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In the early months of Joe Biden’s Presidency, I often pause to imagine his administration’s capacity for solving even one of the existential crises in full bloom right now. It’s not that I don’t believe President Biden has the best intentions: when he professes virulent opposition to horrors like police brutality towards black Americans, I get no taste of hollow rhetorical flourish.
My musings on feasibility have more to do with the enormity of the issues; wounds and schisms neglected for either decades or centuries now heavy enough to force collapse. A country either not willing or able to take a look in the mirror for so long calcifies into a dystopian wind tunnel.
It took the election and following four years of unspeakable brutality at the hands of Donald J. Trump to expose just how ill this country is. John Fugelsang, a comedian and activist I enjoy on Twitter calls Trump “the stripper pole for broken white men”. And what a show it’s been.
If you accept the fact that America’s prognosis for survival is at best 50/50, you may have the same concerns I do. A radical overhaul of any one of these foundational evils would put Biden in FDR’s league of excellence: Criminal Justice, the Wealth Gap, Student Loan Debt, Healthcare, or Racial Equity.
I could go on but I don’t want to get back in bed after writing this. Notice Climate Change and the Pandemic are missing to soften despair.
The fact is that even before Trump and Corona, Americans lived a life of collective malaise. Whether you realized it or not, our way of life was subverting your true, genuine happiness.
Our leaders made choices. Those choices made us financially vulnerable, isolated and fearful.
It was an America with one core belief: Rugged Individualism. Or put another way “You’re On Your Own”.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is a poster boy for this approach to governing. In the midst of a humanitarian crisis unfolding among his constituents, this guy took his family to Cancun for a little sunshine and pampering. Who other than a statesmen popularly elected based on a record of political expedience, anti-government intervention, and libertarian sound bites would even consider such a flagrantly callous move?
It’s not that Individualism as a value is without merit. But America’s near erotic embrace of private ownership, self advancement and lack of concern for the vulnerable has given way to a form of capitalism too manic to survive.
Let’s imagine America was given a report card right now, in March of 2021. We wouldn’t even pull out a “C”. The richest country in the world would get a D or F depending on if we’re graded on a curve. Multiple basic quality of life indicators are totally absent and the rest of the first world feels pity.
Today is St. Patrick’s Day. Tomorrow or Friday could bring about the following tragedies and the public would not bat an eye.
You could get shot. This isn’t a nation under the thumb of narcotics cartels. Our taxes pay police salaries, yet with absurdly tragic frequency we host mass shootings in schools, public spaces, places of worship and movie theaters. During lockdown we’ve seen the longest period of time without a mass shooting in years.
You could be completely wiped out financially by a health crisis or death in the family. In no other developed country is the healthcare infrastructure so dysfunctional. Look no further than our COVID response for irrefutable evidence.
Are you black? You or a loved one may die or be seriously injured at the hands of the police. That cop will likely pay no price. We all witnessed DC police step softly as a whisper during the white insurrection on the Capitol, and we all saw the National Guard in all their military glory occupying streets full of peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters. No counter argument can be taken seriously.
Again, this is a very abbreviated list.
What’s our path forward? If we’re all vaccinated by the holidays and begin returning to communal life, will we find anything noticeably different than it was in March of 2020?
We must think about what we’re going back to clearly and objectively in the midst of what I expect will be an unspeakably joyful return to one another’s company. The grace period has ended: falling back into the old, miserable routines will assure American destruction.
This time, one unlike any other in history, is our last chance to go for broke. To rebuild, not modify.
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I had a dream last night that took me all over the world.
A short trip to the African content with my first boyfriend, followed by a long plane ride back to New York so I could make a therapy session. On the plane and back in New York, I was wearing sleep attire not the slightest bit appropriate for use outside the bedroom.
While on the plane, I lost a valuable bracelet the old boyfriend had bought me on the trip from Cartier. I needed to call the airline to see if it had been recovered but I was rushing to the appointment and couldn’t make the call. I was aware that each lost moment made getting it back less likely and I wanted to sell it because it had zero sentimental value and I needed the money.
The therapy session was to take place in a hospital setting and prior to our appointment, my doctor, who I haven’t worked with in years, was being honored for exemplary clinical performance. When I arrived at the building, celebrations were underway, and the time for my session came and went, ignored in the presence of so much festivity, so I left. My old doctor was dressed like a circus performer and the celebrants were families with young children. Songs were being sung, candles were ceremoniously blown out to sounds of applause, and I’d sat observing it all still dressed in the ‘at home only’ attire.
This one was bazaar enough for reflection this morning.
Some therapists I’ve had over the years suggest writing down my dreams in a “dream journal”, kept on a nightstand for easy access. They suggest doing so first thing, while it’s all still fresh in my mind.
Others are agnostic, of course willing to listen if I want to relate a nocturnal experience, but no real encouragement to record or dwell too intensely on analysis.
I’ve adopted the second philosophy, with the exception of recurring dreams that contain the same people, themes and settings. Persistent dreams contain a message that must be processed.
For at least two years, I would intermittently have a nightmare about giving birth. In each dream I was pregnant, though no one else knew and doctors couldn’t give me a due date or final confirmation. Then at some point I would feel the need to deliver, rushing to a hospital, getting hooked up to an IV, and bracing for excruciating pain. But it wasn’t to be—the baby wasn’t ready to come. I was left with a feeling that I was going to be carrying around a partially developed fetus forever.
That one I did work on with a therapist and through understanding and discussing the feelings provoking the dream, it ended.
Last night gave me some hints about where I am now. Like all of us, I’ve been feeling anxious about the future, at the one year mark of pandemic lockdown. The inability to pursue new avenues of experience has drawn my focus to the past.
The first boyfriend relationship ended badly (we were only 18), but in the dream I’d initiated a trip in the hope of bringing it back to life, though our affection had dried up decades ago. Knowing the futility of this effort did not prevent me from doing it. I think my initiation of this doomed mission reflects a concern for potential unforced errors now, even though I’m more secure and happy than ever.
The bracelet came from a movie I watched last night, On the Rocks, though that first boyfriend did buy me a piece of jewelry once for Valentine’s Day, before either of us could ever have dreamed of owning anything from Cartier. Wanting to sell it seems like a reflection of my current financial anxiety.
Being at the hospital without proper clothing while this therapist was being honored by a “respectable” institution, containing “respectable” families, indicates present feelings of inadequacy. Modeling in my 20s sometimes included lingerie work that made me feel not so great. Those feelings kept me from pursuing academic and career goals during that period: I walked around feeling less accomplished than essentially every other human being.
Those days are long gone. I’m in graduate school, with years of professional experience behind me. I’m confident in my abilities and have stopped measuring my value against others based on superficial metrics.
But the past lives inside us always, doesn’t it?
Friedrich Nietzsche’s sentiment has always resonated with me on this topic. He wrote “When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.”
What are you dreaming about these days? Ideas conquered? If so you’re in great company with Faulkner and the King of Nihilism. And me, too.
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What I’ll share now are some thoughts about surviving extremely difficult times.
2019 was an intense, tiring and hugely important year for me. I felt like crying tears of joy on New Year’s Eve because really, where was there to go but up?
Oops, girl! Your country and the whole world are about to experience next level trauma, the kind which hasn’t been felt since WW2.
Learning about MDMA, specifically listening to Dr. Rachel Yehuda on Mt. Sinai’s podcast, turned the tables on my feelings of victim hood this week. We’re all victims. As Yehuda says, trauma isn’t a matter of ‘who’ but ‘when’.
Turns out it’s going to happen to us all at some point in our lives. Undoubtably, 2020 was the some point for many.
Seasoned in depression and anxiety, 2020 wasn’t my first rodeo. But it opened up new depths: I’ve never been unable to distract myself for 10 months. No running. No hiding. Just looking.
I lost 20 pounds, became deeply acquainted with insomnia, and had trouble talking.
No way out except through.
What I found is that the pain is proportionate to the healing. After sitting with my wounds for 10 months (in the morning, evening, in the middle of the night), I’ve never felt so close to shaking off my demons. As we all know, I’m a frequent flyer when it comes to psychotherapy, which I’m both proud of and fully endorse. But it couldn’t take me here, to this precipice, where I am preparing to fly.
‘Give yourself a break’, I’ve heard again and again from psychiatrists. But I couldn’t do it.
So basic and so impossible. MDMA clinical trials have shown phenomenal success at enabling this paradigm shift. Moving out of the intellectual, cognitive state of “ordinary consciousness”, our hearts seize control from our heads. Ultimately, freeing oneself from pain of the largest magnitude appears to require a hand from psychedelic medicine.
Ladies and gentleman, I have issued myself an apology for being so endlessly critical. The break has been awarded.
Stay tuned. I’ll be following up with interviews with people who have already tried MDMA, how getting accepted into a phase 3 trial goes for me, and news about the progress toward FDA approval.
In the meantime, here are some of the materials I’ve found enlightening:
Trust, Surrender, Receive by Anne Other
How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
Research funded by MAPS
Behind the Scenes of FDA Approval
For the Podcast lovers
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In the whisper of borrowed time that was early March 2020, I went to a reading at the Philadelphia Public Library. Clearly it was fate; my favorite living author, James McBride, appeared clutching his masterful novel like a visiting angel. “May God hold you in the palm of His hand”, say the members of Five Ends Baptist, the little ‘nothing’ church at the novel’s moral center. They are saying it to me. But again and again I don’t hear.
I didn’t purchase the book until weeks later when my lockdown depression was loosening and I could read again. I should say listen because audio books are my new discovery and it’s through Dominic Hoffman’s reading that I live. Deacon King Kong’s been on such heavy rotation for months that I’m on the verge of committing passages to memory. I paused today to consider why this particular book has kept me through the violence and psychosis of America during COVID. I’ve done lots of reading but this has been the one to keep me.
It’s 1969. Heroin has arrived in Red Hook. South Brooklyn is still a heterogeneous mix of Italians, blacks, and Latinos who live side by side. Racial tensions simmer but never boil over into violence. The thematic content deals with fate, and resilience in the face of bitter disappointment. McBride shows us life on the socioeconomic margins; his characters find deep, cross-cultural connections based on shared experiences of pain. They fight against the brokenness born of failed marriages, parental neglect and institutions not “concerned with our health” (the mafia or a criminally dysfunctional housing authority, depending on the character’s ethnic origins). And we witness rebirth following millions of small deaths, none of which claim ultimate victory.
How apropos for a time that’s forced us all to the margins!
McBride’s fully drawn human beings shoulder burdens handed down like a penance to the innocent. Generational trauma is mentioned all throughout the novel but equally central are surrogates (church, “chosen family”) that have life saving power.
Our protagonists are good guys who live principled lives in spite of institutional disregard. Potts, an Irish policeman has been demoted for trying to be a “super cop” during a time of flagrant police corruption in New York City. Our hero, the elderly drunkard Deacon “Sportcoat” is hunted by those same cops for firing a protest shot (literally) against heroin’s looming threat of annihilation.
The narrative is full of dizzying digressions that are not digressions at all. Inside the tangential flights, McBride’s message finds its purest expression:
“…while in Manhattan the buses ran on time, the lights never went out, the death of a single white child in a traffic accident was a page one story, while phony versions of black and Latino life ruled the Broadway roost, making white writers rich—West Side Story, Porgy & Bess, Purlie Victorious—and on it went, the whole business of the white man’s reality lumping together like a giant, lopsided snowball, the Great American Myth, the Big Apple, the Big Kahuna, the City That Never Sleeps, while the blacks and Latinos who cleaned the apartments and dragged out the trash and made the music and filled the jails with sorrow slept the sleep of the invisible and functioned as local color”.
Tremendous compassion for human weakness does not preclude the searing indictments of a New York City collapsing under the weight of its own greed. But the bigger picture emphasizes abundance, excessive and ever present. The treasure we seek, McBride suggests, hides in the invisible and ordinary places.
“If all you can remember are the useless things, maybe those aren’t really the useless things” thinks 19 year old drug dealer Deems, preoccupied during recovery from a gunshot wound to his ear, by the memory of giant ants that march through the projects every year.
Those big red ants, carried back inadvertently by a resident returning from a trip to his native Columbia, defy death administered in countless, imaginative ways by a young Deems and friends. They elude study by graduate students sent out from the City College of New York and NYU, institutions “desperately jockeying for public respectability” adds McBride, beginning another digression that’s NOT A DIGRESSION.
With a drug war looming, the 19 year old’s associates and childhood co-conspirators await instructions from their leader, the most “ruthless drug dealer the Cause Houses had ever seen”.
“Watch for the ants” he tells his crew.
Again, he’s talking to me. And this message comes through loud and clear so I look for the important things masquerading as ordinary.
I urge you to read or listen now, before life resumes its normal routines. McBride’s masterpiece is big enough to occupy all the empty space we feel most acutely from the margins.
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Every night, with a small handful of exceptions, I’ve watched a movie in lockdown. I discovered the Criterion Channel and my first, truest love (books) are feeling threatened.
It’s been a deep, magical dive into the visual realm. My heart, intellect and spirit have been calmed, awakened, challenged, shattered and rebuilt by cinema’s look at the human struggle.
Two genres have captured my imagination with unparalleled force; film noir and what I’ll call simply “1970s New York City Realism”.
Noir speaks to me about the nature of female power as understood by men. Truly fertile ground for psychoanalytic musings. Women are:
Let the psychobabble flow…!
Then there are the trips back in time to a New York flooded with muggings, police corruption, Andy Warhol inspired loft parties and sex acts in midtown movie theaters. Each of these films will stay with me for the rest of my life:
Find them — stream them — be changed by them.
Images inspired by the women of noir.
Makeup/Hair by Sadiq Trusty
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Hello! My name is Daniel and my sobriety date is 9.10.2014.
Life in full, active addiction was governed by fear, anxiety, despair, and desperation.
It didn’t start this way.
In the beginning, oh, it was a thrilling adventure.
The trouble is that the fatality of this disease came disguised as relief and fun.
Drinking began at fourteen years old, and now in sobriety, it’s clear that I drank alcoholically straightaway. Coming to consciousness as a young person in the 1980s, I gained awareness about my sexuality at an early age. Having been raised in the Catholic church, I relished the concept and love of God, songs, stories, ceremonies, and the pageantry of the faith. I even enjoyed CCD and Confirmation classes – and loved posing philosophical questions and exploring topics with our priests. Despite this childhood happiness in the church, it soon became clear that a future life as a gay man was NOT going to go well; most notably, it guaranteed an eternity in Hell. I was a quick study and understood that even expressing a concern about MAYBE liking boys would be self-sabotage. Desperate, I began seeking successful gay role models…and couldn’t find anyone. This was before the internet (!), and gay characters on television seemed to be around purely for comic relief or were easily dismissed and ridiculed. There were no LGBTQ+ characters in the books on my shelf (though later learning that many of the authors of favorite childhood books were in fact gay, was a delight). What’s more, I would have DIED before walking up to a librarian or bookseller to ask, “Do you have any captivating books with dreamy, righteous, superpowered gay guys that possess an incredible, unshakable love of the Universe?”. My parent’s Encyclopedia Britannica collection yielded little explanation. I recall looking up the term “homosexual” after I’d heard it on an episode of 20/20 one Friday night. I was hoping to discover a source of scientific knowledge and was instantly crushed when all that was found in the ‘H” volume was something like ” Homosexual – of, or pertaining to, the same sex.” It’s quite amusing now. It certainly was NOT then! How times have changed.
My parents were (are) endlessly supportive, but early on I recognized that their life paths were vastly different and I simply did not have the skill set to broach such serious subject matter. Amidst these internal struggles, the AIDS crisis began to unfold its terrible fury onto the world and was being labeled as “The Gay Cancer.” The disease was everywhere – on the news, in the newspapers, the tabloids, the conversations of my relatives, the chatter at school, and for a while, there was a great fear that it was transmittable by mosquito bites. Going outside to play meant exposing myself to insects and risking death. Overwhelmed by the enormity of this all, fear and uncertainty became deeply rooted and I was in anguish for my mortal life and eternal soul. This fate seemed inescapable: Before entering into an Eternity of Damnation, I was destined for a dark, desolate life, during which I would inevitably become incurably ill and physically ghastly, eventually perishing from a disease that was customized for gay people for our inherent immorality.
I was about twelve years old.
At this age, “the actor” whom we in recovery sometimes refer to, began to appear. Much of life’s energy went into masking the unspeakable torment just beneath the skin’s surface. It takes an incredible amount of effort to appear “normal” and I couldn’t share what I was feeling as it would reveal my true self, and thus, the inevitable horrid life of dejection and alienation I’d imagined would begin right away. Already the creative sort, I threw myself into drawing, painting, and reading. I drew, painted, and read, over and over again. I devoured books and lost myself in the fantastic adventures of the wonderful, complex, and sensitive characters inside. I could see these people – they were my friends – and their magical adventures were as real to me as brushing my teeth, school, and chores. Every straight-A report card, birthday, and Christmas, my wonderful Mom would drive me to the bookstore (my Wonderland), where I would proceed to spend hours painstakingly selecting new lifelong friends. Surely, somewhere in these pages were people like me! My parents encouraged creativity and reading. My father, the Athletic Director for our school district, before leaving for whatever game we were going to, would always ask with a smile and a jingle of his keys, “Do you have all of your books?” Many pictures of childhood reveal me peering out from under a book or holding a stack. Equipped with a flashlight, I read late at night waaay past bedtime and was forever getting busted by my Mom. I can still hear her voice: “Danny!” she would gasp, “You need to go to SLEEP!”
To this day, my parents are highly social people. They are not drinkers and aside from literally one or two occasions that I recall, never have been. Ironically, they often received bottles of premium alcohol for various special occasions from friends and colleagues. As a result, a full bar was a presence in our home, filled with all types of mysterious spirits, many of which were years old.
When I was fourteen, while Mom and Dad were away for a weekend, in an effort to impress peers, I impulsively snuck out about half a bottle of vodka and drank it at an unchaperoned neighborhood party. The suffocating fear and anxiety that had become part of everyday life just VANISHED. My tightly wound shoulders dropped, surprising me with the realization that they were usually up to my ears with tension. I remember laughing and laughing that night. I was filled with tremendous relief and felt that the Golden Ticket had just been discovered – like Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory. Newfound freedom had presented itself and it was wholeheartedly embraced. I’d found a way to live! And not only would fear be eliminated, but life was also going to be FUN. Never mind the fact that I was horribly sick later that night and the next morning – it was easily worth it. I would do better next time. And the next time. And the time after that. Right then, I secretly vowed to drink forever; after all, it was the only way and seemed easy enough. You just pick-up something with alcohol and drink…I could do that blindfolded.
My substance use disorder ebbed and flowed for the next twenty-six years. I got a scholarship to college to study art and architecture. That first semester of school, I found an LGBT student group and happily became socially active, excited to be comfortable and safe among people like me. I made good grades, found excellent friends, studied fascinating things, and even had the opportunity to study abroad. It was a good life, filled with love, learning, and opportunity. And also filled with drinking. Unbeknownst to many people, my internal world was a battleground. I struggled to maintain the goodness in life, and for a while, it seemed to work.
In the year 2000, still suffering from high anxiety, no doubt made worse from drinking, I was prescribed Xanax by a doctor and was casually told to “be careful” with them because they were addictive.
“Yeah, yeah,” I thought. “You’re prescribing the pills, how dangerous can they be? You’re a doctor!” Naively, I had just unknowingly become a statistic in what would later be referred to as “The Opioid Crisis”.
Years passed in this internal war – my body, mind, and soul were the battleground. Thankfully love from family and friends was steadfast. I silently struggled and shared nothing of my condition – I had it “under control.” At a loss for what to do after graduation, I took an exciting job one semester before completing my courses at school – with the intent of returning “after a year of working and figuring out the next real move.” The actor reigned on, while my truer self bore witness, attempting to instill the love present in life. More time passed and various levels of professional success and money were experienced, all absent from sustainable personal fulfillment. (NOTE: The fact that I worked with some wonderful folks and engaged with lovely clients was a godsend, and I remain grateful for that to this day.) I hungered for the return to the worlds of art, photography, and contributing to creative teams; meanwhile, the emotional cost of not having finished school ate away at me daily. The life and identity I’d created were exhausting to maintain, and the fear was always still at hand. Self-worth and self-esteem were constantly in question. I tried to balance out the darkness with healthy practices like eating cleanly, running, swimming, and volunteering. By most accounts, I generally appeared healthy. Of course, drinking and pill popping were influencing my trajectory and had consequences. In my twenties, I went to jail three times – all alcohol related. Under their influence, I was quick witted and brazenly sharp tongued, lost a couple of good jobs, forgot things, behaved recklessly, broke commitments, made unwise choices with personal relationships (romantic and otherwise), and at my worst, was full of shame, rageful, inconsolably depressed, confused, and helplessly LOST. Eventually, a long relationship ended, collapsing after years of dysfunction. I entered an out-patient rehab program for the wrong reasons – to get out of work. At this point, I didn’t want to die, but I wasn’t keen on living either. I hadn’t yet hit my bottom, but I was close.
Despite myself, I grew very curious about the information presented to us in the out-patient program, finding much of it fascinating. The more information presented about the science of substance use disorder, the more my life began to make sense. This wasn’t a moral failure. It made sense that there was no safe way to consume poison, no matter how fancy the glass or how expensive it was. Prescribed medicine could be dangerous (this sounds so naïve now). I learned that “passing out” – something that had been happening almost every night for years – was the body’s defense mechanism to prevent any more toxins from entering the body; that is, the body was rendering itself unconscious in order to survive. I was AMAZED. Additionally, countless themes within the stories we shared as patients were compelling – and so very familiar. I enjoyed the sessions and marveled how in some ways, they were like taking a college class, only in this case, with urine tests.
I drank and took pills for almost two more years – at as heavy as before the program, though the most miserable in many ways, and necessary to reach bottom and receive “the gift of desperation.”
The circumstances that led to my recovery were many. After the time as an outpatient, changes in people, places, and things began taking place. I had begun to reexamine many aspects of life and live from a place of gratitude. Newly single, I began branching out, doing things like joining a book club, volunteering with personally meaningful causes, becoming active in healthy, socially conscious communities. These groups were filled with sincere, caring, mature, and joyful people. Healthy, fun, smart folks. They did cool things and followed through on their word. It was a welcome, far cry from bar life. I eventually started attending 12 step group meetings and making friends there. My days were brighter. Nights grew quieter. The high, feverish pitch of a painful life was slowly cooling. I was still using, but the pull was weakening. I understood so much more about the disorder and the possibilities of a healthy life. At one point in 2014, I began seeing a handsome English friend who’d had six years sober. I learned more about his journey and was moved by his perseverance. He knew about my struggles/recent life developments and was supportive, patient, and understanding. One Saturday night, he suggested that we attend a “Birthday Night” at Lambda Center Houston – a beautiful center established for the support of the LGBTQ+ community either in, or seeking, recovery. By now, I was already in love with Lambda and quickly agreed to go. Birthday Night is a brilliant custom that involves people celebrating annual milestones (“birthdays”) in recovery within a particular month. Upon the announcement of their sober-birthday date, the celebrant gets up, goes to the podium, receives a hug and a sobriety chip, and usually shares a little about their journey thus far. It was my first Birthday Night and it was a BLAST. So funny, incredibly touching, sincere, and heartfelt. In many cases, I felt that I had already known these people for a long time – and that they knew me. The things that these people shared were incredible, in some cases, even unbelievable. The strength within their stories reminded me of the heroic, fantastic journeys from the books of my childhood and adolescence. I was spellbound. At one point in the evening, a person celebrating their first year of sobriety got up to the front and shared. I identified with everything that she said, from the second she started to the moment she ended. Right then and there, I wholeheartedly resolved to begin the journey into a healthy, sober life. A short time later, I reached out to some new friends and family. In a heartbeat, my dad drove into town, and I re-enrolled in another out-patient program – this time to end the use, address past and present pain and issues, get sober, and reclaim my body, life and soul. One moment at a time, one day at a time.
My life has changed in fundamental ways in sobriety. Recently, I read a quote by Joseph Campbell that read “I don’t believe that people are looking for the meaning of life so much as the feeling of being alive.” I am alive in ways that are simply not possible without recovery and community! The feelings and acts of connectedness and gratitude have been foundational in my daily program. These things manifest in myriad ways, one of the first being that I no longer feel sentenced to another day of life in sickness and helplessness. Mostly, days are joyful, and when they are not, that’s okay too. Life can be enjoyed as it presents itself in real time. Once enslaved by substances, I am not a slave to my emotions either. I developed and tuned skills to right-size challenges and reach out when in need of perspective and support. Today, life is filled with good council and populated with people that have my best interests in heart. Unmistakably, I am here for them too – as a better son, brother, friend, partner, team member, and even pet daddy! Once fearful that being sober would hinder my creativity, today I produce artwork with a zeal and gusto that hadn’t appeared in years. Notably, in the fourth year of sobriety, I re-enrolled in school at Texas A&M University – College Station and finally completed my undergraduate Global Art and Design degree. Turns out, I’m a MUCH better student with good health and experience! I became immersed in the studies and pursued my passion for Interdisciplinary Media, Art, and Photography (in my case, digital illustration combined with original photography). I got 4.0! Additionally, during the year back at school, I became one of the founding officers for the Aggie Recovery Community – a student organization for Aggies either in or seeking recovery. It was a privilege to work alongside such capable students, faculty, and even addiction scientists. We worked with other estimable organizations and attended sober student conferences – I had NO IDEA of the magnitude of the sober student culture across US college campuses and it was wholly inspiring. This opportunity to live shamelessly and visibly in order to offer support and information was a tremendous blessing. Had such resources been available in my previous time as a student, my life’s trajectory may have been forever changed, and it was our mission to actively and positively represent a sober student community. The Aggie Recovery Community even held the first ever Sober Tailgate at the University and it was wildly successful – our motto summed it up: “Good. Clean. Fun.”
Another hallmark of today’s healthy life was a recent trip to Big Bend with my adventurous, supportive, and nature-loving boyfriend. Together, we hiked the Outer Mountain Loop trail – a 33 mile journey that took us a few days. In the throes of illness, just something like getting a glass of water or answering the phone seemed very difficult, or at least, inconvenient. And yet, there in Big Bend, under the Sci-Fi skies, I found myself carrying a 40lbs backpack for miles over challenging terrain, very dusty and happily chomping on fruit leathers. Exhausted, we fell asleep under violet blankets of stars. It was exhilarating, something that NEVER would have happened without recovery.
This shared mission of bright sobriety continues to live on in me in all aspects of life as I walk this path with dedication, sincerity, compassion, and integrity. I was honored to be asked to contribute some of the story of my experience, strength, and hope with the Bigger Than Depression community. And I’m forever grateful to be sober today! Wishes of health and happiness for us all.
Today I left the house to do two errands. It was eventful in contrast with the past weeks of what feel like dress rehearsals for an uncertain future. I will remember nothing of such days in a year or two.
Errands in the car are exciting. I look forward to light brushes with strangers, delighting in eye contact and banal conversation. It’s not an overstatement to say these breaks from the bubble wrap of confinement are life sustaining.
The meaningless rituals of life’s movement to center stage gives the people populating such encounters great power. Connection through plexiglass strikes me as a lovely affirmation of humanity’s virtues, a feeling I savor for hours.
The opposite feels just as true. Today, 2 hostile interactions pushed me to the brink of tears that could be described as both absurd and warranted.
The first was a Sephora employee’s stern scolding that by touching a Jo Malone bottle, I’d ruined it. No sampling is currently allowed! Now she couldn’t sell it (not true at all). “Are you buying this?” was asked rhetorically like I’d broken a piece of art. I was stunned by the animosity in her voice and outraged by the suggestion of purchasing a pricey fragrance in response to being shamed. As I left, I saw her disinfecting the bottle and returning it to the shelf.
Licking my wounds back in the car, I drove to my 2nd errand—a small, specialty grocer. Leaving the car across the street with the blinkers on, I ran in to buy a steak and some bacon. It’s an upscale place so you order from a butcher who lovingly selects and cuts your meat. It was far too loving and I fought back a request to hurry. Before I turned around to pay, I realized my mask wasn’t even on. Pulling it up, I turned to place my meat, beautifully tied in twine, on the counter while digging for a credit card. The young man about to ring me up said “Hi”.
Too distracted by the prospect of a ticket for pleasantries, I remained silent. Then came the infliction of grievous emotional harm.
“You’re not going to say hi OR wear your mask properly?”. A hot stare followed.
It was surreal to find myself standing in deeply wounded silence for the 2nd time in under 90 minutes.
I mumbled something about being distracted because of my parking choice. He looked contrite and issued a genuine sounding apology.
It’s been hours since this happened and I STILL feel wounded. I’m sitting at home in posture of pity.
Honest to God, I don’t think I’ve been so fragile since childhood, when a classmate could shatter my world with a mildly offensive reference to a shortcoming. Or an unfavorable comparison of my dog’s behavior with theirs (our black lab once ran onto the field during a school baseball game and resisted capture for an eternity. I’m not sure I’ve felt so embarrassed since).
COVID has done this to me. I’m like a babe with no emotional armor and I must put an end to it.
I’m a grown woman. With good qualities. For one thing, I’m nice.
One of mid-adulthood’s best features is the falling away of those delicate sensibilities that bring so much misery to youth. The violent ups and downs are now far milder hills and flat terrain. Misunderstandings that used to turn into complete, existential crises, are just misunderstandings.
If you’ve seen Gigi, Maurice Chevalier’s “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore” expresses the sentiment quite well:
“The Fountain of Youth is dull as paint
Methuselah is my patron saint
I’ve never been so comfortable before
Oh, I’m so glad that I’m not young anymore”
Tomorrow I’ll dust myself off and return to being a 40 year old who doesn’t stare at the ground when spoken to sharply.
Adulthood has its merits.
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