Monday, December 30, 2013

New Year's Resolutions

My resolutions this year come from the lessons I've been learning.  This is not a checklist, as these are goals that will hopefully continue on limitlessly. I've come up with five mindset shifts that I want to embody in 2014 and for the rest of my life:

1. Look for the beauty in every place, person, and situation
2. Take the time to reflect each day, either in writing or conversation
3. Nurture important relationships. Give sincere compliments and act with generosity and kindness. This applies to your relationship with yourself as well.
4. Check assumptions before they turn into biases or judgements. Seek to understand and accept multiple points of view
5. Practice forgiveness. Always forgive, especially yourself. If you ever start to slack on any or all of the resolutions 1-4, that's ok. Remember that there's always time to refocus, reenergize, and recommit.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Time (A Poem)

One month, three months,
six months, more
each day passes slowly
but looking back, months soar.

They told me time heals
even the deepest of pain
but if I believed them then
at seven months I'd feel insane.

You see, time does nothing
but change the hour and the date
It doesn't add distance,
doesn't fix, or recreate.

Paradoxical is the eternity
since I've seen his face
and the short length of time
since I've felt his embrace.

He's so far away
but yet, so near
He's been gone for so long
but I can still feel him here.

One year, three years,
six years, more
each month passes slowly
but looking back, years will soar.

Now I tell them time doesn't heal
or even lessen the pain
but it taught me to have patience,
reflect, rebuild, and remain.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Without You

I spent the entirety of today on planes: Miami to Brazil, Brazil to Uruguay. Twelve hours total including the layover. This left me with ample time, free of distraction, to fixate on Blake and his family's first Christmas without him. The lack of wifi on these international flights frustrated me to no end. I wanted to reach out to everyone and check in on their hearts. I knew this day wasn't going to be easy for anyone, so I wanted to feel connected to them and show my support.

Although Blake and I were in a relationship last year during Christmas, we only got to be together over video calls throughout the day. I was on a trip to Panama that I planned with my parents before Blake and I started dating. Because I was thousands of miles away, there was no way I could spend the holiday with him. Blake was really upset by this. Christmas was his favorite holiday and he wanted to spend it with everyone he loved. I cheered him up with promises of the best Christmas ever together next year and for years after that. Today, that failed promise to him weighed heavy on my heart.

After I landed, I rushed to connect to wifi so I could finally send his family messages.  As I saw his sister's picture of him and her from Christmas a few years ago and his cousins sweet comment sending her prayers, my heart started breaking all over again. I thought of the macaroni and cheese he would've scarfed down and the laughter he would've surely brought. I thought of his empty chair at the table and the empty space in the family pictures. Missing presents, missing smiles, missing love. It didn't seem fair.

But I realized that even though Christmas is a day of heightened awareness of loss due to the intense focus on family, it's really just another day. His family will get through Christmas just like we've gotten through every other day since his death: minute by minute, hour by hour. Although I begged Blake all day to be with them and make sure they knew he was there, I got an overwhelming sense that they all already knew. Just like I've gotten stronger, so have they. We handled the funeral weekend, his birthday, Thanksgiving, and now Christmas. Those days were all hard, but we got through them together.

Every day I'm inspired by his family's strength. Not only have they gotten through every day with grace, but they've constantly found a way to lift me up whenever I'm a mess. Whenever I think that I'm messaging them to give them strength, in actuality it seems like they are the ones helping me. Through trying to comfort them, I end up receiving the love I need to fill my heart. I just hope that I have been able to do for them even half of what they've done for me.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Phoenix Airport

He's everywhere I look. The table where we split a bowl of ice cream, the chairs where he convinced me to wait until the very last minute to leave, the security line where he begged for "One more kiss!" not once, not twice, but five times. Every single square inch of this place reminds me of him. Reminds me our joyous reunions and our final hours together. The bittersweet ghosts of moments passed.

I wonder if I'll ever be ok in the Phoenix airport again. I've traveled in and out of it a dozen times since Blake's last night, but it's the one place that never seems to get easier. I try to remain present while a continuous loop of memories haunt me, but it's no use. It feels like I'm holding my breath the entire time. When I can finally breathe again, my lungs ache from the strain. Anxiety buzzes through my veins until I get the change of scenery I need.

Airports in general have always been a place of positivity for me. When I'm there it's either because I'm flying somewhere or coming home from a trip. Since I'm my happiest self when I'm traveling, airports have always been a part of this bliss. It hurts to be disconnected from that feeling when I'm in the Phoenix airport, the airport that's supposed to feel like home.

On a morning when I'm embarking on a trip to South America with my family, I want to feel nothing but excitement. I've dreamed of Argentina and Peru for years and I'm finally going. It's not that the experience is tainted by Phoenix Sky Harbor, but in a way I feel being here is a roadblock. There is a barrier between me and my joy. I can't fully embrace this new experience because I'm allowing myself to be held back by the past.

But I know that one day I'll pass Chelsea's Kitchen and smile. Maybe I'll even buy myself a bowl of ice cream. I'll see couples holding hands, soaking in every last minute together, and wish them strength in their long distance relationship. I'll pass through the C gate security without crying. I won't hear echoes of "One more kiss!" and won't turn back hoping for one last glimpse before rounding the corner.

And when I don't do and see these things, it won't be because I've forgotten. I could never forget. Instead, my mind will be so filled with thoughts of adventures ahead that there won't be any room for sadness. That's when I know I've reclaimed the Phoenix Airport.

But for today, I'm just glad to be leaving this place so I can breathe.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas at the Cemetery

The cemetery was packed today. When I went to go visit Blake's grave to give him a Christmas present, I saw more people than I've ever seen there. Since I've always been a huge fan of people watching, this was really fascinating to me. I ended up observing for a couple hours.

A few rows behind and to the right of Blake's plot there is a grave of a little girl. Every time I've visited, I always noticed her's because it's decorated elaborately for every occasion. She's had balloons, toys, pinwheels, and this time, a Christmas theme of tinsel, Santa, and fake snow. Today she had about 12 visitors. There were adults, teenagers, and even a couple of babies. Since the group was in my line of sight, I ended up watching them almost the whole time I was there. It was interesting to me that all throughout, not a single person cried. In fact, it was exactly the opposite. The family laughed, joked, embraced each other, and added to the pile of decorations overflowing from her plot.

In stark contrast, there was a woman who briefly stopped by to visit her mother. She came alone and without a smile. I watched her walk up to the headstone, tour around it, and kneel down. She feverishly plucked the stray blades of grass around the perimeter. We made eye contact, she bowed her head, and returned to her car. The wheels screeched as she sped away just minutes after she came.

And then there was me. When I wasn't busy observing everyone else, I had bouts of endless tears. I realized that I haven't been crying very much lately. I guess all of the emotion stored up was finally released as I sat by Blake's grave. I cried and cried and cried, like I was the person who invented it.

I sat there with an achy feeling. I started thinking about us during Christmas time last year and remembering how much Blake loved this holiday. I let my mind drift to a scene of what this week could've looked like for us. I wanted to capture that image in a snow globe, shake it, and let sparkles dance around it. But I wasn't joyous like the little girl's family; I wasn't uneasy like the woman either. I was somewhere at the intersection of the two, trying to figure out how to express both my love and sadness. Honestly, all I wanted to do was lie down on the dirt and rest my head next to his picture. A spiritual connection wasn't enough; my body hurt with the urge to physically be with him.

So I put on lipstick and kissed the back of some receipts I found floating around in my purse. Even though I wasn't actually kissing Blake, the sensation of forming my lips into a pucker felt strangely calming. My lips were made to do that, so I think that's why they've felt a little lost and useless these past seven months. They were born to scrunch their soft skin and communicate the love contained within them. Even if it was silly, it was a comfort to finally put my lips to use.

I realized today that every time I visit the cemetery, I'm looking for something different. The first time I went on his birthday, I wanted to feel united with his loved ones. I needed to feel like we will all get through this together with each other's love and support. On our anniversary, I sat there with the need for connection. I wanted to feel his presence to confirm that we were still part of each other. And I guess today, I needed to give love. I needed to show myself that I still have the capacity to kiss. To prove to myself that I'm not irreparably broken.

Everyone I observed at the cemetery today came for a reason. I believe that the cemetery was so crowded because Christmas time reminds everyone of loved ones and togetherness. Some of us, like the little girl's family, came to honor their loved one by celebrating the lives they're lucky to still be living together. Others, like the daughter, came to quickly, solemnly, and earnestly pay their respects. And people like me came in search of something: an emotional release, a connection, or maybe a sign. Although these motives represented by the family, woman, and me may seem different, we are all the same. No matter how we chose to express it, our actions were all rooted in love.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Sparkle

A message from a friend this morning:
"I noticed in the pictures you've taken recently your eyes seem to have more life in them. Like there's more of a sparkle and happiness that they didn't seem to have for so long."

I looked at the picture I posted from yesterday that she was referring to. After finishing my last final, a friend and I had an impromptu leaf fight/photo shoot outside of the building. It was ridiculous, but special. I saw all of the crispy, fall leaves (it's December, but hey, I live in California) coating the ground and I had an overwhelming urge to play in them. So I did.

My life has been a lot like that recently. I get a pull in my heart to do something, so I do it. Whether that means throwing a bunch of leaves with a friend, chasing a sunset to the beach, or giving myself permission to stay in bed all day long to read. I do all of these things without second guessing. I figure that if my heart wants something, it's for a reason. Maybe I don't know why, but I figure that's not the point. The why comes later; the importance lies in the now.

I believe living this way is the reason the sparkle has started to return to my eyes. Trying to understand how I got to this point, I reread one of the poems I wrote back in August called "Recent Photographs." In it, I talked about the light in my eyes that had dulled. No matter who I was with or what we were doing, my eyes appeared somewhat lifeless. But when I wrote that poem, I knew that that shimmer hadn't died out; there was still hope. I didn't know when this hope would start resurfacing in my gaze, but I believed it was in there. And now, I think it finally has started to emerge.

This transition started with me finally "Facing Mirrors". I don't feel ugly anymore, like I did for the first six months, but I'm not quite at the stage of feeling beautiful again. Blake really made me feel beautiful, every single moment of every single day. It's amazing how a person can do that for you. And it's incredibly hard not knowing how to get that confidence back. I look back on the pictures of a girl so obviously in love with the man next to her and I revel at my beauty. I looked so wonderful... I want to look wonderful again someday.

And I will, beginning with the sparkle. A sparkle in my eyes that shows my love for the world and the experiences I'm lucky to be a part of. Seeing every moment of every day as an opportunity to learn, grow, and take it all in. To read incredible books, chase sunsets, and play with leaves. I will be beautiful again, once I realize that I have been beautiful all along.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Vigilence

I was sitting on the couch studying when an unnerving thought crossed my mind. As I stared at the Vicodin bottle on the table that I was prescribed for my ear problems, I started to wonder how many I'd need to take to pass out. My mind wandered to the kitchen, questioning if I still had that bottle of wine I never opened. Maybe if I had some Vicodin and wine together the mixture would knock me out. Maybe I could lay in bed all day in a groggy haze and leave this life behind for a while.

Just as the elaborate spider-web of thoughts was woven into potential plans, I swiftly knocked it down. WHAT?! I retraced my trail in an attempt to figure out how my brain got me to that point. Did I really want a drink? No... I don't even like getting drunk. Was I feeling depressed about Blake? Not particularly. Is suicide anything I'd ever considered, even in my darkest days? NO.

I freaked out! I felt like I had lost complete control of my body. The four days since I started taking medication for my ear, I had been eating non-stop, feeling anxious, and having the most depressing thoughts cross my mind. I thought back to a conversation I had with one of my best friends about how she was put on steroids and it made her gain a ton of weight. Oh my gosh... the Prednisone! I quickly looked up the side effects for the steroids that the doctor put me on. Sure enough, increased appetite, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts were all listed.

I didn't know whether to feel relieved or mad. At least my weird behavior had an explanation. I wasn't regressing, it was just the chemicals in my brain telling me to do these things. But that just made me angry. WHY did the doctor not warn me that Prednisone causes suicidal thoughts? If I had informed him about the recent death of my boyfriend, I'm sure he would've thought twice about prescribing me something that could send me on a downward spiral!

I called my mom and dad sobbing, explaining to them that THIS was the exact reason why I have such a distrust of medicine. The fact that the doctor checked me out for less than 20 minutes and put me on all of these dangerous meds seemed disgusting. How could he do this to me? How could doctors everywhere do this to people every DAY! For all he knew I could've had an extremely addictive personality and the Vicodin he casually prescribed me for pain could have triggered a life long addiction. I hated doctors for me, for Blake, and for the whole world.

But after a while of fuming, my mom helped me see that it's the system that's broken. Doctors give advice about what to do to naturally heal, but people want medicine. If the doctor can't give them a quick fix, they'll move on to one who will. And people don't do the research necessary to help inform the doctors about what they need. How can doctors know all of the potential problems you'll have with a medication unless you tell them? It's our job as patients to be advocates for our health. If we don't guard our own bodies with vigilance, who will?

So I stopped being upset and changed my perspective. Thank goodness that I know myself well enough to catch these thoughts. I knew right away that I was not upset about Blake, so my depressive and suicidal thoughts were definitely abnormal. I don't like drinking, so there is no reason I'd be contemplating getting drunk in the middle of the afternoon on a Thursday. None of this added up to me, so I knew something was wrong.

I realized that it's not the doctors fault, my fault, or the pills fault. It's actually no one's fault. What happened this afternoon was a wake up call. I need to be the number one advocate for my mental, physical, and emotional health. Only I will be able to know when something is wrong, so building up my self-awareness is my best defense against potential problems. Just as I have been vigilant with this blog tracking and paying attention to my emotions, I need to do the same with my physical health as well.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Detroit Hyena


Since Blake's death, I've tested out hundreds of ways to cope. The most controversial of which has been befriending a heroin addict in Detroit. Five months ago, in a strange mixture of compulsive interest and morbid curiosity, I looked up "#heroin" on Instagram. What I found shocked, terrified, and intrigued me all at the same time. With one simple search I was given unlimited access into a private world. From the safety of my bedroom I got an intimate look into the lives of people who share their drug use through pictures. It was all there: everything I read about, but had never been exposed to.

There was one person's profile that I kept coming back to. She seemed to take pride in her drug use and the scars it left on her body and life. She was so open, honest, and unashamed. But as much as it scared me to see her photos, I could sense a goodness in her. While looking through her profile I felt a magnetic connection to her that can only be explained by fate. 

A week or two into my secret fascination with her account, I finally decided to make contact. What started out as a simple question turned into several comments back and fourth. Then emails. Then texts. I explained how my boyfriend died from a heroin addiction I knew nothing about and she detailed her 15 year-long battle with the same drug. We listened to each other, cried together, helped each other reach a new level of understanding. We made an unspoken commitment to leave judgment at the door and support each other unconditionally.

In the five months since we became friends, Hyena has committed to sobriety and relapsed several times. And on a night I'll never forget, she talked to me during her suicide attempt as I desperately tried to remind her how much she had left to teach the world. And to teach me. Her story was far from pretty, but I've always been convinced that she deserved a happy ending. Through it all, I held the hope that deep down she believed she deserved one too.
  
Detroit Hyena is now 27 days sober. Although her other attempts at sobriety have ended in using again, I know it's different this time. I know this because everything about her is different this time. 

I feel different too. In an unexplainable way, from across the country and with completely different life struggles, I feel like she and I have made this journey together. When I look at her only one word comes to mind: metamorphosis. It's been an incredibly gruesome past few months, but through the turmoil I believe there's been somewhat of a rebirth, for her and for me. 

Through Hyena, an unknown junkie from Detroit posting pictures on the internet, I learned that kind questions grounded in a desire to understand are the passageway to greater awareness. An awareness about those who are different than you and, more importantly, about yourself. I am forever grateful for the day that the strange mixture of compulsive interest and morbid curiosity lead me to her. I told her before, "I don't always support your choices, but I will always support you." And now, with incredible pride and love, I can finally say I support both.
Congratulations on your 27 days, Detroit Hyena. Here's to 27 and forever more.

Here's the link to her blog. She's an incredible writer: http://detroithyena.blogspot.com/

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Prescription for Vicodin

I have a huge distrust of medicine. Although Blake's addiction to prescription pills amplified this, I've felt this way on some level for as long as I can remember. When someone offers me Advil or Ibuprofen for a minor ache or pain, I always decline. It's not that I don't think they work, as I'm sure they will, I just don't like putting random chemicals in my body. Something about that has always felt weird to me. Unless something is seriously wrong, I'd much rather let my body heal itself. 

For the past couple weeks, I've had a pretty bad ear infection/ailment of some sort. I'm actually not quite sure what's wrong because the doctors keep telling me it's something different every time I come in. At first I was just going to wait it out like I usually do, but when I told my parents about it over Thanksgiving, they insisted I go see someone. So I saw someone, she looked in my ear, wrote me two different prescriptions, and that was that.

The whole thing felt really rushed to me. When she gave me the prescriptions she said, "These might help, let me know if they don't." Might help? So I'm going to pollute my body with pills that might not even help? And if they don't, you'll chalk it up to trial and error and send me home with another set of prescriptions? This was just too much.

But with the insistence of my parents that I need to get better at taking care of myself, I've been taking the prescriptions exactly as directed. I've been waking up each morning with three pills, taking four more throughout the day, and can't fall asleep until I remember the last two. All the while I've been waiting for my ear to feel better, but it only seems to be hurting more. 

When I went to the doctor this morning, he said he saw no signs that I ever had an ear infection to begin with. But even though I don't need the antibiotics I was originally prescribed, he advised me to keep taking them to avoid the potentially bad effects from cutting them short. Ugh. After he prescribed me something else to attack the ailment he thinks I actually have, he told me he was also giving me Vicodin.

My stomach dropped. "Are you sure I need Vicodin? That's a really serious pain killer. I don't think I really need that one." He was confused, as if he'd never had a patient question his decision to give them medicine before. He explained that if the pain is making it hard for me to sleep, a pain killer could really help. He told me that I don't need to suffer; these pills can mask the pain. 

I don't need to suffer; these pills can mask the pain. 

As that sentence continued to echo in my head, I wondered if it's the mantra of every addict. I wondered if it's that kind of thinking that leads to the justification of coping mechanisms that only serve to hide a problem instead of fixing it.

I let these thoughts carry me away. I wondered if it started out like this for Blake. After his accident, his doctor harmlessly prescribed him Oxycontin. He told him he didn't need to suffer; as he healed, these pills could mask his pain. And they did. They masked his pain and then started to mask everything else. Created a disguise so encompassing that it ended up numbing him to all pain, not just from his injury. A feeling so addictive that the suffering of a real life seemed too unbearable. 

After crawling down the rabbit hole for a while with that thinking, I had to ask myself: will I take the Vicodin? It has been pretty horrible staying up until four or five in the morning wondering if the pounding in my ear will ever cease. The doctor is right, I don't need to suffer. If there is medicine out there that can help me dull this pain, it would be silly not to take advantage of it. So I won't deny myself the help if the help is what I need.

But the difference is being in tune with what exactly I mean by "I need." I know that pain killers like these have a way of tricking you into thinking you need to continue taking them or at a higher dosage or more frequently. What you "need" can potentially change because pain killers make you feel good. And who doesn't like feeling good? If you could get the feeling of peace, ease, and weightlessness instantly from a pill, a pill a doctor told you to have, who wouldn't want to? The lines between what you need and what you want begin to blur. 

I see the pros and the cons, the benefits and the hazards. I can't spend another night up until 5 AM, but I also can't allow myself to believe a cure lies simply in a white tablet either. I am still uncomfortable with how readily doctors hand out prescriptions for pills, based on surface level guesses at what's actually going wrong. But even though I've always had a huge distrust of medicine, I also understand that it is necessary in some situations. What other choice do I have than to put my trust in a doctor? The only thing I can do is take this medication with a critical eye, from a position of ever present self-reflection.

Friday, December 6, 2013

"Awake My Soul" (A Song)

Have you ever felt like you were having a "religious experience"? I'm not sure if that's the right term for it because it had nothing specifically to do with God, but "religious experience" was the thought that popped into my head when I heard this song:



There are few things in this world that I enjoy more than connecting deeply to song lyrics. It's like three or four minutes of complete hypnosis. You can't think or move. Maybe you can't even breathe. You become a vessel through which the words of the singer are lived. Every heartbeat begins and ends with each passing note.

When I was driving to work today, "Awake My Soul" by Mumford and Sons came on. I could go through each lyric and explain how they all hit me so profoundly, but instead I want to focus on just one part. When he belted the line "Awake my soul," time stood still. In that moment everything made sense. I am awake because of him. Blake's death woke me up.

A month and a half ago, my thinking completely changed. Now, I search for meaning, symbolism, and signs in everything I do and every experience I have. I am aware of the world, how it works, and how we are all connected. How nothing is ever lost and that sight is more than just visual perception. I feel, for the first time in my life, like I'm awake. This song seemed to me like a battle cry for charging on in life with a dedication to spiritual awakening. Every day, awake my soul.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Facing Mirrors

I went through the majority of the past six months avoiding mirrors. Seeing my eyes felt too intimate. If I ever looked, I'd have to search inside of them. And when I did, I saw sadness, fear, but most upsetting of all, I saw a stranger. I didn't know this girl and honestly, I didn't like her.

I very rarely wore makeup. But when I did, I silently cursed at my reflection the whole time I was applying it. I had always prided myself on having great skin, but the face in front of me had blemishes all over. Maybe it was the stress. Maybe it was the lack of sleep. But most likely, it was because I stopped caring about myself. I gave up on this new person I had become.

As a birthday present, my best friend bought me the book "The Bridges of Madison County". When I was in New York over Thanksgiving, I read it and highlighted some of the lines that spoke to me. One part that immediately caught my attention was when Francesca was looking at an old photograph that her lost love, Robert, had taken of her:

"She looked at the picture again, studied it. I did look good, she thought, smiling to herself at the mild self-admiration. 'I never looked that good before or after. It was him.'"

I've done the same, countless times. My smile never looked bigger, or brighter, or more genuine than in my pictures with Blake. I look at those old photographs and I see the Briana I was, the Briana I wish so desperately that I could be again. But I can't. I can never be her because she died with Blake. It's frustrating to realize that now that he's gone, I will never be the same again. I've mulled it over a million times and it never gets easier to wrap my mind around. I realized that maybe I didn't want to face myself in the mirror because I didn't know who I was without Blake.

But since coming back from New York, I caught myself looking in the mirror for the first time. As I brushed my teeth this morning, my eyes lingered on their reflection staring back at them. I wasn't ready to search them yet, so I scanned the rest of my face first. I immediately noticed that my skin had finally cleared up. I smiled. My nose was still slightly crooked, my teeth still "she definitely had braces" straight. My face was oval, just like my sister's, my cheekbones high, like my mom's. My face wasn't perfect, but it looked familiar. I liked what I saw. With a deep breath, I worked my way up to my eyes. When I fixed my stare, I poured myself into them, searching for a glimpse of the girl I used to be. But I was right, she wasn't there anymore.

What I did find, however, was something new. I had to strain my neck to get a closer look, barely an inch from the mirror to make sure. There it was. Almost completely hidden by the lower lashes of my left eye was a tiny, new freckle.

Freckles have always been important to me. I only have about ten, so I know exactly where all of them are. One of my favorite memories with Blake, which I shared in our video, was the night we discovered that he had a freckle in the exact same spot as me on his shoulder. He called them our "Twin Freckles" because they connected us and made us one. Maybe this new freckle, under my eye (I), symbolized a new journey focused on just me. To show me I'm different, but still beautiful.

This morning, the addition of the 11th freckle reminded that I am a new person. Although that feels scary and makes me want to run and hide from myself sometimes, it's the truth. I'm not sure if being a new person is good or bad, but it's reality. A reality that's mine and can't be avoided. I need to nurture this new person and learn to love her just as much as I loved the Briana from the photographs with Blake. Who knows, maybe I can grow to love her even more.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Losing Blake's Things

Five minutes away from the Long Island airport, I realized that I left him. I had done a mental check of all the usual things I tend to forget, (make up bag, check; charger, check; shoes I wore last night and kicked under the bed when I took them off, check) but he was so obvious that I forgot the extra security clearance. As I sat in the car, past the point of being able to go back, I stared into my bag in disbelief. I left Blake Bear at my grandma's house. Cue the flood of tears.
The picture I sent to Blake on May 28th at 12:57 AM
to show him I was sleeping with the bear he bought me.
This was unknowingly sent right after he passed away

I've mentioned Blake Bear before, but never his vital place in my life. He was my last gift from Blake, which alone would make him special enough. But not only did I sleep with him the whole last week I was with Blake, he has been my constant companion ever since since then. Although I don't hide him in my purse and take him with me during the day anymore, holding him is the only way I can convince myself to fall asleep. I clutch him close to my heart and wake up the exact same way.

In the past 193 days, I have only slept without Blake Bear twice. The first time was at the end of August, when I accidentally fell asleep on my best friend's couch after my first truly happy night out. And the second was in September, when I decided to spend the night at a hotel with my parents instead of driving back to my house. When I realized tonight would have to be the third and tomorrow potentially the fourth, I had a breakdown.

I evaluated the situation in my mind as rationally as I could. I was a 25 year old woman crying over a teddy bear. And if that didn't seem silly enough, I also reminded myself that this stuffed animal wasn't even lost. I knew exactly where it was and could have someone mail it to me in the next day or two. I went over these facts again and again in my mind, trying to reason myself out of my panic. There was actually nothing to be upset over. I made it through nights without it before, I can do it again.

As I started to calm down, I realized a deeper message in all of this. The most concerning thing wasn't that I worked myself up over an object, but that I even gave an object that much power over me in the first place. I understand that the sentimental value attached to material things holds significant weight for me and many people, but does it need to?  Are our "things" essential representations of our memories and love? If I woke up tomorrow and all of the jewelry, clothing, cards, cologne, and pictures that I surround myself with to feel closer to Blake disappeared, would I still feel connected to him? After getting over the initial shock of loss, I'm positive I would answer "Absolutely."

In my purest moments of connection with Blake, it's just him and me and the feeling I get deep in my heart. Although it's always nice to smell the scent of his cologne, hear his laugh in our videos, or hug the Blake Bear he gave me, I don't need any of those things. What I feel in my heart is enough to let me know he's still with me, regardless of any object I have to remember him by. He isn't in them, he's in me. When I think about it this way, the trauma of grief seems unnecessary. This way of thinking reveals that nothing is ever really lost. Since true attachment is tied to the heart, we carry our love ones wherever we go. There is no such thing as separation when there is love.

I already know that tonight without Blake Bear will be hard. There's a possibility that I may not be able to sleep at all. But I will not think for one second that just because I don't have the bear, I've lost my connection to Blake. Although my material representations of him and our love aid in our connection, they are not the connection themselves. Eventually, I hope to get to the point where I'm beyond the need for physical reminders and can rely on just the signals I get from within. But for now, I'll continue to remind myself that Blake is not separated from me just because the bear is. And I'll wait patiently for the package to arrive.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving / Six Months

The sunlight shocked open my eyelids and pushed me to face the morning. Seven AM wasn't my friend. Perhaps because Four AM and I had grown to know each other so intimately. Four AM was comforting to me in all of his dark and quiet anxiousness. In that time of night, the silent hum of unspoken fears wrapped around me, curious and complicated, moody, but mine. But Seven, she and I had become strangers. Her pesky perkiness was too draining to even acknowledge. "Leave me alone!" I begged, trying to reclaim the darkness of shut eyelids. "Find someone else to force your rise and shine upon. I'm not interested."

But this morning was different. The light had a mission and Seven was unrelenting. As my consciousness took over, snapped into alert, I remembered the significance of this particular dawn. Not only was it Thanksgiving, but also the six month mark of Blake's death. The weight of that realization tugged at my heart, causing me to collapse into the sunlight and embrace my old friend Seven. Today would be too lonely if I isolated myself. "Ok Seven, you win."

These two events coinciding didn't feel like a coincidence. The universe had transpired to lay out this juxtaposition so clearly that it would be impossible to ignore. The national day of thanks and the day that marks half a year without My Love. One with a theme of gratitude, the other: grief. I started asking myself, "How can I respect both feelings without falling too deeply into one or the other? How can mixing the two create a more meaningful day?"

The answer was actually simple: focus on love. The absence of it, the presence of it, the yearning for it, and the hope that it still exists. Love in all of its forms. Love that can be seen and love that can only be felt. Love was both my greatest gift and the deepest hole in my heart. Today, I would focus on love.

My annoying but inspiring friend Seven AM helped me realize that this Thanksgiving, I'm not actually balancing opposite emotions.  On the surface that's what grief and gratitude seem to be, but in actuality, that couldn't be farther from the truth. Because the foundations of both are the exact same thing: love. It's easy to trace gratitude back love, but I had to stretch my mind to come to the conclusion that grief couldn't exist without love either. Love makes gratitude and grief intrinsically linked. The separation of the two only came from my refusal to wake up.

Now, I'm wide awake with my friend Nine AM. He has all the analytical insight of Four, but with the blissful optimism of Seven. At this time of morning, the light is shining bright, but it no longer has to battle against the harsh contrast of nighttime. The sun is welcome to disrupt my sleep because now I want to be awake, enjoying every minute of this day. A day that reminds me of both the past and the present, but more importantly, the love that weaves the two together.

Today, I'm coming from a place of Nine.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Making a Place at the Table for Grief on Thanksgiving

When I was asked by one of Blake's friends to write about grief during the holidays for Buzzfeed, I felt really honored. First of all, I was so glad they were putting something together about such an important topic. I had been thinking about how this holiday season would be especially difficult, so writing gave me the opportunity to dig deeper into those feelings. I felt like this article could be a great platform to both read other people's insights and strategies as well as share my own.

It came out today, I read it, and unfortunately, I was disappointed. 

I really don't know how articles like these work, but I was surprised to see that my words were changed around and some were omitted. I figured that the author would use what I wrote as is, unless he checked with me first. But the most upsetting part wasn't a correction or deletion, it was an addition. After the sentence where I explained my boyfriend Blake died, he tacked on "from a heroin overdose" to the end.

When I wrote my piece, I purposely left out the cause of Blake's death. It's not because I'm embarrassed or ashamed (his family and I have never tried to keep it a secret) it just didn't seem to fit the premise of the article. I never mind if his overdose or addiction are mentioned as a way to teach people, but in this context it just seemed like a gratuitous insertion for shock value. I was under the impression that the article's focus was how to be thankful during Thanksgiving in spite of grief, not drudge up the circumstances of the deaths. 

After I allowed myself to vent to my mom and Blake's friend for a little while, I realized that focusing so completely on one tiny aspect of the article stopped me from seeing the bigger picture. Yes, some of the things I wrote were changed. Yes, something was added that I felt strayed from the point. But not only did I get across my gratitude for the friends and family Blake brought me, there were also 12 other beautiful stories shared. As I read them, I started crying. Although everyone went through a significant loss, each person found a way to make the holiday special by honoring their loved ones' memories.

I ended up sharing the article on my Facebook (which was something I originally decided against because I was mad). I realized that regardless of my individual contribution, I am so grateful to be a part of a really important piece with a comforting message. I wanted anyone who has lost a relative, parent, child, sibling, friend, or significant other, to read these stories as a way to inspire and help them get through the holiday season. 

Here is the article:
http://www.buzzfeed.com/saeedjones/making-a-place-at-the-table-for-grief-on-thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Confessions of a Hypocrite

I have a confession: I am a hypocrite. But luckily for me, I believe that being a hypocrite is only a temporary condition that can be changed in an instant. This is my instant.

In all of the learning I've done though my grief, especially in the past month, the greatest lesson I've learned is about the interconnectedness of the universe. To me, this means that despite any apparent differences, we are all the same. When I see the world this way, it's impossible not to look at everyone with love and compassion. If you are a reflection of me, and I of you, any hurt or blame I cast only paints a dark picture of my own heart.

As I've said before, it's only human nature to make assumptions and judge. I believe our brains processes information this way in order to make sense of it. But it's what I do with those assumptions and judgements that defines me. I can act on them, creating negativity, or I can explore them honestly by turning inward. What about ME makes me think that about you? How have my PERSONAL experiences lead me to this thought? It's much easier to go through life focusing on what's wrong with other people instead of taking the time to see what can be changed within myself.

So as I've confessed, I am a hypocrite. Even after learning these lessons and believing that I've been living by these principles, I still have this ugly need to put certain people down. I've continually made villains out of you and a few people from Blake's life by judging your actions and making assumptions about your character. I find myself getting worked up, sharing this piece of "evidence" or that "fact," trying to somehow show that you are responsible for my pain. I confide in people that if Blake had never met you or if you acted differently, Blake would either still be alive or his death would be easier for me to cope with.  

I realize that to some extent, it's natural for me to do this. However, that doesn't make it right. After a particularly long conversation criticizing you last night, I feel guilt in my heart. It felt uncomfortably good to say some pretty horrible things about you. Although these things feel true to me, it really concerns me that sharing these thoughts made me feel better. How does putting you down make me feel good about myself? The answer: it doesn't.

The temporary satisfaction I felt last night from venting turned into a bad taste in my mouth this morning. Even though I shared this all privately, I wondered how I would feel if you heard everything I said. When I immediately shuttered at the thought of that, I knew what I did was wrong. What seemed like a harmless and cathartic way to release stress, actually hurt the image of who I want to be.

So this is my instant to refocus on the lesson of interconnectedness. If your pain is also my own, I can't inflict more onto you with a good conscience. There's already too much negativity in this world for me to add more on purpose. What does it say about me that I wasted hours spewing hate? Tearing you down? Laughing at your expense? If who I am is a reflection of how I treat you, I really wish that I would have shown you love and understanding instead.

This love and understanding can be expressed though actions, but starts with my thoughts. Although I've been nothing but nice in person, my thoughts show a much darker side of how I really feel about you. If I want to stop being a hypocrite, how I think needs to change. So I'm writing this post as both my apology for the judgements I've made and my commitment to ending the negative thoughts I've devoted to you.

The truth is the things you've said and done have really hurt me. I'm not pretending that I can forget what I believe to be acts of cruelty, but I will not let it color how I see you as a person. We are all struggling with grief, which causes us to act in ways that don't always make sense. I am going to make an effort from now on to start correcting my thoughts to reflect the pure heart I want to have. Although you may not always act in kindness, you are a good person. You are part of me and part of Blake, so I will love you just the same. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Purple Heart

Before meeting up with Blake's family to spend our anniversary with them, my mom went with me to visit the cemetery. I showed her Blake's grave and excitedly pointed out the blue heart I'd told her about. But right away I noticed that the heart wasn't blue anymore. The blue heart-shaped sea glass that I glued to his headstone had turned this weird, light purple color.

At first I was mad. The heart used to be a gorgeous shade of sapphire blue, just like Blake's birth stone and the little hearts I've been using on all of my posts. I even bought a ring and a necklace to wear that have blue heart stones in honor of that heart. Now that the heart is purple, I felt like all of this perfect symbolism was completely ruined!

My mom was actually smiling about it turning purple. When I asked her why she thought it was a good thing, she explained that she saw symbolism in the new color. My mom pointed out that purple is the color that you get when you mix red and blue together. What was once a deep, red, and passionate love was colored blue by the sorrow and sadness of loss. Maybe the heart turning purple reflected my own heart. Maybe I was finally learning how to combine those two colors to create a new kind of love. Not only romantic love or love in mourning, but a love that is perfectly both at the same time. She left me with those thoughts and retuned to the car to give me alone time with Blake. I kissed the purple heart with a new found respect for it, thanks to my mother's words.

When I woke up this morning, I started thinking about the purple heart again. I loved the explanation my mom gave for it, but felt the urge to dig even deeper.

Suddenly, I knew. A month ago, after reading my post about the symbolism of the blue heart, a woman close to Blake explained to me the spiritual significance of blue. She suggested I look up the seven chakras and their color counterparts.

What I found was that blue means communication and self-expression. Perhaps the blue heart coming to me was a sign to focus of these things. I've tried to do this by connecting with others who are grieving and keeping up with this blog. In the progression of the chakras, the color purple comes after blue. This is a transition into intuition and wisdom, acknowledging perception beyond ordinary sight. Maybe the heart that first came to me as blue was now trying to mirror my progress by transforming to purple.

With the added focus on the spiritual symbolism of purple (along with my mom's explanation of the color), I now feel like my interpretation of the purple heart is whole. My heart doesn't need to be blue anymore because I've learned so much about death, loss, and sadness in general. I've come to understand that I'm connected to every person and every thing, near or far, past or present. I've grown so much through my grief that now I'm able to see the world in a completely different way. A way that acknowledges the limitations of ordinary sight.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

To Blake, On Our Anniversary

Blake,
It's weird being in my parents house again. The first couple of times I came home after your death, I refused to step foot here. Without hesitation, I agreed to sleep in the bedroom in your parent's house where you passed away, but was too scared to even see this place, the house where we spent your last week together. But being here has finally started to feel ok. In fact, now that I think about it, this house is actually the perfect place for me to be on our anniversary...

Where I'm laying right now is where I stayed up all night texting with you for the first time. I remember thinking, why is Blake Norvell even texting me? Maybe it's because he feels bad for making me drive him home? Maybe he's just bored? As much as I played it off like I was only mildly interested in you at first, I was so excited that night. I was right here, in this bed, with butterflies in my stomach every time a new text came in.

And there's also the last week we spent here, your very last week on earth. I know it wasn't our most
adventure-filled trip, but it was actually nice playing house here with you while my parents were gone. We got groceries, watched movies, took care of my dog, floated in the pool, and most importantly, got to wake up and fall asleep with each other every day. That's still the hardest part, you know. I still haven't gotten used to reaching over and feeling nothing but empty space.

One year. We talked about our one year anniversary all the time for some reason. I don't know why it always seemed so significant, but we even had the presents picked out that we were going to buy each other for this day. Why did we do that? That's actually really weird haha. But milestones were important to you and that made them important to me too. Which is why I want to make sure that today is filled with as much love as I can cram into it.

I watched our videos for the past hour or so. Every single one. I know I gave you a hard time when you would insist on taking them, but now all I want to do is thank you. If I could go back in time and agree to them enthusiastically, I would. But then again, I have a feeling that at least part of the reason why you liked them so much was because of my playful resistance.

There is so much I want to write to you. My favorite things about birthdays, anniversaries, and celebrations in general, are always the cards. There's nothing quite like stringing together the perfect words to communicate to someone exactly how you feel. Most of the time the gift becomes insignificant in comparison if the emotion in the card is just right. For this reason, I want to write you the perfect note and send it up to heaven for you.

Blake, you mean more to me than you'll ever know. Not only did you teach me about true love during your life, but in your death, you also taught me about forgiveness, acceptance, spirituality, and having patience with myself. I never thought in a million years that something as tragic as losing you would somehow turn into a blessing. But it really has. I wish with all of my heart that you didn't die, but if you had to go, I feel unbelievably lucky that you left me with such incredible parting gifts.

I'm sorry this letter has bounced around from topic to topic in a not so cohesive way, but that really matches how my brain is working right now. I'm thinking of everything all at once, trying to soak it all in. I hope today is a happy day, even though I know sadness will permeate every minute of it. But I think that's ok. I'm learning that happiness isn't the absence of sadness, it's using your sadness properly. Every day, and especially today, I'm using my sadness to feel closer to you, to myself, and the world.

I love you, William Blake. Happy anniversary.

Love Forever,
Briana

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Goose Bumps

I get waves of goose bumps all throughout the day. Even when it isn't cold, a shock of shivers will travel down my body. When this happens, I try to pay attention to what preceded it. I look for signs to clue me into the potential message these goose bumps are trying to send. I close my eyes and let the tingles cover me. The more I focus on them, the stronger they get. 

At night these goose bumps are overwhelming in the most beautiful way. The minute I touch my bed my skin becomes a sea of gentle prickles. It feels so good for my body to feel something, that I usually start to tear up. Instantaneously I know that it's Blake, welcoming me back for a night's sleep together.

Sometimes I'll ask him questions, aloud or in my mind, and I'll get responses in the form of goose bumps. I lay there, eyes closed, with a huge smile and a heart so full it could burst. I tell Blake that I love him and he answers me back with a powerful pulse. Every hair on my arm is raised and every pore is filled with gratitude. I drift off to sleep knowing that I'm safe and cared for. 

I've been hesitant to describe these experiences to other people because even to me it seems a little crazy. I know it makes no practical sense, but the more the waves of goose bumps happen, the more I feel like the only possible explanation for them is that it really is Blake. 

Tonight, I deferred to Google to help me make more sense of what's happening to me. I started with "
What causes goose bumps?" and found very technical explanations of how goose bumps are a reflex associated with cold, fear, or an emotional reaction. I wasn't satisfied with that because t
he goose bumps I've been experiencing aren't just physical, they're spiritual. So I decided to go a different route and explore "Spiritual significance of goose bumps." I was hoping the internet would connect me with a meaningful way to interpret them in this regard.

The results of that search were less scientific, but so much more meaningful. It produced amazing articles and personal stories. Here are a couple of my favorites:
"You may feel the energy around you change, and sense there is another spirit there reaching out to you. Often our physical body responds with feelings of waves, goosebumps, or shivers. Once you feel that presence… Speak with them. Spirits can communicate through energy, which means your thoughts and feelings can be shared and theirs can be received. Space does not exist when working with the soul."
"I get up behind you, and I put my hand in your hair. Then I push my energy through the top few layer of your skin, but not to the bone. And just the muscles. Usually your body responds to an interference, a change in the environment, so your body responds with the goosebumps. That’s why it’s really location specific"

I could go on and on about the things that I found. I feel very validated in my conclusion that these goose bumps are actually Blake's way of communicating with me. Death doesn't seem so scary (and so removed from life) when I can think about things spiritually. Because energy can neither be created nor destroyed, it only makes sense that Blake's energy is still around. I feel so lucky that he has chosen to surround me with it and help comfort me with his presence.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Unfinished Scrapbook

For our half year anniversary, I decided to make Blake a scrapbook as one of his presents. Not to brag, but it was turning out pretty spectacularly. Even though the gift was supposed to be a surprise, I couldn't handle keeping it a secret from Blake. I would send him picture updates any time I finished a page that I was particularly proud of (which was all of them, haha).

The last weekend we were together was when we celebrated our six months. I was going to give Blake the scrapbook then, but we decided that I should wait until I added the pictures from that trip. I was disappointed that I wouldn't get to give him his present on our actual anniversary, but knew it would be worth the wait if it meant adding even more memories to it.
The morning immediately following that trip was when I found out Blake overdosed and passed away. I hadn't even adjusted to being back in California when I heard the news. I couldn't believe I had just slept with him the night before, kissed him only a few hours ago, and already started counting down the days until we could see each other again. How could the man, whom I just spent every minute of the last week and planned to spend every year in the future with, be gone? I'm never going to see him again? Touch him? Kiss him? Hold him? This couldn't be real...

I vividly remember that even in the haze of confusion, my mind went to that scrapbook. All of my supplies were still on my bed. The unfinished book stared at me. It seemed painfully symbolic of the unwritten pages of our love story that were now never going to be completed.

I brought the scrapbook with me to Blake's funeral. In it, I had written a heartfelt note that he never got the chance to read. As I read it aloud to his friends and family as part of my speech, I was hoping that someway, somehow, Blake was able to hear my message too. I knew he would have smiled so big and given me a million kisses after he read it when I finally gave him his present. I felt extremely deprived of that moment. I wanted it more than anything.

There have been countless times that I've endeavored to complete the scrapbook since that day. I even went as far as printing out the pictures from our last week together and putting them inside the pages. But every time I tried to get myself to actually make them, I couldn't. Something about it actually being finished upset me. Maybe on some level I thought that if the scrapbook was never complete, it meant that our story wasn't over either.

Now the unfinished scrapbook just sits on my bookshelf collecting dust. Lately I've been thinking that it might be a good project for me to work on during our one year anniversary coming up this Saturday, but I'm not completely sure I can commit to that. Something in my body is preventing me from giving finishing it a real thought. I know eventually I'll be able to work on it, but for now the wound still seems too fresh.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Collecting Gifts

I'm flying home to Arizona this weekend because November 23 marks one year since Blake and I started dating. This morning when I woke up with an aching heart and eyes full of tears, I decided that today was a good day to start collecting anniversary presents for him. 

The last time I visited Blake's grave I brought shells, sand, and sea glass as a gift for his birthday. I did this because he loved the beach, especially the beaches of San Diego. We always planned that I would move here for graduate school and he would join me soon after. This gift  was my way to bring the beach to him, showing we can share San Diego in a symbolic way. And as an ongoing reminder that I have the honor and privilege of living our dream for both of us, I decided to bring bits of the beach to give him every time I come to visit.

So in order to find Blake's anniversary presents, I walked to the beach at the end of my street. But what started out as a quick way to listen to my heart, turned into hours of connecting with the ocean. I was mesmerized by the tide and its enchanting pull. I watched as it rushed over my sea gems, clouded and concealed them, and then revealed all that I saw before and more. 

The tide followed the same pattern over and over again, but somehow it kept teaching me different lessons. At first I learned how to rethink my disappointment when a pretty shell that I wanted got swept away. I was excited to find something beautiful, so when the water took it I got upset. But as this kept happening I started to realize that the shell wasn't mine to begin with; it belonged to the ocean. Because of this, I didn't actually lose anything. I was lucky to see the pretty shell for as long as I did, so I learned to let it go with peace and gratitude.

Eventually I transitioned from that lesson to a lesson about the power of patience. Instead of searching for shells, I started to let them come to me. I just stood there, basking in the sun, floating in the wind, and feeling like part of the ocean. When I looked down, the tide would retreat back just long enough for me to pick up what it had left for me. I knew what was there was mine to take because I didn't reach for it, it reached for me.

There is so much more I could write about the ocean. After Blake and my trip to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium back in May, we talked for hours about how magical it is. Not only does the ocean have a pulse, as evidenced by the tide, it also has a soul. If you are quiet enough, you can hear it speak to you. And if you are open enough, it has gifts for you to collect. Not only in the form of shells and rocks, but in lessons about how to live your life connected to the beauty of the world.