Owning My Story Part 4: Struggle

I quit drinking ten years ago, but it took me twelve years to get there from rock bottom. My nieces and nephews were getting older and I didn’t want them to remember of me as “drunk auntie”. I’m not saying it was easy, but that was the thought that made me do it.

Although I dabbled in drugs and liquor, beer was my beverage of choice. Beer was my constant companion and best friend for twenty five years. It was there for me when I was angry or sad or just bored or out with friends or…or…or. I didn’t need a reason, but I had lots of excuses.

Even though I quit in 2007, one particular event back in the mid-nineties stands out as a turning point. One night, I went on a particularly bad binge. Some coworkers and I went out after work and drank quite a lot. As usual, though, a lot was not nearly enough. We went to a friend’s house and continued the party, drinking the wine her father made. It was old school Italian wine that he stored into gallon jugs. The two of us put down at least a gallon if not more. I don’t remember, but I do remember my friend’s husband having some drug (probably meth, now that I think about it) although they wouldn’t tell me what it was. For some reason, I tried to get them to let me try it. Luckily for me, they refused, so I went back to my wine. We were up until about 4 am and had to be to work at 8. My friend was also my supervisor, so I couldn’t exactly call in sick if she didn’t. Besides, my Dad always taunted me with “If you wanna play, you gotta pay,” so I would be damned if I was going to let him call me out on it. However, I only worked for a couple of hours. I felt so bad, I truly felt that I would die if I didn’t go to sleep. I went to my mom and dad’s house and slept, literally, all day. My mom was afraid that I might be dead, so she kept sending my dad up to check on me.

Funny thing was, she might have been right. I had a dream that day that I believe wasn’t a dream. I dreamt that a man in robes was cradling me in his arms as if I were a baby. I looked up at the man and I felt the most beautiful peace wash over me. It was as if all the pain of my life had been taken out of my body. I didn’t want it to end, but suddenly, I was back in my parents’ house with Dad nudging me to see if I wanted something to eat. If the stories of people dying, but being told that it wasn’t their time yet are true, I believe that’s what happened to me.

I didn’t quit drinking the next day or even for the next dozen years. However, it did plant the idea in me that perhaps I was here for a reason and that dream started me on the healing journey I’m still on today.

A big part of my healing journey is a spiritual one. I grew up in the Presbyterian church, but it never felt right to me. I felt judged and ashamed, but what really turned me off was the hypocrisy. I couldn’t understand how people could do whatever they wanted, be it drinking, cussing, or generally being an asshole, then dress up on Sunday, go to church, and ask Jesus to forgive them, as if that erased all the un-Christian things they did all week. I’m not saying Christianity is bad. I’m just saying it doesn’t make sense to me.

Around the time of the dying dream, I started having vivid dreams about an injured deer. Three dreams, three deer, all unable to walk. I tried really hard to figure out what those dreams meant until one day, I was browsing through the Native American section at the bookstore when I saw a book called Lame Deer: Seeker of Visions. I believe those dreams led me to that book, which in turn started me on the path that would eventually save my life.

Lame Deer was a Lakota holy man, but he didn’t live a pristine life. He was a drunken rodeo clown and a womanizer. He got into lots of fights, spent a lot of time in jail, and left the ways of his people behind for many years. However, when he was ready to come back, there was no punishment, no shame, and no judgement from Creator or his relatives.  He was highly regarded because of all he had been through, not because he pretended to be someone he wasn’t. He taught me that it’s okay to be human. It’s okay to fall down, because I could always get back up. He taught me that I wasn’t doomed because of my past.

When I went back to finish my bachelor’s degree, I met a man named Ben in a history class. He noticed a metal feather necklace I was wearing and asked if I was Native. I said that I was only a tiny bit Native, but that I had been reading a lot of books on the Red Road. Ben became my mentor, of sorts. He took me to my first sweat lodge. He introduced me to people in the community, got me into Intertribal Student Council (ITSC), and gently prodded me toward the Red Road ways.

Through Ben and ITSC, I met a woman named Big Momma, who was the faculty advisor and a big voice in the Native community. She had a sweat lodge on her property and her ceremony family soon became my tiyospaye or extended family. They showed me what Lame Deer had been talking about. They loved me even though I was a drunk. They didn’t judge me and told me I was welcome no matter what. They give me the unconditional love I never felt from my family of origin. I am so grateful to my tiyospaye and the Lakota ways for helping me on my journey and I will forever be grateful to Ben for gently urging me to follow my heart.

When I finally quit drinking, I thought I would instantly feel better and my life would magically start working out. I didn’t realize that drinking wasn’t the real problem. It was a symptom. It only covered up and distracted me from whatever the real problems were and after a few years of pure misery and such deep depression I didn’t think I would survive, I sought out a therapist.

It amazes me that my therapist stuck with me through the first year or two, because even though I sought her out and desperately wanted her help, it was like pulling teeth to get me to talk. I had repressed my feelings for so long that I didn’t even know what I felt. I told her I felt that if I start letting them out, I was afraid it would be too much and I would not be able to rein them in again. However, she did stick with me and eventually, she found a hole in my armor and helped me to start letting them out slowly.

Therapy is like peeling an onion. I would get through one layer and think I was golden, only to find there was another layer under that one. Several years of therapy later and I’m still discovering more freakin’ layers! I have to say, it’s a little annoying, but I’m grateful that my onion is a lot smaller than it used to be.

If I’m known for anything, it’s for having a lot of willpower. Not only have I quit drinking, I’ve quit smoking, drinking pop, eating meat, and I’ve picked up the habit of meditation and daily journaling. I often challenge myself because I know that if I follow through, I can achieve whatever I want to. I thrive on a challenge. I even seem to enjoy the struggle, because after all, if it isn’t hard, it isn’t worth it, right? But that’s part of the problem.

The latest layer of the onion is my apparent inability to allow myself any pleasure in life. Even when good things happen to me, I won’t allow myself to enjoy them. Whatever it is, it’s never enough. I can find a downside to anything. I’ve called myself perpetually dissatisfied. Others have called me a complainer, but it really all boils down to the fact that, for whatever reason, I won’t allow myself to be happy. Perhaps I feel I don’t deserve it. Perhaps it’s what Brené Brown calls “foreboding joy.” It’s never allowing yourself to feel joy because you’re afraid that it will be taken away by something horrible. If I never allow myself to be happy, then the bad stuff won’t feel as bad.

Foreboding joy has become a giant roadblock in my life. It’s turned into an inability to enjoy much of anything and it’s stopping me from pursuing my dreams. I suppose it’s what my dad taught me. Don’t dream of being an artist because not many people ever make any money at it. You want to be a fashion photographer? Good luck with that. Work at a fashion magazine? Do you know how many people want that job? Go after something more practical. If you fail at what you don’t want, it won’t hurt as bad as when you fail at something you do want. You may not be happy, but at least you’ll have a roof over your head.

I’m grateful to have a roof over my head, but that has never been enough for me. I’ve always wanted more, but like my dad did to me, I always talk myself out of trying –  why try if you’re just going to fail? – but I want to be happy. I want to pursue my dreams, but that would mean taking a chance on joy and that terrifies me. I can’t even get myself to learn the skills it will take for me to even begin. Why? Because I might possibly enjoy myself. I might find pleasure in writing or photography or playing with Illustrator and Photoshop or painting or drawing. And if something is pleasurable or easy, it’s not work. It’s not a struggle. Life is a struggle. Life is a bitch and then you die. You have to fight for what you want. Work, work, work. Hustle, hustle, hustle. That’s what they tell us, right?

I’ve tried hard to believe that hype, but I just don’t. I believe in a Creator, a collective consciousness, the Universe. I have no idea what to call it or how it works, but I know that there is more than just our physical existence. I believe we’re connected to the energy of the universe and I do believe that we create our own realities. If we have all that energy behind us, the only reason we struggle and fight is if we’re going against the flow of that energy. Like the rip current, if you swim against it, you’ll wear yourself out and never make it to shore, but if you relax and let it take you out to calmer waters, it will release you and allow you to swim easily back to shore.

Being back in Colorado has brought me full-circle. It’s where I hit rock bottom. It’s when my mother quit trying to hold onto to her sanity and we quit pretending we had any sense of normalcy as a family. And now that I’m back, the universe has decided to throw all those feelings right back at me to deal with once and for all.

I’ve struggled my whole life. I’ve struggled with shitty jobs, extreme loneliness, frustration, and anger. I know there is more to life than struggle. The happiest moments of my life have come when I surrendered to the Universe, when I told the Universe “I give up,” and when I cried in ceremony, “Creator, please help me. I can’t do this by myself.” I’ve struggled for twenty-two years to climb out of the hole I dug for myself and I think twenty-two years is enough. I don’t need to struggle and work hard and suffer to prove my worth anymore. I think it’s time to just be and enjoy.

I don’t know why I didn’t die that day. I have no idea what my purpose is. Perhaps I’m here to pay off the karmic debt I inherited from my ancestors. Perhaps it’s simply to live and be a part of a creating a brand new world. Whatever it is, I want it to be easy and fun. We had a full moon today and full moons teach us to let go of things that no longer serve us. This full moon, I let go of the struggle. It no longer serves me.






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