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Portland, OR: Vibrations

5 months ago I started this blog with a promise to myself that I would write truthful recaps of my experience traveling. This was never meant to be a run down of the do’s and don’ts of the places I go, but a reflection of my inner narrative as I move from place to place searching for new understanding. As of recently, it’s been getting more difficult to find the motivation to continue sharing on this platform. If it wasn’t for the positive impact I am seeing it have on my self-esteem, I probably would’ve thrown in the towel right after San Diego. It is not easy being vulnerable, but I know there is a bit of my story to share that feels right for the purposes of my own healing.

Portland, Oregon is a place that I’ve been so excited to arrive at since we started traveling in February. I feel no shame in admitting that it’s partially because I LOVE the show Portlandia. Cacao! The show portrays a quirky, weird, eccentric, individualistic and stylish atmosphere that I thrive on. One of the main reasons why Brandon and I are on this year-long adventure is to see if there is somewhere else other than Milwaukee, WI that we’d like to plant our roots. The small size of the city and the nature that surrounds it are a huge draw for us in seeking a more permanent place to live. In some ways, it really has felt like Milwaukee with mountains. Besides mountains, there are some obvious differences, one of the most obvious being the decriminalization of drugs like cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. I’ll circle back to this later.

We came into Portland from a rural part of Northern California with limited places to go and things to do. Because of this, I was craving to get into a yoga studio as soon as possible. I started at a place called the Yoga Space, which was a renovated old church. I loved the spiritual touch this offered to my practice. Similar to my experience in New Mexico, the teachers taught heavily towards the energetic body in combination with a simple asana (posture) practice. For my readers that don’t practice yoga, simple doesn’t mean easy. In fact, it can mean the opposite. A simple posture can mean freedom for the mind to wander. Yoga is a practice of uniting the mind and the body, so the workout really comes from reestablishing mental concentration again and again. I recall one instance in a 90 minute Hatha class, where the teacher corrected my triangle pose and my standing wide legged forward fold, back to back. I hadn't been corrected in a long time. It helped me realize that I wasn’t being fully present in my body. I left this class thinking “where is your mind at and why can’t it be in your body?”

Being back in a bustling city, I could feel myself coming back alive and out of my shell again. Even though I couldn’t afford anything in them, I enjoyed walking past the retail boutiques which offered a mix of unconventional fashion and trendy outdoor clothing. My dream! Between each clothing store was a variety of trinket or oddity shops. Layered among those were endless cafes, coffee shops and juice bars. I loved observing all the people socializing or keeping to themselves with their headphones on while focusing on their laptop, sketchbook or journal. There is a heavy presence of art, nature and creativity in Portland that promotes a safe space for self-expression. I found that I was even giving myself permission to dress, act and do what I wanted without a concern for judgment.

As nice as it was to be back in a city, being able to getaway and escape to nature for the weekend was a welcomed balance. I found the forest of the Pacific Northwest to be enchanting, mysterious and grand. Oregon has strict rules in place to help protect the environment, which was clear during our explorations. Everything besides the trail felt untouched, secret and new. Up until this point on our travels, we have either stayed in a city with limited access to nature or in nature with limited access to a city. For my mental health, it finally felt like we struck a perfect equilibrium in Portland.

There were moments during this last month and half where everything felt connected, like everything was falling into its right place. Then, there were moments where I still felt my codependency being tested. Internally, I was wondering why at certain moments I was feeling self- assured and why in the next moment I would be filled with anxiety and doubt. I knew part of this had to be about communication. In an unexpected and fleeting moment, an answer came to me. I am not going to share the details of the moment, because it’s not pertinent to the larger message, but I realized I’d been holding on to a version of myself that died long ago.

Part of my story which feels like a lifetime ago, yet somehow lives with me everyday, is my struggle with addiction. At the lowest point of my life, I found myself committed to taking pain medication. After years of suppressing an eating disorder and constantly changing myself into the person I thought other people wanted me to be, I no longer recognized who I was or loved myself. To cope with the depression that comes along with this dissociation, I sought out whatever I could to numb myself from feeling. The funny thing about it, if there is anything funny about it, is that the shame I carry does not come from the addiction itself. The shame I carry comes from relationships that were damaged along the way. Specifically, the relationship I have with myself.

At my rock bottom, I was doing whatever I could to get my hands on my chosen drug 24/7. This isn’t easy for me to admit, but sometimes even stealing if I had to. The day everything fell out from underneath me I got busted for stealing. I recall every second of that moment with vivid detail. First, I remember feeling so embarrassed, but then I remember feeling like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders because finally I could admit to my friends and family that I was struggling. Almost instantly I broke down, wept, disclosed my struggles and need for help. My honesty was met with anger, frustration and a denial of me having any problem at all from people that I thought loved me. At that moment, I felt like I lost everything and in some ways I did. I’ll never forget a bird's eye memory I have of me laying on the floor of my living room all alone, crying and wondering if anyone would ever love me again, including myself.

Over the years, I have learned to love and to trust again. I no longer actively participate in my past addiction, but I still carry the shame with me. Because of these experiences I get scared that if I hurt or disagree with someone, they are going to leave me, so I avoid conflict and confrontation all together. Now I can see where it has gotten me. I deny myself my own volition and am struck with fear when it comes time to stand on my own two feet.

I see people all around in Portland, experiencing homelessness, some struggling with mental health and in the grips of addiction. I also see a community of people trying to support and uplift one another. All over the city are signs of this through the artwork on the building, messages scribbled on the sidewalks and signs at the tops of bridges. A lot of the community seems to be truly living an “all are welcome here” lifestyle in an effort to show everyone belonging. The decriminalization of drugs like cocaine, heroin and meth does feel shocking, but these people don’t need time in jail, they need to be loved. Yes, it is difficult to walk around and witness some of the aftermath of this type of drug use, but providing resources and places for people to turn to if/when they are ready seems like the most humane thing to do.

In some weird way, my bearing witness to all this has given me permission to show myself a deeper level of compassion and forgiveness than I ever have given myself before. I have started to talk more openly to loved ones during moments where I have felt like I am holding back. I have even been able to approach some confrontation with more of a “I don’t care, this is how I feel” attitude. It’s not perfect and it’s certainly going to take some practice.

We went to a farmers market on our final weekend in Portland and there was a lovely lady offering free tarot readings. I pulled the temperance card which follows the death card in the tarot. My reading represented a metaphorical death of something I recently let go of and the temperance was reflective of my ability to draw support from a balance of everything around me. To me this meant saying goodbye to past shame and goodbye to clinging to codependency. I’m leaving this place feeling a little lighter, a little more free and a little more authentically me.

As I write this, I can feel a high from sharing a part of myself that I keep tucked away. Simultaneously, I can feel the dread that will come after being so vulnerable and sharing this with you all. In the end, I just choose to trust. It wouldn’t be right to finish this with any send off other than, “keep Portland weird.”

Here is more weird (keep scrolling for the yoga):

This 70 minute yoga class offers a combination of gentle dynamic movement to warm the body, yin yoga to target deep muscle tissue and restorative shapes to find release. Energetically you will work within the realm of the throat chakra with a focus on clear communication and compassionate listening. You will be invited to work with mantra throughout your practice to maintain focus and activate the throat chakra. You will need two yoga blocks, a blanket and a strap.

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