Three Years


The other day I was sitting at the library, studying, when I got a call from a manager at work. There was miscommunication about who was covering which responsibilities and something important had fallen through the cracks. Several days prior I’d moved on from the job where I had been reporting to him, the ownership of this task was never mine in the first place, I took his hostile tone as a challenge of my motives, it was my day off, blah blah blah. The point is: I did my best to listen, I didn’t try to throw someone else under the bus, and I didn’t react defensively and lash out at him or pay that bullshit forward onto some other underserving soul. How much of a miracle all of that is is probably a testament to the blessings of sobriety. It’s not perfect, but a lot has changed for the better.

I was studying at the library because I’m in school. I’m going to school because I’m working toward a master’s degree in counseling therapy. I’m working toward a master’s degree with the goal being to become a therapist. I’m becoming a therapist because… woof.

A few weeks ago my therapist asked me that same question, the “why?” After piecing together something resembling the story I’d written on my admissions letter, he said that was nice, but what are the real reasons I want to go in this direction? The perfect answer is that I want to do it for thoroughly virtuous reasons, to become the best helper I can in providing the most help I can to those who need that sort of help. Perfection and truth aren’t really aligned here though…

A few days ago I revisited something I’d written after watching Mike Rugnetta’s 2013 XOXO presentation. I think it’s relevant. Here’s a blurb:
“It's difficult to confidently construct oneself without placing it alongside others. […] You want to be true to yourself but you might not know what options are available for inclusion in that truth unless you go ‘shopping’, I guess, is one way to put it. But are they true if they came from somewhere outside of your own brain? And this is actually a big important question: is there a truly and totally internal self? Or, put another way, would everyone who currently self-identifies as goth, or pro-life, or Democrat, or an Evanescence fan, or who identifies as a furry have come to that conclusion independent of the actions or preferences of others? I don't have an answer… because one doesn't exist.”
I’ve done a lot of window shopping when it comes to aligning identity with a profession. I’ve tried being a retail worker person, an office worker person, a freelance writer person, a marketing person, a personal trainer person, and plenty of other persons in between. The term “tried” takes on a range of meaning in looking back though, and for the most part it aligns with results consistent with someone who is unwilling to commit themselves beyond a point of resistance.

I’ve been remarkably lucky. And with that luck comes the privilege of ease. And with ease comes an expectation of continued ease. When it comes to transitioning from an old identity to who I’d like to try being next, I haven’t dealt with considerable barriers along the way. Generally speaking, I’m a fine-looking, cisgender, white North American guy, and with the way our society’s structured, I don’t have to overcome an infinite torrent of bullshit every time I’ve decided it’s time to “start over” in life. Which is just to say that most of the time, despite acknowledging how ridiculously good I have it, I’ve stopped caring to try once I have to really try. I’ve walked away from plenty, but am embarrassingly inexperienced when it comes to actual sacrifice. The point of this, I think, is to recognize that in the past I’ve approached identities with an eagerness to own them so long as I don’t have to give up anything to buy in. (Again, privilege.) That’s the dream, right? And that’s where I’m at now, again.

The last few weeks I’ve started to see this in real time. My priorities haven’t been particularly aligned with that of the type of person I’ve told people I’m becoming. I got here by verbally committing to a new direction, but am not really sure what being “all-in” actually looks like. Last night I took a midterm exam and achieved results consistent with the minimal effort I’ve put into that class. Something happened before I took the test, though, which feels more important than any grade I’m going to receive from it. I had a spell of energy, renewed by some sense of ownership over how little I’d prepared for it, and an acceptance and desire to work through this without giving up. I screwed this one up, for sure, but I can make it up before the semester’s over.

There are a lot of angles to the real reason for why I want to get into counseling. Genuinely, I like this stuff. In the moments where I read for fun, I usually read pop psychology books. It’s interesting to me. I like talking with people, I like helping people, and by way of about fifteen years of personal experience, I’ve got something of a background in “addiction studies,” which stands to help me when it comes to empathizing with the struggles others are facing. And I’m working my way toward forty without anything resembling focus, purpose, or meaning in my life — so this seemed like as good a horse as any to saddle up with as that milestone approaches.

I’m scared as hell to commit myself to these words, especially here, because it’s not the perfect answer. There’s resistance to put any of this here because it feels like committing to more than tidy identity sculpting, which is shamefully my default when writing online. I sold myself on the idea that I was writing [on RecoveryNashville.com] as a way to stay connected to my own continued pursuit of recovery, but haven’t been particularly thrilled with the sterilized sense of authenticity that’s made it onto these pages. Moving beyond lusting after the perception of identity and toward actually becoming someone is going to take work. There’s a lot of fear in committing to change. And of all the sacrifices I’ve been unwilling to make to this point, letting go of misguided perceptions surrounding what it actually takes to do so is hovering somewhere around the top of my list.

"A Spiritual Axiom"

“[W]hen a person experiences nearly identical events and reacts two different ways, then it is not the event which is of prime importance, but the person's spiritual condition. Feelings come from inside, not from outward circumstances.” —Daily Reflections, October 9
There’s this guy at work who leaves his cell-phone ringer on whenever he’s visiting the office, upwards of three or four times a week. The phone receives a text message and a surge of vibration rattles his desk. He picks the phone up, replies, puts it back down. Another text message, another earth-rumbling vibration, another reply.

Elsewhere someone has left a notification on. I can’t tell if it’s a computer or a phone, but it’s without consistency, all throughout the day. There’s a chirp. There it is again! Did anyone else hear it? Am I going crazy? Don’t they recognize that if everyone left all their notifications on, we’d all be drowned out by the ensuing cacophony?! When will these inconsiderate monsters make the madness stop?!

“It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us.” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 90) Some days the noise pollution doesn’t bother me at all. Some days it does. (A lot.) These are just a small things, and I know we’re not supposed to sweat the small things, but in the past it’s been the small things that have led me to making some really poor decisions.

What it comes down to is usually the bottom line of where my level of self-care is that day: Have I done the things I know I need to do for myself? If I have, experiences are less likely to conjure the worst of me in response. If I haven’t, someone’s cellphone vibrating can leave me anxious and feeling resentful of their even being born. It’s pretty simple.

Shut Up and Dance

In a meeting yesterday, noting their history in theater, someone said, “As they say in my world, shut up and dance.” I’m paraphrasing, but it rattled me.

As people were sharing their thoughts, the Daily Reflections book was being passed around, with the October 6 reading titled “Facing Ourselves.”
“How often I avoided a task in my drinking days just because it appeared so large! Is it any wonder, even if I have been sober for some time, that I will act that same way when faced with what appears to be a monumental job, such as a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself? What I discover after I have arrived at the other side—when my inventory is completed—is that the illusion was greater than the reality. The fear of facing myself kept me at a standstill and, until I became willing to put pencil to paper, I was arresting my growth based on an intangible.”
That’s it: The fear of facing myself. This still happens all the time. When I face myself I see the potential for something greater. I should want that, but it’s still not what I’m used to. I’m so comfortable with viewing the world with fear that the prospect of seeing it with optimism and potential carries an absurd weight. Through that lens, I see capability and love and friendship and fullness… and it’s intimidating.

Fear brings illusion, and the illusion bears weight. But once I step out from under that weight and take action, that unknown takes a form, and it’s in seeing things for how they really are where fear disappears. It’s in that space I’m free. It’s all a matter of taking that first step… Shut up and dance.