Tools in my inbox

I love when I open an email or read a blog post that deals with a topic I’ve been struggling with. It happened again this weekend.

I forgot how much Memorial Day weekend is a trigger for me. Sunday afternoon I saw a peel-off can of microbrew I used to love and thought “maybe I overreacted when I decided to give up drinking forever”. My next thought was, “I feel so much stronger now. Drinking might not even be a problem anymore.”

Some say this is the disease talking, and it can apply to any self-destructive behavior we freed ourselves from. Over time, we forget how bad things were or we get tired of feeling different and apart. We do feel better and stronger, so we begin to doubt we made the right decision for our new and improved selves.

In my inbox the next morning, I had a message containing this quote by Rollo May:

The relationship between commitment and doubt is by no means an antagonistic one. Commitment is healthiest when it is not without doubt, but in spite of doubt.

This email I could have just as easily skipped over reminded me that it takes real courage to re-commit myself in the face of that doubt, again and again as necessary. I found something about this idea very comforting. I acknowledged the real reason I feel good and strong now is because I gave up drinking.

Entertaining thoughts of drinking again made me wonder where they came from. Was I really that stressed? What was I feeling anyway?

I have a hard time separating feelings from thoughts, but in the second half of the message, I found this helpful suggestion:

Try this experiment. Instead of asking “How do I feel?” ask “What do I want?” or “What would I love to do next?”

This is much easier for me to understand and answer. 

a happy anniversary

16th anniversary gift is traditionally prison stripe shirts and snowman socks and arm farts for the wee ones.

I half-noticed her slink off after I said I just wanted a picture of me and her dad first. It was our wedding anniversary and normally she doesn’t want to be in pictures even when I ask her. Then it was her turn and we found her curled up on the couch, her cheeks wet with tears. Anyway, that’s why she’s doing an arm fart in the picture. Her dad scooped her up and blew on her arm and it made a funny sound, which made her laugh and then she made her own arm fart and we were golden again. Arm farts for the win!

Her dad is Joe, who is my husband of 16 years. We’ve been together 2 years longer than that and still have the cat and ficus tree we got when we moved in together, though the cat is rickety with kidney failure and the ficus is so big we need two people to move it. Our relationship is 18 years old, so it just graduated high school, which is maybe why I had a dream last night about trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grow up. “I guess I’ll be a teacher,” I said reluctantly in the dream because I like talking about other people’s ideas but I’m terrified of public speaking. This fear, like most, is irrational because when I’ve had to speak and I’ve felt prepared, it has gone fine. Better than fine, occasionally.

Our marriage is better than fine, also. This was the first anniversary in awhile that I felt this and it makes my throat catch with gratitude. We went through a real rough patch and because there is a fine line between openness and over sharing and because I don’t have a handle on it, I will leave it at that. Every relationship has or will see its share of challenges. It’s the way the universe operates, and the only good news is that adversity builds muscle.

Our rough patch wasn’t because of the children, though it’s probably no coincidence that it started when our youngest was still a baby. We’re wired to make babies, but babies sure are hard on a marriage. I’m glad they don’t teach this in health class because while everyone would still want to mate, no one would want to actually make babies and soon there’d be only 200 people left on the planet and none of them would know how to make light bulbs or Oreos or a pair of shoes that are good looking and comfortable.

Our rough patch wasn’t even because of my drinking, though that sure didn’t help. I’ve found that sobriety is indeed like a pair of glasses that helps the world come into focus when I choose to put them on. Drinking was like a pair of blinders that blocked not only the hard stuff so I never worked through any of it, but it also kept me from noticing a lot of the good stuff right in front of me. I interpreted a lot of what my husband did or said in a fearful or negative light. In sobriety, I’ve learned it’s easier to view others with love.

Things are better than I could’ve imagined, but I still don’t know how they will turn out. He’s been the one who never gave up on us. Maybe one day he’ll change his mind. Who knows. Lately I worry he’ll lose interest because I don’t drink anymore and sometimes I feel dull or smug or both. It is one of my newer weak spots, though I’ve also worked hard to improve myself in other areas, like uh, not drinking too much. Hmm.

Letting go of unnecessary worry (ie, things I cannot possibly change no matter how badly I fucking want to) is something that seems to get easier with time. It happens when I choose to focus on the good in my life and in the people I love. I am rewarded with more good, which makes it easier to see the good next time, even when it’s not all good. Okay, let’s just close with an arm fart because I’m not sure what that means either.

Belated trip report. Zelda, spider-man, mustachioed Frenchmen.

It’s been almost a week since our trip, but I thought maybe I should post about it since I’d been worried how it would go.

It went really, really well. It wasn’t my favorite trip, but it felt the easiest. My favorite trip was the time we were in the Central Park Zoo and looked up to see a plane spelling out a marriage proposal.

So far so good….

 

 

I don’t know what made that trip my favorite, but I’ll add it was that same white-knuckle trip from one year ago that felt so hard because I missed drinking. So you see, not-drinking doesn’t ruin anything.

I missed drinking one time this trip. We were waiting for a dinner table in an overly crowded restaurant in Times Square and the kids were fighting over the one free stool and my husband came over with a frosty pint of beer and it made me pretty sad to think “well I fucked that one up real good.” But that makes it sound like I screwed up once, and the reality is drinking and I had more than two decades of dysfunction.

The craving for beer passed, just like it always does. Copious amounts of good BBQ and diet coke helped. Afterwards my youngest and I walked back to the hotel and laid in bed and stared at moving pictures on the TV while my husband and oldest watched some guy dressed as Spider-Man hang and spin from a street lamp before the cops could shoo him away. I know that sounds like more fun, but I’ve learned to listen when my fun-meter is all full-up.

A good night’s sleep cured all, just like it always does. The next day we rode the Staten Island ferry and while my husband was pointing out the Statue of Liberty to our girls and explaining it was a gift from France, a mustachioed stranger I can only assume was French smiled proudly and said “Yes, it was.”

We walked around what was left of Battery Park and noticed a turkey in one of the gated-up playgrounds. You see a lot of things in New York City, but not usually turkeys.

The picture I took made it look like she didn’t have a head; this one is from nyctransported.com

Her name is Zelda and she survived Sandy and if you like inspirational stories about turkeys (you’re here, so duh), give her story a read: http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20121122/battery-park-city/battery-park-turkey-survives-hurricane-sandy-another-thanksgiving

Everything gets easier with practice in sobriety. Easier isn’t always the same thing as more fun, but what I love most about life is how unpredictably fun happens. I can do certain things to make fun more likely, like not eating at the busiest place and time possible with two exhausted kids and their cranky parents. Yes, I will do that next time.

Hope your weekend is filled with ease and fun.

Just Write

I’m a big fan of The Extraordinary Ordinary because of how beautifully she writes. I love the idea of trying to capture those weighty everyday moments without a lot of explanation. This is my attempt at Just Write.

I go into the living room to talk because it’s the one part of the house where calls don’t drop. The cat follows me. He probably thinks I’m talking to him. He’s 18 but he’s never used a phone before.

My little girl comes in next with a blanket, her new baby doll and a plastic tube of tiny knights she got on our trip to New York City. She lays the doll and blanket on the floor and lines up the knights on the keys of a 1978 Wurlitzer organ we rarely use and knocks them down with a green dragon, one by one.

I am talking to my grandmother on the phone. I had thought up many reasons not to call. I’m tired from our trip. I mailed her a mother’s day card and gift. I’ll call tomorrow. None of them beat the voice that waited patiently until the Brady Bunch episode with Peter’s terrible volcano was over and insisted Call Now.

My grandmother is 86 and does most of the talking. I know from phone logs that we usually talk for an hour, give or take 10 minutes. She tells me a lot of the same things each phone call and I’m not sure if this is because she forgets or thinks I forget.

She brings up things that happened a long time ago, like that time another family member got drunk and said terrible things three Thanksgivings ago. I was even there for it, but I know not to interrupt or argue the details because once I lost my patience and made her cry. She hung up on me and I felt like a drowning person must feel in that final moment when panic changes to relief but it’s still the end. Of course I called her back to apologize. Let’s start over, I said. She’s my grandmother.

For the 51 minutes we talk on the phone, my little girl comes and goes out of the room to watch bits of America’s Funniest Home Videos and report back to me.

A boy just pooped on a girl’s shoulder! she whispers in my non-phone ear and then steps back to watch my response. I raise both eyebrows and make an O with my mouth and think what kind of pea pickin’ show are they watching anyway. Later I realize she said bird, not boy.

My little girl climbs on my lap and gives random hugs and quiet I love yous and then rolls herself up in a blanket and lays so long and still at my feet that I am sure she’s fallen asleep.

The last five minutes of my phone call are me trying to find the exit. My phone battery is dying and l tell her and she says Just wait a minute and tells me what her mechanic said about her car battery. She also says And another thing, just like they do in the movies. My grandmother fled her Soviet occupied Baltic state when she was a young woman and still speaks with a heavy sing-songy accent that I found soothing as a little girl.

In the end, I am saved by a raccoon. One minute my grandmother is telling me what her mechanic told her and the next I hear her rapping on glass to scare off a raccoon that is washing his paws in a water dish she keeps on her back porch for the birds. No wonder that water is so dirty! she says.

The raccoon’s presence has boosted her mood and she tells me she is happy I called. We say goodbye and I feel something loosen inside me. I go upstairs to plug in my phone to charge and my little girl follows me upstairs like a puppy wrapped in a blanket with a sprinkle of freckles across her nose.

My daughters and I in Battery Park. (Puppy on the left.)

How to pack for the big apple.

This weekend we are going to New York City for mother’s day. This is possibly a funny destination for a mother who doesn’t really like the city, yet I’m the one who picked it so maybe it’s growing on me. No homemade pencil holder and fussy brunch for this mother. I’ll take a heaping dose of street Elmos and a knish, plus whatever else I couldn’t possibly see coming, thank you.

Image

I’ve never had an easy relationship with the city, and here are some early memories to prove it.

I am 7 years old and it’s sweltering summer. This is the same summer I collected a bunch of those brown and white vertically striped caterpillars you see everywhere for a brief period. They were literally falling out of the trees across the street, and being an animal lover, I couldn’t help but see them as furry pets I could keep in a cardboard box on the front porch. I scooped them up in soft, wiggly handfuls and lined the box with plenty of shiny green leaves and got the worst (but far from only) case of poison ivy in my life. No amount of cortisone shots or oatmeal soaks could undue the elephantine swelling of my face, so when we went to NYC and my parents gave the fare collector our tokens for the subway, he took one look at me and whispered “she can ride free.”

The other trip that stands out is a drama club trip in 12th grade to see a boring musical about a hotel. I think it was called Hotel. I slept through most of it, exhausted from not much sleep the night before in a Hoboken hotel. I wish I could say I’d stayed up all night having a makeout party in the bathtub like another girl in our group, but instead I’d laid awake in terror because I had to share a room with Betsy Carr, a bulldog of a girl who hated me for reasons I never understood.

Earlier that day, Betsy had taken the tray of McDonald’s food I’d ordered and paid for. It took me awhile to figure out and then a bit longer to shakily accuse her and ask for it back. She’d probably eaten a good many fries and maybe licked my cheeseburger too by then. She gave a sheepish smirk and slid the tray back over to me, but made sure I suffered that night in our shared hotel room. She called me and the German foreign exchange student names – dork, loser, lezbo – and threatened to beat us up when we laughed at her anger. I laid in bed that night wishing I were home and wondering why she hated me so much when I went through life trying to go mostly unnoticed.

There have been more recent odd, unpleasant NYC memories, like the one from the month before I quit drinking. I’d recently started on an antidepressant that made my jaw clench up involuntarily and sped up my brain about 20 miles per hour, but not in any helpful way. I drank more to slow it down, but it just made me have to pee more. I stood in the forever-long line for the tiny but surprisingly clean bathroom at Bryant Park and found myself in an uncomfortably intimate and dark conversation with two strange women about cancer and sex. I had the thought “what am I doing? what’s wrong with me?”

None of these uncomfortable city memories had anything to do with the city. In all three, I had brought my baggage from home. You can get away from it all, but rarely from yourself.

Last mother’s day we went to the city and it was a bit of a white knuckle trip. I was just shy of a year sober and being in an old stressful place without the old comforts sparked a lot of cravings. I do not expect that will be the case this time, but expectations are tricky bitches and so I’d rather leave mine at home, at least as much a possible.

Still, I am excited and what I am most excited about is the company. I’m going with my husband and daughters and I’m in the middle of a second or third or twelfth honeymoon period with these beautiful people that I’m so lucky to have in my life. I’m not a believer in forgetting the painful stuff, but I’ll leave the caterpillars and bullies and drunk talk behind and hopefully just take it all in.

So you don’t think I only write obnoxious posts about stuff I have done, I will write an obnoxious post about some things I have not done. 

 

MissionFailure

I did not finish CampNanoWrimo. I set a word count goal of 30,000 and only made it to 19,116. I was basically the kid who gets sent home the last week of camp due to an unfortunate incident involving fire ants. So I missed the end-0f-camp dance and bonfire, but maybe I learned archery, which is harder than it looks. One night I sat down to tap out a few words for campnanowrimo and found a story I didn’t even know my brain could create. It was all spit and no polish, but damn, it felt right.

I am not doing meditation or yoga class anymore, though I will probably come back to both at some point.

I am not sticking to my low sugar plan. I don’t have this one licked, folks, which makes me think of lollipops and ice cream cones, which I love very, very much and probably always will. I’ve gained a couple of pounds or I haven’t, depending on which day of the week I weigh myself and where (scales at doctor’s offices are assholes), but it really isn’t about the number. I don’t feel good after I binge because it feels like secretive self-sabotage and how I used to be and don’t want to be anymore.

Still, I am tired of trying to tame the sugar demon and think I might sit with him for awhile. I feel a certain tenderness towards my demons, no doubt due to Running on Sober’s poem about cuddling with hers. This is not the same as feeling like I want to give up or give in to old cravings, so I’m not sure how it will turn out yet.

I am trying new things I never would have before. I am learning which things I am good at (ie archery) and which I am not (ie fire ants). I report them here in my battle against the need for perfectionism and control. A little failure is in order here and now that I found it, I will linger with it for a bit in a way that feels decidedly sweet.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend.

 

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