“After a while you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,
And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
And company doesn’t mean security.
And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts
And presents aren’t promises,
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes open
With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child,
And you learn to build all your roads on today
Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans
And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.
After a while you learn…
That even sunshine burns if you get too much.
So you plant your garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure…
That you really are strong
And you really do have worth…
And you learn and learn…
With every good-bye you learn.”
-Veronica A. Shoffstall
My crone Counselor of sorts, Pat Graves, gave me this poem when I was pregnant with my son 19 years ago. When I started seeing her, her first requirement of all her clients was that they gave up drinking for the introductory period - just to rule that out as an issue. As a recovering alcoholic herself, Pat knew that that alone quickly solved a multitude of issues. I did not realize I was newly pregnant on that first meeting, but I quickly agreed and kept my commitment.
When I brought in my partner, Joe, for couple's counseling, he also immediately agreed, and then proceeded to call me a few hours later after 2 martinis...
That was the beginning of a very difficult relationship and the subject of at least one book already. So I don't want to go there today.
My mother has been sending me boxes of memories lately. Some are delightful, like my grandmother's china and a table cloth I gifted her after my trip to Croatia in 2001.
Others are painful―like the journal I kept when my children were young.
I don't know why I kept that journal. I had ripped 30 earlier journals to shreds that I had written since I was 7 years old. I regret that now, but it was satisfying at the time. I suppose I couldn't bring myself to destroy anything with my children in it. So this one remained― long with those I have kept since.
When we moved to Norway 6 years ago, we were broke. So, we only brought 4 suitcases for the 3 of us. The last of what wasn't sold or given away has been in my mother's storage. I didn't remember keeping so much stuff. We had downsized several times already from an enormous and glorious home in the suburbs to smaller and smaller rented houses on the other side of town. Toward the end, I was throwing nearly everything out in a flurry.
It has taken me a long time to accept much of my life. I have always wanted things to be different. The best I could do was to make sure they were better for my children―and radically change the rest of my life.
I haven't been writing much lately other than my personal journals. I have been editing mode―and there is a place for that. But something struck me on the front page of that journal. A commitment to write more often. Ironically, I have written and published a lot since then, but not given myself much of a chance to ponder the deeper things within myself.
Yesterday would have been Joe's 50th birthday and it is something I have reflected on for many weeks. The one chapter that has stayed with me all these years later from my year of Al-Anon was the one on Acceptance in the Big Book. I don't want to quote it here because there is too much God language for me now, but it was spot on. Acceptance is often a hard pill to swallow. I think Cheryl Strayed perhaps said it best.
“Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you'll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you'll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.”
So the last days, I have been good to myself. I am grateful for the children Joe gave me. I see the best parts of him in both of them.
The photo at the top was after an extended stay at Betty Ford in 2008. Joe had been in and out of rehabs since he was 15. None of them stuck. Some things don't heal. Not in this lifetime at least.
The kids had not seen their dad for many months and were so excited when he walked through that door. They did not see him the last years of his life either. It had become 'unmanageable,' as they say in AA.
Joe died of alcoholism shortly before Thanksgiving in 2016.
Acceptance is indeed a small, quiet room.
I still feel the grief a child, at least today. But I finally have my head up and my eyes open. And I fucking love this life I have recreated for myself and my children.
Happy 50th birthday Joe. You always knew how to live BIG―and I am taking birthday week off in your honor. And, happy 15th birthday to our precious creation, Helani Claire, who is 15 today. I know you would have been so tickled with her.