Rumination

Sometime in primary school, I learned about the senses. My teacher taught me that there are five senses. The sense of smell. The sense of sight. The sense of sound. The sense of touch. The sense of taste. As humans, we are constantly smelling, seeing, hearing, engaging our tactile environment, and tasting.

The senses perceive what is happening to us and around us. The senses differentiate between pleasing and displeasing. The senses are automatic and involuntary. They sense without our permission and it would be difficult to convince a certain sense that something is pleasing that is initially interpreted as displeasing.

As an adult, I’ve come to think of my thought process as my sixth sense. As my nose smells, my mind thinks. As my eyes see, my mind wanders. If my taste buds were meant to process and appreciate flavor, my brain was meant to process and cultivate thought.

On a summer day, my nose may pick up the smell of freshly cut grass or a waft of intoxicating lilacs blooming next door. I turn my head to breathe deep and cherish the feeling of warmth and grace that accompany the scent. I have strong memories of the smells of New York City from spending time there as a child. Hot, rancid air blew forcefully in spurts or seeped upward through the grates in the streets and assaulted my nose. I quickly protected myself from the smell and the sense of human decay that accompanied the scent. I learned to hold my breath and plug my nose if I anticipated that a particular grate would excrete that unforgettable smell.

I avoid foul tastes, burning surfaces, loud and alarming noises, and staring directly at the sun. I respect the initial interpretation of my senses and move toward the pleasing and away from the displeasing. While my senses are part of me, they do not define me. They are part of my fascinating and sophisticated biology – but they are not ME.

I’m trying to learn that the same is true for my thoughts. Thoughts float across the blank landscape of my mind without my permission. All kinds of thoughts — Loving thoughts, disturbing thoughts, negative thoughts. Sometimes I think things that I know I don’t really think. My thoughts are often involuntary. My thoughts spiral and chase unlikely ends. That’s the mind’s job… to think. As a human, I can even think about my thoughts. I can have three layers of thought going on simultaneously. Let’s just say I have a very developed sense of thought!

If I smell my child’s freshly washed skin, I want to hold her close and live in the moment of peace and love and gratitude. If I change a particularly horrific dirty diaper, I want to wrap that sucker up and get it to the outside garbage bin immediately. I don’t linger on a horrible smell.

For some reason, when I think that I’m good and lovable and talented and beautiful, I blast past that thought and suppress or dismiss it. When I think that maybe I’m no good and nobody loves me and I suck, I tend to stay there, to linger.

In sensing, I move away from the displeasing except where my thoughts are concerned. I ruminate. I sit with a sad or negative thought and let it spin me out. I have an obsessive mind that grabs that negative thought and keeps rethinking it and drinking it in. I give it weight. I let the thought make me think it’s true. I let my thoughts define me.

Rumination is the equivalent of walking out the back door, down the path to the outside trash bin, opening the bin, digging out that horrific diaper, opening the bag it’s in, unwrapping the diaper, exposing the shit, and breathing deep despite the bad smell. Lingering on a negative thought is the equivalent of sniffing that diaper in the back alley.

Furthermore, It’s like thinking that because I smelled a bad smell I must be less than or gross. It’s like believing that because my hand can feel pain when I touch a hot stove that I deserve pain or that I am pain!

The moral of the story… Don’t keep smelling the dirty diaper. Don’t ruminate on displeasing thoughts. Hold each thought momentarily and then let it go.

burn

I burned the shit out of my hand this morning on a curling iron. I volunteered to chair a 7:30 am 12-step meeting. I woke up late and rather than shower, thought I would trick everyone by throwing a curl or two in my slightly greasy hair. I have this little wicker basket on the floor of my bedroom with assorted lady beautifying tools – hair straightener, hair curler, hair dryer. I reach into the basket to grab the curling iron, wrap my hand around the barrel, and, as I said before, burn the shit out of my hand.

Couple things here. 1) how long was that curling iron sitting in that wicker basket plugged in? We all could have died in a house fire! 2) thank God that my kids weren’t the ones who tried to grab it! I’m pretty sure one of them plugged it in. They are obsessed with plugging things into outlets despite my constant yelling at them not to.

So burns hurt really bad. The pain was more intense than childbirth. The only thing that provided relief was submerging my hand in cold water. I ended up in the ER and not at my meeting at 7:30 am.

My ER visit revealed to me a few things about my personality. I told everyone how stupid I was several times and I tried to make funny jokes that nobody found funny. I want everyone to love me… all the time. For some reason that compels me to be self-deprecating and fain hilarity. I come across nerdy and insecure.

As the nurse asked routine questions, I tried to respond with witty answers.

Nurse: “Do you feel safe at home?”

Me: “If you keep the curling irons away from me, am I right?

Nurse: “Do you feel like hurting yourself?”

Me: “Well, I already accomplished that today.”

Nurse: “Ma’am, these are questions we ask everyone and I’m going to need you to answer.”

Me: “I’m sorry, I’m an idiot.”

Doctor comes in…

Doctor: “So you burned yourself? Let me take a look.”

Me: “Yeah, I’m a moron. That’s what I get for trying to look all fancy.”

I do not, in fact, look fancy. Blank stare from the doctor.

I’m home today recuperating. I couldn’t go to work. I’ve been watching old 30 Rock episodes and I watched a great movie called Welcome to Me with Kristen Wiig.

back

What up? It’s been a while since I’ve actively blogged. Going to try to do it daily. The purpose – to get perspective – to get grateful – to use writing as a tool to be a better person.

Since I was last blogging, so much has changed. I had another baby. I was promoted to CEO of the company where I work and then realized that trying to manage and control other human beings is not my scene… like AT ALL. My husband and I hit a rough patch but have come out of it more connected. Life happened. And it’s all to the good. And most importantly of all – I’m still fucking sober. Four years, man. It’s the best part of my life – my sobriety – because it makes it possible for all the other awesomeness to happen. Sobriety gives me a fighting chance to show up in my own life.

I started this blog as a space to explore a higher power because smart people in the program told me that if I didn’t find one, I would drink again. I know nothing more today about God than I did four years ago except this: “There is a God and I’m not it.” I don’t know who said that originally but it floats around the rooms. I love it. My daughter told me God is a “bubble full of hearts.”

I used to think that I couldn’t believe in God unless I figured God out. For years in recovery, I kept trying to nail down God. Like, “This weekend I’m going to pencil in some time to really sort out this whole GOD thing.” Such a self-centered piece – as though I’m going to be the human being of the 6 billion that really just gets it spot on. Now rather than try to sort out God, I contemplate outer space and nature and physics. I cannot make sense of any of that shit. I’m not in charge of star formations and they seem to happen just the same. The rest of the world, universe, galaxy, etc. keeps on keeping on whether my ass is involved or not. In the past, that might have freaked me out. Today, I take comfort in knowing I’m just one among many. It’s not my job to control. I’m powerless over alcohol, people, places, and things.

I’m a work in progress. I’m so much happier and more serene than I’ve every been but I’m still a bit crazy. I want to quit my day job and start a podcast and move to a farm. What’s up with that? My husband thinks I’ve come unhinged. I also suggested that we sell all our stuff, become minimalists, buy an RV and drive around the country for a year before our kids start school. He said “Hell No.” A good compromise is to try to keep up this blog for a while and see if it sticks. If it doesn’t, perhaps that is a sign that we can’t uproot our family and live out one of my whims.

Dare me to write again tomorrow?

Crying out now

Thanks to Crying Out Now for posting “Frank the Tank is a Terrible Mother!” 

When Ellie emailed me to say she was going to put that post up on her website, I realized how long it had been since I had blogged. I celebrated a year of sobriety in August and it has been a wild year. Lots of soul searching and working the 12 steps. My husband was laid off and re-hired. I’m working full-time and raising a healthy little 18-month-old. And I am pregnant again and am finally done battling first trimester yuck. 

I am grateful every day for my sobriety. Even on the shitty days… but I have far less of those than I used to. I am getting used to showing up in my life and not evading every feeling with alcohol. Sobriety is making me a better mother, wife, employee, daughter, sister and friend. I feel like I’m getting to know myself for the first time in a long time. I’m way less afraid than I was a year ago when I started this blog. 

Thank you to those who visit here. I plan to start writing again. 

Peace

pissed and miserable syndrome

Male readers beware: this post is about menstruation. This post is about what happens to me right before I get my period. This post is about the day or two during the month that I am a hot mess.

The medical profession calls this phenomena PMS or Premenstrual Syndrome. Symptoms include bloating, headache, food cravings, constipation, difficulty focusing, cramps, clumsiness, fatigue, breast tenderness, mood swings, forgetfulness, irritability, poor judgment, sleep problems, lethargy and a bunch of other extremely inconvenient physical and emotional changes that signify the body’s unrelenting attempts to get knocked up.

My mother was my first and remains my strongest example of femininity. I vividly recall her getting ready to go to a party with my father when I was a small girl. I watched her curl and pin her hair, apply lipstick, maneuver the clasps on her bra behind her back, expertly roll her pantyhose into place from her neatly painted toes up to her thighs, push earrings through the permanent holes in her ears, slip a dress over her head before calling my dad in to zip her up, step into her elegant heels and check herself in the mirror with the same pat-on-the-hips move she does to this day. I had been granted access to the ritual of womanhood that is getting ready for a party. She was so beautiful. The dress was soft pink and sparkly and I was convinced that my mother was a princess and my parents couldn’t reveal this information to me because they were possibly in hiding from unnamed evil forces in faraway kingdom.

I also remember my mother always smiling at strangers and answering the phone in an up-beat tone. She was always volunteering for things and being helpful. My mother was kind to the cashier at the grocery store and chatted easily with other parents at school or at church. My mother cooked us dinner every night and kept our home clean and organized. She helped me make a dress for my teddy bear and sang me to sleep. Through her example, I came to understand femininity as beauty, grace, kindness, selflessness and service to others. Being a woman was about looking good and making other people’s lives more comfortable.

It wasn’t until I grew up that I realized my mom wasn’t always thrilled to be cooking and cleaning and organizing and driving and folding and helping. I learned later that she put many of her dreams on hold to raise her four children and support her husband and was often left frazzled and stressed from taking care of us at the expense of nourishing herself. I didn’t realize until I became a woman that my mom was creative and driven, hardworking and intelligent.

Before my mom shared her secrets with my sister and me – namely that she wasn’t superhuman and had feelings and needs of her own – I caught glimpses of my imperfect and human mother one or two days a month.

When I was in sixth grade, my mother sang the entire theme to the Star Wars movie using the f-word. I had never heard my mom cuss before, so it was rather unsettling to hear her raging through the house, screaming, “fuck —  fuck —- fuck-fuck-fuck-fuck —- fuck.”

I think she was upset because she had asked my older brother and I to fold laundry – which usually meant holding up my mom’s underwear and laughing at how ridiculously large they were – and we had taken way too long to complete our simple task. It wasn’t our fault. We weren’t used to taking care of ourselves. Human mom had demanded we do chores and normal mom would return soon and she would fold the laundry and let us go watch tv.

There was also the time that she smashed a dish so hard into the dishwasher that it shattered and cut her hand. The crack in the dinner plate seemed to coincide with a crack in my mother’s grip on reality. In these moments, I saw her humanity and it was unsettling. One or two days a month, my mother had a wild look in her eyes. I would catch her crying, clenching her fists or grinding her teeth. Usually in these moments she would mumble something about not being appreciated or feeling overwhelmed. She might retreat to her room and slam the door with extra oomph. My mom has always been a master of containing her feelings.

“We’re sorry, Mom,” my sister or I might say… although we were probably thinking that she did our laundry and cooked and cleaned last week and we didn’t hear any complaints so what’s the big deal now and we hope she feels better soon because we really want to go to Skate Ranch later and before we go we are going to need her to wash our favorite outfits that we can never find and are always dirty.

“It’s okay girls. I’m okay. It’s just PMS. You will understand someday,”  she would state as she pulled herself together and started picking up the house.

As a child, I raced toward adulthood with Olympic speed and could not wait to become a woman. I was excited to ride a bike, wear makeup, walk to school with friends, wear a bra, get my period, kiss a boy, drive a car, drink alcohol – I wanted to do it all – but I never really got excited for PMS. I never thought, “I can’t wait until I am older and get PMS and get to smash dishes and give my husband the silent treatment.”

And then it happened to me… PMS. It starts with the nagging cramps in my thighs and a desire to eat every carbohydrate and piece of cheese in site. I may feel a bit weepy but my PMS arrives with a big old bunch of rage.

A perfect example of my personal brand of PMS occurred when my husband and I were living in a cramped little apartment on Kits beach in Vancouver, Canada. I was using the computer and he grabbed the mouse to click something. Hot boiling venom rose up within my body. I stated something hurtful about him being selfish and went into our 2 foot X 2 foot kitchen to simmer and there my world imploded upon me. I had no love in my heart. The world was a stupid and terrible place. I hated everyone and everything. The nerve, THE NERVE, of that man to take the mouse and click the maximize window was too much, TOO MUCH!! As I fumed and slammed dishes, I took a glass in my hand, held my arm out vertically and grinned as I released my grip and let gravity take its course. The smashing and shattering of glass was the perfect audible representation of my internal chaos.

This irrational behavior startled my husband who asked, “what the hell are you doing?” To which I screamed something unintelligible, ran out the door while pulling on my boots, and proceeded to walk the beach for hours in the cold rain – too stubborn to come home. A snapshot of me in the moment before I ran for the door would capture a woman with wild eyes and gnashed teeth, mumbling and seething and erratically banging about. I’m pretty sure I looked a lot like my mom the night she cut her hand on a broken dinner plate.

My new venture into parenting with PMS struck me this week. On the heels of the terrifying events of my daughter’s health scare, I was hit with some of the most intense PMS I’ve ever had in my life. A week ago, I was praying over Lou’s paralyzed body, promising a God I don’t understand that if she could live, I would be the best mother and person possible and love her absolutely every waking moment of my life. I forgot to add in the caveat – except the two days a month I have PMS.

Fortunately for Lulu and unfortunately for my husband, Jim is usually the target of my premenstrual rage. Feeling all the tell-tale signs, I made an announcement on Sunday: “I have PMS.” Jim knows this means to steer clear and don’t say a word and do everything I command and have a damn positive attitude about it too.

I will be Lulu’s example of femininity. I hope to show her that women are strong, athletic, compassionate, fierce, hardworking, honest, kind, creative, powerful and magical. I hope that she will have memories of me getting ready to go off to work and be inspired by my passion for my livelihood. I hope she will see my brain in action and appreciate the way I feed my body and keep myself active. I hope when she looks at me, she thinks I’m the most beautiful woman in the world, as I thought of my own mother when I was a girl.

One day, my daughter will probably think my underpants are way too large. Lulu will inevitably see my PMS in action as well. In addition to the virtues in the preceding paragraph, large underwear and PMS are also part of my femininity. I have been thinking a lot about the fact that there must be an evolutionary basis for PMS. Roomy underwear just makes sense without explanation but PMS must serve a purpose. The rage and strength and power and impulse of my PMS has to be there for some reason other than to make me pissed and miserable.

I am on a mission to find a really good definition of PMS for my daughter and to help her understand this change and how to harness the emotional energy contained in these days. Women used to be sent off to live in a tent during menstruation. It’s as though the villagers said, “hey cranky lady, get out of here and come back when you’ve stopped bleeding and started acting nice again.” Popular culture seems to accept the answer that “bitches be crazy.” I am disappointed in myself that I’ve internalized a lot of this thinking and feel lost in my PMS and like I need to hide out until it ends. I want my daughter to view her monthly cycle, both the physical and emotional rhythms, as a part of her femininity not to hide from but to embrace.

Wish me luck because I have yet to figure these things out for myself.

If you refer to the symptoms in paragraph two, “difficulty focusing” is among the list. I apologize if this post has seemed a bit all over the place. If you didn’t like this post, please don’t tell me because I might cry or yell at my husband or smash something!

powerlessness defined

“The more I do this deal called life, the more I realize that it isn’t about the things that happen to you, the good things or the bad things, but rather how you show up and react in the world that counts.”

– Insight of an old-timer shared at a 12-step meeting

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Great teachers and spiritual guides come in all shapes, sizes and packages. My greatest teacher is my 10-month-old daughter. She has yet to utter her first word but possesses an uncanny ability to speak directly to my soul – that untouchable place where true understanding resides. How is it that this child, through her mere existence, can teach me more about myself and the nature of being than I ever hoped to know?

Worry has been a constant companion in my life and an inherited trait as far as I’m concerned. My mother and her father can worry with the best of them – falsely predicting life’s unpredictables with remarkable steadfastness. At its core, anxiety is the paralyzing combination of an intolerance for uncertainty and a fear that one lacks the capacity to face uncertain events. Worry is the sick way we fool ourselves into thinking we are somehow doing something about uncertainty or manipulating the uncontrollable nature of our destinies. Worry typically begins with a thought, “what if….” What if I am dying of an incurable disease? What if I lose my job? What if my husband dies? What if I lose my baby? The snowballing of these thoughts can lead to some pretty twisted thinking and emotional anguish. I consider myself to be an expert worrier.

There was the brain tumor scare of 2001. I would stare at my pupils in my college dorm room mirror for hours on end, convinced that one was larger than the other, which obviously indicated my death was imminent. In 2003, I was convinced I had a heart disorder and wore a halter monitor for 48 hours, only to be told by my general physician that I was anxious. After I gave birth to my daughter, I actually had an MRI of my brain because I was convinced, beyond a doubt, that I had multiple sclerosis. Turns out I was extremely sleep deprived and therefore twitching, fatigued and forgetful. The kind and patient neurologist did a side-by-side comparison of the 2001 and the 2011 brain scans to put my fears at ease.

When my husband meets his friends for a drink on a Friday night, I inevitably begin to worry that he won’t make his way home safely. Keep in mind that he is a very responsible father and husband and has not given me reason to doubt his ability to manage his own life. The “what if” thinking begins and pretty soon I envision myself at his funeral with our small daughter, I begin writing his eulogy in my head and imagine I am too heartbroken to deliver it when the time comes, I see Lulu reaching out for him and myself running to the bathroom to hide my despair from her, I tell her stories of her father and wrap myself in the smells of his clothes at night. I will never remarry. I will never move on. I wonder if I can extract sperm from his body at the scene of the accident so that Lulu can have a sibling and won’t have to be alone in her grief.

My worries are too numerous and many of them too insignificant to list. I am driven by a thousand forms of fear. At the top of this list are fears about my daughter’s health and well-being. Perhaps my gaga-goo-goo guru knew that to teach me about the futility of worry, the lesson plan would have to incorporate a kinesthetic teaching approach. I have always been a hands-on learner.

This past Sunday night, Lulu started behaving strangely. Around 7:00 pm, she became fussy and was drooling A LOT. I thought she must be cutting a new tooth.  By 8:00 pm, she was becomingly increasingly stressed and was having a hard time lying face-up on her changing table. She kept trying to sit up and was making a weird gulping noise. By 9:00 pm, she was inconsolably crying and trying to cough which was obviously painful. Her cry was alarming because it was as though someone pushed a mute button. She was hoarse and no sound escaped when she screamed. I called my husband to come home from work and we stood with her in a steamy bathroom. She eventually calmed down and fell asleep on my chest in her rocker, but her breathing sounded labored and kind of wheezy. We called the pediatrician and ended up in the ER by 10:30 pm. By 1:30 am, my daughter had a breathing tube inserted and by 3:30 am, she was being transported via ambulance to the University of Iowa Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Lulu was diagnosed with Epiglottitis, a very rare condition in which a virus attacks the Epiglottis and can cause such severe swelling in the neck that the airway closes.

We spent four days in the ICU and are now home with a happy and healthy baby. How, you may ask, could this experience make me less anxious? Watching our daughter struggle to breathe and having to let her go with strangers into an operating room to be intubated was the most terrifying moment of my life and shattered any illusions I have about being in control in this world. Powerlessness defined.

To think of the time and energy I have spent worrying about what might go wrong. Never in a million years could I have predicted Epiglottitis. I had never heard of it before Sunday! Similarly, I could not predict that my Aunt would die of ALS or that my sweet niece would be diagnosed with Type I diabetes at 7-years-old. I have no control over what is going to happen to me or to the people I love most in this world. I do have control over how I show up in this world.

I have spent a large part of my adult life ruminating over the wreckage of the past or projecting tragedy into a future that has yet to unfold. When everything happened with Lulu, I saw myself walking a road. In a moment of clarity, I realized that I have walked my path always straining to see the ever-changing horizon, mentally absorbed in the danger that might await me there. Regret, anxiety, worry, fear – these emotions remove me from the present and prohibit me from both enjoying the path at my feet and dealing with immediate certainties with true awareness and serenity.

I am powerless. I have no power to predict the future. Worrying about the future only serves to distract me from the present. When I am not present, I am actually more vulnerable to life’s uncertainties because I am so wrapped up in my melodramatic thinking that I can’t see what’s right in front of my face. Be present. Be still. Enjoy life. Play. Have faith that in the moment of uncertainty, you will have the necessary tools to face life on life’s terms. These are the lessons that my daughter taught me this week.

My first sponsor used to say, “wait until the miracle happens.” Sunday was my miracle. The gifts of a 12-step program, both sobriety from alcohol and the slow alteration of years of fear-based thinking, are the reason I was able to be present with my daughter on Sunday. I was keenly aware of her distress and able to respond to her calmly and quickly. In the emergency room and at the hospital, I was strangely peaceful and collected and focused on her needs. I shudder to think of how this could have turned out had I been actively drinking. I fear I would have put her in bed and not responded to her muted cries. I have an overwhelming sense that my sobriety saved her life.

God, I fucking love her. Thank you, my tiny little teacher. I promise Mommy heard you loud and clear. I will stay in the day with you. I will not let fear drive my life and remove me from the beauty and splendor of the present moment.

I look forward to a lifetime of learning from you. I would appreciate it very much if ventilators and feeding tubes are not part of future lesson plans.