when you’ve stopped looking

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Because I’m me, and you’re you, and we are perfectly different from each other and exactly the same.

At times, I grow weary of the human capacity, and I end up sitting down at a blank keyboard and typing existential thoughts about human existence and human experience and human sacrifice and human vulnerability and human trust.

When I get in these moods, I know that I have had too much work lately, too much dwelling upon the pains of others as a therapist, and too little time for self-care or adventure. And this week would qualify as such.

And thus my opening statement. I have a whole human universe within me, and everyone has the same capacities in them. If I sat and made a list of the issues that have afflicted my family during my 37 year old lifetime, it very likely wouldn’t look that much different from yours.

abuse, divorce, drug addiction, religious shame issues, coming out of the closet, communication issues, parenting stress, passive aggressiveness, depression, anxiety, diabetes, aging, loneliness

I could keep the list going for pages as we all could. I take a wider look at my family as they exist right now, and I think of how much we have all changed in ten years, five years, one, even just a few months. My mom now has been watching her husband, in his early 80s, get dizzy and fall, while dealing with her own chronic headaches. My sister is balancing out the deadlines of her college assignments with her work responsibilities, all while trying to find time for exercise and her wife. My nephew, after dating unsuccessfully for a few years and putting himself through school, is suddenly planning a wedding to a beautiful girl. Another sister, who spent years with no children and who has now adopted three, is chasing three boys around, running herself ragged in an attempt to keep up and provide a happy home for her busy boys. My son, well-adjusted in his school, homework coming easy to him, reading and learning and exploring and asserting his independence, yet still struggling a bit with anxiety and finding his place in the world.

And me, in a great place in my life, building and building, incrementally, over time, changing and growing and ascending, yet never quite settled, never quite satisfied, learning to embrace the hunger and drive that are parts of me. I’m lonely lately, and bored, even as I’m feeling powerful and accomplished. I’m pushing myself back into history and forward into potential all at once. I’m exercising, and slowly getting out of debt. I have wonderful friends, my sons are thriving, I have important family relationships. And yet, I still seek and yearn.

I have to remind my clients sometimes, after they have come through a crisis, that the problems they are facing now are normal and typical. After all the car crashes and custody trials and funerals and suicide attempts and bankruptcies, what a relief and honor to feel basic sadness, discomfort, anger, and pain.

And I’m supremely grateful for the good things in my life, I am. Yet with all of that, I still grieve and strive and push.

I’ve been out of the closet five years now. In past years, I have celebrated. But this year, I let the anniversary pass quietly by. I worked, and wrote, and exercised, and poured myself a glass of wine and watched House of Cards and went to bed by 9. I was content and bored and satisfied and hungry and lonely and confident and impatient and settled all at once.

I had a friend tell me recently, in a discussion about a few unexpected heartbreaks I went through this past year, that I’ll probably find a relationship now that I’ve stopped looking for one. I’ve been told this before, but this statement bothered me this time. When people say that, ‘now that you’ve stopped looking’, what do they really mean? Now that you have contented yourself? Now that you’ve been hurt enough times that you don’t want to risk getting hurt anymore? Now that you’ve stopped being romantic or spontaneous or asking anyone else out? Now that you have stopped having expectations of anyone you meet, and you generally expect that they will flake out or lie or be inconsistent after a date or two? Now that you are turning all of your energy toward yourself instead and have grown content with the idea that you will likely not be partnered for some time?

And that’s sad to me somehow. I mean, I’m stronger and more resolved, but I’ve lost my naivete a little bit as well, that’s what happens when the heart scars over a few times I suppose. I’m proud of myself. I don’t see a relationship as an accomplishment, or something to be acquired. In fact, my accomplishments are in the smiles and smarts of my children, and in the professional world I’ve created for myself, and in the cultivation of my talents. That said, it is still hard to be the single guy in a room full of couples. It’s difficult to look at the miracle of my sons playing together and to not have someone to share it with. It’s difficult to think of the dozens of dates, and the few times I’ve been in love, and to still be here on my own.

And all of that brings us to this simple moment. 4:24 pm, where I sit in a coffee shop with a half empty cup of coffee and a full glass of water, strangers all around me, classical music playing, two nicks stinging on my chin from where I cut myself shaving earlier, my back aching from sitting too long, my head and heart as complicated as they ever are, typing this stream-of-consciousness blog on a white screen. I will soon post it and no one will read it, or a handful of strangers will read it, or loved ones will read it, or hundreds will read it, and some will be sad and some bored and some annoyed and some inspired.

And soon I’ll leave here and step back into my life, the one that is still the same, yet different from ten minutes ago, as I am always the same and ever changing.

Because I’m me, and you’re you, and we are perfectly different from each other and exactly the same.

We are Miracles, All

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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.

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