Friday, November 29, 2013


Thanksgiving dinner yesterday was really nice.  There was quite a bit of drama earlier in the day, but I won’t relate it here, because I’m beginning to see that Eleanor is right about the way I feed on drama.  It isn’t a pattern that I like, or one that helps me in any way.  As she has said repeatedly, I am getting something out of it, or the spoiled teenager inside is getting something out of it.

I think maybe if I figure out what it is that inner teenager needs, and find a way to give it to her in another way, one that doesn’t involve that kind of drama, it would be a good thing.  I am not sure how to do that, but I am going to start trying to work through it in my head.  

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Gratitude is a good thing.  We all ought to be grateful, especially today, on Thanksgiving, when gratitude is positively a patriotic obligation.

Gratitude is wonderful when it is spontaneous and comes from within.  Gratitude is difficult when people tell you, "You ought to be grateful because you have X," or "You ought to be grateful because you don't have Y," or, more bluntly, "How dare you complain when you have so much, you ungrateful narcissist?"

We can cultivate gratitude, just as we can cultivate mindfulness and empathy and all the other positive qualities and emotions and states of mind that will make us happier, kinder, better people.  We can, but all too often, we don't.

I have a relative who is refusing to celebrate Thanksgiving this year.  She says she doesn't have much to be grateful for this year.  I don't know what to say to her, because from where she sits, I have more to be grateful for than she does.  From where I sit, too.  So how do I say to someone who has more problems than I do, yes, you do have things to be grateful for.  I can't.  It would sound preachy.  She has preached to me in the past about how ungrateful I am because I complained about this or that, and I didn't like it, so I am not going to do it to her.

I don't know how you inspire someone else to be grateful.  It isn't by telling them, "You ought to be grateful."  When people say that to me, I want to say fuck off, but instead smile tightly and try to say something that isn't too passive aggressive.  I want to be grateful.  I try to be grateful.  Most days, I am grateful, including, thankfully, today.  But when I am not feeling grateful, being preached at doesn't help.  It generally makes my state of mind much worse.  So I am leaving my sad, resentful kinswoman alone, because I don't want to make her feel worse, but don't know how to make her feel better.

Make her feel better.  That's the thing.  Not only can you not make someone else feel better or worse or any way, but other people can't make you feel a certain way.  People do things, or things just happen, and then we react with one emotion or another.  We can choose how to react.  Often, the initial reaction is involuntary, a flash of annoyance or fear or pleasure, but once that flash passes, we can choose whether we want to give in to that emotion, or do something to try to counteract it.  From Buddhism to Positive Psychology, there are a variety of tools and behaviors we can use to help us control negative emotions, but the motivation has to come from within.  It can be inspired from without, but whatever the external stimulus is, it needs to touch a nerve inside the person, and inspire him or her to want to make a change.  Same thing with losing weight, or exercising, or getting sober.  If the person in question doesn't want to do it, you can't bully or cajole or guilt them into wanting to.

So today, what I am grateful for is the desire to be grateful, to be healthy, to be sober, to be empathetic and kind rather than angry and resentful.  That is really a gift worthy of gratitude.


I was sober for nearly two months, then the other night I had a glass of wine or three or five or whatever it was.  I had decided in advance a few days before that I was going to have wine on that occasion, that it would be sort of a test to see if I could do the moderation thing, and I can’t.  I woke up on the couch in my clothes at 5 AM with a raging headache.  I got undressed, went to bed and couldn’t get up in time to make an appointment on time, was more than half an hour late, and was kind of checked out, not all “there” because I felt so lousy.  I felt lousy all day.  But it told me what I needed to know.  I can no longer do the “moderation in all things” thing, which was really a source of pride for me.

I finished Ann Dowsett Johnson's Drink yesterday, and cannot recommend it highly enough.  It is exceptionally well written and emotionally powerful.  I don't agree with the public policy recommendations, but the personal narrative is riveting and inspiring.

I have been reading Stefanie Wilder Taylor's blog, Baby on Bored.  The author of snarky, mommy-loves-her-wine books like Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay, Taylor took the courageous step in 2009 of publicly admitting she drank too much and was stopping.  Her blog posts on her struggles with sobriety are raw and funny and she seems like the kind of mom I would love to have a cup of coffee (not a glass of wine) with.  I loved this post; be sure to read to the end.  Not that anyone is reading this blog and will on my recommendation, since there are no comments and hardly any hits on the stat counter.  But what do I expect from an anonymous blog I don't promote on Facebook or tell my friends about.  Maybe someday I'll work up the courage to do it.  Maybe not.  In the meantime, I will go on not drinking (that's the plan anyway) and reading and writing and taking care of my kids and being grateful, not necessarily in that order.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Crying Out Now

This blog, Crying Out Now, is powerful and raw and honest and a godsend.  I found it via this article at HealthLine on the 15 Best Alcoholism Blogs of 2013.  Another of the 15 I loved (I haven't had time to look at all of them yet) was Life Without Beer Goggles, which is well written and funny, and I love anything that is both of those things.  I would read that one just for laughs even if I didn't have alcohol issues.

Crying Out Now is an entirely different kind of blog, a communal blog for women to share their stories about addiction and recovery.  The posts are mostly anonymous.  Maybe all anonymous; I haven't read far enough back yet to be sure.  I really related to this post by a woman who wanted to stop drinking, but hadn't made the commitment yet, in part because

I've gone to some open AA meetings with my husband and was blown away by what I saw and felt. 
I am terrified to suggest to him that I may stop drinking: I'm not sure I want to make that commitment.  
I don't want him being a watchdog on me if I change my mind or fail…
Boy, can I relate.  I went to my first AA meeting not too long ago, haven't told many people yet.  Four, to be exact, aside from the people at the meetings.  One of those people is a close friend who has a close relative who is in recovery.  When she asked me the other day if I had been to another meeting, I admitted that I sometimes wondered whether I would have to make that a lifestyle choice, whether I might not someday be able to be a social drinker as I was during most of my life.  The disapproval and judgment radiated from her like the white hot heat of the sun.  She was careful about what she said, but I could feel it.  The watchdog.

The fact is, I will probably be better off if I commit to a life of sobriety, but that has to be my choice.  I will probably do it, but I don't want to feel as though people are watching and judging and insisting.  But perhaps that is the price of a sober life?  People judge; they can't help it.  As a species, we are Homo Judicans.

I visited the blog of one of the founders of Crying Out Now.  Ellie is a smart, beautiful, brave woman who has survived cancer and addiction.  I have only just begun to explore her blog, One Crafty Mother,  but have already found wonderful posts on motherhood, cancer, alcoholism and recovery.  I particularly liked a recent post about motherhood and alcoholism in which she writes:

Moms talk all the time about deserving their wine at the end of a long day - whether they work outside of the home or not.  You don't have to look further than Facebook to see women talking up their hard earned glass of wine.
I have realized how true this is since my first AA meeting.  I cannot count the number of times I have been advised by a friend or acquaintance or coworker to have a glass of wine and relax, than I deserve it.  In retrospect, I realize I used to prescribe the same thing, both for myself and for friends.

Ellie's post references Ann Dowsett Johnson's new book, Drink:  The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol.  I haven't read it yet, but I plan to.  Johnson was the guest last night on The Bubble Hour, the podcast that the hosts of Crying Out Now produce.  The newest episode link isn't posted yet, so I haven't heard it, but plan to when it's up, as well as exploring some of the older podcasts.

I am grateful to have found Crying Out Now, a site where women can share their thoughts and fears in anonymity and safety, hosted by women who empathize rather than judge.  I have not shared my own story there yet, but I may.

By the way, the fact that I have reluctantly admitted that I have a problem does not mean that I can no longer appreciate the humor of posts like this one from Illustrated with Crappy Pictures, a blog I only just discovered (I guess I live under a rock) and the 2013 Best Parenting Blog according to The Bloggies.  Yes, it is a part of that "mommy needs her wine" discourse, but it is also funny, and in my book, funny makes a lot of things okay.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

It's Not Just Me

Catching up on blogs I like but don't always find time to read, I found this post:

I used to wake each morning ready to go at 5 a.m. I would kiss my husband goodbye, take my shower and then move through my routine like a professional mother and wife. Everyone up. Check. Everyone dressed. Check. Breakfast cooked and served. Check. Lunches packed. Check. Everyone has what they need for the day. Check. Load of laundry done. Check. Dishes done. Check. Coffee. Check. Let’s do this. 
Lately I’ve been hitting the snooze button until I’m in panic mode. Rush around. Check. Yell at the kids. Check. Forget all kinds of shit. Check. 
The responsibilities of life are the same. I have not started a new job. I did not have another baby. I’m not taking college courses. Nope. Things are the same as they have been for years. Everything is the same. Except for me. I’m different. I’m broken and doing everything wrong 
I can barely keep groceries in the house. My yard has not been mowed in over a month. The kids haven’t been to karate in several months. I’m forgetting to call friends. I am not volunteering at the school much because I don’t want to. 
So what AM I doing? 
The answer is something I’m just now ready to admit. 
I’m healing.
The author is a blogger whose emotional honesty I really admire, as in this post, and this one.  I also admire her courage to write about such personal things under her own name, while I am not ready to do that yet.

The transformation she describes from uber-efficient supermom to procrastinating slacker is one I can really relate to.  I used to bound out of bed before the sun rose, too, and now I hit the snooze alarm more often than not, telling myself it'll be just one more cup of coffee and ten more minutes and then I'll get up, but somehow it's two and twenty, or three and thirty, get the idea.

So what is she doing?  Healing.  And -- kudos to her -- giving herself permission to slack off some while she heals.  I admire that.  I wish I could do that.  I try, and once in a while I manage it, but more often than not, my perfectionism rears its ugly head.  But it's not just me.  The blogger I've quoted, practically in the same breath where she gives herself permission to heal, writes, "I’m broken and doing everything wrong."

The fact is, we are all broken, and we all do a lot of things "wrong" -- that negative judgment in quotes because even when we do things in ways others would consider acceptable, or even commendable, to us it still so very often feels wrong.

The title of this post is a paraphrase of Brene Brown's book, I Thought It Was Just Me, which I loved and highly recommend.  Brown's work on perfectionism, shame and vulnerability has helped me understand a lot of things about myself that I hadn't before, and for which I am grateful.   The blogger I've linked to in this post has helped me, too, with her willingness to be vulnerable and share her pain with others whom it might help.  It does.  It has.   And I am grateful.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Control Freak

I have a tendency toward perfectionism.  I am a borderline control freak.  Okay, more than borderline.  And the irony -- or is it the paradox -- is that the more I try to control everything, the more half-assed a job I do on more things.

In 2006, I started keeping a list of the books I read, broken down by quarters (Spring 2006 to Fall 2013).  It started innocently enough, because I would see a book and think, when did I read that?  Did I finish it?  The list was helpful, especially since it showed me a historical record of where some of my ideas might have come from, as when I read two books simultaneous (one in print and one audio, say) or close together.  Then, this year, I got the bright idea to include movies and podcasts in the list, and it immediately went from a nice, helpful, easy to maintain list to a nightmare.

I cut everything but books out of the list, saved the file to overwrite the old one, and resisted the temptation to keep the more complete file.  If I kept it, I might go back and start updating it, and that kind of think I can't go on doing.  I need to do less, expect less, demand less, and maybe that way I can do those fewer things, the really important things, better.  Better in the sense of more mindfully, without feeling frazzled and overwhelmed, without having my concentration divided.

As I look at the piles of papers and files and books on my desk, I know there are other things I need to stop trying to do, things that aren't vital and that distract me from things that are vital.  But I don't have to stop trying to do them all at once.  Trying to do that would be perfectionism in pursuit of ending perfectionism.  Instead, I will try to reduce my perfectionism:  gradually, manageably, imperfectly.

Six Days

It's been six days since I posted.  At that time, I intended to write every day.  There are so many things I wanted to write that I couldn't decide which to write first, so I didn't write any.  I wish I could say this wasn't typical of me.  I have become a fearsome procrastinator.

When I was younger, I was pretty good at delaying gratification and forcing myself to do the hard stuff now in order to get the good stuff later.  In the last few years, however, that ability seems to have disintegrated.

A book on Jungian psychology I was reading recently (something about the Shadow, but I don't want to stop and look up the title/author now) said that midlife is when the Shadow often makes its appearance, and people do things they never would have done before, things that are out of character.   This is what society popularly calls the Midlife Crisis.

I suppose that procrastination, like sensuality, is one of the things my responsible, virtuous younger self stuffed away into the bag in which gestated my Shadow, and so it is not all that surprising that these things would manifest themselves at this time.

Now I have to go do things that someone with my obligations and responsibilities has to do.  I hope to write more later today, but I will not be surprised if I do not.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Go Write Something

Yesterday I wrote my first blog post here since January, and it felt good.  I have been keeping a journal since July, and thought about posting some of those entries and dating them with the dates I wrote them, but somehow that felt inauthentic, as though I would be tampering with the temporal integrity of this blog.

This morning is the end of daylight savings, when we as a society collectively tamper with the temporal integrity of nature's time, something I dislike.  I wish the whole country could be like Arizona, and leave Time alone.  Therefore this blog will be a literary Arizona, and instead of back-dated entries, I will share some of those earlier thoughts as quoted entries.

July 3, 2013:
Go write something.
That was how Eleanor ended the email I read at 5:30 this morning. I had emailed her last night about a book I had recently finished, The ONE Thing, which made me realize that writing was my ONE Thing, but for years I had done nothing to make that desire a reality.  She drew attention to my having written, “Of course a working mother can’t focus on just ONE thing,” pointing out that whenever we say “can’t” and “of course” together, we are limiting our thinking, usually out of fear and demons at work.  And so instead of getting on the elliptical, I sat down at the computer. 
One of the things that book said, which I already knew, was that it isn’t discipline or willpower that makes people get things done, but habit.  I know that.  The reason I was up at 5:30 and about to work out is that getting up early and working out has become a habit.  The importance of habit hit me yesterday at the office when everyone gathered in the kitchen for cake to celebrate a coworker's birthdays.  I didn’t have any, because not having cake has become a habit.  I join the crowd to socialize and don’t give the cake much thought. 
If writing is important to me, I need to develop the habit of writing, so that I write as automatically as I get up to exercise or forego cake.  Until a little over three years ago, writing was just such a habit.  I wrote every day, in several venues, including what I hoped were final revisions of a book for which I had a publisher – not some vanity publisher or fly by night publisher but a real publisher that had published real books sold in real bookstores.  An editor liked the sample chapters I had sent, and wanted to see the rest.  I was working on getting it ready – getting it just right, getting it perfect, even – when I took my eyes off that ONE Thing, and let the brass ring slip out of my hand.
In retrospect, it is as clear as day to me that I should have just sent the damn manuscript as it was.  It wasn’t perfect.  What is?  I could have continued to work on the rough patches under the guidance of a professional editor at the publishing company.  But it wasn’t quite perfect….and it had to be perfect.  Once again, as I had done so many times in the past, I had let fear, manifesting itself as perfectionism, keep me from following my dreams. 
Eleanor had reminded me in her email of something I already knew well, that we so often let our demons limit our thinking, keep us from doing the things we most want to do.  Fear and perfectionism were two of my demons.  They have been for as long as I can remember.  When I think of all the things over the years I have not done because of one or the other, I could cry. 
Another demon in my personal pantheon of demons (pantheon is the wrong word, of course, but I am thumbing my nose at perfectionism by leaving it there and pressing on with my story) is what I will call, for want of a better term (see, I’m doing it again….God, this is exhilarating!) aspirational ADD.  Like so many of my generation, I continue dithering well into my forties about what I want to be when I grow up.  
I want to be a writer.  Yes.  Okay.  More than three years ago, I had a complete manuscript and a publisher waiting for it.  I was working on a final revision and shouldn’t have been doing anything else except the bare minimum required to care for my home and children until I got that package in the mail.  But I did do something else.  I let myself be talked into a major undertaking that kept me from finishing the book.  You think I’m insane.  You’re right.  Only all of us are kind of insane when it comes to letting our demons get in the way of our dreams, aren’t we?  If we weren’t, we’d all be where we wanted to be instead of where we are, right?

Saturday, November 2, 2013


This morning, I lay in bed for two hours surfing the internet.  And I don’t feel guilty.

After writing that, it was easier to get on the elliptical.  I exercised for half an hour, finishing the last page of Susan Cheever’s Desire just as the timer beeped the end of the session.  Very zen.  That may be the wrong way to use the word zen, but I don’t care right now.  This is my journal, and I’ll use and abuse words as I see fit.

My, what a rebel I am this morning.  A rebel or an addict?  Cheever thinks addicts are different from non-addicts, but that addictions are not different from one another.  In other words, addictions are interchangeable:  when an obese person addicted to food gets bariatric surgery and can no longer feed that addiction, he or she becomes a compulsive shopper or gambler or alcoholic.  Is it true?  I don’t know.  Not in my dad’s case anyway, I don’t think. 

Was I addicted to food?  I had obsessed over it and struggled to self-regulate for more than 30 years before I took what is probably as near as can be to an AA-style abstinence approach to processed food, sugar and starch.  Since doing so, not eating sugar isn’t very difficult anymore.  Halloween was two nights ago and I didn’t even really want to raid the kids' bags for Reese’s peanut butter cups.  My kids are baffled by my indifference to sweets, since they are all sick addicts themselves.  I mean that in a playfully ironic way, I hope, the way that all kids are sugar addicts.  I gorged on Halloween candy as a kid, but sugar was never really the monkey on my back.  I’d much have preferred two chili dogs and a bite of chocolate to one chili dog and a pile of sweets.  For me, it was mostly savory foods (except mint chocolate chip ice cream, for which I had a desperate passion) and a penchant for excessive portions.

When I stopped overeating, and the feeling of food addiction eventually passed, was I more prone to other addictions?  Did a third glass of Malbec become my third helping of Thanksgiving turkey, stuffing and gravy?  Did two workouts a day replace the two chili dogs?  Did figurative mint chocolate chip (a euphemism for something I have not yet worked up the nerve to write about) become a surrogate for its literal namesake?  Ironic, that.  The connection had not occurred to me before.  I think there may be a memoir title in there.  A memoir to be written when I am old and my children have had their own experiences with that other kind of mint chocolate chip, and so may not judge quite so harshly.  I will be an old lady, dignified and well-preserved, and my amorous past will be no longer scandalous, but only quaintly amusing:  Oh my, can you imagine Grandma doing that?

Do I love mint chocolate chip (figuratively), or do I just love ice cream?  I loved that question Eleanor asked, though I think she said chocolate, and I substituted a flavor I liked better, my flavor of the moment.  Or is it merely a flavor of the moment?  I don’t know.  And the beautiful thing is, I am growing more comfortable with not knowing.  I am beginning to grasp at the edges of what paradox means, and this aspect of my life is nothing if not a paradox.  For a change, I am content to live with the paradox, to be with the uncertainty, not to try to figure out the future.  For the first time since it began, I feel at peace with it.  Well, not completely, but closer to being at peace with it.  And that feels good.

I look at the surface of my desk, and the piles of papers that usually frustrate me, make me feel overwhelmed, lead me to beat myself up for allowing the mess to go on, do not do any of those things this morning.  I realize even as I write the words, that those active verbs are inaccurate:  the mess does not make me feel anything.  The mess is just there.  I feel the way I feel, and blame the mess.

Mindfulness, gratitude and kindness.  I am trying to practice these three things.  Forty minutes ago, I wrote down the time, 7:34, and started clearing the mess off my desk, putting things away, timing myself to see how long things took.  Some of the things to put away were three checks, and I decided to fill out deposit slips for them so I could get that out of the way.  I only had two deposit slips in the house, so I went to get one out of my car, and on the way, instead of thinking what mess the yard was, I breathed in the cold morning air and thought how good it felt, savoring the feeling of it filling my lungs, and feeling gratitude.  When I got to the garage, I was not annoyed at the fallen bicycle in my way, just picked it up and put it to the side with neutral thoughts.  There was no deposit slip in the car, and I found to my surprise that I was not annoyed by this.  On the way back to the house, I looked down at my hands, nine long nails with clear polish and one broken down to the quick, and felt not annoyed by the broken nail, but grateful that I have ten fingers and ten toes, grateful that I have beautiful hands.  Yes, beautiful:  the veined hands of a middle aged woman, and beautiful.

When I came back in the house, the cat was yowling in her discordant way.  It is strange, she is so pretty and delicate, but her meow is harsh and masculine and grating.  The tomcat we used to have was huge and black and majestic, but he mewed as though he were the little white kitten from The Aristocats.  This cat’s guttural howl has always annoyed me, and as many times as I have tried to feel benevolent toward her (I am not a cat person, so it doesn’t come naturally) I don't often manage it.  Today I did.  I spoke kindly to her, and let her out.  Then let her in again.  She had food and water, but still she kept meowing.  “Do you want to be petted?” I finally asked, and bent down to stroke her fur.  Apparently she did, because after that she was quiet.

I never did get the desk cleared off, and it’s more than three hours after I set out to do so.  It’s not cleared off, but it is better than it was, and that is something. 

I have no illusions that I can go on being kind to the cat and the dog and the kids and all of humanity indefinitely, but I can try.  I don’t think I can always keep my desk clear or look with equanimity upon the mess when I don’t, but I can try.  I doubt I can consistently look at my hands and see ten whole, perfect fingers rather than age spots and chipped nail polish, but I can try.  That’s all any of us can do:  try.