Different In All The Ways

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I go to church on Sundays now. I go because I feel God there and I promise I mean it when I tell you that it’s the last place I thought I’d find God. I’ve looked there before and came back pretty empty. I’m not sure what’s different now except that I’m sure I am. I’m all the way different.

Last Sunday, I was sitting at the same spot on the same pew I’ve been sitting the dozen or so times I’ve been there. There was a young Daddy sitting at the front by the aisle, next to his little boy. The boy was probably around five but very small, glasses, toe-headed. He had this little ball in his left hand, it seemed to be a light ball like maybe a wiffle ball, and when he wasn’t rocking back and forth in his seat, he was ever so slightly bouncing that ball in the cup of his hand. The ball seemed to just hover there. And because a ball can’t defy gravity for too long, every few minutes, it would miss its landing and roll out into the aisle. In the length of the Sunday sermon, that ball rolled out into aisle no less than twenty times. Every single time it did, I watched the Dad get up, gently pass through the small space between his boy’s little legs and the back of the next pew, pick up that ball and place it back in his son’s hand. No impatient body language, no visible release of air from his lungs that would indicate a sigh, no head hanging in defeat, he just retrieved that ball, all twenty times. This scene destroyed me.

I flashed back to the years my son was that age, as he exhibited much the same behaviors as that little boy, and how slim my patience was with him. I thought of how many times he’d drop a ball but it would always end with him screaming in frustration because he was most likely reflecting my frustration. I know we’ve all done the best we could with what we knew, but as I sat there unable to stop the tears, I wished I could go back. I wanted a do-over.

So I’m back in church to remember that I’m already forgiven. I am given grace, even when I didn’t ask for it, even when I don’t expect to receive it, especially when I don’t think I deserve it. I’ve heard the term ‘unconditional love’ so many times but how many times have I stopped to think what that really means: love with no conditions, no strings, not a transactional exchange but like a one-way street, like water bursting from a hose. I am hosed down with so much grace that I get to love on my boy today. I get to gently guide him, help him retrieve the balls he continues to drop and despite my frustrations that still surface because I am far from perfect, grace has given me another chance.

Like I said, I’m all the way different now.




The Stunning But True Confessions of a Middle-Aged Woman

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I went to church yesterday and it was the first time in thirty years that I went to church voluntarily and it wasn’t to fulfill a parental request or attend a wedding. I could blame it on my daughter. When she returned from church camp this summer, it was one of her first requests, “Can we go to church, Mama?” But I would not be entirely genuine if I didn’t mention that I had already been doing some online church trolling weeks before.

I can’t tell you exactly what I’m craving right now, but it feels like simplicity. It looks like a woman who goes to a job every day, earns a paycheck, pays her bills and goes to church on Sundays. I’ve been inching towards this feeling all summer like a cat looking for a spot of sunshine to warm herself in. I can’t explain it because it’s not me. I like things complicated, normalcy feels like bouncing from thing to thing, but lately I’ve been feeling pangs of regret and they shoot up my spine like a bolt of lightning. What if I’d focused on one thing, where would I be? What if I’d put all those eggs in one basket? I had a dream this week that a very good friend of mine started a women’s gathering that became a movement. They focused on spiritual, emotional and physical well-being and my friend had worked on the concept for so long and then suddenly it gained momentum that very quickly, she had thousands of women joining and there were focus groups and spin-off groups all over. I couldn’t be happy for her and didn’t even want to join in because I was so, so jealous. I woke up with that nauseous pit in my stomach, Why didn’t I think of that? Why can’t I focus on just one thing? Where is my break? When will I break?

Writing resumes and filling out job applications has sealed these feelings for me, I shouldn’t leave that out. Having to face the timeline of my life, I look at my thirties and think, what happened there? What did I do? I had babies, but there isn’t a place to put that on a resume. I attempted to start some businesses that arguably honed my creative skills but never really left the Labor of Love stage. Oh and I drank. A lot. When I look at it on a document like that and there’s a whole decade, just gone, I feel the expanse of that gap, like I could fall right into it and never climb out.

On Sunday, my daughter and I went to the bible class before the worship hour so she could get the full experience. I found myself in a women’s class because I didn’t know where else to go. At the end of the lesson, it was suggested that we go around the room and introduce ourselves. From the very first woman, the introduction went as follows: Name, Marital Status, Kid Count. “Hi, my name is Delores, I’ve been widowed for 27 years, I have 2 kids, 5 grandchildren but no great-grandkids yet. They need to get busy!” I sat there thinking, I just need to give up, live vicariously through my children like so many do and seem to be perfectly content. And yet, right now, I’m weighing whether I should just try to get a job at the grocery store and go back to grad school, get an MFA so that I can teach or continue to financially struggle but write that novel that’s been scratching at the inside of my eardrum for five years and try to sell it even though the chances of selling your first novel at fifty is slim to Good Luck.

My Mom had a stroke last week. She’s going to be okay and that feels nothing short of a miracle. I watched friend after friend, people from her church, people from her job show up to sit with her, bring her flowers, make sure she was getting what she needed and offering their help for beyond. It looked nice, it looked uncomplicated and I could only think, I want that.

 

Regret Is A Gift

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I've written about my fascination and brief connection to Patti Smith before, but the one sentence summarization is that I was once accidentally very close to her with my camera, tasked with photographing her while getting pelted by a rain of her saliva. Was this her process? Ritual? Did she just have a bad cold that day? Unanswered questions still, and while I loved Horses like any other proper fan of female-vocalized rock and roll, my unforeseen love for her blew wide open with her book, Just Kids. I've read that book twice, and I never read books twice. I'm not the only one who has loved this book, so I won't be so arrogant as to assume I can properly critique it here, but just know that I've treasured it. So when she released M Train, I was hesitant to actually take the steps in owning it in my attempt to continue to savor Just Kids, that is until a few days ago when I stumbled upon a hard copy at my favorite thrift store. It was time. Just as I suspected, pen in hand I'm underlining at least a phrase a page. 

As of this writing, I'm only about half way through the book. She claims in the beginning that it is a book about nothing but it's all the nothings I marvel at, specifically how she allows herself to travel down any wormhole that her curiosity will take her. And not just trips to the library either, she'll go places that require planes and passports. At one point, I had to put the book down, overcome with a sadness that can only be spurred by regret. Most of the scenes in this book take place in a cafe or bar and she always describes her order: black coffee. I couldn't help but cycle back through my entire 20s and 30s, regretting my choices, wondering about that path not taken, the one where I'm drinking black coffee over booze. What if I'd traversed through life with only a camera and pen in hand, documenting details to later recount in the most eloquent prose and poetry instead of drinking until I fell off barstools, feeling so carefree and witty, determined to go home and transcribe the profundity of my experience only to either pass out before it happened or manage to jot something down that later proved illegible or meaningless and feeling so miserable, carved out and vacant the next day as not to even care? That times 365 days times 25 years. That's a whole lot of regret.

Immediately after my morning reading (and regret) time, I did the thing I always do and went to my tarot deck to pull a card. The first card I pulled was The Hermit, illustrated as a turtle with a candle on his back in The Wild Unknown deck. Lately when my intuition has guided me to, I've pulled a second card as a companion to the first and this day, the second was what may as well now be my default card, the card I always seem to pull when I'm stewing, the card that prompted me to start the Name It Journal as it begs of you to consider what you might be taking for granted in your life, finishing off with the question, What are you longing for? Name it. Good grief. It never doesn't feel like big dose of tough love, bittersweet because sometimes I like to hang out in that pity party for a bit longer. Sometimes I want to wallow in the muck, feel sorry for myself even when there is zero productivity there, I want to validate my own yuck with a You're right, you are definitely a piece of shit self-inflicted kick while I'm down. But there was that little rat resting on those Four Cups saying, You know what, Miss Sad? How about we think for a second that some people leave this Mortal Coil before they've even had the opportunity to experience regret? Some people never get to turn their ship around, right their wrongs, make up for lost time, do better because they know better? This is the moment to seize, not because it's the dregs or the slim seconds or an afterthought, but because it's the moment I have. So like a dog that just rolled in poop, I felt a slight pull of dignity, at least some resolution.

All doors are open to the believer.--Patti Smith, M Train

I was listening to an older podcast interview with Lidia Yuknavitch, another author I admire. She was talking about her experience as a teacher at a community college and that satisfaction she receives from helping students choose self-expression over self-destruction. I wonder if I'd had someone to guide, nurture and nudge me, would that have changed my trajectory? Would I have been open? I don't know the answers to those questions either. I only know that I'm open now. 

Flipping The Story

Before I start this blog post, will you please join me in a moment of silence followed by A serenity prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept that Summer lasts exactly ten weeks, the courage to keep showing up even when I want to run into traffic, and the wisdom to know that in four days, our beautiful routine will return. Amen.

Thanks for that.


When I was a freshman in high school, amidst the early excitement of attending our first football games, my best friend and I immediately noticed the lack of female gender representation on the sidelines. Of course there were the ever-present cheerleaders, or the times that the drill team would descend from their perches on to the field to dazzle the spectators with their swan-like graces, but there were no girls on the field otherwise. It was the 80s in a small East Texas town and I would say that was my first bud of feminism, but if I really think about it, that would be wrong. The fact that women were only Sunday School teachers or in the nursery and never in front of the pulpit in church never sat right with me. And the three words that only the bride had to repeat in every wedding I attended, "love, honor and obey", always, always made me cringe, even as a little girl. So it shouldn't surprise me on reflection that my best friend and I eventually got to work to fix the little sideline problem.

That first season, we convinced the head coach with a very compelling two page letter why he should allow girls to carry water to very thirsty and sweaty football players throughout the game because, hydration. And by the following season, a female athletic coach was hired and she was more than happy to have us. That year, we learned to wrap ankles, knees and *ahem* groins and since we had the longest losing streak in all of 5A high school football at the time (seriously, it was even reported in Time Magazine), we learned how to treat injuries as well. Our team grew and I bet there is a student athletic trainer program at my alma mater to this day. 

The reason why I tell this story is because I forgot about it. I forgot I did that. This was way before I even met alcohol, much less shook hands with it and invited it in. 

For forever, I beat myself up for working in restaurants for the decades I did. I beat on myself while I was in the trenches and out. I always felt like I was stuck there and it was never ambitious enough. I always had something I was feeding on the side, photography and later designing and sewing, and that would be my optimal career once I caught my elusive lucky break. In hindsight, there is the blinding argument that working in restaurants kept me closer to booze but if I were to flip the story, or even adjust a smidge, the independent agency in me started way back, as evidenced. The few times I did attempt an office job, it always felt like a slow suffocation. And the skills I learned from restaurant jobs are innumerable: thinking on my feet, on-demand-problem-solving, sense of urgency and focus, calm amidst chaos, my best self was almost always revealed, and I know how to not be an asshole to service industry. 

This is flipping the story. This is turning an old story that you've hung on to about yourself upside-down, shaking it until some lessons fall out onto the floor for examination. These are things we used to drink over and now that that is no longer a solution, we must change the meaning so we can move on to better solutions. If you would have asked me then, I would have freely told you that I wasn't living up to my potential but I couldn't unstick myself. If anything, booze kept my confidence tethered to its small denominator where I couldn't fully tap into my own resourcefulness to make my other endeavors more successful, but you know what? At that time, that WAS my highest potential. And that is okay.

Inspired by my friend Tammi Salas, I decided to make a few mantras to stick in all the places for when I feel stuck. I used watercolor paper, watercolors and a Sharpie, but use what you have. Go to town. And Pinterest is chock full of hand lettering tutorials and fonts to practice. 

I cut my paper into fours and wrote my text out first with a pencil, mostly for placement. I'm not the most prolific visual artist, so I just went with some color combinations I liked and basically made  big dots. I like it when the colors bleed into each other, so I used extra water to make that happen. When they were dry, I went back over them with a Sharpie. Not perfect, but perfectly imperfect, as Tammi would say.

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When I revisit my stories, I know that I've always been a bit of a rebel. Nothing validates that more now than sobriety. I don't worry about my path anymore because I trust my Higher Power and because I trust my sobriety, the path I am on is the right one. If you are still in the beginnings and are still spinning in the wheels of regret, try shaking out your story. See what falls out.

 

The Music Trigger

I can be nostalgic to a fault, and the fault point can be dangerous territory for an alcoholic. They say not to romanticize the drink, but some fun was had and I have some records to prove it. Aside from the fun records, there are also the break-up records, the make-out records, the dance party for one records, the road trip records, the lay on the couch and cry records, the paint all night and indecipherably journal records and every single one of those musical relationships involved booze, in copious amounts. Of course there are all of the other musical montages of dance clubs, dance halls, festivals, dive shows and arena shows---all booze fueled and duh! It's hard to navigate in early sobriety. Sometimes I think I'm longing for a band or a song and I put it on and then, bam, I want to drink. I've had to re-enter with some trepidation and avoid some altogether. Nothing zaps you back to a time and place quite like a song can. 

I have now seen a few shows in sobriety. A few things stand out, some more obvious than others. Buying a ticket, picking out an appropriate outfit, paying for parking, sitters and a tshirt and remembering the entire show is hands-down, pretty amazing. Not losing your phone or purse, pretty cool. Knowing how you are getting home, also not to be scoffed at in the least. The smaller, surprising nuances were having to leave for the bathroom only once and not feeling a cringe over swaying into someone's personal space during my favorite song. I saw Nirvana, the Nevermind tour in 1991 and I remember the very beginning, maybe one song and waiting in line for the bathroom, my entire music concert history X 1000. I've not been to a dance club or a dance party yet. Maybe it will happen, maybe it will never happen, maybe it's already happened and that will just have to do. To be determined.

I've had this relic since my Grateful Dead days, if that is not obvious. They definitely represent a time when some fun was had, I can remember some flashes of fun. I like to pull them out every once in a while and work on them, add a patch or a scrap, repair another hole, add some embroidery. 

Fun tip: Mexican or South American textiles make the best patches. They are already embroidered, the are thick and durable and are found aplenty at most thrift stores (feel free to correct me if that is just specific to Texas thrift). And embroidery is the best way to pass some time, even if you are doing it in front of some Netflix or with some records spinning. I'll do a more embroidery specific post someday, but easy enough to fall down the Google tutorial hole or use a 1970's craft book, my personal fave. 

 

Some days, it is easier said than done. I have become very good at compartmentalizing and it works. It keeps me from walking into traffic most days. It's those days that I really want to shut that door, slam it even, that the thoughts start spilling under the door like smoke. If I just crack it a little, eventually I'll get used to breathing some smoke. And then I put on some Fleetwood Mac and know that everything is going to be okay. 

Model the Solution

Moms that are also alcoholics carry around an extra piece of baggage in the overhead compartment. We are bombarded with media, social and alike, telling us that we need booze to cope. The memes, the Facebook groups, the Mommy and wine playdates, the wines directly marketed to Moms all validate any reason to drink. And then if you have a night off from the kids? No problem. Book clubs with wine, painting with twists (spoiler: twist = wine), movie dates with bars are all encouraged because obviously Moms need to drink. And there is no inherent problem with any of these things, unless of course, you're an alcoholic.

So here's the rub. What happens to the Mom that wakes up one day with a nasty little addiction? What happens to the Mom that has crossed lines, any line, that society and your integrity determined should never be crossed? I know that my decision making skills became poor to downright terrible after the first glass, even when my kids were present. There is no shame, either internal or societal, that is comparable to the shame showered on an alcoholic Mother who has crossed the line. None. So what do we do? Enjoy all the wine, Mommies, but not too much. It's very confusing and no wonder I see so many Moms everyday that have no idea how they got to where they are or how to back out.

The good news is, there is a solution. But in spite of all of the recovery, including putting down the drink, that shame can still linger. The best thing I ever heard around the topic of all the shame and regret that we Moms feel over what damage we may have done to our children, what precious time has been lost, was this: model the solution. Show our kids how to cope with stress, how to relax, how to wind down, how to decompress, how to show up without booze. We can show them how we are okay, just the way we are, without having to change our physical, mental and emotional states with booze. We're good and we're enough. I don't know about you, but it never occurred to me that I was modeling the opposite of that to my kids. And even though I really want to make up for lost time, I believe it happened the way it was supposed to and now I just keep moving into the right way everyday.

So this is what we now do with downtime.

Besides, how cute is a boy that sews?