Love Without Fear

This post has been inspired by a month or more of thought and reading. It was then that I read a little book that changed my entire view of love.

To me, love has always been marked by strict walls. This belongs, this doesn’t. Love is a game and it has very specific rules, and Love will only work if you play by the exact rules. If not, eh. Well. You’re a goner. Love was externally defined, by lines and boundaries outside of myself.

But there was always something in me whispering that maybe Love was a little more free and spontaneous than that. That maybe each story is different, and the ways that people’s lives entwine depend on the science of the lives entwining. Depends on the genes, formed in the womb and changed by environment. And maybe each person fits together like a different kind of puzzle – sometimes very specific lines cross, and sometimes, the picture is unclear and haphazard and yet very clearly, a fit.

In relation to people, I have always struggled. Some of that has to do with growing up in a household where I was severely isolated. Homeschooled, living 2 hours away from a home church, and not allowed to attend a public school even for sports because “we would get the money and have to move.” My friends were on the internet. First huge crush? Internet. First bestie? Internet.

So when I have started trying to have in person friendships, my attempts have been fumbling. And that’s just friendships with women.

I feel totally inadequate when it comes to men. In my household, there was a lot of shame around the subject. I discussed that a lot in my last guest post. I really was given no personal power to decide about my relationship to men; it rested entirely in my parents hands. I doubt they meant it to turn out that way, but it’s left me feeling as if I am stupid and inadequate when it comes to relationships with males. My lack of experience with in person friendships left me inept in forming them with women. Not only that, the church piled on the constant motive-checking and fear-mongering concerning sex. So not only did I trust myself to say no, I also assumed guys always had ulterior motives. Eventually, men AND women were suspected for ulterior motives. No one could possibly want to know me, as a person.

Lately, I wonder if my some of my obsession about men was just the anxiety I felt about trying to interact with someone when I couldn’t possibly trust myself to. The entire culture I lived in said that men were dangerous, and so was I.

Source – Pinterest

For my whole life, I’ve defined love and all its accoutrements (great word, eh?) using guidelines outside of my inner heart. Growing up, it was my family and church. Recently, it’s been my love addiction program. While some elements of that have been necessary for me, other parts have restricted me from thinking for myself and deciding my own center. And lately I have felt the pull to leave that behind.

I’m not “going out”, as they say. I’m going in. If my sacred duty is to take care of myself, how can I best do that? Others in my sphere have mentioned how sometimes 12-step recovery can foster perfectionism… in the case of my “love addiction”, it feels like it’s time to try something a little different. The perfectionism is keeping me from caring for myself well.

What do I value?
What do I need?
What do I trust myself to do?

Wait. I can trust myself?

That’s a heck of a lot more spontaneous and freeing than how I have lived. I’ve been utterly convinced that men are all hiding something, a dagger that they’ll plunge in my back just when I start to trust them. I’ve been utterly convinced that I am not strong enough, without certain rules made by others, to maintain distance from men who actually are not healthy.

To be honest, I’ve done the same with women. The instant someone gets close, I’m suspicious of their motives. I’m always watching them. I’m always watching me. I get a microscope out and parse their every move, trying to define them and myself, so I don’t get hurt. If I JUST ANALYZE IT ENOUGH, I won’t die.

But I read this little book that mentioned spontaneity. That spontaneity is okay. Living by rules outside of yourself doesn’t work and defining your own guidelines is necessary. Sometimes walking towards something that is scary is just what you need to grow. Bad and good are irrelevant – be curious, instead, about cause and effect. About what is happening within me when it comes to fear and love. Don’t run – my tendency. Lean in. Stop seeking security and live on the edge so you can grow. Learn spontaneity, all the delicious hairpin curves of it. Translate fear into excitement. Educate myself on the lines and shading of my own soul, and know what trespasses and what should be kept at bay. Be my own guardian – guard my heart, but not with obsession and perfectionism. Guard it because I deeply honor who I am.

I wrote something down in my journal the other day:
“There is no fear in love. How does it, and should it, change how I approach love?”

If I were not always approaching love with an attitude of fear, how would it change my approach? How would I behave in the world? Who would I be?

I am finding, as I move forward in a new way, that it changes everything. Without the fear, I’m more able to make clear decisions about who I am and what I need to do to care for that precious person. With that clarity, I make fewer harmful decisions, and I’m less afraid of making mistakes.

Without the fear… I’m free.

Advertisements

This is Real

It is so frustrating when I am in the middle of making dinner and realize I need another pan, but I take one look at what I’d have to do to get one, and I completely shut down. I decide not to wilt the kale and sear the garlic. I decide to just go with what I have because it’s too much effort to wash a pan. It would be one thing if this was just once a week, but when it’s every damn night, it gets debilitating.

When every day I go to work and I usually start out okay, but by the middle of the day I’m slumped in my desk chair. Or the reality that many mornings, before I go out the door in the morning, I’m playing that poem I recently posted over and over again just to give myself the courage to go to work. Even the fact that I have that poem half-memorized from reciting it to myself so much to just give myself courage.

“Some people will never understand the superpower it takes for some people to just walk outside…” “…screaming for their pulse to find the fight to pound…” “every time I hurt I know the wound is an echo so I keep listening for the moment that grief becomes a window…” “…knowing their is a chance our hearts have only just skinned their knees…” “…friend if the only thing we have to gain in staying is each other, my god that is plenty, my god that is enough, my god that is so so much for the light to give…” “…live, live, live…” (From The Madness Vase by Andrea Gibson)

I went to the doctor today. And it wasn’t for my body, it was for my soul. It may have been a medical doctor, but I needed an emotional one. When I reeled out my history, how I’ve struggled with depression since I was 15, he asked why I hadn’t been on medication before. “My parents kind of didn’t believe in doctors, and also I have a lot of neglect in my past.” That statement was loaded.

It also wasn’t completely every morsel of truth. I am stubborn. And everyone has told me – “Once you get divorced it will be better. Once you do the steps it will be better. Once you get through EMDR, it will be better.” The past 2 months have proven it to me that it’s not better. No matter what I do, I am chewing glass constantly. It’s why my smile has such an intense sparkle.

My friends know I’ve been tossing around the idea of medication for at least a year now. In actuality it’s been 2 years since I first came across this idea. The telling thing is that my mind hasn’t changed. I’ve had periods of up time, periods where I smile and I’m happy and I’m okay. But I always drop back down again into the dark, and it’s tiring. I’m tired of bouncing along the bottom.

The past 2 months have been the worst in a very long time. I have lost all motivation. I am sure it has something to do with starting a new full time supervisor job and totally changing my career path. But my career path too just served as a way to keep me running. There is a Pablo Neruda poem that I love that says:

“If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving, and for once could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves and of threatening ourselves with death.”

Except, that my silence is filled with sadness I’ve never taken time to stop and face. Now that I have taken time to stop and face it, it’s hit me like a ton of bricks. “And the bass keeps runnin’ runnin’ and runnin’ runnin’ and runnin’ runnin and runnin’ runnin’ and…”

Somehow I have always wanted this to happen, though. Somehow I have always felt that I’m just outrunning myself and I want permission to just stop, collapse, admit I really am not okay and line up my external reality with my internal one.

I did a daylong meditation retreat on Sunday and it was horrible. The idea of it was lovely. The thought and intention behind it was fantastic. But we started with a meditation connecting with our body, and it was then I realized just how much emotional pain I’m holding in my body. A LOT. I was all choked up. And the whole day was about sitting with unpleasant feelings. I had pretty much only unpleasant feelings and meditating felt like absolute torture. I wanted to be anywhere but my body. There were other meditation events this week that I was planning on attending, but I haven’t. It feels much too raw.

I knew even more surely that I needed to take next steps.

I was terrified going into the doctor’s office today and jittery from drinking only coffee and having no breakfast. They asked me to fill out the medical history form, of course, and they asked about mental illness. For the first time I stared at that in recognition. Then I marked:

Mom: Depressed.
Dad: Mentally ill. Thyroid.
Grandparents: Mentally ill. Bile duct cancer. Depression. Anti-psychotics.

I stared at the page in shock. I don’t think I’ve ever so concretely put down the fact that my father is mentally ill. My mother is mentally ill. My grandparents, also mentally ill. My parents are undiagnosed. But it’s obvious. The questionnaire didn’t ask about aunts, uncles, cousins, and that would have been even more revealing. I’ve known these things, but never written them so clearly in front of my face. I felt the cold reality of this whole thing settling over me. My DNA was a mess of strange genes, and I was a petri dish that a bunch of them had gathered in.

So I told the doctor (a cool guy who blends Eastern AND Western medicine) some of my history. That I had been in counseling for PTSD, and why. That I’d been depressed off and on since I was 15. Divorced. Crazy family“Why weren’t you on medication before this?” All of my friends have been shocked at this very thing – that I have never been medicated.

After explaining my symptomology, the doctor prescribed me Zoloft, with instructions to pay attention to its affects. He’s concerned (I’m concerned, too) that I might have Bipolar II, and if so, Zoloft will make my manic states worse, so I’m instructed to look for that. He asked me to get a nutrition lab done so we can look for any markers in my nutrition that might cause depression, too.

I was also told not to date. I quote – “You’ll be a new person next year after we get this thing sorted out so you don’t want to get into anything before then.”  I don’t know how I feel about that, to be honest; I’m tired of avoiding dating. But maybe it’s just a signal that I can take things more slowly and just ease into friendships with men, like I have been. But that’s a whoooole other post.

I left the office feeling both relieved and totally different. Something pinches my heart with a strong thumb and forefinger, and the resulting pain and bruising is proof that it’s not a dream. The reality is: I am now a person prescribed to take depression medication. I am depressed.

This is real.

Stay Here With Me

There is a spoken word poem by Andrea Gibson that is my love poem to myself. It’s called The Madness Vase/The Nutrionist. I heard it in person last week when she was here for a sold-out show in Colorado Springs. (By the way, talk about an awesome experience – attending a SOLD OUT Spoken Word show. All the feels, errywhere)

 

 

It just so happened that the day I saw her live was the 10th anniversary of my Gramps’ death. He died the year I was 15, which was one of the most difficult and painful years of my life. Spoken word has always pulled me back to that year, as evidenced by the poem I shared on here a couple weeks ago. So it seemed so extremely fitting that I, by no fault of my own, ended up at a spoken word show on the 10th anniversary of his death.

In any case, I had watched The Madness Vase about a week before the show, and cried. Spoken word always makes me cry. This one in particular so spoke to me in my current and past selves.

But hearing it in person, on the anniversary of my Gramps’ death, was an incredibly healing experience. I could feel her in me, the 15 year old. The depressed one. The one that didn’t want to live anymore, that strained with the effort of staying in her skin for one more day, that drew bloodlines on her calves trying to let her trapped self out. The Madness Vase grabbed her and didn’t let her go. I grabbed her, hearing these words, and didn’t let her go, and I whispered to her, backwards in time, Live. Live. Live.”

Because I think my current self can still somehow reach back to my past self and speak those words to 15 year old Laurie. I think it kept her alive from then until now.

And well, the poem’s been rattling around in my heart like socks in a clothes dryer ever since. I found Andrea and Kelsey’s Tumblr yesterday and I’ve been using it to speak healing to myself, over, and over, and over. I encourage you to go have a read if even for a moment you don’t want to be here. Not even just necessarily if you want to commit suicide. Maybe you’re just so tired of life and don’t want to be here anymore, and you’d never pull the trigger or swallow the pills, but some days you just wish a Mach truck would plow you and end it all.

This site will give you a few reasons you might want to stay. Stay here. Stay present. Stay aching.

Lately it’s been so hard for me to stay here. To feel that generous ache that takes over the black hole of my heart and to want to stay here in the face of all the wounds that still need healing. There is no bruise like the bruise loneliness kicks into your spine.” It’s hard to stay here with the bruises.

This poem makes me want to never stop crying. And maybe that’s a good thing, because lately I’ve been coming out of my skin and trying to put my own self back in. Doing my addict thing and avoiding the raw fierceness of my inner girl who is crying for healing. So maybe I just need to keep “listening for the moment when the grief becomes a window.” Maybe I just keep repeating to myself fiercely, these words: “you stay here with me, okay? you stay here with me.

Live. Live. Live.”

 

You too, out there. You stay here with me, okay?

 

One can learn a lot in 2 years.

Today I am officially 2 years sober from alcohol!!!

I am laying in bed at 10 o clock in the evening, nursing an ear infection, with a dinner that for some reason upset my stomach and had me in the bathroom for 30 minutes (TMI, I know. Deal with it), and yet, I am smiling. Gratitude. Despite not feeling great I went to a meeting tonight and celebrated with my community. It was a new meeting but it’s amazing how even there where I know no one but one other person, my Higher Power meets me. It’s magical.

My whole sobriety is fucking magical.

Despite the last couple of weeks where my sick and twisted brain has tried to convince me that I’m not an alcoholic (denial never leaves, y’all), I see tonight that it’s crazy I’m sitting here. I told a run-down of the last two years tonight and as I spoke I marveled. Because when I decided 2 years ago to go into recovery, I have no idea why I did. I just for some reason thought, “I can’t stop this. I need help.” I have no idea why. It was not a huge moment. It was just a decision.

And yet it has been the best thing in my life. I’ve learned some major things, like:

  • For me to drink is to die. It still takes a bit for this to get through to my brain, but it rocks me when it does. I realize that my drinking will actually lead me to a. kill myself or b. kill someone else. Actually, B is probably more likely. I drank and drive quite a bit and almost wrecked into someone once. The fear of killing someone honestly does keep me sober some days.
  • I can’t do sobriety by myself. I tried for quite some time, to do things my own way. And honestly it DID work, until it didn’t. And when it didn’t, it really didn’t. I had to get a new sponsor back in November because I almost drank. I had been working steps only with someone in my other program. Same steps, but working with an addict who gets it is so much different. And I didn’t think it was… until I was faced with it. Which brings me to…
  • Taking suggestions. They always say this in my recovery program and I always thought I was good at it until I started doing it. Then I was like, “oh. Haha. I can’t take suggestions. Haha! Yikes on bikes.” Which THEN also brings me to…
  • Humility. For reals. You guys I thought I was the bomb.com when I started recovery, because I HAD DONE THE STEPS in another program so I KNEW. I didn’t know. It took me a long time to figure out that I didn’t know. Probably at least 3-4 months. Maybe more. And some days I still have to be humble and admit I don’t know. And damn some days that sucks. But when I get it, I learn so much more than I ever thought I could.

I think maybe one of the things I’m most grateful for is that today, I know what I love. Back when I first got sober, I had no idea what I liked to do. I liked to drink and that was about it. Or sometimes play guitar. Today?

I love hiking. I love spoken word poetry. I love writing this blog. I really deeply love my spiritual practice and having one that I try to commit to. I’m passionate about buddhism (which is a huge part of my practice) and what that has opened up for me. I’m passionate about true spirituality in general and people who are committed to that practice. I love being with my community. Hanging out with friends. Having an artistic community. Steering people towards a life they REALLY love. LAUGHING. Private jokes. The outdoors. Plants. The ocean and beaches where I’m alone. TRAVEL – and NOT just to run away from life by doing it.

2 years ago, I couldn’t have named any of that. Even a year ago I couldn’t have.

Honestly, only my Higher Power and doing the work I’ve done could have got me to where I am today, and I could not be more grateful. I have a life that I love and I am present within it. That is a wonderful gift. It strikes me that, after having a brush with death in more ways than one, I am privileged to have a life today where I am fully present to it.

I could not ask for more.

I’m toasting you all with my cuppa tea over here… here’s to you all, sober community – thank you for being a part of my sobriety. And to the rest of you who read, here is to you for being witness to this beautiful life, it truly brings healing to me to have you read.

Thank you.

Let Off With a Warning

I love long drives. Something about the open road is tremendously appealing to me, so on Friday when I left for a little mountain town about 2 hours away, I was ecstatic. Freedom was in my grasp!

On the way to this town, there is a huge valley. The highway through it is long and flat for a good 5 miles and speeding is almost irresistable.

(Really, I just want to know how you DON’T speed going through this valley. I’m pretty sure it’s actually impossible.)

Up until recently, they weren’t really regulating the 65mph speed limit. I’ve driven this way countless times, complete with pushing my little Honda to at least 80. That’s a conservative estimate, because I know this trip I was edging 90 miles per hour. I might have an adrenaline problem. In any case, I have never seen a cop in this area until this winter when I went through with some friends. Hmm.

This was in the back of my mind driving up this time, but I thought “Surely it was just a one time thing.”

I went flying down that first hill. There was a car in front of me going the speed limit, which I thought was lame. I mean really? I promptly passed him and at the point where the road starts going up again (right at the edge of that shadow from the first hill) I had hit almost 90. My car, however, is old and has 223K miles on it, and I slowed down for fear of making the rattletrap thing fall apart. My bumper is already duct taped.

(pretty much, this needs to happen)

Well, needless to say, I crested the hill and slowed down to a modest 76 miles an hour. I know this, because I passed a cop.

(I am indeed one of the internet masses that can’t resist a cute cat. You’re welcome)

As soon as I passed him, I knew I was toast. He pulled a u-turn. “Oh f-ck,” I muttered. I slowed down and he caught up with me. I was shaking as I pulled over to the side of the road. Cops always make me nervous. I immediately just pulled out my license, registration and… oh damn. Shit, shit, shit. This cannot be happening.

I couldn’t find my current insurance card.

Let me also clarify that I am the super goody goody who has never gotten a speeding ticket, and hasn’t even gotten a TRAFFIC ticket in 5 years. Yeah. 5 years. And here I am with an expired insurance card.

The cop saunters up to my already-rolled down window. To my surprise I see he is young, ginger, and handsome. “Ma’am, do you know why we pulled you over today?” he drawled, with the sweet tones of a country boy.

My voice was shaking when I replied. “I was speeding?”

“Yes ma’am. Do you know how fast you were going?”

“Um… 70…(seeing the look on his face)…75?”

“76.”

“Oh.”

“Can I have your license, registration, and insurance?”

“Um, well, here’s my license and registration, I’m still looking for my insurance…” I turn away from him to paw through my glove box desperately, as well as the pile of crap I’d already pulled out of it: old resumes, my Owner’s Manual, napkins. “Um I guess this is the most recent one I have,” I finally said in resignation, handing him one from this time last year.

“Okay just sit tight ma’am, I’ll be right back.”

He walks off and I turn right back to my glovebox and continue my desperate pawing. In my head I just know I’m doomed. I am definitely getting the first speeding ticket of my life today. Expired insurance at a speeding stop is pretty much a death knell. I’ve been paying my insurance faithfully every month – where the h-e- double hockey sticks is that damn card? I finally turned back around when he came back to the window.

“Ma’am, I’m going to let you off today with just a warning.”

“Oh my God! Thank you so much!” I was absolutely floored.

“Yeah I saw how nervous you were, you were shaking when I came up to the window. So, just… be more careful, go the speed limit, okay?”

“Yes, sir, I will. I’m so sorry.”

“You have a good day now.”

I rolled up my window. Still shaking, this time in disbelief. Why the hell had he let me off? I could only surmise that it was because I was young and looked quite fetching. I absolutely did not deserve it, and I knew I didn’t deserve it!

My treacherous heart, however, lurched in rebellious glee that I’d gotten away with speeding. (I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that)

It’s funny because I think this instance parallels my current life circumstances. Truthfully? I’ve been getting warnings that I need to slow down. The irony of this is just now hitting me as I type this. I got a warning to slow down. My life has been warning me to slow down. Parallel?

And this is kind of important. When I speed up my life, I lose sight of priorities. I get close to a sobriety birthday and I cut down on meetings instead of increasing them. I drift away from community. I think I’m a bother to them, so I don’t call or stop by. But I keep going, I keep getting faster, because my own rebellious heart jumps in happiness at getting away with so much. I can start a new job, and do spoken word poetry, and work on a 4th step in one program, and do my 12th step in another program, and work on revamping my blog, and look at new career fields, and have two sponsees (that I’ve been almost too tired to give to like I should), and do my 11th step in the morning, and join a new book club.

I’ve been speeding up and trying to escape my life by outrunning it. At that place, it’s only a matter of time before the top blows, I tip back the bottle, and guzzle.

This incident also reminds me of a night just before I got sober, where I got busted drinking by the police on my college campus. I was the oldest in the room… 23 years old. The next oldest was 20. In other words, I was the only legal person there. The cop never checked my ID and let me go. I went back to my room and I knew I had lucked out for some unknown reason. The next morning, I went to my first recovery meeting. A week later, I stopped drinking for good.

So I feel like it was a good reminder of that moment almost 2 years ago. A warning of what will happen if I don’t check myself before I wreck myself. I think it’s lucky, or maybe my Higher Power, that I was on my way to a recovery retreat. I was heading to the exact place I needed to be.

It’s also interesting that all weekend I found myself questioning my alcoholism. Over, and over, and over. “Maybe I’m not really an alcoholic, I mean I didn’t drink as long as these people, and I never got a DUI, and I don’t have a lot of drunk stories, and, and, and.” Differences instead of similarities. Not remembering that I lose control when I take the first drink. I drink to escape, escape, escape. Forgetting that two separate therapists told me to consider going to a 12-step program for it. Forgetting the night I was drunk driving and almost hit someone. The insanity was strong with this one.

I was reminded over and over this weekend why I’m sober and why I belong in recovery. Why I need to slow my life down some and remember my priorities, and as they say, keep first things first.

Considering the circumstances, I’m really lucky I was only let off with a warning.

 

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!

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.