Seattle Part 11: Resignation

February, 2015

“I’m officially turning in my 60 days notice. I know you only need two weeks, but I wanted to give you plenty of time to find someone to take my place.”

My supervisor, Katie, looked surprised. “Chad, wow. You’ve only been working here for a few months. We had hoped you’d be here for years. You’re a very good therapist. Why are you leaving?”

I shrugged. “I’m just not happy here.”

“Can you tell me why?”

“It’s a lot of things. It’s the workload. I mean, this place works us hard! I max out at about 5 patients a day, and here I’m seeing 11. My quality of work is way down as a result. I have less to offer to every one of my patients throughout the week. I come in exhausted and I leave exhausted-er, and I find myself hoping that my clients won’t show up so that I can actually breathe a bit.”

Katie nodded. “I know. We have high burnout. I tried to tell you that before you got here. That’s why we asked so many questions about coping strategies in your interview.”

“You know those woods behind the clinic here? I find myself coming in early just so I can spend a bit of time in the trees. It calms my soul. But that chair, that desk, the constant fluorescent lights, the constant barrage of people in trauma. I’m just not cut out for it. I thought I could be, but I’m not.”

“It’s more than that, isn’t it?”

“Yes. If I was happy with my life here, I think I would be happy enough with my job. But I’m not happy with my life.”

Katie gave a soft smile. She was very business-like, always very appropriate, but she had a softness about her that made me feel safe. I knew she genuinely cared about me. She knew my story, the whole Mormon gay thing, the dad thing, and she worked with me to provide kind help when I needed to go home and visit my kids monthly. She had a wife and a son also, though she kept her personal life very private.

“Your happiness is important, of course. But I’ll be honest. I wish you had realized all this before we invested so much in bringing you on. We rely on you a lot around here, and I saw some potential for personal growth for you in the agency.”

I sighed, keeping my defenses from getting high, and looked her in the eyes. “I love the team here. I do. I’ve never ever felt so included and safe as part of a supportive team. And I can’t possibly speak for anyone here, but I want you to see how burnt out everyone is. Everyone leaves ashen and exhausted. We are all grey in the face by Wednesday. It’s painful to see because there are such talented people here. And I don’t mean to be ungrateful. The salary has been amazing, and I know how much you’ve trusted me. But I’ve given my all. And I don’t see the corporate climate here getting better. That has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with the agency itself.”

As I spoke, I thought of the team I would be leaving here. It was the most inclusive professional team I’d ever been apart of. There was variance in age, race, gender, sexuality; and acceptance of everyone. I had an older lesbian co-worker that I adored, and I’d had dinner with she and her wife off-site a few times. A handsome gay clinician worked down the hall, and I’d hung out several times with he and his husband. A younger woman married to a Russian man. An Asian-American female, a West Indian male, an older cowboy of a man. I was genuinely fond of the people there, and I worried about them in this climate. I honored them. I trusted them. But I couldn’t stay.

Katie smiled softly, and nodded, accepting my words. “I’m glad we have sixty more days. And I think I know the answer, but then what?”

“It’s back to Utah, I think. That means I will only have been in Seattle six months. But it was enough. I simply didn’t find what I was looking for, but I did find myself. The city gave me that.” I stopped and laughed. “When I first got here, I felt like Mary Tyler Moore from the beginning of her old TV show. Throwing her hat in the air. ‘You can have a town, why don’t you take it, you’re gonna make it after all!’ But Seattle was harsher than that. It taught me to quiet the storms, to focus in and love the skin that I’m in. Instead of wishing for what I didn’t have, or never got, I found what I’ve needed all along: how to be at peace with me.”

Katie sat back and tapped a pen against the desk. She was thoughtful for a moment. “You’re a good man, Chad. You’re talented. You’re young. Stop wasting time wondering what life could have been, and instead live. All the pieces are already in place. Don’t give for the ones you didn’t start with, and take the ones you have. Your sons are beautiful. And the future is whatever you want it to be.”

I walked out of her office pensive. This felt like my last day, but I had a few months ahead. My entire world could, and would, change in two months. (I had changed a lot in the two months prior). It was the end of my lunch half hour, but I took the last ten minutes to go outside and into the woods. The leaves, the mud, the rolling water, the wind against tree trunks, the dirt under my feet. It was hard to believe that civilization was all around. The hospital over there, the apartment building, the school. I couldn’t see any of it through the trees. I could retreat here to forget. All the complications around this wider, tranquil center.

And Seattle, I realized, taught me that more than anything. How to find the woods in the chaos. How to find peace.

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Spiritually Obese

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I spent most of my life drowning in religion with very little understanding of spirituality.

My experience with religion was very ritual-based, and very closely related to an all-encompassing sense of shame. Pray before meals, pray at night, read scriptures before bed, attend church every Sunday, go to youth meetings on Tuesday nights, pay ten per cent of earned income to the church, take the sacrament, prepare for baptism and then the Priesthood and then a two year missionary service and then marriage in the temple and then have children and then spend your life serving in church positions. When you sin (which you do just by existing) then consistently repent. Be modest, be chaste, be morally clean, keep a hymn in your heart, avoid temptation, don’t smoke, don’t drink alcohol or coffee, don’t have impure thoughts, don’t see rated R movies. Strive toward perfection, even though perfection is impossible, and know that this is the only way to salvation. When you have questions, listen to the men God has called as prophets for answers because they will never lead you astray.

Except they did.

But religion also gave a strong sense of purpose and destiny, of community, of belonging. It made me feel as if I was chosen, if I was special, as if every mystery of life was laid bare with answers and spiritual assurances. I had answers to everything, in scripture, and I had a group of people who were just like me to rely on along the way.

Religion has a way of bottling up human spirituality and marketing it to a particular brand. Spirituality is an inherent human quality, regardless of religion. Spirituality is the human ability to find inner peace and purpose, and to connect to the wider world through gratitude and wonder. Spirituality can be found within religion, and it can also be found in human relationships, in travel, in service, in nature, in accomplishment. No religion has a monopoly on spirituality. No religion has the ability to say, ‘look, if you come to our church and you feel peaceful, well, that is God telling you that our church is true, and only our church is true, so now you must follow our culture and rules in order to be right with God.” No church can say that because every human feels peace. Peace isn’t something you can bottle and market.

Religion has a habit of saying that in order to be right you must be worthy, and in order to be worthy, you must follow a particular set of rules. Anything else is sinning. And if you sin too long or too much, if you make a choice to not be religious and to instead be selfish, then you stand to lose not only your religion, but your eternal destiny in the long run, and your family and  community in the short run. They will be ashamed, and so will God.

And so as a young man, I set a particular standard for myself. A high, unreachable standard. And since I could never reach that standard, I could never feel worthy. If I had an errant thought, if I sinned, if I struggled, then I knew I was not good enough.

I learned very early on that being gay was absolutely not allowed. Not only wasn’t it allowed, it didn’t exist. And I grew quickly to equate religious devotion with worthiness to be cured of being gay and thus made heterosexual. And so every morning when I woke up gay still, I knew, over and over, that I had no worth.

Which brings us to the topic of this blog: spiritual obesity. I was spiritually obese. I had put on so much spiritual weight, over years of learned behavior in childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, that I was morbidly obese in my heart. I had no inner peace, I had no purpose except to try harder, and I had no internal balance. I developed terrible coping mechanisms like cognitive dissonance, placing any doubts or struggles high on a shelf where they couldn’t be seen or consciously felt–I simply needed more evidence to support my religious theories in order to make sense of why I was so broken inside.

When I began to lose my physical weight, I began to realize my spiritual weight as well. First, I needed clear introspection. I needed to actively realize my doubts and concerns. That was intensely painful at first, and required a lot of soul-searching and juggling. If the prophets I believed in got some things wrong, if the church and scriptures I gave myself over to were incorrect on some things, then by their very teachings, that meant they were incorrect on all things. My brain was in a tailspin for months as I passed through intense stages of grief: anger and bargaining and denial and depression, until I finally arrived at acceptance. And once I did that, I could begin to figure out what spiritual health was.

I realized swiftly that spirituality is an intensely personal thing, it is different for everyone. I needed to find the things that brought me inner peace, gave me purpose, and made me feel whole. Parenting hit the list first: spending time on the floor playing with my children. Then nature and travel: being outdoors and wondering at the sky and the trees and moving water, and being in new places among new people. Giving to others came next: the sense of pride, gratitude, and accomplishment I get from being there for a friend or helping a client in therapy realize their goals and achieve them. The list grew longer and longer: human history, befriending a stranger, excellent fiction, journaling, yoga, meditation. And perhaps above all else, the ability to treat myself with kindness and honesty, to accept myself as a fully realized person.

Becoming spiritually healthy took me months. I had a lot of spiritual weight to shed. I had to do it one spiritual pound at a time over a long time. I grieved a lot. I spent a few weeks crying intensely about the loss of my religion. Then, over time, I got in spiritual shape. And now it’s easier, now I can maintain my spiritual health through regular spiritual exercise and nutrition, daily practices that keep me centered and balanced.

After this mighty work within myself, I started recognizing other spiritually healthy people. They can be found anywhere, or can be missing from anywhere. Picture an excellent movie where one person is engrossed in it and moved by it while the other is bored and disconnected; only one of those is spiritually invested. Picture a Mormon sacrament meeting where one woman is doing careful self-introspection and has tears of gratitude running down her cheeks, and a boy who is playing on his phone during it; only one of those is spiritually invested. Picture a college lecture on the workings of nature where one student is furiously copying notes with underlines and exclamation points, and another is sleeping on her arm; only one of these is spiritually invested.

Every human is inherently spiritual. But learning how to listen to the human spirit, to invest in it and make it healthy and strong, robust and fit, well that takes a lot of knowledge and growth over time, and it generally involves acceptance of self as an organic changing creature who has varying needs and struggles.

It is a difficult balance to obtain after being spiritually obese, just like physical fitness can be hard to achieve. It requires looking inward far more than most people are comfortable with. Yet it is a journey well worth the footsteps.

I close this entry with a view of myself from ten years ago, kneeling at my bedside and begging God to make me whole, knowing I was broken and cursed, and compare that to me now, sitting next to a slow river and breathing in the sheer miracle of nature and existence, grateful for my very sense of self and the person that I am.

While I know many people who are spiritually healthy within religion, it took me leaving religion to find my own spiritual fitness.Ghost.png

 

Waiting Places

In his immortal and inspiring book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss tells of a boy going on a grand adventure that is all his own, with many unexpected twists and turns. And in the center of his journey, he is warned about lingering in the deadly Waiting Place, where people get trapped as they wait for something to happen.

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Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come,
or a plane to go or the mail to come,
or the rain to go or the phone to ring,
or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.

Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night

or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.

Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting places can take many forms.

Oftentimes, people are trapped in place by a seemingly impossible situation: living with a terrible health condition, taking care of a child, or trapped in a terrible marriage; they wait for someone to come to their rescue, not seeing any way out.

Other times, people get trapped by their own emotional states, crippling depression or anxiety, and the world around them seems bleak and dark.

People are trapped by fear, or sadness, or chronic pain, or heavy weight, or responsibility, or a lack of resources, or family traditions.

It seems I spent most of my life waiting, finding ways to be content while standing in one place. I kept waiting for someone to show me hope, or to see right through me, or to help me understand what authenticity was.

And now, at 37, I willfully participate in setting and achieving my own goals. I patiently measure out ways to achieve my goals, and then I must be patient while they are achieved. And while that process is happening, it sometimes feels like I’m waiting again, but I’m not. It’s not the same as waiting. Losing ten pounds takes time and energy, and it happens one workout at a time. Actively goal-setting isn’t waiting, it is patience with consistency. Waiting looks more like sitting on the couch and hoping the ten pounds comes off on its own while I eat a pint of ice cream.

I’m in a period of transition in my life, yet again. And I have to keep reminding myself that it isn’t a waiting place, even when I grow impatient to achieve the results I want. Both of my children are in school now, which means no more day care payments, which means more financial freedom. I have more consistent control over my work schedule now, which means more time to travel, and more time to exercise. I can now do many of the things I have wanted to do for years and haven’t been able to, some of them simple (like getting braces) and some of them more complex (like a long term plan of a road trip across Canada). I greet this period of transition with both welcome and impatience, and it is w9ndertful to feel full of potential and opportunity. I’m also making slow, steady, and consistent progress on a book I’ve been writing as well. It’s a good and healthy space to be in as I watch the days turn to weeks and, in a few days, August turn into September.

Healthy transitions can also be very uncomfortable. I’ve found myself with many of my friends moving into new life stages and less available, meaning cultivating new friendships is necessary, and that takes time and energy. My family is getting older, my parents in their mid-70s and my siblings entering stages of middle age, and I find myself wanting to see them more frequently. And rebuilding confidence after several rocky setbacks takes time as well.

And so… I’m willfully waiting in a place that sometimes feels like the Waiting Place. And while I’m doing that, I’m exercising, and learning, and paying down debts, and raising my children, and reading, and writing, and making new friends, and it feels less like waiting when I am doing it actively instead of passively.

And so, I think I’ll rewrite Dr. Seuss’s stanza my own way.

(Actively) Waiting for gym to open,
and the source to call me back, 
and my chapter to finish,
and the debt to be paid off, 
and the friend to call me back.

(Actively) Waiting to help my sons with their homework,
and waiting for their good night hugs, 
and waiting to see their smiling faces in the morning again.

And (actively) waiting for my resolve to build, 
and new horizons, and unrealized potentials, 
and laughter and opportunity and dancing and every good thing.

Everyone is just waiting. But I’m not everyone.

My version isn’t nearly as catchy as Dr. Seuss, but it feels just right.

Waiting 3

Sweet, Sweet Seattle

Seattle

The second, I step off the plane, I feel at home. I’m not sure why that surprises me. I love this city. It represents a lot to me: diversity and temperance, culture and fulfillment. But the change is suddenly present, not dramatic just there and all-encompassing. Home.

As I walk through the airport, I wonder what it was. I have a home in Salt Lake City. It’s furnished, it contains my things, it has space and I spend a lot of time there. My friends come to visit. My children’s toys fill their room and we play together. But my home doesn’t feel like home, and this, this stretch of airport, does.

I take a moment to stop and sit and think and breathe. The air is different, the very atmosphere. It smells of ocean and green and freshness. A few minutes later, when I step outside, I can feel the breeze. I left Salt Lake this morning, already dry and heating up, my hands and lips uncomfortable. The air here makes me hungry.

I walk and the ground beneath my feet feels different. In time, I’m on the train and looking at the rolling green hills, the air filled with a light drizzle. People of every size and color sit around me, and I feel alive with wonder.

I watch the scenery flying by the window and I think of Utah, and all the effort I have put in there to make it feel like Seattle feels to me. I tried living downtown and walking the streets like I do here. I tried losing myself in coffee shops and writing about my experiences like I do here. I found some favorite places, divey pastry shops and indie movie theaters with sticky floors like I do here. But nothing sticks there for me.

Soon, I’m back on the sidewalks and I’m navigating an impossible hill as I tug my suitcase behind me, and I’m smiling. And it’s not just an inside smile, it’s one that I feel in my insides. I’m breathing deep and I’m smiling and my feet fall firmly with each step.

It isn’t as if my every memory in Seattle is a happy one. I struggled professionally here in a job that had impossible requirements. I missed my sons every day. I struggled to find friends. But that sense of wonder as I wandered the streets and the lakeshores and the rainforests never left me. I find it in small doses in other places, but it fills my being here.

My thoughts wander back to my sons again, their hugs and their antics, their daily routines. Being an active part of their lives is my highest priority, raising them to know they are loved, strongly and securely, by both of their parents, raising them into men who have full potential to lead happy and healthy lives. Providing for them with ample love and attention keeps me going every day. They fulfill me in a very different way. They make me happy.

As I walk, my eyes dart to familiar places. Conversations with friends in that book store, seeing a play in that theater, writing a poem in that coffee shop. This city is full of memories for me.

I stop again, breathing, and wonder how to find this sense of wonder in Utah, if that is even possible for me. And if not, how I can shape my career and financial future so that I can be there for them, and still keep this feeling for me.

I arrive at my destination, the place where I lived while I was here. I find my familiar park bench, looking out over Lake Washington. The water is choppy in the breeze. It’s 60 degrees and my skin feels cool and my heart feels warm and my hair is blowing back and I inhale until my lungs are full, and I whisper.

“Hey, Seattle. I’m home. Just for the weekend, but I’m home.”

We are Miracles, All

brain-waves-password

One of the great lessons I have learned as a therapist, hearing human stories from every age and perspective, is simple:

In any given moment, we are as authentic as we know how to be. And the only moment we have is this one.

Picture a piece of string, fixed to one wall and stretched to the other.

This is your life. One small strand, whether you live to be 2 or 102.

We have a certain amount of control over that life span, with healthy living choices and self-preservation. Yet we are very fragile creatures, subject to injury and disease and depression, and sometimes to the poor or violent decisions of others.

And that timeline string follows rules. You can only move chronologically along it, from left to right, like flowing water. Each moment you exist feels real and vibrant and full with whatever you are feeling and experiencing. And then another moment goes by and the one you were living becomes memory, for now you are living another.

Along this timeline, we can look back at what has passed, viewing it from our present. And we can look forward with wonder or dread, also from our present. But even those moments of reflection and wonder are quickly replaced by another.

And so we face each moment with the amount of authenticity we are equipped with at that exact moment.

When I was five, and I sat in the driveway at my house feeling like my world was going to end because my mom went to the store without me… well, that’s easy to smile about now, but at that time, the pain was intense and real.

And when I was thirteen and my face broke out in terrible acne, and I looked at myself in the mirror with horror and anguish, that was real.

And when I was twenty-two and felt overwhelmed by college finals mixed with a full-time job and mounting bills and religious obligations, and I felt I would crack, that was real.

And when I was thirty and held my oldest child, newly born, in my arms for the first time, and my heart expanded to twelve times the size, and I felt elation and fear and responsibility and love beyond anything I had ever known, that was real.

And when I was thirty-four and I dropped off the divorce papers to the courts, and I grieved my marriage and my faith deeply while looking forward with steadfastness and strength and resolve and hope, that was real.

And now I’m thirty-seven, and I’m sitting in a coffee shop, and it’s cold and dark outside, and a policewoman sits next to me looking weary, and my coffee is luke warm, and my soul feels inspired, and… well, this moment is real as well.

I have been through some terrible things in my lifetime. We all have. It’s part of the human condition. I have ached and cried and hurt and struggled. And I have been through some wonderful things in my lifetime. We all have. It’s part of the human condition. I have rejoiced and basked and thrilled and sang.

And each and every one of those moments are moments that I have lived, authentically. And each of them has passed, as they will continue to do so until my timeline is complete, and I know not when that will be.

And the end of life, people say the same things, lessons learned with full perspective: that we should live for the now, that we should live without regrets, that we should be ourselves and be true to ourselves, that we should embrace our loved ones and spend time with our friends, that we should travel and love and dance and climb.

No one, with perspective, wishes they had spent more time in pain, more time grieving losses, more time surrounding themselves with those that do not love them, more time in debt or disease or obesity or anguish or abuse.

We must, simply put, lean ourselves toward love.

I have had times in my life where I felt I wasn’t worthy of love, happiness, or peace. I felt burdened down by financial expectations or weight or religious requirements or relationship responsibilities or physical constraints. And there will always be things to hold us back. It takes a very careful balance to find love and peace for the beings we are, and to work on changing and amending our beings toward happier realities over time.

For if it took me four years to put on eighty pounds, it will certainly take me more than four days to lose it. I can’t erase tens of thousands of debts overnight. If I have suffered from heavy depression for years, it may take several months to get used to feeling hope and joy again. If I have hurt others with my choices, it will take time to reestablish trust. And if I have lost a loved one, a period of grief is necessary for healing.

The quest to find ourselves in a happy present is a noble, difficult journey. And once the present is found, we have to continue finding it, for it is always new.

But oh, what a worthy journey, when we find ourselves on new horizons with the sun on our skins and the air in our lungs, for we are miracles, all.

through-the-clouds