Sunday, February 24, 2013

Dumb Ways To Die (a.k.a How To Survive Day 9 of February Staycation)

Day 9, February staycation, 2013.  What better way to pass the time than to make a music video?  Now you all can have this song stuck in your heads like I have for the past nine days.

You're welcome.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I'm Not Popular

Wikipedia defines popularity this way: a social phenomena that dictates who or what is best liked.

Simple, right?  No so much.

Like so many other concepts - wealthy or good looking are examples - it is essentially impossible to be popular. Why? Because no matter what there is always someone wealthier, better looking or more popular than you.

I've been mulling over popularity recently, after a conversation with a friend about some cliquish, mean behavior she witnessed.  She wasn't the target - just about everyone else not present in the room was - but it made her fearful because she realized that when she isn't in the room she's probably a target, too. She was fearful, hurt, and mulling over what makes a true friend.

I have many friends. I'm really blessed. I no longer think about popularity, ever, and it used to be something that was more important to me than I like to admit.

The irony is that when I thought about popularity a lot I had very few friends. Now that I don't think about it anymore I have many, many friends. And by friends I mean people who are so interwoven into my life they are like oxygen to me, not people I chat with in the supermarket aisle.

Before, I had a mission to be liked, not just by close friends but all the supermarket aisle people, too. And not just liked, but liked best.

When I was drinking, and in early sobriety (which I think of as my whole first year), being liked was the most important thing to me. I would shape-shift to become who you wanted me to be, virtually guarantying you would think I was great, because I would remind you of you.

I realized that what my friend was witnessing with the Mean Girls (and, yes, they are Mean Girls even though they are middle aged women) was the insatiable urge to be liked best.  One way to be sure you're liked best is to make sure other people aren't liked as much as you.  Putting others down to inflate your own ego is the cheap, easy way to perceived popularity.

It's not real popularity, because as I said above real popularity doesn't exist. Stepping on the heads of others to put your place a little higher is a fleeting thing, because you're surrounded by people who are just waiting for their turn to step on you.

As I look around my life today I'm surrounded by friends that not only wouldn't ever step on me, they would do anything to boost me up. I'm the same way with them.

This doesn't mean we don't disagree, or argue, or feel hurt. That happens, not often, but it does happen.  The beauty is that we mend our rifts, soothe our wounds, and in the process strengthen our bond.

I knew I was finally growing out of my need to be popular when, a few years ago, I ran head-first into a wall of criticism.

There were people out there who didn't like me - me! - the person who had bent over backwards to never hurt a fly and to be kind and giving no matter what!  OH, the righteous indignation, the burning hurt and shame.  Were my critics right? Did I need to change what I say - who I am - to be liked?  

Slowly, and with the help of dear friends in recovery, I learned the kind, gentle person I believed myself to be was a fraud. I was no better than the hurtful people, because I wasn't showing my true self to them. Or, as it turns out, to myself.  I was unfailingly polite, friendly and kind, even as I grit my teeth in the face of horrible behavior.

I learned to be okay with people disagreeing with me, with what I stand for. I stopped taking not being liked personally. I realized people can not like me, and that my life goes on.  My critics make me think. I listen to what they have to say, and try to remain teachable.  As long as they aren't being insulting. I stop listening when insults start. 

They can only step on me if I let them.

Being your true self in all matters is hard. Impossible, really. I get caught up in gossip, sometimes. I fall victim to the 'nobody-likes-me's'.  When I'm with a bunch of people who are gossiping, I don't puff out my chest indignantly and tell them to stop, or cover my ears.  Sometimes I'll walk away, but not always.  Sometimes I even participate.  I tell myself I'm not doing it in a hurtful way, but of course it's almost always hurtful.

I don't get a feeling of superiority from it. I don't do it to be popular, because I've ridden that roller coaster before and I know it leads nowhere.  My goal is to avoid cliquish, gossipy behavior altogether.

There is no reason not to aim high.

It's funny how the Mean People have such pull, though, you know?  How quickly we can be drawn in by their vitriol.  How easily doing the Right Thing feels prudish, dorky, awkward.

Being in recovery has ruined my ability to be petty, though. Not that I never do it, but I can't do it with impunity anymore. I try to surround myself with people who are secure enough in themselves that they don't step on others to raise their own position. For the most part, I'm successful.  But I live in the world, and Mean Happens.

All I can do is cultivate an awareness of my motives, and strive to be a better person in the future, even as I know I won't ever do it perfectly.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


"It's okay, Sweetie," I whisper, bending over to kiss her forehead.  "I'm here, and you're going to be okay."

Greta chokes back a sob, tears streaming down her cheeks. "Okay Momma," she says, looking at me with wide, scared eyes.

She's home sick.  Because of the blizzard and the subsequent power outage, we've been trapped in this house for six days.

School reopened on Tuesday, and I woke with a spring in my step, happy to have power back and the kids in school.  We'd been on top of each other without electricity or showers for four days, and I was eager to get back to the routine.

I found Greta quietly crying in her bed, holding her head.  "It hurts," she said.  "Everything hurts."

Shhhhh, I said, my heart sinking. It's okay. Just go back to sleep.

I shuffled Finn off to school and mentally rearranged my day.  It's probably just her sinuses, I thought.  Things will go back to normal tomorrow.

That was Tuesday.  Today is Thursday and she's still suffering from crippling waves of nausea, headaches, heartburn and body aches.

She woke up this morning with bright eyes, telling me she finally felt better.

I smiled to myself as I listened to her giggle with Finn while they prepared for school.  I hadn't heard that sound in far too long. 

Everything was fine until she put her backpack on and went out to wait for the bus. I saw her wincing, holding her head, and she turned to me and said, "Oh no, Momma.  It's BACK" and burst into tears.  "I thought I was all better," she sobbed.

She rested her head on my shoulder, shoulders heaving.  "But I WANT to go to school!" she cried.  "What do I do?"

I placed my hand lightly on her forehead, felt the heat rising from her body.  I bit back a heavy sigh and said, "Head on inside, honey.  Obviously you can't go to school yet."

This made her cry louder, and she stumbled indoors, flopped onto the couch and dissolved into hysterics.

I sat in the cold sunshine outside waiting for the bus to pick up Finn, feeling close to tears myself.  Irritation welled up inside.  I just want to have a normal day, I thought.  I'm behind on everything. This is so aggravating.

Finn spun around in the driveway, laughing.  "Hey Momma!" he yelled.  "Happy Valentine's Day!"

My heart lurched: Valentine's Day?  We've been so discombobulated I totally forgot.

Valentine's Day. I'm transported back one year to the day.  At this time one year ago I was staggering  to the car, heading in to the city for my very last radiation treatment. Nausea and searing pain were the norm.  A good day meant that I was able to sit up in bed and talk to my kids.  I hadn't eaten solid food in weeks, getting nutrition exclusively through my feeding tube. I weighed 129 pounds - about what I weighed in 8th grade - and my neck was a flaming, oozing red sore both inside and out.

I remembered with a rolling feeling in my gut how scared I was that day.  The idea of being locked into that head mask one more time, to submit to the poisonous, healing rays, was almost too much to bear.  Almost.

Finn laughed and waved to me before he got on the bus, and I waved back with tears in my eyes, grateful for the warmth of the sun's rays on a cold day and the feeling of my sturdy, healthy body.


I wipe her damp bangs off her forehead and rub her sore back.

"Thank you, Momma," she whispers, her eyes closing.  "Thank you for taking care of me."

I rest my head on the pillow beside her.  "That's what I'm here for," I smile.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Story of Us - Friendship, Alcoholism and Recovery

We stamp our feet in the chilly drizzling rain, casting quiet, furtive glances at our watches.  It's almost time.

Every detail is planned out, family and friends are gathered, and we're only minutes away.  My stomach aches, churning with anxiety and anticipation. This part always feels hypocritical to me, even though I know we're acting out of pure, undiluted love.

"It's time," says Amanda, and we all clamber into cars and make the short drive up the street.


We're heading to an intervention for our friend Lisa, and my mind is swirling with a mix of hope and fear.  Inevitably, my thoughts turn back to three years before, when Amanda stood grim-faced on my front porch with a determined set to her jaw.  She was there to tell me I had a problem and needed to stop drinking.  Amanda - my best friend and long time drinking buddy - telling ME to stop?  She was supposed to be on my side.  It took me a couple of rehabs to understand her firm stance about my drinking meant that she was completely, utterly on my side. Because of the seed she planted in my head that day three years before, my journey towards sobriety began.

The cars pull into the driveway, and we all step out into the rain and head up to the house. Amanda will lead the intervention, which is a total surprise for Lisa. Interventions don't work if they are anticipated, but it still feels invasive, wrong.  I know it's not wrong, that our best hope lies in equal parts strength, stealth, love and consequences, but I wish there was another way.

Lisa opens the door and her mouth drops into a little "O" of surprise.  What is this, she wants to know, of course.  We silently march past her into the living room, clutching our papers that hold words of love and determination.  Realization dawns on her face, and tears spring to her eyes.


As Amanda explains the obvious - why we're all here - my mind wanders again, this time to exactly eight months ago, when I received a frantic call early one Tuesday morning.  It was Lisa on the line, and she sounded breathless, panicked.  "Amanda's in trouble," she said, and went on to explain that my best friend had been arrested for a DUI, then released and was home now and in big trouble.

"It's time," said Lisa.  "We've got to act now."

And act we did.  The next day, a similar circle of concerned faces, sitting around a tiny table at Dunkin' Donuts, waiting for the appointed time.  The same questions of doubt:  is this the right thing?  She doesn't know we're coming and it feels so wrong, followed by my mumbled assurances that this was the only way.  I was faking confidence.  Inside I was scared to death.

Amanda opened her door, took one look at the little assembly of family and friends and said, "Okay. I'll go."

We all sagged in relief, but I knew her journey was just beginning.  Going to rehab is a critical first step, but the road is long and rocky and my heart ached for all she had yet to face.

As I dropped her off at the rehab the next day, I pressed a coin into her hand.  Etched onto it was the serenity prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

You can do this, I whispered into her ear, as we hugged. 


I glance over at Amanda, sitting upright on a stool, lovingly but firmly asking each person to read their prepared words.  My sober sister, strong and shining with love.

Lisa listens, silently, with tears streaming down her cheeks.  I sit on the edge of my seat, scrutinizing her face.  Will she go?  

As the last family member finishes her statement, Lisa slumps just a little, contemplative.  Will go you go?  someone asks, I don't know who, my heart is beating too loudly in my ears.

"Yes," she whispers, then asks after the dog, work and other logistical things.

"All taken care of," says Amanda, smiling, as we rush to hug Lisa.  I squeeze my arms around her and long for a crystal ball, wishing so much that our embrace and love were enough.  It's just the beginning, though.  Like with me and Amanda, Lisa's road stretches out in front of her, full of twists, turns, unforeseen obstacles and joys.

Please God, help her stay on the path, I think to myself, sending up a silent prayer.


A few days later, Amanda drops Lisa off at the same rehab both Amanda and I went to.  Now it is Lisa's turn to begin a new life.  Amanda pulls her into an embrace, and presses the coin into Lisa's hand.

"Ellie gave me this coin right before I walked through those doors," Amanda says, as she gazes steadily into Lisa's eyes.  "I have carried it with me every day since. It has given me great strength and courage and now it's time for me to give it to you."

Someday, Amanda prays, Lisa will pass it along, too.  Because that's how it works.


About a year later, on a stunning August day, Lisa, Amanda and I are laughing in the sunshine.  We're sober, happy, relaxed and dangling our feet into Amanda's pool.

We've come from a meeting, where together we presented Amanda with her two year sobriety medallion.

"Who would have thought?" says Lisa, smiling her electric smile.

"Yes," I beam back at her.  "Who would have thought, indeed."

"Yes, who would have thought life could be this good," Amanda says, stretching contentedly in her lawn chair.  "So, so good."