What’s Your Patronus?

patronus 2

(Image via patronusmeaning.tumblr.com)

I was watching Top Chef the other night and their challenge was to take their family’s heritage and prepare a dish that represents their culture and where their family came from. Chef’s are a very diverse group of people. The Cheftestants this season come from Pakistan and Vietnam. There are also chefs with Italian, Creole, African American, and Eastern European backgrounds.

And then there was Tyler from California. He was at a disadvantage in this challenge, because, by his own admission, he was just a white guy from California who didn’t have a culture. Instead of cooking a dish that represented his West Coast heritage, he tried to cook a dish that his Swedish grandma had made, although he didn’t know anything about Swedish cuisine. Tyler lost the challenge and was eliminated.

I’ve always felt the same way Tyler felt. My family, both sides as far as I can tell, have been here for two or three hundred years. I’ve always called myself Heinz 57, because my DNA comes from a variety of different ethnicities, but we’ve been here so long that we have no “cultural” identity other than American and our culture is nothing but a series of cultural appropriations.

Look at our food, for instance. Pizza. Tacos. Chinese takeout. Gumbo. The food we eat on the 4th of July is hamburgers and hot dogs might be American, but potato salad is German. French fries come from Belgium. The Scottish are responsible for fried chicken. Virtually everything we have is appropriated due to the very nature of our melting pot status. Our only “culture” is garishness, loudness, and over-consumption of everything. America! F*&^k yeah!

Cultural appropriation, especially when it comes to Native Americans, has gotten a lot of buzz lately.  The use of Native caricature in sports mascots has seen some very heated debates. Girls wearing “Indian” headdresses pop up in our news or Instagram feeds with each big music festivals and they are quickly called out as inappropriate. Even No Doubt got a lot of grief for the costumes they wore for a recent video that has since been pulled due to its insensitivity to Native culture. And every Halloween, Native people make videos and memes to remind everyone that they are not a Halloween costume.

I’m not sure people do it to make fun or demean Native people. In fact, the argument always seems to be “We’re not making fun. We’re honoring Native people.” However, ask most any Native person and they will tell you that wearing a chief’s headdress made out of duck feathers, doing the “tomahawk chop,” and making war whoop noises like the “savages” in old Westerns is not honoring anyone.

A hot term on the internet these days is “spirit animal”. There are quizzes you can take to find out what your spirit animal is. Spirit animal isn’t even exclusive to animals. It can be a celebrity, a sports hero, or coffee. While on the surface it appears to be all in good fun, to a large group of people who our country has been trying to destroy for over 500 years, (It’s still happening. Anyone remember Standing Rock?) it’s just another way that the colonizers are chipping away at their identity and stealing what’s left of their culture.

There are 562 federally recognized tribes in the US. Not all tribes believe the same way, but they each have a unique and special relationship with the Earth and with animals in particular. Animals play a large part in their creation stories. They taught the first people which plants were to be eaten or not eaten and which plants to use to heal their bodies. Clans were often named after the animal which best represented their role within the larger tribe. Even today, when an animal is killed for food, its spirit is thanked for sacrificing its life so that the people can live. Animals aren’t just a commodity or a hunting trophy; they are honored relatives.

I know that most people truly mean no harm when asking about my “spirit animal”. I even play along most of the time, but do we have to use the phrase spirit animal? I know it’s much easier than saying, “What animal do you most relate to?” or “If you were an animal, what would you be?” but it’s not that hard and it wouldn’t hurt anyone.

It may seem like a little thing to us, but all these “little” things add up. Believe it or not, Native people still exist and it hurts them when we marginalize them, wonder why they don’t just “get over” Wounded Knee or the Trail of Tears or any of the other government policies meant to “Kill the Indian, and save the man,” and destroy the land that they love and are taught to protect. The least we can do to show respect to the Indigenous people of this country is to quit buying t-shirts that say “My Spirit Animal Is Whiskey” or claiming that Nikki Minaj’s butt is your spirit animal.

In the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling used the word “Patronus” instead of spirit animal although they’re pretty much the same thing. It doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as easily, but it also doesn’t make a Native child feel like who he is is wrong.

What’s your Patronus? Mine is an elephant.


Killing The Past in Five Simple Steps

Little me


I’ve always hated blog posts that say “10 Ways To Get What You Want Fast” or “4 Things That Prove You Are Doing It Wrong”. You can find a list on any magazine cover and according to editors, lists sell the most copies. They also work well for blog posts. People just seem to like the list. I don’t, but I thought it would work best in this particular post, so here’s my list.

1. Recognize that you are the keeper of the key

I’m not sure why – perhaps it’s because I read so much – but the Universe seems to communicate with me through quotes. To me, quotes are like photographs. One image or small cluster of words can convey huge, heart-stirring messages and once that message is heard, others come flooding in to back it up.

Here’s the quote that sparked my latest download of epiphanies:

The first key to warriorship and the first principle of Shambhala vision is not being afraid of who you are. Ultimately, that is the definition of bravery: not being afraid of yourself. . . . When we are afraid of ourselves and afraid of the seeming threat the world presents, then we become extremely selfish. We want to build our own little nests, our own cocoons, so that we can live by ourselves in a secure way.

from Shambhala – The Sacred Path of the Warrior

The key phrase for me is “not being afraid of yourself.” That little girl you see in the photo is who I really am. We are all that little kid who came into this world to experience what it’s like to be human. Unfortunately, many well-meaning adults – from parents to teachers to church leaders – show us that who we are is not good enough or too much by forcing us to conform to how they think we should be. We come to think that who we are is wrong and slowly, we tuck bits and pieces of ourselves away and try to become who they want us to be.

For me, it’s like being locked up in a cage with layers and layers of blankets thrown over the top to keep me safe. As a child, I caged myself up bigly. (Is that adverb in the dictionary yet?) I was taught that if you don’t try new things, you won’t feel the pain of failure. If you don’t try to meet new people, then you won’t run the risk of being rejected. If you keep your creative side under wraps, no one will laugh at you. While those beliefs kept me safe, they also kept me from growing. I’ve realized now that there was never anything wrong with who I was. I was just afraid to be me.

what about this theory. the fear of not being enough. and the fear of being ‘too much.’ are exactly the same fear. the fear of being you. – Nayyirah Waheed

I was so heavily covered up that when I first started seeing a therapist and she would ask me a question about what I thought or what I wanted, I went completely blank. I was so terrified to voice what I wanted that I just shook my head and said, “I don’t know.” I’m certainly glad she was patient enough to help me slowly pull the blankets off my cage.

2.  Decide that you no longer wish to believe your beliefs.

I’ve been feeling progressively better since I left behind the place that I associate with being trapped in my cage. I’ve even felt so excited about the endless possibilities opening up for me that, at times, I’ve felt like jumping for joy and dancing around the house, but I don’t. Instead, I keep myself locked down. Lockdown shows up physically for me. I clench my fists, my shoulders round to protect my heart, my lips press tightly together and form a from, and I clench my jaw so hard I feel like my teeth might crumble under the pressure. As you can imagine, that’s not a good feeling.

Abraham Hicks says that a belief is just a thought you keep thinking, so I’ve decided not to believe my beliefs anymore. I’ve found that the only way I can make changes in my life is to make a firm decision. That might be the hardest part of these five steps. We give lip service to making a decision by saying, “I’ve decided to ___.” Then we run off and promptly forget what we promised to do. The ones that stick are felt deep within. Most would refer to it as willpower. People often say they don’t have willpower, but they do. You just have to want it bad enough.

Marisa Peer,  a British hypnotherapist I found on YouTube, says that your mind will believe anything you tell it. (She even shows you how it works. Check her out.) I’ve told my brain that I no longer wish to dwell in a place that hasn’t existed in four decades and my brain is obliging. Thank you, brain.

3. Find imagery that works for you and meditate on it.

I was recently watching a trailer for the new Star Wars movie The Last Jedi. I haven’t watched any of the new movies, but the still for the trailer had an older Mark Hamill on it. I always thought he was cute, so I thought I’d watch it. In it, I heard one of the characters say,

“Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you were meant to be.”

There it was. My little crush on 70’s Mark Hamill led me to watch a trailer that I wouldn’t have otherwise watched, which then led me to that quote. (Oh, Universe. You’re so sly.) Letting go of the past is the key. All of the people that hurt me are gone now, which means that I’m the one continuing to hurt me now by treating myself the same way they treated me. I have to stop believing what they taught me in order for me to become who I was meant to be. I have to let the past die.

How do I do that? Meditation and imagery work well for me, so I sat with it. In my meditation, I envisioned myself hunched over from the weight of carrying large sacks full of my past hurts. I’ve been dragging them along the ground behind me for years for added resistance. (No wonder my shoulders literally hurt.) I cut those sacks out of my hands, because when you grip something for so long, your hands don’t want to let go. I put each of those heavy sacks on a cloud and I watched as they slowly floated away. I know that the same cloud doesn’t pass twice, so those sacks are gone forever.

Your imagery or method for letting go may be different than mine, but you’re welcome to use my clouds if you’d like. I have millions of them.

4. Letting go is a practice, not a one and done.

My life didn’t immediately become wonderful after that meditation. It’s a practice. For instance, the other night, I was making mashed potatoes and I heard my Dad’s mocking voice say, “These mashed potatoes are lumpy. My mother used to make mashed potatoes with just a masher and she never had any lumps.” Every single time I make mashed potatoes, I hear him say that (and I make mashed potatoes quite often). I decided to put that little jab on a cloud and let it float away like the other stuff. I’m sure more will come up, but I’m not worried, because now I know what to do with them.

After letting my past float off into the ether, I find it very hard to even bring up those things that used to cause me so much pain. It’s not that they’re not there, but I don’t follow those thoughts down the rabbit hole anymore. It’s like my brain has blocked the view of my past, so the only place I can look is forward.

5. Listen to your heart and do what it tells you.

When I was little, I was taught that being creative wasn’t available to me, so I hid that part of me away. However, now that I’m no longer believing those beliefs, I’m free to follow my heart. After being silenced for so long, however, it will take a little time to get used to hearing what my heart has to say. The heart speaks in a whisper, so you have to listen carefully. My brain appears to be cooperating though, so I’m sure that my heart’s voice will continue to become more clear as the days go by.

I left my hopes and dreams behind with that little girl on the tricycle, but I’m starting to find them again. I’ve started playing the piano again. Luckily body memory is allowing to pick up where I left off. I’m reading just for the fun of it instead of simply for information. The other night, I joined the main circle at a party instead of staying on the periphery as I usually do. And I’ve downloaded some courses on photography, drawing, and fiction writing. For the first time in a very long time, I’m actually excited about my future.

Letting go of the past or killing it (whatever works for you) is easier said than done, I know, but once you realize that those childhood hopes and desires are who you truly are,  you’ll want to let go of whatever is holding you back from being your happiest, most fulfilled self. I believe you’ll find that it’s well worth the effort.

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

We didn’t come here to be just like everyone else. We came here to be our unique selves and to help the world grow simply because for the experience of it. Society tells us to conform, yet it rewards most those that live life in their own unique way. You can choose to live inside the confines of society. It’s safe there and that’s okay. However, if you want to live your life to the fullest, the only way to do that is to be brave and be you.

As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”

Let Me Tell You Why I’m Pissed

It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.

Ansel Adams

“Society is like a stew. If you don’t stir it up every once in a while then a layer of scum floats to the top.”
Edward Abbey

“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”
Edward Abbey

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.”
Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

“Anarchism is founded on the observation that since few men are wise enough to rule themselves, even fewer are wise enough to rule others.”
Edward Abbey

I’m heartbroken today. Every day it gets worse and worse. Another day, another attack on the American people by own our government. This is nothing new, of course. Kings, Queens, Emperors, Rajas, Supreme Leaders, Dictators, Authoritarian, Totalitarian, Democracy. They were all founded on the premise that it was safer to live together in groups and that certain people should be put in charge to make decisions for the whole. The government would protect the people from outside forces, take care of our needs, and provide us with services to make us more comfortable. Who knew that so often we would have to protect ourselves from the very leaders we put in charge to protect us.

Too often throughout history, those in power start thinking that the people are there to benefit them. Look at Kim Jung-Un, al-Assad, Xi Jinping, and al-Bashir to name just a handful. They divide the people, most often by religion or race, and turn them against each other. When we are fighting each other, we are less likely to band together against the ruler.

The US is now under an oligarchy. Merriam Webster defines an oligarchy as a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes. When the Supreme Court ruled on Buckley v Valeo in 1976 that corporate political spending is protected under the First Amendment right of free speech and Citizens United v Federal Election Commission upheld that corporations have First Amendment rights, it opened the door to corruption like we’ve never seen before in this country.

Donald Trump is the epitome of corruption, but he’s merely a scapegoat for the GOP and their corporate donors. They are going to let him be the bad guy and push him to gut all the social and environmental policies that have protected the poor and our natural heritage for decades, then when Mueller takes him down, the damage will already be done and they’ll throw up their hands and say there’s nothing they can do about it.

Why are the Republicans so hell-bent on destroying this country? In my opinion, it is pure greed. They are paid by the very corporations they’re deregulating everything for, thereby guaranteeing their own prosperity. The people we put in power to protect us are the very people that are hurting us the most. Maybe we don’t have a dictator – although Trump sure acts like he is Supreme Leader of the United States – but we have something just as bad. I don’t know what to call it, perhaps corporate fascism, but Fascism seems to be the current state of affairs in America. Here’s what Merriam Webster says about Fascism:

a political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition

Is that what Trump meant when he said he was going to make America Great Again? As long as he says “Merry Christmas” and that he supports the NRA, he is guaranteed a following, while the rest of us get mad, sign petitions, and sit here with our jaws on the floor in disbelief. How could this have happened? Is there anything we can do about it.

I’ve signed my fair share of petitions, but I know the one thing that will bring them down if we’ll stop believing we’re powerless. It’s simple. Most of us have access to at least a little of it and we have the power to decide what we’ll do with it. What is it? It’s our damn money, that’s what. What is the purpose of corporations? To convince you that you can’t live without what they have and to make more and more money. They want your money. Stop giving it to them! Why do they want Bears Ears? To take what it has, make their money, then discard it when they’ve used it up. Just like they’ll do to us.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about chaos lately. As an anxious person, I expend a lot of energy trying to control what I perceive to be chaos, but I also know that chaos is necessary. If everything is controlled and orderly, it gets old and boring. We stir the pot just to keep things interesting. My therapist gave me a quote from the movie Enemy:
Chaos is order yet undeciphered

Our country is in chaos right now. What we know is being destroyed as we speak and there’s nothing we can do to fix it right now, but I have to see the bigger picture. I have to look to the future, the Seventh Generation. These corporations don’t care about us. Our government doesn’t care about us. We have to care about us. We have to start taking care of each other. Now.

It’s time for us to see the writing on the wall; we need each other. We need to start thinking in terms of what I can do for my community. What can I contribute to the group? We have everything we need to take care of ourselves as a collective. We have nurses and doctors. We have people that know how to grow food. We have people who can fix things, people who like to build things, people who know chemistry, people who own guns, people who own big chunks of land. We don’t need these corporations and we don’t need a corrupt government.

So what can you do? What do you enjoy? Are you a teacher? Do you know how to sew? Do you know how to make plant medicines? Do you make furniture or do you enjoy pottery? Do you know how to blow glass? Do you know how a well works? Are you a strong bike rider? We’ll need you to deliver things. Is there something that interests you? Go learn that, whatever it is. Start doing it now. Whatever you love to do, we will need it. We will need you.


Facebook Is A Cold, Heartless Lover

I want to be as human as possible: to not hide or run or destroy or prove anything but to see and be seen.

Timothy Goodman

It was bound to happen. Snow is falling, it’s cold, and I’m going into hibernation mode. While my deepest yearning is to connect with people, I’m super comfortable with being alone, so I’m not going to fight it. After all, I have Jupiter in my 12th house right now and that’s the best time to spend a little quality alone time.

I’ve struggled to connect with people for most of my life. I started drinking so that I could be more open with people and have a little fun. It was hard for me to do sober, because I had been trained that fun was selfish and being responsible was the only way I could get approval. However, as you can see from previous posts, drinking became a big problem and I had to quit. Without that social lubrication, though, the armor hardened up even more and it’s taken me several years of therapy to soften it up.

Six or seven years ago, I signed up for Facebook so that I could connect and play with people. Everyone kept talking about how great it was and how they’d made so many new friends, so I was thrilled to try this introverted way to make friends.

The thrill was short-lived. I struggled with feelings of rejection when my posts got few likes or comments. I couldn’t understand why someone’s terrible meme got all kinds of likes, while my posts got nothing. I compared my measly 50 friends to someone else’s 250, which was infuriating because more often than not, they never posted anything at all. How could they have so many friends? One day, I got mad and started posting only to a small group of friends who normally responded with at least a like, but that didn’t work.

The next several years were an attempt to figure out the key to getting people to play with me on Facebook. I tried everything. I posted feel-good memes, so I wouldn’t be seen as a sad sack. I tried not to fish for attention. My posts were almost always straightforward and honest. I tried to be funny. I occasionally posted rants when I got worked up, but all I got was crickets.

Occasionally, I would make new friends who would play with me for a while, making me believe that I was connecting better, but inevitably they got bored with me. Finally, I noticed that photos got more likes, so I started posting photos that I thought were really good, but my photos are not the kind that draw likes. I take mostly landscapes and macros and that’s not “like-worthy”. I did try to start taking photos with people in them, because I thought that’s what people wanted, but I couldn’t compete with those professional Facebookers who could rapid-fire shoot, edit, and post before I even got my camera out.

The final straw for me, though, was when I posted a links to this blog. I didn’t write a lot and I didn’t inundate people with blog posts, so I expected at least a handful of people to want to read them, after all, other people’s blogs got plenty of attention. Maybe that’s my in, I thought. Once blog post did really well. It was about my life with my mom, which was very tragic and got quite a bit of response, as tragic stories often do, but it was a fluke. I thought I had found the key. Be vulnerable. Be open. Tell your story. Brené Brown says that owning your story is the bravest thing you can do and I did that. I guess she forgot to mention that that doesn’t necessarily mean you will acknowledged. Subsequent posts got fewer and fewer responses, especially my personal stories, which of course, fed right into my insecurities.

I give up.

Try as I might, I can’t find the magic potion that will engage people. I’m not vapid. I’m not super entertaining. I don’t travel to far-off places or have much of a social life at all, so my posts are more introspective and personal and nobody wants to read that. Nobody wants to know your truth through Facebook. They don’t want to see you, because they are too busy trying to be seen themselves. (If everyone wants to be seen, but nobody’s looking, how are any of us ever seen?) In Facebook-land, I feel like that oddball girl on the playground, begging kids to play with me, but kids can spot needy a mile away and they don’t respond to needy. They like the cool kid who does whatever she wants and doesn’t care if you play with her or not.

So, as they say, I’ve been looking for love in all the wrong places and Facebook is a cold, heartless lover. It lures you in with the promise of love and affection. It gets you hooked with a little attention, then when the hook is set, it takes its attention away and starts looking for something else to entertain it.

Of course, this is just me and my insecurities talking. Facebook itself is harmless, but it does hold up a mirror that reflects your weaknesses back at you. I don’t need Facebook to show me my weaknesses. I know what they are, which is why I’m quitting Facebook for a while and going into isolation mode.

Fakery and game playing are not the kind of connection that I want and as long as I keep wasting my time on something that I know doesn’t work for me, I will never find the true connection that I desire.

Adios for now, Facebook. I’ll pay attention to my own self for a while and maybe I’ll come back and not give a rat’s ass if anyone likes me or not. Or perhaps I’ll finally see that I don’t need you at all.


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.






Climbing Lessons

I went rock climbing – on real rock – for the first time. I’ve had several opportunities, but I’ve always been too chicken to try – I hate being the noob. My brother and his family were here on vacation, so my sister, her boyfriend, and I took them rock climbing. Since I wasn’t going to be the only novice climber, I thought it was the perfect time to try.

After watching everyone’s first attempts, it was my turn. They weren’t going to let me weasel out of it, so I roped up, put my I’m-not-going-to-think-I’m-just-going-to-do-it blinders on, and started up the rock.

Sissy's first climb-2
Buddy check
Sissy's first climb-4
Trusting my belayer

Climbing isn’t about having strong arms or tremendous finger strength, although they do help. It’s mostly about trust. First of all, you have to trust your equipment. You have to trust that the hardware bolted to the rock is secure. You have to trust that your rope won’t break if you should fall. You have to trust that your shoes will grip the rock and you have to trust the harness to securely connect you to the rope and consequently, to your belayer.

Secondly, you have to trust your belayer. They literally have your life in their hands. Their job is to allow you enough slack to move up the rock, yet not too much so that if you fall, you won’t fall far. You have to trust that your belayer is going to pay attention and knows what they’re doing.

Finally, you have to trust yourself. You have to get past the fear that tells you that you can’t do it, that you’ll fall, and if you fall, you’ll die. You know that voice is just fear yammering in your ear. You know that you’re as safe as you can be. Your only job is to focus on the rock right in front of you, to look for those tiny places to put your fingers and toes, and take one step at a time. Oh yes. And don’t forget to breathe.

Sissy's first climb-5Sissy's first climb-6Sissy's first climb-7

There was a point where I didn’t think I’d be able to go any further. The bump in the rock where I had my toe was so small and the blip of rock where I had my fingers was so miniscule, that I thought there was no way I could take another step. However, I dug deep and decided to trust my belayer – my sister – to catch me. I took a deep breath and pushed up. To my surprise, I didn’t fall. For me, that was the crux. After that, I knew I could make it all the way.

Sissy's first climb-8

I turned around to look at Long’s Peak and the lake below – there is never a better view than the one at the summit. I even looked down at my family below, who were cheering wildly for me, and I had no fear of the height. It was a big accomplishment for me, in more ways than one.

Sissy's first climb-9
Yay me! And thank you, Jessica.

I enjoyed the high of my accomplishment for a whole day. Then as is my way, I crashed into a funk. As great as that weekend had been, I fell back to reality with a thud. The view from reality wasn’t as pretty as the view from the top of that rock.

I had been doing so well, too: trusting the Universe, playing by the rules of the Law of Attraction, and being patient. Certainly I was on my way to a great job, or better yet, a great big wad of cash was going to fall in my lap, because I was doing everything right, right?

However, I checked my bank account and realized that the well had finally gone dry. I’m in big-time debt and I have very little coming in. Just enough to eat on and put gas in the car that I can no longer pay for. And to top it all off, even Big Lots turned me down for a job. I can’t even get a minimum wage retail job. What the hell is going on?

My old friends, Fear and Control, came to set up shop in my gut. Fear said, “You’re going to lose everything. You’re going to be out on the streets. No will hire you. Ever. You’re fucked.” Control said, “You have no choice. You can’t have a job you’ll enjoy. You have to take whatever miserable job comes along, if any of them will have you.  You’re desperate. Sell your bikes. How dare you think you can have any fun when you can’t even pay your bills!” Fear and Control work well together, don’t you think?

I cried for days. Fear had me in its grip and I couldn’t see any way out. Then it dawned on me that this is the way I always handle tough situations. I get scared and I try to wrestle the fear to the ground by trying to control it. I try to force things to go the only way I believe they can. I’ve always done things from a place of desperation and low expectations, yet I’ve never been happy with the outcome.

However, my mantra over the last year has been “Do It Different” and the first step to doing it different is to know when you’re doing it the same. Now that I’ve recognized that I’m reacting in the same way, how do I do it different?

I thought about what the opposite of control and fear is and realized that it’s trust and faith. But how does one have trust and faith when there is no certainty? I don’t even know for sure there is a “Universe/God/Creator”, but I believe that there is and that’s as close to certainty as I can get, so I might as well give it a go.

Then I realized that climbing that rock for the first time wasn’t just about climbing a rock; it was a lesson in trust. I looked up trust in the dictionary. It said:

Trust: firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something

In order to climb, to move forward and up, I had to trust that Jeff had tied me correctly to the harness. I had to trust that Jessica had her belay device set up properly. I had to trust the anchors at the top would hold me and that the rope wouldn’t break. Most importantly, I had to trust my sister.

The only thing I had control of was my own mind, which is, in reality, the only thing over which we ever have control.

I had to trust my way to the top. I had no choice. What I discovered that day is that when you trust, things flow much more smoothly. It wasn’t a struggle or a chore. I didn’t have to keep checking the rope for wear. I didn’t have to remind my sister not to drop me. I could just have fun. All I had to do was focus on the task in front of me and trust that the rest was taken care of. To me, that felt like freedom. Trust is surrender to the process. Trust is allowing others to support you, even when you don’t think you deserve it. Trust is a relief.

Sissy's first climb-10

What I learned in the mountains that day is that I can trust my family, that they have my best interest at heart, and that it’s okay to allow them to help and support me. You may think that’s obvious, but it wasn’t to me until now. After decades of believing I was all alone, it’s a relief to finally allow myself to belong.

I’m still working on surrendering my control of work and money to the Universe, but now that I know what it’s like to trust, I don’t think it’ll be that hard.


Owning My Story Part 3: My Turn

bud and me
Me and my best friend, Bud Weiser.

I’ve aired my mom and dad’s dirty laundry. It’s only fair that I air mine.

If you haven’t read any of Brené Brown’s books, I’d highly recommend that you do. She is a research professor at the University of Houston with a doctorate in the Philosophy of Social Work. Her research revolves around shame, vulnerability, and how to be your authentic self. Shame is why we hide away certain parts of ourselves that we deem undesirable and it forces us to live in a way that is not true to ourselves.

I credit Brené Brown with helping me see how badly shame has impacted my life and showing me that I can let it go. She says that shame cannot survive being spoken. Once we tell our story and it’s met with empathy, the power that shame holds over us vanishes. I would like to thank those of you who have read my story so far, those who have reached out and shared their stories with me, and those who have given me a big old virtual hug in the comments. I appreciate you more than you know.

So far, I’ve written of a mother who couldn’t be the mother I needed, even though she tried and of a father who didn’t care to be a father beyond keeping a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. I was told to keep quiet (shame) about my mother’s illness and so I did. However, that family shame was just the beginning. The decades of shame that came after are all mine, so if it’s true that shame cannot survive being spoken, then I’m willing to speak of mine. I’m tired of being ashamed of my past and who I’ve been so far. Being part scientist, I’ll consider this an experiment to prove or disprove her theory myself.

I like to think that I first learned shame from being told to hide my mother’s illness, but it started before that. When I was eight or nine, I loved to perform “shows” for the neighborhood – mainly my parents and their friends across the street. I would perform a one-girl variety show with my brother doing puppet shows while I got ready for my next act. Our audience was small, but appreciative.

One day, I decided to go all out and do a dance skit that involved a choreographed number utilizing the entire backyard and the swing set as a prop, like Gene Kelly and his lamppost. I was rehearsing my big number,  Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” at the top of my lungs, when a couple of boys popped their heads up from behind the fence and began teasing and taunting me, laughing about how stupid I was. I was mortified. I promptly cancelled my performance. From that day on, I have suffered from tremendous stage fright, terrified to look stupid in front of other people. I even have trouble trying new things because I don’t want to look dumb and chance having people laugh at me.

I used to spend summers with my grandparents, especially after my mom got sick. Until I was about thirteen, I mainly hung out with my grandparents and their friends. I got lots of attention, so I didn’t mind. However, my grandmother’s hairdresser suggested that I meet her niece and two of us became fast, summer friends.

She was the person I first started drinking with. The first time, I was spending the night at her house, when she suggested we sneak a drink out of her parent’s liquor cabinet. I don’t remember exactly what the drink was – some kind of hard liquor and Coke – but I do remember how it made me feel. It was warm and soothing. Although I didn’t necessarily like the taste, it washed away all my anxiety, as if someone had swaddled me in a big, warm blanket. That feeling made me happy.

My friend and I would drink whenever we got the chance, which wasn’t all that often. We used the old tried and true method of refilling the liquor bottles with water each time we took some. The first time I got truly drunk though was on beer. We knew some older girls who could get beer, so we planned a night at the drive-in. That was my first experience with binge drinking. Beer tasted awful, but it made me feel good. There were boys around too, and being drunk made me more outgoing and comfortable with them. The first time I made out with a boy was that night, in the backseat of the car. Luckily for me, the girls were watching out for me and knew how drunk I was. They kicked the boy out of the car and drove my friend and me home.

Being a night of firsts, it was also the first time I ever threw up from drinking too much. We got home and tried to act sober as we chatted with her mother before we rushed off to my friend’s room. After a while, as I was laying in bed, the room began to spin and my stomach started to churn. I leaped out of bed to make a run for the bathroom, but I didn’t quite make it. I threw up in my hand and it leaked out as I ran. After I’d gotten everything out of my system, I went back to bed and passed out.

The next morning, my friend’s mother asked if one of us had gotten sick in the night because there was vomit on the carpet. I said that it must have been the dog. So, she said okay and made us breakfast, and although I was in no way hungry, my friend told me to eat or else her mother would know that we were hungover. So I ate with what I’m sure was a very green face as her mother eyeballed me closely. She knew it wasn’t the dog.

I started drinking for real my freshman year of college. The drinking age in Kansas at the time was eighteen, so I took full advantage of it. I would go out five nights a week. Thursdays, I stayed home to prepare for the weekend and Sundays were reserved for recovering from the weekend. Every other night, they had drink specials to entice me. How could I turn down dollar pitchers?

I loved drinking while I was drinking. I became outgoing and talkative and wasn’t afraid of anything. However, I didn’t love the after effects. Not only did I have what I believe to be the world’s worst hangovers, I was also always horribly embarrassed by how I had behaved while drunk. The outgoing, talkative, brave person I was while drinking was the very person I was embarrassed of the next day. Ever since the incident with the boys, I hated looking foolish and I felt that drinking made me look foolish. It didn’t have to be anything major to embarrass me, perhaps just talking too much or showing too much emotion. Sometimes it was major, like passing out in a bar or going home with the wrong guy. I didn’t like being out of control, but that was also part of the reason I drank, to relax and loosen up the reins I kept myself restrained with. I was ashamed of my behavior and every time I went out, I promised myself I would maintain control and not get hammered, but I always did.

Drinking wrecked my first college career. I went to several universities, only staying a year or two at each. I usually did fine in my classes despite my partying, but soon I would wear out my welcome. My friends would get serious about school so they could graduate, while I was still only interested in partying, so I would transfer somewhere else to start fresh, because “this time will be different.”

The last university I went to before I dropped out was Colorado State. At the time, Colorado State was the #1 party school in the country. I didn’t know that when I went, but I soon found out why. They had a bar in the student center, so all I had to do was walk across a field and I had all the beer I wanted. I even took a bowling class because you could drink during class. I took it twice. I found the party kids right away, so I was never at a loss for someone to drink with. I had tried a few drugs in the past, a little speed and pot, but at CSU, I had access to cocaine. While I liked it quite a bit, alcohol was still my drug of choice, so luckily for me, I didn’t add cocaine addiction to my repertoire.

Colorado State had a yearly event at the time called College Days. A few weeks before finals, they let classes out for a couple of days so that the students could let loose a little. That year, my favorite band ever, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, performed for us followed by a few teeny, tiny, unscheduled riots in which things got burned, bottles were thrown, and kids were injured. We weren’t mad about anything. It was simply a case of too many kids, and a whole lot of drugs and alcohol. Needless to say, they don’t do College Days anymore.  (Read about the riots here).

Naturally, I started the party a couple days early and by Saturday, my body couldn’t take any more booze. It shut down. I passed out at a friend’s apartment in the early afternoon on Saturday. When I awoke, I thought I ought to rejoin the party. (FOMO is a real thing.) However, my body had different ideas. My legs wouldn’t support me going down the stairs, so my friends had to drag me home and put me to bed. It took me a couple of days to recover from that binge, but I was so ashamed of myself that it left me in a severe depression. To top it off, during dead week I came down with strep throat. I didn’t study for any of my finals and I didn’t even bother to go to a couple of them. When I got the letter over Christmas break saying that I was on probation, I decided that I had had enough of college for a while.

Not only was I ashamed of how I acted when I was drunk and the amount I was drinking, but I was ashamed of my drinking and driving. It is truly a miracle that I never hurt myself or anyone else while I drove with one eye closed so that I could drive in a nearly straight line. Or the times I drove completely blacked out and not remembering how I got home. I’ll tell you just a couple of those stories.

One night, during my freshman year of college, some dorm mates and I went to a frat party where they were serving Purple Passion. It was the best bathtub mixed drink ever. It was made with grape juice and grain alcohol, so it was sweet and went down easy. As was my way, I wasn’t done drinking when the Purple Passion ran out, so I decided to go to another house to do some more drinking. Since I had already been drinking grain alcohol, I decided that I’d bypass the grape juice and just drink Everclear straight. Everyone told me not to, but apparently I took that as a challenge and took a few long swigs straight out of the bottle. It didn’t take long before I decided that I had better get back to the dorm. I knew I’d crossed the line. I got in my car and even though I was only blocks from campus, the next thing I knew, I was out in the country headed away from town. I tried to turn my car around, but having little control of my body by that point, I ended up in a culvert and couldn’t get out.

I swerved and staggered the mile or so back into town and found a gas station that was still open. I told the employee what had happened and asked him to help me. He drove me in his tow truck out to where my car was, but because it was on private property, he had to get the owner’s permission to pull the car out. Unfortunately, the people wouldn’t open the door to give permission (probably because some crazy person had just been gunning their engine trying to get out of culvert) so the guy said that he’d have to get permission from the sheriff. Again, unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), the sheriff was out working a motorcycle accident, so we had to go out there to get him to sign the paper, which gave me a chance to sober up a little.

I suppose the gas station employee told him how drunk I was and what had happened, because when I got there, I had to do a field sobriety test. The sheriff told me that he didn’t know how, but I had passed the test and he said he would sign the paper as long as I promised not to drive the car home after we got it out. Drunk driving laws back in  the early ’80’s were not as strictly enforced as they are now. Who knows if I really passed the test or if he just took pity on me, but I’m grateful to that sheriff for not throwing me in jail that night. And of course, I drove the car back to the dorms that night.

Several years later, I was working in Vicksburg, MS as a plasma center manager. I decided that I wanted to go back to Colorado, so I packed all my stuff into my Land Cruiser and headed back to Colorado. I left in the late afternoon, and to celebrate, I bought a six-pack of Budweiser tall boys for the road. I didn’t get through Louisiana before I had gone through them all, so I stopped for more.

The plan had been to drive to Wichita Falls and stay the night, but at some point I missed my turn and ended up in Dallas. I stopped to use the restroom at a convenience store and I had to ask someone what town I was in. Even though I could clearly see the skyscrapers on the Dallas skyline, I wasn’t supposed to be in Dallas, so I didn’t believe that’s where I was. After I accepted the fact that I was truly in Dallas, I headed back out to try to find my way to Wichita Falls.

At some point, somewhere on a two lane highway, I realized that I was never going to make it. I wasn’t even sure where I was and I was nodding off at the wheel, so I simply pulled over, leaned back in the front seat, and went to sleep. I slept for eight hours on the side of the road. I awoke to the wind from the passing semis rocking my car. I looked around to try to figure out where I was and wondered how I had made it through the night without getting arrested or hit by a semi in the middle of the night. I thanked my lucky stars once again and took off back down the road.

There were many more, less dramatic, drunk driving incidents. I am mortified and deeply ashamed that I put so many people at risk, but I am so very grateful to whomever is watching over me for keeping everyone safe, even me.

Another big part of my shame has to do with some inappropriate relationships with men. I dated a few guys in college, but after one particularly painful rejection, I gave up. I was convinced that I was unworthy of love, so I quit looking for relationship while I watched all my friends get married. I still dated from time to time and some of them probably did like me, but I would deem them losers, because only a loser would like me, right? Besides, the most important marriage in my life was my parents’ and I didn’t want to end up like them. I found most of the guys I dated to be needy and I had no desire to take care of anyone, like my dad had to take care of my mom.

That’s not the shameful part though. The shameful part is the fact that several times over the years, I had what I term “booty-call relationships” with married, or otherwise taken, men. It didn’t happen often, but when it did I felt like the worst person in the world. They would tell me “I’m not leaving my wife, you know” and I said that I knew. Their being unavailable made it easier for me not to get attached. It kept me from being rejected because there was nothing to be rejected from.

Even though you claim that’s not the kind of person you really are when you do something like that, people argue that you wouldn’t do it if that’s not who you are. I’m not sure how I feel about that. All I can say is that I would never have done it if I had been sober and I have never fooled around with a married man since I got sober. The problem at the time was I wasn’t sober that often.

Eventually, all that shame and embarrassment piled up on me. Although I couldn’t stop drinking, I also couldn’t allow myself to keep doing things I knew were wrong, so I simply started drinking at home alone. I figured if I stayed home and drank, at least I wouldn’t hurt anyone else.

I bargained with myself to try to keep my drinking under control, because I couldn’t imagine never being able to drink again. I would go buy a couple of beers, promising myself that that was all I would drink that night. Inevitably though, I would want “just a couple more.” However, I was embarrassed to go to the same store where I’d bought the first beers, so I’d have to go to a different store to buy the next ones. Every time I went to buy beer, I had to go to different stores, so the liquor store employees to know how much I drank.

I tried to quit drinking numerous times, but inevitably I would con myself into allowing just one or two. I really thought I could keep it under control. and it even worked for a day or two., but very soon, I got right back up to speed.

As the years went by, I started to become more and more afraid that my luck would run out and something bad would happen. I knew I was biding my time. I was terrified of getting a DUI. Sometimes, on my third trip out for beer, I wouldn’t remember whether I had paid for it and I wouldn’t go back to that store for fear of getting arrested. I did everything I could to try to control it, but there was no way I could.

One day, I was at home with my nieces. I had been drinking a little, although I did maintain a little control when I was with them, and it dawned on me that that was how they were going to know me. I would be their “drunk auntie.” Despite the embarrassment, the drunk driving, the unavailable men, and my fear of running out of luck, the thing that ultimately made me quit drinking was the fact that I didn’t want “Drunk Sissy” to be how they remembered me. So on September 4, 2007, without any fanfare, I quit drinking.

Quitting drinking was by far both the hardest and the best thing I’ve ever done. I’ve been sober for almost ten years now and I am finally rediscovering the person I came into this life to be – the real me and not the lie. I’ve kept the real me hidden away for a long time, because I was embarrassed of who I thought I was. I thought alcohol made me better, but it only masked a whole lot of sadness and shame and drove the real me deeper undercover.

I wasn’t even sure I would be able to survive the pain I felt, but there was always a tiny spark of light hidden deep within me that kept me going. I like to think of that spark as my true self – my soul – and I hope to honor my soul by throwing off the thick, heavy blankets of shame that almost smothered it, so that I can be more authentically myself, whoever that is. As Marie Forleo says, “The world needs that special something that only YOU have.” I hope I can find my special something soon.