Decision Tree

This is a pretty simple concept. When I was in fifth grade all of the kids in the neighborhood decided we were going to steal alcohol and cigarettes from our parents and throw a little party. Needless to say, my best friend and I were the youngest, 9 and 10, while the other kids were almost in high school. Because they were much older, the told us we should bring the beer and cigarettes. If I remember correctly, I volunteered to bring the cigarettes and my friend stated that he would bring the beer.

Later that night, we met in the middle of the cul de sac, our loot in tow. We ventured out to the woods and began to have our party. I think we might have lit one cigarette and shared a fourth of one beer before a parent found us and the party was busted.

Being the my parents had recently divorced, but continued to always parent on the same page, my mother called my father. Later that night he showed up. I don’t remember much about what happened that night but I do remember sitting on the steps in our entry way talking to my parents. Although I cried the entire time, my parents were not harsh or bitter, only asking me to be as honest as possible about the activities of the evening and who decided what was to be brought to the party.

I didn’t know it at the time, but every other kid involved lied and placed the blame of the evening on me. Apparently I was the one who came up with the idea. I was the one who volunteered to bring the beer and the cigarettes and I was the only one who drank or smoked. Funny…I didn’t remember it that way?

My parents asked me only once, “Are you sure that’s the truth?”, and I answered yes. “If you say it’s the truth, then I believe it’s the truth.” My father said. “We raised you to be honest and I believe we did our job.” There was some discussion about what I thought my punishment should be and then I was dismissed while my parents sat on the front porch and talked about the incident…while drinking a beer.

For the rest of that summer, all of the kids in the neighborhood were unable to play with me because their parents had termed me a “bad influence”. They would ride up and down the street and shout “smoker, smoker” and “drinker, drinker” at me, knowing they had been part of the party as well.

I was 10. During that same summer, my friend and I had been caught by his father dressed in drag in the front yard of my house. My mother took a picture of us, every bit the Kennedy clan in wide brimmed hats, smoking tree twigs as cigarettes. His father had been furious. My mother laughed as our neighbor hauled my friend away while tripping on his long gown.

When I was in high school I got in trouble for another drinking party. While talking to my father over dinner he brought up the incident from the summer of my tenth year. “You know, I was always very proud of you for that night.” He said. “The other kids were rewarded by their parents for lying because those parents couldn’t deal with the fact that their children could possibly engage in such behaviors. They received new hockey equipment and shoes while you were punished for your involvement. Their lies will haunt them.” He told me.

“In life, there is a decision tree. The tree grows into a trunk which supports the rest of the tree. This is the foundation of your morals and values given to you when you are young as well as any of your genetic makeup. Next, we have the branches. Each branch splits in two eventually. Each branch represents choices you make in your life. Each choice leads to two or more choices and so forth. As you grow, your decision tree grows and all of your choices compound on top of one another. I wish I could show you my decision tree, and explain all of the good and poor choices I made in my life so that you could live your life to the fullest based on my experience. Unfortunately, you have to grow your own branches. Your mother and I always understood that which is why that evening, whether you had been telling the truth or not, we knew your choice would ultimately affect mostly your life. One lie would lead to another lie and to another lie. As life moves forwards, those kids who lied that not will display similar behaviors but you will be a finer human being for telling the truth and moving through difficult choices.”

And then he patted my back and the lesson was over.

I won’t bore you by telling you I became one of the most prolific liars this century has ever seen or that I had countless arrests and addiction treatments. I won’t bore you with how I treated people horribly, felt that I was owed something from my family and blamed other people for all of my mistakes. I won’t bore you with the countless drugs I did or how much alcohol and cigarettes I used over the years. I definitely won’t bore you with details about how I didn’t care about others’ feelings for years and only, selfishly, thought about my wants and needs.

But I will tell you that because of those years, I do not behavior in any way like that today. In fact, I attempt to live such a right life by the standards I set for myself that I am completely offended when others challenge these values. About a year ago, a business associate accused Alex and I of lying about how we had witnessed an event and reported it. I won’t dredge up the past because, as I stated, I’ve learned from those behaviors and don’t react the same way today, therefore we are friends again and both apologized for hurting each others’ feelings.

Needless to say, in being called a liar I explained that I was completely offended because that challenged the foundation of my sobriety and my values. If I am a liar, then the rest of it is a scam true; my recovery, my relationships…all of it. I might be a lot of things. But I am not a liar. Those behaviors of yesteryear were my picking the wrong branches to climb. Today, I choose different branches because I’ve learned…and my dad was right. In looking at his choices and the choices of others, and learning from one another, I’ve been allowed to live a better life.

While dissecting your life, ask yourself, Am I happy? Are there things I want to change? Are there things I believe are out of my control? What would I change today that would make me happier?

Now look at your choices!

You have many choices. The fact is not that you don’t have choices. The fact is that you don’t like where your choices lead. Many of us don’t like our choices, but sometimes choices we didn’t want to take led us in the right direction. I had no intention of staying in treatment on December 17, 1994 but by going I’ve been allowed to have the most amazing life possible. While working in treatment, I was adamant I was not going to participate in a new family group therapy program that had been designed, but after making the choice to participate rather than be fired, I learned I loved working with families. I was also forced to do an internship in an inner city elementary school. I begged and pleaded with my dean to let me do another internship, but due to my lack of planning, it was all that was left. During that internship, I met my mentor and had some of the best life change experiences ever!

It is easier to let go than to resist.

That branch was my most important.

My parents were very wise. They knew how to raise me with enough liberty to become the person I was meant to become while guided enough to have the values and morals they had learned would further me the most in this life. They were wise because they never allowed me to see them argue, with the exception of a few occasions, and they never spoke poorly of each other. They never made parenting decision without consulting one another. They did this because they loved me. They were the best parents any kid could wish for in life.

My mother was very, very wise. She never threw anything away in fear of possibly needing it again someday. Downstairs in our basement, right on top of her old Smith-Corona typewriter, sits a gorgeous photograph of the Kennedy sisters, both draped in beautiful dresses, wide-brimmed floppy hats shading their faces as they drink lemonade and smoke cigarette tree branch twigs.

I might post that picture someday…hell, we’re on borrowed time as it is!

Advertisements

Dreams…

I nap every day. I love to listen to people talk about taking a 30 minute nap or a disco nap. A nap to me is at least 2-3 hours. I recently heard a statement that hundreds of years ago, people slept two times a day for 3-4 hours at a time. That would totally work for me. I love to sleep, but I like to be up really late at night. They say the freaks come out at night and that’s probably true. I think I achieve more between the hours of midnight and 6am then any other time during the day.

Today, I kept waking up from my nap and falling back to sleep and waking up and falling back to sleep. It was…amazing. I love sleep where I fall back into a dream. Do you ever wonder where dreams originate? I’m not talking about neuroscience and sleep studies. No…I’m talking about where are our dreams born? Recently, I’ve even wondered if my dreamstate is reality and my waking life is my dreamstate. Sometimes, I confuse myself or think I’m going crazy, but I know I’m not.

When I was a little kid, my mom gave me a journal to write down my dreams. She said if when I woke up I immediately wrote down my dreams then I would remember them more clearly. I now remember my dreams very clearly. Sometimes…too clearly. Today, my dreams were very, very strange. I’m thinking about beginning to write down everything I dream about and turning it into a weird little book. I need a title though…that’s what keeps me from writing most of my books. Oh well…

What do you dream about? Do you write down your dreams? Do you remember your dreams? I believe dreams are a woven tapestry of our subconscious mind with souvenirs of our daily life. What do you think? I’d probably have more to say about it if I didn’t need to go to sleep and go back to dreamland…because we’re on borrowed time as it is.

Moments of Grace…

Tonight, we were in the middle of giving our dog, Boo Radley, who had rolled around in some unmentionables in the yard, a bath when the electricity suddenly went out bathing the house in complete darkness. We immediately stopped in our tracks as the three dogs ran circles around us, completely unaware of the change that had occurred, or at least not bothered by the lack of light.

We walked downstairs and as Alex went outside to see how many other houses had been affected by the outage I lit candles, lighting our way around the house. I held the dogs back and walked outside to find Alex walking up and down the street. “It looks like it was just us and Norma.” He said. “Did you pay the bill this month?” He asked. “It’s not even due yet.” I said. “And yes I paid it last month. I always pay the electric bill.”

He walked back inside and I stood for a second in the dark yard and then followed him inside. I found the number for the electric company and pushed buttons around until I finally got to talk to a human being. I explained to him that we had an outage and he said the storms the previous night had affected an area they were working on and that several other people didn’t have electricity either, explaining that it shouldn’t be very long until service was back up. I hung up the phone and walked into the living room, watching the puppies jump all over Alex in the candlelight.

“Do you want to go for a walk outside and look at the stars?” I asked. “Not really.” He said, thumbing through his cell phone. “I’ll be sleeping. I need to go to bed.” I couldn’t imagine going to bed without the whir of a fan, so that was completely out.

I walked back outside and walked down the street towards our neighbor’s house, watching the blinking of the fireflies as they tangoed on a backdrop of black velvet with sparkling star lights. The night was magnificent. It was literally the perfect summer evening, something I had forgotten because of our busy schedule of cell phones, recorded television programs, meetings and social obligations.

And for a long moment, I just stood in the street and took it all in. The smell of the grass and the feeling of it’s dewy dampness on my feet, lightly scented with some June flower whose name I was unaware. I watched the fireflies blink and blink and blink, remembering catching them in glass jars with forked holes in the metal top when I was a kid. The stars in the sky were brighter than anything I could remember, reminding me gently of my aunt’s farm and how stars always seemed closer and more pronounced in areas of complete darkness. I listened to the trees in the woods gently sway in the summer breeze, their limbs clicking together a warm embrace.

Suddenly, I heard a door creak open and I saw our 90 year old, neighbor Norma walk slowly out onto her front porch. I didn’t want to scare her so I announced my presence. “Hey Norma, it’s Peter from next door. I think we have a power outage.” I said.

“Oh honey, I’m so glad it’s you. I was scared and I didn’t know how I was going to get to you and Alex.” She said. “What happened with the electricity?” I explained my conversation with the man from the electric company and she showed me that she had a flashlight so she was in no danger of falling as she leaned on her metal cane, standing rigid in her crisp, white summer pajamas. “Beautiful night though, isn’t it?” She said. “It is indeed.” I agreed, and for a moment we both stood there just enjoying an eleven o’clock hour together in June; a moment of grace we hadn’t expected. They come so very rarely these days it seems, these coming of age, To Kill a Mockingbird summer nights…

And then I walked back up the street and back into our house smiling, hoping for many more summer moments like these…because they’re the stuff that dreams are made of and well, because we’re on borrowed time as it is… ,

Lemonade Stands…Reminders for my Soul!

Last Friday while I was sitting outside of my office waiting for a client, I received a special visit from my friend Karen and her daughter Anna. They were walking through the small artsy area around my office and walking up and down the canal eating ice cream. After talking to them for several minutes, Karen explained to me that Anna was going to have a lemonade stand on Saturday. I asked Anna several questions about the stand, but her shyness kept her gripped to her mother’s leg, kicking dirt and sand at her feet. Before they left, I reached into my car and grabbed a dollar bill and two, plastic stretchy bracelets, giving them to Anna. “I won’t get to come to your lemonade stand, but I hope this will get you started in making a profit,” I smiled. Karen made Anna thank me and the two walked off down the street.

It made me miss my mom a little bit and I guess that’s the tough thing about good incidents. They make us remember the good times which in result, can make us sad about past times or current losses. I’m not really sure what made me grab the money and bracelets in my car. Honestly, I almost thought against it, because I thought it might come across as strange, but my mom, who I guess I was missing in that moment, always taught me to live in the moment. If you wanna dance, dance. If you wanna sing, sing. Life, as precious as it may be, is way too short.

The next day I received an email from Karen. “Hi, I want to thank you for giving Anna the bracelets and dollar…hopefully we will have fun today with the lemonade stand! Anyway, thought I’d share a photo of Anna’s sign for the stand. It is kind of hard to read…hopefully you can make it out. After we left you Anna decided that the cost of the lemonade should be either 2 stretchy bracelets or 25 cents…very cute!! She is hoping most people pay, like you did, with bracelets!!

Instantly, I began crying, something I’ve been doing much too often lately, but what the hell, it’s better to feel something than nothing at all. I think I began crying because I missed lemonade stands, and calling friends to come over and play. Most of all, I missed taking things, such as lemonade stands, very, very seriously.

We are all too serious about the wrong things today. I wonder what would happen if my friend Tonya and I set up a Crystal Light stand right on the corner between the Speedway and the Dairy Queen. And she would do it too! We’d sell two cheese sandwiches on white bread, a sweet gerkin pickle and a tall glass of lemonade all for a $2 bill. If you don’t have a $2 bill. Get lost. Peanut butter cookies would be five for an old, used paperback mystery. Refills would be free, in exchange for a good joke. If you bring your dog, they’d get a nice milk bone, but only if they can do a trick or sit like proper ladies and gentleman. Awww…we would take it very seriously.

I remember back in the day working at the treatment center, I worked with this amazing woman, and friend, named Kathy. She would have me rolling in stitches coming up with jobs that, if she chose to ever leave being a counselor, she could very easily move into a new role. These new jobs would be things like snow shack manager, or the person who writes the things on the church signs like “Jesus doesn’t trust a sinner”. I would laugh all night long, yet she was very serious. I really think she could imagine a world where that would work out great for her. And she was probably right. I miss her.

The great thing about children, being such magical creatures, is that they make up their own rules. Just listen to them. A glass of lemonade for two stretchy bracelets, as if that is perfectly reasonable. My friend Karen and I were talking about Anna’s school uniform that she was wearing and Karen told me that when she was in Catholic high school, they had to wear plaid skirts, but they could wear any kind of shirt they wanted to wear. So the girls would wear striped or colorful shirts, almost never matching their skirts, and this was all perfectly fine, unless they went to the dentist, and then they seemed out of whack.

We need to go back to those days of making up our own rules; in our jobs, in our relationships, in our lives. Some of the most interesting people I know make up their own rules. I dare my clients to dream and dream big. We only have one life. Who says you can’t be Jacques Cousteau, or a fairy princess or a Moonlighting Detective. Sometimes, I’m all three between 12 and four on a hot, August afternoon. And I’m 37!

Life…has become too serious. Tonight, I almost bought a huge bottle of bubbles and sidewalk chalk. Not for my adorable neighbor girls, but for me, because I’ve always wanted to draw with that huge chalk and make peace signs and houses with tall flowers, and windows peering into other worlds, all on the pavement of my driveway. But I didn’t. And now I think I’ll go back and get it tomorrow. Because I need to dream bigger too and make up my own rules. Maybe just maybe, I’ll start charging clients ten dollar’s less, but they have to bring me baked goods. Hmmmm…I don’t think my doctor would like that idea very well.

See…there I go, being all serious! To hell with it! Brownies and snickerdoodles it is…because, as you know we’re on borrowed time as it is!

Deviled Eggs and Victoria Secret

Sometimes when I can’t sleep I go out and drive around, listening to music, until my mind fades, ridding itself of the days troubles and I can return home, my pups waiting for me, the whir of the fan already spinning and fall into bed. Tonight was one of those nights.

I went out with the intention of mailing several bills when I started listening to this song I recently heard and loved, “Highway 20 Ride” by the Zac Brown Band. I’m not really sure what it was about tonight, but I started thinking about my mom and realized that in exactly three weeks, it would be the 2 year anniversary of her death. I don’t find myself crying much these days over her death because I think I’ve learned a lot from her passing and mostly, well, I think she would want me to live my life and have as much fun and purpose as possible. But from time to time, I allow myself to have moments where I just unleash my emotions and let them flood, which is what I practice in grief therapy, to allow yourself moments which are right for you, not dictated by others, but not to allow yourself to become consumed by grief and loss. Yes, each person should grieve at their own rate, but at some time it’s important to realize we are here but for a short time and learn from that person’s life.

My mom would have wanted that, I am sure. She was such a wise person and taught me so many things that it is understandable that the greatest lessons I have learned in life, I learned in the wake of her death. Do not let any day go by unappreciated. Life is much shorter than we ever believed and before you know it your 40 and then 60 and then, hopefully, 80 and then boom! Be kind to others and enjoy every small detail. Ahhhh…I wish I could say that I practiced these constantly every day, but the truth is that I am a continuing student of these principles.

Nonetheless, I found myself driving around, listening to this song over and over again, tears flooding down my face. I thought about how when someone is gone, you can’t explain how they really were to someone who never knew them. You can show them pictures or videos, but the small things are impossible. And I think that’s what makes me so sad that she’s gone. She was such a vibrant soul, with so much wisdom. She taught me so many things.

She taught me to have impeccable table manners because people do care. She taught me to have a favorite author and have read everything by that author. She felt the same about movies and actors or directors. Woody Allen was her favorite. She taught me to re-read “Catcher in the Rye” every year, typically in the fall. She always believed it didn’t matter if you were a terrible cook but you should have a few meals you were excellent at that were obscure. Hers were deviled eggs, orange bread, chicken curry and raw apple muffins. She could not bake a cookie to save her life. She said she liked the burnt ones, and then she would laugh. She believed women should always look their best and that you could scrimp on clothing and jewelry but always spend money on underwear. She loved Victoria Secret. She would eat fruit, especially oranges, very slowly and told me to enjoy every bit of juice. She believed caramel corn and chewing gum were food of the gods. She believed everyone should have a theme song and hers was “Chimes of Freedom” by Bob Dylan. She taught me…she taught me to always remember your past and the people you loved in the past and never have any regrets. “Life is Life. It is what it is.” She would say. And smile, telling me to always remember all of the past friends and romances I had ever had because they defined me. Ain’t that the truth

And so tonight, I guess I just wanted to think about her for a bit, feel her presence around me and remember what she was like. And I wish that you all could have met her and felt one of her hugs, smelling the amazing perfume she always wore. She would have made you laugh…so laugh, love and have a favorite candy…because we’re on borrowed time as it is! Enjoy!

Stillness…

Years ago I heard about a study where a scientist went looking for an amount of space where absolute silence existed. He went all over the world searching for one square foot of silence but couldn’t find it, not even in the recesses of the western Pacific forests. The reason? Nothing could stop and be silent for any period of time…either a leaf fell from a tree, or an insect moved or someone’s breath made a sound…but nothing could rest long enough for the scientist to measure silence.

Sad really that we aren’t able to find measurable amounts of silence or be able to practice stillness in our own lives.

When I was fifteen I was fortunate enough to go with my father and stepmother to the island of St. Barts. One day we took a boat trip on a catamaran and I remember sitting at the end of the boat, my feet dangling in the azure waters, earphones beating the sounds of Paul Simon’s Graceland into my thoughts. For hours, I played the cassette tape over and over again, listening to every word and every beat as my feet grazed the tops of the waves and my eyes glanced upwards towards the Caribbean mountains of the islands. To this day, that is probably one of my fondest memories, and one of only a few moments of true stillness in my life.

I struggle today with staying still for too long. Either I’m writing or counseling, talking on the phone, planning with friends or Alex, driving here or there…but always moving.

Today was different. I allowed myself to sleep in and then I took the puppies outside to run around with their older brother. I sat on a chair and watched as they played, enjoying the simple act of play which only puppies, who know no better, can teach us. I watched the birds fly overhead, probably wondering what was going on below as they chased each other for no reason. I smelled the dirt and the fresh grass. I listened to the wind.

And then I went inside and as they took a nap, I layed on the bed, fan blowing the sheets around my ankles, and I read some ridiculous suspense novel for probably an hour. Afterwards I placed the book on my nightstand and just listened to the sounds coming through the window. And I remembered that day on the boat and wondered where so many days in between had gone. And the day drifted on and on and on.

When Alex came home from work, we sat on the back patio, planning our garden for the summer, as the dogs again played, never tiring of this game of chase and catch. We talked to our 90 year old neighbor about her rose bushes and we hung up the wind chimes. I sat on the front porch, talking to my best friend Tonya on the phone, watching the worms crawl around in the soil in our mulch and I waved to my other neighbors as they walked down the street. And the day drifted on…

And I remembered stillness; the very act which is so vital like air to our lungs. We forget to take a few moments every day to remember why we’re here and to truly enjoy the simple things, the small things. My mother loved the small things. The sound of rain on the rooftop or the glaze of the first snow on the trees. The smell of homemade, chocolate chip cookies in the oven and the touch of grass on the bottom of your feet at night in the summer. And most importantly, she loved the feel of the crisp sheets against her legs as she fell asleep…and I’m reminded of that every night.

And she doesn’t have the luxury to be hurried anymore or to take these things for granted…because she’s gone, as are many others. But we’re not, which is why we should stop, drop and roll through the spring grass and enjoy the small things…staying still a few moments every day…

Because we’re on borrowed time as it is!

Picking Weeds…

Recently I shared this story with a good friend of mine and it resonated around the lives of several of my friend’s lives right now, so I thought I would share it on here, partly to possibly help others and partly to remind myself where I was several years ago!

My mother’s birthday was always a special occasion and every year my ex-boyfriend and I would do something for her; typically staying overnight in a casino near Louisville, her choice for a birthday adventure. On the day of her last birthday, my ex and I got into a horrible fight just minutes before going to my mom’s house. It’s important to understand that at this point in my life, I was frustrated with several different levels of my life including my relationship, my job and the overall quality of my life.

After reaching my mother’s house, my ex decided he was not going to spend the day with us, due to our fight, so my mom and I headed off to go shopping at the outlet mall and then head down to the casino to spend the day gambling and drinking fountain cokes. I think if you live in Indiana it’s a right of passage, once you reach 60, to spend several weekends a year, sitting at a slot machine, drinking cokes and smoking cigarettes, praying for a big win. Although my mom prided herself in being a woman who would never fit this definition, secretly, she enjoyed sitting there watching cherries come up instead of three sevens, hoping to hit a few thousand. Instead, she’d pull a ticket out for $30 stating that she would buy us breakfast the next morning.

Needless to say, my mother, who loved my ex dearly, didn’t understand why we were fighting and why he didn’t want to come with us. I tried to explain to her that I was frustrated with several aspects of my life and that he and I had been arguing a lot recently and I had been thinking seriously if I was in a healthy relationship. I explained that I needed passion and desire in my life and that maybe we had let the problems take over the good parts of the relationship and it was long over due for us to go our separate ways. I explained that, although I loved him dearly, I thought maybe we each deserved something better in our lives.

Now, you would have had to know my mother, who had an opinion on every topic from oriental literature to Trip to Bountiful being the greatest movie next to To Kill a Mockingbird. She rarely knew silence and often, she drove people crazy with her incessant talk; a trait I believe she passed down to me. When, on rare occasions, she sat in silence, it was almost as if you could feel her mind ticking, profound wisdom about to pass from her lips. And then it came…almost like a whisper.

“Be very careful. Weeds grow fast in a garden.” She said.

And I sat there, not entirely sure what she meant by this statement.

“Our lives are like beautiful gardens which need watering and special care. If you aren’t careful, and you let the weeds of negativity begin to take over; all you see is a garden of dandelions. And sometimes, you start convincing yourself the dandelions are a more beautiful sight than the garden itself.”

And that, my dear friends, is exactly what happened in my life. And looking back, I don’t regret it. No, I’m a believer that everything that happens in life happens for a reason. That we are on some great journey with several guides and teachers along the way. But I do believe that we can pick the weeds so we careful to make sure and see the beauty we have in our lives. And maybe at the time, I just wanted a different garden. And that’s exactly what I got.

But is that for everyone? I love my life now, but if at the time I had been more careful, I think I could have saved some of myself and repaired that garden. I don’t think that’s what was supposed to happen, but for anyone whose unsure…your garden can be saved…just make sure you get out there and pick the weeds.

Luckily, I came out on the other side, tangled in a new, amazingly beautiful garden of lilies and daisies, spinning and spinning in the sunshine. But all around me, I see my friends tangled up in weeds, unable to break free and I wonder, if maybe they started picking away, one by one, they might have the beauty I enjoy every day…

But be careful. Because if all you see is the weeds, you miss out on the beauty that may already exist. And that would be a shame…

Because after all…we’re on borrowed time as it is…