“On far away-influences: You were certain the others disapproved of your behaviour without their having expressed disapproval. In solitude you felt a quiet sense of well-being without having known why; some far-away person thought well of you, spoke well of you.” Franz Kafka, Diaries, January 17, 1915
Why do we care what others think of us? I would like to think that I don’t, but I do. Today I am working on my 1st step again with my sponsor here in New York. I thought, “My 1st step? Really? Are you kidding me?” I have done the 1st step. I have admitted I am an alcoholic. My life was unmanageable. I cannot drink because when I do the thoughts in my head go nuts. I become unmanageable. When I was drunk and had these thoughts I wanted it all to go away. I did not want to live. It was all too much. So, I took away the alcohol. The thoughts are still there. Well, that is the part of my disease that is unmanageable. Disease. If I don’t drink then why do I still think I have a disease? If I don’t pick up, then I am ok. Right? No. I then have to work through how I handle these thoughts. Today I realized what makes me unmanageable now is what is between my ears. My thoughts. I allow what I think others think of me to take away my joy. I allow others to live rent-free in my head. I seek approval. Approval-seeking is unmanageable for me. It sends me to my knees crying not understanding why someone can’t understand me. I want to isolate. I want to focus on misery and obsess about how I can make someone else get me. When I stop and use the tools I have learned in my 12 Step program; then I begin to find my balance. My life becomes manageable. I realize seeking approval from another person is insanity. When I meditate, I then hear one of my favorite phrases I have heard in my 12 Step meetings. “It is absolutely none of my business what someone else thinks of me.” As long as I am doing the work to stay sober, being of service to others, doing the next right thing, being of service to my family and friends nurturing these relationships, and meeting my obligations, then I am doing what my God wants me to do. This is the only approval I need. Once I recenter and focus on this, I become the person I am meant to be. I don’t need another person’s approval. I know what makes my life manageable and what makes it unmanageable. It is hard some days to be so open and honest about my thoughts as I stay on this path in sobriety, but I do know it is something I must continue to do. It is not because I am brave or because it is pretty. It is real. I will continue to do the work and be available for these moments in my life.
“The picture of dissatisfaction presented by a street, where everyone is perpetually lifting his feet to escape from the place on which he stands.” Franz Kafka, Diaries, August 21, 1912
Always moving and not being satisfied. I understand this. I wasn’t happy because everywhere I went, there I was. Changing one’s geography cannot make one happy.
As a child and teenager moving around I experienced the paradox of the dread of moving and changing schools and the excitement about new opportunities brought by this change. I don’t remember being anxious about moving because my parents were careful to find good neighborhoods, good schools, and a welcoming church, but the one thing I always felt missing was a history with my peers. Without malice, they would discuss their childhoods and growing up together. I was not intentionally left out, but I didn’t fit into any of the stories. I did not fit into the conversation. Of course, I could enjoy their lives and their memories, but with each new school and new group of friends I was always the outsider. Each move sealed the way I felt about me. I was an outsider. My thoughts were incongruent with my personality. I appeared positive and outgoing, but deep down there was such sadness. I was an interloper. A stranger even to myself. The more I moved, the more outgoing I became. This was to mask my sadness. I didn’t care about fitting in; I just wanted not to feel like an outsider. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was more of the way I saw myself.
At the beginning of our marriage and when my husband and I began our family we began to create a history with our friends and we passed that on to our children. We had our family, and we had our community. I now had a history. When we moved after ten years of marriage, I lost my center. I had survived and flourished as a youngster even when moving around, but once I gained this history and then felt as if I lost it, I lost my way. I wanted my feet to keep moving because I thought I was meant to be an outsider. I began to get my groove and worked on growing where I was planted, but my alcoholism along with my unhappiness escalated. I have made dear friendships, but I believe I was conditioned by my own thinking. I didn't fit.
I feel very at home in New York is because so many people are not from here even if they have been here for years. In my experience, this tends to make them inclusive. I have found even the native New Yorkers enjoy meeting new people. Perhaps I am the new weird Southern variety. Maybe it’s because as a child and as a young wife the moves were out of my control. After college, I moved to Birmingham, Alabama and I thrived. It was my decision. Maybe this is all about feeling in control of my own destiny.
Do we find life more unsettling when we don’t feel in control of our lives? I don’t know the answers to my own questions, but I do know I am grateful for where I am today. I am grateful for a husband who supports me. I am grateful that we have created a business model where I can continue to work remotely for him as I live here and write. I am grateful for each of my children who are equipped with the tools to live their lives always knowing we are a family unit despite our geography. I am grateful for sobriety and the clarity of mind it brings to me. I am grateful for my friends all over who send me messages of encouragement. These friends are friends I have made during my life with each move and each new city. I am grateful for the new friends I am making here in New York. I do have a history. I have a history of making the kindest most encouraging friends wherever I go. I am happy because here I am.
“My love for you is great enough to make up the insufficiency, and strong enough in general to take everything on itself.” Franz Kafka, Diaries, March 9, 1914
Love. To feel love. To be loved. To believe there was something or someone who had a strong enough love for me was astonishing. I didn’t understand it. I was raised in a loving home with loving parents and a loving extended family. I can’t blame anyone or anything for why I didn’t trust love. I believe I was born with this sense of self-protection and guarding myself. I can love with the best of them, but in my skewed thinking, I didn’t feel loved even when I intellectually knew I was being loved. Love for me had to be a feeling, like being intoxicated. I didn't seek love, but when I was told, "I love you," I became addicted to the way it made me feel. This feeling prompted me at times to enter into relationships even if they were not emotionally healthy. I don’t mean that the other person was bad, but the relationship or friendship may have not been healthy based upon my need for love which I did not know how to receive. I blame no one for this. It was the unhealthy part of me.
I never acted on love first except when my children were born. I loved them first without any fear, but with any other person or relationship I had to be ensured the other person loved me or liked me first. I feared the rejection and needed the high that came with being liked or loved first. I suppose this could be seen as narcissism, but my intentions were simply self-preservation. I knew of no other way to keep myself protected. This fear created a codependency. I was not dependent on other people for my survival. I was dependent upon their love and approval. I needed this feeling to make me feel that I had value. I would also go to the extreme opposite of this and feel that I needed no one nor did I want their love or a relationship.
In recovery, my dependence upon a power greater than myself is essential to my recovery. I must seek through prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact with God as I understand him. Even though I was raised in a spiritual and Christian home, I became rebellious about a relationship with God, because I didn’t seek relationships unless I got the feeling of being liked or loved. Off and on during my life, I dabbled in a relationship with God, but the alcoholic in me always needed that feeling, that love high. When the love high stopped, I stopped seeking the relationship. Why try in a relationship when you don’t feel anything? I knew the quotes, “God is always with us” or the poem about the footprints that God was carrying us when we thought we were alone, but I just thought that was manipulation. I didn’t want to be manipulated. As a young child through no fault of my parents nor the church, I began to feel I was being exploited by religion. When I was six years old I “got saved.” The next day I got to ride in the minister’s private airplane with my mother. From this point on I felt conned by God and those who represented him. As I got older, I understood the order of worship in the church service and what songs were being played to influence my emotions. I began to loathe this. This is not an indictment of religion; this is an indictment on my skewed thinking and how I viewed God’s love and inability to depend upon anyone, but myself. I believed I could not trust anyone. No one. I had no faith in God’s love nor a person's love. I felt so much love in my heart, but I was so afraid to let go and experience love in a healthy manner. I just wanted to feel it. Love is an action. It is not a feeling. I am learning this. Love is stepping out there and giving without expecting something in return. Love is commitment. Love is being an instrument of peace in times of chaos. Love is pardoning someone when I am wronged. Love is understanding instead of being understood. Love is not a feeling. Love is an action. I didn’t find God in a church. I didn’t find God through another person. I found my God in my brokenness. It doesn’t matter if my God was there or not the entire time because I had to know my God was there. I had to find my God. We found each other.
“I need a room and a vegetarian diet, almost nothing more.” Franz Kafka, Diaries, March 9, 1914
Our needs change. When I was younger, I wanted excitement, the city, and friends around me. Even as a young married couple my husband and I enjoyed parties, black-tie affairs and meeting new people. When our children were born, all I wanted to do was nest. I wanted to stop everything, but being at home with them. I remember an acquaintance, also a young mother who continued with her career and social involvement, told me, “Do not lose yourself.” I thought about it, but I resigned from the ball groups I was involved in, and the only organization I retained was my membership in the Junior League. I did this because at the time a member had to recommend you, then four other members had to sign for you as well. They were only allowed to sponsor one provisional per year. This was not to be elitist at all but to ensure the provisional member would become a diligent volunteer and representative in the community. These women had believed in my abilities to work hard and represent the Junior League of Montgomery, and I owed it to them to honor my commitment. I learned to balance motherhood, being a wife, daughter, sister, friend, volunteer, active church member and have an active social life within this life. Also, I had quit drinking. I was running every day. I was 36 years old; I would arise at 5:00 am, run for 3 miles, come home, meditate, and spend time with my husband before he left for work. I did this all before starting my stay at home mom workday. I had an active role in Junior League and my church’s activities. I hosted parties for my children and their school, we hosted semi-formal dinner parties, baby showers, bunco, couples barbecues, and casual play dates. I read one book each week, and I was there for my friends and family. This was all I needed. I even made it through losing two babies in utero in two separate pregnancies while I was in my fourth month as well as another miscarriage at five weeks. I had a clear head, and I had balance. In 1998, we moved to North Alabama. We left a life I loved. But, my husband had a dream, and he deserved to go for it. He wanted to start his law practice. We left a steady income, a community and life we had built in a town of 200,000 people to settle in a town of 12,367. 1998 records show that there were 12, 371 people. Our family of four rounded out this number. Hartselle is a community of wonderful people, but I couldn’t breathe. I fell into a bad depression, and I drank. I tried to grow where I was planted, but I suppose I didn’t nurture my soil and I died on the vine. In 2003, we moved to Decatur, Alabama, which is adjacent to Hartselle and thrives with a population of about 60,000 people. When we bought our home in the neighborhood, we currently live in it was a good move for us. We were quadrupling the size of our community. I remember in June after we moved in our home standing in our back yard just taking in my new environment. My mother had died one month prior in May, and I was adjusting to so many new normals. I remember thinking this is all I need right now. I need this new community, more people and this home for my little family. As always I became involved with my children, their activities, my church, my husband’s law office and volunteer activities as well. I was content. I was an avid runner, though I would drink and then. I would stop drinking at times because I knew it was hindering my life and I wanted to get my balance. Like any good alcoholic, I got my balance and felt great, so I started drinking again because “I had this! I had control of my life!” But, I did not have control of how I reacted to what was going on around me. Life is hard for everyone. It has its ups and downs. It was hard building a law practice and raising children. I went back to work to supplement our income and continued to support my husband at the office as well as trying to be a super mom! I did ok, but I had a hard time coping. Instead of stopping and seeking guidance I moved forward with control. Failure was NOT an option! I did not realize that letting go of control is not failure. Letting go of control is SUCCESS! So, I drank and I held on tight! Fear gripped me always. I entered a 12 Step recovery program in 2004 and had periods of sobriety, but I always felt that I “had this” and I went back to drinking. Then, I became the alcoholic who drank when It was good, and I drank when it was bad. The common denominator in my life became drinking. In October 2015 when it became apparent to me that my drinking had progressed to a point that it was going to kill me one way or the other and that my life was unmanageable I re-entered my 12 Step recovery program. I finally got that the 1st step is the one I MUST do 100%. I must know daily that I am an alcoholic. I am powerless over that very first drink of alcohol, and if I drink even one drink, my life will become unmanageable. I still have good times, and I still have bad times, BUT I can cope! I have a clear head and when fear, doubts or exciting times grip me, good or bad because I am not drinking I can continue to move forward. Two days ago I was jumping on my bed in this studio in New York squealing like a child, “I can’t believe it! I am here! I am living here! I have some promising prospects on my horizon!” I was filled with gratitude! Yesterday, I explored this fascinating city and I was filled with excitement and in constant amazement of the opportunity I am living! Today I woke up with fear, doubt, sadness and some guilt. I have friends and family who cannot live this opportunity today, and I felt like I didn’t deserve it. I wanted it, but I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I then feared it would be taken away. My alcoholic mind began racing, and I felt all those old negative thoughts that made me think I couldn't cope. I began to write. I prayed. I meditated. I used the tools I have learned in my 12 Step program to stop and just be. Be here today. Be in this fabulous small studio in Chelsea-Manhattan where on the corner is the bustling of 6th Avenue and when I look uptown I can see The Empire State Building, and when I look downtown, I can see The Freedom Tower all on the corner from my little place. I have in my refrigerator delicious vegetarian food I bought from the Westside market on the other corner from me on 7th Avenue. I have a room and a vegetarian diet, and the city I love right outside my window. I have the choice to attend ten different 12 Step meetings this afternoon and evening all within a few minutes walk from me. I have a family who is doing well and living their lives, and we are all supporting each other. I am meeting new wonderful people each day. If it all goes away tomorrow, I will be ok. I have no fear today. I am enjoying this day, this moment, and I am so grateful. It is easy to be grateful where I am today. I want to savor each moment and share it with others. Most of all I am grateful I have no desire to change the way I feel today. I am writing this looking through my glasses which are dotted with marks from my tears which were tears of fear as I began to write, but turned into tears of gratitude as I finish this piece. My life is about my perception. I get to choose which tears I cry.
“My doubts stand in a circle around every word, I see them before I see the word, but what then! I do not see the word at all, I invent it. Of course, that wouldn’t be the greatest misfortune, only I ought to be able to invent words capable of blowing the odour of corpses in a direction other than straight into mine and the reader’s face. When I sit down at the desk I feel no better than someone who falls and breaks both legs in the middle of the traffic of the Place de I’Opera. All the carriages, despite their noise, press silently from all directions in all directions, but that man’s pain keeps better order than the police, it closes his eyes and empties the Place and the streets without the carriages having to turn about. The great commotion hurts him, for he is really an obstruction to traffic, but the emptiness is no less sad, for it unshackles his real pain.” Franz Kafka, Diaries, December 15, 1910
Pain. Be authentic. Happy. Be authentic. Encouraging. Be authentic. Hopeful. Be authentic. Afraid. Be authentic. Courageous. Be authentic. This selection from Kafka’s diary says to me as a writer that I am like an injured person who feels pain, but the effect of physical pain involuntarily escapes. There is no hiding it. Writing about pain can be too revealing. I know how to wallow in my hurts, but sharing them is abandoning my aegis. When we experience emotional pain, it is much harder to sit and to put it down on paper. All of the doubts and fears surface, then we become afraid to release them. When I awakened this morning, I was filled with pain, fear, doubt and anxiety. What am I doing? What am I doing here? What is my purpose? I know what I want, but I am seeking a higher calling in some way, but also a practical calling in the sense that I must survive like everyone else. I need an income. I am also learning what my strengths and my gifts are and how they line up with my purpose. Someone asked me what is my mission here in New York? What are my plans? This caused me great anxiety, but I am so grateful for the question. Why? Because it made me stop and reevaluate what my mission is. I want to write. I want to inspire. I want to entertain. I want to get all of these ideas out of my head. I want; I need to put them on paper. It is as if I don’t, I will explode. Writing makes me feel calm. Like I can breathe slowly. It makes me feel chill. The pain I have been feeling today is not the pain of being emotionally hurt. It is the pain of fear. Fear of not understanding what my purpose is. Last night in my 12 Step meeting one of the speakers summed up what I am focusing on today. When I get out the way and allow something bigger than myself be in control, my life will be better than I could ever imagine or create. Today my mission is to continue the path I am on and focus on the gifts that are being given to me and be grateful in the process. Be authentic. Be courageous. Trust. Keep moving, but as you do pay attention to the signs along the way.