Look for the similarities

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been reminded to look for the similarities. When I first walked into a 12-step meeting almost 20 years ago, that was one of the first signs I saw on the wall. What it meant in the context of recovery is that we need to focus on what we have in common, rather than look for what makes us different from each other. If we focused on what made us different we might think, oh this will never work for me, I’m too different. And sure enough, when I found the similarities, it started to click. Connection is the key. We all want connection. People who see us for who we are, right where we are.

Since I’ve been in recovery for a long time, I’ve incorporated this rule into my life in many ways. In many areas of my life. But I hadn’t been in all areas and certainly not in all situations. I became good at compartmentalizing groups of people. And I wanted everybody to know it. That’s perhaps the worst part.

I have long surrounded myself with like-minded people. We can create quite a bubble for ourselves when we want to. If we aren’t careful, that’s all we have. And then we venture outside the bubble and find that along with so many like-minded folks, there are so many vastly differently-minded folks that your head may right explode clear off.

I have rage inside me. MUCH RAGE about everything that we see each day about people getting away with being assholes and continuing to be assholes and then raising assholes who raise more assholes. But I also know that if I don’t channel that rage it will explode and infiltrate every part of my life. My family, my work, my writing, my friendships and ultimately, my children. I don’t want that. I want love. I want to lead with love by example. I don’t know what else to do. So I’m trying something different to combat my rage.

I’m an introvert. The internet was perfect for me because I could form lasting, real, deep relationships with people from the comfort of my own home.  For a gal with anxiety, much of it social anxiety, that was perfect. Until it wasn’t.  I wanted more, though I didn’t know how to name that desire.

The real life, day to day community I’ve found myself in around our kids and their schooling has surprised me in multiple ways. I’ve found common ground (our kids) with people I never in a million years would believe I would. Politically, some of us are miles apart, and yet when we talk one on one, we find the similarities. It has opened my mind in ways it hasn’t been in decades. I surrounded myself with people who only echoed what I thought, felt, believed. I read books and watched shows and movies about people who were like me. Who looked at the world the same way I do. That wasn’t enough. That isn’t what I want my life to look like.

I had to slowly creep off the internet in certain ways and creep more into real life. Looking people in the eyes and having conversations calmly and rationally, even when we disagree. Even when it’s hard. And not from behind a keyboard. Now I love social media in many ways and believe it does so much good. We are connected to people we never would’ve met otherwise. I’ve formed lifelong relationships on social media that I don’t ever want to think about losing. So I’m not somebody to say, QUIT ALL SOCIAL MEDIA IT IS DESTROYING US because I don’t think it is. I think we are destroying us. We are responsible.

But we can also turn it around. For someone like me, an all or nothing type of gal, that meant I needed to back off. I need to limit my screen time and what I post and where I look and who I’m connected with. I need to stop posting spiteful, divisive messages that do no good except to further widen the division. It doesn’t mean I still don’t have those feelings, I just need to stop spewing them so often. For myself.

It means I need to walk back and forth to school and chat with my neighbors and take the time to visit with people instead of rushing home. When we are at the library, I talk with everybody there if they’re willing and it’s improved my quality of life.  When I walk around the city, I stop and talk with people. It’s been one of the most enriching experiences of my life and I’ve been doing it for years. My kids see me do it and while they may be shy or nervous at first, they then see these people who look different than us, who maybe are homeless and not in the best condition, they are people worthy of having a conversation and worthy of our attention and love. One of the best, most important parts of 12-step meetings and recovery is the people. Connection is the key. That’s what it’s all about. We all want to be heard and respected and appreciated and ultimately, loved.

The media wants us to believe everything is terrible all the time. It’s not. The key is connection. It always has been.

We go on a lot of outings and everywhere we go, we socialize. My kids like to say that I will talk to anybody, and I find that hilarious, because that is so far from my natural instinct, which is to hide and introvert myself away into my safe space. But what I’ve found is that everybody is longing. Everybody is looking for connection. Everybody is lonely in certain ways. I find a discussion with a stranger to be more healing sometimes than with my closest people. It’s the new and different that I find so refreshing these days. And I didn’t even know I was searching. Is this growth? Is this age? Is this wisdom? I don’t know. I just know I often leave places and situations thinking, if I hadn’t been open to that person right then, we wouldn’t have had that connection. And I’m grateful I allowed myself to be open.

What it looks like from the outside is rarely the whole picture. You may be the difference between something terrible happening and just making it through another day. You may find the little spark you’ve been needing or provide it for someone else and what could be more purely about love than that?

I often have the best connections in waiting rooms at the doctors office. I remember when I was pregnant and at the doctor almost every week it seemed that I had some of the most incredible conversations and I never even saw any of those women again. But they’ve stayed with me.

I went for my mammogram recently and it happens every time. Something happens when you put on that gown. When you are stripped of your armor and sitting there without a phone and no bra amongst so many other women who may be fear filled or just hoping for the best. I met a woman who didn’t speak much English but she kept looking at me and smiling. I couldn’t help but smile back each time. I don’t know who she was or what her views or beliefs are, I just saw her smile and her eyes and that was all I needed. We were having a whole conversation through those smiles. I met another woman who just wanted to talk about my glasses and then it turned into her story about her son wearing glasses but then also some other issues her son faces and then it got really into how difficult every day with her boy has become. I just listened. I sat there without my bra, without my phone, and just listened to her. As my name was called to go in, we all exchanged looks and said, “take good care” and I knew I’d never see them again, but it was there. That connection.

In sobriety and in life, we are all just looking for connection. Focus on the similarities. You’re likely never going to change anybody’s mind with your screaming anyway. Just because I’m not screaming doesn’t mean I don’t rage. But there is a place and time. Otherwise it’s just screaming into the void and that doesn’t help anybody’s heart. Why not look for the similarities. The humanity. It keeps me sober. It keeps me human. And it really keeps me connected. People learn more from compassion and empathy than shouting and condemnation. When I was drinking I never wanted to hear what I was doing wrong. Hell, I don’t ever like to hear what I’m doing wrong, who does? I needed people to meet me where I was. Who let me decide things when I was and am ready.

I’ve had several occasions recently where I’ve been placed in situations where I could either choose to be open and connective or choose to be closed off and combative. I’ve walked into two particular situations recently where I thought to myself, “I can either show up to this and see what happens or I can close down, shut off, and hide in anger and resentment.”

I chose to show up.

I don’t believe everything happens for a reason. I do believe we are often in a place and time with particular people and it can go one of two ways depending on how we handle it. In a few of these situations recently, I’ve chosen to remain open and connective and it’s surprised the hell out of me.

For years all I saw were differences. Oh she could never be my friend, she’s way too cool. Oh, she’s not interested in anything I like so we couldn’t possibly have anything to talk about. With kids involved, you know what we have to bond over? These kids. Motherhood. And then, 9 times out of 10, because I don’t do small talk well, it gets to the deeper business of our hearts and souls and pain and joy and THAT is what I want more of in my life.

To think or assume that I know everything I need to know about somebody because of who they vote for or what sign they have in their front yard is just not fair. It is not true. That is too easy.

I love this photo. It reminds me of all the parents waiting at pick up for the kindergarteners to come out. See, in the city, we all park or walk to school and walk up to the school to grab the kids and THIS is what we look like. Especially on a cold day, we are all huddled. All facing the school doors. I’ve taken these opportunities to chat with other moms and I’ve not regretted one day of that decision. Our kids are growing up together and I want to know who these families are. I am that mom who asks if they have guns in their homes and if they are locked up safely. And for the most part, I’ve really been impressed and like what I see. These moms – we have have each other’s backs. We have each other’s kids backs. And it’s something that continually surprises me. It’s something I didn’t expect when having kids. And it’s wonderful. We have connection and we have community and I’m so grateful. We know we are cared for and hope that others feel cared for with us.

We humans can contain multitudes. If I don’t give people a chance, then how the hell can I expect that they would give me one in return.

What I’ve found recently is that if I allow myself to be vulnerable, to listen, to ask questions, I find the similarities. And there are a lot. More than I ever would have thought.

I’ve polarized my view of people so much in the last couple years that I’m sure I’ve lost out on the opportunity to connect with some folks that may have broadened my horizons, if given the chance.

I’m not saying everyone is worthy of me opening up. They aren’t. There are some real bastards out there and not everybody is worthy of my love and respect. What most people are worthy of, though, is a chance. And what I’m admitting here is that I’ve not given people a chance. I want to rectify that. Hell, if Michelle Obama can exist in that space where she was treated terribly and still had that incredibly strong smile on her face, I can do this. Sometimes. I mean, I’m no Michelle Obama, but I can aspire to her levels.

This concept of one on one meetings is so important, rather than lumping everyone in together. I’m guilty of doing it. I have to take a chance and I hope you will too.

I cannot help but think there is some divine intervention going on here, even though I don’t really believe in all that. I do believe we find who we are meant to find in this life and if I can just be open to it, hopefully everyone benefits.

We are in this cycle of publicly shaming/calling out atrocious (often group) behavior so often and yet it keeps happening. Where hate exists, it needs to be brought to the light. People don’t get to be hateful and horrible and racist and sexist and not be exposed for that. And even then, there are plenty of rotten people who will continue to get away with that shit. But there are plenty who are being called out for the first time and it is ABOUT DAMN TIME. I’m all about that. But I’m also -more than ever – committed to living each day as an example of kindness and love and I see people in my community responding and acting in kindness as well. I see it.

 

A couple months ago, I spoke with a group of folks about anxiety/depression/alcoholism. Before that happened, though, my girl told our librarian (because kids tell everything) that “Mama is giving a speech about how she gets anxious in crowds of people. But she’s talking to a group of people so she’s brave…” THAT is what I want my kids to see. The acknowledgment that something is hard, and yet we can choose to do it anyway. Even if we are anxious.

So much of our behavior is rooted in fear. So much in reaction. I want to live proactively. I don’t want to be anxious and wake up with panic attacks, but I do. And I may always. HOWEVER. I can also live in such a way that lessens that burden we carry each day.  I want to encourage and bring out the best in people. I want people who bring out the best in me. These are things I can do. So much feels out of my control, but these things, I can do. I can be present and meet people where they are, right where they are, in this moment. If this all sounds naive and loopy to you and maybe a bit too simple, well another thing I’ve learned in recovery is to keep it simple. We tend to over-complicate so much that we miss what is right in front of us and dammit, I don’t want to miss any of this. We are all stuck here as long as we are stuck here and I want to add to this experience, not just take from it.

I was a guest on a podcast about motherhood yesterday and while I was fearful and worried we wouldn’t have much to talk about, the hour flew by.  I’ll share all details when it’s out because it’s going to be GOOD but a couple of the questions were:

– Who are the moms who inspire you to take care of yourself?

– Who are the moms who have your back?

and I can picture these women in my head and they make me smile. I never in a million years thought I would have these women in my orbit. And they aren’t even all moms. They are women in my life and they are gorgeous and funny and everything good. So while you see less and less of me online, just know I’m out here. I’m participating and not sitting idly by. I’m just trying my best to do something differently. And in doing something differently, I am finding the similarities. I’m still here. Thank you for being here – and out here –  with me.

 

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