A close friend of mine and I drove to Mississippi a few weeks ago to attend her brother’s wedding.
I was delighted to go, chomping at the bit for an exciting road trip across southeast Texas.
I’ve been entranced with the concept of road trips in general ever since my first solo excursion from Texas to South Carolina just about two years ago. I’m not even sure what excited me more – that I could actually drive 10 hours without falling asleep at the wheel, or that I didn’t end up somewhere out in Arizona instead.
Whoever installed my sense of direction put it in backwards.
And I have to say, I have often felt that way about lots of other areas of my life as well. For instance, for years I have marveled at the sheer oddity of witnessing myself, time and again, look forward to or anticipate an event, only to watch it come and go and realize the idea of it was more fun than the actual happening itself.
Kind of like when the previews make the movie look so much better than it is. Only this time the previews were all in my mind. Literally.
It is always such a joy and a privilege to welcome new mentors to our volunteer ranks inside of MentorCONNECT, the global eating disorders mentoring community I co-lead alongside a team of wonderful colleagues and friends.
When a new mentor starts to volunteer, often one of the biggest concerns they have is, “How will I know I am making a difference in my mentee’s life?”
They have such a strong, beautiful desire to give.
And for this reason, answering this question is also one of the toughest tasks our leadership team faces, because the truthful answer is, “You may never know if you have made a difference.”
I have discovered many things in my post-recovered years (that is, in the years since my dependence on my eating disordered thoughts and behaviors subsided for a sustained period of time).
For instance, I have discovered that sometimes we just hurt.
Sometimes we just feel sad.
Sometimes we just wake up on the wrong side of not just our own bed, but of the world as well.
As author Pema Chodron writes in her book, “When Things Fall Apart”, “We’re always in some kind of mood. It might be sadness, it might be anger, it might not be much of anything, just a kind of blur. It might be humor or contentment. In any case, whatever it is, that’s the path.”
It took me a long, long time to start seeing those shifting-sands moods as anything other than the dangerous possibility of relapse, the result of something I must still be doing wrong, or an indication that I am never going to get “there” – to that place of no more shifting sands.
In other words, I was confusing recovery with life.
Lately I have been training to become a hospice volunteer.
Encouraged by a close and fellow recovered friend who counts being a hospice volunteer as one of the most moving and meaningful experiences of her life to date, I have waded into an arena that my nuts-and-bolts, reasonable, answers-happy self knows little if anything about.
That part of me isn’t too comfortable with hospice.
Where do we go when we die? What happens before we die? When will I die? Would I want to know approximately when I will die, or would I prefer to go suddenly, and unprepared?
These are the questions my training class has been discussing. After my first nine hour class, I came home feeling kind of grumpy. Unsettled. Restless. Impatient. And already somehow burned out.
Recently I decided to resume my yoga practice.
My reasons for doing so primarily stemmed from the fact that everything else I tried, from climbing stairs to weight machines at the local gym to jogging at the park to walking around the neighborhood somehow resulted in injury.
By the time I made the decision to return to the restorative hot yoga practice that had so successfully rehabilitated my left ankle several years ago, I had a torn something in my right shoulder, a sprained something else in my left hip, three deep gash scars in both knees (two on the right and one on the left, respectively) and very little confidence that I could walk to the bathroom from the kitchen without incurring bodily harm.
So imagine my surprise when, three enthusiastic weeks into my restorative yoga practice, I pulled a muscle in my back. Not one of the small unnecessary ones either – oh no. I found the long large one that runs from the base of my spine all the way up to curl inside the left shoulder blade, and that was the one I wrenched.
The reason? I wasn’t properly warmed up. And that was because I was, quite simply, paying more attention to the practices of others around me than I was to my own.
Last week a friend convinced me to go check out the new X-Men movie.
Despite my assertions that I am not an X-Men afficionado and probably wouldn’t understand a thing about what was going on, she insisted I would do just fine since the new movie is a “pre-quel” that explains how all the stuff I don’t know about came to be.
So of course I went.
It is not that the concept was so revolutionary – people can be different, and people who are different can be scary, and we are programmed to be scared of scary things, and so on and so on.
But what struck me was the oh-so-clear portrait the movie painted of how powerful group support can be.
In her book “When Things Fall Apart”, Pema Chodron likens sitting with our own loneliness to going into detox.
“Boy, that doesn’t sound like fun!” I thought when I first read her words.
But it sure made me curious.
Is it? Is the experience of my own loneliness really that uncomfortable – or transformative?
So I sat with it. I had a perfect opportunity the other night in my meditation class, so I marched right into that space where I often feel inexplicably lonely, and I sat down to wait.
It didn’t take long. Before five minutes had passed I started to squirm. To fidget. To THINK.
Oh god. The thinking. That’s the worst.
There is an old saying that a pessimist complains because roses have thorns, while an optimist rejoices because thorns have roses.
We realists tend to fall somewhere in between. We can see the necessity of the thorns to protect the delicate blossoms from marauding insects – and humans – yet also see the necessity of the roses to dress up an otherwise somewhat undesirable form of plant life.
But loving either perspective does not always come naturally. In other words, we simply cannot seem to cure ourselves of wanting thornless roses.
As I continue to grow and evolve in my own recovery journey, I am struck time and again by how freely and enthusiastically (whether invited to do so or not) others weigh in on what they think I should do here, where they think I should go there, what they think I should choose in this situation, why I am having a good day or a bad day or a blah day and how I could change that…..and everything in between.
The fact is, we feel at our confident best when we are dispensing advice….to others.
But how do we feel when we dispensing advice to ourselves?
How readily do we believe ourselves? How trusting are we of our motivations or our words?