Psalm 56:8

She keeps my tears in Her bottle –

And this is sacred. I think about this old verse a lot, about how there is a God who cares so intimately about my life that every single tear I have ever cried is on Her altar, that She knows every tear I will cry …

In the Bible, the verse is written by a man about a God who numbers his wanderings and keeps him in His book. A man who became a king, from nothing. How many tears did David cry? Did he ever give up, when his eyes ran dry? What did his God’s voice sound like?

My bottle is crystalline, and it is full. I woke up with tears in my chest this morning, felt them welling up with each drumbeat of my heart, stood by the window as the coffee brewed and let them fall in cascades down my cheeks. I imagine they sparkled in the morning light. I wiped them away when my son’s precious voice asked for French toast, and I hoped he didn’t see them . . .

Most of my tears have fallen like this. In silence, in rivers, while forcing my face toward the light. It is incredibly lonely to be so sad, to want so much, to write and scream poetry into the wind –

and I wonder what it is all worth, in the end. What will it all be worth? Whose poetry is True, and when?

Mapping the Cave

So much has been said on the topic of transition, of sitting with discomfort in growth the way the caterpillar turns into sludgy goo inside the cocoon before being reborn with wings. To that I will add the many metaphors for my own recent mental state: the phoenix, once again in her ashes; the sensation of walking along the edge of a cliff; the feeling of falling, again and again, backward into the cave.

A friend wrote, “You have people who are gripping a rope that’s attached to you at the mouth of that cave,” and, even through the fog of what depression does to my brain, I could sense the truth in those words, feel the tug at my center and the pulse of those on the other side of the rope.

For weeks, it has dimly occurred to me that I need to write, now more than ever, every single day, to document this place at the bottom of the plummet so that I can make a map out of here. But the weight of the pen has been too heavy.

I can say that it has felt like a stasis in time that only applies to me – as though I am frozen and desperately trying to fast-forward while the entire world marches torturously along without me. I can say that my days have consisted primarily of sleep, with echoes of my own suggestions sometimes playing out in begrudging hikes, walks, a yoga class, an outing with a friend. I can say I’ve taken care of my child and kept my home from falling entirely into disrepair; laundry is done and meals are made. But there has been little else.

My mind when it gets loud is at war with itself. One on side of the battlefield is the Ambitious Ego, the moral one, the one who has only Highest Expectations. She shouts things like “time is running out! You need to get off your butt and make things happen. Change your mindset! Go outside, grab a summit or two. This is ridiculous – we aren’t doing this again,” while her reflection, the Grieving Girl, whispers, “It’s too sad, too heavy. It’s already too late; nothing matters. It’s okay to crumble. It’s okay to sleep another day. Just rest and resign yourself.”

There are other forces at play, too, like my usually clear grasp of the future path, my crystalline understanding of the way forward, distorting into a chaos monster. Like my own intuition becoming my enemy. And the not-yet-vanquished Traumatized Child chanting poverty mentality victimhood poison like an undercurrent of psychobabble, “you’re going to end up just like your mother, a lonely dead addict,” and “you’re a failure; nobody wants you, you’re a terrible person who has pushed everyone in your life away; you aren’t special, nobody cares what you have to say; give up your daydreams before you find yourself living on the street.”

Spirit is there, too, with gentleness and reassurances, omens and messages of hope. Spirit is strong, and she’s getting me through with the gifts of basic functionality, caring friends, and a lifetime of fully developed, habitual healthy practices to fall back on.

I knew I had to write because I knew I’d survive it like I always do, because of everything I’ve learned and done until this point. Even when I’m running full speed in the opposite direction of my highest self and best coping mechanisms, I already know how I’ll find my way back. It’s an inevitability at this point, and the steps are always the same. With grim amusement, it occurred to me that I desperately needed my own Magical Yoga, and that documenting the journey from the middle of the muck would prove invaluable later on.

I need to share the map so we stop losing people to the goddamned cave.

Yesterday, on January 17, 2023, my mother Shelly would have turned 65 years old. She’s been dead for more than 21 years, though, and as all that math hit me, I had the urge to chuckle. Shelly was never going to be an old lady; it was unimaginable. The shell of a human I knew was a dangerous, addicted mother who died in her forties and left me an orphan. I am certain her death was fated. I predicted it within weeks. But I wonder now if the prediction was intuition or observation, an early understanding of the nature of the cave. We lost Shelly to her own darkness, and that doesn’t seem as condemnable to me today as it did when I was fifteen. The cave has its own gravity, I’m finding.

So we need ropes, maps, lanterns. We need spiritual muscle memory of the way out, which, thanks to my own many brutal attempts, I now have.

Everyone assumes the caterpillar makes it; that’s the way the metaphors are written. But a very important book called Hope for the Flowers tells a story of endless towers of caterpillars collapsing on themselves for want of reaching an imaginary peak, of thousands of caterpillars climbing all over each other to nowhere, for nothing. An abyss of directionless, hopeless, flightless creatures. Except for Yellow. She was different. She knew something was wrong with the way things were going, something was off about the abyss – and she got off that tower and found her way to a twig and built herself a dark and scary cocoon . . . and she did make it. Then, what did she do with her wings? She used them to fly back to the others and show them the way out of the dark.

But enough with the caterpillar metaphors.

I feel tender, still very much bleeding and weak, like a freshly born fawn in a Mary Oliver poem. Wobbling across the field under a dark sky, clouds clearing between storms, just enough starlight shines so that I can see a bit of a path – and it begins, as it always does, with my pen.

The Submarine Hatch

Damn, have I been depressed.

The preamble:

Bipolar disorder, or manic depression, a doctor once told me to call it, is an energetic roller coaster of emotional nonsense that lives in my head. And though I’ve been very public about it (Sedona, Manic Depression, Moms in Boxes), I still have a sense of weirdness about it all. A couple weeks ago, after a real bad low (which I’ll describe here shortly), I said to my friends, “I hate this stupid mental illness. It’s embarrassing. Nobody ever has to go on an apology tour after a diabetic flare-up.”

I wish I had written something between the last post and now, something lighthearted and inspirational to break up the weight and breadth of these deep dark dives; but perhaps posting these pieces on top of each other is the perfect scenario. Perhaps the continuation of the last story is a much truer tale than what you’ve seen on social media, and maybe that’s a necessary exposure.

Here’s the truth: depression is ugly and sad, and it’s exhausting not only for the person experiencing it (me) but also for the people who love and support me, whose literal task it sometimes is to keep me actually alive. And to YOU, I am sorry. I’m sorry I’m like this. I’ve said it a thousand times and I won’t stop because I know I ask way, way too much of you. I’m sorry you’re the heart I wear outside my body so that when the one in here breaks . . . lifeblood still flows.

And by, “I’m sorry,” I actually mean “thank you.”

Thank you for being on the journey with me. Thank you for reading these many, many words. Thank you for being a ripple and a reflection, a purpose and inspiration, for being witness, friend, teacher.

The next … however long I write … is going to be a triggering, dark, deep and honest dive into where my brain and heart have been these last several months. I will discuss suicidal ideation, which is a primary symptom I experience, in detail.

I share this because I think it’s important to show the way out of the dark.

Triggering an Avalanche:

It began in Arizona, when I learned some heavy truths about the shady, painful circumstances surrounding my birth and estranged biological family. My brain decided I was worthless and should jump off a cliff in Sedona.

My established practice, and my muscle memory, spirit, heart – my absolute humanity – decided I should hike it out. Or at least hike into the spot, if the moment came.

The hike, the sky, my spirit … all of it renewed my hope and revealed deeper truths about the purpose of my life. I chose myself, I chose to live, and I chose bliss.

You’d think that would be the end of it, but now that nine months have passed I can see clearly it was the beginning.

Without going into too much detail, these are the order of events that culminated in a total emotional breakdown and ego death:

I went through a grueling and exhausting legal review in an attempt to adopt two of my nieces, which was an unearthing of deeply held poverty mentality and early childhood wounding.

In March, quite suddenly and without cause, my career took a turn. I was ousted by my Board President more or less overnight, and suddenly had to face a major crossroads in an area I had felt very safe, secure, and stable. I loved my job. And I needed it.

(Thanks to the support and encouragement of my people, I did decide to pivot and entrepreneur my way to an even better, even bigger career, though! I founded Magical Yoga Org one month after I was “eliminated.”)

Then the house of cards really began to fall.

My dear cousin/sister’s life fell apart and she came to stay with me. We unearthed trauma we had never touched before, and it took us both for an emotional nose-dive.

Meanwhile, one of the nieces I was trying to adopt ran away to live in hiding with drug dealers. The State not only failed to follow their own policy, contributing to her ultimate evasion, but also scapegoated me, personally. I embarked upon a fruitless and very public wild goose chase that resulted in total exhaustion and depression for me . . . and no fifteen year old to be found.

Then, the State removed me from the case entirely, so I lost not one but two nieces-would-be-daughters. They cited instability both emotionally and financially, on the heels of the job loss and missing teenager.

(Somehow, during all of this, I managed to write a request for and receive startup grant funding for Magical Yoga Org, though the actual check came months later than expected.)

So, my financial situation digressed to the point that I came “out of retirement” to pick up bar shifts at my friend’s late-night establishment; the hours and environment were exhausting and further contributed to my mental decline. It was a welcome break from my own weekend bar habit, though, and did help me save money and drink less, over all.

During all of this, my biological father’s sister (so my aunt), reached out about a property that was in probate in Georgia, of which I was owed some part. She and I developed a relationship and she flew me out to Virginia to meet her and my uncle. It a life-changing for the better moment. Amazing experience. I was so inspired by them, and by the potential snapshot of what my life could look like in 10, 20, 30 years . . . I came home full of new ideas and a desire to start my life over.

When I returned home, I experienced another personal heartbreak. It’s deep and it’s not at all healed and I don’t know how to fully write it. But it was the final weight of this revelation and pain that brought me to my knees.

The Fall:

I am a particularly romantic person. This bleeds all over my life, drips like nectar from the words I speak, pulls people to me like a magnet, manifests in fire and the sway of my hips. It’s passion, and it is wild and free and magnificent . . . but it is also deeply reverent, a profound and solid belief in destined, lasting partnership.

And at the same time, I am a particularly lonely person. I exist with very little close family, and zero family members I didn’t make in my own uterus, within hundreds of miles of my home. The things I love to do are often done alone, in the mountains or my own sanctuary. My friends are the best, most supportive and wonderful people I could ever dream of – I called them to me through a thousand lifetimes and together we stand strong, beautiful, proud, compassionate … this is my chosen family and I’m grateful to have them. But the truth is they’re busy, too, and have actual families of their own to care for and spend time with. I eat dinner alone most of the time.

So you can see I’ve set myself up for dichotomy already. Perhaps this is a bipolar thing to do. Perhaps it’s more of a reflection of an inner state type of thing. In any case, it’s extra lonely thanks to the contrast of the VERY LOUD desires and beliefs in my heart.

When I told him I still loved him, he didn’t believe me. He was rehearsed, distant, cold. A stranger. And when I compared myself to the girl he does love, I was awash with disgust like bile, jealousy and fury rising from within like poison.

I wish I didn’t break so easily. But the whiplash of discovering my own hidden inner feelings and then the pain of a door slamming on them in the next instant was debilitating.

To process and adjust to a new life I didn’t ask for, to watch it unfold like a psychopath on social media because gods-know it’s an insidious thing to “spy” and see your nightmares played out in reel-time, to be immersed in a sickening nightmare reality I didn’t even sense on the horizon … this felt like a faith crisis.

I felt my soul crumble inside of me.

Unlike the day in Arizona, nothing called to me, “come outside and climb. Think it through. Feel your feelings.”

There was only deafening silence interrupted by hours of tears and listless, restless, blurry-eyed sleep.

I wrote things like “I should move away and become a heroin addict,” to my closest friends. I obsessed about ways to die even as I forced myself through the daily motions of life. This is what “Suicidal Ideation” means, by the way. It means being FLOODED with THOUGHTS of killing yourself, very specifically, nearly constantly.

Here’s what I mean. I went for a bike ride on a beautiful day, rode six miles in and sat by a tree to meditate. I looked at that tree and tried to guess how high it was. Not high enough to kill me by falling out of it, but definitely high enough to hang from. Do I know how to tie a noose? I bet the internet does. How far to the hardware store for rope? Would I just loop it over my shoulder to ride back here with it? How do I get up there to tie it off . . . a ladder? Well NOW how am I supposed to get a ladder all the way in here? And then even if I do, I can’t have just anyone finding the body. That would be traumatizing. Do I call the cops right before I jump (or kick the ladder or whatever I do . . . is the bike tall enough? *checks* No …), do I say, “I found a body,” then just hang up? What a pretty, sparkly day. The water sure is gorgeous here. It’s a good place to die. But not today, it’s too inconvenient.

Snap photo. Get on bike. Ride home.

And this continued to digress, to get worse and worse until I could not go even a few minutes without imagining my own death. Unfortunately, this symptom isn’t well-received by folks who love me when I tell them. They don’t like it. They freak out. So I was planning on keeping this largely to myself.

But Drunk Brittany had a different idea. The first night my son wasn’t home after a very long and emotionally-torturous couple of weeks, I had an innocent and sweet dinner with my best friend and her kids. They went home; I went to the bar. And proceeded to pour myself about half a bottle of tequilla.

Not only was I belligerently drunk (and scantily clad), I was also loudly sharing my suicidal ideations.

Mental illness is embarrassing.

That night, I begged my good friend who drove me home to kill me. I asked him to shoot me, to throw me off a roof, to run me over with several choices of vehicles, and goodness knows what else because this man loves me and didn’t go into gory embarrassing detail with me about it afterward. But he did wake up my best friend, his wife, and tell her about it in the middle of the night with actual tears in his eyes.

So the next morning when I texted the besties (again, I’m so blessed, honestly) that I drank too much and didn’t remember anything, therefore I am an utter failure who deserves to die an immediate death . . . they already had a plan.

They came to me. Jen got here first and crawled into bed with me, held me and we cried together. She said she didn’t want me to die. When Emily arrived, Dawn (and Kyra, apparently) were also on the phone and the three of them tried to convince me to go on a trip. One “trip” idea was the mental hospital or the emergency room.

At one point, I asked them to please not call him. I remembered a time earlier in our history when he was suffering in his own head, and he called me. Of course, I went to him then and always, and just sat with him and did what I could. I didn’t want to “use this” as some kind of “game” to “get what I wanted.” I was embarrassed and horrified, triggered and self-loathing. It felt like I was manipulating everyone . . . even though I didn’t actually call anyone or ask for anything, I felt like a toxic drama queen.

Turns out, they already had called him. And he essentially said, “Not my problem.”

Which was a rather earth-shattering bit of information to receive. Later, he did offer to “help,” but it was more of a … self-preservation thing than a compassion thing.

So I had to suddenly deal with this simultaneous crumbling of my own strengths and defenses – right? I have a practice for this. I work HARD to prevent this from happening. I have lists, protocols, devotion, spirit guides, nutrition, a gratitude practice, redirection techniques, exercise, a child, friends, work I am passionate about – yet I had failed myself. I was in paralysis, unable to “do” any of those “things.”

And! I felt the final vestiges of familial support I falsely relied upon wash away in the flood of my undoing. I was, officially and finally, “Not anyone’s problem.”

So things got real dark. I didn’t know what to do, but I did recognize the irony of my situation, especially on the heels of the actual launch of a national suicide prevention nonprofit.

It’s like, earlier, more-healed, psychic Brittany saw this coming and built a surefire trap for future, crazy-eyed, broken-hearted Brittany ensuring I’d survive and go on to tell the tale.

So I put one foot in front of the other. I did a minimum of one work thing, one health thing, one yoga thing, and one social thing every single day. It all tasted like ashes. I cried at the beach. A lot.

Everyone thought the stimuli would fade. The triggers would lose their punch and the hard edges would fade into a gradual life adjustment. I would find my stride and my passion again, and it would all be okay. Maybe I didn’t even feel “the way I think I feel right now,” they said.

A long time, the symptoms continued. They asked, “What is your PLAN? What will you DO if these thoughts keep happening?” and I said, honestly but also laughingly, “Step one: stop telling you guys I’m obsessing about death. Step two: make it better.” It didn’t get better, and they didn’t stop with Suicide Watch.

If anyone is reading this wondering what to do if YOUR loved one falls into a dark cave … do what these women did. Show up, physically, even and especially when you’re not invited. Lay down and cry. Let your friend stare ashenly and gray-lipped as you all try to act normal for weeks at a time – but MAKE THEM COME. Or go to them.

Tell them there’s help. Doctors, medicine, hospitals, yoga, mountains, nature. Offer to make the phone calls, have a list of shit you’re actually ready and going to do if things don’t change. Watch your friend every day for signs of withdrawal and hopelessness, and just BE WITH them through it. Remind them “it can’t rain forever,” and “this is temporary. Soon, you’ll have all new problems!” and “the tigers in your head aren’t real,” and “I love you,” and “I love you,” and, “you’re not alone.”

Stick it out. It doesn’t always look like tears; sometimes it looks like laughter. Or silence. Or drinking an entire bottle of tequilla. Give them time, give them love, reach out for support for yourself on the other side, and just keep offering them water . . . eventually, they will drink.

The Submarine:

One bestie, an elder bestie, mused that I needed a mental reset. She could see the gray had taken over. She asked if I’d ever consider trying mushrooms in a safe, controlled, intentional environment. As I drove away from her house, another friend called and blurted out that they had been struggling mentally, too, but wanted to try these mushrooms they’d been given. They had enough for two of us.

I took the medicine.

While it was a euphoric “trip” for my magical-mystery-tour buddy, it was an emotional one for me. I cried a lot and spent significant time in a quickly-rushing stream packed full of fish. The fish were swept along, all of them, no matter how they fought or didn’t. None of this mattered; nothing mattered except that each fish had a little moment of life, a moment of connection, a story to tell. Nothing mattered and every single story mattered and in the end all the fish die. I tried to escape through a hatch, because now it’s a submarine that is somehow also sinking. The hatch was a blue/red glowing circle with words that simply said, “This is fine, too.”

Then I laughed and cried and tried to explain, which made us both laugh a lot.

In the end, I woke up feeling relieved.

Just relieved.

The stimuli hasn’t faded; I am still very “upset.” My heart is broken, my pain and jealousy are almost at the surface . . . but these are now manageable human conditions. I can feel myself rearranging around the hole in my chest, readjusting to a new reality full of changes I don’t like and I didn’t order.

I can sense a way forward.

This was immediate. It was like a powerful dose of medicine. I can’t stress enough that I did not awake happy; I awoke with a sense of relief as though the symptoms of inescapable, deadly depression had been lifted. I awoke with the capacity to claw my way out of the cave.

I think suicide watch ended then. We’ll have to ask the besties.

The Slow & Steady Climb:

My aunt from Virginia then visited for a week, two days after the Spirit Medicine came to me. She and I are estranged, remember, and forming the foundations of our lifelong relationship. She’s having a massive spiritual awakening, coming into her own as a witch, and exploring a brand new life of her own after sixty years.

It was a lovely trip full of adventure, oceans, mountains, waterfalls, lakes, and besties, oh! my!

When she left, so did the distraction. Would I be okay? How do I make it out of this cave, again?

And then I remembered another gift, another Medicine. A local healer offered a couple weeks ago to gift me a session.

I just returned from shamanic reiki and crystal bowls . . . and the overarching, repeated, assured and delivered message from Spirit to me, through this man, and his Medicine, was:

“You are loved. You are so, so supported. There is structure and support all around you, seen and unseen, and so much compassionate love. You need to know this.”

There was a gaping hole inside my chest. It was black and impenetrable, and it siphoned away my joy with every forced breath. Today, the music, the light, the Medicine and the clear, wide-open path ahead … touched that spot. It briefly filled with light; all chakras and energy came into glorious, bright-white alignment. I received downloads and messages, dreams and a friend. I saw a door I will soon pass through.

And my faith was restored. I didn’t plan for any of this. I’ve made a lot of mistakes; most of the time, nowadays, thanks to my foolhardy stubbornness and insistence on constant divination. Or, in other words, I’ve become a know-it-all stubbornly devoted to my own idealistic worldview, to such a degree that my own romanticism nearly killed me.

Yet, the structures of light and love that I have been calling into my life, cultivating and caring for, devoting myself to … for all this time … rose up to support me. To love me. To catch me when I fell.

Today, the Healer said, “You need to know this about these ‘highs and lows,’ you have. Know that you are in a new place now. Your lows are so much higher – they are your old highs.”

And he’s right. I remember what the low used to feel like, almost . . . and it was ugly. More embarrassing than a black mini-dress and too many shots at the local bar, definitely. And longer-lived.

How do I make it out of this, entirely? I’m not sure. I think I know. And I’m going to do all those things and document the heck out of it so WHEN they work, I can remind everyone else how to get out of the cave, too.

For now, I move slow and steady. I do the things I love to do, I speak my truth to those with hearts to hear it, I choose myself and my son, and I put one foot in front of the other. I follow the light when it shines and I let gentle momentum carry me along when I can’t see it . . . all the fish end up in the same place, you know.

It’s their story that matters.

This is mine.

And it’s fine, too.

Balancing the Scales – on death in Sedona

Once upon a time, I believed that I was born within a tragic love story. It was the foundation of my faith, the center of my spirituality and my driving force. Once upon a time, I believed I was wanted, I was chosen, I was special . . . divinely protected, even.

It went something like this (maybe I’ve even told you this story already; it was, after all, what I believed to be my Origin):

My father died when my mother was eight months pregnant with me.

It was a complicated relationship riddled with drugs and scandal; he had only just separated from his wife, the mother of his first three children. But my mom told me he adored her, treated her like a queen, loved her in a solid, unforgettable way. She never got over him.

He died in a freak motorcycle accident; or, rather, he sustained fatal injuries in a motorcycle crash and died days later in the hospital. There was a wrongful death lawsuit (he was hit by a corporate vehicle), and I was awarded an inheritance (that was later stolen from me, but that’s a different tale). His family was furious that I existed and forced a paternity test to prove I was his. The evidence was irrefutable, but so was the rift in his family – they closed the door to us and proceeded as though I never existed.

My mother, heartbroken and alone, turned to a life of addiction and poverty, moved home to California, and had me. His death broke her. She had been beautiful, she said, before he died. But I never knew that version of her. She was a broken shell of a human already by the time I was born, didn’t even bother to stay sober during pregnancy. Her choices put me in danger constantly: I was homeless, sexually & physically abused, neglected, dirty, and alone.

But he was by my side my entire life, a dutiful Angel Father who kept me safe, loved me dearly, and gave me the strength to survive my mother’s abuse. I was told that he even gave me my middle name, Noel, after his childhood best friend. Later, I would learn how similar I was to him in psychic ability, love of language, and otherworldly intelligence.

He meant everything to me. I fantasized about what my life would have been like if he had worn his helmet that night. I pictured my mother vibrant and beautiful rather than broken and malicious. I imagined growing up surrounded by family, living in the desert, visiting the sea.

The magnitude of this belief cannot be understated. Once, in San Diego, when I was not even five years old, my mother drunkenly lost track of me at the beach. I was boogie boarding when a surfer ran me over, broke my leash, and sent me into a riptide. I began to drown until the spirit of my father came to me under water, lifted me up, and signaled for the lifeguard who would save my life. My unpublished first book, Finding Starlight, details my perceived relationship with the spirit of my father and all the ways I felt he supported my survival.

When my mom died of drug and alcohol -related sudden heart failure at 44 years old, I was a young woman of only fifteen. Legally an orphan, I became a ward of the State. As is their custom, the government sent certified letters to all remaining known family members informing them of my orphaned status and inviting them to claim me. It was in this way that my older sisters, the surviving children of my long-deceased father, came to learn of my existence.

Twenty years have passed.

On December 11, 2021, I was visiting Arizona, the point of origin of this entire Grand Delusion. One of those sisters – the third daughter of the dead dad – is now an addict whose many children are wards of the State. When I received the certified government letter informing me of their status I did not hesitate to involve myself in their lives, and have been supporting them as best I can for the last year, including visiting Phoenix and attempting to repair the rift.

I will never forget that Saturday night, December 11. It was the night the Castle of Grand Delusion I had been living in my entire life burst into flame and fell to pieces around me.

Probably around 11pm, I arrived back to the home of my other sister, the Good One, the first daughter of the dead dad. She and I have been creating a relationship, getting to know each other, learning to love what we have in absence of what we thought it would be. I adore and admire her and was grateful to be a guest in her home during the intensely emotional visit, which involved case workers and group homes, police and mental health crises, and so much bonding between Auntie and Nieces and Nephews.

She poured me the last glass of wine, which I drank while sitting cross-legged on her kitchen counter. We were both exhausted from a big day of emotions, and were decompressing as sisters do with conversation and shared insight.

As though suddenly compelled to speak, she blurted, “Daddy didn’t know about you.”

My heart stopped for a full moment. My brain filled up the deafening silence with a chorus of arguments, justifications, long-held dogma of its own creation.

“How can we know that, though?” I asked after a moment, certain she was wrong.

“Baby girl,” she started, like she always does when there is hard truth to follow, “Daddy died in May. I can pull up the obituary if you want to see it . . . I thought you knew.”

The universe split like an atom as this truth shattered my wholeness, exploded my faith.

“I was born in December . . . that means . . . oh, my god,” I sputtered as the unforgiving mathematics settled around me like a steel cage. “Nobody knew I existed when he died. Not even my mom . . . he had no idea she was pregnant.”

Silence like a vacuum blossomed in my chest as my face settled into the calm, expressionless mask it learned so early in life, a shield now donned too late to protect me from this blow.

Into that vacuum poured the Truth: no, he didn’t know about me. He had no childhood friends, knew nobody by any of my names. And he was never going to marry my mother. In fact, he had – just weeks before his death – gotten himself clean and sober and purchased an airline ticket to send my mother home to California so he could repair his marriage and raise his three existing children. His only children, really.

He died with the plane ticket in his pocket, in a motorcycle crash on his way to break up with my mother, the pariah. To send the woman he never loved back to the hellscape from which she emerged, already a succubus of collapsed dreams.

By the time she realized she was pregnant with a dead man’s child, the lawsuit was underway. Five million dollars -worth of lawsuit . . . and a dollar sign growing in her belly. She wasted no time capitalizing on this tragedy, returning to Arizona to insert herself into the affairs of the family she tried to destroy. Into the courthouse, swollen belly forward, she strode. A manipulative woman, even if a broken one, she leveraged my existence and their affair to get a cut of the deal. She swore to testify against the family if they denied her claim – she would lie and tell the court my father was drunk and high on that bike, ruining the settlement for everyone. They cut me financially into the deal and in all other ways out of the family.

No wonder she hated me from the moment I was born. She absolutely would have aborted me, like she did several other babies, except that I was a means to her survival, a monthly dividend to support her addictions. She didn’t want me, but she had to keep me around. Which is fine; I never doubted her disdain for me. That wasn’t a faith-shattering new truth as much as it was a slight tinge of salt on the memory of a long-scarred wound.

On December 11, I learned that I was absolutely alone. And it almost killed me.

To feel a sharp, shattered emptiness where my hope had been was to experience a loss of lifeblood so profound I can hardly put it to words. I could neither breathe nor think nor feel, even as my spirit collapsed into the void.

Everything I ever believed about myself was a lie.

Nobody wanted me, not when I was an unborn child, not when I was an accidental baby, not when my vampire-mother collapsed in the middle of the street and died in the literal gutter, and not a single time I thought I was in love.

My entire capacity for love was a lie. My absurd obsession with love – a driving force in my life, the muse to my poetry, the passion-flame I thought lived within my chest – was born of a false origin. There was no tragic tale of love lost, just a fucked up homewrecker about to be sent packing by an unfaithful addict on the road to his own recovery.

The book I wrote, the career I’ve chosen, my involvement in the lives of these nieces and nephews, the inexplicable sense of home I felt in the desert – all evidence of the Grand Delusion.

December 11 was a Saturday in the middle of my Arizona family visit; I had already committed to spending Sunday alone in Sedona to clear my mind and move my body, to find a mountain to climb and watch the sun sink into the horizon. I hardly slept that night and left at dawn.

The dispensary opened at 7am – I knew because I waited until then to leave so that I could numb the gaping, gasping pain inside my chest, so I could make it to the mountains. Somehow, I didn’t cry until the joints were purchased, the coffee was in hand, and the car radio was set with music and driving directions. Then, I couldn’t stop the sobs.

When an atom splits, so too does the universe. I saw the fracture in my mind, saw myself standing at a crossroads in the dark: to my left, a crevasse; to my right, a continued path of dusty red rock.

My mind went left first. Time jumped. I saw the news story: “. . . New Hampshire woman’s body recovered at the base of a cliff. Authorities responded to a missing persons report and tracked her phone, which was found on the trail hundreds of feet above her body, intact and protected from the elements . . .”

I saw my son watching the video I left for him, heard my friends discussing the odd trail of clues my debit card transactions left behind that day, saw the sad chuckle when they realized I stopped for both weed and coffee even though I planned to kill myself. I watched the faces of my nieces and nephews as they were awarded the massive funds collected by a Go Fund Me, suddenly popular after my death; I watched them live out their dreams, and I was glad my suicide finally repaired the rift. I watched my former husband raise our son, keep his hope and light alive, assure him again and again that I had loved them all, had turned into a bird and flown away.

I watched my death and knew that it was One Right Choice, if I decided to make it. I forgave myself this act, justified it as necessary. I saw the toll my life had taken on others already and felt crushed beneath the weight of my own inadvertent destruction.

The addict-sister was only nine months older than me, an Irish Twin, really. Our lives were total opposites, my brain pointed out, and calmly explained it like we were twin embryos with a nutritional imbalance – I took everything good and she was left to wither. She is what I would have been if I had known how alone and unwanted I was. The only difference is that I built my life on a lie, whereas she grew up in the truth. And it destroyed her.

Her six children were traumatized and living another rotation of the hell-cycle of family trauma catalyzed by my mother’s selfishness and my untimely birth.

So many people have died in the vacuum of my existence, I realized as my brain continued to tally the scales. Step-brothers, siblings, parents, broken families, my own horrific early adulthood choices and the carnage of emotional destruction caused by my unwavering mistaken commitment to a Love that does not exist . . .

I saw on one side of the scale the heap of bodies my existence created. On the other, the weight of the Lie that I was living.

How could I balance this scale? Could I ever save as many as I destroyed? Or should I jump – now, today – and let the universe right its own balance?

There was no question that I was a mistake, an anomaly that glitched its way through the veil, a disturbance in the Collective. The question was whether or not I had any free will and if so what to do with it.

And that question jarred my brain.

I pulled off an exit onto “Your Public Lands” somewhere between Phoenix and Sedona. Eyes blurred by smoke and tears, I stumbled out of my rented black Volkswagen and into the dirty desert landscape. Next to a heap of trash and a tumbleweed, I smoked. It was, thankfully, good, strong stuff that slowed my jagged breath and tumbling tears. Still, I shook with anger as I made the first of what I imagined would be many “found footage” videos.

“Have you ever been so mad you could just die?” a voice I hardly recognized as my own asked the empty landscape, “so angry you could just . . . fucking . . . die?”

A selfie confirmed blackness had taken over my usually earthy-brown eyes. I extinguished what was left of the joint and got back in my car while the radio played every perfect song and the dirty desert gradually turned brown, then red orange.

Disgust that my mother was part of me took over. I screamed “How could you fucking dare?!” at the top of my lungs over and over as snowy mountaintops came into distant view. I pictured her, dressed impeccably for show, in heels with her hair and makeup done, walking into the courtroom an image of pregnant smug virtue – saw her open a leather briefcase and lay out the results of my paternity test in a closed room, saw the faces of my father’s family distort with hatred as they realized the unborn bastard brat really did have his DNA. I hated her for it, and I hated myself for causing it.

But there is something about Sedona. I’ve always known it. Driving into the energy field of that place felt like my soul was ripped from my body with hallucinogenic intensity; suddenly, my suffering was separate from my consciousness. To say I was disoriented would be like saying the ocean is a teacup.

Still, I couldn’t stop crying. This made it difficult to navigate any of my hiking apps or search the internet for a starting location. I came in without a plan, certain Sedona would show me the way . . . yet another symptom of the Grand Delusion I allowed to lead my life. I made that optimistic non-plan as a different person, though, and now I hated myself for it, too.

Also, it was colder than I anticipated. I realized at elevation I would be wildly unprepared for the elements. My brain simultaneously decided it didn’t matter because I didn’t plan to come out of the mountains alive, anyway, and that it would be a lot more comfortable to die if I was warm. At that moment, I saw a sign.

A literal sign. “The Hike House,” it announced, was the place for advice and gear to hike the famous Sedona landscape. In three minutes, I parked and walked in, wiping the tears from my puffy swollen eyes and putting on my best stoner façade face. Rather be seen as a too-high tourist than recognized in my mental health crisis and stopped before I could decide whether to live or die on my own terms, I thought.

One overpriced wool sweater, pair of mittens, and hat later, I stood opposite a shockingly good-looking professional hiking guide, surveying a local map. Somehow his voice made its way through the fog of my existence as he said something like, “you want to gain a lot of vertical, right?” and I just nodded dumbly. He told me to skip the obvious tourist traps and go for Bear Mountain, that I could watch the sunset from there if I really didn’t mind coming down in the dark. I hadn’t decided to come down at all, anyway, and took his advice.

From the new vantage point of spirit-outside-of-body, a calm clarity took hold. I returned mentally to that crossroads, to survey the new parallel universes that had been created in the nuclear explosion of truth the night before. My brain quickly summarized the already-explored crevasse on the left and packaged it for future reference. Then, we turned our attention to the right, to that dusty red path, to see what lied ahead if I chose to survive.

And all I saw was red, red rock and the fiery reflection of endless sunset above it. I could see no past, no future, no choice at all . . . the silence continued, but in a less-deafening fashion as I followed my directions deeper and deeper into the mountains. Mechanically, I filled and checked my hiking pack, realizing how deeply unprepared I was and noting that as status quo for me.

Utterly emotionally disconnected from my physicality, my body walked away from the Volkswagen once more and found itself on a dusty red path. The hiking guide, Brett was his name, had told me there was a lookout not to miss just about a third of the way up the mountain. As I ascended the first plateau, a false summit visible from the parking lot, I recognized my opportunity.

The landscape was breathtaking from up there, and my spirit dropped right back into my body as if a super-magnet had been activated. My feet carried me to the very edge of an extremely high up, sharply steep cliff. My brain affirmed, “this would be a good place to die.”

My spirit whispered, “I choose to live.”

My heart, ever committed to the Grand Delusion and broken beneath the destruction of that Fortress, scream-sobbed in protest, “But nobody chooses me! Nobody has ever chosen me. I shouldn’t even exist. I am a weapon, a shell, an accidentally botched abortion. I belong to nobody, live nowhere, feel nothing but endless pain. What am I supposed to believe in, now?”

“You belong to no one. Your debts are paid. Your karma is settled. You owe nothing – you are free,” my spirit answered.

“What good is freedom without love?” my brain argued.

“We are free to love as we please, when we belong to no one,” came from Something Else, just then, and it felt as true and solid as the red cliff beneath my feet.

Frustrated, I checked my elevation and mileage and realized there was a long way to go if I planned to summit this Bear Mountain – which I absolutely did plan to do. I noted the cliff and promised myself I could change my mind on the descent, if I wanted. Decided it would be prettier to die in twilight, anyway.

Two more false summits and 1,500 feet of elevation later, my heart was soaring in my chest, my body was flying over the trail, and my mouth was smiling with the joy that only mountains can bring. In the distance below, I saw a long-haired man working his way up and thought to keep the distance between us as my pace quickened.

At just over 6,500 feet, the top of Bear Mountain and a stunning view of Sedona held safe my longings. My tears were all cried, my frustrations and inner arguments played out, my suicidal thoughts quieted. The sun dipped low and doubled in size. That long-haired man caught up to me and I realized with a flash of nausea why he felt so familiar – he was a brunette doppelganger of an ex I thought had broken me, thought had loved me and instead nearly killed me from heartbreak.

So uncanny was the resemblance, I questioned whether it was a specter, a spirit-illusion sent to throw me off balance, a canyon-prankster god come to see me to my death. Of course, I didn’t say any of this out loud as we exchanged summit niceties like how far from home we both were and how spontaneous this hike was for me, how unprepared I was in terms of gear and that nobody knew where I was . . . all very innocent exchanges that would come to haunt me as darkness fell.

He seemed even less experienced and capable than I was, and lingered to descend with me despite my body language and emotional guardedness as the sun began to set. I explained I planned to run down, had my headlamp and a sweater and needed to get out of there before it got too cold. He asked me to stay within shouting-distance of him, as he was slower than me and said his knee was bothering him.

My brain replayed the news stories from earlier in the year, “. . . body of Gabby Petito found . . . strangled . . . national park . . . missing for days . . .” and I realized I had told this strange man entirely too much about myself. He knew I was visiting, nobody expected me until the next day, I didn’t have food or supplies in my pack, was in an unfamiliar area. This dude was not in any way threatening – he was rather pretty, and relatively slight-of-frame, and clearly interested in getting to know me.

“I am absolutely not doing this again,” my heart decided. She – my heart – meant “falling for a narcissistic lying pretty young asshole on some romantic mountainscape,” while my brain determinedly interpreted, “getting killed by a stranger in the desert,” and my body picked up speed and agility.

Was it the compassionate choice to leave this guy behind, in the dark, on a long and unfamiliar trail? No. But I did it anyway in a burst of clarity that screamed, “I CHOOSE TO LIVE!”

And even as I knew I was doing a shitty thing, leaving behind a probably-injured hiker, I also knew he had cell phone service and could see the parking lot in the distance, finally, and that he really was not my responsibility. He would be okay. And I needed to get out of there, to be alone and find dinner at my hotel, continue processing my adjustment to My New Reality, devoid so suddenly of Grand Delusion.

The mountain did take a fee from me for my lack of compassion, dropping out beneath my feet on a particularly tough scramble and smashing my face into the rock. I felt a little bit of blood trickle down as a lump formed, kissed the rock and said both “I’m sorry,” and “Thank you,” then compressed the wound with the strap of my headlamp and continued to run.

Past the lookout I ran, shouting thanks to the voice that assured me I was free, telling it that I agreed, now, and that I did choose to live – not for me, not for this would-be-romance, not for any kids or parents or reason really at all. At some point, I realized I just . . . loved this life I have created for myself, and I loved the me I have become, despite it all, and now that I knew how free I really was I could do whatever I wanted from now on without shame or guilt.

An old hiker local was by his truck when I emerged in the dark from the trail. He approached me on my way back to the rental car and asked, “Is that other light with you?” as he gestured to Bear Mountain behind me. I turned and saw the slow-moving headlamp that must belong to the doppleganger.

A tinge of guilt washed over me as I answered, “he’s not ‘with me,’ no. Not exactly. I mean, I met him at the summit and we started coming down together . . . but I don’t know him. I took a digger –“ I explained as I removed my headlamp to show the bloody lump on my forehead, “so I had to get out of there as fast as I could, ya know? I need to get to my hotel, get this cleaned up. But if you don’t mind waiting for him, I’m sure he’d appreciate it. He said his knee was hurting.”

I backed away as I said this, knowing how it sounded and wanting to get out of there. I assured myself that I owed these men nothing, had done my diligence, paid my dues, and deserved to soak in the solace of my Sedona night. I had come to Arizona to save people, yes – but not these people. And in order to show up for the children, for my family and my chosen life, I needed time to rest.

That night I found Brett, the hiking guide, and sent him a thank you for the recommendation. I wanted to tell him it saved my life, wanted to explain why I was such a wreck earlier, wanted to redeem myself in some small way . . . but I was free.

I belong to nobody. My karma is settled. Every single step I take from now on is on my own terms, and those terms might be built on a Grand Delusion or a Hopelessly Romantic Lie, but they are mine.

Later, in the hot tub beneath the glittering expanse of the starry multiverse, my brain remembered the crossroads. To the left, a dark crevasse filled with a story I would one day write, a new parallel universe in which my body was found, scales balanced.

To my right – a path to where the sunset meets the mountains.

Once upon a time, I believed I was chosen. That was a lie . . . until December 12, 2021, when I chose myself.


Found in phone notes, dated December 11, 2021:

I don’t even really exist.
I would have been an abortion
Except for the five million dollars
And a paternity test
Proving me a dead man’s daughter
By my own mother’s greed.

No wonder she was done with me
The day I was born.
I was nothing more than a dollar sign
And a grudge
Already settled; check in the mail.

If ever I needed confirmation
That grand delusion is my driving force
This utter lack of existence
Having never once been chosen
Even by my mother
Says it all.

An absolute shell of humanity
A farce of hope
This hollow existence

A joke, really.
Cosmic mistake, checks cashed, living for nothing but

Glad I could be of service.

Phoenix, and Moms in Boxes

On a flight to Arizona and everything feels surreal. I’m being swept up in a wave bigger than I understand, driven by forces I sometimes know, and then don’t.

This morning from the airport gate, I video called a donor and asked him to match a grant proposal – today. He said yes. Then to add to that, my board President called to say our largest corporate donor agreed to fund us again. I made $140,000 before 9am.

Here’s the thing. Making money for tennis and yoga (and to pay my salary) is wonderful. But the way it all happened was so miraculously timed and serendipitous I can only believe it is the much-foretold turning point in my life I’ve been anticipating. The beginning, really.

Because I’m heading to Arizona, right now, regardless of the funding. Personally, I’m maxed out. All my credit cards are tied up in this one weekend trip to a place I haven’t been in almost 20 years.

I remember when I arrived in Phoenix last time, with my mother’s ashes in a shitty plastic box on the seat next to me, all those years ago. I remember exhaling when the plane touched down – I felt the difference in the air … looked at the sky and said, “I’m home.”

I remember leaving there, a month later, sobbing in the arms of my first love, listening to Dashboard Confessional, and wondering how my heart and body could be SO shattered.
Now it’s been a thousand years, more lifetimes than that even, and I return not on my own behalf … and not without ashes in my heart shaped box.

This time, I am here to mend a canyon-sized rip in the fabric of my family, and I’m terrified.

Six children await my arrival. Six of them I have never met, never hugged nor held nor spoken to about their secrets. Not one of them is whole or wholly at home, though a few have more promising situations than the rest.

When last I was in Phoenix, and what an appropriate symbology for this journey, I had my dead mother’s ashes in a box. My estranged 16 year old sister had only just learned of my existence via a certified letter from the State saying I was orphaned and up for grabs. She was pregnant with her daughter Serenity … and my mother was in a shitty plastic box.

It’s been 17 years. Serenity is now a foster child with five younger siblings … whose existence I discovered via a certified letter from the State saying their mother is facing years in jail … facing confinement in a shitty concrete box … and the kids are up for grabs.

This is it. This is the fire I have always been meant to stand in, isn’t it? To BE the bridge between the Worlds. I am here to break the cycle of shitty boxes and abandoned children. I am here to stand upon the pile of ashes, to shake out my wings, and to teach these children how to fly.

And I’m terrified. What is this life that is so much bigger than me? Am I strong enough? Is there enough money or success or hope in the world for my *existence* to make this kind of difference?

Because I’m not really doing anything, am I? Simply showing up and listening, giving those hugs and asking to hear their lives. No, I will not be your new home, I have to say (because I cannot be). No, I cannot make your mother better, nor can I bring your fathers back, nor save your lives at all, really.

But I can love you. I already do.

And I can celebrate all the years I’ve missed and watch an episode of your favorite show and hear about that bully at school and help you get sunscreen on your hard to reach spots and feed you and cry with you if we must and and and —

I can love you. I already do.

Please, dear goddess, let love be enough just this one time. Lift us up in this wave, offer us another miraculous series of serendipities, and give me the words I need to secure whatever I am here to gain for these kids. Let abundance spill into that canyon.

Teach us to fly so far away from the ashes of our mothers’ mistakes – and their mothers ashes before them – that all we can see is sky. Help us to feel the difference in the air and know, somehow, that we are home.