The Professor’s Dancer
“Did you make a decision, or did you just settle?” asked the professor.
The dancer stopped, looked at him quizzically, and spun away in defense.
“Stop that,” he said irritated, “I want to know the answer.”
The dancer spun and spun and lept and kicked, as the professor pursued.
As she approached the edge of the stage, she turned towards him and smiled. Tip-toeing backwards, she let herself begin to fall.
A rush of chiffon and nude brushed the air between them, as the worried professor dashed forward catching her in his arms.
He stood there holding her, still waiting for the answer.
“Neither,” she said, “You felt like a long-lost friend, like part of my soul family, like someone who had waited for me for a long time.
You felt like both comfort and growth, like standing still and moving, like a second still passing though the minutes and hours had stopped.
It is not logical, Professor, but it makes sense to me.
“I didn’t make a decision, but I also didn’t settle.
You just feel right.”
where the road branches.
until the pavement turns to dust.
Find the trail
and step lightly.
Walk to the creek
for a drink of water.
Battle the hill.
Battle the silence.
among the wild roses and lillies.
When you get to the place,
tell me what you find there.
Tell me if you find grace.
Sometimes it feels like
I’m scaling the walls of a prison tower towards a tiny barred off window,
so that I can take a peek, just a peek,
at reality without the filter of my ego.
To get a glimpse of the world
without that thick, opaque glass
that ego encases us in,
is the true meaning of perception,
and the yearning for it,
is an illness.
One Foot in Front of the Other Darling
Note: I decided to share some things about myself, including what the past year of my life looked like and the things that I struggled with. If you’re struggling, perhaps it will help to know that people do in fact overcome obstacles. While I don’t believe anything I wrote is graphic, I do mention abuse, drugs, and suicide, so this is your requisite trigger warning.
In my late 20s, I was working as a scientific writer for a small company. I was doing very well for myself and learning a lot. After a successful start to my career, I was approached by a recruiter for a larger company, and they offered to double my salary, meaning I would be making six figures and assisting with study designs by 30.
Without hesitation I accepted, thinking mostly of paying off my student loans and buying land. Between undergrad, grad school, and a pile of credit card debt, I had amassed $90,000 in debt.
While I had made some progress in years prior, I still owed $60,000 when I received the job offer, and I was desperate for financial freedom.
It was going to be easy. I would work at the large company for several years, pay double or triple the amount on my student loans, put money in savings for land, and be debt free by 33.
Despite a recent and significant breakup, I appeared to have everything an accomplished 30 year old should have and was on my way to financial freedom.
Then, the levy broke.
One evening, I came home from work, lit some candles, picked some relaxing music to listen to, and sat down on my meditation pillow.
This was my evening ritual. I would practice breathing, focus on my body’s sensations from head to toe, and occasionally “weed the garden” that was my mind.
I had been practicing a form of mindfulness and honest contemplation for years that was extremely helpful in understanding my underlying motivations and feelings. For any thought or feeling that rose to the surface and lingered, I would ask myself “why?”.
“Why do you feel scared?”
“Because I don’t trust people?”
“Why don’t you trust people”
Have you ever been in a car wreck? Do you know the sound of glass shattering and steel crumbling and air bursting from the steering wheel sending a hot, dense air bag barreling towards your chest?
Imagine that moment combined with a onslaught of terrifying memories of childhood abuse at the hands of a distant relative.
I had never felt more betrayed than in the moment that the memories came crashing in. At first, I didn’t feel betrayed by the abuser. I felt betrayed by my own mind and by my greatest solace in life, meditation.
I stood up from my pillow and immediately went outside, hoping sun light and the sounds of birds would somehow end the stream of images, sounds, smells, and remembered touches coming to mind.
I did the only other thing I knew how to do to quiet my mind and immediately started drinking heavily.
The next few months were difficult.
I fought back memories and tried to focus on work while I was there. It wasn’t exactly easy, as I had apparently accepted a position in an extremely toxic work environment.
Coworkers yelled and cried and fought to the degree that I would often hide in bathroom stalls and work from tiny meeting rooms the size of closets to avoid interaction.
I was losing my shit, and they had clearly lost their shit, and it wasn’t an environment I needed to be in anymore.
On top of this, the team was making poor decisions that I simply did not agree with.
So, I found a position in another company, working from home, and I quit.
During work hours at my new job, I was focused on work, albeit not performing at top level anymore. After work, I self-medicated myself into oblivion not wanting to face any unwanted memories.
I did this for several months and decided to isolate myself in the mountains of Georgia.
It wasn’t just because of the memories, or the job, or the debt, or even the recent breakup. It was that I didn’t understand what reality was any more.
Someone who I had trusted had betrayed me and that rocked the very foundation of what I thought reality was.
On top of this, I was lonely and angry that most of my friends were constantly unavailable. And frankly, I was suicidal. I didn’t speak them about this, because they weren’t available.
I mean, what was I going to do? Send a text that said “Hey! Haven’t heard from you in a while. Been thinking about killing myself. K bye!!”
I romanticized suicide in a beautiful rural place to the degree that it actually inspired me. It gave me the energy I needed to toss most of my things, move quickly, and take only what I really needed with me to Georgia.
People thought I was doing “better”. I had a new job. I seemed to be clearing out clutter from my life. I wasn’t talking as much about the breakup. I told everyone I was going to Georgia to hike, which was part hopeful truth, part cover story.
Except for one friend who lived several states away, almost no one knew about the painful memories, and literally no one knew about my plans to die 6 hours away in the rolling, southern mountains.
It happened in waves.
I would feel stable, which didn’t at all mean happy, and then suicidal.
I would work and then sit in silence thinking about killing myself.
I didn’t want my family to hurt knowing that I took my own life, so I planned to make it look like an unfortunate hiking accident. That way, I could leave this earth, this pain, those memories, and everyone could go on believing that I died in a beautiful place doing something I loved.
I laced up my shoes to go “hiking” and heard someone knocking on the door.
The cleaning lady came by unexpectedly a day early. She was barefoot and had long blonde hair. She smiled and introduced herself.
I have never been disarmed so quickly. She radiated warmth; literal heat came off of her body, and I stopped and listened to every word she said.
She came in to change the sheets and check on things. Within 2 minutes, she was telling me her life’s story.
She was an alcoholic. She too had been through abuse and turned to alcohol to numb the pain and quiet the boiling anger inside. She drank heavily one night and ended up in a horrible car accident. She suffered a massive head injury and almost lost her life.
When she woke up, her son was standing there and she made a vow to never drink again. She hadn’t. For 12 years, she hadn’t had a drink.
She told me the secrets to her success were 1) to wake up looking for beauty, 2) to go to bed feeling grateful, and 3) to always find the silver lining.
A few days went by and I was finding myself feeling grateful for our interaction. I was still completely broken, but it was as if our conversation had hit pause on the big, bad suicide button.
I felt encouraged and wanted to interact with more people.
I went out exploring one evening and found a bar that was hosting trivia night. I was by myself, so the waitress joined me.
She was sweet, smart, and funny, and was really impressed with my “hiking plans”.
I was quiet, reserved, and holding back tears, but I invited her hiking anyway.
On our hike, she told me about her prior life. She too had survived an abusive relationship in the past, but had turned to opiates to numb the pain.
Her addiction grew and she began using heroin. She ended up in jail. When she was released, her and her family moved to Georgia where she maintained her sobriety.
Like the barefoot lady from before, she told me her story willingly and easily. She told me that in order to be happy, she focused on what she was most grateful for (her family) and kept a positive attitude.
At this point, I was convinced I was being visited by angels.
I didn’t know these women and yet, in the moments when I needed someone, in the moments when the next item on my to do list was “jump off the highest ledge you find”, these beautiful, warm women came to me and shared their inspiring stories willingly.
I started to feel as if I wasn’t alone.
After meeting two people who had struggled with addiction, I stopped drinking so heavily in the evenings and started going for long walks and hikes instead (hikes I intended to come back from).
I wasn’t happy, exactly, but I was doing something good for myself.
I started a hiking group online and met the most bubbly, hilarious woman. I opened up around her, finding her tenacious and rebellious attitude to be a reminder of my own, however buried beneath despair.
I cried when I reached the top of Springer Mountain. I was taking steps now. Literal and figurative steps that I had not planned on taking. I cried, because I was scared. I was scared, because I had no idea what I was going to do next.
The person who had been hurt, who wanted to leave this earth, had in a way actually died. And I, this resilient, beautiful, mother fucker, was left in her place.
To honor this, I felt like I needed to change things. I felt that I owed it to myself to live in a way that aligned to what I actually found value in.
After I finished my trip in Georgia, I traveled a bit more and eventually returned home. I found a beautiful apartment and moved the things I had left into my quiet little space.
I wasn’t all together happy, but I knew I wanted to keep walking this earth. I didn’t really have a plan for recovery, except to wake up every day and do one good thing for myself.
I started painting and sketching more, eating well, building a record collection, and even tried meditating once (this is still a hot spot for me, so I have only tried “breathing in/breathing out” for no more than 3 minutes. Anything else feels too risky.)
I eventually opened up to my closest friends about what happened, keeping close to the ones who had stayed in touch and releasing the ones who had fallen away.
I realized that some people simply don’t have the capacity to deal with other people’s pain. That’s okay. I can accept that, but I don’t allow people into my life anymore unless they seem capable of reciprocal relationships.
The romantic relationship I lost was rekindled and made stronger from our time apart.
Today, I’m still working in the same industry, but am actively educating myself about the other options I might have, options that align to my values.
I still have $53,000 in debt, but I’m thankful that I’m alive to pay it. That’s a funny thing to be thankful for isn’t it?
I did finally let go of the pain I was holding on to, and the memories stopped flooding in. I tried to understand how life must feel for the person who seeks to have power over another. I came to understand how small my abuser actually was, and how big I am despite his failings.
I do keep in touch with some of my angels.
If you’re struggling, please know that you’re never really alone, your angels are out there, and there is strength buried deep inside of you.
All you have to do today, is put one foot in front of the other.
A Wasp and a Buddhist
A wasp entered the home of a Buddhist.
On Day 1, he checked all the windows for an escape route and, when presented with the edge of a hiking stick, he calmly climbed aboard. He was taken outside and enjoyed the view of the porch from the edge of the hiking stick. The Buddhist did not want to kill another creature, and was happy that she had achieved that through their mutual cooperation. "Maybe wasps aren't so bad" she thought.
On Day 2, the wasp returned and rested on the beams in the ceiling. He was comfortable, turning his back to the stick when it was presented and instead, moving from one beam to the next. The Buddhist feared she had been too polite the day before. Even still, she did not wish to harm him, so she put a bit of honey on the hiking stick. The wasp shyly stepped on, went outside, and enjoyed the view while taking slow sips of honey.
On Day 3, the Wasp was quite vocal as he entered. He zoomed past the Buddhist and straight to his favorite beam. The Buddhist grabbed the hiking stick and dabbed on more honey. To her amazement, he was not interested in the honey. The Buddhist tried dabbing dog food on the stick and even lit a candle by an open window to light the way. "Maybe he needs romance". The wasp would not move and even protested.
The Buddhist took a deep breath and hoped to encourage him to an exit. "He's too comfortable now". She slowly slid the hiking stick along the beam behind him. "I've been too nice. It's time to go." The wasp became quite aggressive stinging, multiple times, a perfectly good hiking stick. The Buddhist was insulted.
She reached down and tried to find compassion for him, but his aggressive movements, his very loud protests, his generally shitty demeanor reminded her of something very important.
He is a wasp. A shitty, stingy wasp. She cannot change the nature of the wasp.
The Buddhist begged him one last time, "Please! I don't want to kill you! Just leave through the window. I've opened both doors. We can't both be here. Please!"
He would not.
The Buddhist took a deep breath, put on her hoodie, pulled the sleeves over her hands for protection, and told her dog to hide under the couch. She grabbed a bottle of Shimmer-scented FeBreeze and a fly swatter.
"Are you sure you want things to be this way?!"
The wasp held his ground.
The Buddhist pulled the trigger.