Category Archives: Addiction

“Earth Day” Still Exists!

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” –Ray Bradbury

Happy Earth, day, Darling. We love you very, very, very, very, very, very, VERY much.

An MSN poll this morning asked me how I would rate the state of the environment today versus ten years ago. I expected my choices would be some kind of range between “catastrophic” and “meh.” I guess I expected too much from MSN. The choices offered to me this Earth Day on the state of the environment were these four: “better,” “worse,” “about the same,” and “I don’t know.” 46% of respondents think things have gotten worse, which means the other 64% of them are delusional. Perhaps they watch real news instead of that “fake” stuff. 24 fucking percent of these morons think the earth is doing better. REALLY? Out of this 64% roasted nut mix, I have the most (not saying “a lot,” just “the most”) respect for the 3% who admit that they just don’t know. Thank you. Thank you for your honesty. You, my 3%, have just admitted that you don’t make any great efforts to stay informed about the environment or the state of the world, that you probably click out of your MSN home page if the content gets too heavy, and that you’re not afraid to admit that. I’ll take an “I don’t know.” It’s the only genuine choice among those pitiful three.

I say this with no sarcasm intended: Shit like this is the reason why I became a drinker. Morons aren’t new to this earth. The Internet didn’t invent them. I thought so many people around me were tedious and annoying when I was thirteen, long before smart phone distractions like Twitter and Snapchat. I say “thirteen” because it was around that time I started swiping beers and replacing liquor with water. I think my first drunks were like revelations to me—people could be funny, I could make light of things, s’all good! I never drank to make a story (yes, I’m still hung up on the Jamison memoir). Life itself was an absurd, dark comedy.

While we’re on the subject of environmental devastation, Husband and I watched Downsizing the other night. I’ll watch anything with Jason Sudeikis and Kristen Wiig. Plus, as a kid I used to fantasize about what it would be like to be a tiny person as tall as a blade of grass. The movie turned out to be much more than a comedy about people voluntarily shrinking themselves to get more for their money. It made a pretty obvious statement, in fact, about what people choose to do with technological and scientific breakthroughs that have the power to make lives better or worse. There’s a dark side to every invention. On the one hand, you have the visionaries, those with the foresight to think globally and imagine the very best outcomes of their labor. On the other hand, you have the hustlers who seize on the rich, but short-term gains offered by the technology. Anyone with the ability to think critically can weigh the pros and cons of both hands. Our future kinda depends on critical thinkers to maintain a balance between the two.

I think today’s Earth Day MSN poll provides some evidence that the scale is off-balance. Nevertheless, I’m gonna enjoy this Earth Day—the sunshine, the smell of freshly-mowed grass, and my relative privilege in the world.

The Absence

I started reading Leslie Jamison’s The Recovery and got to page 18 and put it down. All I know about the author so far is that she had attended a graduate writing program in Iowa, that she had felt she needed to make stories to tell and so she used drinking as her vehicle, and that she had rehearsed her first confession at an AA meeting. Within those 18 pages, she included other bits about adolescent insecurity turned adult insecurity and the usual stuff that alcoholics and probably everybody else has experienced in the middle class world. I could keep reading with an open mind. Maybe tomorrow, though, not tonight. At the moment, I just don’t care about this particular woman’s recovery story or about what she has unearthed on the subject through research. Alcoholism, as a topic of research or conversation or reflection, as a personal struggle and a source of embarrassment, is beginning to bore me. Tonight, I am as bored with myself as I am by other alcoholics.

My addiction counselor asked me to journal about my habits. The purpose of the exercise was to determine what triggers a binge. Since I already know my triggers, a week of journals went like this:

April 4

Drank beer. It was a nice day.

April 5

Extra beer lying around. Drank that.

April 6

Another nice day. Drank more beer to celebrate our tax return.

April 7

Drank wine.

April 8

Brunch with J and Bloody Marys.

April 9

Met a new shrink. She prescribed Naltrexone. H went on a work trip. Drank the leftover beer. Bought more. Drank that. Bought 2 bottles of wine. Drank half of one.

April 10

Came home from work by 1:30. H still gone. Finished off the wine. Passed out. Woke up at 7:22 and thought it was morning. Made coffee, fed the dogs and went to my 8:00 am appointment with Dr. M. Didn’t realize until I got there and knocked on the door and waited around that it wasn’t morning. A new low.

Triggers? Well, where do we begin. This rhorshock splash of a journaling attempt ended two days later when I used the book to plan out a speech for my mother’s official memorial. The next morning, when the pastor asked me if I had brought a book for attendees to sign, I tore out those first few pages of scribbles and opened the diary to the first unripped page and set it on the podium. Got 44 signatures, but there were at least double that in attendance.

So, yeah, it was my mom’s memorial this weekend, six months after her death. I ended up ad libbing that speech since I couldn’t find a quiet corner of the hotel to write it out the night before. I would go to our room, and I’d find a bunch of kids in there. I’d go outside to smoke, and people would join me. I’d go into the lobby, and the front desk attendant would be watching news about the Syria bombing. So I inferred that my mom didn’t want me to go up there and read off of a piece of paper, so I didn’t. My speech began where the pastor left off.

I’ve written eulogies before. I wrote one for my grandmother, even started it before she died. I wrote one for my uncle who died shortly before my mother did. Somewhere in my files is an unfinished benediction for my father. But I couldn’t write one for Mom. I had a whole week before her service to do not much more than think about what to say when I got there, and the inarticulate scribblings above pretty much sum up how I spent that time. I thought about her a lot, but those thoughts usually ended in drunken blubbering and a long nap on the couch in my clothes with all the lights still on.

I still contend that Mom wanted my speech to be spontaneous. How do you say in five to ten minutes who and what your mother meant to you, and to everybody else? How do you defend and honor the direction of her whole life? You really can’t. The young pastor had it easy because he was new to the church when Mom got sick, and he only had one poignant memory of her. I had a lifetime. But I managed. It came to me.

Then my brother, my shy, soft-spoken brother, decided to say something. And he took a different approach. He didn’t try to sum her up or tell people something that perhaps they didn’t know. He just talked about little things that are no longer there, like dinner at 5:00. My mother’s day revolved around dinner time, and my father put it out there for her. If you showed up at their house any time between 4 and 6, you’d see the table set, smell food cooking. All the lights would be on. Dad would be busy in the kitchen, and Mom would be warm in a chair stalking people on Facebook or watching HGTV or All My Children. Since then, Dad has stopped thinking about dinner. I had to throw something together for him on Sunday when I realized that it was 6:30, and the kitchen was dark. That kind of absence is a real kick in the ass. It’s even worse than the little objects lying around in memoriam, like a beat-up pair of slides she used for gardening still sitting on the back porch or the little glass and ceramic things she collected, arranged meticulously in a display cabinet. It’s less a reminder as it is a void. A big question. What goes here now?

Babies and Grief

OK, my cousin is temporarily staying at her sister’s house where she can play with a baby, and where her puppy can interact with another dog, and where she can be around other people and their normalcy for a time. I’m satisfied that she’s taken care of, at least for a week.

Babies are living antidepressants. The day my Mom died, a ragtag group of people descended on the house. There was my brother, of course, and my aunt and my nieces and my nephew and his wife. And there was the guy who owns the auto body shop down the road, the one who has been friends with the family since he and my brother took auto shop together in high school in the seventies. He’s plowed my parents’ driveway in winter, fixed their cars whenever they hit a deer or a traffic cone on the highway. Sold my oldest brother more refurbished auction cars than I can count on my hands. He’s always been there. And so there he was, at our house on the day my mom died, with his wife and his daughter and his little baby granddaughter.

This guy. This guy is one of those people who doesn’t have the words. He’s kind. He’s affable. He’s witty. But he doesn’t do speeches or drama or serious. A week before my mother died, when I first got to town, I stopped over at his shop to say “hi” like I always do. He just stood there and looked at me. No dumb jokes, no silly banter. I would have found it awkward, except that I’ve known this guy, literally, for as long as I can remember. So we just stood there in his shop for awhile, amid the dirt and oil fumes of gutted cars that brings me back to my childhood, hanging around my brothers while they tried to resurrect vintage Chevy products in our driveway. And then I left. This guy only has one channel—friendly and light. If he can’t be tuned to that channel, he just slips into quiet. And I am grateful for that.

I told my cousin this story. Because sometimes there are no words for tragedy and grief. I’ve told my cousin she’s young, and because she’s young, I’d like to see her feel better, eventually. But I never assured her that it would get better. I never told her to get back out there and start over, or to start dating again. That’s absurd. In the face of grief, you have to choose your words carefully, or just don’t say anything at all, like my brother’s loyal friend, the guy with the auto shop down the road, and the cute grandbaby that he brought to my parents’ house on the day my mother died.

There we were, a distraught family that was feeling some weird kind of relief and release because the suffering was over, at least for Mom.  And then there was this baby, a little thing in a tutu and a bow with big brown eyes, a child who was just beginning to comprehend the world around her. She didn’t know any of the yucky stuff—sadness, grief—she just responded to sounds and lights and color and smiles. Her granddaddy made goofy faces, and she smiled and laughed and shrieked, and he imitated her shrieks. And I enjoyed this baby, and I got FUCKED UP.

Later, after everyone left, my dad said, “I never understood how people could laugh and have fun in the face of tragedy. Now I think I get it. It’s a release.” It’s catharsis. It is. It’s like taking a long hike in the woods. It’s like hanging out with a baby. It’s like being with people who want or need nothing from you. They’re just there, like they’ve always been, with nothing new or profound to say.

My poor cousin. My cousin who gave up everything—her community, her friends, and even her family—to follow this dreamer (or maybe con artist) into the wilderness. She needs something. She needs the guy who owns the auto body shop down the road. She needs community, and she needs a baby. I hope this week she gets it.

 

 

Gen Xers–Are We Sages?

My hiking buddy and I spent the early afternoon scrambling along and up and over miles of natural rock formations, pausing along the way to take in some of the most gorgeous views that our part of the U.S.A. can offer. She and I make a great hiking duo. We choose a different trail every time we go out, so we always encounter a surprise or two. The fact that we needed to use our upper bodies to traverse this trail that my app labeled “moderate” was today’s surprise, a moderate surprise as compared to some of the other situations we’ve gotten ourselves into. In the end, though, we always laugh. We laugh at ourselves and whatever behavior the hike inspires in us. And we laugh just to laugh, I think. I love days like today.

I talked to my cousin last night. She’s a mess—walking around in a daze, wearing her dead husband’s clothes and shoes, sleeping with her arms wrapped around his urn. Grief has taken hold of her and isn’t letting go any time soon, especially since she drinks all day. If she were working, which she isn’t due to a ruptured disc or something, I think she’d be a bit more in touch with her surroundings. She might have a chance to break out of the depression spell. As it is, she spends all day, every day, alone with a confused puppy that her husband bought her shortly before he left this earth, and drinking.

What can I do? I’m forty-six. I am also plagued with grief and troubles, but of a different breed. I recently reviewed a series of journal entries from 2012 in which I discuss my struggles with drinking, my worries over my cousin, and my fear that I might lose my father. Six years ago, I was where I am now, except for one difference—I was preparing to lose a parent. Fast forward to now. I’ve lost the parent, just not the parent I expected to lose first. While I circle the wheel of same-old-shit-different year, the unexpecteds sometimes throw me off my course, wake me up. I need that. Who woulda thought Mom would go first? I didn’t, but I was prepared for something big. Ultimately, I was prepared for death. My cousin wasn’t.

My hiking buddy told me that this same-old-shit-different-year scenario that I am stuck in is a result of unwillingness to compromise.

“We wanna be able to drink when we want to drink and eat what we want to eat,” she said, “yet we also want to be svelt and fit.” It just doesn’t add up. We gotta compromise. Then she joked about how we can’t say the word “svelt” without feeling like a Jewish mom: “Oh, she’s so svelt!” And we laughed like we do.

That’s what my cousin doesn’t have anymore—the laughter. She gave her whole self, her whole identity, over to that husband. He, in so many words, told her where to live, who to hang out with, how to behave, and what was funny.

“You got Netflix?” I asked her. “Watch GLOW—great eighties soundtrack. Marc Maron is hysterical. It’s a fun distraction.”

You know what she told me?

“I don’t watch anything anymore that would make us laugh.” US. Us. What does a woman do when there is no more “us”? Is it wrong to think ahead? To sit down with our spouses and hash out life insurance and wills?  Six years ago, I was thinking ahead. I was forty, and my parents were in their seventies, and my husband and I hashed out our wills, and we discussed life insurance, and we discussed moving to a place where my mom could live with us… if the situation required it. Six years ago, I was struggling with my weight and with alcohol, but I was also preparing for this shitstorm that is life after forty. My cousin. She’s gotta get there.

I just don’t know what to say anymore. I wish I had sage answers to life’s questions. Maybe I do, but no one’s asking.

Takes a lot for this to be OVER

Diet Diary 2018 3:

I weighed in this morning. I am bigger than ever. How DOES one who spent her whole life a size six get that big? I know. Booze.

I have a new rule: I am no longer allowed to go to the store. I am adding this rule to the no-cooking-wines-in-the-house rule. Slowly, I will weed out the demons.

I love the store. Going shopping at the grocery store is actually a pastime for me and my father and, once, for my uncle. Our grocery shopping trips, over the years, have become a conversation topic and a place to bond. Our phone calls always end with an assessment of the recipes that we intend to make, maybe some suggestions, and a “let me know how it turns out.” In my geographical region, however, I can’t grocery shop anymore.

My state allows beer and wine sales in any grocery or convenience or drug store or gas station, so—basically—I can’t buy my prescriptions or stop for gas or go grocery shopping without being confronted with aisles and end displays of wines and craft beers.

I love to cook, and I go to the store with pure intentions, but I always end up straying into the booze aisles and sliding my fingers along the bottles, studying the labels, noting alcohol content or vintage or state or country of origin. I spend more time lingering around there than I do in the produce aisle. Booze is so… interesting. Yup. So it is. And that’s why I am going to hand over my shopping lists to my husband. He doesn’t know this yet.

My husband only shops for school lunches, and he doesn’t cook at all. He’s the guy who will bring home flat leaf parsley instead of cilantro when I send him on a mission. Putting him in charge of grocery runs will save us money. He won’t linger. He’ll bring home what he thinks I want, and I’ll cook it, whatever it is. That’s the way it’s gotta be for awhile.

As the first week of January bleeds into the second, I am taking note of every trigger that will keep me here, at my heaviest weight EVER. I need to eliminate those triggers because without them I can eat right. If dieting didn’t mean kicking one of the hardest substances to kick, and if dieting weren’t linked to addiction, I’d have had this down years ago. I’ve read so many health magazines and experimented with so many fitness apps over the years that I can plan and prepare any type of diet without consulting resources or experts—you want high fat, low carb? Got it. Vegan? Sure, I can do that. Paleo? It’s a pain-in-the-ass, but I know what you need to survive. Vegetarian, Vegan, Keto, Paleo, and even poor old dead Atkins—I got it. I know how many Weight Watchers points are assigned to an orange and how many calories and carbs are in a lowfat cheese stick. And I like knowing that stuff.

But it doesn’t help me to spend the whole day monitoring my sugar and sodium consumption just to knock off the remnants of the cooking Marsala after glazing the pork. I can’t pay a fortune to go to some cognitive behavioral rehab resort. I have to make my own limits and establish my own reasoning. This is not over. I am not screwed. And I will not be a size twelve forever.

The Bad Choices Flow Chart

My cousin is not handling the sudden death of her husband very well. I should have known. My initial feelings of pity for her, yet quiet relief that the man who controlled her, alienated her from her friends and family, and psychologically abused her, didn’t last too long.

I had always secretly hoped she could free herself from his clutches and go back to being the woman I used to know. That woman wasn’t perfect, and she had a few screws loose, but she could take care of herself. She was a good hustler, once upon a time, and I envied that. My little cousin was the stereotype of the girl who rose from ruin—kicked out of her house at age seventeen, she scraped by on waitressing wages until she taught herself a trade. Then she took it to the next level by doing what Sheryl Sandberg says more women should do in their fields—she applied for a job that was beyond her skill level, and she won it with her confidence, and she figured it out from there. And the rest could have been happy history, except for a glitch that I didn’t clearly recognize as one until it leveled her—alcohol.

Now, before jumping to the conclusion that I think alcohol is a problem in itself, and not a symptom of a deeper issue, I will add a caveat that alcohol was her way of managing whatever it was we couldn’t see. Maybe all of us on the outside couldn’t hear the voices in her head, but we could certainly see with our own eyes what her self-medicating did for her, the flowchart of bad choices. It’s easy to blame the alcohol for that, and for sake of brevity, I will do it.

But back to my original point: my initial reaction to her beloved’s death, a sense of relief that his absence might provide her with an opportunity, faded quickly into fear and helplessness. I haven’t hung out with her in nine years. I haven’t seen her in three or four. I have been absent in her life, at first involuntarily, then it just became the norm, and I made myself stop caring. Right now, I have no power over her reaction to losing the love of her life; and even if I did, I’d be walking on eggshells in my effort to help her regroup. She’s on her own once again, but can she hustle her way back from whence she strayed? I don’t know. All I can do is send weak texts, letting her know I’m around if she needs me. She won’t. I must simply have faith that her mom will help her out of this, go and visit her, keep her from using of those many, many firearms she’s got stashed around her apartment. Damn. Guns, grief, alcohol, and loneliness. Can there be a stronger concoction for disaster?

I want to get in the car and go to her. She’s only a couple of hours away. But my husband and my father fear for my own safety.

“Don’t get sucked into drinking,” said my dad.

“The two of you drinking in a house full of guns… that’s just what we need,” said my husband.

They both have legitimate worries, but I have legitimate worries, too. One of my aunts likes to say that when you love someone, you love them regardless of their behavior, or whether or not they love you. You just love. And that’s true. I know she wouldn’t listen to me—she never did—but maybe she’d just let me sit next to her on the couch. Maybe I wouldn’t be tempted into a few whiskey toasts or some other last hurrah that won’t end well.   But probably I would.

I’m gonna let my brain override my heart on this one and stay the fuck home.

 

Peace through poetry?

It’s a new year. I spent a quiet Christmas Eve with my dad, endured nightmares in the haunted guest room. On Christmas night, I visited my brother and his family—my sister-in-law, their three kids, my nephew’s wife, and my niece’s boyfriend. I woke up many hours later still drunk with a bruised knee on the futon in my niece’s room, my last memory of the evening before was looking up into the crying face of my nephew’s wife. I don’t know why I was looking up. I don’t know why she was crying. I don’t know what kind of advice I gave her and if she remembered it. Probably not. I hear I fought with one of my nephews. Asked him what about the next morning as I teetered on my own two feet in the kitchen, my shaky hands cupping my coffee mug.

“I don’t know,” was all he replied. No one knows, cept for maybe my sister-in-law, the one person in the room who looked really pissed that morning. My dad was pissed, too. He’s a weaker man this season—weak, sad, and confused. He didn’t even know how much I drank right in front of his nose the day Mom died, never noticed that my coffee mug was full of red wine. He never knew I replaced his Jim Beam twice, once getting a speeding ticket while rushing home to shove it in the cabinet before he returned from a doctor’s appointment. So when he noticed I wasn’t in the house on the morning of December 26, he called the cops.

“Sir, was she drinking?” asked the 911 respondent.

“She doesn’t drink,” he said, right before I sent him my text message that I been done-in by whiskey. It certainly wasn’t the first time, but this time it was public. He was so shocked.

“And a HAPPY New Year!” my mother and her friend used to sing over and over, especially after they’d been drinking, on every New Year’s Eve that I can remember while growing up. My parents have spent every New Year’s Eve for forty years with the same couple. I and their daughters enjoyed the freedom of doing whatever we wanted—playing with candle wax, sampling the sweet liquors, snatching food, and playing Atari games into the wee hours—while our parents got drunker and drunker. This friend died in May, Mom in October, so Dad and the remaining widower spent New Year’s Eve together last night, just the two of them going through the motions—shopping for snacks in the morning, eating out, retiring to one house or the other to watch a video. It was the saddest evening I could have imagined for my father, but he wanted to do it. And he even told me today that they had a good time, he and his friend of forty years, eating out and watching a movie by themselves and mumbling from time-to-time “and a HAPPY New Year.”

This is how 2017 ended for my father is his long-time friend. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

A friend sent me a poem today, and I realized, as I read it, that poetry is the thing I need to keep going. I haven’t sought refuge in poetry since I was in my twenties. There’s something about it, about how it explains the inexplicable. Although the theme didn’t capture my sadness entirely, this poem fed my soul today:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48597/burning-the-old-year

I think tomorrow, or later, I will try to write one. It’s been decades since I wrote a poem, but during these days of loss and sadness, I think it’s the only way to find peace.

Love now; look forward; live with grief

I canceled today’s visit with my shrink because I didn’t want to pay him. He kindly offered to meet with me now and bill me later, but that would have defeated my intent to not spend money at all. I rescheduled our appointment for next month. In the meantime, our new insurance will kick in, and I’ll go and find a psychiatrist who can prescribe my meds at a fraction of the price. He’s a great guy, my psychiatrist—old-school shrink and counselor all rolled into one. Four years ago, the old man put me on the right path. Now, I’ve outgrown him.

I outgrew many things this autumn. Amidst the grief and the sadness, opportunities have presented themselves. It just took me some time to read the signs.

My husband and I take “signs” quite seriously. The week after I met him, I sent him a goodbye email on a Saturday morning, only to run into him later downtown on his way to a free concert. Ten or eleven blissful hours after that, I warned him not to read his email. We’ve been together ever since, thankful that, at that time, he didn’t have an internet connection at his place, and I didn’t go out of town that day like I had planned. What would our lives be like now if he had read that email, if I had left town? I shudder at the thought. These are the signs we reflect upon when life doesn’t work out as planned.

Over the years, more signs came our way, inspiring bold decisions. Big changes in our lives came in clusters. 2011 was a pivotal year. During that year, we moved to a new city, thus solidifying fifty-percent custody of his young children who had moved there with their mother three years prior. I became certified to teach ESL, opening up a new path of career possibilities for me in this new city. And I got my Master’s degree in Nonfiction Writing, something I didn’t necessarily need in my field (most teachers went for the subsidized M.Ed.s), but something that I wanted, and something that allowed me to teach at the college level. It was a big year, marking a complete shift in my lifestyle and my thinking—I became a parent, for real, not just on Wednesdays and every other weekend; I set myself up to leave public school teaching for good (big sigh); and I made peace with the suburbs and a quieter life.

Just as everything changed after 2011, this year looks like it’s gonna be another big one.

In the fall, four things happened: my mother was diagnosed with and quickly died from pancreatic cancer; my husband started a new job; we bought another house; and I was offered a full-time position at my college.

My husband’s last job was going south quickly. He was unhappy, and he took a risk with another company doing work outside of his comfort zone. Because he knew that the first six months of this job, at least, would require tons of travel and training and meetings, he told me he was thankful that I had a light and flexible schedule at the community college where I teach ESL. He would need me to be around more often to help him get the kids to one of their many lessons, practices, games, or activities. I was secretly happy to put off looking for a full-time teaching job to help out at home.

When I taught full-time, I did it because I needed to. I didn’t want to arrive at work at before the sun rose and stay until it went down again. Even when I could get out of there on the earlier side, I paid the price by taking the work with me. While a full-time community college position would not demand as many physical hours of my time as a public high school, I’d been part-time too long to appreciate the difference. Some people, when they’re underemployed, don’t feel busy enough or whole enough, or (I don’t know, I’ve never felt that way)… something… when they’re not immersed in their career. I’m not one of those people.

Then there’s the house. We didn’t buy it to move into it. We bought it to be an investment property. For nine years, I have been stalking real estate as a hobby, watching prices rise, noting flips and changing values. I tried to get my husband on board with the real estate thing after we moved, when the prices in our expensive suburb were comparatively low, but he thought real estate was a fool’s game. Suddenly, over the summer, he became obsessed with real estate investment (Note on his personality: He has two extremes—all in or all out and nothing in between.). I won’t go into detail on how that happened, I’ll just say that now, he relies on my time and my interest to legitimately pursue this risky venture.

These days, when I’m not teaching or cleaning, working out or cooking, or writing, I’m learning about licenses and inspections, tweaking leases, new software for landlords, value-estimating spreadsheet calculations, gleaning private money. And I like it. My work with this house, with establishing new social networks of real estate investors, and with researching the business has felt like earning another degree, except this one is hands-on, complete with the debt and the with the potential for financial growth that come with conventional degrees.

Finally, that opportunity I had thought I always wanted came my way—a full-time teaching position at my college. Full-time positions at the college-level, even non-tenure-track positions like this one, are rare these days. And even more rare is one invited into the position. I’ve spent four years at this college demonstrating my worth. My students respect me. My colleagues respect me, and for at least the past two of those four years, they have encouraged me to try for full-time. That is why I got the TESOL degree—it was the one last step to a full-time position in this field. I was finally getting what I had said I wanted for six years. Except I didn’t want it anymore.

For twelve years, I worked long hours and lived for a paycheck. Then I moved here, and I began to explore life outside of constant work. The new path that I have chosen by reading the signs this fall is a riskier one. I’ll be doing all kinds of work from now on—teaching, raising the kids, writing, researching investments. I won’t have a single career to point to when people ask me “what I do,” which I think is a stupid question to begin with. So much more defines us than our careers—the opportunity, for instance, to watch our oldest disappear through neighbors’ yards on his way to the bus stop as the sun rises; or to drop our youngest off at school in the morning because his cello is bigger than he is, and he can’t manage it on the bus. That’s what I signed up for years ago when we moved away from my urban life as I knew it, to this quieter, slower suburban life. No more excitement, no more regular happy hours and foody hotspots with tattooed waitstaff and disturbing art on the walls. And no more road rage, no more anger and prejudice, no more living only for the weekend, and resenting the kids for ruining it. These days, I look forward to our weekends with the kids as much as I look forward to those weekends without them. I just look forward to being here, period.

When I received that full-time job offer and realized that I had the opportunity to turn it down, to pursue anything that made me tick, I felt very, very fortunate. Since then, I’ve gone to bed sober every night and awakened every morning without a headache, feeling optimistic instead of rundown. Because I can be happy.

Yes, I still burst into tears at random when I, say, look at the Christmas gift list that I had started for my mother, or even when people ask me about her. I still can’t keep it together if I really think about her. But grief can’t define life, just affect it. And while it affects my life every day, I believe I can live with that. I wouldn’t want to forget mom, and I wouldn’t want to stop feeling that sense of loss. It’s a tattoo. And while my father would think I was crazy for turning down a full-time job, security, benefits, to be a part-time housewife, part-time teacher, part-time writer, and part-time investor, my mom would toast me with one of her special alcoholic drinks that she only drank on cruises or on New Year’s Eve, a “Dark and Stormy” or something else that’s more sugar than booze. She never had to articulate it. She was always in my corner.

According to Facebook, Life is Bliss

My husband bought me a load of cooking gadgets for my birthday. Basically, he bought me every cooking gadget that I have asked for over the past two years, which is odd. Ordinarily, we don’t do gifts on birthdays, except for small stuff. We usually treat ourselves to a weekend away or sometimes to nothing at all. We’re not big on ceremony. This birthday was quite different, but it wasn’t a milestone. I guess I’m still drawing a pity card.

For my birthday, I got a programmable pressure cooker/crockpot/steamer device. I got a convertible indoor grill/griddle/Panini maker. And I got a raclette, which is just SO seventies. Only problem is I’ll have to socialize with people in order to use it. I’m putting that baby on the shelf in the basement where I put all my party stuff that I stopped using—my fancy stainless steel chafer and my big glass water dispenser. God, I’m sad.

I’ve always been kind of sad. Self-deprecation can be amusing, and psychoanalyzing myself can be fun. But these days, I’m not even the funny-hah-hah kind of sad. I’m the too-fat-to-fit-into-any-of-my-clothes kind of sad. I’m the “thus, I wear my mother’s clothes, which are not my style and consequently creep out my husband because, really, who wants to look at his wife and be reminded of his mother-in-law?” kind of sad. To further this unsexy scenario, I cut off all my hair off last month, and it looked good for a couple of weeks. Now, it looks like a lackluster wing hovering awkwardly over my puffy face.   Yup, I’ve got it going ON!

I believe I might be having my midlife crisis now.   I’ll bet ya that’s what it is—the drinking, the death, the complete lack of interest in social activity, the looking like my mother, the drinking. Yesterday, I accidently friended about twenty random people on Facebook because I thought the “People You May Know” scroll was the “Friend Request” scroll. I felt really popular for those several minutes until I didn’t. In order to see what some of my new friends would see upon accessing my profile (new friends like friends of my mother’s and people from high school whom I may or may not have EVER spoken to) I took a journey through my uploaded pics. Wow. Facebook is the Land of Delusion for people who are too health-conscious to develop an opioid addiction. Let me explain…

In EVERY picture that I have uploaded since 2008, I am either smiling, or traveling, or socializing, or looking hot, or all of the above! According to my Facebook uploads, my life is an endless party. I spend all my time globetrotting and being adored by my husband and stepchildren. I look sexy in all those pics because why would I ever share a picture of a bad day? Even now, I can still eek out a pic of two in which I look good. I have a keen sense of style when I want to, and I can hide the mid-life-crisis fat pretty well.   My life, in pictures uploaded to Facebook, is an absolute dream.

I’m not saying my life isn’t a dream. I have no complaints at all with the existence and lifestyles of others around me. Nobody bugs me. Nobody will. I just have to face this whole “being my own worst enemy” thing that’s going on here. If this is a mid-life crisis, then it can surely end. Soon, perhaps, I’ll have enough energy to get on that slow train to the fifties and beyond, where everybody’s happy because they’re still alive.

The New Forties Means our Parents are the New Sixties… at Least.

I interrupt my grief mantra to resume this blog’s original flavor—the 40s are the new 40s. This blog is about the forties, for better or for worse. Last week introduced my 46th birthday. I am finally the age that I have been calling myself for the last year. For some reason, I never even acknowledged forty-five, that middle of middle-age that you’d think I’d want to cling to for as long I possibly could. Instead, I immediately thought ahead, to the years beyond forty-five. I don’t know why, but I have a hunch—I spent my forty-fifth year preparing for THIS.

What is THIS? This is the forties, the real forties. I woke up on my forty-sixth birthday in the same clothes I’d worn the previous day, and the same jewelry, some of which was my mom’s. Like many black-out nights before that one, I hadn’t brushed my teeth because I hadn’t been in control of when I went to bed. On my forty-sixth birthday morning, I completely missed the kids before they caught the bus for school, and my husband both spoiled me with every cooking gadget I’d ever asked for while also reminding me of how much I am slipping.

“Happy birthday,” he said, and he hugged me. Then he said, “Maybe not today, or this weekend, but maybe we can talk about your drinking.” Happy birthday to me—I am a concern to my family.

I guess I am a concern to myself as well. My experiences and memories are sort of pixilated. Sober days are high-definition days. If I take off a ring to put on some hand lotion, I remember to put the ring back on. On a low-tech day, that ring is anybody’s fortune. I never wore rings until my mother died, so if I lose a ring on a low-definition kind of day, that ring is just gone, as is another piece of my mother’s history.

But I didn’t start this blog to talk about my mother exclusively.   However, I have a lot of friends my age who know this kind of grief. It is, in many ways, a product of the forties. I am certain that my focus on the themes of the “new forties” will eventually stray from loss and grief and return to all the other experiences that make this decade so meaningful. For now, I am a skipping record. And if you know what that is, then you know why the forties are NOT the new thirties!