A User's Guide to Not Fucking It Up

Human relationships are both what give life so much of its rich meaning and also hazardous minefields of difficulty. Most of us are walking around with wounding we can be unaware of, and when someone rubs up against it, it's easy to interpret something innocuous as a major offense. It's common, we've all reacted in this way before.

Life is full of let downs, and humans are some of the guiltiest culprits of each other's disappointments. We persist in living among one another because our kind wasn't built for solo cave dwelling. Even as we age, we continue to have healthy attachment needs to meet in order to remain optimally well; we need to feel safe, to be seen and known, to be comforted when we're in pain, to feel valued, and to receive support for our best selves. Ideally, all the relationships in our lives would provide that kind of presence, but I've learnt that it's a rare enough occurrence that when you find someone with whom you can share a heal…

Clawing Out of a Deep Well of Sad

The sad that lives in my body waxes and wanes, but it's never left me. Even when I'm at my most happy, calm and clear, sad is just beyond the edge of the horizon, out of view and still as much a part of me as anything else. When others learn this, it tends to come as a surprise. The way I present and the role I play is most often the cheerful, bright light. It's a large part of the story, but of course it's not the whole story. No one is just one way.

The picture on the left was taken at the end of the year, at the point of deepest pain I recall ever feeling. I had been crying everyday for awhile, and I would stand on the train platform fantasizing about leaping. I used to volunteer on a suicide crisis hotline and I still remember my training. I told people close to me how I was struggling, and made promises not to hurt myself. I knew the intent wasn't really there, but I was aching so badly that it was impossible not to desire its alleviation. I was at the bottom…

Well That Escalated Quickly! or, Toxic Monogamy Culture

Imagine that you approach a fun-looking roller coaster and without knowing a lot about it, you buy a ticket. As you run through the line to get to the front, there are signs informing you about elements of the ride worth noting, but you only briefly glance, convinced as you are that it's the perfect ride for you. You get strapped in, the car jolts forward, and you realize after the third nauseating loop that this was, in fact, not a great decision.

Hunter S. Thompson wrote "buy the ticket, take the ride," and Dan Savage quotes this in a talk he gave about understanding and getting good with what you're buying into when you enter a relationship. I'm just as guilty as any fool of rushing into love, signing the liability waiver without so much as a skim of the fine print. There's a myriad of possible reasons for this; we live in a culture dominated by a monogamous relational model which passes some toxic mythology off as fact. For instance, under this model phy…

The Deep Dark Woods, or, A Place at the Table

When I began to write this it felt familiar, so I scrolled back and discovered that I've written three similar pieces in the last two years alone. They all have a slightly different flavor, but the same salient central theme: the importance of learning to deal with your shit.

In a previous version of my life, I was crying in therapy because I'd recognized but couldn't seem to overcome my preternatural attraction to unhealthy men. Like Ebeneezer Scrooge, I've often found myself confronted by the ghosts of life past. Most of my "self-work" has been operated under the naive assumption that once I'd learned something, I was done! Got it! Every time I'd find myself revisiting a theme, I would read this as a personal failure and be awash in bitter shame. One of my favorite teachers, Paul Weinfield, wrote this supportive, apropos note today:

'Try to see your life as a spiral, circling around the same issues, the same problems, the same feelings, yet wit…

Unfolding Your Own Myth, or, Born Worthy

At the end of the first week of my first "real" job as an adult, my manager checked in with me to see how it went. I looked her straight in the eyes and with bewilderment in my voice said, "I have to come here everyday." This didn't last long.

In retrospect, I see how this early exposure to professional work left a sour taste in my mouth. I was employed by a for-profit education corporation that tasked me with keeping students in school even if they really needed to be, say, going to rehab (many of them did). The school also encouraged students to take out large loans that they would never be able to repay with the low wage jobs they would be qualified for upon completion. Despite working with some excellent people, the environment was predominantly unhealthy. It took less than a year for me to jump ship for massage school and a helping career that didn't involve shoes or a cubicle.

In the 10 years since, I've done an eclectic smattering of work that&#…

The End of All Things, or, Notes from the Suicide Hotline

Anthony Bourdain was my godfather of gregarious adventure. I admired his raw honesty, open mindedness, and the way he sought to expand understanding and appreciation of other cultures. He inspired boldness in me to reach out into the world and eat everything. This feels a bit like the loss of a distant but beloved mentor. I will miss his perspective and mourn the work he'd yet to create.

When I was in university, I spent a year working San Francisco Suicide Prevention's crisis hotline. I needed volunteer hours for a class and picked the hotline because at one point in my youth I'd found help through a similar resource. When I tell people about my experience, they expect it to have been depressing. While there were certainly very difficult, haunting moments, the work was largely heartwarming and entirely rewarding. Most of our callers were experiencing suicidal ideation but were not actively suicidal; they didn't have a plan, they were just lonely. They found comfort i…

Desire as the Language of God, or, We Need A Forest Fire

On the Friday before I left, I woke up with a fire to do laundry and repack my bag. I didn't yet know I was leaving, but the desire to go home had been clear and present in me for awhile. I drew out the decision for as long as possible, encumbered by the ego drive to not yet "fail" at traveling for the whole year. What would it mean to give up on that dream?

An authentic, persistent desire cannot be suppressed, though. When I finally gave in, I was relieved and happy. My very sincere need for a total overhaul of my plan overcame my expectations for myself and my fear of other's perceptions. When I told my best friend I was coming back, she invited me to Portland and the thought lit up all my cells with Hell Yes. Just as clear as I'd been about going home, I was now sure of this. All the pieces slid easily into place and I made the leap into a brand new plan.

Trusting the wisdom of my desires doesn't come naturally. I'm inclined to be wary of following th…