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.

 

 

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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.

The Antidote to Hate

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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.

 

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!

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!

 

In Pursuit Of A Gentle Way

Of all the adjectives one could choose to describe my personality, “Gentle” would most definitely not be among even the first twenty that come to mind.  I have a very tender heart, but years of burying and covering up my vulnerabilities have created a somewhat tough exterior.  This happens to many of us in life.  It usually takes nearly half a century of living before you start to think about yourself as not merely a physical being but a spiritual one.  I am almost one year past the mid-century mark in physical years and this is certainly true for me.  More than anything, I want to prioritize spiritual growth over other pursuits right now.  So my “Word of the Year” for 2017 is GENTLE.

The death of a beloved classmate last summer reminded me of a guiding principle for my High School education, a quote by Francis de Sales, “Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.”  Weeks before Lori’s passing, several of my classmates and I were in daily contact with her via group text messaging.  She reached out to us in her most frightened, vulnerable state for support as she awaited news and guidance about her recent diagnosis of breast cancer.  The outpouring of “gentle strength” from my group of High School friends was, at times, mind-blowing.  We walked hand in hand with Lori through her life’s most harrowing journey until it was time for her to leave her physical body.  It was the most beautiful, intimate, raw experience of my adult life so far.

The courage it took for Lori to open herself up to so many friends from so long ago dismays me.   I will be forever humbled and convinced that gentleness is the ultimate spiritual practice.

Everybody knows compromise is a good thing to practice in business and ultimately in life.  Bending one’s will to move toward another’s best interests leads to successful relationships and a satisfying life.  Nobody likes a stubborn old goat!!!  Learning to practice gentleness begins with ME:   embracing an open, courageous, accepting heart means I also have to be vulnerable when I don’t necessarily want to face it.  Approaching a life of gentleness as a practice rather than a goal allows me to make small choices on a daily basis that ultimately lead to the value of gentleness.  Before letting myself become completely angry, for instance, I try to think less of what I want from any situation or person and more about how wonderful it is the other person crossed my path.  I can think about people and things this way because of gentleness – I am learning to accept what is and forget the rest. This practice leads to alot less brooding about what ought to be and frees up lots of time to just be in the moment.

So, in 2017, I will continue to joyfully pursue the practice of gentleness in my life.  Earlier today, I read a beautiful reflection on gentleness, and I share it here with you as a special gift for you to take on your 2017 journey:

“It’s the hard things that break; soft things don’t break.  It took me so very, very long to see it!  You can waste so many years of your life trying to become something hard in order not to break; but it’s the soft things that can’t break!  The hard things are the ones that shatter into a million pieces.”  C. JoyBell C.

HAPPY NEW YEAR and may you joyfully experience the softness of a bigger, fuller, gentler life of authenticity this year!!!!

3 Things I got Right (and 7 I didn’t) in Motherhood

My Dad used to say with a great deal of disdain, “Anybody can procreate.”  The underlying meaning, of course, was that very few could raise children correctly.  All I really ever wanted to be was a Mother.  More than an archeologist, disc jockey, journalist, lawyer, nursing home administrator, speech therapist, French teacher, occupational therapist, florist or anything else – I have always “just” yearned to be a Mom – a really good one.

I always knew one absolute truth about Motherhood:  If I was going to model my maternal style on my own Mother’s legacy, I had big shoes to fill.   She managed to keep a clean house and serve three delicious squares every single day for 7 children (we won’t talk about emotional upheaval in between!).

Instead of absolute “perfection,” I have always aimed for a more realistic goal in my Mothering:  meeting my child where she or he was and lifting the goodness where I saw it.

In other words, I have been more of a “let love and joy lead”kind of Mom (similar to my vision of the Divine – never harsh or judgmental, always searching for the Light).

Now in their teens, I see my 2 teenagers’ experience of my Motherhood a little more objectively, and the 3 strengths and 7 flaws are glaringly obvious.  Here are the 7 things “good Moms” excel at that I really bombed:

  • Time Management Although we lived right across the street from the Library, my kids were always late to Story Time.
  • Potty Training  Instead of motivational charts, I employed begging and pleading, which never worked. My daughter begged me to make her a chore chart when she was about 6 and, out of frustration, she ended up making her own!
  • Volunteering  I was my daughter’s Daisy Troop leader and those poor little girls never earned badges, it was just too much; I volunteered in my son’s kindergarten class and total mayhem ensued and I had to be rescued by the School Social Worker.
  • Animals and Kids I thought the kids should have a puppy after my husband’s faithful and well trained Labrador passed away; Tango, the Boxer, made our lives wilder and more unpredictable than ever – if we weren’t searching for her with slices of cheese to encourage a timely and safe return home, I was scolding her for ruining a new rug or bringing home cow skulls.
  • Singing No, not ever did my kids enjoy singing with Mommy.  Instead, they covered their ears and pleaded, “No!!!!!!,” but when Daddy started singing, they quickly became calm and content.
  • Nursing When my kids were sick, they wanted their Dad, the calm and steady soul.
  • Cooking One time, a culinary flop was so embarrassing, my 10-year-old daughter got up from the table and started making omelets for our guests.  When I burned the bat-shaped cookies my son wanted to take to school for Halloween, he hugged me and said “Mom, I don’t know anybody who could have done better.”

In spite of these 7 maternal failings, I think my kids learned alot from their experiences!  Fortunately, I managed to get 3 things right, and I think that is going to be enough to seal their future adult lives as positive and productive:

  • Compassion   I am literally beaming with pride even today. When I visit their High School, I am almost always approached by a special needs student who proudly introduces him or herself as my son or daughter’s “FRIEND.”  Somehow, I got this right!  To be kind to the vulnerable and marginalized is not always second nature, and I guess, through living with me, my kids learned to practice (without knowing it) compassion.  THIS and only THIS was my main goal as a Mom, and this job is complete.  Thank you, God!
  • Acceptance/Inclusion There were times my kids were invited to do “yucky” things but instead of avoiding them, both my son and daughter would usually go and then come home and innocently share something amazing with me.  Like the time my son was the only child who attended an unpopular boy’s birthday party and he came home and said, “Mom, did you know you can be 7 years old and STILL in kindergarten?!”.  Or many times I observed my daughter sweetly ask a newcomer something about themselves, with genuine interest and warmth.
  • Celebrate I may have missed a few “learning opportunities” in the positive discipline arena while my children were growing up, but what they did experience alot of was celebrations of all kinds:  the dog’s birthday; the first day the Christmas lights were on in our local park; the joint 5th and 50th birthday party of my husband and our son with the bouncy house; picnics and craft parties with Big Brothers Big Sisters; going to the movies with their cousins; giving Grandma and Grandpa gifts they bought at a truck stop on Interstate 70; taking the first rose that bloomed in our garden to a teacher; sitting on the front porch with our friend with Down Syndrome and eating a Sonic corn dog.  Building moments to celebrate love, life and joy have been regular parts of my 2 kids’ upbringing, and I already see my daughter cultivating that kind of funloving, life-embracing attitude with her friends.  

One thing I know for sure, when we did things at our house, we did them with GUSTO, and for that, I am proud.  I hope my 7 shortcomings are forgiven and that my teenagers continue to move forward in life with open hearts and loving attitudes!  We can’t all be champion chart makers…..

 

 

 

 

 

When The Going Gets Tough, Cheeky Street Heads For Comfort

October was ROCKY on Cheeky Street, friends!  My husband and I have been experiencing unexpected stress and pressure in every area of our lives.  Lots of “fight or flight” hormones are flying around between us, and that is never good on a sustained level.  How do I cope?

Some may find solace in the comfort of one good friend.  For me, when my life starts getting out of whack, especially since I had to learn healthy self-care, I always go back to my “solids”:  Family, Friends, Faith and Food.  

At age 50, I  have had to learn the difference between positive self-care (the kind that nourishes your spirit to move forward ) and numbing (exacerbating fear and anxiety by temporarily dulling natural impulses to react).  I have spent long hours reading about addiction and the brain and the impact that repetitive behaviors and thoughts have on the actual wiring of our brains.  And our ability to re-wire the brain by forging new ways of thinking – reinforced by repeating the new, changed, healthy behavior.

I believe, as neuroscience is starting to discover through research, that humans have the innate ability to literally change the pathways of our brain to become healthier, happier beings.

This means that some old behaviors have to be modified.  Overindulging, which has always been my go-to coping mechanism during stressful times, usually leads to regrets, unhappiness and failures.  In Recovery, my challenge has been to fine-tune my self-care regimen by scaling back on positive behaviors and eliminating negative behaviors.

I’ll start with Family.  As the youngest of 7, my role has pretty much been to entertain the family with my foibles.  If I could make everybody laugh, that would relieve family tension and boost my self-confidence.  And prevent me from ever being responsible – for anything!  I have had to learn new ways of relating to my family – especially when I need their comfort and reassurance – by being honest about my feelings and willing to accept natural consequences of what I receive in return (not just going for the easy laugh).  The result?  While families are almost always complicated, I am learning it is so much richer to connect authentically with siblings and other relatives – instead of going for laughter, I am trying to just be real and say things like, “I really don’t know how to do this – what do you think?” instead of glossing things over with humor.  I have spent 50 years avoiding emotional pain, for whatever reason.  One of the great gifts in Recovery is freedom from the weight of any expectations:  when you commit to just be yourself, be real, get hurt, feel anger or rejection – you find that the Universe manages to nourish you just enough to cope with real life and your relationships move out of the darkness. Family may not always be the first place I look for comfort – because honesty sometimes hurts – but I have learned that my family will never lie to me, and it is up to me to accept the truth or not.

Now about Friends:  this is a complicated part of my life because I have spent so many years trying to please others.  The friends I have are the friends that accept me and have no expectations whatsoever.  I have stopped pursuing “friends en masse” – especially when my heart stings after seeing another “happy girls trip” featured on someone’s Facebook post!  I am a one-on-one kind of girl, and my friends are diverse.  My friends don’t get alot of “tending to” from me because I always put my children first.  So the friends I have are self-confident, tough and resilient.  Not needy.  I don’t have a lot of time or interest to “fuss about” with shallow relationships, so I prefer a few deep friendships.  Some of my friendships have lasted decades!  In any event, in times of deep need, like this past month, the friends I have are thoroughly “on board” with me, even though I am not my light-hearted self.  That is so comforting.

Faith.  That anchor, that sense of believing things are happening for the best, even though you are in the midst of the dark unknown:  it is STILL with me.  Spirit has never abandoned me, not once, never will.  Yes, I get terribly frightened and confused.  Yes, I do and say regrettable things.  Yet I am confident that Spirit will guide me and my family to the right circumstances at the right time.  I try not to let FEAR drown out the voice of CALM.

My faith is a distance runner built for marathons and fear is just a puny little sprinter.  Fear may be fast and furious but Faith is ready for the long-haul.  That’s the kind of faith I am experiencing these days.

Finally, my favorite old friend in times of distress:  FOOD!

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In particular, COOKIES!  How I wish I could be strong like so many of the gorgeous women I see on Facebook, and go for that extra workout during times of stress.  But Madam Cheeky heads for her staples:  Butter and Sugar.  Food is still my weakest link and I am really striving to move toward a healthier body in Recovery.  For now, though, oh my GOD, the cookies are delicious!  This week I baked a batch of – are you ready – Brown Sugar-Pecan Shortbread Cookies – and friends, they did not disappoint.  Here is the recipe for you, courtesy of The New York Times:

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Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups four
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1/4 teaspoon alt
  • Pinch of clove
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup finely ground pecans
  • Confectioners’ sugar

Directions

  1. Sift together flour, cornstarch, salt and clove.
  2. Using a mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.  Stop the mixer to scrape down the sides.  Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed just until incorporated.  Add the pecans and mix just until combined.
  3. Place the dough on a sheet of plastic wrap.  Cover with another sheet of plastic and shape into a square (I was too lazy for this step).  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Roll the dough between the plastic to 1/4-inch thick, and into a 9 1/2 x 11-inch rectangle.  Refrigerate for a t least 1 1/2 hours, or up to 2 days.
  4. Position two oven racks so they divide the oven into thirds.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Discard the plastic sheets from the dough.  Trim the edges to form a 9 x 10.5/2-inch rectangle, then cut the dough into 1 1/2-inch squares.  Place the squares on the baking sheets, then, with a fork, pierce each cookie twice all the way through.  Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back after 9 minutes.  If desired, dust the cookies with confectioners’ sugar while still hot.  Transfer to a rack to cool.

Adapted from “Baking:  From My Home to Yours,” by Dorie Greenspan

Carpe Diem As Passionately As You Can!

“Do you remember spreading your trick-or-treat candy on the floor with your brothers and sisters and trading with each other for your favorites?,” my husband asked me last evening as we watched a Netflix show portraying this tradition.  “No, my brothers and sisters were away at boarding school. Maybe, if I got lucky, one of them drove me around town to trick-or-treat,” I replied.  “That’s so sad, I can’t believe with so many siblings you never had that,” my husband replied.  He’s usually not this sentimental.  But we are both raw in a happy, sappy, parent-y kind of way.

We just returned from a college visit with our daughter, our precious jewel who is approaching her time to move away for college.  That was the conversation we had just before bed on the day we took Isa to the University of Arkansas.  When I woke up this morning, I was drifting out of a panicky dream of trying to keep all of my loved ones inside a bowl.  The bowl was imbalanced and my loved ones were unhappy being crammed in it against their will.  But I selfishly wanted to keep them there to hoard the good times forever.

When I was much younger, I used to create collages for family and friends to capture funny memories and special photos and create something permanent.  I would glue magazine images to coke bottles, homemade cardboard footstools, cigar boxes and more, so happy to have created something permanent out of moments from the past.

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If you lived through the 1970’s, you most certainly recognize this collage of images to capture the essence of that decade.

 

I think aging can sometimes feel like a struggle to create permanence – maybe out of fear or sentimentality – but mostly from the desire to comfort and reassure ourselves of many things.

After all, when we are young, we are encouraged and supported to “try new things” based on the assumption we will devote a lifetime enjoying and perfecting the things we choose when we are young.  When we are older, however, because of the uncertainty of time and limited energy and resources, the tendency to accept or try new things feels risky and pointless.  After all, shouldn’t we just reach a magical age when work is over and all we have to do is sit and bask in the splendor of relationships we have worked our lives to create?  While this is one of the assumptions that traditional American retirement is based on, I know that, at least for me, it is not going to work.

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This is a literal translation of the musical sign for resting.  I love it because music has been a part of my life, I still remember my first piano lesson in kindergarten.  A rest in music, perfectly timed, can elevate an ordinary sound to a glorious experience.

 

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Ripened peaches make me drool, just like life sometimes!  They are the perfect metaphor for aging well to me – we are supposed to continue to experience life and savor everything with gusto.

Aging well is more about accepting impermanence and knowing when to do the 2 most important things in life:  1.  Resting; 2. Devouring the ripened fruit.

 

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My creative photographer husband, Michael, captured this image one summer Saturday morning as we enjoyed watching our beautiful, round and ripened baby girl, Isabella, enjoy her first bagel.

My sweet little baby girl has ripened into a young woman – it is time for her to transition from living with me to expanding out into the big world.  She no longer fits in a bowl, the world is her bowl and I have prepared her for it.

 Painful as it is, launching a child into the world is a beautiful act of creation.  Our daughter is her own person, influenced by genes, experiences and love from home.  She belongs to herself and her footprint in this world is original, unique, and borne of her own spirit energy.

Takeaways from all of this?

  1.  It isn’t sad that I never swapped Halloween candy with my 6 older siblings – at least I never felt that loss until my husband, who is much closer in age to his 2 younger sisters, pointed it out.  Obviously, that experience from childhood meant something to my husband that continues to bring him joy today.  Any time we can grab a fleeting moment of warmth from our past, it’s a divine experience – like eating a ripened peach – that we must stop and enjoy;
  2. Denying the sadness I feel over my daughter’s emerging adulthood would prevent me from fully experiencing what is happening now, and I don’t want to miss the parade. Literally, she is in a parade in 2 hours

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” Anais Nin

It’s Okay To Be Late To The Party

13724844_10208785568789224_8461321461091356507_oI hadn’t really thought about my High School experience for years, especially while enjoying the vividly contrasting experience my children are having today in High School.  The world is so big (and scary to some – like me), and my children’s perspective of their future, because of the co-educational, diverse, academically challenging environment they are in for High School, is optimistic.  Personally, though I appear Pollyanna-ish, I am a cautiously optimistic person by nature.  “Expect the best but prepare for the worst” would be a good description of my life choices, and not always in a good way – I have missed alot of fun and friendship by choice because I felt I would not fit in.

Over a month ago, several of my former High School classmates lovingly and gracefully responded to the pleas of our friend and sister, Lori, who had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and needed support. Lori, the Boston College Graduate with a Law Degree from Washington University, an impressive curriculum vitae and solid history as a humanitarian and philanthropist, asked for her sisters’ loving consolation for strength.  Wow.  I reached out a couple of weeks after the group had formed (I was on a social media sabbatical) by joining along with my classmates in cheering Lori’s indomitable spirit on, as we all knew she would prevail, as always.

Throughout our 24/7 conversations that took place over about 21 days, I couldn’t help but remember one of the foundations of our High School education from Visitation Academy, a Catholic, all-girls school in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, founded by the Sisters of the Visitation:

St. Francis de Sales:  “Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as true strength.”

In the moments between conversations,  I randomly remembered things that happened in those days and then judged my immature 17-year-old behavior against what I know about myself and life today.  The most difficult memory to reconcile involved Lori herself.  We were co-counsels in a mock trial against my scrappy best friend (who ultimately graduated from Law School and became the First Female Chief of Staff for the Governor of Missouri).  I knew she’d knock our teeth out in the first round.  So what did I do?  I hardly prepared – I let Brilliant, Sweet Lori do the majority of the trial preparation while I focused on what I liked to think of as “aesthetics” (e.g., flirting with our lawyer sponsor and shopping for my beautiful trial outfit).  Heavy guilt and shame to bear 32 years later when this sweet angel has included me in the most intimate conversation of her life.  In fact, more recently, instead of begrudging me for the things I did or did not do in High School, Lori reached out to support me in my Recovery from alcohol addiction.  I learned in later conversations with friends that Lori was doing the same with many, many people – sending cards, donations to charities, and anything uplifting she could think of to love and support others.

I realize now because of Lori that people like her – beautiful, strong, accomplished, immersed in life – ask for help and support when they need it.  That’s STRENGTH, not weakness.

I wish this story had a happy ending involving a massive reunion including Lori after cancer had left her body for good.  It does not.  She received devastating news about a month after her original diagnosis about the cancer having spread.  She learned there were no treatment options.  She continued to love and communicate positively with her dear High School friends until she entered hospice, passing away less than a week later.  Stunned and overwhelmed with grief, many of us who had been writing to Lori through her most difficult journey gathered in the presence of our dear Visitation Nuns and honored her.  We sang our School Anthem and prayed and embraced one another.  We ate donuts, Lori’s favorite treat, and tried to reminisce about the happiness she had brought us instead of the sadness we were feeling.

Truth be told, I almost did not go.  Even during my 4-hour drive to attend Lori’s service, I was tempted to turn around and go home to sit quietly on my comfortable couch.  Why?  Because I did not feel worthy of the experience.  She was so good and I have so many faults.  At one point, the voice in my head even taunted me and tried to make me believe that I did not belong – my presence would be meaningless.  Still, I drove on to be with my Viz sisters and embrace the women we have become. I am glad I did.  Lori taught me, even after her spirit left her body, that it is okay to be late to the party – it is okay to feel like an outsider, because we all have special gifts to give.  The nuns hugged me and were so glad to see my dimples and big blue eyes!!!  My friends fell over laughing when they heard my uniquely explosive cackling.  I may not have been Lori’s best friend, but I had a special connection with her.  I did belong and Lori made space for me, even unto her death.