Love The Addict, Not The Addiction

This is the mantra of all SUD parents, everywhere, all the time, ad infinitum.

It sounds ludicrous. Similar to “love the thief, but not the theft.” In reality it’s closer to “love the depressed but not the depression” because addiction is a form of mental illness. No question it can devolve into criminal activity: stealing, dealing illegal drugs, buying said drugs, assault and battery, prostituting, driving uninsured/unlicensed or under the influence, destruction of private property, skipping out on jobs/taxes/bills. If this feels like an unhelpful psychic dump – well, so be it. This is the unvarnished truth of watching the disease unfold.

Sigh. Love the addict, not the addiction.
Still, this is how most of us parents feel. Regardless of the attenuating circumstances.

But it doesn’t come without effort. Especially when you witness their umpteenth battle. Sometimes you are in the crossfire. Sometimes you are the target. It’s not personal we tell ourselves. But it is. Not that we are personally hurt – we learn to move beyond that after a few dozen incidents. Instead we begin a sympathetic slow bleed. Their brain is scrambled and ours is bruised by default.

So what to do if you find yourself ringside again? Eventually we learn it is their fight, not ours. Taking on the role of a health care advocate is invaluable. Be accessible and have an emergency plan ready – a list of places that are insurance card acceptable, and a plan for what you will and won’t support. (And try not to feel guilty if your “won’t” list grows longer over time.)

Until that day comes, can you become a harbinger of peace? You may have to close your eyes to envision it. A friend from long ago told me that at bedtime she places one hand over her heart and one hand over her belly and tries to sync breath and heartbeat – and then she offers it up to her struggling son. A bit woo-woo, yes….but also effective from a “positive psychic dump” sort of place.

Speaking of positive psychic dumps I have been reading Sadhguru’s book, A Yogi’s Guide to Crafting Your Destiny. In it he warns of man’s propensity to rely on articulate memory for direction. Articulate memory being the conscious data we accumulate from everyday living. This “memory data” guides our present and future moments. (Most of us call it learned behavior.) Of course it has built in blinders because it is based on personal experience. This narrows our ability to see what truly is, and to navigate in novel ways. Sadhguru’s thesis mirrors scientific study of the brain: our neurological pathways are built by initial experiences and then reinforced and strengthened by future experiences (which are often predetermined because we are creatures of habit and, well, because we have already built that neural pathway!).

Ah the cyclical nature of disease, brain theory, madness! Who wants out? (Me, me, me!)

So how does one repair a brain sick from habitual emotional reactivity? Teach it to move in a positive direction. It’s not easy (bad, bad brain!) but it gets easier by practicing unfiltered awareness of everyone and everything in the present moment. (Sadhguru coaches setting an alarm on your phone every hour to waken yourself from that cyclical reverie.) Start small. Notice the faces of people around you, the smell of wet grass, the way your body can relax when you allow it too. Build some positive off-ramps to that diseased neurological super highway.

Now none of this is novel – many meditative, yogic and psycho-social practices have been preaching this for centuries. We also know it’s trendy as fu$%. Sometimes the sheer number of bumper stickers and t-shirts can make me want to give a few people the finger. Maybe you want to give me the finger. 🙂

And, yah, some of those future unfiltered moments are gonna be bad. We know they are. As my husband warns, ‘Why live them before they have happened? Why live them twice?’ And sometimes that bad experience will turn into something positive – it happens all the time. So many, many people heal from their addictions. It’s time for me to do the same.

We Begin Again Too.

When a family member relapses waking moments are not fully your own. Work seems less important. Socializing seems trivial. Food loses its flavor. Affection is harder to feel because sorrow has taken up residence in your breastbone and your heart can no longer radiate. You feel unjustifiably tired. Tears hang out right behind your eyeballs. It takes a lot of effort to keep them there.

This is the time when I lecture myself to “pony up” because the disease is worse for those with SUD than it is for me. At least that is how I have always looked at it. But lately I have begun to second guess myself. When someone is fully in their disease they aren’t experiencing crippling worry (unless it’s how to secure their next fix). And once they get high, they certainly aren’t thinking about you. The only person who can think about you is you.

Someone once reminded me, “as they begin again, so do we.”

But this “beginning” occurs on separate paths. Thinking about this makes me sad. As much as we may want to prop each other up, addiction for families is not a team sport. It may be called a “family disease” but there is little togetherness. Addiction is the opposite of together. Even in the closest of families it does it’s best to destroy connection. The problem with this is that as a parent you believe it is your duty to move everyone forward; like a sheepdog gathering it’s herd. For twelve long years that is what I tried to do. I now know that the only way toward peace and clarity is to strike out on my own.

Last week as I sat on my patio feeling the warm sun on my face, i began to ugly cry. Immediately I tried to shut that pity parade down. As I tried to suppress my feelings I considered how I would council a friend. I knew I would tell them that what they were going through was definitely sad and that crying is a natural response. So I stopped holding my breath and allowed myself to cry. And it felt honest. Which is a small victory because honesty is something addicts, and their loved ones, are terribly afraid of.

I considered what “beginning again” had meant to me in the past. It had meant getting my loved one back on track. Finding beds in detoxes, rehabs and sober homes, double-checking insurances, packing up apartments, handling transitions, medications, cigarette runs, money, clothing deliveries, speaking with counselors, attending family meetings, researching new therapies. For me it’s always meant this laundry list of things. These things are hard and getting through them requires an amnesiac version of auto pilot. But the truth is this time around the amnesia is leaving me. Clarity has finally rung its little bell and left a little dent in my shiny armor.

I know I should be completely satisfied that my loved one is beginning again. I am aware that my despondence over being at the starting point again is not helpful. I know that relapse is part of recovery. I know that I am not qualified to solve this problem. I know that they are doing their very best. I know that love doesn’t solve all things. And I know that where there is life there is hope.

I know all these things. I suspect I need a new path to walk. A road with a new signpost. Maybe it will say “let it be” or “hello me.”

The End Goal

I have spoken three times at my town’s International Overdose Day. I live in Cohasset (which is Algonquian for “long rocky place”) and the town perches on the Atlantic Ocean just south of Boston. The center of our town has a historic common, or shared green lawn, that is ringed by stately 18th century homes of white clapboard. The wooden doors of these homes are accented by multi-paned transoms that wink in the light; the sort of confident wink that is completely appropriate in an upper crust sailing town. Standing in the center of the common, not far from the granite flag pole, one can gaze upon our town hall. It is an aging behemoth with peeling columns and double doors that fling wide open on voting days. Also opening on to the common are three separate houses of faith. It’s not an overly religious town; but it does revere its history – and freedom of faith was paramount to the early settlers.

History aside, the common continues to serve as a gathering place. Thursdays there is a farmer’s market with fresh corn, local tomatoes, handmade bread and live music. Most mornings the common is graced by dog walkers, joggers and people sipping coffees by the koi pond. Afternoons are reserved for nannies pushing tandem strollers and pre-teens on bikes. Sometimes I squeeze my eyes shut; because really, it’s so perfect it’s almost offensive.

When I first moved to this town I took my mother on a spin around the back shore. We passed manicured mansions, crashing waves, private beaches. “You need to get out” was what my mother said. I remember laughing. She explained the town would “make me soft.” I still remember my eye roll. What is wrong with being soft? Isn’t softness the end goal?

No, it turns out softness is not a worthy end goal. The first time I publicly spoke at International Overdose Day I made a plea for transparency. A plea for our “rough edges” to be acknowledged. It is easier to hide the disease of addiction, and its consequences, in a beautiful town. But this delay prevents change. And change is what will move many of our community members forward.

The second time I took a gentler approach. One of acceptance.
I read Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

But the last time I spoke I was angry. As I stood there in my white pressed shirt near the white clapboard churches a video feed rolled through the faces of local people who had died. People that would never enjoy our idyllic common again.

“I have had enough” is what I said.

A year later I am still reflecting on my words. I have spent a decade trying to change so many things. And when I wasn’t trying I was obsessing. Lately I just feel discouraged. Yesterday I took my son to an orthopedist and on the wall opposite us was the infamous “smiley face” chart. The pain chart created by Purdue Pharma to facilitate a nation’s addiction to opiates. There it was grinning, and grimacing, back at us. I wish I could say it was the first time I had seen this chart still being used. But it is not. And then there is my own behavior: three months ago I came upon a few men hunkered down on the edge of a dirty sidewalk. They were visibly impaired and it was really cold out. Massachusetts in the winter is no place for glove-less, hat-less, hopeless souls. What did I do? I crossed the street, started up my warm car, and drove myself home. I could confess to even more inaction – but I will leave it at that.

I still want change. But impatience has led to fatigue. This battle requires an army of Gandhis, Mandelas and Kings with endless patience and bottomless hope. Tireless. Selfless. Relentless. We do have heroic soldiers: Joanne Peterson, Maura Healey and Rick Mountcastle all come to mind. But after another record year of overdoses, it is clear we need many, many more. And I am not made of that kind of stuff: I am soft. Or getting soft. And it’s so easy to lay down your weaponry.

Hippy-Dippy Drug Days.

Do you remember when the local drug dealer was the high school kid with the chalk-painted Camaro who smoked during math class? Or maybe it was the friend twice removed who would set up lines of coke in shiny bathrooms of boom-boom-boom nightclubs? How about the neighborhood kid who rode his bike around town to deliver a mishmash of badly rolled joints? You would think to yourself, “Jesus Christ, am I the only one who knows what is going on around here?!”

I am not trying to make light of drug dealing…but it was kind of quaint. It was simple. It was local. It was a much naughtier version of the farm to table movement.

The latest way for teen’s to acquire drugs is through the snapchat app. Snapchat’s mascot is a small ghost: “now you see me, now you don’t.” Rather than being a cute play on peek-a-boo, it is meant to highlight the disappearing nature of texts. There is no paper trail, no electronic trace, no phone record…nothing to help you deduce why your child is writhing on their bedroom floor in a drug induced psychosis. Or worse yet, not even moving. This is a big problem for parents, and an even bigger problem for law enforcement.

One thing is certain: kids are still going to experiment. So absent a time machine, what are we supposed to do?

First, acknowledge the difference.

I have heard many parents say “It’s a rite of passage…I did it too in high school.”‘ Umm… no you didn’t. Marijuana in the 60s had a THC content of 2%, in the 90s it was 4%. Today’s weed is 200% stronger. THC derivatives like dabs, oil and shatter can contain THC content north of 95%.* Sadly, the higher the THC the lower the CBD content, and CBD has been shown to mitigate damage caused by THC to the brain’s hippocamus.** So if you are a reformed teenage pothead think twice before assuming your child’s brain is undergoing the same neurological “fun-fest.”

I am also surprised that parents willingly serve underage kids. Their justification? Learning how to “handle alcohol in my house is safer than the alternative.” But there is nothing safe about sharing alcohol with teens. Today’s research has proven there is a link between early drinking and a lifetime of addiction. We didn’t know it back then, but we know plenty about brain science now. We also know that parental disapproval is the number one reported reason teens put off drinking.*** (So why blow that safety measure?) Yes, some of us safely snuck a few beers in high school; but it’s important to realize that todays teens disproportionately binge drink. (Sadly, in my highly educated town, 17% of high schoolers reported binge drinking within the last 30 days.) Kids also have access to higher alcohol beers and very quaffable “fruit punch” flavored hard seltzers. Most of them have easier access to cars. It’s not as rosy as adult memories may suggest. So why romanticize it?

And let’s return to that teen smoking marlboros next to his camaro. It’s now a vape pen. Vape pens may not contain tobacco but they are still highly addictive and still contain cancer causing chemicals including VOCs, Diacetyl and formaldehyde. And realize that, just like marijuana and alcohol, our kids are getting “more bang for their buck.” A single e-cartridge is the equivalent of an entire pack of cigarettes. And they can be discretely smoked right in class – teachers can’t even smell them! Thanks big tobacco for developing a product that helps our kids avoid detention and comes in so many delicious fruit flavors!

For God’s sake the playing field is not the same.
So let’s stop saying it is.

* National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, PMID: 30643324
** Harms, Protection and Recovery Following Regular Cannabis Use, pub.med.gov PMCID: PMC5068875
***NIAAA.NIH.Gov: publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/make-a-difference-child-alcohol

“It’s not the subject matter, dummy.”

84 year old portrait artist Alice Neel said this to the renowned essayist Henry Geldzhaler. Well, she didn’t quite say this. Henry had asked Alice “does a good subject make a good painting?” She cheekily replied, “a good artist makes a good painting.”

I like Alice. Alice paints large quirky portraits whose subjects have large soulful heads and bodies trapped in awkward poses. Her subjects seem to say “hey won’t you look at me?” while simultaneously admitting “I have no idea how I present myself.”

After reading Alice’s interview I came away with the feeling that the subjects of her portraits are nothing like herself. Alice knows who she is. Oh to be like Alice! Her self knowledge may have been honed after years of private struggle (the loss of children and time spent in sanatoriums). But I suspect she always had it: as her own words suggest, “the more experience you have, the better it is…unless it kills you. And then you have gone to far.” (More cheekiness!)

I think her confident sense of self was burnished by her work ethic. She didn’t capitulate to the abstract, conceptual or pop sensibilities that defined the macho art scene of the 70s. She refused to simplify, complicate or even commercialize. She remained a straight shooter.

What does it take to be more like Alice (and less like her subject matter?) I don’t know, and, more worrisome, I have a sneaking suspicion I will never know. Some say it is harder for the female. We have been conditioned, or genetically programmed, to put ourselves second. Well it didn’t stop Alice. I realize technology prevents us from asking ourselves the deeper questions by hyper-focusing on progress and perfection. And the self help books of today are complicit. A quick search of top titles instruct one to “Get Your Sh#t Together and Win at Life”, find “Joy at Work” and “Make Your Bed.” Hmmmm…..I think not.

As much as I would like to be fully evolved, most days I don’t care. It requires too much discipline, too much attention. And I’m not particularly good at either. Recently, while reading a book on existential prose and taking numerous daydreaming breaks, (I told you!), I came across a description of a “hagstone,” which is a stone with a hole worn through the center. According to European folklore gazing through one reveals the past and the future. In witchcraft it serves as a protective amulet. I admit I am drawn to the idea of a simple fix. I could use a rock that protects and offers the possibility of time travel. Think of all the things I could predict…and control! Currently the only part of my life that I fully control is what I chose to paint on a canvas. Before starting a painting I used to hold an empty projector slide up to my eye to selectively crop my surroundings. Much like a hagstone the slide harnessed multiple dimensions of time: the present view, my sensibilities based on past experience, and the future artwork itself.

I can hear Alice Neel laughing at my hopeless need to overthink a situation. My desire to make connections and solve difficult problems with minimal effort. (Always minimal effort!) I can hear instructing me to “sit still” so she can paint me in all my ridiculous majesty. Because Alice paints what she sees. No explanation needed, dummy. Like she lived her life. I would like to live like that.

Group Ghost Buster

Groups exist: running clubs and bird watching clubs, weight watcher groups and book groups. People join because of a common interest or to encourage each other in a common pursuit. But did you know that some people willingly join groups they do not want to belong to?! My husband and I belong to one. We joined a support group for those who have a family member suffering from the disease of addiction. We joined because “life had become unmanageable” and changing the behavior of our child was not possible. Instead we learned that we, like the others, are powerless. The common thread that binds us is pain.

Most Sundays a new face appears. We sit in a circle and each member gives an update on their addict; they are “doing well or back at rehab, homeless or paying rent.” We also share personally; we are “questioning our decisions, learning to not overreact, tired but hopeful.”

Why do we do this? There are therapists, on-line forums and self help books. There is also denial. Why meet to discuss the difficult?

I am not sure. But people tend to join when they are in crisis. The first step in the door is often a desperate one. They come for advice on what to do about a “missing family member high on alcohol and cocaine” or a loved ones positive tox screen for “benzos, fentanyl, crack and amphetamines.” We listen. We nod. There is a lot of nodding. There are no solutions. Instead we offer gentle suggestions or a new way of looking at the problem. It is strangely comforting to realize our ugly experience may be helpful to another – at a minimum by making them feel less alienated. A magical sort of alchemy happens when both hurt parties end up feeling a bit better.

When it is my turn I get to speak aloud the fears that have been echoing endlessly in my head all week. I liken this to opening up my closet door and calling out the ghost. Group Ghost Buster! My three-day headache dissolved after I shared one week. Why did the ibuprofen not work? I do not know.

You know what else helps? Getting lost in looking at my fellow group members.* I like looking at their shoes, their hands, their eyes, their hat choices. One wore pajamas two weeks ago! Some bring dogs. Some bring knitting. Others sit confidently. Some curl up a bit. I find it comforting to get lost in the visuals of our collectivity. Who knew this would be our reality? It’s akin to being dropped onto a strange new planet and having to assess your new mates. My husband’s verdict is that “he has never been in a room with more kindness and empathy.” I think he may be right. One member recently checked in with me via email. He signed off “you are loved.” (I cried then, and I am crying now.)

Ultimately, being in a group like this makes small talk impossible. Instead you must reach down to a deeper level to share the stuff that keeps us all afloat. I guess I should have nicknamed us Group Soul Buster. I encourage you to join one if you are in need.

*We now meet virtually. But I look forward to our in-person gatherings: for the shoes…and the hugs.

Public Service Announcement: Pressed Pills.

Pressed pills are counterfeit pills. And they are everywhere. If you are unfamiliar with them than you and I had something in common. We have all read about cash-only pill mills run by pain clinics. And individual crimes committed by those feeding an addiction: raided medicine cabinets, falsified prescriptions, doctor-shopping and faked injuries. But prescription pills no longer need to be hunted down because counterfeit ones can be delivered right to you. It’s an incredibly lucrative business. Consider that in the first seven months of 2020 the Minnesota DEA confiscated 46,000 counterfeit pills. That computes to 80K pills a year – in Minnesota – hardly a state known for its drug activity! If we were to use that same number and conservatively apply it to all 50 states, 4 million pills would have been confiscated. 4 million. Keep in mind that the police can’t find them all. Odds are there are upwards of 20 million illegal pills flooding our streets every year.

And most of us know nothing about it.

So what is a pressed, or counterfeit pill? They are pharmaceutical imposters made by drug dealers instead of lab technicians. They look exactly like the real thing in color, size, shape and feel. They even mimic the imprint code found on authentic medications. They look so real police are routinely fooled; unless you are transporting buckets of them in the backseat of your truck you are going to get by just fine – even if pulled over and asked to turn your pockets inside out.

But here’s the bigger problem: they are not what they purport to be. Pressed Adderall is comprised of methamphetamine, crack and speed; Xanax of ammonia, rat poison and fentanyl and Ecstasy of ketamine, bath salts and morphine. They may not be what you were originally shopping for, but they will get you high; and in doing so flood your bloodstream with highly addictive, highly deadly, substances.

How are they made? With a simple $500 investment on a pill press and pill mold. Equipment that is easily found on the internet. The profit on such an investment is six figures.* It’s no wonder it’s a burgeoning underground marketplace.

It’s seriously depressing. It is so monumentally hard to get ahead of the illegal drug trade. When one door closes (cutting back on the over prescribing of legal meds) another one opens.

I think back to a party I attended in 1984 at Vanderbilt University. I was a freshman experiencing my first frat party. It was wild. The music was blasting and the rooms pulsated with purple light. A few men wove their way through the crowd carrying large silver trays littered with pills. Pills of every color and size – free for the taking. I stuck to my beer. But plenty of others picked from the tray.

Here too one can get seriously depressed contemplating the ever widening scope of the problem. Yes, those pills pose a danger to those actively seeking them, but also to those who do not.

Richard Salter of Omaha’s DEA agency warns, “Please educate your high school and college-age kids on the extreme dangers of counterfeit medications, too often the overdose victims are young and are not prior drug abusers. They went to a party and someone offered them a pill to relax them – then they died. Too many American parents have had to bury their children as a result of drug overdose.” **

And so you have it: today’s public service announcement.

*March 2019 NABP, NADDI, and PSM
** DEA, Press Releases 8/12/20

*March 2019 NABP, NADDI, and PSM
** DEA, Press Releases 8/12/20

Summer Porch

I have come to my summer porch to take in the late afternoon sun.
The old porch is hexagonal and has two squeaky wooden doors, two ripped screens and a weathered mahogany floor.

In one corner I spy a robust little pile of mouse droppings. They betray a foolishly circuitous trail; a rodent’s version of the Hansel and Gretel tale.

Under the small wrought iron table I find two soft grey feathers. Feathers like those from the breast of a grey catbird. They lie discarded, side by side.  I can’t help but hope that she didn’t struggle too long before finding her way back through the opening in the ripped screen.

Around the old iron table sit four bright yellow chairs – one of which has a long black hair entwined tightly around a securing strut.  Was it yanked from the head of the person because they rose too quickly? How long has it been there?  Why do I not remember having a visitor with such long black hair?

And as I write this an electric green dragon fly encircles my big toe.
I want him to light down on my blue painted toenail. My mind silently chants “do it, do it, do it.”  He chooses not to heed my psychic call.

So now I turn my gaze to the hummingbird feeder. I have filled it with sweet sugar water in just the right enticing ratio. But no one has visited yet this year.  I used to have a visitor. He would frequently hover just inches from my face. We would study each other. The sound of his frantic wings would fill my ears and I would worry about the short distance between his beak and my eyes.  But it was always thrilling.

I googled Mr. Hummingbird’s repeat visits. It had to mean something, right? What I learned was that Native Americans believed a hummingbird was sent as a reminder to live in the moment.

I can see now that I have both missed moments and tried to control moments. And I am still doing both. I came here not to witness mid-summer beauty, but to distract myself from my preoccupation with wishing for another’s wellness. The nagging truth is that a wish, no matter how badly one wants it, does not create reality.

How can such a lovely thing, a wish, be also such a sobering thing?

As I write this I realize I have not learned a thing.  I flex my painted toes and scan the yard.  I am still waiting for that little green hummingbird to visit me again.

In Need of a Love Revolution.

Life is a love poem. Most days I am sure of it, some days I am not. The days I am not are usually because I am astonished by extraordinary acts of greed. Examples abound. Never in recent history has the wage gap been this large. Agribusinesses poison our topsoil with dizzying amounts of pesticides to increase corn yields – which are then used to sweeten our foods to a sickening degree. All in the name of profits. I can think of a dozen more examples. I am sure you can too. Currently I am dumbstruck by the amount of greed the Sackler family showed manufacturing oxycontin. As the death count mounted they hid money in off-shore accounts, bought doctors, manufactured fake safety studies, and fed illegal pill mills.  Personal fortune in the billions was apparently not enough.  They invested in a pharmaceutical company operating in China and India so that they could addict a whole new continent of unsuspecting consumers (they are using the same marketing tactics).  How has this corporation not been dismantled, their money confiscated, and the orchestrators jailed? I am convinced that someone is profiting somewhere from the injustice.

I am not a rube. I realize profits are the life blood of a healthy corporation. And I am not a socialist. But it seems to me that we have given our golden goose away to the business elite. We have forgotten that our constitution guarantees the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. We can not be healthy or happy if corporate greed continues to control our destiny. And as the Sackler’s have proven time and time again: we may not even be allowed to live.

I think greed is the only human emotion that is untouched by love.  It’s been sixty years since this country had a love revolution.  And I venture to say we are desperately in need of a new one. “Turn on, tune in and drop out” needs to be redefined. Hedonism, navel gazing and blissful ignorance should have ended a long time ago. It’s time for wide eyed collective activism. We need to “turn off (our distracting social/entertainment feeds), tune up and drop in.” Hard.

Maybe you can find yourself in a march against our current gun laws. Or petition to restore our clean waters act. Or question the profit sharing at your workplace.  Maybe just write a check to feed our hungry veterans. Or vote out of office those who are controlled by super pacs. Maybe you will be like Maura Healey, Boston’s Attorney General, and enforce the rule of law. She turned down Purdue’s offer of 600 million lame ass dollars since they will be based on future sales of oxycontin. (Yeah, I know I said lame ass –  it could have been worse).  Maura is holding fast.  She wants the money to come from profits already made. She wants justice for her fellow man now.

The rule of law and capitalism work: but only if we keep our eyes wide open and we play our part.

So choose to do something. And choose something everyday.
My mother once shared that her Buddhist friend claimed it was her “duty to perform three good deeds each day.” Let’s be like that friend.

It’s time to let our love light shine.

Paper Airplanes of Love.

Everything is a love poem.

Someone said this recently.
I think they were joking because their tone was a bit flippant.
But after he said it he let a long pause hang in the air.
And the pause felt like a challenge.

I guess I would like to believe that everything is a love poem.
I admit I embarrass myself. Am I just a silly girl?

Yet there is a whole lot of love tucked into nearly every day: A smile from a stranger, the cat that follows you down the driveway, the extra cheese someone put on your sandwich, the feel of the wind on your cheek, an evening swim, a pink sky, music on the radio, cold ice in a drink, the feel of a warm embrace. Right now my big old red dog is laying down under a tree and sniffing the air. If he catches me looking at him he will feel the need to come stand by me, and in doing so he will have to move his arthritic hips. I look quickly away so he will not struggle. Love, love, and more love.

Of course we can’t dismiss the broken hearts, the divorces, the deaths.
Yet these hurt because they showcase another side of love: the loss of it, the memory of it, the importance of it.

Then there is self love. Contrary to what our media feed may tell us self love is not a day at the spa or a healthy meal delivery from an internet box service. True self love depends upon unconditional love.

The first time I considered the meaning of “unconditional love” was after a text from our family therapist. She implied that I might have been lacking it. She sent it upon the aftermath of my umpteenth midnight run to pick up my screaming daughter from a police lock up. The therapist was wrong. Nothing my child did or said could have made me love her less. I was just not willing to equate loving her with letting her go. I was not willing to “live and let live.”

Sometimes I criticize myself for all the time spent “loving” her – often at the expense of the other members of my family, and my own. (If you think you are hard on yourself ask a mother of an addict how she feels deep down inside.)

I had a fabulous therapist for a year who asked the most ridiculous questions: what kind of wild animal did you see today? what is your love language? But she was also spot on. She brought me back to the love that was all around me (that old dog under the tree, that cheese on my sandwich, that pink sky).

Unconditional self love, however, is a strange concept. We misinterpret it. We think a self improvement regimen is as an act of self love. Or we recite our strengths to feel worthy of it. But self love requires something completely different. It requires accepting that mountain of other, quieter, stuff; our operating quirks, our bias, our mistakes. That mountain grows as we get older. Maybe that is why so many of us address it later in life.

My New Year’s resolution is to take time to sit quietly.   To sit quietly atop my mountain of stuff.  And I am going to write some love poems.  And I am going to let them fly.