a bit of sick / a bit of health

Yesterday one of my children – who asked they remain anonymous – had a sudden bout of vomiting, and several hours of low-level misery. This child has since been bathed, snuggled, temperature taken (a low fever of 100º), swaddled – and has been sleeping well over twelve hours at this point. When I checked on the child they were sleepy but said they felt better – then fell back into a much-needed slumber.

I am so thankful for my health, because there is much to do.

Our washer died and we’ve no grocery money so I gotta be a canny lass.

So today – I’m up: put the coffee on. Yoga. Dishes. Shower. Meditation. Now: paying bills. We are short, and we are paid on Friday. I’ve a pot of spaghetti in the fridge for tonight. Still, by “short” I mean: I have to find a way to put money into an account today. I can do it. Right? Or maybe I can’t. Well if I can’t do it, I can at least laugh about it!

I’ve said it before; it is difficult, when things are financially strained, not to let too much of my existence become about The Hustle (the legit Hustle, nothing shady!). In my past, when times were tight there was an attendant sense of Shame or even like… Anger. It’s hard enough supporting the nine mammals in this house, without the Shame and Anger, so I don’t want to live that way. Most days I’m pretty good at walking the path.

I wish I’d have known this back in the day. Two nights ago while shopping for groceries I realized: my family and I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs (at all), we don’t gamble. We care for our health as best we can (including our spiritual and physical health). We don’t buy expensive clothes or cars or iPhones or have any pricey habits – just those pesky “habits” of needing food, heat, clothing, et cetera!

How is this relevant? Well, I remember when we had more trouble – debt in collections, primarily, and that was no joke – and when we had a few of those smoking and drinking habits… (okay, that was pretty much just Me). I remember feeling a sense of Shame about our circumstances, and way way way in the back of my mind I think I thought it was My Fault our lives were this way. At the same time my mind was often in a furious state of Denial: I blamed others, that constant chatter, it was THEIR fault; or maybe, THEY didn’t understand. The bitterness, the envy, the anger. It’s an ugly way to live. Most people living this way can’t stand to admit it – and mostly I couldn’t either. It just hurts a lot to live this way and we think if we are honest about it, there’s going to be a hell of a reprisal.

I’m glad I got honest.

Today we live a better lifestyle and hell, it is still difficult to make it paycheck to paycheck. And I don’t know if this makes sense, but now that we are living in a better way I see the Shame and Blame are unnecessary today, and they were unnecessary when things were worse. There is this odd way Shame and Blame become an entire trap; keeping me from taking responsibility, keeping me in the same problems. It actually doesn’t matter if I blame You or blame Me. If I’m caught up in blame it is entirely illusion (or as I like to put it delicately, Bullshyte), and it saps my strength, robs me of my humor, and stunts my empathy.

So today. I got a few problems, but Anger, Shame, Blame, Guilt, & Remorse aren’t on the list. I can deal with scrumping groceries. I just have to keep laughing about it, because I really am grateful for all I have.

Meanwhile I put my hair up and put on some Josephine Baker while I do the housework. It makes me feel kind of wretchedly glamorous and joyful!

it’s so late it’s morning again,

and my son is quietly playing Legos a few feet away while I mess around with a few more electrons, sending out these last few bits of minutia and miscellany from my day, to God Knows Who and God Knows Where (I haven’t checked my analytics in months). My boy doesn’t realize in a few minutes I’m probably going to “make” him watch some incredibly bad “sci-fi” television and if that gets boring, I’ll pick up my thick-as-a-brick Dickens novel, before dropping off.

Last night I had twice-a-night sleep, which along with my Chinese herbs and cold remedy (raw honey and garlic) has left me refreshed today. This double-sleep, when it happens, dovetails nicely with my son’s growing-boy loonnnnng lie-in schedule – we rise at the same time for a peaceful (enough) morning of coffee and yoga then a shower when I’m finally fully awake. And at the other end of the day, in the late hours, it is pretty lovely to have the company of my son, all to myself. He makes me special origami, whispers harshly to me while we watch goofy Bigfoot documentaries (as his real-life Sasquatch father slumbers soundly on the other side of the bed), and makes conversation without the relentless questions and spirited talk that so characterize his daylight hours.


I am feeling a bit somber and a bit reflective, at the moment. As most who read here know for two-plus years I have been putting time in, on a volunteer basis, helping addicts and alcoholics new to Recovery. Tonight in my endeavors a man was brought into the meeting I was chairing; he was still dressed in a medical robe, so he was very new. He was shaky enough to be escorted by more than one of the personnel, and for a moment it looked like he was going to fall. Ultimately he was not well enough to stay, and he left again. I gazed upon him while he made up his mind and after he left, I returned to the business of the group. “Not feeling well,” I said quietly and the rest of the group murmured in compassion and shared pain.

When I left a little over an hour later I saw him again at the end of the hallway, receiving medication and some medical ministrations. As I walked down the hall I realized suddenly that I knew him, knew him by name, had known him while clean and sober and listened to him speak on several occasions. He had been entirely “normal”, entirely cheerful, entirely functional when I’d know him before. It had required two sightings on my part for me to recognize him.

As often as I’ve seen this very same thing, it still can be a shock.

My alcoholic career was about the briefest and most merciful that I’ve yet heard of. This is rather extraordinary because it didn’t feel brief while I was living it. But now I’ve had some experience and have seen so many living with the disease I know many drink (or drug) after it no longer serves them – usually for years, and often for decades (a dear friend of mine drank over sixty years before getting sober)!

Of course, this “brief” alcoholic career was a living Hell such that I hope you never see me belittle it in any way, here or elsewhere. I see others I know who seem to be living the same kind of low-level shit out – a private Hell they don’t even know they’re living, mostly because they hide their innermost selves and try to put on a good face. The autopilot, the anger, the stress, the driven-nature of their day in and day out, the blame and shame and victim-role – these things feel normal to them, yet somehow circumstantial, somehow just what life is like yet somehow someone’s “fault”. They have a list of bellyaches and resentments and sarcastic asides but deep, deep down… they blame themselves. Somehow … somehow.

I know it too well and I hope to never go back. I gotta tell you, living in that pit for even a few brief years was long enough to, figuratively, bitch-slap me awake.

I forget sometimes I am the Walking Dead, and that my path could have landed me elsewhere. Today I get to live a normal, healthy life and participate in my community, and with my family, and even give a little – sometimes a lot! – of time to “strangers” who suffer from this particular malady.

I don’t moralize addiction or compulsion whatsoever (well… I try not to!) and so tonight after I get over the initial shock of seeing this young man in the state he is in, I hold him in my heart like a cancer patient who’s very ill from chemo (another experience I’ve had). He is very ill and I’m sad to see him in the clutches of illness; moments like this my drinking doesn’t feel like a lifetime ago, it feels recent. At these moments my heart breaks open in compassion and if I didn’t have a husband and children and furry critters depending on me, I think I’d devote my Life to the care of these individuals.

In the car, off on a date with my daughter and husband, it takes me a while to shake off the work I do. I am glad to be Me and glad to live my life, more glad than you can probably know!, but my heart is with those who suffer because I know that although I can Help, I cannot Cure. Sometimes I get mixed up and think somehow I’m supposed to be Curing, supposed to be Fixing. It’s incorrect, but nevertheless it’s a powerful and compelling illusion, and it is often quite disconcerting.

We drive down the hill and toward the cheerful lights of the grocery store, past boarded-up windows, past prostitutes out in the cold, past sadness and cheerfulness and want and need, and onto our errands.

My husband tells me: “You look mad. You look beautiful, but mad.”

“I’m not mad,” I tell him.

Pack It In, Pack It Out

well and i even have a little left over, to help you

Pack It In, Pack It Out

Today on a Flats walk with our dog and three kids – two of the children mine, one from another family – we came across a dozen pelicans (of at least two species) diving for fish. It was really something to watch, as they hit the water with incredible force, like missiles. Along with the pelicans many species of gulls and other waterfowl messed about, and we spied at least two harbor seals. Obviously, there was a large school of fish in the water falling prey to this predation. In the course of the walk around The Flats, two different men along the trail told me two different stories about the species of fish out there (men love to tell you shit, even when they don’t know the shit!).

My dog was out of his mind with joy. In case you hadn’t been following: he’s been on near-bedrest for a few weeks since his incredible illness adventure with salmon poisoning. Today he was so excited he actually fetched a stick (unheard of) many times. He also played tug-o’-war with me and growled a lot. He has a huge, powerful mouth and very sharp teeth and I’d never heard him growl before. I was a bit unnerved!

The weather on our walk was so wonderful. It was balmy-warm – in fact, it would have been unpleasantly humid had it not been for a wonderful sea breeze. There were so many animals at The Flats – wild and domestic – and not a few people. It was a wonderful walk out and I’m glad I made the time.


Just lately: I am over-worked. Not only physically – besides having household responsibilities, more water aerobics, and two new Etsy sales that have me knee-deep in costumes – I’ve also been working intensively, and I do mean intensively with a new-to-sobriety alcoholic. I am astonished how much work she’s willing to do – but I’m also aware that yeah, it’s necessary. Watching someone reconstruct themselves from near-ruination is an honor and a privilege beyond what I can articulate.

And I’m a bit rueful: in Recovery communities you will sometimes hear those with long-term sobriety say, “I won’t work harder than the new guy!” [Meaning: as a sponsor to help him get and stay sober.] And yeah, I’ve heard it now and then and always thought that’s supposed to mean, Yeah that’s right, tough love, those lazy newbies! Well I never thought of the reciprocal. Because let me tell you, this new gal works like a dog, so that means I am working like a dog. I am not even kidding. Even if I didn’t think it completely unethical to share details, I haven’t the strength to write much about it. It’s working me, right now.

Many reading here won’t understand. [And yet she tries to explain anyway!] A big part of what’s hard on me is going through my own history – memories of what it was like to get sober, of those early days. If you’ve done it, you probably get it. It’s a big deal. Remembering what it was like invokes a kind of PTSD. Today and yesterday I’ve been thinking, Did I really do that? Did I really go through all that? And it’s like – yeah, I did. I felt like crying today and wanted to give myself a hug or somehow take care of myself in ways I neglected before. I had it hard. And I didn’t even know I had it as hard as I did. Does that mean I have it hard today, and I don’t know it, as well? It’s a scary thought. I am tired of suffering. It hurts.

Tonight: I resolutely put aside my fears and my own traumatic memories. I am here now, my children downstairs want me now. My husband is available to me now. A small dish of strawberry shortcake awaits. Hot water and soft pajamas. A warm bed. A curious dog. Purring, comforted kitties.

I am here now. Tomorrow is another adventure.

the art of sitting still

The disease we humans have has been described by Eckhart Tolle as “insanity”, and I deeply experience the truth of what he writes, inasmuch as I consciously comprehend it. We all have this malady and we all can succumb, whether for short durations or for such a great part of our waking lives as to be almost entire, this unfortunate enchantment. A great many of us try to take (false) comfort in looking at others who seem “worse off” – sicker, poorer, less able, less “together”, et cetera, or we prop ourselves up by telling our story repeatedly – aloud and, most importantly, to ourselves. Good mom. Provider. “I’ve never taken a day sick in my life.” Financially independent. I’m good at my job. “I’m not racist/sexist/[whatever]”. I do what I set out to do. I’m a happy guy. I’m a hard worker. I’m well-liked. I earned my way in this tough world. These narratives are deeply personal to the individual and you’ve read many of mine here.

But the illness is within and will dwell within us our natural lives. I like to make friends with it: today I think of it as my inner addict, the Ego, which seeks only to grow itself by any means, and which will in time burn itself up by its own conflagration. In fact as an alcoholic I just actively accelerated this process and increased my suffering to where I broke, which is why I am truly a grateful alcoholic today, because I broke. Tonight I heard people talking about the things they’d lost to their disease and one friend said, “my self respect”. Yes. That is it for me, as well. Others may not understand it as they do not see what was Inside, merely my Outside, and my Outsides looked pretty good from the angles they perceived. Many compare others “Outsides” to their own experience, looking for comfort by comparison (needless to say, this doesn’t work). But what we really think of ourselves, deep down, our literal self-esteem, is what matters the most. I would encourage anyone reading here not to feel bad if they don’t like what they see. That is indeed the first step – honesty. Things change from there, often quite quickly.

I know the closest and dearest to me can understand I mean it when I say what I lost, “my self respect”; if they want details I am obliging.

The ego. “Original sin”. Missing the point of being human. We can feed this entity until it consumes us. I see this tendency, this habit, every day: in myself, in my family, in the addicts and alcoholics I work with, in the person frothing with road rage today, in those who demonstrate a profound lack of compassion for a certain class of beings, and in my occasionally clumsy and non-compassionate response to all those listed above.

It is not my desire to give offense when talking about the spiritual aspect of a person, of myself, of humanity. So many have been abused and disenfranchised that any speech ambling toward the G-word gives rise to spleen. Others are less angry; they just have frank and honest personal belief that we lifeforms are merely electrons whizzing about, that is all, no rhyme nor reason. Mostly, though, as humans we exercise habits of arrogance and self-centeredness; our minds more closed and unteachable than we want to realize or admit. It isn’t being an atheist, nor a religious zealot, or anything in between, that keeps us sick and suffering. It is our disease of Self that keeps us very ill indeed.

Today I am less ill than I have been since I was a very small girl. As the quote goes, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” I did not understand how sick I was, and I do not fully know how sick, or well, I am today. I only know I am better than I was. There have been great gifts given to me, including those of my own perception. And including, as well, the experience and practice of Gratitude. Mornings I wake up and say Thank You and make an offering and reflect on gratitude. During most days I return to gratitude as a return to the most familiar, wonderful friend, as a return to Home. This practice has afforded me many benefits, and I hope it is benefitting others as well.

Today was very busy, but in the evening hours of recreation I took pleasure in simple things. It’s very gratifying to have friends and family over for dinner and to make a meal that they all devour with much gusto. In this case grilled teriyaki chicken, a simple salad, cucumber spears, and a coconut cake. Then a movie and people and cats piled on one another. Finally: a last cup of tea, then to bed. Maybe we’ll have another windstorm tomorrow; I hope so, I find it a little exciting.