self-care

High on Life

By Dustin Tessier

I recently spent over a week in the mountains of western Montana. Now that I'm back home, the memories and impressions have been flooding my vision. Peace of mind can be hard to come by. But, as I look at this photograph, I am struck by the shift in perspective.

We climbed to the summit of RamsHorn. It was an exhausting slog up rough terrain. There were times I thought about stopping. Something kept me going, however. I don't know if I would call it inspiration, or maybe spirit. But, there was something incredibly freeing in the solitude of the climb. I found with each step, I was taken out of my own head. It was as though the pressure I put on myself to succeed, to be something, to shape how people see me as an artist, to matter—it all fell away like rotted tree bark.

The stillness of the thin air made my every labored breath echo deep in my head, and I was no longer addled with anxiety and worry. All that mattered in the moment was being present for the process. I was tasked with putting the next foot forward, and nothing more. The peace of mind was intoxicating, and I felt what it means to be human and connected again.

I was swallowed up in the vastness of it all.

Once atop the plateau, I tossed a shiny white stone, which I had carried since the start of the climb, over the edge. I think that stone was symbolic. It represented that which I have been clinging to. It represented my beautiful dreams. It was also metaphoric of the illusion of control, as my hand clenched around the rough stone, causing my fingers to cramp, my palm sweating onto the stone.

Releasing the stone, I felt the relief of letting go.

I don't know where the stone ended up. I don't know where I will end up. I don't know where my dreams will take me. I do know this: the journey matters. Being in the moment matters. Trusting in the process matters. So, I will continue moving forward. Along the way, I will remember to toss stones. I will remember to dream. I will climb the insurmountable. I will be present. I will trust. I will always remain open. I will create. I will love. The rest is up to the vast expansiveness.

Dustin Tessier is a Minneapolis-based guitarist, singer and composer, originally from Duluth, who records as Timbre Ghost and also performs with the Rolling Stoners, Mary Bue and others. His new Timbre Ghost album — Life, Death, & Disintegration — is due out Nov. 16, 2018. Dustin also is a person in long-term recovery and a licensed alcohol and drug counselor. Find him on social media at Bandcamp, Twitter and Facebook.

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Not Today

By Katy Vernon

Editor’s Note: This is the second dispatch from Katy during her 2017 tour of the United Kingdom. This one is from Brighton, England, where, in addition to performing, she was busy writing songs like Look to the Sea. Make sure to also read her first post - The H.A.LT. Tour.

 

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND -- I'm now two weeks into my seven-week UK tour. It's my first time traveling back to play music in the country where I was born and raised, the first time I have toured alone anywhere, and perhaps most importantly, my first extended time alone, period.

I am also undertaking all of this excitement, anxiety and adventure without the crutch of alcohol.

Almost a year ago, I sat and listened to a woman discuss how she took a business trip to France. She was alone in a hotel room thousands of miles away from her family. Wine was served with every meal, and there was a fully stocked mini bar in her room. She didn't drink. She was proud of herself, and as I watched others congratulate her on her recovery, I couldn't imagine “that” ever being me.

Of course, at the time, I didn't fully believe I had an addiction. But—in what should have been a sign—I also couldn't imagine having the freedom to drink without witnesses or judgment, and not doing it.

Here I am, though. Two weeks into a tour of Great Britain, where there are pubs on every corner and it’s legal to drink on the streets, and where single-serve wine is sold in convenience stores. Every day I walk by literally dozens of places where I could sit and have one quiet, secret glass.

Not today.

I am keeping promises to myself on this trip – promises that have come to mean a lot to me.

I used to feel naked out in public, meeting new people. Only alcohol put me at ease. But I’m finding a more natural ease now. Every time I walk into a new venue, I have the choice to either take someone up on the offer of a drink or to introduce “sober me.” As soon as I let the words “I don't drink” come out of my mouth, I feel like I am holding myself accountable. Promise kept. I also feel thankful for how understanding people always seem to be. And how much easier it is to be me, when that’s all I have to be.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise, but instead of feeling left out at these venues and on this tour, I feel much more fully engaged than ever. I pay more attention than I ever used to. I soak in so much more.

It’s been 20 years since I lived in the UK. And, back then, I never traveled much. So, it has been mildly terrifying to navigate my way around. But all of the steps I have taken this past year have strangely prepared me for it. I have learned how to be more open to life. I have grown more comfortable with planning what I can and accepting whatever outcomes result. With train tickets to book, and shows to play, I can't completely live in the moment. But during my “in between” times, I can comfortably wander the streets, sit and write, and take time to watch people and listen. All by myself.

It's a luxury that I know I might not have again. While I’m able to cover expenses with shows—and could make another tour work in that way—I doubt I’ll ever have this amount of time again to travel. My family in Minnesota has been amazingly understanding and generous, and in fact encouraged me to take the opportunity to do this tour in the first place. Perhaps they knew I was ready. Or what I needed. Either way, I am grateful.

Instead of being lonely, I am learning how to be alone.


Katy Vernon is a Minneapolis/St. Paul-based singer-songwriter. She grew up in London, England, and has been writing and singing as long as she can remember.

Reality Sets In

By David T. Lewis

 

"I'm an adult." It's such a weird thing to say out loud. I’m currently repeating it in the dusty, smudged mirror of a portable toilet in Helsinki, Finland. A film crew outside is waiting for me to emerge so we can continue taping an episode of a reality TV show my wife and I have landed on.  

I moved my family from Roseville, Minnesota to Helsinki last year for a job as a Communications Manager at the newly formed Aalto University. I wasn't fleeing anything. My wife and I both had stable jobs, a great house, happy kids. The move was, rather, a leap of faith: a romantic idea of adventure and the unknown.  

But, if I’m honest with myself, the move was also something of a midlife crisis. My father had recently died, and I’d been in a dark place ever since. He was the person I looked to for clarity or guidance. I was nearing 40, with a loving family, and yet I had become rudderless and felt I was drifting off-course.  

I had been trying to come to terms with all this yet no matter how profound I wanted to be, it felt so trivial. When talking about death, never in my life had something felt so un-containable, so massive, and so universal - yet so isolating. Maybe, unlike other major life events (marriage, parenthood, or masturbation), death is a secret. It's a late night step into a dark room; unable to find the language to ask for help, we are unbalanced and alone. I know this is normal. I know it ebbs and flows. I just wasn't ready for the awful and empty echo.

Unsure of how to recover, I started grappling with all those things the middle-aged do: I got hair loss pills to try to reclaim some kind of hipster man bun (I failed); I bought a skateboard and showed up at the local skate park to try to impress teenagers (more failure); I ate an entire chocolate bar of edible weed in Denver and locked myself in a hotel room for 12 hours (success?). Sadly, but not surprisingly, none of it was able to jar me from what was really an all-consuming sadness, a blanket of grey. I was, almost certainly, depressed.  

Weirdly enough, this is our second time on a reality show. The first was for a basement fix-up in 2012. We had a cool mid-century house and it was a sunnier time. I still dry-heaved between takes, but back then, it was just due to performance anxiety. Now all those TV questions seem to have taken on a new existential heft. "How do you like the living room space?" and "Are you happy with your move?" have begun to sound like "What does it all mean?" and "What legacy will you leave behind when you die?”

This is hardly the first time I've struggled with my mental health. As a teenager I had awful panic attacks. In college, on the first date with my wife, I vomited on her feet. She thought it was cute; I assured her it wasn't. I once hid in a bathroom at a New Jersey Dunkin' Donuts, unable to decide between jelly or cream-filled, whimpering, "I can't." It sounds ridiculous, but it happened. I know I can be profoundly sensitive and brittle.

Along the way, I've had success, too. I've worked at all those things you read when you Google self-care: therapy, medication, meditation. Now, no longer nearing 40 but actually there, I have coping skills and a better sense of humor. I'm less serious. At least I was until I wound up with two cameras staring me down as I do multiple takes of, "Yeah, but the cabinets are just too dark."

The irony is not lost on me: I’m pulling myself together so I can talk about how many bedrooms we'd like in our new apartment. It couldn't be more banal. Still, my alternating depression and anxiety don't seem to care as our cabinets become the focus. With so little at stake, it feels as if I have so much to lose: my composure, my purpose, my sanity.

My brain’s on a loop as I leave the bathroom and step in front of the cameras. The director asks, "So what do you think of the kitchen?" I choke back the tears and tell her, "I think it's great." She smiles and I start to wonder if I should apply to be on Survivor next year.

 

David T. Lewis is a Dissonance Board Member.