Monday, January 31, 2011

The (Un) Wrap-Up from Blissdom

I'm back from the Blissdom blogging conference in Nashville, and I want to do a post about what it was like, but I'm struggling.  

There was just so much, most of it interesting only to me.   I have started and stopped this post about four times.   I'm stuck.

Conference wrap-up posts are tricky, primarily entertaining to those who were there, and mildly frustrating to those who weren't.

Instead of doing a play-by-play of my six days away, I guess I'll talk about what I learned - about myself, about blogging, about friendship.

One of the highlights of the trip was Brene Brown's opening keynote speech.   I've talked about Brene's message here a lot, so I won't paraphrase her entire talk, but there was one point she made that hit me like a punch in the gut, and encapsulates so many of the conflicting emotions I feel about blogging, about success, about these conferences, about myself.

She said shame has two tapes - two story lines we play over and over in our heads.   The first one is "I'm not worthy" and the second one is "Who do you think you are?"

Tears streamed silently down my face as I realized: yes, that's it exactly.   

I was preparing to speak on a panel later that afternoon.   My stomach was a roiling sea of nerves, and my mind kept flip-flopping between two trains of thought.   One moment I'd think, you have no business being up there, those other bloggers have so many more readers than you, have been doing this longer, have really made a splash in the world.   In other words:  you're not worthy.    Moments later the tape would change, and I'd think:  check your motives, Ellie - you're so wrapped up in yourself, you're getting swept away by the attention, you're afraid of blowing it because your precious Ego needs you to be perfect.   Also known as:  who do you think you are? 

I listened to Brene's talk with tears streaming down my face and realized I was trapped by shame, so consumed with image and worthiness that I lost sight of the real reason I was there:  to spread the word about Crying Out Now, to talk - ironically - about how women putting a voice to their shame and fear has changed their lives forever.

It's not about me at all, I realized.   It never was. 

Later that afternoon, when I opened my mouth to speak, I felt utterly calm.   I felt vulnerable, I felt fearful, but it didn't matter because there was one thing I didn't feel:   shame.   

Blogging conferences are full of conflicting emotions.   Here we are - finally - among others who get it, who understand blogging and who can talk about it endlessly (as opposed to 'real' life, where most of the time when you say you blog you get a blank stare and a disinterested,"Oh" in response), who can offer genuine, first-hand advice and support.    And yet, what was a primary topic of conversation?   Worthiness.   

Smaller bloggers felt overwhelmed by bigger bloggers with tens of thousands of readers who appear to glide through these conferences effortlessly, surrounded by friends and fans.    Bigger bloggers felt overwhelmed by peoples' response to them, by the responsibility they feel for peoples' impressions of them in real-life, as opposed to from behind the safety of the computer screen.

And then there are those of us in the middle - like me - who wring their existential hands and wonder about their place in this world, about how success is measured - is it numbers of readers?  is it quality of content?  is it making money off your blog?   is it attracting sponsors?    is it quality writing?   Do I do any of those things well? 

After hearing Brene speak I turned off the tape, hit eject and let it all go.   I escaped into my room and thought about what matters to me, and the answer is simple:   connection.   I don't care about how many people are reading.   When I'm around bloggers with tens of thousands of readers it's easy to lose sight of that.    Unworthiness is a cheap, easily accessible emotion for me.   I slip into it like a comfortable pair of slippers, and I lose sight of why I'm here.  

I'm here because of the friendships I have made, to wallow in the warmth and laughter their love brings into my life.    I'm here to make new friends, to clink souls with someone I otherwise never would have known.

I'm here to learn from people who have walked the path before me, not to be intimidated by their success.   If a blogger is doing something really well, if she has something I want, I don't want to feel resentment or unworthiness, I want to learn from her, to have the courage to meet her and tell her I think she is amazing.   Her success is no threat to me; it's a big world and we all have space to spread our wings and fly.

We have to push through shame and fear to discover our own heart-song, our own inner light.   If we don't work through vulnerability, we fall too easily into the trap of finding worthiness by cutting other people down, by comparing instead of identifying.

My definition of success is genuine connections with other people, the courage to be vulnerable, the ability to stay open and true to my voice, my story.

I'll leave you with one last quote from Brene Brown's keynote speech:

"Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do."

It's your story.   Go tell it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Only Way Out Is Through

It's been a long couple of weeks.

Between snow days and sick kids we've been cooped up in our house for a loooong time. 

Last week, in particular, was trying.   Finn got Greta's strep throat, we were buffeted by snow storms and plunged into a deep freeze, and we were all sick of each other and being trapped inside.

For five days straight I left the house only to go to the doctor's office or the pharmacy.    By the end of the week I felt ready to peel off my own skin.

Every now and then, though, I'd remember that I'm going to Nashville to attend the Blissdom blogging conference.    My stomach would do a little flip-flop of excitement and nervous anticipation.

The idea of traveling to Nashville, speaking on a panel, networking, and attending events seemed very far away, given that I had been wearing sweatpants for days, showers were a rare luxury and my primary conversationalists for over two weeks had been an eight and five year old.

Now it's not far away, though.  I leave tomorrow.    Predictably, the butterflies in my stomach upped their game, and the ambivalent mother-guilt tugging began.

As I've talked about before, I have a phobia of flying.   I'm determined not to let it cripple me, so I'm not going to miss opportunities like this one just because of fear.   That doesn't make the irrational thoughts go away, however.    Rationally, I know flying isn't any more perilous than the myriad of other dangers we expose ourselves to every day, but the unwanted thoughts show up anyway.   The phobia of flying is at the root of all the guilt, too, because it creates of foundation of fear in my mind that is fertile ground for all the other negative thoughts:

Who are you to put yourself in danger just to go to a blogging conference?  my mother-guilt voice says.  What if the kids get sick while you're away?    How selfish of you to stay away so long.   You should have gone for three days, not six.  

I can't pretend the anxiety isn't there; I have to face it head on.   I do my best to counter-balance the fear with healthier thoughts:

Moms need time away, too.    This is an opportunity that doesn't come around very often, to get outside your comfort zone, learn a lot, meet new people and see old friends.   Your kids benefit from seeing that you try new things, have outlets and interests that don't revolve around them. 

It's a nearly constant tug-of-war in my mind.   I know this is something I need to go through, not around, so I let the thoughts come, and I sift through them one by one as I make my way to the other side of fear.


This morning the kids were eating breakfast while I packed their lunches, and I was talking to them about the plan for while I'm away.

Greta grew quiet, pushing her waffles around on her plate with her fork. 

"What is it, hon?"  I asked.

"What if..." she paused for a moment.   "What if your plane falls out of the sky?"

My stomach twisted, but I put on my best poker face.    I wanted to tell her she was being silly, to stop awfulizing, but I didn't.   Oh, she's just like me, I thought, and my heart sank.    I have never talked about  my fear of flying in front of the kids.   I know this anxiety is just bubbling up from somewhere deep inside her, as she gains more understanding about the world.

"Oh honey,"  I said, "are you worrying about that?"

She nodded, and tears brimmed in her eyes.

"It's hard, sometimes, to stop the worry thoughts from coming, isn't it?"   I said, stroking her hair.

She nodded again.

"I understand,"  I said.   "But if I only thought about the bad things that could happen, I'd never do anything new.  I would never try something for the first time.   Life would be very small and boring."   

She gave me a weak smile.

"Think of all the things that made you nervous once, that you do now and love,"  I said.   "Like going on the school bus?   Remember how scared you were to go on the bus for the first time?   Now you LOVE the bus."

"Yeah," she said, "and remember how scared I was to do my first presentation in front of the class?    I didn't sleep for two nights!    Then two weeks ago we had another presentation due, and the teacher called me FIRST to do mine and I was a little nervous, but I wasn't really scared anymore."

I gave her a squeeze.   "Sometimes, when things make us scared or nervous, it's because we're about to learn something really cool about ourselves."

"Are you nervous about the conference, Mom?   About speaking in front of a bunch of people?   Of traveling by yourself?"

"Yes, a little," I said.  "Especially when I let my brain think about all the things that could go wrong... like if I get so nervous I forget what I want to say.    I try to give my brain other things to think about, too, like how cool it will be to do something for the first time, or how proud I'll be of myself that I did it... no matter how things go.   And I've traveled by myself before, so when I start to get nervous I remind myself that I can do it.   Just like you did with your presentation.   It really helps."

"Can I have some more waffles?"  she asked, grinning her sweet gap-toothed smile.


As I prepare to leave, time seems to shift into slow motion;  moments snap into focus with crystalline clarity.   I feel my love for my family - really feel it - in ways I can't always access when I'm mired down in the daily grind.   This can provoke its own guilt-inducing twinges:   what's wrong with you that you can't access this love all the time?

But you know what?   It doesn't matter.   Sometimes it is easier to see all that I have when I view it from a distance, when I take time to gather myself around myself again.


As Greta waited for the bus this morning, she was kicking at a pile frozen of snow, lost in thought.

After a few minutes, she looked up at me with excitement flashing in her eyes.  "Will you bring Flat Greta with you?"  she asked.   Flat Greta is a school project; each second grader made a little paper doll in their own image.   Friends and family members travel with their Flat Doppelgangers, send pictures back, and create a little journal of their Flat Travels.

"Flat Greta and I are gonna rock Nashville,"  I grinned.
"Yeah," she grinned back.   "You ARE."

**Note:  something has been acting up with my comment section, and it randomly disappears sometimes.  If you want to leave a comment you can do so by clicking on the title/link to the post (so you're just viewing the one post) and the comment section will re-appear.   Where, or where, is my cracker-jack techie team?   Oh yeah.  I don't have one.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ellie Tries To Write A Bio

Can we talk about Bios for a second?

Can we talk about how much they suck?

I've had a couple of occasions recently where I needed to submit a brief Bio about myself.  

I'm not allowed to answer the question, "So, who are you?" with "I dunno... who do you want me to be?"  anymore.   But encapsulating who I am, what I do, changes constantly depending on the day, my mood, the time of the month and my current level of self-esteem.

Today, for example, I was Chief Sock Folder.   I did seven loads of laundry today.  SEVEN.  I folded everything and put it all away.    I feel like I deserve a parade.   But this sort of thing isn't really Bio worthy now, is it?

So, how to summarize myself in three or four perky sentences?

The first rule of thumb, apparently, is to speak about myself in the third person.   That much I can do.   It's so enjoyable that I may adopt this pattern of speech permanently.    "Ellie is displeased with the level of cleanliness in this room," sounds so much more professional than "clean up this pig sty!"

"Ellie is a ...."   Sigh.   "Ellie is a....." 

Hmm.   Maybe I'll browse other people's bios for inspiration..... 

Okay, that was a bad idea.   I didn't realize everyone else I know is so damn impressive

The second rule of thumb is never, ever read other people's bios when you're trying to write your own.

"Ellie is ... "   No.   "Ellie enjoys..."  Too hokey.  "When she's not...."   Too negative.    "A stay-at-home mother of two...."  Too cliche.    

CRAP.  I know I'm busy, like, ALL THE TIME.   What IS it that I do, exactly?

Maybe the truth would work?   "Depending on the day, Ellie can be found pounding out jewelry, kicking laundry into a pile, chasing a half-naked 5 year old, playing a mean game of Super Mario Brothers or staring blankly at the white screen on her computer." 

Nah.   Too flighty.   True, but flighty.

Should I try serious and brooding?  "Ellie is a woman in recovery from alcoholism.   She is passionate about breaking down the stigma surrounding addiction."

Hmmmm..  that one won't exactly make people seek me out for small talk, will it?

"How do you solve a problem like Ellie?  How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?  How do you find a word that means Ellie?   A flibbertijibbet!  A will-o'-the wisp!  A clown!"

Do you think the producers of The Sound of Music would notice if I used that one?

"Ellie is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma."


"Ellie is a stay-at-home mother of two young children, because when it comes right down to it that is the most important thing she does.   She can multi-task like nobody's business, makes a mean stack of pancakes and once held the highest Bejeweled score on Facebook for one whole week."

Will someone please save me from myself?

"Ellie enjoys speaking in the third person about herself.   In the third person, Ellie can do anything, because it gives her emotional distance from all her insecurities."

Ellie gives up.

Ellie just IS

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Your Voice Matters

Let's say you have a secret.

Most of us do.  Sometimes it's just a small thing we keep tucked away from the world for our own private reasons.

But sometimes it's something bigger than that.   It may start out small, but - as with most secrets - it grows, filling your spirit with shame and fear more and more each day.

As the secret gains power over you, your determination to keep it hidden from the world - no matter what - becomes your primary mission.  

Often the shame and fear revolve not around the secret itself, but around its discovery.    You lead a double life, pouring more and more energy into how you are perceived by the world.  You struggle to make the outside look okay, and people won't peer too closely at the inside.

This is true for people who are struggling with drinking.   And, I believe, even more true for women who struggle with drinking.    We are hard on ourselves, and pressure to make life look effortless (if not downright perfect) is everywhere

The stigma surrounding women who have a drinking problem is very real.    Society struggles to wrap its mind around the mother of three who hides bottles in her hamper, or the powerful executive who drinks herself into oblivion every night.      Because women are accustomed to putting up a brave front, to projecting an image of multi-tasking competence, we can travel far down the path of problem drinking before we admit to ourselves or anyone else that things are eroding from the inside out.

The one thing that can set you on the path to healing is the one thing you live in fear of the most: the truth.

You have a powerful weapon to use against shame and fear:  your voice.   When you stop running and turn towards your secret, get honest with yourself and others, you have taken the first - and the bravest - step towards recovery.

But how?   How to do this?   Recovery meetings are (warning: generalization alert) all too often the place of last resort.   By the time women drag their broken spirit into a meeting, they are often far down the path of addiction.    Meetings are one place people can go and know that everyone in the room understands.   I love meetings; it's where I went to get sober, and it's where I go to stay sober.    But, without taking away from the healing power of meetings, I have also wished that I had learned I wasn't alone and sought help before things got as bad as they did.     I believe that the more we talk openly about addiction and recovery, the more chance we have of reaching people who otherwise may think they are completely alone.

A powerful thing is happening on the internet.   Women are coming forward, speaking their truths, sharing their experience, strength and hope with the world, and because of it people are getting help, and getting it sooner.

Women like Stefanie Wilder-Taylor, Heather of the EO, Maggie Dammit and Corinne stepped forward, shared their stories with the world, and hundreds, if not thousands, of women saw themselves in their words and decided to get help.

I started Crying Out Now ten months ago.   Since then eighty-six women have shared their stories there.   Many of them were telling their truth for the first time.    Reading others' words helped them muster the courage to square their shoulders against the beast, and get honest. 

It's powerful, watching somebody pour their darkest secret onto the page, and see how much lighter they feel.  It's even more powerful to read the words of support, understanding and love strangers leave for them.   Some of them understand first-hand, some of them understand because they have a loved one who struggles with addiction.    Some people don't have any first hand experience with addiction, but everyone can empathize with how much courage it takes to speak your truth out loud.  

We're incorporating a few changes over at Crying Out Now.   We now have six regular contributors who will share their journey with all of you.   Some have been sober a while, some are newly sober, one is very newly sober, and one isn't sober but knows that speaking her truth will help her understand herself better.

The primary mission of Crying Out Now is to provide a place for women to share their stories of addiction and recovery, so first and foremost we want reader submssions - the regular contributors aren't meant to eclipse that, they are there to lend their voices to the cause.  

You can lend your voice to the cause, too.    Please help us spread the word about Crying Out Now.   Even if you don't struggle with addiction - either directly or indirectly - your voice can help us break down the stigma that keeps so many, many people stuck, sick and alone.    

Imagine the courage it takes to rip down the walls of denial and secrecy and put your truth out there.   The women who post there are vulnerable, and in that vulnerability beats the heart of raw courage.    Every comment and supportive word means so much.   Every Tweet or Facebook post puts the word out there a little more, helps all of us understand the humanity behind addiction.   

Together, we beat back shame and fear.  With our hearts and our voices we have the power to heal.  

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to all of you who comment, who put the Crying Out Now widget on your blog, who tweet and retweet posts, who send emails of support.  

And most of all, thank you to all of you who have the courage to put your story out there.   Your words help so many people know they aren't alone.

To submit a story to Crying Out Now, please send an email to

Monday, January 17, 2011

Choppy Waters

Greta is sick again.  I'm working on acceptance.

The irony is that I had drafted a post a couple of days ago about how I've been better at floating through the days, instead of bucking the current at every turn.

I never published it.

It's far easier to find acceptance when things are chugging along nicely; it's a whole different story when life feels like death by a thousand paper cuts.

Greta has been struggling on and off with sore throats, headaches and sinus infections for weeks now.   Sometimes it is strep, sometimes it isn't.    She wakes up most mornings with a pounding sinus headache, and collapses into bed every night, more exhausted than she should be because of the sickness.

We patiently schlep to the doctor's office, get a diagnosis of strep or not, and then schlep back home to try a new round of antibiotics, or not, and weather the symptoms. 

I know the next step will be conversations about going to see an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor; there will be mumblings about a tonsillectomy.    She caught wind of this somehow, and every time she goes to the doctor she is nearly paralyzed with fear.

"Will they make me have surgery, Mom?"  she asks, her eyes wide and her chin quivering.

I keep a brave face on, show her my serene it's-going-to-be-just-fine face, but inside I'm starting to crumble.  The pool of calm and acceptance I've been nurturing is getting choppy.   The worry is starting to shine through the cracks.

I know it could be so much worse.   Most days I have a good perspective on things.    Some days - like today - I don't.

I woke up this morning to no electricity.  Again.   Our power keeps going out, for reasons I don't fully understand, and I slumped downstairs to my dark, cold kitchen and glared at my useless coffee maker.   Greta padded into the kitchen holding her head, "It hurts so MUCH, Momma," she said.

I checked my cell phone; it was almost out of power.    I called the doctor's office with the remaining juice, only to find out their power was out, too.

Greta curled up on the couch, holding her head.   I gave her some Motrin and checked her throat.   Her tonsils are so swollen and red they are touching.

It brings me back to my own childhood; winter afternoons spent at the doctor's office, conversations about whether or not to have surgery, months on end with a clogged nose and a thick voice.

I grew out of it, eventually.  I never did have to have the surgery.    I'm hoping the same will be true for Greta.

But this morning, in the dark, cold, silent house, I just didn't want to be the mother anymore.   I was overwhelmed with worry and frustration.    And irritation, which brought a stab of guilt.  

I'm so tired of it all, the see-sawing emotions, the inconvenience, the uncertainty about when to go to the doctor and what to do.

I went back upstairs, sat on my bed and tried to talk myself off the cliff.    Breathe and wait, I said to myself.   This is my new mantra.     Worry and anxiety won't change a thing, just breathe and wait to see what comes next. 

What came next was the power came back on, Greta has a doctor's appointment for early this afternoon, and a friend called to invite Finn over for a play date.

We soldier on.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough

In less than two weeks, I'm going to Nashville for the Blissdom Conference

I can't wait to connect with friends, meet new people, and expand my comfort zone a little...  I'm speaking on a panel, and I've never done anything like that before.   More on that in a second.

I'm beyond excited that Brene Brown (pronounced Bren-nay - I don't know how to type the accent over the second "e") will be a keynote speaker at Blissdom.   I posted about her TED talk recently, and I've just finished her book The Gifts of Imperfection.    Her message is life changing, truly, and if you haven't seen any of her talks, read her books or her blog, I can't recommend them enough.    The idea that I'll get to hear her speak in person makes me go all fan-girl.  

The primary concept Brene examines in her book is living a wholehearted life no matter the circumstances.   I won't try to paraphrase what the book is about, because I won't do it justice, but a part that resonated with me was about leaning into discomfort.   Without even realizing it, much of the time, we are programmed to go around things:  by people-pleasing, numbing behaviors, avoidance or distraction.    In sobriety I'm slowly figuring out that going through things - however painful or uncomfortable - brings freedom and unexpected gifts on the other side.

I'm a little nervous about speaking on the panel; if you're going to Blissdom it's the Advocates and Activists: Harnessing Social Media for Social Good in the Face of Compassion Fatigue panel (in the Writing Track) on Thursday at 4pm (the agenda is here).    The who-do-you-think-you-are voices come out in full force.   I see my name up there with other bloggers - some of them household names (in the microcosm of the blogosphere) - and I start to feel unworthy.

I can talk about worthiness, self-love and acceptance until I'm blue in the face, but when I'm hit with a new situation like this I tend to default to old behaviors and thinking patterns.   The thing is, I'm starting to recognize those nay-saying voices for what they are:  a cheap, easy way to lower my expectations; a vain attempt to protect myself from disappointment or failure.

I'm trying to reprogram my brain to see experiences for what they are, and not put them into categories or good or bad.   If I speak from my heart and avoid getting wrapped up in what I think people want to hear, it will be what it is, no more and no less.   One of the biggest gifts of living an authentic life, drawing strength from the inside instead of engaging in people-pleasing, is that I can only be who I am.    I'm starting to realize that who I am is enough.  

The past year and a half have brought several new experiences my way, and with each one I'm learning more about letting go.   It began with the Oprah Winfrey Show, and then going to BlogHer in New York, Creative Alliance in Ojai, and now Blissdom in Nashville.    With each one I questioned my worthiness, my sense of belonging.  Especially before appearing on Oprah, I worked myself into a nervous wreck, and at the root of it all was the fear of rejection, of being judged, of not being worthy enough.    What I'm starting to understand is that there is no way I am not worthy of my own story.   It's when I don't own my own story, or I try to fudge it to fit other people's expectations, that I get into trouble.

When experiences are lived authentically, there is no way to fail.  

I'm also starting to embrace anxiousness, apprehension and nervous butterflies.   I'm starting to understand that these emotions - as uncomfortable as they are - mean that I'm on the verge of having a breakthrough, not a breakdown.

So if you're going to Blissdom, I'd love to meet you.   Stop by the panel, or look for me at one of the conference events.  

I'll be the one whispering to myself:  be authentic and you can't fail... be authentic and you can't fail. 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Divided We Fall

I'm apprehensive writing this post.  

I made a parenting decision the other day.   It's something that has been brewing for a while.    It all started with a sick day and a trip to the post office.

Finn was at school (a friend was dropping him off later) and Greta was home resting, recovering from yet another bout of strep throat.  

I had to go to the post office to mail jewelry orders, and I needed to go right then, because my afternoon was booked with customers coming by the shop.   It was a blustery, cold, day; Greta was snuggled on the couch in her jammies watching TV.

She looked up at me from her warm cocoon of blankets and said, "I don't want to go, Momma.   Can I stay here?"

My heart skipped a beat.  

She's been asking to stay home alone for short bits of time for a year now.    Last year there was no way I was going to leave her alone, even for a couple of minutes.    Now she's almost eight and a half - a very responsible eight and a half - and I wasn't sure what to do.

Interestingly my first fear wasn't for her safety; I know she's capable of being by herself for the ten minutes it would take me to get to the post office and back.   But my first thought was:  what would people think? 

I have no idea if other Moms I know would let their eight and a half year old stay home unattended for ten minutes.   I have a sneaking suspicion if I asked them they wouldn't cop to it, even if they did.  It's not something I would feel comfortable even asking other Moms. 

I blame it on the parenting wars.   When did parenting decisions stop being about trusting your intuition and knowing your own kid's abilities, and become more about fear of being judged?

It happens over lots of issues, large and small:  breastfeeding, cloth diapers, home schooling and television watching have become issues that are intensely - even viciously - debated, instead of falling squarely in the camp of personal choice, which is where they belong.   If someone makes a parenting decision that differs from our own, somehow it becomes personal.   

"I don't think so, sweetie," I told Greta.   "I think you'd be nervous here all by yourself."

She rolled her eyes.   "I'm not nervous, Mom," she said.  "I'll be fine."   She went back to watching TV, and I stood there, frozen with indecision.    I realized she was totally ready for this.  It was me who wasn't.   

I don't want my kid to grow up fearful.  I want her to learn to trust herself, feel curious about trying new things - even things that are a little scary - and feel pride that she has taken a leap forward.   Isn't that what growing up is all about?

I lay down some ground rules.   "Don't answer the door to ANYONE.  Or the phone.   And DON'T EAT."

She rolled her eyes again.   I dialed my cell phone number with our home phone, and showed her how to hit redial to reach me.   Then I locked all the doors.   And the windows.   I pointed out the list of emergency phone numbers on the fridge.

"I'll be back in ten minutes," I said, my heart in my throat. 

She waved me off.  "Okay.  Bye."

The post office is exactly 1.64 miles away (I clocked it).   I drove the whole way with a stone in my stomach, wondering if I made the right call or not.   What if she panicked?  What if something happened to me, and she was there by herself?   What if someone stopped by?   What if, what if, what if.   I was near tears.

I got back in eight minutes.  "You okay?" I asked, as I rushed in the door.

"MOM.   I'm FINE."

And she was fine.  I, on the other hand, was a wreck.   I questioned my decision over and over all day, playing horrible scenarios through my head.   I couldn't let it go.   Then it occurred to me that she might actually tell a friend or a teacher that she stayed home alone, and I was gripped with fear.  

A few days later, my fear became a reality.   She had a good friend over for a play date and the two of them were playing a board game, chatting away about Webkinz and Littlest Pet Shops.  Suddenly Greta said,  "I stayed home by myself for eight minutes!  My Mom went to the post office, and I stayed home and watched TV.   I wasn't scared ONE BIT."

Her friend didn't miss a beat and replied, "Oh, my Mom lets me do that all the time when she has to run up the street real quick."

I know this kid's Mom really well, and this topic would never, ever come up between us in conversation.  If she had asked me last week whether I would ever leave Greta home alone I'm not sure I would have been honest, because I'd have been afraid my answer would differ from hers.

I decided to do a little experiment.   I told my husband I was thinking of doing a post about Greta's milestone of staying home alone.   He thought for a moment, and said, "I don't know if that's a good idea."

When I asked him why, he thought some more and then said, "Don't you think some people will disapprove?  People you know?  Aren't you worried about what they will think?"

"That's my whole point!" I said.   "Do you think Greta was ready to do that?" 

"Absolutely," he said, without hesitation.

"So why are you concerned about what other people will think?  Why does it matter?"

"I don't know," he replied.   "I just know that people will have strong opinions about it, one way or the other.   Why open up that can of worms?"

I want to open this can of worms because it's sad to me how isolating parenting is when we live in fear of being judged.    I know my kid.  I know what she can and can't do, but when I view decisions like this through the lens of Other People's Opinions, I lose faith in myself.

I understand why people feel so strongly about other peoples' parenting.    We want to feel assured that we're getting it right; so if we feel someone else is getting it wrong, it strengthens our own self-esteem.   We've all felt that little superior rush when we witness something we'd never do.

One of the ways to feel good about our own decisions is to feel judgy about others' choices.  That's the wrong way to go about it, though.   We could all learn so much from each other, if only we could share freely without getting a faceful of unsolicited advice, or preachy sermons about the right way to do things.

I guess I'm going to find out what other people think, because I'm about to hit 'publish'.  

I'm curious to see if the comments prove my point.   Or not.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Live Out Loud

There is a lot about the end of my drinking that is lost to me forever.  

I have one memory, though, that is as clear as a bell.

I don't remember how close to the end it was, or what day it was, but I was sitting on my bathroom floor, sobbing.

It was late afternoon; Finn was napping and Greta was watching television.   I was trying not to drink.   My hands were shaking, I was sweating and my heart pounded with anxiety.    Eventually, like it always did, my resolve weakened and I locked myself in the bathroom, reached for my hidden bottle under the bath towels, settled onto the floor and drank until the shaking stopped.

After about ten minutes I started to cry, and I couldn't stop.   The tears poured down my face; I was drowning in self-loathing.    I am a prisoner in my own life, I thought.   How did I let it get so bad?  If people knew - oh God, if they knew - how sick and broken I was my life would be over. 

And then a thought dropped out of the sky and into my head; a lucid, clear, thought rang through the self-hatred and the haze:   if I make it through this, I'm going to live my life out loud. 

I had no way of knowing it, of course, but that was the tiniest beginning of telling my truth.   


The other day I was emailing back and forth with someone who isn't sober, but is terrified of her drinking.

She asked me two simple questions:   Why are you so open about your drinking?   Are you ever embarrassed?

I sent a pat response back, telling her that I wasn't embarrassed, not anymore, because I knew shame was a huge part of why I kept drinking; it drove me to drink without my own permission.    This is the truth, but her questions got me thinking.   Why?  Why do I talk so much about drinking and recovery?   Why did I start Crying Out Now?   What is behind this compulsion I feel to talk and talk and talk about it?

The memory of that day in the bathroom came roaring back, and I knew the answer:   I talk openly about it because I don't ever, ever want to live in silent suffering again.  

Alcoholism is a disease of isolation and shame.   Anyone who has ever struggled with drinking knows what I'm talking about - the huge amount of energy and effort it takes to sustain a double-life.   The endless lies you tell yourself - and others - to cling to the one thing that is slowly destroying your spirit.

When I got sober I was awash in shame.   I couldn't ever envision a day when I would be able to look people in the eye, admit I was an alcoholic and not feel that stab of self-loathing and guilt.    I went to recovery meetings for months and sat silently in the back row, arms crossed, hating myself and wondering what on earth made these other people seem so happy

That all changed when I started opening up, telling my truths.   I don't know when I finally broke down and got honest, but I do know why: without realizing it, people were coming into my life and patiently loving me until I could start loving myself.   They told me to get honest;  they assured me that my shame grew more powerful if I kept it inside.   They shared their own stories, their own struggles, and I saw myself in their words.  When I finally let down my guard, cracked through the wall of guilt, I suddenly understood something that had eluded me for months, even in sobriety:   I am not alone.   I am not the only one.  

I got honest.  First with myself, which was the hardest part.  But an amazing thing happened:  my friends were right.   A burden shared is a burden cut in half.   I felt lighter, freer.   The process of forgiving myself began.


I started this blog when I was almost a year sober.   It wasn't supposed to be a blog about addiction and recovery;  I thought it would be about creativity and making jewelry - a platform to launch my fledgling jewelry business.

But I realized that without my recovery I have nothing:  no creativity, no light, no genuine connections with other people.   No love.

So I started talking about addiction and recovery - out there on the internet for the world to see.   Just my own experience, strength and hope.   I didn't do it to save anybody, or to tell anyone how to get sober.   I did it to keep myself sober, to stay honest with myself.   

I know from my own experience and listening to countless stories that at the root of addiction are two things:  denial and shame.   Denial keeps you thinking you aren't as bad as you really are, and shame floods in when moments of truth surface and you see had bad it really is.

Women are particularly burdened with shame, I think.   I don't mean that our suffering is worse than a man's - but it's different.   A lot of the pressure to be perfect comes from within our own community of women; it comes from inside our own heads, too.

When a woman is struggling with drinking, the hurdles to telling people seem insurmountable.    These hurdles become even more complicated when the woman is also a mother.   The world is still struggling to understand that motherhood doesn't exempt women from the disease of alcoholism, any more than it would from diabetes or cancer.   Indeed, for me becoming a mother both fueled my drinking and drove it further underground.

Even women who know they have a problem with drinking often don't know where to begin.   How could they possibly tell anyone else?   The stigma of addiction and the shame of not being who people think you are keeps women stuck.   I know, because I've been there.   In my head it was better to suffer in silence than to face the judgements, alienation and shame of admitting my problem.   

Many women - myself included - stayed stuck and sick and alone because they thought their world would end if they told their truth.

So here is the real answer to her question:

I'm open about my addiction and recovery because I'm not ashamed.  Not anymore.   I know I'm not the only one.

I write about it so I won't ever have to have that moment on the bathroom floor again.  

I write about it because it keeps me honest with myself.   As they say in recovery:  you're only as sick as your secrets.

I write about it to live out loud.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Announcement - A New Product Line!

I'm so excited.

I am finally getting to launch something I've been waiting almost a year to do.

People ask me a lot if I can personalize jewelry with a message charm, or someone's initials, name or special date.   I knew last year that I wanted to get into hand-stamped jewelry, but I just didn't have the where-with-all to do everything involved:  research the products, purchase the necessary tools, learn a new technique and then practice, practice, practice until I figured it out.

Until now.

I'm happy to announce the unveiling of a new product line:  hand-stamped jewelry!  

Personalized Sterling Silver Name Discs with Birthstone Crystals

Add a charm, pearl or bead of your choosing!  This is the Infinity Love Knot Charm..

I haven't listed anything in my Etsy shop, yet, but I will be adding several new pieces there over the coming weeks.  There are SO many possibilities with hand-stamping:  pendants, bracelets, rings, charms, earrings, key chains...  the list goes on and on.   

I love making recovery jewelry, or pieces that have a special meaning for the wearer, and hand-stamping takes this to a whole new level.   You can now customize the perfect piece of jewelry with any message you choose.    Recently someone ordered a bracelet from my shop, but she wanted a simple little circle charm on the clasp with someone's initials on it, just to add that personalized touch.   Now I can do that! 

People ask all the time if I can create pieces as gifts to help during a tough time, or to provide support, inspiration or motivation...  now you can create a piece with just the right message for a special someone (or yourself)!

And, of course, the ever-popular Mother's (or Grandmother's) pendants and bracelets - create a beautiful gift for a birthday, christening, birth or mother's day.   Dozens of shapes and sizes will be available, all fully customizable with names, initials, messages and/or special dates.

I'm also enjoying experimenting with hand-hammered pieces; I love the uniquely hand-made look this creates:

Scalloped Hand-Hammered Discs in Brass, Copper and Sterling Silver

Little Dish Necklace (can be personalized with birthstones, charms, crystals or pearls)
These are just a few examples; MANY more to come.  A less impulsive person would wait to unveil everything at once.   

I am not that person.

If you have ideas for a unique, personalized, custom design - let me know!   It may take a while to get everything listed in my Etsy shop, but I've got my tools and I'm raring to go, so send me an email at if you want to learn more or talk about a custom design.

Thank you!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Ignite the Light

When I was three months sober, I went to my twenty year high school reunion.   I was determined not to stay away because I was an alcoholic and I couldn't drink.   

I was there to prove a point to myself:   I can have fun without drinking.  

It didn't work.  

Every inch of that night was hard.   The siren call of alcohol was everywhere I looked.    Walking into the party everyone made a bee line to the bar, and I hung back, uncertain.   I didn't really want to drink; I knew where that would lead.   What I wanted was to belong

I made it through, but not happily.   I froze a smile onto my face, hugged and chatted with people, talked about how great I felt.   But it was a lie.   I felt like an alien, a freak, and very, very alone.

At one point someone I hadn't seen in twenty years came back from the bar with two glasses of wine in his hand.  "I noticed you needed a drink, so I got you one,"  he said.

My stomach rolled with longing and dread.   "Thanks, but I don't drink anymore."

"Don't drink anymore at ALL?"  he asked, his mouth agape.  

"Nope. I quit."

He stared at me wide-eyed for a few moments, and then said, "Wow.   That must SUCK."

Yes. Yes, it does, I thought.

Towards the end of the night everyone hit the dance floor, and I wandered outside for some fresh air.   I looked up at the stars and thought:   I'll never have fun at something like this again.   It's over.


When I was about a year and a half sober my husband and I were sitting on the couch on a Saturday night, watching a movie.  

He let out a long sigh, and I asked him what was wrong.

"I'm just wondering," he said, "if we'll ever be able to go out with friends again.   Sometimes I hate that you can't drink."

I looked down at the floor.    I didn't apologize; by then I had worked on myself enough that his words didn't hit me in the gut.  I knew he was simply telling his own truth.

"You know what I think?"  I said.  "I think one day I'll get there.   I will be able to go out with friends - to a party, a club or for dinner and it won't be hard."    He looked over at me, a mixture of sadness and love in his eyes.  

"I'm just not there yet.   But I believe it will happen.   And if it doesn't?   I'm okay with that, too."

He put his arm around my shoulder and said, "one day at at time, right?"


At 11:55pm this past New Year's Eve I was on the dance floor.

All around me the room pulsed with energy; hundreds of people dancing and partying at a a huge New Year's Eve Party at a large hotel in Boston.    I was swinging my hips and waving my hands over my head, belting out the lyrics to Katy Perry's 'Firework':
You don't have to feel like a waste of space
You're original, cannot be replaced
If you only knew what the future holds
After a hurricane comes a rainbow
Maybe you're reason why all the doors are closed
So you can open one that leads you to the perfect road
Like a lightning bolt, your heart will blow
And when it's time, you'll know

You just gotta ignite the light
And let it shine

Steve was dancing next to me, his New Year's party hat slightly askew, grinning like a Cheshire cat.   We were surrounded by friends who were all laughing, dancing and singing like a bunch of teenagers.

As the countdown hit midnight, I leaned over and gave Steve a kiss.   "Happy New Year,"  I beamed.

He smiled back, and it hit me:   I'm healing.    I'm here at a party on New Year's Eve, surrounded by friends and party goers, and what do I feel?   I feel complete, fully present, grateful and happy.  

I was free

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Monthly Giveaway - New Item!

Happy New Year Everyone! 

Congratulations to Cheryl, who won the Inner Strength Necklace!   Thanks to everyone who entered!  

This month's item is the Bermuda Blue Necklace, which is made from a gorgeous swarovski crystal circle pendant (it is about the size of a dime) of deep blues, greens and a hint of black (goes with all three colors really well) with a simple silver bail and hanging on an 18" sterling silver box chain necklace:  

Click here to view this piece in my Etsy shop

The winner will be selected at random on February 1st (my daughter picks a name from a hat).   

To enter, please comment below indicating you would like to participate, and please also provide your email so I can reach you if you win (if you'd rather email me directly to enter, please do so at

This month I will provide FIVE additional entries to newsletter subscribers (if you're already a subscriber, please let me know in the comment and I'll give you the five extra entries).    To become a new subscriber, simply enter your email in the widget of my right-hand sidebar (upper right-hand corner) and then let me know you subscribed in your comment below.

And this month?  The newsletter subscriber offer is a good one ... get a free pair of earrings or ring with ANY purchase.  So if you aren't a subscriber yet, now is the time!    Details on how to take advantage of this offer is contained in the newsletter, which will be emailed to you within 24 hours after you subscribe.

(I only send newsletter once a month, I always provide special discounts and incentives to subscribers ONLY, and I never share your info with any third parties).

This giveaway is open internationally.

Thank you!