Friday, November 30, 2012

Killing The Question Mark

I am sitting in my jewelry studio, which looks like a tornado went through it, although as I always say "It's an organized mess".  I know where everything is, and if someone came in and cleaned it up I'd be lost. 

I think that's just the way my artist brain works; it thrives on jumbles. Jumbles of thoughts, ideas, colors, textures, priorities, designs - the list could go on and on.

For the first time, ever, I'm owning my artistry. I have always said what I do with a question mark at the end, like "I make jewelry?" or "I write a blog?".   

I'm done with that. I have dreams, dammit, and that question mark is in the way.  Part of this new found existential enthusiasm is because of Brene Brown's book Daring Greatly - you all know I love me some Brene Brown - and I'm understanding, finally, that the key to  my artistry IS my vulnerability. What I produce, whether it is writing, jewelry or creating outlets for sober people to share community it comes from my heart.  And sometimes, I admit, it makes me feel very naked.  Or, more accurately, it makes my soul feel naked, and that's scary.  

And a blessing. So much of my life was spent people pleasing, or numbing out, or trying to force you to like me by being who I thought you wanted me to be. 

I am literally incapable of doing that anymore, and that is a miracle and a gift.  

I still struggle with Ego.  Maybe that's a good thing; the people I know who don't struggle at all with their Ego aren't very likable. I'm so afraid of coming across as an egomaniac that I run the other way and get all question-marky about my creativity, my business, my dreams.  

I fall into old patterns all the time.  Next week my mom and I are going to the Massachusetts Conference for Women.  Brene Brown will be a speaker (along with a world-class lineup, including Deepak Chopra as keynote speaker).  But I'm there mostly there to hear Brene speak. I even made my Mom read her book. 

I was chatting on the phone with my Mom the other day and she encouraged me to have a copy of my new book Let Me Get This Straight  to give to Brene in case I have the opportunity to get a signed book from her, or shake her hand, or something.  As she was suggesting this, I was shaking my head on the other end of the line.  No way, I thought. There is no way I could do that. It's egotistical and she must get inundated with books all the time and I could never, ever have the guts to promote myself like that. 

My Mom waited a polite beat, and said, "You just made me read this book about Daring Greatly and you won't do this?"  

I laughed. Of course she's right.   "At least have a business card ready to hand to her if you run into her in the ladies' room," she said. 

I had a screaming case of the "who do I think I am"s.  Why do I do that?  Why do so many of us do that?  Scott Stratton, who wrote the book Unmarketing , and who I heard speak at a conference once, has a great line: "do you know who I think I am?" 

I have the opposite problem, but I'm working on it.

It took every ounce of guts I had to promote my book, and to keep talking about it to people.  I really, really want to put a question mark at the end: "I put together a book?"  

But I won't.  I'm learning from some awesome, strong successful women around me - who also sometimes struggle to own their talent, their creativity - to kill the question mark.  We have to prop each other up sometimes.  Because I can see their talent shining from a mile away, and it breaks my heart when I see them down on themselves, and I do my best to set them straight.  Thankfully, they return the favor, too.

My good friend Jessica Bern (the truly amazingly funny and talented co-creator of Two Funny Brains and an internet series currently in production called BlogThat) ordered some jewelry from me the other day, and I sent her the price and then said, "Is that okay?"

Here is her response:  "that is fine although do not ask another customer if your price is "okay" again. You hear me? Your price is your price. If they don't want to pay, fuck em."

THAT is a good friend. 

Daring Greatly is HARD, because you have to be ready for "No", or to have your expectations not met, or to feel small or less than is some way.  The reward, though, is the feeling that you're out there swinging, no matter what.  And that you can't force anyone to do anything for you - like buy your book, read your blog, buy your jewelry - if they don't want to.  It would be nice to have that kind of control over people, but I'm just not that powerful.

My precious Ego gets me into a lot of trouble.

So I'm bringing a business card (I won't have a copy of my book yet - or as my Mom put it "If God wants Brene Brown to have a copy of your book it will arrive before December 6th") to the conference and going to the restroom a lot.  You know, in case she's in there.   

Dreams have been launched from odder places, I'm sure.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Let Me Get This Straight (My New Book!)

I get all my good ideas from Heather.

I just want to get that out there right up front.  She published an ebook with the best of her Just Write posts, and my brain immediately began to tick, tick, tick.

I have wanted to publish my blog posts - a best of compilation - for some time now, but I haven't been able to find an affordable format that a luddite like me could actually use to make a book.

Until now

And it's a real book.  It has a cover and everything (softcover - because I know you all love me but I know  you don't $50 love me).   It looks really cool.

There is a preview that shows you the first 15 pages of the 150 page book.   The posts are in chronological order, from my very first post all the way through this year.  Just the best ones (in my humble opinion). 

You can purchase it as a softcover book, a pdf download or an eBook.  

The softcover price may seem high, but I'm not making very much money on it. I guess that's just what it costs to produce a COLOR softcover book independently.  Did you notice it has COLOR pictures?  

I would love if it some of you would purchase the actual book, and it could, like, sit on your bookshelf looking cool. And you could also, you know, read itAnd you could have friends over and point to it and say, "See that book?  Yeah. Friend of mine."  

Because if you've been reading this blog for a while - if you've hung in there through the stories of my drinking and recovery, the loss of my Dad, my cancer journey and the everyday trials and joys of life, you are my friend.

Profits from the book sales are going towards funding my dual heart projects:  Crying Out Now and The Bubble Hour.  I know those sites are making a difference, and I want to keep building them, getting the word out to more people, but I've reached the limits of what I can afford to do on my own.

Besides, it's a GREAT gift idea.  If I do say so myself.  

The title is a play on words - do you get it?  Let Me Get This Straight?  (Straight as in not drunk..) It's a lyric from a song by Griffin House called Ordinary Day, and when I heard the song five years ago when I was newly sober and struggling, I thought: I'm going to name a book that, some day. 

And now I have.

The eBook and pdf versions are only $9.99, so if you don't thirty-two dollars love me (for the softcover ... but did I mention it's really cool?) you can order the electronic copies and enjoy them on your PC (pdf version) or Mac product (eBook version).

Click "play" below for a preview, and then on the links below to go to my online bookstore to purchase whichever version you'd like. 

And, as always, if you could help me spread the word I would appreciate it SO MUCH.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday Sale and The Bubble Hour

I hope you all had a Happy Thanksgiving!

I have a few bits of business to talk to you about today!

The first is I'm having a ONE DAY only Black Friday 10% off sale (ends today, Nov. 23rd at midnight).  Shop for Holiday gifts without even leaving your chair!

To make it even easier, I've made a whole section of my shop with fifty (50!) Holiday Gift Ideas.  Click here to view them.  Here is a sampling of items available in my shop:

To take advantage of the 10% off Black Friday sale, select the item(s) you wish to purchase, and during the checkout process you will see a place to enter a coupon code, and enter: blackfriday12

Just a reminder that shipping is ALWAYS FREE in my shop.  Even internationally.

For those of you who are newsletter subscribers, you already have your own special discount, and you can continue to take advantage of that until November 30th.

If you're not a newsletter subscriber and you want access to these special discounts (a new one each month) enter your email in the widget on the right hand sidebar that says "Subscribe to Shining Stones' Newsletter", and click here.  After you enter your email on the form YOU NEED TO VERIFY YOUR ACCOUNT BY GOING TO YOUR EMAIL.  (I wrote that in full caps because lots of people forget this last step and then get upset with me that they didn't get their newsletter).    I only send them once a month or if I have a special announcement, which happens very rarely (although I do have one coming up, probably in January, as I'm working on a super secret project).

Lastly, I am really excited about a new endeavor I'm working on with the fabulous Lisa N.  It's for Crying Out Now, and we have created a radio "show" that is available to listen to on Crying Out Now, or as a podcast!  So far we only have two episodes, but we'll be doing them at least weekly, so expect many more!

The show is called The Bubble Hour (you need to listen to Episode 1 to find out why it's called the Bubble Hour :), and the concept behind it is to create another tool for people who are trying to get or stay sober to use during those tougher hours of the day.  During the witching hour, for example, if you're craving a drink and just want to hear comforting words from sober women you can identify with, click on a podcast or two and listen away!  Stick your ear buds in and listen while you're cooking dinner!

There are two ways to listen.  You can go to this tab here on CON's website, and it will direct you to how to listen on Blog Talk Radio's website.

Or you can subscribe to our podcast by following these instructions:

Go to iTunes, click on menu item "Advanced" and click on "Subscribe to podcast" and enter the following URL: 

Then go to your personal iTunes account, under podcasts, and you will see all episodes in the The Bubble Hour podcast list.

So there we have it!  A way to save some money on your holiday shopping, and a cool new podcast!  

I'd love it if you'd help me spread the word about both by Facebooking or Tweeting about this, not just for the Black Friday sale but also for the podcast - you may not even know who you'd be helping.  

Thanks so very much, as always, for all your support.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

On Shavasana, Stones, Memories and Giving Thanks

I go to an awesome yoga class at the Cancer Support Community near my house.  Due to factors outside my control (Greta's tonsils, a hurricane and my own bronchitis) I hadn't been in a month.

I practically sprinted to class.

At the end of class, we prepared for Shavasana (where you get as comfortable as you can, listen to calming music and meditate).  Gail, our teacher, passed out little flat stones we placed in between our eyes or on our heart, dimmed the lights, and turned on some classical music.

Immediately, my heart jumped into my throat; Pachelbel's Canon in D floated through the room, and I was transported back to my wedding day. My Dad walked me down the aisle to this song.

As I listened to the music, every sense felt electrified.  I could smell my Dad's scent: an Old Spice, manly-yet-fatherly smell. I felt the muscles flexing in the crook of his arm, as I held on for dear life (I was so nervous/excited my knees were shaking).  I tasted a small salty tear on his cheek, even though he was smiling from ear to ear, as I planted a light kiss on his cheek and he placed my hand in Steve's.

Tears started rolling gently down my cheeks; I was grateful for the darkened room.  I miss my Dad so much, and as the holidays approach he's on my mind even more.  Thanksgiving in particular, I think, because I miss his steadfast presence at the head of the table, his strong back carving the turkey with antique utensils used by his own father.  Last year at Thanksgiving we were reeling from my cancer diagnosis, and to be honest I barely remember any of it.  I know I was grieving, but I was also terrified and absorbed in my imminent treatment, so the grief was numbed by fear.

This year, the grief feels loud and pointy.

I lay on my comfy mat, with the cool stone pressing its comforting weight between my eyes, and I cried for a minute or two.  Then I prayed. Instead of indulging too much in my grief, I honored him as best I could.  The tears dried up, and I found myself with a tiny smile at the corners of my mouth as Gail turned the lights back up, slowly, and brought us to a sitting position for a reading.

I was blown away by what she read, and after a year of hardship and blessings, it seemed like she was reading it just to me.  It's called, simply, "Be Thankful", and the author is unknown:

Be thankful that you don't already have everything you desire. 
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don't know something, 
for it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for your limitations,
because they give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.

Be thankful for each new challenge, 
because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes.
They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you're tired and weary,
because it means you've made a difference.

It's easy to be thankful for the good things. 
A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who
are also thankful for the setbacks.

Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles, 
and they can become your blessings.

I was holding the stone in my hand, feeling how it had warmed from my body heat, when Gail mentioned there is a word on each stone.  

My word made me smile, given that tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  My stone said:  INDULGE.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  May your life be filled with the richness of gratitude and love.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

On Creativity. And Monkeys.

One of the things I used to love about drinking is that it got me out of my own head.

My brain, like so many other alcoholics, is constantly jabbering away at me.  I don't think you need to be an alcoholic to have this brain. I'm sure perfectionists know what I'm talking about, as well as people who struggle with obsessive/compulsiveness, anxiety or depression.

These are all diseases of the mind; you can become imprisoned in your own head.

For so many years I turned to an unhealthy outlet to turn down the volume.  Alcohol, to me, felt like a magic elixir that erased all the background noise, and made the world focus into one beautiful point.

It took me years to realize that peaceful, relaxed space lasted for maybe half an hour, if I was lucky, before it turned on me and the restlessness and anxiety returned.  Because I'm an alcoholic (although I didn't know it then), I kept drinking and drinking, trying to get back to that warm, fuzzy place.

It's the reason getting sober is so hard. All the mental madness you thought you were keeping at bay with alcohol comes flowing in like a rushing river.  It takes time for the brain to retrain its pleasure pathways.  You need to fill the hole left with alcohol with healthy distractions.

In early sobriety I read a LOT. I slept a LOT. I watched tons of crappy, funny television - anything that held my attention but didn't make me think too much.  I made an upbeat play list on my iPod and went for long walks. I went to recovery meetings.  Little by little, I had glimpses of a peaceful brain.

When I found jewelry making, though, I found my new drug of choice.  Newly sober, I used to prowl the aisles of crafting stores like I used to prowl the aisles of liquor stores, searching madly for something that would catch the attention of the mad yammering monkeys in my brain.

Cupped Flower Ring
After failed attempts at painting, knitting and even needlepoint, one day I glimpsed a little beading kit at Michaels, a cheap little plastic box filled with polished stone beads and stretchy cording.   My heart skipped a beat; I knew in an instant I had found my thing.

For the first year of my sobriety I made jewelry alcoholically.

I stayed up into all hours of the night trying new techniques, obsessively watching YouTube tutorials to learn new techniques (I didn't have the patience to take a class, are you kidding me?).

Swivel Pendant - Stamp on both sides!
My little Etsy shop grew, and before I knew it almost every day I had an order, something to create for someone else.   Suddenly, I found myself with a part-time job I could do from home.  I didn't do it on purpose.  As I find is true about so much in my life, the Universe had plans for me that I couldn't have foreseen. Left up to me I would have been far to insecure to shoot for anything as lofty as selling something I made.

Wide Stamped Ring - Hand Hammered or Smooth
So here I am, four years later, and I work 25-35 hour weeks (more than that during the busy seasons),  making orders, perfecting new techniques and losing myself in creativity.

In the coming weeks, there are going to be some announcements about my shop - some changes are afoot. I'm really excited about the direction it's going.  And what I love the most is that I don't feel like I'm running the show. Business ideas and jewelry designs come to me out of nowhere; they wake me up in the middle of the night, shooting into my subconscious brain like little meteorites.

Cupped Heart Ring
I am so grateful.  The ability to create has saved my sanity more than once. Making jewelry while going through cancer treatments was another way to get out of my head, away from the fear.

One thing I can announce now is that I am making hand stamped rings.  If you're a Facebook friend of mine, you've already been inundated with my posts about how excited I am about these.

They are a terrific gift idea, or for a hint to someone to give to you!  And for the month of November ONLY  I am having a sale on all hand stamped jewelry, teacher gifts and I've even made a section of my store full of over 35 holiday gift ideas (and adding more daily).

"There is a crack in everything; that is how the light gets in" 

The only catch is you have to be a newsletter subscriber to find out how to get the 15% discount (and every month I send out new promotions and discounts for newsletter subscribers only.  I only send them once [or sometimes twice if I have a special announcement] a month and I will never share your email with any third party).

Stacking Rings
To sign up, look for the "Sign up for my newsletter" tab on the right hand sidebar. Enter your email, and then CHECK YOUR EMAIL TO VERIFY or you won't get the newsletter.   Or you can try clicking here  (but please remember to verify your subscription in your email).

Steely Sapphire Stretchy Ring

So stop on by and check on my new pieces, if you want.  I'm mentioning all this now (I know, I don't want to think about holiday shopping either) because the stamped/soldered rings take 1-2 weeks to process and deliver, so if you're considering one as a gift for someone (or for yourself) you should order soon (especially if you are a subscriber and have the discount!).

Customizable stamped necklace - use any words! 
I can't wait to announce the changes that are coming (hopefully soon) but rest assured the jabbering monkeys in my brain are really, really happy.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Cancer: One Year Later. A Year In Pictures

Almost a year ago, I wrote this about the day I found out I had cancer.

Tomorrow, November 14th, my daughter goes back to school after her tonsillectomy, exactly one year from the day I had my tonsillectomy and the doctors found the tumor.

The Universe has a strange sense of humor, sometimes.

Last November 14th, I had four days left of blissful ignorance of not-knowing.  In my heart, I was pretty sure I knew, but there was still the chance my heart was wrong.

So, a year ago I was living out my last pre-cancer days, and it's got me thinking about how my life has changed.  How I've changed.

I say my last pre-cancer days, because I understand, now, that even if I stay in remission for the rest of my life, that I am forever changed by the diagnosis.  Cancer is no longer a death sentence, thank God, but it is a life sentence, of sorts.  Because once you've had cancer you are never the same again.

I looked back over the past year and a huge part of me didn't understand how we got through it.

Then last week I was searching through some pictures - looking for photos for Finn's birthday video - and I found some memories I had forgotten about. Things that at the time I swore I'd never, ever forget.

There was the one taken the day I had my feeding tube put in:

I was scared and feeling about as low as I had during the whole cancer ordeal that day.  I was on the verge of tears, full of fear, and my cell phone beeped that I had a message.  Heather and some amazing friends had put together this video for me. It arrived - quite literally - just exactly when I needed it

There was a picture taken of my neck at the worst of the radiation:

I remember I chose not to post this at the time it was taken, because even I didn't want to acknowledge how badly I felt (the white bits are pieces of a compress I had on it to cool it down).

As I found myself staring, awestruck, at this picture, I remembered exactly how I got through it.

I was supported by so many people - friends who brought meals, gave rides, the unflagging support of my mother, even in the early months of adjusting to life without my Dad.  Steve's steadfast and loving presence, constantly asking: what can I do? what do you need?  Help from amazing, loving babysitters that took care of my kids just like I would have. Maybe even better.

And then, of course there were the kids.  Their certainty that I would be okay, because I had to be okay, fueled my strength to fight when I could, and let go when I should.  They were constant "you can do it" cheerleaders. Kids have such a pure way of processing difficulty, and it rubbed off on me, helped me fight the battle one moment at a time.

There were some pictures of the little notes Greta would leave me in my prayer box, to lift my spirits and give me strength during the worst of days:

Finn and Greta, with the help of a babysitter (Hi Lindsey if you're reading this!) made a pillow case with their picture on it, and colored it with loving messages and words of hope

Lindsey and the kids also put together a scrapbook to cheer me up:

When Lindsey went back to college, I was scared that everything was going to fall apart, because she left just as my treatments were getting really tough.  But the Universe was still smiling on me, and along came Nikki, who was just as fabulous as Lindsey and cared for the kids every afternoon for weeks:

Nikki and the kids

And then there was "the chart"; a spreadsheet Steve put together (complete with graphics) to track my medications, my mood, my pain scale, my food intake and my, er, regularity (yes, that is a poop giving a thumbs up you see there in the upper right hand corner):

I still have the cards of support and encouragement I received from friends and family.  I read through them every now and then, when I'm having a moment of doubt, or fear, before a doctor's appointment or a scan, and I remember that I didn't get through cancer.

WE did.

That's how cancer changed me the most. I evolved from someone who had to fight all her own battles, be in control of as much of her life as she could (even though I would have sworn to you on a stack of Bibles that I was not this way), to someone who was humbled and grateful for the all the love and support.

I admit, I fought it at first.  I didn't want to be the sick person, who couldn't care for her family, cook a meal or drive herself.

Once the pain and fatigue kicked in full force, though, I was overcome with gratitude.  There is NO WAY I could have gotten through everything without all the support.

One last picture, taken last Thanksgiving. I knew I had cancer when this was taken, but that week we had heard the words "treatable and curable", and so we were filled with hope, despite the underlying fear.  I look into our faces and part of me thinks: thank God we didn't know what was coming.  But another part me looks back and thinks:  you have no idea, yet, how many people love you and your family. You don't appreciate, yet, how lucky you really are.

Today, I do.  I know how lucky we are.  I live more in the moment than I ever have, even though it took a boatload of fear, anxiety and resistance to get there.

I think this quote sums it up well:

Friday, November 9, 2012

Seven - A Birthday Video for Finn

He came running up the driveway yesterday, after getting off the bus, his backpack bouncing behind him.

"MOMMA!"  he yells, a big grin on his face. "I GROWED!"

I embraced him as he chattered on excitedly, "I used to be the second tallest in the class, and now suddenly today I'm TALLEST!"

This doesn't surprise me. At 6 years and 364 days old, he weighs over 50 pounds and is over 4 feet tall. He wears a size 3 shoe.

Long gone are the days of his cute little accent, where Rs were Ws.  We called it his Boston accent.  I miss it.

He is quick with a smile and a joke, and seems to make friends wherever he goes.  It doesn't matter if we're at church, the supermarket, the playground or just any old store, he always whispers to me "look over there, Momma, I know her!"  For all of his gregariousness, he's shy.  Kids rush up to give him a hug, or a hello, and he giggles and hides behind my legs.

Despite his size, he's still a snuggle-bug. He manages to curl up all 50" of himself into my lap and rest his head on my shoulder with regularity.

He inherited his impishness from his Dad, and his love for shortcuts from his Mom.  He is the King of "it wasn't me!".  I can literally catch him in the act of doing something wrong, like putting his feet on the dinner table, and he'll peer at me over his grimy bare toes and say with as much innocence as he can muster, "I'm NOT doing it, Momma!"

He has a huge heart, always looking out for a kid who seems nervous, shy or anxious. He's loyal and reliable, always quick to give people the benefit of the doubt.

He loves to laugh.  This morning I wished him a Happy Birthday, and he told me about a dream he had last night where he opened a huge present and it was a box full of gold.  Then he threw his head back, laughed and said, "but that's not likely to happen, is it?"

Yesterday he said, with a sly grin on his face, "There's some sort of smell situation going on in this house, and I'm trying to get to the bottom of it."

I wondered, when he was born, if I'd be able to raise a boy with as much confidence as I raise Greta. Well, at least I got her, even when my parenting skills feel rusty.

But it turns out I get him, too.  He wears his heart on his sleeve, so quick to love and laugh, and I feel like he's the one teaching me, most of the time. How to take things in stride, not make more of anything than I need to.

He loves to rub my arm and say, "Everything's okay, Momma.  I promise."  I look into his big, grinning face and I know he's right.

Everything is just the way it's supposed to be.

Happy 7th Birthday, Finn.  We love you to pieces:

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Failed Pregnancies, Fear and New Babies in Arms - TRIGGER WARNING

***Submitted by S

TRIGGER WARNING:  this post is about pregnancy lo

I don’t want to talk about being pregnant. 

My pregnancies were not particularly enjoyable experiences. I don’t want to talk about the swelling, the hip pain, or the hemorrhoids; the nausea, the enormous boobs, or the constant fatigue.

I don’t want to talk about the fear of loss, of how it felt to have my tiny baby swish inside me, while being afraid that something might pull us apart.
I don’t want to think about my friend's baby who died late in pregnancy when his umbilical cord wrapped too tightly around his neck, or of the babies who simply fall out through a weak cervix, too young to survive.

The three pregnancies my husband and I lost all happened very early- around week five. The doctor referred to them as “failed pregnancies,” and not miscarriages.
Two of these happened before our first child, Emberly, was conceived, and were for me more about the loss of the title of “mother,” than the actual loss of a child. For the small window of time that I saw two lines on the stick, I had the potential to become something great.

And then that potential was gone, washed down the toilet.
When I was pregnant with Emberly, part of me didn’t want a baby shower. I was afraid that something bad might happen. I didn’t want to have a room full of gifts that I might have to return, reminding me of how close I had come.

The part of me that held onto hope was bigger, though, and I did have one. Afterward, I set up the crib and put away the baby things. 
One friend had brought me some scented pouches that I put in Emberly’s closet. When I think about this time of waiting, with my swollen belly and the hope of new life kicking inside me, I see an empty room, sunlight filtering through the windows, a crib just waiting for a tiny newborn to take up residence, and I smell the warm and powdery sweetness of those pouches.
Emberly came. When the doctor handed her to me, wet, with a towel wrapped around her, she looked right at me. I touched her tiny purple fingers, and rubbed the rough towel against her soft skin to wipe off some of the wetness. I looked into the eyes of my daughter, and in that moment, became a mother.

Later, I birthed a son, Breckin, and became a new kind of mother. 
I have three sisters and no brothers, so I imagined having a boy would be difficult or strange. So far, it isn't. Breckin didn't look into my eyes, but he did started nursing the night he was born, and he and I were able to bond in a way that Emberly and I hadn't.
I didn’t want to talk about these struggles, but I think I needed to. 

They brought me to where I am- a place that is so wonderful, and irritating, and all-encompassing, and that makes me vulnerable to so much more loss- yet that I wouldn’t leave for anything in the world. 

I am a mother. 

And that is something I want to talk about.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I Hear You - A Call for Help From NJ in The Wake of Hurricane Sandy

"We are in the affected area of NJ hard hit by Sandy. Could use a post if you have any with encouraging words for those of us struggling not to drink during this extremely trying time. Any words of reflection and encouragement would be most helpful to us who feel like we are on an island floating in the tumultuous waves of uncertainty. Many of us are insulated from the news reports that are depicting the reality we are living. I am in an area that still has no power and am a nurse who has been working around the clock to provide care at a level 3 trauma center. I manage a level 3 intensive care Neonatal ICU. We are still in crisis mode since last week and don't see an end in sight. It even feels good just to vent here to someone who understands"

Her words come to me through the vast expanse of the internet, sitting in my Inbox today.  Though she is only a few states away from me, she may as well be on another planet.   I close my eyes and try to imagine my house surrounded my mud, water and debris, and having that be the least of my concerns; the top priority, of course, being the safety and well being of my family.

I can't imagine it.  I can't imagine family treasures lost to floods. I can't imagine a week without power and no end in sight - the spoiling food, the pets, and where do you sleep?  How to keep strong for your children when you're full of fear yourself?

I can't imagine the sights and smells and sounds she's experiencing in the NICU.  Where the smallest of the small struggle to exist even in the best of circumstances.  I can't imagine that weight on my shoulders.

I'm touched by her words that it helps to vent to someone who understands, because my words of advice and/or encouragement seem so small in the face of all this hardship.

But then I realize she's reaching out to me as a sober sister.  This part I do understand.  How do you stay sober when the world is pressing down on you, making you suffocate with boredom or responsibility or tragedy? 

Because a drink is the only way to hide from yourself, to lift the burden of being in your own mind, even temporarily.  

This part, I understand. I think most of us do, and not just alcoholics, either.  Normal Ordinary Regular People (whom I fondly call "NORPS") drink, a lot of the time, for that same little release.  That whoosh of freedom from mental anguish, stress, anxiety or boredom.

When you're sober, this particular mental trap door is no longer an option for you.  Because if you're a surrendered alcoholic, you know you won't stop at one and then you won't be of any use to anyone, least of all yourself.

So I DO understand. She's triggered, and looking around at the ruins of the life she knew before the storm make the reasons not to drink become smaller and smaller.  She's asking me to remind her why a drink is a bad idea, or how to get through this sober.  Because that's what we do for each other.

There are the more commonplace (some say trite) words of advice like "this too shall pass" - all bumper-stickery and can only serve to aggravate and enrage someone in the throes of wanting a drink.  Because when you're in the grips of a craving, it feels like it will never pass.  When you're in the grips of tragedy, it feels like life will never be set right again.

And maybe it won't ever be the same.  Maybe you're sailing toward a new normal, one you can't begin to envision right now. One where you rolled up your sleeves in the face of tragedy and did your best.  Your sober, present, anxious, stressed and sometimes victorious BEST.  You didn't hide in a drink, because you're needed.  By strangers and family alike, you're needed, and that's part of what makes you want to hide.

So I'm here to say I HEAR YOU.  When the rest of the world wants something from you, all I want for you is to get through this moment, and then the next, until the moments pile up, the waters recede and life slowly pieces itself back to its new normal.  If you disappear in a drink, you may never come back. You'll recede with the flood waters, little by little, until you're barely recognizable to yourself.

When this passes - and it WILL pass, no matter how frustrating it sounds at the moment - you will look back with pride, sorrow and peace of mind that you DID it. You got through.  Sober.  You're out there fighting more than one battle - you're fighting the elements and the lack of power and the darkness and the water and keeping young babies alive, and you're fighting your demon at the same time.

I think that makes you the bravest person in the world at the moment.  I hope that's what you need to hear. Because I can't do any more than tell you I think you are incredible - truly - and an inspiration to every single person out there batting back their urge to drink without flood waters around there ankles. 

Take a deep breath, my sister, and be proud. I am proud of you. We are all rooting for you, and everyone standing shoulder-to-shoulder with you during this difficult time.

I. Hear. You.  And you have inspired me in ways mere words can't express.  

Thank you.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

On Being The Mom

"Okay, Mom," chirps the nurse, "here are your scrubs; you can go change there, with Greta, and meet us in the prep room shortly".

We're up early (5:45am) for Greta's tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy, which is taking place back at the very same hospital where I had my cancer related surgeries over the past year.  It's one of the best hospitals in the world, and for this I am grateful, but the flashbacks are still startling.  

I help Greta into a cute hospital johnny with 'tired little tiger' written all over it.  She is quiet, contemplative, but doesn't seem nervous. 

I pull on my blue scrubs and she giggles. "Doctor Mom," she says.

Trying to keep the atmosphere light, but realistic, I prattle on about what she should expect. The "rolling bed" (stretcher) and the bright lights of the Operating Room.   How the scariest part is lying on the operating table waiting for the anesthesia to kick in.  How it feels like you just blink your eyes and it's over.  

"Okay, Mom," she whispers. I can tell the nerves are building, but she's handling them like a champ.

"Are you ready, Mom?" the nurse chirps again.  "Let's get her onto this comfy rolling bed and head on down to the OR."

Only one parent is allowed to scrub up and go into the operating room. Steve waits in the same waiting room he sat and waited for me, three times.  We picked me to accompany her because I know the drill so well, but I have to work hard to keep my poker face. 

There is a slight delay before they can wheel her down the hall, so we stand there for about five minutes - Greta on the stretcher and me silently holding her hand.  I hear a sniff and look down to see silent tears running down her face.

"It's okay to be scared," I say, leaning close.  

She nods.  

"I was scared at this point, too, so I remembered that I was in the best hospital in the whole world for operations on ears, noses and throats.  People come from all around just to have surgery here."

She wipes her eyes. "Even Egypt?"

"Yes, even Egypt," I reply.

"What about Transylvania?" she quips, and I look down to see a sly grin on her face.  My heart swells at her bravery, and how she uses humor to deflect fear, just like her Momma.

Eventually we roll on down the hall, and I can feel her shaking a little.  Doubts creep into my mind; is this surgery really necessary?  I know in my heart it is, but now that we're here I want to say never mind.  Having had my tonsils out so recently, I know what recovery is like (albeit easier for kids) and voluntarily putting my kid through pain feels a bit barbaric to me at the moment.

"Okay, Mom," says the anesthesiologist.  "I need to speak to you over here for a sec."   

It occurs to me that I've been addressed exclusively as 'Mom' for the past hour.

I'm the Mom.

When did I become the Mom?  Suddenly it seems impossible that I'm in charge. Of anything, letting alone electing to let my kid have surgery.  

"She'll roll her eyes back and convulse a bit when the anesthesia kicks in," she explains. "That's totally normal."

My stomach does flip-flops. I want to run from the room.  I don't know that I can do this. I know I will, but I don't want to.  

"Once she's under you can take her stuffed animal and go to the waiting room," she explains.  "Don't worry, Mom. You're doing great."

I step over and hold Greta's hand as they slip the mask over her face and start the flow of cherry-flavored anesthesia.  She's awake longer than I thought she'd be -- first looking uncertainly at me, then blinking slowly, and then her eyes roll back and she gives a shudder.  

And she's out. 

Logically, I know she's going to be okay.  But witnessing that makes it seem like she just died right in front of me.  

"She's just fine, Mom," says the nurse.  "We'll be out to let you know how it went shortly."

I grab Bushy the Dog and head out to the waiting room.  On my way back down the hall I think of the parents with chronically ill kids who have to do this all the time. I think of how much better Greta will feel when this is all over and she's healed, how much better she will sleep.  I grope for gratitude, because I can feel myself slipping into a selfish kind of fear.  

Everywhere I look are memories of my own ordeal, and I have to remind myself that was my ordeal, not Greta's, and today is about her, not me.

Fifty minutes later I'm next to her in the recovery area as her eyes flutter open.  

"When will the operation happen?" she asks, and I smile and tell her I said the same thing when I came out of anesthesia.  

"It's all over, and you did great," I tell her.  "All the nurses said so."

She clutches Bushy in one hand and my hand in the other as she drifts in and out of sleep. 

"Good job, Mom," says the nurse.

I'm the Mom. I'm her Mom.  I get to be her Mom.  

I am so lucky.