If you're like me, something intense happens when you see a fluffy slice of flan (my mom's is the best) topped with vanilla bean ice cream, or a dainty pot of crème brûlée. It's not only your mouth that waters; your soul drools. Inside that first bite lies a seduction of the senses, a taste of heaven's gate, pleasure not only for your taste buds but for your eyes, tongue, the tissue on the insides of your cheeks, your throat. All of you is lusted.
And if it isn't sugar, it might be alcohol or other drugs, overworking, shopping, gambling or pornography. There are many ways we humans seek connection, deep sweetness, a sense of freedom, outside ourselves. Not everyone tries to "externally resource" what can only be found within us, but many of us do.
It's commonly called addiction. And I'm writing letters to it.
I was a kid when I befriended sugar. Through the trauma of my parents' divorce, sugar became my go-to for facing emotional intensity. Chocolate chip cookies were always available and easily sent my tears into some other distant closet.
For at least 20 years I've made attempts to resolve this unhealthy dependency. Unlike my husband, who could eat ice cream every few months, or not, I could eat it ravenously on a daily basis.
And every time, every time, inside this cycle, guilt would follow. It has done so for all the years in my memory, at least since high school, ever since I became aware that my relationship with sugar was strikingly out of balance.
I'm not a lazy person. As someone who is highly self-determined, proactive, and motivated to reach deep within myself into the arms of Love, to heal wounds in life, it's been frustrating and discouraging that all of my efforts have tanked. Again I return to the butter and puff of a divine croissant, or the organic dark chocolate peanut butter cups that mimic my Reese's addiction from childhood. Not every few weeks or so. Habitually. Out of longing. Every-other-daily. And again, ah yes, Hello Guilt, there you are again, oh-so-reliable and anticipated.
One thing that's clear now is that I'll try another 1,000 times to clear this up, if I have to. I will do everything in my capacity -- I will call upon angels -- to not die in this dance. If it's deep sweetness I'm longing for, the kind I feel when I'm entangled in the presence of my daughter, well then I'll find that somewhere other than within a pint of Strauss Mint Chip ice cream.
Something is shifting. I can feel it in my bones. I could write a lot about this whole realm, and for now I'll stick with this: Writing a letter to your addiction is a very powerful thing.
Two mega-powers convene: 1) Writing things down. Scientifically proven to have a significant impact, writing things down is an act of listening to what's showing up and landing it on paper. Giving it a place to reside, outside the constant craze of your addiction thoughts. It frees you up. It loves what is, by putting it on paper. 2) Being in conscious relationship. Relationship is the core of life. Being self-determined, proactive, consciously engaged in your relationship with this thing -- this "addiction" -- you've given your power over to, is very powerful. Writing a letter is an excellent way to stand in conscious relationship.
It just so happens that letter writing is my lifelong art. At this point I've written two "Dear Sugar" letters and throughout this spring, I will be sharing elements of this rich process that feel helpful for others: blog readers, peers, companions, fellow travelers in this sad and beautiful human journey.
But for now, I've been told by some wise friends that it is very helpful to have a template. Not everyone loves writing letters and makes a practice of it, and even those who do can sometimes use the support.
Give it a shot. Pull out some paper and a pen. Here is a template to use for your own Dear Sugar letter. Or Dear Booze, or Etsy, or Maryjane, or Unavailable Men. If there's something you habitually turn to for consolation when you know it tends to leave you feeling guilt or shame, that's the thing.
I notice... (you're speaking up a lot these days, it's clear you have a lot to say, I feel upset by all the stuff you're saying...etc... any observations you have, just noticing...)
I am listening. I hear... (that you think I'm not a good mom/lover/wife/woman/person/friend... that you don't find me to be gifted/honest/loving/deserving/capable/etc...)
I want to honor what you have to say. Yet ultimately you won't be allowed to drive this car. To make decisions. To play a leading role in my life. I simply want you to know you matter and you're being heard. I am open to what you have to share with me. What else do you have to share? (list, list, list...)
What I want for myself is...
Yes- I want more of __________, __________, ____________... and less of ______________.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. I am here to listen until it feels like our conversation is complete. I'll be back. I'll be listening for what else you have to say.
And before I go, I will fill up my cup with some self love.
I acknowledge myself for _____________________________ and
I acknowledge myself for _____________________________ and
I acknowledge myself for _____________________________ ...
From / Love / Sincerely / All For Now / Thanks,
One recent evening, I heard the shocking news that she had passed. Aja ("asia"), daughter of a very dear friend of mine, one of the most soulful and vibrant young ladies I had ever met. She'd passed in the night, it wasn't known how, and a ripple of disbelief rocked the world around her.
I met Aja through her mother Ginger, and instantly adored her. The kind of person who wasn't afraid to tell you that she loved you, she had either outgrown the scarcity myth around love being special, reserved for only those precious few around you, or she never bought into it in the first place.
One day out of the blue she asked me to photograph her wedding in Kauai. Feeling incompetent, I said, "But Aja, I'm not a real photographer. Your wedding photos should be stunning, and what if the ones I take aren't?"
Without stomping her foot down, it was as if she did. Emphatically, she said, "Jessie, I love you. I want you to photograph my wedding."
She clearly didn't wait to die before getting the "Love is All That Matters" memo. The wisest don't.
And so it was. Months later I found myself immersed in the tropical kiss of fiery Kauai herself, photographing a feisty mermaid in her gown. And when we reached the "Trash the Dress" session on the beach in Hanalei, I found myself taking photos in my bikini. I thought I was dreaming. Not to be in Kauai, not to be photographing a wedding there, but to be doing it in my bikini -- let's just say that's not exactly my comfort zone attire. Aja's free-spirited affection and acceptance of me had opened a window to a place where it didn't matter how much fat I had on my thighs. I was loved, happy and free.
Hundreds of other people have stories like this about Aja. Somehow she was an expert at making people feel loved. I assert there is no greater art in the human experience.
Hearing of her death left a hollow dark pit in my chest, especially when I thought of the pain her mother must be feeling. Part of me still doesn't believe she's gone. A light that burned so intensely bright.
I imagined those creamy childhood cherub cheeks her mother would kiss as a child. The squeals she'd make when she landed a perfect gymnastics move. Her smooth, assuring voice and how her two younger brothers, Tyler and Travis, would do without their older sister's wise embrace.
And her father. She was the apple of his eye, every second of her precious life. Would they ever get over this?
Soon I decided No, they wouldn't. Just as she thought, spoke and moved so vivaciously through life while breathing, Aja would live with no less of a spark after she left her body. The pit of sadness left in the hearts of all who love her, would feed the depth of empathy and love we were all capable of choosing, and might even be moved to choose more, once she had gone.
At her ceremony, held in a gym packed wall to wall, it was the words of her father that broke the dam withholding tears inside my chest.
"This is not a sad day." Tim Chew spoke into the microphone. And just when I thought he might gloss over the sadness, highlighting only the beautiful life she lived, he continued, "No, this is not about sadness. If it were, there would be no flowers. There would be nobody here..." He went on, "What is sad is all the people who die every day unnoticed, unnamed." Dam, busted. That a man so eternally in love with his first born, his only daughter, on this day dedicated to her, could take it to this level... Pulling from within his noble heart, a voice for those far less fortunate than his daughter. Awe.
Dear Aja, I am truly touched by your existence. Your wide open love made me feel like an instant big sister, and your acceptance helped me feel free in my own skin. I was one of many witnesses to how you loved, and my life is forever better because of you. Thank you for living. Shine on, feisty mermaid.
One of the things I remember from childhood was being told, "You are smart and beautiful." Mostly by my mother Carmen, aunt Irma and sister Stephanie. It didn't matter what anyone else thought about me. Nobody is smart or beautiful in everybody's eyes. My world -- those closest to me, as a child -- believed in me.
Those words sunk into my chest. Between them and the sense of safety I found in my home and community, I felt I could do anything. The world would take care of me.
I could unravel, like a flower, exposing my affectionate soul to the sun and being fed, day after day, water and light.
It wasn't the words smart and beautiful that mattered. Instead it could have been "kind and creative" or "generous and truthful." It was that Love was behind them. The most powerful force on the planet. The deepest human need. Through their words and how they chose to see me, my deepest human need was being met.
Acknowledgment is some of the most potent medicine for relationship and yet very lacking in our culture. It is as if we are supposed to pretend we don't need to feel appreciated. We're dying for it, yearning for it, yet encouraged to suppress this longing. We are led to believe we can be fed instead by external resourcing, often commonly referred to as addictions.
When it comes to children, we rock: "Gosh Ariana, you are a marvelous piano player!" we might say to a 4-year-old pecking the ivories with two fingers. But when it comes to adults, we withhold it from ourselves and each other, robbing life of this most simple aspect of affection, and then walk around wondering why we feel empty, unappreciated and broke.
So sure, go buy Valentine's Day cards. Let your children make them. Show love. But for God's sake, don't deprive yourself of it for the rest of the year by forgetting that every day is Love Day. Every day is a day to give ourselves and others the most basic human need there is: the knowing that we are loved, and capable of loving.
Stop suppressing hugs. Open up to their joy and oxytocin.
Stop criticizing people. Start seeing and appreciating their beauty instead.
Quit the insecurity act. You could die tomorrow. Your child could die tomorrow.
Don't withhold the love that, on your death bed, you'll know was the only thing worth living.
Any acknowledgment -- any love -- you withhold from others is withheld from yourself.
Let yourself unravel for love, instead.
Love looks good on you. Withholding it does not.
There are four forms of acknowledgment, the most common and therefore least uncomfortable for most people, is Voluntary. So go ahead, close your eyes and peer into your heart and see what wants to be said. Voluntarily offer somebody your appreciation. Who can you tell that you love them right now? That you think they're generous, considerate, or courageous? That you admire their work ethic, creative persistence or patience?
Then mark your calendar to do it again in March. And April. And on. Make it a habit.
And if you're empty, because you've let your own beautiful batteries become discharged and forgotten to take care of your own needs, then take a deep breath and lay it on yourself. If you don't feel fully acknowledged and appreciated, don't look outside yourself for it first. Look within. What do you long to be appreciated for today? What would help recharge your batteries? Is it... I acknowledge myself for being an attentive mom.... or I acknowledge myself for being passionate about the welfare of animals... or I acknowledge myself for being a ripe, juicy and divine expression of wonder... (It's totally that one, huh?)
Those ready for some potent medicine -- in relationship with self or other -- are invited to join Leaning into Light for our upcoming 90-minute phone workshop on The Power of Acknowledgment, Sunday February 28th, 10:00-11:30AM PST. Cost is $28 per person. Limited to 20 participants, first come first served. Sign up here.
We will do a deep dive into the domain of Acknowledgment, covering the four types of acknowledgment and how to work with them. Participants will leave with the ability to move through life feeling acknowledged and appreciated, and the ability to share that with others so that they feel acknowledged and appreciated. How's that for a power-packed 90-minute dose of Love Month medicine?
Dear Bike Nerd,
I was having lunch with a friend and his baby boy
crunchy Romaine and thin sliced red onions
in the shade until the sun moved
heavy on my shoulders
pushing us back
out into the day again
My creamy key lime commuter bike Felicia
rested steady on the sidewalk
locked up, graceful
awaiting another spin in the June breeze
You left a note on my handlebar
must have stood admiring
her rear internal hub
or her fine whispering hue
her way of moving you even
as she stood
Yes I ought to
replace those pedals soon.
But if I had done so already,
I might've missed your
cafe sleeve reminder that we live
in a safe and
Felicia's friend Jessica
Dear Sports Car Driver Guy,
It was one of those moments when I set aside my
"I only drink coffee from independent coffeehouses"
cappuccino connoisseur hat and
pulled into the drive-thru at Starbucks
Dogs in the back of the station wagon
ready for our morning hike
I pulled in for a little
they call it tall
foamy vanilla latte
then almost pulled right out
poorly planned parking lot
cars all mashed in a line
some stuck in their spots until
some other drive-thru caffeine fiend
You were parked
trying to reverse and, I thought, leave.
So I reversed, freeing up some car claustrophobia
making space for you but instead
you pulled into the line
right in front of me.
I didn't care, I totally didn't care, and for a second
I wondered why until I remembered
I was headed for a hike with my
two marvelous dogs
I have a baby growing inside my
I have a world class partner and our town has
a phenomenal farmer's market and
my family and friends really, really love me and
even when I'm broke I feel rich in the most important ways
what on Earth was there to be bothered about?
You revved up your sporty engine every time you
advanced in the line.
I snickered and pulled out my ATM card knowing
even when I'm low on dough, it is always
worth spending my last few bucks on coffee.
The perky girl at the window handed me my coffee
with a lid, which I removed as I always do
I can't stand plastic between me and my coffee
and as you zoomed away she said
"The guy in front of you
bought your drink today."
originally posted on 16 October 2012
Our featured free recording for September is a 35-minute conversation with mailman Sean Lanham called Mailman Magic and the Power of Letters. You can listen here!
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a mother, coach, lifelong letter writer, and eternal fan of Mr. (Fred) Rogers. This deeply personal blog and our free recorded conversations are devoted to one of her greatest passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.