What Love Looks Like

flickr, Geraint Rowland

This month, in our Reclaim the Sass Challenge, our theme has been “All That Glitters.” A few days into the challenge, my mom got sick. Hospital kind of sick.

Obviously, that doesn’t glitter.

The week before, my son was in the same hospital.

That didn’t glitter, either.

But here I sit at my coffee shop, listening to Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and choking out some words for Beautiful You about my current life situation, how that makes me think of you, and what story I’m going to choose to believe about all of it.

A couple of things:

First, my mom is a rock, a lion among lions. So, even though you know lions get sick, it’s still kind of stunning.

Second, if you want beauty and joy in your life, you’re gonna have to INSIST on it. Cause, girlfriend, there is ALWAYS something going on to convince you otherwise.

There is beauty in the contrasts of life. In fact, there is a handshaking relationship between adversity and grace.

Poet Kahlil Gibran writes,

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.

Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.

And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;

And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.

And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.

I love how he says that our pain is equal in wonder to our joy if we can keep our heart in wonderment at the daily miracles of life. That has been so very true for me.

Last night I returned from the hospital and had supper with Mr. Delicious and the last of our six boys. We had grilled cheese and soup.

Simple. Elegant. Enough.

Then we changed clothes and headed over to the middle school for our son’s Holiday Band Concert. I was a chaperone and sat there as the young people cavorted and flirted with one another as they waited for their turn to take the stage.

Again, simple. Joyful. Poignant.

This was my LAST middle school holiday concert. I’ve been going to them for nine years. I was very aware of that entire little arc in my life as the kids played their little hearts out.

Completion. Memories. Gratitude.

Afterwards, our little group went out for a scoop of ice cream. Other band families had already gathered there and I relished in the homey rituals of small towns everywhere

Community. Warmth. Peace.

I also thought about our freedoms and sent a prayer for those who have dedicated their lives to keeping the peace for my beautiful people.

Bravery. Principled. Constancy.

And that made me think about all the mothers everywhere who don’t have the same security as I do. And so I said a prayer for them as well

Compassion. Reverence. Deep appreciation.

Interspersed with all these small reflections was the laughter of my son and his friends. Mr. Delicious looked especially fine is his long black coat. I said prayers for him too, because, like my mother, I have always been the “strong one,” and I am so grateful that I have a man in my life who matches me in strength.

Love. Trust. Reliance.

It’s not always an easy dynamic, but we are making our way.

In fact, this Christmas Eve will be our fifth wedding anniversary. This morning, I asked him if he thought five years of marriage is the same thing as five years of sobriety. (It is said that anybody who makes it to five years of continuous sobriety has a 95% chance of surviving alcoholism.)

But he intentionally misunderstood me and says, “Do you mean that marriage is like sobriety in that you intentionally deny yourself all the things you want most?”

Ha.Ha.Ha.

Ho.Ho.

“Or, do you mean that, for every 100 days of marriage, you’ll be okay with 95 of them, but the other five you’re gonna want to run like hell the other way?”

We decided to go with that comparison.

Today is one of the 95 good days. Today, I don’t want to run like hell the other way.

From any of it.

In sickness.

In health.

In good times.

And bad.

Through all of it, the difficulties define the grace, the dark reveals the light.

Merry Christmas, dearest Beautiful You.

From my heart to yours.

Love, Jen

photo: Geraint Rowland

 

 

 

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We’re Throwing a Forgiveness Party!

flickr, Chotiwat Lattapanit

My friend, Bill Rickard, says that forgiveness is “relinquishing the right to retaliate.” With that spirit in mind, I’d like to suggest we all work as a community today to acquire the spirit of forgiveness.

In the comments below, share one thing you’d like have forgiven and one offer of forgiveness you can make.

Now here’s the thing – we never improve our lot in life by confessing the harms of others. We are NOT looking for a way to shame or “call out” any other human being.

I think you know what an over-share is – we’re going to try and avoid that. Instead, let’s try and do this exercise with the spirit of generosity and anonymity.

I think we can do it.

Note: Remember that you can forgive yourself, too. That’s always a good place to start.

I’ll go first,

Love, Jen

P.S. If you aren’t a member of the Life After Tampons community, we’d love to welcome you. Enter your contact info below so we can stay in touch with updates and such.

Photo: flickr, Chotiwat Lattapanit

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Because You Are Already Good

a. zalonis, flickr

You might have noticed that I’ve been on radio silence for a little bit. I actually have written quite a bit, but none of it has felt share-worthy.

I suppose I’ve been second-guessing myself a bit too much.

This morning, my husband says, “Hey, I was looking at your website yesterday and I noticed that you haven’t posted anything new in like a month! Aren’t you worried all your people will go away?”

Me: “I’m worried about a lot of things, dear.”

And, I suppose that has been it. I’m still making my way back from that horrible depression that kicked my butt a few months back. It feels like my writing is still influenced by that.

And I guess I just didn’t want to be tiresome. One of those other things I worry about.

Should I pretend to be entertaining, or should I tell the truth?  Which is really only my truth. And that is really only as true as I decide it is. Just for today.

Plus there was this: A couple of weeks ago, a pretty successful blogger posted that you should only write positive things for your people. She went on to note that if you write anything angry or sad or depressing in any way, you’ll only attract angry, sad, and depressing people. And, those people aren’t “buyers.”

Is that what I should be worried about? Buyers?

Really?

I gotta apologize to Beautiful You for getting stuck there for a bit. It sounded so plausible. But then the chink in her argument opened up and I saw it:

If you only write positive things because you only want to attract “positive” people who become buyers, where do people go when they are experiencing the other half of their human condition?

Where do you go when you just can’t sing one more verse of “Life is All Sunshine and Roses”? Where do you go when it feels like everybody but you has a magical unicorn that farts rainbow sprinkles?

You know what I mean?

Sometimes, it seems like everywhere a woman turns she is being told to:

  • Play nice
  • Don’t make trouble
  • Smile
  • Help other people
  • Feed the hungry
  • House the homeless
  • Tend the sick
  • Ignore the exhaustion

Self-denial, self-denial, self-denial.

It’s no wonder we arrive at the middle of our lives completely confused and depleted.

So, here’s what I think:

I think we – the women here at the LAT community – are the brave ones.

We aren’t afraid to discuss the truth – that life is OFTEN messy, and confusing, and even ugly.

That doesn’t make us messy, and confused, and ugly – okay, well maybe we’ll give you a “yes” on the confused part.

But you can be confused and still embrace life.

You can be afraid and still show up.

You can be angry and learn to channel that anger into right action.

So, I’m poking my head back in from the silence because I’m so tired of all the messaging that insists that a woman deny her own experience to make other people more comfortable.

To heck with that! Just because we know fear doesn’t mean we succumb to it.

We are Women Who Rise!

We can talk about the messy, depressing, unfair parts of life because we also see and note the stark beauty that reveals itself from the destruction.

Beauty and hardship define each other.

So be it.

Love, Jennifer

P.S. If you agree and are looking for a community that supports you in living into your full life experience, we would love it if you joined us. Sign up here for regular updates:

photo: a. zalonis, flickr

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The Gift that Should Have Killed Me

flickr, yolanda

“24 Years.

364 Days.

Today. Just for today.”

 

That was one of my first thoughts upon awakening this morning.

You see, I am an alcoholic.

Fortunately, I’m the kind of alcoholic who no longer drinks.

Well, at least I’m not drinking today. That is the promise I make to myself on this, the eve of my 25th YEAR of sobriety.

* * *

I wasn’t supposed to be an alcoholic.

In fact, I worked really, really hard not to be.

I was a good girl. I did what I was told. I got good grades, graduated at the top of my class in college. I carried up to 23 credit hours a semester at college. I was on the Board of Student Government, a member of five national honor societies.

I was first chair in the University Symphony Orchestra. In fact, I played the flute so well and practiced for so long that they actually paid me to practice.

And perform.

* * *

Oh, I’m a performer, all right.

I performed and performed and smiled and plotted.

So I wouldn’t be an alcoholic.

Cause alcoholics die and leave you. Like my father did.

The leaving came when I was a baby, the dying took another decade.

Esophageal varices (that’s when you drink so much you thin the lining of your throat and then you bleed out) followed by double pneumonia.

Age 34.

Sick his entire adult life. In and out of institutions. But he got that one award from the Red Cross for donating blood.

Oh – he was a brilliant musician, too.

Self-taught.

In fact, my very first life memory is toddling down the hallway to watch him play the banjo.

* * *

So, at any rate, I thought if you worked really hard and achieved great things the disease couldn’t “get you.”

I was wrong.

There was another alcoholic in my life in those days — my grandfather, Francis Marcey, or “Pop Pop,” as we called him.

I was in the third grade when Pop Pop nearly died before he decided to get sober. After that, his entire life was dedicated to helping other alcoholics achieve sobriety.

We used to spend summertime at Grandma and Pop Pop’s beach house in Piney Point, MD. In the back room of the cottage there was a black rotary phone.

That was the “sobriety phone.” When it rang it meant that another alcoholic needed my Pop Pop’s help.

It was serious business, that phone and it’s special ring. It was so effing LOUD for one thing. There was no way you could miss it.

When it rang, Pop Pop would grunt and lift himself from his baby-poop green recliner.  The ringing of the phone signaled the silencing of all grandchildren present.

Pop Pop had work to do.

And work he did.

There are entire generations of Southern Marylanders whose lives have changed because of my Pop Pop and Grandma’s tireless commitment to helping others recover from this otherwise terminal disease.

* * *

Pop Pop and Grandma had a back cottage on their property. That’s where all the men who were new to sobriety lived while they were being restored to health.

Grandma made them lunch. We were in charge of taking it back to them.

White bread, thick, ruby red tomato slices from the local farmer’s roadside stand. Mayo. Salt. Pepper.

So many alcoholics getting sober on Grandma’s tomato sandwiches.

* * *

Fast forward 27 years.

I’m an alcoholic in recovery now. I’m 31 years old. My baby – my only daughter – had just died in my arms.

I didn’t drink over the death of Grace.

I didn’t drink because, like my Pop Pop, I had made a decision:

 

We Stay Sober Under Any and All Conditions.

 

That’s my decision.

I’ve been sober through the death of a child. The end of a broken marriage with all the trimmings. I’ve been sober through the death of countless friends – my poor comrades in sobriety who just couldn’t grasp – and KEEP – this one tenet of living –

We stay sober under any and all conditions.

I’ve been sober through good times and bad. I’ve been sober through mundane times – those are actually the trickiest.

Because when life is quiet my mind gets busy making shit up to worry about.

But through it all, I don’t drink. Because we stay sober under any and all conditions.

Here was one of those “conditions”:

* * *

Some months after Grace died, I was mercifully pregnant again.

It was a “high risk” pregnancy.

I spent the last four months of my pregnancy lying on my left side.

So my baby would LIVE.

I didn’t drink.

Because – We stay sober under any and all conditions.  And this particular condition was life threatening to the child growing inside me.

So, there I was.

On my left side.

I was allowed to sit up three times a day.

So that gravity didn’t kill my baby.

I reflect with awe on the Jennifer who lived through that time.

I admire her courage so very much.

Every day I was in a race – a battle with gravity, a race through time.

I couldn’t stand up for long periods of time. The baby might fall out like his big sister before his lungs would allow him to survive on the outside.

Oddly, I don’t remember being afraid at the time, though the memory of that time TERRIFIES me.

But I don’t drink.

Because, we stay sober under any and all conditions.

* * *

In April of that year, my eldest son, Clark FRANCIS was born.

Full term.

Working lungs.

Beautiful.

Safe.

Clark was the first sober baby in more than 100 YEARS on one side of my family.

You see, I am the first sober parent in more that a CENTURY from the Boykin side of the family. And, honestly, there haven’t been that many from the other side, either.

Alcoholism is my family disease. It has RAVAGED my ancestral line.

My sobriety prayer?

“Let it begin with me.”

* * *

A few months after Clark was born, we took him on vacation with us to the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

I don’t know why, but something told me I HAD to take him with me to meet some other sober alcoholics I knew there.

These were my sober alcoholic friends from the beach. The summer before they had loved me through the death of my only child. Now it was time for them to meet her little brother.

* * *

There was a man speaking at the front of the room. He was celebrating twenty-something years of sobriety at the time.

His name was Jim.

Jim was talking about his early sobriety. He had gotten sober in Southern Maryland. In fact, he has newly sober at the same time and in the same county as my Pop Pop.

Jim went on and on and on about his first sober mentor. He talked about all the things that man had shared with him. He credited his sobriety – his entire life – to the love and support of that one sober man.

Afterwards, I went up to Jim. I had to introduce my second sober baby to him and ask him – did he know my Pop Pop?

So, standing there cradling the second sober baby in a century in my arms, I asked Jim –

“Did you happen to know Francis Marcey? He was sober in southern Maryland, too, about the time you were there and he was my grandfather.”

“Francis Marcey?” he boomed.  “Your grandfather was Francis Marcey?”

“Well, yes,” I answered. “And this is his namesake, Clark FRANCIS, and he is the second sober baby to be born in my father’s family in over a century. You see, my daughter, Grace, died last year. But I didn’t drink. Because WE STAY SOBER UNDER ANY AND ALL CONDITIONS.”

And this is the incredible thing that Jim said to me –

“Your grandfather was Francis Marcey?! Well, Francis Marcey was my first sober mentor. And he is the man I was just talking about who saved my life. In fact, I lived in Francis’ back cottage when I first got sober.”

Tears are streaming down my face by this time.

You see, that sober man standing before me – Jim?

Well, he got sober at Grandma and Pop Pop’s back cottage.

And here is the second miracle: when I was just nine years old – long before I picked up my first drink, I carried my Grandma’s tomato sandwiches to that man.

I was part of the family who nursed him back to health.

DECADES before that meeting with Jim and hundreds and hundreds of miles away, my grandfather had shared his experience, strength, and hope with that man.

And 27 YEARS later, he brought it back to me.

And so it is.

Because those are the sorts of miracles that happen in your life when you decide to stay sober under any and all conditions.

* * *

Twenty-five years ago TODAY I took my last drink of alcohol.

I wasn’t supposed to be an alcoholic.

It wasn’t my plan.

But alcoholism, and then sobriety, has been the greatest gift of my life.

I am so very grateful to be an alcoholic.

Love, Jennifer

P.S. Can you guess the most important word in this phrase? —  “We stay sober under any and all conditions?” I’d love to hear your thoughts in our comments for today. 

photo: flickr, Yolanda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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