Sunday, August 29, 2010

Existential Quicksand

I've been feeling a low rumble lately, some shiftless, slippery dark form rippling just beneath the surface of my consciousness.

I'm pretty good at ignoring it, in part because we are so busy.    These last two weeks of summer, when we didn't have anything specific planned, have still been stuffed to the gills with activity.    Playdates, swimming at the local Y, visiting family and friends, going to a fair, birthday parties - every day is jam packed from start to finish. 

The days blur by - each day mashing into the next one.   I rarely even know what day of the week it is anymore.  

Each day starts the exact same way.  I get a poke in the ribs at 6am, two sets of eyes peering at me expectantly.  "What are we going to do today, Momma?   Huh?  Momma?  You awake?   We're hungry."

As soon as my feet hit the floor, the kids are in motion.   I feel like a sleepy sun with two jittery planets orbiting my every move.  

Can I have Rice Krispies no wait I want waffles but not too much butter Finn hit me Sissy won't talk to me Momma where are my waffles I can't find my special lizard wanna play soccer I don't like this juice can I have milk there is too much butter on my waffles can we have a playdate Momma Momma Momma look at me I can jump on one foot NO I'M TALKING TO MOMMA NOW Momma is today the pool can we have a friend over will you play a game with me I'm hungry Momma Momma Mommaaaaaaaa.

I am not exaggerating when I say this level of chatter and activity doesn't stop until they close their eyes at night.  

Even when we're doing something - playing a game, say - they are vying for attention, asking what is next, peppering me with questions.     

If I stop moving, to check the computer  or - gasp - try to read the newspaper they are instantly on me.  I mean ON me.   Sitting on my lap, draped around my legs, sticky warm arms and legs pressed into mine.  

I try to carve out precious little chunks of time - a half an hour here or there to get jewelry orders done, return emails, have a phone conversation, do some housework.    Finn's record for leaving me alone is eight minutes.  Eight whole minutes before he pads in the room and slips silently into my lap, leans against my legs or simply follows me around like a pint sized shadow.   Greta can last the whole half an hour.   Barely.

That slippery, shadowy thing that has been lurking around in my periphery, sliding around in my subconscious mind, is an oil slick of frustration, and it is mucking up my clear waters of serenity and gratitude.  

By three o'clock every day I feel like I have gnats buzzing about my head - hungry, demanding little blood suckers that I can't swat away, because, well, those gnats love me and it's summer and it's been a great summer and I really don't have anything to complain about because we've had such fun and school is about to start and so I should enjoy the moments we have together and so I'll just grit my teeth and find the beauty in the moment and -

Well, you get the idea.   I'm trying to talk myself out of this existential quicksand, this sensation of constant stuck I feel. 

The truth?   I feel disappeared.   

I'm the snack getter and skinned knee kisser and sibling referee and chauffeur and playdate arranger and house picker-upper and chief cook and bottle washer.   And I'm sick to death of it.

I ache for some time to myself.   I have all these lofty ideas for my business and for my writing and it's just not worth diving into them.   Not now.    I have learned that trying to do those things and be present for the kids simply doesn't work.   They are still young enough that they need me to be the center of their orbit.    On the good days I am grateful for this - oh, so grateful.    On the not-so-good days it makes me want to run down the street screaming:  what about MEEEEE?????

Part of this can be blamed on the weather.   There is a little bite to the air in the evenings, now; the first of Autumn's caresses have arrived.   I am academically programmed, and every single fall I feel a tidal wave of energy, of ideas.   September 1st is like my New Year's Day; the slow, hazy days of summer are over and I want to be in motion.    MY motion, not the endless pinging around that is managing two young kids' schedules.

I'm trying to bring it back into the moment.   I know, in my heart, that these days are irreplaceable, that my kids' need to be close to me, that their undiluted love for me, is to be treasured.   I know it won't last forever, and that some day - sooner than I think - I will ache for these times. 

But the oil slick is there, I can't deny it.   All I can do is speak my truth, try to reduce its sludgy hold over me one word at a time.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Why Can't She Just STOP?

Why won't she stop drinking?  It's ruining her life, why won't she just STOP? 

If you are a loved one - a friend or family member - of an alcoholic, you may ask yourself this question a lot.

If you are drinking and can't stop, if you are drinking without your own permission, you may be asking yourself the same sort of questions:  what is WRONG with me?   Why can't I just stop?

In recent weeks I have had several conversations with people, on both sides of this equation, who are wondering these things.   It's an odd feeling, trying to explain something so complex and so personal for me.   Typically, when asked, I will share some of my own experiences, try to help people understand through the lens of my own addiction and recovery.    But everyone is different - there is no blueprint  for the way alcoholism presents itself, or progresses.    There is, however, one thing that is known by the medical and scientific community to be true.

Alcoholism is a disease.   The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says the following:
Alcoholism is a disease. The craving that an alcoholic feels for alcohol can be as strong as the need for food or water. An alcoholic will continue to drink despite serious family, health, or legal problems.

Like many other diseases, alcoholism is chronic, meaning that it lasts a person's lifetime; it usually follows a predictable course; and it has symptoms. The risk for developing alcoholism is influenced both by a person's genes and by his or her lifestyle. (See also "Publications," Alcohol Alert No. 30: Diagnostic Criteria for Alcohol Abuse and Dependence.)
When I was in treatment, and they were explaining the biological roots of alcoholism to me, it was freeing.   Finally, I was able to understand that I had a disease that I could no more control than I could if my body was fighting cancer, diabetes or asthma.    Will power had nothing to do with it, any more than will power would come into play if my body didn't produce enough insulin, or my cells had turned cancerous.  

I have heard - even in the alcoholic/recovery community - from people who don't agree that it is a disease.   I have heard from loved ones that the disease concept makes them fearful - that it enables someone struggling with alcoholism to throw up their hands and say, "See?  I can't help it!"

I look at it this way:  my disease is organic, it is biologically based like an allergy.   I didn't choose to be an alcoholic, or invite this disease to attack me through weak moral character or a lack of will power.   All I needed to do to awaken the seed of alcoholism that lay dormant in me was to drink alcohol.   Something I hear over and over in recovery meetings, and I identify strongly with, is people describing how drinking felt to them at first - like a light switch clicked on inside of them, that they had found something they had needed all their lives.   

I didn't have any choices once I drank - one drink and I couldn't predict what would happen.   I always drank with the intention of having only one or two.  I never set out to have too much, to ruin my health, my mental and physical well being.    This is why the allergy comparison feels so right to me - my body and mind react differently to alcohol, and it happens the minute I put alcohol in my system.

My disease may be organic, but my recovery is my responsibility.   I relapsed over and over as I struggled to get sober, and I look back at that time and try to figure out what the common denominator was, why for so long I couldn't stop, and then why I did, finally I hope, get sober.

I don't know that I'll ever have one answer for this question, but one fact remains clear to me:  until I understood that I was powerless over alcohol - that one drink triggered all the other stuff - I didn't have a chance.   For me, learning that alcoholism was a disease was the final piece that had to click into place.   Once I understood that will power not only didn't count, but was making things WORSE, I stepped out of the way and asked for help.   The same way I would if a doctor solemnly told me I had diabetes, the only question I needed to ask was "what do I need to do?"  

The treatment plan revolves around staying away from that first drink.    For me, it is recovery meetings, prayer and the comfort of talking with people who understand.    It is a disease that convinces you that you're not sick.  Once you feel physically and mentally better, once the wreckage caused by drinking is repaired, it is easy to believe you're okay now, that you can control it.    I go to recovery meetings and talk to other people in recovery to stay close to the fact that I can't drink in safety, to maintain my defense against that first drink (I go to meetings for so many more reasons than that, but that is a discussion for another time).

The other question that is asked by people struggling with their drinking and their loved ones is:  how do I know if I'm an alcoholic?   My response is always this:  it doesn't matter how much, or how often, it matters what it does to you. 

There are countless quizzes and checklists out there, but I like this one by the NIAA because it is short, to the point:
Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?

Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?

Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?

One "yes" answer suggests a possible alcohol problem. More than one "yes" answer means it is highly likely that a problem exists.
I like this checklist because it cuts to the chase - 'regular' drinkers don't spend any time worrying about their drinking, or feeling guilty about it.     So many people are diagnosed after their life has become a roiling mess, and it is beyond clear to everyone involved that drinking is at the root of the problem.   This checklist could help people catch their disease in its earliest stages, when the niggling doubts and fears are mostly internal.

If you are struggling with alcohol, if you answered yes to one or more of the questions above, please get help.   A physician is a good place to start if you're not ready to talk with loved ones or walk into a recovery meeting.    

Facing the truth is the biggest hurdle towards getting well.    It takes courage - whether you're struggling yourself or you love someone who is - to tell the truth, to overcome the stigma of alcoholism and cut through denial. 

If someone had any other chronic and fatal illness people wouldn't wonder if they were weak of character or will power.   The stigma of alcoholism keeps people sick.  Denial - on both sides of the equation - prevents the symptoms from being recognized.   

The truth, however, could save a life, because alcoholism always, always progresses.  

Always.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Celebrity Hero Worship

When I was in New York for the BlogHer conference, I was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion about celebrity hero worship with three other bloggers:  Laura from The Hollywood Housewife, Jessica from The Mom Creative and Susan from GetGood.com.

The Roundtable was hosted by the beautiful and gracious Dr. Janet Taylor, and filmed to be put on Liberty Mutual's Responbility Project's website.  I love the way it turned out, (but, seriously?  Do I really sound like that?) and it was a pleasure to be in the company of such engaging, creative and intelligent women.

So, take a look if you'd like - and I'd love to hear from all of you on your thoughts about celebrity worship.  Is it something you think about?    How does it impact the way you parent?   Do you worry about how our children are inundated with celebrity culture through television, movies and social media?   What do YOU do about it?  

The Responsibility Project

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How It Works

I know a woman with kind eyes and a lion's heart.

She's a touch-stone, a soul mate; being with her feels as natural to me as my own skin.    It's a finish-each-other's-sentences kind of friendship, a lifetime of late night giggles, whispered secrets and knowing smiles.

We prop each other up, leaning steadily and sturdily on one another through soaring joys and crushing blows.  

When I'm with her it's like two puzzle pieces clicking into place - separately we are colorful and interesting, but together the picture feels complete.

Over the years our paths have serpentined away from each other and back again, winding and twisting along different paths as lives do, but always orbiting the gravitational pull of our twin heartbeat.

~~~~

One night, a little over three years ago, I called her.  I was drunk, scared, alone and desperate for her love, understanding and friendship.   "I'm in trouble," I told her.  "Please come."

She'll understand, I thought.  She'll know why I drink; we're two halves of a whole, after all.   She'll tell me I'm okay.

An hour later she arrived, eyes blazing with love and pain, but with a determined set to her jaw.   She marched into the kitchen and poured out all the booze, bottle by bottle.   Then she turned to me and told me the hard truth:  I had a problem, I needed to stop, I needed to get help.

It was not what I was expecting her to say, not at all.    I knew in my gut, for the first time ever, that she spoke the truth.   I needed to stop, and I needed to get help. 

She stayed with me that night, and in the morning as she left she hugged me and said, "You can do this, El.  I love you."

That day I checked into my first rehab.   My journey had begun.

~~~~

Today, as we stood trembling and teary in the intake area of the treatment center, my eyes were ablaze with the same determined love. 

"You can do this," I said to her as we hugged.  "I love you."

I opened her hand and pressed a little bronze medallion into her palm.   Etched into it is the Serenity Prayer:  God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.   It was given to me at one of my first recovery meetings by a woman I don't know, and haven't seen again.   She had many, many years of sobriety, and told me she wanted me to have it.   For strength, she said.

"This was given to me when I was new," I whispered to my friend, through tears.   "And now I'm giving it to you."  

Our eyes locked, and for an instant we were little girls again, finding our way through life together, always together.

Her journey is just beginning.   But someday?   I hope and pray that  she will give it to someone else.   She will pay it forward.

Because that's how it works.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Fifty Guinea Pigs

I hit a milestone this weekend.   I have lost 50 pounds.

Just to put things in perspective, I googled "what weighs 50 lbs?"

I have lost the equivalent of:

* a large bag of dog kibble
* six gallons of water
* an average second grader
* one bale of hay
* an elephant's heart
* one medium sized dog
* six human heads
* four average sized two year olds
* four bald eagles
* two and a half automobile tires
* fifty guinea pigs

To celebrate, I went out and bought a little black dress.   We were shopping for the kids' back-to-school clothes, and my eye landed on a cute form fitting dress - the kind I wouldn't have given a second thought to before - and on a whim I grabbed it as we headed to the fitting rooms to try on the kids' clothes.

Standing in the family dressing room with Greta and Finn, I slid the dress over my head.   Greta's eyes got wide, and she said, "Wow, Mom.  Just - WOW."

Finn shook his head solemnly, and said "Nope.  No way.  Too sexy."

That sealed the deal.   I was so excited to fit into the dress I didn't have time to ponder where my 4 year old learned the word 'sexy'.

I'm almost at my goal weight.   Four and a half months ago, I began this journey, not really believing I could lose over 50 lbs, but determined to give it a try.   I'm amazed - truly - at my new shape.  I weigh what I weighed in my early 20s (although not everything is where it was twenty years ago - some things are, shall we say, lower). 

I have lost 50 lbs, but it is what I have gained that matters:

* the ability to shop for clothes because I like them, not just because they fit
* more energy
* no aching back muscles, and knees that don't creak in the morning
* I can run.  Run!
* lower blood pressure
* the ability to accessorize with belts
* getting dressed in the morning without a pit in my stomach
* no fear of mirrors
* wanting to appear in family pictures
* a better understanding of myself, my thoughts patterns, my habits 

The best part, I think, is that it doesn't feel like a diet anymore.   Life doesn't feel full of the things I can't have, it's just a matter of making lots of right choices throughout the day.   I still eat some of the Jenny Craig food - but for the most part I'm managing it on my own now.   I don't really have cravings; and when I do they pass quickly.  It's just not worth it.   It feels like this new way of eating has woven its way into the fabric of my consciousness, so it isn't about deprivation, it's just about living life.

I think back to April, when this all began.   How impossibly far away my goal weight seemed.   But it's only four and a half months, or 135 days.    And I take it one day at a time - sound familiar?    Just like with sobriety, I don't think about tomorrow (will I make it?  will I keep the weight off?)  or yesterday (I lost two pounds last week, how come I didn't lose any this week?)    I focus on the next right choice.   And if I slip?   It's gone, history, nothing I can do about it now.  On to the next choice, the next decision.  

Fifty is a lot of guinea pigs.   Good riddance, I say.  



Saturday, August 21, 2010

Big Girl Pants

My feelings got hurt.

The details of why aren't important, and I'm not trying to be frustratingly vague, but really and truly they aren't important.

I was talking to a trusted friend and without warning the conversation took a turn. Suddenly what had felt like a soothing float over cool calm water turned dangerous - pitching and rocking around in the salty sea.

Conflict of any kind has always made me anxious.   It doesn't even have to involve me; I can overhear a whispered argument between a couple at a restaurant and my stomach turns icy with fear.   My husband can get angry at his computer because the printer won't work, and I'll be wincing in the next room like a puppy about to be scolded.    I can't even watch political debates without needing to pop a few Tums
.
It's exhausting, absorbing the world's negativity and filtering it back and through me.   A big part of my recovery is learning - as cliched as it sounds - that not everything has to do with me.   Slowly, I'm learning not to jump to conclusions about people's moods.   If my husband comes home tired and irritable, for example, it doesn't automatically mean that he's upset with me.    With practice, I'm better able to separate myself from everyone else's mood, to stop thinking everything is somehow my responsibility.

But when anger and disappointment are aimed squarely at me, I never know what to do.   My first instinct is to run - find some means of escape - because I feel fear that borders on panic.  It's a physical fear: my heart rate spikes, my palms sweat and my face and neck blush bright red.   The old fight-or-flight instinct kicks in, and I go immediately to flight.  

When I was drinking, I would presume that everything was all my fault.   I felt so broken, so insecure, that I didn't have the ability to view myself objectively, to stand up for myself.    I agreed with everyone else's opinion of me, because I didn't have my own opinion of me.

So when this conversation turned a sharp corner, morphed from an idle chat to an exchange of hard truths, of barbs, I froze.    The old me, the cowering me, wanted to pick up my purse and run away.   But I didn't.   As difficult words flowed from this person's mouth, I simply sat still and listened.  

I have never been quick to anger.   As an active alcoholic, I always felt that anger was an emotion I wasn't entitled to, because of all the hurt I caused.   I was in a constant state of flux between alcohol-fueled righteous indignation and contrite next-mornings.   

As a sober woman, I can't duck and run from feelings anymore.   I can't stuff them down to some inaccessible place and wait until evening to numb them away.  

As I listened to my friend, who was upset with me, a little hurt, a little disappointed, I pushed down the urge to run, and instead I thought to myself:   this is someone you trust with all your heart, someone who wouldn't hurt you for sport.   Listen to what is being said.   Listen and absorb

So I squared my shoulders, put my Big Girl pants on, and listened.    And it hurt.  It hurt to hear the words, it hurt to see this person hurting, too.   I felt stung.   I felt sad.    But I didn't agree with everything that was said.  I didn't automatically jump to that apology place - my usual default just to get the conflict over with.   Apologies from me meant nothing for so long, because instead of apologizing for some wrongdoing on my part, what I was basically saying was:  I'm sorry for being me

What I thought this time was:  What is my part in this?   What could I have done differently?   If these words are stinging, they are laced with thorns of truth.   So find the truth.  

And I did.  I owned up to my part, and apologized for the things I did to contribute to the problem.   I talked about the ways I felt wronged, too.   We talked about a plan as to how to avoid this conflict in the future.

But I didn't feel shame.    I think I'm finally figuring out the difference between being wrong, and being bad.  

We parted with a hug, and a resolve to keep talking about things, to keep looking ahead towards a solution.    

The icy grip of anxiety was melted by the glow that comes when people care about you enough to tell you their truth instead of slowly drifting away, and the warmth of loving yourself enough to listen and absorb without losing yourself to fear.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Brave Enough

Greta and I are sharing a rare quiet moment on the couch.

"Momma?" she says, "Were you ever really scared of something?  Did you ever worry that you'd never get used to something new?"

Yes, I think immediately.  Motherhood.

"I want to show you something," I say instead.  I reach into my pocket and pull out my three year sobriety medallion.  She has seen these before; I have my one and two year medallions propped on the windowsill in my kitchen.

She reaches over and strokes the top of the medallion lying in my palm.  The cool heft of the medallion combined with her light touch stirs something deep in my heart.

"I know what this is," she says.  "It's been three years since you drank alcohol, right?"

"Yes," I say quietly.  "Three years ago I was very scared that I wouldn't be able to stop drinking alcohol.   I was worried that I would be sick forever."

"And now you're not scared?"

"No, now I'm not scared," I reply.   "At first it was scary, because everything felt new and different.   Now I know I'm stronger than alcohol.  Now I know how beautiful life is without it."

I realize she only partially understands what I mean, but she nods.

She reaches into my palm and picks up the medallion.    She stares thoughtfully at it for a moment, then looks up at me and says, "Way to go, Momma."

~~~~

I know why she is asking me about fear.   At the beginning of the summer, Greta was trapped by a fear she didn't think she could overcome.  She wanted desperately to be able to swim.   She was terrified of putting her head under the water, and chose instead to stand in shallow water and splash around. 

In June we went to the beach, and she sat in the shallow low-tide water and told me she didn't think she would ever be brave enough to put her head under the water.   

"Just give it time," I said.   "You're braver than you know.    Doing something for the first time is always scary.  You'll know when you're ready."

In mid-July, she went to a friend's birthday party - a pool party.   She told me on the way there she was afraid she would look like a baby, because she had to stand in the shallow end.    

"It's okay to be scared," I told her.   "Just do the best you can."

When I picked her up a few hours later I found her in the pool, beaming.   "Momma, LOOK!"  she cried.   She pinched her nose shut and dunked her head under the water, popping back up with a huge grin on her face.    "My friends showed me how!!"

Yesterday we went to another pool party, and she jumped right into the water without a second thought.   She swam - swam! - underwater, picking up rings from the bottom of the pool, laughing and swimming in the deep end with her friends.

~~~~~

"You faced one of your fears this summer," I say to her, stroking her hair.  "You were afraid to swim, but you didn't let your fear stop you from trying.  Now you're like a fish!"

She gives me a sheepish grin.  "Yeah," she says.   "Now it feels weird to me that I thought I couldn't do it."

"I'm really proud of you," I say.   "Do you feel proud of yourself?"

She gives me a shy look, but she is beaming.   "Yes," she says.

"You know what is great about facing your fears?"  I ask.    "The next time you feel scared of something, you can remember about swimming, and you can tell yourself that you're brave.   You can remember all the things that used to scare you that you can do now."

She rests her head on my shoulder.  "Okay," she says.

~~~~

Late last night, after the kids and my husband are asleep, I sit quietly in the semi-dark and hold the medallion in my hand.

I send up a prayer of thanks, of gratitude.   Thank you for giving me strength.  Thank you for each and every sober day.  Thank you for helping me learn to face my fears.   Thank you for the gift of vulnerability.   I would never have learned how to be strong if I hadn't learned how to be weak, first.      

It occurs to me that when I was an active alcoholic, I was afraid and I drank to feel brave.   Now I'm a sober woman who is brave enough to feel afraid.    When I was drinking, I hid from fear.   You can't overcome something you can't face.

Now I know that when I'm fearful or anxious it means I need to work through something, and I have faith that on the other side of it is growth.   And peace.

I get a lot of strength from my kids.     I think about how nearly every experience is new for them, and yet they trudge forth, having faith that they will figure it out, that their friends will help them.    They talk about their fears, ask for help, trust that time will carry them through to where they want to be.

And if they can do it?   I can do it, too.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Glitter In The Air

I'm out of words these days.  

When I listen to this song, though, I don't need words.   What I hear in these lyrics is the courage to face fear and the hope found in the comfort of others.   If you're struggling in some private way, open up. 

It's worth it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mental Banana

Getting sober robbed me of the ability to manufacture the emotions I wanted. In the early days of sobriety, every feeling, even the good ones, slammed into me like a linebacker on steroids. My brain had to relearn how to be bored, joyful, anxious, happy, fearful and angry - all without its usual anesthesia. Without realizing it, I found other ways to numb myself. I turned to food.

I think it's something we all do. When something is painful, our brains find a work-around. As an active alcoholic, I found escape from uncomfortable thoughts or feelings in the bottom of a glass.

You know when there is a thunderstorm and the lights go out? And even though you know they're out, every time you walk into a room you turn on the lightswitch? That's what early sobriety felt like for me. I'd have an uncomfortable feeling, and my mind would automatically search for the nearest exit - a drink - and then I'd remember: Oh, yeah. Not anymore.

So there I was, left with an uncomfortable feeling, and my brain was still programmed to find the shortcut - the trapdoor away from feelings. The illusion of control. And so, without consciously knowing it, I reached for comfort in food, all while telling myself that I eat healthy, I exercise, and so I can eat what I want.

I'm not a junk food eater, I would say to myself, smugly. The other day I was cleaning out a drawer and found it full of stashed candy wrappers. I don't remember eating the candy or hiding the wrappers. My denial was in full bloom, so I just didn't see it. Even when clothes started fitting poorly or not at all, I would think it was simply water weight, or the old 'it shrunk in the dryer' stand-by.

When the truth finally broke through, it hurt. I stood in front of my full-length mirror and cried. How could this happen? How could I be so out of touch with reality? I'm sober!

I know, now, how it happened. It's so hard - so damn hard - for me to sit with a difficult feeling. My brain, long denied the ability to work through emotions on its own, simply found the next work-around. When I'm hit with anger, resentment, boredom or sadness, oftentimes I can't even identify the feeling. I start feeling edgy, itchy, and I reach for something to distract me from myself.

When it is the witching hour and the kids are fighting, the house is a mess, the groceries need to be put away, the dog is barking and my husband is working late I get angry, edgy. What do I want to do? Hide. Now I don't drink and I don't eat poorly (coming up on 50 lbs lost), but I still want to dive into the computer and Tweet for hours, play a video game, or call a friend to complain and gossip.

What I'm trying to do now is stop - sit and identify the emotion that is making me want to cower behind mindlessness.

The simple act of sitting with difficulty, not wishing it away or trying to step around it, has been life changing for me. Those shortcuts, those mental trap doors I so crave, only make the road to the truth more circuitous and painful. The only way out is through.

In some of the Buddhist teachings I have been reading, these cluttering thoughts and distractions are described like a monkey loose in the brain, running around messing with our access to peace, to the truth. 

I'm trying to get to know my monkey, give him a peace offering, a mental banana, and tell him could you keep it down, please? I'm trying to be. here. now.



"To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path."
~Pema Chodron, Buddhist nun

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Darkest Place - 1,096 Days Ago

1,096 days ago I sat on my couch.  

Let's say it was a Tuesday - I don't recall, of course - but it was a weekday, because Steve was taking the kids to daycare.   It was about 8:40am on a sparkling August day.

I sat in the wrinkled tee-shirt and cut-off sweatpants I wore to bed, stiff and achy, staring straight ahead.   Just leave.  Just leave now, was my only thought.

"I'm only going to be gone ten minutes," Steve said.   "So don't get any ideas."

Just leave just leave please just leave.

I listened to the gravel crunch under the tires as he pulled down the driveway.   I waited.  Thirty seconds.  One minute.  My heart was pounding in my chest, my hands were clammy with sweat.   When I was sure I couldn't hear the car engine - when I was sure he was out of sight - I sprang into action.

He had hidden his car keys, but I had a spare stashed away.   I grabbed the key, and without bothering to put on shoes - no time, no time - I slid behind the wheel of Steve's car.  The black leather seat scorched the backs of my thighs, but I didn't care.  I realized I was grinning like a cheshire cat.   I knew I was going to get more, and my heart soared.

~~~~

The night before I had convinced Steve to drive me to an 8pm recovery meeting.    He agreed to take me, but only after telling me, "No purse.  No wallet.  No keys.   I'll drive you there and pick you up.  Understand?"   

I had proven to be untrustworthy with a car and money of my own.   The disease had me by the throat, and every single time I could get away,  I went to buy booze.   It had been this way for a few weeks now.

I pretended to walk into the meeting.   As soon as his car was out of sight, I scurried back outside.   A little less than a mile away was a convenience store, and I had $10 tucked into my sock.    I ran the whole way.

I bought a small four pack of airplane-sized bottles of wine.   I sucked down two in the store's parking lot, cowering behind a large bush.   I stashed the other two small bottles, in their brown bag, behind the bush.    I felt a surge of pride that I didn't drink all four.   See?  I can control my drinking.  

I ran back to the meeting, ducking through people's backyards to avoid being seen from the street.   I took a seat in the circle with ten minutes to spare.    Steve picked me up at exactly 9:30pm, and when I got in the car he knew immediately that somehow - however improbably - I had gotten my hands on alcohol.   He shook his head in sadness and defeat.   I felt nothing.   I had gotten my fix, and that was all I cared about.

~~~~~~

The next morning I sat on the couch and waited for Steve to take the kids to daycare.  It had been decided that I will go back to rehab.  I had just gotten back from this same rehab two days ago, and had found a way to drink.   Twice.   I hadn't even unpacked my bag from my most recent stay.   The plan was for Steve to drop the kids at daycare, take me back to rehab and return in time to pick them up at the end of the day.   

Ten minutes, I've got ten minutes.  I drove like a madwoman down the street, shoeless, in my pajamas.  I turned into the parking lot of the convenience store, and saw the brown bag I had stashed behind the bush the night before.   I didn't care if anyone saw me.   I didn't stop to think that what I was doing looked odd.  I parked and stepped out of the car like I had important business to attend to, grabbed the bag from behind the bush and got back into the car.

I drank the remaining two bottles on the way back home, tossing the empty bag out the window of the car.

I pulled into the driveway, rushed back into the house and plopped back down on the couch, feeling smug.   Steve walked in about four minutes later.

"Nice try,"  he said immediately.

I tried to feign ignorance.  "What?  What do you mean?"

"The car hood is hot, and I put a stick behind the right rear tire, which is now broken in two.   I know you left.  I know you drank.   I'm done, Ellie.   You're going back to rehab - I'll take you there - but I'm telling you right now that this is it.  I don't care what you do with your life after rehab.  I hope you get better, for your sake and for the sake of our kids.    But I'm done."

His words floated over and around me.  They couldn't touch me.  I had had my fix; my mind and body had quieted.   The beast that lived within me had been fed, and that was all that mattered.

~~~~~~

That was my last drink. 

I hate remembering that day.   I picture myself in my pajamas, barefoot, scrounging through the bushes, and I'm disgusted.   I remember the way my heart leapt with excitement when my hands wrapped around the paper bag.   It felt like freedom.   

For the past week or so my mind has been probing that memory like a rotten tooth.   I don't like to think about it, because I want to believe that woman wasn't me.  I want to erase that woman from my memory bank.    I want to banish her to some desert island in my brain, isolate her from the vibrant, loving, independent woman I am today.

But that woman was me.   On my three year anniversary, I force myself to embrace her, hold her close, tell her she's stronger than she knows.   Only by staring her in the eyes and reminding myself that she will always reside in me can I remember that she waits for me.   Waits for me to think I'm all better, waits for me to feel far enough removed from that day that I can lie to myself, tell myself that I can drink in safety now.    That one drink won't lead me right back there.   Because it will.

~~~~~ 

I haven't told this story here before.  I hesitate, because I know people who are wondering about their own drinking can read it and use it to tell themselves they aren't that bad.   That they would never scramble through people's backyards with money stuffed in their sock.   That they wouldn't ever risk losing their husband or children just to have one more drink.

I tell my story because I said those things to myself for years.   I would read addiction memoirs or listen to other people's tales of woe - arrests, DUIs, hiding alcohol all around the house - and think:   I would never do that.   I'm not that bad. 

It's a frightening truth: if alcohol is slowly (or perhaps not slowly) taking over your life you won't know when you cross that line, because you'll find a way to normalize it.    You'll slide down into the obsidian eye of addiction where your world will be small and dark and only one thought will occupy your brain:  more.

If you're wondering - do I drink too much?   If you are sneaking a drink here or there, if you're lying about your drinking, if you tell yourself in the morning:  never again - only to break your promise hours or days later, please take heed.    It's already happening, and all those things you tell yourself you'll never do?   They are only things yet to come.

If you're struggling with alcohol, look inside yourself, at your truth.   If there is a woman inside you who is slowly drowning, hold her close.   Tell her she's stronger than she knows.

Life away from the obsidian eye of alcoholism is full of light.   Light and freedom.   I'm reminded of my favorite lyrics from a Jeffrey Steele song (he wrote it, but it's sung by Pat Green), "Trying to Find It" :

There's a feeling that I left behind

I felt it once running down my spine

The fear of God the joy of life

And I'm trying to find it

There's a spot on earth a man can go

To find himself and free his soul

A place somewhere between hell and heaven

Where no one hurts and all's forgiven

A door that leads to light and grace

But the keys are in the darkest place.

These Are Merely Helpful Suggestions...

{This post was written in the spirit of Letters From a Nut by Ted L. Nancy. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, there's a small chance this could still be funny. This was written one night in the hotel room while at BlogHer, when Heather and I were at our giddiest. You're welcome.}

Dear Blogging Conference,

We wanted to write to you today to express some gratitude, opinions, questions and ideas. As your conference comes to a close, we find ourselves reflecting on our weekend and we are filled with many over-flowing emotions.

Please give this letter to the highest of higher ups, so they can know about these emotions. We are the people. We are the bloggers. We are tired, and even so, we deserve to be heard, we the people-bloggers.

As a side note, please be sure to consider our status in this subculture. We are known. No less than one to five people rushed up to us and wanted to say hello in the last few days. If you think about how there are millions and millions of blogs out there, one to five admirers is really a lot.

Of course we want to thank you. We bet this whole event-planning thing is terribly difficult and even tricky. Thank you for making a way for us to have this precious time together in person:

Tandem Tweeting:


We admit it's a little awkward for bloggers to communicate in person, but as you can see, that can be remedied. So we share this picture with you as a suggestion for future attendees. Side-by-side tweeting gets all that strange eye contact and body language stuff out of the picture. It's more comfortable, you know? Especially if you can swing it on a plush hotel bed--make it a double!

@onecraftyellie - I M tired.
@HeatheroftheEO - Me 2
@onecraftyellie - remember that one time when I danced at the sparklecorn party?
@HeatheroftheEO - I wasn't there.
@onecraftyellie - Oh. Just a second. I'm going to tweet @maggiedammit & @annsrants to see if they remember
@HeatheroftheEO - OK. I'm going to pull the covers up higher now. am a bit chilly.
@onecraftyellie - stop tweeting me. I'm trying to tweet @maggiedammit & @annsrants to see if they liked my dancing.
@HeatheroftheEO - Jerk. End tweet.

There you have it. 140 characters or less of complete comfort.

Anyway. We would also like to apologize on behalf of ourselves and all the other attendees. We realize that our feet bled all over the hotel sheets while we were sleeping and you probably had to pay for that. But it was inevitable really. I mean, if you pack 7 pairs of high heels and put them on feet that don't recognize such shoes, you get what you asked for--goiter blisters within 5 minutes. So about those stains--may we suggest those wipes that are supposed to remove stains, the ones that were in a swag bag? Maybe those will work on the sheets? Just a thought.

Speaking of thoughts. We have some really good ones! We love community keynotes. There's nothing like hearing the actual voice (as in audible, not figurative) of our fellow bloggers. The posts that were read were moving and sometimes heart-wrenching and then sometimes funny. So we thought it might be cool if the blogger's name and their blog and twitter handle could be written up on the screen the whole time they talk. We are bloggers. We are somewhat creative. Which means we are scattered and we forget things like names really quickly, especially when overstimulated. Thank you.

(To clarify--we don't mean that you should write on the big screens with a sharpie or something. We mean you could project the words to the screen from an overhead or something of that nature.)

Also. Could you tell the hotel employee who was checking badges at lunch on Saturday that I (Heather) should not have had to take my name badge out of my lanyard thingy to prove I could eat there? He had me take my attendee name badge out from behind the CLEAR plastic, and then he inspected it like an airport security person does. Do I look threatening? It got wrinkled from trying to get it out and I don't like wrinkled things (especially noses, for the record). Thanks!

Next up: Let's talk elevators. There was something terribly frustrating about the elevator system. Tell the hotel we don't know why the elevators hated us. I'm pretty sure we could have gotten more swag had we not spent half the day waiting for elevators and then being surprised to find ourselves in the opposite corner of the hotel when we would step off, far away from our intended destination, in chafing heels.

(Just so you know the truth, we almost never wore heels, actually. Only for those first five minutes. I'm guessing this is the case for many attendees. Maybe you can tell the hotel people that if they're mad about the sheets.) (And maybe you should tell next years attendees not to bring any heels. If we all went heel-less no one would care or compare. You know how women are about comparing their shoes. It will be The Great Heel Ban of BlogHer '11--so exciting!)

We have another idea. Maybe next year you could create some kind of really large sign (this time, with a sharpie!) that explains what blogging is to all the other hotel guests. It's terribly exhausting to feel so misunderstood while explaining over and over.

Like this:

Stranger: Why are there so many of you with those name badges on?
Blogger: It's a blogging conference.
Stranger: Blank stare (almost as bad as a wrinkled nose) or a confused expression or a "what does that mean?" Or a, "What do you do at a blogging conference?"

Awkward. We've seen sharpies change the course of history before. We're pretty sure it can happen again. You're welcome.

One last thing. Can you let everyone from the change agents session know that when Maggie said (from the panel and into a microphone) -"Oh, I don't know. I can't speak to alcoholism...," she was being sarcastic. You see, when the topic of alcoholism was approached, she was simply using her sense of humor to disarm the listeners...but no one laughed. This leads me to believe they did not get the joke. So we think people should know that her alcoholism has not gone away.

Oh. One more last thing. When blogging events are in big cities (and they usually are, let's just be honest) every attendee should be given some sort of portable GPS, maybe as swag?!? We saw many bloggers standing on street corners looking up and around with confused expressions while wearing little black dresses and heels...you can see where we're going with this. Getting lost=walking a long ways=bloody heels and toes=stained sheets.

Sincerely,

Ellie and Heather (room 620) (with Alexis) (she's the pretty one)

P.S. Wait. We just had the best idea ever. Next year, we should all wear lanyard HATS!!! Fashionable hats, of course...with our name and blog name in very big red Sharpie letters. That way, we won't have to stare down at one another's chests or navels as discreetly as possible to see if we're matching the in real life face with the online avatar/profile pictures correctly. (Awkward.) If we had this information on hats, well, I'm sure you could imagine how that would be easier. When glancing at names, we could all just act like we're looking around, high up. Again, you are welcome.

Friday, August 13, 2010

New Worlds. And A Question

One of the things I love the most about the blogging is that it expands my world.   Surfing through other peoples' blogs, opening myself up to new thoughts and perspectives, is one of my favorite things to do.

I met a lot of people at BlogHer, and I wish I could have spent more time talking with each of them.  One of the biggest gifts of attending was walking away with new connections.

On my blogroll (to the right) I link to my daily reads.   I wanted to take a minute to introduce you to some new people - talented, warm, lovely women.   Take a moment to check them out, you won't be disappointed:

Alex, from Late Enough
Sarah and Jen from Momalom
Laura from The Hollywood Housewife
Jessica from The Mom Creative
Cheryl from Mommypants
Lora from A Fever (words) and The Urbanity (photos)
Christine from Coffees and Commutes
Kim from Prairie Mama
Kristen from Rage Against the Minivan
Esther from She Posts
Kalisa from The One In Heels
Lisa from Smacksy
Ann from Ann's Rants
Lindsey from A Design So Vast

And I have a question - what are your favorite blogs, and why?    I'm always looking for new worlds to explore.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Next Right Thing - Tutus for Tanner

When I stepped off the train platform after six days away, Greta rushed up to me and encircled her arms around my waist.   She knew all about my trip, all the new things I was doing in New York.

The first thing she said to me was, "Mom?  Did you meet Tanner?"

Two months before I left, I had told her the story of Tanner, the eight year old boy who is dying of Duchenne's Muscular Dystrophy.   I explained that I was participating in the Tutus for Tanner 5k to raise money to help Tanner get his biggest wish:  to be able to live at home as his disease progresses to the point where he needs full time care.



Tanner's Aunt, Catherine, who blogs over at Her Bad Mother, explains his situation: 
"Tanner’s Biggest Wish is not really a wish that he has made for himself, because, well, he doesn’t know that it’s something he should wish for. Nor should he ever know, because this wish – that he be able to live out the time that he has left at home – is one that shouldn’t even fall into the category of wishes. That he faces not being able to live the rest of his very short life at home, with his mom and his family, surrounded by love, is something that just should not be.
But it is. My sister is a single working mom, and as Tanner grows bigger while his muscles continue to deteriorate, she is less and less able to do simple things like lift him in and out of bed and monitor him throughout the night and although she has some caregiving assistance, she is, soon, going to need that assistance around the clock, and her home is simply not equipped for that. And if it remains unequipped for that, Tanner will have to leave home, to be cared for somewhere where all of his physical needs can be met. Somewhere without his mom. And I just can’t let that happen.
Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, the disease that is killing Tanner, won’t be cured in his lifetime. But it might be cured in another boy’s lifetime. And there are other children out there who live their lives on an abbreviated clock, and other families who wrestle with the hourglass, counting the sands of time as they fall too quickly, and maybe – maybe, maybe, I hope – sharing Tanner’s story, and fighting for this cause, will serve some good."
When Heather told me about the 5k run I jumped at the chance.  At that point, I didn't know Tanner's story, but I loved the idea of running through Central Park in a Tutu.    After we spoke, I went to Catherine's blog and learned Tanner's story.

Heather and I stumbled into the lobby of the hotel at 6:30am last Friday morning, adorned in our Tutus.



The first thing I saw, which I wasn't expecting, was Tanner smiling away in his wheelchair, surrounded by women and men in Tutus, like a ring of Fairy Godparents.    His eyes were shining with joy.   

As we set off on the 5k, I thought about what this trip to New York was like for Tanner and his family.   How they were experiencing all of this for the first, and possibly last, time together.    I thought about what it would be like to know you are dying, to know you are losing a child.   How each moment together is precious, and how hard it is to remember that until you are faced with hardship like Tanner's.

As we walked through the early morning mist in Central Park, I saw the world with new eyes.   What would it be like, experiencing all these amazing new things, meeting all these incredible new people, all the while knowing your days were numbered?     Underneath the sadness - because it is incredibly sad - I felt an undercurrent of joy, of hope.    Bearing witness to people coming together to help an eight year old boy achieve his biggest wish was, in a word, beautiful.  


So when Greta asked me if I met Tanner, I told her yes.    "Is he going to be okay?"  she wanted to know.  

"He has a disease that can't be cured," I said, and her face fell.  "But we are all working together to help, to raise money and awareness, so that maybe someday in the future another child with this disease will have the right medicine."

She thought a moment.  "I'm glad you did the Tutu run, Mom," she said.   "I'm glad you helped.  It's important."

It is important.    Tanner's story is one of hope.    He is lit from within, this eight year old boy.   I take a piece of his light with me, now.    I try to look at the world through his eyes, to hang on to moments like gems.  

Catherine again:
"So here’s the thing: my husband and I are going to renovate her basement so that she can get a government-funded live-in care aide (well, my husband is, because he knows how to do that stuff. I’ll lift tools and carry drywall and yell words of encouragement and hold a Flip camera and blog. While wearing a tutu,* of course.) And we’ll get whomever we can to help, and it will be like a barn-raising, except not a barn but a basement, and it will make it possible, this thing that is so necessary, this thing that breaks my heart into a million pieces to even say – that Tanner die at home. But we can’t do it alone – this kind of thing is expensive – and so we need some support. We can put all of the time and energy that we have toward this, but we also need to fund materials and expert help for those things that need expert help (plumbing, electrics) and do all the things that a very, very modest and limited version of Extreme Home Makeover would do (yes, I e-mailed them; no, I did not hear back), well enough that they’d pass a Holmes Inspection, and that requires money, and so I am asking (which is really, really hard, but that’s another, possibly irrelevant, story). I’m asking.
You can read the whole story, with links to more information, here

My heart soars to see that Tanner's Biggest Wish will come true - so far over $29,000 has been raised - 117% of their original goal.  Every amount over their goal will go towards the Muscular Dystrophy Canada and Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy.   Let's find a cure.  You can donate through the widget below:





If you can't donate, that's okay.   Please do the next best thing: take a piece of Tanner's light with you, too.   Slow down, take it all in.    Hug your family.   Cherish the moments you have together in this crazy life, because they are gems.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Coming Out of The Dark

Addiction lives in the dark.

It thrives in the isolation of feeling broken, damaged, less-than.   It takes root in the fear of hoarding a deep, dark secret, and blooms in the terror of that secret being discovered.   Not simply because people would know you struggle with alcohol, but because people would know you struggle with life.

Alcohol created a barrier between me and my emotions, an impenetrable force field.    It made it so I didn't have to feel the bad stuff; I could drink and manufacture the feelings I wanted.    Until, of course, I passed that maudlin point of no return, where emotions went on a steroidal rampage.   I could think about a long dead pet or an ex-boyfriend and sob on someone's shoulder for hours, thinking I was making a real connection.    I didn't know the difference between real pain and alcohol induced pain any more than I understood real joy, or real peace.

I didn't know the first thing about how to make a genuine connection.  Unless, of course, I had been drinking.    Then everyone was my best friend.    When I wasn't drinking I didn't know how to be vulnerable, scared, joyous or silly - I just didn't know how to lose control like that.   Cocooned by a self-centered fear of rejection, I stayed with safer emotions, like friendly, happy, funny or pleased.

Even in sobriety, my greatest gift and biggest challenge has been learning how to be real.   To allow vulnerability, silliness, fear, joy or anger to bubble to the surface unedited.

~~~~~~~

I first noticed Heather when I read her blog post admitting she was an alcoholic, and that she was getting sober.   Her honesty and bravery struck me immediately, as did her gorgeous writing.   I commented on her blog, she commented on mine, and a tiny pilot light of kinship flared to life.   We began emailing, sharing our struggles and fears.      Her courage inspired me, her friendship gave me warmth.   We spoke on the phone, whispering into the late hours of the night.    By the time we agreed to room together at BlogHer in New York, I felt like I had known her for years.  

Getting to know Heather led me to Maggie and Corinne, two more brave women coming forward, stepping into the light and away from the darkness and isolation of addiction.   

I couldn't wait to meet them in person at BlogHer, to finally wrap my arms around these women who shared this sobriety journey with me.

~~~~

As I waited in the hotel room for Heather to arrive, I didn't feel nervous.   I didn't wonder whether or not she'd like me, or if we'd get along.     When she stepped out of the cab, smiling gratefully to finally be at her destination, we hugged.   It felt like seeing an old friend after years apart.   We immediatly fell into an easy rapport, chatting, joking, laughing.    Oh, the laughing.

We had late-night talks that swerved effortlessly from the profound to the ridiculous.   Deep belly laughs, snorting and gasping like a couple of tween girls.   I haven't laughed like that for years.    A no-holds-barred giggling, tears streaming down my face.   What we were laughing about doesn't matter, wouldn't make sense if I tried to explain it.     It was silliness of the highest order.   I felt something I thought I may have lost forever: the ability to lose myself in laughter.       

I remember a lot of laughing when I was drinking, a lurching, self-amused type of humor that required everyone around me to be equally lubricated.    A desperate attention-seeking kind of laughter, usually at my own expense and never as funny as I thought.  

And there we were, sober, buckled over, giggling.  Happy.  Free.

~~~~

It was inevitable, I suppose.   The crazy pace of New York, the newness of it all, the networking and small talking finally caught up to me on Friday night.    Rushing from event to event with barely time to eat had left me shaky, hungry and exhausted.   It was close to 9pm and I was spent.   Heather, Corinne and I found ourselves standing in the main Ballroom, throbbing music and flashing lights pulsing around us, the line at the bar twelve deep as party-goers lined up to lubricate themselves.

It was all too much, and we fled.

We ended up in the Serenity Suite, a room set up for people who needed to get away from the crazy pace.   Maggie was already there, and we all sat together in the darkened room.    

It came upon me like a tidal wave - all the emotions I usually keep carefully tucked away came flooding out.   I started to cry, and I couldn't stop.    Sitting there with these women who were strangers 12 months ago, virtual friends for the past 6 months, I felt kinship and understanding because we know.  We know what the darkness and isolation of addiction feels like.  We know how hard it is to navigate the perilous waters of life sober, unanesthetized.    We know what it's like to feel, unedited, all the roiling emotions brought to the surface by the small talk, the parties, the constantly being on, the drinking.

What a gift it was, to let go.   To fall into the comforting arms of my sober sisters and sob.   I'm coming up on three years sober, and I hadn't cried in front of anyone except my husband.   Not even at a meeting.   That urge to control myself, to hold back, always stopped me.    Until then.   

I could look into their eyes and see love and understanding.  I was safe.  It felt like coming home.

~~~~

Saturday night I found myself in the same ballroom, with the same pulsing music and flashing lights.   I froze in place, felt the panic monkey stirring in my brain.   Maggie quietly tapped my shoulder and said, "let's take a walk around for a bit."

Twenty minutes later she's pulling me out onto the dance floor.   I wanted to politely decline.   I wanted to explain that I hadn't danced sober, that I wasn't sure I could.   But I didn't.    Kayne West's Gold Digger came on, and I began shuffling my feet, looking around nervously.    I saw Maggie's big grin, clutching her club soda and cranberry in one hand and her purse in the other, bopping her head to the music.  I noticed that we were actually part of a little circle of dancers, and that one of them was Kalisa, a sober blogger I had met only a couple of days ago, and she was dancing her heart out.    A little further away I caught the eye of another sober blogger, who remains anonymous, and she winked at me.  

I felt the fear and doubt drop away like a stone. 

Before I knew it I was dancing - not just your average shuffle your feet back and forth and move your head a little dancing - but an all-out, arm flinging, hair tossing, pelvic sort of dancing.   I was shouting out the lyrics, grinding down to the floor, laughing.     

I danced

~~~~

Addiction lives in the dark.  

Together we bring the light.   The light of the truth, the gift of being real, the blessing of being free.   We bring laughter, companionship and understanding.    We break down the wall of lies, of denial and fear.   Together, my sober sisters, we can do anything.

I drank for years trying to find a fraction of the joy, peace and kinship I have found in sobriety.   It was right here all the time, I just had to let go, surrender, to find it.


Monday, August 9, 2010

The Company You Keep

This is not the post I set out to write.

I'm home from NYC - a whirlwind trip full of new experiences, capped off by attending BlogHer, an annual conference of bloggers, most of them women.   I went there knowing about five out of approximately 3,000 attendees.  

I spent the past four days carefully crafting a post about my impressions of the conference.   Ordinarily I write and publish a post in a few hours.  This time, though, I sat down each night to review and edit, honing my observations and opinions down to a fine point.

I re-read it again last night, and it hit me:   I got it wrong.   

There was a lot about the conference that overwhelmed me.   I knew there would be networking, pressing of flesh and small talk.   What I didn't expect was the cut-throat social hierarchy, the emphasis on who do you know instead of what do you write about.     The blogosphere contains its own version of abbreviated celebrity, popular bloggers with huge followings who moved through the conference like royalty.   

It is darkly alluring, this form of celebrity.    The gravitational pull around the popular bloggers was impossible to ignore.     It all made me feel very small.  

Arriving at the conference I didn't care about how many Twitter followers I had or how many people read my blog.    I naively thought that most bloggers write to build a community, to be change agents for something they are passionate about.     By the end of the first day, though, as I stood on the periphery and observed, it seemed like one giant popularity contest.     I morphed into the tall, awkward 13 year old girl who was fearful of being picked last for the kickball team.   

It occurred to me, then, that writers write to be read.   Many bloggers, it appeared, write to be seen.

It was enough to make a girl want to fold up shop.   I felt so tiny, so insignificant.   I introduced myself to people and watched the realization dawn in their eyes that they don't know me, I'm not influential, I can't do anything to further their popularity.   They would politely hand me their blogging card and move on.

It made me angry.

So I spent four days writing and re-writing a post that highlighted the worst of it all - the dark underbelly of blogging.    It was a good post, if I do say so myself.   A poignant essay about the worst of the worst.   I was drawn to negativity like a moth to a flame, letting my anger and resentment towards these people consume me.

It's not even close to the real story, though.

I realized last night that I'm leaving BlogHer not chock full of resentment and anger, but full of validation and love.    The connections I made with the people I knew going in took root and blossomed.   I made new connections with people whose talent astounds me, whose grounded approach to blogging inspires me.   I leave there with a renewed sense of purpose, of hope.

Away from all the craziness, all the networking, I realize I know why I'm here.    I don't want to be the bright spotlight in the center of it all.     I want to be a warm campfire, a quiet place for people to find each other, share joys and struggles, swap stories.   A place of comfort, laughter and peace.

I believe people create their own light, their own warmth.    It comes from within, not from the admiration of thousands.   
 
Insecurity and negativity were tethered to me, like an overflowing bag of garbage.    I was hauling the heavy bag around resentfully, unable to let it go.     Last night, thinking through everything, I mentally dropped the tether, turned my back and walked away.    

There will be more to come on the trip:  the 5k for Tutus for Tanner, the hysterical laughter, the power of being in the middle of the crazy with my sober sisters, how we propped each other up, cheered each other on, what it felt like to be at this conference sober.

How meeting my friends in person felt like coming home.

For now, though, I'm turning these memories over and over in my head, savoring each and every one of them.    I'm grateful - so, so grateful - to have met these amazing, strong, inspiring women.    And to call them friends.


Tutus for Tanner 5k in Central Park

5k Tutus for Tanner with Heather

Maggie and Heather

With Corinne at Rockefeller Center

Heather, Corinne and Me

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Out of My Mind

I haven't traveled alone for almost eight years.    

This morning, it was hard for to me believe I was once a seasoned business traveler, with all the right suitcases and systems.   That was me rushing through airports and train stations like I lived there, I know it was, but that woman feels like a stranger to me now.

As my husband deposited me at a local train stop for the commuter rail into Boston, where I would catch the connection to New York, my stomach brimmed with butterflies.    Feigning a confidence I didn't feel, I stood on the platform with one hip jutted out, looking bored, while I waited for the train.   Inside I was a roiling mess.

When I stepped off the commuter rail and into Boston's South Station, I looked around helplessly.   This isn't going to work, I thought.   I didn't know any of the systems - can I bring two huge bags on the train?   Where do I get my electronic ticket?    I couldn't find my train's platform, the bags were heavy, cumbersome, and made me feel like a walking target.   

A man noticed my pained expression and helped me with my bags, gave me the inside scoop on the Acela - sit in the Quiet Car, board early to put your bags on the big shelves by the door, sit near the window so you have a plug for your laptop.      I could barely look him in the face.   I felt like an idiot.

As the train pulled out of the station, my stomach lurched with nervous energy.   I was convinced I was on the wrong train, that I would end up in Washington D.C or Chicago.    I sat and awfulized for a full ten minutes, working myself into a nervous sweat.   How on earth did I do this for so many years, I pondered. 

Oh yeah.  I drank.

So what do you do now that you don't drink, I thought.   

Oh yeah.  I pray.

As the train clacked along the tracks, I closed my eyes, folded my hands, and prayed.   I didn't pray to a specific God found in any popular religion.   I prayed to the energies that flow through us all, kind of like a Divine Spirit, if I have to give it a name.   I prayed to get up and away from myself.    I prayed to find solace outside my mind.

Help me find enthusiasm for this amazing day, this incredible trip.   Help me get out of my fears, my insecurities.   Help me be present in the beauty of new experiences.  Please, please help me be grateful.

I took some deep breaths, and I waited.   Little by little my muscles relaxed, my jaw unclenched.   I looked out the window at the passing countryside, marveling at the open space.    

I slipped on my ear buds and listened to a guided meditation on my iPod.   The gently rocking train, the sunlight splashing through the window and the soothing tones of the meditation lulled me into a state of pure bliss.

When I stepped off the train at Penn Station in NYC, it felt like the entire world was on fast forward.  People rushed by, yelling into cell phones, trotting off to their next thing.   I stood still and took it all in.    I waited for the pulse of fear that I didn't know the systems here, couldn't even find the exit to the street.    It didn't come.

I walked, buoyed along by the crowds.    Snatches of conversations floated my way:  you want this big wedding, but where are ya going to get all this money?  and from someone else:  I don't care what you think you said, that's not what I heard.  This is all your fault.    Like something from a movie cliche, an old man wearing a sandwich board bumped my elbow, ranting about the end of days.

Eventually the crowd tumbled out onto the sidewalk, and I hefted my bag onto my shoulder and simply walked.   After a couple of blocks I found an available taxi and rattled off the address to the hotel.  I didn't feign a bored, disinterested expression to mask fear.   I peered openly out at the world rushing by.    I felt vibrant and alive.

The hotel is a quirky building, full of steep staircases, burnished wood and doors tucked into every available nook.   I dropped my bags in my room and stood there for a moment, debating.    Before, when traveling on business, I tucked into my hotel room with room service and a few drinks from the mini-bar.   That was how I used to keep the fear of the unfamiliar at bay.  I hid.

I put on some comfortable shoes, threw my purse over my shoulder, walked out the front door and turned left.   Just to see what I would see.    I walked and walked, covering almost sixteen blocks down 5th Avenue.    I shopped a little, but mostly I absorbed all the unfamiliar like a sponge.   I marveled at all the people - I wanted to stop and ask them who they are, where they are from, what they are doing here.    I slipped seamlessly into the sea of humanity and just watched

Now I'm back in my hotel room, tired but content.   Fresh coffee sits next to me; its aroma surrounds me like a blanket.    The sun is setting slowly outside my window, but I don't feel fear.    I realize I didn't need to be afraid of traveling alone, because I wasn't alone once the whole day. 

What I feel tonight is gratitude.   I'm grateful to be out of my head, at least for now.  I'm grateful to be sober and free - free from fear, and not because I'm hiding from it in a drink.    Free from fear because I spent the afternoon just being.