I’ve been wanting to share a story that happened a few weeks ago, during a time when a bunch of things were happening at once, so I needed time to process it along with all the other things, before I could write about it. I have written numerous posts about the trials and tribulations of parenting (here’s one, and another, and another, just as examples), and it seems, of late, that subject material is plentiful. If it’s not one child, it’s the other, and the best I can hope for is to keep my head above water these days. And when life feels like chasing one crisis after the other, it’s easy to let self-pity creep in… Woe is me! Nobody has all the drama I have! Where is my Higher Power when I need Him?
So let me set the stage for this story: it is mid-week, and I’m hustling to get elementary school child out the door for his 8 am chorus rehearsal. Middle school kid is already on the bus. As I’m giving directives (make sure your schoolbag is packed, get your saxophone, etc.) I glance over to the cubby where the schoolbags are packed and see that basketball sneakers have been left behind by the daughter who is already gone. Now, this may not seem like a huge deal, unless you are armed with the knowledge that this child forgets something… lunch, sneakers, once she got onto the bus and left her entire school bag in the garage… at least once a week, sometimes more. I am running late as it is, and her school is 10 minutes further away than the elementary school I am driving to, but I calculate, and tell my son to move even faster, because we are dropping off the sneaks before I take him. I am into the garage, and he says, “I can’t find my saxophone.”
A couple of things should be noted here:
- The saxophone is not a small instrument, and is made even larger by its carrying case. It would be very difficult to misplace.
- The saxophone is a very expensive instrument.
- The saxophone, and lessons, were something that my son had to sell us on; we did not believe he was responsible enough to take this on.
Needless to say, I am not a happy camper at this point. We determine that the best possible scenario is that he left it at school (which is a side story/lecture that could fill another post), but suffice it to say that I am ranting and raving about this issue for the entire ride to the middle school to drop off the forgotten sneakers. We are, no exaggeration, pulling up to the school, so have been in the car for at least 10 minutes, and my son says, “Maybe I took the saxophone upstairs to my bedroom.”
I will just let your imagination run wild with my response to that conjecture.
By the time I unloaded him at his school, and was driving by myself, I was beside myself. My poor husband made the mistake of calling to check in on me (he knew part of the calamity that was the morning), and I unloaded on him. “I used to pride myself on being a stay at home mom, so that I could be there for my children, no matter what. There was a time when being able to run a forgotten item to school made me feel good,” I said. “But now I’m afraid I have engaged too much, and I’m doing them a disservice. I’m so involved that they feel no sense of responsibility!” We talked it through and decided that, going forward, I needed to let them suffer the consequences for their lapses, and that is how they would learn.
About an hour went by, I was running various errands, and my phone rang, it was the middle school calling. I answered, and it was the Vice Principal of the school. My daughter has been in that school for 3 years now, and I have never received a phone call from anyone other than the nurse, so I was more curious than anything else. My daughter is definitely the one I fear school phone calls from the least. Anyway, the Vice Principal, who seems to be very intelligent, and very concerned staff member, starts by telling me a story of his earliest days as an educator, and how he was out to save the world, and some student who seemed to be slightly off-track, so he contacts the parents, and, long story short, the parents try to have him fired. So, for him, lesson learned, he will only do things by the book from now on. I am interested, but am connecting no dots with how this story relates to me. He then says, “Do you remember meeting me at the “coffee klatch” (an informal parent/teacher gathering)?” I confirm that I do, and he goes on to say, “Well, I remember you, because you asked some insightful questions, and were so interested, and so engaged, and I was very impressed by your level of involvement.”
I would like to editorialize at this point in the story: there were only about a dozen parents, and the whole point of the coffee klatch was for parents to get to know the teachers and administrators. By no means did I do anything extraordinary in that meeting.
So again, to make a long story short (and this was long, we were on the phone for an hour), he just wanted to share with me some generalized concerns he had about my daughter. There was nothing concrete, and no disciplinary action, but because I presented as such an “involved parent,” he wanted to speak with me informally and let me know his thoughts.
I am, of course, glossing over the emotion involved in getting such a phone call, and the fact that there was any concern at all about my daughter. I kid you not, she is an angel, so it floored me that she would come to anyone’s attention in a negative way. So, much to process on my end, and the long and short of that part of the story is a good one. My husband and I were able to communicate with her in a very positive way, and, since then, there has been nothing but good that has come out of that issue. I am forever indebted to the Vice Principal.
But the more relevant reason for my sharing this story: if ever there is doubt in my mind that God is listening to me, I will have only to recall this day in my mind to clear away my doubt. The very same morning that I voiced out loud my concern that I was “over-engaged” in the lives of my children, I receive a phone call from a seasoned professional telling me that he is only speaking to me this candidly because he appreciated how engaged I was in the lives of my children.
There are God moments, and then there are God moments!
I started writing this post yesterday afternoon, but was prevented from finishing it due to schedule conflicts. In the interim, I “ran into” (no coincidences) the Vice Principal himself! I was able to shake his hand and tell him how much his reaching out meant to me. Crazy good stuff!
I am back to another chapter in the series “Friends Who Stick By Troubled Friends.” As I mentioned in my last post on this subject, I am writing this series in the sequence with which old friends came back into my life as I began my journey of recovery.
So now I shall tell you the story of my friendship with Jerry. Another friendship of about a quarter century, Jerry and I met in Marketing 201 our sophomore year in college. I came to find out that we had mutual friends, but for whatever reason did not connect our freshman year. No matter, what we missed out in terms of friendship that year we more than made up for the following three years. I pretty much followed Jerry around like a puppy, and am grateful to this day that he allowed me to do so. As soon as my friendship with Jerry took root, my college experience blossomed in ways it never would have without him. All of the sudden, the parts of campus life I had never even considered before meeting him… student government, residence life, social life with sports teams… all of these quintessential college activities became written into my life story. When I think back to my college experience, I do so with a huge smile… my college life was a blast. I owe almost all of those experiences to my friend Jerry.
By the time I was a senior in college, I intended to be a lawyer, and had completed the checklist in pursuit of that goal. I had taken the law school preparatory exam, was admitted entrance into a law school, and had made those announcements to my family and friends. But, in the meantime, I had been slowly gaining an interest in the job I currently held as a Resident Advisor at my college. It was my friend Jerry who helped me make the first giant life-changing decision I had ever made: instead of attending law school, I changed direction, and made plans to pursue a Master’s in education. I still get butterflies when I think of the courage it took me to make that change. I remember sitting down with my Dad to explain it to him, hastily taking another set of entrance exams, applying to an entirely different school, and many other smaller changes that added up to a whole new future. If it were not for Jerry, I would be on an entirely different path right now.
Because, in the midst of those changes, some miracles came into being, I was able to stay on the campus and work at my undergraduate university while pursuing my Master’s. In so doing, I was able to meet, befriend, date, and ultimately marry the love of my life, and subsequently live the life I am living today. When I trace the path backwards, it all begins with Jerry, and his tremendous influence.
But I digress! In the meantime, Jerry and I continued our friendship, and our education, as we each pursued our Master’s. It was at this stage in our lives that we were truly inseparable. We worked together, we took classes together, we studied together, and we spent our leisure time together. Usually that meant watching television, as we both held jobs in residence life, taking care of a college campus. Golden Girls, Empty Nest, ER, Knots Landing… when I see anything related to any of those shows, I think of Jerry and smile.
Through all of the stress of getting our degrees, through weddings, funerals, work dramas, through thick and thin, Jerry and I were there for each other. Jerry was standing right next to me when I got the phone call that my Dad had a heart attack. He followed me to the hospital, was there when they pronounced him dead, and practically lived with me through the week we arranged his funeral. And that is just one of many big life experiences that we shared. We developed a short-hand vocabulary to let each other know when we were in crisis. For example, “taking out the insurance policy,” to this day means “I need to tell you something in the utmost of confidence, and I need your complete attention, stat!” Through the course of 25 years, I have taken out quite a few of those polices, and written a few as well!
So you would think, with all this background, it would have been a very simple process… “Hey Jerry, I need to take out the insurance policy, because I’m having some issues with addiction.” No, sadly, it did not go this way at all. Poor Jerry was one of the friends I kept completely in the dark throughout my active addiction. I did my utmost to put on a good show for him, and have him believe all was well and good, and I was fairly successful with that charade for a time.
I still have a lot of shame in admitting this next part: I was not the one to tell Jerry about my problems with addiction. My husband, in his desperation, reached out to Jerry, as they were friends for all this time as well. I think I was about 3 weeks sober when it occurred to me that I had not reached out to Jerry, and something in my gut told me that my husband may have already spilled the beans. Coward that I was, I sent a text, and asked Jerry if he had spoken to Dan. One word reply: Yes. Oh boy, I can still remember the feeling I had when I got that reply. I arranged a time for us to speak on the phone, and I couldn’t sit still for hours before that phone call. And it was as awkward, and painful, as ever a conversation I have had with Jerry, and hope to God I will never have again. He was still, weeks later, in a state of shock… how could this have happened, and he not know about it? How could I have done this to my husband, my children, my friends? How can he ever trust me again?
And, another miracle: through his pain, his confusion, his anger, he continued to talk to me. He said he didn’t know what to do for me, but he wanted to try to figure it out. Most important, he was willing to stick with me through this crisis. And did he ever, we talked more in those next few weeks than we had in years, and he applauded every milestone I hit. When I started this blog, I believe he was my third follower, and still reads every post I publish (won’t he be surprised when he reads today’s?).
If you are very, very fortunate in life, you will meet a person that you know, deep down, will have your back no matter what. Jerry is that person for me… no matter what happens, if I need something, he will be there, no questions asked… especially if I take out the insurance policy.
Being able to replay a 25-year old friendship, and write it down for the world to witness, is a miracle and a blessing!
If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got. -W.L. Bateman
Years ago, my Mom was driving up to the college I attended to visit me. I’m not sure if it was her first time driving on her own, or she just took a wrong turn somewhere, but she got lost, and it took her a while to find her way to the campus (this was before the age of GPS and cell phones). When she finally arrived, she was in a state, and exclaimed, “I could see the college, but I just couldn’t get to the college!” This quote has stood the test of time amongst my group of friends, and we will still occasionally throw it out there.
Fast forward a couple of decades. My husband and I are sitting on a beach and I was trying to open up about my struggles with recovery (this was during the 8 months where I was trying and failing). I said to him, “I can see where I want my life to be, but it’s like it’s sitting across a crowded freeway. I can see the destination, but I have no idea how to get there.”
So what’s the answer when we know what we want, or as the case may sometimes be, what we don’t want, but we’re completely unsure how to enact the right change? In using my own journey of recovery as a reference point, I believe the answer is simply do something. If you don’t like your current circumstances, whatever they may be, then the plain truth is that you have to change something. I can hear the defenses going up…. but what do I change? what if I make things worse? what if I create a new set of problems? I know all of these defenses because I’ve used them all myself, about a thousand times. They are the rationalizations of someone who wants to remain stagnant.
When you make a change, then the outcome is uncertain. But if you know you don’t like the current circumstances, and you refuse to make a change, then the outcome is certain… you will continue to live and feel the exact way you do now. When you look at it that way, the answer is pretty simple!
As someone who really, really, really hates feeling cold, I have so appreciated this balmy 40 degree day (for the past week, we have been living in the teens, temperature-wise, in the Northeast), and it is supposed to get even warmer tomorrow!
Don’t look back and ask, “Why?” Look ahead and ask, “Why not?” When it comes to your dreams and goals, be too positive to be doubtful, too optimistic to be fearful, and too determined to be defeated. -Unknown
Today we experienced bad weather in my part of the world. More accurately, my children’s school district decided about 12 hours ahead of schedule that we would experience bad weather, and gave the schools a two-hour delay. Why rain in 40 degree weather would warrant this decision is beyond my comprehension, but, hey, I’m powerless, right? Bottom line: my normal Wednesday schedule is off, I couldn’t get to the meeting I absolutely love on Wednesdays, and instead, time constraints had me going to a meeting I really don’t enjoy much at all.
But I committed to myself, almost a year ago, that come what may, I would attend a meeting every day for the first year of sobriety, and I am closing in on that particular deadline. And since an uninspiring meeting is better than no meeting at all, I went, and now I am happier for it. And the quote above is true, because I remember thinking, months ago, that there is no earthly reason I couldn’t attend a meeting every day for a year. And that positive, optimistic, determined attitude had me at a meeting whether I was at home, down the shore, visiting relatives, celebrating holidays, enduring schedule changes, and yes, even inclement weather (or, more importantly, the school district’s idea of inclement weather).
Making a commitment and sticking to it… who knew it could be so rewarding?
Being grateful that I am not on the School Board making tough decisions, rather than plotting out the various revenge strategies I could inflict upon them (believe me, I have wasted time on this in the past)!
Problems are not the problem; coping is the problem. –Virginia Satir
Today I had three separate occasions where I reviewed the coping skills I use in recovery, so I guess that is a sign I should write on the subject. An inventory of these skills is useful, for a couple of reasons. First, it gives me an opportunity to see how far I’ve come, and the positive steps I’ve taken to handle life on life’s terms. Second, it allows me to see the areas in which I can use improvement. Finally, it reminds me that there are a lot of tools in my tool belt, and, particularly this time of year, it is necessary to remember that I have what I need not just to survive the holidays, but to thrive.
Here are the coping skills I use to help with life stressors. I could write a separate post on each one, but I doubt anyone wants to read for that long. In no particular order…
- Prayer (I can’t stress this one enough, if you are a non-believer, give it a shot, He will meet you where you’re at!)
- Honesty (it just makes life simpler)
- Communication (keeping things bottled up only makes a bad situation worse)
- The Fellowship of AA
- Practicing Gratitude (hard to grab onto when times are tough, but eventually it works)
- Reaching out a hand to help someone (nothing gets me out of my own head faster)
- Remembering that I live One Day At A Time (this is the one that can bring instant relief in times of stress)
- Keeping structure to my day
- Practicing restraint (taking a breath and waiting to communicate until I can do so effectively)
- Focusing on the solution rather than the problem
I hope everyone reading is having such a stress-free life that they need no coping skills at all; if not, I hope this list helps someone out today!