Monday, December 31, 2007

Leaps and Bounds

I can smell roast beef cooking as I type. Roast beef was youngest son's birthday meal request. As of today I am no longer the parent of any teenagers. I survived umpteen years of them. Probably of more significance is that they survived me. :)

I'm enjoying some solitude. James Taylor is playing on the computer. Well, he's not playing on the computer exactly; I'm listening to him as I sit here. He has a very soothing voice.

This day was a turning point in my journey 20 years ago. I nearly died in childbirth. I had something akin to a near death experience. I don't talk about it much but it taught me that we can never know the state of another's soul. Three months later, while youngest son was still making his beautiful newborn cry, I sobered up and turned my heart towards God. It felt like the biggest leap of faith - like there would be a foot or two more air space than I could leap. What I couldn't have predicted was how far God's arms are capable of reaching.

And here I am 20 years later.
Still being held.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Small Talk

Yesterday we gathered with dearest one's family for the afternoon and evening. He and his siblings take turns organizing the day, planning the menu, figuring out where we will all meet. I think at last count we had 35+ nieces and nephews on his side of the family ranging in age from preschool to 31. We've been made a great uncle and aunt several times over already, too. You can imagine when we all try to get together how many we are.

I haven't always been comfortable at these gatherings. Dearest one is the only sibling living in the community who is not part of his family's conservative church where the women wear head coverings and the men all have beards. They dress conservatively and live a simple life. No radio or tv. Often it seems to be more uniformity than unity. I tried for several years to be a part of the lifestyle and gained more acceptance than ever while doing it but I couldn't stick it out without a part of my soul dying. I will however, treasure what I learned in that time of my life. It wasn't for naught.

I have a reasonable relationship with nearly all of his sisters(5) and sister-in-laws(4). They have been most gracious to me over the years as my journey has had its twists and turns and my outspoken, often antagonizing ways have been more than tolerated. I try to connect with these women in our common roles as mothers, daughters and wives. A one on one conversation feels much more comfortable than in a group setting. I nearly laughed out loud yesterday when I was sharing with one sister-in-law about our new priest, Father Julien and his Indian culture. One of her daughtes asked who he was only to hear her mother spit out the word 'priest' under her breath as if it was a swear word. I wanted to say, "it's okay, saying his name won't contaminate you."

These women really know nothing of my story and I know nothing of theirs except that which is common knowledge. So we sat yesterday around a table and put together a puzzle, got up and chatted around the kitchen counter, made small talk during our meal and then worked together to clean up afterwards.
All done for another year.

It left me wondering what family is.
And what it could be.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Originally we were going to be just four
for Christmas dinner.
Dearest one, me,
only daughter and youngest son.

In the end
dearest one's parents
had no invite
so we invited them
and they came.
I felt privileged
to host them on Christmas
when they have many other children
in our community.

Years ago I used to make snide remarks
about the repetitive nature
of my father-in-law's meal time prayer.
He is deaf now. We asked him
to bless our meal.
Yesterday I found his prayer
a comfort.

Change is always possible.

At Christmas eve Mass we found
out that our priest had no invite
so he came as well.
He is from India. It was
interesting to hear of their customs
at Christmas and to get to know him
a little better.

It felt good to open our home.
A miracle, really when last year
and the year before that,
and the year before that,
my health wouldn't have deemed
any of it possible.

Another miracle was seeing my Mennonite
father-in-law and our Catholic priest
sit at the same table
celebrating Christ's birth.

"Where two or more are gathered in my name...."

Friday, December 21, 2007

Pajama Day

Today is my first pajama day since I came home from treatment three and a half months ago. After 20 days of getting dressed and showered I figured why break my record? Before treatment, pajama days were often a sign that I was disinterested in life around me. Since good self care is my first defense against relapse, showering and getting dressed motivate me to stay sober and abstinent. I was hesitantly open to the reality that good self care might one day be wearing my pajamas all day although I was scared to contemplate it. The day has come. Today's the day where good self care means I got up and showered only to slide back into my new fleece pajamas. I'm finding them warm and wonderfully comforting.

Yesterday I was up and out the door early after a night of little sleep. The kind of night where sleep comes an hour before the alarm goes off. It was still dark out when I pulled up in front of the sexual abuse center. The center is in a run down building in a scary part of town. Normally I park down the block and around the corner, praying between my van and the door not to piss someone off or get in the wrong person's way. On the sidewalk and parking lot across the street I often see people who make me really uncomfortable as I make my way into the building and they're still there as I make my way back to the van. I heard enough in treatment first hand from ex drug dealers to know there's good reason to be leery and alert as I walk in that part of town. After my last appointment I realized there were parking meters right outside the door and decided from then on I'd park as close to the door as possible. So yesterday I pull up in front of the building, knowing I was the first appointment of the day and there were 5 to 10 minutes to wait until I could be sure of an open office door on the second floor. As I was waiting an SUV pulled up a few parking spaces behind me and a young woman got out. With her hoodie pulled up around her face she came up to my passenger window and motioned for me to open the door. I rolled my window down a little bit and she asked in a voice edged with toughness, "What's up?" I thought to myself, "No, I don't want to buy drugs or anything else." I told her I was waiting for an appointment at the sexual abuse centre. She nodded and turned without replying. I watched in my rear view mirror as she got back into the SUV. I was feeling pretty vulnerable at this point so I decided to take a chance that the office would be open or at least the building would feel safer than my van. My fingers were a little shaky as I plugged the meter with quarters. As I type this I wonder what her story is that led her to be out on the street knocking on a stranger's window, under the cover of darkness.

Thankfully the office door was open and my counselor was ready to see me. Trust is an important issue in any relationship and I haven't been sure I would continue with this counselor. She is very young and I'm darn near old enough to be her mother. There are other counselors available who have 20 more years of life experience behind them and to tell the truth, I haven't been keen on her cutting her teeth on my healing journey. Yesterday I finally trusted that that she is who I need to see.

In the past several months I've remembered several more sexual abuse incidents. Or more accurately, I've labeled certain incidents as sexual abuse that have previously flown below the radar of my definition of sexual abuse. What the hell was I thinking? That an adult groping a minor was somehow normal and okay? That being shoved in a corner at school and groped by several people at once was normal and okay? That being asked as a 12 year old to sit on a grown man's lap (my mother went ballistic at me for complying after he left for reasons I discovered years later.)was normal? In the retelling of these incidents yesterday I started to physically shake. For the first time I connected the uncontrollable shaking as body memory. The fear and anxiety rising to the surface instead of being held in the very cells of my body. A good thing. With time I hope to honour the necessity of that happening instead of trying to squelch it. Previously I viewed getting these shakes - they only happen in counseling - as something to deny or try to stop. I hate how out of control I feel when they happen. Now I know my body is trying to tell me something I need to pay attention to that will aid in my healing. I need to let the shakes rise so that they can have a chance of disappearing for good.

At one point in our conversation we went off on a tangent and I told my counselor that I had been a responsible child. She looked at me and said, "That's an interesting way of putting it. I see you more as a child who took on responsibility that wasn't hers." At this she drew a diagram.

She drew a circle around the control 0 and told me that in every abuse situation I had told her of I had zero control. She then made a line from the zero in control to the 5 in responsibility and said, "Yet you took on all the responsibility." I started to shake. She then drew a straight line from the zero in control down to the zero in responsibility.
"This," she said, "is reality."
I covered my face in my hands and started to sob. She listed the ways in which I took the responsibility and then she placed the responsibility where it truly lay. With the abuser(s). Gently she added, "My hunch is that you have taken on responsibility that's not yours in other areas of your life as well."
Oh, God - the grief that rose up inside me. I still have tears to cry over that. A deep well of sadness for willingly yet unknowingly taking into myself the blame.

That sadness stayed with me as our session ended. With 12 minutes to spare plus a drive across town to my next appointment there really wasn't time to deal with it right then.

I don't know of many people who look forward to their annual physical checkup with their doctor (you are getting yours aren't you?). Especially with a familial history of premenopausal breast cancer (my mom twice and recently a first cousin) I take my obligation seriously to get the necessary tests done regularly. There was one aspect of my checkup that I was looking forward to (oh, that lovely pap smear. NOT!) I didn't wait for the nurse before I got on the scale and started sliding the weights. I slid the weight into the 100kg slot. Thunk. What a beautiful sound. For the first time in several years I slid it into the 80kg notch and started playing with the sliding counterbalance. I refrained from jumping up and down on the scale itself as the nurse punched the numbers into the calculator on the wall above the scale to reveal that I've lost 40 pounds since I stopped binge eating. Maybe now when I put on regular sized clothes I will relax into them instead of thinking there's no way they can be fitting. Seriously. Last night I put on a brand new pair of fleece pajamas and they felt the tiniest bit snug so I thought I must look like I'm poured into them. I turned to look in the mirror only to find I look normal. The pajamas look just fine.

Confirming my weight loss with a concrete number was the best part of the appointment.

The last time dearest one gave me injections for the calcifications in my shoulders it was such a negative experience - culminating in me begging him to stop - that I haven't had any since. Yesterday the doctor did them for me. It involves breathing like you're in labour to get past the pain. By nighttime I was in acute pain from the tiny muscle tears that getting the solution broadcast into an area of muscle involves. By tomorrow I should be pain free for another 6 or 7 weeks. But today I'm not.

And so I knew when I got up this morning that the most caring thing I could do for myself today was to let the cozy warmth of my pjs comfort me and stand as a reminder that there was nothing I needed to do today other than stay in the day and acknowledge the the pain.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Her voice had a catch in it...

This afternoon the batch of fudge just about ready to put in the pan when the phone rang. As I raced to pick it up before the answering machine did, I thought to myself I'll just have to ask the person to wait a few minutes for me to call them back. I picked up the phone to hear her voice catch as she said my name and then there was silence. I asked her what had happened. This good friend, who I may have heard cry once in the last 20+ years, sobbed and sobbed. I have not heard her so broken. Broken in a way that makes a person pound the table and cry in agony. I'm not at liberty to share her name or her source of grief but it's up there just under the death of a child. If you could pray for her I'd appreciate it. There was little I could do on the phone today other than listen. I promised to pray. For those of you so disposed, asking for Mary's intercession on her behalf would be especially appropriate as this friend consecrated herself to Mary on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception earlier this month. When I am burdened with things that break a mother's heart I ask Mary to intercede for me. Whenever I do my prayers get swallowed up in big gulping tears.
Thank you for praying.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Leaning Tower of Conversion

A few weeks back I picked up my Bible to read in Romans and the whole way through I felt condemned....preachers from my past echoing in my head as I read. Their message often carrying an undercurrent about how we, as Christians, just don't quite get it right enough. I don't willingly put myself in situations these days where I have to listen to condemnation in preaching. There's too much goodness inside oneself, just waiting to be discovered, to live out of a paradigm of condemnation. I am not saying we don't sin, that we aren't capable of atrocious attitudes and actions. Lord knows I am. But I don't define myself anymore as if that ability and reality is the whole of who I am.

Youngest son and I got into this discussion the other day. He looked at me and said, "Well you know people are inherently evil." No they aren't I said. We are created in God's image and what God created was good. "Ya, but that was before the fall," he replied. I countered that our created in God's image was still there. Sometimes it's just buried under a lot of muck and my place as a believer is to affirm the presence of goodness in people. All people.

Condemnation, being reminded that I don't quite get this Christianity journey right, does nothing but weigh me down. I refuse to see others that way anymore, either.

Except when someone pisses me off.

Yesterday I was looking for a conversion chart that would help me figure out how many ml are in an ounce. I was cooking up a storm for a church potluck and the recipe I had was in ounces while my can of tomato sauce was in ml. I asked for dearest one's help. He opened the cupboard where my leaning row of cookbooks reside and started looking. He wasn't quick enough for me. So I pushed right past him to reach for the cookbook I thought might help me. I didn't cut off the circulation in his arm as I bore down with my own, but our arms looked like a perfect X in our reach for the perfect cookbook. Don't you know the world is going to come to an end if I don't get the right book instantly? Dearest one patiently asked me to wait a minute. Patience my ass. I yanked my arm out of there so fast, turned on my heels, and walked away.

He shut the cupboard door, put the right cookbook on the counter and went outside.

I stood there and thought all sorts of nasty things. Wanting more than anything to blame my bad attitude on dearest one. In a nanosecond I was acting like a mirror image of my mom. Her exasperated sigh that if only my dad would read her mind and do it her way then all would be right with the world. Uh huh.
"Most people try to live by self propulsion. Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself would be pleased. Life would be wonderful..........What usually happens? The show doesn't come off very well. He begins to think life doesn't treat him right.....he is sure that other people are more to blame.... Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if only he manages well?" ~ pg. 61 Alcoholics Anonymous

I read that part of the big book daily. As I stood at the counter wouldn't you know it filtered through to my conscious mind. Damn. For all my internal stuttering of "it's your...your...your fault!" I didn't have a hope in hell of blaming my pissyness on dearest one. As I turned the can opener on the tomato sauce I realized when dearest one asked me to be patient it was as if the fog cleared and I suddenly saw how rude and inconsiderate I was in my haste to have that cookbook in my hand. I wanted to pretend it wasn't my arm in that cupboard. Until that moment I didn't know why I always reacted that way when dearest one asks me to have a little patience as I'm reaching past him or shoving past him without saying excuse me, or saying excuse me but not meaning it with any manners; both regular behaviours of mine.

The realization didn't magically cure my attitude but I was thankful for the clarity. Hopefully one day I'll have the humility in the moment to say, "oh that was rude of me, I'm sorry." Even better would be to stop being rude.

I decided when dearest one came into the house that I would apologize for my rudeness. I would explain how he has this canny knack of inadvertently pointing out my character defects and I'm really okay with knowing them if I find them. I'm not so gracious when others show them to be true. I was going to admit I needed to work on that, too.

All would have been fine except when dearest one came back in he told me how he felt about the little scenario before I could get a word out of my mouth. Which was non typical behaviour for him. He shared how he wasn't going to shove his feelings down in order to keep peace. He wasn't having any of that anymore, remember? I wish I could say I warmly received his thoughts. What I really wanted to do was make him shut up because he was wrecking my shining moment of humility. And God knows it might evaporate before dearest one was done talking. Lord have mercy.

Suffice to say we made it through. At one point I got so lightheaded and dizzy(maybe the result of letting some air out of my ego?) when I was apologizing that I started to resemble my leaning tower of cookbooks and nearly fell into the stove.

Today I don't have to beat myself up for being human. I am thankful for the clarity to see what's really behind my pissyness. Progress not perfection means the next time I act rude and inconsiderate I will hopefully stop midstride, humble myself and apologize.

Humility learned through the pages of a cookbook.
Gotta watch out for those conversion charts.

Friday, December 14, 2007

For Mich

I just put my peppernut dough in the fridge to chill and Mich asked for the recipe so here it is if you'd like to try it. Peppernuts are often a like-em or hate-em kind of food.


1 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, well beaten
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
4 tbsp. ground anise seed or 1/2 tsp. anise oil
1/4 c. light syrup
1/2 c. molasses
1/3 c. water
1/3 tsp. baking soda
6 cups flour

Cream shortening and sugar thoroughly. Add beaten eggs, spices and anise seed. Combine syrup, molasses, water and soda. Add to creamed mixture. Add sifted flour, 2 cups at a time. Mix well. If dough is crumbly add 1/4 cup of water. Chill in fridge 4 hours or overnight. Mold into long rolls 1/2" in diameter. Lay on cookie sheets, cover and chill in freezer until ready to bake. Cut into 1/3" pieces. Place cut side down on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 400F for 8 minutes. Store in airtight container.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Let It Snow

It's a white wonderland out there today. Makes me thankful to be able to be inside. I've been slowly clearing out clutter this week and it's getting easier as I go. I'm throwing away stuff that surprises me. It feels good. We live in a small place and the more stuff, the more claustrophobic I feel, especially in winter. I'm even getting ready to go through my books and pare my collection down. Not too long ago dearest one was moving containers of books from one shed to another (books that won't fit in the house) and complained I must have a thousand books out there. The only ones I'm really adamant about not getting rid of are the books I read to my kids as they were growing up. I made the mistake once of getting rid of some of them and had to eventually replace them. Some of them I haven't been able to replace and I regret it. Dearest one has been after me for a long time to write down my internet book browsing notes in a notebook instead of on the multiplying bits of paper piling up on my desk. This week I did just that. Those bits of paper offered the titles of 60 books just waiting for me to order from the library. It still makes me smile to think of it. And I can see the desktop for the first time ever in ages.

This week I had two counseling sessions. I'm down to monthly session with my after treatment counselor. January and February appointments are already booked with her. I'm thinking I won't need to book any more after that although she will remain available if I need some help sorting through my sometimes warped thinking. I am just starting the counseling sessions at the childhood sexual abuse survivors centre. I came away from there this week with several revelations to mull over. I have homework to do about those things before I see her again next week.

Christmas baking will start in earnest this week. Peppernuts are one thing I make every year.....a legacy from dearest one's family. Butter tarts, fudge and squares of several kinds will round out the rest. In the pantry is a box of pot of gold chocolates....a tradition I grew up with and am continuing. The tree has been decorated for a while - our first year of having an artificial tree (thanks to freecycle). Norwegian flags decorate it's length.....a tradition my grandparents passed on to me.

Life is good.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

You Can Look Back But Don't Stare

Today's title comes as a direct quote from my addictions counselor.

Three years ago today I created this blog. If you've ever wondered how I came up with my blog name you can read about it here. I started the blog to prove to myself that I could show up and write. At the time I read two different blogs and had no idea there was an abundance of blogs out there. I don't remember how I came across your blog, do you remember how you found mine?

What a lot of life in the past three years has made its way to these pages. You have been a big part of my recovery journey. In a few days I will celebrate 6 months of abstinence from binge eating, and 13 months abstinence from sexual addiction. Your prayers, encouragement and acceptance have helped me along the way.

The post that got the most comments (when I used haloscan) was when I came clean about my struggle with sexual addiction. I had many relapses before I was able to get more than a few months of abstinence behind me. By the grace of God today is day number 388. You held me up in prayer when I went to treatment this past summer. 19 years of being on a dry drunk came to an end with my reaching out and asking for help.

You supported me as I struggled to learn how to manage my spoon supply. I still marvel that spoon counting is not the driving force in my days now although as life would have it, today is one where I have very few. I've progressed from being able to walk to the end of the driveway and back (and that on a good day) to walking 7 to 10 miles a week. I thank God every single day I can go for a walk. The ability to do so still makes me giddy with joy.

You've listened as I've processed sessions of spiritual direction with Fr. Charlie. You've often left comments or written emails that have spoken to the deepest parts of me. Ones that have evoked everything from tears to laughter and deep reflection.

You've walked with me as I navigated an empty nest and the challenge of having adult children. You've journeyed with me as dearest one and I continue to make our way through married life together. We are ever growing and changing in our relationship.

All this to say thank you.
Thank you for reading
and commenting
and walking beside me.
I am richer for it.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Thinking Out Loud

Today would've been my brother Rodney's 47th birthday. I wrote about him here last year. He died two days after his birth. I wrote about him in my journal this morning...always wondering what life would have been like had he lived. That maybe he would have grown into a brother I could be friends with as an adult. My other two brothers don't communicate with me other than my older brother calling me once a year on my birthday. I realize Rodney could very likely have chosen to do the same but still I wonder.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Cold or snow, which would you like? Both? You got it. Pretty soon we'll have to use a tractor to plow the driveway to get out. Today I did venture outside though and go for a walk. Scarf up to my eyes, toque down to my eyebrows, but I did it. I was walking along thinking I need a balaclava. I had looked for one when I bought my scarf but couldn't find one. At the time I thought to myself, maybe they don't make them anymore because bank robbers use them so much. Dearest one is home sick today. I told him I'd gone for a walk when he was sleeping in his recliner. He asked about the cold and I told him I needed a balaclava. He didn't bat an eye as he said, "Oh they don't make them anymore because bank robbers use them." His face had just a hint of a smile. I looked at him and said, "I'm not that gullible." Then I laughed and told him I had thought that exact thing when I had been on my walk. Somehow I don't think that surprised him.
I can be so predictable.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Going Home

Week day mornings at 10 AM you can find me listening to the obituaries on the radio. Having spent several years with elderly women from a neighbouring community in a weekly Bible study I worry sometimes that unless I listen to the radio I'll miss hearing of one of them passing on. They were such a joy to spend time with. I was a mother of youngish children at the time and they had much to teach me about life. I remember wondering one day what the magical age was that a parent reached when what their children did didn't faze them or necessarily rule the day. At that point in my parenting I was very much enmeshed with my own children - could not see that there was and needed to be a separating line....the one where I ended and they began. I sat there and wondered how old these women were before they stopped worrying that their children's behaviour was a reflection on them.
Maybe they never did in the first place.

One of my favourite memories of that time was when one of those women shared the story of falling and breaking her arm. She was in her early 80's then and she told us when she fell she lay there and was grateful it wasn't her hip that she hurt. She spent many weeks with her arm in a cast and when it was removed it had that look of skin that hadn't seen daylight in a very long time. She went home, held up her arm to her husband and said in horror, "it looks like the arm of an old woman!"
Perish the thought!
She recently celebrated a birthday in her 90's and is still going strong.

This morning as I listened to the obituaries there was a woman mentioned who died on the weekend in her 99th year. I remember Marie well. We shared a hospital room 10 years ago. She had fallen and broken her hip. I had had a biopsy gone awry and was recuperating from emergency surgery and a blood transfusion. After lunch most days the staff would have her sit in a recliner at the end of her bed. My bed faced hers so this was a good time for us to visit. She was curious about the world around her, she was a great conversationalist and I liked her spunk. We shared a Norwegian heritage and one evening she joined her daughter and friend in singing a Norwegian song. It sounded beautiful.

One afternoon Marie rang the nursing station and asked for help to the bathroom. A nurse came and told her she had to get up and walk to the commode. Marie insisted she couldn't. The nurse got right down into Marie's face and with a harsh tone insisted she would. A physiotherapist stood by and supported the nurse's demand. I listened and watched this power struggle go on for several minutes. As Marie tried to maneuver her walker to the commode she was still insisting she couldn't do it. Her voice had a plaintive wail to it. One step towards the commode and her bowels couldn't wait any longer. The power struggle was over instantly. The staff left the room and called housekeeping to clean up the mess. No apology. No compassion. They just vanished. Today I would have no problem speaking up and defending the powerless. Back then I was still one of them.

That afternoon as Marie sat in her recliner she looked at me and in a small voice told me how humiliated she felt. She was a bit teary and she shrugged her shoulders as if this was her place in life now that she was old. I remember thinking how that nurse would not have spoken to a younger person that way. She wouldn't have got away with it.

I went back and visited Marie the day she was going home. That morning she was up and dressed, a smart jacket and skirt, nylons and makeup. With a sparkle in her eyes and a touch of red lipstick she looked beautiful.

This morning I learned she's gone home now for good.
May she rest in peace.