Not swimming with sharks

If summer were a meal, I ate the whole thing and feel satisfied. 

I wrote the above sentence last September and then said how crazy I felt anyway. I’ve had the phrase I ate the whole thing stuck in my head again lately. I’ve also felt the angst that comes with putting too much on my plate: the guilt and greed of wanting it all, the doubt that I’m worthy of any of it, and the disappointing reality that summertime isn’t one big lemonade commercial. Although yeah, it kind of is. 

I took an unplanned break from reading and writing blog posts and the act felt like drifting along a lazy river all day wearing only SPF 4. It felt easy and indulgent and reckless all at once. I didn’t drink or change my mind about drinking. Every purple-orange-pink sunset confirmed that life has richer hues without drinking, that none of this would even be possible if I were still stuck in that hell rut. 

We just got back from a final trip to the beach. I felt off my game in packing for it and forgot all sorts of things…phone charger, medicine, nectarines rotting sweetly in a basket at home. Most schools started back already, and any remaining tanned beachgoers had a dazed, tired look, like they missed the last ferry home and were sorting out what to do about it in no particular hurry. 

One night, we walked along the beach and saw a crowd forming. A fisherman had caught a five-foot shark and everyone stood around watching it thrash about while also looking dazed or possibly bored. The fisherman finally cut the line and another brave/stupid soul awkwardly cradled it back to the waves. As the shark’s fin disappeared under the water, my youngest asked “why didn’t anyone tell me those were in there?” 

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A couple of mornings later, I went for a much anticipated run 4 miles up the coastal highway to check out one of the old submarine watch towers that pepper the Delaware coast, relics leftover from WWII if you can even imagine.

 

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I’ve been riding past these towers for, oh, roughly the last 40 summers and never stopped to get a closer look. This year inspiration came and rewarded. 

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great graffiti

I ran 6.2 miles to mentally prepare for a 10K I signed up for this fall and walked the remaining distance along the shore with an endorphin high and jelly legs and true appreciation for those who run half marathons and longer. The wind whipped the ocean and sand around and ruled out any kind of beach day. The truth is I never got in the ocean at all this season to swim. I drove home yesterday feeling bent out of shape about it and not sure why it bothered me so much. 

I think I decided that not swimming this year made me feel suddenly old, like my best days are behind me. I wallowed in that feeling on the drive home and it receded some, so I think that was it.

Maybe it was a break, nothing more or less. Breaks can be good.

 

 

Lessons in mindfulness from an 87 year old

My grandmother tells me she wants me to read a letter from the electric company, so I follow her into the small room next to her bedroom. This room used to be my great-grandmother’s den many years ago and still has an old lamp of hers and paintings that once hung in her home on Birchwood Avenue.

Every available surface of the den has been taken over with neat stacks of rubberbanded letters and bills and photos my brother and I sent her over the years. There’s my old cat when he was in his prime. There’s my niece when she was in grade school. There three of us stand in our finest suits after my grandfather died.

The letter my grandmother shows me has love letter written on the envelope in her blocky, angular print. The letter has something to do with a penalty charge for refusing mandatory installation of some newfangled meter, and when I tell my grandmother she says “they already told me I don’t have to pay that” and rustles through other stacks and doesn’t find what she’s looking for but doesn’t seem worried.

We both shuffle back to the kitchen to sit at her table and eat cherries and look out onto her beautiful backyard through a big picture window. I can’t remember now if she had this window put in, but I think she did. It would have been the biggest change she’s made since moving from the city 25 years ago. The blood-red carpeting in the living room is still there. The ivory wallpaper with its gold accent still clings to the pillar near the door, and my youngest needs reminding not to pull at its curling edges.

It strikes me during this visit how deliberate and mindful my grandmother is. I used to struggle with even the definition of mindfulness in early sobriety, and here is a living, breathing example before me. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

My grandmother doesn’t do anything quickly or half-heartedly. In fact, in the past when I’ve told her we’re in a hurry – that we have to leave by a certain time and that time happens to have been 15 minutes ago – her entire demeanor changes. Her eyes take on a certain wild flightiness. Her shuffle becomes more pronounced but not faster. Her relaxed smile first straightens at the corners and then disappears. The first lesson in mindfulness that I learn from my grandmother is to ditch the schedule.

Early in our visit, she takes my daughters and I to the back bedroom, the one that I don’t like sleeping in because it feels haunted, even though I don’t believe in such things. We look at a very old picture of relatives hanging on the wall. This photograph and a pair of wooden Siamese cats used to hang in the hall in my great-grandmother’s house and they scared me. It was something about the eyes.

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L-R: great-great-great grandmother (name unknown); great-great grandfather, Antonas; great-great grandmother, Magdalena

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Siamese devils (names unknown)

I notice my own kids have quietly left the room. I get it, kids, but I am older and closer to these relics than I am to youth and need to hear what they have to say. My grandmother tells a story about her great grandmother in the old photograph. This is the second lesson in mindfulness: the key to the past lies in the quiet of the present.

My great-great-great grandmother used to visit the United States regularly. In those days you didn’t need a passport but simply money to travel and something my grandmother called a ship card. When my great-great-great grandmother returned to Lithuania, she brought enough candy for her nine grandchildren in a straw bag that she hung from the ceiling to make sure it lasted. The grandchildren sat below the straw bag transfixed like obedient dogs until it was empty, at which point she traveled into town with her straw bag and filled it with less exotic candies to restore order.

My grandmother tells me other very old stories and I make cryptic notes in my phone and think where did I put that small cassette recorder we had years ago and where does one buy cassette tapes now anyway. Unlike my kids, who begrudgingly pose for too-many pictures, my grandmother is a proud, patient model. I take a picture of her standing next to the photo of our very old relatives with haunting eyes and she lays two pair of tiny shoes she believes belonged to my now adult niece on the green shag carpet and asks me to take a picture. I do because I am the archivist and this is my job.

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Before we leave, I ask my grandmother to tell me her sauerkraut recipe. She is the only one who can make it and, believe me, the rest of my family gets a little panicky when Thanksgiving rolls around and she’s on the fence about coming. Her recipe involves bagged sauerkraut and chopped cabbage, a whole onion removed at the end, some shredded carrot for sweetness, cloves of allspice and some other ingredients I can’t remember but thankfully wrote down on yellow lined paper I brought home along with a container filled with sauerkraut she’d made a few days prior.

Here’s where I confess I left the sauerkraut overnight in the car and briefly considered serving it anyway but ultimately thought how tragic it would be to poison the family with grandmother’s beloved recipe. I dumped it in the trash and then removed the trash from the house because sauerkraut is potent stuff. I feel terrible about it, and I know I have a lot to learn about mindfulness and not getting so far into putting the kids and myself to bed that I forget to unload the car.

Here’s where I thank you, Dear Reader, for making the visit to my grandmother happen. When I wrote the last post about my grandmother, I had a flimsy excuse not to make the longish drive to see her. And whether or not you meant to change my mind, too many of you commented how you missed your own Dear Grandmothers and how lucky I was to still have mine. I can take a hint, though sometimes it takes a gentle knock upside the head. So I want to thank you for your comments and prompting. My grandmother thanks you too.

 

Blog tour thingy

Last week Paul tagged me in an ongoing open project that gives bloggers the chance to share their writing process and tag other unsuspecting bloggers, which is what I’m going to do at the end of this at this post.

Here is Paul’s post. Paul is one of my favorites because he’s funny, smart, kind and he scours the internet for the most disturbing and/or cutest pictures to work into his beautiful messages about life and recovery. He also writes the most thoughtful and kindest comments I’ve ever seen. He’s priceless.

Here are the questions and my answers to the blog tour thingy.

What am I working on?

Today I am working on how I’m going to clean the bathrooms after work and before karate class. So I am working on hopefully inspiring one of you to invent an affordable bathroom cleaning robot. I would suggest a self-cleaning bathroom, but last week I self-cleaned the oven and started a small fire so a robot seems safer. 
 
I am also pre-writing a post based on a surprise visit with my grandmother last weekend after I said I wasn’t going to visit her and you all left touching comments about how you lost your grandmother and miss her very much. When I say surprise visit, I told her I was coming, so it’s not like I rang her doorbell and hid in the bushes and jumped out. 
 
How does my work differ from others in its genre?
 
I have a hard time writing over 800 words. I include pictures I’ve taken myself or occasional doodles. I write about non-sober things like grandmothers and cats and running and trees. None of this feels different and I like that about blogging. I feel no pressure to fit into a certain mold. It’s very freeing and fun. 
 
Why do I write/create what I do?
 
Years before I got sober and while I was struggling through a tough time, I started a nonsense blog that had approximately 3 followers. It was a lot of fun and I was instantly hooked. I switched to a sober blog to work through the first year of sobriety and then it snowballed once I realized what a great source of support it was. I get to connect with so many amazing people I never would have met otherwise! This is my favorite part about writing. Writing is an extroverted introvert’s dream come true. 
 
How does my writing/creating process work?
 
I usually have most of my new ideas while running. I had this great idea for a radio collar-activated cat door on a run but later saw it had already been invented, so I try and stick to thinking up blog posts. I pre-write them on runs (or in the car/shower/bed) and usually remember at least a few points or key phrases. If I wait too long in between having the idea and getting to a computer, the post vanishes into the ether, but I know another will come along shortly like a bus or a bill. With 800 words or less, these posts are usually quick to write and edit.

 


The other bloggers I am tagging are Michele from Mished Up, Sherry from Oh For the Love of Me and Josie from The Miracle is Around the Corner. I’ve followed these lovely ladies pretty much from the start and learned a lot from their wisdom and kindness.

Michele writes beautifully on a variety of topics, from music to meditation to grief, but she is best known perhaps for motivating a bunch of us to choose a word of the year each December to work on in the coming year.

Sherry is a funny lady and a straight shooter and I’ve seen her reach out generously to help newcomers in recovery. This post she wrote recently pretty much covers it.

Josie is not only a blog buddy but my go-to for local 5Ks. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with her in real life several times, which I never thought I’d be doing when I started here three years ago. She’s even more terrific in person. What I love about Josie’s writing is how dedicated and instructional she is. Here is a recent favorite post about acceptancea topic she seems to cover when I am struggling with the same.

There is no pressure at all on any of these ladies to write a post and tag others if their schedule is too busy. This blog tour thingy is my way of sharing a few writers who helped me over the years through words and kindness. As Paul said to me, it’s not a chain letter :)

Dog days

Grandmother with great-granddaughter

I called my grandmother today. She said she’d been waiting for me to call her back for the last two weeks. She said she’d left a message on the answering machine at the beach, a message I’d assumed was already old when I heard it because I’d talked to her the day before. The date stamp on the answering machine was no help. Sunday 2pm, the tinny robot man informed me on Wednesday. I pictured her sitting by her phone unmoving while the sun rose and set in the sky, again and again.

My grandmother launches right into politics and world war III. She says “I know you won’t believe me” which makes my ears perk up like when I hear my name mentioned in another room.  She uses some word that isn’t really a word – castrophy? astrosy? It’s familiar enough that it rolls around on the tip of my tongue, waiting for the correct combination to fall out.

She asks after me and the kids and Joe and moves onto childhood friends I still keep in touch with. I tell her about one friend who had surgery and another who suddenly became gravely ill and she says “You know what that means?”

“I’m next?” I ask.

“It means you’re the HEALTHIEST one,” she says, her voice strong and proud.

She asks if I still smoke and I say no too quickly and then remember the time in high school she walked right up and reached into my pocket and pulled out a pack of smokes I’d thought were hidden. I think I was smoking Benson and Hedges then because, you know, sophistication. She let me smoke at her house once and we lit our cigarettes on the stove and stood in the kitchen chatting like old friends. I cherished that moment until she ratted out the smoking to my parents. Some wounds are hard to forgive.

My grandmother tells me about an AARP luncheon she went to that cost $3.37. She has no idea why that oddball number but says they couldn’t provide change so she wound up giving them a sixty-three cent tip. She points out the lunch included unlimited coffee and declares it a “good deal” even for $4.  The speaker during lunch joked how old the crowd was and said no one could hear him but they were all nodding at where they thought he might be because they couldn’t see him either. My grandmother says they almost fell out of their chairs they were laughing so hard. I picture overturned walkers and canes askew, broken hips and $3.37 plates everywhere.

When my grandmother learns Joe is out of town, she tells me she wishes I would come down to visit even though she knows I can’t.  She says it just like my kids do when they point out a wonderful toy they know I won’t buy them. I launch into a lengthy excuse involving our cat’s new medication regime for asthma. My grandmother suggests maybe we adopted a defective cat and spends five minutes detailing how she came to the decision to put each of her long-gone cats to sleep.

Her cats all had funny sounding names because they were Lithuanian, like my grandmother. One of my friends used to ask me to tell her the cats’ names because she could never remember but thought they were hilarious. We used to prank call people and I would ask confused old ladies if my grandmother’s cats were there.

“Yes, may I please speak with Snujuki Ryunuki?” I would ask in some terrible accent while my friend trembled with laughter. Kids these days don’t appreciate how caller ID ruined everything, really.

My grandmother and I talk about how hot it’s been and how much worse our storms are than anybody else’s storms anywhere, ever. She tells me she can’t go outside in the afternoon because it’s too humid and there’s nothing to look forward to. For a moment, I can’t remember if I’m old like her. It feels like we are the same person, even.

I say these are the dog days of summer. They’re supposed to be lazy and easy, but mostly they feel deflated and bleached out. We bide our time sprawled across the cool tile, waiting for some sweet breeze we don’t even believe is coming.

My grandmother tells me she’s going to make sauerkraut though she doesn’t know why because no one is coming to eat it. She sounds happy before we hang up, bright with anticipation of cooking for an army of none. When it’s time to say goodbye, she makes a kissing sound through the phone. I do the same and the asthmatic cat looks up expectantly. My grandmother and I say our goodbyes and I pad off into the kitchen like a lazy, aimless dog.

How do I stop drinking?

Yesterday I’d fallen into one of those predictable but still somewhat surprising holes I forget to look out for. Blame it on post-vacation letdown or post-sugar crash or moon cycles or who cares really. I’m human. Sometimes I figure the veil has finally lifted only to reveal that I suck.

Then I checked my neglected blog email account and found a message from someone asking for any tips about the basics of, you know, how exactly does one not drink anymore. And then I remembered clear as day what a therapist told me when I was in this person’s shoes.

First you have to build your sober support system.

I always liked the sound of a Sober Support System. It sounds efficient and strong and not terribly complicated. I still had no idea how to build one at the time, so I asked.

My therapist told me to get to AA. I did. This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and there are plenty of non-step support groups too, though availability varies depending on where you live. If you know someone else who doesn’t drink, reach out to them. Chances are they’ll be thrilled to hear from you and happy to help!

Once you get to a sober support meeting, you’ll meet other people going through the same thing. You’ll meet newly sober people like yourself and you’ll meet others with a little time under their belt. If you’re like me, you’ll relate to a lot of stories and feel much less alone and more filled with hope.

If you can’t do in-person meetings right now, there are also online resources and support groups and forums. You can connect at any time and meet a wide variety of people going through the same thing.

(Note: I know I’m missing some good resources and plan to build a page with links. If you know of any helpful sober resources not included, please share in a comment!)

Just pick something or a mix of things and stick with it and build from there. The first thing you pick doesn’t have to be a lifelong commitment, no matter what you read or hear or fear. You can use any blend of resources, as long as it works for you.

The key is getting through today without a drink. Because you know what? I’ve never once regretted not having a drink. Not once in 1,116 days have I ever woken up and thought “man, I really missed out by not drinking last night.” Not once. Before I quit drinking, I’d lost count of mornings filled with nausea, dread and regret. They all bled together like one big never-ending hangover.

So build up your sober support network and don’t drink. That’s it for now. Both of these things get easier over time. Each time you get through a tough/happy/bored/anxious day without drinking and practice leaning on others, it gets a little easier to do the next time.

It takes time, so be patient with yourself. I drank for decades, and progress has built slowly over several years, with plenty of room for improvement. No rush, no real end goal in sight. Today I’m enjoying the scenery.

And I’ve yet to meet a friendlier, more helpful bunch of people than other sober people. If you’re not sure where to start, email a few sober bloggers (like me). Seriously. We want to help and it feels good to pay it forward.

Don’t worry, you’ll see what I mean one day.

Life In Six Songs: Vol. 18 (Karen and Kristen)

byebyebeer:

So excited to be a part of Christy, Michelle, and Jennie’s Life In Six Songs this week, and with Karen of Mended Musings to boot! I’ve been reading her for about as long as I’ve been blogging.

It’s especially sweet timing because I’m wrapping up vacation and busy getting sunburned and practicing important things like eating ice cream cones “moderately”. Hope you’re having a sweet week!

Originally posted on Running On Sober:

In six songs, tell us about your life. 

By now most of you know the drill, but if you are a new visitor, welcome! We challenged our guests to tell us their life stories: “The project is simple, though maybe not easy: Tell us a story–your story–in six songs. And then for fun, wrap up your life in a bonus seventh song.” The series runs every Monday through September. We are currently booked to capacity–thank you!–but before the series wraps-up, we will plan a special event where everyone will be welcome to join in. Until then feel free to check out our past volumes and enjoy this week’s stories.

Our special guests this week are:

Karen from Mended Musings and Kristen from Bye-Bye BeerI fell in love with each of these beautiful, kind-hearted and talented women after I discovered them through Christy’s space. I’m so happy to have Karen and Kristen here today! Please be sure…

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Give me some sugar

I’ve written about my struggle with sweet, sweet sugar too many times to count, but I’m pleasantly surprised to find I’m still learning new things.

I’ve had a sweet tooth my whole life, but in sobriety I’d lost my trusty emotional cushion of booze and instinctively turned to sugar. While part of me wishes I could just live with it, I’ve worked really hard over the last five years to lose more than 40 pounds through better diet and exercise, and sugar binges sabotage that. Plus it doesn’t feel good to feel out of control.

I’m writing about it this morning because some new ideas came my way via where else but the sober blogs.

First, More to Me Than This wrote this excellent piece on how sugar affects the brain and how it has affected her personally since getting sober. I would say it’s only been in the last year or so that I’ve realized how much I’d been self-medicating with sugar, so her insight and ideas really impressed me.

When I started the herbal cleanse I mentioned in my last post, I took most refined sugar out of my diet. I say most because I did allow ice cream on two special occasions that fell within the cleanse period. In the past when I’ve attempted to wrangle sugar, ice cream was strictly forbidden.

I observed some new things this time around.

Moderation with sugar is pleasurable!

When I drank moderately, I hated it. I used to count drinks and as I got closer to the maximum number I’d allotted, I would feel every ounce of pleasure drain away. I didn’t enjoy a mild buzz. I wanted more.

When I eat dessert moderately, I enjoy the taste and textures. I’ve never really noticed an emotional effect from sugar, but I believe the reward centers of my brain are feeling it plenty. When I don’t overdo it, I also don’t suffer the post-binge crash, though there has been a curious emotional reaction more recently.

The guilt is still there, but maybe not forever

The secretive binges and shame I feel from overindulging in dessert remind me so much of how I used to drink. When I ate ice cream these last two times, I enjoyed the experience but not the guilt I felt while eating it. I wondered where this anxiety and fear came from. I was eating moderate servings. I wasn’t doing it every day. This wasn’t a binge, so why was I reacting like it was?

For me, I think it’s that I don’t trust myself yet. And with good reason. Enjoying sugar moderately is not something I have much experience with in sobriety.

When I ate the ice cream these last two times, part of me was thinking “oh no, here we go again.” Only I didn’t keep going back and I got back to healthy eating with the next meal. I also noticed my mood overall has been better when I eat sugar moderately compared to when I cut it out completely.

How will I know I’m cured?

I predict a continuation of cycles of eating better and overindulging with cravings. This doesn’t sound like much of a cure, huh? My hope is that with continued, consistent practice of making better choices about what I choose to eat, the eating-better cycles will last longer and the binges will slink back from whence they came. This will happen over time, like it already has. I have seen improvement in the last three years, so I can reasonably expect to see more if I continue seeking it.

A “cure” might be asking for a small slice of cake because I know it will satisfy. My hope is that I can enjoy dessert occasionally…moderately.

The last thing I wanted to share (via Sober Truths) is a TED-Ed on how sugar affects the brain. Watch if you have 5 minutes!