It has been a while since I posted here. This is partly due to the fact that I was away at Kindred Spirits Camp and then Soul Camp and have been catching up at work and on sleep. It has also been a time of much change and several losses. I’ve had to kind of find my sea legs and figure out how to move forward.
Those of us who are 12-steppers (any many who are not) have learned the Serenity Prayer and use it every day, if not several times a day. It goes:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
In the last several months, my life has been kind of an example of the serenity prayer. It is more difficult to tease apart the things I can and can’t change than I used to think. When I was a child, it was much more obvious. Can I change the fact that I keep tripping over my toys? Yes…by cleaning up my room. Can I change the fact that my cat got run over by the neighbor and I don’t have her anymore? Nope. It gets more complicated as an adult, and I think a lot of people live their lives unhappy because of an unwillingness or an inability to learn or practice the wisdom mentioned in the third part of that prayer. They run around trying to change all kinds of things they can’t, or sticking her heads in the sand and not taking steps to change the things they can. They lose the opportunity to experience the serenity that can come from figuring out how to practice acceptance of what is.
One of the spiritual teachers in my life is a woman named Jan Frazier, who wrote a book called “What Fear Falls Away” that changed my life. She also has a website with some of her other writing: http://janfrazierteachings.com/ Between reading her words, and being fortunate enough to be in a writing group she leads, I have learned much from her about acceptance. My ability to accept things that I don’t like varies. Sometimes I am able to accept things and people and situations as they are, and go about my life with those things in it. Other times acceptance ends up being about accepting my inability to accept things, which means I have to continue living my life without those things in it.
The first hurdle came last winter in the form of a friend of mine from AA. He had many years sober and was very kind to me, offering his help in several ways. It turned out his wife and I had been friends before, and for a while we were like a little surrogate family. In reality there is no such thing as the perfect family, either the one we were born into or the ones we try to create later in life. This was a lesson I learned from my relationship with these two people. They both turned out, despite a genuine desire to help other people, to be dishonest both with themselves and with me. I had many conversations with my friend in an attempt to overcome what I viewed as a betrayal, both emotionally and physically. What he said to me the last time we had one of these talks is that he is a product of his upbringing and he isn’t going to change. In a subsequent email he said “I want to be accepted as I am.” I realized this was another one of the universe’s lessons to me about not being able to change anyone other than myself, so my relationship with him was one of the things I had to give up if I were to effectively take care of myself. Three other women have approached me since and told me that, in their experience, they were similarly sucked in and then betrayed by this man. Many of my friends who met him told me that they got a bad vibe from him, that he always wanted to talk about himself and didn’t show interest in others during conversations, that they were afraid for me when they saw how close we were. So my decision has been validated and I have support. I truly wish him the best.
The second hurdle was Blueberry, a summer place that my parents bought when I was 5 years old. It was my “happy spot” all through childhood, as well as a spiritual place for me. My parents are retired now and understandably no longer interested in the hard work it takes to keep the place up, chopping wood and hauling water and clearing brush. They talked about selling the place and I was distraught at the thought of losing it. My parents kindly gave me the summer to see if I could manage the place on my own, my father teaching me all the tricks he’d come up with over the years to live comfortably in a place with no electricity or running water. I tried this past summer and realized I couldn’t do it on my own. My parents were young and healthy and could afford to take whole summers off. I am middle aged, single, and work full time. So Blueberry is something else I will have to let go of. I like to imagine some young idealistic couple with children owning it. It would make me happy to know it was someone else’s childhood happy spot.
I sing in a women’s chorus called Animaterra. Doing this has brought me great joy for the past 7 years. I have made amazing friends and become a part of a community of women who support one another in the joy of singing no matter what each person’s skill level is at singing or music reading. Everyone is in, no matter what, and each woman brings her strengths and weaknesses with her. Allison Aldrich Smith, who founded the group and directed it for 18 years, became a sister to me. For her own personal reasons, she had to give up directorship of the group suddenly this last summer. The circle of women in leadership of the group all came together beautifully to make sure it would still happen. They found an interim director, formed a search committee, planned fundraising, and rehearsals started on time. I tried to be a part of it for a few weeks and realized I couldn’t do it. It was too different. I missed Allison with every fiber of my being and cried driving home from rehearsals. The grief and discomfort were bigger than the joy. For now anyway it’s something else I have to give up.
The fourth change was in my relationship with my girlfriend. Over the summer we came to a mutual decision that being in a romantic relationship wasn’t working, and that we needed to end it. We are both committed to staying friends. It was a very loving and respectful conversation, and I feel hopeful that we can accomplish this transition from partners to friendship in a way that works for us both. I am happy that having her in my life isn’t something I have to give up.
Lastly, just yesterday, I had to give up my two cats. They’d had health problems throughout the year and a half I’d owned them, and I had tried many medications and supplements and four different vets trying to get them healthy. I realized that watching them suffer with both intestinal and respiratory symptoms and feeling helpless to make them feel better was more than I could bear. I was extremely lucky to find a vet who uses both traditional and alternative healing methods who was willing to take them and try to nurse them to health before finding a loving home for them. I was greatly relieved by this since I knew that if they went to a shelter they probably would have been put down. Saying goodbye to them was agonizing, but I know they’re in the best place they can be.
So…here I am in my quiet apartment without cats, without a group to sing with, without a romantic partner, practicing acceptance. My goal in life is to see all of the difficult things and choices that come along as just as much of a gift as the pleasant things. Everything that has happened to me, everything that happens to each of us, has the potential to make us into stronger, more resilient, more adaptable, more compassionate human beings. All we have to do is make that choice. The choice to accept. The choice to learn. The choice to flex our emotional and spiritual muscles. The choice to find the next thing that brings us joy instead of staying unhappy. I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt. Avoiding pain is another way that we humans make our lives difficult. Especially if we choose to do this using addictive substances, as I did. So I am choosing to feel the pain of loss right now, but I don’t plan to stay here. Someday soon things will shift and the next joyful thing will happen.