Category Archives: The Path

where i’ve been, where i am, where i’m going and why

windows

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I dreamed that I was on the phone with a nurse, trying to complete the information necessary for Dad’s hospital stay.

I dreamed that my brother and I went to a group therapy session where Mom said that I was not actually born in January and that she had two other children that we did not know about.  We looked at each other while trying to decide if this was the truth or delusion.

I woke suddenly, my desperation and confusion as vivid as it was nearly a year ago, when it was real and daily for almost three weeks.

In the recovery community we are well aware of the emotional tides that an anniversary brings.  And while some brush it off as folklore, others of us invariably have a using dream around the time of our sobriety date.

When I was a young woman, a beau took me to his aunt’s beach house for a holiday.  The sea was rather rough on our first day out.

“If a big wave comes along,” he said, “just duck down and let it wash over you.  That way it won’t knock you down.”

That advice has been a metaphor for me throughout recovery, reminding me that humility and surrender are not evidence of weakness, but of courage.  They are also the biggest windows one can open to allow grace to enter one’s life.

So this morning I am letting the waves of grief wash over me.  I am giving myself time for my heart to slow down and my panic to subside, reminding myself that it’s over.  I got through it.  And I am OK.

I am remembering I have more than a dozen friends who’ve lost a parent, a sibling, a child, a grandparent, even an ex-spouse in the past three years.  From time to time they reach out to me, surprised by the intensity of their sadness.

This is for them.  I love you.  You will get through it.  And you are OK.

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triage

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when Faith is a well-chewed pencil point breaking mid-page,

on the periphery, Hope quietly burps and squints through a frazzled curl.

The skyline returns to its place in the distance
while Love finds a spot not far from the marker,

merrily beaming and resolute as the greening wood.

~ for Rachel

slamming doors

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When my neighbor goes out, I hear him.  This building has heavy doors that have to be slammed shut.  So last night around 8 pm I felt the familiar vibrations in my room.

Good, I thought.  I hope he’s going someplace fun.  Earlier I had heard him singing downstairs.  His car has been in its spot a lot lately, and I was afraid maybe he was ill.  So I was glad to know he was getting out.

He wasn’t gone long.  Maybe dinner out and a movie in.

I heard him leave again around 10. Time for the bands to start.  I imagined him laughing and dancing in a club downtown.

But he returned in less than an hour.

And then left again.

And came back.

And left again.

During the times I was trying to go back to sleep, I made up a story about this charming and lovely young man.  He simply went to the store for cookies.  Got home, decided he needed milk. Forgot his wallet and had to make another round trip.

I remember someone telling me about buying 8 balls all night long, one at a time, until the money ran out.  I don’t remember the figure, just that it was several months’ rent.

I don’t know if the money ran out for my neighbor.  The last time I heard the door slam it was followed by a loud thud, just the sound a large chair makes when it’s knocked over.  Or just the sound a healthy male body makes when it hits the floor.

I got up this morning and put in my half-day at work. I made lunch, loaded the dishwasher.  I sat by the open window to write.

The rain has begun.  It is the only sound on the street.  There has been no singing downstairs.

Mentally I review Chapter 5 of the Big Book.  I am glad my neighbor is single, that he has no children at home.

I ask God to help him, and me, and all the homes with slamming doors.

read the book

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I’ve been to his home, Rowan Oak, in Oxford many times. But before last night I’d never read a William Faulkner novel.

I know, I know; I’m already ashamed.

Maybe it’s because I always tried to start out with “The Sound and the Fury.” By the second page I still hadn’t figured out what the heck was going on. So I always copped to rather more soothing reading.

But James Franco’s “As I Lay Dying” was on Netflix. As it was Christmas weekend and I had a scarf to knit, I figured, what the heck: another California actor trying to play a country boy. Let’s see how bad this is. “The Beverly Hillbillies” has persistently informed Hollywood’s iconic Southerner and we’re still trying to live it down.

As a director, Franco excelled. But it was Tim Blake Nelson who knocked my socks off. I have known people like Anse Bundren and am probably related to one or two. So my impressions of the film were visceral.

In the Delta, you go about your business in the rain. It’s not unusual to see someone on the street without a raincoat. But in Faulkner’s narrative, oldest son Cash works in a downpour, as both tribute and grief.

His sister, Dewey Dell, faces her dilemma with a naivete that speaks to a different time. Her situation, unfortunately, threatens today’s young woman under the yoke of regressive legislation.

An obsessive fatalism ruled the Bundren family. Burdened by such a mission, they tromped on the tender shoots of Providence. The message was not lost on me.

I located a PDF of the novel and downloaded it last night. I did not stop until I read the last page. Today my eyeballs feel blistered and my attention wanders from my work because I have downloaded “The Sound and the Fury.” Now that I have a feel for Faulkner’s cadence and convoluted narrative, I feel empowered to try it again. Also, I’m excited to see if I learn more new words. I had never experienced the term “pussel-gutted,” but I plan to use it in a comment soon.

Franco made “Sound/Fury” into a movie this year. I think this time I’ll read the book first.

coolness

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It is a rainy, chilly Monday morning. I have to drive downtown to see my dentist. I’m killing time before I leave, playing 8 Ball Pool on Facebook.

My opponent is DarkFeelings, and his avatar looks slightly like a Smurf. I’m guessing DarkFeelings is a male, because this game is the realm of mostly young or youngish men, rock star or gangsta wannabes.

I wonder what they think about my avatar: a meme of Gromit with a caption that says, “Knitting: It makes everything better.”

Nevertheless, I sympathize with DarkFeelings. I have some Dark Feelings of my own.

See, I was left off a Cool Girls List.

In times past I have been a Cool Girl, times when I immersed myself in a culture (or subculture) which eventually consumed me.

Right now, I am not a Cool Girl. In fact, I’m practically invisible. Since my dad’s death four months ago, I have been rebuilding social stamina. I’m not there yet.

But being left off this latest list felt a lot like adolescence, when I was always too something. Too outspoken. Too nonconformist. Too alpha female (whatever that is).

The truth is, I like those things about myself. It’s when I’m ashamed of them that there’s a problem.

DarkFeelings scratches the cue ball and I run out the game, leaving him with five on the table. I offer to play again but the Smurfy avatar vanishes.

My next opponent has a name I cannot decipher, because it is in Russian. It could be Kevin but it could also be Katie. (There are a few women on here.) This player’s avatar is a photo of two young boys holding hands. It’s possible I’m playing one of the boys’ parents.

But on Facebook one just never knows.

Between shots I ponder the old, familiar feeling of shame, a straitjacket from my throat to my ribs. While Kevin/Katie lines up the next shot, I Google “cool girl.” One result takes me to an article, which I passive-aggressively publish to my Facebook page. It theorizes that coolness is borne of practice, a kind of covert conformity to a very subtle standard.

I do not try to guess the identity of the next 8 Ball player. Drawing conclusions from the wispiest knowledge set me up to step off Monday’s curb into a funk. Making assumptions about what I am and ought to be is just no way to get rid of Dark Feelings.

Instead I discuss it with my Higher Power. And I recall that Jesus Christ was a Cool Girl — until He wasn’t; that is, when He was too outspoken, too nonconformist, too alpha male (whatever that is).

I recall also that He was always hanging out with people who would never have made the Cool Girls List.

Then I pick up my knitting.

angry

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I’m angry, OK?
It’s the second stage of loss and grief in the Kubler-Ross model. I get that.
Thank God for that woman. She gave me a flow chart for feeling like a maniac.

In fact, I’m so angry that I just Googled it: “I’m so angry.”

I got some hits (ha, about a gazillion. There are lots of other angry people on the World Wide Web.)

Actually, my first Google search was “Help me to forgive.”
I’ve been seeing this meme on Facebook that says, if I want to be a big girl, I have to forgive.  Or something like that.

So that search took me to tinybuddha.com and “How to Forgive Someone When It’s Hard.”
When you land on the page, the subtitle reads “30 Tips to Let Go of Anger.”

By the time I read the first two screens I was more pissed off than ever.
Hence the second search.

And that took me back to tinybuddha.com: “20 Things to Do When You’re Feeling Angry with Someone.”

Part one of the lesson here, Grasshopper, is that you need to be all the way angry before you can forgive.
Part two of the lesson is what I call shaking hands with the Devil and introducing yourself.  It’s sort of taking the emotion out of the emotion, if you like.
Part three involves working with the other party.  This is about navigating relationships.  It gets really tricky here if the person you feel angry about is not open to honest communication.
It concludes in part four, which is the learning part.  It’s here where, if there’s a relationship stalemate, you choose to end it.

So this is really a pretty helpful deconstruction of the second stage of grief by tinybuddha.com.

But it’s still grief and, as such, needs to be recognized.

Anger is a God-given emotion.  It serves a useful purpose.
A workshop I attended once showed me it’s a consequence of pain, part of our fight/flight response, the thing that has helped us evolve as a species.

I have to remember that I won’t always be angry.  Next I get to bargain.  And I’m good at that.
Then depression: I’m really, really good at that.
But at the end is acceptance.  And that’s where I was headed to begin with.

I just need to remember that I’m not there yet.  Right now I’m just where I am.  I’m angry. And it’s OK.

Bill

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Bill

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. ~ I John 4:18.

In J school we were taught not to bury the lead. But this is my blog and I can do what I want to because I am a grownup.

I remember a sermon decades ago; the minister was saying that John was the Love Apostle and in his gospel account of Jesus’ life, John was just getting warmed up.

The intro in my Bible to I John says his gospel and three books were all written around the same time and that II John was written to a Chosen Lady, who may have been a person or who may have been the Church.

Times were tough and there was a lot of double-speak in the fellowship because, well, you could get killed just for knowing who Jesus was.

So when in I John 2:10 he says, “Whoever loves his brother lives in the light,” he was probably talking about the disciples, but for me this verse is about the other child of my parents, Bill.

He was named for my dad’s dad, William, and for my dad’s favorite ball player, Stan Musial. He showed up in our family a week before Christmas on December 17. His birthday was like the pre-party for Santa. I’m trying to remember if Bill ever had a gift that wasn’t wrapped in red or green.

I was not yet 2 when Bill was placed in the car seat (yes, we had them then) next to me in the back of our ’53 Plymouth. I wasn’t sure what he was or why he was there, and I promptly smacked him on the head.

What ensued was a lot of yelling and crying from the front seat of the car. I have been viewed with suspicion and alarm by my parents ever since, and rightly so.

Bill and I haven’t been a big part of each other’s life for the last 30+ years. We’ve made up for it over the past three weeks, I think.

What has been remarkable has been our ability to work in tandem. On July 21 and 22 when my dad and mom respectively went to the ER, we chose to trust each other, in spite of what we’d been repeatedly told was the truth about us.

For myself, I sent up a short prayer right about then to God, asking Him to please help me to keep my gnarly ego quiet. If I could play nice, that most certainly would attest to the power of prayer.

I tell folks (when I can remember to do so) that in every tragedy lies a blessing. We may not see where the blessing falls, but if you’re lucky you can get some on your shoes.

So my blessing today is that I know Bill has my back. I hope he knows that I have his. I love him. And I am in the Light.

lovebirds

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Last night my daughter called. There doesn’t seem to be a flat rock in the middle of our lives where we can just sit in the sun and be still for a while.

“It’s an icky place to be,” I said.

“It’s icky,” she replied.

I woke this morning with a familiar flutter in my chest, about two degrees of stress away from a panic attack. It sort of feels like too much caffeine, only I haven’t had any yet.

Last Sunday afternoon my brother called. Mom was afraid and had called the police. Dad was angry and combative.  About six hours later he was admitted to a hospital room.

On Monday Dad’s nurse called me to come get Mom. About five hours later she was admitted to a room around the corner from Dad.

They both have some form of dementia. It doesn’t matter which kind, they’re impaired. Their bodies have outlived their minds and that just doesn’t seem fair.

On Wednesday I went to their house to remove anything that burglars might want and to bag up what might need laundering. I filled the hatch of my car with boxes of files, anything that looked like an important document. I left the four leaf bags full of laundry on the living room floor. I put two leaf bags full of ruined bedding in the trash.

On Thursday I went back and removed boxes of photos, more documents, stacks of mail, folios of papers: my dad’s military records, my mom’s notebooks.

I went home and began looking for the money. A memory care facility for both of them is going to be expensive.

By Saturday afternoon I had it all sorted. I had discarded enough paper to fill the garbage cart: junk mail, magazines, empty envelopes. Mom’s carefully collected recipes are on the kitchen table. Boxes of cancelled checks and insurance policies and medical records litter the living room floor.

My parents never owned a computer. My dad has an Underwood typewriter that uses a ribbon. Among his stuff I found a box of typewriter erasers and brushes and several packs of carbon paper.

As I type this I am thinking that some of my readers will not know what these things are, and I can feel them Googling now.

st.francis

Grammy & Grampy are both patients in the hospital. Both have dementia. She doesn’t remember why they are there, and she keeps trying to take him home. Doc says they are trying to keep the #lovebirds together. ❤️

“Have they ever been apart?” my brother asked.

“In the ’60s Dad went on active duty for two weeks,” I replied.

I took my parents some clothing during visiting hours. They were sitting in the hall with another patient, in chairs lined against the wall across from the nurses’ station.

Mom now talks of nothing else but caring for Dad. His welfare is her only need.

She asked me to help her find a place for them to live. When she began to weep, I cradled her. She rested her head on my shoulder like a little girl and quieted. Her body felt like delicate glass that might shatter at any second.

Gently prodding Dad awake, she said, “Look who’s here.”

Dad slowly brought me into focus and smiled. He was too groggy to speak, but he winked at me. To this day it thrills me when he does that.

Mom rose from her chair to wipe his lips with a corner of his blanket. She smoothed his hair and kissed him on the mouth.

“We want to keep the lovebirds together,” their doctor said.

Yes. As long as we can. #lovebirds

witness

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heartfull_choose_love_-5587Sometimes you have a day in which you feel everything is falling into place.

You didn’t do anything; you’ve just been putting one foot in front of the other, trying to do a little better with your diet and exercise, maybe taking five minutes to meditate, reaching out to a friend who’s struggling and telling her that she matters.

Maybe it’s because your doctor tweaked your meds a little. Maybe it’s because the rain cleared the air and it’s easier to breathe. And maybe it’s simply grace.

Whatever the reason, those days have been few and far between over the last several years, and I am grateful for this one. And I want to tell you: don’t give up. You can have one, too. It’s my belief that God wants us to have an abundant life and that our struggles ennoble us. And with a little gratitude, I can see that my life is already abundant, that I have more than everything I need.

That’s all. I love you and I know that you love me. We can’t help it. It’s how we’re made.

lol

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I was watching an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” last night and I laughed out loud. I really did. All by myself with no one to hear me. It kind of surprised me, not only because that hasn’t happened in a long time but because I hadn’t realized that until just then.

It means I’m healing. My prayers mean something. Faith pays off. And I can trust my process.

Letting go has been so, so hard.  Trying to understand the importance of self-nurture and what that looks like has been a struggle.  And I don’t mean splurging on frozen custard or a spa day, but true self-nurture:  resting when I’m tired, cooking the food that I love in the way that I love it, saving up for and purchasing things that I really need instead of running up my credit card buying things just to satisfy an urge.

Then there were the trickier parts of this: turning off my phone at night so I get the sleep I need. Taking a whole day off to be a goddess of the hearth. Tackling small projects a little at a time instead of planning grandiose outcomes that will exhaust me.

This all seems like really simple stuff, but I know folks in recovery can take a long time to figure it out and some just give up.  So I want to say to those folks:  don’t give up.  Even when it hurts.  Even when you feel stupid.  Even when you act like an ass.  Just keep going.  And someday, all by yourself, you really will laugh out loud.