Friday, July 29, 2011


This is my cat.  Her name is not Sugar.
My wife, Sunshine and Happiness is from the South.   Down under, below the Mason-Dixon line, everyone is sugar, sugar pie, darlin or some such.  Waitresses, shop owners, the person standing behind you at the bank.  They're all in on it. There's no discrimination.  It doesn't matter your age, looks, relationship to the person speaking. If you visit North Carolina, Virginia,  Miami (OK not Miami) someone is going to call you sugar.  In Pittsburgh there are no such affectations unless you happen to be like, oh, 80.  I was mortified recently while dining at Lonestar.  S&H needed extra something or other and couldn't get the waiter's attention.  So she yelled across the dining area, "hey  hon, can you come here for a second."  It was like suddenly I had skyrocketed out of middle age and  directly into my "golden years."   

But that's not what this post is about.  

It's about sugar.

Years ago, S&H eliminated all sugar and flour from her diet, started weighing and measuring her food and added karate.  She lost a shitload of weight and now looks like Kim "Sugar Free" Couture.

Do you have any idea how many products contain sugar or flour?

Ummmm, all of them.

I freaked out when S&H decided to try this food plan.  I mean FREAKED.  What did that mean for me?  Was I gonna have to eat that way too?  I have given up alcohol, drugs, cigarettes and bad relationships but I REALLY like my carbs.  In fact I've never met a carb I didn't love.  What to do?  What to do?

Did I mention I am also a Chub Scout?

So I took the plunge and for the past few years I've managed to not eat any sugar, dextrose, fructose, corn syrup or evaporated cane juice.  I also gave up any and all processed flour.  This state of affairs suddenly became very tenuous this afternoon.

S&H and I have a unique filing system called "throw everything into a bankers box and leave it there."  Because of nerves and fears of an audit, I decided to tweak this system and organized all of our important documents by category, (taxes, credit card bills, receipts, marriage license, etc.) and then put them in a bankers box.  Works well, this system. 

For convenience sake I keep the bankers box on the floor of our extra bedroom which doubles as the cats' bedroom.  Around 3:00 PM I went to get a receipt from said bankers box and found cat had puked all over/in it. By the by, cat puke is extremely acidic, just in case you didn't know.  Ate right through the damn manila folders.

What I wouldn't give for a Twinkie.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Cunning, Baffling & Powerful

Does this ever happen to anyone else?

If there's been a bad storm with lots of wind damage and I happen upon a downed power line, inevitably I have a perverse urge to touch it and consciously have to tear myself away because it feels like something is pulling me toward it.

In a similar vein, when S&H and I went to Canada, there it was again, that same destructive impulse.  As we stood on Tablerock Overlook beside the Horseshoe Falls I felt a desire to lean forward and touch the rushing water and had to avert my eyes to break the spell.

I forgot all about this but then on Saturday I saw that a woman was actually pulled in at Devil's Hole Whirlpool in Niagara trying to touch the water.

So, it's not just me :)

In an interview the woman said she was hiking next to the rapids and became mesmerized, reached down and was sucked in by the incredible force.  "It's like the water just grabbed me and then I don't remember anything."

Addiction is like that - a tempting siren song enticing and ensnaring with promises of freedom and reward.  In the beginning it's all bright, neon shininess, smoky, sexy, shadowy darkness and a voice saying it's OK, it'll be alright, you're in control.  Just one more drink, one tiny hit and you know you'll feel better .  And then with that first swallow, snort, flush, it begins, taking hold and refusing to let go.  Suddenly you find yourself being dragged down when all you really wanted to do was dip in your hand.

Amy Winehouse died on Saturday at 27.  I'm sad but like most unsurprised.  I can't explain why some alcoholics and addicts get recovery and some don't.  Or why, despite the ravages of a life of addiction and alcoholism there are those who don't even want it.

It's been years since I've had a drink or a drug and yet sometimes I still feel the pull of an electric line or of the falls.  I've learned that when this happens I have to shake myself awake, move myself away and be grateful, because like the woman at the Devil's Hole whirlpool I've been saved.

 Rescues like that happen only once in a lifetime.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Boundaries are tough.  Where do I end and you begin?  For what am I responsible? Not responsible?  How do I keep from being swallowed or engulfed but not put up a fortress?  Is it possible to protect the things that are most important to me without stepping all over you? What is acceptable? What not?  What can be done when someone violates my boundaries?  How do I stay safe but still engage?

In the past boundaries for me have been of two extremes, either permeable and unhealthy or totally solid allowing no access in or out.  This hasn't worked out too well as it either has kept me completely isolated or trapped in toxic relationships.  What I need is to learn how to remain autonomous but still engage while keeping my integrity, not hiding or pretending. I am responsible to take action when my boundaries are violated.  Playing the victim and blaming has not been all that effective so far.
Me when my boundaries are crossed
 As a child my mother saw any attempt on my part to individuate as an affront to her.  In her mind, being her child, I belonged to her.  She saw my behavior, my appearance, my actions all as a reflection of her and if I made a mistake,  she felt the embarrassment and shame.  If I succeeded she took the credit and felt accomplishment.  For my mom, any emotion be it anger, sadness, anxiety, shame or fear had to be blamed on someone or something else.  She could never be responsible and so her feelings became my fault.  My job was to anticipate her feelings and to fix whatever was causing them.  I was responsible.

 For her

Eventually this dynamic generalized to everyone and as a result I never grew up, blamed all of my disappointments, failures and sorrows on the world and longingly waited for someone or something to come along and fix me.  When nothing was forthcoming I withdrew and detached myself from the world as much as possible.  Not knowing how to set boundaries made me a  nice, polite doormat who hated everyone and everything.   I became a misanthrope.  Pushing down my own needs and beliefs made me ugly, angry, anxious and depressed.  It is in fact how I became dark and twisty. 

That is until Sunshine and Happiness. (And no she didn't "fix me" but her support sure helped me accept myself as I am.)

Recovery in AA and my relationship with S&H have taught me that I need to be clear about  my boundaries.  A big lesson has been that I am responsible for myself.  I must ensure that my boundaries are respected and take action when they are not.  I may not be able to change the actions of another person but I am responsible for how I respond to those actions.  If  a boundary is violated I have a choice.  I can wimp out, allow it and pretend or I can take an action to let the boundary violator know that the violation is not OK and this is what I'm going to do about it. easy to say, but tomorrow I'm going to get to actually practice this shit.

In the morning I'm taking my mom to the doctor.  I do really love my mom but she can be toxic.   As a child I was powerless to do anything about her batshit craziness and how it affected me because under threat of physical harm I had to be a compliant, obedient, "good girl."  Today I am a grown up and SHE IS NOT THE BOSS OF ME, so if I allow myself to people please and pretend, I have only to look in the mirror to see who is responsible.  Tomorrow I am going to set a boundary with my mom and this is what I want my it to look like:

This though is what I am afraid my boundary is going to look like after my conversation with her.

For this not to happen I need to remember that I'm not responsible for her or her reaction, just my own.  The only person I have control over is me and I can't change her or expect that she is going to be different.  I don't though have to accept unacceptable behavior and I don't have to pretend to agree with her meanness to others, her blaming and her lack of awareness and remorse.    I have worked hard to develop my own opinions, my own values and my own life and she can't hurt me without my permission.  I am going to do my best to set my boundary with gentleness and love while staying true to myself and not backing down.  The amazing thing is that if I succeed....

It will be a first.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Pittsburgh Auditions
According to the American Idol website there are 446 bridges in the City of Champions.  As a lifelong Pittsburgher you can't miss the fact that there are a lot of them but I never bothered to count.  It is a myth though that native Pittsburghers don't cross the rivers although it is true that we prefer our " own side."  As a true Northsider would say "if you ain't from the North Side you're from the wrong side."  It is also true that "once a Pittsburgher, always a Pittsburgher."  Seems lots of Pittsburghers who have relocated to see if the grass is really greener migrate back home to raise their families.

Forward now to my thoughts on/of fame.  Auditions for AI Season 11 are being held here today at Heinz Field.  Registration has been ongoing for the past 2 days and the talented, the weird, the hopeful and the bat shit crazy looking for their 15 minutes began lining up and camping out at around 3:00 AM Wednesday.  Due to the age cutoff none of my crazy friends can try out but some are auditioning for the new Batman movie being filmed here. They'll make great extras.
 In 2006, Jude Law's old flame Sienna Miller referred to us as "Shitsburgh" while filming Michael Chabon's  The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.  Let's see, that movie did what box office?  We may not be sophisticated or rise to her standards but my we are pretty.  And we have the Steelers, Penguins and the Buccos of Suckitude (h/t Pittgirl).  My only gripe is we don't have enough sunshine.  On the days we do though there's no place I'd rather be. 

But back to American Idol, I do have a personal story about this show.  When I was younger I sang and played guitar and friends would say to me, "you really should do something with that, audition for a group, play book stores and coffee shops, put yourself out there." Then they would  say, "'cause, you know, you have potential."  At the time  I was too self conscious and socially backward to ever attempt to play publicly and used this as ammunition to prove I am a failure.  That is until this conversation with Sunshine and Happiness:

Me:  "I have wasted my life."

S&H:  "How so?"

Me:  "I'm a coward and too scared to risk anything.  I should've used my talents.  Everyone  told me I had potential."

S&H: " Hmmmm. (musingly) Potential for what? "

Me:  "Well you know, like my guitar playing and my singing. Friends always told me what a good voice I have and how well I play."

S&H:  "Uh-huh.  Well what?  (Huge smile) You think they were telling you you should try out for American Idol or something?"

Me:  "Um, (sheepishly) well yeah."

S&H:  (With unnecessary eye roll) "Oh, honey, they were just paying you a compliment.  You're not that good."  (hysterical laughter)

Me:   "Are YOU sure?" (harrumphing)

S&H:  "Trust me honey."

Of course I never thought to consider that my friends were just being nice.  I truly am an egomaniac with an inferiority complex.  Although, I suppose I could give the "Pants on the Ground" guy a run for his money.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Special Kind of Crazy

WARNING: Dark and Twisty ahead.

OK so bright and shiny didn't last very long.  Frequency, intensity, duration, that's what Sunshine and Happiness always says.  The dark and twisty isn't as frequent, it's not as intense and it doesn't last as long with scattered periods of bright and shiny in between.  Some days are only slightly dark and twisty with a large dose of bright and shiny. On rare occasions it is completely bright and shiny.  Some days though not so much.

My mom who is 67 broke her leg on Sunday.  Ouchy.  This is not good news as my father, age 69, is having a hip replacement the first week in August.  Neither of my parents drive and must walk EVERYWHERE  so I am sad to see them hobbled.  Especially sad because I am the family wheels and as we all know I am unable to give freely.  Mix in my awe inspiring driving skills and voila',  a recipe for disaster.  Let me paint the picture for you.

I only learned to drive when I was 30, that's right, 30 years old.  I cannot park to save my life and am impossible if unfamiliar with the route.  Ask me about how for years I drove only the bus routes to get to where I was going because I knew them by heart (you know because I had to ride buses my entire life) until one day a flabbergasted passenger said in exasperation," you do know there is a shorter way to get there from here."  I can't use a GPS because it's too dangerous (for me) to attempt two things at one time.  Upon buying my first car there was always a scraper and a rag in the front seat  for when the windshield  fogged up or froze ON THE INSIDE because I didn't  know about defrost.  Finally there's  my complete lack of spacial  awareness so my current car which has lasted 11 years looks as if it has participated in the annual school bus demolition at the Big Butler Fair.  When Sunshine and Happiness drives, if I am along for the ride and she happens upon a median barrier (on either side of the car), I will wildly shout "WALL!" until she changes lanes so certain am I that we are going to whack into it, crash and burn.  But I digress.

We took my mom to the doctor to be xrayed after she fell and turns out her tibia is fractured and she will be in a  walking cast for awhile.   Now my parents are really good hearted people,  I love them and it's nice to be able to help but I'm having repercussions from being with them twice this week.  Most of my squirreliness comes from the fact that my mother is crazy.  Not batshit crazy but more  "I'm so anxious all the time I can't help acting like a loon" crazy.  The doctor's appointment was scheduled  in a building located right next to the hospital and we weren't exactly sure where but we knew we'd find it.  My mom however, was a nervous wreck (and in pain) and so  talked the entire trip.  This wouldn't have been so bad if she didn't constantly talk about people we don't know, have never met and can not possibly know no matter how much she may insist otherwise.  It's been about 25 years since I've lived at home and S&H has never lived in Greenfield so I don't know what she is thinking.  In her world if she continues to give us excrutiatingly minute details we will suddenly, magically know exactly who she means.  This is what it's like

My Mom:  "I just saw Karen.  You know, Karen whose daughter is in a wheelchair.  She waits for the bus at the corner of Kaercher Street." 

Me:  "No mom, I don't know her." 

My Mom:  "Sure you do, she's related to, what's that girl's name you went to the 8th grade with who has the bright red hair?" 

Me:  "Lisa Yourick?"

My Mom:  "Yeah her. She's Karen's third cousin twice removed.  Or is it once?  Remember I used to babysit them both?" 

Me:  "Nope, still not ringing any bells."

 My Mom:  "Yeah, yeah you do.  We used to see her down at the swimming pool when you swam for swim team." (when I was 12!)

Me:  (exasperatedly rolling my eyes at S&H)  "Oh yeah, now I do.  I don't know what I was thinking.  I remember her now."

You get the idea.

As we approached the hospital we were still unsure of the exact location of the appointment so we stopped a woman in scrubs crossing the street who obviously worked at the hospital.  My mom rolled down the window and asked "where is 1350 Locust Street?"  The woman pointed it out but instead of thanking her my mom began arguing that she wasn't right and that 1350 was the building on the right end of the street not the one in the middle.  Then this poor woman, who didn't know us from Adam and was only looking for a cigarette and some lunch, got to hear about why we needed to know exactly where 1350 Locust was because my mom had broken her leg, couldn't walk up steps and absolutely had to have an elevator.  She would have proceeded on with every small detail of the accident if S&H hadn't pulled the car away with my mom mid-sentence.  As we drove off the woman in scrubs shot us a look of relief and I bit right through my lip. 

Inside the hospital, my mom felt the need to explain to
  1.  the guy at the information desk
  2.  two elevators full of people
  3.  the patients in the waiting room
  4.  the receptionist  and
  5.  the homeless man on the corner 
about how she had stepped in a hole, fell down, and could not, just could not, get back up.  Thank the Lord Joe Brown, a neighbor on Windsor Street was home and heard her cries for help, picked her up and drove her to the house because she had no idea how she was gonna crawl home.  You know Joe.  You went to elementary school with his daughter.

 It's a good thing my Dad is a quiet man.

Anyway, after getting the entire geneology of Greenfield, we finally got her home and settled.  Now she's making herself crazy worrying about how she's going to get her boot off and on while making sure she fills it with just the right amount of air from that little button pump, cause you know, Jim Gregg, your brother Mark's old basketball coach had the same kind of walking cast and he had trouble with it.  We left her still talking as we jumped in the car and left.

My poor mom.  It makes me sad that she is so neurotic.   I'm just grateful to be nothing at all like her. Ahem.  Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to go jump off a bridge.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Independence Day

The Fourth of July is about freedom, strength, courage, a celebration of our forefathers independence from tyranny. Over the weekend the neighborhood fireworks, parades and flag waving made me think about my own struggle for autonomy.

As hard as it might be to believe, there was a time when I was darker and twistier.  It used to be  I had something negative to say about oh,  everything.  I tried,  I really did to be more sunshine, more happiness but it felt fake.  It was just easier for me to be critical, judgmental, contemptuous and distant.  Turns out though sunshine and happiness is what makes life worth living.  It's been real work for me though trying to learn to be bright and shiny because for so long I fed myself CRAP.  That's one of the reasons I'm not employed.  You know, because it's a real job learning to be bright and shiny.

A few years ago  my life bottomed out and I had no idea what to do.  My plan to fix things was to curl up in a fetal position on the couch, pull the covers up and just stay there indefinitely.  Sunshine and Happiness likes to support me and all but she thought perhaps, just maybe, I might want to try something different, something maybe a little more effective?  Long story short,  she put me in a car, drove me 7 hours to some hick town, dumped me out and left me there for 5 days to get my shit together.  And....    

It worked.

In March, 2009 I attended the Breakthrough program at CARON in Wernersville, PA .  Upon leaving  and for the very first time in my life I had absolutely nothing bad to say.  My experience there was one of the best of my life.   At CARON,  I confronted the things I was most afraid of and lived through it.  When I left Wernersville, I  was on my way to letting that shit go.  I no longer needed to be dark and twisty.  I knew I was going to be OK.

Mary Oliver's poem The Journey is about just this type of freedom.

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

I'm grateful to be bright and shiny today.  Happy Fourth of July! 

CARON Breakthrough Group March 2009