Thursday, October 28, 2010

Triggered

In the final days of my thirty day stay at the last treatment center I went to, we talked a lot about triggers.

I sat face-to-face with my counselor, a lean woman in her mid-fifties, with billowy silver-blonde hair and half moon glasses perched on the tip of her nose.   She asked me to make a list of situations that might trigger me - make me want to drink - so we could come up with strategies on how to get through them without succumbing to the obsessive thoughts, the cravings.

I wrote down the obvious ones - weddings, parties, the holidays, social events in town.   

"Dig deeper," she told me.   "Think about your drinking patterns, what made you want to hide from yourself?"

My hand trembled as I wrote two words on the page:    My kids. 

I burst into tears, sobbed into my hands and said, "What is wrong with me?   What kind of mother wants to hide from her kids?" 

She leaned forward, looked me dead in the eye, and said:  "The human kind."

~~~~

It took many months of sifting through guilt, shame and regret to figure out that my feelings about motherhood weren't there because I didn't love my children, or that I wasn't cut out to be a mother.    I love my children beyond measure - I always have and I always will.    

It's just that I don't always like them; there are days when I just want to hit the pause button for a while.   It's more than just the constant needs of two young kids - it's about fear, too.

Sometimes it hits me like a punch in the gut - how fragile the world is, how many bad things can happen, the myriad of ways to get this motherhood thing wrong.   The stakes feel insurmountably high.   My own flaws and inadequacies scream at me like sirens:  How can I possibly not screw them up when I'm so riddled with doubts, insecurities, and neuroses?   

It makes me want to hide, to withdraw from the center of their love.   Not because I don't love them, but because I do.   A huge part of my drinking was the mistaken belief that I was saving them - from me - by removing myself from the equation, bit by bit.

Admitting that to myself was the hardest part of getting sober, but without facing that truth I'm not sure I could have succeeded.  

~~~~

Yesterday was one of those days where I couldn't get out of my own way.   The sound of Finn's voice was sending shivers up my spine.   He was needy, clingy, whiny;  he spent most of the day pressed to my side or draped across my lap.     We had plenty to do yesterday; it wasn't boredom.    

He sensed something in me, I know he did , because he kept saying, over and over, "I love you, Momma.  I'll always love you, know matter what."

"I love you too, Finn," I dutifully replied, each and every time, but my insides were churning:  Don't love me, kid.   Don't need me this much.  I can't take it.

The needier and more clingy Finn got, the more the knife of guilt twisted in my gut.     I plugged him into a television show and snuck outside on the porch for some quiet reflection.  

Own it, I thought.  You don't feel like being a Mom today.   Just let it be what it is.  Let it go.

My counselor's words echoed in my head.   I'm human.   Being a mother doesn't trump my own feelings, frustrations and desires.    Just do the best you can, and wait it out

~~~~

Last night I had a drinking dream.   I was at a wedding, and I kept sneaking off to sip red wine from a hidden bottle in the bathroom.    At the end of the night, I went into the bathroom for one final sip before I had to go home, and I looked in the mirror.   My eyes were flat, dead.   I forced a smile - to practice looking normal - and recoiled in horror:   my front teeth were missing.  

I woke up in a cold sweat, and ran to the bathroom to check my teeth, make sure it was just a dream.  

My hands were shaking as I Googled 'dreams about missing teeth'.   The answer left me cold:  Tooth loss dreams are symbolic of the deepest fears human beings have.

Yesterday's feelings of guilt, inadequacy and frustration stirred the beast that lies within me.  It didn't trigger any active cravings or thoughts of drinking, but it woke up that deep rooted, fearful part of me that feels undeserving of my kids' love.
~~~~

When I opened my eyes this morning, my first sight was Finn's sleeping profile; he had climbed into our bed at some point during the night.

I studied the curve of his cheek, his long black lashes.   I placed my hand on his chest, slowly rising and falling with his breath, and felt his strong little heartbeat.

I waited for the fear.   It didn't come.

Today is a new day.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The First Different Choice

This will be the last time I post about Operation Get Healthy.

I lost a total of 60 lbs over the course of 6 months.   I feel better, I look better, and I'm used to the new me, now.    I still go to my Jenny Craig appointment every week to talk to my consultant and get weighed in; I will do this for at least another 6 months.   Maybe longer.

I'm in maintenance mode, now.   I ended up at about 5 lbs less than the goal weight I set for myself in April - a weight that seemed like a pie-in-the-sky ideal at the time.  I laughed when we set the goal weight, because I didn't believe for one second that I could get there.  

"Forget Body Mass Index, forget what the experts say is a healthy weight - where do you want to be?" Jen asked me, six months ago.    "Don't give me a number you think you can achieve, give me a weight you dream you could be, and tell my why you think it's right for you."

I thought for a moment.   I remembered a time, back when I was 23 and working out regularly, eating healthy, with a young metabolism and all the time in the world to concentrate on myself.    One day, after a particularly good workout, I weighed myself - something I rarely did.    I gave Jen the number I saw on the scale that day, a weight I hadn't been in almost twenty years.

"But if I can get within twenty pounds of that weight," I continued, "I'll be thrilled."

"Don't sell yourself short," Jen replied.  "You're just beginning - don't think about the end game, think about now."

About a month ago I stepped on the scale at my weekly Jenny Craig appointment, and there was that magic number. 

I cried.

"See?" said Jen.  "You can do anything you set your mind to."

I wanted to correct her, but I didn't.  I didn't set my mind to achieving that goal weight; I took my mind totally out of the picture.    Getting sober I learned an important lesson:   I can't think my way out of something like this, because my thinking got me to the problem in the first place

Jen doesn't know it, but at my first visit with her I surrendered myself to the problem.  I turned myself over to her expertise, her care, and let go of the outcome.    I also prayed on it; along with asking for help with my sobriety, every day I would ask for help with food.   "Please, let me have the strength to do the next right thing," I prayed.   "Take my will out of the equation." 

I know how to eat well, and exercise.  I know the difference between a healthy portion and an unhealthy one.  I can count calories, look at fat content, and understand about balancing fat, fiber and total calories to eat well.

I have known these things for years, but it didn't help me lose weight.   I gained, steadily, over the years, even with all this knowledge tucked away in my brain.

I resisted asking for help with losing weight, because I believed with all my heart that I knew what I needed to know, I just had to do it. 

It's the doing it part that's hard.    I would justify myself right back into a heaping plate of pasta or an extra snack or two, thinking:  it's been a hard day, I worked out a couple of days ago, I didn't eat that much today. 

My thinking got me into trouble every time.  

Because of getting sober, this habit was familiar to me.   I can't stop drinking now, the holidays are coming up.  I'll quit in January.     Even when I knew I had a problem with alcohol, that there was no such thing as one glass of wine, that once I started I couldn't stop, I would try with all my will to alter that reality.   Tonight I'll stop at one, I know I will. 

It was the same thing with food.  I kept telling myself:   I'm not that bad.    Instead of looking at the reality of the situation, that people who don't have a weight problem don't expend tons of mental energy to justify their eating, they don't prop rationales around food choices.  I chose to skirt around the truth.   I ignored photographic evidence that I was getting bigger.    I kept buying bigger sized clothes, thinking to myself:  I'll just get these larger jeans until I can get that extra twenty pounds off.    I did this until it wasn't twenty pounds that needed to come off, it was sixty.  

Like death from a thousand paper cuts, I just kept applying band-aids over the bleeding, thinking I was solving the problem, and ignoring the underlying issue:   I was afraid to tell myself the truth.

It's a sad reality that most of us don't make big changes in our lives until we're in so much pain we have no choice.   Until our health is failing, our family is angry and disappointed, our self-esteem is so low we can't look in the mirror.  

We cling to those things we use to numb ourselves, to fend off boredom, anger, sadness, loneliness, because we think they are working.  

Never - not once - did I finish a fistful of cookies or polish off a huge plate of food, and think:  There. That fixed everything.  Now I feel better.    As soon as I was done with the act of eating, the temporary distraction consumed and gone, all I felt was sad resignation.

Just like with drinking, I only felt temporary relief while in the act of drinking - the minute I stopped and the euphoria wore off, or I woke up feeling tired and sick, I'd think:  See?  I'm worthless and weak.   I did it again.   And I'd reach for the very thing that was causing all the trouble to numb the pain I felt from the guilt, the shame, the fear. 

Change is hard because solutions seem very far away.   It's hard to imagine our lives without these things we cling to; it's far easier to stay stuck in the pattern, stuck in the suffering, because at least it's familiar. 

And, if you're anything like me, instant gratification takes too long.   I want to be there - NOW.   

It doesn't work that way.  Change happens slowly, steadily, subtly.  It is the combination of thousands of choices and actions designed to break a lifetime of habits, thoughts and patterns.

It starts with the first time you eat a low fat yogurt instead of a cookie, or have a soothing cup of tea instead of a glass of wine.   Just that one action is the first step towards freedom.    It doesn't solve everything instantly, so it's easy to overlook how monumental that one action is:    you wanted wine, but you drank tea.   You wanted cake, but you went for a walk.     That is HUGE.

And it hurts.   If you want a relaxing glass of wine or a fistful of chips and you don't have them, you're going to feel it.   The emotions you're seeking to escape from are going to plunk down in your lap and introduce themselves:  "Nice to meet you - I'm boredom.   Have you met my friend anger?   He's here because you feel like you don't have a life of your own.   Thanks for making us feel right at home."

But little by little, next right thing by next right thing, you'll get used to the new you.   Each and every time you break the pattern of stuck, it will be a little easier.   You'll stop seeing the world as full of things you can't have, and start seeing it as a place full of opportunities you never had the ability, or the inclination, to pursue.

Over time, the culmination of all those next right choices will slowly and subtly change your life.   One day you'll realize you're just doing it.   And, oh, it feels so good.    Sure, boredom, anger and sadness still show up; they show up all the time.   But they don't own you.   You have learned to sit with them, right-size them, see them as a natural part of life.    You realize that by trying to erase them, hide from them, you were only giving them more power.

Three weeks ago I went to buy some new jeans.    On a whim, I grabbed a pair that was the same size I wore in college.   They fit.  

I expected to feel jubilant, celebratory, over-the-moon.    What I thought was, "Of course they fit.  This is my new normal."

I had reached the end goal, but the journey never ends.  I'll never be one of those people who can eat anything and not gain weight.   I'll never be someone who can have just one glass of wine.

But I finally, FINALLY, don't look at my life as full of what I can't have.    All I see, everywhere I look, are all the things that are possible.   

And it all starts with the first different choice: the first time I wanted a glass of wine and didn't have one.   The first time I ate salad for dinner instead of a heaping plate of pasta.   

It didn't feel like much at the time, but it was everything.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Thank You - And A Way To Get Free Jewelry

For me, creating jewelry is more than a way to make a little money on the side, pay for Finn's school, or a hobby. It's a passion that sustains me; it fuels my creative and entrepreneurial spirit. Before sobriety, I never had a hobby, or a passion, and the only entrepreneurial spirit I possessed was being really good at climbing the corporate ladder.

Making jewelry is an unexpected gift, and I'm so very grateful. Creating pieces for people in recovery, or people who are going through some private struggle and need a little something to give them strength, is one way I try to spread a little light and love in the world.

Most of the business at my Etsy shop, Shining Stones, comes from referrals, either through the blog or from friends.

I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you who help to spread the word about my jewelry. It's really starting to go somewhere, and I'm excited. What started as a way to keep the wolf away from the door in early sobriety has blossomed into something bigger - more substantial and meaningful - than I ever could have hoped for.

In the spirit of saying thank you, I'm running a special in October and November.

I want to offer something to those of you who will be purchasing jewelry as gifts this year (or a little treat for yourself, perhaps?).     December can get a little crazy, so I wanted to run a special in October and November to provide a little incentive to get a jump on your holiday shopping (OH how ironic this is, coming from the world's biggest procrastinator).

Starting now, and running through the end of November, if you purchase two or more items from Shining Stones, you can pick out any ring or pair of earrings for FREE. 

So if you've had your eye on something but haven't bought it yet -- and you need to be doing some holiday shopping anyway -- now is the perfect time to get that little something for yourself, too.

To redeem this offer, simply place your order like you normally would at Shining Stones - be sure to include the ring or earrings you would like as a free gift in your order - and then in the message to seller at checkout, please put the following promotional code:  BLOGSPECIAL11.   Click on "Other" as method of payment, and you will get a message saying "Contact Seller to Arrange Payment".   You can ignore this -- I will be in touch with you to direct bill you over paypal, check or money order, less the amount for your free item.       Remember - if you're ordering ring(s) to please put the size(s) you need in the message to seller as well.

If you're looking for more ways to save money, and get more free stuff, you can subscribe to my Newsletter (there is a BIG discount offered through November).   Simply add your email into the widget in the lower right-hand corner of my blog (the one that says 'Subscribe to Shining Stones' Newsletter').  I promise your email is NEVER shared with any third parties, and I only send out newsletters every 4-6 weeks, unless I have a special promotion or sale to announce.   Once you have added your email I will forward the most recent newsletter to you and you can see how to save even MORE.

And now - some NEW ITEMS!   These are just a few examples of some new pieces:














Thank you again to all you faithful readers, customers and friends who add so much to my life.   

I treasure all of you.  Truly.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Special Day

Two mornings a week I drop Finn off at a half-day preschool.   As we walk up the stairs to the front door, I always look to my left, and I see the same sight every time:  an elderly couple, sitting in their sun splashed screened porch, reading the paper.   Their two fluffy white heads are pressed close together as they snuggle against each other on the couch.   Sometimes they are still there, doing the exact same thing, at noon when I pick Finn up.

One morning I sat in my car in the school's parking lot and watched them, my head swimming with all the details of my day.   There they sat, silently taking turns flipping the pages of the newspaper, occasionally sipping coffee or moving their lips in conversation.

I wondered what it would be like to be at that stage in life, all the hectic demands of work and children behind them (in my fantasy for them they have four children, all grown now, and living far away).    Are they restless?  Bored?  Serene?  Free?

A couple of weeks ago my husband and I were having a date night - dinner without the kids - at one of those cheesy chain restaurants.   The kind of restaurant where every inch of each wall is covered in sports memorabilia, old Coca-Cola signs, pop art and framed prints of front page newspapers.

On the wall next to our booth was a framed front page article  about the Red Sox winning some big game (forgive me, sports fans, for I know not what it was) back in the 1930s.   There was a black and white picture Ted Williams and Tom Yawkey (then President of the Red Sox) in their glory days.

There they were - on top of the world for that moment in time.   Almost eighty years ago.   I bet when that flashbulb flashed, captured their triumphant smiles, they felt like that moment would never end.   Now they are both gone, although their legacies (for better and for worse) live on in lore, nailed to the walls of cheesy restaurant chains.

The thing is?  It goes fast.   I want to pull up a chair next to the old couple reading their newspaper and pepper them with questions:  tell me about your greatest moment?  Is there one greatest moment, or does it all just blend together in one indecipherable blur?  How fast did it go, really?   Does it feel over?  Does each day feel ripe with possibility, or just something to be endured?   Do your memories make you wistful?  Sustain you?   What do you look forward to every day?

I'm sitting here typing this blog today because I have too much to do.   I'm frozen with the sheer number of little details, deadlines and obligations that are tugging at me from all directions.   It feels, on some days, insurmountable... but then I remember how last Tuesday felt insurmountable, too, and now I can't even remember why.   

I know last Friday at this time I was arriving in Ojai, California - embarking on what would become a life-changing weekend for me.    It feels like all I did was blink my eyes and it's seven days later.   I'm tempted to wallow, to moan about how un-special today is, how I wish it was last Friday, instead.

But this Friday is special, too, because I can't ever live it over again.  

This morning I gently rubbed Finn's back and whispered to him that it was time to wake up.  He stretched, rolled over, and his little round belly peeked out of his Spongebob Squarepants jammies.    He blinked twice, rubbed his eyes, and said sleepily, "Oh, good.  It's you.  I love you.   Can we have waffles?"

Yes, it's a special day indeed.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Escape from Wallow-Land

My name is Ellie, and I am vulnerable.

I've been thinking a lot about vulnerability, and how it gets a bad rap.   In our society we're programmed to admire achievement, determination, drive.  We like to believe we're impenetrable.   At least I did, for a long time.

It takes a lot of guts to admit you're vulnerable, that you have weaknesses, soft spots, chinks in your armor.  

It takes even more guts to ask for help.

Think about it - when was the last time you asked for help?   Especially with big fears and insecurities that you can barely admit to yourself, let alone to someone else.

I think women, in particular, internalize suffering.   When we're feeling inadequate we eat, we drink, we starve, we run faster, we work harder, we buy more.   We stuff.    We pour our energy into keeping up appearances - arranging our emotions like movie props - fearful that if we don't look the part, act the part, that we'll fall away from the pack.

When hit with hardship - loss, divorce, addiction, depression, anxiety - we tend to burrow inward, searching for answers from our own depths:  What am I doing wrong?   Why does it look so easy for her?   Why can't I stop eating/drinking/shopping/starving?  Why am I so sad/bored/lonely/angry?   All too often, the most important mission becomes making sure nobody knows how badly we're feeling inside.  

For years I spent so much mental energy mulling over my inadequacies, wallowing in my shortcomings, it was mind-blowing.    It was just so comfortable there, in wallow-land.   I was used to this version of me-as-not-measuring-up.     Like a ratty old pair of sweatpants that I couldn't bring myself to throw away because they felt like an extension of me, I shuffled around in my shortcomings wondering how it is that everyone else seemed so, well, happy

When I hit rock bottom all my movie props came crashing down, and the dark underpinnings of my world were exposed for all to see.

I could no longer pretend that the outside version of me matched the inside version of me; my fall was spectacular.   People couldn't pretend to look away any more than I could pretend that I had it all together.

I braced myself for my worst fears to come true:  now that people know the truth, that I'm weak, I'm scared, I'm lost, that all the put-togetherness I've been projecting is one giant ruse, they will all go away. 

That didn't happen.   Not even close.   I wasn't mocked, or shunned, or ridiculed.   The opposite, in fact - because my vulnerabilities were so visible, so obvious, so out there - people felt more comfortable letting me inside, sharing some of their private fears.  

People in all areas of my life, not just in my recovery circle, started opening up more, letting down their guard just a bit.   Not because I had all the answers, but because I didn't, and I could no longer pretend differently.   I no longer wanted to pretend differently.  

By asking for help I learned I wasn't the only mother who felt trapped, inadequate, disorganized, exhausted and scared out of her mind much of the time.  I surrounded myself with other mothers who fought back the fear, doubt and insecurity with laughter, a sympathetic ear, and the ability to give loving advice without judging.

By asking for help I discovered a network of people who had been through the darkness of addiction, come out the other side, and who could shine a light on the path for me, too.   

I still relapse with this stuff all the time.  I'll start feeling inadequate, insecure, and the wallowing and self-selecting out of the club will begin:    I don't know what I'm doing with the blog, the jewelry business, the writing.  This person or that person does it better than I ever could.  I can't, I won't, blah blah blah.  I'll tunnel inward, deeper into my fears, and wonder why I'm so miserable.   Eventually shouldering the pain alone becomes too great, and I'll think:  oh yeah, ask for help.

If I see someone who seems to have it together, who is achieving things that I have only dreamed about, I try not to view them as superior, or a threat, or competition -- that's just the ratty old sweatpants talking. 

I can ask them for help.   I used to feel it made me weak, less-than, to admit there are things I can't do well, things I don't know.  Because I used to think vulnerability was a dirty word.

Now I know it takes true courage to be vulnerable.  

Vulnerability, like shame, can be a great teacher.   

We can't heal what we can't face.
       

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I Put My Hammer Down. A Big Thank You to Creative Alliance

I am centered.

At the moment I'm sitting in a waiting area at LAX, completely in flux, several hours to go before my flight.   I should be a nervous wreck.

But I'm not.

Any words I can dig out of my head won't do justice for what the past three days have been like, so I'm not really going to try.   And the details of the weekend are likely only interesting to me and others who were there.



But the glow I feel inside - even as I sit in my least favorite place (airport) and anticipate doing my least favorite thing (flying) - is real and it warms my spirit.



I think there are some people who don't believe what I witnessed at Creative Alliance could really happen. If I'm honest with myself, I was probably one of them.   I'm still new to this blogging thing, but I've observed enough Twitter dramas and blogging conference weirdness to know there is a lot of clanging around vying for attention in this world.



For me, Creative Alliance was about connection, authenticity, vision and respect.   I listened to women who are the best of their craft share what they know and how they stay the line.   They spoke openly and freely about how they can struggle with balance, about how they dig deep to keep building and dreaming, even as the crazy pace of life tugs them in a myriad of directions.



It was invigorating to be in a room with dozens of women who have so many ideas, so many visions, that a common thread among them all was figuring out how to choose which ones to pursue?

When someone expressed ways they were stuck, or struggling, women were clamoring to offer their support, encouragement and advice.  



I learned more about the business end of blogging - something I don't know much about and have been wondering:   is this something I'm supposed to care about?    I have left other conferences feeling like I must be approaching this the wrong way, because I don't know that I'm interested in any of it.   

It was liberating to be informed and educated about the business of blogging without feeling judged or intimidated.   It was empowering to hear women speak with passion and determination about their goals - without apology, excuses or putting down others' visions.  



It grounded me.  I have been doing that 'what does blogging mean to me, what the heck am I doing this for, what is my end goal' shuffle for weeks now.   



Wise, lovely, compassionate women pulled me aside and talked me through my fears.   What I figured out, in a nutshell, is that all this existential hand-wringing is just so much white noise.   What I have here isn't broken, and I should stop trying to fix it.   



It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:  "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."  

I have put my hammer down.

I communed with other writers - women whose blogs I read with something akin to awe, and whose creative spirits I admire and respect.   They shared their tricks of the trade, their favorite resources, their coping mechanisms.  They shared themselves.

 

I was honored and humbled to read a piece for Ann Imig's amazing production:  Listen to Your Mother - Mom Salon.   I sat, breathless, listening to the other readers take us on a journey of laughter, tears, pain and redemption.    Ann's vision for Listen To Your Mother is so inspiring, and Ann herself is overflowing with grace, love and talent.   Give yourself a treat and check out the Listen to Your Mother website to learn more.   You can also find her at her personal blog, Ann's Rants; the place I go when I want to laugh until tears flow.

And last but absolutely not least, my heartfelt thanks to Lee, Jessica, Andrea , Cynthia and all the other core team members of Creative Alliance for this unbelievable weekend.  



Thank you for fueling my spirit, inspiring me and embodying what it means to be strong, creative, authentic, professional, loving women.

As Lee would say -- it was totally epic.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Respect

It's 6am, still dark out, and rain is softly falling.

I'm sitting outside my hotel room door on a protected stairwell, so I won't wake my roomates, typing on my laptop like a junkie waiting for a score.

I need these moments of quiet reflection to soak in all that is happening this weekend.


Creative Alliance began yesterday morning at Calliote Canyon, a breathtakingly beautiful home nestled in the hills north of Los Angeles.  There is a large yurt, a babbling creek and a fire pit - in short, it's the perfect place to step off the grid, rejunvenate, unwind and let creative juices flow.




Yesterday afternoon we all gathered in the yurt.   Forty women, sitting in a circle, sharing their hopes and dreams, communing over a common purpose:  foster creativity and nurture authentic relationships in the online world.

 





As people introduced themselves and shared their dreams, frustrations and hopes, heads nodded all around the room.   There was laughter, clapping and comaraderie.   Some people articulated their aspirations out loud for the first time ever, without fear of ridicule.    With so many creative, smart, entrepreneurial women in the room, ideas floated through the air like little sparkling diamonds.  It was grace in motion.

It was a kind of like being at a recovery meeting; sitting together in a roomful of people - some who I know, some who I don't - where nobody wants to see you fail.    It's a rare event indeed, particularly in what can be a cut-throat, drama filled world, to assemble and share our experience, strength and hope to help make our own dreams a reality and help others achieve theirs.

Some of these women are household names, at least in the microcosm of the blogosphere, and are sharing what they have learned, how they stay the course, what they aspire to achieve next.  Some, like me, are new to the table and are soaking it in like a sponge, drafting behind their expertise with something like awe and more than a little respect.

It is a place of belonging.    My fears of not fitting in, not being 'big' enough or 'good' enough, seem small to me now.    What I'm learning, as I travel this odd road, is that if I look within myself, hold myself up only in comparison to my own definition of success and stay true to my vision, my heartsong, is that I can accomplish anything.

I know how obvious and trite that sounds, like something right out of the pages of a cheesy self-help book.    But for me, it's not obvious.   Not at all.   For most of my life I have been so externally focused, so determined to measure up to other peoples' standards for themselves
and for me, that this self-grounded sensation is new.  

I like it.

The first light of dawn is peeking through, now.  People are stirring, the smell of freshly brewed coffee fills the air.    I've gotten my blogging fix, huddled here on the stairwell, and I can't wait to see what today brings.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Pulse

Drinking.   Motherhood.   Recovery.

These words wake me, knocking at the door of my subconsciousness.   I'm growing used to this phenomenon, of my brain gently nudging me awake as it chews on thoughts like a puppy on a bone.  

It takes me a moment to get my bearings; it is still dark out.   The bedside clock reads 3:15am.    I hear a plane, a low grumble followed by a powerful roar as it prepares for takeoff.   

Ah, yes.   I'm in Los Angeles, at an airport hotel.   Later this morning I'll embark on a three day journey full of learning, laughter and love.

But for now this fledgling day is quiet, calm.   The pre-dawn darkness settles over me, and I try to return to slumber.

Drinking.   Knock.   Motherhood.   Knock, knock.   Recovery.   KNOCK.

With a sigh, I push sleep aside.  What is it?  I say, not unkindly.

I lie quietly in the dark and let them in.    This is how it happens, sometimes.   These thoughts will not leave me alone until I sit patiently for a spell, and listen .

When you're asked to describe who you are at the core of you, they say, you reply that you're a mother in recovery. 

Is that all?  I reply.   You woke me up at 3:15am with this earth shattering bit of information?

It's 6:15am east coast time, they say, in their own defense.   And you need to think about this:  you're a mother in recovery.   It's important. 

But there's nothing new here!   I whine.    What am I doing awake at this hour? 

You'll see, they reply.  

 And, eventually, I do.
~~~~

A mother.   In recovery.    The two things that are the core of me, that sustain me, give me hope and meaning, are the two things I fought hardest against.

Being a mother did not come easily to me.   I didn't give birth to a child and flowing maternal instincts simultaneously; it was a long, hard road.   Motherhood, in a nutshell, scared me.   The world that had felt so certain, so mine, was now fraught with worry and danger, like it was made of glass.   One wrong move and everything would shatter.

The fear I felt was primitive, consuming, and brand new.   And I was going to be a mother for the rest of my life?   Would I ever feel like myself again?   Confident, full of swagger, able to tackle any challenge without reservation?    It didn't seem possible, in the early days, as I looked into my baby girl's eyes and saw pure love.  I didn't know how to give her that kind of love, because I was gripped with fear.  

Drinking was the mortar to the cracks opened up by fear.   Fear of love, fear of loss, fear of not measuring up in this baffling new world of motherhood where the tests were endless and the results never revealed.

I fought getting sober long and hard, because I was terrified.   Terrified of what life would be like if I had to feel that fear all the time, without my anesthesia.   I could not imagine life raw and unedited.  Drinking made me feel in control of the fear, anxiety and uncertainty.   Becoming a mother made me understand just how little control I had over anything, and I never, ever wanted to face how that made me feel.  

In early recovery -  for at least the first entire year of recovery - I had to face that fear head-on.   As I emerged from my self-induced cocoon of darkness and isolation I wondered, yet again: will I ever feel like myself again?   I couldn't drink to create confidence and swagger anymore.  I couldn't drink to find access to love without fear.    And I was going to have to do this for the rest of my life?  

With time I learned to surrender to fear.   I didn't have to be a perfect mother.   I didn't have to think about the rest of my life; I just had to think about today.     I learned that fear won't kill me, that pushing through fear was worth it, because the treasures I have found on the other side are boundless.

I always wrote - I have the dozens of bound journals as evidence of all the endless words that spewed forth.   

It's just that I never had anything to say.  

And now here I am in Los Angeles embarking on an adventure I never could have imagined during those dark days.   I'm here because embracing motherhood and recovery, the two things that filled me with the most fear, have breathed life into me.   I can love without limits; I feel full of creativity, passion and hope.  

Pushing through the fear allowed me to find my writer's pulse.  It was trapped deep inside me for so many years, and now beats out a slow, steady rhythm.

I'm here to commune with creative, passionate women - to pull up a chair, listen and learn.  I'm new to the table, but I'm no longer afraid that I don't measure up, because I was the one creating the endless tests where the results were never revealed.  

When fear was my co-pilot, I didn't stand a chance.

~~~~

There, you see?  the thoughts say.  Don't you feel better?   Now lay your head back down and rest.  

You have a big day.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My New Drug of Choice

Last evening my husband threw his back out.  Actually, it's a back spasm - he wasn't lifting anything heavy, just using a light sprayer-thingy to coat our porch with some kind of sealer.   He cried out in pain, gripped his back and sank to the floor. 

The pain is awful; I had a back spasm about ten years ago and I remember it well.   He basically can't move.   It was bad enough this morning that we took him to the doctor (getting him in and out of the car was interesting).   She looked him over, diagnosed a spasm, and gave him a prescription for some honking ibuprofen pills and a muscle relaxant.   He was on his way out the door, when she added, "How about I give you a Vicodin prescription, too, just in case?"  

Steve hesitated - he has heard enough horror stories about the addictive nature of Vicodin to be wary - so the doctor continued, with a wink, "It won't do anything to cure the back spasm, but it will trick your brain into thinking you're not in much pain."

This isn't a post about how pain meds are over-prescribed - that's a rant for another time.

We picked up the prescriptions, drove home and maneuvered Steve back into bed.   I brought him his pills, and just the chicka-chicka sound of the tablets rattling in the plastic bottle got my inner addict whispering:  Just take one..  you can slip away for an hour or two.   One won't hurt.  Your back has been sore lately, too.   Wouldn't it be nice to relax, just for a little while? 

It has been a stressful couple of days.   I'm preparing to leave on Thursday for California, to go to the Creative Alliance blogging conference.    I had the past few days mapped out - everything I had to get done to be ready to leave - and life hasn't cooperated with my planning.   I have many jewelry orders to fill, grocery shopping and house cleaning to do, presents to buy for friends' birthday parties that are happening while I'm gone, and tons of scheduling for the kids' activities to figure out.

Today fell apart completely.   I couldn't get to anything on my list, and by 1pm I was a nervous wreck.  

Add to all this the fact that I am an extremely nervous flyer.  I hate airplanes; I always have.   My brain has been in overdrive thinking about the flights, visions of impending doom popping up out of nowhere as I go about my days.   One of the reasons I'm going to this conference is I don't want to let my fears cripple me.   I refuse to miss an amazing experience like Creative Alliance because I'm afraid to fly.

So, needless to say, a muscle relaxant or a Vicodin or two sounded downright necessary to this addict's brain.

I know the addict voice well; she calls to me when life feels like death by a thousand paper cuts, when the stress of day-to-day life feels unmanageable:  you can't get to everything you need to do, so do the next best thing - ESCAPE.

An interesting thing happened, though.   I danced with the idea of taking a pill (or two, or seven) - I let myself really see it.  I pictured washing down a muscle relaxant and then floating on the couch in a sea of calm.    I closed my eyes and envisioned how good it would feel as the tension left my body, my shoulders unknotted and my screaming thoughts faded away.   

I didn't want to.   I tried - I really did - to convince myself that of course I wanted to -- I'm programmed to escape, for crying out loud.     But my addict voice never took root; she sounded like a whiny toddler throwing a tantrum because she wanted a cookie before dinnertime.   She seemed puny, manageable, petty.

I thought of the doctor's words to Steve, about how Vicodin tricks your brain into thinking it isn't in much pain.  

I realized that I can do that trick now without medication.     My drug of choice is acceptance.

My day wasn't going as planned, not even close, but it was going just fine.  I will get on a plane on Thursday and go to California, whether or not the house is spotless or all the laundry is done.    The kids will make it to their activities - I'll figure it out, I know I will - and if they miss one or two will the world stop revolving?    I have tomorrow to finish up the jewelry orders.   Or tonight.    There is plenty of time, it's just that my brain likes to think everything is a crisis - especially if things don't go as planned. 

I don't need a pill to trick my brain into thinking everything is okay;  everything IS okay.

These infuriating little details were the sort of thing that used to crush me, make me feel worthless, pitiful, less-than.   Other mothers can handle it all, what's wrong with me?  was my dark angel's battle cry.   My addictive voice would bang that drum until I gave in.    

Even the fear of flying, although it feels very real and very scary to me, is another way the addict voice tries to bang her way in.   In the past, flying was always accompanied by several drinks - it felt medically necessary, dammit.   Now I have meditations on my iPod, difficult crossword puzzles and good books to help me escape.   That addict voice wants my fear of flying to be the back door I left unlocked so she can sneak in, undetected.

But she is a whiny, puny, outraged toddler, and I am a sober woman of dignity and honor. 

She is no match for me.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Mosaic

As the day winds down, I count the minutes - the seconds - until the kids' bedtime.

It's Saturday, and bedtime isn't until 8pm.   I feel mildly pleased with myself; Steve is away until tomorrow, and I managed to fill one whole Saturday without any screen time or bored fighting. 

I made a promise to myself this morning, that I would spend the whole day engaged with the kids.   I wouldn't try to clean the house, make jewelry orders, poke around on the internet, or shoo them away as I talk to friends on the phone.  

Today I rooted myself firmly in the present, in their world, instead of asking them to cling to the fringes of mine. 

Now it's 7:45pm, though, and the edginess is creeping in.  I'm desperate for some alone time, and I can't wait until they are tucked into bed so I can curl up on the couch with my book and soak in the silence.

They wriggle into their jammies, brush teeth, and scrounge around for favorite stuffed animals and blankets.  I read a story, fetch first one glass of water and then another, adjust the lighting to perfection, do a monster check, and give equal amounts of kisses and hugs.  It's 8:30pm by the time I finally make it downstairs, exhausted.

I flop on the couch and crack open my book with a contented sigh.   A mere thirty seconds later I hear crying, and Greta shouting, "Mooooom.   Finn's crying, and I can't sleep!"

A white-hot rage flashes through me, races up my legs and arms and into my chest, making my heart pound.   Without moving off the couch, I yell upstairs that they both better go to sleep.   OR ELSE.

Greta falls silent, but Finn won't stop crying.

I storm up the stairs and angrily swing my head into their room, ready to pounce.   Finn is sitting on his bed, his favorite stuffed swan tucked under one arm, and his worn-out blankie under the other, tears streaming down his cheeks.

"Momma?" he sniffs pitifully, "will you west wif me?"

I'm so tired and frustrated that I'm shaking, my heart iced over, immune to his tears.    I close my eyes and count to five, and then I say, as calmly as I can, "It's late.  You need to go to sleep, and I have things to do downstairs.   Go to bed, Finn."

He hangs his head, sobbing silently.   "So you won't west wif me?   Just for a minute?" 

But I don't want to!  I don't want to, I don't want to, I don't want to!!!!   my inner toddler screams.   I was there for you ALL DAY and I'm TIRED.   I just want to read my book!  There's never any time for ME!

Without warning, I'm hit with a memory.    It isn't one specific memory but rather a mosaic of memories, made up of sharp red, craggy black and somber grey: countless moments scurrying away from a crying child - or two - because I had to start drinking, start blurring the sharp edges of my mind, start erasing the fear, start edging away from the center of their love. 

I crawl into bed beside Finn, and he snuggles into me, hiccupping softly.

"Why can't you sleep?" I whisper.    His little ear is bright pink and fuzzy around the edges. 

"I don't know," he sighs.  "I just felt like I needed you."

"It's okay," I reply.  "I'm here."

He nods silently, his eyes already closed.   I run my fingertips up and down his spine, and he reaches around and curls his fingers around my other hand.   His grip is warm and firm.   The room is still; the only sound is Greta's soft snoring as she sleeps.

A few minutes later his grips loosens and his breathing slows.   He is asleep.

I close my eyes, lay my head down next to his, and inhale his salty-sweet boy smell.  

I silently add one more glittering tile to my new mosaic of memories, one that glows with soft blue, sun splashed yellow and warm pink.  


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Rearview Mirror

A very wise therapist I saw for a while used to ask me the same question at the start of every session.

"What's the same and what's different?" 

I haven't been feeling very inspired to write these days.    In an attempt to dig out some thoughts, I clicked back in my archives to find out where my head was this time last year.   I never look back through my old posts; I'm not sure why, exactly, but I think it's because I'm overly critical of my own words and I can't read them objectively.

As I was poking through October of 2009, my therapist's question played through my head:  what's the same and what's different? 

This time last year my husband and I were in the thick of deciding whether or not to go on Oprah to discuss my alcoholism and the roles denial and secrecy played in my addiction.    We agonized over this decision, thinking that it could either be the best or worst experience of our lives.   Of all the scenarios we discussed, the idea that it simply wasn't that big of a deal never occured to us.    It was an amazing experience, to be sure, but it wasn't life altering.   It brought some healing between my husband and me, which was amazing, and caused disruptions in other aspects of my life that I couldn't have foreseen.    Not too long after the show everything had settled back into a normal pattern.

As I read through older posts, I realized that one of the biggest differences between now and last year is that I'm better able to keep things right-sized.   Last year (in the first two years of sobriety, actually) everything was loud, bright, and more significant; a bad day was never just a bad day, it was a harbinger of everything going wrong.    A good day gave me expectations that were unreasonable - I tried desperately just to hold onto whatever was working so well.    I put everything into a category:  good, bad, horrible, wonderful, scary, sad.   Nothing ever just was.  

Maybe that's why I wrote so much about trying to live in the moment.   I wanted the ability to let things go so badly that I was over thinking, over analyzing, paralyzing my ability to simply let things be.

Recently I was talking with some recovery friends about serenity, another concept that had always felt elusive to me.    Surrender and serenity were two things I wanted - oh, did I want them - that I attacked achieving them with an Olympic athlete's zeal.   

During this conversation it hit me:  serenity had woven its way into my life, snuck in the side door, slipped under the covers undetected.     What I had been feeling was bored.     No big highs, no big lows.  Just, well, maintenance.

I was confusing boredom with balance.  

I'm in maintenance mode for a lot of things, now.   My weight and my sobriety are two of the most obvious, but also in my marriage, my parenting.    I'm no longer riding the scary swells of the first year or so of sobriety; things are settling down, taking on a comfortable predictability.  

I was never good at predictablity.   Along with an addiciton to alcohol, I was addicted to chaos.  I was happiest, I thought, when there was some kind of drama going on, some knotty problem that needed unraveling.

At some point along the line, I stopped trying so damn hard to force things to yield to my almighty will, everything landed where it was meant to land.   Balance worked its way into my life, slowly and silently.

Perhaps this is why I'm struggling with writing.  It's easier for me to be inspired when things aren't going well; the tortured artist kind of deal.    Finding inspiration when things are clicking along at a safe speed is harder for me.    But balance, maintenance, is a gift I would have given anything to have during the darkest days of my drinking.  I don't want to forget this truth.

So, what's the same and what's different?   It's important to stop and ask myself that, on occasion, because if I don't it's easy to miss progress, or stay stuck in patterns that aren't working for me. 

And right now?   Now isn't good or bad.   It simply is

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Comfort of Strangers

I don't talk about recovery meetings on this blog, and for good reason.  What happens in those meetings is sacred, and it's not my business to share the things I hear there.

But I have talked about how telling my truth to a roomful of strangers saved my life.    I dragged myself into a recovery meeting, broken, weary and desperate.   I didn't plan on speaking; I didn't want to be there at all.   I was going to get the heat off, to appease the people who loved me and avoid the dire consequences if I didn't get help.

I went into the room, plunked down in the back and crossed my arms, prepared to despise everything and everyone.

It didn't work out that way.  Before I could stop myself, my hand went up and I said my name.   And then I said I was an alcoholic.

I'd love to say the clouds parted, beams of light came streaming down and I never drank again.    It didn't work out that way, either.

But a seed was planted that night.   Sitting in that room for an hour, listening to others' stories, I felt companionship and understanding.   I felt safe, for the first time in a long time.    My life was full of baffled loved ones asking questions that started with "how could you..." and "why don't you .." and "why can't you..."    In that room I was surrounded by people who understood, and it broke through my pain and denial just enough to bring me back again.   And again.    I went until I wanted to be there, and nobody was more surprised than me when that happened.

These people I had never met before, who had nothing invested in me, who didn't want a thing for me except my own peace of mind, started me down the road to sobriety.

Something special is happening over at Crying Out Now.    People are stepping forward, telling their truths, surrendering their fears, and comforting strangers are responding in kind.    I started Crying Out Now seven months ago, and now co-moderate it with Robin and Val, two amazing women in recovery.   It is a place for people to come tell their truths, anonymously if they wish, without judgment or fear of reprisal.    

Some people who submit their story are still drinking, unsure if they have a problem or not and simply thinking out loud.   Others are newly sober or coming back after a relapse and are struggling and in need of support.    Some people have been in recovery for a while, and just want to share some of their experience, strength and hope. 

The power of hearing someone tell their truth, not because they have all the answers but because they don't, is undeniable.   The comfort offered by people who have been there, or who are there themselves, is healing.

The internet affords its own version of anonymity.   You can be anyone you want to be, and lots of people use this power for evil instead of good.     At Crying Out Now the ability to be anyone - just another face in a sea of faces - has the power to heal.   For many people, it's the first place they have ever talked about their struggles or fears.   It's a first step, a planted seed, a small break in the isolation of suffering.

I don't mean to imply that telling your story online is the equivalent of going to a recovery meeting.    But that same spark is there, that feeling of busting through to the truth, the breath-holding step of finally, FINALLY, just getting it out there and letting it go.  

Crying Out Now is not about telling people that they need to get sober, or how to get sober.   Where people go and what they do with their truth is up to them.    But it's a safe place to open up and shed a small beam of light into the darkness.

If you're struggling with alcoholism or addiction, or if you're in recovery and want to share some of your story, please submit a post to cryingoutnow@gmail.com.   We want to hear from you.    Robin, Val and I are the only ones with access to the email, and you can create an anonymous hotmail or yahoo email account if you don't want anyone to know who you are. 

Or just come lend some words of encouragement and support.   You can comment anonymously, too, and your words will help someone feel less alone, less afraid.     

Please help us spread the word about Crying Out Now, because the comfort of strangers has the power to heal.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Fear, Friendship and The Closet Woman

When Liz stepped out onto the stage, the closing performer for the stage production Expressing Motherhood, I felt like I was going to burst out of my skin.

It was the final night of a three night run at the Durrell Theater in Cambridge, MA.    There were twelve women in the cast, all Moms, none of whom were professional performers.   They each told a story, with only a microphone and a spotlight as props, about motherhood.   They spoke of love, loss, lust, laughter and redemption.   It was a roller coaster ride of emotions:  side splitting laughter followed by free flowing tears.

As the spotlight bloomed to life and surrounded Liz in a halo of light, my heart swelled with anticipation, pride and love.   She had done a dry run of her piece for me, which made me laugh, and then cry, and then laugh some more, but nothing could have prepared me for what it was like to see her up on stage, telling the story of her daughter Eden's birth and mysterious illness that plagued her first few months of life.  

She spoke about Eden's delivery, and the terrifying complications that followed.   How all she could do was lie on the operating table and endure.

She spoke about how she faced her deepest fear one horrible night seven weeks later, when the doctors could do no more, and she went home to cradle her desperately ill infant close to her chest and pray.  

She spoke about the culture of fear that surrounds mothers these days, about how when she lets her two oldest daughters go an aisle away in the grocery store to bring back milk and bread, they are invariably returned to her by an accusing stranger who hisses, "I found them wandering in the dairy aisle."

Where is the line?  is the question Liz poses.   How do we raise children to be independent, confident people if we're living in fear ourselves?   It would be easy to succumb to fear, hover endlessly over and around our children, mistakenly believing we can prevent any horrible outcomes by sheer attentiveness.  There are so many things outside of our control; our children will get sick, hurt and have to suffer through their own trials and tribulations.   The best we can do for our kids is to choose not to live in fear ourselves.

Liz had to face fears of her own to do the show:  stage fright and speaking publicly about a raw, vulnerable time in her life.  She stared those fears straight in the eye, squared her shoulders and dug deep. 

She was radiant.  

The stories of Expressing Motherhood are the soundtrack to our lives as mothers.  How we navigate the waters of fear, loss and frustration.   How we celebrate the simple moments of joy and awe.  How we struggle with identity and purpose, and feel like the woman we were before becoming a mother fades from our reach, hides away in some back closet of Things That Used To Be.

She doesn't fade completely away, though, this Closet Woman, the one who tackled the world head-on, without fear and hesitation.   The woman who ran board meetings, or earned a graduate degree, or built a company of her own, or traveled the world, or worked two jobs to put herself through school.    She lives inside all of us, and I saw her up on stage last night in each and every one of the brave performers, who put a little of themselves out there so we would all feel less alone, less afraid. 

~~~~

Liz asked me to design a bracelet and earrings for her to wear onstage.   I obsessed about it; I wanted to create the perfect piece - something funky and yet not too over-the-top.  After creating two bracelets and cutting them apart because I felt they weren't good enough, I realized this was so important to me because Liz is so important to me.  

She was my first mommy friend, all those years ago when our daughters were born within nine days of each other.    Together we figured out new motherhood by making mistakes and celebrating successes.   We weathered endless New England winters holed up at her house, or our friend Karin's house, huddled together against the long, cold afternoons.   Huddled together against the fear.  

Her loving, level-headed friendship has helped to pull me through some of the darkest days of my life.   What she taught me is that we're not supposed to be perfect, we're just supposed to love our children without reservation, without fear, and do the best we can.

So I didn't create the perfect piece, because it doesn't exist.   But I created something straight from my heart, something fun, classy, colorful and with a little sparkle.   Just like Liz.







In honor of the Expressing Motherhood performance, Liz is hosting a giveaway of a duplicate set of the bracelet and earrings I made for her.    

To enter and read more about the performance from Liz's perspective, go here.

Thank you.