Mr. Picnic didn't call :(
and I've honestly never been better :)
I'm too far in my brave journey of self awareness to chase after another unavailable man. With all the death, loss, change, transition, and setback over the past couple years, I’m learning how to let go. And remain flexible as I pose with the inevitability of change.
In the middle of May I broke through a thick ocean of grief and gasped for air. It made sense. I'd been through loss before, and had given myself permission for a not-so-picnic year of grief.
I was in an ocean of despair directly related to several significant men in my life. My best friend moved from California to New York City in early Spring of 2014. My father visited from Ecuador and shared with me the vulnerabilities of aging.
My ex-partner of five years was found dead in his apartment in May 2014 with a variety of substances in his bloodstream, including medications for HIV, Hep C & Bi-Polar. We had been apart several years. He had re-entered his Mormon closest wearing a costume of heterosexuality.
My friend Weston suddenly collapsed the day before Halloween and was rushed into open heart surgery.
In early Spring of 2015, on the very same day, a great guy I’d been dating broke up with me. And I was turned down for a Ted Talk after the steering committee had pursued me to submit a piece on my experiences with HIV.
A few other dramatic details followed: not-so-smart-ways of numbing my pain, working long days to build a new salary in Orange County, and my doctor noticed an unhealthy spike in my liver function from my HIV meds ….. I sensed an eery familiarity of being at rock bottom. Again.
This time I knew what needed to be done because I'd done it before.
I sat in front of a mirror and stared myself down. When I saw the bigger part of me looking back I began to sob. I spoke aloud and direct:
"Alexander, what do you need to do?"
I cried and cried and sat in meditative practice with very uncomfortable states of mind, body and emotion.
Under the enormous pressure and sound of my monkey mind, I heard a subtle sentence: “You need to ask for help."
From my messy middle I reached up and out.
Charming and serendipitously, right from social media, on that very day, I found a post-like-letter from my favorite Elizabeth Gilbert. It climbed through the noise and pierced my rock bottom with a plan that made perfect sense to me. She’d inspired me before with Eat Pray Love, and now she was sending a life boat from Facebook. Thank you Liz Gilbert!
Dear Ones -
Climb, climb, CLIMB out of that rut!
Do whatever you have to do to get yourself free.
Cut off your hair and braid it into a rope and pull yourself out of that rut by hand if you must...but do not make yourself at home down there in the dark, narrow, trench of sorrow and numbness.
My friend Pastor Rob Bell says that the definition of despair is "the belief that tomorrow is going to be exactly the same as today."
Don't fall for that belief.
It doesn't have to be the case.
Three years into my own dark season of depression, I remember thinking, "Maybe this is just my new reality now. Maybe this isn't a 'bad phase' that I'm going through; maybe this is just how it is now, and how it will always be. Maybe this is who I am now — a perpetually sad and aching person, who has no hope. Maybe I need to just accept that realty."
Because nothing seemed to be working
I almost went furniture-shopping, in other words, to decorate my rut.
I almost made that rut my permanent address.
But some other, more stubborn, part of me, was like: "NO. We're getting the hell out of here."
The thing that's tricky about saving your own life is that it doesn't generally happen overnight, and it doesn't happen in one straight line. It's not like you get a little better every single day, in terms that you can measure on a graph. It's more like: two steps forward, one step back, three steps sideways, no steps at all for a month or so, and then finally one more step forward.
Recovery and ascension are a frustratingly slow and jerky process.
But if you keep doing the things that take care of you, the general direction will be upward. It may be slow and twisted, but it will be mostly upward. You will rise. No matter how long it takes.
In my case, the things that took care of me were: therapy, prayer, meditation, exercise, antidepressants, the solace of good friends, the comfort of reading good books, the practice of forgiveness and atonement, exposure to nature, looooooong walks, heart-opening acts of generosity, sometimes awkward attempts at self-compassion, listening to non-sad beautiful music, trying to get perspective on the human condition through philosophical study, trying to distract myself by learning Italian, getting rid of objects that held bad memories, setting boundaries with people who hurt or shamed me, moving to a new place...etc, etc.
It was not one thing that saved me, in the end — but all these many things combined.
That was the complex rope I braided, to pull myself out of the rut.
It was not always easy to do those good things for myself. It is easier to stay numb on the couch, or to cry in bed with the covers over your head, than it is to drag yourself outside for a walk on a sunny day — or to ask a friend or a doctor for help.
But I would make myself do these beneficial things, because somewhere deep inside, I knew that I WAS THE ONLY STEWARD OF THIS TROUBLED SOUL, and that I had to save myself.
Nobody could pull me out of that rut but me.
People could help — and they did help — but I ultimately had to get out of there myself.
Slowly, month by month, year by year — imperceptibly at times — it worked.
Do not make yourself at home in despair, Dear Ones.
Do not give up on loving stewardship of your troubled soul.
Climb, climb, climb.
I love her statement ..... "Recovery and ascension are a frustratingly slow and jerky process."
I knew how to climb. I was tired. And afraid to rise again and elevate myself from my ashes. My toolbox was full of smart & mindful tools and very dusty.
I wasn’t paying attention, honoring, or acknowleding my messy middle of transition.
This is always the best place to start. Attend to you, your life, your feelings and recognize your location. Get honest with yourself and drop the blame, judgement, criticism, shame, or guilt. Pick up your tool box, sharpen your pencils and rise! Get to work.
It's time to pay attention. Are you ready to explore with me?
This week your mindfulness challenge is to recognize. And pin point your location emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. Write it down. Paint it, share with a friend, draw it in the sand, or put it to music. You could even try talking to yourself in the mirror. And I'm certain your friend would answer a call for support. If everything's great ..... look around, and consider sending a life boat to someone in your arena.
Perhaps you counter balance the challenge to recognize your messy middle, and deliberately throw a picnic for yourself or someone else. It would be a great space to open up and share your truth.
The full-on-summer-picnic challenge officially ends on Tuesday September 22. And I'd love for you to be the owner of the above watercolor, Om-Grown. You still have a week to enter yourself to win. Get all the details & episodes
I finally figured out the biggest secret of all ..... I'm actually Mr. Picnic ..... Shhhhh, don't tell!
May you find great courage and honesty with yourself and others this week.
All my love to your mindful week!