The 7 Words That Changed My Life

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My husband and I recently did the Empty Nester basement purge thing and a newspaper article about a sad chapter in our lives resurfaced.  We found ourselves at the kitchen table talking to our children, now young adults, about the details of how things unfolded when they were too young to remember.  Their jaws slowly dropped as they listened 14 years later, taking in the previously hidden details of an underlying saga that spoiled our dream for them at that time. And almost ruined our marriage.  But we didn’t let it and that is the happy ending.

Once upon a time my husband and I had a dream to live a simple life in a nice midwestern small town with our 2 young children.  Our expectations were this change in location would provide time and space we yearned for to more fully appreciate our young family.  Before they were even born, we both agreed we would  “marinate our children in love.” This became challenging in our suburban setting with busy schedules and my husband’s nonstop work travel.  So we chose a radically different path, my husband even changed professions, and off we went to rural America to start over.

It should have been a warning sign to us when trouble seemed to be brewing from the beginning.  We purchased several acres of land that had been designated for part of a neighborhood development and then all hell broke  loose.  There was a dilapidated, decades-old dairy barn on the property that we viewed as “charming.”  This became one of the the ways the Homeowners Association began punishing us for daring to have a dream.  On numerous occasions, we were summoned to City condemnation hearings brought by the residents of the neighborhood we purchased the lots in.  They wanted this (justifiably historically significant to the area) “blighting eyesore” removed from their neighborhood.  We knew they just wanted to trouble, inconvenience and punish us for existing.

We tried an approach we were sure was a “win/win”:  we offered to donate the dairy barn and surrounding property to the City as a public park.  There was a Parks and Recreation Commission hearing for public comment and the neighbors showed up very angry.  They were not interested in creating a common, beautiful space for the community to enjoy.  Even though the country club lay directly behind them, they wanted more exclusivity and privacy.  They didn’t want to see children and families  from other neighborhoods enjoy their serene vistas.  In the end, the “park” became part of their privately owned space.

In hindsight, I wish I had had the time, resources and strength to have the dairy barn designated a Historic Site and restored it to its original beauty.  Instead, for our sanity, our family walked away and the City lost a beautiful treasure when the Homeowners Association got its way and tore it down, like it had never existed.  This isn’t a story about winning or losing, it’s a story about how small conflicts can often cloud the greater good. And what a pity that is.  A friend texted me the day the neighbors tore the beautiful barn down and I became nauseous at the thought of their celebration of their small victory.  A park dedicated to the memory of the designer of the barn would have been, from a historical preservation context, the wise thing to do.  Our family doesn’t live there any longer (and it’s just as well!) so I am not reminded on a daily basis of the punch in the gut.

Why is this story important or at all relevant today, in the midst of a global pandemic when people are suffering and struggling to keep the pieces of their lives together?  Why should anyone care?  One day, many years after the dairy barn debacle, my husband and I were struggling to begin again back in our hometown of Kansas City.  I had years of lingering resentment for what I believed I had endured during the small town years and he was exhausted from reinventing himself.  He looked at me one day and said something that suddenly made everything vividly clear for me:  “I love taking care of this family.”  In the midst of the struggle, I had started forming the belief that I was the only one “taking care of this family.”  We may have even divorced if my husband hadn’t uttered those 7 words at exactly the moment I needed to hear them.  That exchange has been my anchor every single day since.  Telling me he loves taking care of this family meant that had always been in his heart, even on the darkest days.  I had forgotten.  I allowed the outside forces that began needling away at us to toss me about.   I focused on the struggle instead of our basic strength, and that’s how I almost got lost forever.  Now my young adult kids will know how their parents persevered and weathered tough times:  because we love taking care of this family.

 

 

You Don’t Have To Drink Your Way Through Menopause

I woke up excited today.  It’s my 5th Sober Anniversary.  Reaching a point in my life where I am more excited about all the “yet to be’s” feels like an undeserved gift.  On this day each year, I remember my struggle  thinking about what a sober life might feel like,  because I knew that none of the dreams I had would be possible without shedding the lifestyle and path I was on.

First, I have to disclose that I had 2 glasses of wine – both on separate occasions – the summer of 2018.  My Sober Coach called it a “relapse,” which made me extremely angry for a long time because I didn’t want to throw away the previous 3 years of sobriety I had earned and start from scratch.  I couldn’t figure out an honest way to concede the setback while creating a plan to move forward.  The relapse shone a light on important things I wasn’t paying attention to: while sober, I wasn’t doing anything positive to sustain my health (my nutrition was way out of whack and I wasn’t exercising at all).  I was in a major midlife transition – getting one child off to college and supporting another one through the final push of high school – with  the dreaded, purposeless “empty nest” looming.  Fear and anxiety gripped me as I tried to envision a future self that was not primarily mothering.  What’s left, then?  I think all of these stressors combined led to the idea that drinking a little wine again was an okay choice for me.

Brene Brown brilliantly summarizes midlife in one word: an “unraveling.”  As a woman of this age, I am in a particularly vulnerable population susceptible to alcohol use disorder.  We’re the fastest growing group of alcoholics in America.  It takes effort to recognize the desire to pull away from the “rose all day” crowd – to create and stick to a plan to sustain an alcohol-free life.  I’m not blaming my relapse on menopause but I’m not lying when I tell you I was blindsighted by the upheaval all the changes I could not control presented in my life.  It was brutal.  And I’m still angry because I think women deserve to be better prepared for it than we are.  Looking back, I was searching for support, information and relief from the dozens of symptoms needling away at my quality of life for years.  I was offered mare piss and a few breathing exercises to get through it.  And many of my women contemporaries were drinking and divorcing their way through it.  How does one navigate the biggest storm of one’s life and stay sane, married and sober?  I had to create the plan that worked for me.

Here are the foundations of my personal recovery program:

Mindfulness  Buddhist Nun Pema Chodron’s “Getting Unstuck” work on learning to sit with discomfort to avoid reacting to painful situations with harmful habits. We have to learn not to run away from difficulty and instead allow it to transform us. The Buddhist paradox that by refraining from our urge to scratch/avoid suffering,  great peace and happiness is available. Discovering and harnessing the healing and calming power of your breathing can immediately turnaround an impulse to do or say something you will undoubtedly regret later.  Many people in recovery find this through a yoga practice.  

Connection Journalist Johann Hari Ted Talk, “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong. https://www.ted.com/talks/johann_hari_everything_you_think_you_know_about_addiction_is_wrong?language=en The story we have been told about addiction is wrong – people don’t choose drugs because the experience is pleasurable. Our nature as human beings is to bond and connect. People choose drugs primarily to numb their feelings of isolation. What if addiction isn’t about the chemical hooks but rather is an adaptation to your environment? He concludes that a core part of addiction is not being able to bear being present in your life without meaningful work and relationships.  The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety it is connection.  We find connection through purpose.  In midlife, this is a challenge for many.  I have had to soul search long hours and then ask for confidence to move forward and pursue what lights my soul on fire.  It is happening for me now but it wouldn’t have had I stayed on my couch just hoping my life would change.

Balance Nutritionist Jolene Park’s Ted Talk, “Gray Area Drinking”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvCMZBA7RiA You don’t have to hit “rock bottom” for drinking to be problematic. Gray Area Drinking pattern of stopping and re-starting drinking. More than likely, people who fall in this category are not talking about it with anybody. What leads people who fall into gray area drinking spectrum is untreated anxiety – the desire to reach for the “off switch” to release stress. “We don’t need any more cognitive hoops to jump through or ways to contort our willpower in an effort to fix ourselves. What we need is practical training on how to nourish our nervous system in a revolutionary and new way.” While Gray Area Drinkers may be able to stop drinking for prolonged periods of time, it is nearly impossible to sustain without understanding neurotransmitters and how to replenish them and nourish our nervous system in a comprehensive way. There are specific foods, movements and lifestyle practices that have very direct and immediate roles in boosting all our our neurotransmitters.  Completely by accident, I found a chiropractor who has become a friend and nutrition and mindset coach/ally.  She has given me tools to sustain this new path I am forging whereas before, there was no energy for anything other than the miserable status quo I had accepted because I was eating and thinking the wrong things. And allowing the wrong people room in my head.  I see Dr. Ang for regular chiropractic adjustments and get back far more in return.  She’s become part of my essential recovery team.

Support I found a Sober Coach with decades of experience and knowledge I talk to every Monday.  In fact, I am about to head to my driveway for a FaceTime with Mary in my Prius in a few moments.  She is so familiar with my history, challenges and personality, she has been able to provide the perfect amount of support, inspiration and camaraderie I need to stay the course in my sobriety journey.  Support looks different for everyone, there is absolutely no single way to find it.  Mary has helped me build self-confidence that menopause shattered and I am on a path of creating new friendships in a life I am deeply proud of and committed to.

In the early days of sobriety, I did not understand how to continue to fully give myself to my family to support their needs while having enough left over to navigate midlife.  I became exhausted, exasperated and hopeless.  In my “black and white” thinking, there wasn’t room for both so I just tried to keep neglecting and ignoring my own needs.  That’s where the trouble had begun so many years earlier.  Women are conditioned to believe it is selfish to put themselves first, and I think it was this internalized message that led to all the upheaval in my midlife transition to begin with.

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A pivotal moment for me in this journey was an afternoon yoga and journaling workshop I took with Becky Vollmer, founder of “You Are Not Stuck” (https://youarenotstuck.com).  She invited participants to go back as far as we wished in our lives and imagine ourselves at a time when we were genuinely excited about becoming who we most wanted to be.  What did that person look like, how did she feel about herself and her future, what kinds of choices did she make?  The experience transported me to my pre-teen years.  A kid with a pixie cut in overalls who wrote plays, rode a dirt bike and dreamed of one day raising a family and having a writing career.  I discovered she’s still there, she’s just been hidden by years of “shoulds” and fear of failure.

 Anybody who has been in recovery for more than a few months will tell you it is a remarkable journey back to one’s authentic self.  Aren’t you worth rediscovering?

 

 

Thoughts About National Drink Wine Day

This morning as I was going through my Facebook memories (sadly the best compilation  I have of all my recent goings-on socially and in general), I saw a post from 2017 of myself drinking coffee as an act of rebellion against “National Drink Wine Day.”  “Bravo, You,” I said to myself, for I have achieved nothing in my life that didn’t include a little sense of rebellion against authority, status quo, ridiculousness.  What surprised me after a quick Google search was that 3 years later “National Drink Wine Day” is still a thing in America.  This, in spite of the fact that American women age 40 and older are the fastest growing group of alcoholics (or persons with alcohol use disorder, if you prefer) in our country today.  Right along with alcohol use disorder rates of liver disease, cancer and heart disease are rising because of the poisonous levels of toxins we barrage our bodies with when we drink alcohol.  But sure, let’s celebrate that “win” and Rose all day. Or not.

I’m not bashing the right of people to enjoy their wine whenever they want.  Lord knows, struggling to stay sober for the past years, I have learned to accept that people will continue to drink in spite of evidence it is bad for them, just like smoking.  It’s the cultural acceptance of self-sabotage that I don’t accept, hence these brief thoughts from a Woman in Recovery on a national day designated to celebrate what for many of us is simply a sad existence.

Like any revolution, great thinkers and role models are emerging from the non-drinking community.  I am reading Holly Whitaker’s “Quit Like a Woman:  The Radical Choice To Not Drink In a Culture Obsessed With Alcohol” currently.  She compares today’s rising rates of alcohol abusers (binge drinking among women is at an all time high) to the era when Big Tobacco spent massive amounts of advertising dollars to convince consumers cigarette smoking was a safe, adventurous and romantic complement to anyone living a full life.  Our collective thinking has come very far since the “Don Draper”Mad Men  days where drinking and smoking throughout the business day were considered well-deserved rewards for hard work.  Yet alcohol continues to hold a powerful grip on so many of us it is considered a “radical choice” not to drink these days.

I will tell you this, if I had not stopped drinking a bottle of red wine every single day in 2015, I would not have the great life I have today, and I am 100 percent confident my family would not be anywhere near the great shape they are in.  People who quit drinking, even for a couple of weeks, rave about the better sleep and greater clarity they have after just a short time changing their habits.  All I am saying is, I hope you will consider that there are big companies that do not have your best interests at heart that are benefiting from this campaign to celebrate drinking alcohol.  And you don’t have to accept that.  My life is proof of that.  Today I have stronger friendships and a far greater day to day existence that a few years ago when I was “life of the party.”

No substance can substitute a real life, from the highs to the lows.  And it may surprise you to know that, without alcohol doing a number on my blood sugar and energy levels everyday, I am able to think more clearly, stepping back before reacting to everything I experience, and I certainly bounce back from bad days much faster than I did in my drinking days.  I’m not celebrating “National Drink Wine Day” because I have found a much better way to live without wine and I love my life now.

If you care to join me, I’ll be having a quiet cappuccino this afternoon in a warm and sunny spot to celebrate the Resistance to National Drink Wine Day.  All the cool kids are sober.

I Just Want My Plush Towel and Other Holiday Reflections

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It’s been awhile.  The last time I wrote was last May as my son was leaving the house to finish his senior year of High School.  A pretty big day at our house and any parent’s.  It took me a few months to get my grounding after that day.  Going from 18 continuous years of round the clock parenting to a sudden and immediate “layoff” is quite a jolt and I was terrified I might never regain a sense of purpose.  So I found a volunteer gig and a new mantra, something like, “Guide Me,” grounding words I would repeat throughout the day every time I felt a new wave of panic rising.

Where to begin?  When you have poured your heart and soul into two human beings who are ready to launch into the world and the thought of moving forward terrifies you, how do you start?  Fortunately, I have had really good experiences volunteering in the past and it is something I am comfortable doing and my husband was supportive of me doing instead of looking for a paying job right away.  So I had a wonderful summer helping a local rehabilitative organization as a volunteer at a summer camp for developmentally challenged adolescents build executive functioning skills.  Ability KC is one of my favorite places because they support individuals and families of all ages and abilities to recover from debilitating injuries or conditions and regain strength and resilience.  As a person in recovery from alcohol addiction, building resilience is something I feel very passionate about.  So I started taking steps forward in my life and trusted God and the Universe to “Guide Me.”

Summer went by quickly and I built connections with the darling camp kids.  I learned massive amounts from the 20- and 30- something physical and occupational therapists running the camp.  I found that, as always, I had been planted in exactly the right place at the right time with the right people working for the right purpose.  Continuing with this trust and purpose, somehow I gradually awakened to the next opportunity in my “Life After Mom” journey.  I knew I wanted to work with kids on the brink of young adulthood who needed extra support.  So I began applying for jobs with local school districts as a Special Education Paraprofessional.  What luck and joy I had when a local middle school contacted me for an interview in early August.  I am now employed there and part of another team of inspiring individuals I am learning so much from.  And I have the privilege to connect with young people on a daily basis, meeting them where they are and trying my best to support and help them learn.  I am beyond grateful to have this new purpose in my life.

Recently, when strolling the bathroom aisle at Kohl’s, I realized I hadn’t given myself the luxury of a really thirsty and plush bath towel in many years.  So I bought 2 cream colored ones, something a Mom knows never to do with kids around because they’d be destroyed in days.  Another thing about the plush towels:  I just want them for myself but I haven’t explicitly communicated this to my husband.  Occasionally, in his morning haze and rush to work, he grabs one and I find myself feeling territorial and angry – about a towel!  Here’s my takeaway from the hidden meaning behind a newly liberated Mom and her plush towel anger issues:  it’s a small luxury just for me that I am not expected to share with anyone.  Ready to laugh out loud?  After 21 years of nurturing my family, I just want to be asked if they can use my plush towel!  I feel ridiculous about all the power I have given these towels in my psychological life and my family doesn’t even know it!

Moving forward in life after full-time parenting requires a sense of humor.  I appreciate the sense of belonging and acceptance I have at the middle school where I am working.  It’s building my skills, resilience and confidence.  No matter what age, we all need each other to build strength.  And plush towels.  We all need at least one just for ourselves.

Happy Holidays, friends, and may 2020 bring you an abundance of joy, new adventures and plush towels.

6 Risks Worth Taking

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I used to believe that trusting the Universe was foolish,  After all, what’s a good mind worth if you’re just going to throw logic away and believe everything will work out okay?  It’s taken 52 years and a heap of effort to discover that happy people are trusting people – doesn’t make them stupid or less worthy of a good life – it is simply a fact.  Marshall Crenshaw has a song, “Cynical Girl,” about a girl who “harbors no illusions and she’s worldly-wise.”  I pretended I was that girl for a very long time.  It was boring and I missed out on so many adventures – including failures – because I chose the safety of a cynical attitude.

When I chose sobriety in 2015 I had no idea I was responding to an invitation from the Universe to trust and live.  Everything that happened in my life before I chose sobriety felt like either a punishment or reward instead of simply life.  Giving up a chemical dependence meant surrendering to the illusion that I had any power whatsoever over what happened to me and those I loved.  That’s frightening!  But I also discovered that my husband and I had been risk-takers all along.  We were living and thriving in spite of minor scrapes and bruises along the way.  It’s weird when you stop numbing yourself from pain because it’s almost like you start expecting painful experiences without fear or dread.  Once you accept what is, the energy that went into numbing and denial and supporting beliefs that no longer serve you is free and available to use.  And life gets fun again, even the messy parts.

So, here is a short list of 6 messy risks I have taken (all of them affecting my family, so I give them lots of credit) that have been worth the short-term pain:

  1. Change careers even after you have an established one – mostly my husband has done this (a couple of times!) and I have been the “best supporting” character, but I have done a smaller version of this myself.  After raising kids, I have had a series of very low paying and stressful jobs that have all provided experience and skills leading to the satisfying “big” job I am in today, at exactly the moment I am ready for it. But also, THIS BLOG.  Cheeky Street started out as what I thought was the pursuit of a new career but has become something so much more important to me.  It’s a creative outlet for me, plain and simple.  I am proud of it and happy to let it just be without pushing it to grow into the next wildly successful online endeavor in the history of the world.  It meets a need in my life and that’s good enough for me.
  2. Connect with new and different people you haven’t been in contact with – it’s all part of learning about the open-heartedness “thing”  I have been given the chance to build a relationship with a first cousin I never knew growing up – and her family – and it’s been the sweetest journey.  My cousin reached out to me for a connection and taking the time to discover a part of my family I might have never known is nothing short of a miracle.  It’s just beautiful and my gratitude for this opportunity overflows.
  3. Get off anti-depressants – This will not be the case for everyone, but I am one of the fortunate people who once held the belief I would always need pharmaceutical “support.”  I have had the good fortune to work with a psychologist who supports the belief that we can learn to manage our emotions and life without taking anti-depressants.  After 25 years of believing a pill was managing my emotions, I am completely off all forms of chemical “therapy” and feeling happy, healthy and capable of handling life sans pharmaceuticals.
  4. Trust your child’s journey – Without betraying his privacy, I will just say my son has had an unconventional experience with traditional education and I have learned to respect and trust his instincts as well as advocate for him within an educational system that still barely tolerates kids who are different.
  5. Ignore criticism from people who haven’t been where you’re going.  As a former miserable practitioner of people-pleasing, permission-asking, approval-seeking behavior, this is huge.  If they AIN’T doing what you’re doing then why do you care what they think?  Keep moving forward.
  6. Sell the Baby Grand Piano – we literally did do this in order to catch up on some bills and pay for a nice vacation to Lake Michigan, but I am also speaking metaphorically.  Don’t be afraid to let go of things that are weighing you down from the past, especially if getting rid of them will provide something valuable for your future.

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By Cleo Wade

Cleo Wade is a newly discovered (by me, anyway), poet and Millenial Muse.  I love reading her work, just as I love interacting with and learning from today’s young people. They aren’t blindly pursuing the things my generation valued without first examining the true costs to their mental health, the community and environment.  I find them all very refreshing and look forward to learning more from this younger generation.  They give me hope for a kinder world committed to social and economic justice.  Turning the world over to the next generation is just a natural next step in my list of “risks worth taking.”  How grateful I am to have had the luxury of choosing each risk. Every single one.

 

 

The Path that Found Me

My husband and son are out of town on a big adventure for several days and my daughter and I are relaxing, enjoying some down time.  As is my habit when I have a little extra mental space and time, I go digging through old boxes in search of old letters, pictures, tokens from my past.  Though I have seen this photo so many times this morning it startled me:  she’s so young and fresh, like the strawberry she’s posing with next to her friend.  At 52, it is wonderful to have arrived at an age where I can recall a story for nearly every little scrap I have saved in my “special box” over the years.  Here’s what I remember about this picture.

The friend I am with was a special one for a short time.  We were both recently out of Graduate School and beginning our career paths, though mine was in the nonprofit world and her’s was health care administration.  Her career-obsessed, interrupting, impatient colleague drove us to the dinner we are enjoying in the photo.  I was half-heartedly pursuing what I thought would be a good “career path” for myself, though 50 percent of the people I met who were serious “career-oriented” people were way too intense for me.

Silly then, sillier now.  That’s me.  But I was ashamed of it then.  Looking at this sweet girl in the picture, I want to love her and reassure her that the right Path will find her. That it ultimately does not matter in life who you impress at meetings or how high you are willing to climb to earn a career.  The rude colleague of my friend ultimately achieved the highest honors in her career and she received accolades, awards and respect.  Good for her.  My “non-path path” has been glorious, sometimes painful but always given me the right kind of experience and space I needed to grow.

My son brilliantly summed up for me the most valuable part of any journey when he exclaimed his woes about his second day of kindergarten on the car ride home:  “My day was horrible!  The teacher only gave us 7 minutes to daydream!”  This kid is so my kid.  To resist externally imposed structure so resolutely at age 5 was both a blessing and curse for him and I have personally witnessed the toll an absurdly rigid school routine can take on his soul.  My advice to him and all you other free spirits out there:  trust yourself enough to know that the choices you make in life will yield abundance in many beautiful ways.  You may not choose a path that is laden with financial rewards and career milestones worthy of publishing in a business journal.  But this much I know:  THE WORLD NEEDS DAYDREAMERS!

So the path that found me was the one that was inside my heart as a youngster.  I loved getting on my bicycle and playing “carpool” with my imaginary children.  Unfortunately, as a woman in the eighties and nineties, it wasn’t very cool to admit that all you really wanted to do was “just be a Mom.”  But that’s what I have done and it has been my greatest joy in life.  I have a daughter, too, and she’s a creative genius and force of nature.  And I married a guy who does my favorite thing in the world:  he writes great love notes.  This one popped up when I was treasure hunting in my special box today.  We had been married exactly 5 weeks, I was undergoing testing for terrible allergies, and my guapo half Argentinean new groom wrote me these words:Love Note

My life has been rich and the journey becomes sweeter with age, as anybody over 50 understands, because we know each day is so precious.  I am so happy I decided to go through that box today and even happier that the Path I always dreamed of found me.

 

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.

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.

What the Rocks Know

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.

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Grand Canyon 2012, exploring the ancient rocks with my son, Mario and his friend Andy.  Listening to the Guide talk about the rock’s origins and formation with fascination – this is pure granite.  OMG!

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

 

 

 

 

 

Girlfriends are like Quilts

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!