Posted in Mental Health, prayer, Recovery

How God Talks

I’ve often wished that God would just text me.

Hey, girl, turn around and say something to that silent person you just passed. She needs a smile. And while you’re at it, tell her she has beautiful hands, because that will make her think of playing her piano, and she’s been missing her music without realizing it. Oh, and by the way, I’ve lined up your next motorcycle for you—you’ll find out about it when you talk to Carrie during book-study. You’re welcome. Love, God

Wouldn’t that be convenient? None of this praying-for-guidance or listening for subtle answers. I’m a literal-minded person; I want instructions dammit! Surely the Almighty Creator of All Things could tap into my cell-service without any problem.

20140131-003602So okay, God has NOT been blowing up my phone. But you know what? He HAS been blowing up my life lately in all kinds of ways. And the guy can make himself heard!

I found myself telling a total stranger (except now he’s not a total stranger anymore—he’s my friend Anne’s landlord) that “God had told me” to ask him about rental properties. While he was buying tile and I was giving him his veteran’s discount at Home Depot. That’s just crazy. What’s crazier is that he didn’t call me crazy. His response? “I believe.”

Now I’ve just finished saying that I don’t have some special dialed-in bat-channel to God. I’m only just Me.

So Anne asked me yesterday, “HOW does God talk to you? How do you know?” Well, all I have to offer are stories. And she knows some of them—they’re about her.

Anne and I used to hang out two and a half years ago, when Jon and I were just married and she and I were both struggling to get Sober again. Her number has stayed in my phone—but we hadn’t talked, or even messaged, for a couple years. Until I took a nap recently and dreamed she called me. And woke up feeling convicted that I needed to reach out. No logic to that impulse, but I texted her. Got nothing back. Kept texting. Again, no logical reason to keep pinging someone who wasn’t responding—but something was telling me to. It was weeks later that she did call me, checking herself into a crisis center with nowhere to go afterward and no one to pick up her calls.

She’s Clean. But she’s broken. And my text messages were the only recent incoming activity on her phone. Left to myself, I had no reason to contact her. So I can only figure God told me to.

Let me take a moment here to tell you (with her permission) a little about Anne. She’s just 31 years old, a disabled combat vet whose complex PTSD and social anxieties stem from horrific traumas in her childhood and her civilian adult life, some of those very fresh. She has lived under bridges, she has thrown herself off a bridge in Portland, she has drowned in her own life countless times and is still (however reluctantly) here to tell the tale. She jumps out of her skin if anyone touches her or makes a sudden move in her direction, rendering her miserably frazzled and disconnected in settings like our church, where everyone wants to welcome her by hugging. One side of her sports an impish smile and a from-the-gut laugh you can’t help but join, while another side of her manifests in stricken expressions and panicked breathing in the face of the overwhelming requirements of simple daily living. She lives in a constant state of fear and anxiety, and sometimes only her OCD (with its attendant attention-to-details) keeps her going with any semblance of togetherness. Her outlook combines deep thinking and childlike curiosity—when we read Bible together I walk away feeling sheepish that I’d never thought to ask the questions she does.

If I had to pick out one defining characteristic that shapes Anne’s life, it would be the fact that she does NOT. Trust. Anyone. No one feels safe to her. Not counselors. Not pastors. Not medical professionals. Not the VA. Not acquaintances. Not family. It’s not “paranoia” on her part; her life experiences have trained her that not even a mother can be trusted to be safe.

That’s Anne. Traumatized, broken, barely functioning, and absolutely alone. Even her service dog was separated from her when she lost her housing in early July.

So when she asked me yesterday how God “talks” to me, I reminded her of the odd impulse that started me texting her in mid-June. Like God was setting something up when he knew she was about to need it.

Even as she acknowledged the point, she was frowning that she doesn’t think God sends her that kind of message. “You don’t think so?” I challenged her. “Then tell me why you decided to trust me.”

That trust has grown with baby-steps, each promise-from-me coming with a reminder that I haven’t broken a promise yet. They’ve mostly been small promises (“I’ll stay with you in the ER,” “I’ll find out how your dog is doing,” “I’ll call you on my lunch break”) but she started out so sure she couldn’t believe them…

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She won’t let me share her smile… Just her story.

The other day she let me stand behind her and braid her hair. If you know Anne, you know that’s an even bigger deal than the Power of Attorney she signed authorizing me to help her straighten out some issues with the VA. So: “Tell me why you decided to trust me,” I demanded in yesterday’s conversation.

She drew her eyebrows down and looked at me sideways and admitted, “Something just told me I should trust you.”

“Well there you go. God told me to call you, and told you to trust me, and here we are.”

Where-we-are includes that she’s been living in the garage section of our fifth wheel for several weeks while we’ve been searching high and low for new housing for her. It’s not a “renter’s market” here, and although she has a perfect rental-history and guaranteed income (disability), her credit sucks. We couldn’t find her anything.

Enter Ed, chatting me up while buying tile from me at Home Depot. I inexplicably asked him what he knows about rental properties (thank you, God, for the nudge) and he answered that he has one. He’s just finishing up renovating it (hence the tile) and it would be available in about a week. So I told him about Anne. And I’m thinking God told him something, because the next day we were meeting him at his sweet little rental-house with hardwood floors and bright open windows and sturdy old trees lining the front. No credit-check necessary. She can have her service dog back with her.

Anne is still raw, and fresh to the practice of trusting people (or God, for that matter). She won’t fully believe it until she has the keys in hand. But she’s trying to. And she’s tentatively “letting in” some people besides me. Not all the way in, but she’s opening that door and building a belief that maybe there ARE some people who can be trusted. It wouldn’t take much to make her snap those doors shut… But I’m trusting God has this in hand. I still wish he’d text and TELL me so… But he seems to know what he’s doing.

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Posted in Mental Health, Motorcycle

Go, Go, Glow

Red Bike Red House
Red bike at the Red House (my AA home group)

I joked in a post last year that “you never see a motorcycle parked outside a psychiatrist’s office,” but last week that’s exactly where I parked my bike. So okay—riding a motorcycle doesn’t actually cancel out my need for mental-health meds, but it sure does put a grin on my face.  A manager said this week that I’ve been glowing since I started showing up to work with helmet in hand.

We made the decision a few months ago to trade in my BMW1200 for a smaller, lighter bike, so I’m the tickled new owner of a shiny red Yamaha V-Star 650. The Beemer (beauty though it was, and as sweet as my hubby was to buy it for me) was just too much bike for this Rookie Rider. I never got over being scared of the bike, and I never “graduated” to riding by myself. Jon tailed after me like a security blanket every time I took it out, and it felt like a big production every time. I was starting to associate a feeling of dread with pulling on my motorcycle boots, which is never how I’d felt about riding before!

bike Starbucks
To Starbucks.

So we posted the BMW on Craigslist this spring, and I was sitting with a friend when a text came in inquiring about it. I apologized for interrupting our conversation to respond, and explained the situation… Whereupon she asked me if I were looking for a bike! She’s a missionary in Thailand, just back in the states to visit her daughters, and her bike has been in storage for a few years. Not running—but hey, I’m married to a mechanic. Long story short, we trailered this bike home from her storage a week later.

I came home from work the next day to find her stripped to her frame, and my kitchen counter strewn with bike-bits.  Mr. Mechanic worked his magic, and days later I was testing her out, up and down the rows of our RV park. Days later we had her registered and I took her out on the road. Days later, after Jon had followed me to church and work, I went to work by myself. Days later I was pulling up across town in front of my AA home group. With a shit-eating grin beneath the helmet.

I’m still a rookie, but I’m riding now! To work. To AA. To the dentist. To church. To Starbucks.  And yes, to the psychiatrist.

Yesterday we hit triple-digit temperatures, and the parking-lot pavement still radiated heat when I came out of Home Depot at ten p.m. The first breath of cool air I’d felt all day was the wind on my face at fifty miles an hour riding home under the moon. I’m just about ready to bet it wasn’t my lights or my reflective gear that made me visible as I rode. I’m pretty sure it was my GLOW.

bike Emmett

 

Posted in writing

Playing Sims (and Questions of Free Will)

It’s a little like writing fiction, or at least that’s what I tell myself is appealing about it.  If you haven’t played with Sims (I hadn’t before this week), it’s a simulation game where you get to create and dress up little people, build and furnish their houses, send them to jobs, prompt them to interact, and so on.

Sims
At first glance it seems like a pretty limitless array of options for play, given the many different objects you can place, and the many different ways your little people can interact with those objects… But the inherent limitations to its interest have already become eminently evident.

There’s no creativity, and no content, to the actions and interactions here. I can make a Sim “read fine literature,” but there’s nothing really to be gained from it. (Why am I not picking up my own book instead?) I can make a Sim “phone a friend,” but there’s no content to the conversation. (Why am I not picking up my own phone instead?) I’ve imagined different personalities and proclivities for my various characters, but that’s only in my head. (Why am I not picking up my own piece of unfinished fiction instead?)

In short, the shine has already worn off my little game. It made me think, though, that I understand God a little better. Sometimes people ask why God gave us Free Will when he could have made the world perfect by orchestrating everything himself. Well, I can give you one good reason: it’s tiresome telling your creations to go potty or eat a sandwich so they don’t make a pee-puddle or fall over from malnourishment. It’s not interesting or fulfilling to make them do everything they do.

Okay, that’s the flippant answer, but it’s a peek at the bigger one. Writing fiction is more interesting than playing Sims, because it doesn’t have the limitations—I can create everything about the world, the relationships, the conversations. Having children is more interesting than writing fiction, because (these days) the people I’ve created say and do things without any orchestration from me, and they’re always interesting and surprising.

KermitWhen my daughter squeezes me in one of her long-lasting hugs, it’s rewarding because she did that on her own. I didn’t click a “hug button” to make her do it. Similarly, God made us to love him. Voluntarily. Without being compelled, which would make the “love” meaningless. I know I do a shoddy job of it overall, but I like to think God delights in every moment that I do turn to him (like asking for help against my alcoholism)—the same way I delight in spontaneous affection or requests from my offspring.

Well, the game—and the weird role of “playing god”—got me thinking about all that. But there’s still one more question of free will…

I’ve already determined that this game isn’t rewarding or fulfilling, and yet… I keep orchestrating my little people to meet each consecutive task and challenge presented to them. I can’t seem to put the damn thing down.

My addictive personality pops up in far more areas of life than just my alcoholism. I’m an all-or-nothing girl. This week I’m obsessively playing with my Sims. The couple weeks before that, it was “Words With Friends” (a glorified Scrabble set—though at least that has the virtue of requiring some mind-exercise). For a couple months this summer, I was obsessively working on the first 59,000 words of my nascent novel—which has since been sitting virtually untouched while my mind has skittered across other serial obsessions in the intervening months.

writer's blockThis morning my husband challenged me to find a way to get my mind back to the book—“or even a blog-post”—during this rare day-off-both-jobs. So I’m here with laptop open and coffee-cup to hand, with a DVD playing of the “writers’ commentary” on one of the Hobbit movies (I think I’ve mentioned that writer/director Peter Jackson is one of my story-telling heroes—I always feel inspired by the “how-it’s-made” extras on these movies). I Am Writing.

My phone with its insidious Sims-game is out of reach on the charger, and I am determinedly wielding my Free Will against its compulsive draw. (Let’s be honest–the reason it’s on the charger is because I was glued to it all morning.) I Am Writing.

And I’ve just opened up my computer file of “Whaler’s Wife” (working title) to see what I can make happen.

I can be stronger than my addictions (even the silly ones). I Am Writing.

Posted in Lists

Drawing up a gratitude list 

November is a popular month for gratitude, given the holiday that’s named for the emotion, but my motivation this year is a little different. I’m grateful that October is over! “Isn’t that the same thing as being-in-November?” you ask reasonably. Well, not precisely. 

The thing is, almost every major Drama, Trauma, and Tragedy in my life has happened in an October–leaving me with a superstitious fear of a “cursed” month. Add in the fact that those events (ranging from loss of a job to loss of a spouse, from severe complications of childbirth to last year’s vacation in a psych ward) have left me with a lot of unpleasant “anniversaries” in October–and it’s just a rough month. 

I literally spent the month praying that I could get to November 1 without anything awful happening–aware that if I did, it would be the first time in about a decade.

It happened! I broke the streak and got all the way through October without an Awful Event of any kind. I’m very nearly giddy over it. And helping with that reaction is the fact that I got my mental-health meds adjusted a couple weeks ago, after realizing I was on a downward slide toward Depression. I’m emerging from the haze of lethargy and indifference and feeling increasingly like ME again. (Witness the fact that I’m back here writing again–a silent blog is a danger sign with me.)

All that said… I’ve been on a sketching-kick, specifically a gratitude list. So although I’m usually one to express myself with words, today I’m offering my “gratitude album.”


I’m grateful for the man who married me. His voice puts a smile on my face, and his laugh lights my world. He has loved me (and prayed me) through some of my worst. It’s a joy and an honor to be “Mrs. Smith.”


I’m grateful for a job that keeps me challenged and interested, and where there’s room for growth.


I love RV-living, and our cozy little home. I’m grateful to live so comfortably!


I’m grateful for Vertical Church, and my church-family.


I’m grateful that I grew a pair of bright, vibrant, good-hearted people. (Readers, too.)


I’m grateful for modern medicine, and my mental-health meds!


I’m grateful for COFFEE!


I’m grateful to live in Idaho.


I’m grateful for my Ma, who has continued to love me no matter what.


I’m grateful for my teddy bear, Toots, who has been a comfort for more than four decades. (Here with Jon, who sewed Toots an Army outfit.)


I’m grateful for Open Adoption, and that the boy-I-grew has such a fabulous family.


I’m grateful for BOOKS!


I’m grateful to have my driver’s license back, and for the car Jon bought me when I got it back. I so appreciate being able to drive myself to appointments and work rather than hiking everywhere.


I’m grateful for open roads and motorcycles.


I’m grateful to be Sober! This is my owl-sticky-note marking my favorite page of the Big Book. “If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through.”


I’m grateful for my health. Crohn’s Disease has been in remission for 16 years, and I’m healthier than I deserve to be, given my alcoholism. God is good.


I’m grateful for my great Sis, who shares many of my memories (and quite a few of my quirks). And a grand welcome this week to her new daughter!


I admit it–I’m grateful for my iPhone. 


I’m grateful for challenges–like learning to ride.


I’m grateful for seaside vacations!


I’m grateful for a guy who fixes things… and builds things, and COOKS things!


I’m grateful for FUN!


The back of Jon’s helmet is a reminder for the road-of-life… I’m grateful that God has ALWAYS had my back.

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)”