Saturday, October 25, 2014

Another week gone before I can blink



video

The weather has finally turned to fall here.  I was out on the boat for several days this week and have to say that it was something that I have missed.  The boat is my sanctuary, my place to get away from anything complicated. Sometimes there are unexpected visitors who just pass by and say "hello".

The only complication that I have had in the last week was having a kidney stone which was a terrible pain.  I've not had the pleasure of dealing with that before and hope to not have one again.  I went to the ER because the pain came on suddenly late in the evening.  And I could not stop vomiting after each wave of pain.  Anyway, I am okay now.  The ER doc told me it was like the pain experienced by women in childbirth.  I have a new appreciation for that level of pain.

The winter garden is finally in.  It is a great relief to have the tired summer plants removed and the winter ones in the ground.  It takes a lot of work to maintain things around here.  The older we get the more it seems to take too.

The service for my friend and mentor was a high Catholic funeral mass. I had just gotten out of the ER and was still feeling dopey from the pain medications they had given me.  When the priest said that my friend was gone forever from this life--laughter gone, voice gone, smiles gone--well, I had to smile because I have voice messages on my phone wishing me a happy birthday last year and other messages that I like to listen to.  And I have the memories of our time spent together.  Gone from sight is true but living on in my memory as long as possible.

Today, we are going to an oyster roast which should be a good time.  It's the first one of the season.  We are enjoying all that Fall brings. We have had several fires in the outdoor fireplace, and last night had dinner on the deck sitting around the fire.  Life is going smoothly right now.  I am glad that there is peace and quiet in my little world.  I keep hoping that will extend outward as I do my part to convey the happiness that I feel inside.






Sunday, October 12, 2014

Whew!

Yesterday was the Al-Anon Fun Day which turned out to be a great event.  I was incredibly inspired by the speakers who shared their story.  One was an alcoholic, in AA recovery for 23 years.  The other was an Al-Anon father who took all of us through his journey of the 12 steps. It was powerful stuff.

I think that having these opportunities for people to come together for most of a day, enjoy a great lunch, and listen to inspiring speakers is a great thing.  I got to meet so many people that I hadn't talked with before.  And there was a little memorial set up for a couple of long-timers in the program, including my friend, who died this year.  In fact, the day was dedicated to them which touched my heart.

Because of teaching sailing, going to the gym, sailing, riding and attending meetings, I haven't had much time to be as current on blogs as I would like.  I sometimes think that my heart isn't in this anymore because I stay so incredibly busy.  It's not the running type of busy that I once did, but I am passionately enjoying just about everything that I do.  However, I have to say that I will be glad when I have a few less things on my plate. I am juggling a lot of stuff here lately.  And I prefer to have less scheduled activities and more free time.  I know that I am not going to volunteer for any more things to do in the immediate future!

Once again, it appears that the days are slipping past so quickly.  I wish that they would slow down.  Today we have been putting together another green house for all the plants that will have to come inside before cold weather hits.  With temperatures still in the 80's, I don't know when we will have a cold snap, but I don't want some of the beautiful plants to die.  And the garden is still in a state of disarray, but I do have the fall plants that I hope to get in one day this week.  I have been saying that now for two weeks!

I am going to my cousin's memorial service in Virginia in another month.  I am not looking forward to going, largely because he has been dead since June 2013 and having a service now seems a bit late.  I feel badly that he did not have an obituary so few people even knew that he died.  But I will make the drive up there because I think it is the right thing to do.  I suppose this will be more of a celebration of his life which is good.  I hope that his wife will manage to stay sober because she has been drinking quite a bit since he died.  Her drunken phone calls to me were not ones that I liked, but I listened to her until I couldn't anymore and then said good-bye.  I have few expectations for this.  I will keep an open mind and see what happens.

I hope that you are enjoying some of the Fall weather where you are.









Saturday, October 4, 2014

Released this morning from all pain

During the darkest, most terrifying time of my life, an older man took my calls 24/7, helped me to think through my choices before acting rashly, listened to the rage and heartbreak that seemed bottomless, met with me when I was melting down, occasionally reminded me to get off my pity pot, and loved me fiercely through it all. He was fond of saying that he was a 19 year old spirit trapped in a broken-down body. This morning, he was released from that broken-down body. I am so happy for him, that his suffering is ended. But, I will miss him terribly. I have saved the emails and even the voice messages on my phone.  And I can read or listen to those to recall his presence.  And his voice remains in my head, recalling the last time I talked to him.

Today, in celebration of my friend's life, I will do my best to seize the day, even though my back is in agony this morning.  I will remind myself that memories are made of small things as well as those occasions that are momentous. I will be grateful instead of stuck in fear or impatience.  I know that my friend is part of a great energy swirling around.  We came together out of a connection, felt deep inside.  And that connection we felt has made me aware of how much joy and gratitude I have in my life.  Rest easy, my friend.


Friday, October 3, 2014

Afterlife

My friend and mentor is dying. I went to see him today at the Hospice Center, knowing that his death will come very soon. He was unresponsive. I have read that hearing is the last sense to go, so I talked to him and read one of my favorite poems to him.

His birthday is in another week so I read Dylan Thomas's Poem in October. I remember how this poem touched something deep inside me when I first read it years ago. It has been a poem for me to gauge the passing of my years. My thirtieth year to heaven is long gone but these words still ring true:

"My birthday began with the water- 
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name 
Above the farms and the white horses 
And I rose And walked abroad in shower of all my days...." 

Sitting next to my friend and watching his breathing in and out, made me think about what lies beyond death. I told him that I would see him on the other side. I don't know what the other side will be, but I know what I would like it to be. It would be what I experienced this week on the boat.

My ideal would be to see the sun rise over the ocean, as it pushed back the night and painted the sea with silver and gold, shimmering like diamonds on the surface. The way it flooded the dunes with an ambient magical light that was warm and beautiful, bouncing off the clouds.  I watched the dolphins cruise by and the seagulls fly overhead.  I watched the formations of pelicans soar on the thermal air currents as they flew in front of the waves.  I watched the dogs run through the surf wagging their tails and admired the reflection of the vast sky overhead in the tidal pools.  I admired the way the clouds changed color as the sun rose and how they drifted over the sea slowly and languidly changing shape and form.  I listened to the birds singing in the trees and marveled at how many wildflowers were blooming and how they covered the dunes.  I was uplifted to see the butterflies migrate down the beach, and the sound of crickets was music to my soul.  I appreciated life at the moment because it was beautiful and meaningful to me.  

So I don't  know what Heaven looks like and do not deny or accept how others see it.  But when I looked around and above this morning and felt the experience I had right then in that moment, the peace it gave me, I believe I saw my Heaven all around me.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

In Hunt Country



I flew up to the western part of Virginia on Thursday. I was born in the Tidewater area but hold this part of the state in a special place in my memory too. During college I hiked through the mountains, rode horses, slept in pastures, and went to some great parties at some fine homes. 

I am particularly fond of the beauty of the foothills of the Blue Ridge in the fall.  Today and yesterday I drove along country roads where the leaves were changing. I saw hayfields being cut and others being raked for hay that is rolled into bales and covered with plastic. The fields are framed by black fences with the occasional rock borders. Vineyards dotted the countryside. It is breathtaking in an old colonial way that harkens to a time before there was urban sprawl. 

My parents brought me to some fine old Virginia schools when I was a child. We toured Washinton and Lee, the University of Virginia, and Hampton-Sydney. I marveled at Robert E. Lee's horse, Traveler, whose hide was stuffed and enclosed in a glass case at the Lee Museum on the campus of Washington and Lee. I looked at the recumbent statue of the old General himself. 

Later, I marveled at the incredible horses at some of the shows in Warrenton, Upperville, and Middleburg. I had crushes on several young horse women, and eventually made love for the first time near a lake on one of the farms in the area. We spent the entire weekend unclothed (or so it seemed),  snuggling under sleeping bags at night. It was a time of great exploration in many ways. 

So the area is filled with good memories. But nothing stays the same. Now some of the estates have been divided and developed with fake mansions in the hay fields. The main highways are lined with strip malls, fast food joints, hotels, and all the other evidence of modern times.  The great battlefields of the Civil War are surrounded by sprawl. I couldn't help but think of the many remains that still lie in old graves or in the woods and fields and under pavement in the area. I wonder what my great grandfather would think if he could see the battlefields now. Would he be horrified or enthralled at the changes?

Now I am at the airport waiting to fly home. Virginia was my home and will remain a home in my memory. But the island where I live is now where my heart lies with its estuaries and marshes, dense subtropic woodlands, and soft humid air. I am looking forward to seeing my love, my animals, and my land. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Be the change you want to see in meetings and in life


Today is the first hint of fall that we have had here.  We awoke to a temperature of 67 F.  Now the windows are open and the whole house fan is circulating fresh air throughout.  The skies are blue and clear of clouds.  It is an invigorating morning.

Yesterday, I attended the district meeting and heard a lady talk about how she is being bullied in the rooms of Al-Anon by "big men and old ladies".  She went on a while with a rant about how she felt unsafe at some meetings. When asked by the chairperson what she wanted to be done, she replied, "I want to feel safe and to go to meetings where no bullying occurs."  I talked with her afterwards and invited her to come to the meetings that I attend, saying that I know they are healthy.  (Even though there are big men and old ladies at some of these). Sadly, I quickly found in my conversation with her that she is a bit unhinged.

People with outside issues (those who have problems other than alcoholism in a relative or friend) are in the rooms.  And some of them need more than the program has to offer.  I know that it's especially easy for me to look for fault in others and in meetings.  But I know that by working the steps and traditions, I have learned that not every meeting is healthy and that sometimes members have emotional and mental health issues that need attention by a professional.  I have been to a lot of meetings in the district and have had only a couple of experiences in which I thought the traditions were seriously being violated.

Everyone deserves to have meetings where they feel safe.  I advocate for being the change that I want to see at a meeting.  I don't hesitate to speak to someone after the meeting if I think that a meeting can be improved.  I do this in as respectful a way as possible.  I don't want to nitpick or be an Al-Anon policeman. However, I do believe that respect and compassion need to be extended to all who attend.  Talking over someone else,  bringing in non-conference approved literature (like the Bible or AA literature), talking about rehab centers, or giving advice (i.e. "You should do ______" or "You need to go to therapy", etc.) are not only confusing to newcomers but break the traditions of the program.

One of the fellows I sponsor is beginning to see that the rose colored glasses he was wearing are not working as well.  He has asked me about feeling anxious in some meetings and finding that some people are rubbing him the wrong way. I think that we all discover that people in recovery have plenty of "warts" and shortcomings.  When I find that a controlling person is irritating me, it's because I have the same shortcoming of controlling behavior.  The old adage "If you spot it, you've got it" applies over and over whether in recovery or not.

I'm going to head outside now, do a bit of work in the yard, and head to the hospital this afternoon to visit my first sponsor who is not doing well.  And then, I'll head to the boat to enjoy the rest of the afternoon doing some varnishing and reading the newspaper.  The day is too beautiful to spend being inside too long. Hoping your day is bright and shiny.

Another year is fast approaching. Go be that starving artist you’re afraid to be. Open up that journal and get poetic finally. Volunteer. Suck it up and travel. You were not born here to work and pay taxes. You were put here to be part of a vast organism to explore and create. Stop putting it off. The world has much more to offer than what’s on 15 televisions at TGI Fridays. Take pictures. Scare people. Shake up the scene. Be the change you want to see in the world. ~Jason Mraz

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Shadow

Yesterday was one of those days that I would like to not have. I went to bed on Sunday evening watching news about Hurricane Odile on a collision path with Cabo San Lucas.  Now I have only been there one time, but the place was amazing. I thought about the open air restaurants, the simple houses where the residents live, the beggar lady Maria I met at the marina, the marina with all the boats, the horses at the ranch where I rode through the desert, the economy that depends almost totally on tourism.

So I awoke yesterday in the wee hours to see Cabo decimated by a Cat 3 hurricane.  I saw the beautiful airport in shambles, the barrios destroyed, the fancy resorts blown out and the marina trashed.  I heard some people being interviewed saying that everything will be cleaned up in two weeks. How is that possible when it is likely that power won't be back on for at least that long? Anyway,  seeing the damage in photos was bad but living through a Cat 3 gives a whole other definition to hell.




After looking as long as I could at the damage in Cabo, I checked email to learn that a long-time friend died in her sleep early Monday morning. She had just been at an event on Saturday with one of her beloved dogs.  Her last post to everyone on Sunday night was about how happy she was that her dog did well. I'm glad that she had a good two days and died happy.  She was a quiet, unassuming person who loved animals and her family.  She also suffered from rheumatoid arthritis which took her away from riding and competing with her dogs. But she still managed to get around with a cane.

I am not stunned anymore by people dying.  I am sad but realize that more and more of my friends are going to die as time passes.  Over the past year, death has simply been a factor in my life.  It is there like a shadow sometimes, especially on days like yesterday.

I prefer to not have the shadow near me and opt for bright sparkling water, ocean breezes and light days.  I keep the shadow away by traveling to the edge of the marsh.  The grass is going to seed, swaying in the breeze, changing color with the season.  It's an unsettled time of year with thunderstorms threatening in the distance, large cumulonimbus clouds building, and the light changing and moving like the leaves up in the trees.  At these moments, I am so glad to be alive, fully and with such a feeling of love deep inside my soul.

That's what I am feeling at this moment.  Love and peace to you all.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

On the boat

I have been out on the boat since Tuesday. I taught sailing on Monday evening, spent that night on the boat and left the next morning to make the tide to the island anchorage. The weather has been cooler after so many days with high heat and humidity. Then the rains came for two days, but I decided to leave on Tuesday regardless. I need the water just like I need to breathe. 

I am sitting in the cockpit now with two snoring dogs nearby. Later, I am going to row to shore and take the dogs for a walk on the beach. A lot of erosion has occurred since my last visit. But it's still peaceful and comforting to know that there is a place nearby to enjoy the quiet of a deserted island. The waves are lapping against the hull and the ocean waves are crashing on the far side of the island.
I have lectures to prepare for Monday evening over the next nine weeks. I do enjoy teaching and know that it's good to refresh on information that I haven't studied in some time. I still feel as if there are so many others more qualified than me to teach the course. But I keep telling myself that I was the one asked to teach it and know that I can prepare as well as anyone can. It's my old insecurity that I need to be the "expert" when in fact I remain still a student in my mind. Ah well....i have felt like an imposter for a long time, even at the pinnacle of my career. Old feelings of inadequacy are hard to entirely give up. 

Anyway, I am heading back in tomorrow. I'll ride the mare on Friday. Horseback riding has been fun. I'm enjoying trail rides on her. She is sturdy, beautiful and sweet. I'll end with some photos of her and the dogs. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Not my zoo, not my monkey

I've heard the expression "not my zoo, not my monkey" a lot lately.  It reminds me of my desire to mind my own business and not get caught up in a lot of drama that wreaks my peace of mind (=serenity).

I have spent a lot of time wreaking my peace of mind by being involved in situations that were not only dramatic but harmful and unhealthy.  I do my best to avoid people that create a lot of drama, beckoning me to be part of their "zoo".

Things go well for me when I am around healthy, intelligent, mindful and compassionate people.  Some of these are working a program of recovery and some are simply enlightened enough about themselves to be in harmony with those around them.  I learn a lot from people who are loving, vulnerable, humble and authentic.  I seem to be at peace when I am with them.

But social interactions aren't always idyllic.  Plenty of people out in the world are restless, irritable and discontent with who they are and emit a negative vibe that can ensnare me in the zoo.  Like the saying, "monkey see, monkey do", if I am around "unhealthy" people enough, then I begin to take on their attributes.

Take, for example, a discussion with my wife who is my touchstone in so many ways.  We both have found a healthy way to express our feelings. We have learned to navigate in a relationship that was unhealthy to where we respond to each other with love, empathy and understanding.  Consequently, our love has grown.  We talk about how we feel when there is a misunderstanding, rather than trying to justify, argue, be defensive or make excuses.

Have you been around someone who goes on the attack when a problem comes up?  I have a friend who is a dry drunk but sober for 24 years.  He is definitely restless, irritable and discontent with much in his life.  After a few years of unemployment, he now has a good job.  Yet he complains about having to be "on call" when it doesn't suit his agenda. Nothing seems to be his fault; rather, everyone else is messed up or is making mistakes. If I am around him for any length of time, I begin to feel impatient and irritable too.

So instead of getting sucked into being captured in a cage in the zoo, I detach and get away from people when they are in a hurtful, blaming, angry and vindictive state of mind.  While it is important to me to work on myself and my behaviors, to see my past and present, one of the things I have learned is it is impossible for me get mentally and emotionally healthy while I am involved in unhealthy relationships. If I stay too long, then all of my worst shortcomings emerge. Generally, there isn't just one sick person in a relationship: there are two.

My choices are important because if I find myself in the same situation again and again, then it's my doing that put me in the zoo. I am a "stick it out" kind of person, loyal to a fault. But what that has meant is that I have done the same dance with different people over and over.

I do see my reactions to others have changed in recent years. I don't focus so much on what needs to be changed in them, but about what I need to change and what my motives are for being in a relationship with difficult and unhealthy people. I don't have a magical solution. But I trust my gut feelings.  I observe my dynamics with others, inventory my feelings, detach rather try to change people. I ask myself if what I am doing and who I am with is what I want in my life. Do the people bring me peace? Do I feel loved? Can I trust the person? These are hard questions but necessary for me if I am going to feel uncaged. And that, my friends, is what I place as being most important in life these days.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Getting away

We decided to take a trip up to the mountains over the weekend.  It was unbearably hot on the island, with a new record set on Saturday.  The mountains were cooler and stunning in their beauty.

We watched the fog creep up from the valley and continue up the mountain where we were staying with a friend.  His drive way is straight up on a gravel road.  No room for error either on these roads with no shoulder and steep drops into gorges and ravines.

I was reminded of hiking in these mountains when I was in college.  I would spend a weekend every once in a while hiking on the Appalachian Trail.  Those were the days when I was in love with a graduate student who was a few years older than me.  We would camp out under the stars, wash in cold streams, and walk for miles.  Once we walked through a patch of nettles which caused our skin to sting and itch.  Tending to those spots where the nettles hit against skin was soothing in many ways.  We ran naked through meadows, picked wild flowers to put in our hair and made love every chance we got.  I haven't seen her in years but still remember that magical time in the mountains.

Now my wife and I make our own magic but without the wild abandonment of youth.  Likely there will be some good times because we are going to continue our vacation by going on the boat for a few days starting tomorrow. Off the grid again which is okay by me. A time to chill out and be rocked to sleep on the water.

I just hope that my back feels better--pulled a muscle in the lower back over the weekend and the pressure on the nerve is quite painful at times. I took a muscle relaxer and a hydrocodone pill this afternoon.  I don't like to take prescription pain killers, but I was hurting so badly that it seemed the best thing to do.

I picked up Pandora's ashes this morning.  She was reduced to a small container. I look for her in the morning, expecting to hear her meow.  No more worries over her now though.  We can go away knowing that the animals are doing well.

I can feel my eyes getting heavy.  The muscle relaxer is relaxing my whole body. Time for sleep.  Hope that your week will be a good one.  I'll leave you with a few shots of the Smoky mountains.  
 
Fog over the lake near Robbinsville, NC
Old log cabin near Robbinsville, NC
Nantahala National Forest

Tree of Shame at Tail of the Dragon

All kinds of parts and pieces of motor cycles are hung up on this tree at Tail of the Dragon. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Letting go of Pandora

Today, we are taking our 18 year old cat, Pandora, to be euthanized. It is time. She has steadily been losing weight and what little she eats goes through her. Her breathing is labored and she is lethargic today.  We give our animals every opportunity to tell us when the time has come. And now it has.

Pandora belonged to my wife's parents who adopted her as a one year old. Mom and Pop loved that cat. We got Christmas and birthday cards from Pandora. And Pandora was the one who was with Mom when she died, having moved from the adjacent bed to lie next to Mom on the day before and the day after she died. Pandora then came to live with us, adapting to the other cats slowly but relishing the attention given to her.

It seems oddly coincidental that Pandora looks like a skeleton, having lost so much weight over the past month.  She is the cat version of what Pop looked like before he died.  "Failure to thrive" seems to happen to both humans and animals when life has dwindled to the point where the body is wasting away. Every time I look at her now and stroke her bony frame, it tears at my heart because I am reminded of Pop's last days.

I don't have much more to say about this. Our love for animals is huge.  But the animals tell us when they are sick and suffering. Keep us in your thoughts as we carry on with letting go of Pandora.
Pandora on the bed after Mom died

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Thoughts on a full life and a life gone

Time has once again slipped away here.  I have been nearly consumed with the bathroom renovations, working out, gardening, horseback riding, sailing, working on lectures for a class, and going to meetings. Some days it feels as if I have taken on so many projects that I will not get any of them done.

I don't think that I am running away from anything by keeping busy. I have looked at my motives and find that I have so many interests and not so much time to get to them all.  At any rate, I am having fun with what I am doing. I suppose that's the important thing.

Today is my Al-Anon anniversary.  Eight years ago I walked into my first meeting knowing that if I didn't change my outlook on life, I would not make it. I was thinking that suicide would be a good way to end the turmoil in my life. After all, no one would really care whether I was gone or not.  That kind of thinking is what brings a person to their knees:  wishing that things could be different, wishing that words could be taken back, wishing to stop the anger and the fear but not knowing how to let anything go or make anything right.

Fortunately, a good friend in the AA program told me that I needed to go to Al-Anon.  I had resisted an earlier suggestion years before that I needed it, because I thought that therapy would be the answer.  Unfortunately, therapy didn't make me feel better about myself.  Instead, I felt more angry than ever because I tended to blame my feelings on what others had done to me.

And so here I am eight years later.  My wife is in AA, sober and loves me.  I have friends in the program that I treasure.  I no longer want to end my life but live it to the hilt. I have struck out to do new things, pick up some old hobbies that I gave up years ago, and have learned to not obsess about what others are doing.  I have a lot of joy in my life these days.  Every day is a new adventure and a chance to live as fully as I can.

I do have moments when I worry.  I sometimes feel sad that we have no family left, except for cousins.  I fully admit that I don't know what I would do without my wife.  She is my heart.  My fear of losing her is kept at bay for the most part. But as we age, it gets harder to ignore the ticking clock.

Her depression remains a concern.  For the most part, she is happy and stays busy. But then there are the quiet days in which I know instinctively that she is depressed. Alcoholism and depression are so often companions in destruction.

Occurrences like the suicidal deaths of Robin Williams yesterday and so many others, including friends of mine, remind me of just how fragile our psyche is. When my friend, K., decided to end her life a few years ago, I was distraught. She had 26 years of sobriety, died sober,  but had suffered terribly over the past year with severe depression which had occurred on and off throughout her life.

People are taken to the depths of despair by depression.  I watched my own mother struggle with deep depression. There is no way to know when a person has run out of options and has decided to make the final decision to end their life.  Most of us wonder if there was something that we could have done.  If any one of the people who decide to end their life had reached out, a dozen or more hands would have been there ready to grasp theirs. But would that make any difference?  I don't know.

Lots to think about today.  A full life, a life gone, and the circle repeats again and again.  Hope that you are all in an okay place today.