Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My Guest Post at Women Heal: An Online Alliance

"I am currently in recovery from two chronic, life altering diseases that if left untreated are always fatal.
..... to read the rest of my guest post please go on over here.
Today I'm honored to be a guest poster at the newly founded WomenHeal: an Online Alliance, which has one mission: to create a safe space where women can collectively encourage growth and healing for themselves, each other and the world.   
So please head on over, read my post, and while you're there please consider donating (there is a tab on the site that tells you how) to help Christa and her team build this amazing site.  Even a little makes a big difference, and as they quote on their site: 
"A few years ago, the Dalai Lama said, 'The world will be saved by the Western woman.' Let’s prove him right."
Even if you don't donate, sign on up for their Twitter and Facebook pages - they are building something really special here, and we need to help them spread the word.  I'm honored to be part of it in some small way.


On a side note - there will be no "Truthful Thursday" tomorrow, because my daughter is having her tonsils and adenoids out.  Please keep her in your prayers.  Thank you.

FULL DISCLOSURE:  I was not compensated in any way - monetary or otherwise - to do this post. I just like to be part of amazing things.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Snapshots From Before - Back Into Life

***This post is dedicated to all the people struggling in those first few days/weeks/months of sobriety.   It is also part five of my Snapshots from Before series.  Click on the link to read the first four in the series.

We pull into the driveway, my little family and I; the kids are chattering on about all I've missed.  Finn is almost two, and his burgeoning vocabulary makes me misty eyed.  I've only been away thirty days, at an inpatient rehab, and yet he seems like a different kid.

I don't want to get out of the car, but as Steve unloads my bags Greta, who is five, tugs at my arm.  "Come in, Momma! I have so much to show you!"

The dog goes nuts as I walk in the door, wiggling, barking, wagging her tail madly.  You wouldn't be so happy to see me if you knew what an awful person I am, I think.

Finn holds shyly onto my hand as Greta prattles away. I try to listen, but it's all too much. I gaze around my living room, kitchen, and wonder: how the hell am I going to do this?

Over there is the cupboard where I stashed my wine.  Over there is the recycling bin, the source of so much angst and worry that the piling-up bottles would be counted, causing almost daily trips to the dump.

I see the wine glasses, which used to hang on a wooden rack near our fridge, are gone.  In their place are coffee cups.  It makes my heart break into a million pieces with sadness.  Then gratitude. Steve has done his best to clear out all vestiges of his alcoholic wife.  But I know he can't clear out the inside of me, where she rages on, still.

It's not like I can just avoid bars, I think.  My house was my bar.  I drank in secret, in my kitchen, or with stolen sneaky glasses from hidden stashes.

I have to learn to live, sober, smack dab in the middle of ground zero of where I did my drinking.

Although I am 31 days sober, I was at a rehab for the first 30, so this feels like day one.  Day one around all the things that triggered my drinking in the first place.  Number one on the list is the crippling shame and guilt, and I feel it coming over me in waves so strong I want to curl in a ball on the floor.

Instead I plaster on a smile for Greta and Finn and let her lead me around the house, pointing out just about everything.

"And this is my favorite blanket - but you probably 'member that, right?" she asks, looking up at me hopefully.

"Of course I do," I say, bending down to kiss her forehead.

"Because before sometimes you forgot stuff," she says without a hint of anger in her voice, which somehow makes it worse.  I feel the knife of guilt twist deep in my gut.

The tendrils of temptation tickle my ankle, start to slide seductively up my leg.  A drink would make the guilt go away, my disease whispers.  Just wait a while and say you want to go to the grocery store.  Then you can buy one bottle, just in case.  You don't even have to drink it.

You've been down that road, so many times, and look where it got you, Ellie, says a new voice.  My Recovery Voice.  I've only just found her. Every now and then, before, she'd peep up a with a weak protest:  -this is no way to live - but my Disease Voice always won.

This time she sounds stronger, more determined.  This surprises me, because I feel weak, ashamed and on the verge of crumbling.

There is something else new, though, something deep in my gut.  A certainty.  The knowledge that I am an alcoholic, and that if I have one drink I don't control what comes next.  My counselors at the rehab call it surrender.  I cling to this knowledge like a drowning woman.

The anxiety I feel is almost crippling. I was told it would get worse before it got better, that I just had to learn how to feel the bad stuff and get through it without a drink for a while, and then my brain and body would remember how to get through the tougher emotions without my bottle shaped anesthesia.

My husband slides his arm around my shoulders, the first contact we've had since he picked me up.  Our marriage is held together by the thinnest of filaments, based on our love for our kids and what we remember of our marriage Before.

I want so badly to be the woman I was Before.  The one who always liked to drink, but who could stop after a few (albeit usually a few more than everyone else).  That woman was Fun. She didn't have Anxiety.  She could go for days without a drink, even though she was really, really looking forward to the weekend.

Why couldn't I have stayed Her?

It's like when you see a photograph of yourself and notice the fine lines and wrinkles that weren't there before.  The image on the paper doesn't match up with the image of yourself in your head.  It happened so gradually, this process of becoming an alcoholic.  It snuck up on me.  I wish I had been paying more attention.

Maybe if you pay attention now you can drink like a normal person, my Disease Voice says.

I sigh, but then I realize there is a sly grin on my face, because I have come to expect Disease Voice's antics, now that I've surrendered.

"Yeah, RIGHT," says Recovery Voice. "Because that worked out so well for you the last four hundred times."

I'm getting better, I realize. If I can just stay away from one drink for one day. For one hour.  To get better all I have to do is NOT do something.

I ask Steve to drive me to a recovery meeting that night, because I don't trust myself to drive to the meeting and not the liquor store.  He smiles, knowing what a milestone that is for me.

I learned I'm going to have to feel worse before I feel better. Having to ask for a ride because I can't trust my own brain doesn't feel like progress, but I know deep in my heart how much courage that takes.  It takes so much more courage than falling into a drink.

I want to be brave.  Even though I don't know if I want to be sober - because I don't know who that woman in the picture is, yet - I know I want to be brave.

Greta shuffles into the room carrying a board game - Chutes and Ladders.  I have never played this game with her sober, before.  Board games are a trigger, I realize, as I plunk down to play, a knot in my stomach. But then I look at her smiling face as she says, "Momma, you go first", and I think:  brave.

I roll the dice and land on a ladder. A good sign.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Aftermath - Truthful Thursdays - TRIGGER Warning

TRIGGER WARNING:  This post is about suicide, so if you feel this may be a trigger for you - for ANY reason - please know in advance this is a first hand account of someone who lost a loved one to suicide and don't read it if it will be too hard.

***Submitted by Kathryn, who blogs at This Could Get Ugly

In a meeting, my phone rings.  

I see it's my oldest son and I push "silent", I'll call him back shortly.  He calls again as we're wrapping up, I joke, let me go call my son back, he probably needs money.  I text him "Text me, in a meeting".  

He answers "Call me please". 

Back at my desk, I call my boy.  "Mom, I don't know how to say this any other way.  Dad shot himself."  So calm, he's so calm, not true, that's not true, who told you that, WHO TOLD YOU THAT?  He's on his way to his father's house, no don't come, I'll call you, don't come, I'm fine, I'll call you mom.  

The phone drops from my hand.  

Coworkers rush to my side, lay their hands on me as I sob helplessly, I can't speak, can't tell them, what's wrong, what's wrong, oh my God please let him be alive but I know he's not alive, I know it in my heart that is broken, broken for my son and for his father who lost the battle with the demons in his brain.  

For how alone I know he felt at the moment he pulled the trigger and left us awash in grief and regret, why didn't I know this?  Why didn't you call me, you always called me when you needed to talk oh god why didn't you call me this time?  

I spoke to him on Monday, now it’s Wednesday and he’s dead. 

Watch my son go from a boy to a man in the space of hours.  It falls to him to plan his father's funeral because his stepmother can't, she wants him cremated immediately with no goodbyes.  This cannot happen, his father needs to see him, his mother, his sister...we need to see him.  We need to send him off.  We need to gather and weep and mourn and so he will stand up and say "My father will have a funeral", and she will agree.  She's devastated, I understand the impulse to put this behind her but it's my son and his grandfather I'm thinking of now.  

Have I been a good enough mother to my son, have I helped him grow into a young man who can deal with his father’s suicide and the aftermath, the death arrangements?  I don’t see him cry, ever…did I teach my son not to cry?  Please God let him not feel he has to hold all of this inside, don’t let my son be like his father who never projected any emotion but anger into the world until it literally killed him.  Please don’t let him be a man who can’t stand to deal with the emotions of others, he doesn’t let his friends come to the funeral because he doesn’t want them fussing over him, doesn’t want to deal with emotion.  Cannot go up and comfort his grandfather as he weeps over his dead son’s body in the coffin.  

“No, Mom, I can’t do it, I can’t handle the crying.”  Maybe my job as a mother isn’t done, or maybe I didn’t do it right.  My heart clenches…my boy is not whole.  His father is dead.  I want him to have the gift of grief, of breaking down in uncontrolled, cleansing  tears when it’s called for.  I can’t give him this…I can rarely give it to myself.   It’s so hard to accept that maybe it’s just who he is, that he still has growing to do as a man, and that my shame is perhaps misplaced.  He is not just me, he’s his father, too, and himself.  I could not bear to go to funerals at his age, as we get older we realize what a necessity it is despite the pain and awkwardness and crying people everywhere.  

The days pass in a twilight of unreality, a cloak of sadness.  Wake up every day, thank God I can sleep but the problem with that is waking up every day to knowing that my friend, my son's father, is dead...yes, it's still true.  Every day a new problem for my son to navigate, it falls to me to help him with his father's funeral and I gladly do it, I wish I could take this burden off of him but I have no standing, no authority...I was not his wife.  I will not do anything to cause her further pain and so I tread carefully between his father's family with whom I am still close, and his wife.  Sit with his 10 year old daughter, my son's half-sister, while they go into the funeral home to make plans...hold her while she cries, "I don't have a daddy anymore!"  

No baby girl, but your daddy loved you so much, he had  a smile in his voice every time he said your name, he was so proud of you, so proud, your daddy loved you and you will always have him, he's just gone away now but you have him.  

Smile at her questions, children are so honest.  "Were you married to my daddy?"  No, baby, your daddy was only ever married to your mommy. "Why does J (my five year old) live with you and not us?"  

He has a different daddy than you and your brother, he lives with his daddy and me.  Heart....broken.  I know if he could see this, the devastation of his children, he would not have done what he did, he loved these kids so much.  I know he couldn't see anything but the pain he thought was all that was left of his life.  This hurts my heart as much as his being gone from us now, why didn’t I know this?  Things run through my mind that I could have done, why didn’t I go to his job and make him go to the doctor, why didn’t I take him to the hospital, why didn’t I call his wife and ask her what was wrong with him, he seems depressed.  Why why why? There are no answers to any of our questions, and there never will be.  

We get through the days, we say our goodbyes.  His sister and I read poetry at his funeral.  My son gives his father a beautiful eulogy.  I am so very proud of my son, and almost unbearably sad that he has to do this. 
We are driving in the car on Tuesday, the first day we have alone since all the family has departed, he wants to show me the apartment he’s going to move into soon.  I can’t think right now about how it will feel when he doesn’t live here anymore, I’m too raw with grief over his father to contemplate how that will feel and anyway I know that it’s all part of the same thing.  I can’t cling to him now because of this, he needs to make his own way in the world. 

The first thing we do when we get in the car is turn on Third Eye Blind, the self-titled album.  He says “I’ve been playing this every day, it’s got me through ”.  Feel my heart lift that my son has found comfort and release the same way that I have these last few days, listening to our favorite music.  I tell him that I wanted to play this at his dad’s funeral but we both know the family wouldn’t have understood.  

My poor, lost friend. 

I am left wondering what I missed, what happened, what I could have done.  I feel so guilty that I didn’t know you would do this, that the conversations we were having were your way of saying goodbye, not asking me how to change things you had so much regret about.  My guilt at not being able to keep you from leaving this world...I don’t know what to do with that.  None of us put the gun in your hand, but I feel like I should have KNOWN.  And I feel shame that whenever I think about how you died, I feel not only the loss of you, and the loss our son is experiencing, but also a deep gratitude that you didn’t take anyone else with you; that you were just a suicide, horrible enough, but thank God not a murder-suicide.  I can’t help those feelings but they make me feel so small. 

The ache I feel for how you left us, for how you couldn’t see any other way, will stay with me as long as I live.  I will watch over our son, and your daughter.  

I will say your name every day, hoping that one day you’ll answer.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

On Waiting. And Zigging. And Zagging.

I spend a lot of time waiting.

At the kids' doctors or dentist appointments (we seem to be having a lot of those these days), or in line at the grocery store, or in the kid pick-up line, or standing on my stoop in the morning waiting for the bus to come.

I wait for someone to return an important call, or email, impatiently checking my phone or computer as though that person has nothing better to do than to respond to me.

I wait for that elusive clump of free time to open up so I can fold laundry, tidy up, wash the dishes, vacuum.

And in my new normal I spend a lot more time than I ever had in waiting rooms at my various doctors' offices.

I wait in the head and neck surgical oncology room.  I wait at the imaging center for CT scans or MRIs.

I wait at my oncology psychiatrist's office.  I wait at my radiologists office.

I wait at my regular oncologist's office.

In each of these waiting rooms I bear witness to all stages of the disease of cancer.  I see the woman who is all skin and bones and no hair,who needs help walking to the radiation room.  She is is smiling.

I see the impatient businessman who is clearly in remission, waiting for his 'routine' check-up.  He is huffing and puffing and checking his watch.

There will never be anything 'routine' about these visits to the waiting rooms, let alone to the doctors' offices themselves.

My mind wanders, as I try not to openly stare, peeking out of the corner of my eye with a fake disinterested look on my face.  There is a man covered in bandages; his whole head wrapped tightly, including under his chin. A drainage tube comes out of his nose.  He is holding hands with his wife and looking very, very scared.

I think about how life can zig while you're busy zagging. How fragile it all is.  I wonder what he was doing when he first figured out something was wrong, when his life zigged instead of zagged.

I think about how I am different, now. How these waiting rooms fill me with a kind of awed respect - for the patients fighting with all they've got.  For the doctors and nurses in the trenches all day,every day, delivering news that changes lives.  All the time.

It's odd to experience such a mix of gratitude and fear at the same time.  On good days the scales tip more towards gratitude. Actually, I mostly feel gratitude.  The fear still pokes its nose under the tent, now and then, but I'm learning to flip that fear into faith.

I remind myself that life was always precious, always precarious, even before cancer.  How we're all floating on a little raft on the open ocean, it's just that when life is zagging along the way you expect it to you don't notice how precarious, how precious, it is.

It's only when it zigs that you look down and think 'Holy shit, I'm floating on a tiny raft in the ocean and the world is suddenly very scary".

I realize this seems like an odd way to comfort myself, to think about how it has always been a tenuous miracle that we're here at all.  Kind of like backing into gratitude, I guess.

But that's what cancer does. It makes you stop taking anything for granted.  Instead of feeling victimized ('why ME?') I realize I'm no different than anyone else, it's just that I'm very aware of my little raft, of the fact that life could zig - or zag - at any moment.

I'm grateful to know this, now, to have metabolized how precious it all is into the core of my being.  Even when it comes to my kids.  Especially when it comes to my kids.  That's a tough thing to face, you know?  That they are on their own little rafts and I'm just paddling alongside, doing everything in my limited power to keep them safe.

So as I wait - in line, at doctor's offices, for that email or call that I think will change my life, for the Next Big Thing - I stop and I breathe.  I'm sitting smack dab in the middle of the Next Big Thing.  Each moment I'm in is important, because it's leading to that next moment, and the next, sweeping  me along on this joyful, scary, graceful, tenuous, precious and precarious ride we call life.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

How To Reunion (Yes, I made that into a verb)

Tonight is my 25th high school reunion.

I can hear you doing the math.  I'm 43.

I'm not usually one who gets too hung up on age, but there is something about being 25 years out of high school that is getting under my skin.

Maybe it's because I feel, emotionally, about 25?

Physically maybe closer to 30, but nowhere near 43. Not even in the ball park.

I was one of those kids in high school who knew a whole bunch of people, but who didn't really have a clique.  I was a jock who was also in the marching band.  I could hang out in the smoking area (not smoking, don't worry Mom) and not get beat up and held my own with the brains in every topic but math.

So I kind of pinged around, never really finding one place I truly fit in.

Of course, back then, it made me feel wildly unpopular, not having a clique. Looking back, though, I realize not having a clique is actually a blessing.  But try telling that to the girl who thought the bigger her hair was, the more friends she'd have (remember, folks, this is 1987) :

It took me HOURS to make my hair do that. And I think I'm personally responsible for the hole in the ozone due to the amount of hairspray needed.  Okay, maybe my best friend Amanda (in the blue) is also partially responsible (you're welcome, Manda, for sharing this photo with the world. Again.) :

That guy to my right (white suite a la Miami Vice) is Kevin.  We were voted class couple. The guy on the far left is John, Kevin's best friend.  I know Kevin won't be there tonight, which is too bad, but I'm hoping to see John, first to explain that I put a picture of him on the internet,and then to give him a hug.  I think in this picture we were on our way to Senior Class Night. But I digress. I was simply trying to make a point about hairspray, I think.

So I'm a little wistful about my 25th.  Maybe it's because I'm remembering my 5th reunion (or parts of it, anyway, like leaving with only one shoe on) back when I was still drinking.  Or my 20th when I was 90 days sober (not the best idea I ever had) and having someone say to me - bug eyed - "you don't DRINK?! At ALL?!  Man, that must SUCK!".  (And for the record?  That night?  Yes. Yes, it did suck).

Since my 20th reunion I have gotten sober, Amanda has gotten sober, and my life has taken twists and turns I couldn't have imagined (one of them being the blessing of going to my 25th reunion together with my best friend and sober sister).  

It doesn't suck to be sober anymore.  I lost my Dad. I survived cancer.  I built a jewelry business. My kids are both in school full time.  I lost 100 lbs.  I went on Oprah (albeit not because I'm famous, more like infamous).  I lost most of my hair because of radiation, and grew most of it back again.  I'm still vain about my hair, but no longer wrap my self-worth around its poofiness.  

But I don't know that there is anyone who doesn't feel an inkling of insecurity about reunions. I mean, those of us who have stood with our school cafeteria trays looking for a place to sit without looking like we're looking for a place to sit. Or who have waved enthusiastically at a Senior who waved to them when they were only a sophomore only to find him waving to his entire football team, who are all sitting behind you and laughing at you.  Not that that happened to me.  *cough*

Don't we all have that little fantasy of kicking in the door, looking decades younger than our peers, and having everyone gape at us in amazement at how fabulously our life turned out?  

Or is that just me?

Maybe I need a little more work on humility.

Or maybe I'll just crack out the curling iron and hair spray.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Anger Managment - My Mom Fail Moment

***Submitted by Julie, who blogs at Sober Julie Doing Life.... Straight Up!

This summer seems to have been one of change for our 8-year-old, there has been a dynamic shift in her that somehow occurred so swiftly and silently I missed it. She has suddenly become unable to deal with any kind of frustration, she immediately flies into a rage such as I’ve never seen. This has been happening at every impasse for over a month now and until now I thought I had a hold on it….by controlling situations I thought I could avoid her being frustrated and help with her anger management.
Every morning I know I must have things in order; Sydney’s chosen clothing is laid out the night before, lunches are made, school bags are packed up with homework and permission forms are signed and ready to go. Heaven help us all if something creates a hitch in the morning routine, I cannot cope with the fallout of her rage first thing in the morning.
This morning I lazily raise my eyelids halfway to glance at the clock after a horrible night of broken sleep, hoping I have a few more snooze worthy minutes before the alarm would sound. As my gaze settles upon the blue neon digits awareness seeps through my body like a blood chilling anesthetic. Fear instantly overtakes me as my muscles tighten and my brain begins to race, fighting to understand what these numbers mean to me.
How is this possible, what the HELL????
As my rate of breathing increases, I raise my achy body from the bed as quickly as I can. My mind fights to ignore the chronic pain I wake with daily as I try to move as quickly as possible down the hall to the girls bedrooms.
Oh Lord please let this be an easy morning, please God just let her wake in a happy mood. I pray as I enter into the unknown which is my lovely, funny, amazingly over-sensitive daughters bedroom.
How could I allow this to happen, I’m a horrible Mother…..I dropped the ball again and slept through the alarm, Brad will be home from work soon and that’s going to set her off….
“Sydney, Syd lovey it’s time to get up” I say gently to her as I gently stroke her messy hair, careful not to rush this waking moment. Her eyelids flutter revealing her beautiful sleep fogged eyes which take a moment to come awake. In the next second I realize her mood as she growls at me and rolls over to face the wall mumbling something about me going away.
Moving along to the next bedroom I call out in my fake, happy Mom voice “Come along ladies, time to get up for school.”
Twenty minutes, I only have twenty minutes to get them ready….my anxiety is building, must get it down…oh I’m not built for this…other Mom’s do it with more than 2 kids, I SUCK! I begin to make myself yawn in an effort to calm myself…
Finding my second daughter already up out of her bed enjoying a HUGE morning stretch I begin to smile, she sees me and I’m greeted with her sunshine and lollipops attitude. Forcing myself to ignore the griping coming from #1′s bedroom, I slow down for a moment to receive a hug and to whisper to her that we’re running late, could she get herself in the bathroom and get moving quickly for mama?
Thankfully she’s in a fine mood and agrees but that still leaves the other one, my first born baby who saddens me with each horrible name she’s yelling at me from under her covers. I take a breath and enter her kingdom of animosity, preparing for the battle which will surely ensue hoping my armor can handle it all today.
“Ok Sydney here’s the deal, it’s after 8 now and we’ve got to get moving. You won’t have time to watch TV this morning. I’m going to make you some raisin toast. Please get up and get dressed.”
“WHATTTTTT oh you’re so MEAN, NO! NO! I’m not going to school then! I want a new family! It’s not FAIR!”
Her rage is instant and palpable, it feels like the walls are shaking. My hands are trembling as I take a huge deep breath and turn down the hall ignoring the urge to either hug her or discipline her. There’s not point trying to do anything now, I don’t have TIME for this!!!
Entering the kitchen I make them a quick breakfast on auto-pilot, paste on a smile for my younger daughter as I serve her while ignoring the racket from the far end of the house. Please let her be getting dressed….she’ll never have time to get her hair done, brush her hair and eat now.
My husband arrives home from a night at work and his loving greeting is interrupted by stomping feet heading into the bathroom. My hand whips into the air as I visibly stop him from saying a word “Let’s just get through this please.” I state in a firm, tense voice above the recriminations coming from the bathroom.
Placing Sydney’s toast on paper towel I give my youngest a kiss and a hug and guide her out the door instructing her and my husband to go ahead, I’ll have Sydney out in a few minutes. Ten minutes left until the bell rings, that gives me 5 minutes to get her into some sort of a good mood and out the door….
Weighing the odds I know I’m fighting an uphill battle but can’t face the defeat I already feel deep in my bones. As she stomps into the room with half brushed hair, wearing the shirt she had on the day before and pants which are going to be much too warm for the forecast my last vestige of patience slips further.
I bite my tongue and step gingerly towards her with that oh so bright smile on my face, hoping to catch a glimpse of the girl I KNOW is in there. The loving, generous child who strokes my hair when I’m sick, the one whose giggles make my soul sing…..hoping with my whole being that she’ll show her face.
She snatches her breakfast from my hand, grabs her backpack and slams the door on her way out, leaving me with parting shots which hit my heart like darts.
Staring at the door I’m breathing deeply, glad to have it finshed…when the internal dialogue begins. The self-deprecating internal chatter which wrecks my facade of capability. And of course I do what every good, caring Mom does at this point…..go get a coffee and google “coping with rage in children”.
This is an example of a not-so pretty moment in my life, unfortunately as you can see I’m still a selfish person…my inner dialogue is often more focused upon life’s demands and my own feelings rather than my child’s turmoil but it’s a work in progress and I realize I’m still learning.
Thank you to Ellie for the challenge, I hope many of my readers and friends will submit, too!
To learn more about the guidelines for Truthful Thursdays and submit a post of your own (you can do it anonymously if you wish, please FIRST read this post here and send submissions to 
Thank you!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Help Us Change The Word "Alcoholic" From 'Bad' to 'Brave'

This is, in my mind, the most important thing I write about.

The goals of Crying Out Now are lofty, but simple: to provide a safe space for women to tell their stories of addiction and recovery to help heal themselves, and to let others know they aren't alone.

And to change the way the world thinks of what it means to be an alcoholic.

Yes, the WORLD.

If you're going to aim, aim high, I say.

What do YOU think when you hear the world alcoholic? Quick - knee jerk reaction.  What image pops into your mind? Be honest with yourself. Even if you've been reading here a while, my guess is there is still that image that slinks around in your brain of a scraggly homeless man slumped on a doorstep.  It slinks in my brain sometimes, when my disease tries to tell me I wasn't that bad.

Maybe you've been wondering about your own drinking.  Do you have a niggling voice in the back of your mind that bursts through sometimes and tells you that drinking might be a little too important to you?

Whether or not you're in the earliest stages of wondering about your drinking, or firmly entangled in the trenches of low-bottom losses from drinking, it doesn't matter.  I have always said it isn't how much you drink, or how often, it's what alcohol does to you that matters.  It begins to possess your thoughts, you start arranging your life around drinking, you start to have doubts that you're fully present for your life, your work, your children.

Usually, though, these thoughts are easily dismissed by the stigma that the word "alcoholic" carries with it.  Alcoholics aren't successful business people, financially secure, happily married or mothers who try as hard as they can for their kids.  They aren't funny, creative, loving, compassionate and articulate.  They don't live next-door, or in your own house.  They aren't YOU.

I am passionate about breaking down this stigma that keeps people stuck and alone. Especially for women and mothers. We drink alone, usually, in our kitchens, with a few too many at dinner, with sneaky extra gulps from a glass when nobody is looking, or stolen chugs from a stashed bottle.  And we tend to think we're just bad, morally corrupt. And, as women are prone to do, we think we need to be perfect, so we hide this secret as deeply as we can, even though the shame is there, corroding our confidence and making us feel worthless and alone.

There is a change happening, though.  More and more women are using the internet to reach out, find out they aren't alone, and get help.

This is still a controversial topic, and I have been a lightening rod for criticism, as have other women who were some of  the first to be outspoken about their own addiction and recovery stories.  I understand the criticism.  I listen to it closely, because being open about recovery means constantly balancing the desire to reach out to the person who is suffering in silence with the role of Ego in recovery.  It's a tightrope walk of adhering to the importance of one's own recovery program and coloring outside the lines a little bit.

Here's what I see, though. More and more people (especially women) are exploring the idea of recovering from behind the safety of their computer screens, WAY before they would consider a recovery meeting, or even TELLING anyone else about their problem.

Entire communities are forming online to support each other, cheering each other on, offering encouragement and support - and often, the information that helps people walk into their first recovery meeting.  I don't think that one can stay sober long term completely online.  At some point you need to have real people in your life who can help you face-to-face.  But MANY people are meeting each other online first, and taking those initial brave steps towards admitting a problem because they can identify with the stories they read, the people they meet.   The stigma of being an alcoholic is broken down, so the compassion, love and support can come flowing through.

It's been a while since I made a video celebrating Crying Out Now.  I don't know where the last two years went, but I haven't made one since the first anniversary, and now Crying Out Now is 3 1/2 years old, and it is time for a new video.

MANY of the women (most, in fact) you see in this video met first online, by reading sober blogs, through the Booze Free Brigade, or through reaching out initially and tentatively from behind their computer screens.

They are getting off that elevator of addiction - the one that only goes one way .... DOWN - before they go all the way to rock bottom.  The internet is helping them identify with others who are exactly like them, where before they thought they were the only one.  The internet is helping many of these women go to a recovery meeting, and supplement the support they get online with people in 'real' life.

I know the statistics, that many people never crawl their way out of addiction. I don't care about the statistics. Admitting you are an alcoholic and doing the brave work involved in getting well takes serious guts, and it's this bravery I want to honor.  Crying Out Now shares the struggles (many people try for years before they finally get sober, if they get sober at all) and the successes, to show people that they aren't alone and that there IS hope.

Please honor their courage in sharing the messages in this video by commenting and PLEASE share this video on your Facebook and/or Twitter pages.  Odds are addiction has touched your life in some way - either directly or indirectly - because more than 52% of American adults are impacted by the disease of addiction.

Please share this video so it can reach that one person who is suffering in silence - you may even know her, but you don't know she's suffering.

Please help us change how the world responds to the world 'alcoholic'.

Please help us change the world, one story at a time.

(P.S. - I recommend watching this in full view screen for better viewing.  To share, click on the "share" button - SUPER easy).  Thank you.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Truthful Thursdays - Living Wide Open

To contribute to the weekly Truthful Thursday series (it does not have to be on sobriety or recovery - any topic that is your truth is great), please FIRST read this post here, and send your submission to Thank you.

*** Submitted by Corinne

Two and a half years ago I made the decision to live wide open. 

I came out as an alcoholic to family and friends. I posted about my recovery on my blog. I decided I would rather live out loud with this thing, the thing that was a part of my whole truth, rather than have people know me half way.

I do not define myself by being an alcoholic. It is part of me, but I am so much more than that.

However, in this culture where alcohol is referenced at the drop of a hat, it can be difficult and trying to hide behind smiles and laughter when really you want to take anything alcohol related off the plate and help people to understand that their comments might be hurting someone. Because when you can’t, won’t, and don’t consume alcoholic beverages, it’s not always funny to joke about happy hour and the like.

So, in order to live my truth, most often I make people terribly uncomfortable for a bit. I am very up front and tell people my truth very easily. I am a recovering alcoholic. Mostly I do it to save myself having to say no to a drink. It’s kind of a safety net. But also, I don’t want new friends to find out later on, from my blog or from someone else, and feel bad about offering me a drink, or commenting on how wasted they were another time, or how badly they need a drink.

I just lay it out in the open. And that, is vulnerability.

But really? Sometimes I forget that is vulnerability. Because most of the time my truth is accepted and then we move along. Yes, I challenge peoples notions of an alcoholic, because my rock bottom was hardly as bad as it could have been. But still, it was my rock bottom. And I own that. I own that I had two little children, and that I could sense the changes in me and in my desires and in my entire being that called out and longed for and responded to  and found comfort in alcohol. So before I was hiding in the closet drinking stashed bottles {as I was pretty sure that’s where I was headed...} I stopped. I asked for help. I came clean and owned my whole self.

I feel like that is part of it, challenging people’s ideas of alcoholism. Taking away the shame in saying you have a problem. I think that my story can help someone, so I tell it, and in telling my story, I feel free.

And sometimes vulnerable.

The other week I was at a dinner for my homeschooling co-op. A bunch of us were sitting in one of those round, corner booths at a local chain restaurant. I had met most of the women once or twice, a few just that very night for the first time. Somehow the conversation turned to blogs and I was talking about mine and before I knew it I was laying down my truth on the table and about how I used to blog more about recovery. And there were nods and smiles and as soon as they knew I was not there to judge, all was good. Except for one woman.

She couldn’t get past the fact that I had two little ones. And she asked the question that kicks me in the gut because I still struggle with it.

“How did you nurse your littlest if you were drinking at night?”

I drank at night. I basically clocked out when the kids went to bed. By the time my second baby was six months old I barely nursed her at night. And as a very attached parent  {babywearing, co-sleeping, nursing on demand...} for the entire daylight hours I cannot tell you the guilt I felt for so long about letting my husband shoulder the responsibility with my baby daughter at night time.

“I just didn’t. I held off drinking heavily at night until she was around six months, and then I just didn’t nurse her when I was drinking.”

And the look the woman gave me, I can’t even begin to describe the disdain and shock and then she said “wow” and shook her head. And in that instant all I could do was stand still and say something along the lines of “I had a problem, it was a bad time, but you can’t move forward if you hold onto the past” or something like that. Because in that moment, I was shaking in my boots at the thought that this woman, who barely knew me, thought I was a bad mom.

Can I tell you something? I struggle every day to realize that when I was at my worst point with my alcoholism that I was still a good mom. I made some poor choices, but that does not make me a bad mother.

Realizing that is vulnerability. Saying that is being vulnerable. Owning the bad parts and moving forward with honesty and truth, again... you guessed it... vulnerability.

Ultimately, saying my truth and knowing that others will not agree or understand, and knowing I cannot ever change their minds, that too is vulnerability.

We cannot change the world and open eyes and hearts by being closed ourselves. 

Be vulnerable. 

Take a chance. 

As Brene Brown talks about, Dare Greatly. It is worth it, and while some might not understand it, many others will thank you. 

Your heart will too.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Cancer: Straight Up and One Year Later

I rub my hand absently up and down the scar on my neck; it's a habit I've developed over the past few months.

It's still fairly numb on the surgery site, slightly itchy and sometimes painful.  Not really painful, but little tugs that whisper in my ear: remember me? 

One year ago, I wrote this about finding the lump in my neck during Finn's karate class. Even though I was far from diagnosed with cancer, I knew. I knew in the deepest part of me that it was cancer, and that I was in for a long journey. I had been a hypochondriac for so long, every little ache and pain was cancer in my mind, that I don't think many people took me that seriously, but I knew.

My primary care doc thought it was a lymph node responding to some kind of infection. Even the ENT specialist I went to - even after a needle biopsy that revealed mostly fluid - didn't think it was cancer.

"If you feel that strongly that something's wrong," he said, "we can go ahead and take those tonsils out and see what we're dealing with".

I wanted - with every bone in my body - to say "never mind".  As I've written about here often, I had a lifelong phobia of cancer, way deeper than your average fear of it - and I wanted nothing more than to leave his office with a big PHEW.

I didn't, because I knew.

During the tonsillectomy they found a 4 cm tumor behind my left tonsil, which had spread to my lymph node (giving it the even scarier "Stage 4" diagnosis).   And my cancer journey began.

I wrote my way through the cancer, you can read all about it here if you want, so I'm not here to write about what I went through.

I rub my fingers up and down my scar and I think: that was a hell of a year. 

I always thought cancer was a death sentence, hence my phobia.  That even if you made it to remission with your first diagnosis, that eventually - no matter what - cancer was gonna getcha.

I'm in remission now, and I'm here to tell you that cancer is far from a death sentence.

For me?  For me cancer is a life sentence.

Cancer rattles your cage, tips your priorities and fears and loves and work and kids and joys all around, makes them an unrecognizable jumble.  It shakes you to your core, burns every secure wall you ever built around yourself right to the ground, leaving you feeling naked, exposed and completely at the mercy of others.

For someone like me, who likes to be in control, who is the healer of others' woes (at least in her own mind), who wants to be out there, involved, busy - too busy if I can manage it - standing there shivering without my walls was horrible.

Until it wasn't.

Sometimes you have to burn it all to the ground to build it back up the way it is meant to be, cancer and all.

I stopped living in fear, and started simply living, for perhaps the first time in my life.

I do not mean to imply that the journey was all graceful realizations, deep appreciations of all I have in my life and gratitude.  It wasn't.  I had my fair share of snotty, puffy eyed crying jags, shaking my fists at the heavens and wondering why?

The clouds always parted, though, to reveal things I needed to learn about myself, my life, my priorities.  To teach me to love more deeply, feel more honestly and access hard emotions I'd always kept tucked neatly under my gigantic To-Do list.

Cancer stops you right in your tracks, and forces you to look deeply into yourself, to love yourself enough to let people help you, to lie back and let it all come, to peel your hands off the steering wheel of the life you thought you were driving, but never really were, anyway.

It forced me to make conscious contact with my faith, in a meaningful and deeply personal way.

At first cancer was all about fear and dying.

Until it wasn't,

Until it was all about faith and living.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Feeling Shame for Telling The Truth - Childhood Fears

**A note from Ellie - this piece is part of my new weekly Vulnerability Writing series, Truthful Thursdays. I am looking for more submissions, so if you're interested in submitted a piece please read this post here.  Thank you.

***Submitted by Judy, who blogs at Get Unwrapped

I just finished reading a post by my friend and fellow-blogger Ellie at One Crafty Mother, a post which has spurred me to talk about something that I don't often discuss. Especially not in a public forum.

I must admit I'm a little daunted.  Especially because the first thing that popped into my head was something that I'm still going through and which I don't see any way out of except through it.  (Wow. That sounds familiar.)  But ... there's something that resonates in me with this concept - that truth makes people free, even if it's not pretty. That ugly things like shame and evil lose their power when brought into the light, when their soft underbelly is exposed.  

So ... here goes.

Last fall, I e-published a book about my journey from the bondage of control-freaking and door-mat-itis into a lifestyle of freedom, passion, and purpose. It was a huge deal for me to have made the journey, and I wanted to write about it! 

The response I've received has been rather sporadic, actually - definitely not what I had hoped.  To be sure, I didn't expect to make much money from it; it was something that I wanted to do so that if even one person is helped by it, then it would be worth it. But I had thought I would receive just a smidgen more recognition than the large round of indifference I've gotten.  

Except from one quarter: my birth family and extended family, and anyone who is friends with them.  

For, you see, I did mention a couple of members of my family-of-origin in the book a couple of times.  I did so to highlight the "before" picture and some of the things I went through to be free of the things certain people did and said to me: things which scarred me my whole life long.  I took great care not to make that the focus, though.  I wanted to talk about the "unwrapping" that happened as a result of a day-by-day relationship with God, with myself, and finally with others.  (For more information on the book, see my "About Me" page.)

But by talking about their part in it even once, I broke the cardinal rule that was hammered into my psyche as a child: "What happens here STAYS here - we don't talk about it outside these four walls."  

The truth about my childhood has always been a source of great shame for me.  I always thought - until I was well into my forties - that if anyone knew that I was abused as a child, they'd not want to have anything to do with me.  I'd lose everything.  Fear had me by the throat.  I thought people would blame me.  I thought that my family would disown me.  I thought that I would never be able to look anyone in the eye again.

But for the most part, people outside of my birth family have been kind, if not just tolerant. And I've experienced a great deal of healing from those traumatic experiences. 

Yet, I am still ashamed.  Not for the horrors of what happened to me - God has healed me from that shame - but for telling the truth.  Ashamed for (even though it is the last thing I intended) appearing to be disloyal, ungrateful, vindictive.  For exposing the deception and no longer keeping "our little secret." For being honest ... and being called a liar. For having my motives judged and for not being able to explain to their satisfaction why I would cast such a shadow on the reputation of someone who - to friends and family - is the closest thing to a saint that they've ever seen.   

I wish I could say that it's been resolved. That would be nice, nice and pretty, all tied up in a bow and a "wonderful testimony."  But it hasn't.  This is a process.  I struggle with these feelings of shame, of feeling exposed and vulnerable to what others think, nearly all the time.  There have been many nights - even in the last six months - that I have cried myself to sleep because of the fallout, the pointed fingers, the broken relationships, the constant criticism and the lack of any kind of attempt to understand what I'm trying to accomplish. Grief over lost contact, lost favour, lost relationship, is something I deal with daily. All too often, the weight of shame and the crushing, smothering feelings of loneliness, fear and anxiety overwhelm me. 

I fight to keep in the moment; it is the only way I can survive.

I don't know how to get past this wall of misery.  I don't know if I SHOULD get past it.  I don't know if I'm doing any good to anyone - or if secretly I WANT them to suffer.  (Am I really that horrible? How can I ever look at my reflection in the mirror? When will this end? HOW will it end if it does?)  

I don't know.  I really don't.  I have wrestled with saying goodbye for good, with writing them off, with closing the door on that part of my life and never looking back.  

More shame. More vulnerability.  More feeling like I want to crawl into a hole and disappear.  

I am exposing my soft underbelly here - in the hope that shame has a soft underbelly too.  My friend Ellie says that shame and vulnerability hate the truth; they hate compassion.  

I hope so.  I really DO hope so.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Pile Denial - Friendship, Connection and Trust

This is not a standard recap of my experience at the Creative Alliance conference in Ojai, CA this past weekend.

Not really.

This is a post about friendship, connection and trust.

There is something about this conference  - I don't even want to call it a conference - that defies explanation. I'm hoping that one of the 50 creative women who were there will find the right word for it when they write about their own experience there. Maybe there needs to be a new word to describe the atmosphere, the culture, the vibrating molecules in the air.

It isn't a surprise that when you put fifty creative, intelligent, innovative, talented entrepreneurs and writers under one tent that sparks will fly.  What is surprising is the sparks aren't created by the clanging of pointy elbows jockeying for position, recognition or posturing. The sparks ignite from ideas flying through the air and pinging off words of advice, comfort and wisdom.

Fifty successful (defined not simply by money, not by a long shot), driven women sit in a circle and talk.  Creative types, people who like to be seen and heard and felt.  Women who want to make a mark in the world, make a difference.

You'd think there would be too many Egos to fit in the room tent.

It is a circle of fifty successful, innovative, driven, creative women and we're all rooting for each other.  It's that rare gathering where nobody there wants to see you trip, or fail.

There is a trust, a bond, a something (this is where I need that word, that one that may not exist yet) that allows people to open up, show their insides, share their dreams and fears without fear of judgment or gossip.

The Blue Iguana Inn, Ojai, CA
Because what we find out is we're all the same inside - whether we create a product, deliver a service, make people laugh, or think - whether we're in it for the money or to do a little good in the world (or both), we all want to be heard.  We all want to be validated, encouraged.  And, believe it or not, help correcting our path if something isn't working.

I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it twice now, with my own eyes and heart - women who strive for the very same thing comparing notes, offering resources, high fives or a tissue to dry tears.

It's a huge ocean, and there is room for all of us. There aren't many new ideas, so as we bob around in this tumultuous creative sea, we can separate and watch each other flail, possibly drown, and hope we're the last one standing, the most successful, the first or the only, or we can band together and keep each other afloat so we all make it. Every last one of us.

It's a place of truth-telling; not just of your own dreams and fears, but of constructive criticism, or even outright concern.

Some of these women know me well.  Better than I know myself.  They know my heart, my dreams, what is in the core of me.  I trust them with my life, and in the past year I have quite literally trusted them with my life. They couldn't cure my cancer, but they could lift up my spirit, or tell me they are worried because I don't seem right - too "fine" or too stressed or too depressed or anxious.  When they ask me how I'm doing, they really want to know.

And sometimes, they don't even need to ask.

Over the course of the weekend, several of the people who know me best expressed concern about me and all my manic "I'm FINE-ness".   I didn't seem like the Ellie they knew, because of all the heartfelt sharing we had done so many times.

Instead of turning a blind eye, or chalking it up to stress from cancer, or losing my Dad, or any myriad of practical reasons, they sat me down, looked me in the eye and asked me, "NO - are you REALLY okay."

And the answer - as it is all too often - is that I am okay, and I'm not.  I'm still reeling from the past 14 months of loss and fear and illness.  I want so badly to be totally fine - the old me - that I ignore any cracks or signs that maybe I'm not as far down the path of healing - not just physically, but emotionally.

Friends like these sit you down and ask you the hard questions and watch you squirm and cry and try to talk your way around it and back into "I'm fine" and they don't let up until they've helped you dig right to the core of you again.

We ended up laughing about everything they helped me understand about myself; we usually do end up at laughter, thank God.  As I rattled off all the things on my plate - my continued fear of scans, cancer survivory (which I just turned into a verb), missing my Dad, crazy hormones from chemotherapy and peri-menopause, my daughter's upcoming tonsillectomy surgery and other struggles, I finally sighed and said "I have a big pile, don't I?"

Yes, you do, they said, gently and firmly.  And you still need a lot of help.

"I'm in Pile Denial", I chuckled, not because I don't respect their advice or the fact that I'm still under stress, but because it's true, and I need a little funny with my truth.

Collectively we laughed, cried, stretched, grew, wrote, spoke our truths out loud and in our minds and hearts.

There aren't really words.

I come home hollowed out and filled back up again, grateful for the truth-telling love of my friends, and the new friendship seeds that were planted, just waiting to take root and blossom.

The amazing Sue Bob made a video, which captures this experience better than my words can:

A heartfelt thank you to Lee and Andrea for putting this together, again, and all the women who worked behind the scenes to help them and prop them up, too.  And to everyone who attended, listened, laughed, cracked open and told your truth - thank you.