Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Other Side of the Story - A Tandem Post, The Conclusion

This is the conclusion of a tandem post written by DaMomma at Motherhood Is Not For Wimps, and Ellie at One Crafty Mother. The events described here occured in the summer of 2007. The entire post begins here and continues back and forth between us over three days.

This is the last chapter of that story.

Liz's conclusion begins here, with my perspective following below.

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

I spent the first two weeks of rehab in denial. I said all the right things, spoke at group meetings, pretended I wanted to change. I told my counselor that even if I lost everything, I was ready to be sober. As I spoke those words, in my head I was thinking: Liar. I listened to the other patients, all the while thinking I wasn’t as bad as them, that after thirty days of not drinking I would be able to control it.   I wouldn’t have to stop.

And then came the day Steve and Liz took all the children to the fair. Across the bay at the rehab center, it was visitor’s day. Of the forty patients there, I was one of four who had no family or friends coming to see me.

Steve had told me the about the fair, and said that even if he hadn’t had plans with Liz, he wouldn’t be coming to see me. He said he was very angry, and he felt it would be too frightening for the kids. I opened my mouth to protest, but I had no words. I was crushed, but I wasn't going to beg him to come. And I didn't want the kids to see me like this. I felt they were better off without me. I felt everyone was better off without me.

One counselor was designated to take the four of us, the ones without visitors, to a local trail that leads to the ocean. I remember walking along a rocky path, gravel crunching under my shoes, smelling the salt air, feeling the warm breeze on my neck. It had been a long time since I had noticed these things.

We reached the water's edge and I wandered down the shore, craving some time alone.

I squinted into the sun and looked out across the bay. Somewhere, over there, are my kids, I thought. I imagined them squealing with delight on the ferris wheel, grinning sticky faces covered with cotton candy. I pictured Liz and Steve coming together to give them one normal day, and I felt grateful.

And then, like a stone falling out of the sky and landing at my feet, I realized: I am the problem.

The ugly truth of it took my breath away, and I fell to my knees. I felt sharp stones poking into my skin, and I pressed harder. I deserved the pain. I wanted to feel the pain.

I am here because I am very, very sick. I knew this with a sudden, startling clarity. I am here because I am not safe for my children. I said it over and over, like a mantra. I forced myself to stare at the truth, and for once I didn't look away.

My kids are going to be okay, I thought. Steve will be okay. Everyone is moving on without me.

I was relieved. My kids were surrounded by loving, capable people, and I was out of the way.

I didn't know if I would get better, because I didn't know if I cared enough to try. But I knew my children were safe, and at that moment, that was enough.

########

Author's Note: In the throes of active alcoholism, in the end game, I was not present. Even when I wasn't drinking, I was thinking about drinking. It was a singular obsession of mind and body.

One the hardest parts about getting sober, for me, was admitting this cold hard truth: once I crossed the line into addiction nothing was more important to me than alcohol. Not my friends, not my family, not my kids. This fact is so ugly, so hard to process, so hurtful, that it is very difficult for people who love addicts to face it. The addict is powerless over alcohol or drugs, and loved ones are powerless over the addict. But they aren't powerless over themselves.

I was floundering, sick, obsessed and addicted, and the energy, time and love other people poured my direction were lost on me. I'm not sure I will ever find words to adequately describe what late stage addiction feels like. Here is what matters: I would not have gotten sober if the people in my life hadn’t drawn a hard line and stuck to it.

In the end, what got me to stop was that I was forced to go to rehab, where I finally got some clarity. I realized, sober, that I didn't want to lose my family or my friends. That was my bottom. When I finally I poked my head up out of my dark, addicted, hole and realized that nobody was left, that I was going to get sober or I was going to die alone, that was the moment I started to heal. If I had been able to find anyone – any family member or friend – who would still love me as an active addict, I wouldn’t have been able to stop.

It isn't pretty, but it is the truth.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Other Side of the Story - A Tandem Post, Part Two

This is a tandem post with Liz at Motherhood Is Not For Wimps, describing the final days of my active drinking, how my friends came to terms with what was happening, and what it was like from my perspective.  Part Two of a three-part series. Part One begins here.    Liz's Part Two begins here, with my perspective following below.

~~~~~~~~~~

The last few weeks of drinking are a blur.

More fights with my husband, more stashed bottles found, angry accusations, desperate pleas, meaningless promises. And drinking, always drinking. I had crossed the line into physical addiction. I had to drink. If I didn't drink, my hands shook, I broke into a sweat, had panic attacks.

As Steve was desperately talking to my family and his family, trying to figure out what to do, I was plotting my escape, figuring out how to get more alcohol.

He hid the car keys. He dropped me off at a recovery meeting, and I pretended to go in. He had taken my purse away, but not before I had tucked $10 into my sock. As soon as he drove away, I ran down the street to the local mini-mart. I bought nips, sipped them as I ran back to the meeting. I made it back before it ended, pretended I'd been there all along.

As soon as I got in the car, he knew. I didn't care, because I had gotten my fix.

Towards the very end, although I didn't know it was nearing the end, I talked with Liz on the phone. I remember that I was hoping she would tell me I wasn’t that bad. I was up against the wall, desperate for a way out, so I used the kids as an excuse.

"I don't want to be away from the kids that long," I said, thinking that she would agree that the kids needed their mother.

At this point I wasn’t there for the kids at all, Steve was holding everything together, and she called me on it.

She told me that I needed help, needed to go to rehab, and it was like a punch in the gut.

Dead end, I thought. I hung up. There was nobody else left to call.

Shortly after this conversation, Steve sent me to a 30 day rehab.


Continued here - the conclusion to Liz's side of the story

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Other Side of the Story - A Tandem Post with Damomma

DaMomma and One Crafty Mother are writing a tandem post. It is a story about alcoholism and denial, about the protection of children and the meaning of friendship. The story begins here, with Liz, Part One, then continues with my perspective, below.  

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

Karin surprised me with her call.   I didn't remember the conversation we had the night before.   If I had, I wouldn't have picked up the phone.   I knew she was testing the waters, trying to figure out how much, if anything, I remembered of our conversation the previous night.

I tried to make light of it, laugh my way through.   She didn’t buy it. "You were pretty drunk last night," she said.

I mumbled some responses - mini-apologies, loose explanations: things are just hard right now, I'm adjusting to the new job, I'm not sleeping, I haven't been feeling well, I'm going to go to meetings.  She was silent, and before she could respond I concocted an excuse and hung up.

I remember that I felt unburdened.   The worst had happened - my good friend called me on my drinking - and I got through it. I admitted drinking is a problem and that I'm doing something about it.   I could no longer distinguish truth from lies, because I believed what I told myself: I just need to do this my way.   I know drinking is a problem, and I'll get a handle on it. I will control my drinking so I don't have to stop completely.   I believed that I would be okay, that I would learn to drink like a normal person.   I had to believe this, because the thought of life without drinking was too terrifying to contemplate.   I thought I just needed more time.

I resolved to be more careful. No more phone calls after I've been drinking, I told myself.   I came up with a plan to admit a little bit, feed people just enough information to get them off my back.

I tried not to answer the phone.  On the odd occasion I would connect with someone, I pretended I was busy, when in fact I was alternating trips to the liquor store with naps. Steve was doing the drop-offs and pick-ups for the kids each day, part of my new work from home schedule. I spent my days scrabbling to hold things together - getting the kids up and ready for school, doing just enough to squeak by on my job, and then tucking the kids into bed at night. I thought I was doing a pretty good job. I was never exactly sober, but I tried not to get too drunk. I was pleased to be left to my own resources during the day - no kids to look after - so I could maintain my drinking.

Then things start to change, slip.   I realized that once I had one drink I couldn't predict what would happen. Some nights I would only have a few drinks and I would get drunk.   Other nights I drank and drank and couldn't get to the point of sweet oblivion I so craved. I broke my promise and called people at night, embarrassed myself. More and more I couldn't remember things from the night before.  I started scrawling down reminders to myself: remember Michelle called, you talked for an hour. Just chatted, nothing serious. Sometimes I couldn't read my drunken handwriting the next day.  

I felt a vague sense of panic, but not about my drinking.   I was terrified that I wasn't hiding it well enough.

There are lots of conversations I don't remember well, or at all.    But one conversation stands out in my mind. It was after a particularly bad fight with Steve.   He had found yet another hidden bottle, knew I had been drinking, and left with the kids. I called Liz, sobbing, my hands shaking.   

I was desperate for friendship, sympathy, a human connection.   I told her I thought Steve and I weren't going to make it. I told her we were fighting more and more.   "You have some tough choices to make," she said.   I remember thinking: tell her. Just tell her. Tell her Steve left because you can't stop drinking.  

I was too afraid.   I knew she would tell me I had to stop, so instead I told little bits of the truth, enough to feel validation, love.   It was one of those rare moments when I saw myself as I really was: drunk, addicted and scared. But not scared enough to tell the truth.

The fear of life without alcohol trumped everything.


For Part Two of the Tandem Posts, click here.

Announcement - 20/20 Show This Friday

A quick announcement - please be sure to tune into 20/20 this Friday at 10pm EST (on ABC).    There will be a segment on Moms and drinking - featuring Mary Karr (author of Lit), my friend Stefanie Wilder-Taylor over at Baby on Bored, and others.

Thank you to Stef and all the brave women who speak their truth in the hopes of breaking down the walls of stigma and denial surrounding alcoholism - in particular alcoholic mothers and their families who suffer largely in silence and secrecy. 

Here is a link to the preview of the show:  http://abcnews.go.com/2020/mary-karr-alcoholic-mom-recalls-shame-drinking-addiction/story?id=10479732     (sorry, I can't get the code to post the video preview).

Please help spread the word!     Thank you. 

Monday, April 26, 2010

In Which I Give Myself A Time Out

What do you do when the person driving you the craziest is yourself?   

I know what I don't do anymore.  I don't drink to hide from myself, thank God.  

I'm sitting here looking through what seems like an innocent enough checklist for the day, and each item is more complicated than it should be, because I missed a deadline (or three), forgot to return a form, lost a file, can't find contact information.    Everywhere I turn today I see examples of ways in which I make my life more difficult.   

I've tried every organizational system out there.    I'm sure I'll get emails telling me to try this or that -- trust me, I've been there.

This is more than an organizational problem.    Most people don't believe me when I tell them this, but it's true:  I am easily overwhelmed.   Add to the mix hyper-sensitivity and a rebellious streak and things get hairy sometimes.

I have a hard time understanding what is a big deal and what isn't.   Everything is a big deal to me.   Not just the little organizational details of life, but feelings, too.   Mine and everyone else's.   I can't prioritize, because I'm overwhelmed.   It is exhausting.   

The smallest details seem like insurmountable hurdles, and I get frozen, paralyzed. 

I've been here before, and I know it will pass, but at the moment I'm overloaded with details, thoughts, observations, feelings, and I'm so very sick of it.

The best and the worst part of sobriety is that I'm aware, now, of how I am.    It is a gift to be able to step back, cultivate an Objective Observer who can help me see things that need to change.    But being aware of a need to change and doing something about it are two very different things.     Some days I just want to tell my Objective Observer to shut the fuck up.   Today is one of those days.    

But because I can't tell her to shut up, not anymore, I have to listen.  

Here's what she says: 

You have a cold, you're rundown.    You just had school vacation, so a lot of the things you do on a daily basis to stay on top of things got put off in favor of trips to the circus, the beach, the park.    You had a great vacation, lots of good quality time with the kids, probably the best vacation you've ever had.  You had to make some choices, and the details of day-to-day life got pushed off in favor of family time.   

You're doing well on your diet, but that takes a lot of emotional energy, even though you would like to think it doesn't.    There is a hole in your life where food - any food, any time - used to be.  Some days you feel empowered because of the changes you're making, and other days you feel badly that - yet again - you overdid something and now you have to pay the piper. 

You made some mistakes recently.    You overlooked some important details and now you're scrambling.   Own it.

Take a deep breath, and try to go easy on yourself.   Resist the temptation to curl up into a ball of self-pity.   Remember you have a hard time figuring out what is a big deal and what isn't, so just take things one step at a time.   This will pass.

I'm fairly sure not everyone has to speak to themselves in the second person to talk themselves off the edge. 

But that is my recovery voice, my voice of sympathy, reason and truth.   She makes me face myself, steers me away from dangerous self-loathing and self-pity.  

I'm glad she's there, even when she pisses me off.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Are You Smarter than a Four Year Old?

Finn comes clacking into the room, wearing my high heels, a pair of underwear and nothing else.

"Can we have a playdate with Tim today?"  he asks.

It's the last day of school vacation and I have no energy.   I have decided we will have a lie-around-at-home day.    I'm determined not to go anywhere.

"No, not today," I tell Finn.

"Please?  Pleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleaseplease.."

"Not today, we're going to do things around here."

"PLEASE?  Pleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleaseplease..."

"Maybe later, but not right now, okay?"  

He waits about ten seconds.   "Is it later yet?   When is it later?  Now?   Is it later now?"

"OKAY!   I will call his Mom to see if he can play,"  I say, just to get him to stop.

He blinks twice, and says, "Why aren't you calling?   Can you call now?   You're not moving!  Call now! Da phone is right dere!  Are you calling now?"   

I stop folding laundry drag myself up off the couch and pick up the phone.  I know if I don't call he won't leave me alone, so I pull out my "fake phone call" trick.   I pretend to dial, and then I hold the phone to my ear.    This only failed me once, when the phone rang while I was fake listening.   Oops.

"Sorry, buddy," I tell Finn.  "Nobody's home."

"Where are dey?"

"I don't know, they just aren't there."

"Where did dey go?"

"I don't know.   They aren't there!"

"But where did dey go?" 

"I don't know!!  If I say I don't know, it means I don't know!"  I say, exasperated.

"But but but but you aren't listening!   Where did dey GO?" 

"I don't know!!   To the park, maybe?"

"Dey went to da park, or you think dey went to da park.   Which one?" 

Oh, for crying out loud.   "I think they went to the park.   Okay?"

"Which park?"

"I don't know, Finn.   We won't be able to see Tim today, okay?"

"WHICH PARK?"

"I don't know!!   The big playground maybe?"

"Oh good!   Let's go meet dem!"

"Finn.   Let me explain something.  I said I didn't know where they were, but you wanted an answer, so I guessed they were at the big playground.   I really don't know if they are there or not."

Blink. Blink.

"But we're going to the playground, right?"

I open my mouth to say something, and realize he cornered me at my own game.  Now we're going to the park, because I can't exactly fake call the playground.

If I ever need a defense attorney, I'm hiring Finn.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Snapshots from Before ~ Going Home

"I'm not ready," I tell my counselor.  I am sitting in her office, and it is so comforting, so familiar now.    I have been at the rehab center for 31 days.   My husband and kids will be here any minute to pick me up.  I'm sitting in her office, wiping tears away, my dented suitcase sits dejectedly at my feet.   "I'm terrified."

"I'm glad to hear it," she says, peering at me over her glasses.  "That means it's time to go."

"How does that make sense?"  I ask.

"If you're scared, it means that you understand that left to your own resources, you'll probably drink.   That's a big step.  It means you have surrendered," she replies.

I press my face into my hands.   

"So you'll go to a meeting tonight?  You'll raise your hand and ask for help?"

I nod.    Tonight is a million years away.   I can't bear to think about it.

There is a soft knock at the door, and the assistant director pokes her head in.   "They're here," she says.

I look up at my counselor, my eyes pleading.   I want her to tell me I don't have to go.   She smiles.

"Go hug your kids," she says.  "Good luck."

I stand up and grab my suitcase.  "Thank you,"  I say.  The words feel so small.

I take a deep breath, and step out of her office.   I peer down a long corridor, and see my husband standing at the other end.  He's holding Finn, who looks impossibly big.    Greta is shuffling her feet, staring at the floor.   I clear my throat, and she looks up.   "MAMA!" she screams, and runs down the hall towards me, her arms flung open wide, her hair in little pink barrettes.   I wonder if Steve has mastered barrettes while I have been gone, or if she has learned to put them in herself, and my heart bursts into a thousand pieces.

I kneel and wrap my arms tightly around her little shoulders.   She buries her face in my shirt.   We rock for a minute, clinging to each other.

Steve and Finn approach more slowly.  Finn is looking at me uncertainly.   He is almost two, just starting to talk.    He gives me a shy smile and rests his head on Steve's shoulder.   

I finally make eye contact with Steve, and my stomach flips.    I have no idea what to say, where to begin.  "Thanks for picking me up," I say softly.   He looks at me, a thousand unspoken words flying between us,   and then nods his head, once.

Finn reaches out for me, and I pull him into my arms.   "Hey, big guy," I say, fighting back tears.  I'm here, I think to myself.  Mama's finally here.

We stand there quietly for a moment, the four of us.   The four of us.   I push back a wave of guilt so powerful my throat closes and my hands start to shake.   

Steve pushes open the door and we step outside into the bright sunshine.   Greta is chatting away at my feet, something about a stuffed animal.  I'm still holding Finn, who is silent and clutching my shirt with his little fists.   My heart is pounding.  I want to scream, cry, beg for forgiveness.

"I missed you guys," I say instead.

"Are you all better now?" Greta asks, looking up at me.

I glance at Steve, and he looks away.   "Yes, honey, I'm all better now," I choke, hoping with all my heart that this isn't a lie.

"Good," she says, firmly.   "Can we play a game when we get home?  We have a new game!  We got it while you were at the hopspital."   She can't say hospital correctly, and I feel another wave of shame.  She had to learn that word because of me, I think.

And there we are, stumbling across the hot parking lot, this little family that has endured so much in the past months.  Because of me.   Because I'm an alcoholic.    An alcoholic in recovery, I correct myself. 

Steve buckles Finn into his car seat, and I make a mental note of how quickly he can do that now.   I click Greta's seat belt into place, around a new booster seat, one I haven't seen before.   There is so much I don't know about, so much to learn.   And re-learn.  

Steve and I slide into the front seats, and shut the car doors.   He sighs, and looks at me.   "Well, here we go," he says.

"Let's go HOME!" Greta shouts.

Home, I think.  God help me, let's go home.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Life Is A Circus

Sometimes I get wistful about my working days.

After a long day of fetching snacks, wiping up messes, breaking up fights and nagging to do chores, I stop and look around and think,  Seriously?   This is my life?

I think with longing about the last full time job I had before having Greta.  I was a consultant for a global professional services firm.    I worked in downtown Boston, in a beautiful old historical building that had been converted into large, opulent office space.   Marble floors, soaring ceilings, even the furniture reeked of power.  

I was very good at what I did.  I knew I was good, because clients liked me, my boss gave me rave reviews, and I was known as a rising star.   I had clients all over the globe, and spent my days rushing from board room to board room, flying to New York City and other vibrant cities.

The day I was to tell my boss I was pregnant with my first child, I took him out to lunch.   Before I could get to my big news, he grabbed my hand and said "Eleanor," (I was known as Eleanor at work, I thought it sounded soooo much more professional) "I have fabulous news.    You have been chosen to go work in our London office for six months to a year.  It's our financial services hub.   You're going places, kid.   This is the first of many next steps for you in our firm."

I choked on my endive salad.    My heart soared, and then sunk.   There was no way I was going to London.   I mustered my composure, and told him I was four months pregnant.    His face said it all:  my rising star days at the firm were over.   I was mommy-tracked.

I decided not to go back to work after my three month maternity leave.   By then having an infant at home was already starting to kick my ass, but I couldn't dream of going back to spend my career in a rut.   I didn't feel strong maternal tugs, but I couldn't bear the idea of leaving my baby.    I was stuck.    I couldn't have known it, of course, but I would slowly unravel over the next four and half years, sinking into depression, anxiety and addiction.

So I have a tendency to romanticize those working days, back when I knew exactly where I stood, all the time.     After a good client review, I got a raise.   After a good bout of parenting, nobody appears to notice.  Some days it is easy to wonder what life would have been like if I hadn't walked away.

Today I took Greta and Finn to the Big Apple Circus.    We took the train into the heart of the city to meet up with my parents (Mimi and PopPop), and I couldn't resist walking the kids a block or two out of the way to take them by my old office building.    As we plodded, slowly, down the sidewalk I had walked down countless times before in my previous life, I got nostalgic.   How many times had I looked like that young woman over there, clacking down the street in her high heeled shoes and power suit, chatting on her cell phone, glancing at her watch?    How many times had I distractedly hailed a cab, on my way to an important sales pitch?    It felt like another world.  It felt like a million years ago.   

We finally got to my old building (the firm has since relocated), and I stopped them, and said, "I used to work there, before you were born." 

"Which window was yours, Momma?"  Greta asked, and I pointed to a tall, arched office window on the third floor.   Her jaw dropped.

She was full of questions about what it was like:   What did you wear every day? Did you have a computer?   Were you in charge?   Did you make a lot of money? 

Finn had only one question:   "Where was I?"

I asked them to stand by the front steps for a photo:


I clicked the picture, and it hit me.   A wave of gratitude so strong, my knees started to shake.  

I remembered, really remembered, how afraid I felt at that job, all the time.  How it didn't matter that I was good at it because I felt like a fraud, like a little girl playing dress up.   How  I felt that at any moment people were going to realize I had no business being there.   All I cared about back then was the next accolade, the next raise, the next promotion, because that meant I was a good person.   I never questioned my fear, not once.   I never thought to wonder:  Am I happy?   Is this what I want?   It was a challenge, and I never backed down from a challenge.   Even when it ate me alive.   Especially when it ate me alive.   I buckled down, worked harder, acted the part.    I was chasing something - or perhaps more accurately I was running.   Running, running all the time and I didn't even know what from.

I was so very grateful, because I know that what I do now is important.   I don't love every minute of it, but I know what I want.    I want to spend the day at the circus with my kids.    Today I'm not running, I'm not chasing.   I'm able, most days, to roll with it.    I know that no raise, no accolade, no promotion could ever be better than this:







Tuesday, April 20, 2010

As Finn Sees It

Saturday morning Finn got mad and yelled at me - something to the effect that I'm stupid and he won't ever speak to me again.    Steve and I sent him, crying, to his room.   After ten minutes we told him he could come back downstairs.

We were sipping coffee at the kitchen table, and Finn shuffled in, looking sad and contrite.

"I don't think you're stupid, Momma,"  he said.   "I apologize."

Steve and I stared at him, agape; we had never heard him say that before.

"Thanks, Bud," Steve said.  "Good for you, it's important to apologize."

Finn beamed, proud of himself, and looked at the floor.  After a moment looked up and said, "Momma?  What is apologize?  I don't even know what that means!"

~~~~~~~~~

I'm on the Jenny Craig weight loss program, but I have tried not to use the word "diet" around the kids.   I've been calling it "Operation Get Healthy".     But somehow the word leaked out, because as we sat down to dinner the other night, Finn glanced at my Jenny Craig meal and salad and said, "Mom, are you still on your die-off?"

A much better word for it, if you ask me.

~~~~~~~~

Finn is big for his age.   At four and a half, he weighs 45 lbs and is 44" tall.  

We were at the playground, and he marched right up to another boy about his age and said "do you want to play wif me?"

The boy looked at him uncertainly and said, "But I'm four, and you are older."

Finn smiled, and said, "Dat's okay, I'm four too.   But everybody thinks I'm six!"     He raised his arm like he's making a muscle.  "See dis?" he said.  "Dat's my muscle!  It's from eating broccoli!"

~~~~~~~~

Finn wanted to go to the park wearing this:



And, he said he cleaned his face:



~~~~~~~~~

Finn and I took a nap yesterday.   It is school vacation week, Greta was at a friend's house, and it was the perfect afternoon to curl up on my sun splashed bed and go to sleep. 

He snuggled into me, and reached up to stroke my hair.

"I love you, Momma,"  he said. 

I sighed with happiness, and said "I love you too, Finn."

He put his hand on my cheek, and said, "I will always love you, you know.   Even when I'm a teenagah, I say 'dude' and I'm mad a lot."

"I will always love you, too,"  I said.  "Even when you're a teenager and you're mad a lot."

"Thanks, Dude"  he said.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Awakening

What is your day like?  Where does your time really go?   What do you think about?

Whether we are conscious of them or not, our days are full of patterns, habits, cycles of predictable behaviors.    We become so accustomed to them, oftentimes we don't even realize we have them.    

I have been examining my unconscious behavior, and it is eye opening.    I looked at my patterns and habits, and came up with a top-of-mind estimate of how much time I spend doing each one.   Then I tracked what I did each day - in writing, in a journal - for a couple of weeks.   I was way off. 

For example, I thought I spent maybe two hours a day on the computer. I thought I only snacked occasionally, only drank a couple cups of coffee per day, got enough sleep.    I believed I played with my kids a lot.

I was wrong.   About almost everything.

I spent more like three or four hours a day on the computer.   I drank four or five cups of coffee a day.    I got about six or seven hours of sleep.  I ate way more than I thought - when I read a book or watched television, for example, I got up often to grab something to munch on.  I worked out less than I thought I did.

It is hard to really know ourselves, I think.    If you're anything like me, you have this idea in your head of how you are, a kind of prototype.   I'll call mine Ellie 1.0.    Without realizing it, when I think about myself I look for ways that I fit my idea of Ellie 1.0 and I downplay or ignore the ones that don't.  

Ellie 1.0 believes she eats moderately, works out frequently, watches her caffeine intake.   She thinks she gets plenty of rest, and plays with her kids for at least an hour a day.   She doesn't talk on the phone excessively, or spend large chunks of time messing about on the computer.    

It's an innocuous form of denial.   Most of our habits don't become serious problems.    And it is exhausting and counterproductive to spend every minute of every day over thinking everything.   But I had been feeling a vague sense of unease, discomfort, malaise, and I couldn't get a handle on it.    So I started paying attention - to my actions, to my thoughts.   

The disconnect between the way things really are versus the way I think things are is interesting, and it is the source of anxiety and discomfort:   Why are my kids so restless?   How come I'm gaining weight?   Why do I get so tired at 3pm every day?  

So I made some changes.   I started limiting my computer time, going to bed by 10:30pm, stopping myself after two cups of coffee.   I joined Jenny Craig.    I started going to the gym three or four times per week.   I played more with my kids.    

Everyone else got happier.   My husband was thrilled that I decided to lose weight and exercise more.  The kids were less whiny, less needy, more fulfilled.

I, on the other hand, became edgy.    I was restless, anxious and irritable.     I began wondering why making positive changes in my life was creating such emotional havoc for me.

Because it is change.   I'm not a big fan of change.   I liked my ruts, my habits, my shortcuts.   I wanted to be able to eat what I want and not gain weight.  Exercise every now and then and be fit.    Play with my kids occasionally, and then have them leave me alone.    I wanted to go to bed when I want, and drink more coffee to stay alert during the day.   I altered my reality, my thoughts, to try to make my actions fit my desires.... otherwise known as denial.

I don't kid myself into thinking I can do everything perfectly, or maintain this proactive lifestyle indefinitely.   I like Jenny Craig, and I'm enjoying working out, so I plan to keep that up.

Everything else I'll do what I can.    Just becoming more aware has helped.   Every day is full of thousands of little choices.  I want to be more conscious of my choices.    I don't want to kid myself that I can stay up until midnight and not be tired the next day.   Or that if I choose to spend too much on time on the computer that my kids won't get restless.     I want to bridge that gap between thought and reality better.    I don't always like what I see, but at least I see it.

And the best part?   Being more conscious makes me remember to cheer myself on for the stuff I'm good at, the little successes I have each day.    Just like I can think I'm better at something than I really am, I can just as easily think I'm worse.

So I keep a list, now, of the little victories.    I remember to pat myself on the back when I go to the gym, play soccer in the yard with my kids, skip that piece of birthday cake, clean out a closet.   

If I can just keep making little adjustments and maintain some awareness along the way, I'll be okay.

Ellie 1.0?   Meet Ellie 1.1.   Soon to become Ellie 1.1.2, I'm sure.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Twice Monthly Giveaway - New Item!

Congratulations to Ronit, who won the Rose Is A Rose Ring!   Thank you to everyone who entered.

The next piece is another great ring for spring - the Peridot Twist Ring, made from a sparkling swarovski "twist" crystal and sterling silver wire:




Click here to see the ring listed in my Etsy shop.

Please comment below if you would like to enter, and also leave an email where you can be reached if you win.   If you are more comfortable emailing me directly, please do so at:   ellieandsteve@verizon.net.

The winner will be chosen at random (my daughter draws a name from a hat) on May 1st.     This giveaway is open internationally.

Thank you!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Name It and Claim It

I promise I won't only talk about food, or lack of food as the case may be, all the time. 

But at the moment it's all I can think about.   Because, of course, I'm trying to lose weight and it turns out in order to do that you can't eat everything that isn't nailed to the cupboards.   

I'm having one of those times when my version of me and my reality collide.    Had you asked me a few months ago, "Ellie, do you eat too much?"    I would have said "No, I'm not that into food," and then I might have punched you in the face.   In my mind.

Oh, denial, you sneaky bastard.    Turns out I eat more often than I realize.  The chipper Jenny Craig consultant has a whole term for it.  I'm an unconscious eater.

I'm one of those people who doesn't pay much attention to food at all.   One would think that is enough to not develop a weight problem, but that isn't accurate.    I don't pay any attention to what I'm eating.    So much so that throughout the day and evening I'm eating more than I realize - little bits here and there that all add up.  

Throughout the day, without really being aware of it, I'm reaching for pretzels, fruit, cheese, the odd piece of candy.    Did I mention the cheese?   I love cheese.    Cheese should be it's own food group, as far as I'm concerned.   Don't like broccoli?   Put a little cheese on it.  Or better yet - melt a little cheese on it.    Now you have yourself an edible treat.

With further inspection, it turns out that I have a little justification problem.    As in - I'll work out for an hour, and then use this as a reason to justify snacking whenever I feel the slightest bit hungry.   Add this to a portion control issue (I worked out this week!  I can have more!) , and it's a perfect storm.

So one day I get brave enough to actually see how much I weigh, and I'm about twenty pounds heavier than I thought I was.   You know, cause I don't eat very much.    Riiiiiiight.

I've been here before.   When I finally faced the truth of my drinking, I was horrified by how bad things had gotten.   Even though I was the one doing the drinking, I have a startling ability to shut my brain down when it's convenient for me.   I have a wonderful way of just not looking.    Or, perhaps more accurately, every now and then I'd have a lucid glimpse of my drinking, and I'd justify it.   Problem solved.

Just like when I got sober, I'm feeling a hole in my life.   It's not as bad - not nearly as bad - but it's an emotional gap.   I feel a bit like someone has chopped off a limb.    I go to reach for something and realize:  oh yeah, I can't do that anymore.  No arm.    I unconsciously went to the pantry and the fridge several times today, gazing at the food without thinking.   Unconscious eater, indeed.

I even blogged about this habit, for crying out loud.   I wrote that I gaze into my fridge several times a day, but I rarely reach for anything to eat.   LIAR.    I was, obviously, eating more than I wanted to acknowledge.    Over New Year's I wrote about how I don't want to set resolutions, how I'd rather be able to ask myself:  what is it about myself that I don't want to face.  It took a few months, but I'm facing it.

Just like with getting sober, though, it's freeing to face up to it.    There is a moment of mourning, too - the food party train is over.    Now that I'm aware of it - now that I'm a conscious eater (take THAT you little Jenny Craig consultant, you) I'm back in control of my actions, and it's up to me to choose wisely.    Like getting sober, I'm not doing it alone.   I'm talking to people, getting support, not getting upset when people cheer me on instead of saying "You?  You don't need to lose weight!"     Because I do.   And it's okay.

Besides, they are smart, these weight loss program consultants.   She handed me a list of "unlimited foods" - foods I can eat all I want, as much as I want.    She had a huge smile on her face, like I'd won the lottery.    The freaking carrot stick lottery.    But I like the idea of being told I can have as much as I want of anything.  

So you may want to take out stock in vegetable futures, cause they're gonna go up.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Waiting To Care

The weather is gorgeous here in New England in the spring (except, of course, when it's not).

For most of the past couple of weeks the sun has been shining, the temperature holding at a pleasant 50-55 degrees.   Flowers and trees are blooming, and we've been spending more and more time outside.

I'm excited for summer this year.    We have a rustic beach cottage we go to every summer.   It's so rustic it has no electricity (except some solar power and a gas generator to pump water).    That's right - you can't plug anything in - no coffee maker, computer or television.    We get completely off the grid.    

As the days get warmer, I fantasize about long, lazy summer days at the beach, board games at night, long strolls along the water at sunset.   It's amazing out there.   This is the first year I'm able to be truly excited about being out there sober.  The first summer was difficult - it takes some getting used to, winding down after a long day at the beach, barbequing and watching the sunset while sipping club soda and lemon.    The first summer I thought about drinking a lot.     Last year, less and less.    This year I'm actually looking forward to being there sober - a day that I wasn't sure would ever come.

But a shadow crosses my mind when I think about summer, too.     Gad, bathing suits, I think, shorts, tee shirts, summer dresses.   The thought makes me cringe inside.    It's been a long time since I felt comfortable in a bathing suit.    Ever since my first child, to be exact.     I invested in gauzy cover-ups, sarongs, cute capri pants.    I avoided strappy summer dresses, shorts and tank tops.   

Just part of being a 30-something Mom, I'd think.   Now I'm a 40-something Mom, though, my baby is 4 1/2, and nothing has changed.   I still have those cover-ups, the stretchy capri pants, the oversized tee-shirts.

But I'm done.

I'm done covering up.   I spent the past two and a half years working on sobriety, cultivating a gentle self-honesty, trying to live an authentic life.    Getting sober is a big deal, and I wasn't ready to tackle anything else.  

Now I'm ready.   I want to lose weight.

I'm not a really heavy person.    I have always been - shall we say - statuesque.    I'm 5' 10", large boned and strong.    Getting sober I learned to be comfortable in my own skin, and these days I'm more grounded and self-confident than I've ever been before.     I'm confident enough to begin a journey like weight loss for the right reasons.    I want to be healthier.   I want to have more energy.   And, let's face it, I want to look better, too.    I want to go to the beach and think about splashing around in the waves with my kids, not how I'm going to get out of my capri pants and shirt and into the water before anyone gets a good look at me.

I'm not one to focus on the scale - I hadn't weighed myself in years.   It was eye opening.    To get to a healthy weight I could stand to lose thirty pounds, at least.    

I have been exercising more and eating better.   I feel better about myself, just from the exercise.   But I'm almost 41 years old, and I need to up my game.    

Today, I'm upping it.   I joined a popular weight loss program (more later on which one, and why).

What changed?   Everything and nothing.    I have been waiting to care enough to try.    I'm not unhappy with myself the way I am.    Until that internal switch flipped in my brain - until I was ready - I knew it was fruitless to try.   I don't need one more thing I have to be doing.   I was waiting until I wanted to do it.

That day is today.   

Wish me luck, although I won't need it.     

I'm ready.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Five Spot

I haven't blogged in six days, if you don't count that last little post with video of Finn.

Nothing is particularly wrong, nothing is particularly right.    For almost a week my mind shifted into neutral, took a little vacation, went on leave.

I'm just sort of, well, flat

Of course, since I tend to over think everything, I've been over thinking what is going on with me these days, too.   I've come up with the following diagnosis:    I'm okay.

Just okay.   I'm humming along at a safe, regular mental speed.   

I've blogged about how if the scale is zero-to-ten, I don't like being smack dab in the middle, at five.    I prefer big ups and downs, or at least I think I do, because it gives me something to sink my teeth into.   

To be honest, I've been working a lot on this five business.     I've talked about how my subconscious mind never shuts up, how my thoughts are always pinging around like some kind of pinball machine on full tilt.    This characteristic is great for creativity - writing in particular - but not so great for dealing with daily life.

I could feel that the balance in my life was tipping, and not in a good way.    A couple of weeks ago I blogged about how things were getting tougher with Finn, how I've been feeling frustrated that I can't get to all the things I want to be doing because my feet feel tangled in the wires of all I have to be doing.      Resentments welled up - mostly against my kids, for their constant needs and hectic schedules.    I felt like I was stuck in neutral gear, but instead of accepting this I just kept revving the engine, red-lining but not getting anywhere.     I lost gratitude.  I lost acceptance.    This is dangerous turf for me, and I know it.

I love writing.   As my good friend Heather says:  I write to find out what I'm thinking.    When I stop writing I can feel my brain gear down, settle into a kind of white noise.     I'm happiest when I'm writing, because I feel like I've got my finger on the pulse of life, of creativity, of spirit.     The problem is, I'm having a hard time capturing that feeling in regular old day-to-day life.    I'm drawn to writing like a drug, one that makes me feel awake and alive.     That isn't inherently bad, as long as it isn't costing me anything in the real world.   And it was starting to cost me.    The things I learn in recovery apply across the board, not just with staying sober.    So I know, now, when things are off.   And I know what I have to do.

This past week I refocused, reprioritized.   I resisted the siren call of writing, and spent more time engaging with Finn, playing outside, exercising.     I found it difficult to be on my computer casually, so I basically stayed away entirely (except for the odd Tweet or Facebook update, I can't go completely cold turkey).    I was curious to see what would happen if I just gave it a little break.

Two things happened:   (1) things are going much better with Finn.   Almost instantly.    (2) I feel switched off.    It is as if I've lost the ability to see the beauty in everyday life if I'm not writing about it.    That's not okay.

Like with all things I enjoy, I need to find a better balance with writing.   Typical addictive behavior:  I jump in with both feet and get consumed.

I'm easing myself back in, keeping a wary eye on balance.    Writing is something I love, something that sustains me, so I'm not going to stop.   I'm just going to be more careful.    

Oh, and I'm up to something.   More on that later this week. 

It's a good thing (so don't worry, Mom).

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Finn's Dweam

Finn loves to tell me about his dreams. This one went on for about twenty minutes. The first video is a minute and a half, the second one is two and a half minutes. I bet you didn't know the Easter Bunny loved Monster Trucks, did you?

video

The Grinch makes a brief appearance. Finn needs a fancier shirt to fend off bad guys. And, apparently, I sleep too much and miss kind of a lot:


video

Monday, April 5, 2010

Praying for the Burn

Finn put his hand on the hot stove last night, and burned his fingers.   He's okay - lots of ice, hugs and kisses and a good night's sleep and he didn't even mention it this morning.

The stove is one of those issues Finn liked to push.    He knows he isn't supposed to touch it, he knows (forgive the pun) it's a hot button for me.

"It is hot now?" he'll ask, again and again, when he's trying to get my goat.    "It doesn't look hot, so can I touch it here?" he'll say, putting his fingernail on the very corner of the glass.     Each and every time I'll get mad, and say those things Moms say:   I'm not going to tell you again, don't touch it, if you burn yourself it will really hurt, stop it, stop it, stop it.    Like running into the road, it is one of those things I always react strongly to; the stakes are too high to let him learn the lesson on his own.

Last night Steve cooked some popcorn the old fashioned way, in oil in a pot on the stove.   Mere minutes after Steve removed the pot, Finn put his hand on the still-hot burner.     He screamed instantly, cupped his hand and looked at me with wide, terrified eyes.  "IT HURTS MOMMA!  IT HURTS! IT HURTS! IT HURTS SO MUCH!"

We immediately stuck his hand in a bag of ice water, and about five minutes later we could see, with a lot of relief, that it wasn't too bad.   He was going to be okay.

I cradled him on my lap, soothing him.   I didn't lecture, I didn't say I told you so.    His sobs began to subside, and he leaned his head on my chest and said, "I'm sorry, Momma.   I fahgot that one time that you said not to touch it.   I won't do it again."

And he won't.   Once burned, twice shy, as they say.

I realized he just didn't believe us, that he could get seriously hurt.  The stove issue became kind of a game of action/reaction.    He enjoyed provoking a reaction in me, and forgot the message I was trying to drum into his head.     I have told him hundreds of times to stop, and I could have told him one hundred more.  He wasn't going to stop until he burned himself.    All I can do is be thankful it wasn't worse.  

It may seem like I can make anything about recovery, but this example struck home  for me.    I've been there - in that space where people were telling me over and over again to just stop, that I was going to get seriously hurt.    I didn't listen, or I pretended to listen.    I didn't stop until I got good and scared myself.    It was too easy to believe that everyone else was over-reacting, that I was fine, that I knew what I was doing.    Without consciously realizing it, it also became a form of rebellion:   nobody tells me what to do

Like Finn, I just kept waving my hand over the hot stove, testing limits, trying to prove to myself that somehow I was different, that the hot stove may burn others but it wasn't going to burn me.   Terminal uniqueness - that is what they call this phenomenon in recovery.    Not me, I'm different.  

With addiction, the lines are even fuzzier.   As my drinking got worse, I would burn my hand on the proverbial stove.    I would find some way to justify the hurt, the burn, and I would keep right on going.    I would look everywhere but directly at the source of my pain.   Kind of like touching a hot stove and being angry at the stove for burning me, I just wouldn't see that if I stopped touching it, I wouldn't get burned.   I invested all of my energies away from me, from my accountability:   if you had my life, you'd drink, too. 

When someone is actively struggling with addiction, burning themselves over and over, it's a difficult predicament.   Warnings, getting angry, offering cautionary tales - all too often these simply don't work.

Most of the time, all I can do is be there, suit up and show up, when it finally happens.   When the burn comes and this time, for whatever reason, someone has had enough.   All I can do is be present when they hit bottom.  There isn't room for I told you so.    There is only room for action, for showing someone: there is a better way to live.   I'm not saying it is easier, but it is simpler.   

It's an odd feeling, watching someone suffering, and praying: please burn yourself badly, not so badly you can't heal, but badly enough to get your attention.  Badly enough to hit bottom.  Badly enough to get some help.

It is a hard thing to reconcile, this powerlessness thing.    I can't make someone see that they are in pain because they are drinking when they think they are drinking because they are in pain.    I can say to them:  I've been there, you don't have to keep doing this.   But I can't make them hear it. 

I can share my story, show them where my own burn scars are, show them that I'm healing.

But I can't make them look.

Friday, April 2, 2010

My Refrigerator, the Dalai Lama, and Me

If I took everything out of my refrigerator except one jug of regular tap water, I would still open the door throughout the day and peer in.

Why?   Because it is just one of those things I do - stand with a semi-glazed expression and glare at the contents of my fridge.    I'm hardly ever hungry when I do this.    I rarely remove anything to eat or drink.   I just stand there and stare, perhaps hoping that something will have magically transformed into a delicious treat since my last passive inspection, numbly wishing that things were different than the way they really are.

It's an old habit, and old habits - as they say - die hard.

I'm tired of unconscious behaviors, like peering into my fridge for no discernable reason.  Once I'm aware of a pattern I want to change (or, more likely, once it is pointed out to me), over time I can engage in alternative actions.   But first I have to have some moment of clarity about what needs to change, and that is the greatest challenge.

And what about thoughts?   I want to pay more attention to my unconscious thoughts, that ticker-tape that runs madly behind my eyes, endlessly churning out data, most of it utterly useless.     I'm trying to foster a curiosity about all that white noise:   what is really in there?      When I look closely at my unconscious mind, it feels like I'm standing beside a rushing river and trying to spot a single drop of water.

I want to be more awake.   More conscious.   As I parse my thoughts I realize how much unconscious negativity I have, how much judgment against myself and others.    Negativity and criticism are cheap and easy.    Acceptance is hard.    Change can be even harder.   But hardest of all?   Awareness.  

I like to think I'm a kind person, a charitable person, always on the lookout for ways to lend a hand, offer a hug, give support    And I am this way, a lot of the time.   But turn down the volume on my self-presumptions a bit, and there is an unconscious river of negativity, self-doubt and fear:  who does she think she is, why won't he just shut up, is she looking down her nose at me, do I look fat, did that sound stupid, she think she's so great, I don't measure up, I can't do it, I won't do it, why won't everyone just leave me be.

The opposite of negativity isn't always positivity, in my opinion.   I don't want to walk around with a smile on my face all the time, spewing happy bumper sticker slogans or catch phrases like don't worry, be happy.    The opposite of negativity and criticism is awareness and change.   It's easy to point out someone else's flaws.    Harder to do is to turn the spotlight inward, and think:  what is eliciting this response in me?    What don't I want to face in myself?   How can I be part of a solution, instead of sitting around actively pointing out problems?

I blame the Dalai Lama for all this introspection.    I have been watching a series of documentary interviews with him, talking about inner revolution, how constructive change on a global level starts with an internal shift in focus.    Last night I was watching a panel discussion he held with prominent politicians, environmentalists and journalists.   After a while, the tone of the discussions started to change.   It began to sound like a big mutual admiration society, a room full of like-minded people who enjoyed the sounds of their own voices, their own opinions.  The panelists were pointing out all the problems, like grand masters of the obvious. 

His Holiness suddenly started giggling.    In response to the befuddled expressions of the panelists and the audience, he laughed and said: "Americans are funny.  You hear something you like and you clap, clap, clap all the time.   Not so helpful.   Use your minds.   Awareness?   Change?   Helpful."

The next time I stand gazing, open-mouthed, into my refrigerator, I'm going to picture the Dalai Lama standing next to me, pointing and giggling. 

What you have there, he'll say, is one jug full of tap water.  

Now what do you want to do about it?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Twice Monthly Giveaway - New Item!

Congratulations to Marjory, who won the last giveaway!    Thanks to everyone who entered!

In keeping with the spring theme, this week's giveaway is the "Rose Is A Rose" Ring.   It comes in four pretty spring colors:






Click here view this ring in my Etsy shop.

To enter, please comment below and include your email so I can contact you if you win.    If you are more comfortable emailing me directly, please do so at:   ellieandsteve@verizon.net

This giveaway is open internationally.

The winner will be chosen at random on April 15th (my daughter picks a name from a hat).   

Thank you!