Friday, December 6, 2013

Coming of age - I must be doing something right.

When I was a kid, I always wanted my ears pierced.  I wanted to be fancy and wear fancy sparkly earrings just like the big girls.  I was SOOOOO jealous of everyone and their pierced ears.  After months of begging, my mom told me that I had to wait until I was 10 and then I could get them pierced for my golden birthday, when I would be old enough to make sure I take proper care of my ears while they heal.  Lemme tell you, 10 could NOT come fast enough!

On the big day, mom and Grandma took me to the local mall jewelry shop and I picked out beginner studs that were gold with an opal colored stone.  Then I closed my eyes and held my breath as two girls with piercing guns stood on each side of me and pulled the triggers.  The adrenaline rush  was more powerful than the pain from shooting 2 fairly blunt objects through my virgin lobes and I didn't really feel any pain at all until I started to come off my high and realized my ears were red hot.  The next 6 weeks were spent putting Q-tips dipped in peroxide on my ears, and twisting my earrings clockwise 2 times on even days, and counter-clockwise on odd days, and asking mom when I could take these out and start wearing all sorts of earrings.

That was 28 years ago, and now I have 2 young daughters of my own.  When they began asking to get their ears pierced, it was easy for me to tell them they had to wait until they were 10 since that's how old I had to be.  I gave them the speech about being responsible enough to take care of their ears themselves and yadda yadda, but mostly I told them they had to wait because I just felt like it.  In January 2013, my eldest daughter "10" hit the magic age.  I told her I'd take her to get them pierced, but only by a real piercer (piercing guns really need to be banned).  She was pretty hesitant because of the pain aspect.  I told her there was no need to rush and that if she ever decided she wanted them done in the future, I would take her.

In the last few months, she has been bringing it up more and more.  Since they only had a half-day of school today, I decided to surprise her and take her to get it done while I get mine redone.  She squealed with excitement and burst into happy tears.  I can only imagine my little girl had the same look of excitement on her face that I did so many years ago.  While she was jumping for joy, her younger sister "9" slumped a little, focused her eyes on the ground, and quietly wiped her tears away.   She knew she wasn't old enough yet and she was jealous, but accepting.  She handled the news like a champ, albeit a sad little champ.  She knew she'd get to follow in big sister's footsteps in June, so she sucked it up and moved on with her night.  On the drive home, I began thinking about how 9's birthday is at the end of June and how that's prime swimming season and how fresh piercings and swimming don't make a great match.  9 wouldn't be able to get her ears pierced until September if she wanted to swim this summer.  What a crappy dilemma.  I decided to let it go and cross that bridge when we need to.

Once we got home, the coolest thing happened.  It started with a quiet conversation between me and 10.

Me: Would you  be ok with me letting 9 get her ears pierced tomorrow too, or no?
10: Why?  She's not old enough yet.
Me: If you want to have big sister privileges and make her wait, I totally understand and that's ok.  I was just thinking that with as much swimming as we do in the summer, 9 probably shouldn't get her ears pierced until September.
10:  Mom, that will really make her sad.
Me: Yeah, but that's ok.  She's waited this long, she can wait a little longer.  That's why I thought I'd ask you.  I don't want to take away from your special day of getting your ears pierced.

10 looked at me, looked in her sister's direction, looked back at me with teary eyes and said: I don't want her to be sad.  I think we should let her do it.  It's ok to share my special day with my sister.  She'll be so happy.  It'll be like 2 special days in 1!

My little girl is growing up.  She was mindful of her sister's happiness and put aside her opportunity to gloat and torture her sister for a few more months, and did what she felt was right.  She was showing love to the little sister she normally torments.

After this conversation, I explained the whole thought process to 9.  As I was talking, it was killing her to not interrupt me and ask if she was getting her ears pierced too.  She was balling up her little fists to keep her focused and quiet.  She knows I don't like to be interrupted and was probably a little too afraid to hope for the best since I am a stickler for sticking to my word once I've given it.  After what probably felt like an eternity to her, I broke the news that since her big sister was willing to share her special day, she too, would be getting her ears pierced.  She burst into tears, hugged me, and nearly collapsed on her sister's lap.  She was so grateful and so excited.  She knew how special it was that 10 was conceding and was doing it of her own free will.

Perhaps the only thing stronger than a sister's love, is the love a mother feels when she watches her children show love to each other in their own special way.  I am so grateful.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Shades of grey. No,not THAT kind.

Alcoholics are well known for seeing everything as black or white, good or bad, right or wrong, on or off.  Seeing in shades of grey is not our strong suit.  Learning to live in the grey area is always a work in progress.  I think one of the consequences of growing up is that there is less and less black and white.  The lines blur with extenuating circumstances.  Stealing is wrong.  Stealing medicine to save your child when you honestly can’t afford it seems a little…less wrong.  Lying is bad, but who hasn’t told their grandmother that they just LOVE that hand-knitted holiday cardigan with all of the reindeer on it?  It seems that compassion for others makes it easier for us to loosen the tight grip we hold on what’s right and wrong and view the situation on a scale of acceptableness.

Personal relationships is another area that has more grey area than I know what to do with.  After my divorce, I decided that I was going to take on new philosophies and try new things when it came to dealing with the opposite sex.  I was going to learn to be so independent that I could never be accused of being needy, but temper that independence with just the right amount so as not so seem standoffish or aloof.  I would never punish a new person for the sins of a previous one, yet keep my eyes open for old behaviors or patterns that might arise.  I was going to always be just a little bit less interested in them than they were in me.    I was going to keep so many traits so well-balanced that I’d nearly be irresistible.    And then I woke up.  I realized that even after all of the work I had done, I was STILL trying to morph myself into some sort of “ideal woman”.

I have changed a lot over the last couple of years and most of that is for the better, but I still have nowhere near mastered the art of the grey area.  I still live in the Land of Dichotomies.  I am an independent, single mom who doesn’t need anyone else to financially support her or her kids, but I will still expect you to offer to pay for dinner some times.  I will love the fact that we email each other every day and will be quite confidant we are on the same page (or at least on very similar pages), but will then worry when I don’t hear from you for a day or two.  When normally page-long emails turn into 3 sentence replies, I will instinctively “know” that I did something wrong and you have changed your mind about me.  Then I will follow that thought up with reminders that it is early-on and we’re both busy people and you had plans and that I should just settle down because it’s no big deal.  And then I’ll change my mind and flip flop between the two trains of thought until I drive myself crazy.

I have it on good authority (from a male friend of 18 years) that that type of circle jerk thinking drives men NUTS and is a huge turnoff…especially if he isn’t very invested in the girl yet.  In my defense, my hamster-wheel train of thought is NEVER spoken out loud to the person I am thinking about. I KNOW what that would look like.  Crazy, obsessive, possessive, not worth the hassle…take your pick.  In reality, none of that is true.  The truth is that after spending the majority of my life as a drunk that never grew up, I tend to keep an eye on my behavior to make sure I’m not going off the rails.  It’s not that I sit around over-analyzing every waking moment, but I DO try to take stock of my actions and motivations and make sure I’m still operating in the realm of “responsible, healthy adult”.  It's not that I’m insecure and think bad things about myself, it’s just that if I really DID do something to offend or hurt you, I genuinely want to know so I can try to make it right.

Relationships (even in the most casual sense of the word) are not black and white.  There is a ton of grey area that causes me to perform mental gymnastics until I’ve worked through it.  I don’t need someone to hit the mat and do gymnastics with me.  All I need is someone willing to step into the arena and say, “Hey!  No need for backflips today, I’m just a little tired and don't feel much like chatting.  I’ll catch up with you tomorrow.”

Friday, November 8, 2013

To share, or not to share, that is the question.

I've reached a point in my life where I have decided to entertain the idea of dating again.  The woman I've morphed into over the past few years barely resembles the creature I once was.  Instead of looking for someone to complete me, I feel I am at a point where I have something to offer someone else.  I finally have something positive to bring to the table of a relationship.

That being said, here's my dilemma.  I have been emailing back and forth for about a week with a guy.  For the first 3 days, I had no idea of what he looked like.  That was actually kind of fun.  Words were all that mattered.  There was no room for petty judgments.  On day four, I got to see some photos (I'll fess up, I had to PAY to join the site because I didn't want to lose contact with him once Free Weekend Registration was over), and was pleasantly surprised.  He's rather handsome.  I'm really enjoying getting to know him.  He's articulate, has a sense of humor, doesn't live too far away, and works in a profession that I once considered going in to.  So far so good.

He has his own blog and writes about his thoughts on various topics and happenings.  I mentioned that I had a blog too, but wasn't sure if I was ready to give him the link yet.  I told him that he should know that I'm a recovering alcoholic and he was cool with that.  Points for him!  I want to share my blog with him so he can get to know me better, but I don't want to scare him away.  My blog has always been honest and somewhat, well, REAL.  I write about my reality as it was and is, and some people may not be well suited to being hit over the head with it.

I have always struggled with timing in relationships.  I like to lay all my cards out on the table early on so as if to say, "Here's who I am.  If you like it, great!  If not, let's smile and part ways."  I think that's how I protect myself.  I never want to be accused of hiding something in the beginning that may be a game changer down the line.  I'm not very good at knowing how long to hold my cards though.  That line of "Dear gods, don't tell him this already, it's only been a WEEK" and "He seems like such a good fit, I just want him to know it all so he doesn't change his mind later" is a very blurry line for me.

While typing this, I realized something.  No matter what I decide to do, I'll be OK.  I'm no longer dependent on other people's reactions to me to define my happiness.  Holy shit, I think I've grown up!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Living with Ghosts

I live with ghosts, and have done so most of my life.  With time, they have grown quieter and I have learned to ignore them better when they do pop up again.  It hasn’t always been this way though.  Their haunting used to be loud and non-stop.  A virtual hamster wheel of haunting that would spin faster and faster and louder and louder until the only option was to do something drastic to make them stop.  They would quiet for a time, but slowly ramp up again until drastic measures were once again necessary.
Drastic measures come in many forms.  Drinking, drugging, gambling, shopping, one-night stands, eating, starving, exercising, staying in bed for days, self-injury…anything used in excess to be destructive and to not feel the feelings the ghosts were stirring up.  Feelings were unacceptable.  They hurt.  They left me with a crushing sense of dis-ease.  I spent years wanting to crawl out of my own skin.

Then I found recovery.  I got involved.  I listened to people I didn’t know, tell me things I didn’t like, to try to live a life I didn’t know if I even wanted.  People who admittedly couldn’t run their OWN lives, but were more than willing to jump in and run mine. Who the hell did they think they were, anyway?  They didn’t KNOW me.  They didn’t know ME.  I was different.  My problems were worse.  If they only knew, then they’d UNDERSTAND why I did the things I did.  If they only knew what I had been through, they’d congratulate me on fighting the good fight and pour me a drink as a reward for hanging in there.

Yeah…that didn’t happen.  I’m so grateful that didn’t happen.  If it had, I wouldn’t be here today writing this blog.  If I wasn’t dead, I’d wish I was.
I learned acceptance of where I was at.  I learned that while being victimized WASN’T my fault, playing the victim WAS.  I learned that although some people had treated me horribly, I had ALLOWED it to happen.  I taught people how to treat me.  I read the line, “…and so we found that our troubles were of our own making”. Damn it.  I had to learn responsibility; responsibility for MY actions and reactions.  That was a real buzzkill.  The cool part was that I also got to learn that I WASN’T as unique as I thought I was.  Yeah, I lived through a lot of bad shit, but so did a lot of other people.  I learned that I was no better, and no worse, than anybody else.  I learned that the people I was now surrounding myself with were sober and functioning in society, and many of them were even *gasp* HAPPY!  Imagine the hell out of that one. I learned about hope.  That is probably the most important thing I get from sobriety.  HOPE.  Hope that today will turn out ok, and that tomorrow will happen and I will get through that too because I don’t have to do it alone anymore.  I have a supportive network of people in my life.  Some sober, some not.  I have weeded out the toxic people and surround myself with the winners…or at least the ones that are trying like hell to be winners.  Today when the ghosts creep up on me, I can acknowledge that they are there, feel the feelings, and go on with my life.

Choose hope, you guys.  It’s SO much better than the alternative.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Postpartum Depression – why did I not know?

This was hard to write and put out there.  Please be kind.

In 2002, I got pregnant with "10".  I had lost babies before, so it was a high-risk pregnancy from the get go.  The anxiety of possibly facing another loss was compounded with the extreme "morning" sickness I suffered from.  I call it extreme because it lasted 39 of the 41 weeks I was pregnant.  All day.  Every time I ate and sometimes just when I SMELLED food.  I lost 35 pounds in the first 6 weeks.  It was THAT bad.  Other than that, it was a fairly uneventful pregnancy, and at 41 weeks, I was induced.  28 hours later, with a little help from the doctor and a vacuum, "10" was born.  Three stitches later, I was holding my baby girl.  I was exhausted, but glad that she was finally here.  Exhausted, relieved, happy, scared…just a few of the emotions rocketing through me at lightning speed.  Then it was time to nurse her for the first time.  That's when I started slipping downhill and didn't know it.

Since I was induced, my milk hadn't come in yet.  No problem, right?  I had read all the books and knew that colostrum came first and was enough to sustain the baby and the milk would come soon.  That's how women's bodies work.  It said so right in the books.  What the books neglected to tell me was that sometimes babies are born impatient and hungry and if the milk wasn't there, they would latch, give up, cry, latch, give up, wail, latch, give up, and scream bloody murder.  Then came the guilt.  Maybe if I had waited to go into labor naturally, my milk would have come in.  Maybe if I hadn't had a breast biopsy, my milk ducts wouldn't be fucked up on that side and my milk would let down.  Maybe if I had pierced BOTH nipples instead of just one, they both would have stuck out equally.  Maybe if my boobs weren't so damn big, she'd be able to latch more successfully and hang on instead of using my nipples as a chew toy.  Maybe if I wasn't allergic to lanolin, I could use the ointment the nurses had and my nipples wouldn't be cracked and bleeding and I wouldn't cringe and cry every time she wanted to eat.  Maybe I wouldn't hate feeding her.  Maybe I wouldn't want someone to just take her and make her happy since I obviously couldn't.  Maybe if I wasn't such a failure in life, I would know how to "do this" and I wouldn't hate life.

I remember sitting at home with her after my husband went back to work.  She wouldn't sleep unless she was laying on my chest.  If she was laying on me, she wanted to nurse.  I would sit in the rocking chair trying to figure out if there was a way to kill myself and not have it affect her.  She'd be better off without me, right?  I mean, after all, her mother was a fuckup in life who was a drunk and a drug addict.  Granted, I had been sober for quite some time, but that didn't matter.  I was a failure and she drew the short straw by having me as a mother.

My husband saw it before I did.  He saw me cry.  All the time.  He saw me get jealous when he held her and she wouldn't cry.  He told me that she didn't look to him for food, so she was more content to just lay there on him.  I didn't comprehend it.  I just saw it as her liking him better than me.  I was a failure, she knew it, and was happiest when away from me.  Nursing was supposed to be "beautiful" and "natural" and "easy"…just like the pictures of the nursing babies and mommas gazing into each other's eyes lovingly.  It wasn't supposed to be excruciating pain, bleeding nipples which caused her to spit up pink mild (which really freaked me the hell out!).  It wasn't supposed to be one breast turning bright red and burning hot on one side because the biopsy screwed up the milk ducts and caused a blockage.  It wasn't supposed to be me hating my own daughter.  What kind of mother feels like that?  What kind of mother puts her screaming baby in her crib so she can to in the other room and scream into a pillow?  What kind of mother looks at her newborn and begs them to "please shut the fuck up?"  Guilt, shame, remorse, repeat.  

Here's what I wish someone had told me:
1. It's OK to stop nursing and switch to a bottle.  A breastpump can be your friend, or you can switch to formula.  It doesn't mean you’re a bad mom. The world won't end and you'll both be happier. 
2. Get out of the house at least once a day.  Take a shower, put on clean clothes, and perhaps even brush your hair.  Just get out of the house and interact with people.  Being with others will take the baby off of your hands for a few minutes and give  you room to breathe.
3. Babies don't eat "about every 4 hours" like the books said.  They eat every TWO hours and sometimes it takes them 45 minutes to get full. 
4. If dying seems to be a viable solution, TELL SOMEONE.  Find a friend, or another mom.  Someone who isn't judgmental (or if they are, will keep their opinions to themselves) and TALK TO THEM.  Having no support system is a BAD BAD BAD idea.
5. Everything is temporary.  The crying and screaming won't last forever (yours OR the baby's), it's just for now.  Keep breathing and wear ear plugs if it helps.
6. After-baby hormones can be WAY worse than pregnancy hormones.
7. Know that you are a good mom even if the only thing you are doing is feeding and diapering them.  If you can't do that, find someone who CAN.  You're still a good mom.
8. Fuck guilt and rejoice that  infants have crappy memories and won't remember you going crazy.

Obviously "10" and I both survived.  She was 8-months old when I got pregnant with her sister, but that's a story for another time.  Every year on their birthday's I celebrate having kept them alive for another year.  Thankfully, they both have a strong self-preservation instinct. ;-)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

My story - Part 3 of 3 - Desperation Works Wonders

Pain is a great motivator.  It is usually only after suffering a great deal of emotional or physical pain, that I will be desperate enough to make a change.  I hope this is not always the case, but it is for now.  It wasn’t until I was thoroughly disgusted with myself that I tried to make a change.   Whore.  Thief.  Liar.  Worthless.  Crazy. Bitch.  Slut.  Drunk.  These were the words that raced through my head when I looked in the mirror.  The emotional pain was so great that I started cutting.  I masked the emotional pain by turning it into physical pain.  “You think you can hurt me?  Oh hell no!  I can hurt myself worse than anyone else can.  Just watch me!”  I turned everything inward and took it out on myself.  I wouldn’t punish other people, just myself.  I was drink to numb myself, and then I’d cut to feel.  It was a sick rollercoaster that I was on for a long time.

In order to try and get a handle on my life, I decided that if I could just implement some rules and stick to them, that I’d be ok again.  Control was the name of the game.  I had a plan.  I had many plans, in fact.  I’d only drink after 6 pm (but what if I drank all night until the early morning?) or only drink on the even days (until, that is, there was a reason to celebrate on one of the odd days).  I wouldn’t drink fruity drinks (those are for wimps anyway – pass the whiskey), and I wouldn’t drink alone (who would know how awesome I was if no one was drinking with me?).  I thought I could limit myself to 1 drink an hour.  Unfortunately, before long, I’d be in to next week’s quota (because I’m good at calculations and math like that).  All these plans ended the same way.  Drunk. It wasn’t until I was out of plans that I was desperate enough to make a change.  It wasn’t until a bullet to the head seemed the only choice, before I got desperate enough to do something about it.  My back was against the wall and I was finally beaten down enough to realize that none of my plans were ever going to work.  Drinking was awful and NOT drinking was awful.  I needed to find someone with a better plan.  I needed help (GASP!). 

In the interest of keeping this saga of my life to a 3-part litany and not drag it on even longer, I will summarize the rest by saying that after a few years of trial and error, I found the help I needed in a 12-step group that can be found VERY near the beginning of the Yellow Pages (for those old enough to remember phone books).  The people in those groups had plans.  They had plans that DIDN’T end in drunken debauchery.  Their plans seemed to be working and they seemed happy.  They shared their plans with me and planted a tiny seed of hope that maybe someday, if I kept doing what they were doing, I could be happy too.  It has been a bumpy road in sobriety.  I was under the assumption that once I got sober, everything would be peachy keen.  Nope.  Not even close.  “If you don’t drink, you won’t get drunk, and if you don’t get drunk, your life will get different.”  That is the truth as I’ve experienced it.  Life certainly IS different, and it’s usually better than I could have ever hoped for.