Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Love vs. Fear

Love vs. Fear

“I believe that every single event in life happens in an opportunity to choose love over fear.”
Oprah Winfrey
Over the summer I was driving in the car somewhere with the kids and I mentioned that I had some fear about something I had to do.  I can’t even remember now what I was afraid of, but I told the kids about it at the time.  Wren piped up from the backseat, “but mom, you’re not afraid of anything.”
I do remember being taken aback by the strength of conviction in her voice and the look of earnestness on her face when I glanced in the rear-view mirror.  She believed absolutely in what she was saying.  In her mind, I am not afraid of anything.  And how wrong she is.
Fear has been a theme throughout my life.  I grew up in a household that fed me a steady diet of it.  I was afraid of my mother’s mental instability from an early age.  I knew instinctively that something was off and that I needed to tread carefully.  My father was my ally when she was not around and he was sober, but he was seldom home without her and it was rare that I would catch him alone before cocktail hour.  And my brother filled me with fear of a whole different kind.
I feared confrontation and family strife and being myself and letting people down and being abandoned.  I could make an extensive list.  In fact, I did, when I wrote my fourth step.  I wrote for months and examined all facets of those fears and stared them down and turned them around and addressed them.
I can have confrontations now which I could not do before because of crippling fear.  I still don’t like confrontation, but I can have healthy anger now and won’t back down when I know something is wrong and I have a right to speak my mind.  I have a really close friend who jokes that rage is my sword because he has been on the receiving end of some of those confrontations himself.
I was afraid of becoming a mother once.  I looked at my own mom and was afraid I would repeat history.  I am not trying to bash my mother because she is ill, but because her illness was left unchecked where mine was not, damage was incurred.  I did not want to inflict pain on my children in the same vain.  I was afraid I would not know how to do it; to be maternal.  I can safely say that once Liam was born a switch flipped and it turns out I am more maternal than I could have guessed.
Recently, I have had a lot of fear.  A close friend of mine lost a family member in a tragedy and having to watch her hurting has been hard.  I feel powerless to relieve her pain and like I am flailing around for something to make it better.  I hate watching people I love suffer.
The same close friend who jokes that rage is my sword might also possibly be ill.  He isn’t sure and is waiting to see from a biopsy what the future holds.  This has me full of fear.  I’ve watched Liam struggle and Frank struggle and I don’t want to do it again.  There is a part of me that wants to run away and hide because watching people I love suffer feels like too much.  It makes me feel like I might break in half.
I won’t run though, because I won’t break and because what Wren sees now as fearlessness is simply that I am no longer paralyzed by fear.  I will just be vulnerable and full of love for my friends and family who need me because that is what I do best.  I plan to just be maternal and loving and “mom” at them. 
Maybe love is my sword.

Monday, July 23, 2018




“Hope and fear cannot occupy the same space.  Invite one to stay.”

Maya Angelou


The other day I was so concerned that I would not have enough to do when school was out.  It’s laughable to me now because since I turned my final in on Tuesday, I have somehow managed to keep myself occupied.  I will say that I have done a good job of being balanced so far so before you shake your head in my general direction, there has been some good self-care in there and time with family as well.

I have had the flexibility though to jump in and do some spontaneous twelve-step work with other addicts and alcoholics that I would not have normally been able to do and that has given me such a spiritual boost.  My gratitude meter has shot up exponentially this week despite struggling with a few personal issues that reminded me of my very human nature.

To be able to go and talk to someone battling with the concept of a higher power and just let them know I battled too.  To share a meal with them and normalize the struggle and take them to a meeting.  To hear them say they tried praying and they don’t know what they are praying to but that they feel like things are starting to shift in their life.  For them to call you and tell you about the “weird” things that have been happening and that they are starting to feel just a little bit better.  That is hope right there; hope dawning out of darkness.

To see that rising out of the desperation on the face of another human being when I know the kind of purgatory they have been living in is hard for me to describe.  It is the stuff about which poetry and songs are written. 

I would not have guessed that these sorts of interactions would bring me such joy and comfort, but there it is.  This is the connection that makes me whole and sees me healthy and right-sized.  To watch another human being start on a journey of self-discovery that will lead them to accepting themselves for who they are and were meant to be all along; to stop fighting but loving their ownness.  This is what I wish for all my fellows, friend and foe.  For people to feel a sense of inner peace. 

I get to be a part of that today.  I get to watch that in others over and over and over again.  It is the most wonderful re-birth to witness, a metamorphosis of the spirit that I will never tire of seeing and will never cease to be in awe of.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Rainbows and Unicorn Farts


Rainbows and Unicorn Farts


“It’s not all about rainbows and unicorn farts.”



There was a speaker at my twelve-step meeting the other night sharing about his concept of a higher power.  He spoke about how he had struggled to find a higher power initially and how he had been turned off by the twelve steps to begin with because they talk about God.  I could relate to much of what he was talking about because his story was so similar to my own.  He explained his struggle so well and the parallels were spot on.  He came to realize in the end that he sees God in other people and that is how I feel today.

I think I had been able to see God or feel the presence of a universal connectedness among people throughout my life.  I had caught glimpses of it here and there but I always managed to get in my own way of remaining connected to that presence.  It wasn’t until I was leveled by my own actions through addiction, when the last block in my own personal game of Jenga pulled the whole thing down on my head and I was forced to start over, that I started to feel that connection again.  I did the steps in a thorough and specific way that had me remove my ego from the picture and that connection was re-established and re-enforced.

Now, I see God in other people every day.  I feel God in the words people speak in kindness to one another.  I see God in acts of forgiveness and self-sacrifice.  I see God in redemption and good works.  I see God nearly everywhere I turn these days when my eyes are open and I am spiritually fit.

I laugh at my reputation for crying.  Anyone even remotely close to me knows I cry a lot and daily.  I’m crying now writing this.  I cry for a myriad of reasons like sadness, frustration, anger, joy, but I have come to realize I also cry when I feel the presence of God in other people.  Sometimes I just get filled up with the vastness of it.  It’s oceanic and I can’t contain it.

I am tired at the moment.  I reached the end of my accelerated summer semester for graduate school last night.  Last class of the semester, with an epic take-home final that took a great effort to write and had me consumed with myself.  I have been going at 110% for a while and I feel it.  I snapped at my kid this weekend in a fashion that had me filled with guilt and apologizing to them later.  They were great about it and we laughed about the whole thing but it goes to show I was stretched and not at my best.  I was not as connected.

So last night I was driving from work to school to turn in my take-home final masterpiece when I saw it.  I saw the most incredible and most perfect rainbow.  I was struck dumb by how magnificent it was and I found myself crying behind the wheel of my car.  Crying so hard I had to pull to the side of the road and reach for the tissues I keep between the seats (yes I keep tissues in my car – it’s a necessary evil).  I sat in my car and was overwhelmed with gratitude because I felt the presence of God, my version of God, my higher power.  I felt gratitude for where my life is now.  I marveled at how it looks nothing like I could have predicted it would but how marvelous it all is anyhow and how far we have all come to be where we are today. 

I sat in amazement at how I can be tired for such a good reason now.  How I can be tired from doing too much rather than from being passed out in a chair having done nothing but disappoint the people I love and myself.  That was a God moment for me.  That was a reminder, a poke to say, “Hey, I’m here and you are doing just what you should, but don’t forget to stay connected.”

So sometimes maybe it IS all about rainbows and unicorn farts…

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

"They should have wine for us..."

They should have wine for us…”


            Both Dermot and Wren have started taking music lessons over the last year.  Dermot is taking saxophone and this year Wren is taking guitar.  The lessons are out of the store where we got their instruments and each week sees one of us accompanying them to them to sit and wait while they are instructed.        

            The staff at the store are friendly and Dermot chats away with them like he’s Norm from “Cheers” when Wren has a lesson and Wren generally amuses herself while he has his.  If I am with them I have no shortage of things to do either.  I always have my book bag with me for school and I often take sponsee calls at that time of day or sometimes I allow myself to sit back and simply listen to them play.

            One Friday evening while Wren was strumming away with her teacher and Dermot was waxing poetic with adults at the front of the store I found myself sitting next to another mother.  I ended a call and she put her magazine down and struck up a conversation with me.  We talked about kids and music lessons and the hustle and bustle of shuffling family back and forth from activities on the weekends for a bit.  She mentioned that we had picked an odd time for lessons being that it was dinner time on a Friday night and I agreed that sometimes that could be a little brutal.  She sighed and said, “They should have wine for us while we wait, it’s the least that they could do”.

            I was struck by that as I so often am now, because that is the kind of thing I used to say all the time in my life before recovery.  The mommy wine culture is a thing and I had latched onto it and I took it to the nth degree.  When we lived in Annapolis, I used it as an excuse to drink at any event.  If I was gathering with friends for anything (and I mean anything), wine and alcoholic drinks of any variety needed to be included. If they weren’t I felt a mild sense of panic and I turned my nose up at the same time.

            I am so lucky now, because I don’t think about that anymore and I don’t even notice until someone mentions it like this woman had at the store.  I don’t feel like I need a drink to make it through my kids’ music lesson or anything else anymore.  Of course I may be reading into her comment a little, but I can comment on what my old thinking was, and for my old self, that would have been true.  I would have been calculating how long it would be until the lesson was over and until I could get to the next drink and I would very definitely be thinking how great it would be if they provided us wine.

            I see it a lot, the mommy wine culture.  The comments on Facebook and Instagram and elsewhere, about how people “need” a drink to get through this or that.  The outing with kids to the park jokingly accompanied with a “mommy sippy cup” or a handbag with a built-in flask.  I get it, or used to, and would have been all about it, but it makes me sad now.  Try booking an event at one of those paint nights for a group and say that you don’t want the drinking option and see how far you get.  Book clubs don’t have to include wine and cheese, and other events and outings don’t have to be centered round a bar or cocktail as all of mine used to be.

            I don’t mean to sound as though I am lecturing.  I know that most people don’t have the same issue that I do with addiction and can take it or leave it alone.  I suppose I am commenting on the culture and commenting because I know that for all those among the group at paint night or book club who can take it or leave it alone, there is, among them, a Fiona who can’t think about anything else but the next drink and who could not sit through the whole music lesson either without the glass of wine, or the thought of one, and missed listening to their child’s music.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Walking the Walk

Walking the Walk


“I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”
Henry David Thoreau, Walden


            I haven’t written a post in a while, mostly because I haven’t had the time.  I am coming to the end of the summer semester of grad school, and, as I learned last summer, the accelerated summer semester is rather brutal.  I have ten weeks of classes when I would normally have thirteen and those thirteen are a little more spread out so there is time to work on papers and projects.  In addition to a Tuesday night class that went from 6:00pm to 9:45pm, I took a Saturday class that met for five Saturdays and ran from 9:00am to 5:00pm.  There was little time to breathe and though I have two more weeks of the one class, I am essentially finished with little left to turn in and complete.  There are others things on my schedule besides my full-time job, I won’t go into all of it, and though Frank and his parents do the lion-share of the time with the kids while I am plodding my way through this program, I still do spend time with them.  Suffice it to say that I am busy.

            So you would think that now that the semester is winding down and I know I will have time to relax for six weeks before the next semester starts and the madness begins again, this time with an internship which will ramp things up a notch, that I would be relieved.  Well, yes, and no.  Yes I have been looking forward to a break, but as it approaches I find myself starting to feel an old sense of mild panic at the thought of too much time on my hands.  Let me explain.

            I discovered once I stopped drinking, that the booze was, “but a symptom” as it says in the Big Book.  I drank because I did not like being inside my own head.  Being alone with my own thoughts was a terrifying state in which to be.  Being bored and alone was a perfect storm and it still can be.  Now don’t get me wrong, my mind can be a wonderfully, creative and entertaining playground, but it can also contain horrors and nightmares, the likes of which I would not wish on my worst enemy.

            When I came out of the recovery house in June of 2014 and got an apartment, I was alone a lot.  I became accustomed to it.  At the time I was working my fourth step which required a lot of self-reflection and a lot of writing.  That was the period of time when I had started this blog as well and so I wrote a lot and more consistently.  I spent a lot of time alone and a lot of time in self-examination.  It was my own Walden Pond period.  I had an apartment and the only things I hung on the walls were a picture of each of the three kids.  It was a nice little apartment but I kept it stark I think for a reason.  I didn’t want to be too comfortable there.  I didn’t want it to feel too much like home because I didn’t want to stay.  I was either going to be going home to Frank and the kids or I wasn’t and I was trying to figure that all out.

            Fast forward four years and I have a house and a very different life.  I know what I want and where I am going and what I am worth.  I think I pack my days because I don’t want to miss out on opportunities.  It is as if I am making up for lost time, the time I lost from addiction.  If I examine this creeping sense of discomfort I feel at the idea of having time alone in my head, then I know I need to take stock.  This is a warning sign.  Maybe I am going at this pace because I want to learn and to help others but maybe I also like not having that time alone in my head.  Maybe I should recognize that and see it for what it is and make some adjustments to balance my mind so when I have time to myself I don’t feel uncomfortable.

            I spoke to a close friend in recovery about this panic I feel the other day and he pointed out that perhaps I need to walk the walk.  He asked me what I would tell a sponsee in the same situation.  I answered, that I would have told them they need to sit in the discomfort and spend time alone, doing nothing, and re-acquaint themselves with themselves.  So I guess I have to do what I would tell others to do and hang out with me for a bit.  I have to do something shocking, like read a book for pleasure (and preferably not one about treating others with PTSD).  I have gotten so used to running at 100 miles an hour that I have forgotten what it is like on my own private Walden Pond.  So you can expect more blog pieces over the coming weeks, because when I visit Walden Pond in my head, I generally have a lot to write about.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

"You Do You"

You Do You


“to be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” – e.e. cummings


            Recently, Wren and her Girl Scout troop were working on a badge that involved feeding the homeless.  They met up at the Scout mother’s house and made sandwiches and packed bagged lunches for a hundred people and then we all piled into cars and drove down to the Kensington section of Philadelphia.  The girls joined up with a community action group that was also handing out other food and personal hygiene supplies and clothes and I was so proud of them.  They all did such a great job and they were compassionate and respectful and smiled and looked people in the eye and treated them as equals and gave them more than just food and necessities by offering them a few moments of humanity.

            It could not escape anyone’s notice that among the homeless there were many people suffering from addiction.  The troop mother and I were standing to the side and we were talking quietly about the drug epidemic and I told her about Dermot’s recent questions about Narcan and how I now carry it with me.  In the course of conversation my book came up and she wanted to know if I would consider coming and talking to the troop about the book and about addiction the next week at the troop meeting.  I agreed.

            As the meeting approached I can’t tell you how nervous I became.  I speak at meetings a lot and I have told my story countless times now and have a background in theatre arts from high school and college so speaking in front of others is really not that hard for me anymore.  But something about the thought of talking in front of these girls and their mothers was giving me palpitations.  I was at a loss as to what to say.  Now I get the irony of having written a children’s book to help explain addiction to children and then being at a loss as to how to go about talking about it to this group, but there you have it.

            After thinking about it, I realized there were a few things that were bothering me.  The book is aimed at children but children who are touched by addiction and I was going to talk to children who may or may not be affected by addiction.  I also know that Frank and I are very open with Dermot and Wren and we talk about just about everything with them, to the point I think of it making others a little uncomfortable.  I wasn’t sure how much I should go into or how far these other mothers wanted me to go as the book touches not only on addiction, but co-dependence and childhood trauma.  And finally, as much as I am an individual and a free-thinker and a breaker of norms now, I still worried about what these other mother’s thought of me on some level.  There is still a stigma and I still feel the sting of judgement as much as I would like to say that I am above that, I still feel twinges of it from time to time.

            I expressed a little of that to Dermot and Wren in round-about terms.  Wren looked at me and said, “Why do you care what other people think Mom?  You do you.”  Dermot also later stated, “Mom, you tried to be a Main Line soccer mom and it just didn’t work.”  Damn if they haven’t been listening to Frank and me all along.

            So I, in turn, listened back and went to talk to the Girl Scouts.  I won’t say I wasn’t uncomfortable, because I was and I won’t say that I knocked it out of the park, but it started a discussion and the girls asked some intuitive questions.  I had to laugh at one point when one girl raised her hand and said, “I get that the red dragon is supposed to be addiction, but what is the black dragon about?”  This was the point when Wren cheerfully piped up with, “Oh that’s easy, that’s childhood trauma!”

            I had to be reminded by my kids to step outside my comfort zone and remember to be me and a space where I used to try and conform.  The truth is I did try to be a Main Line soccer mom and it didn’t work out so well because it wasn’t me.  I don’t fit that mold or frankly any other.  I am a glorious contradiction on so many levels and I have to embrace that and live every day in the absurd light of my own spirit.  To do otherwise is a betrayal of what makes me, me and sets a bad example for Dermot and Wren, who apparently, are listening.



Saturday, May 26, 2018

My Plate

My Plate

            “Pain shared, my brother, is pain not doubled but halved.  No man is an island.”  Neil Gaiman

            Not long ago I was driving Dermot home from a music lesson.  It was just he and I alone in the car and I can sometimes snatch some precious moments of straight connection with him when it is just the two of us.  We aren’t being distracted by screens, or other people, or noise and he isn’t posturing in front of his little sister.

            Dermot is a verbal kind of guy, but less and less does he open up about the things that are bothering him.  The older he gets and the further into the murky, hormone-filled days of adolescence, Frank and I have to work harder to tweeze from him what is going on behind his dimples and shining eyes when the dimples disappear and the eyes go dark in anger or introspection.  He goes from happy and carefree to stormy and mysterious in a matter of minutes.

            There are some things he will talk to his dad about and some things he will talk to me about and he is starting to realize that Frank and I, though divorced, will ALWAYS work to be on the same page about him and his sister.  We check in with each other about the kids just about every day so there is nothing that they have been able to get by us yet, and rest assured, they have tried.

            On this particular car ride, I asked him about some incident of less-than-stellar behavior he had displayed at his dad’s house and what might have been behind it.  He managed to express to me what had been bothering him and I asked him why he maybe hadn’t said anything to anyone about why he was upset before he exploded and got in trouble.  He essentially said to me that he sometimes doesn’t want to bother me or Frank because we have a lot on our plates.


            I wanted to bring the car to a skidding stop and grab him by the shoulders to both hug him and yell at him at the same time.  I refrained and instead took a deep breath and talked about how I know that both his dad and I are busy people, but that we will always make time for him and for Wren, especially if they have an issue or a problem.  I know we have been consistent in our message to both kids that this is the case and to some extent that this is teen angst coming through, but clearly it needs to be said over and over and it needs to be said louder and louder and in many different ways.

            I told him also that there are things I notice he is more comfortable talking to his dad about and that was fine with me and that Frank was fine with the fact that there are things he is more comfortable talking to me about.  I wanted him to also know that there might come a time when he might want to talk to someone other than us and if that happened I just wanted to make sure that he talked to someone.  I wanted him to know that he just can’t keep things inside, because keeping things inside never helps, it only makes things worse.  I told him to make sure that no matter what you have to a find a person, someone you can trust to talk to.  It doesn’t always have to be the same person, in fact it probably shouldn’t only be one person, but that you should always have someone to confide in… but in a healthy way.

            Then I reiterated that I may have a lot of things on my plate at any given moment, but that if he and Wren ever needed me to, I would gladly push something off that plate.  The only thing I would not push off the plate I told him, was my recovery.  I said that would always have to come first, because my recovery is the reason that I have a plate to begin with.