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!

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.

gobble gobble

Some people say the glass is half-empty.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Some people say the glass is half-full.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               I always wanted a a bigger glass.

If the directions say to take 2 every 4 hours,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        the alcohlic takes 4 every 2 hours,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         just to make  sure we get enough!

I can do anything alcoholically!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           I can drink water alcoholically!

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When I am actively drinking or living as a dry drunk, I am all about the about the gobble gobble.

I want more, I need more, I feel I am entitled to more. At holidays past, I couldn’t get the drinks down fast enough in order to warm myself up to get more closeness or distance between myself and others in the room. I would shovel in the food. I would focus on my comfort, my needs. I was a life gobbler… all about what’s in it for me and completely focused on the fear that there wouldn’t be enough of whatever “it” happened to be.

When I am working a program of recovery, I am able to authentically be thankful.

This year, I have the intention to be about the thankful part of the holiday. I am leaving soon for the in-laws, where I will inevitably be surrounded by alcohol. I am choosing to go with an attitude of gratitude. I am grateful for my loving husband and our beautiful daughter. I am grateful for my health, my job, my home, my extended family and great friends. Today, I will try to ask myself how I can be of service to others rather than how I can best serve myself. I will say a little prayer to keep myself out of my own way. I will slow down and be mindful of the fact that in any given moment I always have enough. I will not be a life gobbler.

 

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.