weird shit happens in isolation

or, how my time in rehab (sort of) prepared me for the coronavirus pandemic

weird shit happens in isolation

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Last week I tweeted about the very vivid dreams I’ve been having since beginning to isolate, and how I noticed that other people seemed to be having them, too. I wanted to read more about why this was happening. No one was able to link me to a piece about this phenomenon, but many, many people replied to say they were experiencing the same thing.

An editor at InStyle (Laura Norkin, she’s great, pitch Laura) slid into my DMs and asked me to write about this and I did and you can read the resulting piece here.

Writing this piece got me thinking about something else I’ve been experiencing since my isolation period began: synchronicity. Synchronicity is a concept first put forth by psychologist Carl Jung, and it describes a phenomenon whereby things happen that seem like they are related, but there is no clear causal connection (he even wrote a book about it). They are things that, at other points in my life, I often chalked up to coincidence.

I first came across the concept of synchronicity when I was in rehab. I entered treatment as an atheist but, over my time there, I began to open myself up the possibility that there was something more powerful than myself. After all, it would be pretty vain of me to think that I was the most powerful being on the planet. Once I was open to the idea of a higher power, I started to think differently about things.

It was actually these synchronistic events during my time in treatment that convinced me there was a higher power working in my life. I had started praying because someone told me to, but I didn’t necessarily think it was working. But then, all these weird connections started happening.

Most things were small, like thinking about an ex of mine I hadn’t spoken to in years, only to get a text from them the next day. At first, I kept thinking of them as coincidences. But then I thought, if I’m just going to look at these things the way I always had, then why was I even praying in the first place? What was I hoping for?

But one thing happened that was so big that to choose to ignore it would have been willful stubbornness on my part. I used to pray things like, “Hi, God, I know you don’t send lightning bolts down or anything, but if you could give me any kind of sign that you exist and that I’m not praying in vain, that would be great.”

Then one day, while I was writing my fourth step (for people not familiar with AA, it’s “a fearless and moral inventory,” which in my case, was 10 spiral notebooks full of all my resentments and fears and shitty sex behaviors that took me a total of six weeks to write, even though I had nothing else going on at the time), I procrastinated by picking up the worn copy of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings that had been sitting on the desk in my room since I’d arrived a month earlier.

my room at rehab

I opened it up and there, in the front cover of the book, was the name of a former client of mine written inside. Before I went to rehab, I’d been a counselor in a residential treatment center. The client whose name was written inside was one I remembered well, who I’d worked with incredibly closely, and whose name and handwriting I recognized immediately.

My roommate told me I turned white and ran outside. I remember getting chills all over my body and immediately going to find a staff member to ask when she’d been there. It had been four months prior. That book had been sitting in that room for all that time, waiting for me to find it. It was the thing I needed to strip away any remaining notions that I was any better — or any different — from the women I’d worked with. In fact, I was so much like them that I was in the very same room at the very same treatment center that one of them had been in.

It might as well have been a lightning bolt.

In the years since, I’ve noticed that when I’m praying and more actively working on maintaining a spiritual connection with a higher power, more synchronistic things tend to happen to me. I call them “winks from God.” But they’ve never happened as frequently and consistently as they did when I was in treatment.

Which is why it’s a little surprising that they’re happening to me now. I’m not really praying or doing anything to tend to my spiritual practice at all. And yet, one night I lay in bed and thought about the email I needed to send to one of my editors in the morning, an editor I hadn’t been in touch with in about three months. The next morning, I woke up to a text from him checking in on me. Another day, I pitched a story about queer AA and later that afternoon, one of the people I planned to use as a source when the story was accepted texted me to see how I was doing and say hello.

I’m beginning to think it has something to do with being contained in one place, unable to leave. That’s the situation I was in in rehab, the first time I started noticing these little coincidences that felt like more than coincidences. It’s what’s happening now, during the coronavirus pandemic, when they seem to be happening to me again.

I don’t have a good theory on it, beyond that it feels like something larger than me is at work in my life. It’s a good reminder that I’m not alone and that I’m connected to other people, even if not in physical space. I don’t pretend to know how the universe works and I’m smart enough not to try. Instead, I’ll be grateful for the reminder to stay humble and to never forget that the world is bigger than me and my problems.

me, in treatment