Scratched Shoes, Stress, and the Yoga that Heals

I got dressed up this morning for a lunch with friends, the first time I’ve been out of yoga pants since I got back from Scotland last week. I’ve been Kondo-ing ALL THE THINGS for the big move overseas, working on my taxes, stressing out generally, and worrying about a loved one in the hospital. But I managed to get this perfect (for me) outfit all put together with some fabulous shoes I LOVE—and adore all the more because they were only three pounds on sale. A deal really makes my heart sing. Knockoff leopard Louis flats especially so.

The house is ready and I’m taking a moment on the porch to enjoy the trees and the warm breeze. And I’m rolling my cigarette (I know, bad for me, but bear with me). I’m sober, and it’s totally both vice and ritual to roll organic tobacco in Turkish papers made in the same spot for 200 years. Rolling makes me appreciate the art, the hands that watered and nurtured and picked the tobacco plant, processed the leaves, to think of my own connection to the earth and the tobacco farmland in my Appalachian foothills. It’s also cut my nicotine consumption by 80 percent, which is awesome!

So I’m all proud of my being SO TOGETHER this morning, when the Winnie jumps up on my lap, knocking all the tobacco into my hand-knitted scarf. He hates the dog across the field, who was yapping, and of course Mister Winnie wanted to bark louder in retaliation (Don’t we all, sometimes?!). Then he jumps on THE SHOES. There’s a big scratch on them, and I’m pretty mad.

I can feel myself start to freak out, the anxiety attack sneaking up on me, and I’m screeching my frustration in a most improper tone. Then something says: yoga. It’s one of the ways I manage my anxiety—along with help from my the medical professionals. But I remember to breathe, somehow, and I do it, right there on the porch in my now-scratched shoes, with the tobacco and my Coca Cola beside me. The tension and fluster that feels like angry green lizards scrambling around inside my chest eases. And it’s all a little better.

It’s amazing how one yoga sequence can transform my state of mind, bring me into presence, and stay the anxiety. I was a hot mess right before I remembered: practice. Make time for whatever helps you do you! Much love and namaste, darlings!!!💜

#MeToo Solidarity, gratitude for the love and support, and the truth that sets us free

About a day and a half ago I came out with what happened to me in academia with this tweet:

I am overwhelmed and humbled by the outpouring of support.  My heart hurts for everyone who has said “me too, my advisor and department did the same thing to me.”

I have been applauded for my bravery, but I need everyone to know that I am not Wonderwoman. I am not a lone superhero. I am the opposite: a gratefully recovering alcoholic battling an anxiety disorder every day, with the help of a tightly knit community.

Some days this year, I have been too anxious to get out of bed. Too terrified to write a word on a piece that is under contract, and almost finished. There are days I have had to work to brush my teeth and put on yoga pants and breathe.

It is only the unflagging support and unconditional love of my family and friends that gets me through. My tribe is my strength. The genetic luck of the draw landed me with parents who love and support me unconditionally; I am incredibly grateful, but I know that I am the beneficiary of random, unearned privilege. 

My friends are great listeners, good people, and they have been by my side for years. In just one little example, when my father had a heart attack earlier this year, my babyhood best friend was there. This man, with whom I once flopped on blankets in his mother’s garden in the eighties, who took me to my prom when a high school boyfriend flaked out, who married the girl of his dreams (and I knew she was perfect because she was the first human to talk him into eating both asparagus and sushi), drove to the regional trauma center in the middle of the night to be there when the chopper arrived with Daddy, so he wouldn’t be alone. Mom and I and friends arrived an hour later, by car.

This network, these people, are my strength. My god is my strength. I am just an extremely lucky woman who gets to be “brave” because I am surrounded by so much love and help.

To all of the women who said “me too,” I hear you. I see you. I am grateful for you. And you are not alone. The system needs fixing and we will all fight for you. For me. For us. For love that crosses boundaries, and makes all things new.

Namaste, darlings.

And thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Maggie

#EndTheStigma: Or, Anxiety, Mental Health, and my Vintage Ukelele

Did you ever realize something you’ve been looking for was literally under your nose? It’s a universal experience, but sometimes what we need is right there—but only when we have the eyes to see it. Sometimes anxiety blocks us from being aware of the opportunities for growth that are right in front of us. Here’s me and my baritone ukelele.

It’s been in the back of my closet for years…but I finally learned to play it with the help of  The Mindful M.D. Mom. Friends and a new perspective can be keys in the lock of whateveris holding us back. What mental health challenges are you working through right now? Let’s jam and brainstorm and end the stigma together!

Namaste, darlings!

-Maggie

Hope in Troubled Times

A friend inspired this blog post with the question: How to stay hopeful in troubled times.

For me, this is a big question, and a daily battle. How do I stay hopeful when the world seems crumbling? When the USA is led by a man it seems kind to call a fascist dictator–because he seems somehow worse: a wild in sheep’s clothing, hurtling us into an anarchist terror where the rule of law is bent toward evil. When personal crises come. When loved ones die, and dear ones are sick?

I fight like hell to stay positive. I make mountains out of molehills, but in a good way: I celebrate any progress, small victories, little kindnesses, all love. And that becomes a mountain of strength. I do anything I can to feed my soul, fill my cup, choose less angst and more grace.

It isn’t easy.

But it’s worth it.

There is a well of spirit, of the love of God, inside each of us. It does not run dry. But we can forget, in all the chaos and trauma and upset, that it is there. Pain can become so great that there are emotional barriers to accessing it, psychological ruts around it. Vulnerability, kindness, forgiveness, consciously choosing joy, leads the way back to that wholeness.

I’m reading a book right now, Furiously Happy, by Jenny Lawson. It celebrates embracing and loving your messed-up self, being open about who you are (mental illness, warts and all!), and explains the thrill of taxidermed raccoons (you read that correctly, yes). Lawson’s joy at her taxidermed roadkill raccoon, Rory, is a perfect example of making happy mountains out of happy molehills.

My friend sent me Furiously Happy in the mail to cheer me up. I have the best damn friends in the world, and I love them fiercely. That’s a big part of the staying positive: my tribe is my strength.

I get excited about sparkly manicures, nice people at work, friends’ publications, my dog’s tennis ball obsession.

And I do all that I can with what I’ve got right now to work for the good. I love. I help. I write.

Maybe it isn’t much.

Or maybe it’s everything.

Year One: Life and Death in Early Recovery

The first year of recovery is supposed to be simple: no major changes, keep it in the day, focus on your sobriety. That’s great in theory, but life happens.

After I was sober, I spent three days in jail, because of a DUI. I moved to Brooklyn shortly thereafter. I finished my dissertation. I started a new job. Had two new relationships, one of which was great–with a sweet furniture maker who was cool as hell, and one of which was giant ass.

One of the hardest things I experienced in early recovery was that my godbrother died, too young, in his thirties; I was devastated. I found out on facebook, because my phone had been off all day. I’d been a filmmaker friend’s plus one at a film convention, and she and I had had the most glorious day. I was wearing a fairy crown and my favorite black dress when I sat down on my stoop on Flatbush to smoke a cigarette going in. I mindlessly flipped open the facebook app, and saw his death posted–which is quite possibly the very worst way to find out that a family member has passed. I was so distraught that my eleven-year-old neighbor had to unlock the building door for me–my hands were shaking too much. He is a darling, kind, wonderful child.

After trying to reassure him that I was okay, probably unsuccessfully, I went up to my apartment, where I sat on the fire escape crying to my sponsor and my mother and one of my dearest friends, who talked to me until four am, when I finally crawled into my bed and took off the fairy crown.

But I did not drink.

This past weekend, my dear, wonderful great-uncle passed away. I’m 21 and a half months sober, but that doesn’t mean his death didn’t hit me hard. Life happens; and death is a part of life, like it or not. But in sobriety, I can feel my feelings.

That’s the good part. I don’t have to escape the trauma at the bottom of a wine bottle. And the longer I’m sober, the stronger I am. The stronger we all are. But things still hurt. And that’s okay.

You’ll have good days and bad days, major life events and stress.

But if you don’t drink, you’ll be able to process, and more of the good days will come.

Namaste, darlings.

-Maggie

Epictetus, stoics, and trouble

My dear mother was recently puttering around her kitchen singing the Dave Matthews  song, “Trouble,” in this gorgeously eery voice. Every note was pitch perfect, resonant. Which is weird for her, because when she’s consciously trying to sing she tends to be off key, but I digress. La Mama’s magical voice is not the only thing weird going on.

Politics are crazy right now. Not to mention, ordinary life is hard. People get ill, pass away, go through STUFF. You know what I mean. These are the times when Stoic philosophy a la Marcus Aurelius (Read his meditations for free on MIT’s archive here) and Epicetus really matter (if you’re in a scholarly mood, check Epicetus out).

Stoicism doesn’t mean “RUN THROUGH THE PAIN” or “WALK IT OFF” like your high school coach told you. It means that trouble, challenge, is an opportunity for learning, and ultimately, growth.

There’s a bible verse my mom likes, since we already mentioned her singing habits (she’s a cool old lady, okay?). It’s this:

All things work together for good for those who love the lord and are called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28

Now, this doesn’t mean that all things ARE good. Some things, quite obviously, are shit. But someday, somehow, if you keep on going and keep on loving and trying and growing long enough, flowers may grow from that shit, and you’ll have a whole garden.

Or, as they said in Latin, in the days of the stoics:

Dolor hic tibi proderit olim: Someday this pain will be useful to you. – Ovid.

feet on the earth

The sea. The mountains. The grass in the park. There is something primal about having our feet on the earth, barefoot.

In yoga, we focus a lot on grounding. Grounding into ourselves, the earth, the ultimate source. Our higher power.

Whenever I’m stressed, I have to stop. Take a breather. Take care of myself. And ground. Let go of what is hurting, binding, release it down. Dig my toes in–never mind the imperfection of the messy pedicure and flip-flop toe stub from the subway–and pull deep from the source. Feel the life in the ground beneath us, the promise in the earth itself.

Wherever you are today, I hope there’s a nice patch of land you can sink your toes in.

I wish you: Peace. Serenity. Joy.

Namaste, darlings!

-Maggie

hope, change, trucks

Hope.

It matters.

And we must not lose faith in people’s ability to change. We can make good decisions or bad ones. Today at the grocery, I saw a truck. A big, macho, green, shiny, expensive, deer-decal-ed bubba truck. The bubba in question swaggered out with his facial hair and muscles and marched into the store. I looked closer.

Amongst the hunting decals, there was a space where something that had been ripped off. Something about the size of a Trump bumper sticker. Lately, I haven’t seen those around, even here, in red-state redneckland.

Bubba’s truck gave me hope today. People change.

Growth is a big part of recovery.

Namaste, darlings!

Maggie

Bipartisanship as Anxiety Cure, or, My Thoughts on SCOTUS

Anxiety is on the rise, in people with and without a diagnosis. Our political climate affects us all—especially those of us in recovery, so that’s why I’m talking about it here. In the spirit of full disclosure, my first alliance is always to human rights, and I’m pretty much a good liberal. But it’s not important to me whether my friends are liberal or conservative—the world needs both.

A lot of folks on both sides of the aisle are in a tizzy over the Supreme Court pick. I’d rather have Kennedy still in his seat, and Kavanaugh isn’t making my best staunch conservative lawyer friend very happy, either. But this is not, as many pundits assert, the end of the world as we know it.”

No, really! Please hear me out. Bear with me.

A fine American tradition is our two-party system with bipartisanship at the center. That’s still actually working in the judicial branch. The late Antonin Scalia, representing all evil to good liberals, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg (RBG to fangirls like me) representing all evil to conservatives, were actually—wait for it—friends.

Ginsberg, who sees the U.S. Constitution as a living document,  with amendments improving it as society evolves (eg. the Reconstruction Amendments ensuring equal protection and due process—and freedom itself for African Americans!) was friends with the most Conservative guy on the bench.

The late Scalia was the brains behind the “Originalist” interpretation of the U.S. Constitution (which basically says it should be interpreted in the light of what my con-law prof called “the 1776 bunch” would have wanted—as IF they could have magically anticipated a world with nuclear weapons and internet pundits!!!). He was friends with Ginsberg. There’s also the important idea that we need to consider the abolitionist authors of the Reconstruction Amendments as founders, too. But there’s a middle ground, where both interpretations meet.

Donald Trump is not a proper conservative like Scalia. Trump’s a reality TV star who flaunts the constitution, and I think Scalia would be pissed if he were alive. Trump is a racist casino owner. He calls immigrants parasites and cockroaches. He mocked a disabled person on tv. He’s vile.

But that’s not what the SCOTUS nomination is about. Trump didn’t prepare the list; a group of conservative jurists called The Federalist Society did. They’re qualified attorneys with degrees, experience, and proper scholarship. I don’t agree with them in general; I’m team Ginsberg, and they’re team Scalia. But both teams share a commitment to the fairness of the judiciary branch. 

There is hope for all of us. And in these troubled times, when anxiety grips us like an anaconda’s death embrace, I’m saying this is one less thing we need to freak out about. It’s going to be okay.

But there are other things out there—like the ongoing refugee crisis—that we need to fix. Vote. Organize. Pray. Work. But also, talk to people on the other side of the aisle. Be like Ginsberg and Scalia. We can all work together for the good of our country. Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, can work together. We can be bipartisan. 

If Kavanaugh is confirmed, I believe Roberts will be a swing vote, and not much will change in the Supreme Court.

Ginsberg and Scalia didn’t vote together, but they respected each other, and were able to work together, and even play together. Here is a picture of the two of them riding elephants together:

https://goo.gl/images/OadLKN  

In other words, the Zombie Apocalypse may come yet, but Kavanaugh isn’t it.