Turtle Pokes Her Head Out

I am an introvert, a Turtle (see “Turtle or Gazelle“), and I’ve been really sad.  This line from the Turtle post sums up where I’ve been:

    Turtle naturally withdraws and goes within

when in turmoil.

It does not need to learn

the importance of this focusing inward,

it naturally knows.

In cancer survivor circles, they talk about Finding Your New Normal.  New Normal comes after a scary diagnosis, falling in love, a death, a birth, a letting go, a child leaving home, a graduation–any life-altering event or moment.

My New Normal includes:

1.  I am the only surviving member of my family of origin.  I used to have a mom and a dad and 2 siblings. (my sister died in 1972).  That’s a lot of memory gone missing.  I still have some questions.

2.  I am really up in my brother’s business and it feels wrong because he was VERY private.  (I’m the executor for his estate.)

3.  I tell people “You better have a will or your family will hate you.”  Yes, my brother had a will and it’s still a pain in the a** to sort out what to do when.  Someone should teach us this stuff at some point.  Thank God for the internet.  And a nice paralegal in Ned Barnes’s office in Carolina Beach..

4.  I am truly grateful for the retired man I live with and am married to, my daughters and sons-in-law, and above all (sorry guys!) my 3 grandchildren.  They stop the sad, at least for a while, and they help me smile and reconnect with what’s real.

5.  I’m not young anymore.  I’m not old yet, but more of my life is behind me than ahead of me.  I want to be aware of every minute I have left–happy, sad, blah, exciting, boring, rainy, sunny, hot, cold or perfect.  Each moment matters.  I guess it always has, but maybe more now.

6.  I read and watch Dr. Oz, the American Ninja competition and Entertainment Tonight instead of drinking, binge-eating, and shopping to temporarily stop my feelings.  Well, sometimes online shopping still acts like it helps, but I’m getting better.  Progress, not perfection, huh?

7.  I think about my brother, Jim, every day.  Partly because there’s stuff I need to do for the estate, partly because his ashes are on the fireplace mantle in the (finished) basement of our house, and partly because I keep remembering I can’t call him because he died.  We probably talked once or twice a month, at best, while he was alive.  I wish it had been more.  So now I feel closer to him than I have for years.  That is sort of confusing.  And why I keep remembering he’s not down at the beach like he’s supposed to be.

8.  Thanksgiving will be hard.  We saw Jim 3-4 times a year.  But he always came for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  He’d drink his Coke Zeros one after the other (he and I both stopped drinking alcohol years ago–bad gene pool.).  He had an amazing caffeine tolerance.  He’d kind of stand back out of the chaos–we were a noisy bunch even before grandchildren–and watch and smile.  We knew he loved us.  And that he liked his not-chaotic, solitary, hardworking life at the beach.  And that was okay.

9.  Jim’s best friend since high school football, Barry, is now my friend, too.  He says Jim was always his quarterback.  Barry was a lineman and his job was to protect Jim.  He is sad, too. We talked on the phone yesterday for an hour and a half.  He told me things I didn’t know about Jim’s past and I told Barry some things, too.  I know my brother better now, thanks to his friends, than I did before he died.  I still love him and I like him even more.

10.  I want to get back to writing amusing or provocative or silly blog posts.  I just had to do this one first.  Thanks for waiting.

(And thank you to the people who have been checking my blog for something new since August 15.  I don’t know who you are, but you are special!)

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Published in: on September 11, 2013 at 9:44 am  Comments (8)  
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I ‘tuck.

I’m stuck.  Or as Adaline used to say, “I ‘tuck.”  I’ve been ‘tuck for weeks.  Not able to write.  Not able to plan much beyond today.  Wondering what I am supposed to be doing and how to get to the point of doing…anything.

I know that sounds like depression, but this time I felt more lost than depressed.  I asked God for some kind of sign or message.  Nothing.  Besides feeling stuck.

Slowly, the light started to go on inside my brain.  I spend a lot of my time waiting for the next disaster/crisis/time of need.  On hold. Stuck. ‘Tuck.

Last year, in 2012, I lived that way.  We quickly went from one grandchild to three.  Maggie was born in January, 90 minutes away, to Stephanie and Will, and had 2 open-heart heart surgeries by the time she was 9 months old.   Adaline turned 2 in February and welcomed (?) baby brother, Atticus, in April. With Kristin and Josh, their parents, they moved 30 minutes away a few months later.

Our daughters took turns with disaster/crisis/time of need.  I gave up hope of planning anything more than a day or two in the future.  The retired man I live with and I turned 61 and 60.  We tried to spread ourselves, like a spoonful of peanut butter on bread, as far as possible, but we got thinned out at the edges.

2013–they are all healthy and well!  Or at least living in a normal state of sleep-deprivation with joy and wonder, colds and ear infections, crawling and walking, eating solids, talking, tantrums,  toilet training, and sibling rivalry.

I still live each day with hyper-vigilance and concern.  Ok, worry.  I am stuck, waiting for trouble or need.

You know what, I don’t have to live like this anymore!

On May 9, 2013, I celebrate 26 years of sobriety.  26 years, one day at a time, of no alcohol or inappropriate drugs.  Today I am a recovering, not cured, alcoholic and I’ve learned a few things:

I am a beloved Child of God.  And therefore, I have worth.

God and AA  and Al Anon help me stay sober.

I can’t control anything except my thoughts and actions.

Everyone I cross paths with is also a beloved Child of God, doing the best they can.  They each have a Higher Power who watches over them.  That Higher Power is not and never will be me.

There’s freedom in letting go of protecting others from pain and hard stuff that I can’t stop anyway.  I learned how to deal with pain and hard stuff one step at a time, one day at a time, asking for help from God and family and friends.  I can’t stop the pain and hard stuff in my daughters’ lives.  I hate that, but they have their own lessons to learn, if I stay out of the way.

I’m writing now.  I have ideas for how to use my freed-up time.

God says, “Go for it.  They will be okay.”

So, I Was Thinking…

Of dirty, musky-smelling potatoes

and greasy, hot, salty french fries.

Of magical carrots pulled out of the dirt

and carrot-colored Cheetos.

Of oat-bread french toast with real butter churned a few miles away at Homeland Creamery

and Yo’ Drops from Plum Organics (click here).

Of bits of scrambled eggs from chickens raised by Milton and Bill

and pediatrician-sanctioned Goldfish crackers for an almost one-year-old still reluctant to eat solid food.

Of a trip to a Farmer’s Market

and a neighborhood a few miles away labeled a “food desert.”

Of Wheat Belly (click here)

and my 91-year-old Aunt Nadine from Iowa who has always eaten “meat and potatoes” meals and makes her own yogurt and can out-walk me.

Of the joy in watching a 3-year-old playing and running in the backyard with a new dog

and the impotent stupor induced by Brian Williams describing whatever new disaster or threat NBC has pictures of.

Of sturdy yellow daffodils poking up while I wear my red wool coat

and the shriveling blooms on the magnolia tree outside my office window because it’s not supposed to be below freezing in NC at the beginning of April.

Of the total unpredictability of weather

and our need to know what to expect about something.

Of triple-pane energy-efficient windows

and the smell of fresh spring air bringing tree pollen to my sinuses through the open window.

Of the fun of shopping with Kristin (with no kids) for Atticus’s 1-year-birthday-party outfit

and the helplessness of not knowing how my spinning head of vertigo ended up lying on the floor of Gymboree at Friendly Shopping Center.

Of how each moment of each day is precious

and how much that is worthy of wonder we choose not to notice.

Baby Bad Ass

I started calling her that shortly after she was born.  It still fits.

Last week I wrote about my granddaughter having heart surgery on September 27.  She did and after a rough first 24 hours, she improves each day.  Today, Sunday, she moved out of ICU, her parents could finally hold her and she is able to nurse on demand.  Last I heard, she was sleeping in her mama’s arms.

Once again, I am amazed at the toll emotional stress takes on my body.  So I rested and napped and read the paper today.  Tomorrow I hope to hold my brave and strong granddaughter.  And her mom and dad.

We are so very grateful for family, friends, medical professionals and medical insurance.  We feel surrounded by all that is good.  Thank God.

Right foot, left foot, right foot, breathe.

(Here is why I haven’t written much lately for this blog.  And why it may be a while before I post again.)

My younger daughter (with her husband, 2 1/2-year-old daughter and 5 month old son) has been moving from our town to the next town over, 30 minutes away, for the last 2 weeks.  Their leases overlap so everything didn’t go at once.  Maybe not a good thing for a couple who are organization-challenged and procrastination-inclined.  (She didn’t get those traits from her daddy.)

The retired man I live with has helped A LOT.  My job has been to watch and care for and amuse the children.  The toddler still takes a good nap.  That helps.  The 5-month-old is still totally nursing, will take a bottle of pumped milk and can go about an hour or 2 before Mommy-withdrawal sets in.  One day we drove to the new house to get his mom–we couldn’t settle him down.  After that, my child care and his mom stayed together.

My older daughter’s 8-month-old baby is having heart surgery on Thursday, 9/27.  Her abnormality was diagnosed the day after she was born and she has grown and developed well since then.  The surgery is necessary to guarantee a normal life as she grows into adolescence and adulthood.

We know a couple of grown women who had the surgery 30-40 years ago.  Each has lived with no restrictions ever since.  We have confidence that all will go well for the baby.  Our concern is mostly for our daughter and son-in-law.  When one of our children hurts, we hurt.

Our mantra these days is right foot, left foot, right foot, breathe. (Thank you Anne Lamott.)  We know that love and prayer and support always help.  We are surrounded by many friends who are praying.  We feel it.  And we are all grateful.

My Trainers

I changed gyms and paid for one-on-one hours with a trainer.  I got Jodi.  She’s 25 (sigh) and kind.  She challenges me, but she listens when I describe how my body works.

I’ve written before about having rheumatoid arthritis (click on Rheumatoid Arthritis in the cloud of words down below on the right).  Life can be a challenge some days.

So can an 18-month-old granddaughter.  Someone asked me yesterday if she’s walking.  I said, “No, she runs.”  She’s not chubby anymore, but she is solid.  And sometimes squirmy.

So Jodi helps me strengthen my upper body and core.  And we do cardio stuff.  Ever try an elliptical machine?  I am awed by people who do it for a long time.  An hour?? My goal is to move beyond 5 minutes.

Humility and a sense of humor go to the gym with me.  (There’s a fine line between humor and self-denigration.)  I am grateful for all my body can do.  Jodi pushes me past stopping just because I want to.

I led a writing group at a drop-in center for people who are HIV-positive yesterday.  The prompt was a quote from an article by Nancy Copeland-Payton in Presence (the journal of Spiritual Directors International.)

It’s a roller coaster.  I didn’t buy a ticket, never wanted a ride…the illness will keep recurring and I will die of it.

Who am I…?  I’m no longer the person who used to be in control, who had energy to take care of tasks and other people.  Rather, I’m the one who needs care.  I’m the one who is vulnerable.  This is not an identity I choose.  Buried inside are losses that need to be cried out.  This is a long mourning process.

I finally let go of my control and let myself be vulnerable and cared for by others.  When I learn to receive their care with profound gratitude, I receive the greatest gift.  I realize how much I am loved.  It’s extraordinary.  This love lets me be even more vulnerable.

While we wrote I played a Kenny G CD (they like soft jazz).  As we finished, we listened to the music and rested.

I wrote a whiny page about not liking roller coasters and not wanting to be vulnerable.  They wrote and shared about God’s love and how their disease saved them from drugs and a wasted life and changed them for the better.  I didn’t want to share mine.

The last song we listened to (not planned by me) was Louis Armstrong singing “It’s A Wonderful Life”.  They sang along and smiled when it ended.

Amazing grace, again.

Cracked Souls

I heard a man say that his HIV-positive diagnosis was a blessing.  I know a woman who says she is a grateful recovering alcoholic.

The man who is HIV positive says his diagnosis stopped him from following a path that would have killed him.  My friend in recovery says her worst day sober is better than her best day when she drank.  Both talk about the people they wouldn’t have met otherwise.  They know the meaning of self-compassion and they live healthy lives, physically, and spiritually.

Maybe that’s the common denominator–the spirituality thing.  They talk about a higher power that has kept them alive for a reason.  They share with others where they have been and where they are now.  The cracks in their souls that were caused by pain and sorrow let their light shine through.  They are wounded healers walking among us.

Some people are bitter and angry because their lives are not what they expected.  We all have hard stuff,  eventually.  Loved ones die, illnesses are diagnosed, jobs are lost, and children make dumb choices and get hurt.  It might be tornadoes or hurricanes or floods.  Relationships flounder and addictions are rampant.

We have choices.  We will feel the anger and sadness and panic and confusion that follow a crisis.  Then what?  How do we keep putting one foot in front of the other?  How do we find the strength to do the next right thing with some grace and dignity?

The man who is HIV-positive has connected with others who have that diagnosis.  My alcoholic friend has a recovery community for support and encouragement.  They have found compassion and understanding.  They have found others who can laugh at the absurdities of life.  They are not alone.

The Paper (or Cloth) Bag Story

Take your problems, all of them, from the tiniest annoyances to the most horrific, difficult challenges and put all those problems into a brown paper bag or a politically-correct cloth eco-bag.

Then imagine if everyone else took all of their problems, put them into their own bags and brought them to the center of town.

Think of how many bags there would be, all piled up in one big mountain of brown paper and brightly-colored cloth bags.

If you were told you could pick any bag of problems and take it home with you, do you think you’d want someone else’s problems?

(Story borrowed from The Faith Club, by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner)

“Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.”  The Familiar can be quite comfortable.  It’s predictable, we think.  It’s known.  We’ve practiced dealing with it. We assume we know how things will turn out and we get ready.

My body and I have lived with rheumatoid arthritis for over 20 years.  Pain and discomfort vary.  My pain–physical, emotional, spiritual–is invisible if I choose to disguise it with humor or stoicism.  So is yours.

Remember PacMan?  That’s how I pictured my arthritis in the beginning.  The disease was an enemy force of scary little critters using my blood vessels as a superhighway to randomly chomp on my joints.  I hated them and the medications I was trying were losing a lot of battles against them.

Eventually, I gave up the anger and war images.  I had to make peace with those mean monsters inside me.  If I could be compassionate and forgiving, they might be gentler.  So I prayed for willingness.

Today we are next-door neighbors inside my body, the critters and my Spirit.  Sometimes they are noisy and intrusive, but I can shut my windows and ignore the doorbell.  They are familiar and they could be worse.  I accept them as they are and I deal with them one day at a time.

I know how to do “hard”.  I’ve had practice.  We all have.  I know I can probably handle most any problem that pops up next.

If I could pick one bag from the pile, would I pick my own again?  I’m not sure.

My Inner Two-Year-Old

Adaline is one now.  Her world is just fine unless she is hungry or tired.  Then someone takes care of her. No one expects her to be self-sufficient.  What does she have to be snotty about?  The one-year-old is usually quite content.

In a year, she will be 2.  Things will be different then, I think.

Disability came as a surprise for me after my knee replacement surgery a year ago.  I expected to hurt and hobble.  I didn’t know I would need help with everything, including going to the bathroom and bathing (which Mike insisted I do daily so my incision didn’t get infected).  I appreciate my husband’s patient and loving care through those weeks.

I wasn’t always gracious.  My inner two-year-old raged and cried and temper-tantrumed more than a few times.

I couldn’t put on a pair of pants by myself because my knee wouldn’t bend.

“Let me help.”  “I do it.”

I had to use a walker to get to the bathroom and then I had trouble standing up.

“Let me help.”  “I do it.”

I couldn’t stand up long enough to fix anything to eat.

“Let me help.”  “I do it.”

I will be sympathetic when Adaline says “I do it“, even if she can’t.

My knee is functioning well.  I am grateful daily for what I am able to do on my own.

I can take my own showers and go to the bathroom alone and even put on my pants easily.  Maybe one day that won’t be the case.  I do wonder if I should have long-term-care insurance.

Today, just for today, I did what I wanted.  My inner two-year-old is very grateful.

Where’d It Go?

My granddaughter is learning about “Where’d it go?”.  Yesterday she was on my husband’s lap and he showed her the cross he wears on a chain inside his shirt.  She, 10 months old and teething, wanted to put it in her mouth.  So he dropped it back inside his shirt.  She pulled the neck of the shirt and looked down inside.  There it was!

That’s how I feel about my week.  Where’d it go?

I had plans and goals for this week, mapped out on a nice chart given to me by Elaine, a spiritual coach.  It breaks each day into 3-hour blocks. You fill in one to-do for each block.  The hope is to get that one to-do completed in each 3-hour block.

None of my blocks got checked off.  We had snow and ice that I wouldn’t drive on.  My inner child had a “snow-day” mentality. We babysat Wednesday and Friday and I (choose to) get nothing done if Adaline is here.

I learned recently there are three possible responses to stress/anxiety.  I knew about “fight or flight.  The third response is “freeze”.

I need to plan for a class I start teaching on January 19.  I’m out of my comfort zone with this project, which I volunteered for.  I’m afraid of not doing well.

In my family of origin we dealt with distress or fear by shutting down emotionally and getting lost in something to read.  We are all good readers, but not very good with feelings.

I read a great book this week.  I didn’t work on my class.

Now I’m more anxious than before and writing this instead of working on my class!

Help me!