The Best New Advice for 2011!!!

I haven’t written since October, a realization which is a little numbing considering how many ideas for posts I have jotted down on napkins in coffee shops and on the back of receipts. It seems that some of my best “thoughts from the couch” actually occur in the aisles of grocery stores or, like this morning, listening to talk radio shows on National Public Radio.

Five months is a long time though and my shoebox of writing ideas is filled to the brim with scraps of paper. I had wanted to write about Halloween and the notion of irrational fears versus rational fears. During November, I wanted to write about my mother’s birthday, Thanksgiving and several other small ideas such as how the smallest details in my life, such as the finest cup of coffee or a cheese sample at the grocery store can turn my day to the positive. In December, I had outlined posts for my sobriety date, December 17th, to talk about the week that led up to my entering treatment as well as a few chapters from my memoir I am writing about me and my mother’s recovery’s as family members and how to set boundaries while still supportive of one another. And of course I wanted to write about Christmas. Every year it is important for me to write a piece about some lesson I’ve learned at Christmas with hopes of it being a small gift to my clients. This past year, I was going to write about the last Christmas Eve I spent with my mom on the mountainside in Tennessee, stuck in the middle of the night, while we tried to find ourselves off of the slippery road.

January brought the new year and with every new beginning comes a time for renewal. This year is my year to be my most authentic self, creative and loud, colorful and positive, thoughtful, challenging and risk taking. I had an entire post ready to print and then was criticized for something I had written so I withdrew, which is no excuse, and waited once again.

I’ve asked my readers for tons of suggestions and they have compliantly given me months full of ideas so I really have no reason not to write, but until today, I didn’t really feel it in my soul. Several times when I have been down, Alex has suggested I write, stating that I seem happiest when I am creative and writing, which is probably true. So today I decided to write. I sat here in front of my computer, unsure of what to write, and almost closed the computer with the notion that I would just put it off until later. And then I smiled realizing I definitely had something to write.

There are certain things we know as truths in our lives. I am also a believer that knowing your weaknesses and being willing to change them to strengths can be one of our greatest learning experiences. If you don’t know by now, I believe that everything that happens to us happens for a reason and that life is full of translations and lessons waiting to be revealed.

Recently during a session, a client and I were talking about strengths and weaknesses and he stated, “don’t ever give anyone a reason not to like you.” I smiled and listened as he shared something, which I considered small, which had bothered him. “You are an amazing therapist and I love the insight you have, and being that I have been to several therapists, I know your worth in my life. But not everyone is like me and people look for reasons to not like others. So never, ever, give anyone a reason not to like you.”

Later that day, I thought about what he had said and that day, put into place a policy which would change some of my procedures because he felt it would make my practice better. And then I began looking at the weaknesses in myself that would keep, not only my clients, by my friends, family members, boyfriend, whoever, away from me if they were to focus on those weaknesses.

Earlier this week I made a list of those weaknesses and changed them to positive statements and wrote them on a Post-It Note above my desk which, as I read every day, reminds me of how to turn my weaknesses into strengths and how to grow as a person and be even better than I am already.

My client was so right on with his statement. It was really the best advice I’ve been given in a very, long time. “Don’t give anyone a reason not to like you.” We all want to be liked. We all want to do good work, have close friends and make a positive impact on the world. So, if there is anything that is standing in your way, turn it around, make is a strength and become the person you always wanted to be. 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.

The New Rules…Rules #1, #2 and #3


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…
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…

Award Ceremony…

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…

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.

Bike Ride Universe…

I met with a young, male client last week who is struggling with growing up. Although he enjoys the privileges which go along with getting older, he misses being a kid and living, to some extent, a carefree life. I have found this to be typical with many young men I meet with and I think it is a problem in our society which has been gravely unnoticed. Young men in our society our supposed to pass the bridge from boyhood to adulthood with no recourse and just be ok with it. I believe we need to focus more on helping our boys become men and learning how to be a man and helping them identify what it means to them to be a man and what they want to achieve.
The young man I was meeting with was discussing the differences between being a kid and being an adult, or being a kid at heart, trapped in an adult world. When I asked him the biggest difference, he said very quickly, “The size of the universe.” I was completely perplexed and asked what he meant. “Well, when I was a kid, the universe was only as big as how far I could ride my bike. But as I’ve grown older, it’s gotten bigger and bigger and bigger. Now, I don’t even know the boundaries of my universe and I just wish I could go back and just ride my back to the end of the street and be ok.” Wow!
What insight for such a young man. I hadn’t really ever thought of it that way. We both went to the same elementary school and I explained to him that I had gone back, years after I had left that school, and visited. I explained that the ceilings were shorter and the chairs and desks were tiny. It didn’t feel right and I didn’t like the how it made me feel. In reality, the building hadn’t changed. I had. Old isn’t really an appropriate word. Lost would probably be more appropriate. Like a man without a country, because part of me was still in 4th grade waiting for Mrs. Hopp to read us “Help I’m a Prisoner in the Library”, while it snowed outside and I waited to go home at 3 to my mom and dream all night long over graham crackers and white frosting of the possibility of a snow day. Yep, those were the days. The carefree days. People that know me well know I remember so much from my childhood, and that’s a great thing, but sometimes it’s painful too…because I’m not sure I want to be 37 everyday. Some days I want to be 9, in Mrs. Hopp’s classroom. Or 16, riding around with my friend’s, smoking cigarettes and singing songs to tapes, or 22 when I first got sober, or even younger, way, way back when my friend Jessie and I would roller skate in our basement and my mom would bring us tuna fish sandwiches and orange juice. 37 is great, and just last night I was telling a friend that I was having such a great night because I felt like such a perfect mix between Holden Caufield in Catcher in the Rye mixed with Gatsby sitting outside his house. I was the age between. It’s a little bit the best of both worlds.
But alot of days, I wish I could get back on my bike, spread my arms wide, riding with no hands, and reach the end of my universe. But like my dad says, from the lyrics to the Christmas song Toyland, “once you pass the portal, you can never go back again.” And that’s true. But wouldn’t it be nice, just every once in awhile, if we could return to those days just for a moment? Or maybe, just maybe, we need to truly enjoy each passing moment before it’s part of the past, because, as you know…we’re on borrowed time as it is!