Monday, November 29, 2010

Fear and Loathing in The Land of Pie

I had some trepidations going into the Thanksgiving holiday.  For many people, Thanksgiving is all about eating and drinking.    I had experienced Thanksgiving three times sober and I knew what to expect, what to do, how to keep myself safe.

This was my first Thanksgiving, though, since the completion of Operation Get Healthy.   I had successfully maintained my sixty pound weight loss by sticking to a healthy diet and exercising moderately.

But I haven't really been tested yet.   Thanksgiving would be my first test.   

I realized recently that I'm still very fearful of food.    I'm fearful of the whole idea that I'm a healthy weight now, actually.   It still doesn't seem real to me yet... like I might wake up one morning and it will all have been a bizarre dream.   

There are a lot of parallels between an unhealthy relationship with food and an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.    In many respects, though, getting sober was more clear cut.   Not easier, but the Do Not Cross line was more obvious to me.  Every drink is a "bad" drink.   I can't even have one.  There is no such thing as moderate drinking for me, but I'm having to learn moderate eating.  It's hard.

Let's take pie, for example.   I love pie.   Thanksgiving is all about pie for me.    I was pondering a pie-less Thanksgiving and feeling sad. 

I really felt like if I ate a slice of pie that I would wake up the next morning right back where I was, sixty pounds heavier.  I know the thought is irrational, but the fear is real.   It's the same fear I have of drinking, but with recovery that fear keeps me sober.   I don't want to live my life fearful of food.

I talked to my Jenny Craig consultant about it, and she emphasized - yet again - that the idea is to live in a world full of good food and be able to make smart choices.   "One moderate slice of pie won't hurt you," she said.   "You need to start to trust yourself again, cultivate a healthy relationship to food.   If you deny yourself everything, it's going to make the cravings louder, and you'll be miserable.   The trick is healthy portions, and no seconds.   Just give that a try."

I have an addict's brain.   If one slice of pie is good, two is better.    I have to learn how to have one slice of pie.

At Thanksgiving I took small helpings of everything.    I wanted more when I was done, but I didn't have more.    When I scraped the kids' half-full plates into the disposal, I thought about how before I would have polished their leftovers off, too.

Pie was served about an hour after dinner.  I had one smallish slice with a dollop of whipped cream.   A voice in my head was screaming to me: this is WRONG!  WRONG!   You're going to FAIL!    And, sure enough, I immediately wanted more.

But getting sober has taught me that just because I want something doesn't mean I have to have it.  

I poured myself a cup of coffee and sipped that instead.   The craving for more pie passed in about three minutes, leaving me feeling satisfied and a little bit proud.  

The real test came for me at my weekly weigh-in.   I don't weigh myself every day, because I'll get obsessive.   So once a week I step on the scale, in order to track how I'm doing on my own.    The scale showed the same number it has been showing for six weeks now - my goal weight.

Thanksgiving dinner and the pie didn't ruin everything.  Of course they didn't.   But I'm having to prove to myself that I can do it - I can make smart choices and stop myself from eating more than I need, and that I don't have to live in full deprivation mode to be successful.

In order to successfully lose the weight, I had to get my faulty thinking out of the way; I was an expert at rationalizing myself into the wrong choice.     Now I'm having to slowly reintroduce my thinking back into the equation, but this time using my powers for good instead of evil.     I can hear my Food Voice talking to me all the time.  Sometimes she's trying to get me to eat more, like a second helping of pie.  Sometimes she's convincing me that if I have one slice of pie I may as well give up, because I've blown it.

I'm learning to acknowledge that she's there, forgive her for having those thoughts, and then ignoring her.   She can babble away all she wants, but it doesn't mean I have to listen.  

In recovery, if I have one drink I would consider it a relapse.   I would start again, from scratch, Day One.

With food it's different, and it has taken me a while to get my mind around that fact that there is no Relapse.   It used to be one of my favorite tricks to play on myself ... I'd diet for a while, then I'd cave and eat cake or cookies, and then that Food Voice would kick in and say, "Well, I guess you've blown it for this week.  Start again Monday."   And that Monday would never come.

There are no "bad" foods, just bad choices.   I want to feel pride from making a good choice, rather than give food the power to make me feel badly.  The best thing about choices?  You learn from each and every one of them, and that is the pathway to freedom from guilt and fear. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Grateful

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  It's not over commercialized (if you don't count the Christmas hype that seems to start right after Halloween) and it is a time to be with family and give thanks for all the gifts in life.

I try to do gratitude lists as often as I can; I find it is a good way to stay centered and focused on all the richness in my life.   When the holiday madness starts, it's all about wish lists - especially with young kids.  I see Thanksgiving as the calm before the storm; a time to reflect on all we DO have, instead of all we wish we had.

And so, here is my gratitude list for this year:

I'm grateful for my childrens' smiles and for their abundant laughter.
I'm grateful for my cozy house.
I'm grateful for my strong, loyal, loving husband.
I'm grateful for my little business, for the gift of creativity.
I'm grateful for blogging, and for all the amazing people it has brought into my life.
I'm grateful for my steadfast, funny, smart friends; they are as important to me as oxygen.
I'm grateful I live close to my family, that we can see each other often, and I'm so, so grateful for all their support during the bad times and the good times.
I'm grateful to be sober, to be present for all life has to offer.

I want to hear what you're grateful for, too.  Leave a comment with what you're grateful for!

Thanksgiving, like any holiday, can be difficult for people who are sober, or who are struggling to get or stay sober.   Actually, it can be difficult for many other reasons, too - if you're struggling with depression, anxiety or with food.  If there are strained relationships in your family, or you have suffered a loss of a loved one.   It can be hard to stay grateful in the face of adversity.

At Crying Out Now we put together a Thanksgiving Survival Guide, and although it is aimed at people who are sober or who are struggling to get sober, it applies to anyone facing challenges over this holiday season.

Please take a moment to stop by and offer your support or add additional suggestions on ways to cope.   You can click on the link above, or go here.    You can comment anonymously, if you wish.   Please come add your voice to the growing number of people who are speaking up and speaking out .  

Together?   Together we can do anything.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.   I'm so very grateful for you, too.

-Ellie

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Straight Line and The Scribble

I generally shy away from talking about marriage.   It's a sticky wicket (do people still say sticky wicket?) that I have steered clear of, for several good reasons.  

And who is an expert on marriage, really?    Certainly not me.  

We recently passed our 11th anniversary, so maybe that is why marriage has been on my mind.   

My husband and I are polar opposites in almost every way.   He's methodical, detail-oriented and pragmatic.   I'm impulsive, messy and emotional.

Imagine a straight line and a scribble falling in love, and you've just about got the picture.

We felt like a perfect fit; he likely thought he could straighten me out a bit, and I felt that I could loosen him up.

Since more than a decade has passed, I can look back and see our marital trajectory, at least how it has been so far.  It began with the shiny, sparkly years of early marriage - double income, no kids, lots of freedom and few arguments.    With money to spare and no children, what was there be to argue about?

The arrival of first child coincided with our entrance into the Coping Years.    Suddenly both of us were catapulted into Adulthood.   Sure, we thought we were adults, but in reality we were just playing house.    Down to one income and with a mortgage and a small mouth to feed, my husband realized the financial burden of keeping us afloat was up to him alone, at least for the foreseeable future.    Becoming a mother and not contributing financially created an identity crisis of epic proportions for me.

My husband coped with his additional responsibilities by buckling down, finding a job that had great upside earning potential, and settling into his career path.

I chose a less practical route.   By now the story is familiar, but suffice it to say that jumping into a bottle is not a recommended coping mechanism.

My alcoholism sky rocketed as our kids became toddlers, then preschoolers.   I now think of this time as the Dark Years.   My husband and I drifted further and further apart - not with a bang, but with a whisper.  As I retreated further and further into the bottle, he amped up his practicality and held everything together.   

We almost didn't make it.

Those differences that seemed so endearing when we were first married now threatened to tear us apart.  

I got sober when Greta was five and Finn was two.   Shaken, wobbly and scared, we entered the Year of Uncertainty.

We had to get to know each other all over again, but without the sheen of new love to be the mortar to our many cracks.   We both thought that ninety percent of our troubles would evaporate when I got sober.    This did not turn out to be true.

A scribble does not easily become a straight line, and a straight line does not easily become a scribble.  

Fundamentally, we were still very different people.    Without the distraction of active alcoholism looming over our heads, our day-to-day differences became louder, pointier.    I was sober, but I was still a disorganized, impulsive short-cut taker.   We fought about laundry, finances, housework, yard work, who goes to the dump, who mows the lawn.  

Still reeling from the wreckage of my drinking, he became hyper-critical and I became hyper-defensive.  We were score keeping - pawns in a game nobody can ever win.

When I received my medallion for one year of sobriety, we were as lost and distant as we had ever been, only this time without alcohol muddying the water.

We were going around and around the same track, having the same arguments again and again.   We were stuck.  

Luckily, we decided to get help, to find a neutral party to listen to our troubles.  We found a safe haven to air our differences, talk it through.   We couldn't fix anything on our own, since we were both so preoccupied with Being Right.

We entered the Rebuilding Years.   I hope they never end.   Marriage is work, despite what the fairy tales whisper in your ear.


Little by little, we rediscovered each other.   Instead of trying to change the other person, we re-learned how to appreciate our differences.    What we discovered, once we worked through all the noise, the petty arguments and arm-crossing, was a huge amount of respect for each other, and a core of love that we realized never really left, it had just been eclipsed by the daily petty grievances, constant negotiations, and the endless work of raising two kids. 

Mostly we learned to let go of expectations.   We had to let the other person be who they are, not who we wanted them to be.   

Things are good, now.  Stable, predictable, ordinary - just as they should be.   It is an astonishing amount of work to achieve ordinary, and we've learned to respect that.    We laugh about issues we used to fight about endlessly.    It's not perfect - no marriage is perfect, of course.   We're learning to embrace the ordinariness of everyday life, instead of pining for some ideal in the future.   "We'll be happy when  ..." has been removed from our vernacular.  

But I didn't become a straight line and he didn't become a scribble.    

Today we're both, well, wavy.  


Friday, November 19, 2010

They Aren't All Gems

I need to take a moment, pause, and breathe.

Writing helps me to slow down, right-size things that are looming large in my brain.   I have been feeling flat and uninspired these days when it comes to writing.    Life is sailing along at a hectic pace - each day is jam packed from start to finish with activities, play dates, appointments and the constant-ness of running a household.

It doesn't stop from the moment my toes hit the floor in the morning to the moment I fall into bed, exhausted, each night.  

It feels like there is never, ever enough time. 

Things that need to be a priority in my life start slipping; I manage to get everything done for everyone else, and put my needs last.   I don't feel resentful about this, not yet at least; it comes naturally to me to shuffle myself to the bottom of the deck.

I didn't go to a recovery meeting for two weeks; that is the longest I've gone since I got sober.    I skipped my Jenny Craig appointment for three weeks.    I'm not meditating, or taking any time to sit and reflect.   What scares me most is that I don't mind.    I love being too busy.   It makes me feel important, needed, but that's just me deriving my sense of self-worth from external forces.  I'm losing touch on how to find it from within.

Last night I had to force myself to go to a recovery meeting; that has never happened before.   But I feel so GOOD, I was thinking.   Everything is FINE.    I went because I felt guilty that I hadn't been in so long; people were starting to call and ask if everything was okay.    I went because I'm fearful of not going, of what could happen down the road. 

I don't like being motivated by guilt and fear, but sometimes it's all I've got.

At the meeting I slumped into my chair, wanting to fade into the background, listen for an hour and go home.   My list of things to-do last night was huge: homework, baths, jewelry orders, emails and phone calls to return.    I didn't want to be there.

So, of course, I was asked to chair the meeting.    I really didn't want to, but I couldn't say no, because I didn't have a viable excuse.  

Chairing a meeting isn't a big deal, but it forced me to open my mouth, speak my truth.   I admitted out loud that I hadn't been going to meetings, that I was feeling just fine, thank you.    Heads nodded all around the room, especially the people who have been going for a while.   They've been there before, too.

And, of course, I heard exactly what I needed to hear.   As people shared, told their own truths, spoke about their struggles and triumphs, I felt a peace come over me.    I've missed this, I thought.    I need this. 

Today I'm feeling overwhelmed.   I just need to get it out, speak my truth, right-size my troubles.   I have a lot on my plate, and not enough time to get it all done.   I spent half an hour this morning just pinging around my house; Finn is at school until noon, then Greta is picked up early for a doctor's appointment, then a play date later in the day.   Panicked, I started and stopped three different things - all of them important - and then froze in place.

Three hours of time alone is laughable, really.   I need about three days.  

I picked up my laptop and sat down to write this.   I can't always bring it,  but that doesn't matter.   I just need to write.   As I've heard many other bloggers say:  they aren't all gems

Wise words from a friend in recovery just surfaced.   He talks about what he does when he's overwhelmed, when the sheer volume of things that need to get done freeze him in place, make him want to curl up in a ball.    "I can only do one thing at a time," he says.   "So I do one thing, and let the rest of it go.   Then I do the next one thing."   

So, I'm doing this one thing.  I'm writing myself back into the moment.   Then I'll do the next thing.   It's all I can do.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Huge Sale and Some New Items!

Just taking a couple of minutes  for shameless self promotion to remind everyone that I'm having a big sale for the month of November.   Now is the perfect time to start holiday shopping - I have dozens of items under $20 -- perfect gifts for friends and teachers.   The sale ends November 30th, so order now to take advantage of the huge savings!   I'm not going to give the sale amount here --- you have to subscribe to the newsletter to find out!   Let's just say it is the biggest sale I've ever had during this time of year.....

To participate in the sale, all you have to do is subcribe to my FREE newsletter (please see the widget box in the lower right hand corner of my sidebar).    I only send emails out about every four weeks (unless I have a special announcement, like a sale) and I NEVER share your information with any third parties.

Simply enter in your email and I will forward you the newsletter, where you will find instructions on how to SAVE.   If you've had your eye on something for yourself, or for someone else, now is the perfect time to buy it!

If you are already a newletter subscriber -- check your email!  I just sent out an updated newletter reminding everyone about the sale. 

And now, a few pictures of some new items!  Click on the link below to picture to view the item in my Etsy shop.  Thanks for looking!







Thank you to everyone who supports handmade!! 


Monday, November 15, 2010

How About Now?

I forget, sometimes, that I live with a Zen Master.   He's five.

Finn has no concept of time.   Several times a day we have a conversation that goes something like this:

"Momma, can I have some juice?"

"Yes, in a minute."

"How long is a minute?"

"It's not long; just let me finish typing this email and I'll get you some juice."

"But.. how long is a minute?"

"Sixty seconds."

Pause.  "Sixty is a big numbah, though.  Sixty is a long time."

"No, a second is short, and sixty seconds doesn't take long."

Pause.   "It feels like it's taking a long time."

"Every time you interrupt me, it takes longer.  Now just be patient, I'm almost done."

Slightly longer pause.  "Is it a minute now?"

I ignore him and type.

"How about now?  Is it a minute now?"

"Just WAIT, Finn."

Very slightly longer pause.    "I told you sixty seconds is a long time.   It's taking forevah."

The only time Finn understands is NOW.     It's not just that he's impatient, although that's part of it.   Mostly, he simply doesn't grasp the concept of more than a few seconds into the future.

The other day, as I was putting his coat on, he said, "Momma, I don't want to go to school."

"It's Wednesday, Finn," I replied.  "You don't have school today."

His face lit up.  "Oh GOOD!   I like Wednesday, then.   Wednesday is stay-with-Mom day."

I realized he gets up every morning not knowing what he'll do that day.  He just wakes up and exists.  If he's hungry, he'll ask for food.   If he's bored, he'll ask to play a game.   He waits for a thought, desire or need to arise before addressing it.    He's not thinking:  I hope I'm not bored today.

When he's looking forward to something, like his birthday party, he'll struggle with the concept of time.   

"How long until my pahty, Momma?"

"Five days, Finn.  On Saturday."

He furrows his brow.   "I just counted to five.  Is my pahty now?"

"No, five days means you go to sleep four times, and on the fifth morning it will be Saturday."

"Can I take five naps and then have my pahty today?"

If Finn has a thought, or a need, he wants it addressed immediately, because RIGHT NOW is all he understands.

It was starting to drive me crazy.    

But then I realized I read countless books, listen to hours of guided meditation and spend an inordinate amount of time prattling on about my own quest to live in the moment, and forget that the perfect tour guide of Now is right under my nose.  

I tried looking at the world through Finn's eyes.  When he's coloring or playing a game he's totally lost to the moment; he isn't painting a picture while worrying about the Next Thing.   In his world, there is only Now.

Greta, who is eight, has understood time for over a year now.   She's a clock and calender watcher; she lives in anticipation or fear of future events, like the arrival of the bus in the morning, bedtime or a doctor's appointment in two weeks.   

Since grasping the concept of time, Greta doesn't exist in the Now much anymore.   At first this was a relief, because it put an end to the instant-gratification-takes-too-long conversations.  It took me a while to understand that it is actually a kind of loss.   Along with the understanding of time comes anxiety, anticipation and nervousness.    She won't sleep well the night before a class presentation or a dentist appointment.   She gets herself into a panic most mornings, worried that she will miss the bus.

As I tucked the kids into bed last night, Greta said, "Mom, tomorrow I have Girl Scouts, so don't forget.  And Thursday is the school book fair, so you have to come visit my classroom.  Friday I have a doctor's appointment.  Did you write all that down in the calendar?"

Finn got his story and his back scratch and settled down to sleep.   He doesn't know if the next day is a stay-with-Mom day or a school day, but he's not thinking about it.   He'll deal with that when it comes.

It's sad, really, how one of the first grown-up lessons kids learn is to be a slave to time, schedules and obligations.   

When Saturday and Sunday roll around and we don't have much planned, it can be tough.   I get up feeling edgy and disjointed when there aren't places we have to be, only endless stretches of deciding where we want to be.   I get a little pit in my stomach thinking about one whole day of juggling household chores, jewelry orders and yard work with the endless demands of two young kids.

So this weekend I surrendered to time.   I did my best not to think about the next minute or the next hour.  When the kids asked what we were going to do, I replied, "I don't know ... what do you want to do?"

They wanted to go to the playground.   It was an unseasonably warm November day in New England; the perfect day to be outside.     I didn't want to go to the playground and sit uselessly while they played.  I had a list of things to do a mile long.     So I pretended I was Finn.  I told myself the only thing that mattered was now - the playground - and didn't let myself think about what came next.   

I spent about twenty minutes thinking:  here's me not thinking about my to-do list.   Gradually, though, I relaxed into the moment.    I listened to my kids' laughter as they played tag with a kid they had just met.   I felt the slight twinge of cold in the air, and inhaled its sweet wood-smoke scent.   I turned my face towards the bright, low-slanting autumnal rays of sunshine, and soaked in their warmth.      

When the kids - apple cheeked and beaming - tapped me on the arm and announced they were ready to go home, I surfaced from a deep reverie; my head was full of silence.   

I had no concept of how long we had been at the playground.  The clock in the car informed me more than two hours had passed.    Two hours of simply existing, instead of wringing my hands, glancing at the time, and hurrying the kids along so I could get to the Next Thing.

I understood why Finn smiles a lot.  

Now is the perfect slice of time, absent of obligation and worry, because you can't be anywhere but right where you are.

What is a moment?   It's a heartbeat, a single breath.    We do these things hundreds of times a day, and don't give them a second thought, but they are the building blocks of all life.  Without them we cease to exist.
 
Moments are like that, too.   We examine hours, days, weeks and months, and ignore the thousands of single moments that hold everything together.   

Neglecting moments is like spending life in the waiting room, living in anticipation of Next, waiting - always waiting - and never experiencing. 

We are all born hard wired to live in the moment, to experience life exactly as it is, not as we want it to be.    As we grow up, we get further and further away from our natural state of wonder and acceptance.

The other day Finn and I were running out the door, late for something - school, or an appointment - and I was rushing around, begging him to hurry up.   On the way to the car, a bright yellow leaf on the ground caught his eye, and he stopped to admire its beauty.

"Look, Momma," he said, holding it up for me to see.   "Isn't it amazing?"

Yes.  Yes, it is.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Becky's Bloggy Bridesmaid's Video - In Which I Live Out A Fantasy

So, Becky is getting married.

Who is Becky, you ask?    If you don't already know her, you should.    She's a bloggy friend of mine, and she is funny and smart and pretty and talented and ... well, you get the idea.  Becky is a bright light -- when I need a lift I go to her blog, or read her tweets, and she is always good for a laugh and a smile.

Ann, of Ann's Rants, got the idea to throw Becky a surprise Bloggy Bridesmaids' shower.   It wasn't a hard sell; this is not a group of introverts.  We jumped at the chance to do a post in honor of her upcoming nuptials.  

I don't know what my fellow bridesmaids are going to do, but I couldn't resist the urge to live out a fantasy of mine:  spend the day with Becky.  Wearing sequins.

C'mon, you can't tell me you don't have a fantasy involving sequins... I know you do.

And so, I bring you this:



** Special thanks to my daughter Greta and her friend Caroline, the best 8 year old videographers money can buy.   Also to Tamara and Steve; you find out who your friends are when you ask them to film you in sequins on a treadmill.  In public.

Congratulations, Becky.  I'm so grateful to call you a friend.  

And please be sure to check out her other Bloggy Bridesmaids' posts, listed below.  These are some of the funniest women on the internet ... so if you're not reading these blogs, you're not laughing enough.  Trust me:

Ann at Ann's Rants

Suzy at Hollywood: Where Hot Comes to Die

Wendi and Kelcey at The Mouthy Housewives

Jessica at BernThis

Amy at I Have More Rocks

Lisa at Smacksy

Behind The Glass

The house is still, quiet.  I should be sleeping.  

In a moment I'll head up to bed, but I treasure this time alone.   I lie on my couch in the semi-dark, and I breathe, sifting through moments from the day and savoring them like sweet treasures.

Tonight, though, my mind is tugged to you ..  the woman quietly crying, wondering how she ended another day with a glass in her hand, a nearly empty bottle calling to her from the kitchen.

You promised yourself tonight would be different.   You woke up feeling strong, determined, your softly pounding head thumping a beat to your misery.  Not tonight, you swore to yourself.    No more. 

Then four o'clock comes around, and the kids are edgy, restless.   You can't bear to fetch one more snack, answer one more unanswerable question.   You are bored, exhausted and empty.    There is homework to be done, dinner to prepare, endless nighttime rituals to perform.    The thought of giving the kids a bath without the soothing effects of wine seems preposterous, cruel.

Just one, you say.   Just something to dull the edges.   You want to find that loving place, the one full of warmth and light.  

You don't drink the glass all the way down before you fill it up, just a little.   Then a little more.   Then one with dinner.   When your husband steps out of the room for a bit, you drink one down quickly.   Just one.

That soft warmth turns prickly; the kids won't go to sleep, your husband makes a remark that settles on you wrong.   Just another sip or two, to push back the edginess, only enough to get back to the soft place.

You notice the bottle is almost gone.   You've done it again.

Tomorrow, you are telling yourself.   Tomorrow will be different.   

I'm thinking about you tonight, because the tomorrows will keep coming.   And coming.   In their wake they will leave the shattered remains of broken promises to yourself.  Everyone's needs are met but yours; you are left empty-handed, helpless and scared.

You have a secret.  You are looking at the world through glass.   I know, because I've lived there, too.   You press your nose up against its cool, tear streaked surface and you wonder:   what is wrong with me?  

You are dancing on that thin line between keeping it all together and falling apart.    The world doesn't know, but you do.   

You know.

You have built a house of cards around the not-knowing, but you do know.   You do.

I don't drink and drive, I only drink at night, I only drink wine,  I'm not the one falling down drunk at a party, not like so-and-so.  I need to drink to be creative.  To socialize.  To be a more patient mother.   

You look at your life the way the world sees you, instead of looking from the inside out.   Through their eyes, you look fine.  If you look good through their eyes, you must be okay, right?   The world can't see the glass, so as long as you keep moving you can pretend it's not there.

You have created the perfect movie set - props artfully arranged to present the perfect picture.   

And you?  You are in the audience, at a safe distance, watching your life play out on the screen.

I'm thinking of you tonight, as I listen to the creaks and groans of my old house, and hear my dog's contended sigh as she settles down for the night.   The clock ticks softly; the refrigerator hums.    I am here, just listening.   Just being.  

I am sitting quietly in my cozy home, listening to the echos of the day.  This sounds so small, so insignificant.    But it's not small to me.  There is no glass, you see.    The glass is gone. 

How do you make it stop?  How do you make the endless tomorrows stop coming?  That is what you want to know.

You make the endless tomorrows stop coming by being in today.   It's the only today you've got.

You can opt out, disappear behind the glass, or you can feel it.   All of it. 

Listen to those things you tell yourself; examine each card in that house you've built.    Turn it over, really look at it, and ask yourself: is this about living my life, or about hiding from it?

After you've been living behind the glass it's frightening to be on stage with the starring role in your own life.  The glare of the spotlight, the endless eyes watching you, expectantly; it is all overwhelming.   It will make you want to hide.   You will feel raw, vulnerable, exposed, uncomfortable.   

But only for a while.    With time you stop seeing the spotlight, stop wondering what the eyes are thinking.  You will feel comfortable, just being.    It will happen.

In order to be free of the glass, though, you have to admit it's there, and that it is slowly suffocating you.

That's a good place to start.

  

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Who's There?

We're on day three of chilly, wind-blown, rainy days. 

In this space between the explosive beauty of the fall and the frenzied madness of the holidays, the world seems to hold its breath.

November in New England is when everything winds down, tucks into itself.   The days are stark and cold; the color bleeds from the sky, and the earth is swathed in shades of grey and brown:



We've been rushing around, barely stopping for a moment.  

Today is a stay-at-home day.. one of sniffles, mild fevers and warm blankets.

And, of course, knock knock jokes.  

Endless  knock knock jokes: 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Grace In Motion

She is my best friend.   I have known her for over thirty years, and she is as comforting and familiar to me as my own heartbeat.


I was lost in thought as I drove to her house yesterday.   The backdrop of a chilly, stark November day seemed fitting for what we had to do.   

She opened her door looking radiant.   These days she always looks radiant.   She is two and a half months sober.

~~~~

In August I dropped her off at a treatment center, and she began her journey into recovery from alcoholism.   As I drove away that morning, my insides twisted and churned with fear.  She seemed strong, determined, but then again she always seemed strong and determined.  It is her way.

She is woven into the fabric of my life; I couldn't imagine me without her.    She has to make it, I selfishly begged.   Please, please let her be okay

We are an improbable match, the two of us.   She was always the passionate, strong, street smart, fiery one.    I was the quiet, shy, introverted people pleaser.   She drank to have a good time.   I drank to feel normal, accepted.   

Booze got us both, in the end.

After I got sober three years ago, I wondered what would become of us.    It was hard to see her still drinking, still having a good time.   Selfish, petty thoughts took over:  we were the same, after all.   Why did I have to stop and she got to keep going?    

Then I started noticing things, worrying about her.   That bright spark in her eyes dulled, although her determination and drive never wavered.   She attacks life head-on; she always has.    I knew it would take a lot to bring her down.   

I wrote a post about how it felt to see a loved one in trouble, after having lunch with her last April.    I hadn't seen her in a while, but I knew, without a doubt, that booze had her in its grip.    She didn't deny it; she said she was being careful, keeping an eye on her drinking.  

I knew she had passed the point where keeping an eye on it mattered.   We are the same, after all.   She was in trouble, and I felt helpless.   If you can't save your best friend, who can you save?    

The answer is simple, and frustrating:  nobody.   You can't save anybody.   You don't have that kind of power, no matter how much you wish you did.

So I waited, and I prayed.   I let it go, and hoped that when and if the moment came and she wanted help, that I would be ready.   

That moment came two and a half months ago.   She was finally sick and tired of being sick and tired.  She faced a pile of personal and legal troubles, but I could see that wasn't why she wanted help.    She wanted help because she had lost herself, and she wanted to find herself again.

What I have witnessed over the past two and a half months is nothing short of a miracle.   She grabbed on to sobriety with both hands, and hung on for dear life.    She chased sobriety as hard as she ever chased anything, and that is saying something.   This is not a woman who backs down. 

She goes to at least one recovery meeting a day.  She found a network of support in her local recovery community.  She opened up, asked for help, and talked and talked and talked.    She faced her truths with dignity and humility.  She owned her role in her troubles, and stepped up to make her amends and pay her debts to society.   

She surrendered.  She got out of her own way, and let the people who love her step in and help.   

She is grace in motion.
~~~~

Yesterday we drove to another treatment center.   This time it was part of cleaning up her legal troubles: a mandatory two week inpatient stay.    I was worried about her.

"How are you doing?"   I asked, casting a glance over to the passenger seat.

"I'm okay," she said.  "I'm ready."

"This is going to be hard, I think," I replied. 

She was quiet a moment, and then spoke to me about acceptance.   We talked about how all things happen for a reason, and the hard part is getting out of the way so we can see the gifts that are present in the face of difficulty.  

"No matter what," she said, "it's going to be okay."  
~~~~

The rules are strict at the treatment center.   Patients bring their belongings in a large trash bag, and the list of prohibited items is long.    Her intake appointment was the first one of the morning.  I was not allowed to go in with her; she had to face this alone.   We sat quietly for a moment in the car, and then she took a deep breath, looked at me and said, "Okay, then.   I guess it's time."

I looked over at her, concerned, but she was smiling.   The bright spark is back in her eyes, and it shone with determination and acceptance.  

"You gotta get a picture of this," she joked, as she slung her trash bag over her shoulder.   

"Yeah, one for the Christmas card this year," I smiled, as I snapped her picture:



She strode confidently to the entrance, giggling to herself, ready to face whatever the next leg of her journey will bring.

She could have been bitter, angry and resentful.   She could have cursed her lot in life, raged against having to spend two weeks there when she's doing so well already.   

But she is a sober woman of grace and honor, and she can see the light inside the darkness, the lessons to be learned in the hard times.

My heart swelled with love and pride.    She is going to be okay, I thought.   She is okayWe are okay.





Friday, November 5, 2010

Happy Birthday, Finn - A Video for You

My baby is five on Tuesday.

Happy Birthday, sweetheart.

Words aren't big enough to describe how much you are loved, so I made you this: 



Love,

Mom, Dad & Greta

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Mothers and Drinking - What Do YOU Think?

Note from Ellie:   A good friend sent me this article, and I wanted to share it here.   It's an interview done by ParentDish with Working Mother's editor-in-chief, Suzann Riss, about an article they did on mothers, alcohol and prescription drug abuse.     Go here to read the series at Working Mother's website "Everybody Knows Somebody" (what is below is just an interview about the article, not the article itself, which is really interesting).   The quiz referenced in the interview is here.   

I'd love to hear what you think about this, too.   Please comment with your thoughts and observations.  Do you think that moms are turning more to alcohol and/or prescription drugs?   Do you believe the increased talk amongst moms about drinking, needing a drink, etc. is harmless fun or a sign of something deeper?   Do you agree or disagree that moms face unique hurdles when they struggle with drinking, due to the pressures moms face?   I'd love to hear more from all of you.

Here's the interview:

Is it "wine-o'clock" yet?" is a cry heard among many moms after a rough day with the kids, the boss and, in many cases, both.

But a new study says a startling number of working mothers are shifting from imbibing in an occasional glass of cabernet to downing drinks and popping borrowed Xanax to take the pressures off work and family life -- and they are hiding these addictions.

This drinking in the dark phenomenon is on the rise, according to a series of reports from Working Mother magazine, which found that 5.3 million women in the United States drink in a way that threatens their safety and that the number of women ages 30 to 40 who abuse alcohol has doubled over the past decade. What's more, one in four children has an addictive parent, according to the research.

"What was most startling is that these are women who appear to be in total control, they hold good jobs, their kids are doing well in school and they're not hanging out in bars at 2 a.m.," Suzann Riss, Working Mother's editor-in-chief tells ParentDish. "But they are dying inside and are in serious trouble. Their kids depend on them and addictions are progressive."

The survey also showed that 40 percent of the respondents drink to cope with stress and 57 percent of working moms reported they have misused prescription drugs. And both of these figures look set to rise, Riss says.

"Our biggest shock was that these women are successful at hiding their addictions," she tells ParentDish. "One woman we profiled hid hers for 20 years. But they have these secret lives where they are addicts. It's a subject no one talks about and most of them thought they were all alone."

The problem is more widespread than we think, Riss says. The magazine's series, "Everybody Knows Somebody," says fueling this rising health threat is the recession and the fact that more moms are the family breadwinners now than ever before.

"Another ripple effect of the bad economy is that working moms and wives have unprecedented stress on them," Riss, mom to 5-year-old Jack, says. "They don't know how to handle that stress. We're not saying that a glass of wine a night means you're in trouble, but we are talking about women who are dependent on alcohol or drugs and cannot make it through the day without them."

The impetus for the Working Mother series was the Diane Schuler story, Riss tells ParentDish. Schuler was the 36-year-old Long Island mother who, in July of 2009, drove down the highway the wrong way after 10 drinks and smoking marijuana. The accident took her life and the lives of her 2-year-old daughter and three nieces who were riding in her van, as well as three men who were in the SUV she hit. Her 5-year-old son was the sole survivor.

"When that story broke, we started to hear more and more rumblings about this as a real problem for working moms," Riss says. "We wanted to look more into these secret addictions and the secret lives of women who work right next to most of us in the workplace."

At the same time, a growing number of working moms who collectively experience "one of those days," have found a way to vent with a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek Facebook group called "OMG I so need a glass of wine or I'm gonna sell my kids."

With 110,000 members strong, working mom of two and founder Christine Trice of Sacramento, Calif., says the group was born out of "one of those mommy moments," and is meant to be a place where stressed-out moms can feel they are not alone and find solace in the fact "that we can laugh at ourselves and joke that we're having a bad day and need a glass of wine," Trice tells ParentDish.

"It's kind of a sisterhood of moms who can laugh at themselves and admit for a moment that it isn't easy to be a mom or a working mom," says Trice, who runs two businesses, Brown Bag Botanicals and The Belly Beautiful.

Trice tells ParentDish the group is "not meant to promote drinking, but to be the safe place where moms can admit it is stressful."

"My father was an alcoholic and I know all about the severed relationships and damage that can be done in a family from drinking," she says. "But I also know what happens when you stuff down that stress and feel like you are all alone and are a bad mom because you had a challenging day. That's why we're here to help moms know it's OK to say 'I'm having a horrible day.' "

So, what are the warning signs for when a glass of wine to take the edge off stress has turned into a full-on addiction? Women who drink eight or more drinks a week or four or more drinks a night are at a risk for addiction, Riss says. Working Mother has created a quiz to help working moms assess their drinking habits, or give clues to suspicions about co-workers and friend's you are concerned about.

"The bottom line, though, is that if you are worried that you have a problem, you probably do," Riss says.

The problem is compounded because women are more likely to hide addictions than men, Heidi Jacobsen, a licensed mental health counselor who works with prescription drug-addicted women at WestCare, an outpatient substance abuse treatment center in St. Petersburg, Fla., tells Working Mother.

"They're also less likely to seek treatment than men because they worry about the people who depend on them," she tells the magazine. "They can't lose their job, their home and their children."

The secrecy shrouding this growing health risk was one of the biggest challenges in creating the series of reports, Riss tells ParentDish.

"When we started doing this story, we could not get women to give their real names and we didn't want to do it that way," she says. "We are proud that we found courageous women to come out and start talking about this. Our hope is that women who are suffering silently will know they are not alone and that there is hope for recovery. They can get help and they can get better."

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Space Between

There is a space between the way the world sees you and the way you perceive yourself.   

It's not a place  you like to visit often, this in-between space, because it's where you tuck your private fears and insecurities.   It's also the place you park your unrealized hopes and dreams:  the way you want to be versus the way you actually are.

The in-between space is where your subconscious thoughts live.   They can be hard to see, these quiet plot lines, because you're so used to avoiding them that you mostly don't even know they are there.   This is the place where the subconscious thoughts you seek to avoid gain power over you without you knowing it.

Most of us, I think, dwell in an external space:  we focus on keeping up appearances, staying relevant, involved, active.  

We like to participate in thoughts and actions that bolster what we want the world to see.   It is so much harder to stop, withdraw, and examine ourselves in a private, truthful way.    If the outside looks good, why bother with the inside?

When I was drinking, I lived from the outside in.   If you were okay with me, I was okay with me.   End of story.   Alcohol took root in my life because I didn't want to face my private fears.   I didn't want to sit with my feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, boredom or anger.   Why would I?   After a few drinks those feelings got quieter; I could believe in the version of myself I presented to the world.

I lost myself in the chasm between the outside and the inside.   

It's very, very hard to stop and look at the in-between space.  Most of us don't examine it too closely unless we're forced to - if some external force stops us dead in our tracks.    Maybe it's a health problem, divorce, loss of a loved one, pressure from family or friends.  Perhaps we just get sick and tired of being sick and tired.   But it almost always takes a Defcon 5 alert for people to examine their inner self.  

Why would we?   Who has time?  Why go poking at the hornet's nest with a stick when everything is sailing along just fine?

I guess it's a choice, then.   Do you want to live an unexamined life?   Or not?

A friend of mine said to me the other day, "I feel like I'm missing everything that happens to me, even though I'm right there.  I'm so consumed with the next thing, always in a hurry, that I don't absorb anything that is right in front of me."

If you want to visit your in-between space, deprive yourself of the things you do to escape.  It may be staying busy all the time, a drink at the end of the day, a favorite television show, the computer, a bowl of ice cream at night or a cup of coffee first thing in the morning. 

Look at those things you do just because you always do them.    If you always volunteer for committees and activities, try saying no.   If you always watch television at night, try turning it off.    If you always read before you fall asleep, trying lying quietly in bed instead.     Instead of an hour on the computer, try an hour of meditation.

Your in-between space will show up the moment you stop.

I've been experimenting with meditation.  I say 'experimenting', because I don't really know what I'm doing.   I had noticed, though, that as soon as I was alone in the house, I became edgy, restless.  Both kids were off at school, my husband at work, and I would pace around my house, my thoughts racing about what to do next.  Laundry?  Jewelry orders?   Vacuuming?   Blogging?   Run errands?    I'd freeze like a deer in headlights, get overwhelmed, and start puttering away on the computer just to get out of myself.  

I didn't want to be alone with my thoughts, so I'd tweet, facebook, blog.  I just needed to be out in the world, projecting.  

So I tried stopping.   I found a quiet, sunny spot on the floor to sit and think, just to see what came up.

It wasn't pretty.  

All the things left undone descended upon me: the unreturned phone calls, the unmade jewelry orders, the unfilled-out forms, the unmade appointments, the messy house, the unfolded laundry.   Within seconds I was in that in-between space, where I tell myself ways in which I don't measure up:  I'm a procrastinator, I'm disorganized, I'm lazy.    My mind went right to those negative plot lines I feed myself.   When I distract myself, I don't have to think about them.   When I stop, they crush me.

My subconscious negative thoughts gain power when I don't practice looking at them.   They are the white-noise that clutter up my accomplishments, my serenity, my peace of mind, my gratitude.

I resolved to sit with them at least once a day.    I pondered why the negative, undermining thoughts showed up loud and clear, and the positive, peaceful ones evaporated?  

I think it is because what we refuse to look at actually gains power in the dark.    It has certainly been that way for me with drinking, eating, and insecurity.

Now, when I meditate, I try to cultivate an objective observer, one who doesn't put labels on emotions, who banishes judgment.    I'll feel panicky, thinking about all the ways I don't measure up, and my gentle observer will nudge me away from labeling myself.     Look at the panic, she'll say.  It's just a feeling.  Feelings are created in your head, it isn't who you are, it's just how you feel

It's a work in progress, to be sure.   As hard as it is to stop, meditate, cultivate the gentle observer, it's even harder to take her with me out into the world.    I'm working on that.

Something popped into my head as I meditated this morning, and it's kind of ironic:

The journey starts when you stop.



Note: Giveaway winner and this month's item in the post below this one... 

Monthly Giveaway - New Item!!

Congratulations to Piper, who won last month's giveaway!   Thank you to all who entered!

I'm giving away one of my new pieces this month - the Fly Away Home Necklace, made with Apatite semi-precious stones.   This necklace is near and dear to my heart, because Apatite is one of my favorite stones.  It is known as the "Stone of Acceptance", and it helps the wearer with healing, balance and seeing inner truth.



Click here to see this necklace listed in my Etsy shop, Shining Stones.

To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment below indicating you would like to participate.    Please provide and email address where you can be reached if you are the winner.  If you don't want to put your email, you can enter directly by emailing me at ellieandsteve@verizon.net.

This giveaway is open internationally.

The winner will be chosen at random on December 1st (my daughter picks a name out of a hat).  

Thank you!