#RealDeal: A week with my brother opened my eyes more than ayahuasca

I quietly conquered my "biggest fear" at the end of April; I went to an ayahuasca ceremony. I sat in a room with 17 strangers in a house somewhere wayyyyy past the Valley, and "purged." It's not legal, so you have to know someone who knows someone, but I'm proud to say that I did it. 

A month and some change later though, I realize it wasn't ayahuasca that I needed, but rather my own family. 

Maestro ... 

I landed in Atlanta last Monday for my brother's graduation from Officer Candidate School. En route, I experienced extreme turbulence and hadn't connected  the dots that I was landing in tropical storm Colin. 

I never used to mind turbulence, but after an experience I had in April, I'm still a wee bit rattled. 

<flashbacksequence> I was flying from Ft. Meyers, FL to New Orleans for the Collision conference (oh so punny), which is basically "the new CES and SXSW." I never go for the conference, only the parties and to see all my social media friends who live all around the world.

Anywho, about fifteen minutes into the flight (on a teeny tiny plane), turbulence kicked in. South Florida is known for having storms just about every afternoon, and this day was no different. I had my headphones on, and was sitting in the very last seat next to a gentleman and across the aisle his young wife and daughter. As the plane started shaking, I didn't even bother to think anything of it considering I'm a frequent flyer and have had zero problems thus far. 

Then, came an extremely powerful "jolt," and a microsecond later my body was in the air (my seatbelt wasn't tight enough) and my laptop went flying.

This is why they tell you not to put your laptop in that back seat pocket, FYI, and on smaller planes the distance between your head and the overhead compartment is not that great so make sure your buckle is TIGHT. 

Actual photo 

Actual photo 

As I held my head and neck in pain, the guy next to me started praying as the turbulence refused to  give up. His wife started quietly crying as she held their daughter and I very calmly made a list of responsibilities: 

Well, Buster will be taken in by my parents, I have a living will but Talk Nerdy TV show profits haven't been factored in. That's going to be a hassle, but nothing I can do about it now. 

All in all, the turbulence lasted for a solid 20 minutes (which is a really, really, really long time) and I was 100% certain we were going down. I didn't cry, I just held the back of my neck still in pain and prayed out the window. There was literally nothing I could do at this point and I've never been afraid to die in general; it's going to happen when it's going to happen. 

The dust finally settled as we eventually got out of the storm. The captain didn't come on the loudspeaker, nor when we landed did anyone cheer. Everyone was painfully quiet, maybe in shock but who knows because no one was talking. It took me a few extra minutes to gather my belongings (because I was involuntarily shaking), and I was the last person on the plane searching for my laptop (which I was too scared to look for after it fell). The flight attendant stopped me as I was leaving and asked if I had a connecting flight. 

Yes, I said. 

Here, she says handing me bottles (plural) of wine.

Actual photo 

Actual photo 

"I've never been in turbulence like that before. I can't believe we made it." 

I laughed, not wanting to cry, as I looked down thinking all I wanted to do was fucking sleep on this flight and now I can't (in case I had a concussion)

I thanked her for the wine, and pulled up Taylor Swift on YouTube (since she doesn't stream). I had two options: 

1) Feel sorry for myself, refuse to get on my connecting flight and take up residence in wherever the hell my connecting flight was. 

2) Shake it off and put on my big girl pants. 

Guess which option I took? 

I laughed on the phone the next day to my parents saying, at least by getting hit in the head with the brick I knew what a concussion felt like, and on a scale of 1-brick I was maybe at a solid 4 pain level.  

Let's just hope it's another 31 more years before I have that experience again ... 

</flashbacksequence> 

My hotel and base were a solid hour and a half away from the airport, and when I got into town I texted my brother. 

He came by the hotel and when I opened the door I had to hold back tears. 

My brother was finally living in his potential. He oozed confidence, and radiated happiness. Whatever he was doing he needed to do more of it. (The army had finally kicked his ass, and it made me SO happy.)

I hugged him as I shouted, "THIS WAS WHAT I WAS LOOKING FOR AFTER BOOTCAMP!! YOU LOOK LIKE A DIFFERENT PERSON!!" 

I've learned a lot, he said humbly. Officer candidate school was very different than boot camp. I have a different level of respect for my peers. 

I can see that, I said as I grabbed my purse heading to dinner. 

The whole time I kept staring at my brother with a shit eating grin on my face. I've been so stressed out for the last, however long, and in this moment it was like nothing else mattered. Everything for this whole week is about him and this INCREDIBLE accomplishment he's achieved and pending sacrifice for our country. 

The next day, he had his graduation formal (which I was attending as his date)

Is it cheesy to bring your sister, I asked? 

No, he said. People will think it's very sweet. Just make sure your dress is appropriate. 

Done, I said. 

<tangent> I am becoming a huge fan of clothing rentals. I use Le Tote for day to day and then either Rent the Runway or StylistLA for special occasions (which are happening more frequently).  

I refuse to spend $300-400 on a dress I'll wear once maybe twice. For a fraction of that price ($80-$150) I can have exactly the dress that I want, and ship it back sans the dry cleaning. It's the most genius thing ever, and as long as you plan ahead, you're good to go. </tangent> 

I settled on a dress from the Sir Mix A Lot collection ... 

Friel had some SERIOUS BACK! 

As I finished getting ready, I texted my brother to confirm the time. 

5pm, he said. You cannot be late!! 

Not a problem, I said. 

I went to grab my dress shoes, and realize they are gone. Fuck, I thought, I left them back at the other hotel (I switched last minute)

I look down at my watch and see it's 4:45. 

FUCKKKKKK, I thought not wanting to call my brother until I figured out a solution. 

I immediately call the hotel and they tell me that the room had been cleaned, and nothing was found. 

Yes, I pressed, but the shoes are jet black and I absolutely had them there last night. They HAVE to be there. I HAVE to go to a formal in FIFTEEN MINUTES!!! 

Her response only increased my frustration, "sorry! Nothing I can do. Best of luck!" 

I could actually hear her smiling prompting me to want to reach through the phone while saying the following with great conviction... 

I have a super long fuse, but don't fuck with my family. Today was my brother's big day and while yes, it was 100% my fault for leaving them in the hotel, the fact that the housekeeper didn't turn them in was lame. 

I look down at the clock, it read 4:50.

At this point I had two options: 

1) Go to the hotel, look for the shoes, and maybe find them (if they even give me room access)

2) Buy new shoes. 

I threw on my Toms under my ball gown and RANNNNNNN down the hotel hall, into the lobby, into my car, and googled "Wal-mart near me." (Everyone has a Wal-mart. This won't be that hard.) 

While it populated I tweeted about how hilariously ridiculous this situation was: 

Shockingly, I was less than a mile away from a shoe store, so I ran in grabbing wedges the appropriate height for the length of the dress. Don't need a box, I said putting the shoes on at the register. I'm late for a very important date!! 

The guy behind the counter started laughing as I finished paying and ran back to the car. 

I look down at the phone seeing 5pm on the dot. I call my brother. 

I'm about 20 minutes away, he said. 

PERFECT, I replied. I've had quite the eventful hour. 

Of course you did, he said. See you soon. 

He arrived with just enough time for me to do a refresher on the hair and makeup, and as his car pulled up I tapped on my watch indicating that HE was in fact the late one. 

Didn't the army teach him anything??? ;) 

Didn't the army teach him anything??? ;) 

We arrive at the formal sometime later, and the whole time I kept thinking "don't eat shit, Friel. Don't eat shit." Between the dress, and now new shoes, nothing was "broken in" and the last thing I needed was a broken bone of some kind. (I'm prone to literally tripping over my own two feet.) 

Upon arrival, I stared out at a sea of insanely attractive men, all at ... uh, attention? 

Fuck they were hot, and unlike in high school, I did not go unnoticed. 

This cannot be your sister, teased one of his classmates. 

Oh no we're siblings, I piped back not afraid to go toe to toe (er, wedge to boot)

We should take a picture, said my brother. 

His friend then snapped this photo: 

He looks like a million bucks, and I can honestly say I have never been prouder of him than in this exact moment. He's living in his potential, finally. 

People continued to comment on my dress as I would purposefully turn the conversation back on my brother. (This night was his not mine.) 

One woman in particular, named Gloria approached and asked if the dress was vintage lace. 

I can honestly say, I have no idea, I replied back laughing. 

"I had to come up and talk to you, she continued. You look so confident and beautiful."

I thanked her and laughed to myself as she continued talking. I remember back in my early 20s when I would go to fancy pants things, like Dr. Phil's son's wedding, and my "confidence" was all smoke in mirrors. 

Actual photo (I snuck in a small camera)

Actual photo (I snuck in a small camera)

Your 20s are about keeping up with the Jones, and your 30s is about realizing you are the motherfucking Jones and the only person you have to keep up with is yourself. 

Look, I snapped two photos that night of my (then) boyfriend and myself. 

20 something Jen doesn't hold a candle to 30 something Jen.

Through a series of trials, errors, cities and islands I've figured out who I am at my core. Including what I stand for, and what I fall for. (When I'm not tripping over myself.) I've quietly got that shit on lock, and as the evening progressed it only confirmed it. I used to say that my brother couldn't be more opposite on the life spectrum. He went to college, has the career trajectory, owns his own condo, car, is pretty much the definition of stability. I, on the other hand, have created my own path and live life as a "choose your own adventure" novel. We have a mutual adoration and respect for one another, but I would tease that there's no way we can actually be related. 

That night, I watched him effortlessly command the respect he deserved while staying humble and (as always) quick witted. 

Between him and myself, we popped one liners one right after the other as his classmates finally understood that, yep, they're related. Now I see where he gets it from. 

Our parents arrived the next day, and as we sat around drinking whiskey and shooting the shit, I admitted to my parents that I had done an ayahuasca ceremony. 

What's that, replied my mom? 

I spent two days in the middle of nowhere with my Shaman's shaman and 17 other people sitting in a room puking in buckets. 

I didn't actually puke, I explained. My "purge" happened only the first night through tears. I cried my eyes out from places I didn't even know existed. The second night, I was totally over it and just wanted to go home but you have to stay. 

My mom poured herself another drink as my dad and brother laughed simply replying with "of course you did." 

I continued, I can honestly say though, after that experience and this week - I've learned more here than anywhere else. 

The whole point of ayahuasca is to have "yourself shown to yourself." To do that, all I had to do was look at Michael. His character, his morals, his confidence - we're clones, and I never saw that before. 

My father quietly smiled, which was all the confirmation I needed. 

The next day was graduation, and I balled my eyes out. There was something so powerful about hearing the "Soldier's Creed" by 90 something new Officers to shake you to your core. I was so proud, so happy, so ... so happy. 

My greatest take away from the whole experience is that you figure shit out, man. Whether that's a setting you are unfamiliar with, a tea based drug that makes you puke in a room full of strangers, or an airplane that your brain says "is going down" (and no not the good kind). Life is a shit show. You never know what is around the corner, but as long as you enjoy the company and the path that you're on - the rest will figure itself out. 

If not, well, do more drugs. They help you forget things.