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About 6 years ago, I was on a girl’s weekend with some of my female family members.  We spent a weekend at my cousin’s vacation home on an exclusive island off the coast of North Carolina (lucky her).  On that weekend, we took a boating trip (because, of course, what would a vacation home on an exclusive island be without a boat?), and many of the girls wanted to try their hand at tubing off the back.  There was an enormous tube that could easily hold 2 at a time, and it was attached to the back of the boat with a long rope.  Once the boat was in full gear, it was not unlike an amusement park ride…  except that you are not harnessed in.

Consequently, I was one of the least interested in taking this ride.

On the other hand, I am very susceptible to goading, and I received plenty of it from my cousins.  So I watched as, one by one, the girls jumped onto the tube, the boat would accelerate, and, like one of those bull rides in a honky-tonk bar, it would be a matter of seconds before they would go flying off the tube into the water.  Exhilarating for them (I assume, since they would jump right back onto the tube to try again), more and more anxiety-producing for me.  Finally, it was my turn, as I could take the nagging no longer, and I got myself situated.  I asked one of the veterans, “any advice?” and she said, “hang on, and don’t let go, no matter what.”

Sounds ridiculous, but those words were like a mantra as the boat sped up.  And hang on I did, I was the first and only to not fall off the tube for an entire ride.  To this day I remember the feeling:  arms aching, wind and water stinging my face, boat motor roaring through my ears, waves bouncing the tube, and me, like a popcorn kernel in the microwave bag, but I knew if I just “hung on, no matter what,” I would get to the other side.

Sometimes, when I think of parenting my children during this time of their lives (13 and 11), I am reminded of the feeling I had on that tube.  There is a barrage of issues, both large and small, when it comes to raising children.  It’s not a question of whether or not there will be waves, it’s a question of how often they hit, and how big the waves will be.

In recovery, it is often said that sometimes the only thing you can do in a given day is not drink, and that is a huge accomplishment.  I often feel the same way about parenting:  sometimes the best thing I can say about my job as a mother is that both kids have made it through the day intact, that they are in one piece and under the same roof as me when we go to bed.  And I feel as grateful for that as I do for not taking a drink that day.

I wrote last week of the struggles I am having with my daughter and her varsity basketball team.  This struggle, I assume, will continue for the rest of the season, and the best thing I can say about it is that it is a learning experience for both my daughter and me, and an opportunity to have a dialogue about her feelings.

Yesterday I faced an issue with my son: a problem with a fellow student, who lied to school authorities to keep himself out of trouble.  Now my son is being judged for doing something he did not do.  It would not be worth the time it would take to write out all of the nuances of this story, but where it becomes an issue for me is that at the end of it, my son was made to apologize for something he did not do, and the boy in question had no repercussions whatsoever.  In other words, they believed the troublemaker, and blamed the victim.

So here I sit, The Least Confrontational Person in the World, and now I have to take on the Principal of my son’s school.

Something tells me that this tube ride is going to take a bit longer than the one I described at the beginning of this post.  God willing, I will have the same feeling of excitement and accomplishment at the end.

I will, of course, provide an update when I have one.

Today’s Miracle:

As I was running this issue around in my mind in the car this morning, Katy Perry’s Roar came on the radio.  Which, of course, is not a miracle by itself, since that song comes on every 3 minutes.  But the opening words caught my attention, I had never listened to more than the chorus before:

I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat and make a mess
So I sat quietly, agreed politely
I guess that I forgot I had a choice
I let you push me past the breaking point
I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything

I am taking this as a sign:  time to stand up and roar!

Lather, Rinse, Repeat: The Shame Cycle

M, D3, R

I have been told my daughter is a mini-me… what do you think?

It was a low-key recent Saturday morning, and my husband called me over to the computer to watch a video with Dr. Brene Brown talking about shame.  At one point Dr. Brown remarked that specific memories can bring up shame for us, and, as I listened, a personal childhood memory popped into my head.

I couldn’t tell you my exact age, but I was old enough to make my own toast for breakfast, which I had done the Saturday morning this event took place.  My childhood home had myself, my three siblings, two parents, a grandparent and a dog all living under one roof, and consequently there were always multiple things going on at any given time.  So I happily buttered my toast, then sat down to eat it and watch Saturday morning cartoons (this was during the era when you could only watch cartoons on Saturday morning, kids these days don’t understand how good they have it!).  Unbeknownst to me, my mother had taken note of how many pieces of toast I had made for myself, which was apparently too many, because suddenly I was the focus of her attention; an unusual occurrence, given the number of people in one household.  In this particular case, being the center of attention was not a good thing.  “Do you have any idea how bad that is for you?!?” she exclaimed.  “How could you possibly even think to eat all of that?”

As I re-read the nuts and bolts of that story, it doesn’t look at all horrifying; in fact, it is probably a commonplace occurrence in the average American household.  But I can tell you, it is at least 30 years later, and I can still feel the shame in the pit of my stomach when I recall that incident.  I can place myself in the room in which it took place, 70’s decor and all.  That feeling is one that would repeat itself, time and again, through the next 3 decades of my life.

So I recall the incident, I finish watching the video, and I walk into the kitchen to thank my husband for showing me the video.  Instead of my husband, I find my 13-year old daughter pouring herself some cereal out of a Tupperware container, which is now almost empty.  The problem is that I had only filled the container two days before.  The container easily holds 12 servings of cereal, possibly more, so in doing this math, I am quite alarmed, and I start my interrogation:  who has been eating this cereal?  The discovery portion of this investigation yields that my daughter has eaten the lion’s share of this cereal in the past two days.  I point to the Tupperware container in astonishment, and I exclaim, “Do you realize that this container holds 12 servings of cereal, and it now almost empty?”  She just looks at me with an expression that in all likelihood mirrored the expression I had when my mother admonished me for the toast.

Sometimes when I say there are no coincidences, I say it with some sadness.  I have shame as I am typing the story of how I handled The Cereal Incident.

I am no expert on shame and parenting, but I believe that if I were to read up on the subject, I would find that it is not a good thing to use shame as a parenting tool.  Since my daughter has entered adolescence, I have been vigilant in how people speak to her about eating, because I know from personal experience the outcome of using shame to change a child’s eating decisions.  Not too long after my issue with the toast is when I decided that food was best enjoyed in solitude, I began to eat in private, and the results of that decision have ultimately led me into recovery from substances other than food.  So I have said to my husband, when he feels frustrated by my hampering of his conversations with our daughter, “Look, I don’t claim to have all the answers.  I only know what not to do, because of what has happened to me.”

And yet, here I am, fresh off of listening to Dr. Brene Brown, and doing the exact opposite of what I have been preaching for years.

So how to handle the situation where your child is making decisions that are the opposite of what you have taught them?  I have been very, very open about my struggles with weight.  I truly believe in open communication with children when they are old enough to hear it, and, at 13, my daughter needs to hear about the consequences of overeating.  And who better to tell her than someone who has lived through it?  So we have had multiple conversations.  I am honest with her about my bad decisions (regarding weight, we are not quite up to mind-altering substances yet, but that conversation is coming soon), and the way the consequences affected my entire life.

At the same time, who better than me to have empathy for poor eating decisions?  Because I still make bad choices, all the time!  So why would I react with frustration to a child who is doing as I have done (and, let’s face it, am doing)?  There are no easy answers here, at least none of which I am aware.  For now, I keep the lines of communication open, I make amends when I make mistakes like the one I just described, and I attempt to be observant for patterns of behavior.  And the end result?  I guess time will tell…

Today’s Miracle:

It’s All In Your Head

Here are two facts about me:

1.  I am extremely prone to motion sickness.  One of my earliest memories is not being able to stomach a trip to the local mall.  Side note: we had a behemoth 1975-ish Chevy Impala, I threw up, and my two older sisters turned into contortionists… to this day I don’t know how they got so far into the opposite corner of the back seat.

2.  I can be an extremely excitable person, particularly when I believe I am being delivered an injustice of any kind. Smart-alecky friends have been known to take advantage of this fact, and start rumors such as “Josie is the president of the Robin Williams fan club,” just to see me all fired up.

Now, knowing these two facts, imagine how I reacted when my cousin told me I should just go on an amusement park ride, because, “motion sickness is all in your head, and you can talk yourself out of it.”

Perhaps I should take him up on his offer, and allow him to sit beside me as we ride, I’m pretty sure that would teach him!

This glimpse into some banal facts about me is really just a backdrop into the real topic:  how much of what we deal with is “all in our heads?”  Despite my outrage over my cousin’s commentary, I have come to realize that I believe this statement more than I realize.  Except, of course, when it comes to motion sickness.

One example, and I know I am going to raise a few eyebrows with this one, but I personally have a hard time with the disease concept of alcoholism.  I am allowed to say that, since I am an alcoholic, along the same lines as:  I can criticize my family, but you better not try.  I certainly believe that I had an obsession, that, try as I did, I could not expel.  I believe that if I choose to alter my mind again with a substance, that obsession will return, but disease?  That is one that confounds this alcoholic.  I don’t waste a lot of time on it, just like I don’t waste a lot of time wondering when I crossed the line from enjoying a drink to craving one… I just did, that is my reality, and I will, for today, deal with my reality.

But I find the “all in your mind” mentality pervades other areas of my life, and I’m wondering if it’s something I need to explore.  Most recent example, and I have been giving periodic updates, but I have embarked on a fitness program.  Long story short, I have gone from zero exercise to considering participating in a 5k. August was to be dedicated to training for this event, to see how much of a 5k I could run (versus walking), and how low I could get my time down.  In my mind, if I could run at least half, and get my time under 45 minutes, I was set to do it.

And then, out of nowhere, I sustained an injury.  I really mean out of nowhere, because I still don’t know what the hell happened.  One minute, I’m jogging, the next minute, I almost fell over, because my leg couldn’t support me.

I could go into boring detail, but who really cares?  I am not a physical therapist, and I have never, and I mean never, been an athletic person, so I have never dealt with a sports injury of any kind.  So I look to my fellow supporters who have dealt with this, and I take every suggesting they give me (except go to the doctor, that is a last resort, and a topic for another post).

After an entire week of resting it, stretching it, icing it, I attempt to resume my training (treadmill this time).  Within 3 minutes, the pain is back, and I am limping again.

Again, long story short, I try everything I can think of, but the minute my legs go into running mode, this pain comes back.  So my husband, quite logically, says, “Well then just walk.”  Sensible, right?

But, and here is the real point:  I can’t wrap my mind around it.  Seriously.  I know it’s ridiculous, but I can’t make myself grasp the concept that I am restricted from the activity of running.  I just keep thinking that I can figure out a way past this injury.

It’s this kind of thinking that reminds me that I’m an alcoholic, and that I will never be “cured” (of the disease that I still question in theory!).  The normal person would just see that running is not working, and switch to another form of exercise.  My thinking?  I can beat this leg injury, dammit!  Nothing so stupid is going to keep me from this goal!

I am off to meet a friend (from AA) for a walk in the same park I sustained my injury.  I am going to explain this thought process to her, and she is (hopefully) going to help me see the error in my thinking.

The progress:  that I know that there is an error in my thinking.

Today’s Miracle:

That I am choosing exercise over sitting around, that I am meeting a friend from AA with whom to exercise, and that I will choose walking over re-injuring myself until I can figure this whole thing out!

The Death of Cookie

This sort of looks like Cookie, but, sadly, we never thought to memorialize her in photographic form!

I guess the title is just a tad misleading, so let me clarify… Cookie is (was) our pet hamster, and she lived with us for the past year and a half, until she peacefully passed away yesterday.  Rest in peace, Cookie.

There are a couple of reasons why I am including her passing as part of my blog.  First, Cookie has been indelibly intertwined with my recovery, because she was purchased by my husband about a week prior to the start of my recovery.  Why the last-minute purchase of a rodent that neither he nor I had any interest in, particularly during that stressful time in our family’s lives?  Yes, the kids had been pestering us for one, but they pester us for stuff all the time.  It was, more or less, an impulse purchase by my husband, and this is a man who rarely does anything by impulse.  So my guess is that a distraction was what he was looking for, but that is purely speculative, and probably irrelevant.

It may sound unfeeling and harsh, but when I think of Cookie in terms of her starting point, well, let’s just say that I am not sad to see her go.  It’s one less tie to a past I am working, day by day, from which to distance myself.

The next reason I am including this event is how to deal with the loss of a pet.  This, it should be said right up front, is with regard to the children.  Cookie’s purchase date notwithstanding, I had a thousand other reasons I did not want a pet hamster.  If there are hamster lovers reading this post, then my humblest apologies, but there is not one fun thing about having a pet hamster.  They do not interact, they sleep during the day, they run all night on a really loud wheel, and they scatter food within a 10-foot perimeter of their cage.  So, from my perspective, there was little emotional entanglement between Cookie and me.

But the children!  First, my daughter was the one to discover this tragedy.  She came to my husband and me, in distress, and said, “I think Cookie is dead!”  As it is 7 am, we attempt to assure her that Cookie is sleeping, like she typically does after a night of frantic wheel-racing.  My daughter says, “But she laying on her back with her feet up in the air!”  So we hurry over to the cage to verify, and, yep, that’s one dead hamster.  So the goal now is to calm my inconsolable daughter before she heads off to school.  Not an easy task, but we do the best we can, and she has at least stopped crying before she leaves for the day.  I do my best to process her feelings on the subject after school, and her biggest regret is not spending enough time taking care of Cookie, so we talked about the ways we did care for Cookie, and the good times Cookie had in our home (try doing all this with an appropriate expression on your face, I dare you!)

Onto my son… we call him down that morning to explain the situation.  His reaction, unsurprisingly, is a 180 from my daughter.  He had an instant morbid fascination with checking out the dead body.  Once we establish the crime scene and banish him from it, he was perfectly fine, it was as if Cookie never existed.  It should be noted that my son was the one on the “We Need A Hamster” campaign for months before my husband broke down and bought one, and now it’s as if he hadn’t a care in the world.  That is, until after school, when I indicated that I had taken care of Cookie’s “burial” on my own while he was in school.  Now he is the one in tears, asking me to go dig him up so we can have a proper funeral.  This provided me with the opportunity to discuss what is important about funerals, and how we can still hold a ceremony without the actual body.  Luckily, his distracted 10-year old personality worked to my favor this time, and the crisis was averted.   I suppose Karmic justice will eventually have me presiding over a memorial service soon, but if he doesn’t bring it up, I’m not bringing it up!

Today’s Miracle:

On a completely unrelated note, today’s miracle is that I have prepared, from scratch, a beautiful Boston creme pie for my Mother-in-law’s birthday tonight.  I will have to let you know if it tastes as good as it looks…

Don’t You Wish Everyone Had a Program?

Don’t think too much, or you’ll create a problem that wasn’t even there in the first place. -Unknown

I often hear people in the rooms of AA say that they wished everyone in life had the gift of the 12 steps.  Unfortunately, it usually takes some pretty serious problems to get someone in the doors of a recovery program, but if you follow the simple suggestions, you have a guide for living that makes most life problems much easier to solve.

The challenge, for me at least, is when I am faced with a problem that is not in my control.  When someone comes to me with their problem, but they are not armed with the tools I have been given.  Because, as anyone in recovery knows, trying to explain how we find peace and serenity, to an outsider, is like speaking another language… they want to understand, but simply cannot.

So the question becomes:  how to break down what I have been given into manageable chunks to someone who is not in recovery, but needs to find peace?  I used the quote above to apply to both ends of this dilemma.  One, if I focus too much on how I can solve the problems of the world, then I am doing the mental equivalent of banging my head against a wall.  I need to take my ego down a few notches and realize that just because I am in recovery does not mean I hold the answers to every problem in life.

But the quote also applies to the other side:  no matter how complex a given situation is, no matter how many layers it has, over thinking it just creates more problems.  A friend and I spent some time doing just that last night, and at the end of that discussion we were nowhere near solving the problem, all we did was create new worries.  So much for my recovery tool kit!

So, new day, new opportunity to hit the reset button!


Today’s Miracle:

I have people in my life that trust me enough to seek my advice.

Fear: A Mind Game

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’  You must do the thing you think you cannot do. –Eleanor Roosevelt

You hear it all the time:  You have nothing to fear but fear itself, and so on.  And, the best one:  just think differently about the situation you fear, and the fear goes away.  My response would involve several expletives, but, in essence:  Give me a break.  If I am deeply fearful, it would seem impossible to just think differently to make it all go away.

And yet…

The last couple of days I have been fearful about a potential upcoming situation.  Too long of a story for this post, but I fear being required to do something I truly believe would be wrong, and I am fearful about how to best respond to such a requirement.  All of this fear is projection, and may very well amount to a complete waste of mental time, but, again, try telling my mind to stop thinking about something?  It’s a joke.

So in yesterday’s post I mentioned I had a wonderful conversation with a friend.  Later in the evening I had another opportunity to exchange emails with some other long-time friends.  These emails have been so entertaining, I cannot even describe the fun I have had.  So when I sat down to write this post, I realized, that, while the actual day of the situation causing fear is upon me, my mindset is completely happy.  As I sat and realized it, I was astounded.  Dammit, I’m wrong again!  It is all in my head!!

So I guess I will endorse the one about thinking differently to make fear go away, but maybe tweak it a bit:  If you are sitting in fear, engage in something completely different to distract you from your thoughts.  Chances are you will be able to change your focus, because, believe me, if I can do it with my stubborn mind, anyone can.

Today’s Miracle:

Looking forward to a Thursday.  Normally this is the WORST day of the week for me, but today I got to get up early, attend a “Muffins with Mom” gig at my son’s school, spend quality time with my sister-in-law, and, finally, entertain her… our garage door would only open a foot, and I did not have a key, so I had to do an Evel Knievel roll (seriously, a roll, the space was not even large enough for me to crawl through) to get into my house.  We will both be laughing about my acrobatics for the rest of the day.  Maybe this is my new fitness routine?

Remembering the Past to Appreciate the Present

Be who you are and say what you feel,
because those who mind don’t matter,
and those who matter don’t mind. -Dr. Seuss

Like anything in life, sometimes recovery work sucks.  Going to a meeting every single day can feel like drudgery.  There are people who like to start their “shares” in the exact same way, and I tense up, because I’m already aggravated by the repetition (there is this one guy that says every single time he raises his hand, “I got sick and tire of being sick and tired.”  Insightful the first time you hear it.  Cute the 100th time.  Beyond aggravating the 1,000th time.).  And, no surprise here, my attitude going in has a lot to do with what I take out of each meeting.

And then there are those surprise a-ha moments…

Today my mindset was somewhere in the middle of “I can’t wait to see what I experience” and “Dear God let this go quickly.”  A woman was sharing about her feelings of isolation because no one in her “regular” life knows she is in recovery.  When I say no one, I mean no one… not even her husband.  He thinks she is at work when she is doing things for her recovery.  We had the opportunity to talk a bit, and I was able to share with her the benefits of just letting the cat out of the bag.  But that is not the point of this post.

The point is in that conversation, I was able to remember what it was like trying to be serious about a recovery program when few people in my life knew about it.  Keeping the two worlds…. recovery and regular life… separate was like a job.  Coming up with excuses for where I was going, remembering what to talk about and what not to talk about, keeping track of my stories… what an exhausting waste of time.

Today there is only a handful of people who do not know I am in recovery, and those people are mostly peripheral to my daily life anyway.  Obviously, the initial conversations (or, more accurately for me, the follow-up conversations because someone had beaten me to the punch) are painful on many levels.  But, my God, the rewards of simple honesty are so much greater, and so far-reaching, than those few uncomfortable moments of disclosure!  I am so grateful not to be where this woman is, or where I once was.

Fear and the Fourth Step

Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. -Dale Carnegie

Who reading this is sick of me saying that there are no coincidences?  Sorry, but, no coincidence that the day I am attempting to do my “fear inventory” is the same day I am embarking on the legal program I wrote about last week.

When I first started the fourth step inventory, I thought the fear inventory would be the second easiest of the four worksheets (the other three are Resentments, People I Have Harmed, and Sex… if you can’t guess which one will be the easiest than you haven’t been reading my blog very closely).  I don’t, or at least I didn’t, think of myself as a very fearful person.  I don’t worry much about any of the obvious things (probably I should be worrying about)… things like death, car accidents, and the like.

But when I sat down with the worksheet, prayed about it and really took the time, let’s put it this way… I had to go back to the photocopier three additional times to make room for all the fears I actually do have.  And, just a note to those readers who know me personally, yes, I did write down “fear of bedsores” on the worksheet, it should be interesting discussing this fear with my sponsor this weekend when I do my fifth step!

So on this particular day, I am experiencing the Fear of the Unknown, the Fear of Disapproval, the Fear of Confrontation, just to name a few.  What is interesting about this exercise is that just by naming the fears I am having, they seem to lessen in intensity.  As I writing them down for all of you to see, they lessen some more.

So I guess there is something to this whole idea of writing down all the crap in your life… Stay tuned for the outcome of today’s “inauguration,” as well as the completion of the 4th step!

There Are No Coincidences

Why are you in so much hurry?
Is it really worth the worry?
Look around, then slow down.
What’s it like inside the bubble?
Does your head ever give you trouble?
It’s no sin, trade it in.

Little River Band, Help is on its Way

The tagline below my blog title reads there are no coincidences.  For those who know me, there is a bit of irony here… for years, I have hounded my friends about the many amazing coincidences that are prevalent in our lives.  The expression that our group uses when something interesting happens is “log it!”  The idea behind logging the coincidences is that we will someday collaboratively write a book detailing all the amazingly coincidental things that have happened to us, and it was a game to see who could come up with the cover story (to date my friend Jim would win this award, but it would take entirely too long to detail his story).

Back when we started this game, the coincidences had nothing to do with spirituality or inspiration.  Today I play the same game, mostly with myself, but instead I look at them as God trying to direct me in my life.  If you ever decide you want to participate in this sport, be prepared to be amazed.  The signs are absolutely everywhere, and they are nothing short of amazing.  Every single day, sometimes multiple times in a day, I receive signs from God that help me to figure out if I am heading in the right direction, doing the next right thing, thinking the right way.  It is simply a matter of getting quiet, and focusing in the present moment.  It could be a phone call from a friend, something shared in an AA meeting, a post in a blog, or even a song on the radio.

Which is why I chose a song lyric as my quote.  This song, popular about 35 years ago, came on the radio as I was driving to a court appearance that was causing me a great deal of anxiety.  I took it as a sign to calm down, and, as I have written, things turned out miraculously.  Prior to this incident, I had not heard that song in decades.  Today, as I’m driving home and trying to figure out what to write in today’s post, guess what song came on the radio?  This is clearly a sign, either that I should write about all the amazing coincidences (that aren’t really coincidences) in my life…

Or that I should rally my readers to start a movement to reunite the Little River Band.  I’ll let you decide…

Levity in Recovery

Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive. –Elbert Hubbard

Yesterday I stumbled upon some disturbing information.  Quick background:  I have lived in my neighborhood for 6 years, and I really love my neighbors, they are a wonderful group of people and I have had some really fun times with them.  I have been sober for 232 days, so you can imagine how my neighbors know me.  Fortunately for me and for them, they know me more as the fun gal who likes to drink rather than the alcoholic I am.  For that reason, I made the decision, relatively early on, that my recovery is my personal business and I would only share the information if it becomes absolutely necessary.

Which, apparently, now it has.

So yesterday I am talking to a family member who also happens to be a neighbor, and she mentioned that one of our group believes that I no longer like her.  She has had two parties in my recovery, and both times I have consciously chosen to leave early due to the alcohol present.  I believed at the time that I had made gracious exits, and I have seen her since, so I was completely unaware that there was any trouble brewing.

The interpretation of my early exits from her parties?  She now believes I am a racist.  I actually laughed when I found this out, thinking I was being punk’d, but no, she really thinks I have difficulty being in a room with different ethnicities (my neighbor is in a mixed-race marriage, so I am unclear if she thinks I don’t like black people, Indian people, or just anyone other than myself).

Of course, I was horrified, and I will attempt to right this wrong thinking as soon as I can.  In my meeting today, the topic was about finding humor in our past addictive behavior, and being able to laugh at ourselves.  Normally, I have little to share at these types of meetings, but today I did, because, really, it is just comical!  I left a party early to help my recovery, and now I have to decide which is the lesser of two evils… letting them think I am a racist, or admitting I am an alcoholic?

You just can’t make this stuff up…

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