ebenezer scrooge woke up on christmas morning after having been visited by 3 spirits that had rocked his world and his world view. as i imagine, he was stunned for a few moments wondering if there would be more visitors or if this “awake” were real. he runs to his window to confirm that he is in his house, in his time, and “in” his mind. he calls down to a young man passing asking “what day is this?”. upon realizing that his bleak future that was forecast by one of the nighttime visitors had not become real, he felt a sense of relief and hope that he probably had not felt in years.
today someone told me a secret about their life. they clearly didn’t want to talk about it, but at the same time they really really did want to talk about it, too. i let them make up their own mind without asking. and i didn’t press for details.
it was painful for me to watch and listen. it wasn’t my pain, but it was full of pain none-the-less. it wasn’t a pretty story. nor was it happy. it didn’t have a happy ending and it’s doubtful it ever will. there is much shame and guilt around it. there were first pleasures and lost boundaries. and left on the floor are broken thoughts and jagged memories.
i watched tears roll softly and pointedly as the details unfurled. the teller kept reminding me how okay they were with everything- which couldn’t be further from how it seems. what seems more likely is that the teller has become accustomed to the twisted feelings and somehow thinks (as survivors do) that this is how it always is.
i inquired about whether this wounded one had ever considered self-forgiveness. i was answered with a seesaw response of “i have forgiven myself” followed quickly and painfully by”i don’t know how”. from what i could surmise, both are true, with the latter overshadowing the former in accuracy.
today, i am reminded once more that the bullshit i ran away from in my childhood, used anything and everything i could heavily to drown out reminders, and then uncovered very clumsily in early sobriety has been transformed. i no longer lead with shame and self-degradation as my calling card. though they are definitely still there, they have been recessed to a back shelf where they provide backbone for empathy and and echo chamber to help me listen when working with others.
i understood today’s fractured fairy tale quite well. i felt blessed that i could be with someone as they allowed themselves to remove some of their armor and feel.
i am not the man i had mostly planned to be. thank god. i am just the guy i have become. it truly seems a gift.
i am a mixed up bag of spices- sometimes sweet, sometimes savory, a little or a lot peppery, way too spicy at times- whatever… but it rarely stays exactly the same- just like indian food. this has taken some adjustments to maneuver all the moods feelings. at first it felt heroic and adventurous to just be feeling feelings without trying to change them. as this became habit, it was revealed that there were things that had been submerged – feelings and thoughts and memories which rose up like corpses in a new orleans cemetery.
there was another process which included understanding what these corpses were, how they got here, and how best to dispose of them this time so they wouldn’t make another appearance. man- this bit took a high toll- i let go of friendships, of jobs, of some finances, and some safety nets. some of these skeletons were connected to me at times i honestly couldn’t remember right away. it took awhile to remember the babysitter in 1st grade who was physically inappropriate. it took even longer to understand that the shame i have always felt throughout my life was not deserved. it was carried by me unnecessarily for decades because i was (am) an odd duck.
luckily, i have travelled through a quagmire of old bodies, thoughts, and feelings, and have reached a bit more solid ground. it has been a relief and i seem to be opening my heart again. amidst this opening was a reminder for me today. a reminder of a basic philosophy that has shaped my outlook. my bi-polar mind and my inability to self-soothe led me to an hiv diagnosis at 27. for the next 12 years or so i lived waiting for the other shoe to drop. i expected to die. i planned on it, actually. i forged ahead with work, but threw myself into partying because it was easier than being quiet and contemplating what could be.
then in 1996, i began to take hiv meds and my dark future-less self had to regroup. i didn’t have a plan and i didn’t have a clue. and it seemed unfair that i had to suddenly get one. so i made an impetuous decision to move to san francisco and continue the party. turned out to be a tough path. ran back here. bottomed out on crystal. burned a lotta bridges. tried to die and didn’t.
then recovery flowed into my life, like the mississippi waters flowing into that sea-level graveyard and it rooted up dead bodies and spirits that had long been buried. damn – the clean up is a bitch. but one thing i have concretely come to know. at 27, i became convinced i had no future and had no life. considering the hand i had been dealt, it is a miracle that i am alive. it is not responsible for me to take this simple and neon-like fact for granted. every day i wake up is a day i had never planned to be here. with this in mind, it makes no sense for me to be anything but joyful. i am in awe of my presence and my life. and i try to begin and end each day by recognizing this. i remembered this grace today in the middle of the day. remembering it felt like getting a really big hug. and it definitely helped. a hella lot.
“Be grateful to everyone” is getting at a complete change of attitude. This slogan is not wishy-washy and naive. It does not mean that if you’re mugged on the street you should smile knowingly and say “Oh, I should be grateful for this” before losing consciousness. This slogan actually gets at the guts of how we perfect ignorance through avoidance, not knowing we’re eating poison, not knowing that we’re putting another layer of protection over our heart, not seeing the whole thing.
i went to a meeting today and the topic was gratitude. it’s always a good topic and i can always get closer to more gratefulness. i don’t share so much in meetings these days. i listen and i try to hear. today i heard. i heard a reminder that i am just where i am supposed to be. whether my brain has caught up to that fact or not. for me gratitude is densely layered. i had been running from death since the mid-80’s and struggled with moving on from that nightmare at the close of the century. having made it through that mess with no real explanation as to why, i have nowhere else to go but gratitude. so many others were vaporized and it can only be right to feel blessed.
i have somehow been able to remain with cognition. i spent years trying to blot out fears and darkness. so much that at a certain point i remember declaring that i could no longer remember what i was trying to forget. what follows is the incredible fact that i can still string a few sentences together and have managed to connect to a few humans’ hearts. i could cry as i tap this out realizing again that blessings come in ways i could have never imagined.
but what i wanted to write tonight especially, was the practicality of gratitude for me. when i am thankful, i simply feel better. when i am feeling lack, victimized, or anger i have a very hard time coming back to a peaceful place in my head- until i shift to gratitude. that shift in perception is quite simply a miracle. i have so much to be thankful for and i want to always keep that close to my heart. i need miracles in my life cuz hope usually comes along with them.