The Painting and the Piano – A Must Read

The Painting and the Piano, by John Lipscomb and Adrianne Lugo hit very close to home for me. In this book, the authors each tell their own stories of abusive mothers, addiction, recovery, and finally love, in alternating chapters that captured my attention and held it until the end. I think that every addict and alcoholic, recovering or not, will find John and Adrianne’s stories relatable and full of hope. I know that I did.

I love a good memoir — and if it’s about recovery, it’s even better. So I was excited when I was asked if I would read The Painting and the Piano and write about my thoughts about it. The Painting and the PianoIt’s like reading two memoirs that seamlessly come together at the end. Technically, it’s well written and engaging. But enough of that, I read books for the way they make me feel, not the technical junk. And this book made me feel…well, a lot of things.

At times, the stories were disturbing. Adrianne’s detailed the abuse she suffered from her biological, addict mother after being torn from her foster parents, who had raised her. Every strike that she wrote about made me flinch. John’s feelings regarding his alcoholic mother were heartbreaking and sad. While my own mother was neither physically abusive or an alcoholic, our relationship was always contentious and emotionally abusive, so I definitely feel for what they went through. It also caused me to think about what it must’ve been like for my husband, who grew up with an alcoholic mother and a father who covered for her, similar to John’s parents. John’s feeling of helplessness when he says, “I have no control over the adults in my life — especially Mom — or my fate,” really says it all, doesn’t it? Both John and Adrianne grew up feeling like they couldn’t control anything. I get that, for sure.

“My loudest wails and greatest despair is for the young son and daughter who’ve escaped me for all the same reasons I wanted to escape mother.”   ~John

“I can’t believe I’ve become the woman I’ve spent my life hating.”  ~Adrianne

 

Both John and Adrianne became addicts despite the fact that neither of them wanted to be anything like their mothers. The difference between them and their mothers though, is that they sought help. They wanted to live differently than they were, and they did something about it. Sadly, neither of their mothers were able to do the same.

The descriptions of addiction that John and Adrianne share are so true to me. When Adrianne opts to make a trip home to get her pills, while her daughter writhes in pain, instead of going straight to the hospital, I understand what that felt like. Addiction is priority, even over those we love. Adrianne’s guilt and shame triggered memories in me so much that I had to stop and say a prayer of thanksgiving that I no longer have to live that way. John describes alcoholism like this:

“It was slow at first, barely noticeable, but alcoholism is a progressive disease. It’s like a storm gaining strength, spinning faster and faster, its center tightening and accelerating, pulling me deeper into it, away from my life.” 

That’s just how it is! I couldn’t have said it better.

The two separate stories become one when John and Adrianne meet and embark on a friendship that slowly evolves into more. It’s a beautiful story that reminds me of my husband and me. We met in recovery and have built a life together that we never thought we would have.

I won’t give anymore away about The Painting and the Piano, but I will say this: whether you are in recovery or not, you should read this book. It’s heartbreaking but inspiring, and it allows its readers to witness the miracle that recovery from addiction is.

Buy the book here. I really hope you do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Stuff the Birthday Blues

Yesterday my husband and I had a discussion about stuffing emotions, and whether or not there is a difference between stuffing and just telling ourselves that those thoughts and feelings may be real, but it isn’t doing any good to wallow in them. It’s a fine line, I think, and when I am struggling with an uncomfortable emotion, I’m often not sure which one I’m doing. My husband’s thought about it that is that it depends on what your self-talk is saying about it. Are you telling yourself to suck it up, that you can’t think about that? Or are you telling yourself that these feelings are there, but there isn’t anything you can change about it?

The conversation that started this was about the fact that it’s my daughter’s birthday today and I’m sad. If you’re a reader of my blog, you may remember that my daughter and I are estranged; we have been for nearly five years. Holidays and her birthday are hard (I suspect they always will be) because I always wish that we were together. It’s not that I don’t miss her everyday, I do, but special days amplify my longing.

So, yesterday I wasn’t sure if I was stuffing my emotions or not. I told my husband I was feeling sad, but when he pressed for more, I didn’t have anything else to add. It was the same as always — little snippets of happy times that I had with my daughter flashing through my mind, willy nilly. That’s all. And that’s what it always is, so why talk about it? I think there’s a saying about a dead horse that applies here. At least that’s how I usually feel about the situation. Is that stuffing?

Actually, thinking about it today, I think it was. The reason I say that is because later in the evening last night, I gave in to the emotion. I let myself cry, and I said out loud, “I miss her so much.” My husband hugged me and held me for a while. I didn’t have to say anything else, I didn’t have to discuss every memory that was in my head, I just had to actually feel the feeling…let it take hold for a minute. I didn’t have to wallow, but I did have to acknowledge what I was feeling, whether I liked it or not. But then, after I took some ibuprofen and a hot bath, I felt some relief.

Some.

I woke up this morning and the sadness was still there. I haven’t cried today, but I’m not stuffing it…I’m writing this post.

Happy Birthday, Kari. I love you.

19th birthday

The Secret Keepers

I am happy to reblog this for my friend Karen at Mended Musings. As a survivor of rape as a child myself, this definitely hits home for me. Please read and share.

It’s Nature Karen

secrets

I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. I’m going to ask you to share this post. Reblog it, share it on Facebook, tweet it. Someone out there needs to hear this message today. Even if you think you don’t know anyone who has been abused. Even if you don’t read the entire post.

About a month ago I was asked by Dawn at WTF words, thoughts, feelings to contribute an essay for an anthology that she and Joyelle are creating for parents who are survivors of childhood sexual and physical abuse (learn more at https://www.facebook.com/TriggerPointsAnthology).

I submitted my essay but I also want to shine a bigger spotlight on this project because I fear that they may not get many submissions. Not because it’s not a worthy cause or because there aren’t enough people out there to contribute but because survivors of abuse are secret…

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My Life in Six Songs

Hey Everyone,

Head over to Running on Sober to check out Life in 6 Songs.  It’s an awesome series of posts that Christy, Michelle, and Jennie have put together, where they challenged their readers to come up with a playlist of 6 songs that told the story of their life.  It was difficult to narrow my list down to just six songs, but I did it and my playlist is posted today.  Click on the link above, or here to see it.

~Jami

 

 

 

A Mother’s Love…and Loss

I wrote this post last year. Today, on Mother’s Day, I wanted to repost it as a cautionary tale to those mothers out there that are struggling with alcoholism or addiction. I know that addicts aren’t usually successful at remaining clean and sober when they are trying to do it for someone else (otherwise I would’ve gotten sober long before 17 months ago), but sometimes remembering the negative consequences that are looming, just waiting for that first drink, can help us not to pick up.
I hope that all of you mothers out there have a blessed and joyous day and that you never take for granted that your children will always be in your life.

Sober Grace

The last few days I have debated with myself whether or not to post about this.  Actually, I’ve been thinking about it since I started this blog.  Since I couldn’t make up my mind, I decided to think about the pros and cons of writing about this subject.  The pros are that it will probably be cathartic for me, that I often get clarity about things when I write, that I might get some support by writing about this, and that I love the feeling of liberation I get when I am honest about myself and my feelings.  The cons are that it will bring up a lot of emotions, that it will be difficult to write, and that I honestly don’t even know if I know enough words to really express how I feel about it (not an ideal feeling for someone who just started blogging).

I think the pros…

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The Show Went On

I posted recently about a presentation I was scheduled to do at the college where I work about Alcohol Awareness Month.  I met with some resistance from my supervisor about including the fact that I am in recovery from alcoholism myself, in the presentation.  You can read the whole story here and here.   Well, last Wednesday, I gave the presentation, and I wanted to give you all an update to the saga.

First of all, my talk hit the three main objectives of the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence’s Alcohol Awareness Month:  raising awareness, decreasing stigma, and presenting information about treatment.  I have to admit, wrong or right, that while my presentation included all three, it mostly focused on decreasing stigma about alcoholism.  The reason that I did that, of course, was because of how I was treated a couple of weeks ago by my supervisor when she told me that I should keep my recovery hidden.  If I’m honest, part of me wanted to debate the point with my supervisor, because I really thought that she was wrong in what she said to me, and she clearly needed to be schooled in what to think. Yep, I’m still an alcoholic, with alcoholic thinking.  But there was also a part of me that was really hoping that as I talked about the negative stereotypes of alcoholics, asking the students to join me in listing them, that my supervisor would come to her own realization that maybe her perception of alcoholics (especially those in recovery) wasn’t quite accurate.  I stressed the fact that alcoholism does not discriminate, and that most of its victims look just like you and me.  I stated the fact that I am in recovery from alcoholism at the beginning of my talk, and that was the reason that I was presenting on the topic…because it’s something that I know intimately and that I am passionate about.

On assembly day, we do two presentations, one for the morning students and one for the night students.  My first presentation went off without a hitch.  It was great!  I was nervous, as speaking in front of large groups is, most definitely, not my thing.   I spent some time praying before I had to “go on,”  asking God to give me the confidence to make it through the presentation without sounding as nervous as I felt, and to let those that needed to hear it have open ears.  Fortunately, my supervisor had told me the day before that she wouldn’t be there for the morning assembly.  That gave me some peace, because I knew that if I said something she didn’t like in the morning, she could easily pull me from the second assembly.  My campus director spoke first and then introduced me.  As I walked up in front of everyone, I felt calm, confident, and knowledgeable.  The students paid attention, answered questions when I asked them, seemed thoughtful, and laughed when I hoped they would.  When I was finished and turned it back over to my campus director, he said some really nice things about both me and the information that I shared.  IT WAS AWESOME!  I had some amazing responses after the assembly, including one student that immediately followed me into my office to talk.  I had some other discussions later with both staff and students; that made my anxiety all worth it.

The second presentation went fairly well, but not as great as the first.  Night students are a different breed (I knew this going in), in that they are not as attentive, most of them work during the day so they are tired and distracted, and there aren’t as many that know me personally.  I did still get some participation though, and I was happy for that.  I was much more anxious for the second talk for two reasons:  my supervisor would be there, and my campus director, my supporter, would not.  As I started the part of my talk that covered the stigma attached to alcoholism, I did my very best to not make eye contact with my supervisor, even though she was right in the front row and I felt like I was talking directly to her.  I made it through the presentation though, and again I had some really good feedback, and some conversations that proved that there was a need for some to hear what I had to say.

At the end of the day Wednesday, I was glad that it was over and I was pleased with myself that I stuck to my guns and talked about my own recovery.  I would’ve called that a success if the positive responses had ended there.

But then Thursday morning came….

I was working in my office when I saw my boss coming toward my door.  Here it comes, I thought.  She’s going to be angry with me for ignoring her advice (warning? directive? whatever you want to call it) about not revealing my own recovery.  She had a piece of paper in her hand and an envelope.  I immediately thought that it was going to be some kind of disciplinary write-up and that I was in trouble.  She came in and closed the door…bad sign.  I was starting to get my arguments in order mentally, my adrenaline was beginning to flow, and then she said it:  “Jami, I want to thank you for your presentation yesterday.  It was very informative, I learned some things, and you presented it well.  You could easily be an instructor here, you did so well.”  Wait…what?  I was so surprised to hear what she was saying that it took me too long to mumble a thank you.  She stood up, came around to my side of the desk and hugged me and gave me a Starbucks gift card to thank me.  Holy cow, I was dumbfounded!  This is not the scenario that had been playing in my head for the past week.  I was ready with my defense, but where was the offense I had expected?  It took me a minute to regroup, and to thank her properly.  And then we went on to talk shop about the upcoming start of classes.

My boss’ reaction to the presentation was a real shocker.  A very pleasant surprise.  I think that it was as close to a retraction of her previous statements as I am going to get, and I am over the moon about it!  I don’t know what her motivation for thanking me was; maybe she was told by our campus director to do it, or maybe she was just doing what she thought was the right thing to do.  But maybe, and this is what I am choosing to believe, she listened to what I had to say, kept an open mind and had a change of heart.  I really hope that’s the case.

500 days and counting….

I don’t really count sober days anymore, but today marks a milestone for me. 500 days sober! Woo Hoo! As I told one of my friends today, it’s a f*cking miracle!!

When I was actively drinking, I gave up or lost a lot of things.  Now that I have been sober for 500 days, I thought it would be good to think about the things I have lost or given up in sobriety.  Here’s my list:

 

In sobriety I no longer have …

…hangovers

…empty bottles hidden around my house that I have to worry about someone accidentally finding

…to try to piece together the events of the night before

…to check to see if my car is where it is supposed to be first thing in the morning

…to check to see if said car is all in one piece, with no body parts hanging off the front bumper

…mystery bruises

…to try to remember lies that I have told, and to keep “my story” straight

…half-cooked meals on my stove that I got too drunk to finish cooking

…panic attacks the morning after bingeing on booze

…to feel embarrassed about how I acted the night before

…to get into alcohol-induced, physical fights

…lost earrings, contact lenses and shoes from being too drunk to keep track of them

…fear, anger and anxiety about my drunken behavior

…shame and self-loathing because I’m an alcoholic

…unrealistic expectations of myself and others

…fair-weather friends

…to create more wreckage

…to worry about huhrting people with my bad behavior

…to put on masks and try to keep up appearances

…to be unhappy

…to give empty apologies

…to worry about killing myself or someone else while driving drunk

…to feel alone

…to want to die

 

This is not a complete list, by any means, I could go on, but this is a good start.  I know that we gain so much in sobriety, but I think that the things that we get rid of are every bit as important.   I am so happy and proud to be free of all of those things on my 500th day.  I hope and pray for another 500, and 500 after that, and 500 after that…  I will keep going one day at a time.

 

 

 

Too smart, too young, and too pretty to be an alcoholic

Ok, my fellow bloggers, I am looking for your insight and advice about something that happened today.

April is Alcohol Awareness Month and I have been asked to speak about alcoholism at our school assembly later this month.  This will be my second year doing it.  The reason that I have been asked to do the presentation is because I am open about the fact that I am an alcoholic in recovery.  I had a very positive response to the talk that I gave last year.  Some students (and coworkers) felt comfortable enough afterward to come to my office and share how alcoholism affects their lives, to ask for help for a family member, or to talk about a problem that they were experiencing themselves.  I was able to recommend solutions in some cases, but mostly I was just someone to listen who they knew could relate.  I felt truly blessed to be able to offer my experience, strength, and hope to people that never would have approached me had they not known that I was an alcoholic.  It genuinely felt like I was doing 12th step work, and I loved it.

Cut to today.  My supervisor came to me to talk about my presentation (she is not the one that asked me to do it).  She is older, foreign born, and at times, kind of scary.  I have always managed to stay on her good side because I am a capable, reliable, and hard-working employee.  This morning she sat at my desk and after talking about work for a few minutes, proceeded to tell me that when I do my presentation she doesn’t want me to say that I am in recovery.  I said ok.  I think that if I say that I am in recovery, more people will listen and believe what I am telling them.  It gives me credibilty.  Otherwise, who cares if the registrar is blathering on about alcohol-related statistics.  Besides, my presentation in no way includes any part of my drunk-a-log, I don’t talk about any of my drunken behavior or negative consequences. But whatever, I agreed.  Then my supervisor went on to say that my alcoholism is something to be hidden.  Her exact words were, “Jami, you are too smart, too young, and too pretty to be an alcoholic.  This is something you need to hide.”  WTF???  That’s when I respectfully (it wasn’t easy) disagreed with her.  I told her that I didn’t think that alcoholism was something to hide and that it doesn’t discriminate;  it is not only hobos hopping trains that are alcoholics.  I went on to say that there are many alcoholics that are of above average intelligence, and that being smart in no way prevents a person from becoming an alcoholic.  We had a short, amiable discussion in which she stood her ground about alcoholism being shameful and deserving of being kept secret, and I stood my ground about the fact that people need more information and they need to see that there is hope in recovery.  I guess, without saying it, we have agreed to disagree.

Now I’m really put off though.  As I think about it more, I become more offended.  Her comments about hiding my disease were hurtful to me, making me feel like I should be ashamed of who I am.  That’s not cool.

So, what should I do?  In my mind (my alcoholic mind), I have three choices:  1) I can say “fuck it, find someone else to do the presentation”,  2) I can fail to bring the presentation up again and just say what I want when the time comes (I’m sure there would be consequences), or 3) I can do the presentation the way she wants me to and feel like I have given in.  I understand that right now I’m angry and hurt, and that my thinking is not completely rational.  That’s why I am looking for some advice.  What do you guys think?

 

 

 

 

Close your eyes at your own risk

It looks like my last post didn’t show up on the Reader…?? So here it is.

Sober Grace

Dreams2

I rarely have nightmares, but I have had anxiety dreams for as long as I can remember.  When I was younger, I would often dream about going somewhere, usually school, and realizing that I had no clothes on.  There is nothing more terrifying to a kid.  I would wake up in a panic and it would take a while to calm down and go back to sleep.  As I got older, the themes of my anxiety dreams changed to one of two things, either some version of my teeth falling out, or some version of being unprepared for school.  I never had the same dream twice, but the themes were the same.  In the teeth dreams, sometimes I would be eating something and it would loosen some of my teeth and they would just fall out into my hands, or I would have brand new braces (I never had braces…

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Please let me off this ride

Spinning-Tree-Dizzy-e1382983438949

Last Thursday I was sitting and having lunch in the breakroom at work.  I was talking to a friend, when I started to feel funny.  I was just finishing a piece of pizza when I began to think that I might faint.  I have fainted before, every time I have to give blood, so I know what that feels like.  But, unlike the times when I have fainted, the darkness around the edges of my vision never came.  The dizziness and unease just stayed.  I felt like a car that was out of alignment, pulling hard to one side.  I didn’t say anything until we got up to head back to work, then I told my friend that I was feeling weird and that if I passed out to please try to keep my head from hitting the ground.  She wasn’t really comfortable with that, so we stopped in a classroom for me to sit on the way.  Luckily, I work at a school that teaches various medical programs.  So one of the instructors came to check my blood pressure (it was fine) and give me the once over.  I could see the concern in her eyes, but after a few minutes I felt better and I went back to work.

As I sat at my desk, I was afraid that there was something really wrong with me, like I was having a stroke or that I had a brain tumor that had been quietly growing and  was just now starting to cause problems.  I can always count on my alcoholic thinking to come up with the worst scenarios!  My coworkers kept a close eye on me throughout the afternoon, and I tried my best to put on a brave face, and to act like everything was ok, that whatever had come over me was some sort of fluke and that it wouldn’t happen again.  I even made jokes about it, trying to minimize the catastrophizing that was going on in my mind.  I was really worried though.

I made it through the afternoon, only having a couple of minor “episodes” of the dizziness.  Each time, I would feel a pulling to my right side and I would feel like I couldn’t sit or stand up straight.  It felt like the room was moving and that I wasn’t ale to keep up with it.  Fortunately, I was sitting down when it happened.  I thought that I would make it through the rest of my work day, it was almost 5:00, when the mother of all dizzy spells hit me.  I panicked.  I didn’t want to yell across the administration area for someone to come help me, so I started trying to dial the extensions of various coworkers, all while I felt like I was going to fall out of my chair.  I couldn’t concentrate on the buttons on the phone with my vision, because I was seeing double, I had to go by feel.  Finally, after several attempts, I got someone and she came running.  It wasn’t long until I had just about every medical program director surrounding me in my office.  I was too dizzy and disoriented to be embarrassed over all of the attention (that would come later, as I was pushed out of the school in a wheelchair), I was absolutely terrified.  They took me into one of the labs that students use to practice their patient technician skills and gathered around me.  Now I really saw looks of concern.  Again, my blood pressure was fine.  They checked my blood sugar, it was fine too.  I was near tears, wondering what the hell was wrong with me when my husband got there.  It was decided that I better go to the emergency room.

My friend that I had been having lunch with earlier and my husband went with me to the hospital.  After waiting for about 3 hours, I was finally taken for a blood test and put in a room, where they started me on an IV.  They did an EKG, and it was fine.  And then they took me for a CT scan, and it was fine.  I was starting to feel a little better, it looked like I hadn’t had a stroke and that there wasn’t a brain tumor.  The doctor came to see me and did some examining, testing my motor skills and such, asking me to stand, balance on one foot, etc. with my eyes closed.  After a bit, he determined that I was experiencing vertigo.

VERTIGO!!!  Wtf?  I thought vertigo was something that little old ladies had from time to time.  Something that made them a little off balance, but that wasn’t really that bad.  I remember my grandmother saying that she needed to take her “dizzy pills” sometimes when I was a kid, but I never remember her being crazy dizzy like I had just been.  I guess I should be thankful that her dizzy pills worked, because the doctor prescribed the same medication for me.

This week I have to go to a balance clinic, so that they can try to determine the cause of my vertigo, and come up with a plan to treat it.  I am not looking forward to it as I understand that in order to determine the cause, they have to induce the vertigo, and I really don’t want that. But I will put on my big girl panties and go.  I just hope that they can fix it.

The good news in all of this is that I really felt how much everyone at work cares for me.  I was terrified and panicky and worried, and in seconds, I was surrounded by concerned friends.  They took care of me and reassured me that everything was going to be alright, held my hands, tried to get me to laugh, and generally helped me through the chaos of the moment.  I am so blessed to have great friends and for that I am very, very grateful.

I would really appreciate hearing other’s experiences with vertigo.  I am concerned that I will have more episodes, and I am really scared.  I have never felt so out of control of my body (and I’m a drunk, for crying out loud!), and I’m filled with anxiety that I will have to feel that again.  Hearing your experience, strength, and hope about this would be really helpful to me.