Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Lose Yourself

I was asked in an interview recently about creativity, about making jewelry.    They wanted to know about my creative 'spark' - why I started making jewelry, where I get my inspiration.   I have always stumbled over this question, but because I had a week to think about my answers I finally gave it some thought.

Like with so many of the blessings I have in my life, the jewelry came about because of recovery.

Before getting sober, I didn't have any creative outlet at all.    I didn't have any hobbies, unless reading counts as a hobby, and hadn't felt any real creative urges.    I never thought of myself as creative - I still don't, to a large degree.   

When I was about four months sober I was full of a nervous, jittery energy.    I imagined it felt like having my fingers stuck in an electrical socket - kind of pleasurable and painful at the same time.    I found myself with all this excess mental capacity and nowhere to channel it.   I was no longer preoccupied with the obsession to drink, or nursing a hangover, or actively drinking.  Prior to getting sober these activities took up all my time.   

All that excess energy made me edgy, though.    I longed to be able to lose myself in something, anything.   One night I saw a woman knitting at a recovery meeting, and I thought:  I need a hobby.

I began stalking the aisles of hobby stores.   I dismissed knitting quickly (too much counting).    The next stop was drawing - I purchased a beautiful set of colored pencils, an artist's sketch pad, and a book entitled something like Drawing for Idiots.    It turns out that I had neither the talent nor the patience for drawing.   I wanted my creations to come out perfectly, and if they couldn't be perfect I wasn't interested.   

I took guitar lessons.   I played the piano as a child, and still dabbled in it on the upright we had in our living room, so I knew how to read music and always felt I had a musical ear.     The lessons were fun - the first time three bars of Smoke on the Water came out intelligibly I was thrilled.   Practicing was another matter, and the damn perfectionism came back to bite me once again.    I wanted to be able to pick up the guitar and jam.    It was taking too long to get there.

Needlepoint was next.   Not as complicated as knitting, because I found the pre-printed screens (kind of paint-by-numbers with thread) and all I had to do was find the right color and stitch.     Somewhere around here there is still a lumpy, rushed, needle pointed picture of a lighthouse in a frame.

Then one day, eight months sober, I was trudging the aisles of a hobby store once again, feeling dispirited, when a shiny little box caught my eye.   It had a clear top, and was full of little compartments.   Inside the compartments were little multi-colored stones, some wire and some basic tools.   A beading kit.    I grabbed it like a drowning man reaching for a life preserver, ran back home and spread everything out on my kitchen table.

I was in love.  

I loved the feel of the stones, the bright colors that came from nature- nature! - the endless possible combinations of patterns and textures.   And the best part?   If I didn't like the final product, I simply cut it apart and tried again.   Beading is a perfectionist's dream

The rest, as they say, is history.  I attacked making jewelry with a dogged determination I hadn't felt in years.   I didn't have the patience for classes.  I googled "wire wrapping", invested in some cheap wire in order to play around until I figured out how to make rings, pendants and earrings out of wire.   My brother mentioned Etsy, and I set up a little shop without much hope that anyone would ever buy anything, but it didn't matter.   I had found the thing I could lose myself in, happily.

As for what my creative process is - I don't have one.  I take stones or crystals and spread them out in front of me, and I let them speak to me.  That sounds like an artist-y kind of thing to say, and I don't think of myself as an artist, but I literally just start playing with colors and textures and I see where it takes me.   Some of my favorite pieces came about from mistakes.  

Not bad for a recovering perfectionist.

I draw inspiration from nature - I'm drawn to the deep blues, soft greens and sandy browns found on the seashore.   I can stare in awe at a bright red or deep purple stone, amazed at how nature produces such vibrant colors.   I studied the meta-physical meanings behind the stones:  rhodonite for self-love, amethyst for sobriety, agate for strength, and this inspired making recovery jewelry that didn't look like recovery jewelry.   I love creating pieces people could draw strength from without having to advertise to the world what it meant.

As I sat at my little jewelry booth at the craft fair on Saturday, I marveled at where jewelry making had taken me.   I looked out over the sea of people there and recognized most of the people I saw - I have made so many new friends through selling jewelry.   

Finding my creative spark helped take me from the dark, angry isolation of active alcoholism out into the bright, vibrant, connected world.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Just Keep Swimming

It has taken every recovery tool I've ever learned to get through the past five days, and it looks like I can't put that toolbox away just yet.   This morning I came down with Greta's cold.

I want to say, though, that there was one bright spot in the week.   Yesterday was our town's annual celebration/craft fair.  It was a gorgeous, hot, summery day.   I was pried out of my boredom and isolation, and spent the day chatting with friends and customers, talking to people I hadn't seen in a long time.   Yesterday I felt completely connected.  

Greta, although better, is still sick.   She'll have two or three hour stretches where she feels better, and seeing her smile is like a ray of sunshine coming through the clouds.  

Her fever went away for a few hours yesterday morning, but otherwise is maintaining at a steady 100 degrees.    Doctor says there is nothing to do but wait it out.   She sits like a lump with a thousand-yard stare, numbly watching episode after episode of The Suite Life of Zach and Cody on Netflixs, coughing that scary barking cough and blowing her nose.   Every now and then I push fluid, a piece of dry toast or a Popsicle, but she's weak.   She has lost three pounds in five days.   

Yesterday her left eye swelled nearly shut.   We gave her Benadryl and iced it and it went away, eventually.   Today she woke up with an orange coating on her tongue.  No explanation was found for that either.   The emotional roller coaster of scary symptoms, long nights and brief moments of feeling better are wearing me down.   

In the past six days my car broke down, my fridge broke, my son has pushed me to the tiny edge of sanity, someone in my household has been sick and my pinky toenail fell off (I smashed my foot against a shopping cart about a month ago, and I had forgotten about it until Finn pointed to my foot and said "Why is your toenail leaving?"   For the record:   EWWWWW).   

Wednesday and Thursday a friend's dog was staying with us.    Thursday morning I woke up to my dog barfing on our bedroom floor.   Downstairs, the visiting dog had suffered bouts of diarrhea during the night.  Nasty piles awaited me on both floors of my house.   As I was cleaning these up, Greta threw up in the upstairs bathroom and Finn smashed a glass on the floor and cut his hand.   

I dutifully held Greta's hair and stroked her back while she was sick, wrapped a bandage around Finn's thankfully-not-too-bad cut, and finished cleaning up the dog mess.    Then I sat on my couch and cried, softly, so the kids couldn't hear.

After a good cathartic cry I felt better.   I mentally wiped the slate clean, started my day over - a trick I learned from friends in recovery.    Don't like how your day is going?   Start again.    I got down on my knees and prayed, again, for the strength to get through another day.   I prayed for gratitude and perspective, because although things weren't going well, they could be a whole lot worse.  

I called friends and unloaded my fear, guilt and anger.    I told on myself - I was triggered.   Triggered by the desire to escape the long stretches of boredom peppered with moments of terror when Greta's fever would spike, or she would throw up.     I was also triggered by food.  Big time.   Cooped up in the house, no ability to get to the gym or to my Jenny Craig consultant, and by day four all I wanted was to stuff my face with comfort food.

I didn't.   I prayed a lot, I talked a lot, and I went to bed early nearly every day, just to get the day over with.    These tools didn't make me feel great; they didn't magically make me less stressed, fearful or bored.  

But they did keep me away from a drink and from unhealthy food, and for this I am very grateful.    

Today I came down with a fever and spent most of the day resting.    I had to miss my sister-in-law's 40th birthday party, I was shaky and sweating and feeling really sorry for myself.   I was tired of surrendering, tired of asking for help, tired of turning it over.    I was lying on the couch in a dark, resentful mood, trying to muster the strength to get the kids to bed.    Enough already, I thought.   Can you give a girl a break, please?  Some kind of sign that this is worth it?   Because I'm tired.  I'm sick and I'm tired.  

Finn came trotting up to me in his pajamas, his blanket trailing behind him. 

He smiled at me, and said, "Momma?  I love you."

I gave him a distracted smile and said, "I love you too, Finn."

He paused for a beat, and said,  "NO!  I mean it!   I will love you every day."

I turned to look at him, and he continued, "I will love you every day, no matter what happens to you, for your whole life."

I glanced heavenward and said one, simple, silent prayer.  

Thank You.   

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Life Raft

Her face is white as a sheet, her brown eyes big and round with fear.   "Am I going to be okay, Momma?"

Greta is sick, her fever spiked scary-high, and she just threw up.    Her body feels like it is on fire.   

I brush her hair back from her face and give her a peaceful smile.  "Yes, honey, you're going to be fine.   Try to get some sleep."

Inside I'm boiling over with anxiety, and I try not to let her see.    I'm fairly sure it's a flu virus - it feels a lot like the swine flu we had back in the fall.   I almost wish it had some media-hyped name to it, so at least I'd know what I'm dealing with.  

I tiptoe out of her room and quietly shut the door.   I can't call the doctor's office yet, they don't open for another hour.   

It's so strong, mother-love.    Each and every time my children are sick, I want to beg the heavens to make them better, give it to me if it has to go somewhere, just please spare them.   

I find a quiet room and I get down on my knees.   I don't beg the heavens for anything except the strength to carry on minute-by-minute.   I don't ask for a miracle, because that doesn't seem fair.     I pray that I can keep my head in the game, stay calm in front of her, ease her anxiety.    I think of the parents out there with chronically sick children, who live in this fear each and every day.    I send prayers their way, too.

It calms me, for a moment.    I sneak a glance into Greta's room;  she is sound asleep, her breathing raspy and her lips are bright red.    I put my hand on her back and hum a song to her.    The world suddenly feels big and scary to me, like we're floating madly adrift on the vast ocean with only a tiny raft between us and disaster.     I push the fear down, and tuck the blanket around Greta.  

Twenty more minutes until I can call the doctor.   I'll just take it as it comes, like I always do, because I don't have another option even though I like to think I do.    When things are sailing along uneventfully the illusion of control is easier to maintain.   When tough times come, like a sick kid, I'm reminded that I'm on that tiny life raft all the time, I just don't notice until I feel fear.

For some reason this thought comforts me.  

It's a day like any other, and events will unfold the way they are meant to unfold.

I'll try to do the next right thing, take it one minute at a time, and we will be okay, because we'll be where we are supposed to be.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I'll Have Some Serenity To Go, Please

As you can see from that last post, I'm practically brimming over with serenity.

Speaking of serenity, I want to announce the brain-child of Maggie and Heather - The Serenity Suite at BlogHer '10.  

This is my first trip to BlogHer, an annual blogging conference for women, but Maggie and Heather are veterans, and they were talking a while back about all the carrying-on and boondoggle nonsense (yes, it's a word - it's an old fashioned way of saying people will be drinking their faces off) that goes on there.

Several conversations and more brainstorming sessions later, and the Serenity Suite was born.   

It's a safe, calm, boondoggle-free place for people to go to get away from the craziness of the conference.    A bunch of us serene bloggers have signed up to host shifts there, so there will always be someone there to welcome a weary conference goer with quiet conversation, a hug, or a pleasant cup of tea or coffee.      We'll have more information about it as we get closer to the conference, but if you're going to BlogHer, please be sure to stop by and say hello!

Heather describes it better than I did over at her blog, so click here for more details, including the list of the wonderful people who will be hosting the Suite.  We're always looking for more people to help out, too, so if you want to host (it would amount to an hour or two per day and no more) let me know!

And a quick follow-up from yesterday's post:  today is a new day, and a fresh perspective.  Finn is feeling better, and my car will be fixed by noon today.    Yesterday afternoon I decided the day was a wash, lost myself in a trashy murder mystery and went to bed early.    I woke today, rested and refreshed, with a shiny new outlook, and thoughts of a drink or a fistful of chips seem very far away.  

One day at a time, right?

Thanks to everyone for your supportive comments and emails.  

You guys rock.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Blogging that Effer Voice Away

I'm trying to blog my way out of a hole today.

We are exactly five hours into summer vacation.   We had a great Father's Day weekend at the beach - perfect weather, swimming, sand castles, family.    

Today isn't going so well.    Here is where I am supposed to take a deep breath, recalibrate my perspective and accept life on life's terms.

I've tried all the usual tricks, and nothing is working.    I'm in a black, dour mood, and I can't shake it.   

Sometimes when I write about them, things right-size themselves.   I see things spelled out on the page, and it wrenches me into a better perspective.    So here I am, typing away.   Lucky you.

Nothing is seriously wrong.   Usually, when a series of inconveniences and setbacks come my way, I can take a couple of steps back and realize it could be so much worse.   And it could be.   A lot worse.    For whatever reason that doesn't seem to hold any water today.

My car is dead - the battery has been acting up, and we managed to get a jump start on the tidal flats yesterday, just as the sea was lapping at my front tires.    It died again that evening, and again this morning.    So now it's in the shop, and I'm home for a couple of days with no car. 

Finn is sick - he has been spiking fevers for a few days.    Something is going around - kids at his school had it, and others assure me it's a virus that passes in 2-5 days.   Nothing to do but treat the symptoms, and wait.   He's tired, crabby, and Finn and Greta have been fighting almost non-stop all day.    Greta isn't used to the slow pace, and has asked me no fewer than fifteen times if we're going to do anything fun today.  

The house is messy - not over-the-top messy, but messy enough to peck at the corners of my brain, scratching at that spot that likes to tell me how useless I am at housework.     Because the kids are home full-time now, as I work my way through the piles, new piles are popping up all over the place.   They "helped" me clean for a while.    I had to clean up from their helping.   Finn dumped shampoo all of the pantry, because he thought it was soap.    "I was just cleaning, Momma!   Aren't you happy?"

Greta is resisting going to the playspace at the local Y, where I go to work out.    She graduated from the younger kids' room, but feels out of place in the bigger kids' room.   I'm antsy for a workout - I feel sluggish, tired and more than a little cranky if I don't exercise.   I'll find a way to get her there, eventually, but it's not a battle worth tackling when Finn is sick and can't go anyway.

But what bothers me the most?   That voice, that stupid Effer Voice that gets louder when I'm annoyed, run-down, cranky.    The alcoholic devil in my head that tells me how much I suck, fans the flames of my annoyance.    The one that whispers in my ear, tells me to look for that trap-door away from my reality.   The one that says to me that a drink or a fistful of chips would taste so very good.   

On days like today, I have to work harder at beating back that Effer Voice, and that is the most discouraging thing of all.    I can do it, but I'm not happy about it.   Not one bit.

I feel like I did yesterday, when the car wouldn't start and the ocean was mere minutes away from engulfing my car in water.     I was frantically turning the key, trying to get moving, get the hell away from there, to no avail.

I can't do it alone.   A nice woman enjoying the beach with her kid jump started my car yesterday, just in time.     Like yesterday, I need the help of other people to pull me back from the brink.    Left to my own resources, I'll just keep turning that key over and over, thinking I'm in control of the situation and not realizing I'm not until the ocean is up to my waist.

So I'm talking to people.   I'm blogging about it.   I'm reaching out to all of you for your empathy and humor.  You haven't let me down yet.   

And it helped.   I got out of myself for a bit, typing this.   I re-read it just now, before hitting publish, and my problems seemed a whole lot smaller.    Cars can be fixed, kids recover from colds.   I will find a way to get back to the gym.    Sometimes, just speaking my truth is enough.  

A bad mood is just a bad mood.   A drink or a fistful of chips wouldn't help a thing. 

That Effer Voice is no match for One Crafty Mother like me.   Damn straight.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Today is Greta's last day of first grade, and I'm wistful.

She has grown up so much in the past year.   Here she is on the first day of first grade:

And today:

This morning she lost a tooth.    "MOM!  It finally fell out!"  she shouted to me as she raced around getting dressed, collecting her things for school.    In the past nine months losing a tooth has ceased to be a stop-everything-oh-my-God event.    She's growing up.  

On the first day of first grade, she cried a little.   She was scared of the bus, thought she wouldn't make any friends, was worried that she wouldn't fit in because she didn't know how to read or write very well.

Today she was jumping up and down with excitement, prattling on and on about all her friends, her teacher, how much she is going to miss school.   She adores the bus.   

"I sat with a SECOND GRADER today," she said, about two months after school started.   Today she is becoming the second grader.

Earlier this week she brought home the journal she kept all year at school, a journal they wrote in weekly.     I sat quietly last night and read through everything, my heart in my throat.

A Self-Portrait

She isn't a little kid anymore, she is becoming a young woman, with a huge heart and a killer sense of humor.   She has her own hopes and dreams:

"I want to go to the Grand Canyon, because at the bottom
there is lots of water and fish"

As I read through her journal, my heart swelled with gratitude.   I would have missed all this.   Even if I had physically been there, which is doubtful, mentally I was never there. 

Now I get to be present for everything.   When I was drinking, she would say things like "but Mom, you're always sick".   Now she draws pictures of the two of us together, smiling.   We're the same size, in matching outfits:

I'm so proud of the young woman she is becoming.   

 My (gulp) Second Grader

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The S Word

The other night I tucked the kids into bed and slumped back downstairs, exhausted.    I looked around the kitchen - school papers were strewn everywhere, dishes were piled in the sink and a smoldering pile of laundry sat in the middle of the floor.  Right where I left it at 8am that morning, thinking I would spend the day getting caught up on household chores.

I flopped onto the couch, cranky and irritable.   This day didn't go at all like it was supposed to, I thought.

I was a tight ball of irritability, resentful and itchy, wondering how I could possibly run around all day and feel like I had nothing to show for it but one giant mess.    One giant mess that never seems to end.

When my husband came home from work about an hour later, he asked me, innocently, "So what did you do today?"

"NOTHING!"  I barked.    "I was running around all day, but I didn't get ONE THING done that I wanted to do!"

He gave me a serene smile, which only fanned the flames of my anger.   "I had a bad day," I said irritably.

"Days aren't good or bad," he said.  "They just are."

"Take it somewhere else, Buddha Boy," I snapped, not in the mood.    He chuckled quietly to himself and went upstairs to bed.

I stomped into the kitchen and made myself some Tension Tamer tea.    "Enhances relaxation and quiets the mind," it said on the box.    I liked that idea, because it made me feel as though I was altering my mood somehow, like I used to do with a glass of wine.   Or seven.

Cupping my tea, I sat quietly in the semi-dark and took some deep breaths.    My mind was racing about like a rabid squirrel, worrying over the things to do tomorrow and lamenting my unproductive day.   

I don't know if it was the breathing or the Tension Tamer, but eventually my muscles relaxed and my mind quieted.   

How do you know how today was supposed to go?   This thought plopped into my head out of nowhere.   Is it all up to you now?   Do you have it all figured out?  

Sometimes that Recovery Voice really irritates me.    I have to live in the world, I thought.   I can't just throw my hands up to the fates or whatever and expect to do all the things I'm supposed to do. 

There's that word again, said the Voice.   Supposed.   The S-Word.   You were supposed to do laundry today, and you didn't get to it.   So what?   

Oh great, I thought.   Now I'm having an existential conversation with myself about laundry.

I sat for a while longer, and listened to the sound of my breath.   I'm cranky because I didn't get to things I didn't want to do in the first place to do other things I didn't really want to do, either.

At least now you're telling truth, said the Voice.

I didn't get my way today, I thought.   Every step of the way I was tugged along in different directions, buffeted about my kids' schedules, the phone ringing, errands to run.    All I wanted to do was sit and make jewelry, and I didn't get to do that.   That makes me resentful.  

Well, there you have it, said the Voice.   You didn't get Your Way.   You cuddled with Finn on the couch for half an hour.   That wasn't on your list today.   That wasn't what you wanted to do, so you missed what a beautiful moment that was.  

I remembered the feeling of his warm body curled into mine, the sweet boy scent of shampoo and sweat, how his little fingers twitched as he slept.  

I thought of Greta's big crooked smile as she read from the school journal she kept all year.  Every page.  It took almost forty five minutes.    This weekend I had ice cream and made dinner with my Mom,   she read, showing me a picture she drew of us.   

I thought of the conversation I had with a friend who is suffering, who needed a warm voice on the other end of the phone.

I sighed.    It's hard to be where my feet are, take it in and feel each moment instead of putting it into a category of 'supposed to' or 'not supposed to'.   Days aren't good or bad, they just ARE.

Damn, I thought.   Now I have to go tell my husband he was right.     

But I was smiling.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Virtual Reality

I wonder if the day will come when the connections and friendships I make online will cease to amaze me?

I hope not.

For someone who was so skeptical when I started this blog, the very real community I have found online boggles my mind.  I will be talking to a 'real life' friend, and inevitably I'll rattle off someone's name (or blog handle, or whatever they are called) and the person will look at me quizzically and say, "What?  Did you just say Heather of the EO?   Who is that?"  

You other bloggers out there will know what I'm talking about.   Those of you who don't have the slightest clue can keep on looking at me quizzically, because I can't find adequate words to explain what these connections mean to me.    I'm beyond excited to go to BlogHer (an annual women's blogging conference) in New York City in August and meet some of these people in the flesh.    

The primary concern from the non-bloggers appears to be that I'll substitute real-life friendships for virtual ones.   That I'll lose myself to the pixilated world of the internet, sit in the dark like a mushroom and clack away at my keyboard instead of going out and living my life.    There are many people who seem to believe that online friendships aren't real, that they are inherently inauthentic

I was struggling with a problem a few weeks back, one I couldn't safely talk about with the people my inner circle because they were intimately involved with this situation, too.    I needed guidance and support, and I reached out to my online friends.   They came with advice, love and virtual hugs.  I even called one of them. On the phone.   I had never heard her voice, wouldn't know her face if she sat down right beside me, and yet there she was.   There was no awkwardness, just friendship.   

The online culture reminds me of recovery meetings.   I don't know most peoples' last names.    They are factual strangers, for the most part, whose words move me to my core, change my world view, help me in countless ways.    Like in recovery meetings, oftentimes it is the comfort of strangers with a shared purpose who are the most helpful, because they aren't woven into the complicated fabric of my day-to-day life.

They aren't a replacement for real world friendships, they are real world friendships.

With a click of a button I can find people who share the same struggles and triumphs I do - whether it is parenting, staying sober, fitness or creativity.  

Someone said to me the other day, "Be careful.   You don't really know who is on the other side of that computer screen."     True.    But how much do we really know each other in the real world?     How often do we float in and out of relationships, or bobble along on the surface without really revealing who we are?    If anything, I have found that the relative anonymity of the internet can be very healing.    It allows people to drop their guard a bit, open up in ways they can't (or won't) do with their neighbors and acquaintances.   

Because I blog openly about my addiction and recovery, I am approached frequently by people who live in the real world who need help, guidance, insight or a shoulder to lean on.    I don't know most of them.   They are the same faces I see in the grocery store, at kids' activities, at church.    I'm grateful for the opportunity to help, to meet new people and make new friends.    Without this blog, there are countless connections I would have missed, because I would just be another face in the sea of faces we come across every day.  

As I anticipate going to BlogHer, meeting some of you in person, I do have some trepidations, though.   Not because I'm fearful you won't be who you say you are, but that I won't be who you think I am.    I revert back to middle school playground insecurities:   I won't fit in, do they know I'm tall and clumsy, I'm not particularly good at small talk, they've been doing this for years and won't have room for me.     I picture myself hovering in the corner of a loud, vibrant room full of talented and ambitious bloggers, sipping my club soda with lemon and wondering why the hell I'm there.   

It's okay, though.   Those insecurities plague me in everyday life, too.    And the best part about blogging, at least the way I try to do it, is that I don't need to mess with the posturing of real life.   I am authentically me on my little acre of the internet, maybe more so than I am at a kid's school performance, or on the sidelines of the soccer field.

Besides, I'm looking forward to prattling on about blogging without getting quizzical expressions.    I know I'll leave there with new connections, new friendships.   I know I'll have the awkward-in-the-corner moments, too.

Because it's like that, in the real world.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Giving Over

Two weeks into my final rehab stay, I was sitting in my counselor's office, curled up and closed down, angry at this woman who was trying to take my bottle away.

"Wouldn't it be freeing, Ellie, to relinquish control?" she asked. "You're hanging on tighter and tighter, because to let go is uncertain, unknown, and that makes you afraid."

I'm not afraid of anything, I thought. I left out the most important caveat, though: I'm not afraid of anything when I'm drinking.

"You think surrendering is cowardly, when in fact the opposite is true." she said, and I felt a hot flash of anger. "You're chickenshit. You want control over people, places and things, and because you don't have that control you settle for the next best thing and use alcohol to alter your reality."

I clenched my hands into fists and glared at her.

She glared right back. "You want to know what real courage is? Real courage is facing whatever life has to offer, not hiding in a bottle. You think you have all the answers?  You think you know what's best?  Then how did you end up here?   You're here because you're too afraid to be present in your own life.   You're afraid to live life on life's terms.   It takes real courage to trust in a power greater than yourself."

I hated all the Higher Power talk.  I need boots-on-the-ground help, not pie-in-the-sky help, I thought

"Give it over, Ellie," she said quietly. "Get out of your own way."


When I stumbled into my first recovery meetings, there was all this talk about surrendering, and it made me bristle.    To me surrendering meant giving up.  I pictured a bloodied and broken army, waving the white flag, turning themselves over to the opposition.    Brave soldiers who were willing to fight to the death, becoming prisoners of the victors.   Surrender meant one thing to me:   you lost

I'm strong, I thought.   I just have to fight harder

With time, though, I realized what was really going through my head:   the right to drink is MINE.   Nobody is going to take it away from me.    I was determined to figure out how to control my drinking, because defeat meant a life sentence of joyless boredom.    If I lost, I thought would never have fun again.


At one year sober, after going to many, many meetings and opening up to other alcoholics in recovery, I had accepted that I was powerless over alcohol.  I finally understood that when I drank I gave all my power to alcohol, and in return it gave me the illusion that I was in control.  Not a fair trade.   I still didn't understand the talk about a Higher Power, nor did I care to, but I could navigate through most days without wanting to drink.

But I still wanted to hide.

I wanted to hide from the tough feelings: anger, resentment, boredom and sadness. I had lost my anesthesia, but I found other ways to work around the tough stuff. I hid from anger by pushing my opinions to the bottom of the pile. I hid from resentment by being easy, agreeable, letting other peoples' needs come before mine. I hid from boredom by keeping busy, avoiding moments of silence and reflection by rushing onward to the next thing, and the next. I hid from sadness by immersing myself in other peoples' pain and ignoring my own.

I was still trying to control my emotions, except this time not with alcohol, but by stuffing everything down, keeping busy, investing my energy into other people and deflecting my own fears.

One year sober and I was just as lost, confused and empty as before, only now I couldn't drink to hide from it.

I talked about it with other people in recovery, and the advice I got was to let it go, to surrender. Again.


One day, about fourteen months sober, I got desperate.   All the problems in my life that I drank around were still there.   My marriage was still rocky, being a mother still terrified me, I still didn't know who I was or what I wanted from life.  And now the damndest thing had happened: I didn't want to drink.   There I was, successfully sober and completely miserable.

So I faked it. 

I got down on my knees, feeling like a fraud. I'm really unhappy, I whispered. I'm afraid. I'm afraid all the time.

I waited. I waited for some sign - a beam of light? An inner awakening? A vision from above?

After a moment I heard a voice- a baritone version of my own (of course) - echoing in my head:  What are you so afraid of?

Out of nowhere, it hit me.  The truth, I whispered. I'm afraid of the truth. That maybe I'm not cut out to be a full time mother, maybe I want more from life, and is that okay? That I'm afraid to stand up for myself, because I fear that people will leave me if I'm not giving them exactly what they want.

And then I cried. I cried for half an hour - big, ugly, snuffling sobs. All the tears I had held back, the sadness I had stuffed down, came pouring out. I felt better. I felt a loosening, a kind of letting go.

Where did that come from? A Higher Power? The Fates? The Universe? A truer, more divine part of self?

Does it matter where it came from?

My problems weren't solved in that moment; solutions didn't pour from the sky like magic raindrops. Something more helpful, more important, happened. In that moment I stopped running, hiding, stuffing; I got down on my knees and out of myself. I loosened the death grip I had on my pain, just for a moment. Getting out of my own way allowed some of the truth peek through.


Surrendering isn't giving up, it's giving over.   Surrendering yourself to whatever is next, not by your design, but to whatever life has in store for you.  

I try to give over the feelings that threaten my sobriety and my sanity. I take my pain, sadness and fear and carve them away from myself, drag them into the light, and give them over. I still don't know what or who I'm giving them over to, but it doesn't matter. As long as it's not me. And it's not you, either. It's something bigger than any one person, an energy that flows around us and, of course, through us.

Sometimes I'm on my knees, but not always. Sometimes I'm lying in bed, waiting to fall asleep, and my mind won't leave me alone. Perhaps I'm in the car, thinking horrible thoughts about the person who just cut me off, or standing in my kitchen with my face in my hands because the kids are driving me crazy.

Here, take it, I think. Take this anger, frustration and pain and get it away from me, until I'm ready to handle it.

I surrender.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Matter Over Mind

Today I put on a pair of cut-off jean shorts I haven't worn since 1999.    

I don't know why I even kept them - most of my pre-baby clothes were given to charity, in a huff, a few years ago.    I remember what I was thinking as I stuffed business suits, jeans, shorts and fitted shirts into garbage bags:   those days are over.   It didn't particularly bother me.   I'm a Mom now, I thought, as though being a Mom and wearing those clothes were mutually exclusive, bring on the stretchy Capris. 

But for some reason I hung on to those shorts.    A couple of years ago I woke up having a skinny day.   You know those days?    I pulled those shorts out of the drawer, feeling optimistic.   I couldn't get them over my hips.   Oh well, I thought, reaching for my sweatpants.    It didn't crush me, or make me feel horribly.   I told myself, again, that my days of being fit, of looking and feeling good, were over.   I was okay with that.

What I realize now is that I was used to thinking that what I looked like, how I felt physically, didn't matter.   Even with all the work I had done getting sober, lifting myself up emotionally and spiritually, the urge to stuff some of my needs to the bottom of the pile remained.    It was too scary to give a shit, because when I really looked at myself I hated what I saw.    So I didn't look. 

I told myself:   I'm happy with me just the way I am.    And that was true, until it wasn't.

One morning, nine weeks ago, I woke up and glared at my sweatpants balled up on the floor.  For whatever reason, that morning I cared.   I had flash of insight, of courage.   Before I could stop myself or tell myself it didn't matter, I marched up to my husband and said, "I want to lose weight."   As the words left my lips, I knew they were true.    I didn't want to lose weight to please my husband, or to look like a supermodel, or to feel superior to anyone else.    I wanted to lose weight to stop feeling inferior to myself

Today, I passed the halfway mark: I am more than halfway to reaching my goal weight.   But I bristle at the notion of 'halfway', because I feel an internal shift, an awakening of sorts, like I did (eventually) when I got sober.    I resist looking at it as 'halfway' to anywhere, because I don't want to cross any finish line.   I can hit my goal weight, and that will be cause for celebration, but I'm new to embracing the idea that my physical well-being - how I feel AND how I look - is important to me.     

So I'm forcing myself to stop, throw myself a little parade, and try on those cut-off jean shorts.   I'm kind of faking it until I make it, because the idea that how I look matters to me is so new, so foreign and so scary.    That fear kept me from losing weight for a long time.   I would tell myself:   I don't want to get all hung up on my physical appearance, because I don't want my self-esteem to be tied up in how I look.    But if my thoughts had subtitles, they would say:   I'm scared to care about myself. 

It's okay to feel good, I have to keep reminding myself.   It's okay to be proud of yourself.    

It's okay to matter.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hot Button

I promise this blog won't turn into post after post about jewelry.   But I blog about what I'm thinking about, and at the moment I'm obsessed with making rings out of buttons.   I never thought the day would come when I'm obsessing over buttons, but I guess this constitutes progress.   Of sorts.

Tomorrow I'll get back to regularly scheduled programming, but I can't stop making these, so I thought I'd share some of my favorites:

Kokopelli, anyone?

Giant Sunflower Ring, for the girl who likes to get noticed:

The New Day Ring - a reminder that each sunrise brings a new day, a chance to start fresh:

The Golden Orb Ring - it's amazing what some wire and a simple button can do:

Last, but not least - one of my favorites.  This might be what I give the kids' teachers this year.

Thanks for looking!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Spring/Summer Collection!

I haven't listed any new items in my shop in a long time, so I'm excited to roll out some new pieces for my spring/summer collection! 

My new favorite - The Raindrop Earrings:

Rings made from rare buttons!   The Lotus Ring (only one available):

From the elegant to the whimsical - the Wildflower Ring:

For all you Strong Women out there - the Twisted Sister Necklace.    Onyx symbolizes strength, tenacity and determination. It is a grounding stone that can be used to deflect the negativity of others; it is a good protection stone, used to ward off toxic influences:


I'm so excited about this semi-precious stone:  rare Matrix Jasper.  The Tangled Up In Blue Bracelet:

Some beautiful new summer earrings:  Juicy Lime and Palest Lavender:

A new look for an old favorite - the Black Raspberry Pearl Necklace:

And, finally, a new Tree of Life Pendant:

Click on the links see these and other new listings in my Etsy shop.  And remember, for newsletter subscribers everything is 20% for the month of June!   To subscribe to my newsletter, please see the righthand sidebar, or send me an email at ellieandsteve@verizon.net.

Thanks for looking!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Where It Takes Me

June 6, 2007

The sun wakes me up. It is a sparkling day, a Saturday, and the trees are in full blossom, the sky a brilliant blue.

I close my eyes.  Everything hurts.   My head is pounding, my throat scratchy and dry.    Every muscle aches; I can't lift my head off the pillow.   The night before is a blank, everything after 6pm is simply gone.   A vague memory of my husband's disgusted face surfaces, and I push it down.     Oh crap, I think, another day.  

The kids are playing outside; their laughter floats through my open window, taunting me.    I slowly turn my head to look at the clock.   It is already 10am, and I know my husband is pissed.

Carefully, I sit up, and a wave of nausea strikes.   I sit, trembling, on the side of the bed until it passes.  

I can't do this anymore, I think for the millionth time.  But, of course, I will.  I made it until 4pm yesterday, and had a drink to celebrate.   The rest is a blank.   My stomach flips as I think of yet another promise to myself smashed to pieces.   

Halfway down the stairs I sit with my head in my hands and wait out another wave of nausea.   A drink would make me feel better, but my hidden bottle of wine is in the downstairs bathroom.   It seems a million miles away.

"I'm taking the kids somewhere," my husband says.   I look up and he is at the base of the stairs.   He won't even look at me.    I can feel his anger from here, like a red force field pressing against me.    I don't respond; I put my head back in my hands and wait for them to leave.

I haven't eaten in three days, but I'm not hungry.    I'm never hungry anymore.   Just thirsty.   Just a bottomless thirst that holds me in its grasp.    The door slams shut, and I shuffle my bloated body to the bathroom.   I take one drink, and wait.   It stays down.    I take another drink, and the edges of my hangover soften, my muscles relax.  

Carrying the bottle of wine, I walk to the closest place to rest - an overstuffed armchair.   I curl up in the chair, cradling the bottle in my lap like a child.   

I doze in the chair off and on all day.   Every time I wake up, I take a sip from the bottle and pray for oblivion.   When my husband comes home five hours later I am still there. 

I don't know it, of course, but I'm three months from the end.   Ahead of me are two hospital stays and three stints in rehab.   On that Saturday, though, I simply sit, full of shame and fear, and wish for it to stop.     I can't imagine a life without drinking, and so I pray that I will fall asleep and not wake up.

That's where drinking took me.

June 6, 2010

The sun wakes me up. It is a sparkling day, a Saturday, and the trees are in full blossom, the sky a brilliant blue.

I feel a tap on my shoulder.   "Momma?  You awake?"   I slowly turn my head and see two sets of eyes looking at me expectantly.    "What are we going to do today, Momma?"  they ask.

My husband is already up, I can hear him tinkering away outside on his boat.   I pull the kids into bed with me, and we cuddle for a few minutes.    We make a plan to go to the playground, the bead store and then food shopping. 

I cook breakfast for everyone - frozen waffles with extra syrup for the kids, fresh fruit and yogurt for the grown-ups.    After breakfast the kids go outside to play, and Steve and I sip coffee and chat.   

I tell him about a dream I had last night, that I turned the front room of our house into a jewelry store.    We talk about the future, how great it would be if making jewelry could be my real job when Finn goes to Kindergarten next year.   

The kids and I leave for the playground, blasting Kidz Bop in the car and singing out loud.    We go to the bead store, stop for lunch and ice cream, and top the day off with a trip to the grocery store.   The kids love the grocery store.  

We walk in the door, tired and happy, four hours later.  Steve is standing in the doorway, grinning like a man with a secret.   

"I have a surprise for you," he says.

He leads me to the front room of our house, what used to be a dining room but has been a make-shift jewelry studio for me for the past two years.   With a flourish, he opens the door.

My heart catches in my throat as I peer into the room.   "Welcome to the world headquarters of Shining Stones," he says.

He made  me a store.    He completely gutted every cabinet, created jewelry displays where we once kept our formal china.   He moved my beading table to a sunny spot in front of the window, and brought in the overstuffed chair as a place for people to sit and chat.   

Greta and Finn spin about the room, squealing gleefully at the jewelry displayed on every surface.   

He believes in me, I think.     

"Oh, thank you," I say, as we hug.   "Thank you thank you thank you."

I steal a glance at the overstuffed armchair, and my mind pings back to that day three years ago.   I shut my eyes and send up a prayer of gratitude.   

This is where recovery takes me.