Posted in anxiety, faith, family, health, Learning, Life, Musings, People, random

Gratitude, Fear, and Compassion

gratitude in hard times

Here is a question for you- do you think gratitude and fear can coexist? Can they live in the same mind, spirit, body at the same time? If you would have asked me that question two weeks ago, I think my answer might have been different. But today, my answer is yes.

I know this to be true because I am living it right now, right in the chair where I sit. I am grateful, so incredibly grateful, for my health. For the fact that, in a few minutes, it will be time for me to start work and I get to do it in the comfort and safety of my own home, while my daughter sleeps peacefully in the other room. You have no idea what a blessing that routine and normalcy is for me today! I am grateful for the food in my fridge. And for the first time in my life, I have a true sense of gratitude for the people who are keeping our country intact- the nurses, the grocery store employees, the truck drivers, the delivery drivers. I just never gave it much thought before. But today, I am. I am so very grateful for them.

And right beside my gratitude is fear. I am afraid for my parents- my mom, especially, because for whatever reason she just isn’t taking this seriously. I’m afraid for myself and also my daughters, especially the little one who has reactive airways- in other words, asthma when she is sick. Losing all of the things I take for granted, the little luxuries in life like…running to the store, grabbing dinner out, visiting farmer’s market…that is scary, and surreal and weird. The last time I was in the grocery store, I ran through as fast as I could, wanting nothing more than to wash my hands. Counting the days past my last interaction with the world, hoping I don’t start getting a sore throat or a fever. Because it’s just Cam and I in this house, and I need to be able to care for her. This virus is in our community- I think it has been long before we got our first positive test- and I am not ashamed to admit I’m afraid. I think, if you are not a little nervous, you really should be. A little bit of fear, in this case, is healthy.

But from this gratitude and fear, a third thing was born, not just for me but for lots of people all around the world, and this has been the most beautiful part of all. Compassion. Compassion that makes people more generous and giving at once than I have ever seen. We are collecting money for families in need, giving whatever we can wherever it is needed. My sister-in-law started sewing reusable masks yesterday, and I bought a whole bunch from her so that I can give them away. She was making them for free for her family in the medical field, but she’ll need money to buy the stuff and now she’s probably got more orders than she can handle. People are donating blood, fostering animals, checking on neighbors. Giving and giving even when our lives are so precarious.

And how can that be? How is it that two weeks ago, we didn’t have it to give, and suddenly now we do? And I’m sure you gave what you felt you could before, right? I know I did- I gave my donation to the ACLU, to the United Way. I’d throw my extra dollar to St. Jude’s or whatever when I was asked. But suddenly, we are finding ways to dig deeper and give more, right? How is that?

Well, to me it’s pretty clear…when we get a reality check like the one we are getting today, you understand well- it’s people who matter. Our communities matter dearly to us. Our neighbors, our favorite local restaurants, the grocery clerk whose name we never learned- they matter to us. And by extension, their families and lives matter to us. Our protective instinct has been awakened, and though the circumstances are awful, our response is pretty breathtaking. We are remembering how to be a tribe. We are aware that we are a global community- some of us understanding it for the first time ever. What harms our neighbors, whether across the street or across the globe, can harm us as well. We’d do well to remember this when the danger has passed.

And so, as I sit here this morning, a bundle of nerves and love, gratitude, compassion, and fear…I will say to you what I have been saying to everyone lately. I love you all. Please stay safe.

 

Posted in advice, faith, family, health, home, inner peace, kids, Life, living, mindfulness, Musings, People, random, social media

Strange Times

It’s been a while, I know…possibly the longest I’ve gone without posting in over a year! I didn’t plan on this long hiatus, it just sort of happened. I got off of Facebook, and the silence and space that created in my life felt so good that it just sort of rolled over into everything else. I suppose you could say I was practicing “social distancing” in a pretty hardcore way before it was even cool.

Seriously, though- I had planned on resuming my posts while I was on vacation this week in Maine. As you can guess, those plans fell to the wayside in the face of the current SciFi movie that is reality right now. I was very conflicted all last week about whether to stay home or go ahead and go. Looks like I made the correct decision. It would suck to be trapped in a hotel room on the other side of the country right now, and that is probably exactly what it would have ended up being. There’s nowhere we can go to escape this thing right now, unfortunately.

That being the case, what we can do, though limited, is pretty simple. We can follow the instructions being given to us by our local officials. And if you feel like your local governing body isn’t quite up to speed, you can certainly take it upon yourself to do your part- stay home, limit contact to those living in your household, limit trips outside the house to necessities. Stop complaining- we all are well aware that the stores are out of toilet paper and pretty much everything else. Suck it up. Freaking out isn’t helping anyone. Be responsible about what you post and put some thought into what you believe- in other words, don’t incite panic in others and check the facts before you assume something is true.

This is a scary time right now! There is no arguing that fact. For sure this is the strangest event I have ever witnessed unfolding in my lifetime. It sure does change things, doesn’t it? I can’t speak for you, but for me…it’s made me realize a few things. One of them is the crazy amount of things I take for granted on a daily basis. I have never not been able to easily get whatever I needed from the store. I have never been told to stay inside, or had to be afraid to run into the grocery store. I have zero experience with being anything less than absolutely free to do as I please, and I promise you, when this is over with, I will view that freedom with a lot more appreciation.

Another thing I’ve realized is…I really want to live. I don’t mean just survive this thing, either, which of course is also true. I mean…holy shit, you guys! Life is finite. Of course we all know this on a certain level, but it seems like I just assume that I have all this time to do whatever, you know? But now…now I just want to gobble up all the experiences the same way I am gobbling up all the food in this house- with rash abandon.

I think we are all getting a very good lesson in living in the moment. None of us know what tomorrow holds- this has always been true, but now the point is really being driven home. So enjoy this day. Enjoy your children’s sweet faces, enjoy your good health, enjoy the quiet world. Take care of yourself, and take nothing for granted. We’ll get through this, one way or another.

Wishing you all safety and good health. Make wise decisions, for yourself and for all of us. Hang in there.

Posted in Addiction, alcoholism, family, friendship, happiness, health, Holidays, Learning, Life, mental illness, Musings, People, recovery, twelve step

Thanks-Giving

Hi, guys! I started to make this a post for my other blog, but quickly realized this one belongs here, where my story has played out over so many years. I have a different voice, and a different story, and a different history here, and this one should live here. So here goes:

I woke up this morning a little put out that I’d had time to clean the whole rest of my house, but no time to clean my own room- the one place that should be my sanctuary, right? I felt bad that I had put myself at the bottom of my own list. Dumb, but that’s just my brain, trying to find something to be unhappy about. I was feeling a little better about life once I sat down here, in my neat, clean living room, sipping a hot cup of coffee fresh from the sparkling clean coffee pot (I even remembered to run the coffee pot through the dishwasher! I’m so proud of myself!).

I hopped on Facebook to see what I’d missed since bedtime, and I happened upon a post from…the brother of a friend of a friend. We don’t know each other in real life, but we’ve been social media buddies for a number of years, and…over the past couple of years, I have witnessed a slow and steady decline. Posts that are cryptic, yet somehow also overly personal, alarming and worrisome, but no real information being given. About a week ago, he posted a video detailing his woes, and I wondered what was happening. Was it a mental health crisis?

Today, I saw his post and I understood. He wrote about his recent struggles with addiction. He has lost all hope. He feels helpless, lost, alone, worn out, confused about where to turn.

An hour after that post went up, he posted a check-in at a hospital. It didn’t say for what, but I hope that someone there can guide him towards help. Of course, once I knew what was going on, I could no longer just lurk around and keep quiet. I sent him a message, told him I knew exactly how he felt and what he was going through. I encouraged him to find an NA meeting and ask for help. I told him not to believe the things his brain was telling him, but to listen to his heart and soul, because they were crying out for help. And I told him “One year from this day, your life can be completely different. You can be whole and happy and surrounded by family again.” I told him to reach out to me and I would help if I could.

Boy, did that take me back. As much as I try to separate myself from that part of my life, as much as I long to leave the past behind me, it is part of me. My life, those years and years of addiction, were not just a small part of my story. That was who I WAS, that was my identity, for the bulk of my adult life. I was other things, too. But before anything else, I fed my addiction. Before my children, before my family, before my job, before my bills were paid, before I made any other decisions, I fed my addiction. I cannot tell you the number of holidays I missed completely or ruined by showing up. I cannot tell you the number of moments I lost or stole from others. I couldn’t guess.

I cannot tell you how grateful I am to be where I am now. Right here, in my fuzzy pajamas, on Thanksgiving morning, in my own, clean house. My mom sleeping in Camryn’s bed on clean sheets, Camryn sleeping in my bed. And me, clean. Not worrying about how much dope I have left or how I’ll get more or when I’ll be able to sneak off to use more. Not angry for no reason, not making everyone around me walk on eggshells to keep from setting me off. Not making everyone sick with worry, but afraid to say a word.

There are not words to describe to you how grateful I am to be whole and here. I have gotten far enough away from my old life to forget, sometimes, how big of a deal that is. I have wanted to get away from it. But at times like this, when I see that pain in someone else, when I remember precisely how that felt, I am glad to remember. It makes the things I was griping inwardly about seem very small and petty, and shifts my perspective to one of gratitude, intense gratitude, and joy.

It took me a long, long time to get here. I had to work very hard at it. I suffered so many set backs and failures along the way. But I never gave up. I kept trying, and it paid off. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so eager to close the door on the past. Perhaps it is important to remember who I was, so that I can appreciate fully who I am today. Today, at least, this seems to be true. I have never been more thankful to be me than I am right now.

Happy Thanksgiving.

If you are struggling with substance abuse or mental health problems today and need help, you can call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for guidance.

There are also NA and AA meetings in almost every town in the world. You can google “NA world service” to bring up links to anyplace you might be, and you can find hotlines manned by members who can tell you where to catch a meeting today.

Don’t suffer a minute longer than you have to. Reach out. Someone has been where you are and understands. Trust me on that. You are not alone.

Posted in adventure, advice, Blogging, friendship, fun, Goals, happiness, inner peace, Learning, Life, manifestation, meditation, Musings, People, spirituality

Hi There!

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Me, excited to share my new endeavor with you all.

I just wanted to pop in here real quick and let you guys know that I am in the process of setting up a whole new WordPress blog! I am still trying to iron out all the kinks- the set up has changed a whole lot since I started this blog a million years ago, and it is making me feel like a goddamn dinosaur…maybe I should enlist the help of my 8 year old? She’s basically a part-time coding expert, thanks to countless hours of Roblox and freaking…what’s it called? That other one all the kids are gaga over? Anyway, whatever.

So, this will be something different for me! You know, my life has changed so very much over the past five years. I’ve grown up, finally, in so many ways. I will always still come here, to After The Party, to share parts of my life. But I am wanting to try something new, and I thought “Why not?”

For the longest time, every morning, before I would pray and meditate, I would read a…well I guess you could call it a devotional? Those short little daily readings to sort of set the tone for your day? I had trouble, eventually, finding ones that resonated with me. Too Christian, too cheesy, too out there. So I just stopped looking.

Well, lately, I have been keeping this running Word document where I would write (for myself) a little nugget of inspiration that sort of filtered into my brain from the ether. Sometimes it happened during or right after my prayer and meditation, sometimes it just popped into my head randomly out of nowhere, but whenever it happened, I knew that was the one- that was my idea for the day.

So, I’d run over to my desktop and pull up the document, and flesh out the little sliver I’d been given. I found that I was suddenly able to keep things relatively short and sweet (which you all know, if you read anything I write here, can be a bit challenging for me) and get to the point pretty easily. I’ve been collecting them for a while now.

They aren’t doing me any good just sitting in my computer. Well, they might be doing me some good, but I’m all about sharing. Plus, what a great way to make sure I write something daily, right?

So PLEASE, keep your eyeballs peeled for the updates, and follow my new blog when I post a link, if you feel like you might get something out of it…even if it is just a laugh. Look for “Notes From Elsewhere”. Coming soon to a WordPress site near you. ๐Ÿ™‚

Posted in faith, inner peace, Life, meditation, Musings, People, spirituality

Redefining Holy

Holy

Holy: adjective; Exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness or righteousness.

When I think of the word holy, I can’t help but think of churches. Churches and bibles and the feeling of a big, scary God that I neither long for nor understand. A punishing God with rules I can’t reconcile, who speaks in a language that must be explained to me by someone deemed more worthy. The book they say he left for us is one of the only ones I have picked up countless times, only to put it right back down again. The God I think of when I first hear the word “holy” is a God that leaves me empty and cold. This is a God made by men, in their image, a God of religion, control, fear, money. A God corrupt.

There is another God for me, and he has been with me all my life. I say “he” only because that is how I’ve always thought to call him, but it’s meaningless. The God I know is neither female nor male, he has no face that I have ever seen. This God has filled me with comfort in moments of great despair. He carried me through the battles I fought against myself for all those years. He never left me, never turned his back. If ever he was out of reach, it was because I was closed off, because I had pulled away.

Most of September and some of October were hard for me. Looking back, I see that it was me who caused the shift. I stopped my morning ritual of prayer, I stopped meditating. I got caught up in other things- new relationships, vanity, concentrating on the way things look and not the way things feel. I held steady for a while, coasting on the fumes of all the months of work that I’d put in before. But soon enough, I was empty. Nothing left to give, aimless and unhappy.

I’ve come back down to earth again. Sat on my cushion, day after day, lighting the candles and saying my prayers until the words stopped sounding forced, until I felt like I was being heard again. Eventually, the conversation seemed to flow both ways, although it was only I who spoke. My God speaks directly to my spirit. I may not hear him, but the message gets through, loud and clear. Meditation stopped feeling like a task to be accomplished and became, once more, a slow fall into peace. I often sit long after the bell sounds, reluctant to let go of the soft ebb and flow of my breath.

And just like that, all the things began to fall into place. The pace of my world slowed, leaving time to linger over sunsets, time to gaze at the sky and the moon. Just like that, peace returned and I felt like myself again.

I think I will change what I think of as holy. There is nothing more holy to me than the sacred hours before sunrise, as I light my candles and sit on my cushion, in communion with the God I know. The God who loves me just as I am, no matter who that might be today. The God who reminds me that it is not he who must forgive me, but I who must forgive myself. My God does not recognize sin, does not judge my mistakes, does not leave anyone out. The God I know asks me to be gentle with myself when I have been hard on others, helps me to soften my edges, reminds me who I am- no worse and no better than anyone else.

When I think of what is holy now, I will think of the orange sky and the blazing yellow sun as it sinks into the blue-black sea. I will think of the cold, salty air on my skin and the sight of my daughter picking her way across the rocks back to me. I will think of leaving the sunset behind me and turning a bend in the road to find an impossibly perfect moon hanging before me in the sky. Holy is the warm light of the lamp in my dark living room, the scent of incense, the alter on my shelf of stones and feathers, sage and shells. Above all else, holy is the depth of the peace in my heart as I write this, the certainty that I have returned to myself.

Posted in family, kids, Life, motherhood, Musings, parenting, People, relationships, women

Unconditional

unconditional

It is 4:42 a.m. and my eyes pop open. I bring my wrist to my face and squint up at the green numbers on my Fitbit, then slide awkwardly towards the foot of my bed to exit, grabbing my phone from the charger as I go. There’s a child sleeping beside me that had not been there when I went to sleep, and I don’t want to risk waking her. This is as much for my sake as her own- maybe more for my sake, honestly. These little hours of the morning are the only ones that are truly mine, and I am not willing to share them with anyone.

Camryn, though, is not the child that sleeps lightly. Aisley was the one I had to tiptoe around to keep from waking, the one who would always wake simply because the warmth of my body was missing beside her. From the moment she was born, she lived her life perched in the crook of my arm, balanced on the side of my hip. She slept pressed against my side, curled herself into my lap as we watched TV. Camryn was different- she wanted to sleep near me, but not too near. She wanted down, she wanted to explore, she wanted to do it herself. I told myself it was a good thing, her independence. It meant she felt safe, that I was doing something right. The truth is, I missed all the cuddling, and it probably had nothing to do with me. Children, in many ways, are born with personalities intact.

Last night was a rough night. Though there is nothing I love more than my daughters, and having them both home, under the same roof, brings a peace to my heart like nothing else, my girls are…polar opposites. Like two ends of a battery, they go together, but they are not the same. Positive and Negative. Cam is happy and hyper, kind and silly. At the far end of those things, she is obnoxious, relentless, impulsive and incapable of pumping the brakes. Aisley is…quiet, calm, practical and sensitive to her environment. The darker side of her is moody, agitated, intolerant and…unhappy in a way that you can feel, even when she is silent.

Her sister gets on her nerves. I can feel the tension building, and it affects me, too. Cam is bouncing off the walls. Aisley is stewing. I am in the middle, trying to warn them both “She’s only eight, be patient.” and “Camryn, you need to settle down.” “Settle down.” “Camryn, THAT IS ENOUGH!” Poor Cam, thinking she can crack just one more joke, and everyone will laugh and be happy, not realizing that every time she opens her mouth, she’s pushing both her sister and I closer to the edge. It ended with me losing my cool, Aisley jumping in, and Camryn in tears, feeling (rightly) that she’d been ganged up on. My poor little peanut.

I apologized, but was not granted permission to hug for several hours. I explained to Aisley that, though it isn’t her intention to do it, her moods are contagious for me. They always have been. I’ve always been pretty empathetic, but with her it’s next level. I’m like a little sponge, soaking up her vibe. All I really want is to be happy with my kids, to treat them kindly, to feel good about our time together. I didn’t feel that way last night. I felt terrible, actually, and ashamed at losing my cool. I went to bed early just to be done with it.

Today is a new day, though. I ran to the store at 6 to buy sugar, and the streets were deserted, the sky still dark as night. At the stop sign down the road, the twinkling lights of Monterey spread out across the bay, and the heaviness in my chest leftover from last night lifted. It’s still early. The possibilities are endless.

It is 7:17 now, and my daughters are still sleeping- the big one in the little one’s bed, and the little one in my bed. I wonder if they know, if they will ever really know…how much I love them? Exactly as they are, whoever they should become, no matter what they do. My love for them is…profound. It is the definition of unconditional. No hormonal “I hate you!” or “You’re a TERRIBLE mother!” could penetrate or even disturb the fortress wall that is my love for them. As a matter of fact, the cruel things said, the unintentional slights, the outright insults? They slide right off that wall, forgotten almost immediately. Ironically, Aisley cries to me sometimes about terrible things she said to me when she was younger that I don’t even remember. It means nothing, I tell her. I forgave you before the words left your mouth.

I am proud of them. I am proud of them, and in awe of them, and amazed by the people they are, knowing it has nothing to do with me. They are their own little souls, forging their own paths in life, separate from me, but entwined also. Most of all, I just feel so incredibly lucky to know them. To get to have a hand in any of this. To have had my life so enriched by loving them, and getting to be part of it all. I mean, I feel so privileged.

Later today, when Aisley is complaining for the fifteenth time about how much she “just HATES people, I mean, they are EVERYWHERE!”, or Camryn asks me what she can eat for the seventh time in two hours, I will forget all of this. I will roll my eyes, I will sigh heavily, I will probably snap “You can’t possibly be hungry again already! You’re just bored! Go find something to do!” If I’m lucky, I’ll go to bed tonight feeling like I handled things okay, that I did an okay job. If I’m not, I’ll go to bed beating myself up and wishing I’d done better. In short, whichever way it goes, I’ll go to bed feeling the same feelings that mothers everywhere feel- the good days could have been a little better, the bad days are the end of the world. You can’t really win.

But at the heart of it all is this vast and unchangeable love. Perfect, but heavier than the world. It fulfills me in a way that I never expected, and that nothing else ever has. Yet it is also terrifying, the depths of it, the way it matters- I could survive many things, but I cannot contemplate a life without them. Anything but that. Given the choice to live my life over, I know I would painstakingly recreate every moment, every poor choice, every failure, just to wind up with these two girls. It’s not even a question. It’s just a given.

I am many things, but none of them matters more to me than being a mother to them. Nothing else even comes close. I wonder if they know?

Posted in happiness, Life, love, mindfulness, Musings, People

These Little Things

little things

 

The other morning, I was driving Camryn to school. We were stopped at a light, and it was quiet in the car. Out of nowhere, Cam says “I love you, mom.”, and it was one of those moments…I don’t know how to explain it. My kids and I say “I love you” ALLLLLL the time, it’s not a rarity at all. But the way she said it, out of nowhere, in this quiet, thoughtful, sincere voice. As if she’d been studying me without me noticing, and she was speaking straight from her heart. I felt it differently, if that makes sense. “I love you, too!” I said, with tears stinging my eyes.

The next morning I got a text from my mom, out of the blue, at seven a.m. “I love you, Court.”

Two days in a row, I got hit with little love bombs, during a time when I needed them quite badly…and there is no way either my mom or my daughter could have known that. I’ve been struggling a lot, but I certainly try not to let my eight year old see it, and I hadn’t spoken much to my mom about it, so…it meant a lot to me.

Friday, the tall, dark, handsome man I’ve been seeing (although I’ve been seeing him so little lately that he’s almost a tall, dark, handsome stranger at this point) called me and asked “Are we still going out tonight?” (translation: “Are you going to cancel on me again?”) “Of course!” I replied (translation: “I am trying very hard to not let this funk I am in destroy our relationship, let’s pretend I am normal, okay?”) “Where would you like to eat?” he asked. I felt my soul wither. “Can you just figure it out?” I asked, “I can’t deal with thinking right now.” “Absolutely. I’ll take care of everything- don’t worry your pretty little head about a thing.” (He actually said that. LOL.)

A few minutes later he texted that dinner was at seven, and he wouldn’t say where. He took me to a Greek restaurant owned by a friend of his, and he’d even ordered some flaming cheese dish ahead of time to cheer me up. We had the best table, right at the front window, and…I just really appreciated the effort he put in. He recognized that I needed a little extra kindness, and rather than be put out by that or turned off, he leaned in and did more, just because he felt like it.

It sounds like such a basic little thing, but it isn’t. It matters. All of these little things matter so much to me. I have been down and hurting lately, and we all know that people are not easy or fun when they are like that. After all, we have our own shit, right? It’s so easy to just get frustrated, or say “You know what? This is not what I signed up for- I have to think about my own peace of mind, sorry.” And in our current culture, this is not only acceptable, it’s kind of encouraged. But he didn’t do that at all. He went out of his way to make my life easier and happier, and I am so grateful for that. So touched by it. I am so grateful and touched by the loving gestures from my family, too.

So now, I’m paying attention, right? Yesterday, my daughter, who is at her dads for the weekend, came home so that I could wash her hair- she had a birthday party to go to, and she needed some help getting ready. I mentioned briefly that I’d forgotten to pick up my bubbly water (you know, the fancy carbonated La Croix that are all the rage now? Yeah, I have an embarrassing addiction to those.) when I was at the store. I washed her hair and got her ready to go, and about an hour later, I took a nap. I woke up hours later and thought I heard someone saying “Mom!”. I was confused, but I listened, and there it was again! I got up, and ran to the door in my underwear…and there she was, with two cans of La Croix she’d smuggled out of the party for me. “I thought you might want these.” She said. She’d made her dad bring her by just to give them to me. Like, how sweet is that?

At the beach yesterday, my dog, Lucy, lost her ball. She spent a good portion of our walk down the beach stalking other dog owners with balls, and I had to keep explaining that she’d lost hers, sorry, sorry, sorry. On the way back up the beach, I passed a man I’d had to apologize to earlier. “Hey! I found your ball!” He said. He’d picked up our dirty old tennis ball in hopes that we’d cross paths again. He didn’t have to do that, but he did, just to be nice. My dog was thrilled, and so was I.

Yesterday, I dropped off two big bins of sea glass to a friend of mine, for a friend of hers who needs it for a project she wants to start. This morning, I sent my brother a book from Amazon-it’s a really long, really involved fantasy series, and if he likes the first one, I’ll send him more. When I’m done with this, I’m going to write him a letter, too.

Because I’ve come to realize something over the past few days- big things are great! Grand gestures and big to-do’s are wonderful things. But it is the little things- the “I love you”sย  for no reason, the extra effort, the small kindnesses…they are so powerful. When someone is feeling hopeless and spent, a small gesture is a really big deal. A kind word means everything. Unexpected sweetness is sort of a miracle. Being nice just to be nice, being thoughtful, doing a little more than you need to…it’s just everything.

Today, I ask that you pay attention to the kindness you see in the world around you, and that you receive any that comes your way with the gratitude which it deserves. I hope that you can find a way to do a little more for someone than they expect, so that you can feel your own burdens suddenly become lighter. These little things carry a startling amount of love inside of them, and you cannot really know how much that love might mean, how much it might matter, to someone.