30 March 2014

Discovering Courage

There they are. Two phone numbers. Surname 'Wellington' with an initial of 'J'. Could 'J' stand for 'Joe'? Let me back up...

While conducting another online search to track down 'Joe Wellington', I scour the LinkedIn profiles that pop up. I can tell they aren't the Joe Wellington I'm looking for. Frustrated, dreading that it might finally be time to make a few calls.

Tap, tap, return: "wellington nz white pages" in google, my heart racing and ears ringing. After navigating through the search engine, sixteen options in the Wellington City region pop up. Extending the search north, twenty-nine phone numbers appear on the screen. Among the Wellington Badminton Association and the Wellington Chinese Baptist Church, I find the two most promising leads. High on alert from adrenaline, I set my phone aside to take a deep breath.

You'd think it'd be easy to just call, right? What's stopping me? This is it. All I have to do is punch in the digits and ask for Joe. Simple. Where's my courage?

The past few years, I've become in tune to what my body is telling me. And in this moment, my heart racing, blood rushing, my anxiety peaks. My conscience not wanting to miss the fun, it decides it's time to start with the self-doubt: What's the point of this? Do I really want to find him? He won't remember me. Will I be able to explain well enough who I'm looking for? They're going to think I'm silly. 

In my life, there's been plenty of anxious situations that at times were paralyzing. I've had to fight my way through it one way or another. Often, in my early twenties, I dealt with it by using drugs or alcohol. Luckily, I realized that wasn't the lifestyle I wanted to have anymore and got healthy. Pretty much overnight. As if a light bulb went off in my head that said it had ENOUGH. It's not that easy for a lot of people, and I don't know how I was able to stop almost effortlessly except to say that I began to give myself the life I knew I wanted... and I discovered my worth. That's a story in itself.

When I met Joe "Wellington" in San Francisco it was 1998. I was just a baby (19) having a "gap year". That was probably the start of my anxiety. Joe helped me through it. He was a sweet soul to hang out with, respectful, also a baby in similar ways even though he was older than me by a few years.

Killian, Joe, me, and two others from Australia (I think)

One particular incident from San Francisco was when my friend (I really didn't know him but was connected to a family friend from Minnesota, so we hung out), Killian and I decided to find tickets to a Black Crowes concert. I worshipped their song, "She Talks To Angels." It was sure to be a fun adventure. My homesickness severe, having never really left the comfort of my Minnesota box. I was full of fear about to be unbearable, almost developing into a full-blown panic attack. So, before we left the motel, a few cocktails for "liquid courage" helped (this was a defining moment for me in my awareness of how one might develop an addiction). At the concert venue, Killian stood on one end of the street while I stood on another. Long queues of people waited to get in. It was my job to stand on the corner and ask the passersby, "got an extra ticket?" A nineteen-year-old blondie from the Midwest, standing on the street corner asking for an extra ticket is bound to receive a mouthful of (disgusting) comebacks: "I already gave mine away to another pretty girl" and "No, baby, but how desperate are you?" (anxiety!!). I was grateful my friend came to the rescue with two tickets and we were allowed inside (wall to wall people=more anxiety!). Obviously, the night ended well. The concert incredible. A life-changing night.

But the anxiety is still there at times. And I accept it. I don't try to fight my way through it anymore. I used to get into trouble when I tried to push the anxiety away or got upset with myself for having anxiety. Reality is it's there to help me. Everyone has anxiety- it is the body's fight or flight response to a situation- it's there to tell you to pay attention. It's a good thing.

Now, while dialing a phone number doesn't create as much panic as being a young kid in an unknown city far away from home, as I call the first "Wellington" on my list, the anxiety creeps up. It can hit any time.

Try not to internalize other people's judgments of you, I tell myself. I breathe into it and accept that what I might really be feeling is excitement. They're very similar feelings.

The phone rang and rang and rang while my heart pounded, pounded, pounded.

Answering machine. Based on their outgoing message, 'J' does not stand for 'Joe'. Whew.

Next call. The phone rang and rang and rang and I breathed, breathed, breathed. No answer... I guess I'll have to try that one later.

And I'll have to breathe through it again, accept the emotions that come with the memories, and continue to believe not only may I discover Joe Wellington... I may discover the courage I thought I lost.

22 March 2014

Where Is Home?

Looking at the South Pacific from beautiful New Zealand

My family just moved into a different house here in New Zealand. We arrived in the country eight months ago and at the time were put in temporary housing until finding our own place.
Not knowing much about Kiwi housing, we found a place quickly that was in the city and suited our needs at the time. Our first night in the house, we had a terrible storm with strong southerlies. Our house, which we didn’t know at the time, was facing south (something you have to pay attention to here). Being up high on a hill, the wind hit our house with full force, which left us often feeling as though we were in the center of a tornado. This house had no insulation whatsoever; the heat from the wood burner was swept right through the cracks. Our walls and windows whistled so loudly that I couldn’t tell if it was the baby crying or a dying cat outside.
Finally moving into summer weather, we thought we could put the electric heaters away. That was not the case. Our house was bone-chilling cold. It was the middle of the summer and on windy days we were dressed in sweaters due to the lack of insulation and sunlight.
But it was home.
Everyone said to us this was what to expect out of Kiwi houses and that we would eventually get used to it. But we couldn't get used to the outrageously expensive electric bill. Plus, you know there's something wrong when you're excited to get into the car because you can turn on the heat.
So as our lease was about to expire the end of February, my husband and I searched for the house that had “everything”. And we found one. Although located further outside the city, it has a nice little yard  (garden) for our son to play in; more importantly, it's insulated! But…it has ants. And flies. And mold in the bathroom. And loud neighbors. And a long commute that usually means at some point during the day I will be sitting in traffic. Not to mention, the landlord has really duped us on the rent. 
Thinking about home, I'm reminded of my early 20s when I was trying desperately to find my new home. I understood that my parents’ house wasn't supposed to be my home any longer. While it was my physical address, it was time to move on and find a new place to belong. I think that’s why I traveled around; took my adventure to San Francisco so that I could try to find my vibe. Even at age 24, when I finally took that leap out of their home and into my own which was actually back East, I still hadn’t found my tribe. Now, living here in New Zealand I feel like I have finally found both tribe and home.
Perhaps this house is imperfect. Perhaps it doesn’t have the large yard we used to have in the states with the three large apple trees in the back yard. Perhaps it doesn’t have the large vegetable garden or the Audubon center where we used to hike. Perhaps the landlord is greedy.
But it has so much more.
While at times we struggle with a need for the familiarity of our old US home (and I miss my parents and the lakes of the Midwest like crazy!), New Zealand has surprised us with how comforting it does feel. We have friendships here that we have waited for- people who care about our son and us and accept our creative quirky personalities. People who I want my son to learn from and know.
It is home to me because of these people we have met. It is home because it's where my son is (wherever he is will always be home). It's home because the energy from the mountains and the valleys and the ocean calls to me. It's home because I can write and sing and be creative. It's home because there is respect and sincerity and faith in something greater than all of us among the people. And so much more. It's home. 
I started working on this post earlier in the week. I’m happy it has taken me this long to finish because I just read a blurb from Elizabeth Gilbert’s (author; see previous post) TED talk this week that hits… well, home:
To read about her talk: Ted talk
And to paraphrase she writes on her Facebook page:
“If you are looking for your home in the world, here is a clue: It's whatever you love more than you love yourself. (Addiction and infatuation don't count! Unsafe neighborhoods in which to build a home!) Identify that worthy thing to love, and abide there”. 
I couldn’t have said it any better.

13 March 2014

No Joe Wellington...Finding Gems Instead!

My search for Joe Wellington continues. He's not been found...yet! But while I search for him, I seem to be finding all sorts of little gems along the way.

One of which occurred Monday night. My friend, Trish had an extra ticket to hear author Elizabeth Gilbert http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/ speak and I knew I couldn't pass on the opportunity.

With Ms. Gilbert (most-famously known for her memoir "Eat, Pray, Love") was her friend and new author, Rayya Elias http://rayyaelias.com/. Elias' memoir titled, "Harley Loco" is about her struggles with being a starving musician in New York, a hairdresser, unfortunate homelessness, and the downward spiral of her addiction. I can't wait to read it.

Elias informed me after the talk that she is now 16 years sober. We swapped a few stories and when I told her I was an addiction treatment counselor, she got tearful and mentioned that the counselors who she had in rehab were with her "every step of the way" and if it weren't for them she wouldn't be living. I asked her what finally clicked for her, after she stated being in and out of several rehabs,

"I tried to kill myself. And I couldn't even do that right. I knew then that I really needed help."

That's not the first time I've heard that from someone sitting in my office. Rayya's memoir is going to touch so many lives. So glad she had the courage to write it!

We embraced and I told her I was very glad she was alive to tell her story. Later, back in the car, I looked at the inscription of my new purchase that simply said, "Thank you!".


Those of you who are not familiar with Elizabeth Gilbert, she was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People and here I was in the second row, listening to her explain her writing process of her most recent book, "The Signature of All Things". Her speech was inspirational and a good kick in the butt for those of us dreamers to continue creating... to keep finding your story and then write it because if you don't, someone else will. She also spoke about letting go of your characters once you are finished and what that process might feel like.


Afterward, my friend Patricia Sexton www.trishsexton.blogspot.co.nz was able to give Elizabeth Gilbert a copy of her published book, "LIVE From Mongolia" (another gem!). They had an exchange that you can read on Trish's blog. But Ms. Gilbert heard I was from Minnesota and mentioned she has relatives who live in the town where I grew up. She threw out a few names but none of them were names I recognized. Still, a special one-on-one exchange and the energy intensely positive. Thrilling.

Me with Rayya Elias, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Patricia Sexton

As we were about to leave, Trish and I both beaming from the night, a 20something girl approached Trish and asked her about "LIVE From Mongolia". When Trish told her that she was the author of it, the girl said she just began reading it. Without missing a beat, Trish asked the girl, "What is your name?" Truly a sweet moment to witness between author and reader. I only hope to be so lucky someday.


So while I haven't been able to find Mr. Wellington, I have been able to find things I never imagined finding. I got to spend a night with three incredibly talented, intelligent, philosophical, resilient, humble, compassionate women authors. I found that when you have goosebumps about something, don't ignore it. Use it. I found that friendships that are true, are the ones that challenge you to tune in to those goosebumps. And they are the ones you can bare your soul to and be heard... and then pushed to create something out of that vulnerability.


They are everywhere. You just have to pay attention.