Thoughts on Turning 40…Fear and Change.

I really hate when people say they get me or they understand. They don’t. They don’t understand what I’m going through just like I can’t necessarily understand what they’ve gone through with their life experiences. It is the pivotal differences between sympathy and empathy; neither of which I want. And I desperately don’t want pity. Not about turning 40…that’s a good thing.

It just so happens that I’m turning 40, an epic age, at the exact same time I’m going through a major transition in my life. For those that don’t understand transitions please let me define. I’m not talking about leaving a relationship or quitting a job. While those are perfectly fine transitions, I’m talking about something much, much deeper.

Have you ever been driving around town, running errands, listening but not really listening to the music and all of a sudden you realize you’ve ended up somewhere you never meant to go. Maybe you completely forgot you were on your way to the grocery store. Have you ever sat on the front porch and watched the stars overhead and wandered what your life would be like if it were different. When it is different. There is a great scene in Texasville where Jeff Bridges walks in on his wife, played by Annie Potts, laying on the bed. He asks her what she’s doing and she answers, “thinking”. When he asks what she’s thinking about she explains that women think millions of things in a day and go through millions of changes in a day. Well, I don’t think this is just women…I think all of us go through similar changes. But we perfect our lives in a way that we become accustom to these changes and don’t challenge what we really want in our lives, because, we are too afraid.

In the last week, all of my friends and family have asked me on a pretty consistent basis what I want to do for my birthday and the answer is that I’m not really sure. I’ve never been a party person so I know I don’t want a party. We’ve just spent the last week celebrating Alex’s birthday at numerous birthday dinners, so I don’t really want to go out to dinner. We were supposed to go to Vegas, but have decided to wait when we can spend a little bit more money. I thought about driving to Chicago for the weekend but we were just there for a bachelorette party. I entertained the idea of renting a lakeside cabin and taking the dogs for the weekend but after processing the packing, etc I realized we have a pool here and my dad lives on a lake, so we might as well stay home. Nothing seems right for my birthday.

And then I realized the reasonp.

Celebrating my birthday this year is not a superficial surface passing. Celebrating my birthday this year is the coronation of a major transition in my life. A transition of the mind, body and spirit. I have been very sad and unhappy for some time because I have allowed myself to become someone I don’t really know anymore. And with the exception of Alex and probably two or three other friends, I don’t know that anyone else really knows the real Peter either. I put on a very good act.

The real Peter doesn’t give a fuck…but then again he does. He cares deeply about things that matter and pays very little importance to things that don’t. I’ve spent the last several years caught up in drama and ridiculousness that doesn’t matter. The real Peter tells it like it is and isn’t worried about someone’s reaction because typically, that’s what people have learned to love. The real Peter loves the smallest details in life. The real Peter does not change the radio station for anyone because people used to love his singing to country music. The real Peter loves country music…and folk music, dance music and rap. The real Peter will try almost everything once unless it may risk his life. The real Peter takes his recovery and sobriety very seriously and wouldn’t have put himself in half of the situations he’s put himself in over the last several years. The real Peter respects the sanctity of marriage and has very little respect for those that don’t. The real Peter is very opinionated. The real Peter will smoke a cigarette if he wants to smoke a cigarette…unless you kindly ask him not to smoke. The real Peter is comforted with the safety of a clean home, dogs who love him, a loyal husband and does not care for change. The real Peter is terrified by change, which is why is he so resistant to life transitions…but it’s time.

During the last week, I’ve explained to people that starting on my birthday on Friday, many things will be changing in my life. I think they are a little bewildered and unsure what this may mean and how it will affect them. Let me make this very clear…I’m not moving, leaving Alex and making any drastic changes in my surface life. It is what lies beneath that will change. And as I sit on my front porch late at night, typing at my computer in my garden office, I have outlined the next year of my life. The best year of my life…hopefully.

While talking to my best friend the other day, and I say best because she has been the one constant best in my life for the last 15 years, I asked her what she wished she had known at 40. She explained that she probably wouldn’t have spent as much time with people that wouldn’t matter to her on an intimate level later in life. We also talked about my constant need to explain myself…an art I have learned to master only in the last few years. It is these kinds of changes I will be implementing in my life, along with a laundry list of goals, hopes and dreams I will accomplish!

Please follow me over the next year as I write daily posts and do daily videos about my life and the lessons I learn, on and off the couch. Maybe you’ll learn a few things from me. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll learn a few things from you too…because we’re on borrowed time as it is!

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In the Beginning…

Most of you probably don’t even know how this all began. My mother died four years ago on May 14th, 2008. I had recently separated from my partner of 8 years and left a job of almost 13 years. I was alone. I was numb. I had no direction. The only solace I found was driving down country highways with a pack of cigarettes, a cup of coffee and country music blaring on my radio. I quickly became friends with the 3rd shift employees of gas stations and grocery stores. I came home late and went to sleep with my pup Griffin snuggled at my feet. Day after day I lost clients as I canceled or forgot appointments. Quickly my business declined and my credit card debt grew. While talking to my cousin Caroline one day, she suggested I start a blog for my business to help me get more clients. “You’re a great writer”, she said, “people will be able to relate to you and they’ll want to come see you.”

I had never heard of blogging before and I didn’t really understand much about the internet. I had exited a relationship into a world of Facebook and Myspace. Youtube and dating sites. To say it simply…I was lost. Nothing made sense to me anymore. I couldn’t even figure out how to do my bills online. But I was determined to try.

One night in July, I found myself distracted while driving around and went home early. I sat down at the computer and began my blog which was originally titled Suicide Birds and Seahorses. I started to explain why I was starting the blog. Actually, it might be easier if you read my first entry. Here it is, Suicide Birds and Seahorses July 28th, 2008:

Hmmmm….where should I start…well, I guess at the beginning…I’m not even sure that I understand the purpose of this, but I know eventually it will find me. Let’s start, Halloween, 2007. Unsatisfied, unfulfilled with my life, I sat on the porch in the Smokey Mountains at 2:30 a.m. with a friend discussing that I was nearing 40, and I didn’t feel as if I knew what I was supposed to be doing, or better yet, wasn’t doing what I felt I should be doing anymore, but I didn’t even know what that was I guess. My friend, a very wise, yet unfulfilled 57 year old, sat back, stared right into my eyes and said, “Don’t wait until you’re 57 and you’re husband sits on the couch all day watching CNN news.” It was the moment in Thelma and Louise when Thelma can no longer go back, those words released me. And I could not go back. Within the next few months, I left a seven year relationship, which at times, I am unsure was the correct decision, resigned from a job I had been with for 12 years and began writing a book. And then not one book, but two and now three. Oh, did I mention I’m a recovering addict and as such, I can’t limit myself to any one thing. And then, my mother became extremely ill and was in the hospital until May 14th, when she passed away. And driving away from the hospital that night, Bob Dylan singing “Shelter From the Storm” through my speakers, a bird swooped down and dove directly in front of my car. A suicide bird, I thought. But why would they take such a risk. For the excitement, for the test, the chance that maybe they would make it to the other side and maybe they wouldn’t? Could these small creatures really be that wise. Swallow Sage? And maybe, we were all suicide birds, putting ourselves in risky situations, or taking chances to feel for one small moment that we were truly alive. And that’s how it began for me, through all this crap that has happened, although I’ve always known it served a purpose, I’ve begun my own nosedive in front of cars on the interstate late at night. It started with dedicating one year of my life to living freely, taking chances, going where I wanted to go and not being afraid to meet new people. But now I think, maybe this is the way it’s supposed to be for me. Maybe I’m not supposed to sit like a bird on a wire, waiting for winter to fly south. Maybe, I’m supposed to fly south now, or tomorrow. But nothing makes sense and everything makes sense, all at once. Suddenly. And I don’t question anymore. Or at least I try not to. Haha…I’m not that arrogant. And one thing I know, is that the magic still exists in me, and that is part of my journey, to forever stay four, wading through the creek behind our house, watching the sunlight hit the moss on the rocks, or seven, my mom and I checking out twenty books each at the library, or nine, and still now, believing that somewhere, way down beneath the still waters of St. Barts or off the coast of Tulum, live sea horses who sport bright red top hats and sing Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon”…at least I hope…I hope they do…

Wow! That just made me start crying. Four years later and my life has changed so drastically. I’m in a new relationship and married. I’m living in my mother’s old condo. I have three new dogs. I have a successful practice with clients who love coming to see me and I delight in waiting to see them. I run a full service website with my husband where we interview celebrities and do social reviews. I haven’t finished a book and now I’m writing 10 instead of 3. I still drive around at night. I still get sad. I still miss my mom.

But time goes on.

I can either sit back and be sad all of the time about things I can’t change and continue to be that lost and numb person I was four years ago, or I can ebb and flow with the tides of life and enjoy what comes my way. I prefer the later.

In exactly 10 days I turn 40. I will be posting a journal entry every day on my blog and doing a video for my YouTube channel every day. When I started this project four years ago, I did it for myself. I didn’t care how many views I got or how many people commented on my posts. I did it because I loved to write and I loved to find things to write about. I think I’ve lost some of that passion. Today, I write to inspire, not to be inspired. I need to be inspired again. I need to get back on that old, dusty road and continue my adventure…because we’re on borrowed time as it is!

*I need to ask my readers for a favor! I’m trying to put together some great goals to accomplish in the next year. I’m already determined to finish writing my first book, be in the best shape I’ve ever been, pay off all of my debt and quit smoking. What are some things you think I should do? What are some books you think are important that I read? I’ve come so far in four years and accomplished so much I’d like to prove what can happen in a year. When Adele won Album of the Year at The Grammy’s she talked about the power of just one year and I agree. If I can overcome three major losses and come out on top, so can anyone else. Follow the journey with me…even make your own…because, like my mother always said, we’re on borrowed time as it is!

Please follow me here for my year long journey!
And follow my videos on YouTube HERE!

If you’d like to take a look at my old blog, Suicide Birds and Seahorses, check it out HERE!

The New Rules…Rules #1, #2 and #3

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Several years ago, there was a book titled, “If Life Were a Game, These are the Rules”, by Cherie Carter-Scott. I have used this book with my clients in therapy ever since I laid my hands on it. While I believe in the small rules she has applied, I think Dr. Carter-Scott, self proclaimed “original coach-trainer”, needs to update these rules just a bit.

Lately, I have been swamped with clients who feel stuck and are feeling completely unable to move forward in their lives. Since I’m a therapist who uses a lot of my own life experience, I have shared many of my stories, but they continue to feel stuck. Tonight, one of my clients contacted me and stated that she believed that no amount of therapy will allow her to change and she feels as if she will be stuck forever. At first this made me a little sad, but quickly I realized, she doesn’t know the rules. And then I began thinking about Dr. Carter-Scott’s rules and realized, they just wouldn’t work with this client. In fact, they wouldn’t work with a lot of my clients. And what I realized was that I must go back to where I started in my own self discovery and identify the rules, as they were, and explain them in my own words.

First things first, let’s use the word rules to define our…hmmmm…how about Voyage! Yes, yes…rules to a successful Voyage!

Part one of any journey is Preparation. So Rules 1, 2 and 3 center around preparation.
Rule #1…Identify your destination. Most people wouldn’t pack a bag, save money and get ready for a trip without having a destination in mind. Sure, the idea of just getting into our cars and taking off is appealing, but isn’t that really just running away? And I don’t think the solution to our life problems is running away. So first, we must come up with a destination. What do we want our lives to look like? Be creative. Be original. Dream big! You only have one life, this is it! Write it down, use descriptive words. Draw pictures, diagrams. And maybe, just maybe, you need to be a little bit realistic. Sometimes, that is where therapy is helpful. In the movie, “The Miss Firecracker Contest”, it is a sad moment when Alfre Woodard realizes that the Elysian Fields where people can eat all of the ambrosia they want does not really exist, but is fictional. So, she decides she must go elsewhere. But in reality, what is she REALLY after? A place of peace, harmony and love. Maybe your dream is to be a movie star, to be rid of your addictions or to have a boyfriend. No matter what your destination, be specific. Who do you want to be? Define your life vision!

Rule #2…Start packing. For this voyage you are about to embark upon, what will you need? If you were going to Siberia, would you need warm sweaters or shorts and sandals. Will you need a passport to get you into certain ports. Will you need cash, credit cards, what things will help you with your journey? Just the same as any other trip, you must be prepared to open yourself to anything that will come along the way. That means opening yourself up to the voyage that is about to begin. By identifying the points in your past that might be pertinent to your future goals, but also, keeping your eye on your destination. Make a list of all of the things that might be obstacles along the way, and also those supportive devices that might help you be successful on your voyage. Who could you call in times when you need assistance? Any emergency numbers in case you get a flat tire? Make sure you are truly prepared to leave.

And then…it is time.

Rule #3…Open the Door to your Future…Take off on your VOYAGE! It’s time to go, but like on any trip, once you walk out of the door and board that plane, boat or car for a road trip, you don’t turn around and change your mind, you just…keep…going! You must trust the process of your voyage! I have worked with so many clients who come two or three times to therapy, not trusting the process, constantly questioning their journey. How much more they would have received had they been open to the process instead of constantly questioning the voyage. How many people truly enjoy a trip to Mexico if the entire time they are sitting on the beach they are questioning if they can really afford it or what they should be doing at home. If that is the case, pack your bags, return home and live that life. You only have one life to live and if that’s what you want then you should be focused on daily rituals instead of making changes. Which is where I will talk about two subtle rules to the rules…

Crown Rules!!!! IN ALL THINGS THERE MUST BE GRATITUDE AND SIMPLICITY!!!! Without these two crown rules, the Voyage will be pointless and you will lose sight of your destination.

Your destination IS reachable! You must believe this. Above everyone else, YOU must believe this. It doesn’t matter who else believes you or what they say or don’t say, YOU must believe you can have everything you deserve! If you don’t believe this…the voyage is pointless. Sit at home, watch family videos of other people’s travels and wish you could pack that bag. And maybe someday, you will.

This summer I was at the State Fair with Alex and our two friends. We witnessed a mother cow being extremely protective of her five-hour old calf. Even though she stood in front of him the entire time, he continued to fight to get around her to look at us and see what the world had to offer him. We all start off that innocent and wide-eyed, but somewhere along the way, we lose sight of what we can achieve and we allow our dreams to fade into the mist. I used to tell my adolescent clients that the only difference between me and Tom Cruise, besides the obvious, was that he showed up for the audition! We must have this attitude to move forward. My life was once clogged full of alcohol, drugs, chaos and desperation. I chose to move on. I picked a different destination and prepared for a successful voyage.

Tonight, my friend Lis celebrated six years of sobriety. For a 23 year old young lady, that is an amazing feat! We lost our mother’s
within two years of each other. Constantly when one of us gets down, the other one reminds us that our mother’s do not have the luxury anymore to bitch and complain about their lives and that, as my mother used to say, you can sleep when you’re dead. The time is now! Pick your destination! Be as wide-eyed as that young calf and see the world as full of possibilities as a field of clover!

Because, we’re on borrowed time as it is!

Kitchen Magnets…

Matthew Shepard head shot
I have a magnet on my refrigerator that was left behind by my mother. It is the only one of her magnets that I haven’t taken down. It simply states, “I support the Matthew Shepard Foundation.” It took a long time to get up there and hopefully, it will never come down.
I came out to my parents when I was 18, in 1990. At that time, gay men and lesbians were still hiding, they weren’t seen on television and in movies and they definitely weren’t made judges, like Ellen Degeneres, on American Idol. If we were seen in movies, we were cast as AIDS patients or effeminate guys prancing around. While those stereotypes might have been true of some, they weren’t true of everyone. My dad and stepmother were easy to come out to, being that my father is a surgeon, a man of medicine, who believed that sexual orientation was decided at birth. I thought my mother would be just as easy to comfort, but that wasn’t the case.
Some background on my mother is important. She was extremely liberal, always voted Democrat, and believed in the underdog. She lived in Chicago during the late sixties and worked at Northwestern Library and as a teacher at an orthodox Hebrew school. At that school, she was the only gentile employee and most of her students were first generation immigrants to the United States, whose parents still had concentration camp numbers imprinted on their arms. My mother and my aunt both went to inner city schools and graduated from Broad Ripple High School in Indianapolis. My mother would tell stories about spending her summers at the Rivera Country Club and remembered different bathrooms and water fountains for “white” and “colored” people. She would become extremely outraged by any mistreatment of humanity, yet she struggled with my being gay. “I’m just really worried about you Peter.” She said. “Don’t worry mom, I’m not stupid, I’ll be safe.” I replied, meaning practicing safer sex practices. To this day, I remember her sitting back in her chair, smirking, as if I could not grasp her simple meaning. “I’m not worried about you getting sick.” She said, “I’m worried about how society will treat you.” And there began our journey together.
For several years afterward, she would introduce my boyfriends as “friends” to people she knew, and even to some of her closest, “Christian” friends, she struggled when they asked her if I had a girlfriend or why I wasn’t married. Until, October 7th, 1998. I remember sitting at home that night and my mom calling me. “Are you watching this on the news?” she said. Of course I wasn’t. I rarely watched the news, unlike she and my father, who had always been news junkies and were always up to the minute on world events. “No, what’s going on mom.” She began sobbing on the other end of the phone. “There’s this boy from the University of Wyoming who was beaten and left for dead out in the middle of nowhere because he was gay. It’s just so horrible.” She was inconsolable. Finally after several minutes, she got off of the phone and told me she would call me the next day. Which she did, before my alarm even went off. “Ok, I’ve been on the phone with the hospital all night trying to contact his mother.” I had no idea what she was talking about, as my mind had drifted away from any misery in the night. “What the hell are you talking about?” I said. “Matthew Shepard.” She replied, “That boy from Wyoming. He’s at the hospital in Colorado and they’re not sure he will make it. I’ve been trying to contact his mother to let her know how bad I feel for her and how I relate, but they won’t put me through.” The hilarious point, if there is any, of this statement is that my mother always felt entitled to be part of any event. If there was a car accident, she would pull over and ask the police if they needed help. If a national official was in trouble, she would attempt to write a letter or educate others. Yet at times, she didn’t know when to pull back.
Five days later, Matthew Shepard died. My mother was silent for almost two days and then asked me to come over to her condo because she needed to talk to me. When I got to her house, she had made a pot of coffee and we sat down in the living room. “What is it?” I asked, not sure what the seriousness of the occasion would entail. “I want to know.” She said. “I want to know what it’s been like for you. Matthew Shepard died from hate and I want to know what it’s been like for you through the years because honestly, I wouldn’t even know you were gay if you hadn’t told me.”(and to this, I still give a little chuckle.)But I told her anyway…
phelps-followers
I told her how in elementary school and junior high, kids would make fun of me for my lack of athletic ability. They would also point to the “homogenized milk” cartons at lunch, and laugh at me, saying I was like the milk. They would lisp, they would push, they would attack. And it didn’t get any better in high school. Every day, I dreaded going to school because I was afraid of what someone would write on my locker, spray on my car, or say as I walked through the hallways. I would constantly be called a faggot, pushed into lockers and made fun of by the kids around me. And worse still, even my friends wouldn’t stand up for me. When graduation closed in on me, I was afraid to walk across the stage because of my fear that someone might call me names as I walked across the stage and my parents would be privy to the private pain I wore every day.
A strange side note to this story is that I had one such nemesis in high school named Matt. Although he wasn’t aware of this, for years after high school, the things that he and his friends said and did to me lingered, making me shy in social situations and ashamed of being gay. Finally, my determination to challenge ignorance such as theirs helped me to become the strong, proud person I am today, capable of having healthy relationships and friendships. The strange part is that he befriended me on Facebook less than a year ago. He is now aware of how I felt in high school, has taken responsibility and I now consider him a friend. We all grow up. We all deserve a second chance. Even me. But high school was hell. And I have to believe in some way it contributed to my extreme substance abuse because as long as I was wasted, I didn’t really care what people said to or about me. But my mother did.
And she couldn’t contain her hurt that day we had our talk. She wanted to personally call the parents of every “child” that had been mean to me and make them aware of how their children had treated me. But I was almost thirty at that point, and life had moved on, and there wasn’t really any point anyway. But for her, things changed. She no longer called my boyfriends “friends”. In fact, my ex-boyfriend Shawn became a permanent part of our family and was probably one of the people closest to her in her life. She was not ashamed or protective of me anymore, and felt that it should be the other persons shame or burden to carry if they couldn’t handle the fact that her son was gay. When she died, I received a letter from the Matthew Shepard Foundation regarding my mother and found countless letters she had written Judy Shepard, Matthews mother, rough drafted in her many notebooks about how society was a cruel frontier and how mothers were the captains of their children’s ships. One of our closest friends, MaryAnn, contributed to this foundation, because she knew how much my mother cared about it’s cause and how her endearing love for me was also in her love for me as her gay son. And then the fight continued…or so I thought.
Because I met Alex. And he changed my perspective on everything. He wasn’t quite as out with his family as I had been, being that he is much younger and that culturally and religiously his mother is not necessarily at the same point my mother was by the time she was fifty. But I believe that will come with time. Because love endures and love translates what we do not understand, but feels it’s intensity nonetheless. And I love his mother because she has amazing energy and has allowed me to become part of their family. And Alex has challenged me on words like “fag” and “faggot”. He believes that these “words” only carry as much weight as we give them. And on a few occasions when someone has called him one of these names, he responds with something like, “thank you for noticing.” And maybe that’s the way to go about it. Because this Saturday, we’ll be heading to our engagement party that his coworkers are throwing us. And tonight we took his teenage brother to see a movie. And yesterday we went grocery shopping and took our new pups all over town. Because we’re just like everyone else and we don’t need to be separate. It’s important to bring the awareness to the gay community, but maybe it’s more important for us to lessen the tension, just a little bit. Why take ourselves so damn seriously.
But it does remind me of how we treat each other. And how words have lasting impressions like a burn from a curling iron on your forehead. Or how love is not pain, but endurance, compassion and understanding. Love does not hurt. And everyone deserves the chance to grow up. Everyone. But Matthew Shepard wasn’t given that chance. So for that reason, I think today I’ll forgive everyone that gave me a hard time in high school, and especially Matt, because he’s pretty cool these days and if we ever got together I think enough time has gone by that we might be able to be pretty good friends. But most importantly, because people are dying everyday, and quite frankly, it’s easier to love than to hate. And the saddest part of this story to me, is that my mother never got to meet Alex. And he was never able to meet her. And we just don’t know when are chances run will run out…because, we’re on borrowed time as it is…

A Suicide Note…

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Dear Suicide…I have a dear, dear friend, maybe a better friend than you can ask for at times, that was greatly affected by you, and didn’t even ask for you to be in her life. I have a dear friend, whose mother was taken by you, without questions answered, without any sign of your coming, without any ability to meet you at the door and escort you far, far away. My dear friend, Lis Crosby, is only 23, and because of you, she will never see her mother’s hair all turn white. She will never be able to hand over one of her children to it’s grandmother. She doesn’t understand you and neither do I. Why would you do such a thing. Because of you, there is so much that her mother will miss out on in Lis’ life and the life of her brother Jonathan. But why am I telling you this. You already know this by now as you take an adult life almost every 16 minutes in the United States and attempt to take one every minute. You are tricky and deceiving because you offer solutions with no reasonable answers. You are real. You are scary. And you are lurking in every corner. Not only have I lost my dear friend Lis’ mother, Nancy, but also several friends, and parents of friends. Not long ago, you met the father of a friend of mine. You hide in the minds of our children, our elderly and those in between. I am thankful I have never wanted to taste of your breath, but I can’t say so much for many, many people I have met. The only solution to getting rid of you is through education, and awareness and talking, comforting and compassion. So watch out. Because…we’re on a mission.
Nancy Crosby was born on December 7, 1963. She died on September 30th, 2006. I remember that day almost too well. I had just left work and got a call from my friend Tonya. “Uh honey.” I could tell she was crying on the other end of the phone. “They just found Lis’ mom.” And from there on, everything is a blur. I remember pulling up to her Granny’s house and seeing all of the cars, all of the people in AA surrounding Lis, only twenty at the time, and already, several years sober, comforting her as she and her brother screamed up into the trees. Why? Why? I had never experienced so much pain, angst and anger all mixed into one strange concoction. After talking to Lis, or talking at her in her fog and haze of confusion, Tonya and I went to her mother’s house to get Nancy’s dog Serenity. When we walked into the house, I was somewhat eerie, being that Nancy had only been found hours before, but somehow, the house was comforting. I didn’t experience any fear as I walked through the house and we got Serenity and put her in the car. Through those next several days, I saw a young girl shattered by the loss of her mom.
A year and a half later, Lis got to do the same for me. She was by my side the entire time my mother was sick, and eventually died from a rare disease. We laughed together, we cried together. And a 21 year old, LADY, walked me through how to deal with a funeral. Our mothers are even buried only five feet from each other. And we find comfort in that. What we don’t find comfort in is how both of their deaths could have been prevented. In the case of my mother, she had a rare disease that went undiagnosed for far too long, and probably could have prevented her death. And for Nancy? Well, much the same can be said for her disease. Because suicide and depression are diseases in this country that go far to unnoticed and dealt with appropriately.
This Saturday will mark the 2nd anniversary of Team Nancy marching in the Out of the Darkness Community Walk for suicide prevention. All money raised will go to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Lis and her brother Jonathan will both be marching again, as will many people in more than 200 communities across the United States. I know many people read my blog who care alot about mental health and addiction issues. Please donate to help their cause as it is vital that more attention is brought to depression and suicide so it can be brought out of the darkness and into the light. On the main page of my blog, I have linked The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Team Nancy for donations and more information about the walk in Indianapolis this Saturday, September 12th, 2009, and Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender issues related to suicide.
The information is astonishing. And as I walk past my mother’s grave and visit Nancy, telling her every time, that I’m watching over Lis and taking care of her the best I can, I know somewhere she’s watching. But I have to believe that things got just too painful for her. Life became too overwhelming and somehow she ran out of options. But I don’t believe she would trade it all in if she had known other options. She was one damn fighter, we just didn’t know how to help her into the ring.
I remember when my mother got sick and we didn’t know what disease her symptoms were indicating, I asked her why she wasn’t fighting harder. “If I knew what I was fighting, I could fight.” And much can be said for depression and suicide as well. So reach out, learn and contribute. In these trying times, we should cherish the ones around us more and hug often and remember…we’re on borrowed time as it is!

Award Ceremony…

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Last week, I was meeting with a client who had been a patient of mine at the adolescent, residential treatment center where I worked for 13 years. “Do you remember the award ceremonies you guys had every Thursday?” She asked. How crazy that after only almost two years since my resignation, I had almost entirely forgotten about the award ceremonies. “Oh, yeah, I forgot about those.” I said, laughing to myself. “I used to love getting those awards.” She said. “You would always give me an award for being the happiest patient of the week or the most creative journal writer. It felt good to have someone notice something in me, even if it wasn’t even true.” But they were true. And instantly, I remembered back to every Thursday afternoon as I would sit in my office, blank sheets of white, copy paper and large markers in every color, and make awards like, “Patient with the Best Family Communication” or “Most Stylish Outfits for Treatment.” I also remembered in my last year, that I became extremely creative with journal assignments and gave extensive journal questions every night that my patients were asked to answer. Typically they were geared for one patient in my group to learn something from, but rarely were they aware, until we would process it in group and they would realize that a specific assignment had been meant to lean in their direction.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if in the real world we had Award Ceremony every week? Growing up, my mother and I would watch the Academy Awards every year and we would talk about how someday I would write a great screenplay, lavish with southern belles and alcoholic fathers, all very Tennessee Williams, with treacherous sarcasm slapped in the faces of the young actors, while my mother would dream about costuming these same actors with ornate gowns designed by none other than Edith Head herself. We would eat popcorn and lay on the floor and scream as each person came onto the screen and we would hold our crossed fingers up to the air before the television. Some years, there were great disappointments, and in others, like the years that Julia Roberts won for “Erin Brockovich” or Hilary Swank for “Boys Don’t Cry”, there were loud screams of excitement. And in other years, such as when Geraldine Paige won for “Trip to Bountiful”, we would practice our acceptance speeches with the same grace and humility. Ahhhhhh…But where else do we find that kind of honor. I thought I would find it when I left the treatment center where I worked. And maybe, because of a few poor choices on my part towards the end, I didn’t get the send off I expected. But it would have been nice, nonetheless. But I got what I deserved. It wasn’t in the small party they through for me, or the flowers or gift card. No, all of that was nice. But it was in one small gesture I received.
For almost the entire time I worked at that treatment center, I had worked with a woman named Cathy. She was a proud, humble, extraordinary individual, who made me feel special every day that I walked into those walls. She didn’t have to, she just did. For all thirteen years, we comforted each other, listened to each other and watched each other grow in our own direction. The last night I worked there, I stayed until 10pm, because it was family night. When I walked down the hallway, I took one last look down at all of the rooms that the many patients I had through the years had slept and had come and gone. And as I watched, Cathy wheeled her chair out in the middle of the hall and began whistling the theme song at the end of the Carol Burnett show, which is how the entire series had ended, as had every show. To us both, it was a true sign of gratitude and companionship. And who can ask for more.
Today alone, I had a client who deserved an award for “Writing a powerful letter to her mother”. A neighbor deserves one for “Always Waving to Me As I Drive Down the Street”. Maybe one for my friend’s Chad and Gracia for “Making Me Feel that My Relationship Is Normal” and one for my boyfriend for dealing with my constant challenges. Each week in treatment, one recipient would receive the coveted “Resident of the Week” for meeting all of the characteristics of a “almost perfect” resident. This week, that would have to go to my boyfriend Alex.
See how easy it is! But we forget. Every day, we forget to make people feel special and make them feel as if they deserve awards. So from here on out, I’m going to take a pad of post it notes with me every where I go and pass out little awards. I think it might can’t on. I think it just might. And who cares anyway if no one understands…We’re on borrowed time as it is!

Soul Sistah…

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Several weeks ago, I received a call from a client, who I’m honored to say is also a friend. As I walked to the end of the driveway to get my mail, getting ready to go to dinner with Alex, I listened as she explained that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. To say this woman has had a difficult year would be a huge understatement. She has had curve balls, dodge balls, basketballs, well just about everything thrown at her this year and she has continued to stay standing up. She explained to me that she didn’t yet know the severity of the cancer diagnosis but would let me know when she knew something more. Her main concern at the time, was how she was going to tell her teenage daughter who was currently residing in a longterm residential program for addiction. As I got into the car, I just kind of lost it. Alex immediately knew something was wrong, obviously from my flood of tears, but assumed that it was some random memory I was having about my mom, which may have been part of the truth; the memory of some strange, foreboding diagnosis that no one really knows what to do with yet. He’s not a man of many words when it comes to stuff like this and all he said was, “I’m sure she will be fine.” And he was right.
I met with her later that week and she had one of the most positive attitudes of anyone I had seen in my office in quite some time. She stated that her marriage was improving, that she was more focused now than ever before, that she was finally able to set boundaries with her relationship with her mother and that she was able to allow her children to make their own decisions and begin to live their own lives. For once, she said, she was living for herself. She believed the cancer was the best thing that could ever have happened to her. And then I got a call a few days later that the cancer had spread. And still…her attitude remained the same. She had, in a sense, been reborn.
Last week I received a message from one of her friends asking for some advice…“so my question here would be this – how do you help someone you love going through the hell of cancer with the attitude of determination and the tools recovery have afforded us???
I really thought long and hard before answering this question. I didn’t want to give out some random him-haw of recommendations and advice and anyone that knows me knows I’m much more the sitting on the front porch giving advice therapist than any text book, doctorate holding analyst. So, I needed to be careful before answering. Or maybe not, as I decided. I would just talk about what I know.
And what I know about friendship and loyalty and how to help someone…well, I learned that all from my best friend Tonya. You would really have to know her to understand and maybe then you still wouldn’t get it. It’s in the details actually. Like how I’ll get some call late on a Tuesday just to see if I’ve seen the latest Big Brother episode. Or, a random call when the newest James Patterson book comes out. We talk almost everyday, but those are the calls that set the foundation for our friendship because that’s how it all began. It’s in how she sees her only son Nick getting older, moving up in high school, and although I can tell she misses the days when they’d dance around the kitchen and she’d help him with his math homework(those were the Wednesday nights I knew never to call or stop by), she allows him to grow up and become a man. It’s how she still looks at her husband with love, but really lust some days and talks about how sexy she still thinks he is. And I see it in her eyes. It’s in the way she can whip up a bad ass buffet on her kitchen counter in about five minutes for all of us to eat and doesn’t even ask for a thank you. It’s in the way she talked to me through all of my mother’s illness and death and how she will be there with me when I have my little dog put to sleep.
When my mother got too sick to leave her bed, Tonya and I went over to her house one night and stretched out on her bed. Tonya jumped right into the conversation, complimenting my mom on how she looked and telling her we had to get her better. And she did it for her, but it was also for me. She’s my friend becaus she left for Florida, the day my mother died, for a much needed vacation with her husband, and she respected me enough to not come back and enjoy herself. And she allowed me to depend on other people. She’s my friend because she tells me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear. And she realizes that sometimes what I need to hear is what I want to hear. She’s the only one that it really mattered that I got approval to have my dog put to sleep, one, because she loves all animals and two, because she loves Griffin and I. And she said it was time, so I knew that it was. And she was right.
In over twelve years of knowing each other, I can remember only one time that we got into a fight. And it lasted less than 12 hours. And it was because I hurt her feelings, which we know better than to do, but realize it might happen from time to time. We’ve been through a lot, this ole gal and me, and we’ll be through a lot more together I hope. She’ll be the one standing next to me the day I get married. We laugh, we cry, we vent mostly and gossip often.
But what I have learned about friendship through her, is that it is consistent. I know what to expect from her because she is always consistent. She doesn’t lie to me, she is always loyal, she is there for me unless her family needs come first, which I expect. And what I expect from her is that she will always be buying a new pair of Uggs, she’ll always have a block of cheese in her fridge, a brand new novel folded over on the table and a house full of people at any hour of the day. She is dependable. And that is what a true friend is…consistent. I know tomorrow if I got sick, she would be right there next to me asking me what WE were going to do about it. She would not sugar coat it. She wouldn’t make it pretty. She would look it in the eye like a bully on a playground and then walk over and give it a hug. She would probably drive me around to get a fountain coke and take me to my doctor’s appointments. She’d board my dog and bring me movies and books. But she does that already. She’d just up the ante a little and make sure no one got in my safe zone. She’d be my Shirley McClaine in Terms of Endearment. I love her. And I’m pretty sure she loves me.
Every year, we rent a house on Lake Norris, Tennessee with a bunch of friends. Last year, we stayed at Tonya’s cousin’s house, which had this long stair case down to the lake. Every day, Tonya would load a cooler, have a bunch of towels around her neck,(with her matching Ed Hardy Tee-shirt and baseball hat of course)and head down to the lake, so she only had to make one trip. Me, I’m different. I didn’t care if I ran up and down that staircase fifty times, but I’d bitch about it every time. That pretty much sums up our friendship. We’re both so different aiming at the same thing. She’s calm and planned out while I’m scattered and frenzied half the time. But in the end, we’re both just floating in the water, a diet coke in our hands, laughing our asses off about the woman we found on top of a snow bank in the blizzard, or something funny her dog Gypsy did, or something funny our friend Lis said, or some old story about my mom. She allows me all of that.
And that, my dear, is how you help a friend. By always, painfully so, being yourself. She is my soul sistah, my mojo mama, my best friend and my ally! I love ya lady! You help them through the hell because you’re with them through the heaven. And that…is the truth.
There is a great scene in the movie, “How Stella Got Her Groove Back”, which shows Angela Bassett talking to her dying friend Whoopie Goldberg. She begins dancing and singing and talking about “Old Charlie” in the hospital room. It is absolutely one of the most endearing scenes in any movie because it glorifies the power of friendship in life, and in death. And we’re all gonna die someday…because we’re on borrowed time as it is.