Overdose?

I keep hearing about people dying. Not the regular kind of dying I’d expect at 67 with friends well into their 70’s. No, these are other kinds of dying. Some end the life of the body. Some just slowly kill the soul.

A woman who was a member of AA for years started drinking again and died from alcohol poisoning.

Another woman who had years of sobriety drank again while caring for her dying parent and is going back to treatment.

A 60-year-old man struggled for years to stay sober. He started drinking again. He was taken from the bank to the ER and then admitted for an apparent stroke. He’s having trouble talking and walking.

A woman with grandchildren starts prescription pain medicine after a knee replacement. When the prescription runs out, she looks for other sources. She finds an opioid laced with fentanyl. It doesn’t end well.

A young woman with anorexia died because she was too weak to survive necessary surgery.

A man committed suicide after a long stretch of untreated depression mixed with a lot of alcohol and a gun in his house.

A woman dropped out of Social Work because she couldn’t leave her troubled clients behind at the end of the day.

A man is forced to retire from stressful, lucrative work because he has heart disease and unmanageable diabetes.

An 8-year-old overweight child is teased and bullied at school. Her mother gives her cookies after hearing her story saying, “These will help you feel better.”

A young woman becomes consumed by what’s in the news and what is wrong with her world. She doesn’t see how she can make a difference.

A husband with a young daughter gets hooked on internet porn. His wife asks him to leave.

An older woman whose kids and grandchildren have moved away starts to miss purpose, a reason to get up in the morning. She dwindles, begins to fade away.

Overdoses?

I say “Yes.”

An AA friend says we are all feel-good junkies, just wanting to feel better. Or not feel anything at all.

So we drink. We eat (or not). We misuse drugs. We stay busy. We become focused on sex or online porn. We care for others. We work. We just stop caring.  And because they work for a while, we do these things more and more until they start to do us harm.

Money or lack of it doesn’t seem to matter. It happens to people in good health and to those who with chronic illnesses. To those with families who love them and those who are truly alone. Some may appear happy and content.  Others may obviously feel bad.

Maybe the difference is being able to ask for or accept help. These holes are hard to climb out of alone. Love and support from others are good things, but enabling self-destructive behavior is not good. What all enablers have in common: they love someone who is out of control, and they find themselves taking more responsibility for the actions of that person than the person is taking for themselves. A woman once said at an Al Anon meeting, “Help is the sunny side of control.” Think about that for a minute.

So what do we do?

When one of my grown daughters was going through a hard time, a friend told me, “All you can do is love her and pray for her.” It didn’t feel like enough.

I think we also need to keep talking and writing, with friends and more publicly, about our own experiences with addiction and mental health issues. We have to lessen the shame.

And we need to listen mindfully and lovingly, without judgment, without trying to fix them, when others trust us enough to share their hard stuff.

And my friend was right. We need to love them and pray for them.

 

 

 

 

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Published in: on October 9, 2019 at 12:32 pm  Comments (3)  
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What do you want for the rest of your life?

I want to be present wherever I am. Not checked out. Not shut down. Not drifting by.

I want to feel the feelings that surface through the day. I want to know what I’m feeling. I want to feel fully.

I want to have enough energy to do the things that help me be present: enough to exercise, enough to complete tasks, enough to be creative, enough to feed myself–nutritionally, spiritually and emotionally.

I want to stay connected to my daughters–not interfering and not staying too detached.

I want to have fun with my grandchildren, I want to be present every moment I’m with them. I want them to know me and want to be with me.

I want to remember gratitude.

I want to be healthy enough to be present to other people, to be able to listen to them. Listening, really listening, is a gift I can give.

I want to remember that God is always present, that I am never alone.

 

 

 

 

Published in: on September 27, 2019 at 11:13 am  Comments (2)  
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I Love Being Amma

I last posted original writing on this blog a year and a half ago. In that year and a half I had one medical issue after another–surgeries, infection, medication side effects, changes in my arthritis treatment, depression, and midway through all of it we downsized from our big house to a 3 bedroom apartment. Now I have days with little pain, no stairs and plenty of energy.

I am grateful.

And ready to focus on the world around me, not on myself.

My grandchildren, Adaline, Maggie, and Atticus have kept me going through all this time. They are 8, 6, and 6 (cousins, not twins). They’re all in public school  and thriving.

Let me tell you a story that shows why they could make me laugh (SUCH good medicine) when nothing much could.

One day last year, they were all here at our place with Adaline and Atticus’s mom. Atticus was in the living room playing with these discs you build stuff with (Brain Flakes) and the girls asked if they could go back in the guest room and play on the computer. The retired man I live with got them going and we adults were able to sit and converse for a while.

The girls were giggling–how nice they were having fun together! They called Atticus back to see something. Even nicer, right? They were all laughing in a way that caught my daughter’s and my attention. “Maybe we should check on them, she said.” She went back and called to us.

We all 6 huddled around the computer. I started giggling along with the kids. Adaline and Atticus’s mom tried not to. Grandpa Mike was kind of horrified but laughing at the same time.

Adaline, who was 7 and in 1st grade was learning to spell phonetically. So she googled “poop,” a favorite topic of conversation for all 3 kids. They found “The Poopy Song” on You Tube. (click The Poopy Song.)

I guess I have a very immature sense of humor. I thought it was hilarious. My daughter tried to get them to stop it. I wanted to hear the whole thing. 2 more of their parents came in shortly after. Maggie’s dad is much more proper than the rest rest of us. We all took them back to see it.

Now 8 of us huddled around the computer and watched it. Maggie’s mom didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, I think, and kept checking for Maggie’s dad’s reaction. I’m not sure he could breathe. He really was appalled, but realized he was outnumbered and left the room.

I LOVE being a grandparent.

(Update 7-27-2018: At our house today they found another giggle-inducing song about farting. Let One Go, based on the Frozen song “Let It Go.” They could be finding worse.)

Published in: on July 27, 2018 at 9:50 am  Comments (2)  
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The Day Before the Election

Monday, November, 7, 2016

This evening, I’ll be in the Sternberger Elementary School cafeteria helping to set up for the election. While I am there,  members of my church will gather for a prayer service:

Breathe, Pray, Love

A time of quiet, music and prayers for peace and healing

I doubt we are the only church or the only people praying the day before this election.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll turn off my alarm clock at 4:30am. It is DARK at that hour. I’ll shower and dress and gather my supplies (green tea, Diet Coke, change of shoes) to spend the day as an assistant poll worker. Yes, I’m one of those nice, grey-haired ladies who checks you in, gives you an “I voted” sticker, and leads you over to the voting machine.

In NC, voting sites are open from 6:30 am to 7:30 pm. Anyone in line at 7:30 pm gets to vote, no matter how long it takes. It’s a long, long day. And we can’t leave, other than to go down the hall to the bathroom.

All the poll workers bring food. The chief judge makes crockpot soup that is available whenever we get a chance to eat. I made banana muffins. One (male) voter ususally brings us freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. I hope he didn’t vote early. There will likely be plenty of food.

Our precinct is majority white Republican and upper middle class so I don’t expect conflict or commotion. And I hope there’s no conflict or commotion at any polling place anywhere. I’m not confident that will be the case. I’ve never worried about that before.

I’ve been a politics geek most of my life. My Gramma Bryant taught my mother how to be a Democrat and Mom and Dad taught us. We always watched the news growing up and discussed current events at the dinner table. The retired man I live with and I did that with our children and I see it continuing with theirs.

My older daughter took her 4-year-old daughter, who said she wanted “the girl” to win, to vote early. She sent me a picture of Maggie with an “I voted” sticker. I posted it on Facebook with the caption “Voted for the 1st woman president.”

And my younger daughter will take her kids to vote on Election Day. I hope she lets 6 1/2-year-old Adaline push the button for Hillary so she, too, can say she voted for the first woman president.

If you haven’t voted yet, I hope you do. You have no right to complain, ever, if you don’t! Thank you to all the North Carolina voters who voted early–you’ve made Election Day much easier!

Remember to breathe as you wait for this long, difficult campaign to end. And please do pray for peace and healing. We all have to live together after tomorrow, whatever the result.

Published in: on November 7, 2016 at 4:13 pm  Comments (4)  
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Poof! Gone.

I’ve never written about the day my sister died. Not in a journal, not in a workshop, not for this blog.

She jumped out of a small plane on June 10, 1972. Her parachute didn’t open. Neither did the reserve. She was almost 19. I was 20.

Her death played out in my mind over and over last week. I don’t know what triggered it. The retired man I live with said I moaned in my sleep a couple of nights. It was time to write and let go of something. What?

I decided to write it as the 1st chapter of a memoir. I opened a new blank Word document and started typing.

I never really learned to type and now my hands are damaged by my arthritis so I am a two-index-finger writer. The other fingers just sort of hang there. It works for me. Usually.

I typed 4 1/2 pages. I came back from going to the bathroom, sat down at the computer and looked at a blank page.

All my writing was gone. I felt sick, but didn’t panic. I figured one of my wandering fingers had hit something. Surely I could recapture it.

And I could have, had I saved any of it.

I DIDN’T SAVE. Any of it.

I write this blog on the WordPress website and it automatically saves every so often. I don’t have to remember to save. So I never thought to save while I dug deep into the narrative of my sister’s death.

I called my daughter who knows more computer than I do. I’d already done the things she suggested. I tried everything I could find in the Word Help menu.

It was gone. Poof. Out into the universe.

I sat and stared at the blank document.

And I laughed.

Last Saturday at my women’s AA meeting we discussed acceptance. AA’s Big Book includes this paragraph:

And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.

“Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.

What if writing the story of when my sister died was enough?

What if the process mattered more than the product?

What if letting go and acceptance mattered the most?

 

 

Published in: on August 23, 2016 at 10:28 am  Comments (13)  
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“Where’re you from?”

That question always make me sigh. You see, I lived in 5 towns and 4 states by the time I was 15. My dad kept getting better jobs in new places so off we’d go. As I read recently in a book by Tracy K. Smith, we’d “throw ourselves into new schools with blind hope.”

I usually answer that question with “We moved a lot, all over the Midwest.” Sometimes that just confuses people. If I’m feeling a bit ornery, I’ll give them the line about “4 elementary schools, 1 junior high, and 2 high schools.” That usually gets a pitying “Wow.”  I find a weird satisfaction in that.

When I had kids of my own, I wanted them to have a Home to come home to. I wanted for them what the retired man I live with had growing up in Munhall, right outside Pittburgh. We couldn’t recreate the huge extended family nearby (my parents were in Ohio and my mother-in-law was in Munhall), but we could give them Home right here in NC.

For part of their childhood, their dad traveled all of NC and SC as a salesman of surgical instruments. He was gone at least a couple of nights a week for most of their elementary years. He spent so much time in Columbia, SC, that I joked about his other family in SC. (The girls still don’t think that’s funny.) It would have made sense for us to move to Columbia or Greenville, SC, but I said no. I didn’t want to uproot our kids and make them leave Home. We all paid the price for staying Home.

He made up for being gone with “quests” and many outings like the Science Center zoo on the weekends. He gave them unconditional love and doting attention. I appreciated him taking them away on Saturdays! Maybe he tried harder to be a good dad because he was gone so much.

Now the girls are gone, married with kids of their own. The retired man I live with and I have started having the The Conversation about downsizing. We moved across town into this big house when our kids were 11 and 13, 25 years ago. It has served us well, but it’s more house than we need now.

Just in the last few days, I’ve realized our house is Home to only two of us. Our kids each have a Home of their own. Our house is Mom and Dad’s house or Amma and Grandpa’s house for our daughters.

It’s okay for us to give up this house, our Home, and find a smaller, all-on-level, less-expensive-to-maintain Home. Do I look forward to the sorting and purging process? Of course not. But I do like the idea of having less stuff. It’s time.

The main challenge of aging, it seems, is to feel and accept all the change and losses along the way. Leaving Home will be a challenge and a loss for all of us.

Maybe it can be an adventure, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on June 23, 2016 at 11:13 am  Comments (3)  
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Continual Partial Attention :)

I multi-tasked for the last few hours. And now I believe the research that says Continual Partial Attention is inefficient and makes tasks take longer to complete.

I have a bag full of Christmas CD’s that I decided this morning should be downloaded to my iTunes library. My Macbook Air laptop is thin and very light. We bought it because I dropped the heavier, older laptop I had before one too many times. This one’s sleekness requires a CD thing to be attached with a USB cord for playing or downloading a CD.

So first I had to find the CD thingy. It was in the basement with the laptop belonging to the retired man I live with (we don’t share well). I put a load of laundry in the washer while I was down there. Which I just realized I never put in the dryer. That’s how well I multi-task these days.

After downloading a couple of CD’s, it dawned on me I could do something else on the same computer at the same time.

Weeks ago, I told my 93-year-old aunt that I’d print some of my blog posts for her because a while back her computer died and she hasn’t replaced it. (Hint to my cousin, Mike–she’s hoping for some sort of tablet for Christmas from you all.) She says my blog is the only thing she’s missed. I love her!

I couldn’t remember when her computer died so I printed all the posts from this year. I read and relived all of them as I pulled them up, of course.

It’s been a challenging year, with bouts of depression followed by spells of slowly recovering and coming back out of the darkness. That’s obvious from my posts. And I remembered and relived all the ups and downs.

Then I’d realize a CD was done. I’d eject that one and put in another one and go back to the blog posts. After I made a cup of tea.

This quote taped to the turtle tea cup holder on my desk reminds me my life has purpose and meaning:

When our wounds cease to be a source of shame and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers…Our own experience with loneliness, depression, and fear can become a gift…Our own bandaged wounds will allow us to listen to others with our whole beings.

Henri J. M. Nouwen

Now, if I sync my computer iTunes and my iPhone iTunes, I can try out my Christmas music on the new Bluetooth speaker in the living room that the retired man I live with bought for himself the other day. Seems easier to just play the CD’s, doesn’t it?

And I still need to dry that load of clothes.

And find a big envelope and then figure out postage to mail the blog posts to my aunt. I  really don’t want to go to the post office in the middle of December. Maybe I can just send them from the UPS store.

And the tasks continue…

I’m ready for a nap.

 

Published in: on December 14, 2015 at 3:23 pm  Comments (4)  
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Sigh.

If you ask the retired man I live with how I am, he’s likely to answer, “Mean as a snake.” And you, most likely, will laugh, thinking he’s just being cute.  But he tells the truth, at least a partial truth.

I have a wicked streak in my personality that not everyone gets to see or hear.  Sometimes it comes out as sarcastic comments under my breath during a meeting or workshop.  Sometimes it’s a look exchanged with a friend who knows which person gets under my skin anytime she or he speaks.  Sometimes I just sigh.  I sigh a lot in October.

A week or so ago, my WHOLE daily newspaper was pink. Even the comics and the horoscopes.  I sighed, several times.

A few days later, I walked through the den while the retired man I live with was watching a pro football game.  Pink tights and pink Nike cleats with tight white football pants is not a good look for a beefy offensive lineman.  Or anyone else, probably.  I sighed.

My mother-in-law died of breast cancer, as did 2 of her sisters.  My sister-in-law lives with that genetic legacy.  So do my 2 daughters.  One of their friends had a preventative double mastectomy in her 30’s because of her family history.  I have friends who are breast cancer survivors.

I’m jealous of the Pink for Breast Cancer marketing juggernaut.  Who turned my newspaper pink?  And who talked football players into wearing hot pink tights?

Most families have faced some kind of cancer.

My brother had melanoma twice and died of metastatic cancer of unknown origin.  He had it everywhere and chose not to have treatment and go ahead and die swiftly a year ago.

My mother had throat cancer.  After radiation that killed her salivary glands, she ended up with no ability to taste food and lost all her teeth.

I am a cancer survivor.  I know what that means and how it feels. Nine years ago I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Surgery removed one malignant lymph node and another disappeared (??).  My cancer has been in remission since.  I try to forget that it could come back.

My newspaper printed an article recently by Pat Trotta, a local breast cancer survivor.  Here is an excerpt:

Recovery [after her mastectomy on October 1, 2012] was swift and painless, with my biggest problem being cabin fever. As soon as my surgeon gave me the OK to get out of the house, I just put the bulb of my drain tube in the pocket of my jeans and did what most women would do: I went shopping. I was thrilled at the prospect of a little retail therapy so I could quit thinking about the darn cancer.

My first stop was my favorite home improvement store, where the first thing I saw was a display of Pink Ribbon door knobs. My second stop was my favorite office supply store, where I was bowled over by a huge display that ranged from “Pink Ribbon Uni-Ball Gel Pens” to a pink-handled No. 8 scissors that claimed to “raise awareness about breast cancer.”

I was shopping to forget my breast cancer, but instead there were reminders everywhere I looked. I felt like I was in a frantic recurring nightmare, running from store to store, with more pink items ready to attack me behind the door of every retail establishment.

I had to get away from all this pink! I decided to watch a football game, surely a no-pink haven. Wrong! I thought I was having hallucinations when I saw NFL cheerleaders with pink pom-poms and football players with pink cleats. Apparently it has become politically incorrect to ignore pink in October. Employers are forcing their employees to wear pink shirts for a month.

This has gone too far…

I did some research and found that there are 48 colors and color combinations of “awareness ribbons” representing 221 types of cancer. So what about the other 220 diseases? What do their ribbons look like?

My solution is to start referring to October as “Cancer Awareness Month” and include all types of cancers. I actually feel selfish that all the focus and attention is on my type of cancer.

As retailers consider Pinktober for next year, my wish is that these displays would include products in all colors, reflecting all types of cancer.

One of my daughters started making tie-dye shirts last week.  I’m going to ask her to make all of us October shirts using these cancer awareness colors (the ones that have affected our family): Pink (breast), Dark blue (colon), White (lung), Lime (lymphoma), Black (melanoma), Burgundy (head/neck), and Plum (for caregivers).

What colors will you use?

 

 

 

 

Published in: on October 15, 2014 at 3:52 pm  Comments (4)  
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Tapestry

On her mother’s  last day (though no one knew it was her last day), Terry got some help and pushed her mother’s bed out a door and into a garden.  Her mother lived through a decade of dementia and had been actively dying for 2 1/2 weeks with Terry by her side.  It was a beautiful early spring day and a comfortable breeze ruffled through the new blooms.  A robin sang  for them.  A bee buzzed around her mother’s head for a long time.  Terry thinks it was her dead brother, Jimmy.  Betty died outside in the spring garden air that afternoon.

I don’t believe in a God that manipulates us like marionettes.  I do believe God offers us situations and opportunities that can move us in one direction or another and that our choices have consequences, both immediate and long-term.

I like the idea of life as a tapestry.  These words are from “Tapestry,” a Carole King song you can easily find on youtube:

My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue
An everlasting vision of the ever-changing view
A wondrous, woven magic in bits of blue and gold
A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold

On the back side of a tapestry, strings of many colors go every-which-way, knots sit in unexpected places, blank places look bare, strings overlap, and some just hang loose.  On the front side, a beautiful picture emerges.

I was assigned a project, maybe in 6th or 7th grade, to learn about two professions.  I picked teaching and foreign service.  I researched foreign service requirements and options like working in an embassy or for the State Dept in DC.  The work fascinated me, but I remember no encouragement at school or at home for such an ambition.

I expected to be a teacher most of my life.  I enjoyed school and good grades had value in my family.  My parents both taught after college.  I never really knew I had other choices.  What did other girls  who became attorneys or ministers or scientists hear that I did not?

I started taking French in 7th grade and took it all through high school and even took a French literature class (in French) in college.  It came easily for me. I loved the sound of it and all I learned about French culture and way of life.

My college choices came down to UNC and Duke.  UNC=Special Education.  Duke=French.  I was the oldest of 3 kids close together in age.  Our college costs would overlap for years.  I chose UNC, a state school with much lower tuition. I earned a bachelor’s degree in Special Education and found a husband.

In the mid-1970’s, in my 20’s, I taught at the Tammy Lynn Center, a private residential and educational facility for the mentally handicapped in Raleigh, NC.  Terry’s brother, Jimmy, who she thinks came to their mother as a bee as she was dying, lived at the Center while I was there and attended the school during the day.  Terry’s parents were among the founders of Tammy Lynn Center and I remember talking with them.  We discovered this surprising connection during a get-to-know-each-other lunch a few years ago.

After our children left home, my husband and I took my dream trip–a week in Paris.  Though I hadn’t spoken French for over 20 years, much came back to me. I bought a necklace from a woman who spoke no English using my memory and my French-English dictionary.  I was fearless!  I fell in love with everything French.  I think I was French in another life.  I went back with my daughters a year later.

I am grateful for each day I have.  Since a cancer diagnosis 9 years ago followed quickly by remission, I danced at both my daughter’s weddings, am blessed with 3 grandchildren nearby and am still happily married to the husband I found at Carolina, though I call him “the-retired-man-I-live-with” now.  I even went back to Paris–alone!

I love and treasure the life I live these days.  My daughters like to spend time with us and willingly share their children with us.  I volunteer at church and with a non-profit that serves those touched by HIV/AIDS.  I’ve been sober for almost 27 years.  I have friends from all parts of this community where we have deep roots. My tapestry is knotty and messy on the back.  The front is beautiful.

But sometimes I wonder…what if I’d taken another path?  Why did no one encourage me to take a different piece of string for my tapestry?  What would it have looked like?

 

Published in: on April 18, 2014 at 8:47 am  Comments (15)  
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Enough Is Enough

When I started this blog, I set an intention: to leave pieces of myself for Adaline (and then Maggie and Atticus) to find when they got older and I wasn’t around anymore and they started to wonder who “Robin” was besides a sort-of cool grandmother. In the first post, on June 9, 2010, I explained the blog title, “Amma Ponders:”

The ammas, as they were called, help us to find ways to gently pay attention to God’s presence with us in all places and through all things. And they teach us to grow in the awareness that we are each unique, remarkable parts of a vast, vital, interconnected cosmos. The word means mother. It came to refer to those women who were spiritual mothers to many. Their insistence on practicing silence, solitude and stillness provides a kind of medicine for our over-heated, frenetic culture.”

“Amma Ponders” reflects my spirituality.  Depressed, my ability “to gently pay attention to God’s presence with us in all places and through all things” disappeared.  I had no energy for that.  I practiced isolation rather than solitude. And I wrote little.

My new antidepressant helps me today.  My joints and my soul love the few sunny, 50-60 degree days we had lately.  I am waking up and looking out beyond myself.

I’ll be 62 years old in a few weeks.  And, once again, I want to know what I will be when I grow up.  Several wise ammas and abbas (men) listened to my string of “I don’t know…” sentences the other day and led me to a knowledge that it is okay not to know.  One woman quoted Julian of Norwich, “Await.”  An ex-Marine-Episcopal-priest said, “I may not know where I am, but I know I’m not lost.”  Another woman spoke of “glimmers of grace.”  And a woman older than I “still has an ambition to give.”

I pondered their words for several days.  I sat down to write this morning.  I found myself re-reading that first blog post about why I picked “Amma” for my grandmother name.

For a lot of years, I answered “stay-at-home-mom” to the question, “What do you do?”  That was my calling.  And once I got sober, I got pretty good at it. But I was never sure “mother” was enough.

Amma “means mother. Their insistence on practicing silence, solitude and stillness provides a kind of medicine for our over-heated, frenetic culture.”

I am a grownup. I am a child of God.  I am Amma.  And that is enough.

Published in: on February 26, 2014 at 11:46 am  Comments (10)  
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