Sunday, January 11, 2015

Good neighbors

    I have good neighbors. No, scratch that. I have outstanding neighbors. I've lived next door to Hank and Perri for almost nine years. We've watched each others' teenagers grow up, move out and, on occasion, ricochet back to the nest. We've weathered blizzards, hailstorms, deep freezes and deep-fry seasons. We've shared sympathies when we've lost beloved dogs. We stop to chat when we're outside at the same time. It's comfortable, and then some. Here's a little tribute to the "then some" of good neighbors.
    When I brought my son and my older daughter to see comedian George Carlin perform at the Island Resort and Casino, a 90-minute drive from home, I asked Perri to keep an eye on the house while my younger daughter was home, alone from early evening until much later that night. Melissa was 15; old enough to be left to her own devices. But my concern wasn't about wild parties or a boyfriend coming over, it was the thought of my daughter alone in the house late at night.
    My daughter told me later that Perri had kept a steady but unintrusive eye out for her that entire night. When my daughter was leaving to run to the store, Perri popped outside to remind her that she was available for any major or minor issue that might arise, from a blown fuse to feeling lonely. My daughter felt the comfort of neighborliness with feeling the smothering of nosy supervision. I felt free to have a good time without worry nibbling at my thoughts.
    When my older daughter needed to get from Marquette back to college in Houghton and her car died, Hank and Perri came out in the bitter winter cold and tried to charge the car's battery with their charger. When that failed, Perri drove me to buy a new battery, and Hank installed it.
    Need I say more? Well, I can. They gave me natural remedies when our beagle, Saira broke out in a fire-red, itcy, painful rash. Just this week, Perri answered my call on Facebook when my Jeep needed a tire removed and my partner was unable to get the lug nuts loosened. He needed a pipe to provide extra torque (or something), and Perri immediately replied that Hank had a pipe he would loan. And by the way, did I want a box of Calvin and Hobbes books? Perri had noticed my posts of the comic strip, was getting rid of the books, and thought I'd appreciate them.
    Did I mention that whenever Hank snowblows his driveway he also does mine? I do what I can to repay their kindness, but every gesture I make feels paltry in the face of this steady, ever-present care.
    Some people love to help because it feeds their ego. They radiate false modesty and lap up "thank you's" like a cat laps warm milk. They make it clear that they are the awesome helpers, and you are the needy "helpee." Getting assistance from these people leaves you feeling less than.
    Good neighbors - good people - help because they can. They don't seek fawning thanks and they aren't in it for anything other than the pleasure of being able to help. I have the inestimable good fortune of living next door to two such people. And I never, ever take my good fortune for granted.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Kim Kardashian is not half-assed. Obviously.

   Stepping outside this morning in the aftermath of the blizzardy past couple of days, I thought that the still, innocuous air and benign gray clouds were like the weather's embarrassed hangover after a wild, roaring drunk:
   "Whoa, did I really do that? I dumped all that snow on you guys? Three feet? In, like, November? Dude, I am so, so sorry. That is the last time I mix my warm fronts with my cold fronts."
   But I'm a Yooper, so I'm over it now. It snowed, we shoveled, life goes on. What's claiming my attention at the moment is similar to snowbanks only in shape. What is on my mind is - butt cheeks.
   Kim Kardashian's butt cheeks, to be specific. I mean, have you seen them? If you own a computer and have an Internet connection, seeing those mind-bogglingly enormous globes this week has been next to impossible. Or maybe I'm just surfing the wrong sites.
   At any rate, my naked eyes have seen Kim K.'s naked ass. And woe to all who've so much as peeked; once it's been seen, it cannot be unseen. Ms. Kim, in her noble, ongoing quest to "break" the Internet, posed cheekily for the publication Paper. She appears butt-naked, her back to the camera, on the magazine's cover. She grins naughtily to the camera, her hair up in an elegant twist, and she clings to what could have been a glamorous black evening gown, but is instead used as a sideways parenthesis, a sort of hammock bolstering her rear end. Her naked skin is slick with oil, giving her the hard plastic sheen of an obscene Barbie doll.
   What immediately captures the eye, however, are those two unnaturally round bulbs of solid pink flesh jutting out from the base of her spine. It can't be real. A backside like that does not exist in nature, at least not among humankind. It is, obviously, designed purely for display. It looks incredibly bulky for toting around, and unimaginably uncomfortable for its intended use - sitting. Is Kim's back able to make contact with the back of a chair when she sits? Is she able to sleep on her back without feeling like she's doing a yoga pose? When she goes swimming, does she sink under the weight or get buoyed up to the surface tush-first?
   If the Kim Kardashian buttocks was not a gift from Mother Nature, this was a purchased item, consciously selected, willingly accepted in exchange for a sackful of legal tender. Which begs the question: WHY? Why would a perfectly attractive, slender young woman with more money than the Almighty decide to invest in a derriere expansion? And, being obscenely wealthy, able to afford the finest cosmetic surgeons available, how did she end up with what looks like two beach balls filled with Fix a Flat?
   It's beyond me. Maybe it comes of having more money than I.Q. points. What it looks like from here, from working class, ordinary butt, non-famous land, is a frantic attempt by Kim Kardashian to feed her insatiable "Look at me!" appetite. It's superficial, it's tacky, and it makes me a little ashamed to be a member of the same species. This is what we've come to: young women so desperate for the gaze of the public eye that not only will they peel off their clothing, they'll surgically alter themselves into fashionable Frankensteins. Forget talent, forget hard work. Shove your bare ass out there and fame will follow.
   I feel a twinge of guilt for mocking her. It's too easy, really. Shooting silicone fish in a barrel. But she put it out there. Nothing I, or anyone else, can say or write will do more than Kim Kardashian already has to make a huge ass of herself.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

News fast

       Give yourself a gift: Take a day off from reading or listening to the news. No MSN, NBC, or CNN. No Public Radio, no local headlines, not so much as a whisper of who is campaigning for what office or why the economy is destined to tank. Let your brain dedicate itself to gentler pursuits. Read old Calvin and Hobbes comics, watch a '40's screwball comedy. Or tilt your head back, close your eyes, and don't think about anything at all.
        I have no idea whether the world is going to hell in a handbasket or whether it's business as usual on the global scale. I do know that there has always been poverty, bipartisan rancor, disease, and horrifying crimes committed by soulless individuals. Lately it all feels bigger, louder, and even more irreparable than in eras past. But is that truly the case, or does it only feel that way because of our 24-hour, every single second, multimedia access to it all?
         In my recovery program participants are encouraged to accept the things we cannot change. I cannot accept the rich getting richer on the backs of their workers. I cannot accept the unashamedly bigoted bleatings of racists and homophobes. I cannot accept human beings slaughtering other human beings in the name of... anything. I can accept that there is little I can do to change these unacceptable goings on. 
          I can vote. I can speak out for what I believe in. I can pray. I can try to make my own little corner of this life a warm one for all who cross my path.
          And once in awhile, for the sake of my sanity and peace of mind, I can turn the world off. There will be new headlines tomorrow, some solemn (Ebola), some silly (Kim Kardashian's sisters are more popular than she is!). It's not that I don't care about what's happening in my city, state, country, or world. It's that sometimes caring costs me more than I can afford to give.
           Join me, won't you, in a one-day news fast. We'll play video games, or go for a walk along the lakeshore. We'll give a dog a belly rub, or make silly noises for a toddler and giggle along with him. We'll eat cookies, blow bubbles, sing along with an old song on the radio. We'll appreciate the quiet in our neck of the woods. The world's teeming chaos will be there tomorrow. But just for one day, we can pretend it isn't there at all.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

So long, sweets

    I almost relapsed tonight - with chocolate.
    I was whipping up a batch of brownies to bring to the office potluck tomorrow. The brownie batter was in the pan, ready for the oven. The mixing spoon wore an enticing coat of sticky, fudgy batter. Unthinkingly, I ran my index finger over the spoon and put my finger in my mouth. Before the batter made contact with my tongue I pulled away my finger and quickly rinsed it under the faucet.
    Close one.
    As of today I have gone three months and one and a half weeks without ingesting any sugar. Well, no gratuitous sugar. No cookies. No cake. No candy. No (heavy sigh) ice cream. Not so much as a sip of my sober-Deb beverage of choice, an ice cold Pepsi.
   Are you impressed? Please be impressed. I need all the positive reinforcement I can get.
   This sugar-free endeavor began by accident. It began at the grocery store, with a decision to not purchase ice cream. My partner's decision, not mine. I've never independently decided to not purchase ice cream in my life.
    I didn't go sugar free that night. Feeling virtuous about resisting the ice cream, I rewarded myself with a Milky Way Midnight. Three days later I realized that I had gone three whole days without a sugary treat. I decided to go for four. When I made a week I began practicing a turn of phrase known in modern parlance as the humblebrag.
    "So yeah, I haven't eaten any sugar for a week now."
    I rarely got the reaction I hoped for - because no one I know carries confetti in their pockets, ready for throwing when a friend does something momentous, such as forgoing Lucky Charms and Trenary Toast for seven long days.
    Mostly, people asked, "Why?", to which I honestly replied, "I dunno. It was an accident."
   Some people asked, "Do you eat fruit? Do you drink juice? There's sugar in ketchup, you know."
    I explained that I wasn't reviewing condiment labels or eschewing blueberries. I was only avoiding extra sugar. The fun kind. The sweet, sweet, delicious, soothing, comforting, satisfying kind.
    What in the hell was I thinking?
    Here's what I was - and am - thinking. I am an addict. And saying I am addicted to sugary treats is no exaggeration. My thinking about ice cream and Oreos is disturbingly similar to the way I used to think about alcohol. And removing these treats from my life has claimed my attention in a manner disturbingly similar to my long ago decision to abstain from drinking alcohol. Giving up sugar has, in fact, been as difficult - and in some ways been more difficult - than giving up drinking.
    I gave up drinking in large part because I was afraid of what happened to me when I drank. I had lost my ability to choose not to drink, and could never have a drink or two and call it enough. Fear spurred me into a recovery program, without which I could never have managed to get sober, or to remain sober for more than half my life.
    Giving up sugar doesn't feel like giving up alcohol. There's no liberating sense of relief at not having to have that all important substance. There's no recovery program for M&M bingers. There are programs for overeaters, sure, but overeating isn't my problem. My problem is, after three months and one and a half weeks, I'd sell my damn soul for a tub of Betty Crocker chocolate fudge frosting. The other night I dreamed I was eating a custard filled chocolate doughnut. It was as vivid and almost as nerve-wracking as any drinking dream I've ever had. I swear I checked under my fingernails for crumbs.
    The cravings are becoming less frequent, and they may be lessening in intensity, but honestly, I can't tell. They no longer come in goading, ceaseless waves after dinner, when my body wants, needs, demands some form of dessert. Now the cravings poke at me when I'm feeling run down at work in the late afternoons, or times when I feel too small and the world feels too big, like the day Robin Williams died.
    Now and then (meaning almost daily), I hear myself whining a woe-is-me about the lusciously frosted cupcake or a gooey slice of warm blueberry pie I can't have, and I have to remind myself: I can have it. I am choosing not to.
    My mind feels clearer. I have more energy. But that isn't what's keeping my away from the white stuff. What's keeping me clean is the fact that I can say/brag I have not eaten any sugar in three months and a week. And a half.
    Anyone have any confetti?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sober? Check. Mom? Check. Single? Well...

The title of my blog has not been completely accurate for over a year now. I am still (gratefully) sober, still (delightedly) a mom. But I am (surprisingly!) no longer single.
Almost a year and a half ago I made a life-changing acquaintance with a remarkably special man. If I had a list of all the qualities I'd want in a man, he would generate a check mark after every single one. Intelligent, kind, patient, good sense of humor, bookworm. Check, check and check. It is my blessed good fortune that I make all the checks on his list, too.
After a series of brief conversations in public we progressed to exchanging emails, then graduated to Facebook chats. After a couple of cautious months we scheduled our first private face to face meeting at a quiet local restaurant.
We didn't follow the first-date rule of presenting carefully edited histories to each other. Instead, we poured our insides out, laying bare relationship histories, drinking and recovery stories, parenting joys and sorrows, what we loved (animals, books), and what we loathed (right-wing politics and all things Kardashian).
Our conversation extended from mid-afternoon coffee into dinner, concluding only when the restaurant closed at 8 p.m. We parted with a warm handshake and a promise to get together again in the near future.
I hurried to my car, shaking from head to foot - in part due to the sharp, frosty January air, but more because something had just happened to me that I hadn't experienced in a long, long time.
When I got home I stumbled through the kitchen door and froze in the middle of the floor, still shaking, ignoring my dogs' eager greeting. Out loud I repeated, "Oh, my God. Oh, my God." Inside me, a voice calmly repeated, "This is a man you could fall in love with."
I envisioned falling in love as a literal fall. I saw myself standing at the edge of a high bridge, looking down into dark, churning water. Was I willing to risk my safe, peaceful life for another plunge into emotional entanglement? The question answered itself almost as quickly as it was asked. Yes, I was willing to risk it. I was willing to dare to fall in love again.
And, in fact, I did - and he he with me.
Falling madly in love with the partner of your dreams doesn't equal happily ever after, as any grown-up knows. Our togetherness has consisted mostly of joy, laughter, understanding, passion, and the deep appreciation that comes with finding "the one" later in life, when you've learned what matters (honesty, respect) and what doesn't (dirty socks on the floor, hogging the bathroom). But there have been some rocky, tearful interludes, when our present lives collide with past hurts and expectations. What matters, though, isn't that we fight; what matters is we always make up, apologize, and work hard at resolving whatever issue is at hand.
I've had to do a lot of changing to keep this relationship alive; so has he. For my part, I've had to confront the ghosts of a past relationship, acknowledge that these ghosts existed, were haunting my new life, and could potentially destroy it. It was scary work that sent me to a therapist's office. After one excruciating argument, when I was beginning to doubt the relationship was salvageable, a close friend of mine gave me a much needed wake-up call.
I'd spilled every detail of my partner's and my most recent ugly fight. I'd been unable to see past his part in it, focusing only on my hurt. Now, I said, I could see with humbling clarity exactly where my old behaviors had exacerbated the fight.
My friend looked me in the eye and said calmly, "You have a choice. Do you want to continue with your old behaviors and lose the relationship, or do you want to change?"
I wanted to change. And change I have. So has he. Because we want to be together badly enough to work at it. We are old enough to understand the value of what we've found together. What we've found together is priceless.
We laugh hard, every single day. We hug. We kiss. We get each other coffee or an extra blanket. We say "please" and "thank you." We have what I like to call cultural exchanges: I have become a Detroit Tigers fan; he has developed a fondness for Cyndi Lauper's songs.
Most wonderfully, we allow for one another. If I come home from work mentally and emotionally fried, he is fine with me taking my dinner plate to the sofa and reading while I eat, my preferred method of unwinding. If he says he is feeling a tad cranky, I leave him to his laptop and keep conversation to a minimum. We can be completely, comfortably, utterly ourselves with one another That is priceless, miraculous, and irreplaceable. And we are, thankfully old enough and wise enough to appreciate that.
Sober? Yes. Mom? Yes, indeed. Single? Happily, blessedly, and surprisingly, the answer is, not any more.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Laugh, cry, goodbye

Last Sunday I was awakened by the retro phone ringtone of my cell phone. It was a little past 8 in the morning, earlier than I typically want to roll out of bed on a Sunday; but this wasn't a typical Sunday. This Sunday I was hurriedly yanking on my jeans and sweatshirt to go downstairs and give my son Daniel a farewell hug as he departed for his new life, thousands of miles away, in Portland, Oregon.

I already knew how hard this goodbye would be. This wasn't the first time I'd bid farewell to a child of mine. Several years ago I'd hugged my older daughter, Jess, and swallowed tears as she set off for college in Houghton. She felt so far away, although it was less than a two-hour drive. I'd been accustomed to having all three of my kids either under my roof, or at least in my ZIP code. Close enough to stop by for Sunday breakfast or mid-week spaghetti. For a few years my house had a revolving door quality, as the older two left, then bounced back home for a while, then moved out again.

Three years ago I hugged my younger daughter goodbye on a muggy late Saturday afternoon in September. She was beginning her freshman year at a small liberal arts college in Minneapolis. As we ate dinner at a picnic table under a shady tree we grew increasingly quiet, much unlike our usual selves. Words and tears knotted in our throats. When Melissa whispered, "Uh oh, oh no," I looked over and saw tears spilling down her cheeks. We hugged, laughing and insisting we weren't crying, we were fine.

When it was time for students and parents to separate, I gave Melissa one last squeeze and walked away quickly. I swiped tears from my cheeks and snuffled softly until I rounded the corner of a dorm building; then I let loose. My friend Susan, waiting for me on a park bench in the courtyard, began weeping in sympathy along with me.

I sobbed on and off on the drive to our hotel and wept a bit on the drive home the next day. When I got home I went directly up to Melissa's room, picked up a pillow she'd left behind, hugged it close, and wailed. I felt every mile of the distance between us. I felt as if I'd been ripped open at the center, and out of that jagged tear poured sorrow and loss. There was nothing to do but give in to the sorrow and cry it out. 

In my drinking days I maintained that I couldn't stand to feel pain, and had to drink to obliterate it. How very special I was, right? Poor, delicate me. Sobriety taught me that not only could I stand pain, I could endure it, survive it, and  - surprise! - move on from it. All pain, at least all the pain I've experienced, has a shelf life. It eventually dissipates, either disappearing or only aching when reawakened. This same equation applies to happiness - which, when I drank, had a desperate quality to it. Quick, grab it and hold on like grim death! You may never be this happy again. In recovery I learned that life isn't a buffet. You cannot choose only happiness. 

That first week Melissa was gone I kept my tears at bay by reminding myself that she was where she wanted to be. She was happily, excitedly beginning her life as a young adult. 

Three years and five months later I stood in my kitchen, stretched on my tiptoes, hugging my son, blotting tears on the shoulder of his woolly coat. He squeezed me tight, crying a little, too. We laughed as we re-hugged several times, reluctant to let each hug be the final one.

Then he was gone, off to build a new life in Portland with his girlfriend. I cried on and off all day Sunday, thinking about the miles that would separate us. I'd never not seen Dan for more than three weeks at a time. Now I probably wouldn't be seeing him until August. On a frosty February morning, summery August felt light years away.

So I sobbed into my pillow, cried on my dog's neck, wept on my partner's shoulder. Life gave me a little corrective when I went on Facebook that afternoon. I saw a photo of a tree posted by a friend whose son committed suicide several years ago. She planted the tree in his memory, and posts photos of it changing with the seasons. 

My son is a phone call, an email, a Skype away. I know where he is, he is safe and well, and I will see him again. Ditto for my younger daughter. My older daughter now lives in Marquette, with her partner and their adorable baby son. 

Happiness and sadness are part of the same soup. As hard as I tried to strain out the sadness with alcohol, all I did was compound my misery. Today I choose to feel my feelings, knowing that I can survive them, knowing they will pass - both the sorrowful and the joyous ones.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Help! Facebook doesn't depress me!

I am an unapologetic fan of Facebook. I like knowing what my local and far away friends are up to. I enjoy seeing my younger friends post photos of their little ones. I appreciate the pet photos,  the status updates, and the majority of the comical or heart-tugging memes. It's just plain fun. And, like anything just plain fun that gets into the hands of a person with an addictive personality, I indulge in it far too often and for too large bites of time. But until I'm missing work or skipping meals in order to indulge my habit, I am going to assume I haven't crossed into the danger zone of Facebook addiction. Yet.

Facebook is a delightful sounding board for the terminally smart-alecky. I derive a great deal of pleasure out of posting humorously cranky mini-paragraphs about the relentlessly bone-chilling weather, or mock news stories ("Local beagle engages in unauthorized litter box feast; owner recoils in shock and horror"). 

I try to avoid inflicting my opinion on religious or political debates, although I will interject if I feel my comment is on target but not snarky. I am a liberal Democrat and a Christian/Buddhist hybrid, but many people I love and respect lean right and are solidly Christian. I have no desire to hurt anyone's feelings or insist that anyone see things my way (although who are we kidding, I'd love it if I could persuade them to).

I try not to post too much mushy love stuff about my significant other, in part because I do have some understanding of decorum, but also because I don't want to embarrass him. I don't want to embarrass myself, either. Love makes me gushy. And too much shared gush comes across as bragging. I don't want to brag. I have nothing to brag about. The fact that this intelligent, kind, funny, thoughtful, compassionate man came into my life is a cosmic gift, not any achievement of mine. And he is the most... Wait. I feel impending gush. Ahem. Let's move on.

I do not post where I am every time I sit down to lunch or walk in the park, as a lot of people do. If this sounds a tad snobby, let me tell you that one reason I don't is because all of my Facebook activity takes place under my own roof. I don't have a phone smart enough to deliver updates on my every move. And that's a good thing, as I doubt there's a person on this planet who gives a rat's hind end that I am picking up paper towels at ShopKo or scarfing down a fish plate at Big Boy.

According to someone's research - I have no idea whose - Facebook has become associated with incidents of depression in its regular users. Supposedly, reading about other people's family joys, business successes and exotic vacations can lead to envy, low self-esteem and bitterness on the part of the less fortunate Facebookites.

I recently read a story on Huffington Post about a woman who detached herself from social media and realized she is much happier for it. She no longer goes online via her cell phone when she can't sleep, scrolling through the posts of friends who are partying gleefully while she lies alone, pitifully alone, in her big lonely bed. She is getting over the compulsive urge to document her every move, and she is finding other ways to fill those chunks of time previously dominated by posting, tweeting, and Snapchatting. She reads books! She talks to people on the phone, or even face to face! She showers more than twice a month! All right, I made that last one up. The point is, she feels liberated. Not so liberated that she's abandoning her online life forever, but when she rejoins cyberland she'll be armed with a dose of perspective she didn't previously possess.

So I guess I've been doing Facebook all wrong. I don't feel depressed. I am not nauseated with envy. I don't wish I could have Mindy's or Bob's or Susan's or, well, anyone else's life besides my own. When I see photos of friends and relatives lounging on the beach in Hawaii or in their box seats at a Detroit Tigers game I don't think, "Dammit! That should be ME!" I simply note their enjoyment. Clearly, I am not reaping the full benefits of online life exposure. I am sadly lacking in sadness, anger, bitterness and resentment.

The credit for this goes, at least in part, to my recovery program. I have been told not to compare my insides with other people's outsides. Income, new cars, or multiple stamps on a passport do not equal peace of mind or satisfaction. Yes, I would love a new car, a trip to Jamaica, and a triple digit income. But the fact that I have none of those things doesn't eat at me. I am, for the most part, content. I am also sometimes cranky, ungrateful, and just plain miserable. Welcome to human-ness. 

Using Facebook as a barometer for one's personal happiness is a sketchy enterprise. Kind of like comparing your life with that of some happy sitcom family. I want to measure my happiness on my own scale. Bills paid? Check. Employed? Check. Sobriety, family, pets all in place? Check.

Now if you'll excuse me, I just thought of a hilarious status update I want to post.