Sunday, November 29, 2009
Take a look around you. See that little baby, just learning to sit up on her own? She loves you, simply and with her whole heart. Soak it in. Do not be afraid of her love.
You think this is so hard, impossibly hard, this parenting thing. The long hours, the boredom, the constant needs. You don't feel up to the task, do you? You are doing fine. More than fine. You just can't see it.
That anxiety you feel? That deep fear? Embrace it. It's a gift, because it means you love fiercely. You want to hide from that love, because it's deeper and more powerful than anything you have ever felt before. It's mother-love, and it scares you. You don't know if you can bear it, the sheer weight of it on your shoulders.
Be gentle to yourself. You don't have to do everything perfectly - there is no such thing. Trust your heart, it knows what it's doing. Don't over think. Your mind can't get a grip on matters best left to the heart. Put down the parenting books, the magazine articles. Stop the constant comparisons, your endless quest for ways you don't measure up.
See that glass in your hand? The deep red swirl of wine? You think it makes the fear, the insecurity, the weariness all better, don't you? You feel it masks the anxiety, the self-doubt, the boredom. Know this: it masks the love, the joy and the laughter, too. You are trying to erase yourself from the picture, a little at a time, because you don't believe you're good enough.
You can't picture letting go of your fear. You think it is keeping you safe. It is keeping you stuck and alone. You can't imagine a life without the need to hide from yourself.
You don't really hear the giggles of your baby as you rub her belly, or notice how her face lights up at the sight of you. You don't really notice how strong her chubby fingers are when she clutches your thumb, or how she likes to rub her feet against you as she falls asleep. You don't see these things because you are scared to love that much. You are hiding within yourself, afraid.
Know that this fear isn't born out of despair, it is born out of love. A beautiful, all encompassing, love.
Have faith that it is going to be okay. Things will work out the way they are supposed to, and all the worry and anxiety you feel won't change that. So let go. Get up each day with a grateful heart. Or at least try to. Be present. Be present for all of it.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
This year, though, I'm thinking a lot about what I'm thankful for. Really thinking about it, not just a passing nod before I tuck into a heaping plate of food.
It is far to easy to think about all the things I don't have, especially when my mind is absorbed with the loss of Coalie. Yesterday I entered the Anger phase of grieving. I was angry that some careless driver robbed us of our loving pet. Angry that it happened at all. I was playing an endless game of what-if: what-if we hadn't let him out that day? what-if that driver had left their house five minutes later? what-if he hadn't run into the road? It wasn't a pleasant state of mind, and it left me feeling empty and sadder than ever.
My kids are processing their grief by talking about him a lot, acknowledging what a loving addition he was to our family. They are thinking about his life more than his loss. I learn so much from my kids.
I am terrific at feeling sorry for myself. I can put so much energy into sadness, anger or resentment, and it doesn't get me anywhere. I do feel it is important to acknowledge emotions; I spent years stuffing bad feelings, putting them Someplace Else, and that doesn't work either. So what is the answer?
The funny thing about gratitude, at least for me, is that it is difficult to conjure it up out of thin air. Usually I experience gratitude after I have been through a bad patch, and I'm grateful that it is over. It isn't hard to be grateful for the absence of pain, fear or sadness. It takes more work for me to be grateful for an ordinary day. I forget that an ordinary day is a blessing.
It is the small moments that should carry the most meaning in the fabric of my life. The sound of my kids giggling in the next room. The way Finn sticks his tongue out when he's concentrating. Greta coming up with an idea for a book where the girl gets to save the day. The song the two of them made up together, when they thought I couldn't hear them. Greta's big toothless smile. The way Finn spins in place until he falls down laughing. The sound of them whispering to each other at night when they're supposed to be asleep.
I don't want to live in fear. I don't want to feel gratitude simply because something bad didn't occur. Coalie's gift to me is that he reminded me to see the simple beauty in life as it's happening.
I asked Greta this morning what she is grateful for. She gave me a puzzled look, so I said, "when you get up in the morning, what are you thankful for?"
She looked at me as though the answer was the most obvious thing in the world. "That I woke up," she said simply.
That's a good place to start.
Monday, November 23, 2009
I have had lots of pets in my lifetime, and it is always hard when they die. Coalie had a special place in my heart, though - I had never met a cat like him. He was a very loving little creature, and he had a soft spot for me. Virtually every time I sat down, anywhere, he would come scampering across the room to sit in my lap, purring madly. Every night as I settled into bed to read, he would leap up on the bed and settle in next to me (or, if he had his preference, smack dab on the middle of my chest between my face and my book). I always sleep on my side, and each night he'd plop down, perched on my arm, and purr like crazy until he fell asleep.
We had a little burial out in the woods, said a few prayers for him, and put down a little headstone. As we solemnly walked back to the house, I was thinking about the innocence of animals. How all they really want from you is love. Coalie's affection could drag me out of the worst mood. I'd be sitting in a funk feeling sorry for myself, and he'd crawl into my lap, purring and nudging me for attention. Petting him brought me a measure of peace, and reduced my anxiety.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
"It's not the terrible twos with boys," one friend told me three years ago. "It's the F-ing Fours."
I nodded politely at this news, gazing fondly at my adorable one year old son. Not if I can help it, I thought smugly.
Finn turned four on November 9th, and it is like someone flipped a switch. I am eating humble pie at my belief that somehow my child would be different and escape this stage.
Greta went through a rough patch when she was almost three. It lasted a week. Suddenly, she was testing boundaries and throwing tantrums when she didn't get her way. After three difficult episodes of being sent to her room and Sternly Lectured, she stopped.
Finn is proving to be a bit more difficult to discipline. Part of the problem is that I'm not used to it - he has always been a roll-with-it kind of kid. He has an innately sweet disposition, and although he is active and challenging to keep entertained, for the most part he is easy going. Until now.
Yesterday I was on the phone with a friend I haven't spoken to in months. Finn marched up to me, put his mouth right next to my ear and yelled, "Get me a hamburger!!!"
"Don't speak to me that way, Finn. It's rude."
"GAAAAAH!!! HAMBURGER! NOW!!!" he screams, and throws himself on the floor. I walk away, desperate to finish a couple of sentences with my friend.
He follows me, screaming and having a complete meltdown. I get off the phone, and send him to his room, where he proceeds to throw himself against the door over and over.
After five minutes he calms down and is let out of his room. He comes up and gives me a hug. "Sorry, Momma," he says.
I open my mouth to talk to him about his behavior, and he interrupts me.
"You made tears come out of my eyes," he continues. "Now you hafta say you're sorry to me."
"No, I don't. You were rude to me and you got in trouble. The way you acted wasn't okay," I begin.
"But MOMMA! You made me cry! Dat's WONG! Say sorry to me, and say it nicely!!!"
Back in his room he goes, and the cycle continues. From the other side of the door, through hysterical sobs, he says, "it's not FAIR! You are mean and stupid and I hate you!"
"That hurts my feelings," I say to him through the door, as calmly as I can muster. I set the timer and tell him I'll let him out in five minutes. Then I walk away - what he wants is my attention. Even mad attention is still attention, and I remove myself.
Things go smoothly for the next half an hour. He is sitting in the playroom watching a show, and he yells out, "Come change the channel! Now!" And we begin again.
When five minutes is up he comes out of his room again, looking contrite.
"I won't be mean anymore, Momma. I was just mad but now I'm not," he says.
"Every time you're rude, or mean, you will go to your room for five minutes, Finn," I explain. "Next time you feel like you're going to get mad, just use your words. And remember to say 'please' and 'thank you', it's important."
He nods. "Okay, Momma. Now it's your turn. You say sorry to me, really nicely, like this: 'I'm sorry sweetie'". He says this in falsetto - a nearly perfect imitation of my voice.
I have to admire his tenacity. We have been doing this dance for three weeks now. The other day he threw a temper tantrum, sobbing hysterically and screaming "Put the tears back in my eyes! Put the tears back in my eyes!"
I know he needs me to be consistent, but I am so damn tired. It's hard not to feel like I'm doing everything wrong. I'm trying to find ways to focus on the positive, too - give him praise when he does something well. The other day he politely asked for a snack and said 'please' and 'thank you'.
"Good job asking nicely," I said.
He looked up at me impassively. "You're actually a good Momma, usually," he says. "You don't need to get mad all the time, though. Just use your words and it will all be okay."
Friday, November 20, 2009
It is true that most people suffering from active alcoholism need help to stop. It is also true, I believe, that nobody can make someone stay sober - it is an inside job, and to achieve any sort of longer term sobriety the person has to want it for themselves. So what to do?
For me, the critical moment was when my husband and family intervened. My husband arranged for my parents and sister to come to our house, surprise me, and sit me down to talk about my drinking. It was a moment I had feared would come for a long time. As my drinking got worse, my primary motivation for trying to hide it was that I knew if it got bad enough my family would try to make me stop - something I didn't want to do at all. The baffling thing, though, is that as my drinking spiraled out of control I also thought to myself: God, I wish someone would stop me.
On some level I knew I wouldn't be able to stop myself. I had tried everything - I would tell myself I would only drink on weekends, only have two, only drink wine or beer, only drink after 5pm. The sad reality was that once I had one drink I was no longer in control of how much I drank. And I wanted, so badly, to be able to have just one. Every time I picked up a drink I would tell myself: this time it will be different. It never was.
So my family had an intervention. They called me on it - told me that I was destroying myself and my family. That my children weren't safe with me anymore. That I had to get help. I told them I would. I remember thinking to myself: I don't think it is going to work but I'll give it a try if it will make everyone happy. At this point I didn't care enough about myself to get sober for me.
It didn't work, not right away. I went to a ten day outpatient clinic, and drank the day after it ended. I was sent to a ten day inpatient program. I sat in the front row of every group, I took notes, I told myself: I never want to come back here, this has got to work. I drank within three hours of coming home. I thought to myself, as I left to go buy alcohol, that I had learned so much, had been sober for ten whole days, that I had to be able to have just one, that I wasn't as bad as the other patients at the rehab. I was wrong.
So what changed? My husband, when he came home that day and knew I had been drinking, had finally had it. He drove me back to the treatment center for a 30 day stay, and as he dropped me off he told me he was done. That if I wanted to destroy myself, that was my choice, but that I wasn't going to take the rest of our family down with me. If I didn't get sober and stay that way he was leaving and taking the kids. He meant it. I was on my own. I finally, finally, got good and scared. I had no self-esteem, no sense of self-worth, so it wasn't possible for me to get sober for me. His ultimatum, though, gave me another reason to try: I didn't want to lose my family. Up until this point, I didn't truly believe that I would lose my family - I always assumed in some vague way that we would always be together, no matter what. Wrong again.
After the 30 day stay, I still wanted to drink, badly, but I knew what would happen if I did. If I didn't want to lose my family, I had to give recovery a try. Looking back on it now, I feel this way about everything: my husband's ultimatum got me to stop, and now I keep myself stopped. It was months before I began to want sobriety for myself. I slowly regained a sense of self-worth. I surrendered to my disease; I finally believed that I could no longer have one drink in safety. But in the early days, it was the knowledge that I would lose my family that kept me from drinking.
I love the show Intervention (A&E, Monday at 9PM EST). What is powerful about the show, I think, is that the addicts and alcoholics featured know they have a problem. They have agreed to be in a show about addiction; they don't know their family will be staging an intervention. They are in the end game: they aren't in denial about their problem, but they still can't stop. I watch each show, fascinated, listening to how the interventionist advises the family members. It is acknowledged that nobody has any control over the addict's behavior. Nobody can force the addict to get help. The focus is on what each family member does control: their own actions. The root question is this: what are you willing to do, what consequences can you put into play in the addict's life? Whatever you decide to do you have to follow through no matter what.
There is no guaranteed happy ending. Not all the addicts featured on the show make it, although many of them do. There is no way to determine, at the outset of the show, who will make it and who won't based simply on the addict's story, or how far down their disease has taken them. What matters most, I think, is whether or not the consequences are meaningful enough, and whether or not the family members follow through on them. Even when they do follow through, there are no guarantees that the addict will get sober. Watching the show, though, it is clear that when family members put up boundaries and stick to them, the chances the addict will seek help improve.
I don't mean to put the responsibility for someone's recovery on other people - as I said, it's an inside job, and the addict has to want recovery for it to work. Loved ones of alcoholics feel powerless in so many ways, and for good reason. Nobody can make someone stop or control someone else's actions. But we can control our own actions. Sometimes what feels like the harshest action is actually the most loving. It may just give an addict a reason to try recovery. What happens after is up to them.
You can view episodes of Intervention at A&E's website here. One story in particular, Leslie's story, touched me deeply. I had the honor of meeting her and her family last month, and they are incredibly honest, brave people.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
"It's okay," she said. "I can always earn more money, and I want them to have a good Christmas, too."
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Casper, the dog, predated our kids. She was our "we-need-to-learn-to-be-responsible-before-we-have-kids" acquisition. She is a Cuvac (pronounced "chew-vatch") - a huge white longish-haired dog bred to work in conjunction with sheep dogs, and guard the perimeter of a property - her job is to bark and alert sheep dogs to to the presence of predators. This particular skill would be invaluable in, say, the highlands of the Alps, but is misplaced in the relative security of suburbia. Any motion along our own perimeter - a jogger, cyclist, neighbor, UPS man, visiting friend - is subject to a torrent of barking that shakes the walls. Now she is a bit hard of hearing, and so she barks all the time just for good measure - certain there is a perimeter breech somewhere that needs to be addressed.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Thank you to all who entered! Because we're coming up on the Holiday Season, the next giveaway will be for a $25 gift certificate good toward any item(s) in my shop!
To enter, please reply in the comment section saying you would like to enter, and please leave your email. If you are more comfortable contacting me directly, please do so at firstname.lastname@example.org
The winner will be chosen at random (my daughter picks a name from a hat) on November 30th!! International entries are always welcome - I ship anywhere in the world.
Here is a small sampling of ideas:
Saturday, November 14, 2009
I have always been a short-cut taker, and not just with activities, projects or work. I like emotional shortcuts, too. When I have unpleasant emotions, my mind automatically seeks the quickest possible escape route. I am not particularly fond of being alone in my head, with so many thoughts pinging around all disorganized and unresolved. My brain is like a hyperactive, hungry, immature squirrel - always flitting about, digging things up, making snarly little nests here and there and then scooting off to the next thing.
My idea of relaxing involves listening to the radio, playing on the computer and talking on the phone at the same time. The only time I seem to have any kind of focus is when I'm reading a book - and even then I often have to re-read sentences or entire paragraphs because my mental squirrel has gone running off somewhere without my permission.
My first experience with meditation was last year. I participated in a women's discussion group, and before every group meeting we would meditate. Sometimes with the aid of a guided meditation CD, but often with nothing at all - just silence. We would set a timer for ten minutes, sit in a circle, dim the lights, settle comfortably in our chairs, and meditate. Or, perhaps more accurately, the rest of them would meditate. My mind would go into overdrive, and I would spend the entire ten minutes chasing the squirrel around my brain. My internal dialogue would usually go something like this:
Okay, am I comfortable? No - my feet feel wrong. How are they supposed to be? Flat on the floor, right. Now they're on the floor. But I never sit like this. Shouldn't it be important to feel like myself if I'm meditating? Am I allowed to cross my ankles? I'm just going to peek - really quickly - see if everyone else has their feet on the floor.... damn. They do. Okay, feet on the floor. What's next... oh yes! Breathing. I can totally do this. Deep breath In...... and exhale. In...... and exhale. Wow, that's going well! In... and exhale. Oh shit I have to cough. Must. Suppress. Cough. Damn! Too late. Now everyone's probably looking at me. Where was I? Oh - breathing .... in..... exhale. In..... exhale. Crap, I don't think I'm supposed to be thinking "in" and "exhale" in my head when I do this.. I don't think I'm supposed to be thinking anything. How do you not think at all? Do I just think "ohm?" Okay... ohhhhhhmmmmmm. Ohhhhhhmmmmmm. Ohhhhhmmmm. Ohm. Ohm-diddly-ohm. OHM. That sounds like "oh, I'm". As in "oh I'm so bored". Ohimsobored. Ohimsobored. Ooohhhhiimmmmsooooobooooorrrrredddd.
It goes on this way until the little 'ding' of the timer. Everyone else appears to surface from some inner pool of mental calmness. By the time it's over I'm close to panic that I haven't quieted my brain - not for one second - so I study their faces and try to imitate their look of zen-like satisfaction.
I keep practicing, though, because every now and then there are a few moments of - well, of silence. And peace. And they're nice.
What I need, really, is a Zen Squirrel Trap. Like a Have-A-Heart Trap for the mind. I don't want to kill the squirrel, not really. Just contain him for a while. Quietly.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
If you've ever tried to quit or cut back on something you love that is bad for you - like overeating, or cigarettes - you know how routine can trigger a craving. If you smoke cigarettes on your daily commute, your desire to smoke when you're in your car is elevated. If you like to eat while you watch your nightly television, settling in to watch a show will prompt the desire to snack.
For me it was the same with alcohol; I was a creature of habit. There was a consistency to what triggered me. In the early days of drinking, it was the end of the day - or perhaps more accurately, five o'clock. Despite the fact that I would start thinking about my first drink around 3pm, I felt that "normal" people drank at five o'clock, so that is what I did, too. As my disease progressed, triggers became more frequent. Confrontation or any negative emotion made me want to drink. I couldn't imagine attending any social situation without the help of alcohol, my liquid courage. If I was bored, or stressed - I felt like a drink would make me feel better. But, of course, as time went on there was no such thing as one drink.
As I slipped into physical addiction to alcohol - without, incredibly, even knowing it - a drink became the only way to quell the near constant anxiety I felt. I lived in fear that my dirty secret would be discovered, I felt physically awful most of the time, and drinking made these feelings stop, if only temporarily. Kind of like putting a band-aid over a bullet hole, but it was my only coping mechanism.
In early recovery, I was advised to stay away from situations and places that made me want to drink. No small task, because by the time I stopped just about everything made me want to drink. I was a secret drinker, so reminders of alcohol were all over my house. I had to drive by liquor stores I used to frequent all the time. And I was still full of anxiety and fear: my biggest triggers.
So I changed everything. I drove long, circuitous routes around town to pick up my kids from school, so I wouldn't have to drive by a liquor store. I started going in a different front door of my house. I mucked out closets and cabinets, rearranged furniture. When five o'clock came, I would talk to another recovering alcoholic or go to a meeting. Little by little, I found my new normal. The anxiety eased, I physically felt better, and I was slowly filling up the hole alcoholism had left in my life with new friends, a network of people in recovery, and a sense of hope.
And now? The triggers are still there, and I don't always know what they will be. It usually isn't something most people would expect would be a trigger, like a party, or the sight of alcohol. It is sneakier than that. For instance, I discovered that the time change triggered me. I used to love it when it got darker earlier, because drinking after the sun went down felt more 'normal' somehow. Being sick is a big trigger. It was my old cure for any physical ailment - headache? have a drink. Body aches? have a drink. I enjoy going to parties now, and being around other people who are drinking doesn't bother me. As an evening progresses, though, and there is that subtle shift in the atmosphere of the room, as people loosen up and get a little tipsy - I make my exit.
I no longer resent the fact that the cravings come. For a long while, I would get frustrated, thinking: shouldn't I be past this by now? Now I understand it is part of the disease; I can't expect that the cravings will stop. I am more forgiving of myself when this happens. I recognize when my disease is talking to me. That little voice that says: go ahead, take the edge off. One won't hurt. This is why recovery is a day-at-a-time deal. I never know when these thoughts will come. The trick is to keep my other voice, my Recovery Voice, stronger. "Yes, it will hurt," that Voice says. "It will hurt you, and everyone who loves you." I think through the drink, as I hear over and over in recovery. I try to stay grateful for everything I have now.
And best of all? I don't do this alone. I couldn't do it alone. I have amazing, strong, funny, smart, loving people all around me. I have more than I ever could have imagined. So even when it is tough, even when things aren't going well, I lean on my support system to see me through. And they always do.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
We can't live our lives in fear, but as a parent it is hard to know exactly what to do. The temptation to keep the kids home, to avoid playdates and soccer games, is huge. Greta had heard enough about H1N1 at school to be afraid - when she first got sick she panicked. "Oh NO! I have it, don't I?" she cried. "Am I going to die?"
Friday, November 6, 2009
I love his fierce convictions; he likes to ask question after question, listen intently to the answer and say, "No, that's wong." When he is upset, which isn't often, he furrows his brow and says, calmly, "See? Now you hurt my feewings."
The other day he was pushing limits and I finally sent him to his room. He planted his feet, put his hands on his hips and said matter-of-factly, "I gonna go cry now. I tell you when I done."
I remember the sense of excitement and anxiousness I felt before he was born. Greta was a colicky baby, cried a lot for the first four or five months, and had trouble sleeping. Add to this mix the fact that I was a brand-new mother, finding my way little by little, and her early months were tough.
I feared the worst, wondering how I would handle another colicky baby with a 3 year old in tow. His delivery was frightening, an emergency c-section after the monitor showed his heartbeat had nearly stopped; it turned out the umbilical cord had wrapped twice around his body, and then once around his neck. After his delivery, there were a few terrifying moments of silence, and then a loud, gusty cry and a huge sigh of relief.
I learn a lot from my littlest: how to roll with the punches, laugh just for the heck of it, how to put things in perspective and live for the moment. He barrels headlong through life, setting things in motion just to see what happens. He is like a mad scientist performing experiments: mixing things together, taking things apart. No matter what the outcome is of his little adventures, he invariably says, "well, that was un-spected!"
Best of all, Finn loves to love. He'll remark on the beauty of the world; two days ago we had a gorgeous sunset. He stood in the backyard with his head tipped back, saying, "Wow, the sky is so bootiful. I love da sky." He is gentle with our pets, hates to see any creature suffer. Zooming through the house, he'll run by his sister and say, "Hey Sissy! Love you!"
"Because I always want to live with you and Dadda. I don't want to grow up and get ahmpit hair."
His little face was dead serious, so I stifled a laugh. "You can live with us for as long as you want, it's okay," I said.
"But do I hafta get ahmpit hair?" he sniffed.
"Not if you don't want to," I lied, hoping he'll forget this conversation by the time he's older.
"I just love you, Momma," he said.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
It is just a simple moment in time, but it strikes me. These are some good times, I think. Life can change in the blink of an eye, and it is so easy for me to forget to wallow in the ordinary.
It has been an unusual week. People from various stages in my life have been in touch, because they saw us on Oprah and tracked me down. People from high school, from a place I worked over 15 years ago, from the last job I had before having Greta. It's odd thinking about the version of me they knew, and it has me thinking about how things change, but also how they stay the same.
At each stage in my life, I thought things would always be the way they were then. It's human nature, I think, to believe this. At least it's my nature. The free wheeling days of high school, long lazy summers at the beach with friends, a first love. My roaring twenties, as I like to think of them, when life revolved around the weekend - parties, getting together with friends, moving from one adventure to the next. My early thirties, feeling like I was on top of the world, giving presentations to boards of directors, flying all over the globe wearing a business suit and carrying a laptop.
"We had so much fun then, didn't we?" said a friend from my first real job.
"You were so buttoned up and quiet!" said another from my last professional job.
"Those were some really good times," said an old flame from high school.
The other day a good friend of mine said, "we're in the middle game, now." My mind took a snapshot of life today: school aged kids, 40 years old, life full of carpools, soccer games, birthday parties and homework. Then I thought to myself: I've never liked the middle. Soaring highs and sinking lows? No problem - at least it keeps things interesting. For years there was always the Next Big Thing to look forward to: getting married, buying our first house, having a baby. It's a pattern with me; I'm always thinking what's next?
"We're living in tomorrow's yesterday," I heard someone say recently. It struck me, because that it what I do far too often - look back, or look ahead, instead of looking at right now. Somehow, it is easier for me to appreciate my life today when I think of myself as an elderly woman in a rocking chair flipping through a photo album full of pictures of me as I am today.
So I'm trying to embrace the middle game. If I get to play out these years, uneventfully but happily, I will be a lucky woman indeed. I'm trying to grasp moments that will pass too quickly: Finn climbing into my lap, cradling his blanket and settling in for a snuggle, Greta rolling in a pile of leaves, laughing, an affectionate glance from my husband over the dinner table.
All the beauty in life as it is right........Now.
Monday, November 2, 2009
"And dat one, dat's what heaven looks like?" he asks, pointing to a pretty window bursting with color and light.
"Jesus is in heaven now, right?" he asks.