Aug 042014
 
Our Messy, Beautiful Summer Week 7

A guest post by Dana Bowman

GlitterThere is glitter in my biscuits. I realize this sounds like Southern code for some sort of personality disorder, but actually, there really ARE speckles of glitter in my biscuit dough. There is also glitter on the cat, and I am pretty sure I spotted some in the commode earlier. I didn’t investigate too closely on that one.

My life is messy. But, if one is going to for mess, at least glitter is festive-messy. Mess with flair.

There was a time when this glitter incident would have sent me spinning. I think we could safely say that time was yesterday, sometime around 5 pm.

But I have evolved a lot since then.

You see, my brother died. It’s been over two months now, but still, I am saying this to myself because I forgetOr I remember all day. This might be some sort of party foul – the dead brother card can only be used for one month and then it expires, and then you are politely asked to sit on the bench and think about unicorns and bunnies. And perhaps, glitter.

But I miss him. I miss that he doesn’t answer the phone when I call my dad’s office. I miss his voice. I miss how he would call me “Snagglepuss” and how he seemed so Big and Big Brotherish. In a good, non-1984 way.

And I just miss him.

He died because he couldn’t stop drinking. He took his liver past its point of “I’ll heal if you will please stop.”  He just kept going from there. And I can’t for the life of me understand how he could do it.

Except, every day at about 5 pm.

Because there is catch.

I am an alcoholic.

No – I don’t drink too much sometimes, or have a problem with drinking, or need to cut back, or have issues, or sometimes seem to party just a little too hard. 
I am a straight up, no chaser, strong and no ice, please, alcoholic.

Just like my brother.

That is the story I have not given you, for all these posts for all these months. It’s the hollow part of me. I am working on filling it.

When I first stopped drinking, I filled it with prayer about every 20 seconds, and a lot of tears, and non-stop whining, and numerous meetings with other people like me, and endless bags of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups.

And now, almost two years later, I fill my hollow with prayer about every 39 seconds, and some tears, but tears that wash away pain and rough edges. And yes, still snarf too many of those Reese’s cups. The Easter egg ones are out, and if you eat one while you read Matthew 28, you WILL transcend a bit. I tell you. At least long enough before one of your toddlers comes and pushes his jelly-breath up against your face and bleats, “What eatin? Can I have sum?”

Share your Reese’s. It’s What Jesus Would Do.

I started drinking in the least imaginative way possible – in college. I partied, but I also loved school, did well, and had, I thought, a “handle” on the drinking. “I am smarter than this,” I thought. “I got straight A’s, even in chemistry. I got this.” And on it went. Drinking gave me a kind of magic shell that I could wear that would frost over all the sharp edges I felt.

But there were red flags, hiccups on the way, about the booze. In my twenties, my sweet roommate once came home to me, a nearly empty bottle of wine, and the clacking T.V. “Why are you drinking alone?” she asked amazed. “That’s not healthy. You know that, don’t you?”

I don’t remember my answer, but I filed her comment away. And for twenty some years I would pull it out and think about what she said, then put it away, and continue working steadily on my relationship with alcohol. Recently, I gave her a call and thanked her.  Long ago she spoke up and I listened. I’m slow, but I finally listened.

My affair with alcohol hit its lowest point when I had children. And this is a common story, I think, amongst moms. The monotony, the chaos, the mess – a glass of wine smoothed all that out and tucked my babies in just fine.

Until, of course, it didn’t anymore. And I was trapped.

So now, here I am. I am no longer a hollow. I am a follower of Jesus. I am a wife. A mom. A daughter. A sister. A friend. I go to sleep at night and say, “Thank you for this day.” I wake up, and ask, “Please.” I could try to tell you, in this one post, the hows and whys of why I drank too much and who I am now that I don’t drink at all, but it would be a book, ya’ll. A HUGE book, like, Gone With the Wind huge, – a lot of drama, and a lot of petulant behavior, and a lot of hurt, without the foo-foo dresses.  I do think, at some point, I did shout, “As God is my witness, I will never drink boxed wine again!” There was real recovery there. And hard truth. But no southern accent.

In short, I drank too much because I had one hell of a civil war going on inside my own head.  I didn’t like me, but I also thought I was the most important person to breathe air.  That kind of crazy stuff. I couldn’t ever get over wanting more of everything. To fill up the less-ness that was my dried-out soul. I didn’t want to walk around inside of me anymore. Vodka fixed that. For a while. I had hooked myself up to an IV of constant numb. And so I lived my coma-life, for years and years.

But mainly? I drank too much because I am an alcoholic.

The broken things in me are mending. Sometimes I have to sit with pain a lot longer than I think is nice. But, I sit with it now. Sometimes I feel other things like anger, or intense irritation, or even, joy. I slowly click through feelings and I actually survive.  Even when I miss my brother.

The most when I miss my brother.

And so, now, when my life becomes messy and chaotic or there’s a glitter tsunami, and something inside me starts ticking, ticking, I can do two things:

1. Rage against the glitter.

2. Laugh. And use the cat as a duster.

For right now, I am having some tea and slathering some butter on my shiny biscuit.  I should start a rockabilly band called The Glitter Biscuits. I can thwack a mean tambourine, and I can sing really, really loud, with no concept of key.  It will be epic.

Why in the world I waited until I was 45 to face this, I don’t know. But when I look back at the canyon of my past, I don’t feel sorry. I take a deep breath and shout at it. Know why? I get an echo back, and the echo roars that I am here, on the other side, with a big fat voice. When I look back at that sad and empty landscape, I can only shout and wait to hear back:

“I AM STILL HERE.”

Boys

This is for my sons. They will read it one day and tell me sorry about the glitter. And I will tell them sorry about the drinking.

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Dana Bowman is a wife, a mother, a teacher, a writer, and a runner, all simultaneously. This is only possible because her family donates loads of material. She has been published in Substance.com, The Huffington Post, Today’s Christian Woman, Covenant Home Companion, and is the proud author of Momsieblog.com. She feels that most parenting books would be vastly improved by reading aloud paired with interpretive dance. You can also find Dana on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

This post is part of Momastery’s Our Messy, Beautiful Summer series.

Our Messy, Beautiful Summer



Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery on-line community on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest


Aug 022014
 
Our Messy, Beautiful Summer Week 6

A guest post by Kelli Woodford

Can I See Your Belly Button?It has been twenty years and eight babies since I liked my belly button. (But who’s counting, right?) Since I only glimpse it in the dressing room mirror or stumble upon it in the shower from time to time, I suppose it has become something of a stranger. A relic of yesteryear, showing signs of age and wear–receiving little more than the passing glance and the demure nod.

But a Saturday morning make-over changed all that.

Fuzzy-headed toddlers arrived bedside at the cusp of dawn. Light barely winked in through the window, like sunrise herself in the middle of a yawn. Leaving my husband to tickle and snuggle with them, I got in the shower. The six-year-old came in just as I stepped out. She, groggy. Me, dripping. I didn’t expect us to have a conversation worth much. But her little voice surprised me, squeaked out over the sound of the boys now jumping on the queen-size bed:

“Mom, could we give you a make-over today?”

I couldn’t deny the hope I heard in her voice. I couldn’t deny the shine in her eyes. I couldn’t say anything but, “Yes.”

Ten minutes and a bathrobe later, the girls were back. Not just one this time, but three of them. They filed into my room, arms laden with their favorite dress-up clothes for me to try on, fingers loaded with nail polish in every color, and faces etched with the many expressions of delight: make-over, here we come.

And that’s when it happened.

As the very first dress was hoisted out to me, and I grappled with it, reaching for armholes, the littlest girl—that one whose voice squeaks in the most angelic way—piped up, “Mom, is that your belly button? Can I see it?”

Now, I’m not a modest person by nature, but when your tiniest daughter asks to see your belly? Well, it can call forth the modest in the least likely. But in the very same moment I was tempted to cringe and brush off her request, I realized the opportunity that lay before me. Here was my daughter, still firm and supple with youth’s abundance, asking not only to see my wrinkled, stretched, and saggy body, but somehow asking beyond her words, to see what I thought about my body. For I knew that it wouldn’t be only my belly button that would reflect in her eyes, it would also be my face. Not only “How does a mommy-belly look?” but also “How does a mommy feel about how her belly looks?”

This is the question that matters. This is the mirror that counts.

I dropped the dress so I could get my brave on.

(And then I swallowed hard so it wouldn’t get snagged on the knot forming in my throat.)

Each of the girls took turns looking at my belly button. They asked questions about why my many-times-stretched skin looks different than theirs. They poked and pulled. They wondered at it and marveled aloud. I smiled at them and drew them close. I explained how large a woman’s body must become to make room for the miracle of motherhood. I welcomed their questions and told them glory stories of births and laughed at the incredulity of it all.

And then the moment passed. I seemed to still be breathing. I pinched myself, just to make sure. Yes, I was indeed alive. I was indeed standing before them and what I saw in their eyes was not the disdain or competition of the locker room. It was not the criticism or condescension of the beach. There were no snickers. There was no raising of eyebrows.

What I saw in their eyes was respect.

In that holiest of moments, they had become divine mirrors: reflecting all the beauty of co-creation. (And what is left in its wake.) But it was more than that. Somehow my willingness to let them see my imperfection up close and personal was planting seeds inside them. Seeds that I pray will someday bloom into female relationships characterized by cooperation and trust, not competition and manipulation. Offerings they could take with them into locker rooms and beaches and classrooms and shopping malls and all the other places where the imperfect is seen as weak and where only the fittest survive. Kernels of what it means to know that beauty is deeper than skin.

I slid into the dresses handed me and swirled around in front of the mirror. They painted my toes lovely shades of purple and red. We talked hairstyles and eye shadows and shoes and what fall fashions we liked best. But the beauty of the make-over had already happened. And it wasn’t in the making-up or the covering-over. It had happened in the nakedness where self-acceptance is planted deep, in the darkness of dare where love becomes our lens.

Right there in my bedroom, bathrobe around my ankles, we were standing on holy ground.

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Kelli Woodford lives in the midwest, surrounded by cornfields and love, with her husband and seven blue-eyed children. They laugh, they play, they fight, they mend; but they don’t do anything that even slightly resembles quiet. Unless it’s listening to their lives, which has proved to be the biggest challenge of them all. You can find Kelli on her blog and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

This post is part of Momastery’s Our Messy, Beautiful Summer series.

Our Messy, Beautiful Summer



Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery on-line community on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest


Jul 312014
 

Originally published April 9, 2011

Fourteen?Last week I read A Million Little Pieces and this week I’m re-reading I Never Promised You a Rose Garden and The Bell Jar. All three are about mental illness… and so it’s been a theme for me, these past two weeks… insanity. In truth, it’s been a theme for me these past few decades.

I spent some time in a mental hospital during my senior year of high school. I’d been a horrible bulimic for eight years and therapy wasn’t helping, especially since I spent most of my therapy sessions discussing how fine I was and how lovely the weather was. And one day during my Senior Year, I ate too much at lunch, and I thought I was going to die. Because to me… full=death. But I couldn’t find a place to throw up. And so finally, right then and there, in the middle of the Senior Hallway, I decided I was not fine - not at all. And I walked into my guidance counselor’s office and I said: “Call my parents. I need to be hospitalized. I can’t handle anything. Someone needs to help me.”

Here is a picture of me that was taken the week before I was hospitalized. I’m there in the Blue Suit.

I was a student government officer to a class of close to a thousand. An athlete, too. Relatively pretty. Smart. Seemingly confident. My Senior superlative was “Leading Leader.” In this picture I was co-hosting the Homecoming Pep Rally for the entire high school. Wearing the corsage to show I’d just been nominated for Homecoming Court. People who need help sometimes look a lot like people who don’t need help.

And so that counselor called my parents, and they came right away. And they found a place for me to get help. I often think about what that day must have been like for them. Maybe they desperately wanted to say No, No it will be okay! Not a hospital! We are your parents! We can fix this! But they didn’t. The moment I became brave enough to admit I needed help they believed me, and despite the shock, the pain, the stigma . . . they gave me the exact help I asked for.

I’ve never written about my hospital stay before, because a whole lot is fuzzy, and I can’t get a real grip on the memories. Back then not many specialized eating disorder hospitals existed, so the one I went to was a real mental hospital. There were only two of us on the unit with eating issues, the others were there because they were mildly schizophrenic, drug addicted, depressed or suicide risks. Many of them had violent tendencies. I do not remember being afraid of any of them. I do remember being afraid, in one way or another, of most of the people in my high school.

There was one man on our unit who spoke only in numbers. I ignored him at first . . . it’s hard to know what the appropriate response is to “Twenty-one ninety-six forty NINE?” But one day I decided to take a guess. “Fourteen?” I responded tentatively. I remember his face changing from empty to surprised to happy. Then back to empty, quickly. But I definitely saw happy, for a moment there. That taught me to try, at least once, to speak each person’s special language.

There was a sandy haired girl who always hung her head so low that I never really saw her face. I do remember what her arm looked like, though, because it was sliced up like a pre-cut ham. I saw it up close because I held her hand once when she started crying during a therapy session. She pulled it away at first but then she offered it back to me a few moments later. I remember that her hand was very cold, but it warmed up after a while. I don’t remember her name. I do remember her story and it was very, very sad. She was right to be crazy.

There was my roommate. I will call her Mary Margaret. Unable to speak with my little Sister, I allowed Mary Margaret to take Sister’s place for the weeks I was hospitalized. We whispered long into the night, every night. Mary Margaret was from a tight knit, fiercely loving family too, and we wondered aloud for hours how we ended up in that room together. One night, very late, we wrote vows that said we promised to take care of each other forever. We both signed the vows, with crayons because we weren’t allowed to have pencils. Mary Margaret made me promise not to eat the crayons. I told her maybe she should. We laughed. Mary Margaret was eighty pounds during her stay. She used to hide her food in her huge sweatshirt at lunch time and sneak it to me when we got back to our room. Mary Margaret and I saw each other once in the real world and then never again. We did not honor our vows to take care of each other forever. I’ve never looked for Mary Margaret, I’ve never even Googled her name. I’m too afraid. I know the survival statistics for anorexics.

There was art therapy and dance therapy and group therapy. It all made sense to me. The things the other patients said made sense to me, even though they weren’t things that my peers in my real life would have ever, ever said. Everyone had to listen to each other. There were rules about how to listen and how to respond. There were lessons about how to empathize and where to find the courage to speak. All the lessons made sense to me. I enjoyed them much more than my high school classes. They seemed much more important to me. We learned how to care, about ourselves and about each other.

There was the field trip we took to the art museum in Washington D.C. We rode into the big city on a small bus, we mental patients.We had a special appointment time at the museum, our own private tour. Because there were other groups and we weren’t to mingle with the normal people. I remember thinking that was probably best. We had a rule that we would all need to hold hands. In a long line. Like an extremely motley and sedated Conga Line. Throughout our entire tour.

I remember wondering why Mary Margaret and I had to hold hands with the group. We were relatively well behaved. We’re people pleasers, we bulimics and anorexics. I thought maybe our therapists were concerned that I would run away and attack the diners in the cafeteria and that Mary Margaret might run away with me and stand there and starve.

Then I remember walking by the museum cafeteria, and seeing twenty slices of pie revolving around on one of those buffet lazy susans. And I remember suddenly feeling very grateful that my hands were being held. I felt safe.

That’s what we all wanted. Safety -someone or some structure that would save us from ourselves, from the strange real world that others seemed to be navigating so flawlessly and we just couldn’t, at the time, for whatever reason.

And I remember trembling the morning of my release. I remember knowing I wasn’t ready, and knowing I had to go anyway, because I would never be ready. Because inside the hospital was so much easier and safer and surer than outside the hospital. And I knew I could get much too comfortable. Much too safe.

Because it all made sense to me in there. And that was a little confusing.

I’ve never done this before, but I’m going to go ahead and publish this without editing it first. I’m afraid that if I edit it at all, I’ll edit out all of it.

 



Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery on-line community on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest