Wednesday, March 25, 2015

To The Woman On The Bathroom Floor

Tomorrow is my one year sobriety anniversary.  Again.

Instead of posting on my anniversary, however, I find myself needing to write today, because I am thinking a lot about where I was exactly one year ago today.

As I write this, it is 5pm.  At 5pm one year ago today I was lying on my bathroom floor, drunk and crying and asking people to just let me die.  A sober friend was visiting, and I chose that afternoon to relapse; I had smuggled alcohol into the house that morning, but didn't drink it.  I think, in retrospect, I subconsciously drank it when a sober friend was around.  It was a way of asking for help without actually asking, I think.  That's the sick way this disease works.  My brain was so hijacked by pain and desperation it told me blotting it all out was a better solution than surrendering and asking for help.

I drank to erase myself, once and for all.  I knew the consequences of relapsing would be horrible.  After all, a mere three and a half weeks earlier I had been arrested for a DUI.  My shame was so severe, so all-consuming, that I didn't see a way out other than to completely blow up my life.

This is the way addiction speaks to me.  It tells me how unworthy I am, how unlovable and selfish and horrible.  It tells me there is no hope, that I may as well go ahead and drink it all away, because the chaos and hurt I had created could never, ever be fixed.

If you have ever loved someone who struggles with alcohol, you know how confounding this disease is, how painful it is to watch someone you love (and probably hate now, too) continue to fall into a bottle despite all the negative consequences, all the tearful pleading, and the unconditional and tough love you could possibly offer.

I wasn't going to write this post today.  If you are (or were) a regular reader you have noticed I don't post often.  I made a pledge to myself that I would focus inward, make this recovery journey more sacred and intimate and in-real-life.  As such, I haven't been writing much about my personal recovery journey.  It got me into trouble, last time, carrying the torch, putting myself out there for all to see, flying around in my red cape hoping to save the world. Somewhere along the way writing stopped being about my own personal healing and became about being One Crafty Mother.  I didn't do it intentionally, but I see now how I started putting a pretty bow on everything, how I avoided looking inward at my crumbling foundation.

Looking back, I see I just didn't like what I saw when I looked inside.  A recovery advocate and crusader who couldn't stay sober.  Like somehow I was exempt from the sticky tendrils of this disease.

I decided to write this post today, though, for me.  If it helps someone who reads it, that's a bonus.  I can still can caught up in a web of self-doubt.  I transport myself back to March 25, 2014 and I feel a twist in my gut. I want with all my heart not to have been that woman curled up on the bathroom floor.  I wish I could banish her forever, pretend she no longer lives and breathes inside me.

But she does, and she always will.

Today, I can wrap my arms around her, tell her that she will be okay but only - ONLY - if she surrenders utterly and totally.  Only if she is willing to walk away from everything she loves in order to get well, to do the hard work needed to fix all the broken things inside.  I tell her she can no longer afford to keep pretty-ing up the movie props of her life, to lose herself to the way the world perceives her and instead learn to love herself exactly as she is, broken pieces and all.

I made the mistake, before, of thinking surrendering was like a really tough exam that you pass once. I thought once I got it, I got it forever.

I also made the mistake of thinking surrendering to my powerlessness over alcohol was the same as surrendering to all the things outside my control, which is basically everything and everyone.

Last year, at this time, I still ached for so many things to be different than they were.  I wanted my marriage to be okay. I wanted to erase the damage I had done to my kids, to my family.  I wanted to get into my way-back machine and make all kinds of difference choices.  I wanted my Dad back. I wanted not to have had cancer.  I wanted to avoid looking directly at the depression and anxiety that were creeping over me, like rust on the under carriage of a car.

It was only a matter of time before the wheels fell off.

I do my best, today, not to put everything that happens to me into a category, a label.  My marriage ending is an example:  it can be awful, one of worst things that has ever happened to me, or it can be another stepping stone in the journey of my life.  I have no idea where that path leads, and that not-knowing is scary.  The past few years have taught me that unexpected things happen, all the time.  People die. People get sick. Marriages end.  Relationships become strained to the breaking point, and sometimes beyond.

I do not control the things that happen to me, I only control the way I choose to metabolize them.

This is the way recovery speaks to me: it says that I am beautifully flawed.  It tells me there is nothing so awful that surrender, honesty and faith can't fix. It pushes me into the loving arms of recovering people who walk alongside me; it opens my ears and my heart to the truth.  It allows me to live in the here and now and not wish things away or label them as good, bad, awful or unfair.

Recovery reminds me that I will misstep again and again, that I will stumble, get caught up in ego and self-doubt and perfectionism.  It gives me a knowing smile when I say "I'm fine", or "I got this".

Recovery tells me that suffering lies in the resistance to the way things are, and redemption lies in believing in God's grace and faith in His path for me.

I live side-by-side with that woman on the bathroom floor, and I love her with all my heart.  I do not wish her away.

I embrace her imperfect humanity and take her hand with compassion, because together we walk this recovery journey, one day at a time.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Why Hello There, Me

I have been separated for six months now.

I was married for fifteen years, and we were together for twenty three.  I can't remember much about my life before him, as a single person.

Perhaps that is because I can't remember a time I have ever truly been single.

In high school, I dated the same guy for five years (one year into college).  We were voted 'class couple'.

I dated consistently in college, and married the guy I was dating my junior and senior year three months after graduation. It wasn't a good marriage, and we were divorced after only a couple of years.  I was already good friends with my next husband-to-be, and we starting dating very shortly after my divorce was final.

I have always had a roommate, even when I wasn't seriously dating anyone.

I have never really been alone.

I'm good at being someone's other half.  I spent most of my life focused outward; trying desperately to make the people who I love, love me back.  It didn't matter how many times they told me they love me, I always felt I had to be doing more, becoming more, to ensure they stuck around.  It's both rewarding and exhausting, living like that.  I would mold to fit the interests of whomever I was with; if he liked mountain biking, so did I.  If he liked classical music, I listened to classical music.  If he liked a neat home, I tried my best to keep it clean.  You get the picture.

When I got sober the first time, in 2007, I remember thinking that first year that I was very grateful to be married, because I was terrified of being alone and knew he was an added layer of security to help me stay sober.  I knew he would leave if I relapsed, and being alone was the only thing more frightening than being newly sober.

My husband and I made it through very, very tough times.  Relapse. Death (my father's).  Cancer.  Another relapse.  I thought we were bulletproof, even though niggling doubts, deep below the surface, were whispering to me that I had lost myself somewhere along the way.

I ignored those whispers, because although maybe I wasn't as happy as I could be, I was way too afraid of the unknown.  Better to be with him and try harder to make it work than to face the world on my own.

And then, a year ago, what became the final straw: another relapse.  A long stay in treatment.  And he asked me for a divorce.

That was last summer, two weeks before I was discharged.  I remember thinking that we'd come around, we'd make it work.  After all, we always had before.  I had been with him more than half my life. I expected to be with him until one of us died. I wanted it to be me who died first, so I wouldn't have to live without him.

Of course that is not how things turned out.  He was done.  He saw our relationship for what it was: two people who were having to work way too hard to be happy together.  I was blasted out of denial, and into reality:  the two of us were over.

Despite all the difficulties of the past few years, the prospect of being without him was the most frightening.  Last time I was in early sobriety, I had his eyes on me at all times, and the threat of his leaving me to keep me on track.  I had his steady presence in my life; a shoulder to cry on, another set of hands and sharp mind to help me navigate the daily waters of parenthood.  A lover and a friend, right there next to me when I needed him.

Gone.

The first couple of months were a blur.  It was surreal, and scary, and I spent a lot of time bargaining with the universe.  The universe listened patiently, sighed, and then went on its merry way, as the universe is prone to do.

Sometime around Christmas, acceptance started to creep in.  Up until then, I would have taken him back in a heartbeat if he had asked, even if I knew it wasn't the right thing to do.  I hated being alone.

I realized, finally, that I was not only okay on my own, I was thriving.   I wouldn't say I was happy - even now happy may be a stretch - but damn if I didn't have more peace of mind.

I was learning to love myself, love my life, just as it is.

God, The Universe, A Higher Power (whatever you want to call it) was doing for me what I couldn't do for myself: clearing my path to make room for an authentic, brutally honest fresh start.

I lost my license a year ago this week.  I haven't sat behind the wheel of a car in over 365 days, and it will be at least July before I get it back.  At the time, the prospect of being without a license was unimaginable, just like being without a husband was unthinkable, too.

Here is what I have learned:  not being able to drive is one of the best lessons I have ever learned.  I have to ask for help.  I have to be super organized, and rely on good friends to get me and my kids where we need to go.  I can't run around like a nut just to avoid being in my own skin.  I have to just, well, BE.

There are moments I ache for grown-up attention.  I crawl under my cold covers at the end of a long day, and there is nobody there to download with me, to affirm my decisions or offer advice.  It is very lonely at times.

But here's the rub: for the first time in my life, I have ME.  I am able to be within my own skin, and be comfortable.  I pray, I meditate.  I sit with myself and feel all the feelings.

And I am far from alone.  I have an amazing support network.  I have people in my life who help me when I'm having a hard time helping myself.  And I ASK for help.  This is new.  I was always an "I'm Fine" girl; I'd rather help you with your stuff than look at mine.

The Universe has shown me that I not only can't do it alone; I don't want to.

I have always had a man in my life to define my self-worth.  That was comfortable for me, and easy.   If our relationship was okay, I was okay.  If he was happy with me, I was happy with me.

I am free from that, now.  It's scary, to be sure, but it is also exciting.

And there is a big difference between being alone, and being lonely.  Lonely for me, I have found, is a choice.  I can now be by myself and be totally content.

And it turns out I hate mountain biking.  I am not a fan of classical music.  My house is in some form of constant disarray, but that doesn't make me a morally corrupt person; it makes me a busy mom of two.

I value my time alone.  I crave it now.  Getting to know me has been a terrifying and wondrous experience, but it turns out I like me.

And importantly - maybe most importantly - I am staying sober not out of the threat of being left alone, but because I am enough of a reason for me to stay sober. Of course I want to be sober for the kids' sake, but I have learned the hard way that recovery is an inside job, and no amount of love from others can keep me sober long term.

I have to be enough of a reason, to myself, to stay sober.

And, finally, I am.

Friday, January 30, 2015

For Rebekah

It's your smile I think about most.  And that giggle.

I have never met anyone who loved to laugh more than you.  It was infectious.  No matter what my mood, you could pull a reluctant smile from my face, and I soon found my self erupting in laughter.

I want to say thank you.  Thank you for the cozy, late-night chats, the two of us snuggled in our beds. The darkened room and hushed corridors brought something out of us; a pure honesty, shared unvarnished truths.

We'd laugh, you and me, about our twenty-three year age difference.  How could someone so young be so wise, I'd ask.  You would pull a face, stick out your tongue.  See?  You'd say.  I'm just a kid.

But you weren't just a kid.  You were a soul sister, one who had been through so much and still with that smile.  OH, that smile.

Remember the two of us, duffel bags perched on our laps, heading to the next chapter of our journey with wide eyes?  Wondering what would happen next?  You grabbed my hand, as I recall, and said I'm glad I'm going with you. 

One time, as I schlepped up all those stairs to our room, I heard beautiful music playing.  I paused outside our door, listening.  I thought you had speakers for your iPod, and was going to chide you for keeping them secret.  But no, I saw as I opened the door, it was you playing your guitar and singing. Ethereal and melodious, your talent came from someplace deep inside you, someplace God-given. You sat up, startled, when I opened the door, and blushed.  I'm no good, you said and abruptly threw your guitar to the side, nobody is supposed to hear me. 

I stood speechless for a moment, awestruck.  That was beautiful, I said.  Please don't stop.  True to form, you picked up your guitar and belted out some crazy made-up tune, twangy and funny, and I jiggled around the room in my own middle-aged funky way.

Every morning you got up early.  Every morning.  You weren't going to miss that morning meeting for anything. While I mumbled and grumbled from the comfort of my blankets, arguing in favor of an evening meeting, you be-bopped around, humming.  Get up, girl, you'd say.  I got us a ride. 

You made fun of how all my shirts had stripes.  Is that some middle-aged Mom thing? Or just an Ellie thing? you'd grin.

Interesting coming from you of the eleventy-seven-hundred LOVE PINK sweatshirts, I'd grin right back.

Of all the girls in the house, you worked hardest at getting to meetings, chasing your recovery.  The minute you were eligible to get rides from other women in the program, you hit that pay phone and called and called and called until you got to a meeting.  You wanted this, badly.

Keeping a clean room, however, not so much.  You bounced into the kitchen one morning chirping about how you made your bed, how proud I should be.  Later that day, I smiled to myself when I saw the comforter pulled up over a pile of clothes, lumped up like a tiger sleeping under the covers.

I could make you bust out laughing by trying to be all hip (nobody says hip anymore, Ellie, you'd say).  I'd tell you I was feeling some kind of way, and you'd clutch your stomach laughing.  Sorry, you'd say, it just doesn't work coming from you.  I had to ask you want a 'snipe' was, which you found endlessly funny.  For those of you wondering, it's also called a 'put-out'.  Yeah, I had to ask, too.

A favorite memory is the day we were told to put on a skit about the counselors.  You picked one of the more colorful counselors, and groaned.  I can't act, you mumbled.  I'm not funny.  But then, your big entrance came, and you clacked in on borrowed  high heels, reading glasses (mine, of course) perched halfway down your nose and gave everyone a stern look before breaking into a dance and belting out "Because I'm happppyyyyy!" - a dead-on imitation.  I glanced over to the counselor you were portraying and she was wiping tears from her eyes she was laughing so hard.

And a proud moment:  when we put on a recovery version of the Wizard of Oz, and you bravely played your guitar and sang to the acoustic version of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", facing one of your biggest fears:  putting your talent out there for all to see.  You were, of course, amazing.

You made friends everywhere you went. People were drawn to you, to your light.  Always quick with a hug and a smile, you had an eye for someone in pain.   You made people feel special - you made me feel special, the way you'd light up when you saw me.

Even after we were no longer roommates, you encouraged and inspired me.  We'd text inside jokes, check in on each other.  Your bubbly sweetness flowed through your words:


But nothing - NOTHING - compares to the way you loved your child.  Little Madisyn.  The way she would squirm and wiggle and dance when she saw you, then collapse into your arms and stay there for hours, perched on your lap like a queen ruling her subjects.  And just like her Mom, she would giggle and giggle and giggle, for hours.  Her little face so like your own, big eyes staring up at you with unadorned love.

My sweet friend, you left a gaping hole, a dark space devoid of light, when you left.  You are one of the great ones, those rare people I meet who slip into my life like a pair of comfortable slippers.  I owe you a huge debt, sweet girl, for being there for me during such difficult times, for buoying me up when I was sinking, for making me laugh in spite of - and at - myself when I needed it most.

Mere words fall short of how much I love you.  And I always will.




~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My incredible friend Rebekah died on January 26th of an overdose.  I won't tell her story; it's not mine to tell.  But I know she would want me to say this, because she said it to me over and over:  if you are struggling, please reach out for help.   She posted just those words on her Facebook page only three weeks ago.

It's hard not to stamp our feet and ask why. I get it, because I live in this world.  Addiction is a confounding, baffling and insidious disease.  It doesn't hold back, doesn't discriminate, and it pounces the minute we are weak and alone.  I don't waste time wondering what happened, or why.  I know there isn't any reasoning that will help, or explain.

We have an epidemic in our country.  In my little part of the world - South Shore, Massachusetts - a person dies everyday from an overdose, and countless more are hospitalized, paralyzed, slip into comas.  The more affluent areas are hit the hardest; it starts with pills stolen from medicine cabinets, usually, and it's so addictive it leads people straight to heroin.  And it can be found everywhere.

No child is exempt from its reach: no amount of love, or money, or strict rules can spare a kid from its grip.

What we need is education; parents need to get educated on what is really happening in our middle schools and high schools.  It's so easy to think:  not my kid.  But by the age of 14 or 15 every kid will know someone who has tried opiates or heroin.  They will know where to get it.  They think they are immune from danger, as all teenagers do, and they are vulnerable.

Rebekah's love and light will live on in me and everyone she knew forever.  Her death is so tragic, and it saddens me beyond words, but it fuels my determination to keep on mission, get the word out there that addiction is all around us, and despite all the tragic tales there is so much hope.  But we can't fight something we can't face.

Talk to your kids.  If a friend seems off, ask if they are ok.  If you think someone is struggling with drinking or drugs, they probably are.  Reach out a hand.  If you are struggling yourself, know you aren't alone.

Asking for help isn't weak; it's the strongest thing anyone can do.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Best Hardest Year

It's that time of year where we get nostalgic, look back at the soon-to-be-behind us year. 

This past year was tough, and I find myself longing for it to be over with, for the chance to start fresh in the New Year.

But, of course, life doesn't work that way. It doesn't follow our calendar year, and magically reset itself at the stroke of midnight on New Year's eve.  Life is a day-by-day endeavor.  Sometimes, it's minute-by-minute.

2014 brought a lot of heartache.  I saw the inside of a jail cell, albeit briefly, and felt the cold steel of handcuffs around my wrists.  I stood before a judge and anxiously awaited my fate. I was away from my children for three months in treatment, not knowing if I would be an active part of their lives when I got out.  My thirteen year old dog died.  I have a probation officer.  I lost my driver's license for a year. My fifteen year marriage ended. 

My gut twists as I type this; it's so hard to look at that list.  That doesn't feel like me, like who I am.  But, of course, it is.  Or it was. Or it is.  I hear voices in my head telling me: "Don't write that! Do you want the world to know all these things?"  The answer is, no, I don't. I'd rather turn my face away from the cold hard truths.  I know it's not really anyone's business but my own.  But here is the reality: I own my mistakes.  I know they are here to teach me important lessons, and if I turn my head away, I won't learn.  I won't grow. I will be awash in shame and fear, and I don't want to live there anymore.

It's tempting to sweep everything under the rug. After all, many blessings came from that heartache, and I could write an eloquent post all about the gifts.  I'm sober. I am home with my children, and our relationship is stronger than it's ever been, after months of hard conversations, difficult truths and hard work to rebuild trust.  I don't resent the consequences of my relapse; I am grateful there is a way to repay my debt to society, my family and my children.  Not driving has forced me to ask for help - something I never, ever did before.  I can no longer hide behind any masks.  The consequences of my relapse stripped away any possibility of glossing over what happened.  I still have a lot of work to do; there are relationships that are important to me that are strained.

This is hard-core life on life's terms.

Instead of wishing 2014 away, I am embracing it.  More than any other year, 2014 has forced me to stop and listen.  It has given me a hard choice: grow or die.  Learn or lose everything.  I have had to take a hard look at all of me, not just the comfortable parts.  I have had to reevaluate everything, and make tough changes.

This past Sunday we did a Bubble Hour show on Shame. I produced this show, and it got me thinking about what shame means to me.  Am I shameful about the things that happened?  The things I did?  Yes. Did I beat myself up about it, and nearly lose myself to the Shame Spiral?  Yes.  That's the thing about shame: it's a zero-sum game.  It feeds on itself, like a serpent eating its own tail, until there is nothing left.

The only way I have found to break the Shame Spiral is brutal, compassionate honesty.  I thought about how I talk to my daughter about shame, about mistakes. I tell her that we aren't defined by our mistakes, but rather what we learn from them, what we change about ourselves as a result. I tell her that our biggest mistakes can become our biggest achievements, if we listen to what they have to teach us.  I emphasize that if we never made mistakes, we'd never learn. Because we grown from pain; it's the way we are hard-wired. We don't tend to learn from the things that come delivered on a silver platter.

So I find myself today, nine months sober, clear-eyed and fully present, with my feet planted firmly on the ground.  I don't skirt around the hard truths, but I treat myself with compassion.  I talk to myself, today, the way I talk to my daughter.  As hard as this year has been, I can honestly say that if I could magically wipe the slate clean, I wouldn't. 

Some people who read this will judge me, I'm sure.  That's okay.  Breaking the Shame Spiral means I don't derive my self-worth from other people.  If I weren't me, I might judge me, too. 

The most important lesson I have learned from 2014 is this:  I am okay just the way I am, as long as I remain teachable, grateful and present.

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Newly Seperated Girl's Guide to the Holidays

I went to the mailbox yesterday and received my first holiday card. 

I used to adore this time of year - both sending and receiving cards - picking out that perfect picture (always taken as a family at Thanksgiving) and running to the mailbox every afternoon to see it chock full of those non-bill-shaped envelopes bearing updates from friends and family.

When I saw that first green and gold envelope with a little heart sticker on it, my stomach plummeted.

This year there will be no holiday card from our family, because our family is separated.

I suppose I could send a card with just the kids on it. But what would the message say?  Joy?  Merry Merry?  Happy New Year?

I don't feel any of those things this year. 

Over the holidays, even more than usual, there are reminders of what-isn't-anymore all over the place, like little bomb-lets that explode in my face when I least expect it.

Holiday commercials of intact families celebrating over a Thanksgiving meal. Magazine ads of Moms and Dads kissing under mistletoe, or grinning conspiratorially to each other as they stuff holiday stockings or wrap gifts. 

The holiday cards with smiling Mom-Dad-Kids, their arms slung around each other, wearing goofy Santa hats or matching outfits.  All together, just like they were last year, only one year older.

The holiday season makes me glare at the wedding rings of the Moms in front of me in the grocery line, their chubby babies' drooling grins taunting me.  I used to be them, I think.  My stomach twists with regret and jealousy.  Why didn't I pay more attention when all that was mine.  

The changes are coming at me fast.  Our beloved dog, Casper, died last week.  She was thirteen years old, lived a long, full life, and it was time for her to go.  My husband and I got her when our marriage was only two years old.  As I mourn her loss, I find myself thinking: my marriage began and ended with her life.

I don't want to put up the tree.  I don't want to decorate.  I don't want to celebrate.  Every step of the way I'm haunted by traditions past:  he cuts the trunk, I hang the ornaments, a crackling fire blazing in the background. 

I want to curl up in a ball and unfurl on January 2nd.

Friends mock-complain about all they have to do: the in-laws coming to stay, prepping meals, planning trips to see family, grumbling about what to buy their husband or what their husband will get for them.  All of it sets my teeth on edge, but I just stand there and smile, feeling like I have a blaring neon sign on my forehead that says:  separated.

I gazed at the smiling faces peering out at me from that first holiday card.  Then I closed my eyes, and I prayed. 

May they have a happy holiday season. May I find joy in the blessings I have, instead of all I do not have.

It helped.  A little.

Here's the thing, though: none of these emotions have any bearing on our separation specifically, on the circumstances behind it, or the reasons why.  I don't regret the separation itself, I realize, although it's confusing and hard and sometimes I just want to get in my way-back machine and start all over.

What I'm grieving is the loss of The Dream, the one that is shoved in our faces over-and-over-and-over during the holidays.  If you were an alien from another planet and landed on earth on December 14th, or thereabouts, you would think we were the happiest-smilingest people in the Universe.

At least that's how it feels to me, newly separated for my first holiday season.

Our society commercializes happiness, and it's never more glaring than in November and December.  I'd like to see a magazine ad, or a commercial, of a single mom and her kids sitting down to Thanksgiving, or buying a Christmas tree. 

They'd be smiling, I know they would, because my kids and I smile together. A lot.  I am not unhappy when I'm able to live my life as it is, and not how I feel it should be.  Most of the time I am content, and I'm able to grow and learn from the hard lessons life is teaching me right now.

But, dammit. It's almost impossible not to lose myself in comparisons when family-and-togetherness is everywhere.  Logically, I know that we're still a family, just in a different form. I know my kids are over-the-top excited for Christmas, and that they had a great Thanksgiving with their Dad.  I had a great Thanksgiving, too, with some amazing sober friends. 

I would be okay, most of the time, if that damn cookie-cutter family wasn't grinning out at me from my television, Facebook stream and mailbox. 

That's not how the world works, and I know this.  This is hard core life-on-life's terms. When I'm in a good head space, I can find peace in chaos.  When I'm not, I find chaos in peace.  I fall into the 'shoulds' - how my life should be instead of how it is. 

Don't Should On Yourself, my friend would say.

I'm trying. I will get through this. I will say a prayer of compassion over every card I receive this year. I will pray for peace of mind, for acceptance of what is, and gratitude for all I have. 

But sometimes?  Sometimes I just have to get my truth out there, that this is hard. 

It just is.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Whisper Or A Scream

Three years ago today I got the call.  The one that told me I had cancer. 

As I meditated this morning, I travelled inward and tentatively explored how I feel about cancer, about fear, today.

Three years, in Cancer Land, is both a lifetime and a blink of an eye. With cancer you're never completely out of the woods, but of course each passing year in remission brings more hope.

Ah, hope. I used to think hope was the antidote to fear, but I was wrong. The antidote to fear, I have found, is acceptance.

If you had sat me down four years ago and asked me to make a list of the things that scared me the most, it would have looked like this:

1) Something happening to my kids (serious illness or death).
2) Something happening to one of my family members (serious illness or death).
3) My marriage ending.
4) Relapse.
5) Getting cancer.

During my meditation, I thought about this list.  Four of those five things have happened to me in the past three years. Thankfully - OH so thankfully - my kids are not only fine but they are thriving.

But numbers 2-5 have all come to pass.

I sat quietly, pondering this fact, and waited patiently for some kind of emotion to surface: self-pity, rage, resentment, or sadness.

Five, ten, twenty minutes I sat in silence, my eyes closed, waiting.

Nothing.

I felt...... nothing.

Well, at least it looked on the surface like nothing, but eventually I realized it wasn't nothing. 

It was acceptance.

It's not that they don't matter, all those hard things.  They have taken their toll on me, and my family, for sure.  In that sense they matter quite a bit.

But there is nothing I can do to change the past.  All those things are shaping me, molding me, nudging me down the path of my life. 

I am not the same person I was four years ago.  Not even close.

As I went deeper into myself, moments flashed by:

My sister's voice on the phone, telling me to hurry, to get to the hospital because Dad wasn't going to make it and I needed to get there nowI can't do this, I said to my husband.  I just can't.  But I did. 

The doctor's somber-yet-neutral tone as he said "I'm sorry, it's cancer".  I recall how my hands shook and how my mind went white with fear.  That's it, I thought.  I'm going to die. But that isn't how it turned out. At least, not yet.

This past spring, waking up in the detox with my head stuck to the thin plastic mattress and thinking:  Oh no, not again. I'm not going to make it. I'm not worth it.  But God had other plans, because I'm still here, and I'm sober.

Sitting on the beach this past summer, the warm sand under my skin, as my husband looked at me with hurt and sadness in his eyes and told me he didn't want to be with me anymore.  I won't make it without him, I thought.  I just can't.  And yet, here I am.  Alone, and okay.

I'm finally understand that trying to control the outcome of anything is futile. Trying to control how other people think of me or respond to me is futile.  This doesn't mean I don't try my best; it means if I want to stay sane and sober I stay focused on the only thing I do control, and that is how I metabolize my world.

Something horrible or scary happens and despite how out-of-control it makes me feel, I do have control over my choices.  I can drink over it - or not, ask for help - or not, pray - or not.

I can accept it, or not. 

I am still scared.  A lot of the time, in fact.  But I don't numb it out, or run from it, or ignore it. 

Today, instead of a scream, I whisper into fear's ear and ask:  what are you here to teach me?


Friday, November 7, 2014

The Hallway

You know that expression, the one that says "God doesn't close one door without opening another one"?

I've never particularly liked it - it felt too much like a Band-Aid over a bullet hole, like plastering a bumper sticker over an openly bleeding wound.

Of course it's true, like most over-used sayings.

The part that isn't mentioned, though, is the hallway.  The one I find myself standing in right now,
one door firmly shut behind me, but the new door remains out of sight, at the other end of a shadowy journey I can't define.

I spend a lot of time by myself. I can't drive, and so I leave the house only with help, and only when necessary.  It's amazing how much of my identity was wrapped around the woman-who-did-stuff.  I used to go non-stop, all day - rushing to and from appointments and errands and business engagements and housework, and making dinner, and activities ...and, and, and.

What I have learned is the vast majority of all that rushing around was unnecessary.  Life just felt more comfortable when I didn't stop moving.  I would never simply sit and think, or pray, or breathe.  When I did these things the feelings would start to come -the fear, anxiety and uncertainty I felt at the core of my being - and so I'd go someplace.  Like Target. Or Michael's. Or Stop & Shop.  I would lose myself in the mundane hum of normalcy, mindlessly pushing my cart up and down aisles, making hundreds of tiny decisions so I could avoid thinking about the bigger ones.

What happened, when I stopped - well, let's get real .... when I was forced to stop - was all the feelings came to the surface.  I could no longer dodge the reality of my fear.  I don't numb it from the inside-out with alcohol, and I don't numb it from the outside-in with labels I affix to myself to validate who I am.

I am slowly peeling away all those labels, and its scary.  I pick away at their sticky edges - Wife, Mother, Writer, Daughter, Blogger, Alcoholic, Cancer Survivor, Sister, Friend.

Every major way I defined myself has changed.  I no longer lose myself by slipping into the characters I assembled to feel better about myself through your eyes. 

Now, when I push the cart up and down the aisles, I don't feel like I fit anywhere, and it's uncomfortable.  The Moms I talk to jostle about, clutching their car keys and dashing off to the activities I can no longer take my kids to.  They talk about the husband I no longer have.  The family dinner I am no longer preparing.  Planning the family vacation I no longer go on. 

All of the major relationships I have in my life are changing, evolving. I have taken a giant step back from everything that used to define me, before.  My work. My family. My marriage. My social life. My writing.

I long, sometimes, for the way my life used to be, before the weight of all those self-affixed labels crushed me.  When my biggest problem of the day was how to fit it all in - get one kid to soccer and the other to CCD and get to the grocery shop and start dinner.  When my brain was so crammed with my To-Do list - my businesses, my family, my husband and friends - that I didn't have to think about myself.

I know I can't go back there.  I know this hard stop is in my life for a purpose.  I squirm in the silence, in the calm.  I'm great in a foxhole.  It's the lulls that scare me.

I suffer when I resist the reality of what is, as opposed to what was or what might be.  I am in the most pain when I scream and kick against all those closed doors, those maladaptive coping mechanisms - my people pleasing, my co-dependency, my self-medicating with alcohol or work.

I can't even hide from myself in my marriage anymore.  I am not Mrs. Anybody.  I am just me.  

When I can let go, when I can just stand still in this dark hallway and just be, I feel fleeting moments of peace. 

I am mourning the loss of the blueprint, though.  The one I so carefully drafted for how my life was supposed to look, like a perfect holiday card.  The one that made me feel as though I was in control of my destiny, although of course I never was.

I don't have any blueprint anymore.  Every pre-conceived notion I had - every label - is torn and tattered.

Now I stand alone, peeling back the labels, feeling naked and vulnerable without their papery armor.  I stand shivering in the Damn Hallway, waiting for God to crack open the next door.   So far, He hasn't.  He is making me wait. 

He is making me put up boundaries, ask for help, sit with myself awhile.

And so, I do.