Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Keep Going, Strong.

It's so easy to benchmark failure, isn't it? Ask someone to rattle off the things they have done wrong, or don't do well enough, and most of us can prattle of examples with ease.

Success, however we define it, is harder to pin down.  Especially when we're making major life changes, like getting sober, going through a divorce, recovering from illness or the loss of a loved one.

I've spent the past year working on self-care, on changing the tape in my head from one that tells me I'm not enough, to one that tells me I'm okay just the way that I am.

A year ago, my husband had recently moved out. I couldn't drive a car. I didn't have a job. I had to call a number every morning to find out if I had to go in for random alcohol testing. I had a probation officer. 

All around me lay the wreckage of the life that had been familiar to me for decades. I was slowly repairing my relationship with my kids, adjusting to life without a husband.  I felt fractured, broken into a thousand pieces. All I knew for certain is that if I stayed sober, everything else would fall into place.

Days passed very, very slowly. When you can't drive, or escape through work or staying busy, you spend a LOT of time in your head, staring at the walls surrounding you and feeling ALL the feelings.

If I wanted to stay sane, I had to stay in the moment. The literal moment. Days were carved into manageable bites: take a shower, go for a walk, meditate, read, ask for rides to grocery shop, get your kid to soccer or go to a recovery meeting. Go to bed at a reasonable hour, get up the next morning and do it all again.  

I suffered when I thought too far ahead, when I got tangled in the wires of self-doubt and seemingly insurmountable hurdles: how will I get a job with my record? How can I possibly be a single parent when I don't drive?  Who am I if I'm not someone's wife?  Will my kids ever trust me again?  

I suffered when I went back in the past, too, and rehashed all the "what-ifs" and "should haves". 

All I had was the moment I held in my hands that very second. And then the next. And the next.

And I sat with the feelings. ALL the feelings. I couldn't numb out or escape.  I found that I didn't want to, because I finally, finally understood that the only way out, dammit, is through

Staying present in the moment, sitting with feelings and not labeling or dismissing. them, and accepting life just exactly the way it was became a daily, life-saving practice. For just over 18 months, I practiced. I stayed still. I repaired, bit by bit, by working on myself, cleaning up my side of the street. I focused on self-care, which is so counter-intuitive for someone like me, who just wants to FIX everything and everyone. Instead, I focused on fixing myself.

I got my license back on August 3rd.  I no longer had a probation officer. I no longer had to check in for random testing. I had adjusted to life as a single mom, as much as anyone can adjust.  My children trusted me again. I could sit with feelings, hold them in a sacred safe space and listen to what they had to teach me. 

The work of rebuilding my exterior life could begin.

It is unfathomable to me that August 3rd was only a little over three months ago.  I have a job. I spend hours in the car zooming around from place to place - school, soccer, play dates. My day starts at 6:40am and doesn't end until the last excruciating math problem is finished, usually around 10pm. 

I'm divorced.  My emotional wounds are healing into scars, and they remind me that I never, ever have to go back, that I am now free to move forward.

It is my practice, now, not to let gifts of recovery, of doing the work, of healing, lead me away from the present moment.   I must make space for myself, each day. I check in to my gut, to my heart, and I listen to their sacred messages.    

As the exterior gifts come my way, I turn up the volume on my journey inward. Back to my Ellieness. 

I don't ever want to lose sight of her again. I remember who she was, before the addiction, before the failed marriage, before the chaos and destruction. I travel inside, deep down to the core of me, and she is still there - she always was -  it's just that she got buried under layers of distractions, masks, and adult-ness. I spend time with her, in the stillness of healing, and I finally love her again.  

I do not want to legally change my name back, because I don't want to have a different last name than my kids.

But I want to honor my return to self, somehow.  And what better way than to make it Facebook official? I'm going back to my maiden name, Strong, at least online.

It seems, well, fitting.

Keep going, Strong, but don't forget to stay where you are, too.

Sunday, November 1, 2015


I have a scar on my belly.

It is from the feeding tube I had, at the worst of the cancer treatments, when my throat was so ravaged by radiation even swallowing water was painful.

It's a small, round hole, about four inches above my belly button. It looks like a bullet wound.

Three years ago this hole was punched into my stomach.  It was made to sustain me, to give me life-giving nutrients. Without it the treatment would have been too much for my body to bear.  I hated it then, and I have avoided looking at it ever since.

It's on my soft white underbelly, and it makes me feel exposed, fragile and barely tethered to the world.

So, I ignored it. I filed it away in the mental morass where all the messages my body sends me go, into a dusty, overlooked and overstuffed file cabinet full of uncomfortable truths and feelings.

I prefer to live from the neck up.  I squeeze all experiences through the filter of thought. Emotions - especially the uncomfortable ones - are carefully strained, compared, analyzed and then meticulously explained.

I like my mind. I'm comfortable there. It makes me feel in control.

There are sound reasons to ignore my body. It makes me uncomfortable, what with all its imperfections, cumbersome functions and tendency to betray my carefully constructed illusion of control.

It screams at me to pay attention, particularly my gut. That's where I carry all the really uncomfortable shit: fear, conflict, anxiety, grief and sadness.  My insides curl into a tight, painful ball whenever I experience anything unwanted or uncomfortable, and my brain swoops in and madly begins explaining away.

Turning my focus from the ticker-tape of my mind to my body makes me squirm.

Another uncomfortable truth: the things that make me squirm are the most deserving of attention. My poor, overlooked, ignored body has carried my hardest truths, and it is the gatekeeper to my most vulnerable, authentic self.

And so, with as much compassion as I can muster, I practice turning my attention to the sacred messages it contains.

We are hardwired to protect our soft white underbelly. Exposing it triggers an ancient danger message, which in turn triggers the freeze, fight or flight response.

We aren't running from saber-toothed tigers or woolly mammoths anymore, but our brain doesn't know that, nor does it particularly care.  It responds to any perceived threat like it always has: avoid at all costs.

Addiction, and all forms of escape, are coded into that avoidance message.  There are so many ways to avoid: workaholism, perfectionism, the internet and the numbing effects of alcohol or drugs are but a few of the most beloved ways to hide.

In recovery I can't afford to ignore the woolly mammoths that come lumbering out of the morass. And so, I turn towards instead of away.

In the past, I have turned towards pain with my mind, but not with my body. Facing pain feels a lot safer as a mental exercise.  When I feel the vibrations of hoof beats thundering down the path, the last thing I want to do is unfurl, lie down and feel them come.  I would much, much rather just think about it.

My cancer lived in my body, and the deep fear this experience instilled in me lives there, too. I have written and talked about my cancer experience, but I haven't felt it.  My relapse taught me that what I avoid will, eventually, bring me down.

And so, I place my hand over the scar on my belly. I feel the softness, the vulnerability it contains. I listen to its message.

I feel the truths wash over me: you are deeply, primordially scared, Ellie. You are traumatized by your cancer experience; it plunked your mortality right into your lap, and this made returning to the land of the quotidian very, very hard.  You relapsed over it. You turned and you ran, as hard and as fast as you could.  

And then, this:   You are flawed and imperfect and wondrously alive. This tissue thin skin reminds you of the tenuousness of life, which is a truth whether you had cancer or not. 

I feel a loosening deep inside, a forgiveness, a compassion. I honor what the scar represents, which is another chance, a second umbilical cord that tethers me back to life, instead of away from it.

With one hand over my scar, and one hand on my heart, I feel my strong, steady heartbeat and I let the fear come.  I slip out of the world of the mind, and into my body. Cancer made me feel my body had betrayed me, when in fact the opposite is true. My mind is the only organ capable of betrayal.

That scar? It's not a wound. It's a doorway.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Rumbling With My Story

I slipped on my new patent leather chunky-heeled pumps and gave my lipstick one last check before heading out the door. As I clacked down my brick walkway, my skirt shushing about my calves, I had one of those out-of-body moments.  You know the one where you feel like you're behind a camera, watching the movie version of yourself?

Do you have those? If not, don't tell me.

There are many moments, lately, when I actually see myself as the protagonist in my own story, and when they happen I realize how much time I spent feeling like the side-kick in someone else's story. It was a role I think I relished, in fact, because that meant I wasn't the lead, didn't have to bear the responsibility of momentum or outcome.

There I was, freshly brewed coffee steaming in my travel mug, sliding into the leathery scent of my new car, and heading off to my first job outside the home in twelve years.

Why does this feel so monumental, so different, I thought. You used to be an executive, for crying out loud. You could present to boards of directors when you were barely in your 30s and not bat an eyelash. And now off you go to answer phones and type memos and you feel like an explorer discovering a new continent.

I have tackled a lot of challenges in my life, many just for the sake of tackling them. I always had to climb higher, do more, see what was just on the other side of first one peak, and then another. It was a mad scramble to give ordinary the slip, to side-step regular.

After tumbling around in the unpredictability and chaos of the past few years, regular feels like sticking the landing, like grabbing the brass ring.

And there is so much bravery in regular, in normal.  Being the protagonist in my own story has required more courage of me than most anything I've done in quite some time. It was less scary to hide behind all those side-kick roles I played so well.

Being the other half of a relationship - and I did think of myself as the other half - stopped suiting me a while ago, although I was too scared to realize it on my own. The idea of being a Single Working Mom was nothing short of terrifying to me.  I didn't have faith in my ability to be the protagonist in my own life.

The first afternoon at my new job, I created my email signature.  Below my name, in bold print, I typed, Receptionist.  I am a Receptionist. I am one who receives.

The definition of receive? The action or process of receiving something given, sent, or inflicted.

It is my choice, how I view my life as it is today. It can be inflicted on me, something that happens TO me. Or it can be a gift sent to me, given to me.  The Universe cleared my path of all my self-placed obstacles to finding my place in my own story.

In her new book, Rising Strong, Brene Brown says this:

Men and women who rise strong are willing and able to rumble with their stories. By rumble, I mean the get honest about the stories they've made up about their struggles and they are willing to revisit, challenge and reality-check these narratives as they dig into topics such as boundaries, shame, blame, resentment, heartbreak, generosity and forgiveness."
These words shook me to my core. Getting honest with how I feel about my own story is a long journey inward, an intrepid adventure full of jump-scares and trick mirrors. I used to read quotes like this and think:  yes, but I'm always truthful when I tell my story, so this doesn't apply to me. 

But, oh, it's so much more complex than that. The facts aren't the meat of our story. What I didn't have access to were the tough emotions - the ones that make us truly vulnerable - like grief, anger, fear and remorse.

So I dropped the script, the one I had so carefully crafted for myself.  It's just words. It's just a story. The key to freedom is to own my story, but not to let my story own me.

So as the camera swings wide we see our protagonist - a middle aged woman sipping coffee and humming along with her car radio - on her way to first day of work.  She wears a pensive smile, and we wonder what thoughts dance in her head.  Is it a fond memory? The anticipation of plans later that evening?

No, it is none of those things. She is wallowing in the gift of normalcy; the ability to step into the spotlight of her life - hard feelings and all - and to receive.

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


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 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.