I Thought Motherhood Would Come Easy but Life Got in the Way

How I ended up being the mother I was always intended to be

Image by Марина Вельможко from Pixabay

There was never any doubt in my mind I would be a mother. As with most everything in my life, I had a plan: College, Career, Marriage, Children (four was the magic number — two of each). We’d grow old, retire, and wait for grandbabies.


Life would be as simple as blowing soap bubbles. With a little effort, each stage would inflate and delight with iridescent elegance. It would drift away when the time came and a new radiant bubble would wondrously take its place.


Somehow, in my youth, I failed to acknowledge that bubbles are bound to burst.

“Mother is a verb. It’s something you do. Not just who you are.”

Dorothy Canfield Fisher

It all began perfectly enough. I received my degree, started my career in public relations, and married my high school sweetheart.


I knew pretty soon after we started dating, he was father material. He treasured his nieces and nephews. He had a knack for connecting with any child, no matter what the age. It planted a seed in my maternal heart. I couldn’t wait to start our family.


When we decided the time was right, we tossed aside the birth control and got down to the business of making babies. But no matter how much time and energy we were putting into the project, we could not generate a profit. The plus sign would not appear in the urine-stained window.


Off we went to the doctor to get to the bottom of our elusive dividends.


Diagnosing and treating infertility is not for the demure. Blood tests, vaginal ultrasounds with an acoustic dildo, and post-coital exams to rate the hospitality on my uterus were on my agenda. (Nothing like your vaginal canal getting a Yelp review from the gynecologist.) More blood tests and monthly cup deposits delivered in a brown paper lunch bag were on my husband’s.


After 18 months of mood-altering medication, biweekly doctor visits, and sobbing at Huggies commercials, the test came back positive. The doctor beamed. The nurse cried with delight.


Our first son arrived early — he couldn’t wait for us to be a family either. Our second came less than two years later. We didn’t want to go through the physical and emotional turmoil of fertility treatments again, so we resolved to let nature take its course — or not.


Our offspring were capped at two, but it didn’t matter anymore. The seed that sprouted my maternal heart had taken root and blossomed. I was a boy mom, and I was ecstatic.

“Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had.”

Linda Wooten

Even before your children are born, you begin planning the life ahead of them. Merging your hopes and dreams with theirs and contemplating the milestones along the way.


Having one of them develop a life-threatening disease is usually not part of the equation.


When our eldest was two and a half, he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Within hours, our entire family was drafted into a life-long battle with his condition. We entered diabetes boot camp and learned how to manage his disease and hopefully, not kill him in the process.


And so began our months (and then years) of every-hour-on-the-hour glucose tests, monitoring everything he ate, keeping track of exercise, computing insulin intake, and praying he didn’t catch some illness that would send his sugars soaring.


But in the process, I became a warrior mom. I steadfastly guarded his health like a sentry. I studied his illness, educating all of us and others. I defended his rights and taught him how to do the same. Eventually, the power of my son’s own wellbeing was passed on to him. The tour of duty was complete.

“When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.”

Sophia Loren

Life during my children’s elementary school years was going according to the “new plan.” (I was still naïve enough to think that I was done with any further disruptions.)


I worked part-time as the school librarian and was active in the PTA. Saturdays were spent at the local recreation center where my husband coached whatever sport happened to be in season. Sundays were filled with church and extended family get-togethers. We were in our element. We were prospering.


Until one day — we weren’t. When my children were six and eight years old, their father was diagnosed with leukemia.


Girded by my warrior training, I went back into battle. Alongside my husband, I contended with hospital stays, complicated medication regimens, and cross-country trips for vital treatments.


All the while, I fiercely defended my children’s sense of normalcy even when we were anything but. They never missed a day of school. To help them feel secure, family members stayed with them in our home when we were away. Their father valiantly hid the full extent of his suffering and I followed suit.


I was the mother offering hope — right up to the day he passed away.

“Children are the anchors that hold a mother to life.”

Sophocles

If it wasn’t for my children, I don’t think I would have survived the loss of my husband. They gave me a reason to function — to hold onto life. I was a hollow robot, mechanically going through the motions.


Somehow motherhood — that deep-seated desire to tend to my boys — provided the strength to endure. They already had their world torn in half; I couldn’t bear it if I caused it to be obliterated.


Ever so slowly, the need to stabilize our family drove me to reclaim my humanity.

“When we have joy we crave to share; we remember them.”

Rabbis Sylvan Kamens & Jack Riemer

When my husband was first diagnosed, I began mentally preparing for the inevitable. There is plenty of material on how to withstand — or even understand — the death of a spouse. I, myself, have written many times on the topic.


However, I was completely caught off guard by what widowhood would do to my identity as a mother. Suddenly, I was the sole captain. My co-parent — my child-rearing partner — was gone. The one person who could wholeheartedly share in the sorrows and revel in the joys of raising our sons was absent.


I lacked backup when I needed it and a contrary opinion when necessary. I’m sure my boys grew tired of my voice and longed for the counterbalance of their father’s baritone.


The title of “single mother” never seemed to fit. Single = One. One is a whole number. I was fractioned — incomplete. It took me years to accept this new individual version of motherhood.

“Motherhood is the biggest gamble in the world. It is the glorious life force. It’s huge and scary — it’s an act of infinite optimism.”

Gilda Radner

I often wonder if life had gone according to plan, would I be the same woman I am now. What kind of mother would I be? Would I be as resilient or empathetic? Would my children?


The trials we encountered brought out a fortitude I never knew I possessed; a steely determination to nurture no matter what the circumstances. Like apprenticeships, each struggle provided the preparation and developed the strength I would need for the next one.


My boys are now adults. I can only take partial credit — or blame — for the men they have become. Their personalities are unique and innate. It filters how they perceive and respond to whatever lessons I may have tried to impart.


Many mistakes were made along the way, but I have cast aside the guilt. (Well, most of it.) I know I did the best I could with the tools I had at the moment. How can I regret anything that helped produce the remarkable sons I have today?


Motherhood was not — or continues to be — entirely what I expected, but what in life is?


The bubbles may continue to burst, but they leave rainbows in their wake.


Originally posted on Medium.com

First Light

At long last, dawn

Image by Comfreak from Pixabay *

Endless Winter

Fear seeps trepidation creeps
Through my bones
Chilled from within
Cold-blooded — numb
Internally, eternally(?) frozen

The calendar marks the seasons
But the climate remains the same
A year of upheaval, uproar
Uncertainty, insecurity
Pandemonium
Distrust, mistrust of each other
Of ourselves

Clamor, Anarchy
Outbreak, Outcry for
Restraint, Relief
Rescue

Rising Spring

At long last
Faith warms dawn transforms
A hibernating heart
Awakened — free
Inwardly, outwardly joyful

Liberated from its stalemate
The break of day kindles spirits
Fair weathers’ watch resets, renews
Expectations, anticipation
Tranquility
Potential, promise for us
For humanity

Comradery, Community
Release, Revelry for
Healing, Harmony
Hope

*Poet’s Note: One of the first blooms of Spring, the crocus is often viewed as a symbol of rebirth, renewal, and hope.

This poem was originally published on Medium.com.

Are We in For Another Roaring 20s? Or Will We Be Too Afraid?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Is society prepared for the psychological aftermath of a global crisis?

The experts may dispute when it will happen, but there is a light at the end of our pandemic tunnel.

It could be the end of Summer, Thanksgiving, or even 2022. One thing history teaches us — we will see the other side of the crisis.

The question remains, however, how will we handle it? Will we experience post-traumatic euphoria or PTSD? Will we explode like confetti canons into socializing or double-down on our agoraphobia?

Our post-tunnel vision is yet to be seen, but there are some clues.

Rip-Roaring and Raring to Go

Considering the constant barrage of doom and gloom over the past year, it is only natural for us to cling to the hope of reliving the fabled Roaring 20s. Bursting from the constraints of the Great War and the Spanish Flu pandemic, the 1920s is often held as the icon for post adversity exuberance.

Even prohibition couldn’t dampen the spirit of the generation. The “danger” only made it more exciting. Quite simply, they were happy and having fun.

Or were they?

It was a decade of prosperity and dissipation, and of jazz bands, bootleggers, raccoon coats, bathtub gin, flappers, flagpole sitters, bootleggers, and marathon dancers. It was, in the popular view, the Roaring 20s, when the younger generation rebelled against traditional taboos while their elders engaged in an orgy of speculation. But the 1920s was also a decade of bitter cultural conflicts, pitting religious liberals against fundamentalists, nativists against immigrants, and rural provincials against urban cosmopolitans.*

Then again, maybe we aren’t so far off.

Give me shelter

When reporting the results of its 2020 survey, The American Psychological Association (APA) declared: “We are facing a national mental health crisis that could yield serious health and social consequences for years to come.”

The BBC recently reported on who is most likely to experience lasting mental health problems in a post-pandemic world. Like with the virus, itself, those who have preexisting conditions are the most vulnerable.

These include:

  • OCD — Particularly those with contamination or cleaning compulsions.
  • General anxiety disorders — Threats (such as those of variant strains, etc.) whether real or imagined can heighten the condition.
  • Chronic loneliness — Those who deliberately detached from the outside world to feel a sense of safety may find it difficult to reenter it.
  • Past trauma — The stress of living in a COVID-19 environment — even after things are opened up — can retrigger PTSD-type worries.
  • Fear of the unknown — This is especially challenging for those who face an ongoing drop in income or unemployment in industries hit hard by the pandemic, such as travel and entertainment.

Noting the numbers rising of those experiencing mental health difficulties as a direct result of the pandemic, researchers on now focusing on how existing disorders may exasperate the situation and how long the effects will last.

Joshua C Morganstein, MD, from Centre for the Study of Traumatic Stress in Maryland, explains that understanding the risks is essential to provide interventions and prepare for future public health emergencies:

Stress is like a toxin, such as lead or radon. In order to understand it and how it is affecting a society, we need to know who is exposed, when, how much and what effects were caused by the exposure.

How do we go about decontaminating an entire population?

Roaring back

With an infection rate already passing 113 million worldwide, one has to wonder if life can ever get back to normal. Why would anyone take a chance of contracting a disease or even death just to hit a happy hour or go dancing?

Yascha Mounk of the Atlantic compares our current (or soon to be current) attitudes to those of the 1920s:

…the devastation of World War I and the 1918 flu pandemic was quickly followed by a manic flight into sociability. The Roaring Twenties saw a flowering of parties and concerts. The 1918 virus killed more people than the deadliest war humanity had hitherto experienced, but it did not reduce humanity’s determination to socialize.

This eagerness to get out and congregate has already been made evident. Wuhan, where the pandemic originated, held a water-park music festival last August. No social distancing or masks were required of the thousands of attendees. New Zealand began hosting sold-out concerts in October and the three-day Electric Daisy Carnival scheduled for May 2021 in Las Vegas sold out in a single day.

People are fed up with being pent up. They are tired of being alone.

Hope springs eternal

Despite the negative impacts of the pandemic, the aforementioned report by the APA states that 71% of those surveyed feel hopeful about their future.

Since the Roaring 20s, the U.S. has had numerous cataclysmic events: The Great Depression, WWII, and 9/11, to name just a few. Not to mention the plethora of natural disasters including the Dust Bowl, the Northridge Earthquake, and Hurricane Katrina. Boom to bust, war to peace, destruction to rebirth and back again: it’s the natural ebb and flow of history.

If these events have taught us anything, it’s that the human race is highly resilient.

Researchers are taking note of this rebound phenomenon in their investigations. In Sweden, the Centre for Psychiatric Research in Stockholm is studying the impact of the pandemic on individuals with already diagnosed mental health conditions. The hows and whys the majority of people are able to overcome their anxieties is a big part of the project.

Nitya Jayaram-Lindström, operations manager for the Stockholm project, explains:

We also want to understand factors that contribute to resilience, which is as important to understand as the risk factors.

Gaining insight into how a population is able to bounce back after a catastrophe is essential to create interventions for those who don’t.

Return to the land of the living

From Wall Street to Madison Avenue to academia, the nuevo Roaring 20s is the hot topic.

Jean-Paul Agon, chief executive of L’Oréal, the world’s largest cosmetics group, predicts the following:

People will be happy to go out again, to socialise (sic). This will be like the Roaring 20s, there will be a fiesta in makeup and in fragrances. Putting on lipstick again will be a symbol of returning to life.

Social epidemiologist, Dr. Nicholas Christakis, takes it a step further in his book: Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of the Coronavirus on the Way We Live. Once we are relatively back to normal, he expects to see mass rejoicing and a carpe diem spirit:

What typically happens is people get less religious. They will relentlessly seek out social interactions in nightclubs and restaurants and sporting events and political rallies. There’ll be some sexual licentiousness. People will start spending their money after having saved it. They’ll be joie de vivre and a kind of risk-taking, a kind of efflorescence of the arts, I think.

It seems no matter what the risk, the basic human need to whoop it up (and make a little whoopie) is irrepressible.

Here’s to staying positive and testing negative

This tongue-in-cheek toast traditionally has referred to STDs. However, it takes on a whole new meaning in a modern post-pandemic world.

The custom of toasting to one’s health dates back to prehistory. Nearly every common language has a traditional word or phrase uttered when clinking glasses with family and friends. The majority of these translate to wishes for good health or a happy life.

From the Czech Na zdraví! (To health!) to the Portuguese Viva! (Life!), all are social talismans reminding us to eat drink and be merry while we still have the ability to do so.

I’m ready to raise my glass. Are you?

L’Chaim!


*Mintz, S., & McNeil, S. (2018). Overview of the 1920s. Digital History. Retrieved 2/28/2021 from https://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/era.cfm?eraid=13&smtid=1


This post originally appeared in Change Becomes You – A Publication of The Good Men Project @Medium.com

Hope’s Revival

Image by RÜŞTÜ BOZKUŞ from Pixabay

Sadness slithers within your psyche
hissing gossip of false consolations
With cynical sympathy, he whispers persuasions
promising solace in isolation

Lulled by the illusion of tranquility
It’s easy to trust the ease of his eulogy
nestle into his assurance of serenity
and acquiesce to dismay

But, there is no peace in his offering
He leads astray — betrays
those who fall prey to his treachery



A rose-blushed horizon beckons
ushering relief for the weary
Foreshadowing beatitudes’ bliss
the ombre oasis glistens

No leisurely endeavor
the decision — the revision— to hope
To travail, prevail over adversity
Unveil your grace and regale in its glory

Be wary, he will try to tarry your journey
Dispel your desire, repel your joy
Cloak your comfort in delusions
Badgering valor with scheming daggers



Ye of wee faith
Will you at last awake from your hibernation
Listen to the inspiration presiding
already residing in your soul


Originally published in P.S. I Love You @Medium.com

Looking for Love? Maybe You Need to Change Your Point of View

What you find is up to you

Photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash

Tucked in the upper right corner of my garage rafters lies a box containing an enormous vase. It has earned that spot because it is simply too large for any indoor closet. Scarlet and urn-shaped (an omen, perhaps?) it was a gift from my late husband on a bygone Valentine’s Day. He promised to fill it with roses each year after that. He made it to three.

Guiding like a beacon, it is the first thing I notice when pulling into my home. Sometimes, all I observe is the tattered, dusty edges of the box — how empty that picture of the crimson glass vessel appears. Most of the time, however, I recognize it as it truly is: A loving cup brimming with memories. It all depends on my point of view.


Now here I am, a dozen Valentines since my husband’s passing, without a holiday mandated significant other. Lavish bouquets will not be exhibited on my Facebook feed. No one is sending me sweet love notes this year.

But here’s the kicker — I am teeming with loves just as significant, if not more so, than the adoration of a spouse or partner. And, I bet, my fellow non-plus-oners, you are, too. You just have to recognize them and, most importantly, resolve to take heed of their beauty.

Only in the eyes of love can you find infinity
-Sorin Cerin

The Greeks defined eight types of love. Why eight? I’d like to think it’s because eight is the number of infinity. Universal love can’t be comprehended in a single construct.

My favorite synopsis of this Grecian octet is a blog post on the FTD website. I know, cheesy, but good content is good content. Plus, this is a Valentine’s piece, so what the heck.

Here they are, with a little commentary thrown in:

  • Philia: Brotherly Love. Kindred Spirits. The kind of person who understands that pineapple has no business being anywhere near a pizza, but completely understands why ketchup on tacos is the bomb.
  • Pragma: Enduring, mature love. A cultivated, shared history that has withstood the tests of time.
  • Storge: Natural, instinctual love. The instant love a parent has for their child or the immediate affection felt between childhood friends. BFs forever and all that.
  • Eros: Romantic, physical love. Hot, sultry hormones pulsating. Bounding with lustful energy. Soft caresses leading to wild abandon. Whew! Ok, I digress… Get a grip woman!
  • Ludos: Playful, flirty love. Infatuation. Frisky behavior that makes everyone else in the room gag just a bit.
  • Mania: Obsessive love. Jealous and possessive. Sheer madness.
  • Philautia: Self-compassion. Revering, accepting, and honoring yourself. Choosing love that builds you up.
  • Agape: Selfless love. Putting others above yourself. Recognizing and respecting the humanity in all of us. Sadly, there hasn’t been much of this going around as of late.

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”
-Audrey Hepburn

The Greeks never intended for these loves to be mutually exclusive. Like features in a luxurious landscape, they are to be planted together; complementing and highlighting what is sown alongside.

Love is never monochromatic. It can be dappled with a few complementary hues or bursting with psychedelic shades. Your preferences, your environment, help to select the flora.

So Cupid be damned! This Valentine’s I am going to shift my focus to the loves that presently adorn my life, instead of longing for those of seasons past. Like any landscape artist, I am working with the abundance of botanicals presented to me. Hopefully, you find it as breathtaking as I do.

But first, the fertilizer

Ever since my husband’s original cancer diagnosis (on the eve of 9/11 — another omen), one could say my life has been a reoccurring shit show. An endless carnival of freak occurrences and rarities that would amaze even Ripley.

Contrary to the old adage, my shit does stink. Big chunks of putrid stank bobbing in a viscous cesspool. That aroma, believe it or not, is peculiarly intoxicating and addictive. The compulsion to anoint oneself with sorrow’s perfume overwhelming.

But, to my surprise, it is within these piles that my loves have sprouted. Instead of prompting repulsion, these predicaments have fertilized my blessings. They laid the groundwork for my bountiful garden.

Mia famiglia: Storge-Agape-Philia

I used to take for granted my strong, extended family. I’m sure it’s partly due to my Italian heritage, but, to me, it was a given that everyone had one. Only recently, have I recognized my privilege.

My family is voracious in their appetite to make it all better and I admit, I lap up every morsel of their compassion. There is my mother, who bursts in with a month’s worth of homemade ragu and biscotti; her arms laden with bags of herbals and vitamins. Whether the ailment is physical or emotional, she has a supplement for it.

Her maternal might set to 11, my mother will nestle in for days or sometimes weeks to tend to her firstborn. Three square meals a day (always organic) her manna from heaven.

My father, in turn, will drive to the ends of the earth — and Costco — to gather provisions. Tucked within his bags of supplies will invariably be a surprise luxury item (jumbo shrimp, baby lamb chops, juicy rib-eyes) that he and I both adore. It’s a wink and a silent, “I’ve got you covered, honey,” that rings loud and clear in my heart.

Each of my siblings is steadfast as a succulent. A variegated array of devotion, their loyalty never waivers.

Then there is my cousin, who has made it his mission to make me feel attractive even though lately I feel about as appealing as a corpse lily. I know he is at the ready to beat down any dude he feels has done me wrong.

Treasured old friends: Philia-Pragma-Storge

Fortune smiled upon me when it granted me a fellowship of life-long friends. Most budded in elementary school with one germinating in our infancy. Beloved companions for 50 years, they are my roots. We have grown, matured, and endured alongside each other like a redwood forest.

We have experienced the trials and joys of all that life has to offer from youthful shenanigans to the frolics of middle age. Boyfriends, careers, marriages, and births have been our summer solstice. The biting frost of illness and death’s devastation our frigid winters. We have a symbiotic history that grounds and nourishes us. They know and cherish me to my core.

The Posse: Philia-Philautia-Agape

My posse, along with their spouses and children, is my trellis — my backbone. Interwoven with strength and radiance, this sisterhood+ rallies like a fire brigade as soon as a distress call pings our group text. Ever ready for the rescue, they’ve arrived within minutes whenever I needed a lift to an appointment, a toilet unclogged, or gallons of libations to drown my sorrows.

These families have cheered on my children, coaching and stepping in as surrogate parents when my capacity was waning. Even more glorious, they have always included me in their social gatherings. I’m not weeded out as the solo attendee or tolerated as the pity invite. Within this lattice, I am welcomed.

The greenery

No landscape is complete without a bit of foliage providing an anchor or a touch of flourish. There is the former coworker who has become a dear companion and priceless dispenser of wisdom, the countless clients who unknowingly offered inspiration when I was desperate for validation, and, of course, my two sons who supply me with abounding purpose, pride, and hope.

“There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” –Henri Matisse

I’ll admit, I still pine for a season of roses. It’s easier to be content with discontent. When the next storm arrives, I have no doubt I’ll find myself, once again, slathering sadness like a warm blanket.

But when that happens, I am equally assured that one of my loves will sprout anew and tenderly wipe the tears from my eyes. My focus cleared, I’ll soon notice the grandeur blossoming around me.

So what is blooming in your garden? Which of the eight loves decorate your landscape? Are you dazzled by their brilliance? Or are you struggling to see splendor amidst some desolation? Are you basking in a verdant meadow or shriveling in a barren desert?

The view is up to you.


Orginally featured in P.S. I Love You @ Medium.com

After the Storm

A poem of survival

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

Thunder heralds
the tempest’s arrival
There is no eluding
the impending turmoil

Lightning shots snap
Glaring x-rays blaze
illuminating the scourges
of storms gone by

Currents caught in a perpetual loop
Static sparks sizzle and singe
The needling cocoon
your only shelter

Bellowing winds howl
Bringing you to your knees
Cat o’ nine tails gusts
flail at your sins

Wildly biting
Frost relentlessly nips
Staccato hail pelts
hammer your heart

With cold, callous blood
the icy assault persists
numbing you to the bone
begetting amnesia

Flashbacks surge
Contentment is forgotten
Comfort hushed
to nebulous whispers


Grifters of tranquility
tempests are transient
Abandoning their onslaught
once depleted

Fragile and fatigued
Will your wounds take root?
Lesions hemorrhage and
nourish stagnation?

Or will your scars stoke resilience?
Cultivate your resolve?
Deem yourself worthy
To endure
To survive


Drained of their tears
Their grey weight dispersed
Clouds adorn the indigo sky

Alabaster luster glistens
the promise of hope


Previously published in Being Known @Medium.com

Damming Love

Photo by Garon Piceli from Pexels

We shared a lifetime
a lifetime ago

Flawed, yet unbroken
Beautifully blemished
Burnished to a luster
reflecting devotion

Eager archaeologists
we examined tenderly
Ardently unearthing
our unique treasures

Intimately excavating
Discovering
Learning
until love was clairvoyant

We knew Us
by heart

Youthful — Innocent
We had commenced
only to be aged
beyond our years

Invaded — Tormented
Cancer corrupted
Our perfect union
prematurely extinct

Nearly a decade required
to cast aside mourning
Shed my shroud
Discard my armor

Unaware of my naiveté
I auctioned my affections
Inept as an ingenue
Headed for slaughter

At first, I sought
lightening in a bottle
but flashy liaisons
promptly implode

Still desperately seeking
I mistook
desire for romance
Fleeting attention
for adoration

I settled for inadequacy
Forged perfection
Alluring courtships
proved to be counterfeit

Am I greedy?
A relationship glutton
trying to echo
our marital harmony?

Or am I an addict?
Craving the fix
of holding someone dear?

Earnestly yearning
to be cherished once more

Now a wary skeptic
disquiet compels retreat
to lick my wounds
Safeguard my heart

But my soul pours out
The floodgates have opened
How does one dam (damn?)
the desire to love?


Originally published in P.S. I Love You @Medium.com

How Do You Confront an Identity Crisis During a Pandemic?

2020 has prompted me to question everything.

Image by klimkin from Pixabay

No death, no doom, no anguish can arouse the surpassing despair which flows from a loss of identity.
― H.P. Lovecraft

To my family, friends, and acquaintances: please read the following at face value. It is not a cry for help, a play for sympathy, or a prompt to initiate bringing me back into the fold. It simply is a reflection upon the uncertainties I, along with many others, are feeling at this time.

Truth be told, I have been feeling tenuous for a while now. Many of the ideologies I have woven into my identity have become threadbare. The events of 2020 have prompted me to take stock of my mental wardrobe: Are my convictions valuable or vintage? Can they continue to spark joy or do they provoke dismay? Do they fit me any more?

The modern definition of identity was proposed by Erik Erikson as his fifth stage of psychosocial development. While our primary personality is established during adolescence, he postulated that our sense of self develops throughout our entire lifespan. Our “ego identity,” according to Erikson, is constantly being shaped by our interactions and experiences with others. A challenge to your ego identity can occur at any time, most likely when one experiences a major life stressor such as losing a loved one, loss of employment, confronting health issues, or experiencing a traumatic event such as — I don’t know — a global pandemic.

Developmental psychologist James Marcia further elaborated on Erikson’s theory. He proposed identity is based on the exploration of a variety of life domains including intimate relationships, religion, politics, and occupation. The status of your identity is either in crisis — “a time of upheaval where old values or choices are being reexamined” — or committed to a role within these domains.

Fear of commitment

Welcome to my 2020. Or should I say, 5150? Except my current detention is looking more like 72 weeks instead of hours — perhaps even longer.

Full disclosure: This is not my first identity crisis rodeo. That occurred a dozen years ago when I became a widow. I envision identity like a lasso — twisted of multiple strands and used to secure yourself to someone or some ideal. When I lost my role as a wife, I clung to the other fibers of my life for strength. I was able to keep the rope somewhat intact until recent events have caused it to further unravel.

The first thread to break loose was with my church. Don’t misunderstand me, my core faith is as strong as ever, if not stronger. It’s just the man-made constructs that have disappointed me. When I was initially widowed, there were the standard outpourings of support and they were much appreciated. But once the dust settled, things took a turn. Slowly, steadily, (and I’m sure unintentionally) I was isolated. No longer included in couples’ events, I was relegated to coffee meetups and the occasional ladies’ lunch. Dinner party invites became nonexistent. I looked into the widows’ support group, but at 44, I was significantly younger than the rest of the members. There was no place I felt I belonged — or noticed for that matter. I would sit in the pew by myself, missing my husband more than ever. Feeling lonelier each time, I eventually stopped attending.

The next thread tattered by disillusion was my political affiliation. A lifelong Republican and Californian, I will never forget the feeling of being 18, newly registered, and attending a local Ronald Reagan reelection rally. I was thrilled to see a sitting president in person and proud to cast my first presidential vote for a man I felt possessed honor and character.

I wish I could generate anywhere near the same feeling of admiration for our current candidate. When did buddying up with our adversaries become a GOP construct? Putting policies aside, I wish my president to be a person of integrity. I continued to be baffled by how many Christian leaders (and friends) can support him as a man of God. They somehow excuse or refuse to acknowledge his consistent name-calling and slander of opponents, mocking of the disabled and women, and utter lack of humility. This list can go on and on, but suffice it to say, I feel like I’m in an alternate universe where right is wrong and up is down.

So now I’m left, or rather, was left, with my occupation. I had finally settled into my dream career: travel event planning. COVID-19 not only unraveled that thread, it chopped it with an ax and seared the ends. I’m a 56-year-old woman with a convoluted resume looking to reinvent my career yet again. California has more than 2.5 million unemployed workers. How do you like those odds?

Compounding matters, I suffer from an autoimmune disorder that has flared and left me at limited capacity these past few months. I’m not sure if it’s safe for me to return to work, let alone be physically up for it. As an added bonus, my current medication has caused me to gain 20 pounds and completely altered my appearance. Not only do I not feel like myself, but I don’t even recognize the woman in the mirror.

Temporary Restraining Order or Stay of Execution?

Marcia would most likely conclude I am residing in the moratorium identity status: in the midst of a crisis but seeking alternative identities. Working through the explorations leads to a commitment or “identity achievement.” Major life events — such as the death of a spouse — can create instability which triggers a MAMA cycle: moratorium-achievement-moratorium-achievement. I went through such cycles when I lost my husband, working through the identities of the widow, single mother, and middle-aged single woman.

Healthy adults will go through many MAMA cycles in their lifetime. It’s the natural progression of aging and growth. Some may term these events as reaching a “new normal” or acceptance of whatever stressor has been thrown in their way. Here’s the thing: most will encounter one upheaval at a time. What’s one to do, as in my case (and I’m sure many others) when you doubt multiple affiliations (religion, politics) and experience more than one loss (occupation, health) simultaneously? When a global crisis has disrupted society so much you’re constantly on guard, wondering what tomorrow’s shit show will be.

Do we hide, locking the world away? Do we appeal to God or fate to give us more time to sort this all out and/or complete our penance? Is there a remedy for this dilemma? Or vaccine to prevent it from happening again?

At the end of my rope, but not alone

I may be feeling unstable, but I’m not the only one. 2020 has taken its toll on everyone. A recent government survey reported 41% of U.S. respondents felt symptoms of anxiety and depression, compared to just 11% in 2019. As the year drags on, uncertainty continues to litter our collective psyche. We try to discard it, but our dumpsters are overflowing.

In a Popular Science article discussing mental health and the pandemic, Dr. Mary Alvord, a psychologist in Rockville, Maryland, states:

Humans look to have a known universe. That is how we keep ourselves safe,” he says. “It’s frightening to feel out of control. Sadness, hopelessness, fear — those will wear you down.

I honestly don’t know if these statistics make me feel better or worse.

What I do know is a few strands of my rope have remained intact and will be no matter what my revised identity turns out to be: My two sons, who not only support but motivate me to keep it together. My parents and siblings, who continually encourage and assist in any way they can. And my posse — my closest friends — who are always available to provide a listening ear, words of wisdom, and a glass(who am I kidding — a bottle) of wine when needed. These are my lifelines.

Eventually, with some introspection, exploration, and a little luck, I’ll channel my inner Wonder Woman and reconstruct the lasso of my truth. Surprisingly, I have found a gentleman who doesn’t view me as frayed and fragile, but as a woman of substance and strength. He wants to join me on the journey to discover a more suitable church to grow our faith. From now on, I’ll let my conscience — not my political party — be my guide when voting. As for health and occupation, I will keep praying and hoping that good news is just around the corner.

It has to be, doesn’t it?

Perceptions

My roles define the façade you see
I conform to your reality
Never unveiling my complete identity

Into The Deep

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Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

I’ve waded through the shallows often.
Colorful, glistening creatures
tickled my toes and skimmed through my heart.
Alluding to promises
never to be granted.

I’d nearly forsaken the expedition.
Weary of the fleeting encounters,
apparitions of affection and
shipwrecked expectations.

Prompted by tedium.
Coaxed by kismet?
I endeavored once more.
Hope beckoning like the North Star.

Hesitantly, a signal was launched.
A gentleman and his retriever
the siren’s song.

The message acknowledged,
courtship’s discourse began.
Formal pleasantries swiftly abandoned,
yielding to intimate conversations
oblivious to the passage of time.

Safe harbor determined and a rendezvous is set.
The two captains’ galaxies twinkle with flirtation.

Crystal Caribbean eyes enchant.
An alluring smile delights.
Tender first kisses,
rip currents of passion,
affirm the attraction.

Captivated, our two spirits ponder,
Are we ready to draw up anchor?
Chart a unified course?

Can we be brave enough
to submerge our souls?
Immerse our selves?
Into the deep?


Originally posted in P.S. I Love You @Medium.com

From Happy Hours to Sober Vacations

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Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

 

How an average social drinker gave up alcohol for a week and found a community.

Whether it be through the disease of alcoholism or some other occurrence, we all are kindred spirits of past brokenness and despair — feeling out of control and forsaken. It is in the rising from ashes that we forge a strengthened renewal and realize our common humanity.


My friends and family were stunned.

“Let me get this straight. You are going to Mexico and not having one drink?”

“Yes,” I feebly explained, “It’s an alcohol-free vacation.”

“Oh, I get it. You’re staying at an all-inclusive. That means the alcohol is FREE, right?”

“True, but all the booze will be stored away while our group is there. We are completely buying out the resort to make that possible.”

“But…
Tequila.”

I just shrugged and told them I would provide a detailed account of my coping skills once I survived the ordeal.

Just your average middle-aged inebriated woman

Eight months earlier, I had taken a position with a company that created week-long travel events for those in the twelve-step community. Each winter, they would do a complete buyout of a tropical resort. Speakers, workshops, shared activities were brought in and the spirits were moved out. The cocktails that usually greeted guests would be replaced by exotic juices and smoothies. Sober alcoholics could relax in their vacations, instead of always having to be wary about what may be lurking in their food and beverages. I was about to embark on my first such event.

Although a regular local Happy Hour patron — mostly for the social aspect — I wouldn’t say I am a heavy drinker. Still, I’ll have an occasional glass of wine with dinner, and once a month, an evening could include a handful of cocktails. Like the average traveler, my alcohol consumption increases exponentially while on vacation. After all, it’s all part of the fun, isn’t it? How would I fare where such inebriation was prohibited?

El Grande

I had been helping to prepare for the “Sober Village” since I started at this position. The annual big trip of 400+ clients traditionally was held in February. Not only was it our star vacation, but it also provided the majority of our funding for the entire year. With an over 80% repeat customer rate, some clients had been traveling with us for almost three decades. It was a combination of retreat, family reunion, and tropical vacation. This year we were going to Club Med in Ixtapa, Mexico.

Truth be told, I had been fretting over how I was going to perform during this all-important week. Statements such as “You’re going to have so much fun!” were often contradicted by “You’ll never work so hard.” “Our clients are the best!” was in direct contrast to the numerous lessons on how to handle a cantankerous guest. Many of the logistical details of the week were quite vague and I knew I would be flying by the seat of my pants.

Plus, there were personal doubts: I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not sober. Would I know how to interact with clients? Would I be accepted or ostracized from the tribe?

Taking great pains

I had arranged to sleep the night before at my sister’s house as I had an 8:00 am flight and she lived fifteen minutes from LAX. My brother-in-law had graciously offered to drop me off at 6:00. I was exhilarated with anticipation and barely slept, checking and rechecking if I had my brand-new passport and other essentials, As we were making our way to the car, I slipped and whacked the back of my ankle against the step leading down to the garage.

F******€K!!!!

There was no doubt what had happened as I had just recovered from the same injury six months prior. I had re-ruptured my Achilles tendon. My right foot dangled like a broken marionette. Seeing the profound horror on my face, my brother-in-law rushed to get me an ice pack, ACE bandage, and Advil. He asked if I wanted to call and cancel my trip. Convinced I would lose my job if I did, I sucked in the excruciating pain and asked if we would still make it to the airport on time.

My head spinning like a tilt-a-whirl, I somehow made it to our meeting place. The cacophony of a major international terminal agitated my interior turmoil. Fueled by pure determination and heady with pain, I was resolute not to disclose my impairment until the last possible minute. When they finally noticed I was a bit unstable, I downplayed it, “Just twisted it again,” I lied. “Clumsy me.”

We always arrived a few days before the Sober Village start date to allow time to get things ready for the buyout of the resort. The good part was this gave me time to adjust before clients appeared; the bad was it prolonged the trip to twelve days instead of seven. My first order of business was to find the Infirmary and see what assistance could be rendered. As it turns out, I would have had better luck at a Civil War field hospital. Crutches? Non-existent. Ankle wraps? No comprendo. Pain meds? Not available nor an option. The last thing I wanted to be was loopy in front of our clients.

Each night, I crafted a makeshift ice pack from the liner of my room’s ice bucket and cubes from the bar. In the morning, I would inch my way back to the Infirmary. Shuffle and drag. Shuffle and drag. I limped along like an upright Quasimodo.

Mexican resorts don’t have ADA standards. The entire place was a labyrinth of concrete steps and patios flanked by sand. Doing his best, the nurse would wrap my ankle in gauze as thin as single-ply toilet paper, give me a handful of travel ibuprofen packs and send me on my way. They ran out of supplies on day eight, so we had to rinse and reuse the flimsy bandages from that point on.

Opening Day

There is nothing like the crush of 400 travel-weary individuals registering for an event in 12 hours. Most are exhausted, hot and hungry — wanting nothing more than their name badge, room assignment, and where to eat. But they are also jubilant — grateful to escape an East Coast winter to the warmth of a tropical location. The onslaught was almost continual save for the brief breaks between shuttle buses. My coworker, Q*, and I manned the registration table along with an independent event contractor from Mexico. Nicknamed Mama, she also served as a translator and an extra liaison with resort staff. M.A.* handled customer concerns. S.A.*, our founder, greeted the arriving guests with a smile as broad as Ricardo Montalban in Fantasy Island.

Time and time again you’d hear the gleeful cries of old friends reuniting; their joy reverberating throughout the lobby like church bells announcing a celebration. Some of the earlier arrivals would linger in the reception area, eagerly awaiting the appearance of their yearly comrades. Often, Q would burst out from her post to join in the hugs and the festivities. It seemed like everyone knew everyone else — except me. As they graciously introduced the “new gal,” I wondered if I would be able to enjoy the familiarity they shared.

Trudging along

My nonfunctional ankle prevented me from walking on the sand, let alone join in excursions, so my outings were confined to the main area of the resort. Not that there would be any time, anyway. Mornings were spent at the information desk, answering questions and putting out any fires that may arise. Afternoons were spent getting ready for the evening’s events. Guests had their choice of daily 12-step workshops, morning meetings, and the nightly big meeting — the main event of the day — along with all the amenities Club Med had to offer. This was not a 9–5 assignment, as I was representing the company from the moment I left my room until I was in for the night.

I would hobble by the pool on the way to breakfast around 7:00 am and routinely be greeted by the early rising clients. After the initial “What happened to you?” questions, I’d be peppered with queries on how was I feeling or comments about the day’s activities. These chorus of good mornings were a lovely start to a long workday, albeit not quite yet the fellowship I had hoped to find.

We had received feedback over the years that our group could be “cliquey,” causing some newcomers to feel excluded. One of my roles was to engage as many clients as possible and make them feel welcome — especially at mealtimes. Normally, this was a no-brainer for me, but I was in pain, in unfamiliar surroundings and uncertain if they would accept a “normie” (nonalcoholic). Throttling back my fear of failure, I inserted myself into tables with an extra chair. Secretly, I longed for an invitation to join. Or, even better, a saved seat.

I can’t remember the circumstances, but day three was particularly difficult. Whimpering, I crawled into bed, resigned that I was to feel lost and alone for the entire trip. As I entered the dining hall the next morning, I received not one, but two requests to join and an invitation to dinner. The week progressed from there, culminating in an impromptu escapade into town that involved a trio of women, myself included, squeezed in a dilapidated Mexican bus wearing nothing but our bathing suits and cover-ups.

Last Call

The staff always stayed an extra day to ensure most of our guests got on their way back home safely. The last morning, as I shuffled and dragged across the pool area, I had to dodge numerous children and preoccupied adults. My greeting choir had flown home. No one recognized me. Then, it dawned on me — I hadn’t missed the alcohol, but I missed my people.

Discovering common bonds in adversity

I didn’t attend any meetings the first year, as I erroneously thought it wouldn’t be my place to intrude. By the second, I understood how off-base that assumption was and began attending the nightly meetings. I would hear commentaries about the speakers throughout the week and wanted to share in my clients’ — and new friends’ — enthusiasm.

One night, midway through my third trip, we had a spitfire of an Al-Alon speaker. She spoke faster than a machine gun and I took a liking to her immediately. Interwoven with hilarity and sorrows, she told her story of how she desperately tried to manage her husband’s disease of alcoholism. If she could just prevent this situation from arising… If she could swiftly diffuse an oncoming predicament… She could make her spouse well. An absurd premise, the more control she sought, the more powerful the disease became.

Tears flooded my face as I recognized that same mania within myself when my husband was diagnosed with cancer. I micromanaged and helicopter spoused nearly every waking minute in my quest to bridle his disease. To feel safe. In the end, the only illnesses we can govern are our obsessions.

With seven sober vacations under my belt, my list of client acquaintances has bloomed into a large circle of dear friends. Q is one of my most cherished confidants. Mama is a fellow normie. We all chat via Facebook and text throughout the year.


It took three years and seven surgeries to regain the function of my ankle. My fellow brokens prayed, cried, and cheered me on throughout the entire process. They admire the battle scar that runs the length of my calf. Proof that I, like them, have persevered.

On a trip, I am now the one frequently checking the shuttle schedule, ready to burst out and delight in their embrace. To share, once again, in the joy.


*Initials used instead of names in keeping with twelve-step protocol.

This post previously appeared on
Change Becomes You | The Good Men Project | @Medium