Grace is the Engine

I've been on the tarmac at O’Hare International airport for 2.5 hours.  I'm nervously crossing and uncrossing my legs in the middle seat of row 29.  I arrange and rearrange the cozy, black DKNY sweater wrap my sister handed down to me yesterday, hugging it tight to my body that's pulsing with adrenaline.  I’m unsettled by the delayed flight, annoyed by the couple seated next to me talking baby talk, anxious to get home to my family, my home, my bed.  The sweater performs as a kind of security blanket, so I wrap myself up tight and try to keep my emotions at bay.  

To pass the time, I listen to a Rob Bell podcast #112 featuring his guest Pete Rollins (writer, philosopher, storyteller and public speaker) and draw in my journal.  This podcast is Part 2 of a 4 part series on God.  On a completely unrelated note, I just can’t call Rob Bell’s podcast “The RobCast” and I know this is entirely my issue.  If I ever have a podcast, I promise not to call it the "Tammicast."  For some reason, this really irks me and it’s why I have trouble tuning in to this podcast on a regular basis.  Judgment.  I’m full of it.  I’ve figured out that when I judge people, places or things - it’s really more about what’s wrong with me and NOT them, so I know there must be a lesson in here somewhere.  Confirming that I continue to remain a work in progress.

Okay, I got off course.  Where was I?  

The Robcast.  Yes, in the Robcast (see, I’m going to use it now to teach me something, but hell if I know exactly what that is) there were so many little nuggets of goodness.  I kept notes while I was listening and had to rewind every few minutes so that I could really hear what they were saying, the ensuing discussions and theories on God into my God-resistant heart and mind.  I would highly recommend giving it a listen if you want to flip your thinking or expand your own conversation about God.

I leave New York with a heavy heart and wish my sister and her girls lived closer to me.  I’d love to pick up her little ones after school, go for an ice cream and dilly-dally at the public library with the three of them.  Or have them over for family dinner every Sunday night.  I long to brush their hair and talk about their day, absorbing who their friends are, what they learned that day or what they want to be when they grow up.  

Travel can be tricky for me and anxiety reared its ugly head near the end of my week-long trip. I took plenty of preventative measures for my journey east, but I kind of started flailing about when anxiety surged while I was in New York.  I paid attention to the signs (honored them, really) and told my sister when I needed to eat, rest, go to bed early or have a cup (or three) of tea.  But the thing is, I’m still perplexed that it happens at all.  When I don’t eat often enough or have plenty of water or go to meetings, I turn into Anxiety Girl.  It’s really as simple as that, so you think I would just take better care of myself, but I always think this time will be different or I've got this.  I'm getting better at self-diagnosing, but I notice it's uncomfortable for others in my life when I verbalize these side effects of being human and an alcoholic.  Luckily for me, I know plenty of other Anxiety Girls, so I just send out a quick text or two and I get immediate support.  Texting with friends who are sober has been one of my biggest sobriety tools.  These women get me and what I’m going through.  They talk me off the ledge and I know I can always repay the favor.

I watched the Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru documentary late one night when I couldn’t sleep on this trip.  It was not what I expected.  I liked it a lot.  I really appreciated how he got over his imperfect childhood and was actually grateful for his alcoholic, eccentric, abusive mother.  This quote sucker-punched me and made me think about my own relationships and personal struggles over the past few years.

Your biggest problem is you think you shouldn’t have them. ‘Cause problems are what make us grow. Problems are what sculpt our soul. Problems are what make us become more.
— Tony Robbins, I Am Not Your Guru

Problems are what make us become more.  Isn’t that a beautiful revelation?  I think all of my life I've wanted to become more and I've just had a hard time figuring out how to do so.  That's where alcohol came in and softened the rough edges of my thinking.  Without it, I have to look at all of this uncomfortable thinking without that foggy lens.  It's not for the faint of heart.

Still sitting on the tarmac listening to Pete Rollins' genius on the Robcast and he had this to say about framing the way we look at our problems:

Our symptoms are our prophets.
— Pete Rollins, The Robcast #112

I roll that sentence around in my head.  Our symptoms are our prophets.

I’ve been focusing so much on my symptoms with anxiety, with drinking too much, with my fractured relationships and a hundred other little things and I can now see very clearly that I’ve only viewed them as problems.  What if I looked at my problems as prophets?  As solutions?  As red-flags?  As people and situations that are here to teach me something about myself, pointing me in the direction of growth?  What if I was thankful for them, instead of resentful of them?  What if they are merely indicators that are flashing so that I’ll know the way to go in this life?  What if I accepted them instead of rejecting them?  What if I stopped and just examined them?  Embraced them, even.

My symptoms can be my prophets.

My problems can be my teachers.

My fears can act as megaphones, begging me to listen to myself.

My struggles are likened to a flashing yellow caution light.

My challenges can actually serve as learning devices.

My need to control my surroundings and entrench myself in routines protect me, but it’s not realistic that my entire life can be so carefully constructed at all times.  I need to get out in this world and live.

More importantly, I want to.

I employed many tools from my sobriety toolbox over the last seven days.  It’s satisfying and empowering to know that I can calm the fuck down by taking a scalding hot shower or make marks in my journal.  Giving myself permission to take care of myself in sobriety has been tantamount to my recovery - from alcohol, from people-pleasing, from striving to be perfect. 

My problems can actually serve to guide me to solutions.

Isn’t that the loveliest, most positive line of thinking?  I feel like a record that’s skipping sometimes when I’m going on about the last year and a half of my recovery, but when I think along these lines - that my symptoms can act as prophets, it gives me a modicum of hope that I can simply adjust the needle on the record I've been playing and the lyrics will finally be heard loud and clear and start to make sense, to myself and others.  By thinking this way, I can be redirected and start to look towards solutions rather than just sitting in the pain and discomfort of my own anxiety.  I can find grace here.

God challenges the way you think about life...and that maybe you don’t have it all together.
— Pete Rollins, The Robcast #112

Thanks to this Robcast, I'm starting to look at my God-phobic ways of thinking and being.  Hell, I know I don't have it all together.  Maybe that's why I don't believe in God.  It's been too fucking hard to give up control or be challenged on this subject and so I just dug in and claimed that I didn't believe in anything.  Once I quit drinking, I've slowly been amending my thoughts on a lot of things I told myself were true for me.  The only thing I know for sure is that by opening myself up to these new ideas and discussions on God it has allowed me to change my perception of who I really am.  I have to remain open and willing to do this work of self-discovery.  I must change the story I've been telling myself about myself if I want to be truly happy.

Grace is the engine.
— Rob Bell, The Robcast #112

I made it home from the east coast after 16 hours of travel time and finally surrendered to the process.  I missed the first shuttle home, my luggage was late in arriving.  I was powerless over this day of travel.  Absolutely, positively powerless.  I learned a lot about myself and my symptoms during this excruciatingly long day of planes, trains and automobiles.  I guess you could say I found grace in the engine during this trip and for that I'm grateful for this little lesson in dealing with my own anxiety.

We can think of God as a bigger version of ourselves; a flattering image of ourselves. God is that which kind of looks like a Superman. All of our values, all of the things that we want, God is that exemplified, with a megaphone.
— Pete Rollins, The Robcast #112

I guess imagining God as this inflated version of myself makes more sense to me than anything I’ve ever heard before.  I’m open to thinking about this concept as a distinct possibility, instead of just shutting the door because I don’t understand it.  If God can be my higher self, then that makes a hell of a lot more sense to me than him (or her) being an all-knowing, all-powerful, invisible person in the sky.

You have a new fan-girl, Pete Rollins.  Consider yourself warned.  And, Rob Bell?  You have a new fan-girl, too.  Thanks for being my teacher with The Robcast and helping me to drop the judgment, be more open-minded and to get over myself.