Wednesday, April 18, 2012

No More Dying

To read my blog regularly, go to and subscribe to the RSS feed there.

I felt like I was dying. That’s the best way I can describe it. I would be sitting at my desk, staring at the computer, feeling the keyboard under my fingers, and I would think, “I’m going to die.” Not a suicidal thought, just a premonition.  If I continued to sit there, at that job, in that building, doing the same thing every day, I would die. This I knew.

So I quit.  After four months of torment, fear, sadness, bingeing, resignation, anger, meditation, crying, praying, thinking, journaling, and dreaming, I quit. When I made the decision to quit my well-paying, full-time, insurance-providing job, I felt free. I felt like I could live in the world again.
I told my boss about my decision four days after I made it in my heart. I had discussed the choice with people, who mostly reacted positively.  I was rather shocked at how responsible they seemed to think I was.  I doubted I would be able to get myself to focus each day, trying to find work as a musician and writer, but they seemed fairly certain that I would do it. It occurred to me that I might be far more mature and reliable than I estimated. Perhaps I am.  Perhaps I’m not.  That remains to be seen.

I have been self-employed for three days now.  I have a few solid clients with Rock Star Writing and Editing already. By a few, I mean 3-5, and only two of them are booked for more than a single project. In music news, I couldn’t get any other musicians to sign on for the second Mi’Show, which is happening on May 4. Nonetheless, I have a nice vision in my head of a solo concert, so I think it will work out.  I have a lot to say to my fans right now, and perhaps I need an entire two hours to say it to an audience.

I have little idea how I am going to make ends meet. At this point, I don’t even know if I’m approved for individual health insurance.  If I get it, how will I pay for it?  My decision to leave my job seems increasingly insane.

Still, I do know one thing. The thought of going back to my old job upsets my stomach, up into my throat. I don’t want to go back. It was certainly not a bad job.  It was the best job I’ve ever had.  I was paid handsomely for work that, honestly, wasn’t that difficult. I liked the people there.  The office location was beautiful.  People appreciated my writing and editing for the most part, and I got to contribute in many other ways to the company.

Nonetheless, I was going to die.

Today, I don’t feel like I’m going to die.  Today, I feel free.  I feel afraid.  But I also feel free.  Part of me is strapped down by thoughts clambering for me to find more work, more money, more gigs, more everything. But another part of me knows that I will always have everything I need.  I just don’t know what I need yet.

I watched the sunset today from my car.  I was coming back from a recovery meeting that focuses on steps 10, 11, and 12 from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.  We call it After Nine. The concept resonates with me.  We focus on spirituality and on our connection with others.  It lines up brilliantly with something my last sponsor told me. She said that recovery is really about three things:
  1. Connecting with God
  2. Connecting with others
  3. Connecting with ourselves
That’s what After Nine is about. I may not fully ascribe to everything the Anonymous programs typically stand for, but I do feel that this part of it works for me.

I feel that something in this universe knows more than me—can see farther than me—even if that something is nature, pure and simple. There is a future and a past where I do not exist. I exist right now, in the present. And right now, the present is a pretty uncertain place. Or maybe it’s the most certain place.

In this moment, I know that I am sitting here, writing this post, choosing words.  I know those things.  I don’t know the future.  I don’t know how long I will be able to work for myself or even if I will be able to work for myself at all.  I’m not sure what I’m going to do with music or if I will really find the new outlets I need.  I’m scared that I will not find what I need to make this life work.
But maybe a higher power will give me what I need instead.

Maybe I don’t have to know.  I am trying.  The bottom line is that I am putting one step in front of the other.  Even in my darkest times over the last few months, I did not stop getting up in the morning.  It became very difficult to do so, and I would procrastinate on taking that first shaky step out of bed in the morning. But I kept living life.

I gave it my best.  Yes, my best sucked a lot of the time, but I gave it. I am giving it.  I have goals for how many hours I want to work each day.  I have specific milestones I want to reach. But I don’t know if I will manage to work that many hours or reach those milestones.  I don’t know if I will achieve my goals, and I also don’t know if my goals are really what my goals should be.  I’ll go after them, but I hope that the universe/circumstance/God/Goddess/whatever takes me to the best place for me.

I keep thinking that Houston, Texas, does not reflect my values and isn’t nurturing me the way it once did.  Perhaps it’s time to move on.  However, Houston Community College has a great music production program that I want to complete, and I treasure my friends and other connections here. How will I know whether to stay or go?  Time will show me.

I canoed almost 15 miles down Buffalo Bayou last Saturday with some friends. I felt my smallness.  The boat wasn’t very big at all, but it was certainly bigger than I am.  The canoe seemed so insignificant compared to the trees and the steep, sloping sides of the bayou.  The sky was so much taller, and the city streets so much more massive than anything I have ever been or created.
I quit my job. I play music. I write.  I edit.  I look for work.  I look for ways to feel in touch with the world. That’s what I’ve done. That’s what I’m doing.  And a whole big world continually expands and engulfs all of it.

I’m glad I quit my job.  I’m glad that I can go anywhere in this big, wide world. I don’t know if it ever dawned on me so fully that I can truly go anywhere and do anything.  I’ve known that at an intellectual level, but I’ve never put it into practice.  Since I was a teenager, I’ve had a plan for everything.  I always follow the plan, and when the plan inevitably does not work out, I make another plan.  How about not making a plan?  I don’t mean discard my personal work schedule, goals, or other organizational tools.  But how about loosening my grip on those things?  How about life not being my plan, but instead, the way I do things?

Thinking about plans in that way helps me understand that I don’t know the outcome of what I’m doing.  I don’t know what will evolve out of my current efforts.  But my current efforts feel right.  I love writing.  I love inspiring others.  I love talking to other people about the things I’ve learned in life.  Perhaps these things will come together in a life I enjoy—in a life I want to live.

I’m going to die—eventually. But I’m going to live right now.  In my uncertain, unsteady, bewildered, inquisitive, sometimes frantic and afraid, sometimes peaceful and confident way, I’m going to live. I’m going to put one foot in front of the other and see where it takes me.  I’ve heard phrases like that for a long time.  Now, I’ve given myself a chance to really feel what the words mean. In a way, I want God to show me that she really is in control, that my life is okay.

I don’t want to binge and cry away my whole life. I want to write, travel, love, play music, give, and enjoy.  When I tell you that you can make any choice and do anything, I mean it.  Every decision ha consequences.  And guess what, I can deal with those consequences.  You can deal with those consequences.

I’m not going to tell everyone who hates their jobs to quit them. I am going to tell you to listen to your heart. Your heart knows when it’s dying and when it feels alive.  It knows how to live.  I don’t know how it knows, but it knows.  I feel it in my spirit.  I am shared out of my boots, shaking, weirded out, and totally puzzled by what I’ve done. But you know what? I’m allowed to make a giant mistake.  I’ve never let myself do anything that I thought would be a huge mistake, and even with that kind of forethought, I’ve still made too many mistakes to count.  I’ve always avoided any major choice that I thought could turn out very, very badly.

Well, this time, I see the possibility of failure.  I recognize it.  And you know what?  It’s worth it.  Failing would be better than never trying at all.  At least I’ll be somewhere different when I hit bottom. And maybe that’s all my heart needs: something different.

Heart, I won’t let you die, especially not in front of a computer screen.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

New Website!!

Organized Clutter has moved to Please update your bookmarks and subscriptions :)

If you've wondered why I've been silent lately, it's because I'm releasing my new website. And you, yes you, my beloved blog readers, are the first to hear about it.

Finally, I have my very own space on the web. You can listen to and buy my music there, as well as read my blog and access recovery-related resources.

I'm anxious to hear your feedback on the look, feel, and content as I tweak the site. Do you think the background looks pink? Is it ugly? Can you not find your way around? Does it not work? Have some links to add? Let me know!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I Can Take It

Many times in the past, I have wondered if I could handle someone telling me, “Michelle, you look like you’re gaining weight. Are you okay with that? Is there something going on?” What about a similar question: “Michelle, you’re getting pretty thin. Are you okay with that? Is there something going on?” Could I handle those comments?

The answer is yes. I can. People have given me enough negative comments over the years that now I know I can deal with the pang of criticism. The pain goes away. I can withstand that. I would rather hear something—anything—that could steer me in a healthy direction; I would rather a stinging comment lodge itself in my head than have nothing tugging at me as I head down an unhealthy road. The criticism may not save me at the time it is given., but it could very likely come to mind later, when I lack clarity and am open for change.

I’m finally getting old enough that I recognize emotions when they pop up. When I feel the pain of a criticism or a deep sadness rises to the surface, they aren’t foreign, strange visitors anymore. I don’t look around, bewildered, wondering what to do with those feelings. I feel them. I recognize them. I name them.

I talk to them, and they fade away. They may bring things for me to think about. They may lead me toward some action. But the feeling fades. And I am not afraid of them anymore.

These are the lessons for today:

  1. Feel your emotions and remember them. Eventually, you will have enough victories dealing with emotions that you will feel secure and not completely overwhelmed every time you feel them. (And if you feel overwhelmed, you will one day firmly know that overwhelming states pass as well and that you can find treasures inside those moments.)
  2. Be lovingly honest with people. Don’t shy away from telling people your concerns if you have them. Any words of encouragement, even if something that could potentially sting must be included in the statement, are better than no words at all when someone truly is in need. But please, choose your words in love—don’t take so long in choosing that you say nothing—but choose loving language.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sickness Is Healthy?

Sometimes, circumstances thwart us from doing what we want or hope to do. This happens on large and small scales, but no matter what is at stake, those situations can be incredibly frustrating.

Right now, I’m a bit under the weather, and as a result, many things I would like to do are out of my reach. I get bursts of energy during which I can do a load of laundry or clean the kitchen, but after about thirty minutes, I’m dragging again. I could take this as an irritation and inconvenience, but instead, I’m choosing to see it as an opportunity to think beyond my usual schedule.

Incapacitations lead to creativity. When a human can’t do something one way, that person usually finds another way to do it or is led to another interest. Sicknesses and inconveniences are essential for me because I tend to get so bound up in routine; only something at least moderately severe can break the chains of my own tightly-controlled regime.

Illness works for me because it slows me down. I get in much better touch with my body and my emotions during illness. Eating disorder thoughts lessen because my notions of food start to center around what will get me better (or what will help me survive, if I feel that terrible). Sickness is a good thing (at least under my usual, non-terminal conditions). Funny that I spend so many borderline obsessive/compulsive moments scrubbing things and washing my hands to avoid it ;)

I can even extrapolate this perspective when looking back on my entire history with eating disorders and recovery. I would not be who I am without that struggle. My inability to “fit” in certain ways has led me toward new ways of living.

In this moment, however, my aching body needs to rest, and I’m doing to jump on the opportunity to adhere to that early bedtime I’ve been trying to move myself toward for months! My to-do list is no match for this kind of exhaustion.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Deepest Desire

It’s not just that I want to be known.

For a long time, I thought that what I most deeply wanted was for another human being to see and appreciate everything about me. Most people want this at some level, and I experienced angst every time something reminded me that absolute knowing is, in fact, impossible. One person can know another for eons and still never peel back every layer.

I pained and hurt and struggled with this—and the idea that I was not allowing people in, that I did not allow people to know me. What was I doing to block their advances? Why would I do such a thing? The cure seemed to lie in me laying down my defenses and learning how to open up about myself in a clear, authentic way. I needed to do this more often. Practice would bring me my desire—or something as close to full-knowing as I could get. So I practiced and tried and worked.

One evening, I bent over the sink, washing a skillet, when the notion of a hypothetical someone breaking into my heart entered my mind. I chose to pause there and keep the thought, as it had been a repeated visitor over the years. I had written songs about it, longed for it, cried on my floor, begging the universe to send someone into my home—into my life—who would break down the walls and catch me at my most vulnerable point. I deeply desired that someone would infiltrate my most heavily guarded space.

There, as I scratched at a piece of cooked-on dinner, an especially frank thought rose to accompany my old friend: “They wouldn’t have to break in if you would open the door.”

At first, it struck me as achingly profound. Of course, just open the door. How simple! “Cling to this thought,” I told myself. “This is something to remember.” But the comfort I expected to flood my heart as a result of the remembering never came. Why did this dramatic solution leave me empty?

Because it was the same answer I’d given myself dozens if not hundreds or thousands of times: Just let people in, open up more readily, live life more honestly, take more chances, and expose yourself regularly. I’d done all of that. I was trying to do it more and more… and still, no one could ever completely know me. No one could see every region.

My scrubbing slowed even further. “Is that what I really want?” I asked myself. “Is my deepest desire really to be known?”

Partly. No one could deny that. This preoccupation had not lingered for so long without gaining my interest. The momentum it provided me to reach new levels of self-actualization was no accident.

However, I had overlooked its partner desire, which takes me back to the original thought in the kitchen: I wanted someone to break in. I didn’t yearn only to be known. I longed for someone to want to know me.

I wanted someone to beat down the door, to go to extraordinary lengths, to be so captivated by me that they would risk even my affections to see my soul.

The desire was two-part: (1) I wanted to be known (2) by someone who wanted to know me.

This key realization has moved something within me. The pressure—at least some of the time—has lifted. The burden is no longer completely on me to open up and bare my soul to the light of day. Yes, I still work on revealing my authentic self more often. Yes, I want to open the door a little further and show the world more of who I am.

But the completion of my desire to be known is not in my hands. No matter how much I open up or give, it is up to the universe and to the people in it to bring someone to my door who will go to any means to break through it.

I can rest, understanding that if I do not satisfy my craving to be known by someone, my life has not been lived in vain. All I can do is to take on the role of my ideal, interested person for others, which will hopefully help me leave the door unlocked for people who decide to persistently pursue more knowledge about me.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Trickle Is Enough

Earlier this week, nothing seemed to go right for me. Although I meticulously save my money and organize my time, all efforts came to naught on Monday and Tuesday. The universe was out to prove that I was, of course, not in control, and this manifested in all sorts of little inconveniences.

After paying a few unexpected parking charges and spending an unexpected amount at a restaurant, I got no sleep and couldn’t seem to get important tasks accomplished at work. I felt exhausted and a little sick.

On Wednesday, I woke up planning to head to my apartment’s fitness room to work out and to finally get my monumental amount of laundry done after work. To my dismay, my access card, which allows me into common areas of my apartment complex (e.g., laundry room, fitness center,) was missing, likely freezing its plastic coating off in New York or jet setting around the world on the floor of an aircraft.

The apartment office doesn’t open until after 9 am (by which time I’m already expected at work), so I tried to dust off my frustration while hunting in vain for a few extra minutes. In the end, I picked myself up and opted to go for a very short jog before work, trying to forget the $25 fee I would have to pay to replace the card (yes, $25 for a magnetic card) and the fact that I would have to find time during the day to leave work and come get the card during regular business hours.

After my jog, all I wanted was to get in the shower and find my way to work before I was later than I already knew I would be. Most of you have experienced the same shock I felt when I reached into the streaming water only to jerk right back out again. A freezing blast. No hot water.

I almost started crying on the spot. I kept trying to think of things I could blame for the string of inconveniences. Was it the energy of the people I’d been hanging around? Some karmic comeuppance? The manifestation of my own negative thoughts? Or just the world being the terrible, anti-Michelle place it had proved itself to be time and time again? I did not seem to fit into its scheme.

Taking a deep breath, I turned off all the cold water and opened the hot as far as it would go. A sizable trickle spilled out of the showerhead. I looked at it. I felt it. It was warm.

I scooped it over my head, weak though it was. I somehow adjusted my body beneath it. All of a sudden, one thought entered my head, “This is enough.”

“This trickle is enough for me to take a warm shower.” I smiled. I laughed. I let everything go in that one moment. All of the toughness of the previous days seemed meaningless and trivial.

Still smiling, I hurried through my meager shower, trying to get soaped up and out of there before my flow ran out. The whole thing felt completely ridiculous, crouching there, trying to give every part of my skin equal shower time.

Although it was certainly not the most relaxing shower of my life, it certainly wasn’t the worst. And the quickness with which I completed it put me on time for work for a change. I laughed and with a minimal selection of clean clothes, decided to wear the most outrageous outfit I could put together. “I have no problems today,” I said, and headed out the door.

My neighbor called, and we commiserated over the lack of heat. I also discovered that it was his birthday and was able to plan a dinner to celebrate. The day lightened up a bit.

I arrived at work and called the apartment complex manager, who informed me that although I still owed the complex $25 (Have I mentioned how ridiculous that amount is?), I wouldn’t in fact have to leave at lunch to pick up the card. The front office would be open until seven that day.

Burdens continued to lift, and I patted myself on the back for keeping track of the card for the entirety of the almost two years I have lived there. I was bound to lose it at some point, and this was mighty impressive for someone who loses her keys at least once every other day.

For a second, I stood back, amazed at what one little shift in my thinking could do. I moved from a problem-plagued existence into a realm where I could do no wrong. I actively decided that problems would not be viewed as problems that day. I would focus on the positive. And it made an extreme difference.

It wasn’t that things just started going my way at some point. It was that I chose to see the things that DID go my way rather than the things that did not. I chose my reality.

What’s more, when I arrived at the apartment complex after work, one of the women in the office went back to get a card for me and came back saying, “I’m sorry this card is so beaten up, but someone found it and brought it in. I figure I can give you this one so you won’t have to pay.”

What!? And it was in even better condition than my raggedy old card had been. Ah, small blessings quickly become miracles to me. In the gloomy, rainy evening, I practically skipped back to my apartment. Yes, I stepped in mud on the way, but at least I had thought to change into my old sneakers before walking to the office. Yes, a good day…full of miracles.

A trickle of water is enough. I have enough and want for nothing. What I have is enough, and I am grateful for it.

This post is for SSS – You know who you are ;)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Play to Your Strengths

This weekend, I journeyed up to Liverpool, NY, to visit with the hearts and minds behind Ophelia’s Place ( and their newest business that helps to foot the non-profit’s bill, Café at 407. As I’ve mentioned before, I long to create a community space where creativity, community, love, and spirit are nourished. Ophelia’s Place certainly does that! And I want to learn from the best.

With a front coffee/café area homey enough to make you want to stay and sip mocha for a week and a private room anyone in the nearby area would want to rent, Café at 407 welcomes the community into a space built for conversation. “Conversation about what?” some might ask. According to founder Mary Ellen Clausen, Café at 407 provides a venue to move discussions about calories and “good” and “bad” food choices toward true, authentic sharing about loving oneself and body.

I was able to take part in the annual fashion show Ophelia’s Place puts on as a fundraiser each year. It thrilled me to see models of all shapes and sizes take the stage, along with looks from superb local designer Cheryl Geiger ( - AMAZING!) as well as the local thrift store. Beauty is everywhere, and this show celebrated that.

I took the brief weekend trip to investigate what it takes to put on an event like the fashion show and to see how Ophelia’s Place operates in person. I was truly impressed. Ophelia’s Place is the non-profit foundation behind the physical space of Café at 407. Eating disorder recovery support groups meet there during the week, in the community room and in a special area in back. Comfy chairs, warm colors, quotes painted on the walls, and inviting and accessible recovery information speak the message of hope and healing loud and clear while welcoming people of all backgrounds. The fabulous food doesn’t hurt, either!

Behind the café, offices and additional rooms have been decorated and designated for therapeutic and administrative purposes. Ophelia’s Place partners with The Nutrition Clinic of Elmira, NY, ( to provide nutritional counseling and support groups to those in need of professional recovery resources. The Nutrition Clinic itself offers unique care for people in transition from hospitalization to every-day life. By working together, both organizations are able to reach more people in the places where they need help.

I am truly amazed at what Mary Ellen Clausen and a bevy of other contributors have built, and this trip definitely gave me some perspective about what I want. The main thing I learned from the team that makes Ophelia’s Place so strong:

Play to your strengths.

This is one of many lessons from this weekend. Can I be a Mary Ellen Clausen, networking and planning and executing and go-go-going? No. But can I be Michelle Cowan and make things happen? Yes.

I was reminded of my personal stamina and the pace at which I like to operate. One of the other successful women there pointed out the disparity between the energies of some of the people around and her own. I couldn’t help but commiserate. We both get tired. We both want to get back to the creative stuff and out of the business end. We can make things happen and start balls rolling. We can network and travel and do anything necessary to make a splash in the world, but we’re exhausted at the end of it! We want to enjoy life, not live in a continual stress bubble. What is, for me, a strenuous pace is nothing to some other people. The key is knowing myself.

By seeing the work at Ophelia’s Place, I understand what I want a little better. I want to share my creative fruits with the world, and I want that sharing to stimulate others to create and connect. I don’t have to have a physical space for that yet—even though I hope to have one someday.

I can commit to fleshing out my online presence and selling a few songs. I have other ideas and ways to connect in mind, but I definitely see where my vision is headed. If I do open a café or community center of some sort, it will have a slightly broader scope than eating disorders alone. It will center around healthy body image, authentic living, community, and love.

I want to follow the “change the conversation” message of Ophelia’s Place. Wherever I am, I can create that space I envision. For now, I am gathering information on how different powerful people have grown their businesses and brought their ideas to fruition. I’m learning so much from the people I’m talking to, and I’m gaining a new appreciation for my creative and organizational skills. When I choose to put them into practice (and I emphasize that it is a choice utilization on my part), things happen—more than things, miracles.

For now, I’m getting some rest from a slightly harrowing but incredibly enlightening trip to and from New York, and I’m focusing on my own best qualities. How can I bring what I have into the world? And where do I need to ask for help?

I could leave off there, but that leads me into another lesson learned. Ophelia’s Place takes a village to thrive. Countless volunteers showed up for this event, and Mary Ellen works with a team to guide, direct, and grow Ophelia’s Place. She certainly has the vision and the powers of coordination, but others flesh out those visions with their unique blends of creative, logistical, and emotional talents.

I often forget that my weaknesses can be supplemented by the strengths of others. I don’t excel in every area, but I can find people who would love to give of themselves in ways I never could.

So, I continue to rest, evaluate what I have to offer, and search for comrades. Not a bad way to start the week!