Posted in Motorcycle, prayer, Recovery

Taking Off the Training Wheels (in Prayer)

motorcycle training wheelsWhen we were motorcycle-shopping, Jon jokingly threatened to buy me a bike with training wheels—though he then reassured me that he wouldn’t humiliate me like that. I think the issue goes deeper than avoiding humiliation, though—what I need most is to build the gut-level confidence that the bike will, indeed, stay upright even without Jon on the front. And that confidence wouldn’t start growing with training wheels in place.

In a sense, passenger-ing behind Jon has been my “training-wheels” course in motorcycling… I’m SO comfortable when he’s in front of me, and I have absolute confidence in his control of the bike. When I’m his passenger, I’m utterly at ease on a motorcycle.

In my solo parking-lot ventures, it’s that confidence that was wholly lacking the first time I got on the bike by myself. It’s that confidence that I’m building. I’m overcoming my illogical expectation that the bike is somehow going to suddenly fling herself to the ground!

boot on motorcycle peg
feet UP!

Last week I was pretty much walking her around the parking lot in first gear, working on getting comfortable with the friction-point on the clutch, and with the balance and weight of her being mine to handle. Last night I graduated to wide, slow circles around the parking lot, with my feet mostly picked up—so that’s some serious progress in my comfort-level. (Jon jogged alongside calling encouragement to me, just like my grandpa did when I was learning to ride bicycle.) Continue reading “Taking Off the Training Wheels (in Prayer)”

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Posted in Mental Health, Recovery

On Vapors, and Vapers

who vs whomLast week CBS This Morning hosted a lexicographer from the Merriam-Webster dictionary, talking about the malleability of language and the ongoing task of incorporating new words into the dictionary. Although prescriptive grammarians (unlike descriptive ones) would have you believe that our language and its rules are static, nothing could be further from the truth. (Sure, I know when I’m supposed to say “whom”—and I sometimes even do it—but these days those rules are largely at odds with actual usage.)

Speaking to new words that have been recently incorporated, the Merriam-Webster editor gave examples like “photobomb” and “binge-watch.”  By this point, “selfie” has been in the dictionary so long it’s old news. I’m fascinated by the cultural commentary afforded by new words…  The one I’m interested in today has only been in the dictionary for a couple years, and won Oxford’s “word of the year” honor in 2014:

vape definition Oxford word of the year

The Merriam-Webster definition adds to the verb definition of vape: “like someone smoking a conventional cigarette.” That definition might already be outdated. Most of today’s vapes have so little in common with cigarettes that they’re not even getting called e-cigs anymore. Early models did look like cigarettes, but these days they range from boxy models to flashy pens—virtually no resemblance to the nasty originals.

Yup, I just called cigarettes nasty. I actually thought so even for the eight-or-so years that I was obsessively smoking them. And there you have the strange face of addiction. Cigarettes are nasty—but I liked them. They were my friends, They were a treat, every time I lit up, even though I hated the lingering ashtray-odor that clung to me afterward. Continue reading “On Vapors, and Vapers”

Posted in Recovery

What Paper Plates are For

There’s a TV ad for an antidepressant that features a paper plate on a popsicle-stick handle with a smiley face sketched on it… Various people are holding it up in front of their faces, which (behind the paper-plate-smiles) are unhappy, disengaged, or entirely expressionless.

rexulti-put-on-a-brave-face-large-2
from the Rexulti “brave face” ad…

That ad speaks not only to the experience of Depression, but also to an odd aspect of our culture. It’s somehow unacceptable to show anything other than the smiley-face, isn’t it?

In that ad, the people only tuck the paper-plate facade into pockets or purses after they have their own smiles back in place.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I also notice that all of these people keep their paper-plate smiles close at hand. One tucks the stick-handle into her pocket, another into the strings of his apron while he barbecues, others tuck them into outer pockets of handbag and briefcase. One of them fingers the plate as she walks away, not unlike a smoker patting a pocket to assure herself of the presence of her cigarette pack.

In addition to its inferred promise that it will put my own smile back, this ad tells me that no matter what’s going on, I’d better face forward with a smile of some kind.

Our false smiles (whether or not they’re sketched on paper plates) are like security blankets—we don’t dare show ourselves without them. Why is that? Why are we so conditioned not to let stress or worry show, not to answer the question “How are you?” with anything but a variation of “Fine“?

I’m wondering what we fear about letting our faces be real. Continue reading “What Paper Plates are For”

Posted in Recovery

Taking Out the Trash

housework no one notices when you do itThis week I volunteered to help out a church acquaintance with some cleaning and reorganizing of her house. She’s a single mom with numerous health problems and two active young boys, and she babysits an infant who’s now mobile enough to require baby-proofing of the house—and she was finding the project overwhelming. I won’t lie: I found the project overwhelming when I got there.

I tackled the kitchen the first day, removing bags of trash and recycling, stowing in her pantry the still-bagged groceries that took up the entire kitchen floor, running loads through the dishwasher and tackling the stacks of unwashed pans and pots.

It crossed my mind that this kind of clean-up is only truly useful if it’s accompanied by some changes-in-habit to prevent the same from happening all over again… And that thought brought me right back to my own messes—more internal in nature, but just as daunting. A tidy kitchen-cupboard is not necessarily the mark of a put-together person!

kitchen cupboard cabinet
my RV kitchen cupboards are far tidier than my mind!

I had a session with my counselors that same afternoon, told them about my day, and made the observation that even if I take out my own “mental trash” through counseling, I have to change the way I handle the trash, going forward, if I’m truly going to benefit from the clean-up.

It’s a timely analogy, because I’ve been writing an A.A. “Fourth Step,” which is essentially an inventory of all the garbage I’ve created in my life. A lot of folks “go out” on the Fourth Step.  We call it the “A.A. Waltz:” Steps ONE-two-three & OUT-the-door! It’s a tough thing to look at your own faults honestly and objectively…

The Step begins fairly easily, by listing people against whom you have resentments, and enumerating what you resent and how it has affected you. Oh yeah, we can all happily write about how other people have messed us up, right? The tough part comes with the oft-dreaded “fourth column,” where it’s time to look at your own part in each of those messes. What have I done to contribute to each situation, what wrongs have I committed, how have I harmed other people? It’s heavy. No, it’s excruciating. This is the stuff I don’t want to think about myself, let alone admit to someone else.

cleanBut that’s exactly what comes next. Step Five: We admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. The whole list. Even (especially!) the stuff we least want to cop to. Continue reading “Taking Out the Trash”

Posted in Recovery, writing

Exorcism by Ink

I’ve exorcised a number of demons through the use of ink. No surprise for a writer. But this week exorcism-by-ink took a different twist.

A couple years ago I foolishly married a person who turned out to be a liar and a cheat (and also already-married!) and unfortunately I had already let him scrawl his name across my arm with a  tattoo gun before I figured all that out. That’s right, I let him sign me. (I’m sure there’s a whole psychology-chapter in that.) The annulment erased his name from my ID and social security card, but didn’t erase it from my arm.

imageSo… I just got some new ink. His signature has been obliterated by a lava flow, which pretty perfectly mirrors how I feel about this.

That signature was a demon-claw still snagged in my skin. Today I feel…  unsnagged.  I loosed the demon’s hold with an application of ink.

And now… I’m turning to the more difficult application of ink, writing a “Step Four” I’ve been putting off, which should be the final step of loosing that particular demon’s hold. The fact that I’ve been putting it off is proof that I haven’t finished the exorcism yet.

Posted in Mental Health, Recovery, writing

Changing My Story

T-Rex tape
What does it take to change your story? SMART goals, and maybe T-rex tape.

Sometimes the really simple stuff is the hardest to get my hard head around… How is it, for example, that I can have a goal and know what it is and face no real impediments—yet it doesn’t materialize? When there’s not some external obstacle, why don’t I get that goal accomplished?

Well, it all comes down to ME, doesn’t it? But knowing that doesn’t magically move my goals to the “achieved” column—I still need to take action or make changes.

I was in a group therapy session last night where we were talking about changes. In this Season of Resolutions, it’s an apt topic. I tend to avoid “resolutions” with almost superstitious fervor, and even the list I made the other day was composed quickly and carelessly, comprised of things I’d already intended to be doing…

What’s on the horizon for 2017? I’m going to learn fly-fishing and rapelling, courtesy of my husband. I’m going to read a lot (as always). I’m going to keep writing, now that I’ve started again. I’m going to do some scuba diving in Idaho lakes. I’m going to enjoy hundreds of miles more on the motorcycle. I’m going to pray, and live Sober. I’m going to get new tattoos. I’m going to grin a lot.

Those hardly count as resolutions, do they? Resolutions are supposed to be game-changers, not stuff I already planned and am sure of crossing off.  I don’t “do” resolutions… And yet, here I am thinking of the fresh calendar, the fresh journal I just started, the fresh opportunity to say, “THIS year I”…)

It IS seductive, thinking of a fresh start at things. Continue reading “Changing My Story”

Posted in People, Recovery

Don’t Be JAFO

Pat O'BrienI said a probable goodbye to a dear friend today.

Pat just had a massive stroke; he’s in a coma on life support and not expected to make it back to us. Knowing that he wouldn’t be talking to me (but who knows, might be able to hear me) I stopped at the hospital today to visit him.

His son, whom I’d heard about but hadn’t met, eagerly accepted my meager offering of stories-about-his dad while I held Pat’s hand and hoped maybe he was enjoying them too. My favorite story about God & Pat & me is one I shared here five years ago (and I’ll say it’s worth a read—not for the writing, but for the wow-factor of a true story).

jafo_embroidered_hat-p23364695230772154374m86_400Another favorite that I shared with Pat’s son was one he used to tell, about his days as a cop. Whenever someone came as a ride-along, the officers would put him in a hat that said “JAFO,” and explain that it meant “Justice Affiliate, Friend of Officer.” It would ensure his safety, they explained, by making sure other cops knew who he was. It actually stood for “Just Another Fucking Observer.” Pat always led to the point that each of us should engage in our own Recovery, rather than being a JAFO in our own life.

imageI’d say he took his own advice. He survived being shot twice, beat throat cancer, was riding his bright orange Harley Davidson last time I saw him… I’ve often sat in the back row of A.A. meetings between two men who totaled 80 years of Sobriety between them. (I always figured it’s a good seat if I’m book-ended by “old-timers.”) Pat’s daughter committed suicide just weeks after my husband Keoni did, and the two of us sat through a lot of meetings holding hands and crying together. I’ll miss my bookend. And I promise, Pat, to keep LIVING so I don’t merit a JAFO hat.


Post-Script 1/3: Pat passed away shortly after my visit. I’m so glad I went.