I don’t know what’s worth fighting for
Or why I have to scream
I don’t know why I instigate
And say what I don’t mean
I don’t know how I got this way
I know it’s not alright
So I’m breaking the habit
I’m breaking the habit
On a Friday morning in early October—October 1 to be exact—I pointed my car north through the Napa Valley. I was anxious to arrive at my destination, yet I was also hesitant. I felt as if my whole world was going to turn upside down in a matter of moments. Hopefully it would. I know that sounds odd to say, but to be quite blunt it needed to be not only turned upside down, but shaken, beaten and even slapped around a bit!
As the road narrowed to one lane in each direction, small vineyards gave way to large ones and then back to the mom-and-pop variety. Each was unique in its own way but nearly every one had the same sign out front: “CRUSHING TODAY!”
I read the signs but thought little about them. I once lived near here for several years and this was actually my favorite month to venture to the Valley. The mornings and evenings were cool but not yet cold, and the days were warm but not hot. There was little better than putting on a sweater and sitting outside in the evening enjoying a good cigar and a bottle of wine.
The roadside signs were an afterthought to me on this day, but after my week here, I began to think more and more about them and the significance they had to me and to my new group of 31 friends.
Life is weird. One morning you are cruising along, and then “BAM,” your life is re-arranged—transformed into something new and suddenly these 31 people that you never even knew existed became 31 of the most important people in your life.
But back to the signs and their significance in all this. Wine making is not a get-rich-quick kind of venture. It’s more of a “get-rich-eventually—maybe”, kind of business. From the time a vine is planted it is 3-5 years before it will produce fruit of a quality that can be used to make wine. After the grapes are crushed, the wine must sit for at least a year before it is ready for the bottle and for others to sample.
The crushing of the grape is a transformation. Everything that had gone into its existence is removed and it comes out as a completely new product. That is exactly what happened to me. And to us.
I made the left off of Hwy. 29 and drove the last two miles in silence. The radio had been blaring during the entire nine-hour drive from Southern California, but now I wanted to think. This was really happening. On Sunday I made my decision that I absolutely needed help in getting my life back and on Friday, just five days later, here I was. I was the last person to be added to this group and ironically enough I was one of the last to arrive on Friday morning.
We gathered in the Valley from four different countries and from five US time zones. At first glance we were 32 completely unique and somewhat mismatched individuals—lawyers, students, nurses, government employees, artists, writers. Some were captains of business, others unemployed. Mothers, fathers, even a grandmother. It didn’t really matter. We were all screwed up.
The funny thing is that as varied as we might appear on the outside, on the inside we were all pretty much the same person—bitter, angry, afraid, full of self-doubt and self-hatred. We all had one other common trait. Each of us wore a mask, desperately trying to convince the world that we were ok. But we weren’t. Though we had vastly different backgrounds we all had one common goal—change.
Change is good. Change is necessary. But it is one thing to talk about change and quite another to actually implement a new way of doing things. Everyone talks about change, but few of us have the balls to go out and do something about it. We did. And that is exactly what made us into the people we would become.
For far too long I had been unhappy. I blamed others for some of it, but for the most part I felt as if I deserved it. Actually, it wasn’t that I deserved to be unhappy; it was just that I figured I didn’t deserve to be happy. In retrospect it sounds kind of stupid to think that way, but I wasn’t exactly looking at things clearly back then.
This week had been a long time coming for me. As I drove up from Long Beach to the Napa Valley I kept thinking of all the stupid things that I had done in my life and all the ways that I had sabotaged myself. My seven-hour journey turned into a little more than nine. Granted, there was some traffic going through LA, but I also kept finding reasons to stop along the way (I knew the destination was inevitable, but I guess this was my one last chance to try and screw up something good).
As I look back over my journey I have to wonder which was worse—the fact that I spent the whole nine hours beating myself up over every dumb thing I had ever done or the fact that after nine hours I wasn’t done yet! “Oh well.” I figured. “I can always use the next eight days to finish.”
Everyone has their thing; the one thing that they do either to convince others that they are OK or the way that they tell others that something is wrong with them. Mine was humor. More specifically, self-deprecating humor. I made fun of myself constantly. So much that people—even many of the people I was now meeting—would comment on it.
The bottom line is that I didn’t like myself. I played it off most of the time, but the few people that I was actually close to saw through me like a picture window with no drapes. This way of living cost me friendships, it cost me relationships and it kept me from fully succeeding professionally.
They say that before you can go back up you have to hit rock bottom. Well, I kept falling and falling, but my hole seemed to be pretty deep. Every time I thought I couldn’t get any worse I found out that, once again, I was mistaken. It sounds crazy, but when I finally felt something under my feet—when I knew I was down as deep as I could go—I let out a sigh of relief.
I had heard all the lines before; “God never gives you more than you can handle,” was a favorite of many. “You can get through this,” was another. “If you would only look at the bright side you will see that things aren’t that bad.” You want to know how I always wanted to respond to that one? “What bright side? Lady, I am so far down in this hole I can’t even tell if there is a sun anymore!”
My other favorites all involved the word “if”. “If only you…” “If you just…” yeah well “if only” my aunt had balls then she would be my uncle!!! The bottom line is that I was sick of people trying to help me. I felt like I didn’t deserve their help; that I was a worthless project. I was no good so why bother trying to fix me.
You know what I learned with the help of my 31 new buddies? I was wrong. I am worthy. I deserved to be fixed and no one is a worthless project.
I wrote the above words almost six years ago, shortly after returning from a very intense eight days at The Hoffman Institute in the Napa Valley. If you only know me through the blog you may be amazed to discover that I had a confidence problem—but I did. Big time. I still do sometimes. Let’s try and keep that between us, OK?
I used to keep everything bottled up inside and a few weeks before going to Hoffman I went to the emergency room with blood pressure 265/159. They pumped me so full of nitroglycerin I thought I was a bomb. The doctor put me on 360 mg. of diovan every day and I am happy to say that during my stay I learned a lot about me and how to make me a better me. (Yeah. This is the “better me”. Sorry about that…)
Over the next three years I weaned my blood pressure medicine down and I have been totally off it for the past three years. This isn’t a commercial for Hoffman—though I do totally recommend it. I would never want to go through the emotional toil of that week ever again, but I am totally glad I did.
The point to this post is that we all have things about ourselves we don’t like. What matters is that we do what we have to do to make us the people we want to be.
I like who I am and really, that’s all that matters. That and my health. I need to stay around so I can annoy The Drama Queen. And The Blogger Hottie.
P.S. This song is significant in many ways. The lyrics pretty much say what I was feeling about my life at the time and what I was doing with it. I heard it on the radio about an hour after leaving the Hoffman Institute and suddenly the lyrics had meaning to me. I was in Berkeley and I pulled into Rasputin Music on Telegraph and bought a copy of the CD. While there I ran across the street to grab a couple slices from Blondie’s Pizza. I was hungry. If you’re ever in Berkeley I highly recommend it!