In 18 days, she’s coming back home for the summer!!! It is a triumph to have survived the most dreaded event of my life. I could not help but project onto my daughter my personal feelings about being away from home for the first time, so I caused myself infinitely more suffering this year than she ever came close to experiencing. It’s what I do.
During her time away, my daughter has fully embraced her new experiences. She’s in a great sorority, she participated in variety shows and charity events, she travelled to other college campuses, she has made wonderful friends, and she has her own separate identity that is hers and hers alone. Her Dad and I are extremely humbled and proud. And somehow, through all of it, my heart got BIGGER, not smaller, and we got closer, not more distant.
When my college Freshman daughter was in kindergarten, we BOTH hated it so much I had a countdown calendar in the kitchen that we eagerly scratched off the days leading up to the long-awaited summer break. I think I hated kindergarten more, come to think of it, because my Isa spent the following summer writing letters to her teacher who was helping her husband heal from cancer. That’s my girl, she stays connected to the people she cares about. I should have known the “break” for college would not be an actual break, as my heart feared.
This is my message to all the Moms who are now in my shoes, anticipating (perhaps dreading) their child’s first year of college and what lies ahead:
Whatever groundwork has been laid before college holds the parent/child bond together;
In spite of whatever fears you may have from your past, your child is eager to move into the future and will do so regardless of how you feel, and it will be okay;
Your child needs to experience the world without you and vice versa – families change in many ways over time, but love makes more than enough room for the new stuff and people that will come into your life;
Instead of thinking as the transition to college as a personal loss, remind yourself each day that it is a victory – you created and raised a child who wants to engage in this crazy world with the tools you helped nurture;
If you are married or have a partner, be extremely proud that you did this together – and if you are still together, even more so, for staying married and releasing a young adult into the world are both enormous accomplishments.
Yes, my heart aches because the time with my daughter as a budding adult is gone. I am learning to put those feelings aside to wholeheartedly enjoy the friendship and journey we are on together. She’s not going to leave me behind, she has proven that. I can keep counting days until I see her again if I want to, but this year has shown me that our bond of togetherness is stronger than physical presence. She lives in my heart.
This summer, she has promised to take some walks with me and our dog, Pudgey. Over the winter, Pudgey and I got sort of lazy and may have put on a few pounds wallowing in self-pity. Thank goodness the Commander is on her way back home to whip us into shape!
Lately I have reflected alot on Brene Brown’s definition of “true belonging” from her latest book, “Braving the Wilderness”:
“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to
yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”
There is a big whopping heap of wisdom in that one little definition! Consider it from the framework of a marriage: a happy and successful “union,” some say, is the sum of two whole parts. Both partners are complete going into the union. What about the years when outside influences and family responsibilities gnaw at the core of one’s “whole self” – what about times when you are giving so much of yourself, you feel lost inside your own home?
This happened to me when a series of overwhelming challenges happened in rapid succession. Not only did I not belong to myself, I felt separate from the “wholeness” of marriage. Alone and terrified. Money, kids, health, work, geography and all kinds of other mini-challenges crept in my life and the me I was once so solidly familiar with started to disappear. Often weary, I dulled my fighting impulse with red wine. I thought I was stronger (i.e., belonged more authentically to myself) when I was drinking, but this could not have been further from the truth. I forgot how worthy I was of a happy life, so I drowned all my dreams and ambitions in alcohol. Fortunately for me and my family, a spark of life remained and I woke up in 2015 to the realization that I had made a big mess trying to comfort myself through numbing rather than belonging. I was in a crisis of disconnection.
Brene Brown continues her definition of true belonging”
“True belonging is not something that you negotiate externally, it’s what you carry in your heart. It’s finding the sacredness in being a part of something and in braving the wilderness alone. When we reach this place even momentarily, we belong everywhere and nowhere. That sounds absurd, but it’s true.”
I wonder if the quest for “true belonging” isn’t the biggest challenge we as humans are meant to overcome. It seems so simple but the piece that brought me back to myself and the living world and my family was finding the sacredness in being a part of something. Somehow I had internalized the message early in life that belonging equaled weakness so when the road of my life got very twisty – I retreated into myself and stopped connecting.
Many addiction experts believe that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety – it’s connection. I wholeheartedly believe this to be true. The joy of connection is an equal opportunity healer – yet for some, the most difficult to attain. If you are around enough people who suffer from addiction disorders, you will likely hear it repeated that they are grateful for their addiction because it led them to this awareness that true belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world.
Living a sober life after years of dulling the brightness of the real world truly is an adventure in re-connecting with the child you once were and the loved ones you travel with. I am grateful to Brene Brown for helping me to clarify the importance of true belonging, it is the foundation for my whole life now.
“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.”
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.
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!
My one and only daughter, my beautiful Isabella, has recently turned 18 years old. I want to have profound things to say to her but every time I try, just a huge gush of emotion rushes forth. One thing I do keep thinking about is the time I let her Dad travel halfway across the country with her at six months of age to visit his cousin in Los Angeles. They were gone for four days, an eternity to this new Momma. We had no social media in 1999 so I could feel like I was a part of the adventure, only occasional phone calls to hear the cooing sound of her voice.
Through that little separation, I learned many things about my love for Isa and the kind of Mother I hoped to be for her. I wanted her childhood to be:
Full of adventures she could call her own, without me helicopter parenting in the background;
Grounded in a strong sense of family and self, so she would trust herself to make big decisions knowing that the love of her family would always support her;
Joyful enough so she would look forward to spreading her wings as an adult and sorrowful enough for her to understand that tears shed are a beautiful part of life’s journey and a reminder to be true to oneself and surrender love completely while the opportunity is given;
Magical in her own unique way, a time of exploring everything the senses could reach within the safety of a loving home;
Solidly anchored in self-love and a sense of personal competence and the ability to reject shame.
Over the years, my Isa’s comings and goings have been very bittersweet. When she returned home from her Los Angeles adventure, I played with her on the sofa all afternoon and cherished my good fortune to be the temporary guardian of her being. She hugged me and said “Mama!” when she first saw me after that separation, so I knew then that we would be lifelong friends. Today, I am awestruck by the beauty, strength and tenderness of her character and humbled to be her Mother.
James Taylor recorded a song in 1979 called “Honey, Don’t Leave L.A.”. It is his friend’s story about a French woman he fell in love with who ultimately left. Her spirit was indomitable. Just like my Isa.
So happy to bring you this insightful piece from my Recovery Friend, Rose Lockinger. If you are new in your Recovery or simply in need of a fresh perspective, Rose’s piece reminds us to expect a journey full of twists, turns, surprises and mini-victories. In short, like all things in life, when doing the work of Recovery, expect the unexpected and welcome the lessons as they unfold. xoxo Joan
You know how people always say that we take two steps forward, one step back, well in no other place in my life have I found that truer than with my recovery.
See, I have found that the healing process is never linear, although sometimes I would like it to be. Sometimes I want to believe that it will be achieved perfectly but this is never the case. Like it says, progress not perfection, this process of healing involves progress. It never just continues in a straight and logical manner but rather it ebbs and flows, and there are times when I feel like I’m actually healing and other times when I feel like I am completely regressing.
I didn’t understand that this was the way of things when I first got sober and I guess I sort of believed that my life would just get exponentially better day in and day out. The reason why I thought this way is because my life changed so dramatically and so suddenly that I just thought it would continue in this manner forever. The Steps seemed to work perfectly and the further I got into them the better off I became.
I found that I stopped lying as much. I stopped craving drugs and alcohol, and I even started to believe in God, in fact so much healing occurred in that first year of recovery that to a certain degree I kind of felt like I was destined to become the most spiritual being on the planet. That I was destined to be free from all of my character defects within the next year or so, but then reality kicked in and coming down from my little spiritual hilltop, I settled into my new way of life and I began to see that not everything was being healed as quickly as my alcoholism was. I began to see that many of the things in my life that were particularly ingrained were going to take a lot of work to get over and possibly more pain before they were ready to be healed.
I have also found that certain times in my recovery, I thought that I was healed from something, or that I had finally overcome some trauma or defect of character only to be reminded a couple of weeks later that it was still there and there was more healing to be done. I’d get these epiphanies and believe that I understood something that would allow me to change or heal, and to a certain extent I would, but then it would just lead me to more parts of myself that need to be healed.
Without getting too far into the abstract, I sort of believe that this is the way that life works. We are born whole and pure, without any attachment or damage and then through the process of our life we pick up damage and get hurt by people or things. Then once we are ready, we begin the process of healing from this hurt, attempting to get back to a place of wholeness, but the process is unique and there is no set road map. With each layer of healing that occurs another is revealed just like the peeling of an onion, and so the job is never done It is always ongoing.
I’ll give you a recent example from my own life to help illustrate this point. It is something that I have written about a lot and talked about even more, but has been probably the most important thing that has occurred in my recovery and has been one of the greatest sources of healing for me.
For years I hated my ex-husband, but after working my Steps I healed a little bit from the pain that I felt he inflicted on me, and so for a time I was okay. I believed that I had achieved peace with this part of my life and in all honesty for some time, I had. I wasn’t yet ready to really dive into that situation and experience true healing and so I only peeled back the first layer of the onion.
Then I moved back to my home state so that I could be with my kids and in doing so, I had to invite him back into my life. Not in the sense that we were getting back together, but in the sense that we had children together which required regular interaction with him.
Being home and being around him brought up things in me that were tremendously painful and I really struggled for a number of months with this. There were some days where I’d thought I found peace in the situation, only to have it destroyed the following day when he’d make some offhanded comment to me, or I’d find out something he said about me to our kids.
I’d go to meetings and I’d hear bits and pieces of information that I needed in order to heal from the situation and I’d leave these meetings thinking I had finally found the secret that would unlock my healing and allow me to act neutrally towards him, but this just didn’t happen. As the months went on and the pain got greater, I continued my lurch towards healing by taking two steps forward and one step back.
Then something happened that allowed me to know that I truly had healed from the wounds of this part of my life. I finally felt the true acceptance of who he is as a person and what the situation was. I no longer felt anger towards him. In fact, I just felt compassion and realized that he was doing the best he could.
So that’s been the story of my healing, a process that is messy sometimes and seems to move in directions that don’t make sense to me, but in the end, work towards my greater good. Sometimes I am aware that I am moving in the right direction, while other times I’m not even sure where I’m going, but through it all, I usually wind up feeling better.