5 Tips to Make Meditation Easier

I've been trying to meditate on and off over the past seven years, but I've never been able to keep it up. At work, my boss organized mindfulness classes for the team. (My workplace is amazing.) After just one session, I've been able to get past my thoughts of "what am I going to have for lunch?" and "I'm so itchy" to sit still, breathe, and be present.

Here are five tips to make the meditation process a whole lot easier.

1. Start Small

Instead of beginning at ten minutes, start with five minutes.

2. Don't Judge

There's no such thing as a perfect meditation practice. If you show up, that's enough. Don't worry if your mind goes to lunch or pain for a brief second. Just bring your focus back to your breath.

3. Get Comfortable

There's no need to sit on the floor. If you want to lounge on your couch, do it. Make sure you support your back with a cushion or the back of a chair.

4. Use the Right Tools

The mindfulness teacher recommended a great free app called Insight. There are several timers with gentle tones to signal that time's up as well as white noise options. I'm a fan of the continuous waterfall.

5. Send Out Loving Kindness to the World

For me, the Tibetan Buddhist practice of tonglen is very helpful. If I do this, I don't feel like I'm struggling against my mind.

Pema Chödrön's instructions:

"On the in-breath, you breathe in whatever particular area, group of people, country, or even one particular person... maybe it’s not this more global situation, maybe it’s breathing in the physical discomfort and mental anguish of chemotherapy; of all the people who are undergoing chemotherapy. And if you’ve undergone chemotherapy and come out the other side, it’s very real to you. Or maybe it’s the pain of those who have lost loved ones; suddenly, or recently, unexpectedly or over a long period of time, some dying. But the in-breath is... you find some place on the planet in your personal life or something you know about, and you breathe in with the wish that those human beings or those mistreated animals or whoever it is, that they could be free of that suffering, and you breathe in with the longing to remove their suffering.
And then you send out – just relax out... send enough space so that peoples’ hearts and minds feel big enough to live with their discomfort, their fear, their anger or their despair, or their physical or mental anguish. But you can also breathe out for those who have no food and drink, you can breathe out food and drink. For those who are homeless, you can breathe out/send them shelter. For those who are suffering in any way, you can send out safety, comfort.
So in the in-breath you breathe in with the wish to take away the suffering, and breathe out with the wish to send comfort and happiness to the same people, animals, nations, or whatever it is you decide.
Do this for an individual, or do this for large areas, and if you do this with more than one subject in mind, that’s fine… breathing in as fully as you can, radiating out as widely as you can."

10 Healing Ways to Spend 15 Minutes

Yesterday, I sat in my apartment wondering: what can I do during these turbulent times? How can I contribute and take action from where I am in the world that creates results? I settled on donating money to the ACLU and writing to my member of parliament and to the Prime Minister. This is a start, but I can see that this is going to be a long fight, so we need to take care of ourselves in order to continue kicking ass. 

If you feel like you don't have time, I suggest starting small. Commit to fifteen minutes a day. 

What can you accomplish in fifteen minutes?

1. Journal: Write down all the thoughts you're having. The good things,  the bad things, and the neutral things. List what you're grateful for that day. Let go.

2. Go to Bed Fifteen Minutes Earlier: You'll be surprised how that fifteen extra minutes makes a difference in your sleep quality. Or perhaps you'll get up earlier and suddenly you've created more time in the morning.

3. Meditate: Calming the mind does wonders. If you've never meditated before, I recommend the free sessions on Headspace.

4. Go for a Walk: A short stroll can be a mood changer or energy booster. Instead of having caffeine, I often go for a walk in the afternoon.

5. Read a Book: Do this for pleasure. A hot beverage makes this time even more delightful.

6. Oil Pull: Take a spoonful of oil (I prefer cold pressed sunflower because I'm allergic to coconut) and swish it around in your mouth for fifteen to twenty minutes. After you spit out the oil, scrape your tongue, rinse, and brush your teeth. Your mouth will feel so fresh.

7. Stretch: Yoga or simple stretches keep the body loose and the blood circulating.

8. Listen to Music: Put on headphones and sit on the couch or lie down. Don't multitask. Just listen.

9. Spontaneous Dance Party in the Living Room: This is exactly what it sounds like. Put on some music and bust a move. The sillier you look, the better.

10. Pack a Healthy Lunch: This will save money and give your body the fuel it needs to keep up the fight.

We need to be in top shape if we're going to last through what's ahead. No matter what, you can find fifteen minutes in your day to make your life a tiny bit calmer.

Try this Writing Trick to Get You Through Toxic Times

I've been reading The Art of Communicating by Thich Nhat Hanh. If you're feeling anxiety right now due to current events and the resulting in-person and online abuse, you need this book. It will help you create the space you need to deal with the toxic bullshit that's flowing so freely from the mouths of people who are supposed to be leaders.

This opening paragraphs are all kinds of yes:

"Nothing can survive without food. Everything we consume acts either to heal us or to poison us. We tend to think of nourishment only as what we take in through our mouths, but what we consume with our eyes, our ears, our noses, our tongues, and our bodies is also food. The conversations going on around us, and those we participate in, are also food. Are we consuming and creating the kind of food that is healthy for us and helps us grow?
"When we say something that nourishes us and uplifts the people around us, we are feeding love and compassion. When we speak and act in a way that causes tension and anger, we are nourishing violence and suffering.
"We often ingest toxic communication from those around us and from what we watch and read. Are we ingesting things that grow our understanding and compassion? If so, that's good food. Often, we ingest communication that makes us feel bad or insecure about ourselves or judgmental and superior to others. We can think about our communication in terms of nourishment and consumption. The Internet is an item of consumption, full of nutrients that are both healing and toxic. It's so easy to ingest a lot in just a few minutes online. This doesn't mean you shouldn't use the Internet, but you should be conscious of what you are reading and watching."

Hanh then goes on to offer this:

"When you write an e-mail or a letter that is full of understanding and compassion, you are nourishing yourself during the time you write that letter. Even if it's just a short note, everything you're writing down can nourish you and the person to whom are you writing."

Last week I declared 2017 the year of friendship. A while back, I mentioned that we can take a moment to tell the people we love that we appreciate them. So this week, if you're feeling down, write an e-mail or letter to someone that comes from a place of understanding and compassion. You don't need to send it if you don't want to. It's a way to heal and also to jump start your writing practice. If you want to really dig deep, pick someone with whom you disagree and address this note to them. You may find it freeing to send kindness out to this person. I swear it's better than watching remix videos of that Nazi getting punched set to "In the Air Tonight".

 

The Number One Secret to Productivity

You're not going to believe this, but the secret to productivity is rest and play.

That's right, I'm telling you to prioritize self care over getting things done. It's counterintuitive, but if you allot time in your schedule to rest and to play, even if you can only manage ten minutes to nap or meditate, you'll be more focused when you're working. This leads to better output. You'll also enjoy your time off more because you'll be present for it instead of thinking you should be doing something else. 

Before I recovered from procrastination, I'd punish myself for taking breaks. But rather than spend quality time on writing, I would binge watch hours of TV and feel bad during every second of this leisure time. This made me hate writing even more. I felt blocked all the time. My days seemed joyless.

Everything changed when I read The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Dr. Neil Fiore. This book taught me how to schedule in meals with family and friends, naps, walks, exercise, films, concerts, therapy, and reading time. Dr. Fiore recommends that we move for at least an hour a day, so sometimes I march in place or dance around while watching Netflix or stretch while listening to a podcast.

For many people, this is a good time of the year to rest and recalibrate. So for this week give this a try: put the fun first. Commit to enjoying that time. Step away from your computer. If it means turning off your phone, do it. If you have to delegate one of your responsibilities to someone else for a week to regain your sanity, figure out a way to do it. I know we all have to hustle so we can survive, but we owe it to ourselves to break the cycle of being exhausted and overwhelmed. No matter how tough our lives may be, we can take ten minutes and choose to rest and be present during this time. We can choose to take ownership of a few minutes of each day to put ourselves first. If we can take this step to bring real joy to our lives, everything else will fall into place.

 

Spilling the Tea on Being One Year Sober

In three days I will hit a milestone: one year sober. Over the past 362 days, I haven't had a single alcoholic beverage. No painkillers, no Diet Coke, no antihistamines. Anyone who follows this up with "no fun" can fuck off to rehab, because I'm not here for that noise. Yes, even sober I'm still working on my anger issues. The difference now is that I'm looking my bullshit in the eye.

What I've Learned While Sober

  • I don't miss drinking. I thought it was going to be hard, but I'm lucky that I wasn't addicted.
  • My real friends are happy to do sober activities with me. Like write! If I surround myself with the right people, nothing is too difficult to take on.
  • It's not selfish to put myself first. Self care for the win.
  • Pain subsides a lot more quickly when I'm not dulling the days with booze.
  • I need to re-establish a better connection between mind and body.

What I've Gained Over the Past Year

  • I don't smell like a rotting sugar cube anymore.
  • I can go more than two days without washing my hair and it still doesn't reek like death.
  • No hay fever, even without antihistamines.
  • I am much calmer. I don't go into an emotional tailspin every other day over dumb stuff like awkward interactions or slow walkers during rush hour.
  • I finally got around to all those repairs I was avoiding and now I'm never leaving my apartment again.
  • My eyes look really clear. I think my liver hated me before.
  • No weekends ruined by hangovers.
  • The spark to make things again. This blog is my way back to storytelling, to fiction. 

The takeaway? I don't need to drink. I'm serving clearheaded realness all the time and I love it.

 

 

:heart:

I'm exhausted right now, but I wanted to check in and send my love to everyone. It's dark times right now and it's okay to take a moment to process everything. I've been escaping via episodes of RuPaul's Drag Race.

For this week, as we're trying to claw our way out of the darkness, one way to get out of our heads is to tell the people in our lives how much we appreciate them. Pick up the phone. Send an e-mail. Meet face-to-face. Be love and beauty and joy. Let's take care of ourselves. 

Tomorrow we fight.

On Being Needed

After reading my post last week on loving kindness, a friend sent me a New York Times article by the Dalai Lama and Arthur C. Brooks: "Behind Our Anxiety, the Fear of Being Unneeded":

"In one shocking experiment, researchers found that senior citizens who didn’t feel useful to others were nearly three times as likely to die prematurely as those who did feel useful.
This speaks to a broader human truth: We all need to be needed. "

What I get from this is two things: first, we need to have a purpose to ease our anxiety and feel that life has meaning. Second, we must be a part of a community. You can't be needed unless there's someone else there to need you.

Over the past five weeks, I've thought a lot about being needed. I don't work in an emergency room. I'm not an elementary or high school teacher. I'm not qualified to save small children from fires or even a wading pool. So then, what purpose does my work serve in society? How can my labour serve other people? Am I needed?

"Being 'needed' does not entail selfish pride or unhealthy attachment to the worldly esteem of others. Rather, it consists of a natural human hunger to serve our fellow men and women. As the 13th-century Buddhist sages taught, 'If one lights a fire for others, it will also brighten one’s own way."

At my day job as an editor, I like to think I'm serving people by making text accessible to a wide audience. Every time I check a fact or untangle a difficult sentence I feel useful. Sometimes I imagine that I'm opening a door for a child to walk through to discover they love art.

As a writer, the thing I most want to do is write books that light fires for others, so that I can experience a hot blaze in my life. I'd like all the things that brightening through service entails: happiness and the ability to see beyond myself.

The next time you're facing writer's block or the fear of doing something important, perhaps ask yourself how taking action can light a fire for someone else. You're on the verge of writing the book that someone else needs to read so they can laugh or cry. This purpose might lessen the anxiety, bring you joy, or give you the resolve to keep going. If we think this way, about the light we bring to others by being present, then we're not alone at a computer, staring at a blinking cursor on a blank page. Perhaps this is how we can get out of our own way, be well, and author the story that world needs.

A Little Loving Kindness

From afar, I know that many of my friends and colleagues in the writing community are suffering at this moment. I see you and I am sending you love. For many, the suffering is causing writer's block, and I know from experience this increases the suffering and the pain. When I'm not making things, I feel like I'm not totally myself--I'm just a body moving through the world, committing one fuck up after another. I don't wish this on anyone.

I want everyone who is suffering to find the peace and forgiveness that they need so they can get back to the work and return to being their fullest selves. This will take time, just as much time as needed. We are all strong, and we have stories to tell.

This Pema Chödrön quotation from Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living reminds me not to close off my heart when things get scary:

"The idea of karma is that you continually get the teachings that you need in order to open your heart. To the degree that you didn't understand in the past how to stop protecting your soft spot, how to stop armoring your heart, you're given this gift of teachings in the form of your life, to give you everything you need to learn how to open further."

This life is teaching us how to be us, to be human. Let's struggle together, even if our narratives differ. This is how we will heal. We got this.

The Next Fix

My biggest life achievement this month is I hired someone to repair the closet door in my bedroom. I know, this sounds like a simple thing to do, but I learned a major life lesson from this experience. (Wait for it...)

A Brief History of the Closet Doors

I often procrastinate on repairs. My family isn't big on non-emergency home improvements because we're not handy, so fixing anything means paying for parts and labour. (We're Chinese, so we don't like throwing away perfectly good money.) I've seen my parents devise ingenious yet ridiculous routines to work around a broken garage door opener, which was out of commission for nine months. When I visited I threatened to pay someone to fix it so they finally asked a family friend to check it out and it turned out that two screws were loose. It took a minute to fix. My mom lived with this problem for about 270 days...

Once when I was visiting my parents my shower door fell on me. My dad reinstalled the panels, but in the wrong order (I think he did it after he'd had a few glasses of wine) and told me to live with it, so for a few weeks I was climbing into the shower in the weirdest, most back-breaking way. First world problems, I know. Again, things changed when I said, "I think I can pay a friend fifty dollars to have a look at this."

Anyhow, my closet has two heavy sliding doors on it and for more than two years they would jam whenever it got humid, which is ten months of the year in Hong Kong. This made getting dressed in the morning suck super hard. (Sometimes I chose to wear shoes that didn't require socks because I couldn't reach the sock drawer.) I felt defeated every time I finished doing laundry and had to put things away, so I had clean heaps of clothes sitting on my guest room bed. Oiling the track didn't help. My cousin had a look at it and didn't have any answers. I gave up for a while, mostly because I was writing my book and didn't have the money to fix it. I was stuck with the belief that I couldn't solve this problem.

One day last month I finally had enough. Why was I making my life so hard when I had the resources to make it easier? I Googled, "Fix broken sliding closet door Hong Kong." (I learned this Google lesson the hard way, after I opened a coconut with a hammer. There are dozens of YouTube videos with much more civilized solutions. Later, I learned how to disconnect a washing machine through the power of Google, so I'm not totally hopeless.) I got a quote, which I thought was too expensive and contacted another company until I got a better price.

So on Saturday, the repair guys came and fixed the closet door. It slides so smoothly I actually spent a minute moving the door back and forth. Mesmerizing! I also had the guest room A/C cleaned, paint touched up on my bedroom wall, a magnetic knife rack mounted to my kitchen wall, a panel removed from a cupboard, and all the lights in the apartment checked. Oh and I got advice on wall mounting for the TV I don't yet own and the repair dude said he could get me the device at cost.

The Takeaway

I learned that I don't have to live with a problem forever. I can choose to fix anything in my life. I have the resources to do this. Either I learn how to do it myself, or I find an expert I trust who will guide me or do it for me.

This isn't just about closet doors. The same principle applies to health, mental health, and writing. There is a solution out there. I just have to figure out what it is, devise a plan, and execute it. I don't have to settle for broken.

 

I'm kind of in love with this wall mounted magnetic knife rack. Now I don't have to worry about cutting myself every time I reach into my cutlery drawer.

I'm kind of in love with this wall mounted magnetic knife rack. Now I don't have to worry about cutting myself every time I reach into my cutlery drawer.

No Spoons Left

This week I'm depleted, so I'm directing you to a tremendous interview between Sachiko Murakami and Nikki Reimer. The first time I read it, I was so moved by their insight and bravery and generosity in having this conversation in a public forum that I immediately read it again.

Some highlights from their discussion:

SM: Yes, carving out writing time and energy when I have to day job is, for me, nearly impossible. I’m working a desk job right now, and it uses up nearly every one of my spoons. I need at least two free hours in which I am fed, well-rested, calm, and pain-free to get any kind of writing done, and I am never fed, well-rested, calm, and pain-free for two free hours on a work day. In order to get to a writing-state, I need to put in many hours of self-care. And then the acts of self-care ironically use up the last spoons that I was saving for writing.
NR:  ...I feel a sense of responsibility, particularly in grief and mourning, to be honest, because I think we have a very fucked up attitude towards death and grief in our culture, and I have seen how much it hurts people I know to have their needs in grief dismissed. The death of a central person in your life changes you radically, and you don’t stop having a relationship with them just because they are not with you physically. There is still a mainstream misconception that the healthiest thing is to “get over it,” and “move on,” to stop being, as one friend was told, “a sad widow.” That’s all bullshit. If I can help raise awareness about the realities of significant loss through my posts, than I’m happy to do it. And I will never stop missing my brother, loving my brother, feeling my brother’s presence in my life. Earlier in the process it would wound me deeply to be criticized for my openness about my journey through grief, but I don’t care, anymore, what people might think of me for being outspoken about it. I know my truth. I’m in a much more stable place now, four years and three months after, but the pain doesn’t end. You just learn to fit it into your body and your life.

I'll be back again next week with some preliminary thoughts about trauma and health.

Let's Talk About Exhaustion

A friend posted on Facebook: “Anyone else completely useless on weekends? I know I’ve never really had a proper 9–5 job before but it’s like both my body and mind go into standby mode on Fridays at midnight.”

I feel this so much. I want to write during the weekends, but instead I find myself binge watching TV shows like The Night Of and drinking tall glasses of stevia lemonade to stave off dehydration. Most of my energy goes to laundry (I pretty much have to boil my sheets weekly to lower the chances of an allergy attack) and making large meals to freeze so that I don’t have to cook if I’m ready to pass out at the end of the workday. Being an adult sometimes feels like a long trudge through a blizzard to somewhere I don’t want to be.

A few years ago, when I went to therapy for the first time, I realised that the way I talked to myself contributed to my exhaustion and my aversion to writing. No matter what I did, I never stopped to acknowledge that I was doing a good job of living life. All I saw was the pile of clean clothes I hadn’t had time to put away or the unopened mail or the books I’d bought but hadn’t yet had a chance to read. At work I’d sit at the computer until my forearms burned and my eyes were blurry. Nothing left in reserve. My sense of achievement came from feeling productive and my definition of productivity was shaped by outdated industrial revolution ideas about a set workday and output.

But like any perfectionist, I was all or nothing. Whenever I hit the wall, I had no motivation and I usually caught a cold or developed some kind of debilitating pain that hampered my ability to work until I’d have to quit and cobble together freelance projects until I’d rested long enough to give the office another shot. At most of these jobs where I burned out, if my boss had just stopped to tell me I was doing a good job or that my work was appreciated, I could have lasted longer because who doesn’t feel buoyed up by gratitude?

I was going to have to change if I wanted to be healthy and happy, but the way wellness is sometimes packaged freaked me out, like it was solely the domain of entitled lithe women with trust funds, investment banker husbands, and Instagram accounts where the natural lighting always seems to come from the north. But the thing I’ve discovered the hard way is that you have to take care of yourself before you can contribute in any meaningful way to society. Otherwise you’re just a selfless burden who doesn't understand how to set boundaries. Better to be selfish in the right ways at the right times. This Laurie Penny essay covers all these questions regarding self care: 


The ideology of wellbeing may be exploitative, and the tendency of the left to fetishize despair is understandable, but it is not acceptable—and if we waste energy hating ourselves, nothing’s ever going to change. If hope is too hard to manage, the least we can do is take basic care of ourselves. On my greyest days, I remind myself of the words of the poet and activist Audre Lorde, who knew a thing or two about survival in an inhuman world, and wrote that self care "is not self-indulgence—it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

So what’s the writing take away? In order to love the process again, I started setting a timer for thirty minutes, which I’ve since reduced to twenty-five minutes to follow the Pomodoro technique. During the session, I would do nothing but write. No e-mail, no reading, just writing. At the end of a thirty-minute block, I’d applaud. Yes, I sat in my apartment, alone, madly clapping for myself. I don’t need to do this anymore, but at the time it pulled me out of a spiral and gave me exactly what I needed to complete my short story collection. So go ahead and try it. Be the cheerleader that you need in your life.

***

The environment plays a huge role in our well being, so for readers in Canada, I urge you to consider writing a letter of protest against the Kinder Morgan pipeline and oil tanker proposal before September 30. (Click here for a simple form that will direct your letters to the right place.) Don’t let the fact that Justin Trudeau is pretty and awesome at PR lull you into complacency. Just because he surfs, attends pride parades, and is all-around dreamy doesn’t mean he’ll put our First Nations communities or concerned families first without us putting up a fight. In many ways, a politician of this calibre is much more dangerous than someone who is simply odious, so we have to make ourselves heard. We become well by advocating for ourselves and for our communities and this is an opportunity for us to author our fates together.

It Takes Two to Be Toxic

For years I had a friend who needed me so much I spent more time on her problems than I did on my own. Chatting with her was easier than working on my book because I didn't love the writing process then. My cultish devotion to her well being made me believe that I was a good friend, with the added bonus of an escape from the self doubt that suffocated me during my showdowns with blank pages. She would message me with whatever life or death situation of her own making and get angry if I didn't think someone was out to get her. (Full disclosure: I was pretty mentally ill myself at that time and would also oscillate between the belief that someone was omg the most amazing person I'd ever met or just pure movie villain evil hellbent on making me miserable. I know now that this is some seriously unhealthy bullshit.)

There were times I placated this friend by agreeing with her, even when she was being unreasonable, because she was so wounded and chronically ill I was afraid to hurt her. During the workday I'd receive an onslaught of messages from her, oftentimes talking smack about our mutual friends. Her complaints and criticisms filled my headspace. Twice, she called me right before I went to sleep in a state of agitation, demanding attention, going on about how no one was there for her, laying on the guilt. It was never an emergency, but I always felt bad telling her no, so I always let her have my time. I was a ride-or-die BFF, no matter what, especially if we were drinking together. She needed to be a victim, and I needed to play Captain Save-a-Ho.

Let's be clear: I was not a good friend. I was not offering true kindness that gave her space her to grow. Rather, I was an enabler. My blind support was allowing her self-destructive behaviour to fester. So really, I was aspartame, a slow-acting poison that seems sweet but isn't the real thing. For the longest time I didn't understand why I fell so easily into this dynamic. Why did I feel the need to be responsible for her, to help her fix her life even though I was a raging mess? When I think about it, the first time we met we got along because she seemed familiar. I was so comfortable in her presence. She felt like family, which in hindsight is a problem because my relatives are working through trauma, abuse, mental health issues, and addiction. Some family members mistake meanness for a sense of humour, and sometimes I mistake this cruelty for love.

***

I had lunch with P the other day. We hadn't seen each other in two years because a few weeks after we last met, he was struck by a mystery illness before he was to start a dream job in academia. Like me, he's managing a roster of integrated healthcare professionals, but whatever he's going through has been much more debilitating. Rather than bounding around the front of a classroom with his usual enthusiasm, he's had to deliver his lectures seated. He used to go running, but now even short walks can be taxing.

We met at a cafe where the owner gave us extra food and shared that his daughter was a singer songwriter who had left Canada for Europe because she'd had a rough childhood. We listened to one of her songsit was the only time there was music playing during the three hours we were thereand her voice was at once powerful and vulnerable.

 

While we ate, I discovered that P was also struggling with setting boundaries on helping other people.

"It's hard for me to ask for help. I have a lot of shame around it," he told me. If someone sought his support, he dropped what he was doing to be of service because he imagined it was just as difficult for that person to make the request. I told him this wasn't always the case. Some people go through their lives expecting others to take care of them, to clean up their messes, to bring order to their world.

We had so much to say because we didn't have to edit ourselves. We're aware that health stories bore the shit out of healthy people, so we don't usually detail the systems we've devised to manage each day. He shared that he was able to write for the first time in weeks. I told him what it was like to stop drinking and listed all my strange new food allergies. We're so attuned to our bodies now we didn't shy away from detailing our bowel movements. Whatever shame I had about shitting evaporated the moment I had to produce a fecal sample, collect it in a specimen container that had a tiny built-in scoop, and deliver it via a subway ride within a three-hour window for a lab test. Pretty much every topic we brought up became a source of hilarity.

"What the fuck, I've been doing affirmations," I confessed. "I am healthy! I approve of myself! I am a lottery winner!"         

"This morning, I thanked the sun for shining," he said.

We started laughing so hard. We'd gone full woo and there was nothing to do but embrace this unexpected change in our lives.

Before we left so I could go to my acupuncture appointment, the owner told us we were honourable people. "Why do I know this?" he said. "See that over there?" He pointed to the liquor store across the street and told us that he'd had an alcohol problem for more than thirty years, but that Jesus had released him from all that. He hugged us. I thought of his daughter, living in Europe, singing her songs about love while her husband sang backup.

After this, for the first time ever, I bought a lottery ticket.

***

One day three years ago I decided to do some research on codependency. I'd heard that word before, but I had no idea what it meant. This is how I discovered Melody Beattie's Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself, which is the seminal book about the Captain Save-a-Ho Syndrome and how to change.

I have never cried so much while reading than I have as I worked through Codependent No More. Though I've never lived with an alcoholic, I was a textbook codependent because my family was rife with compulsive disorders. Rather than face my own problems and care for myself, I avoided conflicts and life by putting other people first. I'd been trained to believe that this made me a good person.

It became apparent to me that I was responsible for creating the conditions for my unhealthy friendships because I thrived on emergencies. I knew how to calm suicidal and depressed women, but I didn’t know how to find this peace for myself. All of this dramatic bullshit got in the way of writing. What scared me most was the realization that I serially befriended a certain type of woman who reminded me of my mother: I was trying to work out my issues with her through these friendships. This was a pure wtf lightbulb-over-my-head moment.

Last year, I received a text from my wounded friend. She said needed to talk to me very urgently because she'd had a traumatic experience with one of our mutual friends. I told her I was unable to Skype (because I didn't have the emotional energy to speak to her on a work night) but out of guilt I said she could text me.

Why didn't I trust my gut? As soon as she had my attention, she insisted on telling me something I'd specifically told her I did not want to know, a poisonous piece of information relating to the heartbreak I'd suffered a few months earlier. As the messages came through, the subtext was I wasn't so special, that I'd been used, that I should be as angry as she was at our mutual friend. Every text she sent me was designed to be as hurtful as possible under the guise of seeking my advice. All her words sounded just like the demon voices I’d worked so hard to exorcise from my head.

As I read her messages to me, I realized that it takes two to be toxic. I was choosing to engage with her, to allow her to create drama, to let her manipulation cause me to second guess myself. Why was I living like this? Listening to her was no different from cutting myself to divert attention away from my real pain. I stared at my phone, wondering what would be the kindest thing to do. There was a burning feeling in my chest. I was more sad than angry. How could I be kind to both of us? The only solution was to remove myself from the equation. I told her she needed to talk to our mutual friend directly to resolve the issue rather than chat with me about it. I was not going to fix anything for her. Then I ended our conversation. That night, as I lay in bed, I knew it was time for me to work on my relationship with my mother.