Wednesday, July 31, 2013

On Fear, Ego and Gratitude. With a Cameo by Queen Latifah.

I used to think that what made me different from everyone else was my fear.

Fear of just about everything - not fitting in was at the top of the list. I didn't realize what a fruitless goal fitting in actually is, because the bar is always moving.  Am I supposed to be fashionable like her? Brave like him? Popular like them? Athletic? Thin? Soulful? Smart?

Like a chameleon, I would shape shift to fit in with whoever I was talking to, while a silent ticker tape ran in my head: does this person like me? Am I fitting in? 

It's exhausting.

I was afraid of rejection, abandonment, vulnerability.  I thought that if I didn't look like I had my shit together that everything would fall apart. I believed that people loved the version of me I had shown them, and that if they knew about the vast emptiness inside me, if they knew about the fear, they would run for the hills.

Automatically, anything that came from deep inside me was rejected as inadequate.

I filled this hole inside me with anesthesia for so long.  Motherhood scared me, so I numbed it out with wine. Crowds of people scared me, so I numbed it out with a false extroverted persona.   I was simultaneously afraid of being ignored and being recognized.  Nothing -and I mean nothing - was ever good enough.

Enough. There's a concept. Having enough. Being enough.   For a long time, I defined "enough" from the outside in ... and not surprisingly the feeling of having enough or being enough eluded me.

What I didn't know is that everyone is afraid, whether they know it or not.  We're conditioned to hide it, to appear put together, sure of ourselves.  Social media exacerbates this phenomenon -- you don't see many Facebook updates about how bored, messy, afraid, angry or resentful we are.

I'm still afraid a lot, except now I don't have my anesthesia.  Facing fear naked is, well, scary.  Sobriety robbed me - gradually - of the ability to fake it, to appear fine when I'm not.  Little by little, I began to recognize that my fear of life was incredibly selfish, ego run rampant.  The world simply doesn't care about my fine-ness as much as I'd like to believe it does.

Cultivating the courage to be open, vulnerable, was the key to freedom from fear, it turns out, but when I began blogging, dumping my imperfections and fears out on the page for the world to see, I was terrified.  I would walk through the supermarket convinced I knew what everyone was thinking about me:  there she goes, the alcoholic. I'm so glad I'm not like her. 

How self centered is that? 

Little did I know that being open and vulnerable would bring people in, not send them away.

I went to the blogging conference BlogHer in Chicago this past week.  As I wrote about in my last post, I was feeling fear and unworthiness about reading a post of mine at the Voices of the Year community keynote in front of thousands of people.  My old nemesis fear was riding shotgun, fueling my fear-based ego:  you're unworthy of this, people will mock you, ignore you, talk behind your back. You're not as good as the other readers, not as important a blogger. 

Sitting behind the stage, waiting for my turn to read, I was lost in self, in fear.  Every cell in my body screamed at me: you're SMALL.

So I prayed.  I got out of my own head. I looked around at my fellow readers and felt such joy for them, and it hit me: what's wrong with feeling joy for myself?  

Gratitude overwhelmed me as I prayed:  I get to have this amazing experience. It doesn't define me in any way, it's just a really amazing thing I get to do. 

Living closed off in fear is so much harder than living open and vulnerable.  So many amazing people have come into my life - people I used to peek at from my self-perceived sideline and think: wow, she's got it all together.  Now some of these people are good friends - soul mates, even - and we are broken and beautiful together.   I try to fill that emptiness inside me with acceptance - first of myself, then of others.  Jealousy or resentment let me know that fear is taking control again.  Feelings of unworthiness make me examine my ego, tell me that I'm closing off instead of opening up.

When I took the stage that night I felt only peace and gratitude.  I took a deep breath and read my piece as though I was the only person in the room.

Because that's who I write for:  me.

Of course, this was pretty awesome, too:

Queen Latifah emcee'd the Voices of the Year

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ramble On

I haven't posted here in a while - at least for me, it's a while.  A few weeks feels like an eternity in the blogosphere.

I unplugged (for the most part) since my last post.  It wasn't as hard as I feared it would be. I didn't realize how the constant stream of emails, FB messages, etc. was impacting my mental health.  It all got to be too much.

We went to the Florida Keys as a family - we haven't been away just the four of us on a vacation like that in, well, ever.  I had no idea how I'd do - wallowing in my kids, only peeking at social media periodically like a junkie sneaking a quick fix.  Very quickly, my Internet World felt far away indeed.

I closed my jewelry stores for the summer.  I haven't done that since I opened my first store in 2008.  I knew it was the right decision when I clicked into "vacation mode" with nary a second thought.

I don't really know how to describe how I've been feeling lately. Over my birthday (44 on July 4th) I had what amounts to an emotional and physical collapse. All the stresses of the past months - heck, the past two years - came flooding in. I missed my Dad terribly. I thought a lot about how on earth we got through the past year and a half with his death, my cancer, and all the day-to-day pressures of life.

In part, I realized, I got through it by throwing myself into work. My non-profits - The Bubble Hour, Crying Out Now, Shining Strong -- in addition to my jewelry and Arbonne businesses.  It only took a day or two of stepping away for me to see that I was, indeed, running from and not towards

It's baffling, really, because I adore everything I do. As I've written about before, I can't imagine my life without all these things in it.  I didn't stop from the moment I opened my eyes in the morning until I closed them at night.  I spread myself too thin, but I did it willingly. Happily, even.

I don't know yet what will have to give.  I am giving it until the fall to figure it out.  My kids are thriving, and I'm grateful for that.  It's odd to contemplate giving up something that I've worked hard to build.  When I started ANY of the things I do, including this blog, I couldn't ever have imagined the places they would take me, the people they would bring into my lives.  Even my Arbonne business - young though it is - has already brought me SO many gifts.  And some much needed income.

I've decided to let it go - let the Universe direct me where I'm meant to go.  If I don't over think - if I stay out of my own way - I know the answer(s) will appear.

I'm heading to Chicago tomorrow, to the big blogging conference, BlogHer.  It's making me nostalgic; this is my fourth BlogHer, and it seems only yesterday I was heading to New York for my first one.  I remember the dizzying pace of that conference, wanting desperately to be in the middle of all the action.

I could care less about the middle, now, and ironically letting go of needing to be there has swung it around my way. I was chosen as one of twelve Voices of the Year to read a post in the "heart" category at the big community keynote on Friday night, in front of over 3,000 people.

When I saw my first Community Keynote I remember thinking "man, I'd love to be up there someday", but it was for all the wrong reasons, although I didn't realize that at the time.  I just felt so small there among all these well-known bloggers whose words and lives were such a big part of my life.

I hated feeling small.  I was just getting started, chomping at the bit to get the word out there about One Crafty Mother, Crying Out Now and my jewelry.

Now I know you can't force these things.  You can't just dive into the spotlight, or charm your way there.  

But now that the spotlight is swinging my way, I'm ambivalent.  This is not to say I'm not grateful - because I am very honored and humbled to have been chosen.  I think I'm ambivalent because I no longer crave the center of attention.  I think this is growth, but it's tinged with a feeling of undeservedness (now I'm making up words).  This isn't compliment fishing, or false modesty.

I think I simply feel kind of done.  Maybe reading at the Voices of the Year will be my going-out party.  I don't know yet.  We'll see.

If you're going to BlogHer, especially if this is your first time, be sure to come to the Serenity Suite, hosted by my good friends Heather and Maggie.  Read Heather's post HERE for a list of who is hosting.  The Suite locations are Sheraton-1287 and McCormick-921A (one in both locations as this conference is in two locales).  I will be hosting there as much as I can.

Every year someone - or more than one person - comes in feeling small, alone and questioning why the heck they are there.  Nobody is small in the Serenity Suite.  My favorite memories from last year's conference happened there.  So please, come on by and say hi. 

 I will leave you with a picture of a dolphin kissing me, because I can't think of any more words.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Through The Looking Glass

I have always loved the number four.  I'm not sure why - my own little touch of OCD, I guess.

Any time I'm picking a number - for anything - I choose four, a number that ends in four or a multiple of four.  A seat number in an airplane or setting my alarm clock (7:04am), for example.  It simply HAS to involve the number four. 

It's been going on since I was a kid - as young as nine or ten - my own little attempt at feeling some semblance of control over my increasingly complicated world.

Tomorrow I turn 44 on the 4th.  That's a lot of fours.

Last night the kids broke out our home movie collection and we sat on the couch and watched our lives from when the kids were babies, toddlers and into their preschool years.

I watched with a mixture of joy and sadness - wistful for their chubby-cheeked youth, for what looks on the screen as a simpler time, but I know differently.

There is Finn in the tub when he was just learning to talk - I'm holding the camera in one hand and bantering with him about his rubber ducky.  He laughs, flashing his two little bottom teeth, just poking through.  "UH-OH," he says, as he plunges the yellow duck under water. "Ducky needs HEWLP"  It looks for all the world like an ideal scene of mother and child bonding. 

But I know that perched behind me on the edge of the sink is a wine glass.  Bath time back then was never done without my liquid assistant.  The days felt interminably long, boring. 

My gut churns as I watch Greta, pigtailed and adorable, coloring and chattering on about her picture.  I'm laughing behind the camera, egging her on, zooming in on her brow knit together in concentration.  I remember what I was thinking, back then - that I was recording for posterity that I was a good mother, not a drunk.  Not an alcoholic.  I was desperate to prove to myself and anyone watching that I was loving, engaged.

I watch the images flickering on the screen and my heart aches.  Shame burns somewhere deep inside, at the very root of me.

How could I not see, I wonder, how blessed I was.

Another disc, fast forward about a year.  Finn is almost two and Greta is almost five.  It's April of 2007.  Steve is filming what looks like an adorable family breakfast scene; Finn happily smearing oatmeal in his hair, perched in his high chair, Greta next to him, prattling on as usual.  Then Steve swings the camera my way, and I'm leaning on the counter, looking weary and bloated. 

"There's Momma," he says.  "She was partying last night, weren't you Momma?"

I cast the camera an irritated, sheepish look.  "Yes," I whisper.  "Stop filming me, you're making me uncomfortable."

I look into my own eyes and want to scream at my visage STOP.  Stop what you're doing, stop sliding down into your own destruction!!!
A mere two months later and I'm conspicuously missing from the videos.  It's summer of 2007, and the kids are at the zoo, the Museum of Science.  My sister-in-law balances Finn on her hip and laughs as the cousins squeal in delight at otters rollicking in their tank. 

I'm not there.  I am in rehab.

A little later, and there we are again, happy kids with a sober Mom.  Finn is closer to four now, Greta is almost seven.  I no longer need the camera lens to prove that I'm present in my life and theirs.  I am slender again, bright eyed and happy. 

But that knot in my stomach as I watch doesn't loosen, and I still want to scream at my image:  be grateful for all you have - ahead of you are some rough waters.  You are going to lose your Dad. You are going to get cancer. 


But that's the thing, isn't it?  Paying attention?  Recognizing how fleeting moments are, even the ones that feel like they last forever?  The long, ordinary days that feel like duplicates of yesterday?  The constant-ness of parenting, laundry, cooking meals, all the mundane rituals that wear you down?

I'm not particularly afraid of getting older, even though the idea of being forty-four seems incredible to me; I feel about twenty eight mentally. 

What jerks me to attention is the idea that life zips by, right under my nose.  The days roll into one another, virtually indistinguishable.  Every now and then something jars me out of my day-to-day existence - something wonderful or something scary - but for the most part forty-four years flew by. 

Why is it so much easier to lose myself to fear of what may be lurking around the corner?  It is far easier to have faith in fear, instead of just plain faith.

Back when I was a drinking Mom, I felt like I was watching my world through dirty glass - there, but not there.  I felt one click removed from everything - my family, myself.  I numbed out the uncertainty with one more glass of chardonnay.  And then one more.

Being sober is scarier - the uncertainty is pointier, right up in my face.  I don't hide behind liquid anesthesia anymore, and I feel scared more than I ever did when I was drinking.

But here's the thing:  the dirty glass is gone, too.  Even fear is a real emotion.   I am present in my life.

Looking at the un-sober me on the screen, faking normalcy, wishing with all my heart I was someone else - anyone else - because I didn't know how to be, I feel sorry for her, but I realize she is a necessary part of who I will become.  I mentally wrap my arms around her and forgive her. 

Maybe that's the trick to paying attention.  Constantly loving who we are today, forgiving the person we were yesterday - the one that didn't know what was coming down the road, or who made poor choices. 

Or maybe now we're struggling, and we look back at our former selves and think: man, she had it all together. What happened to me?

Life happened.  Life happens.  The only moment we have is this one, the one right under our noses.

This person right now, today, on this last day of being a forty-three year old wife and mother of two -  she only knows what she knows right now, in this moment.  Regretting the past, or worrying about the future brings back the dirty glass, the one that prevents her from Paying Attention.

It would be nice to believe all those fours - 44 on the 4th - will keep me safe, make for a great year.  But the thing is?  It's a great year already. 

No matter what.