More questions than answers, i.e., Recovery (or just Life, I suppose)

To me, today, the idea of Recovery really boils down to two separate issues.  One, the huge and seemingly insurmountable, is body image.  I need to do more exploring here, obviously, and I will continue to read and research.  I think it’s really more of a cultural issue than I’ve let myself believe.  I have said time and time again that the magazines and billboards and tv commercials, celebrities and movie stars, none of that influenced me.  I’ve genuinely never really cared for pop-culture, fashion, never kept up with the latest music or movies.  I have spent most of my time with a book in my hand, building things, making things, learning things, making some sort of music with some sort of instrument.  (Fun Fact:  As a 4th grader, I tried to teach myself to read and write Swedish, just for fun!) . But what if these cultural standards really did have an influence on me, despite my lack of attention to them?  I remember envying even the immature small bodies of some of my peers in elementary school.  Why can’t I be pretty like they are?  What did I do to deserve to be so big?  Why am I so bad? Why don’t I fit in?  By middle school, I was keeping a folder of photos of appropriately thin-enough girls from Delia’s catalogues I didn’t even order clothes from, just so I could look back and remind myself what I was aiming for.  Same with pictures from Girl’s Life and American Girl magazines.  I’d read about their grand adventures and how girls could do anything!  Be anything!  We were unstoppable!  And then I cut out pictures to remind me how small I should be.  Where did this desire to be small come from, if not from the messages and images that I observed and heard as a child?  Back to the same old idea—I may not have created these conditions, but it’s up to me to rise above them.  I did not choose to take on the standards of the thin ideal, but I did nonetheless.  Now, I can choose to change my mind. I feel a strong urge to become an advocate for Health at Every Size, to stand in opposition to Diet Culture, but my first order of business is how to change my own standards for myself and learn to accept my own body.  Easier said than done.

The other main issue is something that was brought up to me yesterday during a conversation with someone I trust and look up to.  I had heard it before (many times), but I don’t know that I really understood before.  I have no real idea of what my own expectations are, what really motivates me.  I have simply relied on other people’s expectations to define my own since I was a child.  How do I begin to untangle my own expectations from everyone else’s that I’ve been assuming were my own for so many years?  You’re so smart!  You’re so talented!  You can do anything!  So I tried.  Really hard, for years and years.  If I was smart, why *wouldn’t* I get A’s?  If I was talented, why *wouldn’t* I make All-State, get into the Jacob’s School of Music?  Do the hardest things possible to make good use of the smarts and talents I’d been told so often that I had?  Despite these constant reminders that I Could Do Anything! why did I feel so overall lousy?  Like I wasn’t working hard enough, wasn’t doing enough, wasn’t exceptional enough?  Why was I so ashamed of myself that I was shrinking away from life, literally and figuratively?  Maybe it’s like she told me yesterday.  Maybe it’s because I’ve never really figured out how it is that *I* really want to spend my life.  I had never thought of it that way before.  If those aren’t my goals and desires, then what do I actually want?  How do I deal with the perceived failures might arise if I do things differently, according to what I discover my own dreams and desire might be?  How do I change my idea that failure in anything (and by failure, I mean anything less than perfection) automatically means I’m worthless and undeserving and everyone will know how shameful I am?  There’s lots to ponder here, too.  I seem to be coming up with many more questions than I have answers, lately.

Aside:  I’m sitting here at Jittery Joe’s and I just ate a blueberry scone.  These blueberry scones are among my very favorite treats in the whole world.  Paired with a hazelnut coffee?  That combination by itself makes for a phenomenal day.  I so enjoyed them.  I feel calm of and settled, like I have everything I need in the world.  I sat here, and I enjoyed them.  I tasted them.  I let myself be aware of the consistency, the flavor.  This morning I had exactly 124 calories of an egg white omelet with kale and kimchi, which I measured precisely with measuring cups and a food scale.  It was pretty good actually, and I enjoyed it enough.  But if I’m being completely honest, it’s not what I wanted and the main reason my brain convinced me that I enjoyed it was because I knew it was an absurdly low calorie count for a whole meal.  So now I’m trying to convince myself that obliterating the low-calorie, low-carb breakfast with my decidedly not low-calorie or low-carb blueberry scone is really ok.  I wanted one, so I had one.  That’s normal eating.  Normal eating is ok.  Encouraged.  It does not make me weak or worthless.  The scale was down a few pounds this morning (but wait, I don’t want to ruin it! Damn you, scone! Ugh, fine, never mind.  The scone was ok. I think.), most likely due to the same ridiculous low-calorie, low-carb foods I’ve been eating the last few days.  (But the low calorie stuff has allowed me to eat three meals a day!  Success!  See?  I’m following my meal plan!  That’s bullshit, Kristen, and you know it.) There is even a disgusting looking bag in my pantry of some sort of white sludge-like liquid-packed “Miracle Noodles” that claim to have zero calories and zero carbs (to which I can’t help but ask, then what the heck is it??). I even found myself searching Instagram yesterday for super low-calorie meals, the whole time thinking I don’t even believe in diets or “lifestyle changes,” I know they don’t work, I know they’re harmful to your mind and body, I hate diet culture with a passion, I don’t want to perpetuate this nonsense, this is just straight up stupid, what am I even doing??  Oh, but I can be down to XXX by the time school starts!  Think of how confident I could be! Well, yeah, I could, but then I’d probably end up sick again, having to leave school, back in Colorado with my life on pause and a tube up my nose.  Let me tell you, as pretty as Denver is, I can only imagine how lovely it would be if I could do more than admire those mountains from the fifth-floor window of a treatment center.  And NG tubes hurt like a mofo.  So yeah, right now, in this moment, despite all the other thoughts swirling around in my head, I enjoyed that scone.

I’d love to know, what is your experience with these kinds of questions?  What is your middle like?  I genuinely want to know.

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The Messy Middle

Exactly ten months yesterday I admitted to Eating Recovery Center in Denver, Colorado.  It has been ten months of fighting (with staff, with doctors, with therapists, with just about everybody, including myself) to allow myself to recover from this eating disorder.  Ten months of living out of a suitcase and being mostly away from my husband.  It started with a medical hospitalization here in Athens, then fifteen weeks of inpatient treatment at ERC, several months of Partial Hospitalization (PHP) and then Intensive Outpatient (IOP) at Renfrew, then back to PHP, back to Inpatient at ERC, and again back to Renfrew for PHP.  I’ve lost count of where I’ve been when.  Now it’s near the end of June and I’ve just stepped down once more to IOP at Renfrew in Atlanta.  When I was admitted to the hospital last August, I told school I’d be back in three weeks.  Never in a million years did I see this coming, that the majority of the 33rd year of my life would be so strange and so scary.  I did not, and honestly still don’t, understand how sick I had actually gotten– It’s hard to conceptualize when you think you feel okay (I’ve been told I actually didn’t feel well, but I didn’t know it).  I am overwhelmingly grateful for the people that I’ve met along the way.  I realize this is (hopefully) a once-in-a-lifetime chance to dig deep and have a chance at lasting recovery.  I can’t say enough good things about my treatment teams at both the facilities where I’ve been and my amazing “dream team” of professionals here at home.  I care deeply about all of these people, and, though I do not understand why they believe so adamantly in me, I am so overwhelmingly thankful that they do.

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I’ve been loving working with watercolor and learning to do some hand lettering.

I did not know what I was getting into, what this would really be like.  I think part of the problem is that nobody ever tells you what the middle is like.  The people who talk about their recovery, at one point, were sick, dying, numb.  They’ve been where I am, their lives crumbling, the pain intolerable.  The hurt swallowing them as they refused another bite, sip, or slip away to purge, praying this one time, this time it will make everything ok again.  But they recover!  They get better.  They do the work and then they are alive again, living their lives fully, enjoying little moments in every day, truly appreciating themselves despite their flaws.  They realize that they are worthy just because they exist.  A peace descends, and slowly but surely, they relax into their new vibrations.  They want to share their story, their newfound hope and joy.  And they do, oh, they do, and it is wonderful.  I’ve read their books.  I’ve heard them on podcasts.  They’ve even come to speak to me and my fellow patients while we are in the throes of treatment, tubes up our noses and scars on our hearts.  Their stories come to us when we are lying on the ground, bruised and beaten, too tired to lift our heads just one more time.

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My altered book has been a great source of comfort and creativity lately. Who knew I could paint and draw?

And I believe them.  I believe what they tell me.  Recovery is worth it.  There is life on the other side of this, even if I don’t know what that looks like yet.  I can see the glow about them, the light in their eyes, the exuberance they radiate as they assure us that, yes, this life is for us as well.  They don’t pretend everything is perfect.  They’re real, genuine.  They tell us that life still happens, hurt still comes, yet throughout the good and bad, there is a mutual trust between them and their bodies.  They know emotions will end, that they will not be swallowed, that they are safe.  They have learned to weather the waves that everyone rides during their lifetime.  But now, you see, their response is different.  A bad day does not illicit the same self-hatred and sting of unworthiness that it used to.  They are not either all good or all bad.  They are simply having a human experience, and their worthiness no longer lies in achievements or outcomes.  They have worked hard, very hard, and they have learned these things.  Still, though, they don’t always remember in the heat of the moment.  Nobody is perfect, nobody handles life beautifully every time.  But the truths they have uncovered are there, and they can return to them.  At the end of the day, they are ok.  Maybe hurt or disappointed or embarrassed or grieving, but they are ok.  Their foundation is stronger, and they trust it will hold when they struggle.  There is nothing more to prove.

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I don’t remember exactly when I wrote this, but I come back to it again and again.

I believe in recovery, I genuinely do.  But… how did they get there?  How did you get there?  I know the feeling of the pain and the struggle so tightly bound to your soul, and I can clearly see that the shadow of this illness no longer looks out through your eyes.  Even so, I do not understand how you get from one to the other, from the ground back to your feet.  I am trying so hard.  I work every single day to apply what I’m learning, to change how my brain works.  I understand now that it is literal re-wiring that has to happen.  My eating disorder thoughts and behaviors are well-worn super-highways through my brain, and healing means hacking my way through a thicket of unknown places, attempting to create even the smallest of new pathways.  And then I have to walk them over and over again, as uneven and foreign and unnatural as they are, hoping that they become bigger and stronger and that the super-highway becomes even the tiniest bit less appealing.  I choose to hope that every time I challenge a thought, eat when I don’t want to, pack away another pair of size 0 shorts, that this will be worth it in the “end.”  It’s exhausting, and I hate it.  I want to stop doing it and to just get back on the damn familiar highway where I can shift into cruise control and move easily through my life.  Just for a little while, just so I can have a rest from this work, from this constant back-and-forth in my head, to not fight so ferociously about every little thing…

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Tiny little “mixed-media” I did at ERC, round 2.

How did you do this?  How did you wade through this part?  How did you finally pick a side for which to fight?  How long did it take?  What did a normal day look like for you? How did you move this understanding from your head to your heart?  I could write you a well-written and fully cited dissertation on eating disorders with all the research I’ve done. But how do you actually, you know, do recovery?  How did you deal with looking in the mirror and despising the figure looking back at you, the one with the round face, curves in places where there used to be edges?  Did you believe people when they said that what you see isn’t real?  Are you academic, relatively intelligent, like me, and wonder how the brain that has brought you this far could be lying to you now, so well and so often?  Lying so convincingly that you literally see something that’s not real when you look in the mirror?  When were you able to trust those around you instead of what you see with your own eyes?  Were you as confused as I am?  Did you struggle this much?  Did you cry yourself to sleep because you can’t stand being trapped in this body but you also couldn’t fathom surviving another day of being so thirsty you literally saw stars when you stood up?

This is the part I want to hear about, but I can’t seem to find it.  I have lived (am living?) the beginning, and I believe in the goal, but there’s a big, gaping hole where that messy middle happens.  There are many parts of this for me to work through—my totally distorted body image, my raging perfectionism, my inability to see myself as worthwhile without a report card or chair placement.  As Brene Brown would say, I have somehow bought into the ideas of “exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth.”

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I am working my way through unwinding all these maddening (and yet seemingly safe) places and trying to replace them with better ways to live and experience my own life.  I’m trying to change how I think, how I eat, how I think about eating.  This challenge is really only getting started for me.  I didn’t know how hard it would be, how long it would take, how much would need to change.  But it does, and I’m doing it, albeit slowly and in a very non-linear progression.  And if I’m going to do it, I’m going to make this about something bigger than me.  I’m going to write about the hurt and struggle, and hopefully the joys and excitement as I see little changes begin to take hold.  It’s not going to be pretty, that I can assure you.  I’m probably going to continue to be angry and manipulative and fighting everyone who is trying to help me and hating my body and changing my mind about whether or not I actually want recovery in the first place about a thousand times a day.  I’m probably going to continue hiding crackers in my sleeves sometimes and cover uneaten things on my plate with orange peels.  And I’ll be pissed at you when you call me out.  Just so you know.  That’s still where I’m safe.

But you know what?  In the midst of all this crap, I’m determined to be “that person” for someone else out there that is struggling.  I want to say that I used to be there, and now I’m here, it’s not fun, it’s not pretty, but I believe in where I’m going.  I’m not going to get there today, but I choose to hope I will someday.  Come with me.  You don’t have to do it alone, either.  I will not let my story and my journey, this deep digging and soul-searching and generally shitty time, be for nothing.  I want someday to be able to say I am worth all of this fight.  Even now, though, I know that this is not for me alone.  This is for something much bigger than me.  I’m going to share my truth, despite my fear of your judgment, in hopes that it really does make a difference to someone, somewhere.

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Please be understanding with me, friends.  I am not used to being so vulnerable, even with a computer screen to protect me.  I can guarantee I’ll try to hide behind some pretty snarky sarcasm and humor.  I’m really good at it.  You all are my friends, my professors, my elementary, middle, and high school teachers, the people I’ve looked up to, parents of the students I’ve taught, students from my classes at UGA…  I like hiding behind my “I’m easily good at everything and I get good grades and play bassoon well and keep a perfect house” façade.  But I’m not perfect, I’m scared a lot, I work really freaking hard to do well in school, I judge myself harshly, and I actually hate cleaning up the kitchen.  I also detest brushing my teeth (but don’t worry, I do it anyway).  It’s scary to put this stuff out in the universe.  But it needs to be out there.

This will be the story of my messy middle.  It’s time this part of the journey is shared.

 

2017 – The year of All The Things

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve written anything here.  I’ll admit, I feel some guilt over not having written a post to my dad on the fourth anniversary of his death.  It’s the first year I haven’t written to him.  The day did not go unnoticed, but I did not write.  This year was a complicated amalgamation of different experiences, emotions, and milestones.  Looking back, I can’t believe that they all fit into one short calendar year.  I’ve had a little space from them now, and although I am just beginning my own personal processing of the year, I wanted to share a few things with all of you that I feel need to be said.

This time last year, I began the second semester of my first year of grad school at UGA.  Oh, how I love being in school again.  I love learning, being a part of a community of like-minded, creative people, being able to be my nerdy, musical self, and above all I loved teaching.  I taught freshman level Aural Skills and fell in love with my students and with music theory (I know, who EVER would have thought??).  Deepening my love, commitment, and progress (albeit with frustration!) with the bassoon and teaching my students was the homecoming that I didn’t realize my heart had been waiting for.

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Fellow aural skills TAs after the Christmas Concert.

In July, I had to say goodbye to my beloved car Rhonda the Honda in a serious accident.  To say I was shaken up would be an understatement.  I was lucky beyond words to climb out of my car with nothing more than cuts and bruises, but the accident was a physical and emotional battering.

In December, I got to meet my first nephew, Noah Kenneth, who has nestled his way into my heart in a way I couldn’t have imagined.  A new little person, a person who shares my DNA, who is the child of my brother and precious sister-in-law, who I will know for his entire life.  I held this new little person and I fell even more in love with my family than I knew was possible.  I am so excited to spend the rest of my life as Aunt Kristen.

That brings us to now, this time THIS year, and although I would give anything to be back in the orchestra and the classroom, I’m not.  I’m taking my second semester off to continue giving my body and mind space to heal from the Eating Disorder that crept back into my life despite all the wonderful things that were happening.  Life is life, after all, and there is no specifically “good” or “bad” time.  Life is complicated and multifaceted and for me, this is just my natural inclination to deal with stress.

I haven’t advertised my experience with the ED over the last year with flashing lights to everyone I come in contact with, but neither do I want it to be a shameful secret.  The truth is, save for the last 5-6 years where I’ve experienced pretty solid recovery, some sort of disordered eating has been a part of my life since I was in elementary school.  The back story here is not my main goal with this post, either, however, so I will let that be for now.

By August, it was fairly clear that I was going to need some additional help and support to deal with the eating disorder that was beginning to take a serious toll on my health and well-being.  It was also clear that school would not be an immediate option for the fall.  I was devastated.  Reluctantly, after a short hospital stay in Athens, and with the support of my amazing treatment team, Sam and I decided that it would be best if I flew out to Denver, CO to Eating Recovery Center to start the process of getting back on track.  You guys, this was legit the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my whole life.  Had I known exactly what to expect, I probably would not have gone.

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It was this moment, this post-run exhaustion and desperation when I knew that I needed more help, that it was time. This is as raw and as vulnerable as it gets, folks.

Eating Disorder treatment is no joke.  You lose your privacy, your ability to make your own decisions.  They take away what you have considered to be your lifeline to safety in life.  I could tell you about the “flush checks,” the meal plans, the ng tubes, the 15 minute fresh air breaks you earn only if you finish your meals and snacks, the not-quite-opaque gowns you are weighed in every single morning after peeing in a cup, the “team rounds” that resemble being sent to the principal’s office (which, really I can only imagine because I’ve never actually experienced that)… I could go on.

But for now, I’m not going to.  Not that my experiences aren’t worth talking about or explaining or remembering– they are.  (If you want to know more, please ask.  I’ll be happy to tell you all about it).  But what I wanted to highlight with this post is what I gained in exchange for all of the things I felt like I “lost.” In all reality, ERC saved my life.  My doctor told me that had I not gone to treatment, I had about two weeks to live.  I had no concept of this (it’s still hard to take in).  I did not feel that bad.  How could it be that bad?  But once I arrived at ERC, scared and numb, I found nothing but acceptance, gentleness, and a group of people ready to help me save myself from this insidious disease.  From the incredible nurses to the amazing BHCs (behavioral health counselors), every single person met me with compassion, a “no bullshit” attitude, and an unwavering stance that we were worth more than a life of pain and starvation for goals we will never meet.  I had never been in an environment where I felt truly understood and supported, and where everyone was rallying around each other to stamp out the nasty ED voices in our heads.  My therapist told me before I left for Denver that I was going to ERC to “let someone else fight my eating disorder for me until I was strong enough to do it myself.”   That is exactly what I found.  Those precious souls, the BHCs and nurses, those people who have now left permanent imprints on my life, fought tooth an nail against my eating disorder (and sometimes against me) to breathe life back into the shell of who I had become.

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First time allowed outside after 5 weeks. The view was incredible. Denver is beautiful.

Do not misunderstand, though– this was no easy process.  This IS no easy process.  The game isn’t over.  This isn’t a happy ending story because it’s still ongoing.  That’s just how life works.  It is a fight every single day, every hour, sometimes every minute.  It is not fun and I pretty much hate every bit of it.  It is a literal rewiring of thought processes, changing behaviors through “opposite action,” and beginning to learn who I really am as opposed to who I have trained myself to be to fit into the box everyone else’s expectations.  You guys, it’s a process.  Sometimes a shitty one.

My time at ERC also allowed me to cross paths with some of the most amazing people in this world.  My fellow patients made this experience what it was– one of laughing and tears, growth, new friendships, new insight, understanding, and unparalleled compassion.  I will not mention any names, but you all know who you are.  You have changed me.  I would not trade this experience, the tears, the anger, the gut-wrenching moments, none of it, as that would mean that I would not have met you.  You have touched me and you have changed me.

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On my way to healthy again.

So here I am, back at home after 15 weeks of inpatient eating disorder treatment.  I’m not done with my process, but I’m not dying anymore.  I’m moving forward (and some back and up and down, but forward).  What I want you to take from this, dear reader, is that sometimes life is wonderful and that sometimes it is really, really hard.  Sometimes those things co-exist at the same time.  We all have our demons to fight.  If you need help with yours, ask.  You know what I did not find, in any of my experiences over the last few months?  Shame.  I felt shame, but nobody brought that to me, nobody encouraged it.  Everyone from my professors, to my friends and family, to the incredible people at ERC and my amazing team here at home has been nothing but supportive of me during this time.  I have been floored.  I have felt overwhelmingly lifted up and held.  People will be supportive of you, too.  There are a million ways to escape when life gets hard– video games, alcohol, working too hard, drugs, shopping, eating disorders.  None of it is worth shame.  But you deserve better, just like I do.  Reach out.  To me, to anyone.  I promise that there is SOMEONE out there that is ready to offer to you what I have so graciously been offered.  Asking for help is hard, and accepting the help is even harder, don’t I know it.  Just know that it is possible.  Whatever it is you’re struggling with (because everyone has something– we are human, after all) there is hope.

**If you have any questions about anything I’ve written or said, please ask.  I am not going to share the raw or intimate experiences or anything that may violate HIPPA on social media, but I also do not want to be closed and ashamed of my experiences.

 

Dear Dad: It’s been three years

Dear Dad,

November 21.

I guess that date will never again slide by unnoticed, just a day leading up to Thanksgiving, just a Monday, or a Tuesday, maybe a Wednesday.  November 21.  That’s the day my dad died.  How strange.  It still feels strange.

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Goofing around

For some reason, the days leading up to the day are the hardest for me.  I think back and think, this time three years ago my dad had a week to live and nobody knew.  This time three years ago, my dad would be gone in four days and we didn’t know.  This time three years ago, my dad was going to sleep and he was never going to wake up again.  I probably shouldn’t think about it like that, but it’s hard not to.  It wasn’t planned.  We didn’t know.  I went to work that morning, worked all day, and it wasn’t a big deal.  I also checked my credit score.  It’s funny the things you remember.

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I still can’t believe we wore these sweatshirts.  They had bells on them.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that evening that we found out, mom and I.  I haven’t really gone through the events that happened, that horrible night, in a sequential timeline.  I remember flashes of it at a time.  We were at the Dillard’s at Atlantic Station where we had met after work and we were in the dressing room trying on dresses.  I remember that there was an Australian woman in there as well, and she told me that she liked my accent.  I thought that was so odd but I liked it.  I don’t know why I remember that detail.  I don’t remember what happened to her, or if she was still around when the call came in.  Matthew called Mom while we were together, and she was so excited to get a call from him.  I was standing next to her, and she got so upset, she was saying over and over, getting more and more hysterical “He died?!  He died?!  How?  When?”  I didn’t know who, I couldn’t get her to tell me who, but I could tell from her reaction that it was bad.  “Mom, who died, WHO DIED” I kept saying, getting more panicked every time I didn’t get an answer.  Finally she said your name, that it was you, that you were gone, and the entire planet shifted.  I’ll never forget how she said you name.  I ran out of the dressing room, not for any reason other than I had to move, I had to move, I couldn’t stand still.  The floor would crumble underneath me.  Oh my god my dad is dead my dad is dead my daddy died no no no no no.  I remember the first sensation I felt when she said your name was a burning, frantic, panicked desperation to tell you all the things that I never told you, all the things I would ever want to tell you, anything and everything, that I loved you, but I couldn’t I never could again.  I could never tell you anything again.  I wanted to call you and tell you my dad died that something really horrible had happened, that horrible thing that only happens to other people, and I needed you.  Except it WAS you.  It was you I needed but it was you who was gone.  What on earth do I do with that?  That was probably just the first five seconds.

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After my senior bassoon recital at UGA

I called Sam and he left his full cart in Kroger and came to get us.  Maria and Triss were on the way to us, too.  Matthew called them before he called us.  Everybody was coming.  The nice ladies at the department store brought us bottles of water, boxes of tissues, and cleared the rest of the people out.  We sat on the floor together, not sure what to do or where to go.  I heard crying and I guess it must have been us, but it sounded so far away.  Somehow we got out of the dresses and back into our own clothes, though I don’t remember that part.  I think the ladies who worked there helped us.  Sam and Triss and Maria came and got us, met us in the dressing room, hugged us, and we all cried and cried.  My sleeves were wet from tears.  I remember at one point seeing my face in the mirror and I didn’t even recognize myself.  Were those my eyes?  I guess that’s who I am now, I thought.  Then I called your sister and I had to tell her that her brother was dead.  Sam told me to use the word “dead” because when you talk to people who are in shock, you have to use hard words or they can’t understand, they don’t want to understand.  I told her you died.  She called me back a few minutes later and asked, Kristen, did you really just tell me Greig died?  Yes, he died.  He’s gone.  I guess even when you use hard words sometimes it’s still hard to take in.

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Christmas 2007 at Stone Mountain Park

Somehow we got back to my apartment and so many people were already there, straightening up, with dinner and breakfast for the next morning.  Someone folded the clean towels on the couch and I remember finding it peculiar that I didn’t care if they thought I was messy for not having all my laundry folded and put away.  I let them do it for me.  Emily and Barbara had come, Erin, Jane, Pete was already driving from Birmingham.  It was the most vulnerable I had ever been, but our dear friends didn’t even give us the chance to fall.  They were under us, supporting us, providing for us, taking care of us before we even knew what we needed.  We sat on the couch for a long time.  I remember we passed through several cycles of intense tears followed by some relief and breathing and some light laughter, then I would remember and the wave would pull me down again.

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You guys loved coming to the football games.

Somehow the next few days happened and we waited while they brought you home from Colorado.  I’m not sure of the details of how you got here, though I remember one gut-wrenching moment when I realized I didn’t know who would meet you at the airport.  The day of your funeral was so cold and I think it was raining.  I didn’t have a warm enough coat but someone let me borrow one.  I don’t remember who.

But now, looking back on that time, three years later, what stands out to me most is not the pain and shock, though I still feel that, too, but the love and kindness.  From the strangers in the department store to our dear friends and family, we were overwhelmed with people wanting to help us, to make something easier when even breathing was difficult.  Friends brought food and folded my laundry, they sent cards and flowers, they came to your funeral and held our hands.  They put plates of food in our lap and encouraged us to eat.  Sam turned down the bed and had my clothes picked out in the morning so I wouldn’t even have to think about how to get dressed. My co-workers took on my workload and left me with not a single thing to do upon returning to work after Thanksgiving.  Emily brought me some yarn, knitting needles, and a pattern to keep my mind busy, but simple enough to where I didn’t have to think.  Sam’s family welcomed me for my first Thanksgiving with them and talked openly about my dad so I wouldn’t have to pretend nothing happened, and they didn’t recoil when tears came out of nowhere.

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Brunch at Cafe Intermezzo.  This was the last time we were all together.

I miss you terribly, Dad, but I wouldn’t want to give up what I have learned in the last few years. What matters is sharing a human connection.  I think every day that I want to make someone feel as loved and worthy as those beautiful souls made us feel when you died, Dad.  And I don’t want to wait until they experience a great loss or trauma.  I want to treat people like they matter right now.  Even if it’s just a smile in the hallway, talking to a student after class, making someone laugh when they’re having a crappy day, or remembering something they’ve said to me earlier and asking about it again.  I want to let people know that I see them, that I can see their importance in the whole of the universe.  I want to be an instrument of peace and a light to those around me.  I still get stressed and overwhelmed and forget, but I try.  I really try.  I’m a work in progress, too.  We can’t avoid pain in life, Dad, even the life-altering kind that divides the world into before and after.  I can’t know for sure that nothing will ever hurt me again.  What I am sure of, though, is that can I leave everyone I come in contact with a little better than I found them.  Thank you for helping me find my truth in life, Dad.  Be love and light.

I love you and I miss you.

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On not being a Classical Musician

This past week my husband and I met a friend at a neat little performance venue in Decatur called Eddie’s Attic (If you don’t know it, do yourself a favor and look it up — Eddie’s Attic).  We love our Eddie’s evenings and look forward to when our favorite artists come through Atlanta.  This is a place where the evening is all about the music– you sit, have a drink, maybe some food, and listen while some fabulous musicians pour out their souls on the small stage in the corner of the room.  The room is outfitted with bar seating and tables and chairs, and when the musicians start playing, you turn your chair around and get cozy, settle in, and enjoy the show.  During their sets, the musicians talk to you, maybe tell a story or fill you in with some background of the song they’re about to play you, sometimes even requesting audience participation.  It’s a shared experience between the musicians and the listeners.  It’s intimate– both in your proximity to your fellow listeners (you’ll be snuggly here as the seating is close) and to the performers, where the stage starts at the knees of the people an the front tables.  The set up really allows for the whole deal, from start to finish, to be a give and take between all involved.  You listen, maybe clap a little, perhaps sing along in some places, sometimes even cry a little, if a lyric or a harmony reaches out and touches you.  They sing and play, sometimes sharing the stage with each other, and you leave feeling like you’ve all had a good, deep conversation.  It is a personable, approachable, and engaging experience.

Can you picture the musicians that I’m talking about?  I’m sure you can.   Touring singer-songwriters, eager to sing late into the evenings.  Acoustic and electric guitars, harmonicas, often percussion instruments, sometimes an instrument I don’t even recognize.  If I’m really lucky, there’s a mandolin.  (I love me some mandolin).  The musicians each have their own approach to their art that shows through their musical style, their lyrics, harmonic choices, and how they dress.  Most of the time they stand up to play in jeans and a comfy flannel top, maybe a cool jacket, a killer hat, and often some fun jewelry or a cute dress.  I love how different each set can be.  Attending these events are so comfortable.  I can relax, enjoy the show, engage when I want to or just sit back and listen, sipping on a beer or eating some fries.  No pressure.

So last Wednesday, when we were sitting there listening to the fabulous Crystal Bowersox (no joke, check her out.  She’s worth knowing.), I started thinking about how much I was enjoying the experience and it actually made me a little sad.  See, I am a musician, too.  I’m a bassoon player.  A classical musician.  Picture a classical musician.  What did you just see?  Someone in a formal dress or tuxedo, standing on a big stage, maybe a full orchestral set up, while the audience, also dressed in nice clothes, listens, clapping appreciatively at the end of the work (not at the end of the movements).  It feels entirely different to me.  It feels sort of stuffy, maybe even, dare I say it, a little pretentious.  Don’t get me wrong.  I think there is 100% a time and a place for the tuxedo and the formal dress and the grand stage with the lights.  It’s keeping with hundreds of years of tradition and reflects the seriousness of the musician’s training and the depth of the works.  It is important to perform classical music this way.  It’s Carnegie Hall and the Berlin Philharmonic or a senior recital.  What a rush, what an amazing opportunity to play in that venue or with that organization and an important milestone.  It’s history and convention of an institution.

But as I sat there listening, I found myself wondering, is that the only way to perform classical music? At one time, I would have told you that yes, that’s it.  That’s how it’s supposed to be.  We do things how they’re supposed to be done, and that’s how we do it.  Don’t ask questions and for god’s sake don’t push the envelope.  But now, see, I’ve blown through enough supposed to be’s in the last few years to know that there exists a whole different kind of life on the other side of them.   Might there be one here, too?  The thought is intriguing to me, and oddly, it’s comforting.  You see, I am a classical musician, but I do not fit in as a Classical Musician.  I struggle to dig into the competitiveness of it, the focus on perfection rather than connection.  I struggle with the please don’t let me screw this up for fear of what “they” will think of me part of being a classical musician.  I realize that there is probably that aspect to a degree with any music, but it is strong in the musical worlds of which I’ve been a part.  I have seen it.  I’ve been in it.  We’ve been intimate.  It wasn’t fun.

Music, when you really get down to its essence, is about sharing something intimate between souls, between the performer and the listener and back again.  A wordless exchange of the intrinsic nature of the human experience.  It can be a mutual exchange.  That has been the exception for me, though, and not the rule.  So what are these singer-songwriters doing that works so well to break through the invisible barrier?  I’m not sure exactly, but I think the set-up of the performance situation might be an interesting start.  What if, just for kicks, we put on an evening of classical music and we didn’t call it a recital?  What if it happened at a place like Eddie’s Attic where the listeners could sit and have a burger and beer and the performer had a glass of whiskey on stage?  What if they wore jeans and talked to the audience like friends during their set?  I just can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t take my seemingly separated world of Beethoven and practice rooms and make it a little more approachable for an audience– I’m sorry– listeners.  Would it maybe make it more approachable for the musician, too?  What if that could open up the give and take a little?  Us, sharing this, instead of me showing you.

You see, I think I’m a Flannel Shirt and Jeans Musician.  Music runs in my blood, but until recently, I just couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t get it.  Whatever it was.   I have spent the majority of my life studying music and playing many different instruments, focusing on bassoon.  It is an intrinsic part of me that I can’t deny (despite my best efforts).  Music is home.  I feel the most like myself with my instrument, but it also felt forced to a degree.  I am the square peg to the round hole of classical music.  I can’t be the only one.  What if there existed a square hole of classical music?  Would that make the music any less beautiful, exotic, or legitimate?    I really don’t think so.  It’s not a replacing of something old and antiquated, but an expanding and opening of something wonderful into a different way of experiencing it.

So let’s share the stage.  All of these different kinds of musicians are just people looking to share their soul with yours through their art.  We all practice hard for long hours and take lessons and struggle to learn basics and good technique and fundamental scales and chords.  Lyrics and guitars aren’t really so different from a flute concerto, after all.  Different means to the same end, perhaps, but I think they should be able to be equally approachable for everyone.  I will wear the formal dress and bow on the stage and proudly wear my concert black in the full orchestra, but I also really want to sit and play you a Vivaldi sonata over shared glasses of whiskey.

Now is the Time

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“I want my spirit to learn and grow and I want to share what I learn with others. My soul may be infinite, but my human body here is still relatively young. There is still time for me here. There is still time, but NOW is the time.”

I just came across this writing of mine from a few months ago. I can feel the truth of it resonate inside me, and yet still sometimes I’m not sure where to go with it. Do you ever feel like this? What is it that you yearn to do that you haven’t yet done? What’s holding you back? I freely admit have unhelpful reoccurring thoughts that have turned into beliefs that tint the way I see the world and how I interact in it. I am working to replace them with thoughts-turned-beliefs that help me shape my life into my dreams. I’m standing in my own way. Do you ever stand in your own way? What better time to begin to challenge those thoughts — now is the time.

Engagement Shoot by Dayna M Photography

Sam and I are SO lucky to be able to work with Dayna Hoyt to do our engagement shoot a couple weeks ago.  We were looking for an urban vibe, some places that would highlight our personalities and make use of all the amazing areas in our neighborhood.  We started at the Krog Street Tunnel with its awesome graffiti.  We stopped back by home to take advantage of the spring flowers blooming near Grant Park, and then finished up at Crossfit Downtown Atlanta.  We met at the gym, so we figured it was only fitting to take some fun shots there as well.

These turned out so great that now I cannot WAIT to see how the wedding photos will be!

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