March 5, 2007

Have You Ever Seen The Rain

Have You Ever Seen The Rain
(Coming down, on a sunny day)

This past Saturday was my birthday. The whole weekend in fact. Not in the actual sense of the word, as my real birthday is in July, but in the fact that I feel as if I've literally been reborn.

A couple of months ago, I went through a pretty difficult time. I can't remember another time when I've felt such despair. Adhering to my need to always present a strong front, I didn't tell a single soul about what I was feeling. I would just randomly go into the bathroom and cry, then wash my face, re-apply make-up and walk back outside pretending I had just had an allergy attack. I did this for about a month. Then one night, in a fit of anger someone said something that highlighted everything I had been thinking, that I was a horrible mother, wife, pretty much a crappy person overall and I just straight out broke down and started sobbing. Steve happened to be there when this happened, being that we were in his apartment at the time.

I tried to leave so that I could cry in solitude but he literally held me down and forced me to address what was behind my breakdown. In the next couple of weeks, through hours of conversation, he continued to encourage me to take a look at what I was feeling and the forces behind it. Up until that point, Steve and I had just been casual friends. But when someone gives you the compassion you need to stop crying, then helps you find the strength to stand up, dust yourself off and walk again, that person pretty much becomes one of your best friends for life, one of your soul friends.

One night, I asked Steve why he was so grounded and positive. How he could be so committed to his word and not get bogged down by the insignificant things in life. He hesitated a moment, then told me that ten years ago, he went to a seminar called The Landmark Forum, and that it had provided him with a different outlook on life and the tools to live better. I didn't say it out loud but a small voice in my head went "What a crock of shit." I jokingly asked him if it was a cult, but then thought about it a bit more. I thought about how Steve is smarter than I am, but never makes anyone he speaks to feel stupid. How he can get people to do certain things, but there's no force, manipulation, coercion or bribery involved. How he faces the same problems that everyone else does (money issues, self issues, the random annoyances of everyday life) but never gets stressed out or bogged down by them. And he attributes all that to this one forum that he attended ten years ago when he was 20 years old. After that, when he asked me if I would attend one with him, I agreed. I was eminently skeptical, but I agreed.

This past weekend, we attended the forum in New York City. It was three days long, intensive sessions from 9 a.m. to almost 11 p.m. with minimal breaks in between. I said I was going to be open-minded about the whole thing, but during the Friday session all I did was sit and listen and think things like "I already know this" "I don't need a seminar to empower myself" "That's counter-intuitive" and "What are you talking about, I don't care I don't care I don't care I don't care." That night, Steve and I went home with the assignment to look at the areas of our life where we lie to ourselves and others, and I couldn't think of a single thing. Even on Saturday morning, I woke up, having not done the assignment and thought "There's nothing I can put on this list, I am a genuine person. I am always honest about how I feel, I am the most blunt person I know. I don't have any complaints about myself, I am very true. Sure I'm impatient sometimes, but the motivation behind that isn't negative. I just don't like having to wait for people to understand what I'm saying."

On Saturday morning, we sat down at the seminar and a man stood up to speak. He was visibly upset as he stood there and told a room filled with 150 strangers that he realized just then that for 25 years, he had made his partner out to be the one who was always wrong, the person who wasn't as good, the person who was lucky to be in the relationship. And then his partner died of a terminal illness and he moved on, never acknowledging anything he had done wrong in their life together. As I sat there, listening to this person, I thought to myself "Okay Riss. Here is someone who has found the courage to face himself and the ugliness of his past, the least you could do is take an honest look at yourself without fear of what you will find." And I did. It was like a slot machine, paying out ugly, shit-covered coins.

All the crappy things that I do in life, came into focus. The way I become apathetic so that I don't have to deal with things and people, even people I claim to love. The way I hide my fears. The way I wear not caring what people think as a cloak in certain situations, to protect against the fact that deep down inside I do. The way I impatiently snap and deride even the people close to me, under the guise of impatience, to assert my intelligence and compensate for the fact that I have nothing tangible to point to that proves I am worthy of the expectations I feel people have placed on me as a result of that intelligence. The way I say I am committed to things, then do no actions to support my empty words. The way when something is important, like writing a book, I hide behind my own laziness and procrastination, to hide a fear of failure. Because if you don't attempt anything, you won't fail at it. All this hit me like a train and I just sat there in shock. I'd always known those ugly things were there, but there's a huge difference between feeling like they're there and understanding with crystal clarity that not only are they there, they've been controlling your life and your actions, from the little things to the big ones. That was my first break-through.

After that I was open to the things I was listening to in the forum. And it opened a lot of doors, windows, keyholes, everything. Over the next two days, I made some very difficult phone calls, to people I hadn't been completely authentic with. It was scary, and painful and I have to say that one in particular, to my ex-husband, almost had me vomiting into a trash can on Eighth Avenue beforehand. I also called my dad, though that was an easier call, to let him know that I appreciated every sacrifice he had ever made for me, every call he ever made inquiring after my well-being, every piece of advice he tried to give. I let him know that if I could have chosen my own parents, I would have chosen them. I also let him know that the moments I lashed out in anger as a response to his well-intentioned advice were not a reflection of anything he had done wrong. I was just lashing out because I interpreted his advice to mean he was disappointed in me and the way I turned out. Imagine that. Your father says to you "You really need to make sure your credit history is solid" and you take it to mean "You are failing at one of the important aspects of being an adult. You should have been much more successful than this. I thought my daughter would turn out better." What the fuck, who does that? Oh, me.

This morning, I made another difficult call, this time to my mother. I called her in the Philippines and told her that I loved her, and that even though kids always say that to their parents, sometimes they say it out of rote, because it's what they feel they should say to be a good kid. But that this time, I meant it. I called her and told her that the things she had blessed me with weren't always apparent, but that they were there and a direct result of her. My caring about other people is because of her. What sensitivity I have that hadn't been stifled by my need to appear strong is because of her. I told her I was sorry, that I realize now that I sometimes wielded the strength of my beliefs and personality like a bat, to trivialize her opinions. That for 30 years I've been hearing what she had to say, but not really listening, and avoiding her out of guilt because a part of me knew that I wasn't trying to be the best daughter I could be. She cried.

We spoke for well over an hour and I felt like it was the first conversation we had ever had. For the first time in my life, I didn't view the phone call as something obligatory or necessary, I was happy to be talking openly with the woman who had birthed me. Keep in mind, up until this point I never even for a moment thought anything should be changed in our relationship. I thought, hey, she knows I love her. I'm a good kid. I do what I can to let her know she is important. No, no I didn't. I did what I felt like doing, not what I could have been doing. It's not a matter of what you should be doing. It's a matter of what you can be doing, if you are genuinely committed to something or someone. I tell people all the time that my family and friends are the most important thing in my life. And they are. But my actions have not given power to those words, and without the actions to support your words those words are meaningless.

Another ugly truth I've been forced to look at are all of my individual fears and superstitions. And anyone who knows me understands how difficult it is for me to even admit I have fears. But I do. They were endless. I have a fear of flying, resulting from the fact that I flew back on the morning of September 11, 2001 from Los Angeles then watched a plane crash into the World Trade Center while outside my building across the river. I never write about this fear, except to allude to it, because a voice inside of me says that if I write about it then I will die on the first plane I ride on. So I don't. Isn't that ridiculous?? And this fear has so consumed me that I haven't gotten on a plane since then. I used to fly 5 times a month and I haven't flown in over 5 years. I have missed the weddings of some of my closest friends and the birth of my only nephew, telling everyone that it was a monetary issue, which was only the case a few times. But the truth is I've just been too scared to get my ass on a plane and so I don't. Isn't that ridiculous?

This has been a very difficult post to write. I am alternately crying and laughing, and a part of me is shaking its head in disgust at the idea that I have stripped down and shown everyone who knows me, as well as complete strangers, what I look like inside after a lifetime of hiding it. But I am doing it because I have committed to the possibility that I can live better, and part of that is shaking off the restraints of how I look to others. More importantly, I am doing it in case it touches anyone else, or inspires them to at least consider the idea that maybe they can have this for themselves as well. If a thousand people read this and roll their eyes, that's okay if even one person read it and said they want that for themselves and are going to try and get it.

One of the most amazing things of the forum was watching the transformation in everyone else. There were 150 people in the forum, many of whom were just as openly resistant and skeptical as I was. If you had told me on Friday that my life would be completely different by Saturday morning, I would have laughed. Or rolled my eyes. Or hit you. But you would have been right. Some people are reading this and thinking "Holy fuck, Riss has been brainwashed." Maybe. But I don't see how that's a bad thing. My brain has been cleansed. I looked into it on Friday and everything looked orderly and fine, but by Saturday I started to see things I didn't even realize were there. The self-doubt, the annoyance, the stress, the fears, the ugly feelings I've been dragging around as a result of random experiences of the past, they were there in little compartments, hidden out of sight. Now, I've cleaned up and thrown them away. They're all gone. In 60 hours. Isn't that wild? They may come back but I'll know how not to let them control me. I still can't get over it. And the funny thing is, it was so basic. No one ever had to be convinced to do anything and you didn't even need to speak if you didn't want to. The point the forum tries to drive home is that people don't have to change, they're fine the way they are. I don't feel changed at all, what I feel is optimistic and energized because I've removed the things that were holding me back.

Of course some people may be skeptical or even cynical about this all. But wouldn't I be the last person on earth you think would need or benefit from something like this? I always thought I was a happy person, and I'm sure on a thousand levels I was. But this happiness I feel now is beyond words. It's like happiness, wrapped in freedom, coated in power, sprinkled with optimism and garnished with the idea that the rest of my life is going to be amazing, even if I never attain all the things that used to be important to me. And that's the main reason I decided to man up and write this post. I have it now, and I want everyone else to have it too. Not just the people, I care about, but everyone else. You, you, you and you and you.

The title of this post is "Have You Ever Seen The Rain" because it's my happy song, and also because the lyrics say that after a storm it'll rain on a sunny day. This morning I left Steve's apartment and it was bright, sunny, blue and then little flakes of snow (extra cold rain) started coming down. It was awesome. It was exhilarating. It was inspiring. I'm inspired.

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