A Sunday Morning Blog

Week 52: The End

IMG_8994

I haven’t written in days. In part because I feel defeated by the rejection and silence my submitted pieces have evoked, and in part because I am lazy and uninterested in chasing the heartbreaking muse.

But, at some point, I knew I was going to need to post to this blog. The other evening, as I was slathering a flour tortilla with hummus for dinner, I started to think about what I would say to mark the end of my sobriety project. Then, I thought about what I didn’t have the courage to say, and I decided that’s exactly what I needed to write about.

My one year of sobriety ends October 10, on my 33rd birthday, but when that day comes I will be heavily intoxicated with pain medications after my hip surgery. This detail has lingered around the internal conversation I have with myself about whether or not I will drink at the end of my year. It occurred to me that I could cut the year short

Last weekend, one of my dearest friends from Peace Corps Lesotho was getting married in Denver, and I knew that, as devoted beer lovers, she and her soon-to-be-husband would have ample amounts of quality beer on hand for the celebration. I polled a few friends about this scenario: I could end my year of sobriety with my Peace Corps friends (my greatest drinking buddies) and good beer, or I could continue to wait out until the deadline and decide from there. All but one told me to go for it.

Leading up to the weekend, much like in Italy, I was really unsure if I wanted to drink. Maybe I needed more time to be sober, maybe I was letting down those who had rooted me on in the last year by drinking, or maybe I was stunting my self discovery if I so easily turned back to drinking. I flipped the choices back and forth, like a coin, and decided to make a decision on the spot.

The Friday wedding weekend welcome was at a brewery, but I didn’t even look at the menu. I was so enthralled with catching up with my Peace Corps friends that I couldn’t break myself away for five minutes to order a drink. At the end of the evening, most people were a happy buzzed and I was drunk with endorphins.

The next day, when two of my friends and I were getting ready for the wedding in a hotel bathroom, they offered me a glass of prosecco in a beige mug. I took it. Over the next 12 hours, I had exactly five drinks and was far from the dizzy drunk that my Peace Corps friends know of me.

I debated sharing this because I am worried what you all will think. Maybe you are disappointed in me, that I caved into drinking at a wedding, that I am starting myself back on a slippery slope. Or, maybe you are excited that I can now finally return back to my three-beer self. I don’t know how to tell you this, but I am not sure I am going to be either of those.  I wish I could come to this blog and write something inspirational and definite about how I feel about my year of sobriety and where I will go from here, but I don’t have that clarity. All I can say is that I was sober for a year, then I had some drinks that I don’t regret, and now I will likely be sober for the next few weeks while I am recovering from surgery.

One of my close friends who doesn’t drink asked me if I planned to drink again, and I told her that I wish I could drink like her, just one or two here and there, but I wasn’t sure if I could.

“You can,” she said.

I didn’t believe her, but after this weekend, I am wondering if she is right.

By the time you read this, I will have had my hip surgery. I am planning to go dark in the next few weeks and only focus on healing, physically and emotionally. I have a stock pile of books, multiple away messages set up and a freezer of ice cream. I am not committing to anything other than recovery. My body and my heart need it.

Maybe I will gain some introspection on my year of sobriety and what it means for me after time passes, but right now I don’t have answers. I am not sure if I will order a glass of wine when I am out with friends, or if I will go on to be sober for another year. The only thing I can say is that I need to make that decision for me. I need to not take anyone else’s opinions into thought, not even my own shoulds, but listen to my realest self and move where she tells me to go. To do that, though, I got get quite so I can listen.

For now, I just want to say thank you for following along on this journey and offering more support than I had ever anticipated. Sometimes you’ve been the only thing keeping me going, I plan to pay that love and encouragement forward. Thank you.

Advertisements

Week 50: Lost

IMG_8937

I missed my stop.

Only as the train pulled out of the station did I realize I was supposed to get off there. Surprisingly, I wasn’t paying attention, not because my head was buried in my phone (like it is often), but because the sky stole my focus. 

Through the train window, I watched the sky stay consistent and vast as the world below it morphed from building to bridge to building. I was not in a neighborhood that I knew, but the unwavering blue welcomed me anyway. It was the kind of sky you would expect in late August, clear and high with so much sun that I could take off my sweater and only wear a thin-strapped tank top. 

At the next stop, I got off to catch the next train going where the direction I had just come, and to get to that opposite tracks I needed to cross a sky bridge. Perched above the West side, I could see the cluster of buildings that made up downtown Chicago. Nothing else around me looked familiar and I wouldn’t know where to go if I exited the station, but the sky will still gloating. I had given myself enough time to get to my appointment and reveled in the extra few minutes to study the sky, as if it was a piece of acclaimed art.

That Cerulean blue – stiff yet comforting – reminded me of the sky in Lesotho and fetching water from a sometimes-working pump near my rondaval. Situated on a slight incline, waiting for a thin stream to fill my 25 gallon buckets, I looked out into the full sky, above the valley of rocks and trees below it. It held such promise, that sky. I’d think about my upcoming vacation, what I would accomplish that day, what I could be in the duration of my lifetime. It was as if the heavens were telling me that I was just fine and that I would be OK.

The sky in Lesotho was so captivating because I could specifically link it back to when I was a kid, sitting inside and watching TV on beautiful days. I remember wishing and wanting to be somewhere else – like on tire swing over a lake in a forest or on the boardwalk of a coastal town – and hoping that if I wished hard enough those dreams could come true. The sky I imagined in those dreams was the same one I saw in Lesotho, then in Chicago. Sometimes, I wish I could go back and tell that little girl not to worry so hard, because one day she would go to boardwalk cities, lakes in forests and rural villages in Africa.

My train arrived, but I could no longer watch the sky like a movie because the car was full of festival goers. Instead, I started thinking about being lost. I felt unsure about myself and my future during those summer days as a girl, then in Lesotho and even now. Actually, there are few times when I didn’t feel lost in my life. Once a friend told me that she has never felt lost, and I know she was saying it to make me feel better, but I got the sense that that meant there was something wrong with me. But, as I go through life, I see that many of us don’t know what we are doing. We make decisions and trust that it will lead to our true path, even if we don’t quite know what that is.

Eventually, I got to my appointment, the sky guiding me on a short walk alongside a busy road. The world above us is miraculous like that; we change, it changes, but it never abandons us. I arrived at my destination a bit later and not in the way I had originally intended, but that’s OK because I made it. I always make it.

 

Week 49: Put your head down

3.24.2015

The rain started midway through my short run. Light at first then heavy, like all weather in Chicago. In the hour and half between work and a social engagement, I decided steal away a quick run. The clouds at 5 p.m. were dark and cotton like, and I knew was gambling with Mother Nature by trying to be outside for longer than 15 minutes and yet I wanted to take my chances. Knowing that my upcoming surgery will sideline me from running for several months, and feeling stressed about the procedure, I needed the endorphins to calm my nerves. 

The rain pounded down, and the walking path emptied of tourists and bike commuters. It was me and the rain. The front of my teal t-shirt darkened, my hair wetted to the point of dripping, and I stuck my phone down my pants in attempt to keep it dry. 

When the weather sings during a run, there isn’t much I can do.I have to get home somehow, and without a wallet or keys, my only option is to go the way I came. The rain soaks, the wind thrashes, and I lower my head. I dig my heals in and keep putting one foot in front of the other, like I am trying to finish a 100-mile race through the desert instead of the last mile in a casual run. It doesn’t matter how slow I go, though, I feel heroic. Other runners may seen the rain as a good enough reason to stop, but I am out there daring Mother Nature to give me more.

I always feel a bit better when I can outlast Mother Nature, and this weekend I needed the confidence boost. Most days, I couldn’t get myself to a mental calm, and I tended to start the morning lethargic and without emotional energy. I questioned big pieces of my life and what may need changing. I don’t know where to start and what direction to head. Mostly, I feel overwhelmed.

Part of it came from making preparations for my surgery. I have spent most of my life very healthy, something I love bragging to doctor’s about during check ups. This surgery changes that. Although the procedure is routine and I should bounce back just fine after a few months, my body isn’t as resilient as I once thought it was, and as I get older, I know it will continue to falter me. That scares me. I’m also terrified about being put under and that the recovery will be harder than I am anticipating.

Also, I feel defeated in my writing ambitions. For the last several months, I’ve been pitching stories to websites and magazines, submitting pieces to literally, and sending portions of my manuscript to agents. This week, I got a rejection letter nearly every day. I know, I know, that’s part of the process. Yes, I have heard the story about Steven King’s Carrie being rejected 30 times, how he threw it away, and his wife fished it out and convinced him to send it to one more editor. Or, how JK Rowling received “loads” of rejections before a publisher took on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I know that all writers get more no’s than yes’s, at first, but it still stings and makes me question my talent. (Also, to note, my book is no where near as good as HP or anything Stephen King has written.)

Out running in the rain that day, thinking about my failures, I remembered the Orpah quote and how running often mimics life. There are times when things are challenging for reasons beyond your control, and you can’t fix it – in fact, fixing it only makes it worse. Rather, you have to endure because it’s the only way through.

I am feeling off today, as I tend to do on the weekends. I get in these funks when I feel like my contributions are small and worthless, and I don’t know what I am doing. As I prepare for a new week, I know that I can outrun this storm. I just got put my head down and keep going.

 

Week 48: What Serves You

IMG_8535As you may have noticed, posts on this blog lately haven’t been as consistent as the weekly content I initially promised when I announced my year of not drinking. While I have found joy in writing this blog, posting once a week was adding unnecessary stress to processing and feeling out my sobriety. I wasn’t reaping anything from that blog schedule. So, I decided to write only on the weeks I had something to say.

For most of my life, I have gone out of my way and stressed myself out doing things I thought I should or needed to do because someone somewhere, sometimes myself, said it had to be done. I also participated in behavior that was destructive or stagnant out of habit. As the fad in spiritual pop culture, though, I want to get more intentional with my actions, and that means letting go of things that no longer serve me.

That idea, dropping what doesn’t serve you, has sort of been played out in memoirs, yoga classes and uplifting Instagram posts, but it’s only something I am starting to take seriously. For far too long, I’ve put energy into things and people that brought back little in return.  That feels like a wasted life to me.

Only posting when I feel good about the blog I put together is a step in that direction. I’m also learning to let go of friendships that aggravate me or make me feel bad about myself, and I’m trying not to let worry and panic consume my thoughts when a friend doesn’t return my message.

There are a lot of things in my life currently not serving me – some I am willing to admit, others I am not – but I don’t think this is a sweeping gesture like spring cleaning. It’s a practice and what’s best for me in any moment can change. My only goal is to notice when I am not feeling fulfilled and energize by something and then having the courage to let it go.

I am interested to hear from my readers – what are you giving up that no longer serves you? How is it going? Do you have any tips for me?

Week 47: Fair Enough

16-cheryl-strayed-quotes-that-will-make-you-re-evaluate-your-life-on-life-2

At 6 a.m. Thursday morning, in a card that was halfway slid into an opening parking spot about a block from my house, hot tears streamed down my cheeks as I thought about how un-freaking-fair life is. The universe was throwing me too many little disappointments that, I felt, were unwarranted.

Twenty minutes earlier, I had left my house in anticipation of spending a 12-hour day at a video shoot for work in the suburbs. I went to a nearby Starbucks before I got started on my journey, sort of looking forward to the morning drive of coffee and NPR, but before I got out of the car I noticed that my wallet wasn’t in my purse. I called E in a panic, hoping I had left it on a table in our apartment, but he couldn’t find it. I drove back home, put my flashers on in a tow zone and ran upstairs for 10 minutes. I came back down to the car with no wallet and a parking ticket for $200 stuffed under the windshield wiper. And, I was going to be late to the shoot.

My bad luck in the moment seemed really unfair and part of a bigger set of circumstances in which I was on the losing end. This week, I received several writing contest rejections and passes from literary agents, including one that had been interested in my work and asked to see the whole manuscript. I had put my writing out in the world, and the world was pushing it back to me.

The “why me” song played again this morning when I was out for a run, a small three miles. Most of the runners out on the Lake Shore Path this morning looked to be in marathon training, with team jerseys and water belts for long runs. I also came across a staging area for Sunday’s triathlon, as fit people hauled bikes to and from the transition spot. My hip tinged with pain and I knew I needed to turn my casual, non-training run around and head for home. My breakfast didn’t feel earned

Why can’t my hip not be torn so I can participate in endurance events like marathons and triathlons? Why can’t my writing be chosen to be published and celebrated? Why did I have to get a ticket when other cars are parked in the tow zones for hours without receiving so much as a hand slap?

When I am my unhappiest in life it’s usually because I am wishing for things to be what they are not. I am pissed at the universe for dealing me a shitty card and longing for what others have. I want everything to be perfect, and when I don’t get my way I get sad and sulky.

But, this attitude isn’t really working out for me. Over the last several months, a general malaise has hunger over my days. I feel stuck, uninspired, not particularly happy. I daydream about making changes – location, career, lifestyle – hoping one of them will be a quick fix. The problem, though, is that this feeling is not new. I can pinpoint these exact emotions to other times in my life: right out of college when I was living in Idaho and working at a newspaper; the year I lived in Sioux Falls and was running The Post; in Lesotho, most days; and during those short months in D.C. I moved around, changed jobs, and tried to yoga, run and zen my way out of my feelings. What I never did was stay and work through that shit.

In these moments when unfair creeps into my vocabulary, I started to try to imagine that I chose this specific set of circumstances. I decided to lose my wallet, tear my labral, collect rejection letters and an acquire a $200 fine from the great City of Chicago. This is exactly what my life needs to be right now.

Then, I like to remember all the good things surrounding the unfairness, such as how I was able to locate my wallet at an ice cream parlor and it was returned to me with everything, all the funds in my accounts, in tact. Or, how someone I love was going through some health issues and all results came back clear. And, how a good friend came to visit me for a few days and we had a great time exploring Chicago together and catching up. Also, that my life is full of good people and places, and when it comes down to it, I can pay that fine, I still love writing, and even three miles of running brings me immense joy.

Yeah, life isn’t fair, but that’s a fact and I am tired of wasting energy in not accepting it as so. Things get hard, but then they change and are easy for a bit. I don’t have everything I want in life, but I have everything I need now.

Week 46: Owning my piece

“I can disagree with your opinion, it turns out, but I can’t disagree with your experience. And once I have a sense of your experience, you and I are in relationship, acknowledging the complexity in each other’s position, listening less guardedly. The difference in our opinions will probably remain intact, but it no longer defines what is possible between us.”

I was in a truck of an Afrikaans man and his girlfriend, driving towards Maseru nearly at dusk. The man saw me standing alongside the road, my finger pointed down to indicate that I was looking for a free ride, and he pulled over and let me in. The woman steered most of the conversation, explaining that her family was from India but she spent most of her life in Durbin, South Africa.

After pleasantries, the conversation turned toward race relations in South Africa, and the woman made strong remarks about how she felt about black South Africans. She masked her hatred in annoyance, as if she thought I could relate. She talked about the divide between white and black people like it was probably a good thing.

I told her that it was different in the U.S., that Civil Rights had happened a long time ago and racism was confided only to the country’s darkest corners. She cut me off. “You Americans, you think you are so much better than all of us. But you aren’t. You have the same exact problems as us, but you are unwilling to admit it.”

She wasn’t wrong. And, I was ignorant.

I can blame part of my unenlightenment on race relations in the U.S. on my upbringing in a small white conservative town. I only knew the experiences around me, and I assumed that was how everyone else lived, too. I did not understand what it meant to be a black woman or man in the U.S. I knew what came from history books, certain narratives left out or whitewashed, but I knew nothing of the oppression minorities, specifically black Americans, face every day. I was nestled in a bubble, not of my own making, but I was also not eager to burst it. I stayed uneducated about racial issues because it was a more pleasant way to look at life.

Then, I went to the Peace Corps. I had expected that my two years in a tiny rural village in Africa would expand my worldview, which it did, but to the same degree, that experience also changed my perspectives on my fellow countrymen. Peace Corps is an intense family of Americans from a variety of backgrounds who are thrown together to become each other’s support system, whether you all like it or not, during two very emotional years. In both my services, in Niger and Lesotho, I met incredibly wonderful, talented individuals who came from far different backgrounds than my own. I made friends that are black, Latino/Latina, of Asian descent, Muslim, Jewish, gay, bi-sexual, and non-gender confirming. As a trainee and training leader, I sat on several diversity panels as these volunteers discussed some of the hardships they face not only with host country nationals but also with other volunteers. It was the first time I had a glimpse at what it was like to walk through the world not as Christian white woman. It’s in these trainings that I decided to be an ally for minorities, in whatever way I could.

My thoughts and views are reflective of an ally, but my actions haven’t always followed suit. I’ve singled people out to share their experience based on their race, gender, or sexual orientation. I’ve made intentions to read more to educate myself and then stopped there. I’ve let racist, homophobic, and xenophobic comments slide, not wanting to ignite a tense conversation. I’ve let the pettiness of my own life stop me from speaking up.

There is also a inherent bias that runs through my thoughts. I recognize it more and more these days, and I am so ashamed of myself. I thought I was better than this, and I’ve acted like I was better than this, but here these awful thoughts are, so contradictory to what I say that I believe. And, yet, in order to break free from them, I must acknowledge their presence.

In the last week, I’ve thought a lot about my shortcomings as an ally, and I debated about writing this post. At first, I was scared what some blog readers may think of me (from both sides) or that the post would attract trolls. Then, I didn’t want to come across as making this story about me and my own insecurities and guilt. But, these thoughts have gnawed at me and I had to do something with them. I can’t continue to be apathetic anymore. I just can’t. Too much is at stake in our world right now, and we are all at risk at losing something big if we continue to pretend this isn’t happening until it dies down.

To hold myself accountable, I’ve decided to write down my commitments to be a better ally and person. These aren’t much, but I need to start somewhere. I know that I will make mistakes, but it’s far better to say the wrong thing than say nothing at all.

Here is what I will do to fight oppression:

  • I will own my story and the times that I haven’t been inclusive and accepting. I need to acknowledge these in order to learn from them.
  • I will recognize when I am bias, which I am, and reflect on it to change the course of my thoughts.
  • I will never dehumanize.
  • I will accept that another person’s experience is their experience. I can’t refute that.
  • I will no longer be silent when racism and bigotry rears its ugly head in small conversations.
  • I will not force persons of color and minorities to educate me. I will, instead, read books and articles and listen to interviews. If someone is willing, I will engage in conversation, but I know that is not their job to make me understand the racial divide in this country.
  • I will make an effort to read books by POC writers and shop at businesses owned by POCs.
  • I will donate to worthy organizations when I can.
  • I will support my friends who are on the front lines of the resistance.
  • I will not be silent.
  • I will love before I hate.

Another reason I share all of this is to encourage my white friends and family to do some internal exploring on their own. If we continue to hide our bias and pretend our beliefs are as equal as action, these problems will not go away.

Below are a couple of resources I’ve found this week that have helped me come to these conclusions. I know that many of these are from white writers and journalists, but I really do think it’s on us to educate ourselves, and not demand that from people of color who are working through so much else right now.

Brené Brown’s Facebook Live event about owning our story and how power is not finite.

This Invisibillia Podcast about inherent bias.

Lastly, if anyone would like to have a discussion with me, I recommend that you reach out to me at heathermmangan(at)gmail(dot)com. Any hate-filled, racist comments on Facebook and Twitter will be deleted. While I am a supporter of the First Amendment, I do not believe that includes hate speech and it has no home on my personal pages.

Week 46: What I need to do

“I can disagree with your opinion, it turns out, but I can’t disagree with your experience. And once I have a sense of your experience, you and I are in relationship, acknowledging the complexity in each other’s position, listening less guardedly. The difference in our opinions will probably remain intact, but it no longer defines what is possible between us.”

I was in a truck of an Afrikaans man and his girlfriend, driving towards Maseru nearly at dusk. The man saw me standing alongside the road, my finger pointed down to indicate that I was looking for a free ride, and he pulled over and let me in. The woman steered most of the conversation, explaining that her family was from India but she spent most of her life in Durbin, South Africa.

After pleasantries, the conversation turned toward race relations in South Africa, and the woman made strong remarks about how she felt about black South Africans. She masked her hatred in annoyance, as if she thought I could relate. She talked about the divide between white and black people like it was probably a good thing.

I told her that it was different in the U.S., that Civil Rights had happened a long time ago and racism was confided only to the country’s darkest corners. She cut me off. “You Americans, you think you are so much better than all of us. But you aren’t. You have the same exact problems as us, but you are unwilling to admit it.”

She wasn’t wrong. And, I was ignorant.

I can blame part of my unenlightenment on race relations in the U.S. on my upbringing in a small white conservative town. I only knew the experiences around me, and I assumed that was how everyone else lived, too. I did not understand what it meant to be a black woman or man in the U.S. I knew what came from history books, certain narratives left out or whitewashed, but I knew nothing of the oppression minorities, specifically black Americans, face every day. I was nestled in a bubble, not of my own making, but I was also not eager to burst it. I stayed uneducated about racial issues because it was a more pleasant way to look at life.

Then, I went to the Peace Corps. I had expected that my two years in a tiny rural village in Africa would expand my worldview, which it did, but to the same degree, that experience also changed my perspectives on my fellow countrymen. Peace Corps is an intense family of Americans from a variety of backgrounds who are thrown together to become each other’s support system, whether you all like it or not, during two very emotional years. In both my services, in Niger and Lesotho, I met incredibly wonderful, talented individuals who came from far different backgrounds than my own. I made friends that are black, Latino/Latina, of Asian descent, Muslim, Jewish, gay, bi-sexual, and non-gender confirming. As a trainee and training leader, I sat on several diversity panels as these volunteers discussed some of the hardships they face not only with host country nationals but also with other volunteers. It was the first time I had a glimpse at what it was like to walk through the world not as Christian white woman. It’s in these trainings that I decided to be an ally for minorities, in whatever way I could.

My thoughts and views are reflective of an ally, but my actions haven’t always followed suit. I’ve singled people out to share their experience based on their race, gender, or sexual orientation. I’ve made intentions to read more to educate myself and then stopped there. I’ve let racist, homophobic, and xenophobic comments slide, not wanting to ignite a tense conversation. I’ve let the pettiness of my own life stop me from speaking up.

There is also a inherent bias that runs through my thoughts. I recognize it more and more these days, and I am so ashamed of myself. I thought I was better than this, and I’ve acted like I was better than this, but here these awful thoughts are, so contradictory to what I say that I believe.

In the last week, I’ve thought a lot about my shortcomings as an ally, and I debated about writing this post. At first, I was scared what some blog readers may think of me (from both sides) or that the post would attract trolls. Then, I didn’t want to come across as making this story about me and my own insecurities and guilt. But, these thoughts have gnawed at me and I had to do something with them. I can’t continue to be apathetic anymore. I just can’t. Too much is at stake in our world right now, and we are all at risk at losing something big if we continue to pretend this isn’t happening until it dies down.

To hold myself accountable, I’ve decided to write down my commitments to be a better ally and person. These aren’t much, but I need to start somewhere. I know that I will make mistakes, but it’s far better to say the wrong thing than say nothing at all.

Here is what I will do to fight oppression:

  • I will own my story and the times that I haven’t been inclusive and accepting. I need to acknowledge these in order to learn from them.
  • I will recognize when I am bias, which I am, and reflect on it to change the course of my thoughts.
  • I will never dehumanize.
  • I will accept that another person’s experience is their experience. I can’t refute that.
  • I will no longer be silent when racism and bigotry rears its ugly head in small conversations.
  • I will not force persons of color and minorities to educate me. I will, instead, read books and articles and listen to interviews. If someone is willing, I will engage in conversation, but I know that is not their job to make me understand the racial divide in this country.
  • I will make an effort to read books by POC writers and shop at businesses owned by POCs.
  • I will donate to worthy organizations when I can.
  • I will support my friends who are on the front lines of the resistance.
  • I will not be silent.
  • I will love before I hate.

Another reason I share all of this is to encourage my white friends and family to do some internal exploring on their own. If we continue to hide our bias and pretend our beliefs are as equal as action, these problems will not go away.

Below are a couple of resources I’ve found this week that have helped me come to these conclusions. I know that many of these are from white writers and journalists, but I really do think it’s on us to educate ourselves, and not demand that from people of color who are working through so much else right now.

Brené Brown’s Facebook Live event about owning our story and how power is not finite.

This Invisibillia Podcast about inherent bias.
https://www.npr.org/player/embed/533946601/534158114

Lastly, if anyone would like to have a discussion with me, I recommend that you reach out to me at heathermmangan(at)gmail(dot)com. Any hate-filled, racist comments on Facebook and Twitter will be deleted. While I am a supporter of the First Amendment, I do not believe that includes hate speech and it has no home on my personal pages.

Week 44: Acceptance, Part 2

70511176b9913c985e26eece500aaec4

On Saturday mornings, when I was living in Lesotho as a Peace Corps volunteer, I often sipped tea from the stoop of my hut made of thatch and brick and dreamed about the life I would have when I returned to the States. It involved long runs on the weekends, a job that allowed me to write but didn’t take over my life, living in a city with a population greater than that of South Dakota’s, nights with friends in trendy locals sipping craft beer, a young man that made me smile uncontrollably, and the occasional jaunt across the ocean.

Two years later, in the summer of 2015, the fantasy life I concocted came pretty close to fruition. My friend K and I had recently returned from two weeks in New Zealand, I was training for the Chicago Marathon, working at Peace Corps’ recruitment office in Chicago, drinking pint after pint of Zombie Dust and Anti-Hero, and I had just started dating E. It was everything I had wanted.

A piece of me hoped that I could recreate that summer when I registered for the 2017 Chicago Marathon. Something had been off in 2016; I felt unsure in many of my friendships, I questioned my professional ambitions and strongly considered a career switch, and I scolded myself each time I drank more than just one beer. I tried to refocus on that dream life I had in Lesotho, and the only thing I could clearly grasp was running. In those daydreams, I was running ultra marathons through the mountains, running every Saturday morning with a treasured running group, and crossing off a different race each Spring and Fall. Despite lingering knee issues and a new, shaper pain in my right hip, I signed up for the marathon as an attempt to recenter myself.  I hadn’t been running much at the time, mostly focused on finishing the second draft of my fiction novel, but I figured that I would do as much writing as I could and then ease back and let running become more of a focus.

The pain in my right hip worsened. After an eight-mile run on a scary-warm day in February, I couldn’t get up from a seated position without wincing in pain. My primary care physician referred me to a sports medicine doctor, who put me on a four-prong path to recovery. Along the way, I kept asking her if it was possible for me to run the October marathon, and she seemed optimistic. If we could get an answer by late May or early June, I told myself, I’d be able to pick up a training plan and run through the summer to get to the start line in the fall.

Physical therapy helped for a couple of weeks, until the pain came right back like nothing had changed. The next step was an MRI, which revealed a hip impingement and labral tear. “So, I should just give up my goal of running the marathon?” I asked my doctor. She shook her head and said not necessarily. Runners must be awful patients, because most doctors I’ve seen are hesitant to give me an definitive yes or no, as if they are worried I’d lash out them if they didn’t give me the answer I wanted. My doctor prescribed a cortisone shot and said that, while it wouldn’t fix the tear, it could ease the pain enough for me to train and run the marathon. And, that became my plan: shoot my hip full of steroids, obtain my finisher’s medal, and then consider surgery to fix the tear.

At this point, it was spring. I had run some, but not a ton. I was consumed with finishing the draft of my book. I woke up every morning at 5:30 a.m. and worked for at least an hour. Instead of running on Saturdays, I sat at my kitchen table and typed fast enough to beat out all the doubt in my head.

The cortisone shot didn’t relieve the pain but added to it. The night I got the shot, I had to lean on E as we walked a few blocks to a restaurant. The steroids were not going to ease the pain and the only way to truly fix my hip would to be have surgery. Two weeks later, I scheduled the surgery for October, three days before the Chicago Marathon.

Waves of acceptance have hit me over the last few months. The first was recognizing that I wasn’t in the physical shape to train for a marathon, and not just because of a bum hip. My knee pain has mostly vanished, but I have not put in the miles to build an acceptable and safe base on which to begin training. By June, when I got the cortisone shot, I wasn’t even up to 20 miles a week, and that was partly because of the hip pain but also because I was spending a good deal of time writing. I could do greater harm to my body by trying to force into marathon mode, so I resigned to letting it heal.

The second lesson in acceptance came when I let go of my dream of running marathons and ultra marathons and filling my free time with running. It’s not a goal I have to completely abandon, but for now it’s not possible. There is a high chance I could return to running post surgery, but my marathon days may be over. I can’t know until after the procedure and I’ve started to run again, so I won’t worry about it now.

This week, I accepted something bigger, something I didn’t think I could fully admit to myself or to the handful of people who read this blog: I don’t want run a marathon. I love running and it brings me absolute joy, but right now I have got to put my writing and healing my hip first. I will carry regret in the pit of my stomach for the rest of my life if I don’t try to put my writing in the world. And, because I have a full-time job, a social life, and volunteer with two non-profits, I don’t have the energy and time for a marathon. It’s taken me a long time to say this, but that’s OK.

When I was in middle school, I went out for the cross country team because most people thought running was too hard, and I loved that I was the only female in my grade to run four years of high school cross country. I wanted to be the person that could do things others couldn’t. I chose to run the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon over the half because I didn’t want to be consider as someone who choses the easiest option (half marathons, by the way, are not at all easy). Marathons are grueling and they aren’t for everyone, and I wanted to be a marathoner because I wanted to prove to other people and myself that I am different from the masses.

On a running podcast, I heard woman say that she only runs to get something out of it, that she is at a point in her life where running needs to give her more than she gives it. That’s how I feel, too. I do run now, with the approval from both my sports medicine doctor and surgeon, but only three or four miles a couple times of week. I monitor my pain, and when it hurts, I don’t go. A big goal of mine this year was to be able to call myself a writer. I write every day, therefore, I am a writer. No other qualifiers matter. The same goes with running. I don’t need to be marathoner (and technically, I am because I have run marathons) to be a runner. I do run, so I am runner. Again, no other qualifiers matter.

As the wonderful Cheryl Strayed says, dreams change and we hurt ourselves by chasing ambitions we no longer have for the sole reason that they once they met something to us. I wanted to spend my weekends running 20 miles and drinking beer, and I do neither now. I have other goals, and maybe less defined as the detailed dream life, but I owe it to myself to move in that direction. Doing so means letting go of other things, but it also means the possibility of discovering opportunities I didn’t know to exist before.

I am not running the 2017 Chicago Marathon, I’ve accepted that, and even though I had to turn a corner, there is still wonder to this path. I don’t know what it is, but I believe it is coming.

Week 42: Restricting

IMG_8293

When I was in was in high school, I regulated myself to one Zesto visit a month. Zesto is an ice cream shop in my hometown that serves magnificent concoctions of candy, syrup, fruit and ice cream and offers a new flavor of homemade sherbet daily. One goes there to celebrate a birthday, after a softball game, to cap off a day at the beach.  I set my my monthly limit for a couple of reasons: too much ice cream makes you fat, I didn’t deserve ice cream but once a month, and to see if I could do it. This is good for me, I told myself, as I watched friends eat from plastic ups of peaches, caramel and vanilla ice cream while I sipped water. Yes, I did want ice cream, but I also like the satisfaction of restricting myself, knowing that I was in control.

Since then, I’ve gone on dozens of “challenges,” in which I remove something from my life for an insignificant amount of time. I’ve given up shopping, TV, gluten, Facebook, eating animal products, chocolate – anything that seems to extravagant. My nearly 10-year status as a vegetarian began as a year-long test that I just kept doing.

A friend and I were talking on the phone the other day, and I mentioned to her that I am currently on a vegan diet. I didn’t tell her, because I was a bit embarrassed, that I am actually also not eating gluten or sugar, and I recently gave up coffee. She linked the diet (or maybe I did) to my sobriety and said that I holding on to my power to control what I can. I told her that I might start drinking in a few months when the sober project is up. She said that it doesn’t matter if I do or don’t, what matters is where my head is and what my intentions are. That conversation stayed with me for a few days, because I hadn’t thought about my sobriety as being another challenge, although it very much is.

I like restricting, removing things from my daily life for no other reason than to prove that I can. I like being in control and having control, so when I  say, “Well, I haven’t had sugar in two weeks,” it doesn’t matter that I am miserable and constantly thinking about sticking my face in a vanilla shake. I have proven to myself, and others, that I have impeccable control. I often don’t care if my limiting is unhealthy or crazy, because withholding gives me a balance that I am not finding in my normal life.

When I feel stuck or unsure of myself, I start restricting. I throw out things because I can, because I want to show myself I do have good self-control, which is a reassuring quality to me. I am constantly terrified of being a gluttonous, lazy person, but I can calm my anxiety by reminding myself that I am currently not eating eggs, cheese, meat, wheat or sugar and not drinking alcohol or coffee. My confidence isn’t totally reclaimed, but it gives me a sense of obtainable perfection, which is something I know not to exist and yet I chase it every day. Restricting feels sort of like an addiction, it gives me a high I can’t find elsewhere.

My friend is right; at some point  I am going to have to look below the exterior of control and deal with what’s underneath. But I am not there yet. I can’t control when people text me back (seriously struggling with this lately) or if what I put into the world is not liked or well received, but when I give things up, I feel in charge and that gives me enough to get through.

 

Week 41: Urges

IMG_8645

Lately, I’ve been talking to a lot of people who have quit smoking. Many of them started young, as teenagers, and realized decades later that they couldn’t continue with the habit. They told me that they tried to quit once or twice before, but they’d get stress at work or something would happen in their life and they lit up. Once they quit for good, though, they had to arm themselves with tools to handle those cravings. Chocolate, gum, guzzling water – anything that helps them get through the next five minutes until the craving is gone.

As I’ve listened to their stories, I feel my head nod along. It’s a different habit, but since I’ve quit drinking I’ve had to learn how to ride a craving. In that moment, an urge can feel like someone is standing on your shoulders and all you think about is the thing you aren’t supposed to do. However, you also know that if you can just hold on, keep your grip firm, the craving will wash away.

Although I’ve been sober for nine months now (woah, I didn’t realize that until now), the urge to drink still comes at me – maybe less often than in the first month or so, but the familiar feeling arises at a constant pace. Just this past weekend, I went to a friend’s art show and free wine (my favorite kind) was being offered. I was very careful not to look at it, but I could smell it as others near me sipped from plastic cups. Drinking with friends at art shows is part of the reason I moved to a vibrant city like Chicago, and it felt silly to keep filling my glass with water from a plastic jug. I wanted wine if for no other reason than it was a good environment for one.

Other times, the urge to drink comes because I’m anxious or scared and I know drinking will make it better in the short term.

Sobriety has been difficult, and there have times I’ve tried to rationalize one drink. “Now one will care,” I think as I eye a bottle. But, no matter how pulverizing that craving is, I can last it. I drink lots and lots of water. I promise to reward myself with ice cream later. I pick at my nails or get up to use the bathroom. I look at E and say, “I want a drink.” I tell myself, that when I wake up without a headache tomorrow, I will go for a run and then have a big breakfast. I start talking to the person next to me. I reach for a handful of a tortilla chips. I drink ice tea. I think about how I will have to blog about it and how embarrassing that would be. I do whatever I can to get through the moment, because it’s only a moment and eventually the craving does go away.  No matter how much I wanted a drink a minute earlier, I am happier that I didn’t give in.

Even this far into my sobriety, those cravings can feel crushing but I know that I am stronger. I’ve beaten every single one of them in the last nine months, sometimes easily and others barely, but I’ve won.