Yesterday was International Day at NATO LANDCOM’S HQ. Of NATO’s twenty-eight member countries, our HQ represents 24 of them. From Albania to Czech Republic, France to Hungary, Poland to Turkey, this is certainly the most multicultural environment I’ve ever found myself in; even more so than Erasmus in Istanbul.
In the six weeks since I’ve been with NATO, I’ve attempted to dissect an incredibly dynamic and complex organizational structure, understand how my individual position plays a collective role within LANDCOM and within NATO, and learn how to operate within a context in which 24 extremely different working styles overlap.
It’s common knowledge that if you can’t find an Italian, he’s likely sharing an espresso in the kitchen. If a Turk is nowhere to be found, they’re bound to be on the terrace drinking a cay. If you need something done immediately, pray there’s a German on the other end of it.
Add to that, the stark differences in working with civilians and military personnel, 24 national military structures and the unofficial rules of military-civilian and inter/intra military personal and professional interactions, and you begin to understand how overwhelming and challenging this experience has been.
Amidst the difficulties and uncertainties, it can be easy to forget my mission; to lose sight of how my individual and our collective work contributes to the security of my colleagues, their families, their countries, their neighbor countries, and ultimately, our world at large. My individual work is so much more expansive than I tend to realize.
Yesterday, International Day, was the first time in six weeks that I’ve felt emotionally attached to our collective mission. Inspired. Humbled. Honored.
Intertwined with the stark emotional moments were laughs and lovely times shared with colleagues and friends over food and drinks from around the world. It was the beauty in our table being spread with paella, French wine, Hungarian stew, Canadian moose milk, German beer and Polish sweets, while hearing Turkey’s Aegean military band in the background, that affirmed our individual and collective commitment to what we do.
The International Day culinary spread was immaculate and as a culturalitarian – I’ll try anything from any culture (at least) once – I was wonderfully surprised by my desire to happily honor a decision that I made two weeks ago; one which will guide the duration of this Earth life and hopefully lead me on a journey that will fulfill my ultimate potential.
Two weeks ago I decided to quit drinking, yes, permanently: to become sober – to cleanse, to detox, to embark on this life-long journey, to inhale spirituality and reality and to exhale the unnecessary burdens and negativity that I evoke and provoke when I drink.
I’ve repeatedly received the same response when this decision has come up:
“WHAT?! You’re not an alcoholic!”
“I never knew you had a problem – are you OK?”
“How can you give up cold beer and delicious wine and you mean we won’t dance until dawn anymore?”
I don’t know if I’m an alcoholic and I probably never will.
But what I’m certain of is that alcohol has stunted my ability to fulfill my potential, therefore disabling me from giving all that I can to those that I love, those that I’m surrounded by, and everyone in our world.
The most pervasive response I received yesterday when respectfully declining Portugesse port or American Mai-Tais was “how can you live without alcohol?”
When I made this decision two weeks ago I also repeatedly asked myself this same question. I wondered how I’d sit in a Turkish meyhane and not drink raki. What would I toast at my wedding? Does October Fest have a non-alcoholic beer option?
I kept dwelling on the things I would never try which in turn made me believe I would never have the experiences I’m still yearning for: rooftop serenades with friends, a gondola ride in Italy, romantic sunsets in Greece, exploration through Albania.
But the more I process, the more I make peace with this decision and it’s implications, the more I realize that this decision is not one of limitations but one which affords infinite opportunities. I now have the opportunity to lead every day of my life in a way that honors me; to maintain the holy trinity of mind, body, and soul; to truly reflect on who I am and who I want to become and to actively develop strategies and behaviors that will strive to achieve this. Without hurdles. Without setbacks. Without hesitation.
It’s one day at a time.
It’s the seemingly minor daily decisions resulting in major behavior change which is a prevailing source of strength.
In these two weeks, I’ve felt more reflective and at peace with myself than I ever have. I can’t even begin to imagine where this beautiful and difficult journey of self-discovery will see me in two months, two years.
Thank you to those who have already supported this decision, indirectly and directly, and love in advance to those who will walk beside me along the way.
And for those who were wondering, I will always be able to twerk until dawn. As if there was ever any doubt.