Monday, January 28, 2013

Body Mine

I exhale slowly, stretching my arms and head forward, as an instructor gently presses down on my lower back.

"Nice," she whispers.

One more deep breath, and she presses my torso lower.  I feel a slight resistance - a brief unwillingness - behind my knees, but as I exhale the tension releases and she presses me lower. 

"Navel to your back, engage your core, keep breathing, listen to your body," says the head yoga instructor. Her voice is like smooth honey, loving but firm, encouraging and compassionate.

Slowly, with a final whisper of encouragement - good - she removes her hands from my back.  Incredibly, my body stays in this position on its own.  I am folded in half, legs out in front of me, my face resting on my knees, hands wrapped around the soles of my feet.

It feels heavenly.


I'm at a yoga workshop, a two hour instructional class where several instructors tend to a handful of students.  They tiptoe around the room, adjust poses, whisper encouragement, give massages to quivering muscles.

Finally, I find myself irrevocably drawn to something good for me:  yoga.  I'm still very much a novice, and I attended this class with a friend because I wanted the corrections, the instruction, so I didn't develop bad habits early.

I didn't expect it to be so comforting, though, a combination of pleasant aching and release of tension.  All yoga classes are like that, but with the individual attention, the massages, and the comforting touches this class takes it to a whole new level.


"Keep listening to your body," she repeats.  "Find that spot just at the edge of comfort, but no further, and breathe into the pose".

My mind drifts inward, taking silent stock of how my body feels.  I feel my heart beat steadily against my upper thighs, my breath hot on my knees as I exhale and stretch down further.  Every cell is humming with life and I feel connected, whole, present.

A while later, during Shavasana, I lie still, my body a dead weight sinking into the floor.  I focus on my breath and feel life rushing in and out of my lungs, through my veins.

I listen to my body, grateful for its sturdy health.  A year ago at this time I was heading into the worst of my cancer treatment.  Radiation had scorched my neck - inside and out - the skin cracked and bleeding.   Chemotherapy left me depleted, weary, sick.  I lay in my bed and fought to stay in the moment. 

A healthy body seemed a long, long way away.

My muscles throb gratefully, and I'm amazed at what they can do.  She says to listen to my body, but for the moment I talk to it, send it a little prayer:  thank you

My mind quiets, and I am at peace.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Recovering Chaos Junkie

I used to hate routine.

In early recovery I realized that I was facing two intertwined addictions:  alcohol and chaos.

I didn't know that I loved chaos until it was gone. I have heard others in recovery speak about this, so I know I'm not the only one.  I was talking to a friend about this the other day, how I used to be, in my words, a "chaos junkie".

When I was at the worst of my alcoholism - when denial had a firm grip on me - I used to feel so sorry for people who did things like get up at 6am to jog, or went to bed early so they could tuck into a good book, or who sipped one glass of wine all night and then STILL walked away from it, unfinished.

I would see well-adjusted people and think: they must be so bored, as I clutched my wine glass a little more tightly.

That's what alcoholism did to me; it made me believe my life of scrambling to keep up with the day-to-day obligations of life, the untangling of half-truths and outright lies, the grey or black-out nights, the nursing morning hangovers and the obsessing over my next drink, was exciting.

Of course, looking back on it now I realize my life was empty, shallow - a mile wide and an inch deep.  I had lots of friends, but I didn't let many people get too close for fear they'd find out my horrible secret.

When I finally embraced recovery because I wanted it for myself - this took months - I began to embrace routine, too.  Eventually I began to need routine; I craved predictability like I used to crave alcohol:  without it I became fearful, timid and reclusive.

I discovered that not only did I not love chaos, but that any new situation made me profoundly uncomfortable. I didn't like calling people that I didn't know; a call to my bank, or a store, would make me nervous.  I wanted to know the system of every place I went in to; I didn't try new restaurants or stores for months.

Basically, I realized that at heart I'm an anxious, shy person.  I felt so brave and confident when I drank - I'd walk in anywhere, talk to anyone.  It was a shock to find out that wasn't really me.

This got better, over time.  I am still hesitant to try new things; going to a new conference, for example, makes me anxious.  A new city, a hotel I've never stayed at before, a party at someone's house who I don't know well, a play group or house party where I don't know many people (what if they lost my reservation?  what if I get lost on the train? what if nobody talks to me?) makes me uneasy, but I do it anyway.  I practice stretching my wings - not too far - but enough so that I don't let fear govern my life.

Mostly, though, I cherish routine.

I never thought I'd feel this way.  In early sobriety I complained so much about how bored I was, mourning my old "exciting" way of life, that a friend joked she was going to get me a tee shirt with a big red number 5 on it (as in ... on a scale of 1 to 10, I loved 1 or 10 and hated 5, thinking it was boring, and all I heard from everyone is that to stay sober I had to embrace 5).

The last few weeks have brought some change into our lives.  My husband got a new job, and we're both excited about the new opportunity, but I had become accustomed to him working eight miles away, home predictably at the same time most nights so we could have family dinner or I could go to a meeting.  Now he's commuting into the city - leaving before I'm awake in the morning and coming home half an hour before the kids have to go to bed.   It's a big adjustment.

Someone has been sick in this house for three weeks, knocking me off my routine.  I missed exercise, yoga and meetings (both cancer support groups and recovery meetings) for almost two straight weeks.

I've been having trouble sleeping - lying awake staring at the ceiling until 2 or 3am every night. I had an undercurrent of anxiety that followed me everywhere.  I got sick, and spent the better part of a week in bed - sick enough to feel poorly but not sick enough to sleep.

The anxiety grew, my monkey mind wouldn't leave me alone.  It took me a while to realize what was out of whack:  routine.

We all got better towards the end of last week, (knock wood) and then the kids had a four day weekend (MLK day and a professional day for teacher training) so once again I couldn't go to my normal activities.

My anxiety peaked on Monday night; I couldn't sleep, had lost my appetite and felt near tears.

Yesterday everyone woke up healthy and trotted off to work and school.  I stared at the four walls of my house, simultaneously soaking up the silence and feeling completely out of sorts.  I paced from room to room, sat down to work on jewelry, got up again to pace some more, meditated ineffectively, tried to read and then it hit me:  get back into your routine, Ellie.

I went for a walk, then did some yoga.  My mind quieted immediately.

I slept like a baby last night.

Today I woke up feeling refreshed and grateful.

After the bus rumbled away, I meditated for half an hour, then went to yoga.  I did some work, and then sat down to write this.  The anxiety is gone.  POOF.

My name is Ellie, and I'm a grateful recovering chaos junkie.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Problem With Being A Liar

According to several news sources, in a recent meeting with Travis Tygart, CEO of the USADA (US Anti-Doping Association), Lance Armstrong said, as he was storming out of the meeting, "You don't hold the keys to my redemption.  I do."

Timothy A. Clary /AFP/Getty Images
The thing is, Tygart does hold the keys to Armstrong's redemption, if there is to be one. We all do. You don't get to pick how people respond to you - whether you are lying or telling the truth.  

Having lived on both sides of the truth (my version and the real version), I know.  I spent a too much of my adult life as a professional liar - as an alcoholic so wrapped up in her addiction I would do and say anything to protect it, especially towards the end, when I was desperate.

I see Lance Armstrong as a desperate man. He spent years basking in adoration, which is an intoxicating feeling, and he got hooked on it.  I see someone so addicted to the version of himself he constructed over the years, that he likely believes his own lies.  That's probably why he was good at lying for a long time; the best liars believe their own stories.  It's the infrastructure of denial: when the lies you tell outwardly  become something you believe inwardly.

One problem with being a liar is that you are faced with two options: tell the truth, after which everyone in your life will know you lied (either outwardly or by omission - both are lies).  Alternatively, you can keep on weaving your web and hope you don't end up entangled in it yourself.  The latter is much easier, until it isn't, because you get to manipulate people's response to you, at least in theory.

Once you 'come clean', confess and tell your truth, you give up that control, which leaves you exposed and vulnerable. It feels like handing the keys to your life to other people, if you're doing it right. If you're telling your truth from the deepest part of you, because you can't live with yourself for one more second.  If you are confessing without any ulterior motive then you're truly surrendering.

If you're confessing with the hopes that you can direct people's response to your confession, you will be sorely disappointed.

Another problem with being a liar and is that once you reveal the truth (or it is revealed for you), nothing that comes out of your mouth means anything.

Any addict or alcoholic who has come clean, told their truth, and surrendered to their disease - and all the wreckage it caused - knows this.  I know this from personal experience.  Words are meaningless; the only thing that matters is your actions.  

You hand your redemption, if there is to be one, over to the people you hurt the most.  For regular people, this is usually family and close friends.

For celebrities of international status, like Armstrong, the circle of people you have hurt - duped, manipulated, lied to - is much wider.  We all feel the sting of what we believed that person to represent (remember Tiger Woods?). In Armstrong's case his reputation, at its height, reached saint-like status.  We put him there, and he let us.  

Dangerous territory indeed, because it took him, somehow, out of the realm of human failure, where we all live ... whether we like it or not.

None of us is an angel or a devil. We are all complicated blends of both.  Armstrong is as human as the rest of us, so I'm not pointing fingers at him, thinking that somehow vilifying him makes me a better person. Quite the contrary, in fact. I think he's just like me, and anyone else who has lived in the prison of their own creation.  

We are a society that likes to build people up to god-like status, and then rub our hands gleefully when they fall. We also like to believe in redemption.  I don't think we can change this mob mentality; it comes with any form of celebrity.  

He was no more deserving of the adoration, when it comes down to it, than he is of vilification.  But we're human, too, so we'll keep doing it.

I believe he became drunk on public admiration, even while doing incredible philanthropic work through LiveStrong, and would do - and say - anything to hang onto it.

I understand this. I have lived there - more than once - in my life. Each time, the keys to freedom from my lies lay not in my words, but in my actions. I don't get to control people's reaction to anything I do, in particular when it comes to hurting them, lying, pretty-ing up, covering up or otherwise presenting a less-than-truthful version of myself.  

Redemption comes, if it is to be, when you throw up your hands and give up what will happen to you.  

Otherwise known as surrender.

Being contrite is nice, flowery confessions are lovely, but the real proof is in actions.  

Lance Armstrong thinking he controls his own redemption doesn't bode well, in my opinion, for the version of his future that he wants so badly.  To me his behavior, so far, is the opposite of surrendered; he still thinks he controls the outcome.

Truth with contingencies (like love me because I told the truth!) rarely works.  I'm sorry doesn't even work; not for liars, but it's a good start.  

I'll be curious to hear what he says to Oprah. He wants to get back into elite sports again - to compete in elite triathlons. If he's confessing to get something in return, I hope he doesn't get it, because he won't learn a thing.  He needs to fall farther, until the only motive for truth telling is to relieve himself of the burden of lying.

I say all this because I am a liar.  And a truth teller. We are all both.  

I have experienced the freedom of surrender,  taken my will back, and then surrendered it again. And again. And again. It's constant work, and nobody does it perfectly.  Each time I choke out my truths without wishing for any certain outcome, I feel freer, lighter.  

I'm not rubbing my hands hoping he falls; to do so would be astonishingly hypocritical.  He doesn't owe me anything, not really, but I still feel duped on some visceral level.   What I wish for him is freedom from the burden of control, of self-centered protestations and lies.  

Sunday, January 13, 2013


It's a quiet Sunday night; we're sitting in front of a roaring fire, watching the Patriots in the playoffs.  My mind keeps drifting away, thinking about how quickly the days pass.

The kids sputter in and out of the room, blurting out non-sequiturs:  Mom, I Googled 'what is Greta's future' and it said 'no responses found!'. I am imagining what it would be like if dogs could play soccer. How many seconds in a whole day?   

This afternoon I took the kids to the movies. Finn is still young enough that he wanted to snuggle in my lap.  Greta even rested her head on my shoulder.  Bliss.

As we left the theater, we ran into some boys from her class.  "Hi Greta!" one yelled enthusiastically.  "You're so TALL!"  She blushed, uncertain whether she's been complimented or not.  As we walk through the drizzling rain in the parking lot, the boys' voices echoed behind us:  Bye, Greta! Bye Grrrrrrrrrrreta!  See you tomorrow in class! 

Her cheeks blushed a fierce reddish pink, but she was smiling.  I knew better than to say anything about it all.

As we clamber into the car, Finn asked me, for the thousandth time, 'how many days away is Tuesday?'   He has a play date with two classmates - girls - and he is beyond excited.  He seems to be a girl magnet, probably because of his gentle manner and easy smile.  

Yesterday he told me he likes play dates with girls because "they don't try to make me feel badly, like they are better than me at everything."

I didn't really have a response to that, so I hugged him.

I am ramping up my yoga practice, trying more challenging classes.   Today my body is achy all over; I'm feeling muscles I never knew I had.  It's a good hurt, though, because it reminds me I'm getting stronger.  This time last year I was growing weaker and weaker as radiation and chemotherapy started to take their toll.

I feel a rush of gratitude every time my muscles burn.  

The other day Finn said to me, out of the blue: I'm glad you're here, Momma.

I don't know if he knows exactly what he meant by that, but it doesn't matter.  My heart soared and I blinked back tears as I said "Me too, buddy. Me too".

The Patriots are winning.  The fire is warm, and the kids are laughing.

Life is good.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Important Announcements for People Struggling with Drinking, AND The People Who Love Them

I have two important bits of business/announcements today.

I know not everyone who reads One Crafty Mother struggles with addiction, but many people read who are touched by addiction in some way, through a loved one or friend or parent.

I'm looking for help spreading the word about my new site, Shining Strong, which for now is operating as an umbrella organization for Crying Out Now, The Bubble Hour and One Crafty Mother.  The proceeds from my two jewelry stores: Shining Stones and Two Little Birds already go to fund to the mission of Shining Strong, and they are part of this umbrella organization as well.

I am in the process of creating a not-for-profit organization - Shining Strong - to make the collective missions of all these websites and companies an official not-for-profit that can hopefully seek additional sources of funding, down the road, to help maintain and grow Shining Strong, and as a result reach more women who are struggling from this disease and think they are alone and stuck.

So, there is a method to all my creative madness, lately.  That's the grand plan.

I made an information/promotional video for Shining Strong. The intended audience is women who are still struggling with drinking and need the support these communities can provide, and I'm hoping some of you will share this video.

Even if you don't struggle with addition, or never have, you really and truly never know who you may be helping. It could be someone you know well who is suffering in silence. Did you know that 15% of people in the US alone are considered "problem drinkers"?  That is more than 1 in 10.  It's a chronic, progressive and fatal disease (if left untreated) that very few people want to talk about. Shining Strong's mission is to chip away at that stigma and fear, and create communities for healthy, open and judgment free discourse and support.

Actually, people who don't struggle with drinking are probably better candidates to share the video, because people who do are too scared to share and reveal their secret, because of the effing stigma. You all know how I feel about the stigma.

I get a lot of feedback from people who love an alcoholic who tell me the posts and pod casts on Crying Out Now and The Bubble Hour (and here) help them understand addiction better as well.

So if you'd share this video, I'd be very grateful (and keep reading after the video, because I have one last announcement). Just share the link to this post, or click on the "share" button on the video itself - super easy and fast!  Also - I know it looks from the preview like Crying Out Now's anniversary video, and you will see some familiar faces, but it's a brand new video:

My second announcement is an important Bubble Hour episode that will air this Monday, January 14th at 5:30pm EST, 4:30pm Central and 2:30pm PST.  If you can't listen at this time, it will be available in iTunes and The Bubble Hour's website right after the show airs. You can find a link to this episode (and more information about our featured guest)  by clicking here.

The Bubble Hour is honored to have Sarah Allen Benton, author of "Understand the High Functioning Alcoholic" as a featured guest.  She is a tremendous resource to people struggling with drinking - especially people who haven't experienced many (if any) losses from their drinking.  She is ALSO a tremendous resource to loved ones who are concerned about someone's drinking, so this is a show that I encourage anyone who is worried about a loved one or friend to listen to.  We hope to have the live call-in function available for this show (we're testing this capability tonight) and the number to call is at the top of the show page, which you can find by clicking here.   There is also a chat function (at the bottom of the show page; obviously both the chat and call-in function only apply while the show is live), and you need to register with BlogTalkRadio to participate in the chat (quick and easy and you can use any username you want).

As always, the show will also be available on The Bubble Hour's web page and on iTunes immediately after it airs.  To subscribe to the Bubble Hour on iTunes, click this link here.  

To learn more about Sarah and her incredible work, please visit her website by clicking here.

Please help me spread the word about these valuable resources, by sharing this post, the video, or the link to the BlogTalkRadio show page for Sarah's show (again, you can find that by clicking here).

You will be helping more people than you can possibly imagine, with just a few clicks and shares on your Facebook or Twitter pages, and I appreciate it so much.

Thank you!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Why It's Hard, And Why It Isn't

Thank you, everyone, for your supportive, compassionate and encouraging comments on my post yesterday.

Even though I believe so strongly that in order to combat the stigma of alcoholism we need to chip away at it through the power of truth, story and example, clicking "publish" on that one was the hardest thing I've done on this blog.

I'm not immune to thoughts of insecurity as it pertains to the stigma.  I made the choice to be open about my addiction and recovery, and I did it knowing that if I was going to be honest, it had to be all the way, even if I relapsed one day.

Far easier to have the ideological thought in my head than to face the reality.  I knew that I didn't have to be public about it until I was ready, and I wanted to use this as an excuse to perhaps never write about it.  I admit I didn't want to, that I fought it, and it took the prompting of people who know me well to open my heart and mind up to the idea that I could write about it someday.  I just thought that someday was going to be further off.  I woke up yesterday morning and knew it was the day, for reasons I don't have to understand.

The comments you leave supporting me help countless others who are reading, and seeing firsthand that it IS possible to get help and encouragement if you're honest first to yourself (this can be the hardest part) and then to others. It's the community that supports me on days I don't think I'm going to make it. It's the community that welcomed me back from my fall, and if I didn't have that community to go back to, clear my slate and my conscience with the truth, I don't know that I would have made it.

The stigma is still out there, strong as ever. After a hard post like that, I have to put my chin up and go out and do my normal activities and try not to wonder who has read it, whether or not they are judging me. Recovery starts from the inside out; if I let other people's opinions of me control how I feel about myself, it will lead me right back to the darkness.

Then yesterday, the news story of the man who was duct taped by fellow plane passengers to his chair because he was drunk and disorderly (click on the link to read one of the stories) broke with this viral picture:

He was, apparently, drinking the duty free alcohol he bought after passing through security, the seat back pocket in front of him full of nips. After four hours, he because violent, disorderly and threatening.   The picture above is the result.

Passengers declined to comment about the incident after disembarking, and so no charges will be made against the man (who is named in several news articles).

The thing is? I identify with this man.  The only difference between him and me is circumstance.  When I was active, this could have happened to me (I actually had the thought that getting your booze in the duty free shop was pretty clever... other alcoholics in recovery (and out of it) will have had this thought, too, when they read the story).  This is what an untreated alcoholic look like.  Most untreated alcoholics suffer silently in their homes or on bar stools, and when something "juicy" like this happens, and the hurtful comments start, all the silent sufferers go a little more quiet.

I don't know where to begin, really.  What would I have done if I were on that plane?  If I had witnessed this?  I don't know.  Mob mentality is a scary thing.  I do wonder about the people who were supposed to be in charge, what the rules are, etc.  But I wasn't there and I'll never know.

Reading this story in several news sources, something scares me more than the way this man was treated.  The comments about "drunks", "booze hounds" and "getting what he deserved".  There was even one police authority who was quoted in a reputable news source as calling the man a "typical drunk".

Alcoholism is a disease, and its primary symptoms are behavioral.  I'm not saying we excuse the behavior - there have to be consequences - but I long for the day when the mob mentality doesn't collectively rub its gleeful hands together and lump all drunks into one big horrible stereotype.  It's no better than any other form of bullying or racism.

I see a sick man who needs a lot of help in this picture. I see the system built to protect unruly passengers from themselves and each other failing.  I see people putting him down to feel better about themselves.

It all makes me sad, and it's why hitting publish is hard.

There is so much hope, though. Hope through your comments, through the supportive community evolving at Crying Out Now and the Booze Free Brigade.  Through the brave stories women are telling on The Bubble Hour.  These are all shining examples of people busting through the shame to help themselves heal, and to show others that the stereotype is wrong, that alcoholism can strike anyone.

Through the power of story and identification, we can help people who have never been touched by alcoholism - directly or indirectly - understand this disease, humanize it, put real people behind it.

This is why I'll always hit "publish".  This is why your comments are so important. You are on the front line of helping people get past the stigma and shame and get help.

Thank you.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Scary, But Healing, Truth

I write this with some trepidation and no small amount of fear in my heart.

I've been waiting to see if the moment would come when I was ready to talk about this - a little - and was open to that moment never coming at all.

But, much to my surprise, the moment seems to be here.  I don't know why. I don't control these things anymore; that much I have accepted.

And the reality is that this isn't anyone's business but my own, my family's and my recovery community.

But after praying on it, asking for advice, getting some advice I first didn't want to hear and have absorbed and thought about long and hard, I've decided to write- a little -about something that could shock or even hurt some of you.  I needed to be ready for that reaction.  I needed to remind myself of the advice I give on a daily basis - that your truth can never be wrong, because it's yours, and you are under no obligation to share it with anyone who isn't safe.

Once I put this out there I don't control where it goes, but it has gotten to the point where I feel enough past it to be secure in putting it out there, because it is what it is, anyway, and now that I've done a lot of work on myself and come to terms with it, I feel hypocritical hiding my truth out of pride.

Last year, some time after finding the lump in my neck, I had a relapse.  It was brief, and terrifying, and almost took me right down.  I am lucky to have the supportive family I have, the recovery network I have, and the ability to know what to do:  march into a safe, sacred circle of fellow alcoholics in recovery and start again.  

I am not going to share the details -when, where, how, why - those are reserved for my most intimate recovery community.  I have learned I don't have to share every gory detail to still be truthful.  I'm not going to say how much time I have now, because in order for me to come back from this relapse I had to focus on the fact that we all - every one of us - only have 24 hours.  A 24 hour reprieve from the obsession and compulsion of alcoholism.

I will share one very important anecdote, though, for those of you filled with shame (especially mothers) who keep relapsing, and the guilt is keeping you stuck.   Greta knew about this relapse - we talked about it - and she said, "You've always said it's not the mistake you make, it's what you do about it that matters, Mom."

THAT's recovery.  That is a kid who doesn't have a perfect Mom who works a Perfect Program (there is no such thing) and is immune to relapse - none of us are.  But that is a kid who has learned that mistakes are part of life -without them we don't grow - and it's how we respond to them that matters.  Do we deny and stuff them?  Or do we face the hard truths and grow?

I made other mistakes along the way - some say to me "after THAT year you had?  Who could blame you?"

I'm not looking to assign blame or make excuses; I'm looking for the truth, and that fine line between what is everyone's business, what is my business, and what is meant to be kept sacred in my recovery community.

I can see now why that relapse had to happen.  I was in for a long, hard road, and I had to surrender to my disease in a more meaningful way - in other words I had to scare myself silly - because over the coming months I also had to surrender to fear, anxiety, mortality and control, as I lay in my bed, sick and wondering if I was going to make it, and fight it or let it go.  Letting it go brought peace.  I think the relapse reminded me of my powerlessness over so much in life.

I am fearful of judgment, of course I am. I have a massive case of "who do you think you are's", and I'm scared of my community's reaction.  But not that scared.  Not scared enough to finally get this truth out there, and move on, one day at a time.

I write about this here mostly to  help myself, first.  Secrets keep me sick, and I'm not ashamed of the relapse anymore (that was months of work).  What does make me ashamed is hiding the truth.

By telling the truth I'm doing the healthiest thing for me, while still trying to keep some boundaries firmly intact.

I'm grateful to all of you for all the support you have always shown me - I realize that some of you may feel duped and not want to offer that support anymore. That could be a consequence, and I'm ready for it.  People pleasing is one of the things that lies at the heart of my disease, and truth is the antidote to that demon.  Saying my truth and being okay with not being universally liked or respected is healing for me. And terrifying; I won't say it isn't.

No matter how this post is received, I am grateful - beyond words - for my recovery, for the lessons I've learned over the past year, for my family, friends, and for YOU.