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.

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49 Thanksgivings Later

After 49 Thanksgivings, I finally “get” why it did not matter to my Mom, in her later years, whether our family ate dinner together on paper plates (themed, of course) or not.  The mere fact that we were together was enough for her – and it should have been enough for me – but, alas, I needed more “road miles” in life to fully understand.

This Thanksgiving I am wildly and enthusiastically thankful for 4 Things:

CURIOSITY

PALS come to Tango Canyon
Mario’s preschool class visited our 34-acre wilderness every year for their Spring field trip – here he is greeting the bus!  It was a truly wondrous time.

To be curious is a state of willingness to allow life, ideas, people, nature and the world to enthrall and intoxicate you.  In spite of my struggle this 49th year of my life on earth to discover and maintain a healthy sobriety, I am thankful to discover that I still experience the wonder of a child every single day.  AMEN to that and keep the curiosity coming!

After all, it has been said, “interesting people are interested people.”

SETBACKS

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It has taken me 49 years to learn the slow and steady “tortoise” way – I used to prefer to hurry and get my reward or pain “over with.”

We all experience setbacks and many of them are stunning, paralyzing and utterly terrifying.  Looking back, I really am thankful for each and every setback I have experienced.  Not only am I learning humility, I am experiencing the ebb and flow of the journey and learning to take my EGO OUT OF IT.  I mean, a mortal can only do so much – the Universe is so much larger and powerful, and there is no escaping the lessons we’re each meant to learn.  To me, setbacks are just another way of experiencing mortality and human limitations.  And like Garth Brooks famously crooned, “I thank God for unanswered prayers” every single day.

ACCEPTANCE

First Recital
You’d never know it but this picture of my darling children was snapped during one of the darkest times of my life.  Complete shock and uncertainty colored my days, but they, being the curious and resilient little teachers our children are meant to be, marched onward!

My husband and I were “curious” about life in a tiny town more than 200 miles away from our home so we packed up and moved away from friends, family, professional connections, and all the lovely comforts of city life.  We stayed there 8 years.  I joke that 2 of them were happy, but I seriously mean it!  Looking back, that really is not true:  my mental state was not happy because I was fighting the flow of our new lives.  But something super cool I have discovered in mid-life:  you can actually reflect back and accept what was once unimaginable and unendurable and it has the same effect – now my memories of what I thought was a “really dark time” are mostly funny and happy!  I am so thankful for this gift.

MY TRIBE

Boo 16 mos
Becoming a Mother is just one way of earning the responsibility for tending to a tribe.  This is my first little tribe member, Isabella Bernadette.

A wise woman once told me, “Your kids aren’t always going to be this little.”  Obvious statement of fact but, at the time, I could hardly imagine a time when my life was not dictated by play dates, diaper changes, snack times, story times, intrusive “Mom friends” and never-ending messes, usually involving bodily fluids.  This is my beautiful daughter, now 16 years old, at 16 months old.  I hardly remember the passing of time.  Another wise woman, my own Mother, told me, “Honey, life will pass you by so quickly it will leave your head spinning.”  And it has.  She was right, as usual.  I am thankful for my tribe of family, starting with my husband and children and colored with many interesting friends and co-workers.  At the tender age of 49, I have learned how to assess quickly what “works” for my tribe and what needs to just go away!  THANKS be to GOD!!

Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are, and whether you enjoy it on the finest china or paper plates.  Life is a gift.

 

Six Things That Just Aren’t Working For Me Any Longer

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I consider myself to be fairly intelligent, yet as I approach 50 and begin the journey of introspection that is all things “middle aged,” I am struck by how utterly obtuse I have been in the past by insisting to continue doing things that JUST DON’T WORK!  Specifically, they undermine any possibility of happiness in my life!

ERGO,

those of you that come into frequent contact with me, to avoid any confusion, here is my list of the 6 behaviors I am ABSOLUTELY SURE no longer “work” for me – be prepared, as you may notice (I hope) different behavior!

I hereby GIVE UP the following 6 things:

  • Refusing to recognize situations and people that kill my joy  As Lucinda Williams infamously croons, “You took my joy!  I want it back!,” I hereby declare that the microsecond  I notice a situation or individual taking my joy, I shall take a step back and perform a “challenges vs benefits” analysis.  My time and limited mental stability are too precious to allow anyone or anything to cause chronic grumpiness.  I could list examples but they are both too numerous and embarrassingly consistent so will leave this pledge in its due place at the TIP TOP of my list of “NOT WORKIN’ NO MORE” things I will avoid.
  • Waiting in line for a Goddam Diet Coke!  This one may cause my husband to pass out with utter elation!  I estimate that I have wasted 93.27 days in the past 28 years waiting in line at McDonald’s or some other fast food establishment for my Bloody Precious Diet Coke!0523151653 Believe me, Dear Reader, it shocks me even more than it may you, to recognize that I am, at long last, DONE wasting 2 hours a week of my soon-to-be 50 years on this beautiful planet — waiting for a liquid refreshment that is probably hastening my death.
    • Protecting the Guilty       Big Sigh Here……..  I am guessing that every Mother, Sister, Daughter, Wife, Friend – has regrets about situations in which, to avoid a socially awkward moment, she has neglected to speak up and call out another’s misguided, rude or intentionally hateful remark.  It is just what “polite” people are taught to do – remain civil and poised in social situations and allow the ASS to hang him/herself, if need be.  I. AM. DONE.  Henceforth, I vow to find the right words, tone and execution, to defend and support every single person I believe could be maligned in a social conversation – even if it makes everyone feel “Super Awk”!!!!
    • Apologizing For My Ofttimes Ghastly Taste in “The Finer Things.”   The next time I find myself in the company of “The Taste Police,”  I will remember the words to one of my favorite country songs, “This Here’s The Queen of My Double Wide Trailer,” and speak proudly about whatever white trash food, art, music, entertainment or past-time that gives me pleasure.  Like my friends and family, I will defend my horrific taste with great ardour!
    • Leaving My Greatest Buddy, My Cocker Spaniel Rescue Puppy, Pudgey Killion Tamburini, behind.  I swear I would have qualified for a “therapy dog” 25 years ago had there been such a notion in the popular culture.  All I know is, from now on, my friends and family can expect that an invitation to me means A PACKAGE DEAL and that the love of my life, my therapy dog, Pudgey will “go whether thou  goest.”  I’ll be needing a dog bowl below my seat at your dinner table, please.
    • Finally, And Most Especially Poignant As I Approach “The Back 40” Of My Precious Time On This Planet – I REFUSE To Ever Again Be Rushed, Robbed, Gypped – Out Of Any Moment Or Experience I Want To Enjoy Because Some Grumpy Person I Am With May Be Unamused Or In A Hurry  Late for a meeting?  Carpool? Doctor’s Appointment?  Or Simply Bored?  Too bad.  From now on, if I happen to be enjoying feeling the sun on my face, wind up my skirt, scrolling movie credits, lingering after a delicious meal at a restaurant’s closing time – or WHATEVER – I am going to ignore your bullying attempts to make me hurry!!!  Because I don’t want to miss one single moment of soaking the entirety of this beautiful experience called Life  just because you are being an impatient jerk!

Welcome To My Mid-Life Crisis

9 lives2002_mini_cooper_s-pic-8750964173784534205556964_3969215241468_697743296_nWho ARE these people that become so selfish and self-absorbed in their late 40’s and 50’s?  Pathetic.  Cliche.  So. Not. Me.

 

I have decided that I need a lobotomy or a conversion experience or both to expel the demons of MID-LIFE CRISIS lurking within!

We have all witnessed the predictable path of men’s mid-life:  the younger woman, the sports car, the sudden interest in physical appearance.  Cliche, right?  I lived through a mid-life crisis, of sorts, with my husband who is 11 years older than me.  His was definitely fraught with personal and financial torment, but it brought us closer instead of farther apart.  It made our family stronger.  Now it’s my turn.  And thank goodness I woke up and recognized it for what it was (is) before it was (is) too late.  True to my character, I’ll refer to my mid-life crisis in one simple phrase:  OVER-INDULGENT.

My life is becoming the metaphor of drinking from a fire hydrant to satisfy one’s thirst.  It’s too big, too much, too fast.  I suspected that navigating my children’s adolescence while walking through my own mid-life might be tricky.  They need guidance, wisdom and support from a SANE adult who is willing and able to step outside of the self and enter the world of the young adult’s psyche without the need for affirmation or adulation.  Let me repeat:  without affirmation or adulation.  That’s the part that stings!  Four years ago, when my daughter began her journey into adolescence and our family was undergoing a massive uprooting from our rural dream life back to the city, I used to joke innocently, I thought, about “Momma’s not getting a lot of love back these days.”

 The unsolicited hugs and flattering emulation had come to a screeching halt.  I was becoming “invisible” and it hurt.

 

Fast forward four years later with a husband who is turning 59 and a son in the throes of adolescence, too.  I realize my entire identity has been wrapped up in 3 separate individuals for more than a decade – my children and my husband.  And I am angry with myself.  I feel robbed of my youth.  I am going to REBEL!!!!!

Enter “Party Girl” Joanie, living large in the city.  Meeting peeps for drinks.  Sipping on amazing wine while making dinner.  Just being glamorous, right?  WRONG.  Oh, so wrong.  One drink every other day became two drinks every night.  And recently, it became A BOTTLE.  There was never ENOUGH of ANYTHING to affirm that I was ALIVE and SEPARATE FROM MY FAMILY.  My own cool mid-life self – living as though I had 9 lives.  But I only have 1.  Time to re-evaluate.

I thank GOD for the wisdom of my 15-year-old daughter and the unwavering love of my gentle husband who have enlightened me of late about my reckless behavior.  But in a way a rebel can accept and digest – non-threatening.  My daughter simply asked me recently whether I would be willing to remain sober long enough to pick her up at 10:00 PM from a party.  Simple and direct question, right?  It felt like a thunderbolt jarring my brain into a million pieces!  What is WRONG with this picture when your daughter has to ask such a question?

My “aha” moment was brief and we all escaped relatively unscathed.  I am 36 days sober today and plan to stay that way – after all, I am just as “interesting” over-indulging in sugar-free popsicles as I was champagne!  Now to the paradigm shift in my parenting and relating to young adults versus small children.  As tough as it is, I am beginning to accept that I can shift from a total domination decision-making model to a shared one with my kids.

When my daughter was about 3 and struggling with sharing her toys at play group, her adorably honest retort to the nonstop encouragement from adults to “share with others” was:  “I want to share with ME!”.  This is the battle I find waging within my middle-aged heart and soul as it confronts the challenges and responsibilities I have taken on in my life.   But I am not going to express my frustration in ways that drive my family apart and tear at the fabric of my most important relationships any longer.  I am putting my “BIG GIRL” panties on and moving forward towards 50, muffin top and all.

Yes, you heard me right:  I am at that delightful age where I weigh more than my IQ!

 

So, together with my bruised ego and expanding waistline, I choose to embrace Mid-Life and all the AWKWARDNESS it brings.  Ironically, I am going through a more awkward phase than my adolescents.  But it is THEIR time of discovery, not mine.  I can choose, every day, to “rebel” a little in ways that are harmless and not self-destructive.  I think I will get a Mini-Cooper!