In my little corner of the world, Sonoma County, it is not uncommon to hear someone speak of the universe as if they have an intimate relationship with it. The universe, such a vast and unknowable terrain, has become a catchall kind of word, often referring to God or to the infinite realm of possibility that has become popularized by books like The Secret. “Thank you, Universe,” I hear people say when something has gone their way. Others speak of signs they have received from the universe, moments or objects of significance that have appeared at the right place at the right time, guideposts that have led them to their callings, passions, or destinies.
If you are rolling your eyes right now, you are not alone. I, too, have been skeptical of these “signs from the universe,” of the notion that the world and beyond acts in accordance to one’s dreams and desires. But if you are someone who believes in signs, then you are also not alone. Because I, along the way, have become a person who ardently believes in something greater than myself.
I have always been somewhat of a spiritual person, but I have also been a skeptic, a “realist,” a person whom doubts what she cannot see. I didn’t really know what a higher power looked like, or what I truly believed. Then I read a book for one of my college courses, called How God Changes Your Brain. This book presented scientific proof: belief in anything beyond yourself — whether that be faith in humanity or belief in God or the power of love — positively changes your brain, your worldview, and, in turn, your actual world. Regardless of what you believe, as long as it is positive, it will benefit you. It follows that the “power of positive thinking” isn’t just New Age mumbo-jumbo, but an endeavor that can and will alter your reality simply by altering your perception.
Though this book was influential to me, it was only after I quit drinking that I began to truly realize the efficacy of this school of thought. It wasn’t until I got out of my own way that I was able to see these “signs from the universe” that so many people in my neck of the woods are always talking about. I still don’t believe that the entire world is at my disposal, that everything is malleable to my will and desire, but I do believe that when you are endeavoring to do your best, that when you believe in something beyond yourself, the world does indeed open up to you in a rather miraculous way. This “law of attraction” that I believe in is not about manifesting a new Tesla or a treasure trove of gold (material things), but about drawing towards you the opportunities and ideas that will aid you in accomplishing your highest goals. Like love, creativity, passion, compassion, empathy, peace.
As soon as I quit drinking, the world around me began to shift. Because I changed my inner world, the scary unknowable parts of myself, the scary unknowable parts of my outer world began to change. Through the absence of drinking, I sought out and discovered other endeavors to quiet my mind, like yoga and meditation. Through these new modes of being, I began to feel and connect to a power, an energy, that is greater than me. This reverence I feel in moments of silence has led me to view myself as both a product and a component of this energy. Which opened me up to the possibility of actually liking myself, which I realize now, sadly, I think perhaps I never truly did. When I began to give myself respect, to believe that I was worthy of respect, that’s when the magic started to happen. My relationships with loved ones deepened and flourished. Inspiration popped up in the unlikeliest of places. Ideas for projects and stories and life paths bubbled to the surface.
If I attune myself to the “signs from the universe,” which I ultimately view as believing in the freedom to follow my intuition and speak my truth, then the doubt and fears usually fall away. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still fearful and doubtful, but now I know that the fears shall pass. That most of the time, they’re not even real. That my fear stems from the unknown, which can actually be an inviting, exciting realm to be a part of.
I did not have access to this realm when I was drinking, because I was not able to attune to anything, much less the signs from the universe. I was not able to believe in myself as an individual, let alone something greater than me. Alcohol blurred my physical vision, but it also blurred my mental, spiritual vision. Drinking enabled me to be selfish, nearsighted, only concerned with what was right in front of me. I was living for the moment, but not in the moment. I was scared of the outcome, but I did not try to create the outcome, at least not intentionally. All of my fears manifested themselves when I was drinking. I was scared of slipping up, making mistakes, hurting people, and those are all of the things that came true when I was drinking. Everything I was scared of became real. I was doubtful, insecure, out of control. The power of negative thinking.
Quitting drinking did not give me an instant reprieve from my constant worrying, but it did give me a reprieve from creating the fears I had for myself. With newly clear eyes, I found that I could change the life that had begun to form when I was drinking, a life of fear and pain and inertia. I could change what I wanted for myself, because I could ask myself questions, could act with intention, could choose how I would react to things that happened to me. Everything did not have to be the end of the world. Everything could just be. As the writer Cheryl Strayed says, “How wild it was, to let it be.” Without alcohol clouding my judgement and my emotions, I could look at my emotions for what they were: emotions. Not the world fighting me at every turn, not what other people thought of me, and, finally, not even what I truly thought about myself.
Quitting drinking enabled me to forgive myself for behaving like someone I was not proud of, for behaving as someone who I knew, deep down, I wasn’t. It allowed me to shift my perception of the world by shifting the perception of myself. If I could reconfigure my inner world, then why couldn’t I reconfigure my outer world? Why couldn’t I change my own destiny? Yes, I know that sounds cheesy, but I believe that we are not helpless to fate. Many things happen that are beyond our control, but I believe we can create the life we wish to see. We can’t stop natural disasters, but we can stop many of our own disasters. By viewing them clearly, assessing them as they stand, taking them as they are, and sallying forth into the night, frightened but brave. To live a wild, free life does not mean that we are never scared. It means that we examine our fear and find it wanting. It means that we transcend the fear by acknowledging it and not letting it control us. If we were never scared, then we would never have the opportunity to be brave.
My signs from the universe are telling me to quit playing small. The signs are telling me that when I quit drinking, I took the first step down a path that will lead me to my life’s work. The signs from the universe are telling me that I need to use my writing, my voice, for something greater than myself.
I wish you a wild, free life.