Paychecks and Blueberries for Sal

 

“She will call less and less,” my husband casually remarked last night about our College Freshman whose nightly calls warm my heart.  I bit his head off.  “DON’T SAY THAT!,” I yelled back.  Silence.  What was that about, I began thinking.  Everything is off kilter these days because it’s all new:  our first child recently left the nest for college and at 51, I am in a new job, earning more than I have in eight difficult years.  I call them “difficult” because I have never fully embraced my value as a stay-at-home-mother, even though this is what I always wanted to do.

The sacrifices you make when you decide to earn less in exchange for being more present feel mostly unnoticed and under appreciated most of the time.

But that’s the kind of Momma I wanted to be!  ALWAYS available, no matter what.  So when my biggest paycheck of eight years hit the bank account last night, I found myself weighing the value of the money versus the value of being physically present for the household.  Here’s how it feels to me:  in the short term, putting a hefty-ish paycheck in the household account feels better than making sure there is a roast in the oven but in the long term, knowing we raised a young woman who wants to touch base with us often is the greatest payoff possible.  

We are all conditioned to thinking of our investments – financial, emotional, intellectual – in terms of returns.  That’s why I count the number of days I maintain long-term sobriety, because as the days add up, I figure the greater the “return.”  But not if I’m not emotionally sober.  To maintain emotional sobriety, you better be invested in pouring every type of energy and asset you have into living a life worth living.  After all, what’s the point of removing something as pleasurable as drinking red wine if I’m not going to enjoy the benefit of sobriety and that enjoyment isn’t going to spill over into other people’s lives and well-being?  Huh?  In other words, it’s just as important to replenish and nourish your emotional, spiritual and physical coffers as it is to earn money and spend it wisely.  Now I get to do both:  earn money to help support our family and reap the benefits of staying emotionally invested and close to my children as they were growing up.

These days, I think alot about special times with my children when they were young, especially bedtime story reading.  My daughter and I had many favorite books, among them, a 1950’s Caldecott Award winner, “Blueberries for Sal.”

1-Sample-Blueberries-for-Sal

Little Sal was so much like my Isa:  precocious, daring, full of life and love for new experiences.  Together we would read the story about the Momma Bear and her Cub on the same mountain – but the other side and out of view – as the Momma Human and little Sal – picking blueberries to sustain their bodies through the winter.

My paycheck from the new job felt like a pail of blueberries from the book.  Very gratifying and fun but also a worthwhile investment for lean, cold days in the future.  It felt good and associating it with something so precious from my daughter’s childhood gives me peace of mind that our sacrifices have been worth it.  Especially when she texted back, “Yes I do” this morning when I asked her if she remembered reading “Blueberries for Sal” with me.

“Why can’t a paycheck just be a paycheck and not turned into a dumb pail of blueberries, you weirdo?,” you may be asking yourself.  Because I am committed to living a life worth living.  This is what it means to understand a woman in midlife experiencing an emptying nest and working to maintain sobriety:  a cherished moment of understanding in a three-word text from your beautiful daughter away at college puts everything in perspective.  And all is well with my world.

4 Things I’ve Learned After My First 4 AA Meetings

13 months ago, I told everybody I was an alcoholic and I stopped drinking – cold turkey.  5 months later, I had decided that I could manage drinking moderately on my own.  3 months after that, I allowed myself to expand my definition of “moderate” to 1 bottle of Malbec nightly.  About a month after that, “moderate” often meant 1 1/2 bottles of any wine – I wasn’t picky any longer.  In the last 6 months, I have had more hangovers than the previous 25 years combined.

But I kept craving my wine every evening by 5:30, in spite of the hangovers.  Meanwhile, things got pretty challenging for my son in Middle School.  He lost 50 pounds in 3 months and stopped going to school altogether.

It was time for me to stop riding in the backseat of my life and commit to sobriety, for myself, for my family.

Sitting outside the first AA meeting, terrified and shaking and on the verge of tears.
Sitting outside the first AA meeting, terrified and shaking and on the verge of tears.

Today, I have been sober for 6 days, and I have found a brand new group of empathetic souls.  I live for my sobriety and my daily Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.  Here are 4 poignant truths I have learned from listening to many brave people about addiction to alcohol:

1.  FEED YOUR SOBRIETY LIKE YOU FED YOUR ADDICTION

I hear people talking about being grateful for waking up sober each morning, in spite of their fears of facing a new day.  They cherish their newfound way of living and find creative ways to nourish it.  Meeting and talking with other alcoholics is just one way.  Other people have found comfort and courage in meditation, prayer, public service, laughter, and just relishing in the simple gift of living one day at a time.  I learned there is a term for the first way I tried to stay sober – “white knuckle sobriety” – just like the metaphor suggests, it is all work and no play, very tense and lonely.  Now I am learning new ways to enjoy my life free of fixating on that next drink – because I am surrounding myself with the wonderful people of AA.

The
The “24 Hours Recovery” Coin I received at my first AA meeting.

2.  “ROCK BOTTOM” IS YOUR FRIEND

Whatever it is that leads you to commit to Recovery is a blessing.  Don’t ruminate over it, be grateful that it opened up a new way of living and move toward the future.  Yes, eventually I will “work” the 12 Steps and do a thorough and honest inventory of my past and make amends to those I have harmed.  But for now, in my first week of Recovery, I am just grateful for my “rock bottom” and whatever Force that led me to a program with new friends to help me stay sober.  At my first meeting, I received a plastic coin with the Serenity Prayer on one side and the phrase, “To thine own self be true” on the other.  I touch it several times a day – it is a real symbol of a miraculous change that is happening  within me.

3.  THE VIEW FROM THE DRIVER’S SEAT IS MUCH BETTER THAN THE BACK SEAT

Some alcoholics are control freaks, others are fearful “yes” people who prefer to let others control them.  I am the second type.  Sitting in the back seat, I have observed a lot of faults in others but given myself permission to avoid honestly assessing myself.  Each additional day I nurture my sobriety, I am stronger and have more desire to sit in that driver’s seat and enjoy the journey that is my life.

A few hours after my first AA meeting.  Completely serene.
A few hours after my first AA meeting. Completely serene.

4.  HUMILITY SHINES MORE BEAUTIFULLY THAN GOLD

When actively living in my addiction, I tried to fool myself with a “pretty veneer” – shallow expressions of success, happiness, and a good life.  Everybody knows, the only thing more frightening than a room full of crusty bikers is a room full of addicts.  I avoided walking into that room for longer than I care to admit.  But I have and it is glorious.  Maybe only an addict can laugh at this, but one of the the group leaders self-deprecatingly shared with us how unlike other addicts he was sure he was – until one day he found himself sitting in a County jail reading a copy of “I’m Ok, You’re Ok”!!!!  Fortunately, he got out of the jail and generously shares his story with “newbies” like me because getting sober is a really scary thing at first.

I am excited about starting this journey with others instead of “white knuckling” it by myself.  I am grateful to have the opportunity to share parts of the journey with those who wish to read about it here.  Stay tuned!

How My Sobriety Is Like “Fuck You” Money!

Cheeky in 1988 - when I could chug a beer and feel good the next day!
Cheeky in 1988 – when I could chug a beer and feel good the next day!

September 13 will mark my 4-Month Sobriety Anniversary.  I am pretty excited.  I have done it all on my own – not even a single AA meeting, no sponsor, nothing but GRIT and DETERMINATION.  I have managed to turn around in my head all the old assumptions about why/how drinking made me a better person.  For instance:

1. “I cannot get through another “Back to School Night” without a nip of the old sauce” has changed to “I can go and enjoy noticing the OTHER parents who have had a nip or 2.”

2.  “I am just not fun anymore now that I cannot drink” has changed to “I am giving myself and my family a wonderful sense of stability and security knowing that I am fully present, alert and sober 24/7.”  That is KIND OF fun, right?

I have also learned a thing or two about how other people react when you tell them you are no longer drinking.  Many of them appear supportive – how can they NOT be, right – but there is always a little question at the end of their interactions that says, “Maybe in a few months you’ll be able to be like me again.”

The most amazing support I have received since admitting to myself and my friends and family that I am an alcoholic has come from the most astonishingly surprising places.  People in my midst that I  really did not think I had much of a connection with have continuously expressed positive, affirming, loving praise and kindness.  It helps a lot.  Especially when I feel my head exploding and would love to have a drink and a smoke!

 

After 4 months without drinking, I definitely feel more like my “old self” and am so happy to be embracing a life of acknowledging and avoiding addiction.  It is much more pure – it liberates me.  And it gives me the security that other people feel when they have “FUCK YOU MONEY” in the bank!  I have MYSELF in the bank.  I have MY ESSENCE.

Guess what else?  I am thinking about the future for the first time in many years.  I don’t feel trapped in a life I did not choose anymore.  No more self-pity.  It went away with the Malbec someplace far, far away!  I am back in college and pursuing a career in the allied health professions – and this goal I will ACTUALLY achieve and celebrate with CAKE and my FAMILY – not a bottle of Malbec in the darkness.  I am stronger, better, happier, and have that “Fuck You” attitude back that is healthy.

If you find yourself battling addiction – don’t hesitate to think about what I am saying and reach out for the support you need to move forward in your future.  It feels good to have SOBRIETY at my side….at all times…..covering me like Linus’ security blanket.Lucy-and-Linus

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!