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.

my very own kairos moment

Feeling a bit uninspired yesterday, I passed along a blog post by Glennon from Momastery.com about the difference between Chronos time and Kairos time. Glennon wrote, “Kairos is God’s time. It’s time outside of time. It’s metaphysical time. It’s those magical moments in which time stands still. I have a few of those moments each day. And I cherish them.”

The mother of a 10-month-old, I undoubtedly have my “let’s get through this second, minute, day” moments and my “I wish I could stay in this moment forever” moments. Yesterday, I had my very own Kairos moment I thought I would share with you.

Lulu (the aforementioned 10-month-old) is covered in dried baby food. She loves her black bean, banana and quinoa concoction from Happy Baby, but it adheres to her face and hands with the strength of super glue. A warm washcloth wasn’t cutting it, so we moved bath time up an hour. As Lulu was sitting in the tub with lukewarm water up to her belly button, she let out a rather impressive sneeze. The force of the sneeze precipitated a most powerful fart from my adorable little 23 pound baby. The gas escaped her bottom with such force that she was literally lifted off the floor of the tub as by jet propulsion. This chain reaction startled her and as her bottom plopped back down onto the bathtub surface, she looked at me with amusement and astonishment.

My heart burst with love for this beautiful little sneezing, farting creature. I laughed out loud. That good, deep, soul-clearing laughter that is always a surprising and cathartic experience. This entire sequence of events lasted mere seconds but the hilarity and sweetness of the moment has been with me ever since. A moment in time to bottle… minus the gas.

 

trying again

This past weekend we celebrated my brother’s 38th birthday.  Getting ready for his party, I browsed my jewelry box looking to accessorize and came across a silver cuff bracelet with my initials engraved on the outside and a date engraved on the inside.

10-15-2005

An instant flash of heat and prickles of irritation radiated throughout my body. A lump in my throat accompanied a brief moment of shame and regret. These raw emotions quickly subsided and were replaced with some unexpected feelings – gratitude and acceptance. The silver cuff bracelet I never wore found its way onto my wrist Saturday.

The bracelet was a gift from my Mom. Although it was meant to be encouraging during one of my earlier attempts at sobriety, which was preceded by lots of desperate and pitiful phone calls to my parents, I hated the bracelet when she gave it to me. The year 2005 was when I came to the great jumping off place – a place where I could not envision a life for myself with alcohol but a life without alcohol seemed equally unlivable. What a horrible, lonely and excruciatingly painful place to be. I knew I needed to stop drinking but I could no more admit that I was powerless than I could accept a “God of my understanding” as somehow being a solution. This was a time in my life where I would string together 10 days, 15 days, one month of sobriety and then be driven back into the insanity of drinking because life sober wasn’t looking too much better than life drunk.

I received the bracelet from my Mom after an impassioned declaration of my intent to stay sober. Little did she know that between the time she purchased and mailed the bracelet and I received it, I had already picked up a drink. I could not stay sober for the life of me and I hated that stupid fucking bracelet because it was a physical reminder of my complete inability to manage my own life.

Despite myself, I did stop drinking for almost two years from April of 2006 to March of 2008. These were two of the best years of my life, but I lost my sobriety for all the usual reasons one does: I took back my will, I stopped working with a sponsor, I stopped going to meetings, I put myself at the center of my life, I let my resentments fester…. and so on. Things got so good when I was sober that I came to believe in the power of myself and came to believe that I could drink again like a normal person. I was out of the program from March of 2008 until August of 2011.

I am so grateful that I had a daughter in March of 2011. Being a mother taught me the definition of powerlessness and showed me humility in a way I have never experienced. In the first months of Lulu’s life, I was so exhausted from trying to drink, parent and work (in that order) that I surrendered. I was desperate enough to slink back into the rooms of AA. I knew there was a solution there the entire time I was drinking but my ego was so big that I couldn’t get myself through the door! Before Lulu’s arrival, I had resigned myself to live a life of silent misery as long as I could have alcohol by my side. I had too much pride to humble myself before the program that gave me so much and that I turned away from years before.

My first months back in AA, I had all this mental stuff going on about why I lost my sobriety, what the last three years could have been like if I were sober, where I would be now, I would have five years, Lulu would have had a sober Mom from day one, etc. As a result of working the steps these past months and really grasping the program in a whole new way, I do not “regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” I am grateful I am sober today and I accept the path that I have traveled to get here. Part of my recovery is appreciating the journey as much as the destination and working on acceptance of life on life’s terms.

Back to the bracelet. I have a new affection for this piece of jewelry. Where I used to view it as a reminder of my failure, I now see it as a reminder of the beautiful life I get to live when my life is built on a foundation of humility.

sick puppies cannot care for sick babies

Lulu is sick. She is almost 8 months old and this is her first time with a fever or anything more significant than congestion. She is fussy and uncomfortable and crying these huge tears we seldom see coming from her sweet, little, almond-brown eyes. She is full of drool and snot. She is farting and gagging. She doesn’t want to eat a whole lot. She alternates between exhaustion and screaming. She seems to be in a fair bit of some type of pain she cannot speak.

I want to acknowledge some of the wonderful stuff that has occurred in the past 48 hours. My daughter was sick and I was here to take care of her… sober. I responded to her pain and upset. I took her temperature and changed her diapers and put dry clothes on her and made her bottles and gave her baths and rocked her and shushed in her ear and sang to her. I stayed awake in the middle of the night and let her sleep on my chest as I sat in a chair because upright was the only position where she seemed comfortable. I put her in bed with me and rubbed her back and woke up at every sound. To most parents, these probably sound like pretty obvious things to do for a sick child. For me, this is a big deal because more than just doing these things, I was present and aware and tuned in to Lulu.I had the capacity to provide care, security and love to my child. In the midst of the fever and the poopy diapers and the no sleep, I was able to look at her and feel this enormous gratitude for this amazing little being that I get the privilege to take care of for as long as the Universe lets me. I have a generally healthy and thriving infant and I must be one of the luckiest people on the planet.

I can’t help but think about what taking care of Lulu with a fever would look like if I were still drinking. My drinking wasn’t always out of control, but I couldn’t control my drinking and therefore could never predict with much accuracy how a night of drinking would end. What state would I have been in when Lulu awoke in pain in the middle of the night? What would my embrace have looked like and smelled like and felt like at 2:00 am? How much comfort does a drunk parent really provide to a sick child? Would I have been able to take a rectal temp? Would she have been safe sleeping in bed with me? My sane husband most likely would have taken charge and let me sleep off my drunk.

The ensuing guilt, remorse and shame the next day would have been unbearable. My own self-loathing would eat away at my relationship with Lulu as I watched her depend on her father for the security I was too unstable to provide. I’m sure I would vow to be a better parent. Around 5:00 pm, I would get the itch to drink and start excusing my behavior of the night before. No defense against the first drink I swore I wouldn’t have, I would pour myself a glass of red wine while taking care of her. I would feel the war in my chest between the instinct run wild to drink more and the pressing matter of the sick infant at hand. Things would start to feel unmanageable. Her cries would elicit irritation rather than sympathy. I would get a rising up of anxiety in my chest because this baby was really cutting into some much needed drinking at the end of a long day of taking care of said baby. I would probably let Jim take care of her and promise myself that next time I would do better.

My skin crawls just thinking of how alcohol warps my thoughts, feelings and attachments. Alcohol would rob me of the experience of completely loving my baby through her first fever… which I have a feeling is bringing her first tooth right along with it.

 

 

 

date night

My mother-in-law has volunteered to watch the baby so my husband and I can go on a date. Second date night since Lulu arrived. First date night sober in YEARS!!! We are going to a seafood place called Prawnbrokers in Fort Meyers, FL. I am wearing a skirt and earrings and lip gloss, so this is a pretty big deal. I feel nervous. I’ve been married for seven years and I feel nervous going to dinner with Jim (oh… that’s my husband’s name).

Jim is a very relaxed guy and I am more your anxious/nervous type of gal. I want to enjoy dinner with him but my insides are already spinning. We are going to have an unheard of two hours alone. My first thoughts will be of family business: reviewing the finances, discussing the “issues” of this week, stressing that we both need to lose 30 pounds, wondering aloud about Lulu’s development. No wonder he doesn’t ask me out more often!!! I’m such a stress ball.

A cocktail made it easier slide right past my typical list of talking points. With a cocktail, I quickly get to a place where I crack jokes and make friends with nearby diners and perhaps start a dance party table-side. I feel pretty good three or four drinks down. About the time I hit my stride, my husband’s night is pretty much over. When I drink, he can’t relax. He has to babysit me. I keep downing drinks and racking up the tab. I become incoherent and the night is adjourned. This is followed by waking up in a panic at 3 am and perhaps apologizing for going a bit overboard. Jim is forgiving and kind. He has never once told me I have to quit drinking. He has told me that I’m not very attractive when I drink (ouch!).

Intention for tonight: stay present and take in the evening. No business needs doing – unless it’s monkey business.

 

being present

I’m still down here in Florida on family vacation. The herd has thinned and the pace has slowed. Being in a different place without my usual distractions, I am acutely aware of my restlessness and inability to sit in the present moment. I vacillate between wanting life to speed up and slow down. A beautiful moment occurs and I start to panic about the fleeting nature life. I get sad that the moment will soon pass and in my sadness I take my attention away from the moment I am now so sad I have missed!!

At the next turn, I want time to accelerate. I want to get past the boring or tense or empty part of the day. If time drags, I begin to itch for the pace to quicken or for something more to happen.

I am working on this tendency to evade my life. I am clever in my evasion: I plan out the house I will build someday, I eat mint chocolate chip ice-cream, I obsess about my recently acquired stretch marks, I pick at my husband, I surf the internet, I clean something, I convince myself I have an incurable disease, I think about how sad I will be when my parents die.

Twice on this vacation, I have had moments of presence and serenity. I went for a bike ride with my husband. I pumped my legs. I put my arms out perpendicular to my body – something I haven’t done since childhood – and took deep, long breaths of the air through my nostrils. I felt alive and it was great. This lasted for about 10 seconds. I also swam with my daughter in the Gulf. She was thrilled to be in the water. Witnessing her experience something for the first time was wonderful.

These moments give me hope. If I bring myself back to NOW again and again, maybe I will get better at staying present.

 

 

vacation

I am leaving for vacation today. As I crammed the ridiculous amount of baby things we are bringing into our overflowing suitcases, I set an intention for this trip.

1. No expectations

2. Total acceptance

3. Gratitude

In order to relax and have serenity on this vacation, I know that I have to get out of my own way. We are meeting my husband’s family in Florida for a week on the Gulf Coast. I will be the only sober person amid lots of personalities. It is our first big trip with the baby and I am resisting the urge to panic about the flight and potential screaming meltdown and corresponding dirty looks from passengers. It is my first family immersion since this round of sobriety and I am resisting the urge to feel left out and different.

To be sane I have to lose all my expectations about what is going to happen this week. No expectations means no brewing resentments or hurt feelings. I have to accept the way things are: how long it takes to get the rental car, where we sleep at the house, the group activities and random comments from my in-laws. Most of all, I have to look around and be grateful. Grateful I can go on vacation. Grateful we have a family that wants to spend a week with us. Grateful that they make little baby earplugs that are supposed to help with cabin pressure. Grateful that my bangs are being very cooperative today. Grateful that my husband can carry lots of shit at one time.

I’ll keep you posted on my travels. I plan to hit up some AA meetings in Estero.