Lean in and pray.

The summer of 2017, M relapsed. And by relapse, I mean he went full force back into using regularly and lying to me about it. After a weeks’ long stay in rehab that past December, months of intensive outpatient and nearly a half a year of clean, hopeful progress – we were back to locked doors, missing money, refusal to open up and be fully transparent, suspicions, fights, tears.

I had coffee with my friend S that summer, someone from my old food blogging days. Although we were not the closest of friends, we could always open up to each other so easily about the deep stuff that had us wondering about the everyday world and the relationships we keep. She had moved out of state but we still got together for coffee now and then when she came back in town.Her faith in God was something that I once ignored about her. Not because it turned me off, but I realized we might never be the friends that I thought, or hoped, we might be because of this difference in values. I didn’t believe in anything. I didn’t believe that God didn’t exist, but I didn’t welcome him into my life, either. I didn’t think I needed him.

So we had coffee and caught up on writing life, motherhood, navigating adulthood. Before we started saying our goodbyes, I opened up to her about my current struggle. I had been thinking about it during the entire date, wondering how to say it – just blurt it out? My husband is a recovering addict and our marriage is hanging on by threads and I feel very alone and confused and scared and the everyday that I once celebrated so much has now become my own struggle. There is no good time in a conversation to bring it up.

But I said it briefly – M had been in rehab, and it brought me to searching for something higher. I told her I admired her own strong faith, that she could just put her life in the hands of God and knew it would be OK. I had had one brief feeling of spirituality, of believing in something larger than me, in Japan, standing before a giant sitting Buddha. Was that what I was looking for? Does God exist in different forms? Is he the image of a man, or is he the energy all around me? I didn’t know. I felt like I was chasing something and I didn’t even know what it was or if it existed.

Lean into those questions, she said. Ask him for a sign.

I hadn’t prayed in a long time. I decided to try.

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. // Al-Anon Step 3

I liked the idea of praying, but a part of me felt like I didn’t have a right to do so. Because I’d rejected God for so long, how could just ask him for help now that everything is falling apart? Because I’d always judged people who found God this way – who couldn’t figure out a way to solve their problems themselves, so they just relied on God to fix it, and tell them what to do, and answer all the questions that they didn’t know how to face themselves. And if I did ask him for a sign, how would I know? Would I just be looking at everything after and thinking, is that it? Is that Him? If I did believe in God, did he have to be in the form of a man, and Jesus, or could I continue to believe that he is everything around me, that he is the energy flowing through me and my breath going in and out? Could it be what I wanted to believe, or is it another way? Is that what he would show me?

Lean into those questions. Ask him for a sign.

I didn’t know how to pray. So I wrote a letter.

Dear God,

I’ve been avoiding your name. I’ve been asking lots of questions, and searching, and buying books and not reading them, and meditating, and feeling like I’m forcing spirituality onto myself while also remaining doubtful and pushing away for fear of being a phony and a hypocrite and weak.

I want you. And I’ve been avoiding talking to you because a part of me does not want to be a person who prays. But a part of me wants to embrace prayer.

I need help.

Life is hard, and if I believe that we are all connected somehow, that the breath of life that flows through that tree that I’m looking at through the window also flows through me, that you are that life, that you are everywhere, not just some man looking down at me from the heavens above, listening to me, but that you’re wind blowing through the leaves and birds chirping and the blue, blue sky, and my son’s laughter, and the light shining through the window – then I have to be able to look to you for help.

Because you are life.

And I don’t know what it is you do – make things better? Tell me the answers? Give me a sign in the form of thunder and lightning, some clear vision that floats out of the sky, or maybe something smaller that falls into my path and just works somehow?

I realized that the one thing I haven’t done is let go.

Surrender.

To finally put my faith in you.

To stop trying to answer the questions myself and to let you tell me.

To be completely vulnerable, and to talk to you, and ask you for help, and admit that I don’t know the answers, and that if you’re everywhere and everything, then it will all be okay.

Please give me a sign. And I will be yours truly.

October 8, 2018: The new moon.

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I got lost, confused. There were three houses around a circle driveway, with farmland beyond. Two other cars parked in the lot. I wandered around the driveway, yoga mat and blanket tucked under one arm, wondering if I was in the right place. One house was marked “Office,” another “Private Residence.” There was another house but I felt awkward, worried about embarrassing myself. I get anxious in situations where I don’t know exactly what to do or where to go, and when I think it may seem obvious to others. I worry I’ll look stupid. 

I went back to my car, checked the confirmation email, read a line instructing me to go to the education center. Took a deep breath, shut the fear down, and approached the last house – which was marked “education center” on google Maps. Opened the door. Inside, voices. A long hallway and to my right, a room with two women and a beautiful circle of crystals, flowers, light, poetry, tea. One of the women asked me to remove my shoes, and did I want to be smudged? The space was peaceful, inviting, friendly. Exactly where I wanted to be.

Exhale. Breathe fear out.

This was my first new moon circle. It is something I want to continue to attend – to carve out space at the beginning of each moon cycle to be with like-minded women, meditate and journal, share our stories, set intentions and share positive, loving energy.

A couple of years ago, when I first found out M was using again, I told myself that I had to learn to love myself again. I never in a million years thought that I would one day find myself meditating in a circle with a group of women I didn’t know. That M and I would spend date days crystal shopping, or that I would be lighting bundles of white sage in my home, wafting the smoke with a feather, praying for these spaces and myself be cleansed of negative energy.

I never thought my husband’s addiction would lead me to question my beliefs, to start searching for something greater within this world and within myself, and to find it alone, on my knees, crying in pain, praying in desperation. I never thought I would be one of those people who “found God.” Who believed that miracles do happen. Whose answer to every question has become prayer. Who craves connection with others who feel that same magic when they look up at the moon – others who have suffered and found hope in the synchronicity of the universe. 

“My husband is a recovering addict,” I told the circle of women as we gathered around the alter, sipping rose tea, journals open, goddess cards laid out before us. “The past few years have been hard, and I learned to welcome spirituality into my life – something I had never done before, but I found that when you’re feeling alone and hopeless, prayer becomes the only thing you can turn to.”

I don’t think of my Higher Power as God, although sometimes I refer to God for lack of a better name. My Higher Power is the energy within every living thing, that makes up each body and soul, that is the same energy that makes up the stars. We are vibrations, patterns, cycles, flowing through each other, giving life to one another. 

I feel closes to my Higher Power when I look at the sky.

The moon is my compass. The moon is always there, always listening. The moon knows what to do.

There is still much to learn, but what I have learned so far is that the new moon energy is best for new beginnings, setting intentions, while the full moon is often a time to reflect and release that which no longer serves us.

On this new moon, I intend to balance my energy between my three greatest relationships – myself, my husband and my son. We are a family, and we are all a part of the recovery process.

8.

Eight years married. Last year, the significance of seven was not lost on us. Seven chakras, seven colors of the rainbow, seven days of creation. And then: 8. The first day of the new week. A never ending flow. Another beginning of our infinite cycle.

Today is also a full moon, and your first day back to school after our small nightmare. We survived it. Yet another. After eight years, we’ve survived more small nightmares than most people. Looking back, it was probably around our fourth year, our halfway mark, that we hit a peak of our marriage. We got pregnant. We got ready for the next step. And then, our sweet son came to us in the middle of the night in the most unexpected way imaginable. We survived his 10 days in the NICU. Our first survival as parents, as a family. I don’t want to say it all went downhill from there, because the day he came to us, we learned the true strength of love. And then, life got hard. Maybe that’s why the universe put our son in our lives when it did – because it knew we would need that strength to help us get through the next three years as we completed our first full cycle of marriage. As the waves seemed to pull us under and we continued to find our way back up for air.

We ebb and flow. The waves of the ocean are influenced by the cycle of moon, and so are we made up of water and energy and vibrations, our bodies and minds and spirits in a constant state of ups and downs. We grow toward the light. Like the leaves on our house plants that have been drawing me in lately. Watching as new growth stems from the top, small baby leaves peeking into life. We pull away the dying leaves and make room for the new. We place crystals around our home and marvel at their beauty, their magic, their knowing. Their sacred patterns that help balance our vibrations like a tuning fork, bringing us back into the flow of the universe. We let love in. We breathe love out.

Who knows where this next cycle will take us? A part of me wants to lean toward fear – we barely survived the last one! How can we do it again? Well. First, we’ll take a deep breath. We’ll recognize that within our cycle of marriage are our own journeys to love and light, our own reflections and intentions, our own unique vibrations, our own purpose. And we’ll take each other’s hands, and let go of fear. Nothing can ever prepare us for what is to come. I go into the next with no expectations. But I know more now than I did then. And I know, my love, that as the next cycle pulls and pushes and feels as thought it’s weighing us down; in the moments when we may forget about our strength – we can be a lighthouse for each other. Let’s always leave the light on to guide the other home – back to infinite comfort of the other’s circling arms.

A journal entry from April 29, 2018.

I struggle with expectations. I set these expectations, then when they aren’t met, I wonder – don’t I deserve what I want to happen, to happen? Why let go and settle for less?

But there is a difference between expectations and needs.

“Attaching our well being to a particular action or outcome is very risky. In essence, we make that situation a kind of higher power – we give our power over to other people and circumstances… We have the ability to change our attitudes. We can detach from our [expectations], anchoring our well being and peace of mind our Higher Power rather than any external situation.” – How Al Anon Works

Do not let your expectations become your Higher Power.

These past two days, this past weekend, I’ve woken up with this idea in my head of what the morning would look like. Maybe it was the Instagram posts of a local mother, a photographer who manages to make suburban mom life look so perfect – her family stylishly dressed, going to hipster cafes and taking perfectly candid photos in front of painted brick walls. So I wanted a morning spent in our little downtown, at a park and then for a meal or dessert. I wanted to make it out by 11, so we could grab a small breakfast and have time to talk and play. M got out of bed at a decent time but took nearly two hours getting ready. We didn’t make it downtown until 12:30. By the time we left the house, I was crabby and short with M and m. Looking back, it seems so silly to have been so angry after having such a nice day.

A delicious bacon sandwich and iced mocha at a new-to-us cafe. A walk in the sunshine along the river, m pushed on his trike. m running around the park with no fear. His laugh. We made it back to get m down for a nap by 3, then I listened to a podcast while making pasta and roasting vegetables for the week. Shawn Achor was on Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations, talking about happiness and how worry can be a waste of time. They’re just thoughts, noise, taking up space that would be better used for something that brings joy rather than negativity.

Why focus on what’s going wrong? On how my expectations aren’t being met? Why do I let running late get to me? Even when I set the time frame – when I tell myself we have to be somewhere at a certain time for no real reason, and then I let that dictate my attitude. M will take longer than I like, and I take it out on him. Even though he got out of bed when I asked, and even started getting ready without first going out for a cigarette. I still grumbled about it, and got so impatient and frustrated. I yelled at m and he felt my anger. I saw him get quiet and upset as a reaction to my crabbiness. And for what? Everything turned out fine. We had such a nice day. And I regret those few hours when I was just so upset for no good reason.

I have been confusing my expectation for my needs.

What do I need? To spend quality time with my husband and my son. A husband who wants to spend time with me, who loves his family, who takes care of us. It can’t be about what I expect our days to look like before they even begin. Because by the end of the day – there is a little boy playing in the backyard with his daddy, asking questions and saying things like, “Oh, I have an idea!” when he thinks of something new and exciting on his own. There is laundry clean and dry and waiting to be folded. There are windows flung open and a house that finally smells fresh and clean and full of new again. There are plants with fresh soil, watered and green. There is a just vacuumed carpet and pasta sauce bubbling on the stove. There are healing crystals at work around the house, and a full moon, and a clear sky.

Also feeling today:

  • Scattered. I kept starting chores and then getting distracted by another task. I started to hang dry laundry, then got half way done and started clearing the floor to vacuum, then came downstairs and realized I hadn’t finished the laundry.
  • Mom guilt. Totally felt guilty for letting m watch TV while I vacuumed, when outside, it was beautiful. He wanted to watch TV, and he played outside in the morning (and then again after TV), and how else am I supposed to clean without interruption?
  • Letting go. Of my expectations of what I think my writing should look like. What I actually got out on the page today was not what I wrote in my head earlier. But I got it out.
  • Paying attention to my plants. I actually started talking to them, and I noticed I felt better after I gave them some attention. I realized we all share the same energy in this home. If I put more energy into caring for my plants, maybe they’ll help bring more positive energy to our space.
  • Crystals. Charoite was brought to my attention after finding it in my crystal book by mistake. I read the description and it’s what I have been looking for to help with my fears of relapse, as well as letting go of expectations. Prehnite is a stone I just bought last month because I kept stumbling upon its description. I read today that it’s good for connecting with nature – explains my new connection to my plants!
  • Prayer. Please help me to let go of expectations. To keep a positive attitude. To be grateful for all the ways in which my needs are met every day.

A journal entry from March 30, 2018: We are all struggling.

I know a mom whose husband recently told her he doesn’t want to be with her anymore.

Another mom whose 1-year-old is undergoing chemotherapy

A friend at work, with a son M’s age, just went through a divorce.

Another woman at work left her husband.

A family friend was diagnosed with ALS. The doctors say he has two years left to live.

A girl I know from college who I follow on Instagram just delivered a 20-week stillborn child.

My old roommate’s mom died suddenly. They found cancer in her brain. Days later, she was gone.

My husband is a recovering addict. Every day I fight fear and pray for peace, love in our lives.

There is suffering everywhere. I don’t know if I notice it more now, or if I am more sympathetic to those suffering, or life just gets more difficult the older we get, or all of the above. I hear these stories, and my heart aches. I feel pain. I know what it is to feel helpless, hopeless, alone, like my world is crumbling down around me. And I want to tell them it will be okay. I want to tell them to let go. Take care of yourself. Surrender to love. But I don’t know that everyone wants to hear that when they’re struggling.

How did I find my path? I picked up an Al Anon book and I started reading. I opened my heart. I prayed. I cried. I let go, and I became very afraid, but I stopped letting the fear take over. I breathed in, and put my future in the hands of the universe. It was hard, but also easy because I felt I had no other choice. I felt so alone.

I am still here. We are still here. We are happy and healthy. We are always working to be good.

We are meant to suffer and struggle. It makes us stronger. It heals us. And for me, it creates connection. Especially when we become vulnerable enough to share that struggle. To open up and let people know that we are hurting, that life is hard, that we are sometimes lost and alone, and that we need support. It’s that vulnerability that breaks down walls of perfection – the Instagram exterior that showcases a happy life . The highlights reel of life, the corner of the kitchen that is clean when just out of the frame, chaos. And when you show that mess, you open up to show the real you.

I crave transparency and meaningful connections. Conversations about faith and God and the universe. About pain and love and prayer. About writing, and mothering, and adulting. Connection. Community.

At one of my first Al Anon meetings, a woman said that eventually, whenever something went wrong, she looked forward to seeing how God would fix it. “Oh goody,” she said. I almost wanted to smack her. Maybe it wasn’t the right thing for her to say to a newcomer whose husband was still using. But I think I understand now. The universe is amazing. In a way, it is exciting to see what else it has in store. Because in the end, it will all be okay.

A journal entry from October 25, 2017.

I watch the map. Would he be moving east or west on 88? West meant he was going to his counselor. East meant into the city for drugs. He merges heading west. A sigh of relief.

I sit in my car in a parking lot not far from home. I just made an appointment with a new therapist. I miss those evenings in C’s office – a safe space to talk about all of it. Lately I have been feeling anger. And although I am often aware of it, I still hold on to it. I research which crystals help me let go, but when I’m feeling it consume me, I hang on. Like I own it, like I have a right to keep it.

I held on last night, and again this morning. As the day went on, fear set in. I checked his location at lunchtime. A suspicious stop.

What if?

I can’t control it, I didn’t cause it, I can’t cure it.

Then, hurt. Why hadn’t he texted? Shame. Why can’t I just suck it up and tell him I love him? Guilt. He kissed me this morning. He’s trying to let go. He’s going through so much. We both are. Why can’t we just see eye to eye?

I slept on the couch. I didn’t know what else to do.

I pray. I admit my powerlessness, my confusion. Take this pain, this anger, this darkness. Please show me light and love, toward him. Toward myself.

Search and surrender.

“Creativity is a powerful way to celebrate who you are. It is spiritual energy that nourishes our vitality. It is a way to replace negative thinking with positive action. When we create, we plant ourselves firmly in the moment and teach ourselves that what we do matters.” Courage to Change

I write during the in-between. In my head. During small moments in my car, or washing dishes, or sitting in my cubicle at work – thoughts will enter, a sentence will form, present moments turn into short bursts of text on the page. Except there is no page in front of me, and I’m forced to tuck away the thoughts, hoping I’ll remember them when I actually have time to sit down and write. I never do – remember or have time. I make time by sitting down and just starting to type, but before that I tell myself I should be doing something else, and then when I spend a few more minutes not doing that something else I realize, OK, just write.

So I sit down, start writing. Sometimes the words flow. Those thoughts almost never come back, though. I reach back in my memory, try to visualize the words on the page, the moments when they appeared. Poof – gone.

Funny, that it’s the thoughts I want to hang on to are the ones that go. Then, during meditation, when I try to focus on the present, when I try to turn thoughts into clouds that I acknowledge and then watch as they float by – that’s when they keep coming back.

“You’re not supposed to stop thinking,” M tells me. So then I’m just thinking about not not thinking.

There it is. Now watch it float on.

//

We’ve been going to crystal singing bowl healing sessions. I keep falling asleep. The bowls’ vibrations flow through me in circles. I can feel the sounds dip and curve in my body, in my head, ringing through my ears. Sometimes they give me a headache. Sometimes I can feel the vibration deep in my gut. And then, I awaken. I don’t remember falling asleep, though. Instead, it feels as though I teleported to nowhere and then returned. Snap! Just like that. The first time, I was convinced I “went somewhere,” and the instructor told us about “yoga nidra” – a state of consciousness between awake and asleep. Yes! That’s where I was. The second time, I thought maybe I entered yoga nidra again. “You were sawing logs,” M told me. I felt disappointed. Like I missed out on an opportunity to be closer to the universe, to the energy I’m trying so desperately to feel.

//

I often feel like I’m grasping for spirituality, maybe trying too hard. It seems to come much easier for M, but then, he’s always been more in touch with a Higher Power – a feeling that we are all connected, that someone is looking out for him.

I’m afraid of being a phony. Always worried about what other people think. Shopping for mala beads online and then asking myself, What will I say if people ask me about them? Will they think I’m just conforming to a trend? Trying to be someone I’m not? Will this bring me closer to what I’m looking for?

//

Distractions. Grasping for every new thing, hoping it will be the thing that heals me, that brings me to that place where I am suddenly connected and at peace and it all makes sense. But shouldn’t I just keep it simple? Prayer. I need nothing to pray, just open arms and the will to surrender.

“When you think you’ve surrendered, surrender some more.” Gabby Bernstein

Somehow, I even manage to overthink prayer. I should pray, I tell myself. But when? Do I need to set aside a time to be spiritual, to bow down to a little Buddha statue, diffuse frankincense, line up my crystals and ask the universe for…. what?

I keep thinking that all the things will help me, but really, I think what I’m doing is OK. Thinking about prayer. Acknowledging that the universe has my back. Prayer doesn’t have to be a talk with God but rather, my own communication. That might look different than someone else’s, maybe someone who sets aside time every Sunday to worship, or every day to read the Bible. Maybe my prayer is simply looking up at the sky and knowing that it was created with love, and that love flows through me, and that is enough. It’s all going to be OK.

And those things? The crystals and the jewelry – they’re all OK too. As long as I don’t fall into the idea that they hold the answers. They make me happy, they make me aware, they bring me closer to myself and my husband and the energy around us. They are tangible things I can hold in my hand, wear around my neck, look down at my wrists and remember that I have opened up my arms, I have surrendered, and I must continue to surrender every day.