An Enneagram of One’s Own

I’ve been married almost 14 years. Which is both forever and not nearly long enough. But one of the things I most know about my person is that once he really gets into a thing, it’s best to join him for the ride. Otherwise, there’s going to be a side circus going on & I’ll just be looking all perplexed and possibly confounded. But most of all, just left out. No, it’s better to go ahead, roll up my sleeves and dig in a bit to his current obsession.

For a while the thing was organizational systems. (y-a-w-n) If there’s anything I resist as if it is actually trying to kill me, it is planners and lists, timelines and flowcharts. I get that organizational systems, for him, are tied to bigger life goal/psychic things he’s working on. But good god almighty, it’s hard for me to invest in. He says “bullet list” and my eyes glaze over.

But, fortunately for me, for a good while he’s also been into personality tests. Which is clearly much more exciting. The inner workings of people? Yes! Let’s analyze that! And, like anything he becomes–ahem–obsessed with, he knows a lot about different personality types, with a keen focus on what drives them to do what they do.

Right now, it’s all Enneagram all the time.

I’m well versed in his Enneagram number. We’ve watched videos, read excerpts, laughed at memes. I’ve watched him try to puzzle out what Enneagram number our daughter might be. And he’s real, real confident he knows exactly what number I am.

But, come on, I can’t just take his word for it, right? Sure he’s approximately a million times more well-versed in this than I am. But lordamercy, I’ve let people tell me about myself all my life. I’m taking that power back, thankyouverymuch.

So, last night I took an Enneagram test.

Holy vexation.

Parsing out my aspirational self from my actual self? Yeah, I guess maybe I’m not so good at that? All I know is that I’d look at the most basic questions about what drives me as a person and be all “I dunno.” Which, for a person who prides herself on being introspective, is all kinds of unmooring.

I am adrift, y’all.

Because what’s required to make the Enneagram work is that I look back on my whole life and take, as a sum, what’s motivated me. Well, shit. I mean, the past 11 years of my life have been a quest to completely overhaul the way I behave, see, and interact with life. Which is why to dig back through who I want to be, the ways I want to be seen and to treat people, underneath to what actually drives me is … well … GOD AWFUL.

And, even more interior-chaos-inducing: the Enneagram doesn’t offer a definitive answer. I had to read up on the personality characteristics of my top 3 types and decide which one I was.

Stop it. That’s too much.

Still, I pressed on. Because I’m brave like that.

I may have a perfectionist tendency or two, because I took the test three times. I agonized over the top 3 personality types that kept showing up until, finally, Simon took mercy on me and told me to read the descriptions of the top 3 to him. So, of course, I started with the one that he hadn’t picked out as my number. And I was all like “yes this!” to like, 75% of it. Which felt really high to me. But how could that be?!? Because the number I was reading is the same number he is and we’re so different and…

Read the other two, he suggested.

So I read the other one that he hadn’t picked as my number.

I got just a ways in before I realized, and had to admit aloud, that these characteristics were who I aspired to be. Not innately who I was. Which was kind of a blow. Because that was #2, The Helper. And of course I want to be someone that helps and nurtures. And I am those things, sometimes. Because I’ve decided to be. But it isn’t what comes most naturally.

So, with great resignation and some tremendous sighing, I read the number Simon had pegged as my personality type months and months ago.

Every last line. Every last line rang true.

DAMN IT! I hate it when he’s right.

As he talked me off that little ledge, he reminded me (gently) that everyone gets a choice about how they behave. Inner motivations, not so much. And nothing more potently makes room for change than to first simply accept what is.

That’s, you know, a pretty profound life lesson for a regular old Monday night.

Turns out, he had my number all along*.

*(ha! sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Oh, are you still hanging around? Fine. I’m a Type 1, The Moral Perfectionist. And don’t you dare say that seems obvious. Don’t do it. Even if it’s true.

Coming Soon…

Something new is about to happen at Rocket Fuel, y’all.

Wait, what’s Rocket Fuel?!?

It’s the place where I write about parenting and recovery and running and coffee. I cuss a lot. I ponder the big questions in life. I talk about my marriage. My spirituality. How my adulthood is shaping up–for better or worse.

Something new is about to happen at Rocket Fuel, y’all.

Wait, what’s Rocket Fuel?!?

It’s the place where I write about parenting and recovery and running and coffee. I cuss a lot. I ponder the big questions in life. I talk about my marriage. My spirituality. How my adulthood is shaping up–for better or worse.

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Good question!

The blog is called Rocket Fuel because it was launched in conjunction with Rocket Designs, where Simon designed & sold recovery shirts. (We picked “rocket fuel” because it wa kind of a play on my obsessive love for coffee.) The original idea for Rocket Designs was to scale the business, expand its reach, and become legends in the recovery world (or something kind of like that).

My first blog posts on Rocket Fuel were, in fact, centered around recovery. And it‘s true that I still write about recovery a lot. In fact, recovery underlies everything I write about, because without it, I would have none of the other amazing things I write about: my kid, my marriage, my health, my spirituality, my life. BUT I realized, after a while, that I didn’t want to overtly tie all my posts back to recovery.

And, while the Rocket Design shirts are still for sale on Redbubble, we never put the networking, marketing, and dedication into expanding the idea the way we originally thought we would.

But, while I still love coffee, Rocket Fuel seems kind of like a non-sequitur without being tied to Rocket Designs, no?

(If you want to check out Simon’s shirt designs, you can find them here: https://www.redbubble.com/…/collectio…/174232-rocket-designs)

There Is Nothing to Apologize For

I’ve been pondering a bit more how my anxiety manifests itself on the daily. It’s been a companion of mine since I was 8 years old. And, truth is, we’ve settled into our own kind of peace, my anxiety & I. I’ve developed workarounds and strategies. Sometimes I just tell it to STFU. But it’s rarely just not there. 

So, when I read this piece by Discovering Your Happiness, I got smacked with overwhelming gratitude for the way Simon has helped me move through my anxiety. He’s really the reason I was able to adopt the whole “my-anxiety-doesn’t-define-me” mantra.

What does that look like in our every day world?

It looks like him finally corralling everyone for an excursion (after shoes have to be put on and phones have to be found and lights have to be turned off) only to have me make it all the way to the door, then turn back around to check that the toaster oven & the coffee pot are unplugged, that the gas burners are in the off position, that the dog’s crate is snapped shut–and then watch me do it again… and again.

Or his always knowing where the closest bathroom is. (It’s a huge anxiety trigger for me to have to pee & not know where a bathroom is)

Last Saturday, it looked like driving me by Jane’s friend’s house on the way home (where Jane was sleeping over), to make sure they’d made it home okay from the pool. They didn’t answer when I texted or called, and I just needed to know their car was there. That everyone was safe.

Sometimes, I don’t experience anxiety for weeks on end. Then BAM! And Simon never says a word about it. He doesn’t try to dig down to why I’m feeling anxious. (Often there’s no real reason) He doesn’t even flinch when I start checking and double checking things. Or when I flip out about money (another big anxiety trigger for me). He just carries on like there’s nothing going on. And I love him for it.

He never treats me like I need to be fixed.

He never acts put out.

He never blows off my concerns.

He just rolls with it.

I used to apologize profusely when these things would happen. I mean, I KNOW it’s my anxiety causing me to worry & kicking me into fear-mode. But the knowing doesn’t always mean I can turn it off.

For almost 15 years, he’s said the same thing: “There is nothing to apologize for.”

He said it so much that I started to believe it.

And now I do. Believe it, that is.

 

 

Photo by Eric BARBEAU on Unsplash

Notes from Field Day

When I was a kid, Field Day was my day of triumph. I got to shock people every year with the fact that I could RUN. I was fast. I guess I didn’t look particularly athletic. And, to be honest, my parents didn’t really push sports. And coming home dirty from school was frowned upon. So, yeah, rough & tumble wasn’t really my game. Which made it even more fun to kick ass every year in the field day race.

Yesterday was Field Day at Jane’s elementary School. Obviously, I found this wildly exciting:

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But come on… FIELD DAY! What could possibly be more fun?!?

When I was a kid, Field Day was my day of triumph. I got to shock people every year with the fact that I could RUN. I was fast. I guess I didn’t look particularly athletic. And, to be honest, my parents didn’t really push sports. And coming home dirty from school was frowned upon. So, yeah, rough & tumble wasn’t really my game. Which made it even more fun to kick ass every year in the field day race. (To be fair, I usually wasn’t first. I typically placed a solid second–which was just ass-kickey enough to suit my taste.)

Imagine my complete confusion yesterday when some kids didn’t want to participate in Field Day. WHAT?

Look, I know all kids are different. I know that some kids really don’t dig outdoor stuff. And there were definitely those kids. But I got the nagging feeling that, for some of the kids, something else was at play.

It didn’t come together for me until last night, when I attended a Social Emotional Learning training at Jane’s school. We were discussing the roll of community meetings in SEL–that’s when the kids get together each morning to greet each other and sometimes to share a bit about what’s going on in their worlds. Greeting each other by name is important, the instructor noted, because some children rarely hear their names associated with something positive.

Ooof.

Even a kid like Jane hears things all the time like “JANE! Pick up your clothes off the floor.” “JANE! Did you take the dog out?!” “JANE! We HAVE TO GO. Hurry UP.” And Jane comes from a non-financially-stressed, co-parenting household with one parent who doesn’t work full-time (and another who does). So, basically, on paper Jane’s got a good thing going over here and often her name is used to fuss/redirect/scold. What’s it like for other kids?

Flash back to field day: Jane’s teacher is hugging a little girl who doesn’t want to participate, while giving race instructions to the other kids. Once she finishes with the instructions and general corralling of children (which is like herding cats), she refocuses all of her attention on the crying kid. She uses the little girl’s name repeatedly, telling her how much fun she’ll have, how everyone will cheer her on, how she’ll be so proud of herself when she’s finished. Jane’s teacher can do this because she’s spent ALL YEAR building a relationship with her students, reinforcing a safe-space atmosphere where the kids encourage & cheer for each other. The teacher was being totally straight-up when she told the little girl that her classmates would cheer for her. That’s what they do for each other. That’s what she’s taught them, coached them, encouraged them to do.

The little girl ran the race. And she came back beaming. And sure enough, the kids cheered her on, yelling her name the whole time.

I don’t know the little girl’s story. Maybe she was just having an off day. Maybe she isn’t encouraged a lot to try new things. Maybe she was just afraid of failing (aren’t we all?). But I do know that having an adult who really SAW her helped her take a leap and do something she was unsure of. And she was GREAT the rest of the day.

Being around Jane’s school a lot has changed me in many ways. I’ve definitely pushed myself to be more empathetic, to connect with kids, and to always go with kind first. Every kid has a different story. If I’m patient and caring enough, they just might trust me with that story one day. And, to me, there’s no greater honor than a kid telling me what’s on their heart.

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Me & Jane at Field Day (Photo Credit: @jonsiemel on Instagram)

Oh, and it turns out that Jane might enjoy racing at Field Day just as much as I did when I was a kid:

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I’ll count that as a win.

Just Breathing Out Lovingkindness Over Here

So I told her to make her own damn sandwich. (Note: I did not actually say damn out loud. But I said it real, real loud in my head. I think she could probably hear it) She huffed and puffed while she made her sandwich. I took my coffee and my English muffin to the other side of the kitchen, where her huffing was muted by the snorting of the dog.

This morning was a shit show.

There. I said it. It has now been said. Shit show.

It’s not really Jane’s fault. Not entirely.

I mean, she was glaring at me like she’d gone and lost all her good sense. My mistake? Offering to make her sandwich and put it in the green container.

HOLY MOTHER OF PEARL. NOT THE GREEN CONTAINER.

Apparently, she preferred the pink container. Which she let me know by stomping on the floor. And glaring over her shoulder.

So I told her to make her own damn sandwich. (Note: I did not actually say damn out loud. But I said it real, real loud in my head. I think she could probably hear it) She huffed and puffed while she made her sandwich. I took my coffee and my English muffin to the other side of the kitchen, where her huffing was muted by the snorting of the dog. (She’s a boxer. Short snout. Sometimes breathing = snorting)

My kid’s stomping, glaring, and huffing. My dog is snorting and banging into me trying to chase her toy. Me? I’m serene. Breathing out lovingkindness.

Okay, really, I’m ignoring the hell out of everyone around me, focusing on my coffee, and trying my best not to lose my shit.

But here’s proof miracles happen: I did not yell. Not once.

Miracle before 8 a.m.? Check.

And now, annoyingly, I feel like I need to be thankful, because even though this morning was 60% sucky, by the time I dropped Jane at school we were laughing & singing “Armadillo by Morning.” (It’s not a typo… we really do sing “armadillo” instead of “Amarillo.” Whatever. we think it’s hysterical.)

Yesterday morning did not go nearly as well.

What the hell’s going on over here? Yeah. Simon flew the coop this week…something about a work trip, yada-yada-yada. What I heard: “I’ll be gone for almost a week. Good luck managing our kid who becomes a complete asshat when I leave town because she misses me so much. Huzzah!” That’s just a paraphrase, though.

Jane & I are managing. But I’m adding this to my ever-growing list of reasons I’m glad that Simon & I stuck out this marriage thing: He’s a kick-ass Bobby. And Jane loves him so much.

So do I. (But seriously, if I hear one inkling about a work trip any time soon…)

3 Things That Were

A gritty, honest exploration of change, loss, and joy as it’s unfolded in my life.

I was a drunk. Before I took the first swig of cheap whiskey, this was my truth. But its burning release convinced me that salvation resided at the bottom of a bottle. I was a drunk and so I tracked my ovulation obsessively, discussing pregnancy probabilities over happy hour drinks. I was a drunk and a lesbian, and so I borrowed some sperm off a friend’s husband, inserted it into my vagina—with a syringe. No turkey basters here—and then downed bourbons to celebrate my first step toward motherhood. My partner and I agreed to refer to the embryo-in-waiting as Tank. If it survived that level of inebriation, it’d surely be a rough and tumble little guy. I was a drunk and so I popped Clomid with cocktail chasers. I’d spend plenty of time—9 months of it—sober after I got knocked-up. No need to over-achieve. I was a drunk and so I planned on boozy playdates, if the damn kid would ever get here already. I was a drunk and so I went to inseminations hungover, the previous night’s indiscretions emanating from my freshly scrubbed skin. I was a drunk and so I believed I could wash off shame, hide it, hide me. I was a drunk and so one day I walked into a mish-mash of strangers, sat down, surrendered, and 12-stepped my way back into sanity. I was a drunk. And then I wasn’t.

I was pregnant. Blood draws, inseminations, peeing on sticks. Jockeying to order frozen specimens for perfectly timed delivery. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Ticking off days. Willing my way to two weeks. Then, trepidatiously peeing on a stick. Bargaining with God that if this time it would be different… I never finished that promise. What could I offer God, after all? I’d wait the requisite two minutes, add an extra 30 seconds on for good measure, and then look down. NOT PREGNANT. Such a bold proclamation. So impervious to my begging and pleading. Sometimes, instead of a NOT PREGNANT insult from a pee-soaked stick, I’d wake up a day or two before our interminable two week wait to a torrent of blood. Bright red. My own body mocking me. But one time, this one time the gods of the pee-stick gave in. PREGNANT. I waited. I pulled out another stick. Peed again. PREGNANT. I was pregnant and so the torrent of blood work started. HGC levels. Were they rising? Yes. Yes. I was pregnant and so check again. Check again. Poke. Prod. I was beatific. I was pregnant, and so we scheduled our first ultrasound. 5 weeks. Woosh. Woosh. Woosh. That heartbeat made me believe. Finally. I was pregnant and so, we scheduled the next ultrasound. 7 weeks. Woosh. Woosh. Woosh. But fainter. The sonogram tech called for the doctor. They measured the images. A little small, it seemed. The embryo seemed a little small. But there’s still a heartbeat, they cheered. The air left the room. I nodded when they asked me to come back in two weeks. They’d check again, they said. Maybe it would be okay. I was (still) pregnant, so I made an appointment. 9 weeks. Silence. I was pregnant. And then I wasn’t.

I was married to a woman. We fell in love over loss—I’d lost my way. She’d lost her brother. We sat in a bar, proding our wounds. “Will you always light my cigarette for me?” I asked. “If you’ll always look at me like that,” she responded, coy. We lost ourselves in each other—lustily, drunkenly. Then, like children reprimanded for impropriety, we agreed to set about playing house. The play was a farce. I was married to a (drunk) woman, and so 5 years later, we packed up our (emotional) baggage and shipped it off accompanied by all the whiskey in the house. We showed bits of ourselves timidly to each other. Sober felt stark, devoid of blurry edges. We, at long last, knit together enough hopes, dreams, Clomid, and donor sperm to make a baby. She came into this world, pulled out of my belly, fist high in the air. An indomitable spirit. Four years later, the woman I married said, “I am not who you think I am. I am not who I thought I was.” I was married to a woman, and so began a season of becoming—of transition—for us. I was married to a woman. And then I wasn’t.

Photo Credit: Georgia de Lotz on Unsplash

3 Lessons from Loss

I don’t think about her often, this baby that would’ve been my second child. But sometimes the missing of her will sneak up, unexpectedly. Sometimes.

I knew, when I lay back on the table, that they wouldn’t find a heartbeat. Even though I still felt sick all day, every day, I knew it was over.

I physically ache when I remember that moment, the silence that filled the room where the whoosh-whoosh of the heartbeat should have been. I don’t think about her often, this baby that would’ve been my second child. But sometimes the missing of her will sneak up, unexpectedly. Sometimes.

I wanted this baby. I’d planned for her ever since Jane was born. And when she was gone, this wanted, planned for, and (already) loved baby, I got smacked not only with overwhelming sorrow but also with the isolation that so often accompanies miscarriage.

And holy shit was I mad.

I was mad that other people seemed to get pregnant so easily. Unplanned pregnancies? Those really pissed me off. And God? Oh, he was in deep shit with me.

I gave myself permission to feel all these things. And, oh, I felt them.

Then, slowly, some other (less rage-y) things began to emerge:

  1. I understood my grandmother more deeply. She lost a child in 1955. A stillbirth. And she grieved that baby. Flowers made their way into my grandmother’s house every year on March 16th, Neva Jane’s birthday. She kept the only pictures of Neva Jane in a little box in her closet. She showed them to me one ordinary afternoon when I’d come to visit from college. In that exchange, I finally saw how much she loved that baby that she didn’t get to raise. It shocked me, the magnitude of her love. And it changed me. So much so that when my little girl was born, I named her Jane.IMG_6014
  2. I realized what a gift my sweet Jane is. It took us two years to get pregnant with Jane. In total, I’ve been pregnant 4 times. I believe Jane fought mightily to get here to be with us. She is my against-the-odds child. And I have been blessed by her and taught by her since our very first interaction (But good Lord, don’t tell her that… she’s bossy enough already). Instead of losing myself in anger about what could have been, Jane led me toward celebrating what IS. And what IS is amazing.14782989940_937a33caa9_o
  3. I saw how shitty our culture is at dealing with loss. I had one friend, who I’d been in daily contact with, ghost me when she found out I miscarried. Apparently, my loss was too painful for her to process. Also, platitudes? They suck. Things do NOT always happen for a reason. It was not God’s plan for me to lose a child. I think God’s plan was more like crisis management… like he was collecting guardian angels to try haul me through this loss. Not planning the death of my child. Because, uh, what kind of God does that? Not one I’m interested in. We can do better than ghosting and platitudes. But it takes opening ourselves up to sitting with people as they grieve, to holding space for their grief. It is emotional work. But it is balm for those who are suffering. The folks who did that for me gave me a place to start healing. And for that, I am very grateful.

When I went to my grandfather’s funeral in south Georgia this weekend, I went to see Neva Jane’s grave. I stood there for a minute, honoring her brief presence in this life. And thinking of my grandmother, who taught me that it’s possible grieve and live a beautiful life–at the exact same time.

Saying Goodbye to My Grandfather

Sometimes grief feels more like empty space. A vague longing for what used to be. It’s a nagging sort of sadness, one that I keep trying to reason away. But reason and grief have never been particularly compatible. So it goes.

My grandmother used to get up before the morning light got strong and bright to make my grandfather’s lunch. He worked at a paper mill, full of chemicals that would eventually make him sick. But back then, my Granddaddy was full of life. Boisterous. Hair combed back neatly. Brut aftershave lingering after he hugged me. I loved him. Very much. It always felt so complete, his love for me. Never lacking in anything. Completely devoid of expectation. Just love, the way love really ought to be.

When I was small, probably about 6 or 7, my grandmother would take my little sister and I to play on the playground just outside the paper mill. It felt special somehow, to be close to granddaddy’s work. Like we were doing our part to support him while he worked hard. Even if he didn’t know we were there. Or maybe he did. Maybe he could always be sure I was close by, loving him real strong. Maybe he could feel that love even inside that big paper mill.

It’s been a long time since I was a little girl. My relationship with my grandfather changed over the years, for complicated reasons. But when I found out he died, the first thing I thought of was that he’d returned again to love—to the man who went to the kitchen each morning to grab his lunch pail, kiss my grandmother goodbye, and tell me he’d see me just a little later on.

See you a little later on, Granddaddy.

 

*The photo is of my mother & my grandparents, who had the absolute best nicknames for each other: Butch & Snoot.

Living with What Is (in Pugs & in Life)

I’ve finally, finally learned that, if I’m struggling, it’s likely because I’m trying to deal with what I wish was, instead of dealing with reality. If strapless dress had been dealing in reality yesterday, I wouldn’t have gotten chased down by a pug.

I set out for my run late yesterday afternoon. It took some convincing—some internal bargaining—but I finally won the argument with myself, laced up my shoes, and bounded down my driveway and up the street. I made it three blocks before I was accosted by a pug. That’s right. A pug.

“Stella*! Stella!” I heard someone yelling. Not frantically. Just as if Stella, whoever Stella was, might need some help refocusing her attention.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a wiggling, snorting black blur headed right for me. I heard tags jingling and quickly surmised that Stella wasn’t a wayward child. She was a dog. A dog with a keen interest in me.

I kept going as Stella ran as fast as she could (which really wasn’t all that fast) after me. By now, her person, who’d been sitting placidly on a blanket on her front lawn, was trailing Stella. I stopped. Because I am full of mercy.

The woman jogged up wearing a long strapless dress with a shabby chic floral pattern. Her hair was swept up in a bun. She was apologizing profusely. With as much good-will as I could muster, I assured her that it was fine. She tried to scoop up her dog, who by now had actually gotten distracted and was headed in the opposite direction in a sort-of-speedy mosey, if you will. Honestly, the way pugs move kind of defies description.

About this time, the male significant other of the woman in the floral, strapless dress walked out on the porch. He immediately started fussing: “Bring her back inside. She’s going to run right into traffic. Why do you have her out here anyway?”

I immediately got it: this woman wanted a lazy afternoon, laying on a blanket in the beautiful Atlanta spring weather, with her dog snoozing beside her. But this dog wasn’t the snoozing kind. By the guy’s reaction, I’m not sure the dog had been outside—like maybe ever. Certainly not to while away the day on a blanket in the sun.

Girl, I thought, you’ve got to learn to live with the pug you’ve got.

Oh. My. Lord. YES.

Wouldn’t life be so much easier if we all learned to live with the pug we’ve got? You think you don’t have a pug? Hold up.

Maybe your pug isn’t ACTUALLY a pug. I’ve had lots of pugs:

 

My personality: Probably about the 100th time I got scolded for being overly-sensitive as a kid, I started to wish I was different. Not so sensitive. I saw my sensitivity as a character flaw. My feelings always seemed so outsized. As I got older, I tried to take the edge off my BIG feelings with alcohol. Yeah. That worked brilliantly. (Not really.) But, after I got sober and sorted some things out, I began to embrace my sensitivity instead of fighting to change it. Now, I can see that it’s my sensitivity that allows me to connect with people and form relationships quickly. I got to reap the benefits of this oft-denigrated personality trait when I learned to live with the pug I’ve got (instead of numbing, or fighting, or denying).

My relationship: Do not tell Simon I called him a pug. But, for real, I increased my suffering exponentially when Simon transitioned by pining for what was instead of embracing what our relationship had become. I wanted to be married to a girl. I mean, I had been. Kind of. Not really. It was confusing. But I liked being a lesbian. It was a label I felt comfortable with, one that had described my reality for two decades. Now, suddenly, I was married to a guy. A real cute guy. But I just kept wishing for something different. I couldn’t even see Simon, for all my wishing for something different. Know what, though? When you don’t face the reality of what you’ve got, you risk your pug running out of your front lawn and right into traffic. Fortunately, I learned to live with the pug I’ve got (and embrace the hell out of that pug) before things fell apart. It was a close call, though.

My kid: I know, I know. I write about my kid’s utter amazingness all the time. But when Jane was in preschool, I wrung my hands constantly over her being a follower instead of a leader. She had this frenemy that seemed to have complete sway over her. Jane and this frenemy would gang up on the other little girl in their dysfunctional triad. Then, later on in the week, the frenemy and the other girl would be mean to Jane. I was in a tizzy. Was I raising a mean girl? Why couldn’t Jane take control of this situation? But, in order to address the frenemy situation in a meaningful way, I had to learn to live the pug I got. So, I started addressing Jane just as she was, at 4 years old, instead of addressing the 17 year old I hoped she’d grow into one day. I looked at the ways she was hurting. I saw her confusion and frustration. Once I clearly saw reality (the places she needed to be built up, the character traits that needed positive reinforcement), I could deal with Jane as she was. And you know what? She still talks about the lessons she learned from that first frenemy relationship.

I’ve finally, finally learned that, if I’m struggling, it’s likely because I’m trying to deal with what I wish was, instead of dealing with reality. If strapless dress had been dealing in reality yesterday, I wouldn’t have gotten chased down by a pug.

Maybe we could just all agree to try a little harder to learn to live with the pugs we’ve got.

 

*Name changed to protect the not-so-innocent.

 

Photo Credit: Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

The Same Story

I learned the art of the finely crafted story in Alcoholics Anonymous. 

I know that’s bizarre. But, look, I am a consumer of stories. And, so, while some folks wanted to get down to brass tacks about the steps they needed to take to get out of this mess they’d gotten themselves into, I was completely taken with the vulnerability of each person’s story. The stories are what kept me there. 

I learned the art of the finely crafted story in Alcoholics Anonymous.

I know that’s bizarre. But, look, I am a consumer of stories. And, so, while some folks wanted to get down to brass tacks about the steps they needed to take to get out of this mess they’d gotten themselves into, I was completely taken with the vulnerability of each person’s story. The stories are what kept me there.

I mean, I wasn’t sitting in AA meetings for research. I had some serious work to do. But what made me want to do the work was hearing about the journey, soaking in the personal revelations of people who’d figured out how to do sober. Because I totally had not.

But, the longer I sat there, the more I realized that every person siting in the room had the same story. Or at least the same story arc. The details varied, of course. But, each story had the same components: 1) what it used to be like, 2) what happened, and 3) what it is like now.

But even though the stories followed the same pattern—fall, journey, redemption–each one was relevant, personal. These stories were about death… and rebirth. How could I not be completely blown away?

The storytellers that wowed me the most were the ones that could take AA adages (Live Life on Life’s Terms, for instance. Which I always hated.) and weave a story around them, so that they weren’t cliches anymore. They became completely new insights that opened life-changing possibilities.

That’s the power of the story: connection.

And it doesn’t take high drama to make people connect. Some folks definitely had fantastic tales of weekends, weeks, months gone horribly wrong where they managed to balance themselves precariously between certain death and super-evil villains looking  to do them incredible harm. But I was just as apt to be moved to tears by a young dad weaving a story about his kid, and then tying it back to his own lessons in sobriety.

Because, let’s face it, most of us are on the same journey. As humans, we all want to belong, to be valued, to feel whole. The work we do to get there can look different. But the core nugget remains: to love anyone else, we have to make peace with and love ourselves.

I’m still sober. And part of that is due to the people who so willingly shared their stories, who made the program come to life for me. They bore witness to the miracle at work in their own lives, and they made me want it too. These folks taught me to be grateful, to connect with other people, and to be of service. That’s a pretty solid formula for a kick-ass life.

Everything I have today I owe to my sobriety. That is the honest to God truth. It surprises folks sometimes that I never shy away from telling my story. But I know the truth: for someone else my story could mean the difference between life and death. How could I do  anything but tell it over & over again?