More Blessings of Sobriety

Today the hubs and I are going to be out all afternoon. Our kids and grandchildren are  convening at our house while we’re out. My older daughter will be cutting her nieces’ and sister in law’s hair, and when we come home we’ll all have dinner together. They’re meeting here because our house is the most conducive to a big family gathering. After their haircuts, all the of little ones will play together while my kids and their spouses  hang out and visit, and then they’ll set the table and order a couple of pizzas.

You’re probably thinking, sounds like a typical Saturday for a normal family. And you’d be right. But during a period in our lives that seems like a million years ago, voluntarily spending time with our daughters wasn’t appealing, to put it mildly. Neither was feeling comfortable leaving them alone in the house. As a matter of fact, I would lock my bedroom door and my husband’s office door before leaving home. Every single day. Anything of value was locked up or hidden. I used to say, “You know when I can tell the girls are lying? Their lips are moving.”

That probably sounds heartless and harsh and over-the-top. But you have to understand that they were both heroin addicts. They were so far gone that our family was in ruins. I hated the sight of both of them.

Thankfully – long story short – they both did the hard work necessary to get sober. And in doing so, they not only repaired their bodies and souls and lives. Their transformation from dead-eyed strangers to the young women we raised also restored our faith in them. I now absolutely trust either one of them, in any situation, to do the right thing. They both embrace honesty and integrity in their everyday lives. We’re so unbelievably proud of them.

So the thought of them being “home alone” while we’re out, while absolutely unthinkable ten years ago, is of zero concern today. All courtesy of sobriety.

And a “normal” family dinner is still a miracle to me.

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An Attitude of Gratitude

Thanksgiving is next week and I’ve been mentally assembling my gratitude list. Here it is, in stream-of-consciousness order:

1. My husband and I have adjusted happily to his recent retirement. He takes care of two of our granddaughters one day a week, subs at the school he used to teach at a couple of days a week, and pretty much plain damn does what he pleases with the bulk of the rest of his time. After 43 years, it’s pretty amazing that we can still tolerate each other, much less enjoy hanging out together. He’s truly my favorite person.

2. I’m so grateful that my kids have all reached a level of contentment and relative peace in their lives. They’re all married and settled and pretty happy. Gainfully employed and making plans for their families and their futures. Our granddaughters are our Number One fans – and it’s 100% mutual. There’s another grand baby on the way. What parent/grandparent could ask for more?

3. My schedule at work this year is manageable and enjoyable. I’ve been pushed waaaaaay out of my comfort zone in terms of what I’m teaching. Guess what? You CAN teach old dogs new tricks! My co-workers and I are in sync about SO many things. I try to remind myself how fortunate I am to work with friends. I almost – ALMOST – feel guilty about getting paid to have this much fun. I’ve fallen back in love with my job, and I try to remind myself of how lucky I am every day.

4. Friends, old and new. Some have suffered losses this year: a brother, a father….. and I’m grateful to be present and able to hold space for them. So very grateful for my sober friends: my online group, and one special friend and her husband that my husband and I have met and become fast friends with. Also very grateful for a new friend – newly sober – who has reached out to me and become a special new light in my life. She reminds me of how it felt to walk this path in the early days, and it’s a privilege to offer her support and share my experiences.

5. My health, physical and mental. This old bird still feels like a 19-year-old most days. I’m one of those rare women who actually LIKES  her body.  It’s produced three healthy children, fed two of them, and gets me where I need to go. I’m proud of every stretch mark and scar. They mean I survived.  I’m happy, content, at peace, and find joy in life’s smallest moments. I couldn’t possibly ask for more.

So, friends – there’s my gratitude list.

What are YOU grateful for?

But for the Grace of….

The Universe? God? I don’t know what I believe. But I do have a confession to make.

I have been wallowing in self-pity and resentment. Marinating in “it’s not fair,” and, “I don’t get paid enough for this responsibility,” for the better part of this school year.

You see, I’m a Teaching Assistant. I teach more classes than the two teachers I work with -several more classes per week. I’ve had some really challenging students to deal with. I even went to the principal, who “mansplained” my job to me and basically dealt with my complaints by metaphorically patting me on the head. He even had the balls to admonish me to keep my unhappiness and frustration with my workload from affecting my relationship with my students.

This, from our Fearless Leader who is famous for not only bringing his domestic issues to work with him, but unleashing on anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path. Asshole.

So where does the Universe come in, you ask?

Well, sometimes the Divine tweaks us on the nose just when we need it most, if we’re paying attention.

Yesterday we had a long-anticipated sleepover with Darling Granddaughter #3. We kicked off the festivities with a rollicking trip to the grocery store – do we know how to show a kid a good time or WHAT?

As we enter the produce department, I notice another Grandma and Grandpa happily doting on an adorable baby in their shopping cart. The Grandma and I make eye contact and share a knowing smile.  As it happens, she and I find ourselves inspecting the same vegetables. On impulse, I say, “Isn’t being a grandparent SO much more fun than being a parent?” She laughs and replies, “I remember your husband from High School!” So I urge her to go over and say hello to him.  She does, and I follow.  I’m entertaining our granddaughter, half listening to their conversation.   I freeze when I hear him expressing condolences to her. I glean from the conversation that she’s lost a son to addiction, within the past six months or so.

My husband shares with her that we have two daughters who narrowly escaped with their lives – addicts ten years in recovery now…. He gives her a big hug, and I do too.  As we walk away I find myself fighting back tears. I know we could very easily have lost not one, but both of our daughters. I can’t even imagine what hell she’s going through.

And then it occurs to me – that could so easily have been us. And in the grand scheme of things, my problems are so minor.  I have a job with co-workers I adore. I don’t have to worry about being laid off. My husband, children, and grandchildren are healthy. All of my immediate family lives within 30 minutes of me.  I want for nothing.

I need to keep all of this in mind the next time I feel negativity start to creep in.

Because for a million and one reasons, my life could have easily become a tragedy. It’s quite the opposite.  And I’m so unbelievably grateful.

Another Sobriety Anniversary

Ten years ago, our lives were a nightmare of chaos, drama, anger, despair, and terror. Every day was ruined by our daughters. Every time the phone rang, we were acutely aware that it could be the police telling us we needed to come and identify their bodies. At the very least, it was usually one of them, wheedling and manipulating us for money. Our lives had slowly become something unrecognizable, our home a war zone. Every day, I’d come home from work dreading what would be waiting for me: two daughters who were barely recognizable as the girls we’d raised. They were sullen and sneaky and beyond hateful. Monsters who were slowly killing themselves and, in the process, taking us with them. You see, our precious daughters had become heroin addicts.

My husband and I got ourselves into counseling when it became glaringly apparent that what we were doing to help them (pay their bills, give them chance after chance after chance to turn themselves around) wasn’t working. We began to change how we reacted to the daily drama.  But what really brought their addiction to a screaming halt was our town’s Drug Court.  They turned themselves in to the police after getting involved in some illegal stuff – and the Court stepped in.  They were given two choices: get and stay clean, or go to jail. Well, there were more than a few bumps in the road, but ultimately – they both chose sobriety and a return to their place  in our family and our hearts.

They’ve transformed from dead-eyed strangers to two young women I absolutely adore: wicked smart, absolutely hilarious (usually inappropriately), hard-working, and ambitious. Our older daughter is married and the mother of two precious little sweethearts I couldn’t possibly love more. She has hopes and dreams for her future and plans to go back to school to become a sonogram tech in a few years.  Our younger daughter has worked her way up in Financial Aid at a local business school. She attained a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology while working full-time. She’s also married, and planning to start a family soon.  They’re both fully engaged in life and society and our family.  I’m so unbelievably proud of them and beyond  grateful that they’re whole and healthy. I have to believe that they survived their addiction for a reason.

Tonight we’ll enjoy some of our favorite things: chips and queso and guacamole, cheese, crackers, and cupcakes. We’ll celebrate with waaaay too much food and even more laughter.  I’ll encourage my husband to propose a toast – I know myself well enough to be sure that trying to put what I feel into spoken words would just result in tears. My heart is so full.  And I know how impossibly lucky we are that our girls have returned to us.

Life is good, friends – so incredibly good.

A Week of Extremes

My summer is melting like ice cream on a 90 degree July day – every day is jam-packed with granddaughters or yoga or long walks or even ice-skating with my husband. There’s a world of difference between last summer, my first as a sober adult, and this summer. Sobriety is as much a part of me as my eye color or height – just a part of what makes me “me.”

But last week, out of the blue, our son lost his job.  None of us saw it coming, as he’d worked his way up (in one of our city’s charter schools) from per diem substitute, to classroom teacher, to administrator, to principal.  He was the only constant employee in the school’s 13-year history.  A new ‘top dog’ was hired recently, and the decision was made to clean house. So his position was written out of the budget. Thirteen years of employment was reduced to six boxes in the back seat of his car.

At first, he was stunned. Then enveloped by such deep sadness. Then furious.  And he’s used his anger to propel him forward as he contemplates a brand-new career.  We were watching his two little girls that day and, consequently, were the first family members to see him.

I hugged and kissed my boy. And told him how sorry I was. And said that it was their loss.  And that they were fucking fuckers to do this to him.  And I cried a little after hearing that his sweet five year old tried to console him with a story about how she knew he was sad to leave his job, but that she understood how he might be feeling.  Because she was really sad to leave kindergarten but now she’s looking forward to first grade – and maybe he’d be just as excited about a new job.

But never – even though my mother’s heart was crushed for him – did drinking cross my mind.

And then a few days later, my entire family: three kids,  two sons-in-law, daughter-in-law, and three granddaughters, traveled to Cleveland to beam with pride as our youngest graduated from the University of Phoenix.

This young woman is in long-term recovery from heroin addiction and has attained her bachelors degree while working full-time.  It’s taken the better part of six years. And back in the dark days of her addiction, I never would have dreamed that she’d graduate from college. I thought it was far more likely to be planning her funeral.  But by God, she did it.  It was a weekend of memories I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.

And again, I never wanted to drink to celebrate.  I wouldn’t dream of fuzzing out one second of the joy and pride and gratitude to a beneficent universe that I felt.

We can suffer crushing disappointment – sober.  We can experience huge, huge triumphs – sober.

And while it doesn’t make the hard stuff suck any less, it’s processed and moved through more efficiently when we “feel the feels,” instead of numbing out.  Because the unpleasant feelings are still waiting there, waiting to be dealt with, once you sober up. It’s just delaying the inevitable.

Being present for the good stuff makes for glowing, complete memories that last forever.  And they play in your mind, over and over, in a glorious loop.

Who knew that giving up one little thing would grant so many enormous blessings?

 

Game-Changing Gratitude

A couple of weeks ago, I was a guest at a bridal shower for my sister-in-law. My granddaughters were invited, too – which was a huge treat for me. My youngest granddaughter is shy in social situations when there are a lot of people kind of converging on her – come to think of it, who wouldn’t be put off in a situation like that?

Anyway, this little one’s Mommy wasn’t feeling well, so I stayed close and focused on keeping the toddler happy and occupied. I rarely have an opportunity to spend such concentrated time with all my grands, so I was in my glory.
Had a lovely afternoon, and thought everyone else did too.

Wrong.

A few days later, my husband gets an email from his elderly uncle (at the behest of his wife, who was also at the shower). Apparently I didn’t spend enough time with them at the shower and they wanted to know what was wrong “before it becomes a problem.” Wonderful man that he is, the hubs fired an email right back setting them straight and ending with, “nothing is wrong and it won’t become a problem unless someone MAKES it one.”

Have I mentioned lately how crazy I am about him?

Fast forward to yesterday. There was an engagement party for the bride-to-be and her intended, that we (and the bride’s other siblings) were hosting. I was very edgy about having to see this aunt and uncle in person again, so soon after the tension their email created.

Now, a great strategy I’ve used in the past is to reward myself after something stressful. But I had a whole afternoon to fill BEFORE the party. So here’s what I did: I used a gift certificate for a pedicure, which is one of my very favorite indulgences. Then I came home and had about an hour before we needed to leave for the party.

So, I made myself a coffee, went into my bedroom and closed the door, and used a free meditation app called “Insight Timer.” I was scrolling through the menu looking for something for stress relief. But instead I stumbled on an eleven minute guided meditation for gratitude.

This was a complete game-changer, people.

My head was filled with images of my three sweet granddaughters, my grown children and their spouses, my precious husband….. There was absolutely no head space left for the asshats I was so worked up about.

And everyone showed up at the party and it was just fine. As a matter of fact, as we were choosing which table to sit at, I looked over and noticed that the offending relatives were sitting all alone. I just looked at my husband and said, “Let’s go sit with them.” And we did. And it was – fine. Really fine! I felt like I was adulting like a champ. I had the upper hand with them, was gracious and friendly – and I have no idea where it came from.

The party was really nice, everyone had a good time – even me! And I was home and in my pjs by 8:30.

I just had to share, as we head into the summer, with its graduation and summer and 4th of July parties – maybe try stocking your mental shelves with gratitude before you head out? It just might help, more than you can imagine!

Even More Gratitude for a High Bottom

Something happened last week that I’d like to tell you about. This story is aimed especially toward anyone who’s sitting on the fence, suspecting that their relationship with alcohol isn’t healthy, but not sure if that’s a good enough reason to quit. After all, you probably have a successful career, marriage, happy family…. You’re fine! You’ve never had to deal with any negative consequences of your drinking, right?

I totally get where you are – I was there too, for many years.

I’ve mentioned before that one of the main reasons I decided to quit drinking was the fear that I would do something under the influence that would hurt one of my grandchildren. Thankfully – I stopped before anything like that ever came to pass.

Our youngest granddaughter is almost two. She lives six minutes away and we see her several times a week. This child is a miracle – born to our older daughter after a pregnancy fraught with complications that I’d never heard of before – complete with an emergency c-section delivery that was completely harrowing.

In her short time on earth, she’s been hospitalized two or three times with viruses and high fevers. She has asthma. And peanut, tree nut, and cat allergies. You’d never know it by her appearance or the way she talks and plays and sings. To say that she’s precious to us is an understatement of epic proportions.

So last weekend was rainy and chilly. I had a hankering for homemade sauce and meatballs. We invited our daughter, son-in-law, and this little one over for dinner.

I’m happily tending to the sauce and boiling spaghetti. For some reason I may never understand, a little voice in my brain says, “Check the pasta boxes.” So I go to the recycling bin and pull one out. I’m struck dumb when I read the ingredients: made with chick pea and lentil flour. Both are legumes and could have caused – no, WOULD have caused – a pretty dramatic allergic reaction. So I told my daughter what I discovered and we quickly regrouped. Little sweetheart did have Grandma’s meatballs, cottage cheese, and corn. Strange combination, but she loved it.

But here’s the thing: if I hadn’t made the decision to quit drinking, I know myself well enough to know that I would have had two or three glasses of wine already on an afternoon just like that one. (Pasta and sauce? You HAVE to have wine, right?) And if I even heard that little voice, which I doubt, I’m reasonably certain that I would have ignored it.  The results would have been awful: for her, for her parents…. And most definitely for me.  I would never, EVER have forgiven myself.  And the entire situation would have been a direct result of the muddled state of mind that I routinely inflicted upon myself by drinking.

By nature, I’m not a hand-wringer or a worrier.  I’m not big into wasting my time with “what-ifs.”

But I know, in the very core of my being, that I dodged a HUGE bullet last weekend.  Another reason I’m so incredibly grateful that I stopped drinking when I did.

Glorious Chaos

The kids all came over for dinner yesterday, to celebrate Mother’s Day. My husband had ordered specialty pizzas from my favorite place, along with these incredible, pizza oven baked, lemon-juice-and-olive-oil marinated chicken wings. Our son brought dessert and one of our sons-in-law brought two delectable salads he’d made. And homemade Gorgonzola vinaigrette. I was in food heaven!

By the time my son and his family arrived, our three year old granddaughter had fallen asleep in the car. She was carried in, snoozing contentedly, and lovingly placed in the middle of our bed and surrounded by pillows, to continue her slumber.

When she was awakened for dinner, it was discovered that she had peed on our comforter. It’s one of those big puffy ones that has to be cleaned in a commercial washing machine. I was a little unsettled, and went to determine just how much of our bed would need to be stripped and laundered. Luckily, nothing had soaked all the way through the bedspread so that was all that needed washing.

So, we sit down to dinner. Everyone’s laughing and talking and passing things at the table. My son goes to pick up one of the bowls of salad – which was heavier than he expected. The bowl slips out of his hand, and he inadvertently knocks over his bottle of beer. It goes sloshing across the table and onto his niece’s plate of food. This sweet toddler has recently been diagnosed with peanut and tree nut allergies, so her Mama prepares her food very carefully.  Into the trash her dinner went, and some homemade frozen soup had to be defrosted for her dinner instead. Much mopping up and apologizing ensued….

At the end of the evening, after everyone left, my husband and I headed up to the laundromat at about 8:30.  This was the view as we sat and chuckled  about the events of the day.

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And we laughed as we talked about how grateful we are that we HAVE children and grandchildren living within 20 minutes of us who can spill beer all over the dining room table and pee our bed.

I silently contemplated how differently I would have reacted to mishaps like this a couple of years ago.  Maybe not outwardly, but – I would have been SO massively annoyed, especially about being inconvenienced by the trip to the laundromat.  And no one but me would know how much I resented my “down time” (i.e., drinking time) being cut into. I was so incredibly calm and NOT stressed out.

Truly a Mother’s Day to remember.

Addition by Subtraction

Last weekend we went to a concert .  Our local philharmonic was playing, featuring the music of Elton John.  His music comprised a huge chunk of the soundtrack of my youth. One of the first songs they played was “Daniel.”  Admittedly, it’s a sad song – and I felt the tears start to well during the opening notes.  I was overwhelmed by a wave of nostalgia and regret and gratitude.

The nostalgia piece is probably obvious…. I spent hours as a young teenager, sitting cross-legged on the floor of my bedroom in front of the record player listening to “Madman Across the Water” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”  Memorized the lyrics written inside the album cover, singing along with every song.  It brought back memories of the girl I was, with my entire life ahead of me. I’m at a point in my life where there’s more of my life behind me than in front of me, and I guess I’m getting nostalgic in my old age.

And I had one of those “time-removed-from-time” moments: when you step outside of yourself and view your circumstances with such clarity and perspective that it feels almost other-worldly. I was so acutely aware of how the old, pre-sobriety me would have most likely approached an evening out like this one.  I would have suggested dinner out first – most likely with a cocktail first, and then wine with the main course.  The concert hall had several bars set up – I would have insisted that we wait in line to purchase overpriced glasses of wine to sip either before the concert or during the intermission.  Then I would have been a little “itchy” as the evening wore on, anxious to get home and have even more drinks.  Because it’s the weekend.  And a special occasion, of course.

And finally, the gratitude that washed over me was all-encompassing. Almost overwhelming.  It occurred to me that I was absolutely present and living in the moment – loving every second of the concert and so gloriously, acutely aware that this new way of life is a gift and a blessing.

I was struck by this feeling that I’d  been asleep for so long, focusing too often on the wrong things – and I’ve spent the better part of the past 20 months honing in on how to create a new life for myself. Without a trap door or escape hatch.  I’m just now fully waking up and appreciating the gifts that have been right in front of me for so long.

This sober life, that I was so terrified of – is so completely amazing.

The Most Epic Blog Post Ever Written

Yesterday, I woke up with the knowledge that my youngest, my baby – had cancer.

Until we found out she didn’t.

Let me back up and tell you the entire story, complete with some details that elude explanation and push the boundaries of belief…

A short while back, I mentioned that I was dealing with some worry over a child’s health issues. (Said “child” is 29 years old and married, but – she will always be my baby.) She had something funky growing on the skin of her lower back and was concerned enough about it to mention it to me last summer.  I took a peek at it and didn’t think it was anything to worry about, but suggested she keep an eye on it.

Fast forward to late fall… She mentioned it again and I suggested that she have it looked at.  One thing led to another, and her primary doc referred her to a dermatologist, who biopsied it.

Fast forward to about a week and a half ago, when I got a text from her during my work day, asking me to give her a call when I got a chance.  I did, and she told me she was given the news that the growth was malignant and that she’d need to see a sarcoma surgeon at THE cancer hospital in our city the following week.

As I listened to my child telling me that she had CANCER, my vision narrowed to a dark tunnel.  My heart followed my stomach, plummeting down to my feet.  I had the fleeting thought: “I can’t wait to get home and have a glass of wine.”

And then I went home and googled shit as if it were my job. Googled the name of the tumor.  Googled diagnoses.  Googled prognoses. Googled treatment protocols.  Googled morbidity data.  Googled the hospital.  Googled the surgeon.

And the information was alternately terrifying and reassuring, depending on which site I was visiting.  And the ten days between the diagnosis and the trip to the hospital were just. Awful.  Waiting. Wondering. Twisting in the wind.

I shared with a few friends at work, and shared more widely with a private Facebook group I belong to.  I felt buoyed by the messages of love and support I received.  People told me they were praying for her, for me, for our family.  Even though I’m not a religious person, I could feel the waves of positive energy flowing over us.  And it helped, so, SO much.

My poor husband bottled it all up. He shared with no one, and didn’t want to talk to me about it, either. He found a way to put everything on a shelf, as best he could, and just get through each day the best way he knew how.

I need to preface the really good part of the story by telling you that my in-laws were wonderful people and excellent, much-loved grandparents. I was particularly close to my mother-in-law. They’ve both been gone for quite a few years now, but let’s just say their presence is felt in our lives.

So.  The day of the consultation, I slipped on a ring that had been one of my mother-in-law’s.  Whenever I need a little of her strength, I wear something of hers to keep her close.  I knew I’d be needing all the help I could get.

We get to the hospital and my daughter does all the preliminary checking in stuff.  They tell us we can go upstairs to the sarcoma unit. It has its own private waiting room.  We walk in and my daughter walks up to the window to register with the receptionist, who notices my daughter’s cute purse and the two of them chatter like bffs about handbags (which I could personally give zero shits about.) So I tune out and look around the waiting room, which is unoccupied except for us.  There’s a TV mounted on the wall, and a local morning show is on.  So is the closed captioning. I look up to see the man being interviewed.  He happens to be a former teaching colleague of my father-in-law’s, and he’s talking about an annual Sleep Out for the poor and homeless that he and my father-in-law started in their school district many years ago.  AND SCROLLING ACROSS THE SCREEN ARE MY MOTHER AND FATHER-IN-LAW’S NAMES.

I shit you not.

So I interrupt my daughter’s handbag chat to point out what’s on the screen.  She gasps and says, “Mom! I was just saying to Tobin (her husband) the other day that I’d feel so much better about everything if I could just have a sign from Grandma and Grandpa that everything was going to be ok!”

And then, not ten minutes later, the Physician’s Assistant is asking my daughter some intake questions, including what she’s been diagnosed with.  My kid kind of mangles the multisyllabic pronunciation, apologizes,  and the P.A. says, “That’s ok.  You just put the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLAble.”  That just so happens to be a phrase that I’ve never heard anyone other than my father-in-law use.

And she follows that up with the information that the growth on my daughter’s back is, in fact, benign.   BENIGN, PEOPLE!!! I must have sounded like an imbecile as I sputtered, “What? I’m sorry – what did you say? What she has is NOT malignant?”  She just smiled benevolently and and asked, “Have you been on the INTERNET….?”  And I told her the website I’d been trolling for most of my information.  She just kept smiling and shook her head. “These types of tumors are almost always benign, although they have the potential to BECOME malignant.”

I could literally feel my shoulders relax and slump – let’s just say it was a good thing I was sitting down.

So, my daughter has to have the growth removed, and she’ll be sore for a few days.  She’ll be monitored for a period of time, and then move on with her life.

And we all feel like our lives have been handed back to us, intact and perfect and better than before.

And as strange and wonderful and fantastical as this story is, what I really want to leave you with is this:

We can do really, REALLY hard shit. Like stare our child’s mortality square in the eye. Stone cold sober.

And we can celebrate and rejoice and be jubilant. Stone cold sober.