No, Deb, We’re Actually Not Playing in the Same Sandbox

I’ve written about the long period of time when my kids were young when a few businesses my husband was involved with simultaneously combusted – leaving our lives scattered in pieces to salvage the best we could.  So I won’t bore you with the story again except to reference an odd phrase one of my husband’s employees repeatedly used in conversation with me to convey – I am not sure what – “We’re all playing in the same sandbox!” she would exclaim every time she saw me.  Um….was it solidarity?  Compassion?  Manipulation?  Honestly, it annoyed me because we were SO NOT in the same “sandbox,” figuratively or literally.  There were disastrous and long-term financial and professional consequences from the partnerships and businesses that fell apart that affected many people – just not so much “Deb.”  The memory of this strange interaction tumults my consciousness back to a feeling of deep isolation.  And that’s when the addictive thinking began.

I mention this because I want to talk about trust and friendship and understanding.  These are the best contexts for me to share with you that recently I chose to have a couple of glasses of wine.  Relapse.  That’s what my Therapist calls it.  I think that is a brutal word, especially since some of the recovery literature and support groups make it sound so hauntingly awful – and shameful.  I am not ashamed that I wanted 2 glasses of wine ….. twice lately …. and that I gave in to my desire.  My Therapist wants to make sure I understand that the “relapse happens in the thinking a long time before the behavior” – and I do.  I will be honest, both times I drank I felt utterly terrible physically for 2 days after.  Nor did I get the “fun buzzed” feeling I recollected and longed for.  Just swallowing a sugary drink in hopes of recapturing a feeling of escape.  But the feeling never came and the after effects were awful.  So I don’t think I will be doing it again.  Yet my Therapist and I both want to know why I did it.

Isolation and not feeling connected are the roots of my addiction.  When I look around at the true friendships, real connections, and budding feelings of purpose I have at this perfectly awkward midlife time of life, what I have is good.  REALLY good.  I just don’t seem to want to accept it, if that makes sense.  My friend Shelley, a dear old friend with whom I have recently reconnected, helped me see something about myself glaringly obvious to her:  my addiction must have somehow also been driven by the desire to escape from the natural physical changes women experience in midlife. Yes, Shelley, yes! You are right!  Her compassion, insightfulness and kindness led to tears streaming down my face when she said:  “You are probably just now, in your sobriety, learning to accept your body and wrinkles for what they are while other women your age have had more time to adapt.”  Bingo.  I’ve written about taking dexedrine (pure speed prescribed by a doctor) for (I can’t even remember the bs diagnosis – something like “unresponsive depression”).  I was super skinny then.  Now I am hungry all the time.  But if you compare my overall health today to what it was during my skinny and addicted years – I am far healthier, though more plump, today.  Shelley is helping me understand “you are not supposed to look like you did 25 years ago.”  My body today is not a “mistake.”

I think comparison is the reason why I relapsed.  “Everyone else” is having so much fun drinking and having fabulous bodies.  I hope you are laughing because I am!  Our addictions will tell us lies about ourselves and others all day long if we let them.

What will I do now?  I will work harder to accept and love myself.  I have learned so many things from this journey but it takes time and effort to put it all into daily practice. Drinking is and always will be a problem for me.  When I drink, I am not my authentic self and it is difficult for me to get back to that.  Some of today’s “spiritual junkies” tout that “Calm is my superpower.”  And that sounds attractive.  I want it.  Like sobriety, I will do anything to get it and keep it.  Now back to work.

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The Dog Days of Missing Boo

In 18 days, she’s coming back home for the summer!!!  It is a triumph to have survived the most dreaded event of my life.  I could not help but project onto my daughter my personal feelings about being away from home for the first time, so I caused myself infinitely more suffering this year than she ever came close to experiencing.  It’s what I do.

During her time away, my daughter has fully embraced her new experiences.  She’s in a great sorority, she participated in variety shows and charity events, she travelled to other college campuses, she has made wonderful friends, and she has her own separate identity that is hers and hers alone.  Her Dad and I are extremely humbled and proud.  And somehow, through all of it, my heart got BIGGER, not smaller, and we got closer, not more distant.

When my college Freshman daughter was in kindergarten, we BOTH hated it so much I had a countdown calendar in the kitchen that we eagerly scratched off the days leading up to the long-awaited summer break.  I think I hated kindergarten more, come to think of it, because my Isa spent the following summer writing letters to her teacher who was helping her husband heal from cancer.  That’s my girl, she stays connected to the people she cares about.  I should have known the “break” for college would not be an actual break, as my heart feared.

This is my message to all the Moms who are now in my shoes, anticipating (perhaps dreading) their child’s first year of college and what lies ahead:

  • Whatever groundwork has been laid before college holds the parent/child bond together;
  • In spite of whatever fears you may have from your past, your child is eager to move into the future and will do so regardless of how you feel, and it will be okay;
  • Your child needs to experience the world without you and vice versa – families change in many ways over time, but love makes more than enough room for the new stuff and people that will come into your life;
  • Instead of thinking as the transition to college as a personal loss, remind yourself each day that it is a victory – you created and raised a child who wants to engage in this crazy world with the tools you helped nurture;
  • If you are married or have a partner, be extremely proud that you did this together –  and if you are still together, even more so, for staying married and releasing a young adult into the world are both enormous accomplishments.

Yes, my heart aches because the time with my daughter as a budding adult is gone.  I am learning to put those feelings aside to wholeheartedly enjoy the friendship and journey we are on together.  She’s not going to leave me behind, she has proven that.  I can keep counting days until I see her again if I want to, but this year has shown me that our bond of togetherness is stronger than physical presence.  She lives in my heart.

This summer, she has promised to take some walks with me and our dog, Pudgey.  Over the winter, Pudgey and I got sort of lazy and may have put on a few pounds wallowing in self-pity.  Thank goodness the Commander is on her way back home to whip us into shape!

 

I Think I know What Joy Is

I got to spend 3 whole days with my daughter who left for college this past August.  Let it be known, Momma is still not adjusted to this transition.  Daughter, however, is fully settled and thriving.  Experiencing her life, all the wonderful parts she chose so lovingly to share with me this weekend, has blessed me immeasureably.  I see now the future she embraces instead of the fear, worry and sadness I have held for so long.
The weather was perfect, and our weekend began with my sweet dancer performing in her University’s “Greek Sing,” a talent show of sorts geared toward entertaining the hundreds (if not thousands) of Moms visiting their college students.  Seeing the entire ensemble gave me concrete proof that college students are “different” than high school students in many ways.

Young adults moving about the world in their own skin, playing by their own rules and trying new experiences with their peer groups exhibit an energy and effervescence that is contagious.

It felt wonderful to step away from the tired, grumpy, complain-y adult world of “ain’t it awful” to breathing the spring air of fresh life, young energy and optimism for the future.  That energy was palpable.  I soaked it in.  I feel new.

We enjoyed lunch with her new friends and Moms at the Sorority house then a lovely evening meal that she and her friends had carefully plotted – and everything was perfect.  I was captivated by watching my daughter and seeing both parts of myself as a young adult and a whole new beautiful person – the unique woman she is evolving to become.  She’s on her way.  She’s where she needs to be.  All my heaviness, worrying, tears – have just been for a Momma who didn’t yet understand her new place in her girl’s heart and life.

She proved to me this weekend I am still very much in her heart.  Fairly newly sober, I need “spaces” in each day now to process my thoughts and feelings and renew my energy.  Intuitively she understands this.  We did everything at my pace and she gently led me through the weekend without pressuring me to do more than I could.  Staying centered is important to me now, and I had no idea how very much my daughter respects and understands this.

Instead of continuing the evening with the group after the dinner, she told her friends we’d probably go back to our hotel and watch a movie.  I was delighted.  Off the hook yet also blessed to feel so “understood.”  Ironically, one of our favorite movies happened to be on tv – “The Blind Side.”  As we wound down the weekend, the words of Michael Orr to his Coach and later his Momma perfectly reflect my Daughter’s gentle love and presence:  “I’ve got your back,” he said.  So does she, and this Momma is beyond proud and happy.

 

The Practice of True Belonging

Lately I have reflected alot on Brene Brown’s definition of “true belonging” from her latest book, “Braving the Wilderness”:

“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to
yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”

There is a big whopping heap of wisdom in that one little definition! Consider it from the framework of a marriage: a happy and successful “union,” some say, is the sum of two whole parts. Both partners are complete going into the union. What about the years when outside influences and family responsibilities gnaw at the core of one’s “whole self” – what about times when you are giving so much of yourself, you feel lost inside your own home?

This happened to me when a series of overwhelming challenges happened in rapid succession. Not only did I not belong to myself, I felt separate from the “wholeness” of marriage. Alone and terrified. Money, kids, health, work, geography and all kinds of other mini-challenges crept in my life and the me I was once so solidly familiar with started to disappear. Often weary, I dulled my fighting impulse with red wine. I thought I was stronger (i.e., belonged more authentically to myself) when I was drinking, but this could not have been further from the truth. I forgot how worthy I was of a happy life, so I drowned all my dreams and ambitions in alcohol. Fortunately for me and my family, a spark of life remained and I woke up in 2015 to the realization that I had made a big mess trying to comfort myself through numbing rather than belonging. I was in a crisis of disconnection.

Brene Brown continues her definition of true belonging”

“True belonging is not something that you negotiate externally, it’s what you carry in your heart. It’s finding the sacredness in being a part of something and in braving the wilderness alone. When we reach this place even momentarily, we belong everywhere and nowhere. That sounds absurd, but it’s true.”

I wonder if the quest for “true belonging” isn’t the biggest challenge we as humans are meant to overcome. It seems so simple but the piece that brought me back to myself and the living world and my family was finding the sacredness in being a part of something. Somehow I had internalized the message early in life that belonging equaled weakness so when the road of my life got very twisty – I retreated into myself and stopped connecting.

Many addiction experts believe that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety – it’s connection. I wholeheartedly believe this to be true. The joy of connection is an equal opportunity healer – yet for some, the most difficult to attain. If you are around enough people who suffer from addiction disorders, you will likely hear it repeated that they are grateful for their addiction because it led them to this awareness that true belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world.

Living a sober life after years of dulling the brightness of the real world truly is an adventure in re-connecting with the child you once were and the loved ones you travel with. I am grateful to Brene Brown for helping me to clarify the importance of true belonging, it is the foundation for my whole life now.

Love Between Sisters

As the youngest of 5 sisters, “sisterly love” has been a major theme of my life.  One thing I absolutely know to be true:  if you have a sister, you have an ally, best friend, confidante and personal coach for life!  As a youngster, it was fun for me to write letters to my three oldest sisters who left for boarding high school (each one following the next, one year apart) starting when I was 4.  My goal was to entertain, make them laugh, and convince them to let me “tag along” behind every teenage adventure they had.  I remember hiding behind a curtained window hoping to catch one of them kissing a boy in our driveway – everyday was a new adventure (or violation, from their perspective)!  My relationship with my sister just 3 years older than me was much more like the traditional sibling rivalry yet unique because we have always had completely opposite personalities.  As anyone from a large family can attest, my identity and purpose throughout life has largely been framed in the context of being an “annoying little sister”!

A sister can enrich your life more than any other connection.  Between sisters, there is a shared lens on the world and life formed so strongly and early that it is nearly impenetrable.  What one can see, the other feels, maybe another interprets for the rest.

Sisterhood is a flowing exchange of perceiving reality and washing it in the bonds of caring, safety and love created when we were young – and giving it back so the world feels softer, more tolerable.

As I get older, washing the pain I feel in my sisters’ lives is the greatest act of love I can conceive.  These champions of my spirit move through the world and experience human pain, suffering, joy and the like but to me they seem larger than life, as if immortal.  I want us all to stay little and innocent forever.  For my psyche to process actual pain and suffering is an excruciating emotional task.  I do feel “one” with them.

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Embracing my sister on her wedding day after some huge life difficulties!

The past decade my sisters and I have all moved into middle age and experienced the natural illness and loss of a parent and the challenge of creating a loving environment for our Mom, who is very ill.  Throughout these days, life has brought us each some pretty difficult health, financial and emotional challenges.  The laughter we shared feels distant many days.

It’s hard to accept that the people you love most in the world can be cut at the knees by life yet the purpose of life is to flow freely through the pain and darkness and share joy and light with one another.

This much I know for sure, I may disagree with my sisters philosophically, politically or any number of ways, but THEY ARE ME.  We belong to each other, and that is the most important thing in the world.

Some people believe we make “spiritual contracts” before entering the physical world, and part of that is choosing the souls with whom we travel through life.  It makes sense to me when I consider the love I have for my sisters and the joy that comes from witnessing their high points in life.  This year, I want to be a better sister, I hope to be able to do more than just entertain and make them laugh.  I want to fill the vessel of sisterly love until it overflows.

When I feel wounded and scorned by an intolerant world that does not understand me, my sisters are there protecting my heart.  My sisters are Grace personified.

The Resume I Never Wanted To Build

I am a 51-year-old woman who entered the workforce in the 80’s. Big hair, pantyhose and teal eye liner were part of my professional look. “Working Girl” was a popular movie when I was a young professional, the story of how an attractive young woman rose through the ranks of corporate America without using her sexuality. Because, ladies who are much younger than me, sexual harassment was the norm instead of the exception for many women – from secretaries to lawyers – during my coming of age years.

 

For me, it started when I was still in High School, I worked a few hours at my sister’s office to earn extra money one hot summer week. My responsibility was to answer the phone and take messages. I was excited to have a “professional” opportunity and wanted to do my best for my sister and her boss. One afternoon when the office was empty except for me, one of the boss’s friends stopped by and we started chatting. He was in his 30’s, which to a 19-year-old is a very scary “old man.” He started talking to me about my eyes and how nice it would be for us to be alone together without anyone knowing. Terrified, I became quiet because I had no idea how a “professional woman” was supposed to respond to this. He warned me not to “tell anybody” that he had asked me out, there was no need to “upset anybody” because of our age difference. It would just be fun between the 2 of us. Our secret. Ick ick ick ick ick!! Repulsion and shame washed over me as this loser/predator departed from his friend’s office with confidence. Who knows, I may have given him my phone number because he was an adult and I was completely caught off guard. I told my sister a couple of days later but begged her not to “make a big deal” out of it because I was ashamed. I had been wondering what I might have done to cause this man to behave badly and I did not want to get either of us in trouble by exposing the incident. Clearly, looking back on this as a middle-aged woman with a teenaged daughter, I am angry and appalled by the casual way this man was able to dismantle my self-confidence and enthusiasm about doing good work and getting paid for it. He made it feel despicable. I took on the responsibility for both of our behavior that day, because, being a good Catholic girl, I must have done or said something to deserve it. I had just finished Driver’s Ed, for God’s Sake!!!! Finding my bearings in a large city and getting parked in a busy downtown parking lot were my major concerns – but then I had to listen to that creep? I was starting to dislike being a “professional” at the tender age of 19.

 

Moving forward from that big week in the grown-up office setting, I at least was aware that it was always possible to be caught off guard and mistaken for a Bimbo instead of a real professional.

 

Time went by and I encountered creepy professors in college who wanted to “take me to breakfast” (on a Sunday morning!) to discuss life or “have a cup of margarita” (yes, someone actually called it that) instead of giving me the grade I had earned in his class. Again, these guys got by with it because I did not know any better and there were no University guidelines protecting students from sexual harassment.

 

I want to end with the BIG one and sadly admit that, after all these weeks of “#ME TOO” posts on social media, my experience never once occurred to me until TODAY. That’s how long it has been buried within the vault of shame hidden inside of me for 25 years. I was working over a several-month period with a man I considered a friend, from whom I was learning a great deal and whose company I enjoyed. After work one Saturday afternoon, this man, whose wife and child I knew, invited me to Dim Sum – I was hungry, we had worked hard, it was daylight out, etc. – no concerns, right? During Dim Sum he casually mentioned that his family was gone for the weekend and there was another restaurant he really wanted to take me to that evening. STUNNED. I felt embarrassed and ashamed and immediately made up an excuse for not being able to go. We said an awkward goodbye. Several months later, when this man was soon to be leaving town for a job across the country – a package arrived at my home with his name and return address. I opened it and found a VHS (it was the 90’s!) tape with no label. We used VHS tapes in the classes we were teaching, so I thought maybe he had hastily returned one he thought belonged to me. WRONG. It was the most disgusting pornography I have ever seen! And my MOTHER was visiting me the weekend it arrived so she was sitting in my apartment with me when I put the video in!!! Immediately, I was hot with anger, fear, shame and embarrassment. We discussed it for a few minutes and I threw it in the dumpster. She had never had a job before so certainly her advice was not, “take this immediately to your work and report the SOB.” This ass NEVER paid a price for humiliating and frightening me.

 

In the wake of all the recent accusations leveled against powerful men in Hollywood, my “# ME TOO” may seem irrelevant or self-pitying. I am astonished and saddened that the incidents I have described (and a few more I am not recounting) took place as I was trying to build a professional career and reputation for myself yet the fear of being blamed for causing these things to happen on purpose kept me silent all these years. I have been reading the wonderful Glennon Doyle’s memoir this week, “Love Warrior,” and she writes passionately about the importance of being bold, brave and true to our stories and experiences. Otherwise, as women, our silence diminishes us as human beings and hurts others in ways we cannot predict – for instance, my children on the brink of adulthood. They need to know the world does not always treat you fairly or respectfully and it is up to us to make things matter in a time where people in positions of power can no longer bully and shame the less powerful in the comfort of darkness.

 

So the next time you think to yourself, “Gee, middle aged women sure are bitter and angry,” think about the things women my age have endured just to have the privilege to earn a living. I’m so glad my children will enter the professional world understanding that there are limits to the kind of power and authority their superiors may wield.

I Wanted My Son to Be Happy But on MY Terms

Oh how very much we have learned in the past two years about our beautiful son and what motivates him.  This article is practically verbatim what we have gone through.  And how happy I am to say our son is THRIVING.

 

 

We want our kids to be happy more than we ever wanted it for ourselves. With all the planning, supporting, and goal-setting, how could it not be working?

Source: I Wanted My Son to Be Happy But on MY Terms

Paychecks and Blueberries for Sal

 

“She will call less and less,” my husband casually remarked last night about our College Freshman whose nightly calls warm my heart.  I bit his head off.  “DON’T SAY THAT!,” I yelled back.  Silence.  What was that about, I began thinking.  Everything is off kilter these days because it’s all new:  our first child recently left the nest for college and at 51, I am in a new job, earning more than I have in eight difficult years.  I call them “difficult” because I have never fully embraced my value as a stay-at-home-mother, even though this is what I always wanted to do.

The sacrifices you make when you decide to earn less in exchange for being more present feel mostly unnoticed and under appreciated most of the time.

But that’s the kind of Momma I wanted to be!  ALWAYS available, no matter what.  So when my biggest paycheck of eight years hit the bank account last night, I found myself weighing the value of the money versus the value of being physically present for the household.  Here’s how it feels to me:  in the short term, putting a hefty-ish paycheck in the household account feels better than making sure there is a roast in the oven but in the long term, knowing we raised a young woman who wants to touch base with us often is the greatest payoff possible.  

We are all conditioned to thinking of our investments – financial, emotional, intellectual – in terms of returns.  That’s why I count the number of days I maintain long-term sobriety, because as the days add up, I figure the greater the “return.”  But not if I’m not emotionally sober.  To maintain emotional sobriety, you better be invested in pouring every type of energy and asset you have into living a life worth living.  After all, what’s the point of removing something as pleasurable as drinking red wine if I’m not going to enjoy the benefit of sobriety and that enjoyment isn’t going to spill over into other people’s lives and well-being?  Huh?  In other words, it’s just as important to replenish and nourish your emotional, spiritual and physical coffers as it is to earn money and spend it wisely.  Now I get to do both:  earn money to help support our family and reap the benefits of staying emotionally invested and close to my children as they were growing up.

These days, I think alot about special times with my children when they were young, especially bedtime story reading.  My daughter and I had many favorite books, among them, a 1950’s Caldecott Award winner, “Blueberries for Sal.”

1-Sample-Blueberries-for-Sal

Little Sal was so much like my Isa:  precocious, daring, full of life and love for new experiences.  Together we would read the story about the Momma Bear and her Cub on the same mountain – but the other side and out of view – as the Momma Human and little Sal – picking blueberries to sustain their bodies through the winter.

My paycheck from the new job felt like a pail of blueberries from the book.  Very gratifying and fun but also a worthwhile investment for lean, cold days in the future.  It felt good and associating it with something so precious from my daughter’s childhood gives me peace of mind that our sacrifices have been worth it.  Especially when she texted back, “Yes I do” this morning when I asked her if she remembered reading “Blueberries for Sal” with me.

“Why can’t a paycheck just be a paycheck and not turned into a dumb pail of blueberries, you weirdo?,” you may be asking yourself.  Because I am committed to living a life worth living.  This is what it means to understand a woman in midlife experiencing an emptying nest and working to maintain sobriety:  a cherished moment of understanding in a three-word text from your beautiful daughter away at college puts everything in perspective.  And all is well with my world.