The Road Trip Sessions: Installment #3

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.

Continue reading “The Road Trip Sessions: Installment #3”

The Roadtrip Sessions: Installment #2

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.

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Sunny spot just outside Eagle Point, Oregon

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.

Continue reading “The Roadtrip Sessions: Installment #2”

The Road Trip Sessions: Installment #1

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.

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Continue reading “The Road Trip Sessions: Installment #1”

“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