This year’s even better. Every single one of the 366 days in 2020, dedicated to us! (Yep, it’s a leap year!)
In honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, the World Health Organization (WHO) has deemed 2020:
THE YEAR OF THE NURSE
I might be a tad biased, but if anyone deserves a whole year of devotion, it’s me and my nurse peeps.
#YON2020 isn’t just an excuse to eat birthday cake with Nurse Flo’s name on it. The WHO intends to advance nurses’ vital position in transforming healthcare around the world.
Nurses and midwives play a vital role in providing health services…They are often, the first and only point of care in their communities. The world needs 9 million more nurses and midwives if it is to achieve universal health coverage by 2030.
I’m on board with boosting legislation that results in Universal Health Care, but my agenda is a little different; I’m concerned with the health of nurses themselves.
So when I first heard the phrase “Year of the Nurse” this is what (and who) came to my mind:
Critical Care colleagues physically exhausted, facing moral distress
Colleagues in recovery fighting to keep their license, sobriety and lives intact
Nursing students who are ill-prepared for the sacrifice their careers will demand
I thought of the secret shame so many of us harbor, overwhelmed with life and work but desperate to keep anyone from thinking we’re weak. We even hide from our coworkers, despite our shared experience which could foster deep connections if we felt empowered to let down our walls.
As I’m writing, the world outside is turning a soft winter white. The ground underneath it, mostly a dirty brown state of decay or Washington state moss (mold) green, is being transformed by a fresh coat of snowy paint.
Snow makes everything beautiful. It creates a world that appears clean, peaceful, poignant, and full of possibility. A foot or two of snow on the ground can turn any landscape into a Thomas Kinkade painting.
The thing about snow is it’s temporary. It’s going to melt. (Unless you live on one of the poles in which case your snow-covered world looks less ‘awe-inspiring Kinkade’ and more ‘stark Nat Geo magazine spread’) As it melts, the dirt below remains. The only difference is it will be wetter, colder and so dense you’ll need a supersized industrial-strength shovel to get it out of the way. (There’s nothing grosser than the gray-brown slush that builds up along the sidewalks after a snowfall.)
But right now, the snowflakes are like falling crystal, and it’s the essential backdrop for a New Year’s reflection and perfect analogy for a blog post. The snow may conceal the ugliness of the past, but it won’t eliminate the mess for good.
That part’s up to me. I have to clean up my own messes.
I love being single, but I don’t love dating. The only good I’ve derived from dating is an end to writer’s block.
Ok, all the personal growth has been pretty nice. Every time I meet I knew a new guy, I learn more about myself. Whether I like it or not.
For example, it was two years ago when this single journey began and I wrote this blog deliberating whether or not to tell a date I don’t drink alcohol. It was such a conundrum, I went on to write more….This one, and then this!
I wonder if I owe all these guys some royalties.
Just kidding! You think I get paid to do this?!
Despite my public recovery, I was terrified to tell a date. I even created a separate non-recovery oriented Instagram to show them. I don’t know how I thought we would get past a first date, but that’s what shame does; creates secrets and fear. It tells us we don’t deserve to be ourselves or make mistakes. It tells us we’re unloveable.
Today I know better. Why bother meeting a guy if I’m not honest? If sobriety doesn’t resonate with his lifestyle, then I need to know right away. He’s not for me.
So I divulge it right up front. My online dating profile states: “I have an alcohol free lifestyle”.
The question I still grapple with is: “Do I only date sober guys?” I’m not sure that’s a hard and fast rule, so I’m trying to find a balanced approach, asking myself: “Does my date understand and/or agree with my perspective? Am I making choices that align with my values? Will my decisions today enhance or inhibit my sobriety? Does this potential partner define sobriety and recovery the same way I do?”
After all it’s not whether the guy is “sober” that matters….how he interprets sobriety makes all the difference.
Webster’s defines “Sober” as not intoxicated or addicted to alcohol. General consensus broadens this to include abstinence from all mind altering substances. But subcategories exist and we need to acknowledge them. It’s not realistic or useful to hold everyone to the same requirements.
Refraining from all intoxicating substances is the gold standard, especially according to 12 step programs. But there’s compelling evidence supporting the role of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT). Stigma prevents widespread approval, but even skeptics acknowledge its benefit as harm reduction at the least.
Harm reduction is considered an acceptable alternative within many recovery communities, if only as a step towards renunciation. “Harm reduction” …seek(s) to reduce harm associated with drug use and ineffective, radicalized drug policies. Meaning some people can use certain substances under certain circumstances, only if it there are decreased consequences.
The booming popularity of CBD and hemp products is an example of this. As legalization expands and the public’s stance is increasingly casual, it’s not uncommon to hear qualifiers to sobriety such as “I’m sober EXCEPT for…” or “I’m sober from alcohol, but..I use A, B or C.”
That’s cool. I’m no puritan, and certainly in no place to throw stones; my glass house is made of Suboxone, one of the prescriptions utilized in MAT. I’m not qualified or interested in defining anyone else’s pathway or establishing their boundaries.
Buuuutttt….. it’s blatantly clear I need to define and establish my own, particularly as I search for a partner. If I don’t, I could be well on my way to adding my own caveats. Making exceptions to my rule of avoiding mind altering substances, it’s a short distance from “I’m sober but I do edibles” to “I’m sober but I drink on holidays” and eventually, “Who me? Nah, I’m not sober.”
I had a secret weapon to deal with anxiety, pain or discomfort: simply self-medicate with substances. Being a little tipsy, a little numb and a little checked out helped me tolerate the surfing situation (not to mention all other hard things in life). The day would pass in sea-salt tinted haze.
“I own a surfboard, but I’m not a surfer.” This is my go-to script when discussing the salty sport.“Surfing is the hardest sport I’ve ever tried.” Is the next sentence that flows off my tongue. It’s all true. I purchased a 9’6” bright red longboard before ever attempting to tackle a wave, and once I did, found it to be the most challenging, intimidating and exhilarating activity I’ve pursued.
Surfing requires balance, coordination, strength, mental composure, a love of water and proclivity for adrenaline. When I first donned a wetsuit at age 30, I didn’t possess many of these attributes. I was physically clumsy, preferred reading on the beach vs. frolicking in the waves, and I’ve got a weird quirk about putting my face under water. I hate it. While I grew up thoroughly enjoying swimming in pools and lakes with my dad and siblings, I would rarely immerse my head. Like a cat, when water touches my face, I instantly recoil. Even in the shower. I know, it’s ridiculous.
(I have a couple theories why this is, but not enough blog space to elaborate. Perhaps another time we’ll examine my two near drownings along with early belief that maintaining a perfectly made up face to gain male attention was more important than letting go to playfully swim. I’ve predominately overcome these, gratefully, but I still swim with my face fully above the surface!)
Submersion underwater is non-negotiable in surfing. My face was going to get wet; no way around it. But when one is 30 years old, in a new relationship, leaping into life in a fresh, adventurous way and one’s boyfriend says, “I want to take you surfing!!” one does not say “I can’t do that, I don’t like to get my face wet”. One purchases a surfboard and wetsuit and faces their watery foe head-on (after vomiting in the grassy dunes on the way to the waterfront.)
My first surf adventure was at Short Sands on the Oregon Coast. Lucky for me, my older brother is an excellent surfer and was there to walk me through the process. I’ll never forget laying shakily atop the unfamiliar red surfboard as he held tightly to the sides, chest deep in the water. When the right wave was near, he’d say “Paddle” and push me ahead of the wave. Next, he’d instruct me to “Get up!” as I struggled to get vertical. The ocean was threatening and unpredictable. My brother: reliable and serene.
I’ve surfed a few dozen times since then, but not well. I’d schlep out into the cold liquid and hours would pass as I fell again and again. I’d make it up to my knees a handful of times, but rarely to my feet. The water was frigid, salt relentlessly stung my eyes, and the neck of my wetsuit suffocated me. Mostly, I stood waist deep with my feet firmly planted on the sand, looking out toward limitless rolling waves, hoping everyone was too busy to notice I hardly tried.
Besides avoiding plunging my face under, I was burdened with all the “normal” fears associated with entering a vast, creature-filled body of water:
Deep, primal fear of what lies beneath the surface: jelly fish, stingrays, and sharks oh my!
Fear of possible and probable injury: surfboards are hard when they hit your head and fins are VERY sharp when they cut your ankle, thigh or arm
Fear of unpredictable, merciless currents, waves and riptides: the ocean has a reputation of tumbling people like socks in a giant washing machine.
Signage along the shore warns of the risks assumed by stepping into the sea. The ocean plays by her own rules, and if you don’t know or understand them, you can easily end up a victim to the game.
All of that sounds awful as I put it on paper. “Why do it at all?” you ask. (I’m asking myself as I write this as well.)
I persisted because my partner at the time was into it and it was something to do as a couple. It was also an activity in common with my brother and bonding moments with him were rare and special. I persisted because it was the sexy thing to do. It feels young and trendy to wear a bikini top and a wetsuit pulled up to my waist, flaunting natural beachy waves in my hair. I persisted to belong; to join the after party without feeling like a fraud on dry land when everyone else had kicked ass in, or had their ass kicked by, the ocean.
More significant were the few exceptional moments when I got it. I mean really got it. The wave swelled under me, my body found its way upright and I maintained a balanced, athletic posture all the way to the foamy whitewater at the shore; the moment I caught a wave. That was a feeling I wanted more of. A feeling of alive seldom achieved in any other sport.
That sensation was so pleasant, so magnetic, it was worth facing all my aforementioned fears. Besides, I had a secret weapon to deal with anxiety, pain or discomfort: simply self-medicate with substances. Being a little tipsy, a little numb and a little checked out helped me tolerate the surfing situation (not to mention all other hard things in life). The day would pass in sea-salt tinted haze. Somehow, I’d make it safely to dry land and move on to more savory pastimes such as reading, beach combing, and more drinking. Alcohol washed away worry and Vicodin dulled the dread as I hesitantly paddled out into the Pacific, though they certainly never assisted in gaining balance or expertise.
WARNING: Do not ever surf under the influence. I am in no way insinuating substances ACTUALLY made me brave. They simply numbed my fear. Which means they also numbed my joy. And then I became an addict and lost my job and many relationships and almost my nursing license along with my dignity and it’s taken me years to overcome the shame and sickness that ensued from thinking it was a good idea to self-medicate. I’m simply relaying how my brain worked at the time, before I understood the catastrophic consequences and life-threatening risks I was taking and before I truly loved myself. Ok, with that out of the way….
The seductive call of surfing sang to me again in Costa Rica, while traveling with family. The waves were comparatively warm and small, but I was no less terrified than I’d been in the polar Pacific. All my previous fears remained, with one major distinction: I had no addictive crutch to calm my shaking nerves.
In Costa Rica I would be surfing sober, and I lacked a backup coping mechanism. I longed for a super strong IPA and little white pill to transform my cowardice into (false) confidence.
Especially as a woman in recovery from religious trauma, self-loathing, perfectionism, opiates and alcohol, the ability to walk around with the experience that “I am absolutely OK just as I am” is nothing less than a miracle.
It’s been 10 consecutive days camping, hiking, swimming and posting up in driveways. The evidence is indisputable:
I have not changed out of my Olakai sandals, except for ONCE when I used the local Planet Fitness in Eureka California. My feet are toughened up for the barefoot season, to put it nicely. (I did book a pedicure today. I’m camping, but a girl still has needs.)
I’ve not worn a bra once, only occasional tank top like sports bras. If you’ve been reading for awhile, you know I probably don’t NEED a bra. (refer to this early blog. Fair warning: not my best material. Raw, genuine, but pre-writing course and I’m not taking the time to edit.) From the looks of the locals, I don’t think this part of Oregon requires the undergarment.
My skin is glowing with summer tan. And by tan, I mean my freckles have grown together close enough that from a distance, if you squint your eyes, I appear to have a mild bronze sheen. I’ll take it, it’s the best I can ask for.
My eyes are sparkling, my gait nonchalant and my face relaxed. (Ok, that could be the botox I got right before the trip…) Schedules/plans/obligations are beginning to feel like a thing of the past.
It’s official. I’m in vacation mode. After a week of reveling in the foggy western coastline and brilliant green shade of Northern California’s Redwoods, it was time to head inland for sunnier times.
Meandering northeast, I stopped for the night in Eagle Point, Oregon where I met a charismatic, van-owning woman whom impacted my life significantly in a matter of hours. She gifted me a homemade smudge stick, added me to a women’s only online van community, and generously shared the journey of her grief/healing process when our conversation turned to aging dogs and loss of parents. She introduced me to Laurie Anderson’s documentary “Heart of a Dog”, and showed me mementos such as a healing candle from her mother’s service, and gorgeous glass pendant created from her beloved dog’s ashes by Psyche Cremation Jewelry in Bend, Oregon (which as you know was my next stop!) Cassie – my own special canine soulmate – is still very much alive, but a large part of my trip’s purpose has been to celebrate her life and prepare for inevitable loss as she begins to slow down at 14 years old. And always, in the back of my mind, are thoughts of how and when I’ll begin to deal with my father’s passing in 2017. So much occurred in one brief night at Eagle Point, it’s hard to explain in a paragraph. Just trust me; I was meant to meet this woman.
It’s been a minute since I’ve written. More like 6 months actually, since I began working dayshift at the hospital.
Turns out I love working dayshift, but between the new hours and teaching during the school year, I have a lot less time to write. So I’ve been saving ideas, jotting down titles and a few paragraphs here and there in anticipation of summer when I work a lot less and (in theory) have a lot more time to do what I love. Which is write.
Now it’s summer and I’m on a multi-week vacation traveling through the beautiful PNW with (in theory) unlimited opportunity to write and create!
Maybe you don’t know, but I own a super sweet 1987 4×4 Volkswagen Syncro (though if you’re my precocious bandana wearing, sarcasm dripping student whom I will not name you might say “we have very different ideas of what a ‘sweet’ vehicle is.”) He’s right, it’s not a sports car. But she is sweet! Despite her unreliability and inability to go over 40mph uphill, Serendipity Syncro has been a miraculous addition to my life.
I’m happy for the opportunity to make amends to the organization, my coworkers, my patients, and the nursing profession. It’s not a privilege I’m taking lightly. I know the rate of relapse. I know this could be my last chance at a blemish free nursing license.
Two point five years ago, I had to leave my position as a nurse in Critical Care due to probably the most shameful and disturbing reasons a nurse can imagine.
It feels nothing short of miraculous that I’ve been given an opportunity to return.
(Although some might say I’m returning to the scene of the crime, and they would technically be correct.)
For nearly five of my 14 years as a nurse, I worked in CCU and loved the job, despite its flaws. I felt at home in the role. But I completely mismanaged the stress in my life, making tragic and regretful decisions.
For the background on my detour away from “overachiever” into “Real Life Nurse Jackie” check out this BLOG I wrote, publicly declaring myself as an addict.
I was let go from the job, spent three months in treatment and submerged myself in recovery. Since returning to work, I’ve been employed in lower acuity areas than CCU, working my way up – but stayed on night shift because it’s where I’ve always felt most comfortable mentally and physically.
Probably beginning somewhere early last Fall, I felt in my soul it was time to take another step forward. I reached out to key people in administration, asking their blessing to apply for a new position. I also talked it over with my case manager and my sober support system.
People LOVE hot yoga. It’s one of those things where if you’re in, you’re IN. People claim it works for everything from stress detox to curing cancer.
I’ve not been one of those people. Firstly, I’m a skeptic when it comes to cure-alls. Secondly, I prefer Iceland to Costa Rica. I own a beautiful cedar sauna, but that’s mostly ironic. I have to sit in a low chair near the floor to escape the heat.
In spite of my preference for exercising in temperatures that don’t cause heat stroke; and my disdain for humidity (my hair will not behave in it), I am always open to adventure. So when the opportunity arose to join a class while traveling in B.C., I accepted with a (sort of) open mind.
Besides, it’s been on my radar for some time after watching an acquaintance on Instagram attribute her ripped abs to a year of this practice. (I never said my motives were all pure!)
My current goals aren’t that different from my childhood resolutions, but my outlook is much healthier. The difference is I don’t beat myself up over perceived “failure”, and I focus on moving toward balance with simple daily intentions vs. rigorous long term requirements. I also don’t write the list in glitter pen on cardstock and tape it to my wall.
New Year’s Eve is one holiday I love, even sober. (Especially Sober!) As a kid, my BFF Jenny and I celebrated with a sleepover. We made our favorite bean dip (literally just canned refried beans topped with melted cheese), then rang in the new year by clanging pots and pans with wooden spoons on the front porch. Our poor neighbors!
But I’ve never taken New Year’s resolutions too seriously. The last time I officially set them I was probably 12. They undoubtedly went like this:
Talk to ____ ASAP and get him to like me
Eat 1000 calories a day MAX (no more PIZZA!)
Write in diary every day
I would then immediately scarf down pizza (still my fav food!) and write in my diary for about 3 consecutive days before getting distracted. I did follow through with passing a note to the boy I liked, after which he promptly let me know how much I repulsed him.
My current life goals aren’t that different, but my outlook is much healthier. You could still call me boy crazy, I struggle with emotional eating, and I aim to write daily in a journal yet fall short frequently. The difference is I don’t beat myself up over perceived “failure”. I focus on moving toward balance with simple daily intentions vs. rigorous long term requirements. I also don’t write the list in glitter pen on cardstock and tape it to my wall.
(But I do get nostalgic for that big dish filled with bean dip, and the vibration of pots and pans under my spoon as Jenny and I whacked away, our pajama clad legs chilled by the night air.)
This New Year’s Eve, I’m reflecting on my decisions from 2018 – my second full year in active recovery – to see what worked and what I want to avoid in the future.
Top 5 tools that helped me stay sober in 2018:
Mindfulness is not just a buzzword (though when I first heard it I rolled my eyes painfully). Diagnostics such as MRI (detailed brain scans) prove that a consistent meditation practice can improve the brain in a number of ways – including decreasing addictive habits. I’m proof this is true. Mindfulness is the concept that has become my lifestyle and source of spirituality. Meditation is the tool, or exercise, to sustain it. What I love about this custom is that it’s inherently positive, with core values of loving kindness, gratitude and compassion. It keeps the focus calmly on the present, not anxiously tied up in the past or future. My routine involves attending/facilitating meetings with guided group meditations and a fairly consistent home practice, though it’s always a work in progress! Mindfulness helps me cultivate self-awareness and observe my thoughts vs. being a victim of them. My mind can be chaotic, negative, and limiting; I get to choose whether or not to get attached to that. (I have really exciting news about how I’m furthering my meditation education in 2019 to be of even more service to others!! Info coming soon!!)
As an extroverted introvert, I recharge alone. I thrive for hours (days even???) with my face in a book, lost in my own world. That doesn’t mean I don’t genuinely value, cherish and need intimate connections. I’ve self-medicated to numb loneliness and rejection for a long time. Recovery gives me the gift of connection, and She Recovers is a blessing of highest proportions. I used to feel like a lost speck of space dust hurling aimlessly through the sky. Now it’s as though I’m energetically connected to countless other stars; threaded into a tapestry of constellations, each of us with a significant and solid place in the universe. Face to face events like this one are examples of how we support one another. There’s also a secret Facebook group – it’s open to all women, just secret for privacy. (Are you a woman who wants to join? Email me!) Locally, I stay connected through meetings with others who share similar struggles (My program is Refuge Recovery). Staying close with friends and family who aren’t in the sober squad is fulfilling as well. When I lose connection, and feel (or create) isolation, it’s easy to revert to negative, selfish thinking. Supported, empowered and encouraged within a community, I’ve got a much higher chance of sober success.
If I’m only accountable to myself, I abandon my ambitions. Alone with my thoughts and schemes, I rationalize unhealthy habits, justifying how it’s perfectly OK to “drink just one”, skip meetings or be a “just a little” dishonest. To avoid this pitfall, I stay accountable in a number of ways. The most formal is random drug tests to maintain my nursing license. So as much as I hate someone watching me pee, I’m very grateful for this commitment! Involvement in a recovery community – including local meetings and social media – plays a major role in reliability. I want to be an example that recovery is possible. I want to represent a drug and alcohol free way of life and do everything possible to end stigma. Being of service, volunteering, and partnering with clients keeps my focus outward and forward; helping others ultimately helps me.
Lifting in the gym (THANK YOU to my trainer @Onerepatatime_ !), running outside, or skiing in the winter…frequent physical activity boosts my mood. I find myself craving it in the best way and consider it necessary for sober success. Initially, I had to drag myself to get going. With time and consistency, I really look forward to moving and sweating. It’s especially useful to turn around negative, triggered, anxious or depressed thoughts. Yoga is more than a physical survival tool, it’s holistically healing and an integral part of my exercise/spiritual routine. Nutrition plays a big role in mood, memory, libido, and energy level, so abstaining from toxic substances like alcohol and drugs is a given, but keeping sugar to a minimum and eating whole healthy food has proven to be a challenge for me in 2018. I’ve struggled with sugar cravings even this far into sobriety. Room for growth in the upcoming year!
In 2018 I founded my business, completed a business mentorship and 6 month writing program, wrote a book proposal, built up a social media platform, traveled to Iceland, Paris, & France, drove my Van thousands of miles with a dog as my sidekick, dated a handful of idiots and a few nice guys, published a bunch of articles, and had a bunch more rejected. I overcame obstacles, enforced boundaries, and lost some relationships. I succeeded at many things, and “failed” at many more. In my experience, failure is a necessary part of the adventure. It’s so cliche!! But it means I tried something that was scary and out of my comfort zone requiring courage. Some of you may remember my blog was initially named “Tiffany Tries Again”. Before I disclosed my addiction, I was simply sharing a series of challenging and often humorous undertakings, hoping it would inspire you to keep trying, regardless of outcomes. This is one of my early blogs discussing just that. (And it isn’t one of my best. But that’s really OK.) If I don’t fail a whole bunch in 2019, it’s because I’ve given up and gone to bed. Please break down my door if this happens. (Refer to importance of “connection” and “accountability” above!)
And….3 things I want to avoid…..
Placing others on a pedestal
My internal compass generally steers me right. But I’m not exempt from disregarding it completely and taking over navigation. Sometimes I make decisions based on ego and selfish motivation and it hurts when I’m forced to recognize it.I learned the HARD way this year that regardless of years of sobriety, or status in the media, publishing world, or recovery community….every one of us is flawed. We are capable of letting others down. I let someone shine a little too bright in my Universe this last year, and it was painful when the light went dim. My goal in 2019 is to stay on course and use discernment. This means making an effort to view all with balance and compassion; admiring without setting outlandish and admittedly selfish expectations. (I apologize for the ambiguity of this paragraph, but the details of who/what are not nearly as important as the overarching message.)
Saying Yes when the answer is obviously “NO”
There were wayyyy too many times last year I ignored my gut and went full speed ahead into disaster and disappointment. This is NOT to be confused with taking healthy risks and going on adventures! I’m talking about saying yes when I absolutely know I should avoid something. Ignoring that internal compass again! This includes saying yes to fun things when the smarter self care is take a bath, go to the gym, or even work (to pay for the fun stuff!) Another example is saying yes to a date even when I was too tired, too grumpy, too triggered, or too vulnerable. There were too many shopping excursions frantically looking for a date outfit; too much time on hair, makeup and sending selfies checking for my girlfriends’ approval. Meanwhile my heart and gut were urging me to STAY the HELL HOME. I’d show up for the date and immediately regret it, feeling like a fool for my day of pampering. My plan in 2019? You got it. Stay the hell home and relish every minute of Netflix and pajamas. I also think maybe I should plan a garage sale….seriously, I can’t believe the amount of pointless clothes I bought this year.
OK, I sort of lied.
I thought I’d have a definite 3rd thing I don’t want to repeat in 2019. Last year was a roller coaster of joyous, painful, even embarrassing experiences. But thinking back over mistakes I made and chances I took, I don’t think I’d change much. Even if I’m not in love with every bit of 2018’s reflection, I’m honestly satisfied with my current station in life. All of there is what got me here. I hope to say that again at the end of 2019.
Thank you for encouraging, supporting and sharing with me in this journey. I hope it’s inspired you to love yourself and believe you can overcome anything. Or at the least, showed you what not to do and saved you some heartache.
Cheers to a happy, healthy and bright 2019!
Is a SOBER lifestyle your goal? I wish you complete success!
If you would like accountability, support and structure with addiction recovery or life transition, I would love to help!
Check out my website for program details, or schedule a FREE call with me here!
***I’M HOSTING A FREE ONLINE VISION BOARD WORKSHOP JANUARY 19TH! EMAIL ME TO SIGN UP ASAP! REGISTRATION ENDS JANUARY 9TH.***
Alex may not have wanted me, personally, but the “rejection” isn’t personal. It’s subjective; a projection of his own reality. Other’s opinions and preferences have little to nothing to do with us. They most definitely do not have bearing on our value.
After a week of exchanging lightly sarcastic and flirty texts, Alex and I arranged our first date. We met on a beach in the late afternoon, a ferry ride away from my house. Cassie, my dog, spent 90 minutes chasing a worn green tennis ball across the sand while Alex and I got acquainted. With each inquiry, we uncovered all we have in common.
I drive a sweet Volkswagen van; he’s a huge fan and owned one until recently.
He’s had a successful career in commercial work and television; I’ve moonlighted as the face of Tulalip Casino TV ads, and appeared on Amazon Video Shorts selling camping gear. (totally amateur on my part, but still so fun to say I did!)
He’s passionate about fly-fishing; I spent countless summer months casting for salmon with my dad.
First dates are meant to suss out compatibility, but it’s a delicate balancing act. We expect a genuine introduction, but don’t need to show all our skeletons. Too much digging can result in over-analyzing and sabotaging potential.
There’s bound to be areas of disagreement. That’s ok. I’m pro-discernment (it’s fair to be picky!), but incompatibilities at this early stage should be judged lightly. Who cares if he’s considering moving out of state in two years, is undecided on future children, or would rather spend evenings home playing cards than seeing live music?
It’s JUST a first date.
Alex and I achieved this comfortable balance. Not too hot, not too cold. No overt sexual innuendo, but he was charming and more-than-friendly. I thought so anyway. The air cooled as the sun went down behind the ocean. Alex asked if I was hungry and we spent the next few minutes reading yelp reviews of local restaurants and negotiating gastropub vs. sushi.
The Gastropub won. I was buoyed by the fact that he wanted to continue through a meal. We’d intended the date to be casual and open ended. If we hit it off, we agreed it could range from a quick walk on the beach to other end of the spectrum – an overnight stay at the house his company was renting on the island. He’d mentioned the spectacular water view and hot tub. “Since you’re taking a ferry such a long way, maybe you’ll want to crash over night.”
I firmly informed him that hot tub time wasn’t guaranteed, but I wasn’t ruling it out. Safety and responsibility come first, yet I was optimistic. on dates. When Cassie and I hopped in the car and headed to the ferry terminal, there was a sexy little bikini and toothbrush neatly tucked away in my bag.
It wasn’t love at first sight, but I found him attractive and intriguing. I don’t make a habit of casual sex, one night stands, or even first date kissing. But I’m not averse if it feels right. As we laughed together at the beach, then swooned in tandem over a bacon/date/cheese appetizer, it was starting to feel right.
Alex ordered a glass of red wine and I had my standby- Ice tea. The customary question-answer transpired as I deigned to order alcohol. “I don’t ever drink.” I said, smiling. “How long has that been your choice?” He asked. (BTW – that’s a nice approach to glean info without sounding critical.) I answered, and we moved on from the subject; no awkward silences, no need to press the issue.
Per Alex’s prompting, I’d ordered an expensive crab risotto entree. It was full of rich seafood, butter and oregano. We shared bites off each other’s plates and I asked for a box to take the rest of my large portion home. He paid the bill and held the door open for me as we walked out into the late evening.
We arrived at my car and I set my “doggie bag” on the seat. When I turned around, Alex stood a few feet away fidgeting with his hands. Ignoring my trepidation, I brightly asked “What’s next? What’s our options?”
His eyes got big. He swallowed. “Um, yeah. We have options. Sure.” I quirked an eyebrow at him. “What’s up, Alex?”
His seemed to have trouble forming words. “Well, so. I’m trying to. You know. I need to. Um. I need to listen to my intuition. What I’m trying to say. I just didn’t see this – us- going anywhere.”
It was painful to watch. I took mercy on him. “You’re saying we don’t have chemistry? Right?”
“Yes! Exactly. I’m so sorry.”
Contorting my face into a tight, fake smile and opening my eyes wide as possible to repress unwanted tears, I said “Oh, GOOD!!” in a loud, overly cheerful voice.
Only it wasn’t good.
I’ve never been turned down on a date. I’ve been “ghosted.” Disappointed. Avoided. Dumped. Blocked even. But never has a man looked me in the eye and said, “I’m sorry, our few hours together have shown me how much I don’t like you. My intuition says this won’t work. I’d like you to keep your clothes on and go home.”
I have to give him credit though; he was so contrite. “Tiffany, you’re really nice. Thanks for coming all the way out…You can still crash at the house. You can have my room, I’ll sleep on the couch.”
Choking back tears and laughter, my first thought was wonder what the rest of the crew is like? Maybe someone worth meeting there…..
NO. I don’t need a consolation prize.
“I think I WON’T do that. I’ll catch the last ferry home. Thanks again, for the ridiculously expensive risotto. I feel bad I ordered it. I wish I would have known how you felt before I ordered. I totally appreciate your honesty though. Truly.”
Busying myself getting Cassie out of the car, I allowed Alex the time to walk away and for both of us to keep a shred of dignity. As soon as she was leashed and and we’d taken a few steps, the tears fell.
What the fuck? What’s wrong with me? What did I do?
My thoughts went crazy, scrutinizing every single detail of the night. What turned him off? I checked my outfit: Not slutty. Not boring. He’d chosen me initially based on photos, and I looked just like myself.
Was I too aggressive? Too chatty? He was soft spoken, but held up his side of the conversation. Maybe I was overbearing. Did I share too much about my past? I didn’t think so. Alex asked about my daughter’s dad, and I answered honestly but simply that we’d tried to make it work; we’d married twice. Alex shared too. We both disclosed a little about former flames.
I was forthcoming that I’m not very close to my mom or brothers right now. Alex said he couldn’t imagine that. He praised his tight knit family and called his stepmom one of his heroes. Maybe he couldn’t picture adding me as a branch on his family tree.
But I wasn’t interested in putting down roots together. We never even broached the subject, “What are you looking for? Marriage? Kids? How soon?”
My biggest fear is that I’ll be judged by my former addiction and won’t find someone who can overlook it and love me unconditionally, but my sober lifestyle didn’t seem to phase Alex. Of course, I never gave him the chance to condemn me; I never mentioned drugs or probation.
For undivulged reasons, Alex deemed me unattractive enough to spend even one more minute with. Although he kept repeating I was “really nice.” I guess that counts for something.
I’ve yet to ascertain Alex’s reasoning. The following evening, I sent a lighthearted text asking if he’d participate in a post-date survey. I admitted I wasn’t convinced we had a long term future based on our short 180 minutes together, but I had fun and was surprised by the blunt termination. His reply was cryptic. “My head and heart are still buffering. Perhaps I could respond later today?”
But the response never came. I’ve been left to ponder and dissect my weaknesses alone, wondering where I failed. (I still think maybe I over-shared when I mentioned my ability to eat a pound of bacon in one sitting. But if you can’t love me for that, we’re doomed anyway.)
My first reaction to rejection is shame. It feels like a sharp weapon, and causes deep painful injuries if we allow it. I default to self-condemnation and self-doubt. But there’s another option. I don’t have to be a victim, and I don’t have to turn to self-loathing. It’s totally possible to reframe my thinking. (Hint: I learned this in Mindfulness courses!)
I can choose to understand that nothing is personal.
Alex may not have wanted me, personally, but the “rejection” isn’t personal. It’s subjective; a projection of his own reality. Other’s opinions and preferences have little to nothing to do with us. They most definitely do not have bearing on our value. (For an excellent explanation of this phenomenon, check out The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.)
Example: Let’s say Alex won’t date me and feels aversion toward me because I’ve been married before. (I think the odds of this are good. He did seem a little shocked when I explained my previous weddings.)
I have choices.
Chastise myself for being married and divorced, therefore not acceptable. Shame myself for being impure and less than enough. Hate myself for not being lovable.
Realize Alex’s reality is only personal to him. His opinions were cultivated over decades. His parent’s divorce likely skewed his viewpoint. His religion, background, culture, memories, and experiences are the deciding factors. Not me.
Alex’s decision has nothing to do with my worth or quality. I can allow Alex to have his experience and keep my ego out of it. His perspective is based on the conditioning of his consciousness.
It just so happens his consciousness was conditioned to say NO, he ultimately did NOT want to soak in a hot tub with me wearing a Costa Rican made, Brazilian cut bikini that night. Or ever. (To be fair, I didn’t exactly tell him about the suit.)
Letting go of the personal nature of an exchange with another human isn’t easy or immediate. I’m still irked. I still have a shred of hope that he’ll text and let me know what the hell he was thinking and what ultimately made up his mind. What if he’s hanging on to crucial info that could help me improve for my next date??
But instead of suffering needlessly, clinging to negative feelings or letting this sabotage my self-esteem, I see it as a chance to develop self-compassion.
When I became single and began dating, a very close friend told me that this era of my life: “Isn’t about finding the right guy. It’s about you. What you’re really doing is dating yourself.”
She’s so exactly right. (Thanks Tori! You’re brilliant.) I’m not doomed to feel rejected. And even though Alex didn’t show me any love, our date was nowhere near a failure. It’s a golden opportunity to practice the only love I really need right now; radical self-love.
Cheers to Loving Yourself Wholly,
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