Two days before my father died, the priest at my parents’ church visited him in the hospital. My father asked a question, somewhat jokingly, somewhat seriously. He asked, “What will I be in heaven?”
The priest answered, “John, you will be in heaven exactly what you were here on earth. You will be an enthusiast.”
This past Saturday marked four years since my father took his last breath. September 17th will always have a feeling to it. It means something now.
This date carries weight.
There are times where I still find his death hard to believe.
Hard to believe he's no longer able to answer the phone with my favourite, "Hi, doll!".
No longer able to send emails that contain far too many exclamation points (I come by it honestly!!).
No longer able to be here...in the world...with me.
Sometimes this feels impossible. Like there is no way 4 years have gone by since I saw him last. It's too long...there is no way it's been that long because I am nowhere near "over" the fact that he is gone.
And sometimes it feels like a lifetime. So much has happened in the time since he went through that door. So much has changed in my life and so much change has happened inside of me.
How has it only been 4 years...
When my dad died, I grieved. I allowed myself to sit in that pain and feel every single piece of it without running. I allowed myself the luxury of feeling every emotion during that time without the use of drugs or alcohol or food or anything else that would take my attention away from it. As a family, we grieved together; quietly, we grieved alone. And all of our grief, combined, bonded us in ways that forever changed us. My father's death was honoured; his life was celebrated.
What I am learning through my experiences and from my mentors is that pain is not something to be avoided. Pain is what makes us human and pain is what teaches us how to connect with others. But in order to do that, we must sit with it, learn from it and then share what we've learned so that our human family can say, "me too."
And what I'm also learning about pain is that it isn't our business to fix someone else's. I think we've all been guilty of trying to oversimplify someone else's struggle even if it comes from a good place. We can try to rush people to the lesson before they've had a chance to learn it.
But what we must realize is that the pain is the teacher. The lesson lives right smack dab in the middle of it.
We Go Through Things For Us...and Others
I have said it before that my alcoholism is my greatest gift; sobriety my greatest teacher.
But it was only through sitting in the pain of my reality that I was able to recover at all. For many years of my sobriety, I was still running from pain. Yes, I hit a rock bottom and had to manage the crisis.
But until I really sat inside the pain and shame I had carried for so long, I was incapable of getting the wisdom of that lesson.
This only happened when I began sharing my truth. First, by dipping my toe in the water and telling a select group of people...then a few more...and now, living my life here, in words, for anyone to read.
I am now, finally in recovery. 14 years sober from alcohol...but I'm only now in recovery.
The kind of recovery that allows me to love the parts I used to believe were broken.
The kind that knows these are the parts that connect me to the people who need me.
The kind that teaches me that this is what it's all been for.
The kind that reassures me I haven't gone through this pain for myself alone, but for others, as well.
The greatest gift for me through all of this has been to let others know they are not alone. For years, I felt like I was the only one like me. But to be the reason someone says, "Can I tell you something I have never told anyone else?..." Or, "I thought I was all alone. Thank you for letting me know I'm not."...that is the blessing of going through life's struggles and then letting them out through the lessons we've learned.
Coming through that ugly, awful, scary place and rising stronger because of it...and then showing others that they can rise, too...that is the gift.
Like my mentor Glennon realized, "the only thing I know as a recovering addict is that shame is the kiss of death. I have to check my shame levels the way a diabetic checks their insulin levels. The truth feels scary and then we get it out and then everyone says, 'me too, me too'."
Learning The Lessons
Allowing myself to sit inside the pain of my own shame and inside the pain of my father's death has freed me in ways I can hardly describe. On this side of the pain, I no longer tell myself that life's not fair and I wish things were different.
My life was designed exactly the way it was supposed to be designed so that I could learn the exact lessons I was supposed to learn at the exact time I was supposed to learn them.
I was created exactly the way I was supposed to be created so that I could experience all that I am supposed to experience.
I believe the same is true for you. No matter how awful or scary or unfair you believe things to be, the things that show up in your life are your lessons to learn. Until we sit inside the pain of our lives, which is where life actually happens, then we just live on the surface. We feel angry or we blame others or we stop showing up or we gossip or we numb with drugs and food and sex and work and shopping and social media.
I do not tell myself my father was taken too soon or that it was unfair that he died or that he is no longer able to teach me life lessons.
Because none of that is true.
Who do I think I am to decide the right time for someone else to die? My father was here on earth for the exact right length of time he was supposed to be here.
And who am I to say that his death was unfair? We all have to die and it is not up to me to decide when or how someone should go. His life was not mine to live. His lessons were not mine to learn. The timing of his death is none of my business. And I choose to believe in a God (I could also use the words universe or source or energy) that says he died because he had finished his work here.
And he taught me the exact right lessons he was supposed to teach me while he was here. And he continues to teach me lessons because he is still with me. His love and his presence and his whispers and his enthusiasm are still right here for me. More available to me than they were when I could pick up the phone and call him.
All I need to do is get still long enough to hear them.
My father loved me exactly the way I was supposed to be loved and he showed up for me in the exact way he was supposed to show up for me.
Me wishing for different only hurts me. And I refuse to waste a single second of my life wishing for a single second of it to be different...because with one single change, I am not here, right now, with you, like this.
So more than anything, I feel deeply blessed. Blessed to have had this person in my life. And blessed to have the people in my life who are with me on this journey.
In the course she teaches with Brene Brown, Glennon has also taught me not to get too caught up being on the mountaintop. Right now, I am enjoying the success of my book and the opportunities that are arising from it. It is helping people and changing lives and serving the world in ways I could have never even imagined. I am proud of the work and more proud of the people who have been vulnerable enough to raise their hands and ask for help. These people inspire me every day and their stories, the connections I am making, go far above my greatest expectations.
But I am also inside of some pain right now. I've been sitting with it and writing about it. I've been meditating and praying about it. I've been listening to this Guided Meditation that Tony Robbins did on The Tim Ferris Show on how to resolve internal conflict.
I have called upon my people to help. And I've called upon my Dad. For two nights before the date of his death, he heard the call and he came to me in my dreams. Just last night, he came to me again. This is how we communicate now. Through whispers and sunsets and clouds...and dreams. And while I don't have the lesson yet, I know it is coming. So please just stay close. Because when I have it, you will be the first to know.
But you can rest assured that what I will not do is numb it with any of the old "easy buttons" (as G calls them) that I have used before. I refuse to waste a single second of my life pushing the pain aside or trying to avoid it or handing it over to others instead of sitting right in it...even though it's hard.
Even though it sucks.
I numbed for far too long. I am done with numbing.
So bring on the pain.
I'm ready. I'm here. I feel it.
Because I am a Warrior.
Because I want YOU to be a Warrior.
Because I want you to love your life one bite at a time.
P.P.S To learn more about my story while also kicking a sugar habit, check out my new book, The 28 Day Kick The Sugar Challenge, where I share more of myself and how I used health and fitness to overcome my addictions to alcohol and sugar, while also developing a greater sense of self-trust, self-respect and self-love. I would be honoured to help you do the same.
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