Posted in Motorcycle

On Physics and Fear

Our next door neighbor is learning to play guitar. I know this because his open screen door wasn’t far from our open bedroom window at nine o’clock last night. As he worked his way through the opening chords of “Smoke on the Water” (over and over and over and over and over) I consoled myself with the fact that it couldn’t go on indefinitely, because he IS still learning. Meaning he probably doesn’t have the finger calluses yet, and he’d have to quit after a bit.

I can sympathize, because my “motorcycle muscles” are also feeling the effects of unaccustomed use. Well, let me be more accurate. My learning-the-motorcycle-muscles are feeling it. I recognize that on some level I was still trying to “muscle” the bike into staying upright, even though the bike can do just fine on its own, thank you very much. I may behave at some moments as if I’m holding up the bike with my arms, but of course that’s not what’s happening.

The bike will stay upright pretty much on its own when it’s in motion—basic physics takes care of that. And the faster you’re going, the easier that is. (It’s counter-intuitive, I know—but if you think about balancing a bicycle at next-to-nothing speed, you know how much harder that is than staying balanced when you’re pedaling down the street. Same principle.) Given that I haven’t yet graduated out of first gear on the motorcycle, I’m learning to control the bike at its most difficult speed.

My own “newbie” lack-of-confidence was my worst enemy before yesterday. I’ve been rather too aware that there’s a (literal) tipping-point, and if the bike’s center of gravity crosses it, I don’t have the muscle to hold it up. Yet I also know the rest of the physics involved, and the fact that the bike is designed to stay upright when you ride it! Truly, all I need to do is trust the bike (trust the physics) and not indulge in any herky-jerky reactions to my own fears. And therein lies the challenge. Some moments I’d been letting my fear drive—and Fear is not a skilled driver.

Trust is the antithesis of Fear. By the end of yesterday evening’s session I wasn’t tensing for every corner anymore, and that’s huge improvement. I was not just “managing to turn” the bike—I was turning it more tightly, and pretty precisely on the path I set for myself. More improvement.

Strange as it might seem, I actually think that those improvements happened because one of my fears got realized, early in the riding session. (Bless his heart, Jon would go to the grave without telling this to anyone… But I find it useful to stay REAL here, so I’ll tell on myself.) Continue reading “On Physics and Fear”

Posted in Family

Mommying, the Way It Is

This one is a painful topic. I lost custody of my kids seventeen months ago.

Having weathered (Sober) the death of a spouse, the infidelity of another, the unplanned arrival (and subsequent adoption) of a late-life baby, and a host of medical problems, I let my guard down when my life finally looked like smooth sailing—and I drank.

Five years previously, I had voluntarily added to my custody agreement that I would relinquish my share of custody if I were to drink again. And then came the day in December of 2015 when I got collared for an excessive DUI. At eight in the morning. After dropping both my kids at their schools. (“Painful” is an entirely inadequate word for those sentences.)

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my son with my niece last summer—a photo my mother sent me

My funny, engaging, wise, sensitive son has not talked to me since. (“Excruciating” is an entirely inadequate word for that sentence.) I still have Faith that there’s healing in our future, though clearly that’s not going to happen (hasn’t happened!) on the timeline I would wish. In God’s time. Meantime, I send him occasional text messages and notes in the mail (and cards for his 15th & 16th birthdays), wanting him to know that haven’t “walked away” from the relationship, or from him.

My daughter stayed silent for a few months, but she and I talk and text regularly now, and I get to see her for an hour or an afternoon here and there.

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my daughter, visiting

Of course, this isn’t at all how I envisioned mothering my teens! I’m at least grateful to have an ongoing relationship with Elena Grace, but it can’t properly be called parenting. It’s visiting.

You know what, though? I’m deeply grateful for the time I spend with her—and if this is what my mommying has to look like, I’ll focus on the Blessings. Continue reading “Mommying, the Way It Is”

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)”

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 Mental Health

Sea Legs & Side Effects

imageYesterday morning I walked through a rainstorm to the gym we just joined—a Planet Fitness decorated in garish purple-and-mustard, and plastered with heartening signs proclaiming it a “No-Judgement Zone.” I owned a StairMaster in my twenties, but my forties-self clearly needs some shaping-up because that thing was kicking my butt after six minutes. So I thought I’d try out a treadmill.

My discovery about the treadmill: it gives you an odd form of “sea legs”… When I got off it half an hour later, I felt like I was weirdly gliding across the gym. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I don’t glide. I’m not that graceful. But I felt glidey till I was halfway home.

I’m on a mission. I already said it: I need some shaping up. I’ve been big-time frowning at the bathroom scale lately, because the dang thing insists I’m heavier than I’ve ever been, pregnancies included. Continue reading “Sea Legs & Side Effects”

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”