The Way Things Change

Moving on is hard, and sometimes damn near impossible. For the better part of the past year, I’ve spent more time than I care to admit obsessing over a lost friendship. Funny isn’t it, we always think romantic relationships are the hardest to end. Now, this isn’t the first friendship I’ve had come to a close, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. However, it’s the only one that ended in an explosive argument. And — at the time — I didn’t realize it was actually the end. I thought she’d admit wrongdoing, apologize, or at least forgive and forget. But none of that happened.

The more time that passed without one of those things happening, the angrier I got and the further I distanced myself from the relationship. Looking back, I realize how that probably just made it easier for her to pull further and further away. In the end, by the time I was ready to acknowledge my wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness, it was too late. By that time, she’d moved past our friendship and was ready to not turn back. Oh my god how that hurts.

Perhaps the hardest part of accepting the fact that “your person” is no longer there for you to turn to is not even having the chance to say goodbye. Not even getting a big “Fuck you, I’m done,” and instead receiving radio silence after a phone call, text message and email. For some reason, as much as that response sounds painful, it seems better than this. Better than a lack of closure. Especially knowing I could have prevented things from going this far.

So, I try to look for the good in things. Lessons learned, frustrations ceased. But in the end, none of that matters. Nothing can replace the person you could laugh with, cry with, bicker with. So it seems the only thing to do is become better. Recognize how to better deal with situations and react to emotions, even if it’s too late to fix what’s been broken.

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Day 7: Writing Retreat Wrapup

This afternoon I head back to Chicago. If there’s one thing I’ll take away from this week’s trip, it’s that I need to start making writing a part of my everyday life more consistently. Even when I haven’t had much to say, it’s been therapeutic to force the process. I sat for awhile this morning trying to debate what I should work on and decided to contribute to a new project I started yesterday, thanks to a friend.

So, was this writing retreat a success? I think so. I wish I had done more actual writing for my novel. However, I did complete two weeks worth of planning in just one week. So that’s something. I also got to spend time exploring a new city, taking in the culture, and listening to the locals on advice for where to eat, drink and people watch. It was inspiring and rewarding.

I also learned a bit about myself. Aside from work, I’ve never traveled alone. Not like this. I was a little anxious at the start of the trip. But, it turns out, traveling alone is pretty great. Don’t get me wrong, I love exploring places with friends and family, but a solo trip is something very different. You’re on your own schedule. If a shop looks cute, you can just walk in. If you’re ready for bed at 7 p.m., you go to bed. You can wake up 5:30 a.m., turn all of the lights on and start writing, without worrying you’ll wake someone up. I think I gained a bit of independence and confidence in myself this week, and I’m pretty proud of that.

Today, I spent time writing the first post for Chicago Beer Club, my new project. Head over to ChiBeerClub to check it out!

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Day 6: Writing Retreat — Binge Culture Part 2

Almost immediately after publishing my last post, I realized I hadn’t answered my first question on this topic: Why do we binge?

What I really want to know is what the science behind it is. Why are we drawn to addictive behavior? Let’s find out…

Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s difficult to find research on binge behavior that isn’t dedicated to binge eating or drinking specifically. But there are parallels between these, including an addictive and compulsive personality.

Addiction is complicated. It is one of the most pervasive and least understood of maladies. It’s not that we don’t understand addiction per se, but our understanding is controversial. Is it biological? Is it inherited? Is it a disease process? Is it psychological, or psycho-social, or cultural? Is it a characterological disorder or just pervasive poor judgment?

The Continuum of Addiction and Addictive Personality

Personality traits of someone who is inclined to participate in binge behavior can include:

  • Obsessive compulsive
  • Stressed, lonely
  • Passive aggressive
  • Socially isolated
  • Deceptive
  • Anxious
  • Depressed
  • Ashamed

However, these characteristics are generally used to define an alcohol or drug addict, rather than someone who has an obsessive personality that results in compulsive behavior. So, is there even a link between different types of binge behavior? Is it even something worth exploring?

According to Greatest, yes. Binge behavior is the result of coping with negative feelings that are caused by either psychological, chemical and sociocultural factors. And you can binge on just about anything — food, exercise, shopping, sex and so on.

So, how do you cope with this addictive personality if it starts to become a problem? You should first solicit the help of a professional, who can let you know if it’s the result of a mental health issues. But if you’re using binging to cope with your stress and anxiety, you may be able to self treat. From meditation to writing to acknowledging, there are plenty of was to ensure you’re leading a healthy lifestyle.

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Day 6: Writing Retreat — Binge Culture

From excessive drinking to “Netflix and chill,” binge culture is consuming a generation. But, what are the risks in a binge lifestyle? The term “binge” is negative, traditionally referenced to discuss those with binge eating or drinking disorders. However, with the introduction of platforms like Netflix, Amazon Video and HBO GO (the list goes on), binging has just become a normal pass time. Honestly, it might have actually started with DVD boxsets of our favorite television series: The Sopranos, Sex and the City. And, recently, even NPR got in on the fad with the release of their podcast S-Town, a seven-part series that was made available in full earlier this spring. (If you haven’t listened to S-Town, I highly recommend it. The great story telling from Brian Reed pushes the line between art and exploitation.)

So, what are the risks related to this binge culture we’ve created? From anxiety to depression, the introduction of smartphones have brought with them a plethora of health concerns, providing users binge access to anything, any time. And our binge-focused entertainment industry has it’s own set of health-related issues:

  • The lack of movement can increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease and obesity
  • Addiction: It gets in the way of our plans, much like people’s addiction to smartphones, drugs and alcohol
  • People who partake in binge watching are often isolated and more more likely to suffer from depression and loneliness; they are also likely to lack self-control

Our binge viewing is even changing television programming. Many consumers are now opting for “à la carte” television over traditional cable and scheduled air times. And Americans aren’t the only ones making this shift, people around the globe are embracing the binge culture. While it doesn’t look like binging is going anywhere, research does indicate better storytelling will be another result of this lifestyle shift.

Are you a binge consumer? Probably — 70 percent of us are. Netflix defines binge watching as consuming two to six episodes of a show in one sitting — generally this amounts to two or more hours. Smart TVs and streaming devices are making it easier than ever to binge, whether on your commute, at the gym or from your couch. And, Netflix has found that different types of shows are binged at different rates:Netflix Binge Scale

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of binge entertainment — from podcasts to TV series. But, as someone who experiences anxiety when I can’t access information immediately (via my smartphone), I think it’s valuable to acknowledge and recognize the risks related to our binge culture. Are you putting off errands? Are you staying up all night when you have an early morning meeting? If so, it might be time to reconsider your habits. Or, at the very least, take a break and don’t remain sedentary during you next marathon viewing (that’s why I like Hulu, the commercials provide an easy opportunity to get up and move!).

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Day 5: Writing Retreat Thoughts

Today, I literally have nothing to say. I spent the morning working on writing exercises that challenged my creativity and frustrated me. Character building is hard. In the afternoon, I read short stories and a book on the practice of writing. I read about the struggle of forcing oneself to write when the moment isn’t right; and now I’m feeling that pain. So, unfortunately, today I have nothing to say. Tomorrow, I’ll dedicate two hours to putting words on the page, regardless of a block, to see what comes out. Tomorrow, I’ll have something to say.

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Day 4: Writing Retreat Reflection

Earlier this month, I confided to my mother that I was disappointed when my former best friend didn’t show up for my 31st birthday. I’m not sure why, maybe it was because the last time we “spoke” (texted) was on her 30th birthday — six months prior, but I had some expectation that I would (at least) receive a generic “happy birthday” text. Even worse, I had some small hope she’d show up at the finish line of my half marathon that day. Obviously, she didn’t. She didn’t text. She didn’t call. And she sure as hell didn’t show up. My mom’s reaction to my disappointment?

“Fuck her.”

A few months ago my husband told me that he’d considered reaching out to J to help me reconcile things. I had two reactions to this:

  1. Why didn’t you?????
  2. I’m so glad you didn’t.

In the months since October, I’ve been sorting through a lot of emotions and trying to figure things out. The first is I’ve been shocked at how much a friendship ending can hurt. The gut-wrenching pain and constant reminders of someone who was once such an influential part of your life is outstanding. In all honesty, it’s worse than almost any breakup I’ve been through.

I’ve lost friends over the years, but never like this. In college, my high school best friend replied to an email telling me she “didn’t have time” for our friendship anymore now that she had a boyfriend. Despite our closeness, the fact that we went to different universities and I was consumed with a boyfriend (the only breakup that, in memory, seems worse than this friendship ending) and other friends made moving on a lot easier than this. I think I can contribute a lot of that to the fact that my high school best friend and I didn’t go through nearly the shit I did with J.

So, I’ve been trying to figure it out: Am I better off without her? Should I listen to my mom’s advice and say “Fuck her” after all? She was the maid of honor in my wedding just two months prior to this breakup.

J and I met working at Starbucks sometime in late summer, early fall of 2010 – I actually didn’t realize until now how far back we go. I was 24 and had just been fired from my first and only waitressing job in Chicago. I’d been living in the city for three years working as a freelance writer, which meant I was also a dog walker, waitress and barista.

If my memory serves me right, we became fast friends as two young adults trying to accomplish our dreams in a big city. She’d gone to college in Chicago, and I moved there immediately upon graduating from college.

We were exactly the same and completely different. She was a quiet theater girl who was ready to marry her abusive boyfriend she was living with at the time. I was an outgoing writer who had no idea what the future held and prided myself on my independence. She was from Kentucky. I was from Detroit. She was a runner. I was a smoker. She had bunnies. I was the proud owner of a hound dog. And yet, a powerful bond was formed.

Over the next six years, a lot happened. And I mean a lot:

  • I left Starbucks to finally kick off my career at the Chicago Tribune.
  • J left Starbucks not far behind me. She was in an off-Broadway play, Pinkalicious, and started working at a children’s gym.
  • I was in a near-death accident when riding my bike to work at the Tribune.
  • J visited me almost every single day during my month-long hospital stay at Northwestern hospital.
  • I spent three months back at my mom’s recovering from my accident (yeah, it was that bad – you can read more about it in my post We’re Goin’ to Better Places).
  • I moved back to Chicago.
  • I started dating my husband.
  • J’s boyfriend came out as transgender and decided to make the transition to become female. J supported her and stayed with her.
  • J left her girlfriend, because she’s heterosexual, and moved out – living alone for the first time in her life.
  • J’s apartment building burnt down. (She didn’t call me. I only found out because she posted it on Facebook.)
  • J started dating a psychopath who eventually told her she was “too damaged to be loved.”
  • J texted me threatening suicide; when I reached out to that psychopath boyfriend, he informed me they had broken up (at least) a week before. I had no idea.
  • My boyfriend moved in with me.
  • I got engaged. (J didn’t respond to my call/voicemail celebrating the good news. It took several months for her to actually — reluctantly — congratulate me.)
  • I asked J to be my maid of honor.
  • J started dating the “male version” of me (her words) via Tinder.
  • J’s six-month old nephew died unexpectedly.
  • I got married.

And then, our friendship ended. The event that triggered the breakup deserves more than just a bullet point. And I’ve been reading about “how to deal” with these types of breakups. A lot of articles say that the author realizes at a later date how they made themselves out to be the victim. So I hope one day, once I’ve actually mourned this loss and moved on, I can see it that way too; I think it would make it hurt less. However, for now, I’m still bitter as hell.

My near-death accident (mentioned above) involved me (on my bicycle) being hit and partially run over by a delivery truck — think FedEx truck, but smaller than a semi and bigger than a van. In the years since, I’ve been traumatized by stories of and actual encounters seeing other cyclists hit by cars and trucks. My reaction is the same every time: I freak the fuck out. And I usually freak out to my mom, my husband and J.

One of these events is that catalyst for mine and J’s demise. I had recently started a new job and was having an issue with my contacts, so I went home early. (If it hadn’t been for my early departure, J and I would probably still be friends.) On my walk home from the train, I came across a motorcyclist who had been hit by a minivan. He was on the ground, unconscious. There was blood. Good Samaritans had stopped and were at the biker’s side. I heard sirens coming. I knew help was on the way. I kept walking.

I was rattled. I think the first thing I did was call my mom and sob, “Why do I always see horrible things?” Earlier that summer I’d seen a bicyclist get thrown into the air by a car when crossing the onramp near my house while out for a run. He was OK, I’d called 9-1-1 and he’d walked away.

I texted J, in need of a friend. In need of support. And I got shut down.

What happened next was a series of text messages (still on my phone) that I refuse to look at. I know it will make me mad and sad and a lot of other emotions to revisit the exact words. But, overall, the conversation went something like this:

I asked J why she hadn’t responded when I’d reached out the day before. Her response? She was talking to her mom. Apparently some things were going on back in Kentucky that I don’t know about to this day. But somehow, I was supposed to recognize that she was “going through something” even though I’d never been looped in. (If I had to guess, it was something to do with her brother and sister-in-law who were still dealing with the effects of losing their son a year and a half prior.)

My confrontation regarding her lack of support resulted in J asking if I was drunk. This only fueled my fire. The texting ended with one request. I said something along the lines of, “Don’t bother talking to me until you can admit you’re wrong.” She responded with, “I mean, likewise.”

Her 30th birthday was a few weeks later, so I shot a HBD text her way. It was greeted with a simple thank you. That’s the last time we spoke. And I’ve been devastated ever since.

I’ve thought about reaching out, trying to mend the fences. Maybe it’s my pride, but I’ve chosen not to. I’ve also gotten more and more angry the longer she’s gone without reaching out.

Sometimes I think it might be better for my personal well-being to get some sort of closure with this. But in the end:

Image result for i want to forgive you and forget you the hills gif

I’m completely hesitant to even post this, because it means putting how I feel out in the world. It means the possibility that J will see it. Which means the end. But, I need to move on, and I’m not really sure how else to do that.

Multiple articles say writing a letter you’ll never send is one of the steps to closure of a friendship that’s ended, and, I’ve done that. It’s in the drafts folder of my Gmail account, and it’s mean. It says things that I don’t even feel or think. And I think that’s because I’m still in the anger stage of grief.

I don’t know where I was hoping to go with this or what I was hoping to get out of it. I think it just needed to get my thoughts on the page, and vent. So, I’m really no further along than I was at the start. Somehow, though, I’m OK with that.

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Day 3: Writing Retreat Research

I spent today doing research for my book. This mostly started from working on some of the tasks in “Ready. Set. Novel!” but I’ve since realized it is a necessity for me. My favorite part of writing is digging in and getting the details. It’s not enough for me to have a character respond in a certain way, I want to be able to define why he or she reacted that way.

Here are some of the things I came up with in my research of families across the globe:

  • The “Universal Family” looks different everywhere around the world
    • Think “Modern Family” exemplified
  • Teaching independence is the number one goal of parenting, no matter where you’re from
  • Americans are more likely to have less positive relationships with their families
    • This has a lot to do with the fact that we’re a melting pot of cultures, and the way each culture addresses family is different – thus leading to differences of opinion and difficulties
  • American parents are more concerned with their children’s success and intelligence than parents across the globe
    • We equate money with smarts
  • Culture plays a significant role in dictating what family relationships look like
  • Adult children from countries without federally-funded elder care are more likely to feel responsible for their aging parents well-being
    • This often leads to tension on the relationships between adult children and their parents

Some of this may not be surprising, but I find it informative to our day-to-day interactions. I can definitely see how these different points not only dictate my interactions with my family, but also my future plans of starting a family of my own.

Tomorrow, I look forward to learning more about how we decide which friends are acceptable to introduce into our family, and why sometimes those ending relationships hurt more than anything else.

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Day 2 [Late]: Writing Retreat Tweet

While my Sunday was was derailed by baseball, sunshine and house hunting, I did still write (a little). See below for my NPR poetry submission:

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Day 1: Writing Retreat

I came to San Diego this week for a writing retreat. One of my goals while I’m here is to write something every day. Ultimately, I’d like to (at least) get started on a novel. Today, this will have to suffice for my writing – lame, I know. But it’s closing in on 1 a.m. Chicago time (11 p.m. local) and I’ve got a busy day planned for tomorrow!

I’ll be soliciting the assistance of a number of resources on my quest, including:

  • Content and exercises from “The Writer” magazine
  • Poetry and fiction writing packet from a college course with Professor Peter Ramos
  • “The Paris Review” – a dive into the art of the short story
  • “The Ode Less Travelled” by Stephen Fry – a sort of how to to “unlocking” your inner poet
  • “Thunder and Lightning” by Natalie Goldberg – a guide to turning inspiration into a product
  • “Ready. Set. Novel!” – a writer’s workbook

There are a number of online resources I have on a list to investigate, but those might just have to wait until next time. Like I read in an article on the flight today, you don’t know the direction of your story until you finish the first draft. So, there will be plenty of time to improve.

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When was the last time you did something for the first time?

It has been a long time since I read a book I enjoyed as much as “Wild,” by Cheryl Strayed. For the last year or so, I’ve been on a non-fiction kick, reading about economics, exploring the science of food and diving into the senses of a dog. But even before that, I really don’t recall the last time I connected to a novel as much as I did “Wild”—maybe in high school when I read Megan McCafferty’s series following my sweet Jessica Darling through her teenage trials and triumphs.

wild

Not only is “Wild” well written, but I found many points of connection with Cheryl (the novel’s author and main character). That’s not to say we’ve shared all the same experiences:

  • She struggled with drug addiction
  • She lost her mother at the young age of 23
  • She divorced her sweetheart and best friend
  • She hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, solo no less

But, then there are the similarities:

  • We’re both writers
  • We both grew up without a fathers
  • We were both raised by a magnificent mother
  • We’ve both accomplished things we’d never thought ourselves possible of

But beyond the obvious, easy-to-point-out aspects of our lives that make us similar, there’s just something about Cheryl that makes me feel a connection to her. Maybe that’s what makes her such a talented writer, being able to invoke such an overwhelming emotional connection as I absorb the pages of her writing.

There’s no doubt that Cheryl’s and my life are far from parallel. Our struggles that led us to similar places differ greatly: Physical versus emotional. However, I think we’ve both fought with the other’s struggle. But I’ve found that pain, no matter how inflicted, tends to evoke similar responses in people. There’s the fight or flight response, both on impact and after the pain has struck, once it’s time to actually deal with it.

So, let me get to the point of all this. The reason why I’m bothering to draw all of these comparisons. For the last two-and-a-half years, I’ve been embarking on physical feats I never thought possible of myself. And along the way, I’ve had many people ask me why. A lot of friends and family have given me quizzical looks when I explained to them what my next obstacle to overcome would be. And I’ve come to the realization that most don’t understand. Well, there’s one section in “Wild” that, for me, perfectly explained what I’d been wanting to say:

This—the hardest thing I’d ever done.

I stopped in my tracks when that thought came into my mind, that hiking the PCT was the hardest thing I’d ever done. Immediately, I amended the thought. Watching my mother die and having to live without her, that was the hardest thing I’d ever done. Leaving Paul and destroying our marriage and life as I knew it for the simple and inexplicable reason that I felt I had to—that had been hard as well. But hiking the PCT was hard in a different way. In a way that made the other hardest things the tiniest bit less hard. It was strange but true. And perhaps I’d known it in some way from the very beginning. Perhaps the impulse to purchase the PCT guidebook months before had been a primal grab for a cure, for the thread of my life that had been severed.

I could feel it unspooling behind me—the old thread I’d lost, the new one I was spinning—while I hiked that morning, the snowy peaks of the High Sierras coming into occasional view.

 

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