Growing in love: slow, painful, and worth all the work.

Oh! Darling

Please believe me

I'll never do you

No harm

Believe me

When I tell you

I'll never do you

No harm

-lyrics by Lennon/McCartney

Wedding season is upon us. Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to attend my cousin's gorgeous wedding in California (and got to visit Yosemite National Park for the first time, while I was there). California is so beautiful -- truly the Golden State -- and my time there with family was easy and sweet.

This coming weekend, my fiancé and I will be flying to New York to walk in the wedding of our two dear friends. In a sense, this couple "match-made" us, and the first time Tyler & I ever held hands was at their house for a group movie night. That was nearly three years ago now. And this weekend, we'll watch them say their forever vows to one another.

As this concentrated little month of love is floating by, I'm also planning certain details of Tyler's and my upcoming nuptials. And all this love in the air has me thinking on relationships and commitment. It's fun to show up to a special day, and toast the happy couple. It's always so heartwarming to see family and friends come together to celebrate love. But what about the marriage part? What comes after the fireworks and fanfare?

Commitment is kind of a buzzword these days. As is marriage, actually. In the last ten years, I've watched many friends fight for the right to marry their loves (and largely, happily, win that battle). But what exactly is so special about the legal commitment of marriage? Why fight for the right, why get married at all? Many in my generation are still wondering, after watching decades of divorce unfold.

Me on the other hand? I have learned about commitment the hard way. I mean the H-A-R-D, difficult, painful as hell, hurt a lot of people, hurt myself a bunch too, -kinda way. I seem to learn big lessons after big heartbreaks. My sober friends and I regularly laugh that we seem to only be motivated by pain. If it doesn't hurt, we don't necessarily address it. Those who paved the path for us in recovery also often said, "Pain is the touchstone of spiritual growth." In other words: no pain, no gain. And while I have most certainly found that to be true... it is so NOT what you want to hear when you are hurting.

Still, the pain of growing up is truly what has motivated me to get my stuff together when it comes to love and commitment. While I'm sure this will continue to be a lifelong journey, I have made great progress. I usually recognize today when I am crossing a boundary, or projecting an expectation. I can usually see where my mistakes have been, and I try to make amends quickly (and uh... by quickly, I mean within hours or days, no longer months or years. Progress not perfection, people). Perhaps over time, I'll get quicker at spotting my own mistakes. Perhaps one day, I won't even make the same ones. I'll have new lessons to learn by then.

Believe me

When I tell you

I'll never do you

No harm

While I love the Beatles (shoutout to my Dad), I can't agree with the lyrics of this beloved song. In relationships, we WILL do each other harm. Throughout the life of a relationship, be it parental, platonic, or marital, harm will happen. It is the course of things. But we don't have to harm on purpose. If we recognize a pattern that causes self and others pain, we can choose to get help rectifying the situation.

For me, getting help has meant therapy. It's meant 12 Step meetings. It's meant rigorous honesty with a few trusted friends. It's meant choosing hard work over fun (though ironically, there is a lot of laughter). It's meant enduring severe psychic pain and practicing sitting in the feeling for awhile, instead of just running (ugh, I love to run). The process is not necessarily pretty, but it sure has taught me the value of getting honest with myself.

Despite all these near-platitudes, the real reason I "keep coming back" to the hard work of love (and to the grace of God) -- is because it actually works. I get better, my relationships get better. Slowly, over time, if I continue to practice the spiritual truths of forgiveness, patience, and commitment (sometimes slowly, often poorly)... I grow in my understanding of love. And when we grow in love, we grow in God.

"Finally, we begin to see that all people, including ourselves, are to some extent emotionally ill as well as frequently wrong, and then we approach true tolerance and see what real love for our fellows actually means. It will become more and more evident as we go forward that it is pointless to become angry, or to get hurt by people who, like us, are suffering from the pains of growing up."

-The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 92 (a favorite passage)



It may be 2019, but what worked last year is probably going to get it done again.

Happy New Year to each of you. I love the holiday season, especially Christmas. I'm always bummed when it wraps up, but it seems just as I’m starting to pout, I think hey! At least there's still New Years - which may or may not include sequins, sparkling bevs, and a meaningful embrace at midnight.

This year for me, New Years was less glam but more cozy. I got to ring in 2019 with my fiancé and his family, playing games and eating lots of treats. We got engaged on Christmas morning (!!!) and are still basking in the glow of new betrothal, which made the comfy family vibes of the evening even more enjoyable.

On January 1, I talked with some favorites about hopes and intentions for the new year. I noticed I was using a lot of language about what had worked / not worked for me in 2018. Over the past year, previous coping mechanisms stopped working (we're talking SCREECHED-TO-A-HALT stopped working), and I had to seek new ways to care for myself (enter wonderful therapist). Other habits of the past drifted away naturally, allowing new approaches to navigating life on life's terms a chance to surface.

While the fabric of my day-to-day routines seem to shift with the seasons, I'm always astonished at how well The Basics work in life. People in recovery often talk about getting back to basics, a return to simplicity. While it may be annoying to hear over and over, the reality of The Basics is really quite refreshing (plus, I need lots of reminders).

The Basics refer to a group of behaviors and practices that never fail, no matter what life is currently throwing your way. They are steadfast. They always work. This is a spiritual mystery (I do love mysteries).

For me, The Basics center around maintaining a spiritual connection. This happens through prayer and meditation, yes, but occurs just as often through movement, time in nature and creativity. Each of these disciplines are spiritual to me, i.e., they awaken my spirit. Ever meet someone who fulfills the saying "dead inside?" I've been there. I was not a nice person. Conversely, when I feel alive and connected, I am rewarded with a feeling of happy usefulness.

I have some more Basics (#sobasic)... I need to attend meetings, where I connect with my fellow sober travelers, and be of service to others. I swear, being of service is the best kept secret in life. Helping another person not only assists them, it gets me out of my head. It gets me back in the flow. Sometimes I give the service and sometimes I receive, and somehow this two-way love seems to keep the world spinning round.

Although each of these practices take time, they are truly an investment in my daily life. When I am making space for The Basics, I suddenly have more energy, more time, and a hell of a lot more fun. So while I encourage explorations and experiments in 2019, I also invite you to reflect on what works for you - what are your Basics?

When we're honoring what works in our lives, What Already Is - it's amazing how much space we create for All That Will Be.

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Thoughts on friendship, through the years.

If you’ve spent any time around me, you know that I frequently reference the girls I grew up with, my best friends from back home. I’ve often caught myself saying ‘my best friend’ about any number of girls in the crew I grew up around – including my two sisters! I was lucky to create a few more lasting friendships in my college days, and my time in San Francisco and Citrus County provided me with even more. Today, I find myself a part of so many little families, members of groups and communities to which I belong. This is a realization of luxury, the extravagance of so much love in my life.

I didn’t do anything to deserve all this love. In fact, there was a cluster of years where I was actively unparticipating – flirting with someone else’s life, jealous and roiling with angst over what they had and I lacked. This swath of love I’ve been wrapped in – it was freely given to me, and likely the result of the many prayers my mother and both grandmothers had for their families. One of the great gratitudes of my life is the fact that I have been loved exceptionally well – even when I didn’t deserve it. But that’s the thing about love. It’s never really based on merit.

Growing up in the Florida Keys, there was no shortage of explorations for little kids. We had the bay, the ocean, the reefs, and the tangles of mangroves in which to stretch our imaginations. Still, my mom and a mother down the street wanted to create an intentional group for their girls to grow up in, and Girl Scout Troop 486 was born. There’s a picture of us as tiny Daisies, lined up against a white fence, a group of brown-skinned little chicks with our watchful, elegant mothers nearby. All the moms decided eventually to share the leadership responsibilities, resulting in a ‘co-op’ troop – AKA, each of us now had seven mothers. Although there were times this felt like a bummer (we couldn’t get away with ANYTHING), I look back on this now as something so unique and sacred.

Our troop clamored through middle and high school tumult at different speeds, and none of us escaped without bruises. Sometimes we competed for each other’s attentions, many times we liked the same boy. Since we all went to the same schools and churches, our shiny little faces were interwoven throughout each other’s lives. At times this felt like the second family I belonged to, other times it felt like one more place I was fighting to understand my rank in the hierarchy. On the organizational side, our mamas modeled for us what female friendship and forgiveness looked like, as they coordinated campouts, cookie sales, and so many adventures. I am sure they wondered whose daughter might get in trouble, or who might contribute the most to our community – those questions are human nature. But it never really felt like a competition in our crowd. There was simply too much love, in these unspoken terms. And as girls, we watched. We watched what it meant to laugh together as mothers, to grow together, worry together, pray together. To lift one another up.

Despite all of this preparation, all this gorgeous experience, I bridged into adulthood with much confusion. Who was I supposed to be? Who I was supposed to look like? A gnawing emptiness filled my mind and I had nothing to blame it on, I just figured something was wrong with me. I couldn’t blame it on my upbringing, not many people get to live the life I did growing up. But something in me felt a little broken, rusted and fragile. The girls I grew up with were healthy and fierce, being crowned homecoming queen and entering prestigious schools with scholarships. How was life so easy for certain people? Why did it seem like fitting in came effortless for some? I lived in my head, constantly comparing, and rarely lived up to the person I hoped to be.

This compulsive comparison resulted in all sorts of identity crises (including too much partying and several punk rock hairstyles). Though I’d been shown empowered relating and solid female friendships, I simply didn’t know how to be a friend to myself. Without that vital foundation, the buffer between my little heart and the outside world – no amount of eyeliner or attitude could substitute. I didn’t learn to be a friend to myself until much later, when I got sober and realized what my drinking and careening relationships had really been about. Loneliness. Isolation. Journalist Johann Hari says, “The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety – it’s connection.” And I had to connect with myself first. That required God, and the pursuit of a spiritual connection.

I’m well aware that those words can be connoted negatively, as so many of us have been stung by situations involving church or religion – but I realized that none of those experiences were necessarily God. My spiritual connection is about more than a building or a place, it’s a divine slowing of time, where I am able to exist just as I am, in perfect peace. These moments don’t usually last long, and I have to remember to seek that conscious contact every day. But my spiritual connection is the ultimate high for me today. It brings me startling awareness, the freshest creativity, and a feeling of warmth toward myself and the people around me. So many clichés have been constructed around that concept, “You can’t love others until you love yourself” – but damn if that isn’t all the way true, at least for me. Learning to love myself required getting to know myself – and after years of running and pretending, that was one long process. And it’s still unfolding!

Next week, I get to take a trip across our nation’s border, to visit one of those special best friends, who now lives in Canada with her good husband and sweet girls. Our other best friend is coming along, too. And we have best friends here in Florida, who will come again another time. Friendship isn’t about competition or rank, and you can have more than one best friend. I am supremely blessed to have a handful, a few select women from my past and some planted here in my present, with whom I can be honest. We don’t always see eye to eye, we don’t get together as much as we’d like. Still, the roots of our connection are deeply entwined, like the underwater neighborhoods of those mangroves trees we grew up on. In order to truly appreciate and admire the friends I have today, I had to become a friend to myself. And just like my beloved girls, I sometimes screw it all up. But I forgive myself today; I seek to understand myself today. And in turn, somehow, Someone shapes me into a source of understanding for others.

Make new friends

But keep the old

One is silver

And the other’s gold

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