Early this morning I sat on a platform made from dark-stained wood, overlooking a valley of Colombian heartland. My feet, kept warm by wool socks, dangled over the edge without fear of the distance below.
On December 22 of last year, my father picked me up from Ft. Lauderdale airport, the beginning of a visit home for the holidays. It had been nearly a year since we had seen one another, just enough time for me to forget how bright his eyes became when he saw me, how supportive he was when I spiraled enthusiastically down the corkscrew of my newest idea, and how erratic and stubborn of a highway driver he had become.
I’m standing in the center of my room. Things surround me. Stuff. Material items. Yoga mats, Turkish carpets, records, books on sobriety, jewelry from Mexico, vintage binoculars, artwork by friends. And it hits me.
It hits me how much I leverage these objects to justify my self-created identity. And it hits me how deeply I pressure the tangible to communicate to others, and to affirm for myself, who I am.
On one shelf is a framed photo of my father and I holding a baby duck. I’m wearing a light blue bonnet and am no more than two years old. We’re both looking down at the new life, sweetly. If I had to hold only one photograph for the rest of my life, I would choose this one. Why? Maybe because it represents the tenderness and innocence of my father and I’s relationship, a dynamic that would extinguish in the years to follow, only to reignite once again. Maybe because it let’s me believe that my family is rooted in traditions, like visiting petting zoos, perhaps in celebration of Easter.
It’s in really looking, as if for the first time, at the hardly-used tambourine on the floor and the vintage binoculars I’ve never held to my eyes, that I see clearly how I lean heavily on these things, like a crutch. A crutch for interests and talents and skills that were always desired, but never actualized.
The tambourine reminds me that I’m “musically inclined,” albeit not a musician, because I never had the time to learn how to play. The binoculars convey that in another life I was a naturalist, a conservationist, and a defender of Mother Earth.
And then my eyes meet my meditation stool and yoga mat and suddenly there’s lightness to the weight of subconscious acquisition. I see these things as a natural extension of me; the instruments I regularly use to become a more practiced, whole, version of my self. These are the resources that allow me to continue to grow.
I’m in the process of transitioning my life, my things, my self from D.C. to South America.
This transition is teaching me that in letting go of superfluous things, I can shed attachment and damaging identity cloaks like old skin. Consequently, it’s teaching me that in holding on to things of genuine value, I am more succinct with my true, evolving self.
This transition is teaching me that in unpacking how I uphold my ego through a legacy of acquisition, I can unify the divided pieces of my self and tend to them with greater attention and conviction.
This transition is teaching me that in letting go we make space for possibility. This transition is teaching me that underneath my identity, is a self that is uncompromised and has never been more whole.
And so I stand in the middle of my room and I smile. I look at the narrative I’ve authored and the stuff that has held the pen, and I smile. I smile because I accept. I smile because I have faith. I smile because I surrender. All good things will continue to come.
We woke up on the floor; Yosemite Valley buried somewhere below the stiff climbing crash pad under our bodies. The single-room employee cabin smelt of stale trash and bouldering sweat and we were crammed between two twin beds, one that held his roommate who was snoring six inches from my face.
I blindly fumbled around until finding my glasses: the room was a sight. I climbed out from underneath the thin wool blanket and did my best to remain undisturbed while crawling through the door.
Outside was a picturesque summer camp scene: the voluptuous curves and majestic peaks of Yosemite Valley towered over two thick rows of wooden employee cabins.
Chalkboards hanging above each cabin door exclaimed hand-written messages like “Life is an Adventure!” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough!” Front porches were decorated with small propane grills and fold-up REI chairs and chalky hiking boots.
It was Saturday morning, just after 10:00am and not another soul was in-sight. And so there we were, Yosemite and I, alone together at summer camp.
After a morning of slow rising, we sipped coffee on his friend’s apartment terrace and discussed the day ahead: rocks to climb, land to traverse, direction to go. Once decided, we threw ourselves into a silver Xterra, fairy pouches full of climbing chalk in the backseat, and made way to the Yosemite Valley General Store.
The parking lot was packed with tour busses, rental RVs, and pedestrian excitement. Our friend, Matt, was working inside of a wooden box enclosure they called the Welcome Booth, reciting to tourists the most “bang-for-your-buck” lookouts in the Valley. When he wasn’t offering insights, he flipped through John Muir’s “My First Summer In The Sierra.”
Inside of the store were provisions ranging from water filtration systems to bear spray to dehydrated dinner packets, all of which pitted us, “The Humans,” against it, “The Nature.”
Next to the provisions were novelty items awarded only once you had conquered it: stuffed red foxes, plush grizzly bears, picture frames bordered with mountain peaks and running waterfalls. I smiled sweetly at the red fox and contemplated how it would fit next to my stuffed red panda, Rusty.
Away from the General Store, cars were stacked like pancakes along the single-lane road. A beautiful, towering blonde woman, a park ranger, directed one car after another. She was a sight. It was a sight. It was a sight that didn’t resemble a Yosemite postcard. And a reminder that, when traveling, experiences rarely do.
Time on the road is often dominated by the hours threaded between one postcard image and the next. It is evanescent landscapes that drip below the horizon, muddled between lookout points. It is insipid details too often overlooked: songs sung along to, how badly you had to pee, the awful taste of gas station coffee. It is incidental moments of self-awareness reflected by translucent lake water on warm September days.
Adventure is easy to confine to a diorama – it makes sense to chronologically arrange journey by destinations and achievements. Progress from point A to point B is easily tracked, and the distance between the two, too often dismissed. Reciting where we were doesn’t require remembering the way.
But what we gain in repeating dry milestones, we lose in experiencing textured magic.
A recent trip to California reconnected me to the magic.
It invited the sacred space between mile markers and exit signs.
It sung of radio static, incessant laughter, and awkward playlists. It felt of heart-filled conversations as heavy as L.A. morning smog and as light as San Francisco fog lifted by the afternoon.
It offered grace and connectivity, clumsiness and disconnect; it moved hurriedly and flowed free of measure.
It was introspection in picturesque scenery and boundless contemplation in empty space, too. It was unpredictable. It was without expectation. It was never where we were headed or where we would end up: it was what happened in-between.
And in this space we reconnected with each other.
And in this space we reconnected with ourselves.
And in this space we lost sight of what we saw, and we learned to see the way.
And even though the trip is over, I’m here, in this space, and I’m learning to see the way.
It’s always learning to see the way.
Its been nearly three months since my last post and while nothing has actually changed, everything is different. It’s amazing how once your perspective and intentions shift, everything around you follows in unison. Relocation does not require physical movement; it’s asking yourself to see your familiar space as new.
Last Sunday I came back to Izmir after spending the winter holidays in New Orleans and Austin. I would love to exclaim that Christmas was filled with joy and yuletide and New Years was consumed by Auld Lang Syne, but unfortunately that’s far from the truth. Despite being in the company of the people closest to me, I felt exhausted, frustrated, and unable to communicate simple desires and complex thoughts. I suppose subconsciously I had an expectation that irrespective of being just over three months sober and deep in the process of self-reconstruction, that familiar relationships would fall back into place without effort, as they had always done, and that I would easily reconnect with those who “knew me.”
But this wasn’t the case.
This wasn’t the case because even I don’t “know me” anymore.
This wasn’t the case because the long-held faith I held in the idea that sober me was just alcoholic me without alcohol was a fallacy.
Because I am a completely different person that I was in September 2014.
No longer are my experiences with alcoholism those of my mother and father; I now have my own relationship with sobriety.
Sobriety requires starting from the beginning – it’s creating new morals, beliefs and embodying them as gospel for how I live my life. Sobriety means accepting the person that I actually am because my deep-rooted issues – binge eating, remorse and guilt, body image, anger, etc – are no longer temporarily concealable through the consumption of alcohol nor through the never-ending distraction of social engagements centered on “the drink.” Sobriety means not only acknowledging my areas for improvement, but making concrete and tangible efforts to develop exercises and strategies which properly address them.
And since the beginning of this journey, these past three months have stung with isolation. The fact that bars, clubs, and shisha cafes are Izmir’s primary socializing space, combined with the lack of available alternatives – yoga studios, outdoor activities, community gardens, libraries, etc. – has left me with an overwhelming feeling of loneliness. On countless occasions this loneliness has forced me to question whether I’ve made the “right decision” in becoming sober. Because in the short-term it would be so much easier to go out drinking and dancing with friends than it is to repeatedly explain why I don’t drink. Because even once I do explain why I don’t, my alcoholism is disregarded and laughed away; I’m told it’s not a “real problem” because I’m too “young, pretty, and smart” to be an alcoholic.
This is not at all a reflection of Turkish culture, nor the city of Izmir, as these comments and interactions would occur anywhere. I love Turkey and it’s beautiful people. Having lived here before, I was also aware of the sacrifices (yoga, my family) and the opportunities (beautiful markets, adventures) that result when living here.
But I never anticipated that I’d be in the vulnerable position I’m currently in during my time in Izmir. A position that, for now, absolutely requires yoga, spiritual guidance, cycling, gardening, running, etc. in order to facilitate my honest and true recovery. In order to once again embody the characteristics that my friends and family know and love. In order to love myself again, with all the amendments and changes. And in order to learn how to fully love those around me.
And so, I’m coming home.
I’m declining an incredible offer to extend my current, dream job – working for NATO in Turkey – and will be returning to Washington, D.C. on 4 March – broke and unemployed.
This decision is one which honors myself and my soul, my family and loved ones. It’s a decision that will (hopefully) offer me the internal and external support I need to continue creating the foundation I’ve begun building over the last few months. I’m leaving certainty for uncertainty, and it’s never felt more right.
I’ve been asked countless times “what I’ll do” when I get back to D.C.
Well, I have no idea. And I think that’s the greatest gift that could be offered to me.
The only point of certainty I have is a Yoga Activist training to serve trauma survivors I’m taking the weekend I get back. As an “Alchi Yogi,” I hope to start creating a community in D.C. that recognizes the power of yoga and meditation as a method to aid recovery and sustain sobriety.
I’m going to Turkey’s national Camel Wrestling Festival in two weeks, but until then, I’ll leave you with some meaningful snaps from the end of 2014. – Peace and blessings for a beautiful beginning to the New Year.