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A Valentine’s Story

It is February 14th, 2001.   It’s a Hump Day, and, other than the vague recollection that it is loosely considered a holiday,  a completely normal day for me.

Let me take a second to describe what a completely normal day looked like in 2001.  At this point I have been married for 15 months, a homeowner for 21 months, a mother for less than 9 months.  In other words, life moved pretty fast in those two years that preceded Valentine’s Day 2001.

Of all the decisions we made during that time, the biggest game-changer was the birth of our daughter, but not in the way you might think.  Well, yes, it certainly did change life in the way you might think, but we had some additional circumstances arise that set different chains of events in motion.  It should also go without saying that I am using the term “decision” loosely, as it would imply that we put a lot of time and effort into making whatever change we were making; the impetuosity of youth laughed in the face of any kind of future planning!

Reilly arrived 8 weeks early; we expected her in July, she decided she wanted out in the Spring instead.  So now, here we sit, brand new parents who didn’t think too far in advance what parenthood would entail, with a child that was fragile, to say the least.  She spent 3 weeks in the NICU before she came home to us, and by the grace of God came home small, but otherwise perfect.

What now?  For us, daycare was out of the question… how could we think of putting this little peanut into the hands of strangers?  On the other hand, we were young nowhere near what one might consider “financially solvent” (remember, young, recently married, recent homeowners).  So we scramble, and come up with a plan:  I will work part-time, my husband will switch to a second shift, and a family member will cover the approximately 8 hours that are uncovered.  Again, the grace of God was present that this all worked out.

So, teeny tiny daughter:  covered.  Mortgage payment:  covered.  Time spent as newlyweds?  Not so much.   Each day, my husband had the morning shift with Reilly while I rushed out to work, I came home, mid-day, he waited long enough for me to get changed, and off he went.  By the time he got home, I was in bed.  And so it continued, day in and day out.

I should add here that absolutely none of this is a complaint; in fact, far from it.  The down-side of youth:  decision-making without a lot of foresight.  The upside of life:  no real consideration that there is another option.  This was life, and life was good!

Back to the present (the present being, of course, 2001, come on, keep up!).  Usual Wednesday routine, up early, work a half day, rush in the door to get changed so my husband could get to his job on time.  I run up to our bedroom (no small feat, our bedroom was on the third floor of the townhouse).  Husband is lounging on the bed, but I am paying zero attention, I breeze by him and call over my shoulder, “Just give me two seconds to get change, and you can go.”  I do a quick change in the closet, somewhat wondering why he has not moved off the bed.  I come back into the bedroom to announce he is free to go, and I finally look at him… still lounging, and in lounge wear (which for us means sweats and t-shirts).  I am dismayed.  “What’s going on?  You’ve got to go!”

No, he does not.  While I have been only briefly considering the holiday, my husband has not.  He took the day off from work, and he had meals and entertainment all lined up for us, all I had to do was sit back and hold our unbelievably agreeable infant while he prepared things.

It was the most wonderfully relaxing, chock full of surprises, decadently leisure-filled day that we spend since our honeymoon.  We had fried pickles, which I had never even heard of before that day, let alone tried… delicious, and now every time I see them on a restaurant menu I smile.  We had a shredded pork recipe that my husband borrowed from my Mom, and, the piece de resistance?  Watching my all-time favorite movie at the time, Sixteen Candles (absolutely still in the top 5).

The element of surprise, the change-up from the regular routine, the detailed thoughtfulness, and the luxurious decadence all combined to make February 14, 2001 my favorite Valentine’s Day ever.

Today’s Miracle:

A very happy birthday to the first Valentine’s baby I’ve known… my sister!  Hope it’s a great day, sis!

Second miracle:  attempting a WordPress writing challenge!  I have been challenged by:  http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/writing-challenge-valentine/

My Friend Jim

I used to LOVE Sandra Boynton, and received many cards and gifts from Jim with her artwork!

I have been procrastinating with writing this installment of the series (series in my own mind, anyway) about my friends who have been so instrumental in my recovery.  Why am I dragging my feet?  Because some friendships are so special, so rare, that when I try to describe them with my limited mind and vocabulary, I fear I will never do justice to the importance of the person, and of the friendship that means so much to me.  And yet, I started this series, and I have done so in a certain order.  You know how at the end of movies they list the cast “in order of appearance?”  Well, that is how I have been ordering the posts in this series… the friends that came back into my life from the starting point of recovery.

Which, of course, brings me to my friend Jim.  While Jim is third on my list in this particular series, he is first and foremost in my life in terms of friendships.  He is my longest and most enduring friendship.  We have been close since 1987, back when The Cosby Show ruled the airwaves and Tiffany and Debbie Gibson were battling it out on the radio.  We met very early on the first semester of college, and were completely inseparable from that time on.  I have almost no college memories that don’t include him, and there are stories that are still in active rotation in my life today, over 25 years later.

Jim is the friend that challenged me to be more… more than I was, more than I thought I could be, and he did it with such grace that I was unaware of the push I was getting.  Silly things… “of course you can go mule-riding” when every part of my mind insisted I was not capable (and might I add at this point that it was not me, but the damn mule, that was incapable… that thing knocked both of us into every tree we went past!).  Or,  “why don’t we just try climbing into that hole, what’s the worst that can happen?”  As it turns out, getting stuck in a hole for hours was the worst that could happen, and did happen, in the middle of the night.

Of course, I’m noting the fun stuff, of which there are hundreds more such stories, but I mean it in the serious sense as well.  Any major life decision I have made was done with the advice and counsel of Jim.  That’s not to say I took every piece of advice, but I certainly respected it.

My friendship with Jim, as it relates to my recovery, is much more difficult to write.  Because Jim was and is such an integral part of my life, it should go without saying that he was present for every part of my descent into addiction.  Which in turn means that I broke the trust of our friendship over and over again, almost to the breaking point.

If I were to attempt to chronicle the events involving Jim during my active addiction, this post would run the length of a novel.  And yet, it feels unjust not to include some events that led to my ultimate bottom, and Jim’s involvement.  I have mentioned, on numerous occasions, that there was about an 8 month period of time when I was confronted about my addictive behavior, and strongly encouraged to get help.  That period saw me through outpatient rehabs, inpatient rehabs, counselors, 12-step meetings, and a couple of sponsors.  Through that entire 8 month period I lied with the intent of convincing everyone (myself included) that I was okay, that the fuss everyone was making did not need to be made.  Especially in the first half of that period, very few people in my personal life had any clue what was going on.  This was, of course, at my insistence… the less people who knew, the less stories I had to invent, the less accountability I needed to have.  It really came down to my husband, my Mom, my siblings… and Jim.  Again, I am glossing over the years prior, simply in the interest of blog post length.

So, long story short, I lied to Jim on almost a daily basis.  Every time he called to check in, every time I told him that things were going well, I damaged the friendship a little bit further.  And each time I was “caught” in a lie, there was that much more damage to repair.  When I hit my personal bottom, I believed with absolute certainty that I needed to resign myself to the ending of what I always assumed would be a lifelong friendship.

Imagine the flip my heart did in my chest when I listened to a voice mail, on Valentine’s Day, no less, from my friend Jim. This would have been somewhere around 18 days sober.  Listening to his voice telling me that he loves me, and is thinking of me, was one of those very rare bright spots in my otherwise very dark existence during that time.

This is not to say that the rebuilding of our friendship was easy.  Those first few phone conversations were so difficult, so painful, it hurts my heart a little right now just remembering them.  I could feel the hesitation right through the phone wires, he just didn’t know if he could ever trust me again.  And why should he know that?  I had given him no reason whatsoever to do so.  But somehow, he found the courage to believe in me again, and his friendship became as important as it ever had been, through the next crucial stages of my recovery.  And, of course, he continues to be my rock, my cheerleader, my confidant, and the first one that can find something humorous in a situation that needs it.

Friends like Jim, friends who are willing to take that leap of faith and trust again, there should be a special honor bestowed upon them.  I don’t know if I could be as strong as he was, and is, but I really hope that I can be half the friend to Jim that he has been to me.

Today’s Miracle:

Having friendships that span decades, with all the memories that accompanies them, is a blessing for which I will be forever grateful.

Knowing What You Can Control, and, More Importantly, What You Can’t

The best time to hold your tongue is the time you feel you must say something or bust. -Josh Billings

You know, for the life of me, I don’t know if this character defect has anything to do with my being an alcoholic, because it dates back to my earliest memories.  It’s probably tied in somewhere, and, at the end of the day, does it really matter?  It’s something I have struggled with all my life, and I could probably recount a dozen examples of it in the past year alone, so clearly I am going to struggle with it in recovery.

When something happens in the world around me about which I have strong feelings, then I have an extremely difficult time letting it go (friends and family reading this are either laughing or rolling their eyes at this exact moment).  When I strongly feel like I know the better way, the right way, it feels like I am a pressure cooker, and if I don’t convince you of the perfect solution, I am going to blow my top.

Last week, I wrote about the troubles my son is experiencing with his fourth grade teacher.  This is just one of several really good examples of this kind of emotion.  Every time he comes home with another outrageous story, my blood boils, and I want to go into the school and rip this woman a new one.  Important note:  I do NOT let my son know this, and I ALWAYS instruct him to look at his own behavior in any given situation.  I am not so far gone that I believe his stories are the only version of the truth, and I am quick to speak to him about the choices he makes during the day.  But the point of this example is how I am feeling inside, and recognizing it as a pattern in my life.

Last night was my daughter’s basketball game.  This post would run on forever if I went into detail, but I will sum it up by saying there were a number of issues about which I would like to express my opinion, and subsequent feelings like the ones I described above.  The follow-up discussion my husband and I had this morning did nothing to decrease the pressure in my pressure cooker.  Why can’t everyone just think exactly like I do?  Wouldn’t the world run so much better?

In case you missed it, that last line was laced in self-deprecating sarcasm.

Here’s what recovery has taught me about this character defect.  First, that it is a character defect.  That my feelings on any given subject are far from fact, and other people’s opinions are actually as valid as my own, if not more so.

Second, and much more important:  when I remind myself what is in my power to control (my thoughts, my feelings, and my actions), and what is not (the rest of the universe), my life becomes a lot more serene, and the balloon in my chest deflates.

So that’s the progress.  Next goal:  reminding myself of these facts in a speedier time frame!

Today’s Miracle:

Helping my son bring to life a really creative Valentine’s gift for his classmates (I will take a picture when I am done and post it, I am really impressed with his ingenuity on this one!

Examining Motives

The ”Inside-Out” approach to personal and interpersonal effectiveness means to start first with self; even more fundamentally, to start with the most inside part of self / with your paradigms, your character, and your motives. The inside-out approach says that private victories precede public victories, that making and keeping promises to ourselves recedes making and keeping promises to
others. It says it is futile to put personality ahead of character, to try to improve relationships with others before improving ourselves. –Stephen R. Covey

The main topic that came out of my meeting this morning was about denial.  Here’s why that is interesting…

Last night, as I was going through my son’s backpack, I found a letter to me that I have a parent-teacher conference scheduled for next week.  These conferences have taken place every year that I have been involved in this school (8 years now), but I have never had to attend one, because they are only scheduled on an as-needed basis.  So, bottom line: trouble’s a-brewing in the 4th grade.

My first reaction was a blinding fury towards my son, who was, thankfully, already asleep by the time I found this letter.  Within the first 60 seconds of reading the note, I had punishments lined up for him until he was off to college.  Directly behind this fury came the second, and just as powerful, rage, towards the teacher herself… how dare this woman schedule this kind of conference for my son?  I have been hearing a litany of complaints about this woman for months, and at the moment I believed all of them, and more.  So within the next 60 seconds I had a series of punishments lined up for her… scathing emails, refusal to attend the conference, and other ways to dress her down.

So at some point I have had to honestly examine the true source of my angst, because none of my elaborate revenge schemes are going to get the problem solved.  As I worked through the emotions, I realized that I was frustrated that my extremely intelligent child repeatedly makes poor choices, and now we are both paying the price (I know, I know… Karma’s a bitch).  And when I look further into the frustration, it is not with a 10 year-old boy, it is with myself.  As far as he goes, the buck stops here, with me.  If he his not grasping that his bad choices are leading to bad consequences, then I am not doing my job effectively.

So here’s the good news:  the tools I have gained in my recovery will help me solve this problem.  First, I can hit the reset button.  Today is a new day, and a new chance to figure out how to make my son understand the consequences of his daily choices.  Second, I can better understand what is in my control, and what is not.  If this teacher is the type to nit-pick, or she has some vendetta against my son… well, that’s not in my power to change.  What is in my power is how I handle the problem, first with my son, and by extension, how my son learns by my example.  Finally, and as I have written about numerous times before, if something isn’t working, time to try something new.  Clearly, something isn’t working, so time to change it up!

To be continued, the conference is on Valentine’s Day…

Today’s Miracle:

That I am able to tackle this problem clean and sober.

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