Gratitude and giving thanks, by way of a life’s perspective.

2016… man. I don’t think anyone I know would disagree that this has been a really hard year, for a lot of people, and a lot of reasons. I’m tempted to use much stronger language and get real specific, but I think John Oliver and his team pretty well covered it. And it’s not over yet. I had another post in the works as a continuation of that last one about trust and truth, but I realized this morning that I needed to interrupt the cycle of fear and despair about the state of our nation and humanity, and instead just take a moment to find some gratitude. Shine a positive light on things, even for just a moment, so as not to get completely lost in the morass.

This time last year, I left a job that, for many reasons, was not a good fit and was wearing me down and out. My first day at my current job was the week of Thanksgiving, and there isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not reminded of what it used to be like, and how fortunate I feel to work where I do. To have made that change, to brave the unknown for a chance at real fulfillment. There are hard days, certainly, but the level of support and encouragement and challenge I feel there is really special.

This time last year, I’d severed all ties to the pathological liar I’d dated, and had settled into something of a peaceful surrender to the very real possibility I might never find a real partner to spend life with. I was busy with school, had started a new job, and my life was full enough that it didn’t scare or sadden me that much; it seemed like a logical conclusion, based on past experience… and then, on February 9th of this year, everything changed when C. showed up for our first date. I think I knew, that night, but certainly after having four dates in three days, it became readily apparent there was something special to – and with – him. And now, to finally be living what I always thought love looked like but never really knew… my heart is full to overflowing, every day. He makes partnership easy; I never feel unheard, unseen, or unloved, never doubt my place in his life, and never feel like the “work” of being in a relationship is anything other than easy and worth it, because it means we’ll be closer because of it.

This time 18 years ago, I was sleeping in the parks and on the streets of San Francisco: strung out, full of shame, and tired. I remember one morning, waking up to the sound of a father and daughter walking through Buena Vista park where I’d been sleeping. I heard the daughter ask her dad why there were people sleeping in the park, and the father making some disparaging remark about us being losers and needing to get jobs, and that maybe they should bring us some coffee or something so we’d have the motivation to get up and work. They laughed and kept walking, leaving their lack of empathy and laughter at my expense behind for me to pile on top of my own already suffocating self-loathing.

A few days later, on Thanksgiving day that year, I knew my sister, her (now) husband, and several family friends were just across the Bay having dinner, and there was a place at the table for me if I wanted it. I was too ashamed, though, and felt like I didn’t deserve to be there. In all honesty, I don’t know that I was completely done with drugs, either, and going to their house would have meant giving everything up. “Everything” = no home, no money, no job, no self worth… but the escape from feeling that drugs provided was enough to convince me it was better, somehow.

So that day, instead of humbling myself to be with family, my junkie pride took me to the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park. There was a Mexican family there, serving Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless. They made the food themselves, and made enough of it to serve maybe 50 to 100 people. They didn’t speak English, but they didn’t need to; their kind faces and their actions told the story of their hearts. I remember sitting there, eating in the rain, and something about that day finally drove home the point that I could – and should – do better. That there was so much more to life, and there was a whole lot more I wanted for mine. And that it might actually be possible.

I can’t help but equate the kindness shown by that family to the light that finally started to flicker in my own heart, shining just bright enough to light the way out. And, in comparison, the denigration shown by that father and daughter serving only to drive me further into the hole I was already in. The former was in keeping with who and where I wanted to be, and it’s a torch I’ve carried with me ever since. So, every year at Thanksgiving, I’m reminded of where I’ve been, and what a gift it is to be where I am now. Especially today.

I’ve been given the gift of home, which is what I’d been looking for all along.

ThxFriday, All My Valentines Edition.

Vacation time from work (not only allowed but encouraged!); family trips to Mexico (Missouri, that is); the frequent happy contact, with smiles all the while; charming B&B’s and scoring the sweetest suite; finally seeing my nephew proud and in his element; getting gussied up for a Gatsby-themed event; watching the girls navigate their beautiful ways; another day’s buffer for studies and sleep (and recovering from another back outage); a quick little visit to brighten up the night; returning to work to find no fires to fight; a belated and lovely Valentine’s dinner, complete with roses, wine choices, and homemade crème brûlée (talk about swoon); open conversations about all of the things; people who show you who they really, truly are, affirming reservations and hesitations as they show their asses on the way out *punt*; powering through the readings and more 100 percents; when challenging yourself opens new and necessary doors, and when policy analysis actually sparks your interest; getting woke and staying there; warm chocolate chip cookie delivery; the freedom and willingness to speak up and out: asking clarifying questions, being receptive to the answers, and basically just saying what you need; a well-timed “TWSS” that makes a co-worker blush (and snort); the arrival of the weekend, right on time; and the excitement that comes from planning a special-made dinner for a special-made someone in return.

ThxFriday, Well Whaddya Know Edition.

All-nighters that beget 100 percents; Monte Gras and celebrating sweetest hearts; darts, snacks, hot tubs and fire pits (complete with a whole lot of laughter plus a Spider Pig); productive Sundays; Beyonce in Formation: afternoons spent out of the office, connecting and progressing through the lists; Taco Tuesdays that turn into Burgers, Booze Shakes, and Beer Tuesdays; six of the best and fastest flying hours in existence; a repeat performance the following night; marveling at the good, indulging in the goofy, reveling in the gratitude; coffee dates and random run-ins; co-worker check-ins with nothing but good to report; twice in a day, taking all the time you can; dinner with old friends at new restaurants; and looking ahead to a few chilly days with warm-hearted loved ones, every last one my pride and joy.

ThxFriday, Nephew’s Edition.

Getting all the necessary sleeps; early morning productivity with a massage reward; checking things off that list like a boss; carving out the time to laugh, drink wine, paint some mason jars, and share in upcoming nuptials excitement; instant clarifying phone calls; riding the nope-asaurus all the way home; laughter as a stress response; unexpected reprieves; people who think you’re funny; feeling actual heart movements; having the nerve to make that move; old men on treadmills who sing (terribly) while they walk; friends who reach out to say hi or they miss your (unfiltered) face; upcoming plans for tacos and boss-turned-friend reunions; and a weekend ahead of celebrating others, taking care of others, and handling… well, everything.

Today is my oldest nephew’s 18th birthday. When he was born, I was still in the throes of one of the most challenging times in my life; it wasn’t long after when I turned it around, but it was only because of my family. His arrival was my introduction to finally understanding unconditional love, and he broke my heart wide open. A lot’s changed in the last 18 years, but one thing has never wavered: that love and gratitude. I couldn’t be more grateful for that, or for him. ❤

Unfriending Facebook.

Over the last few years, and this past year in particular, I’ve thought (and posted) a fair amount about my love/hate relationship with Facebook. It seemed to weigh heavier on the “hate” side – increasing on a daily basis – until finally I came to the conclusion that it was time to sever ties completely. And so on January 1st, I did. At the risk of beating a dead horse, since I know there have been myriad articles and think pieces and studies published about the topic as well, I’m finally diving into writing about why I’m so much happier without it.

2015 was, for me, filled with some good, but mostly a whole lot of toxicity in the form of other people; I’ve done a banner job of simply cutting all of that out and moving on and away. Deleting my FB account was like the final step, because there was something toxic about that site, too. It may have been my own personal experience and interaction with it, it may have been my own inability to moderate usage, it may be due to my own sensitivity to overload, it could be a hundred things that have little or nothing to do with the site and everything to do with my reaction to it… but whatever the case, I can’t tell you how much lighter, happier, and clear-minded I feel as a result of no longer being connected in that way.

Before the advent of social media… how did we stay in touch? How did we interact? How did we connect and STAY connected to the people we loved and the ones who mattered? I mean, were we okay with not staying in touch with that one kid you knew in 6th grade? How on earth did we survive without knowing everyone’s opinions on EVERYTHING? The internet provides a forum for everyone’s thoughts, opinions, attitudes, beliefs, etc., and while this can be a good thing – I’ve met some amazing people through the internet and wouldn’t trade them for the world – this can also be a really, really bad thing. Have you read a comments section lately? It’s like the floodgates opened and everyone’s inner ugly got conjured.

What Facebook turned into for me was a place where people were inflicting everyone else with their thoughts, opinions, pithy quotes on photo backdrops, political discourse, and what basically felt like no one listening to or actually TALKING to each other anymore. It was all just noise, and it seemed to feed into peoples’ misguided belief that everyone else wanted to hear it all, or cared, and that their opinions on things – no matter how ill-informed or bigoted or small – were paramount to truth or the art of active listening. “I don’t care what you think or have to say, but here’s what I think. About everything.”

Everything wound up feeling overwhelming. Superficial. Empty.

Full disclosure: I had over 400 friends on there. Most of them were people I’d gone to school with at some point, worked with at some point, met somewhere along the way in my pinball ricochet moves around the country… only a very small handful of them were/are people with whom I am maintaining an active friendship or relationship. Family, too, but mostly it was people I wouldn’t otherwise be in touch with. Not because they aren’t good people (because they were, otherwise I wouldn’t have added them in the first place – or I would have deleted them, which happened pretty regularly once true colors came to light), but because I just don’t have the emotional or mental bandwidth for maintaining that many relationships or interactions. By being connected to a person on Facebook, I felt some kind of responsibility to try and maintain active contact. Otherwise, what’s the point?

A lot of the people with whom I’d reconnected when I first moved back to Nashville had mostly faded into “acquaintance-land” for reasons I won’t get into here (I’m not sure I could do it justice from a one-sided perspective, anyway), but staying connected to them on FB meant I had access to see all the things they were doing, places they were going, and lives they were living that no longer involved me. This is not a condemnation, because it was a mutual (albeit unspoken and passive) parting of ways. It probably would have benefited from calling it out and owning our parts, but at the same time… eh.

Anyway. All of that to say, it simply reinforced the feelings of “apart” and lonely to which I have always fallen prey, especially in conjunction with my ongoing experiencing of anxiety and depression that crops up in wintertime; FB did a banner job of exacerbating all of that and extending the life of the struggle well beyond the winter months. Instead of being happy for people that they’re out there living life – at least, the little bits they were portraying on FB – I found myself falling into feeling left out. So by deleting those reminders and effectively removing myself from the mindset of being “left out” where I’m sitting at home looking at everyone else living life, I’ve made it so that I’M living life, too. In person, out loud, and I’m no longer being presented with reminders of what I’m not doing and who I’m not seeing. Who needs those reminders, anyway? People with whom I am not actively engaged in relationship of some kind are really none of my business… just as I am none of theirs.

Which leads me to the flip-side of it all, where people had access to me, but hadn’t earned (or no longer had) the right to be there. One major event: someone I thought of as a friend decided to delete me from all social media without saying anything to me about it, and then, in a private group in which we were both members, made multiple comments about how she’d removed two toxic, triggering people from her life without saying anything to them and how it just had to be done for her own sanity (YO I’M SITTING RIGHT HERE). While it sucks to realize and own that sometimes you’re a trigger for other people, it sucks worse when you bear witness to them calling it out, knowing full well that some folks in the group know it’s you, and no one is saying anything. Mind you, I didn’t say anything either – I just left the group, because it wasn’t worth it to me to pursue; I’m happy to let everyone have their own experience and give whatever space is deemed necessary.

And then there were some overt, extensive, and extended attempts at manipulation from a few people with whom I no longer engage, one person I hadn’t seen or talked to in over 6 years sending me some unexpected, nasty, off-base words (someone I wasn’t even friends with on there, mind you), and a whole lot of other messy stuff… done. No thanks. People sometimes use the internet – and especially FB – in a lot of terrible ways, and I was tired of being on the receiving end of that, even just a little.

Not to mention the manipulation of Facebook itself. Controlling who and what you see, how much of it you got to interact with, the push for advertising to infiltrate your timeline, and all the ways they were trying to make themselves an invaluable and irreplaceable means of staying connected – or at least convincing you that you NEEDED the site in order to stay in touch, social, and relevant…

NOPE. Nope nope nope, and nope.

At the end of it all, there were maybe two things I knew I’d miss. Pictures of far away family or friends and their kids, and the occasional big life updates from folks I care a great deal about who only seem to share that stuff on FB. Also, occasionally hearing about cool events going on around town. So, three things I’d miss. But those three things are manageable and surmountable. I can poke around online to see what’s going on in town. I can reach out to friends & family and get them to send pictures via text or email, or if they’re local, I can actually, you know, make plans to see them in person. Picking up the phone, firing off a quick text or email, hanging out in person… it all works for me just fine.

I knew there were people who enjoyed the things I’d share and write about on FB, but all of that – or some of it, anyway – gets posted here, too, for anyone willing to follow a separate link. Otherwise, I way prefer to update my people on my life in real time and in person, because that’s how you engage and build connection. By having a conversation. And while I’m overloaded with grad school homework, I can just reach out to let people know I’m thinking of them.

When was the last time you did that in some way other than on FB? When was the last time you sent an email, or hell… wrote a letter, or sent a card or postcard, or picked up the phone to call someone and hear their voice?

By deleting FB, I’m no longer on information/opinion/social media overload. I can hop on Twitter for the occasional 140 characters from smart people I want to learn from, with links to articles I might not otherwise see. I can peruse the Instagram accounts of my friends for a quick peek into their daily lives. I can write here, and if folks want to read it – and even respond to it – they can.

I guess it all comes down to priorities and boundaries: prioritizing relationships with those who are important to me (and, honestly, the people who show that I’m important to them, too, because the effort shouldn’t all be mine), and erecting some real and serious boundaries with the rest.

I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who love having contact with/access to hundreds of people, but for me, it was just too much. By deleting Facebook and severing unnecessary ties (as well as eliminating the weird expectations that come with them), I’ve effectively right-sized my social circles and interactions, and have begun making the transition back to real life interactions and in-person connections. It’s really been nothing but a huge relief.

Kicking it old school, y’all.
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Update (later that day):

After writing all of this out, the conclusion I finally reached is that ultimately, Facebook was doing nothing to encourage or enable me to be my best self. Instead, it was enabling me to get lazy with my efforts at friendship and family connection; it was enabling me to let the FOMO get out of control; it was enabling me to beat myself up with all the presumed lost opportunity; it was enabling me to maintain one-sided engagement and espouse my beliefs and thoughts mostly unchallenged. So, it really had little or nothing to do with everyone else; it was all just me, not being the woman and the human I want to be.

With all the other major steps I’ve taken toward cutting out the unhealthy influences in my life, this was just one more step in the right direction.

ThxFriday, THUNDERSNOW Edition.

Friday night family time girl time fun time; early morning auditions and leisurely afternoon lunches; new running kicks and muscle rollers; afternoon naps on a different couch in a warmer house; celebrating a dear one’s 40th at one of my favorite (old) haunts; realizing it’s been more than a year since setting foot in that joint; systematically replacing old associations and memories with new ones; early morning store and coffee runs (er, not those kinds of runs, FYI) and getting right back in pajamas afterward; when your favorite team is beat out by your second favorite team so it’s all gonna be okay (go Panthers!); surviving the chaos surrounded by kindred spirits; boot camp enthusiasm, even with the shin splint onset; knowing well enough to take care and take it easy; taking advantage of restaurant week, and being rewarded handsomely for the slush-braving efforts; the return of regularly-scheduled awkward; and the unexpected work reprieve (which translates into: study break) resulting from the equally unexpected 6-8 inches of snow currently occupying my outside space. Working from home means jammies, cookies, and now… naps. Heart: FULL.

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ThxFriday, Nothin’ Clever Edition.

Saturday massage, followed by football, followed by a long-awaited Yule gathering of friends (it was a really pretty wonderful and much-needed day and night); Sundays spent in jammies doing the nest/cook/clean thing that always feels so good; the Seahawks doing THEIR thing (even though, really, it was the Vikings just not doing their thing, but still) and keeping it alive for one more week; waking up to news of a loss and taking the time to reminisce and sit with the sadness; Tuesday night boot camp goodness; already feeling the difference, paying attention to small, good changes; continuing to build those habits; refusing to answer the door when negativity comes knocking; spring semester startup and the giddy excitement over psychopathology; friends who think of you and reach out to say so – even (and especially) over an Onion article about horrible online dating (sigh); resisting urges, questioning motives, and once again learning to just sit with things; proving myself to be invaluable; and the arrival of another weekend promising to be another few days of greatness.