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.

The Antidote to Hate

Fall_2008_Family_084 1

 

I am pretty sure I have written about this before, but the display of racial hatred in Charlottesville, Virginia this past 24 hours bears repeating.  We all try to raise happy kids, right?  And kids that will be kind to other kids, blah blah blah….  I think it is important to remember that BIG things start out as LITTLE things, both good and bad.  Liberals, Feminists, whatever you want to call them, often get labeled for calling out acts of hatred 24/7, for acting as self-proclaimed watchdogs of ugliness.  In my mind, this is a perfectly acceptable tradeoff – social condemnation in exchange for those constant, nitpicking little nudges of the moral conscience.  With my children, I think I strove to teach them they did not have to draw attention to themselves or do anything to bring any kind of condemnation or isolation upon themselves.  Instead, I tried to show them quiet, powerful ways of refusing to allow others to normalize hate.

My kids did their fair share of bickering when they were young.  I tried to tune it out in my head until it became mean spirited.  As soon as the bickering took a turn towards hatefulness, I would step in and announce the “penance”:  each one had to do something kind for the other before bedtime.  That was it.  I did not “follow up” or punish by making them regret losing a favorite toy or pastime.  I merely tapped into their moral conscience so they would think about the other for a moment and perform an act of kindness out of human decency.  The end.

In this way, I hoped my children would learn to stop and think about others long enough to consider what they could do to alleviate pain and suffering.

Mario was always the first one to enthusiastically embrace words of kindness, acts of forgiveness and deeds of pure goodwill.  It was so heartwarming to watch, really!  Isa was more contemplative and less demonstrative of her willingness to change, yet she always eventually offered kindness in perfect measure to whatever the situation demanded.

In today’s culture of absolute intolerance, fear and hatred are running amuck.  It is very difficult to perceive something as a small act of kindness as an antidote to the enormity of negative forces in our world.  Still, with one small little lesson in mind from childhood, I hope my children will continue to practice kindness in the face of evil, knowing that their small efforts contribute to the healing balm of hope this world so desperately needs.

 

Cicada

Cicadas remind me of the starry summer nights of my childhood!

The Impatient Gardener

While working in the yard, my girls found this Cicada nymph hatching. What a great find.

Cicada Songs

They say your songs
portend the end of summer
just as chirping robins
usher in the spring air.

Listen to the sound
whirring, buzzing through
leaves of trees that shelter
the thrumming brood.

Insect monks chant
hymns of nature
for us and for
their silent females: “mate her.”

More musical than electric currents
that hum along power lines,
your symphony hovers,
guarding the sultry night like armored palatines.

Constant and pervasive,
we humans sometimes hear
sometimes ban your frequencies,
lulled to sleep by drums so dear.

Air conditioners and headphones
drown out your beautiful noise
but others sing with you
till Fall’s frost steals these little joys.

~David Granville




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Grandma’s One Question

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Helping Grandma Rhetta blow out her birthday candles!

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.

Getting Sober Is Like Starting A New Job …. Everyday

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!

For All the Milestones in Life, I Wish You This One Thing

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.

the Contentment Delusion – BayArt

Cheeky Friends,

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…

Source: the Contentment Delusion – BayArt

This Is What Gratitude Feels Like

Modern Mommy Madness

I am 25 days sober, and I feel amazing.

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?

Shit.

***

That’s what happens when a person suddenly stops drinking after her body becomes accustomed to metabolizing a bottle of…

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