hospital bed with tubes everywhere. My stomach was dropping lower by the minute. We gathered around the bed.

“Where’s Stephanie?” my dad asked.

We looked at each other – my mom, Grace, and me. No one was speaking! Why wasn’t anyone saying anything? A resigned sort of feeling came over me and inside, I bucked myself up a little.

“She’s… she’s gone,” I said.

I have never said any words in my life that were worse than those three. Out of all of the horrible moments in this horrible day, this one was among the most awful. I watched as my dad’s face contorted in pain, and my heart seized.

After a couple of minutes we went back out to the waiting room. I felt like I’d been tackled by a 200-lb linebacker, and I was laying in the middle of the field with a concussion. Friends came and went. I sat with them, trying to distract myself. My mom came and got me when the doctors said we could go see Rachel. They couldn’t get her body warmed up enough to go into surgery, and she was losing blood fast.

So my mom and I, my friend G–, and two of the pastors went in to her room to pray. My boyfriend sat outside the door.

I think I lost my mind when I walked into that room. This was my baby sister. I’d always, always looked after her. When she was in the hospital a year before due to an ovarian cyst, I was the one that stayed with her longest and didn’t want to leave. When we were little and under the care of some sadly misled babysitters, I was the one who snuck into a dark bathroom to check on her as she was in time out for 25 minutes. She was MY baby sister. I may not have always been the best oldest sister, but Rachel was so special to me. Only 2 months before, I’d become weirdly overcome by sudden emotion and told her, “I just don’t know what I’d do without you. I just want you to know that, I don’t know what I would do without you.”

All this must have rushed through me when I saw her laying there, eyes closed, tubes everywhere, ribs bruised. I prayed. I don’t even know if prayer is a good technical term for it. What I did was to say everything in my power, to beg with all the words I had that she would stay with me. I used my words like swords to fight off evil; Eowyn in the Lord of the Rings, facing the Witch King.

I quoted all of her favorite movies; she loved movies. Harry Potter. Lord of the Rings. I told her that she was my Marianne, and I was Elinor, and please, please don’t leave me here alone. I called desperately on God to save her life. I asked her to please come back from the darkness. And I sang.

“Everybody wants to be understood
Well I can hear you
Everybody wants to be loved
Don’t give up.

Because you are loved.”
Josh Groban – Don’t Give Up (Because You are Loved)

Finally, I’d said everything. I’d prayed everything. I’d sang everything. I knew it was time to give her to God. My friend G– disagreed with me. I stayed in the room to go along with him, but it was clear. It was time for me to let God do whatever He decided. Soon after, we all left and went back to the waiting room.

Grace and I sat building a puzzle in one corner with a friend of hers. It was late; 10 or 11 o’clock at night. I tried to distract myself by just looking for pieces to the puzzle in front of me. Some minutes later, one of the pastors appeared. The look on his face told me everything. I sucked in a deep breath.

“I’m sorry. Rachel has gone to be with Jesus.”

I started crying then. It hurt, oh it hurt more anything I could imagine. Grace started crying too. I was afraid I’d make her cry even harder, so I stifled my tears, to be strong, for her. We sat huddled together, Grace, my mom, and I. Trying to hold ourselves together somehow. The pastors prayed, as a sort of benediction.

The nurses came and asked if we wanted to see Rachel one last time. My mom, Grace, and I walked in to the quiet dark room that only minutes before had been bustling with light and activity. Rachel lay on the bed as if she were asleep. Her eyes were closed. She looked peaceful. I could feel her, still in the room with us. The nurses had mentioned that she could, as an organ donor, donate her eyes. As we stood there with her, we softly discussed. “No, we can’t,” we decided. She was the only one in the family besides my dad who had gorgeous blue eyes, and they were one of her trademark features. We couldn’t do it, it was still too close, the pain too sharp.

There were many other defining moments over the next few days. Planning a funeral. Visiting my dad in the hospital. Finding pictures of my sisters for the press and for the funeral pamphlet. Meeting Rachel’s best friend, Aimee, for the first time. The viewing. The service. Hearing stories… one of the most amazing being from the paramedic who took Rachel to the hospital.

He said she’d died in the ambulance. And suddenly she came back, and light filled the ambulance and even her skin color changed. I can only imagine; her blue-gray skin is tattooed on the walls of my mind. How breathtaking that must have been. Even in the darkness – light.

Just as it was in life after.

——

Life After

“This is the correlation
of salvation and love
Don’t drop your arms
I’ll guard your heart
With quiet words I’ll lead you in.”
Anberlin – The Unwinding Cable Car

In obvious ways, this event radically altered my life.

But what I wasn’t prepared for was the beauty it would bring me. In fact, a part of me still recoils to think of calling something so ugly a place of beauty. And yet. Darkness births light.

I learned resiliency.

I am so grateful and blessed today to have a life that is actually beautiful. But lest you think this is one of those stories with a pat ending; it’s not. I didn’t snap my fingers and recover. It’s taken a lot of hard work. Grueling days. Countless tears, screaming and raging as I drive down the highway. Falling apart in my therapist’s office.

Now, I often feel that my sisters repeat the refrain back to me that I sang to Rachel in the hospital: “Don’t give up, because you are loved.” It’s tattooed on my rib cage, in memory. There’s some days I need those words every five minutes.

Even now, the sting of loss doesn’t fully fade. I’m 25 years old and every day, I become more like my twin, who I thought was so unlike me. Beautiful, but so bittersweet. And oh so many days I wonder what they would think of me now. Who we would be together. We never got the chance to become adult sisters. I lost the ones who shared my childhood; Grace is 8 years younger than me and has grown up differently. I lost partners in crime. It hurts, every day.

Rachel, though, wrote something beautiful in her journal a few months before she died. She talked about how you can let sadness overcome you and live in that sadness, or find the courage to carry it with you, but to no longer let it define all of your life.

I’ve learned how to survive dark days. What it means to be supported unconditionally, even from beyond. The sacred beauty of God as I now understand It – not the God of fantasaical youth, or the God of limiting cages, but the God who favored freedom, grace and wild love.

Maybe most of all… I learned how to feel. Not to drop my arms to life, but to hold them up to where salvation and love come in. Light comes in.

Feeling all the pain, all the horror and sadness and maelstrom. That’s the important thing. See, I kept my arms crossed in front of my chest for years, through a marriage, divorce, and addiction. Trying to hold it all back. Caging myself in. When I finally peeled my arms down and asked for help, that was the correlation of salvation and love, rushing in. If only I could just keep showing up, every day, and have the courage to not drop my arms.

That’s what it’s about today; that’s what I want to share with you. That’s what it took to make it through and finally learn resilience. To just show up, every day, and not drop my arms across my chest but to spread them wide to the world. It’s grueling work, and sometimes it takes all I’ve got. My Higher Power, my sisters… they’ve all supported me through to this point, just whispering, “Don’t give up. You’re loved.” And I’ve learned though that it’s really amazing what happens when you give yourself to the work: It gives itself to you. The light shines in the darkness.

And the darkness does not overcome it.

—-

I wanted to graciously thank all of my readers for accompanying me on this journey of telling my story. Your presence, as I have said to you over and over again, has meant the world to me. Sometimes, healing comes to a greater degree through being witnessed. Thank you for witnessing me. I am grateful to all of you. Especially to those of you from The Rebels Project – an amazing community of survivors that I am so privileged to be a part of. You guys are in many ways like family to me; thank you for existing. You’ve been a light in my darkness. If anyone reading has been affected by senseless tragedy, I encourage you to get involved with The Rebels Project, a place where you can find understanding community and support.

I am also very grateful to the band Anberlin, whose songs I quoted because their CD, “Cities”, was the only thing I specifically requested after December 9. The Unwinding Cable Car was on repeat in my CD player for months. That CD got me through the darkest days of my life and I’m forever thankful it existed. Thank you, Anberlin – thank you for the impact you’ve made. I’m looking forward to seeing you on your last tour this year.

Intermission

Hello, all.

Just wanted to let you know that part 3 is still coming. I’ve been on vacation in Mexico this past week (hooray for vacation and the beach!) and haven’t had the mental space to try to write it. But it’s in my heart and will be put down as soon as I can manage after I return home tomorrow. I would say expect it by Friday evening.

(If you’re lost, check out parts 1 and 2 of my story of the day my sisters died, here and here)

I hope that everyone’s week has gone well, I am sending much love and space from here in Mexico, to all of you! Peace.

ps. I will write a post about Mexico, too… very soon. 🙂