Growing out of the Ashes

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We left early in the morning for Sequoia National Park last Tuesday.  I woke up excited for an adventure—a new place, lots of rocks, big trees, and people I love to share life with. I showered, put on in-the-car clothes, double-checked my suitcase for hiking boots, warm socks, an iPhone charger, and sunscreen. We had booked the trip a couple of months prior—my uncle and I debated dates and national parks on the Facebook messenger app ( I’ve found it secretly amusing for years that Facebook is our primary form of communication). When he initially asked if I would be able to join him and my Aunt in Sequoia, an intoxicating joy shot through me— an appreciation for a healthy life that I can’t imagine will ever find its way to evaporation.

“I CAN. ”

After a couple of years of  “I cannot,” “No,” “sorry I have to cancel. I’m too sick,” few words feel more exhilarating to say than, “hell yes, I can. Count me in.” I can walk. I can plan ahead. I can manage the altitude. I can hike. I can do long car rides. I can sleep in a hotel. I can eat some “bad” foods. I can wake up early. I can push it. I can join. I am able.

And how grateful I am that I could be inside of such a marvel of a national park—a park where the largest tree on planet Earth stands both humble and impressive as fuck. I had a feeling a blog post would come out of the trip—I assumed I would end up shamelessly celebrating my ability to climb on top of big rocks in my “fashionably sensitive but too cool to care” hiking attire.

Exhibit A and B:

 

I couldn’t help myself.

But, truth be told, that’s not at all what this post is about. This post, as it turns out, was birthed as I walked through a touristy museum in the park appropriately named, “Giant Forest Museum.” A museum that I was— admittedly— dreading going to. I was hoping for a quick stop to satisfy my Aunt and Uncle. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t care too much for foliage. I mean it looks nice and I love Mother Nature and the abundant gifts she offers that I too often take for granted. I love to pause and appreciate the majesty of it all, but that is different from walking through a fucking museum where I could just as well open up an “S” encyclopedia and sit in a corner and read about the Sequoia for an hour. The name, where the name is derived, where it grows, why it’s so special BLAH BLAH BLAH. Is there something for me to climb on? I’m missing the world outside. The sun is shinging and we are in here…looking at dioramas of trees.  I know, it’s a shameful, embarrassing admission for a crunchy liberal, but in keeping with my value of balls-out-honesty, there it is. You will NEVER catch me on a park ranger tour unless I’m promised to see adrenaline-inducing wildlife (this is why I have adrenal fatigue).

Whether it’s due to age or illness or ten years of attempting a solid meditation practice I don’t know, but I am changing. I felt similar at Disney World two years ago when I discovered that Epcot was awesome. Only a boring, sleepy,  non-child thinks Epcot is awesome. And only an adult laced with trauma would determine that “The Giant Forest Museum,” and the Sequoia species are wilder and more exciting and more exhilarating than any rock climbing, jumping out of plane, running down a hill so fast your legs might fall off experience.

Sequoias are magic. Yes, there’s the obvious things like their size and girth. Like the fact that the sequoia named “General Sherman” is the largest living thing on planet Earth today at 275 feet tall and a circumference of 102.6 feet at the base. Looking at the General Sherman is stupefying— standing near it made me feel both like a piece of sand, tiny and insignificant and like a divine entity just as much of a marvel as every other living thing. And while that should probably be enough to produce wild appreciation, respect and honor, it wasn’t what held my attention. What got me were the substantial wounds Sequoias have to endure and heal in order to thrive to such rich heights, reaching their full potential.

A Sequoia needs fire to grow. Flames burn down surrounding trees that are taking sunlight and water that the Sequoia desperately needs—cruel like we know life can be. The fire blazes and burns up the Sequoia, scorching the lower branches consequently  sending down pods full of seeds. The fire clears the brush of leaves and dried up pines atop the dirt, leaving a rich ash soil for Sequoia seeds to grow in. It’s this ash that makes the most hospitable womb for these sacred seeds. (Familiarly, the mother is scarred).

sequoia tree scars

Any mature Sequoia has visible burns on its bark. However, the trees are terrifically built to withstand fire. The bark of the Sequoia is made to be spongy, soft, and fire resistant. There is a protective layer just beneath the outer bark that heals fire wounds. Some trees have been able to live through upwards of 80 fires, healing the wounds every time, becoming all the more magical because of what they survive with such dignity and triumph (ahem: without. even. trying.)  The trees know they already have all they need.

Do you see where I’m going with this my wounded and healing friends?

I thought about my grandfather. He was the sole survivor of a deadly amusement park fire on August 13th, 1944. His scars made him all the more a hero in my eyes. The fire opened his heart the way I imagine seeds fall open from the trees.

More insignificantly, I thought about The Planet of the Apes.. when one ape says to another, “Don’t worry, blue eyes, scars make you strong.” I saw that movie when I was newly sick and held onto that quote. Because I have blue eyes. And because I have scars. And because I have everything I need to heal and transform the wounds. And, I guess because I find a way to make most things about me (like what I just did with the Sequoia).

I thought about #neverthelessshepersisted … because I love an opportunity to think about that. And because it’s powerful as fuck to persist in the face of obstacles.

I thought about illness, grief, heartbreak, joy, death, abuse, injury, and celebration and I thought about the endless ability we have to heal. I thought about how if you opened us up and put us on display (like scientists and medical professionals often do) and/or went to the museum on the South Street Seaport called “Bodies: The Exhibition” then you know that we are equally as magical and awe-inspiring as these magical trees. That we too survive fires— whether literally or figuratively. And all/many/some of us heal and thrive… and, in fact, if you’re like me (and the Sequoia species) then you need the fire to grow to your greatest potential.

Here is the most mature result of what rises up from the ashes:

mature sequoia tree

 

With fun and love and THRIVING BIG,

Jackie

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am Lonely; I am Loved

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Throughout illness, I could not simply or efficiently answer the question I was so often presented with: “how are you?” I’m sure the answer seemed like an obvious, “not good.” To  the outside eye— I was undeniably amidst a shipwreck. I was skinny and pale and frail and depressed and being told there was probably no way out.  But “not good” didn’t resonate—it wasn’t true. The experience of being sick  felt (feels/felt/feels) dynamic.  I was learning indispensable lessons. I was developing as a human, deepening as a spirit and as a creative. I was gaining a wealth of knowledge and a sea of love and compassion. How could I be miserable about such a beautiful makeover?  I was very hopeful—always, almost painfully hopeful. I once read that “hope is the opiate for the truly hopeless.” I wondered if that was me. I still wonder if that is me. Maybe it is, but it feels more true to say that it has been light and dark all at once. All of my life, maybe—I have felt the lightness in equal proportion to the darkness. Amongst these monumental inconsistencies was the desperate loneliness I felt while absorbing more love than I even knew existed. A love not only from my fellows but also from myself. But what brings me to this post is not necessarily the reflection of the past (although, I am very much reflecting) but the feeling I have presently: Why after getting so much healthier do I still sometimes feel so completely heartbreakingly alone?

I had never felt more alone in my life; I had never been more surrounded with love. The two have sat side by side for the last three years fighting for attention. Well which is it—are you lonely or grateful?  The gnawing ache of isolation— the total seclusion— paired with a swelling of people and homemade food and an abundance of affection. It was (is/was/is/was)  a loneliness that felt like punishment, that took a chainsaw to my heart, slicing away the pieces that felt uplifted and loved;  It was (is/was)  a groundbreaking, fascinating  joy and comfort I experienced as a community of protectors gathered around me. There was an army gathering for ME, with my life as their cause. But what was, in some ways, even more profound, was the experience of me leading the army. All  of those moments in the day when no one was there holding me up, I was handed an opportunity to hold myself. In my insomnia ridden madness, when my portion of the world was silenced and inaccessible, I got  to know myself. I got to learn to have a relationship with myself thus altering my life forever into a more comfortable existence. And yet, knowing myself, loving myself, and experiencing a hearty love all around me didn’t  completely cure the loneliness that comes with being sick (sick/ human/sick/human?).

I spent months—maybe a year, who knows—lying in bed during the sun-drenched hours. The hours one was “supposed” to be outside.  The majority of my days were spent in one corner of my bedroom locked inside of my body. My bed had lost the value it held in comfort at that point. A bed is only exciting, cozy and comfortable when you aren’t forced by some tyrannical bacteria to be in it all of the time. In a dire search for entertainment, I listened intently for every rustle in the trees and for the intricacies in the songs the birds sang. I know it’s 2017 and there are so many options for entertainment and it seems ludicrous that I would have to resort to the noises outside of my window to do the trick, but, at my sickest, I couldn’t tolerate the dynamic, intrusive noise of the television, I was too tired to read, and I was in too much pain to sleep. Not to mention, that I couldn’t emotionally tolerate the television,  I was unable to stomach the effortless joy and beauty that sitcom characters presented. Watching television added to my loneliness—it was a reminder that life was happening and I wasn’t invited to the party. It was the same when my neighbor had band practice. The mysterious band practice always happened in the evening. The sun light would be slowly departing —a measure of the time, of how little I’d done that day, of whether or not I had eaten anything, of the fact that bed time was coming and I wouldn’t be lucky enough to actually fall asleep. An aggressive depression barged in, another day gone and wasted. At the center of my depression were the faint sounds of drums and guitars— my peers able to express themselves creatively, easily taking part in their preferred art form.  Their music mocked me. Band practice would finish, the sky would be midnight blue, and I would be in the same—or similar— position that I started my day in. Closing my eyes made my heart race and dropped me into my body in a way that increased discomfort so, like an infant, I looked at everything. I looked at whatever the moonlight revealed to me outside of my window. I looked at the colors in my room, I listened to audio books about self-compassion. I heard my roommate get home verging on early morning hours after a full day of not being home. I could do that once. I could come and go, taking for granted the kind of energy it took to “come and go.” I could get home late. And I could easily and organically just…fall asleep. I missed those days.    My peers were at work, at yoga class, hiking, on set, traveling, at lunch dates and coffee dates, dancing, going to the movies, and I was still in bed. Those were the loneliest days of my life. Even when i went out, I was separate. I was more tired. I was too tired to converse. That kind of fatigue locks you in your body, in your bones into a sort of quick sand of self-pity. To look at the world and not feel a part of the world. I felt like I was behind one-sided mirror. I was able to see everyone, living, doing just fine, but I was alone, no one saw me, no one cared because I barely had the energy to speak up: we were separate, you could never know how bad I felt.

And yet, people called everyday. Countless people were willing to help me. People brought me food, they sat in that bed with me, in that corner of my room. My friends skyped with me, my mailman delivered multiple care packages, friends were willing to listen to me, to hold me while I cried. My boyfriend never once complained about all of the laying in bed we did—in fact, he let me know that he wanted to lay in bed with me because he was WITH ME. One of my best friends ran a fundraiser for me. People donated. People that I barely knew jumped on board to warrior for me, donating consistently, sharing on social media constantly. The love was ENDLESS. I was put in touch with person after person after person who also suffered from illness. And, in speaking and laughing with one another, loneliness often evaporated on the spot only to creep back in later. My dear friend came to Southeast Asia with me and took care of me for two months—feeding me, watching movies with me, healing with me. Another friend flew a more manageable distance across the states to wheel me to and from doctor’s appointments. I was written letters, poems, emails and texts all with the same sentiment: You’ve got this, and we’ve got you. My roommate whom I envied for her energy was a house of compassion and cheerleading. And,as for myself, I was growing more and more in love with myself everyday—not in a narcissistic pseudo-love way but in the way you innocently come to love a child. As I got to know myself, I got to forgive myself and have compassion for myself. I had ignored me for far too long and she was fucking screaming for some attention and acknowledgement. I met myself in person, and I wanted her autograph.

And with all of that experience, all of that love thrown at me in an almost reckless way, (we are talking love on top of love on top of love from all ends of the Earth: Need more? Have more.) I still felt (feel/felt/feel/felt) lonely as fuck. It’s not that I feel sick and separate anymore.  I feel entirely human again, albeit a bit tired and with maybe a smaller bandwidth than others. But I’m certainly not locked in a corner of my bedroom; I am cruising through the sunshine on foot. I’m cruising lonely. And loved. People kept telling me while I was very sick that no one could ever know or understand what I was feeling in my body. Because it’s impossible—the feelings exist only in my body, I can’t show you or share with you, we are separate and always will be. I can write about my experience and some people will relate but it remains my own. And so perhaps it’s just lonely to be human. A biological impenetrable wall. And maybe pre-illness, I was fighting that reality. I so needed “the pack,” I needed us to fully get one another and be together and do it together, and understand each other. I took no comfort in myself. I’m still sad that this experience of illness has been mine and mine only—that no one will ever be able to know all of the precise obstacles I had to experience through illness; and that I will never understand the precise obstacles you had to experience through illness or whatever you’ve gone through.  And there we go again: we are all having the same experience of individual experiences—we are all susceptible to be misunderstood. We are all alone, therefore we are never alone—we are one.

Fun and love and a broken isolation barrier,

Jackie

 

 

A Note for my Caretakers

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Dear Caretakers,

I imagine that this will be the first of many letters and many conversations between us. I’m starting here in a seemingly distant and formal way  because I’m not strong enough for the more intimate teary-eyed conversations right now. I’m also unsure of who needs to read this letter, and I want to give each and every one of you an opportunity to know that you are seen. As I ascend to wellness and the fog is slowly clearing, the vast impact my Lyme disease has had is coming into focus. I look around and I see many faces who have fought with me, and I have no idea what your experience has been, how hard it might have been for various reasons— I never asked. I’ve counted 20 of you who were very close to me over the last three years— 20 of you who I consider to be my main caretakers. 20 of you who were present for much of the suffering, many of the needles, too much of the heartbreak and all of the unthinkable need I was experiencing. But that leaves out maybe 200 people— or more— who donated, prayed, tracked my progress on Facebook, or worried about me. This letter is for all of you, whoever needs it: those of you who fought with me on an almost daily basis on the front lines, those of you who stayed back in the trenches gathering much needed supplies, and  those of you who prayed from your bedroom.  You were not my cheerleaders— you were my ARMY. I write every week about my story—my personal struggle with Lyme disease, stored trauma, and chronic illness. Yes, I often touch on how grateful I feel to have had the most compassionate army of people surrounding me, protecting me from all angles, but it’s come to my attention recently that you have been at war, too. This isn’t just my story—you’ve had your own journey watching someone you love suffer and fight for wellness. And no matter what part you played in this particular journey, your feelings— whether past, present, or future— are valid.

I can empathize—I’ve watched all members of my immediate family,  suffer for most of my life, and I’ve remained unable to do much of anything to help. While I have seen physical illness take hold of people, my family mainly suffers from addiction and mental illness—heartbreaking diseases that impact all surrounding loved ones. Addiction is called a “family disease” for a reason—the powerful current ripples out larger and larger often affecting generations of people whether they’re drinking OR NOT.  People suffering from diseases like these tend to be under the delusion that no one else is affected, that no one else could possibly be in the kind of pain they are in. But I can assure you, there’s PLENTY of suffering to go around. And it’s that type of thinking, that you’re not allowed to have feelings because you couldn’t possibly be suffering more, that prolongs the effects and keeps the current going strong. For a long time, I didn’t let myself really experience the hurt and abandonment I felt because I just assumed that my father suffered more than I did. He talked often and loudly about his own fucked up childhood and made it clear that my own was a cake walk compared to his. I have no idea if that’s true. But I watch people tormented by that voice all of the time—it says, “oh, but my father had it so much worse than me. He was abusive BECAUSE he was abused so I should just be grateful for what I got.” Or, “My mother was the one who suffered in her illness, I can’t possibly make that about me.” It seems like a very compassionate and empathetic voice but really its DNA is that of martyrdom and martyrdom is the tidal wave on the horizon preparing to wipe you out. IF that voice is active around my Lyme disease, if you are one of the 20— or one of the few hundred— and you have suffered through my illness let me just say your pain is valid, your fear is valid and whatever you experienced or begin experiencing is 100 percent valid. I’m not delusional—I’m not saying that Facebook friend #427 is wildly affected by my Lyme disease and needs to seek counseling. I’m just saying that whoever you are and however you’ve been affected—I hope that you have given/ are giving yourself an opportunity to feel it.

I can’t imagine  what it must have been like to be with me every single day through such horror, so many breakdowns, and so much illness. I have no idea what it was like for you to listen to me talk about my own impending death on repeat. Or what it was like for you to watch me go from excited about the full life I had in front of me to bed ridden and in tears every single day. I don’t know how it felt to lose your fun, reliable and available friend. I don’t know what it’s like to care for someone at such a young age, to not know if they’re going to get well and to be terrified to lose them. I don’t know what it was like to stick me with needles while I yelled out in pain, or  what it was like to leave my house when I so obviously didn’t want you to leave. Or how painful it might have been to hear me talk about how suicidal I was or how much I hated myself for being sick or how much I just “couldn’t do another single day in my body.” I imagine that, at moments, I may have felt safer in my own body than you felt watching me—I always held some sense of knowing that I was going to be ok (one day), and you might not have had that. Maybe you were scared to leave me alone, maybe you were scared to hang up the phone with me after I expressed so much pain. Maybe you’re scared that I’m going to abandon our friendship or relationship now that I don’t “need” you anymore. Maybe you’re scared that I’ll forget about you. Maybe this experience kicked up some old experience you’ve had with illness and death in the past or maybe it’s scared you…maybe now you know too much about the in’s and out’s of illness, fucked up doctors and how the medical system doesn’t EXACTLY have our back. And maybe you’re fucking mad at me. I don’t know. I know that I’m incredibly grateful for every single moment that you loaned your hearts to me, and I know that your love has altered me forever.

You people have inspired me every single day to be a better human. You have taught me through your own kind hearts and incredible efforts how to show up for the people I love. I am grateful for each and every thing you did for me. For you who held me day in and day out, always believed in me, and made me feel beautiful when my lips were purple and I was under 100 pounds. You who flew around the world with me to care for me while I got Ozone therapy. You who put me up in Florida and wheeled me around Disneyworld so I could have a day of magic in the midst of shit. You who sent me care packages, called, and texted endlessly. You who made me fundraisers and rubbed my body when it hurt. You who changed me into pajamas, who helped me get up stairs and hills, who brightened up my day with smoothies, food, and laughter. YOU are my fucking heroes.

I sincerely hope that you’ve gathered your own support through whatever journey you’re on—your own army—and that, if you haven’t, you begin to get help now if you need it. This is not just a message about my Lyme disease. It’s also a message to say that no one gets left out of life’s obstacles. Pain is pain—it’s relative and credible no matter what. And while I’m not particularly ready to counsel with you on how the past three years have potentially hurt you, I do want you to know that you are in my thoughts. I hope you know that I think of each of you everyday. That I know I couldn’t have gotten well without your endless support and love. I hope you know that I’m not going anywhere, and that now we get to do all of the fun things we’ve been planning for the last three years. I hope you know that every single hug, every text message, every phone call, and every time you held me while I sobbed, screamed and cried took me one step closer to health. And please know that as I heal, I imagine all of us healing together.

With Fun and Love,

Jackie

Finding your G-Spot: On Gratitude

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I was sitting  in a circle of spiritual strangers on a meditation pillow,  my knees resting heavily on the pillow’s surface, my sit bones heavy on my heels, and my head heavily hung— crying. The air was humid—the air was always humid  in Bali. We had just been led through a magical service conducted by the radiant and tender High Priestess of Bang Li— an experience that thawed me out, leaving me in tears. A vibrant woman approached me softly, “I feel moved to speak to you,” she said, “are you sick?” God, it hurt me so bad to know that I didn’t look well, that people could see it,  “I’m getting better but, yes, I have Lyme disease. I’m in Bali doing Ozone therapy,” I said.  She held my hands,  “I had MS, I was about to end up in a wheelchair—in fact I had ordered the wheelchair— and now my lesions are reversing because, in a weird way, I started vibrating above the illness.  You will get well, I can tell.” I cried harder…because I was sad, because I was exhausted, because I hadn’t slept in maybe 2 weeks, because I felt loved in that moment.  We talked for a good while—she was Greek,  a graduate of MIT, and on her way to study mysticism in Thailand and she found her extraordinary story hilarious. She laughed and laughed. I cried. “You just need a few things to heal,” she said,  “one, you need to laugh.” I stopped her, ” I never laugh anymore. My sense of humor is gone.” It was true. I had been suffocating in my own sadness AND lack of sleep for so long. Her lightness was contagious though, and  I softened enough to release an honest smile and chuckle. I felt free in her presence.  She continued, “you need to vibrate above the illness. Do what brings you joy. I think you belong on stage—dancing or acting.” I lit up, my energy coming more forward thinking about the things I loved.  “And, third,” she said, “you need gratitude.” I jumped in, “OH I have that!” She said, “I can tell, you’re actually full of gratitude.” I was so relieved. I was doing something right all of that time. I was/am grateful and she could see it. I wear gratitude like I wear my other glaring personality traits—loud and proud. She hugged me goodbye that night, promising I’d get well, and we never spoke again, but she gave me an incredible gift in that brief exchange. That was the night I welcomed my sense of humor back after an absurdly long intermission, I reinstated myself to the performing arts, AND that was the moment that I realized that my gratitude practice (nine years deep) was having a profound effect on my life. In more exciting words, I’ve done the work, I know where my G-Spot is and—ahem—I  can orgasm whenever I choose.

Now that I AM on the way to a full recovery, I’m here to back her up—an “attitude of gratitude” is indispensable during illness (or at any other time—let’s be real).  It can be the light IN the tunnel—not at the end of it. And if joy and happiness are scientifically proven to support our immune system then making a list of things we are grateful for (which is a verified way to increase joy and satisfaction) seems like a really obvious place to start, right? But how to gratitude!? How does this practice just become part of your life instead of that nagging thing that you HAVE TO DO every night?  And, how can you ALWAYS be grateful no matter what horrifying thing is happening in your life? Like  chronic illness, depression, loneliness, death, divorce, and so on. Gratitude got me out of bed and happy to participate in my life countless times, and how did I get there? Like so many of my stories, it all started  with my personalized cocktail of cocaine and daddy issues. 

My father was in rehab again.  He had been sent once  before under the same Wall Street conditions, “get sober and you can keep your six-figure income and your executive position. Don’t get sober and keep up this behavior— we will have no choice but to fire you.” Eight years earlier that threat worked, but this time, he was frighteningly unaffected by the potential risk. He was wildly against getting sober—putting him in rehab was like caging a lion, he was just waiting to get out and go on a killing frenzy.And I, apparently, wasn’t one to judge.  On February 14th, 2004, while my dad sat on his hands in rehab fighting his cocaine addiction, I ripped my first line off of a mirror in a bedroom on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. And I got so high—so staggeringly high. Later that night/early that morning,  back at home, I was experiencing my first miserable come-down while my brother stumbled around freshly wasted. We did what 2 high siblings affected by alcoholism do—we fought an incoherent, mindless fight. He wanted to visit our father in rehab, and I was not invited. In fact, I was forbidden, he said. I squealed in his face, pissed off,  provoking him to throw cautionary punches at me, purposefully grazing past the tip of my nose— just to let me know how mad he was and close he was to losing it. I eventually stormed off to bed. Defeated and exhausted, I fell asleep as the sun came up.

When it turned out that my dad didn’t want visitors, we were given the option to write him a letter. I wrote him a fucking letter, alright— my anger toward the old man had become unhinged. The problem with my “unhinged” letter was that it lacked ANY strategy. If my plan was to shame him into getting sober (which I believed it was), I was failing miserably.  My real motive—that of a 16-year-old girl desperate for her dad’s attention— went undisguised:

“I’m a party girl. I just ripped my first line of coke the other night. I party hard.I’m no goodie                -two- shoes. I drink and smoke and take pills—I measure up to all of the guys, but I don’t get carried away. Not like you. So this isn’t coming from some pussy place. I know what it is to love drugs, and I know     what it looks like when someone needs to stop. You need to stop. I love you.  Jackie”

Ah, the Hallmark greeting card from one dysfunctional family member to another.

He never wrote me back, but in his first few turbulent days back from rehab, he asked to speak to me alone. I was on edge and excited—I hadn’t been alone with him in so long, and I was hoping for some deep connection, a new spark, love reignited. We went into his office, I took my seat at his cherry oak desk and he strutted to the power seat— behind the desk. His office was dark, heavy, and cluttered.  We  lit our respective Marlboro lights. He took a deep drag and as the smoke filled his lungs, he got his thoughts in order. He leaned back, exhaled, smoke filling the room, and said,  “Let me just read your letter aloud…” After he read it in full, he took another drag, put his cigarette out and leaned forward— his elbows on the desk and his piercing narcissistic eyes challenging me.  Yikes. Embarrassing—I could even see that I sounded loco. But I kept my cool, “yeah, well, it’s true. I do drugs, and, as it turns out, I like cocaine.” He grilled me. We must have talked for an hour about my specific experiences with sex and drugs before he challenged me to not drink, smoke or use for two weeks. “Two weeks. that’s all,”  he said. Anxiety coursed through my body. He took note, “you look scared because you’re thinking about the two weeks, but you can do it just one day at a time,” he said.”OK. but how in the fuck will I not use ‘one day at a time’  for TWO WEEKS?” And that’s when he laid out some other tools like journaling, the serenity prayer, and gratitude lists.

When he said “every night, you write down 10 things you’re grateful for,” my immediate response was, “but what if I have nothing to be grateful for?” Sound familiar? Have you scoffed in a similar way the last time someone suggested you write a gratitude list? My dad, totally fucked up in so many ways, came through with a life-long lesson in that moment: “You have nothing to be grateful for? You have ten fingers and ten toes. There, that’s 20 things.” I giggled, a bit ashamed that I had missed something so equally simple AND significant.  He went on, “you have all of your limbs, your senses, you can walk, you have shelter, a bed, and food.” Oh shit— It was jarring that I hadn’t thought of those things myself, but I’m forever grateful for that lesson— even though I didn’t take the suggestion for another couple of years.

Neither of us made it through the two weeks without using.  Instead, we took one last family vacation to the bowels of Hell. Apparently, Satan found the taste of me  unsuitable for his palate. Too feisty or too sweet,  he couldn’t fully digest me so he spat me out. Once I was upchucked from that vile journey, I had a lot of grime to clean off. And so at 18, I started wiping away the debris with spirituality. When a wise woman on the spiritual path suggested that I start writing gratitude lists due to my blinding self-pity,  the lessons my father taught me in his office two years earlier came rushing back.  I picked up a pen and started writing: ten fingers, ten toes, my limbs, and my senses. It was an unbearably painful time— so I kept writing and my lists grew;  I’m grateful for my limbs, my senses, shelter, food, a job, clothes, and my friends. And they kept growing.

In 2009, when my twenties were as fresh as a juicy peach, my treasured friend asked me if I wanted to participate in a gratitude email chain where we would each write our daily lists and “reply all.” “Sure,” I said, not thinking much of it, unconsciously assuming it would fizzle within a few months because most things like that do. How fun it is to be proven wrong sometimes. That email chain has changed my life. There are 11 of us on the exchange, all women,  and we have been writing for —please wait as I access the left side of my brain—seven years! We started as friends in NYC and, in seven years time, we have adventured with one another through big moves, marriage, children, death, divorce, break -ups, new relationships, new jobs  and, in my case, illness—all through gratitude listsWe have had delicious “gratitude brunches,” attended each other’s weddings, been on the other side of the screen when the first  “Introducing: insert new baby picture” got sent, been cheerleaders for each other’s dreams, and every one of those girls donated to my fundraiser. I’m so grateful for them. But because of all of that practice, I never have to do much digging to find my gratitudes, and, as a result, I’m often (not always) one of those “glass half-full” people: often optimistic with moments of pure elation. Let me be super clear as you may now be rolling your eyes at my perkiness. I am madly-pro taking days off from “positive thinking.” This is no time to go beating yourself up for not being “grateful enough.” If you need to lie in bed and steep in self-pity every once in a while, I support that, and I believe it’s also crucial to healing (in small doses). I never suggest you “gratitude list” your way out of feelings, out of humanity, but that you gratitude list yourself into a more balanced view of reality. 

You’re feel -good- G can be equally as accessible (if it isn’t already). Here are some tips:

Make your own email chain! All you need is one other person and access to your own discipline and consistency. It can take as little as 30 seconds to shoot off a gratitude list and  connect with a friend. Most of you know that I’m all about FUN (and love) so give yourself a laugh and a creative outlet as you write your lists. The subject line is where all of the genius is in our group:  We have seven years worth of quirky subject lines:  “G’zzzzzz ma Ladiezzzzzz,” “Gratitat,” “Nothing left to do but gratitude,” “Forever G,” “In Flight Gratitude announcement!” “Saturday Graterday””Guys WHOA I need gratitude,” “Spring Ahead into Sunny Gratitude,” “She’s All Grat.” “Even in Frosty California, Gratitude Survives,” “We so G and so Free,” “Grateful Feet have Got A lot of Rhythm.”  Do you catch my drift? I know, we are *the coolest.*

If your stomach is turning at the idea of being on a gratitude email chain with corny subject lines then simply start writing lists. Write them on your phone as you sit in waiting rooms ( or half-naked on the exam table), pause your stinking thinking and say things out loud when you’re stuck in traffic, write things down in your journal, and on the days when things are just so bad and you’re desperate, text a friend and say, “wanna do the gratitude ABC’s?” All day long, you can go back and forth with that trusted friend stating what you’re grateful for. They say “I’m grateful for my hot Ass,” and you say, “I’m grateful for my Bone Broth.” And they say, “My Cat,” and you say, “My Dog —AND ew you have a cat?” This is so efficient as you’ll be mastering multiple “healing activities” at once: gratitude, laughter, AND companionship. But if you’re still rolling your eyes and you’re a driven person that just needs a challenge then I challenge you to find one thing a day and write it down for the next 365 days.Try and make it as specific to the day as possible.I promise you that if you practice gratitude consistently for just a little while, you, too, will find your G-Spot. You, too, will have gratitude orgasms.

Get writing!

With fun and love,

Jackie