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

Answering a Craigslist Ad Led Me to the Job of My Lifetime

How a random ad and a bit of kismet transformed my career

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Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

I had spent months perfecting my corporate interview attire: Navy sheath dress. Mid-heel black patent pumps. Black leather tote just the right size to stow spare copies of my resume and sturdy enough to stand upright beside my discreetly crossed feet. My online research had indicated that a slouchy handbag puddled on the floor would project unprofessionalism.

It never occurred to me that sheer desperation would soon prompt me to answer a small ad on Craigslist. I certainly didn’t envision that hitting send would embark me on the path to self-discovery and career fulfillment.

Not your typical job applicant

I was at the end of my rope and at the precipice of drowning in debt. Widowed eight years earlier, working full-time at this stage in my life was not part of my initial life’s plan. But, my sons were now both away at college. I had depleted what reserves I had. I needed a steady income — and a reason to get up each day.

Out of work for quite some time, I was the most unlikely candidate for every position coming across my Indeed feed. I was just recovering from a six-month stint on disability and over 50. My resume was all over the place: Public Relations straight out of college, stay-at-home-mom, part-time elementary school librarian, full- and part-time volunteer positions, and a recent stretch as a content creator. (Turns out, their particular office environment was not a good fit and partially led to my illness.) Instead of presenting a steady rise to success, my CV read like an Emergency Room EKG: Glitchy ups and downs and currently flat-lining.

A kind relative had treated me to a session with a job counselor. Since the traditional format would only highlight gaps in my experience, she suggested I create a skills resume. This style did not have to be linear but focused on my areas of expertise. She also advised treating my volunteer work skills with the same importance as those garnered from paid employment. When all was said and done, I thought my innovative document conveyed I could tackle anything presented to me.

When people would ask what type of job I was looking for, I could never give them more than a vague answer. I could only describe the feeling. “I want to work at a small company where I can make I difference,” I would attempt to explain. “It could be public relations, event planning, insurance, I don’t care. Just somewhere that appreciates my work more than just hours on a timesheet.”

And so, I applied for nearly every position that struck my fancy: Public Relations Manager — I’d carnival pitched with the best of them. Administrative Assistant — Gatekeeping? Making copies? Correspondence? I’m quite adept at multitasking. Non-Profit Volunteer Coordinator — I had just spent four years rallying troupes and raising funds for a large high school football program — I could do that one in my sleep.

I visualized myself being a star employee in any of these positions. The problem was no one was taking a liking to my sparkle.

Take a chance on me

When I realized my unconventional resume wasn’t making it past corporate filtering algorithms, I decided to take a chance on Craigslist. Nestled among the posts for telemarketers and dubious work-from-home opportunities was an ad for a Customer Service/Office Assistant position with a small, family-run company. There was a little subtle wit in the ad that told me these could be my people. The ad ended with a “Must Love Dogs” tagline, so I included a postscript in my cover letter. Written in the voice of my pup, Jenny, I assured them of my dog-friendliness and snuck it a bit of my creative writing in the process.

A boisterous Samoyed greeted me upon arrival. While attempting to avoid him, my heels scraped into the cracks of the shale path that led to the office — a converted detached garage next to the owner’s home. My straight dress was a bit snug causing me to do a little shimmy and then “plop!” into the rolling chair offered to me. Careening across the floor, I quickly regained my bearings and faced the staff of three: Founder (S.A.*), Son (M.A.*), and Assistant #1(Q*). M.A., the main interviewer, was clad in a faded millennial style t-shirt — appeared threadbare, but most likely brand new and purchased on Melrose — and shorts. The others were dressed just as casual. “No need for an office attire budget,” I noted to myself as the white beast of a dog rummaged a Luna bar out of my tote.

The meeting started with brief company history: Just over 30 years earlier, S.A. was a newly sober travel agent. He realized that most vacation spots are rife with alcohol and loads of temptation. Counting on strength in numbers, he reached out to his friends in the twelve-step community to see if they would like to join him. He had over 200 people on that first trip. By the next year, they were buying out entire resorts for a week and the company was born.

Fellowship, self-care, and fun were the hallmarks of the trips — nicknamed “Sober Villages.” The entire premise was you could have just as much joy — if not more — on a vacation without the assistance of alcohol. Their signature trips had grown so popular, they were adding additional events to their roster. Hence, the need for another assistant.

I hesitantly noted that I wasn’t “in the program,” certain it would be an immediate disqualification. They assured me it wasn’t an issue. While S.A. and Q were sober, M.A. was not. I would just be balancing the foursome.

The trio then took turns commenting upon and complimenting nearly my entire resume. It was the first time my volunteer experience was given equal weight. I was flabbergasted. There was no need to pitch how my atypical skillset could best serve their company as I had at countless other interviews. “If someone is bright and willing to learn,” Q explained, “you can teach them anything. What you can’t force is chemistry.” I knew all my random talents and bag o’ tricks could be utilized and appreciated.

Call it providence, serendipity, the universe’s plan — whatever you’d like — but there are times when things inexplicitly progress like a prewritten tale. You feel a little unsettled. You can’t quite control the narrative, but it’s oddly comforting. This was one of these times. I knew within ten minutes I wanted the position. By twenty, I knew I had pretty much nailed it. Before I even arrived home, I received the call asking when I could start.

Alchemy is the art that separates what is useful from what is not by transforming it into its ultimate matter and essence — Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus

To date, I’ve worked on four Sober Villages and several side tours. My job has allowed me to visit Mexico, Turk and Caicos, Jamaica, Italy, Greece, Croatia, France, Spain, Monte Carlo, and Hawaii. An extremely limited traveler before the position, I am now the envy of my at-home friends. “If you should ever need an assistant…” is a common request when I regale tales of my adventures.

I’ve made my mark on the company by creating a Day of Service on each of our big trips. Giving back is a pillar of the twelve-step program. The projects entail identifying a local school in need of assistance, then soliciting our guests and our host resort for donations. We have collected and distributed thousands of dollars in school supplies, water systems, and playground equipment. It all culminates in a single workday where hundreds of man-hours are devoted to repairing and beautifying the school. These days are my proudest career moments.

This position has provided the opportunity to create my personal job title: Director of Client Relations. I have been able to craft something uniquely precious — and entirely my own. I’ve been granted the gift of knowing my talents are valuable. With each trip, I have become more secure in my role and confident that this amalgam of tour operator, travel logistics, party planner, and client care was my true calling. I have discovered my artistry.

COVID Epilogue

Travel bans have placed my career in limbo and I am uncertain whether it can be resurrected. Will I be able to forge a new path? Transform yet again? With a stroke of luck and, perhaps, a bit of help from Craigslist, anything is possible.


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

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

Dear Twenty-Something Self: Your Dreams Aren’t Going to Come True and I’m Good With That

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Image by Yuri_B from Pixabay

I can’t go back to yesterday — because I was a different person then — Lewis Carroll

Look at you my lovely, once-upon-a-time self. 25. Newly married to your high school sweetheart, your story is just beginning. Everything is on schedule to begin your modern fairy tale. The outline has been predetermined — by you. Exhilarated, you await the fleshing out of the finer details, certain they will meet your expectations.

What you don’t realize, is the best-laid dreams of starry-eyed ingenues don’t always come true.

Life’s journey will take you through inconceivable storms. At times, you will feel stripped and shattered, certain you will never be whole again. But, I’m here to tell you — three decades later — you will weather the tempests. Your memoir will be illustrated with the colors of a sweeping saga. You will recover, replenish, and rebuild time and time again. You will forge a heart of restoration and hope.

You will be your own heroine.

Prologue

Our life’s quest was a typical middle-class narration: Vivacious college-educated woman marries a smart handsome man who adores her. They start out in a modest home, eventually settling down in an upscale neighborhood with their four children — two boys, two girls. Money never being a concern, it is her choice whether she spends her days at an office or volunteering, or perhaps, a little of both. Summers would be filled with pool parties and family vacations. All her children would be athletic, smart, and popular. Soon, they would meet their own mates, have successful careers, and provide grandchildren. The blissed-filled grandparents eventually ease into a comfortable retirement and enjoy the fruits of a fairy tale legacy.

If you haven’t guessed already, younger me, that is not how our story turns out. You might think I’m seeking to dampen your naïveté, but that is not the case. To do so would douse the sparks of our history. I’m here to highlight some of the events that will steer you to roads less traveled. Annotate some of your preconceptions. Not to have you switch course, for that would result in a different destination, but to provide you with the faith you’ll need to continue your path.

To become the woman of character you aspire to be.

Being a zebra will be limiting

In our twenties, everything was black and white — politics, faith, parenting. We were crafting our cornerstones and needed a firm foundation to build upon. They served us well — provided strong roots, made us feel secure — until they became confining. They distracted us from soothing shades of grey and the charms of nuance. I shudder when I realize how dogmatic we were, failing to recognize another’s sense of right and wrong could be just as valid.

There will come a time when society feeds like vultures on such assumptions. When those who may think differently from each other are regarded as enemies. It will grieve our soul, but we will be mindful to have practiced perspective — preserved our humanity.

We won’t be the perfect parent

Infertility issues will limit our offspring to two. Blessed with a couple of fine young lads, we will throw ourselves completely into their nurturing. Education, nutrition, sports, discipline, recreation, family time all mapped out to promote optimal growth. We oversaw with a loving, not overbearing, hand — providing just enough oversight to assist direction and encourage independence. It would be practically perfect — or so we thought.

It will take a while to acknowledge some mistakes — an unnecessarily heavy hand, a few minor (and major) misjudgments. But we will eventually comprehend we did the best we had with the resources available. It will bring us a sense of peace and a newfound insight into the caring nature of our own parents.

Our hero will die, but we will survive

The ultimate breach to the fairy tale contract, our hero dies midway through the story. The dissolving of the partnership is a long, drawn-out process. We were a team and when the hero began to falter, we picked up the slack. Our role expanded to include caretaker, nurse, and, finally, widowed head of household.

We will be proud of ourselves for enduring. For maintaining some moment of normalcy each day, even if only in a robotic function. It will take decades to fully process this forced single ownership of our sanity — cultivate our acceptance of personal sovereignty.

We will need to go to the well repeatedly

Fiercely independent, it will crush us to ask for help. After all, we are the primary caregiver, not the recipient. We will be prideful, convinced that no one else is equipped to provide quality assistance. Adding insult, this will not be a single occurrence. We will find ourselves in numerous states of injury, dipping in the well of kindness again and again until we are sure it will run dry.

Like the miracle at Cana, our community wine never depletes and we are inebriated with gratitude. We develop empathy — foster humility. We acquire debts we have no chance to repay and are awestruck by their joy in giving.

Villains will serve a purpose

We will encounter more than our expected share of villainy. After all, every fairy tale needs a counterbalance of dastardly deeds to keep us engaged. Some will be overt and others will be wolves in sheep’s clothing, but all will catch us off guard and cause us to briefly doubt our judgment.

Much to the scoundrels’ dismay, however, each conflict will bestow a gift. These endowments will cause us to develop skills or discover hidden kernels of truth within ourselves. We will garner discernment — be wiser when the next challenge arises.

Our children will write their own stories

Regrettably, we were somewhat judgmental of others’ styles of parenting. If they didn’t align with ours, we surmised these offspring would be spoiled or — gasp! — unproductive members of society. Gradually, we began to appreciate the true nature of a child — of a human — will come to be no matter the influence. They will bloom in their own time and be beautiful.

As much as we tried, we could not prevent our sons from suffering, enduring hardship, or making mistakes and living with the consequences. We could only strive to provide a safe haven and a strong moral compass to chart their own paths. Like us, they have prevailed and grown sturdy, strong. Watching them navigate their courses will be our greatest accomplishment.

Epilogue

Picking up the pieces will be a never-ending process. Initially, our defenses will want to cover our wounds, camouflage our scars. But those shrouds are too difficult to maintain and we will never able to fully rest within our story if we continue to try.

And so, we will come to embrace our imperfections — honor our unique broken history. Like the Japanese art of Kintsugi, we will highlight our fractures with gold, delighting in our resilience. Our modern fairy tale may have an unforeseen conclusion, but it will end happily ever after all the same.


This post previously published on Illumination | @Medium

The Worst Gets Better: A 30th Anniversary Love Letter to My Dead Husband

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May 5, 1990

It’s Cinco de Mayo, 2020. Five years since I wrote my first letter to you. Thirty years since our wedding day. Eleven and a half years since I lost you.

 

So much has transpired since those monumental dates in 1990, 2008. I am no longer the girl you married, nor the same woman you left behind. I wonder if you would even recognize me. Half a generation has passed. Very little in the world appears the same.

 

Your parents have both made their pilgrimage back to you. I wish I could have witnessed those reunions. The void that shadowed them after you left spilling over with joy. The pride in seeing their only son bursting in celestial technicolor.

 

Our two teenage boys have become adults. Complete opposites in looks, personality, and temperament. Yet, each one is a perfect reflection of you. My DNA fills in gaps here and there. You coached them on how to be men. They are your living history.

 

No more talk of darkness
Forget these wide-eyed fears*

Although we knew your time with us would be abbreviated, we were still caught off guard. Ill-equipped for the abruptness and finality of it all. It took all three of us some time to regain our bearings, reset our compasses. Each of us veered off course, sometimes plunging to the depths of despair. Thankfully, our squalls and tempests didn’t occur simultaneously. The other two were able to shore up the one faltering   – holding the tethers tight until we could stand on our own feet again. Still, it took nearly a decade for our quartet minus one to complete the journey.

 

I’ve long since sold the house. Most people nodded in approval. “Too many memories,” is what I’m sure they supposed. But they would have been wrong in that assumption. It was our house, but our foundation was in us. You taught me that. Counseled me to view our abode as an asset, not a mausoleum. When it became too monumental to manage, we moved on  – the memoir of our life together tenderly stored in our hearts.

 

When seeking our next home, I set my heart on an area that common sense  –  and my realtor  –  told me was out of budget. I was determined not to compromise, somehow secure in the conviction that I had located my new neighborhood. Your years of faith in me had instilled a confidence just beginning to bloom. My perseverance was rewarded, the market took a dip, and I found a lovely townhome. I knew you would have commended my triumph.

 

You’d appreciate where we settled. Compact and cozy, yet not too confining. No cumbersome yard to tend to  –  that was always your domain, but a small patio shaded by magnolias and adorned by a few low-maintenance flowers. I do miss our rose garden  –  our quests to discover uncommon varietals that caught our fancy. “No humdrum track home shrubs for us,” was our landscaping motto.

 

It was more than a relocation. It was the beginning of a rebirth  –  a life conducted by a soloist, no longer a duet. Downsizing was cathartic. I took very few furnishings with me. Only those cherished deeply transplanted to the new home: The photo albums you meticulously curated. The bedroom furniture you said we couldn’t afford  –  until I negotiated a deal too good to let pass. (My refusal to pay retail for anything was one of the traits you found most endearing.) Almost everything else was sold to finance the move, except for a trio of toolboxes. Each filled with implements and gizmos carefully selected from your considerable collection – one crimson case for each of us  –  to help us tend to our domicile in your absence.

 

Promise me that all you say is true*

As much as I protested during our wee hour “what if” conversations, you were correct in asserting the benefits of companionship – of reopening my heart to love. I was in danger of becoming too comfortable in the inertia of loneliness. So, I started dating. My first few experiences were like the spits and spats of an old jalopy restarting after a decade in storage: cobwebs clogging the valves, a couple backfires, and the groanings of a “mature” engine resisting movement.

 

It took me more time than most to regain my momentum, but I did end up having my first real boyfriend since you at sixteen. He was a good man. He honored my parents, our boys, even you. He would light up at my smile, but it began to flicker. We were mismatched puzzle pieces trying desperately to force the connection – only able to bend so far before the relationship snapped apart.

 

All I want is freedom
A world with no more night*

Next year, the scales will tip. I will have more years of my life spent without you than with you by my side. I can feel them teetering. At times I feel quite precarious, unbalanced. More often, however, I feel the rush of anticipation. Looking ahead with hope instead of dread. I used to feel unprepared about what is to come. Perhaps, I am ready now.

 

Happy Anniversary!

Loving you always, 

Lisa

 


 

 

*All I Ask of You – Andrew Lloyd Webber
Sung at our wedding. May 5, 1990


This post previously published at Hello Love | The Good Men Project | @Medium

Breaking up During a Pandemic

How wine, chocolate, Fritos and the tenacity of good friend can still comfort a broken heart.

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash a caption

 

The text went out to the posse at 2:23 pm:

So…
Today sucks
We just broke up 😦

 

Responses from the rest of our sextet came almost immediately:

OMG Noooo!
Wait, what?
What happened?
I’m so sorry!

This was out the blue for them. Not entirely unexpected on my part.

Consolation calls came next. My attorney friend had the swiftest speed dial. Swamped with work — her job might kill her before the viral load ever reaches her house — she made the time for a consoling chat. The first, “Take care. I love you, my friend,” of the day.

Then Karen called. “Screw the quarantine!” she proclaimed. “Meet me on your patio in 20 minutes. I’m bringing supplies.” I knew alcohol and junk food were en route.

Without delay, I prepared for our safely distanced playdate. Chairs were positioned six feet apart. (Yes, I measured — fearful that my tears would cause me to under calculate the state-mandated range.) Side tables stacked with paper plates, napkins, disinfectant wipes, and a vitally important wine glass were placed by each. I unlocked the gate and impatiently waited.

Karen is a former gymnast — current personal trainer to an elite LA clientele. She’s Mighty Mouse in both stature and personality. “Here she comes to save the day!” echoed in my head as I anticipated her arrival. A huge plant with lavender spires and bronzed, spring-loaded legs soon bounded around the corner. Karen placed the lumbering foliage on my garden table and her sunny face was revealed. “I’ve got no idea what the hell this is, but it looked cheery,” she explained. “Sit tight. I’ll be back with the rest.”

Bags and bags of provisions were carted in: Prosecco, Fritos, Cheetos, gummy bears, red wine, chocolates and a slab of cake slathered in fudge. A perfect smorgasbord for a dejected spirit. We started with the sparkling wine. I threw in some fresh orange juice to “keep things healthy.” The salty snacks were our main course. We determined the wine and chocolate should be reserved for dessert.

My sorrows spilled out as the libations and carbs flowed in. We went over the particulars of the breakup; surveyed the peaks and valleys of my year-long relationship. I catalogued his shortcomings and acknowledged mine. Karen listened as I reminisced over the days of splendor, contemplating if settling was better than life without a plus one. She commiserated over each detail, seasoning my emotional stew with alternating “That bastard!” and “He treated you well.”

I sniffled and cried. Got indignant and fumed. Laughed at both his expense and mine. The Prosecco was soon depleted. The vino was uncorked.

We dove into the final course of our therapeutic feast. Gooey frosting was the icing on the cake for our forlorn conclusion: Imperfect love can’t last forever.

As she began to leave, Karen lamented she couldn’t reach out and hug me. She didn’t comprehend the potency of her visit. Effervescent bubbles were the tender kisses of friendship. Decadent chocolate was the embrace that soothed my broken heart. She braved a pandemic to let me know I was going to be ok — to remind me I was still loved.

Stop Drinking the New Normal Kool-Aid

This sucks and we all know it

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Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

OK. I’ve had enough of the bullshit. Up to my salt-and-pepper roots with the candy-coated viewpoints. I’m removing my homemade sock mask and screaming:

NEW NORMAL SUCKS!!!

Damn thing stinks anyway.

If you follow me, you know I’ve gone through varied stages coping with pandemic pandemonium. I threw one killer of a pity party, tallied my blessings and cowered in fear. Yet, I seemed to have missed a stop on the Kübler-Ross grief train, so I’ve double-backed. The Metro has dumped me at the Anger Depot and is no longer in service. I’m off the rails and plopping my Jabba-the-Hut ass down for a sit in. If needed, I’ll beg for necessities, “Sister, can you spare a square?”

Staring directly into the bright side has scorched my retinas. All I see is red.

I’m spent — plain tuckered out. Too pooped to shovel this crap any longer. (Yes, I know, I’m referring to excrement quite often. Frankly my dear, I don’t give a shit.)

The spoonful of sugar technique has been attempted repeatedly. My gag reflex is too resistant for such deception. Taking a cue from my Maltipoo, I’ve tried covering the bitter pill in peanut butter. It regurgitated like cow cud.

Safer at home? Tell that to my psyche. I’ve been simmering in my juices for far too long: Marinating in my anxieties, both past and present. How much longer until my connective tissue is fully dissolved, severing my tethers to humanity?

Exactly what are the benefits of our so-called safe havens? Commercials are already referencing our “places of refuge” in their “We are all in this together!” campaigns. Life in our humble abodes tranquilly portrayed like a utopian Westworld scenario. Not in this habitat. The only area shielded from disarray is what can be viewed through my Zoom Happy Hour camera. Eau de nursing home toilette wafts throughout: Lysol mixed with flop sweat and not-so-quiet desperation.

My childhood dreams did not include me being unwashed, unshaven and unemployed, gleaning style tips from Tiger King. (They say animal prints are never passé.) My pits and pubes so overgrown, I am contemplating repurposing my barrettes and hair ties. Note to self: Watch YouTube video on French braiding.

Aren’t you tired of adulting? I’m fed up with rebooting, repeatedly switching to a new alternate reality. I need to vent before all hell breaks loose.

It’s time for a collective temper tantrum. Join me in my fury that is far from insignificant. Six feet provides plenty of room to pound and kick the pavement. I’m not stopping until life goes back to business as usual — or maybe until someone brings me a gallon of Rocky Road.

I’m done with playing Pollyanna. I’m taking my ball and going home. F@#$! I’m already here. :/

Skin Hunger is Real and it Scares me to Death

Will staying out of touch remain our reality?

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Tell me in a world without pity
Do you think what I’m askin’s too much?
I just want something to hold on to
And a little of that human touch
Just a little of that human touch*

There’s a premise that has been disturbing me of late, looming in my hopes for the future like a murky fog: After months in isolation, will we remember how to reconnect? Will we be wary, cowering from physical contact? Can we exist in a world where exchanging hugs or pats on the back become taboo? If so, what will be the repercussions on society’s soul?

Touch has a memory — John Keats

I began writing when I was a recent widow. In my first piece, I attempted to describe how “unprepared I was for the craving of non-sexual intimacy…” How the yearning for simple touch was a physical affliction akin to detox. Each time I witnessed a spontaneous caress between a couple, I withered a little bit more.

Touch is the first sense we experience, fostered from the moment we are born. It is conveyed via the organ that completely envelops us, yet often it is an afterthought — until it is absent. My nephew was born prematurely with numerous health issues. Laden with medical equipment, he looked more cyborg than human. My brother and sister-in-law remained affixed beside his sterile bassinet, pining to soothe him.

Numerous studies have demonstrated the benefits of skin-to-skin contact, particularly in preemies. Also known as kangaroo care, the baby is stripped of garments and cradled in their parent’s bare chest. Stabilizing breathing patterns, regulating sleep and increased cognitive development have been linked to this practice. Benefits to the parents include decreasing stress and increased breast milk production. And so, my brother and his wife anxiously awaited this treasured thirty minutes granted to them each day. This nugget of time more precious than gold.

If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others — Anne Morrow Lindberg

The deprivation of human touch has been termed “skin hunger.” Insomnia, anxiety and aggressive behavior have all been linked to the lack of physical contact. According to Psychology Today,

People who feel more affection-deprived: are less happy; more lonely; more likely to experience depression and stress; and, in general, in worse health.

So, what does this mean for those sheltering alone or front liners sequestering themselves from loved ones? Social distancing is now how we demonstrate affection for our fellow man. Stay six feet apart or you may end up six feet under.

When we finally emerge from our quarantine cocoons, will we recall how to interact? Will fear cultivate hesitation? Dr. Anthony Fauci has advised we never shake hands — ever again. Clothing categorized by PPE quotients are sure to appear across our Facebook feeds. Attire labeled with antimicrobial factors may soon be touted in Amazon Lightning Deals. The last episode of Saturday Night Live had a soap opera spoof parodying the perils of dating during an outbreak. Daniel Craig attempts to make out with Kate McKinnon through a large swath of plastic wrap. Are full-body condoms far behind?

The faintest glimmers of “flattening the curve” are on the distant horizon and some have started to contemplate what society will look like once the immediate COVID-19 threat is over. When queried about what our future holds during a recent White House briefing, Dr. Fauci replied:

When we get back to normal, we will go back to the point where we can function as a society. But you’re absolutely right. If you want to get back to pre-coronavirus, that might not ever happen in the sense that the threat is there.

It is said that every time we embrace someone warmly, we gain an extra day of life. So please embrace me now. — Paulo Coelho

I hail from a boisterous Italian family. No hello or goodbye is without an embrace and a kiss on the cheek. Our personas burnished by such affections to glistening patinas. If that is taken away, we might as well be mute.

What will happen to the rush of holding someone’s hand for the first time? Or the intoxicating scent of a newborn nestled against your shoulder? How will our collective psyche be altered without such stimuli? How out of touch can we be and still maintain our sanity?

The Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020 will be recorded in the history books as the first panicked response to the pandemic. Will the next be a run on HAZMAT bunny suits, beekeeper apparel or even fencing uniforms? Always on guard, will each encounter be a duel? Five touches and you’re out.

This is my second bout with touch deprivation. My greatest fear for myself — for society — is that we become calloused. The wounds of confinement scab and scar, smothering our ability to register emotion.

You might need somethin’ to hold on to
When all the answers they don’t amount to much
Somebody that you can just talk to
And a little of that human touch*
*Bruce Springsteen

#COVID-19 #Relationships #HumanNature #MentalHealth #Touch #NewNormal

Searching for Love After a Thirty-Year Hiatus

My reluctant plunge into online dating in my 50s

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I met my husband at 16. We were married when I was 25.  I was widowed three days before my 44th birthday.

Our two sons were in their early teens when we lost their father. He had been ill for quite some time, but the way he eventually passed away was sudden and traumatic. PTSD complicated our grief. I threw myself into tending to my boys, work and volunteering. Once they graduated, I created a this blog to finally process the sadness I had suppressed for years. My mind was too preoccupied and my spirit too full of heartache to allow time for dating.

And so, I waited nearly a decade to reenter the dating world.  If you do the math, this seemed to be a pattern with me.  What can I say? I needed to be REALLY sure before I truly committed.

Single and out of date

My husband was my first kiss, my first love, my first everything.  My friend used to tease me that I had the dating skills of an adolescent: awkward, unsure and pretty much clueless. I had no playbook – no references to what I liked or disliked in a relationship. Flirtation was a skill that had dissipated long ago. Now in my fifties, I was about to enter foreign territory without comprehending the language or rules of the domain.

Back in high school, my biggest concerns were whether my side ponytail was attractively askew and the horror of my butt cheeks protruding beneath my Dolfin shorts.  I could never have fathomed that a bodacious bootie would be considered alluring in the 21st century. I only wish a muffin top wasn’t an unwelcome collaborator in my middle-aged physique.

Looking for a Match made in OKCupid & other digital heavens

I had been pondering dating for a couple years before I resolved to be proactive.  It was my hope that someone in my circle of friends would introduce me to a “nice guy” they knew. He would be properly vetted as engaging, financially secure and safe. There was one enormous snag in this scenario: Most of my friends were married. I was the only unattached mare in the posse. No stallions for miles.

And so, I reluctantly thrust myself into the realm of online dating. I honed my relationship seeking resume (aka profile) to the best of my novice ability. Dating Objectives, Activities & Interests and Bio were all crafted with a touch of wit and hidden desperation. Previous Experience was glaringly absent. I appraised pictures of myself until I found the few that I hoped portrayed subtle sexiness while concealing my double chin.  Filled with apprehension, I shuddered as I posted it.

The responses began flooding in almost immediately. This is not to say I’m any more eye-catching than the previous gal to swipe across their screen – far from it. But if you’re female, new on the dating auction block and assumedly breathing, you’re a hot commodity.

Never in my wildest imagination could I have ever envisioned the types of characters soon parading through my account. There was an inordinate amount of men donning bizarre hairstyles including mullets and a Flock of Seagulls triple mohawk. I’d somewhat expected the gentlemen who obviously were lying about their age, but many were clearly decrepit. One even used a photo of himself in a hospital bed as his profile pic. Another chap sported a neck brace and still another proudly presented only his elbow scab. WTF? Did was he seeking someone to kiss his boo boo?

Call me sheltered, but I had never been propositioned to join a threesome, let alone on a daily basis. The erotic mischief requested included a “submissive guy seeking his dominant queen” who pledged to be castrated for his future mistress. There was the married fella searching for an addition to his polyamorous relationship. Only semi-good-looking gals need to respond as his wife “was quite homely” and abundantly jealous.

Then there were the usernames: AwesummaCumLaude, Eatyourkitty and Chocolate Reggie whose self-summary proclaimed, “Just a funny man with a big dick and full wallet,” were a few highlights of this brigade.

I came to the realization that I needed to apply some filters to sift through the invitations infiltrating my inbox and “likes” tallies. There were the simple sorts regarding age, height and marital status. Long distance romancers and professed CIA operatives were weeded out. Then there was the Not a Chance in Hells:

  • Dudes who posted more pictures of possessions – boats, motorcycles, guns, etc. than themselves. Boys bragging about their toys repelled my interest.
  • Grand displays of hunting and gathering prowess. Apparently, a lot of women are enticed by all sorts of aquatic life dangling from hooks. I had better fish to fry.
  • Costumes of any kind. Save your pirate garb for Halloween.
  • The inability to compose a simple sentence. I was a sucker for well-written note demonstrating they had actually read my profile. Terse missives such as “Hey Baby,” “Yummy,” and “Mmmm,” did not set this essayist’s heart aflutter.
  • A sprawling list of dislikes. Profiles spewing negativity and demands of “no drama” signaled someone who was seeking compliance, not a relationship.

Getting with the dating program

The laws of attraction are a bit cockeyed in the virtual world. You are introduced as the result of a succinct CV processed through an arbitrary algorithm. Physical mannerisms, nonverbal cues or pheromones are not in play just yet. Charm and other nuances are compressed like dough through a pasta machine, then transmitted via an LED display. This two-dimensional showmanship was superficial at its best. Counterfeit at its worst. It took me a while to acclimate and learn how to decipher these exhibitions.  I’m not sure if I ever actually did.

With the simple click of a button, your interest in someone is proclaimed to the technological universe. Hopefully, they “wink” or like you back and the initial courtship begins. Last time I was in the dating arena, you danced with one partner at a time. When utilizing an app, one engages multiple prospective mates simultaneously. No more waiting to get home to check the answering machine. Messages appeared at all hours of the day and night. On some days, the frequent alerts buzzed my phone like a bumble bee stuck in a window shade. The cacophony of it all left me woozy. I soon became addicted to the rush of electronic seduction. On other days – many many days – the notifications fell silent. I checked and rechecked my phone, desperately seeking my fix.

“All that is gold does not glitter” – Tolkien

During this period, I relied heavily upon a close single friend for guidance. She was my Obi Wan – gifted in the ways of dating and an excellent counselor. Her eager apprentice, I regularly divulged the ups and downs of this unfamiliar terrain. We regaled each other with tales of fleeting passion, being ghosted and assorted profile oddities.

She recognized my dating immaturity, gradually teaching me to trust my own instincts and realize my self-worth. Each time I would come to her sorrowful from a rejection or breakup, she would always bestow the same advice, “I’m so sorry you’re in pain, but every relationship provides a valuable lesson. Whether it identified a trait in a man you can’t abide or gained an awareness of what brings you happiness, you have gleaned an insight into what you want out of a relationship.” Her mentorship proved invaluable.

This is not meant to be a manifesto railing about the perils of online dating. I know quite a few people who have successfully found their soulmates and/or future spouse. Personally, I frequently connected with men I found attractive, had a decently active dating life and various brief relationships. Did I find the next love of my life? That story is yet to be told…

 

 

 

Going Down the Rabbit Hole During a Pandemic

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Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

An invitation to a pity party

It was inevitable, no matter how hard I tried to prevent it. A conversation the night before had ignited a pessimistic spark. Dread simmered in my dreams. I awoke sullen, buzzing with trepidation. Before long, I was descending down the rabbit hole into one rager of a pity party.

I habitually obscure my struggles. When occasionally asked how things are going, downplaying is my diversion. Raindrops on roses and all that. Everything is practically perfect.

Or so I would lead them to believe.

Secretly, I crave reassurance — thirst for sympathy. I expect my friends and family to discern what it truly going on — even while I am reciting “I’m fine,” or signaling all is well. “Where is their consolation?” my pathetic ego whimpers. Aren’t they clairvoyant? Can’t they perceive the stress vibrating through my veins? I pay no heed to my flair for camouflage.

One hell of a party pooper

So, on this particular morning, I was wallowing in mire as thick as tar. To be honest, it had been percolating even before our isolation mandates. My uneasy temperament had been nuked into Hulk-sized anguish by our collective crisis. The scale in my bathroom bore witness to this mutation. Perhaps binging on Lays and Thin Mints had exacerbated this state of affairs. Who’s to say? Did you know chocolate left in the back of the cupboard for three years is still somewhat edible? Especially if you down it with a glass of cabernet. But I digress…

Of course, anxiety didn’t miss her invitation to my shindig. Feeling sorry for myself was the theme for this soiree. Loved ones’ supposed lack of telepathic abilities set the mood. Annoyance at succumbing to the dark side added just the right amount of oomph. Incensed and dejected, I yielded to what was to come: Plummeting to the depths of the rabbit hole.

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to

There’s a hollow emerging in the sofa from days upon days of lethargy. I burrowed into the cavern like a grizzly nestling in for hibernation. The drone of the local tv news lulling me into a pacifying stupor. I was lounging in the void between panic and apathy when I received a text from my boyfriend. He wanted to know how my day was going. Seriously?! Couldn’t he detect my tormented spirit from his home six miles away? I thought we were on the same wavelength.

I expressed my angst — or so I thought. I sent vague texts about how no one understands without any further elaboration. My ire escalated as he seemingly couldn’t grasp the complexities of my despair. I even chastised him for not responding to my messages quickly enough. If he truly cared about me, his replies should be immediate, shouldn’t they? My conceit was enormous. I sent one last snippy retort. He gave me a call.

The onslaught began.

There was no slowing my roll. I sniffled and sobbed and despised myself for conceding to this display of vulnerability. I spewed my presumed misfortune and disappointment in my family, my friends and him like a machine gun. He listened, gently chided me when I deserved it and consoled me as much as possible until my arsenal was depleted. His character must be fabricated from Kevlar.

We are all Alice

When I first sat down to write this piece, I had planned on eloquently expressing my dismay. Catalog all that beleaguered me. That would garner me the outpouring of empathy I coveted. I envisioned relishing every last morsel. My self-indulgence was intoxicating.

And then I sobered up.

In reality, what would have that accomplished? Who was I to place such irrational expectations upon those I hold dear? Moreover, the entire population is spiraling down rabbit holes — stepping through their own looking glasses. It’s hubris to deem mine more abysmal than others. We are entering a new Wonderland with a yet-to-be determined set of rules. “Curiouser and curiouser,” we collectively cry. Brooding over news bites and statistics to assess our safety quotient.

If we are not careful, misery may be an even worse contagion that the virus itself.

That’s not to say that throwing your own pity party is unwarranted, if not crucial, to process the enormity of a world turned upside down — society’s ambiguous future. In my case, it proved to be a vital release, albeit a not very glamorous one. (Thankfully, no mascara was mistreated during this melancholy madness.) The trick is not to overstay your welcome.

Capturing the moment to seize the day

A good friend of mine recently told me she is choosing to say, “I’m having a bad moment,” instead of, “I’m having a bad day.” This slight shift in perception reminds us that moments pass. They are not eternal.

I’m striving to be more mindful of cheerful interludes. (No, this isn’t another boastful #blessed list.) Purposefully capturing periods of joy — contemplating gratitude. Protecting them in my memory so I can reflect upon them when worry shrouds my contentment. Call it my attitude stimulus package:

  • I am thankful for a roof over my head, potato chips in my pantry and plenty of toilet paper.

Such illuminations beckon me out of my rabbit hole. I shouldn’t ever squander these endowments.

Typically, I have little use for trite mottos. Life is too nuanced and our world more precarious than any sentimental declaration, but they can be a beacon. So here goes: Acknowledge the suck. Allow yourself to lament. Rail against whatever hardship until you are spent. Then, reboot your disposition. Create your own relief list.

The diem ain’t gonna carpe itself.*

*As seen on my new favorite t-shirt on Amazon and other fine vendors of pithy attire.

Lessons on Manhood Part Three: To my Younger Son on His 21st Birthday

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It’s now a family tradition.

A couple years ago, in an attempt to fill the void left by the loss of your dad, I wrote Lessons on Manhood I Learned From Your Father for your brother and you. The following year, your brother turned 21 and a I penned a letter detailing what he had taught me. Now that you have reached this milestone, I’m proud to to detail the exemplary example you present:

Make your words count: A few deliberate comments are more compelling than an extended tirade.

Keep watch: Discreet observation can be the best educator.

Provide a safe harbor: Be known for the one to turn to when times are stormy.

Fancy f-words: Faith, family, and friends form a firm foundation.

Be brave: A heart of gold inspires nerves of steel.

Stay in the loop: Being out of touch induces ignorant decisions.

Tinker: Working with your hands enriches your mind.

Don’t seek applause: Pride in a job well done is all the cheerleading you’ll need.

Be a wolf in sheep’s clothing: Demonstrate your tenacity with quiet confidence.

Form a posse: A few cherished friends are more valuable than a gaggle of acquaintances.

Develop x-ray vision: Not everything (or everyone) should be taken at face value.

Be loyal to a fault: May it never be said you turned your back on those you love.

Take the bull by the horns: If something isn’t working, make it your job to fix it.

Build bridges: Seek common ground, not segregation.

Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve: Your scars are reminders, not honor badges.

Cross the line: Doing something unexpected is always intriguing.

Be a ladies’ man: Having only male friends restricts your perspective.

Hone your competitive drive: Choosing your battles wisely results in more victories.

Throw away the key: Confidences are not to be broken. EVER.

Chime in: Being a part of a team enhances your identity.

Go the distance: Perseverance forges character.

Cast off your armor: A little vulnerability soothes a wounded heart.

Laugh until joy abounds.

Love till your soul overflows.

Live to make your spirit dance.

,
Mom


This post originally appeared on Medium.com