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!

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.

Lessons in Reverse

I’m extremely tired but I made the commitment, to myself more than anything else, to write on this blog every day for the entire year I am 40 and if I don’t write the very first day it doesn’t give me much of a head start. So here I am…3:34 am, having just finished the movie Red State while munching on an enormous bag of Swedish Fish and tolerated the 100 degree heat seeping in through the walls of our house. I’m 40…and a day.

Turning 40 wasn’t nearly as strange as yesterday. Yesterday was the last day of my 30’s and I realized this about half way through my work day. I was sitting at my desk, talking to a prospective client on the phone and I thought, “holy shit…this is the last day you’ll ever be in your 30’s!”. Blindsided.

But I’m over that now. Funny how things we find so profound or important quickly pass. Now my only real concern is finding my way up the stairs to the cool of the sheets and the wind from the fan. Today has been a mundane day. I was supposed to be in Vegas for my birthday but we decided to cancel the trip and take it later in the year when we had more spending money. If you’ve kept up with my reading you already know that I was pretty undecided about what to do for my birthday, so let me fill you in on what happened.

I woke up at about 11 and rolled around in bed reading all of my Facebook birthday wishes from friends and strangers. Then, while Alex went shopping for my birthday presents, I went to get coffee. I came home, made my daily YouTube video that will accompany these posts and waited for Alex. Minutes later he came home and we opened my presents. After a brief fight, which had nothing to do with the presents, we went to the pool, only to be met by several small children and an unbelievable, summer storm. I thought I might like to do a little shopping but instead we napped…for several hours. This was no ordinary nap, but instead the kind of sleep you wake from several times and try to fall asleep quickly to return to your dream because it is so good. When we woke up it was almost 8:30. We dressed quickly and went to Cheesecake Factory. After devouring a cheeseburger we walked outside to be met another couple who are quite good friends. We sat in front of Starbucks for hours shooting the shit and by the time it was midnight, I was exhausted and ready to go home…only to get my second wind. Alex was more than willing to watch a movie since it was my birthday. I chose Red State over Play Misty for Me and enjoyed every minute of it. I took the dogs out and they are now asleep next to Alex which is exactly where I’ll be the moment after I post this post, which by now probably seems to have absolutely no point.

It has a very, very important point…and lesson.

I was bored today. Like I was really, really bored. I was really happy to be able to spend an entire day with my husband, something we rarely get to do anymore, but still…I was bored. Not sad bored…happy bored. But bored nonetheless. And do you know who’s fault that is? Mine. That’s right. I didn’t plan a damn thing for my birthday because I wanted to play it simple and not plan anything…and that’s exactly what I got…simple and unplanned. I imagine if I had gone to Vegas or planned a big party or dinner, then that is exactly what I would have done.

The point I learned, as I was constantly reminded by Alex that this was how I wanted to spend my birthday, was that we dictate the outcome of our own lives…most of the time. If we want to sit around and be lonely and bored, we can make that happen. If we want to be happy and entertained, we can make that happen too! Its all up to us. If we want to be actors, we can audition for a play, or even direct and star in our own plan and show it in a public park or our own living rooms. If we want to write a book we just need to sit down at the computer or open a pad and start writing. I really don’t care what anyone has to say because the naysayers will challenge this but it really is that easy.

Period.

And you better get this quick before you spend the rest of your life bored, lonely and bitter. Trust me…it sucks…and we’re on borrowed time as it is.

Watch my video blogging series every day that coincides with these posts! Join my journey with me over the next 364 days!
HERE is my YouTube Channel Pemovision!

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!

Help the Kids!!! All of the Secrets Revealed!!!

Please Help the Kids…Serve as Hope for Someone Else!!!
Contact me and be part of the movement!
petermonnmsw@gmail.com

My Twelve Steps Companion iPhone application tells me that as of today I’ve been clean and sober 16.76 years or 201.14 months or 6,122 days or 146,927 hours. That’s a lot of time but honestly, sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday that I was with my friends in high school drinking and partying. For years I worked with teenagers in an inpatient, addiction treatment center but today I am a private practice therapist who works with clients with varying issues and ages. Pain is universal.

But before I get too deep into the background story…for those of you who just want to be part of this project, let me take a moment to pause and explain. Daily I’m asked for advice on the strangest, but most honest, parts of the lives of teenagers using drugs and alcohol. Most days I receive phone calls from teenagers asking me how to talk to a friend or what drugs are safe for them to use. While my answers to these questions varies, I rarely give advice on safe drugs to use, what is apparent is most kids feel they have nowhere to turn for the real answers. Parents, teachers, other counselors, nurses, etc…call me daily too asking all kinds of questions about new over the counter drugs, or how much certain drugs cost or what boundaries they should or shouldn’t set. I have decided to begin a project where all of this advice can be easily accessed so parents and teenagers can be more successful and have the lives they dream of having. You want to be the next Jennifer Hudson, Kurt Cobain, Kid Cudi or Lil Wayne…it’s all waiting, you just have to reach out and grab it. I am asking anyone who had drug and alcohol problems as a teenager but is successful today to be part of my project. I am also asking anyone affected by these teenagers drug or alcohol use, but learned what worked and didn’t work to be part of this project. If you’re interested, please contact me at petermonnmsw@gmail.com for more information…but I encourage you to read on!

I can still remember being on the adult unit of the hospital where I got sober and listening to the teenage girls while they smoked on the patio at night, laughing with each other and talking about the dude’s number they got at the AA meeting they had gone to earlier. I remember watching in disbelief as the counselor monitoring them sat inside writing group notes, not paying attention to the girls or they mindless chatter. How could she not want to be part of this mesmerizing conversation? For years I had therapists who would fall asleep during our sessions or would trust the word of my parents instead of mine, never attempting to relate to my youthful beliefs or even remotely trying to see things from my point of view. So I thought to myself, I could do this. I could be that counselor or therapist I never had when I was a teenager. I could relate and show kids that adults can relate to them. Adults can be wrong and apologize first. Adults can listen to the same music, watch the same music and watch the same movies and television shows…not because they’re fake, but because that’s what they enjoy. (I can’t stand anyone fake so in my years of working with teenagers it’s been vital that when I am uneducated on a certain band or movie, to honestly more about their interests and ask for suggestions so I can decide on my own if I like a certain band. Some I’ve loved…some I still can’t stomach.)

Years ago I read a book by the editor of Sassy magazine where she described her attitude towards putting a magazine out for teenage girls. She described how her reader was the girl who walked down the hallway and had freckles or underdeveloped breasts, or overdeveloped breasts. Every boy looked at her or no boy looked at her. These girls didn’t feel they “fit it” and for them, this was traumatic, much the same way we consider sexual or physical abuse. She talked about sitting down on the floor and pulling her jeans up and getting down on their level to talk. Later, I had a professor who worked at Indiana Girl’s School who shared that she had a huge basket filled with cheap bottles of cheap nail polish. In exchange for talking to her, the girls were allowed to paint her nails. Often, she walked out of those sessions with a different color on every fingernail…but the girls talked…and they eventually felt better. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

And then the boys. The forgotten diverse population of our times. After 15 years working in the field of teenagers I have realized we assume our boys are going to be just fine because they’re boys. We make statements to boys like “grow up” or “be a man”, but nobody teaches them how to be men. They are afraid of growing up in a world without instructions and therefor front to make it appear they have a clue about the real world. Most do not and we are setting them up for failure. It is our job to hold their hands, even if they are resistant, through the dark, guiding them until they find their way. As a gay counselor I was apprehensive at times to work with male clients, but even to this day, I’ve always had amazing trusting and therapeutic relationships with the hardest core teenage men. They don’t care for bullshit and I do not bullshit.

Parents have asked me for 15 years what my secret has been working with teenagers. I just think like a teenager. I don’t have to try because honestly, most days I feel like I could wake up and this could all have been a dream and I’m still in high school myself. I try to treat teens the way I wanted to be treated, while still setting limits, boundaries and structure because I believe that’s what I wanted and needed. I had a mother look at her daughter during family group while she was discussing the love she felt for her boyfriend and the mother shouted “you don’t know what love is! You’re 15!” Let’s be honest. Love doesn’t feel a whole lot different at 15 than it does at 50. Quit lying to your kids. They know you’re full of shit when you do!

And that’s really the secret. Really listening to what the kids are telling us.

This has never been better stated than in the movie Bowling for Columbine when the director Michael Moore interviews singer Marilyn Manson whose music supposedly served as inspiration for the violence.
Michael Moore: If you were to talk directly to the kids at Columbine or the people in that community, what would you say to them if they were here right now?
Marilyn Manson: I wouldn’t say a single word to them I would listen to what they have to say, and that’s what no one did.

Today…I am listening. I have cleaned my ears out and I am listening like I have never listened before. For years I have been frustrated with the lack of resources for teenagers, parents, siblings and everyone who has been affected by drugs and alcohol as a teenager. The parents have no clue what to do and what decisions are right and the kids think what they’re doing is normal. I get questions daily like, “Since my son is in treatment, should I pay his dealer because he owes him $1500.” or “I don’t really care that she hangs around Sally. They’ve been friends since they were in 7th grade and Sally is a really good girl and comes from a good family. What about the other friends.” First of all, don’t ever pay your kids drug debts, you might as well have bought the drugs, which indirectly you did so own it. And second, Sally isn’t as pure as you think she is but that’s not the point. Your daughter is the worst friend she’s ever had so stop focusing on her friends.

But where is this advice? Where is the truth from kids, teachers, drug dealers, parents, siblings, therapist, probation officers and cops that everyone searches for and ends up calling me or some other therapist. It doesn’t exist…yet.

Every day I am contacted in some way by past clients or patients who I worked with as teenagers. Not all of them liked me when I worked with them, but somehow, they made it out and are successful today. Not all are in 12-step programs and not all of them are clean and sober, but ALL are successful in my book! I had a passing thought of starting a small project and so I chose ten of these young people and contacted asking for their help. ALL ten immediately responded and said they would be more than happy to help. Thus grew a larger idea and a larger idea and a larger idea. At this moment, I have a project in place to provide this advice and guidance my past families and patients have been looking for but couldn’t find.

This is where I help YOU to HELP THE KIDS!!! I am looking for anyone who struggled with drugs and alcohol as teenagers but made it out and is successful today. This does not necessarily mean you are clean and sober, but I am encouraging those people as well. I am also asking parents, sponsors, teachers, probation officers, therapists, counselors, doctors, friends, siblings, neighbors…anyone who experienced working with a teenager suffering from drugs and alcohol who has the inside scoop on what did and didn’t work for you that helped them be successful. If you are interested, please contact me at petermonnmsw@gmail.com with your name and email and I will forward you the outline for the beginning of this exciting project. And let me be very clear! This by no means is an attempt to replace any 12-step program. I am hoping that members of 12-step programs will also assist to offer examples of what works for them to be successful as well. I no longer want anyone, no matter their age, to feel that they don’t know where to turn for an honest answer about addiction and recovery.

Please help the kids! Serve as hope for someone else!
And if you have any questions or need immediate assistance you can always reach me at 317-796-3101.

The Girl From North Country…

Three years before my mom passed away, her best friend Diane passed away. Diane had lived for the majority of her life on the sparsely populated Beaver Island in up-state Michigan, across the way from Charlevoix and only reachable by ferry. I can remember spending a week one summer in high school up there and how our nights were spent watching sunsets and swinging on a tire swing just feet from Lake Michigan. I also remember, long before my mother got sober, how she and Diane went out for a night of drinking at Jack’s, the only bar on the island, and my mother lost her contacts, which she had taken out and placed on the beach to put back in her eyes later. Diane had made tapes of all of their favorite songs from high school, and even though we had gone to the island with my mother’s best friend from college and her daughter, the week, in my mother’s eyes, was obviously devoted to Diane, who she rarely saw through her adult life. So when Diane passed away, I found my mom on her couch, sobbing uncontrollably, and all she could say was, “now that Diane is gone, who is left that really knows my soul?”

And that was the crux of my mother’s mission statement in life. She often told me that, much as Woody Allen had quoted, “we are but a bag of soul.” She was a woman of strong faith, even though all of her life she walked a fine line between Christianity and Eastern religions, she believed that somehow God was found in the common constraint of loving your fellow main and doing the next right thing. “Once I am gone, my body is just a shell. Do NOT be attached to my body.”

So I find myself tonight needing to tell this story which has haunted me for over two and a half years now, only to pass it on in hopes that maybe it will help someone else and because, well, it’s just a powerful story.

In February of 2008, my mom became very ill and could no longer walk down the stairs. My aunt, her only sister, and I believed for a long time that it was some psychiatric symptom of years of suffered depression. At one point, my mom sobbed her way down five stairs, screaming “Oh sweet Jesus” the entire way, only to beg me to carry her up at the landing, unable to walk another step. After several failed attempts at hospitalization, I received a phone call from my father during a session. “Peter, I’m at your mother’s house. She was in the shower and fell and your aunt called me. Meet me at the emergency room now. She may not make it another 24 hours if I don’t get her there now.” And this alone was a miracle as my mother and father had been divorced since I was 8 and hardly got along, yet my father, and even my stepmother on some level, had become very involved in my mother’s increasing sickness.

And so I rushed to the hospital and arrived just in time for my father to carry my mom into the hospital and put her in the wheelchair. It’s important to note that my father has been a surgeon at the same hospital network for over 30 years and even so, could not get her the immediate care she needed, as hard as he tried, for all of those, like my mother, who believed in socialized medicine.

I could write paragraphs about the weeks leading from hospital room to intensive care to dialysis which ultimately led to her being diagnosed with Wegener’s Granulomatosis, which affects 1 in 30,000 people. For those interested, since Wishard Hosptial in Indianapolis diagnosed her with this disease immediately, yet Community Hospital could not for over two months, I thought I would include the outlook of the disease as described by the Vasculitis Foundation;

Remission: There is no cure for WG, but early diagnosis and proper treatment will be effective and the disease can be brought into remission with complete absence of all signs of disease.
Long-term remission can be induced and maintained with medications, close management and regular lab tests to help monitor the disease. Treatment can produce symptom-free intervals of 5 to 20 years or more. Some patients will achieve a drug-free remission. However, relapses are common but can be caught at their earliest and most treatable stage, for most patients, by paying attention to patient symptoms and lab tests. WG patients in remission must not hesitate to see a doctor if any WG symptoms return or if they are not feeling well.

So, as you can see, if caught early, it could have been resolved, yet my mother went into a coma in a hospital bed, and just recently I realized, I don’t really remember anymore the last time that I actually spoke to her. I believe it was some time before when she told me we should have a talk where I asked her anything I wanted to know. I told her I didn’t understand why she wasn’t fighting her illness and she replied, “If I knew what it was, I could fight it.” Later, when I attempted to contact an attorney because I felt my mother had been mistreated and under-diagnosed by the hospital and team of seven plus doctors, who NEVER communicated with me or my aunt, plus the several nurses who had a different, layman’s diagnosis and outlook for me every time I walked into the room, I was told that I had no case. My mother was dead before she ever walked into the hospital I was told.

Yet to me, she had been very much alive.

Until I flew back from a short trip to Las Vegas, prepared to make a difficult decision and my aunt, sobbing in a sharp, dark suit, coiffed hair and huge sunglasses spat at the doctor’s sitting around the conference table, “my sister is dying in there and none of you can tell us what is wrong.” Suddenly, they were very willing to discuss our options.

My mother, who was 64, loved to dance in her kitchen every day to Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead and Janet Jackson, walked about 3-5 miles a day, only ate an orange for breakfast and berries for lunch to preserve her health, took calcium so she never walked hunched over like my aunt, had no preceding health issues, couldn’t shut up if you tried and laughed and cried so heartily over stories and memories that she could have written volumes, would forever be confined to a wheelchair, feeding tube and oxygen tube. She would never again walk or be able to see and she would be in an acute care facility for the rest of her life. She would never dance. She would never again see the sunset on Beaver Island or her own backyard for that matter. She would never be able to sing the lyrics to Forever Young by Bob Dylan or smell an orange. She would never be able to hold my hand and know that it was me.

My aunt turned to me and held my hand, her tears streaming her face. “Please Peter, I’m begging you. This is your choice, but please, please, do not do this to your mother. This is no life. You know that she would never have chosen this. Please don’t do this to her.”

And yet, as I sit here now, crying as I type, I wonder, would she? Because really, you never know.

But I decided that this was the end for all of us. I could give her peace. She had given me life. And I could give her death. And so we decided we would wait two more days, until Thursday, to give time for friends and family to come and say goodbye, and then we would release her, much like one of her favorite Bob Dylan songs…I Shall Be Released!

That night, after praying and thinking about my decision I received a phone call from the hospital. My mother’s heart rate had dropped severely low and they wanted to know if they should revive her if she should begin to pass. I immediately answered yes, knowing that my aunt would want to be there. The nurse explained that to revive a body was not as painless as it appeared in movies and that maybe I should reconsider. So I told her to let her go if it came to that but asked if I could come up and see her, to which she replied that I could come up at anytime.

So I took a shower, changed into a shirt my mother had bought me for Christmas and went up to the hospital at 2 in the morning. I sat there all night, telling her all of the memories I had, although she was completely unaware. I told her my reasoning for why my ex and I had broken up, since he was always such an important part of her life. I told her she was an amazing mother. I forgave her for her alcoholic behaviors of my childhood and I thanked her for her sobriety. I asked her for forgiveness and I told her things I have only shared with a few others. I sat there and talked to her about my dog Benji from when I was young and how she and I would act out Laverne and Shirley. I thanked her for her compassion, her humor and her sense of civil humility. I forgave her for passing on to me her incessant need to talk and her lack of picking battles. And when the sun came up early in the morning, I said goodbye to my mother and drove away…and her heart beat on.

We had decided to meet at the hospital room at 8:00 pm. My ex came by and said goodbye and to this day, that encounter was probably the hardest thing I have ever had to endure, as I watched him touch her hand and I remembered them laughing and smoking in my car as we drove to casinos and Christmas vacations. Sometime during the day, my father went in to see my mother and I’m still unaware of what he said to her, but I heard he was in there for quite some time. I just hope she got the answers she always wanted from him because for her, although they had long had their differences, he would forever be her one and only husband.

I asked my friend Lis to come with me. When we arrived, we were met by my aunt and uncle, several of our close friends, including my mother’s other best friend from high school and a friend we had made recently and my dear friend Craig, who is a doctor. He had agreed to be there for support and to let me know she wasn’t feeling any pain. Sometime close to 8, the nurse came in and I signed a paper releasing my mother from any kind of support. They unhooked everything and…

nothing happened.
nothing
happened.

“This could take a long time.” Craig said.
“How long.” I asked, having prepared myself for this and having been in the same hospital unit for close to three months.
“An hour, a day. It could take two weeks.”
“What!” I said. “I don’t have two weeks. I’m ready.” I said, and I began to panic. But her heart rate didn’t slow and it appeared that my mother was breathing and living on her own, without any help from any machines.

I was encouraged to tell her she could go and I did but nothing changed. Finally, sobbing, I turned to Lis and asked her to say the Serenity Prayer over my mother. “Out loud?” She asked, and I nodded my head. But just as Lis was taking her hand I stopped her and said, “Actually, please say the third step prayer.” And Lis, beginning to cry herself, her tears running down her rosy cheeks, held my mother’s hand and began to recite the third step prayer.

“God, I offer myself to Thee–to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!”

And as she softly spoke these gentle words, my mother’s heart slowed and she stopped breathing.

She was gone. She had surrendered.

And while this may seem strange or eerie depending on how you look at it…it is honestly the truth, and what followed was almost the exact death scene from Terms of Endearment. And I walked over to the other side of the bed and watched as my aunt began asking where my mother would go now and she became inconsolable herself as they explained. And finally, my uncle took my aunt out into the hallway and everyone left me alone in the room with my mother to say goodbye.

I looked down at her hand, weathered from the tubes and needles and I held it close. The same hand that had hugged me and soothed my head. The same hand that had held mine through pumpkin patches and through the lawn at the art museum. It had held my hand before my first day of school and it had patted my cheek because she just wanted to feel how my skin felt, she would often say. And that hand…was just a shell. She was gone and I knew it the instant she passed away.

Gone was the smell of Michael Kors perfume and the sound of her laughter. Gone was the dancing to Thelma Houston and Donna Summer or the singing of Bob Dylan and Neil Young or the Beatles. Gone was that indescribable handwriting that wrote Christmas cards and Halloween Cards accompanied by little drawings of pumpkins and Christmas trees. Gone were her hugs, her long discussions of her dreams to be Edith Head’s assistant designing costumes for Hitchcock movies or a trial attorney living in San Francisco harbor on a houseboat. Gone were the even longer discussions about civil rights, gay rights, Rosa Parks and the Chicago Seven, not to mention her days working in the library at Northwestern University. Gone were all of the phone calls about the first days of snow or snow days in school met by grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. Gone was the fighting the bickering and the making up afterwards where we realized how very short life can be. “We’re on borrowed time as it is”, she was fond of saying. Gone was the smile, the laughter, the stories…

But all of that remained as well to some extent. And I realized that day that she didn’t die, at least it didn’t feel that way. She passed on…or away, which is why I use that term today. I believe it is so much more fitting. And I gave her a funeral which she would have loved. It was much like a movie and she was the star. The funeral was procession was led by my cousin’s son David, who she adored and my ex Shawn was a paul bearer, as was my friend Lis…she would have loved that a woman was a paul bearer at her funeral. And Mahalia Jackson sang “Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling and A Closer Walk With Thee” from the speakers. My father spoke, my cousin spoke, Lis read the Third Step Prayer and our friend Maryann read “The Road Less Taken.” And I spoke. Of movies that she and I loved, of times we spent together, of people we had shared and I said goodbye.

I found a note on the day that she died taped to an old black, Indian dress in her basement. “Please bury me in this Indian dress from the 60’s with a flower garland of daisies in my hair, my favorite cross, my beaded earrings, no shoes and patchouli oil. And I would like one, acoustic guitar to play “Moon River” at my grave site while everyone sings along. Thank you!”(with a smiley face…she loved little drawings.) And she got all of that.

She never got to see how happy I’ve become and that in some way how I’ve been reborn. She never got to see me accomplish my dreams. She never got to see me fall in love again. And she never got to meet Alex, which has been the hardest part of all because she would have loved him as much as I do and he would have taught her how to salsa around the island in the kitchen and they would laugh and smile, and while that never happened, somewhere I believe that it did.

And while she is gone, and yes, we are but a bag of soul, I am reminded of her often. In the wind, in the snow, in the sun and in the soft notes that the music carries. And so when certain songs that she loved mysteriously play on my IPod, like her favorite Bob Dylan song “The Girl From North Country”, I like to think that she is singing to me on those notes and reminding me to live…live…live…because we’re on borrowed time as it is!

Transition Into Your Own Personal Homeslice!


I haven’t written in a very long time, probably almost over a month. I’m not really sure why I haven’t written, especially since I’ve been overwhelmed with material to write about, both professional and personal. I guess I just really haven’t felt it lately; that nagging yearn to throw out there some of my feelings and weave them together in a way that maybe someone will be able to relate. Until tonight. I guess in the last few hours it just kind of all came together for me.

In June my office landlord filed bankruptcy, forcing me to begin searching for a new office space, knowing I was going to have to leave behind the office I began my practice in and start a fresh life somewhere else. The two leasers on either side bailed ship with the first notice of the attorney, but not me. No, I waited until the bitter end, literally begging my landlord to give me a few more days to pull it together and move out.

In July I attended my 20 year high school class reunion. This should have been an incredible experience, which it was, but I was focused on looking back on my dreams and realizing what I hadn’t accomplished, as any good alcoholic or addict does, instead of realizing what I had accomplished. I found myself comparing myself to others; by title, appearance and accomplishment. And in the end, although I had an amazing time interacting with old friends, and making new friends with people I barely spoke to in high school, I walked away from the night realizing I wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be in my life.

And then the crying began. Out of nowhere, on some random Tuesday afternoon, I was driving down the street listening to an old Stevie Nicks song and the tears welled up in my eyes and flooded my face. Literally. And for the next few weeks out of nowhere I would begin crying and couldn’t stop. Everything seemed to make me sad. I’ve worked enough with true depression to know that this wasn’t it…I was just sad. But I couldn’t figure out why? Alex attempted to be as understanding as possible, trying to be patient and listening to me ramble on and on, but somehow I couldn’t explain it to anyone. I just felt as if one day my mind went blank, the purpose left my blood and I was a walking zombie of emotion. And this just wouldn’t work.

September crept up and finally it was the day of the move. I saw my last client that day, closed the front door and walked back into my office. I sat in my chair and looked around the room. I remembered the night I had moved into the office with my mother and ex painting walls and arranging furniture; my mother mostly scrubbing the bathroom floor with a toothbrush. “This is filthy! No sane client would want to go to the bathroom in here!” She went out and got us Wendy’s late at night and we ate outside listening to the patrons of the bar across the street stumble to their cars as the whine and whir of the band down the street whistled a summer tune. I sat in that chair and saw all of these actions around me and realized not only was I leaving this office, but I was leaving those memories as well. It was time to move on.

So I wiped away the tears and said goodbye to my office, watching the late afternoon sun fall across the wood floor one last time as I slowly turned the key and locked the door.

I would love to tell you it got better after that, but it didn’t. The next few days were pure hell for me and everyone around me; especially Alex who tried hard to instill upon me that we would have new memories and create a new segment of our lives together, but somehow it didn’t seem real. Even after I turned over the keys to my old landlord as he said, “We had a good run, didn’t we?”, tears welling up in my eyes as I ran off to my car. It didn’t even seem real as I saw my first client in my new office.

But today, after much sleep, feeling rested and alive, I found myself scurrying around my new office, looking for an address I had written in my old office and stuffed in a box. I stood in one of my three rooms, instead of the only one I had before, I looked around, imagining how Alex and I would put our separate business office in this room. I imagined us coming up there late at night after meeting friends in the area, or arguing over interviews, or brainstorming some new ideas as the sounds from the street rose up into our office. I even imagined putting a television in our office to have constant movies playing to get inspiration from while we worked. Suddenly, I found myself sitting on the floor in that office looking around and seeing all the times to come instead of the past memories and just like that…the old ones were gone. They had filed themselves away into a neat little box and stored on a shelf somewhere in my brain to be brought out and dusted off if I ever wanted to look at them This was the new place.

This was the new me.

The reality is that during my 38 years I’ve reinvented myself several times. In fact, a 20 year old client and I were talking about that very thing today and got excited about the fact that we can reinvent ourselves at any time. Change our hair, lose some weight, listen to different music, change our clothing, change our perspective, be kinder or more generous, sleep later or get up earlier, eat vegan or go all out on meatloaf and tenderloin sandwiches…whatever!!! It’s up to us. We’ve only got one life and it’s ours to live.

I believe now that during the last few weeks I was going through a transition period in my life. These occur any time we are going through a major change in our lives and our old self is resistant to the change. But change is good. Change forces us to look at things in a new way no matter how uncomfortable it feels to us. Imagine if life were the same every day. It would be a little be like watching a reality show and on day 1009 they’re eating grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for the 1009th time while playing a tied game of tic tac toe. That show would have been canceled a LONG time ago!!!

We will go through several transitions throughout our entire life depending on what our goals and needs are at any given time. We should try to be more open minded to these changes and allow them to come and flood through us instead of feeling as if they are attacking us. We can control these changes and dictate how or what direction we want them to come. I believe now that part of why this transition happened for me was due in part to the fact that several of my dreams which I had envisioned(being successful in my private practice, having a healthy and passionate relationship, working at completing a book, having a successful social business and living a fulfilled life)had been completed or were pretty damn close! Therefore, it was, as Oprah suggests, time to dream a bigger dream. And to do that we must stretch our skin and allow ourselves to grow!

On my worst day possible in the last few weeks I arrived home and found that I had received a message from one of my dearest clients. “You are my homeslice!!! Thank you for making me feel better. I hope at the end of the day you know how important you are to people’s lives, especially mine!!! By the way, Congratulations on your new office–I drove by after our appt today..”

And tonight, Alex brought me home a new bamboo plant for good luck, waiting on our kitchen island to be transplanted to my new office. A note begins, “You don’t need the luck BUT…” Who could ask for more than that?

So you see…life does get better. The tears dry up, the sun returns and perspectives change. And sometimes, even in the midst of your own personal crisis, you realize that it’s all part of something bigger. I mean, who could ask for anything more than to be someone’s homeslice?!!! That’s just…incredible and awe-inspiring!!! Aim that big…because we’re on borrowed time as it is.