Monday, August 17, 2015

Fail Better - On Divorce and Creating My Own Orbit

Divorce is hard, in ways that I expected and in ways I didn't.  We filed the paperwork, going to the courthouse together, bumping mostly silently along in the car, a long stretch of already-spoken words trailing behind us. I kept waiting for the wham-o of emotions to hit; everything was signed and we were officially putting an end to this twenty two year relationship.

What I mostly felt was numb. There is nothing more to say, and the whole thing was anti-climatic. We didn't even have all the right forms, but we both didn't need to back the next day to drop them off, so he went back alone.

Now we wait for the court date, for the legal end of what has already ended.

I have (mostly) stopped staring at everyone's ring finger. I don't know what I was looking for, really. I still feel a surge of kinship when I see a Mom with no ring on, out and about with her kids and looking happy and whole, but I have stopped searching the faces of the married couples I see and wondering if they are really as happy as they seem.  I no longer look at them and feel that disquieting combination of longing and emptiness.

The tsunamis of rage have subsided. I was so angry, at myself, at the Universe, at him, at his new woman.  She used to be my good friend, this new love of his. They began before he and I had ended. That betrayal blasted a hole through my world, left me shattered and with a shuddering rage that festered and bloomed like an infection in my soul. I don't write about it here, because what could I possibly say?  He has a life to lead, as does she, and it isn't my place to broadcast their business for everyone to see.

That infection has mostly healed, leaving a dull ache. Happy marriages don't fall apart in one explosive event, so I don't blame our demise on her, but it has taken months of licking my wounds, exploring my part in everything and begging the Universe, over and over, for surrender and acceptance to get to this place where I am now.

And where is that, exactly, I ask myself.

The answer surprises me, sometimes, because it's so simple: I'm right here. I am fully present in my skin, in my heart and mind. I didn't realize just how much of myself I had given away until I was forced to find me again.

I have learned that I am good on my own. It wasn't this way at first. A marriage develops grooves, patterns, and those take a long time to smooth out. Five o'clock would roll around and my mind would click into wife mode:  what's for dinner, is the house tidy enough, what do I need to do to make sure he is pleased when he gets home.  

For weeks I heard his voice in my head, both the one that would criticize me for the things I didn't do well enough in his opinion, and the things he would praise me for.  Marriage is a constant stream of compromises, little coming-togethers and moving-aparts. And at the end of each day there was always that marital download; the one that takes place snuggled into bed each night, where we shared our we-are-in-this-together moments.

Without the push-pull of marriage, when it's just me and the kids, I didn't have anyone else's gravitational pull to anchor me.

I had to create my own orbit.

From the perch of hindsight, I can see how I have grown, the ways in which I surprised myself with my resilience, my ability to feel all the hard feelings and come out out stronger, but OH it didn't feel like progress. It felt like a tearing-down from the inside out, because that's what it was.

I started by forgiving myself, bit by bit. I treated myself gently, and slowly changed my inner dialogue from words of worthlessness and shame to those of love and compassion.  I waded through feelings of abandonment and rejection by holding tight to myself and the love of my kids. I leaned - hard - on the people in my life who love me just as I am.

There are recovery slogans I have heard over and over that didn't mean much to me before, but that are mantras to me now. One of them is this:  pain is the touchstone of all spiritual growth.  I have grown and stretched uncomfortably in so many ways, but I am finally in a place where I can say all that discomfort was so, so worth it. Like sore muscles the day after a hard work out, I limped along at first, but with a smile growing slowly wider on my face, because I knew that ache meant I was growing stronger.

My other mantra comes from the Buddhist monk Pema Chodron (she has a book coming out shortly with this as the title):  fail, fail again, fail better.  My life doesn't look anything like I imagined it would, but I have learned that the disconnect there isn't in life itself, but in the imagining, in the expectations of how things are supposed to be. I no longer believe in supposed-to.

I have long said we are not defined by our mistakes, but rather what we make of them. I amend that, now, because I am defined by my mistakes. I used to try to run from them, from the uncomfortable feelings, the anger and shame they evoked in me. I embrace them, now, because without them I could never have been forced to do the hard work it takes to find acceptance and peace of mind.

I look down the road at new milestones, now. It puts to test all this work I've done of self-acceptance. I am going on job interviews, and even on a date here and there.  One interviewer said, "So, if I Google you, what am I going to find?"

I felt a pinch of fear, a panicky feeling that maybe I should just take it all down - the blog, the recovery stuff, all of it.

Then I chuckled, out loud, and said, "well, you'll find me, I guess."



Saturday, July 4, 2015

Forty-Six

Why hello there, 46, you sly fox.

I don't know how you managed to surprise me.  It's not like I don't know you're coming.

I think maybe you hid out behind some of your younger siblings, like 28 or 32, and then pounced on me when I wasn't looking.

Speaking of siblings, some of them have been paying me visits. They like to come late at night, as I'm trying to fall asleep.  40 was particularly annoying last night. She wouldn't stop reminding me about the surprise trip to Bermuda I got from the husband I no longer have. 40 wasn't around for the rest of the story, so all she could do was remind me that back then I thought I would be married forever.

I remember being excited for the arrival of 44, because four is my favorite number and I thought this is going to be a great year.  It turned out to be especially sucky.  Back then I didn't know how dangerous expectations truly are, and I spent too much time waiting for life to get better instead of realizing that life was right in front of me, wanting to be appreciated.

50 made a cameo appearance last night, too. She whispered to me that she is right around the corner, that she will be here before I know it.  She kept saying that she is undesirable and decrepit and that I better get moving on finding someone to love me while I still have a chance. She must have been hanging out with 40, what with them both being milestones, and all.

I've been thinking about 16 a lot, too. Perhaps because I am about to get my license reinstated and I have to take the permit test, first. 16 pops up when I'm at the DMV for hours, waiting to talk to a bored employee who holds my fate in their hands, and gazing at the young hopeful drivers. I feel every inch of you, 46, when I'm surrounded by the ghosts of my youth.  It's those damn expectations again. I sit in those hard DMV chairs, surrounded by bright-eyed, tight-skinned teenagers waiting to get their first license, and 16 dances in front of my eyes and cackles, bet you never thought you'd be here at your age.

So, 46, I want to get a few things straight, while you're new here and all eager. Let's set some ground rules.

Feel free to chat with your siblings - both younger and older - but leave me out of it. Please do not disturb my slumber regaling me with memories of how awesome everything used to be, and how perilous the future looks.

I'm middle aged now, 46, and I'm getting wise to your game.  I've earned you, and I intend to wear your battle stripes proudly. Sure, 24 is free from stretch marks and wrinkles and her back doesn't scream at her when she sits too long. When she walks into a room the men turn and stare. That defined her, made her feel loved and worthy, and I'm going to let her have that, and love her for it. She was doing the best she could.

Your younger siblings all had a job to do, 46, and they did it well. They made us who we are today.

46, you will be tempted to tell me who I am not. You will hold me up against the dreams of the past; you will want to tell me what I used to be, and I used to be a lot of things. I used to be a size 8. I used to be someone's wife. I used to believe my parents would live forever. I used to believe in the tooth fairy.

You will think you know who I will become. You hang out with 49, 53 and 67 and you think you know, but you don't. I don't know if it's in your job description or something, but you and your siblings seem to think the past is all shiny and the future is bleak. But, 46, you are exactly who you are supposed to be. Resist the urge to gaze longingly at your younger siblings and wish you were them. They are inside you, 46. You don't need to compare yourself to them, because they are you.

Maybe you can be the first of your siblings to resist the siren call of the past and the tolling bells of the future. Because, 46, you are only going to be here for one year.

You may as well appreciate yourself while you are here. You are so many things, 46. You are funny and compassionate. You can make your kids laugh at the drop of a hat. You are surrounded by friends and family who love you exactly as you are. You wear the scars of your losses proudly, because they remind you that while you stumbled, you did not fall.

You will always look at your reflection in the mirror with a combination of surprise and awe. Surprise at the lines on your face, and awe that you still look damn good.  You know how to love yourself, 46. It took 45 years of hard won lessons to get here, so be proud of yourself.

Do you hear that, 46?  The sound of your kids laughing downstairs? Can you smell the bacon cooking?

That's a good place to start.


Friday, May 1, 2015

Pulling The Plug

Marriages don't just die.

They aren't here one second, and then gone the next, like when someone drops dead of a heart attack, or a plane crash.

It feels like a death, though.  All around me are the shattered remnants of the life I thought I would have.  I'm aching for an answer - like a doctor doing a post-mortem.  I want a body - a victim - to pull apart until I figure out the exact cause of all this pain.

But the source of the pain isn't dead.  It lives on, everywhere.  It shines out from the faces of my children, the little upwards smirk in Finn's smile that he got from my husband.  It grins out at me from photographs.  It slithers into bed next to me every night as I stare at the cold, empty space where the man I thought I would love forever used to lie.

The end of a marriage is like standing at the bedside of someone on life support.  They are there, but they aren't.  You don't want to let them go, but you ache for it to just be over, already.

And then there is the anger.  At him, at myself, at life.  As I madly search for answers, all I come up with are more questions.  A lot of them start with:  what if?

What if I weren't an alcoholic?  What if I had worked full time instead of raising kids?  What if we had gone to more counseling?  What if he hadn't met her?

It's a pointless question, what if. Because the death of my marriage resulted in thousands of tiny events, minuscule decisions I had no way of knowing were nudging me down this path.

What if I had paid more attention? What if I had been a better housekeeper?  Thinner?  Prettier?  Better with money?  More interested in camping?  More organized? Less preoccupied with the causes I'm so passionate about?

In other words, what if I had been, well, less ME?

That's the heart of it; the thing that is so hard to look at, but that lies at the root of everything.  In a marriage someone has to love you for who you are, not who they thought you would become, or the ways they thought they could change you.  In the end, he didn't love my Ellie-ness enough.

I look at myself in the mirror and listen to those voices having a tug-of-war in my head:  you're not good enough, you're better than this, you didn't do enough, there is nothing more you could do, you are a bad person, you are a good person.  You aren't lovable, yes you are.

I slip on the white gloves, don a mask and apron and root around in the dead body of our marriage.

I play this game with myself.  This "I should have left him when...." game.  I think: it should have been when he started criticizing my housekeeping.  He's neat, I'm not.  Or when he would call me a teenager, tell me I can't handle money like a responsible adult.  Or when he said I was fat, when I was newly sober and had had two of his babies. When I got hurt and angry he told me he was just telling me what everyone was thinking, it's just that he had the guts to say it.  After that fight, I packed a bag.  I even drove down the road, before of course I turned the car around and came back, remorseful that I wasn't skinny enough for him.

So I lost weight.  I cleaned more. I tried to be better with money.  I scrambled to be the person he wanted, and of course in the long run it didn't work.

It would feel really good to paint him as the bad guy. As someone who was too demanding, too unreasonable, too much of a perfectionist.

But, of course, he has is own version of this game.  He could play the "I should have left her when...." game all day with me, and when the sun went down there would be no winner.

So I'm left with me, in the mirror.  I stand with my regret, anger and hurt, and I stare at my own eyes, looking for answers that don't exist.

If I am to survive this with my sanity intact, I have to love my own Ellie-ness.  For so many years, I identified myself as the other half of him.  For twenty four years, in fact. Half my life.  The body on life support isn't really our marriage, it's the version of me that was tied to him.

It's time to pull the plug.  If I don't, I will go crazy.   I will lose myself in the what-if versions of who I was, not who I am becoming.

I don't want to bring a broken person to the next phase of my life. So instead of doing a post mortem on the marriage, I'm doing one on myself.  I have spent the past year getting in touch with my Ellie-ness. This is a first for me.  I have always been someone's other half.

One of the realizations I have had is that it is exhausting to believe that I am omnipotent.  Not in an arrogant way - like I have all the answers if only you would listen to me - but in a self-involved way.  Spending so much time thinking I am somehow flawed, or wrong, is as ego-driven as thinking that I am somehow better than anyone else.  I don't get to be best, but I don't get to be worst, either.

I am embracing my humanity, that sometimes things do not go they way I expect, but that I am not the sole cause all my own heartache anymore than I am the sole cause my own joy.

There are things that just aren't fair.  Or right. Or just.  I have been wronged, and betrayed, and my path has veered sharply in a direction I didn't choose.

But, so what, really?  Who am I to say it's the wrong direction?  If I ask that body on the table, the one who didn't know who she was without seeking someone else's approval, she would tell me I am not going to be okay on my own.  All the voices in her head, the ones that belonged to people who didn't love her Ellie-ness enough - they killed her.

So I am not going to listen to what she would tell me.

I pulled the plug on her. She did the best she could, but it's time to move on.


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.




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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.