Tag Archives: recovery

The People We’ve Been Given to Love

For Senior, 73 and just getting better

A close friend often uses the phrase, “the people we’ve been given to love” when he talks about the relationships in his life. He’s mostly talking about his family; his wife of many years, his adult daughters, and he’s often talking about how hard he has to work to be present with whatever is happening in these sometimes difficult relationships. It’s sort of a real-life twist on the lame-ass sentiment that you choose your friends, but you don’t choose your family.

The more mystical among us may believe that we do choose our parents. Regardless, we can’t deny how much we are shaped by our parents, and by the legacies that they themselves carry.

Yesterday was my mother’s birthday. It is no exaggeration to say that as hard as these past two years have been for me, they have been just as hard on her. It is also no exaggeration to say that without her, I might not have survived.

After my nightmarish DUI, when I could barely scrape enough of myself off the floor to pick up the phone, she was the first one who said, “Do you want me to come?” And although she hates to travel alone, and despite the imposition on her life in general, she came. She’d planned to stay for a few days, and she did, driving me to doctors, lawyers, treatment clinics, sitting in waiting rooms, reading on her Nook or knitting. Trying to get me to eat. Trying to tell me how to get the shambles of my life in order.

handsWhen it became clear that this was not going to be the work of a few days, she said, “Do you want me to stay?” And even though we were driving each other insane, even though I knew she wanted to go home, I said, “yes.” So she stayed.

We sat on my couch together one evening watching “Bridesmaids” on my crappy laptop which she couldn’t hear, and she kept asking me to repeat each line of the movie. I could hardly bear to be sitting up straight, could hardly tolerate being in my own skin, and I wanted to suffocate her with a couch pillow. When the movie was over, she sat on me, the way Melissa McCarthy sits on Kristen Wiig when she is lying, greasy and depressed, on her mother’s couch, and slaps her around to force her to “fight for her crappy life.” My mother sat on me, in her nightgown, and told me that I had to fight for my life, for the life that was in pieces around me. Crying and laughing and crying, I promised her that I would.

When I was enduring (or more accurately, when my parents and I were enduring) what felt to me like a rather embattled adolescence and early adulthood, there were stretches when we could barely tolerate each other. My father adopted the role of peacemaker, telling me over and over and over that “she only says these things because she loves you. She only does this because she cares.” I wanted to reach through the phone and hit him.

guadianangelToday, 25 years later, we still have conversations like that every now and then, but I am deeply–down in my bones deeply–aware that she doesn’t only do and say what she does because she loves me. She does it because she is the kind of person who, no matter what, will always come down on the side of the angels. She can’t do it any other way.

After my accident, I asked her not to tell my brother or sister because I was so humiliated. I knew I couldn’t tell them, and I knew I didn’t want them to know. The next day, in the car on the way to yet another appointment she said, “I did something you’re going to be angry about and I’m sorry. But I told your brother and sister about the accident because they are your family and families need to stick together. They want to do anything they can to support you.”

I looked out of my window, still barely able to focus my eyes on anything, and I felt the tears on my cheeks. “Thank you,” I said.

On the side of the angels.

Below is one of my favorite birthday poems, even though it’s not a straight up birthday poem (and even though my mother hates birds). It’s by the 19th-century British poet Christina Rossetti, and I’m sharing it with this post for this reason:  my mother’s presence during one of the worst periods of my life made it possible for me to have what this poem describes.  A new life, a singing heart, and love. She gave all of this to me once, 48 years ago, and then she gave it all back to me again.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

With all love,

Junior


A Birthday

by Christina Rossetti
My heart is like a singing bird
                  Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
                  Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
                  That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
                  Because my love is come to me.
Raise me a dais of silk and down;
                  Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
                  And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
                  In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
                  Is come, my love is come to me.
birdsinging

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Filed under family life, gratitude, motherhood, recovery

Things That Carry Us

Very few people believe this, but I love riding the bus. Since I lost my license last April, I have become the world’s biggest fan of my community’s public transportation system, which really is pretty fantastic. But we are such a car-dependent society that unless you live in a large city, it’s hard to imagine existing easily without a vehicle.

Here, though, it works. It’s affordable, convenient, and it expands my world view. I meet new people all the time, eavesdrop shamelessly on private conversations, see things that I would never otherwise see from the confines of my own private vehicle. It’s a writer’s paradise.

ugly bus stop with mailbox in the background

lame picture of ugly bus stop with unidentifiable mailbox in the background

Last week, I was sitting at this gray, sort of depressing bus stop at the edge of a run down shopping area, willing my fingers not to become frostbitten, and I noticed a public mailbox in the middle of the parking lot. I was surprised to see it there because there seem to be fewer public mailboxes around these days.

Anyway, a few minutes passed, and this little old couple in a little old car pulled slowly up to the mailbox. The little old man rolled down the window about two inches and sort of scrunched this letter out through the window into the mailbox, rolled the window back up, and then very slowly drove away. A few more minutes passed, and a mail truck pulled up to empty the mailbox, and I thought how lovely that was–that the old man’s letter would be picked up and carried on along its way. Just like the bus I was waiting for would pick me up and carry me home.

Tiny_Beautiful-330Just like the book I’m reading, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed is carrying along my thoughts and feelings about love. Moving me forward, making me feel less alone, the way the best writing always does. The book is about many things, but I’m finding the pieces about love to be particularly moving.

For example, in response to one reader (Johnny’s) question about his ambivalence about when it’s right to say “I love you” to the woman he’s dating, and his plaintive query,”What is this love thing all about?”, she writes: “You aren’t afraid of love. You’re afraid of all the junk you’ve yoked to love…Do you realize that your refusal to utter the word ‘love’ to your lover has created a force field all its own? Withholding distorts reality. It makes the people who do the withholding ugly and small-hearted. It makes the people from whom things are withheld crazy and desperate and incapable of knowing what they actually feel…Don’t be strategic or coy. Strategic and coy are for jackasses. Be brave. Be authentic. Practice saying the word ‘love’ to all the people you love so when it matters the most to say it, you will. We’re all going to die, Johnny. Hit the iron bell like it’s dinnertime” (Strayed, pp. 16-18).

My favorite man in the world called me last night to tell me that he loved me, and he sent me an email this morning, one of those chain ones that I usually hate that said “I wish you enough.” I sat in my office and started to cry. My second favorite man always tells me that he loves me when we say goodbye on the phone. It wasn’t always this way, but when things were hard in our family over the past few years, it started to become the thing we said to each other, to carry us along, and now we always say it because it’s true, and it’s the bridge that keeps us connected until the next conversation. I love you. I love you, too.

The poem for today is by David Whyte, whom I had in mind because I remember hearing him speak about the difference between hiking and kayaking. He said how struck he was by the difference in being carried by the water in a kayak, how you could carry so much more with you because you yourself were being carried along by this elemental force instead of being weighed down by everything you needed to carry on your back.

I’m pretty sure it’s like that with love.

What carries you? What helps you keep your head above water, or buoys you along when you need a little extra support? What connects you? I’d love it if you’d share (leave a comment), and so will others who stop by to read! [One last thing, and apologies for being self-promoting, but if you enjoy reading this blog, do feel free to share with others, via email, Facebook, Twitter, etc.]

Loaves and Fishes

This is not the age of information.
This is not
the age of information.

Forget the news,
and the radio,
and the blurred screen.

This is the time of loaves
and fishes.

People are hungry,
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.

–David Whyte

loaves-and-fishes1

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Filed under connection, love, recovery

For You: A Candle Burning

SedonaStonesThrough a stroke of incredible good fortune and family kindness, I spent Thanksgiving in Sedona, AZ and it was wonderful. Sedona is supposed to have several energy vortices that generate peace, awareness, and various types of transformation. I’m pretty sure this atmosphere affected even my dad who, of course, does not believe in such nonsense (and, I believe, actually once scoffed out loud at people meditating near one of the vortices), and yet managed to return from one of his trips with a now suspiciously well-worn ochre-toned t-shirt that my mother calls “his Zen shirt.”

In any case, Sedona was just one of the many gifts that have graced my life in the last several months, and that have allowed me again and again to experience the poetry of Psalm 23:5, “My cup overflows with blessings.” So many people have helped me in so many ways over the past 22 months. I am awestruck almost every day by something that reminds me of all of the goodness, sweetness, and love that is and has, quite simply, just been there.

There’s someone in my life right now who is my personal angel Gabriel, only she drives a black tricked out Chrysler 300 and swears a lot. But every word out of her mouth, no matter what she is actually saying, is essentially this: “Do not be afraid;  for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people.” That’s what she’s saying, over and over, all the time. If I could give her to everyone I know for Christmas, I would.

Instead, I’ll share a few of the things she tells me, because a lot of people struggle with holiday crap, and with just crap in general that gets magnified at this time of the year, and passing along her wisdom might help. She says things like, “Yeah, you could do life on your own. You could. But you shouldn’t, and anyway, WHY THE FUCK would you want to??” (I told you she swears a lot). She also says, “Nothing is going to get better until you figure out how to make YOURSELF the love of your own life. Stop caring so much about what everyone else thinks. Because for real? They’re not really thinking about you all that much.”

Often she says, “Whatever bullshit you’re telling yourself about how HARD things are is wrong. Nothing is HARD. It might be uncomfortable, but it’s not actually hard. It’s simple: do the next right thing even when you don’t want to. Even when it makes you uncomfortable. And for God’s sake, look around. Don’t you see all these other people who could use some damn help? Do something for them and stop thinking about yourself.”

Chapel2

Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona, AZ

When I was in Sedona, I went to the Chapel of the Holy Cross and it was beautiful. As in most Catholic churches, there’s an area where you can light a candle as a way to offer prayers for someone or something. Also, like most (all) Catholic churches, there was a donation box. I didn’t have any cash with me, so I left a sobriety medal instead. I also left a small cross that my mom gave me when my life fell to pieces, because I wanted to give it back, as a way to say thank you for the fact that my life is shaping itself back together in a way that feels miraculous.

I use this word very deliberately because, as my gorgeous, my foul-mouthed angel Gabriel says, “You want to know why your life feels like a freaking miracle, girl? Because IT IS a freaking miracle! After what you did, after what happened to you, if you don’t see that as divine intervention, you trippin’. Everyone who wakes up in the morning and has the sense to be grateful that they woke up at all is a damn miracle!” (She really does swear a lot).

So there is something I want you to know. And I mean you, specifically, reading this right now. At this very moment, there is a candle burning just for you in the Chapel of the Holy Cross in the breathtakingly beautiful red rocks of Sedona, Arizona. Because when I lit one of my candles, I thanked God for every single thing, everything large and small, known and unknown, every spoken and unspoken act of kindness, love and mercy that I’ve received in these past two years. That candle, that light, that flame is there for you. Right now, for whatever you need in whatever way you need it.

offeringcandles

American poet Theodore Roethke wrote, “Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light.” Sometimes in recovery people say, “You don’t have to believe you’ll get better. We’ll believe it for you until you’re ready to believe it for yourself.” So just in case you need some extra light or warmth, there’s at least one flame out there especially for you. Because that’s how it works. That’s how we make it.

All love, all gratitude, and lots of hope for a joyful holiday,

Leslie

What We Need is Here (by Wendell Berry)

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.
SedonaMary1

Tlaquepaque Mary, Sedona

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Filed under Christmas 2014, gratitude, recovery

To Live in This World

for Gabe at the start of his season

 

When he was about 7, Gabe said to me, in his odd, precise way, “Well, you aren’t often wrong.” He wouldn’t say that now. Just shy of 9, he’s seen many things go wrong. Yet there is a growing sense that some important things are being set right. Being made new, made whole. Leaves are falling, but there is also a harvest coming.

GabeGPP1

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Extravagant Promises

In what Alcoholics Anonymous folks call “The Big Book (1945),” there is a lovely passage about how life changes in recovery. These changes are referred to by AAs as “the promises.” One of the promises is that “we will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.” You really don’t need to be an alcoholic to get a leg up on this.

Of “the promises,” The Big Book says, “Are these extravagant promises? We think not.” The purpose of this statement is to reassure people in recovery that recovery itself is not extravagant, i.e., not beyond the bounds of reason or of what is deserved. That it is possible.

But recovery is in fact extravagant, in the very best sense of the word. In the same sense that Sacha Scoblic uses the word “lush” to describe her sobriety (her pun very much intended). Any life not deadened by apathy or constrained by fear is lush, luscious, extravagant.

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Keeping the Faith

“Recovery” is such a deceptively comforting word.

It is: “the regaining of or possibility of regaining something lost or taken away.

It is also: “the restoration or return to any former or better state or condition.

__________

Recovery is where you go after the trauma has occurred.

But it’s not always clear what happens when you get there.

__________

Someone once said that we are all in recovery from something.

The poet Wendell Berry wrote that we turn towards our addictions, whatever they may be, because we have lost one another.

But we also turn towards addictions because we have lost ourselves. And the only way to recover is in the company of others.

__________

To recover in the company of others requires tremendous compassion for brokenness because the secret no one tells you, the paradox you have to learn on your own is this: no one is coming to rescue you, everyone is broken, no one has the answers, no one really ever gets it right, and it is only by sharing your deepest vulnerabilities and accepting those of others will you ever become stronger. Your brokenness joined with theirs; that’s what gets you both closer to home.

__________

Recovery is not about returning to a former state of grace or wholeness. It is the possibility of growing into something completely new, which is equal parts terror and exhilaration. Recovery is not about going back to get something you lost. It is going forward to find that which has thus far eluded you–the ability to live as a human being among other human beings.

__________

glassheartThe wreckage of your life may never become whole. But when you pick up one of your broken pieces and offer it to someone else who is missing just that piece, it will become beautiful. And it will move both of you forward towards healing.

__________

You will recover if you tell people who love you about your most regrettable acts, and they tell you about theirs. You will recover when you let the love in their eyes, their hands, or simply their presence, their breath, penetrate the deepest part of you so you know, really know, that you are not alone, that you are good enough. And good enough is good enough.

__________

From Rumi:

I’ve broken through to longing
Now, filled with a grief I have
Felt before, but never like this.
The center leads to love.
Soul opens the creation core.
Hold on to your particular pain.
That too can take you to God.

nest

Growth can happen anywhere

 

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