Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Land of the Misfit Toys


Land of the Misfit Toys


            Recently I hosted a recovery meeting at my house.  A couple of my male friends from my home group and I were taking another couple of men through some step work and we gathered around my dining room table to read from the “Big Book” and have them underline passages and look words up etc…


            These step meetings center around the first three steps of the twelve steps of recovery and they can take about four hours.  If I am involved in these third step meetings, as we call them, I will generally feed people, and though it is serious business, it is always an intimate and enjoyable process that brings everyone involved closer together.


            This particular meeting struck me, because as I sat my table surrounded by these men, I was momentarily overwhelmed.  All four of them are first responders.  They are either law enforcement or veterans and at least two of them have some form of post-traumatic-stress-disorder and so do I, though for a very different reason.


            I was overcome as I looked around my dining room table at these somewhat gruff, but lovely men and felt an odd sense of belonging.  Here I was, this mainline soccer mom, sitting dwarfed alongside all this masculine pain and I was utterly at ease.  It struck me then that we were all God’s broken people and we were all so beautiful in our imperfection.


            In recovery, I have had the opportunity to meet myself for the first time and have begun to break out of all the molds I and society had tried to cram myself into.  I feel like I have had and have allowed myself to have so many labels over the course of my lifetime.  I care now to be as label-less as possible.  I want to be simply “Fiona” because that one label encompasses so much all on its own and continues to grow in its own scope daily.


            I don’t fit in anywhere anymore except among the misfits and it is rather glorious.  To be free of the molds means I see myself differently now and therefore I see others differently also.  For the most part, I try to suspend judgment and not place people in boxes or label them until I have actually talked to them.  Until I have connected with them on some level, I want to keep my mind open as much as I can to meet them spirit-to-spirit and not place them where society tells me they should be placed.


            Once I was able to start doing that I began to meet a range of people I had never given the time of day to before.  It was like discovering new colors and sounds I’d never seen or heard.  The scope of my vision and hearing expanded and people looked and sounded more attractive to me.  They became works of art in all their flawed humanity.


            I think often now about how many years my senses were shut down.  I think of how many lovely people I walked by in my life, never bothering to give them the time of day because of some pre-conceived notion, label or mold I had already placed them in.  I won’t waste my time on the “what ifs”, but concentrate instead on honing my senses to being as open as they can be so that I can welcome others to the kind shores of the land of the misfit toys.



Friday, March 2, 2018




            I’ve mentioned before that I go once a month to speak at a rehab in New Jersey with my sponsor.  I’ve been doing this now for three-and-a-half years.  I meet him there and he speaks to the men and I speak the women.  We go after to eat a diner and it is one of those staples in my month that I truly look forward to.  I recognize that it isn’t the norm for a woman to have a male sponsor, but this happened somewhat organically and he is a bit like a father to me and it works so take that for what it is worth.


            I was talking to a friend on the phone the other week on my way to New Jersey and she asked me what I was up to.  I explained where I was going and that after I got home later that night I had to finish a paper for school so I did not anticipate getting a lot of sleep.  She commented that she was impressed I was still going to speak given that I still had to finish a paper.  She stated that she sometimes worries I take too much too much.  I understand her concern, but I think I am so busy because I feel as though I lived my life before recovery in a partial state of somnambulance and I don’t want to waste any more time.  I smiled to myself because there are so many reasons why I would put speaking before writing that paper and so many reasons why getting a little less sleep would so be worth the sacrifice. 


            I look forward to this second Tuesday of the month even though it means I have to jump in the car right after work and battle through Philadelphia traffic to get across the bridge and it normally takes me about an hour-and-a-half to get there.  I look forward to invariably seeing my sponsor pacing back-and-forth helping yet another person on the phone when I pull up.  We hug, trade quick hellos and catch up briefly before checking in and getting badges and going to different meetings.  I walk across the beautiful campus to the women’s facility and walk in to greet the CAs who know me well by now.


            The meeting is held in a large, open room and the women are usually waiting for me in a circle of chairs and I sit at the top of the circle and look out over about an average of twenty to twenty-five broken faces.  I see myself in those broken faces.  I remember what they are going through.  Those feelings of hopeless desperation are all too familiar and I do my best to offer hope.   


I tell them about my history with sexual abuse and mental illness and alcohol and all about the bad choices my reliance on alcohol resulted in.  I tell them about my two stints in rehab and my periods of suicidal ideation.  I tell them about living in the recovery house and feeling like I would never make it out of the hole I had dug.  I tell them about marriage counseling and the fragility of my marriage to Frank during my climb back out of that same hole I had dug. 


I am sure then to start telling them about the journey out.  I tell them about the meeting I found that changed it all.  I tell them about the steps and how they re-introduced me to myself and how I learned to love myself for the first time in my life.  I tell them about getting an apartment and getting a job and deciding to get a divorce and buy a house.  I tell them about the kids and how well they are doing.  I tell them how Frank and I are friends and how we co-parent.  I tell them how I am now in grad school and about the book and I tell them there is promise and life is good but that it takes work and that you can’t do it alone.


I do all these things like I do every month and then there is time for the women to ask me questions if they like and they always do.  We talk for a few minutes and I tell them where my home group is and give them my phone number and e-mail address in case they want my help when they leave.  Then we close the meeting with the serenity prayer and I hug as many of them as will let me.  And with each hug, my heart swells just a little more because that room darkened by hopelessness and desperation has been lit by a tiny spark of hope and I got to be a part of it.


I walk out and back across the campus to find my sponsor and we ask each other how our meetings went and head off to the same diner we eat at each month.  We sit and grapple with the same menu and say grace over the meal when it comes and eat and catch up and something about the whole process feels like coming home. 


It was worth staying up late to finish that paper.  For one thing, it was my fault for procrastinating in the first place, but then I just proved to myself for the umpteenth time that I am undisciplined.  For another, I went to speak at that rehab so that I could write the paper.  I would not be in grad school in the first place if I wasn’t in recovery and I wouldn’t be in recovery if I did not give away what I have so freely been given by others who have gone before me.

Monday, February 19, 2018




            This morning I woke up and lay in the dark and prayed before I even moved.  I said the third step prayer out loud to my empty bedroom so I would hear it with my own ears and so that my higher power would hear it also.  Today I have four years.


            I am writing this and I can’t really even wrap my head around that.  Partly because the journey is ongoing and this is just a marker along the path of a lifetime but partly because I never would have guessed four years ago that my life would have looked like this today.  My God am I lucky and my God am I thankful.


            This time four years ago I woke up in detox at Caron treatment center in a state of panic and dread.  The depths of the despair I felt then are difficult to describe but they rivalled the feelings I had when Liam died.  The difference was I had brought them on myself and I alone was to blame for the state of affairs and I alone could fix it but I didn’t think I could – or so I thought.


            By that point I had no self-worth.  I spoke to myself in a language of hate.  I shouted words at myself inside my head that dripped with disdain, disgust and anger.  I no longer knew who I was and I was trying, through substance abuse and other maladaptive behaviors, to reject my own soul. 


I had reached a point where I had relapsed enough that I did not think I would ever make it.  I had reached a point where I thought my children would be better off without me and that Frank and all the other people who cared about me and were trying so hard to make me well would be better off also.  I am not saying that to be dramatic and I had no plan to kill myself, but I had a sincere desire to wish myself out of existence.


            Something about the stay at Caron kindled a tiny spark of hope and I started to want to try again.  Then Frank put up some healthy boundaries.  I don’t know where he found the strength to do so, but he did.  At the time I was angry but I am ever so grateful to him now for doing so.  Those boundaries forced me into a recovery house.  That time in the recovery house forced me to look more closely at myself and it is where I found my sponsor and where I started working the steps that transformed my life and changed the way I see myself and the world.


            I then wrote a thorough fourth step that re-introduced me to my own soul.  Through that process I was able to see myself from all angles and accept the good along with the bad I had become so familiar with.  I saw myself clearly for the first time and began loving Fiona.


            So many things have happened over the course of these four years.  Some wonderful things and some things that have brought deep sadness.  But I am blessed with new perspective and a love for myself and life I never had before.


            I get to help people today and not hurt them.  What’s more, I am good at it.  And I no longer think people are better off without me, chief among them are my kids.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Seetest Burn

The Sweetest Burn


            I have mentioned before that addiction is the great equalizer.  I can go into a twelve-step meeting and be sitting in a room of people that span all races, creeds, religions, genders, socio-economic strata and sexual preferences…  I walk in as the mainline soccer mom and end up sitting next to a tattooed, Harley-riding, ex-con and I get just as much from what he has to say as I do from what the lawyer across from us does.

            I’ve learned to suspend judgement.  I try not to categorize people anymore because when I do, I lose some of the strength of their message, and everyone has one if you listen carefully enough.  As I get older I realize that most of what I used to think I knew to be true isn’t anymore.  I no longer think that you have to have money to be rich.  I no longer believe that you have to have a formal, higher education to be intelligent and informed.  I no longer think you have to have age to be wise.

            There is a woman in my twelve-step circle who has a light about her.  She is beautiful, inside and out.  She is soft-spoken and sweet, covered in tattoos and full of wisdom.  She is twenty-three.  I love when she comes to my home group because she brings with her a calmness and a quiet grace that makes me feel at home.  We often talk about getting together for coffee and never seem to manage to do so but we text back and forth every so often and I value her friendship.

            Not long ago she and I were checking in with one another via text and she asked me again about getting together and if we could do so at a specific time.  I had to turn her down because I was busy and I listed the many reasons why.  I complained that I had recovery, the kids, a full-time job, a part-time job and grad school and that it never ends.  I ended my text saying that sometimes I manage to sleep.  She texted me back with this simple phrase followed by two smiley face emojis and a heart…  “Awwww I’m sorry God blessed you with so much.”

            …it was the sweetest burn I have ever gotten… and I needed it. 

I need those reminders from time-to-time.  I need people like this woman in my life to remind me that I am right where I need to be and that I have so many reasons to be grateful and so many reasons to get up in the morning and so many reasons to be happy.

            I was off yesterday.  I was off, like many single people I think, because it was Valentine’s Day.  Though I know it is just a day like any other and I know that I am quite happy, I started feeling sorry for myself.  I am happier than I have been in years and I am loving living in my house and living my life with all that it has to richly offer me right now.  I do, however, get tired sometimes being alone.  I do, however, sometimes wish I was coming home at night to someone other than two angry cats.  Does this mean that I am ungrateful or weak?  No.  It means that I am human and it means that I am having normal emotions and that I am allowed to have a momentary pity-party. 

            I had class last night.  It is a class on treating complex trauma and it is hard.  I leave there every Wednesday night feeling drained.  There are weeks I feel like we have just read about my own past and though I am getting a lot out of the class and I know that I will be able to use what I am learning to help others, it exhausts me.  I got in my car and started to cry.  I prayed for about the fourth time that day and got on the phone to my sponsor.  We prayed together and I was talked down from my emotional ledge.  I went home, did some reading in the Big Book and went to bed because sometimes that is the best answer.  When I woke up this morning, the text that my friend sent me weeks ago popped into my mind almost straight away and so I sat down to write this piece.

            No, I am not in a relationship right now.  Yes I am single.  Yes it was Valentine’s Day yesterday.  But guess what?  I am so loved.  I have so many people in my life who care about me.  My kids, for one, are a part of my life and this time almost four years ago I was afraid they might not be.  I have deep friendships that continue to grow and expand and there are a vast array of people literally around the world who care what happens to me today.  So I can have an off day, but I am not going to stay in that space.  I am not going to allow myself to wallow in a place in my mind that doesn’t even paint a realistic picture of what my life actually looks like right now.  As my friend said, God has blessed me with so much.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Do Not Mistake My Tears for Weakness


Do Not Mistake My Tears for Weakness


            I cry when I am sad.  I also cry when I am happy, afraid, confused, excited, angry, overwhelmed and tired.  I cry when the wind blows.  I cry a lot.

            It’s possible that I have my own box of tissues at my home group and that there are tissues at my house, at my office and in my car.  It is a rare Monday night at my twelve-step-meeting that I don’t cry when I share; in fact I think people might be more concerned for me if I did NOT cry than if I did.  Frank used to tell people “I married a puddle.”  And if you want a real show, go with me to a wedding…

            One of my closest friends recently sent me a link to a short video about crying and what it can do for you psychologically, with the caption “looks like you are a warrior princess”.  Turns out that crying is really good for you and is a sign of strength.  Who knew?

            Crying relieves stress and releases toxins as well as hormones (got those in abundance so I get now how my body wants to release them!).  It is also a sign of resilience and strength.  Check out the article below for more on that.

            This was just a quick note as I got up early to study and was listening to music this morning while journaling and was in tears before 6 am.  I was laughing at myself and thinking that it was some kind of record and then quickly realized that it really isn’t.  I remembered what my friend had sent me the other day and wanted to share that if you feel like a good cry, don’t judge yourself; let loose… it turns out it's good for you.




Monday, January 22, 2018

Diversify Your Portfolio


Diversify Your Portfolio


            I have learned, that in recovery, there are some things I can trust myself on and some things that I can’t. 

            I trust my gut about many things, but I also check myself religiously and often.  I do this by using the tools I have been given in recovery and the lessons I have learned through doing the steps.  I also turn to the people that I trust to check me because I know that my thinking can be warped at times, especially when emotions are involved.  My ego can swoop in and quickly wrest control of the steering wheel before I am completely aware of it and my emotions will depress the accelerator while I am distracted.  Before I know it I have gotten completely off –track and am going down a road that is not on God’s map.

            I have a handful of people on my “favorites” list on my phone.  I auto-dial these people to check myself on a regular basis.  Among them are my sponsor, my closest girlfriends from various periods of my life, Frank and a close friend from my 12-step-program.  I have countless other numbers I can also call within my iPhone and I know that most of those people would pick up at any time of the day or night if I called and needed them.

            As I work with more and more people at the counseling center, I encourage them to develop their own list.  Have some go-to people you know you can call and you know that you trust.  You have to have people not only to call when you need advice or when you are in trouble, but also to call up and have fun with.

            I find that all-too-often my patients have not spent much time developing friends.  If they are married this seems to be an even bigger problem.  Developing friendships with people requires connection and connection requires some level of vulnerability.  I find that people are afraid to reach out, afraid to admit they are lonely and confused, afraid to admit they need help.  This seems to be even more prevalent among my male patients.  They tend to rely on their wives for all that they need.  The problem there is that their spouse can’t be everything for them and what happens if they are having trouble with their spouse?  They have no one they can talk to.

            One person can’t be everything to another.  One person can’t provide all sustenance to another, it just isn’t possible and to expect that of another person isn’t realistic and honestly isn’t fair.  I know I have friends I can go to for certain things and friends I can go to for other things.  I know what kind of fun I can expect to have with each and it isn’t all the same.

            If you want healthy relationships and healthy connections, dare to be vulnerable and be brave enough to connect with others.  You have to diversify your emotional portfolio.

Monday, January 15, 2018

What You Cannot Do For Yourself


What You Cannot Do For Yourself


            Two blog posts in two days!  I never have time for that right?  Well this week I do and you want to know why?  Because as one of my closest friends likes to say, “God is doing for you what you cannot do for yourself.”

            Yesterday I posted about self-care and balance.  I was talking about how we need to take the time to do what we need to do to make sure we are healthy and happy.  I had spent the weekend with my girlfriends and felt refreshed and ready to go back and face my ever-busy life.  We packed up our things and had brunch together before heading out in separate directions, they drove off towards Indianapolis and I toward Philadelphia.  I got as far as the intersection before the on-ramp to the highway and my car died…

            Now in Pittsburgh there are a lot of really nice people I have found.  Not one, not two, but four cars pulled over and offered me help.  I got a jump and a push and got my car over into an office complex but two of the men who stopped to help knew something about cars and they thought that there was something wrong with my battery but more likely something wrong with the alternator. 

            Now I HATE dealing with my car when it has trouble.  I have always hated dealing with my car.  It isn’t rational and it isn’t right-sized and I panic every single time.  I managed to stay relatively calm, and called AAA.  I will admit that I cried on the lady on the other end of the phone and she was really nice about it.  When she heard I was trying to get to Philly she actually asked me if I knew the theme song to “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” and I sang to her a few bars which had us both laughing and got me out of my panic and apparently made her day.  I got towed to Firestone which was one of the only places open and they replaced the battery.  BUT they told me the alternator was also dead and would need to be replaced and they didn’t have one in stock and would have to order it in the morning.

            Panic set in again.  I was supposed to be back in Philly this morning for a 9 am meeting with a treatment center to talk about them using my book in their family program so it was a meeting I desperately did not want to miss.  I asked them if they thought I could make the 5 hour drive to Philly on the new battery.  They hesitantly told me I might and I launched a scheme in my head to buy a battery pack at Pep Boys to use to jump start myself along the way…  Yeah.

            Fortunately I spoke to a friend and was gently dissuaded from this idea.  I accepted my situation for what it was and I ended up getting a hotel room across the parking lot from Firestone and checking in for the night to wait.  I would have to re-schedule the meeting and wait for the part to come in this morning.  I went back to Firestone to let them know and the most amazing things began to happen.  The man at Firestone asked me if I was missing something important and I told him it was a meeting I was excited about but that it was a first-world problem that could be solved.  He started telling me his wife always talks about acceptance.  Turns out his wife is a drug and alcohol counselor and he himself is in recovery.  We ended up having the most amazing conversation about acceptance, surrender and each other’s concept of a higher power that lasted about half-an-hour.  It was two strangers connecting on a universal level and sharing some very intellectual and intimate ideas about existence.  It was simply amazing.

            Then I go to the room at the hotel to discover it not only has a kitchenette but a recliner.  I have leftovers with me from the weekend, my favorite blanket and my computer.  Last night I ate, curled up under my fleece blanket in the recliner and napped which is something I hardly ever do anymore.  I spoke with each of my sponsees and was not in any rush and had no agenda at all.  I woke up this morning refreshed and had time to sort through some things on my to-do list and sit here and write this piece.  And you know what?  The person I was supposed to meet this morning?  She sent me an e-mail first thing this morning cancelling our meeting and asking if she could re-schedule it anyway.

            Just imagine if I had done what my ego wanted me to do?  Imagine if I had risked driving with a dodgy alternator and my car had died somewhere between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in the dark and I tried to jump start it on my own knowing as little as I do about cars.  Now I may have gotten stranded or I may have made it home but it would have been incredibly foolish and stressful and the meeting would have been cancelled anyway…  Instead I accepted life on life’s terms and I got one more day of self-care

God was doing for me what I could not do for myself indeed.