So, I did a thing…

…or more accurately, I stopped doing a thing. Three years, two months and twenty days ago I quit drinking. I mentioned it in yesterday’s “the right shoes” post but kind of buried the headline. Ok, I DID bury the headline.

There was no cataclysmic moment of reckoning, no lightning strike, no “come to (enter name of deity of your choice), no intervention, no job loss, no family drama: I was just tired. Tired and ashamed.

Now I have been tired many times: too much work, not enough sleep, long drives, boring meetings, vacation recovery, etc. But this was the tired of a person who had no energy, no hope, no joy, and no long-range outlook, sunny or otherwise. Everyday was an effort. I often wished I would just go to sleep and never wake up.

During the day someone always pissed me off, pushed my buttons, hurt my feelings, talked down to me. And so, I would plan to drink at them. That would show them, although they would never know. I would plan my box-o-wine stop at one of the three stores on my one and a quarter mile “commute” home. I rotated my stores, so people didn’t think I was an alcoholic because, you know, I was and I am. Towards the end, just thinking about and planning my drinking made me excited and lifted my mood.

My paranoia about drinking didn’t stop at the store. I often worried that the recycling guys knew I was an alcoholic because of how many bottles and boxes I went through each week. Of course, among the thousands of homes where they stopped to collect each week, I knew they were really only thinking about mine. (Oddly, when I stopped drinking, I thought they would notice that too and know I was an alcoholic.)

And then there was the shame. Someone once told me the difference between guilt and shame: guilt is how you feel about something you did, and shame is how feel about who you are. Yes, it was shame. I was a highly accomplished, well-educated and respected member of both my professional and local communities. I participated, I volunteered, I worked, I traveled, I had friends and hobbies and for a long time I was invited to things.

But as my disease progressed, invitations were few and far between. I didn’t care, I just drank at home, a lot. One of those many mornings that I regretfully woke up, I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize myself. I stepped closer to the huge well-lit bathroom mirror to look into my own eyes: they were hollow, I was hollow.

Through a series of what I thought were coincidences, I ran into a friend who had recently gotten sober after a relapse of several years. I told her I was thinking about quitting.

She offered to meet me the following Monday at a meeting. And that Monday afternoon, she was there. And that was the beginning of a journey of recovery that has changed my life in ways I couldn’t imagine.

I stopped doing a thing, so I could do, and enjoy, everything else. I stopped doing a thing so I could have a life and I do.

I can’t go, I don’t have the right shoes

I can come up with a million perfectly valid reasons (excuses) not to try something new or go somewhere different. It might be not having the right shoes or the right clothes; not knowing what to bring or who else will be there, and if they’ll like me. Then, of course, there is thinking I’ll probably be the oldest, fattest, weirdest, loudest, (feel free to insert your insecurity here) person there.

All those things sprang immediately to mind last August when my friend Kristin told me about a travel opportunity to Thailand and Cambodia for two weeks. I had been talking about how much I miss traveling. As a single person, the thought of creating a value-packed itinerary to see all the destination highlights seems daunting. Making schedules, lists, agendas, arrangements and “Plans B” are a significant part of my daily life. I don’t want planning a vacation to be another job.

I thought of going on one of those 10-day pre-planned trips, the ones you might see in AAA magazine, but the idea of traveling foreign lands with a busload of Royal Order of Jack-a-lope from Red Rover, Iowa or the Chartreuse Shoe Ladies of Couch Springs, Minnesota was, well, underwhelming. When it comes right down to it, I would still be traveling alone. Lots of pictures of me in front of very important landmarks alone, or with my new friends Myrtle and Buddy who I would never see again. So, the idea of traveling with at least one person I knew and enjoyed hanging out with was appealing.

And then there’s the drinking. I stopped drinking just over three years ago and I had no concept of a vacation without alcohol.

Every non-family vacation I had been on since the age of 16 involved copious quantities of alcohol and that’s the way I liked it. Most of my travel was to resort-y type destinations with pools and beaches and excursions to interesting places that consistently included breweries, wineries, and tequila-ries. My “right shoe” fears and insecurities disappeared quickly after the first drink so I could “enjoy” vacation. And by enjoy, I mean drinking during the day late into the night, waking up hungover and tired and doing it all again for the next 6 days. Sounds awesome right? It was exhausting, and painful, and sad.

Kristin’s trip to Southeast Asia was different. It was organized by Recovery Elevator (recoveryelevator.com), a group that brings, “like-minded individuals together…who seek a better life without alcohol through support and accountability.” Not only would someone else plan the trip and tell me what shoes to wear, but there would be NO drinking. That’s right, no happy hours, no distillery stops, no tastings, no bed spins, no hangover, no vomiting, no regrets, no shame.

I went on the trip and it was one of the best experiences of my life. You see, it was never about the shoes or the clothes or the age or the ability or the “fatness” for me; it was about the fear. It was always about the fear.

Try the new thing, take the trip. If you don’t have the right shoes, the ones you have will work or you’ll find the ones you need when you get there. And there might be some time to go barefoot.

Friends and Family Per Mile 2018

0A07C87D-3249-47DF-B173-B328450AF965Every summer I embark on what I refer to as a “friends and family per mile tour”. It is always by car and on the East Coast because, well, I can drive there. The usual destinations are Connecticut to visit one of my sisters, New Jersey, “the homeland”, to connect with long-time friends, or Rhode Island to my mother’s childhood summer home.

Some people would refer to this as a “road trip” but I associate “road trips” with buddy movies, adventures, misadventures and lots of drinking. Been there, done that – not anymore. I pack up my vehicle with books on Audible, podcasts, music and at least one four-legged friend in a very cushy dog-seat: and clothes, I do bring clothes. I’m also armed with my cell phone contact list, Facebook and a memory easily jogged by songs, smells, sights, and (road) signs. No, I cannot/will not cease alliterating! It was a gift from my mother so I’m keeping it. 🙂

The friends and family per mile tours started several years ago. The title is derived from the “friends and family plan” from the Verizon folks and “per mile” added because it just seems to fit. It is more accurately miles per friends/family but that just doesn’t sound right. Friends and family come first right?

This year I traveled dogless leaving “the boys” with an energetic early-rising friend. I logged 900 miles and 25 friends and family, some planned, some impromptu. That’s 36 miles/ff for those keeping track. Bonus new friends not included in original mileage.

But the data only tells a small part of the story. In more or less chronological order, those miles include “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” with the best little sister ever, 50 cent donut day, the beach, skipping rocks on the ocean, teaching a child how to skip rocks on the ocean, McDonald’s Play Place, finding a new binge-worthy Netflix show (Bloodline), breakfast with a beloved friend and mentor, iced tea with a longtime theatre pal, pop-up visits with some of my favorite people along Main St. in Keene, picking blueberries, feeding ducks, apple cider donuts (yes, more donuts), the arrival of another sister in Connecticut, making dinner for my sisters and family, driving to NYC, checking out pocket parks and little bookstores (Book Book and the Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Book store), dinner with sisters and nephews, cupcakes at Mollie’s Cupcakes (all on Bleecker St.), seeing hometown friend and performer par excellence Michael James Leslie in Sweeney Todd, a restful morning and a safe and uneventful return to Philadelphia and my faithful companions, Dobbie and JohnnyB.

My gas tank is empty but my heart is full.

 

 

 

Stop Mowing the Weeds

I moved into my new-to-me house last September and have enjoyed watching things bloom and grow in my yard through the Spring and Summer.  I’m relieved to have a smaller yard (downsized from 2 1/2 acres); gardening and mowing are now doable tasks without committing an entire weekend. I’ve downsized my life as well: big yard to little yard; big house to little house; lots of stuff to less stuff; “frenemies” to friends; couple to single. I had to do a lot of weeding on all fronts during the transition and it wasn’t easy.

My previous yard had beautiful green grass. My new lawn, well, not so much. The dirt is more sand than anything else. The few times I’ve mowed, I kicked up enough dirt and sand to look like I just face-planted in a dirt pile. My friends know this is a very real possibility. I’ve managed to locate 6 or 7 healthy blades of grass among the dandelions, horse weed, crab grass, ragweed, quack grass, and mug wort (thank you Google Images). But as long as it looks like grass on the surface that’s good enough, right? For a minute maybe.

I went out this morning to weed and mow before the heat took over the day. The gardens looked good so I turned my attention to the lawn and the plethora of non-grass plants (weeds) protruding from same. I could clearly just mow over the weeds, like unpleasant problems, and move on with the rest of my yard.  But as I said, I’d done that before but the weeds kept coming back because the roots were still there, under the surface, ready to spring forth unbidden at any time.

I decided that today I would try the same approach with my lawn that I’d taken with my life. I would dig up the weeds first, thank them for keeping the soil together when nothing else would, and then unceremoniously toss them into the pile of detritus that no longer served a purpose in my life. I grabbed my pitchfork and shovel, my tools of destruction, to have at it.

The smaller weeds came out easily with a twist and turn of my hand. Gone. The larger weeds, the ones that had planted themselves and taken root many years ago, took quite a bit of effort and I considered just cutting off the tops to make things look better. But I was committed to doing the work to rid myself of them long term, roots and all. After about 45 minutes I looked around and realized that once I dealt with the weeds, the rest of the lawn looked pretty good.

Weeding is hard work. I fully anticipate that some of the weeds will return on occasion and some new weeds will appear as well. But now I have the tools to manage them. Stop mowing the weeds.

weeding

 

 

 

Now What?

A year ago today I walked across the stage at Franklin Pierce University to receive my doctorate in leadership. It had been a loooong road and I had finally crossed the finish line. Now what?

My mornings, evenings and weekends were no longer filled with reading, writing, giving up, and walking away. I shamed myself into recommitting when my adviser, the wonderful Dr. Maggie Moore-West, continued to cheer me on as she’d done from the first day I started the program until the day I finally received that coveted signature page and diploma. Now what?

Okay, so it freed up a little time and a lot of stress which I could now easily reinvest into something else. I liked the little bump in pay at work but the bragging rights? I’m so ill-equipped for this bragging thing that it took me almost a year to add “Dr.” to my email signature and only with the repeated encouragement of my fellow docs at Keene State College. The signature was the compromise to shouting it from the rooftops so often suggested. I’m not accustomed to thinking of myself as accomplished or successful. It’s not the view I have of myself but how could it be when I’ve been beating myself up for years?

Fortunately, there are other people in my life who do see that. I was humbled to have three of my sisters travel hundreds of miles to share that moment with me; to witness and cheer my accomplishment. I received well wishes from family, friends and colleagues.  They knew it was a big deal and helped me admit it.

So now what? I went into the program because I love the idea of learning, a gift from my mother. I also wanted to fulfill her longstanding desire to wear the doctoral tam. Although she passed away 8 months before I graduated, I’m sure she was there is spirit thinking of the Sorbonne.

I completed the program, the research, the dissertation and the graduation. And I’m still trying to figure out, “Now what?”