Friday, August 28, 2009

Animals are People, Too

The other day I was sunning on the deck and I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. A squirrel was making his way across our back yard with an hydrangea blossom in his mouth. I don't know much about the habits of squirrels, but from what I've heard their preferred foods run along nut-and-acorn lines... so I wondered what on earth he was planning on doing with it. As I watched, he made his way carefully across the backyard - the blossom was large, so it was slow going - and climbed up a nearby tree. He worked his way to the end of a large branch, where he sat patiently for ten minutes or so, the bloom perched delicately in his mouth. Was he trying to attract a mate? Did he offend Mrs. Squirrel in some way, and was trying to get back in her good graces? Were his reasons more practical - a good pillow, perhaps? After a bit he scampered away, so I'll never know.

One brisk morning I was sitting on the steps of our back porch, soaking in some late fall sun. My eyes were closed, and I heard movement directly in front of me, a kind of rustling. I assumed it was the dog, until I heard a low garbling sound, and I opened my eyes to see a huge wild turkey standing about three feet away. He was the size of a medium sized dog, and he was staring at me expectantly. "Hello?" I tried. Then, "Gobble?" He said nothing, just stood there, looking all superior. I waved my arms a bit hoping to shoo him away, he was freaking me out a little, and he took a step closer. It was awkward - he seemed to be waiting for something - food? a hug? an apology for the whole Thanksgiving thing? I got the impression he would have stood there indefinitely if the dog hadn't realized what was going on and come bounding out of the house. The turkey spread his huge wings - I didn't even know they could fly, for crying out loud - and soared up to the very top of a huge pine tree, where he resumed his hateful staring. I slipped back inside, feeling oddly guilty.

A few months ago I was cleaning up breakfast, and heard a loud, tinny sound from outside the front door - a ping.... ping.... ping. The noise would stop for a few moments, then from further away, like an echo, more pinging. After five minutes or so my curiosity got the better of me, and I poked my head out the front door to see what it was. It took me a few minutes to realize a little bird - no bigger than a sparrow - was perched atop the metal electronics box at the top of the telephone pole at the end of our driveway. He would cock his head, wait a bit, and the peck repeatedly at the box, creating a startlingly loud PING. Then, after 30 seconds or so, a distant answer ... another little bird was pinging back to him from a telephone pole up the road. Birdy morse code? A high tech way to attract a mate? Why wouldn't they just chirp to each other? It reminded me of the coffee-can-and-string telephones I would make with my neighbor when I was girl. We could totally call each other on the phone, but why do that when the other way is so much fun?

Last year I was sitting at my computer near an open window, and I heard a loud crashing sound in the woods. I looked out the window, and it took me a few minutes to see the large male deer standing about 25 feet away, slowing making his way through the woods - he was heading towards the road. Then, more crashing, and I realized there was an entire family of deer coming up behind him - a doe, and two smaller deer - not fawns, but more like teenagers. They cautiously worked their way right up to the edge of the road. Cars were rushing by, and my stomach lurched at the thought that I was about to witness something horrible. As I was debating whether to run out towards the road to stop any oncoming cars, the buck put one hoof on the road, stuck his head out and looked left, then right, then left again - as if he had been watching Noggin and knew the proper way to check for traffic. Seeing none, he huffed once through his nose, tossed his head, and the little family darted across the road and into the woods on the other side, with him following safely behind.

Check List

Let's see....

1) warm comfy bed? CHECK

2) favorite pillow? CHECK

3) sunsplashed room? CHECK

4) hand on kitty? CHECK

5) unwashed face? CHECK

6) cozy blanket in hand? CHECK

7) cozy blanket up nose? CHECK

Ahhhh .. just right....................

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dragging the Truth into the Light

One morning earlier this month, Diane Schuler, a 36 year-old mother of two, left a campground with her two children and three nieces. At 1:30pm she crashed her car headlong into an SUV, after driving two miles at high speed the wrong way down a familiar highway. She killed the three occupants of the SUV, herself, her daughter and her nieces. Only her 5 year old son survived.

Nobody who knew Schuler could understand what could have gone so terribly wrong.

Even in the face of irrefutable toxicology results, in news reports family members and friends insisted they had never seen her drink to excess, that she didn't have a problem with alcohol or drugs, they would have known.

Earlier this week I was contacted by a reporter from USA Today who wanted to know whether it is really possible that Schuler’s family didn’t know. "It is possible," I told the reporter. "To understand what happened, we have to talk about denial.”

In order to slip into addiction, you have to tell yourself a lot of lies. In the earlier stages, the things you tell yourself are like the white lies we tell overselves: it has been an unusually hard day, I need a drink. I don't drink every day. I need my wine to sleep. I am a more patient mother after a drink. I can only compare it to dieting, something more of us understand: I was good today, I'll just have one cookie. One dessert won't hurt, I'll spend an hour at the gym tomorrow. I'll eat this today, and then I'll be good the rest of the week.

Like someone who somehow ends up heavier after a month of dieting, the alcoholic gets further down the path of addiction, and doesn't even know it. As the disease progresses - and it always progresses - the lies become more desperate: I can stop anytime I want to. I'm not hurting anyone but myself. Everyone drinks too much sometimes, right?

In the end game, when you can't stop, denial is in full bloom. Your rational mind says: I'm drinking at 10:30am, this is really, really bad. Your disease tells you: just have one to get the edge off. You can stop after one.

There is a complete disconnect between what you are thinking and what you are doing.

Your sick thoughts become your reality. You think to yourself: I'm not that bad. Your disease tells you: they won't understand how much pain you are in, how much drinking sustains you. Your primary objective becomes making sure the world doesn't find out. You carry breath mints, drink coffee. You stash bottles around the house, keeping one bottle "for show" in the refrigerator that you never touch. When you go out socially, you drink in secret beforehand, so you can do your "normal" drinking in public. You go to great lengths to ensure your secret stays safe. You are convinced you can stop when you want to, that you will stop tomorrow. Just one more, is the constant litany in your head.

When my drinking was nearing its worst, my house was always clean. The kids' hair was brushed, their outfits matched, their packed lunches nutritious. I tried to be on time everywhere I went. I made sure I always appeared put-together, neatly dressed. Any crack in this veneer terrified me, because I thought the smallest signal to the outside world that something wasn't right would reveal my terrible secret.

Towards the end, I was lying to myself almost all the time. One weekend, I was supposed to go away with some girlfriends. The morning I was to leave, I woke up and thought: I think I'm coming down with something, I'm tired. I shouldn't go. I called my friends and cancelled. The reality was this: I was afraid, because I wouldn't be able to drink like I wanted to around them. I was afraid I would expose my secret. But here's the rub: I believed the lie I told myself, I really thought I wasn't feeling well. To admit differently was to face my ugly truth - that I was in serious trouble.

The more the disease progresses the stronger the lies become, the more you believe them. You cannot possibly be truthful with anyone else when you aren't being truthful with yourself.

The emptiness of obsession and addiction crowds out your spirit – stamping out everything about you that is warm, loving, passionate, responsible and empathic until nothing but a tiny pilot light remains, barely discernible in the darkness.

So I understand how it could have happened. An alcoholic can no more control her own drinking than a diabetic can control the level of insulin her body produces. Being a mother doesn't come into play with late stage addiction, any more than being a mother would matter with Stage Four cancer. We can't know what Schuler's family knew, if or when they knew things were off. But it is clear from the news reports that they don't want to believe addiction could be at the root of it all. Alcoholics are masters at covering up their disease. Family and friends may see odd behavior, things may not all be adding up, but the hard truth is that - especially with mothers - addiction is rarely considered.

Nobody wants to believe the truth: not the addict, not the family. It touches on something too ugly, too frightening. Addiction is fueled by silence and denial. We can't prevent alcoholism or addiction from happening, we can't even cure it. But we can drag the truth out into the light of day, talk about it, and realize that in using our hearts and voices we can heal. In order to bust through the largest obstacle in addiction - denial - we have to talk about it. Even if it makes us wince. Especially if it makes us wince.

If you know someone you think may have a problem, speak up. And read this post by Damomma - she lived it firsthand. As she said to me once - you can have unconditional love, but you don't need to have unconditional acceptance.

And if you are struggling with alcohol or drugs, if you are worried you may have a problem, or if you know you do, get help. If you are too ashamed to talk to family, friends or loved ones, go to an anonymous meeting and listen. Get informed. Try telling yourself the truth. As scary as that is, it isn't nearly as frightening as a life of secrecy and denial. Trust me.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Finn loves to talk to me when I'm reading. I guess the way he sees it, I'm immobile and I'm silent, so what better time to talk? Earlier, the kids were eating dinner and my work for the day was done, so I cozied up in a chair to read me some David Sedaris. I got two sentences in, and Finn wanders up to me. He is quiet for, like, fifteen seconds, and then off he goes.

"How come you can't light fireworks in the house?"

"Ummm, because the house would catch on fire."

"Are fireworks magic?"

I am still pretending to read, hoping this line of questioning won't last long. "Sure," I say.

"Maybe there's a magic crystal inside them, with a beautiful piece of gold inside. Maybe that is how they work."


"Maybe the magic gold lights a magic stick and makes beautiful lights. Maybe."

I don't respond instantaneously, so he continues. "Outer space is cool. I wished I could go to outer space. Then I could fwoat."

I nod.

"Maybe I could build a rocket ship with sticks and fireworks. But if I did you might get mad."

He is quiet for a minute, swinging his hands back and forth.

"You need a rocket ship to go to outer space. I wished we had a rocket ship."

Again, silence from me.

"Are rocket ships magic? Do you know how to dwive a rocket ship? I wished I could dwive a rocket ship. But I'm only fwee and the policeman would get me."

I keep pretending to read.

"Did you know that baps are actually owls?" (baps are bats, for the uninformed.)

"Ummm - I think bats are actually flying mice" I venture.

He starts flying around the room, pretending to be a bap. "I can't believe baps are flying mice," he says. "I wished I was a bap. Do you wish you were a bap?"

I sigh.

"Do you want me to stop talking?" he asks.

My heart lurches a bit. "No, honey," I say with resignation, "I like it when you talk."

Then he says, "I could talk in a different diwection if you want."

I smile, and his cute little face lights up.

He starts zooming around the room again, and says, "Yeah, I think it is definitely magic that makes fireworks and rocket ships. Definitely."

Mad Skills

When I worked in Corporate America I thought I had mad skills. I could manage multi-million dollar accounts, give bad-ass presentations to Very Important People and not bat an eyelash. I could soothe ruffled feathers, politic and multi-task with the best of them. My plans for World Domination were chugging along nicely.

But, let me tell you, that was amateur hour compared to parenting. With apologies to those Very Important People who go through their business day thinking they are accomplishing a lot, keeping all the proverbial balls in the air - you ain't got nothing on me now.

If a CEO showed up at my house to apply for the job of being a Mom, I know exactly what I'd do. Forget your basic job application, filled out quietly while sitting at a tidy table. Step on into my kitchen around 5pm with the simple task of preparing dinner, and then we'll see what you're made of. Lets see if you can talk on the phone, cook mac and cheese, tie tiny string leashes onto the necks of dozens of Littlest Pet Shops, referee a fight between the kids and wipe up the spilled juice on the floor with a paper towel under your foot. Simultaneously. For starters.

The other day, I'm trying to get some work done, make some jewelry. By some cruel twist of fate, my kids aren't big television watchers. "Go watch TV, PLEASE!" I heard myself saying to my kids. "Or play a video game - or something!" No such luck. Greta switched on the TV, saw "Yo Gabba Gabba" on, put her hands to her eyes and said "It burns! It burns!" and turned it off.

"I need to do work now," I say patiently. "Please entertain yourselves for an hour, and then we'll go do something fun."

I settle in, and the kids retreat to the playroom and play happily for about five minutes. Then Greta wanders in. "Mom?" she says. "I'm a princess? In a castle? And I'm an orphan?"

"Mmm hmmm," I reply distractedly.

"And you're the Mean Orphanage Lady? Who makes us work? So you give us chores to do, and we don't like you?"

"Got it, right," I say, barely listening.

The phone rings - a client I need to talk to about a custom order. So I'm beading, talking to my client and being the Mean Orphanage Lady all at the same time. Thankfully, my client is also a Mom, so she is completely unfazed by my periodic shouts of "Now wash those floors until they gleam!" or "Nothing but porridge for you!" while we're talking. Finn is potty training, every use of the toilet needing it's own parade - and so he goes a lot. So now I'm talking on the phone, ordering my little orphan princess around and smiling like a maniac in the bathroom and clapping for my son. The dog is barking - she needs to go out. Finn is saying "its a GOOD one, right Momma?" and pointing to the toilet, my client is talking into my ear and Greta is method acting, mopping the floor dramatically and singing some song of woe. I hang up the phone, let the dog out, give Finn a sticker for using the potty, give the Orphan Princess another chore. I wander into the next room, thinking "what was I doing again?" Only fifteen minutes has passed.

I saw a television show once, an experiment about multi-tasking, and how men and women are different (insert comment about gender stereotyping here). They took one man and one woman, and put them in their own glass room full of equipment and gave them each the same list of things they needed to accomplish. The man was an executive, the woman a mother (insert comment about gender stereotyping here). They gave them 15 minutes to accomplish every item. The list included: make a phone call, cook toast, boil water, send a fax, clean the counters and make some photo copies. The man picked up his list, and went through each item, one at a time. He got halfway through the list.

The woman set the pot on to boil, hit send on the fax, plopped the paper into the copier to copy, put the toast in the toaster, picked up the phone - all while wiping the counters. She was done in five minutes, looking at the camera as if to say, "is this all you got?"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Shortcut Ain't A Bad Word

An important caveat up front: I am totally copying Damomma's post idea. Go check it out, especially if you're having a bad day parenting-wise, and read the comments. Trust me - you'll feel better. And besides - she told the Universe that I gave her kid a hot dog for breakfast after her daughter slept over... so I don't even feel badly about my lack of originality.

Her post is about Mommy Confessions. I had been kicking around a few of mine in my head recently, and her post prompted me to share. I'm a big believer in getting things out - as a parent my day to day life is filled with tiny little decisions, and it is just not realistic that I'm going to make all the right ones. And, I have always been a shortcut person. So here goes.

I hate laundry. Like, really hate laundry. I wish there was a cognitive behavioral therapist who specialized in Fear of Laundry, because I have it. I have no problem washing clothes; I like clean underwear as much as the next person. It is the folding and putting away part that I detest - it just seems so pointless. Every now and then I'll get super motivated and fold and put away millions of tiny child sized tee shirts, shorts and underpants. I'll get all organized and put everything in its own drawer, stacked neatly and gleaming. It takes all of two days for everything to spill out onto the floor. It all seems so fruitless.

I spend much of my day saying "In A MINUTE!" to my kids. Of course, I don't mean In A Minute, I mean can you please go away for at least an hour? My daughter is on to this, and she will now say "Mom, do you mean in 60 seconds or in like two hours?" Both my kids now say it back to me on a regular basis, too. I was desperate for Greta to get dressed so we could go out the door to something we were already late for, and she was sitting on the floor dressing up her Webkinz. "In a MINUTE!" she said to me, when I asked her for the gadzillionth time to get dressed. "Pom Pom can't decide which shirt to wear!" All I can do is stand there and get a good dose of my own medicine.

Especially in these long summer days, I am desperate for the kids to go to bed at night. It was a dark day when my 6 year old learned to tell time. Her bedtime in the summer is 8:30pm. On particularly long days I will set the clock back an hour, just so she will go to bed. I tell her it is time for bed, and she'll say "but it isn't 8:30!", and I'll point meaningfully to the clock. I'm sure she's up there lying in bed wondering why she can still hear the neighbor kids playing, but I'm downstairs with my feet up and a cup of tea and I don't care.

My 3 year old son talks all day. I mean ALL DAY. He'll just prattle on with these statements, and he won't stop until he gets some kind of validation from me. Much of the time, his concepts make no sense, or are plain wrong. I am too tired to correct them, so I just agree with everything says, hoping he'll stop talking. I figure the school system can sort it out one day - that polar bears don't actually live in the jungle, that the moon isn't the size of a marble, that motor boats can't fly - all things he steadfastly believes to be true, because it was his idea so it must be true, right Momma? Right Momma? RIGHT MOMMA?

My son still needs to nap on occasion. He is less than enthusiastic about this idea. So a few months ago I pretended to call the doctor and ask if he still needed to nap. I hung up the phone and told him "the doctor said you still need naps"... now when I tell him it is time for a nap, he says "Doctor said, right?"

To cut down on the bickering between my kids, I started a Yelling Jar. Anyone who yelled had to put in a quarter. So far, I am the only contributor.

Some days are just worse than others. Some days we spend the day in a cycle of frustration, pleading, whining and bickering. After days like this, after the kids have been asleep for a while, I'll sneak into their room, look at them all curled up together looking adorable, and I'll feel like a terrible Mom.

In the summer, running through the sprinkler or going in a pool totally qualifies as baths.

I can only sit and play a game with them, or do a craft, or read a book, for about half an hour and then I want to tear my hair out.

If I'm short on money and don't want to go to the ATM, I'll raid my daughter's piggy bank, telling myself I'll replace it before she notices. Then I always forget to replace it. This caught up to me on a girl scout field trip - she was perusing the gift shop and literally shouted to me over the heads of all the other mothers that she "can spend the eighteen dollars you stole from my piggy bank - you OWE me."

Anyone else want to share? C'mon - you know you want to....

Sunday, August 16, 2009

731 Days

It is early morning on August 16, 2007, and my eyes open a crack. I hear a faint snoring coming from my right - my husband? - but somehow the room feels all wrong. I close my eyes for a moment, hoping to fall back asleep, and it hits me. It's over.

I open my eyes fully, and I know where I am. I stare at the pockmarked, stained ceiling tiles and my thoughts race. I think: why me? I think: how could I? I think: I'm so, so tired. But one phrase goes over and over in my head: it's over. It. Is. Over. Please God let it be over.

I move my head slowly to the right, and see a middle aged woman in the twin bed next to mine, sleeping deeply with her mouth hanging open. Her dishwater grey curls are a mass of tangles, her face ashen. If it weren't for the faint snoring, I would think she was dead.

I am at a detox facility. I had left this very place two days prior after a ten day stay. I thought I was ready for the real world - I took lots of notes. I paid attention to everything the counselors told me. I listened to all the stories of heartache and pain. I promised everyone that I was okay - that I was ready to leave.

I wasn't.

Home less than 48 hours, and the Disease got me by the throat again. I know how it happened - I still thought I was in control. I still didn't believe. I still thought I could have "just one" in safety. I have never been more wrong.

I'm too tired to cry. I'm too tired to fight anymore. I thought I was strong, I thought I could beat this thing. I can't. I roll carefully on my side, and slide off the bed on to the floor. I try the one thing I haven't tried.... I get down on my knees, lean my head against the side of the bed. And I pray. I don't know who or what I'm praying to, not yet, but I know what I'm praying for. I'm praying that I will get out of my own way. I don't know it yet, but I'm finally, finally giving up, I'm finally letting go.

After a 30 day stay at a treatment center, I am told I am ready to go. I do not feel ready to go. I am terrified. This, I am told, is a good sign. It means I have surrendered - that I understand that left to my own resources I am in trouble. I am told to go straight to a meeting, put my hand up, and ask for help, so this is what I do. And help comes.

I know now that my recovery is not my doing. Sure, I'm the one putting one foot in front of the other, putting the advice I'm given into action. But I have learned how to put Faith in front of Fear, and to let go. I do not walk alone. Today marks the two year anniversary of my sobriety. But it isn't about years - it is about putting together 24 hours at a time. It is 731 days, because 2008 was a leap year - an extra day in February. In recovery it is said that the person with the most sobriety is the person who got up earliest that day. I do not project too far into the future, I do not look too far into the past. I do my best to stay in the moment, because each sober day I have is a day I couldn't have dreamed of only 731 days ago.

This morning I open my eyes early - I want to see the sun rise. We are out at our beach camp, and the sun rises up over the lighthouse next door to our cottage. I hear the faint snoring of my husband sleeping beside me. I peek out the door to the next room - at Greta and Finn, their little limbs all tangled together in a heap, sound asleep and dreaming.

I slide off the bed and get down on my knees. "Thank you," I say softly. As the first beams of sunlight stream through my bedroom window, I say it over and over. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Twice Monthly Giveaway - New Item!

Congratulations to Clenna E. who won the Big Pearl Ring! Thanks to all of you who entered!

This week's item is one of my favorites - it is stylish, versatile and available in virtually any color - and it is a $38 value!!

I call this bracelet the "Thank You" bracelet, because I originally designed three of these for a friend to give as teacher's gifts. Made with swarovski pearls and sterling silver components, it comes with an inspirational charm of your choice: Believe, Faith, Hope, Serenity, Balance, Survivor, Hope, Peace, Love and Change are available.

Pictured below are lavender, sky blue and rose, however many, many other colors are available, so just let me know if you are interested in a different color - I probably have it! Click on the top picture to see the bracelet in my Etsy shop:

To enter, please send me a message through the Contact Me form on the right hand side of the screen - please let me know you are entering the giveaway and whether or not you have a color preference (either one pictured or a different one). If you are the winner, you can pick which charm you would like (or no charm, if you would prefer).

The winner will be chosen at random (my daughter draws a name from a hat) on September 1st!

Thanks and good luck!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Good Place To Start

I get a fair number of emails from people, mostly women and mostly mothers, about recovery. Some are still figuring it out, deciding whether or not they have a problem. Some are new to recovery, and some have been sober for a while. I appreciate hearing from everyone - as I've stated again and again I feel that in sharing our stories, our struggles and our triumphs we go a long way towards combating the disease of addiction. I respect anonymity and confidentiality above everything - I have great respect for the fact that facing fears about drinking, or drugs, and whether or not you want to do something about it, is an intensely personal and private decision. I feel strongly, too, that talking with people who understand, who are safe, is pivotal to finding a strong path in recovery. If you think you may have a problem, it is hard to figure out how to take that first step.

I am often asked about information, books or articles that may be helpful. I have read several books that have to do with recovery - I'll share some of the best here. If you want to understand more about addiction - whether you think you may have a problem, are in recovery yourself, or have a loved one with addiction, these books are worth the read.

My favorite book on addiction and recovery, as it pertains to women, is Drinking, A Love Story by Caroline Knapp. Caroline is an excellent writer, and describes her journey into addiction, the struggle to get out of it, and life in recovery, with honesty and eloquence. I first read her book in 1997 - ten years before I stopping drinking. I wish I had paid more attention to the distant alarm bells that went off in my head when I read her story. If you are a woman who is wondering whether or not you have a problem with alcohol - this is the book to read.

Dry, by Augusten Burroughs (he wrote Running with Scissors, among many other books), was a compelling read. While I can't identify as much with his personal circumstances, he writes eloquently about his fall into addiction with drinking and drugs, a first attempt at recovery and subsequent relapse, and eventual sobriety - all while facing significant personal trials and tribulations.

The Night of the Gun, by David Carr. A reporter for the New York Times, Carr investigates his own history of drinking, drugs and addiction through interviews with friends, families and co-workers who were there through it all. The Night of the Gun is a fascinating exploration of memory, as well as a gripping memoir about addiction and recovery. It is also an interesting read from the perspective of people who love addicts, and a graceful story of regret and redemption.

There are several books I would describe as more in the "self-help" category, but some of them are particularly good. Living Sober, published by AA services, is kind of an owner's manual to early sobriety. Although published by AA, it doesn't deal with the 12 steps as much as how to navigate the tricky waters of early sobriety. I read it over and over as I faced some "firsts" in sobriety: first wedding, first party, first family gathering, and even how to face day-to-day stresses sober.

A Place Called Self: Women, Sobriety and Radical Transformation, by Stephanie Brown, is also a "self-help" book, written with eloquence and compassion by a woman in recovery. Brown discusses addiction and recovery as it relates to how women define themselves, delving deeper into the psychological, social and cultural issues that impact women in addiction (from anything - drugs, alcohol, shopping, sex or gambling) and in recovery.

One of the reasons I wanted to blog about the good recovery stories out there is in response to some of the parenting books that make light of drinking as a survival tool in parenting. Robert Wilder's Daddy Needs a Drink and Chris Mancini's Pacify Me, are examples of this. Interestingly, Stefanie Wilder-Taylor - who wrote Sippy Cups are Not for Chardonnay - recently admitted on her blog that she has a problem with alcohol, and is now in recovery. I commend her for speaking publicly about her journey. She writes with courage and grace - plus she is very, very funny. I recommend checking out her blog here.

This list is nowhere near comprehensive - just some thoughts on the books that were the most meaningful to me as I tried to figure out if I had a problem, struggled to get into recovery, and as I progress through my own journey in sobriety. If you have suggestions of your own please share them here, too.

If you are wondering whether or not you have a problem, reading can be a safe, quiet and private way to begin. Thank you again to everyone who has reached out to me - keep on coming - you all help me and I appreciate it very much.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Sabre Tooth Tiger And The Gumdrop Tree

In recovery, we talk a lot about Fear. I find fear to be kind of slippery - I know it when I see it, but it is hard to define from a standstill. The technical definition of fear is this: an emotional response to threats and danger. It is a basic survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of pain.

When I look at it closely, there aren't many situations in my day to day life that call for a true fear response, like a burglar in the bushes or the house catching on fire. Fear is designed to trigger the age old fight-or-flight instinct humans have used to protect themselves for eons: the caveman-meeting-up-with-a-sabre-tooth-tiger kind of fear. In our contemporary and relatively cushy modern lives, we are buffered from most of the life threatening situations our ancestors faced on a daily basis. But the fight-or-flight instinct remains.

I think of fear as a kind of root emotion, in the sense that a lot of thoughts and feelings are driven by fear, although I process them as something else, like anger, resentment or even sadness. In recovery I have learned that fear drives the bus a lot more than we realize. Anger is oftentimes born out of fear - fear of being hurt or being wrong, for instance. We lash out to protect ourselves from the possibility of pain - either physical or emotional. Resentment also usually comes from fear - we can build monuments of resentment towards people, or places, or even things in order to avoid processing the fear they may instill. For instance, instead of processing bad memories, we create a resentment that we carry around with us like luggage. As long as we're carrying the suitcase around, we don't have to look at what is inside.

Then we have Anxiety -many people use anxiety and fear interchangeably, when in fact anxiety is fear that occurs without any immediate external threat. Fear would be called for if your house was actually on fire - anxiety comes into play when you're worrying that your house might catch on fire. I think of anxiety as the fight-or-flight instinct gone haywire. When we're anxious, we are creating situations that cause us worry and fear, but not in direct response to a threat. We can experience anxiousness over the unknown - like a new job, or a party where we don't know anyone. There is no real threat, but our minds try to process every possible outcome and prepare for any unforeseen trouble - otherwise known as Worry.

I suffered from anxiety on and off for years. Certainly, anxiety was a large contributor to my eventual addiction - drinking or doing drugs is one of the only ways to hide from yourself. As a person in recovery, I am learning the important distinction between Fear and Anxiety. Fear can be an extremely useful emotion, and when I'm experiencing genuine fear it is important to pay attention to it - it could save my life. Anxiety, however, is a different story. Learning to differentiate between a perceived threat and a real one is a work in progress. But just understanding that some of the bogeymen come from my brain, my thinking, has been helpful. It is like I developed two voices in my head - I still react to the world with anxiousness, but I have an impartial observer in my head who helps me understand if this is something of my own creation, or a real fear I need to pay attention to.

All of this came into play the other night, when my daughter woke up terrified. She suffers from night terrors on occasion - but it has been a while since she had one this badly. She was crying hysterically, convinced there were ticks all over her room, and if she fell asleep they were going to get her. First we turn on the light and do a room check - show her that there aren't any ticks, that she is safe. Then comes the trickier part. She can't fall asleep, because her anxiety is in overdrive. So I sit on her bed, rub her back, and we talk it through. We talk about how minds can "play tricks" sometimes, how her mind can create a fear that feels very real, and even though she can see it isn't, her mind won't stop thinking about it.

"So you need to give your mind something else to do, something else to think about," I say.

She sniffs and thinks for a moment. "Something that makes me happy? Like a gumdrop tree?"

I smile, "Yes, a gumdrop tree would work. Or a happy memory, or a place you love to go."

She is quiet for a minute. "But, the problem is that I start out thinking happy things, and my brain starts thinking about ticks anyway."

"Do you want to know a trick people have been using for thousands of years? When they are afraid and can't fall asleep?"

Her eyes are wide. "Yes," she whispers.

"Close your eyes, and start taking deep, slow breaths. Don't think about anything but your breath, the sound of it coming in and out of your lungs. Then start counting your breaths - breathe in deeply, and as you're letting it out, count one. Then two - and so on."

She opens her eyes, looking anxious. "Okay, I'll try it," she says bravely.

I turn out the light, leave her door open a crack the way she likes it, and head back to bed. I count my own breaths to fall asleep.

The next morning I pull her aside. "I'm really proud of you. You were afraid last night, but you were brave and tried something new. You should be really proud - you faced your fear." She smiles quietly.

"How many breaths did you count before you fell asleep?" I asked.

She grins from ear to ear. "Three," she says, and laughs.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

On Being Fwee

We've been spending a lot of time with friends lately - long summer days and sleepovers at night. Mostly, because of his age, Finn is tagging along with Greta's friends. They are usually great about including him, but sometimes it gets a little rocky:

Overheard during a playdate with Greta and two of her friends, who are 8 year old twins - Luke and Sarah*. They are having races outside on the lawn:

Luke: "I win! I win! I'm the fastest one!"

Greta: "I came in second!"

Sarah: "I came in third, but at least I didn't lose!"

Finn, his face a crumpled mess of disappointment: "I losed."

Luke: "Its okay, Finn. It is because you're three. I'm almost 9, so of course I'm faster than you."

Finn: "I slow. I so, so slow."

Sarah: "Don't worry, Finn - I couldn't run this fast when I was three, either."

Finn: Sniff.

Greta: "It is because you're legs aren't long enough to keep up - its okay."

Finn (exasperated) : "But.... But.... But my legs are as long as they supposed to be!"

*not their real names

Greta and Finn are hanging out with 9 year old Zak, and 7 year old Abi. I'm reading in the next room, and my ears prick up when I hear this:

Zak: "So that is why there couldn't be a tooth fairy."

I peek around the corner, and the younger three are looking up at him with wide eyes.

Zak: "Because, like I said, my friend Elizabeth found the little pink container the tooth fairy leaves her money in .... it was in her Mom's drawer."

Greta: "Maybe the tooth fairy leaves it there? You know, to use when she leaves the money?"

Zak: "I dunno. But when my friend Sean lost his tooth? At a friend's house? The tooth fairy didn't even come. So I don't think the tooth fairy is real."

Greta: "That is an easy one - the tooth fairy only comes when you are home. You're supposed to keep the tooth and put it under your own pillow. So the tooth fairy is REAL."

Zak: "And there are lots of kids who say Santa isn't real. I've been thinking about it a lot. I mean - anyone can eat the cookies, or leave a note. But I know Santa is real because each year we leave carrots out for the reindeer, and every year a reindeer takes a bite. Its not people teeth marks in it, either."

There is silence, as the kids absorb this life altering information. I'm wondering if I should step in and distract them.

Finn (emphatically) : "Santa puts da toys IN the pwesents!! HE IS THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN DO DAT!!"

That seems to settle the matter for the moment, at least.


Finn is still licking his wounds from the races on the lawn. Clutching his blanket like Linus, he shuffles onto my lap, and sighs.

Finn: "Momma, I slow. I never win."

Me: "You are the fastest three year old I know!"

Finn (sighing): "I don't wanna be fwee any more."

Me: "I wish I was still three. Its a fun age."

Finn: "You wish you were FWEE? Why?"

Me: "Because three year olds can run fast. Do you want to race?"

Finn: "I not going to win."

Me: "Lets try."

We race across through the living room into the bedroom. I'd like to say he beat me because I let him, but it wouldn't be true.

Finn: "I winned!"

Me: "See? You are really fast."

He thinks for a moment. "But you're 40. You're 'posed to be slow."


I'm tucking Finn into bed. It has been a long couple of days, hanging out with older kids. Greta has a friend sleeping over, and as is our tradition he sleeps in our bed, and we have our own sleepover. As he is drifting off to sleep he says quietly:

"I the littlest, Momma."

"Yes, sweetheart, you were the youngest one there today. But you're my big boy, you know that, right?"

He smiles, his eyes closed. "I know dat. And I'm bigger den da two year olds."

"Yes, you are."

"And I faster, too. I can beat dem in a race."

"Yes, you can."

"But I never going to call them small. Because some day they will be big like me."

"Yes, they will," I say, but he is already asleep.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Summer Daze

I have blogged about the tougher stuff, finding the balance of work and kids during the long summer days. We have had a lot of good old fashioned fun so far, too:

Boogie Boarding at the Beach

Fishing with Dad

Running through the sprinkler

Going to the playground

Interacting with wildlife

No pool? No problem.

And then, in a desperate attempt to keep him busy for half an hour, this:

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Silence = Death - The Diane Schuler Tragedy

I read a news report a couple of days ago about a 36 year old woman who crashed her car, which was carrying her two children ages 2 and 5, and her three nieces, ages 8, 7 and 5, into an SUV carrying three men. She was traveling at high speed, going the wrong way down the Taconic State Parkway for 2 miles before the collision. A little before the crash, she called her brother, the father of her nieces, to say she "wasn't feeling well" and sounded disoriented. He told her to pull over to the side of the road - he was coming to help. She disregarded his advice, and half an hour later she crashed, killing her 2 year old, her three nieces, the three men in the SUV, and herself. Her 5 year old son survived.

As I'm reading this, I'm thinking: she was drunk, or high - more victims to this horrible disease of addiction.

Initial reports did not mention that alcohol or narcotics were involved, only that investigators were looking further into the details of the crash, suspecting an aneurysm, stroke or heart attack were likely causes. Family and neighbors were interviewed, describing Diane as a 'wonderful mother', and 'active, engaged and loving with her children'. When the crash occurred, she was returning from camping - an activity they did often as a family - at a campground they frequented often during the summer. Her husband, who had left earlier to return home, said that when he left everything seemed "fine."

Unfortunately, I was not surprised to read the following report today (from :

"Diane Schuler was drunk and had consumed marijuana not long before driving a minivan with five children the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway, authorities said Tuesday, a stunning revelation that helps explain the collision that killed her and seven others.
Citing blood work results, authorities said the West Babylon mother had a blood-alcohol content of 0.19, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 and the equivalent of about 10 drinks. She had enough [marijuana] in her blood stream to indicate that she ingested it 15 minutes to an hour before the July 26 accident, authorities said."

And then, this:

"Tuesday's news outraged the [family of the men traveling in the SUV] and shocked many who knew Schuler...Most importantly, Carey said, they do not know why Schuler - a Cablevision manager whom neighbors, friends and family described as a trustworthy, caring mother - would drive drunk and high with children. State police said they informed Schuler's husband, Daniel, and [Diane's brother and father to her nieces] of the results Tuesday morning and they seemed very surprised......In West Babylon, where Schuler lived, not everyone believed the police explanation. 'I've never seen her drink; I've never seen her smoke,' said neighbor Julie Shaughnessy. 'I don't believe that. There has to be another explanation'...... Friends struggled with the news. 'We're all in disbelief, all of us,' said Sharon Gregor, 51, of Massapequa, who camped many weekends with Schuler."

I want to be very clear that I do not condone or excuse Diane Schuler's behavior. Ultimately, we are all responsible for our own poor decisions, our own actions - I believe this to be true with all my heart.

I also want to be clear that I don't know her, don't have most of the details, don't know her history, and can't possibly know what happened that day. But I do know this: she was struggling with addiction. A grown woman, mother of two and aunt to three, doesn't end up drunk and high at one in the afternoon if she isn't struggling with addiction. She didn't spontaneously wake up that day and decide to get drunk and high for the first time. Her disease caught up to her, and, heartbreakingly, those who loved her.

To me, her story is a tragic and poignant example both of the power that addiction has on the addict, and on the people in their lives. This is especially, and tragically, true with mothers. The stigma of being an alcoholic or addicted mother - not parent - but mother, runs very deep. Fathers who admit to addiction face different hurdles than mothers do. Society is quicker to explain away why a man, a father, may turn to alcohol or drugs: his job is stressful, they had money problems, they were in danger of losing their house, it all just got to be too much. People are also quicker to suspect a problem with alcohol, or drugs, when it comes to men.

This does not mean an alcoholic father, or the people who love him, suffers any less. Just differently. Mothers who end up addicted very, very often do so alone and in silence. Most don't sit in bar rooms, complaining to anyone planted on the stool next to them that life is too much. They struggle valiantly to maintain, to appear normal, so that the world can't find out. They are very reluctant to ask for help, because of the fear of being branded a bad mother. Like any other alcoholic or addict, an addicted mother is a sick mother. A mother who needs help.

It doesn't surprise me that neighbors, friends and even family express outrage and surprise. Who knows to what degree they had their own quiet suspicions. But when it comes to women, mothers, who seem to have it all together - maybe some fraying around the edges, some odd episodes - the last thing they suspect is alcoholism or addiction. It just doesn't fit. It is too horrible to think about. So any suspicions are cast aside, odd behavior ignored. Addiction is a disease that thrives on silence and isolation, and in quiet suburbs everywhere there are women behind the whitewashed fences and window boxes who are suffering and addicted.

There is a powerful lesson here. If you think someone is behaving oddly, if you think something is wrong - trust your instincts. Better to be embarrassed and wrong than to have something tragic like this occur. If you suspect someone is struggling with addiction, it is okay to say so. To tell them they need help, and they will have your support if they get it. Because I am in recovery I hear the same story over and over again. "Nobody knew. I couldn't believe nobody knew, but I worked really hard at hiding it. It was my darkest secret. I couldn't stop myself, and I didn't know why. I had to be stopped, be told to get help." Sadly, it usually takes a tragic event, or close call, to bring an addict's struggles to the light of day.

I often see women I think may be struggling - and it isn't because they got all wobbly at the last evening out for drinks. It is often the quiet ones who seem to get sick a lot, who don't return calls for a while, who sort of slip off the radar. Or the woman at the party who seems more intoxicated than everyone else, even though she has only had a glass of wine or two - she started before the party, so she could do her 'normal drinking' in public. Someone who complains of other, more accepted problems - she is just "tired", or "ate something bad" - and this happens more than once. She cancels or reschedules morning playdates. She stops inviting people over. She calls at odd times and pours out her problems, and then seems sheepish or remorseful the next time I see her. All too often things look okay on the outside, but are falling to pieces on the inside.

Diane Schuler, 36, Erin Schuler, 2, Emma Hance, 8, Alyson Hance, 7, Kate Hance, 5, Guy Bastardi, 49, Michael Bastardi, 81, Daniel Longo, 74 - may you rest in peace. May this horrific tragedy help someone speak up about their own troubles, or inspire someone to put out their hand to help.

Monday, August 3, 2009


Often, especially these days with the kids both home all the time, I open my eyes in the morning, and think about all the things that I have to do during the day. I lie in bed and tick them off in my head one by one: I have to get to the store, change the oil in the car, call that person back, make jewelry orders, schedule that appointment, do the laundry, work out, pick up the dog's medication at the vet's, pick up the house at least a little, and -oh yeah - pay attention to my kids. I lie there and work myself into a quiet panic - how on earth am I going to get it all done? There isn't enough time. I can't do it all. Some days it just makes me want to curl up and go back to sleep for, like, days.

I take a moment to breathe, and then try to puzzle it out - make it all fit somehow. Then the kids come bounding in, bouncing on the bed - full of zest and ready for the day - and we're off and running.

Before I know it, it is 10am and all I have managed to do is give them breakfast and get them dressed. The panic starts gnawing at me a little - I'm losing time, I'm losing time. I try to prioritize; I tick through the list and figure out which things are most important. I come up empty - damn it, I think, its all important. My days pass in fits and starts - one step forward, and two steps back. If I pick up the house, the jewelry isn't getting made. If I make jewelry, the house is getting progressively messier as the kids freewheel around the house. If I run those errands, the kids will be cranky and bored and will need something fun to do. If I do something fun, nothing is getting done. Sometimes it just makes me want to throw in the proverbial towel.

Then I get to thinking about my professional days - how on earth did I manage a multi-million dollar client? How did I walk into board meetings of Fortune 500 companies, kick ass and take names? How did I become this woman who is overwhelmed by kids and laundry?

I realize the answer is sort of basic: managing my professional world was more straight forward on many levels, the most important of which being that at the end of the day I could punch out and go back to my personal life. There were two distinct versions of me back then: the ass-kicking, name taking corporate professional - I could wear that role like a mask, or a suit of armor - and then the gentler, more human version of me who just wanted a good book and a comfy couch at the end of the day. There is no differentiating line for a stay-at-home Mom raising kids. My job is my life.

Most days I'm cool with it - I am full of gratitude for the richness of my life. I wallow in the chaos, happy just to be in the middle of it all. Other days I look at my kids and think: you're still here? The fact that I have these little lives to nurture, these adorable human souls who rely so much on me, overwhelms me. I realize it is harder than Corporate America because it is so much more meaningful, so much more important. Once you become a parent there isn't any punching out. Even if you flake out and run away from it all, you are still someone's Parent.

When I'm overwhelmed, or resentful or just plain bored, I realize I'm bucking the tide instead of letting it carry me. Instead of rolling with the momentum of life with younger kids, I'm struggling to get it all done - to achieve some sense of accomplishment at the end of the day - Look! I did everything on my list!

When my husband comes in the door after work, he innocently asks: "What did you guys do today?" I look around at the messy kitchen table from our craft project, the dishes I didn't get to because I was building a fort on the porch, the bathing suits dripping dry on the back of the chair from running through the sprinklers, the artwork plastered all over the refrigerator from a marathon coloring session. The kids say, "Not much." I haven't achieved more than one or two things on my list of things that seemed so important that morning, and have lost ground on several other items on that same list.

If being a Mom came with a checklist it might look something like this: Did you laugh over and over at your son's knock knock joke? Check. Did you kiss a scraped knee? Check. Did you answer question after question without telling them to just be quiet? Check. Did you referee countless squabbles? Check. Did you dry tears with soothing words? Check. Did you hug your kids and tell them you loved them? Check. Then the most important things were accomplished. If I do a good job at this, I will raise kids who are self-confident and strong and can't wait to get away from me and start their own lives. The laundry can wait.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

I See Me

I look at him and I'm so amazed,

I'm so proud and then so afraid,

That the apple didn't fall quite far enough
from the tree -

Yeah I look at him and I see me.

-"I See Me", Travis Tritt

I identify with these lyrics when I think about my daughter. First of all, she looks exactly like I did at her age: same brown eyes, same straight hair that refuses to cooperate, same height - she sticks up the same three inches above almost all of her friends.

So much of her personality is like mine, too. I view this, of course, as both a blessing and a curse. It makes the joys and successes that much sweeter, and the obstacles that much harder. When I see her struggling with a fear or anxiety that I had as a kid (some that I still have), I feel that little pang: Oh, man - she got that from me. I work hard at keeping the challenges of my Adult World off her radar, to the degree I can, so sometimes I see something I know just comes right from the core of her, right from the ole gene pool.

There are aspects to her that remind me of me that I am grateful for: her empathy, her loving soul, her generous nature, her cheeky sense of humor. Then there are the parts that are bittersweet - her eagerness to please others, her need for validation, her anxiety about unknown things. Like I did at her age, she has a fascination with the Adult World, and a keen ear for conflict. Ever since she was a baby, she was perfectly happy sitting amongst a group of adults, eyes wide open, taking it all in. When I was a little older than she is now, I remember listening to my parents' dinner conversation, writing down the words I didn't know and looking them up in the dictionary so I could follow along better.

Then there is a particular quirk we both share: a sense of over-responsibility. Like me, Greta cannot stand to see anyone suffer, and she tries as hard as she can to avoid any kind of conflict. Sometimes when my husband and I are discussing something heated, like politics, she will come up between us and say "Ohmmmmmm" with her eyes closed, attempting to get us to bring it down a notch. She worries about whether the car has enough gas or about my driving (she watches my RPMs like a hawk, and says "Momma - you're above 3!!" and panics - even if I'm going the speed limit). She wonders if the boat will sink, if the house will burn down, and when we're going to die. I remember thinking this way; once I realized that adults couldn't always promise that everything will be okay, I started underwriting the universe. Pat answers and assurances didn't hold much water for me anymore.

I realize we don't get to pick and choose which traits our kids will get from us. I understand that people are just as much a product of nurture as they are of nature. But it is still difficult when I see those innate tendencies that I wish I didn't have surface in my daughter.

It takes two people to make a person - so there are plenty of characteristics she shares with my husband: an impish streak, a love of practical jokes, a big huge laugh and a love of the natural world. He is way more laid-back than I am when it comes to parenting, and the two of us balance out nicely most of the time. When something is too close to home for me, I'll pitch it to him to handle, and his fresh perspective does me just as much good as it does her. And my husband is a tad on the compulsive side when it comes to cleanliness, which, trust me, is a good thing.

Also, of course, I worry about how addiction can run in families. I am adopted, so I don't know my biological history, and I don't have any idea how thickly alcoholism or addiction may run in my own bloodline. There was no way for anyone in my family to know this particular time bomb was ticking away in my genetic makeup. But I am grateful - so, so grateful - to be in recovery. To have more information and experience with this disease, so I can be watchful and supportive of her. I hope against all hope that what I went through, what I learned, will spare her the same path. But, of course, this is not up to me. We'll just take it one day at a time.