aromatic cooking

Tonight I carefully slice into a red bell pepper, then a green one, and finally a cheerful purple onion. I cut a quarter wedge from each of these and slice as thinly as my patience will allow. I am exhausted, and I am trying to prepare a new dish. So I move slowly; but I do move. I heat up two types of tortillas (microwave under a damp cloth napkin) and wrap them in heavy foil packets into the warmed oven. Having pickled a jalapeño (while the others roast in oil and salt), I dice it finely and add to the marinade hosting thick tempeh slices. I halve cherry tomatoes into a bowl and gently combine them with a little oil, salt, sugar: set aside. I fry up the seitan chick’n strips – having pre-baked them dry and chewy in the oven – and add the peppers and onions and more pickled jalapeño. The kitchen warms brilliantly with the fragrance of peppers and onions and the family cheers a little. Finally: I slice avocado, bring out the lime cashew cream, and the purple slaw, my husband prepared earlier. We don’t set the table as my work is spilled across it, but join one another convivially on the couch to watch a quaint baking show before we go our separate ways again for the evening.

the bright spot of our lives

The atmosphere at the club is chaotic; there’s a Halloween potluck and dance assembling. Friends flit in and out and talk, smoking or vaping outside and loudly laughing; the energy is high. Flirtations – eyes casting about at one another. Parcels of hot food unwrapped and placed on the tables. It’s cold and crisp outside and warm and convivial indoors. I love seeing people in costume – some of them rag-tag or incomprehensible, others quite developed. You discover a little more about your friends when you see them in their glad rags.

as a means of self-escape

Two years ago today I had my ureter stent removed, after nine days of the worst kidney ordeal I’d yet faced. The device was placed on the twelfth after a brutal procedure, and that evening we had to make a call to paramedics; a couple days later I was in the ER. The entire experience was a nightmare. Removing the stent was scary and hardly pain-free; I remember simply letting my husband be with me for the ordeal because I didn’t have the ability to say yes or no, and because I knew he wanted to be there.

Today I felt an odd bit of kidney pain, only a little, a ghostly reminder. I have mastered the ability not to worry much, to predict it will get worse. Several years of pain, taught me some discipline. But the truth is I’ve had no major events since moving to a vegan diet; an entirely surprising yet welcome side effect. Every day, week, and month that passes without medical intervention and minor surgical procedures, I am grateful. We are still paying off the procedures from years ago.

So this time of year, yes I am grateful, grateful for my health.

I have planned an August sabbatical from client work; I have also cut down on social media significantly. Over the last few months I kept having friends ask me how I’m doing, and – since I am honest when people ask me this question – I had to confess I was a bit overscheduled. And confess it again, and again. Having disclosed this repeatedly, I realized I was responsible to do something about it.

Overscheduling is the kind of problem that creeps up, and it isn’t always a quick job to extricate oneself from these circumstances. So – carefully, with as much sensitivity for others as possible – I’ve been restructuring my life to a more sustainable pace. And this week, I’m starting to feel better, and more mindful; my yoga sessions are more refreshing and focused. My performances as mother and partner, are improving. Time is slowing – if only a little.

Tomorrow is my volunteer day; the day I devote the most time to others in my community. I am consistent with my volunteer work but I am also thinking about cutting back, or at least re-organizing. Today I know I don’t have to make any rash decisions on that count. I can wait, and meditate, and consult friends. 

And live to fight another day!

 

when it comes, comes incidentally

Tonight at the treatment center I speak for about twenty-five minutes; two of my friends follow. At the end of the meeting we have five minutes remaining for questions.

A man turns to me and says, “I have a question – for you.” He’s older – kind blue eyes, a beard, a sports cap, and a roughened, red face.

He then says, “When you detoxed -” and then goes on to describe some of his recent experience. He’s seven days sober today. He tells me how he used to wake in the middle of the night. And when he says, “when you detoxed” though, a spontaneous memory comes to me, my memory of that first week sober. And how I felt. And just how hard it was. My eyes fill with tears. The room notices. See, because I’ve been sober a while sometimes people think I’m not human, it wasn’t hard.

I listen to his question. I speak words to him maybe no one can understand unless they’re ready. To give up the chase. The chase (drugs booze money status sex friends job reputation prestige power vanity), the chase that so many keep occupied with until the day they die.

I am struck humble for the moment. I am touched at what he’s asking. I’m thinking that if he’s willing to ask me something, to ask my advice – I’m half his age, and yet he wants to hear from me. Me, a stranger! How often do we open ourselves up like this?

I talk a bit. And I end on this: “It takes time. Months. Years. But it gets better. Don’t give up!” I put my hand on his arm. Right now it’s just he and I in the whole universe. My body is flush with empathy. I have that jolt. I am alive.

I drive home; the air is cold, and the cold is in my bones. I drive home to a warm, full house, and food and good cheer. I drive home to myself, where I’d left it a while back. But I’ve returned now, and I remember why it’s all so important.

four more blocks, plus the one in my brain

To my right, a woman takes her seat. She is small, and has a slender neck balancing a very round head, like a pumpkin. Her hair is blonde and molds to her fine, delicate skull, before slipping midway down her back. She is probably fifty years old, but holds herself child-like. She is very quiet – likely still very fresh from detox. The other clients are very, very kind to her, and call her by name. As I help chair our meeting, I can feel her presence beside me. I am tenderhearted and sad tonight, but I still breathe in sync with the addicts and alcoholics here, those I am supposed to be helping.

I am a very special sort of tired; it isn’t just physical, but in mind and spirit as well. I realize as I talk – and listen, tonight – I am doing my best but my best is pretty rough. I am bored, bored of talking about what life was like before I got sober. Because understand: I’ve told my story hundreds of times. It isn’t the same every time I tell it, but my mind plunks stones in lakes best left undisturbed.

Kindness. Kindness is the heartbeat I can feel. I don’t have to be perfect. I do have to hold a kind heart. With that thought, my mind sets on a silver shore. I can do it. One hour at a time.

After my volunteer partner and I have spoken for some time, the floor is open to questions. I call a woman by name (I try to remember names; names are important); she sits across from me. And now she says, slowly, “I know exactly how you feel.” I wait. She nods. Her grief is huge. I sit with her, even though she is across the room, and others are watching. I finally ask, “What part?” She says – “All of it.”

At the meeting’s cessation I cross the room – speaking to a few others there, first – and sit with her. Up close her eyes are a beautiful, rich green, a violent depth. I ask when she goes home. She tells me. I ask where home is. She tells me. Then she tells me a little about the hell that awaits her there. She tells me, I am scared. I put my hand on her knee. “You are safe here,” I tell her. Her eyes well with tears. I tell her, to find women in Recovery, to get their phone numbers. “People wouldn’t write their names on a phone list if they didn’t want you to call.” She says, “I’m fifty years old. I have no children.” I tell her, “There are women in Recovery who can help you. They will take care of you.” I tell her these things because I know she can make it. But if she tries it on her own, she has no chance.

The elevator ride back downstairs I am tired; I feel sad. I am cheered a bit talking to my friend R., who helped with the meeting. He and I are becoming friends. I drive him back to his place. He says a few kind words, calls me “young lady”. He is not a demonstrative fellow, but he says kind words. A penny from his pocket, are like riches from another.

I get home. I check my phone. A text message: “I know you are coming back from —–, but when you get in can you call me? I need to ask you about —–.” A friend who needs help.

I am near tears with gratitude, to feel useful, to do something for someone else. My friend answers the phone and her voice is muffled, frightened. An hour later before we ring off we are laughing. Laughing together.

Some days it seems all I can really cling to, is helping others. It gives me that space I need to heal from whatever hurts.

Morning

pathos or profundity

Tonight at the treatment center, three of us serve on the panel. We are speaking about our past experiences as active alcoholics and addicts – and how we live clean and sober today. We each talk for fifteen to twenty-five minutes.

After we’re done, it’s time for questions. A man speaks up and asks us: “So even after all this time [clean and sober], you still think you need a [recovery] meeting every day?”

I have heard this more than once. As years of sobriety pile up, people are less likely to understand why Recovery would be so important. I remember this querulous old fella C.; at eightysomething he had about thirty years’ sobriety and he was as fiercely passionate as anyone I’ve heard on the subject. He said at the end of sharing in a meeting, “You know the longer you are sober, sometimes people ask. ‘You still gotta go to those meetings? You gotta hang out with those drunks?’ Well let me tell you. I have the perfect response to that. The perfect response. Want to hear it?”

He sets knotty fists on the table and juts his head out: “Maybe I like hanging out with those assholes more than you!”

I’m thinking of C. and smiling, while my two colleagues answer. One says, Yes, she knows she needs to go even after all these years sober. The other man, says he’s not willing to risk it. To risk forgetting and going back to drinking again.

It’s my turn. I lean forward and look right at the man who asked. He’s probably mid-twenties. Native. Lots of tattoos. He’s wearing some kind of restraint ankle bracelet on his leg. I don’t know him or where he’s come from – not yet, at least. I’ve met about five thousand addicts and alcoholics alone just through my treatment center work – not even counting recovery meetings in my community. But they are not throwaway lives to me, not ever.

To this young man I say, now, “I want to be here. I have a life today. I have a husband at home cooking a wonderful dinner. I have a tailoring project I’m working on that I am loving. I have two wonderful children waiting for me. We just got two new kittens [pause for effect because – HOW AWESOME!]. I have a life today. I have a marriage, and a home, and a family. But I want to be here. I want to be here with you.” I look right at him because I see him and it’s just me and him.

I want to be there/here. I have seen the scrap of life inside every human being, the god-consciousness that makes each person unique and holy and beautiful. Seeing this, being able to touch it, it’s a gift beyond measure and one money can’t buy – but one that, for reasons mysterious to me, many fake. I asked one of my mentors tonight, why, why do I get this thing when so many don’t. He says, “I think you’ve very blessed, my dear.”

Nights like tonight I feel very alive… very somber. Laughter and gravitas at the same time. Somehow.

It is, on balance, a wonderful, truly amazing, life.

Morning

 

mothers’ day

A lovely morning with the kids. Sewing. A lunch date with my family, and my mother. Some volunteer work. A visit from a friend. Holding my husband’s hand. About to get into bed with him, now. It’s been a long day!

 

 

This morning my mom came over and told me she was giving me the most beautiful thing she owned – some columbine she’d waited three years to bloom:

 

From Ralph and the kids: a coconut cream cake and a pop-out weasel card – both homemade! #wins

 

While I was out doing my volunteer thing, Ralph made a video. I love that he uses only: his voice, his uke, his car keys, and his wedding ring.

 

 

I’d love to write some awesome verbiage but today was a big day for me and I’m beat-ass tired.

G’night, my lovelies!

setting the pace

I have like, ten minutes to myself. Ten minutes since Ralph and the kids went off somewhere, before I have to hop in my own car and head to a meeting.

Second day in a row swimming a mile (or near-mile) and the swimming doesn’t make me tired, at least not while I’m doing it, which is kind of thrilling. I just keep going. And going and going. An endurance feat for me – not a sprint. My breathing is now intuitive and I do not gasp for breath. This is fast improvement since about ten days ago when I (re-)started swimming.

Hot shower; body oil, clean clothes. Feeling wonderful.

Back in the car; hot coffee in the thermos. It’s sunny out and I’m cheerful. My son and I head to my volunteer shift, music loud. Coming up on three years of this volunteer work. A good day today, like it usually is. Leaving a week bit early to take the kids to the dentist. Flowers for a very dear friend, today. Home to bake banh mi for dinner, wash dishes, put away laundry. Back in the car. Taking a homemade cake along to a meeting.

I like giving gifts on my birthday.

Body tired, mind at ease. Works well.

But something is on my mind. Some little thing… anxiety. But regarding what? Financial problems? I don’t think so. My children? Possibly. Just: how much work Life is, in general? Yeah, probably.

The anxiety… I wait for it to pass. Sometimes I find the root of these things – often, I don’t. I merely keep breathing, and keep my mind focussed. Today: on the nose of a blue kickboard. This evening: on the next bit of housework, or cooking, or bill-paying, or correspondence.

Whatever is next.

tell yourself it’s all you know / you should know me better than that

Tonight my work at the treatment center was less than stellar. Every now and then there is this tension and there are less-than-civil interactions… a hostility, specifically directed at me or at least what I’m saying. I find myself frustrated at times because addicts and alcoholics in early recovery (or even several years into recovery!) go from being desperate and willing to seek help – to being easily-offended, egocentric, selfish, myopic, and stubborn. (I am in no way claiming immunity to these emotional relapses!)

Oddly though even when I’ve spoken words that weren’t well received (which when I lead meetings is my prerogative to ensure everyone in the group gets a chance to speak, and is respected while speaking), the oddest thing has happened every time. When I return a couple days later, these same individuals who flashed in anger and sarcastic under-the-breath remarks see me and they simply light up. I don’t even mean a guarded smile, I mean they smile genuinely and instantly upon recognizing me. Any bad feeling that may have existed, seems to have vanished entirely.

The first time this happened I was taken aback, but it has happened enough times in the last couple years it is, so far, the absolute rule. I’ve thought a lot about this odd (seeming) turnabout, and concluded a few things. A., that they might think I’ve got some relevant experience to share, after all – since so many non-addicts do not understand, B. that my kindness and compassion comes through regardless of our verbal exchange, and C., most importantly:

that for any alcoholic or addict, no matter where they are at and if they’re going to die drunk and never get sober, there is this part of them gut-deep that recognizes sobriety and they respond to me like a flinted spark. I will tell you that the miracle of sobriety is so instantly-recognized that there isn’t even room for envy, and that is saying something! In that sense it doesn’t matter too much what I do or say, the important thing is they see me sober, see me coming back to help (if I can), and see me with a smile in my face and love in my heart. And so far, I too have that love in my heart when I return. Because no matter how rude someone has treated me I don’t hold a grudge. I have a love for people that recovers despite, well, despite all sorts of insults, big or small. And I have a willingness to live without a resentment, a willingness that has served me well.

It blows my mind, though. No matter how deep these addicts are and even when they’re absolutely detoxing they recognize the miracle of sobriety. This is incredible!

This hope, this reality, is something I’ve come to believe, at least at this stage in my life.

My irritation tonight is not so much perceived personal insults: it’s from spending some time in the resultant ugliness within the disease of addiction. It’s an ugly disease in a way that many diseases can’t compete with. Usually I feel pretty fine, but some days? I’m a little down.

***

Last night I ask my husband, “Do you know, I have a tendency to hold on to something, even if it is broken or worthless?”

“I’ve come to count on it!” he says, and gives an embarrassed laugh. I realize he’s talking about himself, or maybe the harder years of our marriage. And I laugh. Surprised even after this time he thinks of himself that way. He’s not broken or worthless, he’s my life’s companion and he’s a treasure to me.

But I’m thinking: I will hang on to things, a half-glass of iced tea, rags, canning jars that might serve a use, things other people regard as trash. I have a bag full of squeezed lemon halves in my fridge! It isn’t just that I might find a use for the seemingly-defunct, but I hate to discard something entirely as it seems wasteful. Especially given that, in so many ways, I have relied on others’ cast-offs (my entire sewing room is furnished with equipment that has been gifted me – this last week for example, a seam roll and a sleeve board).

I am relatively thorough when it comes to moving something on. I have gone through lengths to get those scraps of fabric, or the older bed frame, or the half-consumed bag of flour we’re not using, or the compost from our composter when we move, to someone who can use it. This frugality and this desire for ethical consumption (which means weighing the entire life of the thing we bring into the home), is an asset – as long as I don’t take it too far – don’t grasp and cling, or get too worried about any of it.

Today Ralph and I performed music on the street. I sang, even, with a microphone and everything! It was only in front of a small group, and many of them were friends or at least known to me, but I had a few compliments on my singing – and one on my bravery. My friend M. says to me, “You’ve got balls. I could never sing unless I had a few drinks in me.” I smile and tell her, “I never sang until I got sober.”

I don’t have to be perfect, I just have to be Me. That’s a pretty do-able vocation these days.

an old machine that’s reeling

Shit is BROKEN.

My computer is broken. I can’t see colors on my screen. This has been like – a month now? At first I thought, OK well, at least I can still type. But the lack of colors is more debilitating than I thought. I haven’t been able to blog my (considerable amount of) sewing – and I haven’t been able to update my Etsy listings either.

Shit is BROKEN.

Our cars are broken. Ralph’s has something sort of serious – a loud clunking sound now and then – enough we’ve stuck it in the driveway until we can (afford to) fix it. So Ralph and I have both been biking a lot, yes he’s been biking to the college and all. My car – good Lord! – a broken window, busted all the way out driver’s-side. It’s been broken several days now but we are fortunately in a dry spell. That’s going to end any minute though at which point I will have to go with some plastic.

Shit is BROKEN.

My kidneys are broken. The doctor is probably going to recommend something icky as I have some part of the kidney possibly blocked off. It took about a year for me to begin to accept the pain. Now I’m trying to accept the fatigue and the nausea. The fact I’m trying to accept it means, maybe I will be there soon.

SHIT is broken.

Hutch is ill. We are hoping it is just random awfulness he (somehow!) got to sneak into his gullet. I am trying not to obsess it is something worse. He is weak and trembly and not eating food and if you know Hutch, that is weird AF.

SHIT IS BROKEN —

Most disastrous of all, our cat Hamilton is missing. Today has been one week since we saw her. Today is one week. I am sick over this. Just sick. We miss her so much.

Today despite all this I did my best to be kind, to treat my family and friends with consideration, and to attend my volunteer work.

What else can I do?