“It Feels Good to Be Lost in the Right Direction”

I will have been transported through the air, like magic, to Iceland ….and For the next 2 weeks, my risk of death is marginally higher than during my daily routine. At least I think so – I’m not going to research the actual I-5 Corridor freeway death statistics.

I don’t know where I’m going but I’m on my way – The Peerless Quartet

The impulse to travel is one of the hopeful symptoms of life – Agnes Repplier

Travel: A metaphor for life. Do you go alone, or with a partner? Do you plan or do you wing it? Are you safe while wandering, or adrift without direction? Can you find yourself totally lost, yet know that you’re still connected, and the universe supports you completely?

In a few hours I’ll hand my passport over to the TSA at Sea-Tac airport, board a plane, begin to read, then immediately fall asleep reading (ideally after I’ve secured my head from bobbing around with a trusty neck pillow). When I wake up disoriented, shirt wet with drool (hopefully my own shirt and my own drool) I will have been transported through the air, like magic, to Iceland.

I’ve been to very few countries, although I’ve traveled within the states quite a bit. Iceland is a dream trip come true, but wasn’t necessarily on my bucket list. Mostly because I’ve never really made that list … At least not such a venturous one. My list was comprised of solid basics: become a nurse, buy a house, get a job, marry happily ever after. Three out of Four  – near perfection, right?

But now, my perspective has changed. Suddenly I’m afforded the time, means and motivation to go far far away, by myself. (Not suddenly as in overnight lottery. It takes planning to ask for time off work, to save money, to get dog sitters, and to clean out the fridge so I don’t come home to a fungi garden in my kitchen).

It feels a little sudden though. The time is HERE. I leave in 12 hours.

I’m lucky to have friends and coworkers who have traveled these places (did I mention I’m going to London and Paris, too?!) and are willing to share their insight. A few have traveled solo, others are shocked I’m going alone. All have offered well-wishing and I’ve just been percolating with gratitude and excitement.

“You are so brave to go alone!” I hear this a lot. The former me, the girl that lived life as though she was ticking off inventory items, and trying to awkwardly fit into a strict set of guidelines, feels a bit stunned herself. But the new me that knows life is short and meant to be lived with abandon….well, she’s thrilled –  and only a fraction nervous.

This new me became a tiny fraction more nervous as I googled last minute things to do “across the pond”. The internet warned: There’s Danger Out There. Bridges actually do fall in London. Sounds like it’s not uncommon to be a pedestrian “under attack by motorized terrorists”. The Chunnel, which I’m using to travel underwater to France, could collapse, and there’d be no swimming out of that scenario. Any one of the 3 flights I’m taking could be hijacked, veer into a mountain, or lose an engine in the air. A clumsy Icelandic traveler could stumble into me, bringing the view of hot geysers up close and personal, leading to my very toasty demise.

For the next 2 weeks, my risk of death is marginally higher than during my daily routine. At least I think so – I’m not going to research the actual I-5 Corridor freeway death statistics.

I’m a little surprised to find my own mortality doesn’t scare me. What does scare me is not speaking French and accidentally asking for directions to a strip club instead of a bathroom. (just for instance. I don’t know how to say either one). I’m scared of being inadvertently served wine or alcohol while politely tasting foods served to me in Iceland or France. What if they don’t have a word for “Sober”?

But I’m not afraid to die. (In theory of course. If the Chunnel goes dark and fills with water, chances are I’ll freak the F out. But who knows? I could stay Zen.) Does travel make everyone think about this? I guess I’m my father’s daughter. When he flew, he always sent me an email with his itinerary, and a reminder of where to find his will.

Mostly, I’m overcome with joy at the opportunity. If I was still actively addicted, this trip would be unlikely. If it happened, chances are I’d jeopardize myself by getting lost, going home with the wrong person, or getting kicked off a plane for being impaired and obnoxious. Instead, I’m wide eyed, awake and life feels quite complete. If I die, it will be knowing I’ve made amends for my mistakes, and I won’t be embarrassed by what anyone finds on my phone or in my closets at home. (Maybe a tiny bit embarrassed, but whatever. I’m human. I’m single. It’s not that weird.)

While last minute planning, I could hear my dad – the life insurance agent’s – voice, so I decided to ensure someone had my flight and lodging info. Six months ago, I would have pitied myself at this task. Once, at the doctors, I cried to myself when I had “no one’s” name to write in the space “Emergency Contact”. The idea that there was “No One” looking after me caused an unnecessary amount of suffering, because having “No One” wasn’t based in reality. I have lots of wonderful “SomeOnes”.  It just takes some re-affirming and filtering out limiting beliefs and saboteur thoughts about being incomplete. Today, I simply reached out to one of my favorite “Someones” and gave her my itinerary. No self pity.

Just because my emergency contact isn’t a “significant other” in the usual sense, doesn’t make me deficient. I still need to remind myself of this. Living alone, answering only to myself, feels kind of wobbly -almost unnatural. Especially since society dictates that until the “Soulmate” piece is found, the jigsaw puzzle of “Life” isn’t complete. As though snaring a partner is the ultimate accomplishment, and as long as we have one to lean on, things will be OK. (We all know that even in a committed long term relationship, with a dependable name to scribble in the “emergency contact” section, nothing is guaranteed. One could argue the more people involved, the more precarious the dynamics.)

I’m learning that even when things aren’t OK, they’re OK. It’s an empowering sensation: feeling complete, despite not having all the answers, despite wishing some things were different. It’s like I’m un-tethered, but fully supported. Not quite balanced, but definitely moving towards it – even though I don’t know what “It” looks like.

“Even if things aren’t OK, I’m OK”. I’m finding that it’s true, no partner necessary. I’m learning to glean security from a deep sense of intrinsic wholeness, and the community of support I’ve enmeshed myself in (yep, another She Recovers shout out. It’s true though). So while I’m wild and free to explore as I please, I’ve also got a wide net underneath of me, in case my feet falter. Which they have. Which they will again.

One of the concepts I work on with my clients (and myself!) is trusting the inner compass. Some call this intuition, the Universe, or a higher power. Some relate to this as their Soul, their Spirit, or a Source they are connected to.

I believe my inner compass was calibrated from the beginning, and my choices along the way have created inconsistencies. But I’ve always known when I was steering off course – I’m just a pro at ignoring red flags. Veering off path felt wrong – like striving, craving, desperation, or trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. When my compass is set to True North, I may have doubts, I may have to check frequently, but I’m inhabited by an overwhelming sense of contentment, peace and safety.

That’s where my head and heart are at now: content and safe, as I set out with wanderlust, to find new places. And to find a new place within myself. Circumstances waver, but I’m fully protected. On uneven ground, but with a soft place to land. Often without company, but definitely never alone. And I’m grateful for this approaching adventure – the 2 week vacation I’m about to enjoy, and the adventure that is the rest of my life.

Cross your fingers that no disasters occur; the Eiffel Tower won’t topple over onto the apartment I’m sleeping in, no rogue polar bear takes me out while I’m basking in the Blue Lagoon. I’m crossing my fingers too: that I continue to trust myself, to rely on my amazing support system, and to fly – literally and figuratively –  as often as possible.

Continuing to Recover and Rise, … somewhere around 30,000 feet in the air…

Tiffany

Lighting Up and Letting Go

My dirty little secret made me feel self-righteous, cool and aloof. Emotionally, I was wrecked and seeking relief. I’d found a solution that both soothed and fueled the addiction monster.

You may have read my blog post “Sober Wedding Success”; In a triggered moment I texted a friend: “I need a drink, a cigarette, a man, or a brownie.” A variety of stressors had accumulated, thrusting me into “Fight or Flight” mode. The pressure rising, impulsive thoughts bounced off each other: “You need to feel different and better NOW.” In hindsight, I could have done some stretching, gone for a run or a walk. But the wedding was going to start, I was all dolled up in a dress and heels, and rational thought was hijacked by panic. img_4856

What I didn’t mention in that blog was the part where I gave in to a craving. About an hour before the bride was due to walk down the aisle, I changed into flip-flops and stealthily drove to a store.

(Ok not stealthily. Side Note – The story of my life is that I ALWAYS get caught. Sneaking out in the middle of the night at age 15… My friend’s parent saw me and called my parents. Skipping prom to go to Denny’s and hang out at a hotel… I accidentally recorded myself on the answering machine sharing every detail with a friend. A couple years back, during a sober attempt, I hit “facetime” on my phone at the exact moment I took a drink of a beer. But have I learned? Noooooo. )

Someone, who shall simply be called Aunt D. in order to keep her anonymity, (haha, love you Aunt D.) saw me drive away from the church. On my return, I was met with: “Where’d you go, huh? We know you left. Aunt D. told us.” I mumbled about needing to help the bride and hurried away.

The truth is:

I drove to a gas station and awkwardly bought a pack of Camel cigarettes. On a scale of surrendering to cravings, it’s better than a bottle of vodka, worse than a giant brownie. I found a parking lot near the water and walked around in the rain (still in my dress and flip-flops, holding a sweatshirt over my head to save my wedding- hair) searching for a secluded place to smoke my first cigarette in years. It suddenly seemed crowds of people were milling around, screwing up my plan. And I certainly wasn’t going to smoke inside my own car. I have boundaries, after all.

Settling on a spot, I opened the pack. The cigarette fit neatly between my fingers, muscle memory reminding them exactly what shape to make. I lit it, pressed my lips lightly around the filter, and inhaled. Then I made a face. They were gross. I forgot that I actually like menthols, when I do smoke. Which isn’t often. I’ve done this 3 times in the last few years. Once during a (temporary) breakup, and again when I started treatment for addiction and had quit everything else. People smoke like chimneys at recovery meetings, and for a few months I made friends by blowing smoke outside the treatment center doors alongside them.

I’d like to say the non-menthols were gross enough I threw them away, jolting myself back to more effective coping skills. But I didn’t. I finished the pack, and returned to the store to buy the “tastier” minty selection.

Days turned into weeks, and before I knew it, I’d been smoking steadily for a month. I was disgusted with myself. Smoking made me lazy and nauseated. Addiction is dishonest, isolating, depressing, and anxiety inducing; smoking re-awakened all of that, along with the clinging, craving monster inside. Instead of going to the gym – I smoked. Instead of writing – I smoked. I wasted hours lighting them up and putting them out. And yet, a part of me relished every single drag. My dirty little secret made me feel self-righteous, cool and aloof. Emotionally, I was wrecked and seeking relief. I’d found a solution that both soothed and fueled the addiction monster. Returning to this behavior was like slipping back under the mud after a period of living in the sun. I was sober, but acting very much like my non-sober self. Literally playing with fire.

Participating in addictive habits can give one a case of the “F-it’s” and the “Might as wells”. For example “F it. I’m already smoking, might as well eat what I want too.” The mud got deeper and stickier. I ate fast food, ignored deadlines and neglected obligations. I toyed with ideas of “just one drink”. Thankfully I have accountability to my treatment program. When it’s hard to trust oneself, impending drug tests are a convincing reason to abstain. So I didn’t drink, but I smoked nicotine incessantly. Good thing the tests don’t look for nicotine or caffeine. (Treatment centers everywhere would be out of business.)

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When I first smoked at 14 years old (and continued for 8 years, minus 9 months of pregnancy), it was the best kind of dangerous fun. I was rebellious, wise, untouchable. Slinking into a store at age 36, making sure no one recognizes me, and asking for “camel crush – yeah the blue box” without meeting the attendants’ eyes, doesn’t have the same ego-stroking appeal. Honestly I was miserable. I succumbed to an obsessive-compulsive drive to do something I was bizarrely convinced would help me overcome anxiety. It only managed to increase the compulsion, all the while invoking deep shame and disappointment. It was repetitious, unfulfilled desperation, with nausea as a side effect. The empty, achy place inside of me found minor temporary relief, but I was simultaneously cognitively aware that the tobacco/poison filled paper sticks offered nothing but dirty lungs, yellow teeth and nasty headache when I eventually quit. Ruminating over all of this, I lit another smoke.

That, my friends, is addiction.

In the past, these episodes of smoking have been brief, due to two compelling factors: a boyfriend and daughter that despise the habit. Smoking is tough to keep secret for long around others. But I was grateful for their disdain, as it forced me to give it up quickly.

During this recent trip down Tobacco Lane, with no suspicious glares or accusations of “You smell like smoke” pressuring me to surrender, I needed motivation. My own willpower and half-assed “This is your last pack, Tiff” was proving ineffective. I needed a reward, ultimatum, or serious kick in the ass.

The light at the end of the smoky tunnel was a shining She Recovers Retreat. The timing was perfect; divine some may say. At the end of July, one of the more challenging months I’ve survived in a while, I would board a ferry and meet my favorite women on Salt Spring Island for a week of rejuvenation. There was no way I’d smoke while enjoying nature, doing yoga, and working on recovery. There was no way I’d admit this to my friends or smoke in front of them.

Right?

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On the Ferry To Salt Spring Island

Tricky thing, addiction. Embeds itself deeply, even when one is determined to set themselves free. Not the retreat, my admiration of the women, or my horror at being found out as a smoker was enough for me to quit. When my fancy Camel Crush ran out on day 2, I bought very light, very bad tasting, non-menthol cigarettes in a Canadian store (they don’t sell menthol in the Gulf Islands!!)

While puffing away on these bland, thin smokes I made a promise. By the time I got on the ferry heading back to America, I’d untangle myself from their grasp. I wasn’t sure how, or if I was ready, but I was WILLING to be ready. I was tired of fighting to stay afloat, and afraid of getting pulled further down into addiction’s muddy grasp.

My answer came on the 3rd night of Retreat, in the form of a letting go ceremony (I also strategically ran out of cigarettes on the very last morning in Canada, and swore I wouldn’t touch another pack back in the US.)

The ceremony symbolizes liberation. We are all carrying some unwanted weight…unspeakable trauma, substance abuse, disordered eating, codependency, unhealthy shopping habits or persistent fatigue and apathy. The ceremony is an opportunity to look these hindrances in the eye, and love ourselves enough to begin to let them go.img_7414-1

The ceremony doesn’t require forgetting our past, but gives us permission to stop suffering over it. Permission to accept experiences, mistakes, relationships, and addictions while releasing the shame, self-loathing, and guilt we’ve attached to them.

We were asked to write down our intentions and a list of what we needed to let go. I wasn’t sure if this would work, but it felt like a legitimate start. I put my heart, soul and energy into that pen and paper as I scrawled out the words

“Let go of SMOKING”.

Then, as instructed, I lined up with the others and waited my turn to be “drummed”. A musician beat a rhythm on a percussion instrument while moving it up the front of my body and down the back – close, but not touching my skin. My understanding is this was meant to improve the alignment of my chakras, a component of self I don’t totally grasp, but am more than willing to offer up for re-structuring. The drumming ended, and as I paused before the next step – a meditative walk – I noticed the outer aspect of each of my hips burned, as though a fire spread across them. The fire pulsated, intensified, simmered, then disappeared. Coincidence? Psychosomatic effect? Bug bites? I can’t say for sure, but it felt significant.

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One of my favorite resources for cultivating self-love

Two days later, on the final morning of the retreat, my heart was light. I’d experienced the fullness of She Recovers retreat magic, and felt empowered to return home renewed. I smoked 3 final cigarettes before leaving the island, that I had ashamedly bummed off a couple of friends (but obviously not too ashamed, since I asked anyway. Love you ladies.)

I haven’t smoked since that morning. Re-entry into real life post-retreat was pretty rocky, but I still did not pick them back up. The first few nights, my sleep was riddled with drinking nightmares. I also had a cigarette-smoking dream (Amy Dresner was there, also smoking, and super pissed off about having to order pizza for a bunch of hyper women in recovery. Bizarre!)

Thoughts of buying a pack – picturing the inhale, the hot menthol taste, the instant and very temporarily relief – flitter through my mind on occasion. But they’re just thoughts. They come, they go. They pass. As do all thoughts, feelings, emotions, if we let them.

Quitting was hard, but not the hardest thing I’ve ever done. (I remember trying to quit after 8 years hooked on those things- not sure there’s a drum big enough to beat it out of me then. Torture.) Smoking wasn’t the only thing on my “let go list” either – that was a month-long distraction; an outward sign that my insides were sick. I have a multitude of situations and self-limiting beliefs to shed. But the weight of it all is lifting. Did the drum vibrations shake it off my shoulders? I believe so… along with all the other blessed moments that week. (Read my BLOG to learn more about the Magic of She Recovers retreats) I entered the ceremony with a piece of paper, a trembling hope, and a soul full of desire for health and wholeness. I have a deep, intuitive certainty that this will come to fruition. Where I had felt clouded, uncertain and lethargic, I now felt bright, anticipatory and strong.

In the center of the gardens at Stowel Lake Farm where the retreat is held, there’s a big muddy pond. Across the surface of the murky water, giant Lotus blossoms stretch their pink petals eagerly toward the sun. The lush flowers would be nonexistent if it weren’t for the rich, complicated, nourishing mud beneath them.

Like the flowers, we need rich, complicated, often painful experiences to cultivate growth. “No Mud, No Lotus” as Thich Naht Hahn’s book tells us. Smoking wasn’t mandatory for my growth; it was an outward sign that helped me become more aware of my inner strife. For a month, I was slogging through mud; sluggish, sticky, uncomfortable and difficult to see any light through the darkness. During the retreat, I spent a lot of time being honest with myself, uncovering the source of pain and revealing it’s purpose.

I wasn’t overcome by the mud, but transformed by it. Smoking was a brief detour, and a close call. But I saw the light and persisted. I ascended above the surface; back into the fresh air.

Continuing to Recover and Rise,

Tiffany

Do you have habits you’d like to explore letting go? Perhaps you’re sober but still attached to food, smoking, relationships, and want to set yourself free? I’d love to offer you a system, support and accountability as your coach.

Interested in learning more about She Recovers and their retreats and conferences? Go To www.sherecovers.co

Please contact me! You’re beautiful and deserving of health and wholeness.

Tiffany@recoverandrise.com

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