Last week my family crammed into my husband’s Prius for the 4-hour drive on Interstate I-70 to St. Louis to visit my Mom, “Grandma Rhetta.” My kids are 16 and 18 and they insisted we make the trip because it might be the last opportunity for my daughter to see Grandma Rhetta before she leaves home for the first time to start college. Although we have made this trip more than 100 times, my heart was full of pride and wistfulness over this visit, especially because the kids are nearly grown and Mom is very frail at this time of her life. She is confined to her bed with only her imagination, visits from friends and family and the television to comfort and occupy her. Sometimes a short visit with Grandma Rhetta is best, even though the grueling drive on the highway suggests a longer stay.
When people love one another, they willingly take time from their “journey” to be together. As Mom’s health declines and my teenagers approach adulthood, their journeys are polar opposite. Yet my kids keep wanting to go back and love their Grandma. Even though it was a conscious effort by me to foster a bond between my children and their Grandparents, discovering that at the busiest and most self-centered part of their journey they choose to spend time with their Grandma Rhetta overwhelms me with joy and sadness (because I am perimenopausal now!).
We enter Mom’s world – her room – and she lights up with love and reaches from her bed for Isa and Mario. Before each visit, she tells me many times to inform them she is expecting many warm hugs – and she gets them! The kids adore Grandma Rhetta’s Southern accent and the warmth and charm it exudes. Imitating her characteristic sayings has always been funny to them (in a loving way): “My Stars!” and “Iced tay with lots of lemons!” are among their favorites. Grandma Rhetta “southernizes” the pronunciation of Isa’s name (pronounced “Eesa”) so it sounds like “Eaze-a-Bella!”.
All those mornings at Grandma Rhetta’s kitchen table being lavished with her love and her special buttermilk pancakes mean something to Isa and Mario, and nothing thrills me more. I’ll never forget the first time Mom visited Kansas City after Isa was born. She rushed in the house after her long drive and, without putting her purse or keys down, walked straight to Baby Isa and cooed, “Are we gonna be friends?”. Indeed they are.
Next week I will celebrate my 2nd consecutive year living in long-term recovery from alcohol use disorder. Notice my language. It is very specific for a reason: I believe that I will spend the rest of my life working to develop deeper understanding of my need to numb feelings and, hopefully, will be granted the Grace and inspiration to pursue ever-deeper practices for managing and maintaining a healthy, well-rounded life without relying on alcohol.
I am so proud of this achievement yet I know that I could “slip” at any time if I begin to neglect the positive practices that keep me humble and eager for continued sobriety. Just like a person who has changed jobs, my openness about my struggles is just one of many facts about my life – in other words, sobriety will never define me as a person. Yet, surprisingly, maybe because of tv shows like “celebrity rehab” or the heavy infiltration of 12-step type phrases in popular culture, it has been my experience that people automatically have their own sets of expectations of what your recovery should look and feel like.
It is impossible to convey to a person who does not have addiction controlling their life the excitement and liberation you feel once you decide to change, accept your limitations, and work everyday to seek newer and better ways to live “a normal life” without obsessing over wanting to numb. That’s why I write about it. But it makes people feel “awkward,” it seems. So I am supposed to confine and limit my experience to groups of other “users.” This does not make sense to me. You wouldn’t avoid talking to a person about their new “job,” so why would the topic of pursuing a life without addiction be any different? This is why maintaining sobriety can be difficult – it is more “polite” to ignore the addiction monster in casual conversation. This kind of sweeping under the rug behavior is bad for our children. They need to hear us talking about and showing them what a life built on zero reliance on alcohol looks and feels like. Just like we introduce our children to the concept of work by taking them to work with us, we should not be afraid to declare our commitment to sobriety to our friends, family and community.
The reality is that the younger a person is when they first experience alcohol, the more likely it will cause an addiction problem later in life. We don’t perpetuate self-sabotaging cycles in other health-related concerns (for instance, heart disease), so why are we reluctant to openly discuss and support addiction and sobriety?
I have a suspicion it is because many of us believe one of two things: that we are already slipping into bad habits of relying on alcohol to “numb” difficult emotional situations or we mistakenly believe we are immune to addiction. Those are highly dangerous beliefs. I think another reason people don’t want to talk about their feelings related to numbing and alcohol is because there is a widespread misunderstanding of what a sober life looks and feels like. I will definitely admit (if you have not already ascertained this fact!) that I am a much more sensitive person sober than drinking. I have to work hard to process my thoughts, feelings and responses to everyone and everything around me to avoid falling into old patterns of numbing. But that doesn’t mean my life is no longer fun or that I will not tolerate others’ drinking around me (everybody has their own barometer of tolerance about this, so it is always thoughtful to ask).
Over the weekend, I felt so many “feels” as we celebrated our first-born child’s Graduation from High School. At once sentimental and fearful, the onslaught of well-wishing from people in your life you may still be reconciling with, the entire weekend was challenging and tiring for me to navigate. And the past two nights, my poorly trained brain with only 2 years of sober thinking under its belt, even began telling me “You should go ahead and enjoy a drink or 2 or 10. You don’t really have a problem.” This is proof to me that I will spend every waking moment for the rest of my life “managing” this enormous force that lives inside of me that wants to numb everything.
Finally, some thoughts about people in Recovery that might help others better understand this journey:
Sober people are fun people;
Getting sober means the party is just beginning, not ending.
Sober People do not intend to make you feel uncomfortable ;
Sober People would rather you throw out all your old ideas about Recovery and learn by engaging with them rather than avoiding the topic altogether;
Just like becoming confident about one’s performance in a new job, living comfortably in your own skin as a sober person takes time, and you should not have any unrealistic expectations about what this should look like – every sober person is unique.
It has been an honor and a pleasure sharing the past 24 months with Readers. I have received so much love, grace and appreciation from the many people who want to understand addiction. This propels me forward, especially after my 99th cup of coffee during absolutely perfect cold Heineken or margarita weather!
Today, my precious first-born graduates from High School. My God, wasn’t I just at her kindergarten graduation? All of us parents share the same wistful feeling about time with our children – it goes by much too quickly. She’s a healthy, balanced, focused, driven, joyful, beautiful and brilliant young woman now. What more could I ask for? I must step aside and watch her grow.
If there is one thing I have learned from my recovery, it is there is no shame in starting over. I do it everyday. We all do. The previous 48 years of “all or nothing” thinking really limited my growth and perspective and that hindrance ultimately led to a dependence which became an addiction. Now I know. To paraphrase the brilliant Maya Angelou famously, “Once you know better, do better.”
People ask me all the time, “How have you stayed sober?”. The answer is simple: each morning when I open my eyes, I thank God for another day of life and I commit to not drinking that day. I have other things I do, and attending a 12-step program is not one of them. I did for the first 12 months and decided I needed to broaden my resources and thinking, and have happily managed a workable – if not patchwork – program on my own. I am enjoying life today instead of enduring it.
Here’s the point I want to make today: you can change at any time and begin a new path. My 18-year old daughter is graduating from High School tonight with beautiful dreams of her own. There were days when she was very young when I would find myself in a heap of laundry and tears on the telephone with my oldest sister saying, “I can’t even take care of myself. I am so afraid and overwhelmed.” But life marched on, didn’t it?.
The takeaway I want anybody reading this today to receive is this:
Never Be Afraid Of Starting Over
Perfection is an unrealistic expectation and illusion that does nothing but create resentment and discontent. Wouldn’t you be happier saying you tried something and enjoyed the moment rather than standing still in perfect silence, terrified by the prospect you can never be perfect? Motherhood taught me so many things, and especially raising such a determined little character as my daughter, Isabella Bernadette. When she was 3 and just starting out hosting “play-dates,” I would be so desperate to please the other Mothers, I would constantly intervene and scold her, telling her repeatedly to “share” with the other children. Her response?
“I want to share with ME!”
Don’t we ALL? Who can argue with the brilliant logic of a 3-year-old little girl?!
The thing is, we all have to learn to be our own cheerleaders and personal life coaches. Instead of looking in all the wrong places (e.g., malls, catalogs, bars, escapes), the answer can be found within. I guess I was too skeptical, cynical and afraid to trust myself. I know better now, so I am doing better.
I share with you some wisdom from another author today! Love, Joan
Many of the clients I work with have a desire to be content with life, yet struggle to experience it at any significant level. To live a content life would be amazing wouldn’t it? To not feel anxious about tomorrow, to feel satisfied and at peace with today and to be free from any guilt…
For a full 3 weeks, I felt almost debilitated. I was depressed, lethargic, and miserable. I had nausea, night sweats, and diarrhea. Some days I literally had to talk myself through putting pants on, and I wasn’t sure if I could keep going.
Are you asking yourself what I mean by “talking myself through putting pants on?” Here’s an example of how I shuffled through my days:
What’s the next right thing?
Putting on pants. I have to get some pants and put them on.
My pants are on. What’s the next right thing?
I need to get my purse. Okay, I have my purse.
What’s the next right thing? I need to find my kids.
Where are my kids?
That’s what happens when a person suddenly stops drinking after her body becomes accustomed to metabolizing a bottle of…
As a youngster, I became enthralled with collecting rocks. Someone started talking about arrowheads and geodes at 4-H and the search for these magical stones became an obsession. The very idea that these physical objects contained hundreds or thousands of years of secrets and usefulness in others’ hands was thrilling. I don’t think I ever found either type of rock but the searching, collecting, exploring and handling of all the other rocks I found gave me hours of great joy and my parents some well-deserved quiet.
One Christmas, my Grandmother gave me a rock polishing kit. I could take the rough, raw, basic rocks and immerse them in a capsule with a cleaning solution and after alot of time rolling around, they would come out sparkling, fresh and soft to the touch. It was okay but I much preferred the paper grocery bag full of dusty, mossy, grassy rocks I had been gathering. They were so much more interesting.
It wasn’t until about 5 years later, when adolescence hit and our family moved from our small town to the city that I realized people were like the polished stones. Life was just one big plate of perfectly shining rocks and it was frustrating to me that I would have to work at seeing everything back in its original, perfect state – raw, bumpy, earthy, rugged rocks.
Fortunately, the disillusionment did not last. I realized I could make my life a grand rock collecting adventure and that some of the shiny stones were fun to have around.
On my fortieth birthday, my five-year-old son spent the entire afternoon in our yard searching for “heart-shaped rocks” which he proudly delivered from filthy, chubby hands with this speech, “You gotta get old sometime, Mom!”. I kept them above my sink until a few of them fell into the garbage disposal and ground it to a halt. I was thrilled he understood natural beauty in the rocks and his aging Momma, and this reassured me his character was set.
It is now eleven years past my fortieth birthday. I still have a few of those heart-shaped rocks curated especially for me. They serve as gentle reminders of my purpose in life and the kind of person I want to be and others I choose to spend time with:
Kind – If I had to pick one single trait over everything, of course it would be kindness. Time and time again, practicing kindhearted gentleness brings greater joy and openness. Judgement divides and narrows everything immediately: hearts, feelings, opportunities, experiences and most of all, love.
Patient – Yes, patience is a practice that does not come easily when we are young. At 51, I am a pretty patient person, and I am getting better at ignoring the “productivity culture”. If all you accomplish in one single day is reassuring people of your love and confidence in them, that is enough for me. I have a hard time being with “productive people” for long – they are boring.
Resourceful – You can have the IQ of a genius but still not be able to figure out how to manage simple challenges. More specifically, I am more excited about finding simple ways to handle life that reap positive benefits for the broader world than explaining why that might be a waste of time. To me, being resourceful is an inclusive approach to living and just being smart can be so selfish.
Creative – There is a time and place to be linear and logical (e.g., when applying for FAFSA support for your college-bound senior!) and the rest of life should be interesting and fun. I am not concerned anymore about “making sense” to others, I just need to validate creative energy by using it, damn the judgers! Creative people spend more time enjoying taking risks than calculating failures. That’s why I like them.
Simple – I would rather spend the day with a Humanitarian focused on addressing fundamental needs than talking to the most educated, well-traveled person. I am so happy that my journey has opened my eyes to this basic truth and fortunate to have daily opportunities to practice simplicity. As I am learning, simplicity encompasses more than just getting rid of physical and mental clutter – it is a spiritual practice that helps one focus on being fully present in the now. When all you have is now, you tend to appreciate it and make better choices.
So back to the rocks and their wisdom: I love holding a rock and thinking about where it has been, for how long, what it is made of, the stories it “knows.” It is like holding the Universe and all its mysteries inside your palm and exchanging energy. To me, the unpolished rocks embody all the basic truths about living a good life. They inspire me to live and put my best (but simplest) self forward. I like rocks, yes I do.
“Rocks and minerals: the oldest storytellers.” A.D. Posey
Oh, Girlfriends! How would a woman survive life without them? They come to our aid before we even know we need to be rescued. They understand our innermost feelings and needs in the deepest way. They refrain from judgment. Like Momma Bear protecting her cub, a great girlfriend will work wonders in your life and expect nothing in return.
I reach for my Mom’s handmade quilts every single day of my life for comfort. Tattered and ragged, sometimes I drag my favorite one like Linus, as if the quilt could make me invincible. Magical powers sewn into every square, crafted and pieced together by my Mother’s hands with abundant love and the greatest of hopes for a life well lived. I literally can cover myself in her protection any time I want. The girlfriends who have sustained me through life’s toughest challenges are exactly like my favorite quilts.
In this picture, I am in the most miserable physical pain you could imagine. I had been laboring for over 2 days with my first child and was waiting the last few hours before heading to the hospital to begin the terrifying birthing process. I am sitting on a heating pad because I have lovely back labor. And draped across my knees is the “Cotton Boll” quilt my Mom made for me more than twenty years ago. “Don’t machine wash this,” she cautioned. “It will fall apart.” Nope. This thing might as well be made of kryptonite. Virtually indestructible. Just like my ties to my girlfriends, one in particular, my Pammy.
Pam took this picture of me when she delivered a beautiful Wendy’s lunch of french fries and a Frosty. She had had her daughter the year before, I had been her “birth coach.” I did not even know I needed her to check on me that day, my mind was swirling with nesting details and anxiety about the future. I am sure we laughed about the indignity of the last day pregnant – I was hobbling around, grunting and moaning in my hugeness. Pam’s presence was comforting, though, and nothing really needed to be said. There was history between us (at the time we had been friends over 10 years, thinking we knew everything about life, love, family and careers!).
We both moved away from Kansas City for many years and hardly stayed in touch, but fate reunited us a few years ago, and we have both returned HOME: to Kansas City and our friendship. I can look at her and imagine what she is thinking and we both erupt in raucous laughter! We have the comfort of each other’s company and support and a very long history of experience together to sustain us. Friendship is, indeed, a joyous thing. As a woman grows older, the comfort of a close girlfriend is one of the greatest treasures she can have. Nobody knows us better or would go farther to show us who we are when we are lost. And midlife, I am discovering, is a bit of a “curious wonderland” where one can get very lost, indeed. I am finishing the intensive Mom phase and looking ahead to the second act (actually, it has begun, I am just in denial). Pam helps me laugh away the embarrassment of my arthritic hips and knees when I try to get up gracefully from a restaurant chair. She will be there with me, locked arm in arm, for the second act, and there will be laughter, joy and comfort. And I am one grateful woman of a certain age!