Love Everyone & Eat Chocolate: Valentine’s Day

Being willing to see, fix, and love yourself – because only then can you fully and deeply love others.

I admit it.  Until twenty minutes ago, I had no idea what St. Valentine did to get his own holiday or to earn Saint status. My assumption was that it had to do with a series of miracles or an untimely and unpleasant death in the name of the Church.  It was clear that twelve years of Catholic school weren’t going to help.  So I turned to Google, the source of all true and alternative facts, and found out who this Valentine really was.

In the 3rd Century AD, Emperor Claudius II, a Pagan, outlawed the marriages of  young people, believing that unmarried men would make better soldiers. Valentine, a priest, secretly married couples in valentineCatholic ceremonies and defied Rome. For this, he was jailed and sentenced to death in 269 AD. However, according to legend, his strong belief in the power of love continued while he was in prison. Not only did he care for fellow prisoners, but also healed the the blind daughter of one of his jailers. Before his excessively unpleasant execution in 270 AD, he wrote a note to the little girl he healed and signed it “from your Valentine.”  At which point she said “I can’t believe he didn’t get me chocolate.”  Ok. That last one might have been made up.

From here, the story takes on a standard Christian-vs-Pagan plot. 200 years after Valentine’s death, the Catholic Church was busy doing its best to eradicate the remnants of Roman Paganism and needed something to celebrate in February.  Those pesky Pagans continued to spend February 14th celebrating a watered-down version of the Roman feast of Lupercalia with drunkenness, shaking of the money makers, and free-spirited, no-obligation-to-spend-the-night booty calls. As you can imagine, these heathenesque shenanigans were not smiled upon by Church leaders (who probably heard about them from friends at Wednesday night Bingo).

In the 5th Century, Pope Gelasius I combined Lupercalia with St. Valentine’s Day in order to displace the Pagan celebration (can you say “Christmas” or “Halloween”, anyone?). This was a successful coup of the Pagan celebration, and you now only have to buy chocolate for someone instead of slaughtering a goat and dancing naked around a fire with the neighbors. Additionally, the Pope was now able to isolate Church-approved drunkenness, dancing, and green-clothing-clad buffoonery to St. Patrick’s Day (out, ye damn snakes!).

As time progressed, Valentine’s Day was romanticized by great writers such as Shakespeare, Chaucer, and a kid named Danny – who worked for Hallmark and was apparently very lonely.  In 1913, Hallmark started mass producing Valentines, and you are now forever expected to spend $4 on something that gets fifteen seconds of attention (your Valentine’s Day card just cost you $960/hr…but its the thought that counts). And don’t forget the chocolate-covered strawberries.

The true sweetness of living

I admit it: I bought the flowers and cards. Because that is what is expected of me on this day…despite doing loving things for my girls on many other days.  It is what I was told to do. Just like you. The TV told me…my peers told me…tradition told me…and my fear of being ‘that jackass who didn’t get his wife and daughter something’ told me.  So I listened. But it all got me thinking about the why.

I love the why, because truth is always part of the way to the light, and it allows us to see things for what they are.  Of course, with Valentine’s Day, it really doesn’t matter what the true story is.  My decision to participate has nothing to do with the Romans, the Pope, or even St. Valentine (“beheaded for nothing!” he says from the heavens…).  It has to do with conformity and tradition.  And I’m fine with that, btw.

Love-yourselfIt was my intention to write extensively about SELF LOVE this week, but the subject of Valentine’s Day popped into my head and I thought I should heed the call. Trust my gut and keep it light, short, and topical.  This also means I have to type less and you have to read less, so we can hurry up and start eating chocolate.

So I leave you with a preview of a future post, and a personal challenge. Now that you know why you do what you do on Valentine’s Day, LOVE YOURSELF enough to learn why you do what you do in ALL parts of your life. Be willing to look beneath the shallow false surface and explore the deep, true, and meaningful parts of your life. Choose discomfort in the name of Higher Truth.  Face yourself, in all of its beauty and bumps, and be willing to ask yourself why.  That is the hard work of growing. That is what will change your world and all of those in it. Choosing the hard road, so that you can find Your Truth.  Being willing to see, fix, and love yourself – because only then can you fully and deeply love others.

That is the true sweetness of living. That is true, raw love.  And there is nothing more powerful in the Universe.

Thank you for joining me here. Go out there and be nice to each other.

Be that change.


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Punxsutawney Filler

…our rabbit holes go deep. But who you meet at the bottom is the most amazing person you’ll ever meet. You.

Having survived my first day back to work on Wednesday February 1st, I woke up Thursday morning at an uncomfortable time and took a hurried uncomfortable shower.  This was followed by the uncomfortable old routine of medicine, food, and getting dressed into my uncomfortable grown up clothes.  Once in the acceptable corporate costume, I left my warm comfortable house, climbed into a cold pickup truck, and sat in unpredictable traffic with strangers.  All of this to spend eight hours interacting in occasionally unpredictable,  often uncomfortable situations, discussing and fixing things that my sense of purpose now finds…uncomfortable.  Uncomfortable, but familiar.

The sad reality is that, until recently, most of my life’s discomfort had simply become…comfortable.

Squeaky floor boards. The broken door that won’t close correctly. Neglected friendships that need attention.  Poorly-programmed self images. Emotional baggage, deep-seated defense mechanisms, and their carousel of bad habits.  Ideas, inventions, and businesses not yet started. Or even that plentiful bulge that makes our clothes have poor self-esteem.  Across the spectrum, and in nearly every aspect of life, I let uncomfortable things slip away from my daily consciousness until I could barely see, hear, or feel them anymore.

Discomfort became familiar, and therefore comfortable. And that trap is deadly to true happiness.

Phil-ing my head

I was sitting in traffic Thursday (Feb. 2) when I realized it was Groundhog Day, and immediately thought of the movie of the same name.  I laughed to myself as I pictured Phil Connors, played by Bill Murray, fleeing the police with Punxsutawney Phil driving from his lap. Fated to live the same day over and over again, Phil (Bill Murray) tells Phil (small furry animal) “don’t drive angry…don’t drive angry”as they speed along.  Right before that iconic line, Phil (human) complements Phil’s (large rodent) driving & offers advice.

“That’s not bad for a quadruped.
You gotta check your mirrors.
Just the side of your eye.  Side of your eye.”

As I sat in the fragrance of exhaust fumes and morning coffee, I found myself glancing around and checking my mirrors- just as instructed by Phil (former caddy at Bushwood). Stuck in morning traffic, realizing I was back in the repetitive daily grind I had fought to overcome, I made the connection to a thought that was hiding in plain sight.  In that moment it was painfully clear that the Phils in my head were not the only ones reliving Groundhog Day over and over again. Most of us are.

Just don’t blink

Nine months after the initial injury to my brain and eyes, my vision symptoms escalated and I began to lose more sight.  The blind spots were growing in size, and I was seeing the world through relentless flashing and erratic strobes.  Following a few preliminary exams, my retinal specialist (and favorite American-Asian-Indian-American superhero) suspected I was bleeding behind behind the retina.  This was confirmed with angiography, and he informed me that my eyes had developed a CNVM- Choroidal Neovascular Membrane (there is not going to be a vocabulary test, so worry not.)

This meant that my eyes were growing a unnatural and poorly organized blood supply in the choroid – the blood-rich layer of connective tissue behind the retina.  The CNVM was growing like weeds through small cracks in a sidewalk; part of the excessive autoimmune response following the initial injury and inflammation.  This irregular layer of blood vessels was now destroying the retina as it leaked fluid and blood, causing progressive blindness.  Which wasn’t good (says the guy prone to understatement).

science-nerd-tallerCNVM is most often associated with wet age-related macular degeneration (Wet AMD), the later and more severe form of macular degeneration.  Although Wet AMD only affects 10-15% of patients with the condition, it accounts for about 90% of severe vision loss for those with macular degeneration.  No bueno.


After nine months of being ill, my health was improving and I was getting better.  It was comparative improvement – upgraded from ‘might die today’ – but it was still improvement.  I was anticipating the “all clear” from neurology any day, and was looking forward to removing “I wonder if that brain aneurysm will explode in my head today” from my list of worries. The steroids that had wrecked my body, inside and out, were finally at a manageable dose, and the vision loss was stable.  And just like that (snaps fingers in the style of “oh hell no”), in a blink, I was moving backwards.

The MD went through several scenarios and treatment options, but only gave one that was going to work for me given all the factors involved.  I’m extremely grateful for the advances of science, as only eleven years ago I would have been SOL (google it, if you’re not sure).  However, I would be lying if told you that I was anything less than freaked out when he first said “a series of eye injections” followed by “…no, we don’t sedate you. Just don’t blink.”

Dude…the face

Since that day in July of 2013, I have had my eyes poked 38 more times (19 superficial shots of lidocaine, and 19 injections into the ‘eyeball’) in order to keep my vision loss controlled.  Each round of treatment comes with a concerning list of complications and risks, but there is rarely any hesitation on my part.  The physical process is very straightforward, predictable, and methodical: sting, swab, burn, poke, pick a spot, don’t blink, pressure, pop, rinse rinse rinse, and then burn baby burn.  I usually bleed quite a bit into the white of my eye afterward, and have pulled off a great The Walking Dead zombie costume in the past. Although I am never excited about the procedure, I can honestly tell you that I have gotten used to it. Overall, its just a lot of soreness and a lot of “dude…the face…what happened?” afterward.

The psychological battle is mostly fear of the unknown and fear of pain, which is natural. I imagine that it can be compared to – although it is much higher on the ‘suck factor’ scale – getting a vaccine as a child and then as an adult.  The pain stays the same, but over time we manage the fear through experience as it  becomes familiar. Whatever it is that makes it ok, we learn to tolerate physical and emotional discomfort through repetitive experience.  This is both a useful and dangerous protective mechanism.

At first, the thought of eye injections made me schedule appointments to follow happy hour (ok, not really), but now I find myself posing for selfies in the chair, letting my wife document with videos, and I often tell the doctor “good job…thanks” afterward. Make no mistake, it is a really crappy experience and nothing I enjoy.  But I am truly amazed at how easily I got used to them.  Then again, maybe it isn’t really that amazing at all.

Our daily lives are filled with things that we mindlessly look past or perform day in and day out despite moderate to severe discomfort.  We lie to ourselves to make it acceptable, but under the surface we lose more of ourselves every day. We get used to the familiar discomfort, and even take measures to defend and justify our habits of self-denial and unhappiness. We were born with joy and love as our birthright, and then bury that light under busyness, routines, and temporary distractions of amusement.

It’s almost all filler

I started writing the About / Who is this Guy page today, and used the following to introduce myself: I am someone who took the time to finally understand that I am not what I do, what I did, what I have, or what others think. I am that I am.  The first time I read this, I understood the words, but I had no idea what it actually meant.  It took me nearly two months of knocking it around in my head, but I finally came to understand.  I framed it in the opposite, listing out all the material things I have of value, all the things I do and have done – good and bad, and all the beliefs – right or wrong – that others think of me. I sat at the table with pages of writing spread out in front of me and my chest heaved.

Nothing that made me of any value was on that list.  Nothing.  As my holistic practitioner Jenica Mignogna beautifully told me, the only validation I need is that I was born.  And here I am.

I was torn between happiness, a sense of calm, and a panicked ego that suddenly found itself no longer in the driver seat.  The reality, though, is that forty years of entrenched habits, thoughts and emotions were not going to go away without a fight. My realization was just the beginning, but I was already working on the next question – if I am not those things, who am I?

I started this post with a statement, and have referenced it several times, that many of us are stuck in a pattern of living the same discomfort and ‘filler’ again and again as we drift through our existence (oh…that is why he called it Punxsutawney Filler…now I get it…) Our world provides an endless list of people, events, emotions, patterns, habits, belief systems, institutions, religions, and hundreds of others, that distract us from our pain and higher self.

Please understand that I am not saying filler doesn’t belong.  It would be absurd to say this. I am referring to activities and behaviors that are used to mask reality from our consciousness.  Pain, while unpleasant, is a way to get our attention.  Pain sends clear messages that can tell us “get your hand off the stove,””you need to get out of this relationship,” or “that last shot of Jack was a really bad idea.  Wise up, moron.”  It is our misunderstanding or denial of pain, and the things we do to dull it, that gets us off track.

The scope of this blog will not allow for deep-diving into the psychology of these behaviors – which can be attributed to a wide range stretching from ‘bad habit’ to ‘please lay on the couch over there, and here is a tissue.’  There are a lot of in-depth and extremely helpful resources out there for you to explore and further learn.  In the end, the best path to take is one that gets you clear headed, in touch with yourself, and willing to ask the hard questions.

Say hello to Alice

As for me, I started with some easy stuff and got honest about seemingly simple things that turned out to be not very simple at all.  Why did I watch TV instead of read? Why did I hate folding laundry (still do…epic fail on the self-improvement front…)?  Why can’t I be on time..and why don’t I care?

I then dug deeper. Why did I procrastinate?  Why do I get carsick and have such anxiety in the passenger seat?  Why did it take so long to write a blog or book? Why did I listen to music when I really want to write and record a new song?  Why did I stay in that abusive relationship, and why did I allow a doormat to be put on my back?

All of it has an answer.  Rarely pleasant, but always necessary.  And hidden in the superficial surface of those answers is filler. The filler we use every day to get by, protect ourselves, and sustain a false sense of sanity.  Our subconscious and ego are far too protective and smart to let us face painful realities – like the fact that we really can’t ride in a passenger seat because we have control issues…and we have control issues because we were robbed of control as a child or used control to navigate traumatic events…and when we sit in a passenger seat it makes us feel like that small child stuck in a bad situation and not able to make things safe. Yep…our rabbit holes go deep.  But who you meet at the bottom is the most amazing person you’ll ever meet-you.  Be your own Alice – it’s time to jump.

Hands up

Three months ago, after four years of illness, I started an intensive personal journey to uncover every rabbit hole, find out who/what dug it, and dive in head first to make peace with it.  That meant I had to be willing to see it and acknowledge it, which I believe is the necessary first step. Become self-aware of what you do or feel, and then you can start the process of why it happens.  Ultimately, the fillers we misidentified as safety and security will be seen for what they are – resistance to love, light, and your authentic self.

When I finally saw things for what they were, I was able to start down a path that allowed me to let them go. I didn’t chase them away, pray them away, overcome them by force, or outsmart them like Roadrunner and Coyote.  I surrendered and let them go. 

And I guess I know what I need to talk about next time.


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Thank you for joining me here, and remember to go out there and be nice to each other.

Be that change.

Healing the Past. Healing Me.

By fixing the part of me that no MD took the time to examine or address, I have been able to do what thousands of pills could not. Heal.

“What have you been doing for eight weeks? How are you? Where have you been? How are the eyes?”

After a leave of absence that has changed my life, I am returning to the rock pile tomorrow.  While I’m comfortable with my newfound ability to resist the negativity and not get sucked into the pathology, I’m still not sure how I’m going to answer coworkers, friends, and the occasional moron who will surely inquire as to what has been going on.  My best plan, as of now, is to take it moment by moment and involve “healing,” “excellent,” and “on a new path.”walking-on-path

Yeah, I know. The “on the new path” thing is really going to screw with some peoples’ heads.  To be honest, I’m probably doing it on purpose.  Moving toward ‘awake’ doesn’t have to mean I’m moving away from ‘a bit of a smart ass.’

Time to step away

Ten weeks ago I found myself laying in a bed at Cleveland Clinic after collapsing several times during the day.  Yes, it took several times before I gave in.  Feel free to eye roll.  My blood pressure was below 90, my heart rate was bouncing between too slow and too fast, and my lungs joined into the day’s amusements by rejecting most of the air I tried to force into them.  After a full cardiopulmonary workup that included large-bore IVs, various scans & imaging, pokes, prods, and getting my RUN-DMC Adidas warm-up jacket stolen in the ER (…If you let my jacket go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you, but if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you and…), the only useful answer to our questions came from the least likely and most beautiful of places.

Following a stress test, I was transported back to my room by a kind, quiet man who came here from Eastern Europe 20 years ago. As coworkers in the same hospital, we had exchanged pleasantries on several occasions, but had never spoken in depth.  After a few minutes of pushing me through the corridors, the superficial light conversation paused and he took the opportunity to address my situation.

“How old are you,” he asked.

“43. I’m 43.”

He hesitated, and then I heard him sigh.  I looked back over my shoulder and saw his eyes soften.  The wheelchair stopped and he moved so that he could look directly at me. “Too young. You are too young for this. This is just too much…too much.  You need to find peace, so you can heal and help others.  This…this place…this is not the place to heal. It’s time to step away…time to let your body heal.”

I don’t know if an angel was whispering in his ear, or if he was just part of a much bigger plan to get me back on track, but his words fell on open ears.  I had been told several times by my wife, friends, and practitioners to take time off; but I was hesitant.  However, facts were facts.  I was at the point where solutions to the problems had became problems of their own.  And despite short reprieves, I continued on a slow consistent downward spiral of worsening symptoms, new problems, and more dis-ease.  The man in the mirror usually had one consistent question – “how did we get here, and how do we get out?”

Something isn’t right

In October of 2012, I was riding a roller coaster (Maverick, if you are interested) with friends, and as we exited I made the understatement of my life – “something isn’t right.”  That “something” soon turned into the worst headache ohio_trip_2007_189__small__117of my life, and I was emergently admitted to the hospital with a dissected artery in my brain and severe nerve damage to both of my eyes.  In the following four years I have survived that torn artery in my head, a brain aneurysm, a blood clot, a stroke & related communication impairment, uveitis, progressive blindness, multiple and varied infections, insomnia, thousands of milligrams of steroids, immune suppression, high energy, low energy, no energy, a wrecked GI system, a damaged psyche, adrenal insufficiency (which, it turns out, is what sent me to the ER ten weeks ago), and countless other mild to significant road bumps along the way.  I was down, but still surviving and optimistic that there was a way out.

I share all this with you for one point and one point only- HE WAS RIGHT. The transporter was right.  I needed TIME to let my body HEAL.  And work is no place to heal.

More is not the answer

So that brings me to the answer.  The answer to “what have you been doing for eight weeks?” And that answer is easy – I have been healing. It cannot be put into simpler terms than that.  I was on a path of continued and cumulative dis-ease, disease, illness, stress, and mayhem.  That path has been identified, destroyed, and replaced. And with it, I have found undeniable healing, joy, and peace.  Not to mention some amazing new truths.

My life, long before I was injured and my body began to destroy itself, was centered on one simple premise and destructive stressor – more.  Stress to do more, achieve more, impress more.  Stress to love more, be loved more, find more approval, help more, give more, get more, take more.  Stress to be in control of the situation, stress to be in control of myself and my body, stress to be in control of what others think, say, or do.  The list was endless. And as I got sicker, I came to believe that the answer was to hold on even tighter.  But the answer was the opposite.

The answer to healing is letting go and surrendering.  Daily.

I found healing – spiritual, emotional, and physical – by letting go of everything that is out of my control, and surrendering to something bigger than me.  This has been a difficult, painful, and ongoing process, but worth every moment of frustration, pain, discovery, and effort.  My path to healing isn’t a “…God works in mysterious ways…” belief flanked by blind hope, but rather is a freeing and undeniable fact.  I now know and breathe this timeless truth, long hidden from me by my ego – I can only control what I can control, and that is me.

I am thankful for each and every meaningful breath.  Through daily meditation and digging deep, I have stopped a lifelong state of fight-or-flight, identified and broken unhealthy and damaging habits, and started a new path.  By fixing the part of me that no MD took the time to examine or address, I have been able to do what thousands of pills could not. An inflammatory autoimmune disease that caused progressive blindness has reversed course, and some of my vision has even returned.  While there are still some trees across my path, and will surely be more challenges to overcome, my progress is ultimately moving forward now.  Bit by bit and day by day.

There is so much more to share, and I will do it all here.  Soon.  I realize that this isn’t the ideal first post to a new blog, but I felt like the timing and topic matched up – and I have hesitated long enough.  My hope is that in my writing, perspective, experience, research, and storytelling, you find something useful to apply to your life or situation.  There is MUCH MORE to this story, and every day adds a new chapter to a book I am excited to read along with you.  Weather it is peer-reviewed science like the ACES Study, discussions on the effectiveness of Neuro Emotional Technique, healing, family, love, happiness, nutrition, alternative medications, uveitis, esoteric discussions about the peace I have found , or…whatever I happen to be thinking about that week – I plan to do it here.  With you, should you join in.

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Thank you for joining me here, and remember to go out there and be nice to each other.

Be that change.