I was sentenced to serve two years in Federal Prison the day before Christmas Eve.
The wooden rocking horse with the yarn hair was already ordered, delivered, and stashed in the attic. My son, Aidan, was a year and a half, and it was his first year to be even remotely cognizant of the concept of Christmas. It was the first year I would be somebody’s Santa.
Real tears were streaming down my lawyer’s face when he begged the judge to let me self-report after the holidays, that I wasn’t a flight risk, etcetera, but the judge was determined that I would be remanded immediately. My mother wailed as I handed her my watch and bracelet so they could be replaced with handcuffs.
The first night inside was terrifying and freezing. I slept on a piece of plastic that lifted me three inches off of the concrete floor, my head resting on a rolled up pair of pants, right in front of our cell-shared toilet bowl. The following day, Christmas Eve, a guard snuck in a couple bottles of Dr. Pepper and some butterscotch candies. We each got a pour of soda into our tiny melamine mugs as well as two hard candies. But on Christmas day we were forced to sit on metal folding chairs while a local church group with wide, painted smiles, sang carols to us — the less fortunate than themselves.
On account of the fact that they were doing us such a kindness, we were not allowed to be anywhere but in the chairs, facing straight towards the permed hair* and the Good King Wenselas. I pulled my knees to my chest and cried onto them. I was so cold.**
This kind of thing was common during trip through the institutions of “justice”. Eventually, when terror gave way to surrender and I had the emotional stability to find humor in the insanity, a friend and I made up the term, The Mandatory Merriment.
As in, “They’re doing the Mandatory Merriment again. Steel up.”
Years later, as in, a few years ago…. I was having a bad holiday moment. I was in my lovely apartment, with food to eat and clothes to wear and love. My son, then ten, was driving me bananas, and, for whatever reason (there are many – life is legit hard no matter what) I was suffering. I was overwhelmed and convinced that I was underperforming in all the ways. The juggling act of my life was stressful and my efforts were barely making a dent. You probably know this sinkhole. I just wanted to sleep and sleep and read and sleep. It was one of the moments that I actually missed prison.
Yes, there are still weird moments where I actually miss prison and its monochromatic simplicity, solid cinderblocks, inflexible, but predictable, schedule, and prepared meals. In retrospect it can seem like a comforting ideal. (There is a rant here about recidivism but I’ll save it for another time).
Anyway, there I was all frustrated, probably just burned my mouth on my cappuccino or spilled lavender oil on my computer… again, and feeling wistful for the safety of the securest space I’ve ever known.
AND THEN I REALIZED WHAT OXYMORONIC THING IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW?
WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?
That day in those folding chairs, I would have given anything for lavender oil and a laptop. I would have given anything to be in a room with my son at his apex of beastliness.
How am I suffering like it’s the same exact situation?
My homie, Viktor Frankl, says that suffering is like gas. No matter how much or how little is released, it expands to fill the chamber.
My other homie, Buddha, says suffering exists and it isn’t our environment that creates it, but our attachment to the suffering itself.
Our suffering it defines us. And we love to be defined.
I am xyz. I am NOT xyz. I belong to xyz tribe which means I am definitely not part of those crazy xyz-ers of that other tribe, who are clearly out of their everloving minds.
Also, the word tribe. Over it.
Have you ever asked yourself who you would be without your dysfunction?
Yeah. It’s some bravery to decide you are now fulfilled rather than a person in pursuit of fulfillment.
So when are we going to recognize that the environment, other people, life, whatever, isn’t actually what’s causing our suffering?
When will we recognize that we can suffer less no matter what is happening around us? That no problem is insurmountable?
And stop it. Or, at least, get a grip on it.
Right now would be cool.
It would also be cool if just saying that out loud made it happen.
But, just like with all things, freedom is not actually found in a vacuum of infinite possibility.
Freedom is found in stable, leak-free containers. And it takes attention and some discipline to maintain our containers. It takes incredible tenacity and resilience to maintain them. In order to have those things we need to stay awake, and keep making choices that promote that peace.
The things that work aren’t a huge mystery. Actually doing them is the hardest. But once you really get to the place where you would rather BE than BE IN PURSUIT OF, then you will do whatever you have to do.
Here are a few of those things:
mindful eating + nutrition
consistent and nourishing support systems
stress management (sounds vague but is no freaking joke)
rewarding experiences that promote confidence and a sense of success
art. pleasure. love. relaxation. sweetness
Like I said, it’s not an easy road. Support systems may include more than just your friends and family. It may include coaching or masterminding with other’s who have similar goals.
It is exactly what we will be doing in the group that starts tomorrow. So far, we have the coolest bunch of women. I’m so excited! But I still have room for a couple more amazing people if you want to jump in last minute. I have lot’s of good things to share and can create a hell of a container, but you should also know that this group is more about partnering for the greater good, remembering stuff you already know, and making decisions with integrity so you can be self sufficient, rather than dependant, on groups like this. It’s really more of a health and sanity oriented mastermind.
During the holidays this year we are going to rally against Mandatory Merriment/Mandatory Suffering. We are going to explore and charter a path to something that looks more like actual celebration.
So if you want to surround yourself with healthy, sane, honest people who are all looking for the powerful support of other human types…. let me know. There’s still some time.
Or just send me an email to say hello. Tell me how doing some of the healthy things keep you grounded and help ease the heartbreaks. I absolutely adore hearing from you.
Love. Every day.
*I don’t really remember if they had permed hair. for some reason i think of carolers as having perms and I’m sticking to that story
**To their credit, they brought socks to be distributed to all of the inmates also. These plain, white, cotton sport socks were the best Christmas present I’ve ever received. I was just a little less cold after that.