Thirty years ago… there was Scott.

Despite what happened to me when I was four, I have always maintained that I lost my virginity when I was fourteen. See, I don’t consider virginity some glass case to keep my virtue that – once broken into – causes irrevocable damage me or my value in some way. I was sexually curious and emotionally lonely, looking to feel some voids that had been ripped into my life with the absence of my dad. What happened to me when I was younger only skewed my thinking even more and I hit the ground running, defining my life by what I chose to do, not what was done to me.

I didn’t have boyfriends, necessarily. That came later. But like I’ve spoken about recently, just being held, voluntarily, was a huge deal for me. Still is, frankly. I’m a bit like a rose bush that needs tending. In my first marriage that didn’t happen. As the years wore on, the intimacy shrank and shrank until we were virtually no more than roommates towards the end.

It is one of the many reasons there is a second marriage.

As big as I am, the vastness inside me is so often times bigger. That was true when I was 14, that was true when I was 29… that was true thirty plus years ago.

It’s what happens when you need to feel loved so badly and you can’t seem to muster that feeling enough for yourself.

About 96% of the men I actually slept with I pursued. There have been a few that have pursued me, but it never worked out well. (We’ll get into that a bit later.) Generally I like to keep tight control over that just to mitigate damage. If someone really, truly pursued me, I wouldn’t have known what to do with it and probably punished them for it. If you needed convincing, well that was more my jam. Challenge accepted. I could easily spot the chinks in your armor and find my way in. When I decided to pursue, that’s exactly what I did. I didn’t wait around. I made shit happen.

Like I said, I have no patience when it comes to what I want. I’m very determined to get my way, especially when my way seems to lead down the much more fun path of self-destruction apparently. I don’t wait around a decade to get what I want. I figure out how to get there and I do.

That shit got me into a ton of trouble when I was younger. While friends were off smoking pot and going to concerts and going to school, I was trying my best to forge the weapon that had been used against me (sex) into something I could control.

It’s not uncommon for children who have survived sexual abuse to explore promiscuity as they get older. Some go the other way and avoid it altogether, but some have such shitty self-esteem that it wires their brain that they’re already “damaged” – what’s the point “saving oneself”?

This was what happened to me, especially having grown up in a super religious household that looked at virginity like some sacred jar to contain oneself. That’s part of the bullshit virginity = value argument which is WAY another blog altogether.

My jar had already been cracked. I had nothing to lose. (Or so I thought.)

But back 30-ish years ago, I was no stranger to sex. I got pregnant when I was 15 thanks to my reckless behavior. Because severe hyperemesis gravidarum rode shotgun, I ended up having to get an abortion because a doctor told my mother that my continuing with the pregnancy could result in harm to me and/or the baby. This doctor was a conservative family man she valued and respected, so she took him at his word. It scared my ultra religious mother to drive me 300 miles and shell out hundreds of dollars to save my life.

Despite what some might tell you, it wasn’t an “easy” way out. We suffered over it emotionally, she paid the price financially and I physically endured it. But difficult circumstances force difficult choices.

I ended writing hyperemesis gravidarum in my Groupie series much later. Since so much of that story was personal, working through things I was going through at the time, it was a no-brainer to include such a personal Easter egg. Many might feel I gave it to a character that I wanted to punish. What they didn’t/couldn’t get is that I did that to help me empathize with her, so I could write that character with all the dimensions she deserved… which was advice that I got from one of the biggest inspirations of the Vanni character. Even if this character was “the bad guy” – I still had to crawl under her skin and understand why she did what she did. So I gave us a commonality to share. It wasn’t revenge. Not in the least.

It was actually liberating.

Needless to say that after that happened to me, I got on birth control afterwards. I didn’t want that to happen again until I was ready for it. I wanted control over SOMETHING.

Then I met this guy named Robert back in the fall of 1986, when I was sixteen. We lived in Amarillo, Texas at the time, which was where my bestie lived. I spent every evening talking to him then just like I spend talking to him now. Except I didn’t use the Internet back then; we were still about a decade away from that revolutionizing how we communicated. Instead, I used the phone. Since we were too broke to afford our own landline, I would sit for hours at the pay phone at the apartment complex where I lived, which was conveniently located by the vending machines. I saw lots of people come for sodas and what not while I chatted away with the bestie. Most I ignored, since I’ve never really been all that crazy to people when not absolutely necessary.

One who could not be ignored was this guy with long brown hair and dark eyes – my kryptonite then and now. In an unusual set of circumstances, I could tell immediately he was into me and it didn’t scare me away like it normally did. Though he didn’t live there, he started hanging out there at his friend’s apartment regularly just so he could get to know me. He bought a LOT of soda, just to have an excuse to talk to me. And he was cute. Sweet. Seemed non-threatening. So I let the barrier down and let him. Within a few weeks we ended up dating and he became my first official “boyfriend.” I met his family. He met my mom. Though he was 24 and I was going on 17, no one really had a problem with it.

He even accompanied me to my first and only Journey concert in December of 1986.

Robert had epilepsy and, because of this, didn’t work. We ended up spending a lot of time together, and a lot of that time was spent in bed. My birth control ran out around November of that year, but Robert assured me that we didn’t have to worry about that stuff, that he had surgery when he was a kid that rendered him sterile. His mother confirmed the story, so I thought I’d save my mother the $$ and just not renew the prescription.

I started to worry about a week end it when he was telling me how he couldn’t wait to see me big and around, and what the names of our children should be.

By no surprise I guess I was pregnant by mid-December.

Again.

Robert swore that he wasn’t the one responsible, even though he was the only person I was sleeping with at the time. He tried to blame the bestie, since my best friend is a guy, but that guy is completely 100% rainbow-flag-waving gay, who has never even THOUGHT of a woman that way. We’ve known each other since we were ten and nothing even remotely sexual ever happened between us (which is why we are so close to this day.)

The support I got from Robert’s family slammed to a close. His mother went so far as to tell me that I wasn’t the first girl who tried to do this, trying to get to his disability check. I was dropped like a bad habit, despite all his promises of love I had been given.

If I hadn’t have had feminist leanings before this event, this would have kicked it into high gear. See, that’s the thing about men – at least the men way back then. They could decide they didn’t want fatherhood and walk away… and many times did. I knew several people whose dads just got tired of the father routine and bailed. One gal I knew went by her mother’s last name as a result. “Women,” she told me, “should get the credit for children.”

(Out of perverse curiosity, I tried to find him on Facebook and I’m pretty sure I did. And guess who has a armful of kids?)

We fight for choice but the truth is, nature really didn’t give us equal choice. And since I didn’t have that option to walk away like he did, I had to make the best choice I could. Even if I had chosen “the easy way out” with another abortion, I already knew how NOT easy that choice was, that it comes with its own set of emotional pain, physical pain and cost. I, as a woman, cannot just decide I don’t want to participate and walk away.

While I had some pretty awful morning sickness, it was nothing like the first time, when I couldn’t even keep water on my stomach for days at a time. So I decided to do things a little differently, since I knew I would already have pain, emotional trauma and financial cost. I was still young and still, clearly, an idiot, so I made the decision to give up the baby for adoption, so at least that baby could have a chance at a good life I didn’t have the resources to provide. Instead of going back to school like I had thought about, I spent those next months nurturing a child I knew would never be mine.

In July of 1987, I gave birth to someone else’s son.

July 8, 1987, specifically.

scott

It remains, to this day, one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. There are only two times in my life I felt like my insides were carved out and there was nothing left inside of me, and both instances involved losing my kids. The first was when I had to leave that hospital in 1987 without a baby filling my aching arms. The second would come years later when I was forced to leave what was left of my nine-day-old son in a cemetery grave all by himself.

I still ache from that loss, even all these years later.

Losing Scott, which is the name that I gave him before I sent him to his new family and his new name, hurt for a long, long time, easily until my own children came along later. It was why, once I had them, I would not let anything keep me from my babies. Even now, when they’re grown men, I’d do just about anything to have them near me.

As you can see, I don’t cope with loss well.

People have asked me if I ever tried to contact Scott, particularly now that he’s a man. I always hake my head. If he finds me, that is his choice. I knew his family was going to raise him to be aware that he was adopted, and so far he’s made no contact. I figure that’s the way he wants or needs it and I would never be so selfish to intrude on the life I wanted him to have, the one I couldn’t give him.

I gave him away with a promise I kept:

And a directive I hope he kept:

And that’s all I can do. Because he is someone else’s son, for whom my heart still holds the scar.

Happy birthday, Scott. Wherever you are. Whomever you love. Whatever you do. Know I carry a part of you with me always. ❤

Waiting for death and other stuff…

I’m no stranger to death. Sadly. But since 2010, I’ve become a lot better acquainted than I ever wanted to be. First there was my aunt, then my uncle. Then last year I lost my beautiful friend James. By the end of 2015, I lost both a step-sibling and my mother.

The new year saw the death of several key idols in my life. When I was a latchkey kid, music was my babysitter, my teacher, my preacher, my lover and my friend. Losing the trifecta of David Bowie, Glenn Frey and, the most painful of all, Prince, leveled me emotionally.

I don’t expect that to make sense to people who didn’t have to rely on imaginary people and faraway idols to find their way out of personal darkness. But for me… knowing those lights have now gone out… I feel the loss acutely. Especially when real life losses have already shattered me.

And now, within the span of several days, Steven’s grandmother, and my grandmother by choice, is preparing to shuffle off her mortal coil.

We saw her on Mother’s Day. I took her my new book, Glitter on the Web. Grandma is my biggest fan. Every time she saw me she wanted a new book to read. There were some passages she understandably had to skip, but she loved them all regardless. I was proud to share Glitter with her. Though she had suffered a broken pelvis, and had relocated to a new Board & Care, she was in good spirits, with that same indomitable spirit and tireless smile. She was definitely a hugs and kisses kind of grandma. She could get stern if she needed to, but she’d rather laugh. She took me in. She took my boys in. When Jer’s girlfriend Brittany moved to California to live with us, Grandma took her in as well, announcing the very day they met that she approved.

She has always been full of life and full of love as long as I’ve known her. When the doctors had brought up hospice to my mother-in-law weeks ago, she was adamant. As long as Grandma wanted to hold on, we would hold on.

Then last Saturday came, along with a raging fever. My mother-in-law, Mom2, took her vitals and thought she heard some abnormalities with the heart. They went to the hospital. Turns out Grandma had a heart attack without even knowing it. When we got to the hospital ICU to see her, she was smiling big and had love and hugs to greet us, telling everyone that I write wonderful books. She’d already finished Glitter and she wanted another one, as per usual. I promised her one, as per usual.

What wasn’t usual was how exhausted she was. Steven and I didn’t want to tire her out, so we kept our visit brief. She seemed to understand. “I’m so tired,” she said.

It felt important.

As it turned out there were two heart attacks, with evidence of an older heart attack as well. The doctor called Mom2, to discuss the options. He could perform an angioplasty, but neither Mom2 or her brother liked the sound of that. Grandma is 93 with a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate.) No one wanted to put her through that when the doctor couldn’t guarantee that it wouldn’t prevent another heart attack.

They opted for medicine only.

When Mom2 let us know they were sending Grandma back to the B&C, Steven and I were like, “Well, that’s Grandma rebounding like she always does.” She’s strong. A real trooper. Stubborn and unlikely to give up if she has her mind set on something.

This was different. She was tired. And she’d already made her decision. Enough was enough.

By Tuesday she was non-responsive, heavily medicated on morphine for the pain, to keep her “comfortable”. We went to see her. Almost everyone was there, taking turns with her, holding her hand, telling her how much they loved her. Steven spent some time alone with her. It destroyed him, which in turn devastated me. He keeps telling me I don’t have to be the “strong one,” because she’s my grandma too. Well my grandma would want me to take care of her Stevie, and that’s what I’m going to do.

My kids went, including Brit. They all were able to give her kisses, touch her hand, tell her they loved her. I kind of fell apart, as I’m known to do. I am a highly emotional empath after all, and this is a big deal. I’m losing the only grandma I’ve ever known. And while I know this is what she wanted, making the decision when she was lucid enough to make it, tired of doctors, hospitals, pain and limitations, the thought of losing her is too much to bear. For all of us I think. She’s always been the glue that held us together, the rock star of every family function. It’s almost fitting that her last days coincide with a holiday. They always did holidays right in Steven’s family.

By Wednesday, she was more alert and aware, in between dozing on the medication. It moved on my heart at work that afternoon that I wanted to do something special for her. I had to. I couldn’t be there for my mom, which was even more devastating. With the sands falling for yet another woman I love, I knew I couldn’t just sit around, waiting for death. Several years back I took several of her stories and printed them in a book for her. These were stories like she used to tell Steven and his sister, Erica. After their father abruptly left the marriage, and Mom2 returned home to her parents to navigate being a single mom in the 1970s, Grandma was their bonus parent. And she’d use her wildly imaginative brain to tell fabulous stories to get them to eat the foods they didn’t want to eat.

In one of the forwards, Erica tells how she faked disliking peas just so Grandma would tell her the Pea story.

I decided that I would take these stories she told, not just at bedtime but all the time, and release her into eternal sleep with them. Only Jer and Brit joined me for our visit. At first I couldn’t muster the strength to read. I sat there beside her, holding her hand, listening to old gospel songs that they were playing next to her bed. It reminded me of my childhood, and my own parents who have now gone on.

It only made me cry harder. Hurt more. I know that these hymns bring peace to some, but they only remind me of countless funerals and endless loss.

Finally I mustered the strength to read. I read Steven’s forward, which reduced Brit to tears. She’d never read or heard these stories before. Then I got to Erica’s. When I mentioned the pea story, Grandma laughed suddenly. We all shared a shocked expression. We glanced back at Grandma, who hadn’t fully awakened, but there was now a big smile on her face.

I read her The Hummingbird Story, one she had written for Erica and her husband, Matt. When I mentioned the bird’s name (Twitter,) or their cat’s name, (Twitchy,) or even their dog’s name (Ella Mae,) Grandma would chuckle or laugh or smile. When she’d wake up, she’d glance around us, smile and wave, so happy to see us there.

Before we left, she had a moment of lucidity, stating how much she loved her family for always being so good to her. She stated, “I have a daughter. And I have a son. I have a son,” she declared, again and again, before drifting off with, “I think.”

And with that she drifted back into her non-responsive state, where she has remained since. They medicated her for pain the following morning. When Brit and I went to read more stories to her Thursday night, she didn’t stir, laugh or smile. She’d cough randomly, and make random little cries, like she was dreaming.

I read her story to her, about her life, and Grandpa. When she didn’t respond, I knew she had drifted to a place we’d probably never reach her again. At least until we cross over to the other side.

As I stood over her bed, I took in all the changes that precede death. It broke my heart. Again. Just days ago she was smiling and happy, full of love, joy and kisses, despite being in a sterile ICU.

Death. How quickly it comes. How cruelly it lingers.

I took today off of work because my heart just couldn’t handle it. They were more than understanding. When I went into work Wednesday morning, and burst into tears, hugging my boss and my coworkers, they all told me to go be with her. This is our business after all. Ironically, I started work at a hospice mere months after I lost my mother. I’ve been dealing with and working through that grief every single day since, and the wonderful folks I work with help me do that on a daily basis, whether they know it or not.

It also gave me some insight into what I was seeing happen with Grandma.

Oddly it doesn’t make it any easier. I just convince myself it does. I’ve always been the kind of person who just wants to KNOW. I don’t want any surprises. After my dad had his sudden stroke in 1980, when I was barely 11, I made up my mind then and there I’d always rather know exactly who was ready to pull the rug out from under me.

Every death since then has proven to me that it doesn’t matter. I may think knowledge is control, but really… I know nothing. We humans know maybe a sliver of all there is to know, and pat ourselves on the back for how enlightened we are.

Truly enlightened people are the ones who know that they don’t know, and that life will be the thing that teaches the all the way up till the end.

In the last six years, I’ve known death was coming for my loved ones. Days, hours or minutes, it was inevitable. Almost merciful. As I hang tangled in suspended grief, I can’t say for sure that knowing what’s coming is any better than that gut-punch of losing someone so suddenly it takes weeks to emerge from the shock. This is more like a sneeze that won’t ever fully come, even when you’ve prepared for it.

So I fill up time waiting for “the call.” Grandma hasn’t had any food or water since Monday, so we know it will probably come sooner rather than later. Steven’s distracting himself. That’s what he does. Mom2 and Erica are by her side taking care of her, that’s what they do. The kids are holding me up while I grieve, cry and juggle my emotions to support everyone else… because that’s what we do.

And we wait for death, because – whether we know it or not – that’s what we all do.

And we make the moments count in between… because that’s all that matters anyway.

And we love. Because we don’t know when or where or how. We don’t know how long have with each other. Every moment counts, even the little ones we’re convinced don’t.

We love as hard as we can, as complete as we can, with this hope that it is the one thing we carry with us as we transition.

In the end it’s the only thing that matters.

holdingon_Grandma05.25.2016

Never underestimate the power of words.

Last November, when I declared 2015 was the Year of Transformation, I forgot one thing. Words have power, and I was begging the universe with my careless use of the word “transformation” to drag me right through the fire.

And so it happened.

2015 will go down in history as one of the toughest on record yet. My income was slashed by a whopping 75%, which was devastating enough. All year long we flirted with homelessness as we came to litter our walls with three-day notices galore. Our credit went down the tubes as bills piled up, unable to be paid on time, sometimes at all.

We lost one of our cars, but managed to keep everything else by the skin of our teeth. But the uncertainty lingers.

It was a rough way to get hit, one that sent me into an emotional tailspin as I wrestled even more than usual with self-doubt and insecurity. It set off some serious emotional triggers in ways I haven’t had to manage in a long, long time. This led to the realization that I’ve been suffering with PTSD since that event that happened when I was four.

I had time to figure this out when I had my emotional breakdown around May, when I came as close to suicide as I’ve been since 1999.

Needless to say, my aspirations to get healthy and prolong my life went right down the toilet when I could barely find any reason to battle through another second. I was off program way more than I was on it, though given all the complications I faced, I ended up staying fairly consistent with the exercise. I think I only had one or two spells that lasted maybe six weeks at the longest, but I always managed to get back on the bike. I’m less than 100 miles away from topping 1000 miles ridden for the year, which means my exercise bike may hold clothes every now and then, but it hasn’t gathered dust.

Because of this, I lost twenty-five pounds over the year. I will consider this a personal victory, given that I didn’t go completely off the wagon and gain back  even more, which is my typical pattern.

Also on tap for the year, three deaths of friends and family that sent me reeling. The first, back towards the beginning of the year, was an old friend I had reconnected with years ago courtesy of Facebook, whose sudden and unexpected death took everyone by surprise. This one hurt because he was so young and did so much good, spreading awareness, helping those who were in the battle of their lives with addiction.

It was truly a loss.

The second was my half-sister on my Dad’s side, also whom I had reconnected with on Facebook. Despite how differently we saw the world sometimes, she was always very sweet and accepting of me. We had never really gotten to know each other, thanks mostly to the fact my father was about 30 years older than my mother, and all his kids were grown with families of their own by the time I showed up.

Yet family was why we reconnected and why we stayed connected, until her death.

The third and most devastating loss was much, much closer to me. I lost my mother on December 6, 2015, 35 years to the day when my dad went into the hospital for a stroke, which would keep him hospitalized until his death thirteen days later (his birthday.)

This one was even harder than the others, not just because she was my mother but because I had no idea where she had been these last several years. I was contacted in late October, to let me know that she was in hospice so that I could sign insurance papers to release money to a funeral home to pay for her final expenses at the time of her death, which looked like it would be imminent.

I did get to speak to her one last time before her health failed her. I feel very good about the things we were able to say to each other, even though technically it wasn’t a ‘goodbye.’ My mother had been suffering dementia, so there were moments when I knew she struggled to remember certain things, but she knew who I was and I could tell it made her happy to hear from me.

I also knew she wouldn’t remember anything I told her when that call ended, or even if I called at all.

After that, neither my best friend nor I could reach her. According to her nurse, she went downhill quickly, unwilling or unable to eat.

There are other complications I won’t get into here but I choose to look at the positive of the situation; that I was able to reconnect with her one last time. That is a priceless gift to me, no matter what. My worst fear was that she’d die thinking I didn’t love her, which couldn’t be further than the truth.

Now I know for sure that she knew I loved her, if only for a fifteen-minute phone call.

And it reminded me how much she loved me all my life. It hurts my heart to go forward without her, though I find peace knowing that she’s been set free from an ailing body and a cloudy mind.

So this year has transformed me, no doubt about it. Just like the caterpillar, I’ve died to an old way of living, only to reemerge as something else – something even better than I’ve ever dreamed.

Oh sure. You can’t see my wings now. But they’re growing. And this cocoon is shrinking. 2016 is nearly here, and my year of transformation is blooming into a year of actualization.

I’m calling something different to my life this year. As a writer, I’ve always known how powerful words are, especially when you put them in the right combinations. Of all the lessons my mother taught me, the two biggest – faith and tenacity – will carry me forward into this new year. I’m calling success and achievement… the triumph, not just the trial.

dearpast_dearfuture

I’ve decided to declare it boldly going into things, stepping out of the boat on faith that I’m going to be able to run across the water.

And if I can’t run… I’ll fly.

butterfly

I’m going to get there.

Stay tuned…

Parenthood – The Saga

When I was younger I dreamed of the kind of mom I would be and the kind of adults I would raise. I say adults because even when your children are babies you are laying the framework for the kind of adults they’ll become. Teaching them how to self-soothe gives them the chance to be independent. Teaching them how to share shows them how generous and fair. Teaching them how to be polite to others gives them a sense of respect for the whole of humanity. Almost every decision becomes an opportunity to teach so that one day, when your children ARE adults, they are prepared to face the world and become a valuable part of society.

I always wanted sons because I had the single-minded determination I would raise the men I couldn’t find. I wanted them to be honest, dependable, accepting of others, have integrity and be good Southern gentlemen that knew how to treat a woman like a lady all the while appreciating her strength as an equal and a partner.

The good news is I have done this. It took more than 20 years of hard work, many times feeling at the end of my rope that I was failing MISERABLY, many times in awe of the triumphs. I’ve been blessed with perspective that allows me to see that even in our hardest times and deepest struggles, these were invaluable lessons that worked toward my ultimate goal: to raise good men.

They are good men. They are strong men. They are independent thinkers who were raised to always ask questions and figure things out for themselves. They are in no way carbon copies of me, nor would I want them to be. Just like a character on the page revealing surprising quirks and traits to me, watching my sons fully evolve into the men they’ve become has been fascinating and deeply rewarding.

I love them so much that I want them around me always. They are funny and kind and generous and strong. I want to see them every day and have them around to share even more of the world around us (especially now that we can.)

Therein lies the true heartbreak of parenthood. For all you invest in your child, particularly if you do it right, they will have wings to fly to a future of their own imagining… which may not have anything at all to do with the world you have created for them.

When I moved to California to pursue my lifelong dream of being a writer, to take it to the next level and get into the business that has always fascinated me and pulled me to be a part of it, I knew that the sacrifice could mean leaving my children behind. Honestly it was the main thing that held me back. I made the sacrifices in my career because I knew my most important job was being a parent. But there comes a point when that job ceases being a full-time commitment.This can be a difficult shift for many parents. We’ve done so much to give so much of ourselves to other people that it seems foreign and unnatural to do anything so “selfish” to follow one’s own path away from the life they cultivated for their family.

But children are destined to do this anyway. Eventually they will set off on their own, win or lose. You cease being a family unit and their story as an individual begins. You must forfeit your starring role in their lives for a recurring supporting role. Conversely they do the same for your life as well, as you go back to the individual (or couple) you used to be before you became a family.

That’s why it’s so vitally important to have goals and dreams independent of your children. In doing so you teach your children that you have value apart from what you do for others. In my opinion there’s no greater lesson than empowering your children to chase their own dream. Relationships are great but even relationships with your family shouldn’t fill any hole. You can and should be totally actualized as a person independent of anyone else. This teaches them a much healthier relationship boundary that won’t include any kind of co-dependence that says you “need” someone else to be happy or fulfilled.

If this is what you teach your children, you’re pretty much guaranteeing they will never be happy or fulfilled.

So when I made the decision to move west I knew that this was one of those difficult decisions that would be tough at first but necessary for the well-being of everyone. I was teaching them how to chase dreams by example. Being fearless in my pursuit of my dreams gives them permission to do the same with their own, even if they’re not completely sure what that is.

I felt confident that the kids could be set up in Texas, near friends and with jobs and even have places to live. If I had to leave them anywhere, I felt most confident in leaving them in an environment that, while it wasn’t advantageous for the long term, would be a suitable training ground.

But I still hated leaving them so much I considered not going all the way up to the point they both said they wanted to go to California with us, thus relieving me of any excuses left.

That was six months ago. And I thought everyone was doing reasonably well. So imagine my surprise when my 19-year-old decided he wasn’t happy in California and wanted to come back to the life he knew and the friends he loved.

And I fought it. Even though I had been where he was emotionally. Maybe because I had been where he was emotionally. I learned the hard way you can’t depend on anyone as much as you can depend on your mom. No one, aside from a spouse, is as invested in your survival. Period. End of story. So I hated to stretch the apron strings 1000+ miles across the country. What would happen should his friends flake and leave him stranded? How could I help him? How could I be there to buffer life’s disappointments?

After much soul searching I realized these were not my disappointments to buffer. My role has now been demoted. It’s his time to become the hero of his own journey, and I know that he’ll do great even if it does get harder for him than I’d like to see it get.

I decided to drive him back “home” so I could spend as much time with him before I had to let him go. It’s been bittersweet. I’m back in a place I know without any question whatsoever I no longer belong, but this is his choice. In order to pursue our particular happiness, we have to part ways. And I hate it. I’ll miss him every day. When Tim embarks on his own journey I really will have an empty nest. I fluctuate wildly between wanting it to happen all at once like a band-aid and never wanting both of them gone – EVER.

As a mom it’s hard to stomach being “left” by the people you love most in the world. I know Steven will be there, eager to fill my days with things we’ve longed to do for years as a couple. We are the best of friends and get along great, so our lives apart from kids will be full and happy.

So it’s not the end of the world.

It just feels like it at times.

There’s a saying that deciding to have children is like deciding to live the rest of your life with your heart outside of your body. And this is painfully true. While I know intellectually this is not a bad thing, that this is a necessary and healthy evolution in our relationships, emotionally I feel like I’m losing something because this door on that part of my life is definitely closing.

And I reserve the right to fight my way through it until I can find my way.

Fortunately I know that I’m where I need to be for myself and that’s the path I must follow. It’s going to take a lot of discipline and stamina to make the changes I want to make. But that’s the benefit of this big change: I’m moving up the ranks in my own priority list. I have a place to direct this energy and turn it into something positive.

To answer the question, “Who do I take care of when no one needs me anymore?” – I take care of myself.

Perhaps that is the lesson I need to learn right now.

In the end all I can feel is pride that I met the goal I set for myself as a parent.

I just never expected it to be over so soon. :-/

St. Patrick’s Day Adventures and Surprises

My mother-in-law, or Mom 2 as she is known, thought it would be a great story to tell the epic weird and wonderfulness that was our St. Patrick’s Day. It was a wet and wild adventure to do something pretty amazing for someone pretty amazing in our family, because the fun family party we had planned had a day’s worth of not so fun stuff leading up to it. But it was something that made the end of the day pretty memorable for all of us.

About a month and a half back we decided to do a book project for Steven’s grandmother. When he and his sister Erica were growing up, she would charm them with whimsical fables while they were in her care. Steven’s parents broke up when he and his sister were very small (three years old and a newborn respectively,) so Sharon (Mom 2) came to depend on her very strong family network to get through that challenging time.

This was in 1974 when equal rights was still fighting for a foothold in this country, so that she was able to work, go to college, get a degree, make a career for herself and then build a life for herself and her kids without the help of a man all the more impressive.

(It also makes me want to beat that Wisconsin lawmaker, the one who charges that single motherhood is a dangerous environment for kids, with handful of ERA pamphlets. From what I’ve seen with family and friends the women are the ones who generally step up to the plate when guys decide it’s too inconvenient for them to be a parent and skip out. Which is more abusive? A woman who is there for her child as much as she can be while juggling all the responsibilities of supporting her kid? Or the guy who gets to come in every once and a while and play good guy, but have whatever life he wants on the side? Please.)

(ANYWAY… off soapbox…)

So Erica and Steven have a lot of fond memories of their grandmother’s stories, so when I realized that she had painstakingly written them out in long-hand on notebook paper I thought that this storyteller would love to see her work in a published book.

As a published author, I know how to make that happen. I embarked on the process of transcribing her stories onto the computer and then formatting the files into an attractive keepsake book for the family. This has kept me quite busy the last many weeks but it was a labor of love. I knew from experience, when Steven presented me a hard bound copy of one of my books, that there is nothing quite like seeing your name in print.

Grandma’s birthday was earlier this month (on the 4th) but there was a family memorial that day for someone who had passed away quite suddenly. Also Erica (Steven’s sister, who lives in Carmel Valley) was unable to come be a part of it, and we all really wanted her to be there. So we decided to wait to present this gift on a day where we were all together since it really was a family affair to get this project pulled together. Erica was able to come visit for this past week and the first few days were a flurry of activity as she and Steven wrote very sweet forwards for the book and we went through hundreds and hundreds of photos to pick out those we would scan for inclusion.

Finally the book was done and we had ten copies shipped to the house in what we hoped would be a special St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Grandma had no idea what was coming, neither did her son Keith or his son Tyler.

But as things generally work out in the Underwood/Voight family it becomes a real team effort to pull things together, especially since our Saturday turned into a marathon to take care of a few unexpected complications.

This family doesn’t even blink when such events occur. You just call them and tell them what’s going on and the first thing they want to know is how they can help. Every day I thank God for bringing me into their care because the minute Steven brought me home I was one of the family. I never had to “earn” my way into their good graces, they are just caretakers who put family first whoever that member of the family happens to be.

In recent weeks and months especially this has been a godsend.

About a week ago I realized there was a problem with the Jesus Mobile (what I affectionately dubbed my late uncle’s car that was left to me because it has four Jesus bumper stickers all around the car.) The brakes started squealing and within a week it went from nothing to noticeable, culminating on Friday as a “gotta do something now” kind of thing. Every time I brought the car to a stop the brake pedal would shake and it felt like it wasn’t going to catch.

I drive quite a bit and I can’t be without my car, so we knew we had to get it taken care of ASAP. We’ve had some big expenses of late but I had managed to save back a little bit of money, which I hoped would cover it. It had to, I knew it was a “do it now for cheap or fix it later for a lot more” scenario.

I also knew I had to take Tim over to the Anaheim Convention Center so he could attend the WonderCon, and I wanted to do that fairly early since his all-time idol Ray Park (aka Darth Maul) was scheduled to appear in the autograph section. I couldn’t let my baby miss this opportunity.

So we decide we were going to get up early to be at the Firestone by 7am. I got to sleep around 3ish and woke up at roughly 5am, courtesy of a nasty bout of acid reflux. (Note to self: do not eat pizza at 10pm at night.)

We got down to the Firestone in La Habra about 8ish in the morning and they said they’d be able to look it over and do the inspection, then call us with a quote. We decided to hoof it on over to Denny’s for a cheap breakfast while we waited.

It was a rainy day in SoCal on Saturday, but though it was wet and cold and overcast there was no real precipitation falling when we walked across the street to the shopping center where the Denny’s was located.

We went into the restaurant, ordered our $4 breakfasts and decided we could take a little time to chat and all while we waited for the phone to ring. At this point Tim’s attention was caught by something going on at a table behind me.

A family sat, two middle-aged parents with their teen son and pre-teen daughter, “enjoying” their family time. I use quotation marks because I don’t know how much you can enjoy family time when your teenage ingrate of a son is cussing you out in public, which is what caught Tim’s attention.

As my son (and Dan’s son) Tim knew that this kind of behavior was NEVER tolerated in our home and he was automatically ticked off this kid had no more respect for his parents than to tell them “f*ck you” “you can’t control me” etc in a public restaurant when they, presumably, were paying for his meal.

Tim, like me, abhors disrespect and with this kid being so aggressive verbally he was ready to get involved if the situation turned physical. He’s not one to shy away from confrontation, and has gone to bat for bullied kids at school before.

By this time the kid is getting fairly loud and it is flying all over me. When I have limited sleep I have no filter when it comes to speaking my mind on something I find upsetting, and this was upsetting me BIG time. This is not how I was raised and what bothered me most is the parents were just sitting there letting it happen. So finally when I could stand it no more I said as loudly as I possibly could without screaming, “You know it really f*cking PISSES ME OFF when kids do not respect their parents.”

This caused the kid to look over our direction, where he realized Tim was glaring at him from where he sat. He shut up after that but by this time I was pretty aggravated. I can’t stand disrespect of any sort but a child to a parent? Uh uh. That will not fly with me. I’ll let you manage your own family business provided you are actually HANDLING it. If not, sometimes the disapproval of a couple of strangers is enough to let the kid know the behavior is inappropriate and he needs to chill.

HOPEfully that taught the parents that if you stand up to this and refuse to let it happen you can curb the behavior.

(I kinda doubt it.)

Eventually they leave and my feathers began to smooth again, but after about an hour the garage still hadn’t called. Tim and I decided to go walk off our breakfast and explore the huge shopping area there. We walked fairly far until my back started to protest, then we decided to come back again. By the time we reached the Denny’s it had started to rain and by the time we got back to the Firestone we looked like a couple of drowned rats.

They still hadn’t gotten to the car so we had to sit in their waiting area until they could get to it. That’s when the “monsoon” hit, disrupted their cable service and poured rain right in the door of the store. If you follow me on Twitter you can see what it looked like when bands of rain were falling horizontally as the storm marched into our area.

I was so glad we had made it indoors at this point.

By about 12:30 they gave us the news. The front brakes were about two compressions away from locking up completely and the back brakes were non-existent should we have needed to use them. The total for the repairs needed had a comma in the number. Needless to say this was not good news. Like I said I need my car and this work had to be done.

Mom 2 had to come get us and she was nice enough to drop Tim off at the convention center to attend his WonderCon. Once he was there he let us know that he didn’t have quite enough for the Ray Park autograph session (they charge, doncha know) and so with his phone battery dying he just had us come pick him up.

He didn’t even get a chance to see him.

(He did, however, get John Saxon of Enter the Dragon fame to sign Daniel’s Bruce Lee book that Tim inherited, which he signed “To Dad and Tim” – which was very special.)

By this time we were all back at the house trying to decorate it for the big party we still intended to have. Uncle Keith was in charge of picking up the food from Knott’s Berry Farm (which, after the day we were having, it was a relief not to have to cook a traditional Irish meal) while we made sure that everything else was handled.

By 4pm we picked up Tim and by 6pm we got the car and the rest of the things needed for the party. By the time Jeremiah and I got home everyone was here and the celebration was in full swing. We ate and chatted and waited for Steven to come home so we could finally deliver Grandma’s gift to her.

And this is what made the whole day worth everything:

Life and Death and Other Stuff

If any of you were around a couple of years ago you are aware of the family drama that arose around my ailing uncle Mac and his wife Eleanor. We were informed in early 2010 that my elderly uncle and his wife were admitted into a nursing home because of advanced illnesses including dementia. My mother and I came out to stay in California to help tend to their affairs, as my mom is my uncle’s closest living relative. They remained in a nursing home for the majority of our stay, which lasted from March until May. Once they returned home, with my aunt in hospice care, we went back to Texas. By first week of June my aunt had passed away and we returned to California to make last arrangements for my aunt and figure out what kind of care to get for my uncle.

Against my advisement my mother decided to take my uncle back to Texas to stay with her and my sister. Also against my advisement they decided to forsake any kind of outside nursing care and the bulk of responsibility of both their care (as my mom is disabled as well) fell to my sister. This came to an explosive head in early January 2012 when my sister assaulted my mother and was arrested and removed from the home.

This all happened right after I moved and was unable to return to Texas to handle any of my mother’s or uncle’s affairs. So we got my mom in contact with Adult Protective Services, which made sure my mom and uncle were sent to the hospital to assess their capability to live on their own.

With my uncle and his diminished mental capacity due to the severe dementia, there will be no coming home – and I understood that from the time they were hospitalized.

My mother may also find herself unable to return home to take care of herself at the end of her convalescent stay. While her mental faculties are fine, her body is very frail. She has required a walker for many years to get around, but as of last year her arthritic pain was so bad she couldn’t even drive herself to her doctor’s appointments and stayed housebound for almost all of 2011. This was the biggest variable as far as I was concerned. As of a few days ago I thought we were simply looking for a nursing home for my uncle to live out his life, which I expected to linger for several more years. Despite his dementia he was strong and fairly healthy by appearance.

Yesterday, however, his doctor called me to discuss end-of-life care for him. Turns out that my uncle had sepsis, renal failure, was dehydrated and malnourished and on top of it had pneumonia because he asphyxiated.

My mother has always believed that we do everything medically possible to keep our loved ones alive, but the doctor was concerned about the quality of my uncle’s life not just the extension of it. My uncle is very confused and agitated to the point he needs to be restrained so as to not pull out any tubes they are using to help keep him going.

Worst of all, with the threat of asphyxiation, the next step to intervene would be a feeding tube which the doctor worries would take away one of the basic, primal pleasures of life for someone already so severely diminished – the pleasure of eating.

I spent about three hours on the phone yesterday discussing the reality of a DNR (do not resuscitate) order and what it would mean if my uncle does not get the feeding tube. Essentially he would be placed in hospice care, which would make him as comfortable as possible while we allowed nature to take its course.

Today I learned from another social worker that as the body fails it shuts down for its own comfort… and that he will eat less and drink less because the body can no longer process food. In effect putting in a feeding tube could add more complications if we seek his comfort and happiness in his final days as a goal.

This means with all these problems he now has the death process has begun. For my ultra-religious mother, who believes we should always leave things open for God to work, this may simply mean man is intervening where God has already begun to call him home.

I don’t speak about my personal faith a lot because I believe it is just that – personal. But I do believe that God is the final authority on matters of life and death. If it’s your time to go, ain’t nothin’ gonna save ya. If not, ain’t nothin’ gonna kill ya. I also believe that when we die we are freed from earthly suffering – like being so confused because you don’t recognize people or places and upset because you can’t remember the past or communicate in the present.

This is where my uncle is currently. I think he’d want us to let him go so he can go on home to his God, to his wife and to everyone who has already passed (like his other two sisters and parents.)

Communicating this to my mother was no easy task. I can’t imagine the responsibility she has on her shoulders. Everything has changed in the blink of an eye these last few weeks. She’s no longer in her home and has no idea where she’ll end up – whether in a nursing home there or assisted living anywhere else. She just had this violent altercation with her eldest daughter, who attacked her when she was vulnerable and shattered any kind of trust between them. She lost all her dogs, her babies, who had to be taken to shelters when she and my uncle were removed from the home. And she may not even be able to go back home (and doesn’t want to because she doesn’t want to face my sister ever again.) Now the doctors are saying she has to make this life and death decision for her brother, the only family she has left in that town.

With Steven just getting us financially back on our feet after the move there’s no way I can go back there to fix things just yet, but I’m sure that’s coming in the next month or so. I’ll probably have to sell her house and get her situated in a new living arrangement. These are hard decisions to make and I think that I’m facing this as someone approaching/in/around middle age is no small coincidence. It’s a stark reminder that we have to make these choices for ourselves while times are good and the idea of “end-of-life care” seems decades away.

In other words… it’s time to make a will.

And it’s time to get healthy so I can put off all these problems as long as humanly possible. An ounce of prevention and all that.

Fortunately Steven has a great new job with outstanding benefits (including life insurance for the entire family) so I can finally address my back problem, which may in fact keep me from doing anything other than orchestrating everything for my mother by phone. I’ve been in California for over two months and I’m still managing acute back pain which keeps me from doing a lot of things I want to do. At least two days a week I’m incapacitated due to back pain. This keeps me from seeking full-time (or even part-time) employment, even if my chosen field of entertainment.

It’s given me a little insight into what my mother has to go through unable to do the things she wants to do, the only difference is I’m trying my best to stay active anyway because I never want to lose my mobility. Some things, however, are beyond even my control. In the state I am in I can’t take care of her, that’s for sure. So now I have to figure out all these things so her needs are met and my uncle’s needs are met. Wants have to come second, which is the toughest sale of all.

So I guess the moral of our story is that we don’t wait for life to take our choices away from us. We think we have all the time in the world but appearances are very often deceiving. Life is bitch that doesn’t wait for you to get prepared for every curve ball. Even while you’re young, healthy and times are good… there’s no better time than the present to make sure you’re prepared.

Nine Days

Today marks the 16-year anniversary of the day I lost my youngest son, Brandon. Many of you who know me know the story, but for those who don’t I gave birth to my youngest son Brandon in 1995. He was a healthy and robust 9lb, 11oz baby boy who was monitored through prenatal care and examined before he left the hospital and in both instances given a clean bill of health. Before we could take him to his first checkup, he passed away in his sleep at only 9 days old.

My mother had taken him early that morning so that I could get some sleep. He had been particularly cranky but nothing that stood out as an exceptional health crisis. He finally fell asleep and when I awoke at about 10am that morning and went to check on him he was already gone. I found him, and when I turned him over the part of his body that he had been lying on was purple. I panicked and tried to perform CPR as best I knew how but it was way too late for that.

We called 9-1-1 and were informed by the firefighters who first arrived on the scene he was deceased. They suggested SIDS but we had no idea and wouldn’t until an autopsy was performed. Which meant my perfect little boy would have to be cut up, which only compounded my grief.

In fact, grief is really too small a word for what I felt that day. I’m no stranger to loss but to lose a child is possibly the absolute worst form of loss anyone could face. It’s like a promise has been broken. When you find out you’re pregnant and you await the birth of your little bundle of joy there is a lot of hoping and dreaming going on. You wonder what he or she will look like, who they might resemble of their family, what their character traits might be. The possibilities are endless. Will she be science minded and grow up to be a doctor? Or will he be creative and become a master of art? You never know until that baby arrives and you spend the years raising him or her, getting to know over the span of this relationship that lasts a lifetime the unique miracle of a brand new human. Each new day is filled with discovery that makes your child unique and special.

To have that cut short is a betrayal of the worst kind. And the pain never goes away. I’ve heard it said that you don’t ever get over the loss of a loved one, you simply learn how to manage it. And for 356 days a year, I’ve got it under control. Just like the very day I was told he was gone I went into crisis mode. Many of you may recognize this mode: this is where you do what needs to be done so you can feel your pain later when the crisis is over.

With Timothy’s birthday coming the day after we lost Brandon, I had to stuff down the grief and pain to make sure that my surviving son didn’t ever feel the brunt of the trauma. So I packed up Brandon’s belongings, some of which were still in their original packaging and had not even been used, broke down the crib and packed away any evidence that there had been a baby there at all.

It was all about the other kids from that point on, and they were way too young to understand the scope of what had happened. They needed Mama, and Mama had to be there.

Any of you who are parents understand that’s an easy place to be distracted. Kids require a lot of attention and a lot of care. And you really learn not to take a moment for granted when you have a lifetime stolen right from under your very nose.

But between January 6 and January 15 in every year that has followed, those nine days belong to Brandon. I’m almost ferociously protective of it. Whereas my other kids are thriving and have their own talents to make their marks on the world, Brandon’s claim to immortality is the memory I keep alive. It might be easier to forget but I don’t want to forget. I want to remember those nine days when my family circle was complete. So every January for the rest of my life I will honor his short life by celebrating that it ever happened at all.

In the end that means grieving as only a parent can that their child is no more.

I don’t ask for pity. I equally shy away from any praise that experiencing this makes me any stronger than anyone else. Like I’ve often said, you’d be surprised what you are capable of when you simply have no choice. You put one foot in front of the other and you get through it. What other choice do you have?

But every January I want the world to know there was a little boy named Brandon – a sweet, ethereal spirit who gave his parents perspective on what really matters in this world. It’s not the job we hold or the romances we indulge… it’s the connection between parent and child. It is a connection so strong that the claws of death could not crush it and the tide of time cannot erase it.

If you are a parent, you can help me honor this day by spending time with your children. Hold them, kiss them, feel the warm life that pumps through them and be thankful to whatever source you choose that you have be undeniably blessed.

And never, EVER take it for granted. You never know when your next moment will be your last.

Enable-Bodied.

On the second episode of A&E’s Heavy, a recurring theme made itself known. These folks faced enormous challenges, not just with their own food and exercise choices. It became clear that really obese people were surrounded by those who, even though they may not have meant to, enable the atmosphere that keeps these people really fat.

The painful truth emerged that even though overweight people choose what to eat and why, they generally do not get to morbid obesity levels by themselves.

This is not to lay the blame at the feet of the enabler. Fact is, we chose you for that reason. You let us get away with our destructive patterns, so we know we’re going to get little resistance to create a life around us that literally feeds into our disorder. We fill our lives with people who not only love us despite our size but often contribute to the atmosphere that keeps us the size we are. They’re the ones who eat the junk food we do, sit in front of the TV along side us and watch hours and hours of TV. Whenever we’re too tired or run down to cook, they’re the ones who can run out and grab something quick at a drive thru whether or not we recommend it OR prepare a fat laden meal to make us feel better.

They’re also the ones who, when we finally put a stop to this negative behavior, have a harder time making the changes.

They, after all, aren’t the ones with the problem. We’re the ones who our clearly out of control with negative, bad habits that show in our bodies.

But they love us unconditionally anyway, which to the world makes them the good guys. They put up with our health issues, our body issues and the complications that come along with being fat by association. They truly care, but it is as unhealthy sometimes as our own self destruction.

They end up our partners to our own slow suicide, when all they’re doing is trying to make us happy.

They’re the ones who buy or make our favorite desserts whenever we’ve had a bad day, or order Chinese delivery whenever we are sick or in pain. Or candy bars or sodas or any of the other little “treat” they know we love.

Or buy us dinner out and make sure to order the high fat appetizers, decadent desserts or calorie-laden drinks no one should really eat for health’s sake, but just taste so darn good we “deserve” to indulge and “spoil” ourselves.

Interesting word, spoil. Much more apt than treat or even indulge.

It’s as unconscious for them to offer it as it is for us to cave in and do it.

It’s a cycle of sickness for which we both must be accountable.

Many, many years ago Hal Sparks was asked in an interview what kind of girl he usually was attracted to – and he was quick to point out that he likes the pretty specific “type” of someone who is fit. When asked by the interviewer, “fatties need not apply” he clarified that while he could find heavier girls attractive, a relationship with someone who was overweight wasn’t feasible because he had a very fit lifestyle devoted to health. There would definitely be a disconnect between the two.

At the time, I was a little hacked by the response. Just because someone is “thin” doesn’t mean that they are healthy – and I think feeding into this misconception is destructive for both sides of the eating disorder spectrum. The only difference between a thin unhealthy person and a fat unhealthy person is it’s a lot easier to see spot problems with the fat one.

Upon reflection, though, I think I get what he was trying to say. Someone who works out, keeps fit and eats a very health-specific diet isn’t going to have very much in common with a couch potato who eats a lot of junk. And that’s not very conducive to a healthy relationship. This isn’t a superficial issue of what’s attractive or not as much as it is an issue of what’s compatible or not.

So Hal if you read this, I’m sorry I jumped all over you for that.

(But I still maintain you can’t equate thin with healthy… the two do not always align. I just get now that’s not what you were saying.)

Now it may sound as if I lay a lot of blame at the feet of those who enable fat people to stay fat. Like I said at the beginning, an overweight person is completely responsible for the things that they eat and why. While we didn’t get here alone, it is our choice alone to put the brakes on the train before it goes completely off the rails.

BUT…

It can be a lot harder struggle when those enablers don’t see any need to change their behavior, who continue what may indeed be unconscious sabotage, or take our struggle with food addiction so lightly.

For instance, bringing in cookies, candy and donuts when you know your significant other is trying so hard to beat an addiction with sugar may not be the best approach to keep someone you say you love around for another fifty years.

Offering said cookies and candy can derail someone who has to live by a fairly rigid eating schedule that leaves little room for error if that person wants to see the results they are working so hard to achieve.

It’s not your fault we’re fat. But as we make these changes it’s going to unsettle your comfortable routines, and I hate to say it but… you’ve got to make some changes to come along for the ride.

Going without these sweets or relying on real food rather than easy fast food or getting up and doing stuff rather than watching six hours of TV a night is a lifetime change. This isn’t a fad, and if it is that is to the detriment to the person you say you love.

Help that person make these changes by being supportive and figuring out what you get out of the sabotage – and why you yourself might be resistant to these very important changes.

It can be scary to lose someone you love – and that may be what this feels like. You’re just as comfortable in this world we’ve created as we are. Once these changes kick in it may feel as though the fat person you love is acting like a whole other person.

We kind of have to be. Our addictive patterns that have become such a deep seated part of our personality is what got us to where we are, and it’s the rare obese person who is happy about it. They have to change to literally save their lives, and as much as it disrupts your life this is an evolution that will serve to make your SO/parent/sibling/child/friend BETTER than what they were. They’re going to be healthier, full of energy, happier to have overcome these negative, self destructive patterns.

It’s a good thing.

And it’s a lot more important and long-lasting than a box of cookies.

As long as that box is in the house I am thinking about it. I’m waiting for the excuse to have one (and another, and another.) You think there’s no harm in offering me a bite of one but I’m never going to be satisfied with one bite. That sugar hits my system and I won’t stop obsessing over it until that box is gone.

Sugar works in my brain like a drug, increasing hormones to make me feel better when my body is working against me to usually make me feel sluggish and lethargic.

It doesn’t affect you that way, great. And I know that these are my choices to make – I’m not asking anyone else to sacrifice for my own comfort.

I have to be the one to make these changes.

But I didn’t get here alone. And I’m having a helluva time making these changes alone in an environment where I’m *not* alone.

I just need some help and understanding from the people who say they love me.

If you’re not willing to make this journey with me, at least respect how tough it is for me to make it with all the extra temptation and excuses.

I have a long journey ahead of me. I don’t need any more rocks in the road.

My food diary courtesy of Sparkpeople.com.

A Look Back… And Forward.

Last year I was way more than eager to bid 2009 a not-so-fond farewell. It was a hard year that tested me greatly, where I seemed to have lost more footing than I had gained.

Thankfully 2010 had a few more positives. The biggest positive of all was that I started to earn my living doing what I love to do, utilizing the talent I hope to someday capitalize upon in a much bigger, more creative way.

I’ve managed to “crush it,” and further define “my brand.” I created a fan page on Facebook which has already gained 77 followers, which I hope to double by the end of next year. I just have to be more active in the community and produce more quality content, and so far health issues have prevented me from doing either the way I need to do them.

Health-wise I’m still a mess regarding chronic pain, but it’s really my own fault because of a lack of exercise. I go full throttle for a few weeks then have a physical setback then remain fearfully sedentary to avoid further setbacks… which only means I get stiffer and more pain-riddled.

It’s a bitter, endless cycle.

I can only push my body as far as it’s willing to go, but I see the pattern of my being too easy on myself when I should push through some of these obstacles, no matter how little ground I gain.

The problem is I can’t do it like I would normally do it, so I don’t know how to amend my expectations. If I do one mile one week, I want to do two miles the following week, and three miles the week after that. If I’m not doing more, I’m not doing enough. Because let’s face it… it’s never enough as long as I’m still fat.

So crazy me I stop doing anything out of frustration and pain… which only leads to more frustration and pain.

Therefore I’m fully aware to blame that backward step wholly on myself.

(Not only must this change but it can change, and the power to do so is totally within my capability.)

I feel like I did make some huge strides in my overall health regarding my approach to food. Breaking the bonds with sugar and dairy, even if I did backslide and heave myself headlong into their influence, made me see how easy and fun it could be to adhere to a more cruelty-free diet. Not just on the animals I wasn’t eating, but on myself as well.

The changes in my body, though it hasn’t been the massive weight loss I wanted to achieve by this particular date, are undeniable.

I figure the diet, with a few modifications, can easily be followed again in the upcoming months. It will essentially be dairy-free, sugar-free, but with allowances for eggs and fish… and allowances for living in general. It doesn’t mean I can’t ever have dairy or sugar, I just have to be aware that they are highly addictive and can derail my progress if I don’t keep them firmly under control.

Moderation. Not deprivation.

By fearing to take one bite because I just “knew” I’d go back to eating it so indiscriminately, I ended up giving it too much power over me… and made it a self-fulfilling prophesy.

This too was my fault, and completely within my power to change.

I’ve made a lot of emotional progress this year thanks to the blog especially. I’ve learned where a lot of my triggers were, including many of the ones that keep me the size I am and the hermit I am. I’ve gone through some bitter trials by fire where I was tested on my basic trigger issues such as rejection and abandonment. Truth be told I’m not sure which came first, the dietary backslide or the emotional turmoil, but they definitely fed off of each other making the other one worse. This is my life cycle, and now that I’m aware of it, I know it can be broken.

I’m also self-aware enough to know that I, alone, cannot break it. I need help, and I need to stop being afraid to ask for it. This will come into play in the “resolutions” section of our program.

I think the biggest positive this year, even though it was the most painful lesson to learn, was figuring out what I’m willing to put up with just to be loved or accepted. I finally realized that I don’t have to lose myself in the expectations of another just to be worthy of their love or affection. This was especially true with my family.

I’ve long believed that I wasn’t “good enough,” that I had to work for acceptance because just being me wasn’t enough. It’s made me give away my power to everyone just so they wouldn’t reject me and ultimately abandon me. I let everyone else determine my value, while I carried the unnecessary baggage of their expectations of what I should do or who I should be.

Because of that, I internalized the negative stuff and let that define me. Everyone else got to decide if I mattered, because I couldn’t quite figure out that I matter “just cuz.” That’s why attention, and especially the lack thereof, has kept me on a sadistic merry-go-round of self-deprecation pretty much all year.

It wasn’t that people didn’t meet my expectations of how I needed to be treated, it’s that I gave too much power to being treated anyway at all.

These were very painful lessons to learn and quite honestly I’m still struggling with them. I have been figuratively scorched by these long-lasting patterns, so much so I am way too sensitive to slights – real or perceived – from new relationships where I don’t feel I’ve yet been able to create acceptable boundaries (which is why outside help is required.)

The good news is, I’ve learned exactly how much of myself I’m willing to let go now in order to have certain relationships… and I’ve been able to sever the ones where I had no hopes whatsoever of getting an honest connection in return.

Anyone who knows me knows this is *huge.*

Overall 2010 showed me in no uncertain terms what works and what doesn’t, and how so much of it is connected.

That’s why one resolution isn’t going to cut it. They all have to work together, like a well-oiled machine.

Because there are so many I feel a bit intimidated, as if I know I’m putting too much on my plate and some things are just naturally going to fall through the cracks.

That’s why one of the most important resolutions is to keep my eye on the bigger picture. Looking back I can say that I didn’t do all the things I wanted to do this year. But that doesn’t invalidate the year, nor take away from the major accomplishments I did pull off – which I think are pretty darned impressive in the whole scheme of things.

Not being able to check everything off neatly at this time next year won’t make me a failure. The most important thing is that I learned as much from the setbacks as I did from the successes.

Which I kinda think was the theme of 2010.

Progress. Not perfection.

So here are the goals for 2011, in no particular order.

HEALTH

Make healthier choices in my diet. No restrictive diet, aside from portion control, is required; I already know what works and what doesn’t.

Gently push myself just an increment more than I did the day before. True lasting progress is in the extra little effort you build off of day by day. I may can only walk around my apartment for five minutes to start with, to condition my body to be more active and more mobile. The next day, just walk a few steps more.

One degree can make all the difference.

I’m also going to get back to a natural approach with managing my pain, from the food I eat to the way I treat my body. This will include an introduction to things like acupuncture, although I should say here I’m quite apprehensive about it. Which is kinda why I’ve put it off for four years.

Rediscover what I love about food – the sheer creativity of finding healthier ways to eat. This will include a weekly (or at least semi-regular) podcast where I talk about what recipe I’m trying for the week, and what vegetable I’m learning how to love in a new way. I’m actually kind of excited about it, I have ten or so recipes already archived and hope to start no later than this coming week. This will likely coincide with Meatless Mondays, and will get more advanced as I get more comfortable in the medium.

This will help me “crush it” with my

CAREER

I have so many things I want to do in this section I’m almost afraid to list them all. But here goes.

1. Write more, especially screenplays. This year I aim to finish one feature length screenplay and a complete series of hour-long scripts for a TV drama. That’s roughly 13 with a Bible and hopefully synopses for following seasons.

2. Read more, dividing my time between classic novels and screenplays. I’m tackling the 100 Books to Read Before You Die list, as I’m almost shamefully under-read. I won’t even tell you how many of these books I have read, but suffice it to say it’s in the single digits. I realize some are going to be easier than others, but like Stephen King says if you want to be a writer you do two things: read, read, read and write, write, write.

3. Get my work out there. Stop tinkering around trying to make it perfect and just trust my talent. I don’t need any other validation than that. I have something of value to sell, I just need to actually believe in it enough to sell it. (this is the scariest part of the business for me, which is why I’m stuck at the almost-sold level.)

4. Network. Because I’ve never mastered #3, part of me feels like a huge phony who would fall apart amidst the very people whose ranks I wish to join. I have zero self-confidence, only because I’ve never *really* put myself out there and tried to test the waters to see if I can swim. And ridiculously I have had plenty of validation to do so, even with a stack of rejection letters just like every other writer in the world, but because *I* don’t quite believe I have what it takes, nothing has ever been good enough and will always believe the worst. Which is why #5 has sent me into panic attacks for the past week and a half.

5. Move to California to really give my writing career a chance. *shudder* This will include making and saving money, neither of which have been my strong suit as of late, in an epic way heretofore unrealized in my own life up to this point.

But just because I *haven’t* done it doesn’t mean I *can’t.* At least that’s what I keep telling myself as I’m breathing in and out of a paper bag.

PERSONAL

I’m going to find a therapist where I can work through some of my trigger issues. I think we can decisively say what’s wrong with me, but I haven’t quite mastered what it takes to get past it. And I need to get past it. Nothing else will work in my life until I figure out how to stop responding to the problems of my past.

Like the old saying goes, keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten.

N’ I’m kinda over it, to be quite honest.

I’m also going to give myself more openly to my relationships. Most of the time I hold back, afraid of being hurt, and as a result have superficial relationships where I don’t completely trust anyone. Then I wonder why people can’t give themselves more wholeheartedly to me, and use that as an opportunity to beat myself up s’more. It’s all quite pointless, really. Relationships don’t work that way, and I miss out on good people in the meantime. So I need to stop worrying about what I’ll get in return – good or bad – and start striving for more genuine connections.

I just need to believe I’m worth it. And the only way to do that is to work hard on all the things I mentioned on this list of goals. With those achievements will come self-confidence.

So that’s it. I’m kinda scared but kinda excited too. I never thought, really, when I wrote a similar blog at the end of 2009 that I’d have made the progress toward my ultimate goals that I have.

So bring it on, 2011. Show me what you’ve got.

Happy New Year, everybody! ❤

The Conversation.

I don’t know why I’m tap dancing around what was said. Here was the aforementioned email:

it would be really nice if you could help. What ever differences you have with ***, get over it. I am dealing with her and **** *** all by myslef with no help from you….so when the day comes and *** dies, don’t even think you are ever stepping one foot in this house

—–

And here’s my response:

Yes your asking so nicely really does a lot to make me want to help.

One day you both will realize that the guilt thing doesn’t work on me anymore. Those chains are effectively broken. If I didn’t earn your love by being there for you in the past – and you know DAMN WELL that I was there for you when everyone ELSE in your life had bailed, nothing I ever do in the future is going to be enough.

I tried to be your ****** and I tried to be your friend. But you are too twisted with bitter venom to believe anything but the worst in me. Deep down, under everything you never quite let go of this image you have that I’m just out to get what I can get and use everyone. Forget the fact that I dropped everything to come out and be with you when you were DYING.

I’m only as good as my last good deed for you. And quite honestly… I’m worn out. I’ve got my own family who needs me and who loves me and who doesn’t beat me up for what I’m not, trying to pretend they care just so they don’t end up alone.

It’s all about money and what people do for you… and you never ever think about the damage you wreak on everyone else. The way you leave people abandoned – like Dan and I when we went to LA the first time and you had NO PROBLEM whatsoever in leaving us stranded and homeless.

Like having my son die and you had NO PROBLEM in ignoring me when I needed someone in my life to comfort me.

I tried to bury the hatchet a long time ago when I tried to get you hired on at ********, and you had NO PROBLEM in talking shit about me to my coworkers.

You couldn’t even find any decency then when I did something for you that didn’t benefit me at all. I got no credit, I certainly got no loyalty.

All I got is what I always get from you… another kick in the head for being born as someone you have gotten a lot of victim miles out of hating for 41 years.

It’s always been about you. It will always be about you. Which is why you’re alone with no one in this world willing to give any thing more to someone so coldly selfish you only care about what you get. No gift is sincere, it’s just blackmail to make people owe you.

Those are your demons. You’re going to have to fix them yourself. I’m done.

But thanks for showing me that Christian crap you tried to lay on me earlier this year was all a big hoax.

And you were the one who wanted to take on this thing with ***** *** so don’t come crying to me now. I warned *** in ** that you would buckle under the strain – but no one listens to me. If I had my way, ***** *** would still be in ** getting proper care by people trained to do so… or at least getting some help here.

I’m sure she didn’t tell you that was my suggestion – to get some kind of part time help here. I was the one calling the VA and trying to set things up. Hell, I was the one who was taking care of things in ********** – three months of my life I dropped because I was needed by people who didn’t even KNOW me.

So you can take your guilt trip and stick it. I’ve already tried to help as much as *** will let me. No one listened to me then, no one’s going to listen to me now.

Yet somehow I’m supposed to bail everyone out when they find themselves painted into a corner… like it’s my fault.

Well guess what? This spoiled opportunist doesn’t want ***’s house. I don’t want ***’s money. Y’all want to beat me up for being this huge leech who has taken more than you’ve all wanted to give… well allow me to let you off the hook. I don’t want ANYTHING from anyone who wants to keep me bound by guilt and obligation, and I certainly don’t consider that family.

You can love me or you can leave me the hell alone.

I would deeply appreciate the latter.

If y’all really loved *** you’d get him the proper care he deserves. That’s not from me. That’s not from you or ***. That’s from doctors and therapists and people trained to handle his illness.

But I guess I know which way my family will go.

It’s all about the money, his suffering be damned.

And I don’t want any part of it.