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.

 

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

Today, my precious first-born graduates from High School.  My God, wasn’t I just at her kindergarten graduation?  All of us parents share the same wistful feeling about time with our children – it goes by much too quickly.  She’s a healthy, balanced, focused, driven, joyful, beautiful and brilliant young woman now.  What more could I ask for? I must step aside and watch her grow.

If there is one thing I have learned from my recovery, it is there is no shame in starting over.  I do it everyday.  We all do.  The previous 48 years of “all or nothing” thinking really limited my growth and perspective and that hindrance ultimately led to a dependence which became an addiction.  Now I know.  To paraphrase the brilliant Maya Angelou famously, “Once you know better, do better.”

People ask me all the time, “How have you stayed sober?”.  The answer is simple:  each morning when I open my eyes, I thank God for another day of life and I commit to not drinking that day.  I have other things I do, and attending a 12-step program is not one of them.  I did for the first 12 months and decided I needed to broaden my resources and thinking, and have happily managed a workable – if not patchwork – program on my own.  I am enjoying life today instead of enduring it.

Here’s the point I want to make today:  you can change at any time and begin a new path.  My 18-year old daughter is graduating from High School tonight with beautiful dreams of her own.  There were days when she was very young when I would find myself in a heap of laundry and tears on the telephone with my oldest sister saying, “I can’t even take care of myself.  I am so afraid and overwhelmed.”  But life marched on, didn’t it?.

The takeaway I want anybody reading this today to receive is this:

Never Be Afraid Of Starting Over

Perfection is an unrealistic expectation and illusion that does nothing but create resentment and discontent.  Wouldn’t you be happier saying you tried something and enjoyed the moment rather than standing still in perfect silence, terrified by the prospect you can never be perfect?  Motherhood taught me so many things, and especially raising such a determined little character as my daughter, Isabella Bernadette.  When she was 3 and just starting out hosting “play-dates,” I would be so desperate to please the other Mothers, I would constantly intervene and scold her, telling her repeatedly to “share” with the other children.  Her response?

“I want to share with ME!”

Don’t we ALL?  Who can argue with the brilliant logic of a 3-year-old little girl?!

The thing is, we all have to learn to be our own cheerleaders and personal life coaches.  Instead of looking in all the wrong places (e.g., malls, catalogs, bars, escapes), the answer can be found within.  I guess I was too skeptical, cynical and afraid to trust myself.  I know better now, so I am doing better.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Healing Happens in Phases: Ebbing and Flowing

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.

My recovery, and by extension, my healing process, has been one that involves phases, there are times of growth and times of setbacks, but through it all, I have learned more about myself and what I need to heal the wounds of my life.

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.

Now even though these feelings seemed to just wash over me in an instant, it was months and months of moving in that direction that lead to the actual healing.  Now, this is not to say that I don’t get upset still from time to time because I do, but it is no way shape or form like it was just a few months ago.

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.

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Rose Locking is a passionate member of the recovery community.  A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction.  She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children, she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world.  Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.  You can find Rose on LinkedIn, Facebook & Instagram

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!!!!

“Just As You Freakin’ Are?”

Remember that pivotal scene in “Bridget Jones’ Diary” when she tells her friends that Mark Darcy has told her he likes her “very much – just as you are“?  They react with wide-eyed amazement.  “Just as you freakin’ are?,” one of them repeats with disbelief.   It’s so simple yet rare to have that kind of love, right?

Imagine enjoying that kind of love for self:  developing the ability to look in the mirror each day and say to yourself, “I love you, JUST AS YOU ARE.”  This is the best way I can describe my life after 555 days of soul-searching sobriety.

For some unknown reason, my sobriety has yielded the spiritual gift of truly deep and unfailing JOY.  Because of joy, I have had the courage to explore many new paths in 555 days – paths I would have had to ignore while drinking, to make time for hangovers!

Here is what 555 days and approximately 2,220 cups of coffee, accompanied by lots of reading, thinking, sharing and exploring has opened up in my life:

  • Spirituality  Admitting you are powerless over a substance has a way of removing a huge burden from your shoulders and opening your eyes to the Spiritual Journey we are all on.  When I meet people now that I am sober, because of the Grace and Humility that sustain me, I am more likely to search for whatever good I can find in that person and connect in any way to the story of their life – not just their outward appearance, or even their words;
  • Creativity Before I got sober, I had to think for several months about exactly what it was that I wanted for myself that was more important than numbness.  For years, I have had a yearning to write about many things, but of course, the fear of looking stupid is a powerful inhibitor.  No, I decided to try it:  to give up numbness for the feeling of expressing myself on paper, even if nothing came of it, was a risk I decided to take.  I am SO thankful I did!;
  • Intuition It is so lovely to open up space in your life for peace and quiet.  For a long time, my drinking and subsequent numbness was the crutch I had to use to “get there” – my pseudo- place of satisfaction.  Sobriety can deliver enormous intuitive capacity to the person in long-term recovery.  Through quiet reflection, which is definitely a necessary daily practice to ensure I am not going to drink during each 24-hour period, a feeling of calm and reassurance that I can rely on my very own skills to deal with whatever life challenges me with that day.  I feel 100 percent more competent and trusting in my intuition;  
  • Financial Sobriety/ Simplicity Early in sobriety, it is common to consider all of the things that are “out of control” in one’s life as a result of the chaos regular numbing creates.  Broken relationships, employment and financial disasters are often the “Big 3” demons someone committed to long-term recovery must confront.  What I am experiencing personally is such personal fulfillment inside, my spending habits and attitudes toward money are changing.  I am starting to actually enjoy making changes to build a nest-egg rather than finding reasons to use money to cover my pain today.  Somehow, I have finally internalized the message that I HAVE enough because I AM enough. THIS is a miracle!  To read more about this concept, visit Meadow Devor’s blog @ http://www.meadowdevor.com.

In short, learning to love yourself “just as you are” is one way to express growing up.  Being a grown up was never very appealing to me, at least not every single dimension of it.  The personal responsibility and accountability part of being a grown up have strengthened the most during my 555 journey.  I believe myself when I say I will do something, unlike before, when a voice inside of me was constantly bickering in the background and telling me I would somehow mess things up entirely.

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Messing up is part of life, it is what makes us unique and human.  Many times, messes give us our biggest lessons and greatest joy.  Go forward in your journey, the path does not have to be straight!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…..

 

 

 

 

 

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

That was me, 2 years ago, before I got Sober

0429160942_HDRThis is me today.  In 9 days, I will celebrate my “First Sober Birthday” with my my AA friends and family.  I feel grateful and humble and raw.

For every person, the desire to become sober and begin living a life in the truth, however imperfect, comes from unique motivations.  Sadly, many find themselves seeking sobriety after huge losses or tragedy.  I am lucky that my story is pretty simple.  I knew alcohol consumed ME, not the reverse.  I knew I needed to find something I wanted more than the feeling of numbness and relief I got from consuming an entire bottle of Malbec on my couch every night.

I was tired and afraid.  Our family had been through so much and I sort of resented (WARNING! Resentment is so dangerous! ) having to start over again with our young children after the course my husband and I had put in motion in 2002 did not succeed.  Starting over after moving to the comfort and simplicity of small town life in the company of dear friends, in every sense of the phrase, had not been in our consciousness whatsoever.  It happened.  Everything we had planned on failed (and then some) and we were forced to come up with another plan.  Meanwhile, my parents were getting older and I  resented the fact that I was so preoccupied with caring for my own family.  I resented everybody and everything for a very long time.  I lived with the awful sense of complete domination by choices of others for many years and it broke me.  I started to drink.  Then I started to need to drink.  Then I couldn’t stop.

When you resent people and situations, you forget the power you have to change your life and you lose all hope of ever experiencing serenity.  Though I did not know this is what I was doing when alcohol dominated my life, it was.  And it was destroying me and moving closer to destroying my family.  After suffering the indignity of watching a friendship and business partnership destroy my husband and interfere with our marriage, I did not want to live in the present any longer. My drinking was the equivalent of hiding beneath the covers.

Slowly, after many bad hangovers and raging outbursts that produced nothing but hurt feelings and distance between my husband and me, I began to have tiny inklings of desire to climb out of my self-protective shell (what irony, alcoholism is anything but) and live in the truth everyday.  I couldn’t do it by myself.  I had to be humble, grateful, open, raw, willing to confess my bad behavior, open to listening to others’ stories, and willing to being broken open over and over by memories and feelings I thought I had long ago dealt with at any moment. This is the life of a sober alcoholic. And it is beautiful.

“After we’ve been in A.A. for a while, we find out that if we’re going to stay sober, we have to be humble people. ….Gratitude to God for His grace makes me humble.  When I think about the kind of person I was not so long ago, when I think of the person I left behind me, I have nothing to be proud of.  Am I grateful and humble?”

Richmond W., 1954

 

At the end of the day, however imperfect, I want to live life instead of copping out.  Even though unpleasant, feeling fear, anxiety, pain, dread and powerless are part of everyday life.  I had to learn to cope.  I love the lessons God is giving me, even unto this very moment, in coping with life and my feelings.  It has given my family a new life.  Sobriety is my joy and I am willing to fight for it every single day.

 

 

 

Affirmations for a Fearful World

I have been mad at Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright since they insulted women voters (and subsequently “walked back” their remarks) this Spring.

But I am also a recovering alcoholic in my first year of recovery, with a blog, so I have to be careful not to be the “grump with a brainstorm” and do or say anything that is just going to make me feel less at ease with an already  strung out world and ragged emotions

Part of the recovery process is learning to deal with our emotions without hurting ourselves or others.  Without contributing to the trashy landfill of uselessly spent hurt that contaminates our world.  So I am learning about breathing and mindfulness and affirmations.  My Mom introduced me to the affirmations part of healthy thinking many years ago.  Fearful of what might become of 4 beautiful young girls setting off on a month-long journey through Europe in 1988, my Mom wrote an affirmation and stuck it in my backpack and asked me to read it to my traveling companions each morning before starting our day.  I was absolutely amazed when one of the friends I went on that trip with told me more than 20 years later, that she still uses the affirmation and it works!  It goes something like this:

God is always with me.  Therefore I am always safe and at the right place at the right time.

I know it said more but that is the essence of the affirmation and demonstrates the simplicity of the act of centering one’s thoughts, focusing momentarily on one’s breathing, tapping into the abundance within, and bringing that goodness forth into one’s day.  It is such a healthy practice.  If you are a recovering alcoholic, finding solace and the strength to navigate a world of conflict without numbing is essential.  I think it is impossible without a personal meditation practice.

fern-yonge

After all, if a person’s entire sense of personal safety/security is centered on a person or thing outside of him/herself, that leaves the person very vulnerable to the unpredictable influences in the world.  Fear is extremely dangerous.  We must constantly find ways to mentally transform fear into love and connect with some sort of constant assuredness to live in this crazy world.  Not sure what I’m getting at?  It is simple.  If we learn to practice controlling our thoughts for even 10 minutes a day, preferably at the beginning of the day, it becomes a protective shield against negative outside influences and we feel better, make better choices, and affect the world more positively.

To my daughter, who is about to begin her Senior year, and all the other people I love, cherish and see struggling in the world, I wish 4 simple internal messages to be written on their heart:

  1.  I have abundance within that never fails to protect and lead me closer each day to fulfilling God’s purpose for my life;
  2. I have unlimited gifts that are meant to be shared lovingly with others;
  3. Time is on my side – there is no expiration date or end to the amount of love and goodness I can experience and share in my lifetime.

pocket-watch

4.  Spirit is Infinitely Intelligent and will support me through any and all hesitant beginnings, sticky middles and rocky endings in my life – all I have to do is Ask and listen.

Life is difficult but joyful.  Finding one’s purpose is the most gratifying experience of the human condition, and learning to access our Infinite Love within is the most simple yet powerful tool to combat fear and overcome paralysis.  Affirmations lead to love.  Love leads to action.  Action leads to wholeness.  Wholeness is our essence.  Our essence is goodness.  Start today!