Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

When Life Brings You Home

Published on September 22, 2015 by   ·   No Comments Pin It
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On July 24, 2015 we moved again. From a culturally diverse Northern Virginia town outside D.C., where trees that don’t know thirst lend spiritual nourishment and physical protection from a summertime east coast sun, to the drought-stricken southern California city of Carlsbad, where the midday cloudless sky has become my frienemy. We live close enough to the sand to travel by foot for a sunset view or a morning dip, yet far enough away to keep commuter beach crowds from monopolizing our street parking. Even though my body did not know the rush of a regular ocean swim until I was eight, my husband was born in L.A., and we both grew up with the Pacific being a part of who we would become. For some reason, as adults we both ended up in the desert. This is where we met, 11 years and eight moves ago–the desert Southwest. We’ve come full circle now, to the place we were convinced we would never return: southern California. And, believe it or not, we are not sure how long we will stay; we simply do not trust ourselves to be still.

During this unexpected and nearly catastrophically stressful summer of selling and buying houses, and another cross-country move, I realized that though I may have overcome the 20- and 30-something addictions I once suffered, the addict in me has never recovered. This time, I came to realize something I found both surprising and not comforting at all: I am addicted to struggle. Further, I now clearly see that addictions I battled had little to do with food, or the wrong men, but this: struggle. And once my marriage ran its decade-long course of cyclical near divorce battles, finally realizing that splitting up is not only not an option but not desired, it came to me: what I am addicted to is struggle. Once the option of leaving the marriage because “he is bugging me too damn much to stay” was removed, struggle remained. Revelation arrived this summer after one of the stress induced marital yelling matches because, well, divorce was not going to help the situation; it would, in fact, make the move back to So Cal infinitely more complicated. So then what?

When Life Brings You Home

This is not Dina’s childhood home. But it is Taylor Swift’s.

“It’s odd when I think of the arc of my life, from child to young woman to aging adult. First I was who I was. Then I didn’t know who I was. Then I invented someone and became her. Then I began to like what I’d invented. And finally I was what I was again.” –Anna Quindlen, from Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake

I believe that stillness is the foundation of any spiritual practice that intends to cultivate a life of presence, vulnerability, acceptance, and love. Choosing to leave addiction behind–to watch struggle flail in my tailwind–necessitates that I be still. And this, I have come to own, is that which I cannot do. If I look back far enough, however, I recognize that I did once feel the bliss of a still life. As a child I recall (as many can) hours spent lying on my back staring at the clouds as they magically passed from one end of my vision to the other, making shapes or leaving mystical wisps as they traveled. I would often lie in bed following the wallpaper’s pattern of leaves and tiny flowers that covered my bedroom walls. Many afternoons I would choose an album and set the turntable in motion record after record feeling the myriad of emotions that Karen Carpenter, Elton John, or Peter Frampton evoked. Other times I stepped through some kind of creative portal losing time as I sorted through my extravagant bead collection, marveling at the individual glass miracles that I never wanted to string.

Those were the still activities that dotted my youth that one day disappeared, only to be replaced by competition for better grades, more popularity, higher awards, more phone calls from boys … I became inadequate, and the beads were shoved into the back of the closet, and the wallpaper yellowed. I needed now to strive to be better than I was, and this would take all my effort. The moments spent in the still bliss of my lovely childhood disappeared and I was fucked. Because, the truth is I truly did not care about being better, more popular, thinner. I was okay being: a “C” student; average weight with strong, thick thighs; asked to dance by one of the less popular boys. I was fine with it. But I grew to believe the lies that society blared, so my not caring became a malnourished phantom that eventually slipped away. I woke up one day and struggle had become who I was; without it, I no longer could see me.

Today, as full sun middays force me inside, sleepless night hours disrupt peaceful rest, and my eight-year old daughter no longer begs cuddles, I must review where I’ve been. If I want to achieve a lightness of being I’ve yet to sustain I must allow my patterns to change. If I want to call in that cloud-watching child to lend me her wisdom, I must open the door and shout, “Welcome!”

I want to look back on struggle like an ex-boyfriend’s name I’ve nearly forgotten. I no longer need memories that recall a time when cool breezes did not bring peace, those times I believed moving would save me. What I need now is that which reflects the full circle I’ve come: a still life with joy.

When Life Brings You Home: In her free time, writer Dina McQueen may be found enjoying a swim in the Pacific Ocean, or cycling along San Diego’s north county coastline. She lives with her husband and daughter in Carlsbad, California, where she is training to become an ESL teacher. 

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