dropping baggage & welcoming 2018.

For years, I’ve sworn off the entire idea of New Year’s resolutions.  They often feel so trite, futile even.  Perhaps you’ve witnessed how packed the gym is the first two weeks of the new year, only to eventually return back to normal.  Or maybe you’ve noticed a new musical instrument, leaning inconspicuously in the corner of your friend’s apartment, unused, unlearned, slowly collecting dust.  Another casualty of unfocused, New Year excitement.

The unfortunate, unspoken truth is, if you had to wait until the stroke of midnight to start your goal, you probably didn’t want it.

I know this personally as I have been that New Year’s resolution fanatic, guilty of walking past that pile of brand new unused workout gear day after day, letting perfectly good bundles of kale rot in the refrigerator and…what did I ever do with that mandolin I just knew I was going to master?

***

If you’ve visited my blog in the past, you’ve read about this introspective journey I’ve been on the past few years.  It’s involved a lot of reflecting on past events, some of them exciting, some of them unpleasant.  It’s also involved me taking a hard, uncomfortable look at my habits, thought patterns and emotional reactions.  Purging resentments, validating past hurts and disappointments, but also gradually letting them go.  The whole process has been a little messy, even painful at times.

But ultimately, I feel a better, stronger, more resilient self emerging in the process.

***

This past month, instead of picking goals to start on January 1, I decided that I should start focusing on what I really want out of life.  The experiences, careers, friendships and general energy I want to surround me.  I became devoted to cleansing negativity from my life, but also being grateful for all of the positive things I already have and looking forward to all the exciting things emerging for me in the future.

In essence, I had to drop a lot of old baggage before I even got close to the New Year.

So, dear friends, instead of your New Year’s resolutions, what did you leave behind in 2017?  And what are you looking forward to in 2018?

Now to go look for that damn mandolin…

-C

Night terrors.

Night terrors.

For a lot of people, this phrase means absolutely nothing. For me, it’s been a plague to my well-being and health for several years.

For the first time in a long time, I had the unfortunate experience of waking up in the middle of the night with a feeling of intense dread – sweating, crying, fearing that I was in peril and thinking that I was in danger of dying.

This routine is so familiar to me.  Checking every door and window, ensuring that my domicile is secure.  Making sure that I am safe.

My last horrible dream prompted me to go to the gun range to learn how to defend myself.  I considered buying a rifle.  These nightmares are no joke, I promise you.

I sat up last night, listening for the attacker that wasn’t there, trying, in vain, to coddle myself, reminding myself that he doesn’t know where I live.  Telling myself that he can’t find me.

Thank the Universe.

Safety is an often forgotten luxury.  In these moments of intense anxiety, trying desperately to remember that I now have a family of loved ones who will work to protect me, I have to tell myself that these nightmares are fleeting.  Strength comes from overcoming this darkness and fighting the fear that sometimes plagues my mind.

One day, I hope these nightmares will go away.  I didn’t ask to be on the receiving end of an abusive relationship, but I know that every time I share my story, I weaken his hold over my life.  I strengthen a woman who is experiencing something similar. I know that my words have power and meaning, and that I can bring positive change, even in my darkest moments.

This morning, I am thankful for this night terror.  I am thankful for this opportunity to share my darkest secret with you all.  If I can rise from the most horrible and haunting experience of my life, I know you can too.

Your eternal friend,
-c

survivor’s guilt.

Sophomore year of college, I had the pleasure of living with one of the sweetest, brightest people I have ever met.   Christine was a force to be reckoned with.  A phenomenal singer with a bubbling personality and a lust for life.

Christine and I were basically the Odd Couple. I would encourage her to go to class, eat vegetables and study for exams.  She would encourage me to party more, stay out later and enjoy life.  Neither of us took the other’s advice.

Christine ended up dropping out of school, later that year, due to medical issues.  Around that time, we ended up having a falling out – a situation too lengthy to recant here.

And then a few years ago, Christine died of a heroin overdose.  I didn’t know she was using heroin.  I didn’t know she was struggling.  I hadn’t seen her in a long time, so I wasn’t sure what she had been up to.  But for whatever reason, I felt nothing but guilt when I found out.  Somehow, I was responsible.  This voice in the back of my head would say “If you were a better friend, she wouldn’t be dead”.

Life milestones would come and go.  A promotion here.  An apartment there.  A new beau.  A trip to a new city.  And the guilt would set in.  I’m getting to enjoy things she never got to.  “You could have saved her.  You failed”.

It took years for me to finally realize that her death wasn’t my fault.

Thankfully, that survivor’s guilt that has been weighing on my neck like a millstone, has started to fall away.  Instead of guilt, I have decided to live a life of love.  Spreading joy, positivity, baked goods and happiness whenever and wherever I can.  While I hope and pray that my friends know they can come to me anytime, day or night, 24/7 if they need help, I know now that is also their right not to.

The one thing Christine taught me while she was alive was to live in the moment and not dwell on the past.  While this is certainly a struggle for me, I view every day as an opportunity to live a good life, in her memory.

For you, Christine,
-C

resurrection.

This weekend, I have the pleasure of taking a short vacation to our nation’s capital with my family for Easter.  Going to Washington DC for Easter has been a tradition for my family for several years.  When my mother asked me a few weeks back if I would like to come to DC again this year for the holiday, I jumped at the opportunity.

Whatever your personal feelings are on Easter, it’s hard to escape the overt symbolism of the holiday.  Renewal, rebirth and resurrection are woven throughout the Christian Easter story, but I like to think that these themes are also woven throughout our lives as well.

For me, my resurrection came not long ago in an extremely profound way.  Recently, I finally found a doctor who was able to properly diagnose and treat a chronic illness that has been plaguing me for a very long time.  Being able to breathe again (literally but, of course, figuratively as well) has felt nothing short of miraculous.

Exercising is easier.  Meditating is simpler.  Even walking is better.  My insomnia has started slipping away.  My body has been feeling better every day.  This transformation has been so powerful that I cried for three days straight out of sheer gratitude and relief.

Most of the time, change is incremental, at best.  But every once in awhile we are fortunate enough to experience a rebirth so sudden and unexpected that it propels us forward in an extremely powerful and meaningful way.

Yesterday there was darkness.  Today there is light.  Sometimes the path between those two is long and winding and sometimes it happens in the blink of an eye.  How have you been resurrected?

darkness.

As you may have read in yesterday’s guest post, the theme I picked for this weekend is renewal, rebirth and resurrection.

Although I’m not a Christian, I spent a considerable portion of my adult life studying Christian theology, the Bible, comparative religions and Eastern philosophies.  I’m a theology nerd, amongst other things.

It hit me when I woke up this morning that in the Christian liturgical calendar, today is Holy Saturday – the day that Jesus lay in the tomb after the crucifixion.  For Christians across the globe, this is essentially a day of anticipation of the joy of Resurrection Day (Easter).

I find it fitting, in a way, that in this story, there is a period of darkness that comes right before the miracle.  Darkness, not only for Jesus in the tomb, but a period of emotional darkness for all of those who followed him.

It can be so easy, when we look back through the chapters of our lives, to forget the sadness, grief, angst or suffering that came before our biggest moments of joy, growth or healing.

Today, I invite you to reflect on a period of darkness in your life.  Instead of mourning that time, I ask that you think about how that time gave way to something greater and, just for a brief moment, express a little gratitude for that time of sorrow.

The light is coming,
-C

guest post: A Long and Winding Road

Recently, I asked a few of my fellow writer friends to contribute guest posts for this holiday weekend with the theme of renewal, rebirth and resurrectionAs you read the entries this Easter weekend, I invite you to think of a time in your life when you had to start over or make a significant change.  Was it a long time coming?  Or was it unexpected and sudden?  Was this many years ago?  Or is it happening right now?

Today’s post comes from a good friend and colleague who has asked to remain anonymous.  Please enjoy their entry “A Long and Winding Road”.

-C

A Long and Winding Road

road

 

One of the beautiful and scary things about life is how many possibilities we have each day. It is beautiful, because each moment we literally have an infinite amount of decisions we can make. The terrifying part? We literally have an infinite number of roads we can take.

I was recently reminded of this due to my living situation needing to change in the next couple of months. It has awakened the inner reminder of how important it is to examine my life, and reexamine, similar to a hiker and their relationship with a compass. Am I living a life I feel called to, or just one I am able to. What brings me joy? Do I spend time doing the things that bring me joy? Who am I helping day-to-day? How did I pack into the stream of life? These are just some of the questions I use for those inner surveys.

The life I want to live, is not always the life I am currently living. My path has definitely been a long and winding one. The last year has been full of sadness and grief, and as I have started to come out of this place, it has given me a new perspective. With the gift of time, I am grateful for how the last calendar year has played out.

As a past contributor to CYLFriday.com I feel called to carry on a tradition this Good Friday. We always had a call to action, and this week, who are you becoming? Take some time today, and take an inventory of your life, good, bad, and indifferent. What area of your life do you want to change? Share some of your thoughts and ideas in the comment section.

 

murdering my cynicism.

Fighting my inner cynic has been a personal battle of mine for a long time.

This is probably a surprise to many.  My sunny disposition, hippy demeanor and general optimism doesn’t seem to be compatible with cynicism.  The truth is, those traits that I hold are actually born out of that attitude.

So where does it come from?

Cynicism can be like a cocoon.  A heartbreak, a betrayal, a friendship ended, a tumultuous childhood, a racist remark, a hurtful comment here and there and eventually, this warm blanket of doubt and suspicion envelops you.  A coping mechanism that you hope will save you from the shock of future disappointments and letdowns.

Life can be difficult sometimes.  Our loved ones can let us down.  Our leaders can be exposed as liars.  Even coworkers and acquaintances can fail to live up to our expectations, even when those expectations are pretty low.  But hiding inside yourself doesn’t lead to a rich life full of fulfilling experiences and meaningful relationships.  That can only be achieved by being vulnerable and accepting that along the way, you may indeed get hurt.  You won’t get joy without risking pain.

Honestly, my cynicism is incredibly fragile.  It melts away so easily by the kindness of others, hugs, kisses, sharing a meal with friends, traveling, the laughter I hear from my patient or playing with a puppy.

When I slide a little too deeply into my cynicism, I have to remind myself of where that road can lead.  I have witnessed the horrible examples of people who gave in so deeply to their cynicism, building up wall after wall, so greatly hurt by past trauma that they ended up as nasty, bitter assholes.

No thanks.  Not about that life.

So here’s to the death of my cynicism.  I had to shoot it and bury it in the backyard.  I had to murder my cynicism in favor of kindness, love and forgiveness. I had to kill my cynicism to let gratitude, happiness and positivity in.

I have to be brave.  Cynicism is the coward’s method to life.  I would rather be courageous, risk getting hurt and enjoy my life.

You’re going to scrape your knee,
-C

an ode to worrying.

My brain is weird.

At any given moment, even if I’m already performing a task during the day, I’m always thinking ahead to something else.  Usually, this means I have a perpetually running checklist of things that need to be done that day and a strategy to complete them in the most time-effective way possible.  Efficiency is kind of my thing.

On top of the normal checklist, I also have a steady background noise in my head that is dedicated to looking into the near and distant future.  “If I make career move A versus career move B, how will that affect my earning potential in 20 years?”.  “If I start saving now, I can probably take a trip to Japan next year”.  That sort of thing.

As you might imagine, this kind of thinking is a bit of a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, this trait has served me well in certain areas of my life.  Being able to think ahead and predict how a project could get derailed and then be able to come up with a litany of contingency plans to resolve those potential issues has, oddly enough, proven helpful in my career as a project manager.  Additionally, worrying about potential danger has most likely kept me safe in a variety of situations, especially on the days and nights I was by myself, working in New York City.

However, in my younger, more anxious days (mainly high school), this kind of thinking caused a great deal of distress.  Looking back, I realize that it was my mother, the World Champion of Worrying, who set the example for me.  As I got a little older and a little more independent, I started to realize that not everything is a crisis.  Some things simply don’t need or deserve the same expenditure of emotional energy.  Many times it’s necessary to not give even one single fuck about certain things.

As bad as worrying can be, and it can definitely be very, very bad, I’m still thankful for this little defect.  If I wasn’t prone to worrying, I probably would have never discovered meditation, yoga or even the simple joy of walking through the woods to clear my mind.  Essentially, worrying has taught me to how to relax.  And while I’m still not always the best at it (many thanks to my loved ones who remind me to live in the moment), I now see Worrying, not as an enemy, but as a somewhat annoying, lifelong friend.

Chill,
-C

the perfectionism lie.

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Back in college, as a prerequisite to graduating, we were required to spend several hours in the Career Center.  There were a variety of sessions we had to sit through, most of which revolved around how to write a cover letter and resume as well as job search strategies and networking.  In one session on interview skills, our Career Counselor told us that a good way to answer the popular “greatest weakness” question is to say that you are a perfectionist.*

“Weakness?”, I thought. “That’s my greatest strength!”.  Or so I thought.

I certainly did pride myself on being a perfectionist.  It was simply how I was raised.  In my household growing up, anything less than perfection in terms of schoolwork, job performance or behavior simply was not tolerated.  Mistakes were not just frowned upon, but unacceptable.  As I got older and moved away to college, I certainly internalized this, striving for 100% excellence in everything.

I was able to balance multiple internships, side work, and DJing/news-casting at the local radio station all while maintaining a very high GPA.  Perfectly executing every task in front of me, I thought, was the path to success and happiness.  However, I quickly found out that aiming for perfectionism is not only destructive but also counter-intuitive in the long run.  Why?

Perfection doesn’t exist.

Sure, you can put on the facade of perfection and you can certainly obsess over the most minute of details in every single project you ever work on.  But you won’t ever be perfect.  Your work won’t ever be perfect.

Eventually, you will start to realize this, but, like an addict, you will continue to reach for that thing that is just beyond your grasp.  And then procrastination, burn-out, stress and a crippling fear of failure or rejection (all common side-effects of perfectionism), will start to take over.

As I started dealing with those perfection related problems, I realized that chasing after such an unattainable goal was not only making me miserable, it was killing me.

The truth is, deep-down, I knew that perfectionism was a lie.  I never, ever held any other person to the standard I held for myself.  I loved seeing my friends and colleagues reach their goals and gain new skills and when they stumbled, I told them how these mistakes were simply life-lessons that would help them do better in the future.  Physician, heal thyself.

I’m still learning that being less than perfect is just fine.  In my more stressfed moments, many times on nights when my insomnia relentlessly keeps my awake, I have to remind myself  that life will continue to have ups-and-downs, failures, successes and setbacks. And that’s OK.

To being super human, not superhuman,
-C

*By the way, this was and still is horrible interview advise.  Telling an entire group of students to give the same, canned, played-out answer to a common interview question is ridiculous.  Seriously, don’t use this in your next job interview.

death, regret & lessons from the end.

Just as I started writing today’s blog post my phone started buzzing.  They finally found him, but it was too late.  He had passed away.  This young man, who I did not have the pleasure of knowing very well, was kind of like a distant sibling.  What we shared in common was our love and appreciation for our “second Mom” Tracie, a phenomenal woman who has a wide web of young people she has nurtured and mentored over the years.  We were both proud members of that extended family.

The last time I saw him was several months ago in Philly.  He showed me pictures of his daughter, telling me how much he loved her.  We told stories and shared some laughs.  He introduced me to his beautiful and equally sweet girlfriend.  We all talked about the past, overcoming obstacles and planning for the future.

Originally, this post was going to be a reflection on my time volunteering in hospice. But I think the one, big, life transforming lesson I’ve learned, both from hospice work and from mourning the passing of friends and family members, is the same:

We all have the tendency to spend way too much of our precious time and energy on the wrong shit.

A lot of people ask me what kinds of things the dying talk about as they near the end. God? Heaven? Hell?  In my experience, rarely.

My patients mostly talk about how much they adore their children and grandchildren.  Their pets.  How they love knitting, but can’t do it so much anymore because of arthritis.  The time they accidentally drank moonshine.  Family. Friends. Fun.

But also, lots of regret: the grudges held entirely too long, the friendships that could have been mended, the marriages that could have been saved, the fear that held them back from finding joy.

“I wish I had spent more time with my family.”

“I regret not making up with that friend.”

“I should have told my father I forgave him.  Now it’s too late.”

As an atheist, I don’t know if anything waits for us on the other side of death’s door, but I do know that we have this moment, right now.  Our time on this earth is finite. Sometimes we see the end approaching and sometimes we don’t.  But either way, I hope we can all spend a little more time creating great memories, spending quality time with our family and friends, forgiving trespasses and loving each other fully, without fear.

Love.
-C