Archive | May, 2016

Health, Happiness and Healing

28 May

Once again, I’m in transit as I write.   I’m on a plane on my way home from Houston.   The roller coaster is rounding the bend and coming to its last downward slope. For this turn on the ride at least. It was, as I anticipated, a wild ride full of loops. I’m exhausted, physically and emotionally, and if I am this tired, I can only begin to imagine how my friend feels after her daughter’s surgery and the past few very difficult days of recovery.

First off, the surgery was successful. The doctors managed to remove the tumor intact and she was wiggling her toes soon after she woke up. We all cheered as those happy little dancing toes were moving, indicating that one of the major fears surrounding surgery on her spine had been eliminated.   And then came more laughter and joy.   As she began to talk more, we saw the effects of the drugs and anesthesia as she asked repeatedly for a duck and then for someone to bring her 92 bags of ice from a gas station. Her mouth was so dry and she wasn’t allowed to have anything to drink yet. Finally she got some ice chips and managed a faint smile. During the last few days, I’ve realized that sometimes the little things in life make all the difference in the world.

It wasn’t all laughter and calm the last few days though. Following the surgery, she was in terrible pain and despite all the different medications they tried on her, she couldn’t seem to get any respite. Two horrible nights for my friend and her daughter, awake all night with the staff trying to manage her pain and difficulty breathing. Fear that something wasn’t right since the pain was that unmanageable. Sure enough, they did an x-ray and found a small tear in the pleura of her right lung and it was pooled with blood. They inserted a chest tube, and then a second one, to drain the lung and finally she got some relief.

Yesterday, she managed to get out of bed a few times and even took about 20 steps with the aid of a physical therapist. Unbelievable to me so shortly after major surgery. Last night brought more breathing difficulty though, and when they finally got her more comfortable and back to sleep, it was time for me to go. I wanted to stay but much more importantly, I wanted to let my friend get some sleep while her daughter was resting. While the thought of leaving them there was gut-wrenching, my heart was more at peace knowing that she is on her way to recovering, hopefully closer to her normal life than she has been. I put on my big girl panties and my poker face and hugged my friend goodbye. She’s one of the strongest people I’ve ever met, and while I know that she would have been fully capable of dealing with this all on her own (as she is accustomed), I hope that by being there I helped somewhat. I got on the elevator and as the doors finally closed, I let the tears flow. A lot of emotions bundled up in the past few days. It’s one thing to watch someone you love suffer. It’s another thing entirely to witness someone you love watching their own child suffering and not be able to do anything to comfort them.

I got up at 4:30am for my flight and realized the irony of the fact that exactly 4 years ago today, at about that same time of morning, I sat on a street corner in NYC with the same friend and finally got the words out to her that I was an alcoholic. I’m looking forward to getting my four-year chip this week at my home group meeting. I even made it to an AA meeting in Houston yesterday. In another ironic twist, the building in which I attended the meeting was named after a huge donor whom I had known years ago in the heyday of my drinking.

So now it’s time for me to head home to my crew, to whom I am very grateful for managing without me for a week and whom I missed very much. I have no idea what kind of shape my house will be in when I return but having been through what I have this week, I honestly don’t care. Health, happiness and healing are really all that matter.

“You know, all that really matters is that the people you love are happy and healthy. Everything else is just sprinkles on the sundae.” – Paul Walker

 

 

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Love and Laughter

24 May

There’s a reason why my tagline is “God, grant me the serenity to laugh at life.” In critical situations, what are the choices? Tears or laughter?

I know people talk about families coming together in times of crisis, but the family I was with this week did more than just come together.   Facing an extremely risky surgery to remove a tumor from her spine, the 14 year-old daughter of my best friend carried herself with grace and bravery leading right up to the surgery. The risks and danger of the procedure were explained to us. All the pertinent questions were asked. But there was laughter. Lots of it. Sure, some of it may have been nervous laughter but it was jovial and comforting to all. In fact, my stomach actually hurt from laughing so hard.

What was the alternative? Allow anxiety, stress and worry to take over? None of those things will do anything to improve the outcome of the surgery.

And then came the waiting. And the waiting. 8 hours into the surgery and still waiting. But with the waiting came more laughter. I was amazed at my friend’s ability to stay calm and wait patiently for the updates every two hours. Any nerves and anxiety that were there were quelled by the fact that not only is she in the hands of some of the best surgeons in the world, she is in God’s hands. As I wrote in my last piece, I’m learning to “let go and let God.”   I’m also learning that as much as I may sometimes think I should be able to, I can’t control everything and everyone all of the time.   And as much as I joke that everything is about me, I really do get it that this isn’t about me at all but is about some pretty spectacular people.

I’ll repeat a quote I’ve used before: “If it’s sanity you’re after, there’s no recipe like laughter.” – Henry Rutherford Elliot

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

A Wild Ride

23 May

One of the things I didn’t anticipate in sobriety was the vividness of the feelings I would experience now that I no longer numbed myself with alcohol. The last few weeks have had me on a roller coaster of emotions, and the ride continues now as I begin another journey. I wish I could say I was traveling just for fun, but I’m not. That was last weekend when I wrote about heading to my 25th college reunion in Philadelphia.

I’m now on a plane to Houston where I will meet up with my best friend and her two children. Her daughter is having surgery at one of the top cancer centers in the world to remove a tumor that has been decimating her upper spine. It’s a major operation with a great deal of risk involved. So once again, I have a knot of nerves in my stomach – eager anticipation of the removal of the malicious growth in her body and return to her “normal” life and fear of complications or potentially dreadful outcomes. But I can honestly say that the positive thoughts of a successful surgery and recovery far outweigh the fear. Why? Prayer and faith. Not only my own, but lots from those who surround this girl and her family with love.

In my last post, I wrote about the bundle of nerves I felt while on a train to Philadelphia for my reunion – nervous anticipation of seeing my former roommate and closest friend after 20 years of not speaking, fear of difficult tests of my sobriety as I would be surrounded by people, places and things that were all major triggers of my drinking, and nostalgic yearning for the “old days,” when I was 20 years old and before the demons of alcoholism reared their ugly heads.

The weekend was wonderful.   My roommate and I managed to pick up right where we left off, both agreeing to leave the past behind us and move forward with our friendship.   We stayed up until almost 3 a.m. reminiscing about numerous hilarious adventures together. We walked the campus where we roamed confidently and carefree, 25 years ago and saw familiar faces and classmates that have grown much older.   I got to spend time with three other close friends and enjoyed catching up with them immensely. I was thrilled to see my book in the university bookstore in the section with other alumni authors.   Very humbled to even be associated with most of them.   And proud of myself for making it through the whole experience without the need to pick up a drink. Nervousness, fear, nostalgia, humility and pride were enough ingredients in my emotive cocktail for the time being.

I got on the train home, intending to write a follow-up blog piece but was far too tired. I actually managed to doze off for a bit. The emotional roller coaster can be exhausting. I got off, spent a week at home with my family (a wild ride in and of itself) and just got back on for another go.   Twenty-thousand feet up in the air, my current concoction is one of fear and anxiety mixed with awe at my friend’s grace and bravery as she faces this ordeal, gratitude for the opportunity to be there with her and her children, and appreciation of my faith and of my new-found ability to let go and let God and to turn over the things that I can’t control. Oh and I can’t forget, thankfulness for my sobriety which affords me the ability to be strong for someone who has been a rock for me every step of the way on my journey.  Please pray that this ride comes to a happy stop.

 

 

Once I Was 20 Years Old

14 May

 

I’m on a train on my way to Philadelphia for my 25th college reunion. I can’t even fathom the concept of having graduated 25 years ago. I just don’t feel that old. While I’m very excited to see old friends on my former stomping grounds, I have a bundle of nerves wrapped up in my stomach. But I’ve already got one huge God-wink to embrace and eagerly anticipate more.

 

I’m going to see my old roommate and best friend whom I haven’t seen or talked to in 20 years.   We had a very stupid falling out a few years after we graduated and never spoke again. I barely remember the conversation, as I was well into my first, if not second, bottle of wine while we spoke on the phone. Many times over the years, I thought of what it would be like if I ever saw her again.   What would I say? What would she say? Would she still be upset with me? She was like a sister and we did everything together. I became part of her family and traveled with them. She and I went cross-country when we graduated from college and enjoyed numerous adventures together. Memories that will never be forgotten, despite what happened.

 

I thought of her often over two decades, but had no idea where she was or what she ended up doing. Enter the age of social media and the opportunity to track anyone down quite easily. I tried a few times to find her and eventually came up with a phone number on the Internet, but chickened out on getting in touch with her. Several months ago, what popped up on my Facebook page but a friend request from her.   I took a deep breath and clicked “confirm.”   We started sending messages back and forth via Facebook. Then moved on to emails. Then texts. Neither one of us held a grudge or mentioned what happened, but rather moved on and picked up the friendship pretty much where it left off.

 

Here’s the God-wink: I told her that I was sober now and had stopped drinking almost 4 years ago. Her response? “Welcome to the club.” She had 13 years of sobriety under her belt. As much as I am looking forward to the reunion this weekend, I can also see it as a HUGE threat to my sobriety.   There was a whole lot of drinking in college. On every corner, a bar that I used to frequent, a fraternity house where kegs of beer flowed, a friend’s dorm room where we partied. It’s pretty much a miracle I graduated on time with a degree.
There is a big dinner/party tonight for our class and with the tangle of nerves in my stomach at the thought of walking into the twilight zone, I’m comforted by the thought of going with my sober friend. In the past, a situation like that would scream “get a drink” to me. I would orchestrate my plan for immediately heading straight to the nearest bar for a large pour of liquid courage. This would be a really tough weekend if my friend were still drinking.   It would be way too tempting for me to resort to old, alcoholic behavior and go back to partying like the old days. People, places and things that are triggers are killers for alcoholics. I’ll have them all wrapped up in a nice bow for me this weekend.

 

But the old days are just that. These are the new days. I’m going back to a place in time and memory. I don’t have to go back to the same actions and behaviors..   People change and grow and over these last 4 years of sobriety, I’ve grown more than any other time in my life. I’m guessing that with 13 years of sobriety, my roommate has changed and grown quite a bit as well. As have many other classmates I’m sure.

 

I’ll also get to see my book displayed at the school bookstore along with those of other alumni authors. It feels very surreal to me. But I worked so hard with my awesome publishers and editor to get the book finished in time for this weekend. I never would have thought 25 years ago I’d return to college having written a book. I never would have thought 25 years ago that I’d be dealing with alcoholism. And I never would have thought just 4 short years ago, in the throes of a wretched disease, that I’d be walking onto my college campus again, with my head held high, a happy, proud, recovering alcoholic. Or with my long-lost roommate, back together again for new adventures and memories.

 

“An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend – or a meaningful day.” ~ Dalai Lama

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