Saturday, February 11, 2017
I sent a complaint letter.
I've never done this before, me, people pleaser extraordinaire, forget the thought of me speaking up when mistreated or handled in a clumsy way, but I did it.
I have revelations all the time- Oh! I can do this! Oh! This seems so normal! - it's disconcerting how I realize and understand so much about myself in these short bursts, like an explosion of light bulbs above my head, it's so blinding and so illuminating all at one big time. Sometimes I have to laugh because I feel so off center and wobbly that if I don't laugh I might just cry and revelate forever. I reassure myself with little victories: I'm learning to walk, how to stand while bearing weight on both legs- to be in my body. I can take deeper fuller breaths than I could a year ago, I'm not always holding my breath. My accomplishments may seem small in the grand scheme of things- I can keep my chin level now instead of a little up ready to defend, I think about sex without wanting to seethe, disappear or hide, I danced with other people in the room, I sent a complaint letter. Revelations. Grand scheme ones.
I've gone from reading about sex to reading about grief. Unexpressed grief is basically like shoving giant wads of gunk into your feelings pipes so they get mucked up, impassable, and you become anxiously paralyzed by the fears you'd meant to cry out but drank down for twenty years instead. I can connect the two so clearly, sex and grief go hand in hand for all of my life. I can see how the grief was the beginning, I can take myself back to me at five sweet years old, strawberry blond hair hanging down my back, past the ties of my favorite pinafore, sucking in my tears because I was too dramatic and so so stupid for crying, my parents teasing me for having feelings. I can feel how much it hurt when I needed tenderness and my parents had no idea what that even meant since their parents had no clue how to do things like feelings either. How that grief led me to using sex for hurting myself and being hurt, how drinking helped me unrealize who I was enough to do it, over and over until the beauty of my body was lost and I spread my legs again, bereft. Revelation.
I can feel how much I try to hide myself, too big to disappear and too unwieldy to blend in.
I sit on the couch across from my therapist and stay a good girl, unable to sob out the tears that are dying to get out because I want her to like me and have me please come back again next week. I have stuffed it all down for so long that I'm afraid to let it out because I could possibly head into a nervous breakdown, never to return- we only have one small hour, and then I have to head to work. Not a lot of time for falling apart and then back together.
I imagine a time when I don't have all this work to do, that these moments of glaring understanding, these revelations, will happen only a few times a year instead of a few a week. These things that come up, these elementary understandings that could have been lessons learned long ago had I only been bravely paying attention instead of fearful and drinking. I feel so stupid sometimes that I'm just now getting the idea that I can ask for what I need and it isn't a crime, it isn't wrong. Why wasn't I this person I am now all along? My years of work boxing up and shoving down all of the feelings and it turns out they never disappeared after all. All that work, down the drain.
The other day I was talking to my mom about being sweet when people are hurting and she said she uses humor to make people feel better. WHAT? I felt so sad and angry thinking of all the times I cried, hurting, and got humored by my own parents. They were using their humor, the very people who were supposed to love and heal me instead making it worse. Making it funny. I'm in total disbelief that she thought that teasing was what made people feel better. I want to stomp my five year old foot and scream stop laughing at me! right in her smiling face. Which would have only made her laugh harder.
No wonder I have no clue about what a normal emotional response is. No wonder I don't know how to take myself seriously, or how to speak without questioning myself, or how to be tender, or where to put all these big feelings. No wonder when I sit on the couch at therapy when the most hurty things come up I laugh. God, no wonder. No wonder my life is full of revelations, these connections that lead me from disappeared to conscious again and again.
I'm all spun up, so much happening, so many feelings that I don't know where to put them all. They're all unruly as puppies, scattered and making messes everywhere. I don't feel like myself anymore, but I don't know who I feel like either- sometimes it feels so much like me and then I hardly recognize who I am. It's like giving birth, but for years.
I feel so fortunate to be coming along in my understanding, and also so right at the beginning, like I've been running for a hundred years and somehow I'm still within sight of the starting line. It's frustrating in this gracefully annoying way, this is where I have to laugh, where it actually is funny, and lovely, sweet and amazing. Me, at forty-five years old, stumbling along, learning to walk. Learning to fly. Being exactly myself at my life. Being born, by revelations.
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Hey y'all! Something I've been kicking around for a while is a virtual read along. I love to read and I always appreciate it when a blog I read posts about books they're reading...and then I thought it would be cool to post it before I read it, in case you wanted to read it at the same time. I'll start a discussion by writing a post about it, people can join in, and we can have some "me too's" and maybe some "whoa really's?".
I started with this because sex and intimacy is my biggest thing I am working through. It has taken me years to get to a point where I can actually almost talk about it and almost not feel like I should probably find the nearest rock and crawl under it. In other words that tiny little s-e-x word is HUGE for me- I have a ton of stuff around it: my body, my freedom, my violations- but what I don't have is a clear intelligence about my own self as a sexual being, how sobriety has changed my sex life, and what all that even means. In talking with others I've learned that I am definitely not on my own when it comes to this subject.
So let's read THIS BOOK and then talk about..(moving rock)...sex.
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
I've been stretching thin, starting big new things, internalizing all the stress from thinking I might die from skin cancer, juggling all the things that are supposed to slow down after the holidays but that really just keep going. My body has been so lovely, healing my stitched back beautifully, having the energy to balance my ever persistent roller coasters of anxiety, putting up with having coffee instead of rest when I'm tired. I've had a little patch of eczema in between and around my eyes since the fall, for four or five months, this tiny spot, controlled by a cream the urgent care doc prescribed for me when as an afterthought I had him check out my rash while we were there for my son's fourth bout of strep throat in as many months.
Those creams you can't use forever- so in addition to removing a piece of my back the dermatologist prescribed a different cream I refuse to use (holy warning on that sucker- please read your paperwork at the pharmacy before you pay $50 for something and then get it home and realize you wouldn't use it, which I didn't do and learned a $50 lesson) and so my eczema has been like a wild animal unleashed- moving around both eyes like a blotchy red lizard-y eye mask. I hate to admit how vain I am, but I am. We've been snowed in and I've spent the snow days peering at myself in the mirror half horrified half amused at what seems like a really bad joke.
I have to laugh kindly at myself when I start bargaining with the universe: Um, hello. I just had that skin cancer scariness so all this eczema all over my EYES so soon seems a little...unfair?
And then in typical universe fashion the universe sort of shrugs and says ...meh, what're you gonna do?
My body is always obvious, it just takes me a long time to listen. Even though I've been sober for four years that doesn't mean my body isn't still processing almost 25 years of drinking. It's interesting how me being able to say "I'm sober" seems to make me think that my sobriety absolves me of all bodily (mental or physical) debts incurred over my long career as a drinker. Like living while drunk was punishment enough, but now that that part's over, it's just over. It's kind of like when you start working out for like two weeks and then get a little pissed at your good intentions daily because your jeans feel a little tight and you still want to eat all the cookies.
Are you as good at hide and seek stress as I am? I can take on so much and still seem okay, it reminds me of a duck: gliding at the surface, paddling like mad underneath. I push it down and push it down until my body throws up the flag of surrender: I get sick, or I get a big rash all over my eyes, or I have a breakdown and pick fights with everyone in my family until I can finally admit that I'm freaking out some and then I work my way back to being fine, shedding good intentions as I go.
My good intentions can also be my downfall. I get myself into too much and then I have to get myself out of it, I get wrapped up in taking care of everyone else and forget the instruction that I am the first person to get the oxygen mask always. Then my sweet body shows up for me, making me more tired than usual and when I still don't listen my face blooms in a messy rash around my eyes making it impossible for me not to see where I am really.
I spent so many years making the wish to quit drinking, I wished and wished and drank and drank, wishing to be well. It wasn't until I got out my backbone, stopped wishing and made a life out of reality that I got sober and started to heal. This is always the truth: when I get with my backbone instead of my wishing I move myself to more healed. I find my remedies rather than my excuses- it's then that I am back to my backbone, facing reality.
Tuesday, January 3, 2017
My youngest has the sweetest crush on a girl in his class. She is his seat mate, they talk all the time: "Even more than me and you mom!" One day after school we waited for her mom to show up so we could ask her to come over to our house. I introduced myself and said to my son's friend, "Would you like to come over to our house one day to play?" She said, "No thank you, I'm fine," and my son pulled in his lips and made the please don't let me cry face and I kind of laughed politely and said, "Oh, okay, um see you later. Nice to meet you." We walked the long walk to the car and when we got in he tried to smile but cried instead. I tried to make it better by saying things like be patient and maybe today just wasn't a good day to ask but he kind of got himself together with a ragged sigh and proceeded to act like it didn't matter.
This has been my relationship with myself. I send out these fancy love letters to myself and then when it seems like time to become home friends and not just at school friends I clam up and refuse politely, and I also forget to feel how heartbroken I am and I breathe a lot and pretend like I'm just fine anyway, thanks. Mixed signals all over the place.
Is it embarrassing and a little self indulgent to admit that I love myself? Does that make me one of those people that persistently posts selfies and quotes about how they just keep going no matter what because even in the darkest day there might be a slice of light? When did it become wrong to love yourself? Does school beat it out of you? Your peers? Just life? Can it just be okay and acceptable and not make me arrogant or full of myself if I am okay with saying I'm okay?
I'm reading THIS BOOK and although I get tired of all the rah rah rah I love reading about giving myself permission to be cool with myself. Gratitude to HIP SOBRIETY for publishing her book list, I hadn't seen You are a Badass before and I really am almost to the liking the idea of thinking of myself as a badass cool lovely woman point. What have I got to lose? I mean I hated myself for years, so I'm giving love a chance. It's all part of the MERGE. :)
Sunday, January 1, 2017
The photo above is us, New Year's Eve, 2009. It was the first or second year my oldest stayed up until midnight, he toasted our flutes of champagne with his own of sparkling apple cider and felt so grown up while his little brother slept through it all. I had worked that night and had a bunch to drink before I rushed home to ring in the new year with my dears. I'm guessing that after the ball dropped we shuffled Jack quickly off to bed and we drank more, my husband was probably tired and ready to go to bed and me just getting started- "Just one more!" I would demand and he would acquiesce rather than risk setting me off and end up staying up even later to fight instead of drink.
I'm well on way to drunk when we took that picture. My eyes are always my dead giveaway, but sometimes I'm the only person that can see that I've disappeared, to me my eyes look blurry, crossing a very tiny bit, looking far far away even though things are quite close. And this is exactly the way I wanted to feel when I drank: far far away, signals all crissed and crossed, swallowed up. I'm not here anymore.
When I first got sober I wanted to leave that shitty woman as far from me as I could go, I wanted to shed her skin a thousand million times until I was unrecognizable to myself, until you would never ever guess she had ever ever been me. I wanted to be separate from that version of myself, so cut off that there wasn't even a blurry memory of a single phantom limb or reminder of the amputation.
After a few years of sobriety I began to understand that I was still here, that I wasn't leaving. I was beginning to be at peace with admitting that I was my self, my view had expanded wide enough to see past the drunk woman I hated to find the tender girl I was before the hurt of life got in the way. But I was still two separate versions of myself: the unspoiled breakable girl and the woman who didn't drink anymore. Built with courage but scared, free but jailed, I could hold my own hand but not been ready to merge these two: I think of them both as parts of me that are who I really truly am but they remain friendly strangers- these parts of me that recognize each other but haven't trusted that one will allow the other to exist.
A few months ago on a walk in the woods the idea arrived that I was ready to be one person again. I could be finished protecting myself from myself, after four years I am allowed to be trusted. The two hands that represent what I was and what I am have reached across the middle and kept holding on when they used to drop. Instead of passing on the street with a friendly wave they shook hands and held on, each as each, melded together as one person, one woman who is unspoiled and breakable and sober and trustworthy. I have been protecting what is sweet and tender in me from the damage I've been known to do. I know now that this isn't necessary anymore.
My word this year is MERGE. Combining one into the other. Blending what has been and what will be. Becoming indistinguishable: the parts that are fragile and the ones that fight all singly recognizable as just me. Merging the hope and joy of my five year old self with the wisdom and care capably held by this woman at age forty-five. All the heartbreaking hard lessons I learned along the way? They are here too, part of my merge, here to make certain that this one woman never forgets to honor where I came from, where I've been, and all the places I'm yet to go.
Saturday, December 31, 2016
I have twelve stitches running up the middle of my back. They've been knitting themselves together for eight days now, pulling together pieces of skin on my back that have never been neighbors all these 45 years until now.
I have a mole on my upper lip that once concerned a periodontist when I was in my middle thirties. At that time I was still feeling pretty immortal, I'd picked up smoking again while I was training for a marathon and was drinking heavily in fits and starts, trying to parent two people and failing miserably at parenting myself. I had no time to worry about concerning moles, I could barely keep my daily shit together. It was monumental that I was having my gunky gums deep cleaned, that was as healthy as I got that year. For some reason this fall I got around to the idea that I should see a dermatologist.
Something happened to me when I turned 40. One day the big thought occurred to me: MY LIFE IS HALFWAY THERE. My mind dropped to it's knees and my heart sank and I think that was the moment that I realized I was really going to have to quit drinking, I just didn't know when or how I'd be able to put the other foot down to take the full step. It would take me until 41 years and almost 8 months old to bring my feet together in that life salvaging step, and then two more years after I got sober to realize that being sober was not enough anymore, that I needed to use my sobriety as a push off point for the deeper care of myself- my body and my mind.
I finally got around to calling the dermatologist this fall, waiting three months for my appointment. The mole on my upper lip was fine, she said. The odd blurry mole on my thigh came off, and one on the middle of my back got taken off too. I got two band aids and a prescription for the weird rash around my eye and left her office happy that my favorite mole got to stay.
About a week after my appointment the dermatologist called me. She left a message. How nice of her to call, I thought, and promptly forgot to call her back. She called me again the next day and left another message. I had some time so I called her back and was put right through. I should have known that it's not good news when the doctor calls you, but I thought she was being super attentive and still had no clue something could be wrong. She started talking, saying words like "melanoma" and "melanocytes" and "dermal nests" and "severely atypical" and I still didn't understand. I asked her to say all these things in Amy Parrish language instead of doctor language and still didn't get that it could be serious until her nurse called me five minutes later and said the the doctor wanted to get me in as soon as possible to do an excision. Oh. Shit. Shit.
I Googled melanoma. Mine was a stage 0, in situ, survival rates 99-100%. I decided to freak out and also to be okay. Cancer is a big word, I am a big person, life is a big deal. I kept thinking Don't put the cart before the horse and then I'd do things like pull up to the stop sign at the end of our street on my way to pick up my youngest at school and I'd look at the traffic going by and the sun shining and I'd imagine that all of it would go on even if I didn't, that someone else would pick up my smallest boy at school and he would miss me with all of his heart and be so lonely in the world sometimes without me but he would live and go on just like the traffic and the sun.
I talked with people close to me. They had two kinds of stories: the everything was fine story and the dead in 4 months ones. I kept thinking I was going to either be okay or dead before summer.
It's a strange thing to come up against my own mortality, the breathtaking sharpness of thinking about myself dying, of no longer being, my family's empty arms longing for me. Even stranger the deep calm I felt from knowing that I am actually living now. Dying doesn't seem like such a raw part of the deal. I alternated between thinking it was no big deal and desperate that my life was over. I was mostly okay, but fearful sorrow would come on suddenly, I would burrow my face into my husband's chest and gulp out a sob and feel so bereft and he would pull my chin up and look into my eyes and say he was scared too but we were going to be fine. I knew he meant I would be well, but I prayed hard for them to fine no matter what, no matter what.
I went in for the excision on December 23rd at 2:30. I thought she was just going to take out a bigger circle around the spot she'd had tested. No problem. No biggie. There were five people in the room, my doc, her resident, three nurses. I still thought she'd be taking at most penny sized piece of my back and I'd be sewn up and out the door by 3:00.
She started with the lidocaine, about eight shots. Talked me through what she was going to do: cutting more skin around the site, there'd be inner stitches, cauterizing, outer stitches. I'd need to take it easy for 2-3 days. After a while I began to wonder what was taking so long, it couldn't possibly take this long to cut out a penny sized piece of my back. So I asked, "Hey, just out of curiosity, how big of a circle are you doing? Is it like a dime? A penny? You know- size wise." There was a pregnant pause. "More like a dollar bill," said one of the nurses. I pictured the small side of a dollar bill, but as a little rectangle of skin coming off my back. Like the white edge part of the dollar bill. No big deal.
They sewed me up, bandaged me up, let me know the pathology would be back within two weeks, maybe longer because of the holiday. I made follow up appointments, went to work, still thinking I had this slender rectangle of skin taken, wondering why it felt so sore. I left work early and Googled melanoma excisions and dollar bill measurements and figured out what had actually happened: she had taken a 2.5 inch long oval out of the middle of my back.
We spent the next day traveling to my in laws. That night my husband changed my bandage and counted 12 stitches on the outside. He took a picture with his thumb for scale. It was twice as long at least. She took a lot. She was more concerned than I had ever imagined.
Late Christmas afternoon we took the boys out to the beach while the sun was starting to set, they ditched their shoes and ran shrieking to the water, then down the beach, watching them my heart caught so hard while the cold wind whipped my hair, I reached out for my husband and sobbed out What if this is our last Christmas? What if we were too late? He held me tight, the boys ran up, my oldest asking "Mommy? Why are you crying?" stopping my breakdown, allowing me the white lie of saying something about the sunset-y beach being beautiful before he hugged me quickly and ran off.
Yesterday, the 30th of December, I got an email from my dermatologist's office. AN EMAIL.
Your surgical margins are clear, and no further treatment is necessary. We hope you are healing well and will see you at your next visit.
My margins are clear. No further treatment is necessary. I did not make it this far for it just to be over. I get to keep going. I get to live this life that I have only now just started to have the courage to live. When I thought it was possible that I might be dying the one thing that was my saving grace was the fact that my life got to be lived, that I got to be sober for these four years, that I wasn't going to head into dying never having known what it was like to live as me.
There's something about thinking I could be dying that makes it simpler to make hard decisions, to take chances, to be kinder when I would have been impatient- to look and see the good in everyone. To stop thinking there's plenty of time left and instead using the time I've got as if it's valuable currency rather than an all you can eat buffet.
I don't know how to not be preachy here, so I will just be it. If you think you should stop drinking you should stop. Today, right now, this minute. If a doctor told you that you might have a disease that could kill you how would you decide things differently? What if you could save yourself?
I realized yesterday afternoon that if I were still drinking that I would never have made the appointment with the dermatologist, that maybe if I hadn't quit drinking I would have died from skin cancer at 50, never having gotten sober, never taking the time to check out my moles, sadly ragged and hungover while going through cancer treatments and trying to make it up to my children and failing miserably. My decision to quit drinking has saved my life twice now. In all the maps that have led me to this place, the middle of my life, the clearest directions have come from my efforts to care for my own self, to save my own life.
Here's to life. Here's to living, to surrender, to finding the courage when there's none to be found, to grace. This time, it will be different. Happy New Year y'all.
Wednesday, December 7, 2016
If you have read my story you know that four years ago today I was supposed to get up, make french toast, and study spelling words with my oldest son. Instead I had gotten so wasted the night before that I could not even get out of bed. Both of my boys stood by my bedside- eyes wide- part trusting, part curious while I squinted at them and tried to hide up how un-able my body was to function, while downstairs my husband made french toast and covered for me, again.
FOUR YEARS AGO.
December 7th has been an important date in my life since 2004- my oldest son was due to be born today, twelve years ago. He arrived exactly a week late. My sobriety arrived late too, not until December 7, 2012. But it arrived. That's the important part.
I've thought so much about that morning, about the piece of my brain that packed up and disappeared forever, the idea that I am a person who never ever drinks moving in in it's place so quickly and miraculously that I still examine myself with a sense of wonder at the revelation that occurred right here inside of me; inside of my sad, struggling, hungover, yearning to be free body that couldn't get out of bed because I'd gotten so wasted- just four short years ago.
I am a miracle. Since I got sober I have always believed it in a secret way, in the aw shucks and scuffles my foot across the floor way. I have believed it in a quiet way, in the way that delights me but that I feel like I should hide because I don't want to hurt anyone else's feelings who maybe doesn't know that we are all a miracle, and also I feel imposter syndrome big time sometimes. Add to that the way I wait for the other shoe to drop, only almost all the time, and I push down my light so no one can see or get overwhelmed by who I am.
It has taken every day of these four years to light my light- for me to get comfortable with being a lighthouse, because that is what I am. I've been doing so much reading and thinking and listening and learning all this time about what it means to own and embrace the who of being this person, to understand that I can say I am a child of God out loud and without feeling like a total dumbass because it means what I want it to mean- it means that the things I am alive to be and share are unique to me, to me alone. I found God in my spirituality, which for me is a totally different place than religion.The idea of God and saying God out loud still makes me feel squirmy, but I love the holy way it makes me feel inside to let myself be loved unconditionally by God, who is maybe the most beautiful version of us all.
I am proud of who I am. I took a shitty situation and made it beautiful, I took my broken self up gently and cared for the hurt and the pain and worked so fucking hard to get my feet on the ground and my heart into my hands. I will do that good work every single day of the rest of my life.
I am the perfect person for this job. "You are exactly the right person to do this," someone said about something else and I immediately made it my motto for my life.
I hid behind my drinking until I couldn't bear it one more day. I have hidden behind my fear until now. Does this mean I don't ever feel afraid? Um, HELL NO. It means that I know I am afraid and I keep going. I am the only person, the only one who can do this just like I do. The only one who resonates and speaks and loves the way I do.
I've been practicing yoga for a long time. I used to worry about if I was wearing the right thing to class, get there and worry the whole class thought that I wasn't doing it right, that people were thinking I didn't belong there, convincing myself that I was an outsider in every situation in all parts of my life. Even through yoga teacher training and beginning to teach I felt like at any moment someone was going to come in and announce "GET OUT!! You are obviously not qualified to be here!" And then everyone would know I wasn't supposed to be here, that I wasn't supposed to be anywhere, that I wasn't supposed to be.
These are all things I told myself, that I did pretty much everything wrong while struggling mightily to do everything right. No one ever walked up and said "Um, your downward facing dog is wrong" or "You are driving wrong" or "You obviously know nothing about putting groceries in a cart" or even "You suck". It was me. All me. I told myself all these things to protect myself from being the person I am meant to be in the world. Because that shit can be big and scary! And it was easier to hide behind booze and fear than to put my naked vulnerable sweet self out into the world.
A few months ago one of my favorite yoga teachers said something at the beginning of class that blew me away. He said, "Think of your practice as an offering." Later in that same class during a particularly challenging posture he said, "Do this pose as if God is watching." As if God is watching, watching my offering I thought, and really put my whole heart and being into it- not to do the pose picture perfect, but to do my version of the pose as a beautiful offering to God, who was watching. Then I immediately made that another motto for my whole life.
This is where I am, four years in. I am living my life as an offering, because God is watching, because y'all are watching, because everyone I meet is watching, and someone else is watching them. I am exactly the right person to do this, I am the only person that can do it this one way I do. It is who I am meant to be: an offering lighthouse, practicing for God, shining my light gloriously every single day as a tribute to the gift I have been given. Thank you so much for reading, and for being here. We are all lights, miracles shining together.