Like a page out of a book or, at the very least, a very finely crafted itinerary, I was off to the annual girl’s trip with great expectations. I was ready for a break. I was “crispy” in all aspects of my life. I thought maybe some time away would solve my quest for perspective. The plans were made, accommodations and transportation booked, and now it just needed to come together as great as it played out in my head.
My girl’s trip comrades shared the first of my three-part journey. We have been making these girl trips for more than 13 years, and they never disappoint. This trip would be the furthest we had ever traveled in search of forests of colorful trees. New England would be the backdrop, and what a destination it turned out to be; full of colors, small towns, great food, and crisp temperatures. This part of my trip delivered on every aspect of what I hoped to be my own “Eat, Pray, Love” adventure. We ate until we popped! We prayed in the solace of the quiet moments. We loved so hard it hurt.
I think it is fair to say that the expectation for every girl’s trip is written in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Eat, Pray, Love.” Gilbert’s book would be the user manual for every nervous breakdown since it was first published in 2006. Women worldwide would be given the permission and courage to pick themselves up off the bathroom floor and leave their lives to go on a fiercely independent journey from heartache to healing. While the destinations would differ, the intention would not. How do we take a break from our lives with the hope that disconnecting would allow us to reconnect better?
The second part of my three-part journey would be a solitary trip to a retreat. I have ventured out on this journey many times. Last year would be the most dramatic of these trips as I ventured to Boone, NC, to participate in a Silent Retreat at the Art of Living Retreat Center. It would be the most challenging spiritual journey that I had ever embarked on and one that, a year later, I am still reeling from. I learned a lot about myself; most importantly, I could do it. I could practice silence in full compliance and come out better for it.
This year I contemplated if I should partake in another silent retreat and decided against it. This year, I intended to be more gentle in exploring a new retreat center and program. My expectations are less, but my anxiety is high. I don’t expect this to be as hard as the silent retreat; however, I want to come out of this weekend balanced. This is a large ask for a weekend when I have not been able to manage it for over a year.
While I am not crying on a bathroom floor, I am so far out of balance that picking myself up will take renewed discipline and a bit of stubbornness to do what is right for me. I have traded meditation for Oreos. I have given up running for dinners in front of the television. I have remained silent long after the retreat, as my writing has become less and less throughout the past year. My health has declined, my patience has diminished, and my happiness has become a measurement of productivity that leaves me exhausted.
My expectation of what will become the third part of my journey, resuming life, is to practice what I know to be true for me. Allow my actions to be the judge and not define my actions by judgment. Allow my efforts to be worthy of all things in my life without sacrificing anything. I recognize these are significant asks, but I do not feel put out as I am only asking myself.
Today I sit in a quiet inn on the side of a mountain, preparing for the day ahead. Preparing to check into the retreat center and, more importantly, to silence “my” life, if only for a few days. This time, I will do silence on my terms. I have eaten more food than I needed. I have prayed, in my way, by setting the intention of what I want out of this retreat and worrying little about what I don’t. I will focus on self-love with the only expectation of walking away with a resolve that will bring me back to whom I want to be. The “me” stuck in this cycle will be given the silence and the freedom to redefine. It is the only thing I “have” to do for the next three days.
Quietly departing, silently slinking away, to get back to the core. Shhh, silence on my terms.
The irony of realizing that I have not posted one blog since pouring my silent retreat experience into words. Silenced for three months? Or a life that has been so noisy there is no room for thought? Or pure avoidance of sitting in one more thought in silence? Whatever it is, here I sit, not quite on the other side or any side at all but overseeing. Having the power to sit objective in your own life is rare and I am not even sure obtainable but through the lens of others and a mirror of my own I try.
My resolve is still not certain and no resolutions have been made as this process is much longer than a few months of reflection can afford. I carry-on, one observation at a time, controlling the reaction better at times than others.
What I know today…
Integrity matters to me as I define it. It matters how you define as well but I don’t live your truth and therefore mine is priority. Protecting who you are, portraying who you are is the ultimate freedom and true definition of integrity. After all when someone shows you who they are believe them. What are you showing?
Accountability is a two-way street, always. We are held accountable or hold accountable each other and ourselves. Accountability is not expectation. It is being held responsible for what you say or do and less about what someone expects you to say or do. One is a promise made by you and the other is a plea to you.
Self-care wraps both of these together and speaks volume about your value; for you are only as valuable as you appraise yourself. How you care for yourself is the ultimate test of your integrity and accountability. You cannot speak a truth or hold others accountable to values you don’t possess.
I sit in confusion of what I was to take away from my time “on the mountain”. This is likely due to an expectation that could never have been fulfilled considering the nativity in going up on the mountain blind to the process. I have also found resolve that nothing needed to be taken away but instead rather given back.
What I have found is that silence has been redefined in moments, in words not said, in my own restraint if only saved for those deserving. What I have found is that my seat at the table is not defined by the table I sit at but rather where I choose to keep company. In the end, my value is just that MY value and that takes priority.
I am asked often if I would do it again (the silent retreat, that is) and to that I answer yes and no. No, I do not require someone to silence me to find clarity as that cannot truly happen without being transparent to myself. Yes, I would do it again if only to prove that I could, again. Most importantly is that today I do silence on my terms, in my way and my practice is in active form taking back my power, my value, my words for noise has little value, but for me I am priceless in silence.
Arrival was abrupt. Unpacking my car and starting the klutzy balance of suitcase, duffel bag, yoga mat and other “essentials” into the building that welcomes you more like a prison and less like a resort. Three steps up into the foyer (very loose concept) and realizing it is 100 degrees inside and there are no elevators would be my first reality checks, this was not intended to be a vacation. I walk down the hallway to check that the “2” before my room number “200” would suggest that I am on the second floor, secretly hoping that these ground floor rooms were not numbered like hotel rooms. It is confirmed, I am on the second floor. Lugging my luggage (ironic the two words…ha!) up the stairs and down to the last room in the hall I find room 200 and I am not sure if I am relieved or reticent to see what lies behind the door.
I open the door to my room I am hit with a more intense wave of heat and am reminded that the website said there was no a/c but “there are box fans for your comfort”. I immediately open all of the windows and doors and find that luxury item, box fan, that I would power up on max. As I look around the room I am almost giddy with the realization that this is far from the luxury hotels that I sell for a living. It is vanilla and nondescript. This would be the last time I would recall anything about the décor of this room and instead would regard this space as a respite from the intense work we were doing. It would become a “retreat” indeed allowing me to ground myself and center myself once again.
The views were absolutely stunning and once the windows were open it was apparent why no a/c would be needed. The fresh air blowing in from the tops of the trees was magnificent and would have been missed otherwise.
I set up my laptop and iPad and put all of my notebooks and journals on to the desk as if I was getting ready to work. That would be the last time I would visit that space. As it turned out there is much to do in silence and none of it involves a desk, a laptop or books. Wow, what was I in for, this was going to be an experience for sure.
Here we go…
On day one I wake early and start searching on my Uber Eats app for Starbucks. Yep, there is one, but there are no drivers. Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore! I get up and get dressed and decide I will drive down the mountain to get my two cappuccinos. This would inevitably become my new morning routine for the week. As with everything that has happened thus far, I would come to realize the gift of being able to experience the drive down the mountain and back up again. The familiarity of the winding roads and silhouettes of houses as the sun would rise brought me back to the many visits to my mom in Virginia. I would wake up in the coming days looking forward to this drive. The gratitude in places I was not seeking would become a familiar theme of this experience.
I would start my mornings with that drive, those cappuccinos a sunrise every morning that reminded me that there is always a reason to rise again. New beginnings and new horizons are always ours for the taking; every 24 hours.
As I make my way down the stunning walk to the place we would practice silence for the week I was joined by 36 other silent-seekers and one eclectic couple that would become our spiritual guides. The room was brimming with anxious energy as we all sat pensively on our yoga mats. I realize now coming out on the other side how naïve I was on that first day. As I sat there staring at our instructors I had no way of knowing how hard the next three days would be and the range of emotions that we would go through. In hindsight, I find the courage of our instructors to be inspiring as they were the only ones in the room on that first day that knew what was going to happen…and they did it anyway.
After orientations and breathing practices we were partnered up with a “buddy” that had been chosen for us based on proximity. Our first introduction to our “buddy” would be to tell our life story in ten minutes in the third person. What. The. Heck! My initial response was fear of telling my story to someone that surely could not understand where I came from, how was I going to tell a complete stranger my choices and consequences in this life and still be respected? It was decided that the person in the pair with the longest hair would go first, whew, I was off the hook, at least for ten minutes. She (my buddy) began to tell her story in the third person and I was wholly impressed at how good she was at this and then her story started to wash over me and I found myself sitting, paralyzed by her words. How could this be? Her story was so similar, yet so different. Could it be that this person that had been chosen for me was more like me than different? This would become another proof point that I was exactly where I was supposed to be; on that mountain, in that room, on that yoga mat, sitting in front of her; another moment of divine intervention as my buddy was surely chosen FOR me.
All of this chatting created a cacophony of voices, laughter and nervous energy that of course would lead up to the announcement that we were going to step into silence. We had been in session for 24-hours and now were presumably ready to be thrust into silence as the session was ending. We walked out of our class into silence with little instruction outside of “stay in silence”. There were hints during the day of the more obvious “rules”, no talking, no phones, no tv, but we were mostly left to our own devices, or not. I walked back to my room in the dark, wondering where in the world I was that I could be instructed to walk the half-mile up the mountain to my room alone. As with previous themes, this would be the last time I would worry, let alone think, about walking alone in the dark. This mountain was washing over me like a security blanket and in safety, vulnerability is allowed. As I entered my room I was immediately aware of the sounds around me. We had only started this journey and it seemed as though everything was amplified. As I turned on the water to brush my teeth I was acutely aware of the faucet and powerful flow of water. This heightened awareness of sound would continue throughout my time in silence, at times revealing nature’s wonders and other times annoying the shit out of me.
I would go to bed without tv as I had done the night before only as a trial and now as a sentence. These would be my first victories as I have always fallen asleep to tv as long as I can remember. Even as a young child, I remember there being a black and white tv in my room that had no reception, I would fall asleep to the sound of “snow” every night. I am not sure what my parent’s attempt was in that added “amenity”, but it set a habit in stone for life.
When I woke in the morning, still in silence, I would begin to see the range of emotions that would become a roller coaster ride as warned that it might. My trip to Starbucks was uneventful. Our mornings would always start the same with yoga and then breakfast with some alone time in between the break until our 10a session would start. Somewhere in that “break”, the emotion of the few hours of silence realized and the days of silence pending in front of me hit like a ton of bricks. As I sat on the side of the hill in front of our classroom I would completely lose it, crying until I was sobbing. I was grateful that we were in silence as I could not explain where the emotion was coming from or why I was crying. I just was and at the moment I knew I was “in it”.
As the days would go on the meditations would as well. We would meditate for hours on end. Meanwhile, emotions were on a roller coaster that ranged from the rockiness of a wooden coaster to some, few, that was as smooth as silk. When you sit in meditation you are doing the “work” you are inevitably here to do. You are training the mind. Sit, close your eyes, take a deep breath in…and we’re off! I would spend hours fighting back the thoughts that would flood in like a tsunami of randomness, contemplations and plans for the future. I would try to swat them away like the flies that they were but realize that when the flies are in the ointment your swatter is defenseless.
I would find that range of emotions at its height on Day Two as I was ready to quit. Was this normal or was it my typical “MO” of always finding an escape hatch when things got uncomfortable? I was pissed that we were going to meditate again and again and again. I would submit a question for that night’s Q&A asking why we were meditating so much to which our instructor would offer his wisdom after reading the question out loud. His answer was, so appropriate, “Well, you did sign up for a meditation retreat.” HA!!! I would find the ridiculousness of the question and his answer the comical break I needed to let it happen. As the meditations wore on I would come to realize that this is the process of finding the “self”. It does not happen in a few meditations. It happens from the constant practice, one right after another, of quieting the mind. This realization would happen days after this Q&A and when it did it was existential.
Embracing the present
One of the things that became very clear early on was the amount of control that one has to turn over to truly be taken (sometimes dragged) into this process. The only way to get to the “self” is to allow yourself to be guided by trusting the process. For many of the people in the room, this was an effort in itself. “What are we going to do next?” “How, why, when…” “What do you mean I cannot go to the bathroom when I want?” Control; is a bitch. You come to realize (or you don’t) that you have to relinquish it because all that you are wielding in your own hands prevents you from seeing what you can become.
To be present is sometimes not knowing what will happen next. You are aware that there is more on the horizon and you pick your head up for brief checks to make sure you are still on the path otherwise you keep your head down and focus. This thought of keeping my head down occurred to me many times on my journey into silence. When I went on hikes, which is one of the very few things we were allowed to do, you had to keep your head down to avoid tripping on a rock or a root, and would only look up to make sure you were still on the path. Head down = Good. When I would walk around the grounds I would keep my head down to avoid eye contact, since simply pleasantries would threaten my silence. Head down = Good. Keeping your head down became a “good thing” and as with all things in life what is good is also bad, but in these moments “head down” equaled “focus” and that was “good”.
Breaking the Silence
As the final moments of the retreat had arrived we were prepared to “break the silence” in a ritual that would bring value to the first words that you would speak. It would be ceremonious because after all of the silence surely you would have something to say that deserved to be heard. We gathered in a circle and were asked to say one word that would break our silence. This would be the most powerful moment in what had already felt like millions of powerful moments. As we went around the circle each person would reveal their voice in a word and then share why they had come to the silent retreat. The last part of sharing was not asked of us but something that seemed to come as a release and felt natural after spending hours of silence together. We had gotten to know each other through wide eyes hidden on masked faces, passing each other back and forth between breaks, finding safety in our silent numbers. Now we were hearing the voices of those that had come to be our brethren and felt a responsibility of sorts to share. As the stories came flowing into the circle it created a centrifugal force that was apropos for the roller coaster to come to a final stop.
My “word” changed numerous times as the emotions of their stories came tumbling out in front of me. “Acceptance”, “fear”, wait…no, the words, every one of them said by the 22 people that stood in the circle before I applied, how could I choose one? When it was my turn, I stood up holding on to the column beside me and said the only thing I felt at that moment “OVERWHELMED”. It is not only what I was feeling at that moment but inevitably what brought me to that circle. Overwhelmed by my thoughts and my emotions now in front of these warriors and ironically also the reason I had driven up the mountain originally. I was overwhelmed by life, my life, thoughts that had no longer become a choice to act on but instead, had become a directive summoning emotions and reactions at a dizzying pace, literally as I was suffering from vertigo brought on in silence.
There I stood and spoke my testimony. “My word is “overwhelmed” because that is how I feel right now. I am brimming with energy feeling a tingling sensation throughout my body. My word is also “acceptance”. I realized I was in good company on Day One and that allowed me to be vulnerable to this process. My word is also “responsibility” because I owe it to myself to carry everything I have learned into my life and I take the responsibility of each and every one of your stories as mine to keep in solace. My final word is “fear”. Fear is what I felt when I was driving in and realizing that the last time I was in silence was as I sat at my mother’s bedside the last three weeks of her life until she took her last breath. I did not know if I could ever sit in silence again, but I did.” …and then I sat down into a puddle of my own tears. This must be the definition of cathartic…
This word has always fascinated me and at this moment of release, I fully came to understand not only the definition of the word but the weight of it. This word would become a defining word for the “silent” retreat to be used for me and only me. It is not a word I would repeat or use to describe my experience to others but acknowledge deep within. We use “heavy” words to express our emotions, to place emphasis on our stories without ever truly understanding the true meaning. I realized in this moment of “catharsis” that there were very few times in my life that I had been here, truly.
Everyone has one, a story, your story, our story. All of our stories begin with “Once upon a time…” and inevitably we spend all of our lives seeking our “…happily ever after”.
So many themes revealed themselves this week as a final conclusion to a novel that had more ups and downs than a harlequin romance. Your story is my story and my story is yours and by telling my story I share OUR story. We have all been through something, everything and ironically nothing. Every single one of us can tell a tale of tragedy in our lives as easily as one of victory. The degree to which that story affects us is personal. Your story is no less tragic, better or mundane than mine, it is simply your story, which is ours collectively.
“When all you have is eye contact, devoid of speech you see yourself through the eyes of others.” – Lori Kiel, silent retreat revelation.
I saw myself in the exuberant girl so full of energy she could barely contain herself in silence. Her giggles, moans, grunts and loud motions drew the attention of the room. At first, what felt like a distraction soon came to be a mirror of myself. I recognized myself in her “bull in a china shop” persona and immediately knew why she was there.
I saw myself in the woman two yoga mats over from me that would look at me as if she could see into my soul. She was just a bit older, a tad wiser, summoning me with her gaze that told me “she saw me”. As we broke the silence she would come to me to sit and share, of course, she would because surely she felt that energy as well.
I saw myself in the “buddy” I was assigned the day I first laid eyes on her on Day One. Tattoos, gorgeous skin, long flowing hair and a fierceness to her eyes that let you know, she was not to be messed with; just like me. As we were tasked with sharing our life story (in the third person, in ten minutes) her words would flow so eloquently from her soul revealing a life that was shattered, shocking and leaving me absolutely speechless. It would be my turn to tell my story and I would fumble for the words, not even sure of my name in the third person. What she could not know is that as she told her story, it was mine as well. How could that be? I am immediately reminded that we are all more alike than different. She was as shocked as I revealed that I too had walked a similar path. Her assumption of me, my appearance, my demeanor, never let on that I too had seen life like hers, we were safe, together.
I saw others, those familiar to me my mother, my friends, my kids, in those warriors that surrounded me in silence. I saw my friends in the eyes of three others as we were tasked with a “gazing exercise”. We sat in front of three people and could only stare into each other’s eyes to reveal if we were ready to come out of silence. The first two people I sat in front of were new to me. We had not come into contact during the retreat and in gazing into each other’s masked faces I recognized their eyes. The first was younger, scared, kind eyes that were holding back. So familiar to me and reminded me that the kindness behind those eyes should not be confused with weakness, I know her and she is fierce. The second was familiar. She looked like me, 35 years of me. Round, soft, sweet, flowing hair and a gaze that seemed to create compression on my heart. It was physical. I could feel her squeezing my heart, how, what was this…later when she spoke her final word I would come to know her name. Of course, it was that of my childhood best friend. Of course.
Driving Down the Mountain
I thought a lot about what the departure from silence would look like, would I talk, would I stay silent, turns out much like life, it just happened. When you are in a cocoon, enveloped in silence, safe on the top of a mountain, the idea of driving out of that space is daunting. I had been warned before going that how you come out is as important as the work you do during the retreat.
As I got into the car to take the 9+ hour drive home, I was incredibly energized. This again was to be expected, or not, as expectations are “the thief of joy” as one of the many lessons I have learned this last week. Having experienced the range of emotions and feelings I had come to know I was grateful that today I was energized where days before I was exhausted.
GPS set, water in the cup holder and let’s roll!
I call my husband first to tell him I am out of silence and find my first attempt to explain what I had just experienced. I had already decided that I would not share, at least not verbally, this experience with many others as putting it into words would only fall short. He of course knows why I went and was ready to listen and of course support the changes I am coming away with. He is relieved to hear that my resolve is much of what he has told me, begged of me and offered in wisdom through the years. Ironic that it takes a silent retreat to get it to sink in.
The next phone call comes in from my youngest son interrupting my husband and I’s call to tell my husband that he has locked the keys to his car in the trunk. AND HERE WE GO, cue the song “…back to life, back to reality” – Soul II Soul.
After solving his crisis my youngest son, who is now driving the long ride home from his friends, calls and just wants to talk. This is golden. As a parent of three sons, you come to learn that conversations like this one are precious. They are not the “What are you doing today?” calls, they are not trivial, these are the ones that when they happen you cherish and stay present. This time I am present on an entirely different level, good for him, awesome for me. This is a gift.
The last call on my drive home is my oldest son and his wife to “check on me”. They are always light-hearted and make it easy to share without effort. As he is the quieter one in our family his first question is if I made it through the silence without talking. We share some laughs about my experience and I am left feeling loved, as always. He is so gentle with me. This word “gentle” is one I would hear many times throughout my meditations and would remind myself again and again. This is a tattooable word…not that I would…but noting in the case I ever get the itch.
She’s SAFE, Sliding into Home
In between the calls from my family, the best call I had on my drive home was from the one person I had just experienced this retreat with, Jill.
She and I met 15 years ago when working for the same company. We came fast friends and long after going our separate ways and career paths we have remained close. We have an affinity for wellness and Buddhism and we are each other’s “go-to” for retreats. When this idea of going on a silent retreat came to me she was the first one I called to see if she wanted to join me. Of course, she said “yes”.
It’s interesting going through a period of silence with someone as you cannot communicate verbally yet you soon realize that knowing each other is all the communication you need. The energy, the eye contact, the moments…are as comforting and telling as the words you cannot say. We would hike the mountains around us every day using sign language and caveman-like grunts to communicate. We laughed, a lot! We would even get into a bit of trouble as we accidentally wandered off of a trail and onto the land of a very disgruntled man and his two very loud dogs! Uh Oh…
As we were not able to speak until the very end of the retreat we had a lot to talk about in downloading our shared experience on our long drive home, she back to DC and me to Orlando. Jill had left before me and had already experienced “life” in her new mindset. She shared her few experiences with me as a warning of what was to come.
As we downloaded it was a resolve in closing the experience and unexpectedly necessary. My very wise friend and fellow meditator dispelled her wisdom and takeaways with me with her best advice being…
“You can now access silence anytime you want it.” Ironically I always could.
As it turns out silence was always available to me. Accessing it was not. I have now been equipped with tools to truly access that space in which the quiet can resolve and ready my mind for the noise as I decide to allow it access.
What I am taking away
There were many lessons through stories that were told to us throughout the retreat. Again the facilitators had a captive audience; we sat like kindergarteners on the floor looking up at them as our teachers. We were captive indeed, voices silenced and seeking wisdom by the two that seemingly knew how to find peace. I would later tell them (when granted my voice again) that I was in awe of their courage to take a group through this process as the emotions that would bubble up would sometimes be focused on them; anger, disbelief, love…yes by end of this retreat I would come to love these two courageous humans.
While we were not able to use pad and paper during silence I would have to remember the lessons I learned based on what resonated and “stuck” versus what I voraciously consumed in notes. This as many that know me is tough. I rarely sit and do anything without a keyboard in front of me allowing all that enters to produce on the page in front of me. Again, another blessing in disguise as I realized that much of that notetaking was more about keeping “busy” so I did not have to simply sit within myself. Lessons learned. One at a time. Here are some that were taught and others that I came up with within my own observations of the “self”:
When the water hits the rock, the water is not interrupted, it is not harmed by the rock, it remains unfazed. It simply splashes back unto itself and proceeds to flow around the rock. The rock does not stop the flow, it changes it ever so slightly but it still flows. Be the water, not the rock. I am the water.
When you walk like a flame everything you come into contact with becomes fuel.
The body is the wick and the mind is the glow.
What we resist persists.
Vicious cycle involves thought that evokes emotion that elicits reaction. Allowing the thought to present itself dismiss itself without emotion or reaction is the key to peace.
Jill’s favorite story of wisdom is that of the “empty boat” and I have been regarding it since coming home as well so I share it here as taken from the web for better clarity:
There’s a Zen story in which a man is enjoying himself on a river at dusk. He sees another boat coming down the river toward him. At first, it seems so nice to him that someone else is also enjoying the river on a nice summer evening. Then he realizes that the boat is coming right toward him, faster and faster. He begins to yell, “Hey, hey, watch out! For Pete’s sake, turn aside!” But the boat just comes right at him faster and faster. By this time he’s standing up in his boat, screaming and shaking his fist, and then the boat smashes right into him. He sees that it’s an empty boat.
The other boat is always empty, even when there’s someone steering it. There is never anyone to get angry with. Even if the person steering the other boat deliberately rammed our boat, his behavior had nothing to do with us. Anything anyone else does is done for their own reasons, and much of the time they don’t even know the reasons. When we see life as it is, rather than our thoughts about it, we see that every time we look for an enemy, someone to hate, someone to blame, there’s never anyone there. Just an empty boat on a foggy lake.
My own epiphany occurred on the final sunrise. Of course, it did. As I was sitting at the very top of the steps of the main meditation hall, two cappuccinos beside me, shivering from the 40 degrees of cool air blowing I took these pictures and the following came to me…
Sitting here listening to Red Table Talk, “Kelly Osbourne Comes Clean” episode, and “wow” what a great reminder of the power of addiction. There are so many great quotes that I could not help but share and re-numerate on the hold it has had in my life through her story.
In my life I have known addiction, personally, intimately, and compassionately. I come from a long line of drinkers, fairly stated more honestly, alcoholics. I was never going to be a drinker because I hated everything about it in my young life and still to this day the smell of beer takes me to a place that turns my stomach. However, my drug of choice was food and in that addiction, I managed to reach 274 pounds with more co-morbidities than I could count on two hands.
Addiction in my opinion, is a personality trait. Many people have addictive personalities that never spin out of control and the trait instead serves as direction and drive. For others, and what you hear most when the word “addiction” is used, the trail of destruction it leaves in its path ruins lives, theirs, and everyone around them. I can relate to both.
I love that the first thing Kelly Osbourne notes is that she “…made it all the way through the pandemic…” without alcohol, which speaks to survival. Daily survival without the addiction, rearing its ugly head, feels like success. This feeling breeds a sense of confidence that “…you are normal, and you are going to prove to everyone that you can do this…” thing that you have avoided, you are cured. You tell yourself one drink can’t hurt anything and then one becomes two, three, TEN. The lie that we tell ourselves that we can have one drink, one bite, or one of anything that we are addicted to, leads to a spiral down the rabbit hole of self-harm and hatred. You sober up and come to grips with your reality “I did it again” and “Now I have to start over” which then leads to “Well since I have already fallen “off the wagon” I might as well _______________ (fill in the blank).” “Normal” is not a thing for anyone with addiction relative to the substance that addicts them. The new “normal” is the process of avoidance of all that has control over you and in building a resolve that can never waver.
Kelly noted that she “let go of her tools” of those things that help her “stay clean every day”. This is always where it starts. We fool ourselves into believing something is more important. It takes work to work the tools that keep it all together every single day for the rest of your life. Staying in control of your addiction is paramount to your survival. It is knowing this that becomes your number one responsibility, to protect the place where self-care lives as your FIRST priority and put all else second.
Kelly notes that some of her “insane thinking” included the idea of getting “pregnant because then she would have to stop drinking”. It is where self-care is absent that we search for the “reason” to stop. That is when we are not reason enough. In my life I remember the same fucked up thinking where a diagnosis of diabetes or high blood pressure would now be the “reason” I would give myself to get serious about my food addiction because the threat of death would set me straight; until the drama of it all would wear off and I would live to eat again. It wasn’t enough to stop for myself or my family; it had to be life-threatening. It had to be dramatic. Addicts live in the drama. It is always life or death until it is death-defying.
Kelly notes “I make everything more difficult.” Yes, WE do. Nothing can be done without it being painful or wrought with effort. Addicts are people-pleasers trying to solve for everyone around them and as Kelly noted she “Drained herself (through helping others) and left nothing for herself.” It is through failed attempts to solve for everyone and everything around you that you finally realize and are forced to answer the question of “How are you going to help someone else when you are all messed up?” Addicts are addicted to everything and codependency is where we find our value. Tell me I am enough, tell me how much you love me, validate me for I am not worthy without your judgment.
The climb out of addiction is hard. “You have to get honest with someone” that can understand the power of addiction and is able to handle your vulnerability. The second part of that statement is profound because as Kelly stated “I tell too much truth” and “You cannot have a conversation with someone that understands…if they are not an alcoholic (or addict)”. I have experienced this so many times with those around me that would simply solve for me by telling me to “Just stop”. JUST stop eating. JUST stop thinking. JUST stop worrying. JUST stop doing. If it were only JUST that easy.
In true addictive personalities, there is no such thing as stopping. You don’t stop. You can’t stop. You learn to use tools to control, manage and live on the positive side of addiction. You also learn to be uncomfortable in the addiction as it is always there, looming in the background, pushing you to do the thing that feels right at the moment. And when we give in, after the instant gratification of that moment passes we are left stripped of our self-worth and confidence leaving us asking, “Am I good enough for help?” and doubting our strength because of the realization that “I have done this again.”
This interview was revealing. It was also a great reminder that addiction is “…so much more than not using.” If you are reading this you are not alone and if you are not addicted put this blog in your toolbox to serve as a resource for those addicted in your life.
I conclude with the final quote in the interview. The best gift you can give yourself is “The gift of giving yourself a chance.”
Run don’t run, eat don’t eat, work don’t work, sit don’t sit…it’s insanity! Everything we are supposed to do, we aren’t. Everyone we are supposed to be, we shouldn’t. Where is the line and who decides when you cross over? What I know is that when I run I am a better version of me. What I know is when I don’t obsess over what I eat, I eat less and better. What I know is when I put boundaries around work, I have more expertise. What I know is that I can’t sit…I just don’t know how.
Six months before my 50th birthday and I am finally realizing that the first 49.5 years were the dress rehearsal for what will be the best days of my life. I have spent 49.5 years learning how other people do “it” and then trying “it” on for size. Well I finally know what works for me and now I need to do “it” and move on to the greatest performance of my life, my 50’s.
I know what styles fit my body best and it is not likely that after 50 years this will change. I know what foods work in my system best, as no one has a system like mine. I know how to do my job best for the company that is the perfect fit for me. I know what I know and for those things there should be no more decisions. Let knowing be the decision allowing more time for those mysteries that remain.
Figuring out the last act
What I believe lies in front of me, in the next six months is to figure out the rest. Those things that I have not found the fit. The monkey brain that cannot slow down, cannot stop thinking, cannot relent that is what is left to figure out. Even for that I know the course to take yet continue to stumble as it takes over. The noise, the never ending cacophony of what I should be doing all the time is the next frontier. Do I meditate, do I use oils, do I listen to spa music all day, do I watch tv, read, walk, sleep…RIGHT down the RABBIT HOLE I go!!!
I know what I know. We all do. It is just a matter of putting it all in its place. I control the mind, it does not control me. I control the reaction regardless of what plays out in front of me. Just like the brands I choose to buy, the people I surround myself with, the life I have created…I ultimately have control of this monkey mind and that is the mantra, the final act I will rehearse for the sake of sanity.
Putting it in place is the easy part. Playing it out is where the rubber meets the road. Easy to do when the day is yours to decide. Hard-as-heck when the pressures of life have their way with you.
How has your normal changed or are you living the life you experienced as a child? Re-creation or Recreation?
The prompt is a long-one this morning so I set the question above and offer the entire prompt here.
Tara Westover said, “There is a way you experience life as a child, and then as an adult you have to look back and decide how you are going to think about it”.
This prompt is very similar to Day 16 so rather than go through my own experience of changing my life as an adult as a result of not wanting to emulate the life I experienced as a child I would like to expound on some of the thoughts that Tara Westover shared in her interview on Super Soul Sunday. These are the highlights as I recorded them and how I perceive them.
There is a way you experience life as a child and then as an adult you have to look back and decide how you are going to think about it.
This is all about perspective which is gained when you realize that what you think is “normal” is challenged. For me this occurred as I observed my friends lives and families as a child and teenager.
It’s strange how you give the people you love so much power over you.
Incredible statement. While I did not experience this negatively, I have observed it in others and I think it occurs when you allow other people’s belief’s about you to matter more than your own beliefs of you.
They have to invade your reality and they have to distort it and they have to change how you see yourself and have mind-control.
This is the greatest statement and helps me to understand why I am so resolved to let go of the ways in which “she” attempts to victimize me by making me at fault. I know my reality better than anyone else in the world and if that reality makes YOU uncomfortable; well that is about you. #Word
That’s my view of it and I am not going to change that to make you more comfortable.
I have fought to get to the place where I am in life, a life that makes sense to me, and I am not willing to compromise those views, perspectives or observations that are most definitive, for me.
It’s not a question of whether you love them it’s a question as to whether they belong in your life.
I will leave this right here. #Word
You can love someone and still choose to say goodbye.
Yet another truth that is so simply and so eloquently stated that it needs no more explanation. Yes, I have made those choices and stand behind them as way to protect myself.
I think we do love a great disservice when we make it about control and change.
Tara Westover’s book “Educated” is profound. I highly recommend it as a read that you will have a hard time putting down.
What I know as an adult is that we have all been through the trauma of childhood because regardless of how it is defined it is your normal for the first 18 years and it is only after you are removed that you understand the true meaning and how it has set you up for your future as it will now be defined by you.
This moment in our lives when everything we thought “was” “is” we are faced with many questions about life and who we are. We walk around in this world in “roles” as defined:
the function assumed or part played by a person or thing in a particular situation
When that assumed function or part is no longer relevant because the situation no longer exists who are you? The situational roles cannot “define” you as they are only relevant in those situations however those roles that are truly defined are who we are regardless of situation. Mom is a role we play regardless of situation, if you are a Mom you are and will always be a Mom. “Director of ______” is a title that becomes a role you play in a situation. That “title” does not have relevance in all situations.
Why do I go into all of this? Well because I think it is easy to identify with these titles that truly cannot define us however when we lack definition of who we are we claim these titles as identity. The issue in a time like this when we are stripped of those titles, roles or fantasies of who we tell ourselves we are or better who others think we are, is that we are forced to face what is left…who are you? Who are you…really???
This is the time to look inward, reflect, revisit your plan and start over again. As Swizz Beatz, an American hip hop recording artist, DJ and record producer said, “everyone should have a 2.0 version of their game-plan. If you don’t use this time you never will. How many times have you heard people say, “only if I had time to do…”. This is the TIME.”
He is right, the time is now to define who you REALLY are and then decide who you want to be and make the game-plan.
I want to offer you an exercise to try-out as you are exploring “what’s next” in this journey, building your 2.0 version of who you and who you want to be. This was offered by Tim Ferris in a 2015 TED Talk and can be very revealing if you just give it the time, the idea is not goal-setting but FEAR-setting…let’s explore.
Ask yourself the following “What if I…?” and then do the work to “Define”, “Prevent” and “Repair”.
Define – write all of the worst things that will happen if you take that step. Write at least 10 things that you fear will happen.
Prevent – write down the answer to prevent each of these from happening or decrease the likelihood.
Repair – what can you do to repair the damage if the worst thing happens.
What might be the benefits of an attempt or partial success in your “What if I…” scenario?
You could build confidence and/or develop skills and ultimately everything is a learning experience.
What is the cost of inaction (emotionally, physically, financially, etc.) in 6 mos, 1 yr or 3 yrs?
If I avoid this action or decision what might my life look like?
I like this exercise because it forces us to face the reasons why we don’t act on those things we say we want. It is more revealing than goal-setting because goals can at times become ethereal and allowing a sort of “hall-pass” if we don’t reach them. Fear-setting requires you to face IT, reveal IT and solve IT.
Who is it that you WANT to BE, what is it that you WANT to DO, what is IT? We are all at a proverbial START LINE, we are ALL starting over at some place and now is the time. If not now, when? Are you staying where you are because _______________ (fill in the blank)? How does that serve you today and how will it motivate you tomorrow?
Who you really are is here and now. You are no longer the titles that are bestowed upon you but are faced with who you are in “real” life. You are Mom, you are sister, you are friend or you are not. Only you know what you and who you really are and ultimately how much it matters to you to be that person or want for something more or different.
A close friend and mentor of mine called me the other night and as we were reminiscing over 21 years of friendship she reminded me of who I was when she first met me. She recounted, “You had no confidence and doubted yourself because of an education that at the time you did not have…” but in her eyes an education I did not need. She went on to recall that she could never understand why I thought so little of myself and thought so much of college/education as the person she saw before her already had the knowledge. You see it was not enough what someone else thought of me if I could not see it myself. I had to do the work, I had to define it and decide on it. She was right, I put so much weight in education that not having it discounted everything I DID know, everything I WAS. Three college degrees later I AM confident, I AM educated however I know now that I always WAS. It took time working on me, believing and proving it to myself because it was important to ME despite it not having relevance to anyone else.
I tell you this story because it is imperative that you decide for YOURSELF as you define yourself. Not as others see you, not as you are titled in the outside world, not based on your reputation. Who are you…really?
John Wooden, famous UCLA basketball coach, says, “Your reputation is what you are perceived to be and your character is who you really are”…I leave you with this thought, this exercise and best off I offer all of this to you in a time that I KNOW you have the time to do something about it. Whether you do or you don’t, well that is yours to decide because ultimately it always comes back to that simple point of control…decision or indecision…ultimately you always DECIDE.
Who are you…really? Me? I am still working on it, every day…Always Starting…The Art of Never Giving Up – L.
Today’s dose is about the concept of validation. The definition revolves around; checking, proving or affirming a persons truth. In this day and age of social media there is much to be said about the public validation that we seek when we post on social media. We post to share but we also post to validate; this is why we look back to see how many “Likes” or comments we received on any given post. It validates us.
Many of my friends have decided to quit social media because of the way it was affecting them. Self-esteem and self-worth are easily taken to “task” when we are seeking “approval” or worse comparing our lives to those in the posts of our “friends”. “Friends” who we likely do not connect with face-to-face, “friends” who we have only connected with because of past relationships aka high school, previous jobs or long-lost family members.
I like to say that I make social media work for me and that I don’t work for social media; I belong to groups that feed me the intel I need and that inspire me. However I, like many, do look to see what the “reaction” is that I am getting from my posts. It makes me feel good when I post something that gets a lot of attention despite the reality that many of the people “liking” those posts are not those involved in my daily life. It doesn’t matter it validates that I am doing, saying or showing something that others “like”. We all have a human need to be liked after all.
Validation is “recognition and acceptance” from others and ourselves. That recognition and acceptance come in the form of “likes”, however internally that same recognition and acceptance of OURSELVES comes in the form of self-confidence. That is where the work needs to occur; within our selves.
Validate yourself by setting your intention and following through and then find satisfaction in your effort. Validate your actions because they are yours and yours alone. Do you accept where you are? Do you “like” what you are doing? This is the place where validation MUST live. A million “likes” on social media will never replace the self-validation you seek because ultimately YOU know the truth.