Thursday, May 30, 2013

Routine Scan is an Oxymoron

I lie on the cool plastic table, head strapped down,  an IV piercing my arm.  Moments later the contrast dye courses through my veins, bringing with it the now-familiar feeling of burning throughout my core.

"Hold still, don't swallow," chirps the pleasant voice over the sound system.

What is it about someone telling me not to swallow that makes me NEED to swallow?

The CT scan machine clicks and whirs, and I slide slowly through its dilated eye.  Usually I close my eyes, but today I opened them, observing with an odd detachment the lens zooming by, photographing my insides slice by slice.

This machine is here to help me, I think, repeating the mantra over and over.

I'm at the hospital for my 6 month head and neck CT scan.  "Routine Scan" it's called, although for anyone with cancer there is never, ever such a thing as a routine scan.

More clicks and whirs and I slide slowly out of the machine.  As always, I scrutinize the technician's face for any sign of trouble.  Is her brow a little furrowed?  Maybe she just has gas.  She is a pro, though, and quickly smiles and tells me to head on up to my doctor's office for initial results.

As I sit, and sit, and sit in the dreading head-and-neck oncology waiting room, I peruse my fellow soldiers.  Many of them are in obvious discomfort physically - raw sutures, drainage bags, yellowed bandages, missing parts of ears and jaws and necks.

Some, like me, look normal, and I know their discomfort is tucked neatly away on the inside.

After fifteen minutes of waiting, I am thoroughly convinced there is a team of specialists hovered around my scan slides, scratching their heads and saying, "we've never seen it spread this fast before ... you did say you got all the cancer?"

Five more minutes and I'm a certifiable wreck, although I'm a pro at this now, too, so you'd never know it by looking at my face, which reflects only boredom.

Finally I'm called into the office, and the doctor doesn't waste any time to say the scan looked good.  My shoulders fall about a foot, released tension flowing off me in waves.  He tells me the scans still need to go to radiology for further screening and to call next week if I haven't heard from him.

My shoulders inch up just a tad -- not quite scott free, but almost.

He scopes my nose and my throat and feels the scar tissue on my neck.  I still have no feeling down the whole left hand side of my head and neck where the surgery was.  He tells me this is "routine".

Snapping off his gloves he says, "Looks good.  We'll have another routine scan in 6 months, but I think this time we'll include your chest area, just to be sure."

I nod mutely, swallowing the "WHAT DO YOU MEAN? JUST TO BE SURE OF WHAT?" that threatens to burst out of my mouth.  He means just to be sure there isn't any cancer there.  Why belabor the point?

I cast one more glance around the waiting room as I schedule my next appointment.  It has filled up some -- a woman on a stretcher, her young son holding her hand.   A woman with both eyes bandaged shut.  A man with oxygen flowing in through his nostrils and half his jaw missing.

My fellow fighters.

To us, there is never going to be another "routine" medical exam again.  Ever.   I lean into this knowledge, resist the urge to run away from it, screaming.

It's just how it is, now.  Unroutine is our new routine.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


Four days ago she looked up at me with those big brown eyes, so much like my own, and said, "there's something wrong with my brain, Momma".

I leaned down, pressed my forehead against hers, and closed my eyes.  "There is nothing wrong with your brain, sweetheart. It's your anxiety talking to you. I know just how you feel."

A sob hitched in her chest and a tear rolled down her cheek. She was slumped on the front porch, hair falling around her face. She's been through a lot in the past few weeks, poor kid. My heart breaks for her, even as my own anxiety ratchets up in my chest.

"Will it ever go away?" she asked, quietly.

I hesitated. I have struggled with anxiety since I was about her age - 10 years old.  I'm almost 44, and it's still a monkey on my back.  What to say?  That this may be a lifelong struggle? That there are so many tools at her disposal, but that her brain is hardwired this way?  That it's not her fault? 

In the end, I opted for the simple truth.  "It will get so much better. I promise."

She worries about just about everything, from missing the bus to something falling out of the sky and squashing her flat.

She wants to be perfect, obsessing about homework and grades, twisting herself up into a tizzy over the simplest of things.

It's hard for me to know what to do; it's so close to me.   I self-medicated with alcohol because of anxiety for so many years.  My gut grows cold at the thought of my daughter slipping into the same fate.

It's hard to know where the line is, between truthfulness and reassurance.  I aim for the "not asked, not answered" philosophy, attempting not to give her more than she can absorb.

But she's an old soul, this kid, and she can absorb a lot.

A few weeks ago she fractured her foot, requiring crutches and a boot.  A few days later she had a suspicious mole removed, with the scary diagnosis of "moderate to severe indication of melanoma".  Over the past two years she weathered the sudden death of my father and my own battle with cancer.

She's too old for platitudes now. I can't simply tell her everything will be okay, because she knows I can't guaranty that.  My Mom Superpowers dim as she grows older, my very-much-human skin showing through that shiny veneer of All-Knowingness.

A few days ago the stitches were removed and the "all clear" was given on the suspicious cells.  It was almost melanoma; we caught it in time.  The boot came off yesterday.  Her smile is coming with more frequency, and I realize how much I've missed it.

This morning there were no tears.  She spun happily in the driveway, waiting for the bus, prattling on about a video they are shooting at school... a "Harlem Shake" spin-off.  She gets to wear an Afro wig.  She finds this infinitely hysterical.

Glimpses of the little girl that still resides in her shine through, and I'm grateful.

Almost melanoma. Almost a young woman. Almost.

But not quite.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

On Living.

This story touched me so much I have to share it here.

Please watch this video when you have 25 minutes to focus, listen and absorb.  And you may want to have tissues at the ready.

But this kid? He's going to teach you about living, not dying.

"Try and make people happy.  Maybe you have to learn it with time, maybe you have to learn it the hard way, but as long as you learn it, you're going to make the world a better place".

~Zach Zobiech 

As as person in long term recovery from cancer and alcoholism, I have my share of days where I shake my fists at the heavens and ask, "why me?"

Those are not good days. I have zero control over the fact that I have these two life long diagnoses.  Sometimes I get filled with fear, anger and regret.  I wallow in self-pity.  

And when I get this way?  I'm more miserable.  Little by little, I'm learning to lean into the hardships - actually, more than that - I'm learning to embrace them.  I learn so much more from my difficulties.  Without them, I wouldn't have most of the blessings I have in my life today.  And I have so many blessings. 

I'm at a point now where I can say that I'm grateful for cancer. I'm grateful for alcoholism.  Because without these experiences I would forget to treasure life.  

Of course this doesn't mean I treasure every second of every day.  I don't think anyone can do that, can they?  But instead of playing the no-winner game of "what if?" or "why me?", when I'm able to lean into emotional pain, to wrap my arms around the Suffering Me and tell her I love her ... then I'm not owned by pain (thank you, Courtney, for our conversation last night that gave me this beautiful image).  It simply becomes part of what makes me, well, me.

Thank you, Zach Zobiech, for your light, your life and your example.  

You live on and on and on in all the people you touched.  Including me.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Alcoholism's Sister Addiction - FOOD

Last night we did a Bubble Hour episode about denial, and it got me thinking.

We all experience denial in one form or another - arguably on a daily basis. The show talked about how denial is at the root of alcoholism and drug addiction.

But alcohol and drugs are not the only substances that are addictive.

Alcholism's sister addiction is FOOD.

I've been (am) addicted to both.  It took me a long time to get my mind around my food addiction; I didn't consider it an addiction.  We all have to eat, after all, and if I made a poor food choice here and there, so what? It's not like I'm going to crash my car into a tree after too many brownies.

The feelings are the same, though, with both addictions.  When you reach for something outside yourself for comfort, when you have the who-gives-a-damn-anyway attitude about doing something that you know is harming yourself but you just don't care. When you're faced with feelings of self-loathing or remorse after a binge.  When you tell yourself that it's not that bad... that's addiction.

Food addiction is another silent epidemic, and people who struggle with it also struggle with stigma.  Obese people, or overweight people, are met with the same disdainful attitudes, the questions of "well, why don't you just stop?" that alcoholics face.  Have you ever eyed an overweight person in line at McDonald's (the same line you're standing in, by the way) and thought: thank God I'm not her.

I have. Even as my mouth watered in anticipation of a greasy, carb riddled meal. I wasn't that overweight, after all. My denial allowed me to ignore my emotional addiction.  A healthy meal would have sufficed if I was simply hungry.  That McDonald's meal was aimed at something deeper, more insidious, that aching black hole of want.

Three years ago I lost 65 lbs, and got down to a healthy weight for the first time since I gave birth to my daughter.  Then I got cancer and got scary-skinny, and once I was in remission and the feeding tube was removed I had to gain weight.

The party was on.

I ate whatever I wanted to, telling myself that it was important to have that chocolate cake, those Tootsie Rolls, because I needed the calories. I did this until I was over my healthy weight - just how over I chose to ignore.  I denied it away into the corner of my brain where I tuck unwanted truths.

When I couldn't button the pants that had slid on easily for months, I knew I couldn't keep going, that I had to eat better and exercise.

Knowing this was easy; doing something about it wasn't.

I found myself in the throes of a food addiction.  That may seem dramatic, but it's not. Because of my experience getting sober, I recognized the symptoms: obsession, inability to stop myself, rationalizing poor choices.  Physical symptoms when I cut out things like processed sugar.  I would beat myself up, wondering why I wasn't strong enough to just stop.  I'd last a few days, and then have a hard day - or go to a fun event - and the food would just speak to me.  Just like alcohol used to (and still does, sometimes).

I thought I was about 10 lbs over my healthy weight.  When I finally screwed up the courage to step on the scale, I was 20 lbs overweight.  I was crushed, but my brain said "screw it, food is the last treat you have left - you deserve to eat what you want. You had cancer. You can't drink.  Eat whatever you want."

I wasn't ready.

Then the weather got warmer and I pulled out shorts that fit just fine last year.  I couldn't get them over my hips.  I was done.

I realized I couldn't change my eating habits alone.  Just like when I got sober, I needed help.  The first time I lost weight I did it through Jenny Craig, but I couldn't afford that now.  Cancer is expensive.

You may be tired of hearing me talk about Arbonne's fitness program.  I feel like apologizing for talking about it here, like I'm pouring my heart out just to sell something.

But I'm not.  Doing Arbonne's 30 day fitness program, and then getting on a maintenance program, changed my life.  And now I'm seeing it change the life of my clients, my friends, and so I'm not going to apologize for talking about it here.

Because it's not simply a weight loss program.  It's a I-don't-care-enough-to-try fixer.  It helped me flip my self-destructive switch from "who cares" over to "I care".

The first week of this program was hard.  It's as much about what I eliminated from my diet as it is about the healthy things I'm putting in my body, and what I discovered in the first seven days was that I was addicted - and I don't use that word lightly - to sugar and carbs. I had a headache, I was cranky, irritable.  My body screamed for sugar.

That's what I was doing to my body? I marveled.  Consuming sugar and carbs to the point that my body needed them?

That is not an exaggeration.  I know the symptoms of withdrawal, and I had them.  Both physically and emotionally.

The plan put some of the power back in my hands, though, by giving me instructions of what to do (and equally importantly what not to do).  Just like with getting sober, all I had to do was NOT do something (not drink in the case of getting sober, and not eat crap in the case of getting healthy) and follow instructions from people who had walked this path before me.

That first week was tough, but by day 8 the rewards I got from making better choices for seven whole days were enough to keep me going: increased energy, looser clothing, inches starting to come off my waist.   I felt good about myself, my choices.

The feeling of making healthy choices became the reward.  Just like when I got sober. It takes time, and patience, and help, but it's so worth it.

My best friend Amanda just finished the Arbonne 30 day fit program. She did not need to lose a lot of weight (she never has, that skinny little minx) - but she wanted to eat healthier, wean herself off her own sugar (read: ice cream) habit and feel and look like the best version of herself.

She did it. She looks and feels great.  I marvel at how I get to be sober with my best friend - we've known each other for over thirty years - and now we get excited about our new eating habits together, too.  We feel like we're back - as close to those young girls full of hope and energy that we can get for women in our forties.

The irony, too, is that we tried to eat healthier when we were drinking.  We did the Weight Watchers Point system and allotted all our points to wine.  We would never, ever have been able to make a life change like this - for ourselves - when we were drinking.  Back then it wasn't just about the drinking, it was about our ability to hide from ourselves, to simply Not Care.

Caring feels a whole lot better.

Amanda's Results:

The 30 day fitness kit comes with a membership to a wonderful (and private) Facebook community, where we prop each other up, share recipes, tips and advice and share successes.  Because if there is one thing I know for sure it's this:  major life changes are a lot more fun (and successful) when you don't do them alone.

My Results:

If you feel like maybe you're ready to make a change - a real, meaningful lifestyle change for you - whether it's weight loss, detoxing your system, losing (or rearranging) inches, a system for healthier eating or all three - please email me at 

You don't have to do this alone.

For those of you who know what I'm talking about with food addiction - who know it's a real thing - I understand.

I'm not trying to be a super model. I just want to be the healthiest me.  One day at a time.

Monday, May 13, 2013

I'm Going There - On Breaking Anonymity

I am so moved by what I'm going to show you below, about this movement, that I can stay silent no longer.

I have tiptoed around this for years, now, about how to reach out and tell truths about alcoholism, drug addiction and recovery without stepping on the toes of recovery programs that have anonymity as a cornerstone to their program?

For five years now, many people have encouraged and supported what I do here, what we do at Crying Out Now and The Bubble Hour and Shining Strong. We don't preach about how to recover. We don't advocate for any one program.  We don't ask anyone to break their own anonymity who doesn't want to, or who can't for personal or professional reasons.

But do you know where I get the most criticism?  From the recovery community itself.

Breaking my own anonymity is a personal decision.  I have felt for a long time that staying silent is dangerous for the movement of recovery.   Not everyone needs to be - or should be - open.  BUT.  Those of us who can?  Or who want to?  We face a backlash from other recovering people.  I won't get into all the reasons why - I don't want anything I say here to be Google-able, which would put me in the cross hairs of violating one Anonymous organization's eleventh and twelfth traditions:  "our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films" (11th tradition) AND "we are to place principles before personalities; that we are actually to practice a genuine humility" (12th tradition).

There is also the 12th step:  "we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs."

I have spent years trying to reconcile these concepts.  How to carry the message to help suffering alcoholics while maintaining the anonymity requirements of the 11th tradition?  How to be out there telling my story - or the stories found on Crying Out Now and The Bubble Hour?

There is a reason the Anonymous organization is not mentioned on my blog.  We advise all guests on The Bubble Hour to not mention any specific program, if they can help it.  We tell everyone - and hold ourselves to the same standard - that we share OUR OWN experiences ONLY.  We do not tell anyone how to recover, or where to recover.  We share our own experience, strength and hope as persons in recovery.

I feel this mission falls squarely within the intent of the 11th tradition:  "our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion".  Where it gets iffy is the second half of this tradition: "we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films."

But if Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob- co-founders of the Anonymous program - could have envisioned the internet, how would they have felt about it?  Nobody really has the answer to this.  All we have is our perception of the intent behind these traditions. 

How are the stories told on our websites different from speaking from the podium at an open twelve step meeting where anyone - even non alcoholics - are welcome to attend?  At those meetings I'm sharing my name.  I'm showing my face.  I'm breaking my anonymity to people who aren't admitted members of the twelve step program.   And the only requirement for membership in the Anonymous program?  A desire to stop drinking.  Anyone who googles "do I have a problem with alcohol" is taking the first tentative step towards cultivating a desire to stop drinking.

Do you know the number one search phrase used when people find my blog?  "Help me, I can't stop drinking."

If some of us aren't able to tell our stories to offer hope to those still suffering - those who are searching online for help but who aren't ready or willing to go to a meeting - how on earth are we going to offer HOPE.  Because that's what this is all about.  HOPE.

If you're angry about this post, or the work we do, or puzzled, or confused about what this breaking anonymity thing is all about, PLEASE watch this video below (it's a Kickstarter campaign, but they have FAR exceeded their goal so I'm not asking for donations - unless you want to).  If you are a person struggling with shame or fear or doubt - PLEASE watch this.

Because this movement?  This is where I'm going.  I know not everyone will approve.  I'm not looking for approval. I'm looking for open, honest and non-personal discourse.

Will you comment with your thoughts?  This is not a mutual admiration society. I am not going to delete comments that don't go lock-step with my beliefs.  As long as it isn't insulting or personal against me or another commenter, it will stay up.

We can't cure something we can't even talk about.   So let's TALK.

Friday, May 10, 2013


"If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans".   -Woody Allen

We like to think we're in control of our lives, don't we?

From the smaller decisions- should I wear this blue shirt today - to the bigger ones - maybe I should have this lump looked at - we cling to the belief that we can steer our fate, grasping onto this filament of hope that if we try hard enough, work hard enough, we dictate the outcome.

Sometimes the fragility of the world slams into me clear out of the blue.  Tying my shoelaces in the morning I'll be hit with a morbid thought: what if a coroner is the one untying these laces later today.  
Don't be absurd, my controlling mind admonishes me as I push the nasty thought away. Because, really, how would we ever go through life if we obsessed about all the what-ifs?

We couldn't.  So, in large part, we don't.

But then the phone rings and it's the doctor's office - I'm sorry, it's cancer - or your sister - come quick, Dad isn't doing well - and in the blink of an eye you're sailing off down a road you never saw coming. And certainly not one you would ever choose.

My friend Kim ordered a necklace from me, a double-sided stamped pendant.  On one side she wanted "Boston" and on the other "25.5".  Why?  Because she ran in the marathon this year, the one watched by the whole world as bombs exploded at the finish line.  She was stopped at mile 25.5, informed about the chaos unfolding .7 miles away and left to wonder and worry about the fate of loved ones waiting to cheer her on at the finish line.

Except this year, there would be no finish line for Kim, and so many others.

The thing is, she worked hard for this goal.  She trained, focused and diligent, determined to cross that finish line, to feel back in control of a life that had buffeted her about in its unpredictable winds for the past year.  This was to be her return to herself, not just the staggering accomplishment of running 26.2 miles.

To Kim, those last .7 miles represented a sense of completion - one book closed with a sharp slap, and the chance to pick up a new story, the fresh unread pages full of hope and promise.

She debated what to put on the pendant.  "Should I stamp it 26.2?" she asked me, her brows knit in confusion. "That's how long it was supposed to be. That's what I trained for."

We talked about that day, about victory being snatched from her hands.  Of course she grappled with feelings of guilt, that she felt so robbed, when so many others suffered worse fates.

"Pain is pain," I said, simply.  "It happened to you, and it hurts."

She decided on 25.5 because, she said, "that's the truth. That's what happened".

Ever since this conversation with Kim I haven't been able to shake it from my mind.  It seems like a small thing, but it's not.

How we handle adversity says way more about our character, our grit, the very core of who we are, than the way we handle the things that come easily.

When your road veers sharply off to the left, just as you're preparing to turn right, your life feels out of control.  This isn't my road, you think.  I wanted to go that way.  Even as that right turn you were supposed to take drops out of sight - lost forever to the unrelenting passing seconds, minutes, hours and days - you crane your neck back over your shoulder, grieving the lost path.  Your path.

It's easy to feel victimized.  Heck, it feels good, sometimes, to feel victimized. Better to be a victim than swallow the hard, bitter pill of bad choices.

Sometimes we are the victim - of circumstance, of teenage bombers hell-bent on a deranged mission, of a rogue group of cells that silently and steadfastly divide in your body gobbling up healthy cells as the cancer spreads, of the truck that veers sharply into your lane on the highway.

Sometimes we make ourselves the victim, believing that we can't stop drinking because we're deeply flawed in some fundamental way.

Sometimes we make astonishingly bad choices, even though we are good people with the best of intentions.

That's life: a chaotic slurry of circumstance and choice.

Because even as we trot down that left-hand path, the one we didn't choose to follow, we still have choices.  We can lose ourselves to hopelessness, grief or fear.  We can mourn the loss of the path-not-taken, the one we worked so hard for, the one we believed was our birth right, crane our necks around to watch it fall into the distance and shake our fists at the heavens and ask, WHY

Or, we can sweep our eyes to the front, to the path we're actually on at any given moment.  We can take a deep breath and say, here I am

I bet Kim had played the image of herself victoriously crossing that finish line in her head dozens of times.  How else could she train that long and hard?   Every cold, drizzly day she chose to run - to train - instead of sitting on her couch, she did because she could taste that finish line.

She never pictured herself, bewildered and scared, at mile 25.5, wondering where it all went so wrong.

Now she wears her necklace that bears witness to where she is, though, not where she thought she'd be. She is choosing to lean into the truth.

I think that is a whole lot braver than crossing any finish line.

Because sometimes?  That finish line is more like a punch line, and God is the one laughing.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Take THAT, Stigma

Something happened this past weekend that would have been utterly unimaginable when I was drinking.

I got together with a group of women (with an awesome visit from a couple of men, too!) who are all members of a fantastic online group called the "BFB" - it stands for the Booze Free Brigade.

I love that it's called a Brigade, because that's what we are - we're warriors.  Some people in this group are still drinking, or struggling to put more than a few days together, but that doesn't matter.  What matters is that we're all in this together - rooting each other on through our triumphs and tribulations with compassion, love and support.

When I was drinking my life got progressively smaller and darker.  By the end, I was so utterly lost and alone and full of shame, that the notion that a group of women could get together without alcohol and laugh until we were holding our sides and tears streamed down our faces was incomprehensible.  The idea that we could cry freely and without shame, that we could pour out our fears and vulnerabilities and fall back into such loving, compassionate arms, would have sent me running in the other direction.

When I was drinking, I lost the ability to feel, to show up in my own life.  I handled all emotions by going around them, losing myself in what I thought were the soothing effects of alcohol.  All I was doing was numbing out, hiding from playing the starring role in my own existence.

It's hard to find words to describe how this past weekend felt.  Every conversation was soulful, real.  We connected on a visceral level, these women who I had mostly previously only known through the pixelated world of my computer screen. 

As I drove to our rented house outside of Boston, I prayed that these people would be who I thought they were... it's the internet, after all.  Even though I felt such a strong connection to them, there is always the underlying fear that maybe I'm reading more into it than I should.  You can present any version of yourself you want over the internet, after all.   Going to spend three days and two nights with them felt exciting and a little risky.

But, when it comes down to it, we can present any version of ourselves we want to in real life, too, can't we?  In fact, we frequently do.  Don't you have several versions of yourself?  We are very, very rarely able to be completely ourselves.  Part of this is out of necessity, of course.  You aren't going to present the vulnerable, fearful version of yourself at work.  Or at a PTA meeting, or on the sidelines of a soccer game. Even among good friends, I know that I hold back often - although in sobriety I don't really shape shift much, anymore - but it's still rare that I can be my wholehearted self in my day-to-day life.

We went into Fanueil Hall, a huge marketplace in the heart of Boston.  Trying to get 16 women to come up with a plan of action - even to walk from one side of the marketplace to the other - was next to impossible.  Why?  Because we were lost in conversations with each other, one-on-one or in smaller groups, basking in simply being around each other.   It was like a drug, really, the feeling of connectedness I felt.

When I was drinking I was so careful to look put together.  I never showed my vulnerabilities, for fear you'd know that I was deeply flawed in some fundamental way.   I didn't understand the disease of alcoholism, I thought it was all about drinking.  I didn't realize the other aspects - how the chasm between our insides and how our outsides look gets wider and wider until our self-esteem, confidence and love for ourselves falls right in, deep down to the bottom of a bottle.

The idea that I could be so open, so trusting, so real - without a drop of alcohol in my system - was totally incomprehensible when I was drinking.  With recovering women I simply am.   We are drawn together because of our vulnerabilities, not in spite of them.  There isn't any one-upping each other.  This group represents all ages and stages of life. Recovery time ranges from days to years - and who knows?  Maybe even hours.  We are all alcoholics, after all.  It's possible there could have been people still struggling.  But it doesn't matter.

The important thing is that we're there for each other, because we're all the same.  Our adversities bind us together in ways that I just don't find in my day-to-day life.

That's what I didn't understand, before I got sober.  How grateful I'd be that I'm an alcoholic in recovery, because I would get the gift of me

We recorded a Bubble Hour episode Friday night, about negative self-talk, thinking patterns, and the tools we use to break self-destructive thought patterns.   There we were, a group of women, talking openly and without fear about our innermost thoughts.  We come together to share our experience, strength and hope to help ourselves first, and to help anyone else out there still struggling understand just how rich life can be on the other side of drinking.  Not perfect. Not easy. But oh so very rich.

I got to wrap my arms around these women who support me in more ways than I can articulate. I can't count how many times I said "I love you", without embarrassment and straight from my heart.  It doesn't matter that I'd never met them in person before.  They are woven into my life, into my spirit, in ways that defy explanation.

And one of the biggest gifts?  Meeting Lisa - one of the three Bubble Hour co-hosts (and co-moderator of Crying Out Now, too).

Ellie, Lisa and Amanda

Lisa, Amanda and I had never met - all three of us - in person before.  It felt like we had known each our whole lives (in Amanda's case, I have known her almost all my life, over 30 years, and what a blessing to share the gift of sobriety with my best friend - and former drinking buddy).

Now? It's hard to imagine my life without these women.

We recorded a video while we were there - our version of the Harlem Shake.  I won't share it in order to protect the anonymity of the women there, but I had a moment while we were filming it.  Dancing around with stuff on our heads (bowls, hats, magazines, towels - you name it) to the Harlem Shake... stone cold sober.  I thought to myself:  take that, stigma.   When people picture alcoholics, I don't think we're quite at the place where they see vibrant, funny, intelligent and compassionate women dancing and enjoying life to its fullest.  But we're working on that.  Together.

If you're still struggling, take heart.  Keep talking.  Keep showing up.  Get honest with yourself first, and please know that there are SO many people out there who understand, who know exactly how you feel.

You are NOT alone.

We're here.  And we will welcome you with open arms.