Sunday, June 14, 2009

Living Beyond The Label: Level 3 Dreams Come True

A daunting list of goals left no time for activism these last few months, but what a time it’s been! Dreams I once thought lost for me are now amazing realities—and one profound truth stands out: society’s darkest label cannot define us, no matter what we’ve done, or what the “official” record says, unless we give up; unless we fail to pursue our greater selves and visions.

Six years ago my life was a 24-hour nightmare. Forced to stay in a community that had branded me a horrific threat to society, I had been cursed, evicted, fired and attacked. No matter what I did, all the doors closed--no friends anywhere, no work, no shelter, and no effective way to escape the fear and hate at every turn but an alcoholic oblivion. This would have been a solution if it killed me. But it only made the questions harder to fathom: How could I survive with a monster’s identity? Where could I go? What could I do?

Then I saw a place that shifted my perspective—a trashed-out clearing in the forest with an old rotting trailer. At that point any structure looked better than a roadside ditch. But what gave me a sense of peace and security were the monolithic Cedar trees that had somehow escaped the chainsaws—eight-feet wide at the base and older than Abraham Lincoln! The dark slope below these giants was thriving with nature’s shady survivors—sword, wood, and maidenhair ferns, foxglove, huckleberry, blooming white trillium and, twisting across the canopy like sculptures, mossy vine maples searching for the light. Then I heard what had been whispering all along; at the bottom of the slope was a sparkling mountain river!

With a peculiar sense of faith I knocked on the property owner’s door and told him my story. I don’t know why he chose to overlook my frightening label, but when he agreed to rent me the trailer for next to nothing, I took it as a blessing—and an answer. So while the Sheriff’s Department got busy hanging my photo on the streets and contacting my new neighbors with door-to-door warnings, I got busy on a vision.

It’s funny how a meaningful purpose can make the hardest, dirtiest, unpaid work feel like a spiritual practice. Turning old neglect into new respect not only got me back in touch with my creative self-worth, I found myself thinking less and less about public opinions and labels. This was so relieving I just didn’t want to quit! So when the trailer was pristine, I started on the clearing, and when that was like an empty canvass, I began building a garden worthy of a sacred retreat. Maybe I seemed obsessed rolling boulders in the moonlight, but the art of re-creation engaged me completely. This is how part of the Zen Garden turned out.

It was interesting how my landlord started improving his own yard during this time. And when he got a closer look at my progress, he reduced my rent even further! I wondered: was it me doing the restoring, or me being restored? One thing was clear; the magic of these relationships depended on my sobriety. So despite the fear I felt in public, I started going to local meetings, got myself a sponsor, and worked the steps.

It's encouraging that positive news can still travel as fast as the negative. Soon I found myself restoring the garden of a prominent community member. And soon after that I had so much work I needed to hire help. That’s how my landscaping business was born and developed. And that’s how I became financially solvent.

I feared the nightmare was returning when my landlord lost his job and had to sell the property. Moving not only meant losing the place I valued so much, on so many levels, but having my monster label broadcast all over again at the next address—if I could even find one. But this time I stayed sober, and used the tools of the program. And right about the time I decided to create another garden wherever I landed, my landlord proposed a deal instead.

It still seems beyond reason that he would offer to sell me the property for many thousands less than what he paid. But when the deal was signed on March 10th, 2005, he thanked me for helping him; by covering his late payments I had saved him from the stigma of foreclosure!
I was speechless, to say the least. But when the reality of this dream finally sunk in, I realized the way had been cleared for another—so I kept going. Here I am collecting materials for a riverside cabin!

Right from the start county officials told me that a new structure on my property would not be permitted—for a number of reasons. But I didn’t accept No as an answer; not to make problems, but to find creative solutions. And the fact is I heard many more No’s before I heard the first Yes.

Now the requirements have all been met, and my dream cabin is standing tall and strong. By summer’s end I hope to have the interior finished in natural woods, stones and shade-loving plants—a tribute to the paradise right outside.

Many things in my life remain uncertain. But I do know that none of this would have happened without faith, sobriety and commitment as my companions, or the priceless support of people who see much deeper than labels.

Now I'm certain that if we can manage to believe in ourselves, our visions and our dreams enough to follow them wherever they lead, the Universe is always saying YES.