Maybe it’s the Weather…

Lately things have been going well. Really well actually. I have settled in nicely in Brooklyn, the people I care for are doing well and there is a positivity in the city. Maybe it’s the weather. What is somewhat new to me and something that I find fascinating is that this is the time when I cannot slow down or let my progress stall. Often times when things seemed to be heading in the right direction I figured I must have done something well and it was then time to sit back and enjoy the rewards. For me this is the absolute opposite approach to what I should do: Which is Get into action!

There is a reason things start heading in the right direction. I believe that there isn’t a particular goal that I am trying to reach at the end of the path. Rather there is a goal in each step I take on the path. My goal is to be positive, useful, honest, compassionate, understanding, humble etcetera. 

So, when things start going well it is not time for me to pause and take a look around at what is now a path behind me but is instead time for me to keep focus on my next step and in this way I believe I ensure that the path stays smooth. My reason for being in a good place mentally, emotionally etcetera is because of the things I have done and because of the help I have received from others. When I slow down, stop taking the next right action, stop moving and fail to be teachable I have no idea what is going to happen, although I put good money on the path becoming rocky and the outcomes becoming less and less desirable. 

And what is fascinating to me is that everything around me can be going well but I can feel an emptiness inside, a sort of uncomfortable anxiety. I can’t put my finger on it but it’s there. I have stopped doing the things that brought me to a point of clarity. I can believe that I have put in just enough work and it’s time to relax but it doesn’t work that way. The work is a daily effort. The movement is constant. And what is interesting is that it is enjoyable – yet there are times when I stop doing what I know puts me at ease. I take the more difficult road. I start to encounter pain and guilt and I begin to lie to cover up my shame. I create a monster out of nothing. 

There was a time when I thought this was the only way to live. Good things would happen to me based on merits from my past but I no longer want to be judged on my past. I don’t want to rest on the success of yesterday, I want to create this image every day. And it takes work. The work that I have to put in is minimal and it can’t be measured. There are times I ask someone for advice even when I feel embarrassed to. My mind will urge me to go it alone and at least keep up this disingenuous pride. But I don’t ever have pride or joy when I live on my own terms. I am alone when I go it alone. When I choose myself above all I am left with myself only. And that is the sickness in me. The only way I can be the smartest guy in the room is when I’m alone. I’m the best looking guy when I’m alone. I am everything and nothing at the same time. I am the ruler of a pathetic nation. And it’s easy for me to live like that. I want you to feel sorry for me. To think I am tortured. That is what my sickness wants me to do.

This is not a question of toughness. It’s not about smarts or looks. For me it all comes down to willingness. Am I willing to take advice, to listen? To believe that there is always something to be gained from opening myself up to new experiences? Is there a way out other than my own? There is a way out that is a collective effort. I choose to surround myself with positive people. Those that want to learn. Those that can admit that we can all improve. It motivates me to keep this path smooth. And each day it’s back to work. It’s second nature. My feet become smart and they take me in the direction I need to go. What can I do today to make myself more useful? Not what have I done? If I want to relax and look at what I have done it is not an easy rest. I am not gaining anything by lauding any past accomplishments. I can certainly learn from my past but I learn from my mistakes far more often than I do my successes. 

So, what have I done? I’ve made myself useful for today and given myself the ability to ask what can I do? 

 

Time To Move On

My bags are packed. Everything is set for my move from downtown Manhattan to Brooklyn early tomorrow morning. I feel a little lost.

I spent this past weekend in the Pocono Mountains camping with 200 others. It was an incredible weekend of recovery, new friendships and new direction. The first night I felt a little off. I wasn’t quite sure why. Maybe it was just a little anxiety from the trip. Perhaps I was a bit intimidated by the large group of people, most of whom I didn’t know. So during a campfire meeting I shared something with these 200 people, mostly strangers. I hadn’t prepared anything to say. Sometimes I know exactly what I want to say, so much so that it sounds scripted. This time was different. I just let my thoughts fly. I was standing in the back row behind all of the others seated comfortably. My jeans were torn at the knee and I had on a shirt that said “Lost Weekend NYC.” I was hard to miss.

I raised my voice above the sound of whispers and the popping fire. “I feel a little lost” I told the group. “I’m moving to Brooklyn this week and for the first time in my life I feel like I’m slipping away from my past in Texas.” My voice began to shake. “I feel like I belong in New York for the first time. My first two years in the city are now mostly fractured memories, lost nights and missed opportunities. Bad relationships and confusion. There was nothing magical about it. I came to this city to be something bigger and instead I was beat harder than ever before. I disappeared. I could say I escaped but I didn’t really escape to anything in particular, or from anything for that matter. Escape seems to imply that I was headed somewhere, but really I was just hiding out, isolating.”

I felt the eyes of the group fixed on me. Some people nodding as if to say “I understand.” I didn’t have any meaningful relationships. I didn’t build anything reliable or worthwhile. I just moved from one city to a different city. One room for another room. Same bed. Same everything. “And then,” I continued, “in January of this year the bottom fell out. I couldn’t keep up anymore. I was losing my family. I was losing my sanity. I was on the brink of losing my life. It was no longer a joke. It had become a foregone conclusion that I would either change or I would slowly drift away from everything I loved and everyone that loved me and I would be completely shattered, alone and lost for good. I was at a crossroads. As real as it could get. There were no more ways out. No more second chances. I had run out of options, my time was nearly over.”

My share was running long but nobody stopped me. Some had tears, others were just blank. I hadn’t ever been this honest before. I had told my story many times but this time was different. This time I wasn’t trying to deliver a message. I was letting go of my past.

“I don’t remember everything. I remember sitting in my parents apartment, my brother looking at me with desperation. My parents across the room with tears in their eyes. My sister on the bed. I was sitting near the door, the game was over. They told me they had found some places where I could get help. They told me it was over. I had to change. It was exhausting to love me. The pain had gotten too deep. If I was set on destruction I was no longer going to have an audience. I would have to go it alone. I listened the best I could. For the first time I don’t think I fought too much. I didn’t have any fight left in me. I had no more secrets, no backdoor exits. No more excuses. I told them I would go to treatment. I was so tired. I never wanted it to come to this.”

Nobody stopped me. Everybody kept listening.

“To say I knew what I was getting myself into would be a lie. I only knew that something had to change. I was in treatment for 58 days. Slowly I started to understand what I had done. What I had left my family with all of these years. I had to rebuild. I owed something to them. I owed something to myself. I got back to the city April 11th and I began my new life. I had taken only a baby step, but at least it was in the right direction this time. I began to see things differently. And now I’m here.”

I ended on a soft note. My eyes were full of tears but I didn’t let one slip down my cheek. I guess I had gotten out what I wanted to. But the truth was behind these words. The reason I feel a little lost is because for all intents and purposes I am very new to this city. I am not re-learning anything. I am learning how to live, how to survive in this city. I am learning how to love others. How to be honest and useful. And I am learning it as a New Yorker.

I got sober in this city. I reconnected with my brother and sister in this city. I have spent the most meaningful time of my life in this city. I have been a reliable uncle here. I am trusted here. I was reborn in this city. And that is why I feel a little off. The person I am today was raised in Texas. I was shaped by my parents, my grandfather, my teachers and my friends. The community in Houston. I learned to be a good person in Texas. To be compassionate. To say “yes ma’am.” I met my best friends in Texas. And I felt like I was losing Texas. Like I had moved on for good. And in some ways I have. My childhood is rooted back home but I grew up in New York City. I became a man here. After years of running away I learned to fight back. To fight for my family. To want to be a better brother and son. To want to be someone that my niece and nephew can look up to. Someone they can be proud of. This is the hardest I have ever worked for something. I believe in myself. I believe that what I am fighting for is worth it.

But I haven’t forgotten my past. I wouldn’t have my smile without Texas. I speak a little more slowly than the people up here, a little softer. I am calm. I am patient. And I didn’t learn that here.

Brooklyn!

It’s official. I am moving to Brooklyn September 1st and I couldn’t be more pleased. The relief I felt when I heard last night that the application was accepted was incredible. And that specifically is what is on my mind.

Yesterday morning I was sitting on my sisters couch receiving text messages from my new landlord telling me that my application is still under review, they would like more than my tax return, proof of income, etcetera. I was so frustrated by the whole process. To be clear, I don’t really understand New York real estate/apartment leasing.

So back to my point. I was sitting here thinking of every possible scenario that could go wrong. Initially, I didn’t think of any good outcomes, only negative ones. This feeling made me not want to get up and walk my sisters dog, it made me feel like staying inside all day, etcetera. Essentially, albeit momentarily, I was trying to take my will back. I was first trying to control a situation that I had no control over. Once I realized that I was “doomed” to not getting approved and probably ending up on the streets with an old Starbucks cup begging for money I felt frozen. This is the type of thinking that will invariably slam the brakes on any potential growth.

As I sat here, worrying about how this whole process would play out, I remembered the 3rd step prayer: Reference AA. I repeated the prayer a few times aloud and gave my will back to my higher power (If you didn’t already know that I am an alcoholic it should be glaringly obvious by that statement!). I realized that I have absolutely no control over the outcome of this situation. There is nothing more I could do. I know many people have heard this type of “solution” often however I feel I have a different, easier way to reach this potential.

Every morning, literally from the moment I awake, I have to remind myself that if I choose to take control over my life and recover my self-will I am destined for failure. The reasoning is simple: There are many things that I cannot do alone. When I practice this daily it becomes easier and easier to execute. I know I have responsibilities. I don’t want this to be confused with the idea that something greater than myself will take care of everything and I can just lounge in bed all day. That is not at all what I am saying. This requires going into action. This action is not one of self-will though. On self-will alone I cannot accomplish much so in order for me to come to any positive outcome I have to give up the idea that I have control. And the actions that I take to achieve this relief are simple: I pray to a god of my choice, I make positive movements throughout the day, I am honest, I am without self-pity or fear, I allow the world to come to me, I remain patient. Above all I have to have acceptance for any outcome. I have to be prepared when things don’t go the way I want them to go, because this happens often. What I have found however is that generally the way I want things to happen are generally not the way I need things to happen. My wants are steeped in self-seeking, selfishness, vanity, etcetera. 

Again, this is a daily practice. It is a routine. It doesn’t happen overnight. I aim for progress on a daily basis, not focusing on how much progress has been made, only that progress has been made. I have to remain calm and patient. When I am patient and take action things generally come to me. The actions that I take have nothing to do with getting a great apartment, finding a dream job or paying off my debts. That is too much for me to tackle in one day. The only way to accomplish those goals is by taking the next right action. And my actions are small. I do what I know I need to do. I follow through on things I have committed to. I show up. I am honest. I make myself useful to those I come in contact with. I offer my service to help a struggling person. My focus when doing these things is not one of selfishness. My focus is on the simple task at hand. This process culminates into a positive outcome daily. When I am honest with people, open to suggestions and am willing to listen my world opens up and these things I need in my life are much more accessible. 

So, what did I do to relieve my self of worry about this apartment process? I gave my will away. I thought to myself, “What happens if I don’t get the apartment”? Most likely I would end up finding an apartment that I like even more, and the worst case scenario is I would have to store some furniture and stay with my brother or sister for a week or so. That is the worst thing that could happen! I have a tendency to catastrophize things when really the worst outcome generally isn’t all that bad and it certainly isn’t devastating. So I give up control. Now of course I have responsibilities such as getting in all of the necessary documents, finding someone to sublet my current apartment etcetera. But other than those few responsibilities I didn’t do much of anything to increase the chances of being approved. I didn’t plead with the landlord, I didn’t tell them I’d pay whatever they want if they would just approve me. And I also didn’t pray asking that I be given this apartment. I prayed for relief from my own self will and I went about my day. I went to the gym, I kept a commitment to a friend of mine and met her for lunch, I walked my sisters dog, fed her and gave her medicine, I chaired an AA meeting, I reached out to people to see how their day was, I had a phone interview with my mentor organization. And, as it turned out, I received a text around 11pm telling me that I am now an official Brooklynite! I honestly didn’t think once about the apartment once I gave my will back, once I gave up control everything else was simple. I remained patient and did what I know I am capable of. And when I make that part of my daily discipline my world gets bigger and bigger. And in closing, I am sufficiently happy that I was approved for this particular apartment. Or rather, giving up my control allowed me to get the apartment that is best for me at this moment of my life, not the apartment that I think is best for me. 

SEAT 4D: ROW 1

I am sitting on a plane headed back home to New York City. Sometimes when I sit and think about the direction my life is headed I focus on the future. I wonder what type of job I’ll end up with. If I’ll stay in the city for the rest of my life. The list could be endless. The truth is I have no idea what I’ll be doing tomorrow or if I’ll have that “dream job” or the perfect girlfriend.

I don’t know what is in store for me. But I know that I can control my reaction to life as it happens around me. I have a choice to react positively or negatively. I accept that there are many things out of my control, but I seize the things I can control. The opportunity that has been given to me is not going to be wasted. I wait for life to present itself, and it’s up to me to grab hold of what makes me a useful person. I choose to live each day with enthusiasm. With an energy that nobody can take from me. This is what I have control over.

There is something inside of me that I have built that nobody can ever take from me. You can take away my property, you can take away my obsessions, my relationships, my possessions, my job – you can take away everything that I have gotten or have been given. But you can’t take away my spirit. 

You can’t touch my love for those around me. You can try to rip away everything that you think brings me happiness. You can do your best to strip me down to my bones. You barely scratch the surface though. I am the only one who can steal my usefulness to my fellows, the only one who can strip away my happiness. 

This is all I can control. I can hope that my behavior can help bring the positive out of somebody else. I’ll keep smiling. I’ll keep showing up for everyone that needs or wants me. I’ll be there for anyone that asks. I strive for progress, not perfection. I will be trustworthy. I will make every effort to be the best son, brother, uncle, friend and person that I can be. Not because I have to but because I want to. 

I want to make you smile. I want to live with energy. I want to steal every glimpse of the beauty that I see and keep it in my heart. I want to be better every day. It doesn’t stop. It’s one step at a time. One moment at a time.

And when I see the brightness in others eyes, the joy in others hearts, the passion in others work, I know that I have changed my perspective for the better. I know that the brightness was always there, it’s just now that I’m able to see it.

 

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