Nome Is Where The Heart Is

Almost full moon over Salmon Lake, Nome, AK

This post was written back on September 29th. Due to the intensely personal nature of the content, it took me several days of consultation & editing to decide on the final piece. Thanks for your patience & understanding.

These last 2 weeks in Nome, AK have been really special, in more ways than one.

Easy, immediate things are the incredible interviews I was so privleged to receive, and the fun & wacky people I met. The incredible generosity just blew my mind, and my heart, wide open. The scenery around Nome is gorgeous, and the weather is actually quite mild.

These are the easy things to talk about.

Seen and Heard

One interviewee in particular also had a major loss of a loved one in his life. It turned out he was a counselor type person for many years. Despite his graciousness at offering his story, he actually listened to my story too.

He had a spare apartment, and let me stay there for the last 10 days I was in town. He texted me to check in on me, and invited me to his home for supper. His wife was gracious, and his friends lovely conversationalists.

A pal back in Oakland told me a story of how a friend had “carried her”, through one of her worst trials in life, in such a gentle way that she didn’t even know it. It wasn’t until years later when the dust on that situation had settled that she recognized how her friend gently supported her in a deep way.

Besides this gentleman, there were several other folks I met in Nome who extended kindness, and graciousness to me in ways I hadn’t experienced prior or since. It was an uncomplicated compassion so intensely beautiful it was very difficult to receive. A lady I interviewed in Kotzebue summarized it best, “People here, especially Native people, simply take you as you are in that moment. It doesn’t matter what you did before, or what you’ll do next. They just experience you in the now.”

Only arriving in Unalakleet today can I appreciate the impact of the collective grace of these people. How amazing is it that total strangers who just met me “carried” me through these last weeks?

Deep Dive

What all of this lead me to, was another tsunami of grief over my brother. Honestly, I’ve been resisting it for over a week now. For whatever reason, I couldn’t just let myself have a good cry.

Many factors triggered the grief. I had several reminders about my brother all one after another in a matter of a few days. Also, my birthday came & went, that bittersweet reminder that my youth is passing along quickly, and “middle age” is a reality.

Pushing away the grief leads me to “check out”. I’ll often find something else to fantasize about, like a person, a romance, or winning an oscar.  When a feeling happens that I don’t like, I try to escape from it in my mind by conjuring up some other reality.

Sometimes it gets so bad I literally sit for hours staring at nothing making up stories in my head. It takes me away from being present in the moment, and prevents me from enjoying what is. This behavior also reflects a lack of self-love.

A different interviewee in Nome said, “We’re all born like Swiss chees, full of holes. Only God can fill them. Sex, drugs, & rock n’ roll can’t.”  But in my most desperate attempts to avoid feeling something I don’t like (grief), or don’t feel I should be allowed to have (grief, anger), I turn to obsessing about someone or something else, a circumstance that I think will take away all my problems, and love me/validate me/bring a feeling of worthiness. It’s just miserable. This is my version of drowning myself in a bottle of booze, or a needlefull of smack, or porn, or gambling, or whatever. It’s the same addict brain who wants to get outside itself & pretend it doesn’t exist.

The last several days were very “busy” for me, because I had difficulty focussing on my tasks, and instead launched into fantasyworld for hours on end. It was ridiculous. Needlesstosay, I felt I escaped from Nome & obsessing over non-reality, by the hair of my chin. Thank the Cosmos that I left without having acted out physically, via actual booze, or hopping in the sac with someone, or endless hours of TV or endless hours of working out, and therefore keeping my integrity intact.

On the Mend

Moving on to Unalakleet today couldn’t come soon enough. I landed at the home of a sweet & generous lady who’s husband is out of town, and wanted the company. She has two lovely & fantastic kids still at home (meaning not adults), and a sweetness & compassion just like the Nome folks.

Finally, I’m crying. I don’t know why it took me so long, but it feels good & yucky at the same time. But still, this nagging question keeps plaguing me: what causes me to hibitually run away from grief, and into mental fantasyland? What causes me to reach for this mental version of a crackpipe, to fill that Swiss cheese hole called lack of confidence, or fear of the next thing, or anxiety over being “perfect” or whatever dogs me at that moment, with escapism?

I have no idea.

Recovery groups & churches say it’s a spiritual problem that can only be fixed with a spiritual solution. I have no idea if they’re right, but I’m willing to try anything.

In the Spirit

In the Spirit of self-healing, in the Spirit of removing shame from my life, in the Spirit of learning to love myself again, all directly resulting from the incredible conversation I had with my hostess this evening, I open my heart to you, dear readers, with the truth. This story is my version of huffing a bag full of glue, and desperately trying to throw the bag away.

I’m embarassed & ashamed to talk about it, but the only way to overcome that is to break the silence that I’ve lived with for so long. Maybe I do this to myself as a direct result of childhood abuse. Maybe it’s from my domineering mother who projected all her abandonment issues on me. Maybe it’s from who knows what. The reasons of the past don’t interest me.

What interests me is living each day to the max, seizing each moment for the precious gift that it is, and savoring it. What interests me is fully embracing suffering, loving it, filling myself with it, so that it no longer becomes this ogre lurking in the dark hallways of my mind causing me to run from it, damaging myself & others. What interests me is finding a spiritual solution that is inclusive & not exclusive. What interests me is removing fear in my life.


The snow dusted hills of Unalakleet nap lazily in the distance as the wet paved streets in town glisten in the sun. Southeastward, I can just barely make out the river as it winds its body to the ocean. The waves have calmed themselves in the mid-day heat, as an open patch of clouds reveals light blue sky, and a respite from the heavens’ tears.

There’s so much more to say about suffering, but I’ll end it here & continue on the next post about some new ideas of suffering I learned from a great book by Viktor Fankl.


Posted in Inspiration, People | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

5 Responses to Nome Is Where The Heart Is

  1. Brent Lerwill says:

    Eckhart Tolle on being in the present moment, and more:..

    I have read the book I think you might be referring to by Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning.
    Excellent! If he could find peace and a degree of “happiness” in the concentration camps, it is possible for anyone, regardless of their circumstance or difficulties in their lives, past or present.'s_Search_for_Meaning

  2. Brent Lerwill says:

    PS: to my last post…
    I just watched your 9/22 video in Kotzebue. I was touched and impressed with what the native man said about preserving their language and culture and how the entire native peoples have been shamed for hundreds of years about who they are and how that has contributed to self destructive ways of being. I am happy that, in the past few years, they have begun to come to terms with this negativity and are rediscovering who they really are and that it is good and should be preserved.
    It also strikes me how this is similar to the shaming that each of us experience in our own lives, and how we need to come to terms and understand the destructiveness of these misconceptions of who we are. I would guess that these experiences you are having are contributing to your own personal realizations about your life and story.

    • marissa says:

      Hiya Brent!
      You are quite right. The experience of tremendous grace I witness as folks overcome their shame to share their stories has indeed touched me deeply. I AM referring to “Man’s Search for Meaning”, and will hopefully work on that blogpost tonight.
      It’s hard to witness such strength & courage and not somehow realize I can overcome my personal shame, too. Sheesh! My life hasn’t been _nearly_ as scarred as some of the folks I’ve interviewed, as well as the ones who haven’t gone on camera.
      Thanks for making these connections, and supporting me in this process, as well as the work I’m doing. Who knew it would unfold quite like this? I sure didn’t! Yet another case of “be careful what you ask for.” Holy cow.
      Hope all is well for you in “outrageously spectacular” Oregon!

  3. Donna Erickson says:

    Marissa, I loved this story! You are such an articulate, gifted writer. It is beautifully written and oh so true! We are so blessed that you came into our lives…May your journey be fruitful and safe~

    • marissa says:

      Oh, Donna – thanks for that! It has been such a blessing for _me_ that we met. You inspire me! To write, to heal, and to carry love in my heart. Your courage is amazing! It has really been an honor to get to know you. I hope we can meet again soon! xoxoxo

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