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How Getting Sober Gave Me a New Perspective on Judgment

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I found myself asking one of my closest friends who I know is capable of introspection how to “not think.” My girlfriend said to me, “I don’t know if the goal is to not think, I believe thinking is your gift.”

I met this friend many moons ago. We partied together, we laughed and then we suddenly parted ways. This is a theme I see a lot in my life. I used to think it was because I was a fair-weather friend, but I know now that’s actually not true. In life, some people come, leave and come back, or we never run into each other again; some people stay the entire time. That is the journey. That is why detachment is so important, very often it has nothing to do with you or them, just different places on the journey as a whole. Sometimes, for all of us, it is time to go — forever or just for now.

I remember always kind of idealizing this girl. When we went our own ways, she started along on a spiritual journey, while I stayed partying. I remember reading some of the things she posted and thinking to myself, “This chick is confused, who does she think she is? What did she find, God or something, is she a saint now, Buddha?”

Ironically, quite a few years later, she is one of my biggest teachers. She is a gift to me, but for a long time, I just judged her. I didn’t understand much about where she was on her journey, because I just wasn’t personally there yet in my own. I was spiraling out and she was going inward.

My judgments for her capability to reach depths within herself I hadn’t met yet, drove me as far away from her as possible. I found myself thinking things like, “Wow, I hope she is OK, I wonder if she really is doing well, I worry about her. Does she ever find time to play? How did she get so serious? Does she think she is OK? Is she OK? She really needs to figure it out.”

Now, I see my judgments of her (because all judgments are something I am judging in myself) were because I wasn’t capable or aware enough to look at my own personal bullshit. The only person who wasn’t really OK, was me. I was drinking way too much, doing drugs, trying to be a mom, living with and trying to love someone who I just didn’t love. I’ve found the easiest thing to do when you are struggling and spiraling out is to find someone else to judge … and in my experience, we usually pick someone who has what we want.

A few years later, I found God, and yes the God we all might hate or have a negative connotation with, and I started looking at my own shit and pain.

I was able to get sober. I was able to leave that relationship. I attached myself to other relationships, but was able to get out of those, too. I was able to become the mother I wanted to be. I was able to keep a career. I was gifted my friendship with this girl back. I was able to find the strength to do the work and keep doing the work. The inner work never ends unless you are Buddha; I am gratefully not that special.

I write about where I have been because it’s my journey, but I still judge myself and feel judged by others. The reason I feel this way is because I remember being “Shelley judging the friend who was doing the work.” So, I know the judgments are real. I also know no matter how bad I want to believe that it is, other people’s perceptions of me are not personal or even about me.

I don’t profess to be Buddha, because I don’t think he speaks like a trucker, talks about dirty sex, makes crass jokes or even fucks it up sometimes. Buddha doesn’t tell small lies to please others, or compromise himself to fit in or wish to be anyone other than who he is. I do, though. Because I am on a spiritual journey makes me no more special than you. I look at my own thoughts and emotions, then obsess and ruminate over the right choice for entirely way too long. I don’t have anything figured out, I just keep showing up and diving deeper. I do have the ability to express my feelings by putting them into words and by the grace of God the bravery to leave it with all of you, as an offering. To judge me, pray for me, accept me or go inward for yourself, which is always your choice. Guidance which comes in the form of vulnerability and connection is always an offering.

When I write and people text me or call me to say, “Jesus, are you OK?” Or, “Can I help? I know you struggle a lot.” Or, “Chin up,  hang in there,” I am aware those are judgments, too. Quite frankly, they make me question my own sanity because I know I am OK, I am writing about it? Just because I show you it is OK to not know what the fuck to do next, doesn’t mean I am not OK. Doesn’t that actually make me deeply OK? I am owning I don’t know what to do, which allows you to own it within yourself, too because I have taken the shame away. Further, owning it allows me to move forward knowing what to do by not at all knowing, and instead trusting I will.

I know what it feels like to have a secret, a miserable pain or ache within because I feel it or at some point have felt it, too. I know the stripping grief of heartbreak, I have lived it. I know loss, failed expectations, stagnant misery, death and recovery. I also know what it’s like to be a lost, shadow of a person.

Vulnerability doesn’t mean I am Buddha, or even someone who thinks I am Buddha, it makes me human. My ability to share for me, and also you, is literally to take the shame from you and put it all onto me, because I have the space within to hold it. I want you to know it is OK to not be OK, and to look at it, look at the thing that is causing you pain. The ache or void that makes you want to use, have sex, filter your photos, judge or purchase anything, to not feel the pain or the void.

My reminder is there is no need to look at what is causing me pain, I am OK. I just may have triggered some pain in you.

So, let me ask you, are you OK?

The only way out is through.

So, keep going.

Getty image by Ponomariova_Maria

Originally published: March 25, 2021
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