10 December 2005

The Gap Kid Who Had Other Ideas...

Like most parents, I had this preconceived notion that I would probably produce "Gap" Kids. You know, the kind that gravitate toward navy blue plaid skirts, button-down collared oxford shirts, knee socks and Bass loafers with no visible scuffs. I figured my kids would pop out in preppy mode.

I should have known when Katie popped out and refused to follow the rarely mentioned, but essential rule that she would actually breathe upon arrival in the delivery room, well, after I got over the terror of her delivery room prank, that I was in for an interesting adventure. I mean, she was two weeks late, and you would think, at the very least, she wuold have the decency to do the one thing that is expected of every baby that crosses the great divide between inutero and insanity; Was it really too much to ask that she just...breathe?

But that would set the tone. Katie has always done things her way. It made no difference to her if I had been waiting for 9 long months to hold her and do all that stuff the baby books alluded to. Katie had her own ideas - right from the start. In a rare display of consistency, she has remained faithful to that tenent. She has strong ideas and principles and she's not afraid to defend them.

My daughter easily mastered the rudimentary skill of breathing, but she has taken my breath away on more than a few occasions in the finest way possible. Mostly, I'm just in awe of her resolve, her powerful presence and the confidence with which she lives her life. Laid-back is not an adjective I would ever use were I asked to describe my daughter. There simply aren't enough descriptives.

Yesterday at work, I walked in to find several of my coworkers huddled around the computer monitor. Did something happen? Was there breaking news? What was the object of everyone's attention? As it turned out, one of Katie's friends had pulled up Katie's "My Space" site and, apparently, Katie had uploaded some new photos. Some I had seen before, but there were a couple that were new to me.

There was Katie - staring back from the monitor. It was a beautiful photograph and I finally understood the reason for their gaze. Katie works part-time at the same place I do, though she has been with the same group for four years. This is her territory, her turf and although I work there full-time, much to our collective chagrin, Katie can run that place with her eyes closed and both hands tied behind her back. She knows what I'm looking for before I ever ask for it. I may put in more hours than she does, but there's no doubt in anyone's mind that she's the brains behind the operation.

I am grateful for my job and I've learned quite a lot. It couldn't have come into my life at a better time and it is because of the kindness of a dear friend that I am there at all. But it's hardly career stuff. Truth is, I'd rather be writing. However, sometimes economics rears it's ugly, uninvited head and wouldn't you just know I've grown accustomed to having a roof over my head and, after five years, I kind of love my house. I have never lived in the same place five years, so somehow it's become home. Given that my mortgage company expects to be paid every month, Dan and I have had to pool our resources for those silly little essentials like food, shelter, petrol and insurance. Of course, I only ask him about six times a week if he can promise me that we might be in a position where I could write full-time, next year. Lovely man that he is, he always smiles and says "Absolutely. Of course you will. This is just temporary.". He realizes that this answer will satisfy me for a few hours, until I ask him yet again.

Can't blame a girl for trying.

In the meantime, I work in the world according to Katie. Almost imperceptibly, as we (well, she, not me) grow older, I feel our relationship moving more toward that of trusted friends, and perhaps what we have between us has less to do with authority - though, to be perfectly honest, I think any position of authority I might have imagined was more illusion than fact - something that Katie allowed me to feel.

From early childhood on, my no-nonsense daughter had her own ideas about how things should be. More often than not, she was exactly right. Maybe I managed to nudge her in the right direction, and talk her onto an airplane or two - which was fortunate and practical because, much as we might have wanted to, we couldn't stay in France forever.

At 22, barely 5 feet tall and maybe 108 lbs., Katie has grown into a beautiful, dazzling young lady. So lovely, in fact, that her co-workers and friends stop in their tracks to closely examine her photos on a computer at work. Of course, I had to go along with the consensus. My daughter is exquisite, both physically and maybe even more incredible in terms of intelligence and that force of a true spirit that seems to cast a glow on things both internal and external.

I could not rightfully take any credit for all of the accolades, even as I tossed in a few of my own. Katie was at class as we were fawning over her latest offerings and it was a good thing, because Katie would have broken such non-sense up in short order and reminded everyone that it was a salon and day spa we were running – not a photography class. And to be honest, for her to make such a statement would have been vintage Katie, the Katie we have all come to love and hold so very dear – the tiny, yet powerful, pixieish little “tornado”, (she has the tattoo to prove it!), has so much more going on than meets the eye.

My daughter is a lover of art, writing, all things history, European and otherwise, music, sociology, psychology and philosophy. She loves exchanging ideas but she doesn’t like plugging in formulas or memorizing math computations. Math just isn’t her bag. She hates air travel as well, but she doesn’t all that to hinder her desire to discover the world. Though only 22 years old, she’s already visited France, the UK and Ireland, where she was installed as an au pair and lived with a wonderful family and their three children. It was a great experience and the opportunity to live with an Irish family and work within a new culture appealed to Katie on so many levels.

My daughter loves shopping at thrift stores and consignment shops, wears heels that I would easily break my neck in, and changes the color of her hair more times than a chameleon changes color. This daughter of mine, when she agreed to be my maid of honor, surprised us all (shocked, really) by having certain strands of her hair tinted fuchsia. Now I have to ask you, how many people do you know who could pull off fuchsia hair, not to mention a beautiful skirt of the same color, and look good doing it? Clearly, this is not the stuff of Gap. I’m not sure The Gap even acknowledges the color of fuchsia. It seems too removed from khaki. No, Katie is not a Gap girl. We like it that way.

Katie has been my anchor. She has told me that Justin's not nearly as "out there" as many of her friends near the same age. She tells me his actions and decisions are pretty typical. She looks me straight in the eyes, especially when I feel most addled, and says, "Mom, Justin is going to be just fine. You'll see.". And of course, I cling to those words and her prediction. Knowing Katie, I think if she truly were concerned, as close as she and her brother are, she would shoot straight with me. At least, I'd like to think so.

The bond she shares with Justin runs deep and they truly are each other's best friends. It pleases me, this close relationship they share, and makes me wonder what it would have been like had my sister lived, but of course it could never have been quite the same. There's only 3 years and 3 months that separate Katie and Justin - and there were ten years between my sister and me. I'd still have loved to have had a sibling or two. Sometimes it's so puzzling to me when I hear of people who say they "no longer communicate" or have nothing to do with their sisters and/or brothers. I find that so sad. What could be so horrible that you couldn't work through it and get on with the fun of being siblings and sharing funny stories about what a dysfunctional childhood you had? Oh well, there's a lot I don't understand.

On August 26th, 1983, I was presented with a beautiful 6 lb., 14 ounce daughter and gosh I've loved helping her grow up, just as she's helped me grow up on so many occasions. Katie didn't turn out to be The Gap kid I always imagined. She's way too quirky for that cookie-cutter nonsense. Me? My closet could have a Gap sign hung on it because The Gap is well-represented, as are Doc Martens of every shade and style.

I go out of my way these days to avoid my favorite store because it's just too hard to peer through the windows and imagine what it used to be like wandering the aisles and touching the t-shirts in all of those luscious colors. Fortunately, most of what they sell is pretty timeless (i.e., boring), so at the very least, no worries about being "trendy", but then again, I never was. I hope someday I can visit and buy a few things, guilt-free. Until then, I have only to walk to my closet and, if I try really hard, I can simply pretend I'm in a fitting room with a lot of familiar looking clothes. For now, it's more important that I make sure I have a closet and a house to shelter my collection. You know, that dreary part of being an adult that requires one to have priorities. :-)

I guess this is my way of saying a huge thanks to Katie for keeping it real and never allowing life to get boring. I guess it's just like in the song James Taylor sings,

Once you tell somebody the way that you feel
You can feel it beginning to ease.
I guess it's true what they say about the sticky wheel,
Always getting the grease.

I know it sometimes seems as if I'm all caught up in trying to figure what's going on with Justin and that's because, well, I kind of am! I can remember few times you've been the "sticky wheel" so there you go - that's why you haven't received any grease, but please accept my gratitude for being everything I could possibly want in a daughter - and please feel free to keep reminding me that it's all going to be just fine.

I love you tons. We all do, more than you will ever know.

09 December 2005

And The Little Child Shall Lead Them...

"There is no normal life that is free of pain. It's the very wrestling with our problems that can be the impetus for our growth." ~ Fred Rogers

"It's all about friends, it's all about love and having someone you know you can trust. We're in this together, it's all about us... Hold onto to the good things..." ~ Shawn Colvin

And so it is...the season of hope...so much hope and I've got a well-spring of it. I still stumble, I occasionally fall, but I do know how to get back up again. Sometimes the road is clear and free of debris and feels just like a golden path really should. Other times, things appear so murky and obscured in fog, but I just have to hold on and trust my compass - discard that artificial horizon and trust that I'm still upright and making progress.

I am grateful for many things, even though I still feel twinges of fear as my kids navigate their way toward maturity and adulthood. I just have to trust they'll find their way and remember that I'm still finding my own. Making more meetings helps because the energy exchanged with others in recovery is so palpable and potent and most times I walk out of an AA meeting feeling as if I've been given a spiritual booster.

Last Saturday, Justin asked me if I would be interested in tree shopping. Yes! Yes! Yes! We needed something light, fun and seasonal.

First stop - depositing my paycheck. Justin drove to the bank and as he approached the drive-thru, it was then I realized that I had left my check at home. Oh well, it could wait. We were hungry with fajitas on our mind. We needed a Chili's fix and pressed on.

After lunch, we realized that we were in the same plaza as K-Mart and the Optimists Club had set up a tree lot. First we trekked into K-Mart and after about five minutes, Justin was ready to bolt but not so fast. I made this guy, I like to think of it as "encourage", walk down every aisle of Christmas decorations...though I tried my best to skip anything hinting of Martha Stewart. We're not huge fans.

After spending a small mint on lights, ornaments and one poinsettia, it was onto the tree lot. Nevermind that we had a perfectly adequate 7 1/2 foot artificial tree that was only 3 years old and barely used. Justin and I love live trees and I have no idea how we ever came to possess an artificial tree in the first place, but we didn't let that stop us from walking through a forest of recently cut evergreens and finding about ten that we found to be perfect.

Finally, we both wound up staring at this gorgeous 10 foot Frazier Fir and it had our name written all over it. Justin ran and alerted the guy in charge and before we could change our mind or wince at the price tag, the gentleman had the tree on the really cool contraption that nets the whole thing up and was asking which vehicle would be taking it away. Fortunately was driving his Blazer.

A very long Christmas tree
Originally uploaded by susiewrites.
After lots of rope and a little adjusting, the tree was soon atop the truck and off we went - headed for home and an evening of decorating - "Christmas Vacation/Griswold Style".

Justin had already fished out the lights from the garage and found the video - so after a bit of rearranging, a few photos and some popcorn, Justin built a fire in our Vermont Castings Wood stove, hung six stockings on the brick wall behind the wood stove and directed us to find our places - sitting amid boxes of decorations, warm with the glow of the fire and even warmer in the glow of being a family.


I hardly ever make it through a movie without eventually falling a sleep, but after I finished some popcorn, I looked around and I felt completely blessed. Everyone in that room wanted to be there - Justin coordinated the entire evening. I ran upstairs at one point to retrieve a battery or bulb or something, and I overheard my son make a comment downstairs that stopped me in my tracks.

"You know, if we had more evenings like this, I'd never think about getting high. I love nights like this - it's the best. We should have more evenings like this...".

I wasn't sure I heard him correctly, so when I came back downstairs, I asked him what he had said a few minutes earlier. Justin repeated his statement without reservation or hesitation. I looked around at the mass of clutter, the boxes, the strings of beaded garland, the half-decorated tree and felt the heat of the fire he built which, by now, was putting out so much warmth we had to open one of the patio doors.

Our living room was hardly photo-op material - "Southern Living" or "House Beautiful" wouldn't give us the time of day, but who needs a second opinion? I took it in because it contained three of the most precious things in my life; my son, my daughter and our animals. So what if there was scattered, mismatched decorations, a couple of cats eyeing the tree, or a coffee table with empty soda cans and spent bowls of popcorn? This evening, this gathering, this ritual, I wouldn't have taken anything for it. This was an early Christmas present and I can't imagine anything close to the treasure, the gift, really, of being with people who make my life completely crazy and rich beyond anything I deserve.

I guess Christmas isn't really a ten foot Frazier Fir, or shiny ornaments or brilliantly colored lights. It's looking around the room and seeing people who, merely by their presence, make you feel as if your heart could surely burst - because of the love exchanged that makes up for mistakes, miscalculations and missteps that are part and parcel of being human. And even though you know that there will still be times these people you hold so dear will get around to driving you nuts and worrying you into gray hair and wrinkles, you wouldn't trade them, or moments like a special evening, for anything the world could possibly offer.

Katie. Justin. Pops. Granny. Princess. Sylvester. Tabitha. Cassie. Even weird Felix. I love you more than you will ever know.

Yes, Justin, let's have more of these evenings. The next time I tell you that I have to do one thing or another - nag me until I get the point and remind me to thank you.

Christmas tree 2005

Christmas tree 2005
Originally uploaded by susiewrites.
With an aviary above and cats down below - It's a toss-up as to what might wind up in this tree...There is never a dull moment in this house. Oddly enough, it all feels perfectly normal and I love it all. Hey, before the season's over, I might wind up in that tree.

22 November 2005

The Gang's STILL here :-)

Justin - Thank you for sharing your birthday with us and having dinner tonight with your adoring family. We love you so much and we hope that this next year is filled with many happy moments, accomplishments and lots of opportunities to stretch your mind and laugh and smile. I'm so very proud of you. We all are. I thank God that he found a way to give me such an exquisite present, and I am honored to be your Mom.

21 November 2005

Susie, Katie and Justin - Sea World - San Antonio, TX

Hey Nineteen, Justin! Happy, Happy Birthday my favorite son. A few hundred days have passed since we did the Sea World Texas adventure and I have no idea how time could have flown so fast because it seems as if you should still be this impossibly blond, impish, irascible, charming but full of mischief little guy that I couldn't take my eyes off of, because to leave you to your own devices, all manner of chaos could easily break out, and also because, you captivated my heart, "from the moment I first saw you...the second that you were born. I knew that you were the love of my life, quite simply, the love...of my life.", in the words of Carly Simon.

Since your humble beginnings as a young tumbleweed in Amarillo, Texas, you have grown up and staked out such a huge claim in the hearts of those blessed enough to share your bloodlines, or to this particular Mom who knew I was in for a wild ride when you chose to offer me two full days of intense back labor before making your grand entrance on a Friday Night in Northwest Texas Hospital.

I clearly remember the first time we locked eyes and I knew you had me wrapped around your finger.

I remember so many times I have tried to discipline you, to affect a stern voice or steely serious demeanor, only to melt into a smile or a laugh because you would always fix me with a grin and for the life of me, I would find it impossible to be as strict as we both know I should have. You had the uncanny ability to talk yourself out of trouble and right into another scheme destined to land you right back in hot water. We've gone a few rounds, haven't we Justin? I think the count would clearly illustrate that you bested me more times than not.

While you have certainly sprouted up and filled out in impressive, sinewy muscles and flat abs, the real measure of your growth, of anyone's for that matter, is how you have grown on the inside.

Justin, I always loved your white blond locks, those ocean blue eyes and adorable nose, but it is your heart I find myself most in awe of and so dearly precious. You try, at times, to make us believe it's temporarily disconnected, but we know better because we know you.

It would be impossible for you to comprehend, to really know deep down inside, how dearly loved you are by those of us who know you best and get on your nerves the most. The word "adore" simply doesn't touch the feelings and high regard felt by your Pops, Granny, sister, Dan and me.

The other evening when you and I were experiencing a not-so-easy detente, I racked my brain as to how I should approach you. When you and I knock heads now and again, I feel so empty and sad and I wish so much for the little guy who used to think I had the answer for everything. Of course, it was inevitable you would realize this was not the case and you found out in some important ways that I am profoundly human.

I remember a time about 23 months ago, when it was you pacing the floor and wondering if I was OK. It should never have been that way, but now and again it was and I will always hate that I put you through that angst. But you loved me through a very challenging time and you never turned your back on me. I want you to know that I would never turn my back on you. I want you to know that you have a permanent place in my heart.

So you have seen me stumble and you had a ringside seat for the fall, but it is because of the brand of love you afforded me that I was able to get back up and get better. When it was my turn to pick up that coveted blue one year chip last January 12th, the thing I remember most is that you were right there beside me and I couldn't have felt more proud because I know that particular venue wasn't exactly "your scene". You joined me anyway. You made that night so extra special.

We have grown, you and I, and it is because of the challenges and stumbles and occasional bad decisions that being human affords us the opportunity to make. Most of the time, we learn from them and move forward much better people.

You are in the middle of a period in your life where you are invited by your peers to try everything. The problem is that everything isn't always a wise decision and I know that you, just as I did, have to make some of those painful mistakes to figure out the right way to live your life. You are navigating uncharted territory and most of the time you get it right. However, even during those times we find ourselves in the role of adversaries, and even when it feels as if my primary role in life is to rain on your parade, I think you know deep down inside what is right and what is wrong, and that all I want for you is the very best because you are one of the very best parts of my life. If I seem over-protective, it's because I am. I'd take a bullet for you any hour of the day. My role is still that of maternal GPS and though you might prefer I turn the switch off, there is no switch and I'd break it if there was. I'll never ever stop looking out for you.

I hope you have a wonderful birthday. I hope this next year is full of great things and I know you have the tools to create positive situations and realize some incredible dreams.

I want you to know that when I first laid eyes on your 19 years ago this day, I didn't think I was capable of loving anyone as much as I loved you. Nineteen years later, it's only grown, as has my respect and admiration for all that you are and my hopes and best wishes for all that you are destined to be.

I love you Justin,


23 October 2005

Susie & Justin 10/17/05

Susie & Justin 10/17/05
Originally uploaded by susiewrites.
Friday Night I decided to move my "home office" from a small room to a larger room. With two computers, a printer, about a thousand peripheral devices, cords that looked more like angel hair pasta than USB wires, two subwoofers and 8 speakers, two bulletin boards with twice the photos on them than they were ever meant to hold - highlights of my past ten years that just demanded to be captured - files, both virtual and hard copy, and books, books and, did I mention books? Well, this was no small undertaking. Not to mention it involved moving a Queen Size bed and a couple of bureaus and half of my daughter's wardrobe, to the smaller room, before moving "Command Central", to the larger room. I started at about 4:00 PM and called it a day at a little after 4:00 AM Saturday Morning.

All of the equipment, furniture (my desk comes in three pieces and literally looks like an Air Traffic Controller work station - and sometimes it feels like one), were moved and in place, but the floor was littered with things that hadn't quite found their home.

I cleared out my chair and surveyed the damage, and nursed what had to be my 10th cup of coffee. I should say SAVORED my tenth cup of coffee because this new office is impressively appointed with a Bunn Commercial coffeemaker with not one, not two, but THREE burners! Oh yeah baby, it's beyond cool, I mean, it's not the same as an "E Ticket" at Disney World, but it's not shabby either. With a coffeemaker of that magnitude, just add a couple of alcoholics and a resentment or two and we could have a kick-ass AA meeting in here!

Around 1:30 AM, I heard the familiar sound of the slamming of the side door and knew that either Katie or Justin had wandered home. It turns out it was my son.

I knew eventually he would find his way upstairs and it was worth staying up to see the look on his face when he went in the room formerly known as "the office" to surreptiously snag some online time. His eyes grew big as he walked into the room now known as "the office".

Rather than back away from the mess, my son pulled up a stool and we talked. I had found some old school photos of him and I was teasing him about his cute little self from years ago (he's still cute, but not nearly as innocent). We talked of the past, when he was small, places we had lived, visited, dreamed of and different adventures. He studied the photos and said how odd it was that he could remember exactly what he was thinking when a certain picture was snapped. I've never met a photo of my kids I could possibly throw away. These are the frames of our lives.

Justin told me what he had been up to and I loved listening to him - he could have been speaking Slavic, but I would have been as fascinated. He shocked me by telling me he had been to Barnes and Noble earlier in the day, and bought a copy of "Chaos - Making A New Science", by a guy named Gleick. My son was speaking to me of metaphysics! Come to think of it, Slavic may well have made more sense to me.

Obviously, he's searching. He's trying to figure out why we're all here, what our purpose is, how we came to be and possibly get a handle on where we may be going. It's exploration and I certainly realize you have to weed (sic) through a lot of stuff, read, touch, feel and you can do that for years - decades, and still come up confused, but you have to try. Justin is trying. I think I was more stunned to discover he was reading up on metaphysics than he was to find that my office had been relocated.

About 2:30 AM, we heard another slam of the side door and realized it had to be Katie. I told Justin to quickly go close the door to what was my old office and come back, shut the door and wait for her to be surprised.

We heard her trudge up the stairs and open the wrong door, realize her bed had been moved,and then she opened the door to where we were lying in wait to see her face. "What the @#$%?", she asked in wide-eyed wonderment.


She was for sure. Seeing that Justin had settled in, she dropped her things and joined us, plopping on the floor. We brought her up-to-speed on what we had been speaking of and she respected her brother's new topic of interest. She opined, as Katie always does, but patted him on the back for taking on such a complicated read.

After about ten minutes, Katie put her hands up in the universal sign of, "Shut up, I have something to say!", and observed, "Do you realize that this is the first time in months it has just been the three of us in the same room, chatting about nothing in particular, and no one is in trouble or the focus of a lecture?".

We took notice, and we laughed. I offered to become "The Mom", but they advised against it. We continued to talk, and laugh, and talk some more. Some of what was said felt like TMI (too much information), and I could have done without some of the details, but hey, I'll take what I can get when it comes to spending time with my almost all grown up kids, even if it's at 4:00 AM and we should all be in bed asleep. I was met with my own admonishment for getting in bed so late/early, but I'll take the static and snatch up the first chance I get to do it all again. Such moments are sweet and precious and I live for those rare opportunities. If they happen to come at 4:00 AM, what can I say other than my kids come by it genetically and inherited my screwed up bio-rhythms. Sleep wouldn't have been nearly as interesting and there's always time to grab some Z's, but there's not always the chance to see what's going on with Katie and Justin. We even shared a hug goodnight and I finally left Katie to check her online websites, and Justin headed downstairs to bed where he had only 3 hours to snooze because he was due to be at work by 8:00 AM.

Yesterday was spent putting things away and catching glimpses of the floor that was just beneath the rubble. Plants were placed under light-friendly windows, more old photos were perused and memories were tickled, and a lot of coffee was ingested. I'd woken up early Saturday Morning with a screech, so I was a little sleep-deprived myself, but even taking that into consideration, I still got a lot accomplished, though probably not as efficiently as I should have.

I'm back online, things are humming along, and it's been a beautiful day in the neighborhood, even if it is a late October afternoon in Autumn.

Mellow. The mood has been most decidedly mellow and understated. Understated can be a good thing. I don't mind a generous helping of understatement. I've spent most of my today putting more things up and discarding a few things I no longer need.

Today has afforded me the chance to linger over the tangible accroutrements that define and recall the personal spaces in my life, both literally and figuratively; The places I have lived, visited, items that serve to remind me that I've loved and enjoyed most all of this life of mine, chaos included. Even the stuff I could have done without taught me lessons I couldn't do without and maybe could have only learned by living and making the mistakes. As long as the lessons are learned, the mistakes become invaluable tools and suddenly sport a modicum of merit. There has been a lot of merit in my life, and I hope to merit lots more, and stay away from the recycle bin.

12 October 2005

Progress...Not Perfection. Not Even Close...

"...Many of us exclaimed, 'What an order! I can't go through with it.' Do not be discouraged. No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles. We are not saints. The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principles we have set down are guides to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection." Taken from page 60 of "The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous", Fourth Edition.

Thank you AA! Whew - as if I could possibly come remotely close to spiritual perfection. I fall so far from the mark many times. Some days I'm good and some days I am not so good.

In an earlier post, I wrote a few unnecessary remarks. It was one of those times I wasn't being so kind and I wasn't even tickling the "spiritual perfection" spectrum. I allowed the not so spiritual side of myself to take over the keyboard and have it's way.

This was brought to my attention by the person about whom my unkind remarks were directed and for that I must apologize. Regardless of what I may think, feel or believe in my heart to be true, being unnecessarily mean-spirited doesn't fall under the realm of "spirituality", even if it does share the root of the word.

After reading a recent E-mail, I realized that my words were hardly fashioned to serve anthing resembling a positive purpose and diminishing someone else certainly doesn't leave me shining any brighter. In fact, it's a tarnish that I don't need and, after a lot of thought, prayer and some soul-searching, I have gone back and deleted those unnecessary sentences - realizing, after giving things the proper forethought that I should have before ever writing them. While I can't pretend that I never wrote those words, I can certainly go back and use that invaluable key that is the equivalent of an electronic eraser. DELETE. And so I have.

It's a wonderful thing to simply go back and delete words and disarming a post of its venom. How easy it is to simply delete things in cyberspace. If only if we could so easily erase past actions and words spoken in haste that hang in the air and zap those around us with a painful sting. I've said and done many things in the past that I wish so much I could retract, but I can't. And just as The Big Book reminded me that none of us are perfect - even you non-alcoholics who might be reading this - The Big Book also provides me with encouragement - and as stated in "The Promises", it illustrates how even our misdeeds can be used for good - "We will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others."

I guess good ole Bill W. must have guessed we could get so mired down with the business of regretting that we could sink into a kind of ineffective state of torpor, if we spent a great deal of time regretting all of the things we may have done - and in a way, time spent in a state of regret is basically time that's as wasteful as actually doing "the next wrong thing". In the end, it doesn't help anyone at all.

So we are prodded to pull ourselves up, lean on the good stuff (and yes, there is some!), and see what we can do with the experiences that make us wince, and spin them into something useful by sharing what we have done and where we have been, with someone who may be feeling far more hopeless. It's a tool that comes in handy and I must say that there have been many times I have found myself feeling better about me, and life in general, after hearing someone share the stuff they aren't particularly proud of. OK, sometimes it's just a flat out - "Wow, s/he did THAT? I didn't even go THERE. Maybe I'm not a complete waste of space!" [Side note: When someone is sharing a particularly painful and embarrassing past experience, it's best not to reveal that you are enjoying a "You did what???" moment. Try and contain those and save them for when you are alone and out of sight of the person who just bared his/her soul to you in an attempt to make you feel significant...]

If you look at the negatives and are seriously determined to walk a better path, those past experiences evolve into a useful tool that can make someone else feel as if they have half a chance and, for many of us in AA, half a chance is just about all we have going for us when we crawl into the rooms.

Besides, a lot of regret can turn into an unattractive and pointless exercise in self-pity and more of that stale "it's all about me!" business that we really need to rid ourselves of. I am constantly amazed at how very forward thinking and exceptionally timeless this program is and I am thankful for it only on a daily basis.

To the person that I offended, I offer an amends and a generous dose of delete. While I most certainly don't and, let's face it, never will see eye-to-eye with you on everything, there was absolutely no need for me to turn a blog into an assault weapon. There are enough of those around and we've both lobbed a few of them across the lines and throughout the years. Here's hoping for more peace.

I'm so glad I met that Bill W. guy. :-)

02 October 2005

Alcoholics Anonymous - (AA) Walk In The Park...

During the course of my blog postings, there have been references to Alcoholics Anonymous. They started out a bit veiled and maybe a tiny bit ambiguous. Here and there would appear a quote from "As Bill Sees It', "Daily Reflections", "Twenty-four Hours A Day" or "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions".

And then, of course, there were the links. I flirted with self-revelation by listing any number of recovery links including, but not limited to, "AA-Grapevine", "e-AA Lite", "Eastern Area Conference of Young People in AA", and that dead giveaway, the site that only another alcoholic could appreciate, "The Sobriety Calculator".

It's the strangest thing, but I never really knew how to come right out of the closet that I profess to abhor. If I were diabetic, there might be all manner of links that would take you to insulin issues, exercise for diabetics, how to live your life without sugar...and I wouldn't wonder how you might feel about me when it dawned on you that I was a card-carrying, insulin-dependent diabetic. I wouldn't wonder if I now appeared "less than" in the eyes of those who read this and aren't yet aware. And what would a diabetic or even cancer confession say about me personally - as a human being, a daughter, a wife and especially a mother? No, those kinds of questions probably wouldn't cross my mind or yours, if you were to read that I was insulin dependent or currently undergoing chemotherapy.

What is it about alcoholism that makes most of us whisper in low tones, should we be bold enough to even broach the topic in the first place? We're told it's a disease just as sure as those others, but for some reason, I think it wears a layer of character tarnish and outside of AA circles, you rarely hear it discussed, unless it's a joke about a bumbling drunk similar to the character of "Otis" on The Andy Griffith Show. It's almost as if society has decided the collective lot of us can control whether we become alcoholic or not. I think that's probably what gives alcoholism a bad rap - the underlying assumption that we somehow have a choice and how ridiculous is that? Who would ever choose to become a slave to something that, left unchecked, can completely and utterly destroy every good thing in one's life? Maybe a lot of us don't truly buy into that whole "disease" notion after all?

So what if I were to make a formal announcement that I am an alcoholic? And if I did, why would I have to worry about what you might think of me as a person, a daughter, a wife and especially a mother? Why would my character be drawn into question and would you secretly wonder why I would allow such a thing to happen?

Remember back in elementary school when kids were invited to stand before the class and announce what they wanted to be when they grew up? Many of the boys wanted to be in law enforcement and quite a few wanted to be firemen. The girls almost always chose the occupations of nurse, teacher, and a few bold ones, back in the 1960's at least, professed to dream of being an astronaut or brilliant scientist. I remember those times and I never once heard any of my classmates stand before the class, in bright, clean play clothes, and state with no reservation and all the pride and conviction in the world, "When I grow up, I want to be a recovering alcoholic!".

Think about it - who would ever choose it? It would be akin to standing before the class and saying, I'm going to try very hard to smoke as much as I possibly can so I can increase my risk of lung cancer. Did you ever hear any such fantasies in the classroom? After class, my friends and I would often play school, or pretend we were working in an animal hospital (that was easy at my house because we always had a few creatures running around), and yes, there were times we played doctor, but I know for certain we never played alcoholics. Cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, dump truck operator, which must have been a precursor to the current rage of "Bob the Builder", but no one ever wanted to be the stumbling drunk or even bartender. How could anyone honestly believe someone would desire or work toward being a person with a drinking problem? Doesn't make much sense does it?

Sure, I heard people discuss folks who got tipsy, or hung out at the local beer joint, and these were not people to be celebrated or upheld as role models. We knew these were not individuals to be emulated. But I never once heard anyone discuss someone who was a recovering alcoholic. As far as I knew - an alcoholic was someone actively drinking and ruining the lives of everyone he touched, including his own. And never, ever, were women remotely referenced as problem drinkers. It was more or less a male disease.

I have a confession to make - I used to be one of those people who thought the very same thing. I remember believing, not so many years ago, that it shouldn't be any big deal - just STOP DRINKING and, voila! you are no longer alcoholic. I used to look down my nose at people with drinking problems and I was pretty certain that the great majority lived under a bridge, down by some river and that most of them were scruffy looking, probably uneducated, unkempt in appearance, certainly unrefined and most of all, that whatever suffering they may endure, they BROUGHT IT ALL ON THEMSELF. Period.

I'd never trust one and I can't imagine I'd be friends with any self-confessed alkie. I would have probably thought that the word "relapse" was much too gracious a term for someone falling off the sobriety wagon. If it were a male alcoholic, I'd just go ahead and assume he couldn't maintain a job, support a family and was probably given to physically abusing his wife and children. If the alcoholic were female, I'd immediately label her a slut - pure and simple. Certainly no one who should be allowed to have kids and by all means should be kept off the PTA roster and NEVER should she be trusted with a school fund-raiser or hold the honorable position of "Homeroom Mother". You just can't trust those people, I'd say. Let's face it, they didn't get in that condition hanging around the church or preparing Sunday School lesson plans. I wouldn't need to actually meet her to know her ilk. I'd reckon that female alcoholics were far more offensive than male alcoholics and yet I always considered myself more of a feminist.

I was certain I pretty much knew all there was to understand about alcoholism and I'd heard of AA, which is where "those people" get fixed, if they made the decision to get well. I also knew all there was to know about treatment centers - they were places where people spent 28 days and came out completely cured. Period. Whatever it was that went on in those places could transform the really horrible (but insured!) drunks and make them well and possibly a functioning, albeit flawed, member of society, as long as they kept their "former little problem" a deep secret until the day they died.

Prior to January 11th, 2004, I had it all figured out. Wrong, I might add. There's nothing like a little practical experience to really drive home a point and I had about nine years of practical experience, but it took me a little while to get my definitions and perceptions right. I was only wrong on every single previously held belief.

I was born on the night of February 6th, 1960. The gestation period leading up to my first birth was right at 9 months and 2 weeks. I was reborn the night of January 11th, 2004 and it took me nine long years to get ready - I guess you could say it was breech, because it most certainly involved a bottom. Both birth experiences left me pretty helpless, confused, crying and unable to function for a short time, but I had to go through the process before I could get growing. The first time around gave me life. The second one saved it and helped me find a better one. I'm beyond grateful for both.

I've always bristled at the notion that alcoholism is something to be kept under wraps. Like I had a choice in becoming one? No, I had no choice in being alcoholic - and it's most certainly terminal. Whether my disease is the result of heredity, environment or just rotten bad luck, makes absolutely no difference and isn't worth the time it would take to debate. What matters is if I choose to treat it and in that, I do have a choice. For most of us, the prescription is heavy doses of active involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous and for some it is, initially, a hard pill to swallow but for others, myself included, I took to it like a duck takes to water. It agreed with me almost instantly. I knew it was my lifesaver and I grabbed for it. I'm happy to report that I haven't come close to sinking.

For all of my bravado (in person) at feeling absolutely no shame or compulsion to hide my disease, every single time I would sit down to blog about it, I would quickly come up with something else to write about. "I'll write about that later." I would tell myself as I moved to another topic. It's as if sitting down in front of this faceless monitor rendered me about as unable to say, "My name is Susie, and I'm an alcoholic.", as it did those first couple of weeks back in January 2004, when I sat quietly in the corner of my first AA meetings, trying my best to blend in with the woodwork, wearing my trademark sunglasses - which had to look pretty stupid given that it was mid-January and dark by 5:30 and most of the meetings I attended were between 6 and 8 o'clock in the evening. What my sunglasses didn't cover, I made certain that my hair did, so it was normally falling in my face and I had to look more like "Cousin It", rather than a 43 year old adult woman who had just made the painful realization that I might just be an alcoholic. One of my friends in my home group, after he got to know me better, said it was weeks before he was sure I had eyes. I felt pretty beat up when I joined the fellowship and that's a good thing - I was scared enough to realize that this problem was way beyond anything I could fix myself.

I avoided eye contact at all cost because locking eyes with someone in a meeting was like looking in a mirror. Seeing others there meant that I needed to be there as well. I really needed to be there if I was to stand a chance.

When it would come my time to read in a Big Book Study or should the person who was chairing a meeting ask me to read "How It Works", "The Promises" or maybe a selection from "As Bill Sees It", I would feel instant panic and my throat would suddenly become so dry and I'd feel all of those eyes peering at me. I imagined they were trying to figure out what my story was and what specific incident brought me to my knees and into the rooms of AA. I was so sure those "veterans" (and at the time, by the term "veteran" I mean anyone who had a clue as to what was going on in any given AA meeting room) were trying to figure me out. Little did I know they had me figured out the second I walked through the door. It's remarkable how similar our stories are - you can change a few names, places, relationships, economic situations, but the end result is the same - and the fact that we live to make it to a meeting means we are the exception, rather than the rule because left to our own devices, and without divine help and 12 steps, we just plain die. Period. And that's the end of many a story.

It's funny looking back over 20 months ago to those early meeting experiences and how lovely that most of those "veterans" who's eyes were never trying to penetrate me or figure out my story, are now some of my closest friends and feel more like family and one pair of those eyes has joined my family and I wake up with him every morning. They were never running a pool on what or who it was that brought me in. They didn't have to because they intuitively knew that it was only a slightly different version of the event(s) that secured their seat at the table. I had no idea how much I had in common with every single person in the rooms - they were all just slightly different facets of me, but I didn't know that at the time. I was pretty certain I was terminally unique and that I was oh-so-different from the average AA member. I can smile as I recall those memories now, but at the time, I was absolutely scared to death or, even better, scared sober.

I really needed to be scared sober. Being scared sober saved my life. But I couldn't know that January 11th, 2004. I thought that date would forever serve as the anniversary of the day my life changed forever and, gratefully, I am pleased to say I was absolutely correct. I couldn't go on the way I was because I was on my way to complete and total self-destruction, which is exactly where alcohol will take you if you happen to be an untreated alcoholic. It may take a little longer than cocaine or heroin or crack, stuff I've never even seen, much less done, but alcohol can get the job done in its own time. Alcohol nearly did me in and it looked so harmless and downright elegant in the tapered shape of a red wine glass.

I wasn't exactly sure you could qualify for membership in AA if all you imbibed was wine. Wine was, in my screwed up head, a cut above beer, whiskey or moonshine. Wine was for polished people who ran in "different" circles. Wine wasn't simply a drink, but the product of an art, a great topic of after dinner conversation where the varieties and verities could be dissected and refined palate's could compare notes on color, clarity, bouquet and vintage. Wine wasn't for the masses or the messes, it was for people with an appreciation of the finer things in life and it was a great reason to spend some time in France, not that I didn't already have one.

Which begged the question - could you technically be an alcoholic if all you drank was the occasional bottle(s) of really expensive wine? Well, yeah if, as you are knocking back your first glass you are already trying to plot how to get to your fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh and someone please, let's have a couple of bottles of champagne - the good stuff, none of that Korbel Crap. If the bottle costs under fifty-bucks it's probably not really champagne and none of that cheap stuff was touching my lips, thank you very much, unless, of course, I was with a date who had limited funds and I made it my business to stay away from people with limited bank accounts. I wanted the good stuff, but I wasn't about to pay for it, because I didn't need to. There were plenty of men around more than willing to pony up and provide what I wanted to drink and send me on my path heading in the direction of nowhere fast.

Attending my first AA meeting was one of the scariest moments in my life. I had no idea what lay before me, and I was too addled to consider what all had gone on up to that point. I will never forget how heavy my tiny cell phone felt as I picked it up to ring Intergroup to find out where these AA meetings were held. Like a lot of people on the outside of the program looking in, I had no idea what AA was about, other than it was an organization of people who didn't know when to say when. I figured it must be a sad little collection of whiners who bemoaned the fact they couldn't drink and have fun like the people I hung with. I imagined dour faces, sob stories, complaining, maybe some crying, and an ambiance about as inviting as the waiting room of an oral surgeon who really enjoyed his work.

My son dropped me off at my first meeting, held in the activity building of a nearby Presbyterian Church. I drew a deep breath and tried to hide all of the shaking I felt inside. I didn't know how long meetings lasted, what type of people would be there and I was starting to wonder if I should even try one out. Was my drinking really that bad? Or was I so sick that AA might refuse to grant me membership?

It took only a few seconds to learn that I more than qualified and fortunately they welcomed me in with warm hearts and warm hugs.

I didn't know who Bill W. was, other than the fact that I'd heard people profess to be one of his friends. So clueless was I that one time when I was checking out the list of chat rooms on AOL, I saw several that were listed as "Friends of Bill W." and I wondered who this Bill W. was that whole chat rooms were created just to discuss their friendship with the guy. I remember once thinking that Bill W. must be Bill Clinton. I just found the whole thing very odd, but I wasn't curious enough to pop in one of those chat rooms to check it out. There would be time for that later. I wasn't ready. I still had lots of uncontrolled drinking to do.

When I walked into the room, I was immediately greeted by a couple of women and one of them had a deliciously southern accent and a warm, inviting smile and for some reason, she made me feel less of a loser for being in that room, because she, and just about everyone else in attendance, didn't resemble losers at all. She motioned for me to sit beside her and I was so grateful. As I looked around the room, I saw everyone had a thick blue book in front of them and there were three readings, a group recitation of The Serenity Prayer, and I also saw that someone was passing what looked like a brochure around the room, but only women were signing their name and phone numbers. I had no idea what it was, but I noticed no one asked me for my name or phone number.

It was orderly. I found it strange that when anyone would speak, they would first introduce themselves by announcing their name and confessing they were an alcoholic - and then they would get on with whatever they were reading or entering into discussion. If the same person spoke four times in a meeting, every single time s/he would state their name and the fact they were an alcoholic - and I remember thinking - do these people not realize we can all remember their names since they spoke not five minutes ago and of course we suspected they were alcoholics - I mean, wasn't that why we were there? What's with all this announcing stuff? It felt a lot redundant. How funny I would fail to notice the redundancy of drinking glass after glass after glass.

I remember when they asked if there were any newcomers, someone in their first 30 days of sobriety who would like to introduce themselves, not to embarrass them but just so the group could get to know him/her. I felt it - all eyes were on me because it had to totally obvious that I was a newcomer, and it seemed as if I had to say something. Oh, it felt far more foreign than my trying to pronounce something complicated in French. It was just one of many moments of truth to come and it was also the first time I had to admit, in my own shaky voice, that I was an alcoholic. I can still remember hearing my heart beat in my ears as I made that confession.

"My name is Susie and I'm an alcoholic".

It was almost like an out of body experience. I knew it was me talking, but did I really believe what I was saying and if I did believe what I was saying, what exactly did that mean? I wondered if there might be a test I needed to take just to make sure I was in the right room. I like facts and calibrations and if I'm on the alcoholic spectrum, just where do I fall (figuratively - I knew I'd fallen in several parking lots, a few stairs and a couple of times in the shower - oh, and there was that bar stool at Keffies a couple of years ago when I leaned back too far. Probably many more, but you get the idea and I get off topic so easily!). I definitely fell on the alcoholic spectrum just as sure as I'd fallen on my face a few times.

Was there a rating system - were we assigned levels of disease load like a blood titer? I soon learned the only time numbers were really brought up in terms of blood, were when people would discuss what their BAC (blood alcohol content) was when the cop pulled them in for a DWI (driving while intoxicated).

My first meeting and all the ones after, lasted exactly one hour and they are bookended with prayers - The Serenity Prayer at the beginning and The Lord's Prayer at closing. What happens between those two prayers can take the form of a Big Book Study, A Step Study, A Tradition Study, an Open Discussion, a Closed Discussion, a Speaker Meeting or maybe a combination. And for over 70 years since it's inception by a charismatic gentleman who was born in Vermont and became a NY Stockbroker and, along the way, was thought to be a hopeless alcoholic, AA has worked miracles - millions of them. I'm thrilled to be one of them.

There's very little debate that AA was divinely inspired and were I invited to cast a vote, I would have no hesitation in saying that I absolutely believe the Program of Alcoholics Anonymous to be the product of Divine Inspiration of the highest order. I may have been foggy and scared and feeling just about as low as I ever have, but it wasn't lost on me that I was in the right place and among the right people who could help me find a way back up again. As we held hands in a circle and recited The Lord's Prayer, I knew more than I've known anything in my life, that I had found home because, even though I had only laid eyes on those people 50 minutes before, I knew them better than I knew people who had been in my inner circles for years and I knew that these people knew me. I've never felt such a sense of complete belonging.

Some people find home early on and some take years to stumble across it, but for me, I found home on Thursday Night, January 15th, 2004. When I got home that night, I was still a little shaky, but I couldn't wait to get to my next meeting. Before I went out the door, someone handed me that brochure I'd seen passed around the table, the one with the names and phone numbers of the women in attendance and told me to call if I felt myself in trouble - regardless of the hour. The brochure contained a listing of every meeting held in the Wilmington Area along with the times and locations. It turns out there are over 120 meetings held in our area every single week and that, lucky for me, Wilmington is known as a "Strong AA" city. So I guess that means if you suddenly find yourself an alcoholic, Wilmington is a good place to do it. At least I got that right through pure dumb luck.

No, I take that back. There is no such thing as pure dumb luck. It was supposed to be exactly as it happened, including the time and the place. I have embraced nearly all of the tenents of AA with little, if any, resistance, but the one thing that has always niggled me is the whole, "it happened the way it's supposed to", or "it takes what it takes", or "it will turn out exactly as it should". Nothing has been more difficult for me to accept as that whole "que sera, sera" mode of thinking. I fought against it, I failed to see the logic of it, and it was hard for me to truly embrace that there is a time and a place for all that happens in the universe as if under some divine orchestration with a magic, omnipotent baton wielding conductor...but then I had to realize everything that did happen just in my case alone. By all rights, I shouldn't honestly be alive to write this. I drove in several blackouts. I found myself in places having no recollection of how I arrived. I would hear things repeated that I was purported to have said at an earlier, inebriated time, but have no memory of uttering a word of it, and that final night I somehow made it from a tony restarant about seven miles from my home, across several busy intersections and managed to arrive without killing myself and/or anyone else. I did nail my neighbor's mailbox and only that was pieced together six weeks after the fact when my friend and I started comparing notes, but I had absolutely no recollection. I still don't.

If my Higher Power, which I choose to call God, could somehow take control and guide me across town in a mess of a blackout without a human casualty, is it really so hard to believe that just maybe things do happen exactly as they're supposed to? There is no rational explanation for me to be alive. I finally had to admit that maybe everything in this life isn't logical or rational or capable of being explained based on pure, tangible fact. When I find myself worrying about timing and elements so far out of my control, I try and remember just how out of control I was that night, and how God certainly engaged a cruise control well beyond the electronic capability of my Buick LeSabre or even OnStar and it's sophisticated GPS. I no longer question that things happen for a reason. I mostly just try to remember the miracles and give thanks as often as possible, which is never enough.

On Friday, January 16th, 2004, I attended my second AA meeting and for this one, I chose a highly recommended Women's Meeting held at a nearby Episcopal Church. At first, I thought I might be in the wrong section of the building because I heard boisterous noise and lots of laughter and happy chatter. I just figured I'd stumbled upon a baby or wedding shower and maybe one of the attendees could direct me to the Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting being held somewhere in that beautiful stone church. Oddly enough, there was a round blue circle with the initials AA stuck on the door and it was from behind that door that the laughter was emanating. There were so many people in that room. Several women were sitting on the floor, kids careening in and out. This bunch was most decidedly happy, joyous and free and I couldn't help but smile as I tried to take it all in.

That was a pivotal meeting for me. When it came time to introduce myself as a newcomer, I noticed it didn't seem as strange to state my name and that I was, in fact, an alcoholic. That's also the meeting where I picked up my first and I hope ONLY white chip - which is the sign of surrender. I really did own being an alcoholic at that meeting of about 80 women who were dressed in clothes ranging from corporate business suits to stay-at-home Mom. The women in attendance were as young as 17 and the oldest was 82 years old and had personally met Bill W. himself. There were many women who looked to be well over 65, and one in particular wore a mischievious grin on her face and could be anyone's grandmother straight from some upper middle class suburb. I was immediately drawn to her and someone introduced us and as I extended my hand, she just gave me a sweet hug.

After I sat down I couldn't take my eyes off that gentle looking woman and she was just about the last person I could ever envision drunk. But there she was, reading the AA preamble, giggling as she later shared an anecdote from her drinking days - something about the time she had dropped something in a dumpster and fallen over head first in an attempt to try and retrieve it. She wound up having to wait until her husband returned from work because she was too messed up to figure her way out. This delightful, honey-sweet, soft-spoken, white haired grandmother was describing a scene from her past which rivaled anything the rest of us could have probably shared and gosh it felt so good to laugh. I dearly needed the blessed release of that laugh after a week of sheer terror. She will never know what a difference she made in my life that night. I could never adequately express it, but she did.

I would later learn that she came into the program after three attempts and the age of 47. I was 43 at the time which meant that, with a little luck and no smoking, I could be recounting the time I mowed over a mailbox to a room full of people who might need to know just how crazy I used to be and how full of life I still was. That was priceless.

I took that laughter from my second AA meeting and I picked up something else that I needed just as much. Chips are given offered at the end of each meeting to celebrate periods of sobriety. The hardest one for most of us is the first one and though it's just a cheap, white, plastic disc that could pass for a poker chip were it not for the triangle within a circle, it's heavy with symbolism because it means we are surrendering and setting a new course for ourselves. I walked up and received a white chip, along with several hugs and cheers of congratulations. In AA circles, giving up is a very good thing. It's finally admitting defeat against a foe that doesn't play fair and wants you dead. I still carry that white chip with me in my purse, and every now and then I take it out and look at it and I remember the evening I picked it up and then I think of everything it took for me to earn it.

Of course, it only takes a meeting or two to be dazzled by the blue chip - the one EVERYONE wants when they join AA - the blue chip marks one whole damn year without a drink and it's a huge thing! I also keep my blue chip in my purse, right next to my white one. They are symbols of life, and the new one I was granted courtesy of a power greater than myself.

As is the case with diabetics, there is no magic cure, no complete recovery and a full life is the result of continuous maintenance in the form of meetings, working the steps and keeping in touch with a sponsor and yes, reading that Big Book as often as possible. We never get well. We are never recoverED. There is no "cured". But if we take a few suggestions, we can expect an incredible life and that's not AA dogma - that's my own experience thus far. The fact that we have any life left in us at all when we join the program, is the first in a line of miracles, if we continue to do the next right thing - even if the next right thing isn't exactly what we want to do. As they say quite often, it's a simple program, but not always an easy one, but as with most things, if you break it down into simple increments, a day at a time is very doable.

My life didn't get all perfect and trouble didn't make some magical hasty retreat, but my life did get better, almost immediately. It is suggested that a newcomer try and make 90 meetings in the first 90 days and that seemed completely extreme to me, until I realized I had made something like 140 meetings in 90 days - it all went so fast I didn't realize it. I was attending two meetings many days and not because I was thirsting for alcohol - not at all. I can honestly say I have never had one single craving for a drink or a buzz, but as we are reminded, simply taking the drink away doesn't mean we get well - it really is a disease that settles in the mind and my mind was probably as diseased as anyone elses. I was no worse than compadres, and I was certainly no better. For all of my perceived terminal uniqueness, it turns out I was just a garden variety drunk. Fortunately, through attending all of those meetings, it would seem I am in spectacular company.

I may not have been special and I most certainly wasn't terribly unique, but I did have an interesting road ahead of me, along with a path of destruction behind me to try and untangle. Here I was, the Mom of a 16 year old and a 19 year old, and a woman who had been penning a single parenting newspaper column for 3 1/2 years, not to mention the only daughter of two teetotalers in their late 70's who had no clue I was as sick as I was.

It's a very humbling experience to stand before your almost grown up kids and confess to being an alcoholic, complete with citations. It was even more surreal to continue to write a newspaper column on my homespun single parenting experiences and adventures, and pretend all was sunshine and daisies on the homefront. I'd tackled a wide variety of topics over the years I'd written my column on lots of subjects, including step-parenting, re-entering the dating world, online match-making services and trying to help kids adjust to a one-parent household. I just couldn't figure out for the life of me how to write about blackouts, transatlantic wine-tasting and dates memorable only for the number of bottles and vintage of wine served. That just didn't fit the image I wanted to reflect. I wrote funny stories, crazy stuff about my son's massive collection of reptiles, breeding lizards, seeing kids off at the airport as they flew to spend a few weeks with dear old distant dad. I just didn't have enough column width to write about the couple of hours I sat at the airport bar following their departure as I cried and tried to dull the pain of not seeing them for 21 days with one or three glasses of wine. It simply didn't fit. I wrote "Single...With Children", not "Single...With Children and a Case of French Wine".

The story behind the story wasn't nearly as light as the story that appeared in the Wednesday Edition of a Texas Newspaper in the middle of the Bible Belt. I could just imagine being tarred, feathered and ran out of town IF I had actually been living in the same town as my column appeared. Even my location was a secret because the local columnist with the perky smile and crazy hair lived about ten states and 1800 miles East. I was frequently high, but it wasn't because of the altitude of the High Plains it was assumed was my residence. That's a whole other blog entry and my fingers are tired. Enough confession for one night.

If you wondered why all the recovery links or surreptitious references to AA, now you know. Nope, it's not my father, my mother or anyone else in my immediate or even biological extended family who serves as the reason I know a thing or two about recovery. I'm the real deal. I am the alcoholic - fortunately, it no longer feels the least bit foreign or odd to say that. As crazy as it may sound (or read), I feel extremely blessed to be a recovering alcoholic. I'll close this entry with a passage that I try and read every single day to remind me of where I have been and what I have to look forward to, if I do a few small things every single day...

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through.
We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.

We will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.

We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.

No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.

That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.

We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.

Self-seeking will slip away.
Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.
Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.

We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.

We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Are these extravagant promises? We think not.

They are being fulfilled among us - sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.

They will always materialize if we work for them.

Taken from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous - pages 84 and 85.

I am one very grateful, devoted, active friend of Bill W.

15 September 2005

Confronting "Powerlessness"...Lessons From Ophelia

As I've so often heard in the most entertaining meetings, my mind is like a dangerous neighborhood and I shouldn't go there alone." Tonight I heard another great one - this young man was relating how his sponsor had told him, early on in his recovery, that if he felt he had come up with a great idea, to PLEASE call him (the sponsor) first - i.e., it's probably not a brilliant idea at all and may well be a dangerous one. You get the picture and again, I digress...

Very early on the morning of Wednesday, September 14th, about 25, 000 of us fortunate enough to call Wilmington home, were confronted with a state of powerlessness. No, it wasn't some huge Port City AA convention where we're encouraged to admit early and often, our powerlessness over alcohol or other addictive substance. Hurricane Ophelia took us all back to a time when there was no such thing as electricity.

The first few hours of being electricity-deprived can be kind of fun, after you get over the realization that coffee-makers don't operate on batteries, even though I think that should be a standard feature. The house becomes very quiet, the windows are opened as much as they can be without inviting the horizontally sheets of rain that threaten with each tropical force wind gust. Radios are enlisted and tuned to stations one would never listen to under normal circumstances. Propane becomes much appreciated as a source for heating up water, soup or grilling whatever meat seems most vulnerable. Having a bathroom without a window means that a shower is taken by candlelight and even that is kind of fun in a primitive sort of way - until the electric hot water tank is drained of its resources and warm water becomes chilly.

It's a good time to read, dust off a guitar or play a board game that brings a family together because there's pretty much nothing else left to do. Conversations spring up and take more interesting twists and turns as philosophies are shared and even a few confessions are made, in the name of avoiding boredom at all costs.

Things I learned courtesy of a brush with Ophelia...

Electricity is a very fine thing indeed and the sound of silence can be maddening after four hours or so.

Riding out a storm is much easier when all of the people you love most in this world are under your roof, even if they sleep most of the day away.

Coffee can be made by slowly pouring boiled water (courtesy of the burner on the outdoor grill) by emulating the function of an electrically powered drip coffee system.

Cell phone batteries don't last forever and should be used with great deliberation.

Surfing the Internet requires an active connection AND electricity to power up the computer! (Propane can't fix everything!).

Taking a nap is a perfectly lovely way to spend an afternoon.

Hanging around the kitchen table, illuminated by the soft glowing ambiance of a cheap hurricane lamp, in the company of an 18 year old male and 22 year old female, who also happen to be our kids, listening in as they free-associate on a vast range of topics, is a golden opportunity to learn more about what makes them tick. The discussion can pendulate from poignant to playful in a matter of minutes. This may be the most precious side effect of a minimal hurricane, boredom and too much caffeine.

An unexpected day off in the middle of the week is a fine thing. An unexpected day off in the middle of the week with pay, is even better.

With four cats, one dog and about 20 finch aviary residents, silence seldom takes residence in this house. Watching furry and feathered family members behave and react to wild weather is nearly as entertaining, and far more interactive, than "Animal Planet" or "The Discovery Channel".

Having an excuse not to be engaged in vacuuming, laundry or running the dishwasher is almost as good as an E-Ticket at Disney World.

Listening to messages left on voice mail from faraway friends just checking in to see if we're holding up, is a reminder of how sweet it is to love, and to be loved, by folks who have crossed our paths in past years. It elicits warmth and is a fine reason to compile a gratitude list.

It doesn't matter how many fresh batteries you might have bought in preparation for a major weather event, if you don't have a few spare radios to place them in. Most people forget to buy the batteries. We forgot to buy the radios. DUH! However, even this faux pas had the nice effect of collecting us all in the same room to listen to what was going on in the world outside of the street where we live.

Gathering the family to take turns reading essays from ANY David Sedaris book is guaranteed to produce giggles. (Great idea, Katie! But I bet you knew I was going to say that...of course you did.)

It's incredible just how much of our lives are dependent on an electrical current for smooth operation. It's even more astonishing how the best parts of our lives, our relationships and the things that touch us most, the things that fuel our hearts and souls, are powered by a current that makes electricity pale in comparison.

An unknown quantity of uninterrupted time is perfect for reading a great book. There is something primitively delicious about reading by candlelight.

Being surrounded by neighbors who are also in a state of electrical powerlessness is somehow buoying and invites a calm sense of camaraderie. Seeing homes "lit up and running" from a still "amp challenged" home, doesn't bring out the best in us and invites very ugly comments and thoughts toward the "haves" from the "have nots".

I learned that it's exasperating to listen to the radio as morons call in to describe how "amazing!" it is to have only experienced a few moments of an interruption of power, yet complain bitterly that they are being forced with the hardship of having to deal with no cable or Internet connection; a reminder that there are idiots among us and many of us nurse an unattractive, but undeniable, wish for hardship to visit such "I want it all!" people.

After about 8 hours, the novelty of a blackout wears off. Playing "Little House on the Prairie" gets mighty old as the desire for hot, fresh coffee, Pizza Hut Delivery and warm water with which to take a shower overrides the over-rated simple pleasures.

Fellow family members become easier to be around when they are sound asleep.

It's amazing how many things you can think to cook that would never cross your mind under normal circumstances, when the kitchen is fully functioning.

Air conditioning is a mood enhancer that could rival any SSRI, and a beautiful thing.

Listening to someone repeat how "bored" they are after about the twentieth time, makes you want to slap them silly and can trip off a string of rarely employed expletives.

I find it curious how miraculously writer's block disappears when the computer is inoperable. It's even more crazy how much you want to strike someone who points out that you can always use a simple pen and paper, after all, isn't that how they used to do it? Grrrrrr...

About 12 hours of no power makes such tasks as cleaning the bathroom or straightening out the garage look like fun times. For that matter, why is it that all the things you would, under normal circumstances, go out of your way to avoid doing, suddenly look halfway inviting? I HATE loading the dishwasher, folding and putting away clothes and painting baseboards 99% of the time, yet when it is impossible to do these things, I almost find myself pining for them. Good thing those crazy thoughts disappear about five minutes after the power is restored. That could seriously mess with your head, not to mention alter your procrastination quotient!

Getting by without ice might be de rigueur in Paris, but on a humid, oppressive, dark afternoon in North Carolina, it's absolutely no fun and void of any charm. It's just plain wrong. We are a nation that needs a lot of ice and a lot of tea to pour on it.

So my family and I have just experienced and easily survived our first hurricane together. Ophelia was, in cyclonic terms, a minor storm being classified as a Category One. However, the trees around our house bent to the point that a few of them looked as if they were on the verge of snapping like toothpicks, during some of the more high velocity wind gusts. There were times when the rain truly did sting as it made contact with exposed skin. When all was said and done, we were left with several broken branches, scattered leaves, a pool that overflowed its boundaries. For a person that grew up among mountains (which I hate) in a state that shamelessly boasts of containing way too many of them, if you ask me, a Category One hurricane is fairly formidable...and understand, a few years ago a tornado blew the roof off of my Amarillo home, so I've weathered some weather.

Even during the gustiest of the gusts, what we felt yesterday didn't come close to what Katrina dealt to the Gulf Coast. I can't imagine going through such a storm and yesterday only made me even more in awe that anyone survived that behemoth of a storm. Every person and animal who did, is nothing less than a miracle. If anything, Ophelia made me consider both the fragility and sturdiness of life; Fragile in the sense that we are all so exposed to all manner of elements that could do us in at any time. Sturdy in that though we do get knocked around, we somehow manage to pull ourselves up and get right back in the game.

Surviving Miss Ophelia didn't require any special stores of strength or deep well of reserves. It demanded little of us and merely inconvenienced us by forcing us to go without cool air, ice cubes and Internet Access. Surviving Katrina, well, that must have been something else all together. All I know is the who have lived to tell the tale that was Hurricane Katrina, must be made of amazing stock. After yesterday's little breeze, my empathy and admiration for their determination and fortitude has grown exponentially - way off the Saffir-Simpson Scale.

05 August 2005

CaringBridge.org - julianna

CaringBridge.org - julianna

It's worth your time reading the latest post on Julianna Banana's website. If you do yourself a favor and read the post dated Wednesday, August 3, 2005, what's a couple extra seconds - go on and sign the guest book.

Life isn't always a bunch of daisies. There are so many people struggling and sometimes the hardest struggles of all, fall to the smallest, most innocent among us. Of course, I mean pediatric oncology patients.

There are something like a million questions that I have for God someday when it's time for me to take my leave, but one of the first questions on my list will be why any of these kids have to endure this stuff. Why do some little ones recover and some fight with everything that they have within them, are teased with the prospect of recovery, only to slip away?

I am a Christian, some days I'm better at it than others, but I'm also a human and as a card carrying member of the human race, I just can't for the life of me wrap my mind around what good comes from any of this. I also recognize that I am in the forest and the trees surrounding me are very tall and sometimes quite foreboding, especially at dusk when the fading light plays tricks and turn harmless shapes into menacing shadows. Because I am in the middle of the forest, i.e., life, I realize that from my vantage point among the trees that I can't see the whole picture, what the forest looks like from a distance and most probably if I could, I wouldn't have to ask some of the questions that bombard my thoughts when I read about The Banana Family, the Duckworths, and little boys like Joshua and so many more kids on a list that is obscenely long and growing.

Maybe my being a mere mortal makes it impossible for me to understand much at all, on this side of the curtain and again, I'm not doubting that there is more to all of this than I can intellectually grasp, but still, it stymies me.

I'm certain given the import of the question, that the answer is just bound to make sense, and that is because I have Faith. I have to, otherwise why bother getting up in the morning? Faith is fuel. Hope truly isn't optional - it is essential.

The last lines of Julianna's Wednesday post declares with more eloquence than I could ever pen...

"If a child is able to climb their way above cancer, undoubtedly their ladder is made from the rungs of the support and prayers of others.

There's never been a better day to be a rung

Everyday is a good day to be a rung. It's a long, tough climb up that ladder, so if you are going to sign on to be a rung, practice your promise and say your prayers. Be a rung that those little ones climbing up can step up to and know that it will hold them safe.

30 June 2005

"From the moment I first saw you. The second that you were born..."

Susie and Justin
Originally uploaded by susiewrites.
When this little guy was about eight years old, we used to sing "You're The Love Of My Life", by Carly Simon. Sometimes, we'd even hold hands while we were doing it. The lyrics were so perfectly apropos, particularly the lines, "You can drive me crazy. You can drive me anywhere. Here are the keys, just do as you please, it may not always be easy..."

And it hasn't always been easy. I must say it's always been interesting and, to be honest, it's almost always been fun. I wouldn't trade a second of it. I just wish the seconds hadn't passed by so fast. It seems as if they start out fairly slow but somewhere along the way, they gain this powerful momentum and before you blink, your son is bursting into your office and asking you to put more A&D Ointment on his latest tattoo.

"Ouch!" No, that was me saying that, not him. He was grinning from ear to ear and looking rather proud of himself. In fact, it was in such a spot that he couldn't really see it with a mirror looking into a mirror, so I had to take my camera phone and take a photo of it so he could admire it in all of its glorious detail.

My precious son got his 2nd tattoo yesterday and what could I say? Well, nothing I can write here, but that's beside the point. It's not like I could ground him and besides, he didn't need my permission. He's 18 and for some strange reason when you're 18 and you've earned your own money and you take it into your head that you want permanent ink "art" (and I use that word loosely) installed somewhere on your person, you don't require your Mother's permission. Who made this rule up, I have no idea, but that's just the way it is. I am positive it wasn't a Mother who made that rule up. This much I know.

And to think of the argument he used to give me when I told him he was going to get a simple flu shot. You would have thought I was taking him to have a finger removed.

I remember how many times I rubbed oil and lotion and carefully examined his back for bumps, bruises or bug bites, and now there is this tattoo at the base of his neck. It's not particularly horrid looking. I guess as tattoos go, it's not a bad one. I just liked it better when it was just, well, plain skin. But of course, I'm just a Mom so what do I know anyway? There are 26 years and about a million or so memories between us.

So what did I do? Easy. I got some cotton and carefully blotted the "design" as he asked me to do.

I suppose I could have had a cow or something, but that wouldn't have made it magically disappear, and he worked hard for the $80 dollar price tag (I think they should have paid him!), and of course, I listened several times to how much it hurt and I don't doubt that it did. If he was looking for sympathy, I'm afraid he burst through the wrong room. But he is my son and I adore him, tattoo-tainted or not.

I have this hunch that plastic surgery is going to be a very lucrative business in about 10 or 20 years (or less), when all of these kids walking around are a little older and wiser and wondering what in the world they were thinking when they had some permanent symbol etched in their skin, and decide they'd rather it be removed. I don't know how they remove such a thing, and I'm sure that in the next few years the technique will be refined, but I would guess it will still be prohibitively expensive. Given how many kids I see sporting them, it's either going to be a long-term trend or there's going to be a lot of expensive superficial surgery going on.

I could be wrong. It may become THE thing to have at least three tattoos by the time you're the age I was when I brought Justin into the world. I have no idea and fortunately, it's not a pressing problem at this time. Right now, he's in "acquisition" mode and I can just imagine that when his sister, Katie, returns from NYC this weekend, she will examine it thoroughly, make a few remarks, and then probably make an appointment for her second one so that her brother won't be ahead of her.

Whatever happened to non-conformity? :-)

I think all of these non-conforming kids are doing exactly what everyone does at their age in the quest to be different and unique; they're doing the very same thing, just different designs. I used to think you practically had to be in the military to have a tattoo because the only ones I saw were on the arms of men who had been in the service, and they were almost always some sort of military-related object. I bet their Moms weren't so impressed when they came home sporting one, either. But I would imagine they didn't dwell on the displeasure they may have felt with seeing some picture on their kid's arm, because they were just so darn thankful to have their child, even if he was 22, back on terra firma. Safe and sound.

The way I look at it, I would have much preferred he use the $80 more constructively, like deposit it in his savings account, but he chose not to and even though he didn't ask for, nor does he require, that I respect his choice, I still do. That $80 could have gone for something that made far more sense to me, but likewise it could have gone for something much, much worse and more dangerous. When I think about all of the really scary stuff in this world he could have used that money for, his small tattoo doesn't look nearly as unattractive.

Besides, I know for sure I've done a thing or three that has made him shake his head in confusion. If I'm to get honest with myself, and believe me, this evening I'm going to take the Fifth and get REAL honest with myself, there are bigger fish to fry.

As far as Justin is concerned, I still think he's just about the most handsome 18 year old I have ever met, but then again, I am biased and I'm allowed to be. That's my boy...and he, along with his sister, without question are...two of the most amazing "love(s) of my life".