Happy, Joyous and Free

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Happy, joyous and free. To be honest, I never thought I would use those words to describe myself, but that’s how I described myself in a meeting today. Sometimes, it’s even hard for me to believe because it’s such a far cry from where I was three years ago at this time. It was my last holiday season drinking and I was miserable. I was so angry – lashing out at everyone around me; picking fights with those who loved me. The more I tried to control things, the worse they got. Despite the love that surrounded me, I had never felt so lonely before.

I don’t like remembering those times, in fact, it’s painful to think back to what I was like then. That’s not the person I want to remember, but I know she’s part of my story. Because, without her, I wouldn’t be where I am today. How did I get here? How could “that” person turn into the person I am today? The only answer I have is by God’s grace. When I was at my lowest point, God’s love and mercy was the only thing that could break through the hard shell I had created around me. Slowly, He put people, programs and a church in my life that would eventually build me up and bring me back from the depths of loneliness and fear I had been living in for so long.

Today, I’m at peace. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow or the next day, but it doesn’t matter because I have faith in a God who turned that lonely, frightened girl into the happy, joyous and free woman I am today. I’m done fighting and lashing out at those around me. I’m done trying to control my life. It’s not mine to control anyway. I wake up each morning and ask for God’s guidance and direction. I give it all over to Him. And, by doing so I’m completely and totally free.

Merry Christmas, friends! Peace be with you!

 

When the One You Love Is Gone

Grief Process

Yesterday afternoon, in between rain showers, I took a walk around our neighborhood. I walked quickly, knowing that I only had a short time before leaving to pick my son up from school. The fresh air felt good, and I let my thoughts drift as I walked and listened to my music.

I thought about some of the things that had been weighing heavy on my heart and how more than anything I wished I could see and talk to my mom. I wanted to hear her soothing voice, telling me everything was going to be okay. I just wanted her.

As I began to walk the steep part of the road close to our home, I found myself gasping for air. Tears started streaming down my face and as I tried to catch my breath, I began crying harder. A couple of cars drove towards me and I did my best to hold it together, walking as fast as I could to get home. Once home, I collapsed onto our entryway bench and sobbed. I wanted my mom more than anything, but she wasn’t there.

I went into the house, knowing I needed to find something. I needed to see her, hear her – something. In my bedroom, I keep a box filled with letters and cards I have received over the years. I hastily opened it, as if I were looking for some lost treasure. I sorted through the cards and letters, opening them up, looking for her distinctive handwriting. And, finally, I found them. Towards the bottom, I found the card she had sent to me when I was in high school and she was away taking care of my grandpa; the card she had given me when I graduated with my master’s degree; all the cards and letters she had written me over the years. And, they all expressed the same thing – how much she loved me, how proud she was of me and the happiness she wished for me.

And, I felt myself breathe. I felt my body relax because this is what I had been looking for. This is what I had needed from her. She wasn’t physically there to give it to me, but she was there in spirit and memory. Her words spoke what she couldn’t physically say to me. And, I knew everything was going to be okay. I knew I was truly loved. And, I knew that she had loved me more in those short 27 years of my life before she died, than most people experience in a lifetime.

I am so grateful for those years.

I don’t share this because I want you to feel sorry for me. Far from it. I share this because this is what grief looks like. No matter how much time has gone by, it sneaks up on you and punches you in the gut when you’re least expecting it. I share this because this is the type of thing I used to drink over. I didn’t want to feel the pain and sadness and loneliness. I didn’t want to feel anything.

But, now, I don’t have to drink. I don’t have to keep shoving my feelings down, deeper and deeper. Because, the truth is, they never go away. Those feelings are always there. Now, I let myself feel. I cry because I’m sad and pissed off that my mom’s not here.

And, then I find ways to feel close to her. Because, she’s always with me; I just have to open myself up and look for her. And, there she is – just waiting to tell me she loves me.

 

 

 

And, God Said Be Still

Snow

On the 7th of this month, God said, be still. He said stop your busyness, throw away your to-do list, spend time with your family and just be. How did He do this? He sent snow. Lots and lots of snow. More snow than we’ve had in over five years. And, then He sent freezing rain. And, we were stuck. We were snowed in for three days. And, we were together.

On the first day, in the midst of my kids arguing, I said, God I don’t know if I can do this. And, I went downstairs (we have a daylight basement) and locked the door. I took some deep breathes and I prayed for patience. And, God said, you’ve got this. And, I did. That’s the thing about my God, He’s usually right.

The next day, it snowed a lot. As I stood in the kitchen cooking a big breakfast, looking out at the snow falling, I felt peace. Peace in the simplicity of a morning where we weren’t rushing out the door; or barking orders at each other. Peace in my children’s laughter and excitement over the new fallen snow. Peace in sitting with my husband, drinking our coffee and just being.

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We played, built snowmen and sledded down my in-law’s driveway. We didn’t need fancy sleds. Boxes worked just fine. We used my husband’s childhood sled to walk around the neighborhood, visiting friends along the way. It could have been anywhere; at any point in time. We were just a family – sledding, laughing and being together.

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Sledding

And, God said, Chenoa, I know you’re not a big board game player, but you’re going to play a game as a family, because, really, what else do you have to do that’s more important? And, so we played a game of Chutes and Ladders and we laughed. And, I said, okay God, that was fun but I’m pretty sure that game is rigged because every time you get to the top, you have to slide down one of those damn chutes and it’s impossible to win. And, He laughed, because He knows it’s true.

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We baked cookies, watched movies, did puzzles, danced and sang (I’m pretty sure my husband and I could both sing that “Frozen” song word for word). And, I didn’t worry about running out of wine – because before, that’s what I would’ve worried about. Because, before, that’s how I “coped” with my kids. Now, the only thing I worried about running out of was my coffee and Prozac. Because, God knows I need both of those to function. Yes, my God has a sense of humor.

And, in the silence of the snow, God said, this was good. This was good because it made you be still. That’s what I love about my God. He knows what I need, when I need it most.

Gone Too Soon

Loss

Sadie came into my life when she was eight and I was twelve. Her older sister and I had become close friends with the start of junior high and we quickly became fixtures at each other’s houses, which were blocks away. As the years passed and her sister and I became best of friends, Sadie’s family became my second family and she became the little sister I never had.

From sleepovers, pizza nights and everything in between, Sadie was always there. Being four years younger, there were times she drove us crazy as any typical little sister would. But, more often than not, she was a goofy, adorable little girl who would do anything to make you smile.

Time passed. I went off to college and moved out-of-state, Sadie graduated high school and remained in our hometown. Her sister and I remained best of friends, so while I didn’t see her much, I always kept up to date on her latest adventures.

Over the past few years Sadie’s life had changed dramatically. She had met the love of her life, got engaged, bought a home and gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. Her dreams were coming true and the future looked promising.

All of that came to a crashing halt last week when I got word that Sadie had suffered a massive stroke after surgery and wasn’t going to make it. A surgery that she was expected to make a full recovery from; a surgery that was supposed to be the answer to ten years of unexplainable symptoms and headaches; a surgery that was supposed to “cure” her. Instead, the next morning I got a phone call saying she was gone. Not gone for a few weeks; not gone for a few days; but gone. Gone forever.

I cried. I cried like I hadn’t cried since my mom died seven years ago. How could this be? This couldn’t be true. “Why?!” I screamed to God. “How could YOU take away this beautiful, young, vibrant woman. How could YOU leave her baby boy without a mother?” There was no answer. There never is.

I wanted to escape the pain and sadness I was feeling. I just wanted it all to go away. I wanted to wake up from this horrible nightmare. In another life, I would’ve found escape in a bottle of wine. I would’ve drank until the numbness took over and I couldn’t feel anymore. But, not now. No, now, I had to feel it all. Somehow, I felt like I owed it to Sadie to feel everything. The sadness, hurt, anger, resentment. Her life was worthy of all these feelings and I needed to feel them.

I’m still in a state of shock. My mind tells me one thing, while my heart tells me another. I know she’s gone from this world, but I’m not ready to fully accept it yet. I hurt terribly for my best friend, her sister. I hurt for her mom and dad. I hurt for her fiancé and baby boy. I hurt for everyone who loved her and had the privilege of being touched by her life.

Sadie grew into a beautiful woman who radiated joy and happiness. But, it’s not Sadie the woman I see when I picture her in my mind. Instead, I see the eight-year-old little girl with the bowl haircut riding in the backseat of her mom’s Oldsmobile, jumping out of the car and waving goodbye as we dropped her off at elementary school. Goodbye sweet girl. Until we meet again.

I will carry Sadie’s memory in my heart forever. Her smile, her laugh, her love of life – I will cherish it always. Her love of children was undeniable. Like my mom, she was one of those rare people who children were drawn to. I often wonder if God needs more people like that in Heaven. If we can’t have them here with us, I like to think that Sadie and my mom are watching over all the little ones who have gone before us.

I will honor Sadie’s memory by living life as she would have – full of joy, gratefulness and happiness. Never taking herself too seriously, I will play more, laugh more and hug my children more often. I will tell her son how much she loved him and how much she was loved by everyone who knew her.

She gave love and received love. And, I will forever be grateful for the love she gave me over the years.

Sometimes We Just Gotta Cry

Grief

Yesterday morning was tough. After my husband left to take the kids to the gym, I found myself on the couch sobbing because of how much I missed my mom. Some days are just like that.

I don’t write about my mom a lot. I don’t know why. Maybe because I hold her memory and my grief over losing her so close. She died of pancreatic cancer over seven years ago when I was pregnant with my first child. It was devastating and heartbreaking. Words can’t express the grief I felt then and continue to feel today. Time has helped in some ways, but in others it feels like just yesterday.

Like alcoholism, I’ve found that grief has triggers. My birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks and it’s a hard time for me. My mom loved birthdays and she especially loved celebrating mine, as I was her only child. From the time I can remember, she made it the most special day out of the entire year. It was magical. Since her death, it’s not the same. It will never be the same.

Yesterday, was also my daughter’s first slumber party and I yearned to share her excitement and mine with my mom. We used to talk daily, sometimes only for brief moments, but even those were important. She was my very best friend and we were just starting to get to know each other as adults, not just mother and child.

As I sat, crying on the couch, I thought of how much I missed her smile and laughter; the weekend visits; the shopping excursions; the times, as a grown woman, I would still lay my head on her lap while she ran her fingers through my hair. The simple truth is, I just miss having my mom. I miss the joy she would’ve brought to my children’s lives; I miss sharing exciting moments with her; I miss venting to her about life; I miss being able to ask her questions about my childhood, like how old I was when I had my first slumber party. Was I nervous? Scared?

And, sometimes I do get angry with God. I want to stomp my feet and beat my fists and yell, “Why God? Why?! It’s not fair!” And, now, instead of drowning that anger and sadness with alcohol, I let myself feel it – really feel it. I cry, sometimes weeping until my eyes are red and puffy.

And, then, eventually, I feel His calmness come over me. My tears are spent, but I feel a sense of peace because I have released everything. I have released the anger, sadness and fear and, instead, look to fill that space with joy.

Yesterday, I went to our back closet and got our wedding album down. The year before she was diagnosed with cancer, my mom had helped me plan my wedding and was overjoyed when the day finally arrived. It was beautiful and her smile was infectious.

I miss her. That will never change. But, I’m so grateful for the joy and beauty I find in her memory.

Cheers, Mom! I might not be drinking the real thing anymore, but I still celebrate you every day.

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Preparing Myself

Temptation

As I embark on this weekend, I’m preparing myself for two big events: 1) my first wedding sober and 2) our annual Easter celebration that I wrote about in my last post here.

This will be my second Easter sober, however, I’m still reminded of previous years where I used Easter (and all other holidays) as an excuse to drink as much as I could in a short amount of time. For some reason, I thought I needed it to cope, to have fun, to “survive.” It turns out, being sober made last year’s Easter celebration a lot more enjoyable – imagine that!

As for weddings, well, weddings and I have a long history – mostly a history of not remembering much. If there was ever an event that called (or more like begged) for drinking it was weddings. I mean heck, I got drunk for the first time when I was fourteen at my mom and stepdad’s wedding! I clearly remember the thrill and excitement of it, yet at the same time I remember my eighty-two year old grandmother helping me up the stairs and undressing me for bed. But, despite the shame and embarrassment the next morning, I loved it and I wanted more.

As I got older and my friends started getting married, weddings became all out parties – or at least they were for me! When I was single, I would find myself in questionable situations and after I got married, my husband would have to drag me (literally) out of the reception. Of course, it was always assumed that he would be the one driving and I would be the one passed out or throwing up in the passenger seat. Ironically, the only wedding I didn’t get drunk at was my own – go figure! Oh, and the one I attended while pregnant, but I’m sure I still managed to sneak a glass here and there. I mean, who could possibly imagine going to a wedding and not having ANYTHING to drink?!

To say that weddings bring up feelings of temptation is an understatement. Fortunately, we didn’t have any weddings last year, however, this year we’ve been invited to three. Tomorrow is the first of those three. To be honest, I’m not as anxious as I thought I would be, but I’m still doing the work in anticipation. I’ve gone to meetings this week, I’ve talked it over with my sponsor, I’ve done my readings and, most of all, I’ve been praying. I didn’t get sober on my own, and I know damn well I won’t stay sober on my own. I need God to help me and protect me, act as my armor if you will as I go into these situations.

Because that first drink is there, it’s always there waiting, tempting and calling my name.

 

 

The Bunny Is Real…And Other Easter Memories

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You know the saying, you don’t just marry the person, you marry their family? Well, that was definitely true for me. Despite both my husband and I being only children, unlike me he is from a very large, close-knit Catholic family who all, despite a few, live within close proximity to each other. I would be lying to say that I wasn’t completely and utterly overwhelmed when I attended my first Easter celebration with his family.

Growing up, we celebrated Easter, but nothing compared to my husband’s family. The week leading up to Easter is filled with excitement and anticipation, especially now that we have two kids who are obsessed with the Easter Bunny and all things Easter. There are Easter crafts, Easter stories, Easter baking, Easter cartoons, and, of course, lots of talk about Aunt Tess’ and the Easter Bunny! And, yes, the “Easter Bunny” makes an appearance each year at the annual Easter gathering at “the farm.” Okay, so Aunt Tess used to work at Hallmark and got the bunny costume at a great deal – but I digress.

The day begins with early Mass and then everyone makes the short trip to “the farm.” It’s not technically a farm, but there are a few horses, a cow or two, dogs and lots of room for the kids to run around – it’s beautiful. It’s the first time most of us have seen each other since Christmas, so there’s a lot of catching up and eating – lots and lots of eating. At some point, someone is chosen (or told!) to be the “bunny.” Usually, it’s one of the older cousins who have yet to participate in this coming of age-like experience.

As the anticipation builds, everyone gathers on the lawn awaiting the Bunny’s arrival. It’s always a surprise as to how Mr. Bunny will make his entrance. Last year, I believe he rode in on a four-wheeler and the year before that being pulled by a tractor – like I said, you never know! Of course, once the Bunny is spotted the kids go wild, some laughing, some crying and some standing in awe. It’s a sight to see!

Over the years, I’ve come to realize how truly special this celebration is. Before the Easter dinner (as with all family celebrations), we stand in a circle holding hands and say the traditional Catholic meal prayer, giving thanks to God for all the blessings He has bestowed upon us. As you look around, you will see Nornie, the matriarch of the family, along with most of her six children and their spouses, her grandchildren and their spouses and a multitude of great-grandchildren. What a sight to behold!

As the day comes to an end, you will find groups gathered by the fire or playing a board game and a few napping on the sofas, exhausted from the day’s activities. Those of us who have children, will gather them up, load them in the car and drive home, tired yet grateful for another year of Easter at “the farm.”

And, this year, I will be especially grateful for my second Easter spent sober and present, enjoying the excitement and joy of my children and glorifying the Lord who makes it all possible.

Blessings this Easter and always!

Finding New Ways to Celebrate

Mom

Today is my mom’s birthday. If she were still alive, she would be 64. She died almost seven years ago from pancreatic cancer and not a day goes by that I don’t think of her and wonder how my life would be different if she was still here.

In the past, I used her birthday as an excuse to drink. Since she wasn’t around to celebrate, I figured I’d celebrate for both of us, which meant drinking more than I would normally drink. Now, I realize that I drank because I missed her and I wanted (or needed) to numb the sadness I felt in not having her with me. Instead of focusing on the beautiful life she led before leaving us, I focused on the grief of not having her with us.

Today, was the first time I have woken up on her birthday feeling peaceful and joyful. I still miss her horribly; more than I could ever convey through words. The pain runs deep and I know there will always be a piece of me missing. However, today I choose to focus on her beautiful life and celebrate it without drinking. I will be completely and totally present and focus on those things which she loved.

As I look out the window, I see the tulips beginning to show themselves and the daffodils beginning to bloom. Besides her family and animals, her greatest love was being in her garden. She loved this time of year; a new beginning as new life slowly appeared after a long, grey winter.

Earlier this morning, I sat down at my sewing machine and worked on my son’s new valances as I sipped my coffee and listened to one of her old records. She was an amazing seamstress; I only realize now just how good she was. My stitches are uneven and often messy. Her work was neat and precise, something that only comes with time and practice. I picture her smiling (and perhaps laughing) at my attempts, knowing in time I will figure it out.

This afternoon, I will take my son and daughter to frozen yogurt to celebrate Grammy Rickie’s birthday. It is important for me that they know that just because someone is gone, doesn’t mean we stop celebrating their life. In talking about her and celebrating her, I hope I can always honor her life and memory.

She wasn’t perfect. She had her demons as we all do. Her life was challenging at times; sometimes more than she thought she could handle. But, she did and she did it with grace, dignity and bravery.

Although, I lost her way too soon, I am so grateful I had her for the time I did. Would I change things if I could? Perhaps. But, I know that God needed her more than I did. Her strength and bravery continue to guide me on this journey through life.

And, when the time comes, and I see her again I will laugh with her about my messy and uneven seams.

Happy birthday, Mom!

Feeling the Music

Record Player

For Christmas, my husband got me a record player. Yes, you heard me right, a record player. Well, I actually ordered it, wrapped it and put it under the tree, but in any case, it was a gift from my husband. Why in the world would I want a record player? See, when my mom died over six years ago, I inherited all of her records in addition to all of my grandparent’s records. Besides smelling a bit musty, they were in pretty good condition. So, I hauled them home and put them in a basket in the office. And, there they sat for some time. Once in a while I would go through them, remembering all the hours I spent playing around on my grandparent’s turn table, fascinated by the whole process of needle to record and then music – amazing!

I grew up with music. My mom’s cousin worked for Merle Haggard for many years so I remember a lot of classic country at my grandparent’s house, which made sense with my grandma being from Texas and all! My dad introduced me to classic rock from an early age. In fact, the very first song I remember singing was that Police song that goes “little black spot on the sun today” or something like that. My mom was really into folk country/rock and introduced me to the greats like Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris and Nanci Griffith. To this day, my favorite artists aren’t those of my generation but those who I grew up with and was exposed to at an early age.

When I came across a great deal on a new Crosley player on Zulily, I knew I had to have it. Being the great guy that he is, my husband even surprised me with a few new records to go along with it – Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and Van Morrison (you see what I’m talking about?!).  Now, when I’m in my office sewing, working on the computer or crafting I can play one of my records and instantly be transported back to my grandparent’s living room or a sunny day at the house I grew up in with the stereo blasting and six-year-old me dancing in circles singing along – not a care in the world.

Music is a connection to our past. It’s often what keeps the memories alive when everything else is gone. I’m still grieving over my mom’s death, but listening to her Beach Boys record or an Emmylou Harris song she loved lets me feel close to her, connected to her.

In the new year, I’m going to try to sit back, relax more and feel the music. I encourage you to do the same!