Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Holiday Reflection

Christmas brings up a lot of memories and emotions for me as my family and friends commune with food and gifts and celebrate life.  I am so amazed today as I reflect on this past year and feel loved, comfortable and joyful.  I have spent many holidays with bitterness in my heart and in overwhelming fear.  Today my heart is open and my life has become filled with new opportunities.  I would never have guessed this life for me nor could I have made it possible.  I know that what did make it possible was some amazing women showing me how to be a woman of integrity and to walk with grace, my family that is my rock and teaches me to never give up and that no obstacle is too large to overcome, my recovery community that doesn’t kick a man when he’s down and welcomes every person with open arms, and my husband who continues to forgive my shortcomings, shares belly laughs with me and treats me with dignity and love as his partner in life.  In and through all of these is God who is loving, forgiving, gentle, frank, powerful, and ALWAYS present.

This year I’ve found a slower pace to life.  I finally learned that I cannot do everything and even admit that I don’t want to.  I don’t need to solve anyone’s problems nor am I able to.  I took a small step back from the front line and let the rest of the world hash out their troubles on their own.  I was of course ‘nudged’ into this support role with an injury and some pain that prevented me from doing a few things.  Funny though, I don’t think I missed out at all.  My year’s been super full and I have come to enjoy the down times so much that many of my rougher days have been the ones where resting just wasn’t an option. 

Anger arrived this year.  I didn’t count on recovery bringing both positive and negative feelings to the surface, but it did.  I figured I had enough depression and angst, so getting clean and sober would just add happy stuff.  Well, I was wrong.  I found out that I can be quick to anger and once angry a cycle takes over that I’ve yet to stop.  It runs its course as a kind of tantrum and I emerge with an emotional hangover and a few apologies to make.  I usually become upset by all sorts of little tiny things that just aren’t going my way.  Then, I blame someone for all the hardships in my life.  Then, some yelling and tears and finally the emotional melt down.  The truth is I can see that I work myself up to these ‘episodes’.  I generally am over tired and in some physical pain to begin with that I don’t admit or take care of.  This leads to me feeling sorry for myself, which leads me to self-righteous thinking and to believing that I’m not getting what I need from anyone or anything.  Finally, I land right at irrational anger.  Oh boy.  Where did I get the ball rolling? It’s easy to see on paper.  Probably should have just put some ice on my neck and napped for a half an hour.  Ha! 

I continue to see that I love love love people.  As far as I know, the energy I get from enjoying the company of friends and family is like no high in the world.  I can remember the opposite being true just a few years back.  The mere thought of family gatherings made my stomach turn.  I didn’t want to face any of them.  I was filled with shame and guilt and fear.  Today, I am inspired and awakened by the people around me and this year was packed with loved ones gathering and celebrating: Easter, my wedding, birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and any old day in between. 

Most of all, a bit of stability has entered my life in 2011 and it feels so good!  I’m not bored.  I’m less tired.  My life has more options than ever before.  I am showered with love on a daily basis.  I know pain and don’t have to suffer.  I am provided for no matter what, no matter what.  Most things I recognize as neither good nor bad but just as they are.  A wise woman had me write down and carry with me this quote, “It is what it is and that’s just the way it is.”  I don’t have to wonder or ask why tragedies happen or why some people seem to have it so easy.  I just don’t know and never will.  God knows and God is good.  I truly believe that everything in this world happens for a reason and that my purpose is in the acting and the giving, not in the thinking or receiving.  No reason has been reason enough for me to take a drink or drug, to bury myself in food, to cut my own body, or to hide in an institution.  My options today are wide open, but my solutions are God driven.  One day at a time, all year long, all life long, I will continue to seek.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The best medicine

I love to laugh.  It keeps me in touch with the simple things in life, replenishes my spirit and just feels good.  Here are ten laughter-filled moments of my past in no particular order.

One time…

  1. I woke up at 7 o’clock on my bedroom floor with my head on a seventh grade science book and panicked.  I rushed into the kitchen and began making a bowl of cereal in tears.  I had fallen asleep studying for a big science test and was not prepared.  My family was sitting at the kitchen table and asked me what I was doing.  I replied, “I’m making breakfast!”  They asked me why and I excitedly said “I’ve got to get dressed and I’m going to fail me test today!”  Then my dad said something and I began to yell.  I don’t remember what I said but halfway through I realized that my dad was still home, everyone was eating dinner, I was still in my volleyball uniform and finally… it was 7 o’clock AT NIGHT.
  2. My sister and I decided we were going to measure our bodies from head to toe, head to chin, just the neck, shoulder blade to shoulder blade, groin to ankle, feet, hands, reach, nose, knee to hip.  You get the picture, everything.  Turns out my legs were an inch longer than hers.  Her torso was two inches longer than mine!  The visual was too much and we were in fits of laughter.  My mom was too as she observed the spectacle.  Oh and we were sixteen and seventeen at the time.
  3. I was driving my carpool to soccer practice as a high school senior and we stopped to get iced water at a drive through.  As I pulled out and took the sharp right turn onto the street from the drive through lane, the waters began spilling.  I tried to stop the drinks from spilling but did not stop the car.  We ended up all the way over the curb and back into the drive through lane, perpendicular to the window this time.  I waved at the clerk who was only about two feet from the front of the car, backed up onto the busy street and went along to practice. 
  4. I felt that knowing my best friend was taking a run meant that I should take the opportunity to drive alongside her through town and sing “Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler as loud as I could accompanied by my stereo on full blast.  Nice.
  5. My mom and I got into an incredibly intense sword fight with our empty wrapping paper cardboard.  It was pretty hard core until we couldn’t continue due to not being able to breathe and having to use the bathroom.
  6. My brother and I spent a summer in one of the most boring cities in America, a college town with no summer life.  We decided our best option one day was to count our steps to the fast food restaurant where we got soda daily and the movie store.  To this day it’s the most talked about thing we did all summer.   I can’t remember how many steps it took us but I remember it was a good time.
  7. The first week on my college campus, my friend and I ran into one of the school’s basketball players in the bookstore.  I only knew his name was Hans because my friend was freaking out about how cute he was and told me to talk to him.  Well, of course we made sure we got in line directly behind him and I tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Hi, you’re Hans and I’m Franz, nice to meet you!”  No idea what I was thinking but the look on his face was classic and my friend, of course, was mortified.  It was seriously like I was in a movie the first day of classes a couple days later and he sat down next to me.  He looked at me and just shook his head.  Awesome.
  8. There was a cereal commercial on TV during Christmas time where this little kid would string the cereal for the tree and talk about it.  One of his lines was something like, “I love these little crunchy little cornballs.”  Well, my sister and I found this completely adorable with his little boy learning to talk voice and one day my sister broke out the line… at the McDonalds drive-through order intercom.  The whole carpool was in the car and she says, “Hi, can we have four vanilla yogurts on those crunchy little cornball cones?” with the accent!  Oh man, even writing it I can’t stop laughing.  Years of entertainment.
  9. When I was in seventh grade I was a lecture during the school mass.  Unfortunately, so was my best friend and we talked throughout the whole mass on the altar.  As the whole school was being escorted back to their classrooms, the eighth grade teacher found me and while pointing right at my face yelled, “You were a wart on the sanctuaries nose!”  I didn’t laugh right then but when I got back to my classroom I was brought to the front and told to apologize to the class.  I got the giggles so bad I couldn’t do it.  Of course it didn’t help that I started by telling my classmates what the teacher had said.  Maybe I was being a bit defiant.
  10. My dad came to pick me up from my last final the last day of my last year of college.  He had been packing up the car while I was in the exam so we could take off across the country right away.  I came out of the building and there was my dad open arms, the biggest smile on his face, a bloody forehead, a dirty and bloody shirt and torn up sweatpants.  He was cheering for me “You did it!  This is my daughter, she’s a graduate!”  Well, it so happened that a big football player approached the steps to the building while this was going on.  In the flurry of excitement my dad just got a glance at him and noticed the all too cool fashion the football player had going on with one leg of his sweats rolled up over his knee.  My dad stopped pointed and exclaimed, “Nice legs!”

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Never never never quit

Many times in my adult life, my goals and dreams just seemed unattainable.  I would become overwhelmed with the number of steps or obstacles in the way of a goal, and would decide to quit and dream another day.   A lot of years operating this way and I had lost my desire for all things new and had gained enormous shame, guilt and regret.  Along the way I told myself I was a survivor having been dealt a tough hand.  I told myself that the success I had achieved in my childhood was brought through my incredible talent, toughness, drive and perseverance but I could no longer measure up due to tragic circumstance.  I didn’t want to admit or even think that I had become a quitter.  It took a lot of pain and complete desperation before I could see that.   The truth was I had been blessed with natural talent but that was where my success story began and ended.

I won the lottery as far as God-given gifts are concerned.  From the start, I had a personality that craved kinesthetic stimulation; I was good at most things I tried; I was naturally bright; I liked people so they usually like me; my family nurtured all my needs and encouraged every dream I had.  Later, my story was that I was misunderstood and had been pushed too hard to do things I didn’t want to do, I was emotionally repressed and the equivalent of a trophy child.  My story was total crap.  I created my drama and my hardships, but through the years I leaned on my story for comfort in times of failure.  Therapists were excellent at co-signing my bull shit.  I developed the lie and made it so believable that I came to believe it!  I hurt and bled by it!!! 

The progression of all this was sadly simply.  The first time I threw up intentionally it was a conscious decision and I had a plan.  After vomiting, I would call my best friend and tell him in order to get more attention from him.  At the time, the attention I wanted more of was on the friend level.  At sixteen, I had the same angst that most sixteen year olds had.  As everything and everyone around me was changing and developing at the same time, it took focus and attention away from me.  Life showed up with a few deaths of loved ones, two at their own hands, and I felt lost and alone.  All I wanted was a little more attention and some comfort from my peers.  So when I told my friend what I had done and received disappointment and a stern lecture instead of sympathy and understanding, I was really angry.  I didn’t tell anyone else.  Instead I made another decision to throw up more, believing that if I did and it became frequent enough my friend would have to notice and care.  

I knew nothing about addiction and certainly had no idea that I would soon be a bona fide addict.  Within two months I knew I had lost control and could not stop puking.  Within a year I had started drinking.  Within two years, I knew I was an alcoholic, a bulimic, and majorly depressed.  I became isolated and angry, and I could not cope with life.  My solutions didn’t make sense to me let alone other people.  The next few years drained me of any usefulness.  It went a little something like this: I’m uncomfortable in my new school and struggling to make new friends.  Bring me home and let me rest a semester.  You tell me I can’t dive.  Lock me in a psych ward.  I’m failing school.  Send me away.  You sent me away.  I'm never going back to school.  You say I have to go to work when I’m depressed.  I quit!  You don’t love me and you think I’m mean.  I’m an awful human and I hate you too!  I have no friends and my family is always worried.  I want to die!  You want to help me.  You can’t. it’s too late.  I’m hopeless. 

Thirteen years after that first decision to vomit, I considered my choices: end my life or continue to live my miserable one.  My trips to the psych wards and rehabs had become normal.  For me it was easier to be institutionalized than it was to function in the free world.  ‘Hanging on’ for another few years just didn’t seem possible.  By no virtue of my own, I managed to hold on just long enough.  

Almost three years ago, a woman came into my life and taught me how to show up and be present every day for days and days in a row!  I learned how to act better than I felt, to do what I said I would do, and to put one foot in front of the other no matter what.  Somewhere along the way, I developed a sense of perseverance.  I gained my spirit and my self-esteem back through right actions.  I lost the shame, the guilt and have no regrets.  You see, what I didn’t know back when I was lost in it all was that all was not lost.  I didn’t know that I could and would accomplish more in this life than I could even dream up.  I didn’t know that one step would bring me to a new point of view with new strength and new purpose.  When I went back to school and was close to getting my degree, my brother kept telling me to just get a win.  I didn’t realize that this idea would carry me through almost all of life’s challenges.  Take one step and be amazed at what the next one will look like.  By receiving my diploma, I opened my future to a whole new life and all new dreams.  From there I began another journey which spring boarded me into another and another and another.  I got sober and had no idea what I wanted to do or be, but I found that answer too.  The woman that taught me so much three years ago said this, “I have never found my purpose by thinking about what my purpose is.  It’s only in taking some action and doing something that I realize I have a purpose”.  It was through my actions and the little wins that I found all my dreams were possible.

Today I dream big and keep my purpose simple.  I try one day at a time to do the next right thing, to seek and share my truth and to never never never quit.  Every day I find time to love, laugh and pray.  It’s a dream come true.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My first Thanksgiving as an in-law

I’m not sure how many people come from the polar opposite family environment as their spouse, but it sure seems like a lot of us.  My family is at least 65 strong, counting only two generations (aunts/uncles and cousins).  My husband’s family is 3 strong.  People usually ask how in the world my husband survives my side’s events, but honestly he seems to love it.  The noise, activity, competitiveness, lack of attention on one person for too long, and more noise has somehow suited him from day one.  My mom is one of 11 kids who made me 30 first cousins who made their own babies.  My dad is one of four kids who made me 19 first cousins who made a lot of their own babies.  Also, my dad and his siblings grew up in a machine shop and their mother went deaf young so shouting is talking to them.  Again, it’s a lot of noise. 

My husband, mother-in-law and sister-in-law actually speak loudly and passionately most of the time, but the difference is you can actually hear and understand and respond to everything they’re expressing.  It’s exhausting.  Haha!  Who knew three people could be more tiring to mingle with than 50?!  This thanksgiving, after a lifetime of practicing how to stay lightly involved in multiple conversations at once and rallying into as many games as are played in one holiday day lest I might miss something, I experienced down time and the choice to either sit up, eat and watch TV or lie down and sleep.  The strangest part is that I felt slightly uneasy most of the weekend.  Certainly having traveled out of state and sleeping in the living room meant I was out of my comfort space but I didn’t expect to feel claustrophobic.  I really felt watched and I am absolutely positive it was my imagination.  At one of my family’s holiday parties you might have 10+ eyes on you at any given moment and the max there would have been 6!  So clearly, I was feeling overly sensitive and out of touch.

I have been taught (no, I did not know this) that change is hard no matter whether it’s good change or bad change.  The thing is that the trip was overall pretty wonderful.  While I missed my family a lot over the holiday, I made sure I called them to hear their celebration and played a lot of memories through my mind with a smile.  At Thanksgiving dinner, I was able to give thanks with a love-filled heart and experience my new family in a new way.  I got to see more clearly than ever that my husband is the man in his family and both his sister and mother look up to him with complete love, pride and confidence.  It’s an unbelievable thing to watch and a blessing to be a part of.  I realized too how seldom I recognize the strength of his family in our lives.  They are as vital a part of our marriage and its success as my family.  So the score is tied: 3 to 50.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I’m going to be the next…

When I was a little over 4 years old, Mary Lou Retton won the 1984 All-Around Olympic gold medal in gymnastics.  I don’t remember actually watching her win on live TV or anything, but for the next 7 years I relived her moment of glory over and over and over again.  I watched our home taped VHS of that meet hundreds of times.  My sister and I still repeat what the announcers were saying throughout.  Two of our favorite lines, “She runs like Carl Lewis and smiles like Brooke Shields.” and “Mary Lou, how do you do?!”.  We knew her routines.  We knew the other competitors routines.  We knew the back stories. We knew what her coach said and how he lifted her up in celebration.  We were her biggest fans and probably still are.

I used to draw pictures of myself on the victory podium with my 1996 Olympic gold medal.  I would draw the world and a crowd of people and write talk bubbles like “the next Mary Lou”, “world peace”, “dream” and “believe”.  I wanted to inspire the world the way Mary Lou inspired me.  When my gymnastics career ended, my dreams did not.  My sister and I started a collection between ourselves that would one day fund our own gymnastics facility.  We put a quarter a day into the jar.  We talked about what we would have and what kind of coaches we would be.  We saved a good amount for about two years, but eventually stopped the effort.  We still watch gymnastics on TV whenever it’s aired and hope for another Mary Lou Retton, Nadia Comaneci, or Kim Zmeskal. 

While this all might sound silly and childish, I believe that it’s shaped me into who I am today.  I still dream big.  It doesn’t matter what I’m striving for, I look beyond that and believe that more is possible if I want it.  Sometimes I even feel like I’m as good as Carl Lewis and as dynamite as Mary Lou Retton.  I know that passions shared are more inspiring and more fun.  When I love something today, I find someone else who loves it too.  I talk about it with them.  Cheer about it.  Follow it.  I am a coach today and I fight to get the athletes good facilities and the best training possible.  I’m tough and enthusiastic.  I have a passion for diving even more than gymnastics (if you can imagine that) and I let it show.  When I see a kid pop out of the water with their face lit up and brimming with new confidence because they just ‘got it’, I ask them how they feel.  Usually they giggle and say “good”.  What a thrill! 

I thought I was going to be the next Mary Lou Retton but now I’m just the best me.  I don’t know about you but I’m going to keep dreaming and keep believing.  World peace?  Sure, it will happen. J

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Things Awful/Things Awesome

Having just begun this blogging adventure, I’m mentally filing events that might be blog-worthy.  Not having written in a week, I had quite a few blog-worthy bits in the queue.   Upon review, many of my week’s thoughts and experiences caught me with unusual amusement.  Apparently, I really don’t like a lot of things and I have a strong opinion about most everything.  Even the stuff that doesn’t harbor a strong reaction from me has a designation of acceptable/unacceptable, tasteful/insulting, and the like.  I’ll call the items with a positive designation green (green for go/good) and those with a negative designation red (red for stop/bad).  Having a good day used to be dependent on how few reds I encountered.  If too many then forget it- horrible day.  That’s not generally true anymore and while I still have pretty intense reactions to things, my resulting emotion and behavior tends to look more like mood swings than melt downs.  I think I’ll just share some of the highlights from the past week, both red and green.  Here we go…

Reds (in no particular order)
1.  Drivers that stare you down after you make a mistake.  You didn’t think my horror struck face and squealing tires were awareness enough?  Plus now I’m just pissed off at you and your lack of attention to the road!
2.  Cashiers that assume everyone in line is there to make them a social visit.  We’re not.  We want to get to where we want to get ASAP and we want you to do your job well so as not to delay us.
3.  TV shows that cast every character as a complete idiot.  Especially adult cartoons where every character sounds like Bevis, Butthead or Napolean Dynamite.   The voice alone is enough for me to decide they have low self-esteem, social disorders and unresolved childhood issues.  Oh and using the one guy to do all the voiceovers is a total distraction.
4.  Tappers.  My husband is a tapper.  Why!??!!! Why??!!!!!  I can hear that!!!!!!!!!
5.  The mirror that always looks back at you fat.  Who made those mirrors and why did they not just melt it and start over when they looked into it and knew that it was the worst representation of themselves they’d ever seen?!  I vote we all destroy such mirrors and in their spots leave pleading notes that ask the future replacement mirrors be either honest or can improve the truth (just a little).  For the sake of sanity, man!

Greens (also in no particular order)
1.  When you watch someone for just a minute that is completely unaware of being observed, even if they turn out doing something dumb or weird.  I love that outside, anonymous view.  Seems so pure.
2.  Getting the giggles.  No matter where I am or who’s seeing it happen, the giggles are always a good time.  I’ve been so embarrassed by the complete loss of control on many occasions but I’m always better for it.  Plus, it’s a total adrenaline rush and a giggle buddy boosts the fun! 
3.  When kids imitate their parents with that grown up tone and those grown up words but totally work it as their own.  Too funny.  My 2 ¾ year old niece wiggled herself into a seat before a snack this Sunday and asked me, “Should we pray?”  In that moment she was my sister.  Classic.
4.  Being cuddled.  No matter my mood, hugs are the best.  My mom’s are comforting, long and snug.  My husband’s are moving, swinging side to side and strong.  My sister’s are joyous, she hangs off to the side and laughs.  My brother’s are double winners, strong and soft all in one.  My dad’s are classic, always firm with a pat.  Love hugs.
5.  When you wake up thinking it’s Monday and then realize it’s Sunday and you have a whole 24 hours until you have to go to work again.  It feels like a huge time refund and it’s all for fun and relaxation.  At least for a few minutes.   That’s such a great feeling. 

I’m happy to report that while all the reds were a part of my last week, so were the greens.  It’s been a great week and this has been a fun exert.  I hope you enjoyed it too!  

Thursday, November 3, 2011

I still get crazy sometimes

After over two and half years in recovery and over a decade of therapy, the smallest things can throw me back into my old thinking.  What a terrible feeling! 
Yesterday I had a total meltdown.  I was by myself during lunch from jury duty and began to panic about all the money I wasn’t making by serving.  I went to call my husband and found that my phone would not turn on.  That’s when I lost it.  Within seconds I was in tears and yelling that I hated my life.  All while driving recklessly to find a place to get my phone checked out.   I drove around the neighborhood for about fifteen minutes with no direction and then went through a drive thru hoping food would help me calm down.  I got ‘the look’ from the kid working the window when he saw the tears streaming down my face but he didn’t say anything.  I was too upset to eat once he handed me the food.  I threw it into the passenger’s seat and sped away with a new plan.  I drove to a friend’s house knowing that he was at work.  When he wasn’t home, I used that to continue ranting about the terrible luck I had and how awful my life was.  I ended up stopping to use a pay phone a few minutes later and getting a hold of my husband.   After about five minutes of talking to him, the panic and rage had passed and everything seemed completely manageable again.   He suggested I remove the battery from my phone for a couple minutes and then restarting it.  I had thought of that but quit on it when I couldn’t get the back open right away.  Of course, this time it was simple and it worked.  I was back on track and ready to continue my duty. 
That might sound like a painful process to get back to calm and clear-minded, but I did return to the courthouse and sit the rest of the day doing what I was supposed to be doing.  A considerable success for someone like me.  I wish I didn’t react like that to anything, but I know my journey in recovery is just beginning.   I’m really grateful that I don’t take it to the dark places I used to.  From the thought “I hate my life”, I find myself looking for support rather than a fix.  Pretty cool.   

Monday, October 31, 2011

Who am I?

I'm 32, recently married, no kids, work a simple 9-5 job plus a fun gig on the side and am generally viewed as fairly innocent and naive.  Before that I was twenty something, a relationship nightmare, terrified of kids, unemployed and generally viewed as someone to stay away from or take advantage of depending on what kind of person you were.  Before that I was a high school overachiever, had a big group of boy and girl friends, loved my family, worked hard in school and sports and was generally viewed as a driven, bright, talented and caring young lady.  Before that I was a grade schooler, self conscious, faith filled, worked hard to be 'perfect', and was generally viewed as a ‘goody goody’ and a bit of a preacher type.

I don't think any of those pictures of me are really true at all but I'd say the high schooler is probably the closest to who I actually was at the time.  Today, I'm certainly not innocent nor do I think I'm all that naive.  I enjoy freeing myself of drama and have a taste for the simplest of entertainment.  People usually assume I've always been this way.  Why wouldn’t they?  My truth is that I'm a recovering alcoholic, drug addict, cutter and bulimic.  I've lived with major depression for half my life, have received 21 ECTs (shock treatments), and am a suicide survivor.  On the flip side, I have a bachelor's degree from one of the best universities in the country, competed on the national level in both club and NCAA Div I athletics, am a successful coach, a talented office professional, and my family gives me more love than I would dare dream to receive. 

You might guess my view - that descriptions and titles of people aren't really worth a grain of salt.  There's always more to tell.  The truth will always be different based on who is deciding it.  So, as I begin this blog I will relate my truth for you to do with it what you will.  My hope is that my experience might lend support and hope to the reader and ultimately enforce one of my most used mantras “There's a chance for change if I just stay alive”.