Jan 262012
 

I was at a zoo last month taking a boat ride through the “monkey islands.” The monkee islands are teeny pieces of land upon which each separate monkey lives. The islands are strewn throughout a big, beautiful body of water. There are no visible fences or barriers on the islands, but each monkey stays put anyway. I felt uncomfortable during the ride. The monkeys stood on the edges of their little islands and stared at us staring back at them. They seemed so human – and to me they looked lonely and sad. I felt a little ashamed, riding around, staring at them for my own amusement. I got the feeling that the other boat riders were uncomfortable too, because no one was talking. I raised my hand. Craig cringed. The tour director smiled and nodded at me. I said, “Why don’t the monkees just leave their islands? It looks like they could so easily escape.” The guide said, “They could, you’re right. They could easily get to each  other’s islands or escape the entire zoo pretty easily. Their problem is, they don’t know that they can swim. Each stays on her little island because she doesn’t know she can swim.”

One of the most important parts of me is the recovering part. I am a recovering alcoholic, bulimic, druggie, liar, and jerk. The collateral and internal damage of my addictions once led me to sit alone on a couch in the filthy basement of an old boyfriend’s house and thoughtfully consider suicide.

Still. I consider each of those addicted years be a gift. Yes, there was suffering, but addiction was my path, and I needed to walk (crawl) it. I am not ashamed of my demons. They make me who I am, and I like who I am. I’m wild about myself, to tell you the God’s honest truth. And here’s a magical gift that came of that suffering: I am able to remember and write about what it was like to be an addict. I am able to explain why I chose it,  how badly it hurt, and why I couldn’t escape for so long. This is something that people who are currently addicted can’t do. I certainly couldn’t have spoken for myself while I was addicted. Addiction is like being swallowed up by a whale. The addict is still in there – whole, screaming, human, precious and terrified – but all anyone can hear or see is the silent damn whale. It’s a nightmare. For those inside and outside the whale.

So I write about addiction. For all those addicted Monkees, whom I love so very, very much. So they will know that someone understands, and that someone will try to speak for them while they can’t. My Lovies – you are not bad, you are beautiful. You’re just swallowed up, and you need to start believing that you can swim your way out.

I also write for those who love addicts and want them back so badly. I don’t have advice for you. I just have stories. We share what we have and then pray that it helps.

Sisters, Everyday

My decision to get sober was more like a weary surrender than a bold march into battle. After I had allowed my life to fall into a thousand pieces for the thousandth time, Bubba and Tisha planned a loving intervention. Then I found out I was pregnant with Chase and I realized that I was running out of people and options. At the time, the path of least resistance seemed to be sobriety.

It’s not a cry that you hear at night, it’s not somebody who’s seen the light, it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.

I called Sister and told her to do that thing she always does, which is to figure out what the hell I’m supposed to do next, and then make that thing happen. A few hours later she gathered up my broken, cold, shaking self and drove us to our first AA meeting. Afterwards we came home, sat on my bed together and stared at the disaster on my bedroom floor. During my drinking decades, I lived like a pig. My room was nothing but a hazardous pile of stilettos, tube tops, wine bottles, ash trays, and old magazines. I valued nothing. Everything that came into my life was disposable – clothes, opportunities, people. My bedroom looked like my insides had spilled out onto the floor.

After a few minutes of quiet, Sister climbed down from the bed and started picking things up, one piece of trash at a time. She threw away the wine bottles and the cigarettes, she folded the tube tops, she gently tossed the magazines. I watched for awhile, and then joined her. We hung up every piece of clothing, wiped down every surface, poured out every hidden bottle of booze. We worked, silently, side by side, for two hours. Then we sat back down on my bed and held hands. My room looked so different. It looked like a place a girl might want to live again. I wondered if my head and my heart might one day be places I’d like to live again, too. It was the beginning of starting over.

The remarkable thing about that day is that it wasn’t remarkable. What Sister did for me that day is what she does for me every day.

I find life to be quite difficult. Painfully difficult and equally beautiful. Sometimes I wonder if I am missing some sort of protective layer that others seem to have which keeps them from crumbling and crying more. But then I remember that God gave me Sister as my layer of protection. I feel insulated from every painful and beautiful moment, because instead of being consumed, I am usually wondering…how will I explain this to her? What will she say?That’s probably how I became a writer, because most of my life I am simultaneously living and reshaping my experiences into stories for my Sister.

I do this because when I tell her my stories, her response sorts things out for me. Her voice and her face are mirrors to me. They say, everyday… It’s allright, Glennon. It’s allright.

Please, if you can, try not to teach me that it’s not healthy to depend on another human being this completely. I’m well aware. It’s terrifying. It’s why every time she leaves my house I stand at the front door and pray that she’ll make it to her bed safely. Please God, just get her home safely. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying that it is.

We have a lot of songs, Sister and I. This is the one though, that feels to me like it was written for Us.

And it’s for you today, Monkees. Save somebody’s life today. Swim.

Love,

G

Jan 242012
 

The best thing you’ve ever done for me, is to help me take my life less seriously. It’s only life after all.”

-The Indigo Girls


 I often write about the beliefs and disciplines that help me relax and live bravely. Many of these are proactive strategies – things I do before I am upset to remind myself that I am loved and that the world and I are all right. These things are good, and they help me maintain a peaceful heart, to some extent. But the thing is that I live with three children, and I am convinced that they meet early in the morning to plan the most effective way to take me down each day. So, the fact is that my peace is not going to be consistently maintained, no matter how much reading, writing, praying, or yoga I do… because there are very strong willed forces working against me. These forces are led by a little girl who will remain unnamed, but I will tell you that her name rhymes with fish.

Allow me to offer a specific example. Here’s what our evening looked like last night, after Craig and I suggested that everyone had to eat their dinners even though dinner was, admittedly, gross. One nanosecond before this moment, we were discussing daddy’s day at work and our upcoming weekend plans, laughing, and generally feeling like a lovely, well adjusted family. Then – this.

 

 

Now, the problem is that I am not good in these situations. There are mothers – my friends Gena and Casey come to mind – who roll with these scenarios. When their kids tantrum, Gena and Casey’s facial expressions don’t change. Their eyes, weary smiles, and demeanors suggest: “Oh well…kids will be kids,” and then they calmly do whatever needs to be done to diffuse the situation. This is not my first instinct.

My first instinct is to freak out. My first instinct is to remember that yes, this chaos is proof that I have ruined my life and the lives of everyone in my home and that we are a disaster of a family and that no mother, in the entire history of mothers, has ever been forced to endure the drama, decibels and general suffering of this moment. My instinct is to tear my clothes and throw myself on the floor and bawl and cry out worthless declarations like “I can’t TAKE this anymore!” My first instinct is to allow my anxiety and angst to pour out like gasoline on a raging fire and indulge in a full-on mommy meltdown.

This, Craig suggests, is not helpful.

So, after a few years of parenting, it became clear that I needed a strategy to help me regain my peace after I had already lost it. Because I am going to lose it, frequently. It is what it is and I am who I am.

Enter Joan Didion.

Have you read Slouching Towards Bethlehem? Ms. Didion is a VERY serious noticer and writer. No fluff. Every word she chooses is necessary and  precise. She leaves no room for argument or conjecture. As you read, you understand that Ms. Didion knows what she’s talking about and perhaps you should just hush yourself and read on. Also, she trusts her readers to recognize the important parts of her writing without even using italics. Or maybe it’s just that she doesn’t go off on tangents so she doesn’t feel the need to constantly use italics to signify that she is now coming back around to the point. Let that be a lesson to me.

In an essay called “Self-Respect,” Ms. Didion offers the only strategy that has ever consistently helped me regain my mommy peace once I’ve lost it:

 

“It was once suggested to me that as an antidote to crying, I put my head in a paper bag. As it happens, there is a sound physiological reason, something to do with oxygen, for doing exactly that, but the psychological effect alone is incalculable. It is difficult in the extreme to continue fancying oneself Cathy in Wuthering Heights with one’s head in a food fair bag. There is a similar case for all the small disciplines, unimportant in themselves; imagine maintaining any sort of swoon, commiserate or carnal, in a cold shower.”

 

Yes, Ms. Didion, yes. It’s the little things. The little disciplines that help us get through the day and regain peace. It’s not necessarily a different career or parenting philosophy or neighborhood or husband that we need. Sometimes it’s a deep breath, a bath, a glass of water, or a paper bag.

I now store paper bag hats on all three floors in my house. And when everyone starts losing their minds, I put on my bag and breathe and hide. Tada! Instant quiet time, oxygen, and a reminder that things are not necessarily as dramatic and horrible as my kids or jumpy head might suggest.

Here are a couple more pictures taken in phase two of the family tantrum, when we had moved things over to the couch for a change of scenery.

 


I draw smiley faces on my bags because I know that a large portion of my kids’ mommy memories will include these bags, and I’d like them to be smiley memories. Also, I love how the smiley face makes me look content, even though inside I am scowling and hyperventilation and ruing the day I was born. I think the thumbs up gesture really completes the effect. One piece of advice: if you decide to employ this strategy in your home, don’t be tempted to cut out eye holes. I tried it once, and it ruins everything because, well, eye holes mean you can still see the carnage, and the carnage can see your maniacal eyes.

No eye holes.

Just to preempt the question that many of you plan to email me when you finish reading . . . No, I am not joking. I really do this . . . which might have been an excellent alternate name for this blog.

Anyway, bag or not, I’m just saying that it’s helpful to adopt “small disciplines” to remind oneself that life is much too important to be taken seriously.

Carry On, Warriors.

 

Love,

G

Jan 222012
 

 This piece was written with love. Please, if you disagree, make every effort to do so with love.

Along with every other concerned mama, I’ve been watching America’s response to the bullying related suicides closely. People seem quite shocked by the cruelty that’s happening in America’s schools. I’m confused by their shock. I’m also concerned about what’s not being addressed in their proposed solutions.

The acceptable response seems to be that we need to better educate students and teachers about what bullying is and how to react appropriately to it. This plan is positive, certainly. But on its own, it seems a little like bailing frantically without looking for the hole in the boat through which the water is leaking.

Each time one of these stories is reported, the tag line is: “kids can be so cruel.” This is something we tend to say. Kids these days, they can be so cruel. But I think this is just a phrase we toss around to excuse ourselves from facing the truth. Because I don’t think kids are any crueler than adults. I just think kids aren’t quite as adept yet at disguising their cruelty.

Yesterday I heard a radio report that students who are most likely to be bullied are gay kids, overweight kids, and Muslim kids.

Hmmmmm.

I would venture to guess that at this point in American history, gay adults, overweight adults, and Muslim adults feel the most bullied as well.

Children are not cruel. Children are mirrors. They want to be “grown-up.” So they act how grown-ups act when we think they’re not looking. They do not act how we tell them to act at school assemblies. They act how we really act. They believe what we believe. They say what we say. And we have taught them that gay people are not okay. That overweight people are not okay. That Muslim people are not okay. That they are not equal. That they are to be feared. And people hurt the things they fear. We know that. What they are doing in the schools, what we are doing in the media - it’s all the same. The only difference is that children bully in the hallways and the cafeterias while we bully from behind pulpits and legislative benches and one liners on sit-coms.

And people are sensitive. People are heart-breakingly sensitive. If enough people tell someone over and over that he is not okay, he will believe it. And one way or another, he will die.

So how is any of this surprising? It’s quite predictable, actually. It’s trickle-down cruelty.

I don’t know much. But I know that each time I see something heartbreaking on the news, each time I encounter a problem outside, the answer to the problem is inside. The problem is AWAYS me and the solution is ALWAYS me. If I want my world to be less vicious, then I must become more gentle. If I want my children to embrace other children for who they are, to treat other children with the dignity and respect every child of God deserves, then I had better treat other adults the same way. And I better make sure that my children know beyond a shadow of a doubt that in God’s and their father’s and my eyes, they are okay. They are fine. They are loved as they are. Without a single unless. Because the kids who bully are those who are afraid that a secret part of themselves is not okay.

****

Dear Chase,

Whoever you are, whoever you become. You are loved. You are a miracle. You are our dream come true.

Chase, here is what would happen in our home if one day you tell your father and I that you are gay.

Our eyes would open wide.

And we would grab you and hold you tighter than you would be able to bear. And while we were holding you we would say a silent prayer that as little time as possible passed between the moment you knew you were gay and the moment you told us. And that you were never once afraid to tell us. And we would love you and ask you one million questions and then we would love you some more and finally, I would likely rush out to buy some rainbow t-shirts, honey, because you know mama likes to have an appropriate outfit for every occasion.

And I don’t mean, Chase, that we would be tolerant of you and your sexuality. If our goal is to be tolerant of people who are different than we are, Chase, then we really are aiming quite low. Traffic jams are to be tolerated. People are to be celebrated. People, every person, Is Divine. And so there would be celebrating. Celebrating that you would be one step closer to matching your outsides with your insides, to being who you are. And there would be a teeny part of my heart that would leap at the realization that I would forever be the most important woman in your life. And then we would tell everyone. We would not concern ourselves too much with their reactions. There will always be party poopers, baby.

We just wanted you to know this, honey. We’ve worried that since we are Christians, and since we love The Bible so much, that there might come a day when you feel unclear about our feelings about this. Because there are a few parts in The Bible that discuss homosexuality as a sin. So let us be clear about how we feel, because we have spent years of research and prayer and discussion deciding.

Chase, we don’t believe that homosexuality is a sin. Your parents are Christians who believe that the Bible is inspired by God, just like people are. And since the Bible is a living thing, it is in its very nature to evolve toward becoming more loving.  We are to interact with it, to interpret it with our minds and hearts and souls. We are to consider the culture and time in which it was written and then consider the progress humanity’s made since then. We believe that when they conflict, we are to consider the spirit of the law before the letter of the law. And to always choose mercy over judgment. Sometimes this means that we appear to be picking and choosing what we believe  in the Bible. It’s not really that, exactly, but it looks like that. And many will tell you that this approach to Christianity is scandalous and blasphemous. But the thing is, honey, that the only thing that’s scandalous about this approach is admitting it out loud. The truth is that every Christian is a Christian who picks and chooses what to follow in the Bible, in one way or another.

Several years ago I was in a Bible study at church, and there was some talk about homosexuality being sinful, and I spoke up. I quoted Mother Teresa and said “When we judge people we have no time to love them.” And I was immediately reprimanded for my blasphemy by a woman who reminded me of 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10. But I was very confused because this woman was speaking. In church. And she was also wearing a necklace. And I could see her hair, baby. She had no head covering. All of which are things that are sooooo totally against the Bible Rules. * And so I just assumed that she had decided not to follow the parts of the Bible that limited her particular freedoms, but to hold fast to the parts that limited other people’s freedoms. I didn’t point this out at the time baby, because she wasn’t a bad person. People are doing the best they can, mostly. It’s best not to embarrass people.

What I’m trying to say is that each Christian uses different criteria to decide what parts of the Bible to prioritize and demonstrate in their lives. Our criteria is that if it doesn’t bring us closer to seeing humanity as one, as connected, if it turns our judgment outward instead of inward, if it doesn’t help us become better lovers of God and others, if it distracts us from remembering what we are really supposed to be doing down here, which is finding God in every human being, serving each other before ourselves, feeding hungry people, comforting the sick and sad, giving up everything we have for others, laying down our lives for our friends . . . then we just assume we don’t understand it yet, we put it on a shelf, and we move on. Because all I need to know is that I am reborn. And here’s what I believe it means to be reborn:

The first time you’re born, you identify the people in the room as your family. The second time you’re born, you identify the whole world as your family. Christianity is not about joining a particular club, it’s about waking up to the fact that we are all in the same club. Every last one of us. So avoid discussions about who’s in and who’s out at all costs. Everybody’s in, baby. That’s what makes it beautiful. And hard. If working out your faith is not beautiful and hard, find a new one to work out. And if spiritual teachers are encouraging you to fear anyone, watch them closely, honey. Raise your eyebrow and then your hand. Because the phrase repeated most often in that Bible they are quoting is Do Not Be Afraid. So when they tell you that gay people are a threat to marriage, honey, think hard.

I can only speak from my personal experience, but I’ve been married for nine years and barely any gay people have tried to break up my marriage. I say barely any because that Nate Berkus is a little shady. I am defenseless against his cuteness and eye for accessories and so he is always convincing me to buy beautiful trinkets with our grocery money. This drives your sweet father a bit nuts. So you might want to keep your eye on Berkus. But with the exception of him, I’m fairly certain that the only threats to my marriage are my pride and anger and plain old human wanderlust. Do not be afraid of people who seem different than you, baby. Different always turns out to be an illusion. Look hard.

Chase, God gave you the Bible, and He also gave you your heart and your mind and I believe He’d like you to use all three. It’s a good system of checks and balances He designed. Prioritizing can still be hard, though. Jesus predicted that. So he gave us this story. A man approached Jesus and said that he was very confused by all of God’s laws and directions and asked Jesus to break it down for him. He said, “What are the most important laws?” And Jesus said, “Love God with all your heart, mind and soul, and love others as yourself.” When in doubt, Chase, measure all your decisions and beliefs against that. Make damn sure that you are offering others the same rights, courtesies, and respect that you expect for yourself. If you do that, you can’t go wrong.

Chase, you are okay. You are a child of God. As is everyone else. There is nothing that you can become or do that will make God love you any more or any less. Nothing that you already are or will become is a surprise to God. Tomorrow has already been approved.

And so baby, your father and I have only one specific expectation of you. And that is that you celebrate others the way we celebrate you. That you remember, every day, every minute, that there is no one on God’s Green Earth who deserves more or less respect than you do, My Love.

“He has shown you what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  – Michah 6:8

Love, Mama

PS. We thought we should mention, honey, that if you’re straight, that’s okay too. I mean, it’d be a little anti-climactic now, honestly. But your father and I will deal.

PPS. As daddy read this essay, I watched his gorgeous face intensify. He teared up a little. Then he slammed the letter down on the kitchen table and said emphatically and without a touch of irony, “DAMN STRAIGHT.”

Which, when you think about it honey, is really the funniest possible thing daddy could have said.

Love you Forever.