Tag Archives: depression

Of Wagons and Pink Clouds

*sweeps off the dust*

I’m re-reading Carolyn Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story right now.  It’s something of a touchstone for me; I bought it the same day I decided once and for all in 2007 to get sober–you know, the first time.  I got through the 15 or so months of sobriety manically–I used every manner of distraction I could (blogging included, if I recall correctly, at least at the end)–knitting, cooking, reading, writing (ah, the fiction.  Oi).  I hopped off the wagon–far too deliberate to call it a fall–on July 4, 2008, or thereabouts.

By December of that year, it was clear that this was NOT working.  Knapp observes that this is a common trait among alcoholics–“surely, but surely I can learn to control my drinking.”  She notes:

More important, the moderation philosophy seems counter to one of the most essential aspects of alcoholic experience–namely, that most of us have already tired, and consistently failed, to moderate our drinking on our own, experimenting time after time with control….The story is classic.  The struggle to control intake, to modify, to cut it back, deploy a hundred different drinking strategies in the effort–is one of the hallmarks of alcoholic behavior. (130)

Knapp points out–rightly, at least in my experiences, that we often attempt to govern our consumption with rules.  Mine were (this is general, as I tended to blow most of them off within a few weeks, but I think the list captures the majority):

  • No drinking if the kids had a sleepover.
  • No drinking unless the kids had a sleepover.
  • Drink only good wine.
  • No drinking during the week.
  • No more that two drinks a night.
  • No drinking if hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, and it’s correlative, no drinking alone (note that this was a bizarro corruption of an AA philosophy known as HALT).
  • No drinking around extended family.
  • No drinking to the point of blackout.
  • No going to work hungover.
  • Drink only beer.
  • Avoid bourbon.
  • No whiskey of any variation.
  • No drinking at work.
  • No driving after more than two drinks and less than one hour.

Dude, you have to give me something on the specificity of the last, which is pretty much the only one I didn’t violate–in fact it is one of two:  the last two were the only ones.  I could go on; I should have written them down along the way, because they tended to become progressively convoluted (no drinking while standing in the kitchen prior to dinner, for instance), but writing them down might have, in my somewhat twisted way of encountering the world,  been something I had to follow.

I dragged myself back on the wagon in February 2009, the progress of which was noted in these pages.  My primary distraction was, of course, training for a marathon.  I spent a good deal of the following fall ignoring a foot injury (up until I had absolutely no choice and dropped out of the Surf City 2010 marathon at almost the last minute).  My foot eventually healed–I’ve run two half-marathons and *think* I’ll be good for the 2011 GA Marathon come March, but in the interim–round about early June 2010, I started drinking again (for anyone who is keeping score, yes, it was 15 months again, which I’ve lately come to understand is not terribly unusual.  Sad, yes, but not unusual, particularly for someone hellbent on sobering without help and without community).

As the fall–and the year, 2010 not having been a choice one around here–progressed, my drinking increased.  I gave myself a pass in October, largely because I was patting myself on the back for not taking most of the narcotics I was given after the dog attack (sigh) and that pass led exactly where one might expect it to have.  I realized in late November how bad off I was when I blacked out four nights out of 7 during Thanksgiving week.

Complete and total shutdown.  Now, whether I was blacked out or passed out, I really can’t say.  I woke up where I was supposed to, dressed appropriately for having gone to bed (that is, not still in my jeans or whatever), and more or less at the appropriate time, often early.  I just couldn’t recall much about the nights before, leading me to believe I remained more or less functional.  No one said anything to the contrary, either (the silence of my family is perhaps the most disconcerting thing.  Surely this has been a noticeable decline.)  Of course, to maintain my facade of denial, I never asked, either.

So, in November–the 28th to be precise– I half-halfheartedly quit drinking for the third time.  I’m sure you can imagine how charmingly that went, what with the lack of commitment and all.  I blogged nearly every day (not here, clearly) about progress, noting how sick I felt (ah, detox), but the rising levels of balance, clarity, and excitement.  What Knapp calls the “classic pink cloud” (247).  I embraced my inner 15-year-old and pierced my ear, something I’d been wanting forever.

And then went to a party and got tipsy.  Subsequently, I went home and got bombed.

During all of this, I also ramped up my physical routines,  adding 1 day of yoga and 6 days of cardio to my four days of running per week (yes, some days are doubles; no, I’ve not lost sight of how many days are in a week).  Funny how Knapp’s remark about exercise caught me last night: ” That’s a pretty common strategy among alcoholic drinkers–sweat away the hangover” (21).  I generally referred to it as sweating out the poisons.

What really caught me in Knapp’s book was a paragraph I don’t really remember resonating the first time–perhaps experience has made me sensitive to it.  She talks throughout the book about the habits of the alcoholic species, and, specifically,  she points to hunger, which may manifest physically, but, more often than not, alcoholics experience it psychically:

I sometimes think of alcoholics as people who’ve elevated [the search for a fix] to an art form or a religion, filling the emptiness with drink, chasing drink after drink, sometimes killing themselves in the effort.  They may give up liquor, but the chase is harder to stop. That’s why you hear people in AA meetings talk about thinking or acting alcoholically long after they’ve put down their last drink. The search for an external solution goes on: I want something.  I need something. “My husband is acting like an idiot,” a woman said at a meeting not long ago.  “I have to remember that the solution is not ‘Get a new husband’.” (61)

I laughed out loud when I read that, though I declined to read it aloud to G, fearing that it would most likely be heard as hurtful to him, while the concept was merely familiar to me.  It’s my old friends: run and obsess.  I suspect that what I tend to refer to an obsession (since, well, it is), is at least parallel to Knapp’s hunger, a word more resonant for someone with her particular addictive background (which included anorexia).

I expect (hope?) detoxing won’t be quite as horrible as it was in early December; it shouldn’t be, but this is the fourth time I’ve put my poor body through it (to say nothing of my mind), but when I looked down earlier this week and saw my hands visibly shaking (more so than is typical for me–I’m never exactly stable-of-hand), I surrendered.  Gave it up to whatever higher power will have me this time.

I’m tired of being a high-functioning active alcoholic (and, at present, am questioning how much I was slipping in the last few months anyway)–it’s fucking exhausting.  I’d rather be a high-functioning alcoholic-in-recovery, though, as I recall, it’s not exactly a walk in the park.  I’ll return to AA–not the meetings I attended before, since those are now held at the church I left last year, and, well, no thank you, but there are several in the area.

I’m told I should read Mary Karr’s Lit as well, so that is likely up next.

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Lent: Musings on Control

I have, and this is not an exaggeration, been mulling this post for a week.  I have written nearly a dozen versions in my head, but each time I get to the keyboard, I can’t translate the braindroppings into something even vaguely readable.  In this, an attempt to exert control over even my (want to guess how many times I’ve started and restarted this sentence today?) public face, I manifest one of the most significant, and troubling, aspects of my personality: the absolute need to be in control.  Unsurprisingly, my Lenten readings are already dancing around this topic, much as last year’s seemed to coalesce around anger (significant personality flaw #1).  I finished Chodron’s Comfortable with Uncertainty (I’m not.  But, as she reminds, I am starting where I am) and Al-anon’s From Survival to Recovery last week, and though I am certain I’ll be back to Chodron before the season is out, I have some preliminary thoughts on the particular for radical transformation seems to be coming into shape for me.

Control as Excess

Now, I’ve known for most of my existence that control is both a problem and an integral part of who “I” am.  I joked, even as a teen who was trying desperately to deny her burgeoning addictions, that I’d never be much of a drunk, because I couldn’t stand to be that much out of control (commence laughter now).  The only space I allowed for a modicum of release was in music–particularly live music, because in the atmosphere of a concert, I could, would, and did, let myself physically and mentally, for lack of a better term, flail.  I simply gave into the music.  Part of this was a gift from my years of dancing, screwy as that seems as there is little more controlled than a tap dance routine; dance afforded me a mental connection with music that tends to manifest as a desire to just move and be.

Now, before CD jumps down my throat with CK right behind, I am NOT arguing that music is itself not highly constructed.  I would, however, argue that the language of music transcends the rigor of the music grammar, or, at least, it can.*  And for me, it most assuredly does; I should also add a note of gratitude here: it was the two of you who gave me the gift of that grammar and the rudiments of musical theory that later afforded me the opportunity to study music theory in much more detail as a graduate student.  My thesis (which meant so much more to me emotionally than my dissertation would), in other words, was both a gift from the two of you and an homage to your importance in my life.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

When I finally came to the point that I could admit my addictions, I became rather more aware of the ways in which I used alcohol to escape control; moreover, I’ve come to realize that the more I try to gain control over the world, the more likely I am and will be to succumb to addictive behaviors.  Counterintuitive?  No, not really.  When I try to maintain control over life–over which I have NO control, no matter what illusions I allow myself to wallow in, I open myself to a dangerous path of needing to escape the useless control I’ve attempted to assert. As Chodron reminds, “the basic ground of compassionate action is the importance of working with rather than struggling against.” (95).  She repeats in this book, as she does in several others, that another key to compassionate action is to let go of the storyline, rather than trying to shape life into a familiar, comfortable narrative, wherein we can be the victim, the hero, the whatever our desires request in the moment.

Lessons in Control Narratives

I saw a great many connections between Chodron and Al-anon, thought their ends are different: for Chodron, the path is the goal and for Al-anon, happiness (that’s highly, and unfairly, summative, but there does seem to me to be a more nameable goal involved in the 12 steps for Al-anon than the 108 teachings in Chodron, however similar the phrasing tended to be).  When I first read the Big Book for AA, I identified immediately, but, then, I’d already confronted and acknowledged my addictions at that point.  I was far more resisting to Al-anon, though I kept thinking that, “Hmmm….TG should read this.”  But, I also recognized myself in those pages, and not just in the stories of the alcoholic and addict.  I saw myself in the Al-anon stories.  I wasn’t surprised, exactly, though I was (and remain, I admit) resistant.  I am the child of an alcoholic whose own parents exhibited symptoms of the same (though, honestly, I don’t know enough about that set of grandparents to really say).  I was expected to be perfect, in order to relieve my mother’s suffering; I don’t say this to be flip or insincere.  As a then undiagnosed and therefore improperly medicated bi-polar patient, my mother was suffering tremendously.  And through various means it was communicated to me that I was to be easy on her–take care of her, be good, be an excellent student, and so forth.

Was I?  Oh hell no.  I was a bratty, angry teen who simultaneously wanted attention and wanted to be left completely alone and assumed that she was easily forgotten.  But, the direction to be perfect was internalized enough that I felt paralyzingly guilty for everything I did wrong (not that I stopped doing wrong–but I did try to hide most of it).  As I aged, and myself became a parent, I demanded more and more control over my situation and became increasingly angry when that control didn’t come or when the illusions of control collapsed.  I can see in the readings though, that the permission given to the loved ones of alcoholics to NOT be in control (Step One) over the alcohol or the alcoholic, must come as a terrible relief.  I do wonder how I would have engaged the world differently in my 20s if someone had granted me the permission not to be in control of my mother.

All of my attempts to control my world (or my mother or my son or my cats or my “drinking correctly” rules)  not only don’t work, but they create further suffering, not only for me, in many cases, but for those around me.  Since I function in metaphor, let me offer this: what I want for the year, what I would like to learn (yes, still controlling, but starting where I am), is to begin to engage the world in the way my 15-year-old inner rocker girl engages music.  She lets go; she’s fabulous in that way.

2010, so far, as been a model year for lessons in letting go of control.  To say that the year sucks so far wouldn’t begin to describe it accurately, but, for the first time in, well, ever, I’ve encountered each event knowing, without question, that I had no control over the situation.  And, in at least one case, the control I *thought* I had has been removed (I grant, I realized in the end that I never had it to begin with–it was totally illusory).   Thus, I think the lessons in these books are not insignificant right now.   I’m still depressed, but I recognize it, and I recognize that there is nothing I can really do in any of my current situations beyond compassion.  And, if that is all I can be right now, if that is where I am, that has to be enough for right now because there is nothing else, and the constant reaching creates little more than pain.

For all of her troubles–and boy did she have them–my inner 15-year-old rocker chick has something to teach me.  In the face of a depression that would soon manifest as a debilitating physical illness and some incredibly poor choices, she knew how to stop being the center and be carried off into a connection forged by music.  My body still retains memories of those moments; I can feel the pulse and promise in the General Admission pits that I threw myself into in order to be no where other than there in that moment.

Right now, my readings and my year are screaming (even oddly, Attali) I need to learn to be present again.  Here.  Right now–not past, not future.  Present.  All I can offer the world and myself is compassion; control is irrelevant.


*Rather like, um, literature, sayeth the lit prof.

Straightening Out the Rug

Okay..weird.  I wrote this several days ago (last Thursday) and thought it had disappeared into the great beyond.  Lo and behold, this morning it reappeared.  I’ll comment on it below, but…it seemed worth posting this intact.


I don’t know how many of you remember the silly-ass movie Top Secret (ah, the days and youth of Val Kilmer), but the scene in the diner when he starts spinning on the rug, has for some stupid reason been in my head for the past few days:

Go to 1:26 to see the spinning scene, but the clip is worth the few minutes of goofiness.

Rugs are on my mind–and I am pleased that I defaulted to parody here–because the rug was pulled out from under me rather dramatically twice this week.  While normally I’ve no particular hesitation in sharing my various mistakes and tribulations, these two particular incidents are not mine to share.  They were big and unexpected and utterly terrifying, though.  I’ve not had a panic attack, nor given into my various demons, though I’m quite depressed.  I’m of the opinion that depression is a perfectly rational response, so I’m not worrying over it so much as just trying to maintain a semblance of normal.

The highlight of the past few days was teaching this morning.  I think I have one of those rare classes–mature beyond my initial expectations and wonderfully curious and opinionated.  While they have no idea what has happened, I can’t begin to express the gratitude I owe them for holding me up this morning, when they didn’t even know that they were doing so.  It felt so good to be up there, out of my little reality, and teaching, especially with such delightful students.

One casualty of the events is the marathon I’d planned to run on February 7th.  I’m sad to let it go, but it is prudent to do so.  Once I’ve dusted myself off sufficiently, I may decide to put the training thus far to use toward the ING marathon in Atlanta this spring, but we’ll see what shakes out.  And, as ever, I’m not inclined to believe that things can’t get any worse (or won’t get better, for that matter).  Situations can always degrade and improve.

Anyway, my prayers are with you all in your own situations and moments–good and bad.  My prayers are for all Haitians–ones who lived through the earthquake directly and ones who will experience the aftershocks in the days and weeks to come, both in Haiti and abroad.  My prayers are with those who my lesser brain would like to dismiss and deride right now, because, as a wise woman noted in her tweets of late: “I cannot afford the luxury of a negative thought.”

Couple of readings to share:

On the upside, I’d like to share a few reading goodies: What I’m Up To, from Paradise Perspective.  Great thought: “Keeping focused on the moment, and remembering to be present for this inch, this stitch, and NOT the finished garment (or what’s for dinner) is the goal.”

This one is a couple weeks old, but worth the read:  Starting Over, from Duff’s Reverb Column.

(added on Monday): From slacktivist, Dear Pat Robertson, STFU.  I think the title explains all you need to know.  Amen.


I’m feeling better today.  My memories of last week are foggy at best–except when I was at work, when I was able to focus most– it was utterly awful.  And the third thing (convinced as I am that bad things come in threes) seems to be the possibility of additional furlough days (not sure yet–we have several already worked into the semester, but I’m not sure if they “count”).  But, it is what it is.  We’ll get through the two big “bads” of last week and the potential for more furlough days.  Our lives may look different in the end, but, we’ll get through.

Right now, I’m taking things one stitch at a time (most humorous to me, since one of my current books is this gem: The Happy Hooker.  Why the heck not, right?

I think for the next few posts, I’m going to work on compiling my Lenten Reading list (I need a theme–thoughts?), writing about books, and trying very hard to write the positive.  Focus on the Beautiful, for a while, rather than just the Disease.

The Death Plague, or Rest and Reflection by Force

So, I took Monday and Tuesday off this week.

I arranged to be off on Monday and Tuesday so that I could go climb Mt. Le Conte with G. on his yearly adventure tangling with mother nature. I did not, however, climb Mt. Le Conte, nor leave the state of Georgia nor even my house on Monday and Tuesday (save for the obligatory picking up of TG from school). Instead, I’ve spent Monday and Tuesday in my pajamas, fighting with the beagle for space on the couch, reading, and answering emails.

Why?

Very simple, my friends. The death plague came to visit. No, no, not any swine flu claims (or seasonal flu claims, for that matter) here, though I expect to see an upswing of them at work, as we head into midterms. The death plague is a much more insipid animal, one that leaves the afflicted incapable of successfully fighting said beagle and spending most of the day as a pad for the beagle to growl, drool, and dream upon.

Hey, well, he’s a cute beagle, right? That has to count for something.

The death plague, for the uninitiated, is what tends to afflict me when I fail to listen to my brain and body demands that I take some time to do nothing. See, I’ve not managed to actually take a day to rest since changing jobs, and, in fact, since well before that. Now, I’ve taken some vacation days here and there, and on every single one of them, I’ve worked–housecleaning, running a marathon, taking too few days to reasonably travel long distances (rather takes away from the whole rest part), painting, whatevering, but not resting. Explicitly failing to rest, as a matter of fact.

I realized last week that I’d not finished a book in months, which, you might realize, is a bit odd for me. In fact, it’s damn odd and usually associated with depression. And while it is true that I seem to be emerging from my annual summer depression, that was not the reason I wasn’t reading. The reason is more simple: I am not taking the time.

Not I don’t have time, mind you. Nor do I need to “create” time (which I can’t do in any case). I am falling into the trap I knew well enough to avoid when I got into the particular profession I entered. Let me clarify: ever heard profs joke they got into the business for the summers? Well, for the most part, that’s a lie. Profs often spend summers scrambling to make ends meet–teaching three short session classes or what have you. Summers don’t tend to be especially restful. But, even teaching a 5/5 load, I was able to create spaces of rest and spaces of calm that I seem to have lost in the past year. I got into academia because I love to teach, and I love the sanctuary and freedom teaching offers me.

Now? Much more the rat race. I’m working longer hours at work (which is, for me, quite different from grading on the couch, which at least had the benefits of a cat to amuse me); I’m not able to disappear on Fridays, Spring Breaks, odd-summer days. I’m just there. And, worse, I’ve let work intrude at home.

It didn’t occur to me how bad it was until Monday, when I was feverish, achy, miserable, but pleased to sit on the couch (well, the part the beagle would cede to me, at any rate) and reading. And jumping up to answer my emails, every time my phone buzzed. Now, how ridiculous is that? By early afternoon, I had received 30 emails. And, I was answering them.

Because, like, you know, they can’t function without me!

Yeah, right.

I said–out loud even–than I needed to take a day several weeks ago, after all the church and flooding BS. I even planned a day and then didn’t take it off, but went in like good soldier.

This was not an intelligent act.

And that’s the problem that allowed the death plague to come calling: not the hours, not the stress, not the anxiety about upsetting the higher administration or, worse, faculty and staff, not the “OMG, I have to get to X in 5 minutes! (or 5 minutes ago),” not the feeling that my students are somehow getting the short end of the stick. It’s the connectivity and the failure to respect my ever-so-well-known limitations. So my body rebelled against my unwillingness to let it go for a while, and I was forced to let go of the race (though, admittedly, how many emails did I keep answering?). My brain was so unwilling to accept silence or solitude that my body was forced to resort to dastardly measures, including ruining a perfectly good chance to hike a mountain.

The fever seems to have taken the hike (up Mt. Le Conte, I’ve no doubt!), so I’ll return to work tomorrow, a bit more relaxed, and a bit more willing to take a vacation day here and there, so as not to become the (literally) feverish whack-a-loon I was becoming. And, better yet, the phone is going to get turned off. I am NOT checking email all-freaking-night-long just because there *might* be a crisis that I need to swoop into rectify.

There’s a reason why hire wonderful, competent people. It’s so we can be wonderful and competent together, and not require pseudo-superheroic deeds of anyone.

So, I’m going to turn off the connectivity for the evening and curl up for the next few hours with the couch-hog beagle and a lovely cup or three of tea.

Cheers, all. Stay well, be well, and be kind to yourselves.

All Will Be Well…I Hope

So, here we are.  *dusts off the furniture*

Dude, it has been a while, hasn’t it?

What do you think of the new digs?  Brought all the old pieces over, freshened up the pages a tad.  I’ve been working hard on the place as I worked on being summarily unable to compose anything new.

*Pulls up virtual chair*–do you need one?

I’m faking it right now, honestly.  I still can’t put words in a string to call them a sentence, but…well, fake it ’til you make it, right?  So, I’m going to ramble a bit today, perhaps again tomorrow, and one of these days we’ll get right again.  Soon, I hope.

If you are coming over from the old page, thanks, and, yes, this really is in part to shake myself out of a rut that has been slowly squelching me since, oh, May?  Yes, I also really did bleach my hair–sort of blonde now, though, really, my hair rejects all but red, so it’s a red-blonde, but it’s different, which is good.  I’m thinking about going lighter, but I’ll need a professional to accomplish that, I suspect.

Interesting factoid:  My kitten loves the smell of hair dye; she slept on my hair last night, sniffing it.  Weird, yes?  Or, my kitten has some issues.

Imagine that, eh?

The picture above (in the header) is from the trip to WA; it’s from Beach 4, I think, in Olympia National Park.  Beautiful place.  That’s Destruction Island way in the background.

One of the things I most liked about Olympia is, well, I’ve spent enough years playing at being a Romanticist to just go on and say it, haven’t I?…the beach is sublime.  The good sublime, as in–the natural world reminding you that you are tiny and insignificant and still utterly welcome to absorb the beauty.  Huge cliffs, currents that will quite clearly, rip you from the shoreline with narry a blink of the watery eye.  And the driftwood.

Okay, seriously, beaches in Virginia have “driftwood”–pieces of smoothed over wood–some even about the size of my thigh.  Washington, on the other hand, has drift-fucking-trees.  There is no doubt that one of these suckers–be it wet in the ocean or dry on land, could off you in a moment.  And there are piles and piles and piles of these drifttrees up and down the shoreline.

Olympic National Park, Washington.  June 2009

Olympic National Park, WA. June 2009

Some of them are escapees from the logging industry, while others are washed out from the local rain forests.  Either way….they are trees.  Big ones, at that.  The picture at right is a good example of what I mean–see, there’s some legitimate driftwood there…but there are also whole freaking trees.

This might, as much as any other, be a good metaphor for how I’m feeling.  Kind of bleak–kind of waiting for the next tree, but if I can manage to avoid them…all will be well.

So, anyway, welcome here.  I’ll fake it for a while, but I’ll get back in the groove shortly.  I hope.  Hope you’ll pull up a tree and stay awhile.  I’ll be posting more, even if it’s just random thoughts; I’ve never tried just making myself do it when it comes to writing–it works for running, so why not here?  Use one of those fine running lessons, perhaps.

I’m still training for the half-marathon in VB on Labor Day weekend–and looking forward to it.  Had a lousy-ass 12-miler on Saturday (hot, humid, read: training in the Deep South in the summer.  Really?), started off well, but the humidity damn near killed me.  On Sunday, however, I dragged myself against my will and what appeared to be better judgment out the door for five miles.  And then ran it faster by almost 2 minutes than ever before.

Shows how good my judgment is.   So, Sunday was a worthwhile run, once I committed to it.  And, well, hot damn, this post is approaching something worthwhile too.

Fabulous!

Mantra for the day:  All is well.  All will be well.  (thanks, Rev. Dean).

What I Learned: Running is Cheaper than Therapy

Actually, running is not cheaper than therapy, the shoes, after all, are not covered by insurance, and they alone will flatten your wallet. But, I love the notion. Moreover, I love that the notion is so common–that there are so many of us for whom running IS therapeutic–that the sentiment ended up on a hat. This post was, of course, supposed to be up and complete sometime last week, but it was neither, as it was still trapped in the confines of my head, and I think the ensuing events of the weekend make the delay a good thing, at least in terms of my ability to articulate what I learned while training for my first marathon.

And, yes, I do suspect and intend that it will not be my last. I enjoyed both the process (mostly) and the event (tremendously) so much that I cannot imagine never running another one. Trouble is now, of course, picking one…so many options. Can’t afford all of them, but, hey, nothing wrong with a dream right? Big Sur to Carmel and Vienna, I’m looking at you. The half marathon in my hometown is a heck of a treat to look forward to in the meantime.

So what did I learn in this process and why did I undertake it in the first place? Let’s begin here, then: gratitude. I learned a heck of a lot about gratitude during this adventure.

G., of course, deserves several hat tips for even putting up with me as I figured out what I was doing, which shoes really did work best for me, what caloric intake I needed to prevent the bad attitude from appearing, in addition to the hours I spent off and running on Saturdays. He even moved the “big breakfast” morning to Sundays, so that I could run early (early being something of a requirement in the South) on Saturdays and still be able to share the weekly bacon-fest with the kids on Sundays (the kids also deserve kudos–esp. TG, who has assured me that he’s going to join me on a race next year). And, bless his heart, G. excels at not rolling his eyes at me when I find yet “another run I really, really, really want to do” or wax ecstatic over this running adventure or that one. I suppose the running commentary (har, har) is something of a relief for him from my normal obsessive streaks.

Speaking of which, I do have to thank Duff, Jeff, Geoff, and Mike from Loaded, who not only provided much of my mental soundtrack (since I don’t wear earphones, I rely on whatever my brain is processing. Thank goodness “Sick” came out when it did) during training, and were kind enough to schedule a show in Nashville in honor of my first 15 miler. Okay, so the date of the show and the particular run were simply kismet, but it was a hell of a celebration–at least for me. And Duff, who was on the receiving end of more than one tweet regarding surviving “the big one,” was kind enough to send good mantras and congrats. So, thanks gentlemen.

And while we are on the subject of people who have cheered me on from afar and put up with occasional panicked twittering on the subject, my buddy Mad has been a lifeline of understanding and advice. As ever, Mad, thank you–and I wish we were closer; I’d love to run one with you. Rhyte and DD also cheered from afar, and I am most grateful that DD took the chance to email me back in April. I’m so glad to have met you both. Rhyte–you’ll rock in October, lady. Keep running!

Locally, I have my running buddies (someday we’ll all manage to run together, eh?) J and K, who rock my world and are always way more hopeful about my chances for success than I am. Add to them the tremendous emotional support I got from the office cheering squad–Kelly, Jill, Charles (P.E. profs are so awesome!), Amy, Diane, Chris, Penny, and Sara (who never fails to ask how the morning run went), and the folks from both campuses and from church who followed my progress on race day. Thank you all.

Thank you, too, to the guy who pulled over to make sure I was okay when I fell this weekend, mid-run. I was, or thought I was, but I appreciated your kindness so very much as I dusted my wounded pride and knee. As it turns out, the spill was a bit more significant than I thought at the time. Seems I bruised my ribs, having fallen on the titanium plating that constitutes my right elbow and Humerus. *Sigh* But, I am grateful that this was my first fall–grateful and amazed, given the level of clumsiness that I operate at regularly (see titanium plate mention above. Me and Rollerblades. Terrible combination).

Thank you to the dogs who joined my runs and made me laugh–especially my boy George, who followed me home and stayed. George can also be credited with making me more attentive to my world, which allowed me to see young Agnes in the road; I’m grateful to have such a sweet (usually) young kitten around the house. And, of course, many thanks to the event planners for the Seattle Rock N’ Roll marathon, who did such an incredible job.

To my fellow runners–thank you. The guys who recognized me as a newbie and gave me a pep talk before the run. The woman behind me who actually said that this was her “recovery marathon” (she’d run one the week before)–yeah, call me awestruck. The woman who remarked that “we’re still in fucking Tukwila?” somewhere along the line. The guy who pointed out the bald eagle in Seward Park, and the guy dressed as Dee Snider (so rocked). And, the spectators throughout, who cheered and occasionally brought out the garden hose to cool down those who wished to do so. I feel so lucky to have been a part of this particular tribe of folk for a while.

My final thanks go to the volunteers who staffed the water stations during the marathon. 25,000 runners means that not only do the planners have to do their job in getting everything arranged, but they rely on the kindnesses of volunteers to stand on the roadsides with water and sports drinks and the occasional GU packet–and SCORES of volunteers are needed to make it work. As I ran through Tukwila and Seattle and the more tired I got, the more I looked forward to seeing their smiles (and, yes, the hydration they were about to bestow). It was difficult to remember to look up and say “thank you,” but it also seemed important to do so. I recall thinking about communion services during the run–the sharing of bread and cup–this is exactly what the volunteers were doing. They gave of themselves to help others; they provided sustenance and, in effect, sanctuary for people they did not know and would likely never know. They performed the art of sharing at the table magnificently. I was touched and grateful and delighted to see the action of compassion on the part of volunteers and gratitude on the part of runners. I tried to carry that back to church last week, when I led at the table. Gratitude and compassion as verbs–actions you perform, not just emotions you feel.

For 25,000 runners, there were 25,000 reasons to run. She might of been celebrating her love of the endorphin rush, but the guy beside her in mile 10.5 was celebrating his overcoming of fear. He was running his 125th, and the other guy his first. She was running in honor of her 10 years in remission, while the woman three feet behind her was running in memory of her daughter. Scores of people. Scores of reasons for being there. At least one of us on the course was celebrating 140 days sober, though she couldn’t have given you that day count at the time (and had to look it up a few moments ago to check). Whatever our reason for being–we were there: we celebrated together, shared at the same tables, and yanked ourselves along the same finish.

Why did I run? Well, initially it was just a way to keep sober. I felt awful, angry, undisciplined, and a plethora of other emotions at the time I decided to regain control of my life. I hated that I was unable to learn to be a “good drinker”; at the time, I was perhaps as upset about that as the lack of control. I felt like a failure. I was depressed (the ups and downs have not gone away of course, but they have begun to moderate at this point). The decision to run in a marathon was, perhaps, a desperation move, but it provided a goal and a distraction. Eventually, the practice brought discipline and calm. In the end, it provided excitement–and, as Mad put it, it is damn difficult to think yourself worthless and incapable when you complete 26.2 miles.

I am an addict and that will never change. I can choose to give in to the demonic side of that condition or I can choose to redirect its obsessive energies into a different kind of high (though, Rev. Dean did point out that this too can go overboard–he promises to stage an intervention if I start showing signs of anorexia. He was joking at the time (I think), but I’d rather like to hold him to that–I’ll keep an eye on me, but it sure helps to have friends who are willing to do the same and make note of when my feet are too much in the fire, especially when I’m led astray by my other beautiful disease–my OCD). I am so delighted to have found a way to make my potentially (and often) negative exceptionalism (the OCD) positive. Running is a good thing. Marathons are fabulous.

Even injured, I can see the wonder and excitement, and I look forward to running again (tried this morning. Made it only .5 mile before having to walk the rest). Even a few months ago, I would have castigated myself for the fall and the inability to recover quickly–but, you know what? I’ll get there–it will take time and it will require relying on others on occasion, but I can do that.

I ran 26.2 miles. I can do anything.

Sanctuary III

The most oft associated image with the term sanctuary is, probably, a house of worship. In my case, that house is called church, though architecturally, it looks more like what Americans tend to associate with a mosque, mostly because of the domed roof. Atop the roof sits a cross, and not just any cross–a lighted cross. Not exterior lights, mind you; the cross itself lights up. It’s not quite the solar-powered grave bible, but it’s clearly a distant cousin.

Such kitsch features are terribly attractive to me.

The windows on this house of worship are made of granite, which probably sounds a bit odd at first, but realize that granite is something Georgia has a great deal of, then realize that you can cut granite very, very thin and, presto–granite windows. The church across the street also has the granite windows, so it’s not an altogether unusual design feature locally (not that I can drum up an iota of proof from the internetz to share with you today, *sigh*).

The church is a modification of the Akron-plan, which appears to be more common in the Northern regions of the U.S., as is true of our denomination in general. The plan theoretically allows the sanctuary to be more flexible; the Sunday school classrooms can be opened via a rolling panel, allowing them to become part of the sanctuary. The architectural plan encourages eye-contact–you can see damn near everyone and, in theory, community, though in practice I’ve yet to see us function any differently than any other congregation. The sanctuary is gorgeous, filled with wooden beams, (occasionally) bright brass, and huge stained-glass windows, which are particularly beautiful at about 8:30 am, when the sun’s rays begin to warm the glass.

If aesthetics were everything for a church, this one would have it. The space is undeniably beautiful, and it seems to offer a certain tranquility to all comers.

But, aesthetics are not everything. The particular modifications of the layout (and I think these choices were largely based on the land available, which is on a fairly small corner) placed the sanctuary level at the second floor, and many of the school classrooms, the nursery, the kitchen, and the fellowship hall area are below. The floors are connected by three narrow (seriously–two people of minimal girth cannot pass beside one another) stairwells, which, because of the “roundness” of the design, twist and turn and lead visitors to unexpected places. Often overheard: how did I end up here?

The design does not lend itself well to serving the community, as the bathrooms are tiny and while we “have” a handicapped stall, it’s not especially large–no wheelchairs would fit in the one downstairs (which can only be accessed via stairs–irrespective of which floor you begin on) and the one at sanctuary level is difficult to navigate into. The rooms are often oddly shaped; we have old stairwells than no longer lead anywhere, etc. The space is excellent for a congregation who wishes to meet once a week on Sundays, but it is less useful to a congregation who wishes to serve the community.

This should not be taken to suggest that the church does not serve–we do. Three AA meetings are hosted there, covering 7 days a week. The space serves as a shelter to homeless families in concert with other local congregations, once a quarter. The Red Cross uses the space for training, and so forth. Over the past two or so years, the level of activity at the building has increased probably ten-fold. My favorite example of this occurred on Maundy Thursday this year, as I set up for the Maundy Thursday communion service, while an AA meeting was held, and a Seder supper began.

The building was, for a few hours, alive…filled with an energy that nearly brought me to my knees. THIS. This right here is what we are meant to be…a place and a space of energy and, yes, sanctuary–even if the “sanctuary” is not immediately in use.

For alcoholics and addicts, the places willing to house the meetings can very much be sanctuary; the meetings themselves certainly are for many of them. A community opens its arms to another in need. What better use for a house of worship than to feed the needs of its community.

The denomination I joined, the Disciples of Christ, appeared to be a sanctuary to me when I first joined, having fled the Episcopal church and its then burgeoning crisis over gay membership (the moment someone in my home congregation told me “they” were not welcome, I was done, and I wasn’t sure I’d go back to an Episcopal church again, though I do miss parts of the service and mission of that denomination). DoC, as a denomination, celebrates diversity of opinion and education, and I was drawn to these notions.

One of the catch phrases for DoC is “In Essentials, Unity; in Non-essentials, Liberty; in All Things, Charity,” which precedes the Restoration Movement (which birthed DoC), but is nevertheless important to it. The quotation, for all of its positivity, can, and does, become trite, all too easily. What, for instance, are the “essentials” and “non-essentials”? Our congregation, for instance, has at least two rather distinct theologies (and myriad vines grow from each of these), one of which is rather Baptist in flavor and one that seems fairly traditionally DoC (at least this is what Rev. Dean tells me; since I am, as he often reminds me, an Episcopalian at heart, I can’t really say one way or the other. But, since he’s the professional here, we’ll give him his due). I see the two theologies play off one another, and I don’t see any chance that they will reconcile or be able to live together in harmony or charity.

This divide was made clear, in part, by the building several years ago, and the drama continues to play itself out. Yesterday we met with another dwindling DoC community, to discuss coming together, and somehow or another it turned (at least at my table) into a discussion of the building, and whether or not it was adequate to the cause. Its adequacy, of course, depends on your vision of the church mission: for those for whom Sunday attendance is central, the beautiful space is precisely what it should be–a gorgeous celebration of God and Christ. For those who believe that service is central to faith, the location is excellent, but the space itself is both inadequate and, at times, foreboding, given the demands made by a nearly century-old wooden building with poor wiring.

We come together to discuss mutual faith and survival and we get a discussion about a fucking building. Fabulous. Small wonder young families aren’t coming in droves.

Once upon a time, this space was a sanctuary to me. I could find respite from the world there, even as the world was invited in. As the last few years of drama have progressed, it has become something else-a place that is decidedly not safe. I came to the denomination seeking solace and growth, seeking to learn and to learn to share. I have learned, however, silence in these walls. Speak not of possibility lest you be attacked. Speak not of change lest you unintentionally accuse.

Speak not.

I did not speak at the meeting yesterday, choosing to listen to the expanded forum (I’ve spoken on the subject of unification a number of times; I wanted to know what those being brought in for the first time had to say). I was unfortunate in my table choice, for I was treated to diatribes on lack of care and “some people” and bitterness wrapped in a facade of hope, rather than searches for possibility. Yesterday was another confirmation of my fears for the church–it is destined, like the building in which we worship, to fall.

But, I went into the meeting feeling like that. I go to service every week feeling like that (it’s better in the early service, which is modeled on conversation, but I have had to serve as Elder for several weeks recently, which demands that I be at the late service). I hear fellow elders question why we should discuss theology. Seriously? Elders can’t talk about theological difference? Fuck–what’s the point, then?

Several months ago, I wondered idly why it was easier to tell stories of addiction than faith. I know why I don’t at church–the level of judgment involved eradicates any feelings of safety there. I’m less sure why I don’t here…though I suppose I fear a certain amount of judgment, though there’s no good reason. I wonder if this is the lesson I need to draw here, that sanctuary is a space created, not one provided and that such sanctuaries will always be challenged. How, then, to protect sanctuary, which is so central to my sanity and survival?

Since February, I have run some 425 miles and will pass 450 (obviously) later this week, all in preparation for a marathon that was at first intended to keep me focused on something other than drinking (it works, most of the time) and has evolved into another addiction of sorts; I know I need another race to plan for, announce, and train for (and I guess I better choose one fast!). Running is my sanctuary because I have created it and insisted that it be protected, much as I insisted that my home be protected in the aftermath of the panic attack. So what of spiritual sanctuary– how to protect it? How, in other words, to live in the world and protect faith from fellow congregants?

Not speaking is clearly not getting me anywhere on this.

Here’s my dream: a safe space where worship and service work together for the betterment of the community, not just to draw people into faith, but to support local needs. To be green. To be faithful. To be curious and to be respectful. To promote a conversation about safe spaces and what it means to protect one, because it is no simple task. To be able to own up to violations of that safe space contract, learn from them, and move on together, even if our theologies remain apart.

My faith story is not much longer than that; there was never an ah-ha! moment, though I have been brought to my knees by the wonders of humanity and the world on more than one occasion. Faith is, to me, about the awe–the magic of reaching for a better world and figuring our how the holy hell to get there. Faith is about falling to my knees in awe, sometimes, of a world that is more vast than my understanding, but will nevertheless allow me to study and read and try to understand, all without judgment of my abilities and worth.

Faith is not a building or a place or a space. Faith can be an action of people. Faith can be service. Faith can be gratitude and pleas for understanding or help. Faith can be listening and learning and healing and serving.

I just wish I knew where to go from here. I know where my heart and prayer lead me, but I don’t know if I’m that brave, and I don’t know if I trust my own discernment that much (ah, the wonders of self-judgment, yes?). I want to be free from the bitterness that pervades that space, and I want to both find and create opportunity. I keep telling myself that if I do this one last thing, I’ll have done all that I can do.

I’m on number 5 of that list right now.