Monthly Archives: July 2014

M(3), 7/21: Listening With a New Set of Ears (The Better Late Than Never Series)

I have stopped and started with this post all week because I have out-of-town guests (my sister and her family, in from the West Coast).  I would think to myself, “I need to go sit in front of the computer and finish that post up!”  But then I would turn around and there would be somebody interesting to talk to right in front of me, and I would be waylaid, yet again.  As this “staycation” finishes up on Friday and I leave for a vacation with my husband’s side of the family Saturday, I figured I better at least knock this one out, because I won’t be sitting down to do this again for a while.

So Monday’s meeting was a unique experience for me.  It marked the first time someone from my personal life attended the meeting I run:  the same West Coast sister I mentioned above.  As George Costanza from Seinfeld would say, “Worlds are colliding!”  But I jest, because there was nothing uncomfortable about her being there; in fact, it offered me a unique perspective in listening with a newcomer’s ears.  This was my sister’s first visit to any 12-step meeting, much less the one I run, so I felt like I was listening with a different set of ears… how do we in the meeting sound to an outsider?

Our reading selection for the week was Step Seven from Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.  Step seven is:

Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings

In most meetings I have attended that discuss step seven, the topic most often covered is humility, and this meeting was no exception.  I shared my favorite definition of humility, the one that was easiest for my early sobriety brain to grasp:  not to think less of yourself, but to think of yourself less.  It was an important lesson for me, both in early sobriety, and today, as I am one to think I can skate by on the humility lectures, because I run towards the lower side on the self-confidence scale.  And if I’m low on self-confidence, then I am humble, right?  A big WRONG on that one.  If I’m making everything in life about me, then I’m the opposite of humble.  This definition reminds me to get out of my own head and think about others.

A timely reminder, as I have had all sorts of family gatherings that have tested this resolve.  The day before the meeting, several family members that I consider close friends made some remarks about me that I found highly offensive.  I did not find out about the comments until hours after they were said; in fact, I was getting ready to go to bed when I found out.  Of course, bed time was delayed as I stewed about the various ways to let my feelings be known.  I was half out of the chair on the way to my email, where my program of recovery stopped me, and guided me gently back into my seat.  I was nowhere near ready to let it go, but I’ve learned enough to know that any reaction I was to have at that moment would not be my best one.  So I calmed myself down, and figured I could always write the email in the morning.

And of course the topic was humility, and I am once again humbled by the way God speaks to me.  Because at the end of the day, the offensive comments spoke louder about the people making them than they do about me.  In the situation about which I’m speaking, when I consciously apply humility to the situation, then answer is so obvious it’s almost funny, and it immediately made me feel better.  Gratitude galore for me at the meeting.

So, back to the original point:  how did the meeting sound with my own ears, differently tuned due to a newcomer?  I heard a group of people from all walks of life:  religious, educational, blue-collar, home makers, happily jumping in to share their thoughts on a topic thrown out at them at random.  Every person listened attentively, and built their discussion upon all the previous shared experiences.  I saw people attending a meeting for the sheer joy of the fellowship, although I know from personal experience so much more is at stake.  I heard true joy and laughter, and I saw empathy and light bulb moments throughout the entire 60 minutes.

What did my sister see?  She told me she was surprised at the level of happiness all the people present showed at being there that morning, how joyfully they greeted one another.  She was impressed by how well people spoke, and what meaningful things each had to say.  She was amazed at the level of emotion one woman showed, as she had been away from the meeting (and, in fact, out of the country) for three weeks, and she was so happy to be back.  Finally, she was surprised by the excitement everyone displayed when I announced I had baked a cake, but I told her that’s less 12-step related and more universally human:  who doesn’t like it when someone bakes them a cake?

I was proud to bring my sister to meet my friends, and I was equally as proud to show off my friends to my sister.

To all of my blogging friends:  I miss you all so much, my inbox is overflowing with tantalizing announcements of unread posts.  I am really hopeful to get back to the reading and commenting side of things when I am away next week.  I hope everyone is well, and I will be catching up with all of you soon!

Today’s Miracle:

If you are reading this, then most definitely today’s miracle is hitting “Publish.”  This is the longest I have ever spent on a single post!

 

 

 

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Restraint of Tongue and Pen

Restraint of tongue and pen is an expression commonly heard in the 12-step meetings I attend.  It is a reference to a paragraph in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions:

Nothing pays off like restraint of tongue and pen. We must avoid quick-tempered criticism and furious, power-driven arguments. The same goes for sulking or silent scorn. These are emotional booby traps baited with pride and vengefulness. Our first job is to sidestep the traps. When we are tempted by the bait, we should train ourselves to step back and think. For we can neither think nor act to good purpose until the habit of self-restraint has become automatic. -pg. 91, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

To sum it up:  Keep your thoughts to yourself, so you don’t say something you will regret!

The longer I continue the journey of recovery, the more important the concept of self-restraint becomes.  Initially I thought of only applying it in what I would consider extreme situations:  volatile, emotionally charged conversations that inevitably wind up with a lot of regrettable name-calling and cussing.  Anyone can see the benefit of zipping the lips before saying something in the heat of the moment that you will later regret.

As time went on, I started to see additional benefits to practicing restraint of tongue and pen.  The occasion that plays out the most frequently for me is the “debate disguised as a conversation,” I’m sure everyone knows the type I mean.  I have found that employing self-restraint in these situations has yielded benefits that I would have never foreseen:  preventing an argument (which happens all too frequently in debate-style conversations), eliminating the inevitable drama and angst that are an all-too-frequent byproduct of debate-style conversations, and the peace that comes with the knowledge that it is not my job to convince you my opinion is the right one.

Of course, the just as frequent occasion that occurs:  interactions with my children.  Particularly in this season, when we are together 24/7, restraint of tongue is a skill I could perfect quite a bit more, but still, there has been progress.  I like to explain my rationale for things; “because I said so” is not a style of parenting with which I’m comfortable (doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally use it, though, when all else fails!).  My husband has long since pointed out that I tend to go overboard with my explanations, which then turn into debate-style conversations, which I’ve already discussed.  But I am discovering, a little more slowly than I would like, that I can be true to myself and give the rationale for my decisions without indulging in the back and forth, unproductive conversations that always end in raised voices and slammed doors.

I have reaped untold rewards in applying this concept to my need for self-justification.  In the past, if I have been questioned about anything, I have felt the urge to explain myself to the point of ridiculousness.  This practice has benefitted not a single person:  the person to whom I am self-justifying winds up exasperated, and I wind up frustrated.  When I remember to practice self-restraint, I remember that if I am comfortable with a decision I made, then there is no need to justify anything to anyone, and what a relief that is!

Now and then I will get tripped up in this area, and I will have an occasion where I’m not sure if the right course of action is to practice restraint, or to give voice to my feelings and needs.  There is, and always will be, I suppose, work to be done in this arena.  But I have learned that stopping myself from reacting to a situation always pays off.  For example, I’m in a situation where I feel mistreated.  Do I speak my mind and heart in a respectful way and voice my concerns, or do I practice restraint.  The progress (never perfection) for me is that I know that speaking my heart in the heat of the moment never pays off.  If it is important enough to share my concerns, it can wait until I am calm.  More often than not, though, I find once I am calm that it winds being not important enough to discuss… which of course is the whole point of restraint of tongue and pen!

The best lesson of all that I have learned on this subject:  I have never once regretted holding back my thoughts in an emotionally charged situation.  I can always revisit a discussion, but I can never take back once the words have come out of my mouth.

Today’s Miracle:

We are getting some rooms painted in the house; watching a vision become reality is so exciting that it counts as my miracle today!

M(3), 7/14: Self-Pity

 

Today’s meeting, which featured the book Living Sober, the chapter read was entitled “Eliminating Self-Pity.”  I asked a regular attendee to select the chapter, so I came into the reading fresh, and my initial thought was “not a topic that applies to me.”  In this, and every instance where I think a recovery-related piece of literature does not apply to me, I am proven woefully incorrect.  Here’s the opening paragraph of the chapter:

This emotion is so ugly that no one in his or her right mind wants to admit feeling it.  Even when sober, many of us remain clever at hiding from ourselves the fact that we are astew in a mess of self-pity.   We do not like at all being told that is shows, and we are sharp at arguing that we are experiencing some other emotion- not that loathsome poor-me-ism.  Or we can, in a second, find a baker’s dozen perfectly legitimate reasons for feeling somewhat sorry for ourselves.  -Chapter 22, Living Sober

Well, when it’s put like that… I guess maybe it does apply, and perhaps I could use some of the advice for eliminating it!

The advice given in the book is fairly simple, which is one of the reasons I love reading this book; it is short and sweet, and immensely practical.  First, take a step back, take a long hard look at yourself, and recognize self-pity for what it really is.  You can’t change a behavior without first identifying it.  Talk it out with a trusted friend, one who will call you out on your nonsense.  In all likelihood, you will be able to call yourself on it once you start talking out your feelings.  Finally, fight back the self-pity with a little gratitude.  It is impossible to maintain both self-pity and gratitude simultaneously, so remind yourself of what you do have, what you have accomplished, and what is good in your life.  Chances are the self-pity will become a distant memory.

In addition to loving 12-step meetings for the insight they provide me, I also love being able to share honestly, candidly, and anonymously about the things going on in my head to a group of people who immediately understand.  I read through the chapter with everyone else, and I realize the ways I have been living in the swamp of self-pity.  That’s miracle number one.  Then I can immediately take the advice given, and “tell on myself” by sharing the insight I’ve gained.  That’s miracle number two.  Finally, I get the feedback, validation and encouragement that changes my thinking from a caring, intelligent group of people who have walked in my shoes.  Three miracles in one short hour!

And the icing on the cake is the ability to give back the same feedback, validation and encouragement to others.  One friend that I haven’t seen in ages came to the meeting distressed with a family crisis.  She said she was flabbergasted by the timing of this reading, as she was able to see how her actions have been slowly but surely spiralling her down the rabbit hole of self-pity.  “Why am I the only one that has to deal with this crisis?  Why does all the responsibility fall on me?  Why me?”  Who among us hasn’t felt this way at some point in our lives?  But in talking it out she was able to see that those emotions were making her already bad situation so much worse.  Just talking it out in the meeting was enough to turn her thinking around.

Another attendee shared that the line that stuck out to him in the reading was the idea that, while operating in self-pity, we would love to just scream to the world, “Leave me alone!”  He said that is how he lived his last few years of active addiction… the more he drank, the more he isolated.  He said the biggest motivation for him to attend daily 12-step meetings is to fight his tendency to isolate.

The gentleman who selected the reading shared that he once lived his life in self-pity.  He often compared his life to the lives of others, and always found his wanting.  He heard a quote once that changed this attitude forever:

Several others chimed in with regard to this train of thought, and added that comparing our insides to others’ outsides will accomplish nothing worthwhile, and typically leads to self-pity.

Possibly the best lesson I learned from today’s meeting:  engaging in self-pity is the polar opposite of practicing acceptance.  When someone shared this, a light bulb went off in my head.  If I am feeling sorry for myself, it is, without exception, because I am finding someone or something unacceptable.  Acceptance, a topic about which I have written on many, many occasions, has been a personal cornerstone of my recovery, so thinking about the two concepts as opposing really helped illuminate the areas of my life where I was guilty of the “poor me’s.”

A great meeting discussing a powerful topic that hits close to home for the alcoholic, and the non-alcoholic!

Today’s Miracle:

Thanks to all who helped turn my thinking around on the “childhood china dilemma” (see the last post for more details).  I can’t tell you how much better I felt after reading all of your support!  Here is the finished product, all ready to be stored away for the first grandchild (God willing, not for at least another decade!):

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When to Hang On and When to Let Go, Part II

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Childhood China: The Complete Collection!

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Every night before I went to bed I would set this up for breakfast

This post will appeal to all the hoarders of the world!

Crazy, true story:  the subject matter of this post has been hanging around my head for several months now, but I kept dismissing it for 2 reasons:

1.  Writing would force me to take action I do not want to take, and

2.  I will reaffirm to readers that I am certifiable (of course, if you’re still reading after some of my other posts, then that ship has long since sailed)

So, yesterday, I revisit in a slightly more serious way the subject matter I’m about to discuss, even took some pictures (see above) in preparation, but still don’t have that really concrete “hook” for the post itself.  When this happens, I employ a very simple process:  slow down the monkey mind, and ask myself the pointed question, “what are you feeling?”  The answer that came was, “I’m not ready to let go.”  Which gave me the title for the post, also written above.

Then I vaguely recall writing something with a similar title, but the hell if I feel like scrolling back through 400 posts to find out if I am remembering correctly, so I figure I can come up with something more original.  I finally force myself to sit down and attempt to write something; because I want to procrastinate, I take the long route to the blank page, and go via “Dashboard.”  I kid you not, I never visit this page.  For quite some time now, I sit down and look at very specific things on my blog, and I pointedly ignore the dashboard page because otherwise I will get too caught up in the statistics of the blog.  So here I am on the page that I never view, and I click, for no good reason, “view blog,” again, something I never, ever do (which actually was fun because I viewed the blog the way the rest of the world does).  On the right hand side are various ways to scroll through the blog, one section is called “Top Posts and Pages.”  Number 3 on that list today?

When to Hang on and When to Let Go

Absolute insanity!  And, for me, a sign that I need to stop with all the preface material and get to it.  So, here it goes…

If you had asked me, prior to recent self-examination, to place myself on the spectrum of Sentimental/holds on to every memento ever received – Unsentimental/throws away everything but the kitchen sink, I would have placed myself in the middle of the spectrum, possibly leaning towards the unsentimental side of things.  And I think, perhaps, that I have been suffering a bit of self-delusion.

Here comes the big reveal:  the dishes above are the dishes from which my kids eat at almost every meal.  They are the same ones they have been using for, I will say, close to eight years now.

I seriously just stopped typing and put my head in my hands.  When I type it out this way, I realize the insanity of it all.  My daughter is about to enter high school, and she is using the same plate and cup that she used in first grade!

The first step is admitting you have a problem.

And, indeed, I do have a problem.  My husband has been gently prodding me to get rid of these dishes for quite some time now, and each time he gets a little less gentle.  Yesterday, as I am organizing the house for some out-of-town visitors, I came across some old, barely used melamine dishes that I had once used as patio dishware in our old home.  We don’t have a patio now, so they have, in essence, sat in storage for the past 8 years.

Now, the reason I have been citing as an excuse to keep the current dishes in rotation to my husband is that they are kids, and thus cannot be trusted with glassware and fragile plates.  We have granite counter tops, and a ceramic floor, so when things break, they really break.  Why bother with this kind of danger?  I will just wait until the next big sale at Kohl’s, get some Corelle, and then I will get rid of the kiddie-ware.

Except, of course, that I never actually went looking for those sales, I would conveniently forget to do that every time I went shopping.  Or I would wander past, and then decide it’s too big a decision to make by myself, so I’ll wait until someone is with me before I actually purchase.

So when I came upon the solution to the dishware dilemma, right in my own home, I knew the time had come.  And I gathered up the dishes, put them in a pile to be thrown out (last night was trash night), and kept on going with the organizational work.  I wound up accomplishing a lot yesterday, and had many bags to put out by the curb.

But the only thing that didn’t go out:  the pile of kid dishes.  First rationalization:  I want to take pictures since I am going to write about it.  Got that done, still plenty of time to gather them up and walk them to the curb.  Second rationalization:  The “new” dishes I found didn’t include bowls, what if the dishwasher hasn’t been run, and the kids want ice cream for dessert?

So, here they sit, on my kitchen table.  This picture is as up-to-the-minute as you can get:

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The new centerpiece for my kitchen table!

I keep reminding myself that I am not overly emotional, nor am I overly attached to sentimental things.  I just came across my wedding album, that had been severely damaged in a basement flood.  I was glancing through it, and it was much worse off than I realized.  I was disappointed, but certainly did not lose any sleep over it.

So why can’t I throw out these dishes?

I really can’t get a handle on it, but I know that there is something almost physical that’s stopping me from pulling the trigger on this thing.  I refuse, I mean REFUSE, to box them up and store them away like they are memorabilia, so that’s not an option.  I’m writing this without a real solution, or “a-ha!” moment (I was kind of hoping one might come to me as I type, no such luck), I guess the best I can say for myself is that taking them from their rightful place in the cabinet, and replacing them with other dishware, is certainly a giant leap forward.  Now, if I can just purchase some fun, sassy replacement bowls and cups, then maybe , just maybe, by next trash night, I will be ready, once and for all, to say good-bye to the childhood china.

Or, maybe, you will be channel-surfing one night, land on A&E, and come across me, gray-haired, sitting in a pile of kids’ clothes, toys, trophies and artwork, and insisting that I may need them again someday…

Today’s Miracle:

That my kids are as well-adjusted as they seem to be, given the idiosyncrasies of their Mother?

M(3), 7/7: Women Suffer Too

Happy Monday to all.  For those in the US, hope everyone had some spectacular fireworks over the weekend (literal, not metaphorical)!

As it is the first Monday of the month, we covered a personal story in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, and this week I selected the story “Women Suffer Too.”  The author of the story, Marty M., was a pioneer of Alcoholics Anonymous, went on to author two different books on alcoholism, and founded the National Council on Alcoholism.  She is also one of the very first female members of Alcoholics Anonymous to achieve long-term sobriety.

Which, if you have ever read her story, is an absolute miracle considering how low the disease of alcoholism took her.

What’s great about meetings like the one I run is hearing the different parts of the reading selection that stood out for people.  For me, reading Marty’s story, I marveled at how descriptively she painted her alcoholic bottom.  Although I share little in common with her story, I could relate to so much of the feelings she experienced while in active addiction.  Reading her story reminds me what active addiction is really like, and why I never want to relive it.

I also appreciate how compellingly she writes of life in recovery.  The 12 steps, she claims, did so much more than keep her sober, they gave her a peace of mind that she had previously never experienced.  I can relate to this viewpoint, and why I can now be grateful for the disease of addiction, as it has provided me with a set of coping skills for life.  This past weekend, I read a wonderful blog post over at Process Not An Event where Robert presents a rebuttal of sorts to an article that criticizes the effectiveness of AA.  My predominant response to articles that criticize AA is sadness:  it makes me sad that there is any kind of need or desire to criticize a program where the membership is free, the only requirement to be there is a desire to be a member, and there are no rules whatsoever, just suggestions to improve your life.  Take what you want and leave the rest… tell me what there is to criticize here!  Marty M.’s story reminds me why I am so privileged to have found this program.

So that was my take-away from the story.  From my share, we veered in as many directions as there were people in the room.  One person’s take-away was how impressive he found Marty’s ability to go from being unable to believe in a Higher Power (she originally fancied herself “too intellectual” to accept any kind of spirituality in her life), to being such a strong advocate of AA.  Her story will resound with the many beginners who struggle with a belief in a power greater than themselves.

Along those lines, another attendee found Marty’s ability to transcend the inherent selfishness of addiction to be the highlight of the story.  The key for all of us in finding our spiritual path is to first disavow ourselves of the notion that the world revolves around us!  Once we can start looking outside of ourselves, rather than perpetually seeking to satisfy our every perceived desire, we will find ourselves heading in the right spiritual direction.

Yet another attendee found the section of the story where Marty describes herself (and the rest of us who call ourselves alcoholics) as a “long-time escapist.”  He considers himself very fortunate to have never had a desire to drink since entering the program (some quarter of a century ago!), but through his years he has certainly found other means of wanting to escape some of the harsher realities of life.  He is able to put these lesser “escape hatches” into perspective by continuing to work his 12-step program and staying on solid spiritual ground.  It’s less about the disease of addiction, and more about the human condition, he thinks, to want to temporarily escape life problems from time to time!

Finally, a gentleman newer to the program appreciated the author’s evolution from a person full of self-loathing, life in shambles, and a physically wrecked,  to a person who has contributed so much to our 12-step program, and to the world in general.  He sees this evolution as something to which he can aspire.  His motivation for entering the 12-step program was how he felt he could no longer live with himself as a person, and he aspires to be a person of respect, first with himself, and then hopefully with others as Marty has done.

One story, endless viewpoints, and so much to learn from one another!

Today’s Miracle:

Just returning from an amazing mini-vacation with the family, and still reveling in the gratitude for all the wonderful memories we made!

Book Review: Jennifer Weiner’s All Fall Down

 

In a complete departure from my usual ramblings on this blog, I would like to present to you a review of my first summer read.  I have been out of the reading habit entirely for months now, but recently read a post from Momma Bee in which she was just starting Jennifer Weiner’s latest.  I love Weiner’s books for a number of reasons:

  1. I love chick lit
  2. Her novels are predominantly set in the Philadelphia area
  3. Her heroines typically have a sarcastic sense of humor, and typically struggle with weight issues

So for those reasons alone I dug out my electronic reader and downloaded it, no questions asked.  Then, I read the plot summary, and I thought, “This is either going to go really well, or I am not going to make it through the first chapter.”  I will read you the summary on the book jacket:

Allison Weiss got her happy ending—a handsome husband, adorable daughter, a job she loves, and the big house in the suburbs. But while waiting in the pediatrician’s office, she opens a magazine to a quiz about addiction and starts to wonder…Is a Percocet at the end of the day really different from a glass of wine? Is it such a bad thing to pop a Vicodin after a brutal Jump & Pump class…or if your husband ignores you?

The pills help her manage the realities of her good-looking life: that her husband is distant, that her daughter is acting out, that her father’s Alzheimer’s is worsening and her mother is barely managing to cope. She tells herself that they let her make it through her days…but what if her increasing drug use, a habit that’s becoming expensive and hard to hide, is turning into her biggest problem of all?

-Overview, All Fall Down, Jennifer Weiner

For those reading who may not be familiar with my back story, I started this blog as I began my journey of recovery from addiction to prescription painkillers, an addiction that started just as Allison’s did:  legitimately prescribed medication for a back injury.

I am happy to say that I made it through the book; as a matter of fact, I made it through in a weekend.  If I was not reading the book, I was talking about it, or thinking about it; it haunted me until I read the last page.

Before I continue in this glowing review, I should add a caveat:  this book was compelling for me because so much of it mirrored my own experience with addiction.  I cannot speak unbiased about the book, because it felt a lot like reading a biography.

Allison’s descent into addiction, her feelings of denial, her defensiveness of her secret, her ability to see only the faults of her loved ones rather than her own, was written so convincingly that I wondered if Weiner herself might have experienced this problem first hand.  If she hasn’t, then she should be lauded for her realistic portrayal of the thought process behind addiction, because she must have done an enormous amount of research.

Some of the smaller details of the book were told so well, it was difficult for me to read, it brought back such vivid memories.  Allison’s weight loss that was a direct result of her addiction is one such example.  As Allison grows more and more invested in her addiction, she becomes less and less interested in eating.  She loses weight, a lifelong goal, but along with the weight she loses her complexion, any shine or texture to her hair, and any motivation to care about her appearance.  When she received compliments on her weight loss, she fights the urge to giggle uncontrollably and blurt out the truth on “her secret diet.”

Her depiction of attending rehab as a middle-aged white woman was so realistic, she very well may have used my rehab stay as her research.

Allison’s evolution into her 12-step meeting attendance, from leaving the first meeting convinced she was not as bad as the rest of them, to her anxiously awaiting the time for her next meeting to start, describes precisely how I, and countless others, describe our feelings about the Fellowship.  I actually wished Weiner would have expanded this part of the story a bit further, and written a little more about the 12-step process.

Lest I go on forever extolling the virtues of this novel, I will point out that there is certainly some predictability in the flow of the story line, and of course there are some elements that seem written in advance for a movie script (the plot about the musical in the rehab has the book veering off course for a short while).  These points are incredibly minor, and are easily forgiven by the honest portrayal I was privileged to read.

There are many wonderful books about addiction, and what addiction looks like, on the market; I know a great many of them from reading the amazing blogs of others in recovery, and I have enjoyed them all.  What makes this book stand out is the drug of choice as its centerpiece:  I have personally never read a book that described the arc of pill addiction quite like this book does, and I am so glad it is out there for others to read as well.

If you are interested in understanding how in the world an average, middle-aged, suburban woman with no history of any kind of trouble-making at all could possibly get to the point of needing rehab, then look no further, and pick up a copy of All Fall Down.

Today’s Miracle:

Publishing this post at all.  I have never done a review in my life, and have been terrified of this entire process (am I breaking copyright laws?  Am I allowed to put the picture of the book?  Does anyone give a s&%$ about my opinion?), but the book made enough of an impact on me that I had to share it!

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